Days 5 and 6
Fox Glacier to Queenstown - 430km(269mi)
After a restful sleep, where my new room mate (Wayne) said there was no snoring, unlike when he shared with "Geoff the chainsaw" the previous night, we wandered down the main drag of Fox for some breakfast. There was a hustle of tourists getting onto buses for tours, being picked up for chopper flights and the odd long distance cyclist getting ready for another day of pedalling in paradise.
We were soon on the road, leaving the Fox Glacier Inn and it's great hospitality behind. While not the most aesthetically pleasing of pubs, the friendliness and service make it a "must visit". Steve produced the following photo hoping to embarrass me, but I present it here as a testament to west coast hospitality! ;-) (even if the young lass was from Austria) You just have to get a photo with the bar staff when you ride your bike INTO the pub!
We headed out the road for a look at Fox glacier. I was only just able to see the top of it far up the valley but I was not going to walk the 1 hour return in motorcycle boots.
We made some good time along the road toward Haast, stopping a couple of times to take in the view. Wayne and I must have passed the other two without seeing them at some stage, so we stopped on the bridge over the Haast River to take in the scenery.
The West Coast is very sparsely populated with little more than tourist traffic on the roads so when we came to the turn off to Haast township we thought it best to have a look. We did more than look, with a coffee hitting the spot while Wayne and I waited for Steve and Geoff to arrive from wherever they had got lost.
After a bit of a rest (from doing nothing!) we were on the Haast Pass road. There was a large road blockade and a flashing sign stating that the road was closed each night from 7pm due to a land slip. Being 11am, we were sweet to carry on. Not far down the road we saw a tow truck pulling a small car out of the shrubbery along the roadside. Note to self: there is no run-off room along here, so be careful!
As we made our way along the Haast River it was hard to concentrate on the sweeping bends with such magnificent scenery off to the left. To avert disaster, we stopped regularly for photos.
Steve stopped at the Gates Of Haast bridge(I think it is called) for his "You Shall Not Pass!" photo. The rest of us spied the slowly crawling tourist bus ahead and used the opportunity to blast pass it before we were blocked behind it. This meant we became quite spread out by the now heavy tourist traffic and I eventually rode alone for the next hour or two until we met up again in Wanaka.
The ride along Lake Wanaka, then Lake Hawea was simply magic. The road was interesting and the views out across the lake were simply stunning!
I rolled into Wanaka feeling very relaxed after setting my own pace. I filled up the thirsty Trumpy, did a lap of town then saw the boys rolling into town. They grabbed some fuel while I found a bakery on the foreshore for us to refuel and swap stories.
It was only early afternoon yet we had a mere 68km(42mi) to our destination for the day, Queenstown. It was a no brainer that we take the Crown Range Rd and we resolved to stop in at the Cardrona Hotel for a quick "look".
The Cardrona Hotel is a very homey place with a log fire roaring in the main bar and a beautiful green beer garden out the back. We grabbed a pint of some local brew and chilled for 30 minutes or so.
Back on the bikes I found myself leading into the twisty section of the Crown Range Rd. This was a smooth, twisty section with no run-off. It was an Armco lined tunnel essentially. I don't normally mix alcohol and riding for obvious reasons but along this section that one beer at Cardrona helped me to relax and punt the Trumpy along at a healthy pace. Or so I thought. At least I wasn't holding the other guys up for a change!
We stopped at the lookout. The views across Queenstown were breathtaking (again) and we could see the reason for accommodation being tight in Queenstown. A few thousand feet below us we could see 15 000 people in front of a huge stage. The Eagles, 10CC and Lynard Skynard were having a concert and this had Queenstown maxed out in more ways than one.
Descending down the switchbacks into the Queenstown valley was fun, as I followed Steve and Geoff in line astern.
We rolled through Arrowtown but didn't even get off the bikes as it was absolutely packed and finding a park wasn't an option! Nope, it was straight to the backpackers in Queenstown. Reavers Lodge, tucked into the base of the Gondola, was to be our digs for two nights. It seemed clean enough but it was busy. Busy was to be the theme around Queenstown this Saturday night.
We made our way into the throng and soon found a Mac's Brewhouse pub where we proceeded to down small buckets of great beer while taking in the scene. The scene consisted of the stunning scenery that surrounds Queenstown as the back drop, zooming into the masses of people strolling, sitting and just generally soaking up the atmosphere. I love Queenstown for these reasons and many more!
Tomorrow, Sunday was to be a rest day, a day off the bikes. the lads had organised to do the Shotover Jet boat ride. I wanted to get a closer, more personal look at the countryside around Queenstown so I opted to hire a mountain bike. A much cheaper option too!
I pedalled out to 7 Mile MTB park on the Glenorchy road. I almost instantly felt better (remember those small buckets of beer last night?). It was a cracking sunny day with a top temperature of 25C. perfect!
The views out across Lake Wakatipu were the usual postcard (ho-hum) and I passed many European backpackers sunning themselves at various overlooks. Why didn't I come over here in my 20s ????
Arriving at 7 Mile, I noticed that more trails had been added since my last visit.
The bike I was on this time (Specialised Camber 29er) was also more suited to the type of riding than my 120mm travel Trek EX9, although, 26" wheels would have made it perfect.
I soon got chatting to a local (Steve, an ex-pom and Ducati 916 Senna rider) who proceeded to show me the trails and how best to string them together. This made for a great morning riding as it is always better to have a local on hand to share the low down.
He pointed me toward the Gold Digger Track on the North side of the Glenorchy road. I would have missed this gem of a trail if I had been following my own navigation. At all of 2km long it climbed up a steep hillside, through pine forest, rocky outcrops and into pasture land. It was worth the effort. Cheers Steve!
I made my way back into town, totally out of water, legs twinging with cramp, but with a HUGE smile on my dial! I AM a mtb junkie! Some fush and chups on the foreshore as I watched people soaking in the warm sunshine capped off a great morning. Who needs to pay hundreds of $ for "adrenaline" rides when you can mtb for almost nothing?
Heading back to the room for a shower, I hoped to catch up with the lads. They weren't there so I assumed that they had ridden out to Glenorchy. No probs. I suited up then rode the amazing sweeping road to Glenorchy.
About half way there I was passed by the only other motorcyclist, apart from us, that I saw for the whole trip who was hard on the gas. Clearly a local, he was on a naked Moto Guzzi café racer and he knew the road well! (I later saw him in Glenorchy and he looked to be around 50, giving me a big wave as I went past)
Glenorchy is a dead end road and I was surprised to see how quiet the town was after the madness that is Queenstown. Most shops (including the pub) were closed and the only cafe' open was taking business at a leisurely pace. I ordered a berry smoothie and settled onto the soft green grass to soak in the serenity. Why is NZ grass so soft and inviting?
Anyway, not long after I heard the loping beat of a couple of BMW twins. Steve and Geoff motored past me toward the waterfront reserve to take a few pictures. They were soon back enjoying a cool beer with me out the back of the Glenorchy Cafe', complete with snow capped mountains in the background.
Motoring back into Queenstown with the sun at our back we enjoyed the twists and turns of the road again. This road was one of the better rides so far and that is saying something.
Queenstown was noticeably quieter tonight with the rock concert crowds gone, as were we! Beers and food at the Mac's Brewhouse again. Yes, the food was that good (and cheap) topped off another great day in paradise. I slept well that night.