South Island

THE SOUTH ISLAND – Wellington to Abel Tasman

The Interislander Ferry departed at 08:15 and I had to be there to check in 1 hour before, which was good because it made me get out of bed at 6am for the first time since my road trip started. I’d forgotten what sunrise looked like, but it wasn’t a memorable one because it was still pelting down with rain and blowing a hoolie. At the ferry check-in I was told the ferry was delayed until 10:00 due to the very rough weather across the Cook Strait and so I rode to the departures hall to wait and have breakfast in the canteen.

There waiting with me were a couple of hundred people who had been waiting all night after the ferry had crashed into the dock at Picton (South Island ferry terminal) and was subsequently cancelled. I met one old gent who was on the ferry for 10 hours while it sailed from Wellington, crashed at Picton and then had to sail back to Wellington again with all passengers still embarked – what a laugh that must have been! He wasn’t too impressed, as you can imagine, particularly when all passengers were only given one free cup of tea for their ‘inconvenience’.

The old boy told me he was 84 and had immigrated to New Zealand from Devon (UK) after WWII in the 40’s, where he subsequently bought a farm and made a good living and a new family with hundreds of grandkids. Still funny and full of beans, I only hope I can be as fit and active when I get to his ripe age! Something tells me I won’t though, considering the amount of bones I had broken over the years. I think I’m certainly going to have to immigrate to a warmer country so I don’t seize up.

When 10:00 came I once again made my way to ferry check in and was redirected to wait in the ‘bikers shed’. Still raining and hoolie blowing, 3 bikers welcomed me into their bus shelter and we all talked about how boring it would be to be sitting in a warm car with nothing to do except turn the heater up. As these were the first bikers I’d come across since leaving Auckland, and the fact they were all South Islanders, I took this opportunity to pick their brains about the best roads and routes I should take on my sightseeing tour. In return I received a wealth of information, beginning with the beautifully twisty coastal Queen Charlotte Drive immediately off the ferry leading to the ‘mussel town’ of Havelock.

Another interesting thing I learnt from them is on no account must I leave my motorcycle unattended for more than a second in Wellington city centre, particularly in the bar/club/red light district area. When I told them this was exactly where I had left my bike all last night they all gasped and wondered how I still had my bike with me. Either it was my lucky day, or things aren’t quite as bad in Wellington as folklore tells. However, we all agreed as to why anyone would want to live in Wellington anyway, as it was ALWAYS cold, wet and windy!

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I wasn’t sorry to be leaving cold, rainy and windy Wellington. Strangely, I did so on the old P&O ferry ‘Pride of Cherbourg’, which I’ve probably been on before crossing from Portsmouth to Cherbourg.

The ferry crossing took 3 hours and so I took the opportunity to catch up on this blog, which was running hopelessly behind as usual. I’d checked the forecast and the South Island was supposed to be bathed in sunshine, which I found hard to believe looking out the window, as it was only 60 miles away and still monsoonal. However, exactly as forecast, after an hour and a half we entered the sheltered Marlborough and Queen Charlotte Sounds of South Island and out popped the sun! I must say it was a very welcome sight, and I took my fish’n’chips (not a patch on British ones) up to the upper deck to look at the beautiful scenery.

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What a difference 60 miles can make! As soon as we had crossed to rough Cook Straits and entered the South Island Sounds, the weather changed completely!

Outside I met Scott who had also moved from UK to NZ, but more recently in the hope of migrating permanently. He was a tree surgeon on South Island but had split up with his NZ girlfriend in favour of an American one. However, that was also on the rocks, so I told him about what Trevor had told me – that there’s 10 women for every bloke in NZ fighting over a limited number of scarce men. Scott was surprised to hear this as his experience suggested otherwise. Of course I couldn’t really comment because women always fight over me wherever I am (ha ha!)

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Welcome to the South Island! Here the weather is always hot, sunny and beautiful! (I hope…) Picton Ferry Port is in the background

By now we were approaching the ferry port on South Island at Picton, so I wondered down to the truck deck to start un-strapping my bike which I had secured in preparation for The Perfect Storm. Indeed, I had secured her a little too fruitfully, because it took 3 of us to release the fixed straps that had been stretched to full extension and locked fast. That, at least, was better than the alternative!

The nice thing about riding bikes on ferries is that they usually let you on and off first. This was the case today, and I waved my farewells to my fellow bikers as I accelerated up the twisty mountain coastal road that is Queen Charlotte Drive. And what a great road it is too!

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The beautifully twisty Queen Charlotte Drive

I’m no corner ninja but for some reason the Tiger’s foot pegs were soon scraping along the road at almost every fast corner. I soon deduced this was due to the smaller 19” front wheel on the road Tiger and lower suspension, as opposed to my 21” front wheel & higher travel on the taller XC (cross-country) version. However, I like to think I am becoming a corner demon after all, and started mischievously enjoying the scrapping sound. The smaller front wheel certainly turns into corners a lot quicker, and took some time to get used to at first. However, despite this I still prefer the steadier, taller XC version, which I can lay down just as far (but hopefully not all the way!).

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South Island is beautiful in the Autumn, and an often strange mix of semi-tropical rainforest to temperate woods

I was heading to Abel Tasman, a nature park 4 hrs northwest of the ferry port, which I had been told was spectacularly beautiful. I had booked into a backpackers in Motueka, a small town just to the south of the park, ready to explore it first thing in the morning.

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Everywhere I looked the view was incredible!

So far everyone I have met in New Zealand has been incredibly friendly without fail. Even the Policemen are friendly, particularly the lovely copper who pulled me over on the way to Motueka doing 111 kph in a 100 zone. I’d heard that the police were very strict on speeding and it was very rare anyone got let off with a warning, but this must had been my lucky day as we just started chatting about my journey and he let me off with a slapped wrist. Thanks nice Mr Policeman! I don’t believe anything people say about you…

What is it about us Norwich boys? I met 2 in the USA in quick succession, and I’ve also met two here in New Zealand within 3 days. The first one was 18 and had just packed in his job in sunny Norwich and travelled to NZ in search of a better quality of life, and was now hanging round the YHA in Napier begging for cornflakes. The second one I have just met and did the same 8 years ago (minus the cornflakes probably) and now runs ‘The Laughing Kiwi’ Backpackers in Motueka where I’m staying tonight. He seems to think he made the right move, and apart from the fish’n’chips, I would not disagree.

After moving into my very comfortable single room in the superb Laughing Kiwi (best backpackers by far I’ve ever stayed in – must be the Norwich influence!), it was Saturday night and I fancied a pint. So, I donned by best biker’s glad rags and ventured out on the 10 minute walk into the town centre. Unfortunately Motueka isn’t renowned for its kicking nightlife, and although the high street has half a dozen pubs, I had trouble finding anyone inside any of them. Yes, all Best Men should certainly make a note NOT to go to Motueka for the Stag Party, unless they want to see only one old fart sitting at the bar eating pickled eggs (not me, by the way). I plumbed for the best of them (2 people inside) and ended up in a German pub. I have been surprised to find quite a few German tourists visiting NZ and the only person I met that night was a new German barmaid, but that was OK because she served me locally made ginger lager, which was delicious!

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Abel Tasman to Greymouth

Had I awoken earlier I could have described the outstanding natural beauty of Abel Tasman National Park in much more depth, but as it was, I didn’t. Instead I woke late and missed the boat into the park.  However, not all was lost because I parked the Tiger as close as I could get and ventured in on foot to get a sample.  And indeed, it is a beautiful, tranquil place, especially when the sun is shining, which it was.

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Abel Tasman National Park – As close as you will ever get to Paradise in the ‘Western World’

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Some lucky person’s house in Abel Tasman National Park

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Why does everythink look so much better when the sun’s shining?

As the day was pushing on, I then started my long 4 hr ride to Greymouth on the West Coast which I thought would be a good place from which to explore the 2 famous Glaciers I was dying to see; Franz Josef and Fox.  There were plenty of great places to stop along the way, such as Marahau (lots of canoeing) & Kaiteriteri (lovely beaches), and the ride over to the west coast was abound with beautiful vistas and fun twisty mountain roads.

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Beautiful views just south of Abel Tasman National Park

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Little Kaiteriteri beach – the perfect, quiet get-away

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Crossing to the West Coast

There are 31 million sheep in New Zealand (70 million a few years ago) and only 4.4 million people.  Goodness knows where they hide them all – all I could see were green fields…

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Where are all the sheep?

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One of my favourite parts of the day – lunch time! (along with breakfast and dinner). I’m such a pig…

I made the West Coast late afternoon at Westport and wasted no time turning south towards Greymouth to try and arrive before dark.  The sun was close to setting as I pulled off to look at Pancake Rocks and the blow hole at Punakaiki, and as I ran down the short trail to the coast the sun just waited for me to take this cool photo before she turned in for the night.

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Sunset over Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki

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Pancake Rocks – Limestone bedding planes formed by immense pressure on alternating hard and soft layers of marine creatures and plant sediments when this area was covered by the sea millions of years ago

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Punakaiki

I was then left to ride the few miles to Greymouth in the dark, but stopped off to take some more cool photos along the beach in the twilight.

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Punakaiki Beach

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Punakaiki Beach

Once in Greymouth I was pleasantly surprised to find my accommodation to be a very cheap & comfortable caravan in someone’s back garden.  Even better, it was close to an Indian restaurant and a decent pub; what more could a man ask for?

Unfortunately the caravan was a tad too big to fit in my panniers.

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Home sweet home!

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Greymouth to Wananka

Few things in life are better than a long, hot shower, particularly when you’ve been riding at night in freezing fog for 2 hours. Yes, once again my planned early rise to visit Franz Josef and Fox glaciers didn’t quite materialize, mainly because my alarm failed to wake me up, which meant I subsequently arrived at my accommodation in Wanaka somewhat later than I had intended. Now I know why people try not to ride motorbikes at night in New Zealand – something to do with an interesting concoction of freezing fog, black ice, loose gravel and twisty mountain roads. I’m definitely getting up early tomorrow! (I think I may have said that before…)

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I always try to start the day with a bit of Tai Chi; failing that a bacon and egg butty

When I finally did get up, the weather was forecast to be cloudy with rain later, so I pressed on as quickly as I could southwest along the coast road to the Southern Alps. I arrived at the first glacier, Franz Josef, past lunch and completed a short hike to get a good view of the old boy.

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Franz Josef Glacier – A short 10 minute hike brings you to this amazing lookout

Both Franz Josef and Fox glaciers are quite rare in that they end amongst lush rainforest only 300m above sea level. Having studied Glaciology at University way back in the olden days (yes, I am a very interesting fellow at dinner parties!) I was fascinated by them, particularly as they were the first glaciers I had ever seen close up; and they were indeed both beautiful and fascinating sights.

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Fox Glacier – An hour hike take you right up to the terminus where crystal clear, glacial blue melt-water forms a river

Short of time I only decided to walk the hour hike up to Fox Glacier, 30 mins drive further south from Franz Josef, as the lady in the information office said it was the best one close up. Interestingly, Fox Glacier has been advancing since 1985 – perhaps the next Ice Age (or more strictly, Glacial Period) is approaching!

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Fox Glacier

As I approached the glaciers’ terminus the sun kindly made an appearance for a brief minute or two that allowed me to get a half decent photo. This was my first meeting with a cheery old Irish couple traveling the World who I kept bumping into at various other tourist sites; and I’m glad did, as they saved me from being eaten alive by mosquitoes with their magic spray on one such occasion (down by Milford Sound).

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Typical U-Shaped Valley cut out by advancing Glaciers over thousands of years. You can just see the glacier’s melt-water river on the valley floor

By the time I was back from that well worth hike it was late afternoon, hence my long ride into the night & freezing fog to my accommodation in Wanaka. Oh well – at least I made it before closing time!

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The Longest Ride…

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Sunset on the West Coast

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Wanaka to Queenstown

Looking at the forecast this morning it was supposed to rain in Milford Sound, my next destination, so I decided instead to have an easy day and only travel the hour or so to NZ’s Adventure Capital, Queenstown over the Crown Range Road (highest main road in NZ), and then onto Milford Sound tomorrow (when hopefully sunny).  However, as it turned out, the weather was beautiful all day – bloomin’ forecasters!  At least I had a chance to relax a bit without riding hundreds of miles, and Queenstown area is a beautiful area to do it in.

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My lovely campsite at Wanaka

Starting at Lake Wanaka the road gently rises to Crown terrace through the Cardrona valley and follows the little Cardrona River before zigzagging wonderfully down towards Queenstown.  The view from Crown Terrace is lovely, peering down upon Arrowtown in the Arrow Valley, and across at the end of the ‘Remarkables’ mountain range.

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View from Crown Range of Queenstown area (note my new Pirate look – I like it, Arrgh)

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Look at those lovely zig-zagged biking roads!

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View from Crown Range Road

It’s not unusual on my travels to meet a fan of my World Tour who recognizes my debonair features and insists on posing for a picture with me, or the bike (or both, although I charge much more for that).  This time it was lucky Raju on holiday from India.

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Lucky Raju from India won the prize!

Half way along the drive is the old Cardrona Hotel built in 1870 where owner Jim Paterson held license for 35 years from 1926 until his death at the age of 91 in 1961.  This colourful character was famed for not serving women, which may have been why he managed to live for so long ‘stress free’ (ha ha).

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The Cardrona Hotel – one of the oldest in New Zealand built in 1870

Arriving in Queenstown pretty early I had plenty of time to ride through the scenic Kawarau Gorge to Cromwell, past the ‘Roaring Meg’ hydro-electric power station and the (claimed) world’s first commercial bungy jump, where they will kindly dunk you in the river below.  Sitting on Lake Dunston, this region was known as a gold rush town, but is now satisfied to produce merino wool and fine wine, which is much more civilised.  Then onto another historic gold mining town Arrowtown which is now full of artists, artisans and colourful Autumn leaves.

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Autumn Colours – a good time to visit Arrowtown

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Arrowtown Valley

An unexpected surprise was my ride up Coronet Peak to the Ski Village (closed as out-of-season) which had great views of the area.

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View from Coronet Peak

With that all done, I checked into my accommodation rather early for once at Marlborough Mountain Lodge, Queenstown and ventured out in search of provisions worthy of a world explorer such as myself (which happened to manifest in the form of a pub by the lake).

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Queenstown on beautiful Lake Wakatipu

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Queenstown to Milford Sound

This motel I’m staying in in Queenstown has knocked the socks off every other I’ve stayed in.  For a mere 59 NZD (35 quid) I have a warm, single room, comfortable bed, free wifi, a bar, restaurant, log fire, great views of Queenstown & Lake Wakatipu and free breakfast!  I found it hard to drag myself away at 10:00 after a big buffet breakfast, but I could hear Milford Sound calling me…

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Leaving Queenstown alongside Lake Wakatipu

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Quack quack! (or Lake Wakatipu)

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Lake Wakatipu

Luckily the weather forecast turned out to be right, and the day was beautifully clear and sunny, with just a few clouds leisurely hanging around.  The ride from Queenstown to Milford Sound through Fjordland National Park was, as expected, serene and one of NZ’s best motorcycling roads.

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Riding off into Fjordland National Park without me!

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My Street! Te Anau, a nice small town on the way to Milford Sound

Taking my time and stopping for plenty of photos of mirror lakes and dramatic glacial cut valleys it took me a very enjoyable and very leisurely 4 hours.

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Mirror Lakes, a nice stop-off on the way to Milford Sound

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Heading up through the mountain pass

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Everything looks so much better when the sun is shining (even me!) (although it’s hard to believe)

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The road version 800 is growing on me – if only she was black!

When I arrived the view was almost as amazing as I had imagined, but because it lay west the sun was setting in my eyes.  I bet it will be amazing tomorrow morning and I’ve promised myself an early rise in order to catch it in her full glory.  However, I have just met a couple working at the lodge I’m camped at and been invited to a BBQ they’re having, which may place a small hurdle in my way.  They ride a Bandit 1200 and last year rode a Diversion 900 around South America, so I’ve bought a crate of beer to accompany the story telling that’s bound to ensue.

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Milford Sound – on arrival with the sun setting in front of me. Mystical – I can’t wait to see her tomorrow morning…

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Man – sometimes I take great shots!

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The village pub where I picked up my crate of beer for tonight’s BBQ. I can think of worse places to be!

The weather is turning and it’s cold and damp in the woods where I’m camped.  Not surprisingly I’m the only tent, or indeed person, in there – nice!  At least the beer will warm me up.

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The only tent in the camp. I wonder why everyone else is sleeping in the cabins??

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Milford Sound to Christchurch

I must be getting old as after a couple of nights camping I flop into a motel/hotel/hostel and lay on the bed knackered!  I think at 40 my back has decided to give up lying on hard floors and is trying to force me back into a proper bed.  Perhaps I just need a better air bed?  Or a night off the pop?

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Waking up to Milford Sound in the morning (in a wet tent)

Last night was, as expected, a recipe for a big hangover this morning, but it was worth it because I had the best BBQ ever, including the best, most succulent BBQ’d lamb I’ve ever eaten – perfectly flame seared and juicy, fleshy pink in the middle – my new favourite meat.

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The Tiger

The ride from Milford Sound to Christchurch (back via Queenstown) wasn’t so memorable, mainly because it was cloudy and then started raining as I approached Christchurch.  It was a fair journey in my delicate state of mind so I stopped for the night at a ‘holiday camp’ in Omarama, famous for, well – nothing (that I know of).  Oh – except the wonderful Clay Cliffs 10km away.

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Riding up the Clay Cliffs near Omarama was good fun!

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Who says the road Tiger can’t go off-road?

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The Clay Cliffs are made of layers of gravel and silt, deposited by rivers flowing from glaciers existing 1-2 million years ago – pretty cool…

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Another cliff I tried not to fall down!

I was pleased I had managed to escape most of the bad weather during my NZ adventure considering it was quickly approaching winter.  The last motorcyclists the guys in Milford Haven had seen before me were over a week ago, and I think I must have been one of the last lucky bikers to make it safely across through the Fjordland NP tunnel because snow was now falling and the road too icy to ride safely.

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Approaching Omarama – near the Clay Cliffs

I was to drop the bike off at Wayne’s house, Wayne being on the ‘receiving end’ of Paradise Motorcycle Tour’s friendly & efficient network.  In fact he was so friendly when I arrived he wouldn’t let me leave, and insisted I help him drink all his beer while spinning riding yarns.  When all his beer had gone, one of his mates turned up, Chook, with his winter supply of homemade Gin, and proceeded to issue copious rations as though we were about to enter battle with the French on an 17th century Man-o’-war.  When we finished this beer/gin drinking session I do not know, but I do know it led onto an impromptu jam session (I have been known to dabble on the guitar) in Chook’s garage with some more random people who turned up halfway through and started playing bass guitar and the triangle.

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Getting stuck into Chook’s home-distilled Gin, and some Elvis

When I awoke I was still in Chook’s garage, but he had been kind enough to give me some bedding and I had slept like the drunk/dead.  The weather was still overcast, rainy and pretty miserable and I wasn’t overjoyed at taking the bike out for another day (I had a weekend to kill before my flight to Melbourne to collect my Tiger), so I took Chook up on his very kind offer to accommodate me in his garage for another night and drive me around Christchurch to show me the sights.

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One of many buildings in Christchurch city centre they’re still trying to figure out what to do with

Of course I’d heard a lot about the devastation caused by the series of earthquakes including the flattening of the town centre in Feb 2011 killing 185 people, caused by movement along a serious of previously unknown faults.  Of course, Christchurch having been built in a mainly low-lying swamp didn’t help matters, and the resulting liquefaction was a major cause of infrastructure collapse.

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The city centre has been almost completely flattened

Attempts to try and attract people back into the old city centre while reconstruction is still underway have been semi-successful, and include a number of ‘container shops’ erected and designed into an attractive art-deco new temporary city centre.

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The new ‘Container City Centre’ – a novel idea!

With my hangover just about cleared the next day I decided to hire a car and drive 2 hours north to Kaikoura to see if I could free-dive for some of the world famous Paua (Abalone) that Chook told me I could find there.  They must be one of the world’s most expensive foods as they cost $40 each in the fishmongers!  Unfortunately I arrived a bit late to catch the favourable low tide and wimped out because the weather was miserable, opting instead for pie and chips and a look at the nearby seal colony.

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The sleepy fur seal residents at Kaikoura

And so with all that my New Zealand Adventure was complete.  Every day I thank my lucky stars I’m able to see such amazing places, and meet such amazing, kind people along the way.  No matter how far we are separated by distance, language or beliefs, I am always glad to find we are, at heart, all the same – good people living life, and feeding the occasional beer to travelers in need.

I was now excited for my next leg – Australia – where I would finally be reunited with my beloved Tiger 800XC in Melbourne having arrived in a ship container from LA and cleared the strict Aussie customs…

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