Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Road report - New Zealand South Island 2009

Lake Tekapo

I have been wanting to visit New Zealand for a long time and always something seems to crop up. I finally got the opportunity to visit the South Island last week albiet at a time of year that is far too cold to ride a motorcycle. So rather than say I'll go when its warmer I decided to do a recon by car for a week and then know better what I would do in the future riding over there.

First up I was surprised that I could not get my GPS to work there. Despite advertising that it comes with New Zealand maps it seemed to lack details. It eventually showed my location as in New Zealand at Christchurch but would show the vehicle icon off the road and only seemed to have a few roads for the city. Then I could not input an address as system seemed to then think I was in Australia.

Overall very disappointed in GPS's lack of ability to perform as claimed. As I have mentioned previously to my way of thinking tracing a route you want to take on a PC map site then transferring that to the GPS should be a basic core function on all GPS units. So after paying for a mid spec model to simply gain this function (Garmin Nuvi 660) it seems I am still unable to do so for outside Australia.

Sorry for the small rant there - as it turned out you don't need a GPS - well not on the South Island anyway. I navigated into and out of Christchurch quite easy as it's very small by comparison to Brisbane. After I left Christchurch I did not as far as I can recall encounter another traffic light until I returned such is the nature of the areas I went which are scarcely populated. The countryside is mostly sheep farming with beautiful lush green fields in the valleys which extend up the hills and mountains either side of you. The road is often the only one in the area, there is very rarely any side roads along the way.

Mt Cook

Roads often wind through gorges which would be great riding

Beautiful lake Te Anau

The road into Milford sound - it was a fine day back in Te Anau

Nearly everywhere has incredible views of (at this time of year) snow topped alps and there is many mountain steams and lakes. The towns along the way are mostly very small, even the major towns are relatively small by comparison to the major country towns here and can be navigated very easy.

Those mountains of course provide some stunning roads as well. However I encountered what is possibly a show stopper for riding in the way of what is called grit. The mountain passes all had signs warning of ice and grit. This grit turned out to be a sort of 'road base/crusher dust' which was like a fine kitty litter which had been liberally spread onto the road where ice is a problem, often on the corners. Now as you can imagine this is extremely dangerous for riders and I was not surprised I never so a single motorcycle on any of these roads. Do they sweep this up before summer? - I am guessing yes or you would never have heard the south island is great for riding.

Fiord scenery south of Queenstown

Euro style switchbacks leaving Queenstown heading to Wanaka
Lake Hawea - roller coaster roads and big mountans

Lake Wanaka - the road hugs the side of the mountain all the way

So assuming the roads are cleaned up then yes it is certainly has some superb roads. I found the West Coast to be wonderful - like a huge Great Ocean Road that goes on and on. The roads I took across were the Lewis Pass and Buller Gorge and from Queenstown via Wanaka and Haast.
I know also the Arthers Pass is famous for riding and as such I have come up with an idea for a ride which I plan to return to do.

My idea is fly into Christchurch and hire a motorbike. Ride over Arthers Pass and down the West coast and over the alps again to Queenstown. Queenstown is a real tourist town, not very big but with a good number of places to eat and drink which offer a variety of food. And here is something I found weird in New Zealand, outside of Queenstown and Christchurch all the restaurants and cafes seem to have more of less the same menu. You can walk up and down the main eatery area in a town and check each menu and see the same items every time. There is the lamb dish, the steak dish, the venison dish, the salmon dish, the risotto dish and lastly usually sausages and mash potato or fish and chips. It's odd and slightly disturbing...

Anyway after Queenstown I would return back over to Wanaka via Tarras then up the west coast and then cross the alps via Lewis pass. Depending on how the flights worked you could make it a four or five day ride holiday that is both affordable and amazing riding.

The Gates of Haast - spectacular road and scenery

Westcoast - like the Great Ocean Road - except 20 times longer, few cars and open road speed limit.

Buller Gorge is a series of perfect sweepers in a stunning valley

Much of Lewis Pass was difficult to capture but it is a HUGE mountain pass that offers a bit of every sort of riding you could wish for.

End of Lewis Pass Eastern side.

I did not go on the famous Jet boat rides this trip, I decided to take a helicopter tour of the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers and that proved to be one of the most amazing things I have ever experienced. Highly recommended.

Franz Joseph Glacier


So thats a wrap of my recon of the South island. I had previously planned to one day ship my bike over for a couple of weeks riding however I now think a shorter trip as detailed above would make it much more affordable as well as cut out any highway type sections which I identified this time round to leave just pure riding roads.

Regards, IC.

4 comments:

  1. I just got back last month having done a similar route. The roads are amazing, so many hairpins and long sweeping corners. The occasional cow could cause an issue. Unfortunately I agree, the best corners are the ones covered in grit, and I too don't know whether it would get completely washed away in the spring time. It would certainly be game over if you hit any of that stuff at speed! J.

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  2. Green with envy at the thought of riding through that scenery on a bike.

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  3. Great photos, next time chat to locals, there are treasures over here which we don't tell many about. Our main aim is to stay off main routes & explore the back roads - which in many cases are in better condition than state highway 1. We usually take 2 weeks in the south when we take time out. We live in the north so many an overnight-er & day trip is had. We travel anywhere between 300 - 800 km a day - depending on the terrain

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  4. yes great pics
    the roads dont get swept of grit more of a sweeping by the traffic going past seems to clear it however if you do encounter a patch there will be more of it along the same route so be aware
    i would recomend the arthers pass haast queenstown route but coming back into christchurch do take the inland methven road from geraldine to darfield the other route is almost a straight road that is plauged by the police and speed cameras
    also have a look on kiwi biker .com friendly bunch that will give you plenty of tip and tricks maybe even a bed or two!

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