Monday, January 25, 2010

Photos now available

The trip is over and I am back in the rainy San Francisco Bay area. I have posted a large number of my photos from the trip at Please enjoy them.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Grand Finale

Today was the last day of riding for most of us. (A few hardy souls are continuing further South on an additional tour, or going to the North Island for a different tour.) After a good breakfast we pedaled down to the lake for group pictures, and then began the 50 or so mile ride to Queenstown.

We started off with a long gradual rise from about 250 meters to 800 meters and then a final steep climb from 800 to 1100 meters. This last climb of about 1000 feet was comparable to the Haast Pass climb of a few days ago -- about 3 km of steep ascent, averaging about 10% grade. From the top we could see Queenstown, about 20 km further (by road, probably shorter as the crow flies).

The descent was an experience all by itself. There were 10 to 12 switchbacks and a fair amount of traffic to watch out for. Lots of braking required.

From the bottom it was a short ride to Arrowtown where we had a pleasant outdoor lunch at the New Orleans restaurant. Like a great many of the town on the West side of the South Island, this one had its beginnings in the gold rush of the 1860s, not long after the American gold rush.

We had the option of getting in the van about 3 miles out of town (to avoid the city traffic) or brining it home by bike. Three of us biked the finale. I managed to miss the key last turn and did a few extra blocks on the main street of Queenstown.

The tour is not officially over since we have a group dinner tonight and a group breakfast tomorrow. I leave here at 3:15 tomorrow afternoon (Thursday) and arrive back home midmorning the same day, about six hours before I leave here! I bet that sleeping on the airplane will be easier than ever before.

This will probably be the last blog posting for several days. After I get my pictures sorted out and posted on Flickr, I will do a wrap up post with a link to the photos. Meanwhile, I have just under 24 hours to check out Queenstown.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Great Day!

They've all been great days, but this one was really enjoyable all the way, with great weather, beautiful lake shores to ride along, and several gentle climbs. It was a short day, only about 40 miles, and I arrived at our destination, Wanaka in time for lunch. Although we had good directions for finding the lodge where we are staying tonight, a key sign post had been turned amking it a little tricky. But in a town this size, you can't go too far wrong and I found it soon enough. It is a very pleasant lodge with lots of little nooks and crannies to explore.

Yesterday's scenery included a number of magnificent waterfalls. Today's was entirely different with the lake views. For the first 15 miles or so, I rode along the shores of Lake Wanaka. (Top photo.) I made three picture stops in the first six miles. The there was a short trip across "the Neck" to the shores of Lake Hawea (Second photo) for the next 10 or 15 miles. Then some gently rolling hills led us into the town of Wanaka. This is a modest sized town with several shops, cafes, and a beautfiul lakefront location. Quite a change from our wildereness and near-wilderness locations of the last two nights. I am looking forward to an afternoon of more picture taking.

Tomorrow will be our last day of riding, taking us all the way to Queenstown. If the weather holds, it will be a great way to end the trip.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Lake Moeraki to Makarora -- 70 miles

After last night's post, I walked to Munro beach, about 45 minutes each way from the lodge. There I got my first real taste of the infamous NZ sand flies. They were biting like crazy at the beach. Nonetheless, I took off my shoes and went wading in the Tasman sea. It was delightful.

Today was our longest ride of the tour and had a large hill at the end, which I will describe shortly. The build up was worse than the reality.

It was overcast when we started, and stayed that way until after we climbed the hill over Haast Pass. The ride started out with three small climbs in the first six miles. We called them the three little sisters, not to be confused with the three big sisters that we climbed after leaving Franz Josef a few days ago. At the top of the first there is a view point at Knight's Point, overlooking the sea. Despite the overcast day, the view was worth a stop. Unfortunately, the sand flies thought so too. They were as bad as they had been at the beach. So it was a short picture stop.

We then had a long relatively flat stretch until our picnic lunch at Pleasant Flats. We had been forewarned that this was to be a picnic for the sand flies with us being the main course. We had ridden something over 40 miles by that point, so lunch seemed like a good idea. John loaned me a set of rain pants to keep the flies from my legs, and I spread insect repellant on my arms and neck. Strangely, the sand flies are only interested in people, not our food. After a hasty repast, which was quite tasty, it was back on the bike for the Haast Pass climb.

The tough part was the first 3 kilometers where the average grade (we were told) is 10%. Some pitches were considerably steeper. I saw readings of 15 and 16% on my GPS. After that it was about another 7 km of gradual easy climbing to an altitude of 562 meters (about 1700 feet). At the top, the sun became dominant and the descent was the best of the trip because it was fairly straight and I could really let the bike go.

At the bottom we came into the small village of Makarora. Our lodging is in a complex of A frame chalets. Our guides describe them as rustic, and I would not disagree. But they are certainly adequate, with good hot showers, plenty of beds (mine has a double and two twins) and all the amenities including the ubiquitous kettle for making instant tea or coffee. (Some of our lodgings have even provided French press coffee makers and the coffee to go with them.)

No picture today because of the usual computer issues. Only two more days of riding, and tomorrow is a relatively short one.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Fox Glacier tgo Lake Moeraki

Another beautiful day. We got a late start because the cafe was understaffed and breakfast took quite a while. But since it was an easy ride of 50 miles, mostly downhill, it didn't matter. The scenery was beautiful, as we passed through rain forest, swamp, and rugged green hills. Lots of good photo opportunities. The photo today is of Marion and Alice, two members of the group, with whom I rode for part of the morning.

I was surprised to see lots of possum road kill. Until today I have only seen one or two. Possum products are a big industry here. They make socks, gloves and other knitted items out of a mixture of possum fur and merino wool. They also make possum pies which I have not tried, and probably will not try.

Several of us stopped at a small salmon farm en route. Not a lot to see, but in addition to the salmon in the pens, they had lots of large rainbow trout that were visible in the water surrounding the pens and in the streams nearby.

The lodge where we are staying tonight is very, very nice and quite far from anything else. They have several guided nature activities, including a star watch program tonight where we can see the stars of the souther hemisphere. The only problem is that it starts at 10:30 which is pretty late after cycling a good part of the day.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

"Rest Day"

The concept of "rest day" can take on a whole new meaning in New Zealand. This is our second and last one, and it seems to mean only that you rest from cycling, but even that has to be qualified. But, I need to back up.

Last evening, after dinner, a few of us joined Bill and John, our guides, for a short van ride and then a short walk to Lake Matheson where we located the best spot for the taking the iconic NZ photo of the reflections of Mt. Tasman (left) and Mt. Cook (right) on the Lake. The best time for taking the picture (although we did take a few sunset shots) is early in the morning before the sun has crested the mountains and before the wind stirs the surface of the lake.

So, I was up at 5:30 this morning and on the bike by 5:50. I arrived at the beginning of the trail just after 6 and walked hurriedly to the viewpoint -- about twenty more minutes. Unfortunately, it wasn't a perfect day for the photo -- there was a cloud circling the top of Mt. Cook, and a gentle breeze was causing ripples on the lake surface. But I still got several pretty good shots, one of which is above. (the 6 mile round trip biking doesn't really qualify this as a cyling day).

We met for breakfast at around 8 and then three of us took a walk to the face of the Fox glacier. This was about a three hour round trip walk. The one big surprise to me was that we saw several large chunks of ice -- I would estimate 400 pounds or so each -- floating in the glacial river outflow. Although the glacier face has lots of dirt, the breakaway ice chunks were crystal clear.

We have four cycling days left, including our longest single day (a little over 70 miles). We should have some good climbing as well as some long easy stretches.

The little village of Fox Glacier, where we are staying, consists of helicopter services, guide services, motels, small cafes, a general store, and a gas station. The helicopter services apparently do a great business. For $190 you can get a 20 minute helicopter ride over the glacier which includes a snow landing so that you can step out "and experience the feeling of standing on snow." I wonder if they would let you shovel for an extra fee? I think that I have experienced enough snow to forego this thrill.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Glacier Country

Today was the best day of the trip so far. We woke up to bright sun and were on the road fairly early. The start was quite level and I stopped in a Maori craft shop in the first town, chatted with Lou the carver for a while, made a small purchase and continued on my way to the town of Franz Josef, starting point for exploration of the Franz Josef glacier. All along the way, the scenerey was magnificent, with lots of green pastureland and forest with snow capped peaks in the background.

At Franz Josef, most of us put the bikes on the trailers and rode up a short distance to the visitor center at the glacier. From there we hiked for about 45 minutes to the face of the glacier. With the perfect weather conditions, it was a great side excursion. We then hiked back, ate the small lunches that we had packed and hopped on the bikes. [Those who hadn't made this side excursion had already bicycled on to Fox, the center for exploring the Fox glacier. Fox is where we are staying tonight.]

The ride back down from the glacier led us back to the main road and then to the "three sisters," the three small peaks (about 1200 feet high) that we had to climb and descend in order to reach fox. They were not too difficult, but provided some fun climbing, good descents, and magnificent views. At the bottom of the third hill is the town of Fox.

Tomorrow is a rest day. We have lots of options, including helicopter flights ovr the glaciers, hiking in the glaciers, walking around lake Matheson, or setting off on our own on the bikes. Most of us felt that we got a our view of the glacier today and will do something more relaxing like taking the 90 minute walk around the lake. I'll do that and keep my options open for the rest of the day.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Another rainy day

We left the town of Hokitaki just as the rain started. It continued until lunch varying from a misting rain to a heavy drizzle. Nothing too daunting and the terrain was easy. As someone pointed out, "you are in a rain forest so you should expect some rain."

I started the ride with an optional detour that wandered through some small hamlets and avoided our now familiar route 6. It only added about 3 miles and was very scenic. Generally we rode through bush and pasture land.

We had lunch at a pleasant cafe in the town of Hari Hari. By the time we were through, the rain had stopped and we set out to"climb Mt. Herculea.". There are at least two misnomers there. There is nothing Herculean about this hill and the gentle ascent was hardly a climb. But there was a good descent down to our lodging for the evening.

We are staying at a lodge on a farm. When I asked our hostess, Stephanie, if I could hang my wet cycling clothes on her clothesline, she volunteered her washer and dryer. Outstanding Kiwi hospitality.
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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Punakaiki to Hokitika

Great ride today. We requested an early breakfast (7am) and I was on the road by 7:45. The weather looked iffy, but it changed from mostly cloudy to mostly sunny as the morning wore on. The ride was about 60 miles, with a few rolling hills at the beginning and a long flat strectch along the coast for the second half (except for the detour -- more later).

I pulled off the main highway in the fairly large town of Greymouth and stopped for a midmorning coffee at Cafe 124. I expected to see others from our group, but apparently most of them just stayed on the main route. Too bad, because this was the best cup of coffee that I have had in several days. Most of us Americans have had difficulty figuring out how to order coffee that is reasonably similar to what we have been used to. The best solution seems to be a "long black" which is closer to espresso than to American coffee and quite good (and comes in a decent sized serving).

About fifteen miles from Hokitika, we had the option of taking a "scenic detour." This was a welcome break from the fairly heavy traffic on Route 6. The detour was along barely traveled farm roads and went inland for about 3 miles, then paralleled the coast, and then went back to the coast emerging right at our hotel. this did have a few hills, but again not much. At one point, I came to a fork in the road and was pretty sure that I needed to take the uphill branch, but I asked a local resident who was in her front yard, "Which way to Hokitika?" She pointed to the uphill road and said, "Good luck. It is a bit of a hill." I was a little concerned, but it all turned out to be a matter of perception. The hill was negligible. (Total ascent for the day was barely 2000 feet, according to my Garmin.)

Hokitika is a very interesting town. It is the center of the Westland jewelry, with dozens of shops selling jewelry made of the local jade, and the "New Zealand Ruby Stone" which is unique to this area. It also has a sock museum with the world's largest collection of sock knitting machines (and where you can buy socks made of possum fur if you are so inclined).

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Underworld Adventure

The weather is absolutely wonderful today, although for several hours we didn't see much of it. About eight of us went on an "underworld rafting" trip. To condense the four hour trip (not counting 1/2 hour each way from the hotel) to a few paragraphs, here is the short version. (You can see more details on their website,

We picked up our individual duffel bags and rode a mile or so through the rain forest on a small tram railway. then we donned our wet suits (leaving dry clothing behind) and headed toward the caves. Along the way, we picked up our inner tubes. As we entered the caves, we donned our helmets with lights. We walked about a mile through the upper levels of the Nile River caves, and then got in the water and floated through the last part of the caves. This was the most incredible part -- there are large grottoes, and on the ceilings are tens of thousands of glow worms which appear as tiny points of light. It is like looking up at the starriest night that you have ever seen. We continued floating to the end of the lower level of the cave where we hit the Nile River. We then floated down the Nile, passing through a small rapids, and then finished our adventure with the tram ride back.
The glow worms are small insects that attach themselves to the roof of the caves. They emit light, much like the lightning bugs we are familiar with at home. The drop "fishing lines" (thin filaments) which catch other very small insects that they then eat.
The operators took several pictures which are they will post to the internet and I will be able to retrieve them later. It was a great way to spend our rest day.
We stopped at the town's pub for lunch and walked the remainder of the way back to the hotel. As I type this, I am also doing my laundry. When that is finished, I shall get my cameras and walk back up the hill to the pancake rocks (magnificent layers of limestone) and the blowholes (where the ocean rushes through holes in the rocks and then spurts upwards) that this town of Punakaiki is famous for.
Tomorrow we get back on the bicycles.

Monday, January 11, 2010


We saw the sign but no penguins. Today is our "rest day" and several of us are heading for a cave rafting adventure. It should be great fun.
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Westport to Punakaiki

This morning we woke to more rain and were apprehensive about what the day had in store for us. We had a late breakfast (8:30, because we that was the earliest the cafe would serve), which was probably a good thing. By the time we finished breakfast and were ready to start off, the rain had spent its course. For the first hour, I was still dressed for rain (and cold), but it continued to get warmer and brighter. After an hour we had good sun that lasted the rest of the day.

It was a short ride today -- 36 miles from Westport to Punakaiki. The latter is a very small town (like just about every other town we pass through), but we have a very nice resort hotel right on the ocean. All rooms are ocean view.

The ride was mostly gentle hills, with one very long and fun descent to the sea. The road ran right along the water's edge for many miles with some great views. The foliage is very interesting -- lots of large fern trees, and the rata trees with their red blooms are at their peak. We are also starting to see some palms that I think are called "bottle palms." At one picture stop, I was able to get some close up shots of a weka, a flightless bird that is fairly common in NZ.

I had intended to include a picture of the sign alerting traffic to watch out for penguins, but this computer does not allow external drives. I kept my eyes open for the penguins as I biked along the coast for several miles, but did not see any. Bill, one of our guides, thought that this is probably the wrong season.

Tomorrow is a rest day, so we will be at this hotel for two nights. If we have enough people interested, we will probably go caving, which involves traveling through the caves, floating in an inner tube (wearing a wet suit) and coming out in the river. It is supposed to be a four hour adventure and sounds like fun.

Lunch was on our own today, so I stopped in Punakaiki's only pub and had a really good hamburger. From there it was only about a mile to the hotel.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


When we finished breakfast this morning it was threatening rain. By the time we were ready to set off it was a gentle drizzle. We started anyway. The rain kept picking up in intensity but it wasn't too cold, the course was mainly downhill, and the Buller gorge provided some impressive views. A little past the halfway point, at about 30 miles, I was taking break and the van pulled alongside. We were almost at the lunch stop and I knew I would be calling it a day soon, so I hopped in the van, joining three other riders.

We stopped for lunch at Berlin's Cafe and were joined by the rest of the cyclists one and two at a time. It was cold enough that we asked if they could get the fire going. That turned out to be out of the question because "it is supposed to be summer." the rain was really coming down now and all but three hardy souls piled into the vans and headed for the showers at the motel in Westport.

My shoes are stuffed with newspaper to accelerate the drying and the wet clothes have been through the dryer. It is now late afternoon and the rain appears to have stopped. Let's hope tomorrow is drier.

I don't think that I have mentioned it but we have 15 riders plus three guides this week. It's a great group and we are enjoying each other's company.

Westport is on the Tsaman sea on the west side of NZ's South Island. Tomorrow we head south to Punakaiki "on a rolling coastal road that offers many spectacular views and delightful sandy coves." Then we have a rest day. #END
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Saturday, January 9, 2010

St Arnaud to Murchison

Wonderful ride today with somewhat less wind and almost all downhill. About 51 miles including an optional 13 mile (round trip) side excursion to Lake Rotorua which was absolutely beautiful AND EMPTY! There was not a boat on it. Then a women's rowing club showed up with several shells and took to the water.

I have noticed that there is almost no litter at all along the sides of the roads. They don't even have trash cans at roadside picnic tables. Everybody packs their trash and takes it with them.

Yesterday we did a group picnic on the ride. Today we packed picnic lunches and ate at times and places of our choosing. Murchison is a tiny town so I don't know what Dinner plans are.

I was walking through the town wearing my "tour of Napa Valley" t-shirt. A kiwi (that's a native) asked where Napa was. After I told him, his next question was whether I rode my Harley. I had to explain that this tour is for "push bikes."

Murchison doesn't have much to photograph, so here is a
BlackBerry photo of one of our support vans. #END
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Friday, January 8, 2010

Motueka to St. Armaud

Today was a great day of cycling, especially if you like wind. We left Nelson by van to avoid the heavy traffic and drove to Motueka. From there we had 60 miles of cycling through beautiful country on lightly traveled roads to St. Arnaud. It was essentially an all uphill day, most of it gradual, although we had two nice steep climbs which then rewarded us with good descents.

I estimate that we did about 3500 feet of climbing. The battery on my GPS quit about 80% of the way through the ride, at which point we had already done 3100 feet.

The first part of the ride was through orchard country with apples, peaches, and of course, kiwi. Shorty after this we came across some large fields of hops, a crop I haven't seen since leaving eastern Washington. We rode along some streams and rivers which were magnificently clean and clear. Naturally we saw lots of sheep, dairy cattle, and also one deer farm.

We can still see snow at some of the higher elevations. We are staying tonight at the Alpine Lodge in St. Arnaud, a very small town.

Its about time for dinner -- I think that I have earned it -- so I will sign off. Today's picture is of a carved tree stump that I saw in a field that we cycled past.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Picton to Okiwi Bay

Thursday -- our first full day of riding. We did a little over 50 miles with about 3300 feet of climbing. We left the hotel in Picton around 8 am in mostly cloudy conditions. 10 am saw the arrival of both the sun and the wind. The sun was in and out most of the rest of the day, but the wind kept picking up, and was quite fierce by the end of the ride at Okiwi Bay.

Basically we rode the main road (Highway 6) that goes from Picton to Nelson. After lunch we had the option of continuing on this road with steadily increasing traffic into Nelson, or veering off on a back road, with an 1100 foot climb, to the scenic Okiwi Bay, and then riding the van to Nelson. We chose the latter, and when we later saw the traffic (and heavy wind) on Highway 6, we were glad that we did. The van trip did have a negative aspect however. We were pulled over because a policeman parked on the side of the road was able to see that one passenger was not wearing her seatbelt. In fact, five of us were not wearing seatbelts, but he could not see that while the vehicle was moving. He gave her (the passenger, not the driver!!!) a $150 ticket. (We'll see that she doesn't have to bear this cost alone.)

The scenery was beautiful for most of the day. The towns are few and far between. Even though Highway 6 is a main road, it is never more than two lanes, and at times it narrows down to one lane for small bridges. We went through the town of Havelock which bills itself as the greenshelled mussel capital of the world. Shortly after that we stopped at a small cafe for lunch. I couldn't pass up the freshly made "mussel fritter." Thats two days in a row for the mussels -- I still have to try the ubiquitous lamb, and the venison that frequently appears on menus.

No picture today because the hotel computer doesn't have an accessible USB port for my card reader.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Christchurch to Picton

I'm starting today's post as we ride north along the coast to Picton. Several of us were picked up in Christchurch and we are traveling the 350 km in a caravan of two cans with trailers. Our bikes are on top of the trailers and our luggage inside. We are sufficienly inland that we don't see the ocean. Instead we are lots of sheep, some cattle, and after the first hour, we begin to see vineyards. The real wine country is further north. We are on highway 1 which is two lanes with very narrow shoulders. I have only seen one cyclist onthis road so far.

We just passed a large field full of deer. Alex, our guide, says that deer farming in NZ is growing in popularity. It is the easiest and most profitable form of farming with good markets throughou Asia for the pelts and antlers as well as the meat.

We have now crested the Kaikoura mountains and are heading toward the Pacific. The water is like a lake with no waves at all. We see a few seals anf lots of crowded campsites.
This is prime whale watching territory. North of Kaikoura we see lots of crayfish stands (rock lobsters ).

We arrived in Picton about 2 PM and immediately had lunch. I had the NZ green shelled mussels.

Then we proceeded to the motel, which is right on the water, and set up our bikes. Today's ride was a very short (20 km) mostly flat ride to familiarize ourselves with the bikes and get used to riding on the left side of the road. It felt good to be back in the saddle again.

The sign in the picture is in Christchurch.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Arrival in Christ Church

We had good tail winds, and arrived in Auckland at 4:30 this morning, about 35 mionutes ahead of schedule. to my surprise, we did not have to clear customs here -- the baggage went straight through to Christchurch, where it was no problem retrieivng luggage and getting through the formalities since our 737 was only about half full.
New Zealand is very strict about "biosecurity" and explicitly requires that you declare whether you have any hiking boots or other athletic footwear. In anticipation of a possible inspection of my cycling shoes, I was in the lavatory washing my shoes of all dirt at 3 in the morning. I was asked whether they were clean, but they took my word for it and did not actually inspect them.
New Zealand appears very cylcist friendly. I saw lots of cyclists on the way in from the airport, and they are all over the central city. All riding on the left hand side of the road, as the cars do. That will take some getting used to. My hotel offers free use of fat tire bikes to all registered guests. Since I am only here for the one day, I will probably not take advantage of this. Instead, I have been wandering around taking pictures -- the day is absolutely gorgeous, with bright sun and temperatures in the mid-seventies (I would guess.)
Tomorrow I ride to Picton in the Pedal Tours van and then we start our tour. We will be on the west side of the South Island which has had a lot of rain the last few days. I hope that it has spent itself and that the weather will improve for us.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Departure Day

It is 5 PM Sunday here at San Francisco
Airport (2 PM in New Zealand) and I am ready to depart. Checking in and getting through security was much easier than I expected, given the reaction to the Christmas day scare. We leave at seven, so I still have time to blog
I am bringing two digital cameras and am hoping for lots of good pix. Unfortunately, when posting from my BlackBerry, as I am doing now, the only pictures I can add are those taken with it. These are generally pretty poor quality so all I have today is this picture of our 777 getting loaded with dinner.
Until tomorrow from NZ.