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South Island, NZ – Ian Bowden loves his home

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This entry is part 10 of 17 in the series Adventure Rider Issue #22

Ian Bowden’s a proud Kiwi who loves his homeland. He especially loves it when he gets to show it off to others.

Top trail on the way over Thompsons track

We needed to cross from the North Island to the South, so the meeting point was to be the Wellington Cook Strait ferry terminal. After a hastened journey from Tauranga on my 690 I arrived to find Pete and his 990 and Ted and his Husky Terra chatting to an unknown adventure rider. Peter – the unknown rider – was a native New Yorker keen to experience New Zealand by motorcycle. He’d hired a DR650 in Auckland, was on the same sailing to the South Island as us and didn’t have too many ideas of the best routes. We offered to show him the real Kiwi riding available, with a bonus of seeing fantastic scenery at a twist of the throttle.

Helping out a fellow rider gives you that feel-good factor, especially when it’s one from the other side of the world.

Mavora Lakes. Check out the reflection
One of the world’s premier adventure-riding destinations.
Ted, author Ian and Pete on Black Forest Station.

Reefton

We stopped the night in Picton and met up with Peter in Blenheim after a blast over the winding Port Underwood road. Peter was on a budget and loaded up with camping gear and clothing while we travelled light, stopping at motels or country hotels. We didn’t pre-book any accommodation.

We just phoned ahead or found something later in the day.

That way we could vary our route if the weather turned to custard.

After a coffee kickstarter we headed over Taylor’s Pass and up the picturesque Awatere Valley to Molesworth Station, New Zealand’s largest farm station.

It’s now run by the Department Of Conservation, and the private road through is open for about three months of the year. It’s a great, gravel, back-country route of some 200km through very scenic high country which finishes in the thermal-spring resort town of Hanmer Springs.

After a late lunch we split up, with us heading towards the west coast over the Lewis Pass and Peter going on to Christchurch.

We’d arranged to meet up again in Fairlie in two days’ time.

That night was spent in a classic old west-coast pub in Reefton where we expanded our waistlines with a huge roast meal and beers.

Duffers Saddle on the Nevis Road. It’s the highest public road in New Zealand.

Fairlie

Rising to another clear, fine day we headed towards Greymouth, taking a left through Nelson Creek, the forests to Lake Hochstetter and lunch by Lake Brunner.

After lunch it was up and over Arthur’s Pass and a gravel side road that took us to Lake Coleridge and on down beside the Rakaia River.

We spent the night in Fairlie where we caught up with our American friend.

Ted unloading his bike from the classic old steamer TSS Earnslaw at Walter Peak Station. The trip across Lake Wakatipu is sensory overload.

Cromwell

In the morning we took the backroad route up the Limestone Valley and over Mackenzie’s Pass to Haldon Road. Our plans were to ride through Black Forest Station. I’d been in touch with the farmer and arranged access and the gate combination for a small road toll, and what a beautiful ride it was. There are great views over Lake Benmore from this pylon-access road.

We had lunch at Kurow. Peter was by now blown away with all he’d seen and experienced, and we’d barely started.

There was more after lunch. We wound over the twisting historic Danseys Pass before joining the bitumen to Omakau.

After a coffee fix it was up and over the rough dirt trail called Thompson’s Track and to our destination of Cromwell.

It was four thirsty riders who arrived there late in the day.

Manorburn Reservoir.

Back to base

We based ourselves in a Cromwell motel for five days to explore all the riding options available in the area. Peter camped at Bannockburn behind the old pub and met up with some more keen, helpful Kiwi riders.

He was a bit worn out after the previous day’s ride. It’d been tough going when the DR opted to ride him for a change, so he’d passed on this day’s adventure over the Nevis Crossing with its many river traverses. After that we cruised back to Queenstown and arranged to get our bikes on the classic old steamer TSS Earnslaw the following day for a ride out through Walter Peak Station. Unfortunately there was only room for our three bikes, so Peter missed out.

That afternoon we rode over the Cardrona Range to Wanaka, then around the lake and up the Matukituki River to the access point of Mount Aspiring. A side trip up the steep Treble Cone ski field for scenic snapshots finished off our day and we retired back to our digs in Cromwell.

Fiordland

It seemed we couldn’t go wrong with the weather and awoke to yet another fine, clear day. A brisk, early-morning ride through the Kawarau gorge to breakfast in Queenstown started things off before we loaded our bikes on the Earnslaw for the trip across Lake Wakatipu, which was more scenic overload.

The foreign tourists loved us and our bikes, and there was a lot of shutter action after unloading the bikes on the wharf at Walter Peak Station.

We rode through the station and headed south on the fast, loose, metal roads with a brief stop at the beautiful Mavora Lakes.A blast south on the tar past the town of Manapouri and a right turn onto a road I’d been told about turned out fantastic. We rode over the Borland Pass Road out to the South Branch of Lake Manapouri, deep into Fiordland high country. This road was made to service the large Manapouri power station built underground on the west end of the lake.

The beers never tasted better than that night back in Cromwell after yet another big day.

The views and terrain on New Zealand’s South Island are as spectacular as any in the world.

Cracks appearing

An easy day was called the next morning as I had to get the 690’s rear disc sorted.

Much to my chagrin Pete and Ted insisted on calling me ‘Throttle jockey’ and ‘Lead-foot Lenny’.

The disc was badly cracked and ready to fall apart.

After a few phone calls nothing was available, so down to the local welding shop I went and the owner welded up the cracks and smoothed off the work with a disc grinder. It was hardly an approved repair method, but when you’re having a fencing-wire moment, anything is better than nothing. Besides, it worked and held out for the rest of our adventure.

I met up with the others, including our native New Yorker, at Glenorchy and we rode up the Rees, the Dart an Greenstone river valleys before returning to Cromwell.

Skippers Canyon Road is infamous for its cliffs and drop offs.

Highlands Park

That night we had dinner with friends we hadn’t seen for some years.

It turned out they had a plane, so a scenic flight from Wanaka the next day was organised. It was a small, single engined aircraft and I was the only one keen. My over-cautious friends missed out on a fantastic scenic flight around Lake Wanaka and up to Mt Aspiring.

The rest of the day was spent riding up the Skippers Canyon road with its infamous cliffs and drop offs. It wasn’t the place to play up unless you fancied plunging down a sheer cliff into the river gorge far below.

Later that day we were invited to the new Highlands Park motor racing complex. Local bike enthusiasts had arranged a visit which included two sighting laps behind a Porsche SUV, and, after a briefing, away we went.

Our friend in the Porsche wasn’t mucking around and I soon found the limits of my front knobby with a big, front-wheel slide! I’d forgotten I was riding my adventure bike, not my road bike. Fortunately there was enough room to get off the brakes and get it under control without an embarrassing spill.

What a fantastic track, and the museum full of cars was well worth a look.

Warning sign at the start of the Skippers Canyon Road

Dunstan gold trails

The next day’s ride was to be through an area known as The Old Dunstan Gold Trail.

We headed south through Bannockburnto Carricktown. Taking a left, we rode the pylon track over the Cairnmuir Range and dropped down a steep trail overlooking the Clyde Dam. From there we headed south through Alexandra and Roxburgh to the small town of Lawrence for lunch. Then it was back into the rough as we headed inland, crossing Lake Mahinerangi to Clarks Junction and the long, fantastic, 4WD trails north past the Poolburn Reservoir. This isn’t a route to take if the weather isn’t good as the trails would turn very slick, much like the Aussie outback in the rain. Also, it’s very exposed and it snows there in the winter.

Our last day in central Otago was spent riding more of the great trails of the Dunstan area, including the Manorburn Reservoir and a long, exposed trail past Lake Onslow to Roxburgh.

New Yorker Peter had a tough day when the DR opted to ride him for a change.

West coast

Leaving Cromwell early the next day, we headed west over the scenic Haast Pass, arriving to nice weather on the coast.

We’d said our farewells to Peter earlier as he wanted to check out the riding further south.

Heading down the coast we took the Jackson River Road and followed it to the very end, which is close to the mighty Cascade River. We had to backtrack from there to return to Jackson’s Bay for a crayfish lunch at the seaside diner.

We then proceeded north up the very scenic west coast, stopping the night at a neat country pub in Harihari.

Continuing north the next day, and apart from a deviation to the picturesque Lake Kaniere inland from Hokitika, it was just more great motorcycling roads to an overnight stop at the Reefton pub.

A very scenic Borland road.

Back east

Heading further inland to Springs Junction and back over the Lewis Pass to Hanmer Springs in the morning, our plan was to ride up through Rainbow Station. This 4WD road goes through another private farm open in the summer for a small road toll, and we took the optional side trails to the Edwards River and Mauling Pass. Access to these is available through a Department Of Conservation website – www.doc.govt.nz – which gives you a gate combination number.

It’s all fantastic riding and a superb route to take.

That night we stayed at a good friend’s holiday home not far from St Arnaud, which is where the Rainbow Road finishes.

Ted and Pete, on the Jackson River road, looking down the Cascade.

The North Island and home

Our epic adventure drew to a close.

The following day it was a short ride to Picton to catch a ferry back to the North Island where we stopped the night at Pete’s place. Ted and I headed north later the next day while Pete caught up with his farming duties.

I’ve listed place names and routes so any keen Australian adventure riders will have some idea of the great riding available on this side of The Ditch. It’s all relatively easy to access, and with a bit of planning using maps and the internet you can have a great adventure. There’s a lot more riding in the South Island we didn’t do. I’d just picked some of the best I know of for this adventure ride.

A final note

Our friend Peter from the Big Apple was so impressed with what he saw he moved to New Zealand and started a family with his Kiwi partner. He now works in an Auckland motorcycle dealer-ship and rides a KTM.

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