Chapter 12 – Winter down under

  

New Zealand

I’d ridden about 20km along the road to Jackson Point before I spotted the sign saying ‘The Craypot – Closed’. Bollocks! I’d been looking forward to ‘Fush ‘n’ Chups’ before pitching my tent by the sea. It was 130km to Fox Glacier and another ten or so to the campsite at Gillespies Beach and with only two hours of daylight remaining I knew it would be tight, but for some reason I really fancied camping by the sea.

After collecting a few supplies in Fox village I rode directly into the sunset and found the dirt road that wound its way through the forest for 12km to the beach where I pitched my tent under the moonlight.

Despite being an enjoyable day’s ride the last hour had been cold. As the road turned away from the sea and entered the forest so the temperature had plummeted. Quite the opposite of five hours previously when I’d nearly given myself a Hernia trying to pick my bike up after dropping it in the sand at Lake Hawea. Taking some pictures at the waters edge had seemed like a good idea at the time, until I discovered that what looked like packed gravel from a distance was in fact soft sand.

Danny, having seen much of the south island during a visit some years ago, had opted to stay in Queenstown and so I had to pick my bike up alone.

 

I’d had a route planned for seeing the south island north of Queenstown for some time but every time a suitable ‘window’ in the weather was forecast so something would crop up that required I stayed in town. Most recently it had been our Australian visa applications. They were returned pending chest x-rays (to check for TB) because we’d spent more than three months in Asia. The forms arrived on the Thursday, we got the x-rays done the following Monday, they were then sent to a lab before we could have an appointment with the (Embassy Approved) Radiologist on the Thursday. A week had passed by, the weather had changed and once again I would have to wait to go for a look around. But now, I was sitting under the stars with my stove roaring away, looking across at Mt.Cook illuminated by an almost full moon. It had been worth the wait.

 

Over the next few days I worked my way up the west coast camping at the very basic DOC (Department of Conservation) sites along the way. The stretch north of Greymouth that passed by the ‘Pancake Rocks’ at Punakaiki was particularly nice and I was amazed some of the houses tucked away in the most unlikely locations.

 

DSC_0428Punakiki

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Westport I spent the night in a backpackers hostel so I could do some laundry and in the morning was disappointed to discover a pool of water underneath my bike in the woodshed where I’d parked her. I traced the leak to the water pump drain hole; another seal had failed. I thought about the last time I’d replaced it in Rainbow Guesthouse, Leh, North India and realized it was a year ago almost to the day. Even writing this now I find it hard to believe that was a year ago. Although I always carry a spare, I decided to see if I could get it to last until I returned to Queenstown where I could repair it in the relative comfort of the garage. All it would/should mean would be topping up the radiator each morning.

 

Back in my tent I was determined not to let the sand flies spoil the beauty of the campsite at the foot of the Heaphy Track (as far north as you can drive up the west coast) but it was hard. Despite smearing all exposed skin with insect repellent, by the time I’d finished cooking my tea I had 27 bites on my left hand alone. They even managed to bite me through my trousers and long johns. In fact, there was only one part of me that didn’t get bitten and that’s only because it was so cold!

Celebrity Death Match – Sand Fly vs Mosquito anybody?

 

DSC_0456 Karamea Camping

 

After a visit to the infamous Self-acting Incline (regarded as an engineering marvel in its day) in the former mining town of Denniston, I headed inland along the Buller River Valley before turning NE to Motueka and the Abel Tasman NP. Picking up some supplies at the local supermarket I got chatting to a local couple whos sixteen year old son was at sea for the first time on a fishing vessel. He’d emailed halfway through his six week stint in the Southern Ocean to say they had snow on deck. So that’s where it was – it certainly wasn’t on the mountains!

 

DSC_0469 Adam Motueka

 

Having turned my nose up at the $20 wanted by a campsite just up the road in Kaiteriteri, I set off over Takaka Hill in search of another. Not realizing how far it was to the next campsite, it had been dark for an hour before I checked in at Pohara Beach. The following morning I tried phoning a few kayaking companies in the hope of arranging a day paddling through the NP but it seemed they’d all shut up shop for the winter; I guess I’ll have to wait until I’m up this way again en-route to the north island in early October. Instead, I rode around Golden Bay and visited Whanganui Beach. A twenty minute walk over the hills from a car park at the end of a 12km dirt road that runs west from Puponga. It’s the most northerly point of the south island and despite being battered by the wind was a gorgeous location.

I returned south over Takaka Hill in daylight and got a room in a backpackers in Nelson. Arriving on a Sunday was perfect and I tucked into an ‘all you can eat’ Sunday Roast at the Victorian Rose in Nelson before watching Bourne Ultimatum at the local cinema.

 

The following day I continued south through Nelson Lakes NP and spent the night at Hanmer Springs. After eight consecutive days in the saddle I was looking forward to soaking in the hot springs that give the town(?) its name. Encircled by mountains, the nine outdoor pools range in temperature from 28-39°C. Had I realized just what it was like in there prior to going, I’d have taken my camera. As I’d previously witnessed in Queenstown, when the atmospherics are right, a pink/purple glow appears over the mountains for about twenty minutes as the sun sets. That night I watched the glow over the mountains turn into a beautiful sunset and eventually another brilliantly moonlit night; all from the comfort of a 39° spa pool! The heat didn’t last long though as that night I slept in a base layer, fleece, long johns, thick socks and a hat. It was about -5°C in my tent but felt much colder.

 

I spent the next two nights with Caroline and Dave in Christchurch where I collected some bike parts I’d previously ordered,  arranged for a water pump impeller kit to be delivered overnight and took a ride around the volcanic peninsular of Akaroa.

 

Heading south towards Queenstown under heavy skies, I was thankful to skirt the two storms I’d been watching on the horizon and once through the first range of mountains I emerged into blue skies and brilliant sunshine. After a brief stop in Tekapo my bike overheated just as I passed the town limit sign. Perhaps my hopes of nursing her back to Queenstown were a little optimistic.

 

DSC_0496 Lake Tekapo

 

After letting her cool down I topped up the radiator from my waterbottle and continued on my way but the die was now cast and this would prove to be the first of several stops. Each time the temperature light illuminated I would kill the engine, select neutral and coast as far as possible knowing the cold air would cool the engine rapidly. Fortunately in New Zealand you’re never far from a river or stream and so even once I’d emptied my waterbottle it was usually just a case of climbing over a fence and crossing a field to re-fill it. By the time I returned to my bike she was cold enough to remove the radiator cap and top it up.

It took longer than I’d anticipated but with no additional dramas I rolled into Queenstown in daylight. My twelve days back on the road had raced by but now it was time to get back on my snowboard.

 

 

Tuesday September 4th

 

…it’s for days like today that I snowboard. After a very poor season for snowfall there was 30cm forecast to fall overnight; the first decent fall for a month.

We were up at 0600, ate breakfast and waiting in the queue for the fist lift up the mountain at 0900. The lifts open one at a time as the ski patrol take care of avalanche control. Finally the lift we’ve been waiting for (Shadow Basin) opens and after a couple of runs we find ourselves alighting the lift just as patrol remove the ‘Closed’ signs from the hiking trail that leads to the top of the chutes above Alta lake. After a ten minute hike we laid the first tracks down the chutes and returned again and again until our legs would no longer carry us. It had been the best day of the season.

 

Pic – Fresh Tracks

 

With more snow forecast for Mt.Hutt (5hrs drive north), Andy, Danny and I set off at 0600 the following morning and stopped at Ohau ski fields en-route. The access road was the knarliest we’d encountered and reading the weather reports after the trip I noticed that the road is often closed due to falling debris – try the Karakoram!

The low cloud affecting visibility gradually lifted as the morning went on, allowing us to venture further off-piste. After traversing for some time before walking for five minutes or so, we came to an open powder bowl. Dropping in one at a time, I brought up the rear and was stunned as I hit a buried rock towards the bottom of the bowl; it was like riding into a wall on a bicycle and going over the handlebars. Somewhat dazed, I knelt for a while gathering my senses and was straightening my cricked neck when I heard people shouting “Are you OK?” I replied that I was but soon a skier arrived to check on me. As we rode away together so they were still shouting. It was only as we crested the next rollover that I spotted Danny led on the ground, staring at the sky, screaming “I’ve broken my arse!” He was in agony and it was some time before he could struggle down the mountain and limp into the café.

IMG_0684 Bruise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With Danny opting out of the rest of the days riding, Andy and I headed back up to the ridgeline for a few more runs. Our last run followed a 50 minute hike onto and along the ridgeline. From our drop-in point the chute was blind until we’d crossed the first rollover but having checked it out from below we knew what to expect. It was the best, longest, deepest powder run off the season and (almost) made up for totaling my board earlier in the day.

 

P1010035 Hiking the ridge

 

We spent the night in Methven in readiness for our trip to Mt.Hutt the following day. Danny, checking his arse out in the mirror, was pleased to have something to show for all the pain and his still emerging bruise was about 8in long and shaped like New Zealand! This would prove to be just the beginning – see photos!

I wanted to draw around its outline with a marker pen each day but Danny wouldn’t let me near him. If he had, his arse would have looked like a cross-section of a tree trunk by now.

The off-piste at Mt.Hutt was tracked out by the time we got there but the on-piste was the best we’d had this season so we stayed for two days and enjoyed the novelty of being able to see the ocean from a ski field before returning to Queenstown, collecting some fresh salmon from the salmon farm on the way.

 

This week had been long awaited. With only four (half) decent snowfalls this winter, records will show this to be a poor (but not the poorest) season and that made this week even more special.

 

 

Back in Queenstown…

 

It was time for some bike maintenance. The abrasive tarmac had finished off my front tyre and my leaking water pump required replacing. As this was likely to be the only chance I’d have to work on my bike at my leisure and in a decent garage, I took the opportunity to go right through her before we set off on the next leg of our journey.

Upon re-assembly I found the radiator leaking and traced it to an unusual fault. The fan is mounted in a plastic housing mounted to the back of the radiator. The housing had warped in the heat of Asia and the high point had rubbed through one of the cooling fins. As I’d been topping the radiator up due to the failed water pump seal, the additional leak had been disguised. The radiator was sent to Christchurch, repaired, flushed, painted and returned in four days for a total bill of NZ$170.

 

 

The end is nigh

 

Spring is truly upon us, the snow is receding rapidly (like us!) and the daytime temperatures are in double figures. The breeze has been warm for the first time this week and the Fernhill Open Golf Championship (us four housemates on the nine hole Frankton course) was played in shorts and T-shirts a few days ago. Our days on the mountain remind me of the summers we rode the glacier in Les Deux Alpes, France – too icy until about 10am followed by a sweet spot of around three hours before it became too slushy and we were surfing across puddles at the base. As each day goes by so the sweet spot ends sooner, but with school holidays starting this weekend they’ll try to keep the mountain open for another week.

 

Friends have started to move on. First Tom and Gemma headed off on a brief road trip before returning to the UK. They were soon followed by Jenny and today we took our housemate Rob to the airport for his long haul flight home to his final year of university in Hull. Danny and I rolled around laughing when he referred to himself as a mature student – we’d celebrated his 21st here and it was a night to remember. Ian had written him a list of 21 things he had to achieve during the day and he managed a creditable 17 of them.

We though one of the hardest to achieve would be, ‘Seven ball someone at pool’. Now for the non pool players, ‘seven balling’ someone means clearing the table leaving all seven of your opponents balls un-potted. The forfeit for being ‘seven balled’ is dropping your trousers and running round the table. We strolled into Q-Lounge on the way back from the mountain and racked the balls up where Rob proceeded to seven ball an unsuspecting Rich (English trainee ski instructor) not once but twice in succession! Luckily for Rich he managed a pot in the third game as three in a row means everything off! Richs’ stunned, wordless expression was a picture.

 

 

Turning 40

 Two weeks after Rob’s 21st, I turned 40. I spent it in one of my favorite places – up a mountain, on my snowboard. Sure, there are people there 30 years younger than me, but there are also people 30 years older. Up there age is irrelevant – you’ve just got to want it; so here’s to another 30 years snowboarding!

 

 

A weekend to remember

 

It was four thirty on a Sunday afternoon and the remnants of a Sunday roast were strewn around the cabin. Cruising along at 5 knots with the sun setting on our backs, we headed back to port as the relaxing tunes of ‘Chilled Ibiza’ flowed from the boats tannoy. Having already divvied up the crayfish tally, Captain John was filleting all the cod we’d caught whilst I piloted the boat.

We were in Doubtful Sound where Andy Pedley (who we’d met on an Avalanche Awareness course earlier in the season) had arranged for ten of us to spend the weekend cruising around on a converted cave tour boat. Danny & Liz dived for crayfish whilst the rest of us fished and drank in the scenery along with a few beers. The fishing was good and we caught Blue Cod, Red Cod, Groper, Tarakihi, Wrasse, Sea Perch and Jock Stewarts.

 

DSC_0622 Dive prep

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liz was the star of the show. A 32 year old Canadian, she’d only learnt to dive the previous week but was KEEN as mustard. Onboard, she earned the nickname ‘Cave girl’ thanks to her willingness to get stuck into anything Danny said it was nothing compared to what she was like under the water. As Danny took a while to get used to picking up crayfish (Rock Lobster) thanks to them looking twice their real size under the water, Liz was straight in there, sometimes wrestling two at a time.

DSC_0667 Cave Girl

 

Saturday’s rain had cleared to reveal the mountain peaks under blue skies. A pod of dolphins took up position at the bows, changing course only to surface for air and with commercial trips not due to recommence until October we were alone in the Sounds.

Doubtful Sound takes a bit of effort to get to. A 2.5hr drive from Queenstown is followed by a 40 minute boat ride across Lake Manapouri, then a 40 minute bus ride over Wilmot Pass before finally arriving at the Quayside. It had been well worth it though, with everyone still talking about what a great weekend it was for weeks after.

 

DSC_0727 Crooked Arm

  

 

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3 Responses to Chapter 12 – Winter down under

  1. thank you for taking the time to post this :)

  2. I have forgotten who it was but I first found out about your website from a link posted on Twitter. . I really love the stuff I have read on your blog and plan to keep reading when I find more time. Do you have a Twitter profile?

  3. Good share, great article, very usefull for us…thanks.

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