Saturday, February, 4th, 2023

Distance travelled 445 kilometres

Who, at least in theory, would not want to stay in the tremendous beauty of Kaikoura Bay for ever ? Well, not us apparently. Although, in all fairness, we did not want to leave and trade our lovely accommodation with its sea view outside the windows and a pleasant coolness inside, for the hot sun of the road, we had to. Already, at eight in the morning, when I had walked to a nearby supermarket to buy some fruit (including Kiwi fruit “berries”) it had been very warm. By nine, it was really hot and almost unbearable in the direct sunlight.

With the speed born of practice, Lucie packed everything up and put it onto the Softail. I was chatting with our neighbour, from the next little apartment. He was very curious about our trip and mentioned, in passing, that most of the road between Kaikoura and Blenheim, that I had enjoyed so much two days before, had been replaced since the earthquake of 2010 and had been a lot less pleasant before then. One man’s meat, as they say ! He also showed me a video from his whale watching experience, where a group of Orcas cornered – and then tore to pieces and ate – an unfortunate Stingray ! Scary !!

In the end, we had to leave. There was no rush, we only had about 180 kilometres to go to get to Christchurch. Even with a lot of refreshment stops, we were sure to be there by early afternoon. Having learned a small lesson on the way north, we filled up the tank and set off on the already travelled route back south. As always, I was struck by the beauty of the landscape. Whether it was a stunning blue-watered bay, or rolling countryside, it was all simply glorious.

We stopped again in the town of Cheviot, at the Number 8 Café (8 Hall Street, Cheviot). I could not pass up a final chance for some properly crisped bacon !

The church across the road still had its own “Open” sign, so we popped in. It was nothing particularly special and, although it looked quite old, it was built in the early 1960s.

A lot of bikers had whizzed past us in the hills and they were all gathered together at the edge of town. It did not seem to be an “event” as such – perhaps everything on two wheels on both islands, had taken to the road in the beautiful holiday weekend weather.

We had planned our next stop at the tea stand where the chatty lady had laughed at my “hot, white and weak” tea joke, but sadly, it was closed.

We drove on and finally stopped at a winery, where a café and restaurant were open for lunch and wine tasting. It looked very classy and people from the neighbourhood obviously to go there for lunch on Saturdays at noon. We were a tiny bit out of place there, but they gave us iced coffees and let us sit in the garden to the side where we would not scare the other patrons. We proved what plebs we were when I gave Lucie what I thought was an ashtray, but was actually a spittoon for the wine tasting …. When we realised what it was (a man came to clean the table and tipped all the un-drunk wine into it), we quickly hit the road before they found out what a social faux-pas we had committed !!

Before our hasty retreat, as we had sat in the winery, it had dawned on us that our journey was nearly over. I had suggested, somewhat tentatively, whether, rather than lurking out of the sun in our Christchurch lodgings, we should take a final ride over to Arthur’s Pass. At first, Lucie thought it was just a joke, but soon realised it was not. After consulting her trusty iPad, she asked if I realised that Arthur’s Pass was about half way back to the Fox Glacier. I said that it could not be that far (it is) and Lucie showed me the map indicating it was 180 kilometres away and would add about 250 kilometres, in all, to our days ride. Lucie meditated on it for a while, but she could see it would better to spend a beautiful day on the road rather than cooking in Christchurch (although Christchurch is quite a pretty town). We changed the route in the SatNav and off we went.

The road was nothing special at first, flat countryside, but after a lengthy diversion caused by yet another road closed for resurfacing, the mountains appeared far ahead and our change of plan made more sense.

The map had indicated a paucity of petrol stations on the way, so we filled up at the first opportunity. As I was putting in the petrol, a huge 50s style American car drove by. I thought that its V8 sounded particularly loud, but soon realised that was because there were four identical models in a convoy. Some sort of Owners’ Club, I supposed. It was indeed, about ten kilometres ahead, outside of a roadside pub, there were nine of the cars, parked in a single line over 200 metres long. About five kilometres beyond that, the road passed across a high canyon on a very narrow, single lane, bridge. None of those behemoths, I fancy, could have got over that !

From the beginning of our trip to the pass, the distance to the destination in the SatNav and in the map application on the iPad did not match. At our last planned rest stop, the iPad said we had over seventy kilometres left to ride and the SatNav claimed it was just thirty. We passed the Castle Hill Rocks which, unsurprisingly, are said to resemble a “real” castle, perched on a hilltop and climbed further into the pass.

Suddenly, the SatNav reported that we had arrived – but there was nothing, anywhere. The map application was right. We carried on until the map application WAS satisfied, which was just on the far side of a very long bridge indeed that crossed a wide and predominantly dry river bed.

In the thin stream that was flowing, a Kiwi girl in a diminutive bikini was frolicking in the water. The sun was out, but there was no warmth, she must have been freezing ! There was a big sign saying we were in Arthur’s Pass National Park. That was enough for us, as the day was running out. I parked the Softail in front of the sign for a photo opportunity and we decided to head back down to Christchurch.

Incidentally, there IS a town called Arthur’s Pass, but we never saw it.

Then, we had to do our final real ride, all the way back down to Christchurch. Especially while we were well up in the hills, all the views along the way were worth that last ride. It seemed that, even though we had thought we must have seen most of the scenic possibilities that New Zealand had to offer, we had been wrong.

On the way down, we did stop at the Castle Hill Rocks. They really do resemble a ruined castle perched high on a hill. There were also a series of statues representing the Maori “guardians” of the area.

At what was probably the route’s highest point, we stopped for a picture of the road winding sinuously uphill towards us.

Then I had to ride down it ! On the downhill side (the one nearest the precipice), the surface, probably because of the need for heavy vehicles to be continuously on the brakes was rutted and there was a lot of loose grit and pebbles. Not much fun when you are on a heavy motorcycle and have to be careful when braking on, errrr loose grit and pebbles. I heaved a sigh of relief when we arrived safely at the bottom.

We had planned to eat somewhere on the way down to Christchurch, but it was already after 17:00. All the likely looking places we had passed on the way up, including a place called the Taste of Kiwi Café, in Springfield, which had been thronged with bikers and looked looked like it might stay open, were closed. At the gas station in Springfield, which luckily was open, we met and talked with two bikers. Lucie later said they had struck her as being rather suspicious as they did not seem to want to let us go. I explained that they had told me, while she was paying, that they had, at that point, come all the way (almost 120 kilometres), from Franz Josef and that they were worn out. One of them had terrible back pain and they did not want to go on. They were both younger than Lucie – children indeed !!

In the end we made one further stop at a petrol station for a last rest before the final haul and I enjoyed my final chilled coffee of the holiday. It was good stuff and had certainly helped both refresh me and to keep up the level of concentration required.

Then we rode into Christchurch and went straight to the accommodation, the Country Glen Lodge (107 Bealey Avenue, Christchurch). This was directly was across the street from our previous lodging, the Tuscana Motor Lodge, but that was the only way it was close to it. Do not get me wrong, it was perfectly satisfactory for what it was. Friendly and obliging proprietor, well equipped and handy for the centre. It was just in a lower league.

Completely finished physically, we threw the things from the Harley into the room and found the nearest likely looking restaurant (Athens Yacht Club) on the map application. When we got there, it seemed very expensive and with big dishes and a sign saying that it was in the Greek style where people share food (and eat for three hours). We wanted something small and quick so as to be home and in the shower as soon as possible.

Luckily, there was an Asian fast food place right next to the restaurant, Hachi Hachi (177 Victoria Street, Christchurch Central City, Christchurch). Lucie and I shared three dishes, salmon sashimi, pork dumplings and beef with rice, which was totally satisfying and, as I like to say, hit the proverbial spot.

It was a short ride home (the one-way system had made the way there about three times as long) and we were soon tucked up in another king-sized bed after a long and tiring, but very satisfying day.