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A Bike Ride Down Under Episode III: Blue-green waters and the Southern Alps
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The Cardona hotel may look dumpy on the outside, but its gardens and food were top-notch. - photo by Photos by Bill Rezak

Next week
Read how Bill Rezak takes the ferry for more than three hours on the way back to the North Island.

Editor’s note: This is the third of a four-part series chronicling a trip Bill Rezak made through New Zealand on a motorcycle.

On January 20, I rode from Westport on the west coast of the South Island to Christchurch on the east coast (about 200 miles). I crossed the Southern Alps for the first time via Lewis Pass. These mountains are 9,000 to 12,000 feet and are beautiful.

Because New Zealand is a little more than 100 miles wide and consists of two relatively small islands, the prevailing winds pick up a great deal of moisture from the ocean and the cloud formations are spectacular, to say nothing of the sunsets. I had a perfect 70 F day to ride to Christchurch, the second largest city in Kiwiland with about 300,000 people.

In Christchurch, I stayed in the very best B&B of the entire trip — Eliza’s Manor, a gorgeous old turn-of-the-century home close to downtown. I was able to walk to Christchurch Cathedral and tour the lovely botanical garden.

My hosts at Eliza’s Manor did laundry for me (of necessity; I traveled light). I also had one of the several crowns on my teeth come loose that evening. My hosts surprised me with a dental appointment at 8:30 the next morning — great service.

Let me take a moment to mention that Kiwi bottled beer is terrible. I consider myself something of a beer connoisseur. For that reason, I drank mostly imported draught in NZ. I did run into an occasional micro-brew pub and enjoyed sampling some of that. Any beer drinking that I did was in the evening, of course, after getting off the bike for the day. Alcohol and motorcycles are a notoriously poor combination!

Another very nice feature of travel in New Zealand is the fact that there are clean public restrooms everywhere. What an innovative concept! As an aging man in the United States, I’ve learned where every restroom on the east coast is located! No need in NZ — they’re all over the place.

On the morning of Jan. 21, I left Christchurch and headed west across the Southern Alps for the second time, this time via Arthur’s Pass on the way to Hokitika on the west coast, about 150 miles. This was my first day of rain. I, of course, had rain gear with me. At first I was disappointed that my pictures would be poor on such a rainy day, but it turned out to be a real "Lord of the Rings" experience. The mist lay like a blanket in the valleys and the mountain peaks rose above the halos of clouds.

I had lunch this day at an old pub just west of the pass called Jacksons’ Café, a grand old stage coach stop dating from the 19th century. I had lamb pie and it was so good I had two!

Upon arrival in Hokitika, I checked into the Woodland Glen Bed and Breakfast. This was a modern, lovely place in a small stand of trees surrounded by pastures of grazing sheep. I spent a quiet evening there. Fortunately, the sun came out as I arrived. This allowed me to drape my wet rain gear over some outdoor furniture to dry.

From Hokitika on the west coast of the South Island, I headed south along the ocean on Jan. 22. Giant cliffs rose vertically out of the Pacific Ocean, some covered with trees and ferns, some bare rock. I traveled to Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers to observe their slow, steady advance to the sea. As you can see from my pictures, I had glorious weather.

I progressed south to Haast where I couldn’t get into the only decent B&B — Collyer’s. Stay there, if you can — McGuire’s Hotel was submarginal. I logged 175 miles that day.

On the morning of Jan.23, I headed east inland over the Haast Pass of the Southern Alps — my third journey over their lovely ridges. I enjoyed some of the finest vistas of my trip on this day as I overlooked Lakes Wanaka and Hawea.

South of Haast Pass I ventured through Cardrona to enjoy lunch at the fabled Cardrona Hotel. This old pub (built about 1870) looks like a dump on the outside, but is really special on the inside and in the garden. It’s written up in all the biking mags and is definitely worth a visit. The food was great and the atmosphere right out of the movie "Tom Jones."

From Cardrona, I proceeded south to Queenstown and Invercargill. Along the way, I encountered a flock of sheep being tended by two border collies. The dogs would race around the rear of the flock and get them moving in the desired direction. Then, they would drop to the ground completely motionless and rest for a few moments until the flock stalled. Then, they were at it again until the sheep were moved to a new pasture. It was a beautiful and fascinating sight.

I rested for two nights in Invercargill. It was high on my list of destinations since it was home to Burt Munro of "The World’s Fastest Indian" fame. Burt purchased a new 600cc Indian Scout motorcycle in 1920 and worked on modifying it for the rest of his life. He bored and stroked it to 999cc (in order to be under the 1,000cc cut-off for speed records). He replaced the single cam and valve train with a double cam arrangement. In 1967 at the age of 67, Burt scrimped and saved and made his way to Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah — all the way from Invercargill, New Zealand! His story is related in the wonderful movie starring Anthony Hopkins. That summer, Burt set a world land speed record that still stands for motorcycles under 1,000cc — almost 200 mph. My hero!

Burt’s bike is owned and displayed by the owner of Hayes Hardware in Invercargill. It’s special to be in its presence. That was one of my favorite experiences of the whole trip.

It doesn’t get dark in Invercargill till about 10 p.m. at this time of year. That’s how far south of the equator it is. I logged 235 miles on that leg.

I stayed at the Tower Motor Lodge in Invercargill. My hosts were bikers and suggested that I run down to Bluff, a city at the very southern tip of the South Island and about 20 miles away. I did so on my rest day and enjoyed a terrific lunch at the Land’s End Restaurant.

After worshipping my hero, Burt Munro, I left Invercargill on the morning of Jan. 25 and headed for Lake Tekapo. This was a 250-mile ride over Lindis Pass of the Southern Alps — the last time I would cross these lovely ranges. It was overcast and about 50 F at departure time, so I layered up with a T-shirt, UnderArmor, denim shirt, leather vest and rain jacket. I was plenty warm this way.

Along the way I passed Lake Pukaki north of the town of Twizel. I arrived at the Lake Tekapo Bed and Breakfast late in the afternoon. This lake is a lovely shade of soft green from the dolomitic lime that runs off the mountains as the snow cap melts. Check out the picture taken from outside my bedroom window.

Bill Rezak retired in 2003 after 10 years as president of Alfred State College in Alfred, N.Y. Prior to that, he was dean of the School of Technology at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta. He and his wife, Paula, moved to Gainesville, and Paula was diagnosed with lung cancer in May 2004. She passed away in late 2006, but not without maximizing her time on her motorcycle.

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