Riding New Zealand

A Suzuki SV650, my Canon 700D and 20 days in New Zealand: Sleeping in a tent, chasing the sun and trying to get the perfect picture. In this section, I try to keep you updated about my trip; three pictures a day, not much text. Simple. I hope I can upload some news every day, but I don't know if I have internet all the time. So be patient and rest assured: pictures are coming.

Day 1: Akaroa

Roughly 2 hours east of Christchurch, there's the small town of Akaroa. The winding street to the bayside township is supposed to be one of the most beatiful motorbike routes in New Zealand. And a good one to start with:

Discovery of the day: The Onuku Farm Hostel and Campground. I didn't want to go back to Christchurch, so I kept driving until the end of the road. What I found was an enchanted little place in the middle of the mountains, with a small kitchen-hut and a shower in the middle of the forest.

My accomodation for the night. Hopefully, it won't rain.

Day 2: Lake Tekapo

Today, I slept under the Milky Way, had the worst night of my life and cuddled with glow worms. But the facts first: Day 2 was all about mileage: I drove from Akaroa about 300 km all the way down to Lake Tekapo in the south west. I reached Lake Tekapo at sunset, so I could still take some pictures:

What I couln't find anymore, though, was a camp site. So I ended up on the edge of a forest behind the town. And made today's discovery of the day: Before you set up your tent in an unknown area, make sure your spot is absolutely wind protected! Which I didn't, unfortunately. As soon as the sun set, winds started to blow. Within two hours, it felt like Zeus and Prometheus were fighting over who would get me. The wind pushed the top of my tent into my face and had ripped out 6 of my 8 pegs. When I opened the tent to fix it, though, I was lying right underneath the Milky Way. Some glow worms had entered my tent and flashed their way through my luggage; but at this point, I had other things on my mind than the Milky Way or some glow worms. Obviously, when I woke up the next morning, it was dead quiet. Not a single breeze. But the night had clearly left its marks:

Day 3: Twizel

Twizel is just 76 km south west of Lake Tekapo. However, today I made use of one of the uniquenesses of travelling alone. By noon, I had found a good motif: The beautifully turquoise Lake Pukaki, which is fed by the Mt Cook glaciers (whose minerals turn the water turquoise):

I took some quick shots and decided to set up my tent at the nearest campground to come back at sunset for some elaborate pictures with the turqoise water and Mt Cook in the background. When I reached the spot at sunset, though, it turned out the water needed the high sun for its turquoise tint and Mt Cook was somewhat foggy in the background. I had waited an entire afternoon in vain.

Still, I had found a nice campground at similarly amazing Lake Rutaniwha (the water was freezing cold, though), met a fellow motorbike traveller who gave me his New Zealand tour guide and supplied me with valuable tips for the next day.

Day 4: Mt Cook

Day 4 finally brought some good pictures. In the morning I decided to go back to my Lake Pukaki location for the sunrise. I drove 20 minutes in the dark (and cold!) and my toes and fingers were freezing. The Lake Pukaki motif wasnt any better than at sunset, but: Along the way I found the perfect location for a panorama:

 

And then I was off to Mt Cook. Some people say that New Zealand has every landscape Europe has on a hundredth of the area (which I don’t entirely agree with). Still, all of the sudden, I found myself in the middle of Switzerland: luscious green valleys surrounded by snow-covered mountains, small wooden shelters and a river winding through the valley.

The landscape left me stunned, and finally I had at least some pictures I was quite content with. And I had found a perfect motif for the next morning: The Tin shed!

Day 5: Wanaka

Day 5 brought me from Mt Cook approx. 200 kms to Wanaka. Originally, I had planned to get up at sunrise to go to the red tarns, but when my alarm rang at 5.30am, I just couldn't get up. Instead, I took a little longer and went to my planned location: The Tin Shed.

I knew it was going to rain during the night, so I checked in in a Hostel for the first time when I reached Wanaka. I'm not gonna lie, it was good! When I went out to explore Wanaka, I saw a postcard with a beautiful picture of a tree in a lake. I asked a local where the tree was and decided to go there to take a picture that was at least as good as the one on the postcard. To tell you right away: It wasn't:

However, on the way to the tree I discovered a fairly common scene: An old Mitsubishi Tourbus standing at the lakeside. However, the scene had something special to me. It cought my attention when wind rose and blew some dust along the scene. Unfortunatly, I couln't get out my camera in time, but when I finally had it ready, the sun was covered by clouds, shed soft light on the side of the bus and a bird flew into the scene. At the right moment, I just pushed the button and got a picture I like way more than the tree:

Day 6: Henry Creek

Today, the weather wasnt perfect. The roads were, though! I had to get to Te Anau, roughly 230 km south-west of Wanaka. With this sort of curves it was hard not to get too excited:

For my parents among you: I’m still alive. On the contrary, I even learned a lot: How to properly ride curves on a motorbike, how to have hell a lot of fun and still stay safe and that 25 ks for a bend sometimes is a good recommendation.

 

When I got to the bottom of these serpentines, I turned around and drove it all again. Halle fuckin’ luja, it was the best motorbike route I have ever ridden in my life!

 

At the end of the day, I had two discoveries: First of all, there are certain circumstances in which riding a motorbike may be better than snowboarding (very certain circumstances, though!) And the second discovery: The campsite at Henry Creek! Luckily, I was too stingy to go to the bigger campsite in Te Anau, so I drove a little 25 ks extra and ended up on this beautiful campsite, no showers, no kitchen, just a gravel road through the woods and people setting up their tents right at the lakeside. I met Benny, Valerie and Alisa, we sat at the lake, drank beer and chatted until the moon rose and set again (strangely, it set approx. 15 minutes after its rise, at exactly the same spot. Well, in New Zealand, the world is upsite down.)

My tent at the campground in Henry Creek. (This time with wind protection!)

Day 7: Milford Sound

With the beautiful lakeside, there wasn’t any doubt I was getting up at sunrise. The night was pretty cold and I hoped for some fog over the lake. I slept with 4 layers, but I got rewarded:

After the sunrise, I was off 96 km to the Milford Sound, where I took a cruise ship through the sound to the sea. Although I took loads of pictures, it was a tip Benny gave me last night that became the best thing that happened on my trip so far. Along the way to the Milford Sound, I stopped at a lookout, walked down a hidden path and found this:

A hidden idyll in the forest, only 150 meters from the crowded path to the lookout - and no one knew about it. I couldn’t resist. I took off my clothes and swam all the way through the rocks, to the very background of the picture, where a waterfall hit the lagoon. I was a tiny spot in between massive rocks and hectoliters of water crashing down. Sunbeams lit the water drops. It was like swimming through a painting. I dont like superlatives, but this was the coldest and most amazing thing I've ever experienced!

 

Day 8: Te Anau

Today, I decided to have a day off. I wanted to sleep in after almost one week of getting up before sunrise and needed to relax my shoulder, which was getting pretty sore from the riding. Conveniently, the weather wasn’t too good, so I wasnt even tempted to leave the warm community room of the campground. Since I didnt take any new photos, youll get some more of Mt Cook:

 

Day 9: Back To Lake Pukaki

Today, I discovered the downside of travelling alone. I spent the last day and a half with three other Germans. We played cards, had lunch together and talked about our favourite places. It was a lot of fun and over all the socialising, I edited not even nearly as many photos and wrote as much as I wanted. Despite the bad weather, I had a good day. This morning, though, they packed their tent in their car, said goodbye and were off; and I was alone again.

 

I packed my stuff and left for a rather unconventional journey: I wanted to travel back 380 km to the Tin Shed. Call it insane, but I needed to go back and try to get a new photo of the shed in the sunset, with the trees backlit from the sun rising behind the mountains into a light blue sky. To tell you the truth: It didn't work as planned:

However, I found two other spots where I tried to make use of one of these beautiful sunsets you don't get very often. I got some pictures, but somehow they didn't really work out the way I wanted.

It weren't the ideal photos, but I took it as a learning experience and went back to my tent. I had a long journey ahead: The next day, I had to drive 300km to finally get to the west coast.

Day 10: From The Mountains To The Rainforest

After the huge detour back to Lake Pukaki it was time to make some mileage. And thats what I did: More than 400 km over the Lindis Pass back to Wanaka, up the Haast Pass and through the rainforest to Fox Glacier. The landscape changed from golden wheat fields to wet streets winding through the rainforest:

After 8 hours of travelling, I finally reached Fox Glacier:

I slipped through the closing doors of the tourist information and for the first time on this trip wasnt stingy at all. There was something I wanted to do since this journey began: Taking a helicopter to the top of the glacier and hiking through the ice. It costed a ridiculous amount of money, but as my father said: It’s worth it, if you’re going to remember it in 20 years. Tomorrow at 7.50am my journey should start.

Day 11: Fox Glacier

Today was a day of very mixed emotions. It started with rain; and it ended with rain. When I got to the heli company at 7.45, the town of Fox Glacier looked like this:

 

It had been raining the whole night. Needless to say that my heli hike was cancelled. Plus, my tent was soaked. It didnt look like it was getting better any time soon, so I decided to leave behind my small dream of the heli hike in order to still see a bit of the north island. I packed all my stuff in the rain and left the tent to dry, hoping it was going to be better soon. And in case they could put me on a later heli hike. Luckily, they could.

 

We started right away. Although it was still raining, even the helicopter flight to the glacier was an amazing experience. And up the glacier it was breathtaking, despite rain, clouds and frosty temperatures: crystal blue ice caves, accessible crevasses and glossy, reflecting ice walls. A once in a lifetime opportunity to take amazing pictures. So I thought. After not even 20 minutes, my camera wouldn't switch on. I checked everything, but it still wouldn’t turn on. Until now, at 10.30pm, it doesn't work. Even if it would dry during the night in front of the heater, I had missed one of the greatest photo opportunities I could have had. And I probably will never have a chance like this again. These were the last pictures I took:

When we got back, it was still raining. I clearly didn’t want to spend another rainy night in Fox Glacier. I crammed my wet tent in my side bags. I didn't care anymore. I just wanted to get out of there.

 

In Hokitika, in 170km, was a small photo shop. If worst came worst and my camera wouldn’t work even after I had dried it, they might be able to help me. I got onto my bike and drove. I drove on narrow bends through the rainforest, along the coast and over roaring rivers. It wasn't raining anymore; it was pouring. The sky had opened its doors; water was falling on every square inch of the westlands. When I reached Hokitika, my dripping clothes left a puddle in front of the hostel counter. “Please tell me you still have a room left.”, I said to the receptionist. “Lucky you”, she said with a pitiful look, “we have one bed left.”

 

Despite the rain and the possible loss (I still have hope!) of my camera, something truly amazing happened: On the way to Hokitika, I stopped at a service station and had a small chat with two fellow motor bikers, a couple from Wellington. They said they were back in Wellington January 25 and invited me to stay with them if I was going to be around. An invitation of two Kiwis I just met at a service station; this country truly is as amazing as so many people told me.

Day 12: The Rain Won't Stop

If this was bad fiction, my camera would have switched on after a night in front of the heater. But this isnt fiction and my camera didnt switch on. From here on, there will be no more photos.

 

I went to three photo stores along my way to Nelson; all of them told me the same: Theyd have to send the camera away, it would take at least 3 weeks and cost as much as buying a new one. With 7 days left, sending it away wasnt an option. And looking at my budget, buying a new one wasnt either. One big reason why I did this trip was sitting broken on the bottom of my bag, and there was no way of getting it fixed. When I got onto my bike, it started to rain even worse than the day before:

 

After 15 minutes, my feet were swimming in my boots.

After 30 minutes, the rain had entered my pants and I felt my boxers getting wet.

After 40 minutes, a water drop was running down my back.

After 60 minutes, my entire shirt was wet and stuck to my body.

 

Every time I moved, wet textile rubbed against my skin. I shivered. And I still had 3 hours to go.

 

Today, it was very hard to stick to my motto of Whatever happens along the way is part of the adventure.”

 

Halfway to Nelson, I decided to leave the west coast and go to Christchurch instead. Theyd have a couple of camera stores as well and usually, when it’s raining in New Zealands west, its sunny in the east.

 

And it was: As soon as I crossed the mountains, the rain stopped and the sun came out. It was a majestic feeling; without it, honestly, I wouldnt have made the 4 hours over the mountains.

 

And it was only half an hour to Christchurch! It looked like the day was going to end well at last.

 

That was when I dropped my motorbike (yep, it had to happen). It wasn’t bad at all, but in the middle of a junction and the shifter had come off. Without it, I couldnt continue driving. Luckily, before I could even grab my bike, there were three people helping me already. One of them referred me to a workshop just two houses down the street. I pushed my bike there and Trev, apparently responsible for motorbikes, immediately started to screw and sand and weld. When I asked him for a tip jar, he gave me a strong handshake and said No worries! Favour between motorbike bruthers.” Within five minutes, I was back on the road. Thank you, Trev!

Day 13: Picton

I had lost my camera to the rain and spent the past two days in pouring showers. I was definitely at daggers drawn with the wet element. However, taking this as a defeat wasnt an option, either. I spent an hour in an awesome photo store in Christchurch, talked to at least half of the staff and eventually bought an old but very good Nikon 35mm camera. If I had to buy a new camera anyway, I could at least use this as a step into 35mm photography.

 

Instead along the west coast in the rain, I was travelling along the east coast in beautiful sunshine. I had booked a ferry for the next morning to the north island and had a new camera in my bag; A little bit of light after the past three days. When I reached Picton in the night, I set up my tent and left to drive a bit on the Queen Charlotte Drive, a wonderful motorbike route along the bays and fjords of the north of the south island. I stopped every five minutes, checked the location and the light, framed up and had to decide if it was worth taking the picture or not. Shooting on film is very different. I only had three rolls and every picture costed money. I coulnt just shoot hundreds of pictures and decide later which one was the best. At the last location, I waited one and a half hours for the pink light of the sunset. It never came. I left the location without a single photo of the sunset. However, I got some good ones along the way, with the golden light illuminating the mountains around me. Shooting on film is a complete new feeling. Im starting to like it.

Day 14: Tongariro National Park

Today was a lot of travelling, as well. I took the ferry from Picton to Wellington in the early morning and continued to drive north to the centre of the north island. There, I would do the Tongariro Crossing, the “most beautiful hike of New Zealand”: 8 hours over two Mountains and along Mt Ngauruhoe, better known as Mt Doom from Lord of the Rings. Parts of the landscape along my way to the hike were beautiful green hills piling up to the horizon. Most of the journey were straight roads and dry grass, though; by far not as spectacular as the south island. However, I still had a hike in one of New Zealand’s most astounding landscapes before me.

Day 15: The Tongariro Crossing

The crossing was amazing! I met a Malaysian girl and a guy from Fiji and we walked the lion share of the 21 km together. The landscape was amazing and we were very lucky with the weather, but it was the company which helped each of us over the quite draining hike. At one point, we crossed the summit and looked at turquise sulphur lakes. At the side of the lakes, steam from volcanic activities was rising up in the air. I climbed down the mountain a bit and stood right in the middle of it: The ground was soft, warm ash-like soil, with neon green sulphur tinted stones. With the steam in the background it looked amazing. And luckily, I had a camera again! I just hope the photos turned out well. That's the thing with analogue photos: you never know if they turned out well until you get them back.

Day 16: Te Awanganau Holiday Park

In case you ever plan to go to Hastings or Napier: Dont do it. I drove 330 km to the east coast and hoped for beautiful sunrises and beaches. What I found was a miles long, not very pleasant gravel shore along the road, with a small strip of dried grass in between. Plus, the route to get there went straight for hours, always through the same brown hills. I was bored, I was tired and I was alone. Even in Napier I found nothing to take a photo of, and it was getting dark already. I decided to continue driving until I found either an acceptable motif or the next campsite. I followed a sign saying "Cape Kidnappers", which sounded interesting enough to me. In Te Awanga, in the middle of nowhere, I discovered not the most beautiful campsite, but still a very nice one with a good atmosphere right at the beach. I even found a motif for the sunset; a small fjord, lined with light green trees which were reflected in the water. It turned out to be a nice little spot on my way back to Wellington, where I still hoped to be able to stay with the motorbike couple from Fox Glacier.

 

Day 17: Kaitoke Regional Park

Travelling alone can be – who guessed it? – quite lonely. I drove the same straight roads through the same boring landscape as yesterday. The Kiwi couple that had invited me at the service station in Fox Glacier hadnt responded yet, but I wanted to risk it and get back to Wellington. Some 80 km before I got there, I found the Kaitoke Regional Park. At the entrance, there was a public campsite; no office, no showers, just a box where you had to throw in the very few dollars the campsite costed. It was huge and hundreds of people had set up their tents everywhere in big areas of mowed grass. Music was playing and there were even hotdog and chips stands; It was like a festival. However, although I needed some socialising after days of driving, I made the mistake of setting up my tent in one of the quieter areas and pretty far from other people. My only contact were some kids jumping over the hay bales behind my tent. They were cool and warned me about the snake pits and dark abyss between the hay bales. However, today I missed some contact with some like-minded people.

Day 18: Porirua

The next morning, Karla and Grant, my lovely Kiwi couple from the gas station still hadnt answered. I decided to quickly travel into Wellington to have a look at the house my parents lived in hundreds of decades ago, so my detour to the south wasnt all in vain.

 

On my way out of Wellington I had to refuel. I went to the Maccas next door because it had free wi-fi; I wanted to give it one last try. I logged onto my account and surprise, surprise, Karla and Grant had answered. They were even living in the same suburb where I was at the moment. I bought a bottle of wine and something to prepare for dinner and got a kingsize bed, my own room and had an amazing shower. We had dinner in front of the tele, watched New Zealand news and talked about motorbike trips, rugby and New Zealands temperamental weather. The next morning, they left a little bit earlier than I did. They just told me to close the door when I was leaving gave me a big hug and were off. I packed my stuff, closed the door behind me and hit the road north way. What a great night, what an amazing country!

Day 19: New Plymouth

I had one and a half days to get all the way up to Auckland. The weather was good and I had left early, so I even had time for a couple of photo stops. I took a couple of ok ones along the way, but all of a sudden something in the corner of my eye caught my attention: A red shed, beautifully symmetrical, with round hay bales stacked up to the roof on the right and square ones on the left side. I stopped my bike at the side of the road, took my camera and walked there. Indeed, it was perfect: The shed was amazingly symmetrical, yet the different hayballs were a great contrast. I framed up, waited 20 minutes for the right light, took two shots and left. I really, really hope they turn out good!

 

In New Plymouth, I decided to take a hostel for the last night of my trip. I had very nice roomies, Martin and Maya, and wanted to meet them at a festival of lights, a colourful spectacle in New Plymouth’s botanical garden, after the sunset. I spent the sunset on Paritutu Rock, right at New Plymouths harbour. Here, I met two local girls who wanted to go to the festival, as well, so I went with them. Once there, we split up; they went to take a rowing boat trip over the illuminated lake while I waited for Maya and Martin. When they didnt appear, I decided to walk around alone and met the girls from the sunset again, who were still waiting for their boat; I left them again and met them again later when they were on the boat and I was standing on a bridge. Jump in, one of them said. I believe it was a joke at first, but I briefly thought about it, told them if they could catch my helmet, I would, waited until they were under the bridge and climbed over the rail. The boat shoke when I jumped in, but we all stayed dry and had a fun little boat trip together. Only the guy who rented out the boats looked confused when we returned with three instead of two persons.

Day 20: The last day leads to Auckland

What has to happen on the last day? The mandatory accident. I had left New Plymouth quite early; 9 hours before I had to drop off my bike in Auckland. It was a 4 to 5 hours drive, so even with enough stops I should make it in time. However, half an hour after I had left New Plymouth it started to rain again. I knew I had to get through it, but at least wanted to put my big backpack into its waterproof cover. I saw a turning a couple of hundred meters away where I could stop. What I didn’t see was the gravel on the road. When I put on the breakes, my motorbike and me slid along the road, my left foot stuck between the gravel and the motorbike. "It had to happen today!” was my first thought I had when I got up. But it was by far not as bad as it could have been: Thankfully, I wasnt hurt and the bike still looked intact. Except for, you guessed it, the shifter had come off again. Luckily, I could still drive it to the next town, and even more luckily, it was big enough to have a workshop. It took half an hour to fix it and this time, wasnt a favour anymore. Still, roughly one hour after the accident I was on the road again. Heavy rain started again and the thought of another day of driving completely soaked made me think: That's gonna hurt, but you have to get through it. Then I thought about how much worse my little accident could have been and realised: The rain didnt hurt. It sucked; but it didnt hurt.

 

It was excactly 2 past 5 when I drove into the drive way of the rental company. John, who had already been in Christchurch when I got the motorbike, was waiting with a beer for me.

 

And so I ended this wonderful, exciting, exhausting, lonely, annoying, amazing trip with all the people I had met and and all the places I have seen with a cold beer and a familiar face. I gave away my beloved Suzuki and had lost my Canon, but I got an amazing experience, beautiful photos and last but not least wonderful memories. Maybe, this was the adventure I will tell my kids about one day.