After a great day on the boat we woke up to another beautiful day for riding and headed south. We were turning inland on State Highway 7 to Hamner Springs and Lewis Pass. It’s the northernmost of the three main passes across the Southern Alps, it is higher than the Haast Pass, slightly lower than Arthur’s Pass and second in elevation at 864 meters.
Our stop for the night would be Hamner Springs, so we passed by the turnoff and headed for a ride over the pass where we would grab something to eat and then backtrack over the pass again. The ride was beautiful with lower pastureland progressing to vistas above the cloud levels.
Arriving to town later in the day and with a forecast for rain, we decided to spend a couple nights and go to Hamner Hot Springs the following day. The Hot Springs are a complex of pools, some rock and some concrete, with varying water temperatures from the mid 90’s to over 104 degrees. It was a wonderful time just relaxing and soaking in the therapeutic waters. The downtown area was charming reminiscent of a small New England town. As we were walking through town we were overcome with the desire to sample a coffee and wonderful homemade scone while sitting at a small table on the sidewalk.
It’s overcast and threatening rain in the morning as we pack up and head south toward an Airbnb in Timaru. Arriving to town it is pouring buckets and we are both drenched to the bone and having a difficult time finding our Airbnb. Finally, we locate it and our host shows us in not real concerned about the puddles that quickly form around us. Showing us to our room he says not to worry about paperwork right now, just to get dry and warm up with a cup of tea. A couple other guys are staying also, friends from Austria and Germany. We end up in a conversation about the world wars and we are amazed how little we know about this subject. As the discussion progresses our New Zealand host gets on his computer, which is connected to a big TV, and starts pulling up maps and border changes for the past several hundred years throughout Europe. The discussion is super interesting and we walk away amazed at how much wasn’t taught to us in school and how much we take away from this spirited 2-hour discussion.
The night sees the rain end and our ride to Tekapo and Mount Cook promises to be fantastic. Riding into town the views from the south side of Lake Tekapo looking north are amazing and we find a campsite near the edge of the water on a little bluff looking down on the beach. Perfect!
Near Tekapo, the University of Canterbury Mount John Observatory (UCMJO) has an astronomical research observatory. It is situated at 1,029 meters atop Mount John. In June 2012, an area of 1,700 sq. miles around the observatory was declared as the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve by the International Dark-Sky Association, one of only four such reserves around the world. This is home to many telescopes, including HERCULES (High Efficiency and Resolution Canterbury University Large Echelle Spectrograph), and the observational wing of the Japanese/New Zealand MOA collaboration (Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics). Wow, this is quite a place and the views of the only small town around are incredible with views of the lake, snow caps peaks and glaciers, and the blue sky each commanding their own piece of the beauty. While we are at the observatory we hear an American accent. It happens to be an American doctor and his family. He is a ER physician, practicing in Australia, on vacation to New Zealand with his wife and three kids. We talk for a bit and his wife who is a nurse used to work at the very hospital I was born at in Cooperstown, New York.
Getting back to camp we see a car coming down the road and it’s our friends that were staying in Timaru the night before. They go and catch a soak at the nearby springs and come back, setting up their tents beside ours. Setting out our solar Lucy light as our campfire, we finish off a bottle of Scotch, talking into the night.
Before leaving in the morning we connect with FB and head out for a visit to Hooker Glacier on Mount Cook. Again, the views are incredible with blue skies and we ride along the west side of Lake Pukaki on Mount Cook Road with the views of the glaciers in front of us getting larger around every corner as we get closer and closer.
Finally, at the end of the lake the Hooker Glacier looms ahead of us, thrusting up into the clouds and down to where it finally meets the land. The road ends at the Aoraki Mount Cook Village and we stop in for a coffee on the deck of the Hermitage Hotel, with views of the glacier right in front of us.
Wanting to stay on the coast again we push on and start following the Waitaki River and decide that a short cut is in order to save some time. Turning at Duntroon we set off on a good road that soon turns to dirt and twists and turns, up and down over what I find out is Danseys Pass and one of the prettiest passes in all New Zealand. Our short cut turns out to be much more time, but the beauty and stopping to get pictures is the cause. Mid-way through we stop at the first place we have seen, the Danseys Pass Coach Inn, for a drink. They are getting ready for an event and are too busy to even get us a glass of water. Hmmm!
There was a nice campground in Moeraki on a hill overlooking the ocean and beach that we wanted to try. After setting up camp and cooking supper we wandered down to the beach for a stroll. As we walked down the beach with the setting sun, the wail of the pipes could be heard in the distance. A solo bagpiper was facing the sunset and playing “Amazing Grace”, one of my Dad’s favorites, on the pipes. As Melanie and I stood silently watching and listening, with a warm heart, I could feel the spirit of my Dad standing beside me. Such a great moment to enjoy.
The Pipes are Calling (click for video)
Stopping in Dunedin again we had decided to take the Taieri Gorge Railways from the historic Dunedin Railway Station. This station was built in 1906 to serve the railway that had already been in operation between Christchurch and Dunedin and, in 2006, was recognized by DK Eyewitness Travel as one of “The World’s 200 Must-See Places”. The building is Flemish renaissance style and is constructed of dark basalt from Kokonga in the Strath-Taieri with lighter Oamaru stone facings, giving it the distinctive light and dark pattern common to many of the grander buildings of Dunedin and Christchurch. The southern end is dominated by the 37-meter clock tower visible from much of central Dunedin.
The ride we were taking would leave Dunedin and pass through Taieri Gorge, negotiating this narrow and exhilarating river gorge and awesome landscapes and literally turning around in Pukerangi, making its way back to Dunedin. The carriages were all original, built around 1915, and had been restored to their previous elegance. It was a wonderful journey full of incredible vistas and surprises around every corner.
After the train ride, we headed north toward Oamaru where we would camp for the night and have an opportunity to see the small Blue-Eyed penguins come to shore in the dark after being at sea all day. We got to the road which they cross before dark, and soon there was one, then two until a several all stopped at the edge of the road, then waddled across, headed to their homes on the side of the hills.
Our trip was almost over so we took the bike back to Lindsey’s friend’s house and headed to Christchurch for a couple days, sightseeing and relaxing before our five days in Fiji.
The airline we flew, Fiji Air, offered first class service and a free stopover in Fiji. We found a great hostel on the beach for only $US25 per night.