Heading for the West Coast

It’s adventure time.

I love adventure time, especially when it’s on 2 wheels.

I find travelling by motorbike so easy and freeing. I love the simplicity of having limited luggage space.

Our bike is packed. We are ready to go. For the next week, it will just be us and our 2 wheels as we explore the West Coast of the South Island.

The Plus lounge on the Interislander Ferry is a great way to start our trip. It is comfortable, quiet and fully catered. This is excellent as we are on an early crossing and have not yet had breakfast. The Plus Lounge makes it easy to sit back, relax and watch the world go by.

As we start to slip into holiday mode, I realise just how tired we both are. Daniel has been really busy doing long hours at work and I have spent a lot of time painting the exterior of our house. I think it’s fair to say, we are both in need of some down time. I have activities planned for this trip, but have been much more controlled. Normally I plan action packed days, trying to squeeze in as much as I can, but I have toned it right back this time. Hopefully it will be the right balance of fun and rest.

The Marlborough Sounds are looking stunning today, as usual. The water is always so calm and peaceful, the landscape pure and untouched. I am privileged to have done this journey a few times in the last year, so instead of battling the wind outside, I enjoy the views from the comfort of my armchair in the Plus Lounge with my cup of tea and scones.

We disembark in Picton and I am surprised at how hot it is. Even on nice days I usually layer up under my motorbike jacket – when you are moving it can get quite cool, but today, a t-shirt is all that is needed.

We are heading towards Punakaiki (also known as Pancake Rocks) The most direct route would be to head towards Blenheim , but the journey is all part of the adventure. We prefer to get off main roads, so instead choose to take Queen Charlotte Drive and head towards Nelson which offers some beautiful views. We stop at a look out and enjoy the sight of Picton, soaking in the sun. The cicadas are chirping and little boats bob up and down in sage coloured water.

Magical.

We carry on, passing a gorgeous little campsite. It looks simple and very relaxed, the quintessential kiwi summer holiday.

By the time we make it to Nelson, we are definitely ready for a late lunch and find ourselves sitting down at Burger Culture. It’s a funky place and lots of people are outside enjoying their food. Daniel gets a burger but I am so intrigued by the sweetcorn ribs that I have to give them ago. As it sounds, they were rib’s made from corn on the cob, smothered in sauce.

Wow! These were sensational and I enjoyed how messy they were to eat. Such a cool concept. Some people are so creative!

With our bellies full, we carry on, we have one of our longest riding days today and I am keen to arrive late afternoon so we have some time to explore. Our journey takes us through The Buller Gorge.

Oh my. It is stunning.

It is so lush and green and I can smell the forest. The road is windy, following the river – great fun on 2 wheels! Unfortunately I don’t have any photos as we didn’t make any stops.

We carry on riding. It’s near late afternoon and I am thinking we should be nearly there. I pull out my phone to check directions and realise that we have taken a wrong turn.We should have headed towards Westport and then down the coast, but instead we are still travelling inland, on our way to Greymouth! We have traveled in the wrong direction for so long that it’s quicker to carry on and head up the coast, than turn around and backtrack! Apparently I was on navigating (No idea why – Daniel knows I have a terrible sense of direction!)

The route we took
The route we should have taken!

We finally make it to our destination, 13 hours after leaving Wellington! It has been a really long day and I am ready for a sleep! We are staying at Te Nikau Retreat. What a sanctuary to relax in. Set among tall nikau palms, our lodge is nestled into the trees and looks out along the canopy line. I feel like I am in a tree house.

We have arrived just in time to watch the sunset so we shoot down to the beach. Conveniently there is a path from our accommodation that takes us right down to a viewing platform. I can hear the powerful roar of the ocean well before we even get there. I have heard the West Coast gets some pretty spectacular sunsets and tonight it doesn’t disappoint. There are unusual rock formations dotted about in the ocean and a warm golden glow from the setting sun. It is so stunning, I forget all about our long travel day.

Motorbiking, the best way to travel

Today is a traveling day. No plans other than get from Geraldine to Kaikoura where we are staying for a night.

It is another windless, sunny day. Daniel chooses the route we will be taking – state highway 72, the inland scenic route through the Canterbury plains. Just out of Geraldine, Mr. ‘never gets lost’ takes a wrong turn. He realises pretty quickly though and we are back on track in no time.

I’m not complaining, it’s a rather pretty wrong turn.

Heading north, we pass golden pastures (aka, hasn’t been any rain in a while and everything is so dry) framed by mighty mountains in the distance. We pass over Rakaia gorge and stop to take some photos (and awkwardly try to ignore the 2 women having a very loud argument in the car park) There is also a walkway at Rakaia Gorge, that according to Google, is an easy 2 hours walk which you might like to check out.

The rivers and lakes in the south Island are so mesmerising. The colours are incredible and I am speechless every time I see them. The photos don’t really do them justice.  I don’t recall seeing rivers this vibrant in the North Island. (Might need to do a bit more exploring)

Carrying on, we pass lots of small country towns, some so small you would miss them if you blink. We make a stop in a place called Oxford for some lunch. I had a rather delicious tomato and herb soup.

I think motor biking has got to be one of the best ways to travel and explore a place. You have the convenience of a vehicle, but are far more engaged with the environment around you than you are in a car. You experience the elements; the sun, the wind the rain. You can smell the forests and feel the warmth of the sun in the air coming in through your helmet. I feel far more connected to my surroundings on a motorbike than I do in a car.

Arriving in Kaikoura we check into our backpackers and have a bit of a rest before heading down to the beach.

It’s quite a wild beach.

Stony and rugged it has an untouched beauty about it.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Kaikoura is famous for its marine life. Tourists flock here to go whale watching, swim with dolphins and seals. We have chosen not to do that this time.

On our South Island trip back in 2012 I really wanted to do the whale watch. We had an early evening ferry to catch so we didn’t have time for the boat trip and instead choose to do the Wings over Whales flight, a short 30 minute flight with amazing views over Kaikoura. Unfortunately we didn’t see any whales on this trip (still and awesome experience though) and have since learnt that the best time to see a variety of whale species in Kaikoura is during winter months when they are migrating up to the warmer waters of the pacific.

We are staying only a couple of minutes’ walk from the beach so I decide that tomorrow, I will get up early to watch the sun rise. I am not sure I have ever watched the sun rise before. (We tried to at Lake Bled in Sloveina, but that was a bit of a fail)

Stunning Lake Tekapo

Day 3 and we are heading to Alexandra. It’s a bit of a grey day, no wind, but rain looks imminent. Fortunately, once out of Christchurch, we are blessed with another beautiful day and bright blue skies.

I have to say, the ride from Christchurch to just before Geraldine is pretty boring – A long straight motorway, a reasonable amount of cars and not much of a view.

We are travelling on our Honda FireBlade – that’s been turbo charged!! (Totally unnecessary, it was already fast enough! Although my mechanic husband would disagree!) She’s a bit old and rough our FireBlade, but, wow, have we had some epic adventures on her!

The best way to roadtrip!

I have been really looking forward to being back in this part of the country. Last time we came down on the motorbike was the first time I had seen the lakes.  I was totally captivated; they are most vibrant shades of blues, framed by snow-capped mountains.

They leave you speechless.

As we approach Lake Tekapo we ride up over the hill and then…

WOW!

It leaves you breathless

Brilliant blue water contrasting against the dry land, it is breath taking. Tekapo is a very popular tourist destination, but despite the number of people and tour buses, the place still has a beautiful stillness and tranquil feel to it.

The beautiful blue waters of Lake Tekapo

We get off the bike and head to the water’s edge. There is sound of lapping water at the shore, the buzz of insects and alpine flowers growing. I am mesmerised.

The faithful sheepdog keeping watch over the lake
Another one of Daniel’s stunners!

We head over to the Church of the Good Shepherd to get some photos. We are just making a quick stop today, I plan to come back again when we can spend more time. This is such a photographed church and an image I have seen many times before. It’s quite a feeling though when you lift your camera and see that same image through your own lens. I distinctly remember having that same feeling when I took my first photo of the Taj Mahal in India.

Church of the Good Shepherd. I had to wait quite some time to get a shot with no one else in it!

The rest of our ride is through quite barren land, rugged hill sides with splashes of brilliant blue rivers and lakes. We arrive in Alexandra feeling rather sore after a full day riding.

We are greeted by family, who we are staying with for the next few nights and after our hellos, we are all sitting outside in the sun with a glass of wine.

Another great end to another great day in this beautiful country.

The Ride to Christchurch

Today we are heading south to Christchurch. Our focus for this trip is to spend most of our time in Central Otago and South Canterbury, visiting family. Picton to Alexandra (Central Otago) is a long ride, almost 10 hours and while we could do it in one day, we decided to break up the trip with an overnight stop half way, allowing 6 days with family.

I choose where our overnight stays will be and book accommodation but I always leave it Daniel to decide the routes we will take. Each morning I tell him what city or town we will be staying in that evening (he has no interest in the details prior, unnecessary information he calls it.) He will then take a quick look at Google maps and decide how he wants to get from A to B. Most of the time, he is looking for the back roads; the twistier the better. 

Lucky I don’t really get motion sickness.

For the first part of the ride we are heading towards Kaikoura, through Marlborough and towards the coast. It is almost a cloudless day, perfect for a ride. Heading through Marlborough region we pass a lot of vineyards. Marlborough is known as a wine region and it reminds me a lot of the Wairarapa, another well know wine region. There are hardly any cars on the road making it a really nice ride. As we approach the coast the landscape changes. We move away from grape vines and flat plains to rugged rocks, flax and tussocks.

And then we see the ocean.

Beautiful turquoise water in one bay and then in the next, stunning aquamarine water.

Even from the motorbike, I can spot seals out enjoying the surf and sunning themselves on the rocks. Kaikoura is known for its marine life.

Whales, dolphins and seals oh my.

Along the coastal route we have to make a few stops for road works. There was a big earthquake in Kaikoura in 2016 causing major damage to roads, including SH1 and also caused the seabed to rise quite substantially in some areas. Work to repair SH1 is still underway, so if you are traveling on this route, be prepared to travel slowly and be stopped for roadworks.

On the bike, stopped at road works

We reach Kaikoura, a very popular town with the tourists – it’s pretty crowded, but we decide to stop anyway for a rest. We head to a funky little cafe call Bean Me Up Coffee and sit out front in some old car seats!

We depart Kaikoura and Daniel, AKA super navigator (honestly I am in awe at his sense of direction, he can get us anywhere with minimal effort) decides that we will move away from the coast and take the inland route for the next part.

The Inland Route

We pass deer drinking at a river, hillsides that are every shade of green and gold and have long stretches of glorious twisting road all to ourselves. The scenery today has been awesome. I can’t understand why the roads weren’t busier (although I am pleased they weren’t!)

The Inland Route

As we approach Christchurch, we also approach grey clouds and notice a change in temperature. I begin to regret my decision to leave the rain gear at home. It’s quite bulky and to have taken it, would have meant leaving quite a lot of other items behind. But it’s summer and we are heading for Central Otago so we felt confident we could leave it behind.

And so we got wet.

And nearly ran out of fuel.

Our motorbike doesn’t have a fuel gage, so there is always bit of guess work required in knowing how far we can get before we need to fill up. Luckily we make it to the petrol station just in time! Note to self, we can get approximately 180km out of a tank of petrol.

We check in at our Christchurch accommodation, All Stars Inn and collapse onto the bed after a long but fun day of riding.

The Details

I was really impressed with All Stars Inn, the rooms felt more like a hotel. The bed was huge, the room modern and quite spacious and the backpacker location is really central. There is also a nice pub on site. A double room with shared bathroom starts from $70.