the branches road and station

Near Skippers Canyon by Queenstown is an other beautiful remote 4wd road called The Branches Road. Historically Skippers Canyon was the main area for gold mining in the late 1880, At first was Skippers Canyon Road build and few years later begun the building of The Branches Road. I rode both roads many times and both roads are a great adventure all the time, special on a Adventure bike. Before you reach turn off to Branches Road you have to ride Skippers Road which is at some sections a very scary road, the road follow few hundred meter above Skippers Canyon River, there is even not even enough space for two cars to pass each other, I need to watch out all times for dust clouds which where man made by buses or 4wd trucks, that I could look for a safe passing area to pull in. After I reached the rock fall area there is the turn off to the Branches Road to the right into the forest. The road is very exposed, sandy and rocky; what make to ride my bike much more difficult. As soon I reached the first hard right turn I saw a statue which is overlooking Skippers Town and upper skippers canyon, it was said that the statute is looking for the luck and safety for the gold digger.

From that point on the road get more spectacular than Skippers Road before. The road is more exposed and the cliff is getting higher than on the first part on Skippers Road. The excitement get more and more the further I rode down the road, I passed many fords which where not to difficult to pass, due the luck of rain, one of the Fords was just wheel deep but very big rocks where in the drive way a steep sand ramp was to drive up straight after the ford, my bike begun to swing from right to left, but I got my bike back under control with out coming off it.

Further down the valley I found a green area in middle of an forest which I juice to camp for the night, as a farmer told me it must be the historic supply house on right side of the river, it is the only access to the left side of the river by using a flying fox too, the flying fox is in top condition and get used nowadays. We started pitching up our tents and light up a bone fire. But as soon the day light faded away, little blood sucking animals which we call sand-fly’s make our pleasant first stay very unpleasant. But any way; we didn’t break down our campsite and enjoyed our BBQ and our night. In Early morning hours some animals where running around my tent I have had no idea what kind of animals that could be, after one of them attacked my tent I went outside and checked out the situation. Surprisingly there was no danger at all, there where many rabbits playing and running all over the green, one of them must slip and roll over and bounce back from my tent. It was a great experience to sit on the side and look at the rabbits, what a great start into the day, it was so peace full, around us.

After Breakfast we continued our adventure ride to Branches Station, one section was more challenging, rocks as big as footballs; drifting sand in between them make the passing more difficult. That part is only passable by low water of the river, on a bike. That is the only part of the whole road which can make the ride an obstacle. After our success full passing it was easy going until Branches Station. Many confusing notes where at the entrance to the station. We dried to find the farmer to get permission to go further up the private road, the farmer was so kind to give us permission to continue our ride, he recommended to take the steep gravel road up to the top of the hill. From there we would get the best panorama view over the whole valley. Once more a steep climb smaller and tighter serpentines than ever before, may more suitable for a small 4wd car than for a full loaded adventure bike, we went that far already and no one of us want turn back with out that promised view, it must be a gradient of 45 degree, tough, no way back… keep going and don’t look back down.

The view was incredible, stunning, mind blowing and overwhelming. The only big disappointment was I didn’t ask for permission to camp at this location. We took the same way out of the valley as we took in, every ting seems to be easier than before, but wasn’t. We stopped at the original Skippers Home State to take a close look of the well maintaineced cottage, historic tools where hanging outside and where displayed inside as well, an old iron bed was on the far end of the room the fire place was nicely set up with pans and kettle.

May Queenstown is called Adrenalin capitol of New Zealand, definitely Skippers Canyon and Branches Road is Adrenalin capitol of Queenstown.

There is one more good rule on those roads, the road is not suitable for camper vans at all, and if some one rent a car, this is one of New Zealand roads which the rental company exclude any insurance. In the whole valley is no cell phone coverage, if a break down happen it make it very difficult to find fast help by phone, more likely it is a long walk back to the entrance of the road to make the needed call. Even than it is not certain some one pick you up due the difficulty and danger of the road.

 

The Branches Station is a high country farm with 90 000ha of farmland, Sheep and cattle are the most livestock which is on the farm

There is a chance to stay at the branches by one of the farm houses , which is called Stockman’s Camp, to experience that unique and pure, untouched environment cost its price.

 

 

Yangshuo; Kunming; and Haikou

For the last 1.5 years I was planning a motorbike tour to Asia. I looked into a transport option from Auckland to Kuala Lumpur for my BMW Sertao bike. My flight was booked from Auckland to Kuala Lumpur. Early March. If I would be able to do my original plan I would ride my bike after I finished my summer season with Real Journeys to Auckland. At the end I had to change my plan due problems which could not be solved by BMW in New Zealand. Since I have bought the bike I experience problems with stalling. After many service arrangements in Christchurch, Dunedin, and Queenstown I decided not going on the bike on holiday.

I started make last minute changes and booked a flight from Queenstown to Auckland, and continued with my first booked flight to Kuala Lumpur. As soon I passed the customs I looked for a transport option to Kl, there are 2 Taxi operators one of them is a metered Taxi and charge peer Taxi meter; the other one is a fixed price, I juice fixed price option and paid 71 Ringgit to my accommodation. Be aware if your flight leave early in the morning the Taxi charge a surcharge of 50% of regular price between midnight and 6.00 am, the ride from my Hotel to airport cost me 150 Ringgit at the end.

Check in by Air Asia was easy, my flight to Guilin was on time. Guillin experienced a very heavy rainfall over last 2 days, and the humidity was very high. The immigration officer didn’t ask any question about my visit, checked my visas and return ticket that was everything, entering China was very easy. English is not widely spoken in public places. Before I left Malaysia I took a screen shoot of the Hotel name and saved it on my I-phone. It took some negotiation about the fee from Guilin Airport to Rosewood Hotel in Yangshou, Taxi driver want RMB 500 for the transport, what was to much, at the end I paid RMB 400, which seems still very expensive. We used the highway passed many small villages to the right and to the left, all of them where imbedded in between beautiful mountainous landscapes with rice fields and farmland around. Due the heavy rain the highway was covered in water sometimes it seemed like a river, the car was sometimes unstable on the road. After we used the highway the Taxi driver took a side road, which was not sealed, had many potholes and more water on the surface. At this time I have had no idea what direction the taxi was taking, houses got less and less. After 40 more minutes we reached Yangzhou. The rain was still pouring down and I showed the Taxi driver the Hotels address once more, he stopped beside a Hotel which didn’t look like Rosewood Hotel at all, my driver took a second look and rove down the road to an other Hotel which didn’t look Rosewood again, he “called” the Hotel and reversed the Taxi, than stopped in the same road, hotel here, took my bag out of the boot of the taxi and the taxi dissapierd. I was happy that I reached the hotel. As I checked in, no one spoke English oops I thought something is wrong. However we called the Hotel I have booked, the direction I had to take was very easy go to the petrol station opposite the hotel and turn right go to the next round about and turn left, by the bridge turn right again. I started walking in the warm summer rain up the road, kept walking and walking, endless long roads, in the pouring rain. Last time I have been soaked that much it was in Milford Sound the only difference this time was that I have been asked every few meter if I need an umbrella, if I would have one it wouldn’t make a difference, by now, because I have been drenched already. But I couldn’t find the 2nd bridge, where I have turn right, as wet I was I went into a Hotel I passed and asked the receptionist, usually in every Hotel, Bank or Post office is one person who is speaking English, not to worry if you get lost, we called my Hotel once more, one of the office staff had to walk from Rosewood Hotel to the Hotel I was stranded, to pick me up. I couldn’t believe I have been so close to Rosewood Hotel already; it took us only 3 minutes walking.

I received a very warm welcome in the Hotel, with one glass of warm water and a towel. The Hotel is on the main street, at night time all social live is around, bars restaurant KTV are just beside, West Street is absolute boozing full of party hungry people, party time is until early morning. In many bars is live music, and karaoke. In the early morning hours is not much happen, break fast is taken in one of the restaurants, it doesn’t take long until first Tour Guides get in contact and dry to sell tours on a Tuk Tuk, motorbike, or bicycle. Few of guides where approaching me, at the end I booked a motorbike tour with Peter a local from Yangshuo. Following morning he picked me up in the Hotel, after a short walk we picked up our motorbikes. And left City and went into the country side, we passed many rice fields and went further down to the Li River, stopped by one of the old villages, after a short break we took off, the further we went the better it got, one other highlight was to stop at a melon plantation, one of the farmer came along with fresh harvested melons, without pealing skin off I took a big bite into the melon, the sweetness was awesome, even today I can remember the taste of it. Thanks my guide we took many beaten tracks through the farmland, many rice fields, and more plantations. Out of nowhere came a big black snake moving over the path. Now we where in snake territory!!! We continued out tour and had one more stop by moon rock. The whole tour took us at the end 6h. But 6 hours is not enough time to see all the fascinating country, I found out that would be a nice place to stay for a while, my time was limited this time. After I went back to my accommodation I got changed and get ready for nightlife, nightlife does not disappoint at all in Yangshuo. In general it is not easy to find a chines cooking class Omeida Academy offers different classes in cooking, I booked a 3 day intense cooking class. Classroom where located in an old farm house in the country side around 15 mins drive out of Yangshuo.

This time I took the public bus from Yangshuo to Guilin International Airport, to get my flight to Kunming in Yunnan Province. My taxi was waiting already in Kunming it took me 1.5h to get to my accommodation. I found a very cozy Hostel with very good references on Trip Advisor. It is called Lost Garden Guesthouse all staff is fluent in English and dressed in traditional costumes. The check in, was very relaxed and took its time. The rooms are very comfortable, and very quiet at nighttime. To my surprise the menu is very European, fancy salads, different kind of Pizzas, and pasta was on offer, at first I was suspicious about the food option, but I Joyce to eat in today and ordered a vegetarian pizza, pizza dough was home made a perfect cooked tomato sauce and a topping which best ingredients. There was no difference to an Italian Restaurant in Italy from taste flavor and presentation; the only difference to Europe was that no European chef was in the kitchen. I rate the food the most authentic Italian food outside Italy. Yuantong Temple is a 10 mins walk away from the Guesthouse and dated back more than 1200 years grandest and most important Buddhist Temple in Yunnan province, the temple closes at 5.00 pm. Next street down to the Temple is Kunming Zoo located. Dynamic Yunnan is an international awarded winning musical. Bird and flower market is on old street and is open until late, very good for souvenirs to buy.

Kunming is nearly 2000m above sea level, in summer month temperatures are moderate, not to hot.

After I visited Kunming for a week, there was still a week left before my departure back to Kuala Lumpur. For the whole holiday I have had a gut feeling that I need go back to Haikou for a visit, and to catch up with my friends. Usually air tickets are very expensive from any airport in China to Haikou. The only day I was able to fly to Haikou and back to Kunming was on sale, 70% off the regular price. I finalized my booking. One day before departure I received a message from my friend that Hainan got hit by a typhoon and the airport was closed for the whole day. My thought, went crazy, not again a cancelation of my flight, because I canceled my visit already for 2 times. The day my flight was booked I took a taxi to the Airport, at first there was a delay on the departure board. After some time passed by the delay changed to go to boarding gate.

I booked the same Hotel where I did stay 2 years ago. Nothing has changed, at Sheraton Haikou Resort Check in was fast, my room had sea view this time. A very welcoming place is always the sea breeze bar.

Haikou is one of the most beautiful city’s of china, with a no air pollution; its living cost is even very affordable.

 

doubtful sound

It was one of those late summer days in early 1950 when Mr. and Mrs. Hutchins went out for a weekend hike into Doubtful Sound, it was a 4 day hike return and full of challenges; a boat from Te Anau must be organized to get to the West Arm; from there was a track going beside the river and through thick bush-land over the Wilmot Pass which is 980m above sea level.  From there it took one more day of hiking until Deep Cove where there was a single hut to stay overnight with no comfort. But Mr. and Mrs. were so overwhelmed with the area and the beauty of the location that they bought a boat to show tourists around the area.   It took 4 days to get the first visitors from Te Anau into Doubtful Sound and that was the start of Fiordland Travel which got re branded to Real Journeys as we know today. It was tough making a living at this time with not many customers and tourists around. Still the founder believed in his dream to show foreigners the most beautiful parts of Fiordland. After a few years running the new business a second boat was bought, which was not very reliable and broke down many times. It was sold off after a short time, and a more modern boat was bought in Te Anau, business was going up and down. It was early 1970and the couple were involved in the Save Manapouri campaign to stop the government from raising the lake levels to help generate cheap electricity. More than 260 000 signatures were collected. No dam was built, but the power station still went ahead, which brought workers to Te Anau and they needed to get transport over the lake. That was the first big change in the company’s history.

Nowadays Real Journeys organizes daily cruises into Doubtful Sound. The Patea is the boat which runs day cruises, and Navigator runs overnight cruises. Both are modern standard with all facilities.

 

The overnight cruise is different to the overnight cruise in Milford Sound on the Mariner but both cruises are special in their own right. Doubtful Sound is ten times larger than Milford Sound; the mountains are not as steep and greener. Usually after boarding all customers get a fresh baked muffin and hot drinks which are complementary for the whole cruise. A short time after the boat leaves Deep Cove you can experience a silence and peaceful atmosphere under which all stress seems to be forgotten and left behind. Very soon the excitement gets bigger about daily water activity, there are 2 options to choose from; one of them is to jump on a tender craft to explore the fiord along the remote shore line; the second option is a kayak paddle on the fiord. Both options leave memories behind which won’t be forgotten for many years after the trip. I forgot the 3rd option – sorry about that – it is jumping from the boat into the Fiord and doing a good healthy swim in the clearest and pristine waters.   Yes we do that activity in late summer and autumn too the only difference would be the water temperature in summer is around 16C and in Winter around 12C – all the time refreshing. Shortly after the last activity of the day the soup service starts, from then on you travel to a seal colony, which is located just before the Tasman Sea. Sometimes you can see whales hanging around that area, but that is a very rare occasion.

The boat stays around this location for a while to see the awesome view back into the fiord.  As soon the boat is back to the fiord the dinner service starts. Everyone is looked after with all food requirements, Vegan, gluten free, lactose or Jain are only a few to mention.

As soon dinner is served, there’s a presentation about the history of the area in the saloon, with is very informative to listen and look at.

Next morning a cooked breakfast served. On the way into the fiord is for many customers a once in a life time experience: we call it the bay of silence, the boat shut down everything, fans, engine, radio’s. Everyone can experience how quiet and how the isolation sounds like without any pollution of noise, surprisingly a camera can ruin the whole experience with its peep- it is that quiet.

Soon after that experience we are back to Deep Cove, the harbour we left the day before.

 

The buses are waiting already for all passengers to drive them back to the wharf at West Arm in a comfortable air-conditioned coach. From there it is a 45 to 50 minutes boat ride back to Manapouri.

 

It has changed a lot since the first visitors started travelling to Doubtful Sound and it took them more than 4 days hiking with little comfort in the early days.

 

 

 

Auckland Island

Auckland Island is the biggest subarctic island, which belong to New Zealand, and is 465 km southeast from Bluff peninsula. With a combined area of 625sq km, the Island is uninhabited by humans, there is a wide variation of wild life all over the island, yellow eyed penguins, albatross, elephant seals and the nearly extinguished snipe enjoy the idyllic isolation on the island.

On the Island are 2 hikes, both of them start close to the landing site by research station, from there on; for the first few meter you need to pass sea lion colony, usually the seal are very relaxed and sleep. One of the walk is a 3 hour return broad-walk very easy to do, which winds up to a higher altitude, you pass wetlands, small forest and rata trees. Yellow eyed penguin’s nest very close to the broad-walk, and are not shy by passing tourists as long they keep a safety distance of a few meter. All the way long the scenery change, to take a look back to the harbour is magnificent. At the far end is a small rest area, which invite you for a while to stay and have a snack. From that point the second longer walk turn off, and it takes around 5 to 6 hours back to the starting point.

The walk follow the cliff line, and pass many different fauna and landscapes. Albatross nests in December and early January, Elephant Seals are playing on higher altitude in the fields. As we took our lunch break one of the seals came very close to check out what is happening in his isolated area, it was a great experience to see the seal that close, not more than a back pack in between us, the seal was nearly the same high than me as he stood up on his flippers. But soon he lost his interest and he turned around and disappeared in the high grass. We continued our walk close to the cliff the view from there is overwhelming, the look down to the roaring sea open a variety of rugged rocks and dancing sea weed in the water, the swell was very thundering as soon it hit the cliff and the waves look like he explode in all directions with thundering noise. We took a rest in the sun in an open area it must be the location where the Derry Castel sunk in 1887, a monument remind to that tragedy that time. Soon we continued our walk through high flex and toi toi, on that part was no marker just we knew that we need to keep left and leave the forest on the right; it took some time to walk through that area. But we needed to turn back few times and look for a new track, all the tracks are made by seals and penguins, and going in all directions.

Penguin and seals are nesting in the overgrown area, if you get to close both animals make some noise, as a warning before you get to close.

After we walked through the flex we passed an open area from there we could see already where we need to go, we passed a beach, walked through an forest I never seen before.

Our last few meter back to the starting point where the most exiting for me, we need to pass an elephant seal colony.

 

Antarctica

It was just one more normal day as I boarded the Ship Spirit of Enderby in Bluff, with a different destination I travel to; this time I t will take me more than 30 days for the round trip to Antarctica, with stops at the Snares Island, Macquarie Island and on the way back at Champbell Island.

The ocean lower a 45 Lat until 60 Lat, is usually very unpredictable it belong to the roughest sea on earth. I did experience the motion of the ship every early not far away from Stewart Island the wind was around 40 knots and the swell was moderate 7 meters, but the small ship started rolling constantly from port to starboard side un aware what will come later that trip. The ship traveled to the rough sea very slow through the rough sea, the sell was as high as 18 meters chilly cold gale-force wind hit the small boat from all directions on the incredible trip, at the end it take us around 9 days on sea harsh sea to reach Ross Sea, every stops on the way, was very welcoming, to get a few hours sleep in a harbour the ships was anchoring. Some days it was impossible to find a good sleep at night time due the rolling ship, I laid on my bed and moved constantly from top to bottom of the bead in the same movement and ankle the ship was rolling, there was no mercy to stay in bead in the morning I had to get up around 6.30 am to prepare breakfast for 58 passengers which experienced the same on this trip, the menu changed daily everything what was cooked took longer than normal on land, what is absolute normal, due the rough sea and rolling ship. After the breakfast was finished I need to start to prepare lunch, and dinner. I found out that the work on a small ship is more to be very good organized and use every spare minute to do enough preparation, you simply just don’t know how rough the sea will be few hours down to Antarctica. There where days I had only 3 hours sleep following with a very busy day of cooking and do all the expeditions as well.

As soon we passed 60th Lat we have had 24 h daylight, our goal was to leave the ship at any time and as fast as possible, as soon the weather and sea allowed to go on land; it could be at 2.00 am or 5.00am it doesn’t matter. We did a lot of multi hour hikes; one of my favorites one was; to visit Scott Hut and Shackelton Hut. Both Huts are perfectly conserved by Heritage Trust everything is set up, as it was the time the most sophisticated explorer used to live. It has been looked at all little details from the past. In Shackelton Hut is the original newspaper for display, which dated back to 1909. Shack Elton’s hand written signature is still visible on the head of the bed.

We did few more landings one of them was Franklin Island which is famous for the Adeline Penguin, as we arrived the sun was just on the right spot to lighten up the whole place it was at 2.30 this time the temperature was 6C and no wind, great to sit beside the penguin colony to take many pictures photographers are waiting for, I need just sitting beside the shore and need to wait that the penguins passing by. It was a incredible experience despite we walking around and keeping the respected distance to the wild life, the penguins didn’t bother we where around, as soon I sat still at one spot the penguins got nosy and came closer to investigate what happen around them, one of them was that cheeky and investigated my camera bag which was just sitting beside me.

We even so visited the first build hut, which dated back to 1899. At Cape Adore to my surprise the hut was build without any window, may there must be a good reason to keep as much warmth as possible in the hut. Today the whole place where former the explorer used to live are taken over by penguins.

Sadly we couldn’t visit Mc Murdow Station and Scott Base, the ross see was completely frozen, instate we cruised around the open sea and looked at Ross Sea Orca, Mink Whale and more Penguin’s. This day we have had an unexpected highlight for every one, we anchored or ship at the ice, transferred tables and hot chocolate to the ice and served our dessert open air, what a great experience that was I cant explain or describe, blue sky mild breeze from the water, and out of no where few fin’s from hunting orcas, penguins jumped out of the water on save ice one after another that was an lucky escape for all penguins, all Orcas dissapierd as fast the show up.

It was already time to move more north on the way we planed a stop at Champbell Island it took us 5 days at sea non stop sea was not to rough to say a swell of around 14m, the ship was rolling from side to side again but not to serious, live in the galley was good and the moral in good form, despite we traveled already more than 20 days with many challenges and many days and nights with only few hours of sleep. As Spirit of Enderby arrived at Champbell Island every one was relived to have solid ground underneath the feet, this was my only time I didn’t went on land. I decided to bake some more fresh bread as long we where on anchor. The next day looked very rough and the sea rougher than every condition we have experienced before, northerly 60 to 70knt!!!! Live in galley will be challenging once more and all of us will need all our experience to do a good work to satisfy our customer. The sea was already rough in the harbour at Champbell Island as soon we hit the sea holly cow, ship was dancing and rolling on the swell from side to sides, one crew member showed up in the galley and said that we reached an ankle of 52 degree port side, every thing, pots, trays, boxes moved from one side of the galley to the other side even I slide into the oven, my arm was bruised and showed two days later a blue mark. It was a rough day.

The last two days where the most challenging days on the whole trip; full of challenges in the galley, still today I don’t find an answer how we managed to cook in those rough condition and more to my surprise how we served the food, starter, main course and dessert without broken china and plates. The only conclusion I have we had a very good team spirit on the ship, every one helped the time the help was needed, operation manager, team leader, hotel manager to keep the service moving, it was a great experience for me to work for Heritage Expedition for those trip. The time I write this blog I’m back for 5 weeks and I miss the everyday challenge already. I am not surprised that the sea to Antarctica is called the roughest sea on earth. I loved to be there every day.

If some one juice to go to Antarctica on the first cruise, every other cruise will be plain sailing, may a bit disappointing too.

At the end I have to say a big thank you to every one, Nathan to give me the change to prove my self in the galley, Joss to encouraged me to take the job, and Don McTyre our very experienced Expedition leader, and all the team who support me all the time.

 

guaranteed wet feet

There are not many country roads left on the South Island which I didn’t ride on, on my Adventure bike. It took some time and a lot of research to find the right initarary to combining all back roads I want to do into one round trip which start in Milford Sound and end in Milford Sound.

As I can remember I left after work, weather was not good at all rain in Milford Sound, road restrictions are issued around the Homer Tunnel, road was going to close at 5.00 pm due to heavy snow fall over night, which is not common at this time of the year. Despite the driving restrictions I took off, to make my way to Te Anau my first stop to buy food for next few days, after I did all shopping and refilled my bike, I drove to South-arm of Lake Te Anau. I toke the state highway to Manaporie and from there I followed the Scenic signage to Tuatapere, at Blackrock Station is a turn off to Borland Lodge, there I take a right turn and follow the road, first 9 km are tarmac the remaining km is very good gravel to ride on; around 60 km one way. At the south arm is a DOC camp ground in the middle of the forest, I juice to camp in an open area beside the Lake with a magnificent view to the mountain and surroundings of the lake, I have been very lucky that night to spot a deer, which disappeared very soon into the thick dark forest.

I woke up early in the morning to make my breakfast and get ready for my next destination Invercargill. As soon the air warmed up the sandfly got more and more, I broke all records to pack up my gear on the bike, it has been insane to experience that many Sand-fly that early in the morning.

In Invercargill I booked a BBH Hostel, Southern Comfort it is very tidy and quiet accommodation. Shopping centre are very close too.

My day 3 of travelling started with loads of fun: I meet two Malaysia girls, Tan and Yunee as soon they found out that I am a chef we did a spontaneous cook off, in the kitchen of the Hostel; it was the best start into the day, after we finished our breakfast we took or own journey to different destination. Some how I felt sad to leave so early; but I need to get to my next destination Purakaunui Bay Road, at the end of the road is a DOC Camp, which I would say is one of the nicest I have been so far. In Fortrose I turned right to avoid the main road in direction Otara, the road is very narrow and unpaved, there are so many look out spots which have not been mentioned in any travel guide which are breath taking, with a magnificent view to the rugged coast line. My next morning started early, I broke off already by sun rise already to drive up to Waikouaiti were I took the Ram Rock road to Middlemarch. As soon I turn onto the Ram Rock Road the gravel started, I meet some farmer beside the field which was a good opportunity for a small talk about the area, kettle and sheep farming is the most income of the farmer in the are. The winter month I could be very harsh due to very cold temperatures and gale force winds which could be very destructive to the native fauna and flora. The road was very easy to ride on, not a big issue. My original plan was exploring Lake Onslow Road, the weather turned, to be very bad, wind picked up to make a save bike ride nearly impossible, to all my surprise it started snowing, it was already early summer, I reached Clarks Junction, where I stopped and had a hot drink to observe the black clouds rolling over the area I wanted to go, once more I need to make a decision if I want continue my original plan or turn around and look for a alternative route. Even the barkeeper suggested to avoid the Lake Onslow Road, ant look for an alternative, If I would continue my original plan I need to take Serpenine Road that road is in a very different condition, not maintaineced for many years with very deep mud pools, rain water which is filling up mud pools could be wheel deep. At the end I decided not going ahead with my original plan, and turned around and drove back to Middlemarch than Hyde, Ranfurly to St Bathans. Where I camped beside Blue Lake. Once more it was freezing at night not as cold as many nights before top low was only -2C, now I realised it must be very close to summer. ^_^. As soon I opened the tent I got blown away clear blue sky!!! But a bit chilly. Only one hour later the temperature reached 15C. It will be a good day for adventure riding. One of my friends Klaus told me a long time ago there is a pass from St Bathans to Oramara, which is not easy to ride on a fully loaded adventure bike, I still remember his words, but took off onto Hawkdun Runs Rd from there I followed Broken Hut Road, I loved the ride in the early morning hours, at one stage there is a Y junction left road is going to Omarama Saddle with more than 30 river crossings exposed 4 wheel tracks and very deep river even by low water. I took the right turn there are 6 river crossings only, one of my most difficult crossings at all, are river 3 and 4, big stones and an uneven surface make the crossing very challenging. On river 4 I need to got off the bike and pushed the bike through the rocky river bead I the water was more than knee peep. From there on the road is plain adventure, nothing, I could tell was missing, all my bike skills are needed on the next part up to the saddle. Potholes, deep wash outs, from flash floods running down the road and big rocks are only a few to mention, I loved the whole day riding, it is not more than 35 km’s from my night camp to Omarama but it took me 5.5 hours.

On my way to the Y junction I meet Peter and Lesley from Leviathan Hotel in Dunedin, which took the same road, with out them and there help I probably would still stuck in one of the Rivers today.

After such a big day in one of the most sophisticated areas we went into Omarama for a refreshment. I went back to Wanaka my last camping location before heading back to Milford Sound next day. ^_^

 

4 season in 8 days

 

This year I start my first tour early spring, the weather could be very dramatic, and unpredictable. Special on the South Island of New Zealand. The day’s could be very nice and sunny or it could be the opposite, snow could fall up to sea level.

However my first day was an absolute brilliant day, with sunshine low clouds over the Fiord of Milford Sound, and very mild temperatures. After I have had a good breakfast and a strong coffee I started my journey to Dunedin it is a 4.5-hour drive. Where my BMW should get serviced, I have had some unexpected delays on my way, my engine cut off many times as soon I geared down. I was experiencing this trouble already before and contacted my bike dealer. As soon the engine was dying all I need to do open the tank lid, close it again and the engine was running with out any trouble. As I arrived at the bike shop it was late afternoon and to late for the service. The next service which would be available would be in 1 week. There was nothing to do to put my bike for the service the next day, the Manager told me, despite I explained him the situation that I am on holiday and travel to north, even if he could do just an simple oil change would be fine for me. He refused. That was not all; the gasket is leaking too, the bike is just 1 year old and has not more 21200 km.

Early next morning I drove up to Christchurch, visited a licensed BMW dealer, which booked in my bike on the next available day, that worked out for me, and I could do some back country riding. After I left Hamptons Motorcycle, my bike’s engine cut off 3 more times, I did what I did so many times before opened the tank lid and closed it, and continued my riding, until next time engine died.

Finally I took the west coast highway to Arthurs Pass, it was just a 45 minutes drive to the turn off onto Lyndon Road, my first dust road after a long winter break. It was a good feeling, to feel how the tyres bit into the gravel. At lake Georgine I found a great spot to pitch up my tent, surrounded by native fern and the mild splashing lake. The night was looking to get very chilly, it was full moon that night, so I light up a little bon fire beside the tent, and eat my dinner beside. Next morning it was freezing cold just below 0C, fresh snow fell on top of the mountains, during the night. After break fast I got prepared and started my journey.

My plan was to visit the power plan Kowhai, Lake Heron, Lake Ophua, and Lochaber. The whole day was very sunny, the temperature reached tropical 8C at midday. The dust road to lake Heron was in a very good condition, I could accelerate to move on. At the end of the road beside the lake is a nice plateau to have some quick lunch, the contrast from the fresh green to the magnificent landscape let me dream away for some time, out of the short break I planed before, was at the end a 2 hour stop. There is only one road in and out of the valley, to Geraldine, suddenly I need the first time in my life my helmet, I never need it before but now I need it!!!!! It started hailing, hailstones as big as a finger nail, all I can say the hail was a hammering on my helmet, hail stopped as quick as he started, but still some extra croton was needed on the road. After I passed Geraldine my next stop will be Fairlie, at Fairlie I turned into Kerr Clayton Road it is the first part of Lochaber Road, scenery up the road is stunning. It was already late afternoon as I reached the end of the road, it get time to look for a camp spot, not far away from the road is a signed camp site at Opuha Gorge, that night will be one of my coldest nights ever, I camped out in the wild once more, there is a cold front moving in from the alps, locals informed me that night temperatures could get very chilly. I did some winter camping before, put on my thermal clothes, I have had a very good sleep, didn’t feel the cold despite the temperature plunged down to 7C below 0C. The bike was covered in frost the next morning. Fist thing to do after such a cold night, cook some water to make a strong coffee, and lean back and enjoy the sunrise.

Already a long time ago I changed my stove, I used methylated alcohol for cooking but changed to petrol, at low temperatures methylated alcohol could be difficult to light up.

On this day I traveled in direction Mac Kenzie Pass, Lake Benmore, Hakataramea Pass and Mayers Pass to Oamaru.

It was a very cold day again, around 5C and sunny. The day was a very easy and relaxing, good gravel road no camper vans or bicycles on the road, there was only one big decision to make which road I have to take to Oamaru, there are two options first one Hakataramea Road which is a back country road with few Ford Crossing, or the more challenging Black forest road, you need to ask the farmer for permission at Black Forest Station to pay a little road tax to him. It took some time to make up my mind, the cold front was still moving in the wind picked up already, it was much rain forecasted, as friends told me before, if I want to do Black Forest the weather must be very good other wise it could be a very challenging adventure more like a mission.

I decided to ride Hakataramea Road which was a good Joyce. Only after a few km’s it started to snow temperature on my GPS 1C not even close to the pass, Snow got more intense on the way to the highest point of the road, for some reason snow shower stopped before I reached the pass, I was hoping to get a nice photo at the pass with some fresh falling snow. All the scenery changed many times from brown landscape into fresh green farmland, all shades of grey, green blue.

Mayers Pass is not a very tricky section; at some parts deep cliff and drop off make it more adventurous. I passed Serphentine Valley, Elephant hill back road. From there I took SH82 to Kurow. There is no Backpacker in Kurow to stay. So I need to booked a Top 10 Holiday park in Oamaru for that night, to get a hot shower after a few days camping by chilly temperatures.

I have had a refreshing beer that night too. Next morning I drove back to Christchurch to service my bike at Hamptons. Despite the service took longer than expected, I started my journey to Lake Tekapo, it was already dark when I arrived there, the wind was exceptional strong for the time at night, the weather change must affect the unusual strong wind that night. I pitch up my tent in the difficult condition, full of a challenge’s, it took much longer than usual. First I started with placing the tent on the ground put the pegs into the ground one by one, the tent was moving all the time was lifting up and twisted around, until all pegs where placed. Next step put pools into the tend tighten all secure straps, and safety line’s on all sites. Surprisingly few of the secure lines get ripped out of the ground by the gale force wind, during the night. There was no way to light up a bonfire, the wind was just too strong.

 

 

Skippers Canyon

Unbelievable scary, with the beauty of a women; is the Skippers Canyon Road which belongs to the top 10 dangerous roads of the world.

The entrance of the road is in the same location than Cornet Peak Ski fields by Queenstown. The turn off is in a long right corner ¾ up the road to the left.

Skippers Canyon road is a historic scenic road 22km in length,, which winds up beside Shotover River one on New Zealand’s richest bearing gold rivers, which was named by William Rees one of the first settlers from Europe.

In late 1862 Thomas Arthur and Henry Redfern discovered in the area of todays Arthurs Point 4 oz gold in 3 hours, they made no secret of the found and soon start the settlement up the river. At the early stage of the gold finding the miners had to find there own way up the river, which was very difficult due the steep mountains and the current Shotover River, at this time many accidents and casualty’s has been reported, which had difficulty of the transport of goods to the end of the river. In late 1800 the first survey has been made to build a road into the valley to make the Skippers Canyon more accessible for the Miners, first Hotels where build beside the road one of them was the old welcome Hotel, today are only the both chimney remaining the other one is the Otago Hotel far up in the mountain, not much left of this Historic accommodation, it can be reached by a 2 hour hike or Adventure bike but, there are a few tricky sections with deep steps that make the ride a bit challenging, a good work out for biker to check his menthaly strength, on one side is the straight rock up and on the other side a steep cliff to the Shotover River. However the access point is behind the historic cemetery. Further up the valley, first challenges waited for the road workers, the rock is very soft and the steep cliffs made the road very dangerous, at dry condition as soon the carriages rolled over the loose rock, the rock turned into dust, as soon the rain started the dust road was very slippery and unpredictable. Under those condition it was no surprise that motor vehicles where banned until late 1900, and no insurance covered the vehicle on this road. Today it has changed; Skippers Canyon Road is a public road from start to end.

Today, Skippers Canyon is a main tourist attraction. On weekends the road is very busy with 4×4 wd cars, at some locations it could be very difficult to pass an on coming vehicle, usually by dry condition is a massive dust clouds visible from the on coming vehicle and a passing spot can be looked at, to let the on coming vehicle pass. For UN experienced driver the biggest challenge is the deep drop beside the road, with no hard shoulder on the side. In 1898 the Skippers suspension bridge where build in just 2 years. Even though the completion of the existing bridge was done after the gold rush was over, it is one of the main attractions of the journey to Skippers Village. The bridge spans from sheer rock faces on both sides and is about more than 100m above the Shotover River.

At Skippers Town village is a DOC campground with basic facilities. The old school house is nicely refurbished and one of the original houses is open for visitors to take a look into the basic live in the gold mining times.

 

Langkawi

Langkawi is a kind of Tropical Island, which forms out of 99 individual islands. There are two transport options to get to Langkawi by airplane or by ferry. Kuah is the most southern part of the island and the arrival port for the ferry from the mainland of Malaysia.

Most of the islands are remote and few of them can be visited by boat. Island hopping is the best way to explore in very short time for different islands. We inquired at the hotel for a special deal to explore the surrounding island, few minutes later we were picked up by one of the tour guides and went to the harbour. As we boarded the little boat we get a small induction and advised to wear life jackets, because the open water could be rough. Our first drop off was at Beras Basah Island (which means wet rice island) with white sandy beaches and a private hut. Wild monkeys were everywhere around the coconut trees and welcoming the visitors. As we looked back to Langkawi Island we could see a massive black cloud is moving towards us and not long later we had a massive downpour but very warm rain. However we had to board the boat for next destination, Dayang Bunting Island (Which means pregnant maiden island). This time we had to enter the open sea and it was very rough on the boat but I had my fun on this ride while others passengers didn’t look that amazed. From the boat we could see eagles far away unaware that we had to pass this area, our skipper stopped very close to the eagle to take a close look at them before we continued to Dayang Bunting Island. Due to the heavy rain, we had to leave the eagles for next destination.

On Dayang Bunting Island, we had to disembark in heavy raining but luckily we found a shed to protect us from the rain. The wind picked up and the waves on the way back are around 1m high, it was a great experience once more to fly from wave to wave and white caps were everywhere the eye could look. As we reached the harbor safely, we went for Chocolate shopping especially when shopping in Langkawi is tax-free everywhere. My friend and I went to a Chinese food outlet and ordered some fresh fish and vegetables as our dinner. On the next morning we were very happy to find out that the ferry to Koh Lipe is still available in month of May although it is stopped as stated in website due to raining season. We then made last minute decision and traveled about 2 hours from Kuah town to Telaga Harbor in order to catch the ferry to Koh Lipe. For your information, it is also known as the little Maldives in South East Asia but It belongs to Thailand therefore we will need to go through immigration counter and get passport chopped to cross. We were very excited to make it for the legendary island!

Overall in Langkawi, there are options whether to stay in luxurious Hotels or a budget hostel as you may easily find one. Many would opt to plan in advance so as to save cost from last minute booking. However, we found out that if you look for special deals on the Internet few days before you arrive and you are still in time to get first class resorts with special prices especially during low season. Let’s explore Langkawi!

Koh Lipe

Maldives of Thailand

 

Koh Lipe is one of the smallest islands, which belong to Thailand; this small gem is located in Andaman Sea. In the summer month is a ferry shuttle going from Langkawi twice a day to Koh Lipe, the ferry ride is going through the open sea and take around 1.5h for the 35 km journey. Many little island passing by on the left and right side of the boat.

The first highlight is at arriving at the harbor at Koh Lipe, there is no jetty or any thing look like, small boats which called taxi too will stop beside the ferry and the passenger have disembark on the open see and climb into the local boats to get on land.

For the last few meters each individual has to walk a short distance through the warm crystal clear water to the beach to get to the Immigration where the passport get hand handed back to each visitor, the whole procedure was a new experience to me, the immigration officer was calling the nationality and name of the passport holder.

 

Just beside the immigration office is Harmony café and bakery located, I would say the best long black coffee on the island, a small selection of international bakery is offered too such as Danish, Muffins and Scones.

 

The taxi service is based on motorbikes with sidecars, easy to get on and get a lift to the booked accommodation. On our first night we stayed at sunset beach at Porn Resort in a small bungalow, which was very warm, and no air conditioning was set up just a fan on the wall. For my first time I saw a tarantula spider in the room as I went for a toilet at nighttime, it scared the s… out of me because I didn’t expect anything like that to see at the wall in the bathroom. Spider was around 5 cm in diameter.

 

Our second night we spend at Wapi Resort which is located at sunrise beach, south of the Thai Andaman Sea, this resort is absolute spotless clean any where you look. Free Wi-Fi gets provided on the whole property. At the beach is the massage center located I took a traditional Thai massage which was very relaxing to listen to the soft rolling of the waves at the beach.

 

On the next day we booked a snorkeling trip by Baan Kasirin, which included 5 individual stops on different location, we had nothing to took at food was provided, drinks, fins and snorkeling mask even swim vests every thing was provided. All locations where special with so many different corals on the ground the visibility was awesome crystal clear water, the corals where very color full and the fishes where in all bright colors you can imagine, yellow, orange, green, purple. I never experienced that much variation of fishes in the water.

 

On our final and last night we want stay some where close in town and we booked Lipe Inn Motel, the price is reasoble but no breakfast get served. Every thing is in the room what is needed free water bottles, shower and a air conditioning.

For breakfast we went for one of the street stands, and ordered Thai panama and chocolate pancake, mango and sticky rice, and to drink a fresh coconut, the perfect start into the day.

It take us just few minutes to walk into the main street, to get our last dinner in one of the famous fish restaurants, don’t get surprised if the restaurant is not open at 6.00pm, it is far to early. All the staff set up the BBQ and fresh fish display in front of the restaurant. All kind of fish is available squid, jumbo prawns, tuna, crab is only a few I can remember, charged get peer kg. One of my best seafood I ever had.

 

The ferry to Koh Lipe from Langkawi operates only in the summer month. It depart from Telaga Harbour to Koh lipe twice a day. The seats on the ferry are very limited if you want guarantee a seat I would recommend to make a online booking few days before you travel.

 

 

Portfolio of the Photographer Frank Widmer