Milford Sound - Manapouri
Today dawned bright and clear, promising another day of beaut riding and scenery. Pity that last night was the worst night's sleep of the trip. Nice motel but it was situated right on the main road and trucks were rattling past all through the night.
On the road by our customary 9.00am we headed off up the Te Anau road, traffic was mental though with tour buses, camper vans and tourist conveyances of all sorts vying for road space. Thankfully things cleared a bit as we got further out of town, damn cool though better check those heated grips again.
What initially started out as a clear day soon developed into fog, just the odd patch at first then thicker and thicker. My visor was covered in a fine mist, normally rain pretty much blows off with the wind as you ride along but this stuff just sat there. I have little rubber wiper thingies on the forefingers of my gloves, so every couple of minutes I'd wipe the mist off so I could see the road ahead.
At Five Rivers I see a sign advertising a cafe offering hot coffee & food, being a bit over the fog by this time it seemed fortuitous, so in we go. Nice warm cosy little place, just the thing to thaw out and fuel the inner man.
There was another rider in there also making the most of the ambience. Chatting to him he was originally touring with a group, as he so eloquently put it, "well the guys had a bunch of sheilas with them, when we got to Wanaka one of them just had to stop so she could get her nails done, that was when I left". He headed off a little ahead of us, into the mist.
When I was a teenager learning to drive Dad used to say "never drive/ride faster than you can see to stop". Wise words, the fog was about 60kph thick, and a visor wipe every 30 seconds or so, and it was around 10.30. We could see the sun, surely it was going to burn off soon? Nope, even the cop sitting on the side of the road wasn't doing much business this morning.
The fog did eventually lift and we picked up the pace, bright & sunny but cool, might just leave those grips running a bit longer.
Refuelling at Te Anau the guy at the service station asked us where we were off to, on hearing that we were going up to Milford Sound he said "does your bike get more than 240km to a tank"? Basically there is no fuel available at Milford and you need the range to get there and back.
Our acquaintance from Five Rivers was outside crunching numbers, his Harley was supposed to get 240km to a tank but he was tossing up whether to stash a couple of spare litres of fuel in a container on his bike to be sure.
Off up the road we go, following the Eglington River valley with rocky crags in the distance, snow covered peaks and cloud shrouding others. The valley narrows soon enough and the crags get closer & higher, the road starts climbing and we enter the tree-line.
Riding along enjoying the changing scenery I notice that the road has three greenish tinged lines running down its length, between each set of wheel tracks and the centreline. Damn, that is moss the same as on the side of the road. Guess it doesn't see much sunlight here.
As we climb higher the cloud base gets closer and the road gets twistier. There is the occasional glimpse of snowy peaks off to the sides but mostly it is damp grey. A bit of a bummer as Doug tells me the views up here are worth bottling.
We pull over at a lookout spot called "The Chasm", there is a short walk to see where the river has eroded a hole in the riverbed and plunges straight down. Parking the bikes we notice a Kea parrot hopping about checking out vehicles. These birds have a wicked shaped beak and have been known to destroy windscreen wipers, mirrors and other bits of cars that take their fancy.
Whilst checking out the view of the river doing its thing, a girl comes over and says "oh are you the guys with the bikes"? "Umm I think you need to get back there soon". She showed us a photo she had just taken of the bird taking a fancy to Doug's helmet that we had attached to the bikes. The girl told us that the bird was pecking at the helmets and had started on the seat. Time to beat feet.
As we headed back down the track other visitors kept saying, "there is a Kea having fun with your bikes". Oh great.
Arriving back at the bikes there is fortunately no apparent damage apart from both helmets dangling by the security chain we had looped through them. It seems our little mate had knocked them off the seat and flown off. Dunno if he was looking for dinner or a girlfriend.
As I was setting up for the first corner after we left the carpark it sort of occurred to me that the bike has lots of tasty brake lines and things that a mental bird might find to it's liking, hope the brakes still work. They did.
At the top of the road lies the Homer Tunnel, bored through the living rock. At the end there is a view over the valley below leading down into Milford Sound that is spectacular.
Riding through the tunnel it is pitch black, your lights only make a dim impression with the black stone of the walls just soaking up the light, no reflection. As we near the end you can see mist filtering into the tunnel, so as we finally emerge into daylight it is into dense cloud and you can't see more than a few metres ahead. Guess the great view is going to have to wait.
Taking hairpins in cloud is an interesting experience, just stay between the white lines, right? I could hardly see Dougs' tail lights ahead, all the time wiping the mist off the visor. Cornering one-handed is a bit of an experience.
Trundling down into Milford sound the view is a bit restricted, pity as there is plenty to see. Linda & I had visited here on a cruise a few years ago and the scenery is stunning, it would have been nice to see it from the landside but thems the breaks. Time for lunch at the cafe instead.
The run back to Te Anau was pretty much the reverse of the trip in, we sort of hoped that the cloud would lift as the sun projected some warmth into the day but nope it was another case of flying in cloud back up the mountain, at least the run batck down had cleared though.
Tonight we are domiciled at a motel on Lake Manapouri, New Zealand's second deepest lake by the way and site of a large underground hydroelectric power station. Tomorrow we are going to play tourist for a change, have a rest day off the bikes and take the guided tour of the place.