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Wednesday November 27-29, 2019 Fredericksburg – Houston –Queenstown
Our flight plans to New Zealand included a non-stop flight from Houston to Auckland with a continuing connection to Queenstown. We were joining a Santana Adventures tandem bicycle tour of New Zealand. We chose to drive from Fredericksburg to Houston so that we could visit friends before going to the airport for our flight. The driving time to Houston is about the same as flying when the arrival lead time and connection time is added to the equation. We enjoyed a 2-hour lunch with our friends before we drove to the airport. We were concerned about the traffic we might encounter because this was the afternoon before Thanksgiving which is traditionally the heaviest traffic day of the year. Fortunately, we had made a parking reservation because the lots were full and only customers with a reservation could park. We were able to check in at the Air New Zealand counter and pass through security when I realized that I had left my phone in the car. I had to catch a shuttle back to the parking lot and retrieve my phone and then return to the airport and retrace through security before meeting Becky in the Polaris lounge. Fortunately, we had business class seats for the nonstop 14-hour flight from Houston to Auckland. The Air New Zealand flight was excellent and the business class accommodations were the most comfortable I have ever experienced. We managed the transfer to the connecting flight to Queenstown and met up with our Santana Tour Operators for the transfer to the Accor Novotel Hotel on the lake. We had time to explore the town and discovered the Speight Brew Pub a couple of blocks from the hotel. After lunch and a couple of excellent beers, we returned to the hotel to rest. We were too tired to go back out for dinner, so we just enjoyed a bottle of Marborough Valley Sauvignon Blanc and went to bed.
Saturday November 30, 2019, Queenstown New Zealand:
Jet lag issues had us up early in the morning but that was a good thing because we could listen the UT- Texas Tech game which began at 6AM local time. (final Texas 49, Tech 24). The Novotel Hotel provides a very nice breakfast buffet beginning at 6:00AM. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and started to reconnect with old friends from previous Santana Tours and begin to make new friends. Just to digress a moment, the reason we are in New Zealand is to participate in a Tandem bicycle tour. We have been touring with Santana since 2007 and have met tandem couples from all over the USA. The schedule for the day was first to reassemble our bike before taking a short ride to ensure that the bike was correctly assembled and adjusted. We had no issues with the bike and by 11:00 we were on the road to Glenorchy. We had decided that we would try to ride 25 miles which would allow us plenty of time to return, have lunch and then get ready for the evening activities. The road to Glenorchy follows along the lake Wakatipu shore but it is anything but flat. We climbed almost 2000 feet in the 25 miles and saw a 13% grade on the Garmin trip computer. Fortunately, it was a beautiful weather day for riding in New Zealand. We returned to Queenstown and rode directly to the Speight brewpub for lunch…nothing better than a couple of IPAs and a sandwich to finish the ride. We had a couple of hours to shower and change for the planned events which began a 5:00. We met the group in the lobby and walked to the Skyline gondola lift to the Luge track. We went through the brief training session and then made 3 runs down the track. Following the luge rides we met in the dining room for a catered buffet dinner and short welcome program presented by the indigenous Mauri tribe. There is never a shortage of beverage and good conversation at one of these events. Our table was the last to leave and without doubt we had the most fun of anyone in the room. Around 9:00 we made our way back to the gondola for the ride down the mountain and the short walk back to the hotel. We had time to download the Ride with GPS routes to my phone for the next day’s adventures and then to bed to reflect on the events of the day..
Sunday December 01, 2019 Queenstown, New Zealand:
Today was scheduled to be the 1st official ride of the Pre-tour. We started the morning with the breakfast buffet. At 8:30 Bill McCready, our tour organizer, presented his route talk which previewed the places we would be riding to and visiting. We could start at our leisure, but most of the bikes were on the road before 9:30. The skies were overcast and rain was predicted for later in the afternoon. The 35-mile trip was broken into three segments. The first was a 15-mile ride to an old gold mining town named Arrowtown. This was preserved as it may have looked during the days when gold mining operations were still underway. Today it’s just a tourist venue with all the shops you would expect tourist to be drawn to. We did take a few minutes to visit the museum which was a good display of the living conditions during the mining period. After seeing all we wanted, we continued the ride for 7 more miles to the Kawarau Bridge Bungy jumping center. This is an old suspension bridge over the river with a 120 foot bungy plunge down to the river. It must be quite a thrill for the one-minute ride on a bungee cord, but I wasn’t willing to pay $205 NZ for this thrill. We did have a hamburger meal provided while we were at the center, but soon it was time to start the ride back to our hotel in Queenstown. By now the weather had changed and the rain started falling just as we started to ride. The rain continued without any let up the entire ride. The wind was cold and the road conditions were not desirable because of the very high traffic on the road. We managed the 15-mile ride without mishap, but we were soaked and cold as we turned into the hotel garage. Now all we wanted to do was get out of our wet clothes and into a hot shower. After a couple hours of recovery, we struck out for a restaurant for dinner; we ran into Kevin and Jo on the street and decided to join them at Blue Kanuu which is an Asian Fusion venue. Both food and conversation were good.
Monday December 02, 2019 Queenstown, New Zealand:
Today’s itinerary was a ride to Glenorchy with an adventure jet boat ride on the Dart River. We started with the breakfast buffet in the Novotel Hotel. We collected our bike and started out about 9:00 for the 29-mile ride along the lake shore. This ride is very challenging with over 2500 feet of climbing on the route. We paused several times for photo ops to capture memories of this beautiful route. We were blessed with excellent weather and ideal temperatures for a strenuous ride. We were the first bike to arrive thanks to our electric assist Hawthorn Tandem. We had a brief time to relax before our lunch buffet was set out; the lunch consisted of salads and pot pies and a dessert. After lunch we walked to the Dart River Adventures office to be outfitted with a spray suit and life jacket, then we transferred to the dock to board the jet boats for the exciting adventure blasting up the Dart river at 45 mph over as little as 4 inches of water. The boat captain made several maneuvers including a 360 spin to demonstrate the capabilities of the boat. The boat seats 15 and is powered by 2 350 cubic inch V-8’s which develop almost 700 house power. The captain took us to a couple of small tributaries which were stunning examples of nature’s magnificence. Unfortunately, a light rain started to fall and the temperature began to drop. The spray suit did a great job of keeping us dry and warm but racing into the rain at high speed was a stinging sensation to the face. We jetted for about an hour before we exited the boat on a gravel bar and boarded a 4-wheel drive bus for a short transfer to the “bush”. The walk through the bush was only about 20 minutes; our guide pointed out all the flora and fauna and explained how the movie “Lord of the Rings” used this area for the set of the movie. We boarded the bus for the ride back to the base and then transfer to another bus for the ride back to Queenstown. We showered and changed then went to a local Italian restaurant for dinner. To finish the day, we had to repack our suitcases for the ride to Milford Sound on Tuesday.
Tuesday December 03, 2019 Queenstown, New Zealand
There is no riding scheduled for today; the plan is to go by bus to Milford Sound where we board our ship for the next week. However, the weather caused an abrupt and dramatic change to our plans. First the heavy swells around Milford prevented the offloading of the passengers on board and second the road to Milford was closed due to flooding so even if passengers could get off the ship, we couldn’t get there. So Bill came up with plan B which changed to Plan C and the finally we followed Plan D. We thought we could bus across the island to Invercargill and catch the ship there, but the ship could not get to there and there were no hotel rooms available for a group of our size. So, we drove to Wanaka where we had an hour to visit a transportation museum and then back to Queenstown. This trip was just to burn time while Bill’s staff worked to find us a place to stay and determine when and where we could catch the ship. Ultimately, we ended back in Queenstown in the Mercure Hotel with dinner plans to take the 100-year-old TSS Earnslaw steam ship across Lake Wakatipu to the Walter Peak Resort for gourmet dinner buffet and sheep dog demonstration. The cruise began at 6:00 and docked about 45 minutes later. The buffet was quite good, and Bill provided the wine so nothing to complain about. It was fascinating to watch the sheep dogs work a flock from the field into the corral and to watch the wrangler shear a sheep in a matter of minutes. All in all, the evening was a good substitute for the regular planned event. We were back to the hotel after 10:00 and ready to crash. We have no idea what tomorrow will bring except we expect more rain.
Wednesday December 04, 2019 Queenstown - Bluff, New Zealand
The day started with breakfast at the Mercure Hotel and then a 200km bus ride to Invercargill. We arrived around noon and stopped at the Bill Richardson Transport Museum. This was both the lunch break and a planned visit to one of the world’s largest transportation museum. It started as a collection of vintage trucks but has morphed into a gigantic collection of cars, trucks, tractors and others forms of transport. The weather forecast was grim…very high probability of rain and a 25mph wind. We kept watching the radar and thought there was a window at 2:00 when we could attempt the 20-mile run to Bluff where we would finally board the Caledonian Sky Expedition Class ship. We did not get out of Invercargill before the rain started and it continued about a half hour. It wasn’t a hard rain, but in the blowing wind it was still very wet. The route was flat and direct, but we were headed into a port city which means a lot of truck traffic. As the trucks passed us, we had to fight to stay on the road. Eventually the rain did stop and we finished the ride in the sunshine and dry thanks to the high wind, We had enough time to take the road to the absolute end which is the southernmost road in New Zealand. After a quick photo op, we returned to the truck to drop off our bike and then board the bus for the quick ride to the boat. The Caledonia Sky is a Bahamian Registered Expedition Class ship with about 60 state rooms. Our room is very comfortable with plenty of room to relax. We went through the emergency safety drill and had a brief assembly to meet the expedition crew and see the Zodiac instructional video. Following this assembly, we were invited to the dining room for dinner. We lingered in the dining room until almost 10:00 and then retired for the evening..
Thursday December 05, 2019 Dunedin – Moeraki, New Zealand:
The Caledonian Sky had sailed during the night and had docked in Dunedin. There were 3 options for riding which would total to 55 miles with 4900 feet of climbing. We elected to skip the first 5-mile section which was a 5 mile climb up to a bird sanctuary…it was a lovely route but we thought it best to start at the top and then ride the remainder of the planned route. The route was divided into 2 sections, the first was 31 miles with 2400 feet of climbing. The roads were a combination of the old highways and the new highway 1. It was hilly which provided some really nice view back down to the ocean and the green pastures dotted with hundreds of sheep. We rode nonstop for the 31 miles until we reached Palmerston. Here was a decision point whether to abandon the ride and take the bus back to the zodiac landing or continue for the final 13 miles but with 1300 feet of climbing up some 12% grades. We stopped at a fish and chips shop in Palmerston and had a snack but more importantly, we charged the bike battery for an hour which we needed to climb over the mountain and down to the beach in Moeraki. This ride was on a very light traffic road which went through a section where there was a lot of logging. Fortunately, we did not encounter any log trucks but the ride was enough of a challenge without the trucks. We finally arrived in Moeraki and found the truck where we loaded our bike and then walked to the beach to board the zodiac for the ride back to the ship. The zodiac ride was about as thrilling as anything we had done this trip because of the winds and high waves (4-6 feet). The captain was an experienced boat handler and managed to get us back safely although a bit wet from the spray. Back on the ship we had time to clean up and change for the remainder of the day. There was a late lunch available on the Lido deck where we got a bowl of soup and a beer. Now it was time to relax in the Panorama Lounge before the assembly in the lounge for the preview of the next day’s program followed by dinner at 7:30. .
Friday December 06, 2019 Akaroa - Littleton, New Zealand:
The schedule for today was a bit confusing because the first people to breakfast and off the boat for shore where those who elected to take the boost up the summit of the mountain at 1250 feet above sea level. The rest of us started later for the zodiac shuttle to the dock at Akaroa. This was a bustling little town because another cruise ship was in port and it was discharging passengers at the same time we were leaving the zodiac. We found our bike and installed the battery and trunk, but I also changed the chain because we had some issues the day before on the last grueling climb. Soon we were on our way on the 6-mile climb over the 3 baby bears which were 3 consecutive climbs totaling 1000 feet. These were only a minor preview of the mama bear climb which was the next section of the ride. This was a 6-mile climb of 1800 feet with pitches of 12 and 13%. We managed the climb thanks to the help of our electric assist, but the question was could we make the next 21 miles on the power left in the battery. The route was downhill and flat, so we decided to go for it. The first half of the route was fun with an exciting downhill run followed by a flat section with a 15 mph tail wind, but as the road twisted and turned, the tail wind became more of a head wind and I was beginning to worry if we would arrive at Gibbies Garden Restaurant before the battery died. We did arrive with 3 miles of reserve and immediately but the battery on the charger and then ordered a snack to enjoy while the battery charged. After an hour of charging, we started off on the next segment which was only 5 miles long but had a steep 500-foot climb. This climb really used a lot of battery and by the time we arrived at the rest stop we realized we didn’t have enough power to complete the final 10 miles. So we ordered a beer and hooked up the battery to the charger and relaxed for 30 minutes while the battery was charging. Then we started for the final 10-mile leg which turned out to be very pleasant…there was still plenty of climbing but the slopes were gentle and the wind was blocked by the trees. We arrived back at the ship in really good time with more than 20 miles reserve on the battery. The ship was docked in the Littleton port, so we did not have to take the zodiacs this afternoon. We dropped our gear in the room and headed to the Lido for lunch and a beer. Soon all the riders were back on board and the ship cast off in the direction of our next adventure. What little time was left of the afternoon was for relaxation and recovery. Of course, dinner followed with a little bit of merriment at the table as we formed a chorus and sang a bunch of old standards. Ultimately, we ended up in the lounge for a late cognac before retiring for the day.
Saturday December 07, 2019 Torea Bay -Picton, New Zealand
Weather has a real impact on ships and scheduling of events. We had already lost the first day of this cruise due to the unacceptable conditions at Milford Sound. Today we had planned a 32-mile ride starting with a zodiac ride to the beach where we meet the trucks with the bikes. The trucks could not get any closer to the beach than a half mile, so we were supposed to walk to the bikes. Well the weather changed all these plans. First the wind was howling at 65 knots which prevented the zodiacs from operating. Next the winds made for very dangerous progress for the trucks and they were way behind schedule. So, as we were lined up with all our gear to go riding, all the plans were scrubbed and Bill started to work on plan B. We would continue to sail into the Picton port where we could tour the town or take a bus to visit an aviation museum and tour a winery and finally stop at a chocolate factory. The museum was a gift to New Zealand from Richard Jackson who was the creator of the Lord of the Rings series. The planes were all vintage WW1 planes that had flown during the war. We had a guide who led us through the dioramas of the various planes. Next we boarded the bus for the quick transfer to the winery. The venue was quite nice but as we arrived the rain started to fall. First we were ushered into the cellar for a tasting of 4 of their wines. The first two sauvignon blancs were ok but not remarkable. The pinot noir was needed a few more year of age because the residual tannins left a bitter sting on the back of my tongue. The final was wine was a disaster…an artificially carbonated pink with a 49 RS…sweet enough for pancake syrup….definitely dumped in the spit bucket. As we exited the winery, the heavens opened up and dumped a deluge…we were soaked from the 100 yards dash to the bus. The final stop was at a chocolate factory which had tourist trap written all over it…we stayed on the bus most of the time. We returned to the port to reboard the ship and change for dinner which was scheduled for 6:30. After dinner we viewed the movie, “the world’s fastest Indian” which was about Burt Munro’s story of modifying a 40 year old Indian motor cycle and taking it to Bonneville to set the world’s motorcycle land speed record of over 200mph. That ended the program for the day.
Sunday December 08, 2019 Picton, New Zealand:
Today was a scheduled hiking day on Queen Charlotte track, because the trucks needed a day to take the ferry to the north island. The weather continued to be wet, but the wind was not as strong, so we proceeded with the planned activities. After breakfast we lined up 8:30 for the 10-minute zodiac ride to the landing at Resurrection Bay on Queen Charlotte Sound. There we began a wet and muddy 2.5-mile hike to ships cove which is a landing Captain Cook visited twice during his explorations. The trek and vistas would have been spectacular in the sunshine but in the rain the visibility was so limited and the path so slippery and muddy that I only saw the tops of my boots. There were optional longer hikes but we were wet enough and really just wanted to return to the boat, take ahot shower and prepare for lunch. Back on the ship we attempted to dry all of our wet gear so our cabin looked like a Chinese laundry. We had a quick lunch on the Lido and then spent the afternoon reading, relaxing and napping while the ship headed to the North Island to the port of Napier. We were warned that the seas could be rough as we sailed out of the sound and into the ocean and there certainly was some rocking of the boat but nothing to make the passage uncomfortable. Happy hour started early in the lounge with a brief program by the expedition crew before Bill gave his preview of the next day’s ride. We ate dinner up on the Lido and much to our surprise the clouds had disappeared and we were in a brilliant sunshine. Usually the dinner meal starts around 7:30 and is rarely finished before 9:30 and by that time the only activity that has any appeal is sleeping..
Monday December 09, 2019, Napier, New Zealand::
The Caledonian Sky sailed all night and arrived at the Port of Napier just after daybreak. The port is a large container and logging port with stacks and stack of logs and containers. After breakfast and a route talk, we exited down the gangway to a waiting bus to take us to the parking area outside the port fence where our bikes were waiting. The weather this morning was the best of the trip as far as sunshine, temperature and wind were concerned. We found our bike and installed the battery and garmin and began the first leg of a planned 53-mile ride. Because lunch was scheduled at the end of the ride back in Napier there would be no opportunity to stop and recharge the battery, so we had to plan our battery management to ensure that we had enough reserve to complete the ride. So for the first 15 miles we did not turn on the power to the motor; fortunately the route was totally flat and the wind was mild so this was an easy leg without battery assistance. We arrived at the country store for a short break and restroom stop before continuing for the remainder. Immediately after the country store the terrain changed to beautiful hill country with climbs to elevations that afforded outstanding vistas of the countryside. On our long route there were 3 significant climbs with pitches exceeding 12%. However, once we did arrive at the final summit we had the longest downhill coast since 2014 when we climbed Mount Ventoux. Some of the younger and braver teams reached speeds in excess of 50mph; I controlled our descent to a maximum of 45mph which was plenty considering the truck traffic passing only a few feet away. We arrived back in Napier at 1:30 and found the Thirsty Whale restaurant for lunch. The weather was still pleasant enough for al fresco dining. A couple of IPA’s and a fried fish burger was just the perfect lunch for celebrating the successful completion of our beautiful ride through the New Zealand countryside. After lunch we rode a half mile to the Urban Winery for a wine tasting. They served us 2 whites, a rose and a pinot noir. None were remarkable and certainly not tempting enough to purchase. After the wine tasting we had only 2 more miles to ride to downtown Napier where we loaded our bikes onto the trucks and began a walking tour of the town. Napier had suffered a major earthquake in 1931 and had to be totally rebuilt. The architectural style at that time was art deco so Napier is one of the best examples in the world of Frank Lloyd Wright inspired buildings. The tour lasted an hour while our guide pointed out the interesting features of several of the buildings. During the tour the weather as predicted changed to cloudy and drizzling rain. Fortunately most of the building had overhanging verandas so we managed to stay under cover. We boarded the bus back to the port at 6:00 and had barely enough time to shower and change for the program in the lounge which began at 7:00. The program was a safety lecture required by the New Zealand police in order for us to continue riding. There was also a very brief video of the weather at Milford Sound which had prevented us from boarding there the previous week. The wind and rain and waves were comparable to some of the scenes of a hurricane along the gulf coast. We chose to have dinner in the main dining room; we were still not hungry following the fish burger and French fries from our late lunch, but the Thai chicken curry was too appealing to pass up. After dinner we bid everyone a pleasant evening and returned to our cabin.
Tuesday December 10, 2019 Gisborne, New Zealand::
The Caledonian Sky sailed all through the night and arrived at the port of Gisborne about 7:00 in the morning. We had breakfast as usual and then gathered in the lounge for route talk and a safety briefing. We were docked at a logging port and there was a considerable amount of logging truck traffic that we would have to share the road with. The plan for the day was to ride 32 miles to Talaga where we would meet the zodiacs on the beach and ride back to the ship. The start of the ride was routine with everyone walking to the shore where we found our bike and prepared for the ride. Leaving Gisborne was easy with a nice wide shoulder on the highway. As we exited the town the shoulder narrowed and we were sometimes forced into the traffic lane. The route was along the seashore with beautiful views of the pounding surf. As we rode, I thought that with such a high tail wind and the breaking waves that there would be little chance to return to the ship in the zodiacs. But we continued on over a scenic route with hills and vistas of the ocean and the farmland dotted with cows and sheep. At about mile 25 we saw riders returning of the opposite side of the highway yelling that we had to turn back. This was not good news because by now we had used more than half of the battery and we would be facing a headwind. As we were out bound the log trucks were empty but once we turned around the trucks were loaded with logs. As they passed us the vacuum blast would shake our bike. We trudged back toward Gisborne knowing that we would eventually run out of power. Sure enough with 8 miles to go, we had to stop and recharge. Becky was suffering with cold symptom and was ready to abandon the ride even though we found a campground and had plugged in the charger to add enough power for the last 8 miles. About the same time the rescue van stopped and we decided to take the van back to the port instead of riding partly because we were time limited and Becky wasn’t feeling well. So back at the port we walked onto the ship and had the remainder of the day to rest and relax. The sea was pretty rough and the ship was rolling as much as we had experienced the entire trip. Later in the afternoon we had the captains farewell reception with a chance for a toast and a chance to meet the crew. After the lobster dinner we returned to our cabin for the evening.
Wedsday December 11, 2019 Whitanga, New Zealand:
The Caledonian Sky repositioned in the night to an anchorage off from Tairua. The Volcano eruption the day before resulted in a 15-mile safe zone that we had to sail around but we were never aware of this bypass. As we anchored about 7:30 in the morning the decision was made to continue on to Whitianga Bay because the swells were too large for safe zodiac loading and unloading. This repositioning had little effect on the scheduled ride for the day because we could ride the same route in reverse as an out and back. The zodiac ride into the harbor was about 2 miles and took almost 20 minutes. Once on shore we found our bike and loaded for our final ride of this trip. We first had to take a ferry across the harbor bay; this ferry was a passenger only boat which was not designed to bicycles especially tandems. Issues like this never bother Bill McCready so we just crowded the bikes into the ferry and no one seemed to mind being crammed in while holding onto their bike. The ride route was one of the best of the entire trip for several reasons; the weather was perfect with only a moderate wind, the traffic was very light and no large trucks and the road meandered through some lovely countryside over gently rolling hills. None of the routes were particularly long and we rode a circular route which was about 28 miles. We took the side branches to the Hot Water Beach where one could actually dig a hole in the sand and find warm water. The other side route took us to Cathedral Cove and a significant 12% climb up to an observation point. There was the option to hike down to the beach and the formations that had been cut out by the wave action but we thought the view from the top was good enough. We did find a restaurant at Hahei and enjoyed the break and lunch. We then continued back to the ferry landing arriving about 1:00. The crossing was a little easier this time because there were fewer bikes and passengers. Once we crossed the harbor our task was to find our bike cases, dissemble the bike and pack it for the trip home. We were all packed up ready for a beer at a local pub before loading onto a zodiac for the ride back to the ship. The tide was flowing in and the swells had lessened so the zodiac ride was fairly calm. We arrived back at the ship with plenty of time to shower and change before the evening activities began There was the usual happy hour in lounge with dinner in the Lido beginning at 7:00pm. This was the farewell lobster dinners plus a few other gourmet delights. For dessert they offered a pistachio soufflé which was quite good. After dinner we returned to the lounge and a small of us gathered around the piano to sing Christmas songs. We were soon ready to bid farewell to our new friends and return to our cabin for our last night on the Caledonian Sky. We had just finished touring 12 days in New Zealand with 8 days of tandem bicycle riding totaling 357 miles and one day of hiking of about 4 miles. Three of the rides were in the rain and the hike was also in the rain over a very muddy track. We dodged changing weather patterns and as we toured north the weather improved but was always a challenge to allow us to ride as planned. We’ve tried twice to see Milford sound, but the weather has prevented us on both attempts, so we’ll just have to be satisfied with seeing documentaries of it. Now we are waiting in the Air Zealand lounge for our return flight to Houston.