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Santana New Zealand 2009 Tandem Tour
Prologue: We have been anticipating out first trip “down under” for well over two years. Bill and Jan McCready first announced the idea of the tour as we were preparing for the Mississippi River tour in 2007. After 2 years of planning and scouting, the departure date finally arrived. Becky and I left Houston on Sunday 22 February for a Continental Airlines flight to Los Angeles where we transferred to a nonstop Quantas flight to Auckland. While we were in the LAX airport we met two other teams on the tour…Hal and Lucy Moorman from Brenham and Charlie and Rhonda Pummill from Bedford. The Quantas flight departed on time at 8:30 for the 13 hour flight to Auckland. The aircraft was a 747 and fortunately there were several empty seats so we had ample room to stretch out. Both service and food were surprisingly good in coach and with the help of miracle drugs; we slept the major portion of the flight. We arrived on time in Auckland, but we only had an hour and 20 minutes to make our connection to Queenstown…we were close but they closed boarding just as we arrived at the check in desk. Air New Zealand booked on the next flight which two and half hours later. The flight to Queenstown was about 90 minutes and gave us a chance to see the magnificent landscape with snow capped mountains rising above the clouds. The approach to Queenstown was exciting at the aircraft lower into the valley and we could see the mountains above the wing tips. This is one runway you don’t want to over shoot or otherwise you’ll wind up in the lake.
Tuesday 24 February 2009:
We have flown right over Monday as we crossed the International Date Line…seems like we have been robbed a day of our vacation. As we arrived at the Queenstown airport we were met by Bill and a host of drivers and baggage handlers to help us to find the ground transportation. The weather was cool in the 60’s but through the scattered clouds we could see the beautiful mountains that surrounded this area. Six tandem teams arrived in Queenstown approximately at the same time…we boarded the bus for the one hour ride to the Oakridge resort at Wanaka traveling by way of the Crown Range summit road over some serious switchbacks and steep climbs. We did not realize at the time that we would be returning by the same route the next day but on a bicycle. The pass is 1076 meter high and the road is only two lane without shoulders or passing lanes. The mountains are not wooded and the area is really not populated after leaving Queenstown. We arrived at the Oakridge Lodge, collected our room keys and found our room. The resort has a series of heated pools which looked very inviting after traveling for 24 hours, but our schedule was so full there was no time to enjoy the thermal baths. We immediately began to assemble our bike…this time we had no problems and were ready to ride in less than an hour. We changed into riding clothes and rode into Wanaka which was only 2 miles away. This is a quaint resort on the shore of Lake Wanaka. We found a good bike shop where we bought CO2 cartridges for tire inflation. The FAA prohibits compressed gas containers on airplanes so we have to buy new cartridges every time we fly the bike. We returned back to the lodge in plenty of time to shower and change for the 6:30 wine tasting followed by dinner. Bill and Jan had arranged for one of the local wine makers to supply the wine and explain a bit about New Zealand wines as well as the wine he presented for the evening. The happy hour wine was a sparkling wine made from 80% pinot noir and 20% chardonnay. It had slight blush tint and was a little sweet but pleasant enough…after 24 hours of travelling my opinion may have been influenced by the need to celebrate our safe arrival and unwind from the trip. The dinner that followed was classic. It began with a tiger prawn cocktail followed with a main course of baked Akaroa salmon crusted in black sesame seeds, roasted potatoes and sauté baby spinach with champagne crème. The wines presented with the meal were a Riesling and a Sauvignon Blanc…both were pleasant. For desert they presented a selection of sorbets with fresh summer berries and almond praline. All of this was followed with a cheese plate offering Kapiti Aorangi and Tutermoana and a fresh bottle of award winning Pinot Noir. It had been a while since we had enjoyed a good meal and this was certainly a great beginning for this vacation.
Miles today: 5 Total Miles for the tour: 5
Wednesday 25 February - Wanaka to Queenstown
The morning began with a hearty breakfast buffet and route talk by Bill. We had to have all of our luggage at the truck by 8:30 in the morning. We knew we had a big climb ahead of us because we had driven over this road on Tuesday. The weather was OK for the start…temps in the 50’s with broken clouds. After 14 miles of gentle climbing we arrived at the Cordrona Hotel for coffee and scones. The hotel was quaint and rustic with a gold mine in the basement. We enjoyed the coffee and snacks , huge scones with all sorts of toppings, but soon we were back on the bike for the big climb to the pass. We had only 9 miles and 1000 feet elevation to go to reach the Crown Ridge summit (this just happens to be the highest road in all of New Zealand) and the first 7 miles were gently sloping but the last 2 miles greeted us with a 12% slope. The sun was now shinning and we had an option to skip the climb and take a shuttle to the top…we chose the challenge and dropped into the granny gear and started grinding our way to the top. We managed the climb in about 30 minutes with 2 stops to catch breath. The view from the top was marvelous. We stayed only long enough to take a few pictures and pull on all the jackets we had in anticipation of the wind chill on the descent. The switchbacks and turns on the route mandated a slow, controlled speed. Our 10” disk brake performed well and we enjoyed the thrilling ride…a fitting payback for the struggle we had to reach the top. As soon as we reached the bottom we stopped to shed the extra jackets and then continued about two miles to the historic Kawarau Bridge for lunch and bungy jumping. Several members of the tour made the jump, we elected to be spectators. Queenstown was our final destination for the day…about 16 miles from the bungy bridge…but there was construction over some of that distance which caused a few delays and sporty ride surfaces. The route was rolling to the Novotel in downtown Queenstown; we were happy to arrive about 3:30 and enjoy a shower and a brief rest before the evening activities began at 5:15. Jan led us to the gondola for the ride up the Skyline center overlooking Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown. We had passes for one hour of luge riding…the rides were fun but after a couple of runs we were ready to relax in the bar. By blind luck we were seated at window with a panoramic view of the lake and town when five aircraft started to present a 20 minute air show. From our perspective we were actually looking down on the planes as they performed their maneuvers and loop d’loops. As everyone finished the luge riding we entered the native Mouri theatre for a cultural presentation of the native tribes. Next we had a happy hour featuring a selection of New Zealand wines and beers. The grand buffet dinner followed…the seating along the windows offered a wonderful view of the sunset and Queenstown after dark. Becky and I shared a table with new friends Susana and Gerd; somehow we managed to be the last to leave after enjoying some of the remaining wine from the other tables. We returned to the Novotel tired but excited about the experiences of the day and anticipation of the next day’s adventure.
Miles today: 48 Total Miles for the tour: 53
Thursday 25 February Queenstown to Glenorchy
A good night’s rest is a great revitalization! We were ready to face the challenges of today’s ride. We started with the Novotel breakfast buffet and Bill’s ride talk. He promised us a wildly scenic 27 mile ride along the flat shore of Lake Wakatipu to Glenorchy. Our ride began at 9:00 and while the shoreline was indeed flat, the adjacent road was anything but flat. It wasn’t gentle rolling either…it was hilly with several 12% grades and one short 15% climb…in fact we climbed more in 27 miles today than we did yesterday over 48 miles. The scenery along the lake lived up to its promise; we were just concentrating on the climbs that it was difficult to fully appreciate the beauty that surrounded us. To make the ride a bit more challenging, we somehow managed to bend a gear tooth on my middle chain ring so we were limited to only the big and small chain rings. Since there was absolutely no flat road, this was not a serious problem…we were either going up or down…never level. We arrived in Glenorchy about 11: 30 averaging only 12 miles an hour. We loaded our bike onto the truck and then went to lunch which was a venison stew served with a puff pastry and French fries. Following lunch we donned spray suits and a life jacket for the jet boat ride up the Dart River which is a braded river, carved and fed by active glaciers. The boat was powered by a 502 cubic inch Chevy engine and was capable of 45 MPH with 15 people on board. The pilot-guide gave the safety talk and showed us how to stop the boat on a dime with a 360 maneuver. We headed upriver a full speed…some places the water depth was about 4” but as long as we maintained ramming speed, we could pass over the shallow rapids. The guide would stop about every 15 minutes to talk about the mountains and glaciers we were seeing and to explain about the history of the area. The ride was thrilling and the pilot made ever attempt to pass as close as possible to the rocks and other obstruction to add to the excitement. We went as far up river as was safe for the water level…about 1 hour running time and then we were dropped on the shore for a nature walk through the forest to a waiting 4 wheel drive bus for the ride back to Glenorchy. The driver was a naturalist who provided a great explanation of the ecosystem of the valley as well as much of the formation of the New Zealand itself. Just as a side note…this was the site where the Lord of the Rings was filmed. A slight rain started to fall and we were thankful to be on the bus and not in the jet boat. After arriving back at Glenorchy, we had the opportunity to visit a sheep shearing and sheep dog demonstration in the rain. We chose to stand under the shelter of a nearby café rather than in the rain. We boarded the bus for the one hour ride back to Queenstown. One of the jet boats had run aground and several of our group were on that boat. The bus ride provided an opportunity to hear about their experience of freeing the jet boat that had run aground on the rock bar. Tonight was a free night…we planned to meet Gerd and Susana at 7:00 for dinner. We found a pleasant seafood place that offered excellent mussels as well as other local seafood. The seafood platter was a beautiful presentation. After a great meal, we decided to go to Minus 5 for an after dinner drink…this is an ice bar where the inside temperature was minus 6 degrees. Before entering we were issued a heavy parka and gloves; the bar was decorated with ice carvings and the seating was on ice blocks. The drinks were served in cups made of ice and they only served vodka drinks made with Absolut. This was truly a really cool experience and a wonderful night cap to an experience rich day.
Miles today: 29 Total miles for the tour: 82
Friday 26 February; Queenstown to Arrowtown
Today’s logistics presented some challenges to plan a beautiful ride as well as shuttle 60 tour members to Christchurch in time for dinner. We enjoyed the Novotel breakfast and then departed at 9:00 for Arrowtown…a quaint community that was originally a boom town of the gold rush on the Shotover River. We climbed out of Queenstown and turned off highway 6 to the historic restored Shotover Bridge. We rode over the most level roads we had seen in New Zealand. There was only one significant climb over the 15 miles between Queenstown and Arrowtown. We had time to visit the shops most of which offered New Zealand articles which were particularly appealing to tourist. Becky admired several beautiful sweaters and wished we were on some other form of transportation besides a bicycle so she would have room to pack some back to the hotel. Because the local jewelry could fit in the bike trunk, we made our contribution to the local economy and Becky left with a new pair of earrings. We enjoyed a few minutes in a local coffee shop for a refreshing latte and then started the 15 mile return to Queenstown. The route was level and quick…we had one climb as we crossed over the Shotover River…I managed to cinch the chain between my chain rings and it required about 15 minutes to free the chain and get rolling again. We arrived back at the Novotel with time to shower, change, eat (at a local brewpub) and tour the town before boarding the bus to the airport for our 35 minute flight to Christchurch. Our ground transportation was waiting at the passenger pick-up as we arrived…we climbed into tracked Arctic Cats for a thrilling ride over roads, obstacles and water to reach the Antarctica Experience Center. This is an educational / experience center with marvelous exhibits of the sub continent. We first entered the winter storm room which had a temperature of minus 17C…they cranked up the wind speed to 42 MPH which resulted in a wind chill of minus 42 degrees. We had time to slide on the ice and enjoy a welcoming drink from an ice cup. We were ready to leave the deep freezer and move to dinner which had been set up on round tables in some of the exhibit areas. Our appetizer and salads were served in the penguin area. A naturalist introduced us to one of the penguins and taught about the circumstance of penguins in New Zealand. Then we moved on to another room for the main course (we had a choice between vegetarian or beef…we chose the beef…excellent choice). The wine (or beer) was abundant which made for a really unique and memorable arrival experience in Christchurch. (This was the first time the center had ever been used as a venue for a catered dinner) About 10 PM the party ended and we climbed onto busses for the 20 minute ride to the Ibis hotel. We had our keys and went straight to our rooms where the luggage was waiting…it didn’t take us long to jump into bed with visions of the days memories racing through our heads
Miles today: 30 Total miles for the tour: 112
Saturday 28 February Christchurch – Diamond Harbor – Lyttleton – Christchurch
We have survived our late night Antarctic experience and after a good night sleep and a hearty breakfast, we were ready to begin the day’s riding adventure. There were two ride lengths offered…we chose the longer route to Diamond Harbor over the Gebbies Pass. The lead pack raced out of town at a 20 mph + pace which never slowed until we reached to ascent to the Gebbies Pass…some stretches the pace line maintained a steady 23MPH pace. The climb over the pass was challenging but somewhat less strenuous than our earlier climb over the Crown Range Summit. The pace line had dwindled to 4 bikes by the time we reached the top. The weather was cloudy, cool and windy. We descended down to Diamond Harbor and then continued around the bay which is the crater of a volcano. The shoreline route was rolling with great views of the bay. We were the first to arrive at Stoddard’s Cottage for our catered pizza lunch. We enjoyed the fresh hot pizzas made to order by Vee who is a trained Cordon Bleu Chef. Three teams had decided to ride the shore line route to Lyttleton instead of taking the 15 minute ferry ride across the bay. This added 19 rolling miles to the ride. At Lyttleton, we stopped at a coffee shop for a break and watched the remainder of the group as they left the ferry and started the climb out of the Volcano over Evans Pass to Christchurch. The coffee stop was a welcomed break but a gentle rain started to fall as we were drinking coffee, but it didn’t dampen our resolve to climb over the pass 196 meters above where we sitting. This was one of the longer climbs but the grade was not very severe and the view of the bay was wonderful even in the rain. Because the roads were wet we made a very controlled descent and once we arrived on flat ground we discovered a favorable tail wind, Leland and Laurie led our three tandem teams, covering the final few miles at a lightning pace. Back at the Ibis hotel we had time to do laundry…electing to skip the walking tour of the city. Reviews of the tour were excellent…unfortunately I have no pictures of Christchurch because of the rain. We met Gerd, Susana, Leland and Laurie in the lounge at 6:30 and enjoyed our left over lunch pizza for happy hour snacks with the complementary drink. From the hotel we walked to our first restaurant choice only to find it fully booked…from there we walked to the Belgium Beer Pub where we found room for six at the bar for a great meal of Greenlip Mussels and Belgium beer. We soon returned to the Ibis to complete the day and prepare for the early departure on Sunday.
Miles today: 61 Total miles for the tour: 173
Sunday 01 March: Christchurch – Greymouth – Punakaiki
Today’s schedule required an early start to load the luggage and bikes for early departure to catch the New Zealand Trans Alp railway toward Arthur’s Pass. I went to the hotel basement to take the bike to the truck and found the rear tire flat. I changed the tire, got the bike to the truck and then met everyone in the breakfast room…Becky had already taken the luggage to the truck. We then boarded city busses for the quick ride to the railway station. We had planned to take our bike with us on the train but there wasn’t sufficient space in the baggage car so they remained on the truck. We had a two hour plus a few minutes ride to Arthur’s Pass at elevation 737 meters. The views from the train were marvelous with canyons, rivers and mountains right outside the window. We had planned to leave the train at Arthur’s Pass for the start of our century ride, but the weather rapidly deteriorated at we approached the summit. The wind was howling resulting in rain flying horizontally across the roads. The conditions were simply too dangerous for a bike ride so we abandoned the ride and stayed on the train to its terminus at Greymouth. There we exited for the Speight’s Ale House for lunch. We watched the rain fall as we enjoyed a spicy lamb sandwich and ice cream with chocolate sauce. The rain did subside as we started the 38 mile ride to Punakaiki Beach Resort Hotel. About 100 meters from the lunch stop, railway tracks crossed our path…if you don’t already know, wet tracks have the same coefficient of friction as ice. We managed to cross without more that a small skid, but several bikes took a tumble crossing the rails. The route into Punakaiki was rolling with several major climbs. The last 8 miles leveled a bit and the rain ended but we had our second flat of the day about 5 miles from the hotel. After changing the tube and pumping up the tire we were back on the road. As we arrived at the Punakaiki Beach Resort, the rain stopped and we actually had a little sunshine for the first time. I had to take the time to patch two punctured inner tubes before I could join the happy hour. The venue for the party was on the deck overlooking the beach and a spectacular sunset. Refreshed with ample sparkling wine, we moved inside for dinner which offered a wine buffet as well as dinner selection of salmon, chicken or lamb. The wines helped to lift everyone’s spirits and obscure the memories of the rain, wind, flat tires and challenging climbs of the afternoon.
Miles today: 28 Total miles for the tour: 201
Monday 02 March: Punakaiki – Westport – Blenheim – Picton
To no great surprise we awoke to rain and wind. After breakfast and loading the luggage onto the truck, we started out for a 50 mile ride to Westport. We had not gone a mile before we had another flat tire. By now I was thinking we were in competition for the most flats of the tour, but several teams were already well ahead of us. There was a planned coffee stop after 20 miles, but to our surprise we had to climb over some very long and challenging passes…I was sure we saw Sherpas with oxygen tanks at the top of one of the climbs but everyone said I was just hallucinating from the lack of oxygen. After the coffee stop, we had only two more climbs and then we were on fairly level roads. We had planned to take the extra 10 mile loop to visit the seal colony but the flat tire and long climbs prevented us from making the cutoff time for the loop. Instead we continued on to the airport at Westport. At least the roads were level (that is level for New Zealand is not the same as level in Houston) and we were making good time for a change…that is until we had our second flat of the day only 5 miles from the airport. Of course the rain started to fall just as we started to change the tube. As were finished the task and started the continuation to Westport we could see clearing skies. True to form the rain stopped just as we arrived at the airport…the rest of the day was perfect. Box lunches were waiting for us as we arrived. We changed into dry street clothes and hung the wet cycling gear on the fence while we enjoyed lunch and waited for the plane Bill had chartered to take us to Blenheim. The flight was actually a lot of fun…we celebrated Hal Moorman’s birthday on the plane. Chartered busses soon arrived at the Blenheim airport to take us on a tour of the Marlborough wine region. We visited two vineyards…John Forrest and Grove Mill. This region is best known for Sauvignon Blanc and lighter sweet whites although Pinot Noir is also quite successful. We tasted a variety of wines at each stop listened to the winemakers discuss the region, its history and the wines that they produce. From the vineyard tours we continued by bus to Picton about 20 minutes away arriving at the Picton Yacht Club Hotel about 6:00. The Yacht Club hotel is undergoing some renovation…our room was not one which had been remodeled…knowing that the accommodations were not up to Santana standard, Bill and Jan and Robert had arranged for a five course gourmet wine tasting dinner. The evening started with cocktails at 7:30 and a brief talk with exhibition of five grapes from the region. We moved into the conference center where round tables were set for the evening. Each place setting had eleven pieces of silverware and there was a purpose for each. The first course was a grilled chicken on cucumber salad with a sweet mandarin and chili dressing paired with Stoneleigh pinot gris. The soup course was a delicately creamy curry and lemongrass paired with a Stoneleigh Riesling. Course number three presented oven roasted monkfish on a prawn and sundried tomato risotto with baby spinach and a sauvignon blanc sauce paired with Stoneleigh sauvignon blanc. Before the meat course they served a lemon and lime to sorbet to refresh the palette. The meat course was a prime fillet steak of beef with Café de Paris butter, bacon and green bean bundles and fondant potatoes paired with Stoneleigh merlot. The desert was designed for chocolate lovers…three portions of a opera slice of chocolate cake, white chocolate Chantilly and triple chocolate ice cream…all paired with Montana late harvest Riesling. This feast lasted about three hours…this will be a classic memory. To cap the evening, we were treated to the six minute video of Robert and Jan bungy jumping in tandem from the Kawarau Bridge.
Miles today: 40 Total miles for the tour: 241
Tuesday 03 March: Picton – Blenheim – Picton
Breakfast began at 7:00…we had hoped for a delivery of tires and tubes (to replace our which had already experienced four flats) during the night but none had arrived. We borrowed a new tire and tube from Leland and Laurie Fondren and changed the old one before starting at 9:15 for a spectacular ride along Queen Charlotte Drive which provided spectacular views of the Queen Charlotte Sound. There was some climbing but none extremely difficult and the views made the climb seem worthwhile! This ride along the sound was our favorite of the tour...it offered some climbing, most most spectacular views of the most beautiful landscapes of the trip. The morning ride length was 41 miles which followed the sound and then connected along Route 6 into the Marlborough Valley for lunch at the Allen Scott Winery. We had been challenged by a significant headwind and we were ready for a break by the time we arrived the winery. Lunch offered a selection of grilled pork chops, grilled salmon or grilled rump steak with a buffet of salads, vegetables and cheese cake for dessert. We had completed two thirds of the ride as we arrived for lunch and hoped we would have favorable winds for the 20 mile return to Picton. At least the route was flat, except for one short climb (but with a really fast downhill descent) as we entered Picton, but the wind never really cooperated; never the less we arrived back at the Yacht Club a little before 4:00. First priority was to jump into the shower before the hat water was depleted…fortunately we just barely finished as the shower turned to cold. There were no planned activities for the evening so we had to make our own plans for dinner. We consulted with Stefan, the hotel manager; he recommended the Irish Bar for a good selection of beer and Pub food. He was correct on both accounts…we selected a burger with chips and an order of mussels with chips paired with Guinness and Kilkinney. There were eight other tandem teams in the bar with us which added to the joviality of the evening.
Miles today: 63 Total miles for the tour: 304
Wednesday 04 March: Picton – Queen Charlotte Trail – Rotorua
This is the day we travel from the South Island to the North Island…Logistics of the travel required that we enjoy some other activity other than tandem riding. The opportunities for non biking options are quite diverse…we had a choice between cruising, kayaking or tramping (New Zealand speak for hiking) We chose to take the long hike; after breakfast we walked two blocks to the wharf to catch the Cougar Line postal boat…its actually not a postal boat in the sense that it delivers mail, but it supplies all of the homes and lodges that are located on the shore of the Queen Charlotte Sound as well as transport passengers. Our captain provided an interesting narrative of life on the Sound and its history. During the hour long ride we encountered a pod of dolphins that entertained us for several miles. We landed at Ships Cove where Captain Cook made his first stop on the South Island in 1777; we took a few minutes to visit the Cook Memorial before starting on the hike. The trail was well worn and initially very steep as we climbed up 247 meters through dense foliage to the top of the ridge. From there we descended back to the water level at Resurrection Cove. We continued on to Fourneaux lodge…the trail took us over one more saddle back at 147 meter elevation and then back down to the water level. The flora changed significantly with the elevation, but it was always dense and lush with several small streams crossing the path. The weather could not have been better with cloudless blue skies and perfect temperature. We were happy to be in the forest because the sun would have been intense. Our trek covered 13 kilometers in about a little more than three hours. We were happy to arrive at the lodge and enjoy a warm bowl of seafood chowder and a couple of cold beers. This lodge is on an idyllic setting with beautifully landscaped grounds wrapping around a rock beach. There are year around accommodations available with meals and all the comforts of home…however it is only accessible by boat. The return boat arrived about three in the afternoon…during the return cruise, the captain entertained us with a tour of some of the home sites along the shores, a visit to a salmon farm where seals were looking for ways to break through the nets to steal the fish. We also came alongside an Outward Bound Schooner where the crew was maneuvering to retrieve a hat which had blown overboard. We arrived back at the Yacht Club Hotel about 4:30 with just enough time to shower and change in time for dinner at five. Robert had prepared the meal which feature three buffets…one with cold appetizer, one with warn entrees including lamb shank, chicken and fish, and finally the dessert buffet. Following dinner we had about an hour to relax before the busses arrived for the short ride to the Blenheim airport. We walked along the High Street to the wharf, window shopping as we made our way for one final view of the Queen Charlotte Sound. At the airport Lucy lead the tour in a songfest with featured bicycle tunes, airplane and military songs and a couple of hiking themed songs. We boarded the chartered flight for the hour and a half flight to Rotorua. The busses were waiting as we arrived at the airport for the 15 minute ride to the Novotel Hotel. The luggage was waiting in the room as we arrived about 10:30.
Hiking miles today 9 Total miles for the tour 313
Thursday 05 March: Rotorua
Because of the late night on Wednesday, we had a later breakfast and ride start. Bill gave the route talk a few minutes before 10:00 for the long riders. There were 6 teams that started on the long ride around Lake Rotorua…the morning was overcast and the wind was howling! We made the 25 mile loop around the lake at a quick pace and then joined the main route to the Buried Village. We did divert for a 2 mile lake loop that really wasn’t worth the time and two difficult climbs. We arrived at the Buried Village about 1:00 for lunch and a tour of the grounds. The Buried Village is the New Zealand equivalent of Pompeii…a volcano eruption in 1880 buried the village in mud killing about 120 in several villages. The exhibitions showed structures that were buried up to the roof tops in volcanic mud. We were a bit concerned about the looming weather conditions and cut the tour to the minimum. Some of the group had arranged for a massage at the hotel spa…we just wanted some time to relax and explore Rotorua. The 13 mile route back to the Novotel in Rotorua presented a new twist to a Santana Tour…Bill had selected a mountain bike trail for our tandem road bikes. While the scenery through the redwood forest was terrific…the rocky, rutty and rooted path was not suitable for 25 mm tires. We somehow managed the path…having missed a crucial turn which made us backtrack about a kilometer. We missed another round about exit as we approached the hotel but eventually with the help of the locals, we did arrive back at the hotel. Happy to be back in the room, we showered and enjoyed a quick walking tour of the town center. We then met some friends in the bar before joining the group for the evening of Mouri Cultural Show and dinner. The show featured music and dancing and costumes of the Mouri with the obligatory audience participation…so now we’re well immersed into the customs of the native New Zealand people. The dinner was a sumptuous buffet again paired with bottomless local New Zealand wines.
Miles today 59 Total miles for the tour 372
Friday 06 March: Rotorua – Puka Park
We were dressed and down to breakfast at the 6:30 designated time, but the weather was not good for riding…the wind was howling and there was a constant rain falling. We were not looking forward to 37 miles into a head wind in the rain. Fortunately, Bill had anticipated that few, if any teams would want to ride in these conditions and he was right. Although 7 hearty teams did choose to ride in the rain, we chose to ride in the bus. We had some time before the bus departed for the trip to Puka Park, so Becky seized the chance to do some souvenir shopping and I wanted to buy a rain proof hat because I knew we would be hiking in a rain forest in the rain later in the day. Of course we were also in search of treasures from New Zealand…we visited several jewelry and art shop and did find a wood carving of a Mauri warrior as well as the hats from an outdoor outfitter store. The bus left the hotel about 10:00; our first stop was only a few kilometers away at nature park were we saw a live kiwi bird, tuatara lizards, native parrots and beautiful trout swimming in a stream. From there we continued on to the lunch stop at Tauranga; here we had one hour to find lunch along the Strand which was an easy task as the entire street was lined with restaurants. We spotted De Bier Haus and enjoyed a great Cajun chicken sandwich and an order of green lip mussels. Back on the bus we were joined with the riders who had completed the 37 miles in the rain…all seem to indicate that the ride was not as bad as you might imagine. We continued on towards Pauanui and the Puka Park Resort with a stop for a nature walk in the Rain Forest with Kiwi Dundee, Doug Johansson, a renowned New Zealand naturalist. This area had been the site of a gold rush village back in the 1880’s…now it was completely grown over and recovering well from the destruction of the gold mining. Doug and his wife Jan, took us on a hike along abandoned mining railroads and explained the flora and fauna including the protected Kauri tree, as well as much of the New Zealand environmental and ecological conditions. We visited two abandoned mine shafts where we saw glow worm and other insect creatures that lived in the mines. After the hour long walk in the forest we were ready for the short twenty minute bus ride to the Mercure Puka Park Resort in Pauanui. This was the best accommodation of the trip…it is nestled high on a hill at the end of the road in a forest. The rooms are individual chalets which radiate out from the main lodge. They are so secluded in the forest that is it difficult to see from one to the next; each was a suite with sofa, king size bed and balcony. The evening activities started with aperitifs at 7:30 with a three course dinner to follow…the dinner featured a selection of starters, entrees and desserts and of course the bottomless bottles of pinot noir or sauvignon blanc. Some of us tried to remain afterward to help empty some of the wine bottles but the task was too great for us…we surrendered and wandered to bed sometimes after 11:00.
No bicycle miles today and only one mile hiking. Total miles for the tour 373
Saturday 07 March: Puka Park – Whitianga – Puka Park
We awoke to blue skies and sunshine, a phenonema we had not experienced for several days. Breakfast in the main lodge was bountiful and good and again the vistas from the porch of the lodge were spectacular. The map of the long ride for the day was hand drawn by Bill and needed careful explanation especially the afternoon portion. Around 9:00 am Hugh and I mounted our faithful tandem one more time to begin the warmest ride of the tour. Because of the sunshine the surrounding scenery turned various shades of green covered by pastures and lush forests. There was one 2 mile climb prior to lunch which we accomplished in the middle chain ring which demonstrated that our cardiovascular system and muscles were adapting to this type of rigorous riding. Lunch was scheduled at what Bill had called the Pepper Tree in Whitianga but it was really named The Fireplace. Fortunately Bill was standing in the street waving us into the restaurant. We were served the local fare of fish and chips. Our next adventure was taking a small ferry across the bay with bikes to find Doug and Jan for our afternoon nature hike to Mercury Bay and Cook’s beach. The hike was very warm and sunny and offered great vistas of the bay. We hiked down to Cook’s beach to wade in the ocean and collect seashells. Then it was a hike back to our bikes and a ride to our next stop which required another 2 mile climb up and over the pass. We rode on to the Cypress Tree Restaurant for cocktails where we waited for the ferry that would carry us back to the Puka Park Resort. Back at the resort we had about and hour to change and clean up before the buffet dinner which began about 7:30. We gathered on the deck of the main lodge to rehash the day and the trip knowing that we had ridden our tandem for the last time this trip to New Zealand. The dinner was an enormous buffet with selections of everything New Zealand. We should pause here to thank Robert Bauer who planned all of the menus for the trip and worked with all of the local chefs to ensure that the Santana clients were treated to the best possible examples of New Zealand cuisine and culinary skills. Robert also worked with the local chefs and vineyards to pair local wines with the menus for the evening. Following the buffet, a few remained to reminisce and discuss future plans for the next trip.
Miles today 64 Total miles for the tour 437
Sunday 08 March: Puka Park – Auckland
There was a possibility for a 17 mile ride today but since it covered the route we had ridden on Saturday, we (and all but one other team) elected to relax and use the extra time to repack the bike in the two S&S suit cases. We had plenty of time to pack before the 11:00 brunch. Busses departed for Auckland at 12:30 for the 2 hour ride; the route was scenic and pastoral along two lane roads with one lane bridges. But as we entered the city we saw our first freeway of the trip which was heavily trafficked. Our bus drove down Queen Street (the main street in downtown) and turned on Customs street to the Mercure Auckland hotel. We unloaded the truck with all our baggage and then started a walking tour along the Quay and the shopping areas. The day was sunny and warm, but because it was Sunday, only the restaurants and souvenir shops were open…however we did spy a few shops that we thought worthwhile for a visit on Monday. The final event of the tour was a the farewell banquet at the Orbit restaurant on top of the Skytower which is the tallest building in the southern hemisphere. We gathered on the main observation deck at 5:30 and enjoyed the amazing 360 degree panorama of the city and surroundings. We were then went down one level to the revolving restaurant for dinner featuring Seared Dukkah Crusted Tuna Loin, Baked Chicken Breast with Indian spiced dhal cake with steamed choy sum and eggplant chutney and a selection of seasonal vegetables. The dessert was a Grand Cru Chocolate Curd served on a brownie base with white chocolate mousse and a black currant compote. The Coup de Gras for the trip…Kudos to Jan, Bill and all the Santana Team. We said our farewells as half of the tour teams departed for return flights to America. We returned the Mercure for our last night in New Zealand.
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