Feb 29 - Christchurch to Oamaru (~400 k)

Tuesday, Feb 29. Odo reading 46838 in the morning.

Today was a very long day, but it was very rewarding. We started off with breakfast, and briefing at 8:30. After the briefing, it's off to the bike rental place. Since I already have my bike, I stand around, take pictures, and chat. I go with Dave to see the offices of Brittan Motorcycles. This is an NZ built racer. Sadly, no-one's in yet. For reasons that are not yet clear, instead of taking the expected one hour, it takes 2-and-a-half for everyone to get their keys and saddlebags. There is some dismay, but it dies away when we take off. After some problems with keeping cold bikes running in traffic, we are guided in two groups through town. In about 10 minutes, we are formed up and headed west on Rt 73 towards Darfield.

The high cloud cover disappears, and it's just the right temperature. I see ostrich farms, Alps, and sheep. Lots of sheep. I discover, to my embarrassment, that it is just as much fun to yell "baa" at the first sheep, as it is to yell it at every subsequent sheep.

The road is smooth, the curves sweeping, and the traffic non-existent. Off to the right, distance-shrouded peaks appear. We follow 73 to Glentunnel (no tunnel, tho), and turn southwest towards Geraldine on 77/72. After a few more minutes, we suddenly enter a sharp downhill section, with 25 Km-posted curves. At the bottom, we pull off for a rest stop in the Rakanui Gorge. I've never seen water this colour - it's a milky turquoise. After a brief bio-stop, we head out of the gorge, back up onto the plain. The roads continue good. We cross the occasional one-lane bridge, but there's usually little water under them. What water is in there, is that same blue.

In Geraldine, we gas up, the large number of bikes raising eyebrows with the locals. We go to the Oaks diner for lunch, where I have my first Afghan. That's a chocolate and Corn Flake cookie, basically. The sun is hot as we set off towards Lake Tepako. We stop at the Church and Shrine of the Good Shepard. Looking north over the lake towards the Alps - it's just beautiful. I also go to see the monument to Shepard's Dog's but, "It's just a little dog". Hopefully the three people who found that funny will explain that to the others.

The group pulls out as I'm still putting on my gloves, and the road Christian is headed for isn't on the map. I try to catch up, and get caught behind a slow-moving van. I pass them in a questionable area, right in front of a (luckily empty) police car, and accelerate to catch up. Just about as I catch up, the group brakes. We turn off Rt 8, onto a road that follows a canal to a dam on Lake Putaki. It's another smooth, sweeping, drop-off-on-one-side road, with no traffic. I'm struck by the plains that we go over, dry and wind-swept, while just beside us runs the blue, life-giving water. The gorges and creek-beds point out that there are only two water amounts around here - too little, and too much. Down a steep incline to the Lake Putaki water level - they sure can't get much snow here - and Christian pulls us over. Back over our shoulders, Lake Putaki leads back to Mt. Cook. At 3100M, the tallest peak in NZ, snowcapped and majestic. No, really. It's a postcard shot. So, we take a bunch.

From there, we head to Omarama, where we stop for re-hydration (I have an L&P), and watch the hang-gliders in what is said to be the best thermals anywhere.  There's a picture of me riding a sheep statue, and I purchase a "Bungy Sheep".  It's sunny and warm, so everybody sheds an under-layer, and we head south-east to Oamaru.  We go along the shores of Lake Waitaki, where there's a strong head/cross wind.  We see a wind-surfer, who looks to be going about the same speed as us, in the opposite direction. The wind brings in clouds, first as single scouts, then in battalions.  After about 50 km, we are under low clouds, and it's cold.  We stop at an historic cliff site, and re-apply a layer of clothes. 20 minutes later, we are in our hotel suites in Oamaru.

The reason for the schedule switch, is that Oamaru has colonies of Little Blue and Yellow-Eyed Penguins. A previous tour member suggested the switch. We have (blessed) showers, and start dinner.  It turns out we've missed the Yellow-Eyed penguins, but can interrupt our meal to see the Little Blues come ashore.  We go, and see these little guys close enough to touch.  However, none of us (including Christian, who has never come here either) are convinced it was worth the drive, or the money. We go back to the hotel at about 10, have dessert, and fall asleep. There was no attempt to do this update until Thursday, March 2nd.