Friday, November 26, 2010

The joy of riding 4-wheel motorbikes

A bloke must have his toys and a Yamaha Grizzly is my favourite. Bike-riding is poor man's flying. On the West Coast the bureaucrats haven't banned bikes from the beachs yet so most blokes have a bike and ride free for miles down the coastline.

As you head south from Okarito the first adventure is negotiating the narrow sand strip between the surging Tasman sea and the cliffs. This can only be done two hours either side of low tide. To make things more interesting the route is littered with boulders, aptly named by geologists as "eratics". What they do is cause you to pause just long enough to be lined-up by the next rogue wave. Woosh!!! Tangaroa, the Maori god of the sea, will poke out his tongue doing his utmost to suck you and your bike into the surf. On this coastline he is not known for taking prisoners.

The next bit of drama comes at the outlet of Three-mile Lagoon. In the 1870's, 21 poor gold miners drowned at this place. The outlet is usually blocked by a narrow sand bar making crossing a breeze. But if the lagoon is open then you must make a decision whether a ford is feasible or not, keeping in mind the 21 who misjudged the call! There is often "sinky-sand" in the ford just to make things interesting.

After a successful ford, the travel south is smooth along the sandy beach until the Five-mile Lagoon outlet is reached. This requires another life or death decision on whether to ford. Beyond is Five-mile beach a more remote and rougher stoney beach but the views are majestic. Mts. Cook, Aoraki, and Tasman, Horo-Koau, tower over the landscape.

Finally, the journey ends at the Waiho River, which is like reaching the beginning of another world. Unfortunately, as it is with life itself, the next world is beyond reach. The Waiho is definitely an ugly river, rarely fordable.

No alternative but to retrace the journey home. If you want more thrills there is a large steep-sided sandhill at Three-mile where you can rapidly attain your level of incompetence as a rider. Only centrifugal forces generated by speed keep you on the sandhill so it is a death or glory game.

Time for home before you run out of tide.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

My Place, Okarito

Okarito is where I choose to live. For me it represents NZ's last frontier far away from an urban centre. The surrounding landscape is 95% natural coastline, forest and wetlands. It is still a blokes' paradise but liberty is being eroded by the steady onslaught of urban rules.

Okarito is often described as a haven but in reality, peace and isolation exists only during the winter at Okarito. During the summer months, a stream of urbanites arrive every day around mid-morning to peer at the mishmash of cottages and homes wondering what on earth could happen in such a place. They kayak or boat tour on the lagoon or walk the beach and tracks. By evening most head back to civilisation, known locally as Franz Josef township.

Okarito living is village life in every sense. Social life can be hectic with potluck dinners, coffee club, culture and entertainment in Donovans Store. Locals meet and chat constantly during their daily lives. Even when busy, eye-contact and a wave are universal. If you need exercise don't walk through the village - head south along the coastline to three-mile beach. Even there, you're bound to meet locals, DOC workers or tourists along the way.

To leave Okarito you travel north over a winding hill climb known as Mt Hercules to reach Hokitika. Travel south and you strike a worse winding road over the Weheka Hills between Franz and Fox Glaciers. An old-timer once said "If you live south of Mt Hercules you're half mad". "And the poor buggers south of the Weheka Hills are totally mad". He followed that by adding, "All South Westlanders are either missionaries, mercenaries or misfits - take your choice".