At the risk of sounding a bit Irish, when the north of the country is closest to the equator and the south is the closest land to Antarctica, heading north for warmth, and south for freshening breezes and grass greening weather makes most sense, but this Christmas, the North Island and the entire Nelson region (aka the Cantabrian’s Christmas destination of choice) was underwater and we had already planned to head South.

We had a great clear (weather and traffic) ride through Arthurs Pass, a welcome celebratory “phew escaped the city” cup of coffee at Jacksons then a good run down to Fox Glacier. A late afternoon refresher at Cafe Neve and a short amble round the block set us up for dinner at The Cook Saddle cafe and saloon. Go here, it’s fab, huge food, really friendly staff. Cafe Neve queued out of the door because it looks nicer. Our last trip we tried it for dinner and the Cook Saddle beats it hands down.

Breakfast at the Lake Matheson cafe was upmarket food in stunning surroundings – not a bad way to start the day. After a game of musical pumps at Fox BP – it was the 3rd of Jan and peak holiday season, 95 petrol was off and everyone wanted to check for themselves before busting into a 91 pump….. this set the scene for the day with traffic chaos all the way through to Wanaka. The biggest challenge was the hire cars cutting across all the winding corners, and there are plenty of them to go at round there, most of them in series of blind corners. At Makarora we stopped to rip the thermal linings out of our jackets as the temperature was up around 30 degrees. Stopping for gas then beer shopping in Wanaka was a melting experience. Over the Cardrona road to Arrowtown then Arthurs Point to get to a friend’s house for the evening restored our faith in open roads and fun riding, even if I did miss a turning and had to do a 15 point turn uphill on gravel on the Triumph which has a steering lock similar to a person in a neckbrace and hence the turning circle of a supertanker, not ideal with a travelling pack on the back and a short leg on either side to paddle with.

After a beautiful evening spent sipping cold beer on a warm evening in the shady glade of Arthurs Point, Des had to start back at work the next morning, but Erin dragged her bike out at the first hint of a ride and we headed out through Glenorchy to the Dart River to get a morning intake of big fresh vistas, then back to Glenorchy for breakfast. It was all far too lovely and we completely lost track of time and only just gave ourselves enough time to get back to the house to collect our bags (via a typical Queenstown central traffic jam, argh!!) and get down to Bluff to catch the boat to Stewart Island.

For the last few years we have spent our Christmas / New Year break in Karamea and not travelled anywhere except to get there and back. The calibre of the riding between Fox Glacier and Wanaka, then again between Frankton and Five Rivers made me realise what we hadn’t been missing out on. Both are normally among the top rides in the country but wow, it was a day for sitting back and taking it easy, trying to avoid the tourists.

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$ New Zealand dollar