Motorcycle Touring in New Zealand

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Touring in New Zealand with Ayres Adventures

By David L. Hough

My wife Diana and I had a great motorcycle trip to New Zealand in November 2005, and here's my report how the journey went. Barbara and Ron Ayres had invited us to join them for their very first organized tour of New Zealand, which included both north and south islands.

If you've heard anything about New Zealand, you know they have a spectacular alpine mountain range, a handful of glaciers, a fiord-laced coast, lots of beaches, one or two active volcanoes, and a lot of wide-open landscape. What's the big deal? We've got all that right here in Washington state.

Well, I'm going to tell you what the big deal is. The big deal with riding in New Zealand becomes clearer when you consider how much traffic and urban growth we have Here in the U.S. of A. We tolerate the changes year-by-year, and start to believe that urban growth and heavy traffic are the norm. Last summer I tried to make a quick transit from Port Angeles (on the Olympic Peninsula) down to Stevenson (on the Columbia Gorge) I'd made the same run numerous times over the years just following my nose. But this time I got lost somewhere between Tumwater and Yelm in a confusing maze of urban sprawl. Where there used to be fields and farms, now there are rows of condos and shopping malls and boulevards and stoplights and convenience stores and gridlocked shoppers. I eventually found my way to what used to be sleepy little Yelm and squandered a half hour inching through stop-and-go-and-stop traffic. Frankly, all the fun was gone from that route.

Yes, I know of a few lonely roads in the Northwest, but you have to ride a long way to get to them. Even 101 around Hood Canal is clogged with chip trucks and dawdling motor homes. Highway 9 is jammed with trucks, and peppered with radar Leos waiting to pounce on the unwary. To get away from traffic here, you really need to get a dual sport and get off the pavement. And that's true all across America.

The Big Deal, the big secret, is that New Zealand has wide open country, great roads, and a lot fewer vehicles. Sure, there are cities with city traffic, but out in the country its still undeveloped, like WA 510 or 7 or 9 used to be about 50 years ago. The Kiwis haven't widened the highways much, or straightened them, because traffic is so sparse in New Zealand that they don't need "improved" roads.

Out on the west coast of the south island, there are lots of one-way bridges. You slow down and prepare to stop, but if no one is coming in the opposite direction, you just roll on the throttle and charge across. At first, I thought, "why don't they widen these bridges to two lanes?" But after a while it dawned on me that there is no need to widen the bridges because you seldom have to wait. New Zealanders don't seem to spend much time exploring those twisty country highways away from the cities.

The highways out in the countryside must be about the same as when they were first paved, with the same curves and steep hills. We're talking many main highways that are about like FS Road 25 down the east side of Mt. St. Helens, but with smooth, well maintained pavement. Yes, and gas stations and eateries every few miles in case you need to fill your tank or tummy.

Riding in New Zealand is like, well…it's as if you could ride into a time machine in the USA and transport yourself back about 50 years, but still be astride your contemporary motorcycle.

And that's really the big secret about New Zealand. Yes, it's scenic, and it's a great destination for travelers from Japan and Europe. But it's one of the world's best motorcycling places. Got your attention? OK, let's describe the country in a little more detail, just to whet your appetite.

Geography and culture

Be prepared for a few geographical and cultural surprises. Since New Zealand is south of the Equator, the seasons are reversed from North America. November is Springtime down there. Let me assure you that it was delightful to have another sunny spring with the flowers in bloom in Auckland while I knew the winter rain was drizzling down back home in Port Angeles. It was like getting two riding seasons in the same year.

Here in the northwet, we think of north being colder and south being warmer. It's reversed in New Zealand. The North Island is the warmer one. The South Island is colder (Christchurch is the closest port to Antarctica). Yes, it rains in New Zealand. Yes, the sun shines in New Zealand. The weather changes quickly as the wind blows moisture-laden clouds in from the west, not unlike the Oregon coast. If you don't like the weather, just wait a few minutes.

Traffic drives on the left in New Zealand, as in England and South Africa. That can be a bit of a cultural shock at first, and it really helps to have a tour guide who can lead you down the road for a couple of days until you get the hang of thinking in mirror image.

It's also helpful to have a luggage van to carry your gear. Not only does it unload the bike so you can enjoy the curves, a van allows your tired passenger to ride in comfort, or ride in the dry during wet days. My wife Diana doesn't ride on the back much anymore, and figured she would ride in the van most of the time. She enjoyed the journey so much she ended up on the bike about half the time.

continue to Part 2 ...

David Hough is a long-time motorcyclist and journalist. His work has appeared in numerous motorcycle publications, but he is best known for the monthly skills series " Proficient Motorcycling " in Motorcycle Consumer News, which has been honored by special awards from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. Selected columns were edited into a book " Proficient Motorcycling " published by Bowtie Press. He is also the author of "Driving A Sidecar Outfit". A pocket handbook, " Street Strategies " is also on the market now.

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