Motorcycling in New Zealand - Part 2

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Touring in New Zealand with Ayres Adventures - Part 2

By David L. Hough      (Continued from Part 1 )

Currency is New Zealand Dollars, with the exchange rate about the same as Canadian Dollars. Everything is measured in metrics. Fuel is in liters. Distance is in kilometers. Speed is in kilometers per hour. It's amazing how quickly you pick up metric measurements, and how practical it is.

One huge relief for motorcyclists in New Zealand is that there are no large animals wandering the roads. There are deer and elk, but they are kept in fenced pastures, like cattle, and raised for meat. There aren't any large wild mammals. It really makes cornering more predictable when you know you're not going to encounter an elk or moose trotting onto the road at dawn or dusk.

It's also very helpful being able to communicate (more or less) in the English language. I say "more or less" because the Kiwis have some dialects that Americans find difficult to understand. For instance, Shane is pronounced "shine." Footpegs are "footpigs." Charlie is "cheerly." New Zealanders are also heavily into sports. Their favorite football (soccer) team is the All Blacks, which has nothing to do with race.

You do have to be skillful to ride New Zealand. I've never seen roads with so many tight turns, many of them blind. I've learned to never ride faster than my sight distance in North America, but down there you'd never get anywhere riding so slow. You learn to trust that the road will be clear even though you can't see it yet, wick up the throttle, and lean over farther. At the same time, you need to be aware of oncoming traffic approaching the one-way bridges, slippery mud tracked out of farms, and tourists in rental cars gawking at the scenery and making sudden right turns across your path. To put this another way, you need to be really proficient in your riding skills.

Yes, there have been some nasty accidents during motorcycle tours in New Zealand, some fatal. Foreign riders can't quite believe that a one-way bridge sharing a railway crossing would be so hazardous. Failure to understand how to cross edge traps is a major blunder. There's not enough room to ride alongside the tracks; you have to cross over to the middle, ride down the center between the rails, then make a quick swerve to cross the rail at the other end.

Don't let the hazards put you off. Beating the challenges provides a lot of entertainment. At the end of the day you feel like you've made a long journey, even if you've only ridden a hundred miles.

There are speed limits in New Zealand, but not the same sort of enforcement paranoia as in the USA. They put up one sign as you leave a town, and the next one you see is at the edge of the next town, where you should slow down. In between, the limit is generally 100 km/hr (roughly 62 mph). We routinely rode at 120 km/hr, and occasionally even faster. In the twisty sections it would take a very good rider to maintain the speed limit. Kiwi riders are nervous about getting caught by radar cameras in towns, but it's nowhere near the speed-game playing we have in North America.

Food is plentiful in New Zealand, and healthful, with the exception of American fast food chains in the towns and cities. One great concept is the "meat pie." Most towns have a small bakery where you can find a hot display case with a variety of meat pies. We're not talking those greasy frozen mystery-meat things in cardboard boxes like in U.S. grocery stores. The Kiwi meat pies are made fresh, and are full of real meat. Take your pick of beef, pork, chicken, venison, or lamb—or combinations of different meats and cheeses. No cardboard, no plastic box, no aluminum foil, no snapping plastic knife. Just grab a pie out of the case, plop it on a plate, and eat. Most "bakeries" also have soups, beverages, and salads to round out your lunch.

Breakfasts are usually included with the room, B&B style. Restaurant dinners are typically longer affairs where you order starters, first course, and main course separately, then sit and chat while they prepare the food. Americans used to quick service may be chomping at the bit before they get to chomp into their meals. But the payoff is food that is prepared and cooked, not simply warmed over, and time to get to know the other people in the group.

Even the pizza in New Zealand is great. We had dinners at several different pizza parlors, and discovered combinations that I've never seen in the USA, including lamb and venison, and various interesting toppings from Indonesia.

And they also have great wines and beers in Kiwi-land. One of the big advantages of an organized tour is that we could ride to the restaurant in the van or in taxis, knowing we could drink as we wanted without risking a bike ride back to the hotel afterward.

New Zealanders are friendly and not without a sense of humor. Take a good look at the fence above, and notice that it's decorated with bras. Once in a while we'd do a bit of clowning around ourselves. Score another point for riding with a group.

It's not practical to ship your own bike to New Zealand, but there are lots of rental bikes there. You can arrange to rent a bike and take off on your own, but I suggest signing up for an organized tour and letting them make all the arrangements for you. It's great having someone meet you at the airport and get you to your hotel after an all-night flight. Ayres Adventures provided us with a two-year-old BMW R1150RT complete with saddlebags and top box. Other participants selected smaller bikes, including a Suzuki SV650 and a Honda Transalp.

There are several different motorcycle tour operators doing business in New Zealand, including Ayres Adventures , Beach Tours , GoTourNZ , NZ Bike , and KEA Motorcycles

I can heartily recommend Ayres Adventures. Barbara and Ron truly want you to have a great experience.

Yes, it takes some big bucks to get yourself down there. But do yourself a favor and figure out how to get to New Zealand before all the other motorcyclists in the world discover the place.

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 two books Proficient Motorcycling and More Proficient Motorcycling , both published by Bowtie Press. He is also the author of Driving A Sidecar Outfit and a pocket riding skills handbook,Street Strategies .


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