Words by Karen Richardson
New Zealand is a spectacular scenic country with friendly, relaxed people, and a motorcycle tour is a terrific way to experience all of it. We were there from January 30 to February 17, (which is late summer in New Zealand) and spent 12 of those days riding.
The tour was organized by Beach’s Motorcycle Tours, an American company that has been in this business for many years, guiding tours of New Zealand and the Australian Alps. Our group consisted of 19 people (including two guides) driving 12 motorcycles and a luggage van. We were the only Canadians and, other than a Dutch couple from Singapore and our two New Zealand guides, the rest of the group were Americans. Ages ranged from 30s to 60s. Everyone was really nice and we made a few closer friendships with two or three couples. We rode with Kasey and Cindy, who were from Los Angeles.
The tour company provided locally-rented motorcycles (we chose a 650 cc BMW Funduro), and we brought our own helmets, boots, gloves and riding suits.
The tour included accommodations and breakfasts, and all but two dinners. The food in New Zealand is excellent; our favourites were the lamb, fresh mussels and salmon, and a melt-in-your-mouth dessert called Pavlova. Also included in the package were some wonderful extras, such as a cruise in a fjord, and a helicopter ride to a glacier (which was cancelled due to bad weather).
Each evening after dinner, our tour guide would speak for a few minutes to us about the itinerary for the following day, offering several scenic routes, famous or interesting places to see, road hazards to be aware of, good restaurants or pubs to stop for lunch, etc. We split up into small groups of two or three bikes each day, and usually rode from about 9 until 4 or so, stopping every now and then to stretch our legs, or see something interesting, or to have lunch. Dinner started about 7:30, which gave us time beforehand to go for a walk, do laundry, catch up my trip diary, write a postcard, or whatever. Generally our group went to bed shortly after dinner, because we all wanted to be up before 7:00 in the morning. The focus of the trip was riding, after all.
I chose to ride on the back of John’s bike, rather than ride my own, so I could take pictures while we were on the move. I took almost 500 photos, most of them while I was holding onto the bike with my knees as we swooped around curvy, hilly roads (I had a lot of faith in my driver!). We had asked to have a backrest on our bike to make photography easier, but found backrests not available outside of North America.
I did have an opportunity to drive one of the bikes for about 5 km on our last day, as I ferried a 600 cc Yamaha back to the rental company. I felt kind of off balance, driving on the left. John did a great job driving in the ‘wrong’ lane for two weeks, and we had no mishaps. One other couple did have a minor accident on the third day, dumping the bike on a high mountain road in the rain. The driver broke his collarbone and the couple had to ride in the luggage van for a few days until they could arrange a rental car which the passenger could drive.
We had a variety of weather for the tour, from sunshine to typhoon, and covered most regions of the southern island. Most of the terrain was hills and mountains, with shallow gravelly rivers, and considerable rain forests on the west side. Temperatures ranged in the 60s and 70s, just nice for riding dressed in full gear. We only carried with us what we needed during the day (first aid kit, water, extra sweater and gloves, camera and film) and our luggage, which travelled in the van, was waiting for us in our hotel room each afternoon. One of the tour guides also rode a bike, and he watched for strays and made sure everyone reached our destination safely. We found the tour to be very well planned and a great way to explore a foreign country.
We flew Canadian Airlines and Air New Zealand from Toronto to Honolulu to Auckland (north island) to Christchurch (south island). The trip there took 30 hours total, and the trip home took 26 hours. I enjoyed the flights, reading an entire book each way, and found the seating quite roomy and the food surprisingly good. We were very tired when we reached Christchurch, having had only a few hours sleep in 48 hours.
Christchurch is a lovely, clean and very British city, with emphasis on trees, parklands and cultural activities. We stayed there for three days before our tour, and two days after, and tried to see as much as we could in that time. Our motel was about a 20-minute walk from the downtown area, so we hiked everywhere. The weather was nice and sunny. The old university campus was made into an Arts Centre, showcasing superb art such as pottery, blown glass, woodturning (we bought a lovely Rimu wood vase there), paintings, clothing, jewellery, and live music. We took a ride up the Gondola in the mountain beside the city, to see the view of the city, harbour and surrounding golden hills.
We walked for several hours in the huge Botanical Gardens to see the flowers and unusual trees (we noticed that almost all homes in New Zealand had lovely flower gardens, which were in late summer bloom when we were there; lots of roses, dahlias, hollyhocks, and torch lilies). We toured several fine art galleries and Canterbury Museum (exhibiting Maori and Antarctic history), and found everything to be of a high calibre. There was a ‘Strawberry Festival’ held in the park while we were there, so we joined
in. It was a free outdoor concert of music from the 60s and 70s. Families were there, sitting on the grass with their hampers of food and wine and beer, and not a policeman or security guard in sight. Very civilized. We also enjoyed a Wine and Food Festival in the park, which involved sampling the wares of 20 wineries and 40 restaurants, with the money going to charity.
Next week we’ll have some details on the actual tour.