NEW ZEALAND - ON A BUDGET
|You just can't ask for anything more. (Picture courtesy of NZMR)|
Look outside. Go on, take a gander. Looks cold doesn't it? Where's your bike? In the garage? Outside under mounds of snow? It doesn't have to be like this. It doesn't. There is an answer. We're not talking a week's vacation to Florida here. We're talking a summer of paradise, on a bike.
Let me explain.
Who among us hasn't dreamed of discovering that perfect road? The fantasy stretch of smooth, twisty nirvana. All riders have their favourite stretch of asphalt, but depending on where you are in Canada, your access to great roads may be limited to a couple of hour's worth of fun - maybe a weekend ... if the road's long enough!
What if I told you about seemingly endless twists and curves, accompanied by breathtaking scenery and few cars, all in an atmosphere bent on fun and adventure? There is a place like this and (drum roll)...its name is New Zealand (cue trumpets and dancing girls).
Literally on the flip side of the world, in the southern hemisphere, New Zealand's a country made up of two very different islands - the North and the South. Each Island is only about 800 Km long, by about 300 Km wide, and they offer very different experiences.
|Part one of the trip: From Auckland in the North Island to Maruia Springs in the South.|
The more tropical North Island is closer towards the tropics and boasts rainforests, gorgeous beaches and plenty of volcanic activity. The South is very different - lush and very mountainous, so much so, that flat and straight is the exception, rather than the rule.
But enough babble about geography, let's get to the trip.
In November 1998, just after the death of my print mag, OMG, my partner (Daniela) and myself decided that a good long budget holiday was in order. The plan was to take seven weeks off; five weeks in Australia and the remaining two in New Zealand. This would see us home before New Year's in Canada (and a subsequent record snowfall in Toronto).
After five weeks of avoiding every perceivable deadly creature to be found on planet earth in Australia, we hit the cooler and safer land of New Zealand. Unfortunately, a mere two weeks dedicated to NZ was less than ideal, but better than a kick in the teeth and a slap in the face with a wet kipper.
So off we went, to the land of the kiwi, sheep and glorious roads ...
|At the NZMR Auckland base with our new BMW R1100RT travel companion.|
This was our day to find a motorcycle to rent. The buying option was dismissed due to a lack of time to register, insure and resell it (that can consume two to three days in itself)! Full tours were also not an option, because of waning $$ and lack of time - and we prefer to set our own routes anyway.
A few hours spent surfing the web uncovered some rental possibilities, New Zealand Motorcycle Rentals (NZMR) being the most promising.
Being one of the biggest companies in the rental game, we figured that although we might pay a bit more, we should play it safe and go for reputation over minor dollar savings. After all, we didn't need any nasty, unforeseen surprises in our tight schedule!
|My cousin happens to live in Auckland. His son, Mike, was quickly introduced to the world of motorcycles.|
Of course, being the big knob that I am in the motorcycle industry (okay, let's just settle on small, but perfectly formed), I convinced NZMR's Darren Tonar to give me some discount in return for you reading this right now. This also consisted of us riding (and dropping off) a BMW R1100RT at their Christchurch location, and then returning to the Auckland location (via the South Island) with an F650 Funduro. Fine by us, deal done!
Here are some motorcycle rental tips to keep in mind:
1) Contact the rental firm of your choice BEFORE you book your flight to New Zealand! Tours and even bike rental availability vary by date - don't just expect them to cater to your ideal travel time and needs, we just happened to luck out.
2) If you're planning on using NZMR, it may be worth asking them if any of their bikes need shuffling between the Auckland and Christchurch locations. If so, this could potentially save you a few bucks but may also dictate the timing of your trip and model of bike available.
We were now on the motorway that runs south out of Auckland. Like most multi-lane highways, it's a boring one. The limit on this road is the same as for any open stretch of road in New Zealand, at 100 Km/h. And that had to be obeyed, thanks to an infestation of cops on the hunt for speeding revenue.
|That's a big volcano in the background, that is.|
Apart from seeing more sheep than you could ever count, things didn't really get interesting until we'd cleared Hamilton. About 65 Km south is the town of Waitomo Caves. These caves are filled with hundreds of neon coloured glow worms. Since it's always dark in the caves, the worms are always glowing. And what better way to see these anally florescent worms than by boat? Yep. A guided tour ends with a boat ride through the grubby caverns. The 45 minute tour cost a chunky NZ$20 per person (even though it was only worth NZ$15).
Time was getting on, so we hit the road again, destination National Park. Bit of a strange name that, considering that it's actually a town, not a park. But New Zealand is like that. Many a town is named after it's nearby attraction. There's a volcanic town called in the North Island which should actually be called "smells like crap" due to the clouds of sulphur emanating from various holes in the ground. However, that's when a Maori name is used. In this case it's Rotorua, which probably translates to "smells like crap", but it just sounds better in Maori
National Park is actually a ski resort, so in the summer (when we were there) it was as dead as a dead thing, having a very dead day. But the hostel was open, with a lovely view of two big volcanoes in the back yard, and there was a pub just a short stagger distance from the hostel door. Bliss.
|Another view of National Park's volcanoes. The 'sand' in the foreground is actually ash from old eruptions.|
Leaving National Park was not only a treat with the views of the volcanoes to our left, but also led to a beautiful twisty road all the way down to Wanganui. Sadly it then became a very boring straight road all the way down to Paekakariki (pronounced Pay-kaka-raki-smaka-riki-iki ... or something like).
Paekakariki is actually quite a nice place, situated on the coast with the Tararua Range coming up right behind it, to effectively sandwich it between sea and hill. There's also a great hostel there - very relaxed with two very cool hosts.
Unfortunately I didn't get a wink of sleep! The hostel beds came with elegant, but worrisome mosquito nets. Before lights out I took on a pre-emptive mission to kill all the mozzies in the room, to the squeaking delight of the two bouncy German girls (and subsequent rolling of eyes from Daniela) who we shared the room with.
At three in the morning I awoke and proceeded to duel with yet more mozzies that had somehow managed to get within the net. From then on, the idea of sleep (and subsequent large welts all over my face) was as distant as Canada itself.
|Unfortunately the downside of lurvely twisty roads is an increased chance of a mishap. Small white roadside crosses mark the scene of previous driver error.|
The alarm went off at 6:45am so that we could hit Wellington in time for the 9:30am ferry across to Picton on the South Island.
A damp, but "atmospheric" ride to Wellington was rewarded with two tickets and a place for the motorcycle on the "Inter Islander" ferry. Cost was NZ$48 per person (one way) plus another NZ$48 for the bike.
A couple of things are worthy of note here:
1. Motorcycles get loaded before all else, so it's important to get to the ferry at least one hour before departure.
2. You're usually expected to supply your own tie-downs. The locals may know this, but what visitor would think to bring their own is beyond me. However, they do have a meagre selection of primitive versions, which require some knowledge of knot tying. For the non-Scouts among us, just picture a huge shoelace and just knot, knot and knot again!
3. Book ahead if possible. This may be especially pertinent if it's peak holiday period. Bike space can be limited, plus there are some cheaper fares available if you book early.
|Waiting to board the ferry at Wellington.|
The ferry bobbed and rocked out of Wellington and bucked through wind induced waves, as we hit the open waters of the Cook Strait. The food was crap and expensive and not an ideal companion to the rough waters. By the time the roller coaster ride had blissfully subsided, Daniela had turned a peculiar shade of green and I was heading that way myself. We meandered our way into picturesque Queen Charlotte Sound and three and a half hours after setting sail, we were finally riding on the solid ground of Picton.
We needed to end the day near to Christchurch, so in our usual cavalier fashion, we opted to take a big "what the hell" detour through some mountains - east, south, west and then (ideally), south again.
The road east followed the mountain-sided Waiau river valley. Straight and so-so at the beginning, but getting lovely and gnarly after about 50 km, as the valley narrowed and the mountains closed in.
|Heading up the Waiau valley starts to give you a taste of the mountainous South Isl.|
The fun and scenery just got better and better, all the way to the middle-of-nowhere town of Springs Junction, where we decided to call it a day and find a bed. Unfortunately we could only find $75 a room motels.... and it was now 7:30pm (which is a bad time of night to be looking for a place to stay in the busy Christmas season). Bugger it, there was a backpackers back at the Maruia Springs Resort - back we go.
The accommodation turned out to be the worst (and most expensive at NZ$26.50 each) of the entire trip. Blankets (on a really cool night) being an additional $5... each!!! Toilets were an extra... just kidding. To top it all off we were famished and foodless. The resort had food, but soup started at $7 a bowl (and trust me, this place was nothing to write home about).
Thankfully the outdoor hot springs were accessible 24 hours, and we wanted to get our money's worth! What better way to end a day of errors than a long soak in hot sulphur pools. The fine odour of rotten eggs and the feel of cold rain on our heads. Actually, the pools were pretty heavenly, and under better, more relaxed circumstances, would have left a better impression on us.
Oh well, fingers crossed that tomorrow would be a better day!