Motorcycle Therapy in New Zealand

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Words: Christian Wolters   Photos: Mr. Wolters & NZ Tourist Board

Christian Wolters used to work in the motorcycle industry, specifically for Kawasaki Canada as the grand fromage of the motorcycle division. He stuck it out for quite a while before doing what all industry minions dream of doing – going postal … Err, no, I mean the other dream – giving it all up and going round the world for a year in a quest for healing.

Midway around he found himself in New Zealand – a motorcyclist’s paradise – looking for a motorcycle to ride. Help came in the form of a Soapbox regular, the rest I’ll leave for Christian to tell …

P.S. If you’d like to see the complete route that Christian took, click here.

LET THE THERAPY BEGIN

Slim and Christian get subliminal.

New Zealand is a motorcycle paradise — a country with a temperate climate, breathtaking scenery and roads of seemingly endless twists and curves. This all results in a riding experience similar to that found in Europe – but without the same level of traffic or speed enforcement although, as my travel companion discovered, that element can still be found!

My New Zealand adventure started almost a full month before I even got on a bike. After departing Australia in December, I decided to make my New Year’s celebration in the city of Auckland, followed by a series of hiking trips and other adventures in the South Island.

When it came to the North Island I was determined to get on a bike although all initial attempts to do so on my meager budget came up flat. It’s then that I found out about a CMG member who lives in Hamilton and had offered to help out any visiting CMGer with their motorcycle plans. Lisa McArthur (aka Slim of Soapbox fame) quickly responded to my e-mail, but it wasn’t the speed of her response that blew me away, it was the offer – the usage of her beloved Honda CBR600!

EAST AND THE SMELL OF ROTTING EGGS (map)

Mr. Wolters with Slim’s CBR600.

Two days later I was riding Route 23 out of Hamilton to the coastal town of Raglan. My friend Dave (from England), had joined me on a rented a CB400 for the 50km jaunt as we figured a quick refresher ride was a good idea before our grand five day tour of the North Island.

Hmhh, I was rustier than I thought.

The next day we set out on Highway 3 South and a rather convoluted loop to the volcanic town of Rotorua. A chance stop in Kihikihi for breakfast found the best apple turnover in all of New Zealand, courtesy of The Bakery. After seconds we waddled back to our bikes – next stop Waitamo and its famous glowworm caves.

Unfortunately there’s not much to rave about here, other than the fact that it costs a princely $25, which we thought a little steep for staring at the ceiling of a cave with tiny star like glow worms at the top.

On the high plains to Tongariro National Park.

With wallets lighter and our eyes adjusting back to the bright sunlight, we were happy to be back out on our bikes and heading for Tongariro National park.

Highway 4 makes its way slowly towards the west side of Tongariro Park via some glorious twisty roads, climbing steadily in altitude with each curve, to an height of almost 900 metres. Reaching the volcanic plateau rewards you with a cool (in both senses of the word) view of the two volcanoes that dominate the northern edge of the park – the mighty cone of Tongariro and the snowcapped peak of Mt Ngauruhoe.

With sunlight fading we decided to make up some time and blast across the high volcanic plain, courtesy of the arrow-straight Highway 47. The straightness ends with a descent to Lake Taupo – a giant volcanic crater formed 25,000 years ago after a huge eruption. Such is the veracity of this area that during a more recent eruption in AD181, the skies as far away as ancient Rome and China were darkened. Thankfully, the volcanoes stayed quiet this day.

Steaming volcanic ponds at Rotorua.

Photo: New Zealand Tourist Board

Taupo is also one of the big destination points in New Zealand, but with the short time available my chance to try skydiving had to postponed, as we pushed onwards to Rotorua.

As we approached Rotorua’s geothermal areas, the coolness of the evening meant that volcanic steam bellowed all around us and across the roadway. I felt like I was riding in my own personal motorcycle commercial. Unfortunately the magic ends when you career through the cascading cloud and are instantly hit with the overpowering smell of rotten eggs – thanks to the heavy sulphur content. Ewhh.

Since Rotorua is the adventure capital of New Zealand’s North Island it seemed like a good idea to stay a while. Besides bungy jumping, sledging and Zorbing (going down a hill in a giant hamster ball) there are many places to enjoy a beer, or get more active on the dance floor and work out those motorcycle kinked legs.

Zorbing – people pay to do this.

Photo: NZ Tourist Board.

With a smorgasbord of activities to chose from Dave and I opted to try out one of the more radical entree’s – sledging. What is sledging? Well, basically it involves riding down a very wild river on nothing more than a plastic sled. Only in New Zealand can you throw yourself into class 5 rapids, over sharp rocks and around life-threatening whirlpools with only a flimsy piece of plastic to protect you – all the while looking oh-so-cool in a CCM hockey helmet!

DAY TRIPPING AROUND COROMANDEL (map)

Having survived that experience, we decided to return to the sanity of motorcycles and take a day trip north to the rugged terrain, dense forest and steep gorges of the Coromandel peninsula.

Highway 25 circumnavigates the peninsula’s Coromandel Range with spectacular views, which in turn demand a precise motorcycle technique to avoid an unplanned dip in the South Pacific Ocean. The road hugs much of the coast line and, if the tide is right, the waves can break right onto the road itself. However, the road is also much favoured by vacationers hauling their boats and campers, although for some fortunate reason they all seemed to be going the other direction to us.

“The Gates of Mordor”. New Zealand is tent-popping for Lord of the Rings aficionados.

Photo: New Zealand Tourist Board.

As we climbed towards the town of Coromandel, the day was drawing to a close, so we decided to head back to Rotorua, with a planned stop at the town of Matamata – the location of Hobbiton from the Lord of the Rings film. This is New Zealand’s latest claim to fame, with a strong emphasis placed on the successful trilogy shot entirely on its shores. But the cash-in isn’t cheap, and the $50 entry fee kept this fan riding past.

Much more fulfilling was the ride through the Fitzgerald glen, which is like going through a tunnel made of trees. And free too.

NORTH TO THE BAY OF ISLANDS (map)

After Rotorua we wanted to make a stab at the North Country of the Island before giving up our bikes.

New Zealand’s North Island is a mass of rolling hills.

Photo: New Zealand Tourist Board.

As you venture north, the island narrows and the tedious Highway 1 becomes the only choice through Auckland. But boredom is not the only peril – police patrols on this road are extensive … as Dave was to discover to his cost. New Zealand police are the most polite but ruthless I have experienced in the world – 135 in a 100 zone costing a chunky $300.

The officer told Dave that if he were going 145 he would have taken his license AND impounded the bike. I do not doubt this, as I later saw a police accompanied Suzuki on the side of the road waiting to be loaded onto a flatbed truck.

We took Highway 1 until the island opened up again at Brynderwyn, where we headed over to the west coast via highway 12 through beautiful green hills, speckled with New Zealand’s most abundant inhabitant – sheep.

It eventually flattens out as it hits the west coast, but as we approach the Waipoua forest, the road suddenly climbs and offers up incredible views atop rolling hills – the open Tasman Sea glowing golden below. As the road enters the dense Waipoua forest, the noise of the motorcycle accelerating and downshifting bounces back eerily from the road-lined Kauri trees.

Opononi Holiday Park proved to be a golden find.

There are many Kauri tree-viewing stops along the way, but I only made one – Tane Mahuta (lord of the trees) stands 51 metres tall and is estimated to be over 2000 years old. The entire North Island used to be covered by mighty Kauri trees but they were too irresistible for settling loggers and now only a few patches remain.

This area is almost void of any industry and tourism so it’s a great place to get away from it all. We opted to stay at the Opononi Holiday Park, which I think was the best tent campsite in all of New Zealand. On top of a grassy hill, shared only by goats and a few lucky campers, you can watch the fading sun as it drops slowly into the vastness of the Tasman Sea. Simply gorgeous.

ALL GOOD THINGS MUST COME TO PASS (map)

Bay of Islands was as far north as the trip allowed.

Photo: New Zealand Tourist Board.

I was not looking forward to the next day. After a quick ride to the Bay of Islands I would have to return to Hamilton while Dave had the luxury of continuing northwards to Ninety Mile beach at the Northern cape of New Zealand.

New Zealand is a treasure trove of beautiful roads, zigzagging across fantastic scenery, ready to be feasted on by a willing rider. The roads are generally good – usually made by layering tar and gravel – although a succession of hot sunny days heat up the tar, causing it to bubble to the surface, and making for some ugly patches on hot and wet days. These patches can also buckle under the weight of trucks around corners so you sometimes hit a corduroy effect at the worst moment!

While most Canadians have to ride lots of kilometers to find the perfect road, New Zealanders have just get past the city limits. But it’s not just a good place to ride, with many wild adventure activities, endless beaches, hiking trails and … Lord of the Rings locations (budget allowing). It also has many different types of accommodation for all budget levels from campsites to backpacker inns to five star hotels.

Every motorcyclist enthusiast should make at least one trip to New Zealand in a lifetime, if not more. Of course, they may not have the generosity of Lisa to get on to two wheels, but there are many rental opportunities out of the major cities, just keep the speed down on highway one. Eh Dave?

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