A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

PROLOGUE

For a few years my motorcycling mate Doug, of Postie Challenge & Tassie Tour renown, has been quietly suggesting that his home country of New Zealand (or New Zulund as he says it) is a motorcycle touring nirvana. His emails contained subtle inclusions of photographs of endless winding roads and postcard scenery with references to friendly folk, clean fresh air and little traffic. Indeed at one point whilst we were admiring the scenery near Cradle Mountain on our Tasmania tour he remarked "You know, if you changed the gum trees into pines this would be just like the South Island of home". The other thing he mentioned was that there were no suicidal kangaroos or wombats waiting to sacrifice themselves to the road gods via your front wheel.

Doug makes a regular pilgrimage to the South Island every year or so and has visited all the major scenic areas as well as a number of the less well known ones, it was from these jaunts that he kept sending me tales and photos of motorcycling goodness.

Linda & I had visited New Zealand a few years ago whilst on a cruise, the little that we had seen on shore excursions revealed a picturesque part of the world where pointing your camera in the general direction of the landscape results in a postcard, that did indeed seem to be populated by good-natured folk. So unless Doug was a Photoshop genius, those photos he keeps sending me must be pretty close to the mark.

With Linda's blessing I informed Doug that I was keen & to let the planning commence. He suggested that late March is a great time to visit the South Island as the weather is still mild(ish) and as this is between school holidays & Easter the roads would be relatively quiet but all the tourist infrastructure was still open for business. Cool, sounds like a good plan to me. Doug also owns two bikes, a Honda VFR800 and a BMW 650GS both equipped with hard luggage and heated grips, eminently suited to this sort of touring, which he kindly offered for the trip.

Doug has put together a tour route that takes us from his home in Rotorua down to meet the ferry at Wellington and from there a roughly anti-clockwise circumnavigation of the South Island over around two and a half weeks. He's worked in a good mix of longish days with shorter ones, interesting side trips and general touristy stuff for variety, should be a tour guide!

Now with just a few weeks to go, Doug has booked the ferry passages, hotels in Christchurch and had his bikes serviced ready to roll. I've booked flights, had them summarily changed by Qantas (had me flying out of Sydney before I'd even left Auckland), re-booked the flights, had them changed by Qantas at a whim again and finally re-booked.

Travel insurance is done, interestingly most of the regular travel insurance companies won't offer cover for riding motorcycles over 200cc. Apparently they reckon the risk is too high but they will cover inexperienced tourists riding dodgy rental scooters wearing their best safety gear of a borrowed helmet, singlet & shorts in the madness of Asian traffic. However someone decked out in their own touring gear, licensed and experienced, riding quality motorcycles is deemed to be an unacceptable risk.

I've pulled out my cooler weather touring gear which was packed away after the Tassie trip, surprisingly it was all in pretty good order apart from my jacket being a bit musty, courtesy of the high humidity of our current Monsoon season. Nothing a good airing out in the sun on the clothesline didn't fix. As with most pre-trip preparation, a small pile of "stuff" is accumulating ready to be sorted and packed, lessons learned from previous tours sees the pile being somewhat smaller than last, just the essentials.

So, dear reader, my next transmission should be from the Land of the Long White Cloud. Hopefully I can keep you entertained for a time, check back after the 18th of March.

Posted by jayar 17:36 Comments (0)

Rotorua

Rotorua 1

An uneventful flight down to Sydney from home, with only about 30 other travellers on the aircraft. The nice lady at check-in blocked out the two adjacent seats and put me between two empty rows, so there were no issues with reclining my seat or having anyone in front ending up in my lap. As the flight departed close to midnight, I was able to stretch out across the three seats & try to catch a few zeds.

Sydney Airport was it's usual chaos that seems to work efficiently enough, so I cleared Customs pretty quickly at about the time the sun was rising without being probed or otherwise affronted by the security folk. Thankfully the connecting flight is only a couple of hours wait, so there was time for some decent coffee and stretch my legs.
The flight across the Tasman was full but only three hours or so, time enough for some lunch & a movie before we were dropping into Auckland. Through Customs with remarkable efficiency thanks to the "e-passport" system, stick your Passport into the scanner & push a couple of buttons & out pops a little ticket that you take over to the gate. Ticket goes into the machine at the gate, pose for the camera & away you go. One more stop to check your declaration and all clear, through and meeting up with Doug in about 15 minutes.

After about 2.5 hours driving we pulled into Dougs' place, equating to 16 odd hours travelling door to door. A bit weary, oh yeah, eyes full of gravel but happy to have made it. After some dinner & a quick call home to let Linda know I was safe, sleep was calling.

Rotorua 2

Monday morning dawned overcast with threatening clouds all around, hmm hope this isn't an omen. Doug has suggested we go for a short ride in order to give me a bit of time to familiarise myself with the local roads and the bike. So we suit up and set off for a look around the local area, me on the little BMW and Doug on his Honda VFR.

We head North to Tauranga along the reasonably busy highway, lots of traffic but not overly frantic, good to get a feel for how the locals treat each other, not too badly as it turned out. Just before Taurange we head East to the coast and follow the highway South. My apologies for the brief descriptions, I'm still getting my head around the names of the towns.

We headed back to Rotorua via some beaut twisty roads, what the little BMW lacks in outright power is more than made up for with its' nimbleness and a willing engine. Keep the revs up and it belts along quite happily. A couple of left-handers had the side-stand brushing the tarmac without trying all that hard, fun....

We arrived back at Dougs mid-afternoon with about 200km under our wheels, no niggles and big grins.

So, tomorrow this adventure begins in earnest when we head South to Palmerston North to overnight before catching the ferry at Wellington on Thurdsay morning (early start that one, on the road by 0530). Stay tuned..

Posted by jayar 01:06 Comments (0)

Palmerston North

Palmerston North

Finally with all our gear stowed in the panniers, booted, helmeted & suited we hit the road at around 9.00 for our days run down to Dougs' sisters place in Palmerston North. The weather is clear at around the 20 degree mark.

Our first stop of the day was the Waikite Mud Pools about 30km out of Rotorua. There is a pervasive odour about the town reminiscent of fireworks or gunfire, the sulphur fumes emanating from the thermal activity around the place comes and goes with the wind direction. As we neared the mud pools you could see clouds of steam appearing from the ground at random spots, very wierd to be riding along and see a plume of steam by the side of the road.

At the mud pools the surface looks like a grey watery porridge that is on a slow simmer, blooping, plopping and bubbling away. Certainly not that inviting for a soak (or par-boil).

Back on the road we head down the highway to Taupo, for a quick coffee and sausage roll at a service station. I must say though for service station fare the offering was quite passable. From here we start a long ascent up to the Desert Road, a quite scenic run. Although it is called a "desert" it is actually alpine grasslands with great views to the mountains and hills in the distance. The NZ Army use the area as a training range, in winter I'd reckon it would be quite challenging, little cover or shelter from the elements.

The highway is well maintained with a nice smooth surface and sweeping bends, very tempting to crack on a bit, however Doug had warned me of the eternal vigilance of the local police. Sure enough it wasn't log before one patrol car went past and soon enough another was assisting a motorist to make a contribution to the nations coffers.

At one point we were trailing a truck with Doug leading and myself trailing along at my customary three seconds, when there was an explosion of wood fragments from underneath. I'd seen the odd plank of pine lying on the road before and it looked like the truck had run over a couple of them, blowing them into kindling and launching them into the air. Bits of sharp pointy wood flew past Dougs' head and landed on the road in front of me, all the stuff I've been teaching bike students came to the fore "look at the gap, not the obstacle, countersteer", quick flip-flop and we were clear.

By this stage we had covered around 300km so it was time to look for fuel, Doug had arranged to meet his Brother in Law, Brent, at Fieldling for the run to his place for our overnight stop. Brent is a busy guy and doesn't get out on his bike as often as he'd like so it was a welcome opportunity for him to give us a bit of a tour of his backyard. After fuelling (the warning light came on just as I pulled up to the pumps) we headed for a look at the Te Apiti wind farm.
The road out to the site is a cracker, oodles of bends, up & down, great fun. At one point I was cranked over through a bend when I hit a small patch of sand/gravel, just had time to register an "ooh sh......." as the front skipped and bit again. All praise to the German engineers, the little BMW didn't even shake her head, just kept on doing her thing.

The wind farm is way impressive, these power generators are huge and there are lots of them marching across the landscape, with their blades turning in a stately fashion. Funnily enough I had this mental image of the Pink Floyd video clip for their The Wall album of the hammers marching along, sort of half expecting these things to uproot and stalk off across the hills.

Up close to these it is even more impressive, you can hear the wind vortices coming off the blade tips as they swoosh past above your head, latent power.

Next stop was our overnighter with Dougs Sister Wendy and Brent, who were most charming hosts. I didn't update the blog whilst there as it would be a bit disrespectful to have my nose buried in a screen while being entertained as guests in their home.

As the next day called for us to be on the road by 5.00am it was an early night, in bed by 8.45. After just nodding off I was woken by the sound of crying, this was a bit disconcerting as there were no children in the house, thinking it was probably something from outside I shrugged it off and tried to get back to sleep. Again the sound of crying, louder this time, "what the..?" On with the light and here is one of their cats making a fuss about wanting to get out, the thing must have been hiding under the bed when I turned in. Wendy had warned to keep the door shut if I didn't want visits from her cats, so I had done so, my quick search of the room beforehand though obviously wasn't thorough enough. Back to sleep.

Posted by jayar 13:02 Comments (0)

Seddon

Seddon

Up at 4.30am in order to get to Wellington in time to catch the inter-island ferry. Although trying our best not to disturb the rest of the household it is hard not to bump into stuff and electric garage doors make lots of noise that that time of the morning. Sorry Wendy & Brent.

It is only about 140km down to Wellington, the ride in pre-dawn darkness was certainly an interesting experience. I'm sure there were nice views along the way but pretty much all I saw was road markings and Doug's lights as I attempted to keep him in sight as we negotiated the traffic. Thankfully at that time of the morning there wasn't all that much traffic, mostly trucks, but as we got closer to Wellington the density increased.

At one point we were skirting the waterfront and you could see the lights reflected in the water, it was only glimpses though as I was concentrating on staying alive and keeping Doug in sight, a couple of moments requiring some innovative road positioning but the other motorists were pretty accommodating, a friendly wave to the drivers and they would make room.

We were at the ferry terminal in good time and soon loaded aboard, bikes tied down and off up to the cafeteria for some coffee and breakfast. Free wifi too, so time to update my blog.

The weather was a bit hazy initially, so not all that much to see but the sea is calm which is good, very good. A handful of other bikes on board, trucks and lots of tourists. So many campervans......

We head into the boats cafe for some breakfast, which was passable although the coffee was wasn't. Doug reckoned his bacon & eggs was OK, the service was friendly and efficient though.

Apparently the main ferry service is currently on reduced capacity due to a mishap with their principle vessel, something to do with one of the propellors falling off! So Doug booked us onto a smaller outfit that are family run. They are doing a pretty efficient job of it though with the loading of cars, trucks, trailers and bikes all done quite smoothly. We had to tie our own bikes down but the do provide chocks and ties although we had also brought rachet straps.

As we approached the South Island the haze had burned off and the sea was nice and smooth, so we headed out onto the fore deck to catch the sights and enjoy the beaut fresh air, very bracing fresh air, glad I had my bike jacket with me.

On docking at Picton they had the bikes off first, so they had all the bikers together on the upper deck & then escorted us down to the car deck to untie our bikes. Pretty much as soon at they lowered the ramps we were off and away, our South Island jaunt had finally commenced.

Due to the really early start we only have a short run today, so from Picton we head to Blenheim for a quick bite of lunch. A promising looking cafe beckoned which served healthy fare, my toasted blini with smoked chicken, brie and other goodies filled the hungry hole really well. Doug wanted a coke to go with his toastie but the staff said they didn't serve such things (far too unhealthy), mind you the home-made iced coffee I had probably had more sugar and certainly way more fat than a fizzy drink. The lady at the register had a bit of a giggle about the whole thing.

Hunger sated, off to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Museum (I think that was the title). This place is under the patronage of Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit fame, he is a bit of a WW1 aviation buff and it shows.

If you are interested in old military aircraft and are over this way, do yerself a big favour and check it out. The eye for creating realistic sets that Mr Jackson brings to the place is really evident, he has replica (and genuine) significant aircraft from both sides set up in aerial dioramas that you can get right up close to, fabulous stuff for an aviation nut. Quite a number of the aircraft are airworthy and regularly flown at airshows, which is how I reckon old aircraft should be shown and enjoyed. The depiction of the soldiers "souveniering" from the Red Barons' crashed Triplane is a little unsettling, although servicemen from all sides and eras certainly did the same. Just the sight of a bunch of cheerful guys pulling the fur flying boots of his still warm body just doesn't seem quite right.

After the museum it's off to a friend of Dougs who is putting us up for the night. The little road from Blenheim to Seddon is huge fun, not fast but perfectly cambered corner after corner that has you flicking the bike from side to side as you climb and descend hills. Real grin inducing stuff.

So tomorrow we start touring in earnest, with starting times that we feel like rather than having to be at a certain place by a set time, as Doug puts it "we are on holidays, we can set our own timetable to suit how we feel", well said that man!

Please be patient regarding photos, I have only limited data upload capacity at the moment so will post a bunch up when I can access a good connection.

Posted by jayar 21:18 Comments (0)

Motueka

Motueka

Last night I slept the sleep of the righteous, spark out for a solid 9 hours, didn't even hear the rest of the household stirring or heading off to schools etc.

Doug's friend Karin lives on a small hillside rural block out of town, with a great view out over the valleys surrounding Seddon. The only noises out this way are the wind and the livestock, so peaceful. Fresh air & quiet, lovely no wonder I conked out.

Rising all refreshed we bid Karin and her son David farewell (we will drop in again on our way back North on return) and headed back to Picton. Although initially retracing yesterdays' route we are going to follow the edge of the Queen Charlotte Sound to Havelock.

Turning off at Picton the road soon gets clogged with those mobile chicanes of camper vans, there are heaps of the damn things dawdling along nose to tail with the one in front. Occasionally we would get one that did see us behind and would move over, most didn't which required some patience, at least the roads people put in frequent passing lanes.

Just on the subject of roads, they maintain them quite well, when you see a "maintenance" sign there are actually blokes working there and there is something that you need to take notice of. They do advise if there is gravel on the road, which is handy to know on a bike.

At Havelock we stop for quick bite and after scoffing one of the biggest sausage rolls I've ever seen (damn tasty it was too) we beetled off towards Nelson, across more twisty roads (oh yeah and camper vans too) as the highway winds through the Mt Richmond Forest Park. Lots of views of cloud shrouded peaks, valleys winding off into the distance, rivers/streams etc. Very pretty.

Finally we hit the coast and follow it through to Motueka, arriving mid-afternoon. Doug has a plan, after booking into a motel we offload the panniers and he suggests that it might be worth our while to take a run up a bit of a hill outside of town called the Takaka Hill. Okey dokey, that sounds like fun, "you lead" says Doug, "just follow the signs to Takaka/Collingwood, can't miss it".

Things start to look promising when we pass a sign that says "Takaka Hill Road Open", hmm they don't usually put those sorts of signs up unless there is something significant about the place. Soon we are climbing, twisting and turning and ever climbing. Can't see anything of the possible destination as the road is winding through really dense forest but it is quite a workout flicking the bike back & forth. Upwards, ever upwards we go, with tight swoopy bends one after the other, wheee.

Finally we reach the summit with fabulous views off into the distance of the coastline and a tiny little road winding off into the distance, this road. What goes up must come down, so down the other side we go with more of the same except this time the added fun of a downhill run.

Once we reached the bottom, we did what any sane and rational motorcyclist would do, turn around and do it again from the opposite direction, all 22km of it, of course. Oh yeah, although most of the corners are signposted fairly conservatively, there are a couple posted at 15kph, they mean it too, these are peg scraping hairpins, double whee.

Finally we arrived back at the motel after a huge fun day, a quick meal down the road at a small bar (toughest steak ever) and back to type out some words (oh and knock over the mounting washing).

Tomorrow we head to the West Coast to then commence our trek Southwards.

Posted by jayar 00:36 Comments (0)

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