By Charlie & Sandy Gay
We stepped off the airplane in Christchurch, New Zealand, February 20, 9,246 miles, 18 � hours flying time, and three airplane changes from Atlanta. We lost a day when we crossed the International Dateline, had gone nearly half way around the world and transitioned from Atlanta winter to New Zealand summer.
In the baggage claim area, we were greeted by a man holding an orange motorcycle helmet over his head. He was our representative and greeter from Beach Motorcycle Tours for the Maori Meander, a two-week tour of the south island of New Zealand.
New Zealand is composed of two islands, the north, which has most (70%) of the population, and the south, which is 85% urban and has literally millions of sheep and hundreds of thousands of domestically farmed deer.
Our tour started the next day when we picked up our motorcycles at a local motorcycle shop. Most of the motorcycles were BMW R 1100 RTs, but Sandy and I selected a new Yamaha 900, the only Japanese bike on the tour. There were ten bikes and fourteen riders/co-riders on our tour, the second tour of the season for Beach.
The plan for the fourteen-day ride includes all hotels, breakfast and dinner. Lunch is left to you, because of the different riding options and styles. Some wanted to go max out and cover the most territory possible, while others just wanted to putt-putt from overnight to overnight. Both ways are great. Sandy and I chose a combination in between the two styles. The age range of our group was from 35 to 70 with four bikes having co-riders.
The scenery and landscape were magnificent. The overwhelming reality was there is literally no traffic there. It is not unusual to ride for twenty miles and not see a car. The country is reminiscent of the USA in the forties and fifties. The people are laid back, very friendly, and always have time to say "good day mate". Gas stations were few and far between and something that must be planned for. Many small towns did not even have one. Gas cost about $2.15 US per gallon and sometimes there were fifty miles between stations. You should never let your tank get below one-quarter full.
We rode on many, many mountain roads that are similar to and reminded us of Deal’s Gap. Some switchbacks were over 200 degrees. The interior of the country is relatively flat with large expanses of grain fields. The only time we could run the national speed limit of 100 kph was on these flat roads and, of course, we were on the left side of the road.
Of the fourteen nights, we had three double overnights. The in between day on double overnights were used for city touring, shopping, and day trips. Shopping was especially fun, because $.52 US equaled $1 NZ. Everything was almost half price!!!
On one of the double night stays, we were on a sheep farm that had 970 acres and 8,000 sheep. They also raised 2500 deer. They took us on a pick-up truck tour of their farm, which was very, very, interesting.
We rode around the entire south island from the seashore and sea level to 3700 feet on Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand. We found you could be on a glacier in ice and snow one minute and thirty minutes later be in a tropical rain forest, then thirty minutes later be riding along a seashore. The views were spectacular causing us to stop frequently for "photo-ops".
Generally, Sandy and I rode with our friends, another Delta retired couple from Atlanta. We had purchased portable handlebar mounted CB radios from J & M before our trip, so we could communicate. Even the co-riders had PTT buttons and could join the conversations. We were a novelty, because I don’t think New Zealand has discovered CB yet.
Our average day ride was about 200 miles – some more, some less. We covered 3300 km, a little over 2,000 miles during our two-week tour. Almost every day we would go from a seashore somewhere through mountain passes and then back to the seashore. Most towns are by the water so that’s generally where we would meet for dinner and overnight. Our day would usually start at 7:00 – 7:30 am for breakfast. We had to have our luggage in the van by 8:00 am when the van would leave for the next destination. The riding day would end about 5:00 pm at the designated overnight locations where our luggage would already be in our rooms.
We stayed in a castle, a sheep farmhouse, a beachside cottage, a hot springs spa, a mountain chalet, and at many hotels and motels. There were millions of sheep and thousands of deer. We soaked in a natural hot spring, landed on top of a glacier in a helicopter, took a boat ride through a fjord, and ate lobster for lunch bought from a roadside vendor. Best of all, we had some of the best motorcycle riding we’ve ever experienced. All the people were glad to see motorcyclists and went out of their way to make us feel welcome. Interestingly, we only saw two Gold Wings the whole two weeks. The bike of choice in New Zealand seems to be the BMW with Triumph and Suzuki being a distant second. A few Honda 1100 STs, a real screamer there, and Yamahas were around, but the twisty roads just don’t suit the big Wing.
We returned to the states with a better riding ability than when we left. Sandy says she will never be frightened going around curves on the back of a motorcycle again. Even with the bigger Wing, the curves I thought steep before we left are routine now. I guess this trip was an advanced riding course, and the bonus was, it was in one of the most beautiful and friendly biking countries in the world.
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