By Don Douglass BMWMOA#2519
Reprinted from the BMWON, Feb. 1995
The words "Think left, look right!," were the first to roll off tour guide Rob Beach's tongue when speaking to the group of eleven of us sitting at the dinner table. After saying it two more times, and telling a short but very mean story (that will stay in my mind for the rest of my life) designed to illustrate his point, I realized that driving/riding on the left side of the road would never be automatic. All your threats come from the right now, and you've trained your whole life to look to the left while regarding the right as safe. This could get interesting...
Ranging from a 19 year-old to a couple of late 50-something riders, we were a group of 11 riders with dramatically diverse backgrounds, preferences and requirements. Our common bond was that everyone of us at least liked motorcycles, and couldn't get enough of traveling this world to do it.
The machines ranged from three BMWs (R100GS, K75C and F650), to two Yamahas, two Honda Bros (known as the Hawk in the States) 650 twins, and one Suzuki GS1100 standard. The machines were well maintained and prepared, and supplied by our other tour guide, John Rains, of Te Wai Tours & Rentals. Between the two of them, Rob Beach of Beach Motorcycle Adventures, Ltd., and John Rains, an NZ native, are partners in this endeavor, and know New Zealand like the back of their hand.
Beach's Motorcycle Adventures Ltd.'s (in business for 22 years altogether) Maori (pronounced Mowri, as in Mao Se Tung) Meander is about to begin its seventh year of offering New Zealand tours. The name Maori Meander comes from the indigenous people of New Zealand, who make up roughly 12 percent of the population, and in many ways set the tone for the land in which we travelled. Both Rob and John, as well it seems does the whole of New Zealand, have great respect for these people and their culture. And it is clear that both Rob and John feel that it is not possible to really know New Zealand without knowing something about them. As for the "Meander" part of the name, I cannot help but believe it has to do with the evidence of the power of nature and how it meanders through this gorgeous land.
As Rob laid out the next days route, each dinner meeting at the end of a stellar riding day was filled with warnings and road knowledge that would prove to be invaluable in the days to come. Both direct and delightfully indirect routes were offered for each leg of travel along with directions to out of-the-way competitively price areas and off the beaten-path sites not to be missed.
If anything, I pride myself in being a poor tourist, who is not particularly interested in the Been there/Done that/Seen that type of mentality often devoted to tourist travel, and tend not to follow the map to the next monument where the pile of bum will be found. Rob and John's tour feels as though it is geared to the sophisticated traveler who actually wants to know something about the people and land in which he/she is traveling.
The most noteworthy aspect of the Maori Meander is its flexibility in accommodating the individual touring styles of its members. For the lone explorer who wants little to do with riding in a group, Rob and John provide exquisitely laid-out route sheets, with which you may set out alone. A courteous mid-day meal check-in and your eventual arrival for dinner, lets your keepers know that you are still kickin, and ready for tomorrow's run.
On the other hand, you are free to follow Rocket Rob or Smooth & Fast Johnny (my names for them by the way), two terribly competent riders, on the longest and most interesting route each day. Both of these men love to ride, and when each of them took turns driving the chase vehicle, you could see the sadness in his eyes. While both of them challenged you each day with the best roads and brisk speeds to go with them, they maintained an atmosphere that made each and every tour member comfortable touring at his or her own pace.
Warnings about the Homer Tunnel, washed-out roads, extended stretches of gravel, taking care of tickets and coordinating ferry crossings, helicopter rides over the Fox Glacier, and creating special side-trips catering to different tour member's interests, as well as the now familiar left-side driving pep talk every evening, contributed to a smooth and safe run in a potential dangerous land. Not one of us, beyond the usual parking lot mishap, took any kind of spill at speed. And considering the varying level of riding skill displayed by different members of the group, I attribute that directly to the knowledge and continual updates provided by Rob and John.
When a couple of us asked about a possible tour of the Britten motorcycle factory in Christchurch, Rob jumped right on the phone and arranged it (not that it was necessarily that easy). When three members of the tour indicated an unwillingness to enjoy the rare privilege of a dinner and overnight stay with the Maori (some people are a bit shy about having to sing for their supper and sleep in a church), Rob immediately made alternative arrangements for a hotel for them without even missing a beat.
So, what's wrong with the Maori Meander? Well, nothing as far as I and the repeat customers can tell, but then that's up to the individual. Three weeks is a long time to hang out with a bunch of people you may not be sure you want to be friends with. On the other hand, comparing my observations with those of other souls about what I saw and felt, proved invaluable. Three weeks is a long time to hit the road for a challenging all-day ride everyday, but you're really in control of that by the route you choose. The layovers were spaced well -- all you had to do was take advantage of them. The last possibility is that some may not always be pleased with the variety or lack of consistency of the accommodations along the tour. While each stay usually mirrored the best quality of service available in the area, it varied wildly from semi-rundown mom & pop motel to four-star hotel. You never knew what you'd get, and after a while, I stopped worrying about it.
If there was anything wrong with the Maori Meander, it was that it had to end. It lasted just long enough to actually get used to this exquisite exercise in motorcycling nirvana.
If you had at least a couple of months to burn, you could certainly tour New Zealand on a motorcycle without the assistance of Beach's Motorcycle Adventures, Ltd., but I'm absolutely sure you would come home not having seen some of the marvelous things I saw, or ridden some of the out-of-way roads I enjoyed.
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