by Tom Mooney
Reprinted from "BETWEEN THE SPOKES", the monthly newsletter of the BMW Bikers of Metropolitan Washington.
Why fly all the way to New Zealand to take a motorcycle tour? I guess because it's there down under and somewhat off the beaten track. It also brings to mind a sense of adventure and you hear so many great stories about New Zealand. So, when my friend, John Hermann. (a.k.a. the King of the Alps and author of "Motorcycle Journeys Through the Alps") asked if I was interested in taking the Beach's Maori Meander in February, I answered with a resounding "yes".
Although I had taken a two-week self-guided BMW motorcycle tour of New Zealand in 1990, I've learned that guided tours usually show you much more than you can discover on your own unless you make repeated trips. Seven mutual friends from San Diego, Virginia, and Massachusetts met in Christchurch to join an additional 14 riders who had signed up for the tour. Rob Beach, Jr., President of Beach's Motorcycle Adventures, Ltd. lead the group. Rob was assisted by John Rains who furnished the motorcycles. John is the owner of Te Waipounamu Motorcycle Tours which operates out of Christchurch and Coonamble NSW, Australia. John's company provides tours or individual motorcycle rentals. For this Beach tour I rode an R80GS and the cost was $2700 plus $1446 round-trip airfare from San Diego.
New Zealand is only about the size of Colorado, yet it contains one of the most diverse environments in the world. On the North Island there are snow-capped volcanoes, hot springs, mud pools, geysers and marvelous coastal views. The South Island provides magnificent scenery with fiords, the Southern Alps, 17 mountains over 10,000 feet, over 60 named glaciers and about 45 million sheep.
Interestingly enough, while New Zealand has the Southern Alps, they are not like "The Alps." The overall road network is limited and there are relatively few alpine passes. Roads tend to follow river beds, the coast and valley contours of the various mountain ranges. Rarely are roads to be found which climb up and down the mountains which is what makes the European Alps such a favorite haunt of motorcycle riders.
This in no way takes away from the beauty and majesty of New Zealand. Rather, it provides more casual riding which can be enjoyed by all riders. It doesn't take long to get used to riding on the left hand side of the road. There are very few freeways and nothing like our superslab highways. Most roads are tar and chip construction which can be best described as course grade sandpaper for a giant. You don't want to fall down! Additionally, the nationally imposed 100 kilometer speed limit seems to lull you into slower speeds than you are used to riding, even in the United States.
So, is it worth going to New Zealand? An emphatic yes! The friendliness of the people is worth the price of admission. The beauty of Fiordland and a boat ride on the world famous Milford Sound is something not to be missed. When in the Queenstown area be sure to make a jump at the Kawarau River Bridge, the home of bungy jumping. I did and it was great! Believe me, it's painless and safe. If you are a somewhat bigger thrill seeker, you can jump off the Shotover River Bridge for a 300-foot fall. Should you want to throw caution to the wind, try the bungy jump out of the helicopter for a 1000-foot fall. That ought to get your juices flowing.
In Te Anau we had a 2-day farm stay on an 8,000 acre sheep station with Joan and Ross Cockburn. Many farm stays are offered and it gives one the opportunity to get to know nice people and learn more about life in New Zealand.
As you pass over to "The West Coast," in addition to the magnificent coastal scenery and verdant rain forests, there are helicopter flights and hiking on the glaciers. Included in the Beach Tour is a 15-minute flight over Fox Glacier. You can add an additional $34 and get the 30-minute tour which also includes landing and walking around on top of the glacier. It's money well spent. New Zealand has the only glaciers in the world at sea level and the only glaciers which terminate in rain forests. It seems that everywhere you turn there are contrasts and contradictions.
In two weeks we put over 2,400 miles (3870 km) on the odometer and enjoyed every minute of the tour with one notable exception. One of our fellow tourers was put upon by a German Shepherd which jumped out of the window of a car parked alongside of the road. This large kamikaze canine literally jumped under the front wheel of the motorcycle and the bike flipped over. There was no warning and no chance to avoid this bizarre encounter. Unfortunately, the rider suffered a broken wrist and thumb. His leathers were fairly well cut up by the chip surface of the road but there were no skin abrasions. The helmet, well, let's just say it went into the first rubbish heap. We had been traveling at about 80 KM (50 MPH) in a 100 KM zone. My point in mentioning this is that anyone riding a motorcycle should think twice about what you're going to wear. If you don't like leathers, then an Aerostitch suit should be seriously considered. You never know when the "dog from hell" is going to cross your path.
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