The Maori Meander, January 2006

by Nancy Smith

In January of this year, my husband, Dave and I took a three-week motorcycle tour of New Zealand with Beach’s Motorcycle Adventures. We had such a fabulous time that we thought we’d share a few of the highlights and encourage you to make the trip, if you have the opportunity.

First, a bit about the Beach’s organization: they have been in the motorcycle touring business for over thirty years, and it shows. We rented a bike from them, and they provided quite a good selection. All were fitted with panniers (British for saddlebags) and trunks. Two very experienced guides accompanied us, one from the Netherlands and the other from Australia. They took turns driving a van, which carried our luggage, and riding a bike. On our very first day on the road, the starter went out on our bike, and one of the guides was right there, traded bikes with us, and had a replacement bike for us the next day. The guides were extremely knowledgeable about the country, all the roads, traffic regulations, cities, customs and tourist attractions. Each evening, we found our luggage delivered to our room. After dinner, we were given the itinerary for the following day, usually including two or three alternate routes from which we could choose.

Our tour group consisted of sixteen riders and the two guides. It was a very diverse group, including folks from Great Britain, Germany and the U.S. and ranging in age from 25 to 67.

The flight from San Francisco to Auckland, on the north island lasted twelve hours. We then had a short flight to Christchurch on the south island. Air New Zealand runs a first rate operation (except for the food, but I guess we expect that nowadays). Each seat has its own video screen, with a good selection of movies and other entertainment. We flew in a day early, which we would suggest to alleviate jet lag. You lose an entire day, due to crossing the International Date Line, and the time difference is 21 hours.

And now, about the tour. New Zealand is one of the most geographically diverse places I have ever been, especially given it’s small size of just over 102,000 square miles. It is comprised of two large islands, with many small islands off its coasts. Most of the tour was in rural areas, and traffic was very light. Of course, they do drive on the “wrong side” of the road. Dave had very little difficulty adapting to this, and we only had one near mishap in one of the larger cities. The roads are very good in most places but there are a lot of one-way bridges.

Our first day on the road from Christchurch to Twizel took us through country reminiscent of northern Nevada, or perhaps Montana. We had hoped for a view of Mount Cook, one of New Zealand’s volcanoes, but we missed it due to fog. The next day we traveled through spectacular mountain passes to the lovely eastern seacoast Scottish settlement of Dunedin. There we stayed in a lodge on the grounds of New Zealand’s only castle. The view of the Otago Harbor from our room was stunning. We were treated to dinner in the grand dining room in the castle.

The next morning we visited the nearby Royal Albatross Centre and a penguin preserve before heading inland and west through some of the most concentrated sheep farming land in the country. At certain times of the year, the sheep population of New Zealand exceeds 70 million! Our next two nights were spent on a sheep farm, set up like a bed and breakfast. It was located just outside the village of Te Anau, which reminded me a bit of South Lake Tahoe, without the casinos and crowds. The following morning we were off to Fiordland National Park and rode through a mountainous area of tropical rainforest that reminded me of Guatemala or of pictures I have seen of Peru. We took a boat cruise on Milford Sound, which resembles the fiords of Norway. Remember I said this country is diverse!

The following morning, our hosts gave us a tour of the farm and arranged for us to observe the sheep shearing process. We then rode south to Invercargill, crossing the southern 46th parallel. Our destination for the evening was the village of Queenstown, the sporting center of New Zealand. The “Kiwis”, as New Zealanders call themselves, invented bungee jumping and jet boating, two of the many activities available in Queenstown. We opted for a jet boat ride and rode a gondola to the top of Coronet Peak for a spectacular view of the area, which resembles the Alps.

The next day we traveled through more mountainous country to the west coast town of Fox Glacier. Once on the coast I felt like I was in Hawaii, with tropical plants and tree ferns everywhere. So why is the town called Fox Glacier? Believe it or not, within a few miles of the coast are the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers, the only glaciers in the world that descend into a rain forest!

The following day we rode up the west coast to Punakaiki, the location of spectacular pancake rock formations and blowholes. This was the one day when it rained all day. If you take this trip, take excellent rain gear, even though it will be summer in New Zealand.

The next day we rode north to the resort city of Nelson, located on Tasman Bay. We had a free day there and visited Abel Tasman National Park. The beaches in this area are beautiful and the water is warm.

Next we took a ferry across Cook Strait to the city of Wellington on the north island. From there we rode through more sheep and deer farming country and spent the night on a farm where they raise both.

The following night we stayed on the shores of Lake Taupo, New Zealand’s largest lake. Then it was on to the city of Rotorua, which is surrounded by a thermal area containing geysers, mud pools, hot springs and fumaroles. Having been to Yellowstone several times, we were too jaded to appreciate these attractions, but we very much enjoyed a ceremony and dinner at a nearby ceremonial house of the Maori, the native Polynesian people of New Zealand.

We spent the next night in Auckland and from there rode to the resort town of Paihia, located on the Bay of Islands. We took a boat tour of the area the following day. Then it was back to Auckland. A trip to the top of the 1,076 foot Sky Tower was worth it for the gorgeous 360 degree view before boarding the plane for home.

All in all, it was a great trip and we hope to return to New Zealand some day. You could actually recreate the trip on your own and we would be glad to provide you with lodging or any other information. We enjoyed the south island most, since it was less crowded and had the best scenery. Beaches also offers a two week tour of the south island only.

New Zealanders, also known as Kiwis, are very friendly and helpful. For example, one day we stopped in a small town to stretch and take a break. A woman walked up and asked if we were okay. She said she rides a motorcycle and wanted to make sure we weren’t having a problem.

Bottom line is, if you’ve ever even thought of visiting New Zealand, do it. You’re in for one of the best trips ever. And of course there is no better way to do it than on a motorbike (as the Kiwis would say)!

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