A Motorcyclist's opinion of New Zealand

By Don Douglass BMWMOA#2519

Reprinted from the BMWON, Feb. 1995

Listen, I'm ... not really sure I want to talk to you about this. I mean, I just returned from a place that — well, in my heart of hearts I've always known that God rides a motorcycle. Now I know where his favorite roads are.

And having just returned from what felt like my very own personal motorcycle paradise, I'm feeling ... frankly, I'm feeling ambivalent about sharing it. I mean, maybe if I don't tell you about it, it will remain as unpolluted, uncluttered, tidy and perfectly laid out for serious riding as I left it. But, it's my duty to inform you -after all, it's my job — (Sigh), I know how to share...

New Zealand's at the bottom of the world-and even though it looks like it's got Australia for company on the map, it's 1,600 miles away. Peppered with the descendants of good English and Scottish stock, it is a mere sliver of a continental gem that makes Hawaii look like just a regular bus stop. If Australia and New Zealand were sisters, New Zealand would be the one with the great bone structure.

New Zealanders (even though there's only three and a half million of them), know that they have a good thing going. Even the twenty million sheep know it! New Zealand showcases its national forests, clear blue rivers, seas, waterfalls and hot springs, its white-capped mountains, its rain forest with a giant frozen river at one end of it (the Fox Glacier), as though it's no big deal (I mean, you've got all this stuff in your backyard within easy driving distance too, don't you?) New Zealand is a geological story book that you'd have to be comatose not to want to read. It practically rubs your nose in nature's majesty, while letting you putter about during the day, only to enjoy great dark beer in the evening. The farmers have a true love of this land, in their eyes.

Every opportunity taken to get off the motorway onto the sparse web of red and blue highways has the makings of an adventure. Impeccably engineered highways weave their way up the sides of mountains and down into valleys of back-to-back high speed sweepers. The giggle quotient built into so many of these roads is enough to keep you laughing inside your helmet like a lunatic. Remember, this is a land where sheep are raised, and the farmers all use four-wheeled drive vehicles to follow the contours of the endless hills like big mountain goats. When the people throw out words like "up" and "down" when giving directions (as witnessed by the steepest street in the world to be found in Dunedin), they really mean it.

And for every American who goes to Europe and suddenly realizes that the United States is a snot-nosed kid compared to other countries that have been around for more than a thousand yon, consider the refreshing possibility of now being in a country at the other end of the earth, with its own distinct brand of European flavor, that is only 140-odd years old' A country filled with strong, lanky men and women who still have a smudge of the pioneer's dirt on their noses, and who work hard as a matter of course.

And then engaging, positively regal people have a grand sense of humor, as evidenced by the names of towns such as Twizel, and Taylor's Mistake. Dotted with small farming communities and tea rooms where hot drinks, sweets and steak and cheese pie are the normal fare. Fresh fish, succulent lamb and tender beef to make you swoon are available at even the most out of the way restaurant hotel At the same time, we have a country capable of catering to vegetarians and folks with aggressively oudoorsy kinds of tendencies.

One of my fellow tour members who happened to be from Great Britain remarked more than once, "it's Scotland, but with sunshine, and Scotland is such a lovely place..."

The motorcycle scene's baseline in New Zealand is lots of working dualpurpose singles, with a layer of contemporary mid-displacement japan ex-sporting iron in the middle, with a few heartbreaker Matchlesses and Triumphs sprinkled on top. Motor bikes ranging from well preserved Honda 750-fours to exotic 50-350cc twostroke sport bikes fly by on the landscape, with a smattering of Harleys and a couple of well-maintained (but by no means new) Gold Wings. These riders don't throw very much away. BMW motorcycles (with the exception of the other two F650s. I saw (and the other two BMWs on our tour), are as rare as hen's teeth. I know that there must be some BMWs in New Zealand, because they have BMW shops, but they don't ply the streets every day.

An almost stark contrast exists between the lush, lonely beauty of the South Island and the beginnings of urban grittiness to be found around Auckland on the North Island. Surely the South Island houses the soul of this remarkably unpretentious country, while the North Island is the box that holds most of the gears making the economy turn. Within the splendor of this tiny world composed of two small islands and flecks of land mass, it was amazing to meet folks who had never been to the other island.

Don't get me wrong, New Zealand is not simply some giant pastoral park. Even in Springtime, the weather can be suddenly harsh, and the sea simply does not suffer fools, it swallows them. As New Zealand experiments with expanding it's artificially limited market-driven economy, many of its people struggle to find a foothold. And yet, in the midst of this struggle are a group of folks bent on showing you a good time.

Okay, so now you know. I've done my duty, and I hope you'll be thought and kind when traveling there. For New Zealand is definitely a place that should be preserved for all motorcyclists for all time.

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