Nearly six months after we returned from our trip, I have at last completed our post to share with you and for a record. It is hard to describe an iconic trip like this in a way that adequately explains how beautiful New Zealand is, and what a great time we had together. You cannot always stop to photograph every scene that unfolds in front of you, sometimes because every 10 minutes reveals another view, sometimes because you are pressing on to a particular destination and you don’t want to be passed by the cattle trucks you have just passed, and sometimes because in spite of the beautiful scenery, the wind and rain can discourage you from stopping. So I will do my best to describe the main points of the trip and I hope you find it interesting.
Like the trip in March 2007, my wife Glen and I were riding with our long-standing best friends Tig and Marianne Martin who could not join us until the third day in Wellington. Our plan was an easy ride without the perhaps more assertive style I use when riding with “the boys”. We wanted to soak in the scenery and feel more relaxed in the 3,000 km journey. We had been planning this trip for several months and it coordinated with my brother’s wedding in Lower Hutt on 10th March. So here goes, I hope you enjoy.
This is how the trip unfolded:
Day 1 – Auckland to Feilding.
Days 2 and 3 – Wedding and Family time in Lower Hutt, Wellington.
Day 4 – Wellington to Picton by Ferry across Cook Strait.
Day 5 – Picton to Nelson.
Day 6 – Nelson to Golden Bay and back To Nelson.
Day 7 – Nelson to Hanmer Springs via the Lewis Pass.
Day 9 – Hanmer Springs to Akaroa.
Day 10 – Lay day in Akaroa.
Day 11 – Akaroa to Picton via Inland Kaikoura road.
Day 12 – Picton to Wellington by Ferry, and on to Waipukurau.
Day 13 – Waipukurau to Napier.
Day 14 – Napier to Auckland via Hamilton.
It was raining as we left Auckland. The summer of 2012 has been the wettest and windiest for many years and we were concerned that the trip would be dominated by cloudy skies or rain. The start did not give us much encouragement even though the weather maps showed that improvement was on the way. Fortunately the weather cleared once we crossed the Bombay Hills and we took State Highway 2 towards Matamata. From there we rejoined SH1 at Tirau. Why Highway 1? Well I’d never ridden this before – we normally take the road less travelled. I won’t spend many words on the trip south except to mention that we passed by Lake Taupo
and the volcanic peaks of Ruapehu (2,797m), Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. All of these are volcanically active in one form or another, in fact Tongariro erupted in August 2012 and it is a strange thought that Taupo erupted (again) around 1,800 years ago with one of the most violent eruptions within the time of written history and devastated much of the North Island which was uninhabited at the time.
This is not long in geological terms, and could erupt again at any time. In the meantime people go about their lives seemingly unconcerned about the risk. Of course Ruapehu erupts at regular intervals with varying degrees of violence and sometimes loss of life.
Our destination for the night was Feilding, a small town near Palmerston North. We took Highway 54 between Mangaweka and Hunterville and crossed the Rangitikei River with its iconic gorged chalky cliffs. We were glad to rest after 500 km of strong winds across the Central Plateau.
DAY 2 & 3
The objective for the next three days was to celebrate the wedding of my brother Don and new sister-in-law Ruth in Lower Hutt, Wellington. Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and although much smaller than Auckland, is a beautiful (when the weather is good) harbour city with an interesting ethnic mix of people. There was no time to enjoy this, but the weather certainly was great, and the view from the Wainuiomata Hill was spectacular. The mountains of the South Island beckoned in the horizon.
Today we were meeting Tig and Marianne at the Bluebridge Ferry Terminal in Down-town Wellington. The Cook Strait crossing to Picton can be flat calm and it can be very rough – I have experienced both and as a poor traveller I was keen to avoid the rough. Fortunately it was like a lake even though it was overcast.
We had tie-downs to lash the bikes to the deck but there was nothing to worry about on this day. The ferry trip is about 3.5 hours and the last hour or so follows Queen Charlotte Sound from the sea to the port of Picton. You know as soon as you are in the Marlborough Sounds that you are on a different island. The mountains become higher and the scenery more dramatic. We arrived in Picton at 5:30 pm and settled into a motel for the night.
We woke to another overcast day and decided to take Queen Charlotte Drive to Havelock, rather than Highways 1 and 6 which is a longer but easier route. Queen Charlotte Drive follows the upper reaches of Queen Charlotte Sound and Kenepuru Sound – well worth the detour. From Havelock the road is easier and takes you past Pelorous Bridge and the beautiful Rai Valley then over the Whangamoa Hills and down into Nelson.
Nelson is the main city in the Tasman District and was settled in 1841 and established as a Cathedral City. It boasts perhaps the best weather in New Zealand and as I have been there often, I agree that it is a fair claim. As a tourist destination the Nelson area is under-rated and not as well-known as Queenstown. However it has an incomparable beauty with vineyards and fruit farms in the valleys, delightful river valleys that cut into the hills, and is surrounded by 1500-3000m high bush-clad mountains. To top it off, there is the sublime Abel Tasman National Park which is at the edge of Tasman Bay. We had enough time left after the ride from Picton to do three things:
- Visit the CBD and Nelson Cathedral. New Zealand is a farming country and many
provincial cities have a certain rural charm that lack the sophistication of the larger cities. Nelson is one of the few that has a reasonable standard of architecture and urban landscape. The Cathedral is a slightly strange miniature and modernised version of Gothic architecture with many of the standard elements such as solid stone structure, stained glass windows and ornate stone carving, but feels more like an English parish church. Worth a visit though.
- Visit a private collection of around 280 rare motorcycles. We were privileged to have 1.5 hours viewing so many rare bikes, almost all is showroom collection. The owner was not happy for us to take any photos, but all of the bikes would happily grace any collection and benefited from three full-time workshop staff. The owner is hoping to open a museum in Nelson in the near future.
Visit the World of Wearable Art Museum. This museum celebrates the word famous World of Wearable Arts which started in Nelson in 1987 and has moved to Wellington because of Wellington’s greater capacity for international events. The museum displays a selection of notable garments the event (which we could not photograph) and has a worthwhile collection of classic cars which form only part of a private collection.
By now the weather improved and we enjoyed the sunshine we had been hoping for. We finished up the day staying with my brother Ross and his wife Jan who run the Century Park Motor Lodge in Nelson, rated in the top 21 motels/hotels worldwide.
Day 6 was a great day for me. My brother Ross had not ridden much since he was younger and had decided to start riding again at age 65. He bought a very tidy Honda VFR800 and all the riding gear he needed and with some trepidation, prepared for a long day’s ride with us.
The day was perfect. We rode from Nelson to Mapua, a small village on the Tasman Bay coast which had been a busy port but now is a character village with cafés, wharf and shops. We then rode further along the coast to Kaiteriteri which is the start of the world-famous Abel Tasman National Park. A coffee while overlooking the golden sand and sea was a good tonic for the remainder of the day.
From Kaiteriteri, the road crosses Takaka Hill. In most countries, this would be a mountain, but the landscape in the South Island is of a scale that a summit of 791 metres is just a hill. 20 km of winding roads to the summit and 10 km of very winding roads to the Takaka valley below. This hill is an iconic New Zealand ride and we rested near the summit and looked down to the lush valley below, the Kahurangi Mountains to the west and Golden Bay to the north.
Takaka town is a busy place with an alternative lifestyle, and a great place for lunch and a bit of shopping. Fortunately there was no space in the luggage for anything so no financial damage.
Our objective was to get to Collingwood before turning back, and on the way we stopped in at Te Waikoropupu Springs, also known as Pupu Springs. These springs gush 14,000 litres per second of extremely pure spring water in to the river. On the bush walk, we made friends with a fantail which was very photogenic. The fantails are native to New Zealand, although there is a very similar fantail in Australia. They have a body around 50mm long and appears to be very friendly to humans, flying around your feet and head, but are probably interested in the insects that are disturbed by your movement. This photo was taken from about 700mm.
The ride to Collingwood follows lush dairy farmland with 2,000 m bush clad mountains on one side and the blue Pacific on the other. The road apparently changes after Collingwood, although it continues for some distance to Farewell Spit and the northern end of the West Coast, but is a challenge for road bikes so we turned back towards Nelson as the afternoon set in and the temperature started to drop. Takaka Hill was clouded in and 8 degrees C as we crossed the summit and we eventually got back to Nelson at about 5:00 pm .
DAYS 7 and 8
Ross joined us again for the start of our trip south – another spectacular day. Our destination was Hanmer Springs after crossing the Southern Alps over Lewis Pass. But the getting there will go down as perhaps the most scenic ride I have ever done. The beauty of the landscapes we encountered was intoxicating and every bend revealed a new scene. From Nelson we followed State Highway 6 south to the village of Wakefield and turned to follow the Golden Downs Road to the Nelson Lakes District. This road winds its way through exotic (trees not native to NZ) forests which cover the mountains and valleys and by the time you get to St Arnaud, you are truly in Alpine country. St Arnaud is a chalet village at the edge of Lake Rotoiti, a glacial lake surrounded by native Beech forest. Actually saying Lake Rotoiti is a redundancy as in the Maori language, Roto means lake and Iti means small. Apart from the insects which are attracted to human blood, there is a very calm environment with deep blue clear lake water, rich native bush forest and as a backdrop, the northern end of the Southern Alps trying to show the first snows of Autumn. The only sound is bellbirds, tuis and other birds singing in the forest. From here we started to follow the Buller River as is works its way to the West Coast, a truly spectacular landscape. We turned off SH to see Lake Rotoroa which has very little settlement and what you see is no doubt the same as the first Maori explorers saw a thousand years ago. This is where Ross was to turn back home to Nelson and we said our good-byes and continued towards Murchison for lunch. Murchison has become an adventure town providing canoeing, riding and other activities for those not dressed in motorcycle gear. No far from there, we turned south onto SH65 through the Maruia River valley.
If there is any place that is stereotypical of New Zealand scenery, it is this road, this valley. The road is an easy ride through fertile green farmland that is bordered by medium-height mountains which are bush-clad down to the edges of the meadows, and punctuated by 1600m bare peaks that push past the tree-line. In winter, these are snow-covered, but it was not yet cold enough. This road joins SH7 at Springs Junction and a welcome coffee at the only cafe in this remote village. We turned east to rise up through the valleys to the Lewis Pass, the northernmost main pass over the Southern Alps. From the summit the landscape begins to change from West Coast rain forest to the dry valleys of North Canterbury which have their own intense beauty. Finally we arrived at Hanmer Springs, an alpine village built around thermal springs. This is a favourite holiday destination for the people of Christchurch who were still being hammered every day by earthquakes that destroyed the city in September 2010 and February 2011. The weather forecast threatened a change with a cold front coming from the south (Antarctica) and we decided to stay another night in Hanmer and enjoyed lots of red wine and good food in front of a roaring fire in the Drifters Inn Motor Lodge.
With our destination being Akaroa, and the weather threatening to deteriorate, we started our day heading south through the wide open spaces of North Canterbury. Not a lot to say, as this was open flat and rolling countryside with plantation forests and dry grassed hill but we enjoyed our ride. We diverted inland to Oxford, a pretty village in the foothills to the north of Christchurch. By now it was a lot colder and the long straights of the Canterbury Plains will never be a favourite of motorcyclists, unless you are trying to break NZ and World speed records like Kiwi legend John Britten did here in 1993. We skirted around the west of Christchurch and joined the road to Akaroa at Little River. This road, especially once you reach Little River for a well-deserved coffee and rest is one of the best riding roads in New Zealand. From sea level, you immediately start to wind up the side of the mountains that are ancient volcanoes. In fact the whole of Banks Peninsula is a series of massive volcanoes and the harbours of Littleton and Akaroa and other smaller ones are the craters that have opened into the sea. At the summit (around 700m) you look over Akaroa Harbour which was settled by the French in 1839, The British who were at war with France at the time and who dominated European settlement of New Zealand, persuaded the French that they should not raise Le Tricoleur, and Akaroa was absorbed into New Zealand.
Remaining French architecture and culture is very subtle, mainly confined to place and family names, but the village of Akaroa is very beautiful with many old colonial buildings and cottage gardens, all nestled into the hillside beside the harbour. Akaroa is the favourite holiday destination in New Zealand for Glen and me and even though it is 1,500km from our home in Auckland, we find any excuse to travel here for a break.
As it turned out, this day was our 39th wedding anniversary and what better place to celebrate in and what better than to share it with our best friends. Tig and I were best men at each others’ weddings and have known each other for over 40 years.
So the day was spent wandering around the few shops, the wharf and the village streets. We were joined in the afternoon by friends Rob and Josie who came over from Christchurch. Rob rode over on his Triumph Speedmaster and in the later afternoon we rode back with him to the summit. In the evening we celebrated over a great meal at The Trading House Restaurant.
Today is the day to head north and home. While we still had some 1,500km and a lot of riding yet to enjoy, we were sad to be leaving. We returned over the hills back towards Christchurch and turned again over Gebbies Pass to ride around the edge of Lyttleton Harbour, Governors Bay and over the Bridle Path to Christchurch. In the early settlement days, as Christchurch didn’t have a safe harbour, all the tall ships moored at Lyttleton and everything was transported across the mountain by horse and mule (hence the Bridle Path which was nothing more than a steep track). We met up again with Rob and Josie at their home and then Rob joined us for a distance as we headed north. We stopped at the Hurunui Pub for lunch and Rob returned home while we followed the State Highway 70, Inland Kaikoura road past Waiau.
This is a beautiful secondary road that runs between two mountain ranges and joins the main road again at Kaikoura. This town (the name means Food – Crayfish), is famous for its crayfish which you can buy fresh and cooked from roadside stalls for around $10. Restaurants in Auckland charge $50 and don’t ask what they pay in Japan. The local Maori have turned their circumstances around here by developing whale watching tours. This coastline in one of the richest for animal life with New Zealand fur seals which can be seen from the road basking on the rocks, sperm and other whales migrate here to feed, and dolphins abound due to the plentiful supply of fish and seafood.
The mountains including 2600m Mt Manakau seem to rise straight out of the sea here and the seabed falls to 3km just off the coast. After a short break, we followed the coastline north towards Picton, and the unseasonal storms that had come in from the North Pacific Ocean had started. We were buffeted by very strong winds but fortunately no rain. At last we arrive in Picton at about 7:30, very tired and in my case, without a headlight.
The next morning we boarded the Bluebridge Ferry to Wellington on the North Island. As I don’t travel well on the sea and there were strong winds on Cook Strait, I was very nervous about the voyage. I put Scopoderm patches behind my ears to control my nausea but I was still not confident. Sure enough, once we left the calm of the Marlborough Sounds, the sea was a washing machine with 6m swells coming from the north. A miracle happened – I was fine and everyone else was sick or near to it. However we were all very glad to reach the relative calm of Wellington Harbour. We got off the ferry and headed north with the intention of staying at Greytown in the Wairarapa region, about 100km north of Wellington. We had lunch there but decided as rain was forecast, to make progress towards Hawkes Bay which has a reputation for good weather. The rain became heavy and constant and we finally gave up in Waipukurau. The riding gear I was wearing was BMW Gortex touring gear, probably the best you can buy for these conditions, but they were leaking badly by now and the hot spa at the motel was enjoyed.
It was still raining in the morning and we headed only 100km north to Napier, a provincial city in the Hawkes Bay that was destroyed by a 7.8 Ms earthquake in 1931, and rebuilt in the Art Deco architectural style of the day. Now people travel from around the world to see this unusual city. We stayed in the Scenic Circle Hotel to dry out and to be able to walk around the city without needing our wet weather riding gear which was still sopping wet.
On any other trip, we perhaps would have taken more time and wandered around the coastline (East Cape was mentioned) but as we were wet and uncomfortable, and the weather was not going to get better, we decided to make a bee-line for home. We stopped for a break at Tamahere near Hamilton, where Tig and Marianne live, then continued home to Auckland in torrential rain. It took our gear a week to dry out.
The rain was very unusual for March which is perhaps the best month for weather in New Zealand, and we certainly had perfect weather in the South Island, but the North Island was a challenge to remember. However, in spite of that, it somehow added to the experience and the trip will go down as one of the greats. We had totally enjoyed our time with Tig and Marianne, riding with my brother Ross for the first time was memorable, and the riding in the South Island was as good as it gets. We had ridden around 3,000 km in 14 days, which is quite manageable.
Now we’re planning for another ride. Justin rode his newly restored Ducati MHR to a Ducati conference at Hanmer Springs the week after we were there, and I know Jono and Andre would enjoy it as well. So here’s to the next South Island trip together. Invercargill or bust.