What’s the best part about a motorcycle rally? It’s the ride to get there!
Harley-Davidson Australia and New Zealand is the official sponsor of the Iron Run Rally this weekend in Queenstown and they have big hopes it will become the southern hemisphere equivalent of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
So they’ve invited three “influential” motorcycle journos to experience the rally: Neale Brumby of Australia’s Heavy Duty magazine, Kevin Kinghan of New Zealand’s Bike Rider magazine and, of course, MotorbikeWriter.com.
It all starts when we pick up our bikes from Rolling Thunder Harley-Davidson in war-torn downtown Christchurch, the resilient quake city. The shop is looking pretty vibrant and our bikes are suitably shiny as we pack our gear.
Our support vehicle has gone astray so we pare down our gear to fit in the Ultra Ltd, Street Glide, Road King and pannier-less Fat Bob and Low Rider.
We’re accompanied on the ride to the rally by H-D marketing guru Adam Wright and H-D finance whiz Ian Skoyles as we roll out of a grey skyline, heading for the snow-capped peaks to the west.
Two months ago, Mrs MBW and I did a figure-eight of New Zealand’s north and south island and we covered the top motorcycle roads. Unfortunately, we couldn’t fit in Arthur’s Pass, but as luck happens, that is part of our first day’s ride.
Rather than heading southwest to Queenstown, we’re heading northwest to go the long way round, as you do when you head to a motorcycle rally.
It’s all about the ride, meeting up with old mates, the expectation of the rally and sharing the experience of the road.
Those shared experiences include concerns about looming cold and wet weather, a sick rider, an errant iPhone and almost running out of fuel.
The first day is just 300km with spectacular scenery at every turn. New Zealand is posing for postcards everywhere we look.
The bikes are behaving well, convincing each of us that our assigned ride is the best. Of course, they’re all wrong, because the Road King is the best.
The first day ends with one wrong turn that lands us in Greymouth, but it’s otherwise an uneventful day. Forecast is for more clear skies tomorrow, but not so good after that.
Day two starts out with a sick rider, reeling from the effects of a dodgy seafood meal the night before. It’s never fun riding when you’re sick and we’re all feeling sorry for our brave colleague.
But soon enough the spectacle of the beachside run down the Glacier Highway south resolves all medical issues.
At the old goldrush town of Ross, we check out the old motorcycle displays and charge ourselves with coffee stimulants to tackle the twisting roads ahead. The 20km section between Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers is a highlight.
We divert on to some gravel roads for a glimpse of the Fox Glacier before returning to the asphalt heading south. And that’s when an iPhone flies out of a colleague’s pocket into the air and bounces off into the weeds.
We u-turn – which is easy with the light-weighted steering on the Road King – and eventually find the phone, with a cracked screen, but still in perfect working order.
Then we all run into reserve and count down the kays to a fuel stop at Haast. The Fat Bob and Low Rider miraculously sputter in on fumes and we now have “fuel” for our evening bench-racing session.
The next part of the spirited ride over Haast Pass and beside the turquoise waters of Lake Hawea are never to be forgotten. This is the stuff of daydreams. Grippy road surfaces, almost endless twisties, postcard views, powerful Harleys, and warm, blue skies.
We are staying overnight at Wanaka, just a tempting 80km from Queenstown. Tomorrow we will probably ride up and down the Crown Range Rd a couple of times as it is perhaps the best riding road in the southern hemisphere.
And the rally hasn’t even started yet.