Nothing beats local knowledge when you’re riding overseas and today we have an old friend in Christchurch who reveals the treasures of the riding roads down the Banks Peninsula to Akaroa and the secrets of Quake City.
It’s day 11 of our Hobbit Odyssey tour of New Zealand on a Harley Road King and we’re hurtling along Highway 1 across the Canterbury plains to meet a former riding mate from Brisbane.
We’ve been warned against this road and we can see why: It’s New Zealand’s answer to the Nullarboring Plains. However, with wet roads ahead, we decide it’s a better choice than the inland scenic route.
Besides, my old riding mate and bike nut Greg Campbell has promised us some scenic and challenging roads to Akaroa across the Bank Peninsula.
We meet up with Greg at a Shell servo which is now a “Z” station, complete with a forecourt concierge who is friendly and helpful and puts the service back into a service station.
Greg arrives on his 2008 BMW R 1200 GS and it’s a case of catch-me-if-you can down the rhythmic road to the French fishing village of Akaroa.
Here the road curls at high speed alongside headlands with a lake to the right and rocky outcrops to the left. It’s entertaining at high speeds, but there is a bit of traffic about today. Thankfully Greg has a legal radar detector on board and we pass through the mobile chicanes.
At Little River we stop for coffee and muffins and regret that we can’t sample more of the delectable offerings. Greg says it’s a favourite for weekend warriors.
From here, the fun really starts to come alive as it snakes over the Banks Peninsula mountains up and up and up, then down, down, down, the other side through on- and off-camber corners, switchbacks and fish-hook bends.
It’s a riotous romp of a ride on the Harley Road King with floorboards a-screeching thanks to luggage and a passenger on board.
The beautiful coastal views only serve to distract the pillion as you scrape your footpegs with delight.
At Akaroa, Greg presses on around the swerving headlands to Onuku Marae, one of the Maori settlement locations on the Banks Peninsula that he has helped as boss of a Maori company that has built up government reparations into an acceptable business that rewards next and further generations.
You can see Greg’s pride and satisfaction as he tells of how the Maori tribe is responsibly catering for future generations with their wise financial choices.
Here the road runs out and we u-turn back to a tourist-molested Akaroa for a lunch of seafood chowder and quality coffee while our bikes park up on the footpath.
A copper cruises by and suggests one of the bikes – not ours – should be parked a little further up so it doesn’t obscure pedestrians. So considerate and thoughtful.
After lunch, we head back toward Christchurch with one of many entertaining detours up and over the hills – the locals could probably share a dozen of these, but they probably need to keep some local secrets.
Then Greg shows us around Quake City where more than 10,000 houses have been pulled down in the eastern suburbs because they have been condemned.
It’s very sad, but at the same time, the rejuvenation of the city has reaped economic rewards – there is zero unemployment and plenty of activity. There is even a tourist industry built around the 2011 earthquake.
There may have been thousands of aftershocks since the big quake, but that’s no reason to stay away. Come and experience it. Christchurch could do with your tourist dollars, not your sympathy!
Besides, the new city is thriving with funky new bars opening all over the place and a very positive vibe.
Thanks to the New Zealand government planning for an earthquake, they have been properly insured and the quake hasn’t sent them into massive debit, so the future is looking bright and the government is spending up to $40b to rebuild.
Don’t believe everything you hear about the city being deserted. It’s alive and open for business and tourism.
And make sure you visit Smash Palace which is one of many temporary bars opened since the quake. The makeshift bar behind plastic and scaffolding specifically caters for riders.