As we cruise back into Auckland at the end of our two-week Hobbit Odyssey to return the trusty Harley Road King, we think back on the best and worst of summer riding in New Zealand.
1 Scenery. There really are no boring parts; at least we didn’t see any. And it changes quickly so you never get a chance to be bored. There is everything from spectacular fiords to aqua-blue lakes, towering mountains, gushing streams, fertile plains and lush valleys. Then there are the charming historic buildings in every city, town and village. It’s like a compact version of Europe.
2 Food. It’s fresh, good quality and there is a wide variety. Even in small towns there are trendy cafes that offer creative, world-standard food and great coffee. Most of the produce is local and you can get fresh seafood anywhere as nothing is too far from the coast.
3 Friendly. Despite the sporting rivalry with Aussies, they are still very welcoming and the banter is playful. Before you can take the mickey out of their accent by asking them to say “fush end chups”, they’ll ask you to say “feesh and cheeps”. They are also very proud of their homeland and seem to know every little road and town which is helpful when giving directions or tourist advice.
4 Roads. For a bike rider, you are never too far from an interesting ride with plenty of twisties, and usually smooth and grippy surfaces. They are all well signposted indicating hazards such as black ice and recommended cornering speeds in the wet. There are also good directional signposts. You just can’t get lost. There are also plenty of overtaking lanes and places for slow vehicles to move aside – and the locals do. It’s the tourists that don’t. And there are no toll roads!
5 Wildlife. We saw very little roadkill and it was all small stuff like possums, rabbits and hedgehogs. However, in one place there were some dead wallabies! We didn’t have to worry about riding into the evening twilight as there was no dangerous wildlife to avoid.
6 Twilight. As mentioned, in summer it’s light until 9-10 in the South Island so there is never any hurry to get somewhere before dark. And when you get there, you have plenty of time to unpack, shower and grab a beer or wine to watch the glorious sunset.
7 Drinks. The local wines are fantastic and there seems to be a never-ending number of boutique beers, but even the big names like Monteiths, Speights, Steinlager and DB are nice. I’m not a cider drinker, but there are plenty of brands and it is, no doubt, good quality. The Kiwis love a drink and are great drinking partners.
1 Weather. You can get good and bad weather anywhere, but the thing about NZ is that it can change very quickly. You can be in dry and glorious conditions on one side of the mountain and in miserable drizzle on the other side. The good thing is that if you keep going, you’ll ride back into nice weather.
2 Tourists. They’re everywhere! Places such as Queenstown have almost lost their Kiwi character under the burden of so many foreigners. Tourists are also a danger on the road. They drive slowly, don’t look for riders, drive on the wrong side of the road, stop in unusual places and pull out in front of you. Having said that, you can still find yourself you have the road to yourself on many occasions – especially in the more remote and serene South Island.
3 Cops. They’re everywhere, too! I’ve never seen so many speed cameras, patrol cars and unmarked vehicles. I’ve heard they are nice and only issue warnings to tourists, but I’ve also heard they throw the book at them. I copped a $30 infringement for 60 in a 50 zone, but the cop said it could have been more if he had fined me for my registered speed of 61km/h!
4 Internet. Cafes and hotels are a long way behind in offering free internet. If they do offer free internet, it’s often slow and they give you limited amount of download or a limited time. The Interislander Ferry charged $4 for 40MB which basically just allowed me to access my emails. You’d think with so many international tourists and backpackers they would realise how important this is to get right.
5 Fuel. It’s expensive and a long way between stops. You would expect that in a small and decentralised country there would be fuel available everywhere, but you can easily get caught out, so fill up frequently. Fuel varied from $166/litre to as much as a rip-off $2.25 at the very touristy Franz Josef Glacier.
6 Distances. Road signposts are good, but they have very few distance markers. It’s not a problem if you have a GPS, but it is handy for we paper mappers!
We’ve found nothing ugly about New Zealand.
While there are some things that could be improved, it really is one of the easiest places for motorcycle riders to visit, enjoy and taste.