This story was originally published the May 2017 edition of the MSTA Indiana Chapter newsletter. The story has been edited to match the MSTA website’s style.
For years I’ve been planning on touring New Zealand, largely due to the consistently positive reports we hear from those who have done it. So much so, that Cathy and I were planning on doing this in the winter of 2018. Serendipity struck while we were at the STAR in Vermont. We had an impromptu dinner with Fred and Cherrie Rau.
Each year Fred (http://www.fredrau.com) — in conjunction with Te Waipanamu Tours — puts on a two-week North and South Island tour that hits all the high points in New Zealand in a very structured, yet flexible, manner. By the end of dinner we had committed to participating in the 2017 Fred Rau NZ tour.
After listening to Fred’s follow-up presentation the following day at STAR, and seeing the photos, we were sure we had made the right decision. So, on Feb. 10, 2017, we boarded an Air New Zealand non-stop flight out of Houston and headed for summer. 15 hours later we were in Auckland.
It was sunny and temperatures in the 70s and intermittent rain — a typical summer day on a South Pacific island. We had a day to acclimate, and adjust, before our bike was delivered to the hotel, a 2015 R 1200 RT. I’ve never put much time on a BMW before and was looking forward to the experience. It turned out to be one of the easiest bikes to ride that I’d ever been on, I could almost flat-foot it — great for a vertically challenged individual such as myself.
As all the remaining tour participants had arrived early, the day before the tour started Fred led a three-hour, get acquainted with left side driving, tour north out of Auckland (on a V-Strom 650, who knew Fred could ride a two wheeler). We rode to a café, had scones and coffee, and met our companions. A pretty diverse group with five couples, 12 bikes and a luggage van.
Riding on the left side of the road, going around roundabouts clockwise and making right turns were some of the more significant things we learned on this ride. Some of the little differences that made you notice included the absence of Yield signs. New Zealand uses ‘Give Way’. There’s no ‘merge left or right’ signs. Instead, it’s ‘Merge like a Zip’. Cathy’s favorite was ‘Slippery when Frosty’.
Passing zones are extremely generous, there are no liability laws (you can’t sue for negligence), so the state assumes you know when to pass. So zones continue around curves and up hills. If there is a no-passing zone, obey it, because something dangerous is coming.
Official Day 1 of the tour had us going to one of the highpoints of the North Island – Coromandel Peninsula. This is a very scenic drive that’ll remind you of the drive around Mount Desert Island in Maine. A two lane road following the coastline between the Firth of Thames and the Coromandel Mountain range.
A lot of curves with splendid views and the opportunity to cross over a couple of mountains. The roads are all pretty much chip seal, but well done with excellent grip. This made for predictable riding and comfortable passing. A huge plus were the good number of pull-outs for slow vehicles – and the willingness of slower drivers to use them! This greatly enhanced the enjoyment of the road.
Day 1 ended with a chance to attend a Maori village feast and presentation of culture. This was a lot like a Hawaiian Luau but more emphasis on the Maori culture, and history, and less on entertainment. But there was a lot of food and drink so similarities existed.
Somehow I got roped into being the ‘Chief’ of our tribe (300 tourists and 15 bikers), so had the pleasure of greeting the Maori Chief, and giving a speech of welcome and thanks. All in all, a pretty interesting experience as the formal greeting included touching foreheads, and noses, twice.
Day 2 had us riding further south past several points of interest, including a Geothermal Power Plant, some active hot springs areas and, my favorite, Huka Falls. The river water in New Zealand is very blue, bordering on turquoise in most places. This was one of the most pronounced examples of the color.
After the day’s ride we had the opportunity to spend the night in a New Zealand-style bed & breakfast. Only over here it’s referred to as a “farm stay”. Farm families will host two to four visitors for an overnight stay, providing an evening’s discussion and dinner, as well as a farm style breakfast the next morning. Cathy and I stayed with Jane and Larry White at their guesthouse.
The White’s farm about 3,000 acres of grain, and milk about 1,000 cattle. They are the family’s fourth generation to farm this property, and their children are the fifth now working the land. Larry was in the middle of harvesting wheat so was unable to spend too much time with us, but was able to join us for breakfast. It was interesting to get a farm family’s view of international issues, and surprising to learn they are as concerned about American politics as we are.
Day 3 was a short run down to Wellington to pick up the Inter Islander Ferry. We had a quick stop at the Mount Bruce National Bird Sanctuary for our daily wildlife fix. They are attempting to replenish the Kiwi population. Kiwis (flightless ground dwellers) are the national bird and at one time there were millions, as there were no natural predators. But the Europeans introduced cats and rats and dogs and the Kiwis were decimated. Thus the attempt to breed in captivity.
We spent the night at a really good hotel in Wellington and in the morning loaded up for a three hour run to the South Island. It was rainy, overcast and cool. All in all a good day to spend indoors, in transit. We docked at Picton, then had a short run over to Nelson, for a free day.