New Zealand on Two Wheels…
Most of us have
undertaken a tour of some sort on a motorbike whether it’s a couple of days
with your mates somewhere for the weekend, or a couple of weeks around the
country. For motorcyclists more often
than not its the journey which is more interesting
than the destination. How many of you
though, have shipped your bikes to a pre-determined destination, ridden for a
few weeks and then shipped them back home again? One or two I’m sure, but an increasing number
of motorcyclists are doing just that to experience motorcycling in New Zealand,
or taking the easier option and renting a motorcycle on arrival in ‘The Land of
the Long White Cloud’ to commence their touring experience.
For many New Zealand
is the land of sheep and the mighty All Blacks rugby team, but for those in the
know NZ also represents motorcycling nirvana.
New Zealand is roughly the same size as
the US state of Colorado, or about one-quarter the land mass of South Africa –
big enough to see plenty of varying terrain and small enough not to have
daunting distances. Both the North and South Islands
are roughly of similar size and there are regular inter
island car-ferry (similar in size to the English Channel car-ferrys) sailings traversing the three hour journey of Cook Strait.
Foreign motorcyclists are always pleasantly surprised how readily kiwi
motorcyclists return a wave, or to receive help from fellow motorcyclists if
they involved in a breakdown on the side of the road.
If you have
ever considered motorcycling in New
Zealand, you will be in for a treat. The North
Island has the volcanic activity,
great beaches with many awe inspiring coastal roads, whilst the South Island has the majestic mountains, sweeping forests
and relatively uncongested roads and wide open spaces. If one is pushed for time, two weeks
motorcycling can adequately cover the major points of interest throughout New Zealand. Summer is the main touring season from
November through to March, and indeed in the month of February both islands are
jam-packed with touring motorcyclists.
Highways in New
Zealand are classified by a State Highway (SH)
numbering system and virtually all are tar-sealed. Many of New Zealand
rural tar-seal roads are undulating and windy, so it is relatively easy to
approach a corner with too much speed. South
Islands roads are of a better quality tar-seal than the North Island roads due to a ready supply of river shingle
for seal chip. Whilst there are
thousands of kilometres of gravel roads in the rural
parts of New Zealand, nearly all arterial roads are tar-seal, though in the
more remote areas motorcyclists do have to pay attention to the locality of
fuel stations – petrol is currently (Sept 2012) about $NZ2.18/litre. Also to factor in are many one-lane bridges
throughout the country, and each bridge with their own give way protocol which
can easily catch out an unsuspecting motorist.
The maximum speed limit in New Zealand is 100kmh (62mph) and usually 50kmh in
urban areas - speed cameras and traffic police are a common sight on kiwi roads. There is an instant 28 day loss of your drivers licence if caught
exceeding 140kmh, and a demerit points system is in place for other lesser infringments.
Earlier this year New Zealand
changed its right hand turn give-way (yield) road rule of the past 35years, to
that of the commonwealth international community which brings the right hand turn rule
in line with Australia.
recognized must rides routes within the New Zealand
motorcycling community for the North Island both starting from Auckland
are: the 1000km Northland three day loop
and the four day 1200km Round East Cape Run. The third candidate is the
Volcanic Plateau 250km day ride loop from Taupo
passing the three central North Island volcanoes of Mount Tongariro,
Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. For the South Island the
must ride routes are the world rating
120km State Highway 94
- The Milford Sound Road- which is hard to beat with majestic
mountains and alpine scenery, along with SH6 which goes the length of the South Island and
includes the remote Westland
coastal forests and accessible glaciers.
If your looking for New Zealand’s
motorcycling festival calendar show-piece then the
four day Burt Munro Challenge held in mid November will be for you (Munro was a
kiwi Bonneville Salt Flats motorbike speed
king from the 1960s). The Burt Munro
Challenge is a four day festival of all sorts of motorcycle racing located at the southern most city of Invercargill. One thing you can not escape in New Zealand is
the drizzle and/or rain and even if your planning to
ride in the height of summer expect to encounter wet weather at some point of
your motorcycle vacation. Temperatures
in the mountainous areas particularly in the South Island can drop very
quickly, - even in summer - within twenty minutes, so it is not uncommon for
riders to suffer from mild hypothermia if under prepared. It always surprises me than when kiwi
motorcyclists regale their bike yarns from yester-year they always seem to
remember the rides that involved inclement weather.
New Zealand is
one of the few countries in the world where Suzuki is regularly the annual top
selling motorcycle marque, and with Honda second, they both have dealerships in
nearly all the provincial main centres of the country, should any problems be
encountered. Nearly all of the other
leading marques too, all have dealerships dotted around the country should
mechanical problems arise. Like any
tour, failing to plan is planning to fail, however having said that New Zealand is
an easy country to ‘wing it’ and to motorcycle tour on a day to day basis. Just like the watching All Blacks rugby team
play a test match, recreational motorcycle touring in New Zealand, is
an experience to savour.