This is Part I of a three-part travelouge series. See the second installment in this week's print edition.
Joan and Ely Barnes during their hog-style tour of New Zealand.
Submitted By B. Joan Barnes
In mid-February, late summer there, my husband Ely and I traveled to New Zealand. We arranged through a tour company to rent a Harley Davidson motorcycle and have it delivered to our hotel in Auckland upon our arrival. For the next 15 days we rode along the farmlands, mountains, coasts, valleys, cities and villages of both the North and South Islands of New Zealand. We rode on glorious sunny days when the brilliant blue sky was uninterrupted by even a jet stream, much less a cloud. And we rode in rain and gale force winds. We had a bird’s eye view of the lush roadside vegetation, smelled the countryside flowers and farms, and snapped amazing pictures as we zipped along. In this synopsis of our trip I give my impressions of the grandeur of New Zealand’s landscape, the greatness of its people, and the glory of seeing it from the back of a motorcycle.
We were riding a bike different from ours, in a country where people drive on the left side of the road, and we were unfamiliar with the roads and signage. But we were not apprehensive. The people were so eager to help us we never feared being lost, robbed or stranded. And we found them to be hard working, honest, kind and friendly. They keep their environment sparkling clean. There is no trash and no billboards along the roads. Children dress well and use free time to swim, bicycle or play school yard games. The country seems addiction free. We saw no evidence of drug or alcohol abuse or video game fixation. And we saw firsthand the compassion and resiliency of the people when Christchurch was demolished by an earthquake.
The tour company provided the bike, raingear, helmets, daily itineraries, maps, accommodations (mostly at B&B’s) and emergency contact information for one inclusive price. This worked well for us. The accommodations were excellent, the daily rides were 200 to 300 kilometers, not too tiring but long enough to give us a variety of landscapes, and the proprietors of the B&B’s were all gracious and interesting. The tour company even modified their standard route so we could attend an Indian Motorcycle Rally and see the famous Indian Motorcycle racer, Burt Munro’s, legendary bike.
The North Island
We began our ride from downtown Auckland. I clutched a set of driving directions as we pulled out of the hotel driveway into the left lane. I yelled things like “left at Mayoral, here it is, left, left” at Ely as I tried to read the map and street signs and make sure we were on the left side of the road. We immediately encountered a long detour that rendered the driving directions useless. We miraculously survived and were soon marveling at the stunning scenery: a blue bay filled with white sailboats within the city limits, followed by a country side of white sheep and black cows grazing on Irish green grass against deep green forests accentuated with light green palms.
By mid-afternoon we were on scared ground: The New Zealand Indian Motorcycle Club 2011 Annual Rally in Whangarei, New Zealand. And we met Gwen Munro Henderson, Burt Munro’s daughter. The movie, The World’s Fastest Indian, is the story of his passion to build the world’s fastest motorcycle and to learn exactly how fast it could go on the Bonneville Flats. It went 197.4 mph on his first trip and then successively faster on subsequent trips. Gwen told us she met Anthony Hopkins, who starred in the movie as her father, and that he was a very charming and gracious gentleman. We encountered several people who had met or worked with him and they all agreed.
The bikers at the rally were welcoming. They made us honorary members of the New Zealand Indian Motorcycle Club, gave us pens and patches with the club logo and shipped 2011 Rally T-shirts to our home.
The next day we were off to Paihia and the Bay of Isles. What a scenic ride! The young, but giant, yellow-green palm fronds leaned over the road and waved us along as the wind from our bike stirred them from their growth sleep. We topped a long, winding hill and saw a bay below us. Dots of white, yellow and red bobbed up and down as anchored sail boats waited for their captains to return from lunch or shopping on shore.
The lodge we stayed in that night was awesome. The front wall of our room was all glass. We had a splendid view of the bay and its islands that seemed to float in its deep blue waters. We were so mesmerized, we sat almost transfixed and watched the colorful changes upon the water as the sun sank closer to and then behind the mountains on the far shore.
What could match such beauty? That question was answered the next day as we rode cross country from the East Coast to the West Coast through farmland and onto the Discovery Coastal Highway to Opononi on the Northwest Coast. There we watched children diving from a pier and one brave lad from a high pillar into the water. Near the pier was a magnificent sand dune as tall as a small mountain. A rowing team was racing by the sand dune. What a sight!
Within minutes of leaving the sand dune, we were in a rainforest. Moss climbed up gigantic tree trunks, towering palms leaned over the road, and the forest floor offered a pungent smell of moist pine needles and bark. We soon saw a sign for the Tane Muhatta, a 2,000-year-old Kauri tree, believed to be the son of Father Sky and Mother Earth. He broke the embrace of his parents to come to earth to give us light and air, or so the Maori Tribal people believe. Tane Muhatta is a challenge to photograph as he is 167 feet high and 42 feet around.
Later, we rode by hedges of cedars that grew 40 to 50 feet high and were neatly trimmed into perfect English-garden like walls of evergreen. The cedar aroma was heavenly. One of the pluses to riding a bike through New Zealand is the countryside smells. A wonderful sweet floral scent accompanied us most of the way. We also had whiffs of cow, chicken and horse manure. But it just added to our sense of being close to nature.
When our gas tank was almost empty we were relieved to see a petrol station. I was also relieved we were on a motorcycle and not in a large vehicle. Gas prices were near $3 a liter; close to $10 a gallon!
The next day we continued Southward to Rotoroua and the famous thermal springs. The Kaurau Lodge where we stayed had a pool heated by the thermal springs and the house was heated the same way.
We learned about the devastating Christchurch earthquake that evening. New Zealanders seem to be members of one large family, perhaps because the population is only 4 million. Everyone was profoundly touched by the quake and showed tremendous compassion for the victims, their families, and the survivors. The news reporting was in depth, descriptive and poignant.
The next day I walked through the thermal park and was surprised at how close I could get to the hot springs. As we drove toward Napier we saw more thermal activity. It was eerie to see the steam rising up from backyards, manhole covers and hillsides along the expressway. After the news of the earthquake these “hotspots” were reminders of the ongoing turmoil just below the earth’s surface.
The landscape changed again and we had lunch at Lake Taupo where we had an unobstructed view of the azure water of the lake and mountains that ringed the distant side. Later we rode through the Hawkes Bay wine region as a mist descended upon us just outside Napier. We had dinner, enjoyed some of the famous wine, and stayed in a hotel on Marine Parade, a broad esplanade lined with Norfolk Pines. It followed the curve of the ocean and we watched bicyclists pedaling along a white sandy shore with their dogs trailing along.
The following day, we rode through spectacular mountains and dropped down into a valley with a wide river lined with glacier rocks. The river led us to an ocean bay that curved around the city of Wellington. Wellington is a vibrant town filled with young professionals who meet at waterfront cafes for after work drinks and conversation. The cargo ships, ferry boats and kayakers plying the clam, blue waters provided a lovely scene. The sun did not set until after 8 pm, making a most pleasant evening.
The next morning we rode the bike onto the Interislander Ferry for the crossing to the South Island via Cook Strait. When we landed we were ready for our South Island Adventure.
See segment on the South Island in this week's edition.