Aotearoa on Two Wheels:
"A Motorcycle Tour of New Zealand on a Kawasaki EX 500"
(c) 1993 Bruce Clarke

Thursday, Oct. 21, 1993
I flew on a Canadian DC-10 out of Vancouver to Honolulu. I had a window-seat looking out over the right-wing. I'd never flown at night before. The take-off was great - it was clear out and all the city lights were visible. It looked a bit like the old Microsoft Flight Simulator game (only better of course)!

The flight was 5.5 hours long; it went by very quickly actually. I was seated next to a young woman from Germany who had completed her teaching degree and had to wait until February 1994 before she could do her 'practicum'. She had just finished renting a car and driving around southern California, Nevada, and then up to British Columbia.

Landing in Honolulu was excellent - it looks better at night than Vancouver. Vancouver is very grid-like, where as Honolulu is very 'fluid' looking. The roads follow the shore-line; very pretty.

After an hour or so, we left for Auckland in a 767 (Air New Zealand). I was very lucky as the plane was only two-thirds full, so not only did I get a window seat, but lots of elbow room due to the empty seat beside me. I managed a few hours of sleep. The Air New Zealand service was very good.

When we got into Auckland (after nine hours) it was a very impressive sight: there was a huge wide volcano in the harbor called Rangitoto Island. After waiting two hours in the airport, I caught the connector flight to Christchurch.

My first impression was not so great. It was a flat city with no nearby hills. It reminded me a lot of Kelowna or Penticton: very flat with mountains on the horizon, and many older houses (mostly built in the 1950s).

I was very tired: I'd been up for 32 hours with only a few fitful hours of sleep on the long flight from Honolulu to Auckland.

It was only 2:00 PM (Saturday, Oct. 23) so I thought I'd go out for a while. Apparently the Cathedral square was only a few blocks away. I figured I'd go out walking for a few hours before hitting the sack.

I got back about 5:00 PM. I was a lot more impressed with Christchurch now. I'd wandered around through a huge (600 acres) park called Hagley Park. Lots of green cricket fields. There was a large botanical garden and several canals. I saw people paddling around in gondola-canoe boats called punts.

I then went downtown and saw something strange: on the shores of the Avon river, there were three flags: Canada's, Australia's and Hong Kong's. There was no explanatory plaque or anything - go figure!

I then stumbled into Victoria Square. It was the original "Market Square" and underwent a major renovation in 1989. It is now a large courtyard with brick and stone bridges, fountains and duck ponds (a duck and six ducklings were nesting here). The river Avon runs through the square and an old railway bridge still goes over it, though the rest of the trolley track is gone.

I checked out the Christchurch Cathedral Square. The square itself is no big deal - a brick square where people hang out. The church is quite impressive. I paid two NZ dollars to climb up to the top, where the view was quite good.

I got some bad news: Labour Day was the Monday I was supposed to pick up the motorcycle. I had a note waiting for me at the motel, stating to pick up the motorcycle tomorrow (Sunday). This is a tad annoying because I wanted to go on a bus tour tomorrow.

Worse, I tried to call them at 4:30 PM and got no answer! What if I can't get a hold of them - then I have to stay an extra day in Christchurch.

Sunday, Oct. 24 1993
A long day! I woke up early, after going to bed at about 6:30 PM. I got up and walked through Hagley Park and its botanical gardens. The river has a lot of ducks and some geese. Even at 7:00 AM there were many people out walking around. I checked out the new trolley line that is being built in Christchurch. It is going to circle around downtown. It'll be finished in another year or so. It'll use trolley cars a la San Francisco.

I went into the Canterbury Museum. It's free (but they ask for a five dollar donation). It had several displays of moa hunters, Maori artifacts, and the history of the Canterbury settlers. There were displays of NZ birds, various paste models of famous gems, a giant rotating globe, and a large Polynesian lateen sail outrigger.

I then headed back to the motel. I stopped for breakfast at the "Pancake Palace." After waiting 25 minutes, I got my breakfast of eggs, sausages and pancakes. I had a chance to try 'Vegemite' on my toast (there was no peanut butter). Vegemite is made of yeast extract: it looks like very thick chocolate sauce, but tastes like a cross between cheese spread and peanut butter. It's very salty and has a tangy flavor. I thought it was okay, but I can see why it hasn't become popular in Canada.

I called a taxi to get to the motorcycle shop. The taxi driver got lost! (It was his first day on the job.) He handed me a map and says "Can you show me where it is?" Luckily I had asked at the motel and so could find it!

When we got there, it turned out that the motorcycle wasn't brought over from the North Island on the ferry, so I couldn't start riding until Tuesday at 10 AM. I got the taxi driver to take me back to the motel (we didn't get lost this time).

That meant I was stuck in Christchurch for an extra day. "Graeme Crosby Motorcycle" was paying for the extra day at the motel, so I wasn't too upset. I decided to go on a bus tour. I went downtown and wandered around a bit.

At 1:30 PM I caught an afternoon tour for $29 NZ ($22 CND) that rode around town by the Avon river to an estuary. All along we heard a commentary from the driver about the history of Christchurch, including the abandoned canal between Christchurch and its port. We bus passengers passed an old cave used hundreds of years before by the moa hunters. We also passed Sumner beach and then drove through the Port hills via the Even's pass. This was a high-up mountain road (say 1000 feet or so). We then got into Lyttleton, the actual port.

We got onto a cruiser and motored out into the harbor. The water was very bright blue-green due to all the silt from the nearby Port hills. While out on the water, we saw a blue penguin: this is a penguin about the size of a duck. We also saw the time-ball building. This building dropped a time ball at 1 PM every day so that the early sailing ships could set their chronometers.

The Port hills were originally covered with shrubs, but these were cleared off by the settlers for sheep grazing. The hills are now green but bare.

We passed by a railway tunnel (built by convicts in the nineteenth century) that is used to carry cargo through the hills from Lyttleton to Christchurch.

Afterwards we drove over the hills to the "Sign of the Takahe," a teahouse designed to look like a Scottish baronial manor. (A takahe is a rare bird, by the way.) I looked from the lookout point that faced north over the Canterbury plains. It was a very majestic view of the city, farms, and in the distance to the west, the Southern Alps.

On the way back into town, we passed a corner where someone was giving a 'soapbox' speech to a small crowd. When we got closer, all the NZers on the bus started laughing. The driver then explained to the rest of us that it was the official opposition's leader, Mike Moore of the Labour Party.

We then drove up Dean Avenue to the Dean homestead. Apparently the Avon river begins from an underwater spring on their old farm. The Dean brothers were settlers from Scotland who settled here in the 1850s. I saw their original old cottage.

When I got back to Cathedral Square, I bought a Coke, cheeseburger and a huge bag of hot chips (French fries) for $5 NZ ($4 CND). Since tomorrow is Monday, Labour Day in New Zealand, the motorcycle shop will be closed. I plan to go on an all day bus tour from Christchurch to Akaroa.

One thing I noticed is that there were virtually no fat people in New Zealand. I hadn't seen anyone who was obese who wasn't obviously a tourist. Another thing I noticed is that the population in Christchurch seemed to have fewer baby boomers and more people in their twenties.

There are many older cars. The economy is somewhat poorer, and NZers look at a car as a major purchase, more so than in Canada. 'Kiwis" tend to own their cars longer and upkeep them better.

The drivers here are a bit crazy: no signals, cutting each other off, etc. Occasionally you will hear a car horn toot, but you never see anyone giving the middle finger or swearing at each other. (I hadn't heard one person swear since I first got there!)

There seems to be about the same percentage of motorcycles (always called motorbikes here) as in Victoria at the height of summer (say 5% to 10% of all vehicles). Surprisingly, a large number of them are big twin Harleys: it must be very difficult to afford them here. (About half the motorcycles I saw on the South Island were big twin Harleys.)

I stopped by a motorcycle shop. They had a '93 CBR 600F2 for $13,500 NZ (about $10,300 Canadian). The same bike in Canada is about $8,000 CND plus taxes!

A four door Honda Civic was $30,000 NZ, or about $21,000 CND. The same car in Canada is $15,000 or so CND.

I'd noticed that there were very few American cars: most were Japanese, with a lot of European as well. Especially popular were Rovers, which I hardly ever see in Canada. There were also many camper vans, especially Volkswagen, Suzuki and Daihatsu. I saw NO four wheel drive sport utilities (Bronco, Suburban, Pathfinder, etc.). Very surprising!

The tour bus had kept commenting on the prices of houses. There were some houses in the Cashmere district on top of a hill looking over the city. He claimed that these would sell for $400,000 NZ (about $300,000 CND). Big deal. The same houses in a similar location in Victoria would cost at least $500,000 CND.

There were a large number of bicycles compared to even Victoria (which has many bicycles for Canada). People often call them pushbikes.

Monday, Oct. 25, 1993 (Labour Day)
I just saw a TV commercial for 'Peanuts' brand peanut butter. Funny, I never noticed before that Charlie Brown had a Kiwi accent! I reserved a room at the Lake Tekapo Motor Camp. I have a sleeping bag, so I arrange to get a tourist flat instead of a motel room. Tourist flats are the same thing as a motel room, but there's no linen provided. The price is $46 NZ per night as oppsed to $60 NZ for the motel rooms.

I tried to take an all day tour with the same company as yesterday. They weren't running so I caught a tour with Grey Lines. (The price was $87 NZ or $66 CND.) The bus was a small van. Most of the passengers were Japanese tourists. Two of them were in NZ for several months learning English. They were very polite. Then there were the other four Japanese tourists. They were rude, arrogant, and kept laughing at the broken English spoken by the other two Japanese people. There was also an older couple from Auckland.

We drove for about an hour through the Port hills and then through Banks Peninsula to Akaroa, an old French settlement. The hills had "cattle guard" gratings on the road. Yes, there were some cows sitting on the road here and there.

Talk about your psycho drivers! We were whipping along very twisty hilly roads at about 100 KM/H. In Canada the same roads would be maybe 60 or 80 KM/H. Worse yet, people would pass our van at speeds of say 120 or 130 KM/H on the bloody corners. Absolutely nuts! Very beautiful scenery though. The roads were in great shape: very twisty and varied, with lots of straight runs with bends. Cars were doing 140 to 160 KM/H on average on the straights. It should be great for riding a motorcycle.

Along the way, we stopped at the French Farm Winery. I tried a small glass of 1992 Reisling. It was okay. We then went to the Barry Bay Cheese Factory, where I bought a chunk of Masdam cheese. Mmmm, yummy.

I saw a 'pukeko', a goose-size bird that has a black head and body, a blue belly and throat, a red beak and face, and white legs.

We then drove into the old port town, where we had lunch at a burger takeaway. We then went out into the bay on a large catamaran, the "Canterbury Cat." We boated past the old lighthouse. This was replaced with an automated station and the old house was moved into the town. We then went past the salmon farm. There are three in NZ: Marlborough, Stewart Island, and Akaroa. The keeper was out feeding them.

Along the shores were various nesting birds. We then headed to the mouth of the bay, where four Hector's dolphins started circling the boat! These are dolphins about the size of an Adidas sport bag. These dolphins were being killed by fishermen until about ten years ago when they became protected by law. Now they like to play and circle near the boat, coming within five feet of the hull! I also saw a blue penguin. The water was very pale blue with silt. The boat was jostling around, so I hoped my photos would turn out okay. (They did.)

On the way back in, we passed the "stranded sheep." This lamb is trapped at the foot of a steep cliff beside the ocean. Apparently, it fell off the cliff six years ago and has been happily living off the grass at the foot of the cliff. The beach is surrounded by rocky outcrops, so a large boat can't get to it. The lamb is apparently healthy so the farmer decided to just leave it there.

The ride back into Christchurch was as good as the ride out to Akaroa. Tomorrow I can pick up the bike (finally)! The bus driver warned me that the Tekapo area is very windy so to be careful. The ride to Tekapo is about three hours.

Tuesday, Oct. 26, 1993:
I woke up at 5:00 AM. I'm wired to get my rental motorbike and do some riding! I can't get the bike until 10:00 AM, so I thought I'd go downtown and cash a traveller's cheque. Maybe I'd grab some breakfast and mail a postcard.

I was watching the news: the Labour Day weekend "Death toll" was seven. One was a motorcyclist - great! It turned out to be a young guy here in Christchurch who was riding at night without a helmet and ran into a power pole. I figure he must have been drinking to do something so dumb.

{After going to Hornby Yamaha to get the bike}
Argh! The motorcycle wasn't there. I waited an hour or so, then was told it wouldn't show up until late in the day. Grrr.

While there I checked out the various bikes. They had three GB500s, a Brit-bike clone built by Honda (not bad looking, I think). They also had three samples of a very strange Yamaha: the AG200. The AG stands for agriculture. It's designed as a two-wheeled street-legal motorcycle for farmers: it had eighteen inch wheels with skinny knobby dirt tires, a single cushy seat shaped like a saddle, a HUGE red cargo rack, a small front cargo rack, and an enclosed chain. Wierd. It looked like it'd be great for rough farm roads though.

I went into town for the afternoon. I caught the bus to the Antarctic Center. Fairly good; a little dry. A humungous gift shop full of overpriced trinkets being bought eagerly by many Japanese tourists.

I went to the Mount Cavendish gondola. It was expensive: $12 for the ride and $4 for the display. It was worth it though. The gondola ride was quite exciting with an excellent view of the city. The display gave a very good review of how Bank's Peninsula was formed from two exploding volcanoes. There was also much detail on how Christchurch was first founded by the Anglican Church in the 1850s.

When I got back to my room, Hornby Yamaha had phoned to say that the bike had arrived and that I could pick it up at 8:00 AM Wednesday morning.

I've been eating meals at the local "burger bar." Not very healthy, but at least it's cheap - about $5 NZ on average. Ketchup is called tomato sauce here. The Kiwis have something called ketchup; it's a pinky-red sauce that is made of tomatoes and (I think) red beets. It is very sweet and tangy, a little bit like hamburger relish in Canada.

In the motorcycle shop, I noticed that leather jackets are fairly cheap here. They are NZ-made of sheep hide. A good quality motorcycle jacket can be had for $350 NZ or about $250 CND. I think one will make a very fine souvenir; if I have enough money at the end of my trip, I'll get one.

Wednesday Oct. 27, 1993
I woke up quite early and eager to go. I was at the dealership at 7:40 AM and spent the twenty minutes talking to a guy waiting to buy a new pair of gloves before riding south to Timaru. He was riding a Honda FT400. This is an air-cooled twin standard that looks very similar to the CB250 and CB750. I don't know why they don't just call it a CB400.

Well I finally got the motorcycle, a 1993 Kawasaki EX500 (NZ plate 46_SUB), just like the 1990 version I have at home. It had only 490 kilometers on it! It also had a huge cargo rack. When I loaded up the saddle bags (it also came with a decent pair of these), I had only a few items left in my duffle bag. I crunched this into a ball and used a bungy cord net to strap it to the cargo rack quite securely.

When I first started the bike up, it died as soon as I took off the choke. I had a hell of a time getting it to the petrol station a block away. I filled up the tank, checked the oil level and started her up. It was coughing and sputtering due to the dregs of old petrol in the tank. I noticed that the motorcycle was covered with a heavy film of dust, probably from sitting in storage a long time. When I tried pulling away, it kept stalling. I then realized I'd left the sidestand down. Ahem. Very stupid.

I headed south on State Highway 1 towards Timaru. The speed limit was 100 KM/H, which I more-or-less stuck to. It was the first time I'd been on a bike in a week, so I took it easy. The rear brake was a bit spongy and the gears felt a little notchy, but the motorbike steered exactly the same as the EX500 at home. The road went straight through wide open flat farm land. After about sixty kilometers, we went through Ashburton, a small farm town. Pleasant but unexciting. The weather was partly sunny and about 16 Celsius.

We (we being the bike and me) went over several shallow wide river beds (Selwyn, Rakaia). After an hour or so, I had to turn right for highway 79 to Geraldine. This was a tiny little town of about 1200 that had farm stores, chip shops, and small crafts stores.

Then the road got interesting. I had to go over a single lane bridge with a passing bay. I was about to enter when I saw a car driver come barreling onto it from the far side. After this the road got quite twisty and hilly. (Yahoo!) At this point I saw only one car every five or ten minutes. Interestingly, they were mostly cargo trucks or buses carrying Japanese tourists. I saw no motorcycles off the main highway 1 save one.

After I got through the twisty part, I passed through a small town named Fairlee. It basically had a service station and a corner store. I then went through Burkes Pass. This was very desolate and cold. Gently undulating fields of dry grass, with an occasional shrub to break the monotony. As I was rounding a curve doing perhaps 70 or 80 KM/H, a blue-green BMW R100GS whipped by. I barely had time to notice what kind of bike he was riding when the road straightened up. He poured it on and took off like a bat out of hell. He disappeared doing at least 160 or 170 KM/H.

After a good thirty minutes of boring grass, I was starting to get cold. The temperature had dropped to 6 C or 8 C and it was now clouded over. Finally, I got to the small town of Lake Tekapo. I pulled into my tourist flat, a basic motel room with no linen. I had a sleeping bag so that's okay. $46 NZ or about $35 CND per night. The view of the lake was magnificent. It was a very pale blue like a robin's egg. It was back-dropped by brown mountains that were foothills to the Southern Alps. Their height is perhaps 4000 feet. The top thousand feet were covered with fresh snow.

One thing I'd noticed was that forested hills look funny to my eye here. I then realized why: all the pine trees are exactly the same height, and although they are placed haphazardly, they are evenly spaced. This is because most pine forests here have been deliberately planted for logging.

Talk about your pieces of crap! The rental motorcycle helmet sucks. It's a cheaply-made full-face from some company called 'FFM' - yeah, they're famous for quality . . . It weighs a ton. It's also quite snug and hurts my forehead after a couple hours of wearing. It's an ugly black thing with really cheap decals stuck on it.

I walked over to the Church of the Good Shepherd and looked inside. It's an old stone church built in the 1930s. Very simple and pretty. I also saw a nearby statue of a collie dog used by the shepherds in this region. I was debating whether to ride to Wanaka and spend a day jetboating or ride like the wind to Te Anau and then spend an all-day at the Milford Sound. If I rode to Wanaka I could get there in only two hours. I didn't want to stand around all day trying to get a jetboat ride. The original tour went to Queenstown, which I'd been warned to avoid as it was very commercial. I had to think about it.

Thursday Oct. 28, 1993
I slept quite soundly last night (from 9:30 PM to 6:30 AM). When I got out of my sleeping bag, it was quite cold - about 5 C or so. I headed out and filled up on petrol. Yesterday I rode 219 KM in about two hours forty minutes. Today I rode about the same distance, maybe less to Lake Wanaka.

The first ninety minutes or so, it was very cold. The land was flat Mackenzie sheep country. I ride through Twizel and Omarama, both very small towns. I got to a range of hills and start going through the Lindis Pass. This was a straight-forward series of switchbacks. I found it pretty easy to negotiate by sticking closely to the recommended speed signs.

I passed four big Harley-Davidsons going the other way in the pass. They waved at me. All four riders were dressed head-to-toe in black leathers and were wearing black (gasp) full-face helmets. Harley riders in Canada never, ever wear full-faces. It makes them look too much like us rice-riders! Actually, the black full-face helmets made them look quite sinister.

I encountered the occasional road works crew laying down fresh tar. The roads themselves seemed to be in great shape to me. So far I'd found no roads or hazards that someone with say six months or so of riding experience couldn't handle (good!). Also, as a bit of an experiment I wore ear-plugs - they made a huge difference in comfort! I decided to wear ear plugs for the rest of the trip.

The temperature started to rise. I reached Wanaka as scheduled and rode around for about ten minutes looking for a tourist flat. The room I get is very plain with a queen size bed, two small bunks, a television, a kitchenette, a shower and a toilet. $46 NZ or about $35 CND per night.

After getting settled in, I walked about a mile into town past very scenic fields with the obligatory sheep. I found the one man who did both jet boating and hovercraft rides. He said that I was the only person he'd seen all day (1:00 PM). I go and get a burger, chips and ice cream. Kiwis just love their ice cream: everywhere I went there was an ice cream shop. I had a flavor called "black forest" - basically chocolate with chocolate chips and cherries in it.

While eating the cone, I saw the four Harleys pull up. One was painted with stars and stripes a la "Captain America." When the rider pulled off his full-face helmet, he started talking with the thick New Zealand accent. It struck me as sounding very odd.

I checked out the jetboat shop again. It was obvious that no one else had showed up, so I spent an hour or so walking around the bay. The water here was very clear and not the bright blue of Lake Tekapo. I picked up a couple of postcards and some beer and walked back to my room. I was tired so I didn't mind the rest, but I was disappointed I couldn't do any boating. I decided to head to Te Anau the next day, and then stop by on the way back north.

I bought a razor and a comb. I was sure I'd planned to pack these, but screwed up at the last moment. I also tried two cans of a beer called "Speight's Golden Ale" for $2.50 NZ. Not bad. I bought these from a "bottle shop" (equivalent to a cold beer and wine store).

I phoned my Mom and Dad collect from a "CardPhone" (they almost never have coin phones here - instead everyone buys debit cards for the card phones). It was difficult to talk because of the satellite delay.

Friday Oct. 29, 1993
I set out just before 7:00 AM after a very good night's sleep. I was still amazed at all the birds here - at any time of day or night you can hear birds chirping and tweeting away. I headed out to a petrol station and had to wait a few minutes for the owner to get the pumps going: most stations don't open until 7:00 or 8:00 AM. I asked about the roads, as there were two roads from Wanaka to the Queenstown junction. HWY 89 was half the length (and supposedly more scenic) but it was rough gravel and so the owner suggested I take my streetbike over the tar highway 6.

I had to head east initially, facing into the rising sun. Ouch! This crappy helmet: my 'HJC' helmet back home has a thick shell over the eyebrows, so with it I can tilt my head down a few degree and 'visor' out the sun. Not so with this el cheapo 'FFM' helmet.

The road turned south after twenty minutes or so. It was very cold and barren. I was freezing my ass off. I thought of turning in at Cromwell for a coffee but decided not to. As I headed west to Frankton (a tiny town near Queenstown) I passed through a spectacular canyon call Kawarau Gorge. It was a source of gold panning at one time. The road swung left and right and gave me a chance to do some counter-steering. It was a fun road. I passed a couple of slow-poke cars on the way down. The road then straightened out and I could wick up the speed.

I passed through a LOT of farm country. The landscape was rich and green. There were many trees now. A huge eagle flew up from a field to my left. It was medium brown, with a distinctive band of white around the middle of each wing. Its wingspan was easily 2.5 feet, maybe three feet.

Just short of the town of Queenstown, at Frankton, I turned left to Lumsden. I had to stop at a single-lane bridge for a school bus. The bus driver waved thanks. When I waved, most of the uniformed school kids waved back excitedly. I then passed along Lake Wakatipu.

The lake was to the right, and a remarkable range of sharp craggy peaks was to my immediate left. The NZers have called these hills the 'Remarkables.' Well, I guess that's better than some dead guy's name. These hills were very twisty and fun. After about twenty or thirty minutes, they straightened out and I was back into gentle hilly sheep country. I was starting to get cold and tired, so I pulled over after 200 kilometers (about two hours) to get a rest. I hopped off and stretched.

The helmet had been giving me headaches, so the night before I had tried a trick I'd read about on an electronic bulletin board (USENET's, actually): I'd taken a teaspoon and pressed it firmly into the ridge of styrofoam at the forehead in several places. It actually worked! I didn't have a headache, and with the ear plugs, I didn't have any 'roaring' in my ears.

I reached Lumsden and then turned west to Te Anau. Uneventful farm country - fairly straight roads. I finally got into Te Anau after 275 KM (about three hours).

I bought a full tank of petrol, then found a motor camp. A tourist flat was $66/night, so I asked for a plain cabin at $44/night. The difference was that the cabin lacked television and you had to use the communal toilet and showers. I checked it out - it seemed clean and decent. By this time, the temperature had warmed to 22 Celsius (about 75 Fahrenheit) and there were a few small clouds in the sky.

I grabbed a lunch of chicken and chips, then headed to the boat for the Glow Worm Grottoes. For $31, a large cabin cruiser heads up Lake Te Anau to the western shore. Here I crawl into a cave entrance only one meter wide. We walked along a wooden bridge perhaps thirty meters into the dark cave. There were lights but it was still fairly dark. There was a small waterfall and its noise was deafening. We walked on towards a small punt.

The cave was cold (about 8 C) and water was constantly dripping down from the ceiling. As we climbed into the boat, I noticed a few glow worms. These are small round glowing dots about the size of a pinhead. They glow quite brightly, a bluish-green color like an old LED from a calculator. Apparently the larva hang a sticky thread down that is used to catch bugs attracted to the light.

The boat was propelled through the caves by the guide pulling on a metal cable suspended overhead. We reached another walkway and then walked perhaps eighty to one hundred meters through several spectacular caverns. There were no stalactites or stalagmites - the caverns are too recent for these to have formed yet. The walls had a 'scalloped' look and were made of yellowish limestone. We passed a large whirlpool and then reached the second punt.

We got onboard and the lights are then turned out. It was complete darkness, with an occasional glowing blue dot above. The boat slowly moved through the dark. Very eery. We then entered a cave with hundreds of glow worms: it was like staring up at the night sky. The glow worms seemed as bright as the stars in Orion or the big dipper. Nobody said anything. It was a very powerful moment.

After ten minutes, we reached the return point. The wonders of the cavern seemed very pale now. On the boat back, we passed between the Dome Islands, two small islands that are part of Fiordland National Park.

I looked for a sweater or cheap jacket, as all I had was my motorcycle jacket (I forgot to pack a sweater - duh!). I was shocked by the prices of cheap sweatshirts with a touristy logo. A cheap piece of junk started at $50 NZ. I then checked out a small department store: $95 NZ for a pair of Levi 501 jeans! That's over $70 CND - what a rip-off! I guessed I'd have to forget buying a sweater.

I grabbed a dinner at a small cafe. $10 NZ for an orange juice and something called mushroom tabales. This is an omelette-like paste of mushrooms and egg with sauce. Not bad actually. It came with a baked potato and coleslaw.

I arranged to go on a trip to Milford Sound. I was thinking of riding there (about 1.5 hours each way) but realized this meant I'd be walking around on the boat in my riding gear. I decided to wimp out and take a mini-bus tour. Apparently it would include several scenic stops and "a colourful commentary" (to quote the brochure).

Saturday Oct. 30, 1993
I slept from 10:00 PM until 5:00 AM. I then woke up from my face and shoulders being cold. The cabin is very cool: 7 or 8 Celsius. I pulled the blanket off the bed and put it over my sleeping for extra warmth.

I got up an hour before the bus leaves. Outside there were many clouds, especially over the mountains to the west. It looked like it would rain in Milford Sound.

The "Trips and Tramps" mini-van (a Toyota) showed up at 8:00 AM and off we went. There were couples from Denmark and Wales and two couples from Singapore. We passed through yet more sheep country. About thirty kilometers up the road we drove over a small bridge and stopped at a small doghouse. A black-and-brown sheep collie was on a fifteen foot chain. He was starved for affection. Apparently the sheep farmer left this dog there to stop sheep from crossing the bridge. The farmer stops by once a day to feed the dog. Very cruel I thought. The bus driver said that complaints have been left with the humane society but nothing can be done as the farmer is not actually breaking any laws. If I had my own car, I'd be tempted to steal the dog.

We then stopped at the Mirror Lakes. These were very still waters that reflected the mountains in the background. There was a small sign next to the lakes that said "MIRROR LAKES" in upside-down letters. When you look at the water just beneath the sign, the writing is normal-looking in the reflection.

We passed Knobs Flat after about sixty kilometers. This area was flat with drumlins: hills created by glacier silt piling in small lumps (hence the site's name). There were only six people living here in a trailer compound with no electricity.

Passing through a forest of evergreen beech, we stopped at the Otapara Lodge. I got a large box lunch to take on the Milford Sound cruise. This was where I saw a kea on the roof. These are large green parrots the size of a small chicken. They have metallic green feathers with bright red on the underside of their wings. Keas are very curious and friendly. They normally eat nuts, berries and roots, but when very hungry, they'll land on a sheep and peck flesh from its back! Obviously they aren't too popular with the farmers.

We started going through an avalanche zone. The area was devastated. Large trees were torn apart like twigs. Apparently when all the rock and snow falls from the peaks (8000 feet) to the valley floor, the shock wave moves through the air at speeds up to 325 KM/H (215 MPH). Anything nearby is destroyed.

We got to the Homer Tunnel. By now it was starting to rain. The temperature was about 10 C. Since the lodge 25 KM back we'd been passing over narrow bumpy lanes on the sides of mountains rising from the gorge carved by the Hollyford river.

This tunnel was cut through a granite mountain from 1935 until 1953. It is 1219 meters long (about 3/4 of a mile) and has about a 7 degree tilt. It's unlit but has reflectors lining both sides. The floor of the tunnel is gravel and is full of potholes. It's a bit spooky. When we emerged from the other side of the mountain, it was pouring rain. I was very glad now that I hadn't rode the motorcycle.

I noticed when entering the tunnel a lot of brown twisted branches lining the road near the entrance way. The van driver said that these branches were actually the steel reinforcement rods from a concrete entrance to the tunnel. Avalanches had torn apart the old tunnelway and bent the steel rods like pretzels.

Driving down the fiord valley, there were huge craggy rock cliffs rising thousands of feet to either side. Literally dozens of rivulets were tumbling down as small waterfalls from the glaciers hidden above by clouds. Temperate rainforest started to line the fiord walls.

We reached a section of gravel road. A bare area of rock the size of three football fields was suspended to our right. The trees clinging to the cliff's face had let go just a couple of weeks before and had wiped out the road. The driver says a busload of tourists had been trapped in the sound for a couple of days.

Did I mention it was pouring cats and dogs? It does so two out of every three days in Milford Sound. The sound gets 7.5 meters of rain per year!

We got on the cruiser the "Milford Haven" and headed out. I was wearing my motorcycle jacket and a pair of jeans. Of course I didn't think of bringing my rain gear, and of course, it rained. As we headed away from the wharf, the Bowen falls move into view. Magnificent.

The Sound looked like two steep pairs of mountains rising straight from the sea. The rock faces rose at an angle of 80 to 85 degrees, thousands of feet. The cliffs were covered with mosses, lichens, ferns and various types of trees. The Sound was very eery with the thick misty rain.

The mountains looked like a bishop's mitre or a "pope's hat." We cruise out to the entrance to the Sound then turn back in (this takes 3/4 of an hour).

We reached the Stirling Falls (146 meters). The ship pointed its nose right under the tumbling water. I was standing near the front of the boat. Looking up, the water flew out from the cliff top as a solid stream, then twisted and tumbled through the air into a heavy mist of water. It was like standing in a cold shower. In seconds I was soaking wet, but I couldn't stand to stop looking at this spectacle.

Finally, the "Milford Haven" docked. We got back into the van and headed back toward the Homer tunnel, stopping at the 'Chasm.' Grrr - I ran out of film! The Cleddau river had carved a chasm by tumbling hard granite boulders into pockets of limestone. There were round smooth, almost organic twists and curls of stone with the glacial waters pounding through. As we left, the driver pointed out that there were glow worms along the trail.

When we start going back through the Homer tunnel, the driver told what he claimed was a true story. When the tunnel was being dug from the mainland side, a small camp of workers was creating the road from the Sound up to the tunnel. Once a week, the postman would drive to the mountain, hike up to the top, and lower the mailbag down to the men at the camp via a long rope. One day, a boy at the camp was sent on his birthday to fetch the mailbag. What should come down on the rope but a bicycle with a bow tied on it. The boy's father had paid the mailman to deliver the bicycle for his son's birthday.

As we drove back, we stopped at Murray Gunn's camp. Murray is a 65 year old man who has lived in this area all his life, and runs a store and a few cabins for hikers going on the Routeburn track. While there, we saw his horse Jane who is 37 years old! (This is very, very old for a horse.)

We headed out again and stopped at a couple of very picturesque lakes, where we saw a ewe and her young lamb, a few herefords and calves, and a "paradise duck." It had a black body and large white wings with black edges.

We finally got back to the cabin site at 5:00 PM. I grabbed a quick burger and mailed a couple of postcards. I wanted to head north the next day, but I didn't want to stop in Wanaka again. It was a nice place but I wanted to see something new. It was four hours to Wanaka, then another three to the next town north called Haast. According to my book, there was a motor camp there but not much else. It was another 1.5 hours to Fox Glacier. If the weather was good, I decided to try to ride all the way to Fox Glacier (8.5 hours) and then spend a full day hiking on the glacier. If the weather was bad, I'd stop in Wanaka or Haast. I thought I'd stop more often (say every 150 KM or so) to avoid fatigue. Te Anau to Haast was 360 Km, and to Fox Glacier was 520 KM. I know for an experienced motorcyclist, 500 KM was not a lot (I've heard of people riding 600 or 700 miles in a long day, but I wanted to take it easy). I was just hoping the weather was good.

Sunday Oct. 31, 1993 (Halloween - they don't celebrate it here)
At midnight, the sound of heavy rain woke me. I got up to take a leak. Walking to the communal washroom, it was raining very hard.

5:30 AM: the sound of driving rain woke me again. It was pouring as hard as any rainstorm I'd seen in Victoria. I wondered if maybe I should stay in Te Anau for another day. I decided to ask what the weather forecast was for the rest of the South Island when the office opened at 7:30 AM. So much for riding to Fox Glacier!

7:30 AM: the forecast was for the rain to lighten up to showers later that afternoon. I'd decided to stay for another day in Te Anau. I could then go to the Doubtful Sound boat tour ($110 - gasp!) or I could go to the Manapouri Power Station tour ($50). Since I'd already gone to Milford, I decided to go to just the power station and save a few bucks. This was the eighth of 21 days, so I still had lots of time to reach Auckland.

I got on the bus at 8:00 AM and we sped down a typical country road to the town of Manapouri. As part of a group or ten or so, I boarded a large cruiser and headed off at about 18 knots to the west arm of Lake Manapouri.

Here we saw a large switchyard perhaps the size of a football field. There were 220,000 volt cables suspended high above the lake and leading off to the south.

We walked through the rain to a big Volvo bus. The bus drove off to a tunnel carved in the granite hillside. We descended the tunnel, which looked a lot like the Homer tunnel. It wound in a huge loop about two kilometers long. We reached a side tunnel, where we got out and walked about 100 meters past the parts store room. We then entered the "machine hall," a room big enough to hold twenty large buses. Here we could see the tops of seven huge (geez, there's that adjective again) turbine shafts for the generators. The station outputs 590 megawatts, and supplies 18% of NZ's electricity.

We got back in the bus and rode up to the surface. When the hydro plant was built, the roads from Invercargill were assessed as inadequate for the heavy equipment needed, so a road was carved out of the mountains to a fiord called Doubtful Sound. We rode up the road halfway. Those of us just touring the plant had to then exit and board another bus headed back to the boat dock. Along the way we saw literally dozens of waterfalls created by the night's rain. We stopped by a very colorful area of red moss. Apparently this species has developed the red pigment to prevent sunburn. I noticed a lot of dead trees - the bus driver told me it was due to Australian possums overeating the trees' leaves.

We got back on the boat and headed back at noon. The rain had died to a heavy drizzle. By the time I got back to the motor camp the rain had finally stopped.

I decided to take the Kawasaki out for a short ride. I stopped at the Trout Observatory. For two 50 cent pieces, you go through a turnstile and can see several large trout swimming in a glass tank. Some were rainbow and some were brown.

I then take a short trip up to the Wildlife Center. This is run as a bird preserve by the Nature Conservancy. Before man came to New Zealand, the only native mammal was the cave bat. Since then, cats, deer rabbits, stoats, etc., have all been introduced and have severely damaged the bird populations and habitats. The Conservancy had samples of many birds, including the very rare Takahe. These birds are the size of a chicken and are black on the belly, blue on the wings, and have bright orange beaks and feet. The one I saw was very friendly and would follow people around the edge of its very large, natural-style pen.

Another bird I saw there was the Tui. It's black with a tuft of white feathers that looks like a beard. It made chirping noises just like R2D2 in Star Wars!

I also saw a large pen of keas, the large green parrots. Two of them seemed to be play-fighting and jumping on top of each other. I'm sure they were playing with each other. (No, they were NOT trying to mate!)

At this point it started raining, so I hopped on the bike and headed back to the cabin. It looked like it would be sunny the next day - a high pressure zone was supposed to be coming in from the Tasman Sea. I was determined to head out even if the weather was bad.

I had a venison (Bambi) burger. It tasted like very lean pork, with a smidgen of beef flavor. I was told it is open season (with no limits) on deer year-round, as long as one has a firearm permit. Deer are considered destructive to the native vegetation and eat up the food supply of many NZ birds.

Monday Nov. 1, 1993 (my 27th birthday)
I went to bed very early (9:00 PM) but wake up at 5:30 AM. After laying in bed for a while, I got up and packed the Kawasaki. It was extremely cold: the bike's seat was covered with slush. I left at about 6:40 AM. It was clouded over and I could see fresh snow on the hilltops near Lake Te Anau. Leaving the town, I saw the clock tower showing the temperature: +3 Celsius. (This is about +38 Fahrenheit.)

I had put my nylon rainsuit over my leather riding gear to shield some of the cold wind blast. I also had decided to wear my winter gloves (which I had almost not bothered to bring to NZ). It was bloody cold. I had to continually flex my fingers to keep the circulation going. After going only sixty kilometers, I had to pull over - my fingers were going numb. I saw that my gloves had some holes in the fingertips, so I made a kludgy patch job with some duct tape I had luckily packed. Sitting on the side of the road, I saw a dozen tour buses go by heading from Queenstown to Milford Sound. The tourists must have thought I was nuts!

Once I turned north at Lumsden, the sun came out and it warmed up to maybe 6 or 7 C. Riding past the 'Remarkable' hills, the snow level dropped to within maybe 300 feet of me. I started getting very worried that I'd end up stuck in snow.

Quite suddenly, the road dropped into the Queenstown valley, and the temperature shot up to 12 or 14 Celsius. It was a God-send: I could actually feel the sunlight warming up my hands and body.

My mood improved immensely. I could increase my speed from a pitiful 80 KM/H to 115 or 120 (I'd been going slow to lessen the wind chill). I got into Wanaka and had a short chat with the petrol attendant as I refueled. (I'd had to switch to reserve a few miles before.) I wolfed down a 'Moro' chocolate bar (a lot like a 'Mars' bar) and a coffee, then headed out.

The road to Haast is very straight to begin with. I zipped along, passing Lake Hawea. It was very pretty with the fresh snow on the rocky hills behind it. The road hugging the hills started getting curvy when without any warning sign the pavement ended and a gravel road began. I quickly dropped speed and hit the gravel. It was wet and slippery from the rain and I could feel the rear wheel fishtailing a bit. (Remember this was a street bike with tires meant for pavement, not dirt.) I had to drop my speed to about 40 KM/H before the bike settled down.

Luckily there were no cars behind me, so I didn't feel like I was holding anyone up. Try that in the Rockies! The gravel lasted for maybe twenty kilometers and I thought I'd be lucky to make it to Haast by nightfall, never mind Fox Glacier. ( I found out later that this stretch of gravel is 17.7 KM long, and that the NZ Automobile Association has been bitching at the government for years to pave it. It's the only road between Fiordland and the west coast of the South Island.)

Quite suddenly, the pavement returned and I speed up again. Soon I was at an incredible road that was meant for motorcycles - the Haast pass. The road got *very* twisty and lead down through a v-shaped glacial valley covered with temperate rain forest: mosses, ferns and NZ's evergreen beech trees. Below was the Haast river. The sky was now blue and sunny, and the temperature had gone to 15 Celsius. There were dozens of passing bays and lookout points. Best of all, there were no cars except a very slow tour bus that I passed very easily: the bus driver was quick to pull over to the shoulder, as are all Kiwi drivers.

After about twenty minutes of this steep hairpin-turn road, I stopped and looked back up it. I felt a real sense of accomplishment. I'd read that this pass was supposed to be treacherous. I thought it was easy!

The road was less twisty and steep now. It was descending west to the Tasman Sea. By now, the river was close by. The palm trees and plant life started to take on a very tropical lush look. I had to stop two or three times to take pictures.

When I reached Haast, I could see the ocean. It was a very pale turquoise. The surf was pounding on the beaches. There were many tropical plants and the coast looked like pictures of Hawaii or Mexico. I had to pass over the Haast bridge. This is a single lane bridge (like most in NZ) but it was incredibly long to pass over the Haast river delta. While crossing it, some poor guy with a purple BMW GS had lost part of his luggage and was picking it up.

While I stopped at the far end of the bridge to take a picture I saw several motorcycles go by: another BMW GS, a Suzuki DR, and a Honda TransAlp. Along the coast line, the road was again very twisty, with stupendous views of the ocean surf and tropical vegetation. The road then swing into land and headed north.

By this time I'd ridden 500 KM and I was getting tired. I had to stop about every twenty minutes or so to stretch. I finally reached Fox Glacier and checked in at the motor camp. Time: about eight hours. Distance: about 550 KM. That's only 70 KM/H on average, but I stopped often to take pictures and I had to refuel once.

One thing I haven't talked about really is the single lane bridges. These are built because there isn't enough traffic to justify a two lane bridge. They are generally first in, first out. Well, that day I must have gone over, I swear, at least four dozen of these. It gives you an idea of how many creeks and rivers there are in New Zealand.

Unfortunately, there were no takeaways in town, so I grabbed a slice of pizza at the Hobnail Cafe and brought some tea and Cup-a-Soups. The cabin I was in was very plain, but it was only $18/night (NZ). What a bargain! I decided to go on a three hour hike up the Fox Glacier the next day. I'd thought of taking the helicopter ride, but it was $80 NZ, and the hike was only $30. I had to start thinking about conserving my money. I'd spent $800 of the $1300 NZ in traveller's cheques I'd brought with me, and the trip was only half over. I had money in my chequing account, but I didn't think my bank card would work in NZ. Hokitika was the nearest town with a bank machine. If that didn't work, I should have been able to get cash advances on my VISA.

I'd been thinking about the remainder of the trip. I'd be going north to Punakaiki or Westport on day 11, then ride to Nelson on day 12. I'd cross to Wellington on 13 and probably spend 14 there. I'd then spend a day in Taupo, Rotorua and maybe Hamilton. I had to be in Auckland by day 21 to drop off the Kawasaki. I didn't think I'd make it to Napier or the Northlands. Maybe next trip!

It constantly amazed me how much bird life there was in NZ. At 8:35 PM, the sun had just set but the stars hadn't started shining yet. Sitting in my cabin with the window open, I could here dozens of small birds chirping and singing. Incredible.

Tuesday Nov. 2, 1993
I slept reasonably well. I had to get up a couple of times to turn the electric heater on. Unfortunately, it had a timer, not a thermostat. That night I decided to move the bed over next to the heater's ON switch so that I could hit the switch without getting out of bed.

I grabbed breakfast at the Hobnail Cafe - the first real solid meal in over a day. I was so hungry I wanted to get a second helping, but then a busload of tourists arrived and I said to hell with standing in line. I do NOT stand in queues, not even for food!

I got to the hiking center and was given a pair of wool socks, good hiking boots with spikes, and crampons. We drove about five miles in a beat-up old van filled with cobwebs to a gravel parking lot near the bottom of Fox Glacier.

We (me, the guide, a couple from Singapore and a couple from Ottawa, Canada) had to hike up a very steep, difficult track up the V-shaped valley wall. I don't hike up hills much, and it was very physically demanding. By the time I got to the edge of the ice sheet, I was sweating like a pig. We then went out on the huge glacier ice field. We had to proceed slower and it was cooler, so it wasn't too bad.

All the while, the guide told a very interesting commentary on how the glacier formed and behaved. The glacier retreated by several miles from 1750 to 1985. The glacier has been growing quickly over the last eight years, going down to the sea at the rate of one foot per day.

Finally, we headed back to the van. It was quite an eyeful, but I wouldn't want to do that again any time soon. After I got back, I changed and washed my clothes (I got mud on my jeans falling into a glacial creek). I then took the motorbike down to Lake Matheson about 5 KM south of the camp. I spent 45 minutes walking a very nice trail to the far side of the lake. There was a lookout point facing the glacial valley. Unfortunately, Mount Cook and Mount Tasman were hidden from view by clouds. Grrr - I took a picture anyhow.

I went into town at 4:00 PM. The petrol station wouldn't open the next morning until 8:00 AM so I refueled. I then went to buy a meal: the Hobnail Cafe was closed and the other two restaurants in town didn't open until 6:00 PM!

I ended up making some chicken soup for dinner - yuck. I saw the weather forecast - it was supposed to be sunny for a day or two, with clouds blowing in from the Tasman in a few days.

My face was very hot: at first I thought I had a fever, but my face is sunburnt from the white surface of the glacier! I noticed that the clouds have blown away from Mt. Cook so I walked to the fields behind the motor camp and got an excellent view. I hoped the photo would be okay. (It did turn out pretty well.)

Tomorrow: Westport was roughly 300 KM away. I wanted to make one major stop along the way - at the Punakaiki "Pancake Rocks." I pegged the travel time at four to five hours, depending on how often I stopped.

I found something unusual that day - a two-cent coin. New Zealand got rid of both one-cent and two-cent coins a couple of years ago. A coin apparently lasts five times longer than a note, so at the same time NZ replaced the one dollar bill and two dollar bill with new coins. Now the currency is: five-cents, ten-cents, twenty-cents, fifty-cents, one dollar coin, two dollar coin, and in notes, $5, $10, $20, $50 and I think there's a $100 bill. The money is colorful like Canadian or European. It also has a watermark of the Queen of England. There's a silver metallic band in the paper similar to the British notes: the line looks like dashes, but against a light you can see the thread is solid. This is to prevent counterfeiting.

Wednesday Nov. 3, 1993
I got up early and left by 6:45 AM. As before I wore the rain suit over my leathers. The temperature was 7 or 8 C. At first the road was straight but soon some curves came up. There were bands or stripes of clouds sitting only fifteen or twenty feet over my head - it made me feel more like I was flying an airplane than riding a motorcycle. I had to stop twice because my glasses were fogging up badly. As I rode by Lake Mapourika to my left, the fog stood like a wall over the water. I started going through a twisty position as I saw a large plume of smoke rising to the north. It turned out to be coming from the Whataroa Pulp Mill. I then rode over a long bridge on the river Whataroa, passing a school bus in the passing bay.

By now the temperature was about 14 Celsius. There were straight roads through subtropical bush alternating with hilly twisty curves. It was very beautiful with blue skies. I passed through the logging town of Hokitika and kept going north to Greymouth. Lots of logging trucks were on the road now.

Good old highway 6 was hugging the coast line all the way. The views were tremendous and I had to stop a couple of times to take pictures of the turquoise ocean surf and small rocky islands offshore. The road was separated from the ocean by only a small sandy beach and a thirty foot cliff. This area reminded me of parts of California's coast line.

When I got to Greymouth I almost took the wrong turn to Reefton, a town more inland. The roads were not well-marked and I had to make a turn off the town's main street.

At this point I reached a petrol station with the sign "Last fuel for 100 KM." I realized that would put me well into reserve, so I stopped and filled up. I had figured that Punakaiki would have had a petrol station.

The hilly road went through farmland and then hugged the ocean again. Soon I reached Punakaiki - the Pancake Rocks. There were a couple of cafes but sure enough, no fuel station! Here I had a clubhouse sandwich - Kiwi style. It had only one meat (a ham slice) and had deviled egg. Wierd.

Punakaiki has cliffs made of layers of limestone and mudstone. Sea erosion has worn the cliffs into strange sculptures that look much like stacks pancakes. There were a lot of terns living in the various nooks and caves. I took several pictures, then headed out again.

By this time it was quite warm, so I'd packed the rain suit up. For a good twenty or thirty KM north of Punakaiki, I fought through dozens of tight corners hugging the ocean hillsides. Great roads for a motorcycle! Along this stretch of road, I saw a school facing the ocean. I thought that it must be tough on the kids to sit in there and have to stare out the windows at the Tasman Sea.

I rode on through some of the best roads I'd ever seen. No, they WERE the best roads I'd ever seen. When I finally got to Westport, I saw yet another fuel station sign; this one warned of no more petrol for 80 KM. I'd put 97 KM on since the last fill-up, but I decided to play it safe and top up.

Another thing I saw: imagine one of the single lane bridges I wrote about before. Now pretend that instead of tar, the surface is made of wooden planks. And pretend there's also a train track running down this skinny bridge. A bit spooky riding a motorcycle down one of these - you know that if you get into an argument with a train, you're gonna lose.

I checked into the local motor camp. It was a little beat up, but clean, and best of all it was only $15 NZ. I wandered around Westport. The town is a port (obviously) that has served the local coal mines since about 1885. I checked out a local tourist trap called 'Coaltown.' This is a fairly good museum centered on the old coal mines. There used to be a track from the hills down to the port called the "Denniston Incline." Wooden wagons used to roll down the hill, dropping 500 meters over two kilometers in 4.5 minutes. They had one of the old carts mounted on a section of track inside the museum.

I walked around, but there wasn't much else to see here really. I grabbed a meal and a couple of beers. I had a couple of disposable-type cameras and had run out of film, so I bought another. My left knee is very sore: I must have banged it hard hiking on Fox Glacier.

Animal crossings: I'd had to stop a couple of times for sheep herders moving there stock. Just something to watch for in NZ. Also, there was much road kill on the roads - mostly Australian possums. A bad joke I was told by the Milford Sound bus driver: Why did the possum cross the road? To show his girlfriend he had a lot of guts.

Today's ride was 300 Km in four hours. I stopped at Punakaiki for an hour. Tomorrow I'd planned to ride further to Picton. I estimated 5.5 to 6 hours: the distance is only 325 KM by the shortest route but I'd been told to take the longer Queen Charlotte Drive as it is very scenic.

Thursday Nov. 4, 1993:
I decided to leave Westport very early - 6:15 AM (This turned out to be a lucky move). As before, I wore the rain suit over my leathers. I headed out quickly into the morning twilight - the sun had not yet risen.

Ten kilometers east of Westport I saw a car pulled off the side of the road while a couple excitedly took photos of something. It turned out to be two Kiwi birds pecking for food on the right side of the road. They were the size of pigeons, with long pointy bills and dark grey feathers that looked like porcupine quills. That was the first time I'd seen Kiwis in New Zealand. I didn't realize it at the time, but this was very lucky: Kiwis are a nocturnal bird that are extremely shy. Most NZers I told about this incident said that they had never actually seen a Kiwi outside a zoo. Unfortunately, the sound of my motorcycle made the Kiwis run back into the tall grass. Oops! I hope those people got some good pictures!

Soon I got to the Buller river gorge. I'd heard it is very scenic but I couldn't tell - the gorge was filled with a thick fog. I had my hands full with the very twisty switchbacks here. My glasses and face shield kept fogging up due to the humidity. Almost 45 KM from Westport I saw a sign saying "NEW SEAL." I thought to myself "Oh, new pavement; maybe I should slow down." I dropped my speed to about 80 KM/H and saw a section of pavement with no white lines painted on it. I hit the section and suddenly realize that it's not pavement - it's loose gravel! The bike started squirming and fish-tailing. I thought I was going to lose it for sure. Somehow I managed to get over the gravel without dropping the Kawasaki. I pulled over once I'd reached the pavement because my breathing hard was fogging up my faceplate!

Once I'd caught my breath, I stuck to Highway 6 through the small town of Murchison. The road straightened out and I barrelled through a lot of cattle country. Later I went through some more twisty hills (unfortunately I got stuck once or twice behind a slow logging truck) and then reached the flat plains of Wakefield and Richmond.

When I got to Nelson, I had to slow down to 50 KM/H. Nelson is fairly big for NZ (perhaps 75,000 people) and I was not sure which way to go to Picton. I stopped at a BP petrol station and filled up while asking for directions. It turned out that the owner had a Honda CBR1000.
"Nice bike," I said.
"Yeah," he replied, "but I'm selling it so I can buy a Harley."

I eventually find the Hwy 6 and take it to Havelock. The next 100 KM were the most twisty I'd seen yet. I was struggling to wind through the tight hairpins at 50 KM/H, yet I got passed a couple of times by Kiwis in cars. How embarrassing!

Then I got to some straight country roads and saw something interesting. On a perfectly easy road where the speed limit is 100 KM/H, an old plodding van was bumbling along at about 70 KM/H. There was a car stuck behind him signalling to pass, but every time the car pulled right, the van pulled right too and blocked him. Finally the car snuck by. I was stuck behind the van and he did the same thing to me! It couldn't be a Kiwi driving; they *always* pull over to let others pass. After a few miles, I got pissed off. I faked like I was passing on his left shoulder, then red-lined it past on the right. I gave the driver an angry glare. I don't know what his problem was.

I got stuck going uphill in first gear behind a logging truck. I passed him and found myself in another very 'hairpin' set of curves. Reaching the small town of Havelock, I watched for the small black sign the CBR1000 owner had told me of. Sure enough, there it is: Queen Charlotte Drive.

After a short stretch of 200 meters the hills were reached and the road then climbed rapidly in a zig-zag. The drive was spectacular - there were many hairpins. There were lots of small islands offshore, with great views of Queen Charlotte Sound. Just before Picton, there was a great lookout point overlooking Picton's port. Arrgh! I'd run out of film again! This drive was obviously very popular with motorcyclists: I saw at least twelve or fifteen bikers on this stretch.

I got a room in Picton, grabbed a shower and a meal. I dropped off my old film and bought more. I then bought a ticket for the next day's Interislander ferry to Wellington. Uggh - it's at 5:40 AM. It was either that or wait until 12 noon. I discover that I can get a cash advance on my VISA credit card: what a lifesaver!

When I got my film back I was a bit disappointed. My photos are not bad, but snapshots don't do justice to the beautiful scenery I'd encountered. The colors seem so drab on the photos.

I would get into Wellington at 9:00 AM. It would be day 13, leaving me another eight days until I needed to be in Auckland. If there was a lot to do in Wellington, I might stay for an extra day.

I checked out the "Edwina Fox." This is a teak-hulled ship built in 1853. It was used to bring colonists to New Zealand. About twenty years ago it was scuttled after being used as a coal barge for many years. Six years ago the hull was found to be seaworthy and was raised. The beat-up hull is open to look at while the society saves up the money to completely restore her to the original shape. She is 747 tons and has an overall length of 160 feet.

Friday Nov. 5, 1995 (Guy Fawkes' Day)
I caught the Interislander ferry 'Aratika' at 5:40 AM to Wellington. It was dark out still. When I got to the ferry there was a Moto Guzzi 1000 and a beautiful Norton Commando waiting to get on as well. I played dumb and followed them into the ferry. We entered the 'train' deck. This was the bottom deck and had very old beat-up wooden planking and train rails for freight cars. Iron rings were set into the wood planks to tie motorbikes down. Luckily they had ropes on the ferry - I hadn't thought of that. I then walked up to the top decks.

The 'Aratika' looked to be about 25 or 30 years old and about the same size as the British Columbia ferries from Victoria to Vancouver. As I sat and waited for the sun to rise, the ship listed several degrees to port - they were loading freight cars. Eventually, they finished loading and we got underway. I went outside to watch the South Island disappear: who knows when I'll get to see it again?

What a view - the sun was just starting to rise. There was much red in the clouds. I took a picture of course! The view of the small islands in the Queen Charlotte Sound sliding by was truly great - easily as good as the ferries through Active Pass or the San Juan islands in Washington state.

A small cloud of terns flew with the ferry. The terns here are smaller than Victoria's seagulls. They're the same size as a crow, mostly white with black-tipped wings and bright orange feet and bills.

I met a couple who had been at Milford Sound. They were from Auckland and were visiting the South Island. I spent much of the voyage (three hours) sitting outside watching the view. The weather was very good - slightly patchy clouds and a light breeze.

When we docked at Wellington, I unhooked all the cables and squeezed the bike past the rail cars. The guy on the Norton was about to take off when I noticed that he still had a tie-strap with a metal hook dragging on the ground! I yelled "Norton!" and pointed. Sheepishly, he hit his forehead and untied the strap. Pretty lucky I noticed: we had to ride over train tracks to leave the ferry! One snag and good-bye Norton.

The nearest motor camp was thirteen KM from downtown so I splurged and spent $40 NZ on a cheap motel room right downtown. I had to park the Kawasaki out back, so I made extra sure to put the cable lock on.

I first walked north and checked out the Parliament buildings. These consist of a Victorian stone building, an early 1900s building, and a fairly new building called the 'Beehive.' The two older buildings are being renovated so I checked out the Beehive. It's eleven stories and is circular, and each story is slightly smaller than the one below (thus the nickname).

I then walked over to the Kelburn Cable Car. This is a plain cable car that rises up the side of a large hill about half a mile to the botanic gardens. These gardens give a superb view of the entire city. The city of Wellington is located on a number of small hills. Unlike Christchurch, the hills still have a lot of native vegetation. Quite a green city, although not as pretty as Christchurch. I'd compare it more to Vancouver than Victoria. I also went into the Carter Planetarium - pretty so-so.

I then worked my way to the National War Memorial. This is a very tall tower dedicated to NZ's fallen soldiers of both World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam. Inside is an enormous plain white hall. Very quiet and dignified.

I entered the National Museum next door (for free). This is an excellent museum split into three sections. The bottom floor has a Maori Hall, full of many artifacts, including a couple of sacred flutes made of human bone! There was a Maori war canoe built in the 1860s. Also, the hall held an entire Maori meeting lodge that was carved in 1842 and restored in the 1930s.

Then in another hall was a Marine Gallery. If you are into sealife, you'll love this. There were huge diaramas of life size models of the aquatic life in NZ's waters. It almost felt as if you were walking on the ocean floor. Very well done.

There was also a hall of famous NZ painters' works. Interesting, although I'm not an art buff. When I walked back to my room, I bought a souvenir: a basic 'highwayman' motorcycle jacket (made in NZ of course).

At the leather store, I met a young punk-rocker sales clerk from Toronto, Canada. He moved to NZ four years ago and wanted to go to Great Britain, but not until he got an NZ passport. That way he can make sure he can come back to his adopted homeland. We talked about how good the motorcycling was in New Zealand. When I said the South Island was fantastic, he replied, "Gee, I've never been down there - maybe I should give it a try!" After living there for four years!

The weather in Wellington changes very rapidly. All day it has kept changing - windy, cloudy, sunny, rainy, etc. I spoke with a woman from London here in the Trekker's Motel. She said that it had been cloudy with rain showers throughout the North Island for the last week or two.

I'd noticed many motorcycles in Wellington. Unlike the South Island, they have all been Japanese-made, and most are 125, 250 or 400 CC. I hadn't seen any Harleys, maybe one or two BMWs, and a Gold Wing or two. There were virtually no hard core sport bikes. In fact, on the whole South Island, I saw exactly one sport bike, a Ducati 900SS (in Wanaka). Completely unlike Canada, where everyone and his dog rides either a CBR 600, a ZX-7 or a big 1340 Harley.

Oh yeah - since I first got to NZ, I'd seen cars occasionally with red balls like clown noses stuck on the front. I thought that maybe this was some kind of punishment for pulling a bozo stunt like drunk driving. I stopped a woman in the street and asked "Excuse me, but I'm from Canada - what are those ball things?!?" She started laughing and said she was also here from Canada (working here for a year). She explained that the balls are for "Red Cot Day" to raise awareness of cot death (what we call crib death in North America). Geez, I like my bozo idea better.

Another Kiwi peculiarity: pie and chips. All the takeaway fast food places have small meat pies with chips. Very cheap. I can't imagine eating that many meat pies is very healthy though - at least a hamburger has veggies in it!

Saturday Nov. 6, 1993
I went to bed around 10:00 PM and slept until 6:30. I quickly headed out north. I was stuck on multi-lane highway for about twenty or thirty kilometers until I passed through Upper Hutt. Then the road reverted to the usual two-lane country road and started climbing through the hills. The road got fairly twisty; about the same as Buller gorge or Haast pass. It was cloudy and the scenery was on the plain side. When I got to Greytown, the road went more straight through gentle farming hills. The remainder of the riding was good but not challenging: I was able to make good time. The temperature was about 14 C, so I didn't wear the rain oversuit.

I had some major confusion in Hastings, a town about 20 KM south of Napier. The usual signs saying "Hey idiot, this way to Napier" were not in evidence. Somehow I took the wrong turn in a roundabout intersection and ended up heading back south! Oops! I quickly turned around (spending a few seconds going down the wrong side of the road in my confusion - whoops!) and found the correct road.

I got into the Kennedy Park Motor Camp. I asked for a plain cabin but some other guests were busy inspecting the last one available, so I had to wait to see if they'd take it or not. After waiting ten minutes or so, the manager said that I could have a motel room (normally $45 NZ) for only $25, the cabin price. It had full linen and a private bath. Also a television and a radio - what luxury!

After settling in, I walked downtown to the ocean side Marine Parade to look at the various "art deco" buildings. I checked out a museum. In 1931, a huge earthquake destroyed the entire city of Napier. All (or most anyhow) of the buildings were rebuilt in the 1930s art deco style. With all the palm trees lining the streets, it looked like 1930s Hollywood. Some very cool looking buildings. It started raining hard, so I headed back to my room. I decided to head to Lake Taupo the next day. I had six days before having to be Auckland.

I was just cleaning my riding gear: I'd recommend anyone riding in NZ wear either a full-face helmet or very good goggles. All my leathers and the entire front surface of my helmet were splattered with bug juice. I also checked out the bike - I'd now put 2247 KM on it, about 1350 miles.

Sunday Nov. 7, 1993
As usual, I got up early and started riding from Napier to Taupo. The distance is only about 150 KM away. It had rained hard the night before and the roads were wet. Leaving the city, I had to ride across a couple of railroad crossings set at angles to the road: this gave me a little excitement.

Unfortunately the roads were mostly sweeping country roads. Pleasant but not particularly challenging. About the same as a good road in Victoria. I guess I got spoiled on the South Island. At one point I went through a high mountain pass that was extremely foggy, like riding through the proverbial pea soup. After that the roads became very long, flat and straight. I rode through a planted forest of pine, the largest man-made forest in New Zealand.

I checked into the Taupo Motor Camp for two nights. There are all kinds of activities locally: fishing, bungy jumping, jetboating, and river rafting. I booked a trip on a steam boat and grabbed some lunch.

I walked up Spa Road to the bungy jump site. There was a cantilever platform jutting about twenty meters out from a cliff overlooking the Waikato river gorge. I watched a woman jump. It was 45 meters to the water below. She bounced up and down like a yoyo three or four times. No way would I do that - and they charge you $85 NZ! I don't think I'd do it if they paid me!

Walking in the park by the gorge, I saw several steam vents or jets fuming away. The air smelled like rotten eggs - hydrogen sulphide gas.

Back in town, I went to the marina to ride on the "Ernest Kemp." This is an old 1920s steam ferry (sadly, it now has modern diesel engines). We cruised around on Lake Taupo for two hours while various sites were pointed out. The most impressive were the Maori rock carvings. There were several small carvings of various mythical Maori figures, and a huge 25 foot carving of a famous Maori chief's face. Although the carvings were done in the traditional style, they were created in 1980 by several Maori artists.

A couple of interesting notes: there was a McDonald's in town. Beside it was an actual DC-3 airplane painted in red and white with the McDonald's logo on it. A waste of a perfectly good airplane if you ask me. Also, I saw at least twenty or so motorcycles. Only one Harley; the rest were Japanese-made. I saw one group of eight or so bikes in a group: all were sport bikes, which surprised me. Oh yeah - I saw a perfect Triumph Bonneville 750 in red and black. I took a picture of that one!

I'd tried to get on a river raft ride with three different companies. I was waiting to find out if I could get a seat on a trip. I decided if not I'd check out "Craters of the Moon" and Huka Falls.

Monday Nov. 8, 1993
No rafting companies were running out of Taupo that day. I'd been told it was probably best to try from Rotorua. I hopped on my motorcycle and rode to Huka Falls. The falls were very impressive. The level of Lake Taupo used to be 100 feet higher, but then a channel wore through the rock forming the Waikato river. The channel let the level of the lake drop and is now a waterfall of perhaps four meters high and at least 10 or 15 meters wide. I noticed an old riverboat come up the river to stop near the falls. I asked around and decided to go ride it later.

I then rode the Kawasaki to the Craters of the Moon. This is an area where underground water erupts from steam vents, boiled by geothermal activity. It looked like a scene from a science-fiction movie. The ground was covered with moss and small bushes. Steam was venting from literally dozens of craters. There was a constant hissing sound like an old kettle boiling. The stench of rotten eggs was overpowering. I walked up to one crater big enough to hold a house. When the wind blew the stinky steam away, I could see that the entire bottom of the crater was covered with bubbling mud. I spent an hour wandering around, but the stench got to me and I left.

On the way to the river boat, I stopped at the Taupo Volcanic Observatory. There was an impressive 3-D relief map of the Taupo region showing various volcanic formations. I watched a fairly entertaining film about the major Taupo eruption in 186 AD that formed the caldera Lake Taupo now sits in.

I got to the "African Queen" boat, the Motor Vessel 'Waireka.' It was built in Glasgow in 1908. It measured 62 feet long, 7 feet wide, and had a draft of only 12 *inches* fully laden. The hull was designed after the Maori war canoes. The ship has been used continually to haul passengers and freight for 85 years! It is the oldest commercial vessel using internal combustion in New Zealand. She currently has British-built Ford engines that burn oil, not diesel or petrol.

We headed down the river to the Aratiatia Rapids. Originally a hydroelectric tunnel was built parallel to the rapids, and then the rapids were dammed off. An Act of Parliament was passed five year ago, forcing the power company to open the dam gates twice a day for 1.5 hours. This allows visitors to see the rapids in their original glory. It was a huge white water area.

The boat then turned and cruised back up the river to the Huka Falls. They were much more impressive when seen from the river! The boat then headed back to the dock. There, as I'm saddling up on the bike, a hotdog vendor asks me about my motorbike tour and tells me he is planning to motorcycle across Canada in the coming spring.

The next day I planned to ride to Rotorua: it was only about 1.5 hours away. I'd stay one night, maybe two.

Tuesday, Nov. 9, 1993
I got woken up at 12:30 AM by the guy next door. A businesswoman came to visit him, and she sure wasn't the Avon lady. After all the moaning, groaning and belly-slapping stopped, she took off and I was able to get some sleep.

I headed off at 7:00 AM - it only took me an hour to get to Rotorua and I paid $45 per night for a motel room (unfortunately there are no motor camps in town). After getting unpacked, I rode about a third of the way back south to Taupo to visit the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderlands.

This was an area of thermal activity similar to the Craters of the Moon. The eighteen square kilometer area is covered with craters, vents, and boiling mudholes. It has the largest 'terrace 'structure in the southern hemisphere. Water from a boiling spring carries lime silicates down to the local stream. The silicates then settle in broad terraced sheets. It was very unusual looking. I saw some craters full of birds' nests: starlings and mynahs use the warm soil to incubate their eggs. The pools are various colors due to minerals in the water. After a while, the stench got to me and I left.

I rode back to Rotorua and turned onto a crappy gravel road to the Waimangu Volcanic Valley. This was part of a 17 KM rift formed in 1886 during the Mt. Tarawera eruption. I walked for about an hour (mostly downhill) through a bush area full of various boiling mudholes and geysers. One unusual feature was the "Frying Pan lake." This lake was created from a volcanic crater formed in 1917. The lake's average temperature is 55 C or 131 F. The top of the lake is covered by wispy veils of carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide: it looked like something from prehistoric times.

After walking for 45 minutes, I reached the dock for the "Ariki Moana," an old fishing trawler refitted to carry passengers. We then took a forty minute cruise around Lake Rotomahana where we passed a cliff full of steam vents.

I rode back to my room in Rotorua. I'd heard that Rotorua is sometimes called Rotten-rua because of the constant rotten egg smell. I can believe it. I was getting a bit sick from the smell.

I arranged to go a 'hangi,' a Maori feast and dance ceremony, at the THC Hotel. There was a huge feast of Maori dishes. Eel tastes and looks like salmon. I tried seaweed, which I liked, and sow thistle, which was kind of dry and tasteless.

There was then an hour of traditional dancing. One rather cute dancer kept looking at me (or so I thought). Then she pulled me up on the stage as a 'volunteer' for a dance. Oh, great.

Wednesday, Nov. 10, 1993
I arranged to go on a "River Rats" trip Wednesday at 12 noon on the Rangitaiki river. To kill time I headed on the bike to the Rainbow Springs Farm Show. This is an attraction that features NZ animal life, including kiwis, and a sheepdog show. When I got their at 9:00 AM it was still closed. I walked a block over to the Skyline Gondola, where a pod carried me to the top of a 900 meter hill. There was a fairly decent view of Rotorua. I spent a while there, then headed back to town.

I got picked up by "river Rats," probably NZ's biggest white water rafting company. They gave me a forty minute ride over old logging roads in a diesel Daihatsu van (Daihatsu seems to be very popular in NZ).

We were fitted out with neoprene wetsuits, wool sweaters, helmets, and life jackets. Besides me, there was an Aussie guide, a Kiwi guide, a German doctor named Karl, an English doctor named Tim, and a Kiwi child care worker named Yolanda. We spent about two hours rafting down a 14 KM stretch of white water river called the Rangitaiki. The river was rated a grade 4 level which I gather is moderate. There was another river called the Kaituna that is rated as 5+ and contains a seven meter waterfall!

This white water rafting is great - it was like a roller coaster in water! Afterwards, the guide told me that I should try rafting in British Columbia: the rivers have fewer rocks and more volume for speed.

As we drove back into Rotorua, it started pouring rain. The forecast was for the rain to continue the next day. I debated whether to stay in Rotorua for another day or head to the Coromandel Peninsula.

Thursday Nov. 11, 1993
I woke up to find it was partly cloudy, so I rode out while the weather was still good. I headed east on the lake shore and then turned north on Highway 33. It was very typical North Island flat farm land.

When I got to Te Puke, I ran into some confusion. Two side roads criss-crossed the main road in a six-pointed star pattern, like an asterisk. When I got near it, it had "Give Way" signs painted on it and a car came up on the left at the same time, so I stopped. (Of course I had the right-of-way!) Some impatient moron behind me started honking his horn. I got going. The moron pulled up on my right, a zit-faced teenager. He started wailing on his horn and gave me the middle finger. I was tempted to return the favor, but decided I screwed up and deserved it.

I then got into Tauranga during rush hour. Tauranga has about 75,000 people. Somehow I got through several roundabouts without getting lost (applause please). I then came up to a very surprising obstacle: a toll booth! It was the first and only one I saw in New Zealand.

I pulled to the far left of my lane, put the bike into neutral, hopped off, and started hunting for a 50 cent coin. Geez. After pulling maps, wallet, keys, etc. out of my pockets, I finally find some coins. By this time, a woman had stopped her car partway in the lane. I waved her past me. I then walked up to the toll booth guy (who was glaring at me for taking so long) and handed him a $2 coin. I got my change, put away my maps and wallet, donned my gloves, walked back to my bike, hopped on and put it into gear. It stalled. Oops, forgot that damn sidestand! I restarted the Kawasaki. Hurray! I was finally through after a lengthy production.

Going through Tauranga, some loser in a work van with a trailer kept cutting me off. He was obviously doing it on purpose: I caught him staring at me. Maybe he was sore from waiting behind me at the toll booth? Finally we got to the city limits and started going up a long hill. I passed by him and waved good-bye.

For quite a long way I was riding through peaceful hilly sheep country. Bor-ring! Looking at a map, the road north from Waiki looked more twisty than the road west. It turned out to be a wise decision: the road soon became very twisty and fun - the rival of roads on the South Island.

When I got to Whangamata (pronounced FANG-a-mata), I got lost. I ended up on a road in the right direction labelled "Heavy Traffic Route." I thought this was the route for heavy traffic - wrong! This was the route for traffic that is literally heavy, IE big trucks. I was riding the EX500 on yet another stretch of crappy gravel road when along came a big lumber truck. I dodged over to the side almost dropping the bike in the shoulder's loose gravel.

I eventually found the tarmac highway and headed west on Highway 26A to Thames. I got to Thames, refueled and found a cabin. It was a dump, and the owner wanted $20 for it. A rip-off by Kiwi standards, but I was tired and needed to rest. Today's ride was about 360 KM over four hours. That sounds pretty slow, but there was a lot of twisty stuff slowing me down. Okay, okay, it IS slow. As I unpacked my bags, it started raining a heavy drizzle.

I looked over the maps and realized I didn't have enough time to go either up the Coromandel Peninsula or to the Northland, and then make it to Auckland by Saturday afternoon. If the bike hadn't been delivered two days late I could have gone all the way to the northern tip. Damn!

I walked into Thames - it was a tiny town with not much of excitement. I stopped by a Honda dealership. I told him I paid $500 NZ per week for the rental and he shook his head. Most NZ dealerships will do a guaranteed buy-back: they will buy the bike back minus any depreciation and repair costs. I could have bought a decent used 500 CC bike for about $2000 to $2500 NZ, then sold it back after three weeks and lost maybe $500. Grrr.

{I wrote the next bunch of stuff while contemplating the fact that the trip was coming to an end, and I felt a little 'blue.'}

The trip felt like it was winding down. After the South Island, the North Island was really pale in comparison. I'd been on the North Island for a week and had had only one good day of riding (today - but it was marred by Tauranga's toll booth and idiot commuters) and the first couple of hours out of Wellington. Certainly nothing I'd rode could compare to the Queen Charlotte Drive or to the west coast of the South Island.

Napier and Wellington were big disappointments. Taupo was fairly nice. Rotorua was very commercial, but the Maori Hangi, the thermals, and the river rafting were great.

The EX500 had performed very well. My only complaint was that it was a street bike. If I were to tour NZ again, I would insist on having a dual-purpose bike. I didn't feel very confident riding the Kawasaki on gravel. Even putting more dirt-friendly tires on the same bike would have been a vast improvement. I would also recommend that anyone else coming to NZ do this same tour in the opposite direction, IE. from north to south.

I had to say that I was disappointed somewhat in my own riding skills. I'd heard people talk about doing six or seven hundred miles in a day. My longest ride was from Te Anau to Fox Glacier: about 330 miles in seven hours, and I was exhausted. Now mind you, that included many very curvy mountain roads. I don't think it would be wise for me to ride with a group; I would just slow most of the other riders down.

I was wondering if I should tour NZ again. When I got to the North Island, I was very happy to think I might come back in a year or two to tour again. Now though, I thought I would just stick to the South Island for the next tour. Maybe I was just getting homesick.

{Note: after transcribing this from my journal, I don't know what the hell I was bitching about! Now that I've been back in Canada for a week, I'm already longing to return to NZ for another tour. A few days of riding again with 80 KM/H butt-headed Volvo drivers has made me realize how good riding in the North Island was. I must have had some kind of male PMS when I wrote those last few paragraphs!}

Friday Nov. 12, 1993:
I took my time packing and getting ready to go. I slept quite well. I rode out under partly cloudy skies. Very smooth straight roads through gentle country farms. I got to a single lane bridge (with a traffic light!) spanning a wide river. After waiting several minutes, the light went green and I got to cross.

The road stayed the usual two lanes until it joined Highway 1: then it turned into the four lane highway with overpasses that I am used to in Canada. The level of traffic steadily climbed as I approached Auckland. Soon I was watching for signs to Mangere, the suburb where my motel was. After quite a while, I pulled off and found a quiet sidestreet so that I could look at my map. Whoops - I'd overshot the turnoff by several kilometers. I figured out the route to the motel and found it after about ten or fifteen minutes. Although there were many cars on the road, nobody seemed to act like a jerk (unlike Tauranga)!

I got a room and unpacked. Today's ride was perhaps 1.5 hours from Thames. It was okay but not exciting. I don't know my way around Auckland, so I decide to take a bus downtown.

On the way in, a car got crunched right behind the bus. We were in the inside passing lane on a four lane stretch of motorway when there was the sound of a car wreck. The three ton truck behind us had some bozo try to pass him on the inside shoulder! Just as Mister Bozo passed, the truck and the car reached an overpass. The idiot car driver got crushed between the right fender of the truck and one of the overpasses' cement pillars. The driver of the bus pulled over and radioed for help. It probably did no good: the car was crushed like a pop can. The roof and floor were touching in spots, and blood and petrol were all over. I didn't hear anything on the news, but I don't see how anyone could have survived.

I took a bus tour from downtown. We started by riding around the downtown core while the driver pointed out famous landmarks. We then went over the Auckland Harbor Bridge. It originally had four lanes, then had two more lanes clipped onto each side by a Japanese engineering firm. The nickname for this bridge is the Nippon Clip-on. One unusual feature is that the concrete barrier or divider is moved twice a day for each rush hour. A fancy machine rolls out on the bridge, lifts each concrete barrier section, and moves it two lanes over. In the morning, there are five lanes into town and only three out. In the evening it's five lanes out and three in.

We paid a short visit to Mount Eden, an extinct volcanic cone. It has excellent views of the whole city and harbor. The crater is a very distinct bowl-shape perhaps 100 meters wide.

We then went to Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World. This was amazing: an acrylic tunnel leads for 300 or 400 meters through natural looking tanks of seawater. There are about 1500 sea creatures, including many fish, sharks, lobsters and sting rays. It is incredible - it seems as though you are walking around underwater.

We also paid a visit to the Auckland War Memorial Museum. The museum contains a lot of memorabilia from the World Wars, including an actual RAF Spitfire, a captured Japanese Zero, and a captured German V-1 buzzbomb.

Saturday Nov. 13, 1993
I got the bike cleaned as well as I could and headed to Graeme Crosby Motorcycles. It was fairly easy to find. I parked the bike and went in. After handing over the helmet and saddlebags, I spent about twenty minutes talking to one of the sales guys. They had a fleet of twenty bikes for rental: EX500s, Kawasaki ZX-7s, and Yamaha XT600s.

I said that I'd rather have had the XT600 for the gravel roads. He laughed and said, "We Kiwis like riding our street bikes in the dirt - it adds a bit of excitement!" He added that the XT600s are very popular with Germans because they like the 'macho' styling rather than wanting the dirt capabilities.

He also told me that they do buy-backs, but it works out to be cheaper to rent if you want the bike for less than a month or so. He told me that they recommend riders do a complete circuit of the circumferences of both islands (like a figure-eight), starting and finishing in Auckland. He also pointed out some twisty roads on a map of the North Island and says too bad I missed them all except Whangamata to Thames!

I walked out and took a final photo of the EX500. I noted the odometer: 3471 kilometers. I had put 2981 KM or 1787 miles on the bike (about the same distance as San Francisco to Dallas).

I headed downtown and wander around. I met a chip vendor who spoke good English, though her Kiwi accent sounds a bit strange. It turned out that she moved here from the Netherlands only three years ago and has learned her English since. Talking to her, I find out that in those three years, she's never been to the South Island! I tried 'kumara' chips. (Kumara is a type of sweet potato.) They didn't really appeal to me so I fed them to the pigeons.

I then took a tour bus to the Montgomerie Sheep Farm. This is a small-to-medium size farm an hour's drive from Auckland. We had a barbecue steak lunch. The owner then showed how his 'eye' dog is used to herd sheep. We then went into the shearing barn and watched him shear a sheep. (Hey, it was a lot more exciting than it sounds.) The farmer then explained a little about the sheep wool business: he had 2000 sheep that he shears twice a year. He would get maybe 30 large bales of wool per shearing, and currently the auction will bring in $600 NZ per bale. That works out to $36,000 NZ per year. Not a whole lot of money when you work in the expenses: that's why they do the tours.

Tomorrow night I would fly home, leaving me one final day in Auckland.

Sunday Nov. 14, 1993
I woke up and packed. Keeping only my camera and maps, I checked out and headed downtown. After a quick breakfast, I went on a Fuller's Harbor Cruise. This was a three hour cruise in the Auckland harbor. We went north to Davenport (northern Auckland). The catamaran then headed to Rangitoto Island, the recent volcanic cone in the harbor. In the 1950s, there were only a couple hundred cabins on the island. The NZ government bought them from the owners, but allowed the owners to continue using them. The catch: the cabins were demolished when the original owners died. There are only a few cabins left now. In another twenty or thirty years, all the houses will be gone and the volcano will be back to its original state.

The island was covered with green bushes and trees that have found footholds in the volcanic rock, similar to the hillsides of Milford Sound. I spent twenty minutes walking around before returning to the catamaran.

The cat then headed west and made a quick loop underneath the harbor bridge before heading to dock. I then found a bus to the Auckland Zoo. It was a fairly good zoo, with all the animals in pens that are meant to resemble their natural habitat. There was a display called "Aviary of the Forest." It was a huge wire mire mesh tent that contained many trees and bushes. It also contained a small brook and pond. The aviary contains several species of threatened birds, and the zoo has had much success in captive breeding.

I walked next door to the Museum of Transport and Telecommunications (MOTAT). It is a collection of buildings containing a mix of exhibits. I found it annoying as it didn't seem to be very well-organized. One building had a '28 Harley with a factory sidecar (cool), an old BSA with a wooden sidecar (cooler), and a '27 P&M Panther, a British-made BIG air-cooled 600 CC single (coolest)!

I then caught the tram back to the zoo. A society at MOTAT maintains some of the old trolley cars that were shut down in the 1960s. There's still an 1800 meter section of track running between MOTAT and the zoo. Currently they are just starting to restore an old double decker tram car.

I then headed back downtown to the Maritime Museum. This was just recently opened. It was an extremely good display of NZ's history of sailing and boating. There were several original and replica outrigger canoes. There were also many items related to shipping and sailing. The Steinlager II (winner of the '89 Whitbread) and the NZ2 (from the America's Cup) are mounted outside on permanent display. Oh yeah, I also saw a 1929 "Indian Motocycle Company" outboard engine! It was a small two-stroke opposed twin engine. Neat!

I grabbed a quick meal and then stopped by the motel to pick up my duffle bag. I then headed to the airport for the twelve hour flight to Los Angeles.

{On the plane} Take-off was very good. It seems very sad to leave New Zealand behind.

Bruce Clarke
Send e-mail to: