The following is a transcription of a journal I kept while touring New Zealand on a rented 1986 Honda CX 400 Custom motorcycle. I rode from Christchurch to the North Island, and then circled most of the North Island's coast before returning to Christchurch. The total distance travelled was 3278 kilometres (1967 miles) by motorcycle.
The motorcycle used was rented from Greentours Motorcycle Rental of Christchurch New Zealand. I have no affiliation with Greentours Rentals other than as a satisfied customer.
This journal may be freely distributed so long as it is unaltered. I have recorded my notes in New Zealand dollars and metric measurements. At the time of this trip, $1 US = $1.75 NZ. 100 kilometres = 60 miles; 1 meter = 3 feet; 0 Celsius = 32 F; 20 C = 70; 38 C = 100 Fahrenheit.
I have typed up my notes exactly as I first wrote them. Many of my notes were written late at night by flashlight, so some entries were very terse or used poor grammar.
Wed., Mar. 4, 1998:
(Victoria, BC -> Christchurch, NZ: by plane)
I left Victoria on Canadian Airlines via Vancouver, Honolulu, Auckland. Fairly smooth flight. I read in the newspaper on the flight down that central Auckland hasn't had electricity for 12 days because all four trunk lines into the area failed, mostly due to unplanned-for urban growth and unusually hot weather. It's estimated it will take ten weeks to fix completely! While switching planes at the Auckland airport the power failed for a few minutes. I arrive in Christchurch at 1 PM Friday March 6 local time. It's +25 Celsius, cloudy, and humid.
I noticed a LOT of clear-cut forest as the plane flew over the South Island from Nelson to Christchurch. I overheard a few others gasping with surprise and commenting on this; you could see how logging roads ran along mountain ridges, with one side of the road being dark green forest and the other being bare rocky hillside.
I didn't feel like stumbling around looking for a bus so I caught a cab ($21 NZ) to the Stonehurst Backpacker's lodge (a hostel). I was able to get a small plain room for $37 NZ. After grabbing a shower I call Greentours to arrange for a morning pickup. I realize I'm also a bit hungry and I need some APS film.
Something I notice: NZ toilets (and Australian) are usually quite different from North America. They tend to have large tanks held high above the bowl on a large pipe. The toilet often has two buttons: one for a small flush and the other for a powerful flush. When you go for a turbo flush the bowl becomes a real fountain. Remember folks don't be lazy and flush before you stand up or you'll be really sorry.
Light switches in New Zealand have small flat oval-shaped rockers about the size of a penny rather than the North American toggle style.
After going downtown for a couple of hours to explore Cathedral Square I am bone-tired. I noticed that the trolley car track that Christchurch was just starting when I was here in October 1993 is long finished and now has a few restored trolleys running a circuit of the downtown core. The Cathedral Square is busy, packed with young people, vendors, and tourists. I see a magazine/tobacco shop called "Mags & Fags" - hmm, I don't think that name would work in North America.
I get back to my room and am exhausted from the long flight (16 hours in the air) so I stick in my ear plugs and take a little nap. Two hours later someone unlocks my door and walks right in. "What are you doing her?" a Japanese tourist asks me indignantly. "You are in wrong room!"
"Huh?" I mumble intelligently as I fumble to put on my eyeglasses and pull out my ear plugs. Groggily I try to say something but I'm too tired to speak. He leaves. I figure someone at the front desk screwed up and he'll be back with the manager. I search around and am amazed to find I actually kept my receipt for the room. Sure enough about five minutes later the manager and the Japanese guy show up. The manager asks me when I checked in. Wordlessly (I'm still half-asleep) I show him the receipt. Now red-faced, the manager apologises profusely and leaves with the other tourist. Poor bastard - probably the backpackers has run out of room by now (7 PM).
I prop a chair against the door and go back to sleep. I sleep like the dead from 7 PM until about 6 AM. I get up and pack, noticing that it rained overnight and the temperature is a cloudy 16 or 18 Celsius.
I plan to ride north to Kaikoura, then cross over to the North Island and circle around its perimeter before returning to Christchurch. You're probably wondering why I didn't just rent a bike out of Auckland. The reason: price. There are several places in Auckland that rent motorcycles but they usually charge about $110 NZ per day for a mid-size Japanese bike. Rentals are much cheaper on the South Island - I suppose to entice riders to come further south. I've arranged to rent a Honda CX 400 Custom for only $57 NZ per day for two weeks: that includes insurance with a $300 deductible and also 24 hour roadside service. The $700 NZ I'll save will easily pay for the commuter flight from Auckland to Christchurch and the ferry costs, plus I get to see some of both islands.
Greentours has three other bikes (Kawasaki GPZ 750, Honda Shadow 750, Yamaha XJ 600) but I'm not too fussy about what kind of bike I'm riding as long as it runs well.
Sat., Mar. 7, 1998:
(Christchurch -> Kaikoura: 185 km by motorcycle)
I get picked up around 8:30 AM by the owner of Greentours. We spend some time going over the paperwork at his house, then fetch the Honda from the garage. I throw on the saddlebags and fire up the small black CX 400. The CX is a transverse V-twin (like a Moto Guzzi) with shaft drive - no chain to mess with. I find the Honda, although styled like an older Shadow 750 cruiser, has footpegs back fairly far like a sportbike and has handlebars that are flat like a dirt bike.
By 9:30 or 10 I ride the Honda around the block a few times to get a feel for the bike, then head out on the main road north to Kaikoura. By now it has stopped raining. The road is in great shape, there's hardly any traffic and soon I have a big grin on my face. The sky has a few patches of blue.
Compared to a Honda Shadow 600 it has much better acceleration, better suspension, and shifts smoother, but mediocre brakes. I also find the handlebar switches to be awkward and fiddly.
I have a very pleasant time but I stumble on one big problem - every time I try to go more than about 90 kph, a red warning light covered with Japanese characters lights up. The first time it happens it scares the hell out of me. I start to slow down - the light goes out. I speed up - the light comes on again. I soon realise that the CX 400 is a Japanese market import and really doesn't have a lot of power, even for a 400! I usually ride pretty slow and conservative anyhow, but 90 kph seems a bit ridiculous; along the straight stretches it'd be nice to speed up to 120 kph or so. I wish I'd known this before so I could have rented a 600 instead. Oh well; I guess I'll have to live with it.
I ride through gentle country hills; plenty of sheep and many colourful birds. I encounter the occasional single lane bridge spanning wide dry riverbeds. Around 1 PM I reach Kaikoura and pitch a tent at a "holiday park" for just $8 NZ. Kaikoura is a small tourist resort town with Norfolk pines lining the beaches. I spend the afternoon walking around Kaikoura. Normally you can get on a whale watching boat tour here but none are running today because the sea is rough.
I spent $0.90 NZ for a liter of 91 octane; that works out to be about $2.20 US per gallon.
One of the biggest differences between now and four years ago is the appearance of coffee shops. Four years if you ordered a coffee most cheaper restaurants would give you a mug of Nescafe instant. Now there are many little cafes serving cappuccinos, lattes, etc.
Sun., Mar. 8, 1998:
(Kaikoura -> Picton: 161 km by motorcycle, Picton -> Wellington: 3 hour ferry, Wellington -> Wanganui: 195 km by motorcycle)
I slept well. It was about 15 Celsius when I woke up and there was not a cloud in the sky. I packed and was ready to ride by 7 AM. I pushed the CX 400 out to the street so I wouldn't wake anyone else up. I watched the sunrise for a few minutes when I suddenly hear several sirens and see a police car rocket by. As I ride though town I see a white car has gone off the road and shattered a small concrete barricade. I doubt the driver escaped serious injury.
I ride through hilly countryside near the eastern seashore. Very pretty. As I go over a ridge a warm wind hits from the north - I can tell it's going to be a hot day. Riding on through a tunnel I realise the Honda's headlight isn't working; I guess I won't be doing any night riding.
Soon the temperatures reach 25C. I get to Picton Harbour around 9 AM. After buying a ticket ($92 NZ) I go on stand-by for the 10:30 ferry. There's no way I'd get onboard the 'Aratika' if I was driving a car. There's also a German rider on a rented BMW F650 and a Kiwi from Hastings on a ratty blue Honda CB 550K.
The weather was calm and sunny, making the 3 hour ferry trip very pleasant. While onboard I try to book a cheap room in Wellington but the information desk tells me that everything is booked up and the cheapest hotel room I'll find downtown is $120 NZ. I decide to ride further to Wanganui. The road is less hilly than what I've rode so far and I try to push the CX 400 a little faster. I find if I run the engine up to 7000 RPM I can reach 100 kph. Redline is 10,000 so I don't know how healthy it would be to ride all day revving it that hard.
As I ride I notice a lot of bikes: about 45% Harley and 45% Japanese liter-class sportbikes, with a smattering of other bikes too. Plodding along at 90 or so, I get passed by a lot of vehicles, even an RV, how embarrassing. I nickname all my rental motorcycles, and I have started to call this one the Black Slug.
I reach Wanganui about 4:30. I find the Tamara Backpacker Lodge and get a single room for $22 NZ. 25C, sunny. Wanganui has many worthwhile sites to see, but everything is closed because it's Sunday.
I wander along the river and downtown. I find my bank ATM card doesn't work but I can still get a cash advance on my credit card. While walking through town I hear a familiar engine sound and then see a blue CX 500 standard burble past. Coincidentally I see a Moto Guzzi fly by in the opposite direction about five minutes later - I noticed that the exhaust note does sound similar to a CX.
I must admit that although it's slow as hell, the CX 400 is probably the most comfortable bike I've ever rode. Despite the Harleyish-look the seating position is a cross between that of a sportbike and a standard - weird but I didn't get any sore back or other aches/pains like most motorcycles give me after a few hours of riding.
Mon., Mar. 9, 1998:
(Wanganui -> New Plymouth via west coast: 210 km by motorcycle)
I slept quite well and then packed by 7:30 AM. It takes me a good fifteen minutes to find my way onto Hwy. 3 towards New Plymouth. Soon I am riding through gently rolling country hillsides. Little traffic, sunny, 20 C, very pleasant. I pass by a gigantic statue of a cow near NZ's largest dairy, 'Dairyland'. They make mozzarella cheese for all the world's Pizza Huts here.
As I ride on I can see the Tasman Sea to my far left and the giant volcanic cone of Taranaki (Mt. Egmont) to the right. When I reach Hawea I gas up and ask the gas clerk whether I should take the direct short route to New Plymouth or the longer way on the coast. (The clerk at the Tamara Backpackers had told me that both ways were equal in scenery so I should take the shorter route.) "Oh no, take the coast," the gas clerk tells me. "If I was riding a bike and I wasn't in a hurry that's the way I'd go!" She tells me that the coast is actually fun for a motorcycle and has hardly any traffic.
I follow the coast as she suggested. Really fun riding; a few twisty spots, mostly gentle hills. Lots of farms, fair numbers of palm trees, ferns, and tropical plants now. I am enjoying the ride even if it is at a very leisurely 90-100 kph. There any many birds on the road side, especially one that looks like a dark metallic blue goose.
The coast has a handful of small farm towns and in Manaia I pull over at a dairy ("corner store") to grab a meat pie. Pies are very popular here - many places serve pies and chips, instead of hot dogs or hamburgers.
Eventually the road gets close to New Plymouth and becomes more hilly and curvy. I reach New Plymouth around 10 AM and quickly find a backpackers ("Richmond Corners"). I get a plain room with a private bathroom for only $26 NZ overnight. Pretty cheap, and it's a fairly nice room. Sunny and 25 C.
I throw on a pair of shorts and then go walking on the beach shore. I find a garden walkway that follows a river inland with shady banks of trees and flowered bushes. I get back to beach and wander around some more. Eventually I get back to the backpackers and have a few beers while looking over some maps of Mt. Egmont. This Anglo name seems to be falling out of favour; most locals now refer to it by the Maori name of Taranaki.
While enjoying my beers, I took to a Maori guy named Jim from Gisborne. He was drinking a God-awful combination of Jim Beam and orange juice (ugh). He tells me the legend of Taranaki: many years ago, Taranaki once stood with the central mountains near Lake Taupo. Taranaki was in love with a smaller gentle mountain named Pihanga (how a mountain can have a gender I didn't ask). Taranaki got into a great fight with the jealous Tongariro and was thrown out of the centre area. As Taranaki fled, he gouged a great river bed, forming the Whanganui river.
I have to park the CX 400 (by the way, I took a close look and noticed it had GL 400E stamped on the engine block) on the street in front of the backpackers lodge. I felt that although the area seems reasonably safe I should get some extra protection, so I spend $17 on a cheap combination cable lock. It won't deter a serious thief but then a serious thief wouldn't steal this bike anyhow.
I also think the cable will be useful for locking my jacket to the bike when I visit Taranaki tomorrow. I plan to ride to the Visitor's Centre on the north side; it's about a 45 minute ride.
I tried my ATM card at the ASB Bank and was able to withdraw cash from my account in Canada. For dinner I ate a strange kind of donair called a kebab while sitting down at the beach: 6 to 8 foot waves were crashing on the boulders of the seawall.
While watching the sunrise from the second floor balcony, I saw a petite woman parking a Kawasaki Eliminator 250 drop it at the end of the block. A guy crossing the street at the moment helped her pick it up.
Tue., Mar. 10,
(New Plymouth -> Taranaki & back: 70 km by motorcycle)
I woke up at 7 AM and went out to the Honda. The sky was mostly cloudy and 18 C. Since it was still dark I tried changing the fuse for the headlight - no improvement. By 7:30 it's bright enough out to ride without a light, so I head out to Taranaki. I can't see Taranaki mountain because it is shrouded in heavy cloud. The ride up the mountain is a narrow twisty single lane with bushes and trees to either side. At times the bush is so thick it seems more like I'm riding in a tunnel.
As the road ascends the cloud layer sits on the road and I'm riding through a misty fog. I reach the Visitor Centre and there's only one other vehicle. I can't see the Taranaki peak or any of the surrounding countryside due to the thick white fog. Several Kiwis have told me that the view is impressive on a clear day.
I park the CX and go tramping along the Ngatoro Track - a 30 minute walk through a damp mossy forest. There are many cedars covered with moss and lichen. I see some fantails and other birds. Temperature is 12 to 14 C.
I then go on a short Nature Track through the "Goblin Forest". Nice trees and all, but when I look off the cliffsides all I can see is the featureless white mist. I take the two hour Veronica Loop Track. This trail is much wetter and goes through steeper terrain with heavy bush. I pass several lookout points but can't see anything below.
By the time I get to the Visitors Centre my jeans are soaked with rain water from all the bushes I've brushed past. Even though it's now almost noon only two cars are in the parking lot - I guess most folks are not stupid enough to come up here on a cloudy day!
I ride back down the mountain. As soon as I leave the park the temperature rises to 25 C and the sky starts to clear. On the 35 km ride back into town the warm rushing air dries my soggy clothes out.
When I get into town I pay $2 for all day parking near the backpackers. I eat some lunch and mail off a couple of postcards, then spend the rest of the afternoon walking around town, visiting the shops, the breakwater sea wall, and the Taranaki Museum. I also do a load of laundry for $2.
Tomorrow I plan to ride all the way to Whangarei - about 550 KM. It will be a long ride (especially on the Black Slug!) but I want to spend a fair amount of time in the Northland - maybe two or three nights. I can use Whangarei as a base to visit other ports of the Northland.
About 8 PM the rain suddenly starts falling very heavy. It lightens up considerably by 8:30 but apparently the forecast is for more rain tomorrow. I hope it'll be dry - if not that'll probably force me to not ride all the way to Whangarei. The weather report states that the South Island really got a good soaking today and those clouds are moving north.
Wed., Mar. 11,
(New Plymouth -> Whangarei: 550 km by motorcycle)
I woke up at 7 AM and walked out to the Honda. It was very windy and as I strapped the saddlebags to the CX the rain started to pound down hard. While I waited for the sky to lighten up I met Alphonse from Tanzania. He works for Tanzania's Ministry of Education and has been in New Zealand for two years working on his doctorate. He was staying at the Backpackers for a couple of nights to attend a conference.
I start the motorcycle up but it's so dark I didn't see the cable lock on the front wheel and start to ride off with it still on! What a bonehead! I untwist the cable and then stop at a McDonald's for a coffee while waiting for daylight.
I start riding after 8 AM. It is miserable: pouring rain, strong winds, and a dark grey sky. Once out in the countryside, the road stays close to seashore. It is scenic - I'm sure it's very nice when it's not raining.... I stop for gasoline in the tiny town of Mokui. As I pull off my gloves the gas station attendant asks if I've been working on the bike. I then realise that the sopping rain has soaked black dye from my gloves into my fingers.
The road heads inland and becomes fairly twisty at times, climbing into the hills and forcing me to cross a couple of single lane bridges on the way. At one point the road is half-blocked by a fallen tree. Before I reached Hamilton I actually did see a couple of other dedicated nuts, err, I mean bikers also riding in the storm.
I start thinking I should stop in Hamilton but then the rain slowly grinds to a halt. As I fuel up in Hamilton the sky starts to clear - hooray! I grab a meat pie and a Coke and then ride on to Auckland.
The road changes to a multi-lane motorway. I start to notice a lot of jerk drivers as we near the big city. For example several of us vehicles (yep, even the Black Slug) get stuck behind a small pickup pulling a caravan. There's a fairly wide paved shoulder that the truck could easily have pulled at least partway over onto so that others could pass easily. Finally we reached a multi-lane section where we could pass him (yep, even the Black Slug).
I ride the 400 right through Auckland without stopping, seeing the new Sky Tower and going over the Auckland Harbour Bridge. As I ride north from Auckland I encounter a lot of extremely aggressive drivers. When I was going up a hill at about 95 kph, a dump truck was in the slow lane doing only about 60 kph. I decide to pass, so I do a shoulder check and see a small red car about 100 meters behind me. As I'm passing the truck I look in my mirrors and find the red car is sitting about one meter behind me. To catch up to me that fast I figure he must have been going at least 150 kph. As soon as I pull back to the slow lane he drives by and shakes his fist at me. Okay, whatever. About half an hour later I passed him while he was stopped for fuel and when he passed me again he deliberately swerved to within a couple feet of me - what a dork.
By the time I am about 100 KM away from Whangarei the jerk drivers seem to have been left behind. The road was straight with a few sweeping curves. Lots of farms and bush. As I near Whangarei there is some rough gravel road construction. About 20 km from Whangarei I notice that my taillight has a warning signal that has just lit up. I pull over and check - yep, no brake light or taillight. Great.
I get to Whangarei and find a backpackers ("Hatea Hut") room for $30 NZ. It's okay but not as nice as other places I've stayed so far.
I check the taillight fuse - okay. I can't figure out how to remove the brake light cover - great. I walk into town and get a bite to eat just as all the shops are closing for the evening. As I return to the backpackers all hell breaks loose with rain coming down in buckets.
Thur., Mar. 12,
(Whangarei: 5 km by motorcycle)
I slept okay. It was very warm and muggy, so I left the window for my room wide open and got stung by a mosquito several times. Hatea Hut is near a major road but the noise of traffic didn't bother me due to my ear plugs. I've decided to take it easy and spend the day in Whangarei. Tomorrow I'll ride to the Bay of Islands (about 1.25 hours away) for the afternoon.
I first wander downtown and eat breakfast. I ask around and find a Suzuki motorcycle shop. I then ride the Honda over and ask them to fix the lights. 20 C and foggy.
As the fog lifts I then walk to the "town basin", a waterfront area with a marina and shops. There's a museum here called Clapham's Clocks with a collection of 1500 rare or antique clocks. It was worth a look at $5.
I then check out the Museum of Fish at $3.50. This was actually more interesting than it may sound: it had a huge collection of various stuffed sharks, fish, etc. caught in New Zealand's waters. They also have a pond with lobsters and eels.
While walking on the marina I noticed that someone had a 1960s Norton single cylinder parked here. It was in good unrestored shape so I snapped a photo.
After looking through some shops downtown I went to the Visitors Centre to get some information on the Bay of Islands. Along the way I stopped at the Whangarei Fernery & Conservatory for a few minutes.
I then stopped at the Suzuki shop. The mechanic tells me that the taillight was replaced but he'd had to remove the seat and rear fender to get at it. He said it took 20 minutes, and charged me a total of $25 NZ. I wasn't too bothered by this as I can deduct it from the rental cost.
Oh yeah: the headlight has a small switch on the handlebars. The mechanic showed me how to turn it on. Okay, I guess I should have figured that out. Duh!
When I picked up the 400 at the shop, the owner asked me where I was riding next. I told him I plan to ride around the East Cape. He tells me "You be careful; the Maori there don't like pakeha (whites)." I decide to take this advice with a grain of salt. Apparently the Maori are predominant in the East Cape but I'm sure if I'm just riding through there will be no problems. It's not like I'm planning on storming into a bar and starting a brawl with the local folks.
I ate an enchilada dinner at "The Mexican Cantina". It was strange; it reminded me of how an alien from space might make an enchilada if you described it to him verbally. Kidney beans instead of refried beans....
I sat in the living room and listened to two Dutch, a Swiss woman and an Argentinean complaining about how lousy the bus service is for backpackers in NZ. Tsk tsk.
Fri., Mar. 13,
(Whangarei -> Paihia: 150 km round-trip by motorcycle)
I got up and was ready to ride by 7:30 AM. It was cloudy and a light drizzly rain was falling with the temperature at 18 C. I rode relatively straight country roads until about three-quarters of the way near Kawakawa. At this point the road changed completely and became extremely hilly and curvy. I rode into the small tourist town of Paihia about 8:30 or so. I pay $50 for a three hour boat ride on the "Orca II". This is a fairly large catamaran that does about 20 knots or so. The Orca moves around the Bay of Islands as the skipper gives a little commentary about the history of the small settlements on the various islands.
One crewman asks me about the bike I'm riding (he sees I'm wearing my motorcycle jacket). He tells me he used to have a CX 500 standard. "Good bike, very reliable," he tells me, "Just no damn power - the top speed was 110, maybe 120 kph and that's it."
The rain was till coming down and the sea has swells of about 5 feet, causing the boat to bounce around like a roller coaster - it's fun! The Orca passes by the Cape Brett lighthouse and then reaches Motukokako Island - the Hole in the Rock. A cave about ten meters wide has worn through the island, just wide enough for the boat to pass through with a couple meters on each side.
When we return to shore I eat a big late breakfast and then I ride the Honda a few kilometers to Waitangi, where I pay $8 to walk into the Waitangi National Reserve. This is the spot where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between Maori representatives and the British government in 1840. There are some interesting old buildings and a 150 man Maori war canoe to see. Great views of the bay.
The rain is still coming down and I'm getting soaked, so I hop on the CX 400 and start riding back to Whangarei about 2 PM. I stop for fuel on the way and calculate that the bike gets about 20 km per liter, or about 50 mpg. I buy some cheap rags and wash the Black Slug as well as I can.
One thing I've noticed on this trip is that most budget travellers are from Europe, followed by Israel and then Japan. Very few folks are from Canada, and even fewer from the States. I'm surprised I don't see more Americans because lately the US dollar is very strong and goes a long way in New Zealand.
I am amused during the evening by watching an Argentinean backpacker named Diego make a fool of himself while hitting on a rather attractive Israeli woman nicknamed Orby. (I'll let you figure out where her nickname comes from.) Around 7 PM the skies open up and it pours down. The forecast is more heavy rain tomorrow. Yee hah.
Sat., Mar. 14,
(Whangarei -> Tauranga: 380 km by motorcycle)
When I woke up at 7 AM the rain had stopped. I packed and rode out of town, and sure enough as soon as I left town the rain started to come down very hard. For the most part there was not a lot of traffic but the weather was abysmal: at times the rain falls so heavily I can't see more than 50 or 100 meters. I keep pulling over to the shoulder so that I can wipe my visor and eyeglasses clean. Along one ridge I pull off to the side and huddle beside the bike while rain dumps down and lightning flashes through the sky.
I have serious thoughts at getting a hotel room or at least holing up in a cafe until the storm blows over, but a gas station attendant tells me that it's supposed to last all day.
I ride the Honda across the Auckland Bridge, barely able to see Sky Tower through the grey rain. I decide to keep riding to Tauranga. I reach the exit for Hwy. 2. After a few km the rain starts to lift and I stop for lunch at a place in the Thames valley (called "the Pink Pig Cafe") simply because it was the first place I reached that wasn't raining.
Passing through Paeroa I saw a giant statue shaped like a bottle of L&P soda. It was actually sunny (!) for the next 20 or 30 km through the countryside, but as I got to within 60 km of Tauranga the rain came down hard again.
As I rode into Tauranga I started asking folks about getting a cheap room. No one I ask has a clue on either finding a backpacker or an information centre. I decide to just get a motel room, but most are booked full. As the rain finally stops I find one room for $75 NZ - ouch!
Tauranga is a mid-sized city. I walk around downtown for a couple hours. I don't really like Tauranga - it's too small for major attractions catering to tourists, but it's too big and spread-out to walk around and explore it easily. It is basically a city of motels for beach-goers.
I only rode 381 km today - but it feels like a heck of a lot more. In a way it's good that I paid for a motel room: it gives me lots of room to hang out my gear to dry. Even the high quality saddlebags leaked. All my riding kit is soaking wet; I have a light rain suit but after a few hours of heavy downpour the water has eventually soaked in at the collar, wrists and ankles.
Tomorrow I plan to ride the East Cape. If the weather is good I should be able to ride to Gisborne, but the forecast is for more rain, so I'd guess I'm probably going to stop somewhere around Hick's Bay or Te Araroa for tomorrow.
Sun., Mar. 15,
(Tauranga -> Gisborne: 500 km by motorcycle)
Finally - a good day of riding. I woke up and packed at 7 AM. Dang my riding gear is still damp from yesterday. I start riding in partly sunny skies and 18 C. I could see thick dark grey clouds to the south and the west but to the east I could see patches of blue sky and sunshine. Yee hay!
I pass through the small town of Te Puke, "The Kiwi Fruit Capital of the World." At the edge of town is a 50 foot high statue of a slice of kiwi fruit. Naturally I stopped for a photo.
As I rode the CX 400 an occasional drop of rain would hit my face plate. Thick ugly clouds sat just inland of me, but the road hugs the sunny Bay of Plenty. At Opotiki I encounter about a kilometer of really bad potholed gravel repair road - I mean REALLY bad. The road splits and instead of taking the shorter route through the rain-soaked bills I take the long twisty road along the sunny ocean. What a tough choice!
I used to think the best road I've ever seen for motorcycling was the west coast of the South Island. We have a new winner - the East Cape of the North Island. It is truly spectacular; great views of ocean surf; well-maintained road, virtually no traffic (sometimes I would ride 20 or more km without seeing another vehicle) and a twisting cliffside road.
In several sections there are minor rock slides from the recent rain but the road is clear enough for cars to get by. I see a few other motorcycles go by as well. I reach Te Araroa: I'd read that it has a nice backpackers but frankly the town was a run-down dump. I was low on fuel and paid $1 NZ per liter (usually in the low 90 cents range).
Turning south the road moves into hilly treeland and cattle range. I have to stop for about ten minutes as a cattle herd crosses the road. The road is still curvy and the rain clouds have disappeared, making the afternoon warm and sunny. Very pleasant. As I pass by the seaside town of Tokomaru Bay I see several "old pharte bikers" having a snack by the side of the road. Included among the bikes is an old Ariel single and a Vincent V-twin (gee, I've never seen a Vincent outside a museum before).
As I reach the last stretch before Gisborne the wind really picks up and slaps me around hard on the bike. I'll still take wind over rain, thanks. I reach the small resort town of Gisborne. It's late on a Sunday afternoon so most of the town is shut-down. I decide to rest here for a couple nights and get a tent site at a "holiday camp" by the ocean for only $8 per night.
I've now rode 2375 km. I'm really tired after today's riding and catch myself yawning at 7:30 PM.
Mon., Mar. 16,
(Gisborne: no mileage)
I slept very well from about 9 PM until about 6:30. It was clear during the night but is now cloudy and 16 C at 7:30 AM. I walk downtown and have breakfast. I then walk through the botanical gardens next to the river Taraheru. There's an aviary here with various parrots and other colourful birds. Someone has the stereo blaring Sheryl Crow from across the road "That Change'll Do You Good!" The sun comes out and it's 20 C.
I walk up Kaiti Hill as it rises 140 meters above the ocean. The Gisborne Astronomical Observatory is up here: at 178 degrees East it is the easternmost observatory in the world.
I get back into town and visit the local museum. It's not that great, but next door is a maritime museum built from the bridgehouse of "The Star of Canada", a 10,000 tonne freighter that wrecked off the shore here in 1912. Very interesting.
I spend some time downtown looking at shops. I see a very neat little Honda VFR250 sportbike - it looks like a white VFR750 that was shrunk in the wash. It would leave my CX 400 behind like the hare and the tortoise. I get back to my tent site and do a small load of laundry. The sky clouds over at 6 PM.
Tue., Mar. 17,
(Gisborne -> Wellington: 525 km by motorcycle)
I was up at 5:30 and started riding at 6 AM - NZ switched back to standard time yesterday so it's light outside already. It was cool at 12 C but mostly sunny. The road climbs into the hills and is quite twisty for about the first 150 km or so. As I get near Napier the terrain flattens out into farmland with a straight road. I keep the bike pegged at a whopping 95 kph (oh the gee forces, the gee forces!).
Kiwis drive fairly fast but they seem to have a problem staying in their own lane while going around a curve. Several times today I'd come around a bend and find an oncoming car at least a foot or more over the centre line - in one case a good three feet, missing me by maybe two feet.
I see another biker ride by dressed in camouflage fatigues, riding a 650 dual-purpose with camo paint and even wearing a matte green helmet with a black visor. I think that's kind of weird, and then see a convoy of maybe fifteen army trucks go by, each being lead by a similar rider.
I see a lot of hawks and other large birds picking at roadkill (usually possums).
As I get to the town of Dannevirke the sky clouds over. I get a few drops of rain but not enough to bother with raingear. When I get to Woodsville I probably should have turned at the Masterton exit. Instead I end up on the highway to Palmerston North and waste a good half an hour circling around trying to find the right road. I end up going south on Hwy. 1 until Plimmerton, where I take a very twisty lakeside road to the Lower Hutt region.
After much puttering around I finally stumble onto the Hutt Park Holiday Village and get a plain cabin for $25 per night. I book for two nights and also book passage on the Interislander ferry for Thursday morning at $92 NZ.
By now it's late in the afternoon, cloudy, and only 16 C with strong winds. I have fish and chips at a shop that won an award for best fish and chips in all of New Zealand. It is pretty good. I notice a sign on the wall proclaiming "We proudly use Lardade in all our cooking!"
I will catch the bus into Wellington tomorrow and make a day of my visit. I think taking the 400 would be a hassle for parking and carrying my riding gear around.
Wed., Mar. 18,
(Wellington: 25 km by bus)
I caught an early bus to downtown Wellington. I walk past the new Museum of New Zealand (Te Papa) but it doesn't open until 10 AM. I get some breakfast and do some walking around. The last time I was in Wellington the library adjacent to New Zealand's Parliament (which looks like a giant concrete beehive) was covered with scaffolding for a renovation. Now it looks like a very stately building with large granite pillars.
I catch a cable car up to the top of the hills surrounding Wellington and snap a couple photos of the view of the harbour. I then go back to downtown and drop off a roll of film for processing.
While downtown I notice a lot of special "motorcycle only" parking stalls. They are well-used and I see quite a motley collection of bikes. Mostly are old rusty beaters but there are a few interesting gems: an Africa Twin, several Honda GB 500 "Brit bike" singles, a mid-60s Yamaha in mint shape, Ducatis, even a Suzuki Savage....
I go to the Te Papa. Yesterday an older couple at the motor camp had told me that Te Papa was much bigger than the old museum and would take a couple of days to see thoroughly. Oh brother, what an exaggeration! Yes, the new building is larger but a lot of it is office space, conference halls, or yet to be filled. The fourth floor is a mix of Maori and Anglo history on New Zealand. (BTW they have a beautiful Britton V-1000 race bike on display.) The fifth floor is all Kiwi art and worth looking at. The third floor has a conference centre and an art collection (visiting from Britain) that costs $12 to see (I didn't bother). The second floor has a lot of interactive displays on geology, NZ's animal life and a large outdoor botanical garden.
I saw a mechanical fortune telling wheel from an old New Zealand World's Fair. The first spin says "You will make a journey to a distant land in the immediate future"! This surprised me as I fly back to Canada in just four days. The second spin tells me "Take a risk and it will lead to a prosperous future."
There are also two 'rides' at Te Papa. 'BlastBack' is a movie of prehistoric New Zealand with chairs that tilt and rumble as the camera pans around over the ancient landscapes. In 'FutureRush' your image is projected live onto a giant video screen and you act as an interactive character travelling in Wellington in the year 2055 AD.
They also had "Virtual Bungy": you get strapped into a steel ball cage that can pivot in any direction and a pair of virtual reality goggles are strapped onto your head. A monitor is set up to allow others to see what the person in the cage is viewing. As I watch the screen and see that the cameraman has jumped off a bridge while wearing a bungee cord, suddenly the ball cage flips upside down and starts spinning and whirling. I can hear the woman inside suddenly get sick and start barfing! They had to clean out the cage when she was done - I guess it was pretty realistic!
I picked up my film. Humph. The photos turned out okay but film never seems to look as good as the real thing. I then walked over to the Maritime Museum but it's under renovation until May. I'd read that it has a lot of realistic ship models including a sinking 'Titanic'. Dang.
By about 3 PM I caught the bus back to the motor camp as I'm tired from all the walking today. I notice a Japanese man staying here for the last couple of days. He's driving a beat-up old Austin Mini and a tent. Several ducks have been sleeping near the tent; the man shares bread with them when he is eating. He's one of the few Asian tourists I've seen. This is very different from my last visit four years ago - then I saw many Japanese group tours. I think there are fewer because of the Asian market collapse. The vast majority of tourists are Europeans, especially Germans.
Thu., Mar. 19,
(Wellington -> Kaikoura: 175 km by motorcycle)
Packed and rode the CX 400 to the ferry terminal around 8 AM. The ferry takes a long time to load. Also going onboard are a Harley Bad Boy, a Moto Guzzi Sport 1100, and a BMW R80RT. It's very sunny and warm. The ferry seems to have more German tourists than Kiwis onboard. As the ferry crosses the Cook Straits I see a couple of dolphins, one coming within 100 meters of the ferry.
When the ferry docked after the three hour trip, it was actually quite hot (28 C). The first half of the trip was through flat farmland, and then some riding along curvy seashore cliffs. I made fairly good time on the Black Slug, and got to Kaikoura by 3 PM. As I check into the same motor camp as before, the operator tells me that the same day I was riding through the big rain storm, Kaikoura had snow in the hilltops that lasted for three days.
It's too late in the day to arrange any sort of whale watching tours. I plan to ride to Christchurch tomorrow AM. This will give me a day and a half in Christchurch before flying home to Canada Sunday morning.
Fri., Mar. 20,
(Kaikoura -> Christchurch: 185 km by motorcycle)
I woke up early and started riding after watching the sunrise over Kaikoura's beachfront. It's sunny but a cool 12 C. Immediately south of Kaikoura the waves crash up on rocky islets, similar to the Oregon coast. Very pretty. The road is twisty and has several narrow tunnels carved through the cliffs.
The highway turns inland through some hills, then drops down to the sunny plains of Canterbury. The wind blowing across the grassy flatlands is fierce at times, making riding a real chore.
Finally I reach the outskirts of Christchurch. I stop at a tractor/diesel repair shop to ask for directions. The guy in the shop was a complete moron - he couldn't tell his elbow from a hole in the ground. He wasn't even able to show me on a map what area of the city we currently were in. I ended up stopping at a gas station where I did get directions. I returned the Honda CX 400 to Greentours Rentals at about 9:30. The total distance rode was 3278 kilometers or 1967 miles.
After dropping off the Black Slug I caught a taxi back to the Stonehurst Backpackers (where I stayed the first night two weeks ago). I spent the afternoon travelling around Christchurch, visiting the Canterbury Museum, the Botanical Gardens, etc. Christchurch is a very pretty city and is very enjoyable to visit.
Sat., Mar. 21,
(Christchurch: around town)
I walked downtown early and cashed my last traveller's cheque. After eating a breakfast at a swank hotel restaurant, I dropped off another roll of film. I took a shuttle bus to Mona Vale, a garden park. I then spent about an hour and a half at the NZ Air Force Museum - very interesting history of NZ's role in both world wars.
I then went to Dr. Heins Car Museum. This is a stunning collection of old cars (mostly pre-WW II British cars) and a handful of motorcycles including a 1920s BSA single and a 1950s Triumph single.
I then went to the Mt. Cavendish Gondola, which offers great views of the surrounding countryside. On the way back to town I stopped at the Bungee Rocket. Two metal spar towers about 50 meters tall have a steel cage suspended between them with giant bungee cables. Two people are strapped into the cage and the bungee cage is released, snapping up on the cords like a slingshot at 5 Gs. The ball flies up above the towers, then is yanked back down by the cables. It bounces up and down about ten times before stopping, and then the cage is lowered to the ground. No, I didn't try it!
I bought some McDonald's, a few postcards, and then packed for my long flight home early Sunday morning.
I found the CX 400 Custom to be an adequate and comfortable, but slow bike. I would have to recommend that experienced riders rent one of Greentours' bigger bikes.
NZ drivers: tend to drive fast and don't seem
to be able to stay in their own lane on a bend.
Speeds: City is usually 50 kph. Highway is usually 100 kph.
Roads: Generally good condition and well-marked.
Banks: Easy to find, but I found only bank (ASB) worked with my ATM card.
Hotels: On average you can get a plain room with communal bathroom and kitchen for under $20 US per night. A more fancy hotel room will be three or four times that price.
Camping: Less than $10 per night, and easy to find.
Fuel: $2.50 US per US gallon on average. Never a problem to find a gas station.
Food: Cheap and plentiful
People: Very friendly and helpful. Never encountered any attitude problems.
Weather: Generally warm and sunny, but definitely bring a good rain suit!
Greentours Motorcycle Rentals has a web page on the Internet with details on their bikes and rates. The address is currently http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~greentrs/
I recommend this rental agency.