Travel Notes From NZ

Some memories from a two week road trip around New Zealand’s South Island.


The sheer space on the South Island is quite a contrast to most of Europe. On a long, lonely Highway 87, up past Ranfurly, along Highway 85 and 8 I overtook maybe two vehicles. I cruised slowly through Scottish-sounding towns like Galloway, Clyde and Bannockburn until I finally reached Lake Wanaka, which was a postcard smooth, mirror of ice-capped mountain views. Stunning.


Rather than try a hotel, I checked into a house for two nights at Wanaka, as it had a washing machine and tumble-drier, plus a garage for the bike. Cost about £70 per night but worth it to re-charge my batteries. I spent a whole day resting, lubing the cables and chain on the VFR, checking the tyres and sleeping. Three days of hammering rain and strong winds had drained the fun out of motorcycling for a while.

Wanaka is a stunning, serene place, surrounded by mountains and unbelievably peaceful. You couldn’t ask for a more beautiful way of escape, a fortress of quiet solitude.

After a break I woke up to some NZ sunshine for the fabulous Haast Pass route; a serpentine roller-coaster through more spectacular mountains, with topaz coloured water crashing through the canyon next to the road. I stayed with Highway 6 as it wriggled down the mountains to the coast, then hooked northwards to the Fox Glacier and Greymouth.

This town has a real old school feel, a gritty, almost pioneer type of vibe. Coal mines, casinos and dusty old V8 American cars pepper the area here, you feel like this is the real NZ, a million miles from Queenstown’s `dude’ culture. Again, I checked into a small bed & breakfast hotel on spec and hit the local bar for decent meal and a pint. Greymouth was akin to small town America in lots of ways; low-roofed shops and restaurants, an easy pace to it.


I carried on up Highway 6 and over the hills. More swoopy bends, loose rocks in the road and squally showers of rain to contend with. NZ’s summer’s can be four seasons in one day, bit like Ireland in that regard. I picked up Highway 63 to Blenheim and briefly considered getting a ferry ride over to the North Island, which runs from Picton and takes about 3 hours. In the end, I decided against it; you can only cover so much ground in 10 days, so why pile on the big mileage days? I turned south and checked into Kaikoura for 2 nights instead and loved it.


Kaikoura makes a fantastic base for whale or dolphin-watching, surfing, ocean fishing trips, or just lazing on the beach, watching the Kea parrots peck away at the cool boxes of camper-can travellers. The parrots even had a go at the panniers on the VFR, detecting the roadside picnic I packed in there.

This was the last lap of my South Island tour and then back to Christchurch along Highway 1, with a detour to Motunau Beach on the way. There’s a single track road to the rocky edge of the South Island, so it’s a quiet place. For me, this was another chance to paddle in the Pacific Ocean, mirroring the dip I’d taken a year before, on the other side of the ocean at Oregon. Two sides of a mighty sea in two years, I felt like Michael Palin, a proper globe-trotter. You feel like you are at the very edge of the earth on the South Island. There’s miles of sand, seabirds, maybe two or three campervans…that’s it. Next stop, Antarctica.


Back in Christchurch I had a day to check out the John Britten museum, get used to being surrounded by people again and pack up for the long flight home. NZ has its own pace of life, a genuine old fashioned flavour in the small towns that sets it apart. The best thing I did on the whole trip was leave my mobile in a drawer at home – the South Island isn’t just Godzone, it’s a welcome break from the 24/7 modern world. It’s just you, the bike and the open road.

Like motorcycle touring used to be.



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