10 Days on 2 Wheels | New Zealand

by: @melanie_oliver

I’ve been learning to ride on my 1986 Honda GB400 for about a year, so this summer I was ready for a long distance adventure. I strapped a tent on the back of my GB and took a ten-day ride round Te Waipounamu, the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand. Here’s how I got on…

I live in Wellington, so my journey started with the ferry crossing to Picton. The view sailing into the Marlborough Sounds is stunning and I was tempted to follow the picturesque Queen Charlotte Drive to get to Nelson, but with so many tourist camper vans on the ferry, fellow bikers suggested avoiding this in favor of route 6. Heading this way, I resisted breaking at any of the delicious wineries, but Pelorus Bridge is a must stop swimming spot on a hot day; chilly and refreshing. After a couple of hours easy riding, this first night I stayed with friends in Nelson – the last comfy bed and shower for a while!

Day two, Nelson to Lake Mahinapua (337km), was definitely the best day of my trip with unbelievable scenery, plenty of twisty corners and single lane bridges. Once out of Nelson, the road sweeps towards the small town of Murchison, passing through breathtaking native forest. After a coffee, it was on to the Buller Gorge road that winds into and along the river valley. Woohoo! It literally had me grinning the whole way.

As a country of islands, everywhere in New Zealand is close to the coast and one of the things I love most about riding here is how you pop out of bush-clad roads to a sudden view of the ocean – a vast blue horizon. The Buller Gorge jumps out just north of Punakaiki, a series of ‘pancake’ rock formations and blowholes. A picnic lunch and some tourism, then it was a coastal cruise to set up camp at Lake Mahinapua, a short way past Hokitika, with a few friends who were driving the same way.

Just before I left, Ngai Tahu (the largest tribe in the South Island) released a new website [http://www.kahurumanu.co.nz/atlas] that shares indigenous knowledge and histories based on a searchable map. It’s a very cool resource with which to learn about places, such as the battles for highly-prized pounamu (greenstone) that were fought on the shores of Lake Mahinapua. I took a dip in the lake to rinse off the day and while there was a bit of weed to wade through, it was a nice way to end a damn amazing day.

Down the West Coast and over Tioripātea/ Haast Pass to Makarora (347km) was another sweet ride, featuring some more open stretches of road. We stopped at Fox Glacier along the way, and I was shocked at how far the glacier has receded since visiting in 2006. The notoriously gloomy weather suited my mood after seeing this glaring evidence of climate change.

Situated just over the incredible Tioripātea mountain pass, Makarora is isolated and awesome, and when I do this trip again, I’ll book one of the cute A-frame huts at the camping ground and stay a couple of days. After a night of rain pelting our tents, I took an early morning jog up a nearby track and totally can’t wait to hike here someday. The Blue Pools are apparently spectacular. Next time!

We set off in drizzly rain towards Queenstown, a few hours away, for New Years Eve and the weather cleared up along the way. Some friends live on a lifestyle block beside the Shotover River, where Henry designs and builds WattsCraft aluminum boats [http://www.wattscraft.com/], and I spent a few idyllic days camping here with the crew: walking, swimming and kayaking. We saw the New Year in from a wood-fired hot tub under the stars. So dreamy.

I left kind of late in the day for Christchurch, the longest ride of my trip (483 km), and while the view of Aoraki/Mount Cook is spectacular, it was hot and boring. Should have stopped for a swim! Or found a better route to take. I finally arrived into Lyttelton for dinner though, and then headed around to Diamond Harbour with Luke and Nadine, in the dark on a somewhat dodgy road.

When I was endlessly talking about buying a bike, it was Luke who took me dirt biking, so it was super nice to hang out and clean our bikes together! There is great bike culture in Christchurch, with a bike night every Thursday at Smash Palace [http://thesmashpalace.co.nz/] and a bunch of peeps doing interesting stuff. Luke produces Head Full of Snakes, a motorcycle fanzine [http://www.headfullofsnakes.com/].

The weather turned nasty at this point and I was glad to spend a couple of days relaxing harbor-side in Christchurch, including my birthday – thanks to the captain for throwing me a wee party!

Ten days went pretty quick. The coastal road back to Picton has only just reopened after the Kaikoura earthquake, with several new sections and remarkable changes to the landscape, but I left early morning and easily made it in time for my evening ferry home, tired and satisfied… if a tad sad it was all over. It was great to catch up and share the journey with friends, but strangers were friendly along the way too – GB tends to strike up conversations. The roads were challenging and fun, and there are so many more places to explore, I’m already planning my next trip!


Gear review:

I bought some Atwyld Shred Moto Jeans and the Convoy Armored Shirt to wear under an old leather jacket. The D3O armor made me feel protected without being bulky, and I found I could easily layer it up. The weather in New Zealand can be unpredictable, with occasionally low temperatures and a cold wind even in summer, so a couple of days I wore merino leggings under my jeans to keep cosy. The top was snug so I could fit an extra jumper on days that I needed to, but it was also fine on warm days… it didn’t even end up that stinky! I’m now lusting after an Atwyld  Alltime Moto Jacket.