Riding a motorcycle in New Zealand just might blow your mind.
New Zealand is about the same size as California, and you’re never more than 170 km from the sea. The population is just over 4 million (not counting the hobbits, elves and dwarves you’ve seen in The Lord of the Rings).
When you look at a map, the travel distances in this country seem tiny. But a map doesn’t tell the full story. A map won’t prepare you for moving through entirely different worlds over the course of an hour. It won’t explain why it can take most of the day to ride 200 km.
Because New Zealand is full of surprises. Here are some tips on riding a motorcycle through this challenging (and distracting!) country.
How to Ride a Motorcycle While Watching out for Hobbits
It still surprises me that what looks like a fast, easy ride will actually take at least twice as long as you expect. And there are 5 very good reasons for that.
- The Roads
Riding a motorcycle in New Zealand involves everything from smooth three-lane city highways, to quiet country lanes, rough gravel tracks and even a white beach you can ride along (that’s 90 Mile Beach in the main photo above).
But it’s not the road surfaces that you’ll notice. It’s the lack of straight lines.
If you’re partial to twisty roads, you just might decide to move here.
The twisties are everywhere you look.
There are roads that wind alongside deep blue rivers, lazy wide corners through chocolate-brown farmland, and hairpin bends cut right into mountains. Sometimes you meet a corner so long that time seems to stop: it’s just you and your purring machine leaning into an endless sunny curve.
And you might not see a car for 20 minutes at a time.
With these riding conditions, who cares about the destination?
- The Scenery
Those armies of monstrous orcs in The Lord of the Rings movies were created with special effects, but the landscapes here are real.
Visitors on New Zealand tours are always overwhelmed by the larger-than-life scenery here. But when you’re riding a motorcycle, you’re a moving part of landscapes that will leave you at a loss for words.
It is often so beautiful that it makes you feel stupid. You’ll pull over, take off your helmet and stand there, gaping at snow-capped mountains, fields of purple lavender, mini-waterfalls tumbling down cliff faces, and more shades of green than you’ve ever seen in your life.
The big challenge is to keep your eyes on the road instead of the scenery.
- The Weather
Riding a motorcycle here demands flexibility on a whole new level. That’s because of the weather. There’s a reason Crowded House wrote a song called “Four Seasons in One Day”: they’re from New Zealand.
The sky can change colour in a matter of minutes. Temperatures can suddenly soar or plummet, as blazing sunshine quickly becomes a thunderous downpour. You’re riding through hot, dry fruit country and just as you’re thinking of pulling over to unzip your jacket lining, the sky opens up and threatens to drown you.
The key is to remember this is an adventure, not a staff meeting. There’s no agenda. Carry wet weather gear, and be prepared to change your plans. If you’re suddenly soaked to the skin, find a motel and re-start your New Zealand tour tomorrow.
- The People
In New Zealand, bikers are not viewed as axe murderers who haven’t yet realized their potential. Motorcycles are not a source of suspicion here. In fact, they’re the perfect ice-breaker.
Every time you stop for lunch or a coffee, add an extra half hour to your travelling time. At least. Because, look out: the locals have spotted you’re riding a motorcycle.
You’re bound to meet the delightful, slightly deaf 75 year old lifetime biker with the 1964 BSA that “still runs as good as new”. And the reluctant family man who talks longingly about the bike he had to sell, while the wife and kids glare at him from his new ride: a depressingly sensible station wagon.
People are friendly here. They’ll talk to you every time you stop – and partly because you’re riding a motorcycle.
- The Food
Another factor that will slow down your progress from Point A to B is the food.
Buy some riding jeans in the next size up before you land on New Zealand shores. You won’t be able to resist the old-fashioned home-cooked delights on offer in the rustic little coffee shops and bakeries you’ll find every time you stop.
New Zealand is an island, so fresh seafood abounds. And all the green grass makes for some very happy cows. Their milk turns into ice-cream that’s so rich and creamy, you’ll wonder if you’re hallucinating.
Be prepared for some rough-and-ready service, though. That gum-snapping teenager who’s too busy texting to take your order is pretty standard. And when she finally looks up, sighs, and asks in a bored voice, ARE YA RIGHT? she really means, “Good evening, and welcome! Can I take your order?”.
Happily, 90% of the time, it’s the food you’ll remember, not the service.
Riding a motorcycle in New Zealand leads to sensory overload.
You can’t rush it. You can’t predict it.
All of this leads me to wonder: Could I be a hobbit?
It’s a real possibility.
I live here, after all. I won’t say no to a second breakfast, and I’m partial to home-brewed craft beer.
Either way, I bet that if The Lord of the Rings was written now, don’t you think every main character would be riding a motorcycle?