Here in New Zealand, a motorcycle road trip can get pretty weird pretty fast.
Sure, it starts out simple enough.
Pat and I decide we’re well overdue for a motorcycle road trip.
So we break out the perfect touring motorcycle, our awesome 1600cc Triumph Thunderbird.
We allow 5 days to get from the east coast of the South Island to the west coast – and back.
No problem. We’ve done it before.
We check the weather, and pick the coolest roads.
I even book a motel for our first stop.
Everything is completely under control.
Or so it seems.
But somewhere along the way we must’ve accidentally dropped about 7 tabs of acid.
Because this motorcycle road trip just kept getting weirder.
Over those 1604 km, there were some pretty crazy moments.
Let me share some snapshots with you.
Is this Jurassic Park?
I’ve lived in New Zealand 14 years now, and the landscape still leaves me speechless.
You don’t just ride through pretty scenery here.
You’re swallowed whole by a landscape that’s wild, dangerous and too beautiful to believe.
On Day One of our trip we rode through Haast, a world heritage area that seems way too primal to have a road running through it.
I kept expecting to see a T-Rex come crashing out of the ancient green forest.
You have to ride with your visor open, to smell the pungent wet earth and fallen leaves.
And while you’re scanning the trees for dinosaurs, the forest suddenly ends.
Now the road flows beside wide river beds where ice blue waters rush over pale grey rocks, fed by the huge melting glaciers a few kilometres away.
You gaze at sunlight glittering on that glacier blue water, and abruptly the scene changes once again. You’re suddenly leaning into corner after corner on roads that wind around and around sheer rock cliff faces.
The mountains flatten out into hills, and the road becomes a gentle cruise through rolling valleys in 1,000 different shades of green.
It’s a peaceful countryside panorama.
It’s soothing and calming.
Or at least it would be if you hadn’t already lost your mind.
In New Zealand, Roads Have a Life of Their Own
The West Coast is the wettest part of New Zealand, with some areas recording rainfall levels of up to 10 metres a year.
The weather directly affects the roads, as rock slides and flooding take their toll.
Rounding a corner, you find yourself in yet another line of impatient traffic.
We’re all waiting for permission to inch forward along rough one-lane roads being rebuilt after the latest natural disaster.
This leads me to offering a little tip for taking motorcycle trips in New Zealand…
Try to drag your eyes away from the landscape, and pay attention to the weird New Zealand roads.
Trust me: this advice will save your life.
For example: we passed a massive, gaping hole at the edge of a road with a sheer drop of hundreds of metres.
Surely there was some kind of safety barrier, or warning?
Of course there was.
Well, kind of.
Three orange traffic cones were the only warning that the edge of the road has completely fallen away, and you’ll plunge to your death if you move 30cm to the left.
No worries. Thanks for the heads-up.
There’s No Hilton Penthouse Suite in the Wilderness
I freely admit to being a bit of a princess.
Yes, I can do a few hours in the saddle on a motorcycle road trip.
And I can usually ride in the rain without filing for divorce.
But when it comes to sleeping on the ground, forget it.
As you know, I hate camping.
So just get a motel room already, right?
Yep, that was the plan.
But this is New Zealand, remember…
And here, “motel room” has many possible meanings.
Our room on the West Coast was in a pub/motel that openly welcomes motorcycles.
There’s a sign out the front to prove it, and the garage is full of the rides of the paying guests.
That’s a promising start, wouldn’t you think?
So I happily got the key to our room, and we unloaded the saddle bags.
We opened the door … and took a quick couple steps back.
The room smelled like a pack of wet wild dogs were living under the bed.
Maybe it was a leaky shower, or maybe it was a side effect of those 10 metres of rain a year. And were we imagining it, or was the carpet actually WET?
How very, very strange.
Meantime over in the bar, things are looking up.
The place is packed with friendly motorcyclists, working hard on emptying the beer taps and comparing notes on surviving New Zealand roads.
And for less than NZ$30 you can get a perfect juicy steak, or a mountain of scallops fresh from the ocean down the road.
Oh, and if you’re a vegetarian, I hope you brought your own carrots.
If not, you’ll be going to bed hungry.
I’m betting there are not many vegans around here.
The 6 foot 3 shaven-headed owner patrols his bar.
He strides around glaring warningly at potential trouble-makers.
He’s just a little bit scary.
Even so, I screw up my courage, and carefully approach him with what now seems like a seriously stupid question:
“Ah, excuse me … do you have wifi?”
He peers down at me, as a giant would.
His face softens, and he chuckles gently.
“Yeah, we do. Well, we SHOULD have…”
He gestures vaguely at the ceiling.
“It’s probably up there in the wires somewhere.”
I blink at him.
“Take a walk around and if you find somewhere that you can pick it up, come and tell me, would you?”
So that’s a “no” then?
God only knows what he would’ve said about the wet dogs staying for free in our room.
I won’t be bringing that up.
The Weather is a Trip
Really the only explanation for the climate in New Zealand is that the weather gods themselves are taking acid.
Here’s how Day Three of our motorcycle road trip unfolded.
All morning we ride through alternating showers and blinding sunshine.
We find bacon and a purring black cat in a local coffee shop.
We’ve made a new friend who has a Triumph Storm, and the two bikes hum along wide sunny New Zealand roads.
Things are looking good.
By the afternoon, we wave goodbye to our new friend, and stop at a petrol station.
It’s quite hot, and we consider peeling off some of our many layers of gear.
But in the end, we can’t really be bothered getting undressed by the petrol bowsers.
Because we’re about to need every available barrier between us and the elements…
Five minutes down the road, the skies open up.
A freezing, heavy rain buckets down.
Another half hour, and the sky is black.
It’s easily 15 degrees colder.
Spotting an abandoned old roadside store by the highway, we pull in under the rusting awning.
Pat parks the dripping bike, and we wrestle with wildly flapping layers of gear in gale force winds, icy pinpricks of rain lashing us horizontally.
Already soaked, but now safely encased in more plastic layers, we ride on into the storm.
There’s nowhere to stop, and our destination is still 80km away.
The temperature’s still dropping.
The wind is howling.
Thunder cracks overhead. Lightning shoots daggers across the sky.
This motorcycle road trip just got to be a lot less fun.
Finally, FINALLY we spot the street sign we’ve been waiting for: 7 Mile Road.
Now we can turn off the highway, and escape the aggressive car drivers who are acting like the roads are dry, and visibility is good.
We turn into the quiet country road with a sigh of relief.
7 Mile Road – the name itself gives us hope.
Seven miles is nothing! We can do that easy.
Except 7 miles turns into about 700 miles.
This road just keeps going and going and going and going.
We take a left turn.
Another endless road stretches out into the horizon.
And now that acid is kicking in again.
We seem to have entered a different world: there’s actual SNOW on the hills.
The road is slushy, and bordered with patches of ice.
Then the rules change again, and we’re back to our old favourites …
relentless icy rain, and a biting wind.
Suddenly, Pat points to a little blue patch of sky up ahead.
Rays of sunlight pierce the black clouds and spotlight our destination: a good friend’s house that we call The Hobbit Hole.
We grit our teeth, and keep on riding.
Another turn, and another, and finally, miraculously, we stop outside the house.
The door opens, and a wave of heat from the crackling open fire welcomes us.
I can smell a home cooked dinner.
And there stands Gandalf himself, his long white beard glistening.
We’re safe, and soon we’ll be warm and tucking into meatloaf and new potatoes.
But are we in a Lord of the Rings movie now?
Nothing would surprise me at this point.
In New Zealand, motorcycle road trips really do bend your mind inside out.
Who needs acid, when you have a full tank of gas and experiences like this waiting around the next twisty road?