Riding through New Zealand
I've been to riding heaven. Where the roads curve for no discernible reason and don't go straight for more than a few hundred metres at a time. Where the toll roads charge bikes, but the free road alternative curves harder and looks better and is empty. Welcome to New Zealand.
"Oh that's not even a riding road, really. There's so much better here in New Zealand." If I had a motorcycle for every time I heard that, I'd be a collector.
When I started asking about riding motorcycles in New Zealand, two things became clear. First, it's tiny on the map, and famous for its dairy products. But New Zealand isn't as small as it looks and it's got some of the best riding roads I've seen. And the Kiwis think those roads aren't even worth talking about.
I borrowed two motorcycles apart from the Indian Scout I went there to ride. I planned itineraries for both bikes . But whenever I decided to ignore the voice of Google Maps in my helmet and take a random turn, I found a wonderful road. Every single freaking time. Soon I came to expect it and took childish whooping-inside-your-helmet joy in it.
It's almost as if New Zealand's undulating lay of land and the roads that faithfully hug the ebb and flow of the soil with the most luscious, gratuitous curves possible were all designed by a motorcyclist.
I asked a friend who lives close to Auckland if I could go to Invercargill, where Burt Munro lived and worked on his Indian Scout. It looks pretty close to Auckland... I was laughed out of the email. Turns out the ride to the south of the South Island would take six days if I was to enjoy the ride. I could ride head down and get there in, oh two days, but I'd see absolutely nothing of the best riding country in the best riding country on Earth.
The roads in New Zealand are really not very straight. Major highways twist through hill and dale and the whole place is almost comically scenic. As if Nature was doing epic landscaping long before CGI was invented. I must have ridden nearly 500km in a circular radius around Auckland and I was pretty kicked (which means loud, vocal and animated) with what I felt and what I saw.
The Kiwis deflated my bubble in the nicest way possible. "Oh you didn't have the time to ride more. Tsk. You poor bugger. You really should have gone down to the South Island. If you think what you rode was great, you'll just keel over and die from the beauty and solitude of South Island."
It isn't just the beauty alone. Kiwi country is India friendly. They ride on our side of the road, they all speak English, all the signs are readable and you'll want to read them. I passed the sign for Papatoetoe (pah-pah-to-ey-to-ey) and didn't once pass it without letting my tongue roll around the name a few times each. I'm told the Indian driving licence is valid and you can rent bikes from a score of agencies at rates starting at `8,000 a day for a reasonably large motorcycle as well.
It is far away, no question, and you'll be flying a long time to get here. But trust me, take ten-fifteen days off and come ride in New Zealand. Half a day of riding per hour of flying time seems like a well-judged ratio. Or a lifetime, take your pick.
The only downside is the island weather. Which is unpredictable and changeable. I saw sun, rain, mist, warm and bitter cold, all on the same day within a few hours. On more than one day. But my brain, my phone, my camera and anecdotally, all my recent anecdotes are all full of New Zealand.
Then I saw another side of the place. If you're the sort, it's also got Hobbiton and all that Middle Earth business going on. And actually the stuff from the middle of the Earth that bubbles to the surface as well. But there's genuine motorcycle history here. And not just in Invercargill.
Darren Sweetman, who only knows me as a student in a motorcycle school many years ago, quietly organised for me an audience with Graeme Crosby, GP racer and TT champion. We drove two hours north of Auckland to Warkworth to an art gallery called The Vivian. Where Crosby was curating an exhibition which was, when we showed up, being wound up. Sat in the middle of the floor was Britten #2, the only running V1000 in the world. There were other bikes in the room, but I had eyes only for the Britten. I owe Darren and Crosby a lifetime of thanks. Just two of the many, many amazingly helpful and welcoming Kiwis I met.
I spent most of the day just gawking at a bike that I never thought I'd see in the flesh. Then Croz, as everyone seems to call him, harangued me into climbing aboard the Britten for a picture, something I reluctantly did lest I damage the beauty. And I did. Climb aboard that is. There's a pair of black denims that ain't ever going to get washed.
It's riding paradise, this country. The roads are good and their shapes are fantastic. It's distractingly pretty and full of the most amazingly nice people as well. I've only just returned and now I'm going back. It's just a matter of when.
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