South Island Tour

My time in New Zealand is coming to an end (pause, and sigh). An overcast and windy Friday morning saw me say my final goodbye to my 1982, Kawasaki K440. A sensible and mature decision, something which at the age of 24 I’m still struggling to fully grasp. With that being said, being able to shut-up that devil on my shoulder telling me to keep it, was easier said than done. Truth be told, this is a common theme with all of the bikes I’ve owned so I should’ve really learnt how to deal with it by now… Yes, you get to know a bike, their individual quirks and quips. They all have their own personality. This 32-year-old hag tested me with poor wiring, fuel leaks, blown fuses, broken indicator relay and a useless battery. Yet, either through divine intervention, or complete accident, I actually now know how a motorbike should work (loosely speaking). I do feel slightly proud leaving her in better (much better) condition, like waving away your favourite child as they leave for university, or something like that anyway.

So what now, I’m 11,718 miles from home, with no bike and stuck in arguably one of the most beautiful countries in the world (I know, it’s a tough job but someone has to do it). If there’s one thing I’ve learnt since being here, it’s that it doesn’t matter how beautiful I think my current surroundings are, the local folk of Wellington always tell me there’s somewhere better. But when I say somewhere, what I really mean is the South Island. If people’s reviews are anything to go by, it looks like I’m really going to struggle to explain the place to you using my slowly deteriorating vocabulary. Could be one too many cricket balls to the bonce, or those addictive craft beers slowly catching up.

“You’re either in, or you’re out.”

Being the type of person who loves to explore, it got me thinking what it actually meant. With the help of Mr. Oxford Dictionary, to explore can be explained as ‘Travelling through (an unfamiliar area) in order to learn about it’. As always, no messing about, Mr. Oxford Dictionary was straight to the point. It’s simple, relatable, and in my eyes, the only way.

I came to the conclusion that I would drive my car (the official name for the aluminium sh*t box) for 15 hours to reach Queenstown. I planned the fuel cost with the estimated MPG’s (which wasn’t pretty) and found myself happily plotting away my route until I realised to ship it from the North Island to South was worth more than the car itself. Don’t worry, it makes up the majority of its value through sentimentality.

In light of this logistical nightmare, I opted for a strategic ‘foot on the ball’ moment to really understand what I want to spend my time doing, the answer was easy. Riding.

With little to no luck and costs ever-growing, this picturesque daydream of riding towards the shadow-filled glacier of Mt. Cook was slowly slipping away, until, I came across my Archangel, Michael Rose (Paradise Motorcycle Tours, an official travel partner of BMW). With emails being sent by the minute, he could see I was a) slightly annoying and b) super excited about being able to tick one of my dreams off my bucket list, to ride the South Island of New Zealand. Before I could say any more, Michael enrolled me on a five-day ride that would give me the opportunity to experience what this great country has to offer. Something I will be forever grateful for. Christchurch to Lake Tekapo, down South to Queenstown, up through Wanaka, around to Franz Josef Fox Glazier, then back through Arthur’s Pass to Christchurch, 1500km’s supposedly…What could possibly go wrong?

As the trip dawned nearer I spoke to Wayne Searle, Operations Manager at Paradise Motorcycle Tours, a title in which sounds too serious for his joyful and full of life character. Without knowing it at the time, he hands down gave me the best news of the week. I’d be riding the BMW S1000XR. With little knowledge of what I was getting myself in for, I reached out to my mate Google, and then read, and read, and read review after review. This motorcycle was something special. MCN enthusiastically describes how the engine is lifted out of the German’s RR superbike and returned for more mid-range grunt. “It’s a four-cylinder cacophony of noise, aggression and power when you poke it with a stick”.

Within seconds I’d managed to let all of the BC Team know about my super, rotten luck. Andrew (Harrison) came back with ‘well, at least 160 bhp should keep you entertained’, and to his credit, he wasn’t wrong.

“Be seein’ you”

Sunday morning arrived, having just landed at Christchurch International Airport with my neatly packed hand luggage and awkwardly sized tripod, I was welcomed by Wayne who had an almighty smile on his face. Maybe he was just having one of those good days, or he was truly excited for me.  

With ‘Paradise Motorcycle Tours, Official partner of BMW’ on the side of this minivan I couldn’t wait to see this German brute and be on my way. As we got to the HQ where the beast was resting there was an array of awesome looking bikes, an enthusiasts playground. Wayne got me kitted up and strapped my bag and tripod to the top where the top pannier had been removed. With an efficient two-way looping system to keep everything in place, I was nearly ready to go.

I’ve never had the novelty of panniers before so I didn’t really know what was meant to be in there, my sandwiches, diary, tent, axe, emergency survival kit? I didn’t want to ask as I know what I’m doing *gulp*.

And then ‘that moment’ happened, which most of us have experienced. The sinking feeling of stepping into the unknown, with a beautiful left-hand turn, I pulled back the throttle and said goodbye to my comfort zone.

Whilst I was sitting on this 1000cc beautifully engineered machine I couldn’t help be fascinated with all the features! With what seemed like several riding modes and suspension options, paired with a cockpit that resembled something from Star Trek, I forgot to look at the scenery leaving Christchurch. Which might have been quite nice. I can’t tell you sorry, I made a mental note to pay attention on my return.

After a short coffee stop, I stuck on my iPod and headed to Lake Tekapo, and after 15 minutes I was utterly disappointed, I had to stop. I took off my helmet off and removed my headphones, not because Beyonce creeped into my playlist, but because I couldn’t hear this amazing engine. Honestly, after 6,000 rpm the bike just goes to a whole new level and sounds amazing. It’s a difficult one to describe without shouting in person and embarrassing myself. Something I spent the rest of trip doing.

I can’t help but relate to Hendrik Kempfert, (travelled from Hamburg to Cape Town, A Social Way Down), as he describes “For 22,000 kilometers I have not listened to my ipod. I just had my motorcycle, the airflow, nature and my thoughts.”

As I was looking out to the open road, powder coated mountains in the distance, sitting on my German sport tourer, I was thinking there must be a word somewhere to describe this desire to see the world, be it on two wheels or two feet. And one that doesn’t sound like it should be in pink glitter, printed on the back of a Ford KA, yes, you know the one, wanderlust.  It turns out the Germans do, Fernweh. Which means an ache to get away and travel to a distant place. I wonder if that has appeared in Kempfert’s travel blog or BMW’s prestine GS travel brochure at some stage.  

I truly believe the first day gives you a great insight to how everything is going to pan out. The first was the German ‘Twat-Nav’ that I had installed. It was obviously set to off road favoured guidance as I was taking turnings where even the local farmers wouldn’t dare. As I rode past a sign saying 4WD, I knew my bike skills and decision making was going to be put to the test. Five minutes further down the ‘road’ I encountered my first hurdle. A beautiful flowing gorge that a BMW GS would do in its sleep. As I got off the bike to check the exhaust clearance and tread on the tyres, I did what any other brave motorcyclist would’ve done. Turn around and take a thirty minute detour.

Lake Tekapo set the tone for how aesthetically pleasing this tour was going to be. A surreal and beautiful vivid blue body of water with epic mountains surrounding. I had to stop and take a picture, or twelve, which also seemed to be a recurring feature of the trip which led to being consistently behind schedule. Be it a mental, ever-changing schedule dictated by road conditions, weather, traffic, lakes, cattle, and the number of social beers the night before.

One of the highlights of the trip was meeting people from all around the world with the same goal, to explore this amazing part of the world. It just so happened that the universal language consisted of grain, hops, yeast and water.

“A la Queenstown”

With an ever-growing love of the S1000XR, I set off full of excitement from Tekapo. Every corner and ‘breakout’ adding more to my appreciation of what I was sitting on. With the day starting off with a ride around Lake Pukaki to Mt. Cook, it was not going to be a bad one. It was a lovely ride to Queenstown with fast straights (sorry, I mean vast) and mountainous hairpins.

Queenstown was, and is, awesome. I was greeted with brilliant hospitality from ‘Adventure Queenstown Hostel’ which led to more use of this universal language. I was looking forward to my nice day off from riding the next day, some time to explore the area and to get away from the bike.

But that didn’t happen.

The only way I wanted to get around was on ‘Monica’. The name the bike was given by the hostel’s local, non-local legend David. Monica and I rode to Bob’s cove which was absolutely stunning. We ended up spending hours there. We then opted to ride to Glenorchy as I didn’t really have much else to do. I was expecting nice scenery and roads, but this road, this ride, blew my bloody socks off. I hate to admit it, it jumped to the number one ride I’ve ever done. With Chapman’s Peak in Cape Town, coming marginally second.

It was time to leave QT and head to Franz Josef Glacier, which was a 5-6hr ride. To not upset the trend, Monica and I left behind schedule. Every single place we went to on the way was amazing. I had to stop and take pictures, to explore. Wanaka, Lake Hawea, Makarora, Blue Pools, Mt Victor and Haast. It came to the stage that I had to keep riding otherwise we would never get to Fox Glacier.

I strapped up my bags and took off for a two-hour straight ride going at an ‘efficient’ speed. As I got nearingly close to my destination a beautiful Triumph Street Triple is behind me and we both spend ten minutes enjoying the roads and scenery ‘efficiently’. I then see he’s trying to pull me over, which at the time I could only assume was to do with my brake light being faulty or maybe I’ve developed a slow puncture. We come to a stop with his two fellow riders on Harleys pulling up behind. He takes off his lid and in a strong Aussie accent says “Maaate, you gotta tidy your straps up, that’s a bloody death trap”. In which I replied, confused, “What straps?” I felt I always did a good job of keeping the ship tidy. As I turned around to check, my heart sank. There was nothing there. Not. A. F*cking. Thing. The only word I could use there and then was another expletive.

As the Aussie saw my face turn translucent, he cautiously asked me if there was anything previously on there, to which all four of us looked at each and started laughing. He then asked how long I’d been riding, and when I answered two hours, for some reason it was hilarious. It was definitely a laugh or cry moment. But I didn’t have anything important in there so it was okay. Just my passport, GoPro, clothes, chargers, toiletries, diary, watches and most importantly my lunch, everything.

I filled up the tank and spent two hours backtracking, looking for my backpack and tripod until I called it a day and headed to a hostel for the night. Tired, exhausted, concerned and pretty dehydrated, I headed to the bar.

The next day I reported the lost items to the police, had my eggs on toast with a black coffee and embarked on my last stretch of the journey back to Christchurch. Not once was I unhappy. I was on that bike with scenery changing every thirty minutes. I was exploring.

Apart from spending another half an hour riding through loose gravel on my way to Arthur’s Pass, with a less dramatic day of riding and some incredible views, I made it back to Christchurch.

1,500 km’s I’ll never forget.

That night I ended going to a local burger joint. Of course it transpired it was also the local bike night. Where again I attempted to speak the universal language and reminisce to some local riders about what had even happened on this trip.

Is there anything else that would complete my day? Yes. Recieving an email from Niels Merkl did the trick. Motorcycle enthusiast Niels was travelling down to QT where he found a battered black North Face bag and tripod sitting lonely on the side of the road. He stopped to help the wounded luggage and found my BC business card. He reached out to let me know he’d found it and would send it to me when he reached Queenstown. What a legend. There are good people in this world. Thanks Niels. 

The best way I could describe the South Island is like one big racecourse. I’m not naturally a fast rider and don’t think I ever will be. Every corner had a suggested speed with directional arrows to guide you through. I literally had a co-pilot the whole way. 65km/h left, 85km/h right and so on.. I can’t promise I rode those speeds, but it gave me a pretty good idea of what gear I should be in. And with Wayne’s inspection of the bike, in particular the wear on the tyres, he could tell I enjoyed what this German sport/tourer was capable of.

Tūhura has left me wanting more. More time, more journeys, more adventure, more exploring, more mountainous hairpins, more vast straights, more universal languange, more Monica.


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Tūhura (Too-who-da) – ‘Explore’ in Maori