Touring New Zealand on a BMW F800GS | Aotearoa to Zeelandia

Oceania’s Finest Specimen

By Alfonse Palaima, Photography by Alfonse Palaima

With a late start, an overnight in Rotorua (roughly 150 miles from Auckland) makes a great rest, with the bustling tourism industry providing food and lodging.

My second day on the road was beautiful, but lengthy. Having heard so much about the South Island’s beauty, I didn’t want to be delayed by the spring’s unpredictable weather—four seasons in a day, they say—so I packed on the miles. Following Route 5 out of Rotorua and through Taupo, it’s about 140 miles to the art deco wine region of Napier where I stopped for a little sightseeing and a late lunch before moseying farther south. An earthquake in 1931 leveled the town, thus the period rebuild.

Now following the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail, I’m in a region that produces 70 percent of New Zealand’s wine. Spanning two islands, this Route makes the ferry’s crossing from the land of Cabernet Sauvignon on the North Island to the South Island’s Sauvignon Blanc country in Blenheim, Marlborough. If wine tasting is your thing, this stretch could take you a week to absorb, but in my case, I thirst for another fancy (today, anyway).

From Napier to the ferry’s port in the capital city of Wellington is another 200 miles, so I rested for the night midway in the popular layover city of Palmerston North, where I shared a hotel with a rugby team also passing through. In the morning it’s off to Wellington and a rest day.

Home to Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, Wellington is more than just a port city on the Cook Strait. It’s maybe the coolest capital city I have ever seen, with its friendly, walkable city center, bustling waterfront complete with water taxis, museums, and restaurants—there’s even a waterfront camper-van site.

However, for sheer confusion, the matrix of Wellington’s city streets rivals those of Boston and Washington D.C., combined. Untangling the network of one-way streets to find my hotel took more than just the usual route sorting. Maps both paper and digital were nary a help along The Terrace, where roads are stacked on top of each other, traveling in opposite directions, making a mockery of my navigation skills.

Eventually I found a place to offload so I could poke around town. I’ll suggest Fidel’s on Cuba Street for a stiff coffee and the alternative crowd. Closer to the water is Courtenay Place for more mainstream food and entertainment. Find The Malt House for the best respite and local brews.

Up, Up, and A-wait

Next time I fired up the bike, it was time to make the water passage to the South Island, and had I known about the busted ferry, I could have slept another four hours. As it was, I got to dig deeper into my HEMA maps while waiting for the next available ship. The crossing itself took 3.5 hours. Onboard Wi-Fi helps pass the time, but at $7 for a 40MB download, it can get expensive. Note: Carry your own tie-downs if you can; those on the ship are often in terrible condition.

Before the third day of riding was done, my heart had found peace. One of my top ride days of all time covered Routes 63, 6, and 69 through Picton, Blenheim and Westport. The roads are not specifically named with any theme, and the lack of tourist attractions meant a lack of tourists, affording free-flowing passage along silky smooth ribbons of wide-open asphalt. Weaving a path past snow-capped peaks, through lush green valleys and between numerous named forests and national parks, this was 200-plus miles of bliss all the way to the golden fields of the coast. (Fuel up in Blenheim!)

By Alfonse Palaima
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Other things to try in New Zealand:
Hunting, fishing (river and ocean), skiing, tramping, road racing (on our roads) - you will get performance awards from our Police to let you know how fast you are!   Really, there is enough to do here as a tourist to keep you here for years at a time.  I've lived here a lifetime and haven't tried half of what's available.  One strange thing here (for Americans) - nobody carries guns, so you can feel quite safe.  As long as you don't actively invite theft, you and your possessions should be all right.  Of course, the Maori culture is fantastic, and cannot be found anywhere else.  As long as you don't come over and buy all of our best land, you are perfectly welcome.  Of course, many American multimillionaires live here full time.  And our roads for bike riding - pure joy!
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