Touring New Zealand on a BMW F800GS | Aotearoa to Zeelandia

Oceania’s Finest Specimen

By Alfonse Palaima, Photography by Alfonse Palaima

By the cold and dreary town of Greymouth, it was time again to find a solid meal and some shelter. The streets roll up early in New Zealand and after 8 p.m., it’s hard to find much of anything, even in cities. But I did find a tavern hotel with a pleasant staff and a top-quality eatery. Surprisingly, the restaurant tucked into The Railway Hotel, along the Mawhera Quay, outshined the exterior of the building, and was a delicious surprise. I met the first Americans I’d seen in almost two weeks in the bar.

Now on the West Coast Touring Route, number 6, the greenstone shopping capital of Hokitika is your first stop. For me it was a welcome break and a chance to snag gifts for the ladies in my life. Fuel up, as stations are pretty thin over the next 80 to 100 miles, and they close up after nightfall. The next major town is Franz Josef, the more advertised and popular of the two glacier-hiking centers along the coast road. The Franz is the only glacier you can see from a distance, so if you haven’t the time for a hike but want to get a picture of the ice, check out the local access road.

I took the half-day hike on the less-trafficked Fox Glacier 15 miles down the road and had a great time. Despite the falling rain on the roadway, the ice creates its own weather system and we didn’t see any rain until we returned to town. Both glaciers, crawling down the western slope of Mount Cook, are within the Westland National Park. There are no fees for the park but guided hikes on the ice will run you $100 or more.

Basking in the grandeur of the west lands, and drying out from the ride, I stayed the night in the small community around the base of the glacier. The Southern Island’s epicenter for action sports and scenic wonder, Queenstown, is only 200 miles away, but it will take me all day to ride there with the numerous unsealed roads and ocean vistas and mountain towns calling my name. One-lane bridges will keep the ride interesting.

The West Coast Touring Route ends in the fishing village of Haast. That’s where the road turns away from the coast and into the mountains, still carrying Route number 6. The remaining coastline to the southern end of the island is parkland and there are no more through roads. Climbing nearly 7500 feet through the Gates of Haast, it’s not until Wanaka that you’ll find much of anything to do but ride and enjoy the scenery.

Between beautiful lakeside Wanaka and Queenstown, take the mountain pass through Cadrona and stop off at the Cadrona Hotel for a snack if not a meal. You will not be disappointed by this little historical site’s cozy interior and inviting backyard eatery. Arrowtown is an authentic cowboy-town attraction a few miles shy of the Queenstown metropolis. Gold was first discovered in 1862 in the nearby Shotover River, which proved to be one of the richest gold-bearing rivers in the world.

Park it in Queenstown and book up your next adventure, or drop your tail end down and rest a few days. I, of course, hopped a jetboat ride with the original and oldest company in the country, KJet, right there on the lakefront. I took a ride up the Skyline for lunch and some stellar photographs of the lake and alpine scenery. Then, before cooking up my own dinner back at the Best Western Cranberry Court, I made a run up Skippers Road towards Coronet Peak to get a few twisties in before sundown. Being spring, of course the locals were still skiing up there, but while I was taking photos a van full of parasailers pulled up and leapt off the cliff. It’s a crazy place!

The Final Stretch

The ride to Christchurch is about 300 miles and 6 hours if you have to make it there in one day. But I cut it in half and stayed in Twizel, along the shores of Lake Pukaki, and took the spur trip out to Mount Cook National Park. The next morning I made the final blast up to Christchurch, turned in the GS and raced off to the airport.

If your mental image of New Zealand is rocky snow-capped mountains above emerald green fields and sparkling blue waters, then the ride between Queenstown and Geraldine (about 40 miles short of Christchurch) is the best the islands have to offer. Winding roads and staggering scenery—never a slow stretch or city traffic to tangle with—the high plains of the Canterbury state are breathtaking. And yes, I know I’ve said that a lot in this story and I apologize, but you’ll know what I mean after your first visit. Then you’ll be the one telling everyone how amazing New Zealand is to ride.

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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