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World’s most surprising motorcycle routes, as recommended by Pauls Timrots

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Connoisseur's Guide · Australasia · new zealand · New Zealand · World’s most surprising motorcycle routes, as recommended by Pauls Timrots

New Zealand

Author: Pauls Timrots0 COMMENTS

New Zealand

New Zealand is definitely and by far the best place in the world for motorbiking - emptyish roads of perfect quality, plenty of turns and breathtaking landscapes throughout the trip, which makes for an interesting and flavoursome experience while keeping you - figuratively speaking - on your toes at the same time. Here and there the roads become almost too narrow for a motorbike and some bends even see you literally rubbing your shoulder against a rock. The ocean, meadows, volcanoes, jungles, coloured hot springs, ravines, huge boulders and sand rocks, slowly and unnoticeably crumbling apart. An incredible abundance of colours and scents! Once in a while the sharp aroma of lupines hits your nostrils; these flowers grow like weeds here. Wild rivers rage down the mountains; some streams carry huge translucent blocks of ice, making the water intolerably cold - in fact, cold enough to make you scream. Despite the fact that summer comes to the Southern Hemisphere around Christmas, we still don't get to enjoy proper sun: the mountains are constantly wrapped in a thick blanket of clouds; the humid air is barely warmer than 20º C. At times, the fog is so dense that it's all but impossible to see an inch before your nose. Nothing to do but stop and wait until the fog disperses. In any case, a leather jacket is indispensable, at least while driving.

Motorcycling enjoys considerable popularity in New Zealand, which means that there is no shortage of motorcycle rentals, at least in big cities like Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, etc. - offers abound. Admittedly, the pleasure does not come cheap: you can get a Harley-Davidson for EUR 130 per day - or plump for an ordinary 600 cm³ bike for half the price, in which case sitting will not be particularly comfy and you won't get far. You would do wise to book your motorbike - as well as a hotel room - online and well in advance, even more so around Christmas.
The route takes us from Auckland in the northern part of the country down the eastern coastline and then back again, upwards along the western coast. As we drive, our companions are Mount Egmont (Mount Taranaki) that stays visible for quite some time, a rolling terrain and roadside signs warning that motorbikes are to be locked if left unattended. Lock it or lose it, the signs say. The warning seems a bit superfluous since no-one really seems to be into stealing in these parts: you can easily drive a stretch of a hundred kilometres without meeting a living soul. Unless you count the cops waiting for you every 50 kilometres or so: speeding is not recommended. Trust me, they will be there and expecting you. Besides, you won't feel like going any faster: driving at 60, even 20 kilometres per hour is exciting enough! Make sure you check out the giant 50-metre high wall of glaciers in the ravines you are passing. Impressive! For a moment at least you feel quite tiny and insignificant. Do not, however, stick your nose too close: a huge piece of snow, having broken off a glacier, is said to have landed on top of a bunch of tourists once.
The cave world seems equally fascinating: the river running through a cave carries your boat in complete silence; at some point, you look up: the whole ceiling of the cave is covered in fireflies glittering in the dark. Fantastic! You feel as if you were visiting another universe with other stellar systems. And then there are the famous giant stones, now forever immortalised in the Lord of the Rings screen trilogy.

While on the subject of outdoor activities, another place worth a mention is Queenstown, a city in the south of New Zealand - a real epicentre of extreme and not-so-extreme entertainment. Where else in the world a bungee jump is so reminiscent of grabbing hold of a liana to let oneself go, approaching at full speed the blood-curdling ravine in the distance? A phenomenal and super scary sight. Understandably, spending the whole day preparing yourself for the feat emotionally is a route not worth taking - in this case, however, the ticket purchased at 9 am has to be carried in the pocket until half past four or half past six, which are the only two times allocated for bungee jumping. Going jumping in the evening, going jumping in the evening - the voice in the head goes on and on, never stopping for a moment. It's 300 per cent safe, the instructor assures us. Never mind the fact that the historical Kawarau Bridge is a mere 43 metres above the river and the single bungee jumping spot higher than this is the 143-metre Nevis Highwire - I'll save it as a dessert for my old age.
The jumpers are old and young, including ladies and gents of venerable age; the process is interspersed with screams of Jesus!!! and Aaaaahhhh! I am simply standing around, slightly frozen, waiting for my turn. It is probably to take his thoughts off the fate that awaits him that a local initiates the traditional banter: So where are you from? - I'm from Latvia but then you wouldn't know. - No, no, I do know Latvia, I went there for the hockey championship. - Yeah, right. - No, seriously, I know Riga. As I proceed to question him, still slightly incredulous, it turns out that the instructor was also among those who visited Latvia during the 2006 World Championships. After all, he does work at the New Zealand Ice Hockey Federation. So there. It is only during the summer season that he also moonlights as a bungee jumping instructor. And then it is my turn to enjoy the free fall...

Alongside all sorts of similar wild goings-on, Queenstown also invites its visitors to have a go at surfing, whitewater rafting and mountain-biking. And probably at least a couple of other extreme entertainment varieties as well. Apart from that, New Zealanders are a bunch of ordinary run-of-the-mill farmers. Wherever the terrain is passably even and ravine-less, the jungle is hewn down to the ground and sheep are grazing. Kiwis love speed and vintage cars which they try and pimp up to squeeze the last drop of life out of the antique engines - exactly like Anthony Hopkins's character in The World's Fastest Indian. Regular speed freaks. Accordingly, there are more motoring museums in New Zealand than those dedicated to art, and each of them could easily accommodate at least four Riga Motor Museums. The local blokes from the North Island often come down to the South Island with the single purpose of enjoying some proper motorbiking. A whole army of petrolheads meet up and hold an impromptu race right there in the middle of a road. As simple as that. Elsewhere, a whole racecourse is allotted to those who prefer letting their steam off with engines of a significantly larger size: a tyre alone is almost as tall as a grownup man. Feel free to go crazy on a mud track, hopping, driving, revving-up... until the final vroom signals that it's over. You have run out of petrol. Not a big deal.

Three weeks are more than enough to have some proper fun motorbiking and get a taste of New Zealand as a country. If you have time to spare, do visit the famous Mount Cook, one of the top heliboarding spots in the world. Be careful - it is very volatile, very deceitful. It is here that four Latvian mountaineers died in 2003. The locals still remember them; once they have established that we are from Latvia, the response is always a slow and thoughtful: Oh, I see...
Incidentally, there is another Latvian connection that we happened to stumble on: I picked up a photography book of New Zealand's landscapes. Photos by Andris Apse, one of the leading landscape photographers in the world. I read on - a Latvian indeed! I lose no time contacting him and we arrange to meet later. He turns out to be a super cool gent; understands a bit of Latvian but is too shy to speak it. He shows me around and answers my questions. I get to see some of his giant photographs that look almost like paintings. To take one of those, he spends two or three months in the mountains, sitting it out in his tent, waiting for the right weather, lighting, the right clouds. And then a click! - and it's taken. A logical question arises - how do you survive on a single photograph every two months? This is when Andris fetches a small model of a Boeing featuring a Lord of the Rings poster on its side. A New Zealand landscape serves as a backdrop for the stars of the film. Turns out, the Latvian photographer was responsible for seeking out and capturing the ideal locations for the film. And the airplane is actually very real. Imagine seeing the picture you have taken all over the side of a Boeing!

Worth Knowing

 New Zealand is a left-hand traffic country.
 Driving is legal if your blood alcohol content is below 0.08 % (compare to 0.05 % in Latvia and many other European countries); on the other hand, New Zealand is not the country where it is advisable to lose alertness behind the wheel.

Worth Knowing

- When you are driving a motorcycle, it's impossible to consult a map every other minute; staring too long at the tiny GPS screen is also inadvisable, therefore make sure your route for at least the next 100 kilometres is safely stored in your brain and then try and follow the traffic signs.
- It is important to have a local contact to get in touch with, should your vehicle break down mid-road; motorcycle rentals generally take care of problems of this sort, however, the system may just not work if you are travelling in locations of a more exotic nature.
- As you choose your accommodation, it is wise to check the availability of motorcycle parking space in advance - safe enough to at least find your bike where you left it on the next morning.
- Do bring two pairs of gloves, especially long ones, the sort that partly cover your sleeves; in rainy weather, your fingers will feel stiff and cold after the first hundred kilometres - even in the hottest of climates. The short gloves work excellently in warmer weather, allowing plenty of air circulation through your sleeves.
- Leather trousers and boots may be nice to look at and helpful if you consider ever hitting the ground; however, when soaked in rain, these stylish items will prevent you from further travelling for up to three days: you will have to wait it out until they're dry enough. For this reason, the best material for your footwear is something plasticky or rubbery - and make sure your boots are high enough. Mountaineers' footgear is also excellent: very light and practically watertight.
- The so-called windstoppers - special collars covering your neck from chest to face - will come in very handy, especially when driving in warm weather when you are likely to be perspiring; otherwise the wind will make sure you end up with an instant case of bad backache.
- 200-300 kilometres a day is more than enough; if you really are in a hurry, sure, you can do all 500. Otherwise - you will miss all the fun of driving; it will be more of a case of working as a motorcycle driver transporting an engine from point A to point B. Fine, make it 600 a day if you will; the important thing is stopping for a coffee and a breather every now and then.
- If you are planning a long distance trip without taking a break, you would be well advised to choose a motorcycle equipped with cruise control for automatic control of the speed. Taking care of it manually will sure as hell leave your hands stiff after the first 200 kilometres, and - where's the fun in driving then?
- Wearing a helmet is mandatory, natch - ideally, a full-face version to protect from dust and sand; besides, an encounter with a beetle or some other winged bug will result in a painful blow in your face: if you are driving with the speed of 100 km/h, a beetle's weight increases several times, practically transforming it into a live bullet.

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