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A Bike Ride Down Under Episode II
Enjoy sheer cliffs, tight curves and zero bugs
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The Buller River Gorge on the South Island in New Zealand. - photo by Photo by Bill Rezak

Editor’s note: This is the second of a four-part series chronicling a trip Bill Rezak made through New Zealand on a motorcycle.

Everything in New Zealand is quite expensive.

Gasoline costs about NZ$1.75 per liter. That’s about $5 a gallon here. A modest lunch is NZ$15-$20, or about $12-15. The good news is that there is no tipping. They tax the heck out of cigarettes, alcoholic beverages and gasoline. I began to wonder how the average Joe manages here, until I learned that the minimum wage is NZ$12.75 an hour — that’s about $9.25 an hour here.

I had stayed in a nice downtown hotel in Auckland to rest up and get my bearings. I decided to rely on bed-and-breakfast establishments for the remainder of my journey. That way I would be able to mingle more easily with the locals and learn about their country.

I ride a Harley Road King at home, but the rental outfits in NZ want an arm and a leg for one there. I settled for a Yamaha V-Star 1100 cruiser. This proved a bit small for me, but after a day or so we happily settled in together. It didn’t have highway pegs, so I had those added and this made a big difference in terms of my comfort. I loaded my gear on the two-up seat and off I went on the left hand side of the road.

That’s right — they drive on the left hand side of the road in New Zealand! I, of course, knew this going in and had a good bit of trepidation about it. One must be ever-focused on a motorcycle to begin with; but, let me tell you that riding on the left brings new meaning to the word "concentration." But it’s not nearly as difficult as I had anticipated. The toughest part is the right hand turns, in the cities, in traffic.

I picked up the bike at about 2 p.m. on a gorgeous day of about 75 degrees. I decided to go for a test run and heard the Queen Charlotte Highway between Nelson and Picton on the South Island was lovely. It did not disappoint. The road winds along the coast several hundred feet above the ocean. The test ride was about 150 miles round trip.

New Zealand has a wonderful service run by the government. Every town has something called an "i-site." The "i" stands for "information." The i-sites have local maps and will book accommodations for you on the spot. In this manner I was able to find and stay in some remarkably lovely bed and breakfasts and meet some grand people. These accommodations ran between NZ$80 to NZ$175, depending on location.

My first night in Nelson I stayed at the Cambria House. Breakfasts in New Zealand B&Bs are way over the top! The norm is to start with an assortment of cereals (granola, corn flakes, raisin bran, etc.) served with a variety of fresh fruit, homemade yogurt and juice. Next come eggs fixed to your specifications — Benedict, poached, scrambled, over easy, etc. — served with toast with multiple jams, beacon, sausage and coffee.

I found that, fortified with that kind of start to my day, I wasn’t hungry till about 2 p.m., when I would stop for lunch along the road. I then just snacked in the evening when I reached my destination for the day.

I should also mention that there are no bugs in New Zealand. None on me, none on the bike and none bothering me at night. The homes in New Zealand have no screens on the windows; they simply don’t need them. There are also no poisonous snakes — wouldn’t that please Indiana Jones!

On Jan. 19, I left Nelson and headed southeast through the Buller River Gorge. I should mention that the motorcycle magazines try to portray New Zealand as very challenging bike riding with its tightly curving mountain roads. There are no divided highways except in the larger cities; the state highways are two lanes and have many switch-backs in the mountains. But they are no more of a challenge than the North Georgia mountain roads or those in North Carolina or Tennessee.

There is one rather dramatic difference, though. Many of the twisty roads have a sheer rock wall with no shoulder on one side and a vertical drop-off for several hundred feet on the other, again with no shoulder. I found this to be a bit disconcerting. One of the things that a smart biker does is assess the environment for escape routes in the event that someone in a cage (read: car) does something stupid — we bikers, of course, would never do anything stupid!

Well, with a cliff (with no guard rail) on one side, a rock wall on the other and neither with shoulders, there are no escape routes — I didn’t like that much. The good news is that with a mere 4 million people, there just isn’t much traffic, except in the larger cities. Oh, and the speed limit is 100 kph (62.5 mph) and no one speeds. I cruised along on the open road at about 65 mph with no problems.

Another interesting aspect of the two-lane state highways is that most bridges are single lane. You ride up to a bridge and a sign tells whether you or those coming in the opposite direction have the right of way. If you get to the bridge and the other direction has the right of way, you must wait until the bridge clears before proceeding. If you have the right of way, then you may proceed, unless, of course, someone is already on the bridge coming toward you. Again, traffic was so light that this was never a problem. It must keep the cost of bridge-building to a minimum!

The Buller River Gorge was lovely, but I’ve seen prettier in the U.S. When I reached the west coast of the South Island, I proceeded south to Panakaiki where there is a spectacular outcropping of rock along the coast. I spent the night in Westport and stayed at Archer House, which is a lovely old B&B built in the 1890s. It was another beautiful day with temperature between 65 F and 75 F. My journey covered about 140 miles that day.

Bill Rezak retired in 2003 after 10 years as president of Alfred State College in Alfred, N.Y. Prior to that, he was dean of the School of Technology at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta. He and his wife, Paula, moved to Gainesville, and Paula was diagnosed with lung cancer in May 2004. She passed away in late 2006,
but not without maximizing her time on her motorcycle.

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