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A Bike Ride Down Under Episode IV: A winding, wet ride back home
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Mount Cook is a snow capped volcano that’s also the highest peak in New Zealand — 12,000 feet. - photo by Bill Rezak

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

On the Jan. 26, I left Lake Tekapo for Kaikoura on the east coast of the South Island, another 250 mile run. It was again cool and overcast.

As I rolled into Kaikoura, I found myself in a cloud of mist sliding in from the ocean. It was very wet on the highway and my glasses kept fogging up — not my favorite riding experience. To make matters worse, the road wound along the steep shoreline cliffs and there was enough traffic to make that leg a little stressful. Nonetheless, I arrived safe and sound at the Admiral Creighton Bed and Breakfast in Kaikoura by the end of the afternoon.

At the Admiral Creighton, I met a youngster who had recently graduated from the University of Wisconsin and was enjoying a vacation before starting to look for work. His degree was in music production and he was a huge fan of Waylon Jennings, Kris
Kristopherson, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. We enjoyed a couple of beers singing the music of our favorites.

On the way north from Kaikoura to Picton the next day, I passed several deer farms. The Kiwis raise deer for venison, which is sold in grocery stores and is a staple on restaurant menus. I also passed a seal colony on the beach. These cute critters were sun bathing on the rocks, sleeping away the day. It looked like a pretty good life to me.

I arrived in Picton in time for lunch before catching the ferry from the South to the North Island. The ferry trip takes about 3 1/2 hours and passes some lovely mountainous terrain as it leaves Picton and then again as it approaches Wellington on the North Island. Wellington is the capitol of New Zealand and the seat of Parliament. It’s also a very hip town of about 250,000 people.

I had become spoiled counting on the NZ i-sites to find accommodations each afternoon. When I arrived in Wellington it was after 5 p.m. and the i-site was closed for the day. It did, however, have a kiosk outside with listings of B&Bs, hotels, etc. I whipped out my trusty rental cell phone and began calling these. That’s when I discovered that the band AC/DC was in town on a reunion tour and there was hardly an overnight accommodation to be had. I finally found a sub-marginal motor lodge, which I couldn’t wait to leave the following morning.

I took some time wander around Wellington for a bit. The Cuba and Manners Mall districts are great fun, filled with pubs, restaurants and boutiques. I, of course, went by Wellington Harley-Davidson and picked up the obligatory T-shirt!

I escaped from my less-than-pleasant overnight accommodations in Wellington on the morning of Jan. 28 and headed northeast toward Feilding (yes, it’s spelled this way). It was windy and cool and the road wound over Rimutaka Pass and through the Pokangina River Gorge. Again, this was a lovely bike ride with a sheer rocky cliff on the inside and precipice with no guard rail on the outside. There was also an unusual amount of commercial traffic.

Did I mention that the tractor-trailer trucks here are usually the tandem kind — one large tractor pulling two 35-foot trailers. The drivers handle these as though they were sports cars — they don’t slow down on the curvy roads! This is a bit distracting the first few times you encounter one coming toward you around a bend. Because they were on my right, I kept thinking, "Dang, he’s in my lane!" But, of course, I was on the left.

I rode 150 miles to a bed and breakfast in Feilding called 22 Peketiro Drive. How imaginative is that! Anyway, it was fine with a lovely view of the city below and mountain range beyond.

The next day, I left Feilding and headed due north to Taupo, a mere 140 miles away. This was an easy ride with little traffic. I passed fairly close to Mount Cook, a giant snow capped volcano and the highest peak in NZ at more than 12,000 feet. The mountain was on my left for a good 30 miles — that’s how massive it is.

I stayed at the Lake Taupo Bed and Breakfast, which was one of the best on my journey. I discovered that it isn’t so much the quality of the accommodations themselves (they were all lovely), but rather the personality of the owners that makes the difference between a great experience and an average one. At this one, my hosts were as interested in learning about me and the United States as I was in learning about them and NZ. I felt like part of their family.

On Jan. 30, I left Taupo traveling north to Waihi about 140 miles away. I was shortening my rides as I was becoming a bit tired and since I was ahead of my planned schedule. The morning ride was fine, but the skies clouded up and a slight drizzle started about lunchtime.

I stopped in Tauranga for an excellent lunch of goat meat at the Bombay Bistro. I stayed the night in Waihi at the Ashtree Bed and Breakfast, which was nice enough but was made unremarkable by my bland and reclusive hosts — takes all kinds, I guess. Except, why would you operate a B&B if you really didn’t like people that much?

The next day I rode only 85 miles north to Coromandle Town on the lovely Coromandle Peninsula. I cut my trip short because I was riding in a downpour on a winding road. Coromandle Town turned out to be a fun experience. I lucked out again with hosts at the Greenhouse Bed and Breakfast. They did my laundry and treated me like family.

The next day was rainy as well, so I decided to remain in Coromandle Town for an extra day. My hosts took me to the local museum and then to a gold mine that’s been in operation since the 19th century. I learned a great deal about gold mining and enjoyed a day off the bike.

On Feb. 2, I left Coromandle Town and rode south down the peninsula and around the Firth of Thames towards Auckland. I had lunch along the way at Caio Bella, a terrific little restaurant near Clevedon. They served wonderful smoked salmon pasta salad.

Once back in Auckland, I rode by the Harley dealership and bought another T-shirt. Then I checked back into my downtown hotel. I spent the next day catching up with e-mail, doing laundry and shipping my rain gear and other bike accessories back to the states. I dropped off the bike on Feb. 4 and the good people at GoTourNZ shuttled me to the airport. Then, since I was close by, I was off to Sydney, Australia, prior to returning home.

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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