BIKING DOWN-UNDER

Posted February 1, 2019 by Philip Scott and Jon Forman

Jon and I survived four weeks driving motorcycles in New Zealand (on the left side of the road) and three days sightseeing in Singapore.  Actually, it was a lot of fun and we saw some incredible places – too many to mention, because there were too many to remember.  I did keep a log and we took nearly 2,000 photos combined.  If I listed all the places that I could remember that we visited in the five weeks, it would sound like the Johnny Cash song I’ve Been Everywhere Man.  So, I replaced words with a map of New Zealand marked with dates and locations of the places we stayed overnight.  The map is at the bottom of this article.  We slept in our little tents approximately 20 of the 28 days in NZ.

On the first day (December 14) we drove a 420-kilometer highway 25 loop around “Coromandel Forest Park” to practice driving on the left without all of our gear on the bikes.  We drove through some of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen on a motorcycle, and the same could be said for every other day of this adventure.  The photo below shows our bikes the morning of day 2 packed up and nearly ready to go.  Jon’s on the left and mine on the right.  Both are 865cc Triumph Americas.  Everything we need for twenty-eight days packed on the back of motorcycles.


The following day, on our way down to Rotorua, we hit heavy rain and got seriously wet.  New Zealand has places that get more annual rain than anywhere else on the planet, so we were expecting this and brought rain gear.  But with luck, and Jon’s good guiding skills, after this day we never saw more than a light mist while on motorcycles.  It was dry in Rotorua and the camping was good.


Over the next few days while adding 1,650 kilometers to the odometers we visited NZ’s version of the Yellowstone geysers known as Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, the movie set for the Lord of the Ring and Hobbit trilogies, drove around Lake Rotorua which is the water-filled caldera of an extinct volcano, drove along the Bay of Plenty, and made it to Wellington (the capital) to catch the ferry that carried us and our Triumph’s to Picton on the south island.  Look closely below at the road hugging the side of the mountains and imaging riding it on motorcycles.  This photo does not capture the real beauty of what the human eye sees, and we drove on roads equally as beautiful, or better, nearly every day.

 

With our bikes properly lashed down in the ferry (see below) we went up top for coffee and beautiful ocean views as the ferry made its way from Wellington to Picton.


The ferry arrived in Picton late in the evening so we spent the night in a hotel with real beds and pillows.  The following morning (Saturday, December 22nd) we drove west along the coast to the Golden Bay Holiday Park.  2,370-kilometers and counting.  We set up camp and slept to the sound of the surf.  The following day we drove farther (not further – farther!) west for another night sleeping to the surf at Greymouth on the Tasman Sea.  It was here that I finally noticed how few people there are in New Zealand.  After setting up my tent, I stroll onto the beach and, while standing on this beautiful beach, I can see several kilometers in either direction and realize that I am the only human on the beach.  The beach population doubled when Jon joined me.

We drove south from Greymouth, stopping at Franz Josef Glacier and riding along the western side of Mount Cook National Park and eventually through the alps between the incredibly beautiful Wanaka and Hawea mountain lakes.  Pictures do scenery like this no justice!  So no picture.

For Christmas we went from Lake Hawea to Glenorchy via the Cardrona Valley Road and Queenstown and back.  Stunningly beautiful in both directions.  We also learner proper toilet etiquette.  Don’t ask!


Look closely at the road that took us along the shore of the northern end Lake Wakatipu between Queenstown and Glenorchy – and we rode it in both directions!

 

The next day we headed south from Lake Hawea on highway 6 to Te Anau via the Kawarau Gorge on the Kawarau River and the Devil's Staircase along the southern end of Lake Wakatipu.  We continue to be surprised and gifted with the incredible beauty of this country.

Now might be a good time to mention how difficult it can be to pull over and get photos of the New Zealand scenery.  For one, it is beautiful everywhere.  But with the cooler weather, Jon and I had on lots of clothing, and finding a suitable place to pull over where we could safely park the bikes and remove enough clothing (gloves and helmets) and dig our cameras out of whatever pocket we stowed them in was not an easy thing.  So, when we did have a photo opportunity, we took too many pictures of that particular place, and no pictures of other scenic places.  Also consider how much fun it is to ride a motorcycle on the best twisty roads on the planet that traverse some of the best scenery on the planet.  Sometimes Jon and I just did not want to stop.  Example:  Look at this road sign warning of 40 kilometers of a twisty road with an exclamation point after it!  An exclamation point!  Where on this planet would you see such a sign?!  Jon and I got to ride on this road!  It hugs the coast so tightly that a missed turn would put one in the Southern Pacific Ocean.  The paved section ended after 20 kilometers, so we had to turn around and ride it in the reverse direction.  Oh, the humanity!


We made it to Te Anau for a night in a motel.  3,750 kilometers on the Triumph’s so far.   Jon saw glow worms and I hung out in town.  The next day (Dec 27 – 28) we did an overnight boat tour of Doubtful Sound in Fiordland National Park.  See photo below looking down on the beginning of Doubtful Sound.  For dinner we ate fish caught by members of the tour group and fresh Rock Lobster brought up by a member of the crew using scuba gear.  We woke up to the sound of the diesel engine and had breakfast while motoring back to the dock.


We had enough time left on the 28th to drive in and out of Milford Sound via the one-lane Home Tunnel and through magnificence glacial valleys.  A 238-kilometer round trip.  The next day we drove to Invercargill to see the “World’s Fastest Indian” motorcycle (If you have seen the movie starring Anthony Hopkins you will know the story) and on to Owaka for the night.  4,350-kilometers and still counting.

On December 30 we drove up to Dunedin (pronounced: done eatin’).  We stayed two nights in done eatin’ so we could see the rare Yellow Eyed Penguins (see photo) and Albatross colony.

 

On up to Christchurch via Akaroa for two nights, including a day-ride to see Mt. Cook.  While on the Mt. Cook ride, and just after taking way too many pictures of a mountain lake, we came across the most beautiful field of flowers imaginable.  Wild flowers.  Lupins.  Stretching to the horizon.  Backed by snow covered peaks in the distance.  The smell was incredible.  There were other smaller fields of these flowers on down the road, some that we could see from the road, and others that we could only smell as we drove past, but this place was by far the most stunningly beautiful.  You had to be there to fully appreciate it.


The roads on the east coast around Christchurch aren’t the best roads so Jon suggested heading back to the west coast via Arthur’s Pass National Park and camping in Punakai on the west coast.  Good call Jon!  Arthur’s Pass was awesome (see below) as was the beach at Punakai.  Once again, a beautiful beach with very few humans, and Pancake Rocks (a geologic marvel).

 

…and then back across to the NE coast of the South Island to get close to the ferry that will take us back to the north island via Wellington and on to Wanganui and for two more nights of camping by the beach.  FYI - properly pronouncing the NZ place names is not possible for me.  They teach both English and Mauri in the schools here, so the locals do fine with the names.

Next stop is Egmont National Park which features Mount Taranaki, a classic cone-shaped volcano.


From there we chose to ride the “Forgotten World Highway” which turned out to be one of the best and one of the worst rides.  More twists and turns than there are grains of sand in the Mojave Desert and beautiful vistas at every turn.  We even got to help herd sheep from one pasture to another, using our Triumphs.  But at about the halfway point we hit an unpaved gravel section.  Not fine gravel, but big marble sized gravel that pitches the bikes side to side, and we had no idea how long it would last.  In the end it was only 12 kilometers and we managed to keep the rubber side down all the while.  Whew!  Shortly after the stress of the gravel section we were rewarded with one of the most beautiful views of the entire trip.  It usually happens like this.  Jon and I are driving along on a scenic twisty mountain road enjoying the sights, sounds, smells, and being on the bikes when we round just another corner and wham!!  The trees part, the angels sing, and we are confronted with yet another “that’s the most beautiful thing I have ever seen” vista.  We slowed to nearly a stop to enjoy the view as long as possible and then motored on.  Sorry no photos, but we have the memory.  149-kilometers and we only saw a dozen other vehicles on the road the entire ride.  We owned that road!  6,525 kilometers so far.

Another night of camping and breakfast at the local McDonald’s.  When you get coffee at a McDonald’s in NZ you can get it made by a barista and served in a cup a saucer.  It is as good or better than a latte from Starbucks.  Actually, all of the food is like that.  Every meal is fresh and hand made with loving care, with quality over quantity every time.  Not cheap but good.  We spent more on food than on fuel.

Anyway, on to Tongariro National Park, home to several more volcanoes.  The largest, Mr. Ruapehu, which doubles as a ski resort in the winter is still active – last erupting in 2007.  See below.


By now, even with the incredible roads, scenery, coffee, and food, Jon and I are not quite as enthusiastic as we were 26 days ago.  I mean, how many nights could you listen to Jon and me snore?!  So, with a mixture of regret and joy, we head north towards Auckland and the start of our journey home.  But not before one more night of camping at the Miranda Holiday Park that has a hot spring-fed swimming pool to relax in.  We got a good night’s sleep and retraced some roads back to Auckland to turn in our bikes.  We spent Friday, January 11th exploring downtown Auckland and preparing for a 1:30 am Saturday morning flight to Singapore.  7,216 total miles on the Triumph’s.

Hello Singapore!  We get a 3-day Tourist Pass that allows unlimited use of public transportation on and below Singapore.  Singapore is nearly on the equator with 90°F temps nearly every day of the year, so getting underground on the subway was a priority for me.  English is one of the primary languages, so communications with everybody was very easy, and Singapore is the cleanest city I have ever visited.  The food was great and you could eat about any type of food you could think of it you were willing to look for it.  Jon and I ate at the Singapore street vendor area, Chinatown, locally near the hotel, and in the city center.  All was delicious.  Photogenically, the city center and Gardens by the Bay park at night were the best.  We walked into the park at night (see below) to find everybody laying on their backs looking up at the “trees”.  Jon was wondering aloud what the deal was, when a little local girl told us they were preparing for the light show.  Okay?!  What is that about.  About five minutes later speakers from a really nice sound system, hidden in the trees, started broadcasting classic opera while the trees started doing some really cool stuff with lighting.  Several times on our epic five-week journey we stumbled into unexpected situations like this.  Way cool man!




We had two more days in Singapore so we made the best of it, seeing the zoo and as much of the city as possible.

We caught a morning flight out of Singapore and arrived in San Francisco to find that our connecting flight to OKC had been cancelled for strong winds.  We re-booked through Houston and I made it home (thank you Lani!!) at around midnight.  I don’t know how many hours it took to get from Singapore to Norman, but I do know that I spent nearly twenty hours sitting in jets and that I slept non-stop for 14+ hours once I found my way into my own sweet bed.

Jon and I spent 35 days experiencing some of the most amazing things, both in New Zealand and in Singapore.  Seeing New Zealand from a motorcycle allows you to feel the change in air temperature and humidity, feel the wind direction and speed, smells the flowers and mists, and see way more than you would see looking through the windshield of a car.  We saw and smelled a field of wildflowers (Lupines) that cannot be described, in words or photographs.  Like all the other things we experienced along the way, you had to be there.  That is why we did what we did in the way we did it.  Would I do it all over again?  Ask me in a year.