An Adventurous Motorcycle Journey Through New Zealand's Breathtaking Landscapes
I wake up just after dawn to the sound of rain lashing down on the little mountain village of Arthur's Pass. It's February, the height of New Zealand's summer, but the gusting mountain deluge is as brutal as any winter storm in Australia. Today, I will be embarking on an exciting adventure to the Burt Munro Challenge in Invercargill, on the southern tip of the South Island.
As the morning progresses, I witness motorcyclists heading to 'the Burt' streaming through Arthur's Pass, as the West Coast highway has been cut off by flooding. Many of them stop at the general store, tipping the water out of their boots before entering the café.
This journey reminds me of a time many years ago when I was sitting in a café at Whakatane, wondering if it was worth the effort to ride a borrowed Ducati Multistrada around North Island's remote East Cape. The waitress encouraged me, saying, "Just keep riding. You're in Kiwiland; you never know what the weather will be like until you get around the next bend." And so, I'm prepared for whatever lies ahead on this trip.
Later, in Christchurch, the weather clears, and it turns into a beautiful day with clear blue skies and a baking 24ºC. With my wife Helen as my pillion, I've ridden BMW adventure bikes in various regions around the world. My bike of choice is the F 800 GS, and I prefer it over the larger GS models for its off-road capability and lighter weight.
Joining us on this journey are our son Callum and his fiancée Cara, and we've picked up a couple of bikes from Te Waipounamu Motorcycle Tours Ltd, New Zealand's largest motorcycle tour company. After a thorough run-through of the various controls, we load up and head out to the Canterbury Plains for an easy two-hour afternoon ride to our first overnight stop at Geraldine.
Geraldine has a pleasant, almost English country market town feel to it. The arts and crafts culture, cinema, and gourmet products at the local supermarket make it stand out from the classic Kiwi 'mutton and three veg' style.
Our ride continues as we head up to Tekapo the next day, enjoying the beautiful scenery and the turquoise water of Lake Tekapo. We take a dip in the Tekapo Springs and bask in the beauty of this picturesque location.
The following day, we make our way to Queenstown via the Lindis Pass and Wanaka, experiencing the magic of the South Island's diverse landscapes. The growth of Queenstown is evident with its steep hillsides carved out for expensive subdivisions and bustling traffic.
Next on our itinerary is the Burt Munro Challenge in Invercargill. We arrive in the city, witnessing the excitement as motorcyclists gather for the festival. We attend the beach racing and historic motorcycle races, immersing ourselves in the rich motorcycle culture.
Leaving Invercargill, we head to the little-known region of the Catlins, taking in the breathtaking views and enjoying the winding roads that every motorcyclist dreams of riding. We visit the Purakaunui Falls, deep in the primeval forest, and make our way to Kaka Point for our last overnight stay.
On the final day of our ride, we head north to Dunedin and then up the coast to Christchurch. During a mid-afternoon stop at Oamaru's Steampunk HQ, we experience an extraordinary museum that is a mix of Mad Max and Back to the Future.
As I board the plane back home in Christchurch, my mind is already racing with thoughts of returning to this motorcycle mecca, eager to explore more of New Zealand's incredible landscapes and take on new adventures in the future.
Hamish Cooper + photography Callum Cooper, Cara Stewart & HC