The Great New Zealand Roadtrip was done solo by me for Bike Rider Magazine (New Zealand) and Kawasaki New Zealand. Two feature articles were featured in two magazines, one in Overdrive Magazine India and the other in Bike Rider Magazine, New Zealand. Read more about the roadtrip here.

Article 1 : New Zealand Concoured : Published in Bike Rider Magazine, New Zealand, June 2008 Issue

 

Download PDF of the Article from here.

Script of the Article:

Photos and Text: Sundeep Gajjar (Sunny)

From the land of the ancient Indus river, to the land of the long white cloud. I flew, flew and flew until I arrived on the shores of the youngest country on Earth. The air was young and moist & the skies were blue. Coming from a land with settlements older than 9,000 years, I set upon a land which was only developing its culture since 12 centuries and just beginning to enchant the world with it’s natural wonders jam packed into a small piece of prime land on a far flung corner of this already lonely blue speck in the depths of universe. Despite the massive age difference of the two lands, it was clear to me that they had both had to offer mystical legends and intriguing native customs.

I was still under the influence of my ride in the country continent of Australia (theGreatAustralianRoadtrip.com) when under some very complex fortunate circumstances I got a chance to do the country right side of down under – New Zealand. Australia was like a behemoth of a heavyweight muscle builder packing mind numbing experiences and beauty, while NZ was that thin lanky ramp model with beauty jam packed at every inch and corner of that part of super continent called New Zealandia which has managed to keep its head just out of water for thus long. First impression of the country didn’t leave me with too many glaring differences between it & Australia. The road signs were different, roads were narrower (but by no means of a lower quality) and it was generally cooler. As I rode through and across NZ later, more differences came to life, but none of them warranted a third world war. Australia and NZ have a friendly kind of rivalry, the one you would expect from two talented best friends – or so I have heard.

The differences were of course far greater if compared to our developing country of India. Blaring horns, jam packed roads, chaos everywhere, mind boggling colors, and yet one of the world’s biggest and fastest growing economies – yes, that’s India in a nutshell for you. New Zealand of course, like Australia, has most of the things sorted out with strict (and effective) rules on the roads and its small populace. This is one country I would rather be a sheep, just because I would have ten times more chances of spotting my own kind on a backroad! 4 Million people, 40 million sheep – do the math! However, the same thing means that I would have more untouched beauty and relatively empty roads to work my right hand.

My next coup d’oeil was for the mighty Concours standing inside the Kawasaki HQ in Auckland. It was big alright. It was a motorbike which you wouldn’t expect to support fast reflexes in the city, the u-turns and the roads of NZ which were 90% corners. But my first tête-à-tête with the 14 around the company compound dispelled any beliefs that I had about this.

Now let’s come back to the day when I was bestowed upon the Concours from Kawasaki NZ in Auckland.

It was a bright Sunny day and I had just flown in from Melbourne the night before. It was also the first time I was going on a solo trip. And that too, all over a country on a hyperbike. I knew from the beginning that I would face problems in managing time for photography, riding and updating blogs daily. But it was a challenge which I had accepted and the road out of Auckland lay right ahead of me on the 19th of February 2008.

On the 16th I had attended a MX event in Auckland which left me wondering in awe and dismay that will India ever reach the level of involvement of general public, media and most importantly – the government in motorsports. They even had a category where seven year old kids were racing round the track on MX bikes, they were fast and good! On the 17th I rode to Paeroa to be a spectator to another motorsport event, this time a street circuit race called The Battle of The Streets. This was the first time when I saw a street race up close. The closest I had been earlier to such an event were the Isle of Man photos and the streets of Delhi. The race featured sidecars, superbikes and MX too, all riding on the other side of sanity, on streets which would have a 50kmph limit applied on a normal day! I silently bowed down to the government of NZ to support such extreme sports, it really helps the tourist industry and gives an opportunity for many people to take their skills and showcase them at professional level. In Paeroa, I met a very nice gentleman and a schoolteacher by profession, Sveen. He was riding a beautiful white Triumph Tiger and was very kind to escort me to Auckland and then invite me to a wonderful dinner at his place. I was moved and impressed by the hospitality of New Zealanders. Really makes a world of a difference and impact on how you treat foreigners in your country.

Coming back to my actual first day on road. I found NZ to be a very complex place to plan a road trip in. It’s not really circular, most of the roads are worth riding at least once and many of them are dead ends (but they need to be done if you are there just once in your lifetime). I did not have the convenience of a GPS (like in Australia) thanks to non-existent NZ maps for the TomTom Rider2 that I had. It was quite a delight to re-discover the use of paper maps (South / North Island Complete Drivers Atlas with Country Roads, KiwiMaps). But the indispensable atlas for me was the New Zealand Motorcycle Atlas, Hema Maps. I managed to do around eighty percent of the non-gravel routes listed in this fantastic headache saver book.

I first decided to take on the north of Auckland. To be frank, I was expecting wonders, landscapes that would blow me away. My expectations had been set on hyperdrive by all the stuff that I read on the web about NZ. I wasn’t disappointed.

My first destination of awe was Piha and climbing the Lion Rock. It didn’t took me long to figure that most of the roads in NZ would be sinuous, except the motorways and the real big highways. The first look at Piha from a bird’s eye view from a descending road blew me away. It was something from the Lord of the Rings, although Peter did not use the location to film anything in the movies. The overcast sky, the mist hovering up on the sea, the waves crashing at the rocks and the strange Lion Rock jutting out at the coast looked surreal. It was a dark gloomy day with light showers risking my only camera and medium to capture the scapes so far from home. I still thoroughly enjoyed the beauty at the beach and soaked in the fantastic landscape of various shades of green and grey. Next visit was to the Muriwai Beach, which too was, as most places in the homo sapiens devoid NZ, clean and serene, allowing me to visit my inner self in harmony with nature. The first day’s destination was supposed to be Ahipara, but I conveniently missed the microscopic distance on the map that was supposed to be covered by a ferry from Rawene to Rangiora. It was only the first day, and I had managed to arrive late into the night in Rawene and reaching a dead end saying ‘Ferry Terminal’. No problems, I found myself a nice room in a local pub for the night.

Speaking of Lord of The Rings, one of my primary motives was to see the country in which the fantastic trilogy was shot. I had even purchased The LoTR Location Guidebook, but never did get the time to detour off road and see the locations. I had even contacted Peter’s studio in Wellington requesting a nanosecond meet with a photo-op, but sadly the ingenious man was working on some other project. You New Zealanders are lucky to have a man like him who knows what his backyard is worth!

It was only the second day into the trip, and we would be hitting the northernmost point of New Zealand, Cape Reinga. From Ahipara it was upto a town called Awanui, which would be my gateway to Cape Reinga, the most northerly accessible point of NZ. The northernmost point is, I heard, actually a little off east at Surville Cliffs, but you will most probably need a 4WD or a helicopter to reach there.

Now, something which I dislike about this country (albeit in a good way) is that there are so many roads worth traversing on a bike, and many of them are dead ends, meaning you have to trace your way back to the town which will get you actually forward in your trip. The route to Cape Reinga was one of those. Imagine, 110 kms one way and 220kms return (with 50 kms of gravel road on a 350kg+ motorcycle and a passenger) in overcast conditions with passing showers and very limited number of days at hand. Not good I say. But I did in anyways. The last 20kms were loose gravel that reduced my speed to less than 20kmph. Believe you don’t want to fall on this bike, once you lose balance there is no damn way that even Clark Kent can stop it from hitting the sweet earth below. And I wasn’t even close to Clark’s physique (actually I was but did I tell you about the Kryptonite enhanced fuel that I was using in my bike that made me rather weak !)

Ok, enough of fantasy. Some kays after the gravel began we saw a signpost saying “Giant Sand Dunes”. I thought how it could be possible in such a green area. Anyways, I took the detour (to another gravel road) and after 8 kms we say glimpse of sand dunes. As we came closer I realized how big the dunes were, they were actually giant. There were some tourists there with their camper vans and some cars, as I looked for parking I ventured off little but a couple of meters onto the sand on the road – and the bike was stuck, like someone had glued it onto the ground. Yes, that’s how heavy the bike was. It took us 15 minutes just to get it back some meters on the hard road with the help of five other people. It was a sight to behold. As our efforts were going on, one of the guys who was helping us had his car, Suzuki Swift, stuck by his wife in the sand too. The poor guy had to invest another 15 minutes to get his own car out.

From there we rode to Reinga. It had a lighthouse which was started in 1941. But now it was automated and was controlled by a center in Wellington, the southern tip of the North Island in NZ! Technology is amazing!

There it was, a short walk to the lighthouse and as I stood at the tip and saw the vast expanse of ocean ahead of me, it reminded me of The Great Australian Bight in South Australia and Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of Indian mainland. All three of them had the same waters but different names and divided by virtual lines drawn by humans to mark their ‘own territories’. Man has divided land, the seas, the airspace – what next, maybe the planets? USA will say, Ok, Moon, Jupiter and Sun are mine, you can go ahead and choose from the outer ones! And then England will probably say, I want to have the union jack on the flag of the interplanetary association or something!

Our day ended in Pahia, which another nice town situated on the coast. In the past few months I had seen so much coastline that I would be feeling really very odd getting back to the landlocked capital of India - Delhi.

The third day it was from Pahia to Auckland again. Needless to say I detested getting into big cities because of the overwhelming number of roads coupled with the nature of motorways which punishes you hard if you take the wrong exit. Specially if you are on a motorbike, and have to keep looking at the paper map on the tankbag for directions. . Auckland is said to have a crumbling transport system which is reaching its limit due to the explosive growth in the last few decades. This combined with the pollution has its negative effects. However, it is also said to be one of the most stunningly located and dynamic cities in the world. I also find the motorways the most challenging and dangerous place to ride a motorbike. The traffic is not that fast (100-120kmph) but you have to keep synchronized with the rest of the flow. Overtaking trucks and big machines while they are just a few feet away (in their lane) is also like clockwork but definitely keeps you on your toes.

The overcast conditions continued as I headed for the famed Coromandel coast on the fourth day.

I did a loop of the peninsula – from a town called Thames on the west coast of the peninsula to Coromandel and further on to Whitianga before finally entering Whangamata, the destination of the day and a self proclaimed surfing capital of NZ. The Coromandel Peninsula loop had some beautiful riding roads along the sea. However, the cross winds can got very unnerving once I was near the coast. I could not even attempt to park the Concours and go on a photography spree. Besides, the bad light overcast conditions weren’t inviting either. But then this is the thing with many towns near the coast here – four seasons in a day!

Day Five. A lot of things happened today. A lot of things could have happened today. Today was supposed to be a long day, and it was, albeit I had to forgo some parts to better imbibe the rest, I guess this is one process which will be common throughout all travelers, you never know how much time it takes, how much your time and energy will be drawn in unless you are there. And that’s one part magic of a roadtrip. I rode from Whangamata to Roturua via Tauranga and then onwards to make Gisborne my night stopover.

I was on the road by 7.30 AM, all fueled up and heading towards my first destination – Tauranga via Waihi and Katikati. Tauranga is a big town on the east coast of the North Island. How big, I did not anticipate. I reached Tauranga pretty quickly and saw motorways. Now motorways or expressways are only in real big cities, like Auckland and Wellington. So Tauranga was indeed big with a population of 60,000. And I don’t know why, despite knowing the problems associated with complex road systems these big cities (without a GPS) I decided to head towards a certain Mount Maunganui, which was township just a few kays from Tauranga. And there I was, I could not find the exact road which I was looking for towards Roturua. Anyways, I still headed down on a less scenic route.

I finally reached Roturua at around 11 AM. I decided to keep 3 hours aside for this place as many, told me interesting stuff about it. But before I actually entered the township there was a sign saying ‘Buried Village’. I took the detour. After 8 odd kays I saw a big establishment on the right with the board saying ‘Buried Village of Te Wairoa – Its more than a buried village’. The place was well kept and smart, I decided to head off in. But wait, it takes 10 minutes to unload and pack everything on the bike (helmet, tripod etc). But eventually I was in. Wearing Draggin Jeans army camos and getting off from a huge bike I was definitely attracting attention. I was surprised that how many people actually used to come and ask about the bike and what I was doing, similar to the trip in Australia. But like Australia, I wasn’t wearing red leathers with sponsor logos and wasn’t on a red bike with sponsor decals to boot. Nor there was an exact clone riding with me this time!

So this gentleman comes over and starts asking me all customary questions. “Indian”, “Last trip Australia”, “No this bike is not rented or mine, its sponsored by Kawasaki” <insert you lucky bugger look here>. When someone takes a real interest and I feel he is a biker or he is on a bike I show him my Indian trip book (http://www.theGreatIndianRoadtrip.com) and give my card. Their attitude change to a very serious one and a tone of appreciation comes through. This time the gentleman was the manager (or maybe the owner) of the village. And he invited to me to go on for free, I obliged. Needless to say the village was intriguing.

My next destination off the Lonely Planet guidebook was Te Puia, which hosted geysers and charged me a cool 50 dollars to see it. At least NZ doesn’t charge you to get inside National Parks, unlike Australia.

It was 4PM and I had some 350 odd kays to go to Gisborne via the East Cape. I had to take a decision and took the inland route via Waioeka Gorge Scenic Reserve which was 150kays shorter.

From Gisborne it was a sweet but extremely curvy ride to Masterton via Napier and Dannevirke. I had actually halted in Napier for a couple of hours to update online trip blogs at lunch in a cyber café before heading out.

The next day it was return ride from Castlepoint on the east coast. It was around 70kms one way. My teeth weren’t gleaming when I was back to Masterton from Castlepoint. Anyways, I headed off towards Marlborough. It was a good countryside with lots of open long stretches which are at a premium in NZ. I entered Wellington via the Rimutaka Ranges which I feel, are an excellent mountain riding option for Wellingtoners, being very close to the city. And yes, by the way, like many tourists, before I starting planning my route, I was under the impression that Auckland was the capital of NZ. Sorry about that, Wellingtoners!

Day 8, and I was on a Bluebridge ferry to Picton, South Island. In the Maori Legends god fished out the North Island from the sea. The South Island was his canoe and the third largest island in NZ, Stewart Island was his anchor. He totally forgot to have a ladder or something from the North to the South Island. The result was the ferry services which land roving people had to catch to hop between them. I had forgotten to get my strap downs but the staff on board were helpful in securing the Concours. After securing the bike I headed off for the passenger deck where I found myself in good sofa seat with the big plasma also visible on the side. I worked on the laptop for three hours ride and saw the movies playing on the screen. The interiors were pleasant if not really up market and did the job. For $105 it was the cheapest option to get the bike and myself across to South Island.

The ferry docked bang on time in Picton, South Island at 11 AM. I was on the road by 11.15. I refueled at Picton, which had some nice scenery, hinting at what was about to come down south. From Picton to Nelson was a nice ride with good scenery. I reached Nelson pretty soon. The first glimpse of the town and I was impressed by the beauty and laid back nature. In my hunt for the Brook Valley Holiday Park, in which I had booked my lodge, I went to various streets and places in Nelson. One street was called Cleveland Terrace and was very narrow and steep. On the left hand side there were beautiful hill top houses with amazing views of the Nelson township below. I was blown away by the beautiful homes people had built here.

Day 9. Today started off a as a very bad day. I was heading from Nelson towards Collingwood in the north when a cop in an unmarked car coming from the opposite side pulled me over for over speeding. He alleged that I was doing 119km/h in a 100km/h zone. I argued that I was overtaking some vehicles on a straight empty road and I needed to be momentarily at high speed and was decelerating. He would have none of that and gave me a $120 fine. Usually cops in unmarked cars would follow you a while before they book you. He went off saying that many motorbikers die on this highway and they were doing what they can to stop it. In my case it was a plain simple case of fund raising, which I realized was a major part of their job as well. On a 1400cc bike I may well be doing 150kmph instead of being just 19kmph over the speed limit to get the thrills on an empty road. I decided to respect the law of the land, but decided against going to Collingwood in a bad mood. I retraced some kays back from north towards Motueka where I took a turn on the Motueka Valley Highway. The road was quite scenic and helped me get over the rip off on the morning. Anyways this time I kept it slow and between 100kmph and 110. On the way I also stopped at NZ’s longest swing bridge which got my adrenaline running! On the way I stopped at Paparoa National Park which had no cell signal. It was the home of the pancake rocks and blowholes. The entry was free and I decided to see it. It was quite amazing with all the natural rock formations, greenery and the sea. I arrived in Greymouth at 8 PM and had a view of a nice sunset and end of a bad day which turned out very good.

My ride from Greymouth to Queenstown was fantastic. I took a small walk to a viewing platform at Franz Josef Glacier. It was stunning. Although in India we have the mighty Himalayas, such an easy access to a glacier is not there, specially such good roads almost leading up to it. From Haast the scenery started to change. The mountains became very rugged and the twin lakes of Hawea and Wanaka added to the surreal look. It was an amazing experience riding through such settings on a road so smooth. Let the photos do the talking. It was almost like riding in the Ladakh region in Northern India. The Queenstown was quite developed but beautiful. The rugged mountains with greenery and the Lake Wakatipu added to its unique character.

Patient is Virtue. I waited in the small town of Te Anau for two days for rains to subside and allow me a safe and dry path to Milford Sound. I had heard that the road to Milford was one of the best in the world for riding, and I was not going to do agree to any deal which will make me miss that.

After two days the rains stopped. At 3PM I hurriedly got ready and rushed out to my drenching wet Concours. For two it had waited to stretch its legs along with me on the beautiful tarmac to Milford. But it was 3PM and I had to do 240 kays on twisting wet roads with photography.

Patient is Virtue and reward is imminent. I rode through a customary series of convoluted roads which gave way to a road which was flanked by dense forests of the Jurassic kind. This gave way to a fantastic flat valley with a periphery of high sharp jagged mountains with many snow capped peaks and hundreds of small cascades flowing everywhere to my amazement. This is one thing which you can expect to find only after a rain. The clouds were hugging the peaks and flowing down the mountainside before probably dispersing away. You get the picture? Of course not and that’s why they say a picture is worth a thousand words! Look at the photos below and you will get the idea. I did try to do best with my limited capabilities with a camera and the cheap last-minute Tamron telephoto that I had got. Multiply the beauty that you perceive in my pictures by several times, add a chilly weather, the sound effects would include birds flapping and the rustle of the distant trees in the winds and maybe you will get close to the landscape that god chose to draw that day in reward of my 2 days penance. I was falling in love all over with this small land tucked away in the bath tub of god somewhere on a blue speck teeming with life in an otherwise deemed lifeless universe.

I carried on towards the dead end on a gloomy day hoping to find a natural treasure. Needless to say the sights were fantastic all the way to Milford. There is a tunnel known as Homer Tunnel before Milford. The 1.2kms tunnel was dark and the road inside was wet uneven and there was water dripping from the mighty mountain through which it was carved. Your best bet would be to follow a car to ensure you get through to the other side unscathed by the monsters that might have escaped from the LoTR sets and maybe residing in this tunnel. Once on the other side I was again greeted with heavenly views all around. I arrived at Milford around 5 PM. Uncannily, it did not rain throughout the ride, which was good for me and my camera, which as you know are extremely hydrophobic. Milford Sound is known as the wettest place in NZ and one of the wettest in the world – which means I was lucky. But still there was no sun. I completed a 15 minutes’ walk which exposed a waterfall from the green mountainside and then set off for Te Anau. The ride back wasn’t any less stunning. The sky cleared a bit more and the light was better. I even finally got to see rainbow which did a Déjà vu on me from the Australian Trip. Today was a sensory overload. I was content and happy to be a spectator to such a beautiful display of natural drama.

Further on from Ta Anau, I headed south to Dunedin on the Southern Scenic Route via Invercargill. On my way I stopped at the Petrified Forest in Curio Bay. It had 160 million year old fossilized forests. The beach was full of strange reptilian organic plant matter, the orange colored of which might pass out for construction water pipes if not placed on a out-of-place surrounding like this. It was hard to believe I was touching something so old. Imagine what Johnny Smith (from the Dead Zone) must have seen lest he touched these. The highlight for me in Dunedin was the world’s steepest street where I took the mighty Concours.

Day 15. After crossing the longest bridge in NZ in Rakaia I reached Burnham. The main highway had a board saying Akaroa via Lincoln. Now, Akaroa is a town located in the Banks Peninsula. It has a 150kms loop from Christchurch. Instead of my original plan to go to Christchurch first and them to Akaroa I took this turn. And I am glad I did, because it did save me some kays on the map. As I was approaching the Banks Peninsula the sky started getting cloudy, though it did not rain. The loop to Akaroa was fantastic to say the least. South Island was revealing one secret after another, the vistas never seemed to exhaust. The North Island is nowhere near as beautiful as the South Island, but the capital and the biggest city in NZ are in the NI. The clouds and sun played an incredible game of hide and seek. And I wasn’t complaining at all, I was just too busy in capturing whatever I could with the camera.

After a very very good ride around the Banks Peninsula I headed to Christchurch and crashed there for the night.

Day 16. How can anything go off smoothly without some spice thrown in by god almighty himself? A stone flew and hit the radiator of the bike in the middle of nowhere (actually near Waiau) creating a leak which drained the whole coolant in a matter of minutes. I thought the trip was over when in-the-middle-of-nowhere, a kay ahead I spotted a car service station. They actually sealed the leak with an external sealant and put water in the system. From that point I had another 300kms to go to catch my 7PM ferry to Wellington in North Island. I did not trust the seal but had no choice to go on. Even the cellphone didn’t work there. I continued at a slower pace and after my confidence in the seal grew I hit the top speed limit (of 100kays on the highways, not of the bike!). I arrived in Picton, where I had to catch my ferry with no leakages. Talk about luck! But before arriving Picton, I again hit the highway from the Inland road from Waiau, exiting just 5 kays before Kaikoura. A beautiful sight lay ahead of me – incredibly deep blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. Instead of turning left on the highway I went straight ahead to the beach over hard gravel (which could have created another fissure on the radiator, but the beauty of the ocean was too much to resist!). I found many white birds (sorry don’t know their names) resting on the beach, contrasting with the color of the water.

The ride from Kaikoura to Wharanui along the coastline was stupendous. I think this was the best road running parallel to a body of water that I had ridden on till now (both NZ and AU combined). The water was blue as anything and the bright sunshine contributed to the quality of the ride. Moral of the story : Get a damn radiator guard, ace!

I must comment on a small incident which happened today. I saw a Japanese guy (I am 99% sure he was Japanese based on my previous experience). He was resting on the side road facing the blue ocean with his push bike. I thought I will go and talk to him for a picture of all of us (me and him and the Concours and his push bike). I approached and said hellos. As usual he was not versed with English. I pointed at my camera and he thought that I was asking him to take my picture with the bike. ‘Oka. Oka” he said. I further entailed to explain him I want a photo of all us together. He then thought out of some complex reasoning that I was asking if I could take his photo for money. He said No, No like a thousand times in a second and went off. Poor guy. I don’t understand how they make their way through an English speaking country like NZ and AU when they can’t even communicate properly. I have no qualms about that. But then why people from India need an ECNR check before leaving for certain countries? After all, India is the largest English speaking country in the world!

My last run completing the oblong circle around NZ saw me riding from Wellington to Auckland via Wanganui and Hamilton. There I was in Auckland after 7100kms in 17 days. Thoroughly content and enlightened of the many jewels that exist on this young land. I had a feeling that even if I were to die tomorrow, I would die a content man who could say he travelled.

Now the inevitable question which comes up to me is this - If you have got some leaves, good camera equipment, holiday cash and have a penchant for riding fast bikes on world class roads, where should you head to? Australia or New Zealand? I would say New Zealand. It will cost you less money and days, plus most importantly you will return with a grin so big that you didn’t even have when you might have secured your first date at school! The downside? I am afraid but Australia will leave you wanting for more once you have trotted this land. But if you like uncannily inexorably long straights and alien encounters along with beautiful green countryside, then Australia should be your home for at least two months…

Visit www.theGreatNewZealandRoadtrip.com for hundreds of pictures and detailed blogs.

Route : Auckland – Rawene – Cape Reinga – Paihia – Auckland – Coromandel – Whangamata – Tauranga – Roturua – Opotiki – Gisborne – Napier – Dannevirke – masterton – Wellington – Picton – Nelson – Greymouth – Fox glacier – Queenstown – te Anau – Milford Sound – Clifden – Invercargill – Waikawa – Dunedin – Timaru – Akaroa – Christchurch – Waipara – Kaikoura – Blenheim – Picton – Wellington – Wanganui – Hamilton - Auckland

Distance done: 7100kms on Kawasaki Concours 14 and 700kms on Kawasaki ZX6R

Cameras Used: Canon 400D, 100mm Canon Macro Lens, Canon 10-22mm Lens, Nokia N95

Riding Gear: Nitro Helmet, Draggin Jeans Camo set

Accidents : None

Most Beautiful Place seen: Around Akaroa, Road to Milford Sound

The gentle giant : Kawasaki Concours 14

I have ranted about my trip across the Middle Earth like there was no tomorrow. But in all that melee of words and emotions I had completely overlook the most important member of this trip – the motorcycle which silently took the thousands of corners, some hundred kays of gravel and the rain and enabled me to complete the ride of my life in 7100 kms and 17 days.

The vehicle in question was a 2007 Kawasaki Concours 14 and I was about to take it around your beautiful country and in the process unveil, but only some, of its wondrosities to my people back in India through pictures and the works.

My biggest ride had been a Honda Blackbird, and this one outweighed (and outperformed!) it by a healthy 50kgs to put the marker at 279 kg, dry for my ABS equipped steed. And it comes with the works – an electronically adjustable windscreen, tyre pressure wireless radio sensors, an LCD console which displays almost anything except your pillion’s age, keyless ignition with a transponder, functional rear view mirrors, side panniers and the super smooth tetra lever shaft drive. Plus it easily takes my vote for the best looking tourer in its category. I had also taken a 2005 Honda Fireblade 1000RR around India in 2006. So you can imagine the kind of comfort, space and ride quality this born-to-tour machine provided to me. Not for a moment I realized that I was riding a shaft driven machine. Now did the weight overwhelm me in the many tight corners. The biggest asset for me was the integrated panniers which allowed me to carry a lot of stuff – required and sundry

Looks

As I have testified earlier, I would rate this as the best looking tourer in its category. The curves and well defined and yet not edgy, the overall styling is contemporary as well. I especially loved wide headlights giving it a mean purposeful all encompassing look. At times when I was riding well into the night, it was more than sufficient to light up small and big creatures that roamed the roads, lending me that extra confidence required to take on the curves in pitch dark when the destination is still a hundred miles away.

Performance

The bike delivers the punch to match its looks. The best part about it is the xxxx lb/ft of torque, which was more than enough to propel out of dense Auckland traffic even in the 4th gear. This means I had to change fewer gears while travelling. The detuned ZX14 mill also gave enough power off the line to actually have a chance against its athletic sibling. It was like having the best of both worlds. The throttle response was fantastic and precise with a very little play even after 7000 kms of varying twists. I would not babble upon of the top speed done for obvious reasons, but let me tell you, its mighty fast and quick for what its made.

Ride Quality

The ride quality was fantastic and often stupefied me. How can something so big, powerful and complex be made so transparent and smooth. And it remained the same throughout the 7000 kms that I did on it in 17 days. The seat was not too soft or hard, just the right mix to prevent any kind of saddle sore. I would though prefer it would be a little thicker and softer for lean butts. The ride position is quite comfortable with most of the switchgear ergonomically located. The windscreen specially comes in handy at high speeds and rain, especially at its tallest setting. For even better results you can of course for an aftermarket taller screen. I don’t remember myself riding with the screen in the tucked in mode for a long time. The heavy weight lends a sub conscious feel of security and well plantedness, even in heavy crosswinds. But at the same time it prevents you from going to real off road tracks, or doing any fun maneuvers. But I guess that’s a totally different purpose and you would have a separate bike for that. We are talking about eating grand miles here with the least effort.

The cute devil : Ninja ZX6R

The moment I sat on the Bike I was overwhelmed with its ultra compact size and was astonished by how featherweight it was. The latter quality was even more magnified by the Law of Proximity with respect my riding the behemoth of a Concours. The difference between the size and presence between the two bikes is tremendous. The Concours is a bully of a bike forcing its way in the visual field of every living thing with an inclination towards and internal combustion engine, while the ZX6 forces its way out of an invisible hyperdrive and into the view with its high pitched shriek. The ZX6 almost reminded me of my bike back in India– Karizma, a 223CC puny bike with 16bhp! Even the Hyosung GT650R which I rode in Australia seemed bigger that this miniature bomb on wheels.

I inserted the key and turned it to the on mode. The pretty console came to life with its LCD checks. I was searching for the fuel indicator when I was reminded that most sportbikes have a light come on when it hits reserve. The ZX6 console had a dedicated vertical column to indicate the gear number too. The seating posture came across as very extreme, again maybe it was due to the Concours. All my weight was on t he wrists and shoulders. It really made you feel like a Ninja on a mission. I hit the ignition and the ‘toy’ came to life. The absolutely beautiful exhaust note sold me off! I was hooked on to the bike. I really didn’t care if it had two pear shaped headlights to lead the way. I was excited enough to take this for a run. Quickly enough I shifted the tank bag from Concours to it’s less-than-half-cced brother. Now this was a problem. The tank bag made it quite challenging to maneuver the without being extra careful. The minuscule fairing up front the Bike wasnt really helpful now since I not crouch anywhere near it due to the bag. The disadvantages wrt to the Concours were starting to show up. And anyways it would be grossly stupid to compare the two bikes which were meant for different purposes.

I put on my backpack, the tripod and sat on the bike, feeling very nervous (and like a Ninja with the full Camo Draggin Jeans gear that I had). The posture was feeling very low and extreme.

The first few kays were in the city and to my lodge some 30 kms away. I was comfortable with the Bike and all the heavy bags that I was carrying and I had to go on the motorway. Anyways I reached safe at my lodge and decided to head for a location to shoot the Bike the next day. I had a pretty hard time deciding on which location, because I almost done everyroute worth going near Auckland.

Finally, I took the Ninja to a 600kms run on the beautiful Coromandel coast in NZ (which I had already done on the Concours just some days back). There are thousands of corners there. The agility and fun factor of the machine was unbelievable. In fact I found a fantastic rider on a VFR800 to trail. I never pushed myself to the limits I did that day. My stance on the Bike coupled with the tank back and the highly convoluted corners mad sure that my shoulders and wrists were strained to the limit of exploding. I could barely manage to get used to the machine in the challenging route, plus it was Saturday, which meant that there were a lot of Bikes and one cannot simply ride slow on a Bike like this (to keep your pride meter high)! As I said earlier, the icing on the cake for me was the sound, especially at higher RPMs (and a 20,000 rpm meter does make you swell with pride!). The power was also good enough for high speed runs, makes the litre bikes a little too surplus with power.

As I spent two days with this incredible machine my fondness for it grew. Initially, I was from the contingent who dislikes the curvaceous front end of the new Ninjas, but I actually started loving it. It is something which you start adoring with time.

 

Article 2 : Middle Earth Concoured! : Published in Overdrive Magazine May 2008 Issue

 

Download PDF of the Article from here.

Scripts of the Article:

Photos and Text: Sundeep Gajjar (Sunny)

One of the world’s most beautiful countries, the ultimate hypertourer, butter smooth roads and landscapes projecting the fantasy world of Middle Earth into your real world. What else do you need for the ride of a lifetime? Maybe a small introduction to get you there!
I was still under the influence of my ride in the country continent of Australia (theGreatAustralianRoadtrip.com) when under some very complex fortunate circumstances I got a chance to do the country right side of down under – New Zealand. The vehicle in question was a 2007 Kawasaki Concours 14, and by no means was it to be taken lightly. My biggest ride had been a Honda Blackbird, and this one outweighed (and outperformed!) it by a healthy 50kgs to put the marker at 279 kg, dry for my ABS equipped steed. And it comes with the works – an electronically adjustable windscreen, tyre pressure wireless radio sensors, an LCD console which displays almost anything except your pillion’s age, keyless ignition with a transponder, functional rear view mirrors, side panniers and the super smooth tetra lever shaft drive. Plus it easily takes my vote for the best looking tourer in its category. Now let’s come back to the day when I was bestowed upon the Concours from Kawasaki NZ in Auckland. It was a bright Sunny day and I had just flown in from Melbourne the night before. Australia and NZ have a friendly kind of rivalry, the one you would expect from two talented best friends. Australia was a behemoth of a heavyweight muscle builder packing mind numbing experiences and beauty, while NZ was that thin lanky ramp model with beauty jam packed at every inch and corner of that part of super continent called New Zealandia which has managed to keep its head just out of water for thus long.
First impression of the country didn’t leave me with too many glaring differences between it & Australia. The road signs were different, roads were narrower (but by no means of a lower quality) and it was generally cooler. As I rode through and across the country more differences came to life, but none of them warranted a third world war.


My next coup d’oeil was for the mighty Concours standing inside the Kawasaki HQ in Auckland. It was big alright. It was a motorbike which you wouldn’t expect to support fast reflexes in the city, the u-turns and the roads of NZ which were 90% corners. But my first tête-à-tête with the 14 around the company compound dispelled any beliefs that I had about this.


It was also the first time I was going on a solo trip. And that too all over a country on a hyperbike. I knew from the beginning that I would face problems in managing time for photography, riding and updating blogs daily. But it was a challenge which I had accepted and the road out of Auckland lay right ahead of me on the 19th of February 2008. On the 16th I had attended a MX event in Auckland which left me wondering in awe and dismay that will India ever reach the level of involvement of general public, media and most importantly – the government in motorsports. They even had a category where 7 year old kids were racing round the track on MX bikes, they were fast and good! On the 17th I rode to a place called Paeroa to be a spectator to another motorsport event, this time a street circuit race called The Battle of The Streets. This was the first time when I saw a street race up close. The closest I had been earlier to such an event were the Isle of Man photos and the streets of Delhi. The race featured sidecars, superbikes and MX too, all riding on the other side of sanity, on streets which would have a 50kmph limit applied on a normal day! Anyone try real hard and make a circuit out of India Gate?
Coming back to my actual first day on road. NZ is a very complex place to plan a road trip in. It’s not really circular, most of the roads are worth riding at least once and many of them are dead ends (but they need to be done if you are there just once in your lifetime). I did not have the convenience of a GPS (like in Australia) thanks to non-existent NZ maps for the TomTom Rider2 that I had. It was quite a delight to re-discover the use of paper maps (South / North Island Complete Drivers Atlas with Country Roads, 30 NZD). But the indispensable atlas would be the New Zealand Motorcycle Atlas, published by Hema Maps, ISBN : 1877302325, 30 NZD. This lists the top 100 rides, so just follow its advice. I managed to do around eighty percent of the routes listed in this fantastic headache saver book. Get one before you start planning your route!.


The first day hit me hard with breathtaking views from Piha beach and the dark overcast sky. I was headed up north. One more thing which you need to take care of in NZ are the easily overlooked ferry crossings on the map. They are usually 2-3 minutes ferry ride joining two land heads running into the sea. Bikes and cars are easily accommodated on them, but account for the moderate delay while you wait to board the ferry on your side of the waters.
By second day I was actually at the northernmost point of NZ – Cape Reinga. This was one of the toughest days in the trip, with 40 kays of riding on hard slippery gravel (a 320+kg fully loaded bike makes it that more scary) in wet weather. The third day saw me do the north eastern coast through the village of Waitangi. It was here where a major treaty was signed in 1840 between the Europeans and Maoris regarding rights and settlement. Maoris are the natives of NZ. After the Europeans decided to make NZ one of their homes they were displaced of most rights and importance. This treaty bought at some of their rights back, at least on paper. Similar is the case with Australia with their Aboriginals. I had a one night transit again in Auckland before heading to the stunning Coromandel coast in the east. But again, overcast skies decided to be the roof of my world.


I kept following the east coast before making my way inland towards Rotorua, a town where you need to have at least a day’s stopover to see what it has to offer, besides the Sulphur fumes in the air. Live hot geysers, boiling mud pools, Maori art shows, buried village et al – but I had to do most of it in less than half a day.


The best places to live in NZ would be Holiday Parks. They are quiet, offer a single cabin for cheap and most of them allow you to park the bike right outside your cabin door. Log on to aatravel.co.nz to plan your accommodation.


On my 10th day in NZ I was in the capital of Wellington, on the south tip of North Island. Alright, maybe time for a little geography lesson. New Zealand is mainly formed by two Islands – North Island and the South Island. There is one more notable island south of South Island – it’s called the Stewart Island. Legend has it that South Island was god’s canoe, Stewart Island was his anchor and North Island was the fish he caught. Have a look at the map and you would correlate to this visually. You have to board a ferry with your bike to hop between the three islands (unless you have your own private jet). One way ticket between the North and South Island would cost you around 110 NZD. Log on to bluebridge.co.nz to book your ticket in advance. Carry your own tie downs to make friends with bad weather on the vehicle deck. Electric plug points are provided on the ferry for your laptop.


The ferry from Wellington takes 3 odd hours and drops you off at Picton on the northern shore of South Island. Many had told me that the South Is. would be much more scenic than the North Is. I was here to validate that. My first night’s stop was at Nelson, which is just 120 odd kays from Picton. It was also my base to update the blogs for other people to see back in India. Nelson came across to be a very beautiful quiet town. Most of the towns in NZ and AU are quiet and very tidy. This one had flower pots hanging in unending rows from the shopping mall facades. It all gave it a wish-my-home-was-here look really.


My second in the South Is. saw me get fined for a 120NZD for overspeeding at 119kmph in a 100km zone. The police car was unmarked and was coming from the opposite side. After that incident even the oldest car seemed like a patrol and did not exceed 105kmph anywhere but the deserted of roads.
I got a hint of South Island’s impending beauty as I strolled through the Paparoa National Park with its natural pancake rock formations and blowholes. National Parks are free entry in NZ and offer a great deal. While being on the road I did not get much time to explore many of the parks, but for what I could see from the main roads, I knew that unspeakable beauty waited on the roads less travelled aka dirt tracks. And the 14 wasn’t really a good bike to do those kind of roads in a hurry.


Going further down the west coast of South Island unfolded stunning landscapes, beauty that many of us only seen in postcards. Forget expensive Switzerland I say. This was especially true near Queenstown, which sported bluw and green lakes of Wanaka and Wakatipu nestled middle of high jagged mountains and lush green valleys. It was too surreal to process all that. It was like Ladakh with butter smooth roads on a hyperbike. A Porsche coming from the opposite side only added to the overall movie experience! Thankfully, the skies were sunny for all this while until I reached the town of Te Anau. This town is a base for exploring the world famous Milford Sound. This Sound (geographic feature : strait of water inland) is rated amongst the most beautiful places in the world. It is a 120km dead end ride from Te Anau, and incidentally it also sports almost 7000 mm rainfall 180 rainy days per year. One is said to be lucky to catch the place under the sun. I wasn’t amongst those chosen few. For 2 days I waited in te Anau for the heavy rains to stop. And when they did I head out for Milford experiencing the best ride of my life. Low lying clouds rolling down green mountainsides, thousands of instantly created post rain water streams, snow capped mountains – all added to the 120kays of bliss to Milford. My patience was rewarded, but it also meant that I had only a week to get back to Auckland to catch my flight. I had to cover half of South Island and catch a ferry to North Island and then cover the west coast of North Island too!


From Te Anau it was the city of Dunedin on the south east coast of South Island. I had paid a customary visit to the world’s steepest street (Baldwin Street) with a gradient of 35%! Continuing north I reached the city of Christchurch, country’s second largest city. Around Christchurch there is the Banks Peninsula with the village of Akaroa. This region provided me with incredible landscapes, specially the sun playing hide and seeks with the green earth through the clouds and blue waters as spectators along with me.


The last day on South Island saw a stone hit the radiator with a fissure resulting in coolant spurting out all over the road. Incredibly, I found a service station which fixed the puncture with a sealant! So remember to have a radiator guard installed on your bikes before you set out!


I got from Picton in South Island to Auckland, North Island in one and a half days. My last tryst with roads in the South Island was on the stunning Kaikoura Coast (East coast) which would rival The Great Ocean Road in beauty and quality of ride any day!


I was back in Auckland on 6th March without any mishaps. The next day I was given a Ninja ZX6r to ride for my remaining three days. I took it to Coromandel Coast again, but this time it was sunny and the blue waters made a pretty background for the green Ninja. The bike was a stark contrast to the gargantuan proportions of the Concours. It felt featherweight and handled sweet on the corners. The best point for me was the deep exhaust note of the ZX6R and the majestic presence and power of the Concours.


So, if you have got some leaves, good camera equipment, holiday cash and have a penchant for riding fast bikes on world class roads, where should you head to? Australia or New Zealand? I would say New Zealand. It will cost you less money and days, plus most importantly you will return with a grin so big that you didn’t even have when you might have secured your first date at school! The downside? I am afraid but Australia will leave you wanting for more once you have trotted this land. But if you like uncannily inexorably long straights and alien encounters along with beautiful green countryside, then Australia should be your home for at least two months…


Visit www.theGreatNewZealandRoadtrip.com for hundreds of pictures and detailed blogs.


Trip Facts
Bikes Used : 2007 Kawasaki Concours 14 and 2007 Kawasaki Ninja ZX6R
Kilometers done : 8100kms
Days : 22
Route : Auckland – Rawene – Cape Reinga – Paihia – Auckland – Coromandel – Whangamata – Tauranga – Roturua – Opotiki – Gisborne – Napier – Dannevirke – masterton – Wellington – Picton – Nelson – Greymouth – Fox glacier – Queenstown – te Anau – Milford Sound – Clifden – Invercargill – Waikawa – Dunedin – Timaru – Akaroa – Christchurch – Waipara – Kaikoura – Blenheim – Picton – Wellington – Wanganui – Hamilton - Auckland
Accidents : None

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