Sadly we have come to the end of our 4-week adventure. What an adventure it has been too. A haven for outdoor nutters like us with wide, expansive vistas that never fail to impress and roads that are just perfect for motorbikes – bliss. Not surprising that the roads are so lovely in a country that is bigger than the UK with just one-fourteenth of the population. Filling the gaps are enough forests, mountains, lakes, beaches and fjords to shake a stick at and we had a stick and gave it a good, albeit a skimming-the-surface only, shaking.
We’ve already dipped into the cycling, kayaking, wine-tasting and tramping adventures we had with the kids in Kiwi Dieter (which were all fantastic) and we’ve introduced you to Bruce Lee and BOS (bag of spanners) the two Hondas which served as our trusty steeds for the tour, so now, let me just share a few more highlights as we wound our way around this amazing country.
With beauty comes danger
The Kiwi battler spirit has been repeatedly pushed to its limits over the past decade or so through a series of earthquakes. Christchurch was hit badly in both 2010 and 2011 and its recovery suffered a further setback when it was hit again in 2016. Also in 2016, Kaikoura suffered severe road and rail damage and, thus, access issues which are still being rectified today. Earlier in 1931, an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale virtually levelled the city of Napier in Hawke’s Bay. Not for nothing has New Zealand been referred to as the ‘Shaky Isles’. However, from all of these examples, that battler spirit is there to be seen.
Napier is an interesting and unexpected delight to visit. Given that it was pretty much levelled in 1931, the re-build process introduced numerous lovely examples of art-deco architecture. Boasting a very lovely prom (Marine Parade) with parks and sunken gardens, Timmo and I left the boys to rest while we did a passeggiata into the town to have a mooch. After a quick beer and wine on ‘Wine Street’ (be rude not to), and a stroll to take in the unique concentration of art-deco buildings and original 1930 facades, we found ourselves at the very lovely Emporium bar/restaurant with an impressive marble-topped bar and lovely period detail and old-fashioned artefacts.
Only after we had enjoyed an almost Great Gatsby experience – they go big on the theme I can tell you – did we learn that, true to form, we had just missed the massively popular Art Deco weekend which would have seen a plethora of Gatsby-esque events complete with fancy-dress. Typical!
Out of the ashes…
The events in Christchurch are still visible today. The spire of the cathedral was left in ruins, many multiple-storey buildings were levelled or critically damaged and many suburbs had to be abandoned. The re-build process is well underway and the new green spaces, parks and cycle-ways along the Avon River are beautiful and give some peace and respite in what it still a city under construction. One of the more inspiring stories is the development of the cardboard cathedral. This transitional building gets its name from the 98 cardboard tubes used in its construction and was erected in 11 months to serve as the city’s temporary Anglican cathedral and as a concert venue.
Culture, curios and crazy heights
An eye for the unusual is certainly something encouraged in this part of the world. No doubt prompted by a strong Maori artisitc heritage and influence, there are numerous examples of a love of curiosities. One such example was encountered en route to Invercargill. Stopping for a quick coffee break, The Lost Gypsy Gallery was housed within a disused camper/truck and curated by a very dedicated and enthusiastic guy who was clearly happy with his lot. Tucked away within an annex to the truck, he clearly spent many hours taking everyday objects and animating them in various and curious ways. Clockwork, wind-up, button pressing delights kept you absorbed for hours – his imagination clearly knew no bounds.
Another place was happened-across during the ride from Wanaka to Geraldine when we did a quick ice-cream stop (I know, there’s definitely a trend). The place had a collection of buildings bursting to the seams with stuff from days gone by. They absolutely love it. Mind you, some of the very lovely traditional Victorian towns that we passed through (Featherston, Oxford, Rai Valley, Greytown to name just a few) look like they’d still be using most of the stuff!
A highlight, though, was not found within, but outside. Amongst a collection of new outdoor furniture for sale, were some very impressive pop-up type bars. Very nice, thought I and certainly could see a possible summer project for Timmo in the making…
The Te Papa national museum in Wellington was definitely a highlight during our one and only day off. As cities go, it’s quite small which made it ideal for the limited amount of time we had in which to explore. We planned only to ‘nip in’ to the museum for a quick look as part of a stroll along the waterfront and a walking sightseeing tour, however four hours later we emerged after a delightful insight into New Zealand’s immigration history. To follow was a privileged insight into ancient China through an exhibition which provided an intimate and immersive experience with some of the remarkable Terracotta Warriors which, for more than 2,000 years, secretly guarded the tomb of China’s first Emperor.
However, assuming that would have been the best bit, we then discovered another best bit. Gallipoli: The Scale of our War exhibition was amazing. Telling the extraordinary story of the Gallipoli campaign in WW1 through the eyes and words of eight ordinary New Zealanders, the exhibition has been developed in conjunction with Weta Workshop (famous for their work on the Lord of the Rings films and others), each individual is captured frozen in a moment in time and introduced through 2.4 times human scale figures. Each giant sculpture took a staggering 24,000 hours to create and each is made to look incredibly lifelike through incredible detail and skill. Backed up by brilliant research and other cutting-edge 3-D maps, projections models etc (which ALL worked!!), it was a thoroughly absorbing example of interpretation at its best.
Now, neither Timmo nor me are particularly keen on heights. So, you might ask, why did you find yourselves at the top of the Sky Tower in Auckland??? Good question and not a decision that was arrived at lightly. Feeling dizzy just looking up at it from the outside, we contemplated whether we could force ourselves to experience an extreme afternoon tea experience in the cafe at the top. Now, for Tim it was a no-brainer. Tea at the top? No problem. For me, however, the mention of glass floors both in the lift and at the top, the prospect of a 30 second lift experience also with glass door intervals meant I needed more persuasion. A quick chat to the girl on the ticket counter – ‘it’s fine, you’ll be fine, just look at the wall in the lift and you’ll soon be there’ didn’t really help. What did help whilst en route to the loo (ahem) was the slogan ‘Live More, fear less’. So having taken that to heart, given myself a quick talking to and slap, off we set. I took her advice on the way up, wanting not to fall at the first hurdle, and once acclimatised, actually found it OK to the point that eventually I was standing on the glass panels looking through to the street far below and even managed to look through the glass panel in the lift to see the full extent of the lift shaft (holy moley). The most upsetting bit of the whole experience was, having been bought a cup of tea by Tim, then discovering that there was alcohol available. I’d overheard a group of Aussies saying cheers – and looking round ready to give them a ‘tea is not normally given a cheers toast’ (strange folk) – found they were knocking back the wine and beer!!!! Timmo had some explaining to do…..
Say Hello, Wave Goodbye
Like Soft Cell, it was time to do just that. On saying hello to Auckland, we were all too soon having to bid farewell to NZ. Sad day indeed.
Ah well, all good things must come to an end. And what a great place and experience we had enjoyed. The bikes had done us proud and after 4,000km with no issues, close encounters, scratches or scrapes, we could pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. Once again, our choice of gear had also served us well – the varying layers being used to the limit from keeping us warm at 6/7 degrees to trying to keep us cool at 30+ degrees.
A round trip to Ireland beckons next in June on the two new Triumph Street Twins which will be a very different experience again – unlikely I suspect to test us in terms of finding ways to cope with climatic variation but finding ways and means to avoid constantly drinking the Guinness!! Until then – ‘hasta la vista baby’