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s2smodern

As a car and motorbike rider, here's my comments/rant below but first let me say that NZ is a lovely place to ride a motorbike as there are some lovely empty roads with few cars through some stunning scenery. 
Although older road design and construction isn't great I do think they fix potholes and damaged roads quite quickly. Also as a motorcyclist we are allowed to lane split (much to the ire of many motorists lol) but that is great news for bikers. Having said that, read on as this is my first hand experience ...
1. Lane hogging and other shocking habits - Shocking "hillbilly" driver attitudes of lane hogging fast lanes even though it's prohibited in the NZTA road code. My theory is that a big contributor is that old and fearful drivers feel a lot safer in the centre lane over Auckland bridge and so edge to the centre early on. Also, NZ's attitudes to driving as with so many other things have simply not kept pace with new trends and the ever increasing foreign migrants and tourists who keep coming to NZ. NZ drivers will rarely stop at intersections and consider any stop a yield. No problem with that really, except they will assume that you are travelling at 30 km/hr and no matter how near or far you are they will pull out, even if there is no soul behind you. They will also dreamily cruise at 40 - 50 km/hr until 2 lanes merge and will immediately speed up to beat you, only to dreamily cruise on again. Likewise they will dreamily approach a traffic light only to speed up well over the limit and even through a red light to leave those in their wake stranded at a light that may take up to 10 minutes to change green for you again. Fortunately on a motorbike these are not issues and mostly I can just go round and be on my way. Most cars will move aside for a motorbike once they have spotted you but ocassionally some prat will narrow the gap as they just can't bear the thought that anyone has a right to pass them if they're stuck in traffic. I laugh as I pass them.
2. Sorry to profile but certain nationality drivers are scarily shocking. Tourists have received media attention and frankly I don't judge too harshly but it's those who actually live here that I can't believe have obtained a NZ licence and been assessed as competent. As it is too PC to talk openly (everyone jokes privately) it is simply not addressed for fear of upsetting NZ's major trading partner and big brother (or possibly your lanlord). I can spot them a mile off in my car or bike and am probably only ever wrong about 2% of the time when it turns out to be an elderly driver. This isn't a racist response it has just now become a natural safety mechanism. Having said that of course I am not saying every driver of the same nationality is a hazard and I am not offering any reasons as to the causes, just noting daily observations.
3. Cyclists - despite not contributing a cent to the road infrastructure costs or having to pass any road competency tests cyclists are somehow untouchable and even if they display shocking road habits will rarely be prosecuted or worse assumed innocent and other road users presumed guilty. Added to this attitude is an official picture that NZ is cycle friendly which it is not! It is more dangerous to cycle than motorbike in my observations. I have nothing against most cyclists but in NZ sadly they have a snobbish attitude that they have first priority and all other road users are lucky to share the road. I  think it is grossly irresponsible to sell NZ as a cycle haven and have seen an Asian cyclist run off the road in the South Island by a truck, thankfully unharmed. Actually the truck was polite and gave a wide berth when passing but then a car came around the corner in the opposite direction and the truck had to either stop (never happening) or ease back to its side of the road which it did. I also recently met 2 young tourists cycling NZ (not together) and in chatting realised there is no way to cycle through Auckland unless taking a wide detour or using ferries. Basically the powers that be simply have no clue and obviously have never been to Zurich or Amsterdam to see how it's already been done with thousands of bikes and moped everywhere. What doesn't help is the lack of planning - some lanes used by cyclists are not actually cycle lanes and nobody has considered taking cycle lanes through less busy residential areas away from trucks and buses. As in some overseas countries cyclists ride on the sidewalk which would be generally safer than being near big vehicles. I have come round bends in the Waitakere ranges to find cyclists directly in my path with nowhere to go. By implication then the authorities must expect traffic to travel around these corners at cycling speeds? Rather odd.
 
 

4. Blaming Speed for everything - the authorities know only one mantra as a catch all for every road issue, namely SPEED! They will take a stunning road and make it slower than usual due to "high crashes" and you have to say to yourself that only an idiot would crash in a single lane relatively straight road! So imagine the traffic jam on any holiday! Likewise, if speed was the major cause of issues and the public believed it then governments would simply ban fast cars or force car companies to put limiters on them like motorbikes. I don't mean riding like an idiot in a built up residential area near kids or behaving stupidly as I've seen some patched riders do but equally removing the grace 10 km/hr on every road over every holiday defies logic. Also, in a modern city  the authorities can't simply compensate for weird road designs by making vehicles travel at walking pace. Fix the problem!
 
 
5. Bridges - somewhere long ago road designers decided that the safest thing to do with a bridge is make it as narrow as possible so that no pedestrians can fit and a truck and car approaching each other would be critically dangerous unless crawling which never happens. Why? Who knows? This shows the sleepy mindset of the kiwi of yesteryear. So all across NZ there are dangerous "bridges".

6. Trucks (& Buses) - for some unknown reason NZ has hardly any rail so trucks and buses are the norm. Whilst the truck and bus drivers may actually be very good (no comment from me) they are supposed to drive 10km below the speed limit but usually travel faster. Not that I see that as the issue itself but boy when you see how narrow some roads are it can be quite disconcerting as you know they could never stop quick enough if they have to. They are vital to the economy and I know how hard it must be for them with some kiwi driving habits (see point 1) but I have seen some really bad driving (see cyclist pushed off road by truck point 3). Again, I think of these guys who have to keep moving yet have to slow down at crazy places like bridges or for cyclists and I have some sympathy. As a motorcyclist I give them a wide berth and we share the road with no issues for the most part.
7. Road design - overall more recently constructed roads aren't too bad in my opinion and quite nice to drive/ride on but a lot of older roads seem to have been designed by formula one circuit designers with sharp corners and terrible cambers which is awful on a motorbike as the centrifugal force drives you off the road. Weather also contributes to quite serious potholes or road sinking sometimes but I do think they are always fixed quickly in my opinion.
8. Property Development & Developers (and Councils!) - somehow Councils (especially Auckland) manage to grab exhorbitant development contributions from developers early on in the process, supposedly for infrastructure costs. All good until you see that the last thing they consider is roads. Roads around developments look like scrunched messes from heavily laden trucks and often a development has no added road upgrades so residents have to just put up with longer delays at clogged intersections.
9. RTMS (Road Traffic Management Systems) - presumably people get degrees and call this a science but it results in the weirdest nonsensical decisions such as, when having a major event that will attract additional traffic, solve the problem by closing lanes. Logic and intuition say that this will increase pressure but RTMS says it will bring order. Go figure. And traffic lights controlling freeway entry basically move traffic jams off the motorway and backed up into residential areas where presumably it irritates moms just trying to navigate school traffic.
 
10. Ridiculous speed limits. As NZ infrastructure (and attitudes) has not coped with growth the speed limits are nonsense. Probably 85% of the population speed at least some of the time. 100 km/hr (110km with grace) is absurd in a modern vehicle and lifestyle. I have ridden behind a young girl at 120 km/hr riding safely out of Hamilton to Auckland but then encountered a driver doing under 100 km/hr but wholly distracted and a total danger! I say again, if speed were genuinely so abhorrent to society we'd allow only low capacity engine vehicles and restrict vehicle traffic to slow driving.  

11. Crazy and inconsistent learner driver rules - a 15 year old (is it now 16?) is able to get a restricted licence and then hop behind the wheel of a massively fast 2 litre skyline or evo. Contrast that with an adult who wants to get a motorbike licence and has to ride a restricted capacity bike for almost 2 years! Both are excessive in opposite extremes and show how far from reality the rules are now lagging.

12. Auckland Council attitude as mentioned in point 3 NZ councils have no real success creating cycling lanes and the same can be said for their attitude to motorbikes. Bikers will be ticketed if they are not excatly in a motorcyle park if they try be considerate and not park in a full car park. I have seen all the motorcycle parks full with scooters so parked beside it in a massive pedestrian walkway only to be fined where I was not blocking pedestrian or vehicular traffic - go figure.  Next time I will park in a full car park. This is an example of an underlying battle with Auckland Council's true attitude to bikers. Openly it professes support but in practice it is short sighted and boorish. Having said that, some Auckland parking lots have free motorcycle parking although even here I have noticed an increase in regulaions of where exactly. Don't get me started on Wilson's parking lots!


13. Exhorbitant ACC (accident compensation) levies on motorcycles - apparently motorcyclists costs the ACC and health system a small fortune. Whereas cyclists pay nothing so presumably cost the system nothing? And skateboarders who break bones every day don't pay to ride at free taxpayer skate parks. I assume that if a truck knocks a motorbike then it is recorded as a motorbike statistic but who knows? Bikers just assume that it is a punitive deterrant. Apparently some years back they wanted to introduce truly absurd levies but suddenly reduced them to less than half when enough bikers protested outside the beehive in Wellington. Maybe time for bikers to show some muscle. There are so many who love to ride but this is a shocker. Certainly not an incentive in the NZ rain one would think the authorities would promote less car traffic especially with one occupant per car as most are. In Tel Aviv I saw people in the pouring rain on their scooters and bikes but then I'd guess they don't have sky high costs to run them. I read somewhere about the huge damage overloaded trucks cause the road surfaces (see comment under point 8) and in contrast then motorcycles must place very little wear and tear on roads so despite this or the low impact on the environment they pay a massively disproportionate amount of roading costs. I met a fellow motorcyclist on the Wellington ferry who had just started riding again due to a long recuperation after a bad accident - on his bicycle on his way to work! Had never crashed his motorcycle.

14. Infrastructure lag - as mentioned in several places above NZ has not kept place with tourism and immigration growth and while some narrow roads are a quaint reminder of a bygone ear of yesteryear, it only works if the road is isolated and quiet. For the additional traffic the road and rail infrastructure has simply not kept pace, either on main roads or around residential developments (see point 8). Again, the authorities simply think keeping every vehicle to a snail's pace will keep society at thinking it really is living in the 80's but our modern cars and motorbikes remind us otherwise. As an example, Auckland has a stunning motorway in and out of the Northern bound tunnel. As you head north you come flying out only to see 80km/hr speed signs and eventually to enter Warkworth in a single lane (usually made into 2 lanes by drivers) and on we go up north at a snail's pace again. Likewise if authorities hope to see business and labour move out of Auckland they cannot expect employees to factor in a 3 hour drive for a distance that would be 1½ to 2 hours in other first world countries. Some effort over better roads with faster limits need to kick in to make Auckland and NZ a modern place to live.
15. Traffic Police I believe NZ police used to have seperate road cops but now police also wear same uniforms and don't look different. As few motorists "like" traffic cops, this has actually lowered the overall public respect for proper cops. This is just an aside comment. While my experience of them has been that they are abrupt but "polite" I have friends who have had very rude interractions over very minor infractions. That been said I do know of at least one driver who lost their licence over an incident with a cyclist. The younger cop on the scene sort of forced her to commit to "facts" that were later used against her in court. At the time of being interviewed she was in shock and couldn't recall exact distances but he made sure he harrassed her until she "agreed" to his suggestions. He was very arrogant and basically said that the cyclist had no blame which was crazy. He also said that the driver crossed a cycle lane which was actually not marked for cycling but was just where cars parked. This made me understand the overall attitude of the powers that be to road users.
 

SUNDAY, 12 APRIL 2015

Our 7 day Motorbike South Island New Zealand Trip - Experiences

 
For our itinerary ... 7 day South Island trip itinerary
For our planning and decisions 7 Day South Island New Zealand Motorbike Trip - Planning
 

Our 7 day South Island New Zealand motorbike trip - planning and considerations

 
How long is a piece of string?
When I speak to most people about a bike tour of the South Island, they recommend 10 to 14 days if not more. I had 7 days of leave available and a small window of opportunity before the weather turned which I am told is in late April. To miss this window would be to delay the trip to later in the year or, a more likely scenario, next year. Riding in the South Island during the snow season can be very dangerous for bikes and the snow can come until as late as October/November. So with my biker comrade, we decided to make hay while the sun shines and ride as far South as we could in 7 days including the return trip. 
Our bikes..
I ride a2007 SuzukiHayabusa GSXR1300 and my comrade in handlebars rides a 2007 Suzuki Boulevard M109R 1800cc. The Busa is [very very] quick on the straights and enjoyable in the corners although with a long wheel base and cautious rider you'd more enjoy other rides for quicker corners if that's are your thing. It is a comfortable "tourer" and could have the bars raised slightly if one was planning to primarily tour on it. It can be tiring under 110kmh but begins to simply purr anywhere from 120kmh and the faster it goes the safer it feels. The M109R is surprisingly light for its sheer presence but as my comrade stands over 6 feet tall and hardly complained of a sore butt, it must be pretty comfy to ride. It has great straight line grunt and, although I once followed one who handled twisties like a pro, it doesn't lend itself to sharp corners, especially with the fatter back tyre that wants to straighten up on itself.   But with even with the thinner back tyre on now, its rider is equally as cautious as I am, so neither of us is over zealous in corners.

We chatted to many fellow biker tourers mostly on adventure bikes who were having a great time. Some were campers and others took motel rooms but all were real adventurers.

Rooms and accommodation...
Of course camping would be the cheapest option but several factors weighed against this for us. Firstly, we are not regular campers so the idea of pitching a tent at dusk was not appealing, added to which were likely days of adverse weather. A biker friend told me about a wonderful "pop-up" tent he used but hadn't yet provided any details. Secondly, the additional weight and space of tents may be a minor consideration given the new light weight technology but was still a negative. So we looked for rooms. The mate who did Harley tours said that, unlike a larger party, as 2 bikers we'd be able to just call ahead to the next stop the day before and book a place. NZ has a quaint and workable "Top 10" accommodation system which means that any lodgings included on the list meets basic standards of cleanliness. The idea of a room to throw the bags and dirty socks down on was, at our age, just too appealing and we opted for that. We decided to pre-book as we are both accountants and just couldn't cope with the uncertainty of not having booked. We found great deals on Bookings.com and Expedia . As it turned out I got one stop wrong and booked for the following night in error but the receptionist was very helpful and sourced us another room nearby at a similar rate which was well below the website advertised rate.

Some places had shared ablutions but even these were very clean with warm water. Others had their own en-suite shower/toilets with Sky TV.

Our rooms ranged from NZD $85-$110 which, when shared between 2 is a fair deal. All rooms were 2 singles or double/single.

Despite this, if you love camping or cost is a major consideration, then by all means go the with the camping option. We met a rider from the UK in his late 60s who had travelled the world and loved camping. By international standards, NZ must offer one of the safest camping environments anywhere on offer and even given the high NZ dollar parity it would be a cheap option by any standards. One other option, given the great Backpacker culture that exists in NZ, is to consider these as they are in all the major tourist areas and offer rough comfort without having to pitch tents.


 
Fly & Rent or Ride our own bikes?
With only 7 days to ride, the rides from Auckland to Wellington and back needed to be factored in as they are long distances in comparison to many of the South Island legs. Included in this decision is the 3½ hour ferry trip which runs at scheduled times and usually runs late, as we discovered. The obvious choice if these 2 days are critical deal breakers, is to fly down to the South Island and rent bikes. We love our rides and, since we haven't yet ridden South of Gisborne/Napier region, we decided to enjoy this North Island leg as part and parcel of the adventure. 
 
East to West or the other way?
Perhaps instinctively, or maybe just from what others have shared, we decided to ride from Picton to Nelson and down the West Coast then back up through the East Coast. This turned out to be a great route but I could now easily do it the other way if it worked better for planning. There seems to be no obvious reason to prefer one direction over another. 
 

What we wanted out of the trip...
Obviously we wanted this to be a memorable trip in its own right as 2 white collar biker dudes with plenty of daily routine now riding off into the sunset to the theme tune of Wild Hogs, but it was also a bit of recce for when our wives, who ride their own bikes, can ride with us. The M109R rider wanted a casual ride with gentle twists and long straights. He wanted to stop and take photographs so ideally wanted to ride about 3½ - 4 hours a day in the saddle which, with photo, coffee and food stops would be about 5-6 hours travel. The Busa rider wanted long straights, twisties to lean and open up in, and was happy to be riding 4-5 hours a day as he only takes pics on his phone and just needs time to post his progress on social media.
 
Going the distance..
So the next decision we had to make was where to go and how long to ride daily. Apart from the Auckland/Wellington legs which we decided we'd ride like 2 banditos on the run, once on the South Island, we had decisions to make around what a comfortable day's ride would be as this would dictate how far we could travel overall. The M109R rider had "researched" that a comfortable day's ride would be 350-400km which would be about 4-4½ hours in the saddle adding say 2 hours for stops and sight seeing at some "must see" places.
I was initially more ambitious but then I decided to think through some of my proposed distances to some North Island equivalent rides I've ridden and realised that every day at these ambitious distances would leave us quite tired and unable to take in the stunning scenery we'd heard so much about. So we agreed to reasonable distances each day with one or two days longer riding.
What to see, what to miss..?
Two of my biker acquaintances who know the South Island well were both unfortunately on their own SI trips - one at the Queenstown HOG rally and the other on his annual ride with his wife for 3 weeks, each on their own Harleys. He used to do Harley tours so would've been a wealth of local knowledge. Our initial thoughts were to go as far south as the glaciers and then head back and up and criss cross the inland passes to the other east coast, but after checking out biker forums we decided that it made sense to do the Haast Pass down to Wanaka and then back up to Christchurch. Although close to Queenstown it was never on our agenda for this trip as that is most certainly worth its own few days of exploration itinerary. 
Weather expectations...
 
Weather forecasts showed several cold fronts moving across the entire South Island from South West heading Northwards so it was unlikely to expect to avoid these unless we stayed somewhere as it passed which was not the plan. Our hope was that if we encountered these, we'd be riding through them heading South. Mostly this is what happened and the weather was kind to us, considering this. The worst weather was probably our first day on the North Island and then later I made an individual dash for Aurthur's pass and hit rain, fog and mist on the way up. Apart from that we really just rode through a few patches of light rain from time to time.

I was warned by a local biker when heading out to the Kaikoura Coast to Blenheim that there can be extreme winds and I could see what he meant when we hit gusts that you fight from one direction and that then suddenly turn and gust in the opposite direction causing dangerous veering; and this was on a "not windy" day according to him!

Road and traffic conditions...
The road surface was, for the most part, excellent, although the actual surfaces vary which is great as some seem to be designed for grip even in the rain. Certainly they seem better overall than the North Island which I'm guessing is due to higher traffic volumes up North. North Island roads are well maintained but you can catch them just pre-repair or during repair, both of which results in non-ideal riding conditions. Another pleasant surprise was roads were frequently banked (cambered) at the correct angle, unlike the North Island which, for some obscure reason, are angled down so that you feel like inertia in every corner is spinning you off the road. A pleasant surprise for us was the combination of long, long,long stretches of straight roads with brilliant meandering corners and the odd sharp bend thrown in to ensure that at the end of every day you felt like you'd had a really complete biking experience. For some reason NZ is seen as a great cycling option but with the high trucking volumes, single lane narrow roads and high tourism volumes I simply have no clue why. We saw several cyclists and I felt quite sorry and afraid for them. Once a truck almost took one out in front of me and the cyclist was left shaking his fist having been forced onto the verge of the road as an "overtaking" truck realised there was an oncoming car and neither would slow down. There has been much press publicity of late about foreign national tourists causing road accidents by driving on the wrong side of the road but we didn't encounter any serious issues in this regard. I was also warned thatCampervans are now an issue to bikers as they travel in convoy at close distance which don't allow of overtaking but again, we had no issues in this regard and found plenty of safe places to overtake without putting ourselves or other vehicles at any risk.

I must say, having recently watched  Henry Cole on the Travel Channel doing "the world's best motorcycle rides" where he did Australia and New Zealand, I can't believe New Zealand isn't more popular as a biker destination for serious Australian bikers. From the programmme and the way he raved about NZ it seems like it should be a "bucket list" destination. Certainly the for the Australian trip he seemed as if he had to make long roads through desert storms arriving at little tin shacks in no-man's-land look interesting whereas the praise rolled off his tongue for the Kiwi trip and he even referred to it as his new benchmark. Here he says it's one of the top 3 rides he's done!
 


Our final itinerary...
Our itinerary is here South Island itinerary  

Our Experiences...
Our experiences are here South Island Experiences

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