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South Island Autumn Ride

I did not know this was going to be an Autumn ride until I set off and nearly froze. With all my experience planning motorcycle tours I still get it wrong sometimes.

I have been to New Zealand before and twice to the south island so I am not a noob here. First two weeks of March 2024 the temperatures were still summer like in New Zealand, it was 30 degrees one day in the north. Hence I did not pack my thermal liners or my serious winter gloves. I left Townsville oblivious to the sudden arrival of Autumn while enjoying a brief catch up with a friend in route, drinking beer and playing pinball.

I’m renting a Suzuki GSX 1250 Bandit for this ride. I liked the Bandit 1200 I previously rented on a North Island ride so without much thought chose this revised model.

Christchurch is a very easy city to get out of. I literally rode north past the city heart and on to the northern expressway with just three or four traffic light stops and without needing my GPS which as can happen at the start of ride could not overlay the route onto the map properly.

I stopped at a McDonald’s for a coffee and use the oldest trick in the unwritten Garmin handbook. Delete the imported route then import it again. Bingo it has calculated it and displayed it correctly. I think the issue is in the way Ride with GPS exports the route file and I am starting to use My Route App as it export files more accurately however it’s still not as good for route planning as RWGPS. My routes are so simple here I could have just used Google maps.

I turn inland at Waipara to ride the mountainous route north but I am being too clever on this cold day and as I climb higher the temperature falls and it’s mighty cold. “Well least it is not raining”. These words must never be uttered by any rider. If you even think this then guess what will happen next…

I had my rain liners already in as wind breakers and now I double bag with outer rain gear because the Merlin gear outer ‘durable water resistance’ coating lasted all of one exposure to rain and no matter what treatments I try nothing lasts more than an hour before failing. In Japan I rode in so much rain I got to the the point if it was not heavy it did not bother me. However my Yamaha FJR1300 protected me from rain and cold wind and my Macna gear worked well in cold and rain. I have neither of those items here.

I like stopping at ‘historic markers’ found in Australia and New Zealand – often very interesting.

The GoldWing has DCT gearbox that shifts for you but riding the Bandit you don’t need to change gears either. Arrive at a 50kph zone, leave it in top gear. 40 kph school zone, top gear. Passing grandpa in his Corolla doing 60 in 100 zone, just twist and surge forward in top gear. This engine is superb.

Eventually I ride out of the mountains and away from the rain prompting a change out of rain gear and lunch.

So begins my Kiwi pie adventures.

I don’t really eat pies back home but on tour here today this was quick and hit the spot

Riding north the weather is threatening but stays dry. The coastal road reminds me of Hokkaido Japan west coast.

Hinerongo of the Ngati Mamoe people.

However I am really cold and my mind is already drawing a question mark about my ability to do this tour in these conditions. I stop at a fishing and hunting shop with the idea to get another layer. I end up buying their top rated base layer garments which I am assured will keep me riding.

Next up, warmer gloves.

These don’t offer much crash protection but they are warmer than what I have with me and flexible unlike the recent Rough and Road winter gloves I purchased. The gloves have a unique design of a elastic cuff without any wrap around enclosure strap which makes the glove much thinner at the cuff. This should work well with my Merlin jacket sleeve cuff where the velcro has almost totally failed and only stays closed if no pressure. It was an occasion inconvenience in South America where it was stinking hot but here is a much bigger problem in the cold.

The sun makes a late appearance and the temperature finally reaches double digits late afternoon. The many vineyards are a stark contrast to the barren deforested landscape of the South.

Solo riding means I can stop as many times as I feel like for photos unlike on the recent tours I joined.

I am staying in Picton tonight. I check Google maps for what eateries are nearby and see a Thai restaurant. I check the menu and see Khao Soi. I am excited because this is one of my favourite dishes. Of course I am an idiot to think a Thai takeaway in Picton NZ is going to have genuine Khao Soi. It’s just curry chicken with some fried noodles on top ha-ha 馃榾

Thai food fail.

Day 2

It is 8 degrees at 9.00am however my new thermal layers are warm. The Bandit bikini screen is a poor design for winter riding and funnels air to my upper chest thus causing cold air to enter the lower front of my helmet which normally is calm inside. Also that wind blast is trying to get inside my collar. Fortunately my excellent Harvassons neck gator made it from Japan and will be my savior on this ride.

Very scenic twisty route along the water from Picton to Havelock this morning. Slow pace is welcome in the cold and I’m grateful the sun is shining.

One of my neighbors told me she could see no reason to visit New Zealand. Yeah right – it’s a horrible place.

If you think you are paying a lot of fuel just spare a thought for Kiwi’s. $3.06 a litre for 95 octane fuel this morning at Havelock. No wonder I see so many electric cars on the road here despite little charging infrastructure.

And so it goes. Steak and mushroom today.

Another pie for lunch. I am enjoying the simplicity of eating at bakeries on tour here. I could wait for a large town but every village seems to have a bakery with easy access.

After an early lunch I ride to Okiwi bay and on to French’s Pass but I am foiled by road work with length delays. I waited for ages at lights until I was starting to cook and decided to turn around. Never mind it’s been very twisty and scenic ride out.

No shops in Okiwi bay and very long way from nearest supermarket yet people living here

Excellent road then over what I think is called the Whangomoa Saddle to the large city of Nelson where I took a coffee break.

I got a car free ride over the entire range, woot!

Then another excellent bit of tar, the Tanaka Hill.

Small town Tanaka with no credit cards accepted any shop. Maybe some local protest as only place in NZ I encountered this, otherwise it is all cashless.

Thai lady working this food stand so I thought it should be passable.

I took a long look at the forecasts and bounced things off my weather guru and former ride partner back in Alstonville NSW who agreed the modelling shows bad weather ahead. Decided to modify my route tomorrow to stay east which means loosing some money on hotel booking but otherwise it would be riding back over the central range tomorrow in bitterly cold rain.

Additionally I see next week the forecasts all are showing rain then snow in the southern region with temps down as low as 1 degree. The days here don’t get light till 7.30 and do not warm up until midday so riding in 3-4 degrees and rain is not something I wish to do regardless of cost so I bite the bullet and cancel most of my hotels for the rest of my tour and will plan day by day from here.

Day 3

Beautiful crisp clear morning and the sun shining takes the edge off the cold.

Tanaka Hill riding east

I have a nice ride over Tanaka hill where the air is super clear this morning. Hard to capture the views on the eastern side which stretch out to the sea today but elude the lens of my phone. Been toying with buying another real camera but simply updating my phone probably makes more sense.

Some lovely riding through the Motueka Valley, a route I was not expecting to be anything except bypassing Nelson but turned out superb.

Moteuka river

You had me at Mad Max burger – Tapawera village.

But it was too much for me so I settle for another pie. Pepper steak today.

Being the ex rail guy I am always interested in old train stations. There was once one called Kiwi, part of the Nelson branch line. This is it today.

Some pleasant riding next on route 63 and route 65 as I make my way south. Delighted with these routes which I was not originally planning to ride.

Then on to the hot spring town of Hammer Springs. I did not take a dip, Japanese onsens pretty much turned me off hot springs for life but the town is nice.

Day 4

Another modified route today that will eventually have me arrive at the same hotel I would have reached if I had been on my original route coming over the ranges from the west. It is a cold overcast cold day but least I am dry.

Everywhere I stop for a coffee there seems to be old railway stations. I guess the name was a giveaway.

Most of the day will be following highway 72, The Inland Scenic Route.

Lots of these wind breaks, fortunately today there is no strong crosswinds because it is cold enough already.

I’m a sucker for any ‘route themed’ shop so there was no going past this cafe where I had a big bowl of hot soup.

Today became a bit of a chore in the cold on mostly straight farm roads that reminded me of Hokkaido. I had a couple of those what am I doing here on a motorcycle thoughts. Then I saw a couple touring on bicycles which cheered me up. Least I’m not that crazy.

Get yourself some of these pegs with hooks from Aliexpress. My routine on tour is get myself and the days clothes washed soon as I am in the hotel. Using the hand basin and boiling hot water (I bring a pair of dishwashing gloves with me) add some shampoo in the hot water then rinse again in clean water. If it’s not possible to dry them outside I have a trick I will share with you later in this ride report. Just don’t be like the guys on my Colombia tour who mocked me for washing clothes and were wearing the same unwashed t-shirts for 2 weeks in 40 degree heat. Just machismo bs.

Day 5

Todays first tree appreciation photo.

I get the impression New Zealand South Island could probably move the clock hands forward in Autumn at least an hour or possibly two. This photo looks like early morning except the clock says it’s already 10.30.

I grab a coffee and take some time out to enjoy the autumn foliage which I have not seen since leaving Japan and am reminded of the actor in Japanese movie Perfect Days I watched recently who found inner peace in routine and appreciating the small things in life.

A roadside attraction with a huge collection. There are 5 buildings filled with Americana road trip memorability as well as many large items. Texaco is the Tex in Caltex in case you never knew.

Stunning view and a taste of what lies ahead. I am very lucky to have perfect weather for today which is the most important part of this tour for me. More on that in a moment.

I have been here before but not in fine weather. Since that trip long ago I have wanted to visit again to see Mt Cook in clear weather. Today is that day.

And it doesn’t get much better that this. I am almost scared to stop in case the view suddenly becomes obscured as happens with high mountains.

This will sound weird but this bridge is the number one place I wanted to visit this ride. It is a location I saw on Google photos years ago and ever since have wanted to visit. And here today I achieved that goal with perfect weather. Basically this ride is a success from this point on no matter what else I do.

Here is the trick I mentioned earlier in this ride. If you are unable to dry your things otherwise then use those hook pegs like this and set air con to dry mode if it has it but if not any mode will soon dry your things.

Day 6

Deep Freezer.

Lewis pass. Stunning but bitterly cold 4 degrees.

Lake Dunstan
Overlooking the town of Cromwell

Beautiful riding all morning along the shores of lakes. The photos push the landscape away from the viewer but in real life it is much more grand.

Chicken, cream cheese, cranberry and chives pie. Delicious.

I stopped for hot soup but got a pie as that was what they had and it turned out to be the best pie of the tour.

Last night I decided to ride south a little more today then reluctantly turn east, then north away from cold and rain.

Stark yet beautiful.

I was close to Queenstown here I had to check but nah, I’ve made the right call to skip it.

Check those trees out – wow, awesome.
Riding the Otago highlands

My modified route today has been quite enjoyable through the Otago highlands this afternoon. I detour in to Ranfurly for fuel and look at it’s old train station which is now part of an extensive bicycle Rail Trail network in the South Island. Very interesting history to the town also, click to read.

Award for best public toilets also goes to Ranfurly which made me again recall again my recent favourite movie Perfect Days.

From Ranfury route 86 all the way to the coast is the best road of the tour so far and possibly one of the best roads I have ridden in the South Island and one I was not even planning to ride. It’s a long descent from the tablelands via a set of sweeping well surveyed curves that can be enjoyed at 100kph and it flows as such for about 50km. I tried to capture the feel of it with my little Casio cam but failed and decide I will replace that device when I get home.

The city of Oamaru was a surprise. A nice collection of Victorian era buildings downtown and the Steampunk HQ. Alas despite it being 3.20pm when I got to their door they were closing for the day soon.

Day 7

Cold and damp morning.

This area is called valley of the whales because it used to be under the ocean. That’s New Zealand for you.

No amount of photo editing is going to make this look good. It’s cold and it’s grey.

Took an extended coffee break to defrost in Kurow. I ventured north a little more to the lake then said to hell with it, too cold and turned around.

Had some tasty hot soup in Waingate then I rode to my accommodation, checked in early and took a hot shower then got under the blankets and took a nap. This moto touring stuff gets harder as you get older. Don’t wait too long.

Todays shortened route

Day 8

The forecasts were saying tomorrow was definitely going to be wet. I booked two nights at a motel west of Christchurch with the idea if the weather is ok tomorrow then I will ride up Authurs pass if not then sit in the motel dry and warm.

It was cold all morning with some light showers. I stopped in a cafe to thaw out over a coffee then stopped again for an early lunch.

Todays pie is Cottage or Potato Top as they say here.

I was going to abandon my idea to visit Akaroa, the skies were dark yet I noted a few bikes were going that direction, even a guy on a shiny new Panigale V4 and I thought if a Ducati sports bike rider is going that way in a race suit then local knowledge says it’s not going to rain. I followed.

The sun made a half assed effort but I was happy with that. I rode along the Summit Road which is where my mate and I finished our moto tour of the South island in 2011.

The tree trunk below reminded me of a song from a band I loved in my teen age years who hail from New Zealand. Mi-Sex had some big hits in the 80’s and their song But You Don’t Care from their debut album Graffiti Crimes in 1979 remains a personal favourite.

“A tree stump twists, your love will not be missed” (Mi-Sex, But You Don’t Care)

Still so many roads I want to ride, hope my health allows me to keep doing this a little more.

Day 9

This is what day 9 looked like. Wet and icy cold.

However I was toasty warm and dry inside writing this ride report and enjoying a very good Italian Primitivo from Salento.

Day 10

My last day and I’m glad to be wrapping this tour up as it really is getting too cold for me.

I have four hours to kill before I can check into my accommodation so I decide to explore around the bay adjacent to Christchurch. First I went to Gebbies valley then over the pass of same name and out to Diamond Harbour.

Next nice corners to Governors Bay and some of the road up high called (again) Summit Road. All nice roads. Local riders are spoilt with this and Akaroa nearby.

View from another Summit Road across to Diamond Harbour.

It was bitterly cold up here and spitting rain as I was taking the above photo so I gave up and made my way back down the mountain and into the first cafe to warm up. Then I returned the bike to Te Waipounama Motorcycle Rentals who I can recommend, well maintained bike and professional rental agreement. My hotel is just around the corner so no taxi is needed, too easy.

My ride of the South Island did not go as planned however I still got to enjoy plenty, including many places and roads unplanned which I always find enjoyable. I miscalculated the weather but stayed calm and got on with it. By altering my routes I avoided some very poor weather further south and had mostly fine days and no major dramas. All things considered it is another ride successfully completed.


  1. Wow that certainly was a cold tour. You can make as many preparations and plans as you like, but the one thing you can’t control is the weather. Looks like you made the most out of what you could considering those conditions. That ride up to Mt Cook along Lake Pukaki is simply magic.
    Now you know why we stop for a pie, its quick, doesn’t fill you up so you feel sleepy after lunch and in the cold keeps you going till you get to the hotel.
    Looks like you had a lot of fun despite the cold. ANother awesome tour. I wouldn’t have expected it to be so cold so early. Although we went in mid Feb and had some 7-8deg days going over Lewis and Arthurs pass and Milford Sound.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks Steve, my original route was down south more but riding Japan’s wet cold autumns taught me you have to change plans to try avoid that as much as possible.

  2. That neighbour of yours doesn鈥檛 know what they are talking about. Are they one of those Aussies that have never been anywhere but have an opinion on everything?馃檮 NZ, especially the South Island are spectacular! Hard to go from Townsville鈥檚 climate to such a southern one. 4 seasons in one day planning is required.
    Thanks for sharing. Great photos as usual.

    • Thanks Dave. Not sure about my neighbor, but could be one of those people that also says they are not interested in travel because “we got everything right here in Australia”.

  3. A nice write up with great photos. And as you were saying, there is some very comparable scenery to Japans. Hope your health is holding up and if you need a riding buddy in Japan, if your’e ever planning to visit here again. Then just drop me a line at Motokenko. Ride Safe.

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