2300km later, we are home. We decided to take three days for the return bike trip: Oamaru to Hanmer Springs; then to Wellington via the Interisland Ferry; and the final stretch to Auckland.
Since I am now a seasoned biker, I was pretty confident. Leaning was second nature; I could crack walnuts with my core muscles; and boy, could I wear a set of leathers.
Unfortunately, the day we set out for Hanmer Springs, New Zealand hosted a heat wave. To give you an idea how warm it was, Husband ventured into a river for a dip. (If you noticed an arse flexing beside Highway 7, that was probably mine. I hope you liked it.)
When biking under normal summer conditions, I wear a fleece and quilted insert under my weatherproof jacket. An hour out of Oamaru, I shed the fleece and the jacket insert followed shortly after. By the time we reached Hanmer Springs, I wanted to crawl out of my skin and spend three weeks in a nice, dark fridge. Or alternatively, lie down and moan. Since that appeared to be the simpler option, that is pretty much what I did for the next three hours.
That evening, we stumbled into Hanmer Springs for dinner. Afterwards, we propped each other up and supported ourselves to a patch of green by the side of the road. We lay out on the grass and watched the tree branches turn dark against the waning light, and a bird crapping overhead.
“Something just crawled up my jeans,” I said.
“You don’t sound that worried.”
“No, I am. It’s just that I don’t have the energy to do anything about it.”
The following morning, the fleece and insert went back on. We biked through Springs Junction, stopped for coffee in Minihaha, then on via Wakefield to Nelson. Just beyond Havelock, we turned onto Queen Charlotte Drive, which was where a police car buzzed us.
Husband flipped up his visor. “Honey,” he bawled. “I think that police car just checked us. Were we speeding?”
“What’s this ‘we’?” I roared.
“Ok – was I speeding?”
“What limit is this?”
I don’t see much from the pillion, apart from a close-up of Husband’s helmet-clad head. Also, I was busy picking dead insects out of my lipgloss at the time.
Let’s just say that, in a 60kph zone, chances are Husband was charging along at a clip that would make a policeman choke on his doughnut. He pulled into a driveway to await the long arm of the law, while I dismounted to perform some imaginative stretches.
“Can you see them?” he fretted.
“Quick! Get back on the bike.”
“Shouldn’t you wait a bit longer-”
“No, they had a fair chance.”
There was still no sign of the police as we roared off down the road. They were probably consulting the index of their standard issue first aid manual for ‘Heimlich Manoeuvre’.
We pulled into the ferry terminal at Picton around the time the officer was having emergency surgery to remove the half masticated piece of doughnut from his oesophagus.
The motorbike is a bit like a puppy or a third nipple, in that it attracts a lot of friendly attention. We parked beside another bike to wait for boarding, and an old geezer came over for a chat: ex-services blazer, slacks, slip-on shoes, not a shred of hair and a hole the size of Spain in his cranium.
“Nice motor-cycle,” he said. “What size is it?”
I said, “Er. 800cc? I think.”
“No idea,” he responded. “I turned back because of rain.”
“Um,” I said. “Ok. Yes well, we had a bit of damp outside Whangamoa.”
“Can’t say I do, young lady. Where did you get that notion?”
“I’m not really- what were we- ANDREW!”
“Trout or herring?” said my buddy.
“Wait. I’ll put my hearing aid in. Can’t hear a blessed thing without it.”
Turned out our 82 year old buddy was the pilot of the other motorbike. He had biked halfway to Invercargill that day, before turning back. In other words, he was unbelievably cool. Certainly cooler than us.
“What sort of speed can you get out of her?” he said, nodding at the Honda.
“Well, I’ve done” – Husband cocked an eye at me – “100, maybe 110.”
“Miles per hour?”
“Get 240 out of mine,” he cackled.
That evening, we biked from Wellington to <Unpronounceable Name Possibly Beginning With P>, about 45 minutes up Highway 1. Biking at night was strangely mystical: the swirling darkness, the roar of the wind, the thrum of the engine.
This was our second night in a YHA. I spent much of my youth in youth hostels chatting up Danish backpackers (top tip: ‘Would you like some baked beans?’ has limited efficacy as a chat-up line. I would not recommend it).
On the journey to South Island, we stayed at Sequoia Lodge in Picton, an independent backpacker’s hostel. For $70 we had an ensuite double room, wireless Internet, access to the communal spa pool, free chocolate pudding, tea, coffee and breakfast. So I had high expectations for the YHA, which charged roughly the same sort of price.
In comparison, the YHA hostels were disappointing. I’m pretty sure there were fleas in the Hanmer Springs hostel. The one in <Unpronounceable Name Possibly Beginning With P> was better, but the following morning our helmets were covered in ants enjoying a bonanza buffet of dead bug biltong.
I was tasked with de-bugging the helmets. When I went out to the bike, Husband was talking to a German woman who looked like Sylvester Stallone in a long, red wig. Strangely erotic, in case you were wondering.
Husband was saying, “Aw yeh, you’re all right if they don’t catch you.”
I gather he was talking about the police. Evidently, I should paddle his helmet harder.
At Whakamaru we stopped for lunch. Afterwards, Husband spent five minutes on his hands and knees crawling around the bike. He likes to appreciate it from many angles, so I just assumed he had overlooked this vantage point previously.
Turned out we had picked up a screw in the back tyre. The tyre was largely deflated – as, indeed, were we. Fortuitously the café – in addition to having a delectable range of pies, pastries and other baked goods – was across the road from a garage.
There was a fabulously slutty peroxide girl at the garage, with – intriguingly – a Tiffany pendant nestled in the gently oily valley of her lush bosoms. If my squandered vocation weren’t Rock Goddess, I would so totally regret never becoming a female mechanic.
Unfortunately, her job description did not extend beyond the cash register. An uninspiringly ugly bloke fitted a tubeless tyre bung for $10. These are the most amazing things: basically, a rubber compound is jammed into the puncture, which expands inside the tyre and plugs the hole. People seem to be conflicted about exactly how temporary this measure is, but it took us the remaining 250km to Auckland.
I think the trip is best summed up by this little exchange, which probably took place at one of the countless numbers of roadside cafés and diners we visited en route.
I asked Husband whether he was enjoying his road trip.
“Well,” he said, “Ye-ah-hmm. I think I’ll enjoy it more when it’s finished.”
In a rare moment of understanding, I knew EXACTLY what he meant