“I need more time, leave me alone, please!” Mascara runs down her cheek, shoaling in an alluvial, Revlon-delta at the base of her nose. This isn’t any way to start our New Zealand motorcycle tour. High on the twelfth floor of Auckland’s Sky City Grande hotel, my wife, Colleen, is sitting on the bed crying. Eleven suitcases must be condensed to fit inside the cramped storage space of our metallic-burgundy Victory Vision.

This is all my fault, dammit. I want my wife to enjoy motorcycle riding as much as I do, so I’ve planned a counter-intuitive, high-mileage tour hoping that familiarity will breed contentment. Clothing and shoes are scattered on the floor. On the bed, cosmetics and medicine. Checkout time has long since passed. My wife does not appear content. I try psychology, hoping to stun her into submission using a burst of manly authority, “Look, we’re only going to be riding for a month, grab two pairs of jeans, two tops, a toothbrush and let’s go!”

At least that stopped those crying eyes: they’ve been replaced by the sparkling grey-green eyes of a lioness. Her lips tighten. Glittering white incisors unsheathe, so sharp, the barest hint of movement now. I find it hard to look away. Her lower jaw quivers, champing slightly, obeying carnivorous inputs thousands of years old. Maybe this is a good time to take some gear down to our Victory Vision.

CT did an admirable job holding it together for seven weeks on a motorcycle. She had just one saddlebag for all her gear. Needless to say she gets whatever she wants now.

The parking garage is across Federal Street and two levels down. I stuff the Vision’s top-box with a 12-volt air compressor, voltmeter, tire plug kit, flashlight, wax and a can of WD40. Five cameras, two laptop computers along with food, a butane stove, cookware and cold weather gloves fill the rest of the top box, leaving only two intimate-sized saddlebags for our personal effects.

A bare bones Vision, weighing a hell-for-stout 850 pounds and brimming with every moto-luxury imaginable is a low-speed handful. Add two adults then fill all available storage space with heavy gear and the parking garage’s curving, uphill Hobson Street exit ramp becomes an expert trials section. We wobble our way onto Auckland’s congested city streets and head towards the farthest north motorcycle-accessible land in New Zealand.

The Vision manages to carve out a small storage area from acres of booty-plus-ultra plastic. About half of the saddlebag is bodywork, not storage.

We’re struggling with the Vision. I’m not feeling confident and neither is Colleen. Something is wrong. Sure, it’s a very heavy motorcycle, but riding this beast is horrible. I could swear the reviews I’ve read said the Vision handled okay. We stop at the Baylys Beach campground on the coast and check tire pressures. Front: 14 psi. Rear: 23. Might as well check the rear shock while I’m at it: 4 psi out of a possible 75. Bloody hell.

At this point persnickety readers will be thinking, “Checking tire pressure is part of a routine pre-flight inspection. Gresh is an idiot.” To those smarty-pants I say, “Check the oil for me while you’re down there.”

The sole New Zealand Victory dealer recently closed down, so who will check my tires? This 2008, 12,000-kilometer, Distance-Annihilator I have was dragged out of deep storage.

Our Kiwi-market Victory comes equipped with two, 12-volt, Powerlet thingies, one in the trunk, one in the fairing pocket. Unlike your standard cigarette lighter receptacles, a Powerlet-type is supposedly less likely to dislodge and can carry more current. Google tells me BMW motorcycles and various brands of quads use them. Unfortunately, Google can’t find anyone in New Zealand who carries an adaptor. I need air in my tires now so I employ the National Electrical Code-approved method of lopping off the compressor’s plug and holding the bare wires directly onto the battery terminals.

Correct tire pressure makes a night-and-dawn difference. The beast feels positively not-impossibly-heavy; the Annihilator ceases to push like a wheelbarrow full of concrete, and trajectory corrections can be made without that queasy rubbery feedback through the handlebars.

On the North Island, the west coast route cuts through thick forests. The roads are twisty and gravel strewn. The Annihilator slips frequently, eliciting a scream from the cheap seats followed by a sharp jab in the rib cage. We climb incredibly tight sections, dropping the Vision into first gear and fanning the clutch around hairpin turns. The road straightens and I pull over to celebrate the run.

You’ll quickly run out of superlatives in New Zealand. Try to husband them, as the next corner will be more wonderful than the last.

“Was that cool or what?” I ask my wife. “I didn’t see anything, my eyes were closed.” What? This is fantastic riding: dream riding really. Then she says “I’m so scared on these corners I’m closing my eyes and projecting a cone of security over us.” That New Age, White-Voodoo is going to get us in trouble one day.

You can ride a motorcycle along Ninety Mile Beach’s soft sand, but one look at the Vision’s low-slung chassis puts me off my dirt. We turn inland onto New Zealand’s main Highway One. The road into New Zealand’s northernmost point, Cape Girard, is beautiful sweepers with only the occasional gravel corner thrown in to keep a rider on his toes. There are no five hundred foot drop-offs or blind curves. Colleen is content. “This is fine, let’s stay on roads like this.”

From Cape Girard the Vision shoulders its way back into the North Island’s busy midsection. Containing the majority of New Zealand’s population, the Auckland region is best left to its business-hub self. We ride past vistas that would be considered beautiful anywhere else in the world, but having seen a bit of un-crowded New Zealand, our eyes glaze over.

What more could you need on a motorcycle tour?

On the Forgotten Highway to Stratford the screaming starts again. Four inches of un-compacted gravel pitches the Vision into a sloppy weave. At the peaks of the weave a single foot remains between sheer cliffs or rock walls. Narrow roads dwindle to one-lane bridges that lead to half-tunnels cut through rock. Scream for me, Baby. Scream for those who cannot.

From Wellington, two ferry services connect New Zealand’s North and South islands. Interislander, the hoity-toitier of the services, is one ferry down, having lost a ship’s propeller somewhere in the Cook Strait. We catch the lower-rent Bluebridge which manages to get across the Strait fine. The ferry ride alone is worth the trip to New Zealand. Remember to bring your own motorcycle tie-downs on Bluebridge though, as they provide only bits of slippery plastic rope for the task.

We cruise into Queen Charlotte Sound on a bright sunny day, and after disembarking at Picton, the Victory swings a hard right onto Queen Charlotte Drive. Nominally paved, QC Drive parallels the Sound traveling west in a convoluted path allowing no room for error. Guardrails are nearly nonexistent. The few employed are flimsy wooden structures painted white at some point in the distant past. A COPD sufferer could shout them down.

Kaka Point, in the southeast of the South Island has plenty of the local Paua to eat and a rocky beach to rest your weary bones.

At times, our travel lane of Queen Charlotte Drive is completely missing. A jagged edge of road-base along with an orange traffic cone provides all the warning motorcycle riders need to avoid plummeting into a gaping erosion-chasm. Some chasms don’t have the luxury of a traffic cone. On these low-information hazards, the alert is implied, like a silent E.

Voodoo in fine fettle, eyes shut tight, Colleen projects a blinding cone-of-security so intense the asphalt is melting in a constantly moving grease spot. Regardless, Queens Charlotte Drive is a fabulous must-do ride and in the hierarchy of cool things I rank it just below spinning doughnuts at midnight on your local golf course. The view across the Sound grows larger, the sides close in and the thudding, 106 cubic-inch V-Twin leaves the shoreline and climbs into the mountains bordering Nelson and the Tasman Peninsula beyond.

The Nelson/Tasman Bay region is happily situated in a weird, solar-vortex resulting in one of the driest and sunniest climates in New Zealand. On Rutherford Street near the spruced up downtown, we pull into a motel. We’ve got to park this rig for a few days: two hectic weeks spent touring by motorcycle and Colleen’s voice box is beginning to fray.

The area surrounding Nelson could keep a motorcyclist busy for many years. The place is so sunny and warm and, with the two-wheel paradise, Tasman Peninsula to the west, we ended up returning to Nelson for a month.

It doesn’t figure: After total motorcycle immersion she’s still not Living to Ride. Hell, I can barely get her to Ride to Live. Colleen wanders off alone to “explore the town,” our pet name for losing sight of each other while I try to find where Victory hid the helmet lock on a Vision.

Kahurangi National Park, Abel Tasman National Park and the North West Nelson Forest Park: by the time the Kiwis were finished making parks, very little of the Tasman Peninsula was left un-parked. Yeah, it’s motorcycle heaven. We rode to the end of the Tasman where a huge, green 4×4 bus took us across the dunes to Farewell Spit with its ghostly sand blowing inches above the ground and where seals frolic in a fine grey grit.

The broken legs of a long gone pier limp out into the Tasman Sea. The sparse population, beautiful vistas, empty roads and blessed quiet makes New Zealand one of the best places to ride.

But not before smashing into a three-foot-circumference ceramic potted plant at the motel. We’re about to pull out, see? I’m chatting with the manager, himself an avid motorcyclist, and kind of forget there is a planter ahead of me. Anyway, this huge barn door fairing blocks my view. Lucky for me the Vision is equipped with heavy-duty tip-over bars that explode the planter into a million pieces. Colleen, the manager and I stare at the carnage. “Listen, I’ll pay for that.” I pick up a few large pieces and place them to the side. Shaking his head in sad disbelief, the manager says, “Just go.”

Can we call it a given that New Zealand is fantastic and beautiful? There’re so many places and so many spectacular scenes. Hell, anywhere you go in New Zealand is wonderful. I don’t want to burn through my allotted words trotting out 1500 ways to say pretty.

Because what I really want to tell you about is how the West Coast of the South Island is broken and wild, with scattered towns pressed shoreward by an incessant wind. There is a motel in Punakaiki, right on the beach, protected from the sea by a rock levee on one side and from the rest New Zealand by a sheer 700-foot cliff on the other.

I saw huge blowholes there, eroded openings inside layered stone deposits pushed out of the sea by Maori legends. The waves crash through these holes causing towering geysers, and that’s what the tourists come to see, but just before the seawater comes through the air pushing out makes a loud, moist sigh like the Old Man himself is breathing.

Pro tip: Take your wife to the beach frequently on a long motorcycle ride. It will calm her nerves and buy valuable time between meltdowns.

I want to tell you about Haast Pass. It’s raining so hard the road washes out and is closed for the night so we stay in Franz Josef near the glaciers we can’t see because it’s cold and wet. I want to tell you about the motorcyclist that died on the pass today but I can’t because all I know is what I read in the newspaper. He was pulling a trailer in the terrible weather when a motorhome clipped him on one of the tight mountain curves.

At a little coffee shop in Jacob’s Bay we meet more motorcycle riders. Western Route 6 is a favorite. They take their wet jackets off and stand outside the shop in wet leather pants and smoke cigarettes and shiver. “Man, your lips are blue, you better get inside and warm up.” The awning overhead is about two-feet deep, providing essentially no protection from the rain. “Right, I’ll be all right. You from the States, mate?”

Along the West Coast, the Alps rise to our left. Still rise, I should say, as the ground in New Zealand is in constant motion. Untold quantities of sediment flow to the sea where ocean currents carry it north to those dirty seals on Farewell Spit. We are fighting the natural order of things. My faceshield is foggy, with fine droplets inside and out. That motorcyclist with the trailer? I didn’t know him but I’m thinking of him. We pull the Victory over at 2 pm and check into a motel room. This is what tired and cold feels like.

The New Zealand Alps on the South Island are truly spectacular. Bring plenty of warm gear.

I met a ST1300 rider named Selby in Te Anau who called me an idiot. That in and of itself is not unusual. “You’d be an idiot to ride all this way in New Zealand and not see Milford Sound,” says Selby. What is unusual is I actually heed someone’s advice and ride Highway 94 to the end of Milford Sound. Colleen is screaming all the way and I’ll need to dig up 14 more words to describe spectacular. The cliffs drop, the snow-covered mountains tower, the boulder-strewn rivers run clear, and kea birds tear rubber parts from vehicles parked at the overlooks.

Bluff is the farthest south you can ride in New Zealand. On the outskirts of town there’s a crumbling marina, accessible only at low tide. A corrugated metal building rusts on wooden piles. Tied to the dock is a boat maybe 60 feet long. The boat’s superstructure is missing, and judging from the sprung planks, when the tide comes it won’t be floating.

“No, we are not buying that marina!” Colleen shouts. Funny how they get to where they can read your mind. Further on, the town itself looks slightly disreputable. There’s a fishing industry here, but I’m trying to break old habits, stop taking the easy way, you know? I really like Bluff. It seems the best place in the world to do nothing. Colleen takes the obligatory photo in front of the bright yellow, miles-to-anywhere-else sign. Motorcyclists are forever needing proof at the end of the road.

The north-by-south Alps slope gently to the east. The high peaks scrape off rain and cast a dry shadow over a mid-island desert. The east coast is the calmer side of New Zealand, and this is the route we are using to return The Distance Annihilator to its owner.

Now I will have no chance to tell you about meat pies: crusty dough surrounding peppery mystery flesh and served on a sheet of waxed paper. Each gas station claims to sell the best in New Zealand, but how can that be? There is no such thing as the best road food. External factors like weather or an oil leak or the smell of hot tire play such an important part in the highway dining experience. If the propane bottle display is clean and there’s not too many cigarette butts on the ground, the finest gourmet food in the world pales next to week-old gas station hot dogs.

Returning is the part I hate, the going back, the winnowing of options. Even Colleen is sad to see the big red Victory go. I have won. It’s been our home for seven weeks and, while not content, she at last seems resigned to our motorcycle adventures. So give us The Road, man. Give us movement. Let us be a fleeting red event to earthbound souls.

It’s a long taxi fare to anywhere, but you’ll find it almost impossible to leave New Zealand. We are already saving for a return trip. Maybe we’ll do it in a car next time. CT has earned it.

  • 12er

    I apparently do not speak whatever this is written in.

    • RMP52

      I was thinking that myself. I had to struggle to get through it, yet all these people are gushing over it. Must be the language barrier, is it written in Greek?

      • Joe Gresh

        Greek with balsamic and feta.

        • RMP52

          Now That’s funny!

  • Terry Smith

    Great read thanks Joe. I’m too chicken to take my wife on a ride like this; we decided early on that “it just wasn’t her thing”. She claims to be able to smell the antiseptic in the Accident and Emergency ward every time she dons a helmet…
    Glad you enjoyed my homeland.

  • Jon Jones

    Great read, Joe.

    Glad I’m single.

    • Allison Sullivan

      Hahaha, I’ve been travelling solo for a few years now, because I could say the same thing about dudes!

      So glad the writer gave props to Nelson, one of the most overlooked areas of the country and one most tourists miss in their rush to stampede south. Great mountain biking there too.

      • Jon Jones

        Didn’t mean to be sexist, Allison. I’ve had my male friends ruin otherwise nice trips, also.

        Born to ride alone…

        • Allison Sullivan

          No offence taken. On your own time and your own itinerary is a great way to travel. 🙂

          • What’s with this civility?! Don’t you people know that this is the Internet?!!!!

          • Jon Jones

            Pretty funny!

          • Joe Gresh

            It’s like they’re face to face!

  • Mad4TheCrest

    Great Tale of the Road, Joe! If I never get to see NZ, I can vicariously live it through your adventure. I might change the choice of ride in my version though …

  • NZ, very high on the list!

  • Andrew Capone

    Man, best thing I’ve read in a long while. Cynthia remains unmoved, however, so my journeys will be solo.

  • Starmag

    LOL. Great stuff Joe. Still married?

    A month(!) on a bike in Kiwi is the dream. The logistics and money mean I’m settling for Yellowstone in Sept. 2018 if it’s still there by then

    • Gruf Rude

      Just tried that last month (September 18) on a reunion with my siblings. Spent the week at Pahaska Tepee, Buffalo Bill’s old hunting lodge outside the Park. Could not get into Yellowstone; all roads closed due to snow. Unless you are tent camping, get reservations for in-park hotels now – they book up a year in advance (no exaggeration). Back in ’82, my wife and I were trapped in the Park with our 2-year old for 3 days due to snow-closed roads – we were camping. Weather can be VERY chancy for a motorcycle in September.

    • Joe Gresh

      Yes, things are good.

  • Vrooom

    Nice write up. I wouldn’t rent a Victory Vision for that trip, but each to his own. I think my partner would be more comfortable on a 600 lb. bike than an 850 lb. bike, and me, well that’s a no brainer. Would love to see a map of the roads you took!

    • Joe Gresh

      The short version: up the west coast of the North Island, back through the center to Wellington. Ferry to South Island then down west coast to bottom. Back up east coast. Then back to Auckland.

      Throw in side trips all over the place.

  • Someone get this man a book deal. I would read this stuff in my skivvies and at the moment that’s the highest praise I can give.

  • Gruf Rude

    I recognize the problems in describing ethereal natural beauty; a note in my ride diary up the Cassiar and through Alaska reads, “Burnt out on gorgeous!”

  • Claudia McCue

    Finely-carved phrases, to match the splendid landscape. You made me see it all in my head, without the chafing.

  • Ken Rowe

    I’ve been reading Gresh’s stuff for years. Best writer in the industy.

    • Mad4TheCrest

      If MO is wise enough to regularly feature Joe’s words alongside Burnsies’, it will have the two consistently-best writers in the industry.

      • Joe Gresh

        Your check is in the mail.

  • Vance Hunter

    Great read, keep them coming!!!!

  • Martin Buck

    For those unable to find the time or cash (or matrimonial harmony) to make the trip to NZ, there are downsides as well. Below the level of Palmerston North (North Island) wind speeds increase exponentially. From Taupo north, lovely weather but more traffic. Nelson is the best weather in the country, and the nicest people. There are a lot of semi qualified drivers from all over the world, who will sometimes forget which side of the road they should be driving on, and who will give you a thrill of surprise as you meet them around a blind corner. SUV drivers will overestimate their abilities, and also meet you on the wrong side of another blind corner. Then there are the boy racers, on bikes and in cars, who will overtake in dangerous places and generally act in an unhinged and lunatic fashion (but then you might also be of that persuasion). Because there is space on our roads, some people revert to race track behavior, which can be disconcerting. We also have some Police, but because of budget constraints you will hardly suspect their presence. A large American tourer can seem like a good idea, but they can lack appropriate agility on our very tight mountain roads (and half our roads are on mountains). And then there are those whose jaws are constantly dropping due to the visual stimulation provided by the gorgeous scenery. Some people actually survive travel in this country, surprisingly. I hope you all get to be among their number.

  • Steve

    Wow, just, well – wow. Very enjoyable, whenever I turn off the 2nd monitor and the tv, and occasionally laugh out loud, you know all is well. I needed that break.

  • johnbutnotforgotten

    touring Aotearoa on the worlds largest manual transmission scooter (RIP Victory).
    Lovely.
    And probably much more comfy two up than my TX650 (or my Ariel 500) back in the 70’s.
    But what is this ‘car’ thing you speak of?

  • Joe Berk

    An awesome, captivating, great read from the Hemingway of motojournalists. Let’s have more stories like this from Mr. Gresh!

  • BillW

    There aren’t anywhere near enough words here to cover seven weeks of motorcycle travel. Just sayin’.

    Otherwise, well done!

  • Joe Gresh

    Thanks for the kind comments. For those having trouble with the story, it was originally written in Greek. Then I ran it two passes through Google translate. The result is the story above.

    The problem is,(of course) that I don’t know Greek.

  • Great article…makes me want go there too. BTW nice to read Burns and Gresh in same place… two of the best.