Part 9. Afterthoughts
Saturday, 14 January, 2011
Well, we've been home a while, now. Time for some reflection. Laurie's own afterthoughts follow mine, and hers are a bit more organized.
If I get the chance to do New Zealand again, there are some places I'd like to return to and spend more time. There are a lot more wilderness areas than the ones we had visited, and lots of hiking, camping, and hot springs. Our rental bikes prohibited us from riding on beaches or unpaved roads, and we (mostly) honored that. If I had been on my own bike, I would have liked to gotten more "into" the islands (especially the south island) and ridden some dirt and gravel roads. Maybe even some trail riding, if I had the right bike.
Maybe go again a bit later in the season, say maybe February or March. We were there in late Spring/early Summer, and although the flowering plants were nice, it was very rainy on New Zealand's South Island, especially on the west coast. At least it wasn't too hot in NZ. December was also a good time for Australia, since it hadn't gotten very hot yet.
Our time on New Zealand's North Island was very well planned by Colin and Lynette, so there wasn't much more that we could have hoped for. Maybe we'll ride all the way down to Wellington at the south tip of the island next time.
As for the South Island, Dunedin would have been good for another day or two, and the same goes for Queenstown. We chose not to visit Glenorchy while we were in Queenstown, but it would probably have been worth the ride. We had breezed in and out of Milford Sound without staying (partly due to the weather), and next time taking one of the cruises would be nice to do. Weather and time kept us away from all the glaciers and the sightseeing cruises along the south-west coast.
We didn't get to the inland areas very much on the South Island, but stayed mostly along the coast. This was a deliberate decision, since it didn't look very interesting on a topo map. Might check it out next time.
There are local riders in both countries (and everywhere else) that we could have contacted through one of the online forums, but we chose not to. On NZ's South Island especially, this would have been helpful. We got spoiled on the North Island by having local family and friends already arranged for us. The local knowledge would have helped us see a bit more. HorizonsUnlimited.com and ADVRider.com were the two most obvious forum resources for us, and I knew we could have found locals to help us if we had needed it.
I had a bit too much clothing again. Three pairs of synthetic pants were too many, and I only wore the one pair of jeans a few times. I did wish I had brought a few more t-shirts, since sometimes it would have been nice to change shirts once or twice a day (due to the heat, mostly). I had three pairs of riding socks and was glad I had them. But I only had one pair of casual socks, and I should have bought a couple pairs locally. The light fleece jacket I had taken was enough for everything; and I could have used my riding jacket if things had gotten colder anywhere.
I should have taken rechargeable batteries for the cameras. Probably spent $100 on AA batteries, maybe more. Buying them in AZ or Australia was a major expense. Each night, I should have recharged batteries in the motels/hotels as we traveled. Having a couple sets of recharged batteries on hand all the time would have been better than buying batteries as we went along.
As Laurie will also observe, having a rental car in Sydney was a waste of money. Everything was easy to walk to, and public transportation was everywhere.
Finally, once again it was good to be open to the possibilities. Accepting Luis and MaryAnne's off-the-cuff invitation to join them for Christmas dinner was one of the best decisions we made.
Don't have a lot of startling insights to share from this trip - just a few
suggestions here and there - but I did want to add my two cents worth once
What a gem of a country! I thoroughly enjoyed both of the islands. I especially appreciated the fact that you can still find good roads that go right along the water's edge, so you can actually see the ocean, and pause at a beach or a bay to enjoy the sand and surf and wildlife without having to dodge high-rises or go in and out and back and forth. And the Southern Alps - wow!
As I've said, the most wonderful thing about the north island was the terrific people we met. Regarding other highlights, I must say that I agree with Marty - our stay at the sheep station was probably one of the most memorable and enjoyable of the trip. On the south island, other than the novelty of getting to ride a BMW 650 twin for the first time and the joy of just being on a bike, my favorite things were the gorgeous scenery (actually, both islands were pretty darn beautiful) and the days we spent in Dunedin and Queenstown.
If I were to change anything about the NZ part of the trip, there are a few adjustments I'd make:
-- I'd allow another week at least for each island, so we could also explore the areas we missed.
-- On the north island, we got as far south as Palmerston North, but not all the way to Wellington and the southern tip of the north island; we also saw nothing of Auckland other than the airport and the roads necessary to pick up and drop off the bikes. I don't know, maybe we didn't miss anything of significance there.
-- On the south island, with more time we could have lingered in a couple of places where a longer stay would have been nice, maybe added the opportunity to do some touristy things that we skipped. In addition, there are several roads and towns that we missed - we didn't ride the road that goes over Arthur's Pass, and we missed many of the interior roads and towns in the most southern section of the island because we took the perimeter roads that made up the Southern Scenic Route. So, we missed towns like Ranfurly and Clyde, Tapanui and Gore, Nightcaps and Lumsden - and we don't know what we may have missed. I'd also like to do the ride to Glenorchy and back, maybe at a time when the Hobbit film crew and associated trucks aren't on that road, because I'm told it's merely wonderful.
-- Along that same line of thought, I'd also do a bit more pre-travel research on the south island. We did pretty well with finding good roads thanks to our motorcycling atlas, but when it came to touristy stuff we were pretty "ad hoc" so we didn't always manage to find out about the activities and sights available and fit them into our schedule.
The good news is we can make a list of the places we want to revisit and the new ones we want to add for the future, as well as activities we want to do or sights we want to see, so we're ready when and if we get to go back. Gives us something to look forward to.
Our goal in visiting Australia this time was to make sure we saw something of the country and the people, not just airports and a dive boat like on our trip in 1995. We accomplished that, and I will always cherish the time we spent and the people we met.
Along those lines, from the perspective of seeing the country, the highlight of the trip for me has to be the quick trip we took to Uluru (AKA Ayer's Rock). Again, many thanks to Brenton Cooney and his travel partners for arranging our trip on such short notice. The camelback tour was a hoot and a half, and the guided tours of Uluru and Kata Tjuta were both fascinating and informative. You can't get much more "iconic" than the "red heart of the outback."
In addition, we visited a few of the lesser known towns and cities along the
way as we drove north from Sydney, as well as trying to travel on secondary
roads and lesser scenic routes where we could. Hopefully this gave us a slightly
different experience than the typical tourist one.
Our idea to drive up the coast had a few flaws:
-- In New Zealand, there were many places where we could ride along the coast on small two-lane roads that had the water and either beachfront or rocks on one side and any buildings on the other side. Unfortunately, in Australia it was often like southern Florida, where the "coastal" road was a pretty major one (sometimes a divided highway) and there would often be a lot of development between the road and the actual coast. Usually we couldn't even see the coast or the water, and we'd have to make a detour to get to a bay or a beach and then drive back out to get back to the road. That discovery was a bit disappointing.
-- While we had found information regarding several of the well known 'scenic drives,' we hadn't been alerted to the multitude of lesser 'tourist routes' that we would come across in our travels. (They also weren't well marked on our maps.) When we'd suddenly come across one, we'd take it if we could, but sometimes it would meander back the way we had come or go off in a perpendicular direction with no good way to get back to our north-bound route. The ideal opportunity would have been if we had not had a specific destination or deadline, or if we'd at least had quite a bit more time. We could have taken many more of the interesting lesser roads as we came across them, and meandered this way and that as the roads led us. As it was, after completing our Uluru detour we faced a bit of a time constraint because we wanted to have enough time to do some scuba diving once we reached Townsville, so once we left Bundeberg we spent the two days from there to Townsville on pretty major roadways with pretty similar scenery for most of the way - which actually got a bit boring after awhile.
Sydney was wonderful, and the absolute highlight of our stay was - of course - the Christmas Day that we spent with Luis and Maryanne, and their family and friends. However, we had no trouble finding things to do during the other days of our 5-day stay - the Sky Tower, the Opera House, the various museums, as well as just sitting by the waterfront there at Darling Harbour sipping wine, listening to music, watching people ...I know, it's a tough job ...
What worked and what didn't::
-- Our plan for Sydney worked pretty well. Given the Christmas holiday, booking a room in advance was a good thing, and having a room in the central business district was terrific.
-- In hindsight, the rental car was not the brightest idea. Unless you plan multiple day trips away from the city (which we thought we might do), you don't need a rental car. Parking is expensive and public transportation is very available - your options include monorail, light rail, subway, bus, sightseeing hop-on hop-off bus, taxi, water taxi, ferry, and you can even take a train or bus to get out to places like the Blue Mountains if you don't want to take a guided bus tour. (Once you get into the Blue Mountain area, those cities also have a sightseeing hop-on hop-off bus in addition to regular bus service.) In addition, if you stay in the central business district in Sydney you can easily walk to many of the tourist attractions like the Opera House or Darling Harbour or many of the museums.
For those of you who read my afterthoughts after our 2010 Alaska-Canada ride, one piece of good news is that I didn't find myself nearly as mentally and physically tired after days on the bike. Maybe it was because both bikes were twins rather than thumpers, maybe it was the (mostly) shorter days, or taking a break more often, or the more frequently changing scenery. Whatever it was I could tell a difference between the first 4 weeks of the AK-CAN ride versus the 4 weeks on bikes this time. Also, while we encountered wet and sometimes gloomy weather, it never lasted as long as on the 2010 trip so it didn't affect my mood - except on those twisty blind hairpin turns when bad weather brought the visibility too near zero for comfort and safety.
Once again, I used every bit of riding gear I took except my extra rain overpants - the inner rain lining of my riding pants was enough. As you've read, we frequently needed the toolkit and the med kit. (About the only motorcycling-related item I didn't need was the spare face shield I brought with me - and, yes, this time I had my own tire pressure gauge.) And, once again, the stuff called "Glide" (liquified baby powder) was worth its weight in gold.
I still took too much personal stuff - such as too many socks, an extra pair of pants I never wore, or more shirts than I wound up really needing (although I made a point to wear all of them). I did use all my toiletries, but smaller sizes of them would have been sufficient, and - yes - I did use my hair dryer several times (scoff if you wish, I'm glad I had it). The good news is that when we were on our own on the south island, all my stuff fit either in my luggage or in the one duffle I strapped behind me on the bike - or else I was wearing it (can you say ATGATT?) - so at least I was self contained.
We took a bunch of US currency as an emergency back up plan and never needed it. Now if something catastrophic had happened (loss of ID, credit cards, debit cards and so forth) it might have come in handy, but we certainly never needed it under normal circumstances. And we chose not to get any local currency in advance, instead we used ATMs as we went and that worked just fine - decent exchange rates and that way we didn't have a bunch of leftover currency at the end. We used credit cards wherever possible since we had a card that does not charge us a foreign transaction fee. That alone saved us a few hundred bucks (compared to a card that charges such fees).
Oh, and one shout out to our family and friends who kept watch over our house, dealt with mail or snow or whatever on our behalf, and generally kept the home fires burning for us - you're the best!
I guess that's about it for now. Thanks for joining us on our trip by reading this report - looking forward to reading about your latest travels soon!
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