When you live in a picture-book nation where a third of the population inhabits one city, it’s a fair bet the riding in the remaining 19,000 sq km is going to be traffic-free… and incredible.
Gerry Halcrow, from New Zealand’s Triumph Riders Motorcycle Club, gives the lowdown on the roads best travelled on the country’s three islands, explains the tug of war ‘rivalry’ between the country’s 12 chapters and reveals how the club was almost wiped out on its first day.
“In New Zealand we’ve got 4.5 million people who live on three main islands – the unimaginatively named North and South Islands, and tiny Stewart Island at the bottom. I’m originally from Canterbury in the South Island but now live in Auckland in the north and the roads on the two are quite different.
Lord of the Rings country
On a recent High Country Poker Run to Mount Cook, our highest mountain in the heart of ‘Lord of the Rings’ country in the deep south, we saw three traffic cops in three days. Back in the North Island we saw three in less than half an hour of getting off the Interislander ferry.
The scenery in the South is amazing but the roads are a lot straighter so there’s a lot of fairly easy long haul cruising without too many challenging corners, although they do exist – especially on the West Coast.”
The Club was set up in Wanganui in August 2011 by 13 guys who wanted a brand-specific Triumph motorcycle club with a focus on actually riding Triumphs, rather than being an enthusiast club where you didn’t need to own or ride one.
We are serious about the ride and run many and frequent long haul rides. The city of Wanganui is 450km from Auckland but we organised a ride from Auckland to there because we like the apple pie a particular hotel serves, so off we went on a 1,000km round trip to get it!
I think we got about 32 people on that ride which was good, and we even had a commemorative banner made up for it, saying “Because we like pie!”
2 islands, 8 dream rides
1. When I lived in the South I used to ride the Tram Road – it’s 27 km dead straight and New Zealander Russell Wright used it once in 1955 to break the world land speed record for a motorcycle, averaging 185 mph (298kmh) over two runs on a Vincent Black Lightning.
3. The road from Twizel to Mount Cook which runs alongside Lake Pukaki (State Highway 80) ends at the beautiful Mount Cook Hermitage where the hospitality and refreshments are excellent and the road ends at the foot of the mountain and you can go no further.The water in the lake is aquamarine and you can hammer along the road with the tree-barren and brown mountains leering up at you with their snow caps glistening in the sun. It’s about a 120km round trip from Twizel to Mount Cook, so not a long road, but it’s certainly an extremely beautiful one.
4. If it’s longer haul you’re after, there’s the 450km stretch of road down the West Coast of the South Island from Greymouth, the West Coast’s largest town, to Lake Wanaka in Central Otago. This road takes you through both the Mount Cook and Mount Aspiring National Parks and includes the remarkable Fran Joseph and Fox Glaciers.
Warning: The only problem with this road (State Highway 6) is that you want to keep stopping to admire the scenery, so it can be a long day.
5. In the North ‘Gentle Annie’ is one of my favourites, from Taihape to Napier.
It cuts through some of New Zealand’s historic high country sheep stations and takes you into Hawkes Bay, one of our greatest wine growing regions.
6. There’s also the Taupo-Napier Highway which is another way (from the north) into the beautiful Hawkes Bay.
7. The majestic Desert Road across the central volcanic plateau, if ridden at dawn or dusk, is simply awesome with snow capped volcanoes sweeping down to windswept tussock dessert.
8. There are still a lot of back country roads that are gravel, so if off roading is your thing, there are some wonderful scenic gravel roads such as the Forgotten Highway in the central North Island.
As a rule of thumb, North Island roads are more winding and have a lot more traffic, but balancing this in the South Island we have a lot more tourists from places like China, America, and Europe where they drive on the other side of the road – that’s why the big white arrows painted on the road remind tourists to keep left.
Q. How active are the chapters?
A. We’ve got 12 active chapters, four in the South Island (Nelson, Marlborough, West Coast and Canterbury) and eight in the North Island (Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, Wanganui, Manawatu, Hawkes Bay and Wellington). The chapters are named after the provinces, which are a mixture of very famous English names like Nelson and Wellington and indigenous Maori names like Taranaki (meaning 'shining mountain peak') and Manawatu (meaning ' heart standing still').The largest chapter is in Auckland, with more than 60 paid up members.
Q. Is there much inter-Island rivalry?
A. Oh yes. The South Islanders jokingly referring to themselves as mainlanders while there’s an added rivalry that exists between Auckland and the rest of the country due to Auckland's 'supercity' status in terms of having a quarter of the country's population and dominating industry, finance, business and the economy. The rest of New Zealand refers to us a little contemptuously as Jaffas – which means 'Just Another expletive Aucklander' – but it's a term we Aucklanders embrace. There is healthy rivalry between chapters and at our AGM we have a tug-of-war between the North and the South Island chapters. As Vice President North Island, I'm pleased to say we currently hold the trophy!
The South Island chapters hold two annual events which we all try to attend – the annual 3,000km round trip High Country Poker Run to Mt Cook which is breathtakingly beautiful and which I’ve just completed and the annual Poker Run weekend to the Blackball Hilton on the West Coast of the South Island, through some of the wildest coastal scenery New Zealand has to offer.
We’re holding next year’s AGM in the North Island at Lake Taupo, the largest freshwater lake in Australasia and the size of Singapore, so we hope to see quite a few of the South Island members at this. Last year the AGM was held in Nelson in the South Island and about half of those present had come from the North Island – for the 13 Auckland chapter members, this meant an 1,800km round trip.
Q. How many members do you have and what are the most popular bikes?
A. We have more than 400 members and actively encourage women to join. To be a member you have to both own a Triumph and ride it… that’s part of the club's constitution. Active riders only! Each chapter has a number of women riders but we’d like more and have an active policy of encouraging women to join as riders and our female membership increasing. We are serious about our Triumphs and riding them.
Many of us own more than one. I’ve got a Speed Triple R, a Thunderbird Storm and a Bonneville T100 Anniversary, and I’m not unusual in the club. Neil, the guy who set the Auckland chapter up with me five years ago, has two Rockets and a Tiger 800. We are overwhelmingly a Hinckley Triumph club.
Thunderbirds are very popular in their varying guises of Storms, Commanders, LTs and of course 1600s. Bonnevilles and their varying guises are also popular along with Tiger 800s. But recently we’re seeing a swing towards the new Tiger 1050 sport by a lot of members, and the new 2016 model has proved very popular here with the first shipment selling out completely, many of them pre-purchased. We are affiliated to the Triumph Hinckley Owners Club Worldwide and enjoy a good relationship with this Triumph specific club and also the Triumph Riders Club in Southern Australia.
Q. Do you ride out together or as smaller groups?
A. Each chapter has to hold a monthly ride and these are open to all members. Chapters frequently pair up with neighbouring chapters for rides and we’re a social bunch so it's not uncommon to see one monthly chapter ride suddenly become a joint chapter ride. In between our monthly rides, smaller groups of riders organise smaller impromptu rides that any members are welcome to join in with. A couple of the dealers have joined our club as riding members and Auckland is lucky to have the top two Triumph dealers in New Zealand – Holeshots Motors and Experience Motorcycles. Both have been awesome in promoting the brand and referring new members to us, so we support them in return.
Q. What do you ride and why?
A. I have three Triumphs, a 2016 Speed Triple R, a 2013 Thunderbird Storm fitted with Ohlins piggy back rear shocks and Race Tech Gold Valve Cartridge Emulator forks; and a 2009 Triumph Bonneville Anniversary limited edition – only 650 of these bikes were made to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the iconic Triumph Bonneville. I've had mine airbrushed with a Maori bulldog on the side covers. It’s a bike I will keep forever and which will be eventually passed onto my nephew (who also rides a Thunderbird Storm). I have only ever ridden and owned British bikes in 45 years of motorcycling and haven't even so much sat on a Japanese, European, or American bike.
Q. And your best ever moment on a bike?
A. It was also probably one of my worst and it happened on the ride coming back from founding the Auckland chapter with a mate. I was on my Bonneville T100 and as we pulled behind a van ready to overtake, it dropped its spare wheel which was mounted underneath the van. The wheel bounced out of its mounting, hit the road at 100kph and came hurtling towards us. It bounced over my head, hit the road in front of Neil and then bounced over his head too! Jeez we were lucky that day - two thirds of the chapter could have been wiped out on the first day of its existence.
You would have to be either dead or have ice in your veins not to feel alive and full of the joy of life the moment you sit on a motorcycle and start the engine.Gerry Halcrow
Q. Why do you ride?
A. Riding has given me some of the best friendships in my life and my girlfriend rides as well. She has a Street Triple and like me shares my passion for a Triumph only stable – she’s got her eyes on my Speed Triple R! Because I don't like taking anti-depressants and you would have to be either dead or have ice in your veins not to feel alive and full of the joy of life the moment you sit on a motorcycle and start the engine, especially if it‘s one that comes with more than 100 years of motorcycling heritage.