Choosing the worst time of year to ride around one of the most challenging but stunningly diverse and beautiful countries in the world might seem like madness to many.
Not to Weronika Kwapisz. For her, it was an inspired decision that brought her closer to the raw energy of nature and mystical qualities of New Zealand and its people.
The 30-year-old Polish rider, veteran of a pan-America tour, took a new Triumph Speedmaster on a 13-day tour of the North and South Islands just as autumn gave way to harsh winter.
She saw only five other riders on the 4,173km trip from Auckland, heading south to Wellington and back. Weronika rode through driving rain, gale-force gusts of wind and unpredicted flashes of sunshine in a country she describes as ‘motorcycle heaven’.
“I rode from Wanaka north to Fox Glacier on the Franz Josef Road in the South Islands through desert into rainforest. There was a glacier on one side and the Tasman Sea on the other. It was unforgettable,” she says.
“Going to New Zealand out of season, battling gusts of wind trying to knock me down on hairpin turns and being part of the place’s real nature actually heightened my senses and elevated the whole experience.”
Weronika had dreamed of riding here for more than a decade until that ‘now or never’ moment rarely regretted by adventure riders arrived: ”I’m so glad it did. The scenery was spectacular, almost fairy-tale and you always have that sense of feeling like you’re on the set of Lord of the Rings visiting Mordor or Hobbiton.
“It’s a wild country where nature is the master and part of the adventure is learning to cope with it. I genuinely didn’t care what the weather was because of what I was seeing at every bend, but to have that attitude you definitely need the right bike.”
Weronika rode 20,000km across the States and Canada on a Triumph Bonneville in 2014 and chose a new Triumph Speedmaster as her riding buddy this time: “I love classic bikes and this was the perfect choice. He was easy to handle, the bars are at a great height and the seat is super-comfortable and very low, which is good for me because I’m quite petite.”
“He’s the Zen Master… distinguished, elegant and very calm but, if he wanted, he had the torque to kick some ass. There was no place where he didn’t grab attention. The look, the sound… everybody was asking me tons of questions about him.”
New Zealand’s diversity and raw beauty were the biggest – but not the only – surprises for Weronika. Here’s the four things that caught her off guard.
1 The people
“I didn’t expect to meet so many warm, supportive, selfless people. The Kiwis will spend an hour just to help you, to the extent that sometimes I was too scared to ask for help because I knew they’d stop their daily routine just to assist me. I love how they’re respecting their heritage, connecting the present with their past and their preservation of Maori traditions.”
“The trees, animals and scenery are insane and different to anywhere else on the planet. When I tell people about some of the things I saw, they ask me which road they need to take to see them. To be honest, there is no wrong road in New Zealand, apart from Highway Number 1. Mount Cook is essential and the fjords in the south-west of South Island at Milford Sound leave you lost for words.”
“The conditions make this experience even better. If you ride through the sunshine you can ease into a state of relaxation, but New Zealand in May makes everything more acute.”
4 Wanaka to Fox Glacier
“Can’t say enough about this road. If you only do one in New Zealand this will blow your mind and let you see everything the country has to offer, almost. I think I will go back to New Zealand… no, I know I will. It’s a paradise.”