Friday, February 3, 2023
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Gravel riding in the Land of the Long White Cloud

Growing up in the UK I had very little concept of what the rest of the world was like. I was 28 years old before I flew in a plane for the first time and even then it was to spend a week in the Algarve, surrounded by millions of other young British tourists getting drunk.

Hardly an authentic introduction to a foreign culture.

Then at the age of 31 I made a life-changing decision to go off and explore the world and ended up emigrating to Aotearoa, New Zealand, ‘The Land of the Long White Cloud’.

In the UK motorcycling was my life. A motorcycle was my daily mode of transport and it took me everywhere, mostly on tarmac but occasionally the odd thrill on a rare bit of gravel or dirt when I could find some.

As a teenager, I read and was totally captivated by ‘Jupiters Travels’ by Ted Simon. I used to dream of round the world adventures on a motorcycle.

Sadly it never happened.

However, I did end up in New Zealand and by chance, it has a fantastic network of gravel roads and off-road riding and a great Adventure Motorcycling community.

To make things even better NZ has a fantastic climate with beautifully long, sunny summers and short, cool but also sunny winters.

At the age of 63, I am still exploring and thoroughly enjoying these gravel roads and in some way feel I am fulfilling my dream to be like Ted Simon.

There are many gravel roads in New Zealand covering the whole country and I want to introduce you to some of them. I live in Blenheim, South Island New Zealand.

The route - Gravel riding in the Land of the Long White Cloud
The Route – Entry #08 – Mark Wiseman – Gravel riding in the Land of the Long White Cloud [RnT Story Contest – 1st Edition]

From my home, it is possible to ride a 400km circuit to Hanmer Springs and back, 280km of which is on gravel roads with the most stunning scenery you could hope for. It takes you across high country farmland, across rivers, and high up into the wilderness. It takes you to 1347m, the highest public road in New Zealand.

From Blenheim the gravel starts at The Taylor Pass Road on the outskirts of town and you get your first water crossing just a few Km’s from Town.

One of many fords
One of many fords – Entry #08 – Mark Wiseman – Gravel riding in the Land of the Long White Cloud [RnT Story Contest – 1st Edition]
Yet another
Yet another – Entry #08 – Mark Wiseman – Gravel riding in the Land of the Long White Cloud [RnT Story Contest – 1st Edition]
And another one
And another one – Entry #08 – Mark Wiseman – Gravel riding in the Land of the Long White Cloud [RnT Story Contest – 1st Edition]

The stunning Awatere Valley Road then takes you all the way to and across the historic Molesworth Station, a high country cattle farm.

Although it is possible to meet other vehicles you are likely to have the road to yourself most of the day.

Heavy traffic up the Awatere Valley
Heavy traffic up the Awatere Valley – Entry #08 – Mark Wiseman – Gravel riding in the Land of the Long White Cloud [RnT Story Contest – 1st Edition]

The only traffic jam you are likely to encounter is that of a herd of cattle being mustered back to the farm.

Traffic jam across Molesworth
Traffic jam across Molesworth – Entry #08 – Mark Wiseman – Gravel riding in the Land of the Long White Cloud [RnT Story Contest – 1st Edition]
Traffic control
Traffic control – Entry #08 – Mark Wiseman – Gravel riding in the Land of the Long White Cloud [RnT Story Contest – 1st Edition]

Coming out the other side of the spectacular Molesworth landscape takes you down into the Alpine village of Hanmer Springs.

Hanmer is famous for its hot springs and is a great destination to soak away the aches after a hot dusty day in the saddle. The local café is famous for its specialty porridge served with a shot of whiskey on top.

The famous porridge
The famous porridge – Entry #08 – Mark Wiseman – Gravel riding in the Land of the Long White Cloud [RnT Story Contest – 1st Edition]

The return Journey from Hanmer takes you to Lake Tennyson, an alpine lake at 1102m altitude before crossing the highest point at Island Saddle.

Lake Tennyson
Lake Tennyson – Entry #08 – Mark Wiseman – Gravel riding in the Land of the Long White Cloud [RnT Story Contest – 1st Edition]

The journey continues across Rainbow Station over several river crossings and tight gravel bends flanked by steep mountain ranges. If you are going to come off your bike at all then this is your most likely spot due to the loose gravel, often made worse by slips after rain or earthquakes!

Heading across the Rainbow - Gravel riding in the Land of the Long White Cloud
Heading across the Rainbow – Entry #08 – Mark Wiseman – Gravel riding in the Land of the Long White Cloud [RnT Story Contest – 1st Edition]

After Rainbow Station when you finally hit the tarmac again you might get the chance to continue onto the gravel ascent to Rainbow ski field if you are lucky enough to find the road open. This takes you right up to 1500m+ around hairpin bends and past waterfalls with amazing views along the way.

It is a real wilderness motorcycling experience and I feel so lucky to have this on my doorstep. I may never achieve what Ted Simon did but nevertheless, NZ provides me with fantastic motorcycle adventures.

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