Vietnam is teeming with motorcycle tour guides, aka ‘Easy Riders’, all eager to take you up into the high country and show you the ‘Real Vietnam’. ‘Real Vietnam’ consists of tiny rural villages, ethnic minorities, riding though very thick bush and eating an awful lots of ‘pho’, the local noodle soup. The tours promise a peek into the everyday lives of the local people, which got me thinking.
What does ‘Real New Zealand’ look like? I am not talking about the Lord of the Rings vistas from Tourism New Zealand brochures, but the scenery and scenarios we are presented with every day and which make up the quintessential kiwi experience. Where would an ‘Easy Rider’ guide take a tourist in this country and what could they expect to see along the way? These are the top 8 must-sees when traversing rural New Zealand:
1. Livestock on the road. Cows, sheep, Llamas, any large mammal will do so long as they are present in such high density that they completely block your path. Some riders are lucky enough to be warned of the presence of livestock in the vicinity by large orange signs or by the sudden influx in stock effluent present on the tarmac. Others will be taken completely by surprise and be lucky enough to test their full braking power halfway along the Forgotten Highway. It is prudent to remember that the motorcycle must give way to the mammals and that cows tend to display erratic tendencies when exposed to the full decibel count of a tl100 exhaust system at close range.
2. Petrol Station Pie. All long-distance late-night riders are familiar with this dietary staple. This is where the livestock that was blocking the road often ends up and some would say that tucking into a hearty mince and cheese pie after being held up by the beasts is a kind of karmic revenge. All good ‘Easy Rider’ guides will remind you to ‘always blow on the pie’ as thanks to a recent police campaign all Kiwis are well versed in techniques for avoiding thermonuclear combustion of the taste buds.
3. Four Square. Having a Four Square store is what distinguishes a dot on a map from an actual town and no tour of rural New Zealand would be complete without a visit to one. North, South, East, West: whatever geographical area you are exploring, this simple rule of thumb holds true. Enjoy a classic kiwi chocolate fish, pose for cheesy photos with the Four Square man or stock up on tomato sauce to dress your fish and chips.
4. The Local Oversized Statue. Be it a carrot (Ohakune), a trout (Gore) or an L&P bottle (Paeroa), New Zealand towns have special affinity with ridiculously large adverts for their local specialty. It would be rude not to stop and show your respects by posing for a picture with each respective piece of towering paraphernalia.
5. One Lane Bridges. These range from the ‘road narrow slightly’ variety to the ridiculously long railway track – cum –one lane bridge spanning a river in Okarito which is not for the faint hearted. One lane bridges are particularly popular around the Coromandel peninsula after heavy rain when one side of the road falls away. Their presence is denoted either by a round sign containing red and black arrows or by a colony of large orange road cones marking the edge of the precipice. The most famous one lane bridge is the Kopu Bridge near Thames, which brings us to attraction number 6…
6. The Kopu Bridge Queue. Not to be missed, this attraction will give visitors a unique insight into the plight of thousands of Aucklanders each long weekend. Best viewed from the back of a motorcycle as the size of the vehicle allows for a quicker pace along the verge, while still providing ample opportunities to stop and view the hot and bothered holiday makers in their shiny SUVs.
7. Fish and Chips. A traditional kiwi meal, fish and chips are best enjoyed eaten on the beach as finger food. Local stores proliferate along the coast and are particularly well patronized on Friday and Saturday nights. Stores often offer Chinese takeaways as an option for those feeling more orientally inclined, while in less coastal areas one may come across the inland equivalent,‘chicken and chips’. This meal is a must for those wishing to experience the artery-thickening taste of ‘real New Zealand’.
8. Rural Pub. With their Paisley carpets, pokies in the corner, hog’s heads mounted on the walls and local beer served by the jugful, rural pubs have a unique charm. They also provide the most obvious markers as to when you have left one region and entered another. When the pub signage changes from advertising ‘Canterbury Draught’ to proudly proclaiming its allegiance to ‘Speights’ and the Southern Man, you can be sure you have crossed an important geographical divide. Often beer and rugby club allegiances go hand in hand, so to get the full rural pub experience try rocking up on the night of a big game. Be sure to ask your Easy Rider what colours will be acceptable attire beforehand though if you wish to keep your nose intact.
In Vietnam the Easy Riders’ mantra is ‘Go happy, go lucky, go funny’. Here the message should be ‘take it easy bro, and always blow on the pie’.
Originally Published in the KiwiRider zine, 8/3/2011