“I won’t leave chocolate behind!” I declared as I struggled to finish a particularly generous piece of muddy mud cake at the beach café in Kaikoura. My newfound friends would just have to wait for me while I kept on munching. We were a small group of female riders from Sweden, Australia and Germany who had signed up for the Towanda Tour of New Zealand following the international WIMA rally near Lake Taupo on the North Island. We had been touring for two weeks together – riding the most spectacular twisty ocean roads, mountains roads and forest roads. The scenery changed between extremes: like the whole continent of Europe crammed into two small islands; Swiss mountains, Norwegian fiords, Swedish forests, Icelandic volcanos… The roads snaked up and down the mountain sides, stretched through the open plains, in and out of forests, gorges and along the waterfront. The traffic was scarce so we had the roads mainly to ourselves as we rode past volcanos, glaciers, bush forest and strange rock formations – it felt like an adventure and I loved it. These roads were made for riding!
Our guide, Tina, led us on the best routes around the islands and she had a great knowledge about the culture and history – as well as where to eat the best food and the most scrumptious cakes. I was impressed by the many vegetarian options, something I wasn’t spoiled with in Sweden some 11 years ago. The people were friendly and it was easy to strike up a conversation, another cultural difference I suppose, but to me it just seemed like everyone was so happy we had come all this way to experience their country and take an interest in their culture. In addition, I learned that people in New Zealand use their motorbikes all year around, something you can only dream of in my home country. I had found my place, I wanted to live here! But as immigrating to New Zealand is particularly difficult, “marry a kiwi” recommended the British-born woman working in the motorbike rental shop with a laugh: “it is the best way into the country”. However, I was unsuccessful pursuing that and my travel companions claimed it was due to my habit of drying my tatty long johns from the curtain rail. Somehow, they thought that this particular garment wasn’t doing me any favours and, in fact, they later gifted me some nylon stockings. Despite this, I failed to find a kiwi husband but I later found a country closer by that caters for my yearning of all year-round riding and a partner who accepts tatty long johns as part of life’s necessities. Even so, I always wanted to go back to New Zealand – to experience it all again, ride the roads, meet the people and eat muddy mud cake. Therefore, the news of the earthquake in New Zealand affects me profoundly. I have been there, in Kaikoura, the town that now is being evacuated from the sea by ships – it was a lovely place along the coast on the South Island, where we stopped on route for a coffee break. My thoughts go to the people who live there, people that I met, even though it was long ago, lovely people who contributed to my affection for New Zealand and my longing to go back.