Chris' 1994  R100GS/PD ULTIMATE JOURNEY Erin's 1997  F650
Living a Dream . . . 2 Live-N-Ride

March 27, 2001 

Otago Gold Trails

-- Story by Chris --

When we were in Australia, we heard about an event known as the BMW Safari – an off-road adventure ride, geared towards the bigger enduro bikes. The event is held every 2 years in OZ, and we were there at the wrong time.

Shortly after arriving in NZ, we heard that NZ hosts a BMW Safari, and they’re put on twice a year – we missed the first one in January, but the second one would be held only a few hours from where we were staying – Excellent!

The 4-day event is sponsored by BMW of New Zealand, and run by a local company, NZ Adventures. The two big dogs at BMWNZ are Grant Clegg and John Glasswell, and when they heard we were around, they were kind enough to extend us an invitation. NZ Adventure is run by Joe Forsyth and John Nicholson, two of NZ’s former top enduro riders. They put on a top-notch gig, which would not have been possible without the help of their dedicated/friendly crew: John Friis; Greg Wylie; Judy Forsyth; Robbie Crickett (sweep); Dave Britten (lead); Craig Wight (video); Sam Forsyth (sweep), Lynn Davies (sweep truck navigator); and Jo Buckner (assistant sweep navigator and first aider).

From the NZ Adventures website:  

The BMW Otago Gold Trails is an epic three-day Safari, taking in some of the most spectacular and remote corners of New Zealand's southern regions. The event will be based at the Golden Gate Lodge in Cromwell, where all facilities are on hand, including, accommodation, meals, briefing center, bars, spa pool and sauna. This year's route has been revised to take in some of the highlights from the sensational 1999 course, plus new terrain.

The event comprises three days of relentless riding, eating and camaraderie, with riders having the option of sealed Road Touring, or backcountry Adventure Routes.

Road Touring Option
Road Touring Option
The ultimate three day adventure ride in the Southern Lakes District of New Zealand which has been described by visiting riders as the finest motorcycling on this planet. Our Road option offers three full days of riding and sightseeing on glorious, traffic-free, rider's roads, through a fascinating, often remote and always remarkable landscape. On the way you can stop at your leisure, visiting historic gold workings, quaint country pubs and quiet settlements. Each day, road riders are treated to an exclusive, free attraction, this year the theme is history and included are the Hayes Museum, Wanaka Warbirds and a trip on the vintage steam train, the Kingston Flyer.

Our overseas guests were stunned by the riding, even the Kiwis were gob smacked. Visit the spectacular Adventure riding Mecca of NZ as the leaves turn gold.

Easy Adventure
Easy Adventure
The BMW Otago Gold Trails is NOT a trail ride. You need no special skills for this course, which follows sealed back roads and gravel roads with OPTIONAL loops on good hard-based 4X4 tracks. The route passes through thirty-nine private properties, going to an altitude of over six thousand feet.
The highlights of this ride are mind boggling and include: Old Man Range, Moa Flat Road, Hukarere Station, Blue Mountains, Mt Wendon, Cattle Flat, Nokomai Mountains, Nevis Track, Rough Ridge, Poolburn, Old Dunstan Road, Lammermoor Range, Serpentine Diggings, Matangi Station, Little Valley, Leaning Rock, Dunstan Mountains, Thomson's Track, Pisa Range, Horn Range, Knobbies Range and the Carricktown Track.

What's included:
€ Three days road or adventure route.
€ Four nights quality twin share hotel or Motel accommodation.
€ Sweep crew or breakdown retrieval back to base.
€ Three sumptuous buffet dinners and three filling lunches .
€ Daily activity or attraction for road route riders.
€ DOC and landowner fees for Adventure Route
€ Ride badge
€ Full use of facilities including conference centre, bars, sauna etc..
€ Test rides of new BMW models.
€ Three days road or adventure route.
€ Four nights quality twin share hotel or Motel accommodation.
€ Sweep crew or breakdown retrieval back to base.
€ Three sumptuous buffet dinners and three filling lunches .
€ Daily activity or attraction for road route riders.
€ DOC and landowner fees for Adventure Route
€ Ride badge
€ Full use of facilities including conference centre, bars, sauna etc..
€ Test rides of new BMW models.

Friday afternoon, March 23rd: I left Christchurch in the morning, and rode the 450 kms down to the meeting point in Cromwell (just east of Queenstown). Erin was supposed to come too, but she caught a bit of the flu on Thursday, and decided to spend the weekend recovering in Christchurch. The ride to Cromwell was quite scenic, past the infamous Mt. Cook (3,754 meters/12,400 ft), through beautiful lake regions, and over Lindis Pass.

After check-in, I was directed to the conference room where I was given a small packet including an introduction/welcome, emergency contact info, Day-1 route sheets, and Day-1 meal coupons. I sat down at a table with a few other folks, and began cutting the route sheets into long strips. That done, I taped the strips end-to-end and rolled up the lot (similar to a roll of toilet paper) to create my road book. Later, I took the road book out to the bike and loaded into my holder. At 8:30pm, we filled into the conference room, for the evening briefing. It looked to be a great group of people, with approximately 130 participants: About 40 would do the road route; and the rest would do the Adventure route.

The adventure route is mostly easy gravel track, with about 10% sealed road. Each day there would be 3 "options" -- These are more technical rides for more experienced off-road riders and/or small trail bikes.  About half the adventure group would do the options.

Stephen and I agreed to be ridding buddies – so we knew we would each have someone close by to help pick up the bikes.

Saturday morning, 6:30am: We met for breakfast, and the anticipation of the day slowly broke through the morning haze in everyone’s brain cells – it was bloody early! About an hour later, I threw my leg over the saddle, not really sure what to expect, hit the starter, and headed off. Stephen and I checked out, and proceeded down the road. Reading the road book directions while riding was tricky to get used to at first, but having the distances in miles as well as in kms helped a lot! (My bike is in miles, where the Kiwi bikes are in kms).  By the time we made the turn off onto the first bit of gravel, we were in a pack of close to 25 bikes. Most were large enduro bikes, some were 2-up, and there were even a few trail bikes.

Joe checking out the riders
Joe Forsyth working the check-out table

About 15kms into the journey, we hit our first predicament: The road book directions said to turn left at this distance into the route, but the other telltale markings (sign posts/gate) weren’t visible. A few of us ventured around the bend in the trail, and found the proper turn-off. We took off at a faster speed, to get ahead of others and try to keep ahead of the dust – remembering Joe's warning, it’s not a race!  I was busy looking at the scenery, playing with the GPS, and fiddling with the road book – a difficult task under the best of circumstances, when I got caught in a rut. Unprepared for the hazard (i.e. not paying attention to the trail), I dropped the bike. It was a bit embarrassing lying on my back, so early in the day, on such an easy section, and most importantly in front of so many others. Other riders stopped to ask if I needed assistance, but I waved them onward.

Naturally, I jumped right up to limit my embarrassment, hoisted the bike up too quickly (not used to the lower weight without filled panniers), and watched it fall over on the other side. I ran around the bike, heaved her up more slowly, threw my leg over the saddle, then scooted down the trail to the next gate. As most of the trails run through farms, there are many gates to keep the livestock in/out. The rule was simple: Leave the gate the way you found it! Every few kms, you have to stop to open a gate, push the bike through, then close the gate – Stephen and I worked as a team, so one opened and the other closed – giving us time for a brief rest (if needed).

Roadbook with option by-pass...

to be closed

We reached the lunch spot around 12:30, well behind the bulk of the other riders, but feeling pretty good non the less. The entire group was in a great mood: the food was delicious, the weather was perfect, and the camaraderie was growing quickly. Stephen and I were obviously at the early stages of our enduro abilities, but we were in high spirits and prepared to take on whatever the day put in front of us.

The second option was more technical then the first, over some steep and rocky terrain. I was picking my way between the rocks and ruts pretty well, ever impressed with how well my R100GSPD pulled me up and around the steep switchbacks. I was trying to stay ahead of a few trail bikes (it’s not a race), and pushing myself up the track. A steep rock wall grew up out of the trail on my left, and as I concentrated on trying to avoid it, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the sheer rock. Eventually, I pinned myself against the wall, having forgotten the basic principal: the bike will go where you are looking. This wasn’t really a "fall", but it took some doing to extricate myself off the situation.

As the afternoon progressed, so did my abilities. The last option was through the Nevis Gorge – a trail Stephen, Erin, and I had ridden on a few weeks before. We knew the trail, and were excited to hit it hard. It's not a race, but we wanted to stay ahead of the folks we left behind.  Around 4pm the sky became dark and a few drops fell, as did the temperature. The creek crossings were higher than we remembered, but our confidence was rising at a steady rate. As we came to the end of the track, descending from Duffers Saddle, we were greeted by this awesome sight…..

Somewhere, over the rainbow...

When we eventually got back to Cromwell (15 minutes before sunset), Stephen and I were exhausted but equally exhilarated! We made it through the first day, and we had a terrific time as well. We went into the conference room, picked up the route sheets for Day-2, and started our cutting/pasting while recounting the days adventures with other participants. After dinner, Joe gave us a debriefing on the day, a briefing on the coming days highlights, and reiterated to the group that it wasn’t a race!  It’s not; it’s just that most guys don’t want to be passed!

It was about 10pm when I got back to my room. Although I was weak from fatigue, I was deeply in need of a shower – my face still held a good layer of dust/grit. I stood under the hot water for about 20 minutes, soaking up the steam as my muscles let me know that they would be screaming in the morning. A quick call to Erin, and I was passed out in bed moments later.

Sunday morning was much the same as Saturday, except my thighs were aching as though I had just run a marathon. At the petrol station, I picked up some Ibuprofen to help ease the soreness. Stephen and I were checked out by 8:00am, and quickly down the road 25 kms towards the first option – up Knobbies Track: A steep and narrow trail filled with large ruts and mammoth boulders. Most of the gang missed the first turn-off from the town, so Stephen and I were one of the first to reach the trail entrance/gate. The track was the most technical thing I’ve ever been on, and I still don’t know how I made it up! I think it was because I knew there was a trail bike behind me, with nowhere to pull over to let him pass. I just clenched the handlebars in a death-grip, as the big BMW crawled over the boulders like a Panzer Tank through a bombed-out stone village. I was amazed at the obstacles we climbed, and grateful of the machines abilities. When we finally reached the ridge at the top of the mountain, I looked over my shoulder and realized there wasn’t anyone directly behind me – Stephen was a good 200 meters back, but there wasn’t any expert trail bike on my tail. I think if I had known I was alone, I would have panicked, stopped, and that would have made it virtually impossible to start up the steep embankment again.  I wish I had taken at least one photo, but at the time my thoughts were elsewhere.

Stephen D, John Glasswell, me, and Garry Williams
(Garry has a 21" rim on that F650)

After we crossed the ridge, there was a gentle slope down to a clearing beyond a gate. We pulled over to rest, relax, and get the cramps out of our hands and thighs. My grip had been so tight my fingers were tingling. A few minutes later we were on top of another ridge, looking out to the spectacular valley below. The leaves are changing color now, so the red, yellow, and brown leaves looked fantastic on the hills, and their reflections in the blue lakes is simply stunning!

We got to a deeply rutted section of the ride, and I soon lost control. Miraculously, the bike stayed upright and I made it up a rough hill section. Expecting to see Stephen laughing at me, I looked back to get his reaction. I didn’t see him at first, then noticed him rising out of the vegetation, without his bike – turns out he wasn’t so lucky in the ruts. I walked back down to give him a hand, but not before taking a few snaps with the camera.

We eventually got out of the rutted section, and back onto the gravel adventure track. Stephen was not 100% confident after his crash, and was lagging a little behind on the gravel road. I slowed my pace, but still managed to pass a couple on a R80GS who were puttering along. Shortly after, Stephen went to pass the couple in a blind downhill curve on a gravel road. The Kiwi couple later said they though Stephen must be an expert rider, having chosen this particular point to pass….. until he lost it and high-sided the bike into the shrubs. No harm really, but there were plenty of riders close by, which of course didn’t help the male ego J Anyway, we brushed off the branches and headed off. Stephen knew he’d be a bit sore later ….and he was!

Stopping for lunch

Another fabulous BBQ

As the day progressed, my confidence grew at an alarming rate. I was tearing up the gravel trails, zipping around tight corners and holding the throttle wide open – yes Joe, we all know it’s not a race, but we’re not going to have anyone pass us either! It was a game – get to the gates before the guy ahead of you could close it, and close the gate before the guy behind you comes into view.

We got back to the staging area around 5pm, checked in, and started to work on the road book for Day 3. Stephen walked in and said, "I have good news and bad news. The bad news is you have a flat, the good news is you’re here and not out on a trail." I was bummed, but figured I’d take care of it later. I walked outside to install the route sheet onto my bike. I was a little surprised to see my bike – missing the rear wheel. Nearby were Grant and John from BMWNZ, in the process of fixing my flat. Talk about BMW Service!

Grant Clegg (L) and John Glasswell (R) using the Dakar's side-stand to break the bead on my tire.  These are the top 2 management guys at BMW NZ -- obviously not afraid to get their hands dirty!

Monday, Day 3: The air was crisp as we started out. There were some very technical options today, and we were eager to hit the trail. The first option was long, rutted, and narrow. We reached the summit of Mt. Dunstan, some 1,700 meters high. It was a windy day, and riding in the ruts, exposed to high winds on the ridge became a new challenge – but nothing for experienced enduro riders like Stephen and I J

We descended Dunstan, and were almost back on the main road when there was a stoppage of some bikes on the last hill. I got to the middle of the hill and found Ian Sowden (there were about 5 Ian’s on the ride) standing next to his R100PD, which was lying in a precarious position. I’m still not sure how he ended up like this, but he and the bike were both fine, and after we all took a few photos we managed to get him on top of the bike and up the hill in no time.

We were in a small group when we got to the trail head for the Mt Pisa option – Joe had warned us this was not for the faint hearted, and Stephen and I felt like we could conquer just about anything. My throttle was wide open as I whipped up the gravel serpentine hillside. I felt in complete control, and was gaining on the trail bike ahead of me. OK, you see it coming, but I didn’t. I rounded my way into a switchback, throttle open and right foot out to help the lean/slide -- Imagine my surprise when I ended up lying on my back! The rear tire was spinning so fast, it actually whipped up the hill in front of the rear. Aside from my pride, I damaged my right rear blinker. The worse was that Ian Laywood on his F650Dakar was laughing at me as he passed by – Joe, really, we weren’t racing! Stephen took a couple of snaps, than we picked up the bikes and scooted up the hill.

Mt. Pisa was wonderful. Well, the views were. The trail was very steep, covered in course rock, and the wind was blowing at an alarming rate, forcing us to lean the bikes into the wind while trying to pick our way between the deep ruts. It took us about a half an hour to reach the peak = 1,975 meters / 6,520 feet high. The temperature was about 30F/-1C. Everyone was taking pictures, then leaving quickly to get out of the wind/cold.

After lunch at the Waiorau Snow Farm, we raced…..yes, raced….down the mountain road to the famous Cardrona Hotel. In the summer, they have organized races up the gravel road – the record is about 8 minutes. Only one guy passed me on the 13-km road down. I guess he was more determined than I was. We passed through Arrowtown, then headed back east along the Kawarau River, past the A.J. Hackett Bungy Bridge to Gibbston. The last option of the Safari is up and over the Gibbston track, one of the most difficult trails on the ride.

There was a nice river crossing just before we reached Arrowtown
Go Ian, GO!

Now it just so happens that Stephen and I had inadvertently discovered this same track 2 weeks before, and struggled to make it over the 2 ridges before encountering a locked fence. The road book suggests that big bikes should avoid this option, but Stephen and I knew what to expect…..or thought we did. The trail was more difficult then we remembered, but we were riding faster and feeling pretty confident. We pounded through the trail, once again exhausted and exhilarated when we finally reached the top.

As we meandered down the opposite side of the range, we approached the Nevis Station. We were tired and ready to take the easy route back to base – back over Duffer’s Saddle. We were just crossing the range when Joe waved us to a detour. We thought it was a short cut, but it turned out to be the entrance to the Carricktown Trail. A wonderfully scenic trail that runs high along a ridge, overlooking the town of Cromwell, then dropping down to the valley below. There were more steep boulders and deep ruts to avoid, and I was moving pretty fast, pounding over the terrain. It was easier to go down without using the brakes – riding over the obstacles than around them. When I passed the final gate on the trail, I stopped and began whooping it up – I made it, and my bike performed far beyond my wildest expectations!

On the way back to base, we stopped by the Bannockburn Pub, for a reflective ale with new friends – what a fantastic weekend! A quick shower before dinner, and it was back to the restaurant for the closing dinner. To put it simply, this weekend was one of the highlights of our trip, and I strongly recommend it to other riders. Just remember, it’s not a race!

There were all ranges of riders on this trip: from novice road riders right up to competitive off-road machines.  The course is set up for the bigger enduro bikes, and an intermediate off-road rider on a big bike could do most of the options.  A good road rider with little off-road experience on a F650 would have an enjoyable time on the Easy Adventure Route.  Then there's guys like Alistair from Dunedin, riding 2-up on his R100GS through each option.

If you're looking for a new ride, come to NZ, the motorcycle paradise of the world, and finish off your trip with a Safari Adventure.  We've met riders from all over the world, many who have purchased bikes and left them here for future use.

The cost for the 3 day/4 night Safari is a mere NZ$499 (US$215) per person, and includes everything for 4 nights except motorbike, petrol, and breakfast. I think most folks got their money’s worth after just the first day. Other activities around Queenstown like bungy jumping, sky diving,  helicopter rides, or glacier flights cost between NZ$125-200 each, and only last 10-40 minutes each.  Aside from the fun-factor, the Safari Ride is good value.

Po Box 299 Kumeu
West Auckland

John Nicholson

New Zealand Motorcycle Rentals offer a wide range of bikes, including dual purpose bikes suitable for Safaris only. These bikes are equipped with road style dual purpose tyres.
ph +64-3-377-0663.

Hire rates (inc tax and insurance):
BMW F650     = NZ$145
/day (US$ 65)
BMW F650GS   = NZ$155 /day (US$ 69)
BMW R80GS     = NZ$155 /day (US$ 69)

Yamaha XT 600 =NZ$115 / day (US$ 51)

      discounts for longer rentals


Here are a few more photos:

Grant Clegg from BMWNZ on the new R1150R

John Glasswell from BMWNZ on the awesome F650 Dakar



Stephen's bike after his spectacular over-taking maneuver (nice mirror)

Ummmm, which way do we go?

NZ.SafariRidgeBreak2.jpg (22574 bytes)

NZ.SafariBreak.jpg (30257 bytes)



Stephen and Chris

"OK, Larry?"
"we made it, Larry"


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