Ariels in New Zealand

Reader Contribution by Landon Hall
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Blog by Margie Siegal

Editor’s note: From time to time, The Classic Life will feature blogs from guest writers. Margie Siegal, contributor and friend of Motorcycle Classics, had the chance to visit New Zealand earlier this spring and came back with a few photos and the following great story. Enjoy!

My favorite vacation is to pick a spot with nice roads and good scenery, fly there, rent a motorcycle and explore.  Top on my list for some time has been New Zealand, and this year I found myself with ticket in hand, waiting to board Air New Zealand for the flight to Bike Nirvana.

English settlers who reached New Zealand in the 1800’s must have found themselves reminded of home. NZ, located south of Australia, is two large green and mountainous islands, totaling the equivalent square mileage of California. The climate is moderate, and it rains almost as much as it does in London. I was there for two weeks and it rained two and a half days during that time.

If you ride, the draw is the roads- well paved, well banked, well repaired, narrow, twisty and scenic.

Three or four days into my trip, I was headed for the South Island, a three-hour ferry ride from the North Island, where I had rented a 600cc Honda.

I negotiated the maze leading from the motorway to the ferry waiting area and, following the directions of the guy with the flag, rode over to the right hand lane. There were two bikes ahead of me. I gave them a casual once over- and then a more interested look. The two bikes, loaded with luggage, were single cylinder British Ariels. Soon, we were joined by a well kept Ariel Square Four and two prewar machines with rigid rears and rubber knee pads on the tanks.

The riders, a jovial bunch of men in their fifties and sixties, were off to the annual Ariel Club meet. Spirits were high despite the strong breeze off Cook Strait. The sky was blue, the forecast was good, and the bikes were sparking on whatever number of cylinders they possessed.

We rode up the gangplank (what wonderful noise the ten or twelve Ariels made) and lashed the bikes down in the hold. Then, upstairs to the lounge area to hang out and watch craggy islands go past. Like vintage enthusiasts everywhere, the Ariel clubbers were easy to talk to and very welcoming. Several wives showed up. They had been following in their cars with food and luggage and seemed happy to get away for a holiday. They suggested I ride along with the Ariels and see if there was space at the Blenheim Top Ten Holiday Park, a twenty minute ride from the ferry, where everyone was staying.

New Zealanders are, on average, polite, intelligent and competent, and the holiday park, a New Zealand staple, is an example of NZ politeness, intelligence and competence.  Similar to a glorified KOA, a holiday park features space for tents and campers, small clean cabins both with and without bathrooms, paved driveways, clean restrooms with plenty of hot water, a fully equipped kitchen with a refrigerator, an electric barbeque, an internet room and a TV lounge. 

There was a cabin available at the holiday park, and I got to join in the party. Steinlager and Tui beer was passed out as a prelude to serious benchracing, for example, the story about the Ariel Square Four owner who trailered his bike to a meet in the rain. He stuffed toilet paper in the carburetor bell mouth to keep water out. The bike started after being unloaded at the meet, then immediately died and refused to restart. “I never could figure it out- turned out there was a piece of paper left in the carb and it got sucked in the intake.”

The next morning was the bike show, held in the parking lot of the government offices at Blenheim. In a typical show of NZ politeness and ingenuity, Marc Trilford decided that oil from leaky old engines should not be leaked on the pavement of the new parking lot, and got free cardboard from a local Honda dealer to put under bikes.

One bike on display was a ratty 1928 single. While I was first told, “No one is owning up to it,” it actually belonged to Ann and Brian Wilson, and was continually registered since date of manufacture. “It’s well loved,” they said.

By 11 a.m. everyone was saddled up again for a tour of Queen Charlotte Sound. The road, chiseled into a cliff, was the narrowest and most twisty road I had been on in NZ, but none of the Ariel riders blinked at the hairpin turns. The scenery, of course, was absolutely spectacular.

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