Author: Steve Smith   Date Posted:8 January 2024 


I remember the movie Good Morning Vietnam, where Adrian Cronauer, played brilliantly by the inimitable Robin Williams, would say “IT’S HOT! DAMN HOT! REAL HOT!”. Well our Ultimate Adventure Moto NZ – Five day Southern Passes ride was WET! DAMNED WET! REAL WET! You get the drift. Yes we had a little rain. In fact the sun hid behind clouds twenty minutes after riding out the gate, and only came back out as we rode into Christchurch on the return leg of one of the most EPIC and exhilarating 5 day rides I have done in recent years. Did I say EPIC!

Let me rewind for a minute. Bill, a customer, a friend, walks into our Adventure Moto Sydney store and spots me…

Bill - “Hey Steve, I’m coming on one of your rides in New Zealand, Bro!”
Me - “ Bill, we don’t have a ride running in NZ, so what the hell are you talking about?
Bill -  “Yeah, it’s an Adventure Moto NZ ride.”

I was left thinking Bill must be taking the piss, but he pulled out his phone and showed me his booking, with, Ultimate Adventure Moto NZ… WTF!

Still, I reminisced with Bill about my riding in NZ. The occasional Yamaha Safari with Clubby and Geoff Ballard, and how around 15 years ago, I rode the North and South Island with my then 11yo daughter riding pillion on a 1200GSA. Which led me to keeping a dirty little DR650 in a mate's garage locked up in Christchurch, flying back and forth across the pond whenever I could to ride the North and South Islands on every dirt road I could find.

So in a fit of inspiration, I called the phone number on the website… “Hello, Adventure Moto NZ this is Steve!” NO!!! I am Steve, and I am Adventure Moto Australia! Did Bill put you guys up to this?

Long and the short, Steve Gillies and I hit it off, we chatted bikes, rides, and ADV before he offers me a spot on his last South Island passes tour for the season. I book another bike for my wife Jen and plan a holiday to NZ.

Steve sells the tour as the ultimate back country adventure riders tour. It starts and finishes in Christchurch and the cost includes bike hire, four nights’ accommodation, as well as breakfasts and dinners during the ride. The ride takes you over some of the most famous gravel and scenic roads in the South Islands Mackenzie County and Central Otago regions.

When I tell Jen we are off to NZ over Easter, her first question is how hard will this ride be and her second was asking what bike will she be riding? “Um, It will be dead easy love! Nothing to worry about sweetheart, I have done it all before. You can have a choice of bikes. How about a KTM690?”

Jen and I arrived in NZ a day early to get our gear sorted and meet with Steve Gillies at Ultimate Adventure Moto (UAMNZ). Now Steve G is a cool dude. He is tall, quiet, and just fits into the landscape. I find out afterwards that his real job, pre-ADV, was as an air traffic controller. I am thinking great! Because the coolest customers on the planet have the most difficult and stressful jobs, and if you want someone to take control of a situation, when the shit hits the fan, it has to be someone like an air traffic controller, or a motorcycle tour operator, or both. Steve G purchased Kiwi Motorcycle Rentals, during Covid, when the previous owners were winding the business down due to the unknown of Covid at the time, and the complete fall-off of business. Steve bought the company, mothballed the bikes, and paid the rent for a couple of years while coolly waiting for business to kick back in. When it did, he said the flood gates opened.

His passion, however, is running tours. He started UAMNZ as a spin off from the motorcycle rentals. He had been helping KTM Australasia run the New Zealand rallies, knocking handlebars with Chris Birch*, and decided he wanted to share his rides and experience with anyone wanting a guided tour of… In the words of another famous Kiwi, Russell Crowe… “God's own Country”.

*(since our April 2023 tour, UAMNZ has become a KTM authorised partner, news is that future tour dates in 2024, will include some with Chris Birch riding sweep)

Here, I agree with Russ. New Zealand is simply a magnificent country. So I have put a Top 10 list together. But put it on your bucket list for sure…



The Top 10 Reasons every Aussie ADV Rider should visit and ride in NZ

  1. It’s EPIC… The Scenery, the Vistas, the Vibe! It’s like they rolled the best bits of a handful of really great countries into one tiny but mighty package and called it New Zealand, and made it just close enough for Aussies to come and explore without being a pain in the proverbial.
  2. Everyone speaks Australian (well sort of)… “Fush and Chups Bro!”
  3. The flight over (from Sydney) is only 3 hours, so no jet lag. You won’t even have time to get off the plane plastered.
  4. In two words… “Possum-Merino” (everyone deserves a pair of possum/merino wool gloves and socks). My new favourite glove liners.
  5. Free medical! Yup, if you get hurt or injured in NZ, you get looked after just like at home, and you don’t even need your Medicare card.
  6. The people are super friendly. I was amazed at how often strangers just came up, smiled and asked about our ride. And they love to take the piss, just like an Aussie.
  7. The scenery. Did I say it is EPIC!!! Oh Yeah ;-)
  8. The roads. I am so used to shitty pot-holed roads around home, so when riding in NZ, It was a pleasure to ride the twisties (when not riding the dirt) and not be fearful of being swallowed up by a crater. Kiwi roads are so well maintained.
  9. It is clean. I saw no litter, rubbish, or cigarette butts anywhere on this ride. It just feels clean and fresh. Just like in the postcards!
  10. It’s easy. You can ship a bike, or rent one in Auckland or in Christchurch, or take a tour with a bike included. For once the Aussie dollar is working for you, while everywhere else in the world your dollar loses value.


Riders – “The Crew”

It was an All Aussie ride apart from the New Zealand crew of two.

With Steve G and his long time mate Brad Stark, the tour consisted of an all Aussie contingent. We had Dave from Qld, myself, Jen and Bill from Sydney and a group of six riders coming over from Victoria. This group had some pretty seasoned riders amongst them, including ex enduro racers and even an old Australian Safari rider. The smallest bike on the ride went to wee Emma, she chose a KTM 390 and our Jen was on a KTM 690. Most of the rest of the group were on either KTM 890’s and a couple of Tenere 700’s except for young Harry who chose the comfort of a BMW F850GS. I reckon if he had had a crystal ball, young Harry would have chosen a smaller bike to tackle this ride.


So let’s ride New Zealand, on an EPIC South Island Passes ride with Ultimate Adventure Moto NZ.

Prior to the ride, Jen, Bill and I had flown in a day early. We hired a small car and took in the sights around Christchurch. It is a nice city and you can still see some damage left over from the 2011 earthquakes, but worth a day or two to relax and take in the sights, either before or after your tour for sure.


Day 1: After a quick meeting with the all Aussie contingent taking the tour with UAMNZ, we loaded the bikes with our gear and sat in for a quick briefing on the ride by Steve and Brad. Every bike was equipped with a Garmin Zumo XT GPS. The route was loaded onto the GPS for each day, including any specials or cut outs. We were warned it would likely be cool and at times a little wet for the ride. Little did we realize that in Kiwi-speak, this meant we would be farking freezing, and mostly drenched throughout the ride. From previous experience, I was already prepared with my Possum-Merino wool glove liners and my KLIM Badlands suit, so I was ready to ride.

Leaving Christchurch behind, within a few kilometres we were on the gravel and following the Waimakariri River, following the river North up towards Highway 73 and Arthurs Pass. We experienced our first serious water crossing within hours of leaving the workshop, with most of the group either paddling or up on the pegs and riding by feel through the murky water. The 40 ft stretch of knee deep water claimed one of the 690’s (No, not Jen), but Steve and Brad quickly had the KTM de-watered and back on the trail. We followed the river for an hour or two before regrouping under the Upper Waimakariri Bridge. We then hit the blacktop of Highway 73 heading West towards Arthurs Pass, a quick detour back on the dirt around Lake Lyndon, and back on the Highway before Castle Hill Rocks. Castle Hill Rocks is a unique rock formation that has become a landmark, and we gave it a nod as we headed up to Arthur's Pass Village for fuel and lunch before heading over the pass and heading towards Hokitika and glacier country. This is where we would find the rugged and spectacular West Coast of the South Island (It’s like stepping into another world).

Because we had two KTM 690’s on the tour, the guys from UAMNZ had arranged the ride to manage the shorter fuel range of these more dirt orientated dual-sport bikes. After crossing Arthurs Pass and stopping for lunch in the village. I struck up a conversation with David, a rider from Queensland, who was scouting a Belfast Jacket and riding in Jeans. I could tell he was already cold and he asked me about the gear I was wearing. Everyone knows I ride in KLIM. It is waterproof and sports the D30 Level two armour. I was surprised that David had knee guards over his jeans, but he was not waterproof or even windproof for that matter.

It was after lunch where disaster struck. Twenty or so kilometres before hitting the coast, we found ourselves on Old Christchurch Road, a gravel route that took a more direct route Southwards towards the township of Hokitika. David and the group hit the gravel on Old Christchurch Road and within a few kilometres there were some hard left handers and four wheeled traffic coming the other way. A massive black Dual Cab Chevy Silverado cut the corner on one of the sweepers and collected Dave on the exit. He speared off into the bank and the bike busted its radiator open and I think I may have seen a frame bend. In Australia you can kiss the bike goodbye when it takes a hit like that. But Steve G had no thoughts about the bike. He was all about the rider. In typical stoic Aussie style, Dave thought he could ride out. Apart from the obvious need for stitches to a nasty cut, and his knee starting to blow up like a balloon.

We rearranged his gear, stashed his 790 in the bushes, and I doubled him out onto the road and Steve G and I rode Dave up to Greymouth, the opposite direction to Hokitika and Franz Josef, where the group was hanging up their keys for the night. Steve G and I managed to get Dave to the hospital, arranged a Motel for him near the hospital, organised the local police to visit the scene of the accident and a flatbed tow truck to pick up the bike, all before it got dark. Then we chased down the group and caught them warm and cosy by the fire at our pitstop for the night.



Day 2: We woke up in the town of Franz Josef before the sun could even attempt to part the grey mist hanging over glacier country. It is not called the “Rugged West Coast” for nothing. It sort of reminded me of a scene out of Jurassic Park. It was a road day… but still as it turned out, still awesome… and there is simply no other way to cross over Mount Cook National Park without snow shoes and crampons. We rode around 150 kms South along the coast towards the village of Haast, before turning East and following the Haast River along State Hwy 6. Stopping for coffee and donuts along the way, I noticed the group was really coming together, with a laugh, a bit of piss taking, and taking off a few early morning layers. We had been riding in single digits as far as temperatures go and the rain was intermittent, but we were finding our groove.

Haast to Wanaka is another 150kms or so as we headed up over the Otago ranges stopping in at the majestic Thunder Creek Falls, and the Haast Pass lookout, to take in the utter majesty of the South Island. When you come over the highway pass, after riding through dense native bush, you can’t help but take a moment to take in the stunning Southern lakes before riding into Wanaka. As such, Bill and I stopped when we hit Lake Wanaka for a photo op and we lost the group. However we then spent the next half our laughing into our helmets as we swept the route along Lake Hawea, playing catch up. As we rode into the township at the end of the lake we found the group fuelling up, and rode collectively into the beautiful lakeside village of Wanaka for lunch.

Wanaka is one of my favourite towns in the South Island. Less of a tourist mecca than Queenstown, sitting on the edge of Lake Wanaka at its Southern shore, and with views up the lake towards the Treble Cone Ski area. On a good clear day you can see Mount Aspiring (the Matterhorn of the South, as it is colloquially known) where in my youth I spent many a day with ice axe in hand climbing frozen waterfalls and summiting. Now I get my thrills riding through the mountains, rather than climbing them.

After a casual lunch in Wanaka with the sun peeking out and glimmering off the lake, the group headed up over the Cardrona, enjoying the twisty Crown Range Road and stopping at the famous Cardrona Hotel, one of NZ’s oldest pubs and rumoured to be the most photographed building in New Zealand. We continued South stopping for views at the Crown Range Summit, which were ‘Lord of the Rings' inspiringly beautiful. Yes, New Zealand has Switzerland covered too. It was here we were offered a loop ride out through Arrowtown and up to Skippers canyon. I am taken immediately back to the now famous MAD-TV YouTube clips of Chris Birch dancing with a KTM 1190 and making it look all too easy (Ahhh New Zealand). The group split with some heading directly to the digs at Queenstown, while most headed up a twisting, steep, single lane gravel road, aptly crossing the Devils Creek Track, behind the Coronet Peak, to the now defunct gold mining town.

It was Queenstown for dinner, beer and more benchtop racing and adventures amongst the crew. I quickly realised that apart from Myself, Jen and Bill, this lot ride together on a regular basis. However, they allowed us to fit in nicely and we felt at home with the gang. I find this to be the norm amongst ADV riders. All are welcome and no one leaves as a stranger after any ride.



Day 3: After our regular pre-start briefing from Steve and Brad we were excited to finally be heading over the Nevis Pass. We continued South out of Queenstown following the Southern Shores of Lake Wakatipu towards the Devils Staircase, past Kingston. The last time I was riding in this area, on the opposite side of the lake in real mountain goat country, I was riding with Clubby and some of his mates. I broke my ankle (YES I was wearing proper bloody boots) and my ride was cut short. This time around I was feeling good though, I was riding with my wife and bunch of new friends, and my Tenere 700 was behaving exactly as she should. We turned onto the Nevis Track, climbing into the clouds onwards and upwards crossing the pass at 1154m before descending into the Valley. I have ridden the Nevis Valley a couple of times. The views are usually spectacular, but today we could barely see the track yet alone the rider out front. It wasn’t until we descended into the valley to find the river to follow that we were below the cloud cover and could see the valley rolling out in front of us.

The Nevis Rd, follows the valley bordering the Remarkables and is in an area immersed in Otago gold mining history. Officially the area known as Northern Southland, which to my mind is a bit of an oxymoron. The Southland wraps around the Otago region at this point, but these are just lines on a map really, and once across the pass, the ride followed the valley North, crossing rivers and flooded roads, up to Ben Nevis Station, where an old hand offered us a cup of tea and some warmth by his fire for a few minutes as we gathered our resolve.

We left the Station in high spirits and were soon back in the clouds as we headed up over Duffers Saddle and came out on Hwy 8 at Clyde, halfway between Alexandra and Cromwell. Even though our ride finished at Alexandria, the team headed North to Cromwell for lunch and some warmth. Pretty much everyone was either cold or wet, or both.

Following Lake Dunstan, we were looking for a 4x4 track that would take the group up over the Dunstan Mountains, and Thomson Gorge. Well this proved to be the slipperiest red clay road I have ridden in a long time. After the ride, Steve confessed that in the twenty odd times, running this tour and riding this particular track, “It was the greasiest I have ever seen it!” So with the T7 going sideways up to the pass, literally at times with the front wheel in the left wheel track and the back wheel keeping right, I made it with the rest of the group across the Dunstans’. At one point a giant white stag crossed one of the riders paths high on the range, the rider was at a gate and the stag just casually looked him over before disappearing back into the mist. We headed back towards Alexandra for the night. Never have I been so happy to find a warm motel room and to find a hot shower after a long days ride.



Day 4: On the morning of day four, the group looked West to the veiled ridgeline of the Old Man Range where we would have found the “Obelisk”, or in Maori “Kopuwai”. However, from the car park of our warm digs in Alexandria, our ride leader made the executive decision that we would not attempt Symes Rd to take in the Obelisk. The view from the high pass was supposed to be spectacular, but riding inside the clouds so early would be pointless, cold, and tempting fate. Little did we know that the time we were saving would soon be swallowed up by the rigours of Adventure and mechanical woes.

So we headed South out of Alexandria and followed the Clutha River along Craigs Flat Rd. The 30km Millennium trail also follows the Clutha. This mountain bike trail forms part of the 3000kms of cycle paths that allow you to cycle the entire North and South Island of New Zealand. Now that would be an adventure for sure! We rode into Lawrence for morning tea, taking in trails and dirt backroads. It really didn’t matter whether we were on blacktop, gravel, or mountain trail, the riding was sweet and the scenery was, well, do I need to say it… EPIC!

The group then swung back North heading up to Lake Mahinerangi, It was here that Pete, riding the only other T7 in the group, needed help. Pete promised Steve G that he really was behaving, however I can neither confirm or deny that his T7 was being pushed very hard and had spent a lot of time on its back wheel during the last four days. He and Steve split from the group and headed for Dunedin to see if they could find a radiator repairer or a replacement for the overheating bike. With Bad Brad now in the lead, the pace was on. We followed Black Rock Rd, flew through Clarks Junction, followed the old Dunstan trail, dewatered a couple of drowned bikes, including young Harry’s BMW 850. We bordered the Loganburn Reservoir and were blown away at every crest and rise by the majesty of the countryside, the “Te-Waipounamu”, or the South Island of NZ for the Tourists. This area is known as the Paerau, which in Maori means 100 hidden ridges. So riding the bucking and weaving trail was an absolute hoot until we came back to the flatlands of Patearoa and on to Ranfurly for lunch.

From Ranfurly, we rode out towards Dansey’s Pass via the Kyburn diggings. Arriving at the start of the gravel road taking us up over the pass, there was a council sign signalling that the pass was closed to traffic. This would mean at least a two hour detour and lots of blacktop to get us to the evening's destination. As we sat at the base of Dansey’s Pass road, a vehicle came down the road and in typical laid back Kiwi logic, the driver said… “You’ll be right. You’re on bikes, it’s a bit wet but at least you can stop at the pub for a beer!” So we collectively made the decision to head up to the famous Hotel and stop for a beer before braving the closed road. Again at the pub we were told we should be fine and with a shrug of his shoulders and a wink, the barman gave is unofficial approval for our group to proceed.

Sweeping gravel corners, slick muddy and rutted track had every rider on their pegs as we rode over the pass and into Canterbury, leaving Otago. We finally found the blacktop and followed the Waitaki river and the shores of lake Aviemore to Omarama, our lodgings for the night. It was late, we were cold, but a change of clothes and a hot meal across the road at the ale house made everything alright. By eight o’clock we heard a couple of bikes rumble in, and found Steve G and Pete back from Dunedin with a repaired radiator on Pete’s T7.



Day 5: Our last ride day would not be a disappointment. It would be a big day and Steve informed us that he had permission to cross through the Black Forest Station, run by the Innes family, who have been sheep farming on the station for four generations. The Black Forest Station is known for the super fine Merino wool it supplies to the famous Ice Breaker brand. We would ride around lake Benmore, and above the hydro station, through the locked gates into Black Forest Station. Stunning scenery and twisting gravel roads, well maintained by the farm. As you come over the station pass, you get the vista of lake Pukaki in the distance which acts like a giant runway to the majesty of Mount Cooke, New Zealand’s highest mountain.

The group was elated when we all reached Haldon Arm Campground. It was here that Steve and Brad gave the group the opportunity to take the easy route or the harder route, over the Tekapu River iron bridge, and follow the Pukaki River along the infamous “Baby-Head" road. I could hear Brad telling one of the group, “We’ve only lost a couple of riders on baby head road, otherwise it’s usually a piece of piss!” All the group chose to ride together. Well!

A few kilometres in, It was here we experience the first of three flat tyres on the entire tour. It was on-pegs action along teeth jarring river stones ranging in size from golf balls to rocks the shape and size of a new born baby’s head. The three foot wide iron bridge had no railing and it was 15 to 20 meters long with a 3m drop into the running waters of the Tekapo river. The group slowly drifted apart as the faster riders forged ahead and the slower riders made their way through their own personal hell. But even fast riders get unstuck. Another two flats held riders back as riders leap frogged around each other before gathering at the bae of the lake Pukaki hydro gates and NZ Hwy 8. Because we had lost so much time with repairs, it was a group decision to miss out on the Te Araroa trail that skirts the lake, joining Tekapo Canal road, and back onto Hwy 8. We snuck up the blacktop for a quick lunch in Tekapo. It was still raining and we all new we had over 200kms on the blacktop to get back to Christchurch before nightfall. We chose the inland scenic route, stopping for fuel and snacks before making the offices of Ultimate Adventure Moto NZ just on dusk.



I have done dozens of tours, organised rides, including BMW Safaris and Tenere Tragics’. Each Adventure ride is special for their own reasons. I can say however, as Aussies, we are lucky to have some of the best ADV in the world, at our doorstep. However, the thrill of riding in someone else’s backyard is the dream of many. If you are unsure, want to dip your toe in the water. New Zealand is just across the pond. Every single rider on this tour wants to, and plans to, go back and ride more of NZ. Same language (almost), same road rules (kind of), same sense of humour and comradery. In NZ they say KIA ORA and we say G’DAY. It means the same thing… Usually with a smile!

You can take a look at the South Island Passes Ride on the Ultimate Adventure Moto NZ website.

Adventure Moto Australia will be teaming up with Steve Gillies for one five day passes ride and one ten day South Island Back Country Adventure Tour in the late 2023 and early 2024 season. Stay tuned for more details.

Cheers – Steve “Wolfy” Smith


The Group…

  • Steve Gillies – UAMNZ – Tour leader on a KTM 790. Steve is an air traffic controller and one cool dude. He IS the man you want on your ride. Steady as a rock.
  • Brad Stark – UAMNZ – Sweep on a KTM 890. Brad races X-Enduro and spent most of his spare time on the back wheel, just to save on rubber.
  • Damo M – KTM 890 – Enduro rider turned ADV rider. Usually rides a Husky 501 and 701 at home. Ordered a KTM 890 after his NZ experience. Adventure for Damo is simply great helmet time and a shared experience with his mates.
  • Andrew H – KTM 890 – Ex Enduro racer. Usually rides a KTM 690 and Husky 501, as well as a KTM1290 in OZ. Now seriously thinking about a KTM 890 to add to the stable. Loved NZ because the mountains meet the coast. He is mostly riding ADV with the mates he used to race with, so is still knocking handlebars.
  • Peter W – Tenere 700 – Raced the Australian Safari back in the day, as well as an ex road racer. Peter now loves the support and comradery he finds in ADV. Has a bunch of serious bikes including a Mark Halewood Ducati replica, but loves his KTM 950SE and KTM 690. He rates this NZ experience as 11/10.
  • Andrew S (Husband of Emma S and father of Harry S – who says ADV is not a family experience?) Andrew chose to ride a KTM 690 for his NZ experience because this is what he has set up at home. In hindsight, he would have preferred a bigger bike with a little more protection. Did I say it was wet? Andrew also ordered a KTM 890 for his new ADV bike back home, after being slightly jealous for five days watching his mates tear up the South Island on the big mid-sized orange twins.
  • Emma S – KTM 390. These guys even imported a lowering link so Emma could flat foot it on the 390. Jen and Emma were the first female riders to complete the NZ South Island Passes Tour with Steve G and his crew.
  • Harry S – BMW 850GS. This was almost too much bike for this ride. Not so much due to the terrain but due to the weather. Steve G said it was the slipperiest conditions he had ever ridden this tour in. Five days of slick he called it. So Harry was a champion to cruise through on the GS. Certainly he loved the bike on the road sections in-between the gravel, water crossings, and mud.
  • Bill Cagnacci – KTM 890. Bill usually rides a Tenere 700 and a BMW GS back home. He enjoyed the KTM for NZ. Bill used to race MX and has been riding since 1968. This made him the grandfather of the ride. Having ridden extensively throughout Europe and the UK, he reckons NZ has it in spades. Bill was indirectly the reason Jen and I joined this ride, for that we have punished him by giving him a home at Adventure Moto in Sydney. Say HI! When you drop into the shop. His experience is one of the reasons we have given him a job.
  • David H – David was only with us the first day. He was on a KTM 790. Unfortunately he was taken out of the ride and to Greymouth Hospital by a massive Chevy Dual Cab. But the cool headed crew of UAMNZ had things sorted in no time and the tour continued.
  • Jen Smith – KTM 690. Mrs Adventure Moto Australia usually rides her trusty Yamaha WR250R on everything from technical to open twin track and multi-day ADV rides back home. The KTM 690 was a step up in every sense of the meaning, but mostly in power and height ;-)) Jen handled it like a trooper and mostly just had trouble with the side stand on the Kato. She also found the 690 a little too exposed for the weather conditions and on the last day she rode the Tenere 700 back into Christchurch and now has new plans for a new Adventure bike back in Australia.
  • Stephen Smith – Tenere 700. This is the same bike as one of my trusted steeds back in OZ. I also ride a BMW R1250GS. I was certainly happy to be on a mid-sized ADV bike for this particular ride. Mostly because some of the greasy high country passes had me sideways more than once. I have never gotten over dropping my bike in front of Chris Birch on one of his training days, so I have pulled my horns in of late and the handlebars never touched the ground in NZ. Phew!



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