Sunday, September 9, 2007

Touring New Zealand with a report from a client's perspective

Peter Williams, a guest who has toured New Zealand with us twice previously saw our blog recently and asked if he could make a posting to it. I've pasted it in below unedited. Thanks Peter! ,

First, let me praise organized tours in general. I've been on 7 so far and each one has been better than the previous (The last two were with John and Ian).

Tour operators know the best roads in an area. I took a tour through Vermont, an area that I had ridden in before, and found roads, restaurants, and places to stay I would have never found on my own.

As important as the riding are your fellow riders. I'm getting close to a hundred fellow tour riders and I can truly say that the WORST person on any of the tours was OK to be with. The vast majority would end up in the excellent category with a some in the great area and a special few above excellent.

I say be and not ride because all the tours I have taken let you ride your own way. This is a VERY important point in selecting a tour company. If the tour requires everyone to ride together then neither the person who wants to stop at every flower and boutique along the road and the person who wants to put in 400 miles (I think that's 6,243 kilometers) will be happy. Everybody should ride their own ride. Some days I would ride with a group that stopped for the flowers, some days I found somebody that wanted to ride from 9 to 5 without stopping, some days I rode by myself. However we got from point A to point B we always all had a great time when we got there.

Now that I have you ready to take a tour lets talk about the blog hosts.

I have taken two tours with GoTourNZ. In Dec. of 2005 I was on a three week Best of the Best tour. We spent one week on the north island and two weeks on the south island. In Mar 2006 I did the Fun and Funkey. If you go on the Dec 2007 Best of the Best we could ride together cause I am going back for a third tour.

A few weeks before the tour starts you get your package in the mail. This consists of a map book of New Zealand and your tour itinerary. Now you can spend some time on the web and take the first run through of your tour. Not all tour companies get you the itinerary before the trip but I have a great time looking up the places we will be staying on the web. It's almost like taking the tour before you get there.

Pack your gear up and head to the start of your tour. It starts at the airport when they pick you up and take you to your room. I've only done a Best of the Best and Fun and Funky so I can only talk about rooms on them. The Best of the Best went to some truly incredible places. I would have to say that the worst room on that tour was good and that room was probably one of the best in the area. The Fun and Funky tour stayed in some, in a different way, incredible places. Each night we stayed in a memorable place. Some were high end, the convent turned into a B&B comes to mind, and some are are just strange, the " Formerly the Blackball Hilton" comes to mind. I can sit here now and remember each place I stayed in the 5 weeks I have been on tour with John and Ian.
John and Ian would get everyone together for dinner the night before the tour for dinner. While this was not part of the tour, and you did have to pay for it, John did go out of his way to get all of us together to start the tour off right. This might be a good spot to explain what's included, what's extra cost, and what's New Zealand hospitality.
Look at the tour description. You get breakfast every day. Most days you get dinner. You are on your own for lunch and some dinners, (*** Note from John Fitzwater - from Oct 2007 we've decided to do away with the 2 - 3 "free" nights" as client feedback has been that they are unnecessary, and they would prefer to dine with the rest of the group every night). Well, the on your own part is not completely true. At the meeting for just about every days ride John or Ian would make several recommendations about lunch. Both the "here's a good place" and the rare "you probably want to ride past this place". You could also say, "I feel like lunch at a winery today", and a suggestion for a good one would be there. Other nights that were "on your own" John would, at our request, handle dinner. He picked the place, made the reservations, and handled the bill. Admittedly, at the end of the tour he did break the bill up and you had to pay. But, at no point on the tour, even when I was supposed to be on my own, was I on my own. Whatever you needed, a jet boat ride with the entire tour group, a bungy jump, whatever and whenever you had someone to help.
Let's look at a days ride. Breakfast at the B&B and a talk about what the ride for the day was going to be. This would include route options. After the first few days John almost always told me about some hundred mile detour to ride on roads even better than the excellent ones that went from point A to B. Another group of riders was always told of some lovely place to stop for lunch. Although I don't think he ever understood it he would tell me places to get a meat pie. When you go let the tour leader know how you want to ride and you will get suggestions about a ride for you. So, every ones ride becomes their own. I remember one day leaving a little early and taking a nice road up and back down a mountain I passed a winery as another part of our group was going in for lunch so I joined them for a wonderful lunch, even though there were no meat pies, and spent a lovely afternoon on a slow paced ride for the afternoon.
One reason people have for not going on a tour is a feeling that I can't ride that far or I can't ride well enough to ride those roads. Unless you fall over in your driveway on a regular basis that's probably not true. If you ride at a reasonable speed I don't think there were any roads that a reasonable rider would have any problems with. As for the too far thing I remember a few people who, in the morning, had some worries. However at dinner I always heard what a wonderful ride it was. I also heard the ride was too short and NEVER too long. At the other end of things you could always get on the road by 8AM, ride all day, stopping 20 minutes for a meat pie, and arrive at 6PM. It was always a matter of what do you want to do today?
Lets look at where we stayed. I had a room that had a view of the sunrise over the mountains with a view of the ocean out the side. I stayed in a restored mansion from the early settlement days of the island. I looked out over the sun setting into the ocean. I spent hours talking with the owners of a former convent about how they had moved it and turned it into a B&B. To make fluffy scrambled eggs in the morning one place separated the whites, whipped them to a froth, and folded the yokes in. I have never had eggs like that. Words can not describe the Not the Blackball Hilton.
How about the food you say? To die for. A great variety. Great food in an informal setting describes just about every place I had dinner. Some nights we would be in a nice restaurant. You got the menu and picked what you want. Anything and all you wanted. John, who had the "problem" of eating out every night during the season had a great idea. He quite often would get a pair of appetizers. One with the rest of us and one while the rest of us had our mains (ask him about entrees in the states). Do you like wine? It was always there. Do you know about wine? Talk to John about it. As we rode about the country many nights the wine was selected because we were in a great region for it and the winery was just down the road. I'm no expert so I just enjoyed it. Some people knew a fair bit about wine and always said it was wonderful. Some evenings we ate at the B&B. These meals were always special. Lamb shanks on the patio as the sun set. A meal in a restored mansion by our hosts dressed in period costumes. A meal in the lobby of a theater that had couches for seats.
My feelings about a tour with Go Tour NZ can best be summed up by "I've just booked my third tour". Another way for you to look at is that I wrote this with just the promise of a beer. There are plenty of times and places where you get miserable service or things go wrong and nobody seems to care and you write the nasty letter. I do that. I also try to take time when some company does well to say thank you. During all my experiences with Go Tour NZ I have always felt that they tried harder than they had to. They have gone out of their way to make me feel comfortable.
Before I finish I have one more plug. The people of New Zealand. They are wonderful. I hope in my next life to come back as a New Zealander. Every one I have met has been pleasant. They take wonderful care of their country. Thank you.
Peter Williams
PS: I'm a real person and I have truly enjoyed my trips to New Zealand. If you have questions about the tours talk to John or Ian. If you have questions you are afraid of asking John or Ian drop me an email at:

I hope to see you in December

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