IN MY recent all-too-brief acquaintance, 48 hours to be exact, with Auckland in New Zealand, I went to the top of the 328m-high Sky Tower, drove a four-wheel motorbike through the Woodhill Forest, sailed on a Pride of Auckland boat, watched a hilarious Kiwi play, wined and dined on the country's best places and lost a few dollars at the SkyCity casino.
But if there is just one thing I could do all over again, it has to be the four-wheel motorbike safari.
At first glance, the bikes looked like mini-tractors. Comfortingly sturdy, those huge wheels looked like they could support just about anything. Our guide, Jade, took us through the basics: We had to drive in single file, keep about five bike lengths behind the rider just ahead, try and signal to the one behind if we were confident enough to take our hand off the handle, and not wander off on our own, because it was very easy to get lost in 14,570ha of forest.
Driving the bike seemed easy. Things began to get tough when I set off on a trial spin around the practice track. Clad in protective gear, helmet and goggles, I felt like I was going to walk on the moon. The bike was heavy, and keeping the handle straight was a tussle. Then, I had to remember to keep changing gears, negotiate the narrow mud track and be sure to keep my distance from the bike ahead.
Before we knew it, Jade decided we were ready to set off on the three-hour safari.
While it did take a while to figure out when to go from second gear to the third, I quickly got the hang of it and was soon chugging along merrily, enjoying myself!
Then, Jade signalled me to stop. He said he was going to check that the route ahead was clear. After disappearing for a few moments, he was back. After a few words of advice, "Stay in first gear and use both front and back brakes", he waved me on, and I was looking at a 90-degree drop in the track.
I gulped. "You want me to go down that?!" My heart was already at the bottom of the drop. Not wanting to look like a coward, I began to slide down as slowly as possible, and before I knew it, I was at the bottom.
A "Well done!" from Jade and the fact that I had made it down safely did wonders for my confidence.
I began to enjoy the sights: gnarled tree trunks, pine cones by the thousands littering the forest floor, and even a deer. The most awe-inspiring sight was when I roared up the sand dunes and caught sight of the wild Tasman Sea crashing on to the black sand of the Muriwai Beach.
At the end of the safari, during which we covered about 50km, my confidence level was so high, I felt I could even do the Sky Jump off the Sky Tower!
The safaris are run by 4 Track Adventures in Woodhill Forest, a 30-minute drive from Auckland. Website: www.4trackadventures.co.nz
The writer was a guest of Air New Zealand, which flies daily from Singapore to Auckland.
Note: This article was part of the Natas Travel 2006 Special published in The Straits Times on March 23, 2006. As a reference to the project's main lead, 'Travel is a numbers game', it's original headline in print was: '4-wheeling in Auckland's Woodhill Forest is an unforgettable event'.