New Zealand truly is a paradise for motorcycle riders. I recently rode the north island and it was superb.
(Update 2018. Images refreshed. Solid improvement to the camera images, modest to the iPhone 4 images as not much to work with)
I rented a motorcycle for this trip from Auckland Motorbike Hire who are based in a small seaside village of Maraetai out of Auckland. The owner Randall can arrange transfer from the airport and there are a couple of homestay B&B accommodations nearby. The beauty of this starting point is not having to go into the city, but the down side is nothing was open for dinner and I did not like staying in someone’s house.
Fortunately I could get breakfast and good coffee early next day. As with my south island ride I used the Hema New Zealand motorcycle atlas to plan my route and plotted the GPS route in Ride with GPS. For this tour I rented a Suzuki 1250 Bandit. Above is my ride and the beautiful water views that greeted me on embarking. Day one I rode a loop around the Coromandel and my route was then south to Rotorua. I had a look around the historic town of Thames then rode some lovely curves following the ocean to the town of Coromandel for lunch. I have developed a couple of rules when motorcycle touring to help make things go easier. One of my rules goes something like this – if I see petrol or food a little sooner than needed then stop because won’t be something to find later. Easier said than done as tempting to push on. Leaving Coromandel (above) I was told by the locals the ride south to Tauranga was not as good but I think they are spoilt with fabulous riding roads as it was still great. By the time I got to Rotorua I realised the seat on the Suzuki was brutal. Apart from that the bike was excellent, the stand out feature being the engine which was superb. I was leaving it in top gear all the time as it has mountains of torque. The seat however was truly unbearable so I roamed around a discount variety warehouse and decided to fabricate a cushion pad from a exercise mat. I cut the mat up and used two elastic straps to hold to layers together. When I toured the south island I commented that I found the menus a bit limited but Rotorua had a diverse range of dining options. Day two my route was to ride around the coast to Gisborne. Away from Rotorua early for a big days riding the road is a few metres away from the shore of a series of beautiful lakes. The locals again downplayed half of the route but for me it was all amazing. The traffic thins out then disappears to leave you on the road alone. Beautiful coastal vistas with small communities consisting of a few houses. Children stop and wave, a guy outside the local general store waves to me as I pass by, I felt like I had stepped back in time, in a nice way. I did not stop much in the morning, the road was very nice riding and I was comfortable with my new padded seat and so I just enjoyed it. I had a sandwich at a small general store and after lunch I started one of the most incredible rides I have ever done. From the top of the cape to Gisborne offers most every type of curve and scenery you could imagine. It even throws in an active volcano off the coast. That’s just a fraction of the amazing scenery, it was mid afternoon when I descended from the mountain range above and was looking to get fuel at Tikitiki only to find there was none. So I rode on then saw a sign for Ruatoria with the fuel symbol so decided to apply my before mentioned rule and take a detour to top up rather than test if there is any fuel between there and Gisbourne. I arrived in Ruatoria and found a fuel bowser behind the food store and filled up on low octane. The young guy loved bikes and was excited to have me visit and chatted about where I had been and was going. He told me his dream was to save enough money to get a road bike as he currently only rides his dad’s farm bike. I decided to take a break and walk about the small village and got an ice cream cone from the other shop open in town which was an old fashioned ‘milk bar’. I asked for a single but the woman seemed delighted I chose passionfruit flavour which did not seem popular and loaded my cone up with four scoops! I tried but could not eat it all however just sat in the shade under a tree and relaxed. The road was quiet for awhile then a woman drove up and stopped in middle of road looking at me like I was from Mars and then waved so I waved back and then she gave me a huge smile and drove off. What a beautiful moment. Some of the local flora leaving Ruatoria was glittered silver in the afternoon sun. Arriving at Tokomaru bay I found many deserted buildings and took this arty image with my phone and afternoon sun. The road then returned to hug the coast and offer many scenic views of totally empty beaches. An unbelievable day of riding. Day three I was riding out of the motel and things felt odd. Stopped in driveway and saw the rear tyre was low in air. I decided since the tyre was not totally deflated to ride into town. Just crept in at about 15kph on side of road and pumped the tyre up and tried to find anything sticking out or hear any air leaking but could not find either. I purchased a can of that tyre inflation stuff and I also had my own puncture repair kit and compressed air with me so just decided to see how I go. My route was to Taumaarunui via a couple of nice roads. The country has been in a drought and the normally green land was a straw yellow and brown. Every night the tv news talked about water restrictions and messages that rain might come soon. I was hopeful that it would not be too soon but I was outnumbered by the rain dancing locals. However the ride south from Gisborne was dry and through some lovely hill country. At Wairoa I chatted to some other bikers over breakfast and then checked the tyre and it was already half down so I decided to pump it up then ride on to Napier and see if anything was open for puncture repair. More fantastic riding but nothing open in Napier for tyres so I deflated the tyre and filled it with the tyre inflation/repair foam and as instructed rode around town slowly and was going to get some photos of the art deco area but it started to rain. The bikers I had met at breakfast I met again when inflating my tyre and they told me the road I was going to take to Lake Taupo was a bit boring and they were taking a isolated type route west from Hastings that was twisty. I considered it but was not sure if the tyre would hold so wanted to stay on more main roads. As it turned out my route was still fabulous. Excellent sweepers only a New Zealand rider could say it was boring. I rode out of the rain at Napier and into the occasional light shower but was happy that the tyre was staying up. I had to stop and put my liner back in the jacket as it was very cold near Rangitaiki. The sky was ominously dark and the lights were on in the car park of the solitary shop. More rain ahead. At Turangi I had a brain fade. My route was via Tongariro national park as I had wanted to see the volcano but it was raining. Still I continued on my original route. The rain returned heavier and my WP10 ‘water proof’ Alpinestars jacket proved to not so waterproof. Also my Held four season ‘water proof’ gloves got waterlogged. About now I was thinking why did I not short cut to my final destination but said to myself ‘well I am wet now already so it cannot get any worse’ then looked at my fuel gauge and noticed the LCD bar read out had gone to reserve. The fuel gauge on the Suzuki has four bars. Now it is standard to go 4 to 1 then flash when on reserve right – on the Suzuki it goes from two bars to reserve. One bar is the reserve. This nearly caught me out. In the middle of a national park with no cars in the rain soaking wet – and on reserve, I pull into a forest park ranger office to ask but it is closed. I keep riding trying to feather the throttle and thinking what to do when the inevitable happens and then coming up to a road junction in the gloom I make out the familiar shape of a petrol station and then the welcome sign that the lights are on and it is open. Wow that was luck. Day four my route was to be a loop south but I ran into rain that soon turned heavy and so I turned around. I decided to retrace part towards the coast the big Suzuki suits sweeping bends so I rode part of that again today. Hello Mr Blue Sky, nice to find you here. Day five and seems wet all around me. I try riding to the west from Turangi but run into heavy rain so from the same high vantage point as yesterday I see the western side of the lake is totally wet so no option but to ride the now familiar eastern side to Taupo.From Taupo it is very heavy rain on my route north east so decide ride around it and then keep making my way north based on where I can see clear sky. What I least expected is the roads are all still excellent riding despite not being recommended anywhere. I start to wonder are there any roads that are not good riding in New Zealand. Not going in that direction. Starting to look better. I managed to rejoin my planned route from Tirau where I had an nice early lunch at a coffee roasting house/cafe which was run by a chap from Germany. This road from Tirau to Tauranga was like Burringbah range in NSW Australia but 5 times as long. Wonderful. The riding continued to be great, particularly coming over a range Waihi to Paeroa which was a superb piece of road and I should have stopped to take some pics but there was light rain but eventually a dry ride for last bit of road back to Maraetai. Once again New Zealand has stunned me with how good it is even if the rain tried to spoil things.