My last visit to NZ was a bit wet so I set off to revisit one of the best places to ride a motorcycle.
I had a trip to visit family in Australia coming up which placed me just a few hours away and rather last minute I phoned New Zealand Motorcycle Rentals and asked what they had available for about 9 days late January. This was peak season but my window of time matched exactly when they had a new Yamaha MT-09 available.
I decided after some consideration to ride only the north island. I saw so little of it last ride and that way I need not rush. Getting to the rental shop was easy, a taxi ride across the harbour about 20 minutes from the city centre. It took awhile to get the bike but I was on the road by 10am and only had a short route the first day.
Traffic heading north to the beaches on a Saturday was grid lock once off the multi lane highway. Like travelling to the Gold Coast in Queensland Australia in the old days with cars banked up 10km. Fortunately on a bike you can get around all this one way or the other and having ridden in Philippines and Thailand I guess my methods of dealing with traffic have picked up some bad habits. Needless to say my wheels never stopped turning.
The coastal road riding north is very scenic indeed. Fine day 29 degrees while it was 4 in Tokyo. Beautiful green rolling hills. New bike and relaxed schedule. My spirit indeed did start to soar.
Things are very laid back and easy going in NZ. Much as Australians like to think this applies to us some portion of that relaxed and friendly nature has been lost over time. The drink above would be banned in Australia no doubt. When picking up the bike I was reminded I was responsible for the outcomes of my actions in New Zealand and was not able to sue anyone as the law says it is my own stupid fault if I mess up. Common sense at last.
I stopped at the Leigh fish and chips shop for lunch and listen to all the old surfers trying to sound ‘rad’ still haha.
Lovely ride north next to the ocean to The Bay of Islands. I stayed the night at Paihia. It was really hot come late afternoon, about 32 degrees so it was a relief to get out my riding gear. The temperatures leading up to my ride had been rather mild so I had not brought my full summer ride gear but rather my Alpinestars two piece goretex outfit minus liners which is ok up to high twenties but then starts to get uncomfortable.
Day one route. I detoured along the coast a little more as I left the highway earlier when my old 760 Garmin Nuvi GPS did not look like it was going to work for first couple of hours riding.
Day two I am going north then back down the west coast of the Twin Coast Discovery scenic drive. I was using my old New Zealand Motorcycle Atlas as a source of best roads for this tour. Now technically out of date but I doubt too much has changed. Like Australia, infrastructure is fairly stable.
First I soaked up more of the coastal views riding north to Doubtless bay where I found a bakery open for a light breakfast. So happy that New Zealand has a coffee culture like Australia and I was able to enjoy good espresso coffee every day.
This northern region is just gorgeous and very few cars. I wish I had scheduled another day in this area to explore further.
This was just the beginning of a wonderful day of riding. The shirt called it correctly today.
It’s just truly a beautiful place, the sort you immediately think about wanting to live at.
What a spot for a weekend shack!
Riding down the western side of the Twin Coast drive the road is full of undulations and sweeping bends, just my favourite type of riding. Alas I was having too much fun and forgot to take a photo but this type of road actually is not easy to capture until it opens up.
“You had me at atomic coffee”, turns out the food is good too. Day two lunch at Kohokoho.
After lunch the ferry to Ranene.
Arriving back at the ocean on the west coast the scenery at Omapere is superb.
Riding south through the Waipoua Kauri forest the road tightens and becomes an extended twisty forest ride that I enjoyed a lot on the MT-09 in the lower gears listening to the rasp of the 3 cylinder engine.
Probably the first time in a few years I rode with a bit of spirit as I usually dawdle along on the FJR armchair. I forgot how easy a motorcycle should change direction which again made me question owning the FJR. I also forgot to take any photos but that sort of road you cannot see further than the bend ahead so not really photogenic. A great day of sights and riding pleasure.
Day three I was heading down through Auckland and on back roads to Raglan. Another beautiful day, riding initially from Wellsford to Waimauku I enjoyed the rolling hills and stopped for a coffee and light breakfast at a cafe where a old guy passing started chatting to me and told me the history of the whole region and some other good rides. Very friendly folk.
Fuel is expensive in NZ. At a time when it is 109 in Australia and 110 in Japan in NZ unleaded was 175nz and premium up to 198nz a litre.
I was feeling sorry for the Kiwi’s but all the new cars on the road seemed to be large engines, 6 cylinder or V8’s so people are doing well it seems.
I wondered how difficult it might be riding through the capital city Auckland on my way south so I factored in extra time but actually it was so easy. I maybe referred to the GPS once but need not have and otherwise it was very well signposted and I flowed straight through the heart in short amount of time.
Once back off the highway the road to Raglan was simply superb rural riding.
And so on over every crest, a little bit of Tuscany just 3 hours east of Australia. Then the road in Raglan itself is twisty with endless corners. I was ready for a break when I got there. Very pretty seaside town but somehow I never captured it in a photo.
From here south there is some unsealed road to tackle. If the road is hard packed or has been graded recently or is otherwise free of loose stones then I can ride with ease. But when the road is dry loose gravel it can be challenging and I was skating around a lot today.
The motorcycle atlas quotes 10km of benign gravel. Not sure if there is another route I measured it at roughly 30km of gravel.
The reward on the other side is more superb riding.
Accommodation is expensive in New Zealand, especially compared to Japan where $40 gets a business hotel room with breakfast. In some towns basic motel rooms were 3 to 4 times that price without breakfast and wifi might be 100mb free or nothing.
Unfortunately I do not like camping but in an effort to keep within some sort of budget tonight I had chosen to stay in a cabin at a caravan/rv park since local basic motels were $180 and even a cabin was $75.
Arriving in the afternoon it was 31 degrees and the cabin metal cube was unbearably hot inside with no fan (and nothing is air conditioned in New Zealand?). I ended up going to Mcdonalds to leech their free wi-fi and chill in the only place in town with AC then to the pub till 9.00pm waiting for the sun to set to allow the cube to cool down.
I watched the video/dvd rental store close up at 7.00pm. Never knew they still existed.
Lots of names for toilets around the world. I think CR as used in Philippines works well, which stands for comfort room. In Otorohanga they have all the bases covered.
Day four and another fine looking morning, already warm by 8.00. I found a cafe open in town before leaving and riding further south. Today I am riding the Forgotten World highway. A road I had been interested in for a long time as it is always mentioned on the net.
Once on the forgotten world highway the traffic thinned out and more or less I had the road to myself. It is a nice country backroad with lumpy sort of terrain that I have seen in volcanic areas of the Philippines.
Then I hit the dirt. It wasn’t bad but not the best either with some sections all loose stones with no clear wheel track to put the bike into. Also unlike the near zero traffic road south of Raglan here had 4 wheel drives kicking up huge dust clouds. I was glad to get back on sealed road. And took a break with a few dozen fleecy friends to have a drink and wash down some of the dust.
I was looking forward to getting to Whangamomona, one of the many interesting places in NZ. In 1989 after new mapping changed the region the town was part of they responded by declaring themselves the Republic of Whangamomona no longer NZ.
In a real stroke of bad luck I arrived on a day when the pub was closed and the town was gathered for a wake/memorial service. But the ride was great. Perhaps not the best road in NZ as some suggested (and even I posted it as such on my 50 rides to do before you die article) however it was a terrific set of bends, with very low traffic for best part of 150km – what is not to like about that.
I spent the evening at Whanganui. Nice town and first one big enough to have some nice restaurants open.
Impressive view from top and impressive size some of those houses. Australians tend to think themselves better than New Zealand but from my travels I find a country that is beautiful, friendly and prosperous. Actually New Zealand is much closer to the image Australians like to project to the world than Australia is.
Day 5 I awoke to the sound of rain. The weather had been fine and hot every day so I had stopped looking at the forecast but I took a moment now and it was for rain and thunderstorms. The temperature had also plunged 10 degrees.
Setting off it was just light drizzle and really of no concern. The Michelin Pilot Road 4 tyres are a revelation for me in the wet. I half forgot I was on wet roads and could maintain a pace to make the riding enjoyable in what was more rolling hills and scenic valleys.
However all this soon came to an end as the rain shifted up a gear to become steady downpour so I pulled into a cafe to have a late breakfast and see if it would pass by. No luck it just got heavier.
I was committed to going to Napier tonight and specifically wanted to ride the Taihape Road which I had been told about last time when I was in Napier.
Today I was already inroute to this road so just continued hoping that perhaps the rain was localized. But no chance it got even heavier, at times torrential and I could feel my Alpinestars jacket start to leak water. To make matters more uncomfortable the air temperature had fallen further to 16 in the mountains so I was both cold and wet. Miserable is the word to sum it up. No more photos due to the conditions. Todays route.
Day six. It was still raining steady. This was a day I had marked to do a loop ride from Napier so I was able to just cancel that and sleep in and get some clothes dry. If you like art deco then you will enjoy Napier which has many buildings of this style although most were not easy to take photo of. Least the rain eased by evening.
Day seven, forecast is rain to the north. I had planned to ride to Gisbourne and the east cape area but the only place fine was south so I devised a new route to take me over some of yesterdays missed ride. The NZ motorcycle atlas calls the route from Napier to Wellington ‘10,000 twists and turns’ I was going to try for about 1/2 of that and see what I make of it.
This change of plans turned out to be one of the best days riding I have had in many a year. The term endless curves is overused but today these back roads just got better and better. I had just one camper van I came up behind and passed in 250km. It’s like you have the entire place to yourself.
Big smile as I rode out of the clouds to sunshine.
I made a comfort stop at the historic Wimbelton hotel and decided to have an early lunch as no idea if there was going to be anything coming up down the road for some time. Must be in a remote area when the locals cannot understand my Australian accent ha-ha.
I stopped just after this to adjust my ear plugs and farmer came over on his quad bike for a chat and check that I was ok then gave me a big wave from his porch when I later passed his place. Real genuine folk.
Such a nice day of riding. And North Palmerston was a surprise with lots of international food. I was spoilt for choice and not expecting such a good selection. Napier downtown had very little open once 5.00pm rolled around. I welcomed the heat in another motel without a/c or ceiling fan, beats rain and cold. Todays route.
Day eight I whipped up a new route now that I was still south and not riding in the east as planned. I was not really expecting much from todays roads as I just took a guess what might be ok yet a series of random roads all turned out enjoyable convincing me there might actually be no bad riding roads in New Zealand.
Skirted some rain and followed a scenic valley.
I returned to Taihape in much nicer conditions than the first time and decided to have lunch.
Next I was quite surprised to come across a snow topped volcano riding what is called The Desert Road. The land adjacent to the road is all grey volcanic sand making for an interesting landscape and there is a pretty darn nice hotmix mountain range on the north side which I engineered a good run over by taking a break prior and waiting for a nice gap in the traffic.
From here I returned to Lake Taupo and roads I had ridden on my last visit to New Zealand when I was also dodging rain. Met a couple of riders here and typically, a guy on a Harley was only unfriendly person I have encountered in NZ…
After Wakamaru I took the Old Taupo Road as recommended by one of riders I just met and this was terrific. I rode past the area where they made that Hobbit movie or something. Not remotely interested in that type of cinema but the country side was most enjoyable.
Lastly I turned my wheels towards Tauranga where I had chosen to stay and was expecting just highway but was delighted to be riding over some undulating roads with sweeping curves. Nice way to end up the day.
Dirty broken down motel room despite it being $110. I wanted to stay near water but $250 a night rooms there. However I enjoyed a terrific meal and few cold beers at local suburban pub listening to covers band. I really miss doing that in Japan where there literally are no regular ‘pubs’.
Day nine my plan is to ride around the Coronmandel, a popular riding route. The forecast the last couple of days had been fine but soon into things it turned went. Reaching Tairua I stopped and checked the rain radar on the phone and local forecast was showers clearing so I pushed on and to be fair it was not too wet just passing showers and very overcast.
Some heavier rain before Coromandel then a little sun to cheer me up.
Looking across the bay I could see a huge black storm on the horizon and while hopeful it might be heading away from me I had a gut feeling I was going to end up in it which proved the case.
The rain was so heavy it brought traffic to a standstill on the highway and I took shelter under an overpass for considerable time but it never let up and I had no choice but to try ride as I had to get the bike back to the shop that afternoon. Very difficult conditions.
Small mercy I eventually reached the other side of the storm before the inner city highway system as that would have been messy and this allowed me to put on some speed to dry out somewhat as well as make the shop in time. Todays route.
Even with a few days washed out this was still a mighty good ride. So many nice roads, great scenery and very few cars. Oh and after leaving Auckland I saw one highway patrol the whole trip. I never even looked at the speedo once out of Auckland, not that I was speeding but I was able to relax and enjoy the ride which is not easy anymore in Australia.
New Zealand is one of my favorite riding destinations and a place I wonder why have I not been to more often. It is a bit expensive, but if coming from Australia the airfare is cheap which offsets the rental and hotel costs. Just bring your own portable fan for summer 🙂