Saturday, February 13, 2016

New Zealand North Island Motorcycle Tour

It was so nice to revisit one of the best places to ride a motorcycle, New Zealand.

Last year I had been thinking I should try return to New Zealand and ride the lower north and upper south islands. I then forgot all about it while yet again thinking what to do about my plan to ride in Europe with the Versys 650 I have in Ireland. The Aussie dollar remains so weak and everything is already so expensive there that I decided rather than let it sit in a shed another couple of years best I sell it. Sometimes things are not meant to happen. Already cancelled two planned trips then when I eventually got there was not able to ride far on the third attempt so even I who is not the most perceptive picked up that this was a message.

So finally having moved on I remembered I wanted to go back to New Zealand and what good timing as the exchange rate is not going to be woeful there and I already had a trip to visit family in Australia coming up which placed me just a few hours away. So 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 which was my first choice from their list so perfect and I booked that on the spot.

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 things at all and would also ride north of Auckland along the Twin Coast Discovery route. 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 that even the NZ riders were not game to follow. Needless to say my wheels never stopped turning Smile.

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. 

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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. 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. 

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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 if it gets hotter. (but then so does almost anything in the heat if not moving)

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Day one route. I may have 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. You could easy navigate with just a offline map like MapsMe that I always have on my phone for any country I visit. Eventually the GPS correctly located itself and loaded the New Zealand map then worked fine the rest of the ride even when it got soaking wet, but I am getting ahead of myself.

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Day two I went looking for breakfast (something not served in any of the NZ hotels on this trip) but all the cafes were closed that early which is I guess probably fitting with a small town so I made a mental note to adjust my thinking for rest of trip if the room had a fridge to pick up something from the supermarket. Today I was going 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 not rapidly changing in rural New Zealand.

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Today was one of the most enjoyable riding days for me. 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. Only a little thing but I do miss that in Japan which was influenced by the US after the war and has that wishy-washy drip filter (brewed) coffee that tastes horrible compared to Italian style. This northern region was just gorgeous and very few cars. I wish I had scheduled another day in this area to explore further.

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This was just the beginning of a wonderful day of riding. The shirt called it correctly today.

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What a spot for a weekend shack! I was imagining myself living there…

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.

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“You had me at atomic coffee”, turns out the food is good too. Day two lunch at Kohokoho.

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After lunch the ferry to Ranene.

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Must say I am very pleased with the photos from my updated phone which on a sunny day is probably better colour accuracy than my real camera. These above and below are straight from a phone, no editing.

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Arriving back at the ocean on the west coast the scenery at Omapere is superb.

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Riding south through the Waipoua Kauri forest the road tightens and becomes a extended twisty forest ride that I enjoyed a lot on the lighter MT-09 in the lower gears listening to the rasp of the 3 cylinder engine and also with thanks to the Michelin Pilot Road 4 tyres fitted which gave enormous confidence to have a bit of fun. 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 end to a great day of sights and riding pleasure.

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Day three I was heading down through Auckland and on back roads to Raglan. Another beautiful day and riding initially on backroads from Wellsford to Waimauku I was 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.

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Fuel is crazy 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. The exchange rate to Aus was about 108nz=100aus so no reason for the fuel to be so high unless that is all extra government tax?

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I was feeling sorry for the Kiwi’s but all the new cars on the road seemed to be large ones with large engines, 6 cylinder or V8’s. I never saw much in the way of hybrid cars on the road or turbo diesels so guess the fuel price is not such a big concern locally. 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 easier than falling off a log. 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.

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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. I am an experienced rider with gravel road but there is a difference in gravel roads when riding a road bike with road tyres. If the road is hard packed or has been graded recently or is otherwise free of loose stones then I can ride it with ease. But when the road is dry loose gravel it can be challenging. Todays road was a mix starting out rather difficult with a layer of loose stones and no wheel track area swept clean by cars to put the bike in so I was literally skating all over the place with the bike mildly crossed up most of the time. Fortunately it improved to have a wheel track where stones had been semi swept away (I may have taken the wrong way at the beginning) but remaining dry very loose dirt underneath. Nothing to do except get on with it. Standing up on the pegs and riding nice and smooth and try get across this section. The motorcycle atlas quotes 10km of benign gravel. Not sure if there is another route I measured it at roughly 30km of gravel.

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The reward on the other side is more superb riding.

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Accommodation is a bit 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 which is all in keeping with the step back in time thing I like about NZ but I do try to keep costs down. Unfortunately I do not like camping. At the end of the day I want to be able to take a good long bath and spread out and clean my gear (or dry it if there has been rain) perhaps hand wash a couple items and hang them up to dry then go walk to shops not ride anywhere further until time to leave. Sometimes I eat out, sometimes get takeaway and relax back in the room with the tv. Camping doesn’t allow much of that 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 $150-180 and even a cabin was $75. Well this was a bad move, arriving in the afternoon it was 31 degrees and the cabin was a metal cube that was unbearably hot inside with no fan (and nothing is air conditioned in New Zealand – seriously no hotel rooms or cafes or pubs on this trip had a/c) So 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 put this ride together last minute but with more planning time I would make sure I aimed for overnighting at areas with more affordable accommodation, larger towns with more beds available had lower pricing. 

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I watched the video/dvd rental store close up at 7.00pm. Guess they still exist in Australia too, have not seen any overseas as everything is on demand. 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.

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Todays route.

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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 was going to ride the Forgotten World highway. A road I had been interested in for a long time as it is always mentioned on the net. To begin even just riding south to Taumaruni was nice (my original route shown below branched off earlier but I detoured to get fuel and have a coffee)

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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 terran that I have seen in volcanic areas of the Philippines.

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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.

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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 of some sort so I was unable to learn more about the republic or indeed have lunch in the only place I knew serving food on the 150km route.

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But the ride was great. Perhaps not the best road in NZ as some have 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.

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I spent the evening at Whanganui. Nice town and first one big enough to have some nice restaurants open.

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Todays route.

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Day 5 and 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 down to 20 today. 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. Their grip is beyond anything I have ridden before to the point where 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.

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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.

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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. That previous time I had just finished fixing a flat with one of those inflation cans you get at petrol stations and did not want to take such a isolated route in case the tyre did not successfully hold air. 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 around the upper front area as it has done in the past. To make matters more uncomfortable the air temperature had fallen further to 18 then to 16 in the mountains so I was both cold and wet. Miserable is the word to sum up todays ride. Such a shame as this road would have been magnificent in the dry and I could get glimpses of what must be spectacular scenery on a fine day. No photos were taken due to the conditions.

Todays route.

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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. My so called waterproof bag leaked yesterday even though I even had a secondary rain cover over it. Not sure how the water defeated both and still unsure how the Alpinestars goretex jacket continues to leak. I will have to revert to my old Revit one piece rain suit which works well but is a hassle to get into and out of on the side of the road and then makes also wearing a goretex suit questionable.

If you like art deco then you will enjoy Napier which has many buildings of this style.

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Day seven the forecast was 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 south along roads I had been going to ride a little of yesterday and then continue south to Masterton. The NZ motorcycle atlas calls this 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. From there I would loop back to North Palmerston which the weather app was saying would be fine in the afternoon. 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. You start in open farm land (which my photos are from) but later end up riding just one curve after another. Not as scenic perhaps as more well know roads but still nice vistas and pure enjoyment for a road rider. I had just one camper van I came up behind and passed in 250km. It’s like you have the entire place to yourself.

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Big smile as I rode out of the clouds to sunshine.

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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. 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.

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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 despite being a tourist destination had very little open once 5.00pm rolled around. I welcomed the heat again in the afternoon despite yet another motel without a/c or ceiling fan, still beats rain and cold. I am guessing it normally does not get very hot in NZ but still odd lack of any cooling options.

Todays route.

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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. I had prebooked tonights motel in advance as it was a weekend and things tend to fill up and I needed to be within striking distance of Auckland by tonight to return the bike the following day (not that you could not ride straight there from where I was but I mean via good riding roads) I did not have the NZ motorcycle atlas with me but plotted a route based on some of the roads I recalled from my previous ride and one I saw on the Best Biking Roads web site (which is rather poor for NZ) and then just onward north as no option to detour too much and yet these semi random roads all still turned out enjoyable convincing me there might actually be no bad riding roads in New Zealand.

By sheer chance my ride out of North Palmerston was via the Manuwatu scenic route. Some rain off to the east but I rode clear of it. (You may have noticed the MT-09 has a Garmin mount but I am not using it. I did not realise otherwise I would have brought my Zumo 660)

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I returned to Taihape in much nicer conditions than the first time and decided to have some brunch at a nice looking cafe.

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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.

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From here I returned to Lake Taupo and roads I had ridden on my last visit to New Zealand. I was also dodging rain on that tour. I met a couple of other riders stopped at a lookout point. The first was very friendly new rider and was out exploring roads he had found from some web site with the 50 best rides in NZ (not been able to find it so far) the other was a odd fish, riding a Harley Ultra Glide he had that superiority complex thing going on that infects some riders of that brand (and BMW or Ducati). Their just motorcycles folks, all cost the manufacturers maybe not much more than a grand to produce, don’t get caught up in the hype.

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After Wakamaru I took the Old Taupo Road as recommended by my mate back at the lookout 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.

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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 then a ripper of a small mountain climb on highway 29 about 30 km out from my destination with dual lanes on the ascent with those wide long radius corners that allow you to lean a motorcycle over for a long time at whatever pace you prefer slow or little faster. I don’t have a photo of the road but you know the sort. (think Burringbah range NSW) Nice way to end up the day. The (expensive) motel for the night was horrible, built in the fifties it was a run down dump like you see featured in movies on the side of highway in USA. I was going to ride down to the waterfront (not able to justify the $250 a night rooms there) but the sun was really fierce pushing the mercury up to 34 briefly and I just did not feel like putting jeans and shoes on let alone a helmet so I walked to the local suburban pub and relaxed on the deck with an ale or two and decided to treat myself to one of the other things I miss living in Japan, pub style battered fish and chips, which was excellent albeit not the lowest calorie item on the menu.

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Day nine, last day. My plan was to ride around the Coronmandel which is a popular riding route. The forecast the last couple of days had been fine for Auckland on Sunday and I left upbeat. Mother nature decided she had different plans and within a short time riding north I ran into rain. While in Napier I went to an outdoors shop and purchased a rain jacket poncho type top to wear under my existing goretex jacket to try stop water getting to me if I encountered heavy rain again. I stopped to put this on and was fairly confident of staying dry. 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. Slow going however as I struck the first real traffic since leaving Auckland and realised this being Sunday meant lots of day trippers from the city. I had a quick bite to eat at Whitianga Subway as every cafe was overcrowded and just as well I did not dawdle over a long lunch as the roads continued to be slow going and my ETA to the shop kept falling further behind. Some heavier rain before Coromandel then a little sun to cheer me up.

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Riding south I ran into slow traffic, the narrow road in that part of the route is not easy to pass on. I can see this would be a popular ride from Auckland however perhaps not on a Sunday. 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 and soon I could feel the rain had got past both my Alpinestars jacket and the Katmandu poncho I was wearing underneath which makes me think the problem has to be the area around my neck still letting in water despite thinking this is properly sealed. The GPS case even got some water inside it and the GPS shutdown, fortunately it was just the USB power port on the battery pack that got wet and once dried out under another overpass it powered back up. 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.

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Even with a few days washed out this was still a mighty good ride. So many nice roads. So few cars. Which is something that cannot be underestimated, it makes such a difference compared to other more famous riding destinations where in summer the roads are clogged with cars. Oh and after leaving Auckland I saw one highway patrol the whole trip. No speed camera infested roads with revenue focused low speed limits. Everything I posted above was 100kph and could be ridden with my mind at ease, I never even looked at the speedo once out of Auckland. Of my favorite riding destinations Thailand is certainly cheaper and Japan the most interesting, however New Zealand is perhaps the most pure road riders destination. Highly recommended!

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6 comments:

  1. Magnificent, much envy! How was the MT?

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    1. Thanks, it was NZ$165 a day. There are cheaper options and cheaper times of year to go which combined would lower the cost considerably but now suited me and I wanted to weigh up the MT-09 as a potential replacement for my FJR.

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  2. Mate
    An excellent trip report and one I'd like to do myself one day. I have that same NZ Motorcycle atlas it's top notch in my opinion.
    Love the photo's as well, that one of the shack over looking the bay, just magic.

    Sounds like the MT-09 performed well as you didn't mention anything wrong with the bike.
    I'll have to look at NZ again for another trip.

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    1. The MT-09 was a delight to ride. I just felt at home right away and small niggles aside I forgot the bike was there and it was just me and the open road which is about as good as it gets really. I am committed to the FJR for this season having already paid new tyres and minor service ready for when the snow melts but the MT experience is going to be hard to forget :)

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  3. Excellent ride report - We have plans to go to NZ one day, unsure if we will ship our bike over (R1200RT) or rent.

    What iPhone app are the maps done on?

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    1. Tom the app is from Ride with GPS the route creation site. You can view all my routes there in detail, user account Warren

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