Thanks to Max, our new blog site seems like the perfect opportunity to share a great trip Justin, Max, Andre & I took in February 2011. This is the first time I have written a ride review and it feels like it is a privilege to be able to share a slice of kiwi heaven with potential international readers.
Well here’s hoping anyway.
Leading up to the trip a few planning meetings took place. As fellow bikers will know, these meetings are really just a good excuse to catch up with your mates for a beer. Eventually after all the meetings only part of the journey was planned out, that was to travel as far as Rotorua. Come Rotorua we would plan the next stage of journey dependant on the weather.
This is how the trip unfolded:
Day 1 – Auckland to Tairua via the Coromandel loop.
Day 2 – Tairua via Paeroa to Lake Rotoiti (Rotorua) for the night.
Day 3 – Lake Rotoiti to Maraehako Bay, East Cape
Day 4 – Maraehako Bay to Gisborne .
Day 5 – Gisborne to Rotorua via Opotiki
Day 6 – Rotorua to New Plymouth via Whangamomomona
Day 7 – New Plymouth to Auckland
The first day was spent travelling some familiar but none the less fantastic roads that one could never get tired of. From our home base of Auckland down the Miranda coastline & across to Thames, we then completed the famous Coromandel loop around to Tairua for the night. This was a special stopover for me as it was the first time our new bach was to be used as a bikers pitstop.
We all woke excited not just because of the anticipation of the ride ahead, but because we would be heading to Paeroa for the legendary ‘Battle Of The Streets’ motorcycle races. It just so happens that the road to get there is yet again fantastic. Passing through Whangamata we carved our way through the hills enjoying the tight winding but smooth roads. One of the highlights is the stunning Waihi Gorge not far from Paeroa. We intend on posting a review of this year’s races so I won’t go into too much detail about last years event apart from to say as usual it was awesome.
Now normally at the end of race day we would look forward to the ride home and then work the next day (ha ha). What a great feeling it was to know that we still had five days of touring left. But unfortunately Andre had already planned to leave us today and head North back to Auckland. Max, Justin and I left Paeroa detouring South along the foot of the Kaimai Ranges until we came to the main road heading to Tauranga and then cut inland to Rotorua. My parents live at Lake Rotoiti just East of Rotorua, so this was the perfect spot to enjoy some home comforts before the next stage of our journey.
The next morning we woke with a plan and that was to do the East Cape ride. Max had already travelled the road a few years back, Justin and I were very keen having only ever ridden as far as Te Kaha. Before we left Max paid a visit to a local bike shop for a new front tyre. We eventually motored off arriving in Opotiki about 1½ hours later where we would stock up with supplies for a nights camping somewhere up the coast. The ride up the coast was simply stunning, stopping a few times to truly appreciate what we were seeing.
Our plan was to find a place to camp on the beach, so we rode until we came across the perfect place. When we rode into Maraehako Bay we knew we had found the spot. After setting up camp we enjoyed a refreshing swim (with the stingrays!!!) and a truly amazing sunset, with volcanic White Island puffing away on the horizon.
With a whisky in hand and the camp fire burning we had to savour the moment to ourselves as there was no cellphone coverage to talk to our families. The only complaint of night was the bottle of whisky was too small.
The next morning we awoke to light drizzle as we set off for the final push to the top of the Cape. We rolled into Hicks Bay in the sunshine again and parked up at the local dairy for hearty pie for breakfast. The East Coast ride really does give you a feeling of isolation. You need to be wary of the wandering cattle, goats and pigs. Traffic isn’t an issue as you may only ever see a car or two in five minutes. Justin & I decided to fill up in Te Araroa while we had the chance. Max kindly reminded us that his trusty K1200s still had half left and that the push button adjustable suspension was still working.
From here the road starts to head south and the scenery would change too as we cut inland slightly until Tokomaru Bay. We noted the road signs warning of dips and a friendly local also briefed us on the conditions. Erosion is common in this part of the country and it takes its toll on the highway. Frequently we would come upon a dip and no matter how prepared you were you would find yourself launching out off the saddle. With the constant roadworks along this section of the journey there was always fresh coarse road chip. None of us noticed this more than me, as my MT-01 front tyre rapidly wore through to the point that I had an awkward ride. The high road camber had also worn the tyre aggressively on the right side. We were all surprised at the rate of which the tyre had gone off and I would need a new tyre as soon as we could find a bike shop.
For me and I’m sure the other guys would agree the ride into Tokomaru Bay was weirdly eerie. I am not just saying this because of the dramatic events that were to unfold. We turned off the highway and rode down to the historic Waima wharf.
In its hey day the wharf was used to ship local meat product. A few metres down the road a group of local farmers established the Tokomaru Bay freezing works. That was in 1911, today the wharf is a no-go and mainly brick buildings are derelict but still classic time pieces. We rode slowly back along the wharf road, taking photos along the way.
I think we were all using our phones to take photos on this trip. It was when we were stopped outside one of the old warehouses that Justin noticed an alarming message on his phone. There had just been another earthquake in Christchurch, a matter of a few minutes ago.
The message was very brief and didn’t go into much detail apart from to say it was serious. We rode back to the main highway where we parked up to find out what was going on. Max and I turned to our mobiles to check the news sites and Justin, who heads the Store Development department for a major NZ retailer reported in to the office for an update. We were all numbed by what we learnt, details were still sketchy but the headlines were major casualties and extensive damage. It was interesting to watch my brother swing into action having learnt from September’s event. He was quickly mobilising his contacts to check on what damage had been sustained. As the day would unfold the situation became grimmer by the hour. February 22nd 2011 would go down in New Zealand history as one of the darkest days.
We had been planning to camp at another beach spot but it was quickly decided that we would head for Gisborne where cellphones could be kept charged. From Tokomaru Bay we shot straight through to Tolaga Bay for a rest stop. It seemed like every few miles there were roadworks, I was also very nervous about my front tyre. At least I would now be able to get a replacement in Gisborne.
On arrival into Tolaga Bay we stopped at a cafe for lunch where everyone was talking about the quake, there was a sense of shock on everyone’s face. After a good coffee and a late lunch we decided to go and check out another historic wharf.
Opened in 1929 and protruding out to sea some 600m it is the longest wharf in New Zealand. It takes about half an hour to walk out and the sea swell rolls along the length of the wharf and is spectacular.
The 50km or so between Tolaga Bay & Gisborne went by pretty quickly. The highway meanders over rolling countryside with panoramic views of the sea as we travelled inland slightly. It seemed as quickly as we left the coastline at Tolaga Bay we met it again. It was now a beautiful and sunny and the temperature would have been around 30deg C late in the afternoon. The sea sure did look inviting as did the thought of a cold beer as we rolled into Gisborne.
Max ‘Garmin’ led us straight to a popular campground on Gisborne waterfront where we would stay for the night. We enjoyed a great dinner out and then back at the camp got chatting to some fellow motorcycle tourists. An American, a couple of Australians and a kiwi couple who we had actually bumped into a few times since Paeroa. It was a great mix of people and many stories were shared. The international guests just made us appreciate more of what we have to offer in Godzone. They were raving not only about the scenery but the culture and our people.
I think it is important to mention that throughout our journey all our thoughts were with the people of Christchurch. Yes we were enjoying ourselves riding, but the people of Christchurch were constantly on our minds and made it hard to concentrate on the road ahead. Just know our thoughts and wishes were with the people of Christchurch and their formidable circumstances.
The next morning I shot into town in search of a new front tyre for my MT-01. An hour or so later I was back to meet the others with some fresh rubber. Thank goodness, I was back in business. We left Gisborne and took State Highway 2 through to Opotiki, this would complete our round trip of the East Cape. There is one word to sum up this road and that is AWESOME. The road is pretty straight as it passes by vineyards but quickly reveals a brilliant hill climb. Tight steep and winding roads, they seem to go on for ages. My new tyre was awesome, what a different bike.
Heading down the other side you come across the beautiful and historic Waioeka Gorge. We stopped a few times to explore the area and take photos. Eventually we made it out of the hills and onto the Opotiki flats. We definitely have to ride this road again.
From Opotiki the short trip through to Whakatane follows the Ohiwa Harbour. The scenery is once again magical as are the sweeping high speed bends.
A stop at the famous Oyster and Fish & Chip shop on the Ohiwa Harbouur near Ohope Beach is a must if you are hungry, which we were.
Now it was time to head inland again and back to my Mum and Dads for the night at Rotorua. We stopped at Lake Rotoma for a rest. Lakes Rotoma, Rotoehu and Rotoiti sit next to each other and the highway passes by all three before reaching Lake Rotorua. Once again it the ride is superb as is the scenery.
Lucky for us my parents have a boat, they restore classic wooden boats. Their boat is a 1909 Kauri hulled double ender a former coastguard vessel. After arriving they whisked us off to the local hot pools on the shores of Lake Rotoiti. The pools are only accessible by boat which adds to the setting which is one of seclusion. The hot pools were a great way to relax after a few days in the saddle.
Justin would be leaving us early, back to Auckland to help the Christchurch stores with their earthquake recovery. Max and I would head South West through the heart of the King Country to New Plymouth for the night. From Rotorua the scenery is generally rolling farmland through to the start of the famous Forgotten World Highway.
The 155km from Taumarunui to Stratford presents extreme tight and twisty riding with a 20km section of gravel road thrown in for good measure (or should I say a test). At this point you really do feel like you are in the middle of nowhere.
The terrain is a mixture of native bush and very steep farmland which is apparently why the area was somewhat forgotten in the early days. It was simply too hard to access and develop especially without the aid of modern machinery. It sure does make for one hell of a ride.
Whangamomona Pub about half way through is a welcome stop for a cold beer and is a must see. It is also a great place to find out about the history of the area.
The ride out the other end opens up into rich dairy farmland which is dominated by the majestic Mount Taranaki (also known as Egmont). It’s not hard to see why the Mt Fuji looking mountain and region was used for filming the movie Last Samurai. Luckily the mountain provides a great backdrop so you don’t notice the rather dull straight roads leading into New Plymouth.
We had pre-booked a cabin at a seaside campground in the city centre. The views from the campground were dramatic with the big sea swell crashing in and the buzzing Port Taranaki off to the side. That night Max and I enjoyed a great dinner at the local fishing club a short walk from the camp.
And so the final day was upon us, the 7th day of riding some of the best roads the North Island has to offer. Today we would make our way back to Auckland up the West Coast, although we would only see the coast off and on for the first hour. Near the end of the coast highway we stopped at Mokau where Max wanted to show me what a real Whitebait fritter looked like.
After behaving ourselves on the main highways for a couple of hours we felt it was time to take a detour. Highway 22 which starts between Hamilton and the West Coast town of Raglan was the perfect way to finish off a great trip.
No thinking about the finish line just yet though as this stretch of road through to South Auckland demands extra respect and concentration. 85km of everything that an experienced motorcyclist would know to respect and everything that would catch the novice out. Blind corners, blind corners running into gravel, cattle stops, random farm machinery, random wondering farm animals. There is even bizarre large billboards that take your eye off the road because they look so out of place. Know wonder the area is used to stage technical WRC stages which are favourites with some of the worlds top drivers.
The tension builds again as we head North along the busy motorway back into New Zealands biggest city.
A year has passed since this trip, yet it was so easy to reflect on it and write this post. The trip will be remembered for its mixed emotions, there was the amazing riding and sights of this great country. On February 22nd 2011 Christchurch was hit by an earthquake, 185 people tragically lost their lives. A year on and the city continues to be rattled by aftershocks and battles to rebuild itself. In all honesty it made it difficult to write about the positive aspects of the trip, all the while knowing so many people are still living it tough.