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The Long Green Roller Coaster Ride – New Zealand Revisited
Originally Published in a 2006 issue of GOOD VIBRATIONS, newsletter of the BMOC.

At the end of November I made another quick trip back home to New Zealand to visit with my family. For this visit I was determined to get back on a motorcycle and spend some time exploring the twisty back-roads. Two years ago I had written about the adventures of the “Two Bad Pussy Cats” where I was given a 2003 Triumph Tiger to ride for the day, and spent many hours with my old riding buddy Lloyd on his matching Tiger, enjoying the freedom of riding together after nearly 25yrs in different countries. Lloyd is a spirited rider to say the least and always has his eye on being out front . Our riding styles match closely, as they should, since we had ridden for years together as part of a group dynamic.

What made this trip different, is that I had arranged before I arrived in NZ to rent a motorcycle for 6 days and be able to enjoy the excellent early summer weather of NZ. I rented a BMW R1150GS from Kea Motorcycles on the North Shore. I choose the BMW R1150GS for main reason that I had recently purchased one here in BC only weeks before and have been quite taken with the bike. As they say the BMW 1150GS doesn’t really excel in any one thing, but it does do a lot of things quite well. What I mean by this is, yes it’s ugly, but it can carry a truck load of gear, it is OK in gravel, but is not a dirt bike, has 90hp on tap that makes long distance riding in the moderate-high range perfect, but it is not a high speed racer, it has excellent handling and ground clearance is great. The Triumph Tiger that Lloyd rides is the British answer to the dual sport niche, and it displays many of the same traits as the Beemer, a good contender.

I had arranged for another long time friend to accompany Lloyd and myself on a 2 day adventure, Dave on his aged Yamaha FJ1100. Now although I have known Dave for about the same length of time as Lloyd, they had never met and the only riding I had done with Dave was off road logging trails on dirt bikes. Dave is also a “to the limit” rider as I was soon to find out. So the plot is for the three of us to spend two days traveling as many twisty back roads as we can. To help us with this task, I had picked up a book when I arrived at the airport, the NZ Motorcycle Road Atlas, a map book with all areas of New Zealand covered with the routes graded in a series of “smiley faces”. The rating is one smiley face for OK, and five for the best. The maps are excellent, easy to read, up to date and have a short written description of what to expect.

Dave met me at the rental place where I picked up the Beemer (license plate reads TUNIX, which I was told is German for “do nothing” – I didn’t get it). It was the company bosses personal bike and despite being three years old had only 18,000km and looked new. Time for old Jimmy to give it a thrashing; however with a $3000 deductible I was always mindful of the consequences of any misadventure. It was the morning rush hour and we had to make our way out to Lloyds farm on the other side of Auckland, through the congested city motorway. Again, my worst fears were realized as Dave headed off over the Auckland Harbour Bridge, riding between the 2 lanes of slow moving traffic. He was used to this and his FJ was quite narrow and made an easy job of it. Me on the other hand was struggling with wide handlebars of the GS, plus the wide arse-end with factory saddlebags. Several places I definitely did not fit and had to shift lanes, ride the shoulder, duck and dive just to keep up. Being the first kilometers on the bike I was quite restrained, but once clear of the traffic I felt quite at ease, even riding on the other side of the road.

To get to Lloyds farm you have to take the Hunua Gorge, my first taste of twisties. With Dave on my tail, I felt I had to show that I was a capable canyon carver – I didn’t do too bad, managed to scrape the side stand in a real tight left hander. But what scared me was the right handers – I was taking the middle line on the narrow road and there were several occasions where I felt my head whiz past the front cab of a truck coming the other way, a bit too close.

Anyway, we picked up Lloyd at his farm. He had prep’d the Tiger and was ready for battle. He had is Rocket III parked (yes that is the new Triumph monster), thinking his Tiger would be able to show the Beemer who is boss. The ride south took us through Miranda and via the Hauraki Plains, along the edge of an tidal inlet and very fertile farmland. We found a short FOUR SMILEY FACE detour on the way to wet ones appetite. After fuel stop we headed over the Kopu Hill toward Tairua. Dave was raised in Tairua a sleepy little seaside town, nice river and sandy beach and knew “the Hill” like the back of his hand. He had decided he would do a 5th gear only ride up/down the 25km hill and tucked his feet high up on the back pegs, so couldn’t even use his back brake. I stayed with him as best I could for a few Kms and all I could see was the sparks coming from his main stand grinding away on the asphalt, as he pulled away around the wide sweepers. Lloyd was hanging back taking it easy.

We turned off on to the Whagamata, Wahi Road, which in the early years was a nasty, dusty gravel road for many miles, but now was transformed into a winding ribbon of black delight. NZ has over the years asphalted many of its back roads, but they didn’t re-grade or re-contour them, just paved them as they had stood for years. Across a flat valley, the road would never take a straight line, there would be many curves following the river contours, right angle bends, sweepers, like a child had scribbled that path of the road with a crayon. This is what makes NZ a very interesting and rewarding place to ride – the variety.

The ride down into the fertile heartland of Bay of Plenty was amazing, ocean views, white sandy beaches, orchards of Kiwi Fruit, rivers, forests, just a delight. Not much traffic was encountered on the short stretch of main highway into Tauranga. We left Dave to go on a work related errand, so Lloyd & I went off to play. With the help of the Motorcycle Atlas we managed to bypass the busy city traffic and find a nice FOUR SMILEY FACE detour through quiet farmland all the way toward Rotorua. This road until recently had been mostly gravel, but now was perfectly contoured motorcycle paradise, no cars, no cops.

We skirted around the side of Lake Rotorua which is famous for geothermal geysers, mud pools, clear springs and is a major tourist destination, with the air smelling like rotten socks. Our motorcycle atlas showed a FIVE SMILEY FACE road coming up past Lake Rotoiti. The ride along the lake was magic, Lloyd decided we had better stop for a photo as we had been riding most of the day and really had been concentrating only on the roads and here before us was this idyllic view. After a few photos, we headed for the turn off to this new road. What started as a narrow, unlined driveway through the canopy of native forest, soon opened up into a perfect FIVE SMILEY FACE Experience. This was it – deserted, endless perfect corners amidst quiet farmland, the road closely following the contours, freshly paved. Lloyd remarked how the countryside had been turned into one great big GREEN ROLLER COASTER RIDE.

I had bet Lloyd a Red Bull that we wouldn’t find gravel, but alas there was a 50m stretch at a bridge washout that proved his point. This road ended out on an East Coast ocean beach of Katikati. We found a campground/picnic area and pulled the bikes in for a rest, beach was deserted. It was 3.00pm, my trip meter read 550kms – what a day. To top it off, while we are taking in the spectacular ocean view on this deserted beach, when two van loads of about 12 teenage girls arrive in the parking lot and proceed to spread themselves out all over the beach laying in the sun, frolicking in surf - the view couldn’t get any better!

We made it on to our destination for the night, Paengaroa, the town that I lived in for about 18mths before immigrating to Canada. My very good friend Alistair owned a Kiwi fruit orchard and farm and had graciously invited us three to stay the night. Dave turned up before supper to join us again. They had made a few calls and the barbeque guests were a plenty. It was great catching up to friends that I had not seen over the last 25 yrs or so. A great reunion and a great feast.

Day 2: We were up early and on the road by 9-ish after a good cooked Kiwi breakfast of potatoes, bangers, steak, eggs, toast and fruit. The route had been planned according to the SMILEY FACE ATLAS and we had a great day ahead, heading back to Auckland via the West Coast. It was a quick ride through to Rotorua and out toward Taupo, a detour to Te Kuiti and then on to Kawhia out on the coast. All the roads we selected were not main roads and we seldom saw cars at all. The West Coast is wild and woolly and the roads are cut into steep hillsides and follow rivers and streams. There was a 30km stretch of gravel that I got to try the big GS out on. I was able to keep well ahead of Lloyd and found the bike extremely easy handling with its low centre of gravity. Dave managed to slide his bike into the ditch after aggressively gunning it out of a corner. A big embarrassed smile and he was on his way, nothing broken. The small town of Kawhia is a picturesque small seaside town that has not changed in 30 yrs. The fish-n-chip shop served us a fabulous feed of freshly caught seafood. Dave had a whole flounder battered and picked at the fresh sweet meat with delight. I had a selection of seafood items – scallops abut 2” diameter, shrimp, mussels and snapper fillets, with a hefty portion of melt in the mouth chips. They pretty well batter and fry anything – I even saw fried Mars Bar on the menu. A great feed.

We still had a long way to go and came across a detour because of a bridge washout just after Raglan. The detour turned out to be 57km long, much of it over gravel roads again, but eventually we were back on the right road to Pukekoe and across the wide Wiakato River. Coming down from the fertile red earth hills we could see the expanse of Auckland in the distance, indicating that our adventure was nearing its end. We left Lloyd at  Bombay Hill and joined the Motorway into Auckland. I rode with Dave to his house on the far outside of the city, at Orewa and enjoyed a great supper. Total mileage covered in the two days was 1200kms, no tickets and no accidents – a great accomplishment.

The rest of my stay, I rode TUNIX around Auckland, joining up with Lloyd almost everyday for some kind of adventure. On one ride we stopped at a picnic area on a deserted beach and Lloyd pulled out of his top box all the doings for a proper Kiwi feed – a camp cooker, a fry pan, fresh bread, butter, garlic, lemon and handfuls of fresh prawns, scallops and his special concoction of marinated Paua (called abalone in Asia, but NZ variety is dark and extra tasty) all washed down with a bottle of NZ wine.

We had a repeat of my first visit with a reunion dinner at Marks olive grove lifestyle block north of Auckland. Of course we had to have a long detour ride to get there. We stopped by old buddy Gavins and I persuaded his wife Wendy to ride pillion with me up to Marks place. I used to ride around with Wendy on the back when we were teenagers, when she was engaged to Gavin. I remember his lecture to me at the time “that is my precious wife to be, be careful or I will……..” So now 25 yrs later she’s on the back again, this time no warning lecture from Gavin and now she's a wife and mother of four. Riding with Gavin was painful as he has succumbed to the Kiwi-itis of adhering to speed limits, so I showed Wendy what ton-up touring was all about. We sustained a healthy 150-180 for about 15 miles and just enjoyed the freedom of these back country roads. Lloyd was with his wife Maria on the Rocket III and stayed back with Gavin. Wendy’s comments were, “well that was almost better than sex…”.  It was great to be able to pick almost where we left off, after 25 years.

Talking about Rocket III’s, I visited with Ray Pratt, owner of Auckland Motorcycles & Powersports (AMPS) and my old boss – he is one of several Triumph dealers in Auckland, and personally sold over 60 Rocket III’s last year. That is staggering, considering the population of only 4.5million. I would suspect that in Canada sales would be less than that for the entire country. Also NZ is open to all kinds of imports, so naturally there are all the off-brand European brands you don’t see in Canada – MV Agusta, Cagiva, Aprillia, Voxan and even new MG cars, but prices are not cheap.

For a 8 day visit, I managed to spend quite a bit of time with my family, but also reignite the fire I have for wanting to ride some more of those NZ roads.


All New Zealanders are aggressive drivers when it comes to corners – as the cops seldom get you in the corners, but on the main highways it’s a different story, you can expect speed traps anywhere and everywhere. Some say it’s a fascist regime against drivers, for in a country with a population of 4million people, they have $187.2million owed in unpaid traffic fines in a single year. Overseas tourists skipped the country last year owing about $8 million in outstanding traffic fines.

Here’s a press quote “The MP released new figures obtained from Courts Minister Rick Barker that show 445,761 people had unpaid fines for speeding and traffic infringement offences as at January 31, 2005, up from 199,458 in 2003. The figures show 436,030 people have current or outstanding traffic fines of $5000 or less, 9,673 people owe fines of more than $5000, with 58 owing more than $30,000.” (So what does one have to do to get a $30,000 fine?).

It is no wonder that in a 50kmph zone, just about ALL Traffic is traveling at 53kmph or LESS. As a Canadian used to the lax enforcement here, I was whizzing by traffic at the usual 65 to 70kmph, thinking that if I got caught, what could they do? My friends advised me that they have an integrated fine collection system that won’t let you out (or in) to the country without paying your fines, that goes for tourists as well apparently!








The GROUP -Lloyd on Tiger, Dave Lee on FJR and Me on the TUNIX the Yellow R1150GS


Respite at Lake Rotoiti (near Rotorua)

green roller