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Another visit to New Zealand was on order in February 2009, this time I convinced Robert Smith that he should join me and I would show him some true Kiwi hospitality and the best motorcycle roads in the world. He had arranged for a press bike from Triumph NZ (08 Sprint 1050) and I have my own 01 BMW 1150R in storage at my friend Dave’s farm. We had set aside 8-10 days for riding and had a loose plan to circle the North Island.  There was the likelihood that several of my old riding buddies would accompany us on the ride, so I was really looking forward to rekindling the memories of my youth. Coincidentally a 30 year reunion of Genesis Motorcycle Club was planned for the Sunday of our arrival. For me this was the highlight of my trip, being able to pick right up where we left with many of my lifelong friends. For some it had been over 25 years since we last met – many had married and raised children and now were sporting pictures of grandchildren. I was so taken by the realness of the relationships, nothing had changed. The afternoon BBQ was a delight feasting on NZ finest culinary offerings and spectacular wines.

Monday the ride kicked off – Dave joined us on is 86 ZZR, we picked with Mark on a Harley Fat-boy, journeyed into the city to meet up with Gillian on her 1200 Bandit and husband Dave on a 08 Sprint 1050, then on to Hunua to pick Lloyd and wife Maria riding 2 up on a 05 Triumph Tiger. Quite a collection. In 1975 I helped Gill purchase a Honda 500/4 from a police auction and transform it back to a stock bike – she rode that bike for 30 years, never having any issues with it at all. She was now riding the Bandit and was enjoying being on a serious bike. We regrouped at the Kaiawa pub for a fush-n-chups lunch – reputedly the best fush-n-chups in NZ (they all say that), the tables under the huge trees in the beer garden was just the spot to plan our ride.
Ride day 1 – After lunch, it was to be the Coromandle Loop to Tauranga a 300km five smiley face road through some of NZ’s fine coastal riding. Highlight was the fresh oysters, straight from the ocean farm and Coromandle village.

Dave on his ZZR could only manage this one day with the group and we managed to sneak a rumble together from Whitianga to Tairua, a lengendary road with a mixture of sweepers and a tight twisities up and over the hill to Tairua. Dave is extremely competitive, but was disadvantaged by not having had much ride time over the last 18mths and I was able to rail the 1150R well ahead of the beasty ZZR. It was clear to him that the time I spent on the Euro-Alps ride last September had sharpened my riding skills. The ZZR lends itself to point and shoot style riding – really fast in a straight line and hard on the brakes, then around the corner – the BMW has a power disadvantage, so speed preservation is important, carefully picking a line, high on the rpm’s, use the engine as a rheostat and punch it hard before midpoint in the corner and keep a smooth line on exit, then setup for the next corner. A completely different style of riding than Dave was up to. By hard braking before the corner, the bike’s geometry changes as the front dives and actually makes hard to recompose and take a smooth line. By Tairua I was all smiles and it so good to have a challenging rider on my tail. Dave had to leave for home, we were off to spend the night at my Mum’s place in Tauranga.

Ride Days 2 & 3 – East Cape to Hastings. The East Cape of New Zealand is a remote, isolated ride – about 400kms. The road follows the coast and weaves in and out of pristine beaches and bays, with challenging twisty up and down hills between the bays. There is virtually no traffic on this road, and little or no law enforcement, which really made for a relaxed, enjoyable ride.

We overnighted in back packers accommodation out the back of a pub at Waihau Bay. We were cautioned by words in the “ NZ Motorcycle Atlas” that if you are looking for lattes and Panini’s you will be sadly disappointed and that the local Maoris’ have a penchant for anything deep fried. The fisherman’s basket dinner was exactly that, a massive pile of deep fried delicacies, unfortunately most previously frozen, despite the proximity out the front door of one of NZ’s most bountiful fishing resources. The fish was a least fresh, but the shear mountain of battered food proved even too much of a challenge for me. A word of warning about back packer accommodation in NZ – is it is cheap, and you get what you pay for – we slept in 50’s wire wove bed springs which meant next day many of us were sporting very sore backs.  Robert pointed out a lonely cockroach on the wall – what was in the bed?, I shudder to think.

The ride thru to Ruatoria was delightful. We found a cafe serving their own fresh baked meat pies and washed down them down with a flat white (NZ lingo for a milky espresso, less milk than in an latte). Robert was amused by the menu board that sported items like “blood and guts for $5” – apparently a Maori favourite of mayo, ketchup and cheese toasted. Again there was a long list of fried delicacies on offer. 

We bypassed Gisborne and headed for the preserved Art Deco town of Napier. In 1930 the town was razed by fire due to a massive earth quake and rebuilt in Art Deco style. This has remained to this day and the original feel of the town has been preserved. Our destination was Hastings for the night – we checked into a wonderful motel and relaxed in the swimming pool. Apparently Robert’s cockroach stowed away in his luggage and was seen on the bathroom wall – I made an example of it with my jandal (flip flop) above the bathroom door for all others to see (pity the maid who had to clean up that one!). Our evening was spent at the Craggy Range winery – the most wonderful meal and wine experiences I have ever had. It is amazing to enjoy wines that are carefully selected and paired with the food on offer. NZ has some of the most exceptional wines available – I am converted to NZ Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir (readily available in Canada from our liquor stores) – Shiraz is for the uncouth Auzzies who like wine in cardboard boxes.
Day 4-6: We headed inland to Taupo to stay several nights in Gill & Dave’s place there. From Taupo we did a quick day tour to the National Park to ride up Ruapehu, one of three live volcano’s in the centre of the North Island. Whakapapa ski field hasn’t changed much in 30 years, except for new lift equipment. Tonagario and Ngauruhoe are featured in Lord of the Rings as Mordor – a desolate rocky landscape.

Mark (on the Fat Boy) had to head home and we bid him farewell at Taumarunui. I take my hat off to him for man-handling that beast of bike with skill and determination on the all twisty roads we had been thru – never once did he slow us down and at times the voluminous exhaust note was quite enjoyable. Mark had spent his early years on fast Norton’s and Ducati’s so we was up to the task – As they say, “adventure riding is taking inappropriate equipment into out of the way places.”  Well done Mark!

Day 5 – Headed back to Taruanga via Rotorua to stay with my Mum again. Robert & I were now on our own now as Lloyd limped home on a bald back tire. NZ roads are extremely grippy – they are chip seal, fine sharp gravel set in a sticky tar bed and they do shred soft tires, but do make for great cornering. We made a bypass at Paengaroa the small town on the East coast where I lived for about 2 years before coming to Canada and out to the seaside Maori community of Maketu. The estuary was full of families floating and frolicking, enjoying the warm waters and abundant shellfish and fish. We dined on Maketu fush-n-chups nearby, these are legendary as they only serve what comes in off the fishing boat – fish was meaty and juicy Terakei. The Makatu Pie Company is also a major supplier of the NZ meat pie.  Could this be the culinary centre of the universe?

Day 6 - An early start saw us in Pukekohe for a day at the Vintage races by 10am. The NZ vintage scene is very strong – the amount of bikes prep’d for racing in the pits was vast and varied. Manx Norton’s have a class of their own. This year they featured Coxford riding the Norton Cosworth Challenge, Andrew Stroud on the Britten and there was the Konig 4 cylinder 2 stroke racer. The racing classes are very competitive – many pre-unit Triumphs, Norton Featherbeds and Commandos, but what got my fancy was the pre-war hand shift class- some rare machinery out there on the track giving it their all. Nice to see sidecars, Vincents and MV Agusta’s on the track too.

Day 7 – Headed north to Russell and Bay of Islands. This was the only part of the ride where we encountered rain. Lloyd was now on his new Bonneville (left the Tiger at home) and had not packed suitable rain gear so he got soaked. My BMW riding gear proved its worth and kept me dry. We made a b-line for the Duke of Marlborough Hotel on the waterfront in picturesque Russell to dry out. We watched the game fishing boats dock and weigh their catch – 2 large Marlin were the only catch that day – rich Americans’ just love the game fishing in NZ and spend exorbitant amounts of money on this pursuit.  What better way to finish of the day than a feed of fush-n-chups on the waterfront and a six pack of beer.

Day 8 – Due to the inclement weather, we shortened our trip and headed back down to Warkworth to pick up Robert’s gear and get him booked into a Hotel in Auckland. Next day he would return the bike and head back to Canada. I stayed another 5 days – made the trip back down to Tauranga to get some much needed recovery time and stay with my Mum.
What can I say – 4000kms later, this is one of those most successful and memorable trips I have had. We didn’t get to cover as much of the North Island as planned, but being able to go with the flow and enjoy each day as it unfolds, with really great friends is such a bonus.