Sunday, April 21, 2013

Turning Point


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Nice to see some sunshine. Lovely autumn day. I believe this might be only the 2nd ride (in Australia) I have done this year. That is mostly due to the weather. I have however covered considerable distance in other countries. Some I have already posted and one tour I am still to write about.

The delay is partly because I need to work on the photos I took from my iPhone which all came out very poorly due to having it in HDR mode. You may have noticed some ghosting and out of focus shots in New Zealand and that is the reason. I really should get a small compact to take with me but I love to travel light so maybe a new phone is an option. Todays photos however are from my Olympus Pen and are straight from the camera, no software whatsoever!

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All the riding overseas this year has certainly spoilt me and also altered my opinion of a many number of things. I just did a half day today, I found the ride lacking something so came home early. I however did enjoy to ride my own bike again.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Motorcycling New Zealand North Island

New Zealand truly is a paradise for motorcycle riders. The south island gets a lot of press but I recently rode the north island and the riding was superb.

As with my south island ride I used the Hema New Zealand motorcycle atlas to plan my route and plotted the GPS route in Ride with GPS and I convert my GPS track files to maximum 100 point routes using GPS Babel.

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I rented a motorcycle for this trip from Auckland Motorbike Hire who are based in a small seaside village of Maraetai out of Auckland. The owner Randall can arrange transfer from the airport and there are a couple of homestay B&B accommodations nearby. The beauty of this starting point is not having to navigate the city, I picked up the bike the afternoon I arrived and then next day was able to get an early start. The town also has a couple of takeaway shops but these close early so the downside of this location is there is nothing to do in the evening so if you were arriving later then just be aware no food or drink available.

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The good riding starts the moment you leave town and that takes all of about 1 minute. No city traffic or freeways, just a stop for a coffee and then at the end of the street you start riding along a scenic seaside road.

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For this tour I rented a Suzuki 1250 Bandit. Above is my ride and the beautiful water views that greeted me on embarking.

Day one I rode a loop around the Coromandel and my route was then south to Rotorua. I had a look around the historic town of Thames then rode some lovely curves following the ocean to the town of Coromandel for lunch.

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I have developed a couple of rules when motorcycle touring to help make things go easier. One of my rules goes something like this – if I see something close to when I need it then stop right there and then. How this works is if it is bit early for lunch but I see a place that looks really suitable then I make myself stop, often that is turn around go back and have a stretch and then eat a bit sooner than I might normally do because if I pass by then chances are that the next place may be less inviting or too long coming. This rule also applies for fuel and morning coffee or afternoon tea, basically my experience has been in rural areas if there are lots of places selling fuel but I think no it’s a bit soon I will get fuel at the next town then the next town turns out to be a just a name on a map with nothing, then I have to ride on a low fuel level to the following town which means I tend to worry about the fuel consumption for that leg of the ride rather than enjoy the scenery or curves. So now I just stop. On the BMW in North America I did not worry about fuel as much because it had a range double what I am used to but on this ride I broke my rule once and nearly got caught out but more of that later.

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Leaving Coromandel (above) I was told by the locals the ride south to Tauranga was not as good but I think the locals are so spoilt with fabulous riding roads that some which might be less than the very best are discounted however for a visitor it is all good riding and indeed many roads not even talked about would be listed as good rides in other countries.

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Terrible riding, I hated every minute of it Smile

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Yes Mr Sign I am certainly doing that. Yippee!

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By the time I got to Rotorua I realised the seat on the Suzuki was extremely poor and felt similar to some narrow and hard item found on sports bikes. Apart from that the bike was excellent, the stand out feature being the engine which was superb. I was leaving it in top gear all the time as it had mountains of torque down low and strong power mid rpm that I simply did not need to change gears be it in a 50kph town or overtaking a truck at highway speed. The seat however was unbearable so I roamed around a discount variety warehouse and decided to fabricate a cushion pad from a exercise mat. I cut the mat up and used two elastic straps to hold to layers together. This item worked remarkably well and I don’t think I would have enjoyed the ride had I not taken this action.

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When I toured the south island I commented that I found the menus a bit limited and very similar at many places with mostly British comfort type food on offer so it was great to find Rotorua had a diverse range of dining options as well as a lively town centre in the evening. I was the only person in the Korean restaurant but the food was excellent and cheap.

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Day two my route was to ride around the coast to Gisborne. Away from Rotorua early for a big days riding the road is a few metres away from the shore of a series of beautiful lakes. The road and forest in this region reminded me of parts of Idaho state forest. But then of course I started riding the coast.

This was for me one of the best days riding I have ever experienced. The locals again downplayed half of the route but for me it was all amazing. But what made it so special was the people. Despite not being that far away once on the cape you are by New Zealand standards a bit ‘off the beaten track’. The traffic there thins out then disappears to leave you on the road alone. Beautiful coastal vistas with small communities consisting of a few houses. Children stop and wave, a guy outside the local general store waves to me as I pass by, I felt like I had stepped back in time, in a nice way.

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I did not stop much in the morning, the road was very nice riding and I was comfortable with my new padded seat and so I just enjoyed it. I soon realised that there were not many options for food so I had a sandwich at a small general store and after lunch I started one of the most incredible rides I have ever done. From the top of the cape to Gisborne offers most every type of curve and scenery you could imagine. It even throws in an active volcano off the coast.

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Still with me. That’s just a fraction of the amazing scenery, it was only mid afternoon when I descended from the mountain range above and was looking to get fuel at Tikitiki only to find there was none. So I rode on then saw a sign for Ruatoria with the fuel symbol so decided to apply my before mentioned rule and take a detour to top up rather then test if there is any fuel between there and Gisbourne since the Suzuki did not have a huge range. This spur of the moment change proved to be a highlight of the tour.

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I arrived in Ruatoria and found a fuel bowser behind the food store and filed up on low octane. The young guy loved bikes and was excited to have me visit and chatted about where I had been and was going. He told me his dream was to save enough money to get a road bike and ride the roads I was riding as he currently only rides his dad’s farm bike which is maybe a 125cc. I decided to take a break and walk about the small village and got an ice cream cone from the other shop open in town which was an old fashioned ‘milk bar’. I asked for a single but the woman seemed delighted I chose passionfruit flavour which did not seem popular and loaded my cone up with four scoops! I tried but could not eat it all however just sat in the shade under a tree and relaxed. The road was quiet for awhile then a woman drove up and stopped in middle of road looking at me like I was from Mars and then waved so I waved back and then she gave me a huge smile and drove off. That beautiful moment made me so happy and as I sat there enjoying a cool breeze I felt truly at ease with the world.

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Some of the local flora leaving Ruatoria glittered silver in the afternoon sun.

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Arriving at Tokomaru bay I found many deserted buildings and wondered about the history of the place which had a beautiful beach and bay with a stunning headland.

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The road then returned to hug the coast and offer many scenic views of totally empty beaches.

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An unbelievable day of riding.

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Day three I was riding out of the motel and things felt odd. Stopped in driveway and saw the rear tyre was flat. I walked to the road and saw a petrol station nearby but closed so decided since the tyre was not totally deflated to ride in to town to find next nearest. Just crept in at about 15kph on side of road and pumped the tyre up and tried to find anything sticking out or hear any air leaking but could not find either. I purchased a can of that tyre repair inflator and I also had my own puncture repair kit and compressed air with me so just decided to see how I go with it.

My route was to Taumaarunui via a couple of nice roads. The country has been in a drought and the normally green land was a straw yellow and brown. Every night the tv news talked about water restrictions and hopeful messages that rain might come soon. I was hopeful that it would not be too soon but I was outnumbered by the rain dancing locals and would be getting wet later today. However the ride south from Gisborne was dry and through some lovely hill country where the road was tight and twisty before opening up some.

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At Wairoa I chatted to some other bikers over breakfast and then checked the tyre and it was already half down so I decided to pump it up then ride on to Napier and see if anything was open for puncture repair but being a Sunday was not hopeful.

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More fantastic riding but of course nothing open in Napier for tyres so I deflated the tyre and filled it with the tyre inflation/repair foam and as instructed rode around town slowly and was going to get some photos of the art deco area but it started to rain. The bikers I had met at breakfast I met again when inflating my tyre and they told me the road I was going to take to Lake Taupo was a bit boring and they were taking a isolated type route west from Hastings that was twisty. I considered it but was not sure if the tyre would hold so wanted to stay on more main roads. As it turned out the locals for the 2nd time showed they are spoilt rotten for good riding as the route I took was full of excellent sweepers and only a New Zealand rider could say it was boring, here in Australia it would be listed with the best.

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I rode out of the rain at Napier and into the occasional light shower but was happy that the tyre was staying up. I had to stop and put my liner back in the jacket as it was very cold on what was like a tableland area near Rangitaiki. The sky was dark and actually the lights were on in the car park of the solitary shop in the area where I stopped. I was still hopeful of not hitting heavy rain but got caught shortly after Taupo.

At Turangi I had a brain fade. My route was via Tongariro national park as I had wanted to see the volcano but it was raining steady and looking up I could see it was likely to even heavier in the mountain range but still continued on my original route. Also I rode past two perfectly good petrol stations breaking my rule.

The rain did get heavier and my WP10 ‘water proof’ Alpinestars jacket proved to not actually be waterproof. The zipper has no outer storm cover nor is it a water resistant type so the water came through and got around the tiny inner storm flap rather easy. Also my Held four season ‘water proof’ gloves soon got soaked through. So I was starting to think why did I not short cut to my final destination and skip this heavy rain because cannot see anything anyway and said to myself ‘well I am wet now already so it cannot get any worse’ then looked at my fuel gauge and noticed the LCD bar read out had gone to reserve.

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The fuel gauge on the Suzuki is probably the other thing on the bike poorly designed. Mostly it displays 3 bars when the bike 3/4 or more full, then two bars and you would expect to see one bar then a flashing bar when on reserve. That is standard with the 4th bar only occasionally showing when filled to the very brim soon to disappear. On the Suzuki it goes from two bars to reserve. One bar is the reserve. This was what nearly caught me out.

In the middle of a national park with no cars in the rain soaking wet - and on reserve. I rode on thinking well I will get fuel at the shop I expected to see in the middle at the volcano area. Of course there is nothing and the sign says no services, so I pull into a forest park ranger office to ask but it is closed. I keep riding trying to feather the throttle and thinking what to do when the inevitable happens and then coming up to a road junction in the gloom I make out the familiar shape of a petrol station and then the welcome sign that the lights are on and it is open. I think I might have said woohoo a couple of times!

Day four my route was to be a loop south but I ran into light rain that soon turned heavy and so I turned around. My route that day returned to Turangi so I decided to ride to there and if I had to, simply find a coffee shop and see how the weather went. As soon as I got back to Lake Taupo I could see it was fine towards Napier and wet to the south and west. So I decided to revisit the road over to there as I really liked that road and it’s sweeping corners.

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Hello Mr Blue Sky, nice to find you here.

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Parts of this road again remind of the grand views on some of my riding in North America.

Day five and the rain has moved from the south and west to where I am in the middle and east. I have a route plotted that takes me right into the rain. I try riding to the west from Turangi but run into heavy rain so from the same higher vantage point as yesterday I see the western side of the lake is totally heavy rain so no option but to ride the now familiar eastern side to Taupo.

From Taupo I see very heavy rain on my route north east so decide to try ride around it and then keep making my way north purely based on where I can see it is raining and where it is clear while still more or less heading north. What is unexpected is the roads are all still excellent riding despite not being recommended anywhere. I start to wonder are there any roads that are not good riding in New Zealand.

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Hmm, definitely not going that way.

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I managed to rejoin my planned route from Tirau where upon noticing more than 6 cafes in a row in the main street I decided to apply my rule that the next place would have nothing and had an early lunch at a coffee roasting house/cafe which was run by a German bloke and enjoyed both an excellent coffee and great light lunch.

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This road from Tirau to Tauranga was like Burringbah range in NSW Australia but 10 times as long. Wonderful.

From here I guess I put my head down a bit and did not take too many photos even though the riding was great, particularly coming over a range Waihi to Paeroa which was a superb piece of road and I should have stopped to take some pics but the rain was right behind me so I wanted to keep moving. Not long after I got caught in a bunch of passing heavy showers for the next hour or so before finally a dry ride for last bit of road back to Maraetai.

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Once again New Zealand has stunned me with how good it is. I took a few photos sure but it really represents just a fraction of what there was to see and corners to ride. Even the rain could not stop me enjoying this ride enormously. I was planning a East coast Australia two week tour for Christmas but now I am thinking I might go back to New Zealand, even if just for a few days…

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