North Island

New Zealand – Auckland, Waihi Beach & Bowentown

Dear Readers – prepare now to jump forward in time 1 month, which is the beauty of the modern technical era, and wonders of post-dated blogs.

After working my fingers to the bone for 1 month in Sri Lanka for bread, gruel and tuppence a day, while my Tiger was being shipped from LA to Melbourne, I had ingeniously devised a cunning new plan!  My bike actually arrived in Melbourne on 4th May but was going to take a week or potentially more to clear customs.  Therefore, what better plan could there be than to fly to New Zealand (NZ) whilst I waited for the tedious paperwork to be completed?  I have been very lucky in the past to have traveled most of the World for work & pleasure, but the one place left I’d never been to and REALLY wanted to go to was NZ.  I had previously enquired how much it would be to ship my bike from Australia to NZ & back, and it was surprising expensive.  Weighing up the options, it seemed to me the best thing to do was to fly to NZ and hire the same bike for 10 days, which was much cheaper than shipping my own bike, and would also save a lot of time.  Perfect!  So, that’s what I did.

I have to mention here that Mike and Trevor at PARADISE MOTORCYCLE TOURS in Auckland provide a FIRST CLASS bike hire service, and I fully recommend them for all your touring needs.  True to my usual late planning handicap, I had only emailed them 2 days before arriving to enquire, but Mike was quick to return my email and had everything efficiently arranged for my arrival, and at a significantly lower price than his competition quoted.  With my flight’s late landing and my subsequent near strip-search by NZ customs (looking for ‘alien’ imports such as grass seed, bugs or dinosaur eggs hidden in my camping gear), I walked out an hour late but was still met by a smiling Trevor to collect me and take me to my hotel – “all part of the service!”

I soon learned why Trevor was always smiling – all he does all day is ride beautiful motorbikes up & down a beautiful country.  Even when he discovered that I didn’t actually have a hotel, he was still smiling (well, almost), and I was frankly amazed when he offered to help me find one.  This took a little time, as I’d happened to land in Auckland at the same time as a famous rock band and practically all the hotels were full (as I was told by the first full hotel I tried).  For someone who loves music, I have become ridiculously behind with the modern music scene ever since I starting working abroad and traveling in 1998; I think the last ‘new’ band I heard of was The Spice Girls.   Anyway, I ‘googled’ it and found out they were ‘Tool’ – quite a big heavy rock/metal band in the US it seems, and they were on my flight from Melbourne to Auckland.  I remember the long haired one came and urinated next to me in the loos while we were waiting for our luggage, but of course I didn’t know who he was then, and he didn’t know who I was – it’s been a while since ‘Sonofhibachi’ recorded anything, and I like to keep a low profile of course.

Anyway, not to be defeated that easily, Trevor soon spotted a ‘Backpackers’ as we drove around the city centre, which is the Ozzy/NZ name for a Youth Hostel.  The only bed left was in a mixed 4 person dormitory, and I had the top bunk above this girl who looked like the possessed girl from The Exorcist.  No wonder that bed was still free!  She was lying as though dead in a coffin with red eyes, a green nose and as white as death, surrounded by a pile of snotty tissues and making a strange gurgling/wheezing noise through her snotty nose.  I took one quick look at her, threw my bags on my bed, and ran out as quickly as I could, witnessing one intense sneezing & coughing fit that filled the room with green sputum and left her levitating attached to the bottom of my top bunk.  I was not looking forward to my return, imagining scenes of her spinning around the room firing green vomit projectiles at me.

Luckily Trevor was waiting outside to rescue me, and I certainly owed him a beer or two.  If I was homesick at all (which I wasn’t), it was instantly cured when we walked into O’Hagans Irish Pub on Viaduct Harbour sea-front.  I could have been anywhere back home in good ol’ Blighty, so warm, friendly and welcoming the ambience, so cold and refreshing the locally brewed draught ale, and so delicious the warm steak and ale pie with mushy peas!  In fact, Trevor (himself an Englishman moved to NZ years ago) explained how life in NZ was still very British in many ways, except without the rubbish weather, crowds and traffic jams.  The more I heard, the more I liked.  And the more I liked, the more I drank.  And the more I drank, the more I liked hearing and drinking (repeat several times).

In the morning I was pleasantly pleased to find I hadn’t been baptized in pools of snotty sputum from Exorcist Girl and had actually slept amazingly well, no doubt due to my demonically possessed girl antidote of copious amounts of beer, and my new found hostel-survival kit of earplugs and eye mask.

After a healthy Burger King breakfast (yes, I’d left America, but America hadn’t quite left me!), I jumped into the luxury transport arranged by Paradise and set off to collect my bike for the next 10 days – a 2012 Triumph Tiger 800.  However, there were only 2 things wrong with it:

1.  It was Yellow

2.  It wasn’t the XC (cross-country) version

Thankfully, I am an adaptable fellow (and it was otherwise a superb machine) so I soon had my luggage transferred and packed, hoisted the sails and sped off on my new NZ adventure!

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Well, here she is! A lovely (yellow) Triumph Tiger 800 (road version) – and in my favourite town!

Shortly after I stopped because I suddenly realized I didn’t know where I was going, and thought I’d better make some kind of plan.  So, I tossed a coin and set off North, thinking (ambitiously) I could ride ‘tip to toe’.  This plan soon changed when it started pelting it down with rain and all my clothes suddenly decided to not be waterproof anymore.  Cold and wet I pressed on for 30 minutes hoping it would stop, but it got heavier, so I decided to execute Plan B.  But before I could execute Plan B, I first had to make it, and so I decided to stop for a late breakfast/early lunch and dry off.

Trevor had shown me this really good weather website that accurately (as can be) forecast the rain & pressure system 3 days in advance, and sure enough it was forecast to rain heavily in the north for the next few days.  So, south was the answer, to the volcanic swamps of Rotorua via the east coast of Waihi Beach and my favourite town – Bowentown (named after an early governor of New Zealand, Sir George Bowen, who is thought to have camped in the Bay c. 1869).  From that moment on I planned my entire route around the weather forecast on this website, and it never once let me down (www.metservice.com).

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Waihi Beach – quiet, calm and relaxing, even on a cloudy day

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Bowentown – Katikati Entrance

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Beautiful bay, and lots of great coastal walks (or ‘tramps’) nearby

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Managed to pick up a passenger after all!

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Rotorua to Napier

The first settlers to come to Rotorua are said to have tied themselves to trees as they ate lunch down by the many geothermic lakes in the area so they didn’t fall in and drown when the copious amounts of hydrogen sulphide in the air sent them to sleep! The air all around Rotorua still stinks of rotten eggs, winning the city the nickname of ‘Sulphur City’, but at least you get a good night’s sleep.

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Everywhere you turn there is something beautiful to look at – Autumn is a good season to visit if you like colours

The whole of New Zealand owes its existence and continued shaping to its position at the southwestern edge of the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ where the Pacific Plate is (generally) being subducted beneath the Indo-Australian Plate resulting in extensive volcanic activity, earthquakes, eruptions, tsunamis and geothermal pockets. The Taupo Volcanic Zone near to Rotorua is one of the most active volcanic areas on the planet, allowing visitors to see a range of volcanic phenomenon such as geysers, colourful geothermal lakes and boiling mud pools in one place.

One of the best places to see these is the Wai-O-Tapu Scenic Reserve, part of the Maroa Caldera formed approx 160,000 yrs ago when the volcano collapsed after emptying its magma chamber.

Lady Knox Geyser

Lady Knox Geyser – erupts at 10:15 daily, with a little help from our friendly Park Ranger (and some biodegradable soap)

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Small volcanic explosive craters lay everywhere in Wai-O-Tapu, like this one called ‘Devil’s Home’

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5% of new Zealand’s total power supply comes from this area harnessing Geothermal Power

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Artist’s Palette – mineral rich geothermic waters form beautiful colours. If you’re interested, the colours & minerals are: green (colloidal sulphur / ferrous salts), orange (antimony), purple (manganese oxide), white (solica), yellow (sulphur), red (iron oxides) and black (sulphur / carbon)

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Champagne Pool – Efflux of CO2 in this hot spring looks amazingly inviting, athough 73 degrees C (and 62m deep) may be a little too on the warm side…

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Devil’s Bath – Suspended Sulphur makes this eruption crator pretty inviting for The Devil, apparently

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The naked Mud Wrestling show was due to start in 5 minutes…

Close to Lake Taupo I stopped by Huka Falls, where The Waikato River, normally up to 100m wide, flows through a hard volcanic ledge just 15m wide – pretty cool!

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Huka Falls – a 100m wide river flowing through a 15m gap – pretty cool!

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Tranquil Lake Taupo

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So many waterfalls, you kind of get spoilt for choice!

I was riding to Napier and the Hawkes Bay coast, New Zealand’s answer to Napa Valley, to see how they compared.  Most of Napier was flattened by an earthquake in 1931 killing 256 people, and 4000 hectares of today’s Napier previously underwater were raised above sea level.  The city was rebuilt in Art Deco style and today is a very nice coastal town with lots of opportunity to sample the local produce, which I did.

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Napier Valley wines – pretty tasty

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Napier to Wellington

The hundreds of hours I have spent on the road, and hundreds more I will spend, give me plenty of time to percolate life and think about lots of stuff. Riding from Napier to Wellington I was mostly thinking how my self-raved waterproof Kilimanjaro jacket was not, in fact, as waterproof as I’d have liked. I first became suspicious when I got soaked riding north from Auckland on day 1, but put it down to a couple of zips I perhaps had not done up correctly. However, this time the zips could not be blamed as I felt my forearms and elbows slowly get colder and wetter. If there’s one thing that isn’t fun, it’s riding wet and cold, but fortunately the rest of the jacket seemed to hold up and I arrived in Wellington not completely soaked.

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Napier Beach

Earlier I had managed to get my usual 10:00 am start (kicking out time of most hostels), just in time for a healthy Subway breakfast on Napier beach; and very nice it was too, particularly as the sun decided to make an appearance for the first time. To the south I then rode to Cape Kidnappers where 3000 pairs of Australasian Gannets usually hang out, but I was late in the season and they must had already left for their holidays. This cape also boasts a famous golf course (voted 10th best outside USA) and was named by Captain Cook when local Māori tried to abduct one of his crew aboard HMS Endeavour during landfall in 1769.

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Cape Kidnappers (in the distance)

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Peaceful Hawkes Bay

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Sunshine in Napier, rain in Wellington (for a change)

I’d been told by the friendly lady at the Tourist Info Office that it was worth taking in the panoramic views atop Te Mata Peak, a 400m high hill not too far away offering views of Heretaunga Plains, Napier and Hawke’s Bay. She was right, and the views were spectacular, as you can see.

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View from Te Mata Peak

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Heretaunga Plains from Te Mata Peak

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Perfect weather and perfect roads!

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View from Te Mata Peak 400m above Napier and Hastings

From there it was downhill all the way to the bottom, and I started my long 4 hour ride to Wellington in order to catch the first ferry to the South Island early the next morning.  I managed to get in one good sunset that set the mountains on fire before the heavens decided to open up shortly after.

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Sunset – or Volcano on fire? (first one)

If Wellington only has a population of 400,000, then every single person living there must have been on the road sat in a traffic jam when I arrived. It was gridlock, and I’m sure the belting rain didn’t help matters. Luckily I was on a motorbike and took to ‘filter’ mode, weaving in and out of the gridlock (and maybe up a pavement or two) in order to fight my way through to the city centre where I was staying. Even luckier I had GPS (my trusty Zumo 550), so I actually knew where I was going!

My destination was the Cambridge Hotel in the centre of town, and I was glad to see her appear in the windy downpour like a life-saving lighthouse in the fog, or a McDonalds when you’re starving. Having nowhere off-road to park the Tiger, I left it on the road outside (the nice man on reception it would be OK there – honest Governor!) and, after a hot shower, installed myself at the bar with pie and chips and a pint of best, watching people get soaked outside. Lovely jubbly!

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