New Zealand: Waitomo, Waterfalls, and the West Coast


“At an alarming 46.0km on reserve tank we finally

pulled into a station and filled our thirsty beasts.”

The alarm chirped at 7:00 AM, the sun blasting through the dark curtains won’t help if we pull the covers over our heads.  Without much hesitation, we climb out of bed and perform our wake-up rituals.  The previous night we had done the bulk of the packing, which made the morning start less ominous.  Shortly after 8:00am, we head south 50km, towards our first intended stop at Drury to gas up the Adventures.   The idea was to get as south as possible before really stopping and taking photos etc.  In other words we wanted to beat the hordes of Aucklanders out of town on a perfect Saturday morning.

Our run down State Highway 1 concludes upon entering Ngaruawahia.  With the town center on our left, traffic slowly piled up to watch the early morning Santa parade.  Red and white balloons can be seen as fire engines and farm trucks carry Santa and his elves.  We turn at the BP on to Highway 39 and enter a series of lazy sweeping turns and rolling hills.  Smaller towns such as Te Kowhai and Whatawhata pass by in the blink of an eye.  After passing Whatawhata, we realized it was time to stop for morning coffee and for breakfast.  Riding for two hours and not drinking coffee is almost against all we believe in!  We decided to press on to Pirongia, and figured a cafe sign was sure to greet us somewhere in town.

Greet us it did!  Perched atop a 15 foot sign was a giant cup of coffee.  What more of a beacon could we ask for?  After a dizzy waitress forgets to tell the kitchen about making us some food, we settle for an apple and cinnamon muffin.  As we sip a drink our beverages, herds of bikes pass by the cafe, each taking advantage of the warm weather.

Once on the bikes again, we delve into the unknown as we forge south-west towards Kawhia Harbour, reaching its dirty fingers into the green pastures and forest of the rugged west coast.  The road rapidly coils into a flurry of knotted hairpins and convulses over jagged limestone erosions. We unfurl along the harbor, long enough to catch glimpses of the receding tide, pulling its muddy waters from the banks.  Not long and we recluse back into the emerald crevasse of the surrounding forests.  After what felt like an eternity of fluttering along this ribbon of road, we reach Te Anga road and head east towards civilization.

The road ironed out a bit, tamed for the urban traveler.  This common tourist route was littered with natural attractions; we endeavored to hit a few up before making a break for lunch.  First up was the magnificent Makapora Falls.  After stuffing most of our gear into a fantastic stuffsack (from Pacsafe) we trotted down a winding trail towards the roaring waterfall.  The sound was deafining.  Several hundred meters you could feel the spray on your face, and yelling was the only way to communicate.  We left feeling very satisfied at seeing one the best, if not the most impressive waterfalls in New Zealand.

Further on down the road our second stop was the “natural land bridge”.  A quick five minute walk unveiled a massive stone bridge looming over a slow moving river.  This amazing piece of natural rock towered 17 meter above us, creating an amphitheater.  Well worth a visit.

Back on the bikes, the fuel light blinked on.  Ooops.  A bit of bad planning on our parts, the extended track that we rustled up for the day didn’t consider our 19 liter tank threshold.  There is very little civilization on the west coast, as we had not passed a gas station since Whatawhata.  We pushed on, only to find that Waitomo was not too far away, creating a much needed break from the afternoon sun, and some much deserved subsidence.  We began the descent from the coast and headed inland on corners that standstill in the centers.  With nowhere to stop to enjoy the amazing view, we regretfully move on and find our lunch.  We quickly located the HuHu cafe and devoured the menu, stopping only to rehydrate and sit comatose across from each other, communicating only in cave man grunts and moans.  With our bellies full and all the blood running to our stomachs we headed towards Otorohanga to locate fuel.  At an alarming 46.0km on reserve tank we finally pulled into a station and filled our thirsty beasts.

Bikes and bellies full we headed to our accommodation for the night, a farm stay south of town.  This quaint little place offered an amazing view and it was a refreshing change from the sights and smells of the city.

Waking refreshed we walked over to the main house to the smell of freshly cooked waffles. Our host, who was born in Switzerland but raised in New Zealand, was a fabulous cook.  While she doated on our breakfast we chatted with her husband, a now semi-retired farmer who had the daunting task of caring for their lovely gardens and other maintenance stuff around their huge 1200 acre property.  Their house perched on the top of a hill overlooking the north and east of the region, seeing the ranges off in the distance.  Though hot in the daytime, the evening brought cool breezes through the guest house allowing for a pleasant sleeping temperature.

We quickly lost track of time talking about the economic downturn (DT) and how its effects on everyone.  Topics ranged from motorbikes to bagpipes and we finally scooted off to gear up and get over to our tour at the Waitomo caves.

As soon as we arrive we immediately regretted our decision to do a “tour”.  Cramming ourselves in a van full of non-residents we shuffled our way to the Ruakuri Cave or the “Den of Dogs” as translated from Maori.  We descended down into the longest guided underground walking tour cave via a massive circular ramp that was about 20 meters down.  The old entrance of the cave once used as a burial ground for Maori tribes many years ago though they never went inside. The cave itself was discovered by James Holden in 1904, the family that owned the land.  James ran tours in the areas that he discovered, but then the government took the tours over.  Some 60 years later, the government then tried to sell the operation, though they did not have the rights, and the land went back to the family who discovered it.  The cave had been closed for 18 years, and a 4.5Million dollar upgrade and refurbishment allowed it to be finally reopened in 2005.

Glowworms dotted the ceiling like twinkling stars, however getting their photo was a chore as the tour was fast paced and setting up a tripod with the camera was virtually impossible in the dark.  We came within inches of massive stalagmites flowstones and decorative formations.  Limestone chunks displayed fossils of sea creatures from millions of years ago, beautiful scallops were imprinted on the stone.  It was interesting to see, but we were pretty much done with rocks by the end of the tour.

After our tour we craved adrenaline in our system.  We hopped on the bikes and did a quick jaunt south towards Taumarunui but 20km outside town we realized that if we continued through it would be late by the time we would be back to our base, and decided to turn north and head along the railway route back towards Te Kuiti.  Our suspension was thoroughly tested as we blasted along a narrow winding road located to the east of the railway.  Passing by ghostly farms and occasionally passing over the train track in massive sweeping turns.  We finally made it back to Te Kuiti and refilled before finding some early dinner at the “Thirsty Wetta” probably the only restaurant in Otorohanga.  A few other bikers pulled up and we saw the fellow on the orange trike again, he gave us a wave and a nod.  We stumbled up the steep drive and again enjoyed a quiet evening at the cottage.

Monday morning came too soon and we managed to leave at 6:45 for the tedious ride back to Auckland.  Our route took us straight up Hwy 39 back to Hwy 1 and straight into AMPS for the first service on the KTMs.  Our journeys are slowly taking us further south, and hopefully next ride we can discover new territory!

One Comment Add yours

  1. Dear gawd, I love that first photo. Rich, evocative, saturated enough you could eat it.


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