“As the front end wobbled around I tried not to hold a death grip,
and let the tire find its own traction.”
Friday afternoon, the sun was out and it couldn’t get any stiller. In a bit of a last minute decision we decide on doing a 2-1/2 day ride to the tip of the North Island of New Zealand. To Cape Reinga and the lighthouse there. We hastily packed up the DR’s got out of Auckland. We took the usual back route SH16 to Wellsford, then on to some gravel roads to the Waipu Caves. We opted to go back mimicking last weeks ride as this time we had some camera gear with us.
The second time we enter the Waipu caves, and we still did not see any glow worms. Later on we were told we just didn’t go far enough into them.
From the Waipu caves, we took some more gravel which led us back to SH1 and on to Whangarei for the night. Our accomodation in Whangarei for the night was a boutique style hotel just off the main road; it was an excellent stay with friendly owners and a superbly comfortable bed! Once settled at our hotel, we ventured into town for something to eat. After wandering the streets for a bit we came to “KILLER PRAWN” which was a lucky choice as it was excellent. Flora ordered the snapper, while I ordered the Killer Prawn dish. The pictures can describe the mayhem much better than I can. With a much needed walk, we return back to the hotel to get some sleep for the next day’s riding.
We are on the road by 8:30am, which is good because we have to cover around 600km’ of windy back roads, some sealed and some gravel. The average speed expected to be no more than 80. Leaving Whangarei was a breeze and we departed west along SH 14 then turning right onto Mangakahia Rd towards Kaikohe. Mangakahia is an amazingly twisty and very empty road. With only a few patches of road that was washed away and the occasional one way bridge, we saw about 3 other cars the entire way. We arrived at Kaikohe, filled up again and headed straight on for Rawene to catch the ferry.
Rawene is an old Northland NZ town based up on the Hokianga Harbour which housed some of the largest Kauri forests. This attracted some of NZ’s first European settlers, but over the years the town only retained some 500 residents and now a few cafes and artists. The car ferry makes an interesting break in the ride as we await its return from the north bank at Kohukohu. A fellow with his dog wonders down and checks out our DRs. Eager to share, he invites us up to his place to check out the mods he has performed on his thumper. I decline, as I wish to sit for a break before we head on the road again, but Joe heads up to check out the 32L tank he has installed on his DR. 32 litres! Joe rushes back down the main street just in time to board the ferry and pay our $3.50 ferry fee each for the bikes. A quick ride over the Harbour proves smooth and a time to relax and enjoy the calm weather on the west coast.
After a brief wait for the rest of the pack to unload, we follow Kohukohu Road east to junction to Hwy 1 but then opt to head west again on the less travelled road towards Kaitaia. After a few major dips in the road and one or two RV’s that we can’t figure out how they made it over the dips, there was no traffic until we met up with Awaroa Road just south of Kaitaia. Realizing that it was well past lunch time, we have a bit of trouble scaring up some lunch in town. We played it safe with a Cheese toasty, “Just cheese?” the woman enquired? I really didn’t want to be convulsing under my dusty helmet so “yes, just cheese please”.
After a short break, and a chance to fill up again, we headed towards our intended destination; the cape. The illusion that it is closer than it appears on the map was that, it was about 115 km from Kaitaia. We did the math in our head, one hour up, one hour back, and another hour to get to Paihia for the night. We called Joe’s cousin and let him know we wouldn’t be there until 7:30. The final uncharted leg began. The road; relatively straight forward didn’t get to technical with the DRs tall tires, not like the riding earlier in the day. 20 km’s from the top, as the wind picked up, we thought a quick detour to the giant Te Paki sand dunes was in order. We descended down a narrow gravel road to have a look, through a cow paddock and down beside a small river encircling the outlaying dune. Beyond our skill level, we decided it was probably a good idea to stop there. Perhaps another time we will come back to try our luck riding here.
Back up to the main road, the anticipation of the lighthouse in the back of our minds, we push on, through some of the worst gravel roads I have been on. Freshly graded with giant boulder size chunks and tour buses buzzing past us throwing a cloud of dust into our faces, we were none impressed. The rocks sat loosely on the top, skating like marbles under the tires of the DR. As the front end wobbled around I tried not to hold a death grip, and let the tire find its own traction. I’m sure I need much improvement on my capabilities as an off-road rider, this proved to push my comfort zone. Only a few times while deep in the side gravel avoiding oncoming traffic did I curse inside my helmet, plumes of dust enveloping us as we coughed along on our beasts. Four km’s from the end the road suddenly transitioned back to pavement and ahead in the distance…. a parking lot… so where the hell was this lighthouse?
In their attempt to clean up the place, it looked like a giant explosion of modern buildings and construction equipment. As this is a popular tourist destination, how often can you drive to “the tip” of somewhere, they were trying to make it more appealing. We had a gander, and discovered a tiny lighthouse in the distance, feeling a bit defeated, we neglected to trek down there to have a closer look, instead, I took some photos off the ridge, while finding sure footing not to be blown over by the 30-40 knot winds. Then arose the tedious task of the return road back to Kaitaia. We took our time, knowing that we were near the end of our day, meaning, possible acts of tiredness. On the way back we took a quick break to chow down on some muesli bars and check out one massive sheep station. Little white dots lined the hills, and knowing they were all sheep was quite amazing. A few stood by the gate, bahhhing; we could hear their little voices over the howling wind.
Back on the bikes and another fill up at the same gas station, Joe went in to pay. “Here, let me help you with that dear,” said the woman behind the register. His hands were visibly vibrating so much he couldn’t even swipe his card. The last leg I wouldn’t even remember except the fact that we were moving at this point. The roads were in absolutely fantastic condition and with minimal sharp turns and a bit of traffic building around the beachside towns we made it to Paihia in record time, pulling into Joe’s cousin’s motel. We gingerly clamber up the stairs, our butts aching from the DR’s unforgiving seats. It’s 7:30pm on the dot.
After a restless sleep, we woke up to a glorious morning, 6 am and the sun squinting through the top of the curtains. There was no way to sleep in. I washed the caked dirt from my hair, helping me wake up a bit. We trudged up to Jason’s apartment and latched on to some fresh juice and coffee. We took our time, knowing that the ride home would be mindless and traffic filled. Finally at 10, we managed to depart, and traverse the immensely steep driveway into the motel.
The road to Kawakawa bay wound around mangroves and through hills thick in native foliage; with every colour of green performing on this warm spring morning. The road thickened with traffic, and our communications started playing up. The similar issue I had with my headset last weekend seemed to plague Joe’s headset this weekend. Somehow it didn’t charge, and drained the life out of it. Frustrated, we pulled over to try to fix it, but to no avail. We moved on, towards Whangarei, to refill our tanks. We both managed to make it to Waipu until we both succumbed to hunger pains. Lucky it was noon, and the Pizza Barn was our choice for lunch. Admittedly we both stuffed ourselves, overcompensating for the lack of food earlier.
Waipu seemed to be a popular place for the Sunday ride. At one end of town in the “Arts cafe” were the BMW riders group, and at the Pizza Barn, a group of friendly cruisers, breaking out the pints already at 12:01. We felt no allegiance to either, but as we were almost ready to go, an orange streak of a KTM flashed, and Joe, recognizing it was someone he knew tried to take off to catch him. I hung back, taking my time knowing that eventually I would catch up. Just when I went to turn out, a scooter towing a bicycle with a rope zigzagged across the road followed by a few curious cars. I pulled out and managed to pass them all, shaking my head at the ridiculous scooter tow. I made good time to Waipu cove where I found Joe taking photos of the hen and chicks islands and sail rock. We made the decision to take our time, and check out the back roads of Mangawhai. We navigated our way through cove road with its 25km turns and bee lined it to Te Arai Point to check out the wicked surf beach then dipped inland to check out some small lakes that dot the coast. We eventually made it to Pakiri Beach watching horses trot along the gravel road. From Pakiri Beach we took an alternate route towards Matakana following a twisty mountain pass that overlooked the inlet at Omaha beach.
With a quick refresher at Matakana, and another coffee for Joe, we debated how to finish off our journey. The plan was to fast track it back to Auckland as we were starting to feel pretty exhausted from the riding the previous day paired with the lack of sleep last night. It is times like these that test married couples, and I’m sure if we were in a car it would have been radio silence the whole ride home. As we took off towards the main road our plans soon were thwarted as we encountered the dreaded Sunday afternoon traffic. Two km before Puhoi the traffic came to a grinding halt. Some cars and large trucks were kind enough to move over for us, others, oblivious, stayed hugging the centre-line for dear life. We managed to avert any problems and turned off towards Puhoi and take the twisty back roads towards home. It was such a nice afternoon that even being incommunicado and being grumpy with each other quickly dissipated. With only one near death experience of a red pickup trying to cut the corner, near the Riverhead forest, we arrive home unscathed, satisfied and proud of making it to the tip and back.