Wednesday, March 8, 2017

New Zealand - Day 1 Auckland to Rotorua

"There and back again"

Here lies within the tale of our epic motorcycle trip through middle earth but this is no hobbits tale. I could hear Bilbo Baggins voice from the hobbit movie in my head repeating to me over and over "I'm going on an adventure". And that's exactly what we did.

An adventure, you might call it that but a 'holiday' definitely not. This was to be 9 days of back to back riding on some of the North Island of New Zealand's most scenic, twisty, and most technical roads. We will be traversing through some of the most dramatic areas from large cities to rural farming land with rolling hills, huge lakes, deserted coastal beaches, forested mountains, active volcanoes and long lost forgotten wilderness areas. The trip was filled with numerous highs and some appreciable lows but one must take the good with the bad and this is what makes these trips so memorable.

So it was time for us to visit our Kiwi brothers across the ditch and unleash some mayhem upon their roads, I knew that customs would be waiting for us so I slipped some bananas into a japanese tourists bag and let the sniffer dogs and customs officers pounce as we then slipped through undetected. Landing at Auckland International we were greeted by heavy rainfall. Not the ideal way to start out a bike trip and it continued to rain throughout the night and into the following morning. 

Welcome to Sunny Auckland

DAY 1 - Friday 17th Feb

We had hired bikes from Auckland Motorbike Hire which is located east of the city at Maraetai. We were picked up from our hotel later than expected and didn't get to the bike hire shop until just after 10am. This turned out to be in our favour as Geoff had said the night before "Hey lets open the 1 litre Bottle of bourbon we obtained at the duty free and drink it, it will be cheaper than drinking at the bar"
So needless to say we were all feeling a little second hand the next morning so the later than usual start was a blessing in disguise. 

It had stopped raining by the time we arrived and we found the four bikes parked up ready and waiting with Randle showing us the features of each of the bikes and how the panniers are removed etc, tyre pressure are set at 36F, 42R blah blah and here is a can of chain oil for the bikes. Yes just one can that's only 3/4 full between 4 bikes. We had hired 2 MT09 Tracers for myself and Stu, 1 Tiger 800 for Geoff and a Street Triple 675 for Rick and none of the bikes were fitted with a gps, and yes i know we are going to get lost at some point. As we were still dusty from the previous night I'd instantly forgotten everything he had said and didn't really pay much attention to the bikes themselves as I just wanted to get riding. Taking off I noticed the clutch didn't seemed to want to engage like a normal clutch would, but thought it must be me just not being used to this bike.

Maraetai is right on the coast and the great riding commenced as soon as we had left the bike hire shop. The road hugged the coastline for kilometers with beautiful views of the Firth of Thames on one side and hills on the other. The roads were still wet and a bit slippery but it wasn't raining which was good. There were beautiful deserted beaches for miles along here.

Tracer and the Firth of Thames

The Lads on tour
We stopped in for fuel and a drink at Thames it was 12:30 pm by now and we had only done 104kms out of the 450km so far, I sent Geoff James a text in the hope that I would be able to meet up with him. As luck would have it Geoff had just arrived at the Thames Yacht club which was 2 minutes up the road.

We headed up to the yacht club where I got to meet the man behind the famous Confessions of an Ageing motorcyclist blog. Quick greetings over and done with he lead us along the famous Coromandel Coast line to Manaia Hill which had beautiful views over the harbour. It was a pleasure to ride along with another motoblogger that I have been following for a number of years and one that has been trained in the ways of the Force(IAM - Institute of Advanced Motorists - basically the training is done to the UK police standards for those not in the know so it is bloody good). Geoff set a pretty cracking pace for a sprightly gent of 69 years young and I noticed how well he was riding, unlike my dusty self, I bet Geoff could ride like a demon if he really wanted to, it was obvious that he knew the road well.

Greeting with Geoff James

Looking West to Auckland and more rain on the way
Geoff's Beastly Suzuki
The 50 odd kms to Coromandel was a fun bit of road which required a deal of caution as one side of the road is basically a drop off into the ocean with the opposite side being a cliff face. I bet this road gets very busy on the weekends but we were in luck today and there was little traffic.
I was impressed with Geoff's bike, it was in immaculate condition and the GSX is quite pleasing to the eye, I like the low slung exhaust it looks good.

Coromandel Twisties

Blogger photo Op time

Manaia Hill overlooking Coromandal

Geoff had then led us on down the hill into Coromandel township and to the harbour for another quick photo op overlooking the wharf and Coromandel harbour, what a gorgeous spot.

Image by Geoff James

A quick batch of photos at the wharf had us all gawking at the beauty of Coromandel. It must be tough to be a retired bike rider living here I must say. Such a beautiful place. Geoff then had a surprise for us all and lead us back to his place which was only 2 minutes from the harbour for a spot of lunch.

I must say it was fantastic to meet with Geoff and Jenny. He is a great guy and we hit it off instantly. It felt like I had known him for years. He had put on this huge spread of sandwiches, cookies and drinks. All of this from someone I had never met before. What a fantastic guy.

Kwoky and me at the wharf

Jules from the famous Tarsnakes blog once said to me that his son had told him that friends on the internet are not real friends. I would have to disagree with him there as over the years we have become friends, it's a bit like when you were kids and had a pen friend overseas(yes that was a long time before the internet folks I'm showing how old I am now). So far all the bloggers I have met have been good friendly people. This has been one of the real highlights of the trip and it's only day one.

Photo by Geoff James

The one hour lunch flew by and was nowhere near long enough to talk motorcycles, however it was now 3pm and we still had 260km to go to Rotorua our destination for the night and it was mostly winding roads as well. I felt much better after lunch and was interested to keep going now.

We said our goodbyes and Geoff gave us 2 bottles of Red wine to take with us as a parting present. Thank you very much Geoff very kind of you. If you're ever over here give us a shout out and I'll show you round. Our Geoff had some spare room in the panniers so stuck the wine bottles in separately. Wouldn't want those breaking in there, that would be bad.

Blogger selfy goodness with Mr Geoff James

We set off out of Coromandel up over the Coromandel Mountain range this was a great little bit of twistys I was now just starting to get used to the Tracer. It is not too bad a bike, the engine is silky smooth and has loads of power all the way from down low. It has a nice induction roar when it gets moving. The seat is comfortable and you can move around on it quite a bit. It is fairly quick steering for a touring bike but what lets it down is its suspension. It tends to wallow especially when you hit large bumps, and when you hit large bumps mid corner it wants to make you run wide. I bottomed the bike out a couple of times on left handers here grinding the centre stand away.

It wasn't long before we had to make a stop at Kuaotunu along the coast to put our wet weather gear on, it was just about to start raining. It was just here we were about to get going again and the Tiger just barely turned over like it had a flat battery. Geoff say "Uh Oh that's how my triumph sounded when the battery went on it"

He tried it again but it just managed to fire so on we went. It continued raining on and off and heavy at times. I could feel water leaking into my suit down my neck, I hate that uncomfortable feeling when the water starts leaking in.

We were riding somewhere near Whangamata, Rick was leading Geoff, myself and then Stu as we came around a left bend and onto the straight. Rick slid sideways and kept going but Geoff went sideways right in front of me and got spat onto the road. WTF? Holy shit what just happened, he must have hit diesel as he was riding straight and upright. It happened in less than 2 seconds there wasn't anything he could do.

We all stopped and we checked Geoff out who was amazingly ok. Checking on the bike it wasn't to bad either just broke an indicator off, and cracked the fairing around the side of the tank and near the headlight. It was still rideable and so was Geoff thank god.

Post Crash

Going back to check the road we couldn't see any diesel or anything else on the road however we did notice there was a black patch that was bereft of any gravel. Looks like his rear tyre spun up on it in the wet and spat him off, luckily low siding and not breaking anything. His new rain gear got torn up pretty badly but funnily enough when we got to Rotorua he was still dry.

Geoff's off had made everyone nervous and taking extra care so we were making slow progress with wet twisty roads and traffic as well. We took the most direct route down the coast now and didn't follow the original route plan which in hindsight was probably a mistake as it actually made the route longer and with more traffic. It was at Tauranga that we then got lost. There were no signs anywhere saying Rotorua and we had no gps. We eventually stopped and asked for some directions and then got lost again. It was raining and would soon be getting dark as it was after 6:00pm and without gps and any decent street signs it was a nightmare trying to navigate to somewhere when the next signs only said the next small town. I didn't recognize any of the towns and some were not on the map as they were suburbs of Tauranga it's a much bigger place than I anticipated. 

Luckily we saw a sign after about 20min that pointed to Rotorua but said it was a toll road. WTF? Now I know why there were no signs previously it's because the local council want you to use the toll road. That's shit we'd been going round in circles trying to find the road only to go out too far to Te Puke and down to Rotorua that way, which is a long way off course and in the rain. We had to ride through some roads works in the rain and I nearly threw the bike down in deep gravel 5 metres before the tar seal restarted.  Confidence was at a real low point and I was starting to get pissed off. Lost and almost 2 bikes down on the first day. I thought to myself stay calm, take it easy there's only 30min to go. About 20kms out of Rotorua I could smell the sulfur stench and knew that we would soon be there thankfully.

I'd memorized the route plan on how to get to the motel in Rotorua however we now came into town from completely the opposite direction, we were in the dark and the rain too. I didn't know where I was and I have been here before for several days but in the dark and the rain nothing looked familiar so we pulled into a petrol station under the awning where Rick could now get his phone out and checked the phone GPS for directions. As it turns out we were only 2 blocks from the motel. Everyone was relieved when we finally got into the motel just after 7pm.

Getting out of our wet gear Geoff opened up his panniers to find one of the Red wine bottles had exploded in his pannier during the accident covering his clothes in red wine. We quickly opened the other bottle and downed it before he could break that one and waste it. Thanks Mr James that raised our spirits a bit after the events of this afternoon.

We got a taxi to take us just a few blocks to the main central hub where they have this great little spot called Eat Street. They had lots of different types of restaurants there of different nationalities. We just got in by 9:30 and had a nice Indian meal washed down with a beer. Most of the places were either closing or closed by 10pm so we just made it in for dinner tonight.

Eat Street Rotorua

The motor lodge we were staying at had a kitchen with an oven. Our gloves were soaking wet so we put the gloves into the oven and put it on low so that the gloves would dry out.

Let's hope that tomorrow is a better day than today for the weather, but after checking on the metservice they were predicting heavy rain in the Rotorua area.

Todays map reference(as best I can work out)


  1. Wow, you guys really know how to start off a holiday. And that was just day one.

    I am happy you got to meet Geoff James, have to admit, I am a little jealous.

    Glad Aussie Geoff was alright after his wee get off too.

    I had to laugh when you mentioned penpals. Back in Grade 4 we were all assigned penpals (from Australia). I still remember my penpal Lisa's address in Murrayville, Victoria, we wrote back and forth up until we both graduated in 1989 and then lost touch..... Damn, we are old.

    1. Yep day 1 certainly did pack a punch! It was fantastic meeting with Geoff a real treat.
      I had a female penpal from Boulder Colorado who I wrote to for several years. Yes Brandy we are old. Lol

  2. Sweet, been waiting for these blogs...hurry up!

    1. Sorry to keep you waiting mate theres more good stuff to come yet.
      Sit tight and relax, you'll get your turn.

  3. Steve mate!
    What an excellent write-up - absolutely classic prose and the photos are great too. Even though we were only together for a few hours, riding with you and the team was an utter privilege and I mean that. That comment by Tarsnake's son was really interesting. Like you, I haven't come across another blogger that I didn't like and it certainly felt that we'd known each other forever. Massively enjoyable and it was a real shame that it wasn't got longer.

    So sorry to hear about the mishap on the other side of the Coromandel Hill and pleased that Geoff came out of it fairly well - I had no idea! Crikey, talk about taking the long way round to Rotorua - that was a huge day! Yeah, a GPS would have been really to mark up your accommodation on. Wouldn't be without my Garmin.

    Can't wait to read about the rest of your adventure! Brilliantly written so far.

    1. Yeah our Geoff was doing it a bit tough, didn't tell you at the time as i didn't want to worry you at all, we could still continue on no problem and it was a surprise for the blog.
      Yeah mate getting lost on the north island is easily done as you'll notice in coming posts.

  4. Great write up Bro.
    I feel for poor Geoff J. Not only did he have the misfortune of running into you, but he was further scarred by meeting the Bushpig. Geoff will be in therapy for years after....... ;)
    Remember that exploding bottle of Coke that was in Geoffry's pannier on the south island ride? He needs to not put anything liquid except for toothpaste in his panniers. He must like sticky undies.....

    1. Poor old bushpig, shouldnt ride bikes with panniers at all imho. I'm sure your right on the sticky undies thing lol.

  5. Great stuff, I did similar ride on day one of a tour there myself and I got lost at same junction but I did a U turn I think and came into Rotorua on route 36. Looking forward to reading the rest of tour.

  6. Yeah navigation was a little bit trouble some for the whole trip but it made for a memorable trip thats for sure

  7. Yes it sounds like very similar circumstances to what we recently experienced. It would be good to meet other bloggers as you kind of know them through their stories.

    1. Very much the same thing. Yes I have liked every blogger I've met so far, and the conversation flow easily like we have know each other for years.