Short way Up, Dec. 2007

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Hi All

Well, it's Christmas day, and we're sitting in a backpackers lodge in Paihia, Bay of Islands. So we're coming to the end of our own 'Short Way Up' motorcycle trip. The plan was the head up the west side of the peninsula to the north of Auckland, right to the top of NZ at Cape Reinga, then back down the east coast.

Cape Reinga Images

We started from Auckland early on Saturday 22nd December, with dire warnings from the locals about the 'terrible holiday traffic' we could expect. Well - we should be used to it by now - their idea of busy and ours just don't equate! The motorway was running freely, and once off the North Western motorway and onto the Old Helensville Road that runs to the west, we were lucky if we saw another car!

The Old Helensville Road is a lovely sweeping back road now, that runs through a number of 'lifestyle' blocks - 'play-farms for townies'. Not big enough to earn a living, but great for the kids to grow up on.

Unfortunately all roads North lead through Wellsford (minor traffic jam, great breakfast in the corner cafe though), then after 25km it was a sharp left and back towards Dargaville, on the West Coast again. This is the 'Kauri Coast'. Apart from Dargaville there are no large towns (and you can't really call Dargaville large!). The heritage of this area is timber, and the felling of the kauri forests.

Dargaville

For the uninitiated, Kauri are HUGE trees - or at least they would be, if they were still there. Kauris take hundreds of years to grow, and mature trees have massive trunks (they even have names - Tane Mahuta means 'Lord of the Forest', and is the most massive kauri known to stand today. It is 51 metres (169 feet) in height, and has a circumference of 13.8 metres (45 feet). There is no proof of the tree's age, but it is estimated to be between 1250 and 2500 years old. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tane_Mahuta for more details). The wood makes beautiful furniture and ornaments, and is highly prized. The ones that survive are now highly protected. So there are kauri museums now, and walks through woodlands to show off the trees that are left.

Rawene

Our destination on day one was Rawene, a small town on one side of a ferry across the Hokianga Estuary. Rawene surprised us. We were expecting it to be small, but it was also surprisingly welcoming. Many out of the way towns are dying on their feet - but Rawene had a soul. We found the local hotel (The Masonic Arms) and had a great meal, before leaving a very happy group of locals in the tavern singing their heart out ('Looks like a long night' said a resigned landlady…) There were a number of small shops, and we liked the mixture of houses that were obviously from a mixed community. All on the most picturesque of coastlines. I think we'll be going back. (see http://www.rawene.co.nz/)

Early next morning we caught the ferry across to Kohukoku - another great little town, with a lovely cafe on the water for breakfast. The roads along this coast just lend themselves to motorbike riding, with sweeping bends that add interest whilst allowing you to keep a reasonable speed up. There's no gravel, and generally the tarmac is well kept. Be aware though - I say generally. There are a couple of patches that need watching, and a couple of stretches with tight bends.

At Awanui (fill up with petrol here or take your chances) we headed north onto the final peninsula. We'd booked into a backpackers in Pukenui (the most northerly motel in NZ, according to the brochure), so called in to drop all our luggage off before attempting to reach Cape Reinga.

Cape Reinga

To the west of the peninsula that is topped by Cape Reinga is Ninety Mile Beach - which actually is only 52 miles long. But that does equate to about 90 kilometers - so maybe they got their units wrong! We decided that it wasn't very prudent to try riding the bikes up the beach, so headed for the road. There is only one road up - and the last 20 kilometers are gravel. We were expecting a long straight road, and were pleasantly surprised by more sweeping bends that made for very enjoyable riding. Then we hit the gravel. In the beginning, it was OK. Although nervous, I handled the bike well, and felt in control. One good thing - on gravel, you won't have a high speed crash, so it won't be life-threatening - just a little painful. The gravel was very rough in places - I was glad that we had no luggage. The highways agency is going to tarmac the last 20 km in the coming year, and for some reason whenever they start on a road they make it worse first. But we made it to the far end ! without incident.

Then disaster (and embarrassment)! I tried to stop in the gravel car park by putting the front brake on. Big mistake! Over went the bike, trapping my foot. Art was still on his bike, and needed to stop and park up (or we'd have had two bikes over) before he could help me. Eventually I managed to get my foot out. Nothing broken on me or the bike, but we had lost some petrol (it appears that we hadn't shut the petrol cap properly when we'd filled up) and I had a badly bruised big toe.

It wasn't painful enough to prevent us walking the final kilometer to the lighthouse at the end though - that was the whole point of the expedition! Cape Reinga

I was much more nervous driving back along the gravel, especially as my foot was hurting, but we made it in one piece. But I was more than ready to get back to our accommodation. Pukenui is another lovely little town, with a small fishing harbour. There's a supermarket, liquor store, takeaway and bar - what more could you want??

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve we started our journey down, along the east coast. Our first detour was to Whatuwhiwhi - a lovely road, with the added entertainment of watching sheep being herded along the road in front of us by a couple of farmers on quad bikes and three or four dogs. Unfortunately it wasn't worth the arriving. One of the 'soul-less' towns. We won't be going back.

We did pull off the main road to Taipa, though. Much better. There's a hotel with a decent cafe and bar, and a lovely beach to sit on and watch the view.

Another small town worth a detour is Whangaroa. Good bike parking, an old-fashioned hotel with good cafe food, and a big-game fishing club with a bar and restaurant too.

Pahia

So here we are in our Paihia 'Adventurers' backpackers. And feeling very old! Every single guest is young enough to be my child! We have been people watching though, and many of them do remind me of my own young men. And it did amuse me that the most popular film on the television (with floor room only) was 'Singing in the Rain' - I bet they don't admit watching that to their parents! Mind you, it is raining at the moment - apparently (just like the UK) bad weather is traditional on Christmas day!

Christmas dinner was tomato cup-a-soup, barbecued teriyaki chicken, rice & mushrooms, side salad then strawberries, cream and mince pie - all washed down with a bottle of Pinot Gris. Not quite traditional, but as close as we could get with limited resources.

We've been surprised by how many tourist trips are still running in Paihia - most of the boats are out. There aren't many shops or restaurants open though, and you can only buy alcohol with a meal. So I'm glad we pre-planned.

Well, we're home now - and very glad to be back. Boxing day started off with beautiful weather - then it changed. We drove back through rain showers, but far worse was the wind. I was very uncomfortable. But on the whole, the riding has been fantastic! We'll certainly start thinking of doing another ride…

So we hope you had a fantastic Christmas too, and have a great New Year!

Terri and Art

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