The best word of advice I’ve received about riding in New Zealand is that if it’s wet on one coast, it doesn’t take long to ride across to the other side of the island and bask in sunshine!
I received that sage advice in 2015 while on the ferry from the North to South Island. When we arrived in Picton, we headed west because there was sunshine.
When it started to rain, we headed east and within a couple of hours we were in sunshine again.
However, you don’t have to wait hours for a change of weather and scenery if you are riding on the far north of the North Island.
I recently rode with a group of Harley-Davidson execs, VIPs and motorcycle journos from Auckland to the HD Iron Run rally (March 2016) at Paihia in the Bay of Islands.
If you look at a map of New Zealand, this is the skinny bit at the top. A place where you can ride from coast to coast in less than an hour and in some places you can see both coasts at the same time.
All while riding some of the twistiest, most challenging and scenic roads in the world.
While Auckland is an attractive harbour city with trendy restaurants and cafes, we couldn’t wait to escape its confines and head north on the highway.
In less than 15 minutes, we’d crossed the harbour and covered enough of the city to turn off and head for the secondary roads around Orewa and stop for the first of many photographs with a beach background.
With the Pacific Ocean to our right and winding roads in front, we headed north, following the tar through quaint towns for our lunch stop at the Gumdiggers Cafe at the Kauri Museum.
It’s more than just a museum about the venerable tree, but a modern and interesting tribute to pioneers and the Maori culture.
We’ve now left the Pacific behind us and are heading west toward Dargaville where we turn north again and follow the Tasman Sea at a distance.
We crest ridges and catch glimpses of the sea in places, surprised we have just left the Pacific Ocean behind us not so long ago.
Then we enter the Waipoua Kauri Forest where the road narrows and turns into a squiggly challenge.
We drop a gear or two and begin some aggressive riding. I’m glad I have the Road King which has a dynamic chassis and touches down less frequently than I’d thought.
We make good progress through the forest and are enjoying the ride immensely when we pull over to look at Tane Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest.
At 51.5m high, 13.8m girth and around 2000 years old, the biggest and oldest tree in the forest.
It’s suddenly all very serious and spiritual as we wash our shoes and scrape off any contaminants before taking the short walk to the humungous tree.
A Maori guide gives us a solemn and heart-felt guide to the magnificent tree and the dwindling kauri forests, now down to less than 3% of their original size.
It’s a daunting and humbling experience. Not a downer, just a solemn reminder of how insignificant we are, yet how much damage we can cause through neglect and thoughtlessness.
Clicking the mind back into riding gear, we kick up the stands and plough on along the challenging roller coaster roads.
Without warning and too soon, we crest a hill and are presented with one spectacular beach view of an estuary emptying out to see behind a dune-covered cape and a tranquil blue bay harbouring peaceful fishing valleys.
We stop for scenic shots and then wind our way down the corkscrew into Opononi and our overnight stay at the Copthorne Hotel.
Next morning we follow the tranquil waters north for a short spell before branching off through the dairy valleys dotted with cows and villages.
At Kawakawa we pull in for fuel and a quick photo stop at the toilets!
Yes, the 24-hour public Hundertwasser Toilets are actually a big tourist attraction.
They were made from recycled materials by expatriate Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser who lived there from 1975 until his death in 2000.
Back on the bikes, we are now looming within half an hour of Paihia, but we turn off and head along Russell Rd into more switchbacks and the Helena Bay Gallery and Cafe for an excellent brew and seafood chowder lunch.
The cafe also affords us our first view of the Pacific Ocean for the day.
After lunch, we saddle up and drop down the wiggly tarmac into the valleys that head out toward the sea.
Some wild riding brings us at a frenetic pace to a spectacular seaside road that clings to the low cliffs a little like the famous Great Ocean Road of Victoria.
But here there is no traffic and few tourists. Just stunning coastal scenery and equally stunning roads.
The corners come thick and fast and we start to loose our bearings. The sea looms up on the right, then around the bend it’s on the left. Then it’s behind me.
I crest a ridge and now it’s on both sides of me!
A few corners more and we’re back behind the coastal ridges and winding through dairy farms, only to crest another ridge to be greeted by more coastline.
We’re having so much fun on the roads, but it’s dangerous because the coastal vistas are so breathtaking, they also take away our attention.
The rider I’m chasing locks the Fat Bob’s rear wheel under compression braking then I have a moment where I momentarily lose the front in some gravel on a big lean.
I gather my thoughts, give myself a mental uppercut and settle down.
Anyway, we’ve now arrived at the vehicle ferry which takes us back across the Waikare Inlet to Paihia, a coastal tourist town where tourists head out into the bay on boats.
Instead, we’re heading to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds where we’re staying at the neighbouring Copthorne Resort looking back at Paihia and the beautiful Bay of Islands.
As I’m settling into my room and this glorious sunset view, I’m tempted to get back on that ferry and head west again. I could be on the other coast in a couple of hours!