Sunday morning dawned bright and clear. I have that delicious stomach-churning anticipation of a day of fast riding in sparsely populated and largely wild territory. A couple of the lads have stomach-churning due to overdoing it the previous evening and are looking forward to a big fried breakfast to settle things down (ewwww...).
Andy, praying for a hangover cure
Big John - makes the VStrom 1000 look like a toy!
We head off to the suburb of Taradale for gas and a pavement breakfast at a cafe. Eggs Benedict for me and plenty of water as the weather is scorching hot. Easy to get dehydrated on a long, hard ride in these conditions.
A lazy Sunday breakfast in the sun
The next part of the route is deceptively called Gentle Annie. The reason for its name isn't known to me, but it was probably named by an early settler with a perverse sense of humour! Gentle it is not. Approximately 150km of continuous bends through a bit of farmland but a fair percentage of it is through forests and native bush in really hilly country. The road itself was only completely tar sealed earlier this year and there are big altitude changes as it dives down to valley floors and then over ridges in the Kaweka Mountain range.
John leads off and sets a great pace as we climb away from the coast. The road consists of continuous sweepers with a smooth, coarse chip surface, perfect for taking any chicken strips off a rear tyre - this is motorcycling Paradise! Further up into the hills, the road surface is generally good but to maintain a decent pace in safety, good forward observation is critical to spot scatterings of gravel on the riding line and frost heaves in the high country. It's hard to think that on such a beautiful day, this road is regularly closed because of snow in the colder weather but even now, the temperature drop is quite pronounced at altitude.
Kaweka Range high country - lonely out here
We stop at a mountain river bridge to take some photos as the broom is in full flower and looks absolutely stunning. There are big trout down below in the crystal clear waters. After nearly an hour of riding, we've only seen a couple of vehicles and riding solo on this road with only patchy mobile phone coverage at best, having an accident or a breakdown becomes a serious matter; especially in marginal weather.
John, encouraging Andy to dive off the bridge and catch a trout!
Crystal clear mountain river
Richard takes over the lead for the second half of Gentle Annie and the countryside slowly turns into high country farms. The road is as twisty as ever and gravel patches diminish but everyone is still keeping a wary eye open for them. Reaching State Highway 1 and up to Waiouru for gas, everyone thinks it's one of the best biking roads in the north island, but requires huge concentration if it's going to be traversed at pace.
Tongariro National Park active volcanoes taken from Waiouru
It's quite cool here in the high country and we head north west towards Taumaranui with John picking up the lead. Everyone is on full alert as the Highway Patrol are pretty keen in this area and sure enough, the radar detector goes off and there's a cop a long way up the road booking a car driver. We stop shortly afterwards near National Park village for some photos of the volcanoes. Cloud cover is fairly well down, but that makes for a moody atmosphere.
Arty-farty shot of the volcanoes with red tussock grass
and an old cart in the foreground
A 3 metre high Kiwi made from gnarled branches - terrific!
We all refuel at Taumaranui and stop for a bit of rehydration. We say our goodbyes to Richard who has to return home for work tomorrow which is a real shame as he's great company and a darned good rider too. The next leg of the journey down the Lost World Highway needs full tanks as no fuel is available for the best part of 150 km. This stretch is rather different from Gentle Annie. The same tight bends but the road surface is more uneven, the road itself is at the bottom of a gorge and pretty narrow after the first 10km or so.
I lead off and we're immediately reminded that it's a road to be respected by the sign below. There used to be another sign saying "Public Road - This Is Not A Race Track" but it seems to have disappeared - more on that later.
A sobering reminder to take care
About an hour away from our stop for the night, it gets gloomy and light rain starts to fall. The gorge walls are clad in bush and tree ferns and it's eerily beautiful.
Andy singing in the rain
Remains of trees swept downstream during heavy rain
Rivers rise fast in hill country
Wild, steep country
We travel along in light rain which has turned the 10-odd km section of unsealed road into brown slush. All but one of the bikes are on sport touring tyres but there are no anxious moments. The bikes are totally covered in mud and look like they've had a day at the moto-X track! We're soon back onto tar seal and a bit further on, we stop at the Moki Tunnel which was built in the 1930's. An impressive bit of engineering.
The narrow Moki tunnel
At least you can see daylight!
A few minutes later, we're rolling into the tiny, isolated settlement of Whangamomona and our stop for the night at the iconic Whangamomona Hotel, having seen precisely 2 other vehicles down the whole length of the highway. Not a place to run into trouble. The Hotel is a mecca for bikers, car enthusiasts and intrepid travellers and maintains its old world charm. The current owners, Penny and Geoff Taylor are bike enthusiasts and currently own a brand new Super Tenere. Every year, they hold a number of special events including Republic Day with all sorts of events including elections. From memory, the last elected President of the Republic was a goat - I love it!!!!
The iconic Whangamomona Hotel
After being welcomed and shown our rooms, we have a well-earned locally crafted beer or two. Nearly 400 km of continuous twisties brings on a real thirst, not to mention being half-stuffed! We chat with a colourful local who gives us some interesting history of the people in the area and we tactfully don't ask about banjo ownership. The local has his well-used utility vehicle (called a ute in NZ and Australia) parked outside. It's clearly done stirling service for a couple of decades or so and is a perfect photographic subject in the remote surroundings.
A true country vehicle
Another patron rocks up on a gorgeous KTM 690 motard. I've never seen one up close before and the engineering is superb. Must be the perfect bike for a blast on these twisty roads. The owner is a really nice guy and as we chat, it turns out that he's the cousin of an old workmate and also worked for my old boss in another life. The thing about NZ and it's 4.5 million population is that virtually everyone knows someone in common!
Superb KTM 690
Arty-farty shot in KTM mirror
After another beer or two and a superb meal, the eyelids are beginning to droop and 4 keen bikers are tucked up and sound asleep by 10pm, dreaming of the next day!
Day 3 soon......