Motorcycle Diaries - Not!

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Easter 2009 - Friday 10th to Wednesday 15th April

In the grand tradition of the Cattell motorcycle trips around New Zealand, this Easter we decided that we would attempt two new roads in North Island - the Gentle Annie, going from Taihape to Napier, and the road past Lake Waikaremoana, from Wairoa to Murupara. Both are marked on the map as gravel.

This holiday would also take in two important dates - our fifth wedding anniversary, and Art's birthday.

The Plan

The plan was as follows:

Day 1 - Auckland to Ngaruawahia, on State Highway 1, then due south on back roads and SH39 to Pirongia, on SH39. Then East to Rotongata via Te Awamutu, and finally south, via Mangakino, down the west side of Lake Taupo (SH32) to Turangi for an overnight stop.

Day 2 - Turangi to Taihape on SH1. This would take us past the Tongariro National Park on the west, and across the Rangipo Desert (also known as the Great Desert Road). From Taihape, a turn east takes in the Taihape Napier Road, marked on the maps as mainly gravel, and known as 'The Gentle Annie'. Final destination - Napier.

Day 3 - A Wine Tour - and no driving!

Day 4 - Napier to Wairoa on the coastal SH2, then north on SH38 to Lake Waikaremoana. All of this is marked as tarmac.

Day 5 - North from Lake Waikaremoana to Murupara on SH38 - a long, long gravel road. Then continuing on into Rotorua for our final overnight stop.

Day 6 - An easy days riding from Rotorua to home

The Reality

A fortnight before our trip, Art's bike started playing up. The battery appeared not to be taking a charge. 'I need a new battery!' says Art.

One new BMW special gel battery ($307 NZD!) later, and Art's bike still has problems. 'It's the starter motor' says our local bike garage, ExperienceBMW, 'but we can't get one in before Easter.' Meanwhile Art's bike appears to be behaving itself.

And so starts the Great Debate - dare we take Arts bike, and run the risk of being stranded down a gravel track in the middle of nowhere ('we can take a tow-rope', he says. I should coco!), or do we take the car? In the end we decide that if his bike starts first time, we'll go for it.

The Start of Divine Intervention

Thursday both bikes start like a dream.

Friday morning, we load the bikes with clothes, sleeping bags, emergency food (and wine, of course), camping kitchenware, first aid kit, thermos flask…..

Art's bike starts first time. Yippee!!

Terri's bike doesn't even whimper - not even a sound :-(

Art tries running Terri's bike down the hill - no luck. Now we have to get the bike up the hill. Art's tow-rope comes into use.

Art tries to tow Terri's bike into the garage - and there's a big 'pop' from his bike, and a smell of burning electrics. Oops! :-\

So - yes - you've guessed it, with mixed feelings of relief and disappointment, everything got thrown into the back of the Honda Jazz, and off we went….

Off we go...

Day 1 - Auckland to Turangi

Day 1 from Auckland to Turangi (apart from the late start!) is a usual day. This is a route we've done a couple of times before - usually on the motorbikes - and just gets us away from Auckland. We generally try and avoid SH1 - but Art insisted 'it would be quicker'. Wrong! On Good Friday SH1 is to be avoided like the plague! Never mind, eventually we left the pack behind and found our usual back route cross-country.


There's lots of accommodation in Turangi. We stayed very comfortably at the Parklands Motor Lodge.

I always feel Turangi should contain more than it does. It is a popular starting point for walkers on the Tongariro Crossing, and a base for fishermen on Lake Taupo. But apart from that it doesn't really have a lot going for it. You feel there ought to be a view of Lake Taupo, or some bars on the riverfront - but in fact, there's a very modern small shopping area, with some underwhelming restaurants and takeaways if you want to eat out. On Good Friday there's even less. We were going to eat in one of the only two restaurants open in town - an 'Italian' called Valentino's. However, we were stopped in our tracks by a 20% Public Holiday surcharge. Definitely over the top! Instead, we ended up with excellent fish and chips at a fraction of the price from the local Chinese Chippy!

Day 2 - Turangi to Napier

This is one time I don't mind taking SH1!

SH1 - Turangi to Taihape

The road from Turangi to Taihape runs due south, with stunning views of the Tongariro National Park on the western side.

And the weather was also stunning! A perfect bright Autumn day, with clear views to the volcanoes of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu.

This is the Great Desert Road, running through the Rangipo Desert. At its highest point it rises to a height of over 1,100 meters above sea level, and has been known to have snow storms on Christmas day (that's mid-summer!). Just to put that into perspective for any Brits out there - Mount Snowdon, in Wales, is 1,085 meters high.


Taihape is famous for a couple of things - Fred Dagg and Gumboot Day. Fred Dagg is a NZ comedian, who seems to have a thing about gumboots, and Gumboot day does what it says on the pack - it's a celebration of all things to do with gumboots! So the two go very well together. (again, for you Brits out there, a Gumboot is the NZ name for a wellington boot, or 'wellie').

Taihape is a typical NZ small town - a good place to stop for a cuppa and a final petrol fill before heading into the wilderness.

The Gentle Annie

According to the map we have (which isn't that old!) the majority of the Taihape Napier Road is gravel. In fact, there has been a major roadwork project recently, and all bar 27km is now tarmacked.

HOWEVER, just be aware - it's not the old gravel you need to be wary of. This is generally well graded, and easy to ride on. It's where NZ Land Transport have started work on the new surface that you need to be ultra-careful. Here it's like riding on builders hardcore, half-bricks and all.

Although the road is known colloquially as 'The Gentle Annie', in fact only one small pass should bear this name. This is about half-way along the road and is nothing much.

In fact, 'nothing much' sort of sums up our opinion of this road. It was OK, but our favourite road, the Forgotten World Highway (SH43) is by far the superior road.

And so on into Napier, where we stayed in what must be the friendliest Motor Lodge yet….

The Mclean Park Motel is run by Alan and Lynn, a Yorkshire couple who have run top quality hotels in Cornwall for many years. Taking on the Motel is their idea of taking it easy!! Try them out…

Divine Intervention Continues...

On the way into Napier town centre that evening, we spotted a very cute MGF sports car up for sale. 'Nice Car' said Art. 'Nice Colour' said Terri.

Day 3 - Napier

Napier and Hastings are the main towns in the Hawkes Bay region. And Hawkes Bay must have one of the best climates in New Zealand. It's on the East Coast, and as most of the weather fronts come in from the Tasman Sea on the West Coast, by the time they get to Hawkes Bay they've dropped most of any nasty weather they have.

On our trip we continued to have some of the best Autumn weather ever…

I always think I should like Napier more than I do. But if I'm honest, there are other places that are further up my 'must go back' list - including Gisborne, further along the coast.

Napier is well known for its Art Deco buildings, built in the 1930s after an earthquake badly damaged the original city. Wandering about a number of the suburbs always reminds me of my Mum's bungalow estate in North-West London - the houses are very similar.

Napier lies on the coast, on a flattish piece of land that is virtually cut off by an inlet from the sea. The immediate land around it is a bit boring, although it is a very short drive to the hills out Eskdale way. The most interesting thing about it is it is covered in grapevines, with the compulsory wineries (that's vineyards to you Brits) to go with them!

Napier's beach leaves a lot to be desired - it is grey pebbles. But it is a good place to ride a push bike - there is a long concrete (flat) path that runs all the way along the seafront on either side of Napier, and with the land immediately around Napier also being on a river plain, this is easy riding. The latest thing seems to be wine tours by bike (can you get stopped for being drunk on a push bike?).

This is the main shopping area for the district, and you'll find all the big shops here, plus a good selection of restaurants. We were directed to an excellent Thai restaurant in one of the suburbs - Thai Chef. It doesn't advertise it, but you can BYO wine to keep the price down.

There are numerous other tourist things in Napier, like the New Zealand National Aquarium, and many, many tours, mainly for Art Deco or Wine and Food.

We always take one day off the bikes so that we can take a break from riding, and do something different. Well, we didn't have the bikes, of course, so we did vary a bit from our usual plan in the morning.

South of Napier

With a wine tour booked for the afternoon, we headed off South towards Cape Kidnappers, and the Gannet Colony. Not a great success - there is a private campsite at the end of the road that doesn't allow visitors to use its walkways, and the alternative walk along the beach was 5 hours there and back, and only accessible at low tide. As we got there at bang-on high tide, there wasn't even any beach we could walk along!

So we carried on south for a bit, towards Waimarama and Ocean Beach. Much better! Ocean Beach was a beautiful large sandy beach with a small community of baches, surfers to watch and hard sand to walk on. We took a long walk along the waters edge (by now the tide was on its way out) before heading back to the car.

The afternoon was spent on a wine tour with Grape Escape. This is a great way to spend an afternoon - you visit four vineyards for tastings, have a chat and make friends with new people on the bus, and generally chill out. For some reason the wines seem to get better as the afternoon progresses! And Greg and Mel, who run Grape Escapes are friendly and knowledgeable hosts. They even supply some cheese and crackers, and a glass of wine at the end!

Divine Intervention Discussion

Our day in Napier was spent discussing whether it was sensible to be looking at buying a sports car. We both decided it wasn't.

That evening we arranged to look at the car.

Day 4 - Napier to Lake Waikaremoana

Day 4 started with a visit to the house with the MGF sports car. We were more than tempted (another of our impulse buys!) so negotiations started.

As we were already booked into cabins at Lake Waikaremoana, and this was a place we really wanted to visit, we decided to continue on according to our original plan. However, in anticipation of needing to return to Napier for the car, we decided to cancel the accommodation we had booked in Rotorua for the final night. As this was well over 24 hours in advance of our anticipated arrival, we anticipated no issues. Wrong!

Dishonourable Mention - the Cosy Cottage International Holiday Park, Rotorua

A Dishonourable Mention goes to the Cosy Cottage International Holiday Park, in Rotorua, for the most inflexible booking conditions ever.

When we phoned to cancel our reservation, and to apologise, we were told that their booking conditions stated that any cancellation made within 30 DAYS of the visit was chargeable at full rate - unless they managed to fill the room. Even then, there would be a $25 cancellation fee. When I questioned this with the proprietor, I was told that this was 'standard terms and conditions across New Zealand'.

To any NZ visitors out there, NO - this is NOT standard. We have stayed in many holiday parks and motels in the last two and a half years. Many ask for a credit card number to confirm the booking, many ask for nothing. Without exception, they would accept a cancellation with 24 hours notice.

So, if you are considering staying at the Cosy Cottage International Holiday Park in Rotorua, think again. This type of place gives the rest a bad name….

Napier to Wairoa

The road from Napier to Wairoa runs near the coast - but unfortunately not close enough that you can see it! So generally, although the scenery is good, it's foot down and aim for the next destination.

The exception is the Lakeside Camping Grounds at Tutira, about 45 km out of Napier. You can drive off the road into a wooded area between two lakes, and just rest up for a bit, or you can camp overnight.

Lake Tutira


Wairoa is the only town of any size between Napier and Gisborne. It is the gateway to the road that leads to Lake Waikaramoana, and a good place to fill up with fuel. It is also the last place where you'll find supermarkets, cafes and shops of any size, so stock up!

And one of its cafes gets a Dishonourable Mention.

Dishonourable Mention - the Jafa Cafe, Wairoa

As any non-Aucklander knows, a JAFA is 'Just Another F#@%$* Aucklander'. JAFAs have a bad reputation. And the JAFA cafe on the waterfront did nothing to improve the situation. We received the rudest, slowest, most disorganized service of anywhere we've been in New Zealand. Enough said!

Wairoa to Lake Waikaremoana

The map shows the road as tarmac all the way. Be aware - it isn't. There is over 25k of well-graded gravel along the way - not a problem, but a shock if you're not expecting it.

But it's well worth the trip.

Lake Waikaremoana and the area round it is very beautiful. And, unlike Lake Taupo, it's not so large that you feel like it's an inland sea. There is fishing, walking, and just generally messing about in a relaxing and out of the way place.

We stayed at the Lake Waikaremoana Motor Camp, in very basic but comfortable and clean 'fishermans cabins' with a picture window looking over the lake. Toilets & kitchen facilities were close at hand. There's a shop at the reception, with most of the ingredients for anything you may have forgotten. There's also fuel pumps, but they are expensive.

We did find the proprietors a tad abrupt - but we came to the conclusion that their hearts were in the right place. It's a family concern - Mum & Dad, Jeff (the son, who runs the boat) and Grandad. I get the feeling Grandad could be a bit of a handful - he escaped on the post run a whole hour early when he found out there were cabins to clean!!

The highlight to me was the night sky - it's a long time since I saw so many stars!

The lake has a submerged petrified forest that attracts divers, but beware, the max. lake temperature is 7 degrees C!

Day 5 - Back to Napier

Next day we did a walk in the hills above the campsite. As usual Art whinged about the hills, but was duly ignored. It was our 5th anniversary though, so I did let him off after a couple of hours.

So we headed back to Napier at midday, with a stop at Tutira for a snooze by the lake. Then it was, of course, back to the McLean Park Motel.

Divine Intervention Continues...

Following another bout of negotiation, an AA report and a great steak at the Steak-Out Grill, we bought the car!

Day 6 - Napier to Home

The next morning saw a flurry of activity, as we sorted out all the paperwork on the car. There were trips to the bank for money, trips to the post office for transferring ownership, and final instructions on things like how to put the hood down and use the CD player.

Oh - and it was also Art's birthday! (he did get a card…)

At last, we managed to set off at 11:30.

I drove the first leg in the new MGF, to Taupo. She went like a dream… Then Art took over to Tirau, then me again to home. It was a long trip for one day - 410 km in all - but the new car handled it all with ease. We kept an eye on all vital signs (water and oil temperature, and final levels, etc) - all were very positive. As we insisted on doing our first journey with the hood down, a fleece and cap were very necessary - first to keep the sun away, then to protect against

the cold.

No 2 son's face when he saw the car pull into the garage was a treat! I think we impressed him….

Oh - and Art's birthday wasn't quite forgotten - he was greeted by a present he's been after for two years - a five foot tall toy soldier!

So Why Divine Intervention?

Well, if we'd both been on motorbikes, who would have driven the new car home??

PS Both bikes started first time when we got home!!!

Competition Results - Name That Car

We have a name - Plum!

motorcycle_trips/divine_intervention.txt · Last modified: 2012/04/07 20:58 by art
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