Reader’s Stories: Dirt Riding New Zealand

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INTRO – Editor ‘arris

 

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When I did my quick tour of New Zealand a few years back I met a guy in a bar (no surprise there then) called Nick Pedley. Nick is quite the motorcyclist who not only managed to be part of a team that raced in the Isle of man TT last year but also seems to know everybody in the motorcycle world down under.

The story below was passed onto us by Mr. Pedley and first published in an Australian mag, although we don’t know which one .. not that it really matters .. but it does keep me awake at night. Which one could it be? Hmmhh.


Ross Elliott the Author with his beloved XR600

What do eight Aussie 30-something’s do when they feel the need for a break from the daily grind? In March this year, the answer was a Kiwi Dirtbike Adventure – a four-day ride through some of New Zealand’s most picturesque and challenging terrain.

Cameron Jefferies’ Kiwi Dirtbike Adventures is set up to provide fully supported trail bike adventure tours, ranging from four day tours of the North Island’s Lake Taupo region to extended tours covering both North and South Islands.

Cameron’s expert level experience in dirt racing (Enduro and hare scramble), backed by several years working for Cape York Motorcycle Adventures, convinced him of the possibilities New Zealand had to offer. As we found out, the possibilities were endless.

The top of the world. Looking over the hills (no trees or rocks – cool eh?)

Departure point for this four day tour was Taupo, with the round trip taking in just over 1000 kilometres of trail and road sections (about 400km on the black stuff). The first day saw eight bikes and riders set off into the hills with Cameron in the lead, plus the support van driven by ‘Tomo’ and mascot Fred (the mutt with “great breeding”).

That day also saw the first rain fall in several weeks (as everyone was happy to point out to us every time we stopped) but the temperature remained comfortable. The first section of tracks through Pureora forest were typical forestry roads with some gravel cover, but mainly dirt and sections which had turned into a nice slippery clay surface.

Our bikes, (ranging from three DR250s, a KLX250 and couple of XR250s to an XR600 – my choice of ride – and XR650s), were all fitted with new road legal knobblies for the tour. This was just as well, as the tracks in sections required a fair effort to stay upright. It wasn’t just the terrain, but the added problem of drizzle and fogged goggles (and in my case, fogged glasses inside the fogged goggles) which led to my first off. A turn into a deep forest section where the sun rarely shone and missing a rut had me dropping the XR600 into the mud and breaking the mirror.

Just one of the gadgets that Tommo had in the van was this Thermette that was capable of boiling water in about two minutes so we could enjoy a hot cup of coffee. There was no shortage of petrol for it with nine bikes.

A couple of other riders took the opportunity to get acquainted with the Kiwi mud before we made our first lunch break – with a small obelisk marking the geographic centre of the North Island. Why anyone would bother marking the geographic centre of the North Island is anyone’s guess, but we rode there, saw it, and then tucked into a typically sumptuous lunch and hot drinks.

That afternoon, the terrain changed from tight forest trails to open farming country, typical of what you think of when you think New Zealand. The thing that really amazed us was the way farmers had cut service roads into the sides of the rolling green hills, and how these roads were literally grass.

I’ve always harboured a secret desire to let loose on a golf course, and this was my chance. Roosting grass around winding mountain trails, bursting onto hilltops and then plunging into fern gullies – this was a blast! The XR600, although a reasonably heavy bike, had heaps of power for the task, and the 250s, although less powerful, had the advantage of being lighter over the ground. When the grass is wet, that can make a difference in favour of the lighter bikes.

The infamous Whangamomona hotel (Whanga-where?)

After a full day, we pulled into the Whangamomona (pronounced, fonga-mom-ona) pub, the social hub of the town, population 35. This was our digs for the night, and a warm shower and soft bed beckoned. But not before several beers – including some dubious looking dark coloured local drop the locals swore by – found their way down thirsty throats.

The arrival of nine bikes swelled the town’s population by a third, and so happy were the locals that by around 11pm they were trying to sell the pub to us!

That night, a torrential downpour arrived and went, and although we woke to blue skies, we knew we were in for some fun when Cameron muttered something about some “fairly technical” sections coming up. We came to realise that when Cameron says “technical” he really means extremely bloody difficult.

Col negotiating a climb on the 42nd traverse.

The rain had turned the 20 kilometre track from Whanga to “The Bridge to Somewhere” (where do Kiwi’s get these names from?) into a slippery, treacherous section of winding trail, with rutted hill climbs and long slippery downhills. There’s also a type of grey Kiwi clay that turns into a sort of grease just to add an extra dimension to the riding.

By the time we had reached the half way point, we had seen several spills, slides, and a number of unintentional downhill reverses (when losing rear wheel traction on a hill climb, sliding backwards a few yards – sometimes further for the gifted – before dropping sideways into the hillside in an ungainly and undignified manner). It was great sport for spectators though.

One especially tricky section defeated several of us, with Cameron ferrying bikes and riders through. Just to explain how slippery this stuff was, there were some hills where it was near impossible to walk down – sliding down on your butt becoming the preferred mode of travel. How Cameron and some of other riders managed remains a mystery to me.

A flat tire added to challenge, and after what seemed an eternity, we reached the “Bridge to Somewhere” and were back on a gravel/dirt surface. The 20-kilometre section had taken three hours for nine riders to negotiate. Had it not rained the night before, it could have been done in an hour.

Retrieving Nic, or as he was later known, Cliff’s bike

Relieved to be back into open ground, we were soon back into farmer’s country – roosting those green roads again with the promise of home cooked lasagne for lunch. A minor hiccup enroute saw Nick on his XR250 take one of the corners a little wide, and launch himself into the air and over the side of the grassy cliff. Nick – later nicknamed “Cliff” or “Crusty” for his efforts – was unhurt, but hauling even a lightweight 250cc up about a 20 ft grassy cliff proved an effort requiring all hands.

We made the farmhouse for lunch about three hours late, wet and exhausted. But we’d enjoyed some awesome riding and the challenge of negotiating the sort of “technical sections” which even the most talented riders would think through carefully.

Our digs that night was remote ‘Boulder Lodge’ well into the backcountry of the Ruahine Ranges. By the time we arrived, night had fallen and the cold had set in, which combined with the drizzle made the prospect of an open fire unbelievably welcome. No electricity here, it was gas cooking and candlelight and one of the best meals of steak and venison I’ve ever enjoyed, thanks to Tomo’s culinary skills.

After draping our gear all around the fireplace, it was off to the cabins for a well deserved rest and the promise of a sleep-in the next day. I think I lasted less than 60 seconds after my head hit the pillow.

Boulder Lodge – our back country lodge. Everyone got a good sleep here.

Our third day’s riding proved some of the best. The rain cleared as we moved further west, into wide open hill country which supports sheep and cattle. This was crusty heaven, as Cameron led us into grazing country where we got to make out own tracks.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of riding through open ground, jumping hills, climbing mountains, and descending into green valleys with almost no concern for coming against rocks or trees – there basically were none! Lots of advanced planning by Cameron meant we had access to property after property, and provided we closed the gates and didn’t spook the animals – the owners were happy for us to be there.

The scenery was just unbelievable and by the time we stopped for a break, there were smiles on every face.

The road sections between the trails also deserve a mention. New Zealand is known for its touring country, and for the most part, the bitumen we were on was the sort of twisty, undulating road that sportsbike riders dream of in their sleep. And here we were, enjoying what amounted to section after section of Great Open Road and views that made you want to stop every couple of kilometres.

Our final day took us from National Park – a town at the base of the towering Mt. Ruapehu – through what locals call the 42nd traverse. This mainly single lane trail was in perfect condition, with berms of gravel on most corners tempting me to powerslide the XR600 around as much as possible. Creek crossings, terraced hill climbs and log bridges came and went.

Mt. Ruapehu for lunch – by chair lift only

Being the last day, I figured it was time to cut loose a little and the bike and track proved very forgiving, with a few narrow escapes as surprise hairpins and gullies had me in full lock up mode. This was just fantastic fun, although the new rear rubber was showing severe signs of tire abuse.

Lunch was at the top of Mt. Ruapehu, accessible only by chairlift, where the first snows of the season had arrived. Then it was back to Taupo, arriving late afternoon weary and muscle sore but elated at having been through such a variety of country and in just four days.

A boat trip on Lake Taupo that evening proved the perfect ending. We didn’t catch any trout, but the beers and rums worked their magic on eight happy 30-something’s from Australia who were congratulating each other and thanking Cameron for the time of their lives.

Ross Elliott

For more information, see the Kiwi Dirtbike Adventures website at: www.kiwiadventures.co.nz

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