Julian’s Ride Around the Top Paddock – Attempt #1
By guest writer: Julian Boyd (15th March 2021)
After a good night’s sleep in Wellington, I set off just after 10am from the downtown BP and picked up my first checkpoint, the Wellington sign. Quickly out of there, thru Wellington and out through Lower Hutt to my next checkpoint at Martinborough. At Featherston I was held up at the railway crossing for about 25 minutes as the Police had closed the road due to the fact they were waiting for a train (that didn’t come) and the lights were malfunctioning.
After getting the photo outside the old pub at Martinborough, I headed north thru Masterton and onto Napier. A great road and the weather was fantastic, there were a few other bikes on the road so some of it was spent riding in company. Arriving in Napier at the same time school was getting out so it was a little slower than expected, but I got my photo of the containers and shot around the corner for fuel.
I stopped at BP Bayview for food, had I known that it was operating again after the fire I would have fuelled up there. I headed north but had to make an unexpected toilet stop on the banks of the Wairoa River utilizing the road crew’s port-a-loo. On into Gisborne for the next fuel stop. All this time I was experiencing great weather and top-notch riding conditions although there were quite a few sections of new seal going down and road works happening.
Leaving Gisborne about 6:30 pm I headed north up to East cape, they had done a fair bit of work on the road since I was there last in the NI1600 and it was actually a pleasure to ride around, although there were a few sunken sections which may have been a result of the recent earthquake. All the way around the Cape was easy riding, the odd stock on the road but nothing too bad. Picked up the check point at Waihau Bay and trundled onto Opotiki, keeping my speed down so there was no repeat of my last trip thru there. Just as I came over the bridge coming into town I was flashed by a light. I couldn’t believe that I had been done by a speed camera so I went back to check it and thankfully it was just a shorting out street lamp.
Tauranga for fuel and a coffee and on into the bendy stuff. Speed limits around here are very low, so I was having to keep the speed down, thru Waihi and the corners start. So many corners and slow corners as well. The corners just didn’t stop all the way to Kuaotunu. This was the first time I had ridden this far up the Coromandel so it was an education, it wasn’t too bad from there to Coromandel town but I was almost taken out by a pig but some sharp breaking and the fat sow made it across in front of me.
At Coromandel I transferred fuel and had a very enjoyable ride down to Thames for fuel, and this was where I discovered my first mistake in my ride plan, I had allowed an extra hour so I thought that’s ok could be worse.
I got out of Thames at 5:46 am and I was a little surprised about the amount of traffic about, traffic that was heading in my direction, turned out a lot of these cars were heading to Auckland so maybe they do a daily commute. When I came over the Bombay’s at 6:30 I was alarmed by the amount of bumper-to-bumper traffic in front of me stretching all the way to Auckland. It became a matter of lane splitting way more than I was used to, kids on P plates dicing with the traffic all around me, not something I enjoyed and I will definitely not be here at this time of day again, although the outgoing traffic was a lot lighter. By the time I got to Silverdale about an hour later I was due for another coffee, that had taken a bit out of me and I was looking forward to the open spaces of the Far North.
I caught up with Chris at the BP in Warkworth and he got me a coffee and I took the time to have a ciggy, and he pointed out my other miscalculations in my ride plan, but he had been good enough to correct them for me so there was hope still in the air that all would be good.
Got out of Warkworth after almost 30 minutes and had a great ride North, hooked up with a guy riding a Ducati who new the road and I followed him until the turnoff at Kawakawa where I went on to Paihia for fuel and a checkpoint. So far everything was going well but due to my mistakes in my ride plan I didn’t have any time to piss around. I then was held up for about 15 minutes with stop go’s at the intersection of Highway 10 and it didn’t help that one of their trucks had broken down on the bridge I needed to use.
It was a great ride up to the Cape, in a out with my photo of the check point and off down south again, one stop to transfer fuel. Kaitaia for fuel and schools out, lots of traffic, then onto the diversion to avoid the road works on Highway 1 and initially that was really slow. I came around the corner and there was a huge line of traffic heading in my direction, full of trucks and school buses and lots of cars. There was no on coming traffic so I started overtaking slowly and when I finally got to the front there was a road works truck holding the traffic behind them as the worlds smallest tractor was sweeping the edge of the road. Why they chose to do it at that time I have no idea, anyway I came up alongside the truck and looked at this big Maori fella and pointed down the road he just nodded his head so off I went. I could have lost an hour staying behind all that traffic, but I was off. More and more corners, this guy from Canterbury became disorientated, I had no idea where I was going and finally, I came to an intersection where my GPS said go straight ahead and I did, only to see a sign that said Ferry Timetable, whoops U turn. I didn’t have to go far back to the intersection and get back onto the road that would take me back onto Highway 1. All these corners were starting to do my head in.
I managed to find my way to Kaikohe and on thru to the Opononi checkpoint and then south west on one of the roads with the most corners I had been around in a long time. My arms were starting to feel it now as on the scout if you want to corner well you have to move your arse or scrape the bike so it was a bit of a work out for me. One stop along this section to transfer fuel. After Dargaville the riding was less intense and way more enjoyable.
I think it was at Kaiwaka where Chris and Stella were on the side of the road waiting for me, they joined in and we headed to my next fuel stop at Wellsford. After a drink, a ciggy and a pie, we were off again and Chris and Stella offered to lead me down to the next checkpoint at Waimauku taking a route that I didn’t plan on but it saved me 7 minutes. It was great following Chris with his headlights. I haven’t seen lights that bright since watching aircraft land, they are brilliant (no pun intended). It was great to be riding in tandem and not only that they took me on into Auckland to ensure I took the correct turn off to the South, very much appreciated I must say. Chris also gave me a gift off a throttle lock so I could rest my right hand, what a fantastic little invention and after I got used to using it, it was constantly coming into play, what a great gift thanks so much Chris.
I stopped at the Bombay’s for fuel and had a short lie down and was just happy to get back through Auckland intact, I was feeling pretty good and knew I was heading into some damp weather so put on the wet-weather-gear. The rain started as I headed into Raglan, and it wasn’t any light shower. Those signs warning about wet roads freak me out a bit so the pace dropped right off, but I got in and out.
After leaving Raglan my GPS didn’t take me on my intended route and instead of heading out to the main road at Whatawhata I headed along a narrow road that as usual was full of corners, then onto an even narrower road with even more corners, but anyway it finally got me back onto the road into Kawhia. Now that’s a serious piece of road, in heavy rain and thick cloud or fog I’m not sure what, but I was getting pretty wet and there must be some altitude there as well but being at midnight its pretty hard to tell and since I had spent a fare bit of the time not knowing where I was it almost seemed normal. Winding my way down to coast was a very interesting ride, I told myself that I have to come back here next time in the daylight because it must look impressive.
In and out of Kawhia, the ride back out was easier because I have been here before so all good, and heading towards the Waitomo checkpoint my GPS decided to take me on the shortest route again and I turned onto Waitomo Valley Road, I saw the sign and did think that’s all good here we go. Well it wasn’t the road I should have used and it started getting very narrow and very tight corners. I wasn’t going very fast and came around one such tight corner and the road was covered in leaves and my front wheel started slipping out so I took to the grass verge in an attempt to stay upright. It seemed like a good plan at the time, except that the grass was really a bog and I sunk up to the axles, it did help me slow down but not before I made it into a very deep culvert which brought me to a halt. I had bent my tip over bar on the side of the culvert and it took me 20 minutes to get out, I had to unload my bike to get the weight down and then ride further down the culvert to find a place to get out of it, but no bad damage so I got underway again. When I came out of this road I turned the wrong way and couldn’t find the checkpoint so I had to backtrack and finally I found it. My phone had taken a bit of a knock and when I took the photo there seemed to be smoke coming out of it but I think it was steam from the flash as I didn’t know at the time but my life Saver case was full of water.
I got out of there and finally made it to Te Kuiti, a place that I have been to before. I spent about 20 minutes there getting fuel, changing some clothes and washing the mud out of the radiator. I didn’t notice but it appears my phone was no longer charging.
I headed out of there knowing that I had no time left and in fact I needed to make up a little time. The rain was very heavy and there were a number of sections of road works that were slowing me down, and one piece had a stuck truck in it, the road works were actually washing away and this became very fatiguing so when I came into Mokau I stopped for a 20-minute doze.
The conditions had really slowed me down and when I came into Urenui I had to reassess again. I looked at the time I had and decided then that I wasn’t going to make it around New Plymouth in this weather with building traffic and felt that it wasn’t worth the risk, I decided to have another quick sleep and reroute back to Wellington directly. I was unable to get any power into my phone so I made an early morning call to Chris to say I had pulled the pin and was heading to Wellington, I felt I was unable to maintain the pace required to get the last checkpoint and make it to Wellington in time for my cut off, the GPS confirmed that as well. The conditions were not great for riding a bike so I wasn’t going to push it any longer.
I made it to the ferry with 10 minutes to spare only to find it was delayed an hour due to heavy weather, my phone was dead and not taking any charge so tracking was out the door.
So what did I learn, all I can say is heaps.
First of all in my opinion the Top Paddock is way harder than the Bottom Paddock, there are just so many more corners, there are so many roads you can take by mistake, the traffic can be way more intense, the roads can be very slippery and the number of trucks on the road is way more than the South Island. Also at the moment there could be a lot more road works going on. Also I need to upgrade my GPS so I can set my route through Base Camp, and if I was to start from the South then I would go anti-clockwise so that I do the more technical sections first when I am fresher and I would prefer to take Kawhia on in the daylight so I can check the place out. I would also double check my route plan and work on a 21-22 hour first 1600 and plan in a stop as towards the end I was having a number of breaks instead of one large stop. Well that’s my ride and as usual I will be back as this is unfinished business. This ride is not a walk in the park but a fantastic IBA challenge, and I appreciate the effort Chris has gone to to make it happen.