April 10, 2016 at 8:41 pm #12075
Rank: 1200cc Rider
- Bike: Suzuki DR650 ADV
Aussie EX 500gp rider Darryl Beattie has been in New Zealand testing the new Honda Africa Twin and Stuff.co.nz has written about it, but the article is more about the great South Island Adventure Roads than the Africa Twin.
Lees Valley Road is the heart-stopper of the South Island ride with its narrow width, deep gravel surface, and steep drop-offs to the Ashley River.
Motorcycling the South Island: Adventure on roads less travelled
In Born to be Wild, their rock anthem to motorcycling, San Francisco acid-heads Steppenwolf urge their listeners to head out on the highway and look for adventure.
To me, it’s far easier to find adventure if you turn off the highway and seek out the roads little travelled by the usual tourist hordes. The South Island offers such a wealth of these that Honda chose it as a location for the Australasian launch of its new model dedicated to adventure touring.
The Africa Twin populates a bike market niche that continues to grow in strength and is rapidly eclipsing the sales of road-only tourers. So much so, that one adventure model by BMW is now the best-selling bike above 600cc in the world.
But enough of the bikes, let’s focus on the roads, starting at the top of the south and working our way down.
These national treasures don’t have to be conquered on motorised two wheels to enjoy their challenges, their drop-dead-with-awe scenery, or their ability to bring a unique perspective to any 1200-kilometre, four-day traverse of New Zealand’s largest island. Bring the bicycle, the SUV, or even the family car – just be sure that the latter can cross the odd river ford first.
Darryl Beattie cools his heels with a little aquatic side-tracking on Muller station.
Dust is a given on any summer tour of these roads but the scenery more than makes up for it.
You might have to wait until Labour Weekend to do this one, as the activities of New Zealand’s largest farm, the 185,000-hectare Molesworth Station, usually close between the second weekend in April and the first long weekend of spring. Have faith though, that this stunner of a route will be worth the wait, and witnessing the jaws of the Australian guests constantly drop as each new mountain-framed vista reveals itself is confirmation on the ride.
As the route leaves the grapevine-carpeted Awatere Valley behind, you soon climb into the high country that provided such a rich backdrop for the fiction of the late Barry Crump.
There were times when it felt like I was riding through a landscape painted by Grahame Sydney, the painter who has best captured the beauty of Central Otago.
Meanwhile, his 20th-century contemporaries in the art world, Colin McCahon and Don Binney, would have been inspired to new heights by the intensity of the light and the rich shadow-play that it creates with the rugged ridges and gullies of the Inland Kaikoura mountains.
Stopping for a picnic lunch at the gates to Muller Station, a solitary bicycle tourist pedals past us with a face held rigid with determination. We wave and yell encouragement out of respect – this part-time road doesn’t receive much in the way of maintenance, and the surface can be rocky and corrugated at times.
Sitting on the seat of a hardtail touring bicycle must therefore be like riding a jackhammer, but preferable to having trucks and trailers pass within millimetres of the handlebars on a state highway for this adventurous ascetic. He rides grimly onwards to his next appointment with his puncture repair kit.
The main attraction of these big multi-purpose touring bikes is that they allow access to peaceful spots like this river gorge on Danseys Pass.
At about 140km into the Molesworth road, there’s the choice of two passes to drop down off the wild tussock-covered country into the more verdant-hued civilisation of Hanmer Springs.
Take the first one, Jollies Pass, if you wish the adventure to continue, as it is less groomed, narrower, and steeper than the better-maintained alternative, Jacks Pass. Either way, a pretty Aspen-esque town full of welcome tourist comforts and conveniences awaits.
Day two: Lees Valley Road, Okuku Pass
Shearer’s quarters on the Molesworth Road await the arrival of the next gang.
The post-quake roads of Christchurch might be adventurous in themselves, but if you want a wilder experience you’ll find it to the north-west of the city in the Ashley River gorge and Okuku Pass.
This was a route of such spectacle that Honda even followed us with a helicopter equipped with a large pod camera, capturing publicity footage for the new bike. Not that they focus much on my own riding. Way up front, former World 500cc Grand Prix Championship contender, Darryl Beattie, is putting on quite a show.
Fears for my personal safety made my pace a lot more conservative. You climb high enough above the river in the gorge to get hawk-eye views over unfenced cliff faces that are steep enough to remind that we humans don’t possess wings.
Wild, rugged and spectacular, the Molesworth Road is a must-do for any adventurous road warrior.
The narrow single-lane road is surfaced with a layer of gravel that’s more than ankle-deep, and the tyres ride over it like they’re on ball bearings.
A further hazard became apparent on the Okuku, and no, it wasn’t the river ford where I once witnessed a Subaru Outback become a boat. It was a suicidal ewe that decided to end it all beneath my front wheel.
Her woolly hindquarters glance off the right-side front fork leg, sending her spinning harmlessly like a four-legged top.
The frost-fractured rockscape surrounding the Old Dunstan Road makes it one of the most unique trips in New Zealand.
Days three and four: Central Otago via three mountain passes
Once you reach Geraldine there is the opportunity for three unsealed passes to usher you into Central Otago via routes that were last popular during the 1860s gold rush.
You begin with Mackenzie Pass, named after James McKenzie, who used the concealed pass near Albury to transfer hundreds of sheep stolen from coastal Canterbury farms to sale yards in Dunedin. It offers views of Mounts Aoraki and Tasman, looking across a wide vista of the country that also bears the same name.
Does anyone know the way to Queenstown?
Near the tri-lingual stone cairn that marks the arrest site of McKenzie you can turn left onto the Hakataramea Pass that crosses the Grampian mountains to access its parched valley namesake.
This leads to Kurow and a quick transfer to Danseys Pass, crossing the Saint Mary range. Don’t miss the historic pub at the top of the latter pass, a great overnight stop for any connoisseur of single-malt whiskey.
Old Dunstan Rd, from Patearoa to Moa Creek, then transfers adventurers to Alexandria and more civilised roads to Queenstown through an incredible rockscape straight out a Lord of the Rings movie. For this was the location for the plains of Rohan. Well chosen, Sir Peter.
Attachments:April 11, 2016 at 7:58 am #12094
Michael J BreenParticipant
Rank: 400cc Rider
Yes, I know this seems like a con of some kind, or at least a blatant bit of marketing. However, we all have to get used to it.
New Zealand is a tourism destination at the top of many lists and, we all know that our back country rides are some of the best around and also some of the safest (no critters to kill you).
It may not be your thing but it’s coming and we should find a way to welcome it; vehicle supported adventure rides in NZ already happen and I’m not innocent of that myself. On a number of occasions I’ve trucked my bike to the start point of a weekend ride or an epic ride and then ridden with minimal luggage and on a few occasions, my wife has ‘followed’ our tracks in her 4WD carrying most of the luggage. I do this for a couple of reasons:
1. So that my tyres are fresh for the gravel/dirt and not already half worn by hundreds of road km’s
2. So that I can enjoy the ride without the encumbrance of too much gear. Why wouldn’t you want to ride a cool trail with just a hydration pack?
Lastly: As an ex dirt bike and road racer, I ride with a bunch of ex racers quite often. Some of my mates have championship wins and points from all over the world, in different classes, on both road racers and dirt bikes and over at least 3 decades. Others have run succesful teams and others are past or current team mechanics. I have to tell you that riding with these guys adds another dimension. We are all experienced in following quite closely and we have none of the scary mixture of ride skills I see so often in rides organised online. We don’t race everywhere, in fact we rarely ‘race’ at all. We do go pretty quickly for the conditions though and we all trust each others ride skills completely. Think about your last big group ride; what scared you the most? For many of us it’s the wide range of skill levels and the concern that someone at some time is going to do something stupid that takes you out too.
I’ve just finished a Sth Island trip which had a multi North American Champ, a WSB superstar, NZ Champs, UK Champs plus past and current GP and WSB mechanics. If we’d come across Darryl Beattie on that ride the stories alone would have been worth the price of entry and I’m sure the ride out that day or the next would have had an extra edge to it.
Don’t knock it; embrace it. You might get the surprise of your life and meet someone you watched on TV or in person and get the chance to swap stories with them.
The photo attached was sent to me by Paul Treacy; one of NZ’s top international bike mechanics and is of me (back to the camera) with an ex WSB superstar and a well known NZ racer with plenty of wins and lap records to his name. Taken at the top of the Cadrona access road.
Attachments:April 11, 2016 at 10:38 am #12097
Rank: 1200cc Rider
- Bike: Suzuki DR650 ADV
I’ve got no issue with it, I was just surprised to see a mainstream article about it in NZ.
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