30 January 2014
A View from the Middle of the pack by Don Malcolm
ANZAC Weekend was chosen as being a great option – a long weekend on the shoulder of autumn & winter, perhaps a little cooler, almost certainly a little wetter, but still with the promise of some sunshine. A great time for the Auckland Chapter of the Harley Owners Group (HOG) to head way on their annual Presidents Ride to Whakatane.
9.30 at BP South saw most gassed up and ready to roll – other than Burt, who operates on Fiji time, and who arrived mid-way through the briefing – always a target for the Sheriff.
President Doc has led this ride for a number of years, so was very notable by his absence due to work commitments – Senior member Joe 90 had been seconded to take us via a very circuitous route to Whakatane, where Doc and wife Barb would meet us later.
21 bikes formed up and left, (with a very impressive 7 lady riders amongst us), heading south, exiting the motorway at Ohinewhai for the fabulous (and fast) run through to Tahuna.
Our first planned stop was for coffee at Matamata – unfortunately, 5km short, Baldric and Lunchbox fell foul to an insecure bag that worked its way between back wheel and frame, locking everything up solid. Baldric resolutely tried to maintain control, and managed to mitigate what could have been a much worse incident – whilst they both hit the deck, sufficient speed had been bled off to lessen the impact.
HOG First Aid training immediately kicked in, with HOG mates quickly protecting the fallen from further injury, and tending to the semi-conscious Lyn until such time as the ambulance arrived.
Off to Waikato Hospital for a bit of R & M, but being well enough to join the crew later that evening at the motel – a huge collective sigh of relief for an incident that could have been much worse.
Subsequent discussion later that evening with Baldric found him still unbelieving in the value of a Harley Bell. Many superstitious riders try not to tempt fate and attach a small bell to the underside of their bike. Legend has it that the tinkling of the bell warns off gremlins and bad luck. Personally, I’ll take whatever good luck is on offer!
We caught up with the rest of the pack in Matamata, and after a very brief stop, Joe very wisely got us on the move again, exactly the right thing to do. Close to Tirau, the rain started, a few drops from a very dark sky – it was going to bucket down. A quick stop to dig out wet weather gear (except Donkey – just a shower, nothing to worry about!). The heavens opened and it poured down, up into the Mamakus, and down the other side, cold and exposing those who had guessed wrong.
Into Rotorua to collect another rider (after a stop for lunch at his wonderful bakery), BP for gas, then Whakatane bound. As usual there is the direct route, and the Joe 90 route – much longer but much more interesting, taking in the sights and back roads, down the island as far as Murupara before heading north east towards destination – real tiger country.
A highlight was seeing an old Toyota Hilux 4 wheel drive, driver with full moko, emerge from the bush, bump over the railway lines and onto the main road, a friendly wave, then off. Three cold and wet pig dogs balanced precariously on a wooden platform built over the bonnet, and what looked like a big boar on the back – amazing.
So, a trip that normally takes 3 hours ended up taking us 6 – albeit with a fair few miles, and more than enough excitement to justify the difference.
The motel was great, and very biker friendly – typical horse shoe arrangement that proved to be perfect, except of course if you happened to be one of the poor unfortunates who were not part of our group, and were looking for a bit of peace & quiet. A few of the keen boys chased down a bucket and hose – half an hour later, sparkling clean.
We got directions to the local liquor store – amazing how much booze you can get into a few saddlebags, although the Ultra really does come into its own, both in carrying capacity, and as a juke box while we all sat around and reflected on events of the day.
Those of us who went into town for dinner returned to find the fish and chip brigade set up in Shunter’s room watching Super 15. Doc & Barb had finally arrived (being full of praise for his Radar Detector – suspect their trip was a lot more direct, and a lot faster than ours). Baldric (Tony) and Lunch Box (Lyn) had also arrived by car, battered and bruised, with Lyn (apparently) soaking out the worst of the day in the bath.
The early risers did their walks & runs, and others headed into town on their Harleys – those still trying to ease quietly into the day may have suffered a little as a consequence, but that’s life.
9.30am and we were off – Doc gives you a time, and that is the time he leaves, so be there gassed up and ready to go, or be left behind.
A quick blast from Whakatane to first stop, Opotoki for coffee. On a bad day, this small town with high unemployment and few opportunities would have the potential to be a pretty depressing place, many (most) shop fronts empty, and those that weren’t probably should have been. Fortunately we were there on a great day. The sun was shining and the locals were pleased to have us in town. Young boys flocked around the bikes unashamedly enthusiastic, the older lads more circumspect, but equally appreciative and drawn to the bikes, keen for a chat.
Back on the road, and more fast miles until the windy and technical stuff started. Doc had been promised by the coffee guy that there were no road works from Opotoki through to Waihau Bay. Unfortunately the good folks from Fulton Hogan proved him wrong, but there was nothing too serious.
The East Coast provides the most fabulous views, almost a step back in time, little development, and as one of the guys commented, a great place to be buried (but not yet!).
We pressed on, a long line of bikes, each with the distinctive Harley roar, but each uniquely individual, some causing livestock to come to attention, others hardly causing a ripple.
Small settlements and villages flashed by, some in better repair than others, but each with its own personality.
We stopped at a rest area, high up on a point between two bays, to take in the views. Unfortunately someone had been there before us, having tossed an old couch over the bank, and a mess of engine oil in the metal – testament that someone had suffered a bit of mechanical misfortune in the fairly recent past.
Another stop to admire the fabulous old church at Ruakokore, then a very short final leg to Waihau Bay for beer and greasy lunch at the old pub.
It takes quite a while for 25 people to meander in, to get a drink (Bundaberg Ginger Beer was the order of the day for most), and to check out the single menu (no kidding). The wait for meals stretched out for many (and that part I do understand), so time was moving on before we were all fed and watered, ready for the trip back to Whakatane.
Those with small gas tanks had either made good use of the petrol pumps prior to lunch, or left to catch up as the rest of us made tracks.
Other than a couple of stops to regroup, we made excellent time – the afternoon sun was well down and the temperature had started to drop as we pulled into the motel, with a full on BBQ in the offing, but not before the road dust had been washed away by a couple of soothing beers, well deserved after a day in the saddle.
The BBQ came together with military precision – bikes were dispatched to the supermarket for meat, salads and booze, while our host Hamish, dug out enough chairs and tables for us all to sit down in the car park for a really fabulous dinner – well done to those involved, short order cooks who can do wonders with very little, and all before anyone got too pissed!
After dinner, Paihia Pete produced a bottle of 25 year old bourbon, and a few diehards went for it, most seemingly quite prepared to desecrate it with coke… some people… casting pearls before swine.
Fortunately, your correspondent knows the evils of Bourbon, (preferring a nice Pinot instead, although a gentle throb then next morning was a reminder that there can be too much of a good thing).
There were two groups in the morning – those intending to make an early blast home before the worst of the long weekend traffic, and the later bunch who were meeting a group from Auckland at the Okoroire Pub just east of Tirau for lunch.
Shunter lead the first bunch (until he took a wrong turn), but we all met up at the Kaimai Cheese Factory for a coffee (and bum rest!).
Back in the saddle, with Shunter setting a great pace and the miles being eaten up, homeward bound. A final gas stop in Mercer, then the final 50 kms home – extraordinary!