Draft of an article submitted to HOG Magazine. Action Pics by Co-pilot.
According to Wikipedia “‘Living the life of Riley’ suggests an ideal, contented life, possibly living on someone else's money, time, work or Road King”.
OK, I added the bit about ‘Road King’, but this job was positively ‘Riley-esque’.
Cue the misty eyed reminiscences, but it all began when we moved across the ditch from coastal NSW, 11 years ago. Not long after arrival, we started writing and shooting our ‘Big Dave and the Co-pilot adventures’ for the local bike press and numerous Riley-on-a-bike instalments have ensued.
Now with the 21st NZ National HOG Rally (February 18th and 19th 2011) on the horizon we liberated the NZ Press fleet’s 2011 Road King and Fat Boy, borrowed some trick FXRG kit and put together a ride and photo expedition around Raglan, the beautiful Rally venue on the West Coast of the North Island.
And boy, ‘Riley it large’ we did.
‘Do you want the Road King or the Fat Boy?’ I somewhat excitedly blurted down the line to my accomplice Mick, aka ‘The Hippie’.
Fortunately he said ‘when they made the Fat Boy, they had me in mind’ (we both can be pretentious) which is just as well because ‘The Co-pilot’ was co-photographer for the shindig as usual, and the Road King fits both of us very tidily. Particularly when my ‘Big Dave’ moniker is based on around a 6’5” and heavy (in the old scale) frame. The ‘King is one of my favourite-ever thrones.
So there’s the plan. Three of us, two bikes, and Raglan.
‘Better book some accommodation then’ and to the Google I got.
Our overnight options ranged from a room with shared facilities at the Pub (from $80), Waterfront apartments starting around $150, and the same tariff for our eventual choice of lodgings; the 5-Star Brooklands Country Estate, (‘Riley’, remember?) but more of that after the ride.
So it began…eventually. Hardly a cloud in the land of the long white cloud all week, but a minute before kick off it starts raining.
Now this wouldn’t deter us under normal conditions, but we wanted to keep the bikes (and gear) in as good nick as possible, for at least one photo session, so we waited for the forecast ‘dry and sunny conditions’ to set in.
Fortunately all we had to do was sit tight for half an hour and as is so often the case on the upper North Island, it blows away as quickly as it blows in.
By the time we crossed the Bombay Hills south of Auckland, the border to the sprawling Waikato district, conditions were what could only be described as glorious.
Sunny, comfortable-in-leather temperatures and one of the best roads going anywhere, all lay before us.
Leaving Auckland and the last of the grey skies on the Waikato Freeway we headed southwest from the Drury off-ramp and not far from the exit the assault of green began.
The NZ countryside in spring is simply delightful. It starts with the rich volcanic soil and Mother Nature’s way of regularly turning the sprinklers on.
Occasionally wildflowers lined the edge of the road with the same yellow as our Fat Boy, giving the impression we were pulling 100kph through someone’s front garden or the local Park.
With our delayed start, by the time we got to Tuakau (did Glen Campbell sing that?) it was lunchtime, and our first chance to compare notes on the bikes.
Not surprisingly we were both very happy with ‘the Riley’. What simply beautiful machines the 2011 models are, or in the local vernacular; ‘mint’. After a light snack and a coffee we were ‘fizzing at the bung’ (my favourite Kiwi-ism) to hop back aboard and hit Highway 22.
What followed is close to my version of motorcycling heaven. The combination of twisty roads, scenery and the natural beauty of the place is amazing, with two lounge-chair-comfortable H-Ds just the thing to watch it all roll past on.
If you prefer the Freeway it’s straight down to Ngaruwahia and cut across to Highway 23 out to Raglan. Easy going all the way.
If you like twisty roads, then the topography in parts of Waikato district is known as ‘Karst’. Underlying volcanic forces have thrust massive Limestone blocks upwards and the plentiful rainfall has sculpted a landscape that is contoured like a choppy sea – only on an epic scale…and green. It doesn’t feature the towering escarpments or majestic peaks of the NZ Mainland, but from a motorcycling perspective the roads that pass through the Western and Southern Waikato have more corners per kilometre consistently, than just about anywhere.
Our route along ‘22’ only skirted the edge of the really twisty sections, but it’s still a grand ride and the day just kept getting better the further south, and through the ever greener valleys, we rode.
Highway 22 ‘proper’ starts just south of Pukekohe and winds its way through about 70km of undulating hills and valleys, to the turnoff at Waingaro and the SH23 link road.
We both buttoned off somewhat, listened to the hogs purr and drank it all in.
The road carries light traffic volumes (Route 1 is only a few k’s to the east) but 22 is narrow at times and needs wits about you. Rain damage can change from day to day in the wet season and there are occasional dairy and produce trucks, or large tourist vans, to deal with, but dial in an appropriate speed and it doesn’t detract from how absolutely joyous the ride is.
A few photo stops later and all too soon we were at the Waingaro Rd link to Highway 23.
This section is just as good as the ride down 22 and not long after the ‘16km Winding Road’ sign passes, the ancient Volcano, Mt Karioi (11 years living here and I still can’t say it) looms into view.
From there we turned right on to State Highway 23 and it’s typical main road conditions for another 15km before the descent in to the township of Raglan and a welcome beverage at the Harbour View Hotel.
What a great pub. It’s got a veranda out front that’s perfect for sitting and looking at motorcycles, particularly the two stunners we were on, and just generally watching this part of the world go by. Out back is a motorcycle friendly garden bar and the food is always first rate. (The food on the road everywhere in NZ is first rate – just look at the countryside that’s producing it!)
Parts of the ride we’d just done are a popular day jaunt out of both Auckland and Hamilton for a variety of motor heads, with plenty of motorcyclists among them. The main street fills with chrome most Sunday afternoons.
After a quick break and chat with some locals we saddled up again and headed out to The Point and the home of some of NZ’s best surfing spots, but the Pacific was calm and only a small swell was glistening in the afternoon sun.
We parked the bikes up on the grass and enjoyed the spectacle of the mountain rising from the sea away to the south.
The shadows were lengthening as we made a committee decision to head for our lodgings at Brooklands. It was a 30 minute ride back to Highway 22 and the country estate, but well worth doubling back for.
At one time the core of the estate was a grand colonial homestead with outbuildings for travellers added more recently, as well as a conference facility.
It’s like a cross between a Bed and Breakfast, a five star Hotel and as the Hippie sagely noted; ‘staying at your rich uncle’s place’. Only the host is a lovely lady named Jane and ‘Harleys are her favourite’.
The meals were absolutely delicious, four courses, country size and $NZ65. The rooms were spotless and very comfortable and it was not like staying at a hotel at all – but then it was, too. Quite unique.
After giving the local wines a nudge with dinner we slept soundly till Sunday saw us off to explore more of the local attractions and do a heap more riding.
Our first stop was at Bridal Veil Falls, about 25km from the coast. Here you’ll find a well-made walking track that leads to several lookouts over the picturesque falls. It winds through beautiful native forest before opening up to the spectacle of the stream plummeting 55mtrs to the valley floor below. ...... And NO SNAKES!
‘Very Jurassic Park’ was the Hippie’s assessment of the view from the base of the falls.
From the falls we cruised back out to the beach and stopped often to take in the magic of the coastline as we cruised along the Pacific foreshore and around the township.
Then it was back to the Harbour View for lunch, a few chance meetings in the Garden Bar and a lot of talk about the bikes and the life of Riley in general.
By mid afternoon it was time to point the steeds northwards and begin the homeward leg.
This time we headed inland and took the back way through to Huntly, to the freeway, and then engaged the cruise control on the Road King pretty much all the way back to home base.
We believe that’s exactly the way Riley would have had it.