BunBurner 1500

This is my account, a very long account – because how can you write a short story of a 35 hour motorcycle trip – of the BunBurner 1500 I completed on 7 and 8 May 2016.

BunBurner 1500

Those few of you who follow this blog will know that over recent years a lot of my recreational focus is on long distance motorcycle riding.

I have completed a 1600km ride inside a 24 hour window four times – that’s two Rusty Nuts Grand Challenges (2010 and 2011), then two North Island 1600’s (2014 and 2015). Earlier this year I competed in the TT2000 – 2,000km in 48 hours (a bit of a doddle by comparison).

On my last North Island 1600 I was able to gain accreditation to the Iron Butt Association of America. This group are outright leaders in the ‘sport’ of long distance motorcycling. Their membership numbers around 60,000 across the world, and their motto boasts “The World’s Toughest Riders!” I’m very proud of my accomplishment of joining their ranks, no less because the accreditation allows me the right to enter the greatest long distance ride of all time – the Iron Butt Rally.

This rally is held every two years, and involves a very select number of motorcyclists having to ride up to (and sometimes exceeding) 11,000 miles in eleven days. It sounds insane probably because it is. According to the IBA more people have launched into space than competed in, and successfully finished, an Iron Butt Rally. With my IBA membership confirmed I thought I’d put my name in the ring and see what would happen. I’d heard stories of riders entering this competition five times in a row (that’s ten years of trying) and not being selected so my chances were slim – or so I thought.

What do you know? I was selected. Holy shit! It was the most exciting day of my life (apart from the day my children were born, and the day I got married!) Long story short – after trying to work out how to actually make this happen I ended up withdrawing from the rally. The cost was too prohibitive. Even if I didn’t ship my bike over and instead hired one from Eagle Rider the cost was going to run over NZ$15,000. And just at the moment I don’t have that sort of money.

So, in order to allay my disappointment from the IBR 2017 withdrawal I decided to see if I could complete a BunBurner 1500. This ride is an official IBA ride and involves completing 1,500 miles (2,414km) within 36 hours. The route is entirely at my discretion. I can leave when I want, as long as I maintain appropriate documentation to show I did the ride, and as long as I complete the ride within the 36 hour window.

For those of you who might be reading this from outside New Zealand, I live in a very small country. The roading network is pretty rudimentary, with the main highways, in the main, narrow two lane roads – that’s one lane going one way, and the other lane going in the opposite direction! What’s more the maximum speed limit is 100 kph (60 mph). That’s not particularly fast when you want to travel 2,414 km in 36 hours. On top of that there are a lot of small towns where the speed drops to 50 kph (30 mph) and there’s no way to avoid these towns – you have to go through them. To do this ride you need to maintain a moving average speed of 67 kph for every one of the 36 hours. It sounds easy. It’s not.

I spent a few weeks planning this ride. I have a Garmin Zumo 590, and using Garmin Basecamp I plotted several routes around the North Island (I live in Wellington) trying to find a route that was the right length and was able to be done within the timeframe. The consensus is leave early in the morning of the first day; ride as far and as long as you can on that day until you need to rest; take a short break, and then ride until you’re finished.

Leaving early in the morning, especially from a city the size of Wellington, means you don’t get snarled up in heavy traffic when you’re trying to leave the city. The other thing to consider is to avoid heavily congested areas at peak times at the other end of the day. So, if I’m leaving Wellington when the traffic is light I don’t want to be hitting Auckland (for example) at 5.30pm in peak traffic, even if it’s the weekend. Time is of the essence!

0 – 12 hours

I leapt out of bed at 4.30am on Saturday 7 May 2016. I’d packed the bike (BMW R1200GS) the night before. I had a spare can of fuel in one of the panniers, and in the other some food and my gas cooker in case I needed to cook a meal somewhere on the side of the road. The rest of my gear, including a tent and a sleeping mat, were in dry bags lashed to the pillion seat. They acted like a back rest – something I felt sure I was going to need over the next two days.

My route had been already loaded into the Garmin Zumo – I knew exactly where I needed to be and when, and I knew how long I could stop at each waypoint to make it back within the 36 hours. To back this up I’d built a rudimentary spreadsheet that would keep the waypoints, departures and arrivals, top of mind so I didn’t lose track of the remaining time.

First stop was BP Roadmaster on Taranaki Street here in Wellington. The ride begins the minute I get that first gas receipt. The Iron Butt require a dated receipt with a timestamp, and they require a witness at the beginning and end of the ride. I had my witness, Linda. I filled up with gas, went inside and paid.

Start time: 5:16 am. The ride has begun!

Google said I should arrive at Hawera (my next fuel stop) at 8.58am. I got there and fueled up at 8.34 am. Making good time. I hung around on the forecourt and ate some beef jerky, had a drink, ate some nuts. Back on the bike.

The route was taking me around Mount Taranaki, through Opunake and Oakura. The weather was warm with no wind. There was a clear view of the mountain when I left Hawera. No snow to speak of but unobstructed view right to the summit. By the time I got halfway around the mountain the cloud was rolling in. By the time I got to Oakura there was no mountain – it was shrouded in a thick blanket of dirty grey cloud, as if it didn’t exist.

I rode through New Plymouth around 10.00am. Next stop for fuel and some food was Taumarunui. The route took me north on SH3 past the beautiful rugged surf beaches near Mokau before I turned southeast on SH4. I got my gas at BP Taumarunui at 12:31 pm. Popped over the road for a very quick pie and coffee at the Training Cafe and was back on the road and out of town by 12.53 pm. I already had an hour up my sleeve – my spreadsheet said I would leave Taumarunui at 1:53pm. Nice!

I rode up SH32 around the western arm of Lake Taupo heading towards Tokoroa and SH1. I was due at my next fuel stop in Matamata at 16.15pm. I had to wait for construction unmanned traffic lights on the Whakamaru dam. It’s been a long time since I had driven through that part of the country. A lot of the forest has been milled and the land converted to what looks like dairy.

Matamata arrived quicker than I thought – my receipt said 14:59 pm. I now had an hour and a quarter up my sleeve. To tell you the truth I thought the traffic would slow down from here heading north. Despite the straight roads, the further north and the closer you get to Auckland the more congested the roads become. It didn’t really eventuate. There seemed to be more passing lanes and the traffic was moving at a good pace. Next stop was Waihi via SH 25 and the SH25A. SH25A is at the bottom of the Coromandel Peninsular and is a beautiful twisty road that sweeps through beautiful native forest. I arrived on the outskirts of Whangamata around 16:43 pm and took the bypass around the town, a nice curvy road that reminded me a lot of the Queen Charlotte Drive as you head towards Picton, except a lot greener.

Waihi was a hop, skip and a jump from Whangamata. I arrived at 17:15 pm a full hour and 45 minutes ahead of schedule. Things were looking good. I hung around Waihi on the forecourt for around 15 minutes taking in some food and water, and visiting the bathroom.

12 – 24 hours

SH2 out of Waihi takes me towards Tauranga. In the original plan I was going to get fuel at Bethlehem, but it was too close to Waihi to bother stopping. It would only slow me down. Turning southeast on SH29 through the Kaimai Range was slow. For a good deal of this road closest to Bethlehem the speed limit was 50kph. I can only assume this was to encourage drivers to use the toll road at 100kph. The traffic increased near McLaren Falls. An event had just finished and the stream of traffic trying to turn into SH29 was pretty impressive. It was already dark, and with these roads not being very familiar meant I didn’t really know where I was. I knew where I was heading, but that’s not the same as knowing when the roads would turn into something that I knew.

I came to the turn-off to SH28 which would link to SH5 leading into Rotorua from the west. I hit the middle of Rotorua at 19:28 pm. I was now nearly two hours ahead of my schedule. No time to stop for food. I carried on along the road to Atiamuri. I had last ridden this road on the 2015 North Island 1600, in the very early hours of the morning. It’s a lovely road, with very little traffic and easy passing if you do strike some. The road exits onto SH1 where you take a left turn to head towards Taupo. I was looking for fuel at the BP in Wairakei. I arrived at 20:13 pm.

I was a little bit weary. I filled up with gas and then spent some time working out where I might want to sleep. I thought that I might be getting to Opotiki around midnight and that that would be a good time to doss down for a snooze. I phoned the campground at Opotiki. The owner was surprised I even wanted to book a campsite at 8:30 pm at night. She told me she was just about to “put the barrier arm down” which meant no-one could get in or out of the campground. She did make another recommendation of a campground that didn’t have a barrier arm. I spent some time trying to get through but had no luck. I decided to press on and just play it by ear.

Back on the road around 20:41 pm heading north to the Murupara turn-off. This road goes through the forest. It’s a very straight road, ending in a seemingly infinite descent into the small forestry town of Murupara. I arrived there around 21:30 pm.

Turning north at the Murupara intersection on Kopuriki Road takes me (after some time) through to SH2 running across the Bay of Plenty. Kopuriki Road is a tiny country road, but it’s in really good condition and it’s not busy at that time of the night on a Saturday. I did have one scare though. I was driving through a small settlement when a small animal ran from the right of the road across to the left. It was so close, and so fast, I couldn’t work out whether it went in front of my front wheel, or between my two wheels. If it was between the wheels then it was the luckiest critter still alive, and I was lucky to stay on my bike. Actually, I’m confident that I could run over small animals and not come off the bike. I only assume this because last year I came around a corner in the dark and ran right over the top of a freshly deceased possum. It was a hell of a bump but the bike didn’t waver.

The single lane bridge that crosses the Whakatane River at Taneatua was showing a red light when I arrived. It’s a little strange sitting on a motorbike in the middle of nowhere, with no other traffic, waiting for what seemed like a long time, to cross a bridge that had no traffic on it. I contemplated crossing against the red light but it’d be just my luck to meet a car coming the other way. My bike doesn’t have a reverse gear. I waited. The light eventually turned green.

Opotiki came into view around 23:00 pm. I was greeted on the main road by the flashing lights of a police car having pulled over a low slung modified sedan. Just another Saturday night. I found the petrol station. There were two attendants, and a lot of young people hanging around. One guy was on the forecourt, a little off to the side and just out of the glare of the station lights. He was drinking a bottle of beer and waiting for his mate who was inside negotiating the attendant for the cheapest pack of smokes he could buy. He was clearly drunk. He turned towards me and said “How’s it going boss?”. As I paid he left with his mate across the forecourt. I was distracted from paying as they were both heading right for my motorbike, I thought to do no good. My helmet and gloves were resting on the seat, I had a tank bag with a whole heap of goodies, and I had my GPS sitting on a stand. They walked past my bike. I breathed a sigh of relief, and then paid for my fuel. Probably kind of weird to see a motorcyclist all loaded up in the middle of the night in Opotiki. There aren’t many places to head to from there.

I wasn’t keen on using the bathroom in Opotiki as after I had paid for my fuel around three more cars turned up, as well as a small group of young people. None of these people bought fuel – they were all there for the takeaway food. Rightly or wrongly I was concerned with the security of my things, and short of taking it all into the bathroom with me I couldn’t think of a way to keep it safe. I decided to find a toilet stop further down the road. I was back on the road by 23:13 pm.

The next leg was heading through the gorge along SH2 towards Gisborne. This is a challenging road at the best of times let alone at night. It can be treacherous in the wet as that’s when the grey clay rock that is prevalent in that area tends to break off in football sized chunks create dangerous obstacles in the middle of the road. On my first Rusty Nuts ride I came across a rider who was down after hitting one of these rocks. I know what could happen. My bathroom stop came at Matawai at 00:15. It was now the second day and I’d been riding 19 hours solid. Absolutely no-one around while I used the public toilets. When I came back to my bike a big red cat scampered away across the road, stopped and looked back as if to say “bloody idiot”.

I made it to the Wairoa Z Station at 02:04 am. My receipt was dated one minute later. The petrol station had an attendant but she was working through the night window. There was one other parked car at a petrol pump but the chap inside appeared to be eating, and not buying fuel. It was a little chilly now so I decided to have a pie – what turned out to be a very nice steak and cheese. It re-juvenated me for the next leg through to Lake Tutira.

I decided that Lake Tutira was going to be where I’d spend the night (well, a couple of hours). I had stayed at the Department of Conservation campsite maybe 30 years previously when friends and I did a road trip around the East Cape. The road from Wairoa to Hawkes Bay is really windy. It was further compromised with a lot of dense fog. When I got to Lake Tutira the fog was so thick I was worried that I would miss the turn off. I didn’t. But, I couldn’t see a bloody thing once I turned off, and the unsealed track that led to the campsite was virtually indistinguishable from the surrounding land. I gingerly pushed forward worried that if I dropped the bike I’d be stumped. A fence loomed ahead with a lot of signage. I saw in the distance two camper vans. I pulled up under an enormous walnut tree and cut the engine. A couple of rabbits bounced off out of my way. It was 3.31 am.

With my head torch lighting my way I managed to get my tent up and all the important equipment off my bike and into the tent. I decided to climb into my sleeping bag with my motorcycle pants on. I used my jacket as a pillow, set my alarm clock for 6.00am (by now it was 4:00 am) and promptly fell asleep.

Minutes later I woke. Two hours had passed and my cell phone was playing my favourite song. I opened my eyes to find my head torch had been on all night. I was that tired I didn’t notice. By 6:30 am I was starting the motorbike and heading back out to the main road. I swear visibility was worse than the night before. I made it to the road and headed south towards Napier and the BP at Bay View.

As I rode south the road winds up out of the valley around a notorious bend called “Devils Elbow” Right about that point I emerged out of the fog and mist to see a stunning red sunrise. Looking back towards Tutira was a sea of fog. It was stunning, and if I’d had the time I would have stopped and taken a photo. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

24 – 36 hours

Bay View beckoned with a coffee and a muffin. I didn’t need fuel. I’d calculated that I could reach Waiouru for my next fill. I did check my oil though and did a small top-up just to be sure the bike kept going.

I was on the Napier Taupo road at around 7:30 am. I like this road. It’s really improved and is fast and interesting, especially in the early morning on a Sunday when there’s very little traffic. When I was little (45 years ago) we lived in Hawkes Bay and would often travel to Taupo for the hoildays. In those days it took nearly three hours to do a journey which is now half that time. Back in those days there was a big 40km section of unsealed track that cars would share with the many logging trucks that plied the route.

Days have changed. I got to Taupo around an hour later! As the road heads towards Taupo it starts to descend to lake level. The road is very straight but undulating. I could see this ‘thing’ up ahead and at first I had no idea what it was. It quickly became bigger until I realised it was a hawk holding something in its talons, and trying to use the updraught of the road undulations to gain altitude. At the last moment it realised it would have to jettison its cargo to avoid hitting me. A hedgehog (a small one) flew out of the sky and bounced several times in front of me before it rolled off into the long grass at the side of the road. If it wasn’t dead before the hawk had tried to carry it off surely it was now.

Crossing the Desert Road Mount Ruapehu on my right was shrouded in cloud, completely. By the time I made it to Waiouru it was completely visible – the opposite of my experience with Mount Taranaki 28 hours previously. No snow on the mountain at all. Nothing. It’s nearly June for goodness sake. Will there be a ski season? At this rate it doesn’t look like it.

A very quick stop at Waiouru for gas. The time was 9:37 am. Headed south to the turn off just before Taihape that would take me across the Taihape Napier road, otherwise known as “Gentle Annie”. It’s a stunning road for motorcyclists. There was a 20km section right in the middle that had remained unsealed until only a few years ago. I rode over that road when it wasn’t sealed. It was terrifyingly steep, and even more so when you met traffic, especially logging or sheep trucks. Now, it’s just a beautiful road. One of the scenic gems of New Zealand. I made it over in a couple of hours arriving for a stop near PakiPaki at around 11.30 am. I parked up next to a vineyard under a towering oak tree. Ate some more beef jerky. Took my rain suit off which I had used that morning really just to block the chill. Swapped my winter gloves for summer weight. It’s Hawkes Bay. It’s autumn. It’s still 21 deg C.

My mother lives in Waipukurau. Sunday happened to be Mother’s Day. I had calculated a visit to mum wouldn’t compromise my deadline of 36 hours. I can’t turn up without a present so I called into the supermarket and bought a box of Roses chocolate. It’s a cliché I know but I couldn’t think of anything that I could carry that mum would have appreciated as much as chocolate. As it turned out she loves Roses chocolate!!

I stayed for forty minutes before heading off for the last three and a bit hours back to Wellington. I’ve driven this road down through the Wairarapa so many times I’ve lost count. I did my penultimate fill at the BP in Pahiatua at 14:09pm. Just out of Pahiatua on a straight-ish piece of road a traffic cop flashed his lights, powered up the red and blue lights, did a U-turn and followed me down the road. My heart sank. At this stage I had travelled nearly 2,300km without so much as seeing a cop, apart from one parked on the side of the road on the way into Rotorua, and the policeman talking to the boy-racer in Opotiki.

He was only doing his job I guess, and he turned out to be a pretty decent chap. I was on my absolute best behaviour as I wanted this to be over as quickly as possible. He’d caught me at 115kph, but because I had pulled over immediately he was prepared to discount the ticket to 110kph. I didn’t argue. I also didn’t tell him I’d been riding for 33 hours solid with a two hour break for sleep. If I’d done that I imagined he’d get me to walk in a straight line with my eyes closed, and I doubted I could do that, at the best of times. I haven’t received the ticket yet – it gets sent in the mail – but he told me that the fine would be $30 and that I’d get 10 demerit points. Honestly, it didn’t sound worth the effort of writing the ticket. I was expecting a $300 fine, a real deterrent. I kept my mouth shut, said thanks, made sure my indicator was on, then pulled out onto the roadway for the remaining one hour journey back to Wellington, at the legal speed limit.

I rode into BP RoadMaster on Taranaki Street at 16:23 pm. I had just under an hour up my sleeve. The ride was witnessed, and I tootled home to Karori. It was over. Or was it?

No, not really. I spent the next two evenings preparing all my documentation. Ordering the receipts and scanning them. Writing up the fuel log and noting all the mileages. Drawing a google map to prove the mileage. Sorting out the links to my Spotwalla tracking map.

If I took the speedometer mileage from my motorbike I just squeaked through the required distance. By my calculations it was 1,500.61 miles (2,415km). I needed 1,500 miles, or 2,414 kms. Luckily IBA know that the speedo on a motorbike is notoriously inaccurate, so they rely more on distances gleaned from a GPS. That distance was 2,439km (1,515 miles). I am confident that I’ll get the accreditation. I just have to wait until they do it which could be anything from 2-3 months away.

While I was riding I whiled away my time by coming up with other hair-brained rides I could complete. But, as they say, that’s another story. Check back soon.

Google map of BunBurner 1500

Google map of BunBurner 1500

Final Results TT2000 2016

I’m not going to publish the complete results of the TT2000 as that would be a breach of privacy, and some of the front-runners had very fast times over very long distances. So fast and so long that it’s almost impossible to conceive of them having pulled it off.

I was very pleased with my final result though – 12th out of a field of 87. I’m pretty happy with that given I’ve never done a TT before, and given that my ride wasn’t overly strenuous. I’m very keen to improve on my result next year. And when you think that I only knew where ONE of the mystery checkpoints was, well, again, I’ll just say that I impressed myself.

Thanks again to all the organisers. It was a great event. We need more like this throughout the year.

TT2000 – Ride report (2016)

It’s Tuesday night after my first TT2000. I’ve just ridden my motorcycle 2,406 kilometres over a 48 hour period. The riding went from checkpoint to checkpoint amassing scores of between 1,000 and 5,000 points depending on the severity of the checkpoint. I ended up with 68,000.

The ride was ‘invented’ by Mike Hyde who wrote books about motorcycling in the USA, Australia, and around New Zealand. Sadly in 2015 Mike passed away but there are enough enthusiasts to keep the ride running.

Line-up of bikes for 2016 TT2000 in Picton

Line-up of bikes for 2016 TT2000 in Picton

This year there were two starts – one in Picton and one in Dunedin. Both ended in Christchurch. The checkpoints were released several months before the event so riders could plan their route to meet the distance requirements, and to get the minimum number of 50,000 points.

Mileage at the Picton start

Mileage at the Picton start

I’d recently bought a Garmin Zumo 590 and so spent time using the Garmin Basecamp app to work out where I was heading. The logical place for me to begin, as a Wellingtonian, was Picton. The ride began midday on Friday 19 February. The deal was to make it to Christchurch before midday on Sunday 21 February.

Road to Rainbow Ski field - the road was closed so we could only go as far as the first ford

Road to Rainbow Ski field – the road was closed so we could only go as far as the first ford

I’d planned a route that headed first to Hakahaka Bay east of Picton, then back to Picton, down the Wairau Valley to Nelson Lakes National Park, across to Tapawera, up the Moutere Valley, over the Takaka Hill all the way to Whanganui Inlet (8km from the start of Farewell Spit) then back over Takaka Hill taking in Mairahau and Kaiteretere. I’d worked out that I’d arrive sometime around 10.30pm in Murchison where I had booked a cheap cabin for the night.

Whanganui Inlet near Farewell Spit in Golden Bay

Whanganui Inlet near Farewell Spit in Golden Bay

North end of Kaiteretere Beach

North end of Kaiteretere Beach

The first day was around 650km. I managed 25,000 points, already at the half way mark on points at least.

Hakahaka Bay 5,000
Wairau Valley 2,000
Rainbow Skifield 5,000
West Bay 1,000
Tapawera 2,000
Whanganui Inlet 5,000
Courthouse Cafe, Collingwood 1,000
Pupu Springs 1,000
Mairahau 2,000
Kaiteriteri Beach 1,000
SUB TOTAL 25,000
Murchison campground for the night $25

The first day riding was great weather. No wind and the temperatures relatively mild.

Despite requests from the organisers for riders to take care on the road to Hakahaka Bay there were some speedsters who decided the road was too much fun to move sedately. Three riders tailgated me on the way back to Picton so I indicated to let them past. Two made it successfully, the third went a little too fast for the immediate corner. He got caught in the loose gravel on the shoulder and, despite me thinking for a moment he was going to recover, the lip back up onto the road proved too big an obstacle and he went down into a ditch. His right leg went under the bike. By the time I had found flat ground to park my motorbike two other riders had pulled this chap out of the ditch and were checking him, and his bike, for injuries. He said he was OK but the way he kept rubbing his leg indicated to me that he was running on adrenalin and that he’d be in a lot more pain and discomfort further down the line.

I found out at the end of the ride that one other rider had come off on that stretch of road.

The Takaka Hill is always a highlight for motorcyclists and it didn’t disappoint.

Travelling back through Motueka I couldn’t bring myself to have McDonalds, or Fish & Chips. So I carried on riding. By the time I got back through Tapawera I was starving. I’d packed a small gas primus so sat on a park bench outside the closed Tapawera cafe and cooked up a freeze-dried meal of Lamb Curry. Just what the doctor ordered.

My bike, a BMW R1200GS, only has a cruising range of around 330km. And it seemed that there was limited 24 hour petrol in the top and west of the South Island. Murchison seemed to be the logical place to stay if I wanted a decent rest before what I knew to be a huge ride the next day based on how far I could get on a tank of gas. I arrived at the Murchison camp ground where I had pre-booked a cabin around 10.30pm. Got chatting to two other TT2000 riders who had decided to stay in the same campground. We traded war stories and hit the sack not long after.

I made an early start on Saturday morning leaving at around 6.30am. The first checkpoint was Six Mile Walkway about 9 kms from Murchison. There was fog around at that time of the morning – it was a really nice little valley albeit a bit chilly at that time. An old white mare looked over the fence as I took my checkpoint photo.


The valley east of the Six Mile walkway checkpoint

I headed back to Murchison and on to Inangahua. Following that it was to Westport.

Carters Beach at the mouth of the Buller River was a very impressive checkpoint, and not one I would have enjoyed being at in bad weather.

Carters Beach at the mouth of the Buller River

Carters Beach at the mouth of the Buller River

After that I headed to the Fox River Bridge, then Greymouth for breakfast, then down to Kaniere. I realised that I had stuffed up my planning a little and missed Roa which I should have done before hitting Greymouth. I decided at only 2000 points I could leave it out altogether.

The route then took me over the Arthurs Pass where I hit rain. I decided not to put the rain suit on, rightfully expecting that the 30 degree temps in Canterbury would dry me out in short order.

(A) – I didn’t get that damp, and

(B) – I was right about the hot temperatures.

Six Mile 2,000
Inangahua 2,000
Carters Beach 2,000
Fox River 2,000
Kaniere 2,000
Inchbonnie 1,000
Klondyke Corner 1,000
Cave Stream 1,000
Coopers Creek 2,000
Pudding Hill 2,000
SUB TOTAL 17,000

Coopers Creek was interesting. My GPS sent me down a gravel road. Not a gravel road with tyre tracks and hard packed shingle – a gravel road with three inches of metal. I slid all over the place. The GPS then took me to an intersection with more gravel and a ford! FFS! A road sign said the ford was closed. It didn’t look that bad to me so I crossed it. After taking my photo I recalibrated the GPS to avoid unsealed roads. The last thing I wanted was to tip off in a remote country lane and not be able to pick up my bike.

Coopers Creek checkpoint just after I crossed a (closed) ford

Coopers Creek checkpoint just after I crossed a (closed) ford

Pudding Hill is the beginning of the road up to Mount Hutt. I saw a few bikes travelling to the checkpoint as I was heading back out to the main highway. I didn’t know if they had started in Picton, or were bikers from the Dunedin start heading north. It felt about halfway between the two starts so either was possible.

I gassed up in Geraldine, and had a restorative lime milkshake in Fairlie. It was bloody hot. Even the man in the fish and chip shop said so.

Next through the Mackenzie Country – some of my favourite roads in New Zealand. I witnessed a few stupid tourists in small underpowered sedans pull out and overtake truck and trailer units with not much room to spare, and then if that wasn’t enough they promptly overtook a car on a blind bend. I was yelling expletives inside my helmet! It seemed to work and everyone survived, just.

Mt Cook airfield is a stones throw from the Hermitage. There was a massive black rain cloud hanging over the Hermitage basin. This impending deluge demanded a rain suit so I pulled over to pull it on. The wind was blowing hard, directly at me. I was being buffeted and blown all over the road. It wasn’t pleasant. Then the downpour hit. I took my photo as quick as I could (another 5,000 pointer so worth the effort) and got on my way. The ride back was stupendous with the wind directly at my back. Absolutely no wind noise in my helmet as my road speed seemed to match the wind speed. I did the normally 40 minute ride in what seemed about 25 minutes.

Mt Cook airport in howling wind and torrential rain. It's worse than it looks

Mt Cook airport in howling wind and torrential rain. It’s worse than it looks

Fueled up in Omarama. Next stop was Aviemore. The road to the lake took me across the Benmore Dam. It was around 6.30pm and the sun was getting lower in the sky. Such an amazing experience riding across this massive man-made structure surrounded by incredible countryside. Last time I rode across there I was on a Yamaha TT500 in the early 80’s when I was at university in Christchurch. I have to get back to that place and spend a bit more time there.

Elephant Rock is on the south side of the Waitaki Valley. You head some of the way to Danseys Pass but before you hit shingle veer off to the east. The landscape is rolling pastureland with outcrops of limestone. I spent a bit of time at the Elephant Rock checkpoint eating a muesli bar and watched the reddening sky as the sun set.

Sunset at Elephant Rock

Sunset at Elephant Rock

Elephant Rock was a point at which I had to make a big decision. If I just wanted to meet the minimum guidelines I could head towards Christchurch and pick up Clandeboye and Pleasant Point to meet the 50,000 point minimum. The ride back to Christchurch at that point would have given me the required 2,000 km.

If I was feeling good the alternative was to carry on south to pick up three checkpoints south of Dunedin. One of them at Lees Flat was worth 5,000 so it was a serious consideration.

I’m not one to do things to the minimum. The Iron Butt Rally(11,000 miles in 11 days) in the USA is on my bucket list so I was keen to see how far I could ride. I felt OK. Remarkably so. What would be the consequences if I felt tired? I’d stop and pitch a tent, have a rest and carry on.

I decided to head south.

I reached Dunedin around 10.30pm. I got caught up in a breath testing traffic stop on George Street, surrounded by partying new university students. The nice cop, an elderly man, laughed with his breathalyser and said “This is going to be interesting!” as there was no way I could speak into the thing with my helmet on. When I told him I’d driven down from Murchison he decided to let me go without the official measurement. After all, it didn’t look like I had been out on the turps.

Gassed up and had a coffee in Mosgiel. Then began the ride inland to Lees Flat. It was closer than I thought. The challenge for the next three checkpoints was getting the bike and the location correctly exposed in the photos so that the scrutineers could determine if I had actually been to where I said I had. Lees Flat was OK – the checkpoint was photographing the bike in front of a highly reflective road sign.

Lee Flat, the easiest of the 'dark' photos

Lee Flat, the easiest of the ‘dark’ photos

If I thought that was the biggest of my problems I was wrong. The GPS decided it wanted to send me on shingle roads again. Because a GPS only looks as far ahead as the next intersection or turn I thought that surely 4.1 km of gravel would lead me to a sealed road. Remember, it’s pitch dark. I’m in the country. From what I could see there were no farm houses, and there certainly wasn’t any other traffic. While I have HID headlights it was difficult to read the condition of the road. It appeared to be hard packed but very corrugated.

After 4.1 kms of riding I get to the next intersection. Still more gravel, this time I think for about 6kms. I carried on, again hoping that this was leading to a nice sealed road. Wrong. The next stretch, again unsealed, was 19.1 km. And the conditions were getting worse. It was too late to turn back so I kept going. Steep downward declines and upward inclines. Extensive corrugations. Not a soul to be seen anywhere. I was completely discombobulated. The GPS showed I was heading north which I thought was non-sensical. At one point I thought I was on the coast as I crossed a bridge near a heap of what looked like fishing boats. It turned out when I looked at the map the next day that I had crossed Lake Mahinerangi. Who would have thought.

I finally arrived in Lawrence where I struggled to photograph my bike in front of the stone house which was set quite a way back off the road. I was shining a torch at the house, using my camera flash, and keeping the bike running so I could make use of the headlights. It’s after midnight and I figured any moment someone is going to come out with a shotgun and drive me off.

I left Lawrence on a sealed road – next stop the Clutha Ferry. But, 3 km down the road the GPS tried to send me on more gravel. Enough was enough. It might have been quicker as the crow flies but certainly not quicker in terms of peace of mind. I re-routed and headed off. But I was still confused as to what direction I was heading. I honestly thought I was heading UP the Clutha River with the ferry crossing on the east side, when in fact it was completely the opposite.

I found Clutha Ferry and rode half way down the small track to get closer to the sign so the photography would be easier. Halfway down I realised the track was narrow, and I couldn’t easily turn around back up the hill. There was a big ROAD CLOSED sign at the bottom of the track with a larger turning circle beyond the barricade. Only thing to do was ride beyond the barricade, do the photo and then ride back out. I have a slight nervousness making tight turns on narrow shingle tracks. This stems from a solo ride I did seven years back when I dropped my bike on a steep section of the Dunstan Range. For the life of me I couldn’t pick the bike up. And I didn’t want to be in the same predicament in the middle of the night this time.

All was fine. I turned the bike around and rode out of there, back through Dunedin heading north to Christchurch.

On the way down SH1 four hours previously I had spotted a camping spot (actually, just a blue sign with a tent on it) in Herbert, about an hour north of Dunedin. Doing the return trip I arrived in Herbert at 3.30am – at this stage I’d been riding 21 hours. I was buggered. I needed to rest.

I rode as quietly as I could into the Glencoe DOC campground and cut the engine. With a head torch strapped to my noggin I erected my small tent, blew up a 3/4 air mattress and fell into a deep sleep. Woke up freezing at 5.50pm. I can tell you two hours sleep was a pretty good effort. As quietly as I could I packed everything up and left the campground at 6.30am. No-one saw me arrive and no one saw me leave. I’m sure they heard me though.

I slogged it back up the line, having breakfast in Timaru (finally succumbing to a bacon and egg McMuffin, yes at McDonalds) before picking up Mystery Bonus #4 at the Pleasant Point railway museum. Further down the road there was the official noted railway station checkpoint in Pleasant Point, and finally the flag poles at the Clandeboye milk plant. Then on to the finish at Hamptons in Christchurch.

Pleasant Point railway station

Pleasant Point railway station


Mt Cook Airport 5,000
Aviemore 2,000
Elephant Rock 2,000
Lee Flat 5,000
Lawrence 2,000
Clutha Ferry 2,000
Mystery #4 4,000
Pleasant Point 2,000
Clandeboye 2,000
Hamptons, Christchurch 0
SUB-TOTAL 26,000

I arrived at Hamptons at 10.50am. There were quite a few riders there already. I handed over my camera card, and my score sheet, had a sausage, spoke to a few riders I had met along the way, and then left to stay with friends.

The finish mileage at Hamptons

The finish mileage at Hamptons

I want to thank the organisers. It was heaps of fun. I feel like I exceeded my own expectations. And while I can’t remember every part of the ride I know that I experienced some amazing weather, some amazing countryside, and a real sense of accomplishment.

Finishers, every one of them, I hope!

Finishers, every one of them, I hope!

I’ll definitely be back next year.

My Spotwalla track including the trip from Christchurch to Picton on the Monday afterwards.

My Spotwalla track including the trip from Christchurch to Picton on the Monday afterwards.


So, this Friday I’m starting the TT2000 – an endurance event for motorcyclists. I leave Picton at midday on Friday 19 February. and arrive at Christchurch at midday on Sunday 21 February. The idea is to accumulate 50,000 points from collecting photos at checkpoints, as well as riding a minimum of 2,000km.

Without giving my route away I’m going to be riding 800km the first day, having a 6 hour sleep, and then riding around 1600km the second day.

South Island Tour – November 2015

On Sunday 22 November I begin the annual motorbike trip with some old mates. We’ve been doing it for around five years now and each time bar one we have ridden around the South Island.

Day One – Sunday 22 November 2015:

My journey starts on the Bluebridge Ferry (Wellington to Picton) on Sunday morning arriving at Picton at 11.30am. The others are a day ahead of me as I had to stay behind to attend a friend’s wedding. So, my first day riding is a long one – from Picton to Tekapo in an afternoon. I’m aiming to get there by around 7pm.

Day Two – Monday 23 November 2015:

Tekapo to Catlins

Day Three – Tuesday 24 November 2015:

Catlins to Te Anau

Day Four – Wednesday 25 November 2015:

Te Anau to Milford Sound to Te Anau to Glenorchy

Day Five – Thursday 26 November 2015:

Glenorchy to Franz Josef

Day Six – Friday 27 November 2015:

Franz Josef to St Arnaud

Day Seven – Saturday 28 November 2015:

St Arnaud to Picton to Wellington

You can follow my trip on the Spotwalla map below (refresh as you go). This map relies on me remembering to keep my iPhone in tracking mode. It will start tracking from 7.00am on Sunday 22 November and finish at midnight on Saturday 28 November.

The 2015 NI 1600 in review

Checkpoint #1:

1 h 50 min (159 km)

My speedo at the start of the NI1600

My speedo at the start of the NI1600

The Avoca Hotel

The Avoca Hotel

Starting at the Turangi Holiday Park we headed to National Park, through Raetihi, along the Paraparas through to the Upokongaro Tavern (Avoca Hotel). This was the first manned checkpoint. We needed to take a photo of our bike (or a marshall) in front of the Avoca Hotel entrance.



Checkpoint #2:

28 min (33 km)

Whangaehu River bridge

Whangaehu River bridge

A short blast through to the bridge that crosses the Whangaehu River, with a photo of the bike as proof that it was visited.



Checkpoint #3:

1h 3 min (68 km)

Pemberton Corner

Pemberton Corner

This felt a lot longer than 68 km. Very twisty road with lots of loose fine grit gravel. I came barrelling around a corner to find a fellow NI1600 participant standing on the side of the road signalling to slow down. One of the riders ahead had hit gravel and ridden straight into a fence. There were plenty of people helping – he didn’t appear injured and the riders had the bike back on the road so I continued on to Hunterville where I queued for petrol. We heard later that the rider who ‘crashed’ was not able to continue.

We headed north to Ohingaiti then hung a right and headed into the northern Manawatu. My GPS on my iPhone was all but inoperable so in these early stages I made the decision to try and stick with some of the other riders and just follow them – assuming that they would know where to go. ‘We’ found the next photo checkpoint at Pemberton Corner, apparently an historic place – I still have no clue as to the significance of this location!



Checkpoint #4:

51 m (58 km)

Halcombe Memorial roundabout

Halcombe Memorial roundabout

From Pemberton Corner we headed south towards Cheltenham. This included one of the longest straights I have ridden. Another rider shot past me at a rapid rate of knots. Turning right at Cheltenham back towards SH1. I kept up with two fast riders who ‘showed me the way’ to Halcombe. Never been there before. Not likely to visit again.

The objective was to photograph the bike near a war memorial on, or near, the town roundabout. When I arrived there was a bit of a queue to ride your bike onto the mound.



Checkpoint #5:

2 h 55 min (232 km)

At Oakura with Marshall 'Stretch'

At Oakura with Marshall ‘Stretch’

This was the first of the substantial riding legs. Coming out of Halcombe I followed the Honda Goldwing guys – there were four of these beasts. Again, with no GPS I thought I’d follow the leader. What I didn’t realise was they were making a detour to Marton for their first fuel stop so I found myself off course, thankfully not by much. Instead of hitting SH3 at the intersection of Makirikiri Road I exited onto the highway several km’s north at Turakina. It didn’t add any extra time or distance to my journey.

Headed north west through Whanganui, then Hawera, then along the Surf Highway to Oakura. It was nearing dusk. The sun was getting low on the horizon, and the wind was pretty bad. I couldn’t help thinking why anyone would want to live in the Taranaki. Wind blown and devoid of any meaningful vegetation, along with the pervading smell of cow shit. They can have it. Needless to say I was very happy to hit the BP station at Oakura for the second manned checkpoint.



Checkpoint #6:

3 h 37 min (281 km)

Raglan Z - a dark and lonely forecourt

Raglan Z – a dark and lonely forecourt

Another big leg. There were quite a few bikes congregating at the Oakura BP. I tagged along with the Goldwings again riding through New Plymouth as darkness was falling. This was another long leg up through Te Kuiti, and then along SH39 and SH23 to Raglan.

The Goldwings left me for dust. I saw one other rider at the BP in Te Kuiti where I re-fuelled. I rode to Raglan pretty much on my own. I did stop at the Otorohanga McDonalds for a quick bite to eat. It felt like I was there for 30 minutes or so but my Spotwalla tracker suggests around 15 minutes for an Angus burger and small fries.

Didn’t see any other riders until approaching Raglan as riders were returning either to Ngaruawahia, or up the SH22. Photographed my bike on a lonely forecourt at Z Raglan.



Checkpoint #7:

1 h 26 min (112 km)

A busy time at Bombay Hills BP

A busy time at Bombay Hills BP


I was getting a bit sick of winding roads so decided to take the marginally longer but easier ride to Bombay by heading out to Ngaruawahia, and then north on SH1. It’s pretty much a dual carriageway the whole distance so I made reasonable time and arrived at Bombay Hills where there was a rather large gathering of bikes for the third manned checkpoint.

It’s strange but there’s very little talking at these checkpoints. For me it’s about either refuelling the bike and the body, taking a toilet break, and then heading back out onto the road. I did have a long discussion with a lovely chap about his classic BMW R60. He was a marshall so wasn’t riding but was interested in the GS. One rider was catnapping on the lounge seats in the cafe of BP Bombay Hills. I have no idea whether he continued or not.



Checkpoint #8:

2 h 9 min (135 km)

A remote checkpoint at Te Rerenga

A remote checkpoint at Te Rerenga School

By this time it was around 1.00 am. I knew the next leg would be a challenge. Riding around the Coromandel Peninsular in the daytime is bad enough but at night time is almost silly. I was heading for Te Rerenga to take a photo of the bike in front of the Te Rerenga school sign.

While the distance was not far the windy nature of the road meant that it would take a while. Seems I did it in 1 h 37 min which was pretty good going. I installed some great HID bulbs on the bike some years back and they really come into their own when doing this technical night riding. It’s almost as good as daylight – almost!

Stopped at the school sign with two other riders who I had managed to catch up.



Checkpoint #9:

1 h 40 min (106 km)

Whangamata Z

Whangamata Z

From this point on I rode almost the rest of the way back to Turangi alone. I followed the two riders who were at Te Rerenga into Whitianga where we went our separate ways. Again, without a GPS I basically followed street signs into Whangamata and in the process made a few unscheduled detours and U-turns. I arrived at an empty forecourt in Whangamata at around 4.10 am.



Checkpoint #10:

2 h 5 min (143 km)

Fairy Springs, Rotorua

Fairy Springs, Rotorua

I was running low on fuel so made a short detour to Waihi to refuel. It was a bit of a deja-vu as the BP Waihi was a checkpoint stop on the 2014 NI1600. From here I headed into Tauranga. To my mind Tauranga is a small city that thinks it’s really big. It’s the most frustrating place to find your way out of. I ended up driving along the ‘motorway’ and then having to do a U-turn where I promptly found myself on a toll road. Bugger. Nothing to do but to continue on.

At this stage I was completely convinced I was on completely the wrong road as I headed towards Rotorua. I found myself in a gnarly little gorge heading through to Ngawaro. It wasn’t until I arrived back at Turangi that I confirmed I was where I was supposed to be. The time was around 5.45 am and so the sun was beginning to rise.

I arrived at Z Fairy Springs where I had a cup of coffee, put on some more clothes as it was getting chilly, and headed south.



Checkpoint #11:

2 h 42 min (192 km)

Ohura - ghost town

Ohura – ghost town

The ride through to Benneydale was cold but pleasant. I travelled some roads not previously taken. From Benneydale it started turning to custard. The roads through to Ohura could hardly be classified as roads – more like badly sealed farm tracks. By the time I got to Benneydale I’d been riding for 16.5 hours so my tolerance was low and my ability to concentrate wasn’t compromised but it was struggling. These roads were ghastly. Big potholes. Lots of loose crap over the road to trip you up and throw you down if you weren’t careful. It was bloody hard work and I remember a couple of times yelling and screaming for it to stop. Plus I saw no-one. No-one at all. Was I even where I was supposed to be? Apparently so.

Ohura township was a delightful little ghost town with perfectly formed but run down, and largely empty shops. I had travelled through Ohura 6 months before on the Forgotten World Highway Rail Carts – in that experience we saw Ohura literally from the other side of the tracks.



Checkpoint #12 and FINISH:

1 h 37 min (115 km)

And the finish!

And the finish!

From Ohura it’s a very quick jaunt out to meet the last leg of the Forgotten World Highway and into Taumaranui. Nearly back to base – thank God.

I have to say I was aching but not as tired as I had been on the 2014 jaunt. On that occasion as I headed down the western arm of Lake Taupo I sung every song from South Pacific that I knew in order to stay awake. This time because of the technical riding required in the last few legs there was no opportunity to be tired. I remember yawning ONCE, and once only.

I made it back to Turangi at 10.05 am. That’s a time of 21 hours and 5 minutes. I’m pretty happy with that. Google suggests that it should have taken 1,343 minutes, or 22 h 38 mins. That’s continuous riding with no stops for food or fuel and with no traffic. I’m bloody happy with my time, although I’m not convinced that in a weeks time I won’t get some mail with some speed camera fine collection. It’s very hard to slow down to 50kph at 4.00am in the morning when you have been riding at speed all night. That’s not a great excuse, but it’s all I’ve got.


Thanks heaps to the organisers. I love this event. My friends think I’m mad which is why I’ve never been able to persuade any of them to do it with me. Maybe next year. When do entries open again? Can you let me know?

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