I did the Summer Solstice last year in October. Pretty easy ride. From what I remember, wonderful weather, no wind. Completed just under 20 hours.
Couldn’t do the Autumnal Equinox due to other committments (my partner planned something for her and her friends, and I had to stay home and look after a new puppy).
So I made damn sure I’d be around and free to do the Winter Solstice. Prebooked the day off work as I wanted to be riding at the time of the solstice. This year it was 20 June at 3.31 pm.
Then the weather. I live in Wellington. It rains a lot. It also blows. But boy, did it blow, and did it rain! I planned to do the ride with my mates Phil and Stretch. The day was so rubbish on Sunday, and the forecast looked rubbish too, so Stretch pulled the pin before the ride. He dodged a bullet. Sensible man!
Phil and I arranged to meet at BP Wakefield in Wellington at 3 am. That meant going to bed early. I set my sleeping bag up in the spare room. Had all my gear sorted. Spent Sunday prepping the bike. Made sure everything that had a charge was fully loaded. Organised nibbles. Filled the camel-bak. Made sure I had warm clothes, and water proof gear.
Going to bed early doesn’t mean you’re going to go to sleep. Oh no sir-ee! The excitement of the ride is enough to have you too wired to even contemplate dozing. Add to that the howling gale, and the incessant downpour, it was a miracle that I even napped. All I could think was I hope that this bloody weather clears. Despite all of the excitement, and the weather, I managed to grab an hour, then woke, then grabbed another hour, then woke, then managed an amazing 2.5 hours sleep before waking at 2.15 am. Leapt out of bed, pulled on my gear. Bike was in the garage heading down the drive, so I could start and take off without waking neighbours.
Phil was waiting for me. My son, who had been watching Formula One at his brother’s flat came down to see us off. Filled up, paid for petrol, took a photo of the receipt using Bubbler, and we were on the road.
Wellington to Napier (BP Bayview)
Departed dead on 3 am. We rode up State Highway 1, past Phil’s house in Paraparaumu. Not that we could see much. There was little traffic, but the roads were treacherous. I was in the lead and was hoping that I wasn’t holding Phil up. We were sitting around 90kph because of the conditions. Really, it was the safest option.
Phil’s bike (Yamaha Niken) needed a top-up of fuel so we pulled over at Dannevirke. I had a snack while I waited. It was the first opportunity to have a chat and we both agreed the pace was good. Onwards.
Arrived 7.26 am. We filled up and went inside to have a coffee and something to eat (I hadn’t eaten breakfast – no time to lose). Phil told me he was soaked to the skin. I was dry. Phil decided he’d had enough. I can totally appreciate his decision. The forecourt was swimming in water – hard driving rain. While just north of Napier looked clearer, there was definitely going to be rain throughout the rest of the ride, and there’s no way he would have dried out. There’s no way you want to be riding wet, and later, wet and cold. Recipe for disaster.
Me? I was dry. I made the decision to continue. Our original plan had us riding around the East Cape. We’d been watching the flooding in Tokomaru Bay where the road was shut on Sunday. But the flooding had gone and according to Waka Kotahi the road was open but there was a new hazard. The road was shut near Potaka meaning a new route was required. Luckily, “here’s one I already prepared.” I had the Summer Solstice in my GPS. Plan hatched. I’m on my way.
BP Bayview to Caltex Opotiki
The rain continued for some time. Whatever rain radar Phil had been looking at it was wrong. Wairoa was relatively clear, but the roads were damp, and slippery, and there was debris spread around. I got lost at the roundabout just before you turn right to head into Gisborne. Because I knew I didn’t need fuel until Opotiki, there was no need to head into town. So, instead of turning right I turned left. The road, while heading in the semi-right direction, didn’t look correct. I stopped to skip a stop on the GPS and was led down some small country lanes before finding myself on the road through to Waioeka Gorge.
What a wonderful road that is. I’ve travelled through there in the depths of the evening—on my very first Rusty Nuts where I came across a damaged Ducati and a non-injured rider. Rock falls are commonplace on that road, and with the recent rain I figured there’d be even more likelihood of detritus on the road. It wasn’t too bad.
Arrived in Opotiki at 12.15 pm. The petrol station was lacking good quality food. I found a pie in the warmer and sat at an outside table to eat it, while watching the locals come and go. Miraculously, the rain had stopped, and the sun was out. Positively balmy at around 17ºC.
Caltex Opotiki to BP Te Kuiti
Rode through to Murupara (have also done that road many many times). It started to pour, and because of the heat in Opotiki I had removed the wet-weather jacket. Murphy’s Law, as soon as I put the jacket back on it stopped raining. But, I knew that the fine spell wouldn’t last. Four seasons in one day and all that. As I rode back towards Rotorua and then to Tauranga the sky became darker and more foreboding.
Does anyone love Tauranga? Rhetorical question so don’t answer that. I find it very easy to get into Tauranga, and a real bitch to get out of. Not helped by the fact that the GPS kept sending me down roads that hadn’t been completed, or tried to send me down roads that were still only a dream for some town-planner. I remembered enough from exactly the same experience on my Summer ride to know that the highway was over there (imaging me pointing ‘that way’) and sure enough found myself on the Kai Mai hills. The dark and foreboding clouds had decided to release/dump their contents, so I fought against the elements as well as large trucks and crazy Tauranga drivers.
On SH36 Pyes Pa Road (Rotorua through to Tauranga) the Solstice occurred. Not sure what I expected to happen, but a bolt of lightening would not have surprised me. Onwards to Matamata, then Te Awamutu via Cambridge. Riding through the Waikato at that time was special. No rain but a lot of cloud, and a sneak of blue/purple sky on the horizon which quickly turned a vivid orange. It lasted maybe 15 minutes and then was gone. Got stuck in a traffic jam in Te Awamutu – my, how that town has grown! Like a city but a lot smaller.
Rain was back in force as I pulled into BP Te Kuiti at 6.06 pm. I was knackered, but still dry. Had a pepper steak pie (when did BP start wrapping their pies individually?), a sandwich, and a flat white. My phone was damp, and I was getting that horrible alarm noise is only used in case of damp phones, and when there is an imminent threat of nuclear war. I needed that phone to work so I could keep my Spotwalla track running. I did have a Spot Tracker but mine has always been miraculously bad at connecting in a way that makes a track look good.
Thankfully an ST1300 gets hot. It also has these glove boxes either side of the dash. These little cubby holes get rather warm, so I put the phone in there to dry out, hoping that the charge would last until at least the next petrol stop.
BP Te Kuiti to BP Wanganui
OK, so this is another of my favourite roads. Don’t know it’s official name, other than SH3 from Te Kuiti to Awakino. Maybe the Awakino Gorge? Anyway, dark, miserable, not so favourite a few days back. I played cat and mouse with a few cars. There were a lot of road works, and a few traffic stops. There were also slips, and debris, and branches. The thing I like about riding at night is that you can’t see what you can’t see. If I could have seen more I probably would have been more cautious.
As I exited that windy (curvy I mean) section and hit the coast the wind started to pick up. I was staring down the barrel of a southerly. By the time I reached Waitara the wind was so terrifying it was hard to keep the normally stable ST on the correct side of the road.
On two terrifying occasions I was blown completely into the opposite lane.
An indication of how bad it was? I have never seen white roadside markers dip down to kiss the ground with the force of the wind. Scary stuff. At one point I was down to around 75 kph and trying to calculate when I’d get home. Not fun at all.
I hoped that as soon as I was behind Mt Taranaki that the wind would reduce, and I was kinda right. Just when I was ready to throw in the towel and book a motel, (around Stratford) the wind started to drop. Back to the speed limit at least, and the show continues.
Arrived at Wanganui for my last fuel stop at 10.37 pm.
BP Wanganui to BP Wakefield
I needed to make up some miles to reach the 1,609 required for certification. And after this harrowing ride I didn’t want to fall short. So I did a slight detour off the beaten track through Marton, Halcombe, and Rongotea, then back out onto SH1 and the home stretch.
My butt was really beginning to ache, so I took every opportunity in 50 kph zones to stand on the pegs and relieve my knees and backside. Nothing really to report on this leg. To be honest, I was so over the experience I have amnesia about this last leg.
Arrived at BP Wakefield at 1.16 am. The ride had taken 22 hours and 16 minutes. As a comparison, the same route for the Summer Solstice took me just under 20 hours, and I didn’t feel anywhere as exhausted as I did on this one. Total moving time was 20:01 hours. Overall average was 74 kph. Moving average was 82 kph. Given the conditions I was pretty happy with those stats.
I did think this morning that it was a hard, sometimes horrendous ride. But then, it’s winter, and really, what did I expect? The Solstice and Equinox rides are unique in that you don’t get the choice to wait for the weather, except if you are happy to wait a year for the next opportunity. Glad to have knocked this one off.
For anyone interested in gear, I can heartily recommend Scott wet-weather equipment – jacket and trousers. So damn good. Get a size bigger than you normally would, so they fit over your normal riding gear.
And I can also say, go totally merino or wool for undergarments. If a little bit of water did get in you’d stay warm. I recently bought this jersey from Norsewear (I succumbed to incessant Facebook ads) and I honestly don’t think you could do better for warmth under riding gear.
I didn’t wear over gloves and even though it was torrential at times my gloves didn’t get drenched. Must be the fairing on the ST is good at deflecting rain off the hands.
And lastly here’s my Spotwalla link. The pink track is the route that we were intending to ride. The marked route is the one that I ended up taking.