To any observer, it would have appeared as though it was the start of a special Dakar stage. The v-twin of the Suzuki V-Strom 1000 DL spun the Michelin Anakee Adventure 2 tires through the gravel. They gripped the hard pack beneath, propelling the big bike forward with ever increasing speed, leaving behind a large plume of dry dust. I grinned stupidly in my helmet, changing up gears, feeling the rear tire continue to spin, and grip as I climbed the steep gravel road. Utterly fantastic!
The bike crested the rise and oops was not the word that I used. The road dropped sharply and went into a tight right-hand turn. Immediately ahead was a very hard looking bank and a large tree, of a type I didn’t have time to notice. I hit both brakes, hard. The next half second I was simultaneously cursing Suzuki for fitting ABS that I couldn’t turn off, stopping me from locking the back wheel up, and thanking them for fitting ABS that I couldn’t turn off, stopping me from locking the front wheel up.
Did I hit the bank, did I damage the bike? Am I writing this from a hospital bed. Read on and find out.
It was lunch time and I decided that I needed to ride. For research purposes. I have fairly recently fitted a set of Michelin Anakee Adventure 2 tires and wanted to try them, out on gravel. Once that was done all I needed was some rain to enable a full review There was also a cafe in Helensville that was calling me. Not to mention that I had never taken the V-Strom over the Kaipara Hills.
The temperature was a nice 26 – 27 degrees. Pleasant enough riding after several weeks of closer to 30.
Kaipara Hills Road
The plan was to head out to Kaipara Hills. Enjoy the gravel roads, make my way to Helensville for a coffee and find a way home.
The Kaipara Hills is located between Kaipara and the Kaipara Coast / State Highway 16.
It is a remote area, made up mainly of farmland, broken up by a native bush and pine plantations. Some of the roads have a few metres of seal scattered about, mainly though there is kilometre after kilometre of gravel. Paradise!
The Kaipara Hills Road runs all the way from Kaipara Flats Road to Kaipara Coast Highway, otherwise known as State Highway 16.
Traveling north from Auckland on State Highway 1, head west at Warkworth to Kaipara Flats, or on State Highway 16 you will find Kaipara Hills Road 20km north of Kaukapakapa.
The road is gravel all the way and offers some great views over the valleys. Generally, there is not much traffic on this road, but you do need to keep an eye out for farm utes. Despite being steep, narrow in places and rough its a relatively easy ride. One of the highlights is the Mount Auckland Estate. This is a great looking homestead.
All too soon the gravel ends. It’s left towards Kaukapaka and Helensville, on State Highway 16. Sh 16 is a favorite for motorcyclists and I pass at least 10 bikes. State Highway 16 is well marked but like most New Zealand highways somewhat undulating.
It an easy 30 km ride to the Ginger Crunch Cage in Helensville.
The Ginger Crunch Cafe
The Ginger Crunch cafe is on the northern side of Helensville, in the old railway station. It is quite a large cafe with seating inside and out under the verandah. It’s a pleasant enough place, though fair to say that the scenery is not outstanding. Being a Sunday afternoon it was quite busy. I got served quickly though and the staff ware pleasant enough. They didn’t give me a number when I ordered and I did wonder if they would be able to locate me as I found a table outside. Soon enough however my coffee was delivered, a long black. I didn’t order food. There was a range of cabinet food and a menu for kitchen food. It looked pretty good and from looking around the cafe it appeared that the patrons were enjoying themselves. The coffee was very good, and the verandah was a great place to sit and watch the world go by.
I will be heading back to try the food. If anyone has more information on the Ginger Crunch Cafe, or has tried the food, please comment below.
Makarau / Puhoi / West Coast Road
Heading back north on State Highway 16 it was difficult not to be struck by the number and scope of new housing developments in what was a rural farming area. There is something odd about seeing houses packed closely together, surrounded by open farmland.
I turned on to the the Makarau Road, and was soon on gravel road yet again. Within a few minutes there is a sense of isolation, this really is rural New Zealand. The roads are generally hard-packed and despite having a few washboard corners don’t pose a great challenge if you’re comfortable on gravel. There are plenty of roads in this area, and without GPS or a map, you could feel like you are lost. Generally, though follow a road to its end and you will come to the main road.
I followed the road all the way to Puhoi. Puhoi is best known for its pub and cheese factory, in that order. As usual, there were a few bikes parked at the pub, with their riders partaking in a cold beverage. Unfortunately, time didn’t allow for such luxuries, so I carried on over the Ahuroa Hill. Yes, more gravel.
At the end of the Arohoa Road, I turned right onto Westcoast Road and headed towards Warkworth. Westcoast Road Road is a well-known road for motorcyclists due to the splendid corners. There are plenty of bikes going pretty quick on most fine weekends. Be careful, more than a few riders have been caught out on this road, and occasionally the police do monitor it.
So that was that. A touch under 130 km between Warkworth and Helensville, much of it on gravel. This is a great area to ride, and if you enjoy a touch of adventure close to Auckland I would recommend it.
Did I drop the bike?
The bank was coming up fast. Real fast. The brake pedal was pulsating as the ABS struggled to cope with the high speed and loose gravel. I sensed that the bike had slowed enough a good two meters from the bank, released the brakes opened the throttle and threw my leg out. With the traction control off the rear wheel spun and the back end of the bike slid closer to the bank. This resulted in the nose pointing in almost the right direction and I rode on, looking like I had planned the whole thing, just in case someone was watching, which they weren’t because this is rural New Zealand after all. I’d like to say it was my extreme skill that saved me. I would at least have to give an honorable mention to Suzuki. What a fantastic bike!.
Take it easy out there – Enjoy the ride not the slide!