It has been a while since I have ventured over the hill and pointed the sycle in an easterly direction. The arrival of Sir Als email suggesting part of Wellington Anniversary weekend be spent swinging through a few bends in the Tararua district certainly got my attention as well a few others. The forecast fine weather and 27 degrees certainly spurred interest with a dozen bikes lining up outside Manawatu Motorcycles. The lunchtime destination of the Pongaroa Hotel is always a popular choice with some great hospitality at very reasonable prices with excellent facilities. The other huge plus as a destination is the recent fuel pumps that have been installed with the support of the local community. If you are riding some of the popular Blue Haze two strokes their limited fuel capacity can be rather challenging at times so fuel facilities take on some importance. Some might be unkind to say that the problem isn't a capacity issue but more one of consumption! The hilly and windy nature of the countryside also requires a lot of on and off throttle which can also challenge fuel use. All part of the riding old two strokes experience I say!
It was an interesting mixture of 12 bikes and riders who lined up on Andrew Young street outside Manawatu Motorcycles. Some of the older bikes were early seventies two strokes with Rich on his T500, Paul d out on his GT750 and Sir Al out on the now very 'trusty' Bighorn Kawasaki. Kim d had his Yamaha 3XV (Nickname: The Radio Station), with Bruce A on his lovely VFR750, Ian on his VX800, Bruce S on his GSXR 400, John on his 675 Speed Triple and your truly on the XJ750. It was great to have the Classic lads along for a spin as well. Graeme was on his 1200 Bonnie, Ray on his Triumph 800 speed triple and eventually Paul on his Guzzi 850! (Caught up with us in Pongaroa) The trip out of town was was uneventful except for the usual cloud of blue haze as we crossed the town/country divide as we headed up and over the Pahiatua Track to our first stop at Mangamaire.
With all our machinery running as intended we made our way down State Highway Two towards the Rongomai turnoff and headed into the gnarly Tararua countryside heading for Route 52.
It certainly was gnarly with a steady flow of corners that reqired plenty of attention. There was ample evidence of the quake but nothing like it was a while ago with cracks and level changes that really tested your wits and suspension. Bruce S was out the front by this stage and setting a suitably quick but cautious pace that kept us together as we snaked our way through the countryside. The Alfredton intersection arrived relatively quickly and had us up Route 52 towards our lunchtime destination. There are some lovely climbs up hills and runs through valleys as the road follows streams. Our next stop was at Tiraumea where we all checked in and after a quick natter we headed off for our lunch stop at Pongaroa.
It had been nearly two hours since we left Palmy and the lads were very parched. We could feel the temperature rising as the ride progressed so the sight of the pub was a very welcome one. It looked as though a few others were seeking beverages as well with what looked like an interesting mixture of locals and loopies (tourists). Lining up to place our orders had me wondering how the kitchen would cope with the influx, but the quick arrival of our first meals was impressive. And what meals they were! The photo of Bruce and John hoeing into them says it all. Our group was relatively large and they certainly did a good job of getting all our meals out to us without too much waiting. If you are planning on going to Pongaroa for lunch, make sure you have a light breakfast!
Once our meals had a chance to semi digest we headed back out to the bikes where the we were given two choices as to how we wanted to complete the 'loop' back to Palmy. One was back through Pahiatua over the Puketoi Range or the longer way back on Route 52 through Dannevirke. Having not traveled the latter I opted for the longer way. In the meantime Rich and Sir Al made the most of fuel pumps and topped up. Be warned that they only have diesel and 91 which isn't a problem for most, but many a two stroke owner prefers 95 octane and above and especially on a hot day. With the fueling completed and choices made we headed out of town into what was proving to be a very warm afternoon.
We knew it was getting very hot as the road was beginning to melt. Trying to avoid the 'pools' of tar certainly became important as our front ends began 'squidging' out in places and Sir Al certainly set a suitably safe pace for the conditions. This road would certainly be a lot more fun in cooler temperatures. We eventually arrived in Dannevirke where the air cooled two strokers made a beeline for the 98 octane pumps. Whilst they were filling up the rest of the troops got stuck into some drinks and found some shade. It really was a very hot day. In the meantime another one of the Blue Haze crew who hadn't come on the ride appeared at a pump on his Suzuki Freewind. Brian was loaded down with a backpack and some very long flippers overhanging his tail light. He was heading out to Akitio for an afternoon dive and planning on a late seafood dinner back in Feilding. For some reason he didn't respond to our enquiries as to his ETA back home with the paua and crayfish!
Our last leg home involved doing our best to avoid the main highway south by travelling back along the Top Grass Road route that brings you out just before Woodville and the Saddle Road. It was a straightforward run through to the Saddle Road where we bid farewell to some of the crew who decided to enter Palmy via the Pahiatua Track. Our run over the Saddle was pleasant with not to much traffic. Everyone's thoughts are for a few years time when the new 'gorge route' goes through and we can have our 'minimal traffic' Saddle Road back with its wonderful new surface. It will be an absolute hoot! Unfortunately they may decide on a much modified Saddle Road as the main route! (Sigh)
It was a great day out and for me one of those rides I will carry in my memory for some time. We are very lucky to live in a region where so many great rides are close to hand with many of them suitable for running the range of older bikes we enjoy using. From Sir Al riding his air cooled 1974 single cylinder 350 trail bike through to Graham on his 2017 Triumph Bonneville the day provided more than enough riding pleasure for everyone. Can't wait for our next run. Next Sunday I believe!