The annual Cold Kiwi rally is an icon of the Kiwi riding calendar, and for 2017 Mat finally ticked off participating in one of NZ’s oldest motorcycling gatherings from his bucket list, along with a few friends…
Words: Mat Pics: Mat, Ben Witty and Peter Conway
The Cold Kiwi Motorcycle Rally was first held in 1972, with the first rallies held on the desert road on Army land at a site called 6 Crossroads. It later moved to a site near Tangiwai and 4 years ago shifted to the present site behind Horopito.
Clive Bentley, a Ruapehu Motorcycle Club member who has attended every rally, tells the story that the members were having a think about what a small club could do and were talking to a guy (who happened to be into Vincent’s) who told them about an event held in Germany, in the middle of winter and in the snow, called The Elephant Rally and it went on from there.
These days the event is run by a small group still, with about 30 volunteers from the club and wider community taking the time out to look after hundreds of bikers for a weekend of fun in the cold. They’ve even put in clean flushing toilets on the site (but no showers) which makes a world of difference to the camping experience.
It’s cold and your bike gets dirty. But you have a great time with like-minded people, good basic food, cold beer and great music. You play games, admire each other’s bikes, share stories and generally have an incredible weekend.
But when people who’ve never been look at you like you’re mad and ask “But why?!?”, you simply nod and say “you’ll never understand till you’ve been there”.
Truer words have never been spoken in Kiwi motorcycling, which is why for 2017, I arranged to finally tick riding down to the Cold Kiwi off my bucket list.
Finally Getting There
It’s been over a decade since the Cold Kiwi first came across my radar, and ever since I first read about it in a magazine (probably this one) I’ve always liked the idea of riding down to the Central Plateau and camping out in the snow with a bunch of fellow riders.
It always sounded like the perfect escape: ride down on a motorbike along some of the less travelled roads in NZ, camp out under the stars, bonfires to keep warm (and to feed the pyromania), and plenty of motorcycle-based hijinks to keep entertained. Heaven really.
So why has it taken me so damn long to finally tick it off the list? Well, for one thing life got in the way (University, jobs, etc.), and finding a friend willing to join me was often tricky. For some reason, most people say ‘no thanks’ when you pitch the idea of riding a motorcycle to the base of Mt Ruapehu in winter and then camping out…
This year, I not only found an old school friend (Ben) to join me, I convinced my Dad – the person responsible for getting me into motorcycling in the first place – to come along as well on his trusty Triumph Tiger 1050.
There’s nothing like spending some quality time on bikes with family, and with the Cold Kiwi being something Dad had also wanted to do for ages, I knew from the outset we were going to be in for an interesting trip. Would we want to do it again once we got back home? We were about to find out.
With the riding group organised, we set off from our pre-arranged meeting point of BRM Towers in Paeroa at 12.04pm on the dot to begin our journey south to Horopito.
Having been advised to get to the rally site around 3pm to secure a good campsite, finding a route that would get us there in good time, but also provide us with plenty of fun roads was going to be a challenge.
Unlike a certain former BRM staffer who preferred ‘the coin flip method’ of automotive navigation, I like to scope out Google maps prior to a ride to try and plot a course, preferably with plenty of twisting roads and a decent bit of unknown scenery before I hit the road.
A quick look online revealed that Horopito is just a quick three-and-a-half-hour ride away from Paeroa, so with the shortest – yet somehow twistiest – route locked in for the ride down, we would hopefully make good time to secure a good spot.
After taking in the sights of many small provincial townships on the stunning ride down – which saw us take on some great roads on the western side of Lake Taupo – we finally hit the Central Plateau and were greeted by incredible views of Mount Doom (AKA Mt. Tongariro) before the weather closed in and smothered the mountains in thick wet cloud.
Arriving in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it township of Horopito soon after, and the first indication that something special was afoot was a big sign at the side of the road announcing the “Cold Kiwi Rally” with an arrow pointing towards the iconic Smash Palace.
Passing between the wrecks and up along a gravel road, soon had us turning onto a farm track and up to the hill where the rally was taking place.
Now along with its reputation for being generally chilly, another key aspect of the Cold Kiwi seems to be copious amounts of mud, and getting through the gate provided the first real challenge of the day.
With a few hundred bikers arriving before us, the gateway was an utter quagmire. This, as it turned out, wasn’t a problem for the Honda Rally I was riding, but was challenging for the V-Strom of Ben, and a nightmare for Dad and his Tiger 1050.
Within a metre of the gate, Dad toppled over as the Michelin Pilot Road 4 tyres on the Tiger were overwhelmed. Thankfully, there were plenty of hands which quickly appeared to help bring man and bike up from the mud, before Dad found himself back down again another metre later.
Pushing the bike the rest of the way seemed to be the only realistic game plan to make it to a campsite.
With our tents quickly set up in one of the cold showers passing through the Rally site, we quickly headed towards the main marquee to get fed and watered after our ride down.
The Ruapehu Motorcycle Club, the organisers of the event, had made sure that there was plenty of both, with food caravans and a well-stocked bar to keep everyone’s belly happy.
With food and water (or more accurately food and beer) on board, we wandered around to check out the rest of the site before it became completely dark. The line-up of machinery was as varied as it was impressive. From GN250 Suzukis to Harleys, Moto Guzzis to Goldwings, it seemed there was a bike from every corner of the NZ motorcycling community represented at the Cold Kiwi.
With the light all but gone apart from the bonfire, we headed back to the marquee for the band of the night – Six Chairs Missing – and a bit of a party. Crawling into our tents around 11.00pm feeling tired, but still buzzing, the rally couldn’t get any better. Or so we thought.
Saturday is always the main event of the Cold Kiwi, and after waking up – surprisingly not frozen – to a view of Mount Ruapehu in all its glory, we waited for the official events to start.
First off, was the notorious hill climb, and with a large crowd on either side of the loosely arranged course, those willing to risk bike and limb took off and charged up the hill.
Repeat offender ‘Crazy’ Craig Stevens was one of the less fortunate riders to take on the Horopito Hill, with his 1987 Honda CBR600 taking enough punishing hits to turn it into an unrecognisable mess. That said, with the hill climb over, Craig was working on repairs to allow him to ride the rather banged up Honda home to Auckland.
Of the more impressive riders to take on the hill were local heroines Katie and Micky Bates, who won the award for most people on a bike up the hill (three), the Ironing board race, and generally rode circles around everyone else on their old Honda FT400.
The burnout pad was well attended, and with Drury Performance Centre making the trip down from Auckland and offered cheap hoops to sacrifice at the ‘altar of smoke’. Naturally, with an offer like that, there was plenty of rubber meeting a smoky death throughout the day.
With the sun setting once again on the Cold Kiwi, the club holds prize giving, which this year was sponsored by Supercheap Auto and Penrite Oils. Awards went out to first timers, the main events, and even the worst luck of the rally – which this year, went to a guy who dislocated his shoulder on day 1 and had to leave the rally early.
With a second band on hand, this time Zomby Wolf, the party kept on going well into the night.
Waking slightly the worse for wear Sunday morning, all that was left to do was pack up camp, say goodbye to new friends, and find the least muddy escape from the hill to head to Ohakune to buy Dad Father’s Day breakfast before heading home.
Like Arnie Said…
I’ll definitely be back, and so will the majority of this year’s Cold Kiwis. That’s a given.
For me, timing is one of the biggest draws of the rally. Generally, it falls over Father’s Day weekend each year, making it an amazing opportunity to share some quality time with the old man. The atmosphere was untouchable, with so many great people all in one place, you were never feeling lonely and everything was well run by the dedicated volunteers from the Ruapehu Motorcycle Club.
This icon of the Kiwi motorcycling scene really is something you need to experience for yourself.
I don’t know what I’ll ride next time – though the idea of taking CT110 Postie Bikes has been thrown about – but I know that now I’ve experienced the Cold Kiwi for myself, I’m now a convert to camping out in the cold with motorcycles and tyre smoke to keep me warm. Bring on Cold Kiwi 43!
STAYING WARM, NOT FROSTY
As its name suggests, the Cold Kiwi isn’t exactly the kind of event you go to if you’re expecting to swan about in your board shorts and jandals. It gets genuinely cold (by North Island standards at least) so wearing the right gear to ride down to Horipito, and then back home again, was high on the priority list.
With the Rev’It! Poseidon Jacket already hung up in the wardrobe, I was well on my way to staying comfortable on the trip, but still had a long way to go. So with a call in to Rev’It! distributors Darbi Accessories, the matching trou’ and a pair of Rev’It! Sirius H20 gloves were soon dispatched to BRM HQ.
The Poseidon trousers are by far the best fitting riding pants I’ve ever had the pleasure of wearing. Not only do they zip up fully with the matching jacket (and my leather Rev’It! jacket), they have a removable thermal liner, CE approved knee armour, and feature the same large vents as the jacket, for when the sun breaks through the winter clouds and you need to turn the thermostat down a notch.
Getting muddy and keeping me upright after one too many trips to the bar, were my trusty Sidi Deep Rain boots.
With much of the Cold Kiwi campsite a mud bog, the Deep Rains lived up to their name and kept my feet dry, despite being submerged in mud for the majority of the weekend.
Underneath the riding gear was the Roadog – a Kiwi invention that is worth its weight in gold. With its built in snood, merino wool construction, and windproof front, I was more than toasty for the duration of the trip.
Roaming around the paddock I was representing the BRM team in the cool vintage T-shirt (available from brm.co.nz), while my helmet of choice for the trip was my Shoei GT-AIR which, with its bright yellow graphics, was easy for my riding companions to keep track of in the misty central plateau.
The Rally Raider
Having just given the CRF250L Rally back after our test in Issue 160, I wasn’t expecting to ride the little Honda again, so it was a surprise to be given the keys to it once again to find out how it does on an actual long ride. It also took an embarrassing period of time before I clicked as to one of the reasons it was back in my possession – I was going to be doing the rally, on a Rally!
Three and a half hours there, and even more on the way back would plenty for me to find out how the little Dakar wannabe does on the “liaison stage”.
Since my first ride, we asked importers Blue Wing Honda to crank up the rear pre-load for us, since my fat 99kilos would be weighed down by a tent, sleeping bag, and camera gear.
With everything loaded up and tied down to the factory tie down points the little Rally, now fully run in, ran like a top all the way to Horopito and back. The only worry I had was the limited fuel range from the 10.2-litre fuel tank, but even then I still got over 200km to a fill and the range anxiety turned out to be unfounded. At the rally site, the factory IRS tyres proved a godsend, keeping me and the Rally upright throughout the muddy site and up into the hills above the hillclimb to scout photo locations.
I truly couldn’t have asked for more, and while it only has 24hp I never needed anymore with the bike holding 100km/h or more easily, even with its full load.
If you are looking at an adventure bike but the idea of a tech heavy (and weighty) behemoth puts you off, the Honda Rally is more than worth a closer look. You might find the little bike surprises you with just what it can do.