Words: Liam Friary
Image: Jeremy Hooper

I often feel the urge to disconnect from real life. Detach myself from normality. Lose myself then find myself again through physical hardship. I want to be immersed in nature. And I want to explore.

The idea of an escape over forty-eight hours is nothing new. This is an ideal time frame to escape from life’s daily churn without being overwhelmed when you return to it. A destination often doesn’t matter – the whole thing is about getting away more than anything else. Taking a roadie, camping out and then exploring an area by bike is an appealing way to spend this time, and it’s often better spent with those you know – and know well. An escape like this allows us to catch up on life’s happenings, without any distraction. Our lives these days are filled with so much hustle and bustle we often don’t get the chance to truly connect with friends. Camping out and having limited infrastructure around us allows the outside world in and enables more of a connection with nature. Riding ensures we connect with the land at a slower pace and is the perfect tool for adventurous exploring.

I choose Whatipū in the Waitākere Ranges Regional Park, in Auckland, as the location – it’s close to my abode which meant maximised time spent in the outdoors. It also meant I could uncover some hidden gems and take in all the surrounds. I’ve ridden to this spot many times before but haven’t stayed nor stopped there for long. Camping out, and then riding in, this remote area was appealing – not least because it’s not even that far from the concrete jungle of Auckland itself.

Whatipū sits on the northern side of the entrance to the Manukau Harbour. It’s a remote place with a large, open valley dominated by bush-covered rocky peaks and extensive black sand dunes stretching out to the wild waters of the Tasman Sea. Whatipū appears to be an untouched place, yet people have gardened, fished, lived and died here for hundreds of years. A brief history tells some of the stories of the people who have lived at Whatipū, and of the great drama that unfolded in this now quiet place. You can still see physical reminders, such as pä (defended fortifications), shell middens (refuse heaps), railway sleepers and historic buildings, that tell of the location’s remarkable history. Carved pou (posts) represent Te Kawerau ä Maki Kaitiakitanga, or guardianship, over Whatipū and the surrounding seas. The pou facing inland represents Tiriwä the ancestor after whom ‘The Great Forest of Tiriwä’ is named. The pou facing out to sea represents Taramainuku, the ancestor and guardian taniwha associated with the Manukau Harbour entrance.

Our crew for this trip was made up of Xabier Gutierrez, Jeremy Hooper (photographer) and me. We were all super excited about escaping the rat race for a few days, as we’d all been super busy in the months leading up to the trip. We packed up and headed out, grabbed a few groceries, beers and fresh bread, then hit the road. The roadie itself is all part of the escape, and the time can be used to disconnect, but we were more excited about riding our bikes! Before long, we reached Whatipū and its basic campsite. Camp set up first, bikes after – we didn’t want to be putting up our camp late or tired. My rig is fitted out with a roof top tent which makes things simple, and Jeremy had a ground tent. Nowadays, camping is so easy, and gone are the days of difficult and long set ups. With camp set up, we kitted up and headed out for an afternoon ride.

An evening of exploring and finding new pathways followed. Being so far west, the golden light in the evening shone for hours. We just went any direction we pleased, and weren’t restricted by time; stopping along the way to take in the beautiful nature. A cold beer was waiting back at the campsite, along with some grub. The camp’s cold shower washed off the sweat and meant we didn’t stay under it for long! That night, we sat around as the sun dipped behind the horizon and, eventually, the stars came out. This is the real beauty of being in the great outdoors – for most of us, evenings are spent indoors, so to be outside under the stars on a clear night is a real treat! Camping means distractions are limited, so after dinner we ate some dark chocolate and tucked ourselves away in the cocoon of our sleeping bags, inside our tents.

The birds chirped early doors, so I climbed down from my roof top tent and got everything I needed to make a brew. Today, we would explore much more than Whatipū and its wilderness, as this would be an all-day ride affair. A slow breakfast along with several cups of coffee and way too many yarns ensued. The clock wasn’t relevant as we had no place to be – we just needed to play what was in front of us: eat, ride, relax and eventually return to our homes. The day’s ride was a mixture of seal, tracks, and gravel roads, with some epic vistas. We explored the many detours I’d always been intrigued by, but hadn’t had the time to spend pursuing. You can always find alternatives in familiar places – you’ve just got to have the nous to hunt them out. For me, one of the most rad things about riding is sharing cool, hidden paths with buddies and seeing their stoke. The adventure is really compounded by the small things.

The day’s affair finished at a local eatery: burgers, fries and beers topped off a long but bloody good ride. The crew kept saying that it felt like we had been away for longer than just a few days. Our trip proved we don’t really need a lot of time – it’s just about breaking the normal routine and escaping life’s endless to-do list. The time away made us all hungry for more camp-and-ride adventures. We all felt restored and had filled up our tanks, able to tackle life head on for the next wee while.