Karl Rock's Blog

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Royal Enfield Himalayan in Himachal Pradesh. Photo © Karl Rock.

First Time Renting and Riding a Motorcycle in India Advice

Hi Karl, Amazing site and thank you very much.

I am going to be the assuming jerk here and tell you I am shotgunning a much-needed trip. I live outside Chicago, USA and fly balloons for a living.

I have ridden British bikes all my life and owned a bullet. They are unreliable but fun. I saw your advice on Enfield models. Makes perfects sense.

I am looking at tickets for India, leaving in the next couple of weeks.I took the winter off because I was almost killed in the fall by a texting teenager who rear-ended me. I lived an recovered but need time to myself. India has had a special place in my heart, and I fear I may not have the time or lack of responsibilities to be able to ride a bike in India ever again.

I am looking at your checklist. Outside were to get permits it all seems straightforward. I need your advice as to what contacts, if any do you have for me to rent a bike. I don’t want to get there and mess up securing the most important part.

From the looks of it, the price range for renting and buying a used bullet is in my range (for a once in a lifetime trip only) but am sure an explorer would most likely be a rental. Insurance? Is there a way to pay a bit more so that you don’t end up paying for every knick or problem, just walk away?

Sorry to hear about your fall! That’s good you’re taking time for yourself, that’s what life is about.

Where to rent a bike?

Your best bet is to rent online before you arrive. I went to the motorcycle market in New Delhi and rented, but I wouldn’t recommend that if you haven’t been to India before. Last time I looked Let’s Ryde was the cheapest. Do a search for “Delhi Motorcycle Hire” and price compare.

Do you want to do it alone though? I’d recommend going with a tour group. When you go with a group, besides making friends, they include the bike rental, accommodation, some food, and they have a van that carries your bags and a mechanic with spare parts. Again, Google and you’ll find the options available.

Do you need insurance?

The rental companies ensure their bikes so no need to buy it. But if you do cause damage then they’ll take it out of the deposit you’ll pay them on top of the rental amount.

Last time I had to pay ₹10,000 deposit. I lost all ₹10,000 too because I buckled the tire, the sari guard fell off, 3 of 4 indicators smashed, and the handlebar bent (LOL oops). But that was an offroading trip through the most difficult roads in India. If you’re not offroading, then you won’t have any major issues as I did.

Note: You should haven general travel insurance before coming to India still though. I’ve always used World Nomads, they’re cheapest & you can buy and extend insurance even when overseas already.

I’ll be buying your guide if I go and right now I have a few websites that suggest bullet rental shops with a good reputation but now after reading your site and my previous knowledge of not even being able to tide it 500 km without a major repair, or the brakes always on and opps, no pad! Or, better yet, no oil! Surprise.

I shudder the thought of being in a place where there are no friendly locals with a truck and a cousin who is a mechanic, plus the cool roads you are on I could ride a bullet but wouldn’t want to risk it breaking down so remotely.

Rental companies keep their bikes in good shape, they care about protecting their investment and want to get max miles out of it. Most will tell you how old the bikes are so you can make sure you’re not getting a bike at the end of its life. All the Royal Enfield Himalayans (which I recommend to people) are only a few years old anyway as it was just launched in 2016.

Our rented Royal Enfield Himalayans on the Road in Himachal Pradesh. Photo © Gaurav Malik, all rights reserved.

Our rented Royal Enfield Himalayans on the Road in Himachal Pradesh. Photo © Gaurav Malik, all rights reserved.

The good thing about India is that there are mechanics in every town. I got stuck in a remote village once with a flat tire, but even there, there was a local guy with a patch kit who fixed it for free. On all the main routes there are plenty of trucks, some of them empty, so with the help of a local, you’ll be able to transport your bike to the nearest town.

Either way, if you get in trouble alone, some English speaking local will be happy to help a guest in India (as they say in India, “Guest in equivalent to God.”)

All Royal Enfields since the late 1990s have the gear shift on the right side of the bike as per overseas.

Renting foreign motorcycles in India

If you decide to take a bike that’s not made in India, mechanics, service centres, and parts are few and far between. The market for imported bikes is tiny here. Royal Enfield and other Indian brands dominate and therefore are easily serviceable India wide.

If you had 2 -3 weeks just appear out of nowhere, what would you suggest as a route as well?

Part of the Jodhpur Fort, Rajasthan. Photo © Karl Rock.

Part of the Jodhpur Fort, Rajasthan. Photo © Karl Rock.

Go to the Taj Mahal and Rajasthan. Ride Delhi > to Agra (Taj Mahal) > Jaipur > Jodhpur (stay at Bishnoi Camp) > Jaisalmer (camp under the stars in the desert). Then back to Delhi from Jaisalmer.You’ll need to break up the ride back over a few days, it’s long.

And remember the travel times look short on Google Maps but because of the roads, I conservatively calculate travel time as 1 hour per 50 km (31 miles)

Rajasthani Thali. Photo © Karl Rock.

Rajasthani Thali. Photo © Karl Rock.

Make sure you take the riding and trip slowly and spend lots of time off the bike exploring!

Bay of Islands. Photo by Andrea Lai https://flic.kr/p/aASWJb.

The Ultimate Northland, New Zealand Itinerary [+ HD Video]

While I’m back home in New Zealand for six weeks, I decided to jump on my beloved Kawasaki Versys and travel to the very tip of New Zealand and discover the best sights, food, and quirkiest accommodation on the Northland Twin Coast Discovery Highway.

Highlights of Northland include:

  • Adventure activities and the blue waters of the Bay of Islands
  • Seeing where the Maori and Europeans signed the Treaty of Waitangi
  • Hiking around the tip of NZ
  • Sandboarding
  • Walking among the mighty Kauri trees in the Waipoua forest
  • Swimming at some of New Zealand’s best beaches and lakes

It’s a rather tame ride along the Twin Coast Discovery Highway compared to my previous trip through the extreme beauty and danger of Ladakh and Kashmir. This ride is more about lush green beauty, adventure activities, beaches, and high-speed riding.

This isn’t my first time in Northland. It’s my third. The last time I ventured to the “subtropical” far north of New Zealand, the weather was terrible, and my iPhone died in a torrential downpour while braving the elements to visit the very tip of New Zealand, Cape Reinga, where the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean meet. Not so fun.

The Twin Coast Discovery Highway + Cape Reinga Route

The Ultimate Northland, New Zealand Itinerary Map

Day 1: Auckland to Paihia (258 km, 4 hours)

 

Do: You need a full afternoon in far North’s tourism capital Paihia. Don’t miss the beautiful lush Waitangi Treaty Grounds where the treaty between Maori and Europeans was signed, the nearby Haruru Falls, and the stunning Hole in the Rock adventure cruise – out on the water is where Paihia, aka The Bay of Islands, shines!

If you have more time in Paihia go on a kayaking adventure, fishing, or swim with dolphins.

If you feel like a taking a dip in mineral-rich natural hot springs, head to the centre of the island and soak in the 14 different pools at Ngawha Springs.

Just before Paihia: If you have never experienced glow worms before, then the Kawiti Glow Worm Caves are worth stopping for an hour to check out!

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Eat: Head 3 km out of town to the renowned Haruru Falls Takeaways for amazing burgers and classic Northland Hoki & Chips.

Sleep: Take the car ferry over to Russell (15 km, 40 min). Russell is the picturesque first permanent European settlement just across the water from Paihia. Stay at the Orongo Bay Holiday Park in one of their unique American Indian Tipi accommodations or their glamping tents.

Tipi accommodation at Orongo Holiday Park.

Tipi accommodation at Orongo Holiday Park. Photo by Orongo Holiday Park.

If you want to stay in Paihia, The Mousetrap Backpackers or Haka Lodge Backpackers are both excellent places, Haka is right bang in the centre of town and Mousetrap is about 300m away down a sleepy street. The only downside to Haka is they have no on-site parking and you can’t park overnight on many of the surrounding streets. I found a free place to park about 150m away on Bayview Road.

Day 2: Paihia to Cape Reinga (213 km, 3 hours) to Kaitaia (111 km, 1.5 hours)

There are two ways from Kaitaia to Cape Reinga, by road or beach. If you’re riding an adventure bike, then you can take state highway 1 up and ride down Ninety Mile Beach (an official highway in NZ) back to Kaitaia.

Do: An hour out of Paihia is Coopers Beach which is an idyllic place to cool off in the water and devour what’s commonly known as the best fish & chips in NZ from the nearby Monganui Fish Shop.

A few kilometres before Cape Reinga is the Giant Te Paki Sand Dunes. Rent a board, climb up, and slide down!

Once you’ve checked out the view from the lighthouse at Cape Reinga, take the short 3 km return (1 hour) walking track to Sandy Bay from the car park to check out the rocky coastline. If you have more time and energy take the Te Werahi Beach track afterwards too (2.5 km return, 1 hour).

Cape Reinga 5. Photo © Karl Rock.

Cape Reinga. Photo © Karl Rock.

Eat: Fish of the day at the Monganui Fish Shop is something you can’t miss on your way to Cape Reinga. They’re situated on the water at the end of town, the view from the restaurant is a standout!

Blue Nose and Chips at the Mangonui Fish Shop. Photo © Karl Rock.

Blue Nose and Chips at the Mangonui Fish Shop. Photo © Karl Rock.

On the way back from Cape Reianga stop at Te Kao Store for one of their massive ice creams.

Sleep: Instead of going back to Kaitaia where there’s plenty of accommodation, I stopped at the remote and highly-recommended Wagner Holiday Park, 70 km from Cape Reinga. It didn’t disappoint! Another place I’ve stayed at is Northwind Lodge Backpacker at the nearby Henderson Bay, it’s secluded, picturesque, and his it’s own beach too.

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Day 3: Kaitaia to Dargaville (174 km, 3 hours)

During this ride, you’ll be taking the $5 Hokianga Ferry to cross to the historical township of Rawene where you can get a glimpse into early colonial life.

If you’ve ever heard the story of Opo the friendly dolphin who used to play with beachgoers and even let children ride on his back, then you should stop by sandy Opononi and swim where Opo used to. If you want to hear the story, stop at Opononi i-SITE to watch a short documentary about Opo.

Opo the dolphin playing

Opo the dolphin playing

Do: If you decide to take state highway 1 instead of the ferry, then stop for a walk among the boulders at Basalt Boulder Valley.

Also in Opononi is sandboarding. If you go at high tide you can slide over and into the clear waters of Hokianga Harbour!

Opononi. Photo © Karl Rock.

Opononi. Photo © Karl Rock.

Before you hit Dargaville stop once more to check out the lush Waipoua Forest. It’s an ancient forest of towering trees and rare birds. Just five minutes walk from the road you can spot the largest kauri tree in NZ, and that you’ll probably ever see – it’s around 2000 years old!

Over 2000 years old! Photo © Karl Rock.

Over 2000 years old! Photo © Karl Rock.

The significance of Kauri: Kauri trees are one of the world’s mightiest. They grow over 50 m tall and 16 m wide and live for thousands of years. Their wood was perfect for building boats, carving, and houses, and their gum great as a fire starter. The decimation of kauri began in the 1700s with the arrival of European settlers. The Wapoua forest was saved from destruction due to their remoteness, and in 1987 it became protected by the Department of Conservation as well as all kauri on private land throughout NZ.

The Kai Iwi Lakes are a perfect place to take a break and enjoy a dip in the crystal-blue waters surrounded by white sand. They’re two of the deepest and largest dune lakes in NZ. In summer they’re popular for swimming, fishing, and waterskiing.

Eat: Dargaville is known for its kumara (sweet potato) so stop at Blah Blah Blah Cafe for one of the many dishes featuring locally grown kumara.

Sleep: If you’re camping then stop before Dargaville at the tranquil Kai Iwi Lakes Campground.

Day 4: Dargaville to Auckland (176 km, 2.5 hours)

Do: On the way back to Auckland stop off at the quaint little village of Matakana. Every Saturday from 8 am – 1 pm they host the best local farmers market I’ve ever experienced. You can find all sorts of locally made produce and delicacies such as artisan baking, Italian sausages, organic chocolate, olive oil, coffee and more.

If you want to relax at a beautiful golden sand beach with mild surf then head to Omaha which is just 10 minutes away from Matakana.

Eat: Get an outdoor table at the Matakana Village Pub and enjoy a big juicy burger. The Tuck Shop is another good choice if you’re after a quick bite to eat.

After passing through Walkworth, a great place to stop to pick up great NZ made honey is the Honey Centre Walkworth. I always stop here to buy hard-to-find unprocessed honeycomb. It’s cut straight from the hive and packaged!

If you’re after great cheese, then your final stop before Auckland should be the Puhoi Valley Cheese Company’s factory. It’s just a few kilometres off state highway 1 past the tiny Puhoi township.

My bike outside Te Kao Store, New Zealand. Photo © Karl Rock.

Super Light Motorcycle Packing for a Short Trip

There’s nothing worse than your motorcycle being weighted down by heavy panniers. Overloading your bike makes the bike handle terribly when you’re meant to be enjoying the bike. When I went on a short 4-day trip around Northland, New Zealand here’s what I pack in a single rear pannier (or a backpack if you want).

All I need for a 4 day motorcycle trip. Photo © Karl Rock.

Clothing

This is excluding my riding gear, which I’ll be wearing while riding.

  • 1 x Jeans
  • 1 x Belt
  • 1 x Long sleeve shirt – I’ll wear this under my riding jacket but also with my jeans when I get out of my riding pants.
  • 1 x Light pants and top for sleeping
  • 1 x Swimming or gym shorts
  • 1 x Walking shoes
  • 2 x Socks
  • 2 x Underwear
  • Optional: I’ll carry a poncho if I think it’s going to rain. Even though my riding gear is waterproof, I like to avoid not having to dry it.

Miscellaneous

  • Small hand towel – a hand towel is sufficient to dry yourself
  • 10 x Muesli bars – for snacks
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
  • Sunblock
  • GoPro
  • USB charger
  • Mobile phone
  • 3 x Plastic bags – for a wet towel, shoes, and clothing
  • Medication
My idea of a Nightmare. Photo by Chris Baird.

My idea of a Nightmare. Photo by Chris Baird.

Things you don’t need

  • Soap – hotels and hostels supply this
  • Laptop – my phone can do everything I need while away albeit a bit slower
  • Jumper or jacket – use your motorcycle jacket instead
  • A ton of clothing – if it’s a short trip you’ll survive wearing your clothes multiple times
Super light bike packing. Photo © Karl Rock.

My Kawasaki Versys 650 packed minimally with a single rear pannier (and locked to my bike with a terrible pink cable) for a recent trip around Northland, New Zealand.

If you want to travel light in a mild climate, check out my super light packing list.

Homemade Aloo Paratha. Photo by Abigail Becker.

Eating the Largest Paratha in the World

I’ve always had a love affair with Parathas. How can you resist them? Imagine naan bread but thinner, made instead with whole wheat flour, stuffed with potato, chillies and spices, then simmered and covered in butter. It’s heaven in the morning. The only thing better than an Aloo (potato) Paratha is an Amritsari Kulcha, but that’s another article altogether.

My paratha consumption had begun to fall drastically when I discovered the joys of Chole Bhature. I got addicted to Chole Bhature and for the last few months had been trying to make up for the last 32 years of my life having avoided chole (chickpeas). I was neglecting Parathas. It was time to fix this injustice.

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Bikes on the side of the road in Himachal Pradesh. Photo by Karl Rock.

Delhi to Ladakh, Kashmir & Jammu Motorcycle Tour Super Guide [+ 4K Video]

I’ve never been so in awe of a place as I was with Himachal Pradesh (past Manali), Ladakh, and Kashmir. The mountains and beauty of this land are breathtaking. The sheer scale is like nothing I’ve seen before, and I’ve travelled the world.

It’s grander than Yosemite, more picturesque than New Zealand, and more enchanting than anywhere else.

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