Blog Search

Thursday, 7 December 2017

A good day on the road gets even better.....

Summer's here, a beautiful warm morning today, the important chores all done.  What could be better than jumping on the bike and riding round part of the motorcycle nirvana where we live - the Coromandel Loop?  Well, the ride itself was just wonderful with very little traffic about but it was all the other unexpected things which served to make it particularly memorable!

Kit up and head into the village to fuel up.  My local garage and gas station, Furey's Creek Motors; is so-called because it's on the edge of a short, deep tidal creek to Coromandel Harbour.  Opposite  the gas station, there's a hard-standing area for boats of all kinds to be maintained.  The garage keeps an old tractor there and for a few bucks, will haul boats out onto the hard.  At present with with the so-called Supermoon, there are king tides.  They were so big this morning that the tide had overflowed onto the hard standing area and had caught their tractor on a little rise.  Great for an opportunistic shot!

Water, water everywhere.....

Whilst on the road to the town of Whitianga, about 45 km from home, I was thinking about Christmas.  Jennie and I thought we might treat ourselves to to a new fishing boat for a Christmas present.  (What about a Thruxton Bonneville, I hear you ask?)  Answer: I don't want to be sucking hospital food through a straw, thanks!

Anyway, with a boat in mind for fishing and towing the grandkids about, I stopped off at a marine shop to enquire about a Stabicraft Fisher.  The dealer said that there's up to a 3 month waiting list whilst they build to customer specification but they were actually receiving a high spec model in January and if we were interested, he'd be happy to take us for an obligation-free spin in it.  Sounds good to me, the Chief Financial Officer is beaming, so watch this space - old boat shortly for sale!

Stabicraft Fisher

As I was about to chuck on my helmet outside the marine shop, I heard a piston-engined plane approaching quite low and looking up, saw the Titan T-51 kitset 3/4 scale Mustang which lives at Whitianga airfield less than 1 km away coming in to land.  Quickly jumped on the bike and hared round to the airfield but by the time I got there, it had taxied and parked outside its hangar.  Still nice to see it though. 

Titan T-51 Mustang

As I was putting the camera away, I heard yet another big piston engine approaching and was amazed to see a P40 Kittyhawk on final approach!  Excuse the focus but there were only a few seconds to wrench the camera out of the bag, point and hope for the best!  The Kittyhawk is part of the Warbirds collection based at Ardmore near Auckland.

P40 Kittyhawk on final approach

After it had landed, it taxied right back to where I was standing before taking off again, so the following photo is a lot better quality.  So many surprises at a grass airfield mainly full of Cessnas and the like!

P40 Kittyhawk throttling up

The surprises hadn't finished though.  As I was about to leave, up rocked a Bond Bug!  This is the first one I'd seen on the road in NZ, other than a stationary exhibit in the Southward Museum, down Wellington way.  Many readers of this blog will probably have never heard of them but for those of us of a "certain age", they are the epitome of the Swinging Seventies in the UK!   Manufactured between 1970 and 1974, the 3-wheeler had a fibreglass body and a 700 cc 4 cylinder alloy engine (later uprated to 750cc).  Rare as hen's teeth but in the modern era of micro-cars, it doesn't actually look out of place.   I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder but I reckon it looks pretty cool!  Here are a few shots,

The ubiquitous Bond Bug

Straight out of early TV budget sci-fi programmes

Forget modesty if you had a mini-skirt in the 70's!

After all the excitement, it was round to Subway to pick up some lunch and to eat by the Whitianga waterfront with all the Pohutukawa trees coming into bloom.  Wonderful spot for a feed,

Pohutukawa coming into bloom

Doing it tough - Whitianga Harbour

All this variety from what started out as a rambling ride with no particular destination or purpose in mind.  Some days are extra special and today certainly fell into that category!


Friday, 17 November 2017

Summer's here! (well, almost)

Friday morning, all the main chores completed yesterday and it's sunny and warm.  Jennie is off into the village to have coffee with a girlfriend so it's the perfect opportunity to jump on the bike for a couple of hours.  The leathers have already been cleaned and conditioned in anticipation and today is the day!

Tomorrow, I have to ride to Auckland to carry out some coaching so today, I just want to be alone with my thoughts and take in the scenery but where to go?  I know!  The last time I headed north up the Peninsula from Coromandel, it was over 2 years ago when I took the spirit of the late Canadian moto-blogger, Bob Leong in the shape of  ScooterBob, his wooden scooter to see the places I love.  That part of the story is HERE .  I'd been thinking about Bob recently so it seemed a good time to revisit some of those places.

The twisty road north of Coromandel is light of traffic apart from the main holiday season and being a weekday, it was virtually empty apart from the odd local.  First stop was Waitete Bay.  One of the Peninsula's best-kept secrets, it's about a kilometre down a dirt road.

Waitete Bay

There are a handful of houses at the bay but most of them are holiday homes.  Wherever the permanent residents are, they're certainly not on the kilometre-long beach 'cos I'm the only one!

Not exactly over-populated!

Handy helmet stand

Next stop was the Colville General Store for an ice cream.  It's the only shop and fuel stop for about 30 km and carries all sorts of things to meet the daily needs of the alternative lifestylers who inhabit the area.  Not quite "Deliverance" country but getting that way with a few communes and a Buddhist retreat in the area.

Calling in for some banjo strings.....


Buddhist shrine by the roadside

Next stop was Colville Bay, a couple of km up the road.  The shallow bay is a trap for whales and sadly, mass strandings are not unknown.  Today, the tide was out and again, I was the only person there.  So nice to just stand there and appreciate the beautiful scenery.

Colville Bay - tide is way out

The coast is dotted with small islands which provide a great location for sheltered fishing.  Tomorrow, there will quite a few boats out in search of snapper and kingfish.

The Happy Jacks and other nearby islands

Stopping just a few hundred metres short of home, I notice that a Pohutukawa tree (also known as the NZ Christmas Tree) is coming into flower so stop for a photo op.  In another week or two, millions of these trees will be covered in bright scarlet blooms; an overwhelmingly beautiful sight.

McGregor Bay - where we live

Pohutukawa coming into bloom

The ride only lasted just over 2 hours but boy, was it good for the soul.  Amazing what a bit of solitude, spectacular scenery and a motorcycle does for the spirit!  So nice to think about Bob Leong again too and how much he'd have enjoyed being here.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

That ain't workin', that's the way you do it.........

They say that if you love your work, you never have to work another day.  I'd say that's pretty true, even if it is voluntary in my case.  Over the winter, we've had quite a number of riders pass their advanced roadcraft tests and choose to continue on to become Observers (mentors) and pass on their skills to others.  The Central North Island and Auckland regions of the Institute of Advanced Motorists combine resources to periodically run 2 day theory courses with some practical work thrown in as a prelude to practical training modules run over a number of months.

It so happened that the current training course was held over a recent holiday weekend and the main roads from my home on the Coromandel Peninsula to the venue in Auckland were choked with idiot holidaymakers displaying a whole raft of poor driving habits including failing to stay in their lane on bends, ill-considered overtakes, following too closely - the whole 9 yards and really depressing.  I took to the back roads as soon as I was able and predictably, they were almost totally free of traffic!

The well-loaded Gixxer at Kaiaua, Firth of Thames

The training was held for the first time at a great venue in south Auckland which had easy access to motorways, busy urban environments and wicked country roads.  The course is based on the world-renowned UK Police Roadcraft manual and training system.  It consists of a series of theory modules interspersed with practical ride training and that dear reader, is where the fun starts - more on that shortly!

A great mix of sport tourers, sport and adventure bikes

Some of the early arrivals

It's a pretty intensive course with a 1:1 ratio of Observer tutors and Trainee Observers but with the no-ego ethos of IAM, everyone gets on famously with lots of laughs along the way.  That's exactly how it should be for a great learning environment.

Socialising with coffee and chocolate biscuits - mmmmm...
Mike, Tony, Richard and Goose (obscured)

Observers from Auckland and the Central North Island present various topics about becoming an Observer.  Many are about the technical aspects of advanced riding but it's always a surprise to the participants on just how much emphasis is placed on psychological and interpersonal skills.  We all know from our own working experience that the technical content is relatively straightforward.  However, if anything is going to derail smooth sailing, it's the people stuff almost every time!  It's understanding how to recognise and deal with human factors which is an essential skill for a successful Observer.

Rob of wicked yellow Suzuki Hayabusa fame discussing some interpersonal aspects

One of the Trainee Observers runs a commercial training organisation but also wants to give something back to the motorcycling community by volunteering with IAM.  He's an outstanding rider and coach in his own right and when living in the UK, taught Angelina Jolie and Matt Damon plus many other A-listers to ride for movies as well as working on the sets himself!  Have a look  HERE . He also has a well-developed wit and continually cracked everyone up with what might be termed a rather direct approach to interpersonal issues!  Bet he didn't talk like that to Angelina.....

Laughter is the best medicine - everyone cracking up

There are two practical rides during the course and these are what the Observers really love!  Each Trainee Observer has to take out an Associate, role-played by an experienced Observer.  The trainee is expected to follow and guide the "Associate" over a route by helmet to helmet comms, whilst maintaining good, safe positioning to observe specific good and improvement aspects of the "Associate's" ride.  These have to be remembered for later discussion!  The Observers of course, go out of their way to make life a tad difficult by all manner of devious actions.  Pulling out of an intersection into traffic when it's only safe for one bike to do so is just one simple trick to throw the composure of the Trainee Observer if he or she is poorly positioned.  Other tricks in the "dark arts" arsenal won't be mentioned.  One thing worth mentioning though....... on the ride, we display a few poor riding practices for the Trainee Observer to hopefully identify.  When you've been riding to the Police Roadcraft standard for a while and have it locked in muscle memory, it's unbelievably hard to make deliberate errors - it feels sooooo wrong!  That's by no means implying that we don't make mistakes because we do.  However, it does go to show how well the system works in practice.

Needless to say, most Trainee Observers return from the ride in various states of confusion, steam coming out of their ears and using quite a few words that would make their mothers blush!  It's an excellent exercise in demonstrating just how busy an IAM Observer is on a ride.  After a few more theory sessions, most trainees find the second ride a lot easier although it's a further 8-12 months of practical training before they're ready to take their Observer theory and practical exams.

On the second day, Mark, the police sergeant in charge of road traffic policing in the south Auckland region dropped in to say hi and lend support, along with Tim; one of his motorcycle officers.  Mark and a number of other officers are IAM members and it's a valued relationship.  Working with the police on charity rides, using their training facilities on occasion are just part of that relationship.

Officer Tim and his company BMW

Mark, Tim and Richard shooting the breeze

The course is intensive and tiring but everyone is really happy with the outcomes and future impact on riding standards in NZ.  No-one ever stops learning and it's a great opportunity for the Observers to refresh themselves, learn new presenting skills and pick up other new stuff.  A real win-win, so what's not to like?  On a personal note, I turned 70 a few days before the course and would have almost certainly stopped riding long ago had it not been for IAM.  And that can't be bad, can it?


Friday, 29 September 2017

Under African Skies, pt9

ARUSHA, DAR ES SALAAM AND HOME
Our airline connections called for a road trip back to Arusha and a night at a hotel, a flight to Dar es Salaam and a night there, then a flight to Doha and another to Auckland.  Somewhere in the region of 18,000 km all up which is about as long as it gets to anywhere!

Like all the road trips so far, there was plenty of activity to keep the interest up.  One stop to mark territory, grab refreshment and buy some gifts was at a small but classy shopping complex on the roadside.

Cool stuff in here

There was a mix of reasonably-priced goods, plus some spectacular high end items.  Jennie bought a few bits and pieces, including a nice bracelet with silver fittings and a piece of Tanzanite set in it, similar in colour to a sapphire.  My eyes were firmly set on some magnificent stylised wooden animal figurines over 2 metres high which were apparently carved by a local tribe renowned for their work.  Unsurprisingly, they were deservedly expensive and besides, how would I carry them?  Here they are:

Sensational workmanship

The room where these masterpieces were located was beautifully laid out with other superb examples of the carver's art:

All way out of my league!

Not only were there animal carvings, but African masks, spears and so on.  However, it was the item in the next photograph which I would have cheerfully taken home and exhibited in our lounge.  Not at all what you'd expect to find in a place like this!

Isn't this just superb?
Contemporary African art

Back on the road again, it was time to shoot more photos of everyday life in Tanzania.

Downtown superette

Tuk-tuks are really popular as taxis in some places

These 3 wheeled bikes are popular general purpose carriers too


Local women selling green bananas

Maasai herdsman moving stock - a common sight

Coming into the city of Arusha, the women all wore brightly coloured clothing which really added something to the vibe of the place.  I noticed the woman below walking up the road and she walked with such grace and elegance that I just had to take a photo.

Grace and elegance

After a night of chilling and saying goodbye to our friends who were all in the process of working their way back to Australia by various routes, Jennie and I left for nearby Arusha airport.  Our driver was a delightful young man called Alex Kenga who had worked as a computer engineer in various parts of the world.  He had returned to Arusha with his wife to start a family and was in partnership with his brother running a tour company with the great name of Mama Savana!  Again, we were so impressed with the positive, "go get 'em" attitude of the young people we met and really enjoyed their company.  I guess that in an environment where social support is minimal, there's no room for snowflakes with a well-developed air of entitlement.

I must say that we had some severe reservations on the approach to Arusha "airport".  All we could see was a collection of tin sheds and thought that Aeroflot could well be regarded the world's best airline by comparison, especially after the drama with Kenya Air.  However, whilst the facilities were a bit limited, the ground crew were on their game and the aircraft belonging to Precision Air were perfectly modern.

The airport (a loose description) consisted of a main runway and a parallel taxiway.  This taxiway doubled as a loading area, a spot for giving aircraft a wash and lord knows what else.  Whilst waiting for our flight, we thoroughly enjoyed all the activity and watching taxiing aircraft weaving in and out of other stationary aircraft and people wandering about.  Perfectly safe I suppose but it's simply something you don't see in the west - all part of the fun of being somewhere else!

Aircraft and people everywhere

Our plane (green and orange tail) taxiing in

It would seem that in this part of Africa, planes are more like buses.  Our flight left Arusha, landed on the holiday island of Zanzibar first and was only on the ground for a few minutes - we didn't even have to get off the plane.  When it departed for Dar es Salaam, there were only a handful of us left on it.

Dar es Salaam is Tanzania's most populous city at around 4.5 million (over some 1600 sq km!) and temperatures were in the mid 30's C when we arrived and humid as heck. Africans are crazy about soccer and with a big game due to start downtown in a couple of hours, the traffic was absolutely nuts. Adding to the chaos were people wandering between the vehicles, trying to sell fresh fruit, newspapers, toys and anything in between - great people-watching!

Our hotel down on the harbour was seriously impressive.  Our room was the biggest we've ever stayed in and beautifully appointed - you could have held a conference in it!  It also had a large private deck outside with great views of the harbour.

Big, or what???

A big deck outside too!

Views from the deck aren't too shabby

We're tired and a bit disoriented after being constantly on the move so decide to stay in the hotel, eat well and get some decent shuteye in readiness for the long trip home tomorrow.  As mentioned earlier, we'll be covering a total of around 18,000 km...... starting with a 3 hour wait at Dar airport, 6 hours to Doha, a 4 hour wait, then 17 hours non-stop to Auckland finishing with a 2.5 hour drive home.  A real test of stamina and sanity for anyone.

The trip went smoothly although with the waiting around and time zone changes, sleep didn't come quite as easily as the outbound trip.  The lovely Qatar flight attendants knew that the trip was to celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary and about an hour out of Auckland, they all came out of the galley and presented us with a cake with Happy Anniversary written on the plate in raspberry coulis and took selfies.  What a lovely touch to end what was undoubtedly the best holiday in a series of truly great holidays we've had over the years.

Qatar, Kenya and Tanzania are truly magnificent destinations for their wildlife and breathtaking scenery but as always, the holiday was made complete by the wonderful people we met.  In what seems like increasingly troubled times throughout the world, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that most of the planet's population are great people, trying to get by and caring about their fellow man.

Goodbye Africa, asante sana na mungu akubariki


Thursday, 28 September 2017

Under African Skies, pt 8

NGORONGORO CRATER AREA
Driving from the Serengeti was a long, dusty haul through barren country.  However, it was the dry season and was probably transformed when the rains came.  The local Maasai herdsmen had to walk long distances for water and feed for their cattle was in short supply at this time of the year.

Dust, dust and more dust

Maasai stockade in the foreground
With tenting behind us, we headed for our accommodation not far from the park gates.  Talk about unsurpassed luxury!  Owned by a local Tanzanian with farming and tourism interests, it was absolutely magnificent with all mod cons.  It was a great opportunity to do some washing as we were travelling fairly light and clean clothes were at a premium!  As with everywhere else we'd stayed, the food and hospitality was outstanding.

Our "cabin"

Now that's what you call a bed!

View from the front door
The area covers over 8000 sq km and is a World Heritage protected area.  The crater itself is believed to be some 5 million years old.  Seen from the rim, the scale is stupefying.  Approximately 21 km in diameter with 600 metre deep crater walls, it's evidence of volcanic activity on a massive scale.  


The park entrance

From the viewing platform, the view down to the crater floor is breathtaking and we can't wait to get down to see it at close range

A 21km diameter extinct volcano caldera

Wildebeest on a permanent rotation inside the crater

It came as a real surprise to us that Wildebeest are related to antelopes, not cattle.  They're hare-brained, unpredictable things - quite amusing.


Typical lion pose - lazy buggers!

Coming to a junction of several tracks in the crater, there were a number of 4x4's parked up and the reason soon became apparent with a lion and lioness just chilling on the road.  They weren't at all bothered with the presence of the 4x4's and the lioness chose a nice shady spot in front of one of them.  When you see them this close, it's easy to understand why even large prey doesn't stand much of a chance.  Here's some photos of them.


Look honey - more humans in tin cans

Where's my missus gone?

Hey human, your front diff has got an oil leak!

Approaching the only lake in the crater, there were numerous hippos, accompanied by cattle egrets which would clean parasites from them.

Hippos and cattle egrets

Out of the lake and grazing

A Kori Bustard in the remains of a controlled burn-off


Grey Crowned Cranes


Zebra everywhere


As we worked our way round the crater, we became aware of a weird weather condition which was spellbinding to watch.  The rim of the crater is about 2400 metres (about 7900 ft altitude) and is often shrouded in cloud or mist.  Any prevailing wind blows it over the windward edge of the crater and downdrafts carry it towards the crater floor.  However, it never gets there and just continuously rolls - an amazing sight.

Boiling clouds over the crater rim

More of those cloud formations

Alas, the Crater game drive was the last of the formal activities on our safari and the following day, we would be returning to Arusha to begin the 18,000-odd km back to Auckland, NZ.  However, there were still opportunities for some good photos along the way!