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Monday, 23 March 2015

ScooterBob goes train-spotting!!

Following the last post about ScooterBob's history, his arrival in Coromandel and meeting our close friends, it was time for SB to go exploring.  Before our friends Peter and Jane Miller returned to the UK, we wanted to show them a local attraction, Driving Creek Railway .  Of course, it would be rude not to invite cherished guest SB along too.

The narrow gauge railway was built by a (very) eccentric potter, Barry Brickell; to collect both clay and firewood for the kilns from the hills on his property. An increasing overdraft saw his bank manager suggest that the railway might be used for fare-paying passengers as well.  You can read about Barry's incredible transformation of the railway by using the link above but it's an amazing construction winding through the hills.  It's not just a rail journey, the old and often bizarre equipment and kilns used to produce all sorts of pottery are an attraction in themselves.  It's not only pottery which is made there but glass objects, paintings and the occasional bit of ironwork too.  Pottery and glass objects are tucked into all sorts of nooks and crannies in the buildings and up the track waiting to delight the people who stumble on them.

ScooterBob arriving at Driving Creek Railway

Do we drive on the left or right??

Introducing himself to the train driver, Pete Sephton

All aboard!

As mentioned earlier, there are all sorts of treasures tucked into recesses and by the track on the way up into the hills.  Here are a few examples.

Gorgeous glassware made on site

Discarded glass vases in one of the workshops

Bizarre pottery along the track

Yet more pottery

Wonderful rustic workshop

As the train slowly worked its way up into the hills, we chatted with SB and he appeared to really enjoy all the sights.  There are several tunnels on the track and one with a decorative terracotta entrance, all made on site.

Terracotta entrance to the tunnel

One of the items on the tunnel entrance wall is a pottery plaque.  It's a poem by TS Eliot and is a moving reminder to take our opportunities while we can.

A reminder to us all....

At the top of the track, there is a viewing structure appropriately called the Eyefull Tower which gives magnificent views over Coromandel Harbour.  ScooterBob took time during the climb up the spiral staircase to catch his breath and look down on the train.

Climbing up the Eyefull Tower 

Taking in the great views

After returning to the station, it was time for SB to have a last look at the buildings and some garden pottery before a quick peek into the relatively recently-opened art gallery on site.

One last look....

SB in the pottery garden

A forged iron chandelier in the gallery lit with LED's

Part of a forged iron garden art structure

Scooterbob had a pretty full time of it and as we had to take Peter and Jane to the airport for the trip back to the UK, he elected to stay in Coromandel and recharge his battery whilst Peter, Jane, Jennie and I headed north to Auckland airport .

Saying goodbye to his new-found friends Peter and Jane

Next time: ScooterBob goes out on the Triumph Street Triple and other petrol-head adventures!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

ScooterBob in NZ - the Coromandel Peninsula

I stopped blogging over a year ago, partially because I didn't want to bore people with the same old stuff and partially because of being insanely busy with IAM (Institute of Advanced Motoring) activities.  However, the sudden loss of a fellow moto-blogger, Bob Leong; in September 2014 has occasioned a post or two which hopefully adds to a fitting tribute that his fellow bloggers and riding partners have devised and supported on his website: Riding the Wet Coast

Bob Leong - moto blogger extraordinaire

Firstly, a bit of background.

Bob lived in Vancouver, owned scooters and in more recent times, A Suzuki V Strom and a BMW 1100.  On 4 wheels, he drove a very nice Corvette.  As well as blogging about his travels and the people he met, he also wrote about gadgets he bought.  In fact, it was Bob who was instrumental in getting me to buy the camera which I now own through the detailed, but easy to read account of his own experiences with that particular model.  Bob also wrote about his family and although I was never able to meet him in person, his blog and our correspondence over several years painted him as a generous-spirited, most likeable man who would have been wonderful company.  Bob was also the first person to comment on my first ever blog post and make me feel welcome in the blog-o-sphere. Tragically, he passed away whilst touring in the USA with his wife Yvonne.  Almost eerily, Jennie and I happened to be in Vancouver en route from Alaska to NZ when I learned of his passing.

A good friend of Bob's, David Masse; came up with a fitting tribute to Bob's life and dreams by sending a model wooden Vespa scooter (christened ScooterBob) which Bob had once owned, on a journey of its own.  You can read David's excellent account of how the idea came to fuition here: ScooterBob.  Suffice to say that the idea has been enthusiastically embraced by those who knew him personally and through his motorcycle blog.  The following photos and narrative are an account of ScooterBob's travels in my patch of New Zealand.  I hope that Bob is looking down and laughing his head off at ScooterBob's adventures round the world.  Perhaps Yvonne and Family will draw both comfort and pleasure from them too.  The travels certainly embrace Bob's spirit and enthusiasm for discovering new places and revisiting old ones!

The other Moto-bloggers who have helped ScooterBob in his travels have posted the most wonderful scenic photos of their corner of the world.  I hope to be able to be able to do the same but as Bob was a real "people person", I've also chosen to introduce ScooterBob to family and friends to add a human angle and hope Bob would have approved.


International traveller ScooterBob arrived in Coromandel Town from Andrew further down the North Island of NZ.  We were having breakfast on the deck when SB arrived so it was an opportune time to remove him from his travelling home, let him have some sunlight and welcome him to our neck of the woods.  As Bob loved people and valued friendships, I thought it would only be right and proper to introduce ScooterBob to some of our great friends during his stay - more on that later.

Annie welcoming ScooterBob to our home


We didn't want to wear SB out on his first day so his first outing was close to sunset when I took him down to the town wharf to let him look at the fishing boats and meet a couple of the local commercial fishermen who were enjoying a cold beer after a day out at sea.




SB checking out the local fishing fleet at sunset




Local commercial fishing identities Bunsen and Pete exchanging yarns with SB

After meeting some locals on the wharf, it was off to the lookout near our house to enjoy sunset over the islands in the Hauraki Gulf.


Sunset over the Hauraki Gulf

Unfortunately, the best-laid plans to go a little further afield were curtailed by dire warnings from the NZ MetService about the fast-approaching Tropical Cyclone Pam.  Mercifully, it passed a little further to the east than expected so some torrential rain over 24 hours or so and some boisterous winds were all we encountered.  However, it gave us the opportunity to take a couple of shots in less than tropical weather!


Cyclone Pam approaches!

With the weather packing up fast, there was just time to nip down to the end of our road to show SB the building seas.  With his shiny coat of varnish, SB scoffed at the driving rain whilst I was getting rapidly soaked.  SB was far too gracious to call me a wimp, but I'm sure that's what he was thinking.


Seas and rain building, but SB enjoying the bracing conditions

With normal weather returning, it was time to venture a little further afield and introduce SB to some close friends who live not far from us.  Paul and Julie are lovers of British classic vehicles.  Julie drives an immaculate MGB GT V8 which was in for a service when we visited.  Paul is a dedicated Norton enthusiast and Secretary of the NZ Norton Owners Club.  For everyday transport, he rides a 1951 ES2.  His ride for rallies and similar outings is a flawless Commando 750 fastback which he bought brand new when he was 19!  The other Norton is a Commando 850 racebike which owes very little to the original road-going 850 Commando and like most racing machinery, is a bottomless hole into which money is poured.  However, it is very, very fast, surprisingly reliable and Paul does extremely well in post-classic racing.


ScooterBob playing with his big English cousins


SB goes racing!

This summer has been really busy in terms of friends and relatives visiting us, both from NZ and overseas.  It was a great opportunity for ScooterBob from Canada to meet visiting English friends of ours who we hadn't seen for 42 years!  I've known Peter and Jane Miller since I was in my late teens.  Pete and I drag-raced bikes together in the UK, albeit in different capacity classes.  We moved to NZ  in the 1970's and Pete went on to enjoy ultimate accolades with an FIM-approved world record in the 500cc class over the standing start quarter mile with his supercharged, nitro-burning beast.  Pete and Jane are still motorcycle enthusiasts with a Triumph Thunderbird cruiser and a KTM trail bike in the stable.

As Bob really enjoyed his food, we thought that he would completely approve of ScooterBob being invited to a BBQ at home with Jennie, Paul and Julie and Pete and Jane.


Jennie, Jane, Julie, Peter and Paul


SB enjoying convivial company with Annie photo-bombing!

In the next instalment of ScooterBob in NZ, we venture further afield!

Saturday, 12 October 2013

All good things....

This blog won't be having any further updates - too many competing priorities!  I'd intended to delete it without any fuss but a number of people have asked to leave it open for a while and no problems with that.

It's been fun, especially contact with all the fabulous people out there, both in person and in the blog-o-sphere.

Best wishes to everyone with a passion for bikes - next week sees the 50th anniversary of owning my first bike - a Suzuki 50 and it seems like yesterday!


Geoff








Thursday, 8 August 2013

Badass biking in the Cook Islands!

Jennie and I haven't been to Rarotonga in the tropical Cook Island group for 6 years but it's a nice warm destination for a short break, the people are lovely and the food is great. Flying time from Auckland is under 4 hours.  In fact, a great place to celebrate our 41st wedding anniversary and escape from reality!

Whilst waiting for our flight at Auckland airport, we noticed a NASA 747 parked outside the terminal.  Turns out that it's an airborne observatory which was using the clear air over NZ to study the Milky Way - cool!


 NASA SOFIA Airborne observatory (big door in front of the fin)

Accommodation in Rarotonga ranges from the basic to pretty opulent and we had a beachfront apartment at Muri Lagoon.  Certainly weren't disappointed!

Tough, but someone has to do it!

Slumming it!

View from the apartment over the lagoon

Arriving late afternoon, there was just time to unpack, indulge in happy hour cocktails and enjoy local seafood.

Happy (very) hour cocktails

Local Mahi-mahi (dorado) seafood

Chocolate and hazel nut dessert

First priority next morning was to organise some transport.  Rarotonga has a maximum speed limit of 50 km/hr.  If you ride a motorcycle without a helmet (which seem to be practically non-existent), you're restricted to a (choosing the word carefully) theoretical top speed of 40 km/hr.  With these restrictions, hiring a scooter is just fine.  So is the hire price of just over NZ $15 per day!!   

Rarotonga has a laid-back approach to getting your Cook Islands licence, which is more of an income generator than a demonstration of competence.  We hired our scooter at the apartment, but then had to ride to the police station some 20 minutes away to get a temporary licence.  No worries if you're familiar with riding on 2 wheels but guess it could be a bit dodgy if you haven't ridden before.  Suppose that if you make it to the police station in 1 piece, it proves that you're not totally incompetent! 

Our steed was a Yamaha 125 scooter with auto transmission and surprisingly peppy, even 2 up!  Harsh words and the occasional clout from the speed controller on the rear seat prevented maximum top speed from being explored.  The Star-Trek gaudy layout of the instrument cluster had us calling it the Enterprise, even if I wasn't permitted to engage warp drive!

The bridge of the Enterprise

Ticket to ride?
(Hi-tech safety gear is a baseball cap turned backwards)

Poking the Devil with a stick and running away.....

Parliament - they can hardly be accused of unnecessary opulence (or security)!

We'd done all the touristy things on our previous visit so this time, it was a case of exploring the island on the scooter, kayaking in the lagoon and just chilling.  One of the hallmarks of the Cook Islands is the wonderful fresh food, particularly seafood and a wide variety of fruits which we had for breakfast each morning.  Fruiting trees are literally everywhere.

Pawpaw plantation

Stopping by the roadside and picking up fresh coconuts

The nearest McDonalds is 2851 km away - long may it be so!


Even though it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere, the tropics still have plants flowering and busy growing everywhere - here are some examples:

Gorgeous leaves on shrub

Bougainvillea hedgerow

Although Rarotonga is a popular destination for Kiwis and Aussies looking for a mid-winter break, it's by no means overcrowded and there are lots of unspoiled beaches with no-one on them.  By sheer coincidence though, one of my riding buddies, Martin, was in Rarotonga at the same time with his partner Cindy to attend a wedding and it was great to get together for a meal and a few beers!

Two people, one scooter and that's the lot!

We had a short-lived tropical storm pass over the island.  When it first hit during darkness, we were about 20 km away from the apartment watching a live rugby match on a big screen in a village hall with the locals. It was still hosing down when we headed away and my protective gear of a shirt and shorts weren't a heck of a lot of use - soaked through in seconds although Jennie was hardly damp hunkering down behind me! At least it was warm.  It stopped raining in the early hours but it was still blowing hard in the morning and the kite surfers were having a ball on the lagoon.

These guys were REALLY motoring!

The Saturday market on the island is a big event, as much social as being there to buy all the local products on sale.  There was a bewildering choice of foods, clothing, plants and local crafts available and the Cook Islands drummers always raise the hairs on my neck - fantastic!

Hand-printed sarongs

Exquisitely carved shell pendant

Locally made electric Ukuleles

Cook Island drummers

All too soon, it was time to head back to the airport and return to reality, but it was a wonderful break.  Hope you've enjoyed the introduction to a little corner of the South Pacific which is largely unspoiled with wonderful, unaffected local people!

The airport on Rarotonga