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Monday, 12 November 2012

Fun on land and in the air!

Well, the last few days have been pretty hard to top in terms of enjoyment, especially with NZ having emerged from a wet Winter into a warm Spring.

It started last Wednesday with a ride to Auckland to continue the IAM Observer (advanced instructor) training under the eagle eye of the Chief Examiner, Philip McDaid along with another Observer trainee, John.

Philip is a crafty bugger and briefed us individually to demonstrate some subtle riding shortcomings at some stage in the 160 km assessment ride to see if the other one could pick them up in motorway, country lane and urban environments.  To cut a long story short,  we both passed and the next couple of months should see us progress to full Observer status and have our own advanced trainees to mentor.  It will be wonderful to put something back into motorcycling to help repay Philip and our personal mentors who freely volunteer their time in the name of motorcycle safety.


Philip and John

I have to mention my personal highlight of the day! John needed to be checked by Philip on his ability to assess what is euphemistically termed a "quick" rider.  This involves following another rider at considerable pace (known as "making progress" in IAM terms) to evaluate their standard of control and situational awareness.  Philip knew that I could hustle the Street Triple on twisty country roads so he quietly asked me to ride the vanishing points on bends really hard, but within the legal open road speed limit.  Part of the route contained a twisty, narrow country road stretching for 26 km where it's actually quite hard to even reach the speed limit in many places so figured that would be a great place to test John.   Boy, was that fun and at the end of that stretch of road, couldn't keep the grin off my face.  It's appropriate to mention that John was riding a BMW R1200LT tourer and whilst I backed off a wee bit in the really tight stuff to keep him in touch, he was never far behind - really impressed seeing a big Beemer in the mirrors being chucked around like that!!  What a sensational day, covering nearly 600 km overall.  Sure beats working.

The weekend saw another trip to Auckland to stay with our daughter Victoria and her fiancĂ©e Luke as she was taking me to the Big Boys Toys show as a belated Father's Day gift - what a honey she is!  However, one of my riding partners, Martin, is also a qualified pilot and he generously offered to take Victoria, Luke and me for a scenic flight in the Auckland area  first thing on Saturday morning.  The perfect start to the weekend in perfect weather!  Here are some photos of the trip:

Actual software track of the flight from Ardmore in the south (anticlockwise track)


Martin doing pre-flight checks

Airborne - Daughter and Dad in the rear seat


One of the many bays on Waiheke Island


Rangitoto volcano in Auckland harbour - last erupted 600 years ago


Auckland city downtown waterfront


Auckland Skytower


Browns Island - another dormant volcano.  Crater clearly visible

After the wonderful flight, we all went to a cafe just outside the airfield for brunch.  It's on the flight path and is the red-roofed building just to the left of the roundabout below.  Should have dropped in our order to save time!  Martin, you're an absolute star - thanks so much for a morning in a million!

Clevedon Woolshed cafe

After a great lunch, it was Dad and Daughter time at the Big Boys Toys Show.  All manner of things are on display there, most of them designed to cause serious matrimonial problems if the wallet comes out.  Although my CFO wasn't with us, no prior permission had been negotiated so drooling and whining were the only two permitted activities.  Here are a few of the various exhibits:

The magnificent NZ-made Britten Superbike


Bentley Continental GT - not exactly British stiff upper lip!


Business end of a Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera


Massive tractor - note woman in rear wheel rim


Super-sexy Aston Martin


Wild Corvette race car


Supercharged road-legal Falcon GT


Hot end of a MiG 21


Mean-looking racing hydroplane

Saturday evening saw us out to dinner at a French restaurant and Sunday breakfast was taken at an open air French market with freshly-baked breads, exotic cheeses, great coffee and wallet a good deal lighter having stocked up on produce to take back home to Coromandel.

A great mid-week ride, a sensational weekend with a daughter I love beyond words and a son-in-law to be whom we also love dearly. Sheer magic......


Thursday, 1 November 2012

A magic morning!

With all the lovely spring weather, domestic activities in the James household have been on the back burner for at least a week.  Gardens need weeding, house needs vacuuming but what the hell, it's time to get out and have fun!

Last night, we decided to leap in Jennie's car first thing today and head for Ardmore Aerodrome south east of Auckland.  It's NZ's busiest in terms of take-offs and landings as there are helicopter and fixed wing flying schools, plus all manner of other stuff there.  Falling in to the "other stuff" category is that it's one of the locations for NZ Warbirds who are dedicated to the preservation and operation of ex-military aircraft in flying condition.  Jennie had never been there but was enthusiastic on the grounds of a spirited drive on the Firth of Thames coast road, plus lunch at an excellent cafe not far from the airfield!

Arriving at the Warbirds, we were disappointed to find out that it's only open 3 days a week and today wasn't one of those days.  However, there was someone just inside the door who saw us pull up and invited us in anyway - simply awesome!!  The lovely guy who invited us in gave us the full run of the place, both inside the hangar and out on the taxiway outside - a wonderful lack of formality which is typical of NZ.

Skyhawk, Aermacchi and something Czechoslovakian in blue camo

I think the CEO would like this Skyhawk rocket pack on her car!

Sharp end of a Skyhawk

 Great crest for NZ's 487 Squadron, which flew Mosquitos in WW2

DH Beaver - flawless condition

Harvard trainer

The aircraft below is a T28 Trojan US Navy trainer, complete with arrestor hook for carrier landings.  It has a 9 cylinder radial engine which sounds like it's about to expire because of the odd number of cylinders!  The pilot was preparing it for a flight and very kindly invited me up to have a look in the cockpit.

Trojan T28

9 cylinder, 1425 hp radial 

The Trojan cockpit - more complicated than I thought it would be

Enthusiasts everywhere are so generous with their time and although the pilot didn't know us from Adam, he was more than happy to spend time talking about his passion. The generosity extended as far as being allowed to bring Jennie's car round from the car park to the taxiway and put it right next to the P51 Mustang.  Probably not many places in the world you'd be allowed to do that nowadays on an operational airfield!  Here's the million dollar shot:

 Mazdaspeed-prepared MX5 and P51 Mustang - 2 beauties!  Errr... 3 actually.

The Warbirds have many other rare aircraft but a lot of them periodically rotate to other locations in NZ.   However, aviation enthusiasts world-wide will have probably seen that the only flying WW2 Mosquito was recently restored in NZ for an American collector.  It's based at Ardmore but sadly, we weren't able to get to its hangar.  The following fantastic photo recently shown on TV New Zealand of it flying over Auckland in the company of a Warbirds Vampire jet is well worth posting though.

DH Mosquito and DH Vampire

After leaving Ardmore, we headed for an excellent lunch at nearby Clevedon.  I don't normally do food photos as our moto-blogging friends from the US and Canada do such a great job but this is an exception.

Iced coffee for both of us, smoked salmon with hollandaise sauce on bubble and squeak (fried mashed potato and vegetable mix) for Jennie and pork belly with Udon noodles and stir-fried Asian greens for me..... both delicious.

Smoked salmon on bubble and squeak

Pork belly and crackling on Udon noodles and Asian greens

After lunch, it was the 150 km haul back to Coromandel on the twisty coastal roads which are made for Street Triples and MX5's.  Days really don't get much better than this one!!!

 No room for error! Thames coast road

Up into the hills on the coast road

The twisties with Coromandel Harbour and mountains in the background
(Typical traffic congestion!)

And domestic activity will have to wait a bit longer as the boat comes out for a bit of fishing tomorrow.  I know....... this retirement business is tough but someone has to do it!

Oh, and nothing to do with today but for the cat-loving bloggers, I took this photo the other day of Annie kitten making herself comfortable under the duvet in one of the spare bedrooms.  Awww....

Annie, aged 18 months