Blog Search

Friday, 21 April 2017

An interesting couple of weeks

Riding on two wheels has been a bit patchy over the last two weeks.  Firstly, it was tropical cyclone Debbie which hit NZ after causing extensive flooding and damage along the eastern seaboard of Australia.  Our village escaped the worst of it but we were cut off for a couple of days due to landslips on both exit roads from the Coromandel Peninsula.  Places a few hundred k's south east really copped it.  Being stuck caused the cancellation of some IAM training in Auckland but delighted Jennie because I got leaned on to attack the backlog of jobs around the house!

With the weather clearing, I arranged to take the Suzuki GSX-S1000 for its 24,000 km service and an updated ECM/ECU to be fitted (That's the brains of the bike's engine management system).  More on this later.  Then unbelievably, the weather forecasters announced that Cyclone Cook was coming out of the South Pacific to hammer us, Coromandel was square in its sights and things were looking grim.  Hurried tying down of deck furniture and securing garden art, followed by an anxious wait.  Fortunately for us, it tracked further east at the last moment and all we got was some heavy rain for a few hours and moderate winds, but the south-east of the north island bore the brunt of it.  Unfortunately for us, the cliffs which run down the western coast road of the Peninsula were still soaked from Cyclone Debbie and another drenching brought down dozens of slips, cutting us off for another week.  One of the few penalties of living in a remote, unspoiled area!

One of the massive slips on the Coromandel coast road
(source: Thames-Coromandel District Council)

These delays were knocking my IAM coaching schedule around and although the western coast road was still closed, the eastern one had opened, the weather was good and so it was off to Auckland to resume coaching.  The only downside is that the eastern route adds 100 km each way to the journey. Shouldn't really complain about extra distance on two wheels but 600+km days including an intense coaching ride do tend to get a bit tiring so I stayed with our Auckland-based daughter overnight.  Well worth the effort as Lloyd, my trainee Observer (Instructor) did a magnificent job of introducing a new IAM member to the first stage of Police Roadcraft advanced riding.

Lloyd (R) debriefing new member Chris (L) mid-point through the ride

Having a bit more time in Auckland was quite handy as I organised to have some custom silicone earplugs made.  I normally use foam plugs but must have weird-shaped ear canals or something because they always seem to work loose. Had 2 pairs made which took about 40 minutes overall.  What a difference!  They work incredibly well, are supremely comfortable and would be great if you're a light sleeper.

Custom ear plugs - seriously effective

The other thing I did whilst in Auckland was get my hands on a little gift for Jennie for upcoming Mother's Day next month (A guy being organised in advance??? Amazing!).  A fellow IAM member is a trained cabinetmaker who has just started his own business.  Jennie and I both love items made in wood and on his website, I saw some fully-functioning wooden padlocks he'd made in different designs.  The one I chose is shown below.  The craftsmanship is superb using two different woods on both the key and the lock.  Instead of a business card, he uses a curved wooden leaf with his details on - clever and ultra cool!  Jennie doesn't read my blog so we're safe!  Also, Graham makes the most exquisite all-wood skeleton clocks.  Take a look HERE .  The world is a better place for having craftsmen like Graham in it.

Gorgeous functioning wooden lock - smells wonderful too!

Right, back to bikes......

About 3 weeks ago, I spoke with Simon Meade, G.M Marketing of Suzuki NZ.  Regular readers of this blog may remember that I've described the Suzuki as a good bike, but not a great bike.  It does its job well, but doesn't make me feel passionate about it.  One of the niggles is that it's pretty snatchy and hunts at low throttle openings, or off a trailing throttle.  If I was using the bike for city commuting or similar, it would have been sold by now.  However, as much of my riding is on open roads, it's only really irritating in traffic and in greasy conditions at low speed.  I'm given to understand that the root cause of the fuelling problem is to meet emission compliance testing in the European Union.

Talking to Simon, he said that a new ECM was now available and I could have one fitted at no charge. All that was required was having the ignition key and its spare reprogrammed.  Just like that, no fuss, no arguments, just "we'll send one to your dealer" from Simon.  That's what you call service!

With the coast road now open, albeit covered in clay in a few places, it was time to re-schedule the Suzuki service so I headed off at the crack of dawn yesterday to my favourite dealer in Hamilton, about 160 km away.  On picking up the bike a few hours later, the ride through Hamilton traffic to get to open country was a revelation!  All the snatchiness had gone, just leaving a slight lumpiness which wasn't intrusive, just a reminder of the sporting heritage of the powerplant.  It's transformed a good bike into a great bike and who knows, maybe I'll develop an emotional attachment to it like I had with the Street Triple!

One final amazing thing.....

Whilst I was talking with Simon, he asked me what I thought of the Suzuki performance and I mentioned the track day I did on it last year.  He doesn't know me from Adam but floored me by offering a ride on their race-prepped version which they sometimes take along to track days!!!!  This is the bike which U.S - based journo Don Canet from Cycle World successfully raced at NZ's premier street race in Paeroa last year! (Cycle World article HERE ) . The excitement was quickly tempered with a bit of sanity and I politely declined.  The combination of slicks and racing brake pads which need to be hot to work effectively could well be a recipe for this old fella to go skating along on his bum in front of lots of track day enthusiasts - not a good look.  Incredibly generous and unexpected offer by Simon though.  Nice to know that Suzuki NZ have great people at the top.

As I said at the start, an interesting couple of weeks!

Don Canet on the Suzuki NZ race-prepped GSX-S 1000
(photo: Cycle World/ Andy McGeehan)



Sunday, 26 March 2017

Trippin' to the Top of the South - pt 3

Golden Bay and Farewell Spit

The last time we were in Golden Bay was 2001 and the one regret on that occasion was being unable to visit a very special place, Farewell Spit.  It forms the very top of the south island and is a little over 26 km long at low tide. Formed by fine silica from the Southern Alps and washed round to Golden Bay by the tides, it's a haven for birds and other animal life.  Unless you're an employee of either the Department of Conservation or Maritime NZ, the only way members of the public can visit the spit is with a sole concession tour which is licenced by D.O.C under strict conditions.  On the map above, the spit resembles the head and beak of a Kiwi which I guess is totally appropriate!

Access is restricted to a few hours either side of low tide.  On the day we wanted to visit, this meant the alarm clock being set for 5am and a half hour drive from Pohara to the little village of Collingwood to get on the tour bus.  Boy, was it worth the early start!  It was pitch black until we reached the spit itself and we were treated to a magical sunrise - couldn't have scripted it better!

First light across the white sand and dunes

Sunrise and large chunk of tree washed up on the beach

The dunes are constantly moving due to the strong prevailing wind but there was hardly a breath of wind whilst we were there - another bonus! More about the dunes later.  Travelling up the beach and dodging patches of quicksand, there was an amazing amount of birdlife and sea lions, none of which seemed particularly perturbed by human presence.

Just chillin'

The white centre is a massive gannet colony

At the far end of the spit is the 30 metre tall lighthouse which is critical for keeping ships from running into the shallows.  It must have been a lonely existence for the original lighthouse keepers but it's been fully automated  since 1984.  A great time to stop for breakfast which consisted of a hot drink and a muffin.

Farewell Spit lighthouse - a lonely place

More arty farty stuff

Men's long drop - not exactly the Hilton!

Farewell Spit recently hit the international news with a mass beaching of over 200 whales which involved a huge rescue effort.  Sadly, many of the whales were beyond rescue by the time that help arrived.  Strandings have happened here since recorded time and it's thought that the shallow approach to the spit combined with shifting sands may confuse the echo location of the whales.

On the return leg, we got to explore one of the massive dunes.  Climbing it was hard going with the powder-like silica sand but well worth it because of the magnificent natural shapes fashioned by the wind.  The lonely beauty of the place was quite overwhelming - what a privilege to see it. Here is a selection of photos.

A long way up.....

Miles of nothing

Pristine powder

Leave nothing but a set of footprints....

The next major stop-off was Cape Farewell, the northernmost point of the south island, excluding the ever-shifting spit.  On the way, we stopped of at a beach with adjoining cliffs which were millions of years old.  The weather and tides had exposed the base of the cliff which at one point was a pebble river bed - fantastic!

Gravel river bed millions of years old

Ancient river bed perfectly preserved through the aeons

Photo-bombing Cape Farewell

Collingwood Post Office (only recently closed)

Back at Collingwood at the tour end, we had plenty of time to go exploring in the area thanks to the early start.  In the middle of nowhere, there was an old museum of agricultural equipment which was open but not a soul there other than us!  Among the exhibits (well, more like just chucked in a corner) was a moped which I'd never seen before.  Turns out it was a German-built Victoria from the mid-50's.  Perhaps it got there as a result of the strong German connections to the region mentioned in the previous post.  As a footnote, after the German factory closed, production was moved to India which continued to the early 1970's.  Shades of Royal Enfields!

1950's Victoria moped in surprisingly good condition!

Just down the road from the ramshackle museum were a pair of limestone structures straddling the road which looked like upturned shoes.  Unsurprisingly, they were called the Devil's Boots.  We weren't sure whether the rest of him was under the ground but didn't hang around to look.

One of the Devil's Boots

This was our last night in Golden Bay and it's amazing just how much we could pack into a few days. Sitting at an open air cafe at Pohara Beach eating dinner that evening, we were able to witness a magnificent sunset over Golden Bay and the distant ranges - says it all really!

Sunset at Pohara Beach

Hope you've enjoyed an introduction to the Nelson district and Golden Bay areas of the South Island of NZ.  Even a short trip is good for the soul and we returned home with our batteries completely recharged.  On a more philosophical note, pristine beauty like this is becoming increasingly rare on the planet and I hope that mankind has the wit to preserve it before it's too late.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Trippin' to the Top of the South - pt 2

After the time spent mooching around in Nelson described in part 1, it was time to head towards Golden Bay.  A quick stop in Mapua for lunch which was once a sleepy village but has transformed itself with nice cafes and shops with an arty theme.  We were quite taken with the Mapua ferry which runs between the village and nearby Rabbit Island.  More like box than boat.

Mapua ferry dropping schoolkids off in front of the local houses

To get to Golden Bay by road, one has to negotiate the Takaka Hill.  Nirvana on a bike but hard work in an SUV and tough on those with a queasy stomach.  Approximately 35 km of continuous twisties rising to around 800 metres above sea level.  With the Abel Tasman National Park mountains on one side of the valley and the Kahurangi National Park mountains on the other, the descent towards Takaka is breathtaking.

The descent towards Takaka

Kahurangi National Park mountains

The area is known for its alternative lifestyle community and a strong focus on the arts.  Dreadlocks are common, as is hippy type clothing.  Many Germans make a pilgrimage here, probably due to a strong German presence which began in the 1800's to avoid Lutheran persecution in their homeland.  

We were heading for the small beach settlement of Pohara.  Jennie and I were last there in 2001 and we had booked in at a very special place we stayed at back then - Sans Souci Inn . Owners Vera and Reto Balzer built it using adobe/straw construction, grass-covered roofs and other ecological features, including a communal bathroom and composting toilets!  The latter features are really no big deal and add to the utter charm of the place.  It only has 7 bedrooms so there's a very strong personal touch. They even have a heritage orchard of non-hybridised fruit and the guests may help themselves. Quirky and utterly charming - we loved it to bits the first time and nothing has changed. Very glad we made a return visit!

Schist-covered walkways to the rooms

Jennie chilling at our adobe unit - grapes handily in reach!

Gorgeous dining room

Communal bathroom with composting toilets!

Grass roofs and solar water heating panels

The following day, we went exploring.  Takaka is a delight and as it was market day, it was a good opportunity to take in the sights.

Wall mural - says it all really!

One of the many colourful eateries catering for all tastes

Coffee and artisan bread anyone?

Hippy caravan pizzeria

Fresh Kombucha sold here

Hippy chic?

Local 4x4 for fording rivers - not your city slicker type!

Pohara area - utter tranquility

Arty shot from the Abel Tasman memorial - seems to be suspended in the air!

Tata beach area - virtually deserted

Rustic holiday home - Pohara inlet

Maori entranceway to the Abel Tasman track - one of NZ's nine Great Walks

Australasian Harrier Hawk looking for prey

3-masted schooner undergoing maintenance in the Pohara marina 

Sometimes, being at the bottom of the world in NZ seems a long way from all the action and other cultures but with all the current unrest in the world, there's a lot to be thankful for its isolation. Similarly, a country roughly the size of the UK but with only 4.5 million people means that outside the big cities, there's room to breathe and that's what makes it a motorcycling paradise.  The next post covers our visit to a very special place!

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Trippin' to the Top of the South - pt 1

Top of the South Island, NZ

Every year, we meet up with friends Mike and Georgina and go exploring, mainly road trips.  It has been a few years since any of us has spent any time at the top of the south island and in the case of Jennie and me, it was 2001 since we last visited the Golden Bay area! We flew to Nelson from Auckland, picked up a rental SUV and collected our friends from Wellington when they flew in a few hours later.

Before heading north west to Golden Bay, we all wanted to visit the world-class World of Wearable Arts (WOW) and automotive museum in Nelson. WOW is a spectacular annual fashion show of wearable arts held in Wellington, but which has its roots in Nelson where some of the past entries from around the world are on show.  The weight of some of the costumes must challenge the models on the catwalk!  It certainly didn't disappoint.  The level of detail on all the costumes was unbelievable.

Jennie and Georgina outside WOW entrance with a Plymouth Prowler

Some of the WOW exhibits

Errr... a bit of a weight to model on the catwalk!

Spectacular colours

Great use of black walls and mirrors

Stunning detail

A tad disturbing.....

Just brilliant!

The automotive side of the museum was just as spectacular with great care taken over the presentation of a lot of exhibits. There was a huge mix of vehicles from everyday family cars to absolute exotica.  Take the Cord roadster shown below as an example of being superbly displayed:

Magnificent setting

1955 BMW Isetta with a 250cc single engine

A pink Cadillac - thanks Mr Springsteen! 

Wolseley 6/110 - this is what Jennie and I did our courting (quaint word) in!!

1960's Austin Healey 3000 - still looks magnificent

I want one!!!!

Yes indeed, Mr Powers!

Arty-farty shot of the front of a 1915 Stutz Bearcat racer

Pure sex or what????

Ultimate trans-continental luxury - Maybach saloon

There was only a small display of bikes but a couple of them were quite rare (and ill-fated!).  The first was the Ducati-powered Bimota Tesi from the early 1990's.  It had centre hub steering and from memory, only 150-odd were ever built.

Ducati Tesi front end - not the prettiest front end ever

Another Bimota on display was the Bimota V-Due  V4 500 cc 2 stroke.  Released in 1997, rare as hen's teeth and it was also the bike which sunk Bimota.  A brilliant concept but a combination of both mechanical and electrical problems, selling price and EPA emission laws largely reduced them to static exhibits.  However, aftermarket upgrades are available which have apparently fixed the problems for the handful of loyal owners who didn't pass them on at the first opportunity to some wealthy sucker!

The ill-fated Bimota V-Due

A famous racing name and early road bike version

After a few well-spent hours of drooling down our shirts, it was time to get on the road and travel the 2 hours over the Takaka Hill to Golden Bay for the next part of our adventure.