Wheel alignment

Monday 25 March 2013

Not about bikes, but way cool - Ford Model A's

Just got back from drooling in our village centre.  The Model A Ford Club of NZ are holding their annual rally on the Coromandel Peninsula where I live and today, they all descended on Coromandel Town (pop 1600!) for a photo shoot.  It's one of those events where you can't keep the smile off your face as not only did the participants dress up in period clothing, many of the locals did too!  Coromandel town came to prominence in the 1800's gold boom and has retained a lot of its character so the venue was particularly fitting.

Here are some photos hot off the press!

The rally plate

Swap your MX5 honey?

Great atmosphere!

Our local butcher Shane entering into the spirit of things
- he's a keen motorcyclist too!

Bakery truck

 A morning snack off the back of the pickup!

No, this isn't Coromandel's main fire truck!!!

A modern pop-top caravan mounted on the deck

Period gear and refreshments - wonderful!

The only non-pristine A and it looks fantastic

Here 'tis again

A very small percentage of the total!

They're just everywhere


That's craftmanship!

Beautiful woody

The iconic Star and Garter with Moonshine truck

Star and Garter pickup of slightly later vintage
The owners are keen motorcyclists too

I'm constantly amazed at the sheer number of vintage cars, bikes and planes in NZ considering that there are only 4 million of us.  Must try and uphold the tradition with a bit of expenditure on something vintage (subject to Executive Permission of course)!

Hope that you've enjoyed this unplanned post....

Monday 18 March 2013

The "Old Firm" bikes

In a reply to the last post about “The Old Firm” tour with my mates, fellow Moto Blogger from Australia Julian Pearce said:

  “I'd find it interesting to get an idea of how the various bikes performed and what are the virtues that their owners like about them. I'm sure the fellas would have discussed the merits of their particular bikes at some stage.” 

What an excellent idea for a post and the guys thought so too! So this is for you Jules and we hope it all makes sense! 

Davey – 1999 Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird

 I’m in my early 40’s just under 6 ft tall with long legs.  As a kid, I had many trials bikes and MX bikes I rented a bike to do my test and bought a Honda CBR1000 which I kept for many years.

The Blackbird I have now is the 1999 FI model which I bought new 14 years ago. It’s done 50,000 miles (80,000 km). What I love about this bike is the look, the outrageous performance and the build quality. The down side is the budget suspension which has been improved by the addition of a Penske rear shock and better front spring and fresh fluid. The bike is also a little heavy compared to more modern offerings.  

However there is nothing available that I would be prepared to trade the Blackbird for given the extra dollars I would have to spend. In my view nothing is that much better. I have raised the rear and lowered the front which helps it turn in a lot faster. However it also put a lot of weight on the wrists which on a long journey can be a pain but given I only do a long run once a year I’ll live with it. All in all, I love the Blackbird and cannot imagine ever getting rid of it but I would contemplate getting another bike; possibly a BMW 1200GS.

Roger, 2007 Triumph Sprint ST

I chose the Sprint after getting rid of the Daytona 955i.  The ergonomics seemed a happy compromise between sports and touring, and I had long ago fallen in love with Triples. Although the growl from the Sprint is not as distinctive as the growl that came from the 955, I also needed a bike that was going to be comfy for two up touring.  I think overall the mix of sports vs. touring is fairly good. 

Like Davey's Blackbird, the Sprint’s biggest let-down was its pathetically soft suspension. Upgrading with an Ohlins shock and reworking the front end forks of the bike ensured a completely different ride. The wallowing was gone replaced by a bike that is stable and a pleasure to ride. 

The bike has great low down torque but lacks real top end speed. This can be a tad annoying when hanging onto the tails of a Blackbird in full flight! The bike though has served me well with a couple of South Island tours and countless trouble-free miles. With a range of 320kms (Fully loaded two up) she can cover a good distance between fills.  She is starting to blow a bit of smoke after 60,000 km. The bike certainly needs to be ridden high up in the rev range to get a decent response out of corners.  
I am beginning to get to the stage where a bit more top end power would be nice, and shifting to an inline four like the Connie, ZX14, or K1300s appeals.  Certainly, being behind the likes of the Blackbird and Andy's BMW1200R, the Sprint cannot compete for any straight line speed. These bikes just pull away even if I am at full throttle and the triple is screaming.

Richard, 2007 BMW R1200 GS

As a kid I grew up around bikes.  My dad didn’t have a car but owned a BSA 650 twin which I always helped him clean and we also lived 500m from Swindon Speedway, home of legends like Barry Briggs, Martin Ashby, Phil Crump and more recently Leigh Adams.  Bikes have always been in my blood and whilst I was never able to own one in my teens I always hooned around on my mates 50’s and scooters.  I eventually got a full license in the UK to allow me to buy a bike for commuting to work and avoid the congestion which also gave me the experience of riding on snow and ice..... stuff that again!

After moving to NZ, I purchased my first big bike, a 2002 Honda VTR Firestorm, which was eventually my “hack” commuting bike.  I went through some other big twins over a short time whilst looking for a second “sports twin” and settled on a Ducati 999.  I even had a Harley for a while, which I still have nightmares over!  Access to big bikes without the insurance and theft issues that the UK has made me like a kid in a candy store and much money has passed over to dealers along the way.  Thankfully I have an understanding wife.

I eventually purchased the R1200GS in December 2006 with it being an 07 model.   I had long admired this bike since its upgrade from the 1100/1150 generation and read other riders reports with envy.  It was getting good press all over the world and I felt a need for change from my current bikes with this bike seeming to be a good fit for the riding I wanted to do.  I finally took the plunge after selling my Ducati 999 and trading my Firestorm, both of which were great bikes in their own way but were getting me too close to the edge on NZ roads (meaning I was riding too fast!!).   

The main point for me purchasing this model year rather than earlier ones was BMW’s adoption of “normal” brakes rather than the servo-brakes of previous generations which I found too sharp and also inoperable without the ignition on.  I had the idea that this bike would slow me down and also allow me to see some of NZ’s dirt roads and ride off the beaten track as it were.  I have managed to do both (though Geoff would argue that I still ride “vigorously”!) and have enjoyed every moment of ownership.  My wife often accompanies me on rides and is very happy and comfortable as a pillion (certainly more so than other bikes I have owned!!). 

To sum this bike up, and to coin a phrase from a paint advert, it does everything it says on the tin!  This bike for me has been, and still is, pretty much perfect.  Comfortable, able to cover long distances, reliable and able to cope with all the vagaries of NZ’s back-roads with excellent and consistent handling.  A switch to BMW’s telelever front end and shaft drive is a jump too far for some motorcycling purists but simply put they are awesome and do not compromise power delivery and handling as the detractors will have you believe.  I have not had issues with the rear diff that some GS owners have and apart from a couple of recall issues it has performed perfectly.  

I have ridden off-road, which I know some owners don’t do, and have so far clocked up 60,000km, half of which were in the first 2 years of ownership with at least 5-10,000km on dirt roads.  Being able to ride up to 400km on a tank is very useful if exploring further away from civilization and is a major improvement from my old Firestorm which had me sweating after 150km!  It carries luggage and pillion well, without upsetting performance, and will take on any ride put in front of it.

Would I change it?  I have considered the GS upgrade models that have come on to the market over the last few years with their electronically adjustable suspension and revised 4-valve HP2 cylinder heads etc., but none have impressed me enough to part with the cash.  I have also considered other bikes, especially the newer Multistrada, but again the cost to change does not buy me a truly better bike.  As I also have a GSXR1000 for track days I get my high speed fixes in relative safety so don’t feel the need to have a really fast bike for the road any more.  At some point it will feel really old and dated and certainly the engine and gearbox are not as smooth as newer models, but I cannot foresee when this time will come just yet.  It is the best bike I have owned, and whilst not the best I have ridden – the BMW S1000RR will take that title – it does all I want it to and you can’t really ask for much more. 

For perspective, here are the bikes I have owned:
Kawasaki ER5, Suzuki SV650 (naked model) – UK.  2002 Honda VTR Firestorm, 2003 Ducati 999, 2003 Aprilia RSV Mille R, 2003 Harley Davidson V-Rod (please forgive me!) – NZ (you can see I like big twins!!)  BMW R1200GS and 2008 Suzuki GSXR1000 – still own.

Dave, Honda CBR1100XX Super Blackbird

I bought my Blackbird (CBR1100XX) in 2004 when I moved to NZ. Main reasons for  buying: legendary build quality, reliability, on-tap power, two-up potential and mainly, as my main form of transport to and from work, weather protection. After 9 years I can say, hand on heart, that she has fulfilled the original wish list. Downsides; she’s a lardy old girl – over 230 kg fully gassed-up and, with a high CoG, virtually impossible to pick-up if you drop her! I’ve had a couple of instances of the slow-speed drop and when I was fitter, was able to pick her up but no more. John Baker have been excellent with their insurance back-ups so no major dramas (except a $750 excess ;-( I haven’t done any structural mods just added a few peripherals like a rear hugger, Scottoiler, heated grips, Ventura rack. All have performed exemplary but recently the Scottoiler has started playing-up so time to get the degreaser out (again) and investigate. After 76,000km, the suspension is getting a bit tired so I’ve put a new shock on my shopping list. Penske likely as they seem quite popular for Blackbirds.

Having started my biking career on a Puch Maxi !! I worked my way up from a 125 to a 250 to a couple of 600s (I loved my ZZR600), a 955i Daytona which handled on the road like it was on rails and finally the Blackbird.  Before the Old Firm tiki tour I fitted new Michelin Pilot Road 2 front and back, after having Avon Storms. Compared with the Storms, which were a revelation when first introduced but a bit dated now, the Michelins are great in all aspects although I haven’t tried them in the wet yet (Yippee!). After the dry tiki tour of around 1,000 km for me they feel even better, real sticky stuff.  No dramas on the tour even when I misjudged a couple of corners and had to tighten my line a bit.  The suspension even feels better now! Other good things about a ‘bird – pick the right gear for a particular set of corners and you can hold onto it for miles and minimise braking to as the engine braking is pretty good and predictable.  Overall view – there are other bikes that I’ve owned that would’ve handled bits of the tiki tour  better than the ‘bird but none that would have been as versatile overall.  She definitely prefers fast sweepers to 25kph sharpies but then she is a bit of a bus (albeit a 280 km/hr bus) so no great surprises there.

Post weekend up-date – I had a Scottoiler Lube Tube since day one, and the problems I had were due to a tiny puncture in this little baby.  Now taken off and the system now works fine.  I’m going to get another Lube Tube as when they work they deliver 4x the capacity of the standard set-up so less maintenance.  I’m also considering re-siting the main unit and the lube tube as the place AMPS (the dealers) put the main unit  requires the rear fairing, grab rail and Ventura rack to come-off.  Not a drama but not convenient either.  My memorable photo attached, which sums up the weekend for me “Bazinga – out of the blue”.

 Dave's "Bazinga" moment on the "Old Firm" tour!

Oh, and remember the great Eddie and the Hot Rods anthem ‘Do anything you wanna do’…..!!!!

Andy, 2006 BMW K1200R

Every rider I have ever met goes through an evolutionary process with respect to their riding, the types of bike they prefer and I am no exception. I have been riding since I was 8 years old, starting on a Briggs and Stratton-powered mini bike and a procession of chook chasers until I was around 18. What really hooked me was a short spin up the road as pillion on the neighbour’s new CB900….what a blast. I was ten years old.  As my riding improved during my late teens, I started looking at road bikes. Even big thumpers like my XR600R were becoming a bit tiresome as my range and distances covered increased.  I made the shift when I moved from Hawke Bay to Auckland for work. All of a sudden I didn’t have access to miles of off-road options, rather motorways and city streets for my daily commute.
Fast forward and 3 bikes really stand out for me. 
1988 CBR1000F, fast and reliable. My daily commuter for years. I had the 750 for 12 months prior and the thou just buried it. The only problem I encountered with this bike was keeping below the national speed limit, everywhere. 
2002 Honda X11 (aka Naked Blackbird CB1100SF) really kicked off my fetish for naked muscle bikes. Incidentally, the lead up to buying this bike is where I met Geoff searching for information around the CBR1100.  I had the notion I wanted to ride naked, be at one with the elements and to slow down. Clearly the Blackbird was an exception; I had fallen in love with them when I spotted an early model while on Business in Melbourne a few years prior.
The X11 was not ideal as standard, pretty good but too much bike for the suspension. Ohlins and a PC3 custom mapped for carbon cans really set this bike alive. Challenging in the twisties and brutal acceleration made the X a serious proposition for long term ownership until some demented German decided north of 160bhp for a naked bike is where the action is….and I agree!
2006 BMW K1200R…OMG !!!! Titanium race can that shoots blue flames on the over-run  in failing light, enough grunt to keep up with pretty much anything and a long wheelbase to stick it all down with. Comfortable, fast and industrial looks combined with some pretty trick electrics and high quality finish really ticks all of my boxes. It’s not too shabby in the tight stuff either and stops like instantly…just awesome.  I love the fact that I have only ever seen a handful on the road, like the X11 before and I feel a bit unique in a seemingly endless parade of sameness that a lot of modern bikes share. Have done 56,000 km now.  Maybe that’s just me and how I feel about bikes now. In fact the only bike I would replace it with is another one or the K1300S which also appeals to my vanity.
Problems….I’ve had a few…more than one….a few to mention:
Final drive. Replaced at 26Ks. Cost outrageous. Noted weak point of 2006 and earlier bikes. Remedied in 2007 to present. BMW helped out with the bill and so they should.
Annoying brake squeal. It’s just annoying but intermittent and vastly improved with after-market pads. Open road speeds it’s a non-issue. More of a satisfying hiss.
Potentiometer….say what??…exactly…fixed.  400 bucks for about 15 dollars’ worth of parts.
Upgraded cam chain tensioner remedied a cam chain rattle on start-up, I had this on the X11 as well.
ABS Servo Brakes, legend tells that when these crap out so will my bank balance, likewise clutch and transmission. 

The internet  gives me demons…no problems to date and all of these “features” were ironed out in subsequent models.
All in all I love this bike, enough to stick with it for a while yet

Geoff, 2009 Triumph Street Triple

I’m in my mid-60’s and 2013 marks 50 years of owning bikes!  Prior to buying the Triple in 2009, I owned a Honda Blackbird for 8 years which I still consider to be the best all-round bike I’ve ever owned for the type of riding I did at the time.  At 5’8” tall the ‘bird was always a bit tall and heavy for me, especially after raising the ride height to quicken the steering.  A low speed spill in 2008 made me reconsider the type of motorcycle I wanted to ride as I aged.  Having good performance was paramount, especially riding with my mates who have big capacity machines.  Light weight, moderate seat height and comfort were increasingly important.  After a substantial evaluation of several machines, the Street Triple was purchased.  Incidentally, it was riding Andy's Honda X11 and enjoying it immensely which almost certainly triggered an interest in naked bikes.

Regular readers will have seen the long term ownership post on the blog and also the comparison with the Blackbird, but in short; I don’t regret owning the Triple for a minute!  It’s been utterly reliable and whilst the build quality isn’t quite as good as the Blackbird, it’s still acceptable.  It’s a fast mother with around 230 km/hr at the top end but it’s the flat torque curve which really makes it a sensational road bike.  Rapid overtakes in any gear are a cornerstone of making real progress on the road.  Handling is fantastic and whilst my mates can pull away down long straights, they’ll tell you that I can make up for it in the twisties. Range is important as I ride long distances.  It has a range of around 270 km to a tank on a normal run and towards 300 km if you’re really light-handed.  It’s now done over 30,000 km and I’ll probably upgrade the suspension before it reaches 40,000 km.  Surprisingly, power to weight ratio is only a little less than the Blackbird so it’s really only when aerodynamic drag comes into play at higher speeds that it starts to significantly lose out.

It’s a great bike for hooligan activities and tours exceptionally well (covering 1000 miles/1600km of mainly back roads in 21 hours with no real effort apart from an Airhawk seat pad to take away the butt pain)!  A fairing isn’t generally missed for the type of riding I do.  It’s utterly crap at providing decent ergonomics for a pillion passenger.  However, that feature isn't currently important and you don’t buy a Street Triple to lug a pillion about!  Is there another bike that currently  catches my eye as a replacement?  Nope, after 3 ½ years of ownership, it still ticks all the boxes specification-wise and retains that oh-so-important emotional appeal!

And to sum up.......

Well, there you have an excellent set of comments from my cherished riding partners.  Despite the varying reasons for their choices, there are some interesting similarities which are worth mentioning.

Everyone has been riding for a long time and have owned enough bikes to know what suits their needs and the conditions in New Zealand.  We all ride long distances and a “decent” range is important, as is comfort.  

Good handling is paramount as NZ is big on twisty roads, often with bumpy surfaces and relatively few “freeway”- type straights.  It’s telling that several of the guys have specifically mentioned suspension upgrades ahead of aftermarket cans or other power-gaining accessories as great handling offers big gains.  Particularly important as we all like to “press on a bit”.  Anyone who thinks that a BMW adventure bike is cannon fodder for a sports-oriented bike is in for a real shock on a twisty back country road, especially if it’s bumpy and someone like Richard is on board!  Along the same lines, the performance difference between any of the bikes tends to be blurred because of the conditions we ride in.  It would be a different story on more open roads with consistently higher speeds.

The bikes aren’t being traded in regularly to acquire the latest and greatest.  They’ve had various tweaks and accessories to suit the needs of the owners and the clear message that splashing out big $$$ for something new and sparkly doesn’t really add much value to their riding enjoyment. 

It all boils down to that well-used but nonetheless valid phrase “fitness for purpose” with respect to the choice of bike and this may well change over time, as it did in my case with a lighter, lower bike in recognition of ageing.

Sincere thanks to Davey, Rog, Richard, Dave and Andy for their interesting and well-penned thoughts.  Hope that everyone else has enjoyed the post.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

The "Old Firm" Tour 2013

 Central North Island backroads

Just got back from one of the genuine highlights of the year when a bunch of old friends get together for a 3 day weekend ride somewhere.  Hard as heck to organise what with work and family commitments and the widespread geographic location of each of us but boy, is it worth it!  And just to lift the overall tone of the group (some may say otherwise) that famous international blogger Rogey was invited along too!

Riders from Auckland, the Coromandel Peninsula and Wellington converged on Richard and Maxine's country residence in the Waikato province for a magnificent brunch prior to departure on this year's behave badly without wives and partners being present to exercise a moderating influence!

Davey from near Wellington rode to Richard's place the previous evening and I was the first to arrive on Saturday morning. The Auckland contingent arrived somewhat later due to navigational incompetence. Apparently, they only know their way to the trendy central Auckland cafes.  At least one of them had the cojones to ring Richard up and admit they were lost, hehe!  After the ritual banter which followed, Richard fired up the BBQ and a splendid brunch was served. (And Rog still managed to whine that there were no hash browns to go with the gourmet sausages, bacon, mushrooms, toast......).

Davey, Dave, Andy and Roger waiting for brunch

Richard, Andy and Davey kitting up

Richard was responsible for organising the route through his patch, the Waikato/King Country provinces.  What a revelation!  Back roads with virtually no traffic at all - twisties made in heaven but it was a good job he was leading as the rest of us hadn't a clue where we were for much of the run down to Taumaranui, our stopover for the night.  The drought which is currently gripping NZ was really apparent with the fields a yellow colour instead of green.  The high temperatures also required a lot of vigilance with tar bleed-trough in many places - it would be so easy to lose front or rear traction with incautious throttle usage.  Vigilance was also required to keep well-hydrated in the heat with full protective clothing on. Very few photos from this part of the ride as we were ummm....  pressing on a bit but the scenery was spectacular, drought or not.

Dave checking his radar detector prior to a bit of "spirited" riding ;-)

Stopping briefly for a stretch provided the opportunity for some gallows humour.  The stop was on the roadside in the main street of Ohura.  Once supported by a prison and a coal mine, both of which have closed, the population has dropped from around 3000 to less than 200 in the district.  A primary school for the local farming community's children and ex-serviceman's club seemed to be the only functional items.  Comments about it being the perfect location for a zombie apocalypse movie were bandied about, together with mutterings about getting out of the place before sundown.  One of the group was certain that he heard the strains of a banjo :-).  All terribly unfair on the the local residents of course, at least those of them who can come out in daylight.  

All joking aside, there are apparently strong indicators of significant quantities of coal in the area which might yet provide a welcome boost to the local economy.  Hope it all works out.  Thanks for the great job of leading us on day 1 Richard!

Ohura main street in rush hour

What once appeared to be the local zombie auto repair business

Our stop for the night was the small town of Taumaranui.  A really friendly welcome at one of the local motels with advice that the ex-serviceman's club right next door did great meals and drinks at reasonable prices. They were right too!  Great food and there was also a singer who did an absolutely superb job of Johnny Cash numbers.  However, the highlight for us was Rogey flirting outrageously with an elderly waitress - we were close to tears!

Next morning was cloudless again and we set off for the nearby Tongariro National Park.  NZ sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire and the park has 3 active volcanoes.  The tallest of the 3, Mt Ruapehu is 2800 metres (9200ft) high and has road access up to the ski village on its flanks.  Yep, Kiwis think it's quite normal to ski on an active volcano!  Some of our team hadn't been right up to the ski village so yours truly lead the way up.  The views were spectacular although we'd never seen so little snow on it but boy, did we feel the temperature change as we gained altitude!

Ski Lodges built on volcanic rock - completely covered with snow in winter

Clowns blocking the view

Rog looking uncharacteristically cool

 Old fart looking characteristically uncool

Oh, the irony!

Alpine plants clinging to solid volcanic rock

Conical volcano Mt Ngaurhoe - 2300m (7500 ft)

A coffee stop before leaving Tongariro National Park gave the Auckland contingent the opportunity to level the score after being criticised for losing their way to Richard's place on day 1.  The country boy from Coromandel (i.e me) ordered a Chai Latte to drink. According to some (especially Rog), this was considered unmanly, although he didn't quite put it as delicately, you understand.  Score duly levelled.....

Descending from the high country, we stopped at a lookout overlooking Lake Taupo which covers an area of 616 sq km.  It's a spectacularly beautiful lake full of big fat trout but the worrying fact is that it's the caldera of a supervolcano which still has minor (be thankful for small mercies) hydrothermal eruptions. One day......

A small fraction of Lake Taupo from the lookout

Badass bikers scaring off the foreign tourists at the lookout

A nice ride up the eastern side of Lake Taupo followed the exit from National Park with a bit of reliance on the radar detectors and trained eyeballs for radar camera vans and cops as this area is a favourite for revenue-gatherers.  No worries!  At Taupo township where we stopped for lunch, further merriment at my expense was had as the rest of the team had food with "manly" meat in it, whereas I had a paninni filled with pesto.  Many of the responses were largely unprintable.  How is it that mates are far harder on each other than any enemies would be?  Best just to grit your teeth and soak it up!  Sadly, Richard and Rog both had to work the following day so they headed directly home from Taupo.  Awesome guys to ride with and great fun - doesn't get much better than this.

The remaining 4 of us continued up the Taupo - Rotorua highway with no dramas.  The whole region has a lot of geothermal activity and we stopped off at some roadside boiling mud pools to have a look.  The drought had reduced the level of activity but they were still chucking some mud into the air and making great gloopy noises.

Gloop, gloop!

So this is what Hell must smell like.....

Shortly after the mud pools, we took to the back roads through the Kaingaroa Forest towards the coastal town of Whakatane where we were due to spend the night.  On this sparsely-populated road, there's a 7 km long straight. It's a heck of a temptation to pin the throttle down it but it speaks volumes that apart from a very quick spurt into the highly illegal realms, none of us were tempted to go super fast.  The consequences of losing your licence don't bear thinking about but besides that, the real fun for most riders is doing a professional job in the twisties.

Temperatures on this part of the trip were really high and there was some real heat radiating off the road, with molten tar in a lot of places and a break was taken at the Matahina dam to rehydrate.  The 86 metre high dam is rammed earth and worryingly, the village of Te Mahoe is situated immediately on the "down" side of the dam.  However, there was a 6.25 magnitude quake in the area in the late 1980's which caused damage, but not to a life-threatening extent so it must be pretty robust!

On top of the Matahina Dam

Davey's Blackbird - photo doesn't really show the extent of yellow insect goo - horrendous!

Four hot and tired riders arrived in Whakatane late afternoon and after a shower and a beer or two, began to feel like members of the human race again - another great day of riding with cherished friends.

Yours truly, Andy and Dave making himself really comfortable!

The following morning after breakfast at a pavement cafe, Davey headed south to home just north of Wellington via the East Coast , a ride of 8 or 9 hours with stops.  It always feels a bit sad when any of our mates peel off to go home as we're so tight-knit.  Andy, Dave and I continued our journey north in beautiful conditions, albeit a bit hot in all the protective gear and soon it was time for me to split and head back to Coromandel whilst they rode home to Auckland.

 Dave laughing at my raspberry soda... oh the shame....

Reflecting on the tour, it's fulfilling on so many levels.  Riding with such competent riders means that you know exactly where they're going to be positioned without having to worry about them.  You also know exactly how they're going to react in any given circumstances and that they're also watching each other's backs, all of which makes the near-1000 km ride totally stress-free and enjoyable.  Exploring NZ's back roads is also a real buzz.  Then there's the social angle... for us all to get together, it's a more or less annual affair but it's always like we've never been apart.  Poking fun at each other from the get-go with no quarter given or expected, laughing so hard until the tears flow (our wives and partners would really be rolling their eyes if they overheard some of the bizarre conversations but what goes on tour, stays on tour) - guess these are the things which make up true friendships.

Guys - as always, it's a genuine privilege to ride with you!

Sunday 3 March 2013

Bay of Islands, New Zealand - for Bobskoot

Canadian blogger extraordinaire, Bobscoot  recently commented that he saw more of New Zealand  from the posts that UK-based blogger Gary Francis made whilst touring NZ recently with his wife Jackie than ever he did from me being a resident.  In an attempt to stop further moaning from across the Pacific and to promote Canadian-NZ relationships, this post is for you, you old curmudgeon.  Hope you're happy now :-).

Every year, we meet up with old friends from Wellington for a long weekend to go and do "stuff".  The venue for this year was NZ's Northland which is blessed with a warm climate and ummmm....  quite nice scenery.  Mike, the husband last visited several decades ago and his wife Georgina had never been there.  It's also been some time since Jennie and I were there last.  I did pass through in 2005 on my Honda Blackbird as part of the Southern Cross round NZ in 5 days organised endurance ride, but no time for sightseeing, you understand - more like low flying.  This time would be more leisurely.
 The first destination was the Kauri Museum at Matakohe.  The Kauri is NZ's iconic tree.  Once pillaged for boat-building and decorative timbers, it's now protected although relatively small amounts are available through natural falls or dug up as logs from swamps.  They grew up to 50 metres high and the known diameter of some of the early ones were as big as 8metres!!

 Original boarding house built from Kauri reconstructed inside the museum

Diameters of known historical Kauri trees - largest is 28 ft diameter!

Slab through middle of "small" Kauri... about 30 metres long!

80 year old Kauri sailing dinghy

Maori carving on seat of dinghy

Kauri gum, similar to amber

Turned Kauri bowl, with traditional Maori design

Original 1800's school in the museum grounds

I know it shows my age but as a junior school student in England, we had desks exactly like this. The inkwells sat in a hole which went through into the storage under the desk lid.  If you were careless in putting your books away, it knocked the inkwell, splashing ink everywhere! I lived in fear of one particular teacher who inflicted a fair bit of pain when that happened!

Rules for female school teachers, 1915 (seems reasonable)

From Matakohe, it was off to the town of Paihia, where we booked a boat trip out into the Bay of Islands.

One of the 150-odd islands - idyllic!

One of the reasons for taking this trip was to see if we could sail through the Hole in the Rock, otherwise known as Piercy Island.  Quite a swell can run through the hole and conditions have to be perfect if it isn't to end in tears!  There was very little wind so the signs were good.

Approaching Piercy Island

Here's the hole - looks darned small!

Still looks more than a bit tight but made it!!

The other side of the hole was nirvana for fishermen.  As well as deep water fish, we saw schools of Blue Mao Mao and Kahawai consisting of tens of thousands on the surface - the water was absolutely boiling with them.  Oh for a rod as they are fantastic eating!

The water literally alive with fish

On the return leg, we put in at Urupukapuka, one of the larger islands to stretch our legs and climb a steep hill for some photos.  The water really is the colour shown below!

Secluded bay

View of one of the bays on the island

Another spectacular view from the hill

Stingray cruising by the jetty

On the way back, we wanted to show our friends the historic 1800's village of Russell so hopped off the bigger boat and planned to catch a small ferry back to Paihia later.

Russell waterfront

Jennie and Georgina waiting for lunch - there are worse locations!

Salt and pepper calamari (squid) - yumm!

Very old rubber tree - looks like a painting!

I should add that the tree and house behind it are just a few metres from the water's edge and that the house belongs to the local policeman.  Boy, he's got a tough life, hasn't he???

Russell's historic buildings, metres from the water

Haruru Falls, Paihia - no rain for 2 months and all the rocks would normally be covered with water

Today was the day for the 400 km trip home, dropping our friends at Auckland Airport en route for their flight to Wellington.   However, there were still some things to see and do.  The first was to visit a toilet, dear reader - not every blogger posts photos of a small-town public convenience!!!     Friedensreich Hundertwasser was a famous Austrian artist who designed some incredible buildings in Vienna and elsewhere.  He fell in love with New Zealand and lived in the small Northland town of Kawakawa for a while.  The local council were looking at upgrading the public conveniences in the late 1990's and Hundertwasser offered to design something a bit special.  See what you think:

Entrance from the street

Entrance to the Gent's part

Inside the Gent's - window is made from wine bottles!

Apparently, he wanted it to be a spirtual place.  I'm not sure about being overcome by spirituality, but was very much relieved.  Seriously though, What a fantastic place and not a bit of graffiti anywhere!

Outside view of bottle windows with Canna Lilies

Lunch at Matakana Village in idyllic settings

Smashed potato, chorizo sausage and spinach with a creamy aioli - heaven

Hope you've all enjoyed a few photos of what New Zealand's Northland/Bay of Islands area has to offer and that's just scratching the surface!