Wheel alignment

Wednesday 28 April 2021

Doing a bit more future-proofing

It was 10 years ago to the month when I joined the Institute of Advanced Motorists as a means of upskilling and prolonging my riding career in a safe and fulfilling manner.  The blog has documented the road to being coached in Police Roadcraft, passing the IAM Advanced Test, then further training and tests to become an Observer (mentor) and an Examiner 4 years ago.  All that was due to well-known US motorcycle safety author David Hough emailing me in 2010 having seen an article I wrote and pricking my conscience.  Certainly a fantastic outcome and I've tried to pay it forward as thanks to all those people who put their time into making me a better rider.  A real win-win if ever there was one.  Made some wonderful lifelong friends too.  One of them and fellow IAM member, Tony, turned 57 a week ago and we celebrated his birthday with a 200 km brisk scamper round a biker nirvana on our doorstep; the northern Coromandel Loop.  Being a Monday with all the visitors having gone home, we virtually had the road to ourselves in warm, sunny conditions.  Absolute heaven!

Tony on his Yamaha MT10 SP and yours truly at Whitianga harbour

However, I'm 74 later this year and still love riding.  Whilst there are no concrete plans to stop, I'm becoming more comfortable with the idea of not riding as I've had such a great length of time on 2 wheels.  I'll be retiring as an active IAM member at year end, but will still ride socially, at least for a while. Whenever the time comes to stop doing something that has consumed a large part of our lives, I reckon it's really important to have a fall-back interest to keep us mentally and physically active. I have a reasonable range of other interests.  None of them would replace motorcycling on their own but the mix would probably be an acceptable substitute.  Annual international travel was also regular until early 2020  (Wuhan in July 2019!) but that's come to a grinding stop.

Competitive sailing was once a big thing in my life but that requires a high degree of physical fitness.  Not interested in just cruising. We have a runabout for sea fishing as it's something which Jennie and I can do together.  Unfortunately, it hasn't been in the water since last November due to weather, tides, other commitments and so on.  Note to ourselves - just make time and stop procrastinating!

Jennie and grandkids with the Stabicraft 1410 So-fish-ticated
Four-wheeled vehicles have always occupied a distant second place to bikes when it comes to fun but I've had the odd thought about a Lotus 7 replica as a motorcycle replacement.  However, whilst it's a nice thought, it probably wouldn't get used a whole lot and could be a pain to get in and out of  as we age more.  Probably not going to happen.  We have a 2005 RAV4 which we use for launching the boat and general towing duties or travelling on dirt roads around the peninsula.  It's bullet proof, owes us nothing and should serve its purpose for a few more years yet, albeit something that's not exciting, merely utilitarian.  Jennie has a 5 year old Honda Jazz RS which has only covered 30,000 km and is perfect for longer hauls in comfort, not to mention surprisingly good performance and handling.  Little point in replacing that either.

Pocket rocket - the Jazz RS

Real first world problem isn't it, so hardly a big deal in the scheme of things but nonetheless, having another fall-back interest is still an important issue to keep mind and body functional.  I can actually see an e-bike in my future. There are lots of hills in our vicinity and an e-bike would overcome the shortcomings of my 30 year old mountain bike and ageing body.  Also, Jennie has hinted at something that we could enjoy together and isn't so weather dependent (or on age, come to that!).  Our near-neighbours of a similar vintage have a 1950's MG TF classic car which they head off in regularly for an adventure somewhere.  The hint was that we might look at buying a classic car of some sort.  

Since that throwaway comment, I've quietly looked at what's available in NZ and have found very little with that emotional appeal which has been an important factor in buying my bikes.  Well, to qualify that statement; nothing much below where we would need to spend quite a bit of money to buy cars such as a good 60's Mustang or a more modern Cobra replica.  Not a show-stopper but probably unlikely in terms of guilt through spending part of the kid's inheritance!  However, there is one British car from the 60's that I've always liked which isn't ridiculously expensive and wouldn't mean massive amounts of time spent keeping it on the road.  

Followers of the UK TV comedies Mr Bean or Only Fools and Horses will remember the ghastly 3-wheel Reliant Robin vehicles which featured prominently in those programmes.  Mention the name Reliant and that's what will always spring to mind for most people.  However, they uncharacteristically produced a vehicle with exceptional performance for the time.  That car is the Reliant Scimitar GTE (or even the coupe version).  This is it.....

The Reliant Scimitar GTE (file photos)

1967 Scimitar Coupe (file photo)

With a fibreglass body and a number of UK Ford engine options including a 3 litre V6, it should be relatively reliable and easy to maintain.  The looks appeal to me but that's getting well ahead of things.  I now need to think a bit more seriously about whether a classic car is going to be of sufficient attraction to help keep mind and body active in the coming years.

I hope that this post hasn't been too boring.  The main purpose has been to articulate the thought processes of  "a person of a certain age" to stay mentally and physically stimulated in the future by having fall-back interests to replace the main passion of riding motorcycles for approaching 60 years.  Something that most of us will need to consider at some stage in life, even if motorcycling hasn't been the main passion.

Monday 12 April 2021

The Occidental Tourist

Excuse the title which is a play on the award-winning book and subsequent movie "The Accidental Tourist".  The new title is perfect for my geographic origins and the fact that we've spent the last few days taking a break (a break from what, I hear you ask!) and  doing tourist stuff with friends from Wellington that we catch up with annually.  This year, it was in the Rotorua area.  We used to live not far from there many moons ago and had visited the various geothermal hotspots many times.  However, there were lots of fun things to do besides that, so no motorcycling adventures this time around and showcasing a bit of NZ instead.  Here are one or two of the multiple things we got up to.  Not a very PC thing to say, but nice to go sightseeing without being over-run by seething crowds!

Mamaku Railcruising
The rail line was closed to commercial traffic in 2001 and 10 years later, some entrepreneurs opened a 10 km stretch through native bush for a 90 minute return journey as a tourist enterprise.  Continuous improvement currently sees computer-controlled electric vehicles which trundle along at about 20 km/hr which is great for photo ops. It's not an all-action activity but allows people access to parts of the countryside which are not all that easy to reach.
Loading up

Ready for the off

Native forest - young Lancewood trees in the foreground

Lake Rotorua caldera - still geologically active

Not exactly a high speed thrill but great to see parts of the country that you wouldn't normally see.  The owners have plans to extend the line but I guess that will be down to the level of tourists over the next few years.

Redwoods eco tree walk
Part of the Whakarewarewa Forest includes a stand of Californian Redwoods covering some 6 Ha.  They're around 118 years old and up to 75 metres in height. Walkways are slung between the trees and can be traversed in both daylight and at night.  We did the night walk first and it really is a world class spectacle with all the superb lighting.  The photos really don't do it justice.

Access spiral

Suspended Walkway

Walkway at night

Another fantastic feature was clusters of suspended lights up to 2 metres tall, made by artist David Trubridge.  They looked sensational at night.

Light clusters at night

More light clusters

During daylight

More suspended walkway

It was great doing the tree walk in daylight but the night walk was truly breathtaking with ever-changing lights illuminating the trees and tree ferns below the canopy.  The best was saved for last with perhaps a couple of acres lit up by continuously moving points of light in green and red which smothered the ground, tree trunks and foliage.  It looked like luminous insects (or fairies if you prefer!) and we could have watched it for hours.  Nothing can replicate the real thing but at 7 mins 38 seconds on the following video, you can get a sense of it: 

Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre
Established at Rotorua in 2002, Wingspan is heavily involved in the conservation and research involving birds of prey; rehabilitating, breeding and returning them to the wild.  The principal activity is centred around the NZ forest falcon, or Karearea in Maori. The Australasian Harrier Hawk and the small native Ruru owl are also cared for, as is the Australian Barn Owl which has also become established in small pockets in NZ.

Jennie with a native forest falcon

Who are you looking at, human?

A tasty bit of fresh chicken

In addition to more traditional methods of training the birds to hunt, Wingspan also uses a bird-shaped drone for them to attack. Seeing a falcon smack into the drone at speed was an incredible sight.

Wingspan member Heidi launching the drone

Falcon closing in on the drone


Heidi with an Australian Barn Owl
Landing craft lake tour
There are multiple lakes in the Rotorua area, mostly filling old volcanic vents - more dormant than extinct!  We thought it would be nice to enjoy them in a genuine WW2 landing craft which has been modified for tourism.

Ex-WW2 landing craft built in 1944

View of the controls

The first lake visited was Okareka, which has houses scattered round the foreshore.  Good trout fishing and the photo below is of a house with a private beach and various toys - nice!  We were told that the Thai royal family also has a lodge on the lake which I guess could also be a bolt hole with all the recent unrest.  However, paying guests are apparently charged NZ$6000 per night for the privilege of staying there.  I hope that includes meals and use of the exotic water-borne toys they allegedly have there!

Private house at Lake Okareka

We were also amazed to see an air boat being retrieved from the lake.  Didn't know that there were any in NZ!  It's used by a contractor to spray Diquat, an aquatic herbicide used to kill hornwort, a non-native invasive weed species.

Airboat driving onto the trailer

Being inspected for weed

Landing craft on Lake Tarawera (file photo courtesy of Duck Tours)

With no overseas tourists, it's nice to indulge in a bit of tourism in our own country and support local tourist operators.  Also great to catch up with our Wellington-based friends whom we first met some years ago on a holiday in Rarotonga.  Great weather throughout although the 200+ km drive home was in torrential rain and gale force winds.  Dinner that evening was a makeshift affair as a tree had fallen on power lines not far from where we live so the BBQ on our deck was pressed into service.  The storm was abating but it was still as windy as heck and right on sunset, everything was bathed in an eerie light.  Made for a good photo though whilst I was cooking!

Aftermath of the storm from our front deck