Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Wellington to head for heights.

I had forgotten how much warmer the North Island feels, this must be in part a psychological phenomenon, but certainly by the time one is up around Auckland one has definitely shed a few layers. It feels like one is almost going to a new country as one gets on the ferry between the 2 islands and landing at Wellington had a light sense of homecoming for me.
As has been a regular feature of my extraordinary time in New Zealand, I have been given  names of friends of friends and family from all over the country, and it meant meeting so many generous, but above all the fun people. One of the greatest attractions of New Zealand has been 'people beauty' as much as nature's beauty.
 This is the famous John Britten motorcycle at the Te Papa  Museum in Wellington. Completely hand built but for the tyres by a slightly maverick but brilliant engineer. This bike was the fastest in the world and one man created a machine that bested  the might of the multibillion dollar motorcycle industry.

  Clare wrote to Anne and myself, commanding that we meet. It appears that we both are as obedient as each other and a flurry of e-mails resulted in finding myself at this extraordinary house designed by Andrew Lister, who is noted for his landmark building in Auckland, the Sky City Tower, (a sorry tale to come).

 These snaps cannot really do it justice, but hints at the situation.  It has to be noted that the film director, James Cameron, has just acquired the property next door and he, if anyone, knows where dreams combine with reality.
 The Gascoigne family and friends. My one night here was criminally short, but the memories will last the full term

 Peter saddled me on a quad bike and we rode off in tandem for a few hours up the coast on track, beach and pasture. A magical morning's entertainment.
  A family I had heard much about the nearly 30 years was that of Rena's. An early girlfriend who had been recruited by my mother to help keep house for the teams of Kiwi and Australian chaps that my brother employed to build farm fences in Devon. A short relationship turned into a lifelong friendship and it was fantastic to meet her smashing Mum and sister in Fielding. Rena has just now moved to New York and I am planning to skip over there anyway, to meet my American colleagues'  in July,  so to see her as well will be a real bonus.
H, Katrina and Glenda.

 Auntie Barb of Napier. Sarah, who has managed our accounts in the office for nearly 2 decades guaranteed a warm welcome, a comfortable bed and a cork popping dinner table at her aunt's home. No money back required. She and Victor are hilarious for too short a one night stay.

 Trevors' bees. Rather embarrassingly I had taken a small offering of a honeycomb of honey for having me to stay, only to be dressed up in bee paraphernalia and shown the inner workings of his hive. It produces gallons and gallons of honey.

 I was very glad to get a picture at last of Trevor and Rachelle. I'm afraid that I could not resist their kind offer of hospitality yet again as I went through Hamilton on my way north. There was a tale or 2 to be told since staying there 5 weeks earlier. The truck in the background is the competition truck for their national Enduro championship holding son, Carl.

  Over the course of the veggie oil saga that has, I'm afraid, dominated parts of this blog, I have corresponded with a number of sustainable fuel enthusiasts, many from the in Australia. Not only does Peter, pictured, run his vehicles using mostly contemporary fuel, he also has a barn/garage that is the envy and intrigue of any mechanically minded person. The highlight has to be his Triumph Bonneville drag bike that he has built and won many championships with.

 At the time of this photograph I was very much of a mind that it was either diesel or bio diesel that I would carry on the trip with. However there is a school of thought evolving that there are ways to restore the use of vegetable oil. I won't go into it here, but will experiment in Australia next week before discussing further. The worst that can happen is that I have to spend another day rebuilding the piston etc, the best that can happen is that the trip gets back on its original track.

 views from the near Cathedral Cove,  Coromandel Peninsula on the North Island
In perhaps what was one of the more extraordinary happenings on this trip, I was asked by these fellows if I had a toolkit, "of course yes, but what was it?",  "Our father's ashes" came the reply, "he was born here and we are scattering his ashes  but we forgot the spanner to undo the box". It turned into a farce as none of the  numerous tools on Batty fitted either, so the Ian Frances Lowe's (1928-2012) return to nature had to wait another day.  Part of me was relieved, as the wind was blowing inshore and I am sure to end up in a car park was not quite what Ian Lowe had in mind for eternity.

Ainsley, Rob, Debbie, Carly and Monica on the motorbike.
I spent 2 nights with the delightful Harris family in Whitianga  on the Coromandel Peninsula. Rob and Debbie are old friends of Rosie and Zed's. They said I would be welcome there and true enough a home from home.
I would have to say New Zealand has the best motorcycling in the world for all-round, non-stop extraordinary roads in stunning countryside, however if time was limited and I had to vote for one place that is both accessible and stunning, it would have to be the Coromandel Peninsula. You know that you have been having fun when all the rubber on the tyres have been used and the foot pegs have had sparks flying off them as steep corners, made all the tighter with perfect cambers, keep you busy for hour after hour.

 Rubin, Olive, Peter and Alice. They sailed on a yacht to New Zealand, having sold up in London, this intrepid family now live in a North land idyll, selling their own Zippy ice creams and have a great knack of entertaining visiting Englishman.  Even to the extent of duetting him on the ukelele.

Here is a lovely picture of Lily. Lily is the daughter of dear friends in Somerset, and she is on a gap year sort of trip. The plan was to meet in Auckland and trying to be clever, I thought nothing could be better than lunch at the revolving top of the Sky City Tower that you see just to the right of her head. Not only would it offer a fantastic panorama of the city, the menu looked good and it would have nicely connected with the Gascoigne's house near Wellington.

We met as planned and I couldn't help telling Lily where we were going as we approach the tower. Her excitement at the idea was clear to see and appeared to match my own. However as we went to the lift that hurls you up hundreds of metres, I completely lost my nerve much to Lily's bewilderment and my humbling horror. I was completely taken by surprise by this sudden terror, I had booked it the day before without a second thought, but I just froze. Looking back it was a stupid thing to have done, I had forgotten that heights can disabled me, and I had got swept away by the splendour of the idea. At least Lily went up and had a good look around before we found a comparatively dull waterside restaurant for lunch. Ironically had I had half bottle of wine before going to the tower, I am sure I would have made it. What a plonker.
The day was rescued for me at least, by Lily's good company as we boated around Auckland's harbour.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

New ZealandSouth Island, Christchurch, As far away as possible, End of Vegi

I'm looking out of a window of a campsite cabin in a town called Reefton, famed for being the 1st town in New Zealand to have electric universally available in 1888. It was able to do this because it had a great deal of gold deposits all around. That is still the case today and the local goldmine produces about $1 million (New Zealand dollars that is, about £500,000) everyday. Instead of fishing, locals go out panning for gold and gold fever is a condition commonly suffered/enjoyed. One chap I met yesterday had developed this motorised panning machine using a garden mowing machine engine rigged up to a sort of pump and filtration system. He finds a bend in the river that has a lot of silt and sets up the contraption, floating on an inner tube, above the silt and leaves it to do it's stuff. The day before he got in one hour about £200 worth of gold. He said that was very lucky, and normally the returns are much more modest, but it is enough to have all his friends asking where he went….which he felt was private…

The reason I am here for 3 nights so far I will reveal later.

In the last post I explained the need to go to Christchurch to get my computer fix. Rosie and Zed's neighbour, Leicester, had recommended a service centre for Macs there. It was going to take a couple of days so I pitch my tent in a local campsite and spent the next day doing what I haven't done before, which is to employ the services of an open top double decker red London bus, equipped with cheeky chappie commentator to take half a dozen tourists around the city. The tour was called “the earthquake tour" which would have normally had me running, but as that is essentially the same as a city tour, and it was the title other companies used, I signed up.
RC Cathedral after...
The clock stopped exactly as the quake struck. note the cross/compass on top
Of course it was horrible to see what happened, and I wish I had seen it before. However the overall feeling of determination and conviction by the residents to re-build seems to be pretty unshakeable. The vast majority of the buildings are pretty much fine, those that are not are either being pulled down or restored in a much more robust way. The feeling is that nature has made her adjustment for the time being, and rebuilding a city at a low level and using quake proof techniques will make it a safe and thriving community again. If I was to tell you that property prices in some parts of the city have been rising strongly, you may be as shocked as I was, but it is the case and probably gives as strong a hint as any to the state of mind of those who live there.

The earth has moved for me twice on this trip so far, the 1st time was in the Van, East Turkey, when I woke to this funny sensation in a room on the 1st floor of a six-storey hotel. It wasn't many months later that that city was very heavily hit and many tall buildings lost. The 2nd time was in Christchurch as I lay in my tent. Both of course were minor, but I did feel a lot safer in my tent.

I did go and have tea with Matt and Debs, who had moved from England to Christchurch 7ish years ago. I knew Matt through his sister Rebecca and it was very good to catch up, learning how to suck tea through chocolate biscuits whilst hearing where they were at the time of the quake and consequences to them personally. Luckily nothing too terrible but fascinating to hear their witness. Matt kindly constructed a side stand wooden prop, Batty had been leaning over at an increasingly ridiculous angle, so it was very kind. In fact this tendency only increase and I had to get an engineer to re-weld and straighten the stand at a few days later.

There are quite a few towns and villages in the South Island named after Devon and the West Country places. In Ashburton I was just driving through on my way south with no intention to stop, however when you've been away from England for 10 months and a sign comes up in front of you that advertises Cornish Pasties, I would defy anyone not to screech to a halt, perform a risky U-turn and muster every rev to see if there was truth in the claim. True enough Neil (I think his name was) had moved from Camelford in Cornwall some years before as a sign-writer, unfortunately he had lost his job but using a recipe his grandmother had taught him, he and his wife started making pasties for local shows etc. This enterprise has grown steadily and I'm not surprised because they were both absolutely delicious....

I headed on down south, staying on campsites or in youth hostel lodgings enjoying a general feeling of what I can almost describe as a 'home from home'. This was the 1st country where English had been the 1st language which is a great relief and very normalising, albeit not so exciting and intriguing from a cultural point of view. One of the interesting differences is that I have not looked in a guidebook once, everywhere I have been has been through word-of-mouth and recommendation. I'm sure I've missed a few things, but I would also bet that I have seen more than any guidebook could offer.
I just stopped for coffee at a sign advertising free wifi (about the only place in NZ, otherwise everyone charges a fortune for it) and I found this amazing Aladdin cave of handmade toys. On the Catlin road.

Near Curio Bay
One night was spent in a place called Curio Bay, a beautiful spot in the Catlin Forest Park. I was walking down a huge open beach and by chance asked this couple some directional question only for them to reply in a delicious soft Scottish accent. It turns out that Mark and Jenny have moved here and were just having a weekend away from their home in Wanaka. Later that evening I join them for some yellow eyed penguin spotting followed by a campsite whiskey drop. They are both doctors and both work in Wanaka. “You must come and stay when you come to Wanaka, it is a great place" this kind offer only grew when it was clear that they would be away when I would be there, “no problem, the door will be open just make yourself at home". I was already a fan of theirs, but this kindness to a stranger was gobsmacking.
Mark and Jenny

The one yellow eyed Penguin brave enough to face the crowds
As far as I could get away from home. Bluff is the honest name of that point. It is a town famed for its oysters and being the last stop to the South Pole that you can go by road. An important milestone in the journey and I suppose it sort of symbols half time. Because it feels more like home than anywhere I have been so far, it is rather confusing knowing that you are the furthest away one can be.
It says 18958KM to London. The mileage on Batty's clock was just under 20,000 miles from home
 In Invercargill, near Bluff, is this hardware store called E Hayes & Sons (, which I had been tipped off about by practically all of the hoards of people who seem to surround Batty here. They have a collection of fine bikes and cars mixed in with all the kit they sell. The most famous is the "Worlds' Fastest Indian" of Burt Munro fame that was made into film of that name with Antony Hopkins starring...a great watch.

A Vincent Black dream
If you get the weather right Milford Sound is really worth going to see. That is what I kept hearing. I had been blessed by a spell of fine weather and this was set so I made haste for Te Anau, which is a sort of feed town to Milford Sound. I had given up camping as it was getting very cold at night, which despite buying a new sleeping bag wasn't enough. In fact I had played around with putting my bike cover over the tent as an extra layer of material for both warmth and waterproofing. It worked to a degree, but would not win many prizes for ascetics. Most campsites have an option to use cabins, which are very simple and the amenities shared, but generally warm, so that has been my choice where possible.

Because of the sheer drop of the cliffs from thousands of feet above the sea to thousands of feet below, they take these huge tourist boats right under the waterfalls.

I have been meeting a lot of all sorts of people here, one day I stopped counting after 15 different friendly folk came up and chatted, mostly drawn by Batty, but also it just seems to be a very friendly place. A lot have been British either living here, or holidaying. It is a great place that is very well set up for just hiring a camper van and disappearing off into a beautiful wilderness.

Mark and Jenny live in a beautiful house, in a beautiful town, surrounded by staggeringly wonderful mountains, lakes and pastures. True to their word the door was open, a bottle of wine and copious notes on what to do and see, were on the table. I had thought I would only stay a night, maybe 2, but in fact I had to prise myself away after 3. It was lovely being in a home with a fantastic film collection, a comfortable bed and all the amenities of a modern home.
A valley between Queenstown and Wanaka

Wanaka from the hill behind M&J's house

Hill top posing
As luck would have it it was also the weekend of Warbirds over Wanaka. Held every 2 years it has become a world famous airshow that is prized by enthusiasts because the planes are really flown hard, and the re-enactments of dogfights are held quite close to hand and very enthusiastically portrayed. On speaking to one guy, who had come over from Australia to see it, he explained that New Zealand still had a spirit and wasn't nannified by health and safety like much of the West.

The best my camera could do in this duel between a Sopwith Camel and a Fokker
At this point I had about 3 weeks left before heading to Australia. I plan to crossover to the North Island, which was to take about 2 or 3 days driving, and then have a week or so touring around leaving me a week, approximately, to see friends and arrange shipping in Auckland. I set off from Wanaka and on that day's journey a couple of times the engine started over revving whilst the throttle was closed. I knew diesels could do this after an unfortunate occasion when I had just learn to drive and was thrashing my poor parents ancient diesel Land Rover on a motorway when it started doing this. I can't remember how peace was made once the bill came in for the new gasket and injectors, but it would have probably involved extended duties mucking out cow sheds and the like. Anyway, I digress. This was of course worrying. I had switched to a mixture of 50-50 veg oil and diesel and it was heartbreaking to think that this new engine was going to stop as well. The next day the power seemed to be down a bit, but not convincingly. I pulled up in Reefton in the mid-afternoon to ask about campsites, only not to be able to start her again with the old symptoms of little compression.
Mount Cook at sunset

Rob and Jo on their modern Triumph Thunderbird, Batty and Mirjam, my hostel and dinner companions at Fox Glacier
Mirjam is a 5 year round the world cycling veteran. is her very excellent blog of her adventures.

As I write I am awaiting a new set of rings which should hopefully arrive today. I was put onto this chap called Tony who has an engineering workshop, and he kindly let me do the work there. I was rather pleased with myself when I managed to get the piston out in 2 hours 20 min, but then this unfortunate practice has helped. Tony is proving to be a star locating the piston rings and cleaning things up.
Batty in Reefton Engineering. Tony on the right
He is also of the opinion that modern diesel engines are so much more finely engineered than those of a few years ago, that running fuels that is not very close to the specification that they were designed to use, will cause these sorts of problems....view I have to agree with. It is therefore, heavy heartedly, that I must draw a line under the use of pure vegetable oil in this engine. I'm sure using bio diesel will be fine, and I will try to do that where possible, but for all intents and purposes this is the end of the “vegi” part of the trip. Lots has been learnt and in hindsight there are approaches that could have been made successful, but not ones I can adjust to now. The 1st engine seem to work successfully (15000 miles), the 2nd and now the 3rd are not. It has caused too much delay and anxiety, let alone the cost, to do other than stick to a diluted trip that is at least using one of the most economical vehicles available. Of course it may be that a solution is found, and a contemporary fuel source can be resumed beyond bio diesel, but for the time being I will assume not.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

New Zealand. Power, mussels, clowns

This land has held a claim on my imagination for what must be 40 years. From the earliest of geography lessons topped up over the years through all the various medias and most importantly the people I have met from here. Nothing but images of a lot of unique beauty mixed in with familiar British-esque landscapes and sound, fun people have come from this land. So I came with high anticipation, held in check by the possibility that reality did not measure up.
Batty flew in and then flew through Auckland customs, much to my delight...horror stories of fumigation and detailed inspections aimed at thwarting foreign bugs from landing are abundant, so the vigorous clean that she had before leaving Singapore passed the test.
She started first turn on her new engine and everything was perfect for this new land....well apart from the rain and wind that lashed with the enthusiasm of Scotland at her most determined.
My cousin Rachel was performing at the Wellington Festival, so I headed south with the aim of seeing the show before it ended in a few days.
Some early scenes on the road to Wellington
Riding Batty with her new engine was like riding a new bike. Not only was she quieter, smoother, easy starting, and smokeless, she was also a bit more powerful, pulling 50 mph with relative ease on the flat with a tail wind....apparently I read that they under rate the power to 10hp for US regs, but the actual power is more like 14-15hp. This may not seem a lot but to me it is takes her to a new level of thrill.
The first 700 miles have been on diesel to run her in, but have now switched to 50-50 with veg oil, after changing the engine oil....all seems fine and will increase the ratio of veg oil bit by bit.
In a service station on the road to Hamilton, I was 'picked up' by Trevor Power. Batty had caught his eye and prompted a chat. This led to an invitation to stay, which after a ' no no no, yes' answer I greatfully accepted. He plugged in his address into the Garmin and said see you there. It was a few more hours on down south, and as I arrived Trevor filmed me as he ushered the way into the huge garage and just beside, another garage that had a full workshop with surgical like layout and cleanliness. It turns out that his son Karl is the national Motorcycle Enduro champion, a fact that I only squeezed out of him much later. Modesty is another fine trait of these folk.
Trevor set too and sorted out a few bits on the bike that I had moaned about, and then his lovely wife Rachelle called us for a mouthwatering dinner.
'Where next' was asked. I explained about Rachel and the suggestion was made that I might like to stay at their cousin Mike's chalet in Ohakune, it was pretty much on the way apparently. 'No no no, yes please' I replied. Mike and his wife and daughter popped in after supper and they showed me a very good kids book they had been writing and illustrating. Although a little more of a literary agents task, we discussed various options and tweaks that could be thought about.
Mike's chalet at Ohakune
Tamara, who jumped on the back of Batty for a ride down the mountain, and then joined me for lunch.
Ohakune is a ski resort a day's drive away, I got there late afternoon.
It was a lovely place to be and I stayed a couple of very relaxed and welcome nights there.
Another days drive had me down in Wellington and I was staying with Caroline who I had met along with Charlotte, Hannah and Wil on Lake Malawi 2 years prior (see blog) and had loosely stayed in touch with. So I arrived at her Mum, Annabel's house and was warmly greeted, given a sumptuous room and entertained to a wonderful dinner with the family. A brilliant evening and super hosts for 3 nights.
A curious spectacle that I have seen a number of times, inquiries for a rhyme or reason have been unsuccessful

Mike, Annabel and Caroline
I joined Rachel for coffee the next day and caught up as we then went up the gondala to the top of the Wellington botanic garden and strolled back down the hill.
That evening Caroline and I went to the show. The hilarious and highly skilled CIRCUS RONALDO playing to full houses every night. Rachel is a sort of clown musician, having a cousin who makes you laugh with hundreds of others, is a special feeling.
Rachel in the hot house

The big top
 Zealandia is wildlife preserve right in the hilly suburbs of Wellington and a 15 minute walk from my hosts. In short this area of several square miles has been mammal proofed (no mammals in NZ before man arrived) and native reptiles, birds and trees etc have been encouraged to populate it. It is doing so well and their 500 year plan to restore it to a pre-man state is very exciting. The only plan I have ever heard of that is longer is one in Germany 70+ years ago.

The ferry to the South Island the following day was at 1 o'clock which gave time for farewells and a quick good bye with Rachel.
Zed, to me, was an important ambassador for NZ, who I had met over 20 years ago through his girlfriend Rosie, a Dorset friend.
Rosie and Zed on the deck
They are in the process of building a house in the north of the South Island, spending a few months a year taking an empty idyllic plot on the shores of Ohingaroa Bay, and building a state of the art house that unashamedly looks like a stealth bomber. It is a couple of years away from finish, but will be just amazing.
Dinner was a Mutton Bird.... a rare feast, and only allowed to be hunted by Maoris. The trick is to boil it 5 times till the saltiness nearly goes, and then a delicacy not far from a kipper in taste, is enjoyed.
Apparently the local water teams with snapper and Zed is a very enthusiastic fisherman. In the morning he and his 2 neighbours, Lindsey and Richard, and I boarded Zed's fine fish killing vessel for a day at these, as it turned out, illusive fish. It was of no matter to me as we were in unbelievably beautiful surroundings, however our skipper was mercilessly ribbed for not finding them.
Lindsey, Richard and Zed

Rosie was due out in a couple of days time so I went off on a tour of the area and explored the top north east of the island.
Near Farewell Spit
The beach by Shambhal, where I stayed a night
'Harry Lyon-Smith' I heard yelled across the road as I was tucking into a delicious mussel pie. The makers in a local town of Havelock had been recommended to me by Zed as the best. Low and behold there was Rosie and Zed coming across the road intent on a pie snack as well. Alas my pie was the last one, but their quiches were also pretty damned good luckily.
It had been too many years since Rosie and I had caught up, and it was lovely to do so.
I was planning to leave in the morning, but Lindsey showed up early saying that he was off to get a few fish that day, so we joined him and collared a couple of snapper before pulling up some mussels from one of the many farmed beds (all apparently encouraged by the musselmen, as it is good for local PR). Luckily Zed and Lindsey are strong fellows as there are tons of mussels on the ropes and 2 large buckets were filled.
Rosie with the first snapper
Spoils of the day
A view from the house ruined
Zed and Rosie making it look an easy life
A delicious dinner followed that could not have been fresher.
It was here that my mac laptop decided that it was in heaven and died. Bit of a pain, but the route that Zed had brilliantly worked out with me needed to be moved about a bit so I could head for Christchurch and resurrect her.
It was a great days ride as Zed and Rosie, who had toured the country extensively, put me on to a 50 mile farm road called the Moulsworth that took one high over the Marlbough state through exciting gravel roads and fords rising to over 4000 ft.
Much of the roads I traveled were surrounded by vines, and a few familiar ones
Coming down from Mouldsworth

 PS. Here is a small piece I wrote about the advantages of breaking down a lot...on Jupiter's Travelers