Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Auckland farewell, Press, photo shoot, Australia, service and repairs

My last few days in Auckland both typified much of the generosity and fun that I had in the whole of New Zealand. This time the blame falls wholly on the shoulders of Hadleigh. We had met 10 months ago in Srinagar in Kashmir, where we were staying in the same guesthouse. In fact the meeting lasted about a minute, but when I came back to my bike a few hours later I found a note from Hadleigh saying if my world tour included New Zealand, to get in touch. We exchange one or 2 e-mails at that stage but good to his word as soon as I e-mailed when I arrived, his door was thrown open.
Not only did he provide a bed, we had a couple of nights out in Auckland and he and his housemates proved very good company so that I left New Zealand very much on a high.

Aha (from Greenland), Teresa, and Hadleigh on his deck.
Piha beach...a moody day

We got caught in a squall, but smiles never faltered
There was also a work element, by chance. As it turns out Hadleigh is a top-notch creative director and had lots of useful and interesting insights into the creative world in Australia and New Zealand as well as India, where he had spent a couple of years and has strong connections with.

Chris Power is the nephew of Trevor, and a motorcycle journalist. We met at the Auckland Museum for a photo shoot and interview. I nervously await how that comes out, depending on which you will see a copy on these pages!

It was Anzac day and fitting somehow to be on what they call consecrated land at a national place on a bike from Britain
It was great to find this quote in NZ, having been so moved by it in the Dardenelles.

I also had a very enjoyable lunch with Nadia Flower, who we represent. It was very good to meet her at long last and get her angle on the creative world both locally and internationally.

Like New Zealand, Australia has had a long history in my imagination, and to get here at last filled me with excitement. Now it's not that I thought anything but the best of any of the Australian men I've met, but there was a point in my mid-20s when it seemed that every girl in my community was having great love affairs with Australians, marrying them and then moving over here. So here I am about to discover what the magic is.

I was met at Melbourne airport by Mark, it was almost midnight on a Friday night which was well beyond the call of duty, but very welcome. He and his lovely wife Lucy and kids now live here, but I knew Mark when we were children in Devon.... his Dad was my godfather.

Nothing more could have been done to greater my welcome, and my introduction to domestic life Williamstown style was started with whiskey and over the next few days it was a combination of sightseeing, ball games, bicycle rides but invariably that whiskey bottle seemed to pries itself open at the day's end.
Docked in Williamstown, the Steve Urwin of Sea Shepherd Org haunts the Japanese whaling fleet and has succeeded in making it an almost non profitable business for the whalers
A replica of the Enterprise that founded Melbourne in 1835. Johnny and Molly snapped

Johnny, Harvey, birthday girl Marge (neighbour / surrogate granny) and Molly
A few months ago I received an e-mail from a chap called Mike, based in Australia and stating that he and his friends had been following the blog from early in the trip and as members of the Australian Royal Enfield Club, would like to meet. That was a lovely e-mail to receive and we had intermittently corresponded since then. I had asked if he could recommend a place to get Batty serviced, and he introduced me to Guy.

Guy and Jude live about an hour and a half from Melbourne and they welcomed this stranger into their house, and Batty into Guy's workshop. I was there for 4 days and it so happened that these 4 days were ones of rain, I don't mean light rain, this was the very definition of non-riding weather. So it was a perfect bike servicing window. Spare parts were stolen from some of Guy's long suffering bikes, Norman from the RE Club came over for a whole day and helped me with some thread worn screws, various weldings and Batty was restored to far better health. My health was improved by non stop plates full of deliciousness,  a glass that never emptied and endless good company.

The message I found inside the front door
Guy busying away on his Carberry double barrel dream machine. This is one of a production of 11 bikes that he and others created...completely beautiful.
Jude waiting for he guest to join her and Guy on a ride.

Norm giving a day to my cause...
I returned to Melbourne for a big night out with Mark, Lucy and their friend Marnie. The night life is very busy and the first 3 'happening' restaurants had this no booking policy and were rammed for 3 hours, we ended up in a great place called Cookie. The girls got chat up furiously by the waiters, and ordered exactly what these young fellas recommended....I think Mark and I felt like amused passengers on that particular aspect of the evening. It was delicious though and happy passengers we were.

For those following my fuel challenges, I have a new Guru called David in Sydney. I am looking forward to meeting him, but in the meantime I am using a 10% mix of petrol in with the veg oil. I at last understand from him that petrol will ignite a little earlier than diesel in the cycle, enabling much more combustion of the veg oil than before. At the time of writing, I have done 100 miles like this, and if I get to Sydney my confidence in the new approach will be all the more. I know David has a few more plans for Batty, but that will be for a later post.
Tim and Mark who arrived at the meeting place a little before Batty. Mark had been talking about this great biking road, and then Guy and Jude as to ride it was a joy. Tim joined us and after the obligatory pie, the 10 - 15 minute ride was right up there with the best of them.
A famed meeting point for those who ride the Black Spur near Healesville, Vic

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.