New Zealand – Australia
With Danny’s saving running low he had no choice but to accept the offer of ‘job sponsorship’, made by one of a group of friends we’d made in Queenstown. ‘Sponsorship’ would grant him a visa extension, a work permit and a guarantee of 40hrs per week work. All being well, Danny will be able to save some money and join me again somewhere in Australia.
My visa however, expired on November 9th and I had a flight booked to Sydney on the 8th.
With my snowboarding gear packed away, my motorcycle panniers packed and my room emptied I was ready to hit the road again. The weather however, had other ideas and the night before my planned departure it began to snow and continued to do so for 72hrs. During this time more snow fell than had done so all season! The road to Milford (my next chosen destination) was closed through avalanches and so I unloaded my bike, unpacked my snowboarding gear and returned to The Remarkables for another three days (Coronet Peak had already closed for the season).
Finally, on October 8th, I rolled out of OP1 (our affectionate name for 1 O’Learys Paddock) and headed South West, through the orchards of the Upper Clutha Valley to the Catlins Coast at Nugget Point. Here I turned South East to my chosen destination for the day – Curio Bay. There was no avoiding the oncoming storm and soon it was ‘hosing it down’ (Kiwi term). Thankfully I could see the end of it and with the benefit of an empty road and supremely grippy road surface I rode on much faster than I normally would. Soon I was clear of the storm but no sooner had I turned south towards Curio Bay so I got a good soaking in another storm and this time with a good wind to. “Bugger camping” I thought and headed straight for the highly recommended ‘Curio Bay Backpackers’.
The following morning I continued west, picking up the Southern Scenic Route through Invergargill and Reefton before it turned north to run alongside the Fiordlands National Park. I followed it all the way, through Manapouri and onto the Milford Road. I’d met a Scottish couple along the way who informed me the Milford road had been re-opened the previous day.
That night I bush camped at Cascade Creek, one of the last DOC sites on the way to Milford. After dark, I left my tent to water the plants and once my eyes had become accustomed to the darkness (I’d been reading by head torch) I was treated to a spectacular clear sky, seemingly filled with more stars than I could recall seeing since a memorable night in Turkey. I even saw three satellites tracking across the sky before I finally succumbed to the cold and returned to my tent. It was a cold night and in the morning I was unable to fit my tent back in its bag as the frost on the fly sheet was so thick I couldn’t roll it small enough. Instead I strapped it separately to my bike to let it thaw.
Like Ying & Yang there is an opposite of everything and my freezing night was countered by a glorious cloud free day. Avalanche debris lined the roadside as I rode through the Eglington Valley and I passed several ‘Cirques’ to my right, reminiscent of ‘Cirque de Gavarnie’ in the French Pyrenees – only on a slightly smaller scale. Thanks to the recent snowfall, waterfalls abound in the gorge and as I excited the Homer Tunnel such was their number it was as though the sheer rock walls had been hung with pinstriped wallpaper.
So I am told, it was an exceptional day, weather wise and I enjoyed a cruise around Milford Sound in a T-shirt and shorts atop one of the smaller tour boats. Incidentally, Milford SOUND is actually a Fiord but was incorrectly named by the fellow who discovered it.
The Road North
Back on dry land and after a nights camping at Cromwell where I had to peg my tent out to dry in the wind prior to erecting it, I headed for Christchurch (via my favorite NZ pie shop – Dough Boys at Lake Tekapo) and a final night with Caroline and Dave before visiting local man Nigel Marx. As a moderator for the Horizons Unlimited website I gather much of/and share information on, Nigel had replied to one of my postings with the offer of ‘Beer, bed and shed’. I stayed in his now stationary 1950’s caravan (complete with miniature coal fired oven & hob) adjacent to his beautiful 1860’s timber house with its huge garden at the bottom of which were lined up his array of ‘Project bikes’.
We were joined for dinner by Nigel’s friend Nick (emigrated from Somerset) and spent a very pleasant evening eating drinking beer, talking old motorbikes, drinking more beer, talking more old motorbikes, drinking more beer, talking bollocks…
No wonder I find it so difficult to learn new things; my heads full of a load of old shite!
In the morning, together with Nick, we visited another of Nigel’s friends, Neil. Neil was justifiably proud of his private collection of Yamaha Twins and in particular, beautifully restored YDS 2,3,5,6 & 7. The only one he doesn’t have being the YDS 1 which was never imported into NZ and of course the number 4 which the Japanese avoid. For those of you unfamiliar with early Japanese motorcycles, these stem from the early sixties and as such are ‘classics’ in their own right.
Back at Nigel’s he cooked me a cracking breakfast to see me on my way to Picton and the ferry to the North Island.
Leaving the South Island
Having booked the 0800 ferry to Wellington I spent the night in a backpackers to minimize my overnight unpacking. On the ferry I was directed to the bike parking where I expected one of the crew to strap it down as they would crossing the English Channel. I stood around for ages before a crew member told me I had to go upstairs, “What about strapping my bike down?” I said. A shrug of the shoulders prior to “You can if you want” was his reply. When I asked where the straps were he pointed to several short lengths of rope hanging up and left me to my own devices. After five months in the country how could I have forgotten that customer service has yet to be introduced in New Zealand.
I found the North Island totally different to the South Island from the moment I rolled off the ferry. Firstly there was the volume of traffic, then the strength of the wind: For the first time since Iran my arms ached from fighting to keep my bike on my side of the road! Then there was the graffiti which is almost unheard of on the south island. I noticed houses and shops with bars on the doors and windows; folk on the south island rarely lock their houses and think nothing of leaving their car running outside whilst they go into a shop. It was like being in a different country.
Regarded as one of the world’s finest Art Deco towns, Napier was my next destination. On the campsite I met Dennis & Lorraine, an English couple in their 50’s who, after a three week trip to NZ last year, had struggled to settle into a routine once back in England. After (very little) discussion, they quit their jobs, flew to NZ and bought a van to have a proper look around. Fair Dinkum!
Dennis & Lorraine, having come from the north were able to pass on their recommendations and I, coming from the south, was able to do the same. Over the next few weeks their recommendations proved to be excellent – thanks guys.
The main thing I wanted to do on the North Island was to walk the ‘Tongariro Crossing’; said to be New Zealand’s greatest one day walk. However, the 18km walk amongst the volcanoes immediately south of Lake Taupo is regularly affected by the weather and both of my attempts to tackle it were thwarted by snow. On my first attempt I was half way to Taupo from Napier when I met some locals traveling the opposite way. They told me they’d spent the weekend in Taupo but were unable to attempt it thanks to recent snow but suggested “Give it a week and you might get lucky”. With this in mind I returned to the coast and followed the Eastern Cape through Gisbourne (NZ’s sunniest town), all the way around to the Bay of Plenty where I turned inland for Rotorua and its surrounding Geothermal reserves.
Dennis & Lorraine had recommended a campsite just north of the town and a fisn ‘n’ chip shop. The campsite owner was great and selected a sheltered spot by the river for me to pitch my tent. That first evening, as I left the fish ‘n’ chip shop so the heavens opened and it hammered down with rain. I ate my dinner in a bus shelter whilst waiting for the rain to let up before I set off on the 1.5km walk back to the campsite. Oh how I got soaked during that walk!
The following day, after visiting Wai-O-Tapu “Geothermal Wonderland”, I was sitting in the camp kitchen eating lunch when the groundsman walked in. I’d decided that with the Labour weekend national holiday approaching I would pack up that afternoon and head south for another attempt at the Tongariro Crossing before it got too busy. I looked out of the window and said “That sky looks to me as though anything could happen”… “Lived here all my life… it’s not going to rain”. Great thought I, I’ll set off this afternoon and with that a holidaying fisherman I’d spoken to a few times walked in. A good job he did to, for 20 minutes after we started chatting it was pissing down! Had I not been chatting with him I’d have been in the middle of packing when the rain came. When I did eventually get down to Tongariro the following day it transpired that the previous days rain had fallen as snow in the mountains and the route was once again blocked.
Nice one Ewan & Charlie…!
“I’ve got to ask you about your bike” said Peter Ghinis as I removed my helmet outside a shop in Tauranga. “I recognize it from The Race to Dakar…chat chat chat…my wife and I are big fans of the Long Way Round, chat chat chat, we toured Europe in a van in 1987, the English were very friendly and helpful, chat, chat, chat… what are your plans?” I didn’t really have any and so accepted Peters offer to stay with him and his family for the weekend. That evening I watched him playing in his band (bloody good they were too) and watched the Moto GP highlights from Phillip Island (bloody shite that was!). The following morning Peter’s wife Shelly cooked us a cracking breakfast before I headed into town to visit an outdoor photography exhibition by French photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Nineteen years worth of work shot all over the world from 4000 hours in helicopters made for the most stunning photographic display I’d ever seen.
I’d never had any interest in seeing Africa but after this display I’m not so sure…
Peter and I watched the Rugby World cup final together on the Sunday morning. Enough said.
Given the fashions back in 1987, looking through Peter & Shelly’s photo album was like viewing the stills from ‘National Lampoon’s European Vacation’. The highlight though was Peter’s moustache that made him look like ‘Magnum PI’ – only without the Ferrari. This was, of course, lost on his daughters Alexa & Georgia who had never heard of Magnum. Peter meanwhile was keeping a low profile
It wasn’t until I got to the end of the album and their visit to Los Angeles that Pete finally admitted it must have been cool to look like Magnum. There was a photograph of one Star on Hollywood Boulevard and that star was of course Tom Sellick.
Peter has unwittingly engrained himself in my memory forever, for when I reach into a freezer for my favorite ‘Magnum’ ice cream, all I can think of is Peter and his great family in Tauranga.
Had it not been for Ewan & Charlie I may never have met the Ghinis family. Cheers guys!
The Coromandel Peninsula
The tarmac stops just north of Colville and a 20km gravel roads leads to the campsites of Port Jackson and Fletcher Bay. I pitched my tent at Port Jackson but got very little sleep as I was kept awake holding onto my tent in constant fear of it blowing away. Watching me try to get it back in its bag the following day would have been pure comedy. It was a beautiful spot to camp though.
Heading south again on the east coast I spent some time at Hot Water Beach where by digging a hole in the sand with an ‘inlet’ for the hot spring water and an ‘inlet’ for the cold seawater it was possible to build a hot tub to my own liking!
At the campsite by the beach just north of Hot Water beach the sparrows would take bread from my fingers whist the thrushes would look on from just a few feet away.
The Far North
Kauri trees are the second largest trees on earth and once covered Northland; that is until the European settlers came and felled the majority of the trees many of which were over 2000years old. The displays of old logging & sawmill machinery, timber, chainsaws old photographs etc was fantastic, but after three hours I just couldn’t absorb any more information! I highly recommend it to anyone traveling in the region.
I passed the giant sand dunes at Omepere on my way to Rawene and the ferry across Hokianga Harbour (a large inlet that bares no resemblance to a harbour!) I rolled off the ferry first and had the road all to myself. All that separated me from the water was the mangroves and my only company was the birds of prey that hovered in the thermals of the cloudless sky. The next 65km were beautiful and the brilliant sunshine highlighted more shades of green that a Dulux paint chart. I wish I could have listed all the different types of trees.
The last 21km to Cape Reigna at the tip of the North Island are gravel and I pitched my tent at the fairly well sheltered DOC site before riding up to the lighthouse for sunset. Checking my odometer I noticed that I’d ridden EXACTLY 30,000 miles from home. It was a lovely evening to watch the sunset over the meeting of the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
During the night I could hear something moving around in my tent’s vestibule. Still in my sleeping bag I unzipped my inner tent and turned on my torch only for something to run straight at my face. Thinking it was a rat I instinctively batted it away with the back of my hand. It was only as the spines sank into my skin did I realize it was a hedgehog! Now terrified and curled up in a ball, I gently rolled him out of my tent and went back to sleep.
South for the last time
Michael Bregman had recently returned to NZ after six years in England. He owns a BMW R1100LT and has toured Russia, Ukraine, Kazakstan etc but has sadly returned to NZ due to kidney failure. Hoping to find a suitable donor more quickly than would have been possible in the UK he was disappointed to discover his chances in NZ were exactly the same as they would have been in England.
If a man (or woman!) wants to travel badly enough they will find a way and Michael is no exception. Having sourced a suitable trailer in the USA, he plans to fit his Dialysis machine inside it and tow it around Australia collecting his ‘bags’ along the way. Inspirational words indeed.
I rode into Auckland with the same feeling, deep in my stomach, that I’d had riding into Kuala Lumpur. The big city meant air freight and the beginning of the next leg of my journey and I was excited. New Zealand had been good fun but Australia would bring adventure and I couldn’t help remembering:
“Das ist kein urlab; das ist abeteur!”
During my stay in Queenstown I’d received an email from ‘Friends Reunited’ saying that “Several people from your school year have updated their profiles”. When I clicked on the link I recognized all the names but next to that of George Norridge it said ‘Emigrated’. Wondering where George had gone I clicked on his profile only to discover him in Auckland!
“Always got plenty of room for mates to stay” said Georges return email and so after having a new tyre fitted in Auckland (where I made the mistake of letting the shops ‘mechanic’ fit the tyre because it was included in the price) I turned up Georges work just as everyone was heading off home for the weekend.
Having seen George only once in the last 20 years, it was good to catch up. That Friday evening, joined by another ex-pat, we went out on the town, reminisced, caught up on what/where/who/how of the past 20 years and got hammered. Everything was still spinning when I heard George get up for work the following morning – I’ve no idea how he managed it!
I spent a whole day cleaning my bike for Australian Customs only for it to pour with rain the day I rode to the shipping agent. Covered in road dirt after my trip across the city I asked the people running the truck wash behind the shipping agent if they could give my bike a quick blast over. “I don’t know if we clean bikes – I’ll have to phone the boss” was their response, followed by a phone call and “No, we don’t clean bikes” and so, with no other customers, they returned to doing nothing.
I had to ride another 10km to Manukau to find another jet wash, whereupon I was charged $1 per minute! The only saving grace was that by now the sun had come out and the roads had dried up. Back at the shipping agent all went well apart from a close call in the warehouse when a small but heavy pallet toppled off a forklift when I was pushing my bike past in. I just managed to jump over it and avoid crushing my feet!
Other than that the process was simple. I merely removed the mirrors, strapped my riding gear to the seat and handed her over along with NZ$938. No wooden crate required; just wheel her into a Quantas air cargo container. I was hopeful that after the fiasco of getting our bikes into the country, this would make entering Australia easier.
Once I handed my bike over I could relax. I spent a few days in Auckland city visiting the Sky Tower, took a bus ride out to ‘One Tree Hill’ (U2 – The Joshua Tree) and at night I spent my time with Georges friends Marcel & Gisle and Matt & Lorraine; all of whom made me extremely welcome.
Soon though, it was time to leave. George & Marcel dropped me in the city early in the morning and I caught the bus out to the airport.
“Is that it?… You mean I’m free to go?” I said to the customs inspector as he cleared my bike with a phone call. “Yep. Just pay your cargo fees”.
After all the horror stories I heard about getting a bike into Australia I was pleasantly surprised. From the arrivals hall I’d walked to the Quantas Air Cargo centre with my Airway Bill, they gave me some paperwork to take to the customs house who phoned the Cargo Centre to make an appointment to inspect my bike half an hour later. The customs officer was unsure as to whether Quarantine would need to inspect my bike and decided that once they’d cleared her they would let the system decide whether Quarantine would need to do their own inspection. I met the inspectors who checked the frame number, made a phone call back to their department and gave me clearance there and then! I paid my AU$111 to Quantas and they rolled my bike into the carpark. Having landed at 1120, I rode away at 1445 only to run out of petrol before I reached the first fuel station! Boy did I sweat pushing her that kilometre to get fuel.
I’ve only been here for three weeks but already I’ve been overwhelmed by the hospitality of the Australians.
At the Quantas Air Cargo Centre I asked the guy serving me the best way to Manly. Whilst I was sorting my gear out he brought me four pages he’d photocopied from his street map with the route drawn on them.
In Manly I stayed with my best mate’s younger brother, Jonno, and when I asked which was the best SIM card to buy for my phone one of his flat mates, Dion, pulled the SIM card out of his spare phone and gave it to me.
After a weekend in Manly organizing maps etc I headed off into the bush. As I rode into Apsley Falls to camp for the night, the only other campers in the campsite waved. I rode a loop of the campsite (counting nine Wallabies) and parked up next to the other campers. No sooner had I removed my helmet than I voice shouted over “You want a cold beer…?” I joined Colin & Marjolyn for a beer, then another, then an invitation to join them for dinner. With a few bottles of wine on the table and a roaring campfire we tucked into steaks, fried potatoes and avocado salad – welcome to Australia!
The following morning we shared breakfast and Colin & Marjolyn added their favorites to my list of places to visit in Oz along with their phone number and an invitation to visit.
I took there advice regarding a route out to the coast and after enquiring in a local shop as to the best place to camp I found myself on Illaroo in the Yuraygir NP. No sooner had I pitched up than I was approach by two fishermen. Murray and Noel had recently completed a 12000 km ride across the Savannah Way to Darwin and back via the Outback to Queensland – Noel on a F650! When I said I’d be around for a few days as it was such a nice spot (I was next to the steps that led onto two miles of empty beach) they said I must “Come and have a beer and a feed”. The following morning they arrived with a map to their rented house in the local village and an invitation to join them at 1700. That evening I met Noel’s wife Helen and enjoyed another BBQ, got more info added to my list of places to see and two more invitations to stay; this time in Queensland. Unfortunately, Noel & Helen won’t be at home when I pass through next September as they, along with 200 other Healy Sports Car club members, will be spending 10 weeks in Europe with their Healy.
Heading inland again I spent a few nights at the Warumbungles NP. After I was awoken by the squawking of large white Cockatoo’s and driven insane by the fly’s, I walked the 18km trail from the campsite over the ridge for some wonderful views. Along the way I passed wallabies lazing around in the shade (they had the right idea), Emu’s and two different species of parrots.
That evening, as I stepped into the shower, my heart sank. I went to remove my St.Christopher only to find it not there – PANIC! Thinking back, I recalled removing it at the top of the trail and placing it on my rucksack whilst I applied more suncream. I also recalled hearing something slide along my rucksack but presuming it was a branch.
By 0700 the following morning I was walking the trail again. I couldn’t do anything about my aching feet but I could avoid the hottest part of the day. I walked quickly to the last place I’d seen it and then searched the next 80yds of trail step by step. On my second sweep I found it – Eureka! And by 1100 I was back at the campsite where I discovered the birds had eaten my yoghurt, honey and bread – the robbing bastards!
My next stop was Hill End NP. A former gold rush town that at its peak in 1870, housed 25,000 people; is now home to just 120. Many of the original buildings have been preserved and some are still run as businesses; including the local hotel/pub. The village green is the campsite which gives it a perfect location.
The first car I spotted as I arrived was that of Gaeton, a French lad I’d met at the previous campsite. He, like me, had brought food for a BBQ based on the gas fired units at the previous site. Here though they were wood fired (bring your own wood) – bugger!
Don and his son Glen saw me looking around the BBQ’s and shouted over “You can come and use ours, we’ve got plenty of wood”. That evening, after we’d all been to the pub, we cooked everything we had and sat around another roaring camp fire.
When Don & Glen left they handed me a piece of paper saying “Here’s my phone number, if I’m not there I’ll beat the bowling club. You’re welcome to stay when you’re passing through”.
I’ve barely had a minute to myself since I’ve been here and its all down to Ozzie hospitality – nice one guy’s; you certainly know how to make a traveler feel welcome.
Those of you who have read this blog from the beginning will remember Tim Hobin (TNT), the Englishman we met in Pakistan last year. Sadly, Tim and his wife Tracy have separated since we last saw them and with Tracy now living in Greece Tim decided to join me on the Australian leg of my trip.
I picked him up from Sydney airport on November 22nd and the following day we rode the five hour round trip north to Newcastle to look at a suitable bike we’d found on the web. With the deal done we returned to Sydney for the weekend whilst Wayne registered the bike ready for collection.
On the campsite the following morning we were approached by a Swiss guy looking for Tim. It turns out he’s a riding buddy of Wayne’s and Wayne had sent him round for a chat. By now you know what’s coming next… sure enough, we spent the evening at Ralph’s eating, drinking and putting the world to rights!
When Wayne phoned the following day to say the bike was ready he too invited us to stay, service the bikes, sort Tim’s kit out etc. That was on Monday; it’s now Friday and we’re still at Wayne’s! – Poor bugger’s can’t get rid of us!
Whilst the days have been spent working on the bikes and getting organized the evenings have been spent with Wayne, his wife Chris and daughter Leigh, eating and drinking on their huge covered deck above the workshop.
I’ve serviced my bike and Tim has stripped, greased and checked his new Suzuki DR650 and sorted out packing his kit. Tomorrow (Sat 1stDec) we’ll be ready to hit the road.
Wayne used to own Cundle Flat, a 600 acre farm a few hours north of here and tomorrow the three of us will ride up there and camp.
Having decided to take up exchange teaching posts in Canada next year, this will be Wayne’s last motorcycle trip for some time. It will also be somewhat shorter than the 15000 km Outback trip he undertook on the DR last year.
It’s now just two weeks until my sister arrives for our traditional Christmas/ New Year rendezvous. You’ll not hear from me again before the New Year so I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to post messages on the notice board – its great to hear from you but who the f*#@ is Fishy!!?
I’d also like to say a special thanks to those of you who have helped me along the way – you know who you are and you’ve all made my journey extra special.