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Thursday, 12 April 2018

Road Trip!

Once a year, we meet up with our friends Georgina and Mike from Wellington and spend a few days exploring some part of NZ together.  Regular readers of the blog may remember last years' trip to the top of the South Island.  This year, our friends weren't able to travel far because of other commitments but as we weren't all that familiar with the surrounds of our capital city, they arranged a local itinerary and kept quiet about what we'd be doing over the weekend.

Leaving Coromandel last Friday, we set off for Wellington, some 650 km away in Jennie's Jazz Rally Sport.  Most of the roads in NZ are a lane in each direction interspersed with overtaking lanes every few km.  It's only near cities that motorway-type roads are normally encountered.  The most interesting part of the trip down for us is the so-called Desert Road.  This is part of State Highway 1 in the central north island.  It sits at between 2000-3200 ft  (600-1000 m) altitude and is part of a plateau with 3 active volcanoes on it.  There are skifields on the volcanoes (fun, fun!) and apart from herds of wild horses, the only other significant occupants are the military on manoeuvres.  It's a wild, lonely place but stunning in good weather.  Not so nice in bad weather as we were to find out on the return home!

The Desert Road and Mt Ngauruhoe (7500 ft, 2300 m)  (source:

The next day was spent exploring Wellington's south coast, apart from a drive to a lookout at the northern end of Wellington Harbour.  It ain't known as Windy Wellington for nothing and we could see a stormy weather front rolling in from the south.

Wellington city centre is on the other side of the harbour disappearing into a squall

By the time we got round just east of the city, it was blowing an absolute gale and pouring down which arguably, is the best time to see Wellington's south coast.  As cities go, Wellington is really pretty.  The compact CBD is pretty much on the level with the suburbs around the hills surrounding the harbour.

Looking across to Mt Victoria as another squall comes through

The storm front took an hour or so to pass through and better weather to come in behind it but the kite surfers were having a ball in Lyall Bay getting big air and attaining some impressive speeds.

Screaming along in Lyall Bay

Bronze artwork called "Frenzy" - I wouldn't want to meet it in the water!

After the weather front had passed through, we continued the tour of the south coast and then had an early meal at a Thai restaurant as our hosts rather mysteriously told us that we were going to the movies but refused to say more!  

We pulled up in the dark in a normal suburban street and noticed a few people strolling down the driveway of an older house and where "normal" people have a garage or workshop, there stood a movie theatre!!  It's called Time Cinema and the original occupant of the house built it over 35 years ago for family and friends to enjoy old classic movies in a relaxed setting - how absolutely fantastic!  As well as a 40 seat movie theatre in original 50's decor, the reception area is packed full of memorabilia such as movie cameras through the decades, classic posters and so on.  Here's a peep.....

Part of Reception area (source: Time Cinema)

Theatre room (source: Time Cinema)

The first half of the evening was taken up with footage by both locals and professionals of the Wahine ferry disaster 50 years ago.  The Inter-Island ferry Wahine foundered on rocks at the entrance to Wellington Harbour in one of the worst storms ever to hit NZ.  Over 50 people lost their lives and there would have been many more had it not been for the heroism of rescuers.  A tragic event but fascinating to see the footage from that time.

On a much lighter note, the interval was about 30 minutes long and here was yet another delightful surprise!  For the modest admission price of NZ$10 (US$ 7, GBP 5), supper was thrown in too with a distinct late 50's theme.  The savoury was crackers with a slice of processed cheese on top, adorned with a slice of tomato.  This was followed by slices of sponge cake and fruit cake and cups of tea served from a giant pot.  Absolutely kitsch, absolutely fabulous!

Returning to the theatre room to a hand-rung bell,  the nautical theme continued with a showing of the original black and white Titanic movie from 1958 called "A Night to Remember".  Among the stars was a very young Honor Blackman famed for her later roles as  Cathy Gale in the Avengers TV series and Pussy Galore in Goldfinger.  Honestly, it was far more gripping than the later version, better acting and the special effects were much better than you might have thought from a 50 year old movie.

What a treat and wonderful surprise it was to be introduced to something as delightfully quirky as Time Cinema - I still grin when thinking about it.  Definitely a highlight of the trip.  The world needs places like that!

The next day saw a round trip west of Wellington to a small beach community called Makara west of the city as we'd never been there before.  A biker's paradise with a narrow, twisty road running in deep valleys.  Certainly not much room for error though, especially if anything coming the other way decided to cut blind corners.  The intent was to have lunch at the cafe there but unbeknown to us, the cafe got destroyed by the recent Cyclone Gita.

Remains of the cafe wall

Oh well, it would have to be a late lunch in Wellington as there was some more exploring to do.

Picturesque old cottage at Makara 

De-consecrated old church at Makara - not for a big congregation!

Makara beach - a desolate spot in winter

Before heading back to the city to find something to eat, there was time to visit the wind farm overlooking Makara and the immediate surrounds - no wonder given that the west coast in this area is renowned for rough weather!  Apparently, this farm is capable of powering 70,000 homes.

A heck of a size compared with the trees

Scattered along the ridge line for several km

Not really an eyesore on the landscape

On Monday, we said goodbye to Georgina and Mike and headed about 50 km north to catch up with old friends Bill and Marg at Paraparaumu.  Isn't it funny with really close friends.....  don't see them for at least a year and the moment we see each other, it's like you've never been away.  Guess that's part of the definition of real friendship.  

After lunch, Bill and I hopped on mountain bikes for a bit of exercise.  There's a fairly new motorway north of Wellington and as part of the overall design, the national roading authority, NZTA; has also built a gravel cycleway which runs alongside it through nicely landscaped berms.  In fact, kudos to NZTA for the planting of millions of native shrubs all along the motorway.  Not only that but they have deliberately established flight corridors of trees for birds so that they can travel with shelter and nesting between the coast and mountains in an uninterrupted manner.  Our friends have already noticed the increase in bird life around the area.  Furthermore, the rain runoff from the motorway has been channelled into man-made wetlands which are already being colonised by black swans, geese and ducks.   A great example of roads being built with strong environmental considerations.  They don't have to be eyesores.

Part of the motorway with dense planting of young native shrubs

On two wheels of a different kind!

Early the next morning, we left to drive the 600-odd km home in some of the worst conditions that we have ever encountered - gale force winds, driving rain with limited visibility, thunderstorms and even a tornado not far from where we travelled.  Some parts of the north island sustained quite a bit of damage from the wind, with one gust recorded at 213 km/hr!  Driving in those conditions is all part of the fun, albeit pretty tiring keeping the concentration levels up for 8 hours.

So no motorcycling this time around but as they say, a change is as good as a rest!  Seeing and doing things you haven't previously experienced is always good for the soul.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Still busy times.......

After the huge variety of activities listed in the last post, the level of commitments haven't really slackened off at all.  The weekend before last was spent in Auckland teaching Roadcraft Observer theory and behavioural requirements to a new bunch of IAM Trainee Observers.  Most trainees feel overwhelmed by not only having to ride to a high standard but whilst doing so, observing a new Associate for improvement opportunities, what they do well and remembering everything in order to discuss how their ride went at the debrief!  In practice, a fully-qualified Observer is always present on the training rides to hand-hold so it's not (quite) as traumatic as first thought.  When asked what makes a good Observer,  the answers always focus on technical competence and prompting is needed to draw out the interpersonal stuff.  We all know from our personal experience in business that technical aspects of a job are usually fairly straightforward.  However, if anything is going to cause work to turn to custard, it's almost always people-related problems and their behaviours.  Fair comment?

A mix of people and technical skills make a good Observer

In an informal moment, one of the presenting Observers made an interesting comment about the bikes which were ridden to the course (see the photos below).  It's a bit of a generalisation but further south in NZ, IAM members seem to favour adventure-oriented bikes, even if they do spend most of their time on tar seal.  The words "Bavarian Tractors" were only bandied about in a light-hearted manner, honestly!   The further north you go, there seems to be a wider mix of bike types and certainly more with a sport-oriented bent.  We drew no conclusions from this, principally because we northern types didn't want to be labelled a bunch of Rossi wannabes!

A good mix of bike types on the course

Not an adventure bike in sight in this photo!

A few days later, we collected our new boat from the dealer.  Really impressed with the quality of both the boat and trailer but a few days were needed to fit it out with odds and ends ready for fishing and towing the grandkids on a biscuit in due course.  Along with the new boat came a marine VHF radio which meant that I had to sit a marine radio operator examination.  Sudden panic as I'd been pretty lax about studying and had worries about my 70 year old brain retaining anything.  A bit of solid cramming for a couple of days, sat the exam and mercifully achieved the 100% needed to pass - PHEW!

With that out of the way and with the tides and weather looking favourable, it was time to get serious about putting it in the tide for the first time - not for fishing but simply to get used to everything and how it handled.  Still waiting for the computer-cut radio-call sign lettering and boat name to arrive, but that can wait.  Meet "So-fish-ticated", the name chosen by our daughter!

Stabicraft 1410 Fisher, ready to hook up to the 4x4

Christening it at the end of our street

Jennie skippering it round some of the many islands just off the coast, in flat conditions

Very impressed with the 3 cylinder, 4 stroke injected Yamaha engine. Extremely quiet and bags of torque.  With the light alloy construction, the boat leaps onto the plane almost instantly and can apparently reach 50 km/hr, not that we were interested in trying it out first time up.  Got to watch the deceleration though.  It stops equally quickly if one is a bit quick off the throttle and could lead to bodies and gear flying about!

Leaving one of the island bays and not a soul in sight

Taken by a mate who was fishing in one of the mussel farms

Naming now done!

Next outing will be fishing for real.......... at least from one side of the boat :-) .

Back to motorcycling, it was mentioned in the previous post that at the recent IAM conference, an ex-military paramedic with a passion for motorcycles gave a talk and demo about accident management with an emphasis on motorcycles.  Apart from all the other great aspects of his talk, he mentioned a product called Celox which is hemostatic, i.e. stops bleeding fast. Extensively used by the military in conflict situations, granules can be poured into an open wound or there's a range of dressings and pads which have been impregnated with the special granules and can stop bleeding from an open wound.

I always carry a modest first aid kit on the bike and it has now been supplemented with Celox gauze pads which are easy to use and very effective.  It's the sort of item you hope never to use but in a situation where there is significant blood loss, it might just save someone's life.  Got it in the car too.  Here's the item we bought and Celox products are available pretty much everywhere in the world:

Celox gauze pads

No rest for the wicked - being invaded by the kids and grandkids for Easter weekend, a 1400 km round trip to Wellington the following weekend in the car to visit old friends, then hopefully back to adventures on 2 wheels.


Friday, 2 March 2018

A most excellent week!

Definitely one of the busier weeks for this old geezer!

Last weekend was the Institute of Advanced Motorists annual conference and AGM being held at Lake Taupo in the central north island of NZ, about 270 km from where I live.  For members who fancied a bit of speed without red and blues and sirens behind them, there was also a trackday on offer on the Friday at the nearby Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park - the full international circuit no less!  I was certainly up for that!

Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park - 3.3km international circuit (stock photo)

Riding down the previous afternoon, it was wet with lots of roadworks but the morning of the trackday dawned sunny and warm - wonderful!  After scrutineering, we set up in a pit garage, dropped tyre pressures from road settings, taped the mirrors and waited for the briefing and first session.

The Suzuki ready to rock, with Alan's BMW 1200GT in the background

Terry's Aprilia Tuono and Graham's RSV 4 - yumm.....

The first session was taken relatively easy whilst riders learned the track, sorted out braking markers and so on.  All accomplished with no dramas.  From then on, it was all go, with progressively larger throttle openings held open for longer!  My road-going fuel consumption is generally between 5 - 5.3lt per 100 km and on the track it was between 8-9 lt per 100 km!

Alan on the 1200 GT and I were pretty evenly matched.  He'd been to the California Superbike School and was really impressive in the tight infield whereas I was faster on the sweepers and straights.  At 230 km/hr down the back straight, neither of us wanted to give an inch and all I'll say is thank goodness for ABS whilst scrubbing off enough speed to make the next turn!

 70 year old hooligan having the time of his life! (official photo)

Working hard to stay on the right line! (photo: Barry Holland)

Sticking it to a Gixxer rider who is on the wrong line!  (photo: Barry Holland)

Over 160km/hr down the short pit straight (photo: Barry Holland)

The Metzler Roadtec 01's stood up pretty well considering......

The following morning, there was a presentation on electric vehicles which completely changed my ill-informed views!  IAM member Wendy brought along her recently purchased Tesla Model S which has a 0-100km/hr time of about 4 seconds and was beautifully appointed.

Wendy's Tesla - get the number plate?

A local dealer brought along a Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe.  Both were surprisingly quick off the line and handled brilliantly.  The lack of noise made them even more impressive.  Running and maintenance costs were incredibly low and with ever-decreasing battery costs and increasing range, they're now a serious consideration, particularly as a commuting or round town vehicle.  A mate of mine has one for commuting and saves $100 per week on gas!

Lloyd hammering a Nissan Leaf off the start line

As enjoyable as the cars were, the real fun were the pedal-assisted e-bikes which were there for us to try out!  The Giant model I tried was a real buzz and as fast as heck in "turbo" mode.  One of our members has one for commuting to work in Auckland, a round trip of 38 km and absolutely loves it.  Methinks that one would be handy to replace my 2 decades old mountain bike with all the hills where we live!

 Alan on the Scott e-bike

We also had a presentation by an engineer from Helite, the people who manufacture airbag clothing for motorcyclists.  Everything from inflating hi-vis vests through to adventure riding jackets.  Externally, they looked like a normal jacket and it was an impressive presentation.  Prices were similar to normal higher end motorcycle jackets.

In the afternoon,  it was off to Rotorua, some 90km away to play on the luge.  This is a concrete track  winding down the side of Mt Ngongotaha, hurtling downhill on an unsprung plastic cart.  The more competitive of us kept our leathers on in case of wipeouts, haha!

Lee and I queuing in full leathers - no quarter given or expected!

A long way down....  (file photo)

Stunning views over Lake Rotorua from the top of the luge

Lee's magnificent MV F3 675 triple in the luge car park

After the excitement of the afternoon, it was a brisk ride back to Taupo for a delightful buffet dinner.  The following morning, there was a superb session on accident scene protocols and rendering immediate assistance by an ex-military paramedic and fellow biker.  He was down to earth and debunked a few myths - a great learning experience.  I'll also be doing a re-think on the medical kit I carry and will certainly be adding Celox gel packs to safely stop bleeding.

Mike Nicolle explaining an aspect of scene management

After a mercifully short AGM (IAM does not thrive on bureaucracy!), it was time to head home.  It was in the delightful company of Street Triple owner Joanne, who is the IAM co-ordinator from Christchurch in NZ's South Island.  Jo hadn't previously visited the Coromandel Peninsula so it was a good opportunity to show her the sights by bike and car.  Jo is dual-qualified as an IAM Observer for both bikes and cars and I'm not!  Found it vaguely unsettling driving her around by car, despite her protestations that she was off duty!

Dr. Jo and her Street Triple R on the western side of the Coromandel Peninsula

On the fantastic Driving Creek pottery railway in Coromandel

The day after Jo began her long trek back to Christchurch, and in the company of some other IAM members from our region, I attended a suspension clinic in the Auckland area with Dave Moss, one of the world's authorities on how to set up motorcycle suspension. (His website HERE and his YouTube masterclass HERE , among many others). I thought I was "reasonably" ok on the basics of suspension adjustment but just how wrong can you be???  The clinic was a trial initiative between an Auckland-based riding instructor Chris Smith of Passmasters , Dave Moss and amazingly, our regional council authority.  The rationale was that properly adjusted suspension has the potential to save lives from a bike which handles better with improved grip, less fatigue plus all sorts of peripheral benefits.  The Waikato Regional Council has long championed motorcycle safety with a range of motorcycle training courses but this was the first foray into suspension as a safety initiative.

Arriving in Auckland, Dave checked all the initial settings of the bikes and made some preliminary adjustments based on rider weight.  He then explained what he was doing and why in easy to understand terms and made sure that everyone was comfortable to ask questions, no matter how dumb they thought they were - Dave is a patient and natural communicator.

He then explained that we would be going for a ride of some 150 km covering all sorts of conditions with several stops to make adjustments whist the bikes were at normal operating temperature - the only way to do it properly.  

Dave adjusting my rebound at the first stop (photo: Tony Knight)

Dave holding a Q&A on the ride

Adjusting IAM member Goose's Honda Crosstourer

Bike porn on a GSX-R 600

To cut a long story short, the improvement to my GSX-S was massive, which was a bit of a shock (no pun intended!) and all the attendees felt the same way.  No longer did it wander about over surface irregularities and the effort required to countersteer through a tight series of bends had diminished by a large amount - far less fatiguing.  In fact, I initially tended to over-correct with far more effort than now required, thanks to muscle memory kicking in! All this from fairly tired suspension.  On the way home, the last 50 km was in heavy rain and an indifferent road surface from the recent storm.  I've never previously felt so much confidence in riding in less than optimum conditions whilst still able to make good progress.  Massive thanks to Dave Moss, Chris Smith and the Waikato Regional Council for the enlightened attitude of making this genuine safety-related opportunity available to a wide range of riders!

What a day, what a week!

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Something to live up to

Got a call this afternoon from Philip McDaid, Chief Examiner (Motorcycles) for the Institute of Advanced Motorists in NZ.  He wanted to know whether I'd accept being appointed to the position of IAM Examiner, currently one of 6 in NZ.  Must say that it was quite an emotional conversation in terms of both being immensely proud to be asked, coupled with trepidations about upholding the incredibly high expectations and standards.

When starting the journey in April 2011, it was principally driven by the fact that I was seriously lacking in talent and the chances of  injury and/or expensive encounters with the gendarmerie were pretty high.  There's no need to go over old ground as the journey so far has been reported in the blog since that initial assessment where Philip was able to confirm that I would indeed benefit from mentoring using the UK Police Roadcraft System (my mates were far less diplomatic!).

Apr 2011 - Initial Assessment - Philip's expression nearly made me pee myself!

Eight months after joining, I passed the Advanced Roadcraft Test after a lot of blood, sweat and tears.  Serious doubts as to whether I'd ever be good enough. Well, we made it but by then, it became pretty obvious that no matter what a person does in life, learning never stops.  Progressing onto Observer (mentor) training was a great way to build further skills as well as paying it forward for all the time and effort from others which had helped me to become a better rider.  That took the best part of another year to pass and then it was on to Senior Observer after a couple of years of building experience.  A lot of the learning has also spilled over into my personal life, especially interpersonal stuff.  A real life example of win-win!  Now it all starts again with another round of intensive learning but to be honest, would we really want it any other way?    Retirement sure doesn't mean taking it easy!

Dec 2012 - Just passed my Observer Test and have dust in the eye (well, maybe a teardrop)

Mar 2017 - Out for a brisk social run with other Observers

Interestingly, a comment made by Dan Bateman, a training manager at Team Oregon in the USA when I passed my Advanced Test in 2011 still stands out as much as it did at the time.  He said

"Also remember that you will forever be known differently now.  It is a tremendous responsibility to always reflect the proper ideals"

It's something I'm acutely aware of and that's going to be even more important now.  The hooligan tendencies haven't entirely disappeared and I hope I can live up to the standards!

Arrested whilst loitering outside a country toilet!
(Steve is a police instructor and fellow IAM member)