Feb 22 2012

Queenstown

tim

Today we make the short trek to Queenstown, yet despite the limited distance we managed to miss turns, get lost and run out of fuel, though thankfully not all at once.

I don’t know what we didn’t think to fuel up at Wanaka. For most of us it wasn’t an immediate problem, but for Trev, it meant switching to reserve just out of town. Why he didn’t turn back, I don’t know.

For others the need came as we wound down the mountainside toward Queenstown. We stopped to admire the view, and I decided shortly after that that I would rather flick to reserve when it suited me, then be caught in traffic on a windy road, fumbling for the switch.

At the bottom of the hill, whoever was leading missed the turnoff to Arrowtown, and despite my misgivings and disappointment, I followed suit, only to see those behind me slowing for the turn… so we had to double back.

Riding in to Arrowtown I saw Trev holding on to John’s Jeff arm with his right hand, and trying to steer his bike with his left, while John tried to keep his own ride upright and not bump into Trev’s bike. Trev had completely run out of fuel, and had decided to hitch a ride on John’s arm. We stopped an dripped Trev’s bike, to tip the last of the fuel from the right side of the tank to the outlet on the left side, and the bike started again. It turns out that there’s no fuel in Arrowtown, so Matt siphoned some from his bike, and we all limped in to Queenstown to fill up.

We booked into a backpackers in the middle of town, but couldn’t check in til 2pm, so we decided to take a ride on the Shotover Jetboat. Despite all the hype, I found the ride a bit bland; certainly less exciting than the Huka Jet in Taupo, and not as much fun as the private jetboats I’ve been on. The river level was quite low, so we suspect that might have had a negative effect on the ride.

We seemed to spend a lot of time in Queenstown riding in circles, looking for the jetboat, looking for the backpackers or looking for a place to park the bikes. In the end we parked on the footpath beside our accommodation, since not even the police could tell us for certain where we were allowed to park.

We spent most of the afternoon at one of the many pubs, and feasted at Flame Bar and Grill tonight. I highly recommend the mixed grill: steak, sausage, lamb chops and ribs. Huge, but delicious!

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Feb 21 2012

Update from Wanaka

tim

Tonight’s update comes from Wanaka, which we arrived at after two very long days in the saddle.

We left French’s Pass two days ago, retracing our steps along the 40km of dirt and twisty bitumen. I took it easy on the dirt; although French’s Pass is a dead-end track, it’s a popular destination, so there’s a bit of traffic. On graded dirt roads, the safest and least slippery path is usually the the wheel track on the inside of a corner. On a blind corner, particularly a right-hander, that can be a pretty scary concept. Much of the track clings to the side of barren hills, so you can see some distance ahead, even if you can’t see around the next corner, but when it gets into forested terrain, you have no warning of oncoming cars.

Back on the bitumen I seemed to hit my stride. Roger was first, and had his camera mounted backward on his bike. I followed close behind, and matched him through the tight corners. Since we’d covered the road once already, we had a good idea of where the surface was patchy or undergoing repairs, which, for me at least, helped my reactions. That stretch was a lot of fun.

We headed west on some incredible roads, and ended on the west coast, just out of Hokitika. In all, we covered about 450km. Our destination was a house on the beach, just out of town. After a quick debate over the merits of eating out vs eating in after a long day, a few of us headed in to town shop for dinner. After unwinding on beer, cheese and salami, we sat down to a mixed grill and veggies.

Our hosts had collected driftwood for a beach fire, which the guys got going, and spent much of the evening enjoying under a clear, starry sky. I read for a while and crashed early.

This morning we woke to rain. After coffee, good bacon and scrambled eggs, we layered up with our wet weather gear, and headed out into the wet, hoping that it would soon clear. Before leaving town we stopping into our hosts’ factory, right across the road. They call themselves “stone weavers” and they make coasters, table runners and door mats from flat round grey stones (which the area seems to be made of) bonded to matting material. The results are quite beautiful, and they sell their product at the factory and through homewares stores in New Zealand and overseas.

Then it was out into the cold and the wet. Before long I learned that my waterproof pants, well, weren’t, and my boots soon filled up with water. My jacket did its job, and I remained try from the waist up, and reasonably warm everywhere but my hands.

We stopped at Franz Joseph in the hope that the weather might clear, and that we might see the glacier, but that wasn’t to be. So after a coffee and a dry-out, we were on the road again. The weather continued all the way down the coast to Haast, where we stopped for lunch, and tried to work out what to do. One option was to stop where we were for the night; another was to push on to Wanaka, and another was to push even further to Queenstown. In the end we decided that Wanaka was a reasonable distance, and would leave us with a short ride to Queenstown the next day.

We retrieved our wet socks and gloves from the open fire at the restaurant (no dress code, it seems), and resumed our journey. The weather had cleared a little, thou it wasn’t til we were over the Haast Pass that we saw our first glimpse of blue sky. As we made the descent toward Wanaka, we were riding in sunshine at last.

We checked in to the backpackers, changed, and rounded up our wet and dirty clothes for a washing run. It turns out that the laundromat is more spacious than our room, so we spent the afternoon there and polished off a case of beer as our clothes dried.

This time there was no debate about dinner, and we dined at a restaurant on the foreshore.

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Feb 21 2012

Upcot Station to French’s Pass

tim

At 7pm last night we wandered up the track from the shearers’ quarters to the house. The property is 36 thousand acres, and has been in the family for three generations. The farmhouse is old, wi thick walls and low ceilings. Dinner was was BBQ roasted merino lamb with home grown veggies and mint potatoes. Our hosts, Bill and Nicky, the seven of us and half a dozen grey haired 4WD-ers ate at a huge timber outdoor table and got to know each other better as the light faded. The boys told their stories of travel and adventure, and the locals told us what to look out for as we continued our journey.

We were all in bed by 10:30pm, and I didn’t hear a snore until it was starting to get light outside.

Bill and Nicky had prepared us a breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs, sausages, toast fruit and cerial, with fresh brewed coffee. We packed before breakfast, and headed off into a light drizzle.

The overnight dew and the patchy drizzle kept the dust down. As we rode, the track steadily improved, with increasing sections of tarmac. The only scare we had this morning was a cattle grate on a bend in the road. Both Andrew and I felt our bikes kick out sideways as we crossed the wet steel grate… but even that was nothing, really. We turned off at the Mt Taylor Pass road, which put us back on the dirt for a while, before descending into a valley of vineyards and irrigated farmland, with a perfect twisty bitumen road through the middle of it.

That took us to Blenheim on the east coast, where we stopped for fuel and worked out the rest of our route for the day. From there we headed west, and made our way toward French’s Pass. We stopped for groceries in one of the last major towns along our route, and watched as the threatening clouds rolled in. We donned out wet weather gear and headed off again. True to form, the weather held, we made it to our lunch stop dry.

The further we went, the smaller, steeper and twistier the road got. Throughout the day, the landscape changed. Where the roads were paved, the landscape tended to be dense forest; when we hit dirt again, we were back in open country, but this time is was on the coast, and climbed high, clinging to the side of hills which presented a sheer drop to the water. The whole landscape here, and on the surrounding islands, is one of steep hills jutting strait from the water.

Not far from our destination, the lads saw some wheel tracks that headed up the ridge line of a grassy hill. They headed straight up it. Well, all but Matt, who manage to get his bike stuck in the ditch and bank on the side of the road, and me, who stayed behind and used the opportunity to take photos.

The house we’re in is perched on the side of the hill, overlooking the township and the jetty. Spag Bol is simmering on the stove, and the boys are playing what sounds like black jack, as some bargain bin CD of 60s pop songs plays in the background.

This place is lovely. I’ve heard just about everyone say they could stay here for the week. The view from the kitchen alone is worth the trip.

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Feb 19 2012

Day One

tim

The snorers clearly got a good night’s sleep last night. The only thing that seemed to interrupt them was Matt’s smoker’s cough. Every time he’d have a hack, the snorers would stop for a moment, as if in reverence.

The Jailhouse is exactly that: an old prison, converted to a backpackers hostel. The outer wall is mostly gone, though the original front gate is still there (you just walk around it). Inside, it has two floors, with a large open space in the centre, and a walkway around the edge to access the upper cells. Downstairs, there’s a decent kitchen and even a selection of free food, as long as you like bread, cucumber and tea.

After a cuppa, we wandered to Burger King and waited for it to open. I seem to have developed an intolerance for bad food, as their breakfast omelette was disgusting, and left me feeling I’ll.

Next we headed to City Motorcycle Hire to collect the last two bikes. Roger had an issue with his exhaust, so we waited while they sourced a gasket and made the repairs. In the meantime we did a little grocery shopping and tried to find some prepaid SIM cards so we could call loved ones, check emails etc. We didn’t have much luck with the SIM cards. We finally found out where the nearest Telecom shop was, and suddenly Roger’s bike was ready. Rather than test his patience further, we hit the road.

Hanmer Springs is a resort town with hot springs. It’s not far from the city, and is a popular weekend spot. For us, it was a place to eat lunch, fuel up, and start on the serious riding of the day.

From there we rode up Jollies Pass, the start of 120km track through mountain passes and river valleys. The views were spectacular, and the riding was intense. I was by far the slowest of the group, but I was happy at the back, as long as I was far enough back to stay out of the dust of the others. Andrew would often stop and get his camera out, and being last, I was always sure to get my photo taken as I rode past. Each time he’d come up behind me, copping my dust in his open face helmet. Each time he would pass, and return the favor. Occasionally there would be intersections and gates, and someone would always hang back to make sure the last bike, usually me, was through and headed the right way.

My only real scare came in the first 50km. I came around a downhill, left hand bend and found a 4WD coming the other way. I panicked, and the bike started to fishtail down the hill. I held tight, trying to keep the bars from swinging from side to side, and trying not to lock things up. I got it under control, and ended up coming into the next corner a little fast (which was reassuring in a strange way). I don’t think I’ve ever come out of a situation like that without coming off before. So while I was feeling a little proud of myself, I was still pretty rattled. I toolkit slow for a bit, and got my nerve back.

Our first stop was 50km in. Roger was pretty sure we were over half way to our destination (much to my relief), but the ranger soon drove past with two pieces of unwelcome information: we were well less than half way to our destination, and the speed limit on the track is 50km/h (which meant we were speeding, and hey, did you hear about the crew that came through this morning and lost a rider because they were speeding?)

Being told the speed limit (and having the ranger in front of us, enforcing it somewhat) was a bit of a relief for me. I kept to the back, and did my best to limit my anxiety by riding within my abilities.

Our next stop was at Cobb Hut, which Roger had originally thought we’d passed long before. There we lowered the tyre pressure a bit, and the combination of that, better tracks and a destination 10km closer than we expected made for an anxiety free ride for me.

Tonight were in the shearers’ quarters at Upcot Station. Our only casualty for the day has been Andrew’s phone, which drowned in a bottle of red that broke in John’s pannier. Most of us are more cut p about the lost red than the phone. We’d threatened to throw his phone in a river anyway, and I think John’s strategy was much more creative.

We’re showered and watered (or scotched, mostly), and settled in. In about half an hour we’ll be sitting down to dinner up at the house. I’ll sleep well tonight.

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Feb 19 2012

Jailhouse Backpackers

tim

I think I finally understand prison as a form of punishment: being locked in a room with men who snore.

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Feb 19 2012

Christchurch

tim

We arrived in Christchurch a few minutes before midnight. As our taxi took us from the airport to the historic Jailhouse Backpackers, the extent of the earthquake damage started to sink in. Partly I was what we saw around us: road works and new sewer works to replace the old; but mostly it was the commentary from the driver. Every hotel in the city is either destroyed or slaed for demolition. Christchurch is, on average, 5000 beds short. What accommodation there is is taken by tradespeople working on the repairs, people who’s homes have been damaged or destroyed, and visitors to the city. Of the latter, most stay only one night in town before moving on to other localities or picking up a camper van.

The good news for the South Island is that the tourists are still coming. The bad news for Christchurch is that they’re not sticking around.

We arrived at the Jailhouse to find five KLR650s parted out front, and John and Matt working hard on a bottle of American Honey. Andrew and I added our contributions to that (duty free is a wonderful thing), and we sat and talked and drank a while.

On the flight, Andrew and I watched U2: From The Sky Down (I think), which looked at U2s Achtung Baby, 20 years on. It was brilliant, and well worth watching.

Tomorrow Andrew and I will pick up our bikes, and I’ll reacquaint myself with my luggage, which is waiting for me at the bike hire place. After that, I need a local SIM for my iPad, so I can talk to my lovely wife and post this dribble for those foolish enough to stumble across it.

‘night all!

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Feb 17 2012

Not even Day One

tim

Preparations have gone well, but on day 0 (if tomorrow is day 1), we’ve already hit a snag. Some of us booked tickets with check-in luggage, and others didn’t, figuring that none of us would take more than about half the baggage limit anyway. I’m catching a flight tonight, so I sent my bag along with the main group who are about to fly out. I just got a message to say that Air New Zealand have a one-bag limit, regardless of weight.

My $30 no-checkin-luggage saving just cost me $75 in excess baggage fees.

On the upside, it wasn’t our airline that went into administration this morning, as far as I know they haven’t sacked 500 engineers this week. Any by all reports, Christchurch is still there.

Bring it on!

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Feb 11 2012

Eight Days on the South Island

tim

Next week, myself and six other guys will be riding KLR650s around New Zealand’s South Island. We’ll be taking off from Christchurch and doing our best to ge around the island, anticlockwise, in eight days.

Stay tuned…

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Sep 14 2011

Helmet Camera: Lessons Learnt

tim

One of the hopes I’d had for The Trip was to capture a good deal of helmet camera footage along the way. That plan was thwarted to a great extent by a broken collar bone, and by spending a fair chunk of the trip travelling in a 4WD. Apart from the Flinders Ranges and the Oodnadatta Track, the parts of the trip I did get to ride and capture were almost all on bitumen, and usually in a straight line.

Now that I’m editing the footage from the trip, I think I can offer some sage advice on the use of a helmet or vehicle-mounted camera:

  • I still don’t care for actual helmet camera footage. On tight and technical tracks, with trees and rocks and other bikes close at hand, it can make for some exciting clips. But after a couple of minutes, it leaves me wanting for another point of view, and vomit bag.
  • Vehicle mounting can work, as long as the mount is secure, and the camera is light. A lot of my footage was captured on a long arm made of RAM mount components. The weight of the components and the length of the arm resulted in a lot of amplified vibration, even though I used a light weight camera head and a wide-angle lens. Use a short arm, and keep it vertical so it can’t bounce under its own weight.
  • Handlebar mounting has its limitations. At speed it works OK, but on slow rides, where you move the front wheel for balance, it can make for some nauseating footage.
  • Velcro is not your friend. It adds a squishy layer between the two surfaces that it is trying to keep together, and on a vehicle mounted camera that translates to more vibration. 3M Dual-Lock tape is best if you absolutely have to use something like that, but ultimately a solid mounting system, backed up by some cable ties, is going to serve you better. Live with whatever inconvenience that causes.
  • Every time you stop, move the camera. When you’re trying to edit an hour of bitumen boredom down to a minute long montage, it helps if you have something to cut to other then from-the-handlebars-over-the-left-shoulder. You can fake a multiple camera rig if you keep moving the camera and the landscape doesn’t change too much. Short of the lengthening of shadows, no one is going to know that your B-roll footage was shot an hour later.
  • Use a mount that is quick to move (for the reason above). I’m starting to lean away from the oh-so-versatile RAM system in favour of a Manfrotto Magic Arm and Super Clamp, or one of the myriad Chinese knock-offs available. They clamp quick and tight to just about anything, and the the camera can be repositioned and locked off with the twist of just one knob.
  • If the weather is good, a handful of $11 MD80 spy cameras from eBay will capture all manner of footage from all sorts of angles. You’ll only get an hour or two of charge, but for that hour or two you’ll get total coverage of you, the bike and the surroundings. And they’re so small and light, Dual-Lock tape is more than adequate to hold them in place. (I’ve bought a couple, and I’ll write about them some more soon.)
  • Test everything before a trip. I had high plans for in-helmet commentary, and the ability to speak to my travelling companions while on the move. The closest I got to either was to leave the UHF radio in my top pocket with the volume all the way up. In the end, I did not get one second of useful audio from my helmet camera.

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Aug 24 2011

BIG tank

tim

Safari Tanks make great aftermarket long-range tanks for dirt bikes. In many cases the increase in capacity is enough to make a dirt bike into a serious dual-sport tourer. Their products aren’t cheap, but they have a great reputation. It seems they’ve been working on a tank for the KLR:

KLR650 Safari Tank

The 32 litre KLR650 Safari Tank

It looks as though the tank takes up the same space as the original tank plus the fairing. If the production model comes in decent colours, it will certainly get some market traction – even more so in the US where the KLR has a loyal following.

Compared with some of their other products, that easily double or triple the stock fuel capacity, this one doesn’t seem all that compelling. Not that the size or quality isn’t great, just that the stock tank is so big on the KLR.

It does make me wonder what the dry weight of the Safari tank is compared to the OEM tank and fairing combination of the KLR. I’d also be curious to know how the balance of the bike is changed with the fuel load lower down.

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