Wednesday, September 1, 2010

1 May ~ 2,750kms; 1 September ~ 26,750kms. The postscript

This will most probably be the last post!! Helga is now back home, sort-of washed and back in her old parking spot.

I went to Auckland on Monday morning hoping to be able to go to Tappers Transport and pick her up out of the Customs bond. The plan was to get her out of her crate, refit the windscreen and mirrors, reconnect the battery and ride south. The best laid plans.....

Everything went well on the flight up and the taxi ride over to Tappers which is in Onehunga, getting there at about 10.30. Then the major snag. I cleared Helga, got all the forms and then was asked: "Where have you parked your vehicle?" I explained that I had come over by taxi and all their alarm bells went off. As I discovered, Tappers can only release the bikes onto the back of a truck, crate and all to be taken somewhere else. For them it was an issue of heath and safety plus the fact that they didn't want to get left with all the timber from the crates! I could see their point of view but I did wish someone at the carrier had explained this to us.

The guy at Tappers was fantastic. He is a biker (so I guess it goes without saying!) and did everything he could to organise a truck. He even took me into the bond area so I could have a look at Helga and say hello. The biggest problems were that Dick was stuck in a Hubbards Board meeting and couldn't get out. And I couldn't get his bike released because I didn't have his paperwork. Finally I managed to get Dick out of his meeting (briefly) and he kicked Hubbard's logistics into action. At the same time I persuaded the carrier company to email his paperwork to the nice man at Tappers so I could sign it out. (Apparently I could be trusted because I am a biker! :-) What goes round....)

Hubbards sent over a truck at around 1.30pm and we got the bikes loaded.

The driver was another great guy and we took the bikes over to the Hubbards factory and got them unloaded.

It took a while to get Helga out of her crate and all connected up again but by 3.30pm I was raring to go. My motorbike clothing was absolutely disgusting! You might remember it was raining in Sydney and I loaded wet gear into the panniers. Well they were pretty bad - covered with mildew and smelly smelly smelly! But never mind, on they went and so did I. Quick refueling stop in Onehunga and then onto the motorway and heading south.

What a blast! I took the bypass route down from Ngaruawahia to Otorohanga. We loved those corners. I think we'd missed them!! Found a motel in Otorohanga and a meal and had an uneventful, though rather damp, ride back to Welly in the Tuesday. I parked Helga in the same spot as the cover photo so we could do a before and after:

Then a celebratory Cascade Premium Light (our favourite Oz beer) and that my friends, is that!

Thanks for all the support and encouragement. And thanks too to my family for putting up with all of this! On to the next one!



Monday, August 16, 2010

The final (sort-of) summing up!

Greetings all
This will be my last major entry on this blog. I thought that I would make a kind of summary statement – and invite anyone who wants to discuss details more with me to get in touch before they try something similar. So here goes:

I have been a Honda and Suzuki man for a long time. I have used my ST1300 for a lot of touring and the DR650 for a lot of commuting and some off-road and gravel-road work. Looking back I think the R1200GS was the ideal compromise choice for this trip. Not as comfortable as the Honda, nor as capable in the dirt as the Suzuki, but really good at all ranges. This included cruising all day at 130kph in the Northern Territory to coping with dirt on the Gibb River Road.

Both bikes were reasonably reliable. I had a new starter motor fitted in Darwin, and a new temperature sensor fitted in Adelaide. Dick had a new battery fitted in Perth and needed a new oil-level sightglass fitted in Adelaide. Economy was good, generally sitting on 4.7 – 5.2 litres/100kms. For some reason Dick got better economy than me, even though our riding styles were pretty much the same. All up we did about 23,500kms in the three and a bit months.

One of the criticisms of the Beemers is that they are over-engineered (Too much computing?) I think this is a fair comment - especially compared to the DR650!! A couple of examples:
- the electrical circuit won't allow you to run a hefty current for any period of time so pumping up tyres with a compressor for example is difficult.
- one problem I had was with a temperature sensor. Even tho you have a temperature gauge on the dash, the bike also has a temperature sensor; if it thinks the bike is over-heating it shuts it down regardless of what the temperature gauge says. This was a real pain. Slow work through sand and rush hour traffic through Adelaide and she died. The fault was in the sensor itself! Grrrrrrrrr!

We both maintained good health through the trip. I had a case of the Darwin trots down the West Coast but apart from that we both did ok. I think a key to this was that we had no fixed schedule or finishing time.

Our overall plan was to stick to the coast as much as possible. We were a bit ambitious however regarding our ability to manage Australian dirt roads. They proved much more difficult that I had expected. As a result we did not go right to the top of Cape York and we avoided the Great Central Road from Kalgoorlie to Uluru. We struggled a bit on the Mereenie Loop from Uluru to Hermannsburg which we thought would take 5 hours or so (153kms) but actually took nearly two days and left us camping out on the side of the road. The big problem here was unseasonable rain which turned the road into a bog. But sand was probably our biggest challenge. The big Beemers don’t go well on sand – and we didn’t have the most aggressive possible tyres either. Rivers were a challenge but after an initial tumble when Helga and I went swimming we coped ok.

Apart from that we chose well and generally had a great time completing around 500kms in a typical day.

Our gear worked well. Dick would have preferred a more roomy tent but his was ok. We used just about everything that we took. I brought a bit of stuff back to NZ (my security cable and bike-cover for example) and we bought a bit of extra gear but we were pretty much ok.

Our GPSs (both Garmin Zumo 660s) were excellent. Dick’s didn’t survive falling off his bike at 100kph but then I probably wouldn't have done either. They were invaluable for negotiating strange cities and both had music loaded so could keep us going on the long and boring straights. Also very handy for locating accommodation and fuel in new locations. I went for the in-helmet Bluetooth system and it was great. Dick had a wired system which meant he had to remember to unplug on getting off the bike. He learnt quickly after pulling his bike over on one occasion.

I didn’t buy any new riding gear. Generally my jacket, helmet, trousers and rain suit coped ok. My boots (Canyons) were fantastic – comfortable and really waterproof. (Thanks Richard!)

We took gas stoves and some utensils but actually used them only occasionally. Mostly we had breakfast before we left and then ate out for the rest of the day. RSL and sports clubs were good.

We had our tents and air mattresses and probably used them every third day or so, especially in the northern half of the island. Other than that we went for cheap cabins, back-packers, motels and the occasional faded lady hotel in country towns. All reasonably good.

We met very few unpleasant aussies. We took a bit of stick for being kiwis but nowhere near as much I suspect as we dish out to aussies. Generally people were friendly and interested in what we were doing – especially the grey nomads!

It will have cost us around $3,000 each to ship our bikes Auckland – Sydney – Auckland. Sounds a lot but it would have been too expensive to hire (around $96 per day) and no one was interested in a “buy-back” deal in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. As a result we bought our bikes newish in NZ and had run up some 2,000kms before we left so we were pretty familiar with how they worked. So far shipping agents and customs have been great.

We also took our bikes under the Carnet de passage system arranged with NZ AA which meant we could travel on NZ registration plates and WOFs. We had to leave deposits with the AA to ensure that we brought the bikes back and didn’t dispose of them illegally. Hopefully this will be refunded (plus the interest earned) as soon as the bikes are cleared here in a few weeks time.

BMW Australia
The service centres we went to (Darwin, Perth & Adelaide) were great. The bikes were well-serviced, new tyres and repairs where needed. Everyone was genuinely interested in what we were doing and courtesy cars were laid on to take us to airports etc. Also good coffee and facilities for waiting around and storage for our gear while we came back to NZ.

I have been asked this several times since getting home and it is really hard to answer – I suspect it was the Gibb River Road and the Mereenie Loop.

What’s next?
What a good question. India first up I think and then maybe Fairbanks in Alaska down the western seaboard to Tierra del Fuego in Argentina. Maybe....

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Day 58: It's done

We woke this morning to one sound that we didn't want to hear. Yep! Bugger - it's raining. Not just raining but persistently persisting down. Triple bugger!!! I had left my roll bag and rainsuit on the bike and of course they were soaked. It also meant we had to wash the bikes in the rain. Sound easy but actually it was most unpleasant. We organised a hose out of the back gate of the house and got on with it. The surface dirt was easy enough but there really was some ingrained grime - some from the loop road out of Uluru some weeks back. We then rode through the rain to Port Botany where we tried to find the shipping depot. Karen (the GPS) got us to the right road but we could not find the exact address. We stopped to have a Steering Committee meeting when a bloke in a truck stopped to see if we were ok. The first thing he told us was that he had a GS just like these. Apparently he worked in the same warehouse at the same depot as we were trying to find so he just led the way. We arrived there at about 11.30am.

They were expecting us and directed us into a nice dry part of the warehouse where we began sorting and packing our stuff to take home, stuff to biff (minuscule), and stuff to go back home in the bikes. This meant I had to put my sopping wet jacket and motorbike trousers into a pannier. It will be very interesting when I get them out in three weeks time! Yuk!

Our old crates were delivered - a bit worse for the wear - and we ran the bikes up onto their original pallets and strapped them down with wooden slabs nailed around the wheels. The local boss offered us the use of a nailgun (with a 10sec lesson on how to use it) and this made the job much easier. We disconnected batteries, removed mirrors and windscreens and we were done. We weren't allowed to completely crate up the bikes. This had to wait until customs had been in and verified the chassis numbers. The girls will then get loaded onto the JOP Scorpious and should arrive in Tauranga on 22 August. This year. I hope!

We then said farewell to our girls and headed for the airport arriving there at about 4pm. Our flight home didn't leave until 6.30 so we settled into the Koru lounge (thanks Dick!) to wait it out. A good trip back to Auckland where we were met by Diana and a night at their apartment. Home the following day, via a tour of Hubbards Foods. Despite the rocky start, another good day. Tomorrow the summary!!


Day 57: Completing the loop: 1 May - 9 August

It was a stunning but freezing morning when we woke up in Canberra. The temperature was minus 2 degrees C! Look at the ice on poor Helga: We had a quick breakfast and then Dick led the way for the Hubbard-tour of Canberra (abbreviated). I kind of lost track of all the different routes because as well as riding in an unfamiliar town, it was still rush-hour Monday morning traffic. Anyway eventually we wound up at the House of Parliament and parked illegally on a corner so we could take some photos. I don't know if you have read Garth's blog (http://garthonwalkabout.blogspot.com/2010/06/14610-cann-river-to-sydney-604km-total.html) but we had an almost identical experience to the one he wrote about. We had only been there for a few minutes when a Australian Federated Police person rode down to us on a pushbike, complete with Glock, handcuffs and radio. (The police-person that is, not the pushbike.) Hullo we thought (or hullo, hullo, hullo) we're going to be moved on for illegal parking. But no, nothing like it. he had come down to look at the bikes. When he realised that we were kiwis and on the last leg of a circumnavigation of Orstralia his enthusiasm turned positively gushing. He is a biker (can't remember what now) and this trip is on his bucket list.

Then his mate came down and all four of us stood in front of the mother of all-Ostralian parliaments talking bikes and biking. While chatting I mentioned that we had been told the section of road from Cooma to Canberra was supposed to be "over-policed" but that we had only seen two patrol cars. "Oh don't worry," he said. "They'd be there all right, hiding up little sideroads. The bastards!" Hmmmmmm

We then headed off to the National War Memorial to have a look at the exhibits there. We arrived at about 9.15 and, as the museum didn't open till 10am, took some time to wander around and have a coffee. If you haven't been to the War Memorial in Canberra I highly recommend it. It is a little jingoistic in parts but they have made a real effort to tell the ordinary stories of ordinary men and women in the various wars that Orstralians have been involved in from the Boer War to Afghanistan. In particular the dioramas depicting First World War scenes are chilling. Quite amazing. The only niggle we had was that in the so-called "ANZAC Hall" there was absolutely no representation of New Zealand.

At around 11am we headed out of Canberra and onto the Federal and then the Hume Highway heading for Sydney. A pretty uneventful trip really of some 300kms of three-lane motorway. I guess we just kind of settled into the groove and got on with it.

Arriving in Sydney Dick made good his promise to take me across the harbour bridge. To do that however, we first had to go through the Harbour Tunnel. I am sure this is a doddle in a car but in was quite unnerving on the bike. Very hot and claustrophobic with sudden gusts of chilled air from time to time to make the bike rock. The Harbour Bridge itself was a bit of an anticlimax basically because you were so busy riding and watching out for the traffic that you didn't have time for the view. We also had to pay tolls twice - and I'm not sure for what!

From there we went to Milson Point for the "official" end point of the tour. It is fair to say that we were pretty stoked at this point. As the photos show!
From there it was - in theory at least - a straightforward run to Ruth's terrace house in Paddington. Somehow however we wound up back on another toll road. Bugger - neither of us had any money so we just drove through on the electronic toll road. As we didn't have a transponder this would have meant that our numberplates will have been photographed and a "special" toll will be on its way. I wonder if we'll ever get it? Then we wound up riding up George Street, one of the main streets in Sydney, absolutely choked with traffic. It was not great fun, especially as the GPS kept trying to send us the wrong way up one-way streets. Eventually however we arrived at Ruth's.

We got ourselves unpacked, took Ruth out for dinner at a local Austrian restaurant and then I crashed. A big day tomorrow: get the bikes cleaned, get them over to the shipping depot, set up on their pallets and strapped down ready for the Customs-person.

Another great day.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Day 56: Victoria to NSW to ACT

Yes today was our day for travelling interstates. We woke up in Victoria, rode into NSW and ended up in ACT. We woke to another really cold and frost day this morning. Had a quick Muesli (not Hubbards!) breakfast and set off carefuly heading east with the little ice crystal on the dash flashing at us and the temperature going from 1.5 degrees C to 2 degrees and back again. We pretty much stuck to the coast road through Bairnsdale to Lake Entrance and Oborst stopping at Bellbird Creek from some well-earned bacon and eggs. Then we struck our first sign giving a distance to Sydney - the journey suddenly began to feel as if it was close to an end. Only 595 kms left to Sydney!

That also took us back into NSW.

On then to Eden and Bega (where we had been told to watch out for milk tankers) and then we found .... wait for it ... some corners!

This road was a real blast. We had been warned that it would be slippery with leaf litter but actually it was quite clear. A series of hairpin bends with advisories of 25kph. Great fun. We stopped at the top for a great view down the valley.

We then pushed on to Cooma where we stopped for a snarler and a latte and were told that the ride through to Canberra now would be painfully slow because of all the Sunday afternoon skiers going home from the Snowy Mountains to Canberra. In the end however it wasn't too bad but we were both amazed at the number of dead kangaroos and wombats on the side of the road through this section. We had also been told to watch out for the Highway Patrol too so we were careful about keeping to the speed limit. In the event however we only saw two patrol cars.
This took across our next border into the Australian Capital Territory...

...and up into Canberra. We spent a bit of time tooling around in Canberra looking at some of the sights before settling into an expensive, and not very good, motel in Ainslee. From we walked around to an AFL club for the usual beer and a meal. Even though it was a Sunday this place was humming. Pokies took up nearly half of the space with huge bar areas and a restaurant. We had a really nice meal and a couple of (low-alcohol) beers and then decided to have a Baileys to finish the night off. This led to one of the most hilarious drinks we ever ordered in Oz and really illustrated the extraordinary amount of over regulation the country suffers from. Here's what happened.

I went up to the bar and ordered two Baileys and asked that they be served in wine glasses rather than the huge tumblers they often come in. That was fine and the drinks were poured; but then the barman asked what I would like mixed with them. I was a bit surprised but told him I didn't want anything as a mixer. The barman explained that he wasn't allowed to do this. Under ACT law, all spirits and liquers must be served with a mixer. They cannot be served straight lest the terrible Aussies use them as shooters. I asked what he thought Baileys could be mixed with and he suggested ice.

"OK then," I said, "What is the smallest amount of ice that I have to have in my Baileys?" He replied "One cube." So we got out the ice bowl and searched through it to find the two smallest teeniest possible ice cubes and put one in each glass. Thusly was the law satisfied. Dumb!

We then walked back home to our motel and had a good night's sleep. A long day today covering 625kms, some of which was delightfully twisty. Off to Sydney tomorrow for the last day of our trip. I'm not sure whether to feel pleased or sad!

Day 55: The ferry to Sorrento

Up early in Apollo Bay and went looking for breakfast but - being a Saturday - nothing was open. Grabbed an iced coffee in a box and got ourselves packed up to continue our trip east. We couldn't find anyone to give our money to so ended up giving it to the cleaner who promised to pass it on the the hotel management. We scraped the ice off the bikes and then got on the road into a cool breeze and headed off. It was a stunning day but quite cold.

We followed the coast road through Lorne and Torquay and then decided to avoid Melbourne by taking the ferry from Queenscliff to Sorrento. A bit expensive at $35 each but a great trip nonetheless.

The ferry was a catamaran and obviously well used by the locals. Took about 45 minutes and dropped us off at Sorrento on the Mornington Peninsula. Dick has a neice at Brighton in Melbourne so we decided to visit her and say hello. It was a bit of a drag through the Saturday traffic but eventually we got to her house but (of course) she was out!

We found our way onto the motorway and, being a bit fedup with city traffic, had a blast down the M1 through Warragul, Moe (I loved that name) and through the Latrobe Valley. This is known as Power Station Valley and you could certainly see why. There must be big coalfields nearby as there were at least three power stations sending huge plumes of steam up into the air.

We got to Sale at around 5pm and booked into a budget motel. We were given a great room for $90 and then went round to the local cricket club for a meal, a beer or three and - of course - to watch the rugby. If you want to have fun watching rugby then I can only recommend that you do it in Orstralia, surrounded by Orstralians ... provided of course that the All Blacks are winning. It was a lot of fun and we took a bit of stick for being kiwis but we enjoyed ourselves.

And so tomorrow we head up towards Canberra - should be a long day but hopefully a good day!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Day 54: The great great great ocean road

Up early and packing up the bikes this morning. Were about to hit the road when one of the staff said, "Have you had your breakfast?" Turns out the breakfast was part of the package and it was actually B&B for our $35. We were very pleased. In fact I wanted to know if she was married. If not I thought we might stick around for a bit. Dick wanted to know if she had a boat as well but I think that was a bit much for her. Single and with a boat? No and no. We even asked for a picture of the boat.....

A great ride down from Kingston SE along the coast to Beachport - where we chickened out on riding along this huge jetty.

We crossed the border into Victoria....

then down to Portland and then onto the Great Ocean Road. And yes it was great but unfortunately also very wet and very slippery with leaf mould all over the road in the gorges. We stopped for lunch at a pub built in 1853 and had a great Guiness and Beef pie and then rode on through to Apollo Bay where we have stopped for the night.

A tricky road - you don't know whether to go slow for the view or fang for the road. In the end the weather decided for us and it was a slow and tippytoes trip through lots of the gorges and gullies. But a great ride anyway. And the sea views were at least as good as those in Welly.