Yellow roundel… Number 35… Red streamliner bodywork like a ‘50’s sci-fi movie prop for some guided missile… 1920 Scout…. The legend ‘Offerings to the God of Speed’writ large across a cabinet full of twisted metal, everything from thrown con-rods to melted pistons… ‘Munro Special’. We can only be in one place on the planet; Invercargill, home of Burt Munro made famous to the wide world through Anthony Hopkins portrayal of the man in that great movie “The World’s Fastest Indian”. Not just a movie about motorcycles; it’s the story of a man’s passion to chase his dreams and doing so in his senior years. Burt hand-built and raced-tuned his old 1920’s Indian motorcycle and took it to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, to attempt a world speed record. He is seen initially as something of a joke when he unveils his home made contraption and presents it to the race scrutineers for permission to run it through a speed trial. He is permitted to make one test-run, more out of pity and… well watch it for yourselves and see what happens! One for all the family that’ll tug on every heartstring!
But today we’re not watching the bike on the big screen but in real life. Burt passed away in 1978 and his workshop and collection of bikes are now on display at E. Hayes Hardware Store in Invercargill. It’s a hard place to describe… think of a local hardware store selling everything from paint and sealant to nails, nuts and bolts, with a mix of home and kitchenware, gifts and souvenirs and even a camping section. It’s a fairly big old shop but scattered throughout all of the hardware is a somewhat incongruous collection of vintage cars and motorcycles including the Burt Munro bikes; his original Indian, various replicas made for the movie and an old AJS he also used to obtain speed records. There’s something for everyone in this emporium of delight and we spent hours mooching the aisles, ogling the bikes and chatting to the engaging staff over a complimentary coffee.
Invercargill was our base for a ride south to Bluff and the end of the South Island by road in New Zealand. The wind felt a little blustery that morning, as we left the campsite for the short ride to the end of the world. Once out of the confines of the city we gained exposure to some vicious, wicked winds, fully intent on knocking us off the bikes. From a crescendo of chop slaps about the head, like a bad-cop interrogation, to full on body blows that slammed broadside into the bikes, pummeling us brutally across the road first one way and then the other. It was a horrible ride and we arrived at Stirling Point blown red in the cheeks and fully adrenalized by the trial. Thankfully the wind desisted and the famous signpost proclaimed that the spot we were standing on was exactly 18,958 km from London. White capped waves crashed on the rocks below and out on the horizon grey sea met bleak sky, smudged in places like an overdone watercolour. We took some photographs to mark the occasion and were in turn photographed by a smiley Korean family who were amazed by our journey to get here. They left us to contemplate the fact that, right here on this spot, we were probably as far away from our point of origin as it is possible to get on the planet on our bikes. Not only that but from this point on, every mile turned would slowly take us back towards home…
Invercargill presented another link with home in the form of the Bill Richardson Transport Worldand Motorcycle Mecca. The Richardson family hailed from Drummaul in County Antrim, Northern Ireland and came to the area as farming immigrants in the late 1800’s. With increasing mechanization in the twentieth century the family drifted into the transport business and in later years Bill Richardson began collecting old trucks, cars and motorcycles eventually acquiring an enormous private collection now housed in the aforementioned museums. If you are thinking by now dreary sheds filled with dusty charabancs and crusty wagons then think again. Both museums were deserving of the appellation ‘best in class’ with every vehicle beautifully restored and presented. We spent an entire day here and loved the fact that all of the exhibits were freely accessible, relying on trust for you not to touch anything, thus allowing one to peruse the exhibits from every angle and appreciate every line. Attention to detail was magnificent down to the very toilets and each WC was themed around some aspect of motorized life.
To start the ride back north, we took to some fine motorcycling roads through the Caitlin Hill country. Along the way we were met and escorted by Wayne Poll, another F650 aficionado, who had kindly offered to host us with his delightful family in Dunedin. Wayne’s wife Greer and daughter Eden had a roast chicken dinner waiting and after this we settled in to a warm evening of some of the finest Kiwi hospitality. We spent the following morning repairing the printed circuit board on the instrument cluster of my bike. There is a known fault whereby a capacitor fails causing the speedo and rev-counter to flicker wildly and the digital odometer display start tumbling madly. Everything eventually settles down once the component warms up but it is annoying and Wayne had offered to fix it for me. In addition to helping wayward travellers, Wayne also organises the annual TT2000 event; a 2000-km, 48-hour motorcycle endurance ride (https://www.tt2000.org). How would you fancy a weekend riding 2000-km around a series of checkpoints in the South Island on mix of sealed and gravel roads? Entrants are given a T-Shirt and must photograph their bike with the shirt at each stop. Points are awarded depending on ease of access in gaining each checkpoint. It’s not a race and riders are expected to cover the ground while observing the legal speed limits. You can ride the route anyway you please and select as many of the checkpoints as targets as you like. The event was started over ten years ago by Kiwi Mike Hyde, author of the Twisted Throttleseries of books on motorcycle overlanding and touring. Sadly Mike passed away in 2015 and Wayne stepped up to ensure the continuity of the event. He does an amazing job too by all accounts and it was a privilege to meet him.
From Dunedin we road north on a short days ride to Oamaru, a lovely little coastal town that doesn’t seem to figure much on the tourist itinerary. Our next planned stop had been the mountain town of Twizel, base for exploring Mount Cook, but foul weather was at play making it unwise to continue in that direction for now. Oamaru still oozed with that ‘end-of-the-world’ feel to it; the town even has it’s own penguin colony and the harbour is where the Terra Novamade landfall on the return from the fatal South Pole expedition, bringing first news to the world that Scott and his entire party had perished in the 1912 attempt on the pole. There is a splendid Victorian quarter, complete with the outstanding ‘Adventure Book shop’, specialising in polar exploration and mountaineering books. The shop is home to a movie replica of the ‘James Caird’, the lifeboat that Sir Ernest Shackleton and five companions used in 1916 in the southern Atlantic Ocean to escape from Elephant Island to reach South Georgia, an epic 800-mile (1,300 km) trip and still regarded as one of the greatest small-boat journeys ever undertaken. We mooched the Grainstore Gallery, a wonderful jumble of a place set in a lofty old Victorian grain store. The place resembled a fateful collision between museum, working art studio and gallery of Victoriana, the cavernous interior festooned with heads, faces and eyes of everything from saints and angels, demons and demi-gods to jokers, jesters and penguins all beautifully executed in a range of styles and fashions.
Final showpiece for Oamaru was ‘Steampunk HQ.’ ‘Steampunk’ is a science-fiction genre, projecting a future in which electricity never fully developed as a technology allowing for a world dominated by extrapolated steam powered mechanical devices and machines. Steampunk HQis a jaw dropping contraptuary; a collection of such relics and artifacts and quite unique and unlike anything else we’ve experienced on our travels. We visited the HQ with fellow overlanders, Martin Strebel and Xenia Sägesser, from Switzerland on their pair of XT660’s. We spent a pleasant few days dining and chatting together in the campsite as we waited for better weather to move in. They eventually rode on north to Christchurch while we headed west to Twizel and that appointment with Mount Cook and from museums and fine hosts to more of that spectacular New Zealand outdoor life.
Teal coloured lakeland competed with snow capped mountain in attracting the eye, all of it slightly otherworldly. It felt remote and inaccessible and vestiges of the recent bad weather made for sci-fi skies filled with lenticular clouds and a highway-to-hell sunrise each and every day. We tramped up the Hooker Valley to see Mount Cook itself, the weather veiling New Zealand’s highest peak with gossamer wisps of cloud that parted occasionally for tantalising glimpses of lofty granite summit iced with snow. On the day we left Twizel, bad weather was forecast with heavy rain and high winds so an early alarm had us up, packed and ready to leave for 8am. It was a day spent riding in escape-and-evasion mode, ever looking over our left shoulders at a huge bruise of a weather-front that seemed to be chasing us and obliterating everything in its path along the way. The sky dominated the scenery, filled with smoke marbled clouds that seemed to herald the end of the world. It was dangerous as our eyes kept drifting away from the road, ever drawn upwards to marvel at the Cistine ceiling of clouds above, at once monstrous and magnificent, beautiful and beastly and seemingly in possession of a life of their own. Who knows, maybe it was all camouflage for a Steampunk invasion, the clouds filled with gothic beings from another planet travelling in their zeppelins, aiming vaporizing death-rays at our bikes as we rode along? I am glad to report that our evasion attempts were successful and we reached our destination warm and dry, once again awed by the beauty of the world in which we live.
We had new tyres fitted (possibly the last of the trip?) by Kiwi Motorcycle Rentals (https://www.citymotorcyclerentals.com), who are the NZ importer for Heidenau tyres. We spent a morning in the company of Andrea and Alan who really went out of their way to look after us and we left with a very high opinion of their business, especially the attention to detail and customer care. The new tyres were run in on a ride up to Hanmer Springs where we spent Easter doing a spot of gentle hiking in warm settled weather before riding on to Westport back on the stormy west coast. Here we visited the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki and spent a day slaloming on the coast road rendered wild and windy by the weather, although it thankfully remained dry.
Our penultimate stop on the South Island was up in Takaka with Joe Hambrook, a Kiwi ‘round-the-wordler’ who we met, on his way home, at Horizons Unlimited in Indonesia. Takaka is up on Golden Bay in the very northwest corner of the island and is something of a little paradise. Our initial plan had been to come here first on arrival in the South Island but the weather intervened when Cyclone Gita destroyed the only access road over Takaka Hill, a huge landslide taking out multiple sections of the road and closing it for ten days. It had only recently re-opened, with traffic escorted at fixed times in each direction by a convoy system, so we had a good look at the clean up operation and could appreciate first-hand the damage done by the foul weather. Joe was born here and works today as a Park Ranger for the DOC (Dept of Conservation) and he laid on some excellent days out to Wharariki Beach and Abel Tasman National Park. It was an immensely pleasurable experience and indeed a privilege to walk the land with such a local expert.
A final ride took us on a series of twisty roads under luxurious cobalt skies through the Marlborough Sounds area back to Picton, both gateway and now exit to this South Island paradise. On the ferry back to Wellington we contemplated how we very nearly skipped this ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’ due to the difficulties and expenses of getting here. It has been one of the highlights of our entire trip and a place we will be very sad to leave, as one day soon we surely must…
There are two photogalleries for this post that may be accessed by clicking the following links: