Thursday, January 14, 2016

2016 Northern Odyssey

The Northern Odyssey is a Ulysses Club organised ride of 1,000 kilometres and the idea is to follow a prescribed route and answer on route questions posed by the organiser. This year it was a loop of the East Coast/East Cape starting in Taupo . I waited until most of the holiday traffic was off the road, picked a window of promised fine weather, zeroed the trip 2 metre and rode out of my drive. Because of my geographical location in respect to the start I did some of the last questions first which avoided the need for me to double back at the completion of the ride. So in the first day I picked off the questions at Wai-o-tapu, Reporoa, Taupo, Tarawera, Eskdale and Havelock. I grew up in the Hawkes Bay and hadn't been to some of the areas in 30 years. The road to the top of Te Mata Peak that I remember as gravel is now sealed though no wider than I recall. The view from the trig station, that as a youth was lost on me save for the recognition that if you fell off it was a long way down, now presents as the most gorgeous picture of farmland and the Tuki Tuki river. In the other direction is what once was the small village of Havelock North and the city of Hastings. Havelock is no longer that small village. Clifton was another surprise. Clifton as a child was firstly a seaside camp ground and secondly, the place where a tractor and flat deck trailer would take you out to the gannet colony. I remember an uncomfortable ride along the foreshore, legs dangling over the side of the trailer and hanging on for dear life in fear of falling off into the sea as we bounced our way out to the birds. The other thing I remember is the smell. Well the tractor and trailer experience still awaits the intrepid tourist though I note that the trailer now has soft seats but legs still dangle over the sides in time honoured fashion. I bet the smell hasn't improved. The big surprise however was that the surf has all but eroded the road to the camp grounds. A few more wild winters and the road will be gone. I spent the night with my Harley riding brother and his wife and had lunch the following day with my sister. One of the nice things about being retired is that lunch can start at 11.30 and last 'till 1.30 and no one cares.
Lunch done so I head north and tick-off the clues posed by the organiser until Wairoa. Now there is a pie shop in Wairoa that is a must do destination. Oslers pies are legend but when I get there it is mid afternoon and there are none left. My diet is saved once more. After Wairoa the route takes me through Frasertown and Tiniroto or, if you like, the back road to Gisborne. I've been to Gisborne from Wairoa many times but never this way. I've been to Frasertown before also because it is on the way to Lake Waikaremoana and is a great ride if you don't mind the gravel. I had in mind to stay overnight in Gisborne but at 5 o'clock it seemed a little early so I filled up and pushed on. At Tolaga Bay the route has us go out to the wharf. You can read about the wharf here.  There was an inviting camp ground next to the wharf and since I had my camp gear with me I was tempted but there was a howling wind blowing off the sea so I moved on. Besides I knew of a pub with accommodation 40 kilometres up the road at Tokomaru Bay.
Tokomaru Bay was a thriving place at the turn of the last century and boasted it's own wharf, a freezing works, a wool store and two banks. WWII robbed the area of it's manpower and improved roads robbed what was left. The works closed in the 1950's and even the banks have gone. The wharf is fairly dilapidated and the ruins of the freezing works give a glimpse of the size of the once prosperous operation. An enterprising couple have bought the ruins of the freezing works and have installed some cabins they rent out to tourists; me included. A totally unique experience. The rest of the evening was spent sitting on the balcony of the pub, beer in hand, gazing out to sea and watching the Maori kids riding their horses along the beach.
It rained during  the night and the morning was overcast; so much for watching the sun rise. By Te Araroa the clouds had lifted and the ride to Te Kaha for lunch was just a delight; this coast is so beautiful. At Matata the route has us cut inland to the forest towns of Kawerau, Murupara and Kaingaroa. I can't recall ever riding the road that connects these towns but what came next came as a shock. While Kawarau seems to have survived the others not so. Murapara is not a town you want on a tourist brochure and Kaingaroa looks like an abandoned military base. These were once highly important towns associated with the giant forests of the area. The forests are still there but I didn't stop long enough to ask why the decline and to think I once considered taking a job around here. For me, this was the last of the questions to be answered so once on the main road I turned north and headed home, chain and sprockets all in tatters. And to think these items were replaced only in May, albeit in Bogota, Colombia.
The fishing wharf (and cafe district) Napier

Napier wharf from Bluff Hill

Tuki Tuki river from Te Mata Peak

Capt Cook arrived here in Gisborne in 1769

NZ Shipping Co wool store 1921. Tokomaru Bay

Tokomaru Bay Wharf

My cabin at the ruins. Tokomaru Bay

The slaughter pits in the old freezing works

The country's largest Pohatukawa tree

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Goodbye Lower 48 - for now

We took four days to transit north to Salt Lake City where our first port of call was Temple Square. Temple Square is the home of the Salt Lake Mormon Temple and the Tabernacle. Temple Square is a picture perfect setting in the centre of the city and is something of a tourist mecca even for the non LDS Church members. The Temple is off limits to everyone, including LDS Church members without special permission so any chance of our scruffy lot getting inside was strictly out of the question. The famous choir is on tour at present and won't be back until August some time. Meanwhile I had to make do with an organ recital. The Tabernacle is a spectacular building and the organ is magnificent. Can't wait 'till the choir gets back. The choir concerts are on a Sunday and are free to the public.
Colin's bike is playing up again and is in the BM agent here in Salt Lake City so we are staying a further night. In the end they replaced the throttle position sensor which as the next day was to prove was not the problem - it needed a new fuel pump. Just to add to his woes Colin got a puncture on the Interstate as we headed out of town. The interstate is no place to have a puncture. What with one thing and another we only made it to Logan the first night out of Salt Lake City. I once attended a VROC rally in Logan and remember a McDonalds burger place which must have been the oldest outlet in the country - an absolute 1950's classic. It's gone; just a patch of dirt where it once stood. Didn't get a picture of it last time either.
Next day was kind of a long day. We made Bozeman for the night via Jackson Hole, the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park. The buggers want $25 to get into the park these days.We got to Old Faithful geyser just after it had given a display so had to hang around for over an hour before the next performance. I've seen it before and I wasn't sure then and nor now that it is worth a special trip. It's certainly popular - there were 100's of people watching the show. The motel in Bozeman was the Lewis and Clark (Lewis and Clarke were explorers of this area in 1805) and it cost us $120 for the night. At 66 cents to our dollar this place was not cheap. In fact USA is no longer a cheap place to go. For example a motel that cost $35 ten years ago was $50 two years ago and is now $80. Petrol is cheap however; less than $3 a gallon. There was a time when I paid over $4 a gallon.
Thankfully our accommodation the next night in Missoula, MT was much more in line with our budget. Tomorrow - Canada via the Ice fields National Park and the Highway to the Sun. We have done 4,500 km in the lower 48. Colin and I will be back here around the end of August.
Salt Lake Tabernacle - home of the famous choir.

Salt Lake Temple of the LDS Church

Our organ music master with some sort of construction worker.

Old Faithful at Yellowstone NP.

Blue sky Montana

Highway to the Sun


Logan Pass, Icefields NP

Seems everyone wants to go to Canada.

Monday, June 29, 2015

USA at Last

   The entry into the US at Douglas was a little to hasty as it turned our - we had to go back into Mexico to exit Mexico if that makes sense. We were all keen to do that because if nothing else we would get our $400 deposit back from the Mexican Government. They paid up too. So, other than being confused as to where to go we also had trouble handing in to the US authorities the vehicle import documents that we went to such lengths to procure. We found the appropriate office and even an official who owned up to be of that office and he didn't want the documents. He rang his boss and he didn't want them either so as of now we have no temporary import documents for our bikes. Now this is not new for us - we didn't have them for Panama either and damned near got locked up for it.
   Other than dumping our left over Mexican money our first port of call in the US was Bisbee. Bisbee is an old copper mining town that has been tarted up for the tourists. So now it sports high street fashion shops and eateries plus a coffee roasting company dispensing its own product. It was great to have a decent cup of coffee. Up the road is Tombstone, another mining town whose industry has long since gone. Today it trades on the history of the Gunfight at OK Corral so there are re-enactments of street shoot-outs and a stage coach takes tours of the town. I thought it was quite nice. I have been here before and nothing much seems to have changed over the years. We stopped for the next two nights in Tuscon, AZ. It feels good to be back in the US (13 years in a row now). Burger and beer for dinner and 40 degrees outside. Welcome to the inferno that is Arizona in the summer.
   Pima Air and Space Museum is in Tuscon and a few years back Gavin Quin and I did the tour. At the time there was a dismantled B36 bomber over the fence with a number of other similarly disassembled aircraft. Well, the bomber is now on display along with a Mig 29, a Mig 23 and a Hind gunship plus, and, how they got it there I don't know, one of the new Boeing Dream Liners. I spent half the day at the museum. There were a number of aircraft from the Vietnam war and they too were on display as relics of the past. Wonder where that leaves me since I remember them so well?
   Next day we trundled up to Phoenix and a BMW shop. Colin had the engine management system of his bike looked at in order to identify an intermittent fault which was not found plus he had a front tyre fitted. I managed to get a rear tyre, which they would not fit because my bike was not a BMW. The tyre I got was a Heidenau K60 and it was to replace a similar one fitted in Osorno, Chile, 25,000 km previously. The buggers last well but they are hideous in the wet. The heat in Phoenix was well above 40 degrees so we stopped early for the day.
   Next stop Sherm Acords place in Kingman where we all changed our oil. I got 4 ltrs of Mobil 1 synthetic for $24 - it's $105 in NZ. We spent 2 nights in Kingman so that we could do a few of the highlights of Route 66. So the next day we got to visit Cool Springs and Oatman, the Route 66 museum in Kingman and witnessed the old cars transit through on the Great Race.
   The following day it was more Route 66 as we headed East to Williams. So this time it was Hackberry General Store, Peach Springs (for breakfast) and finally Seligman before picking up I40 to Williams. We finished off the day with a trip out to the South rim of the Grand Canyon and watched the sun go down. Up at 4am the next day for the sunrise over the Canyon and eventually on to Mexican Hat via Monument Valley.
   Today we are in Moab via the Valley of the Gods and the Mokee Dugway, both places I did last year on my DR when on the Trans America Trail. The others went out to Arches National Park late this afternoon. I've been twice before so stayed home and out of the heat. It's still very hot despite the altitude. It's also very expensive in Moab.
   Tomorrow we head north to Salt Lake City and if we can we will visit the Mormon Temple. This will be the end of the sight seeing for a while because we need to hightail it to Alaska and be in Fairbanks in the next 2-3 weeks. We will pick up sight-seeing again on the return trip.
Bisbee mine - abandoned



Boeing Dream Liner


Mig 29

Hind D

Mothballed C130's


Public toilet humor

One the old cars of the Great Race

Local Indian tribe entertained

Hackberry General Store. The Corvette is missing.


The pink Edsel is missing. Seligman.

Six engine train.

The Grand Canyon

Sunset over the Grand Canyon

Parting shot of Monument Valley.

Valley of the Gods

Colin on the Mokee Dugway

Friday, June 26, 2015

Mexico is Great

We crossed into Mexico 6 Jun and headed up the Caribbean coast to Cancun. Cancun is a resort town par excellence with sun, sea and a cooling breeze, but for me it was the gateway to Cuba. After Cuba we did the 465 km to Campeche on the coast in good time and on excellent roads - which really means there were none of those damned speed bumps that are wreaking the underside of my bike. Campeche was a lovely seaside town with a historic centre and we scored a nice hotel that had been beautifully restored. We followed the coast road along the Golf of Mexico to Villamosa for a night then Veracruz. We are on our way to Mexico City with the aim of seeing more ruins; this time so called Aztec ones.It turned out that the Aztec's simply took over a "city" that had long been abandoned and was pretty much overgrown.
Using the excellent Mexican motorways and somewhat expensive tolls we made Mexico City by Sunday 14th. The following day we took a taxi out to Teotihuacan, the most visited of all the ruins in Mexico. We got there quite early, accepted the services of a guide who proved to be excellent and managed to tour the ruins without the inevitable crowds. The ruins date from the time of the others we have visited so the Aztecs were very much late comers to the city. The ruins have been rebuilt in modern times with the aid of the government in an effort to give the Mexican people a sense of
there history. I foolishly said I would climb to the top of the Pyramid of the Moon observing that it was shorter than the one of the Sun. Little did I know the steps had a huge step-up and like a few other climbers needed to haul myself up with the rope provided. The others climbed the pyramid of the Sun with its more modest sized steps. All in all it was an excellent tour. Just before we left the area`our guide took us to a place that harvested cactus juice and made tequila. After sampling each we passed on buying any of the product. The cactus juice was awful.
Our next port of call was to be Creel and the Copper Canyon so we hit the auto pista and after 600km and NZ$25 in tolls arrived in Zacatecas. Much to our surprise the old part of town has UNESCO status and as luck would have it we found a reasonably priced hotel right in the heart of it. We spent the rest of the day walking the old town and had a most delightful meal in a Greek restaurant. Next day saw me off to the dentist to have a crown seen to. One hundred and twenty pesos later I'm done. That's about $12 NZ. And it wasn't a shonky dental practice either.
We are done with the tropics. The palm trees are gone, so have the roadside fruit stalls that we so much loved stopping at. Instead its crops and livestock and is much drier. That's not to say we didn't get wet a few times. One such place was Agua Calentes which was flooded so badly that the underpasses were impassable so we had to make our way round the edge of the city. Another 600km day to Jimenez and another $25 in tolls. My documents for entry to the US have now all arrived so I am good to go.
Creel is the stepping off point for trips into the canyon lands close by. We took a private tour of a couple of the canyons (there are many) and made it to Rio Urique, the river at the bottom of Barranca del Cobre (Copper Canyon). The tour included a lunch break on the banks of  Rio Urique and visits to various Indian settlements. One family was living in a cave (they were happy for us to visit) and at the time we visited it had just stopped raining. The cave had its own water fall and the inhabitants were a pretty glum looking lot. The whole place was horrid and the squalor was overwhelming.
The area is really quite striking with the smell of the pine and the cool nights due to elevation. We all loved the place. Next day on the way out we went to an overlook and adventure park suggested by our guide. This too was excellent and we even braved the cable car ride across the valley.
Out last night in Mexico was in Nuevo Casa Grandes where we had a dip in the swimming pool and toasted the end on Mexico with a round of Margaritas.
I loved Mexico and at no time did I feel threatened or unsafe.