Friday morning, June 1st, we went out to the garage and
loaded our mountain of gear onto the F650. We were riding 2-up this weekend.
Around 11:00am, the frost on the road in front of our house had finally dissipated, and we
left shortly after. The ride down the mountain was a little scary, as it was steep,
winding, wet, shaded (icy?), and full of grit. Three kilometers later, we
successfully reached town, checked the tire pressure, filled the fuel tank, re-checked our
gear, and headed out of town.
Although the temperature was a crisp 42°F/6°C, the sun was shinning and the
110mile/175km ride southwest to Gore was quite spectacular. The valley floor was dry
and brown, while the surrounding mountains were coated in a blanket of white against a sky
of clear blue. After a brief hot chocolate stop in Lumsden, we donned our cold
weather gear, waved to the wide-eyed patrons of the bakery, and continued down the road.
Around 2pm, we pulled into Gore, checked into the Old Fire Station Guesthouse (it
is a converted firehouse), then ambled over to the Howl at the Moon cafe to meet up with
our Australian friends: Kim, Dawn, JC, Darcy, and Chris -- a.k.a. The Wolverines -- A good-time,
southern-boogie band we had seen several times in Australia.
The Wolverines were the Friday night headline band for the Gore
Gold Guitar Country Music Festival. As the evening progressed, our friends Tom,
Rich, Ross, and Matthias (all on bikes) showed up at the guesthouse. We walked to
town for dinner at a Chinese restaurant, which was particularly bad. Around 8pm, we
all strolled down the road to see the show. One of the highlights was when the Prime
Minister, Helen Clark entered the arena, and walked within a few steps of where we sat --
cool! After the show, our gang and the band found a nearby bar with cheap drinks,
and it was in the wee hours of the morning when we finally got to bed.
Saturday, June 2nd: Ross burst into our room at 8am, fully dressed and ready to
go. Apparently, he already got Matthias out of bed. Tom, Rich, Erin, and I were each
huddled deep in our bunks in the room, having heard the raindrops beating down on the roof
above us. Three hours later, after a HUGE breakfast, the rain finally stopped and we
headed north towards the rally. Again, we were "cursed" with
beautiful twisting roads through lush farmland, surreal gorges, and postcard valleys.
The closer we got to the rally, the clearer the sky became and the more bikes we
saw on the road. The air was charged with excitement, as we realized we were all
heading towards a common goal (who else would be out riding in the cold?). We hit a few
ice patches, but managed to keep the rubber side down. A quick stop in Alexandra for
fuel, and it was only another half-hour north to the rally site.
As you can see from the map Oturehua is in the heartland
of Central Otago. The reason this site was chosen was because of the climate
extremes. The site is as close we could get to Ophir, which holds the record for both cold
and heat for New Zealand. It can get as cold as minus 10°C (14°F) to
minus 20°C (-4°F). Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey, hence
the name. While we cannot guarantee it, it does snow quite often over the weekend.
This makes the challenge even greater. The other reason for this
location is the help we get from the Oturehua Winter Sports club people. They provide the
food for the rally and help in many other ways
Perhaps the most important thing for first time rallyists to be aware of is the COLD. There is a
very real possibility that temperatures can drop down to minus 20 degrees C.
In order to be prepared for this we would advise you to bring plenty of WARM
clothing, polypropylene underwear, good sleeping bags, etc. The effect of these
temperatures can also play havoc with other gear. Your tent may well decide to
split, your bike fuel lines may also split, your radiator will freeze, destroying things
unless anti-freeze is used, your battery will not work very well due to being so
cold. To help a bit with this we provide 44-gallon drums around the site, along with dry
wood. This allows you to light a fire. The more experienced rally goers tend
to form groups to camp around one or more of these barrels and collect and stack the wood
provided. In other words be in quick to get yourself organized. Having thoroughly
disillusioned you with all the warnings, don't be put off. The rally is a lot of fun
and most people who come get bitten by the bug and keep on coming back.
And so, at about 2pm we rolled into the rally site. There were a variety of bikes
parked in front of the registration tent -- from big, comfy tourers, to muddy trail bikes,
to Vespas and "Rat" bikes. Some guys just brought a small bag of warm clothes
and sleeping bag, while others seemed to have brought everything possible, including the
kitchen sink! We were modestly packed, except for the extra sack containing our duvet from
Compact, classic style, easy to take down, and very warm tent
Rally organizers confirmed about 1,700 in attendance -- not bad,
considering the population and time of year. Ross could only spend a few hours, as he had
to be home in Nelson the next morning. That left 5 of us in our group, and each had
our own opinion of where we should set up camp -- "not too close to the bonfire; no,
that's next to the latrine; I can't pitch my tent on a 45° slope; too many rocks here;
that's too far from the action; ..." Yes, we had plenty of Chiefs, and no Indians.
After zooming up and down the rally site, we eventually settled on a (relatively) flat
area, near a fire-pit, close to a pile of wood, behind the toilets, and about 150 meters
from the bonfire.
Early Saturday afternoon, and tents are slowly popping up.
Back in April, our tent was caught in a gust of wind at the base of Mt.
Cook, pulling it free from its pegs and causing severe damage Rips, tears,
and bent poles. Before leaving Queenstown for the rally, Erin did some major patchwork on
our tent, sealing the many rips and holes. We still had a few bent poles, but all in all,
the tent could stand and would provide adequate shelter. We positioned the bikes between
the tents and toilets, to keep inebriated folks from falling onto our tents.
tents pitched and the gear stowed, it was time to wander around. The last rally we
attended was in Germany, back in June of '99. We miss the many rallies we used to attend
back in the states. Like the rally in Germany, this was not Brand-Specific, and you saw
Harleys comfortably parked next to Hondas and Yamahas. Sure, there would be lots of
drinking and partying, but that was just to help keep you warm against the sub-zero
temperatures. There is a very real threat of hypothermia, and rally organizers have to
patrol the site for potential problems. This rally was about testing yourself against the
Later in the day Diane and Brian King from the Otago Daily Times greeted us.
Diane wanted to interview us for her piece on the rally, and was especially thrilled that
I was a local rugby referee. Diane had first heard of us from Mervyn and Helen Kinaston.
Mervyn is the coach of the Central Otago Referee society, and my primary contact with the
Union. We chatted for some time and Diane took our picture. Shortly after that Mandy
Gillies from the Southland Times was there to interview/photograph us as well.
Each wrote excellent articles about us, and we were quite popular on Monday with large
photos in the 2 primary regional papers.
Just before dark, the bonfire was lit. It measured about 30 meters long, and was
brimming with large tree trunks (not branches) stacked 10ft high. It was the biggest
bonfire Id ever seen. Rich later said, "This reminds me of home (UK); hundreds
of cattle killed, piled high, and set on fire" in reference to the Foot and
Mouth problem. Yes, its a cruel thing, but thats exactly how huge this
Erin in front of bonfire around 11pm, after 6 hours burning!
We had always wanted to win an award at a rally and we thought we would
have a good shot at winning the furthest traveled award this time around. Erin filled out
a form and wrote a brief story about our trip. We urged our friends, Tom and Rich to do
the same, as they are both RTW bikers from the UK. During the awards announcements the
M.C. read all our stories and invited each of us to come on stage to say a few words and
answer questions. Tom & Rich each rode over 40,000kms before settling down in
Christchurch, but with 90,000kms under our belts, we took the plaque (a definite keeper)!
It would have been nice if we could each have gotten a plaque (we only won because
weve been on the road longer), but we shared our other prizes with our friends.
Throughout the night, we saw some pretty amazing things. One was an old broken down car
that someone had driven onto the rally site. They drained all the oil, turned on the
engine, and waited to see how long it took before the engine died. A huge crowd slowly
formed. After a few minutes, blue smoke was billowing out, but the engine continued
without missing a beat. We stood around for several minutes and watched, as nothing
happened. Finally, she sputtered her last breath, while the windshield wipers kept
waving to the crowd. Without a moments hesitation, a huge sledgehammer appeared, and
the final beating began. About 5 guys went ahead of me. I was prepared to take out the
hubcaps, but the guy before me took that easy target. As I approached the car, someone in
the crowd shouted out to go for the hood/bonnet. The top was beaten in, so I decided to
try and whack it open. After about 10 strikes, I began to tire. Fortunately, the crowd
wouldnt let me off so easily, and started cheering "One more time!" They
had me going for about 5 more swings, by which time I was sweating and exhausted. One of
the guys came over, took the hammer from me, and suggested someone release the
"catch" from inside
..Thanks a lot, guy!
Another event, which occurred several times, was "rat bike" burnouts. Guys
would put their front wheel against a stationary object (usually another "rat
bike"), put the bike in gear, and hold the throttle open for several minutes. The
goal was to run the engine at high revs, digging a hole in the earth, and heating the
exhaust pipes until they were glowing bright red from heat. We saw many versions of
machines and riders. The later into the night, the more comical it got. No one was hurt
and it was all in good, testosterone-filled fun.
"Rat Bike" doing a burnout -- the exhaust would later turn
We walked around the rally site and from one small fire to the next,
chatting with folks. In typical rally style, everyone was extremely friendly, though the
Kiwis seemed to take it a step further. We shared many drinks, stories, drinks,
firewood, and more drinks. By morning we had several invitations to visit our new friends.
Things started winding down a bit for us as Saturday turned to Sunday. There was
definitely a chill in the air, and there was frost developing on the ground and bikes.
Around 2am, we finally retired to our tent. Dressed from head to toe with thermal
underwear, socks, and fleece caps, we crawled into our down mummy sleeping bags. What
helped to keep us toasty warm was the duvet we brought from home J
We awoke just after 8am, as the sun was trying to climb over the hills to the east.
Voices carried in the cold morning air, but it would be another hour before we heard the
first rumble of motorcycle engines. Pink sunlight gleamed on frost-covered tents and
motorcycles as folks began the rituals of waking up. Reports claimed the overnight
temperature had dropped down to 6°C/21°F. Rally organizers had thoughtfully arranged for morning coffee
and tea (free), while egg and bacon sandwiches and/or meat pies could be purchased from
the grill. Just the right way to start your morning! We took our time packing up (what
else is new), saying farewell to new friends while waiting for the tents to dry. Our only
disappointment (in the morning) was that we werent miserable with freezing cold/
snow the night before.
Matthias was heading directly north towards Nelson, while Tom and Rich
joined us for part of the ride west over the Thompson Gorge towards Tarras. The Thompson
Gorge road is a nice narrow gravel track winding around sheep and cow pastures, through a
beautiful gorge, and along a rambling stream. There were a few creek crossing, some small
patches of snow/mud, but mostly good packed dirt track. Because the weather was nice and
clear it made for a great ride. When we got to Tarras, Tom and Rich headed 450kms to
Christchurch, while we continued 70kms back to Queenstown, and a nice warm
|Rich on his Dominator
Tom on his PD, during a cold water crossing
Monday we were up early and I was eager to get to Alexandra to referee
in the annual Country Day Rugby (union). Also known as Representative Rugby -- Teams are
formed out of players selected from different teams to represent their region. Apparently,
many players and spectators had seen our feature stories/photos in the morning papers,
recognized Erin and I, and approached us to say hello and welcome us to New Zealand. We
felt like minor celebrates, and Id be lying if I said we didnt enjoy it J