Chris' 1994  R100GS/PD ULTIMATE JOURNEY Erin's 1997  F650
Living a Dream . . . 2 Live-N-Ride


June 6, 2001

The BRASS MONKEY RALLY

The rally name was taken from the saying "it's cold enough to freeze the balls off a Brass Monkey".

-- Story by Chris --

June 1st- 4th; the long weekend in celebration of the Queen’s Birthday.  We had a busy few days ahead of us: the Gold Guitar Country Music Festival in Gore on Friday, the Brass Monkey Rally at Oturehua on Saturday and Sunday, and my referee duties at a rugby tournament on Monday.

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 42F/6C, 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.

Wolverines -- JC, Chris, and Darcy (in the sidecar)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. 

From www.BrassMonkeyRally.org.nz
The original "Brass Monkey" was a brass platform used to store iron canon balls.   The Monkey had small indentations to stop the balls rolling about, and when stacked the balls formed a pyramid.  Unfortunately the "Brass Monkeys" had a design flaw -- apparently brass contracts more than iron in extremely cold weather and it was possible for the "Brass Monkey" to shrink enough for the canon balls to fall out of the indentations.

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 10C (14F) to minus 20C (-4F).  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 home.


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 it’s 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.

With the 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 elements.

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 I’d 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, it’s a cruel thing, but that’s exactly how huge this fire looked.


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 we’ve 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 moment’s 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 wouldn’t 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 bright red

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 Kiwi’s 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 –6C/21F. 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 weren’t miserable with freezing cold/ snow the night before.


Morning frost

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 fire.

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 I’d be lying if I said we didn’t enjoy it J

Photo from the Southland Times

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