Chris' 1994  R100GS/PDChris' new bike, a 1996 F650ULTIMATE JOURNEY Erin's 1997  F650
Living a Dream . . . 2 Live-N-Ride

Oct 1 , 2001 -- Day 865

Last days in New Zealand

-- Story by Chris --

Our last 2 weeks in New Zealand were not at all what we expected. We knew we would have some major work to do, but also thought we would have a lot of spare time – boy, were we wrong! The many obstacles we encountered, and the terrible state of the world was creating a level of stress we had not felt in a long, long, time…

Friday, Sept 14th: We found ourselves back at Arne & Ilse’s place in the Bombay Hills, about 45 minutes south of Downtown Auckland. It seemed so perfect to end our journey in NZ with them, as they picked us up from the airport when we first arrived in NZ seven months before. After dumping our gear into their spare bedroom, I ran out to Eden Park to meet Grant Clegg (BMW NZ) for an NPC rugby match to watch Waikato defeat Auckland. Grant is also a referee, and was a touch-judge in the curtain raiser match. The big game was a good match, and the fans in the terraces (cheap seats) where I sat were in full color/glory. I happened to be wearing the colors of both teams, so I didn’t get berated too badly J The banter between the fans was good for quite a laugh!

On Saturday we woke to cloudy skies and light rain. We got dressed and rode out to Cox’s Creek Reserve, a park in Herne Bay about 3km west of Auckland’s CBD. Today was to be my last day refereeing in NZ. Grant had arranged for my game in this Tongan tournament, and even provided me with the appropriate uniform. My match was between a team from Australia and a local Auckland club. A DJ was pumping music in the background, and it was a very festive event. It was a fun day, and the men from Tonga seem like good, fun-loving people.

On Tuesday we went to the airport to check pricing and make arrangements for shipping the bikes to Buenos Aires, Argentina. We strolled into United Airlines Freight Export to make some inquiries. "I’m sorry" the man said, "due to the events of September 11th, United Airlines will not be shipping any Dangerous Goods". My heart sank. We thought we had it all planned out. "When will you resume taking DGs?" I asked. The man behind the counter told us that things were changing every day, but he would be surprised if the ban would be released before a month’s time.

My stomach turned, my heart beat faster, and little droplets of sweat formed on my forehead. I already knew that to ship by sea to Argentina would take 60 days, as the boats go to South America via Singapore. I thought about calling the airline and pushing back our departure by a month. I knew there was only one boat that went direct from Auckland to Santiago, Chile – a trip that would take 18 days. But we already had tickets (free from FF mileage) to fly on Qantas direct to BA, and they didn’t have service to Santiago. Ack!!! What do we do?!?! Erin and I discussed options. Our back-up plan was to send the bikes to Chile by sea, fly ourselves to BA, then take a bus (some 22 hours) from BA to Santiago when the bikes arrived.

Not wanting to give up yet, we went to talk to the cargo people at Air New Zealand. "Yes" they said, "we can fly your DG cargo to Argentina". But the cost would be US$5,000! We smiled and left. We eventually found the cargo department of Qantas – they lease warehouse space from Air NZ, and only have a small office at the airport. The women smiled at us, said "Sure, no worries" and directed us to see Mike Brebner at Jupiter Air – A freight forwarding company that’s 51% owned by Qantas.

Mike reconfirmed that Qantas could fly the bikes, but that the price would indeed be about US$5,000. He explained that when Aerolineas Argentina was flying internationally, they had a rate of $2/kg (about $1,100 for 2 bikes) which Qantas matched. Since Aerolineas stopped all international flights, the rate went with them. We hung around and talked for a bit, and asked why Air NZ had a price listed of $2/kg, but that they couldn’t honor it. Mike pulled out what looked like a telephone book – in fact, it was a price book of standard rates for shipping around the world. He said he too saw that rate, but that only applied to special conditions. "What conditions" I asked, and Mike looked up the proper codes. He said the rate only applies to direct flights. Before I could open my mouth, he said "hang on" and made a quick call. When he hung up he smiled and said Qantas would honor the rate, but there was a backlog of cargo so it may not go on the same flight as us. Qantas flies from Auckland to BA every Friday and Sunday, and we figured even a week delay wouldn’t affect our plans (giving them 4 planes to get our bikes onto).

Well, we were thrilled beyond words! Not only would the bikes be able to fly, but also we would save about $1.10/kg (~$600) over the rate quoted by United! They’re rate was based on flying to Los Angeles, then transferring to a plane bound for BA. We got back to Arne’s later that evening, and had a celebration dinner – it was their 19th wedding anniversary!

We brought the bikes into MOTOMAIL to exchange some parts that Grant had organized for us. Kerry Davison runs the tyre and services departments, and also happens to be the President of the BMW Owners Registry – it’s the national club, with some 600 members. We had met Kerry previously, and he offered us use of his workshop and his service (if he wasn’t busy). Poor guy! Little did he (or any of us) know what the week would throw at us.

We believed it would take a few days to do the following: Complete Service; new tyres; replace Erin’s 19" rim with 21" rim; replace chain and sprockets; attach a Scottoiler to my bike; check the valve clearances; and attend to a few other small things. The bikes had to be crated and deposited at the airport the following Wednesday, which meant we had to crate them on Tuesday. No problem, we thought – plenty of time!

We had 6 days, thought we would need 3, and ended up taking 7.5! Everything was going great – Kerry was calling distributors of Chains, sprockets, oil, and other accessories to help get us discounts. We discovered on Thursday morning that the valve clearances on Erin’s (white) F650 were…..gone. There was no clearance, and the shims were already using the smallest size. That meant only one thing: The valve seats were shot, and the head (top of the engine) needed to come out. The bike had just over 65,000 miles on the odometer, and when we checked the clearance 15,000 miles earlier in Perth, they were fine (we thought).

The valves themselves might have been damaged already, but we got lucky there and they were fine. Dealers don't normally stock valves for F650s, and ordering them would have taken at least a week. Ian from Motorsport Lifestyles, the leading BMW dealership in Auckland, graciously came over to verify our findings before we pulled the engine. Ian was a master BMW mechanic in the UK, and with all his years of experience, never knew anyone who had to open a F650 engine before. We would be the first (any of us knew of) to open up the engine for repair.

I had pulled the head of my R100PD twice before, and it was fairly simple. The heads stick out the side of the bike (flat twin), and the head can be pulled in about 15-20 minutes. I figured it would take me about a half an hour. Six hours later, we finally got the darn thing off. After loosening all the appropriate bolts, there wasn’t enough clearance above the head studs and below the frame to remove the head – we’re talking about 2mm of clearance required (put your thumb and forefinger together, then create a gap so light can barely get through, and that’s your 2mm). In the end, we had to drop the engine out the bottom of the bike to create the clearance required. We hoped we would never have to do THAT again! It was late when we finished, and Kerry took us back to his place for the night.

We got the head back from the repair shop on Friday night, and decided to put it back together on Saturday. Late Friday night I realized that Kerry wouldn’t be able to help us on Saturday, as it is normally his busiest day of the week. I called Jurgen Homann early Saturday morning to ask for his assistance. Jurgen is also a RTW motorcycle traveller who was back in Auckland recovering from a broken arm he received in Ecuador while playing soccer (got that?). Jurgen had never worked on an F650, but had pulled apart his R80GS before his own trip, and after-all, he’s a German engineer! He cancelled his plans for the day (a birthday party BBQ of a close friend) and spent the day helping us.

By 6:30pm, we were finally finished, but the bike would have to wait until morning until we could change the oil filter and add oil. This would have to wait until Sunday morning, before the "shakedown" ride we had scheduled for 11am. We called Arne and Ilse (2 hours later than promised) and told them not to worry about us for dinner, as it would take us an hour to get back home. Kerry took off to see his wife, and Jurgen was already many hours late for his party. They took off and we sat outside the shop alone, with my bike.

After a few minutes, Erin had a good cry. We were pushing ourselves with late nights and early mornings. Kerry was practically avoiding his business and was devoting too much time to helping us. Karl, Kerry’s partner who runs the dirt bike center, was spending many hours welding and getting his hands into the engine. And lastly, we were showing up late for dinner at Arne’s house, watch CNN, tend to emails, get up early to watch the news, and leave for the day after an early breakfast. We felt like we were using our friends, and well, that didn’t sit right. Our friends knew that we didn’t plan for things to work out this way, but we couldn't get over the guilty feeling.

Karl and Erin, with young seth in the pilot's seat
Geared out and ready to hit the road again

Sunday, Sept 23rd – Got Erin’s bike closed up, filled with oil, and went out for a ride to the famous Puhoi Pub with a couple of Kerry’s mates. Erin’s bike was running "Sweet As", and we were feeling a little better, but still exhausted.

Lunch with Kerry at the Puhoi Pub

In the evening, we met up with Sharlene -- she flew up to Auckland for 2 nights, 1,500kms from the South Island, just to have dinner with us and say farewell – Ya just gotta love Gidget. Sharlene was staying at her friend Sue’s house, and the 4 of us went out for a great Thai dinner, including my favorite: Kao Ngaw (sticky rice).

Monday morning we were back at MOTOMAIL to finish a few last bits while Karl finished welding a rack, while I settled our bill with Kerry (6 days labor at no charge!!!!!!!).  Kerry and Karl became our newest supporters, and really went out of their way to help us out -- thanks guys! 

Karl, Seth (dog), Kerry, Chris, and Erin

In the afternoon we ran some other errands, picked up the crates from BMW, and went to see Gidget for our farewell dinner with her. We had a fantastic time together, and reconfirmed plans for her to come join us for a few weeks in South America, early next year.

On Tuesday morning while Arne & Erin started to work on rebuilding/assembling the crates, I rode my bike into BMW for a visit with Ian. My new (used) bike was burning oil. Not a lot, but I used about 1/3 of a liter in 1,500 miles – Erin’s bike never used any oil. We did a leak-down test, and confirmed the piston rings needed to be replaced. Great!!! The bike has half the mileage that Erin’s has! We think it’s some kind of fluke, and doubt Renate was aware of the problem when she sold me the bike. I wasn’t too upset, as I kind of expected the problem to be real, and not my imagination. The only downside was I would have to do some work on the bike when we got to South America. Grant immediately sent an email to his contact at BMW Argentina to arrange the parts for us.

I got back to Arne’s before lunch, and we had a lot to do to make the crates smaller. We assumed the volume would be greater then the weight, and we’re trying to get the boxes down to a volume of 550kg. We packed most of the gear in a crate with Erin’s bike, and made a smaller crate for my bike. IF you ever have to build a crate, either use an existing one at its normal size, or build one from scratch. Trying to cut and paste took us about 3 times as long.

Arne was a whiz at carpentry, and although I had my doubts as I watched the project begin, these were the strongest boxes we’ve ever seen! We got Erin’s bike crated up and loaded into Arne’s trailer, which was huge, but could only transport 1 fully crated bike. Rather than make 2 trips (and we were running out of time), we tied the knocked-down pieces of my crate to the side of Erin’s, and I rode my bike to the airport. Arne had to get back home to do his "real" work, and Jurgen came in to help us with the final crating. We had to bring the crates in still open so that a customs official can inspect the bikes.

Arne and Chris

Some final sawing, about a million nails, and the job was complete. We got the volume to 565 kg – a minor miracle. Unfortunately, the heavy-duty BMW crates added made the actual weight heavier, and you pay the higher amount. When we flew the bikes from Sydney to Auckland (uncrated), the F650 weighed only 240kg. Sure, we were taking a few extra spares (to leave in BA), but only about 20kg worth. Turns out those BMW crates weighed a good 80kg each! The actual crated weight of the 2 bikes was 689kg, for a total cost of US$1,305 (including all paperwork and handling fees). Next time we send by air, I would remove the front wheel, strap the bike to a pallet, remove mirrors/windscreen, cover with old blankets, then wrap with plastic. This will keep the volume down, the weight down, and allow the workers to move the pallet with a forklift. The wrapping/padding would be adequate for protection.

That night, tired and pretty grungy, we went to the Novotel to spend our last 2 nights in NZ -- our Queenstown friend Kris had booked us in for the special rate of only US$20/night. What we didn’t know is that she also arranged a huge upgrade for us to the Executive Suite = the best in hotel! It wasn’t a room, it was a huge apartment!

Our last 2 days in Auckland were typical New Zealand – relaxed, casual, stress-free, and with mates. On Thursday we got our yellow fever shots; Erin’s carnet stamped out; my new carnet from the NZAA; and ended the night with dinner/drinks with Jurgen, Grant, Kerry, and his wife Vanessa. Kerry even brought us a gift of cool wrenches!

Friday, Sept 28th: After 227 days (7.5 months) and another 10,000 miles, it was time to leave NZ. We had a great visit from Kris before Jurgen picked us up and took us to the airport. Arne and Ilse wanted to come say good bye, but we called them and told them they’ll just have to come for a visit instead. We stopped at Jupiter Air to see if the bikes would be on our flight – we can also hope for Sunday, but not likely L

Leaving NZ was more difficult then we imagined -- it's like our second home now.  We spent 7.5 months here, rode over 10,000 miles, and made a lot of life-long friends.   It was similar to when we departed New York back in May 1999:  Friends were calling/emailing us all week, to send us off with good wishes.    At 5pm, we boarded Qantas flight 115, and watched NZ slip away under the passing wings.

Couldn’t imagine someone visiting New Zealand and not enjoying their trip…

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