Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Travel Tales: Back in the Antipodes


Arriving back in Manchester after 18 months despatching in Shit City, only to find that my house had been turned over and both my bikes stolen was the last thing I needed. After a year and a half of living in a lock-up garage I was looking forward to some home comforts, but now all I wanted was to get away again.

But where was I going to go? I'd always loved New Zealand, but just two years earlier I'd been deported back to the UK as an illegal overstayer. Oops. No matter - I had made a good wedge while In London, and deciding to sell the Zapata homestead (a three-story terrace in a shitty, sorry, up-and-coming suburb of Gunchester) would release no less than fifty grand in equity. This meant I could afford the very finest bogus papers available, as well as having more than enough for a deposit on a place in NZ. Bring it on.

Eight weeks later saw me stepping off the plane in Christchurch and getting a bus to Dunedin, from where I headed straight to the shared house I'd been living at when I was deported. I knocked on, but everyone I knew from there had moved on. Downcast, I sat on the kerb and reviewed my position. Had I been stupid to even consider hauling ass half way round the world to resume my old life? Didn't they (whoever 'they' were) always say 'never go back'?

Shrugging my shoulders, I headed back to get the bus into Dunedin, planning to get as drunk as it was humanly possible for a man to be. On wandering back past the rear of the old homestead, however, I noticed something I'd never considered possible; the old Honda Fusion scooter I'd owned when I'd lived there previously was still in the back yard! Two years had elapsed since I'd last swung a leg over it... would it still run? Surely not! I had, for no practical reason, kept the keys - it seemed like a connection to the country I had loved living in so much, more than anything else - and suddenly it seemed as though everything made sense. I pushed the gate open, wheeled the elderly Fusion out into the alley and sat astride. I pushed the key in and turned, as if no time had elapsed since the last time I had ridden it,  then thumbed the starter.

Unbelievably, the battery was not flat and against all odds, after about 30 seconds of churning, the old single coughed into life! That was all the bidding I needed; after a cursory shoulder check I fucked off with all due haste. Upon taking the first corner I realised that the tyres were all but flat. Good start!


I had no thought for what might happen if I was stopped by Plod; I had, after all, no helmet, no documentation to suggest that the scooter was actually mine, and a Kiwi passport in the name of some dead dude or other. All I knew was that I had to be away, so off I rode. Back into Dunedin I headed and, in a fit of uncharacteristic profligacy, I booked into a hotel for the night. 

The next day I left with a plan. Lid and gloves were purchased, and the out-of-date warrant and rego on the scooter sorted. Insurance isn't compulsory here so I didn't bother. Next came a two-man tent and associated equipment; NZ is nothing if not set up for the outdoor types - it's one of the things that I liked most about the place - so I decided to live out, at least for the Summer months. There are little state-owned (DOC?) campsites dotted all over the place, which run on an honesty box system. Cheap they certainly are, but the downside is that there are next to no amenities. Good job I bought a shovel and a solar shower then, eh?

I took a couple of days to get over the flight, and take stock of my situation. I decided to take an extended road trip, encompassing in both islands. I might not have been legal, but the scooter definitely was, and in this way I hoped to avoid the attention of the Old Bill. 

The next eight months saw me travel to the extremities of the country, from Northland to Invercargill at the very bottom of the South Island; from the East Cape to Greymouth via the Southern Alps, covering a total of 15000km. The old Honda held up magnificently, as it had done in the earlier part of my ownership. The vast majority of NZ's road network is made up of single carriageway roads and unsurfaced tracks, and the old 244cc single was more than happy plodding along at 60-65mph while all the while returning 65-70mpg. The hugely capacious boot and Shoei topbox housed all my personal effects and camping gear, so I could ride into town and park up without fear of getting ripped off. 

Handling isn't the greatest, what with the 10" rear wheel and leading link forks, but was perfectly adequate for the performance available. The biggest problem was caused by side winds - it really didn't like those! The 1000 mile oil change interval was a bit of a ballache too, but I was told by another owner to ignore these at my peril, as the Fusion doesn't have a proper oil filter - only a re-usable gauze screen. That said, it's not a deal breaker, as the job takes about 10 minutes to do and the motor holds barely a litre of the good stuff. I did this on campsites and at the side of the road as required. The old stuff would be decanted into a mineral water bottle and disposed of

Rear tyres are a pain; they rarely last more than 3000 miles and aren't always easily available at every back-country tyre depot. I bought them two at a time online and carried a spare that I could simply pay someone to fit for me. One of the best aspects of the scooter was the huge seat, the distance I could ride was only limited by the range (120-140 miles) rather than rider discomfort.

Wanderlust sated temporarily, I headed back to the South Island - Christchurch this time. The opportunity of some work with a friend who had emigrated there while I was travelling proved too good an opportunity to resist, and soon I riding the latest wave of dot com enterprise/emperor's-new-clothes bullshit. Still, the work (designing web applications) was easy and paid well, so what did I care? Especially as I met my now wife while in Chch

That was two years ago now; we bought a house (with a garage, natch) and I no longer need the dead dude's passport. The old Fusion is still in the garage - along with another one I bought subsequently - and is still my main mode of transport. It's been a funny old route to get here (not that I'd have missed a second of it) but I couldn't be happier with where I've ended up.

M Zapata

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