Got a call this afternoon from Philip McDaid, Chief Examiner (Motorcycles) for the Institute of Advanced Motorists in NZ. He wanted to know whether I'd accept appointment to the position of IAM Examiner, currently one of 6 in NZ. Must say that it was quite an emotional conversation in terms of both being immensely proud to be asked, coupled with trepidations about upholding the incredibly high expectations and standards.
When starting the journey in April 2011, it was principally driven by the fact that I was seriously lacking in talent and the chances of injury and/or expensive encounters with the gendarmerie were pretty high. There's no need to go over old ground as the journey so far has been reported in the blog since that initial assessment where Philip was able to confirm that I would indeed benefit from mentoring using the UK Police Roadcraft System (my mates were far less diplomatic!).
Eight months after joining, I passed the Advanced Roadcraft Test after a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Serious doubts as to whether I'd ever be good enough. Well, we made it but by then, it became pretty obvious that no matter what a person does in life, learning never stops. Progressing onto Observer (mentor) training was a great way to build further skills as well as paying it forward for all the time and effort from others which had helped me to become a better rider. That took the best part of another year to pass and then it was on to Senior Observer after a couple of years of building experience. A lot of the learning has also spilled over into my personal life, especially interpersonal stuff. A real life example of win-win! Now it all starts again with another round of intensive learning but to be honest, would we really want it any other way? Retirement sure doesn't mean taking it easy!
Interestingly, a comment made by Dan Bateman, a training manager at Team Oregon in the USA when I passed my Advanced Test in 2011 still stands out as much as it did at the time. He said, "Also remember that you will forever be known differently now. It is a tremendous responsibility to always reflect the proper ideals"
It's something I'm acutely aware of and that's going to be even more important now. The hooligan tendencies haven't entirely disappeared and I hope I can live up to the standards!
Initial Assessment - Philip's expression nearly made me pee myself!
Just passed my Observer Test and have dust in the eye (well, maybe a teardrop)
Out for a brisk social run with other Observers
Arrested whilst loitering outside a country toilet!
(Steve is a police instructor and fellow IAM member)
I must be a bit of a disappointment to magazine sellers, no matter what the subject matter as I don't subscribe to any of them. In fact, the only time I night buy them is if I'm in a shop waiting for Jennie, bored and there's a handy magazine rack. Motorcycle mags (naturally!), boating/fishing or house & garden mags are normally what attracts my interest but I haven't looked at any for months.
However, a couple of weeks before Christmas, Tony, one of the Institute of Advanced Motorists Trainee Observers (mentors) that I'm coaching rang and asked me whether I'd seen an article in NZ Bike Rider magazine about safe road positioning. Tony was pretty disappointed with the article as he thought that it needed a lot more context and could be misleading in its published form. I suggested that he contacted the magazine and constructively point out where he thought it fell short of the mark.
Tony wrote an excellent email with no hint of one-upmanship or negativity and a few days later, received a reply from Sean Willmot, the Assistant Editor. Sean's response was gracious and as Tony doesn't live far from the magazine's editorial offices, Sean asked whether they could meet for a chat. Cutting to the chase, they hit it off extremely well and Tony was able to talk about the UK Police Roadcraft system which IAM and other organisations use as the basis for advanced training. It ended up with Sean being invited along for an initial assessment, which he was happy to accept.
It was a great opportunity to make the ride part of Tony's coaching programme so I went along to keep an eye on proceedings.
Tony (L) giving Sean a pre-ride briefing
We spent a couple of hours on major highways and highly technical twisty back roads with significant gradient changes, stopping for a ride mid-point debrief to discuss our observations with Sean. The pre-ride briefing made it abundantly clear that the assessment had nothing to do about being either a good or poor rider, simply to determine what was done well and what improvements could be made as a starting point. It would have been a surprise if Sean had been seriously lacking good skills given the amount of time he spends in the saddle but nonetheless, Tony was able to identify some improvement areas which Sean happily acknowledged.
Tony and Sean in the high country overlooking the Firth of Thames
What did surprise Sean was Tony's outstanding demonstration of a continuous commentary over the comms, showing his situational awareness and how this was impacting on his road position, speed, gear selection and acceleration sense. Sean couldn't believe just how much information Tony was processing at any given moment whilst maintaining good progress.
At the end of the ride, there was a final debrief together with a detailed written report and Sean announced that he'd be joining IAM in 2018 as no matter how experienced you thought you were, learning never stopped. He then said that he was going to write a series of articles about his journey with IAM for the magazine which was a fantastic outcome and may encourage other riders to do the same.
A few days ago, the latest Bike Rider magazine came out and there is a 2 page spread about Sean's assessment experience. Very well written and complimentary. Amazing what a bit of courtesy and positivism can do as opposed to having a rant at someone!
Page 1 of Sean's article
Arty-farty shot taken on Coromandel wharf at sunset after getting back from the ride
Bloody hell, I've jinxed the weather! In the last post reviewing 2017, I showed a photo of an angry sunrise just before a storm last January and said that we "sometimes" get summer storms. Well, the Coromandel Peninsula and other parts of the country have just copped a real beating from a low pressure storm that has come out of the tropics.
We desperately needed the rain after weeks of hot, dry conditions. We had cracks in the ground on our property that you could put your hand in. The forecasters were warning that over 100 mm of rain could fall in a 24 hour period, with nor' westerlies above 120 km/hr. That didn't bother us all that much as our house is protected by a ridge from that wind direction. Sure enough, we survived just fine and the only remedial work required was picking up small branches from around the property and a small amount of unripe fruit blown off various fruit trees.
However, as the storm moved south, the wind swung towards the west and that's when mayhem struck due to a number of factors coinciding - talk about bad luck! This is where we live and what happened.
The Coromandel Peninsula, NZ
The Coromandel Peninsula is a major tourist destination, particularly in summer on account of its beautiful beaches, great fishing and its forest parks. State Highway 25, also known as the Coro Loop; is a mecca for motorcyclists because of its challenging, technical nature. There are only two ways off the Peninsula and for us, the most direct route is due south to Thames which normally takes a little under an hour.
Anyway, back to the story. As the strong wind shifted to the west, it built up a storm surge which hit the eastern coast of the Firth of Thames. Normally, that wouldn't be a major issue but it happened to coincide with high tide and a king tide at that. The torrential rain added to the problem with already swollen rivers and streams. This meant that big waves came over the road, carrying large rocks from the shallows. The combined action has caused extensive flooding in some small communities and smashed the road to pieces in quite a few places. At best, the seal has been torn off the compacted base structure and in the worst spots, the base structure has been wiped out too. Here are a few photos from the local news services and public sources.
The mail must get through!
Boat floating in someone's back yard down the coast
Much of the road is now on the beach
Debris at Te Mata
Tar seal ripped up north of Thames
More seal damage
My heart goes out to the people down the coast who have suffered significant damage to their property. In terms of economic damage, it's happened in the peak tourist season. With the road closed for the foreseeable future whilst repairs are being made, businesses on the western side of the Peninsula will be badly affected. In terms of direct impact on us, it will increase our travel time to get off the Peninsula by a further 1.5 - 2 hours by having to drive round the eastern side of the Peninsula so I guess we'll be minimising travel for a while. We really haven't got much to complain about though compared with people further down the coast.
As mentioned earlier, the severe damage came about through a number of factors coming into play at the same time. However, these extreme weather events seem to be increasing world-wide. Whether it's a temporary phenomenon or a longer term trend remains to be seen but there sure is a cost to them, both in financial and human terms. Let's hope that the rest of 2018 is a whole lot better for the planet!
2017 was a year that seemed to be over in a flash. I thought it would be nice to show the year pictorially with a few photos which I haven't previously published on the blog. Every month of the year is represented.
January Summer in the Southern Hemisphere and a time for the grandkids to descend on us ('cos Nana J makes cake, haha!) The photo shows us in a corner of the garden with all the grandkids and two of our 3 children.
Some of the James clan
Although January is mainly warm and sunny, the heat sometimes brings summer storms. The next photo was taken from our deck at dawn, a few hours before a big storm swept through.
The calm before the storm....
February This photo is important to me for several reasons. Rob (L) was one of the Institute of Advanced Motorists Trainee Observers (Instructors) that I was mentoring. He had just passed his written and practical Observer Test with flying colours after about 8 months of intense work. Keith (R) is on his assessment ride prior to joining IAM. Rob went on to coach Keith and at the time of writing this, Keith isn't far off taking his Advanced Roadcraft Test and then beginning his journey as a Trainee Observer. It represents a wonderful cycle of raising skills, improving road safety, increasing riding enjoyment and it's all done on a voluntary basis. The perfect example of paying it forward!
Rob and his Hayabusa and Keith with his FZ6R. Some old fella's bike in the middle
The other highlight was meeting Aussie moto-blogger Steve Hoswell of Road to Nowhere fame and his mates during their NZ north island tour. It was only for a few hours but it was a genuine pleasure to ride with them and make an instant bond.
Steve and his mates on the Coromandel Peninsula
A trip to the top of the south island as part of an annual long weekend get-together with friends from down country. Visiting the World of Wearable Art museum and adjoining motor museum in Nelson, then enjoying the stunning scenery in the area. The photo was taken at Tata beach with the rugged hills in the background.
Magnificent Tata beach
April in the north island of NZ and the Coromandel Peninsula in particular wasn't much fun at all weather-wise. Unrelenting torrential rain and gales saw us cut off from the rest of the country for a week with landslips and virtually no riding in the month. Remedial work to roads and cliff faces is still going on!
A massive slip on the Thames coast road (courtesy of Thames District Council)
Flooding less than 1 km from our house (courtesy of Coromandel Civil Defence)
Nearly into winter and NZ's nectar-eating songbird, the Tui; is enjoying the nectar that is produced by one of the large succulents in our garden.
Communing with nature
Not my photo but racing catamarans was a passion of mine when younger and fitter and I still follow sailing from the armchair. NZ won the Americas Cup in Bermuda with their foiling catamaran Aotearoa. A nice short video summary HERE . Particularly notable that a country of 4 million was able to defeat the massive resources of Larry Ellison and Oracle USA by sheer innovative thinking in their design. Long live the people of the world who think outside the box, no matter what field of endeavour!
What a spectacle - 40+ knots over the water!
A very special milestone with Jennie and I celebrating 45 years of marriage. I genuinely don't know what she saw in me all those years ago as I was a shy professional engineer without too many social graces. The most appropriate photo is one I dug out of a shoebox. It was taken on what was effectively our first date when I took her to the wedding of mutual friends in 1971. The rest is history......
Still totally crazy about her.....
More winter IAM duties, this time out with Hamilton riders Paul and his wife Joy. Both are BMW fans with Paul having a K-series road bike and building a cafe racer. Joy is the proud owner of an R9T. Paul is shortly due to sit his Advanced Roadcraft Test. Joy comes along for the company and is an extremely accomplished rider. Next step will be to encourage her to join IAM..... no pressure, Joy!!!
Immaculate Beemer and matching immaculate riding gear!
The trip of a lifetime to celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary. Flying business class, a stopover in Qatar and a safari by Landcruiser through Kenya and Tanzania including ballooning on the Serengeti. Lots of animal and other photos posted earlier in the blog so we'll avoid those already posted. The shot below was taken in the Qatar desert across the Persian Gulf to Saudi Arabia in the distance. We look pretty relaxed considering that the temperature was 44 deg C (111F) and windy. You could feel your skin shrivelling by the second!
44 deg C and survival time not very long without water and shade!
October My 70th birthday but mercifully, there are no photos to mark the occasion. A very pleasant evening at a local restaurant with cherished friends. It also marks 54 years of motorcycle ownership. However, the photo I've chosen is of the house and garden as spring is well underway and plants are coming into bloom.
A long way from civilisation....
November The weather in the North Island is hot and dry with rainfall way behind seasonal averages. Not good for the farmers and horticulturalists but great for motorcycling. A mid-week ride 25 km up the coast was accomplished with all of 3 vehicles being sighted and me being the only person at beautiful Waitete Bay. That's a ride which is good for the soul!
There are so many options as it's been a busy month but will finish with just two photos. The first is Jennie's 70th birthday which all the kids and grandkids came along to. The first is of Jennie cutting the white chocolate mud cake and the grandkids impatiently waiting for a slice.
Hurry up, Nana J!
The second photo is of IAM member Colin who rides a Harley Road King. Colin is only a ride or two away from taking his Advanced Roadcraft Test but that's not the end of the story. Colin lives 160 km south of the city of Hamilton, the nearest spot where he can train in city, country and motorway-type environments. To come on a mentored ride, it takes Colin a couple of hours to get to Hamilton, a couple of hours being mentored under the constant gaze of an Observer and another couple of hours to get home. That typifies the dedication of riders who set themselves the goal of raising their skills to an internationally-recognised standard. That dedication is also why Observers are happy to donate their time - it really makes a difference.
Colin and his immaculate Road King
Well, that was my 2017 in pictures - a lot of fun. May we all have a safe, healthy and enjoyable 2018 despite a number of world leaders apparently trying to achieve the opposite result!
Summer's here, a beautiful warm morning today, the important chores all done. What could be better than jumping on the bike and riding round part of the motorcycle nirvana where we live - the Coromandel Loop? Well, the ride itself was just wonderful with very little traffic about but it was all the other unexpected things which served to make it particularly memorable!
Kit up and head into the village to fuel up. My local garage and gas station, Furey's Creek Motors; is so-called because it's on the edge of a short, deep tidal creek to Coromandel Harbour. Opposite the gas station, there's a hard-standing area for boats of all kinds to be maintained. The garage keeps an old tractor there and for a few bucks, will haul boats out onto the hard. At present with with the so-called Supermoon, there are king tides. They were so big this morning that the tide had overflowed onto the hard standing area and had caught their tractor on a little rise. Great for an opportunistic shot!
Water, water everywhere.....
Whilst on the road to the town of Whitianga, about 45 km from home, I was thinking about Christmas. Jennie and I thought we might treat ourselves to to a new fishing boat for a Christmas present. (What about a Thruxton Bonneville, I hear you ask?) Answer: I don't want to be sucking hospital food through a straw, thanks!
Anyway, with a boat in mind for fishing and towing the grandkids about, I stopped off at a marine shop to enquire about a Stabicraft Fisher. The dealer said that there's up to a 3 month waiting list whilst they build to customer specification but they were actually receiving a high spec model in January and if we were interested, he'd be happy to take us for an obligation-free spin in it. Sounds good to me, the Chief Financial Officer is beaming, so watch this space - old boat shortly for sale!
As I was about to chuck on my helmet outside the marine shop, I heard a piston-engined plane approaching quite low and looking up, saw the Titan T-51 kitset 3/4 scale Mustang which lives at Whitianga airfield less than 1 km away coming in to land. Quickly jumped on the bike and hared round to the airfield but by the time I got there, it had taxied and parked outside its hangar. Still nice to see it though.
Titan T-51 Mustang
As I was putting the camera away, I heard yet another big piston engine approaching and was amazed to see a P40 Kittyhawk on final approach! Excuse the focus but there were only a few seconds to wrench the camera out of the bag, point and hope for the best! The Kittyhawk is part of the Warbirds collection based at Ardmore near Auckland.
P40 Kittyhawk on final approach
After it had landed, it taxied right back to where I was standing before taking off again, so the following photo is a lot better quality. So many surprises at a grass airfield mainly full of Cessnas and the like!
P40 Kittyhawk throttling up
The surprises hadn't finished though. As I was about to leave, up rocked a Bond Bug! This is the first one I'd seen on the road in NZ, other than a stationary exhibit in the Southward Museum, down Wellington way. Many readers of this blog will probably have never heard of them but for those of us of a "certain age", they are the epitome of the Swinging Seventies in the UK! Manufactured between 1970 and 1974, the 3-wheeler had a fibreglass body and a 700 cc 4 cylinder alloy engine (later uprated to 750cc). Rare as hen's teeth but in the modern era of micro-cars, it doesn't actually look out of place. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder but I reckon it looks pretty cool! Here are a few shots,
The ubiquitous Bond Bug
Straight out of early TV budget sci-fi programmes
Forget modesty if you had a mini-skirt in the 70's!
After all the excitement, it was round to Subway to pick up some lunch and to eat by the Whitianga waterfront with all the Pohutukawa trees coming into bloom. Wonderful spot for a feed,
Pohutukawa coming into bloom
Doing it tough - Whitianga Harbour
All this variety from what started out as a rambling ride with no particular destination or purpose in mind. Some days are extra special and today certainly fell into that category!
Friday morning, all the main chores completed yesterday and it's sunny and warm. Jennie is off into the village to have coffee with a girlfriend so it's the perfect opportunity to jump on the bike for a couple of hours. The leathers have already been cleaned and conditioned in anticipation and today is the day!
Tomorrow, I have to ride to Auckland to carry out some coaching so today, I just want to be alone with my thoughts and take in the scenery but where to go? I know! The last time I headed north up the Peninsula from Coromandel, it was over 2 years ago when I took the spirit of the late Canadian moto-blogger, Bob Leong in the shape of ScooterBob, his wooden scooter to see the places I love. That part of the story is HERE . I'd been thinking about Bob recently so it seemed a good time to revisit some of those places.
The twisty road north of Coromandel is light of traffic apart from the main holiday season and being a weekday, it was virtually empty apart from the odd local. First stop was Waitete Bay. One of the Peninsula's best-kept secrets, it's about a kilometre down a dirt road.
There are a handful of houses at the bay but most of them are holiday homes. Wherever the permanent residents are, they're certainly not on the kilometre-long beach 'cos I'm the only one!
Not exactly over-populated!
Handy helmet stand
Next stop was the Colville General Store for an ice cream. It's the only shop and fuel stop for about 30 km and carries all sorts of things to meet the daily needs of the alternative lifestylers who inhabit the area. Not quite "Deliverance" country but getting that way with a few communes and a Buddhist retreat in the area.
Calling in for some banjo strings.....
Buddhist shrine by the roadside
Next stop was Colville Bay, a couple of km up the road. The shallow bay is a trap for whales and sadly, mass strandings are not unknown. Today, the tide was out and again, I was the only person there. So nice to just stand there and appreciate the beautiful scenery.
Colville Bay - tide is way out
The coast is dotted with small islands which provide a great location for sheltered fishing. Tomorrow, there will quite a few boats out in search of snapper and kingfish.
The Happy Jacks and other nearby islands
Stopping just a few hundred metres short of home, I notice that a Pohutukawa tree (also known as the NZ Christmas Tree) is coming into flower so stop for a photo op. In another week or two, millions of these trees will be covered in bright scarlet blooms; an overwhelmingly beautiful sight.
McGregor Bay - where we live
Pohutukawa coming into bloom
The ride only lasted just over 2 hours but boy, was it good for the soul. Amazing what a bit of solitude, spectacular scenery and a motorcycle does for the spirit! So nice to think about Bob Leong again too and how much he'd have enjoyed being here.
They say that if you love your work, you never have to work another day. I'd say that's pretty true, even if it is voluntary in my case. Over the winter, we've had quite a number of riders pass their advanced roadcraft tests and choose to continue on to become Observers (mentors) and pass on their skills to others. The Central North Island and Auckland regions of the Institute of Advanced Motorists combine resources to periodically run 2 day theory courses with some practical work thrown in as a prelude to practical training modules run over a number of months.
It so happened that the current training course was held over a recent holiday weekend and the main roads from my home on the Coromandel Peninsula to the venue in Auckland were choked with idiot holidaymakers displaying a whole raft of poor driving habits including failing to stay in their lane on bends, ill-considered overtakes, following too closely - the whole 9 yards and really depressing. I took to the back roads as soon as I was able and predictably, they were almost totally free of traffic!
The well-loaded Gixxer at Kaiaua, Firth of Thames
The training was held for the first time at a great venue in south Auckland which had easy access to motorways, busy urban environments and wicked country roads. The course is based on the world-renowned UK Police Roadcraft manual and training system. It consists of a series of theory modules interspersed with practical ride training and that dear reader, is where the fun starts - more on that shortly!
A great mix of sport tourers, sport and adventure bikes
Some of the early arrivals
It's a pretty intensive course with a 1:1 ratio of Observer tutors and Trainee Observers but with the no-ego ethos of IAM, everyone gets on famously with lots of laughs along the way. That's exactly how it should be for a great learning environment.
Socialising with coffee and chocolate biscuits - mmmmm...
Mike, Tony, Richard and Goose (obscured)
Observers from Auckland and the Central North Island present various topics about becoming an Observer. Many are about the technical aspects of advanced riding but it's always a surprise to the participants on just how much emphasis is placed on psychological and interpersonal skills. We all know from our own working experience that the technical content is relatively straightforward. However, if anything is going to derail smooth sailing, it's the people stuff almost every time! It's understanding how to recognise and deal with human factors which is an essential skill for a successful Observer.
Rob of wicked yellow Suzuki Hayabusa fame discussing some interpersonal aspects
One of the Trainee Observers runs a commercial training organisation but also wants to give something back to the motorcycling community by volunteering with IAM. He's an outstanding rider and coach in his own right and when living in the UK, taught Angelina Jolie and Matt Damon plus many other A-listers to ride for movies as well as working on the sets himself! He also has a well-developed wit and continually cracked everyone up with what might be termed a rather direct approach to interpersonal issues! Bet he didn't talk like that to Angelina.....
Laughter is the best medicine - everyone cracking up
There are two practical rides during the course and these are what the Observers really love! Each Trainee Observer has to take out an Associate, role-played by an experienced Observer. The trainee is expected to follow and guide the "Associate" over a route by helmet to helmet comms, whilst maintaining good, safe positioning to observe specific good and improvement aspects of the "Associate's" ride. These have to be remembered for later discussion! The Observers of course, go out of their way to make life a tad difficult by all manner of devious actions. Pulling out of an intersection into traffic when it's only safe for one bike to do so is just one simple trick to throw the composure of the Trainee Observer if he or she is poorly positioned. Other tricks in the "dark arts" arsenal won't be mentioned. One thing worth mentioning though....... on the ride, we display a few poor riding practices for the Trainee Observer to hopefully identify. When you've been riding to the Police Roadcraft standard for a while and have it locked in muscle memory, it's unbelievably hard to make deliberate errors - it feels sooooo wrong! That's by no means implying that we don't make mistakes because we do. However, it does go to show how well the system works in practice.
Needless to say, most Trainee Observers return from the ride in various states of confusion and using quite a few words that would make their mothers blush! It's an excellent exercise in demonstrating just how busy an IAM Observer is on a ride. After a few more theory sessions, most trainees find the second ride a lot easier although it's a further 8-12 months of practical training before they're ready to take their Observer theory and practical exams.
On the second day, Mark, the police sergeant in charge of road traffic policing in the south Auckland region dropped in to say hi and lend support, along with Tim; one of his motorcycle officers. Mark and a number of other officers are IAM members and it's a valued relationship. Working with the police on charity rides, using their training facilities on occasion are just part of that relationship.
Officer Tim and his company BMW
Mark, Tim and Richard shooting the breeze
The course is intensive and tiring but everyone is really happy with the outcomes and future impact on riding standards in NZ. No-one ever stops learning and it's a great opportunity for the Observers to refresh themselves, learn new presenting skills and pick up other new stuff. A real win-win, so what's not to like? On a personal note, I turned 70 a few days before the course and would have almost certainly stopped riding long ago had it not been for IAM. And that can't be bad, can it?
ARUSHA, DAR ES SALAAM AND HOME Our airline connections called for a road trip back to Arusha and a night at a hotel, a flight to Dar es Salaam and a night there, then a flight to Doha and another to Auckland. Somewhere in the region of 18,000 km all up which is about as long as it gets to anywhere!
Like all the road trips so far, there was plenty of activity to keep the interest up. One stop to mark territory, grab refreshment and buy some gifts was at a small but classy shopping complex on the roadside.
Cool stuff in here
There was a mix of reasonably-priced goods, plus some spectacular high end items. Jennie bought a few bits and pieces, including a nice bracelet with silver fittings and a piece of Tanzanite set in it, similar in colour to a sapphire. My eyes were firmly set on some magnificent stylised wooden animal figurines over 2 metres high which were apparently carved by a local tribe renowned for their work. Unsurprisingly, they were deservedly expensive and besides, how would I carry them? Here they are:
The room where these masterpieces were located was beautifully laid out with other superb examples of the carver's art:
All way out of my league!
Not only were there animal carvings, but African masks, spears and so on. However, it was the item in the next photograph which I would have cheerfully taken home and exhibited in our lounge. Not at all what you'd expect to find in a place like this!
Isn't this just superb?
Contemporary African art
Back on the road again, it was time to shoot more photos of everyday life in Tanzania.
Tuk-tuks are really popular as taxis in some places
These 3 wheeled bikes are popular general purpose carriers too
Local women selling green bananas
Maasai herdsman moving stock - a common sight
Coming into the city of Arusha, the women all wore brightly coloured clothing which really added something to the vibe of the place. I noticed the woman below walking up the road and she walked with such grace and elegance that I just had to take a photo.
Grace and elegance
After a night of chilling and saying goodbye to our friends who were all in the process of working their way back to Australia by various routes, Jennie and I left for nearby Arusha airport. Our driver was a delightful young man called Alex Kenga who had worked as a computer engineer in various parts of the world. He had returned to Arusha with his wife to start a family and was in partnership with his brother running a tour company with the great name of Mama Savana! Again, we were so impressed with the positive, "go get 'em" attitude of the young people we met and really enjoyed their company. I guess that in an environment where social support is minimal, there's no room for snowflakes with a well-developed air of entitlement.
I must say that we had some severe reservations on the approach to Arusha "airport". All we could see was a collection of tin sheds and thought that Aeroflot could well be regarded the world's best airline by comparison, especially after the drama with Kenya air. However, whilst the facilities were a bit limited, the ground crew were on their game and the aircraft belonging to Precision Air were perfectly modern.
The airport (a loose description) consisted of a main runway and a parallel taxiway. This taxiway doubled as a loading area, a spot for giving aircraft a wash and lord knows what else. Whilst waiting for our flight, we thoroughly enjoyed all the activity and watching taxiing aircraft weaving in and out of other stationary aircraft and people wandering about. Perfectly safe I suppose but it's simply something you don't see in the west - all part of the fun of being somewhere else!
Aircraft and people everywhere
Our plane (green and orange tail) taxiing in
It would seem that in this part of Africa, planes are more like buses. Our flight left Arusha, landed on the holiday island of Zanzibar first and was only on the ground for a few minutes - we didn't even have to get off the plane. When it departed, for Dar es Salaam, there were only a handful of us left on it.
Dar es Salaam is Tanzania's most populous city at around 4.5 million (over some 1600 sq km!) and temperatures were in the mid 30's C when we arrived and humid as heck. Africans are crazy about soccer and with a big game due to start downtown in a couple of hours, the traffic was absolutely nuts. Adding to the chaos were people wandering between the vehicles, trying to sell fresh fruit, newspapers, toys and anything in between - great people-watching!
Our hotel down on the harbour was seriously impressive. Our room was the biggest we've ever stayed in and beautifully appointed - you could have held a conference in it! It also had a large private deck outside with great views of the harbour.
Big, or what???
A big deck outside too!
Views from the deck aren't too shabby
We're tired and a bit disoriented after being constantly on the move so decide to stay in the hotel, eat well and get some decent shuteye in readiness for the long trip home tomorrow. As mentioned earlier, we'll be covering a total of around 18,000 km...... starting with a 3 hour wait at Dar airport, 6 hours to Doha, a 4 hour wait, then 17 hours non-stop to Auckland finishing with a 2.5 hour drive home. A real test of stamina and sanity for anyone.
The trip went smoothly although with the waiting around and time zone changes, sleep didn't come quite as easily as the outbound trip. The lovely Qatar flight attendants knew that the trip was to celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary and about an hour out of Auckland, they all came out of the galley and presented us with a cake with Happy Anniversary written on the plate in raspberry coulis and took selfies. What a lovely touch to end what was undoubtedly the best holiday in a series of truly great holidays we've had over the years.
Qatar, Kenya and Tanzania are truly magnificent destinations for their wildlife and breathtaking scenery but as always, the holiday was made complete by the wonderful people we met. In what seems like increasingly troubled times throughout the world, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that most of the planet's population are great people, trying to get by and caring about their fellow man.
Driving from the Serengeti was a long, dusty haul through barren country. However, it was the dry season and was probably transformed when the rains came. The local Maasai herdsmen had to walk long distances for water and feed for their cattle was in short supply at this time of the year.
Dust, dust and more dust
Maasai stockade in the foreground
With tenting behind us, we headed for our accommodation not far from the park gates. Talk about unsurpassed luxury! Owned by a local Tanzanian with farming and tourism interests, it was absolutely magnificent with all mod cons. It was a great opportunity to do some washing as we were travelling fairly light and clean clothes were at a premium! As with everywhere else we'd stayed, the food and hospitality was outstanding.
Now that's what you call a bed!
View from the front door
The area covers over 8000 sq km and is a World Heritage protected area. The crater itself is believed to be some 5 million years old. Seen from the rim, the scale is stupefying. Some 21 km in diameter with 600 metre deep crater walls, it's evidence of volcanic activity on a massive scale.
The park entrance
From the viewing platform, the view down to the crater floor is breathtaking and we can't wait to get down to see it at close range
A 21km diameter extinct volcano caldera
Wildebeest on a permanent rotation inside the crater
It came as a real surprise to us that Wildebeest are related to antelopes, not cattle. They're hare-brained, unpredictable things - quite amusing.
Typical lion pose - lazy buggers!
Coming to a junction of several tracks in the crater, there were several 4x4's parked up and the reason soon became apparent with a lion and lioness just chilling on the road. They weren't at all bothered with the presence of the 4x4's and the lioness chose a nice shady spot in front of one of them. When you see them this close, it's easy to understand why even large prey doesn't stand much of a chance. Here's some photos of them.
Look honey - more humans in tin cans
Where's my missus gone?
Hey human, your front diff has got an oil leak!
Approaching the only lake in the crater, there were numerous hippos, accompanied by cattle egrets which would clean parasites from them.
Hippos and cattle egrets
Out of the lake and grazing
A Kori Bustard in the remains of a controlled burn-off
Grey Crowned Cranes
As we worked our way round the crater, we became aware of a weird weather condition which was spellbinding to watch. The rim of the crater is about 2400 metres (about 7900 ft altitude) and is often shrouded in cloud or mist. Any prevailing wind blows it over the windward edge of the crater and downdrafts carry it towards the crater floor. However, it never gets there and just continuously rolls - an amazing sight.
Boiling clouds over the crater rim
More of those cloud formations
Alas, the Crater game drive was the last of the formal activities on our safari and the following day, we would be returning to Arusha to begin the 18,000-odd km back to Auckland, NZ. However, there were still opportunities for some good photos along the way!
Meeting up with the others after our balloon flight went smoothly and we didn't have to wait long at the rendezvous point. Whilst we were waiting, we noticed some creatures running about which looked a bit like scaled-down wombats. They turned out to be the Rock Hyrax and didn't seem at all bothered by humans. They are a food source for most predators so whether they congregate where predators tend to steer clear of, I wouldn't know.
Rock Hyrax having a feed of leaves
Out on the plains, there was the usual profusion of animals. Although we'd seen the most of the same species multiple times, the varied geography and what they were up to always kept it really interesting.
Three in one photo - gazelle, ostrich and warthogs
Hyenas and cub chilling in the shade
Bird life, even on the plains was varied and interesting too - they don't have to be big creatures to be spectacular.
White-headed Buffalo Weaver
Weaver bird nests
Mud, mud, glorious mud.... warthogs love it
Young Maasai giraffe showing indifference to our presence
A nice shady spot away from the sun
It's not that you're in the way or anything....
Despite the wonderful selection of wildlife we'd seen in Africa, we still hadn't knocked off what is known as "The Big 5". Cape Buffalo - tick, Lion - tick, Rhinoceros - tick, Elephant - tick, Leopard - nope. To be honest, we didn't have high expectations in seeing a leopard as they're predominantly nocturnal and reclusive. Our guide Rama said that sighting one is not that common. Then turning onto a new dirt trail and passing under an Acacia tree, Rama and I look up at the same time and bingo - the million dollar shot!
Behold me in my magnificence.....
It's looking straight at us and I slowly aim the camera and hope for the best. What a magnificent beast it is and for a good 30 seconds or more, I forget to take any more photos whilst we stare at each other and I forget to breathe! I blaze off several more photos and every one is a winner. What a privilege to see it.
Wow.... just wow!
Rising up at intervals in the plain are rocky outcrops called kopjes. These are often home to a number of animals and were also once used as meeting places by the tribes which used to inhabit the area in the distant past. We approach a large kopje and after a careful reconnoitre for anything with teeth and an appetite, go exploring.
Jennie next to some tribal rock art
The view from on high
On the kopje, there was a curious granite rock about 2 metres long with pock marks all over it. Rama said that in days gone by, it had been used as a bell to summon tribes and that the pock marks had been caused by constantly hitting it with small rocks. Sure enough, it did resonate when we hit it and would have been heard over quite a distance. This is it....
The granite signalling rock
On one part of the Serengeti we passed through, there was nothing but dried grass for miles. No trees, no animals, no nothing. Then we saw two male lions plodding resolutely along. They looked in great nick but it seemed like they had an awful long way to go for a feed.
Miles and miles of Sweet Fanny Adams apart from these two
Dining under canvas at the tented camp - pretty darned nice
Bev, Jennie and Silvana
The Serengeti covers a staggering 30,000 sq km, a size that is impossible to get your head round. You could spend years exploring and not see it all. Spending just a few days there seems grossly inadequate but at least we've had a taste of one of the world's most famous nature spots and come away with a renewed sense of wonder for our planet.
On the way out of the Serengeti, I took a couple of photos from a kopje at one of the park gates which attempt to show the vastness of the region stretching seemingly forever. Impossible to portray without having been there of course but they should keep the memories sharp.
It goes on forever - the track is where we've just come from
At the park gates
Psychedelic lizard watching me take photos
Next, the Ngorongoro Crater!
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