In 2009 I had the chance to jump the pond and kick it down in New Zealand for a month during December and see a little Oceania kulture. I was visiting my girlfriend at the time and through family friends she linked up with a key player in the Burt Munro Challenge Rally. For those of you who don’t know Burt Munro, take the time to watch the World’s Fastest Indian as he was an influential Kiwi in the history of land speed records and racing, but I’ll give you a little background.
Burt lived pretty humbly at the southern tip of New Zealand in Invercargill. He was very passionate about land speed racing and was setting off to break a record in his ’20 Indian Scout 600cc (he increased it to 950cc for the 1000 and under class). He had a little shack of a shop where he handbuilt most parts on the bike, including casting his own pistons I’m told. Through some adversity he made it to Bonneville to win the hearts of many and break a record, reaching 200mph on the flats.
When I hit the tarmac in Christchurch, NZ we kicked it around town for a little while before packing up a haggard Nissan and splitting south. She was there for the rally the week before and when I landed we returned to stay with her host, Noel Atley, an incredibly talented machinist, fabricator and racer who at one point apprenticed under Burt in his youth. Noel also assisted from a mechanical perspective in the making of The World’s Fastest Indian by helping build the bike and make the magic happen… he was the only Kiwi to travel from NZ to the US during filming, along with Anthony Hopkins, whom it stars.
The rally would be a sight to behold with beach racing, hill climbing, bike shows and more of the likes, but it was humbling to just hang with the local legends who live for import racing and hear some stories about driving on the wrong side of the road. Noel was a great host and I had the chance to scoot around town and meet a wide range of builders, racers, drinkers and story tellers. It was definitely a highlight in my life-so-far.
What impressed me was their minimalistic approach to necessities and life… they by no means lived in a poor or excessively simple way, but they were very effective with the resources they had and patiently handcrafted things that seemed to matter more. It was homage to a lifestyle of fabrication that is slipping away; having the ability to solve almost any problem by hand and not requiring a CNC machine to do it. For example, Noel’s Jaguar, seen in the shop in the first photo, he built by hand over 10 years and it’s a gorgeous specimen.
Here are some photos of my time there…