Inside Story: Feeling the tilt of the earth

Eureka: Dick and Diana Hubbard celebrate their arrival at Cape Agulhas

After 119 riding days, Dick and Diana Hubbard celebrate their arrival at Cape Agulhasby motorbike to the ends of the earth might sound a bit radical, and hazardous, even for younger people. But Queenstown retirees Diana and Dick Hubbard tell Philip Chandler it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience

Queenstowners’ reputation for adventure has been enhanced by two pensioner-age locals who’ve likely achieved a world-first motorcycling feat.

On New Year’s Eve, former Auckland mayor and breakfast cereal magnate Dick Hubbard, 70, and his wife Diana, 68, completed circling the world by motorcycle on the polar route.

In 2012, before they’d shifted to Queenstown, they rode the length of the Americas from Alaska to Patagonia.

Then, over the course of seven months last year, culminating on December 31, they ventured from Nordkapp in Norway, or North Cape, to South Africa’s southernmost point, Cape Agulhas, near Cape Town.

Starting in London, they travelled 36,279 kilometres, crossed 42 countries and stayed in 120 hotels.

They also popped back twice to New Zealand – Dick going on his own a third time – and fitted in side trips to Iceland, Croatia, Switzerland and Italy, and a safari in Africa’s Serengeti.

This trip was a bit more adventurous than 2012. Back then they traversed only 14 countries, many of them Spanish-speaking, and travelled with friends who were on another bike.

Once again Dick did the riding and navigating, and from the back seat Diana – who five years ago had been scared to jump on a bike – was in charge of photography and blogging.

For this trip Dick rode a newer BMW GSA that could do about 600km on a tank of fuel.

The couple say they pretty much kept to schedule.

Their only delays were in Egypt, first waiting for the bike to be flown from Dubai and then pass through customs, then in Aswan, waiting to get Sudanese visas.

Diana says the language barrier wasn’t insurmountable.

“People for the most part understand body language and some English, and I was using Google Translate on my phone.

“I was surprised in Turkey, for example, in the southeast, to find people there with the app on their phone.”

Dick used GPS to navigate, though due to a hiccup it didn’t work in Georgia, Armenia and Iran: “I was relying on printed maps and a little map app on my cellphone.”

Though avoiding countries like Syria and Saudi Arabia, the couple still ignored travel advisories warning against others like Iran and Ethiopia.

“A lot of people won’t go to Iran because they’re fearful, but in fact of all the countries we’ve ever been, the Iranian people are the friendliest and kindest,” Diana says.

Halfway: Kenyan children surround the Hubbards at the Equator
Halfway: Kenyan children surround the Hubbards at the Equator

Dick: “Our learning was people everywhere were friendly.

“We had no aggro at all, and I think if you’re positive and wave and talk to people, you just cut through.

“Everywhere we stopped, people would ask us are we OK and do we need help?”

Even receiving a speeding fine in Malawi wasn’t an unpleasant experience.

“They pointed out that NZ had beaten Malawi in the netball and that wasn’t such a good thing.

“I got the impression that if Malawi had won, our traffic fine would have been a little bit less.”

Dick says that in all their trips around the world, “I’ve never had any moments where I think, ‘oh gosh, we’re in big trouble here”‘.

Although the couple carried camping gear, they always managed to find accommodation.

Diana: “Iran the first night was character-forming, but it was perfectly adequate.”

Every so often they splurged out on more upmarket digs such as the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan where Agatha Christie wrote Death on the Nile.

On the day Dick turned 70, they also stayed at the salubrious Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe.

Diana says on reaching Cape Agulhas, “I thought, ‘oh, I’m glad we’ve arrived but I’m kind of sorry the journey’s over”‘.

As he had on the Americas trip, Dick had picked up a pebble at Nordkapp which he popped into the ocean at their end destination.

“You could feel the tilt of the earth just change slightly.”