The Hubbards’ yellow brick road


Amazingly, in the so-called adventure capital of the world, two of the most adventurous locals are over 70 years old. Philip Chandler talks to Diana and Dick Hubbard about their latest 34,000km motorcycle ride, and learns how they almost got deported from Central Asia

Despite the odd scary incident, Queenstown retirees Diana and Dick Hubbard have completed another astonishing trans-continental motorbike ride.

With Dick, 72, riding and Diana, 71, on the back, they are probably the oldest couple to have circumnavigated the world two-up.

In their latest expedition, starting in May, in Tokyo, Japan, then traversing parts of Russia, Central Asia and Europe, to London, then travelling from Montreal, in Canada, to Los Angeles in the United States, they covered 34,416 kilometres in 165 days.

It’s likely they also set age records for two-up riding when travelling the polar routes, in 2012 the length of the Americas, and in 2016 from North Cape, Norway, to South Africa’s southernmost point.

Diana says they’ve now spent more than three of the past seven years riding three different motorbikes more than 250,000km – they’ve also ridden around Australia and the US and part of northern India.

Far from this itinerary exhausting them, Diana says it’s energising. “Each morning you go off on a new adventure.

“You’re having this whole new sensory input, meeting new people, trying different food – it’s an extraordinary privilege.”

On this latest adventure, the scariest moment was coming minutes from being deported from Azerbaijan when they entered that Central Asian country without visas.

Diana saved the day when she phoned through to ANZ and persuaded the bank to unblock their credit cards so they could make an online payment – cahs wasn’t acceptable.

Released, they set off at midnight on a Saturday to ride 70km to their hotel in Baku.

Another hairy moment came earlier in Mongolia when their BMW GSA hit a big pothole and badly damaged both wheels.

A passing herder rescued them, then put them onto his brother-in-law, who semi-fixed the bike.

Luckily, they’d pre-arranged to pop back to NZ soon after, enabling them to pick up new wheels and tyres.

“It could’ve been the end of the trip otherwise,” Diana says.

Perhaps the most amazing, heartwarming incident was lining up at an immigration booth in Georgia.

An immigration officer, picking they were Kiwis, burst in deep baritone voice into two Maori verses of the Kiwi national anthem, which Diana joined in singing.

A rugby fanatic, he’d learned the anthem while watching All Blacks games – he’d hoped Georgia would play the ABs in the final of the then-upcoming Rugby World Cup.

On this trip, the Hubbards also got help back in Arrowtown from a friend, Steve Davies, whom they’d hooked up with an app before they left.

If their WiFi was on, he could track where they were.

Dick: “I booked into a hotel and very quickly I got a message from Steve saying, ‘looks a pretty skunky hotel, perhaps you should move on’.”

Highlights included visiting the old Silk Road cities in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and going both to Russia’s eastern extremity, Vladivostok, and Europe’s western extremity in Portugal.

As on previous trips, Diana says they were blown away by how friendly and respectful people were, wherever they went.

“A lot of people are anxious about the future of the world – I’m more optimistic.”

As luck would have it, their bike’s still in the US due to what Dick calls “a little bureaucratic nightmare. There’s no proof that it’s in America, even though it is – it’s one of those ridiculous situations we’re sorting out”.

Dick says that at 72, a trip like the latest one was about extending his personal limits “and knowing I can do it, knowing that the age thing is really just a bit of a bogey-man and a diversion”.

Asked where they’ll go next, Dick says he’s not sure yet.

“Once we get the bike and ride it down from Auckland, we’ll come over the Crown Range, look ahead and there’ll be a flash of inspiration.”