Vespa rally stops in Matakana

Perry Sansom, left, said riders were a little sore in the saddle but otherwise enjoying their ride.

Sir John Kirwan with former TV presenter Mark Leishman.
Sir John Kirwan with former TV presenter Mark Leishman.

Not many would choose to undertake a 3300km road trip on a scooter, but 15 men rode their Vespas from Cape Reinga to Bluff to raise money for mental health last month.

On their way down, the convoy was met by TV crews and media at the home of  former TVNZ presenter Mark Leishman in Matakana.

Among the riders was mental health advocate and former All Black, Sir John Kirwan, who is also an avid lover of Vespas.

Sir John said he was a little apprehensive about pushing his scooter to 100kph on the motorway but eased into it eventually.

He formerly rode Vespas in Italy, where he lived part time for 14 years with his Italian wife.

“I complained to my dad once about having to fly to Italy. He said, ‘it beats swimming son’.  I view this the same way. I could be riding a horse the length of New Zealand,” he said.

Sir John said it was great to be able to drive down the country and reflect on mental health in the company of old mates and new friends.

“We need to normalise talking about mental health. Sometimes life gets on top of us, and we need to take the stigma out of that.”

The ride was organised by agricultural packing businessman Perry Sansom. He had recently bought a Vespa and wanted to ride it around New Zealand and decided to do it for a cause.

“I figured it could get lonely by yourself on a scooter, so I decided to pull in some mates.”

Some of his friends even got their scooter license and bought second hand Vespas just to be able to participate in the ride. Others joined in from an Auckland Vespa riding club.

“The ride can be a bit bumpy on a Vespa, but it has to be a challenge if you want to raise money,” Perry said.

“We wanted to remind Kiwis that everyone – and we mean everyone – has their own state of mental health, with ups and downs, and that every so often some of us need a helping hand to get through.”

The riders’ goal was to raise $100,000, but they have had to increase it twice after raising more than $200,000 even before setting off thanks to some enthusiastic fundraisers.

Newmarket wine merchant Jean-Christophe Poizat raised $40,000 thanks to a network of generous clients.

Westpac bank chief executive David MacLean similarly chipped in.

“We’re taking time to do something that we love and to connect with people, and that’s what mental health means to me,” David said.

“This is about reminding one another that our mental health matters, as much as, if not more than our physical health. It’s something we all need to think about, talk about, and work on.”

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