Updated: 08/29/2013 20:26 | By Agence France-Presse

Kiwi bikers make rare Korea border crossing

Five New Zealand motorcyclists made a rare crossing of the world's last Cold War frontier Thursday, riding their bikes over the heavily militarised border from North to South Korea.


Kiwi bikers make rare Korea border crossing

New Zealand motorcyclists pass through the border area in Paju in South Korea on August 29, 2013. Five New Zealand motorcyclists made a rare crossing of the world's last Cold War frontier Thursday, riding their bikes over the heavily militarised border from North to South Korea.

The crossing was part of a 9,000 kilometre (5,500 mile) journey that began in the Russian city of Magadan and aimed to traverse the mountain "spine" of the Korean peninsula, from Mount Paektu in the North to Mount Halla in the South.

Permission is rarely granted by either of the Koreas -- let alone both of them -- for foreigners to pass through the demilitarised zone (DMZ) that has divided the peninsula for the 60 years since the 1950-53 Korean War.

The exception made for the biking group seemed largely based on good timing, as it coincided with an easing of North-South tensions and efforts by both sides to resume elements of cross-border cooperation.

The mood jibed with the group's stated intention of celebrating the "unifying" nature of the peninsula's mountain range.

Jo Morgan, the only woman in the group, said people had welcomed them wherever they went in the two weeks they spent riding through the North on their 650cc Suzuki trail bikes.

"They were great, they waved out," she told reporters after crossing the border into South Korea.

"Many people sent their love to their families in the South. They feel like one people," Morgan, 60, said.

Pyongyang and Seoul have just agreed to resume -- after a three-year hiatus -- reunions for families separated by the Korean War.

Her husband, Gareth Morgan, said the trip had been "wonderful" so far.

"I won't really feel it until I am on top of Mount Halla, then I will have the sense of achievement that we did what we came to do," he said.

The border crossing would have been inconceivable just a few months ago, when both Koreas were on a virtual war-footing and threats of nuclear strikes were being thrown around.

But a subsequent easing of tensions saw Pyongyang approve the trip, followed by the authorities in Seoul.

In a brief despatch on Wednesday, the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) had reported the group's visit to Mangyongdae -- the birthplace of North Korea's founder leader Kim Il-Sung.

"Being briefed on the revolutionary life of Kim Il Sung and his family members... the members of the group looked round historic relics preserved at the old home with good care," KCNA reported.

Foreigners wishing to travel between the two Koreas usually have no choice but to fly via Beijing.

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