Blog Archive

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Shivering in Newfoundland


A lovely day in breezy Auckland. We met Jill and Joss for lunch in a cafe in Devonport. We had last met Jill in Kathmandu and she has been here for the last month visiting here kiwi cousin. 

In the afternoon we wandered around to the marina on the south side of the harbour where we banged on the hull of a fellow OCC boat to swap some sailing stories and chat about friends in common.

A fine sociable time to conclude our Kiwi visit. Tomorrow we fly to Singapore.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Kauri Forests

Paradise and Kauri Trees

It’s not surprising the Kiwis like to call their home paradise.  Today we wandered westwards after our delectable three days of kayaking around the Bay of Islands. 

Leaving the sunshine and the sparkling Pacific behind we crossed a range of hills and found a little drizzle and cloud. But, this being New Zealand,  we did as we had been told and waited 30 minutes for the weather to change. Sure enough we were soon  sipping cappuccinos on the deck of an excuisite cafe with the sun shining again and the thermometer unbudged at 23 degrees. Sunshine, good coffee, sea and 4G are obviously the raw ingredients of paradise.

What is most stunning though about New Zealand is the extraordinary diversity of landscapes, flora and fauna. 

Within a week or so we have attended a wedding on a wild beach of black, volcanic sand. We have tramped our way across the volcanic heartlands on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. We have paddled our kayaks to sun-kissed islands set in a turquoise sea.  Today we walked through the astonishing Kauri Forest and were humbled by two thousand year old trees rising high above the pristine, undisturbed native forest. 

Everywhere we have gone exotic birdsong and wonderful wildlife sights have followed us. Parqueets darting through the branches of the manuka trees, king fishers flying off-piste down mainroads, the seriously Jurassic pukekos that ran around our tent, the diving gannets next to our kayak and the warbling tuis at dawn.

All of that crammed into the top half  of North Island and a week or two of unhurried travelling. 

I call it paradise too!

Saturday, 19 January 2019


Camping and Seakayaking

Ringed in red above you will see what is probably the smallest tent in New Zealand. Sally’s trusty North Face Tadpole but if you are keen to get one you are unlikely to find one in the shops as it is now entering it’s 4th decade and I don’t think the Tadpole captured much attention. 

But Sally is besotted with her Tadpole and especially proud of it’s illustrious history. Long before she had to share it with me she trudged with it around Africa and Patagonia. Once it became our joint possession we have shoe horned ourselves into it for the trek around Torres del Paine and lugged it the length of the John Muir Trail. My most vivid memory of it’s use was opening up the fly sheet on a still summers evening to see Sally, knickers down, trying to wee and run away from midges at the same time.

This tent, dwarfed by it’s jumbo sized kiwi neighbours, has history and most of that history involves discomfort! Though it’s great to travel light there are trade offs. In the average hotel here a mattress is 20 cm thick and then, for good measure, they usually add on some kind of soft and cosy topper. In the Tadpole we don’t even have the topper. Just a measly 1cm of thermorest separates stiff joints from iron hard soil. And those thermorests are also from a similar era. Patched and stained by countless spills they leak air and leave us writhing the night away.

At least rain isn’t forecast so we don’t have to share our sardine can with boots and bags of food. But we do have to watch our neighbours fire up their cooking ranges and relax in their recliners for they have arrived by big boats. We have arrived by kayak and, of course, are more than a little smug about that!

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing

I have got a new pet hate and I’m calling it the Tongariro tailgater. I don’t at all mind being passed on a trail by athletic Lycra, for that floats past at it’s own superior speed and soon vanishes over the horizon. I don’t mind being passed by less sleek Lycra, sporting pink pumps that have been training hard in the parks and on the pavements, as they too will be gone in a flash. I don’t mind being passed by pensioners and I became completely desensitised to this last month when our own pensioner friends ploughed past when trekking in Nepal. Their aged, but well trained and toned legs, would gently and courteously overtake and would reappear only at lunchtime or in the evening at the lodge.

What I do object to is the Tongariro Tailgaters whom you hear coming from afar. They approach with all the subtlety of a mechanised division of armoured tanks. Generally they are puffing just as hard as me but intent on passing. They don’t have the aerobic capacity or the balance to ease past on a path wide enough for two. Instead they plonk themselves a few inches behind my rucksack until I break my carefully calibrated plod and pull over allowing a long line to pass. They would not be gone for the day. Instead would be found overheated and broken down a few hundred metres further along the path. As I now passed them they would be puffing hard to re-pay their aerobic debt and steam would be coming from their ears.

Soon though the same Tailgaters would be back and elbowing me out of their way in preparation for their next breakdown. 

The problem is we were sharing this stunning alpine crossing with 2,500 others and quite a few of those had probably never done anything quite like it before. Some had no notion of what to expect or how to pace themselves. All nationalities were there. Some were with guides who yelled instructions to don gloves in multiple languages as the wind rose towards the Red Crater.

The short scree slope that descended from the summit of the Red Crater was the nemesis  for many of the lithe Lycra figures who began to stagger and stumble precariously. By now though Sally was in  her red ‘Heidi the Goatherd’ shorts and very much in her high mountain element. She pitched herself directly down the steepening fall line fearless of the drops on either side. At Joe and Sarah’s wedding she had danced with gusto in a handkerchief hemline. I am not entirely sure who gusto was but he didn’t dance very well either! Here though, on a high mountain top, she skipped gracefully down with a plume of volcanic dust rising from her heels. The dust got caught in the sulphurous breese and left the brigades of dazzled Lycra figures blinking in her wake.

After that short descent we had most of the pack of 2,500 behind us and we were to pass more as a further legion of twenty somethings queued for the toilets. Evidently they had all obeyed the much touted instruction to “drink at least 2 litres of water” and now found themselves a tad overloaded and in a lengthy line for the loos.

As we passed the toilet queues we heard the Tailgaters beginning their descent. Without grace they engaged ‘engine breaking’ and beat the volcanic cone into submission.

By now the path was more or less flat until a small and final rise took us out of the crater and began our 11km descent to the bus. Here we paused to drink some of the vast amount of fluids we had been instructed to bring before starting down the carefully graded track to find our waiting bus. On the way we found folk that had swapped boots for flip flops and some of the pink pump brigade were starting to hobble.

Soon we were engulfed in the dense but delightful native forest dripping with ferns and alive with the sounds of exotic birds.

Before the Lord of the Rings was filmed here nobody ever bothered much about the Tongariro Alpine Crossing which finds its way across a high volcanic plateau of steaming, sulphurous mountainside peppered with craters, crater lakes and volcanic cones. Now it is a justifiably famous film set that is marketed as ‘one of the top 10 attractions in NZ’. That marketing is so successful that, as we packed our bags to leave the day after our crossing, the buses shuttled another 2,500 to the starting blocks. But this time they will endure driving winds and thick mist unlike the day of perfect weather we had enjoyed.

Trekking with so many is unusual for us but we were pleased to have done it and pleased that we had proved that the sceptic’s fears were unfounded. For, when we checked in at the start, they wrote down our ages and then gave us detailed instructions on how to summons a helicopter rescue whilst assuring us that the helicopter would be there in 34 minutes. A strangely precise number I thought at the time!