Another travelling song

So I’m off again. Decided that another four days in Napier was probably too much and it was time I saw a bit more of the country.

Of course it was mid-week and everyone else was at work but that would hardly stop me. So, armed with a tent, a gas stove, some pans and a few packets of my most favourite noodles I was off.

Where to and for how long was perhaps slightly more unclear. I figured north would be good cause I’d been south already and it was only Wellington. I’d flown north lots in the helicopter with work so I figured I’d have a good idea where I was heading to. Though finding your way in a heli is pretty easy as you just fly in a straight line to wherever you’re going to.

First stop was Waiptiki beach. About 20 minutes away. So maybe it’s not travelling at all then. But it’s a nice beach. Had myself a supermarket lunch (ham, bread, cheese, crisps, cashew nuts – standard really) in the car park and discovered the extraordinary utility of my bizarrely designed Japanese 4X4. The sheer size of the thing means you can use the back as a sitting/dining area and have the tunes pumping while you eat. Well I though it was cool anyhow.

It was Thursday afternoon, I had little plans except I was back to work on Monday and wanted to be back for church on Sunday. So I had three days and half the east coast of the country to cover. I decide to downsize and figured if I made it to Gisborne I’d be happy.

20 mins further down the road (still 3 hrs from gisborne) I came across lake Tutira. There was a standard picnic ground that was the same as all the usual picnic grounds all over NZ. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a ‘voluntary donation’ for camping and realised I might get a cheap campsite on the shore of a beautiful lake for £1.50. I drove further into the picnic site to find it went on for nearly a mile and ended in a full on camping ground with the ludicrous family style tents that usually only Germans possess.

The lake was full of ducks, black swans and a strange flesh eating weed that there were lots of warning signs about. Well, actually it wasn’t flesh eating but did have a tendency to overgrow and invade anywhere it could. Bit like the English a century or two ago. Or the Americans these days.

So I found myself a plot at the side of the road a few feet from the waters edge and set up camp. The tent was a new buy from the mighty warehouse. I was not hopeful. For 10 quid you wouldn’t be. But, despite the fact it was a one piece (no fly or inner just the one bit) it was actually remarkably sturdy. Unless you actually wanted to get into the tent, which was a whole different story.

I had the bike on the back of the car and the kayak on the roof. I tried to think of some way of combining the two but settled on having a quick cycle round the site and then taking the kayak out for a quick paddle out on the lake and wonder at the sheer majesty and wonder of creation and wonder how I was gonna get back to shore now that that duck had stole my paddle.

Several hours later I retuned to shore and made some coffee and some noodles and settled down to read and write in the back of the RVR (the car). There have been fewer happier moments since I’ve came here. Which most people will think is pretty sad but I could care less.

Tucked up in the venom (my sleeping bag, why people need to come up with such militant and scary names for banal products is beyond me) a few minutes after it got dark (i forgot to bring a torch). Unfortunately other folk had other ideas and I was woken by people wandering past for the next few hours. Most disturbingly at 3am by two guys sneaking round the front of my tent. I still have no idea what they were doing, but in my disturbed from sleep paranoia I was convinced they were going to all kinds of vile murder to me. So I did what all red blooded men would do and lay perfectly still and closed my eyes, holding to the well known principle that if I can’t see them then they can’t see me.

Unsure of what my next move would be, thankfully one of them tripped over the guy ropes of my tent (which surprisingly didn’t collapse around me) and they giggled and ran off. Murderous types (in my opinion) usually aren’t the giggling types.

I woke with the sun wondering if I’d slept at all. I stuck my head and could see nothing but the nearest black swan with its bum in the air (they’re diving swans, though they never seem to dive properly, just swivel and stick their bums in the air) and a heavy fog. I rubbed my eyes convinced i’d dreamt the last few months and was actually on the shores of lough shannagh in the mournes. But the fog was real and in a few hours the fog had been burnt through by the usual glorious sunshine.

Fried myself an egg and a pancake for brekkie and cursed the sand flies biting at my ankles – note to self – buy insect repellent or at least wear deodorant.

The plan for the day was a four hour hike round the surrounding mountains. Apparently it was a well marked, well walked track and I figured after the fried egg and pancake I needed the exercise.

Equipped with a water bottle, some sunscreen and a bill bryson book, I was off. Five minutes later I was lost and asking the sheep for directions. After a long debate with myself and the assembled council of sheep I decided to abandon the track and head straight up the hill and work it out from there. Five minutes into my new course of action I came across the track.

While occasionally well marked and easy to follow, it was generally patches of grass that were marginally more trampled and less occupied by sheep than the rest of the grass.


Most of the time it was like a walk through tollymore except meteorologically more agreeable. The heat was an issue and made the sun cream sting my eyes as I sweated.

Two hours in and I hadn’t seen a single soul. No, sheep don’t count. Incidentally heard john piper doing a talk where he said dogs would be in heaven though cats were unlikely to be (unless as a testimony to GOD’s power and ability to transform lives ). He may have been making a joke. Either way he’s obviously right.

But now I realised I was lost. The meagre pickings of vague sign posts had faded out. They were mostly little white plastic boxes that looked like bird houses stuck to the trees. I smiled at the fact that I was in NZ in glorious weather in the middle of nowhere. Then took a slight panic and thought about spending the night here and cursing myself for not bringing matches. Then laughed at myself for cursing myself for that. A fire started here would quickly be seen from space.

Instinct, common sense and the position of the sun (ha!) led me right, and now I was on top of a ridge staring down at a breathtaking panorama. Staring at me was a bull and his lady friends who weren’t too pleased I was walking though their turf. I found myself climbing another 100m just to avoid them. Bulls always worry me. Though bulls on a forty five degree incline couldn’t be nearly as dangerous.

Three chapters of bill, two rolls, three baby bells and a slice of ham later I was back at camp with the warm satisfaction of a hard days work. Dirt from top to toe and stinking so bad that even my posse of sheep had abandoned me.

I walked through the campsite and expected all the campers to stare in awe at me as if i’d just returned from nam or climbing everest. They concealed their rampant enthusiasm with a subtle air of complete ignorance. I was grateful really… Flippin paperazzi…

This was a campsite with what can only be called limited facilities. A water pipe and a couple of drop toilets. But possibly the biggest bath i’d ever seen. I don’t think the swans really minded it must be said. I disguised it as a swim anyhow.

Made my voluntary contribution (actually gave twice the suggested amount as I was so pleased with the place) and hit the road.

I planned to make it to lake waikaeromoana. A huge lake about 1000m up in the hills. I’d been recommended it by one of the nurses in work and figured I could strike the jackpot again. Just outside Wairoa the road gave out and I was on gravel for the next 40 km.

Driving on gravel is a lot of fun. You get all the satisfaction of rally driving and sliding the car round corners but at the low, low speed of 15kph. Reminded me of driving the van round malawi and wound down the window to fill my eyes and throat with dust just for the full effect.

And then I round a corner and the road is on a cliff edge 500m above this massive lake that stretches on and on with huge cliffs rising out of the water. Dude I have landed.

Roads like this aren’t dangerous for the gravel and turns but for the jaw dropping scenery. People drive off the edge leaning over for a better view. As stones fly up from the road I get passed by a porche 911. Surreal moment.

The camp site is full of boaty types and much more organised than the last one. There’s boat trailers everywhere and folk fishing. Cars with badges like ‘work is for those who don’t know how to fish’.

I managed to get one of the last camp sites just before the office closed and set up just behind the kitchen, convinced that all these people with their flash tents are silently judging me for my 10 quid tent. I envy them really. Turns out the group next to me are in fact German.

Which brings me to a brief aside about meeting people while travelling. Now the majority of the time I have no desire to meet people. Why do you think I travel by myself? I am inherently an anti-social person and will avoid awkward small talk and getting to know you sessions at all costs.

The flip side of this is that when I do get into one of those situations I really quite enjoy it, and often come out with great stories to tell. So in reality I don’t really hate people. I just hate the idea of people. Maybe i’ll just shut up.

The past few days i’d been feeling particularly generous and was even looking forward to striking up a conversation with a random punter or two and enjoying the bant. But I struggle there. Some people seem to make a trip to the shop and come back with new best friends. I think it’s an eye contact thing. I walk too much head down or stare straight ahead, too worried about not looking nervous, scared and confused (in general) and appearing to be the sort of person that no one would talk to.

So i’m not having much luck. Apart from the woman in the shop who just took the piss out of my accent. Though i’m not sure she knew I was speaking english.

I don’t do myself any favours though. I sit here in the kitchen of the camp site at a table on my own (which I scouted out before hand so I could have one by myself) with my headphones on and playing with what must look like a miniature PSP (my phone) or something. In front of me is a book entitled ‘the knowledge of the holy’, a sure fire way to keep people away and initiating conversation. Afraid they’ll be bludgeoned to death by the leather bound black bible with special sharpened gilded edged pages that I must have sequestered about my person.

I have a fear of just asking people straightforward questions. Afraid they might be offended and intruded upon. This is of course nonsense and simply the way I think people would think if they were me.

Though to be honest i’m not fussed either way cause if i’d ended up chatting to someone then i’d never have got to write all this. Yes, I do mean that as a positive.

I suppose i’m just glad that i’m not quite so averse to chatting to randoms as I used to be.

Most of the solo travellers I’ve met in the past have frequently been the stoned, spaced out types who could meet anyone and waste their way round the world without a second though. Or they’re strange old men. By which I mean, guys in their thirties who aren’t strange at all but just look quite lonely.

And I suppose maybe I give off that scent, well probably quite a lot of scents to be honest, given the past few days. And that kind of scares me. I always carry around with me, tattooed on my the inside of my eyelids, that ‘I cannot do this on my own’. Whatever ‘this’ might be. I can try, but it’s merely self destructive and continuing the idol worship. Perpetuating my own religion of self-worship. The sun still resolves around me or haven’t you heard.

In the miracles of time and Microsoft word I’m now back in napier continuing where I left off.

Had a lovely nights sleep in the campsite after realizing that the car mats of the RVR make a great mattress for the tent. The English lads beside me had packed up and left , probably cause their warehouse tent had collapsed in the midlle of the night. The germans were getting ready to go and explore further, or perhaps invade Poland, it wasn’t clear.

I had another brekkie of eggs and pancakes and whatever chocolate and cashew nuts were left. A varied diet is the key.

Took the kayak out on the lake, which is more an ocean type of a place, just keeps going on and on. My kayak isn’t really designed for this. It’s more for children to play about on in the gentle waves of a beach. But I was hardly gonna let that stop me and threw on a bottle of water and constructed a water proof pouch out of sandwhich bags for my camera and set off. There were various looks of horror, sympathy and ‘are you wise’ from the surrounding onlookers. Well there weren’t really but I’d like to pretend there were.

Canoed about 3km or so along the shore and marvelled at the place which must have looked the same for hundreds and hundreds of years. No sigh of human habitation. Apart from me and my plastic canoe obviously.

I say hundreds and not thousands of years, cause there was a massive volcanic eruption about 1800 years ago at Taupo in the centre of the north island. The colossal lake Taupo is it’s crater. Apparently it was so big there are recorded sightings of a smoke cloud from china – which seems frankly ridiculous to me. Seems more likely that some china man saw his aunties knickers on fire in the south and got it mixed up. ‘make it up and write it down, just like history’ as Paul Simon sings…

Found a nice spot to park the kayak and climbed up a big rocky buttress for the view. Dar flies found me even there. After a suitable period of musing and scratching I returned to the kayak. Well I tried to but found that down climbing isn’t nearly as easy as up-climbing. Well apart from the fact that gravity is really keen to help out.

Paddled back, saddled up the RVR and hit the dirt road again. Round more spectacular scenery, a depressing visitor centre and onto another wonderful camp site set under some water falls. This was another ‘voluntary donation’ type place and again it was wonderful. Kind of made me wish I’d found it the night before, though then I wouldn’t have ahda shower and I’d really be in trouble with the flies…

Some of the people in the camp were here for the duration and had set up tarpaulins and awnings off awnings and shower cubicles. One group had even hoisted a NZ flag. I can understand their keenness to stay. They were at the waters edge and it was almost tropical. Tried to take the kayak up river to find the falls but it was such a piddly wee river that there wasn’t enough depth to get the kayak up it. After getting out and dragging it over a few ‘rapids’ I gave up and walked. Having no shoes or sandals I gave up on that after a few minutes as the stones hurt my feet. I love walking bare foot everywhere (something that is standard behaviour in NZ), feeling I’m the new Zola Budd (google it people) or something. But these rocks were real mingers. Enough of my churlish complaining.

Started my way down river and caught sight of a couple with their own kayaks trying to paddle up as I had. They asked how far you could get and I tried to sound all professional as the current took me into a tree which I had to execute some kind of limbo manoeveur to get under. Pretending it was all straight out of the professional kayakers handbook, I paddled on.

The next stop was a small (about 4mx4m) island just off the shore. I figured it would be nice to get a photo from and wondered why none of the kids were playing on it. I pulled up the kayak ashore and took my bearings and noticed one of the black ‘bum in the air’ swans ambling towards me. I thought this was kind of silly seeing as I had no food to give it. Till I noticed the eggs that is. The eggs in the nest. The ‘fight or flight’ principle of the discharge of the sympathetic nervous system sprung to mind (as it does). The tightening of the stomach, the hairs on the back of your head standing up, your pulse quickening. It crossed my mind that the swan was clearly ready to use both fight and flight on me at once.


All the stuff about keeping calm and maintaining eye contact and ‘they’re more frightened of you than you are of them’ came to mind. I realize it’s all nonsense now. I was abut to meet my end, from a creature with floppy feet and, a silly cry and sits with its bum in the air all day. I imagined St Peter refusing admission at the pearly gates. At least till he’d told a few of his mates anyhow.

At one point my hand moved towards my camera thinking this would make a good photo, but somewhere in between my brain got through to my arm and instead good old arm went to the 5 foot paddle.

Sensing this the swan did its spread the wings thing and squacked or gobbled or whatever it is they do. Funny how at this range and in that position it now seemed an awfully big bird. I figured a swift blow to the neck might do the trick. The swan was thinking the same about me.

I was told that the Queen owns all the swans (or maybe it was geese come to think of it…) in the UK and I figured that this was only a step away from the UK and she probably still owned all these too. Figuring they might try me and hang me for such a crime I decided against that course of action. As another brief aside – in the eighteenth century ‘impersonating an Egyptian’ was a crime punishable by hanging (though perhaps no one told the bangles…). Impersonating a murdering despot with a mo in the middle east (and doing it so well) seems to carry a similar penalty.

At this point mothers were shielding their young children’s faces from the obvious impending blood shed. Other kids were just laughing. And it was the crowd I think that kept me from whacking the thing as I didn’t want to face them if I actually did the thing some damage. I edged back towards the boat and the swan seeing that he was on a roll now decided to do a ‘don’t come back now’ by flying at me and squacking and splashing water. I stumbled into the kayak and thrashed at the water to get away. Several minutes later my pulse had slowed down a bit and I laughed at myself and considered how I’d get back to shore without having to face the taunting children.

At this point it was 3pm and I figured I better head home. So I hit the gravel track again and was promptly passed by a Toyota celica (what is with these people!) sending showers of gravel everywhere. I could easily have spent a week or so here. I’ll be back. As long as the swan lets me.

The trip back was uneventful enough. Highlights being stopping at a café just outside wairoa and inventing a scene from a detective/thriller film about some guy who’d kidnapped his own daughter and was on the run from an Al Pacino like detective. Just cause the only people in the café were a middle aged man with a sling on is left shoulder and his (presumably come to think about it) 9 year old daughter. He had the look of a rogue and looked strikingly similar to an alcoholic frequent flyer from Craigavon A&E. I figured he was nervous and detached cause he’s just spoken to the cops and he knew they ad a tap on the phone and he hung up just before they made the trace. Well that’s the way it happened in my head anyhow.

Of course all this fantasy was loosely concealed with finishing the Bill Bryson book, but the screenplay was forming. They got up to leave and the little girl went to use the toilet. She came to a stunned stop at the door and said ‘dad, this says it’s for paying customers only’ and the dad replied ‘that’s you dear’, but thinking that this is only the beginning of her getting the benefit of all the stuff she never pays for.

I came home to a post box of three Christmas cards, a Christmas pressie, a bill and teenagers shouting ‘sausage’ at me from one of the top floor flats as I walked to mine. Made no sense to me either.

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January 2007

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