Archive for the 'New Zealand' Category

Weapon of choice

Things to make me miss NZ

Surfing

Crazy drunk Kiwis

The beauty regime

Now normally there’d be an ocean, and a beach and the water would go down the toilet the other way round. And normally I’d be warmer, and the car would be different. But mostly it’s the same. Feeling wise anyhow.

Beauty is an odd thing, it provokes an emotion or state of mind, not in a pretty girl type beauty way, but simple an open sky and the odd tree and an expanse of water, a good old fashioned awe inspiring vista.

When GOD created the world and saw that it was good then I imagined (in my madness) he felt somewhat like this – though I expect he was staring at something slightly prettier than the point of whitecoat on a summer’s eve (the first two weeks in may are the official northern irish summer in case you haven’t heard, prepare for snow by July…)
Memory gives you powerful associations for beauty and awe and wonder. This is not the estuary in Ahuriri, this is not Hawke’s bay, this is not a beast on the east cape. This is only Portadown on a good day. So why am I getting so excited about it…

Maybe I’m just having a good day, happy to be where GOD wants me, able to lift my eyes a tad to see that GOD is in the business of redeeming creation (a little bit of Tom Wright creeping in there…) and I’m here to be a part of that and even if it’s only one step closer to glory each day then at least the scenery seems to be getting better.

Trying to throw your arms around the world

I had a night last week, when I lay awake in bed for a few hours, the good old fashioned insomnia – head buzzing , in no way ready for some good REM sleep. Usually it’s A&E shifts that leave me like this, running every patient through in my head.

But tonight there was no A&E, New Zealand. My newest and most recent means of escape, my newest and most preferred means of redemption.

It is true that NI is cold and wet and dark for staggering amounts of the year. I had somehow forgotten this, the Norn Irish winter was reminding me of this, much to my disgust. As far as I remembered, in NZ it didn’t rain once in my year there, in fact everyone smiled and skipped and sang songs, and never said or did anything nasty, and I never once felt alone or scared or bored or sore. My memory is of course a bit patchy.

img_0553.jpgIt is true that I loved my time in NZ, that I would have loved to finish my time there, that I lament the dear wonderful people who I knew there that I am so terrible at keeping in touch with. It is true that I may even make it back there some day, as long as the oil doesn’t run out first(JT I miss you so…), or I get married or some equally disastrous situation (joking honestly…).

But I know it’ll be a while. And I know it’s not up to me.

It is true that I have a lot of work to do here, I know I need to be here, in my calm, sane, clear thinking moments (there was one in the late nineties, I remember it well…) I know this. Just not at 2am with Hawke’s Bay and surfing and trips to Wairoa and running round the estuary listening to Pedro the Lion floating through my head.

I am easily distracted.

Rocky Mountain High

Back in the day – insert youthful image of wholesome young Nelly – I used to be a bit of a mountain goat. I would end up spending every other weekend in the Mournes with the BB. Mostly carrying oversized rucksacks full of rocks in the pissing rain. That’s not true.

It was great, you got to run up a mountain, get wet and dirty and smelly along the way and then run back down the mountain. It was an exclusively male pursuit, back in the day when the great questions of meaning and existence were but yet forming, when girls were merely an inferior part of the human race who were crap at football and held no greater attraction. This idyllic period never really happened anywhere but in my head. Nostalgia has a habit of selective editing.

I left my mountain goat days behind me at the age of 19 when I quit BB and got a job at weekends and played too much guitar. My days in the Mournes were confined to the occasional winter excursion up Donard with Da in the snow. Good times.

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Since I became the tax-paying, functional member of society I now am, (about 3 and a half years ago) I could count the number of times I’ve been in the Mournes on one hand, even if it had all the fingers cut off first.

I resurrected the mountain goat occasionally in NZ, but it was a lame attempt, and the highest I ever got up a hill was on a ski lift.

img_2235.jpgSo thanks to the kind offer of a mate from church I got the opportunity to scale the peaks of the mighty Donard (at a staggering 849 m – yes, impressive I know…) the Saturday before Christmas.

Raising yourself from a cosy bed at 7am on a Saturday morning is difficult whether or not you’re an unemployed bum like me. Even if you’ve placed the blow heater in a position where you can turn it on by simply stretching an arm out of bed and flicking the switch.

But it’s always worthwhile, dragging your as yet still lifeless carcass out of bed. We got lucky with the weather for the shortest day of the year. I got even luckier with the folk who were there. Ranging from legends in their 70s to young (I’m still young) cubs like myself. Good folk. The best of folk.

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Standing on top of Donard for the first time in 5 years was an experience never to be forgotten. I’d been hankering for NZ again, I’d been wondering why I was in this miserable country when the Hawke’s Bay Festival is not long round the corner. But then I got to Donard and realised that this ain’t the worst place in the world on a sunny day.

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When I got to the top I had a wee NZ moment. “I’m on top of the world looking down on creation…” with visibility so crisp I could see the Isle of Man and Strangford Lough and the hills of South Armagh. Yes, I was back in H-FZ flying to Wairoa on a sunny afternoon without a care in the world. See what I mean about nostalgia?

Anyhow it was cool. Enjoyed simply for what it was. Something I’m desperate to do more often.

Finished off with walking down the river to the “Bloody Bridge”, (always excting to go to, cause you got top use an otherwise rude word in conversation) hopping from rock to rock, just for the sheer childishness of it all. Good times.

Don’t change your plans for me

I haven’t gone away you know. I mean I haven’t gone back to NZ. Or maybe you’ve not noticed. Or maybe you already know.

At lunch time on Sunday past, a tannoy voice in Belfast city airport called ‘passenger Neill’ to proceed to the gate. And someone boarding the air New Zealand flight to Auckland that evening would be pleased to find the seat beside them empty. At Napier airport there would be no bleary eyed member of the walking dead greeting the ‘sky blue sky’ of Hawke’s bay and rejoicing in his first decent cup of the black stuff in 6 weeks.

And there would have been none of the desperate regret and tearing, the bitter separation of leaving where I am now (and all that that means) behind.

To be brief – and I intend to be lengthy at some point, if I ever find words (or indeed the guts) to describe the past month – my Dad got sick.

And I would be nowhere else but here at this time. Walking away (when I saw the heat around the corner..) from NZ was as easy as two, admittedly rather emotional phone calls to my boss and my best mate out there.

In the midst of two weeks of hospital visits, on the other side of the fence, I’m lying in the greenhouse, tacked onto to the toilet of our house (it is more elegant than it sounds) listening to Pedro the Lion and reading CS Lewis essays (proof that indeed this literary/cultural nonsense I indulge in is actually solid ground beneath my feet and not mere entertainment to make the slow road to the promised land pass a bit more tolerable, which is why I mean it when I say I’ve come to like only the music that makes me feel like crying) – and somewhere between keep swinging and start with me I’m back in Napier. Running (indeed a distant memory, perhaps even fantasy) round the estuary in the twilight, dreaming of home and the dear souls who dwell there, and in the near dark catching my breath. Passing the fish and chip shop, looking forward to a shower and the endorphins.

NZ was something that happened a million years ago, somewhere else, to someone who looked a bit like me and just perhaps may have been somewhat like me, but it did not happen to me. At least that’s how it feels.

I’d already decided not to stay. The plan was always to have been back in NI by Christmas. But I had goodbyes planned. Or at least planned that I’d plan my goodbyes. There’d be a farewell meals with lots of different people, there’d be more helicopter rides and resus calls, and central lines, and speaking to relatives (for good or ill), and cups of coffee with the staff.

I wanted to leave NZ. Though this was not how I pictured saying goodbye to the place.

One more drifter in the snow

Almost home. Not quite but almost. Just enough time to fit another wee trip. This time – skiing. To summarize a blog I’ll never write. Skiing is an indulgent middle class past time, that requires so much money, energy and destruction to the environment that it is unlikely ever to be justified on an ecological, social or monetary basis. It is, however, simply wonderful. Very few things I do live up to the above justifications. Deal with it. Or at least struggle. I do.

Nee how

Ruapehu is a large volcano in the middle of the north island. So big in fact that lake Taupo (imagine lough Neagh) is the crater of the same system. Ruapehu is the mountain at the south end of the lake, most recently active about 10 years ago when it blew. Forbes (one my consultants) has an amazing photo about 6km from the crater in a ski hut. The crater lake burst its banks about 6 months ago causing a lahar that closed roads and swept out to sea.

So of course, one of the southern hemisphere’s largest ski resorts is based there.

I left Napier on Friday, drove the good old Napier to Taupo road (which provides the tastiest, and most violent of our trauma in Hawke’s bay) for two hours and walked about Taupo in the rain waiting for the cinema to open.

I watched ‘bridge to Terabithia’ with a bunch of 7 year olds. I expected Narnia. I was disappointed. So disappointed that I didn’t wait the extra half hour and watch transformers instead.

I was staying with Forbes and his wife’s cousin and family. They just hadn’t turned up yet, hence the cinema. They have a bach (a beach house, all kiwis have one. You do know this is the best country in the world don’t you?)

I was greeted with pizza and hospitality that I have been flooded with throughout my time in NZ. Well the hospitality, if not the pizza. I slept on their sofa bed and filled with porridge and fried eggs in the morning.

Taupo is about an hour and a half from the mountain. The far side of the lake. Which makes for a lovely drive from one end to the other, with the gleaming snow fields in view. I’m torn between stopping to take quality photos and getting to the ski field early.

Forbes is the person to go skiing with. He did ski patrol (as the medic) for years, he knows the area inside out. He knows all the huts and a lot of the people. I have a tour guides talk on the origin of the names (from Maori legend) and the geology of the area and which roofs of which huts he’s skied off.

It’s a Saturday, it’s the best day of the early season. It’s packed. Flippin people. Flippin people, flippin snow boarding (I was skiing not boarding today).

It takes us 45 mins to get to the top of the mountain on the lifts. We meet, very randomly, but most fortuitously, JT (another doc from the hospital) on the first lift and he joins us for the day.

The mountain is stunning. Nothing like skiing in Europe with its carefully pisted slopes and well marked runs. This is chaos. Bluffs and cliffs at every turn, rocks sticking up everywhere. It’s fantastic.

I end the day sharing a t-bar with a pretty kiwi girl who has at least spent time in Scandinavia (and got a funny accent out of it) and therefore fulfills my ‘pretty Scandinavian’ rule. We have a good chat but the t-bar runs out too quickly before she gets to find out I’m a doctor (which I can’t tell her, she has to ask, there are lots of rules remember), which, in my scale of talking to young pretty women who once visited Scandinavia, is perhaps my top trumph.

If the former paragraph makes no sense, don’t worry…

To end the day the lot of us (me, Forbes, his wife’s cousin, his wife’s cousin’s wife, his wife’s cousin’s 17 year old, and his wife’s cousins 17 year old’s mate – sorry for the horrible use of apostrophes) go to the local hot springs. They are kind enough to provide me with togs I forgot to bring. These turn out to be speedos so pornographic that I wear my boxers over the top. Good times.

Me, Forbes and Spence (Forbe’s wife’s cousin), talk late into the night, covering religion, ethics and why vinyl still beats digital. I’m treated to Spence’s collection of 45s (not 33s) including early Elvis and some dodgy Elton John. I play finger-picked detuned versions of Iain Archer and Pedro songs in the corner. Spence’s wife eventually tells us to shut up. Good times indeed.

Immigrant song

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I remember last night, just after the Elvis, that there was a plan to get up at 6.30 and get to the mountain for when the lifts open (at 8.00). I vaguely remember it at 6.30 when I wake first. I remember it at 7.00 when the first hints of brightness are making their way through the curtains. I remember slightly more clearly at 7.30 when I hear the first chopper of the day taking its load of tourists on a flight over the lake. It hits me at 8.00, when my stomach starts to growl with hunger, that perhaps we missed the boat.

The mountain is crisp and white and blue screened by the sky when we get there at 11.30. It takes a good photo.

As we approach the road up the mountain, a flickering LCD sign tells us ‘Bruce road closed, ski area full’. In 30 years of skiing at Ruapehu, Forbes has never seen this. The car parks at the top end are full. Full, it seems of Philippino and Japanese tourists who have no intention of skiing, just going up and down the lifts and laughing as their kids make snow angels and stick snow down their siblings backs.

We wait 45 mins to get a coach to the field. One is not amused. Just bitter and remorseful, that sleeping bags are far too hard to get out of at 6.30.

We get three hours quality skiing. Well Forbes gets 3 hours quality skiing, I get three hours of uncontrolled, gravity driven descent. Snow is soft enough I discover.

We say our goodbyes at the end of the day. Yes I will see them again in 2 months, which isn’t a long time but still awkward. Forbes departs to buy vegetables (one of the ski villages is, bizarrely the NZ capital of carrot growing. Indeed it has a 20 foot high fibre glass carrot at its entrance. Like the giant trout, or the giant kiwi fruit, or the giant wellie boot, that grace other NZ towns. No accounting for taste) and eave for Ohakune – a village at the south end of the mountain.

Now to explain why I’m in Ohakune instead of Napier. Some of you may find it beneficial to google for a map of NZ to have along the side of the blog.

Let me begin. I have a ‘working holiday’ visa. A visa which I got over the net in 2 days without having to prove I even had a passport. This visa is designed for people to come to NZ to pick fruit and work in cafes and of course not stay in the job for longer than three months at a time. I’ve been in mine about 10 months now. I pay tax. Maybe that’s why they don’t mind. My ‘working (your whole life’s a) holiday’ visa runs out 4 days after I come back to NZ.

I imagine this won’t look good to immigration on the way in. It will look worse for reasons outlined below.

The UK medical work force is upward of 30% (NZ is 41% I read in the paper) foreign trained. In other words we need to look overseas to fill the jobs. These jobs are most often filled by excellent doctors who’ve trained in far flung corners of the planet. The UK in general and the NHS in particular is greatly enriched and indeed indebted to their contribution.

There are however a few, how shall I put it – useless idiots – imported. Just as we seem to train some useless idiots ourselves. When I worked in Craigavon there was briefly a group of 4 (out of several hundred docs) who became know as the horsemen. As in the 4 horseman of the apocalypse. In my absence I’m told the term has evolved into dee-effs. Or dangerous foreigners. This is of course hugely racist and neglects many important issues. It is also really quite humorous.

I told Forbes this. In light of recent critical terror threat levels, and multiple high profile arrests, Forbes has renamed them ee-effs. Or exploding foreigners. This is also hugely racist and discriminatory. But also quite funny.

In the ICU here we have two non-white doctors. One a third generation English guy (indeed more English than most people I’ve met – and I mean that, surprisingly in nothing but a positive way) with Indian ancestors and a Hindu background. The other is an immensely gracious and gently mannered Malaysian, also with Hindu, Indian background. Both will be picked out at the airport as potential threats, just cause they’re not white.

In the same way, my mate, Mohsin, who I used to work with in A&E, will be pulled up and searched at every point. As a leader in both bleary and Lisburn rd mosque, perhaps he is a more suitable candidate to stop and search. Though he’s also gutted and appalled at what is done in the name of Islam (as I am about what is done in the name of Christianity) by a mixture of psychopaths and bitter, angry men. Indeed he is more receptive about religion and the gospel than most ‘Christians’, even if he has that rather annoying trait of saying we’re all on a bus going the same direction (I paraphrase). When a man says I am the way the truth and the life he means it I think.

Goodness. That was a tangent.

I’m in Ohakune. Why am I in Ohakune again? Oh yes, cause it’s nearly half way between Taupo and Palmerston north.

Another tangent. Palmerston north has the unfortunate title of suicide capital of NZ. John Cleese, for whatever reason, latched onto this and launched a diatribe of abuse against the place as the worst place in NZ (which in truth it probably is). He citizens of Palmerston North retaliated and renamed their rubbish dump ‘Mt Cleese’. I love kiwis.

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I need to got to Palmerston North cause that’s where, in their wisdom, they’ve put the immigration office. So tomorrow morning I’ll dander into the office and smile politely and graciously and ask them if they’ll grant me a visa to do the job I’ve already been doing for 10 months and a visa to stay legally instead of illegally in their country. This within a week of five doctors being arrested in the gold coast in Australia, prompting a review of all registration and immigration procedures for doctors. And me being from a country, famous perhaps for its long history of violence and terrorism.

Wish me well.

The only reason I feel secure

Every night I spend a while trying to identify a good place to park the car to sleep. As mentioned before I can get a bit paranoid and scared of the dark, so ensuring I find somewhere I feel secure is important.

After the cinema last night, I drove round three different beaches looking for somewhere to park. On two occasions a random car turned and made me feel so uneasy I had to drive off to somewhere else. I’m sure there was nothing in it, but I knew I’d not sleep till I felt secure.

In the end I rolled up where I’d had my earlier, unsuccessful surf. It was ideally suited, far enough from the road but not too far, had civilisation in sight but civilisation didn’t really have me in sight. Perfect – so I thought.

I awoke in a panic at 5am as a dirty great trash collector pulled up to empty the bin in the car park. The guy got out and had a quick look in the car and shook his head. I smiled and went back to sleep, security is an illusion.

From Whakatane I drove west to Tauraunga, a fairly sizeable place and apparently worth a visit. I ended up at ‘The Mount’ or Mount Manganui, kind of like a wee holiday town at the base of Mt Manganui just outside Tauranga. It’s quite a summer holiday resort place so on a Friday morning in winter it was quite quiet. Fuelled with coffee and pancakes I walked up the track to the top of the mount. Reminded me of the climb up Arthur’s Seat but warmer. It was full of young, enthusiastic looking people doing some orienteering thing and even running up the tracks. I tried not to look too out of breath and sweaty as I lent against the tree for support.

Now I was left with a choice. I hadn’t really expected to get this far on my trip, so I wasn’t sure what to do with my last day. I could’ve driven 4 hours on dirt tracks to get Waikaremoana and possibly even Mahia for more surfing. But I’ve been to those places before so I figured I should really go somewhere new.

So I turned south to Rotorua. It’s the place with the lakes and all the volcanic stuff and lots of hot springs. It’s probably the most visited place in the north island. Which is of course precisely why I hadn’t been there before. It’s described in the Lonely Planet, as a tad commercialised. The LP only ever says nice things about places, reluctant to call a spade a spade, so this couldn’t have been complimentary.

So I admit I went, not wildly optimistic about the place. In the end I got there and it was big and (comparatively, to the rest of my trip) full of people. It smelt horribly of sulphur, no matter where you went. It was cloudy and there were of course no waves and no ocean.

In the end, I stopped in the car park of a supermarket, looked at the map and drove 2 hours further south to Taupo, where I at least knew there were ducks.

Taupo is the big lake in the middle of the north island. Like a smaller version of Lough Neagh, but much prettier. The town is at the north end of the lake and the south end is Ruapehu – the giant volcano we go skiing on. It’s a nice place.

I ate KFC in the car parked on the lakeside and finished off ‘the posionwood bible’ and felt wonderfully at peace and calm in the sun streaming through the window. Or it may have just been the ducks.

In the end I sat and read for 3 hours solid, and when the reading was done I just sat till the sun went down and then I drove the two hours home to Napier in the dark. Good trip. Enough said.

Hicksville

There were cows nibbling at the wing mirrors when I woke. Cows are dumb.

Started the morning with a bush walk around (and over) one of the hills surrounding the bay. As usual it’s loosely marked, and involves a few wrong turns and getting lost in deep bush like Lothlorien or somewhere. All adds to the experience.

And after leaving Anaura bay it hits a bit of a down hill slide. Both in terms of weather and pretty sights. It’s here that the rural desolation of the east cape kicks in. The settlements I pass through are terribly run down, the last paint job being the late 70s. Now some would say this adds to the rustic chic but I’m not sure the locals would agree.

In Waiparo bay i stop at the beach and make myself some coffee (the other problem with being run down is lack of a decent espresso joint…) and wait for the sand flies to find me yet again. I sit on the bonnet reading ‘the poisonwood bible‘ with the sun on my back. Looking at the sky it looks like it might be the last I see of it for a bit.

There is, of course no surf.

State Highway 35 abandons the coast for the next 60 km or so and I stop only in Ruatoria for lunch. The most Maori of towns in a nearly totally Maori area I feel a bit out of place. Not cause I’m white (though I am always as obvious and unbearably white as they come), but because I’m not wearing wellies and don’t have 6 dogs in the back of my ute. This is sheep country.

A few minutes earlier SH35 was brought to a standstill as 150 sheep were being herded down the road. There didn’t seem any great urgency in herding them. The dogs were lazily sniffing each other’s butts and seemed happy enough for me to do all the herding as I drove into the crowd

I got the universally accepted symbol of acknowledgement for my efforts from the farmer, a nonchalant lift of the index finger and a nod.

Back in Ruatoria there’s a chap in wellies riding a horse down the main street. I can hear distant banjos…

North of Ruatoria there’s not much. Just 30km of road and then the ocean. You have a choice, 20km east there’s the cape itself with compulsory lighthouse. Or you can begin your slow trip west to civilisation

East every time. Tourists/travellers/tour buses are drawn somehow to the points of the compass. That there’s somehow something virtuous in seeing them. It’s a claim to fame for the brochures, and something to fill the time for the traveller like me – and what is travelling if not filling time between meals and coffee.

The dirt road is windy and hugs the base of sand stone cliffs, and separates the beach and the relentless pounding waves from eating away at the cliffs. The type of waves that are nice to stare at from under a hat and some gore tex before hastening back to the car on a cold winter’s afternoon. So no, I didn’t try surfing here.

The lighthouse (the most easterly in the world…) is a top a hill towering over a farm. You have to walk through their front yard to get there. It’s a pretty white lighthouse though surprisingly small. When I get to the top I can see a blooming big island about a mile further east. Right where – if you were a ship rounding the cape, being guided by the lighthouse – your course would lie.

This seems just silly, as if they were trying to make the ships crash by putting the lighthouse in the wrong place. This before I read the sign about how the original lighthouse was on east island (cook really needed someone with a bit of poetry on his boat…) before the keeper lost three kids, almost went mad and half the island slipped into the sea. I stand corrected. Best put the lighthouse on the main land then…

The one cool thing about being at the world’s most easterly lighthouse is that you can think yourself into all kind of geographical and temporal muddles. Just thinking that if I go a few hundred miles east then it’ll still be yesterday. I get easily confused. When I come home (via LA) in July I’ll be circumnavigating the globe for the second time in my life and by my (dubious) reckoning that gives me two extra days and so somehow gives me the edge on everyone.

I consider parking the car on the endless sweeping beach, facing the terrible, never ending waves, staring at the bleak, but achingly beautiful cliffs framing the dramatic picturesque bay, but I realise I’ll never have enough adjectives to make it through to morning.

As I resolve my dilemma it starts to rain. And I mean really rain. Decision made (sleeping in the car is alright when you can spend all evening lying on the bonnet for entertainment) I head back to civilisation to look for a room for the night.

Te Arora is another hicksville, wellies everywhere but no horses. I look at the map wondering where’s next and my eyes surely deceive me, could this actually be right, the next town on the map is – Hick’s Bay. I’m not making this up. Thinking that someone somewhere has a wonderful sense of irony (turns out it’s named after one of Cook’s crew – surprised he didn’t name it ‘one of my men’s town’ or something equally creative).

I end up in Hick’s Bay holiday camp, a collection of run down wooden huts with a shop, a lot of rusting caravans, a chip van and a cinema (the world’s most easterly cinema! Oh give it a break…) of all things.

I desperately want to go to the cinema but am too embarrassed to ask as I’m sure I’ll be the only one in a leaky tin hut watching sponge bob square pants or something.

Instead I wash (first for everything eh?), drink coffee (old habits die hard) and eat fish and chips from the van (possibly the most easterly in the world, though I see no sign, must remember to mention it to the woman…) and read.

There are few famous kiwi films (lord of the rings was of course made here but is hardly a kiwi film). One that is worth watching is ‘the whale rider‘ filmed in one of the bays I came up through. As east coast ngati poru (maori tribe) as it gets. And that’s what this place feels like. Even down to the young girl singing and dancing in the chip shop. In some ways it at least feels like something authentic.

Would prefer to be back at Anaura bay lying on the car on the beach, but I think it’s even raining there now too. Change in weather may lead to a change of plans. More driving and less lying on a beach in the sun. I know what I’d prefer.

If the amoeba don’t get me first

I’ve had better nights sleep. And I’ve had worse. Like being crushed in 17F from Joburg to Sydney or one time cramped in the wet porch of a vango force 10 in a rainstorm in the mournes, just shivering my way through to morning.

So as I say I’ve had worse. Sleeping in my car gives me the simple satisfaction that it can be done. And I did it. Lying on your back it’s really remarkably comfortable. Tucked up in my sleeping bag staring at what I can see of the southern stars through the window.

The problem came when I tried to lie on my front – the only way I seem to be able to get to sleep. The bend in the middle tends to arch your back in ways it’s not meant to go. Either that or you just hover in the middle with all the weight on your chest and legs. I saw 3am appear with no notion of sleepiness. From 3 to 6am I think I slept. At least I dreamt so I presume I slept.

I woke to see the sky turning orange and watching the white caps on the sea. I crawled out of the car to a silent and empty beach and a glorious vista of reds and oranges as the sun came up. Alas the surf was as benign as the evening before so I popped over to the other side of the peninsula to what is described as a beach with a ‘good wave for learners’ in the surf guide Jess had given me.

So it wasn’t massive towering waves, with me tucked under the crest looking staggeringly cool. But it wasn’t shore break and it was consistent right to left break, not too far out so I didn’t have to paddle too far.

And the new board did me proud, I stood nearly every time, but still suffering from a tendency to lose the crest of the wave and be left standing on a stationary board. I like this surfing lark.

By this stage it was 8am and I’d been going for two hours. I cooked some porridge on the gas stove in the car and waxed my board – yes I know all the lingo now!

Next stop was the Morere hot springs. Geo-thermal energy is a feature of NZ geography. Exploited for either energy or making tourists smell of sulphur, it’s wonderfully popular.

This place was something out of the cold war, at least the concrete and paint was. The water was dark green with floating red bits in it. It was wonderful. The type of heat that makes you dizzy when you stand up, your baroreceptors wondering what’s going on.

I had the main complex to myself, which was also pretty cool. The guy who’d charged me the meagre sum of 5 bucks for the pleasure had also told me that there were a further 3 pools about 10 mins up a track.

Now there are few occasions when you’ll regret bringing footwear with you but my list of occasions when I’ve regretted not bringing footwear is lengthening by the day. I love going everywhere in my warehouse shorts and a t-shirt and no shoes/sandals. I just like the idea of bare feet. That sounds weird written down, I’m sure it made more sense in my head.

I am immediately regretting my decision to leave the sandals in the car but I persevere. Mostly from the thought of being embarrassed having to go past the ticket guy again and partly from some kind of masochistic tendency. Like some kind of painful pilgrimage. I’m convinced someone had been along before me and sharpened the stones.

At the end of the track were three baths of different temperatures. One was ice cold, one had a rather large and intimidating Maori guy in it who refused to acknowledge my existence (really quite unusual in NZ), and the third seemed to be heated for poaching eggs or splitting the atom. I was stuck with the third option, if only cause I was cold from the walk up in my togs and couldn’t go to the cold pool and going to the pool with the big guy in it would have been simply asking for trouble.

I eased into the (very) hot pool, wondering how long it would be before human flesh actually begins to cook. In the end I get into my knees and simply sit there with the rest of me above the water.

Given that my mate the big guy isn’t into polite conversation I search the walls for something to read. All I can find is two signs. One – beware hydrochloric acid with one of those skull symbols. Two – keep your head above water when swimming to avoid the risk of amoebic meningitis.

The second one grabs my attention and makes me immediately withdraw what little of my legs are in the water. I have no desire to get amoebic meningitis. Largely cause it’s bad form for doctors to catch diseases they’ve never actually heard of.

Pools done with, I drive on to Gisborne as the clouds roll in. I’ve been here once before, for a weekend with 20 of the docs from work all crammed in a wee beach house. Wonderful weekend. I look back a the photo of us all and realise there’s only about 5 of us left at the hospital. Maybe it was the amoebic meningitis…

I have recommendations from Forbes about a quality bookshop in Gisborne. Something I’m most excited about as there’s a definite lack of a decent bookshop in Hawke’s bay. Some people like bookshops with character with a pleasant owner with inside knowledge. Now I’m not averse to these but to be honest I prefer a good old multi-storeyed, stacked shelved, impersonal Waterstones. ‘yes i’m happy just browsing, leave me alone…’

This was somewhere in between and actually had a wonderful coffee shop attached. So despite having neither Coupland, Vonnegut nor any CS Lewis, it still scored reasonably. So between browsing (‘yes I’m still happy browsing!’) and coffee (served by a pretty American girl who was lovely and made me drop my change in confusion/embarrassment) reading my new purchases (‘the poisonwood bible’ and a Jack Kerouac book) I filled 3 hours.

To complete my time in Gisborne (where it was now grey and raining) I wandered the empty main street with the ‘old and the bored’ and found another three bookshops – none of which sold any Kurt Vonnevgut books. The third was a wonderful second hand bookshop which was simply a unit with books piled randomly and a few seats strewn about the place. The owner said hi and offered me a cup of coffee as I entered the door.

He identified my accent as from NI (and not Scottish like most do) and when he found out I was from Portadown he told me he’d played footy with former Portadown players with names ending in McCoy or Kennedy. This was the 70’s and I wasn’t born I tell him.

He has at least heard of Vonnegut, though of course has none in stock – dying is the only way to get famous and sell books. He has never heard of Douglas Coupland. I spend a pleasant 30 mins there, wondering at how many books there could be actually written in the world. I managed to find a gem of a newspaper comic strip book, a Toni Morrisson book, a kiwi novel and a book by some Spanish guy I’ve vaguely heard of.

I drive out of town and up the coast and find the wonderful Pouawa bay which has a nice picnic area set up for free camping. I’m treated to a nice rain shower and the best rainbow I’ve ever seen. It’s 7.15 pm and I could have fallen asleep hours before now. I don’t think the ‘bed’ will cause any problems tonight. That’s if the amoeba don’t get me first…

The Great walk

So this another series type blog thing. Me on holiday again. Having stuck around for the first match of the season and getting thoroughly trounced, I now have five days off. So i’ve headed up (more commonly known as north) the east coast to lake waikaremoana. There are a number of ‘great walks’ in NZ, tracks that any kiwi or visitor, simply must do. This is one of them. I’ll not object to that.

Day One

Yesterday I drove up and stayed in what’s described as a fishermans cabin in the motor camp. The place was deserted (off season) and simply wonderful. I spent the evening downing coffee and the sunday paper squidging sand flies on my ankles.

I got a boat to take me to the trail head and off I went. Well I thought I was off and then 2 mins in I took a wrong turn and realised it just before the group behind me caught up, and I managed to pass it off as a coffee stop till I could see where they were going and follow them.

The coffee stop quickly extended to a 30 min session and a good read in the sun watching the clouds come in from the far side wondering if I was gonna get wet.

The walk was really 4 hours of uphill to the top of the panekiri bluff where the hut was. Through spectacular bush and with panoramic views every half hour. Wonderful stuff. I was carrying full kit (except a tent) and within 15 mins I was soaked in sweat and cursing another metaphorical grey hair.

But it was stunning. Being alone in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but a continual cycle of before the throne of GOD running through my head.

So now i’m in a hut and it’s 8.20 pm and over half of the 30 here are in bed. Having spent the evening with a bar of cadburys and a wonderful english couple who’d spent a few years in their twenties in tanzania, talking about climbing kilimanjaro and life in africa and life in NZ.

When you take away modern conveniences ,people seem to become so much more open and friendly, just coming up to you and asking how your day had been, and where you were from. And I realise i’ve been here too long, one of the guys I know has some vague connection to a doctor/nurse couple i’m friendly with in work. It’s like NI all over again…

I’m not sure that I can justifiably go to bed at 8.30pm. I’m pretty sure i’ll not sleep, and anyhow i’ve not ran out of chocolate, book nor battery power. Party on wayne.

Day Two

So I went to bed at 8.45 last night and lay there for an hour listening to a guy snore and lay there another hour needing to pee but not wanting to get up. Got up and went in the end and drifted off to the new aracde fire.

Didn’t exactly sleep well so lay on after all the others had left and got at least an hour of what felt like sleep.

Thankfully it was mostly downhill and I ran parts of it indulging my lord of the rings fantasies seeing imaginary orcs at every stage. I grew up with, what could only be called, a fertile imagination and star wars and narnia just gave me the images to play with. I used to occupy myself for hours at night before I slept running through my own star wars fantasies. ‘between that flick of the light and the start of the dream’. Yet more arcade fire of course…

And so I passed all my ‘single serving friends’ along the way, and I wished them well and it was nice to meet them and I meant it. By this stage my blisters were playing up, nothing to do with my shoes just soft feet. It was easier if I just kept walking. In the end I covered 20km I think, which was decent enough.

This is all largely unaccessible bush, except by boat and so I was surprised to hear a chainsaw. I came across a hut with two guys working as a team sawing logs into fire wood. At first I thought they hadn’t heard me approach but then I realised they were just plain ignoring me (or do I mean plain ignorant). In NZ this never happens. Then an elderly man stuck his head out of the hut and said hello. The most striking feature was the fact he had a prosthetic claw hand. Like something they use in films for cutting pad locks.

I ran through a number of reasons as to why he might have this. One – he’d lost it in the war. He looked old enough. Two – he’d lost it in a logging accident, a mistake his colleagues looked like they were about to repeat. Three – he actually had a bolt cutter in his hand and had really long sleeves. All three went through my (admittedly small) mind in a few seconds. I asked him how far it was to the main hut to which he answered ‘help yourself to the water’ and walked off. I presumed he’d lost his hearing in the war too. I left wonderland as the chainsaw brothers stubbornly refused to acknowledge my really quite plain and undeniable existence.

The hut itself is a wee wooden shack overlooking a rather idyllic bay, surrounded by ridged hills covered in bush. I run out of superlatives in places like this. To my most immense joy it was empty.

I collapsed on the verandah (every building in NZ has a verandah, I want one) and lay in the sun, just managing to get my shoes and socks off and ‘wandered lonely as a cloud’ but with a greater sense of contentment and ‘job well done’. Out of superlatives again i’m afraid. Must buy one of those books that gives you alternatives for words – well I can’t think of an alternative for thesaurus can you?

Lying on a wooden floor outside an old shack, in the sun, by a lake is a pretty top moment. Unsure of what would have made it better. Then felt scared that this might be ‘as good as it gets’, then giggled that i’d made it that far down this line of thought without reality cutting in.

The lying and the dreaming lasted a good hour. But who’s counting. The silence was broken (or at least badly dented) by a family of five coming along the track. And in fact they were wonderful. And following them was a 15 strong duke of edinburgh group full of giggly teenage girls. Who were also good bant but perhaps I am more intimidated by giggly teenage girls than anything else.

So life in the hut got a bit more fun and I had a wonderful evening chatting to the teachers and kids and the family. Mostly conversations like ‘are you english?’, to which I replied ‘of course and you lot are aussies eh?’ ‘are you really a doctor?’, to which I replied ‘i might be or I might just be the janitor pretending i’m a doctor, how would you know?’ Realsing that this travelling by youself is wonderful stuff.

And so after another few chapters of my book and an hour staring at the flippin upside down stairs i’ll probably go to bed and not sleep all over again.

Day Three

And yes I didn’t sleep a wink. Oh well.

Woke (!) to a cold wet morning, not in the plan but the lake still looked pretty cool.

Reasonable length of a walk to the pick up point, passing a few more huts and meeting lots more people along the way. Virtually everyone i’ve met on this trek is from auckland and has family originating in the north of ireland. Kind of cool really. I tell the same story that my family goes back four generations on both sides and haven’t moved as much as 3 miles and that we’re all in-bred with big ears and webbed toes everywhere. Self-deprication always gets a laugh.

In the end I had an hour to wait at the pick up point before the boat arrived and it was howling with wind and freezing. So I put on all the emergency gear that i’d lugged round with me and sat on the bench reading and taking self-portaits with my camera. Trying lots of different angles and realising that my best angle was straight on with a hat pulled over my eyebrows and my hand over half my face. Initially the irony of this was lost on me completely. I must need sleep.

The Big Trip – Day 4

Mostly listening to: REM, lambchop

Sleeping on: carry mat

Coffees: 2

Eating: grilled snapper

KMs: 790

Shop name of the day: the undie drawer (launduret – i have no idea how to spell that, i figure that’s a good thing)

I slept well last night. The neill family struggled. Apparently there was jack johnston on continual repeat in the bar downstairs and some americans playing chess next door. I slept through it all.

Brekkie in one of the nicest cafes i’ve ever been in. One of those places with posters of old flims that i’ve never seen on the walls. Had eggs benedict. Whoever he was he’s a good lad in my book.

Glorious sunny day, the way NZ looks in the guidebooks. The skies bluer, the suns brighter.

Drove to abel tasman national park on thr north of south island. Tasman was a dutch explorer who was the first (european) to find the place on a trip to find australia (i mean it’s pretty big, surely couldn’t be difficult). He landed on an island off the coast and got attacked (though not eaten) bh some of the locals. He decided that no, it wasn’t the great southern continent that he was looking to discover and left. Cook turned up and got all the glory nearly a century later.

His national park rules. All tropical bush and coastline. Positvely carribean – at least it was today.

We took a water taxi (at high speed, way cool) up the coast and had a lovely 4 hr walk back with a stop for a swim on a golden beach along the way. Stop me if this sounds like an ad, i don’t mean it to.

Sat on the kayak (in the campsite) and read the paper in the setting sun. Quality moment. Tea in the restaraunt attached to the campsite. Further quality moment.
The stars are out tonight. Though if you gave me the north and southern hemispeheres i’d have trouble telling the difference. All very pretty.

Me and si have started a beard-off (morsies not wanting to play) today. The concept of the neill brothers having a beard off will make those who know us laugh. We have three weeks to grow as much facial hair as we can. We expect small furry mammals to move in and make their homes in the beard. Though i imagine most will move out complaining that it was too drafty…

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Hard day’s work

New Zealand has about 4 million or so people in it. About 3 million live in the north island, more than a million of those live in Auckland and are known as JAFAs which is a rather uncomplimentary abbrevaiton that I’ll not go into. About a million or so live in the south island, half of whom live in Christchurch.

So it would seem sensible that the island with a quarter of the population gets to have the spinal surgery unit. At least someone thought it was a good idea when they put the Burwood spinal unit in Christchurch. If I was the family member of someone with a spinal injury then I’d feel ticked off if I was a north islander. Thankfully I’m not.

The one advantage, there may be more, of this set up that it gives me free flights to Christchurch to transfer our patients with broken backs to them. I doubt this was what they were thinking when they designed the system.

So at 0705 on the 6/12/06 Mr W, for no apparent reason cycled into the back of a parked lorry, breaking his breast bone, causing bleeding beside his heart and broke his spine, causing spinal cord damage.

xrays-469.jpg

At 0705 on the 6/12/06 I’m fast asleep, having woke briefly, and realising it’s my day off I’ve crawled back under the covers and am dreaming of sunsets and falling down.

At 1500 I get a phone call from my boss while I’m lying on my bum reading and it’s my boss ringing to see if I fancy taking Mr W to Christchurch in the morning. I arrive in work at 0630 and get things set. He’s conscious and in reasonable form, and he’s got no chest drains and isn’t on a ventilator – the pressure changes at altitude can make that type of thing tricky so at least this is an easy one.

We get an ambulance to the airport and get on a Cessna type plane with three seats and room for a stretcher. In an airplane with a patient you can pretty much see their chest going up and down as they breathe but that’s about the height of what you can do. If they got sick then I wouldn’t fancy trying to do anything too advanced at 3000m. so the idea is to only transfer ‘stable’ patients.

I’m in my ridiculous oversized flight suit, which makes me look more like the Michelin man than super man – which was presumably the desired image. At least it’s got plenty of pockets.

We take off with clear blue skies and I can see Mt ruapehu in the centre of the north island, all the way across to Taranaki (the mountain for the backdrop in the Last Samurai) on the west coast all in one vista. I pinch myself and remember that they actually pay me for this kind of thing.

Half way flying down the north island, the battery in my camera runs out. Gutted. The cabin service on the flight is pretty marginal, given that there is none. Cathy, the flight nurse is prepare enough to bring a snack and a bottle of water. I think about pancakes a lot.

You can feel the temperature change as we cross the cook strait, a high grey haze obscures the sunlight and I can see all the way from the Kaikouras to the Southern Alps (or the misty mountains as you may know them).

It takes about 2 hours to fly north to south and Mr W sleeps the whole way there. I consider it and then I think it’s kind of irresponsible. We land smoothly in Christchurch and an ambulance picks us up. Cathy looks after the patient and to be honest I just carry is two suitcases and lap top. Like a reject from top guun in an oversized flight suit who’s taken up portering to make ends meet.

We arrive in the ICU in Christchurch and hand over to a Scots doc who works with one of my mates who I trained with back home. The world is indeed a small place. We get a free cup of tea and some toast (non-stop glamour lifestyle I know) from the ICU staff and then we’re back to the plane.

Flying over the country on the way back I doze off occasionally into a guilt free bliss. Staring out the window at this vast and wonderfully pretty country I keep thinking that it was here for thousands of years before the Maoris even turned up in the 15 th century. It was full of bizarre flightless 9ft birds that made easy meals for humans with pointy sticks. Must have been amazing to travel the empty and virgin country. Then I realsised that they wouldn’t have a pressurised Cessna to travel in and that you’d have to walk it all yourself.

“Too much like hard work” I thought as I drifted off.

Ice bergs off the south coast…

Occasionally I cycle out north from where I live at the bottom of Napier hill. Along a strand called west shore. I wear my helmet cause apparently it’s the law. And I suppose it’s probably a good idea. Though the one I bought is too small for my noggin (doesn’t that say something!) and when I smile or bite down it shifts up on my head. It gives my head a kind of mushroom appearance.
Off the point already. So I cycle out and I have the lagoon on one side and the pacific ocean on the other. Where the airport is used to be all water (which is not really reassuring). But there was ‘the quake’ in the thirties that leveled the whole place and raised the surrounding flat lands by about a couple of meters making all this new land.

There, cool photos of Napier before the quake when the hill was almost an island and where I am now was a crescent shaped sand bar surrounded by sea. I talk about the earthquake cause that’s what’s made this town famous. For those uninformed folk this town is famous. Apparently. I suppose it’s all relative…

The beach is pebbly and black. I suppose if it had a golden sand beach then Napier would really be the best place in the world and that would just be unfair on the rest of the world. But it’s a nice beach all the same and it’s got neat little world war two bunkers spread along it.

Though I’m not sure why. Even if Japan had achieved pacific dominance in the long term then I doubt they would have invaded. New Zealand is too small to be worth invading and it gives you know strategic position. It’s too darn hilly to try and occupy it. I suppose they could have just occupied the cities and all the kiwis would have lived out in the hills.

Either way the bunkers on west shore weren’t gonna slow up any invasion too much

So I sit on the bunker and stare out into the pacific and think, as I tend to do. And I think that I’m looking the wrong way to see home and I should look the other way. Then I realize that it’s ridiculous to look either way as I actually need to look down to see home

If I swam or canoed straight out from here (this is not something I’m currently planning to do) then the first thing I’d hit would probably be southern Chile. If I go south then I’d probably miss the south island and head straight to Antarctica. It was in the paper that they’ve spotted 4 groups of over a hundred icebergs off the south coast of Invercargill (the most southerly town on the south island). The tallest is apparently almost 200m!

If I swam/paddled north I’d at least hit the East Cape before disappearing towards Polynesia.

If I go back the way I came then I get a nice cup of coffee some furry slippers and a bag of salt and vinegar crisps. Who’s hungry?

Andre

I’m not known for patience. Perhaps it’s a family thing. My da will usually sneak back out to the garage arfter dinner to do more work to avoid the 90 secs he might have to wait for his cup of tea to be ready. He has this little ‘manic, obsessive’ trait that comes out from time to time. I use those words cause that’s how he describes me when i’m in one of those moods.

This impatience extends to everything, be it making food (what do you mean microwave for 60 secs, I could be dead by then!), exams (no, I’m not checking the answers to the MCQs, once they’re done they’re done), conversation (get to the flippin point!), technology (if a device has a standby that I don’t have to turn it fully off i’ll use it), and work (i used to triage, examine, treat and dispense my own drugs, and discharge patients in A&E before nursing staff even got near them).

And so i’ve been in NZ (from now on, new zealand will be referred to as NZ, so get used to it) for the grand total of 1 week. And I still don’t feel settled, or at home. Now to most people this would be perfectly normal, i’m not meant to be settled yet. I’m still meant to be recovering from jet lag.

Yet I, expected to arrive as a fully-fledged Kiwi, where everyone knew me and I knew them and we were all a wonderful happy family and I knew where the forms were and how the phones worked and the price of cheese and somewhere to live and the silly rule where someone turning across the lane of traffic has right of way and people wouldn’t think I was called andrè when I say andrew and this is a very long sentence with minimal punctuation so i’ll stop and we can have a collective indrawing of breath.

And so I need to stop. And ‘chill’ so to speak and give things a bit of time and stop chomping at the bit at everything.

Funny, i’ve been here only a week and i’ve learnt stuff about myself that I didn’t even realise was there. Kind of cool.

Now da would argue that he’s known all this for years and there’d be a mighty ‘i told you so’ and a ‘you should listen to me more often’ but then he probably lost patience during the very long sentence earlier and is off in the shed categorising all his screws and nails.

The Journey (Part 2)

I left you at 30 000 feet, didn’t I? Time flies (boom boom, will try not to make too may ludicrous travel puns…) when you’re having fun. And long-haul flights are fun for me.

Uneventful enough flight. Tried to serve us fish for breakfast.

Kuala lumpur (genius name) airort is one of those shiny, spanking new airports, in the shape of a starfish or badly counted cross. Lots of fun if you’re a kid or you’re not but can get away with it. I didn’t.

Had a wonderfully free wi-fi network so I could skype home to the parentals, though I think the several hundred people using it slowed it down a tad.

At this point (in malaysia) i’m tired and smelly and my phone is running low on battery and I haven’t had brekkie (flippin fish). To the redcue comes a business lounge you can buy youself into (for 12 quid) for 5 hrs with food, drinks, internet, papers and showers thrown in. I kind of took the mick with the food bit…

Shower felt so good, and then the massage… No wait there was no massage, i’m delirious now.

So next flight. I could pretend it was this crazy, unique experience full of laughs and adventure. But really it was just the same as the previous one with slightly better leg room. And they tried to offer us fish again for brekkie, what’s with these people…

And so now… I’m on a bus from Aukland to Tokoroa where I’m staying with a mate’s uncle. And this is now ‘home’. Funny when I think of that. The scary bit was arriving and realising I don’t know anybody here, that i’ve never been in this place before. I don’t know how to get things done, I don’t know how to pronounce the names.

So this’ll never be home, maybe ‘home’ but no more. But this is kind of the point. We’re all meant to be homeless, we’re all meant to be passing through. It’s ok for the world – it’s all there is for them. But for us these are just temporary dwellings.

It’s always missionary kids who show me this, with their parents in one part of the world, their siblings elsewhere, landed with unidentifiable accents. They’re all homeless or at least rootless. Like everything pros and cons, I know. But useful lesosn to keep in my head.

I left portadown at 3pm on monday. It’s now 3pm wednesday and i’m still not there yet. Yesterday was a sort of pseudo day. Travelling forward in time and going through 24 hrs but only experiencing 12. People talk of jet lag, which i’ve never understood. You spend 48 hrs living in the same pants and not cleaning your teeth (air malaysia don’t provide wee toothbrushes – most disappointed), eating processed food, sleeping in the most bizzare positions and that for only 10 mins at a time… I’m too tired for jet lag. Maybe it’s a yuppie thying…


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July 2020
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