Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Back To Big Walking

Monday morning we thought we would have an easy day, after two very hard ones. We hopped on the bikes and rode from Ranfurly to Wedderburn, which is getting near to the highest point on the Rail Trail, before it descends all the way to Clyde.

Bit of a wind against, and a slight climb almost all the way to Wedderburn (13 kms). So it was going to be very easy coming back, and only 26 kms in total. We remembered the hotelier at Wedderburn not being the most welcoming, but we were prepared for him this time. A waste of good preparation because we arrived at 10 am and the place was not open until 11. No cup of tea then. A bit surprising that he was not putting himself out to open for early riders – the Rail Trail has been a huge boon for businesses along the way, but presumably only those that open their doors. The trail opened in 2000 and now hundreds of people cycle it every week. The average age is mid-50s, and the average spend (accommodation, food, drink, bike hire, souvenirs) is $100 per day - “Recession? What recession?” is the cry round here.

Cycling back was not as easy as we expected. The wind seemed to have reversed direction and strengthened. A bit of a work-out, but being downhill and only 13 kms, nothing like so arduous as Sunday or especially Saturday.

We had already checked out of the cabin, but had left the car there. We loaded the bikes onto the rack, had a drink at a cafe in the “art deco” township of Ranfurly, then drove to Alexandra. Here we shall be doing alternate days of cycling and walking. I don't think we shall bother going back to Wedderburn to ensure we cover every inch of the Rail Trail. We have done that before. Also, in the past 3 days, with doing several sections twice, back and forth, we have already cycled 140 kms on a trail of which the total length is 152 kms.

We have also walked some of it this morning. We covered the same 26 kms circuit I was doing, every day for two weeks, at the end of February. They have had another go at the kilometre posts along the river bank and seem to have got it right at the third attempt.

Vic's Little Bike Ride

Sunday, March 29, 2009

House Arrest

What do you do next, if you have had the book thrown at you in hospital, with no end result? If you have been told that, if it happens again, you should go to the nearest hospital pretty damn quick? In other words, you should not go to any remote areas. And you should probably rest.

You should probably not do what we had planned, which is to cycle the 150 kms Central Otago Rail Trail in 3 sections. For each section, Gay or myself would drive the car, with one bike, to one end of the section and cycle back to where the other one had started. We would cross in the middle, and cyclist number two would then bring hir bike back, with the car, to the start point.
Gay pointed out that, as I am under medical “house arrest”, it is not advisable for me to go off on my own cycling in remote countryside for 5 hours at a time, in an area where cell phones frequently do not work. My jailer and I would have to cycle together.

So having spent the few days since Tuesday's trauma walking cautiously around Christchurch, we drove to Ranfurly on Friday. Quite a long drive, but we saw little of the threatened rain. Weather forecasting is just as much of an inexact science in New Zealand as it is in the rest of the world, but I have never been to another place where the forecast is spread out, in dribs and drabs, over the full hour of the evening news. The first teaser comes before the news headlines, then the forecaster pops up a couple of times during the program to talk interminably and boringly about what has happened, weather-wise, in the country during the day (but never comparing this with what was often a completely inaccurate forecast given the previous evening. Near the very end of the program, the forecaster is droning on again, giving extremely brief next-day forecasts for the various regions, then wandering off to talk about Australia, then the Pacific Islands, before returning, when you are well hypnotised, asleep or even brain-dead, to give a snapshot of the following few days in New Zealand. The most boring and time-wasting weather forecasts I have ever seen. I used to be involved in weather forecasting myself, in a small way, and I even have an award from the Director General of the Meteorological Office. If this lot have any awards, they should send them back immediately. Rant, rant.

But back to Ranfurly. On Saturday morning we cycled on the Rail Trail to Hyde, 32 kms of spectacular scenery, mostly downhill. A quick nibble and coffee there and we made the return journey. However, just before we got to Hyde, the very strong westerly wind arrived, the wind which had been forecast for the south coast. This was directly against us for the whole return trip, which was like cycling vertically up a wall. It took us half as long again, and them some, as the trip out. I didn't know house arrest could be so arduous. I was, as Terry Wogan would say, absolutely banjaxed.

This morning we were going to drive to Hyde and cycle to Middlemarch, which is at one end of the trail – the rail line is still in use from Middlemarch to Dunedin. The westerly wind was still with us, although not quite as strong, so we wisely decided to do the hard bit first. We drove to Middlemarch, cycled uphill and against the wind to Hyde, which was very hard work. Then, again after refreshments, we turned round and whizzed along with the wind behind us. Splendid.
The second round trip was 54 kms, so for the two days we have done 118 kms. The whole Rail Trail is 152 kms, which most people do in 3 days, although many take 6 days, with their bags being moved on for them, refreshments provided along the way. So our way is not quite taking it easy, which I think is what I am supposed to be doing at the moment. I suppose we could say that, the CT scan and everything else not having found a medical culprit, I am adding some stress tests. So far, everything seems to be in working order.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Through The Stargate

Well, Tuesday was a funny day. The training plan was, first, a walk into Christchurch centre for various errands and tasks, followed by some strenuous walking round the immense Hagley Park. This could have added up to a good 20 kms for the day.

That was the plan. The reality was that your bemused correspondent spent most of the day in hospital. The above is a picture of him undergoing today's portion of the training for VBW.

What a trip this is turning out to be, medically. For the first time since our mid-January arrival in New Zealand, we both seem to be free of coughs, colds and 'flu. In a couple of days we are supposed to be heading down to the south of South Island to conquer the Rail Trail again on our bikes and also do some strenuous walking to the tune of 30 or more kilometres per day.

Instead, we popped over the road from the Annabelle Motel, to the Ground Floor Cafe, where I had, once again, one of their world-beating date scones and a latte for breakfast. We returned to the motel for a few minutes before heading into the town centre. We were talking to Jo, who together with her husband Tracey, run the motel, just outside our door. I walked through the door and – whammo! - a startling pain in the area of my right kidney. Thinking this would go away, we walked across Hagley Park in the direction of the town centre, which, as it turns out, is fortunately also in the direction of the hospital. As we walked across the park the pain became so excruciating that I wondered whether I would make it to the other gate, and became convinced that the hospital was a better destination – if I could make it.

As I walked into the hospital the pain disappeared. I then spent all day being prodded and poked, giving blood samples, having my blood pressure, urine and pulse tested, having my blood sugar tested, and eventually having an X-Ray and CT scan (this was just like going through the Stargate) of my abdomen (the latter confirming what a doctor told me some time ago, that my liver and intestines are in the wrong place).

Although I went through the Stargate, I did not arrive in a different galaxy; neither did the doctors arrive at a conclusion. The outcome was bafflement on behalf of all parties about what had happened. Microscopic blood in my urine and various other indications that I may have had a kidney stone or possibly an attack of pancreatitis. I was given the option of staying in overnight so that the surgeons (this sounded very ominous!) could further observe me, or be released with strict instructions to get back to a hospital pretty damn quick if anything like this happened again. I took the latter option.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Murder Scene

Bit of a funny exercise weekend. As I said, we are concentrating on cycling at the moment. It's good for the body to have a change but to keep exercising; also we need to become somewhat accustomed to life in the saddle before we make the sudden onslaught on the Central Otago Rail Trail next weekend.

Friday we went for our usual walk into Oxford for internetting at the library, a coffee, and back. That is exactly 5 kms. The plan for the afternoon was to cycle the “back” road to Cust , including a coffee (do you spot a theme here) at the cafe and amazing Emporium there. This ride is about 45 kms, including a very loose gravel road to be covered twice, some hills, and some long, flat, straight roads which will probably be produced in evidence by some crackpot writing a book to prove the Romans were here before the Maori or the Chinese. I also planned to do another 5 kms walk after the bike ride.

Everything went a bit awry on the return leg from Cust. My back tyre received several punctures in an area where, a couple of days before, we had seen a farmer cutting his thorn hedges. At this stage we were about 15 or 16 kms from base. I decided to walk on while Gay cycled “home” to Oxford to retrieve the car and then retrieve me and the bike. I avoided the gravel road and continued down the long, straight German Road (it's called that to confuse us about the Romans). During the 70 minutes I was walking, only four cars passed me. Excellent setting for an uninterrupted murder.

Having been rescued by Gay. I mended one puncture, then another, then another. There was still air coming from the inner tube so I fitted a new tube and consigned the old one to other duties (they are excellent for holding bikes onto car cycle racks). I didn't go for the planned second walk for obvious reasons.

Saturday was cold and wet so we contented ourselves with a walk into town and back.

Sunday the wind had turned to southerly, which has the effect in New Zealand of opening the freezer door. That and laziness combined to restrict us to the morning walk and a wallow with the weekend papers.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

No Sweat - 100% Inspiration

Every now and then I hear about somebody undertaking – whether they succeed or not is irrelevant – something which makes my own challenge seem insignificant. Rosie Swale Pope's run around the world, which I mentioned a few months ago, was one such thing.

Less often, I actually meet somebody who has set hirself such a target, or who has achieved it. A few years ago, we met a man, who called himself The Blindstone Cowboy, who was busking outside the library in Takaka. As his name suggests, he is totally blind and yet, in addition to playing the guitar and singing country songs (and this was nowhere near his home in the Buller Gorge so there was obviously a transport achievement in there somewhere as well), he told us of his recent adventure. He had walked the length of New Zealand, on the verges of State Highway One, and other busy roads (something regular readers of this blog will realise I am trying to avoid wherever possible, and I am fully sighted) with only a dog,a packhorse and a guitar for company. He told us there was a book about this, but we have failed to find it.

Last week in Hanmer we met Mark Inglis, whose story is really inspirational. Just one fact will knock your socks off. Mark has stood on the summit of Mount Everest, and yet both his legs are amputated below the knee. The Everest triumph came after he lost his legs as a result of being trapped in bad weather near the summit of Aoraki Mount Cook (nearly 4000 metres) for a week.

Since his double amputation Mark has also:

Been a research scientist
Made medal-winning wines
Won a silver medal cycling at the Sydney Paralympic Games
Stepped onto the summit of Mount Cook again.
Passed his pilot's licence
Become an author and motivational speaker.

He says the key to all his successes is Challenge – always setting yourself new goals.
He also, on the evidence of our limited acquaintance, seems to be a very pleasant person, unlike some others I have met, who, as the result of life “dealing them another blow”, have become very bitter instead of moving on to what can be done.

I show here the cover of one of Mark's books, which are published only in New Zealand. This is a great shame, because his story would be an inspiration to people anywhere. His writing style is informative and humorous. The books should be published in UK, Europe and USA, but they are not, as yet. A saving grace is that they are available on Amazon. Just search under the name Mark Inglis.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Suddenly In The Saddle

We are majoring on cycling this week in Oxford, because we hope to be cycling the Central Otago Rail Trail (150 kms of spectacular scenery) again next week. So we are averaging 10 kms a day walking. We have not been on our bikes since last September or so; no doubt that is the reason that our first ride, yesterday, of 45 kms, was such hard work. Maybe we should have started with a ride which was a little flatter. This morning we did an extremely undulating 20 kms, which was quite enough.

We are meeting Robyn and John Davies for a spot of lunch at Cafe 51, the best cafe/restaurant in Oxford (much better than the hyped Seagars, which gets its publicity because it is owned by Jo Seagar, a NZ "celebrity" chef, but which is sadly lacking, especially in the area of service). After lunch we shall be going for a stroll with R&J. We "did" the Rail Trail with them last year. Today's effort started out as a plan to climb Mt. Oxford together, but has gradually come down to a slow walk and a plea to us to do something more strenuous this morning. Which we have duly done.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Contrition, Consideration, Communication

Monday was one of those days where things come in threes.

We had only the one walk. Got up at 6 and waited for daylight to arrive so that we could get out walking. The temperature was 4 degrees on our return, no wonder it felt so cold as we set off. Still, it encouraged us to step out, if only to get warm. So much did we step out, that the whole walk was completed in 15 minutes less than Sunday.

The whole point of doing this so early was that we needed to be back, showered, packed, and everything stowed in the car in time for us to check out of our room by 10 a.m. The shower bit was where things started to go wrong. I was standing there, in the accustomed position slightly outside the stream of water from the shower head (I hate cold water), wearing nothing but an increasingly bemused expression, while the emerging water stayed as cold as the air outside. Gay went to reception. “Have it fixed in one minute,” was the confident reply. Ten minutes later she went to reception again. “That didn't work, I'll have to send for the boss.” Meanwhile I am sitting there like a lemon, wearing little more than the bemused expression. We kept trying the taps. It took another trip to reception before we were told the problem was fixed. No apology. No knock on the door to tell us the heater was now fixed. Customer service.

That was number one. The third was when we eventually managed to leave Hanmer, several hours later (all will become clear) and stopped at Culverden for a spot of lunch. A date scone for me (not up to the world-class standard of the two places I have recommended, in Clyde and Christchurch), a couple of drinks, and a soup for Gay. Everything but the soup arrived. We sat and sat, and eventually asked where it was. The woman behind the counter said she would see, went into the kitchen, and it immediately appeared. Obviously they had forgotten, but no apology, not even a smile. Red Post Cafe, Culverden. Won't go there again.

Back to number two hiccup of the day. After checking out of the motel we drove into town for a coffee, which was very nice. We walked back to the car and found a note on the windscreen. “So sorry, but we touched the front of your car with our campervan.” We were looking for some minor scrape on the front bumper when Gay noticed the front wing, which was caved in above the wheel. About $1000 worth of damage, we were later told. The German couple with the campervan had managed to do this while parking and had left the note saying they would then be in the thermal pools for an hour and a half.

We had them tannoyed for. They were very nervous and amazed to find that we were not furious. They started to tug on their clothes but we said we would meet them in an hour to exchange insurance details, et cetera. Which we duly did. Everything was settled very amicably. We parted on good terms and had a bit of a jokey time when we encountered them later in the day at the Mudhouse Waipara Winery (excellent).

The difference between these three incidents, and the fact that we were more annoyed by the water incident and the missing soup than by some very inconvenient and expensive damage to our car? The fact that the German couple owned up and left a note, while the two businesses had such a “take it or leave it” attitude and did not keep us informed.

It is a fact supported by much data that, while a satisfied customer is a good advert and a dissatisfied customer obviously the opposite, if you go out of your way to correct matters for the dissatisfied customer (including the magic words contrition,consideration and communication) he will then be, by a very large margin, a better ambassador for you than the one who was satisfied in the first place.

As in business, so in life.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sober And Incapable

I walked 16 kms today. So what, you say, are you not the Big Walker, who regularly does 30 kms a day, 6 days a week, and intends to do so for 10 weeks on the trot (sorry!) next year?
Well, yes, but I have not been entirely honest with you. I have not walked for a week. Not as in “going for a walk”. Not since we left the Wist Cowst, as they say here, and came, across the stunning mountain passes and through enormous flat, glacier scoured valleys, to Hanmer Springs. A bit of tottering around town is all I have managed.

The trouble is, that cold which descended upon me 10 days or so ago, proved to be a bit more than a cold, at least in the leg-sapping area anyway. I don't think it was full blown 'flu, or I would have been bedridden, but I was certainly incapable of doing that which we came here for, long walks in the beautiful woods and hills which surround Hanmer.

The reason I didn't mention it is because this blog, to the casual, unsympathetic observer, also to me, was beginning to resemble a hypochondriac's diary, at least since the beginning of January, in fact since we landed in New Zild, as they also say here. I am not a hypochondriac and have only mentioned these ongoing ailments insofar as they affect walking.

But a missing week – a week without a walk – is a bit difficult to explain without coming clean.
Amazingly, my pedometer tells me that, despite all this, I have managed to clock up over 60 kms during the week. Most of that was walking up into town and back for coffee.

Nevertheless, a week off during VBW would be disastrous. I could continue walking if afflicted by a mere nose cold, but a wobbly leg job like this would be a real problem. There is some leeway built into my schedule, but not much. The only ways I could catch up would be to miss out the rest days or to walk maybe 40 kms each day instead of 30. And to increase effort during or immediately after an illness is really asking for trouble – as I know to my cost, having once run a marathon while feeling vaguely unwell – boy, did I pay for that later in the week, and for the next two or three weeks!

Sobering thoughts.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Walking by rail from Portsmouth to Oxford on VBW?

That took you by surprise, didn't it? Suddenly back from the warm weather (huh!) training in New Zealand, and back to the nitty gritty of the actual objective of this whole enterprise – the walk backwards through my life from my current home to the house of my birth.

It is now one year since I conceived the idea, while walking in New Zealand last year. It is also just over a year until the start of the walk. Much of the basic plan is settled, I am attempting to maintain a decent level of fitness, and I have the outlines of the route.

Much remains to be settled about the fine detail of the French section, splitting it down into 30 km sections while ensuring, as far as possible, that the roads covered are minor, quiet and safe. That is a task awaiting me when we get back to France.

Possibly the fact that on Monday we shall be returning for a week to Oxford (NZ) is provoking me to think about the route in UK. From Oxford (UK) my route north will be mainly on canal tow paths, where I hope to be in very little danger of being hit by a truck.

Ideally, a canal from Portsmouth to Oxford would be very useful for the missing link, but I don't believe there is one. But there is another possibility. I understand that in UK there are many ex railway lines recently pressed into service as walking/cycling tracks. Indeed I hear that there was a television series about walking these old lines.

Is there such a track from Portsmouth to Oxford, or for part of the route? If you want to help with this or with any other suggestions, please leave a comment on the blog, or e-mail me at:


Thursday, March 12, 2009

“At The Kerb, Halt …

… Look left, look right, look left again. If the road is clear, cross quickly.”

Remember that? The old mantra taught to children, when I was one, for safely crossing a street. Before they made it more complicated and therefore presumably less safe. Still a good routine to follow if you want to remain a live pedestrian, especially now there is so much more traffic on roads everywhere.

But not quite as necessary for a walker here in New Zealand. Not much of our walking is done in urban areas here because as a rule we avoid cities, and everywhere else the country is so well equipped with walking (or “tramping” as they say here, presumably because it seems more manly) trails.

Nevertheless, in ten days or so we shall be spending a couple of days in Christchurch. Not just the lure of the date scones mentioned when we were there in January, but we also have a few bits of business to transact.

Our walking in Christchurch largely involves walking from our motel, across the enormous Hagley Park, into the town centre, and back. With the marching around in the CDB this gives us a good 10 kms even if we then sloth for the rest of the day, which would be unusual.
As we do that walk, we shall experience something we have never come across in any other country, something which almost makes a pedestrian crossing code unnecessary here. Almost always, as we walk towards the kerb with the intention of waiting for a gap in the traffic, a miracle happens, which makes one feel like Moses shaking his stick at the Red Sea. The cars, travelling in both directions, stop! Motorists who take note of, and adjust their behaviour for, pedestrians! Can this be true?

It was one of the things which we first noticed, on our first visit to New Zealand in 1995. It is extremely refreshing, but not to be taken advantage of. It would be tempting providence to step straight out without the invitation of the drivers. Not to mention bad mannered. And most pedestrians do not thank the drivers, which will one of these days result in the drivers behaving as they do in other countries.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Rockin' At Woodstock

On Sunday we waited until the afternoon for our walk, because of the forecast that the weather would be so much better then. Just as well we took the waterproof ponchos. I'm not sure it has stopped raining since. It is now Monday and we have just seen the evening weather forecast. Wind blowing up from the South (that's where Antarctica lives), bringing very reduced temperatures and snow on higher ground (we have just transferred from Hokitika at sea level, to Hanmer Springs, where the centre of town is at 365 metres (easy to remember) and the walking much, much higher – I believe our favourite waterfall walk takes us over 800 metres.

Bit of a cock-up on the navigation front and a different journey from the one I mentioned a couple of days ago. We did in fact go as far north as Greymouth before turning inland. As far as we know we did not, this time, cause any tornadoes. And we did not, as I had informed you, go through the once-flattened Murchison. We did, as predicted, pass through Reefton. Reefton bills itself as “Town of Light” because it was the first town in the Southern hemisphere to generate and distribute its own electricity.

The navigation officer is now in the brig. But I have joined her there because when we got to Hanmer, we found that I had not booked us any accommodation. I can't imagine how that happened because when we plan our journey round NZ, months before, I book one place, then when it has been confirmed, I book the town we are moving on to, et cetera – and I have definitely booked next weeks accommodation, back with Denise (of Oxford) and Robin.

Still, we managed to find a new motel with space available. In fact we have a lovely, spacious room, much better than any other we have encountered in Hanmer before. The only snag is that our cooking facilities consist solely of a microwave and a toaster.

Going back to Sunday's walk. We managed 18 wet kms and rewarded ourselves with an evening trip out to Woodstock for the music. Woodstock is a small community a few kms outside Hokitika. Every Sunday night at the Woodstock Inn, there is a jam session. Usually a bunch of local regulars and members of the music club, but I believe anybody can join in and there are instruments available to play. But last night the club were rehearsing the tunes they are to perform at next weekend's Wild Food Festival, so the format was slightly different, with no opportunities for a stranger to join in. Thank goodness.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Shaking All Over

We are leaving today's walk until this afternoon. It looked a bit uncomfortable this morning, heavy showers, and the forecast was for it to clear up, which it has done. Very humid, though.

Just heard from John Brady that another cyclone is sweeping down on Brisbane. No doubt the tail end of it will arrive here a few days later and disrupt the plans of lots of people. That has happened several times while we have been here, with the damage mainly in North Island.

When we leave Hokitaka tomorrow we head north up the West Coast, which is truly spectacular in fine weather. We turn east and inland before we reach Greymouth, which is just as well. The only time we have ever stayed in that town, a tornado destroyed the town centre the following day. We really felt guilty, because on the same trip, we passed through the Misissippi area on the way home and also stayed with our friends in Evansville. Guess what? Not much later Hurricane Katrina happened and also a tornado tore the heart out of a trailer park in Evansville, killing many people. We were really studying the news about everywhere we had been for some time after that, but came to the conclusion that it was all a coincidence.

On our way to Hanmer Springs, we also drive through Reefton, yet another goldrush place (there is a place on a corner plot where bearded prospects will make you a mug of incredibly strong tea and show you how to pan for gold) and Murchison, one of several places which has been flattened by an earthquake during the brief years of European settlement here. There are several earthquakes every day in NZ, most of them undetectable by humans. But NZ is on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" and is always hovering on the brink of another "big one". So why have they built the capital., Wellington, on several fault lines?

We experienced a very strong earthquake on our first visit here in 1995. We had just crossed from South Island to North Island on the ferry and driven 80-90 kms north. The next morning our camper was thrown about very violently. The earthquake was deep below the sound between the two islands and was felt over a very large area. Fortunately this time there was no very serious damage and nobody was killed.

If It Crawls, It's Dinner

Out in the drizzle and mizzle this morning. We thought if it was going to continue all day, there was no point waiting. Rewarded with an even closer view of the white heron we have seen every morning here. If hshe can stand the wet, the least we can do is be out there to marvel at hir beauty.

Another reward for braving the rain was that as soon as we returned to base, the sun came out and it has been a mainly fine day ever since. But what can you do?

We shall be leaving Hokitika on Monday morning, and not a moment too soon. Next weekend, starting Friday, one of the town's greatest attractions takes place. This is the Hokitika Wild Foods Festival. Clearly a great draw for many, this would be a nightmare for me. It is a very small town, but the population swells by anything up to 20,000 for the event. So, black mark number one in my eyes, immense crowds.

There is of course, despite attempts to control it, a very large amount of drinking and drunkenness in the streets, Gay was talking to somebody the other day who, at last year's Wild Foods, filled 5 bin-bags with empty bottles from his garden and round about – and this is in a street with signs up saying “alcohol-free zone” (we have never seen those signs anywhere else but New Zealand, and they are common here).

What all these people come here for is the opportunity of eating all sorts of horrors like huhu grubs, wild boar and snails. One review of last year's Festival said “If it crawls, its dinner at the phenomenally popular Wild Foods Festival, during the second weekend in March. Opossum, kangaroo, and grasshopper are among the tamer entrees”. Not quite our scene.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night ..

... And the captain said, "Spin us a yarn, Vic".

And the yarn began like this ...

It really was a dark and stormy night. We could hear the wind a-howlin' and the rain a bashin' on the windows and roof, but worst of all was the sound of the sea a-crashin' on the beach, which is remarkably near, and at an altitude only feet below our cabin.

I heard all this for most of the night because I was stricken yesterday, very suddenly, by a cold which amongst other things, impaired my breathing to a problematical level, and I therefore could not sleep. Not a new problem for me, as I have always been the world champion cold-catcher, but it does make the night rather long. There are worse things.

This morning the forecast here on the West Coast is for rain at a rate of 30 mm per hour (that is a remarkable amount of rain but the West Coast is famous for it). So the forecast and the cold conspired to persuade us not to go for a walk this morning. But, in the way of weather forecasting all over the world, the actuality is completely different to the forecast. The sun is blazing down. In a complete reversal of recent roles, Gay has just gone for a run and I have cried off, choosing instead to do this heavy session of blogging. It is not a bad thing to have a rest day every now and again. I hope to be on the road again tomorrow.

Respectable Walk

We are walking about 15-16 kms a day in Hokitika. Quite respectable, even if somewhat reduced from the strenuous efforts of the two weeks in Alexandra.

More varied terrain, though. This morning, we started from our temporary home next to the beach, crossed a railroad track, a glow-worm cave, an airport, walked through native bushland, round a racecourse, past a milk products factory, along a river, past a white heron, some old docks, some ship wreckage, enormous amounts of driftwood on the beach, an artisanal bakery, a sock museum, and much more, before returning to base.

We started from sea level, of course. Even though the maximum altitude of the walk is about 80 metres, we had stunning views of the Southern Alps and Mt Cook and its surrounding permanent snowfields and glaciers.

Hokitika is yet another town which grew up as a result of a gold rush. The gold was first discovered in 1864 and by the end of that year there were 800 diggers in the area. Then it mushroomed. Hokitika sprang up as a port through which to bring in supplies, even though finding a safe place to berth ships was difficult. It became one of New Zealand's busiest ports, in terms of number of ships and immigrants, and amount of customs revenue generated. In 1866 43.5% of immigrants to NZ arrived in Hokitika. Half of the total gold produced on the west coast was shipped from here. All pretty amazing as the treacherous sand bar at the harbour entrance made the port one of the most dangerous in NZ. In 1866 a ship was wrecked here once every 10 weeks on average. Presumably much of that gold is at the bottom of the sea.

Another major industry in Hokitika at that time was obviously food, drink and accommodation. The town at one time had 103 hotels, of which 85 were crammed into the narrow mile of Revell Street, which is currently our home.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Going West

I walked nearly 400 kms during our two weeks in Alexandra. But all things must come to an end. Sunday evening we went out to a Thai restaurant with friends Owen and Lynette. On Monday morning we bade farewell to always laughing Denise of the excellent Alexandra Garden Court Motel. Denise allegedly has a husband Rowley, although I personally think he is a myth as I have never seen him, although it may be true that he works away all week. We know two Denises in New Zealand and they are both very keen gardeners. I will tell you more of Denise of Oxford and her garden when we get there; Denise of Alexandra has a splendid large garden in which to relax, and she is also a very keen vegetable gardener, so she and Gay get on like a house on fire, and we get a lot of access to very fresh vegetables.

We left Alexandra before 8 am, for the 500 kms drive to Hokitika on the West Coast. After an hour or so we made a very slight diversion into Wanaka for breakfast, and to break up the journey. Wanaka is in a spectacular setting. It has an extremely individual small cinema – the seating consists almost entirely of old armchairs and settees – I say almost, because there is also a bright yellow Morris Minor with its rear end embedded in the wall, but with all four seats intact and usually occupied. All films, whether designed that way or not, have an intermission in this establishment – you can tell when the intermission is coming up because of the wonderful aroma of the cookies which are being baked for the intermission in the attached cafe. It is possible to order a meal for the intermission, which lasts as long as it takes the slowest diner to finish hir meal. My nephew Andrew was in NZ on a cycling holiday with his wife and they saw one of the “Lord of the Rings” films here. I remember Andrew telling me how surreal it was to watch the film, with its spectacular scenery, then to step outside and see the same scenery in the flesh (LOTR was filmed in many locations all over New Zealand, especially South Island).

From Wanaka, the drive took us past more of the superb and varied landscape for which NZ is justly famed, past the stunning Lake Hawea, the top end of Lake Wanaka , through mountain passes, great areas of native bushland, glaciers, and eventually to the beautiful West Coast. The forecast was for lots of rain, but we saw none, although we drove on steaming, wet roads a few times.

At Hokitika, the walking will be daily, but not as long and arduous as at Alexandra/Clyde – we know of no long walks here. But we do plan to unshackle our bicycles, which have so far remained unused because of illness in the camp, and to give them a little exercise.

Here we are once again in the care of Adele and Brian, of 252 Beachside Motels, who always make us most welcome and who seem to look forward to our visits as much as we do.