Thursday, April 30, 2009

Singapore Cowboys

We are at Singapore Changi Airport, waiting for our 14-hour flight to Manchester.

We have walked a total of only 13 kms here in two days. This is my 19th visit to Singapore - Gay's 18th, because I was here on a ship in 1957 - but I will never get used to the heat and humidity. One virtually has to swim down the streets.

But where else can you find a shop called JR's, which sells genuine cowboy clothes from Texas. JR goes to Texas (I wonder if he bumps into the other JR in Dallas?) at least once a year to select new stock. Though we have yet to catch anyone else - apart from JR himself - wearing any.

When we arrive in Manchester at 0640 on Friday morning, we shall have been up since 2200 on Wednesday. Time for a kip then, if we can manage it. Just a small one, to make sure we can survive until the evening.

The following Friday we should be back in France, for the long drive south. Then life - and walking - should begin to return to normal.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Beautiful Thoughts And The Minister Mentor

We are now in Singapore. Not much walking will be done here. Even at 8 this morning it was far too hot and humid, even compared with Brisbane. Slow movements and beautiful thoughts are the order of the day, according to Gay.

I was very pleased yesterday to walk 18 kms, despite it also being a day when we travelled over 5000 kms and changed hemispheres. Most of that was done in an early morning 13 kms walk with Gay and John Brady – accompanied part of the way by Gail.

I always find Singapore a fascinating place. Such a small country, yet such intense economic activity. Skyscrapers in every direction, many of them being knocked down to build even bigger, better ones.

And the political system is also unique. The country was driven to prosperity by Lee Kuan Yew, a benevolent, democratically elected dictator. He retired many years ago, but he is revered here. He is frequently quoted in the news, quoted under his unique title of “Minister Mentor”. Today he is urging caution on the United States, warning them not to get too excited about the “green shoots” signs of economic recovery. He is not so sure. Although he is very pleased that the US is always so optimistic.

They should listen to him. He has an astounding record of success.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Crossing The Line

Just had our last walk in the Southern Hemisphere. In a couple of hours we are heading to the airport for the flight to Singapore, which, for those who don't know, is marginally north of the Equator. We have two nights there, then five in UK, before hitting the ferry to France and home.

Last night we attended a joint birthday party for Gay and Cheryl Cameron, at the house of Cheryl and husband Mick (it was also their wedding anniversary. Amazingly, although we have never been to Brisbane before, we knew 8 of the people at the party, not including ourselves. In addition to Cheryl and Mick, there was Cheryl's sister Gail, Steve and Lorna, Tom, and of course we were with John and Gail Brady, our hosts in Brisbane. All of these people have stayed at the house next door to us in Puivert.

Glad to see that Sir David Attenborough has received another BAFTA after all these years. I forgot to mention in my account of our weekend at O'Reillys that we saw a bower bird. Sir David's famous film of the bower bird luring females into its strangely built boudoir was filmed at O'Reilly's. I also should have mentioned that the Lamington National Park, which includes O'Reilly's, is a World Heritage Park.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Highs and Lows

Click on picture to enlarge

We had a 15-kilometre walk by the sea on the Redcliffe Peninsula in Queensland again this morning. We started before 7 a.m. - fortunately, because it turned out to be a very hot day. I thought this could possibly be acclimatising us for the weather back home – where we should be within two weeks – until I saw today's weather forecast for Quillan, one of our local market towns. The maximum temperature for today is predicted to be 8 degrees. Here it is over 30 degrees.

Still, one of today's activities should be preparing us for normality at home. At the furthest point of our walk we had breakfast in a cafe overlooking a market, which is our usual Sunday morning custom.

For the past two days our walking has been done well away from this seashore. In fact we have been at 3000 feet, or about 1000 metres above sea level, at O'Reilly's Mountain Rainforest Retreat. It was much cooler up there, more like today's temperature at home.

This is their website:

In 1911, eight O'Reilly “boys” from the Blue Mountains near Sydney bought a large chunk each of land which was going very cheap on the top of the mountains in South Queensland. All this land was in very difficult terrain, not only high and far away from civilisation, but uncleared subtropical rainforest. They proceeded with the arduous task of clearing enough land to start a dairy farm. In the meantime the government declared that the land for miles around was now the Lamington National Park.

Isolated but undaunted, the five O'Reilly brothers and their three O'Reilly cousins decided to add holiday accommodation for people who would welcome the experience of kidding themselves that they were living the pioneer life in such a quiet spot, surrounded by a terrain they would experience nowhere else, and witnessing animal and plant life not found at home.

In the meantime, a Stinson passenger aircraft was lost on a flight between Brisbane and Sydney. Nobody had any idea where it was, despite extensive aerial searches. Bernard O'Reilly had a feeling it could be somewhere on the O'Reilly mountain top. He set off into the jungle, basically just following his nose. He found the aircraft and saved and succoured the survivors.

The publicity from Bernard's exploit was immense and is credited with being a major factor in the subsequent growth of the O'Reilly Retreat set-up.

We had a very enjoyable time up there with John and Gail. The accommodation is now well out of the primitive bracket. The walks are extremely interesting and information provided by the guides, about the flora and fauna, is fascinating. It was amazing to see possums being almost venerated, especially when we have spent so much time in New Zealand, where they are loathed and despised because there they are in plague numbers (estimates very from 70 million to 100 million) and they destroy 20,000 tons of vegetation or plant life every night, killing thousands of trees in the process.

Highly recommended (O'Reilly's, that is, not the New Zealand possums).

That's a picture of Gay - birthday girl for tomorrow, with a yellow booyong tree.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Walking By The Sea

Tuesday we left Dana in Adelaide and flew to Brisbane. Here we are staying with John and Gail Brady, who we met when they stayed at the house next to ours in Puivert.

They live at Woody Point on the Redcliffe Peninsula, north of Brisbane. This morning we went for a lovely walk with them along the seafront. For a change, we were in the company of lots of walkers, going in both directions, plus some runners and the odd cyclist. The walk, which extends for about 13 kilometres, is marked off clearly every 100 metres, leaving nobody in doubt as to the distance they have covered. We walked out and back for a total of 10 kilometres and ended up with about 18 kms for the day.

John tells us there are frequently dolphins visible, and manatees or dugongs not so visible because they are bottom feeders. But we saw neither today. There are also whales, in season, behind the visible Moreton island. That same island is protecting the area where we were walking from the terrible damage done by an oil spill which happened a couple of months ago when a ship foolishly ventured into the path of a cyclone.

It is much warmer and more humid here than in South Australia. Also much greener, because they have had plenty of rainfall since the beginning of the year, unlike SA, which looks like a desert because they have had so many years of near drought - a big problem for local agriculture and the wineries which abound there.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

How it mounts up

I have clocked up over 80 kms this week, despite the difficulties I mentioned earlier.

The only actual walk I set out to do was the Skyline Walk in Oamaru on Monday morning, which is about 8 kilometres. The rest is just pottering about in Adelaide.

I meet people, as we all do, who say they do not have time for exercise. But if you just walk to the shop, instead of driving, or park a bit further away, it all adds up. And having a pedometer makes you realise this, and encourages you to do that little bit more.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Now Is The Hour For Us To Say Goodbye

We are at the Sudima Hotel, within walking distance (really) of Christchurch airport. In fact we have just walked over there to confirm the time we need to be there in the morning – because our first flight is domestic, to Auckland – we can leave it until one hour before departure. So we can delay our check-in time until 4.30 am. Deep joy!

Our final walks in New Zealand, for this year, have taken place. Monday we clocked up 20 kms, by the time we had walked to Shirley's for tea. She lives on the highest point in Oamaru, near the lookout point which has a signpost giving distances to Vancouver, London, and many other places. This made for quite a warm walk! We had a very pleasant time with well-travelled Shirley, never-travelled Peter, and their friend Bev.

The tea at Shirley's was the evening meal. Before we set out, we were having afternoon tea with Tania and Paul, who had invited us along to their campervan. Our list of Kiwi friends grows by the day!

Tuesday we managed to clock up 16 kms. Today was a driving day, as we had to come from Oamaru to Christchurch, then to Rangiora to hand over the car and bikes and Gay's keyboard to Robin, then back with a driver to the hotel at the airport. Robin will guard the car and bikes (and keyboard) until our return in January. He has also arranged for the damage to the car (you may remember a campervan reversed into it) and will collect Gay's bike (the air-filled shock absorber on this fairly new cycle, which has had less than 6 month's use decided to collapse yesterday, not leaving us much time to get it sorted out) when it has been repaired.

So today (Wednesday) was a busy day. Even including our walk over to the airport, we have managed only 5 kms. So our total walked in New Zealand during 2009 is 1205 kms. With the bits I walked in France before we left home, my total for the year so far is 1294 kms. My objective for 2009 is to average at least 10 kms a day, so on the 105th day of the year I am 244 kms ahead of schedule. Just as well, because I am not sure how much walking I will manage to do over the next two or three weeks, when we will be either travelling or staying with relatives or friends.

Tomorrow, after the early flight to Auckland, we have another flight to Adelaide then of course the trip into the city to find our accommodation. Later in the day we have Gay's annual reunion with her sister Dana, who will be travelling from her home 3 hours outside Sydney. We have 5 days in Adelaide, during which we hope to be meeting more of Gay's Australian relatives, including her brother Donald, who lives in Adelaide.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Run Rabbit, Run Rabbit, Run, Run, Run

Tomorrow will be our last walk in New Zealand this year. This morning we did the Skyline walk again, which is about 8 kms and hilly with it. Popping into town for my muffin and coffee breakfast has already brought that up to 12 kms, and by tonight it will probably be 18 kms or so for the day.

Before setting out, I had a quick look at the local paper and was reminded of one of the reasons we did not stay in Alexandra over Easter, even though it is the base for the longest walks we do in this country.

The reason I mention is The Great Easter Bunny Hunt. 460 shooters from 39 teams (with many more turned away because they “did not make the cut”) blast away for 24 hours at rabbits which apparently infest the area. This year 14,799 rabbits were killed, with various hares, stoats, ferrets, goats, possums, turkeys and the odd feral cat bringing the total bag of “pests” up to 15,495. In 24 hours!

If we were still around, there would not be much escape from evidence of that carnage. And all the dead bodies are laid out in neat rows in Pioneer Park, which is open plan and smack in the center of Alexandra. Not a happy sight for vegetarians.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Another Sunday, Another Country Music Club

We managed to clock up over 100 kms of walking this week, despite having moved away from the best areas for long walks, and having lost 2 days to rain and travelling.

We have been to Oamaru many times without realising there are several music clubs here. Fortunately, a few weeks ago we were chatting to one of the men who runs the local Heritage Radio Station and he gave us the necessary information.

So this afternoon we went along to the monthly meeting of the Central Coast Country Music Club. As with other such clubs we have found, there is a good resident band and an assortment of other performers. Some of these are better than others, but the atmosphere is good, and, as a reluctant performer myself, I am always amazed that so many people are prepared to get up and have a go. I am actually more impressed in some ways with those who are not so good. And I still can not figure out how people manage to sing and play a musical instrument at the same time.

We particularly liked the father and son act from Invercargill. The boy was only 11 and professed to be nervous, but he sang several songs while his father and the band backed him, and he returned the compliment when his father was singing. We also liked Peter, a man in a wheelchair, who sang “Lucille”, the Kenny Rogers song, and a song I haven't heard before, called “The Green Beret”. This last was apparently the only song by its writer, who had a connection himself with the Vietnam war, as I think Peter said he did also. What really impressed us about Peter was the intensity and meaning he put into both songs, and his eye contact with the audience – both things worth a bagful of musical talent.

What a friendly club this is. So many people came up to speak to us. One very nice couple, Shirley and Peter (Shirley was one of the few people in New Zealand, surely, who has ever been to Darlington, Gay's home town) kindly invited us to tea tomorrow evening. Of course we accepted.

Speaking of tea, the entry fee of $3 dollars (just over £1) included afternoon tea, at which there was enough food to sink a battleship. We shall definitely be going again. But that will have to wait until next, and subsequent, years, of course.

Friday, April 10, 2009

400 Days To Go

400 days to the start of Vic's Big Walk from the French Pyrenees to the Lancashire Pennines in England.

When I first conceived the idea, here in New Zealand last year, there were about 800 days to go. How time walks! During that time I have walked about 3,000 kms in preparation, and have much of the planning done. My objective now is to keep reasonably fit so that I hopefully at least start the walk as a man, 70 days away from being 70 years old, with a reasonable chance of completing the task.

As we did the Oamaru Skyline walk this morning – where we climb more than once from just above sea level to a couple of hundred metres, we could clearly see the mountains to the south and west, which are now totally white with snow.

This time next week we shall be in Adelaide for a few days, then Brisbane for a week, Singapore for 2 days and UK for a week before driving home to France. While we are thus in transit, our walking will be less intense than lately, but that is not a bad thing, the body periodically needs a chance to recover.

Once back in France, I shall get cracking again and expect to walk about 4,000 kms this year and maybe another 1,000 kms next year before starting VBW on May 15th 2010.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

An Early Taste Of Winter

We are in our last week here, and New Zealand is suddenly having an early taste of winter.
Monday we had the last of our long walks based on Alexandra. Tuesday morning we loaded up and set off for Oamaru, where we are spending our last week. But first we headed for Dunedin, where we met Lyn and Selwyn Cardno of Kaka Point (we stayed with them in early February) and their daughter Steph, plus baby, for lunch.

The drive to Dunedin was through very cold and wet weather, with the promised snow clearly landing on the hills down to a height of 600 metres. Fortunately we were heading to the coast because central South Island was receiving a lot of the white stuff.

We had a jolly time over lunch with our friends, then set off once again for Oamaru. Some time later, we again left Dunedin for Oamaru, because we had to return, when we were a third of the way into the journey, because I had once again done my famous act of leaving my bum bag, complete with wallet, passport, telephone and much else, behind in the restaurant.

We arrived in Oamaru not long before darkness descended. There is not much long walking to be done here so this morning we once again did the Skyline Walk, which is pretty hilly but only about 7.5 kms. With various bits of pottering about, our total for the day is already over 17 kms and will be over 20 by the rest of the day. It is bitterly cold, but dry. We spent the afternoon in the cinema, watching “The Merchant of Venice”. Venice did not look much warmer, and was very wet.

A week today we shall be on the great silver bird to Adelaide.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Italian Earthquake

Many of you know that my daughter Nicola lives north of Rome and are wondering whether she has been affected by this week's earthquake. She is OK. Because our access to e-mail is spasmodic while travelling I am repeating below a message she has sent out in response to the worried enquiries she has received.

" …. after receiving so many emails and text messages from people worried about us, I just thought I’d write and tell you that we are fine. I know many of you heard that the earthquake hit an area north of Rome and that we indeed live in the north of Rome, but the quake hit an area about 80 miles north of where we live.

We actually slept through the whole thing, although I don’t know how as I am a light sleeper normally and most of our friends spent the night outside their homes as they were so frightened after feeling the earthquakes from so many miles away!! We have since felt many aftershocks and it is all pretty frightening, but the area where we live is completely unaffected and safe. At 11.30 this morning there was a particularly strong aftershock, almost 5 on the Richter scale and I fear that it will have caused further damage up in Abruzzo.

Rome is in chaos because of the need for emergency help and the hospitals are full to bursting with injured people. The motorways up to Abruzzo are blocked, partly because of the worry about them being damaged, and partly to let the emergency services get to the area without any delay.We have several friends with relatives in the area directly affected, but we’ve done a full headcount and everybody is ok, thank goodness.

Love to you all,Nicola and family."

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Absolute Shower

Saturday we did the usual (when in Alexandra) 26 kms walk, Rail Trail first. Having glanced at the morning paper, we realised that we were about an hour ahead of Mr Sinnamon, a farmer who was running the whole length of the Trail (152 kms) in 24 hours, to raise money for local sport and schools. Very impressive. He was due in Clyde just after 11 am. We arrived at 10. With a little more warning, we could have made a point of doing the walk the other way round and seeing him arrive in Clyde.

Today we did the same walk again, in reverse. Daylight saving had finished during the night but it went out in a blaze of glory (see sunrise picture above, taken by Gay from the garden of Alexandra Garden Court Motel). The temperature at 7.30 in the morning, as we set off, was 18 degrees. Earlier in the week it was at or about zero at that time. Much rain was forecast on the West Coast as a result of this hot and humid north-west flow, with a possibility of showers for us in Central Otago. Fortunately the only shower happened while we were under cover having breakfast partway round the walk.

We mentioned the husky incident to Owen. He told us there is a whole club somewhere in the area, devoted to having oneself towed along by huskies or some similar dogs (I think they are a bit smaller than huskies).

After a quick lunch back at the motel, we drove to Cromwell for the monthly meeting/performance of the Cromwell Country Music Club. They have a very impressive new artist called Craig Adams, who could become a big name. Remember you read it here first.
There was a camera crew from TV1, recording the show. Apparently there will be a series on TV later in the year, called Tiki Tours, which will be about how people in small towns amuse themselves. A presenter or producer with the team asked the crowd if they had anything of interest to say. Of course I piped up to say that we come all the way from France each year and make a point of coming to the club. I was asked if there is any interest in country music in France. They were very surprised when I told them it is widespread, as is line dancing.

Friday, April 3, 2009

This One's for You, Bob

Not much walking today, Friday, but a a decent cycle ride. Denise asked us on Wednesday night if we would like her to give us a lift to Chatto Creek (17 kms back along the Rail Trail) so that we could walk or cycle back. Nobody was due to check out of the motel the following day so she had a “free” morning (this is a relative term for a woman who never seems to stop working). We had to decline because we had told Owen we would be at the Clyde Post Office Cafe at 10.

Today was another day of no checking out, so we accepted Denise's renewed offer. The 17 kms became 37 so that we could cycle back from Lauder, and on the way to Lauder it morphed into a 60 kms ride from Oturehua. It is worth visiting this tiny town just to go to the store/cafe. Along with the modern goods on display and for sale, there are shelves and shelves of “ancient” goods from the 50s, things which people of my age had familiarity with long ago, but have forgotten. Recognition is instantaneous, as is the wave of nostalgia and remembrance of times past. For me, it particularly provoked memories of the days when, as a teenager, I had a holiday job working in the Co-op grocery store where many of these things were commonplace.

We had a drink, coffee for me and tea for Gay, before setting off on the journey back. Denise did not have time to join us because her “free morning” involved getting a motel unit ready for an expected arrival.

It was another very cold morning, with a sheet of ice on the car. So we had to dress for it, which made things rather warm when the forecast beautiful day (that's at least two correct forecasts, despite my ranting a few days ago) arrived. We had a super ride back, with a stop for a snack at Omakau, after 30 kms, and a halt for a cup of tea at Chatto Creek, 16 kms from “home”.

We have cycled 200 kms and walked about 100 in the last week.

There is something I forgot to mention yesterday. My old (87) and dear friend ex-Squadron Leader Bob Parry, who lives on the Isle of Skye with his wonderful wife Jackie, has told me they love to read in the blog of the interesting characters we meet as we travel round New Zealand. Well, I wish we had a photograph of this one, Bob.

As we walked along the Rail Trail yesterday morning, we saw what we thought was a cyclist looming out of the mist towards us. Nothing unusual about that, the Trail is swarming with cyclists at that time as they have just left the railhead at Clyde at the start of their epic 152 kms journey eastwards to Middlemarch.

This cyclist appeared to be preceded by dogs. Not so strange. We have met people who take their dogs for a run while they cycle – we even knew one woman in Puivert who drove her car while the dogs exercised in front of the vehicle. We had both moved into the left lane so that the cyclist could do the same (in NZ driving is on the left). But the group continued to plough towards us, on our side, and we had to hop out of the way. As they passed us, we saw that there was no cycle. A bearded man stood on a scooter (non-powered type), and was being towed along by two husky-type dogs!

A few minutes later we heard a cyclist approaching from behind. A woman's voice called “Can you move over, please, to let me pass”. And another (the same one?) two-dog power scooter whizzed past.

To quote John McCain - “What was that all about”?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ten Tons Up

Broke through a bit of a barrier today, or at least achieved a minor milestone. I have walked over 1000 kms since we arrived in New Zealand, despite a few interruptions - and I have also cycled a few hundred kilometres.

When we set off today for the Alexandra-Clyde-Alexandra circuit, Rail Trail section first, the temperature was at or below zero. The forecast was for it to reach 20 degrees while we were out. What do you wear? The answer is enough for the cold and too much for the heat. Better to be too hot when it heats up than to be too cold early on.

As we walked down the Rail Trail past vineyards, we had to dodge sprays of water. It seemed odd that they were watering the vines so intensively when harvest can not be so far off. The grapes should be dry when picked, and they should be ripening now, not being plumped up. When we bumped into friend Owen at the Clyde Post Office Cafe he told us this was a way of keeping the frost off the grapes. We have never seen that happening in France.

And we don't suppose all the cyclists on the Rail Trail were too pleased at having to go through all those pools of water (with consequent splashing of mud up the back) , or to be soaked by the sprays on such a cold morning.