Saturday, 26 December 2009

Website updated

Camp Christmas

Took 3 days to build from scratch, what a corker...

... and how could I forget the bar?

Friday, 11 December 2009

Walking out

We walk out of the bush. The jungle canopy falls behind our heads, as if taking off a hood - a blue sky stretches out above us and over a grassy green vista rolling beneath: the Bay of Plenty. It's a panorama of rolling valleys tumbling down to a distant beach crescent and then the big blue sea.

Our first kit test is done. We feel fit and alive. I laugh at the noises of the birds, especially the one which sounds like a donkey and a mechanic having a fight.

We were only in there for a miniscule 7 days but we learnt a whole load about protein deficiency and discovered that we need better hunting tools. Most importantly we've finally immersed ourselves in the NZ bush, and completely loved it. We walk away in the knowledge that we had a huge amount to learn before going full time.

15 km later we walk onto a Backpackers clean carpet in full kit. There's synchronized head-turning from the clean crowd watching the telly, bit longer than usual, before their retinas are velcro'd back to the screen. We sweat at the desk, slog through the obligatory tour of the hostel and the stupid fucking forms. We throw packs on sprung bunk beds and fly to the shower. Rivules of precious grease swil down the white ceramic floor and disappear down the plug hole. Hot water from a tap is one of the most brilliant outcomes of science and we sing loud enough for the whole hostel to hear. James Brown himself would have got down.

It is lovely, really nice, but I can't help thinking “I don't need it”. The comfort of the showers and the beds that is - everybody needs James Brown.

Everybody also needs protein, so we get our dry clothes on and walk barefoot through the town. A kid in his car leans out and shouts “Bwoy!” at me, low and aggressive. It felt like he was after trouble. I don't normally get into fights, but he'd picked a bad time, I'm still tuned into survival mode and this is a threat. One more time and I'll spin round and go for him, get the first one in before he can pull any moves, use the car door if I have to. I immediately check myself in surprise – I guess seven days without meat and scraping by really sharpens your instincts. I find out later that “bwoy's” a standard guesture, he was probably only trying to shift some weed.

We walk away down the pavement. I find a $20 floating in the breeze and stash it as I would an unearthed worm for bait, quickly getting it into the pocket before it wriggles away.

Darkness begins to fall. The town is the same as any other, nature tempered by tarmac under our feet. The street lights flick on in a predictable manner just like any other. Street lights coax traffic along just like any other. People don't talk to each other. What's there to say? Same old city crap, different day.

Outside the supermarket Ozzie and I sit on the grass swigging bottles of coke, instinctively looking across at the bush – the huge range now on the horizon. Our new sky puts down a wonderful sunset over the Kaimai crest as if a final gesture of goodbye.

We go eat steak.

[As I write this post Ozzie is doubled over the toilet puking his guts out. Poor chap. But this is unrelated - I am weeks behind.]


Hayes... Poles... Get some

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Goodbye Gran

It is dark and windy and cold. The rain lashes down against my face and the waves bounce over my knees and splash over my waist. I face the sea, cigarette in one hand, half bottle of wine in the other. Both dangle in the wash, my hands numbed as each wave passes.

Gran passed away a couple of days ago. I didn't know. I just spoke to Dad, he told me. I remember times at the beach in Portsmouth, a tiered beach of large pebbles and model villages. And a weekend I spent with her, when she explained the holy ghost to me and how all that fitted in. We talk over the wind.

As fresh water runs to salt, mother nature continues to lap at my knees. I am one half of my father and I feel more for him than anyone else on the planet. I wish I was with him.

Arrival into Daley's clearing

Arrival at hut

Suffering from dehydration I slump to the floor. I reach for the water and suck the last drops and watch the world spin. It took us 7 hours it to make it to “Daley's clearing hut”, marked in the centre of this vast bush and our bodies have taken another beating. The dense rain forest was beautiful, every glance up through the canopy greeted with shreds of blue sky cutting through high palm into the cool undergrowth. Below we sweat along the contours on a narrow track, battling over and under huge fallen trees, river crossings and treacherously slippy roots. We see no one.

A slip or a fall is immediately punished by the 30kgs, and the geometry of the packs makes traversing an obstacles tough. Vines claw at our backs, snagging at every twist and decimating our pace. The walking poles I bought in Auckland regularly save my skin, keeping balance and pulling me up sharp river beds. But I am bouyed by the knowledge that the more we eat the lighter our loads become, and I can feel sinews knitting a new frame.

The cheese shack

The cheese shack

It took a day to get here. Last night we arrived and strung our hammocks in between the beams of an open shelter in deep jungle. We slept for 12 hours. It is now our rest day in the shelter. Keeping the fire going to purify water and cook is an all day job, continually adjusting the jenga pile to dry sodden wood.

There is no such thing as standing dead wood here, humidity is so high that dead wood rots on arrival. This morning I punched my fist through a tree. It can't have been more than a few weeks dead. Everything here has a hollow pith meaning rot comes from the inside too, it's like they were designed to decompose. We make do with what little we can, and our hard work is rewarded with good hot meals.

Last night a possom stole our cheese, so tonight I've made a trap using the remains and the axe poised to take it out. Tomorrow we make a push for a hut a few km away, perhaps with fur. It's $100 per kilo here.

Moral is excellent.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009


I sit in the airport lounge. Why did I leave easy street again? I know there'll be points on this trip when I question it all, and my memory's too shot to remember. I quickly scratch the reasons down, they've been floating round and round my head for months.

1. Toughen up
2. Learn survival, bushcraft, and travelling through the wild
3. See some more of the planet before I die
4. Tune into the natural world
5. Explore the cello

I don't mind signing up to the 9 till 5 after this, or doing whatever, I just have to have a go at existing in the palm of mother nature's hand, and I know I'll only be convinced after doing it for at least 6 months.

Good. Got it. Lets go.


So this is it. That key-jangling idea has brought me to Heathrow's terminal 3, holding a ticket to New Zealand. I am so dog tired I can barely write. Preparation does nothing for me, though I'm sure my backpack feels better for it. I stayed up till 1am sharpening my knife last night... I have put all my faith into a sharp edge.

Here I sit waiting for the big silver bird to take me away and drop me into a new reality. I squat on my pack in a dessert of polished concrete. Pat is driving half way out of Heathrow by now, and I unwrap the small parcel he gave me as I left the car. The brown parcel paper falls away from the package to reveal the one thing I hadn't thought of: a beautiful, leather-bound hip-flask, filled with some 12 year old whiskey for cold forest nights and a metal inscription on the side: 'N1B'. It hits me like a ton of bricks: “Nice one bruvva”. My fingers push back tears.

And a book too - “Man on Wire”, the story of how a Frenchman put a tightrope between the twin towers and walked across it. Photographs of me and Pat celotaped inside, past and present, arm in arm, first as quarelling kids pushed together for the camera and lastly as adults caked in Glastonbury mud and a solid embrace of brotherly love.

Underneath this last picture sit his words: “Impossible is nothing”.

On the edge

Ozzie and I sit on the bench outside for a last midnight smoke. Tomorrow morning we walk into the bush. It's been a long kit prep, punctuated with birthday partying, but we've talked to a lot of locals, got a lot of local knowledge and got our packs as tuned as they can be.

I'm glad we didn't just shoot straight off the plane and into the wild, we would have been totally unprepared. Now, however, we're ready. The things I have been dreaming of start tomorrow. We both have the feeling that this is the start of something fairly life changing. We imagine ourselves six months from now, and talk about the ultimate test at the end – going solo. The idea's been reaching out to me for years. Ozzie too. We chew on the inevitability. I smile a lot. I like beginnings.


Our outpost of civilisation is a small sleepy town sidled up to a steep mountain. The homely décor is straight out of the fifties, it's like stepping into an illustration from one of my A-level design books. Through the snug window a sunset melts into a black, starry sky with a token sliver of moon to complete the picture. The mountain behind holds the Kaimai Mamaku national forest, our gateway into the bush. Tomorrow we go.

I can do 5 press ups with the load on my back. It's stupidly heavy.

Other people shake their heads. They spit out numbers like as 14 and 15 kilos. We silently worry, we are way above this, double in fact. But logistics seem different when budgeting for 6 months instead of 6 weeks, or 6 days. I envy the weekenders. On a perfectly sunny day we throw all of our kit onto the lawn and spend the day skinning everything down.

At the end of the day we both pick up our bags. Ozzie says he feels like he could dance with the new weight. We have no idea how much lighter they are, but it's a reminder that it's not the number of kilos you carry, just how you feel about it.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Partied out

As the birthdays celebrations draw to a close we reach a milestone in our trip. It is our last night of drinking and smoking on the pillowed bench seat with the long term locals. It's been a great laugh crawling into bed at 5am each night. Someone asked if we were in training for our big walk. We probably should be. I'd imagine people work out before walking 2000 km.

It's time to stop 'shagging flies' as the frenchies put it. Our custom bits of kit are ready to collect. We say goodbye Auckland and jump on a bus for the bush...

The thing about fire

NZ doesn't like it. There's bans absolutely everywhere. We've heard of everything from air ambulances coming in to do a rescue, prosecution, locals coming out with pitch forks and the imminent terror of forest fires.

I get all that. Fire can be bad if you're a twat. But the center piece of any bushcraft camp is a fire. It's the thing I love the most in this game. It's a source for life and transforms our earth into a home. Being told we can't have fire conjures up visions of misery and despair - it's like someone has stolen our raison d'être. The harsh and indiscriminate rulings are totally frustrating for people who know how to master it responsibly.

I don't know how we're going to deal with this. Hopefully we'll get a more realistic response from our bushcraft instructor next week and go from there. It's a reminder that trips are never what you expect. In the beginning this entire thing was going to be on horseback, now it looks looking more like a trudge through the dark. We search desperately for grey areas. I hang on every word. "Vision-slayers" I think to myself. Some say it's OK if you use common sense and I want to kiss them... we'll know more next week.

Got glint

Yellow street light glints against tumbling metal as keys to locked doors fall into my cold hand. The other hand carries tonight's dinner, the fingers strangled in taught plastic. I pass my local, only a short trot back to the house. This easy life carry me forever. All I need do is throw my hands in the air and shout “OK I surrender!”, and it will. It's so seductive, the bed, the dry, the resources on tap, the modern routine, the cradle of technology. Why wouldn't anyone accept all that? After all it's what our ancestors worked towards isn't it? Did they ever dream that the road of science could support so much? And did they ever imagine how such incredible discoveries could alter the mind?

The keys fly free again. I see life on easy street roll out in front of me like a soft, white, formulaic carpet. I begin to envisage those cushioned footsteps. But my instincts throw me to the side as if the carpet is electrified – the move is a knee-jerk reaction deep to the core, but not something I thoroughly understand. Is it a mistrust of technology, the curiosity of more natural trails, the fear of predictability, did I expect to feel the ground on my toes?

Again the keys shoot into the night sky. I find myself in the woods on a horse, walking across a country with everything we need to live strapped to our backs or in our heads. Our carpet is earth and water and knowledge keeps us alive.

The keys fall into my hand for the last time. I grin and swing the food bag while the hairs slowly rise on the back of my neck. It's a feeling I've missed, one I recognise as a breach – an idea has got in to my head and it's worming its way around transforming everything I think about. It's time to leave Bath.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Winding up

As with every mission into the unknown I cannot sleep, at all. My head occasionally spins with the things we haven't done yet. We have just enough time, 48 more hours in the city to finish preparing our kit, but it's still a lot of work getting it all pinned down. We know that anything weak will just manifest itself as dead weight, and both our packs are heavy-weight already.

Dossing around at the backpackers probably doesn't help but it's too much fun here. Everyone's totally friendly, and the national dish is pie.

Ozzie's found a hostel 100km out of Auckland which will move to as a staging post for upcoming birthdays and the start of whatever. And we've managed to book ourselves onto a government-run bushcraft course for a measly 80 bucks! That's about 5 times cheaper than anything in the UK, so we are, at last, quids in. And it means we've finally found the people who can put us onto that learning curve...

Tuesday, 10 November 2009


Vik is both complete genius and legend. He's the kinda guy:

who invented the Amstrad computer.
who knows that you can fire your car key fob's unlocking signal's megahertz more accurately if you do it from through the back of your head. It gives you an extra 10 meter range. The head acts a lens.
who can calculate precisely when and where a satellite will blink as its solar panels rotate towards the sun, then builds a mock laser cannon, aims its pointer where it will blink, then invites all his mates round so they can watch him seemingly blow a planet up.
who has radio controlled programmable light switches in a house in the rainforest.
who lives with 7 seven cats and a wonderful family who are genii too (they also know how to reprogram the light switches) who looked after me for four days as if I was one of their own.
who knew he could use himself as a radio frequency arial to extend the range of a signal he was trying to transmit.
who has a diverse range of teas and ideas.
whos workshop is an extended landing in the middle of the house, rammed to the back teeth with every bodging tool in the planet.
whos waistcoats pockets are brimming with cool gadgets.
who, when pissed off makes firecrackers and blows them up on the balcony.
who keeps a bag of black powder on his desk for making firecrackers. The bag is labelled black powder.
who mastered the art of creating his own sticky honey almonds.
who also has an excellent selection of airpistols and air rifles.
who specially cuts the piths from strawberries to make them sweeter for his wife.

Ladies and gentlemen I pronounce a hero in our lifetime: Vik. And I bestow upon thee the title Electroman.

We're not gay

This we have to justify at pretty much every counter we go to, coz it's looking bad! Two blokes going buying stuff together for a long romantic walk...

The fashion rule about not wearing the same things applies in the bush it seems, but we already have matching hammocks. And now with identical front balance pockets on our packs we're gonna be a laughing stock ;-)

Timmy B and I get this a lot. It usually opens up to break an awkward pause: "... but we're not gay?!". And then it's a And then it's a race to the dig in... "But he is ;-)". Always gets a laff.

Shopping bags

I don't shop, unless it's for kit. And then I'm a shopper. Its after hours of research and advice and going round in circles. But it's worth it because when I finally find what I'm looking for it's a massive relief because it means I don't have to make it.

As we spend our last few days in Auckland city, Ozzie and I bus around collecting our final essentials. We're recommended Katmandu - a chain of outdoor shops which we spend all of 10 minutes in there before walking out in disgust. I wouldn't trust my life with any of the kit in there, or any of the staff.

Luckily we find Bivouac. A mountaineering outfitters with guys who know their stuff. They only sell quality and we invest in a lot of merino wool and super-light expedition kit. My plate is a single sheet of plastic which, with a bit of origami, turns into a bowl. My plate even has a 10 year guarantee!

That's the thing with this game. You don't shop, you invest.

Monday, 9 November 2009

The wake up

We are lost. We have been hacking for days through the bush, and on returning, have missed our route. We have tried to correct but only worsened our situation, to a point where we have no idea where we are. We have no maps, we were relying on memory for the return route. The nearest human is an eternity away, and has no clue we're in trouble. We camp and take it turn to do recce's to find the main trail again but with no success. Each day our sparse supplies dwindle and our decisions are dogged with fear. We have jumped in at the deep end with no idea how to swim and begin to drown in a state of hysteria. Desperately searching for a way out I can only see the power of the bush sweeping over us like a tsunami: the horizon rolls up, trees, valleys and sky all swallow us as one terrifying mass. We are nothing to nature.

I wake up, sweating.

Jesus. I tell Ozzie the vision on the bus today.

I have been lost before. It was in the fog, in the wild, and that was bad. Nothing can really describe the trauma of an epic like getting lost. You feel it in your stomache, it makes you want to puke, the perception of reality changes as you realise that your doomed trajectory converges towards one thing and one thing only. The ultimate price.

People don't get dangerously lost in the UK. If you do a full day's hike in any one direction you're guaranteed to find a road. That's what happens when 61 million people live on a small island. But the population here is 4.3 million, living in the same area, and 90% live on the north island. So for south island doing a hike through the bush is a bit like setting sail into an ocean - it's a committment. This is not Somerset. Pockets of civilisation are disparate and this place has notched up a lot of naive tourists who've strayed from the trail.

I vow not to be one of them. No epics. We'll get fighting fit first spending a couple of months toughening up on the trails and tuning our kit. Then, when we're ready, we'll dip our toes. Walk out a short way for a night within visible distance perhaps and slowly build up. And whatever happens we'll have the distress beacon.

Two dreams collide. And the romantic one just got kicked into A&E. I have wounds to lick, but it's been a big wake up call. People spend their lives here learning to expedition in the bush. They grow up doing it. We need to find them. Because if the romantic vision of surviving in the wild is ever to recover we have a serious learning curve ahead.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

New roots

I miss my trees. I don't recognise anything here. I am looking at completely foreign plants with no clue as to how to use them. I have to start again completely from scratch. So far I have learnt nikau, ponga, kawakawa, bushman's friend, flax, tangleweed, white wood, reamu, cabbage tree, tea tree or manuca, nostercian and kauri.

I find myself longing to see a soft, pawing, green leaf from a twisted oak, or the dry orange litter from some a stand of beach. Where are my have all my trees gone - why, when I said goodbye to my family and friends, did I not also say goodbye to you too?

Vik's back yard

I am led through lush midnight jungle up a ravine along a narrow coastal path. We turn the corner to see the valley decorated with hundreds of glow worms. They sit as if they were air-drops of green, frozen in time. Trying to describe the beauty of this is pointless. Just imagine.

Skinny ozzie

Ozzie is 14kgs lighter after malnutrician in Madagascar. He'd had a hard time finding the food. Jesus, I think to myself, training in the Pennines led me to the same conclusion. Food's gonna be the biggee. Fortunately I have a trick up my sleeve. Front loading balance pockets (thanks to AK). See camp illustration below.

These 'Aarn' packs will increase our food carrying capacity to about 30 litres, and simulatenously reduce back strain by shifting the centre of gravity closer to the pelvis.

That, and I've found these beauties are sold everywhere... 700 calories per pack.

See Tim, aka Ozzie

Out of the corner of my eye I see Ozzie walk into my backpacker's reception. The plan is now real. Everything so far has worked. All logistics from the past 6 months have effectively led up to this, as one of the milestones on the adventure of a lifetime. And with Ozzie to share the same dream with, this is going to be kick ass. Most people ask who I'm doing the trip with, and how I'm going to cope with the psychology. But as I slap him on the back I think yeah, this bloke's class. My first reaction when I imagined it was that there's few people in the world I'd rather go exploring with. I am immediately reminded of how right I was.

We only get to chat for 3 hours. A bar, a smoke, lunch, a bimble through town, all the while chewing over what we could do, our states of kit (we have major bits missing), his previous three months in Madagascar and Australia, our various nightmares with customs and the endless list of logistics we have to solve before making the first steps of the expedition.

Then I need to shoot off to spend the weekend with Vik, his family and his RepRaps. As we stuff noodles into our faces we hurriedly make a plan to spend a few more days in Auckland, after I get back, so we can make final adjustments to our kit. Then we'll hitch to a backpackers on the outskirts of city limits. This will be the outpost for us to strike our first footsteps onto the trail and into the wild.

As I wave Ozzie off, I'm excited. We're both work-free, and this expedition's nearly, finally, off the chain. In a few days we'll be carving trails over a country. Destination wherever.

Finding the pillow

Find email. Then telephone numbers. Find place to stay. Find bus. Find hostel. Find money. Find bed. Find food. Find library. Find internet. Find hostel again. Find toothbrush. Find toilet. Find bed. Find pillow.

Sleep for 14 hours.


Finally!! YES!! Such a long time coming! No more wonder, no more preparation, this is it. The dream is now real, and mine for the taking.

I waltz through another lengthy interrogation about my knives, this time from people in different uniforms. Amazingly both tools pass inspection. Inwardly scream for joy as the sniffer dogs ping away from the 'thing I forgot I had', squelch my boots like a child in the biosecurity stage and nearly hug the guard as all three bags weave unquestioned through the final x-rays.

I walk outside. I see my terrestrial tightrope for the first time, not from google earth this time, not from photos or imaginations in my head, but in the flesh. And I immediately have to ignore it. All this airport concrete hides what I'm looking for. Instead I lift my head to a bright, bright blue sky and high white fluffy clouds. What a day.

I can't get in touch with Ozzie, but this doesn't at all bother me. I smile at the sky. Things will come together anyway, Time is reversed. I can see the future as clearly as I remember the past. I realise that this thing is unstoppable.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

I get my knives back

I stand at the Arms and Explosives desk. The police officer brings Bubbles and Lofty in and rests the two pieces of metal on the on the flat wood.

I do not sit.

I am interviewed for a while, standing. My past, my future, my predicament, the design of the tools, their importance, why I need them, my love for both knives, how you make them, now the weather, airline food, flight times...

The police officer hands me a pen. I sign whatever.

He lifts Lofty and Bubbles up from the desk with two hands, and hesitates. Is it the weight? Does he believe me? Is this going to bite him in the arse? Before I can guess he slowly extends them towards me and puts them in my hand. Is this me getting my knives back? We shake hands and I thank him profusely. It bloody well is.

Back at the flat I inspect every last millimeter of the razor sharp edges, holding the bevels to the light again, checking the grips again. They are perfect. I'm all smiles. It's back on.

What was that

I am exactly in the centre of the living room.

Outside, beyond the glass, in the rain forest, are many many many many many many many many many many spiders. The same species as the ones used in the film 'arachnophobia'.

And some have got in.

Thursday, 29 October 2009


I am such an idiot.

When you start a trip, you try to be good. You try to abide by the rules and respect another country's customs. You don't walk through the green lane with weapons in your baggage.

I am escorted to the office for people who don't respect customs of Singapore, and given 'the seat'. On the other side of the desk is a serious looking uniform. I feel like a criminal, and to be fair, with the 30cm long machete and survival knife out on the desk in front of me, I look like one.

"I should call the police and have you arrested" says the uniform.

Gravity kicks in. An old memory of Ben's voice echoes around my head. As we sit in the parachute tent, kneeling by the fire and listen to his lecture on blades I see him mouth the words "Customs can be difficult". Did he say don't forget to declare or was I just imagining it? I could blame the flight or my exhaustion from preparations, or I could bitch that a blade is an essential tool for our basic survival god damn it, but really this is just ignorance. And ignorance is no excuse. Not walking down the red lane was as unforgivable as dropping them in the woods - the consequence of loosing them will be just as severe. Possibly worse.

The official pulls them out of their muzzles and takes a good look. Both are the culmination of a couple of years of research and are just about the most precious things I own. The machete is a Lofty Wiseman and thanks to knife laws in Britain they don't make them any more - virtually impossible to replace, and besides, it's been everywhere with me since I got it. As for the knife, well, that's something that AK gave to me, something that we'd both put days of our lives into making. I'd burnt many packing hours grinding its edge to a razor. These things matter.

Ibrahim explains to me that the police will come to seize them tomorrow. If I want them back I have to take it up with them, and he passes me a piece of paper with the contact details for the "ARMS & EXPLOSIVES BRANCH".

I am such an idiot.

Ibrahim's a good guy, and I try to prevent the cops from taking my stuff - maybe customs can hold it until I fly to NZ in 5 days? I blag every angle I can think of trying desperately not to piss him off. I need him on side, and we chat about knife design and how you go about makinng one. He understands I'm just another idiot and he's going to teach me a lesson. And at the end of the day I don't blame him.

I walk out of the office shaken. The keys to unlock everything I want to do in NZ have been taken off me, maybe never to be seen again. I thought I was looking out for the showstopper... and walked slap bang into the middle of it. I console myself with the fact I am still free and that I didn't get done for drug smuggling instead. That would have been worse ;-)