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 d├ęcor 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.