For the love of maps!

mapsoftheimagination

Ever since I was a young child, I’ve had an absolute fascination for maps.

The ‘tone and timbre’ as I call it, of an old map, holds within it such beauty and mystery. The texture of the parchment, the ink used and how it has aged over time like the best of wines. To follow the winding paths and coastlines, the mountain ranges and sprawling settlements. Every mark, every crease, every nuance holds a story. As objects, they are works of art and are simply gorgeous to look at.

file000816536459[1]But of course, maps can and have been highly divisive. History shows us that in the wrong hands they were the latest and most effective tools of warfare, propaganda, divisions of state, ideology, ethnicity. They were the bringers of colonialism and with it, the most terrible atrocities and suffering through the destruction of indigenous tribes, the conquering of nations and the carriers of disease. In a world without the internet, without weapons of mass destruction, the nation with the most skilled mapmakers found themselves at the top of the ruling tree. Empires were made or broken by those who could claim the seas and conquer the new chartered lands. Maps were the driving force of every expansionists dream.

But, in literary terms, maps can be the most wondrous of additions to any story!

Cartography, and particularly fantasy cartography is the stuff of dreams. map-of-middle-earth-lord-of-the-rings-2329809-1600-1200

As a child I would get utterly lost in the detailed maps of Milne’s 100 acre wood from ‘Winnie the Pooh’, Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’, C.S. Lewis’s ‘Narnia’, and of course Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘Lord Of The Rings’. Now, maps are just as prevalent and cherished as they ever were, from Warhammer to Jordan’s ‘Wheel of Time’, Paolini’s ‘Eragon’ and George Martin’s ‘Song of Ice and Fire’.

map_full

Maps serve as keys to the imagination, holders of knowledge, portals to lose yourself and unlock the greatest flights of fantasy…

Below, my own flight of fantasy, ‘The Lay of Fendellin’ taken from my debut novel, ‘White Mountain’ – Book 1 of ‘The Darkling Chronicles’.

The only limits, are our own imaginations!

Advertisements

New Zealand Odyssey Part VI – Geysers and the Beating Heart of the Earth.

After weeks in the wondrous far north amongst the giant sand hills, magical kauri trees and golden beaches of the beautiful Bay of Islands, I left the car and took the bus, heading south to the pulsating heart of New Zealand’s North Island.

The landscape slowly changed from tropical to temperate, as I passed lush rolling pastureland, populated of course by lots of sheep! After a small stop near Hamilton to view the amazing glowworm caves, eerie and unsettling in equal measure, I continued on toward Rotorua.

Sitting on an intense geothermal ‘hotspot’, Rotorua is a sleepy kind of a town with a relaxed atmosphere, that lies on top of a restless giant. For someone who is normally so in tune with nature, I was utterly amazed and unprepared for what I saw – a living, breathing, bubbling planet, full of life only a few inches beneath my feet!

I disembarked from the bus and explored the town on foot before hiring another car for exploring. The smell of sulphur hung thickly in the air, mixing with the exotic flowers that fill Rotorua’s many parks and its enormous pineapple shaped palm trees! I checked into the aptly named Tiki Lodge motel, and started my adventures.

First, a visit to the Whakarewarewa thermal village, a wonderful maori centre surrounded by hot pools, boiling mud lakes, lunar landscapes and shooting geysers.

Watching the maori craftsmen carving was inspirational but again it was the spectacle of nature that left me speechless. Travelling south to the Waiotapu and Waimangu valleys, I was faced by yet more steaming lakes, strange silicate formations, smoking vents and fumaroles and the magnificent sight of Waiotapu’s world famous, ‘Champagne Pool’, and Waimangu’s amazing ‘Inferno Crater Lake’, apparently the largest geyser-like feature in the world! I stood at the edge of the most brilliant ice blue lake I’ve ever seen…but a lake made entirely of bubbling acid!

Waking early on yet another gloriously sunny day, I strapped on my small day backpack and decided to go for some adrenaline thrills! Oh dear! Dangling from a chair lift some 100ft or more off the ground, I was hoisted up the side of Mount Ngongotaha, giving the most amazing views over Rotorua City, Lake Rotorua and the surrounding area, including the distant volcanoes to the south. Then, once I’d explored the summit, I found myself sitting on a piece of plastic which barely covered my bum, halfway between a sledge and a tray, and proceeded to throw myself down the  mountainside on ‘The Luge’! Whizzing down a twisting turning concrete luge track at startling speed is just about the most fun you can have…EVER! Suffice to say, I had to repeat the experience quite a few times! 😀

My next stop though was far more effort intensive, more contemplative and ultimately more rewarding.

Travelling south of Rotorua along the volcanic plateau I came to the dormant volcano, Mount Tarawera, which erupted in 1886 killing over 150 people and swallowing whole villages in its wake. Today, it was an uncharacteristically grey day. The mountain was shrouded in low hanging clouds which seemed to roll down to meet me as I nervously joined a climbing party heading for the summit. Lagging behind and gasping for breath, I used my camera as a good excuse to keep stopping for photos, but nevertheless, I pressed on.

Some 5 or 6 hours later, I eventually broke through the mists and reached the summit. Utterly exhausted but elated I took in the brooding atmosphere of the volcano and the breathtaking views over the Tongariro National Park to the south with its active volcanoes, Mount Ruapehu and the perfect cone of Mount Ngauruhoe in the distance.

With a mixture of excitement and a little trepidation, I followed the guide, from the summit down into the crater itself. Sliding down the crater sides, a mixture of scree and gravel, you could actually feel the heat of the volcano through your boots! I have never experienced anything so fundamentally powerful and primeval…a truly humbling experience.

After a few weeks around the wonderfully visceral Rotorua area, I continued my journey south into a whole new world and one which truly brought me to my knees…

New Zealand Inspiration – Part II

After arriving in Auckland, my four month odyssey began…

Leaving the harbour side, after whiling away a beautiful summer’s morning, I found myself plodding the streets of Parnell, the artisan quarter of the city. A small selection of streets bustling with galleries, boutique shops & bistro cafe’s, Parnell has a wonderfully eclectic and bohemian vibe.

I dropped my backpack off at the Chalet Chevron, the only accommodation I had booked beforehand, to ensure I had a roof for the first few days. What a great choice! An antiquated little B & B, oozing with charm and Kiwi hospitality – which is always warm!

I spent the next two blissful weeks doing the tourist thing, visiting Auckland’s Skytower, taking a ferry to the volcanic island of Rangitoto then climbing to the summit (literally breathtaking…i.e. utterly exhausting but worth the effort!), visiting galleries, museums, the sea front & harbour not to mention spending a wonderful day at the Planetarium looking at the Southern Hemisphere.

But amidst my tourist travels, the most wondrous, surprising and inspirational thing I found, was that you could be a wandering stranger, enjoying your own solitude and the sights around you, in complete freedom and safety.

Sadly, I just wouldn’t dare to go exploring city streets alone and after dark in this country.

Wearing a smile wherever I went, I soaked up the sights and sounds of New Zealand’s largest and friendliest city but had my eyes set on the road and adventures ahead…

Little did I realise just how monumental my odyssey would become.