New Zealand Odyssey Part IX – Pancakes, White Mountain and The Wonders of the South…

Feeling myself dissolving into the sands of Maraharu, the endless blue horizon before me and the exotic delights of the Abel Tasman rainforest, I felt once more the pull of the road.

Dragging myself away, my heart full of a strange tranquility I had never known, I rejoined my odyssey…afterall, who knew what wonders might lie around the next corner?

I took the winding hill roads and said goodbye to the sun-kissed vineyards of the Nelson and Marlborough regions. Passing through the thick coastal rainforests I joined the main highway and turned south towards the wildness of the South Island’s craggy coastlines and mountain ranges. That is New Zealand’s beauty and its magic…the drama of its ever-changing landscapes. Nowhere on earth, do you have a country only the size of Britain and yet with such varied geology. White sandy beaches and deserted islands, tropical jungles, active volcanoes, mountains, grasslands, fiordlands, moorland, temperate rainforests, huge freshwater lakes, giant sandhills…New Zealand has it all!

Leaving my rental car in Murchison, a small isolated town surrounded by towering hills in the heart of the Nelson Lakes National Park, I took a cheap bus and followed the highway west towards the coast, feeling the temperature visibly cool. With so few roads, dictated by the mountainous landscape, so many places I passed through felt like frontier towns, places completely out of time.

I hit the coast just south of Westport. Here the State Highway hugged the shoreline like a ribboning snake, giving the most amazing views out to sea. Again, with nothing but the wild ocean for thousands of miles, you were instantly reminded of just how remote New Zealand is and just how beautiful.

With the impenetrable forests of the Paparoa National Park on my left and long stretches of wind-blown beaches on my right, the landscape grew evermore wild and evermore spectacular. Not being much of a coach passenger, I stopped off at the suitably named Pancake Rocks and Blow Holes of Punakaiki. A weird and wonderful natural geological formation of…well…pancake stacked rocks, perched right on the water’s edge!

After whiling away most of the day, scrabbling over the rocks and trying not to fall into one of the many gaping holes that opened up before you, I caught another bus and continued south, my eyes inextricably drawn to the far off snowy peaks of the Southern Alps.

Trundling into Greymouth, the largest town I’d seen since leaving Nelson, I managed to find a lovely holiday cabin right on the beach, my base for the next few nights. Named after the mighty Grey River-Mawheranui, whose mouth Greymouth literally straddles, it was a strange sort of town. A mismatch somehow, of grey urban sprawl and border town with a dour kind of feel.

Nonetheless, my little beach hut was just the thing, going to sleep and waking with nothing but the sound of the waves! Utter bliss! Half the time I felt as if I had stumbled into Bronte’s Wuthering Heights or an Ingmar Bergman film, so hauntingly barren was the place!

Doing the touristy thing, I headed for the Kumara Junction and boarded a train on one of the world’s most spectacular train rides, the famous Arthur’s Pass. Linking Greymouth and the west coast of New Zealand to Christchurch in the east, it bestrides the country and takes in the most breathtaking scenery imaginable. What a trip! Following the valley floors, with mountainous peaks rising either side, the train climbed and took us up to the alpine heights of Arthur’s Pass, snaking its way through the lofty terrain, before plunging down to the flat Canterbury Plains surrounding Christchurch.

I spent a few hours wandering the very civilised and surprisingly English feeling city of Christchurch, before boarding the train for the spectacular return journey. One incredible journey I’ll never forget…but the best was to come.

Spending a few lazy days beach combing and exploring the area I set off again and headed for Hokitika, famous for its greenstone or jade, determined to buy some locally carved jewelery. But always, the looming mountains of the Southern Alps were calling to me in a way I just couldn’t explain.

And so, hauling my backpack and picking up another rental car, I succumbed to the pull of the mountains and headed towards the Franz Josef glacier. Taking the state highway once more, as it left the coast and wound its way inland over rushing rivers, valley basins and beside beautiful lakes, I felt myself falling in love once more with the sheer unspoilt majesty of the landscape.

Reaching West Coast, the nearest settlement to the glacier, I found a cheap place to stay and started my next adventure…

It was a bright February morning. The sky was the kind of electric blue you never really believe is real somehow. A perfect day. Cold but full of sunshine and possibilities.

I took my car, a run-down automatic transmission thing, down to this little air field…and then I saw it. The tiniest aeroplane I had ever seen! My banged up jalopy looked bigger!

Without much regard, I climbed into the small seat beside the pilot and off we went! Soaring  above the lower slopes of the Southern Alps. Trying desperately not to vomit all over the cock-pit, I stared out of the window, nodding at the pilot’s remarks while I kept my mouth firmly shut! (doesn’t happen often)

Rivers snaked beneath us. As we flew over the snow-capped mountains, Mount Cook loomed in the distance – New Zealand’s tallest mountain and the tallest in the Southern Hemisphere. Utterly stunning in its grandeur. Nausea disappeared. I looked on in astonishment as we circled Mount Cook’s flanks. I’d never seen anything so beautiful. All I could think of was…”I’ve found it! I’ve found my White Mountain!”

We left Mount Cook, Aoraki in Maori, and landed on a pristine snow field just above the Franz Josef glacier. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw.

This was nature at its simplest and purest. Nothing but white and the startling blue above. The snow here had a covering of ice crystals which crunched beneath my feet as I left the plane and went walking. I followed the contours of the peaks around me and looked down to the glacier below with its gaping crevasses.

This was a once in a lifetime moment and the real stuff of magic.

With Mr. Agyk whispering in my head, the story of White Mountain began to unfold…

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The Indie Author News Daily & The Bedlam Media Daily!

I’m stunned…

My little unassuming blog was featured on the front page of The Indie Author News Daily (Sunday May 6th edition) and for the second time, on the front of The Bedlam Media Daily (Monday 7th May edition)!

Wow, wow and wow!

Sooooo thrilled!

Check it out guys, it’s in both of the ‘Leisure’ sections:

http://paper.li/IndieAuthorNews/1333797472/2012/05/06

http://paper.li/bedlam_media/1315567686/2012/05/07

 

😀 xx

New Zealand Odyssey Part IV – Desert Island Discs.

I left the magical Waipoua Forest with its towering kauri trees and took a breathtaking drive eastward across North Island to the Bay of Islands. The sun was shining and the old rental car I’d hired was humming along with the rhythm of the road. I arrived in Paihia, a quiet little coastal town and gateway to the Bay of Islands, surrounded by scenic forested hills and sail boats drifting lazily in the inlets and marinas.

I rented a self-contained unit by the beach, my base for the next few weeks. The apartment had a small balcony overlooking a little garden with an enormous flowering pohutukawa tree, the ‘New Zealand Christmas Tree’, its blooms a suitably vivid red for December. The air was warm and sweet somehow. A tui bird (found only in NZ) was perched outside my window singing furiously, while it proudly puffed its white chest plumage out.

Dumping my enormous backpack for a lighter day one, I headed out into the sunshine and the startling blue skies, apparently the second ‘bluest’ in the world after Rio de Janeiro (but obviously not in my photos!). Leaving the car for the first few days, I explored Paihia, looking every bit the awe-struck tourist. It didn’t matter though, the vibe of the whole place was friendly and ultra relaxed. I followed suit. Going under my own steam, I did the tourist thing, taking a ferry out to see the pods of dolphins that were famous to the area. If it’s possible to see pure joy in a wild animal, this was it. I watched enthralled as the twenty or so dolphins launched themselves out of the water beside the boat, doing back flips and somersaults, little did I know that in a couple of months I would have an even closer encounter at Kaikoura in the South Island!

I spent glorious day after glorious day soaking up the atmosphere and watching the incredible sunsets ignite the sky. Taking another boat, I sailed to Cape Brett and the hole in the wall rock, before returning to visit the historic town of Russell, a picturesque place with a rowdy sea-faring ‘wild west’ past!

But once again, it was my solitary travels away from the tourist trail that proved the most inspiring.

Waking early and packing a small provision along with my sketch pads, I took a ferry trip around some of the 150 islands scattered around, that make up the Bay of Islands. To describe them as miniature havens, islands of paradise, would not do them justice. But, most thrilling, after charting a small boat, and with a bit of persuasion, I was dropped off on a small deserted island just off the coast of Urupukapuka Island.

I was so excited I could hardly speak, as I saw the boat disappear from view. All I kept playing in my head was the theme tune to ‘Desert Island Discs’! Here I was, totally alone on my very own desert island…well, at least until 5:30pm!

Peeling off layers and clunky boots, I wandered barefoot over the island, not much more than a strip of rock with some trees and vegetation and a couple of beaches…but it was perfect! Boats sailed or powered by, but the place was quiet and incredibly serene. I sunk my feet into the sand and watched the light dance off the surface of the water. Life just didn’t get better than this.

I whiled away the day sketching and writing and dreaming, words and images tumbling out of me faster than I could grasp them. If there was a heaven, this was it. Blissful solitude with nothing but the clear sky above and nature around me. Again, snatches of the story that would become ‘White Mountain’ came to me. So as I dozed under the shade of another pohutukawa tree, I dreamed of dragons and ancient hidden civilisations, still surviving in our modern world…

The Bedlam Media Daily!

My blog was featured on the front page of The Bedlam Media Daily, on Wed 15th February!

Woo and Hoo!

 

Check it out guys in the ‘Travel’ section: http://paper.li/bedlam_media/1315567686/2012/02/15

😀

New Zealand odyssey part III – heading north…

Hiring an old car, and with no destination in mind, my rucksack and I left the wonderful city of Auckland.

Letting the road take me where it would, I happened to go north.

Leaving the suburbs behind, I drove leisurely through beautifully changing landscapes, at once exotic yet somehow familiar – that hint of Englishness perhaps, in the rolling hills and little rivers, but not amongst the wild ferns and mighty kauri trees.

Lunch time beckoned as I drove into the magical Waipoua Forest, a place I shall never forget. Leaving the car, I initially followed the trail that wound its way through the forest, often rising several feet above the forest floor. New Zealand’s beautiful and ancient kauri trees rose up majestically, as if planted by the gods. The oldest of these trees, Te Matua Ngahere, ‘Father of the Forest’, seemed to beckon to me through the tree ferns and undergrowth. At an estimated 2,000 years old, this colossal living organism had the ability to both instantly humble and fill one with awe.

This was truly a place of tree magic…

The Maori believe in tree spirits and so do I. The ancient Greeks called them the Dryad. Whatever the name…this was a place of inspiration, a place to ignite the imagination!

My first novel, White Mountain, was still in its infancy at the time, and although I knew one of my characters, Wendya, would have to live in a colder climate, her home, ‘The Grey Forest’, was born…

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.

 

 

A four month odyssey – the real inspiration behind White Mountain!

In November 1997, feeling more than a little lost after my Art Degree and really not knowing what to do with myself or my life, I embarked on an adventure – one that would become an odyssey and a truly life-changing experience.

Without much thought for the future, and deeply unhappy with the present, I flew to New Zealand, in a haze of confusion.

After 26 hours I disembarked in Auckland. I found myself sitting by the harbour side overlooking the volcanic island of Rangitoto, on a beautiful summer’s morning, with nothing but my backpack and a huge smile!

My adventure had begun…