Thursday, January 31, 2013


Dear readers, you may have noticed that I've fallen somewhat behind with my blogging of late. Sorry. Unfortunately that will continue to be the case for the next three weeks when there will be no more updates. The reason is a happy one though, because I will have succeeded in my plan to cross the Pacific without flying. I will be aboard a container ship bound from Australia to North America, embarking here in New Zealand, and alighting in Cartagena, Colombia, just past the Panama Canal. Many people have asked me how I arranged such a thing and whether I will be working aboard. Sadly, gone are the days when you could just turn up at a port and ask around the ships to see if they would be willing to take you as a deckhand for free passage and board. These days the sums of money too large and bureaucracy too stifling* to allow anything like that to happen. Instead you have to pass via dedicated freighter travel agents who facilitate the booking of a limited number of berths on regular cargo routes (and when I say regular I mean that there may be only one or two sailings a month) plied by transcontinental container ships. The number of available spaces is small, but then again not many people want to travel in this manner. Not only does it take substantially longer than flying (19 days instead of 19 hours), but it's even significantly more expensive. My ticket to Colombia is costing roughly twice the equivalent air fare. Instead container ships are for those who stubbornly refuse to fly, are concerned about their carbon footprint (an extra person aboard a container ship has no effect on the amount of fuel used), or perhaps have a shed-load of stuff to take with them (I get 150kg free baggage allowance - it's just a shame I'm going to Colombia rather than from, otherwise I could have defrayed my costs by taking along some of the country's choice export products). Nevertheless I am sure it will be an adventure and certainly a unique travel experience, though perhaps somewhat monotonous. Yet I have prepared myself for that and have several hundred books with me and over a hundred films as well, so should be able to while away the hours at sea. I suppose it's also a good opportunity to see whether I really get seasick or not...

Distance marker in Auckland. So I will be covering a little over 12,000km in the next three weeks.

*Among the hoops I had to jump through to book this passage (the process was started back in the start of December) was to prove I had insurance, have a medical certificate, and even have my name sent off to the US Department of Homeland Security. I'm now on their books and am looking forward to the American visa application process.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Once Were Warriors

Having been to the far south of New Zealand I thought it only fair to make my way to the far north as well. Unlike the South Island, which was sparsely inhabited by Maori, this has always been the Maori heartland. To this day the region is home to the highest Maori concentration in the country and is an essential stop for anyone wishing to try and understand the two sides to New Zealand. I find it useful, when thinking of New Zealand, to compare it to Australia. Of course they vary markedly in size and geography, but their recent histories share many similarities that do make such comparisons meaningful. Both were inhabited by indigenous populations that were isolated from the rest of the world until their contact with Europeans in the 18th century (not 100% true for the Aborigines of the Top End who traded with the Makassarese, but good enough as a generalisation); became British colonies; indigenous people were greatly dispossessed by the colonists; gained independence in the early 20th century; economies are mainly based around primary resources (mineral for Australia, agricultural for New Zealand). Yet despite these similarities there are glaring differences between the two, most notably with regards to their indigenous peoples.

Australian and New Zealand road signs share a common design, but instead of kangaroos you have kiwis, and instead of wide, flat, limitless expanses you have volcanoes.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Relocation, Relocation, Relocation

There's a well-known expression  that asserts that it is not the destination, but rather the voyage itself that make travelling worthwhile. The travelling has certainly been fun here in New Zealand. Intercity public transport is absolutely god-awful thanks to a small, dispersed, population that is affluent enough for almost everyone to be able to afford private cars. Even the significant numbers of tourists are almost all obliged to hire cars or camper vans (those that don't generally join tours). As you know, neither option suits my temperament - or my budget - so that left me with hitchhiking. Not that I consider it a bum option. In fact, apart from a couple of occasions where I was standing by the side of the road for three hours slowly getting cramp in my left upper-arm muscles, it has been a fun, varied and quite an adventure.

I got dropped off at this bus stop on a lonely road in the mountains. There are two buses a week. Luckily I only had to wait 30mins for a ride though.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Profits Of Doom

Whilst I was tramping in Fiordland I quickly realised that the month I had given myself for New Zealand was nowhere near enough. Certainly not enough to do half as many of the hikes as I would have liked. But, not being the master of my destiny on this occasion, there was little I could do but return quickly to Christchurch, retrieve my belongings, say my last goodbyes to Liam and Eila, and make my way to the North Island.* Although I was reluctant to leave the south so soon I was, at least, glad to experience the genuinely aestival weather of the north that allowed me to finally stow away my jumper.

Two ways of getting to Wellington: the Interislander ferry from the South Island (on the left), or on a huge cruise ship from Australia (on the right).

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sounds Good

As pleasant as New Zealand's towns might be, a visitor to the country would be severely short-changed if that is all they saw. There is less than a handful of buildings that surpass 150 years. In terms of style or architecture there is nothing that doesn't mirror some British style (except for a few Maori offerings, but more on that later). New Zealand's true allure stems from its natural beauty, dynamic geology, and unique flora and fauna. If you don't like or appreciate the outdoors then don't even bother coming here. And of all the wild places in New Zealand, the southwestern corner is the wildest, ruggedest, harshest, and undeniably the most breathtaking.

Views like this are what draw people to New Zealand. The Routeburn valley of Mount Aspiring national park.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Little Scotland

If Christchurch and the surrounding Canterbury plain were founded and settled by Englishmen trying to create a home away from home, then the Otago and Southland regions at the bottom of the South Island were unmistakably colonised by Scots. Not only is Dunedin, the main city in the south, obviously named after Scotland's capital Edinburgh, but it was also designed in its layout and architecture to mirror the austere, neo-Gothic cities of the north (in all my travels I have not seen a place that so closely reminded me of my hometown Aberdeen). But it's not just the city but the whole landscape which evokes images of Alba: the rolling hills battered by the unrelenting wind, enemy of tall trees but friend of the hardy, golden tussock grass that carpets much of the landscape. Perfect sheep country, for which New Zealand is famous.

No Scottish city is complete without a statue of the national poet, Robert Burns, and so it is with Dunedin too.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Little Britain

It's almost impossible to go anywhere further from the UK than New Zealand. This is to be the apex of my journey and from here on I will only be getting closer to home and a return to the "real world". I arrived in Christchurch on a cold, blustery New Years Day. Apparently someone had forgotten to tell them that it was supposed to be summer here in the southern hemisphere. But that didn't faze me too much as it just added to the feeling of being back in the UK. For a long time New Zealand styled itself as the Little Britain of the southern hemisphere, and nowhere is that spirit stronger than in Christchurch. Founded by an alumnus of Christ Church college Oxford the city boasts a very olde English atmosphere, with architecture, boutiques and parks that are reminiscent of the old country. Cricket, afternoon tea and well-tended gardens are very much the order of the day. In fact, for much of its independent history, New Zealand has seen itself as the "Britain of the southern hemisphere" with Christchurch the heart of that Britishness.

Christchurch cathedral, once the symbol of the city, but now nothing more than an empty shell  held up by  scaffolding. Its future, as well as that of the rest of the city centre, is uncertain.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013


Melbourne was the end of the line for me as far as my Australian adventures were concerned. Nevertheless I still had a crucial job to do: sell the car. Having never owned a car I had assumed that this would simply involve placing an add online or in a hostel and then just sit and wait for the deluge of offers. Sadly it wasn't to be. Posting the ads proved to be quite straightforward. Online was naturally easy and took just a matter of minutes whereas with the hostels I had to print out flyers and individually put them up in each hostel.

Although I had been to Melbourne before and my car shenanigans, I still took the time to do a little sightseeing, such as visiting the Royal Exhibition Hall, the only extant world exhibition building from the 19th century.