Blog Archives

That sounds doubtful!

How did Doubtful Sound get its name? One Capt James Cook (from my home area in NE England) arrived at the west coast of S Island in 1773, studied the entrance of a fjord, wondered whether to enter, hesitated, and decided against. The dominant westerlies could keep him locked in for up to a month. His hesitation made him ‘doubtful’….hence it’s name.

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20 years later, along came the Spaniard Malaespinas, and they made the first entry in rowing boats, and began mapping the hydrography and the coastline.

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But first we had to pay a visit to the largest hydroelectric power station in all of NZ

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that can produce more than 800 megawatts of power. The story of its construction and the lives lost in the process was very moving.

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Although called a Sound, it is actually a fjord, measuring 40km in length. Our launch took us the full length and out into the Tasman Sea

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discovering the legacy of recent major earthquakes and tree avalanches

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and the appalling statistics of rainfall: 8 metres in an average year, but in 2009 a massive (and hugely destructive) 16 metres of rain fell. To stir your visualisation of what this means: imagine the UK rainfall of 2012 x 12……..and you have some idea.

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And to think we had another dry, sunny day for our trip today! It would seem I landed on my feet twice……which means for the rest of you, the odds are massively stacked against you. Sorry about that!

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But if you help the Children in Syria, your chances of a fine day in the Sounds is vastly improved…… believe me!
http://www.justgiving.com/Frank-Burns1

…and so to Kimbolton NZ

From Auckland my journey has taken me through the largely pastoral landscapes of central N. Island, through the land of hot springs, geysers and mudbaths, and in the last couple of days through the volcanic heartland where the landscapes betray both its recent eruptive past, as well as its current role as a winter playground for skiers and snowboarders.
Today’s 120km route took me over the ominously named Desert Road, a road that crosses the 65km expanse of the volcanic plateau, with no services or watering holes its entire length. This gave me much food for thought, and much thought about food (and drink, of course).
Leaving Turangi, a town on the southern shore of NZ’s biggest lake (Taupo), 10km into the ride had me climbing persistently to over 1100 metres (3500ft) for about 90mins. When the downhill eventually came, it was elusive at first. Cyclists sometimes find themselves in a visual and physical conundrum. Visually, they are convinced they are going downhill, but their legs tell a different story. There is nothing more frustrating than pedalling laboriously down an apparent incline.
But, then the real descent happened, along with tail wind, and it was scarily fast and went on for 12km. I found myself having to apply the brakes at the unsteadiness of 65kph (40mph) especially with luggage spurring on the downhill speed.
When I finally pulled into the first cafe in 65km at Waiouru, I was beset by 2 donors giving me $10 & $20 respectively. The latter was given by the young waitress who said she had never heard of anyone cycling the Desert Road, and I deserved every cent.
I am typing this post on my phone (using the one-fingered method) sitting in my tent after dusk in a remote campsite within earshot of a swift tumbling river, the very one I was bathing in a couple of hours ago. The campsite is so simple that the caretaker may come in the morning to collect my $7 fee. So simple, in fact, that there was no food to buy for an evening meal. Prospect? Go hungry until the morning. Result? A nearby couple, David and Maggie (both ex-pat Brits) took pity on me and included an extra portion in their evening meal. I continue to be astounded at the kindness showed to me in so many ways.
Tomorrow will bring me to Kimbolton NZ, where I am to meet the Headmistress of Kimbolton School. This encounter will be a story for a future post, but I have in my saddlebag some official letters of greeting from the Chair and Clerk to the Parish Council to present to the people of Kimbolton NZ, who are largely unaware this is going to happen. And it will all start with a cup of tea and piece of cake at the only cafe in the village.
Watch this space!

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Bilbao to Guemes 102kms(64m)

Riding the Camino de Santiago puts you in touch with some extraordinary people and circumstances. The Camino del Norte is a much less populated route than the Camino francés, and some would say (rightly or wrongly) that it attracts a more adventurous, discerning type of traveller. I can´t comment on that, after only three days on the Camino del Norte, but I can say there is something special about the kind of pilgrim you meet on this route. The landscapes, and seascapes, are both dramatic along the north coast, but you have to accept that means long ascents that can seriously challenge the legs, particularly at the end of a long day.

The effect of added kilos. I chanced by Enrique again, whom I had met in Guernica, and he was having

Admiring view from Itziar

serious trouble with his front wheel. He had left his bags at a garage and was cycling on to a town where there was a cycle shop. When we had shared a drink and pinchos in Guernica, he had quizzed me about my small saddlebag and how light I was travelling. He must have decided I had given myself an unfair advantage, only carrying 6 kilos compared to his 15 kilos, and he confessed that this morning he had posted 5 kilos of his stuff back home! I am frequently accused of “minimalism“………. and I confess to it unapologetically. After every trip, I analyse what has, and has not, been useful in my luggage, and I make modifications. It is well documented that amongst the thousands that start their journey along the Camino, the vast majority are carrying far too much, and Post Offices in the early towns are inundated with people posting things back home. The great ´sin´ we all commit is adding the “just in case” things, when many of them are superfluous. A great lesson on the Camino, and for life in general, is how to survive happily with much less. Travelling light is a supremely exhilarating and liberating experience.

Puncture no.2

They come in threes? I hope not! Half way up a long climb, I was hit by my second puncture, but not because of debris on the road. The tube must have been in a terminal state of decline and just blew around the valve. I sought shade in a shelter by the road to fix it, and Ramiro (from Marín in Galicia) was resting there in the shade. We easily fell into conversation, and he regaled me with stories and

With Ramiro

personal reflections that kept me well entertained while I fixed the puncture. He had been a sailor all his life and I suspected he was illiterate, but he was a very wise man who had learned much from the ‘university of life’. I could have spent hours listening to him. I even ended up being grateful for the puncture! Otherwise I would never have met Ramiro.

Albergue at Güemes. I put in a few extra kms today just so I could get to stay the night at the highly recommended albergue at Güemes, about 12 kms from Santander. This had been recommended to me by one of the readers of my blog, and I am eternally grateful to him. The man running it is called Ernesto. The property had been purchased 100 years ago by his grandparents, who had had 15 children, the youngest of whom was his mother. He and his four sisters were born in the house, and now, with the help of a group of 50 volunteers, it has been extended and converted into a pilgrim hostel. And it is a stunning place!! Not only in its hillside location, but also in the quality of its accommodation. Large inglenook

Ernesto

fireplace with blazing fire, comfortable multi-bedded rooms with modern washing facilities, communal meals………… no charge was made, but you could make a voluntary contribution before you left.

Ernesto, who happens to be the local parish priest as well, gave us an illustrated talk about the Camino and its ecology. When he discovered I spoke both English and Spanish, he asked me to be his

Lucas(in red) 21 yesterday!

interpreter. As I looked around the room at his ‘class’ of 26 pilgrims, I realized that nobody (other than me) spoke English as their first language. In fact the majority were German speakers, and not all understood English. As the talk progressed, I heard my words being translated into German over in one corner, and into French in another. It was a fascinating study in communication.

The evening meal, with a blazing fire in the background, was prepared by a local lady, and she had prepared portions that would filled any hungry traveller. And the wine flowed very freely, freeing the channels of communication in any language…..nobody cared. And when we discovered that a young German called Lucas, walking the Camino on his own, was celebrating his 21st birthday today, out came the cakes and ice-cream, sparkling wine and aguardientes (home-made digestifs), and the party atmosphere was raised another notch.

If anyone decides to travel the Camino del Norte, this albergue at Güemes is a ‘compulsory stop’. It represents the confluence of all the Caminos: both the physical journey and the interior journeys that we all travel through life. It’s a place to rest your weary bones and from where you can leave refreshed, physically, mentally and spiritually. I recommend it highly.