Thursday 10 February 2011

Round the World

For most of the last year, I have felt as though I have been writing a story. That my travels formed some kind of narrative and that today I would pen its final words.

Keeping this blog has made me so much more aware of my daily experiences. It's forced me to crystallise and articulate the thoughts and ideas that have occurred to me along the way. And all along, I've been wondering how the story would end - writing bits of it in my head, clutching at the themes and ideas that I've towed around with me and wondering how I could tie their loose ends together. I've amassed quotes from the things I've been reading, held onto them until the end.

The shape of the story was pretty obvious really - a round the world trip is only ever going to be circular. Back from whence I came, richer for all the experiences and back into the arms of the friends and family I left behind.

Round the world! There is much in that sound to inspire proud feelings; but whereto does all that circumnavigation conduct? Only through numberless perils to the very point whence we started, where those that we left behind secure, were all the time before us.
Moby Dick

It's a curious thought. That actually leaving and travelling is an act of regression - you just put yourself a year behind and then try and catch up. Which makes the culmination of the experience its object. Everything that happens serves only really to advance you to the end (which was also the beginning):

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot

And then, back home, as the days and weeks advance, the journey, the adventure, would slip quietly beneath the waves of time; the memories and experiences would fade, the only question being which of them would stand the longest.

But no. Having assumed that I would have spent all of the last week feeling as though I were sliding into an abyss, I have actually felt pretty happy and excited about it all. And most of that joy comes from the realisation that this is not the end. Not any kind of end. Just another cusp, another line between two things. And I can quote myself on that one:

An understandable duality shrouds you when you stand on the brink of something. A border or cusp, real or figurative; leaving one thing behind, entering another. Reflection, anticipation. It might actually be the greatest thing about travelling, moving form one place to another, body and mind constantly charged and energised by these changes. And not just travelling but life, too, come to think of it.

It's not just this. A clock has been running alongside me for the whole trip. I knew roughly when I would make the big changes and swap continents. I rarely wanted to leave anyone or anywhere, but each time I had to, or chose to, I kind of knew that it was time. And that's exactly what it feels like now. Time.

And so I'm sat in the lounge at Sydney airport preparing (not that you ever can) for the monster 24 hour flight that awaits me, and soon I will be home. But I won't be leaving this year behind in my wake, forever glancing over my shoulder as it is slowly consumed by time. Quite the opposite in fact - the things I have seen and done, the places I have walked, the people I have met and loved, their faces, the landscapes; the dirt and sand I've trodden through, oceans I've swam in, mountains I've climbed; every single breath I've taken has filled my lungs with something new and special and lifted me way higher than I ever thought it possible to go, and I will carry them with me for the rest of my days.

Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.
Leonardo Da Vinci

The world we inhabit is a place that is incredible way beyond our comprehension. I implore you to get out there and explore it. I know it's not going anywhere, but we are. We are dying, from the minute we arrive on the planet, we are sliding towards our inevitable end. Get out there now. Feel the earth between your toes. Scratch beneath the surface of all the things that surround us and they'll reward you every single day of your life.

If you're lucky, like me, you could get close enough to the Heart of this world that you might just feel it beat.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Skin Deep

This is my fourth visit to Sydney and I'm still not quite sold. The initial impact of the beauty can't sustain the place indefinitely, and when its effect wears off, I find myself feeling a little unfulfilled. Looking good, after all, is never enough on its own.

Sydney is ridiculously beautiful. The city clings to the edges of the ocean and a preposterously stunning natural harbour, with its bays and coves and sweeping shores. In the middle of them, two of the world's most iconic and recognisable structures sit alongside one another, and very occasionally you can glimpse them through the legions of photographers.

Can you tell what it is yet?

The residents seem to take the city's aesthetic pleasantness as a challenge to their own. People care about how they look here. Beach bodies, surgically enhanced when deemed necessary (about 20% of the time) keep themselves in shape through constant exercise. What should be a tranquil, restful stroll through the Botanical Gardens is always rendered exhausting thanks to the joggers. At least 10% of Sydney's 4.5 million inhabitants are running around the Domain at any given moment.

Sans joggers

People love Sydney for its beaches. Until this time, that always meant Bondi to me, and I'd never really seen the appeal - basically a crowded beauty contest with the occasional threat of being eaten by a shark.

Sydney Harbour from the Manly Ferry

At the weekend I took what must rank as one of the best public transport options in the world - the Manly ferry. Basically a half hour cruise through the harbour, better than any tourist charter, for $6. And when you walk out onto the art deco wharf at the other end, you have been transported to a world whose inhabitants, whilst no less concerned about their appearances, seem a little calmer and content. It felt somehow Californian, if that can possibly make any sense.

Manly Beach

I think if I were going to live in Sydney, I'd want to be in Manly. I've always stayed in Kings Cross, where hundreds of strip clubs (Showgirls, Bada Bing, The Pleasure Chest), extremely gay men, homeless people, drunks (more in the morning, they seem to sober up or run our of money by midday and just fall asleep) and backpackers (millions of them plodding around like upright tortoises) all mingle with the rest of the Sydneysiders as they hurry about their day.

Fountain, Kings Cross

I hope I haven't sounded too cynical here, because I like Sydney. It's just that beneath its beautifully tanned skin, I can never find enough soul to keep me going. I'll take the uglier, calmer, more interesting Melbourne any day of the week. She'd still be great company in my old age long after Sydney had had her wrinkles botoxed out.

Sunday 6 February 2011

Blue Mountains

It's funny how our perceptions of the world ebb and flow with our surroundings. Things start out pretty simple in the womb. Through childhood your world is small - house, school, grandparents' house. As we grow up, the world we physically inhabit expands, as does our perception of it; country, continent, planet. Universe. The number of people we know or remember increases as we encounter them.

At some point it stops expanding and, as we get older still, it begins to contract. We start forgetting things as our memories fail us; people, places. The spaces we actually inhabit become our world again; second childishness. And when that last act is over, we're stuffed into a tightly fitting receptacle once more. Back, in a sense, from whence we came.

A similar thing happens with people from different places. Their perceptions of time, space, distance, culture and others are shaped by their environment. It's why people from little country towns are more likely to be rednecks. And it's why if you're English, you consider a journey of anything more than two hours to be an enormous expedition only to be undertaken in the most pressing and unavoidable of circumstances.

Big countries, like Australia and the States make you immune to lengthy overland travel. Small ones, like England make you lazy and complacent. My tolerance has slowly increased over the last year; cover enough long distances and they begin to diminish; every step you take seems to foreshorten the next. And you learn through experience that most of the things you travel to see are emphatically worthwhile, encouraging you to make the effort more often.

With time more precious and finite than ever, I can't resist "popping" out to the Blue Mountains for a night from Sydney. It's only two and a half hours on the train, and will be my last chance to get lost in a little nature before the long haul home. I was thinking how I never "popped" to the Yorkshire Dales or the Cotswolds from London, and wondering why. Then I paid $7.80 for my ticket and climbed aboard one of Sydney's awesome double decker trains.

Katoomba is the main hub town in the Blue Mountains, and it gets you very close to the Three Sisters, the park's most iconic sight. With the mercury hovering around 40ÂșC, it's probably a bit hot for walking, but I stride out anyway. A long walk along the cliff, down 900 steps into the valley behind the sisters, round to Katoomba Falls and back up the (slightly sinister sounding) Furber Steps, and I am well and truly knackered. I was out for about three hours, and it took another three to prise the sodden shirt off my back.

The Three Sisters

Blue Mountains National Park

In the morning, and similar heat, I spurned the chance to lie around in bed and walked off towards Leura Cascades. There were hardly any other people about, so I found myself sharing the trail with the locals instead, and many of them were strangely calm and unfazed by my presence.

A friendly lizard

At the falls, I had a choice of heading back along the cliff walk or dropping down into the valley and through Fern Bower before, inevitably, having to climb back out again. There were plenty of moments on the endless descent, perspiration flooding my eyes, when I regretted my choice, but reaching the bottom and standing underneath Bridal Veil Falls wasn't one of them.

Bridal Veil Falls

I boarded the train back to Sydney smelly, aching and knackered. But smiling contentedly, full of the simple joy that I get from being immersed in nature, and earning it through sweaty toil. I stared out of the window for a while before apparently dozing off, the perimeter of my tiny universe, which thankfully still seems to be expanding, nudged a little further forth.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

I drove all night

Driving on your own can be bloody boring at times, and not even the scenery is enough to keep you awake. You need music, conversation. With no CDs or Aux port, I am at the mercy of Kiwi radio stations. When there's a signal they actually play decent tracks, but the problem is the talking. Lots of talking.

It took me a while to tune into the accent. Clessic Huts on Radio Inzid. And then you have to guess what they're selling in the endlessly shit commercials that clog the airwaves. Massive bid sale, they say. Bids for what? Something for the kuds presumably. Unless they're too busy eating fush 'n' chups or you can't drag them away from the ixbox in the bidroom.

One easy distraction is to pick up hitchhikers, and there are plenty of them to choose from. I seem to stop mainly for Germans, though I managed to bag a rare Chilean on one trip, and yesterday a Kiwi who had clearly been on the piss all day and spoke with an indecipherable accent anyway. I reckon I'm the kind of guy you want to pick you up when you're hitching - the Chilean and his German mate got dropped at their hostel in Kaikoura and I even picked them up again the next morning to take them on to Blenheim.

Covering the whole of New Zealand in three weeks entails a lot of driving. 3,045 miles of it in my case, and still nothing like enough to get me even close to everywhere I would have liked to have gone. Northland and the Bay of Islands? Nope. Milford Sound? Nope (though I did fly over it, hardly the same as sailing up the middle). Christchurch? Dunedin? Tour a few wineries? Whale watching? Swimming with dolphins? No, no, no, no, no.

Yesterday I woke up in Wanganui in the west coast of the North Island and drove across to Hugh and Indri's place in Waihi Beach. For the six hours it took me to cover just under 300 miles, it rained incessantly. I'm sure I passed through wonderful countryside (the roads were winding enough to suggest I had) but I just couldn't see it.

With the radio in a silent spell, and no hitchhikers in the mist, I got thinking again. Thinking about all the things that we come so close to but never see. Driving in these conditions is like walking by torchlight - you see where the beam shines, but nowhere else. It's not just the obvious things we miss, but people and places elude us by the tiniest margins, floating within our grasp but obscured on the edge of darkness. We don't even know they are there.

It probably doesn't bear dwelling on too much. We tread such a narrow path through life, that the multitude of alternatives will always be consigned to oblivion. Better make sure it's the right one then. Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.

Sunday 30 January 2011

New Zealand - South Island

So much time, so little to do. Oh wait, no, it's the other way round...

Trying to fit the world in a year is hard enough, squeezing New Zealand into three weeks even harder. The South Island into eleven days? Almost impossible. I didn't have a clue where to start until Hugh kindly scribbled some notes on my map and sent me on my way. I felt sure I'd skip the section of east coast where he'd written "Shithole" and keen to visit the bit on the west marked "Nice bush".

I knew I wouldn't be able to see everything, my only criteria were not to waste time and to try and hike for at least two hours a day. The whole place is ridiculously stunning; every moment, every mile, another gasp of awe. The landscape changes so much; vineyards on the mountain slopes, bush of ferns and palms, rugged coastline, temperate rainforest, glaciers, volcanic peaks, vast turquoise lakes, rolling green fields of grazing sheep and cows that feel like home.

Travelling is not so much about the dots as the joining of them. A road trip more so - it's what you see from the car that makes it, not where you stop. The big things; the memories, the places, the photographs; they're important. But the subtle things, harder to write about or recall, are the soul of the journey.

Here then are the dots from my camera; the pillars of my final trip. If your imagination can trace the lines between them, you might see beneath their surface, where words would only fail. I've been privileged - sensing the heart of the island not standing at lookouts or lakesides, but tramping through her countryside, alone and free.

Lake Rotoroa

West Coast

Greymouth Beach

Franz Josef Glacier

Lake Wanaka


Lake Wakatipu

Lake Takepo

Rakaia Gorge

East Coast

The Road

Saturday 29 January 2011


I've said before that it's much easier to write about the places you don't like than the ones you do. Wanaka for instance, where I jumped out of a plane the other day, is a beautiful, tranquil little spot. It's probably the first place in New Zealand where I got out of the car and felt like I could stay there for good.

Wanaka from Mt Iron

Queenstown, on the other hand, is sure to be the kind of place I despise. Billed as The adventure capital of the world, you can almost guarantee it will be a massive idiot magnet. The streets will be teeming with vomiting Brits and bogans; trousers hanging round their knees, baseball caps on sideways and stupid hair. Bars will be spilling shot filled punters onto the sidewalk, bragging about the "sickest" thing they've done. Canyon swinging. Bungee fishing. Para-handstanding.

Not for the first time this year, I arrive to find my preconceptions pretty wide of the mark; Queenstown is actually a rather nice little place. There are more blue rinsed pensioners than bleached blonde teens, and the only baseball caps are on the coach loads of Japanese tourists. The town tumbles down the surrounding hills to the lakeside in a beautiful, picture postcard scene.

I'm feeling all adventured out after the skydive, so leave the crazy activities for another day. I do take on the Shotover River Jet Boat though. In driving rain it feels like a billion needles being flung in your face for twenty minutes, with the occasional distraction of assuming you are about to meet your maker by crashing into the canyon walls. It was raining too much for photos, but I nicked this one off their website. You get the idea...

It's a far cry from kayaking on the gentle waters of Lake Wanaka, that's for sure. It might have been a nice surprise to find Queenstown so likeable, and I even stayed three days, but I think I know how I'd rather see out my days.

Sunday 23 January 2011

The Jump

I've been thinking for a while now that I'd quite like to do something big and bold at the end of this trip to remember for ever. One fat, sweet cherry on top of the rich, sickly cake. As the end drew closer, I realised I didn't need to make that kind of gesture; the adventure itself has been enough. The journey, the people, the places, they don't need some cheap gimmick to make them memorable or special.

But I did it anyway.

It was only ever going to be one thing really: jumping out of an aeroplane. It's something I've always wanted to do, but doubted I ever would. And mainly, because when push comes to shove, when the chips are down, the fat lady sings, at the end of the day, when all the cliches have run out, I am a giant, incurable chicken.

So for years the seed lay dormant in my mind. A few months ago, when I started thinking about the gesture, it began to germinate. It would have to be New Zealand, I figured. As it got closer, I started to talk myself out of it, but as I got further south I realised it might just happen. This morning I woke in Wanaka (emphasis on the second "a"), opened the curtains and thought today was probably as good a day as any.

Later, over breakfast, I began talking myself out of it. There are some lovely hikes round here. Apparently Queenstown is a better place for it. You need a few more clouds. What a load of bollocks. I knew deep down it was today, or never.

Strangely, I became less scared once I'd decided to do it. The ball was rolling. The seed had sprouted and was soaring sunwards. I went for a walk, ate, steadied myself. The drive out to the airport; getting ready; the reading and signing the waiver; the notes about gas expanding at altitude; the extra, precautionary visit to the bathroom; the jumpsuit, the locker. The harness. All that was just a blur.

Thumbs up = still not soiled myself

The guy making the DVD sticks the camera in your face and asks stupid questions, and on reflection, I look surprisingly composed, and like my answers: "I'm more worried about shitting myself than jumping out of the plane," before reminding my mum where I left the will. At 12,000 feet a few cheapskates jump out, and we keep going, with oxygen masks to help. At 15,000, people shuffle along the rails to the open door, and plunge, one by one, into the sky. I can't believe I'm not nervous, but really, it is a fait accompli by now, and there is nothing to be gained by fear.

Out, and a twist

The shock as you fall out, twist over and plummet is immense. But it's not scary, just exhilarating. The sixty seconds of freefall, when you drop 10,000 feet (1.9 miles) is insane but strangely serene. When the chute opens and you feel like you're being yanked up, a new, settling sensation replaces it, and you pop your ears, do a few tricks, and drift slowly down to the ground, which you meet by skidding along it on your arse.

Don't ask. He does this ten times a day...

The view from above

Landing. That's me with the pink chute...

I'm writing this and I still feel slightly desensitised. It was, or at least should have been, scary. And I should have shat myself with fear. But I didn't. Something in me enclosed the whole experience, cocooned it with some withdrawal of emotion. Shortly, I think I will come out of that mode, and in the brief moments, now even, when I think about it, I kind of want to clench my fists, shout "Yeah" and "Awesome" and "Whoooohoooooo FUCK YEAAAAAHHHH," but to be honest, I think I probably did enough of that earlier.

I was right you know - I didn't need to do it. But I'm bloody glad I did.

Prancing on Ice

Pretty much the only item of warm clothing I've had with me on this trip is my North Face Glacier Fleece. I decided to reward its faithful body warming by taking it up onto its first ever glacier. And if you're going to treat your clothes to days out, you might as well do it in style. So we went up by helicopter.

The Franz Josef glacier is 12km long and stretches down towards the Tasman Sea on New Zealand's spectacular west coast. It exhibits a classic glacial cycle of advance and retreat, and is actually currently growing, despite the best efforts of global warming (discuss).

Getting kitted up for this involves putting on an enormous pair of boots and wearing an oversized bum bag (fanny pack to my American friends). Shortly after strapping the boots on I found myself absent mindedly whistling Walking on the Moon by The Police.

After a short but spectacular ride up in the helicopter we landed about halfway up the glacier, wedged in the valley. The landscape is eerie and other worldly; the ice raw, craggy and blue.

Ice from above

After a quick skid across from the helicopter, we put on our crampons with varying degrees of difficulty. Split into groups of ten or so, we head off our separate ways to hike across the ice and look for strange little caves and formations. Unfortunately for me, our group is headed up by a five year old Chinese girl who is edging her tiny feet worriedly across the surface. "Walk like a dinosaur!" encourages Ned, our cheery and very Kiwi guide, but to no avail.

Moonboots avec crampons

"Walk like a dinosaur"

Meanwhile, out the back, and I am really digging the crampons. Forget moonboots, I feel like I could walk vertically in these things, and decide to test their reliability by disappearing on all sorts of tangents rather than partake in the world's slowest ever Conga. Doing so, I got that feeling of being a trespasser again; a landscape so alien and foreign to everywhere else I've been, that you just have to wonder whether we should really be here.

Not just because of the boots, it got me thinking about Moon Dust that I read a few months back. About what it must have been like to have stood on the moon; to feel so remote and detached from the world that we live in and are part of. Whilst the icescape had a similar feel and effect, it was obviously diluted by the hordes of other punters who'd been flown up here to tramp around like morons, so the moment quickly passed. By the time some idiot asks if the water is safe to drink, I've already consumed pints of the stuff. Cold, crisp and delicious; as pure as the driven snow.

Bloody tourists

Tiny tunnels and caves are formed as the trickling water cuts its way through the ice. Moulins, where it spirals down and drills out a swirling bore hole. Narrow slot canyons, just like those through the sandstone back in Arizona. The difference here is the timescale; these are created and destroyed over days and weeks, not millions of years. The giant glacier, advancing and retreating through the more permanent landscape, shifts, changes and contorts itself as well. From afar, a great block of ice; up close, a twitching, living thing in constant flux.

Le Moulin Bleu

Friday 21 January 2011

Turning over an old leaf

I like walking. When I walk, I think. And walking alone through stunning landscapes, valleys and forests, that thinking can have a wonderfully cathartic effect.

With this kind of freedom, just surrounded by nature, the mind picks all kinds of things to think about. Little nuggets that got lodged out of sight suddenly come loose and you find yourself raking them over, resolving them and letting them go. It's purgative; a kind of mental colonic irrigation.

I think about a lot of current things too, even the future, every now and then. But mostly I just let my mind wander and see where I end up. The other day I was hiking a trail through temperate rainforest up to some waterfall or other in the Nelson Lakes National Park, when I got thinking about perspective again.

As I walked I was looking around and noticed one of the ferns appeared more delicate and fragile than the others.

I kind of nonchalantly ran my hand through them, plucked a leaf here and there, and only stopped when I turned one over. Underneath were tiny yellow spores, and it struck me as being exceptionally beautiful, and impossible to see from a distance. Impossible to see from an inch away even, without the curiosity to look underneath.

I kept walking, looking for more of them, when I realised I couldn't see them because they were everywhere.

I smiled when I thought to myself that we talk about "turning over a new leaf" when it would probably be simpler and a lot more rewarding to just flip over an old one.

Thursday 20 January 2011

Ghost town

On 3rd February 1931, an earthquake razed the town of Napier to the ground. Since Art Deco was in vogue at the time, it was rebuilt in such a style and is today regarded as the finest exposition of that architecture in the world. Which should make it a nice little place to stop for the night, and a great spot for photos.

The hotel I found myself definitely had a thirties feel to it. I'm guessing it hasn't been redecorated since. Wandering out into town around 8pm, I wondered if I hadn't missed a warning or something, as I appeared to be the only human being present in the "city centre". When I did finally see another person it was a little old granny hobbling along with her stick, which did little to assuage my fears.

The emptiness was perfect for taking pictures, though it was a cloudy night and the town wasn't looking too bright. Not only that, but I had forgotten the first rule of photography: To take a great photograph, you need a camera in your hand. Never mind, thought I, there's always the morning. I finally found a few people in the only restaurant that was a) open and b) not a kebab house: a steak joint inadvertently running a bit of a seventies theme.

Come the morning it was pissing with rain and still gloomy. No time to mince around unfortunately, with a four hour drive to Wellington on the cards and a bit of cricket I wouldn't mind watching. I walked around for about five minutes with my camera under my shirt, half heartedly grabbing a couple of crap pictures just to prove I'd been there.

Reminds me of Worthing...

Believe it or not, this is the Cathedral...

Luckily I managed to outrun the rain on the drive south, and found myself a nice spot on the grass at the Basin Reserve to watch the last session of the cricket. Compared to the Sydney Cricket Ground it's a bit like watching a couple of old codgers looping pedestrian leg breaks on Wisborough Green, but that kind of made it the perfect place for me at the end of another long day.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Making time

One thing I've tried to avoid over the last year is just writing accounts of my days: I did this, then I went there, then I ate this. I've read a lot of travel blogs and the ones like this are unutterably shit. So I've tried to be different; draw out themes and ideas that my travels present to me and that maybe mean a little bit more.

But that takes time and effort, and with my blog now about four days behind me, I'm going back to Plan A to make up time. Here's what you could have been reading for the last twelve months:

I left Hugh, Indri and Genghis on Sunday afternoon and drove south, planning to stop at Rotorua for lunch, on to Taupo and then across to Napier. Which was a stupid plan. With about four and a half hours' driving, and a couple of stops, I would see next to nothing along the way and arrive too late.

The stop in Rotorua was brief. It was always going to be, but about ten seconds after getting out of the car and inhaling the dense sulphuric air emanating from the all the hot springs in the area, I got back in and drove off. I don't have time to stop everywhere or see every place I want to see, which means you have to go with your instincts a lot of the time. And I instinctively don't want to eat lunch in a town that smells like a stink bomb factory.

Taupo seems nice, and a couple of friends will be arriving around 8pm, which is enough to get me on the phone to the ferry company, kick my crossing back a day and spend the night. I reward myself with a long hike up the river into the middle of nowhere, even breaking into a canter at times.

In the morning I decide I have time to take in the scenic volcanic loop drive around Tongariro National Park and go for a bit of a hike in the middle. The scenery is stunning of course.

Taranaki Falls, Tongariro Nat. Pk.

Mount Ruapehu, Tongariro Nat. Pk.

However long it looks like a drive in New Zealand might take, double it, they say. Hmmm. Halfway through the park and I'm thinking I don't even know what a New Zealand police car looks like, when I realise I do. There's one heading towards me about a quarter of a mile away.

Another one bites the dust

She's very nice, hands me my $170 ticket with a smile and an "awesome" (not what I was thinking) and I carry on at 100kph, a ridiculous speed for a long open stretch of road with nothing else on it.

This unexpected drop in velocity means it's gone 6pm when I finally get to Napier. The drive was stunning; winding through valleys and over mountains, stopping just the once for a powernap, as deep as it was brief, before I careered off the highway. With the mountains behind me, the vineyards of the Hawke Bay region begin, and it's a gentle, scenic cruise into town.

Boring wasn't it?

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Social network

I've just watched The Social Network, and what a nice bloke that Mark Zuckerberg is. Really lovely guy.

Loathe him or merely hate him, without facebook I wouldn't have been heading from Auckland to Waihi Beach, where my old friend Hugh lives. We hadn't seen each other for twelve years, and would surely never have done so again were it not for that geeky little twat and his creation.

We headed north up the Coromandel Peninsula for a couple of days, driving the scenic roads in the inadequate Ford Focus I'd rented. We hiked to remote beaches, and finally wound up in Whitianga (Wh is pronounced as F in New Zealand, which will take some getting used to but could be a useful way of writing swear words).

With twelve years to catch up on, we got amongst the beers. It's reassuring to realise that for all the things that happen to us throughout our twenties, all the changes that take place, nothing really changes. Except perhaps that the hangovers get a bit more brutal as the years run out.

Cathedral Cove

Orokawa Bay

I spent a few nights just chilling out back in Waihi Beach with Hugh, his lovely wife Indri and their friendly but psychotic dog Genghis. We swam, ate, watched DVDs (two series of The Inbetweeners exposing a gaping chasm between Indri's sense of humour and ours) and successfully chased Genghis around the neighbourhood before he managed to kill any other dogs or children after I unwittingly let him escape.

I could have spent the next couple of weeks doing the same, but this is meant to be a road trip. One last adventure, one more journey of discovery, as far away from home as it is possible to be. There'll be no slouching for the next couple of weeks, I thought, as I got behind the wheel of the Ford whucking Focus and took to the highway for one last time.