Category Archives: My Journey

Stories from the road as I travel around following Abel Tasman and the Wakas

Arriverderci Te Wai Pounamu

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“Nonsense!” I said. “We’ll see about that”.

So I tested it.

“There you go!… nonsense!”.

The tin said “Fruit: 2 servings”. But the whole lot fitted easily into one bowl, and still left plenty of room for the cream.

I was looking at what was very clearly one serving.

“Nonsense” I said again, in case I’d missed it the first two times.


One serving of fruit

I sat down, with bowl and spoon and un-paused the movie… “Pirates of the Caribbean” (Pt 3).

Movies are always my fall-back when I can’t get a TV signal. Usually, it’s due to rain fade on the dish, but tonight it was my location. There wasn’t any place on the campsite that met all the criteria, so I gave away the TV in favour on the others… flat, quiet, fairly close to the toilets, and with a drop dead gorgeous view.

Yesterday I was in Golden Bay, tonight I was in the Marlborough Sounds… right in the middle of them. I was about 2 metres above the high tide line, three paces from the beach looking straight out across the still water of Kenepupu Sound. In the morning, the sun will light the hills on the far side.

Where I was is just 9.5 km from Picton, where I’d get the ferry from in a couple of days, but it’s a 3 hour drive to get there. It’s 9.5km as the crow flies, but there are no crows here. Just a few fat pigeons, and some weka’s trying to figure out where I threw the toast.

From here to Picton by road is only 50km, but it’s 50km of narrow steep and winding road. According to Uncle Google it should take 1 hour 10 mins… but he’s obviously never been here.

As I said it’s 50km from here to Picton by road, but this leg of the Sounds is also very remote by water. It’s over 60km to the open sea, and 120km by boat to Picton. The most direct way here from Picton, is to go the first 6km by boat, and then 3km over the hill by road… which is why the place is called… Portage.

It’s not a big place. It consists of a fancy ‘retreat’ type of hotel, a shop, six houses, a wharf and a DOC campsite that’s down the road a bit.

The road leads to nowhere. Portage is 20km before nowhere.

Being so far from open sea the place has the appearance and sounds of great lakes. You can only tell it’s the sea because its level rises and falls a couple of times a day (and of course, it’s salty). Otherwise it is flat and placid. It is surrounded by bush covered hills, and the water sloshes onto the beach instead of crashing in waves. The shoreline consists not of broad beaches, but countless rocky coves, edged with pohutukawa trees fronting the bush.

The DOC campsites (there are 3 fairly near to here) are each in one of these little bays.

It’s hard to draw this part of the journey to a close, but I had now finished everything I had to do in the South Island, and was making my way North. For the first time in a long while, I was now ahead of Tasman’s position described to date in the blog.

I’d spent a long time in Golden Bay. Originally it was because I had a lot to do there. It’s the setting for the biggest event of Tasman’s voyage, so there was a lot of writing, and a huge filming effort to be completed there. In the end, I’d stayed longer than was strictly necessary, but I couldn’t have wished for a better ending to my stay.

After meeting Penny, and Robert I’d decided I would stay for the activities around the Anniversary of Tasman’s appearance in Golden Bay… December 18th & 19th. At the time I thought I was delaying my departure by perhaps a month, but in reality it only made a few days difference. The weather severely restricted the days on which I was able to film, and I got deep into re-constructing Tasman’s course.

My last day in Golden Bay was Dec 19th. A group of nearly 20 of us met in Wainui Bay and walked out to the Pa Site at Taupo Point. It had been my suggestion that the walk might be a nice idea and this somehow got turned into me leading the group out there.

I was just a little troubled about this. The walk out there isn’t overly difficult, but it’s not trivial either. The Mayor of Tasman District Council had been present at the commemoration at the memorial the day before, but had decided against the walk. However, Christine Hofkens (Cultural Adviser from the Netherlands Embassy in Wellington). I’d checked her out on the internet and saw someone I who looked as though she’s be more in her element organising Embassy functions than scrambling around a rocky shoreline.

I’d suggested that the walk was fairly flat, around the beaches… but “fairly flat” is a matter of perception… and I might have been a teeny bit generous in this description. The Department of Conservation ranks it’s footpath into three classes; “walk”, “track” and “route”. “walk”, you could push a baby stoller along (if you were keen), “track” you could cycle through on a mountain bike, but “route” you could do neither of these. The way out to Taupo Pa is a “Route”, and if you get caught by the tide then it becomes quite a significant challenge… for anyone… let alone Latté ladies from Wellington.

Low tide route to Taupo Pa

Low tide route to Taupo Pa

We were rather concerned for Christine. The rest of the people who turned up would be fine, they were local and knew what they were up for. However, despite being completely out of her element, and greatly to her credit, Christine persevered without fuss and made it there (and back) in one piece. And I’m immensely grateful we didn’t have to take her on the high tide detour over the hill.

Up on the lookout above Taupo Pa, where the Ngati Tumatakokiri had assembled, we walked through the events of December 19th 1642. Looking at who was where, at what times, who moved from where to where, and what they did there. Standing in the landscape of the events is a powerful way to re-live it… sharing the same sights and sounds as them.

There was an impressive assembly of knowledge on the hilltop. Robert and I were very familiar with the journal contents and the details and sequence of the day’s events, but Robert is also probably the country’s leading authority on Tasman’s ships and people. Phillip was another local author, with published work on natural history particularly Polynesian flora . He gave us Maori context by way of explanations of the local Taniwha, and also spoke about the local plants and the Maori uses of them… those that were indigenous, and those that they had introduced. Jim had lived in the area all his life, and had been out to Taupo on very many occasions; fishing, hunting, and guiding various parties of archaeologists. His understanding of the local landscape and how it had changed was just a delight to listen to.

And that was how my time in Golden Bay ended; in a special place, on a special day, with special people.

I’d had in mind to nip over to Totaranui for the night before leaving the area, but as I pulled away from the car park I saw three very weary looking tourists with their thumbs out. It was a common sight around there. The Abel Tasman coastal track is very popular with younger overseas tourists, but it’s a long way, and when you finish you wind up at the end of a dirt road, a long way from your car, and a long way from “town” or any public transport.

I gave them a lift into Takaka, which was the opposite direction to where I’d intended to go, but that was OK. It left me with some unfinished business, and another reason to go back to Golden Bay.

The following day I was back in the Marlborough sounds again. Gazing across the broad water at the rolling bush covered hills and the rocky inlets.

The language here is different. I’d just come from where the prevailing nomenclature referenced Tasman, here, it was Cook.

I have reached the end of what can be done with patches and ‘liquid nails’. It’s the end of the road for these guys… the South Island won.

It was my last free day in the South Island. I’d moved round to the Marlborough Sounds, before heading to the ferry at Picton, but with something special in mind… after all I was on holiday now.

Today was taking my boots on one last excursion… I hoped they were up to it. I’d re-glued the soles (again) and we were going for a walk up the Queen Charlotte track. I wanted to look out over where James Cook anchored here in the Sounds. I didn’t need to do this, but I had 1 spare day before I caught the ferry, and I didn’t want to waste it.

From the campsite I turned left, down a road that goes to nowhere (there are plenty of these in New Zealand… all are recommended). I parked up where the Queen Charlotte track crossed the Titirangi Road. I use ‘park’ rather loosely here . The car park was full… there were already four vehicles there, so I’d stopped the van where I could. It was steep… very steep. It was one of those places that even with the handbrake pulled to its fullest, and reverse gear engaged, I was still uncomfortable. The van leaned at a precarious angle, with 2 wheels in the ditch, the rest of it nearly, but not quite blocking the road. If there was a way to lock the rear axel, I’d have used it. I had to get in and out of the van through the cab as the side door was too close to the embankment to be able to open it.

End of the road for these old boots

It’s ‘the last hurrah’ for these guys

I pulled my heroic boots on for one last outing… along a part of the Queen Charlotte Walkway.

Just like the Abel Tasman Coastal Walkway, The Queen Charlotte track is another of ‘New Zealand’s Great Walkways’ (it’s a designation, not just my description), and if you prefer ocean and islands over mountains and valleys, then this is the pick of the bunch.

Once I’d gained all the height the track would give me I dived into the bush, heading for the top of the ridge. When I pushed through the last of the growth to look down onto another place, as historic as the scene I had been looking at a couple of days before.

I’d made my way to somewhere with a very particular aspect, and was now overlooking Queen Charlotte Sound, Endeavour Inlet, Resolution Bay, and Ship’s Cove. James Cook had stayed here on all three of his Pacific voyages.

Unlike Tasman’s anchorages, which were well offshore on account of the precarious places he stopped, Cook anchorages in the Marlborough Sounds were sheltered and very close inshore. From my vantage point I could visualise the Endeavour (1st voyage) and the Resolution (2nd and 3rd voyages) sitting there, nestled into in their respective little Bays.

Apart from the occasional passing boat, there was no sign of humanity. The scene I was looking at was exactly as Cook saw it.

I didn’t meet anyone at all while I was on the track, and moving almost silently over the soft grassed track, I had the company of the birds singing to me the whole time. In comparison to the walking I’d done recently, this was a complete pleasure. Underfoot the path was cushioned and even, not sharp and lumpy, the incline was gentle, and I didn’t have to fight the tide to get in and out. It was just a leisurely walk through pristine bush with fantastic sea views thrown in for good measure.

I was on my way back down by 3:00, and installed on the DOC campsite by 5:00, and what a campsite it was. As I pulled in I ran through the checklist:

1. Level… check
2. Water & Toilets… check
3. Line of sight North for the SKY dish… check
4. Mobile signal for the Internet… check
5. Quiet… check
6. Drop dead gorgeous… check.

6 out of 6, top score… I stayed.

Kenepupu Sound, what a wonderful place to end my South Island Adventure.

Monday, 22nd December

Now, I was just counting down the time. Sitting here in Kenepupu Sound I was oddly confused… I had nothing to do, and I can’t recall when this last happened.

I was still 3 hours away from Picton, but the ferry wasn’t until 02:15 a.m… yes, that’s right a.m! There’s nothing I needed in Picton other than to catch the ferry. I could do a little food shopping, but that was all, and really, that was better done on the other side of the Strait… virtually anywhere would do for the few bits and pieces I needed.

So I sat here, looking across the Sounds, listening to the birds, and practiced “just being” for a while.

Kenepupu Sound campsite

Kenepupu Sound campsite

Not bad for $6 a night.


Credit where credit’s due.

In my 9 months in the South Island I’ve been to some extraordinary places. I have also met some wonderful people, and some were very special indeed. I could not have enjoyed my time here if it weren’t for these people:

Thank you to the wonderful Fellows in Hokitika, who straightened me up again when the wheels were coming off.

Thank you to all the wonderful people in Golden Bay; particularly Wayne and Lee and Tony and Trish, on the campsite at Tukurua road. I’ll be back.

And thank you to all the ‘Tasman’ people, particularly Penny and Robert.

I’ll see you all again next time I’m passing by.


Arrividerci Te Wai Pounamu, and Merry Christmas everyone.

Gillespies Beach lagoon

Gillespies Beach lagoon


I’ve had better days

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You know how some days, everything just goes your way… well today wasn’t one of those days.

I knew it was going to be a close call, the forecast wasn’t ideal, but I’m running out of days, so I had to give it a go.

I’m on a countdown for leaving the Bay. I have my ferry ticket booked for Dec 22nd and still at least 2 ½ days of filming to complete. These particular scenes are all really important, and simply can’t be shot anywhere else.

I have some fairy straightforward stuff to do at the Abel Tasman Memorial; I need this for the opening of the documentary. There’s not a great deal to do, but it’s quite fussy in terms of linking shots, close-ups’ different angles, long views etc. It has to be filmed late afternoon for the right sun direction, but finished before 7:00 in the evening, at which time it falls into shadow. The good news about this place is that’s it’s only a 5 minute walk from where I can park.

The other two days of filming are much harder work. I have to shoot first thing in the morning, and last thing in the evening. I can’t really do both on the same days because there are some hard limits on what I can do. If I try to do everything then I will run out of storage on the cameras, battery for the cameras or battery on the sound kit. But in reality, the biggest limitation is me… it’s simply too much to do in one day. By the time I film the evening shots I simply won’t be able to muster the concentration or enthusiasm to complete it properly… so, all ways ‘round, it’s 2 visits.

Unfortunately, this is one of the less accessible places I have to film at, and it has lots of constraints.

The camera angles and sun lighting I need absolutely determine the limits on times that I can film there, but there are other problems too. It’s a 20 minute drive from the closest place I can camp, and then there’s about an hour and a half of walking. I say about, because it depends entirely on the state of the tide. For the top 2 hours of tide I can’t get there (or back) at without taking an inland detour track to get around one particular bluff.

It’s not a big hill in the scheme of things, but I’ve given it a name.

From the top of

From the top of “What? really? again? Hill” looking towards Taupo Point (taken on a different day)

Each time, before I go over it I look in dismay at the rocks and the waves… and I say the same thing. So I call it… “what?… really?… again? Hill.”

All in all it’s a bit of a drama getting there and back, and it really takes it out of me… which is problematic, as I need to be on the ball once I get there.

The other issue there is the wind. It seems to be relentless.

I’ve been there 6 times now, and only managed one day of useful filming in all that.

Each visit needs a big build up. I need to have a big breakfast, and a good shave (the close-ups pick up any bits I’ve missed) and pack a lunch. I’ll drink lots of water and juice before I leave, as I’ll only carry 1 litre with me. I need 14 hours charging to guarantee that all my batteries are full. I need my script boards ready, and any illustrations I refer to. And I need to check, double check and then check again that I have every single piece of equipment packed. I don’t carry anything spare, so missing any single piece means scratching the whole day.

And so it was this morning.

It was 5:15 when the alarm went off. Sunrise was 5:50, and I wanted to be rolling by then. So it was straight out of bed, get the porridge and coffee on, and shave. All my batteries had to go from the chargers into all my gear, and then check, and re-check that everything, EVERYTHING was in my pack.

Next, was pack down the van; Down with the satellite dish, bed down, strap down over the duvet, rear curtains tied back, disconnect the power & stow the lead, roll the van off my leveling chocks… stow the chocks, get everything loose into cupboards, clear the tops, and count the latches as I close them… 20 drawers in total. Then stow the TV, strap up the tea and coffee rail, raise the netting that holds everything in place up in the over-cab,… shower door, fridge door and cooker lid. Finally, a last check inside… “is everything already on the floor that I want on the floor?”… yes?… then throw the outside mat in, close the door, and we’re off… or not.

I jumped down from the cab, went back inside, picked up my keys, and leapt back into the drivers seat.

It’s about a 20 minute drive around to the start of the Abel Tasman Coastal track, and then … boots on, pack on and go.

The first sun was shining on the hills on the far side of the bay as I stepped onto the track. The start is flat and broad, through coastal bush. It’s always sheltered on this part, so at this stage I had no idea of what the wind would be doing out on the beaches. Soon enough though I stepped off onto a smaller track that lead out to the line of 3 beaches.

It was still calm on the first beach… that looked promising.

I remember thinking damn! I forgot sun block. As it turned out I didn’t need it. At the far end of the bay it was a beautiful morning… but here, it was overcast.

I was surprised to see the tide as high as it was. I’d expected more beach to walk down and less boulders… but, you get what you get. Wanting it different doesn’t change things… it just made for harder going.

The tide was still pretty high when I got to the decision point… up over the hill, or try to climb ‘round. I decided to scramble and climb. Today, that was the wrong choice.

After 10 minutes of slow climb around the foot of the bluff I came to a 10m stretch that was impassable… sheer and green with weed… but only a foot or so deep if I stepped on the submerged rocks.

I had a choice… double back 10 minutes, and then take the hill detour, or walk through the water. I took the second option… I didn’t want to waste more time, but that meant I would have wet feet for the rest of the day.

I scrambled round the rest of the rocks and then squelched my way down the second beach, before the stretch of large uneven rocks and boulders, and the short last beach.

Once I reached Taupo Point, I didn’t stop, but walked straight through to my destination, over a little bushy rise to the beach on the far side.

This was where I would be filming this morning.

The good news was that the wind was very light, the bad news was that the sky was very dark.

I moved to my first setup position, started assembling my rig, and checked the test shots in the cameras…. too dull! I stepped up the aperture, more, and more, until my face turned red and the sky was a solid white. Everything in the replay looked flat and featureless…
…and why was I itching everywhere?

In the moist and overcast calm, the sand flies were out in force… and I was the only food on the beach. It wasn’t sun block I’d needed today, it was mossie lotion.

Things weren’t looking promising, but there was no point in going all that way and simply turning back, so I pressed on and shot all my scenes anyway. I had little confidence that anything I was doing would be usable, but there was no point in going to all that trouble and not getting something in the can. At least I could have some dialogue that I could use to voice over the top of other video.

The timestamp on the file for the first ‘take’ shows me that I started filming at 07:33 am. Two and a half hours after waking. That was pretty good going.

Scenes done I spent some time getting some supporting ‘cut-away’ shots: Looking up the beach, down the beach, out to sea, across the bay, me walking west, me walking east, me walking to the camera, me walking away from the camera, me walking out of the bush as seen from the beach, me walking out of the bush as seen from the bush… you get the idea.

An hour earlier, there was a beach there

Two hours earlier, there was a beach there (taken on a different day)

Then, I called it quits. There was nothing more I could do there of any value, so I re-packed my pack, flattened a final few sand flies, and squelched off back down the beaches. But I didn’t get far.

I’d got the tides completely wrong today… and it was fully high as I left. This made the beaches short, and the rocky shore longer, and there were now two extra stretches of rock to traverse. When I finally got to the middle beach and looked to the end I said “what?… really?… again?”… and turned up the hill track.

It would have been more comfortable with dry feet.

I was back on my favourite perch on my preferred campsite at Tukurua Road by 2:00 pm, and asleep by 2:15.

This evening as sit here, I have downloaded and reviewed the footage, and it’s pretty much all useless. If everything had worked out well, I’d have about 4 minutes of final footage for my trouble, but today all I got was some walking about scenes. The dialogue is OK, but none of the dialogue has usable video, it’s just all too dark and flat.

What-oh. I’ll just have to do it all again.

The next day that even looks possible is Tuesday… and tonight, I feel as though I could sleep until then.

I didn’t achieve much today, but I’ve learned something really useful. The next time I go there I’ll take an old pair of runners with me. That way, if I meet high water, I’ll just wade through it, but still have dry socks and boots to get back into. It will save me a lot of time and effort… oh… and I’ll take the mossie spray.

Portia and Babe

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So there I was, minding my own business, working on illustrations for the next installment.


Caravan for hire at the campsite on Tukurua Road

I’d noticed that Wayne had moved one of the caravans down to the beachfront part of the campsite, where I am, but I hadn’t noticed the car pulling up.

Tony had drawn the short straw.

Tony and Trish have been here the whole time I have. They’ve been looking after the place while Wayne and Leigh (the campsite managers) take a break during the off season.

They are very comfortably set up in their converted bus. They’re also Wingers, like me. (I’ve explained ‘Wingers’ before, but if you missed it, it was in this post ).

One of the distinctive things about Wingers is that they’ll always help out if someone’s got a problem… and by the time I next looked up from my work, Tony was there, doing his bit.

‘Portia’ and ‘Babe’ had arrived… but didn’t seem to know quite what to do next.

I started to walk over to help, but then diverted myself; suddenly and irresistibly compelled to explore the beach like I’d only just arrived.

Some days you just get lucky.

Tony was patiently explaining how things worked to two very unlikely looking campers… who were looking at the small caravan, utterly aghast.

I’m not sure which city they were from, there aren’t many choices. Wellington or Christchurch would be the closest places capable of producing Laté Ladies of this calibre… but these days I think even the most genteel of folk from Christchurch are a bit more durable than these two appeared to be.

He connected up the electricity and gas bottle for them, but I could see their mounting discomfort as he started talking about water tanks and hose pipes. He lost them completely as he explained how to empty the toilet cassette.

The ‘girls’, perhaps in their mid-thirties, were hopelessly bewildered in an alien world.

They couldn’t understand any of it. Why wasn’t there hot water coming out of the taps? Where were the bedrooms? Where was the carpet? and, I am NOT sitting on THAT!

What they genuinely appeared to be most confused about was that they were on grass, next to trees, under the sky… outside.

I had the distinct impression they thought they’d booked an indoor caravan… that they weren’t expecting to find it sitting out there… in the middle of a field. It might have looked wonderfully romantic in the brochure, but the reality was a completely different thing.

Tony had done everything he could for them. I felt particularly sorry for him as he adjusted the undercarriage braces to their fullest extent once more, and was trying to explain that this was as level as it was going to get.

I’m pretty certain they didn’t grasp the idea that there was more hill than there was leg adjustment. Their expectation seemed to be that if you twizzeled the levelling screw things properly they would somehow overcome the incline. Tony was clearly incompetent… perhaps there was someone else.

I was hiding.

They could barely bring themselves to go inside the caravan, and spent the rest of the afternoon sitting between it and their car.

Portia was the type that had gone to a private school. It had cost a lot of money but she hadn’t really embraced the opportunity. She was one of those girls on school camps with the make-up and the hair dryer, the ones that shrieked at creepy crawlies, the ones that wouldn’t swing across the creek on a rope, the ones that didn’t like canoeing because the helmet crushed their hair. They were a clique, and moved around in a knot. There was always a space around them, a force field that repelled lesser ones, and aspiring clique-ants. You could feel the breeze shift as the air of superiority wafted from them.

If Babe hadn’t been in that clique, she’d been in a similar one.

Their distress was compounded by the lack of communication. It seemed somehow very urgent to be able to explain to their friends precisely how they were heroically prevailing over the most appalling of circumstances… but pace as she might, Portia couldn’t find a signal.

I could have told them that they could get a signal on the other side of the kitchen block, and I’m normally helpful like that, but on this occasion it somehow slipped my mind.

While they seemed to be completely unprepared for staying overnight in a caravan (I think they were expecting beds, mattresses, pillows, sheets and duvet’s… I saw no sign of sleeping bags), they were absolutely on top of the food situation.

Two long stemmed, large-bowl wine glasses wrapped in white napkins appeared from the rear seat, and then Babe lifted a small chilly bin from the back of the car. I heard the ice rattle and slump, and the clinking of its companions as the first bottle came out. Babe, flushed with the excitement of achievement, triumphantly presented her selection; ‘Chard’ to start I think, Bubbles for the strawberries’

The little fold-up table was overflowing with all the essentials; Lebanese bread, cheeses, prosciutto, smoked meats, olives, summer fruits, and various tubs of that mysterious looking stuff that you only see in delicatessens.

Whilst they had more picnic than Fortnum and Mason’s, they struggled mightily setting the table appropriately.

There was no serving platter, no cheese board, no cheese knife, no ice bucket, and no olive fork… I mean… really!

It was nearly sunset before I finally walked over and said hello.

I was crossing the grass on my way to the beach. In my day-pack I had a flask of coffee, a packet of biscuits, and a box of fire-lighters (just in case). Under my arm I had my rocking chair. I call it my rocking chair because it’s never been quite the same since I reversed over it.

‘I’m going to have a fire on the beach. If you like that sort of thing you’re welcome to join me.’

Total confusion.

I didn’t get that. For me this was the sort of decision that would be made before the thought even reached my conscious mind. There’s a beach, a sunset, and a fire… It’s ‘I’ll be there! do we need more wood?’, what is there to think about?

It was not simple for them though; I could see the cogs turning.

For a start they had no idea how to dress for the occasion. The last time they’d seen a fire on a beach it was in a brazier. They’d worn sarongs, drunk cocktails and talked over the locals singing for them in the moonlight.

My proposition simply didn’t align with their experience. It was a completely different thing but with the same name. There were no cocktails, no candles, no palm trees, and they might never get that smell of wood-smoke from their hair and clothes… and then there was this scruffy old fart in the Swanndri, with the battered rucksack and the broken chair… was he going to sing to them?

On balance, they concluded they wouldn’t thank you… it was too cold.

I tried hard to mask my bewilderment, but I think I failed. Fire… Too cold… No, I just couldn’t make that one work.

Perhaps they misunderstood which sort of fire I meant; I was talking about the hot sort, not the cold sort.

I tried to remove it from my mind; it was beyond baffling.

Ten minutes later, I had flames a metre high and was growing a base of embers that would presently incinerate even the most reluctant of waterlogged driftwood. Five minutes later the fire was so cold that I had to back my chair up and take my coat off.

I was still struggling with the whole cold fire thing when Portia came past with something fluffy on a length of string. I hadn’t noticed the dog earlier, and I’m reluctant to call it such, but I’ve no doubt that that’s what it was… a dog.

It was a tiny deformed creature. I presume it had been abandoned by its mother as a runt, and by the look of its flattened face it had spent most of its life with its now absent nose pressed hard against the pane of the pet shop window.

I’d seen our cat bring back bigger, and better specimens.

It had to be a pedigree; Portia couldn’t have a mongrel.

Most breeds are selectively improved to serve a particular purpose, but this thing appeared bred to the point of complete uselessness. It existed only to be looked at and petted. It needed someone else to feed it and groom it to survive. I lost my train of thought momentarily and came back wondering if I was talking about Portia or the runt.

I think the same was true for both.

I’m not very good on dog breeds, but I think it was a Louis Vuitton.

I sat by the fire, and enjoyed sounds of the night; the waves washing out on the sand ahead, and the wekas fossicking in the foliage behind. The stars came out one by one, soon to be hidden again by a huge golden moon that rose out of the sea.

‘I had a lucky escape there’ I thought to myself. I felt fortunate to have just my own company this evening.

I was sitting there by a hot fire (it was definitely not the cold sort), with my fingers around a steaming mug of coffee, a packet of dark chocolate digestives, the ocean, the wekas and the night sky.

The fire glowed and cracked, sending the occasional spark rising up to meet the stars. Moonlight rippled across the calm sea, and the waves folded gently onto the sand. Every few minutes a pair of more-pork’s checked in with each other. “I’m over here mate”… then a pause, then “yes mate, and I’m over here”. They kept calling to each other every few minutes, just to make sure the other was OK. Neither of them moved to the other. It was far too nice a night for rushing around like that.

What a privilege it was to be there.

Thirty paces behind me Portia and Babe were in a shed on wheels, in a field, in the middle of nowhere; it was ghastly…. and those bloody birds!

It was still morning when they left, but only just. It took time to put their faces in order, but it was arranging the accessories that posed the major challenge; country chic?, arty mystique? beach casual? … in the end they opted for the tried and tested. ‘You can’t go wrong with a bit of Bling’ said Babe. She obviously still had no idea of where she was.

Breakfast was carefully timed for Brunch, by then they could be certain that the Bistro in Takaka would not only be open, but would have patronage. After all, there’s no point in doing Bling if there’s no-one there to look at you, is there?

What was achieved in an hour and a half could have been done far better in three, if only cell coverage had permitted wider consultation.

By the time they were ordering their Eggs Benedict and Trim Laté, I had my pack on my back and was lengthening my stride along a broad and empty sun-bleached beach. I was off in search of a long abandoned clifftop lookout, hidden somewhere in the bush ahead.

I have no doubt whatsoever that we both thought we had the better deal.

Back to Golden Bay

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I’d really enjoyed Punakaiki, but there were things to do and places to be… and I’d finished what I gone there for.

Next stop was Westport. There was quite a lot to do there, but first a bit of catch up was in order.

Cape Foulwind, Westport

Cape Foulwind, Westport

I wrote up my own travels (or ‘travails’ for that particular post; ‘Disappointment to despair’), and I completed a short piece on a problem that would beset Tasman for his whole exploration; a ‘Lee Shore’. This needed explaining in advance, as I didn’t want to disturb the flow of the storyline by having to explain it later.

Then I set about preparations in earnest for the next block of filming. Good weather was coming in a few days, and I took the wet days leading up to prepare my scripts and illustrations.

I had three pieces to film
– Tasman’s progress up the coast to his first anchorage at Nine Mile Bay.
– Tasman at Cape Foulwind: introducing Gilseman’s drawings and ‘sailing lines of latitude’.
– The Ngati Tumatakokiri at Katawiri (Westport).

These preparations all take time. I know what I’m writing about, but organising it to make the essential points but also be concise, AND natural sounding is a real challenge; and then there are the illustrations. These take as long as everything else put together, even though they’ll only be ‘in camera’ for a few seconds (but I re-cycle them in the blog posts where I can).

I could see the weather window approaching, and by the time three good clear days arrived, I had all three days fully prepared.

I also had a big pile of wood drying.

It had rained for four days, and the tides were extremely high, right up to the dunes… so all the timber on the beach was wet, and it kept wandering around. As I’d walked in the afternoons I had thrown good looking bits up onto the grass… which all together would make a very handsome pile indeed.

When the good weather arrived I headed straight to my first location, Nine Mile beach.

Early morning at Nine Mile Beach

Early morning at Nine Mile Beach

Nine Mile beach is a wonderful little spot and the sort of place I could just move into. It’s a West Coast beach with all that comes with that; beautiful, simple and petulant.

My shooting location was on top of a low cliff that formed a little peninsula at the south end of the beach. It had views north, south and west. I could see where Tasman came from, where he anchored, and which way he went when he left. All that and it was only a few hundred yards from the van, which stayed in sight the whole time.

It couldn’t be better. The sun moved around me, so I could do all my filming from the one spot… facing North in the morning, and south in the afternoon… and all the time I had the beach, rocks, waves and cliffs.

I even had my own blow-hole which was booming away with the high tide and big swells.

The tide was high nearly the whole time. The waves were thumping into the pier I was on and the rocks in the bay. I spent nearly as much time filming the show put on by the waves crashing over the rocks as I did filming myself.

Nine Mile Beach looking south

Nine Mile Beach looking south

When I reached the end of my material I had only one more little job to do at Nine Mile. Whilst I had a heap of wood drying out, I had no dry kindling… so I picked it out of the bush on the edge of the beach.

Back at the campsite, there was no time to waste. The sun was already low and I still had quite a bit to do.

I made up my flask, changed into long pants, grabbed my coat kindling and Licorice Allsorts, and headed to the beach.

I found a nice tree trunk facing the right direction, started throwing timber down from the dune tops and smashed it all into fire sized lengths.

Sunset fire at Westport

Sunset fire at Westport

By the time the sun had set, my fire was full.

The next day was filming on Cape Foulwind itself. It’s a wild and rugged place. The swell here has come all the way from Australia and it was deep and regular.

Tasman called it Clyppige Hoek (your guess is as good as mine) and it means Rocky Point.

Between the huge swell and the rock spires all around the spectacle was even more dramatic than the day before. I had to keep stopping filming to watch as another huge ‘boom’- ‘shhh’ filled the air. The ‘boom’ was the waves hitting a rock slab, the ‘shhh’ was the spray landing on the water around.

I rounded off another good day with another good fire.

My third day was closer to the campsite. I was filming around where the Ngati Tumatakokiri lived; just inside the Buller River mouth. There the rugged coast gave way to sandy beaches, dunes and a calm lagoon.

The rocks at Cape Foulwind

The Lagoon at the mouth of the Buller River where the Ngati Tumatakokiri had their settlement

As I lit my fire that night I had the satisfaction of knowing that I’d nearly completed all the southern filming… I was heading to warmer places after this. I only had a short piece do to on the beach right next to the campground and I’d be on my way back to Golden Bay… to sunshine and sandy beaches.

It was bitterly cold in the morning; cloudy and dull with an icy wind. I had my camera apertures fully open just to get decent picture.

It was simply too cold for shorts, so I cheated. I organised my ‘B’ camera (the one I use to get the wide angle) to show me from only the waist up. At least that way I could keep my jeans on. Even so, the quick piece I had to shoot left me chilled through… so cold that two hours later I still had the cab heater on full.

The next leg was the only part of the coast that I couldn’t drive. There are no more roads now between Westport and Cape Farewell than in Tasman’s time, and that’s a total of 0.

It was still frozen up in the afternoon as I drove over the top at ‘Hope Saddle’. I think it gets its name from the original mail delivery service to Westport. Apparently they routinely descended the Westport side covered in frost. I like to think they were saying to themselves “I Hope they’ve got the jug on”… but perhaps not.

Hope Saddle

Hope Saddle

I was pleased to exchange the cold of the West Coast for the less-cold of Golden Bay. The daily forecasts had shown me that for that six hours driving, I would get two degrees warmer, and I was ready for that. My last morning of filming in Westport had been absolutely freezing.

Golden Bay is a wonderful place, I really like it here. Takaka, the main town has everything I could need, and not much I don’t. But it’s an unusual place too.

Looking down from Takaka Hill

Looking down onto the plain behind Takaka from Takaka Hill

There’s only one road in, and that’s over a big hill. It makes it like an inland Island… and the people here are exactly like small Island people. I’d pitch them at somewhere between Waiheke Island folk, and Great Barrier folk.

If they don’t have what you want in the shops here, then it’s a big trip to somewhere that does. There are no quick solutions here, and people generally move slower, but think longer term.

It’s a rural community with an overlay of ‘arty’ and ‘alternative’ types. I don’t particularly identify with those two groups, but then, they don’t bother me either.

What everyone here has is an intrinsic care for the environment.

In the supermarket (that’s the supermarket) you get asked if you’d like your stuff in a cardboard box, or in plastic bags. Only ‘out of town’-ers choose the plastic bags, and you get a funny look if you do (I only did it once).

I’ve been in Golden Bay for two weeks now… it’s hard to believe. A favourite saying comes to mind… “time flies like an arrow”, “fruit flies like a banana”.

I like that. It works in so many different directions simultaneously it makes your head spin when you try to de-construct it.

Where I’m camped is right here.

It looks busy in the picture, but that must have been taken in summer. At the moment it’s just me, and a couple in a bus and their dogs.

I’m just 32 steps from the beach (I counted them for you), and from there it’s 20 or 120 steps to the water, depending on the tide.

“Golden Bay” is a fairly new name for the place. The people who settled here didn’t like the name it had when they arrived. Tasman had called it ‘Murderers Bay’ (for reasons that will become apparent soon), Cook called it ‘Blind Bay’, but D’Urville, who came 50 years after Cook called it ‘Massacre Bay’… and that’s the name that stuck.

It’s hard to sell ‘Massacre Bay’ as a good destination for settlers, so when gold was discovered here in 1857 they re-named it ‘Golden Bay’. Within 6 months of the discovery there were over 1,000 men working the beds up the Aorere river… that’s more people than there are in the area today.

It’s a beautiful place, but the sea is the main attraction for me. It is sheltered from the ocean by Farewell Spit which extends fully halfway across the width of the Bay, and it keeps the waves in order. I’ve yet to see one higher than my knee, and they flop onto the sand with a soft whoosh, unlike the constant roar of the wild West Coast beaches.

For most of my time here it’s been cold… not quite cold enough for a night frost, but cold enough to need my duvet and a sleeping bag. In the last couple of days however it’s not been so chill. I think it was the lightning that warmed the air up. We had a four hour period when it was like being surrounded by artilliary… pretty spectacular!

I’ve been busy while I’ve been here and got everything caught up to date. My last days at Westport left me with my documentary being several installments ahead of the blog, book and maps, so I had to address all that before I could get onto any current stuff.

Since leaving Westport I’ve published items progressing Tasman up the coast to where he see’s signs of people, and then he anchors off end of Farewell Spit, before entering the Bay.

I dealt with some Maori Archaeology at Katawiri, and needed to talk about some other journals… the Sailor’s journal, and the Surgeon-Barbers account. They don’t usually add much to Tasman’s ‘official’ journal, but they are important for the next few days. I had to get them introduced before I move Tasman into the Bay, as I’ll quote from them as I describe the events of the 2 days that follow. I don’t want to detract from the events by having to explain where these new journals came from in the middle of all the action.

So that’s it; I’m all up to date and about to start work on some of the dramatic bits.

I’m all poised for writing and shooting some of the big stuff, and I’m getting pretty excited about it all.

Looking across Golden Bay

My bench next to the van. Looking out to Taupo Pa from near Parapara in the centre of Golden Bay

So… a cup of coffee in my favourite seat, a look out across the water, and back into it. From where I sit I can see where Tasman sat at anchor on the spit, where he sailed into the Bay and where the fires were lit to raise the alarm. The campsite is right next to one of the Pa sites that were occupied at the time, and I can look across to Taupo Point, where the main Pa in the story is located.

Next, I’ll tell you all about what the Maori thought of these ships that came over the horizon. It’s mostly written, I just need to finish off the illustrations and then I’ll post it.

And my closing thought on the day?… It’s not just fruit flies… sand flies like bananas too.

From disappointment to despair

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Over the next few days things went from disappointment to despair.

What I’m doing is a factual account, and I couldn’t use the footage I’d shot; I had to go back and re-shoot the scenes in the right place, and against the correct background.

A forecast break in the weather signaled an early start, and I drove back down from Westport to Lake Mahinapua, 10 km south of Hokitika.

West Coast bush

West Coast bush

Just after midday I set off up the track with my full kit; tripod, cameras, sound kit, spare batteries, script boards, waterproofs and lunch.

It was a good track. The sign said “Swimmers Beach: 15 minutes”.

From the car park at the lakeside there was no mountain view, but a kilometre around the lake to the north was “Swimmers Beach”, and it was the perfect place. It looked across a big lake, wide and clear, it was on Tasman’s sight-line, and it was exactly the vista I needed. I strode off confidently. I had four hours of light, and my filming point was just 15 minutes away down a good, level track.

I arrived back at ‘the Heems’ three hours later, soaked, cold, bloodied and exhausted, having failed to even get my camera’s from my pack (or my lunch for that matter).

I opened the door, slumped heavily onto the van steps, dumped my sodden pack, and pulled out the flask.

“Fifteen minutes my arse” I muttered into the coffee.

After ten minutes on the track I’d passed a sign saying “Swimmers Beach 5 minutes”. A hundred yards later the track stopped abruptly at water. Presumably the track normally ran along a little beach here, but now, it was under the lake.

I stepped up to the lake edge and looked in… it looked deep… too deep. I couldn’t see the bottom.

I decided to try and follow the shore through the bush… but it was really hard going, just dense, dense, dense bush. So I went back to the end of the track; perhaps I could wade around until I came to the beach.

I found a firm log to stand on and lowered a leg into the lake. The water was up to my shorts before I pulled back out, still with no sign of the bottom. I couldn’t go that way… not with a pack full of electronics. It would have to be through the bush.

The bush was so thick that you could never make a whole stride. Underfoot was alternately fern and moss, or fern and bog. Branches and roots hidden in the fern turned my ankles at each step. Rata vines obstructed progress at all heights; round my feet, knees, waist, chest, neck and head. Sometimes they got so wrapped around my pack that I couldn’t move forward or backwards. I had to take my pack off, thread it though the vines and wriggle through after it.

Topographic map detail showing the 'Swimmers Beach Walk' and the 'Mananui Bush Walk' to Ruatapu Beach.

Topographic map detail showing the ‘Swimmers Beach Walk’ and the ‘Mananui Bush Walk’ to Ruatapu Beach.

There was no respite. It was constantly over, under, or between branches; down onto my knees, up over fallen boughs… but always tangling, wet vines.

After an hour, I was blowing hard, scuffed and soaked. My boots were bags of water from the bogs, and my pack and the rest of me were soaked through from the dripping foliage.

Even though progress was incredibly slow, I simply must have completed the remaining “5 minutes” to the beach, but I could still see no sand. There was bush, or lake, but nothing else. There was no hard stuff in-between, and no firm place to stand my tripod.

There was no beach here today… not for swimmers, nor for over-zealous trampers.

I leaned back, resting on vines that held me up from the ground, and took a few moments to catch my breath. Then I pivoted around, and began threading my way back through the tangle.

It took twice as long to get back.

It seemed there were twice as many vines, twice as many bogs, and twice as many impenetrable flax barriers. Sometimes the vines conspired in groups to knot my feet to the ground, and sometimes I couldn’t force my way through the flax even on my knees, and had to double back. My shins, hands and arms were a mess of scratches, and I had earned a fat lip from a particularly stroppy vine.

I tripped twice as much, and swore twice as often.

Occasionally I saw a boot scuff on mossy bark reminding me that some imbecile had come this way just a couple of hours earlier.

I didn’t want to be lost in this. I still had plenty of light, but the bush was very dis-orienting. There was only an even grey sky, and the occasion glimpse I got revealed nothing of the sun’s position. All I could do to keep my direction true was to keep returning to the lake edge, but incredibly, the lake edge was even harder to get through. There, the rata gave way to walls of flax, twice my height and totally impenetrable.

I was relieved when I found the track again. I was only a kilometer or so from the van, but no-one knew I was there, or which direction I had gone. Certainly, no-one would expect that I’d gone straight into the bush… only a complete nutter would have done that.

Sitting on the van steps I figured that after all the recent rain, the beach probably didn’t even exist… it was under a metre of water. Or perhaps it is called “Swimmers Beach” because the only way to get to it, is to swim.

Either way, it was of no use to me today.

I was soaked, cold, filthy and tired, and was going to get no result at Mahinapua. I needed an alternative.

Fortunately, in my research, I’d seen another possibility.

Google Maps is really good, you can flick between the map and the satellite view. Sometimes “Streetview” lets me get a view of somewhere that I’m researching from the road, and while searching I’d seen this bridge… and the view from it. It was a few hundred metres off the sight line I wanted, but it should be accessible, and it definitely had clear sight of the mountains.

As I headed back towards Hokitika I turned right, towards Kokatahi and its bridge across the Hokitika river.

It was ideal. The valley was wide, but river itself was narrow, weaving through a broad flat expanse of boulder shoals and beaches. I had clear line of sight to the peaks… at least I would if they weren’t in cloud.

I pulled back onto the Hokitika campsite and soon had their washer and dryers filled and spinning. The carpet of the van was wet and muddy from where I’d dumped the pack, but the heater would dry it, and then the mud would brush out.

I showered for ages, retrieved my laundry, and then took my weary bones off to meet some friends. I was sorely in need of good counsel; I was feeling sorry for myself, and hadn’t spoken to anyone for three days.

Back at the van I still had work to do. Everything in my pack had been soaked. I’d sorted out my clothes, but the remainder was still wet. I dried my cameras slowly in the warm air of my heater, and then fired up my laptop and printer. The scripts and pictures that I needed for filming were all completely destroyed, just a blur of mingled colour on a sodden mat. I needed to re-print them all, and to adjust the scripts for the new location.

It was late when I got to bed, but I set the alarm just in case. In early evening the sky had cleared… and if it held, then I might get another shot at it first thing in the morning.

I woke to a clear sky and immediately packed-down to leave.

It was only about 20 minutes to the Kokatahi bridge and I was there before the sun had reached the valley floor. I knew exactly where I was going… there was a place I could drive right onto the river bed, where the stone base was compacted hard over the years by the wheels of fishermen’s cars.

Dawn at Kokatahi

Dawn at Kokatahi

I was in sun by the time I was set up, and I got into it straight away. The sky was clear and all the peaks I needed to identify were cloud free. It wouldn’t stay that way for long, whisps of cloud were already forming around the tops… so I got the essential mountain shots first.

I only had three scenes to do, but I did all three several times more than was strictly necessary… I might not get another go at this. If those peaks got snow covered then their appearance would be entirely different to what Tasman saw, and what I was trying to achieve would have to be compromised by explaining the presence of snow.

The 'high lying land' that Abel Tasman first saw, seen from the Hokitika river at Kokatahi

The ‘high lying land’ that Abel Tasman first saw, seen from the Hokitika river at Kokatahi

I had some lunch and moved on while the weather held. What I was doing next was the preceding piece of dialogue. It had me on a beach on the line Tasman was looking down when he saw land. But from the beach you couldn’t see the high land… there were dunes in the way. I already knew this; it was why my other locations had been so important.

I set up to film, but after a few minutes my sound system died… flat batteries, so I called it a day. I’d got the critical stuff ‘in the can’. For the rest I didn’t need a clear mountain view.

My batteries going flat was odd. I carry a spare for just this reason; a single battery doesn’t last for a whole day’s filming. But when I put the spare battery in, it yielded nothing at all… even though it was fully charged with the other one the night before.

I was to be plagued by this problem for over a week.

My sound kit would work in the van, but not on the beach. I tried everything. I charged and recharged my batteries, I tested leads, re-made leads, assembled, disassembled… always with the same result. It all worked perfectly in the van, but it would fail after a few minutes out at the beach.

Testing my sound kit in the van

Testing my sound kit in the van

I went back to Ruatapu beach four times. Each time I returned empty handed. Nothing I tried would make my sound kit work there for more than 10 minutes. I would set up, run a trial scene, review it, and then… silence.

I was completely at my wits end.

Between the weather and my equipment problems, I had achieved nothing for over a week… and I had no idea how to make everything work again.

If I couldn’t sort it out soon, then I’d have to give up, and head back to Piha… perhaps someone in the camera shop in Auckland could figure it out.

I was completely out of ideas. I’d tested everything, and I’d tried everything I could think of.

I was confused, and lonely, and beaten.

I needed uplifting company.

It was bitterly cold as I walked to and from meeting with some friends, and I started to think about just that… the cold.

My kit had worked flawlessly for months… but now it was winter, it would only work reliably indoors.

I devised a test.

I made an extension lead for the battery, and then headed over to the camp kitchen with all the gear I needed; camera, tripod, sound kit, charged batteries, leads… and a portable radio, and a fan heater.

In the kitchen there were five Japanese, and a freezer.

I put my battery on the extension lead inside the freezer, and wedged the door closed with a broom. Then I connected everything up while the battery chilled.

The batteries in the freezer were connected to the base unit, which was connected to the camera standing on my tripod. My wireless waist-belt unit had fresh batteries in it, and was on the workbench on the other side of the kitchen. It was connected to the lapel microphone, which in turn was set in front of the radio.

It must have looked odd. There I was with my bits and pieces of camera equipment distributed throughout the kitchen, but when you’ve stood alone in public places all over the country filming, talking to yourself, you get over being too self-conscious. Though I was rather hoping that the owners of the iced cream weren’t coming for it any time soon… I wanted that freezer door to stay shut.

The Japanese were doing something to food that involved a lot of shouting and making the kitchen stink of ginger, garlic and soy. But apart from stepping over the broom that I had wedged between a table leg and the freezer, they appeared otherwise completely oblivious to my presence.

Perhaps this is normal behaviour in Tokyo.

Satisfied that everything was properly connected, and that my batteries were chilled to the outdoor temperature I switched it all on.

I turned the radio on, raised the volume and checked the sound level meter on the camera.


Zip, Zilch, Rien, Nada, Nienta… Nothing!

Nothing at all on the meter… not even the slightest flicker.

I was delighted.

You have never in your life seen anyone so happy to see nothing happen!

Sitting in the freezer was a fully charged battery that half an hour earlier had powered my rig flawlessly… but now… nothing.

For the first time in a week, I was smiling. It was a broad triumphant smile that said ‘look at me, aren’t I the smart one’. I was the veritable ‘Cheshire cat’.

I took the battery out of the freezer and set it in front of the fan heater. Two minutes later bingo!… the sound level meter started to flicker.

I left it all running, and put the battery back into the freezer. A few minutes later… it all stopped working again.

Woo-hoo! Nothing! Brilliant!

I was grinning from ear to ear, hopping from foot to foot and congratulating myself roundly. If I’d had more joints in my arms, I’d have clapped myself on the back.

The Japanese still saw nothing. It was like I was a poltergeist in the room, which they hoped would go away if they ignored it assiduously enough. They sat in a row, their heads in rice bowls, taking turns to bark at each other in staccato bursts.

I had one more small experiment to do, and then I would be back in business. It involved boiling a large stone, wrapping it up, and seeing how long it stayed warm.

The next day I finished filming on Ruatapu Beach.

My pack for the day contained a new item. I had my tripod, cameras, sound kit, lunch, flask, warm hat, gloves, waterproofs… and a hot rock with some batteries strapped to it, wrapped up in woolen socks and a fleece.

I knocked the 4 scenes off in rapid succession. The set-up between shots took time, but once I was ready, they all went pretty easily… after all, I’d had plenty of practice.

My sound kit worked perfectly for the whole duration. Hot rocks rule!

I took some time to sit and enjoy the moment on the beach. It was just perfect. Yes, it was winter, but I was quite comfortable in my shorts with my coat. There was no wind, just frosty air and the gentle touch of warm sun on my skin.

Five Japanese walked past, but I don’t think they saw me.

By mid-afternoon I was driving back through Hokitika heading north. I wouldn’t be coming back this way again, I had everything I needed, and I was very pleased with it all.

Boiling a stone is all well and good, but the easy and obvious solution to my battery problem was a simple hot water bottle. I’d have bought one in Hokitika, but couldn’t. I’d walked the few streets looking for “Ye olde hotte water bottle shoppe” but there wasn’t one… so I’d had to improvise.

The Warehouse would have them, but that would have meant driving to Greymouth again, and I wasn’t quite that desperate yet. However, my next shooting location was at Serpentine Beach, North of Hokitika, and just South of Greymouth. Greymouth was the closer campsite, so I drove there in search of a ‘hottie’.

The Warehouse obliged, and I pulled back onto the familiar Greymouth campsite (at the end of the runway, by the cemetery) just as the sun was setting. As soon as I had the van level and plugged in I headed to the beach. It was littered with new wood, all freshly dried from the day’s sun and the sea breeze, and by the time the last of the sun had gone, my fire was crackling nicely.

I popped back to the van for those important things… long pants (I was still in shorts from the day’s shooting), a fold-up chair, my Swandri, a flask of coffee… and of course, Licorice Allsorts.

I wasn’t on my own for long. Soon a young Aussie couple of from Brisbane joined me and we got down to exchanging notes on where to go and what to do. That afternoon they’d been on the Monteith’s Brewery tour, so I was happy to advise them that they’d done everything Greymouth had to offer, and that there was no need to linger.

Early tomorrow they were heading to the Glaciers… they had a “Heli-tramp” booked. They’d be helicoptered high up onto the Franz Joseph glacier, and then go for a walkabout.

They had described at length how beautiful the scenery was so far on their trip. They’d only come from Christchurch, through Hamner to Greymouth. It was tempting to say “you ain’t seen nothing yet”, but I thought it better for them to find out for themselves.

The forecast for the next day was fine, and it should be an experience of a lifetime. I hoped it would be a good one for them.

I think Matt might have overdone the wine a bit. As they got up to leave he fell in the fire, but it was OK, there was no harm done. I only had to push a few sticks around and it was all good again.

Aussie’s!… no surprises there.

His sleeve was peppered with holes from his elbow to his shoulder. He was missing bits of hair from above his ear, and the red on his forehead looked like it would hurt in the morning. But his principal concern right then was that he’d spilled the last of his wine.

As he and Deb’ tottered off into the darkness he said he was fine, and not to worry… he had another bottle back at the van.

I didn’t have high hopes for their 7:00 a.m. start.

It was late by the time I’d finished pulling burning Australians from the fire, and I had a prompt start planned for myself, so I turned in too.

I was on Serpentine Beach before midday. An icy wind was dropping straight down from the snow covered peaks of Arthurs Pass, and it was very cold.

My field kit on Serpentine Beach. The batteries are strapped to a hot water bottle inside the Spiderman blanket.

My field kit on Serpentine Beach. The batteries are strapped to a hot water bottle inside the Spiderman blanket.

I was fortunate with the direction of the sun, and the background I needed. It meant I could set up my camera’s using the van as a wind-break. But I was still cold filming in my shorts and short sleeves.

The chill came straight down from the mountains, and straight up my shorts. I was cold from the instant I took my coat off.

I eyed my cissy batteries with envy. They sat there on the ground, resting on a hot water bottle, and wrapped in a child’s blanket ($20 total from The Warehouse).

Still… they worked fine, and that was all I needed.

It was afternoon as I drove through Greymouth again. But this time I wasn’t distressed to see it, it would be the last time.

A Black Hole is a phenomenon well known to astronomers and physicists. It is a body so massive that it’s gravity can’t be escaped; not even by light.

That’s how I felt about Greymouth; it had kept pulling me back. I just couldn’t get away from it.

As I descended the hill past Runanga, a sense of well-being and calm began to flow through me. I was past the Event Horizon. I had achieved escape velocity. I was finally free.

I checked off the now familiar places as I passed them; Nine Mile creek, Ten Mile creek, Fourteen Mile Bay, Barrytown, Burke’s Road… and then, Punakaiki.

I arrived in Punakaiki with enough light left for me to check out my next shooting location.

Punakaiki is famous for its layered rocks and blow-holes (it’s ‘Pancake Rocks’ to the tourists), but that’s not why I was there.

Tasman had passed Punakaiki on the afternoon of Dec 14th, and I’d explain that part of his progress from here. The sun’s position meant I could indicate his passage, with the blowholes (and the tourists) at my back.

I moved to the northernmost point on the track and looked up and down the coast. I had to look again… it was far more than I had expected. On the distant skyline, to the south I could still make out Mt Cook and Mt Tasman. They were 200 km’s away! (125 miles). That’s where I’d filmed the sequences at Gillespies Beach.

On my horizon to the north I could see Cape Foulwind… and that was completely unexpected. Tasman had described sailing towards a ‘low lying point’… it was named Cape Foulwind by Cook (he wasn’t having a good time). Tasman’s journal contains an unmistakable drawing of Cape Foulwind. It removes any shadow of doubt that the coast Tasman was sailing along was New Zealand.

I’d expected to have to stop at another location to make this particular point, but I could do it from right here. It only needed a minor re-write.

Late evening at the campsite at Punakaiki

Late evening at the campsite at Punakaiki

The campsite was delightful. It was dry and level, and thoughtfully planted throughout so that it seemed to be a part of the surrounding bush. It also backed directly onto a broad sandy beach.

That evening I sat and watched a glorious West Coast sunset from the beach, sheltered from the wind by sheer limestone cliffs and the thick line of bush that topped the dunes.

My chosen locations were at and around one of the lookout points on the Pancake Rocks, ‘Blowholes’ track. I didn’t have too much to do there, just two short pieces of dialogue, and me walking up to and then away from the vantage points. But this time I was the tourist attraction. There were a lot more than just my two cameras. It feels odd talking to a camera with half a dozen strangers looking on and snapping away, but I’m getting used to it.

By the afternoon I was sitting in the sun enjoying a coffee made by someone else. It had been quite a while since that had happened, and I enjoyed the moment, watching the steady procession of tourists in and out of the Blowholes track.

Then I walked back to the campsite to get ready.

Punakaiki is an oasis on the West Coast. It has a micro-climate quite different to its surroundings. I was struck straight away by the warm air, but you could see the difference in the bush too… it was thick and lush, but different. The bush here is sub-tropical like the Waitakere’s… with Nikau, Rimu, Matai… even cabbage trees.

I felt very at home, and set about gathering wood.

reparing the sunset fire at Punakaiki

Preparing the sunset fire at Punakaiki

My fire that night was a grand affair; it was more bonfire than campfire, and I was joined by two young lads from England on their ‘gap year’. I’ve no idea, of their names, I’ll call them Bill and Ben.

They were good company, flush with the excitement of youth, and on the adventure of a lifetime. They were full of questions about New Zealand, its History and Geography… and I was more than happy to oblige.

We watched the sunset, and burned some old trees. Later we watched the stars, meteorites and satellites, and then the moon came big and bright, lighting the beach and the breakers.

It was a good fire, and in the absence of Australian’s, nobody got hurt.

The fire left a deep warmth that easily outlasted the few paces through the night’s chill, back to the van and bed.

I was warm, comfortable and happy again.

As my sister Jane had recently written in a comment; “All’s well that ends well”… and it was.

Disappointment day

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Things can’t go right all the time.

I headed north from Greymouth because bad weather was coming. On the way I took a lot of care to examine any vantage points I might need later on, and I got some simple filming done.

Simple, but not quick or easy.

In order to link the documentary together I need quite a few pieces of the van travelling down a road. Easy huh?… except I’m on my own.

In order to shoot a piece of the van passing you just set the camera up on the side of the road, and then drive past it. Except, if you’re on your own… then there’s this to consider.

Who is going to stand by the camera to stop someone pinching it… after all, I’ve left it on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere, in plain sight of everyone passing.

What I have to do is this… set up the camera and start recording, get in the van and drive back down the road, turn around somewhere, drive past the camera, turn around somewhere, and come back, park and walk back to the camera, and turn it off.

I have to be able to drive past the camera but also be able to turn around very close to where I disappear from view, so that I don’t leave the camera out of my sight for long. It’s not easy finding places where I can do this.

It’s a lot of mucking around to get these shots, but I have to do them when I get the opportunity.

I also filmed an important sequence about when Tasman first approached the coast. This took me an age. It was really tricky to get the camera angle right… a higher tripod would have helped, but, I have what I have. I had to be in the bottom left corner of the frame in close up, and I needed to indicate two particular landmarks. Getting my head, my arm movements and the landmarks all in shot and in focus took a lot of testing, but I got it in the end.

As ever I’d underestimated how long it would take me to get to Westport, and it was dark well before I finally pulled onto the campsite.

The next day I reviewed all my footage.

It’s not possible to review the stuff properly as I shoot it. The camera only has a 3” x 5” screen, and you can’t see that much in the small screen in bright light, so I only get to look at it properly once I’m back at the van and have it all uploaded to my computer.

The bits and pieces of van driving past were fine, but the footage of the dialogue was all wrong; the exposure was too dark.

This is extremely difficult to manage in the field. If I let the camera set the aperture itself then it’s constantly jumping around, and the picture is constantly flipping between bright and dark.

So I fix the aperture in one position.

To fix the aperture properly I need to stand in front the camera and let it sense my brightness, but if I do that then I can’t reach the ‘set’ button to press it. I have to shoot a bit, look, adjust, shoot again until it looks right… and fix it there.

It’s tricky… and this time I’d got it wrong. The sequence wasn’t usable, it was too dull, and I have to re-shoot it.

Now being a bit grumpy I switched to doing something else for a break. As I worked on the illustrations describing Tasman’s movements when he first sighted land I noticed something odd… something was not in the right position.

I checked with some older notes, and then I re-calculated his noon Dec 13th position afresh from scratch.


I had calculated that critical position, where he was when he first sighted land, a long time ago and I’d got it wrong. I’d made one of the simplest errors possible… I’d transposed some of the numbers.

For his longitude that day I’d calculated 170.05°, but I’d recorded 170.50°… and I had used that number ever since… and it is wrong… wrong enough to make a big difference.

The geographic analysis I’d done that showed me the first land Abel Tasman saw… was now incorrect. It was the wrong land. The beach that I’d done my filming on was the wrong beach. The hills that I’d pointing at were the wrong hills, and the mountains that I’d named were the wrong mountains.

It is a pivotal point in the story, and it has to be correct, so I have no choice but to go back and re-do it all in the correct place.

I re-calculated everything again, and checked and re-checked it. I found the right point on the right beach, and then Googled my way around the area until I found a vantage point that allowed me to see the hills that Tasman first saw, and I found one, a really good one.

The oddest thing in this entire day was to find out that I’ve already been to the very place that I will now use to re-shoot these vital scenes, a place where I can see two tiers of hills in the background to the south-east.

After leaving Fox Glacier I had gone to a DOC campsite, but found it under water, remember? … Lake Mahinapua.

Lake Mahinapua

Lake Mahinapua

It looked like this when I was there. That’s where I have to go back to. Who’d have known that across that lake to the south-east there are big hills and beyond them, mountains.

The weather is going to be appalling tomorrow with gale force winds and up to 300mm (1 foot!) of rain. But when that blows through, then I’m turning around and going back south.

The wind is already picking up, the van is rocking around, and the TV satellite signal is fading in and out… so heavy rain is close. Tomorrow I’ll batten down the hatches and sit it out. I may well move my ‘office’ into the campsite lounge… it looks like a cosy place for a foul day.

Greymouth again

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Greymouth beach with foam

Greymouth beach with foam

It made me shudder just to think about it. I drove straight through the town centre to look at a couple of free campsites on the far side of the river.

I didn’t like the look of the Cobdens Bridge site, it was a little too close to the main road. The next one, Jellymans Domain was a metalled car park right on the water’s edge. It had no facilities, but that didn’t bother me, I don’t need them anyway. What I didn’t like was the general feel of the place.

There were four rubbish bins; all overflowing cans and bottles onto the ground… and all of the bins had been set on fire at some stage. It was right next to a sports field and had the look of a hang-out for the local youth at night.

All that was missing was a sign saying “Looking for trouble?”

I wasn’t. So I left.

Greymouth also had a “Top 10” campsite. I don’t like these very much, which is a bit unfair, but that’s how I feel about them. They always have everything you could need, they’re always clean and neat, and everything works… but they’re soulless places; they’re like motels for campers. People that go there are only passing through and they don’t stay long. They tend to keep to themselves, and generally appear to be looking forward to leaving.

Still, if I wanted to sleep soundly, then this was my place… I was out of other choices. I’d checked it out on Google Maps, and this place did have one redeeming quality… I could park up right next to the beach.

The path from my van door took me through a few metres of bush to the beach… 40 steps in total. The strip of bush was on top of the boulder embankment that marked the back of the beach and it also served as a wonderful wind-break.

I had some important work to be getting on with. I needed to advance Tasman to the point where he was about to sight New Zealand, and I needed to advance the Ngati Tumatakokiri across to the South Island and into Golden Bay. But I also had something geeky to do as well and I’d been looking forward to this for quite a while.

I have some special technology on-board; it’s called GIS (Geographic Information Systems). I’m using it to prepare and manage the map on the Blog, but I also have some special tricks planned, and I now needed to prepare the first of them.

I want to do a proper spatial analysis of Tasman’s first sighting of New Zealand. There are enough details in his journal to allow me to calculate precisely where he was when he sighted land. I know his distance from land, the curvature of the earth, the atmospheric visibility limit and the contour of the land. I know all this and I’m geeky enough to want to extract a definitive result… what land did Abel Tasman first see?

Visibility analysis of Tasman's position and land features

Visibility analysis of Tasman’s position and land features

So I did that analysis.

And what was the “large, high-lying land, bearing south-east of us”?

It wasn’t the Southern Alps… but I’ve already told you that, so what was it?

Well.. . you’ll have to wait a few days more… I’ll put it on the blog after I’ve finished the illustrations.

Here’s a preview.

… back to Greymouth.

I’ve bagged the town a bit, but the beach in Greymouth is something extraordinary.

Stones collected within a few paces

Stones collected within just a few paces

The variety of stone on the shore is simply astonishing. Each wave lifts stones and drops them back to the floor. As the wave recedes you hear stones cluncking like snooker balls. This action has polished everything on the whole beach; marble, granite and greywacke… everything, ground into round potatoes of smooth rock.

Most startling are the pieces of pristine white marble, looking like forgotten snowballs melting on the ground. It seems they should be cold to the touch, but they are not, they warm quickly in your grip, and are a delight to roll around your hand as you walk.

The other wonderful thing about the beach is the driftwood.

In no time I had a pile the size of a small car stacked up right in front where the campsite track came to the beach. I placed the fire just where the tide would clean away the embers, and set it going. I remembered Terry’s words… “there are no prizes for being uncomfortable”, so I went back to the van for a few bits and pieces.

I came back a few minutes later with my fold-up chair, my Swandri, a full flask of coffee, a beef and pickle sandwich and a bag of Licorice Allsorts.

Sunset over the sea, Greymouth

Sunset over the sea, Greymouth

That evening I had a couple of local teachers for company. They asked what I was doing in the area, and I started to talk about Abel Tasman and waka’s etc.

I hadn’t got far before they started telling me all about it. It was quite apparent that they knew all about the subject and they weren’t going to deny themselves the opportunity to bring me up to speed.

I kept my mouth shut. I mean really… what was the point? How could I possibly be right and them wrong?… after all, they were teachers, and they knew the curriculum inside out.

It was tempting to let them know that most people’s understanding of the origins of Maori is completely wrong, and it is completely wrong because the curriculum is wrong … and it has been ever since it first entered a standard school text in 1906. Did I really want to try and convince a couple of strident young teachers of this? No, I wanted to enjoy the evening.

Anyway, soon they moved on from Abel Tasman and Maori’s to what they really wanted to talk about; themselves and what everyone else was doing wrong in the world.

They didn’t stay too long,they were busy people… after all, they had the whole world to set straight.

Soon enough I was on my own again with my fire, the night sky, the rumble of the surf… and the roar of jet engines.

Did I mention that the campsite was under the end of the runway?

Before I left I picked up my camera and walked to the beach for one last photo. For those that might follow, here’s a tip that will save you some time.

The best picture of Greymouth is to be taken from the beach… facing west.

Fellow travellers

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Lake Ianthe

Lake Ianthe

At Lake Ianthe there are two places to park. You can park on the roadside where it’s flat, or you can park on the lakeside… where it isn’t.

Being equipped with levelling chocks, I moved into a lakeside berth, orienting the van to look straight across the lake from my seat at my desk. It took me three moves to get the Heems’ levelled to my satisfaction, but then I’m a perfectionist. ‘Levelled to my satisfaction’ means flat enough for a game of pool.

My Astroturf mat went down at the door to keep the dirt outside. I opened the door to let the fresh air in, and closed the fly-screen to keep the mozzies out.

Parked at Lake Ianthe

Parked up at Lake Ianthe

I wandered around for a while with my smartphone testing the mobile signal strength. There was only a whisker of a signal… ‘hmmm… Number One antenna I think’. I mounted my high gain directional YAGI antenna on the pole, and powered up my laptop.

My YAGI antenna needs to point directly at the closest cell tower and I have made a wee gizmo to help me with this. I opened my cell tower mapping tool, indicated my current location, and my gizmo responded with the bearing of the closest tower… 23.8°W. I took my compass, gave the mast a twizzle and ‘boom!’… Internet connected!

I wound the satellite dish to the correct altitude and gave that a twizzle and… whammo!… TV.

I heard the TV promoting the big game tonight… All Blacks vs England at Eden Park, so I checked the online TV guide for the ‘free to air’ game time, and wrote on my whiteboard “9:30, Prime, AB’s”.

By then it was coming on to dusk, and time to apply my evening fragrance. Within moments I was utterly repellent to anything smaller than a bat, and my mozzie candles dared anything flying to try and enter the van.

Lake Ianthe

I am in the big white van sitting level on chocks. The young Germans are in the little silver sloping thing

My German neighbours (the only others here) were not quite so prepared. They were travelling, as most do, in a small van. In these vans you can; drive, or sit or, sleep; but you can only do one of these at a time, and between each activity, everything inside has to be moved. Even getting changed requires either bending double, or lying down, and even then can only be achieved one person at a time.

I noticed the curious way which their van was inclined; both downhill and crosswise. This would make sleeping uncomfortable, and cooking precarious, but it didn’t seem to deter them.

Cooking requires the back door to be lifted. In the growing gloom of a cloudy evening they stood behind the van and boiled their pasta under the light of their head torches, trying in vain to save themselves (and their dinner) from the mossies.

For me, it was all on. By that I mean all ‘ON’… computer on, lights on, stereo on, heater on, and TV on. I folded and put away my fresh laundry, in the light, in the warm… and standing upright.

Had my neighbours been English or Kiwi I’d have already invited them in to watch the game, but presently that thought of civility became unnecessary. With the daylight gone, and the day’s checklist completed, the Germans were soon inside and closed up for the night.

I still had a game to watch.

It’s easy to make fun of the Germans, they are after all, well… German. But it is largely undeserved. Of all tourists on the road, young Germans are by far the most numerous. At any given time they are probably actually the majority… and this dispels a stereotype. Of all the young people in the world, they are (on this measure) the more adventurous… and I meet them in all the best places.

At my desk at Lake Ianthe

At my desk writing this post

They are not confined to Queenstown, Rotorua and Milford Sound, they are anywhere remote and beautiful… and they are wonderful, respectful visitors.

If a German couple pulls onto a site you will hear the noise of their wheels over gravel, the occasional opening and closing of a door, and you will hear them quietly talking. You will not hear anything to disturb the calm of the scene… that is the reserve of the ‘Deigo’s’. Perhaps I’ll write about them one day (but it’s probably wiser not to).

When the Germans go, they will leave the place pristine… no litter, no empty cans, and no toilet paper in the bushes… spotless. You would never know they had visited… unlike the Diego’s, who you have to clean up after.

The typical English campervan-ers are completely different. These are usually retired couples, most often from some sort of professional background. Their vans are ‘well appointed’, top of the range models, new, and fitted with every possible convenience.

In England they would probably be keen bird-watchers or Ramblers, and almost certainly members of the National Trust. When not enjoying tea and cake in a suitable cafe they will be parked somewhere truly spectacular, where they’ll enjoy more tea, and perhaps a nice sandwich.

They are not as energetic as the young Germans… and they are not in a hurry. The Germans will have been up to the local hilltop lookout and back again, packed and gone, while the English are still having their second round of toast and marmalade. But the English are good tourists too; they slip quietly in and out of the landscape without disturbing it.

The Japanese, bless them, don’t have a clue.

Generally you don’t find them in vans, but in cars. They are going from motel to motel, on a whirlwind tour of the country, seeing everything, but never stopping anywhere long enough to enjoy it… if they are even able to. To be honest, I don’t think they have the slightest understanding of what they are looking at.

You see them most often parked on the side of the road, somewhere nondescript, taking a picture of the girl stood in front of a sheep. She is likely to be wearing a pink puffer coat, long boots, sunglasses, a woolly hat and gloves, and she is terrified of the sheep.

They have a list of where they should go, but once they’ve arrived, they don’t seem to know what to do next.

The Germans have their hilltops to visit, and the English have their flasks, sandwiches and chairs to sit on at the seaside, but the Japanese?… they’re just like fish out of water… and if you happen to see a Japanese in the water, then get your towel handy, because you’re likely to have to go in and rescue him.

Then there are people like me… I call them the ‘Wingers’, and it’s about time I explained just what ‘Wingers’ are.



There’s an association, the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association, and membership affords you certain advantages; reduced rates at campgrounds, on the inter-island ferry, and cheap DOC passes. Anyone who spends a lot of time in their vans is a member of the NZMCA.

All members of the NZMCA have an identifying sticker on their van… a pair of red wings.

They’re a sociable lot the Wingers. Mostly they’re travelling around in couples, but quite a lot are travelling alone like me. If there’s another Winger on a site, then you will go and say hello, exchange pleasantries, compare notes on where you’ve just come from, and enquire about where you’re headed next. Wingers are keen on their vans, and like to talk about the modifications they’ve made, and many of ‘my’ best ideas actually came from them.

If you have a problem, and need help, then you go and see them first; it was another ‘Winger’ that I pulled out of the mud at the Tukurua Road campsite. It wasn’t a big deal, and he would have done the same for me without hesitation if I’d needed it; Wingers are like that.

Wingers are also excellent parking aids. If I pull onto a site that already has a few vans then I look for the red wings. These people will be parked in the right place… they will be optimally positioned relative to the wind, sun, toilets, water, and view and will also have taken into account the slope and firmness of the ground. I can take my cue from them without having to first go walkabout before settling in.

Wingers are also fun on the road. Whenever you pass one, there will be an exchanged wave of recognition. You always get a cheery wave back from a fellow Winger. Everybody else is ‘sour’ by comparison.

But, back to the Germans.

This morning I rose, pulled the curtains and looked across the lake… beautiful… flat as a millpond; the surface disturbed only by the wake of a few cruising swans.

I had already filled my flask with hot milk and was on my second coffee before the Germans unfolded themselves back to their proper stature after a cramped and damp night. One of the things I’ve noticed about those small vans is that they seem to suffer terrible condensation… perhaps they’re not insulated like I am.

I watched them stamping their feet to encourage some circulation, and after a while, kettle steam rose from the back of their van. They ate their breakfasts standing up … some concoction of mixed oats and nuts, before wrapping their hands around steaming cups of coffee, their noses hovering in the rising vapour seeking that illusion of warmth. And it was only an illusion. Frost lingered on the ground and their breath floated on the air.

Lake Ianthe, looking towards Mt Cook at sunset

Lake Ianthe from the van door. looking towards Mt Cook at sunset

I sat at my desk, looking alternately at them, my screen, and across the lake. I was listening to the wonderful whooshing sound of my heater, when . I had to hold back the tears.

I sit here, sipping my expresso coffee, in awe of everything that allows me to be where I am, and doing what I’m doing; in complete ease, facility and comfort.


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I was in Hokitika to stock up on essentials; things were getting critical. My milk was extremely low, I needed butter, I had run out of custard and I was completely out of Liquorice Allsorts.

The weather there was oddly all mixed up; cloud, wind, rain and clear all at the same time. To the north the headlands were silhouetted against a brilliant peach sky, and to the south the mountains stood clear; bright and shining brilliantly against blue… while in Hokitika itself, it was overcast, dull and cold.

Hokitika Beach, looking north

Hokitika Beach, looking north

After shopping I’d gone down to the Hokitika river mouth to grab a few pictures of the log strewn beach, and a long abandoned jetty on the Hokitika River. As I walked back towards the van I saw someone lighting a fire on the beach, so I wandered over. Perhaps I was a moth in a previous lifetime, perhaps I just like fires… or perhaps I was just cold. Anyway, I went over and started adding sticks to the fledgling fire. I saw no signs of a back-pack, so I had expected the person to be a local, but it turned out to be a young woman tourist.

She was Anna, Italian, travelling around with a Spanish guy, but they’d become separated. He’d gone off to walk on Mt Brewster… and was now a day overdue. She was to fly out of Auckland in three days’ time, and he was going to drive her there. His car was their accommodation. All up she was worried, and generally a bit down in the mouth. So she’d lit the fire to cheer herself up.

We looked at the options and I suggested I could take her to a good junction for hitch-hiking north; to where the West Coast road meets the Arthur’s pass road. If her friend re-appeared he’d have to pass through that junction anyway. It seemed like a plan, and doing something was better than doing nothing, so we picked up her pack from the back-packers and set off out of town going north.

If we hadn’t heard from her friend by dark I knew I’d have to call the police and alert them to a missing tourist near Mt Brewster in the Haast Pass; fortunately, I didn’t have to make that call.

Soon after we were on our way she got a call. Her friend had got stuck on the mountain, but he was now on his way, and about four or five hours behind of us… but having car problems. His engine was overheating, but it was a relief to know that he was Ok. We switched the plan around a bit.

I was heading to a campsite on a riverbank at the foot of Arthurs Pass, near to the junction I was was going to drop Anna at. I was particularly interested in this place as I could have a fire there, and since Anna also seemed to have a penchant for fires we decided that we’d go there, and her friend ‘Havi’ would come to us.

At the riverbank Anna and I assembled a very impressive pile of wood, and even though there was still another hour’s light, we set it going. It seemed we both enjoyed the simple comfort that a fire brings. I pulled out the chairs and the flask, and we set to staring into the flickering, listening to the crackling, dodging the smoke, and swapping stories.

It is amazing just how connected we all are in the world.

Anna’s English was very good. She asked where I was from in England and I was amazed to find that she actually knew my home town, Burton-on-Trent… she is the first person in NZ ever to have heard of it. Anna was a molecular biologist, and had spent some time in Nottingham (just 25 miles away from Burton), doing research on the ageing mechanism within neurons. Now, I‘m geeky enough to be fascinated by this sort of thing, so we talked for ages; about the nature of brain vs mind, DNA, the passing of instincts through generations and so on.

I asked her a question which she couldn’t really answer to my satisfaction (no-one has yet). “If my skin is only a month old, how come I look nearly sixty?”… I’m still working on that one.

As we discussed ‘instinct’ I used ‘fear of heights’ to demonstrate an instinct that was based on an idea rather than anything physical, (so how is this instinct, based on an idea, passed in DNA?) and in passing she mentioned that her passion was climbing… so that took us to our next round of conversations; climbing experiences and places we had climbed.

We sat talking at the fire with periodic updates from Havi on his progress… he was still having car trouble, but making progress.

San Martino di Castrozza

San Martino di Castrozza

Anna, it turned out was from San Martino Di Castrozza (in Italy)… and I’d been there! It was the location of my first foray into Alpine climbing; the first peak we climbed was beyond the glaciers above her village ‘ (Anna: I looked it up… it was one of the peaks on ‘Cimon della Pala’). It proved nearly fatal for my climbing partner Tony… but that’s a story for another time.

Havi called in again to say he was nearly out of petrol, and still 30 minutes short of Hokitika.

Anna was quite something. She hadn’t just worked in neuro-science, she’d also done voluntary work in Peru… which she spoke passionately about. She was currently touring but trying to work out where her future lay… she could have a comfortable life in research, or she could go and help people in need, and be broke. I wasn’t in a position to offer career advice to a molecular biologist, but said that in my experience, money had never made me feel good, but helping others had.

Finally, Havi arrived.

He had managed to find us, in the middle nowhere, down an unmarked track, on a riverbank, in the dark… and so our fireside circle was completed.

He had been lost in the bush on the Haast pass, his car had been overheating, he was driving on his emergency tyre, and had just managed to get to Hokitika before he ran out of petrol. He’d had quite a day, and by the time he arrived he was quite ready for a good fire, and a good feed.

They ate what all travellers seem to eat… pasta… which to my eyes lacked any of the essential ingredients… like sausages, bacon, eggs, or chips.

Anna and Havi by the fire

Anna and Havi by the fire

Havi (also a climber) told us all about his adventure on Mt Brewster. From the hut, he’d been unable to find the track out again, and had spent a day thrashing around the thick, steep bush, fording and re-fording streams, and slipping and sliding over wet boulders. In the end he’d given up, and gone back to the hut for safety, and to re-think his position.

The hut had a fire, and in the course of drying his stuff out he’d managed to completely burn his good shoes… which made his successful exit the next morning (the same morning as these events) particularly uncomfortable.

I drew stumps at 11:00 and left them to the fire.

The morning came warm and sunny. We shared good coffee before they went on their way, re-united, and back on plan. They were off to Aurthur’s Pass for a bit of ‘bouldering’ before heading to Picton. At some stage (soon I hoped) Havi also needed to get a proper tyre on the front driver’s side, before they made a last dash to Auckland Airport.

It was, all ways round, a delightful and serependitious encounter. Anna had been cold, stranded and worried, I hadn’t had a conversation longer than two sentences since Gillespies, and Havi had escaped the mountains and other obstacles to catch up with Anna again. It had worked out very well for all of us.

To Anna and Havi: Thank you for a wonderful evening. Anna: I hope that your mountain in India is everything you expect it to be, and Havi, good luck with your ethical clothing line.
I wish you both good travelling.

After they left I brought the blog-map up to date and took a leg stretcher along the river bank.

It was a beautiful little corner of the world. I was a couple of kilometres from Kumara (yes… it’s actually called that), parked on a gravel bank on a bend in the river that formed Arthur’s Pass. The light sparkling on the river, the gravel bank, and the tree lined shore all shrieked that I should pull out my fishing and go and stand in the water… which I would have, except it was cold!

The a curved embankment behind the van made a perfect wind-break, and a natural sun trap, the only drawback being that the sudden warmth after days of cold and wet had brought the sand flies out of hiding.

I’d have happily have stayed another day, except some inconsiderate a**hole had burned all the good wood! Instead, I did the only rational thing to do in winter when the Sun comes out. I was 4 kilometres from the West Coast, so I went to the beach… I’d have been crazy not to, right?

Just when you think you’ve seen all the area has to offer, you get more. The closest beach access was Serpentine Road, which I was familiar with from my Tasman researches. On that beach right there I was forty kilometres and exactly due south of Abel Tasman’s position when he first saw New Zealand.

Today, straight down the coast to the South, the Southern Alps were shining high, wide and handsome in a clear winter sky.

The Southern Alps from just south of Greymouth

The Southern Alps from just south of Greymouth

Those mountains were 138 km away (that’s 86 miles to the decimally challenged). There is no doubt whatsoever that Abel Tasman could have seen the Southern Alps from his location on Dec 13th 1642, … but he didn’t. The Southern Alps can be seen from his location on that day, but they were not the first land he saw. Just how we know that he didn’t see the mountain that bears his name was why I’d gone to film at Gillespies Beach… and you have to wait just a little longer before I tell you about that.

The other surprise was that I was now at the start line of the famous ‘Coast to coast’ race. Shame, I’d missed the start, eh?. It made me tired just to think about it, so I did the decent thing. I put my feet up and had a sandwich. Then, having burned the mozzie candle at both ends last night, I had a nap.

With only an hour of sunlight left I closed up the office, and left the beach.

The last 24 hours had been quite marvelous, and I was now replete with Serendipity, which was a good thing, as I was now headed to its antithesis; Greymouth.

A jewel in the crown

The Heems banner

Gillespies Beach is an absolute gem. I can’t believe I’d never heard of it before; I only ‘discovered’ it during my Tasman researches.

Gillespies Beach campsite

Gillespies Beach campsite

On my first day I had settled in, and done the filming on the beach that required midday to afternoon filming… this was the aspect that put me straight-on in the sun with the mountains behind. It was a beautiful warm day, so I shot the three pieces of dialogue in shirt sleeves and shorts.

It wasn’t really quite warm enough to justify that, but it would link better to all the other material I had if I could do it. I was however concerned about the weather holding for the next day’s shooting, as I was now committed to shorts and shirt (the pieces from the two days would end up interleaved) … if it clouded over, I was going to get very, very cold.

I needed have worried as it turned out. The nights at Gillespies were clear and cold, the coldest I have been out in, but that resulted in wonderful night skies… and warm sunny days (once the frost had melted). The cool had an added bonus.

This coast is famous for its sand-flies (like ‘midges’ for the English folk reading this). In summer they swarm in huge numbers and get in your eyes, mouth and up your nose… and they have an incredibly itchy bite. The cold nights, and cool but sunny days, kept them mostly at bay, and while I was at Gillespies, they were rarely even a nuisance.

My second day at Gillespies required morning filming. The shots for today needed me to be on the beach, but without the mountain backdrop. The background for today was tree strewn beach and surf.

I moved down the shore a little and set up. I would not be filming alone this day… I was accompanied by 2 dolphins, feeding just 50m off the shore from me. They made the ideal audience… they were entertaining company, but never made me feel self-conscious.

By one o’clock I had what I needed ‘in the can’, packed a picnic and set off up the coast. The information signs at the campsite said there was a lagoon about an hour away, and everyone returning from that particular track had said how spectacular it was. Gillespies Beach was such an idyllic place that I wasn’t going to move simply because my work there was done, I was going to stay to enjoy it while I could.

Southern Alps from Gillespies Beach campsite

Southern Alps from Gillespies Beach campsite

The track ran northwards along the line of the dune tops, ocean on the left and mountains on the right. All along the track the gorse grew rampant. Gorse isn’t native to New Zealand, it was introduced as fencing for livestock, but it has thrived here… and today, in full bloom in front of the snowy skyline, it didn’t look one bit out of place.

At about halfway the track turned down onto the beach, before following a small river inland. There, behind the stone beach sat the lagoon, calm as a mirror, Its stony beach ringed by bush, which opening up in places to frame the grandeur of the Southern Alps.

Wonderful…. just wonderful.

I sat on the beach, and looked, and looked. The noise of the surf was suppressed by the bends in the river between me and the sea, and there beside the lagoon it was utterly calm. The sound of the Tui’s seemed to highlight, not interrupt, the scene of total tranquillity. Even the occasional tramper… and I only saw three, passed in complete silence, not wanting even their footfall to disturb the perfection of the place.

I will never forget it.

Later in the afternoon I took myself back to the campsite and the beach and began setting up for the evening’s fire… I would have a bigger one tonight.

Fire and sunset on Gillespies Beach

Fire and sunset on Gillespies Beach

About half an hour before sunset, I lit the fire and settled in, facing the setting sun, and fully equipped with Swandri, repellent, coffee, and chocolate biscuits. I was joined by a couple from Austria, and we watched in silence as the sun set over the oceans, and then the peaks. Then we sat and talked softly as the sky began to sparkle; planets first, then stars and then the Milky Way.

It was a sensational show, the finale coming when the moon finally set into the jet black sea.

It was very cold that night, but the next day, the fine weather held.

Fire and sunset on Gillespies Beach

Fire and sunset on Gillespies Beach

When I’m writing, it doesn’t matter where I am. I could be in a town, or I could be on a beach… and given my current location, I simply couldn’t choose the ‘town’ option… I would stay while the weather held.

In rotation, I wrote about Abel Tasman, drank coffee, ate cake and custard, and walked up and down the beach.

The fire that night was my biggest. I had enough wood to fill a regular sized car trailer. By the time I left Gillespies there wasn’t a piece of wood worth burning within 200 paces of the campsite.

Fire and sunset on Gillespies Beach

Fire and sunset on Gillespies Beach

That evening around the fire I had company from all over; Kiwi (just the one), American, Indian, French, Dutch, German and Chilean. Several times I was asked where my favourite place in New Zealand was… and I had to tell them that this place took some beating.

I had deliberately stayed a day longer than was strictly needed, but Gillespies Beach was simply too good to leave… however, the forecast was now saying that rain was coming, so the next morning I packed up and moved out.

I stopped again at the Aoraki Lookout on my way out. As the skies to the west darkened, I enjoyed the mountains, bright, sharp and clear, one last time before moving on.

Then it rained for 5 days.