Sunday, December 14, 2008

In the Deep End

I think I might have tried Wilderness with this too, but in the end it appeared in New Zealand Orienteering. Everyone should test their limits sometime.

A green kiwi takes on the worlds best adventure racers

The Adventure Racing World Championship took place this November (2005) in the wilds of the Buller District. While star Kiwi team Balance Vector ran away with the title the battle for second was hot. Caught in the conflict as a member of the Go-Lite Timberland team, Jamie Stewart relates his first experience of expedition racing.

Leg 1: Sea Kayak: “Welcome to the Southern Traverse”.

“Paddle hard, paddle hard, hold, hold, hold”, Billy’s voice was tense as we slid off the back of a breaker. “Paddle hard, hard, hard, go, go, go!” The wave receded in front of us and our world was silent as the next swell grew beneath us. “Oh no, no, no, no…!” We careered down the face of a West Coast roller, doomed.

The Tasman Sea was familiar this time, welcoming, almost soothing, the fear of the previous capsize, an hour earlier, had receded. We had only to drift up on the beach and we would be away, on our bikes, quickly gaining altitude. Billy was searching for his shoes, drifting away, while I clung to the kayak until the surf tore it from my grasp. It was only a jet-ski that tore me from the wash and dumped me in the shallows among other debris. Spare clothing and chunks of fibreglass filled the waters edge. We grabbed our boat, our gear and ran.

Leg 2: Mountain Bike: “Picking up the pieces”

In Bruce Mason’s famous play “The End of the Golden Weather”, the foreshore is used as a symbol for transition, from an idyllic childhood to an adult reality, from untamed, spiritual nature to conservative cloistered society. For me the wild-eyed gallop up the beach was a wake-up call from naivety. This race is going to be hard! John Howard’s advice rang true “don’t be shocked by how hard it is”. Man up boy, suck it in, 120 hours of Buller District awaited us.

The transition was quick. Bike gear: shoes, helmet, gloves, food and we’re away. Fortieth place after the kayak wasn’t cutting the mustard. The bike took us from the Tasman up to historic Denniston and through a scenic 4WD road to Iron Bridge on the Buller. Like most kiwi teams we had reconnoitred this route, allowing us to focus on the biking. We were away!

Leg 3: Mountain Trek: “Just not quite right”

We were too excited. Having chased down the pack on the bike and closed on the top teams, the first trek saw us clumsily following a track, passing one team repeatedly as we struggled to follow the trail. A crucial decision on dark found us heading down the ridge to the next checkpoint (CP) with the company of star Kiwi teams Port Nelson and Pro4 Nutrition. With the help of a taped possum line we made it down in a surprised 4th place, lady luck turning her glorious eye on us briefly that night.

As we exited the CP, The legendary team Nike strode out of the river, putting us on edge. The next CP, CP7 was high above on a ridge. We chose to get up there quickly to minimise the bush bashing but increasing our time on the tops. Teams were all around now, conversation surreal, casual bonhomie laced with grave rivalry. At one stage while travelling with Nike, our navigators walked off the front, leaving the rest of us to peel off the ridge. The looming bush line revealed our fate and we turned to see lights way above and to our right. Even the company of Nike didn’t dull the pain of extra contours so early in the race.

After checking through CP7 in a close 9th, we were to retrace our steps on the ridge for several hours before dawn. It was repetitive and mind-numbing. Slowly the teams regrouped; Merrell, Cross, Lundhags, Halti, Port Nelson, Nike, Go-Lite, Powered by Velvet. It was a squadron moving down the ridge in second place, crossing paths with those who had made more serious mistakes. The sun rose exposing the ruggedness and the loveliness of our surrounds.

On dawn we made our big mistake. There was a long bush covered ridge leading down to the next CP at the Buller River. The ridge wasn’t appealing and our planned route was to veer off right back down the Lyell Walkway and to approach the CP from the west via a Pakihi swamp. We went it alone and it didn’t go. 7hours later, 90 minutes down on the squadron, we checked into CP8 and I was hurting.

Leg 4: Rafting”: “Fun in the sun”

An expression of gratitude: And heres to you Billy Mattison, Captain America, River Guide extraordinaire! If anyone else told me that “I am 75% Ibuprofen, it wouldn’t hurt me if you hammered a nail through my balls” I would have my doubts, but I have seen you suffer hugely then still guide us down a river with such skill and finesse to have the safety people cheering! Maybe the mighty Buller felt mocked by our 360 for the cameras in its grade 4 cataracts but I think it had a quiet chuckle and saved its worst for less fortunate teams. My first time in a raft, it was a ball!

Leg 5: Mountain Trek: “From pain to gain”

After the pleasant interval of the raft, the sheer pleasure of a hot shower to wash off the globules of didymo and a cruisy bike ride back to the assisted transition area the race turned serious again. Our crew were pleased to finally see us and us, them. Sandy Sandblom and Viv Prince were two of the best adventure racers from the original and toughest generation of racers, while Brent Edwards is a top orienteer, and onto it practical dude. As a unit they complemented each other and provided us a smooth ride.

I let everyone know I was suffering, somewhere I must have got dehydrated and my feet were killing me. Upon closer examination they seemed ok, what was hurting so much? Was it psycho-somatic? Harden up boy, get it together. Our transition was slow, but we were away before long trying to make the most of the fading light. But as night grew and the hill rose in front of us I fell to pieces, my head dizzy and my knee spearing with pain. While I continued to get as much food and water down as I could Anna swapped packs with me, a welcome relief.

Anna Keeling, mountain guide, agile, tough, positive, winner as a 20 year old of the original adventure race, the “Grand Traverse”. Back to racing and back to form! Tolerant too, sleeping that night with her head outside the tent, 2 hours punctuated with the passage of other teams. Like Nike who had slept at the transition “Oh Go-lite is that you, are you ok, are you comfortable, can you all squeeze in there?” I fell asleep giggling at their “concern”.

The remainder of the night was a blur, we passed CP11 still back in 11th place, then another navigation mistake, falling off a bushy ridge, but as the darkness thinned I felt palpably stronger. Lollies were the secret, glucose and lots of it, one every 15 minutes for the rest of the race! We were suddenly on the open tops and I was navigating ridgelines in the fog, it was fun, hammering rain and wind, the required Southern Traverse snow flurry, high point after high point, with a detour to CP12 where we had picked up a couple of places. Amazing granite outcrops peered out of the gloom, blocking progress. Spectacular!

Dropping off the ridge to CP13 was a scary navigational challenge, an exhausted team Merrell had made a 3 hour mistake here and were now just in front of us with the squadron of teams now reforming. A lazy error saw us false start our descent allowing the strong team Sierra to catch us briefly. Fortunately they disappeared the wrong way as we entered the bush and it was ½ a day before we saw them again.

At CP13 we were still in 9th and a quick descent along a recently blazed trail was a pleasant escape from the expected bush bash. A quick compass from the foot of the trail guided us across flat forest to the next transition and on dark. Later teams lost time here, young kiwi team Orion Adventure sleeping for four hours less than 500metres from the transition.

Leg 6: Mountain Bike: “We’re on a mission”

I felt great on the bike, as unco as ever, but the motor was fine. Following a 90minute sleep we left CP14 in good spirits and flowed through the remote CP15 with no problems. A short “hike a bike” bush bash before dawn turned ugly as we followed the tracks of other teams down the wrong spur and stream, quick relocation and psycho bush wresting minimised the damage and other teams did worse.

Light found us in remote dairy country out the back of Reefton, and all of a sudden it was the others who were sleepy. My favourite wake up song “Meat plough” by Stone Temple Pilots was not sufficient and a five minute sleep was called after Aaron rode his bike off the sealed road into a ditch. It was fast going and we were going slowly. Sierra zoomed past us only to puncture before we reached CP17 together. Never has toast dripping in butter and jam tasted so good.

Sierra took off like a bullet up the much maligned Waiuta track. Supposedly rideable single track this was a three hour push up a benched track just too muddy to ride. Calls of encouragement rang out as we gutsed it out. The environmental impact on the track particularly when it reached a sub-alpine zone was a lowlight for me, and there was no way we would have taken bikes over it in those conditions if it hadn’t been a race.

The descent beginning from CP18 Big River Hut was great fun. Again we had ridden the area in training and knew where to go. Bypassing Reefton we crossed the Inanagahua River on a footbridge, receiving needed cheers from friends and family before heading up into the last section. A nice climb to CP20 followed by a zigzag descent, a big river crossing, a big “hike a bike” climb and a sweet downhill to finish. A Geoff Hunt inspired mission, 22 hours of masochistic fun, one of the great legs!

Leg 7: Mountain Trek: “The die is cast”

We had climbed to 8th during the mountain bike, Sierra had gone past, but Merrell and Powered by Velvet had fallen behind us. The latter as well as Montrail went past us as we blissfully took our last planned sleep, but we woke refreshed and hunted them down up the thousand metre hill up to Kirwan’s Hut. Blowing past the struggling Montrail we arrived at the hut, CP22, in the early hours to find Swedish team Halti resting up. There we formed an alliance that was to see us through a long, long night.

Team Halti’s navigator Sara Wallen is the fiancée of our navigator Aaron Prince, Aaron being the guy who had got me into this mess with a phone call two weeks earlier “Jamie, desperate times call for desperate measures”. And together they guided us down the left hand ridge to CP23. Back in the bunch with a gaggle of large Swedish boys complete with walking poles, I tripped and fell my way down the ridge, till I finally succumbed to the lure of ibuprofen. At first light we hit the river, 200 metres from CP23. It was an outstanding piece of navigation from two of the top navigators in world adventure racing.

There was somewhat of a gathering at the CP as the surprised Sierra and Cross Sportswear teams arrived blurry eyed as well. The congestion was now for fifth place with only Nike, Port Nelson and Lundhags finding the CP that night, with Balance Vector cruising through the previous day.

The next two hours was a battle of wits walking down the river to CP24. We made a break with a cunning double river crossing as teams sidled high above us. A timely crossing further down then saw us on a 4wd track direct to the transition, with only the still strong team Sierra, running us down.

Leg 8: River Kayak: “Leggus horribilius”

Things were good. I wasn’t ready for them to turn around so quickly. Our kayaking began well; before a minor calamity saw Aaron and Anna’s rudder break and require a quick fix-it. Then all hell broke loose in my back, it felt like Frodo was up there sticking his little elven sword in. Stupidly I didn’t think of taking a pain killer and events were exasperated when I really, really needed to um lose some fluid, and failed to do so, on the move. It was the worst experience of my life and we leaked time (ironically), finally losing touch with Nike who cleared out for second place.

Leg 9: Mountain Trek: “Give us glory, or give us sleep”

We arrived at CP27, the start of the trek marginally before Cross Sportswear and left just behind them after a big fuel up and rev up from the crew. We had thought the trek would only be 6 hours but were informed that Balance Vector had taken 13. It was mid-afternoon and very hot, so water was precious. The ridge was notable for a large monkey scrub belt at about 1100metres, after we had climbed from 300. The route was no less than a labyrinth of white markers at irregular intervals, a crazy, curvy jungle gym. I fully expected David Bowie at every turn, if it had been night time I probably would have seen him!

We strove to make CP28 on dark, pressuring Cross Sportswear along the ridge, from which we saw the beauty of the Paparoa ranges on sunset, vast limestone formations lit in a fiery glare. We arrived at the CP in time to get out torches, food, accept a welcome coffee, and to make a big decision. The expected route to CP29 was down a long untracked bushy ridge. The alternative was to descend down a track to the east and navigate across uncertain flatlands to access the CP from behind. Aaron was concerned. We were five days into the race could we make this decision well on the spot? But it stacked up; we were tired, the track would be good going and there were good navigators ahead of us, we had to try something different. It was decided, we would give it a whirl, apprehensive, but in consensus, we set off.

It was a long way down, and the sleep monsters were back. I stepped over a dead baby on the track and peered back at faces looking in from the darkness, notably Princess Diana and a big bad wolf. We were a shattered unit for a time with people drifting off to sleep and waking as they walked into trees. Finally flatter ground was reached and we found a shelter belt to sleep under for thirty minutes.

I awoke, my torch had run out. Figures were moving I shoved in a new battery and followed. Stu Lynch from team Orion Adventure was navigating, Sara Wallen was behind him and …who was that guy? Hey guys those trees are on the map I yelled, keen to contribute. It started to look good, we found a road which matched my compass and ten minutes later I remembered where I was and who my team mates really were. We were team Go-Lite Timberland, we were at the World Champs, and we were making a play for the podium, wicked! Re-enthused, I refolded my map and proceeded to lose 5 minutes, as I dropped my map case and had to run back to retrieve it.

Now this was fun, trying to find our way across paddocks of alternating gorse and pasture with old roads and native bush thrown in. A real buzz to get to the road into CP29 to be discovered by a media motorbike and told we were in third. Game on!

Leg 10: Mountain Bike: “Beware the Sleepmonsters”

The transition was rushed, our support crew caught asleep. We had no idea when the next team might roll in and we didn’t want to be there when it happened. Although the ride was short and light was imminent we needed our lights for the stony road out to the highway. A mechanical here would be disastrous. We set off, going hard. Nothing went wrong as we switched into big gears along the state highway through Charleston. Some did laps off the front to stay awake. I drifted off the back confident in my speed but worried about my co-ordination. The danger was increased by the motorbike roaring beside us like some evil purveyor of death, freaking me out. The danger of falling asleep was very real and we were all suffering. After one particularly bad episode I snapped awake and yelled out to the others “talk to me, talk to me” but the adrenalin from my close call probably saw me through.

Leg 11: Caving: “Smiling past the gates of Hades”

The caving was un-timed but the clock didn’t stop until we had all entered the cave via a 50metre abseil. We stripped and put on our caving gear, I was horrified to find a pair of boots now 2 sizes too small in my bag. Pain! A short walk to the shaft and a long drop down, yeehah! The organisers had struggled to get permission to use the cave, but it was worth the effort. While it was a real struggle and I crawled as much of it as possible because of the pressure on my feet, it was very beautiful and my only regret is that my torch was not strong enough to allow me a better look!

Billy, ahead of me was claustrophobic and I tried to encourage him on, down spiral worm holes, through cracks, along ghostly hallways. Meanwhile our guide was keeping a close eye on me, a prime suspect for falling asleep and falling down a never-ending crack into the centre of the earth. Finally we were reborn, thrust through a muddy chute into a grassy glen next to the Nile River. And what relief, we were clear in third! Woo hoo! How could a soak in a freezing river to get cave mud off be so enjoyable! A short wait and we were back on our bikes and freewheeling down to the sea cliffs of Charleston.

Leg 12: Ropes: “Heights don’t seem so bad anymore”

Abseiling used to scare me. As a kid I had set myself up an abseil from our roof and proceeded to let go of the rope and fall flat on my back from a height of two metres. It took me a while to get over that, but now I have. What a blast! End of the race, no time pressure, a scenic abseil and tyrolean traverse in front of spectators, family and friends with the finish line in sight.

Leg 13: Beach Walk: “The end is nigh”

Only 16 kilometres to go, but straight along a beach! When is this going to end? 30 or 40 times I awoke to see my team mates disappearing into the haze, and gritted my teeth to chase them down. The hill at Tauranga Bay got closer and closer as our little bits of running got shorter and shorter, till finally we were there. I don’t know who I spoke to at the end, I was done in, the words weren’t forming, but the beer was sweet. What a week!


I finally sorted out my old hard-drive, so I have a few more "historical" photos and writings to preserve here. I tried to get this article published in Wilderness magazine to encourage more volunteers. They were keen but didn't rate my photos.

The Galgos spat us out. Half digested. A bus journey in Guatemala is not quickly forgotten. We had arrived in Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala’s highland city and capital of the indigenous Mayan culture.

Chicken buses nose into Xela's market, Santa Maria hides behind cloud

The looming volcanic massifs of Cerro Quemado and Santa Maria towered over us, giants ready to pluck us from the rough hewn maze of cobblestone avenidas and calles. We negotiated our way along crumbling kerbs, dodging sleeping dogs, drunks and detritus. Shutters implanted in white washed walls exposed small tiendas, internet cafes and Spanish language schools. Colourful and short, the indigenous women sat in the dust with their bundles of babies and fruit.

We had a destination in mind; Casa Argentina, well regarded hostel and home of the most famous trekking company in Central America. We had stumbled over Quetzaltrekkers on the internet, by linking from the medical clinic where Penny had arranged to work. Established in 1995 as the fundraising arm of a school for disadvantaged children, Escuela de la calle, Quetzaltrekkers has grown into a major tourist attraction and charitable organisation. Mama Argentina ushered through the large steel door, removing us from the heat of the street into her comfortable courtyard beyond.

Penny at Primeros Pasos: The medical clinic part funded by Quetzaltrekkers

Casa Argentina unravelled like the Tardis. Guatemalan family home morphed into gringo backpacker hotspot. Tanned travellers played hacky and drank an afternoon beer. Deepest in the depths were the Quetzaltrekker office and guides. Otherwise multinational the Quetzaltrekker guides (boys at least) spoke the universal language of the beard. A good beard morphs a 21 year old student from Holland into a rugged mountain man and inspires confidence among clients. A good beard keeps you warm at sunrise on a 4000m summit and as importantly marks you as different from the casual traveller.

Quetzal trekker guides, Elliot (US) and Becky (UK).

Three times a week Quetzaltrekker groups emerge from Casa Argentina and trek into remote parts of Guatemala. The staple trips are a 2day summit attempt on Central Americas highest peak at 4220m Volcan Tajumulco and a 3day overland trip from Xela to the famous Lago Atitlan following jungle trails and visiting remote villages enroute.

Sunrise over the Lago Atitlan

At sunrise two days later I was at 4220 staring out over the drug-infested badlands on the border of Guatemala and Mexico. The volcanoes shadow rippled down the plain pointing at the Pacific. To the north rolling hills were terminated by the dark wedge of the Cuchumatane range, home to much of the violence in Guatemala’s troubled past. To the south the volcanic chain sat, lions on the savannah: Santa Maria, Santiaguito, San Pedro, Atitlan and the two headed Toliman that rules Lago Atitlan.

As my beard grew I got to know these mountains better. Santa Maria was a monthly occasion on the full moon, Santiaguito a restless pimple on its western flank erupting ceaselessly sending lahars roaring down ravines splitting banana plantations. San Pedro stole the show at sunrise on the final morning of the Lago Atitlan trip, its proximity and symmetry breathtakingly beautiful.

Santiaguito erupts from the summit of Santa Maria, San Pedro smirks in the sun While mountains ruled the weekend, mountains of dishes ruled the week, as we cleaned, promoted and prepared. Every Tuesday was dinner with the kids from our orphanage, every Thursday they destroyed us at futbol. The haggling at the market was intense, stilted Spanish versus stubborn Quiche, the indigenous language in renaissance. The Quetzals (local currency) were cherished when they belonged to the kids.

" know it feels so good, when I know you're skanking with me" - Fat Freddys Drop

Suddenly we were on our final trek. Mama Argentina had ushered us out the steel door and we had caught the crazy chicken bus and walked the jungle trails one last time. We were sitting at sunrise above Lago Atitlan, the lights of the hamlets around the lake fading in the dawn. Smoke poured from the active Volcan Fuego on the Southern horizon, while dug outs plied the edges of the lake, weary of the Xocomil, a localised wind, the stretching of a giant serpent deep in the lake.

The customary team photo was taken, before the rugged descent into the caldera and the final soothing dip in the surprisingly clear waters of the lake, an earthly paradise. Our lancha ferried us all across the lake to San Pedro La Laguna where we sat satiated, sipping cold beer and watching the hubbub of the tourist town. Next week another Quetzaltrekker group would be here recalling their adventure, as fresh and unique as ours.

All Quetzaltrekker guides are volunteers who stay for a minimum time of three months. Further photos and information can be found on

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Terence You Leatherheaded Ape

When my mates went to bed early on a Saturday night, I was left with no choice but to sit down and read a book an internet friend Bob McKerrow had just given me, "Afghanistan - Mountains of our Minds". It is a book of photos and poetry, written and taken in the warzone of Afghanistan where Bob worked for the Red Cross.

My initial favourite is a poem written by Bob for his friend, war correspondent Terence White, injured by mortars. Appropriately titled "Terence You Leatherheaded Ape", there is a hint of Baxter there in the healthy disrespect for bodily functions and actions mingling with a sense of the absurd. Quite a different tone from many of the poems which are chronicles of despair.

Heres a few lines twisting early in the poem; kiwi mateship expressed

Then I got home to the bad news

That you got wounded in the gut

Watching a rocket launcher

Firing near the front


The launcher exploded

Killing two and wounding two

And one was you

Terence you leather headed ape

You can read more about Terence White, here, in a great interview by Matt Nippert of the Listener.

Thanks Bob.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Jury Trials and the Death of a Tagger

Important Update: I am still hoping to find an informed commentary about this case. Was provocation applied by the jury or was it just (wrongly?) put to them? It makes a big difference to my discussion

And in the meantime from NZ's most popular blog, Kiwiblog: "I tend to think the jury got it right with manslaughter. A life sentence for murder would be too much, but neither should there be no consquence for the fact his actions killed a 15 year old tagger. Taggers are scum, but being a tagger should result in a fine, not death."

...are stupid kids really scum? Are we all scum?


Crikey, don't know what to think about this one. Have just seen on Stuff, that Bruce Emery has been found guilty of manslaughter for the death of Pihema Clifford Cameron. Now trials by jury are a principle that I have the deepest respect for as a fundamental part of our court system and I am reluctant to double guess a panel of fellow citizens who have the complete information that we don't. I hope more information comes out on this though as how a person can chase down someone for quite a distance with a knife and then stab them and not be guilty of murder needs to be very carefully explained.

This case has racial and societal undertones that need to be discussed.

I am hazy on the law of "provocation", but will be keeping an eye out for good commentaries that enlighten me and will edit this blog as I find them.


newstalkzb: So it was the judge that gave the jury the option of "provocation" not Emery's defense, and Emery may appeal on these grounds it seems. And it seems the "chase" fact is contested.

the herald: The Herald says Emery chased him 300metres and suggest the key point is whether Emery stabbed Cameron or the latter walked into it.

"The knife that killed Pihema had a 14cm blade but a pathologist found it penetrated him only 5cm.

"It's more probable the deceased hasn't seen the knife and he's walked into it," Mr Comeskey said. "The pathologist said the knife went in 5cm, so it can't have been caused by a thrust."

He said if jurors had reasonable doubt whether Emery put the knife into the teen they had to acquit him."

Law Commission Report on Provocation: This report gives a good background on the defense of provocation, first the statute:

169 Provocation

(1) Culpable homicide that would otherwise be murder may be reduced to manslaughter if the person who caused the death did so under provocation.

(2) Anything done or said may be provocation if—

(a) In the circumstances of the case it was sufficient to deprive a person having the power of self-control of an ordinary person, but otherwise having the characteristics of the offender, of the power of self-control; and

(b) I t did in fact deprive the offender of the power of self-control and thereby induced him to commit the act of homicide.

second the authority:

The leading authority in New Zealand is R v Rongonui [2000] 2 NZLR 385; (2000) 17 CRNZ 310 (CA ), in which the majority took the first approach. Their Honours held that jurors are first to assess the gravity of the provocation (actual or perceived) to the particular defendant, taking into account all of his or her characteristics, on an abstract scale from 1 to 10. Having determined the gravity, they must then decide whether a person with ordinary self-control would have lost that self-control in the face of provocation of such gravity

Interesting the Law Commision suggest that the law is a mess, a view that they say is backed up by the Privvy Council in the decision of Attorney-General for Jersey v Holley, and suggest that the defense should be removed from the legislation and replaced by discretion in sentencing. I conclude that this will be going on for a while.


Interesting older article in Salient. The Salient article discussed the evolution of the partial defense of provocation. The offence was once most commonly used in relation to adultery, eg grieved husband finds wife in bed with someone else kills one of them in rage. There were then a spate of cases where it was used by heterosexual defendants who killed someone after a homosexual advance, including the infamous "puppetry of the penis" case (hence the gay community supports the abolition of the defense). Now it has been used for a case involving the violation of property.

So we have moved from crimes of passion, to crimes of pride (or hate), to crimes of property. Back when us white fellas were moving here our ancestors were getting executed for crimes of property. We escaped it then, but is that what our society is heading back to now?


good blog on Tumeke that leans the same way I think that I am heading that Emery should probably have got murder, although as pointed out above there may be facts/details that we don't know . A commentor also provides this link to the sensible sentencing trust saying on National Radio that Emery should be released. Who do they think they are? update:

So I was just thinking (very slowly obviously), the fact that the manslaughter verdict is there on the basis of the partial defense of provocation, means that any fact that the victim may have "walked into" the knife is totally irrelevant, doesn't it?


And then there is the rhetoric coming out of Emery's lawyer Chris Comeskey. His logic is staggering. This from

"Mr Comesky says Bruce Emery's wife is extremely distraught. He says Pihema Cameron is not going to be brought back by any process and he will seek to keep Emery out of prison when he is sentenced on February 13.

"Taking a husband, a father, a businessman, someone who has never been in trouble in his life - one would struggle to see . . . the rationale in simply dumping him into a prison."

The Herald now has more background. Pihema lived with his tetraplegic father, his mother lived in Perth. At the time of his death he was "upset" that his mother had not saved enough for him to join her. He had never been in trouble with the police. I think the Herald is on the right track:

Emery, meanwhile, said he did not know he had killed the boy. He went home, cleaned the knife, and hid it under his mattress. Somebody else called the police.

"I was terrified," Emery said. "I mean, only a week before, the young Indian guy got stabbed at the dairy by a 15-year-old; another Indian dairy owner down the road from us, he got whacked in the head. There are a lot of things down there that don't make the papers."

The angry Emery identified with the stabbing victim - not the knife- wielding assailant.

Law and order groups such as the Sensible Sentencing Trust are usually the first to call for tough sentences for violent criminals, but this time they sided with the middle-aged self-employed upholsterer. Somehow, when the killer is a middle-class businessman, the tables are turned.

And a further article from the Herald with more background on Emery. Including obvious questions over his character.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Saga of Kauri Dieback Disease and the Wild Turkey.

Up late again, and this time because something has really got up my nose. The Wild Turkey Offroad Half Marathon, a great little event on Aucklands West Coast has been demasculated by the Auckland Regional Council (ARC). My interest was sparked by a discussion on the sportzhub forum here

The Wild Turkey proper starts on the beach at Whatipu where competitors line up against a back drop of the wild Manakau Entrance and the rugged coastline of Awhitu receding into the distance. It runs first 7km's along the coast, with competitors often choosing the harder running in the first cut of the receding waves than on the soft shuffling sand. Competitors leave the ocean heading for the prominent gap in the hills signalling the mouth of Paraha stream. The coastal dunes are crossed quickly on established trails as this is a popular loop from the famous Karekare, once home to a piano. Up a trail until the river narrows into a canyon and the track gives way to stream bed and boulders. Opportunity arises for a whole different breed of athlete, those that excell on rough terrain. The canyon peaks with swims and rope assisted climbs up slippery conglomerate slopes. Confusion at the top as bush replaces the rocky walls and competitors search for the Odlin Timber Track which they climb back to the network or trails north of Whatipu and eventually down to the welcome finish line.

James Bradshaw heading into the Paraha gorge

Following a special meeting of the Parks and Heritage Committee of the Auckland Regional Council the decision was made forbidding the Wild Turkey from racing on either the beach or the river. A decision which effectively turns the Wild Turkey from a unique and "wild" offroad race journeying through and showcasing the varying habitats of the Waitakeres from the coast to mountains and return, to a ho-hum bush run. The equivalent would be replacing the mountain run and kayaking legs of the Coast to Coast with a run and bike over Arthurs and Porters Pass. This has been tryed and it wasn't very successful. The organisers are "gutted", especially after paying "for photo monitoring on the course for three years and each year have received an "all good and no lasting impact on the environment noted" report." (the effectiveness of photo monitoring in this context is open to debate anyway).

Penny scrambling up the conglomerate

The Council subsequently released their reasoning of their decision,

"The main reasons for these changes in this years course, and for future year events in this area, are because of the Kauri dieback disease; the Waitakere Ranges has been identified as a main area in the North Island where this disease occurs. The new course, along with some environmental conditions which the organisers and competitors will have to work with on the day of the running event, are all ways in which we are attempting to combat the spread of this disease (especially in the section which previously ran through the Pararaha Valley), and which will help to protect the unique environment of the Whatipu area and Waitakere Ranges. Similarly, the decision to remove the coastal section of the race is in recognition of the Scientific Reserve status of the Whatipu coastal area, and the unique ecological values that exist in there."

I wanna keep dry!

Instinctively angry I decided to investigate to see whether it was their decision-making or my prejudice that was causing the problem inside my head.

First of all I investigated the Kauri Dieback Disease. The lead page of a multi-agency campaign against the disease is Kauri Dieback disease, how you can help. Kauri Dieback disease or Phytophthora taxon Agathis (PTA) is a microscopic fungus-like plant pathogen. I looked up Phytophthora on Wikipedia and it makes interesting reading. Firstly its not really a fungi, but from a differnt kingdom altogether (although apparently fungicide is effective for prevention), secondly they have played their part in history, the Irish Potato Famine was caused by an organism called Phytophthora infestans.

Take the wrong turn on the Paraha and you end up in the gorgeous Cowan stream!

Then I remembered a trip to Tasmania as a teenager for orienteering, coached ironically by Shaun Collins and Phil Wood, the key organisers of the Wild Turkey. Before and after one event we were made to dip our shoes in a fungicide to prevent the spead of "root rot". I did a quick search and as I suspected this is also a species of phytophthora, otherwise known as cinnamon fungus. There is further information here and a management plan here if you are a sucker for punishment. This disease is a horrible problem in Australia, affecting an array of species. I thought it would be interesting to compare management techniques.

The Australian management system suggests:

1) Staying on marked tracks and obeying track closures in infested areas

2) Use boot washing stations where provided (for example, in the Arthur Ranges in Tasmania) to prevent the ingress of spores.

3) Upon leaving an infested area, carefully washing your boots to remove any soil. An effective way to do this is to carry a small spray bottle of methylated spirits and a brush for this purpose, and

4) Carefully washing equipment such as pegs, trekking poles, and groundsheets which may have come into contact with infected soil.

The corresponding ARC instructions are:

1) Make sure shoes, tyres and equipment are clean of dirt before and after visiting kauri forest

2) Clean shoes and any other equipment that comes into contact with soil after every visit, especially if moving between bush areas

3) Keep to defined park tracks at all times. Any movement of soil around the roots of a tree has the potential to spread the disease

4) Keep your dog on a leash at all times. Dogs can inadvertently spread the disease if they disturb the soil around the trees

Its an interesting comparison. Nowhere does ARC mention the possibility of washing gear using a cleaning substance. In fact the website is very lightweight, offering very little in explanation or substance, ie what monitoring or research is being done, when or by who, what progress has their been? The obvious questions arise, what protocols have been put in place to manage the potential effect or ARC workers, feral animals and independent recreationalists. What education inititiatives are been undertaken near the major road ends like Piha, Huia and Cascades where the disease is most prevalent (or at least the most identfied.

James Bradshaw high above Whatipiu

Reading wider I found some of these answers on a local piha website:

Spread of the disease requires a vector agent. In the case of PTA this could be by feral pigs, recreational visitors, researchers, tourism, film or sporting concessionaires, volunteer pest control programmes, or ARC staff and contractors.

The ARC plans to increase funding and efforts to kill feral pigs which have been on the increase and has commited $90,000 for each of the next two years to carry out further research, including surveys to establish just how widespread the disease is.

For all human vectors, new practices need to be adopted to try and halt the spread. Spread is more likely in wet weather when tracks are boggy. Going from stream bank into water, and vice versa is another particular threat.

It's great this is happening but I would like to know more, will wild pigs be eradicated from the Waitakeres because of the threat they now pose...if any animal is likely to spread fungi between roots systems of trees the pig has to be a prime candidate and I would like to know the protocols that have been put in place for ARC staff and volunteers involved in off-track management in the Waitaks. Protectors are so often the wreckers.

The last comment also caught my eye, "Going from stream bank into water, and vice versa is another particular threat", really, why? At this stage I checked the author...ahhh Sandra Coney, ARC councillor. What is someone with decision making powers doing going around and making bald unjustified statements like that? Sure water may aid germination, but sufficent water, like that found in the Paraha may also wash a shoe. Muddy brackish water linked with root systems (like found on all Waitakeres tracks) would surely create more danger than a fast flowing rocky watercourse? So I went back to the council reasoning...

Preliminary point, if they want to adopt a "precautionary approach" thats fine with me, but it has to be consistent. The use of the Paraha Stream has been disallowed because of the policy of encouraging formed track use, and possibly judging by the Piha website the extra danger percieved by some of entering and re-entering streams. This doesn't seem reasonable. The only reason the Paraha isn't a formed track is the terrain, it still gets as many, if not more, foot traffic than other tracks in the Waitakeres. To my knowledge nothing is being done to prevent other users using the Paraha, which I would expect to happen if there really was a particular risk. Additionally there seems to be an inequal application of the precautionary principle bewtween the Wild Turkey and other users in the rest of the park, including users in areas where the Kauri Dieback is well established, the latter do not seem to have any restrictions on their activities.

My last two points on this would be, to echo Fiona McBrydes point on Sportzhub, that a great educational opportunity has been missed and also I would suggest that the rejigged course which links Whatipu with wider areas, passing closer both to the summit road and the Huia catchment may well provide more opportunity for spreading the disease than the original course. This will be especially so if the day, and the tracks are wet.

Ok, so all I have left to briefly touch on is the exclusion from Whatipu Beach because of, "the Scientific Reserve status of the Whatipu coastal area, and the unique ecological values that exist in there". Now just guessing, but its likely that their jurisdiction here only applys to above the high tide line, the race starts below high tide and remains so for 7km. It is only the brief section from the ocean to the formed track heading up Paraha stream that this decision is probably relevant for. I would really like even some qualitative analysis of the disturbance of ecological values through this section. The decision reeks of prejudiced protectionism.

To give some background, its not that long since the new management plan for the Waitakeres became operative The new aspect of the plan is to place limits on organized sporting activities at 6 specific locations which are particularly sensitive ecologically and/or under pressure from visitors – Anawhata, Pararaha, Glen Esk, North Piha, Whatipu and Karekare.

The numbers set in these limits allow for all existing organized sporting activities. The ARC will work with sports organisers to identify other locations in the Waitakeres and other parkland where further events can occur. The Waitakere parkland is 17000 ha and there are 278 kms of track so there is room for events to be spread through the park, rather than clustered at particular locations.

Filming, education groups and community gatherings will not be subjected to these limits but the ARC will work with groups such as filming to set protocols and work towards accreditation. In 2002 the status of Whatipu sand accretion was changed to that of a Scientific Reserve. The purpose of the scientific reserve is for study and education about this unique area, which is home to threatened and endangered plants and birds. The Plan discourages activities that would be inconsistent with this purpose, but the ARC will work with providers to find alternative routes for their activities."

The plan was controversial at the time and I think remains so. It fails to recognise the legitimate recreational choice of those who choose to participate in organised events. It makes them 2nd class citizens to "education groups and community gatherings", both of which they may otherwise share many characteristics with. The comment that the ARC will work with event organisers to find more suitable areas in the Waitaks for events is creepy. We don't want people outside our sport deciding what areas may be suitable, we want the best, most beautiful areas to enjoy our weekends in. I think I'll have to conclude that I am prejudiced against ARC, but they are also prejudiced against us. The brief written justifications seem like a kill joy, cynical attempt to do something they have been meaning to for a while...

Sunday, December 7, 2008


I grew up in Waitati, the decaying hippy town cosied in Blueskin Bay north of Dunedin. It used to be 20 minutes into hockey on a Saturday in the boot of someones Kingswood. Its now 10 minutes over the straightened motorway, but Waitati is still another world from Dunedin and most of the traffic whizzes right on by. Waitati was a great place to grow up, a beautiful beach to walk along with a cave at the far end backing onto rugged coastline, an estuary where we used to fish and Rabbit Island. The island was the scene of my first major kayak journey across the channel from the beach and I also remember coming home from town in the dark one night to see the pine trees on the island ablaze.

Out the back of Waitati was a wooded valley. Orokonui. The giant eucalyptis grove contained "New Zealands Tallest Tree" which was a regular family outing. To get there we crossed the swingbridge, it was a very unswingy swingbridge, and wandered along Orokonui Road past the spooky old cemetry. We passed the site of the school cross country and the green waste tip where we cut firewood. There was a heavy wooden gate that led to the track through a narrow riparian strip between paddocks of Wapiti. I knew from an early age that Orokonui stream was a hotbed of biodiversity. In fact in one school project I was going to survey the entire stream, a couple of desperate field-trips later the project was abandoned. The riparian strip was replanted by my and other schools with the Department of Conservation, we checked the progress of these trees and debated whose was whose.

I remember when my Dad and John De Vries (who seemed to own half of Orokonui), and me, hacked a track down from Blueskin Road to link up with the walkway to the tallest tree. The old plantations were everywhere. Later we had community service work parties, dodgy dudes with slashers. Later this track grew into disrepair. When I went to University in Dunedin one of my favourite runs to show friends from out of town was to park up in Waitati, run through Doctors Point to the Beach, then through the Cave to Purakanui (it all seems much smaller now). We would either run around or cross the inlet and run over the hill to Long Beach, then the headlands to Kaikai and Murdering beaches. Rare spots frequented only by the lucky locals. The hill back up and around to Blueskin Road was a test and the last descent down Orokonui the reward. The memories of the old track flooding back and a quick check out of the tallest tree.

The predator proof fence at Orokonui: credit Otago Natural History Trust

It was with some excitement that I heard about the idea of an Orokonui Eco-Sanctuary, Dunedins answer to Wellingtons Karori Wildlife Sanctuary. There was some initial discussion that maybe a bigger area, or an area with a wider range of habitats may be more suitable, but the people with the drive and the power went ahead and got the job done. I was also slightly disappointed recently when I heard the main entrance to the park would be from the top, rather than from the valley, but I guess when local concerns and landowner issues were considered this is reasonable. Flicking through the site everything seems to be going very well, it seems to be very professionally organised. I am also pleased to see the tradition for using the Community Service people to build tracks is continuing!

The latest development is the release of six Kaka into the sanctuary. The first reintroduction of this species to an area on the mainland. This is a brave move with the Kakas tendency to stray and the vast area of suitable, if more dangerous, forest nearby.

The planned visitor centre at Orokonui: credit Otago Natural History Trust

Visiting scientists have also identified some terrific looking fungi in the sanctuary, which you can see photos of if you look through the site, and I now learn that the Orokonui stream has 11 (or is it 9) species of native fish. That is amazing. The Orokonui sanctuary sure is a special project and I wish it all the best. When I am next down I will visit and take some photos to update this blog. In the meantime there are more of these projects to familiarise yourself with on the excellent sanctuariesnz website. People and communities making things happen.

Friday, December 5, 2008

After work on a friday...

I read Grant Hunter's "Coast to Coast: Who Was First" the other night. I know Grant a little, we share similar views on DOC's hostile approach to "commercially" organised events. The ever increasing outdoor fix of the masses. I like his book, it reminds me of a few other light history books that manage to present historical information without the narrator intruding too much in your interpretation.

The subject is "coast to coast", particularly the history concerning the route of the famous race. The theme is keeping an eye on the travellers focus on time and comparing that to todays event culture. Maori pathways are covered in good depth as are the stories of the first pakeha, exploreres, surveyors and sheepmen. The new stuff for me was the story of the recreationalists, starting with Mannering and Dixon (famously the first to use skis in NZ outside the lodge where I am working) through to the stopwatch trampers and early mountain runners. Theres a good account of the Mt Bealey Run (see below for my afterwork reccie), the precursor to the Avalanche Peak race, which was organised annually by locals through the 1970's. The inaugural event was won by Eric Saggers. Apparently with boots compulsory, many of the competitors chose skellerup gumboots because they were lighter! I was talking to a local in the pub tonight too, and she remembers sending her 11 year old son out on one of the races and worrying that he'd never make it back.

Probably my biggest disappointment of the book was its quick treatment of the Coast to Coast phenomenom, brushed by in a few pages, especially given that coast to coast photos are very prominent on the cover. Some good qualitative analysis of the culture of the racers compared to the earlier passers by, would have made interesting reading.

But anyway, inspired somewhat I thought I would go and check out the former Bealey Race circuit after work this evening. I have covered the terrain before but not for a while. The bushline is achievable in 30mins if you go solid, and its great to be up in the mountains in the sun as the village sinks into shade below.

The open tops are lovely. I could imagine the potential shortcuts and contested routes where racers tried to get that little advantage. The ridge narrows in places and there are huge slips off both sides. Down to the left are the Cora Lynn flats of the Waimak while off right mountains poke their heads up. I was in no hurry, enjoying the sun and the Crow glacier face of Rolleston.

While pipits were hanging around during the ascent it was keas that met me at the top, what choice birds they are. As I ran down the top of the scree they can hurtling over my head several times in pairs chasing each other, what an amazing bird they are!

The scree slope is long and intimidating, the top is loose and easy, but from about halfway down you have to pick your way more carefully. its about 15 minutes down to the river going along ok. I remembered rough creek as a pleasantish boulder hop, but the winter was hard on it. Avalanches have choked the creek with trees, slowing progress. With the rivers a bit high there were some commiting jumps to keep my feet dry and I sure wouldn't be sending my 11 year old down here! It was about 2 hours all up, and to be honest I can see why they don't run the race anymore! Not bad for a nice evening after work though.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Apolobamba Expedition

This evening I attended a talk by former Arthurs Pass local James Dempster on a climbing expedition undertaken in the Apolobama area of Bolivia. There was a good turnout from the community to hear about the teams adventures. My favourite image was his description of a local wandering past their basecamp near a high mountain pass pushing a wheelbarrow. He had just popped over to Peru to trade some goods, or possibly even buy a wheelbarrow and was wandering home.

I got home and google searched the expedition finding a nice write up with maps (sort of) and photos from the American member of the expedition Alex Alexiades. Closer to home, Arthurs Pass guide Hamish Reid was the expeditions official webmaster and that site can be found here. Sounds like an area to add to the list. Dr Derek of Troppodoc was threatening to open up in Bolivia if so he might have some workers!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Didymo...Whats Going on?

Just preparing some resources for the Outdoor Centre on Didymo, so thought I would report what I found and express some of my ideas/blind prejudices.

Firstly, and most alarmingly, headlining today on Stuff, Didymo has been found in the Karamea. The Karamea is an amazing and unique river draining the Tasman Wilderness Area, the Mt Arthur Tablelands and Garibaldi Ridge, the heart of Kahurangi National Park. I walked down there 10 years ago near the end of a long tramp. The huts, including the 2 storey Venus Hut, were full of left over goodies from fisherman helicoptered in. This was great for us, but now in light of the the spread of didymo is alarming. If we are going to stop didymo spreading we have to look at stopping chopper access to some of our rivers, or implementing stricter bio-controls. The volume and weight of gear moved by chopper and the speed one can move from catchment to catchment is a major risk for biosecurity.

"Check, Clean poster from Stateside"

Lets not kid ourselves the majority of didymo spread has been by fishermen. And the attitude of their establishment has been appalling. I was planning a race last year in the Tongariro region traversing the Mangatepopo stream just before that false alarm came out. The first press releases were from fishermen blaming kayakers, automatically on the defensive. Luckily it turned out to be faulty sampling technique. A didymo outbreak in this area would be tragic for tourism, fisheries and outdoor education, with the operations of the Outdoor Pursuits Centre likely to be far more restricted.

Checking further around it seems that progress is been made on science and policy. Niwa for example can now create, "didymo predictive maps"...

"Didymo predictive maps, quantifying the potential threat from didymo to any river reach in New Zealand, are now in use, thanks to work by NIWA scientists. Potential percentage didymo cover and mat thickness can be mapped, based on models combining what is known about didymo biology with specific river and climate features. The didymo predictive maps (DPMs) are already proving valuable in practical situations. Scientist Dr Cathy Kilroy cites two recent applications of the DPMs – one where the threat of didymo to an endangered native fish (the Kauru or lowland longjaw galaxias Galaxias cobitinus) in its very localised North Otago habitat needed to be quantified by DOC; another where a South Island local authority wanted an assessment of the potential growth of didymo in all its rivers as it faced the challenge of prioritising freshwater management resources."

Although if you search Niwas website for "didymo" you get around 10 hits for 2007, and only one for 2008. Meanwhile Biosecurity New Zealand has been focusing on getting the prevention message out through their "check, clean, dry" campaign and has developed resources for schools. They are also focussing on measures assoiciated with the interisland ferries, although I'm not quite sure what these are.

Biosecurity New Zealand also has some interesting resources, included a GIS connected database, which shows you just how widespread didymo is in South Island river systems. Sober viewing.

This page also has information on the ecology and potential eradication techniques of didymo. Enough there for me to go with anyway!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What happens to our Sporting Hero's?

Danyon Loader one of our greatest Olympic athletes used to work in a cafe on the strip in Christchurch. Two olympic golds and he had his hands in a sink. Ben Fouhy was on the news the other night, he's now working for a builder after "flopping" at the last games (you have to win to make it pay). Richard Ussher, clearly the best multisporter in the world, and one of the strongest adventure racers has just announced his switch to Ironman in search of a more comfortable (at least financially) lifestyle.

What about our winter Olympians? I think Anna-Lisa Coberger joined the police (to deal with the pissed rather than the piste). Another I was fortunate to bump into last week. Andrew Nicholson was one of those names you always heard every winter Olympics (1992, 1994, 1998). Part of a top squad of speed skaters that also included his brother Chris, an athlete who should be much more famous as one of the only New Zealanders to compete in both summer and winter Olympics (he was also part of the cycling team in 1992). Andrew is now an enthusiastic first year teacher at Karoro school, passing on his knowledge and experience to the next generation. I worked with him last week when his class visited the outdoor educaton centre.

Sportsmen like this have always fascinated. So focussed on the detail of their performance, they seem different from the rest of us. Intense and sometimes a little serious, they have the ability to put their performance first. As the coach of a national sporting team (orienteering), I have to say in my sport we certainly don't have many of these characters, our culture is more laid back, more flexible and dare I say it less high achieving. My moral dilemma is can I really insist on the commitment top sportsmen in other codes display. Is the long term outcome really worth it for the athletes? My answer is no, but we can give them an opportunity to go down the path. We can help remove obstacles that their self motivation is driving themselves against and if we think of their best interests we can advise moderation, or at least keep their options open. I wonder how many of New Zealand's best coaches have done this...Duncan Laing? Lydiard? Richard Tonks?

I looked through the list of our Olympic medalists from this year and wondered how they are going now. Some are looked after sure, but some will fall through the cracks. Considering the happiness we all got from these performances maybe we need to revisit how we look after these people when there careers are finished, by this I don't necessarily just mean money.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Three Cups of Tea

I have to write about "Three Cups of Tea". It has been months since I read it in the wilds of Indonesia and If my thoughts haven't crystallised yet they never will.

"Three Cups of Tea" is the story of American mountaineer turned humanitarian Greg Mortenson. At 34 Mortenson has given his life to mountaineering, it has cornered his goals, shaped his identity and driven his ego. The narrative starts with Mortenson lost among the moraines of the Baltoro glacier during his retreat from an unsuccesful attempt at K2. He is lost both literally and metaphorically. Food is running short, but more important is Mortensons state of mind, he is befuddled and confused. As directionless in the vast awesome space of his head as he is amongst the vast current of ice.

He finds himself briefly, only to take another wrong turn and arrive at the remote village of Korphe. The kindness of the mountain people inspires and enlightens him. He vows to return and build them a school. He does. He also builds them a bridge, and he builds other schools around the area, eventually forming the Central Asia Institute now active in some of the most remote areas of both Pakistan and Afgahnistan as this map shows. One of the rays of hope in adesperate situation.

The narrative follows Mortenson as he has the balls to follow through his promise and endures the initial hard times. He types out 100's of applications and requests for funding, before discovering the efficiencies of email, and only one is successful. He keeps struggling and eventually attracts the attention of a donor. He returns to Pakistan in triumph, only to learn that there will always be problems. He works through these problems and gets things done. He gets the school made in Korphe, and he wins the respect and admiration of these people and their neighbours.

It seems his luck changes, he falls in love and is married, money becomes less of an issue and tribal leaders seek him out to ask for his help. The book concludes with him staring out over Afghanistan realising the enormity of his mission. A mission which judging by the map above he continues to move towards achieving. The book is well written, although its American-ness grates sometimes, but the truthfulness and honesty of Mortenson's story shines through. The tears in my eye were not from gladness at all the children been given the opportunity to learn, although this is an honourable endeavour. They were from watching the story of a lost soul unfold. Watching a man have the courage to find his purpose. A simple message really: don't sit around doubting what you can achieve, just get out there and do something.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Taramakau to Hawdon

It was 5 o'clock on a Friday. Sitting on the couch I was thinking about heading to the Wobbly for a beer. From the couch I could just see the false summit of Mt Cassidy, paste on the pastel blue sky. I was too tired from too many late nights, but geez I didn't want to be one of those outdoor instructors who lost their passion for the outdoors after all of two weeks in the job!

It was 6 o'clock on a Friday, Mum and Dad dropped me off at Aickens, the nothing town where the Otira meets the Taramakau. Its a Bermuda triangle of braided river, gorse and farm history. I only remembered enough about this place to remember it was a pain in the arse. This time though it was kind, the river crossings aligned to the track marker on the far bank. The rough shelter was still there and the forgotten forest grotto where springs emerge from the mountain crystal clear, I remember these places now.

Up the Taramakau towards Harpers Pass, where my ancestors used to cross barefoot in a hurry. Hungry for the food and resources of the Tasman Sea. There have been other interesting journeys here to. Grant Hunter covers most of them in his book. More recently my friends Joe and Tim decided it would be a good idea to haul a Duo (a very heavy plastic whitewater tandem) over here and paddle it down the Hurunui to the sea, and even more recently well-known outdoors personalities Steve Moffet and Steve Gurney did the same, be it in a more Mark Twain fashion. Both these later attempts were honouring an early crossing of the pass by as Tim says, some "hard bastards", the Park Brothers.

It would have been prudent to hurry up the valley, but it felt so great to be back in the mountains. I was finding everything beautiful; the lone hare scampering across the wide riverbed, the young gorse against the rich red lichen. The mountains appeared in turn; Pfeiffer, which Penny and I climbed years ago, and then Franklin as I crossed the heavy blue Otehake. A sprite bottle, washed up, gave me the extra vessel I had regreted not bringing. Pairs of paradise ducks headed downriver on dusk (why?). My mate Aaron is always stoked by Paradise ducks, he thinks their call sounds like “fuck me”, “fuck me”, over and over. I've never heard it myself, but still when I see a lumbering, hoary, honking duck I think of Aaron.

I reached the turn-off to Townsend Hut as darkness fell. The sign was half buried by a regenerating alluvial fan. The track was straight up the creek bed to start with, then up the windfall. Sometimes you just want to push fast forward, but then you settle into your work and start enjoying it. I quickly learnt that my brute strength was lacking, 45 minutes up the hill I was borderline hypoglycemic and the end was nowhere in sight. Glowworms kept me company for a while then the first milestone came when I started noticing dracophyllum leaves on the track (and slipping on them). These weren't the longifolium (or turpentine scrub) variety but one of those Dr Suess like specimens. The next milestone came when the track levelled off and the stars came out. It only remained to track the snow poles to the hut through long tussock.

I had been half hoping for some company and conversation, but the hut was empty. The last party had come through in June. I fed myself with cabin bread and cheese and amused myself by reading the hut books. Townsend hut is one of those huts that only a small group of people come to, if you've been around for a while in the New Zealand bush the names are familiar. There are your friends, your acquaintances and the people you know of. Then there are those tramping "celebrities": Geoff Spearpoint, John Rhodes, Shaun Barnett, Pat Barrett et al. You're doing well to beat them to a hut. At times theres nostalgia also, couples you know that have split, people that have died. Hut books give a quick fix of history.

The next morning the weather was clagging in from the north. I was heading south all day so figured things would only get better. The climb up Mt Koeti was straight forward, sidling gently across tussocky basins and curving up an easy ridge. The view from the top was minimalist. Upended cairns the only evidence of more extravagant times.

Snow slopes favoured me as I headed southish on a compass, sidling beneath dubious outcrops on the ridge. While the golden rule of tops travel is "stick to the ridge", sometimes a calculated sidle may be faster. Further along a lovely fault line saved me more climb as I headed towards Rover Saddle.

I sat down for breakfast and a moulting chamois wandered past below me. I have never seen such a cat in the hat like creature. It bounded, oddly inefficient, in circles through the snow. Staring at me quizically, completly absurd, just like this animation.

After Rover Saddle I thought point 1751 was going to take some time, its jagged ridge looks broken and chossy, but the southern side had just the right amount of snow for a quick steep sidle, and before I knew it I was on the low peak of Scarface looking down at Lake Minchin. Lake Minchin has always held some sort of cryptic appeal to me. I don't know whether it was the unusual name, or a great photo in one of the mountain books we had growing up. Either way I had never seen it before and it was great to look down on it from up high.

The ridge along Scarface is fun. Just a scramble with the odd steeper bit on relatively good rock (relative starting from a very low standard). From here you can see the Poulter sweeping away to the south-east, now a nice mountain bike ride, as DOC look at ways to bring mountain bikes into National Parks. I descended Scarface direct to Worsley Biv, a nice A-Frame shelter named in honour of one of New Zealands greatest navigators, Frank Worsley, best known for his role in Shackletons Antarctic Expeditions. The plan had been to head over Trudge Col, the established route to the Hawdon, but from reading the hut book, this sounded far too slow, and I wanted to have a look at Mt Valiant. Heading up Trudge Stream I headed left, climbing above and then into a side creek that drains a large slip shown on the topo map. The route proved clear and provided easy access to the tops.

I avoided the final broken ridge of Mt Valiant by sidling slow and climbing snow and screes up the north-western side. The view was worth it. All sorts of peaks and ridges from the Nelson Lakes to the Rakaia and the Paparoas.

An easy descent down snow slopes and scree saw me enconsed for a long sleep at the new East Hawdon Biv. Left only with an easy wander out to the Hawdon Road end for an arranged midday pick-up by Mum and Dad. Better than sitting on the couch I reckon.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Who is writing the headlines at Stuff?

Whoever is writing the headlines at Stuff needs to start thinking. Here are two follow-up articles on todays big and incredibly sad stories:

"Daring attacks reveal vulnerability"

"Airbus A320 'reliable'"

The days news that also includes the death of a local Wanaka climber, potential environmental damage in Doubtful Sound from a sunken boat and Clint Rickards admitted to the bar is terrible.

UPDATEI couldn't help myself, I had to use Stuff's feedback function for the first time. I'm quite proud of my restraint:

"I have never commented on Stuff before, but your headline "daring attacks show vulnerability" crosses my threshold. Do you know the meaning of "daring"? Daring is what your CEO was when he was a tough halfback, it should never be associated with cowardly terrorism and the slaughter of innocent people!"

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

University Funding

If its one thing thats guaranteed to get me riled up its University and student funding. Labour lost the plotand a significant amount of votes on this. Let me recap. Two elections ago Labour promised to write-off student loan interest payments, this was and remains a significant investment in my generation. A policy I am hugely thankful for as because of it several of my friends are still in New Zealand. This election Labour came up with another promise, universal student allowances phased in over several years. The thing is this time they had missed the boat. Equal access to education has become a joke. While living costs have risen student loans have remained at the same level, at the level where sometimes they can't even pay the rent, let alone the expenses as well. For example a student loan can not pay the residental fees for halls in Dunedin. The percentage of people obtaining entry to limited entry courses like medicine and law is hopelessly skewed towards those in halls, because of tutor support and peer groups, and therefore the advantage already experienced by the rich kids, whose parents can subsidise their costs, is exaggerated. It is a disgrace.

Then there are articles like the one on the Herald this morning. With University administrators (I hesitate to call them leaders), putting out statements to the media like, "The committee said the OECD average was for 82 per cent of government funding to be devoted to institutions and 18 per cent to student financial support. But in New Zealand 58 per cent went to institutions and 42 per cent to students.". They go on to say they are not really interested in a "zero-sum game" battle between universities and students but obviously they are.

The Herald quoting Hugh Fletcher on education, scares the bejusus out of me. Really. Its hovering over me like a stormy sulky cloud.

The fees cap: "I just think it's a nonsense for the Government to be controlling fees."

How some degrees should cost more than others: "[Law] students should be paying a hell of a lot more than those doing a history degree."

How some law schools should cost more than others: "Let the students decide. If they want to go to the lower priced one, they can go to the lower priced one."

The biases his ideas seek to perpetuate and increase are all to obvious. The ironic thing is I'm not really too far "left" on University funding. I like the reasoning behind strategically directed and focussed Universities. I supported the intent, if not the method, of the reduction of Arts at Canterbury University in the last couple of years (we have better humanities schools elsewhere) and I like the idea, if not the practice, of making academics more accountable for their research outputs. I'm way out on the "right", in my opinion that the biggest problem with Universities today (and arguably the public service) is "tenure" and the sense of privilege of University staff. The problems of deadwood, academic paralysis and inter-departmental rivalries may be overcome by changing how academics are employed. The current funding system is achieving this to some degree, but experiencing teething troubles with bureaucracy, it will be interesting to see how this evolves.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Saturday Morning Run

I'm in town for the weekend, brought the recycling down from the lodge in the big blue van. The drive from Arthurs Pass to Christchurch is long but easy on the eye. I've had so many adventures on the mountains on either side of this road. Tramps,TWALKS, orienteering,fencing, mountain biking and only just recently I rode for the first time along it, with Aaron on another sunny Saturday. I'm eying up a couple more trips. I've never been up onto the Torlesse Range, so easily accesible from Porters Pass, and Mt Valiant keeps on poking its tongue out at me from the Hawdon catchment.

After a potluck and catch-up with a few people last night, Matt and Lara thought they needed to run the pudding off me this morning. The first time I had broken into a run in two months and I had to do it with two of Canterburys top mountain runners! We ran from Opawa up the famous Rapaki Track, witness to thousands of sweaty struggles each week, the hub of Christchurch's endurance scene. I have suffered up here many times before (and occasionally glided). The view is always great from the top, straight down valley to Pegasus Bay and the Kaikouras, or down to the Harbour and Quail Island on the other side.

On the saddle we stopped to stretch and hang-out. Road cyclists purred past on the lovely summit hill ride, while the Rapaki Crag was strangely quiet, no one out practising their trad climbing today on natures gym. We moved on towards Lyttleton on the mountain bike tracks then the steep sheep tracks that sidle above the Maori village at Rapaki. We cut beneath the Tors then headed down the overgrown Major Hornbrook track into Lyttleton. This area is part of the rogaine map that Chris Forne and I have developed over the last four years that now encompasses most of the Port Hills. We know it as well as anyone; the ruins in the tree's over there, the onga onga infested gully down that way, the bunker hiding under that long grass. I have organised well over 10 rogaines on the Port Hills now and it has been a great pleasure to get to know them and introduce others to their intricacies.

From the bottom of Major Hornbrook we sidled around to the Bridle Path road and descended steeply into Lyttleton. The destination was the local market which happens every Saturday and has stalls with mainly organic and gourmet foods. We bumped into a young friend of ours Tim Farrant, a top young rogainer who we helped get over to Europe this year, where with team mate Georgia Whitla he won the World Champs in the mixed junior grade. Tim was selling tomatoes but had also brought along a rogaine map from a race in Canada he took part in on the way over to Europe.

We caught the bus back through the tunnel in time for lunch and the paper in the sun...better than sitting on the couch!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Its not easy being Green

As is my habit at the moment I came home from work today and put on my youtube playlist, the first song that broke through my "sitting on the couch having a beer mental shield" was Kermit's old classic, "Its not easy been Green" . As I will explain this amused me for many reasons, but also frustrated the hell out of me and made me realise how disappointed I am with the Green Party. Through stubborn idealism they have over the last 10 years that I have been voting missed an amazing opportunity to make a huge difference to New Zealand and progress the principles of their charter. As much as I respect most of their MP's as individuals for their activism and opposition as a team they seem unable to project competence to govern and make positive pragmatic change.

I am a bottom line green centrist who supports free trade (the worlds best chance for peace and sustainability) and genetically engineered food (the worlds second best chance for peace and sustainability) This year when I went to tick green I couldn't, I knew it would be a wasted vote. The Green Party could have been positioned between Labour and National and picked up 20% of the vote, instead it was way out left Where the Wild Things Are. The Green Agenda has no need for a left or right, and neither does one concerned with social justice, communism has proved that. They require education, pragmatic politics and action. They need to be mainstream and where is mainstream...the centre.

Why when many key green themes like energy efficency, polluter pays and recycling have drifted to the centre is the green party still way out left?

I also worry about their future in the next few years, with an interesting government and a strong and organised opposition the space for green headlines may be few and far between. Their two new MP's are unlikely to make waves as good a people as they may be. Catherine Delahunty is Jeanette Fitzsimons mini-me while Kevin Hague has the unfortunate position of coming from the role of CEO of one of the least respected organisations in the country, the West Coast District Health Board. On "Frogblog" the thought is that, "I think one or all of the minor parties to this five headed monster will rue the day they signed on the line. It is the big risk of signing up - getting swallowed by the big fish…". My thought is that at least those parties signing on the line are using the leverage that their supporters gave them to attempt to get as much positive change as possible.

But back to the lyrics,

It's not that easy bein' green; Having to spend each day the color of the leaves. When I think it could be nicer being red, (ironic)or yellow (like Rodney's Jacket)or gold- or something much more colorful like that. (the government)

It's not easy bein' green. It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things. (Or will) And people tend to pass you over 'cause you're not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water- or stars in the sky. (or Stars in Their Eyes)

But green's the color of Spring. And green can be cool and friendly-like. And green can be big like an ocean, or important like a mountain, or tall like a tree.

When green is all there is to be It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why? Wonder, I am green and it'll do fine, it's beautiful! And I think it's what I want to be. (its the truth of the last two verses that exposes the tragedy)