Saturday 4th February 2017
We are sitting on the tarmac at Abu Dhabi waiting to roll, listening to the guttural tones of Arabic interspersed with a posh English accent alternately run through the safety briefing. We have four hours and fifty minutes in a tiny A320 to look forward to. The jump from Sydney was completely uneventful, assisted significantly by getting eight hours sleep. I managed to get the movie ‘Girl on a Train’ watching (average) while eating dinner, and a repast of lamb biryani w
hich I didn’t really need given we had eaten at Sydney airport (Salmon pizza) before we flew out.
Abu Dhabi is a sprawling complex, far exceeding what I saw here only 12 years ago. In 2005 Etihad was only two years old and the plans for this airport grand, but not realised. There are a vast number of aircraft lined up on the tarmac and a lot of engineering still underway on taxiways and terminal buildings. But it’s still new and functional and refreshingly unlike the Emirates facilities which have a ‘look at me’ feel to them.
We get way at 0900 as planned and lift above a hazy dun desert sand, climbing and turning steeply as the pilot points us south into the heart of Africa.
Nairobi is further south than most imagine and we have longer in the air than the map in my mind ever suggests. Interestingly, at altitude everyone closes the blinds. The light out there is dazzling but it seems everyone prefers the dim light of this tube. Or is it a factor of the screens on the seats? No one wants the screens to be washed out so down come the blinds. Follow the white rabbit»
The day started around 2 or 3. I usually check the time when I wake but didn’t do so on this occasion. The hut is warm. Too warm and I am lying on my sleeping bag in a sweat. The boys and girls around me are sharing snoring duties. As one stops another starts, the baton handed back and forth as sleepers shift and stir. I am sure I was contributing to the chorus. In my half sleepy state the atmosphere is surreal. The hut is bathed in LED white light, reflected in off the water and beaming from the moon. Follow the white rabbit»
I barely wake through the evening and don’t hear the male and female kiwis that everyone else is talking about. Both sexes make raucous calls, but the female is especially disruptive, as we heard when we camped under our Rimu. Their combined cacophony had most of the group awake at 0600. As planned we were waiting for the other groups to leave before we fully stirred. The family of five have to be at North Arm Hut by 3.15pm for a boat pick up. We are dubious about that deadline. “How on earth are they going to do that” we all wonder. The young couple is off for North Arm as well. They finally head out at 0700 and we get ourselves ready. We are fed and watered and good to go by 0830. We hit the track at 0850 after crossing the bridge and posing for photos at the start of the track. The rain starts as we wait to cross (one at a time) the very swollen Freshwater Creek but based on the long term weather forecast and the charts I have brought with me I am confident that the weather will lift. It can be hard to remain convinced of your reasoning as the rain soaks you. Follow the white rabbit»
This day is a mixed up one indeed. After our struggle through the night our timings are now messed up. The state of the track is so bad we have no confidence in our ability to get over to Masons Bay in the time we have allowed. We have walked in to the hut at Freshwater at the very time I was hoping to head out to Masons Bay. And the rest of the team are only just recovering from their ordeal so, even though I feel pretty fresh by having that midnight kip under the Rimu, I don’t want to push an agenda which no one will enjoy. So its generally decided that we will stay here for the day. Follow the white rabbit»
There’s so much to this day it’s a bit hard to know where to start. Maybe it best to start at the end. And the end was a damp arrival at Freshwater Hut the day after this section of the track was supposed to be concluded. We had departed North Arm Hut at 0807 in a light rain. It had rained all night and was not too heavy along the coast but as we were about to discover it’s been heavy up in the hills. In the end the rain made for a 22 hour day, far longer than anyone was expecting. Follow the white rabbit»
It’s a tiny black and white bird that drops onto the track and peers up at us in some sort of weird avian challenge to our right to be on the track. He seems not at all perturbed by our size and proximity but soon flits off, joins another of his type and starts a chase through the fern and moss draped branches that close in this part of the track. We stop and watch them for a moment or two and before we know it the group has vanished into the bush. This is thick scrub and its capacity to swallow up fellow walkers and sound is not unlike the tropical forests of Papua New Guinea. We departed Rakiura Retreat at 0834 this morning amid birdsong – tui’s chatting and chortling like possessed things. We reach the head of the track at 0937 at which point the bird chatter vanished altogether. It’s a strange thing but the bush is dark and silent. But welcoming and embracing as well. I had dropped Kathryn at the head of the track with all our packs at 0815 then returned the car and joined the others to walk back to the head of the track. That means we walk 5km to the start line without our packs. It’s a nice way to start. Follow the white rabbit»
On last light , which at this latitude is about 9.30pm, two parrots arrive on the roof with a clunk. A few minutes later the older of the two shifts to an outstretched arm of one of our neighbours and chows down on a piece of apple. It’s a silver domed, bright eyed, ruby red bellied Kaka, with a wicked scythe of a beak and a raucous call. Soon one is on our arms eating dates from scones Barry brought along. The second, clearly a fledgling, is not so confident about the interaction with humans and fluffs its feathers, arches its neck and screeches its protest. Its parent, if it is such, pays no attention and gently and calmly works on the fruit it has so delicately taken from our fingers. Follow the white rabbit»
They sat sparkling on a powerline. Huddled together in the sun after a shower of rain had passed through. A fifth sat a little further off, like a barely tolerated younger sibling that could be oh-so annoying. Sitting above butter yellow gorse, against a green backdrop of fields that is so vivid we spent all afternoon commenting on how unreal and artificial it seemed. Starlings. Gorse. Verdant paddocks. Little things that remind me of how different this place is from what I now call home. The differences announced themselves at first light with audio cues. The constant blackbird and thrush chatter, and the calling of ewes to lambs and lost lambs bleating for ewes. All so familiar and yet equally so far removed by all those decades the sounds startle me even while they transport me to childhood times when they were a common backdrop. The whole day has been marked by those sorts of cues and reminders. Follow the white rabbit»
November 11 . It’s a day in which to remember. To remember the fallen alright. Our glorious dead, though glorious only because of what they gave us. I wonder, if they ever are conscious of it, what their spirits make of that. A waste? A gift? Too much focus on glory and not enough on dirt? A death laced with glory and honour or salted with more sordid things? It’s a day to remember the living as well. And the opportunities gifted us over a lifetime that in retrospect has flashed past. Forty years ago this month (I have misplaced my diary of that time so don’t have specific dates. The diary was written in green ink – the only pen I could find I guess. Words as well as sketches. It would be good to unearth it) we walked Stewart Island. It was a formative walk in many respects and the memory remains vivid and full of colour and sound, voices and shouts, sand and moss under my feet. I can taste and feel the place, the intervening forty years notwithstanding. Follow the white rabbit»
1 October 2016
The cleft in the sandstone lets us down off the bluff through sheer slab sides that drop away into the bush below. The knees protest at each step but we are distracted by the howling wind that bends and buffets the trees on the edge high above us even as we stop and gaze at the buffeting out of our still, green hued glen of motionless ferns and mossy rocks. It’s two different worlds – the icy wind that cut us to pieces as we departed is quickly left behind as we drop through this veil of green, and descend past water washing down rocks to Nellies Glen. Who is Nellie? We have no idea. No one knows. But in short order we find ourselves on the overgrown road that once pressed up into here as far as it could before yielding to those sheer escarpments behind us. I’m always move by the merest evidence of human endeavour, even if it is a mean scratching in the scrub. Someone with hopes and dreams was involved in the cutting of this road, while others used it in support of their families and farms. Some of those folk are buried at Megalong Cemetery though their graves are long gone and the names of the interred are remembered on a plaque. Families are buried together, too often without a decent interval between the dates. Follow the white rabbit»
Ten years ago today I landed in China with Ashley, Eric, Gail, Liz, Alex, Jeff, Narelle and a few others on a trip that changed my life. It’s hard to put into words exactly how that change came about. In fact I was unaware of the change until the last day when we are sitting in Shanghai waiting to fly out, and using the spare time to reflect on what we had seen and done up the Yellow River. I was asked what impact the trip had had and initially resisted the idea that there had been any deep impact at all. But even as I nurtured that thought another realisation crashed in and I understood I had been completely disarmed by the people I had met, especially those deep in the minority communities of the old city of Xian. Follow the white rabbit»
Machu Picchu Diary 10 July 2016
Our day has ended with dinner together. Trout again. The group split up today. Many climbed Huayan Picchu (that tall spike which is the familiar backdrop to the Machu Picchu site), but five of us begged off for various reasons. Kavitha and I woke early and got out into the town at 0700 after a brief breakfast and awful coffee downstairs. It was a very cool 7 degrees around town so we settled for a café in the main street until the day warmed up. We had an omelette while we waited, and a very welcome latte. Follow the white rabbit»
9 July 16
The stuffed llama standing on the terrace above me is a disappointment. “How does a UNESCO World heritage site stoop so low?” I wonder. Its stiff silhouette stares down at me for what seems ages as I make my way to the highest point we can find. Then the damn thing blinks and stalks off in that high stepping, insouciant way the llama does. Not so stuffed after all. Maybe it heard my uncomplimentary thoughts and has moved off in a huff. Follow the white rabbit»
The rain pattered on our tent through the night in that lullaby that nylon and water so often put together. I thought it might herald another wet day but I was awake at 0600 to a clear morning, a droplet decorated tent, the sound of roosters crowing and an agitated dog barking so much he had clearly forgotten what was up his fur. Many of our crew had joined the crowd around the fire last night so were slower off the mark than Henry desired but despite that we got through our breakfast mostly on time. The cheap and abundant tequila had been tempered by the hostel hosts switching everything off at 11pm (much to the relief off those attempting to sleep and, I am sure, the neighbours as well). Despite that restriction on the intake there are clearly some slightly sore heads this morning, and I watch some of them ease out of their tents slowly and carefully, as if deliberate actions somehow make the pain go away. Despite the tequila the clear morning seems to galvanise even the most reluctant starters and one by one they emerge from their nylon caves – though Hamish was early, has his tent packed and is ready to go before most had even woken. Maybe he is the reason the dog is barking! Follow the white rabbit»
7 July 16
I am conscious next of the sounds of wings flapping and a rooster crowing. It seems like a pretty energetic bird until I realise that it’s Henry prowling our tents clapping his hands and crowing. It is a very good imitation and I can picture a rooster standing on tip-toes, at full stretch, wings beating and at full throttle. I laugh despite the fact that it’s 0530. The day lightens quickly to reveal what was not so clear last evening as we arrived in camp. We are tucked up on a grassy terrace above a deepish gorge, with tall timber all around. Chickens scratch around geraniums and a small tin shed, in which we had our meals (dinner and breakfast). As we have breakfast mules are driven and prepped for other trekkers who are camped elsewhere around the base of this ridge. There are hostels scattered about but we are in our tents, doing it cheap and adventurous. Or so we assure ourselves. But today we are no longer using mules, but are having our gear picked up by a small bus. Either today or tomorrow we have to farewell our mules as they are not allowed near Machu Picchu. So I guess it might as well be today. Follow the white rabbit»