My Life in Motion

Tasman Glacier Tracks

It’s a strange concept to consider that at the time of my birth, Lake Tasman was barely in existence. The Tasman glacier in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is New Zealand’s longest glacier at 27kms in length. It is, however, undergoing a rather fast rate of retreat and experts expect that it will eventually disappear completely. In the early 1970s, pockets of melt water became evident and over successive years these pockets increased in size and eventually merged to form the lake that exists today. The presence of the lake itself speeds up the retreat of the glacier, and now in 2014, the lake is over 7km long, with the glacier retreating at a rate of 500-800m per year. Within my lifetime, the lake is expected to reach its maximum size, and even over two visits 18 months apart I can see the difference in the lake.

The road to the Tasman glacier is not far from Mt Cook village, and was upgraded a couple of years ago to make it suitable for all cars. It was previously a dirt road suitable for only 4×4 in bad weather, so the area is now much more accessible all year round. DOC SignageFrom the DOC car park, the only spot with toilets, four different track options leave from here. I had arrived very early in the morning when the sun was just reaching over the peaks of the eastern mountain range, so parts of the walk were still in shadow. Fork in the roadI headed first to the glacier viewpoint, the paths separating quite early on. Lakes vs GlacierHalfway along the left fork, the path splits again, the blue lakes one way and the glacier viewpoint the other. Boulder pathIt’s neither a long nor taxing walk with only the latter section involving some rock hopping in a section that isn’t as well marked as the rest. I had the viewpoint to myself, and it was peaceful and quiet, just how I like it.












Lake TasmanThe lake is flanked on two sides by steep mountains including the backside of Aoraki/Mt Cook, New Zealand’s tallest mountain, with steep moraine walls piled high at the lakeside, a remnant from when the glacier was deeper and longer than its current position. Mt Johnson with the Tasman glacier in frontIn the distance, the glacier was visible, covered in dirt, and at the end of the lake, a few small icebergs floated near the river which escapes through the boulders strewn across the valley, before snaking towards Lake Pukaki. Tasman ValleyThe boulders and moraine creates a barren, dirty-looking landscape which contrasts darkly against the blue-grey water of the lake. When I was here 18 months ago, there were more and larger icebergs on the lake than there were on this day. The photo on the info board at the viewpoint, taken just 3 years ago, shows a noticeable difference in position of the glacier’s terminal face which illustrates quite well the fast retreat of this glacier. Looking towards Lake Pukaki, the valley also looks barren, rocks strewn everywhere, with only the occasional hardy plant or bush poking through the debris.

The first blue lakeRetracing my steps, I headed to the blue lakes, which are now green in colour. When they were named, they were glacier fed, providing the turquoise blue colour characteristic of glacial melt water, but with the retreating glaciers, the lakes are now rain-fed, allowing algal growth which gives the green colouration. A short path leads to the shore of the first of three lakes of varying shapes and sizes. Behind them, the mountains are scarred with avalanche paths and scree slopes. I had the lakes to myself also, and followed the path round the shore of the first lake and over the brow to the second and third lakes. Third blue lakeIn places, the path is broken with short sections of rock scrabbling, but other than these points, it is an easy to follow path. A pair of ducks mulled around on the second lake. Alpine vegetationThe third lake was the largest and prettiest, especially with the sun by now reflecting off the surface giving it a brilliant blue-green colour. The area around the lakes was teeming with alpine vegetation, but unfortunately I was at least a month too early for the blooming of the colourful alpine flowers.



Rocky river roadIn stark contrast, the path to the lake side and river was a barren land of boulders and bare-looking bushes. I was surrounded by people as this path leads to the jetty where boats are boarded to tour the lake. A bus party of tourists were noisily chatting as they walked in procession along the gravel path, and I skirted round them as quickly as possible in an effort to return to some peace and quiet. BouldersAfter winding round the moraine wall, the path splits off to go to the river, and from here onwards, it is like walking through a sea of rocks.  Tasman river peeking through the rocksBoulders lie everywhere, and the river is very well hidden, deep down in the rock bed, until it appears all of a sudden as a colour contrast to the barren rocks that form its banks. Iceberg on Lake TasmanThe path ends on the moraine wall just above where the icebergs rest near the start of the river. A route down to the lake side is clear enough to follow, and I quickly headed down to the lake edge to stare directly at the icebergs at their resting spot. Iceberg graveyard on Lake TasmanThey weren’t the biggest icebergs I’ve seen, but looking at them dead on, they still provided a stunning vista as they shone in the sunlight with the snow-covered mountains beside them. Tasman riverI picked my way to the river and sat on a large rock to admire the view and watch the tourist boats pass by. Icebergs on Lake TasmanIt was a beautiful spot to sit until the flies realised I was a tasty meal. Mt Johnson with an icebergBigger than sandflies, I’m not sure what they were, but I ended up bearing the marks of multiple suckers up my arms, legs and chest for days to come. Mt CookI put up with the biting as long as I could tolerate before heading back to the car park and starting the long journey home.


Sealy Tarns Track

For the second time in my life, I was defeated by a mountain. Call it fear, or a self-acknowledgement of my personal limitations, but sometimes, I have to know when to quit. I’m an avid hiker, and love getting out into the wilderness and the mountains, but when it comes to tramping, there are three things that I don’t enjoy: lots of stairs, boulder scrambling, and rock faces to negotiate. I’d happily walk up a steep path than have to negotiate the monotony of flight after flight of stairs, and somehow I lose the enjoyment of a walk if I have to get down on my hands to negotiate a boulder field or haul myself up a rock face.

Mt Sefton from YHA HostelI awoke in Mount Cook village to another glorious blue sky with the sun beating down from above. Knowing how fickle the weather can be in the mountains, I got going early. From the YHA hostel in the lower village, the path snakes through to the Hermitage hotel in the upper village and near there, a shared path leads off towards various end points. This first section is the same start as that for the Hooker Valley track, but today I took the left fork towards Kea Point. Mt Sefton glistened in the morning sunlight as I headed nearer it. DOC SignageAlong the path the Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut track split off into the bushes, but I headed forth towards Kea Point which sat on the moraine bank of the Mueller glacier terminal lake. Mt Sefton, 3151mA small amount of cloud swirled around the summit of Mt Sefton and Mt Cook lay half in shadow in the distance. Mueller glacier lake with Mt Cook in the distanceThere were no kea to be seen, and only a few dedicated people were up at this time, so the viewpoint was peaceful and quiet.










Looking towards Mount CookOn the return trip, the valley opened up before me, with the Hermitage hotel just poking up above the bushes. Avalanche warningBack at the start of the Sealy Tarns track, a sign warned of avalanche risk for those heading to Mueller Hut on the Sealy range. I was heading as far as the Sealy tarns, but at the back of my mind, I hoped to continue up to the hut if the conditions would allow. Stairs - lots and lots of stairsSoon after getting on to this track, the steps started. 2200 of them to be precise. The altitude gain is around 540m, and it is mostly achieved through negotiating step after step after step. Looking towards Mt Cook with the hooker glacier lake behind and the mueller glacier lake in the foregroundDespite my dislike of steps, the view is fantastic from every available vantage point. With increasing altitude, a slightly different perspective is obtained of the hooker glacier, the mueller glacier, and the valley past the village. Mt Sefton feels increasingly within reach, and there is a frequent burst of sound from avalanches cavorting down Mt Sefton’s slopes.









One of the tarns frozen overOn this occasion, the snowline was at the level of the tarns. Some stale snow was scattered by the path just below the final gain in height, and the tarns themselves were frozen over. An avalanche waiting to happen - thick ice of Mt Sefton's slopesA picnic table has been erected to give a perfect spot to stare out at the world below. After a brief respite for fluid replenishment, I decided to give the Mueller hut track a go. On the ascent to Sealy tarns, I had met a few hikers coming down who had spent the night in the hut. They had reported that there was plenty of snow between the tarns and the hut, and that it was quite slushy in places. Mueller hut track signageBy the time I reached the tarns, a group of friends that I had met lower down on the track were disappearing into the far distance above me. Another sign warns of avalanche risk, and from here onwards, the path is narrow, rough and marked only by orange poles.



The path to Mueller Hut marked out with an orange poleIt started off innocent enough: a rough, stony path that was easy to follow, but not hugely far up was a small rock face to scramble up, and little beyond that another one. It was at this point that I started to question my sanity. I had done that one thing that no hiker should do: go off tramping without telling anyone my route plan or expected time of return. Not only that, but I was not at my peak level of fitness, and here I was, on my own with no-one to spot me, negotiating the best route up a rock face. One of the rock faces to haul upGranted, it was just a small rock face, not one that needed ropes or special equipment, but I found myself pausing to decide in my head the sense in going on. I was keen to get up to the hut, to see the view, feel the achievement in doing so, and be able to tell people I’d done it. On the other hand, my dislike (and a touch of fear) of rock scrabbling, and the thought of tackling all of this just to find out that I couldn’t get across the snow, eventually made me turn back and return to the tarns.

The frozen Sealy tarn visible from the Mueller hut trackSealy tarns sits at an elevation of 1250m, and I estimate that I gained maybe only another 50m, if that. With Mueller hut at 1800m, it would have been a long stressful hike onwards for me. Defeated, I returned to the picnic table and hoovered up my lunch, my pride slightly wounded. Mt Cook with the hooker glacier below. Mueller glacier lake in the foregroundJust 45 mins earlier, the view from the tarns had included a lot of cloud that had billowed over Mt Sefton, Mt Wakefield standing over the Mueller glacier lakebut shortly after my return, the cloud had burned off somewhat and the view was delightful. Glacier melt watersSeveral avalanches skipped down Mt Sefton’s slopes, and the full colour palette of the Mueller glacier lake was evident below. Following the Hooker river towards Lake PukakiThe amount of sediment in the water determines the colour, and there was a mix of blues and greys. Unfortunately, the alpine flowers were not yet in bloom, and I’m sure they look spectacular when the time is right. KeaTwo kea appeared to goad each other, one landing briefly near the table. Many hikers appeared, and sat for a while, and I spent around 45mins soaking up the view, reluctant to leave. Eventually though, I thought it only fair to leave the view for others, and I headed off back down the many many steps to the bottom.














CricketThis time round, with less exertion required, I could actually pay attention to the creatures and plants around me. Little birds flitted between the vegetation, some curious, some alarmed by my presence. There were crickets everywhere: brown ones near the top, and green ones lower down. I learned later at the Mount Cook visitor centre (which is well worth a visit!) that these are adaptations to the environment, and that other colours appear at other altitudes also. Heading back to the villageI also discovered at the visitor centre, that there was an ice and crampon warning for the Mueller Hut track which made me feel slightly better about my failed ascent. The path back to the villageBy the time I was near the bottom, the cloud had started to roll in again, and the summits of Mt Sefton and Mt Cook were once again shrouded. The morning is definitely the best time of the day to get out in the mountains. Edmund HillaryI reached the Hermitage hotel, and sat absorbing the sunshine, gazing over at the statue of Edmund Hillary who forever gazes towards the summit of Mount Cook.

Hooker Valley Track

I grew up in a suburb of Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, inland and away from the coast. I would always enjoy trips to the beach or into the hills, but I didn’t necessarily crave them. When I left home I moved up north to Aberdeen, and spent the next 5 years of my life living by the sea. I could smell it every day, I could see it everyday, and I routinely spent evenings after work or weekends pounding the local beaches or promenade listening to the waves crashing and falling in love with the ocean. Now I think of myself as a ‘coast’ person, someone who loves living by the sea and craves to be near it. Over this same time frame, I developed a love of hiking and camping and would disappear into the mountains and hills as much as possible, scaling my first Munro (a mountain in Scotland >3000ft), and acquainting myself with as much of the nearby National Park as I could. And so I also crave for that mountain view – the sight of majestic mountains towering above and around me. Living in the Canterbury Plains, I can spy the Southern Alps on the distant horizon, and when the opportunity arises to go play amongst them I grab it with both hands.

Mount Cook Village is a small settlement nestled in a valley under the shadow of New Zealand’s largest mountain, Aoraki or Mount Cook. It sits within the National Park of the same name, and lies at the end of a long road that snakes up the western shore of Lake Pukaki. I’d been here twice before, once in winter when the snow on the ground limited the ability to go exploring, and once in autumn when it was raining and misty. I had been eager to do some hikes around here, and I was also keen to see the alpine flowers in bloom so as soon as spring hit, I made sure I could find a free weekend to go there. It is a roughly 4hr drive from Christchurch, so I arrived just after midday and set about getting ready to go for a walk.

The Hooker Valley track is the most popular walk amongst visitors and is graded as an easy walk suitable for families. It can be started from the White Horse Hill campground (an estimated 3hr return), a short drive from the village, or it can be reached from the village itself via a connecting path (an estimated 4hr return). Mt SeftonI was staying in the YHA hostel in the lower village, from where a path snakes through the village to the Hermitage hotel in the upper village. DOC sign at the start of the hike in Mt Cook VillageNear here a path leads to several hiking options: Kea Point, Hooker Valley, and up one of the mountains to Sealy Tarns and Mueller Hut. Even from the hostel, there is an impressive view with the snow covered Mt Sefton towering over the village. There were regular sounds of crashing ice as avalanches fell down Mt Sefton’s slopes sending a cloud of snow behind it.



Aoraki/Mt Cook dominates the skylineThe initial section of the walk is through bushes, then across some open scrubland and finally over a stony dry river bed until a marker denotes a split in the path. Fork in the roadTaking the right fork, the path continues to White Horse Hill campground, where on the opposite side of the road, the start of the Hooker Valley track is evident with a domineering Mt Cook visible behind. It is a well marked and maintained walk on a mixture of gravel paths and raised boardwalks to protect the alpine plants. Despite reading that the alpine flowers would be out in spring, I was clearly early as there were none in bloom and they didn’t look close to it either. I later discovered that they wouldn’t appear till late November, meaning I was over a month too early.

Mt Sefton towers over the Mueller lakeThere were a few detours from the main path, and I chose to do these on the return leg, but after a few twists and turns, the Mueller glacier and terminal lake came into view at the foot of Mt Sefton. As with many glacier-fed lakes, the water was a cloudy grey colour due to the suspension of sediment swept down from the rocky source of the glacier, and the river draining from this lake led away from the end and started its snaking journey through the valley to eventually drain into Lake Pukaki. Crossing the Mueller riverThe first of 3 suspension bridges on this walk crossed the river, and the river bed was strewn with large boulders left behind during the last age of glaciation. I had arrived in Mount Cook to gorgeous sunshine and clear blue skies, but as often happens around mountains in the afternoon, large clouds started to roll over Mt Sefton and the neighbouring mountains and threatened to block out the sun. At this stage, Mount Cook was hidden out of view so I had no idea what view to expect at the end of the hike.


The second suspension bridgeThe second suspension bridge crossed the Hooker river as it tumbles down stream from the Hooker glacier, the destination of my walk. Aoraki/Mt CookShortly after this bridge, Mount Cook (thankfully not hidden by clouds) came back into view and dominated the skyline for the rest of the hike. There was the start of a lenticular cloud (my favourite type of cloud) crowning its peak, and I could see the clouds on the neighbouring mountains form and disperse as they curled over their summit. They would continue to threaten to occlude the sunlight but then wisp away at the last minute.

As such a popular walk, and being a weekend, there were a lot of people out on the track that day. A congregation of them hung around a small hut further along the track which boasted an unobstructed view of Aoraki, and this is the only place on the track (apart from the campground) where there is a toilet. A small stream trickled by, and several families milled around here. Third bridge with Mt Cook behindFurther on, the track continued through the alpine vegetation until the third suspension bridge was reached, and after this, large boulders appeared as a moraine wall was reached to demarcate the end of the glacial lake on the other side. Snaking through the boulders, an incline brought me to my first sighting of the Hooker glacier and its terminal lake on which floated some rather large icebergs.

Icebergs on Hooker glacier terminal lake with Mt CookUnfortunately, it was quite cloudy overhead, although Mt Cook’s peak remained unobscured. Icebergs in front of Mt CookThere was a picnic table at a raised viewing area, but most people headed down to the stony shore at the end of the lake and absorbed the view from there. Melting iceberg in front of Mt CookLapping at the shore were multiple smaller icebergs at the end of their melt, and the shoreline resembled an iceberg graveyard. I had previously seen these up close on a boat trip on the Tasman glacier lake and the colour and clarity of these ‘bergs are amazing. Iceberg graveyard with the Hooker glacier face evident in the background at the foot of Mt CookThe larger icebergs afloat on the lake were dirty from the moraine, and the glacier itself was barely distinguishable from the surrounding land due to the moraine deposits on the surface. Dirty icebergsPrevious to my first up-close view of a glacier in Chile, I’d always thought of glaciers being pristine white from the snow and ice, but aside from the Perito Moreno glacier in Chile, every glacier I’ve seen since has appeared dirty, covered in a layer of sediment and debris chucked up from the valley walls as the glacier moves down the mountainside.













I sat for a long time on the lake shore, blocking out the noises of other people and just soaking up the view and inhaling it all. Eventually, the clouds started to build up and some spots of rain could be felt. It was also exceedingly windy at the shoreline, and eventually, I decided to head back. I left just as the summit of Aoraki disappeared behind the cloud. The route back retraced the same route I had come by, but I followed the detours as they appeared. Mt Cook viewed through the hut windowFirstly, there was a little tarn which is the name given to mountain lakes that have formed in an excavation created by a glacier. Stocking stream next to the hutI investigated the hut that I’d ignored on the way up, and wandered along the edge of the stream at its side. Hooker river pounding down streamThe view on the way back was towards Mount Cook Village and the Hooker river snaking down the valley towards Lake Pukaki. Looking towards Lake Pukaki in the far distanceThe cloud had by now passed over the summit of Mt Sefton and hidden it from view, and was threatening to dump some rain on the village.





Scree slope near Mueller Lake lookoutThere were a couple of viewpoints that I had skipped past on the way there, giving alternate views over the Mueller glacier and its terminal lake, and nearer the campground was a memorial erected to remember those that had succumbed in the mountains. Memorial to MountaineersIt was originally erected to remember two particular adventurists who had perished in an avalanche in 1914, but since then further plaques have been erected to remember those who had come to strife since. Plaques of remembranceIt was sad to read how young many of them were, and there was a definite trend relating to the location of several of the deaths. Even for the highly trained and experienced, these are dangerous and unpredictable mountains to play in.

The final detour was to Freda’s rock. As unassuming a rock as it was, it marked the spot where an explorer called Freda Du Faur had had her photo taken after becoming the first woman to ascend Mount Cook in 1910. This was at a time when it was frowned upon for an unmarried woman to spend the night in the company of a man, never mind go mountaineering. From here, it was a short walk back to the campground and then along the same path back to the Hermitage and the village where a warm shower and a nice cold cider awaited.

Blood Moon

October 8th 2014 saw a lunar eclipse visible in the skies above New Zealand. I don’t have a fancy expensive camera, but it was still a beautiful thing to watch the moon turn red.

Lunar Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse


There’s one continent on Earth that I am yet to reach: the little-known, little explored, white continent at the bottom of the planet. Growing up with the BBC’s stunning natural history series’ I have long dreamed of visiting there, but since moving to Christchurch, New Zealand 3 years ago, the country’s gateway to Antarctica, I have yearned for it even more. The city hosts the US Antarctic Survey as well as offices for a few other countries, and it is from this very city that scientists, photographers, videographers, and a lot of support staff head off each spring, and return to at the end of their contract. I’m insanely jealous.

Every IceFest in Cathedral Squaretwo years, Christchurch hosts New Zealand IceFest, a celebration of all things Antarctica, and a chance to demonstrate the city’s connection with the continent as well as an opportunity for Joe Public to experience in some little respect what goes on down there. With so many Antarcticans (as they like to call themselves) around the city, I’ve found myself becoming a bit of a groupie, attending talks, open days and soaking up the atmosphere.

Huskies pulling the tramThere was a good turn-out for the opening ceremony which involved a team of huskies pulling one of Christchurch’s famous trams through Cathedral Square. Lady Hillary (Edmund Hillary's wife)On board the tram was the city’s mayor, Christchurch Mayor Leanne Dalziel, and Lady HillaryLady June Hillary (Sir Edmund Hillary’s wife) and a team of children dressed up as penguins. The ice 'ribbon'Awaiting their arrival at the specially erected Signage at the IceFest HubIceFest Hub was an icy ribbon to be ‘cut’, or in this case, hacked at with an ice pick. Ice sculptingNearby, an ice sculptor made some impressive sculptures of an emperor penguin and an Eskimo sculptureEskimo out of a block of ice. Hagglund in Cathedral SquareIn the vicinity there was an exhibition of One of the Antarctic photography exhibitsAntarctic photography as well as a Hagglund (snow mobile) on display.  I attended a talk comparing aspects of the Arctic and the Antarctic, given by two people that had spent a combined 26yrs between them at that great continent at the bottom of the world. I listened in awe to their tales.


























One of many huskies at the sled dog races, hagley ParkThe following day there was sled dog racing set up at Hagley Park, where local and national competitors came to display aspects of the sport. Sled dog racingIt was rather cold and windy, and many of the dogs were easily distracted from their race but it was lovely to see so many huskies amongst many other breeds, showing off their racing skills. That afternoon, I attended a talk from 4 speakers (including Anthony Powell who has made a name for himself filming for the BBC amongst other things) who had ‘wintered over’ in Antarctica many times. They jovially described the humourous and unusual aspects of life effectively stranded in a land with no daylight for 4 months of the year, in a small community on the ice. Having previously viewed Anthony Powell’s amazing movie Antarctica: A Year on Ice last year, I had an idea of what they were talking about, but as they said, it must be an experience that is hard to describe and hard for others to fully comprehend. Like when I watched the movie last year, I listened to their stories and imagined it could be possible for me to get there too one day. So few of us in the world will ever have the privilege of spending much, or indeed any, time on Antarctica, and I really recommend the movie to give some insight on what happens down there.

Kevin & Jamie's Antarctic ExpeditionPeople in New Zealand may be aware of a tv programme called ‘First Crossings’ made by two men, Kevin and Jamie, who recreated many of the countries first explorations through remote parts of the country. Kevin Biggar's bookSeveral years ago, they also walked to the South Pole in the first unsupported and unsupplied Kiwi attempt. I’ve found their tv show fascinating, but listening to them in person, they were very compelling speakers. It takes a special person to make tales of starvation, blisters and utter determination a funny yarn, and they captivated the audience and had us in stitches throughout the show. I had previously bought the book of their expedition, but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, and they managed to persuade me to get started with it.



The cargo entrance to the US Air Force planeOne of the big events on the IceFest calendar was the Antarctic Air Day out at the airport. Hooks on the inside wall of the planeLarge air force planes from the US Air Force and the NZ Air Force take off from here during the summer season loaded with people and freight to head south to the airfield that services both Scott Base (NZ) and McMurdo Station (US). Fold-up seats on the wall of the planeOn this day, there were 3 planes on the tarmac opened up to the public to allow an insider’s view into the behemoths of the sky. The roof of the US Air Force planeIt was reported on the news that evening that 7000 people turned up and queued to get their turn to wander through the planes and see inside the cockpit. Breathing apparatusThe larger plane belonging to the US Airforce has a flying time to Antarctica of 5hrs, whereas the slightly smaller plane belonging to the NZ Air Force gets there in about 7-8hrs. 2 massive jet enginesThe inside of both planes is nothing like a commercial jet (which was also available for a wander through), and every inch of wall space was taken up with wires or switches or hooks or safety devices. US Air Force planeI can’t begin to imagine the noise that must emulate from these planes on the long, packed and potentially uncomfortable flight. Cockpit of the US Air Force planeThe cockpits were a mass of computer instrumentation and the planes are capable of landing in a variety of weather conditions, including in complete darkness. Gents & Ladies toilets on the NZ Air Force planeWhilst we queued to wander through, A valuable inclusion on the NZ Air Force planemembers of both country’s airforces were on hand to answer questions and describe what it is like to work and fly in these massive planes, as well as their trips to Antarctica.Royal New Zealand Air Force plane



































International Antarctic CentreAcross the road outside the International Antarctic Centre, one of the city’s family attractions, a myriad of stalls and activities had been set up outside to entertain the kids. Sealion ice sculptureThere were Hagglund (snow mobile) rides, mock up Antarctic tents, ice sculpting, and the chance to enter the passenger terminals of the US and NZ Antarctic Programs, a privilege usually only for those flying down there. Taking a selfie for AntarcticaThere was even the opportunity to dress up in some of the many layers of Antarctic clothing to have your photo taken. It was a beautifully sunny day which helped to bring out the crowds.








That afternoon, I headed back to the IceFest hub in Cathedral Square to attend a couple of talks relating to the use of dogs on the ice in the past, and some of the speakers had been on the ice in the 60s when it was still commonplace to use and train dogs for service and transport. It was clear to see that many Antarctic ‘veterans’ were in town to visit and many of them shared their stories of their time on the ice. IceFest Hub at NightThat night, I headed back to Cathedral Square with my chair and jacket to attend an open-air screening of Anthony Powell’s epic movie Antarctica: A Year on Ice. Anthony Powell Q & AThis was my third time seeing the movie, and it still brings out the same emotions every time I watch it. Anthony himself was there for a Q&A afterwards, and it was a good turnout and was exceedingly well received. Two weeks into the IceFest and I’m still very much a groupie, and still very much in love with the continent that remains just outside my grasp.

Cirque De Soleil

Some things are so amazing that there just aren’t the words to do it justice. Auckland is my favourite domestic city getaway and having the largest population in the country, it is often the only host city in New Zealand for international shows and events. I’ve been intrigued by Cirque de Soleil for many years, and when the opportunity arose to head north for the Totem show I grabbed it. Taking place in the Grand Chapiteau, the big blue and yellow marquee in Alexandra Park, the only thing that marred the night was the torrential rain that we had to walk through outside. Round the circular stage, the seating was crammed together, but any grumbles about minimal personal space were soon forgotten when the show started.

Jaw dropping. Mesmerising. Spellbinding. Awesome. However you want to call it, it’s worth every cent. Following the comedic start as some of the cast wander through the crowd interacting with people, the show swiftly moves through an hour of amazing physical feats from dramatic leaps, spins, and balancing acts. I was blown away, and at times I sat there with my mouth literally open wide. The man to my left would repeatedly let out an enthusiastic ‘WOW’ and the crowd regularly went crazy with clapping interspersed with regular gasps as the athletic performers reached new (often literal) heights. Following an intermission, there was another hour of spectacular performances and I felt so overwhelmed by the time it was finished.

Photography and recording was not allowed at the event, which was understandable due to copyright and performer’s focus, but frankly I was so glued to what was going on on the stage, that it would have been too much of a distraction to me as a viewer, and I didn’t care. As a result, the following images are credited to the source that I have obtained them from. Go see Totem when it comes to your town!

Credit: Totem - Cirque de Soleil (Official Facebook Page)

Credit: Totem – Cirque de Soleil (Official Facebook Page)

Credit: Totem – Cirque de Soleil (Official Facebook Page)

Credit: Totem – Cirque de Soleil (Official Facebook Page)

Credit: Totem – Cirque de Soleil (Official Facebook Page)

Credit: Totem – Cirque de Soleil (Official Facebook Page)

Credit: Totem – Cirque de Soleil (Official Facebook Page)

Credit: Totem – Cirque de Soleil (Official Facebook Page)

Credit: Totem – Cirque de Soleil (Official Facebook Page)

Credit: Totem – Cirque de Soleil (Official Facebook Page)

Credit: Totem – Cirque de Soleil (Official Facebook Page)

Credit: Totem – Cirque de Soleil (Official Facebook Page)

Credit: Totem – Cirque de Soleil (Official Facebook Page)

Credit: Totem – Cirque de Soleil (Official Facebook Page)

The Northern South

When foreign travels feel so far away, it’s a nice break from the tedium of working life to get away for the weekend. The countryside south of KaikouraThe drive north from Christchurch towards Kaikoura is beautiful, especially once the road hits the coastline south of the Kaikoura Peninsula. The Kaikoura RangesI’ve driven this road several times and every time the sun has shone on the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean and made it sparkle. On this occasion it was no different. Stopping in Kaikoura purely to pick up food for a packed lunch, we continued up the road, stopping to enjoy our lunch with the sea crashing on the rocks next to us. A few New Zealand fur seals snoozed on the rocks in front of us whilst some seagulls eyeballed us, waiting to see if they’d get a snack.

Ohau FallsEver since I’d found out about it, I’d been keen to get to Ohau Falls. About half an hour north of Kaikoura, the Ohau stream opens into the Pacific Ocean, and upstream from here is a pool with a waterfall cascading into it. Juvenile New Zealand Fur SealThe draw for this waterfall is the juvenile New Zealand fur seals that use the pool to frolic, play, learn and build strength in the water. New Zealand Fur SealThere were plenty of people making the short walk from the car park to the falls, and the reward was about 6 pups frolicking madly in the water. One little pup hopped out the water and then proceeded to haul itself up a near vertical slope to dry off and snooze in the woodland above us. They were adorable, and full of energy. On the walk back to the car, we found an adult fast asleep right next to the track, a large blob of mucus hanging from its nose.

It was a gorgeous day for a drive and we still had some distance to cover to reach Nelson on the north coast. Leaving Canterbury behind, we crossed into the Marlborough region, and after hitting Blenheim, it was completely new terrain for me: a road I had never driven on before. Passing endless stretches of wineries, we headed into the mountains on SH6, stopping briefly at Havelock before the road cut inland to the west, leaving the Marlborough Sounds behind. Maitai River in NelsonIt was a long and windy road before eventually the sea came into view once more and we reached the outskirts of Nelson. Christ Church, NelsonThe last time we had been to Nelson it was in the middle of summer but there was torrential rain and visibility was so poor that we had barely been able to see the sea at the side of the road. This time the sun was shining but a high bank of clouds loomed over the surrounding hills, threatening to spill over onto the city. We took a wander round the compact centre prior to heading out to see some friends.






Tahunanui beach, NelsonWaking the next morning, it was clear that the clouds had finally rolled in. Not to be put off, after breakfast we headed to the beach at Tahunanui, round the coast from the marina. The city of Nelson from the Centre of New ZealandAfter a walk in the fresh sea air, we headed back to the city and to the far side where a path led up a hill through the Branford Reserve to a lookout at the ‘Centre of New Zealand’.City of Nelson from the Centre of New Zealand A marker marks the spot that has been deemed the geographical centre of the country, and from there, there is a beautiful panorama over Nelson and the surrounding hills. Aotearoa Mural, NelsonWe had a quick wander round a nearby Japanese garden, before my partner headed back to the motel to watch some rugby, and I took a walk through Nelson, and back round to Tahunanui beach where I saw a New Zealand fur seal swimming in the harbour. By the time I made it back to the beach, there was barely anybody still there, and I enjoyed the tranquility before heading off to our friend’s place for dinner.








Cloudy mountain topsThe day we drove home was as beautiful as the day we had driven up. Snowy mountain topsThe road took us deep inland, past small towns, villages, and pastures surrounded by rolling hills. Driving towards Lewis PassAt the brow of a hill, I recognised a lookout that we had paused at a couple of years before on our way to Abel Tasman, and we stopped here once more to see the surrounding mountains, this time with their snowy caps. Nearing the summit of Lewis PassWe were the only ones there, a marked contrast to the last time in the height of summer, and it was so quiet and peaceful. Mountains near Hanmer SpringsEventually, through the other side of Murchison, we wound our way towards Lewis Pass (altitude 864m) which had stale snow in banks near the road. The snow line was high up due to it being a relatively mild winter, but it was a pretty sight, driving past endless mountains with the their snowy caps. Finally, through the other side, we reached familiar territory, reaching the turn-off to Hanmer Springs and the well-travelled road back to Christchurch.

London Calling

I have mixed feelings about London. The first time I visited London was as an extended stopover on my way to India. I bought a tourist bus pass and proceeded to hop on and hop off at as many famous sites as I had time for. I visited streets straight off a Monopoly board, saw the skyline that I had seen on so many television programmes, and photographed the buildings and signs that I had seen in a thousand magazines. But I felt lonely and alone in what felt like such a soul-less and impersonal city. It was brash and expensive, and felt polluted. I felt a million miles away from fresh air and openness, and I left a few days later unimpressed and wondering what all the fuss was about.

Bridge across the Thames

London church

St Paul's Cathedral

Tower Bridge

The London Dungeon

Tower of London

Sea Containers on the river Thames

London Eye


Big Ben

The collegiate church of St Peter



Buckingham Palace












































































One of my best friends moved down to London after graduating from university, and the first time I visited her down there, I was pleasantly surprised by how different London felt on that occasion. It could be argued that this time I saw the real London, not the tourist traps, but regardless, I could see why my friend liked being there. Natural History MuseumMy friend was at work when I arrived so I had the whole day to myself, so I made my way to what to this day is still my absolute favourite museum of all time, the Natural History Museum. Dinosaur at Natural History MuseumAt the time, the special exhibit on the ground floor was all about dinosaurs, and this mesmerised me, as did pretty much everything in the entire building. I arrived early in the morning, and as it was, I had to rush the last couple of floors in order to get round everything by the time of closure. Animated Velociraptor at Natural History MuseumThe last time that had happened to me was in Le Louvre in Paris. T-Rex head at Natural History MuseumMy friend at that time lived in Bethnal Green in east London, and this felt a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. Cetacean Exhibit at Natural History MuseumAn extinct mammal at the Natural History MuseumWe spent the weekend exploring her local neighbourhood and visiting markets, and I left with a whole new regard for the city.Harrod's in winter


























A year later and I found myself back visiting my friend whilst coming down for a couple of job interviews. My partner at the time thought he would need to move there for work, and I reluctantly agreed to suss out the job market. My friend by this point was living in Hillingdon near Heathrow Airport. Amusingly, she worked at the exact same hospital that I had been taken to after my disastrous flight home from Delhi. Living in west London this time, it was another opportunity to experience a different side of the city, and again I felt so displaced from the heaving city centre that lay a train ride away. Aside from the job interviews, I had arranged to catch up with some of the people that I hiked to Macchu Picchu with earlier that year. We ate out near Covent Garden and went to a few bars which were so packed that we could barely breath let alone move in. The comedy night on the boatAfter meeting up with my other friends we headed to a comedy night that took place on a boat moored up on the river Thames. One of the best sundaes I've ever had, at an Irish bar in LondonIt was eye-opening to experience night life in the city centre and the hustle and bustle of so many people as well as the long drawn out mission to get home at the end of the night marred the experience for me. It reminded me slightly of what I had disliked about the place on my very first visit.







In between these trips, and since the last trip, London has meant just one thing to me: an international transit centre that in equal measures opens up the world to me and signifies that home is within reach. Living most of my life in Scotland, I regularly had to take a domestic flight to Heathrow airport to connect to a world of international travel. I have been a repeat visitor to all 5 terminals of that airport, and have whiled away many hours waiting for connecting flights. I love looking out the plane window on the approach to Heathrow, swinging over the city centre to follow the river Thames upstream on final approach. I love spotting the city’s famous structures as we soar overhead, and I know that upon landing, I am either a step closer to an adventure or a step closer to home. After I moved to New Zealand nearly 3 years ago, I made a surprise trip back to Glasgow for Christmas, nearly 1 year after I had left, and reaching London filled me with such excitement for the final leg of my transit round the world. In no other airport have I spent so much of my life as Heathrow, and it has played such an important part of my life. Living as I do at the far side of the world, I cannot get home to Scotland without transiting through, and being both the welcoming arms to my homeland and the foot that kicks me out the open door, London will always be bittersweet to me. I love it and I hate it all at the same time.

In Search of Snow

It’s been a relatively mild winter in New Zealand this year with barely any snow where I live and the local ski-fields have had intermittent falls interspersed with strong winds and unusually warm weather, resulting in a poor ski season. I’m a summer-loving person, but back in my native Scotland, the one thing that made the cold, dark winter days and nights bearable was the promise of snow, and lots of it. I love snow, and in Aberdeen where I used to live, we got plenty of it. It wasn’t unusual to get an autumnal blizzard that would dump the first snow of the season in October, and often into November, but the main snow months were January and February. In one epic year, we had snow every month from October through to May, and then it started again in October. The ski centres still had plenty of snow on the longest day of the year in June, and with the most northern ski-field having daylight till around 11pm, it was an epic day to hit the slopes.

Moving to New Zealand was the right thing for me to do for so many reasons, but boy do I miss snow. I never thought I would, but after three winters here with so little reward for the colder temperatures of the season, I’ve found myself staring jealously at the distant Southern Alps with their white tips and yearning to feel snowflakes fluttering down on me, craving the glorious silence that only a snowfall can bring and dreaming of first footprints on a fresh bed of snow. Clearly my desires were becoming more vocal than I realised, because despite not being a skier, my partner insisted on taking me to the mountains to visit one of our nearest ski-fields.

Mountains near Mt HuttNot quite an hour and a half from Christchurch is Mt Hutt (2086m/6843ft). The nearest settlement is Methven which has a scattering of cheap digs, bars and ski-hire shops – all you could ever need for the perfect weekend trip. From the base of the mountain, it is a long and winding drive up a gravel road that overlooks the vast flatness of the Canterbury Plains. The tall mountains are a stark contrast to the flat barrenness below and they stand tall against the horizon from some distance away. On the drive up to Mt HuttOn that particular day, the snowline was roughly half-way up, although it was patchy and stale. Even at the level of the ski centre, there was plenty of rock face peering through the thicker banks of snow. We were lucky enough to find a parking spot at the top car park and we got out to soak up the view. Mt Hutt ski fieldMy partner looked at me as if to say ‘Ta da!‘ and then couldn’t understand my disappointment. Mt Hutt ski centreDon’t get me wrong, the view was stunning: The view from the car parkwith patches of sunshine making the snow on the surrounding range glisten, and with the snow-topped range flanking the nearby plains, it was a stunning vista. The road down the mountainBut the snow was not powdery under foot, it was stale and crusty. Mt Hutt bungee jumpThere was no fresh flurry of snowflakes falling on my skin, and apart from the buzz of the skiers and snowboarders enveloping me, I wasn’t feeling the vibe that fresh snow brings. One of the closed ski runsIt was better than nothing but I struggled to hide my disappointment.























KeaWe stayed for a while, and watched the people whizzing down the mountainside, enjoyed some warm drinks in the cafe and then wandered around the car park watching 6 cheeky keas Kea having a scratch(the world’s only alpine parrot, and one of my most favourite birds in New Zealand) taunt each other and hop from vehicle to vehicle looking for trouble. Submissive keaLike all parrots, keas are highly intelligent and probably the most mischievous of all the parrots that I have seen. KeaThey thrive round people, and are notorious in parts of the country for removing the seal round car windows, and bending aerials and puncturing bike tyres. Needless to say I love them. I could have watched them all day, especially the two that were playing (or fighting, or mating, or whatever they were doing) with each other, one lying submissive on its back for the other who mobbed it open-winged, displaying its bright orange under-plummage. A couple of hours after we arrived, we set off back down the mountain and home.






On the edge of the stormThe following weekend, my partner’s friend came to visit from Auckland. He hadn’t skied for some years, and my partner was wanting to get a bit of snowboarding in this winter, so we set off back to Methven only to hit gale force winds, sandstorms, and then torrential rain. The road to the ski-field had been closed for nearly a week due to high winds, and arriving in Methven at lunchtime, there was nothing to do and nowhere to go but to camp out in the pub or our lodge. There were hopes of fresh snow being dumped in the night so we clung to the hope of the road being open in the morning. I had originally planned on taking a skiing lesson whilst the boys hit the slopes but having obtained a horrendous cough, I was slightly spaced out on the prescription-strength cough suppressants and it was easy for me to sleep the afternoon away. I didn’t miss much – the torrential rain continued all through the night.

On the Sunday morning, we awoke to the news that the road to Mt Hutt ski-field was open to 4-wheel drives and 2-wheel drives with chains fitted. We gathered the hired gear and set off in our 4-wheel drive early. It was clear from the start that this would be a totally different experience than the weekend before: it was still overcast and raining in Methven and as we started the long wind up the mountain road, the rain became sleet and then snow. The snow became heavier the higher we climbed, and the visibility grew poorer and poorer. The surrounding mountains that had glistened last week were nowhere to be seen through the clouds, and the snow on the road grew denser as we travelled. Like many mountain roads to ski-fields, there is often a long drop down so they are definitely not the kind of road you want to lose control of your vehicle on. But as our altitude increased, so did the snow on the road, and eventually even our 4-wheel drive decided to lose traction after coming round a bend. Icicles at the snow shopThe procession of cars grew slower and slower until we rolled into the top car park in by now quite thick snow, and parked up one by one. Mt Hutt bungee jumpI got out as quickly as possible to see and smell and feel the snow flakes falling down on us. Skiers in the snowShortly after our arrival, they closed the road to all traffic except chained 4-wheel drives, and we faced a possible reality of being stranded up the mountain as conditions worsened. The chairlift to the cloudsAfter an hour of waiting for news on the likelihood of us getting back home that day, we could finally go off and enjoy ourselves. Through the snowflakesThe boys bought their passes and headed off and I hung around the base, Line up of skiistaking photos of them through the incessant snow fall and just generally breathing in the snowy scene.Snowboarding























Picnic benchesThere is nothing like the silence of snow. Anybody who has stood outside during a heavy snow fall should know what I mean. Birds are silent, and most other sounds grow distant or still (not to mention the scientific reasons that snow covered ground absorbs sound waves and falling snow causes sound waves to curve upwards towards the sky – but that’s not quite as poetic and romantic, is it?). Fresh footprintsI love that silence and stood happily enveloped by it, watching nearby kids throwing snowballs whilst I looked for an untouched patch to place those first footprints. A 360 degree wonderland of fresh powder snow and I breathed in memories of Scotland. For those hours that we were up there, I couldn’t have felt happier. My toes and fingers grew uncomfortably cold but I didn’t want to go anywhere. For that brief moment in time, I was home.

Channel Island Hopping

As a keen and regular traveller, I think it can be too easy to focus on the next adventure and forget about some of the ones that have already passed. I admit to spending a large part of my life planning and saving for the next trip, wherever and whenever that may be. Sometimes it can feel like the next adventure is just around the corner, and other times it feels like it’s a lifetime away. I’m currently undergoing one of those prolonged phases where I have to knuckle down and earn some money. My partner finds my grumbles highly amusing: after all I’m doing no more than the average worker in the Western world does but for anyone with itchy feet, staying at home can be frustrating. In the Southern Hemisphere it is currently winter, and the cold and rainy weather makes even weekend adventures a rarity. I long for some snow to break up the tedium, but as yet, none has come.

Looking through old photos one rainy day, I stumbled across a trip that I had almost forgotten that I had done. A whole week away somewhere new relegated to a little-looked-at album on my laptop. It is not that it was a terrible week or a banal week, it’s simply that so much has happened since then that it got pushed to the back of my mind, and looking through those photos reminded me of what an enjoyable week it was.

There was only one city in Scotland from where I could fly there direct so I made the drive down to Edinburgh from Aberdeen to catch the plane down to Jersey in the Channel Islands. The Channel Islands are a quaint and unique group of islands that are nearer the continent than they are to the country who’s crown they sit under. They are self-governing, yet are dependents of the British Crown, and Jersey in particular has a rather French flare to it. Flying over the English Channel, out of nowhere, Jersey appeared, its rugged northern cliffs plunging down to the sea below. There was a spectacular aerial view of the island which measures just over 118 square kilometres, before we descended into the airport near the western end of the island. From there, St Helier (my home for the week) was just a bus ride away.

St HelierIt was just me and my two legs for the week. With no transport of my own, and a stubborness to avoid public transport, I decided to explore as much as I could on foot. Elizabeth Castle, St HelierSt Helier itself had a sandy beach and just offshore was a small island upon which stood Elizabeth Castle. The harbour was where ferries left for Guernsey and France and the parish centre resembled an English town with the likes of Marks & Spencer and other British high street chains. Despite using the British currency of the Pound, the stores there refused to accept my Scottish bank notes, accepting only those that bore the Bank of England on it. Both Jersey and Guernsey have their own notes also, but like the Scottish counterpart, they are not accepted as legal tender in the United Kingdom.

Mont Orgueil CastleI was staying in a nice B&B and made the most of the cooked breakfast to fuel me for the day ahead. On the first full day there I headed east, following the coastal road roughly 18km to Mont Orgueil Castle. For the most part the walk involved following the route of the A4, but wherever I could cut down to beaches, I would, and the final approach to the castle itself was along a stretch of beautiful sand. It was far from a sunny day, very overcast with occasional showers, but it was a good walk nonetheless and the castle was interesting to walk around, both inside and out, with fantastic views over the coastline. By the time I was ready to head home again, the clouds had broken and the sun was finally out. After another 18km walk back to St Helier, I limped back to the B&B after grabbing some dinner.

I knew I had as equally a long walk the next day so again made the most of the cooked breakfast for energy. This time I was not so lucky with the weather. Heading west this time, I skirted the long stretch of sandy beach round the bay from St Helier to St Aubin, briefly joining the road across the land for a bit, before descending down into St Brelade’s Bay. I barely got beyond there before the heavens opened and despite it appearing to be a very pretty place to be on a sunny day, there was little to keep me here whilst the rain fell. Corbierre LighthouseWinding my way through the streets, I followed the Rue de la Corbiere to the most South-Western tip of the island where a causeway went out to the Corbiere lighthouse, 13km away from my starting point. It had stopped raining by the time I got there although it was still quite overcast, but there were plenty of people about here, and with the tide out, I took the walk out to view the lighthouse up close. Following the coast north I continued on to St Ouens Bay, walking as far as the beach bar & diner before the next lot of rain turned me back. The return walk was in the rain nearly the whole way, and I was a bit miserable by the time I got home. With over 60km hiked in two days, I was definitely covering a good amount of the island.

Arriving to GuernseyThankfully the next day was gloriously sunny, and I’d picked a fantastic day to book the ferry over to Guernsey, nearly 42kms away. St Peter PortIt took about an hour to travel from St Helier to St Peter Port on Guernsey, and arriving there filled me with that feeling that I always get when I arrive somewhere new and unexplored: pure and utter excitement. At 78 square kilometres (which includes some smaller, neighbouring islands), Guernsey is much smaller than Jersey, but it was still too big to explore in the time that I had before the return ferry that evening. Leaving St Peter Port behind I headed north up the coast through St Samson and up across the northern coastline, skirting round to the west to reach the beautiful sand of L’AncresseNear L'Ancresse Bay Bay. It was too nice a day not to just enjoy it, so I lay back on the sand and soaked up some rays for a while before cutting back across the island to St Peter Port where I spent the last of my time before boarding the ferry again to return to Jersey. Guernsey was such a magical place, beautiful and glorious in the sunshine, and with lots more to explore, it firmly earned a place in my unofficial list of places to return to.

It was another early morning rise for another ferry, this time to head south to France. With Jersey being so near the continent, it seemed a shame to not go that bit further, and so I decided to take a day trip to St Malo in Normandy. St Malo was a stunning place to visit, and again, I did my best to see as much as I could whilst I was there. It was another sunny day, and it was lovely and warm.

The walled city of St MaloThe ferry docks near the walled city and round a bay from an expansive marina. I wandered round the cobbled streets of the walled city past boutique shops and cafes and restaurants and people everywhere. I headed round the marina in search of somewhere to get a bite to eat. I always dread practicing my foreign language skills, especially after a previous trip to Paris where I was laughed at for my attempt to order. This time proved no better. I stood in line at a baguette stall, and on my turn I misunderstood a question and again got laughed at by the vendor who obviously spoke about me to the elderly gentleman standing behind me. It knocked my confidence again. I always felt that it was better to attempt the local dialect than brazenly speak in English and assume everyone can understand me, but with the French, I’ve found myself the object of their ridicule every time.

Tour SolidorNevertheless, I headed off to explore the surrounds of St Malo. From the marina, I followed the coastline round a headland to the mouth of La Rance where Tour Solidor stood proudly on the shore. Tour SolidorNear here was a beach where many topless bathers lay soaking up the sunshine. The waterway was littered with yachts as far up river as I could see, and at the river mouth, it was a broad waterway with the opposite side a good distance away. I walked for a while up river before looping back and cutting through the streets to head back towards the ferry terminal and the nearby walled city. St MaloThis time, I kept to the outer wall of the city and walked round to the beaches on the coast of the English Channel. St Malo from the causewayWith the low tide, a causeway was exposed snaking out across the sand and I wandered out on it before heading back to catch the evening ferry back to Jersey. On the ferry leaving St MaloIn the height of the summer, the daylight was still plentiful and it was a beautiful view as the French coastline receded into the distance. Back in Jersey, it was just another night’s sleep and a plane ride away to get home to Scotland.

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