Playing with inflatable boats


Have boat will travel. But which boat?

 Rafts, tenders and belly boats, sea kayaks, sit-ons and Canadian canoes – all inflatable and packing into a suitcase. Having a portable and easy-to-deploy watercraft in your RV has never been easier and so no surprise for many of us nomadic folk they have become a do-not-leave-home-without addition to our list of tools and toys.

Modern inflatable boats are moderately priced – you can get an entry-level one for under a $1000 – they require next to no maintenance and take up little storage room. But once out and inflated, they open up a whole new layer of geography to explore: rivers and lakes, lagoons, estuaries, sheltered coastlines and, if you’re more experience and adventurous, the not-so-sheltered seaside as well. All of which begs the question: just which kind of inflatable boat should you get for your RV?

Ready to upgrade my old rubber boat – big and unwieldy by the standards of latest inflatables which can be backpacked around and taken into an aircraft as cabin baggage – I asked that big question at Incept Marine, a family business operating out of  small farming town of Taihape. Since 1989 Incept have been making an impressively full range of inflatable boats, from huge expedition-grade rafts ready for the Himalayan rivers, to kayaks and canoes for the sea and rivers and the shallows where the kids can safely splash about and play Titanic. The company has made the name for itself the hard way: not by cutting corners, using off-shore labour and offering budget deals but by innovation and quality. Their boats are still made in New Zealand, and tested on local waters, like the Rangitikei which has cut a deep and spectacular canyon through the papa country around Taihape. Their boats may not be the cheapest ones around but, as the company owners the Booth family will tell you with home-grown pride, when you buy an Incept boat, you’re buying the best there is.

“You ask which boat?” said Martin Straka,  the sales manager at Incept. “You really need to turn this question around and ask yourself what kind of things you want to do with it.” Some soul searching is required first. Do you mainly fish from the boat or do you want to play in whitewater? Alone or with a partner or friends? To be used mainly for day trips or multi-day cruises? Do you need a performance vessel to handle any water anywhere or just something to float about on a sunny day and read? “These are all critical questions to answer to yourself first,” Martin concluded, “because there is no one boat that can do it all. But whatever you want to do, we have the right boat for it.”  Continue reading

The ebook revolution

The Future of Reading and Writing

The only thing I regretted, moving from a house into a motorhome, was leaving my book collection behind: memorable reads, precious finds, reference resources. There was no space for them in my  caravan, and even less so in the Landcruiser Camper, and I ended up donating almost all of my treasures to the local library. I consoled myself that they are still there if I needed them but that I was no longer burdened with their physical weight and bulk. This all took place four years ago, almost on the eve of the ebook revolution.

Have you notice it? The greatest event in the world of books since Gutenberg invented a printing press so that the books no longer had to be copied by hand? When it first arrived, the ebook revolution caused much confusion and fear, even resistance and laments for the loss of printed word. But there was really no stopping it. And a good thing too. I now have my library back, well almost all the items, the important ones anyway, and it’s all digital, stored on a device no bigger than two DVD covers put together, hundreds of books taking no space at all.

On an e-reader like Ipad you can store over 100,000 books, the library in town where I live holds “only” 40,000 titles

Electronic books are no new thing, there have been applications and programs to read them on a computer or laptop screen for many years now, but it was always awkward, and hard on the eyes. And you couldn’t quite cuddle up in bed with a laptop as you could with a book. But with the new generation of ebook readers you can. The screen are finally easier on the eyes, and there are many other advantages of using e-readers. Apart from seemingly infinite library storage – an average novel takes up 300-500 KB, so on a 64 GB iPad, for example, you can have 130,000 books – you no longer need a reading light. You can copy bits of text as quotations, save or email them, and instantly look up words in a built-in dictionary. This is a godsend if you’re reading a technical text or a book in a foreign language. You can also instantly download a book that may not even be available in New Zealand for a fraction of the price it would cost to have it shipped. And did I mention saving the trees?  Continue reading

Walks in Ahuriri Area

With the controversial Tenure Review and subsequent creation of so many Conservation Parks and Areas public access to some of the most scenic corners of the country has been changing so fast it’s often hard to keep up with the developments. This, at least as our vagabond lot is concerned, has been mostly good news though often you may find yourself going to a place you think you know and finding it has changed so much it’s like visiting it for the first time.

This has recently happened to me in the Ahuriri, a long and superbly scenic mountain river valley which leads off west towards the Main Divide from SH 8 about halfway between Lindis Pass and Omarama. I used to come here over the years, regularly if not frequently, to fish and hunt, to tramp or climb or to just walk in the beautiful beech and tawhai forest. In the sun-baked Central Otago where I live such forests are a rare thing indeed and so from time to time one can suffer from an almost unreasonable compulsion to walk in the shady woods. For this I would often come to the Ahuriri.  Continue reading

Ski Touring on Franz Josef Glacier


Here are a few images from our last ski tour on the glaciers. We were based at Alymer Hut which, considering the snow conditions, made for a rather long commute to the best skiing. Next time we’ll snow cave in the pow!

One of my favourite places in the world: where you can ski powder and look down at sunsets in the ocean


Introduction to slacklining

Put some slack into your life and regain your balance

Like many good things, the slackline came to me through a friend’s recommendation. I was having issues with my balance. Nothing major, but annoying enough to notice. A wobble here and there, a fizz of vertigo, unexplained dizziness. Next, I could no longer stand on one leg to put on a shoe. Hopscotching from one river rock to another, or using a fallen log for a footbridge, I would invariably end up getting wet.

Balance goes with age, my friend, a body therapist and martial arts practitioner told me, and we all have a choice to either let it deteriorate or to arrest the fall. The latter was best done with exercises and slackline was the preferred tool. The good news was that it was all more fun than hard work.

Slackline is like a tightrope only that, well, it is not tight, and it is not a rope but a length of webbing, most commonly either 50 mm or 25 mm wide. You string it between two trees, posts or other solid anchors – even between tow bars of two vehicles – tension it just so, and then you try to stand up on it and walk.

Of course, it is impossible, at least it feels like it. The line wobbles out of control and it throws you off like a catapult. Then, when you’re just about to give up, a minor miracle occurs: you manage to stand on the line for a few seconds. A couple days later you take the first baby step, then another, then you learn to walk backwards. After a month or so you begin to think: how can I turn around on this thing?

“So what?” I hear you say. Why bother with such circus stunts? Well, here’s the secret. After you’ve trained your body to walk on this piece of nothing coming back to the ground, walking on earth, feels like a joyful dance. Easy, whether you’re walking a city footpath or a mountain goat trail.  Continue reading

Natural Running workshops

Last year I wrote a story for New Zealand Geographic magazine titled RUN FOR YOUR LIFE about the natural running revolution. As part of the research for it I attended a natural running workshop with James Kuegler aka Kugs in Queenstown.

The workshop happened as about a dozen more people joined the one-on-one session I was to have with Kugs and it was a memorable day. We all learnt a lot.

I have just heard from James that he will be doing a series of natural running workshops around the country beginning on November 23rd. He will be visiting 18 towns around New Zealand presenting his Natural Running Workshop, and Off-Road Running Workshops. The locations are: Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Mount Maunganui, Rotorua, Gisborne, Napier, Taupo, New Plymouth, Palmerston North, Wellington, Blenheim, Nelson, Christchurch, Queenstown, Wanaka, Dunedin, and Timaru.

If you are into running, whether as a weekend jogger or a serious athlete, such workshop is a must for you. There has been so much misinformation about proper technique of running  there is no wonder that almost everyone who runs suffers from running-related injuries at one time or another. It doesn’t need to be so. Running is the most natural way of movement for humans. As Christopher McDougall wrote, we are Born to Run.

For more background on why you want to learn – or rather relearn –  this natural way of running see my NZ Geo story. I enclose the snippet below:


Maybe it was the lengthy book project or the endless music rehearsals, both of which entailed untold sedentary hours, with the heart rate elevated only by coffee and mental athletics. Or perhaps it was just normal ageing, proceeding on schedule but unacknowledged, if not outright denied. The worst thing was, in my mind, I could still do it.

In my mind, I could still run up mountains where others had to walk. No matter how temporarily slothful I became, I always had enough residual fitness to be up for any adventure with anyone. Alas, my self-image was seriously out of date, and the strength of the delusion only made greater the shock that followed.

There is a hill called Mt Iron on the outskirts of our town, shaped like a Sphinx and clearly the work of Ice Age glaciers. In other places you might call it a mountain, but in Wanaka, on the edge of the Southern Alps, it’s merely a hill, its zigzagging trails a jogging loop for townsfolk of all ages. In the past, I could easily run up and down this hill, twice in a session.

But this time it was different. As soon as I reached the bottom hairpin bend of the climb, I knew something was wrong. My heartbeat had a subwoofer quality and the tick of a runaway metronome. I couldn’t get enough air and my legs felt as though they were not my own. By the time I climbed to the third bend, my body refused to go on. I stopped, bent double, hands on knees, feeling like I might faint, sucking air like a man drowning.  Continue reading

Story about avalanches in New Zealand Geographic


The 117 (September-October) issue of New Zealand Geographic magazine has my cover story about the dangers of playing in the snow. I think we tend to take these dangers a little too lightly, with a little too much “she’ll be right,” especially when the powder fever rages. Until you get buried, as I did for this story, and realise that snow in an avalanche is no longer the heavenly eiderdown we so passionately seek but more like quicksand. If you get caught on an out-breath the concrete corset of snow around your chest won’t let you breathe in again.

Also, a sobering realisation which came out of my research was that in New Zealand almost all avalanche accidents happen NOT in winter, as you’d think they would, but in spring and summer, when we no longer consider snow to be a danger. So, have a read. Next time you’re out there play hard but play for keeps.

Life is short, the art long, opportunities fleeting, experience treacherous, judgment difficult.” Hippocrates

They were skiing together all morning, on this most special of days. A slow-moving weather system has deposited over 60 cm of eiderdown snow on the mountains around Wanaka and all of it fell without wind, a rare thing in New Zealand Alps. On such occasions ski towns like Queenstown, Ohakune, Methven or Wanaka become gripped by the “powder fever.” Shops are closed – “Powder day! Back in the afternoon” – tradesmen down their tools and race up the mountain, road rage is not uncommon. Even the classrooms are empty, and this despite stern memos from principals that parents are not allowed to take their kids out of school on “powder days.” The towns are likewise deserted as most of the able-bodied populace is up the mountain, indulging one of the greatest joys known to humankind – skiing or boarding the fresh deep snow, pure and pristine and sparkling as if it was made of microscopic diamonds.  Continue reading