This is not a guidebook but a diary and personal travel essay.
There are no representations or warranties, express or implied, about the completeness, accuracy, reliability, suitability or availability with respect to the information, products, services, or related graphics contained in this book for any purpose. In order to protect the privacy of certain individuals, names and identifying details might have been changed.
Do not hesitate to contact me for any question or remark. Notice that any feedback would improve this e-book, could convince me to publish a paper version, to write more stories or focus myself on photography. To sum up, I will be cheerful if you share your reaction about my book or just say hello.
I would like to warmly thank those who picked me up, who welcomed me in their house, who gave me so much: David, Tanya, Ashley, Kim, Marjorie, Emily, Jeackey, Matt, Dunkun, Finn, Bryan, Andy, Andrew, Dwe, Chris, Steven, Zoe, Alan, Nathan, Adam, Peter, Dave, Adam, Ben, Joel, Dona, David, Peter, Adrien, Sunny, Rachelle, Sam, Kevin, Sophie, Laura, Peter, Pete, Elke, Jaya, Jed, Peter, Enjew, Louisia, Royce, Ashley, Stuart, Ian, Charley, Alan, Carsley, Tom, Chris, Sandy, Michelle, Cherry, David, Ed, Paul, Scott, Carabi, Maui, Frilla, Willy, Christian, Rushine, Antia, David, Peter, Josh, Fernando, Franny, Suzanne, John, Danny, Felicity, Hidey, Manson, Dan, Li, Marie-Alice, Shane, Derry, Steven, Pica, John, Chris, Chris, Mark, James, Andrew, Putri, Sing, Gairn, Marie, Matthew, Valerie, Mass, Nina, Christian, Ryson, Nicolas, Sealow, Chris, Dan, Danny, Carol, Lindy, Nick, Josh, Gary, Aurélien, Tom, Marrow, John, Jackie, Gay, Phany, Peter, Donna, Chris, Robby, Kyle, Vickie, Alfred, Browff, Sandy, Lucas, Chris, Francy, Marrow, Frank, Sady, Peter, Bob, Finn, Ani, Ohui, Katherine, Debby, Kate, Sam, Leon, Kain, Jimmy, Wayne, Darwin, Faite, Elisabeth, Arthur, Shawn, Eva, Dock, Su, Pauline, Li, Culrk, Dan, Mex, Dee, Luc, Jimmy, Narray, Francis, Daggy, Shay, Rex, Tnaraha, Sowi, Malissa, Lucie, Georgia, Greg, Gaye, Kate, Daniel, Gerard, Steven, Paul, Emy, Dayna, Bryan, Andy, Lenon, Laura, Theris, Darren, Josephine, Bob, Jason, Nick, Allan, Tanya, Don, Josh, Estelle, Dave, Melanie, Gavon, Jessica, Dan, Thimos, Serina, Julie, Tina, Ann, Sierra, Rap, Karen, Bianca, Dylan, Ken, Kathleen, John, Jerry, Peter, Tony, Brett, Kane, Alan, Sierra, Franck, Ian, Derrick, Rick, Stevie, Kate, Josh, Tim, Katherine, Temond, Bruce, Maria, Mathius, Thomas, Tanya, Selly, Gounroo, Kate, Margie, Christian, Waka, Rosy, Yurana, James, Helen, Charles, Berette, Trice, Lucie, Pitt, Helen, Lydie, Paul, Christina, Rob, Marlene, Robine, Steve, Angel, Andy, Luc, Jean-Claude, Pam, Aim, Phone, Alice, Gath, Tom, Ana, Daniel, François, Joanna, Nellie, Daniel, Curd, Kinda, Leila, Berry, Alexandria, Marc, Ewout, Amon, Minell, Dan, Rosie, Bob, Mark, Ray, William, Seff, Paul, Jock, James, Aaron, Danny, Rebecca, Damien, Peter, Amama, Peter, Marc, Marissa, Mike, Lihen, Paul, John, Jane, Bules, Rex, Bobby, Yan, Claid, Felicity, Isaac, Cocky, Willy, Willy, Tracy, Wallace, Roger, Freya, Stanley, Buda, Gus, Baidowi, Amalia, Ratna, Lisna, Mia, Erica, and those I do not remember the name.
This book is for everyone I met on the road, thank you again!
Special thanks to Florent who helped me writing this book.
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.
I Go Back to May 1937, Sharon Olds
I am French. I spent six months in Melbourne, Australia – a cool, safe, crowded and expensive city. All young adults love it, but my daily life became boring and I lost motivation to feel better. My lackadaisical life was unsustainable and I was in a befuddled state. I lost my happiness and all strong relationships.
Many people dream about traveling around the world, sailing the ocean. How many make it happens? Travelling had never been my dream before having the opportunity to do so, and it was the best way I found to make my mind better, plus I saved enough money, did not have debts, got my degree, and I was free – I mean having no wife, nor kids, is a good start. So I got a map, packed everything and started my new adventure without much planning. I took the train, left the big city, alone with a real smile but a sad mood, knowing that happiness would be discovered on my way. I actually found much more.
This is the story of my journey through different weathers, landscapes, lifestyles, moods, relationships, cars, trucks, shoes, successes and failures. Here you have the best and the worst of my diary. I hitchhiked 27,000 km through the Australian and New Zealand roads – 18,100 km in the Australian mainland, 1,360 km in Tasmania, 3,800 km in the NZ north island, 3,700 km in the NZ south island. I also spent a few days in Indonesia where I felt – to be honest – culturally confused.
I was not a commuter anymore in Melbourne, but a traveller. I used the train as far as possible to finally hitchhike. A four-wheel drive stopped, a woman named Kim and her daughter Ashley asked me where I was heading to – “toward the 12 Apostles.”
Stopped in a fuel station, we were unable to restart the car. I did not run away but kept them company. I found – among my unnecessary stuff of my too heavy backpack – a deck of cards. I didn't know any card game so Ashley explained me how to play Goldfish while waiting for the technician. Finally, Ashley, Kim and I arrived in town, Geelong, actually the garage of Geelong. I continued toward the Great Ocean Road with Marjorie: a French woman with hips of kids; Emily: a beautiful girl wearing attractive clothes (by the way, one of my hitchhiking rules was: do not ogle girls who pick you up, it's a matter of respect); Jeackey and Matt: a couple. All Australians. I spent my first night in my tent on the beach. That day was quite similar to most of the next ones, meeting great locals, sharing unforgettable moments, sleeping in the middle of nowhere and being woke up by the Sun. What a life!
I had enough money to travel by bus but hitchhiking is much more interesting. Travelling alone is not a lonely journey. Indeed, I met new people everyday, always friendly. It is my way to make my travel unique. I know I take serious risks but the probability to get myself into trouble is low. I am lucky, preferring to die thrilled than to have a boring life. I hate holidays, especially in a bus crowded of international tourists: not only because it smells but following a guide to enjoy world famous places doing only everything you pay for means nothing to me but entertainment. My best experiences were not booked and my best days were penniless. I travelled in New Zealand two years earlier and Israel last summer, so I knew hitchhiking was my way and my only one. In other words, hitchhikers are like traders or porn-actresses, a daily life you do not dream or even think about when you are young, but you finally find it exciting, and unsafe when something goes wrong.
In Australia, buying a car is the most efficient way due to the long distances. You spend money for fuel or the mechanic. Money is the usual solution. When it comes to hitchhiking, patience, adaptation to the driver, being talkative about all topics is required. Travelling penniless is much more challenging, so more things can be learnt. Money is not the only way of exchange. The way knowledge is shared is sometimes more interesting than the knowledge itself. Moreover, hitching is a matter of trust, everybody trust everyone before entering the car. Once inside, the trust is gained, otherwise you are fool and might be doomed.
Just to give you one hitchhiking experience of my previous New Zealand trip: I met a Maori singer who offered me his CD. I still listen to his songs years later.
Listen to Achy Breaky Heart:
If you are curious about the New Zealand music, I also like Buzzcut Season by Lorde.
Ben and Joel are two Australians who picked me up on my way to Adelaide. We stopped on the road to enjoy ice cream and Joel welcomed me in his house where I met his flatmates. Joel is a couchsurfer1 who travelled through the Arabic countries. We shared our stories with some ANZAC cookies2. We had a typical English breakfast on morning – toasts, eggs, beacon, cheese, tomato sauce and a cup of tea. I went to the CBD the next day at noon and used Couchsurfing for one night. I met David and Dona and we talked about our dreams, with fudges – the Aussie chocolates.
I was heading north the next morning into the desert. Camping was prohibited in the Woomera area. I do follow the rules when it comes to military restrictions, so I slept on the other side of the road looking virtually the same. After the showcase of missiles and military aircrafts, I went to Coober Pedy where I found underground churches. I spent five hours of the dry afternoon waiting along the dusty road. I got sunburns, and finally a lift thanks to Sophie living in Marla – a service station in the middle of nowhere. Those kind of places are like small towns with everything you need: water, food, a place to stay overnight, happy people and fuel. Sophie and I shared the Aussie Yellow Wine under the Milky Way.
I spent the next morning talking with a couple of French workers. We all agreed that “the country side is the best place to stay in Australia.” I spent three hours hitching on the road after noon and came back to Marla for one more night. Drivers do not pull over the afternoon as often as the morning, and the sun was strong. I was lucky and got a ride next early morning.
I could wait hours thumb up along the road, but I have been waiting a thumbnail time that day, picked up by three Peters between Marla and Curtin Springs. Peter II was with his wife Elke and their two kids, Jaya and Jed, going to Kings Canyon. Conversations were focused on photography and camera gear – visit his inspiring gallery.
The ground in the free Curtin Springs camping was dry, like most of the biggest island of the world. I stopped their because Peter III dropped me off. A couple of campers saw me trying to pitch my tent and lent me a hammer. Indeed, my swag – a small and lightweight one-person tent – is non-freestanding, so it had to be pitched or I would sleep exposed to mosquitoes, flies, and other annoying stuff.
Next day, I went to Uluru (aka Ayers Rock) with Peter – no joke! I climbed the sacred rock – it was okay at that time – and decided to hitch the active way, asking everyone for a lift from the car park. I do not like that pushing approach, but my goal was just to leave the national park border and find a hidden place to stay, still in the aboriginal lands but who cares? I am careful with nature, even more than locals.
Stuart and Ian were so kind that they picked me up every day for the next three days. Thanks to them and others, I got the opportunity to go to Kata Tjuta, Kings Canyon, the Tnorala Conservative Reserve (a comet crater) and the Ormiston Gorge (in the West Macdonnell National Park.) I do not think I deserve so much kindness but I will give the same to others, for sure. I went to Alice Springs from the Ormiston Gorge with Michelle and Cherry, and David. We talked about camels, immigration, David's story when he was kidnapped in Canberra while hitchhiking…
Arrived in Alice Springs, I went to the public library to access Internet, the Botanical Garden in dry season, the supermarket, the laundromat. A typical day in town. I was stepping further on the road the next day and someone gave me a 1.5L-bottle of water as if I were galloping the Aussie desert…
Next spot: Devil's Marble. Why? The National Geographic's Adventure Travel Map showed this spot as point of interest, so even if I did not know why, I would have a look, by curiosity. Indeed, my waterproof and tear-resistant map was my guide to plan my trip at a country-wide scale. Ed said that Devil's Marble is interesting for geologists with its unique granite structures. I was not geologist but enjoyed the warmth of rocks surrounded by red sand in the fresh sunset. Ed warned me about the dingos – wild dogs – so I should take care of my food and do not feed them to avoid any upsetting surprise. Anyway, I never feed animals, they could become sick or over-populate the area or kick, peck, bite or scratch me and other visitors. It is unnatural to feed wild animals anyway, they do not need us. We also talked about UFO in Australia (Wycliffe Well), Aileron (the man who walked there before the Aboriginals), bush fire, sheep mutation, etc.
I spent the first cents in accommodation. I did not feel glad to stay in a backpacker overnight but recharged. After nights in a tent, any bed is luxury. I found myself more in the bush in New Zealand and got used to a ruder daily life. In Darwin, I bought a hat made of Kangaroo skin to protect my burned and sensible white Human skin. I know, I should not cross the desert without a hat but mistakes make experience… until my last one!
I was walking out of town on my way to Kakadu National Park when a guy stopped me and asked me if I was okay. “I don't think you're holding your backpack correctly.” So we spent a few minutes to readjust my pack and he explained me how to carry my heavy load, where the weight should be, that the pack I got – from my sister – may actually be designed for women… Chris was really helpful and has changed the future of my doomed back. He started travelling with a pack as heavy as mine but removed more and more kilos. Retrospectively speaking, I also learnt what was really necessary and what was not.
I had a break in Hi-Way Inn, a service station with a crashed aircraft and the finest burger I have ever eaten. A mix of egg, steak, salad, tomatoes, pepper, beacon, beetroot. I was sitting in front of a poster listing facts like “beauty is only skin deep, ugly goes to the bone,” “a shortcut is the longest distance between two points,” “Murphy Golden Rule: Whoever has the gold makes the rules,” etc.
The landscape changes through long distance, from red dust, burned trees, termite mounds surrounded by hills to the infinite plate grass with cows. After a few lift I was in a parking lot in Richmond and a road train stopped. A road train is a truck usually driving long distance (thousands of kilometres) with heavy load (a hundred tons) in three long trailers (53.5 metres), sometimes four or even five but never more than seven. It requires about a kilometre to stop. Fortunately the driver had a lunch break. I did not ask him to pick me up but he offered me a lift. The inside is like half an old school aircraft cockpit half a bedroom. We stopped on the way so he had a shower to feel fresh and look clean, his wife was waiting for him. I did not feel dirty and I had no girlfriend, so I took time to clean the windscreen, not a kid game on such aircraft!
The next day, after a night in Torens Creek, a woman named Carol and I went to her town, Townsville. She is a single woman with a daughter Lindy, and a son Nick. She offered me to stay in her house. We ordered Indian take-away for “white guys,” i.e. not too spicy. Then we watched a weird apocalyptic movie with white wine. I enjoyed a comfy bed and had a look in the Townsville market with Carol and Lindy in the morning and went to the Paluma National Park – Big Crystal Creek – the afternoon. We went to Alligator Creek the next day and the supermarket to buy a t-shirt I used as a stylish but practical towel for seven months.
On my way to Cairns, I was dropped off by Josh next to a supermarket, bought two choco doughnuts, and realised they are tastier and twice cheaper than in the most attractive doughnuts spot in Melbourne. It was unwise though, but I believe that it is fair to be sporadically unwise.
After the Australian desert, the tropical landscape and weather made me feel in a different world: Cape Tribulation, the Mossman Gorge and Daintree. On my way, I met Gary, a professional photographer travelling in a camper van. He thinks that nature is beautiful and does not need to be magic in addition. All right, but I would rather say nature is magic if you take time to appreciate.
While staying in a place I cannot stand – a backpacker full of let's-go-to-party dudes – a girl said I am “ambitious” to hitchhike up to Millaa Millaa. Ambitious or motivated? The difference might be the probability of success. In addition, bravery and foulness must not be misled – take care, any mistake could lead to death. Lots of people say I am brave, I would rather say I am lucky. Finally, I went to Millaa Millaa. I felt better in my tent surrounded by wild animals than society. I lived years in towns, in my comfort zone. Then I found a nomad bush life. At first time, I thought I left my comfort zone but my tent is actually quite comfy and nature looks safer than society, even in Australia.
Frankly, Millaa Millaa Falls is the worst famous waterfall. On the other hand, Tchupala Falls (1.2km off the road) and the other one 500m further are still natural beauties in the overwhelming rainforest and singing biodiversity: birds, frogs, bugs. Drops of water fall on green, red, brown, black, yellow leaves making brighter colours throughout the massive and mystic forest. The next day, I got a free cup of tea with biscuits gave by volunteers improving road safety. They offer drivers the opportunity to have a break and inform them how to be careful on the road.
I was heading to Palluma (again) and met Sandy who talked about some bush fires poorly managed by the government, and how illegal immigrants coming in the mainland by boat are treated compared to illegal tourists owning an expired visa. She is ashamed how her government acts and was thinking about going to New Zealand for that reason.
Picking up points of view is the richness of hitchhiking.
Walking to the Little Crystal Creek (about 7km), I found many wastes on the side of the road – cigarettes, coke, KFC's and Hungry Jack's fast food bags, bottles of booze, etc. – I realised that only unhealthy things are threw.
I lost my time by going to Airlie Beach, I quickly tried to find my way to North Molle Island or Hook Island. But, from what I gathered, only personal boats would go there. So I went to Eungella National Park, and met hippies going to the Mushroom Valley Festival – an electronic music festival in the middle of nowhere. I helped settling decorative lights.
Once in the national park, I walked along the Broken River and found coloured birds, turtles, kangaroos, platypus, frogs and… a big snake. I said to myself “okay, let's take a big picture!” then I saw two other snake faces… Wow! I scurried and the three one-metre long snakes escaped my vision. Even if I did my best to find them, snakes are champion for playing Hide-and-Seek. When not too big, not too close, not too many, I love snakes. Some of them like climbing and never break a branch (I found a Dendrelaphis punctulata), most of them are harmless to human, they wriggle as dancers, elegant, without noise but with an attractive whistle, the Holy Bible makes now sense to me. Besides, I noticed how surprisingly quiet were the tourists, actually looking for a shy platypus.
The next day, I hiked the Clarke Range Track (8.2km). Wildlife is quiet when rainy, the small amount of light going through the fog and the green rainforest up to the humid yellow and brown carpet of fell leaves amazed me and made me more quiet than usual, even more than the wildlife. I continued to the Eungella Village and got a lift to Rockhampton. I learnt that snakes appear when the canes are cut and that a bright thing (like a mirror or a coin) can attract emus…
While going to the Bunia Mountains, Arthur warned me about ticks, that must be removed or I could get sick. I got two on my body after a hike on the evening. Thanks to my nail file, I removed and killed the one-milimetre-large enemy. A Swiss army knife could also do the job. Besides, leaves also bit and stings hurt for weeks (Dendrocnide moroides) – as large as a heart-shaped apple pie. Whatever, great Bunia and Hoop trees worth it. There I learnt the usefulness of insects repellent and checked my body every day. The next day was my birthday, I threw one tick outside my tent and two wandering my backpack, enjoyed the view and waited about three hours on the side of the road. Finally, I was in Crows Nest National Park the afternoon.
I quickly stepped through the Yuraygir NP and the Dorrigo NP. There I was picked up by Aboriginals, a pretty girl was driving her drunk parents to Coffs Harbour, they were asking my name every five minutes, they offered me red wine in a kind of plastic bag. Tnaraha, her son Sowi3 and I went to Port Macquarie.
Malissa from Minnesota (U.S.A.) is a very kind, pretty, interesting, open-minded girl Wwoofing in a farm, who made a didgeridoo4 following the Aboriginal traditions. She picked me up on the rainy Pacific Highway. We did not stop chatting all the way to Nabiac, where she dropped me off. She hesitated to follow me to the Myall Lakes National Park since it was her last day off before going to Sydney. She declined because of the relative long distance to drive. In Australia, you always have to drive a long way to go somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
After a couple of days in the Myall Lakes NP, I was in the Bulahdelah State Forest and I found a shelter against the heavy rain. I knew later that snakes are found under elevated houses. But lucky as I am, I only found snails. I was heading to Sydney but stopped to New Castle, because Greg and Gaye picked me up and welcomed me in their house where I met Kate. She offered me a glass of wine, Tapas and sea food when we hung out to the beach in a pretty cool restaurant. The evening, we shared a barbecue with salad altogether with Daniel, Kate's boyfriend. The next day, I gave to Greg and Gaye, dog lovers, my book Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London. Then Greg gave me a lift to the highway.
Lindy – from Townsville – advised me to hike the Blue Mountains, so I did. The complex road network to leave the big city makes train a better alternative than car. Once arrived in the Blue Mountains I walked to the supermarket to buy cookies and missed the sunset at the Echo Point, a spot I found thanks to indications of a commuter, indications I could not find in the official Sydney tourist centre. The next morning, I woke up by the rain which last all the very long day. Everything got wet, my shoes, the content of my backpack, etc. I was stupid enough not to have used the shelter in the park I stayed, I did not expect such a heavy rain and kept my pack close to me because of the amount of tourists.
I was reading a book when noisy kids were dabbing my tent with a wood stick as if it was kind of a dead snake. They stopped and ran away when they spotted me as if I were a serial killer. A few minutes later, they were lined up two by two next to the teacher. The difference between a good and a bad education is the ability to stay wise, fair, friendly, respectful, without being driven on the right way by others.
The world is bigger when I take time to appreciate it. Hiking the pathless tracks, looking for the hidden wildlife, waiting for a favourable weather, talking with locals, etc. I spent the whole day in the shelter, waiting for the non existent blue sky of the misty grey mountains. At the same time, my mind stayed clear, reading and thinking. I learnt that raising a single arm is the universally recognised signal for “everything is okay, assistance not necessary” and two upraised arms means “SOS, send immediate help.” The next day started with a tasty and alcohol free hot apple cider which warmed me up, while my stuff was still wet. Before travelling, I used to spend lazy days with sporadic active ones. When travelling, I spend active days with sporadic lazy ones. Finally, the rain stopped and I hiked from the Echo Point to the 3 Sisters, Leura Cascades, Leura Forrest, Leura Falls, Gordon Falls Lookout, went back to my shelter and enjoy the sunset. Nothing disturbed me, no flies in unstable orbitals, no mischievous kids, no bit of mosquitoes, annoying ticks or leeches.
I found the most beautiful waterfall I have ever seen in Rocket Point Lookout. The wind and collision of drops of water made a visual effect of fire in wave motion surrounded by dancing trees and shattering parrots. Enjoying this national park, I spent the next day hiking the tracks of the Wentworths Fall and finally came back to the stressful CBD of Sydney where I found the finest cakes in Australia, Dough Espresso in a gallery located in the corner of Park and Pitt streets. I took the train to escape the city and the motor way, where hitching is forbidden by the law.
Once arrived in Morton NP, I expected a storm around 4-5PM, not based on weather forecasts, nor by smelling the humid air, nor by analysing the cloudy structure but all the three guys who gave me a lift – Steven, Paul and Emy – warned me about such an unpredictable coming massive thing breaking motivation, happiness, and bird songs. After a short walk around the Fitzroy Falls I stayed in a kind of cave to resist rain that eventually fell during the night. First night without a tent, I spotted a small light in the gloom, then 2… 15… 29… Then I used my camera and zoomed in to find out what they were: worms turning around themselves surrounded by a web. I saw glow worms for the first time. Then, I extra-zoomed in the pictures and found very small couples of red spots I did not see with my eyes. It may be infrared except I also found many white and blue couples of spots above the quantum noise. That was actually the Halloween night!
Early morning, I bush walked up to the road, met two echidnas and an Aussie couple. The bimbo asked tons of questions such as the typical “where are you from?” then “how do you travel? Do you have food? A phone? Internet?” and the most surprising question ever: “how many pyjamas do you have?” Laughing is good for my mood, thank you! While hitching south, a car driving north made a U-turn and pulled over the road. A girl named Dayna offered me a lift and a mango pineapple smoothie. Ben Boyd NP was quite far but she insisted to drop me off in a good spot. She has a Simba tattoo, enjoys Eminem and has spent her life in Dapto, a small New South Wales town next to Wollongong. She cut her hair for a fundraise and gave about A$ 5,0005 to the cancer research. In her free time, she had helped people as a volunteering nurse. To sum up, she had made the world better, plus a 300km detour for me. Arrived in Eden, south of Ben Boyd NP, I asked my way to the visitor centre and I got a map with no north, no scale, no topographic information, but non-free camping and several ads for restaurants, coffee shops, service stations, accommodations. After a short walk next to Lake Curalo, I crossed a river under the rain. Then I trod through a private property, a private road, a closed road, a bike track in the forest, then a 4WD road, and finally found a sign “2.4km to the Terrace Beach,” and pitched my tent in front of the sea. On the morning, I watched a dolphin pod and a whale, came back on the road and hitched next to a waste and recycling centre. On my way to Melbourne, Lenon and his girlfriend picked me up with a pretty hippy girl who got a lift from New Caledonia to Australia.
As Greg from New Castle said: Hobart looks old. The twenty century architecture is made of wood or red bricks, the ads seem to be made with Microsoft Paint and a Comic Sans MS font, etc. That is a different period, not a past period – since current and high-tech things exist – but just Period Tasmania: charming. Off the city, natural landscapes are similar to New Zealand: just amazing!
On the road, Josephine – looking dodgy but kind – picked me up and wanted to visit a farm. So we enjoyed a guided visit of 200,000 Atlantic salmons, from the youngest ones – 2-4 months and 7cm long – to the oldest ones – 4-5 years and 50cm long. Arrived in Mount Field NP via the scenic drive, I hiked all the short walks and hitched to Westerway. When a car stopped, I carefully stored my pack in the back and Bob said “Quick please!” so I rushed and entered the old car “Do not snap the door!” he rasped, “Sorry!” Nice but stressed, like me. I pitched my tent behind the Fire Station for the night and walked along the road all the morning up to Ellendale when a couple picked me up. They saw me walking on the side of the highway and said that no one could do that for fun!
They explained that despite the green landscape the island had withered. Even if I am slightly colour blinded, I see the world in grey and life in pink. But from my eyes, Tassie has fifty shades of green. Beside, Tassie has enough hydroelectricity for the whole island but buy some from the mainland in summer when air conditioning are turned on, and sell some in winter. Queenstown surrounded by mountains is an impressive and unique scenery but rivers are orange because of the oxidation of rocks from mining and the acid used. Contrary to the mainland where towns are beside nature, nature in Tassie takes part and parcel of towns.
I hiked the Enchanted Walk and found a pink bird6, a big bee, a wombat and a kangaroo. I spent the last minutes before the sunset hiking the King Bellie Trail and the next day on the Overland Track. I took my breath in Marion Lookout before climbing the summit of the Cradle and touched snow. On my way back, I walked on the Face track and the Dove Lake Track via the lake and came back to the Overland Track via Lilla Lake where I found fourteen wombats within fourteen minutes, and finally the Lilla Creek where I hid my heavy pack.
While I was walking out of Sheffield to sleep on the side of the road, a guy named Allan gave me a lift to a free camping that actually did not exist, so he welcomed me in his backyard. Early morning, I said good bye to the family and planned to hitch on the road toward Devonport but I stopped in a bakery making those weird things called fudges. The fair amount of time spent making a decision to choose my fudge was the opportunity to talk with a client wondering how heavy was my backpack… “too heavy!” I answered. He gave me a lift to Devonport where I got food, charged my camera, backed up my pictures and headed to Narawntapu NP. Josh picked me up in his French car and warned me he would not go to the national park, so I answered “That's okay, there is no short lift” but I guess he enjoyed my company since he drove all the way to Narawntapu, a 24km detour. In the camp site, I was reading a book between eating, jumping and chattering wallabies and a camper van with the TV turned on. Sometimes, I imagine myself more like a wallaby than a tourist. The next day, I hiked the Harcher Knob and came back to the road. In Tassie, I started to wave to all cars passing me on the other lane, in addition to my utterly charming and marvellous fake smile. There is nothing wrong on faking an awful lot of everyday human contact. Indeed, most drivers in the Australian desert (aka the outback, with low traffic, high visibility and straight boring road) say hello by hand to drivers on the other lane, it is such a kind example I picked up! I guess I did that because hitching became a routine, so I had to find such original habits.
I was not so lucky in Mount William NP, so rainy that my hands looked a century old. Two massive clouds were merging together in a pretty way. Drops of water knocked my tent and the fog entered. No jock, fog was inside my two square metre tent. I walked around when birds started singing and got a lift to the camp ground and continued walking when a girl stopped to offer me bread with seafood, a carrot cake, two biscuits, happiness. Why having to leave this place so early with campers so kind? For the morning, all the campers where together, the youngest after me had about forty years young and it was funny to listen to those stories that happened decades earlier, before I was born.
I went to Ansons Bay, then the Bay of Fires and finally the Douglas Apsley NP. Melanie and Gavon gave me a lift. Her eyes and expression she gave to her boyfriend were overwhelmed with so much love, nothing awkward, nor sneaky, only love. It smelt fuel because of a leak and I felt quite lonely. I was eating a carrot cake as breakfast in St Helens when I heard disturbing news, the terrorist attack in Paris.
I was picked up by an elderly smoker man with a breath as strong as his dog. His car was scaring, spiders' web inside and outside, hard to see through the windscreen because of the dog footprints. Dust covered everything. In the hand box were an inhaler, a cigarette pack and a keychain engraved “I was sent on Earth to make your life miserable.” The driver was very kind, helpful and talkative. But his stifled cough made me think it was his cigarette pack sent on Earth…
The sign read “Beware penguins, welcome to Bicheno.” I did not expect anything in this town and planned to hitch as soon as possible. A guy said he was going to see penguins this evening, so I got a map in the visitor centre and waited for the night. I was thinking about my country in war, that I would like to be in Paris right now, ashamed to be so far when my country is wounded. As Kuranda Seyit said “radicalisation and extremism is not like environmental issues where you recycle and deal with it. It's a hidden disease in our society.” The Australian, 16 November 2015.
I climbed the Mount Amos and hiked the Wineglass Bay Lookout. Two young women piked me up, they were going to a camp ground that did not exist, but found a good spot for camping. Serina, Julie and I shared marshmallows, the most friendly ingredient for camping together. I denied the Serina's proposition to sleep in the same tent, which were on top of the rental car, twice the roof surface, it can be folded and unfolded in a few seconds, pretty smart.
Tina, Ann and I went to the old town of Richmond, the Dunalley Lookout, the Pirates Bay Lookout, the Timor Arch, the Devils Kitchen, and Port Arthur… in a single day. My next walk was in the Remarkable Cave and Mount Brown from where Cape Raoul can be seen.
For the first time, I found a nice camp ground with all I needed: green grass, beautiful landscape, a wood made toilet equipped with toilet paper, sawdust, a donation box, useful and funny facts about worms and composting and a few magazines. In Outdoor Australia, June / July 1998, I can read “For the Sherpas, maintaining pure intentions and clarity of purpose – what Buddhist call « right motivation » – is integral to success.”
While cleaning my lenses, I was thinking about Serina who said that frogs sing like a symphony. The shy symphony of water. They stop singing when feeling observed.
I paid the camping the morning, for the first time. Because it deserved it and it was a fair price compared to the A$ 127 government camp ground with smelly toilets and mosquitoes biting your ass. Cape Raoul was seven kilometres far, where I could see four seahorses and two climbers.
I had time before the flight to Melbourne, so I went to Taranna but the UnZoo was closed. Two girls offered me a lift to a free camping in Dunalley, I was in the back with a baby wombat who lost his mother in a car accident. It should return to wild after a while in the UnZoo. Before my flight, I got a shower in a Big4 tourist park for A$ 58 with power, glass, etc. That was my first and last true shower during my two weeks stay in Tassie.
When boarding the aircraft from the tarmac, the overmade waitress welcomed me. As most waitresses in airline companies, her skin looked unnatural with a slight light reflection of all her hidden imperfection, she might spend hours in bathroom to have the perfect haircut – argument of commercial seduction, a Barby, fake and artificial.
I took the bus from the airport to the city and the train to Upper Ferntree Gully, the easy way to go to the Dandenong Ranges NP. I found red and blue parrots and enjoyed the evening with a pizza not far from the beginning of the Mount Donna Buang Track. I often forget my hat and when I did in the restaurant I came back and met Ken and Kathleen who offered me their backyard – I asked nothing yet, never! For the morning, I had muesli and milk. I really like milk but I unfortunately have no fridge in my pack. They have a pretty cool meditation room for them and any guest. I signed the visitor book and checked a map to go to Mount Buller. I strode from Warburton to the top of Mt Donna Buang (1250m), 13 km return. John picked me up all the way to Healesville in a windy road. He used to carry a gun when hitching, “we never know.”
In Mt Buller, I hiked the Klingsfern Bridle Track and the Nature Walk (10 km) and found a shelter on the top that covered me against the cold wind. Hiking mountain is stupendous to discover wildlife and vegetation changing throughout elevation. After the Summit Trail Loop, I hitched at the Mt Buller Village and Brett picked me up. We spent three days together in a road trip through the mountain ranges.
Brett and I went to Hansfield, Benalla, Myrtleford via Milawa and Mount Buffalo NP. He had a super detailed map showing all parks. Brett and I shared the same favourite colour on map: green. The road trip was pulsed with coffee or tea. I adapted myself to his way of travelling, quite different but as interesting as mine. We did not hike a mountain, we moved by car to enjoy several places like in a self service all-you-can-eat restaurant. On the way to Mt Beauty, we cooked pasta, tomato and meat and enjoyed peaches and red wine, a shared king meal in a camping area. We went to Mt Beauty the next day after the full moon, then Falls Creek and Mt McKay. We finished our road trip in Corryong via Wondonga.
End afternoon, I was heading to Thredbo, the nearest village to Mt Kosciuszko – where I met Alan going home – Khancoban. He offered me to stay overnight and that was, like every time, a greater idea than continuing non-stop. For the first time, someone said I smelled, after I removed my shoes. So I had a shower.
We firstly talked about his house. Almost everything was second hand, that is not only cheaper but better for the environment. Like me, he loves details making life exciting. I like to smell the inside of a tea box, he likes hearing the noise of his light switch, metallic noise remembering his young age in his parents’ house. Secondly, we talked about humanity. During his travel in Indonesia and Bangladesh, he realised that the poorest are the nicer. I guess it is true everywhere, except if people does not care for each other, so they steal, rob, kill, etc. Finally, he gave me a topographic map. He advised me to bush walk to Mt Townsend in addition to Mt Kosciuszko, to wear non synthetic socks and shoes so it does not smell terrible, to taste Vegemite with, toast, egg and butter, etc.
Alan and I went to Corryong the next day, in the Sierra's house to share a cup of tea, eggs poasted toasts, a cup of coffee. I had lamington to share (the typical Aussie sweet). Once arrived in Thredbo (1340m) the afternoon, I went to the Merritts Traverse (1580m) via the Meritts Nature Track, slightly longer than the direct way but less steep so I did not break my knees at the beginning.
I had a breakfast (mixed cereal packages and dried fruits for an enjoyable taste.) Then, I hiked Mt Kosciusko (2228m) well known to be the highest Aussie mountain, but the highest one is actually in the Australian Antarctic Territory – Mount McClintock (3,490m). Mt Townsend (2209m) further north, is almost as high but has actually a much better view with the never ending stunning mountain ranges of Victoria. Kossie is just a big hill but the rock structure of Mt Townsend is quite interesting. The dearth of track makes the access harder but greater. I ambled on the untouched snow to reach the top, with my map and my compass, a nice feeling of independence and freedom.
I camped somewhere at 1920m. From what I understood, one degree is lost every hundred metres, so I would have had less wind and three degrees more at 1920m, still cold by night. I woke up in the fog and tried to sleep more since fog and clouds seemed to burn later morning. Mist gives the valley a magical aspect. I hiked the Carruthers Peak (2140m), the Blue Lake (1900m) and passed three rivers, merging together to form the Snowy River. I got a lift to Jindabyne once arrived in the Charlotte's Pass. To sum up, I rambled about 17km the first day in Kossie NP and 11km the second one.
Rick gave me a lift from Queanbeyan to Ulladulla. I learnt many Aussie slang I forgot the next day. He offered me to stay in his house if I bought him a Whisky Cola in the Ulladulla casino. Let's be social, even if I do not play poker. Then two girls came and all men lost focus, Rick said I could rather stay with Stevie, so I could “boogie boogie.” Stevie has long buckled brown hair, fairly skinny, well dressed, lovely laugh. Late evening, the casino closed, I said good bye to Rick. Stevie, Kate, three dudes and I went in a bungalow. They all got drunk but me, so I got bored.
Pigeon House is not easy access but it is worth it. The stunning view is different from the mountain ranges I found around the country for the last three months.
Arrived to Wollongong the next day, I unsuccessfully tried to hitchhike. I lost motivation to find a good spot and took the train to Sutherland, then Loftus, near the Royal NP. I finished my day by hiking 20km in the national park and 15.5km the next day.
My swagman life in the bush became a backpacker life in the city. Ready for my flight to New Zealand, I spent my last two days in Sydney: I bought camera gear, visited the Sydney Observatory, the State Library, the Art Gallery of NSW and the outstanding Australian Museum where I found a temporary exhibition devoted to the greatest explorers.
Time's up, I flew from Sydney to Auckland – 2,163km. 23 Celsius degrees at departure, then -56 at 11,277m high… and 18 on arrival.
Arrived in Auckland CBD, I took the ferry to Waiheke Island. The New Zealand flag was waiving at the queue of the boat surrounded by many islands. I headed north and slept on a field, without tent, watching stars, the Southern Cross. No annoying insects, nothing to be afraid of. I would say “peaceful,” but what “peace?” The meaning is so different in Israel, France, Australia, Aotearoa9, in the city and the country side, between poor and rich people.
I was slightly ashamed to see the landscape so developped. Back to Auckland, I visited the Art Gallery, got food, took the last ferry to the 600 years old island, Rongitoto, and hiked the Summit (259m) via the Beacon lighthouse.
I walked to Islington Bay via the coastal track where I met guys renovating a batch10. Bruce and other retired where working hard to make this beaut place liveable. They were actually taking a break, drinking and eating. While walking, I said hello and they asked me if I would like a cup of tea. Oh yeah! To be honest, I would accept even Marmite (the New Zealand disgusting Vegemite) just to chat with locals. I had not hitchhiked for a while and felt lonely. “Tea or coffee? – Coffee – Milk? – Yes – Sugar? – Two – Haha!” I also got some biscuits and Christmas cake. We talked about my travel, the island and the batch. He said that possums and wallabies from Aussie were in Rongitoto eight years ago, eating young leaves, killing biodiversity. So the island closed, and all pest were killed. I wanted to do something, in return to what they had offered me. “Are you carpenter? – Not really, I'm an electronics engineer but I would like to help you!” Then he found stuff to do that did not require experience. I brushed, cleaned and made smooth a wall that would be painted. Once clean, I walked to the Emu Point via the coastal track and then the Home Bay Campground to take untreated spring water. I continued on the Pōhutukawa track, not far from the Billy Goat Point. I went back to Auckland the next day.
I first used the bus to leave the vast city, the busy intersections and the motorways as far as Puhoi. Then I hitchhiked to Mangawhai11 Heads. On my way, I met Mathius in Matakana, we went to Leigh but ran out of fuel so we came to the nearest service station, closed. We finally went back to Matakana, got fuel and continued on an unsealed scenic road. A girl gave me a ride to Mangawhai Heads, just before the sunset. The sunrise was great too. Since I had landed this country, my motivation was in a roller-coaster, my mood changing as fast as the weather.
In the Whangarei visitor centre, I got a map to go to the famous Whangarei Falls. “Where do you stay? – I don't know. – In a camping? – No. – In a backpacker? – No. – You can't sleep anywhere in this district. – Why? – Because it is forbidden.” Okay, I cannot because it is forbidden. “The law has to be followed not because it is fair but because it is law,” Blaise Pascal. I met Thomas after the waterfalls with whom I had my first wwoofing experience.
Thomas, 27, lives in Ngunguru. His wife is a Jewish from South America living in Auckland at the moment. When he picked me up, after a working day, he wasn't wearing suit and tie as I could imagine of the a house evaluator look but a casual style: city shoes, short, not shaved, Ray Ban, good looking. Half surfer, half business man, 100% Kiwi: friendly with a happy simple life. He welcomed me in his house to “figure out what I can visit in the area.” We talk about hips of things such as his worms farm used for compost and the worms' pee as green pesticide for his garden where potatoes and many things would grow up. Finally, the conversation focused on his new pretty house he had bought 2-3 months earlier. The view of the beach from his balcony was awesome. Without asking anything, he offered me to stay overnight in his future cricket ground. First, he gave me a Moa beer (brewed in New Zealand), bread and cheese. I do like those simple moments! What Thomas likes? The same, plus surfing, skateboarding to the shop, listening ambient music. He cooked potatoes with lamb and veggies and a glass of NZ wine (Merlot 2013 from Hawks Bay.) A king meal. Actually, Thomas is like me, he does not really cook when alone.
He offered me a king bed for myself. I got toasts with berries and butter for the sunrise in front of the stunning beach. He gave me a lift to Tutukaka, and said “you are more than welcome to come back and help me to restore my house and my future backpacker!” He gave me some food and wrote his number on his business card “if you get stuck somewhere, give me a call!” I hoped not to use his number but asked his address.
I did not checked the tide timetable so I walked in the water to go to the lighthouse in Kukutauwhao Island. Everything was green, if Tasmania has 50 shades of green, then New Zealand has 256. I was not surprised to be picked up by five girls that day but only by girls! I decided to help Thomas, by cleaning his garage – which would become a pretty cool backpacker. For the morning, we shared eggs on toasts. He left me the house and went to work. The electrician came later and I helped him as I could. When Thomas came back, we worked on the garden, removing grass and clay from the earth to make a veggy garden. We stopped due to the rain. He cooked meat and veggies, courgettes and mushrooms with cheese. We had a Steinlager (NZ beer) and watched Trailer Park Boys (a TV show from the U.S.A.) That was unforgettable days together, but I wanted to go north, so I left him the next morning.
I stopped in a bakery to get a pie, a piece of carrot cake, and a juice before hitching. The waitress picked me up after her work day.
A bee keeper gave me a ride to a free and legal camping in front of Lake Waiparera. I arrived in Cape Rienga the next morning, the northest point of the north island. Loads of tourists go to this well-known place, but I found very few hiking the Ninety-Mile beach. The dead grass rolling on the sand reminded me the ones rolling through the roads of the Australian outback. That place is unique in New Zealand. For my first visit, I've decided to hike only 16km through Te Reranga Wairua, Te Werahi Beach, Twilight / Te Werahi Loop Track, Twilight Beach to Te Werahi Gate, in other words, green land, red sand, dunes, and fragile rock structures.
Then I hitched to Auckland. On my way, a couple offered me a Steinlager we shared. While using my thumb just to drink my beer, a guy pulled over. I did not expect anyone to pick up a “dodgy” man drinking a beer and carrying a big backpack. Two drunks, junky dudes pulled over. One said he loves trees, “taste it!” giving me a quite tasty leave before cleaning the mess to have enough place for my pack. They drove on the most scenic road I drived through the north island (state highway 16) with stunning lookout at sunset.
I used the bus from Auckland to Thames, the last bus of the day going toward Coromandel at a fair price. I found my way the next day to the Trestle View Campground, the farest point toward the Pinnacles accessible by car. A local named Lucie went out with her daughter and two sons. I hid my pack in the bush, hiked to the Pinnacles via the Welb Creek, Hydro Camp and the Pinnacles Hut – 7.5km – and came back to the road via the same track. My next spot was the famous and one of the most beautiful beach I have ever seen, New Chums Beach. Quiet in winter, busy in summer.
A bus pulled over the road, transformed to a fully equipped mobile house with solar panels. Rob, Marlene, Robine and I went in the holiday park they worked – which was a milk farm a few years ago. They would be retired very soon and had gathered enough money to travel through the south island, but they would “become crazy by doing nothing” so they would continue working. We shared a barbecue together with Steve and Angel, that was sausages, brochettes, salad and beetroot. New Zealand is known for its stunning landscapes, but should also be known for all the warm citizens who are great examples of simple and high-quality lifestyle – fresh local cooked meals are excellent, as much as the world-recognised French gastronomy.
At first sight, I said to myself that Rotorua does not smell good enough to taste local food. After a night in a thermal park, the first thing I did was to try a sea food pie, the finest I have ever tasted in New Zealand and Australia, and only my stomach knows the amount of pies I gobbled… Rotorua is generally talented for food (British, Japanese, etc.) I did not spent much time there but around small lakes: Blue Lake, Green Lake and Tarawera. I made a great 29km walk up to Hotwater Beach in a day with a light pack.
On my way to Taupo, I was dropped off in the Rainbow Mountain Scenic Reserve, near Lake Nzahewa. I made a short walk up to the light blue Crater Lakes surrounded by smoking hills. A surprising spot I did not know before to be their. Then I voluntary stopped to the Huka Falls (point of interest in my nation-wide map), a spot I disliked: too crowded, bitumen access, an ice cream shop making rubbishes threw away on the track by noisy tourists.
I arrived late afternoon in the Whakapapa Village and slept in the bush. The sunset was stunning, the mountain changed its colour, from grey to yellow to purple to darkness. Then I spent the evening reading the Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and had nightmare overnight.
I packed in my small bag almost everything I did not need for a couple of days hike and hid it under a tree, hidden in the bush, 25 steps following the path, 25 beside, and drew a small arrow with pieces of rock to know where to turn right. Then I walked toward Mt Tongariro (1967m), crossed a forest, green hills, dried, rocky and dusty grounds.
I found my challenge, Mt Ngauruhoe (2287m), very steep, 33 degrees from the horizon and covered of small multicolour scree. Snow and slight smoke were on the top of this crater, feeling cold but rocks were still warm from the sunny day. Going down was not much easier but quicker, like surfing. At the end, I was dusty with my destroyed hiking shoes.
I hiked the next day from the sunrise to the sunset up to the Lower Tama Lake. After the Ninety-Mile Beach and Tongariro, I realised that New Zealand is not just green everywhere, it has diverse landscape as much as Australia in a much smaller space, still huge by foot. I slept one more night in my cold tent, and came back to the Whakapapa Village (1150m) via the Taranaki Falls. To sum up, I made the hardest, longest and best hike so far, two and a half day, three nights, 45km long, 3L of water from town and 5L of crystal clear water from the brook. I was already in the south island two days later, for what purpose? Hiking. Alone? I think so. Even for new year eve? Especially for new year eve!
I had a break in a restaurant, and I was surprised to find pita and humous. I was even more surprised when I found the pita with strawberries. From my point of view, that was not only an adventuring sugary / savoury mix but also a cultural mix. The recipe might exist in the Middle East but seems adapted to European. Back home after travelling, food experimentation and cultural mix is a good way for introducing unknown stuff to friends and locals, that's exploration.
The first thing I did in the south island was to buy brand new socks and shoes in Nelson. I also watched Joy in cinema, enjoying what locals do. Then I hitched to Marahau, the beginning of the Abel Tasman track. The problem when it comes to pitch a tent on sand is that pitches cannot stay upright, the trick is to add a rock on it and take care of the high tide. I lost my first morning of 2016 finding my way around Coquille Bay, and ran out of water. The river was not crystal clear but a local from Torrent Bay Village filled my bottle with filtered water.
After the slight rain, I discovered the sand flies, minuscule flies like mosquitoes biting all the day long. At the morning I ate six spoons of cereal and ran out of food. Then I walked 27.6km and 15.5km more the next day, 62.6km in total from Marahau to Wainui. That was my longest hike so far, again. I hitched, hungry, to the hippy town Takaka, and got a sea food pizza.
Hesitation overwhelmed my mind: would I engage myself to the Heaphy track or not? Am I able to hike 80km one-way? Because ignoring such an ability, it was the opportunity to test my motivation.
Kinda and her daughter Leila were playing a good game for travelling consisting in saying “I spy with my little eyes something beginning with the letter…” The guy who guessed what it was has to make others guess what he saw. That was a never ending game we stopped in Collingwood, the last town before the Heaphy track. I hitched toward the track. Berry and her sister Alexandria gave me a lift to… Cape Farewell. That was on the opposite direction but a genial idea anyway. We enjoyed small hikes on white sandy and sunny beaches. They had decided to go back to Collingwood the same day and I managed to start my new challenge end afternoon.
Due to the rough environment, finding a spot to sleep was not easy and I walked overnight to finally find a good spot, 11km later: Aorere Shelter (800m). Hiking by night was harder for my mood than my body. My sunburns I got in Farewell Spit and Cape Farewell hurt my legs like never before and dozens of kilometres had to be achieved before going back to civilisation. I wore a short for the first time, after 134 days of my travel. That was not a delightful start and my night was not pleasant either, dreaming and waking up more and more often than ever. I left the camp ground early morning, hiked slowly and had breakfast on the highest point of the track, 915m. Direct sun light on my legs was a pain, but I learnt to use sunscreen regularly all the day long. I could not change my short with a trouser because it hurt my legs even more. To conclude, sunscreen should be the interface between the body and the universe. Fortunately, the track was physically easy with no steep climb.
One more hiking day. On one hand, my legs were almost painless. On the other hand, I reached my physical limits between Lewis and Heaphy Huts where I trekked slowly and felt cold as sick. I found an alternative path leading me out of the main track so I could stay overnight, 2.5km after Lewis Hut, 24.8km walk in the day. That path might be “flooding during heavy rain and high tide.” No worries! Even if I knew the meaning of flooding no rain should come after a such sunny day… I pushed my backpack under something more or less rain resistant – ferns and wood stuff – just in case, as usual.
A heavy rain woke me up. Water inside my tent was enough to get everything wet except my small bag containing my camera covered by my water resistant jacket. I waited a moment for the rain to calm down when I got a weird feeling: the ground of my tent was literally floating. I could make kind of waves with my feet like on a water bed. I found about five centimetres of water outside my tent. I put my shoes without socks and walked with water up to my knees. My backpack was covered against water from the sky but not from the ground, it was completely under water.
Water went up to my most sensitive body part, I walked toward the next hut. For a few steps, situation was going better and water as low as my knees, a forty-centimetre long fish crossed me, scaring face, long teeth, snake-like body – maybe a Catfish. Despite being literally into the wild, I was far to feel good. For about three kilometres through a dramatic scenery, cold water went from my knees up to my head while tiptoeing, with a backpack three fourth under water, my camera bag above my head, sand scratching my bloody foot. Besides, my sunburn on my legs was okay.
“No pain no gain.” Being brave is the success to the most challenging goals. Stupidity helps, unconsciousness as well only with luckiness. I learnt a lot that day. I finished the Heaphy Track the afternoon – 79.2km in total. A couple offered me a ride to Karamea, where I slept still wet in my tent.
Next morning, I hitched under the rain to Westport. I spent the first and last cents for accommodation in New Zealand. The backpacker was NZ$ 3012 for a dorm room but I went next street, a twin room for myself in the pretty cool Art Hotel for the same price, including a free laundry. The opportunity to dry all my stuff. I got pita, avocado, tomatoes and cheese in the supermarket. Good food and a hot shower after a day of cold wet muesli!
Ewout gave me a lift to the Punakaiki Village where he had planed to camp. The next day, I hiked the Punakaiki River Track and hitched to Greymouth and heard about the Hokitika Gorge from a tourist living in town. In the gorge I met Ewout again and we went together to Franz Joseph Glacier, and had a break in a restaurant. He took a fish and chips with home made tartare sauce and I got a seafood soup. I hiked the glacier the next day via the mirror lake Wombat. While going up, I met Ewout again and again, going down. Back to the bottom of the glacier, I got three lifts to lake Matheson where I walked around. I met Ewout again, and again, and again. He was surprised I can travel as fast as him. I would not see him again, unfortunately.
Queenstown was my next stop before the Routeburn Track. The less the place is focused on tourist business, the nicer it is. I did not like Queenstown but it is mere close to many outdoor activities such as fishing, skiing, paragliding, hiking, etc.
The last lift to the Routeburn was with a local who gave me four advises. Firstly, Rees and Dart is a must-hike track. Secondly, shit must be burried 3-4cm deep under ground, where worms will transform it into earth within a few days. Third, water from the river is drinkable except near farms due to fertilisers. Fourth, he gave me two good spots for sleeping for free and legally along the track.
Once in Flats Hut, I followed rabbit highways out of the main track to pitch my tent kilometres far. A short and enjoyable 7.7km walk. Heavy rain after a sunny day, weather is unpredictable in the South Island. Fortunately, I was better prepared. Indeed, all pieces of paper were in resealable bag or plastic boxes, used a sponge to remove water from my tent and stored my underwear in the middle of my pack in a plastic bag.
The scary thing when crossing a cold and crystal clear river early morning is to see my feet purple. I made a break near Lake Mackenzie. A group of girls asked me “Have you heard us singing?! – Yes! – We are the best for camping songs! – I prefer the birds.” After 24.2km, I pitched my tent in the second spot I heard of, where I met two other hikers. One was tramping the Greenstone-Caples Track, about 60km. The other one, 3,000km, from south to north13. One more day and I finished the track, 39.9km in total.
I finished the first hiking day in Kepler Track (52.8km) by walking hundreds steps out of the track with a broken compass. Indeed, free camping is allowed on some Great Walks if staying at least 500m from the track. I hiked the next day to Mt Luxmore where a clear view replaced the fog. I found purple, brown, black, white mushrooms, near Iris Burn Campsite. I walked the last 23.2km to a car park where two guys gave me a lift to Te Anau. Nothing wrong happened along the track, I just enjoyed the inspiring nature.
I hitched from Te Anau to Dunedin via Invercagill – not the shortest way though. I was heading to the Spherical Boulders further north. I was dropped off in a good hitching spot. A car pulled over, a couple about forty: Seff and William. They hitched from Motueka (north of the South Island) to Dunedin because William had a job interview and chose to go back to Motueka with a rented car. They did not have a house but a boat, and had spent the last weeks sailing New Zealand from the Bay of Islands. We were talking a few minutes and I did not know much about them when William gave me the opportunity to take part of their adventure. I was super glad with a big smile.
We arrived in Nelson the evening and stopped in Christchurch to get food for a few days, mainly fruit and veggies. Seff let me understand I could take anything I want. I chose nothing since I wanted to have their authentic life. Then we went straight to Nelson via the Lewis Pass with one break for fuel and a pie. We spent the night in the living room of Paul's house, a friend of William.
Seff, William, Paul and I went to Motueka to load the boat with the food and started our awestruck journey. First and foremost, William taught me the safety rules and where important stuff were, the life jacket, the radio and channel 16, the fire extinctor, the gas bottles, and finally the toilets. Secondly, I learnt how to handle the steering paddle – motor started running and sails went up. The boat named “Dulci-Bella” which means “sweet beauty” is 12 metres long with a 3.5m beam. Professionally built in Auckland between 1993 and 1995 she has a steel hull with marine ply decks. We were heading to the French Pass, driving the boat following William's instructions, the compass and depth metre (that should not display depth under 1m.) I realised it was more a feeling than a science kind of way to drive that boat, and I loved it. “Keep one hand for the boat and one for yourself” William insisted. “Be one with the boat and the environment, the waves, the wind, the shore” he deeply said as a god's rule, with passion and love.
Arrived through the French Pass, full concentration and seriousness overwhelmed the crew. Whereas passing at high tide in order to avoid rock collision, the depth sensor went crazy: 1m, 51m and even 100m with 0.7m in between. “.7! Is it okay?” I asked, “what the heck is going on?” I thought but admired the full confidence on William's face. Once passed, waves became bigger, I got sick and vomited.
I learnt the basic principle of sailing and discovered the shore like never before. At the evening, the sun was on one side and the moon on the other one, so beautiful. Last but not least, I learnt how to fish (how to kill and gut a fish.) I truly enjoyed killing the fishes I got – five fishes but three were not grown enough to be kept aboard. Good for my soul to know what I eat, coming out of water to fill a stomach. Compared to food from supermarket, loaded of chemical stuff to keep it good looking through the whole ethically doubtful process from the farm to the package. I was not sea sick thanks to good weather conditions.
The morning waves were gentle, contrariwise the evening ones went crazy, keeping the boat surfing in one direction was hard to drive despite all my weight and my pounding heart. We recorded the highest speed William had ever made with Dulci-Bella – 9.1 knots. Seff was unfortunately sick in bed. She felt better inside whereas I felt much better outside. I got wet a few times and cold (despite the waterproof gear), tired and not confident, I watched them from times to times with a scaried face. Sailing the pacific ocean in a pretty small boat is exciting but scaring when weather and waves are unfriendly. The ocean calmed down and dolphins swam beside the boat.
The next day, a seal shew his face like a stupid dude. We went in shore to drop Paul who had to go back to work. That fishing day was not as successful and two bowls broke down due to waves of a motored boat that did not slow down near us. As most mornings with the crew, I got porridge – oats, dried apricot, dried figus, graps, nuts, milk, cinnamon. William asked me to follow a cap, so I mainly used the compass – “between 210 and 240 degrees” – but we drifted slowly toward the shore instead. He repeated to follow his direction but I slightly drifted anyway since I was a bit scared for going nowhere in the ocean. That was actually a shortcut. As usual, Seff cooked for us, then they slept. At this time, I was the only one awoken, driving the boat in the placid Pacific. Wales jets and jumps, plenty of dolphins and seals dancing between water and air. Albatrosses took part of the show. The most beautiful cloud formation was right for the sunset. Behind me were a massive rainbow. I had not imagined heaven with a such stunning scenery. Then sky became blood and hell came. Huge waves and strong wind made navigation much harder. William woke up and gave new directions, plus he explained me how to deal with the waves against us and keep the wind on sails to avoid vibrations. Tools used for night navigation are different, lighthouses were used instead of the compass. While moving closer to the shore, William ordered me to “follow that light” and after a while we agreed each other that the light were not blinking but inching. “I think we are following a boat…” I was overwhelmed with scariness more than ever, but we survived.
I used to gaze at the horizon every morning, not for enjoying the view but for feeling better. I was surprised that this trick did not work inside looking through the window. The wind was not for us and we sailed as slow as 2-3 knots to Oamaru. I was still wet for the last night and I missed a long hot shower to remove salt. Fortunately, Seff shared her happiness not just with her kindness and her weather proof smile but also by cooking varied meals like cheese toast with salad of veggies and feta, porridge, potatoes, rice, omelet, etc. as often as William wished… more than three times a day – “days are long and the boat moves your stomach.” Seff did not feel confident sailing multiple days, worried, sick, tired, but her soul was strong enough to bide as young as 20 years old.
She said “we do not grow older in our soul” with her eyes sparkled with merriment.
In Oamaru, the boat was not moving so we slept hours and I read for the first time the Genesis from the Holy Bible I found on the shelf beside my bunk. Seff cooked porridge, omelet, coffee and crepes (with honey, butter and lemon). William and I went ashore for diesel – NZ$.93 instead of NZ$.5 a litre in the commercial port of Motueka, public price is not fair. I had a weird feeling by flouncing the earth, as if it was moving, as if my brain got used to the boat motion… Contrary to my stomach since I still felt seek offshore from times to times. We carried three tanks from town to port. William ran with a kind smile and a sneaky laugh. We came back town with Seff to visit the old town, with old-fashioned business and owners. We all wanted a pizza and stopped in the first pizzeria we found. We stayed in Oamaru for the day due to bad weather conditions – something we are more sensible than in a road trip.
We started the motor next day after lunch. I was looking at the thunder of the sea on the rock, under the rain and heavy clouds, thinking of leaving the boat right now, but I heard many times – since the beginning of my travel – how brave I am, enough to believe I really am. Plus I could not short my dream no matter how hard it was, I would take part of the crew up to Dunedin, sailing together days and nights. Moreover, the human aspect of such an experience is meaningful because of the environment: together in a narrow space, with cobbers I did not know before, for a few tiring and stressful days. I observed William surveying the sea, thinking about how to deal with it. I completely trusted him. If he thought we could do it, so we would, and we did. We went to Otago Harbour, passed the lighthouse and the albatross colony and put the anchor next to the channel. Our journey was finished, we had made 450 nautical miles (833km). For the first time, Seff and William made a prier.
For the next and last sailing day, we kept going to the wharf which Seff and William would stay for a while. We were on a maritime road, following the red and green markers leading us through the Otago Harbour. We enjoyed being alone by zigzagging to keep the wind on sails. Finally, we arrived, took a shower, and cleaned my salty clothes. We took a fish & ships and said goodbye. Then I just trod to the exact same spot from where they had picked me up days ago, hopping to be lucky to meet guys as friendly, happy, crazy, adventurer as Seff and William who will stay forever in my heart.
I finally went to the Moreaki Boulders with Jock. He used to hitchhike when he was young – when he did not own his driving licence – so he picks up everyone now. He is a diary cows farmer, has a wife and three kids. I was watching at the sea, the waves, the wind and the clouds rather than those spherical pieces of rock. I pitched my tent and hitched to Oamaru the next day where I got food and Internet access.
James gave me a lift out of town. “Lake Pukaki is on my way, you can stay in my house if you have time. My son is away – in holiday – and my [seven years old] daughter might come late. I like having company and that would be better than your tent.” He offered me Afghan cookies and a white tea – with milk and sugar. James cooked tasty chips, carrots and sausages. We enjoyed the meal in front of a wildlife documentary in Africa and Taiwan.
I hitched the next day to Lake Pukaki and Tekapo, Christchurch and Castle Hill – a famous place for climbing boulders – with my sign “Please!” I went to the Arthur's Pass Village to find a day walk: the Avalanche Track followed by the Scott's Track. Everything was peaceful and I talked to myself as I do from times to times when I feel lonely and sure I am alone – so I do not feel stupid in addition. A hiker came downhill, talking to himself as well. He said he enjoyed his ramble, by being alone with nature. After a night, I hiked to the top and downhill up to an unfinished gravel road where I got a ride. I really enjoyed nattering all the lift long, especially when feeling lonely and tired. We talked about gluten, music, the Lord of the Rings14, New Zealand, etc.
A blue Ford pulled over in Greymouth. Everything inside was blue, a kind of old fancy car that makes noise and the sensation you go fast even at low speed. A rabbit tail was balancing on the mirror. “What's that? – A rabbit tail… [meaning] good luck – Not for the rabbit!” He laughed. He dropped me off in Dobson, near a field, and a guy came to me. I helped him to put the last roll of dried grass in the back of his truck and he said I could stay overnight.
I strode about 24km around lake Rotoiti in the Nelson Lakes NP. The track split at mid distance, the shortest way to cross the river was through the cold water… A good way to clean my feet.
Once back on the road, Marc gave me a ride to the next town, picked up his daughter Marissa working for the Department of Conservative (DOC), and picked me up again. They sailed the world with a 12m-long motor sailed boat equipped with a metallic reinforcement, so they could go in cold water up to the ice of north Scandinavia. His wife would come the next week. She spent the last three and a half months experimenting with fishes near Antarctica as a biologist. Marc said I could either pitch my tent in his garden and go to the Queen Charlotte Walking Track tomorrow, either drop me off in the Picton Ferry Terminal. I chose the first proposition with no doubts so I could discover one more lifestyle, not the least. They lived in a ten square metres wooden house, two beds, two chairs and a kitchen with the minimum required to cook anything. They had solar panel for electricity, a tank shared with the neighbours, gas for hot water and cooking, mobile phone and 3G for Internet. The toilet is outside, made of wood, equipped with cleaning stuff and magazines. The shower is also in the garden surrounded by local trees and birds. They grew tomatoes, faijoias, strawberries, lemons, green onions, potatoes, mandarins, figus, spinach, a tree with one kind of apple on one side and an other kind on the other side, etc. They were almost self-sufficient in summer but still needed to buy some food. We ate seafood and chips we bought in Havelock, the nearest town. I got three crumbed mussels, one squid ring, and half a scoop of chips. We mainly talked about New Zealand, how it was nicer a decade earlier, when life was more free and cheaper. Marc left France with his parents when he was 13 and enjoy speaking French so he could practise his mother tongue.
He told me how deers hunting goes through history. At first time, deers were introduced for game hunting. They reproduced well in New Zealand due to the immense predator-free forest. Unfortunately, they became pests, eating native trees and leaves. Then the government gave money to hunters to kill them, but it did not work well so they made a team devoted to kill them. One of them realised he made good money by exporting meat to Europe. They wanted more money so hunters were dropped off by helicopter. Hunters realised it was even more efficient by shooting deers from the helicopter. So efficient that the deers population fell to critical, an issue since it was good money, so they moved deers together in farms. The Vietnam happened, helicopter pilots and hunters left New Zealand, etc.
Marc offered me a lift to Anakiwa but I denied. I could find someone going there for a reason. Finally, he said he was “happy to meet someone doing something.” I am not sure what he meant, perhaps “happy to meet a young guy driving his life to achieve his own goals.”
A couple who had picked me up in Kenepuru Head reminder me what French did. “In July 1985 when agents of the French secret service bombed and sank the Greenpeace organisation's flagship vessel Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour. The ship had been about to sail to Moruroa in French Polynesia to protest against continuing nuclear testing by the French on that isolated atoll. […] the first act of state-sponsored terrorism in New Zealand.” The Penguin History of New Zealand by Michael King. I am ashamed of this event, which is in the memory of many locals.
I found a practical map where they dropped me off, Kenepuru Saddle. There the criquets were singing a loud noisy melody and dancing a kind of biglemoi with a boogie-woogie rhythm15. They made short tics cut by a few tocs. I could smell the pine trees, an intense scent my nose did not really appreciate but much finer than anything in town, except maybe macaroons, soaps and syrups. The track was long enough to enjoy different vegetations but at about the same altitude, making the track easier but less interesting than going uphill because wildlife is the same. I saw different shapes of clouds located at low and high altitude, it was low tide, details I had noticed since my sailing adventure which gaped my eyes. In a specific spot, I heard a long sound made by the wind, the Queen Charlotte Sound. The wind changed direction and the fern trees fought to stay upright in the hill. After a days, 26.7km, my motivation fell down, so I went to Portage. A 4WD pulled over, driven at 60km/h in the winding road by a fisher boat driver who got Blue Cods from his batch.
My last lift in the South Island was thanks to Mike who asked me where I come from “France, like your car! – Haha! Yeah, it is a very old [Peugeot] car!” He said my English is good. I have received this compliment more and more often. I spent like ten years learning English at school for nothing. I made hips of basic mistakes and was unable to have a fluent conversation before my first trip in New Zealand. I was eventually able to converse about anything to anyone and understand them by practising everyday. The only one problem I got at the end was my lack of understanding the strong French accent.
Arrived in the second biggest city of New Zealand and its capital, Welly. I found myself in the middle of six double lane roads with four bridges. I stood along the one going straight north and waited for a while before getting a lift to Upper Hutt. A family in the visitor centre asked me where I was going. I finally join them in Akaratawa.
Arrived in the family's remote town, I found a pretty small wood made house with a lovely garden, chicken used for eggs, ducks, sheep and a dog. I met Paul – Lihen's husband – who was restoring the house. He is a boat builder and also makes fancy stuff for movies like a throne, a robot, an aircraft, a tree house and many amazing things. Lihen works for the art gallery. They did not need help for anything so I played with the baby, consisting in moving a fire rescue truck. The diner after grace was great, with broccolis, potatoes, deer (hunted in his 10-hectare land by a friend of Paul) with a sauce based on raspberry jam. Deer is tasty and considered to be the healthier meat (high nutritional value). Bubble from South Africa was excellent too. In those moments, I do not miss French food. Except cheese, there is absolutely no reason to consider the French gastronomy better.
Kids went to bed. Lihen, Paul and I talked about foreign culture, current issues, multi-culturalism, immigration in France, French tourists, the New Zealand culture, Maori, religion, etc. with tea and MallowPuffs – a marshmallow covered by chocolate.
The conversation I had became different (months after escaping from my previous life.) But the most significant change was on my body, tanned, not shaved with uncut hair. I did not look like the young innocent French Candide anymore. I actually prefer my new face, as well as my new mind.
On the 36km long Kaitoke/Holdsworth track, I found myself in a discontinued path, with fallen trees and multiple footways. But according to the topographic map, I knew I had to cross a river. When I was close enough, I could read “ELECTRIC CABLE.” I stepped back and tried other directions, dropped my backpack and finally defined myself as lost. No track, no sign, no human footprints or trees surgically cut by the DOC. I was examining all the trees to find orange triangle markers. I stalked out uphill and found one, came back to the river and realised that the deadly label was actually used as a sign… of course, they are orange! I continued hiking up to Torara Flat Hut, pitched my tent between two rivers and filled up my bottle. The next day, I started by going uphill for way too long, then downhill to Holdsworth Carpark. That time, I got a lift by asking directly from guys right there. I stopped in Masterton and slept next to a dodgy bridge.
“Come and have a drink!” a man said to me while I was on the side of the road, thumb up. John and Jane is a couple, forty, living in Masterton. We talked about our travels. That was a delightful meeting giving to myself motivation and energy for the whole day. I returned to my spot and got a lift with a man who went back home. Actually, he missed his town, we were nattering about how to catch shrimps with a branch, etc. and he was smoking weeds.
I crossed the highest bridge of the southern hemisphere with Rex and Bules (called Bubbles) to Wairoa, their town. We went to the end of the road to see the sea. On the return, they offered me to pitch my tent on their backyard and have a hot drink. I had a white tea with mango, then a pie with chips and tomato sauce. When we finished, Bules came with toast, butter and pam jam. Then biscuits, and “an other cup of tea, or coffee? No, no! Thank you very much!” Rex is retired but continues working in a farm. He used to be a policeman. They are both Maori, Rex's mother is British. Family pictures where everywhere in the house. Indeed it is an immense family, 8 great children, 12 siblings in one side and as many on the other side. I explained my motivation for wwoofing and he replied he does. “Now I do painting in exchange of meat, I mean, I don't exchange money, like a local wwoofer!”
For breakfast, I had milk with cereal and toast – Maori home made bread – with butter and pam jam and a white tea. It was Sunday so Bules was dressed in black, ready to sing in church. Rex and I went in town. Before to say goodbye, he gave me a home made Maori kit. I was really surprised and emotion warmed me up. Never a gift touched my heart so deeply. “How to say thank you, to give something in exchange? – Your smile is happiness, that's all I want. It comes from the heart, next time you will give to someone who will give to someone else, etc. The wheel turns one way and turns back.”
Bobby, Yan, their two daughters and three sons, a wwoofer and I succeeded folding into the family car. I was heading to Lake Wakaremoana but they offered me to stay so I could help Yan for mastering sheep. I did not know what it consisted in but why not!
The gravel road through the hills was majestic, the light going through the pines and the dust made strips on the direction of the falling sun. Once arrived in the house, we discharged the food from the Wairoa supermarket and I pitched my tent in the grass. A family friend came for tea. We had grace, then chicken, curry, rice, plus salad with a mix of veggies. Bobby said I could wake up whenever I wanted, or 5am for mastering. “Oh yeah! Yan could wake me up? – You are crazy but no worries, he will!”
At 5am, I got two eggs on toast with Vegemite. Then we spent almost 4 hours gathering sheep to the same paddock so they could be shaved the next days. Yan managed his five dogs so 1,400 sheep went where he wanted. My job consisted in opening and closing gates and stopping some sheep from going the wrong way. We were on a quad, out of the road, or at 70km/h on a gravel road, hard to stay in! At the end, I was dusty and thirsty. I got water and home made muffins with butter. Kids were doing homework. Every member of the family looked cheery with an active daily life in a green and healthy environment, fresh air, stunning landscape.
Their is a famous hike around Lake Wakaremoana, the last long walk before leaving New Zealand. But I did not go further than the first kilometre. That was my biggest fail… but nothing compared to Indonesia, a few days later. Why to keep going? To enjoy the view? Yes, and then what? To take pictures? I am not a photographer, I do not like to make my friends jealous. To push my physical ability? Not judicious with my heavy load, healthy food would be the first step. For my mind? A 46km walk around a lake in a fresh environment would not change my mood. Alone without motivation: maximum hesitation. I stayed in front of a pretty small placid lake for the rest of the day. A place where I was thinking in peace: no human footprint.
The dearth of competition is a reason of failure. Excitement of success – which can be stressed by competition – pushes my motivation. The goals of my project is not to hike hundred of kilometres but learn life, from successes as well as failures. While writing those lines, I feel happy to have failed so many times, making me stronger even if I felt so weak at those moments.
I met Isaac in Gisborne, a builder. He shew me the longest wharf of the southern hemisphere (in Tolagu Bay), built in 1925, but not used anymore except for jumping like crazy in the ocean. Then he shew me a smaller but prettier wharf near Tokomaru. “Where do you sleep? – In my tent! – What do you cook? – … I eat mostly muesli16 (I answered proudless) – Are you in hurry? – Not at all.” I previously explained I was looking for a wwoofing experience. Isaac said I could help him building a kitchen so I could have hot food. For the last days I got frequently lucky having fantastic opportunities to discover local lives. The future kitchen was in a village about 45 minutes off the main road. The hamlet, named Huiarua, used to have a post office and a market but only a school was still existing, mainly farmers live there.
Arrived in Huiarua, I met the Isaac's boss and a Maori friend, a hunter and a farmer named Cocky17, who were trying to fix a motorbike. We talked the afternoon and worked the next day. I woke up at 6am and assembled cabinets, made some painting and helped Isaac fixing stuff. He made toasts with eggs and bacon for breakfast and we made sandwiches with eggs, bacons, salad, mayo, tomato sauce and slices for lunch. We cleaned the room at about 6pm. Then we visited Cocky and his daughters who made tea – rice with deer, veggies and corns from the village. At a moment, we heard a bird song, Cocky stood up and ran away, then I heard a riffle shot. Indeed, some birds are pests. He lives with almost no money, exchanging his mechanical skills with meat. “But you cannot exchange meat for a flight ticket.” So he and his kids could not travel abroad. He was merry with minor things of life, making music with anything (like two spoons or even a plastic bag) and we were all amazed by a toy he found. A small multi-colour iron-made boat, with two exhausts, a candle inside to boil a volume of water. He put the boat in a circular recipient filled of water and it ran for a few minutes. The noise it made was crazy!
The rain prevented us to fix the Cocky's roof so we left the village toward the east. We stopped in Tikitiki, to visit the St Mary's Memorial Church decorated with Maori carving and painting. The Isaac's girlfriend's great father was on the memorial wall who fought during the second world war as many other Kiwis. His emotion was shared through his eyes. Maori houses and sculptures were along the road. We got a burger in Tokaka, stopped in a Manuka Shop, an other wharf, and Opotiki. A lift from Poverty Bay to Bay of Plenty, rich of experience and human relationships.
Heavy rain in Opotiki, I rolled my tent before the flood and ran under a house, I stayed stuck along the wall to avoid an unpleasant shower. I hitched when the rain stopped. One car, two cars, one truck, one lift. I was not hungry but the truck driver offered me fruits and muesli bars, “I always carry more food in case I pick up hitchhiker, 2-3 times a week actually!” he pointed the healthy food, “I weighted 200kg two years ago, I lost 90kg and feel much younger, even if I'm 50.”
Healthy diet is the ingredient of youngness.
After talking about the Maori history, the conversation became deeper, “War is not only with guns but also drug and alcohol killing families. Jesus gave us our mind and the daemon fights it to destroy families.” In other words, never make war against ourself.
Willy, an other truck driver picked me up. My goal was to go to Stratford via the Forgotten World road, then hike the volcano. Once arrived in the beginning of that road, in Taumaranui, I spent the night in a park and the morning on the side of the road. After hours, a guy came from his house with a bottle of coffee, we chatted a while and he wished me good luck. There is no better way for an auspicious start! But I waited much longer than the previous times, so I turned back and hitched north to the Auckland area were I contacted Antia, an Aussie friend who was there at the moment. We met up near Karekare.
We hitched together early morning. A ranger asked us to leave the car park as soon as possible. In Karekare, we walked to a waterfall and the beach. We stayed nearby overnight and went to Auckland because my flight to Indonesia were the next day. I would be in Bali with no surprise, but the question was: what is next? I did not know anything about Indonesia, I would arrive at midnight with zero Rupiah, I did not know where to sleep, did not speak Indonesian. I was scared, worried, stressed, excited, motivated.
Travelling to an unknown destination with unfamiliar habits is like having sex for the first time.
I barely knew where I was going to and how to deal with the attractive discovery, meandering all details from the highway to the bush, better free but covered against useless risks. Whatever the time spent, it is always too quick, but it changes your point of view and you cannot wait for the next exciting and surprising visit to find out more with deeper investigations, opening your mind to more or less exotic dreams.
In the Bali Denpassar airport, an awful lot of taxi drivers tried to do business with me but even if I wanted to, I did not know where to go. I tried hitchhiking and realised that “it is a business here!” So I walked along the road, asked in Bahasa Indonesian where the visitor centre was but even the body language was hard to understand. I finally got a map of Bali in Korean.
Road safety did not seem a priority and rubbish was out of hand. I realised how unpredictable was the afternoon weather, blue sky with sporadic heavy rain. Motorbikes often tried to do business with any foreigner walking on the unfinished or broken pavement. One looked friendly so I asked him where I could find a guesthouse for 100,00018, so Stanley, from Sulawesi, gave me a free lift in motorbike (with no helmet19) to his house. After a day, I did not find a useful map of Bali, and no one of Indonesia, as if it was not part of the country. Stanley and his friend were so kind compared to everyone I met during my first day that I was not feeling confident, and not enthusiast sleeping with a gay in this infamous country.
Tourist information centres are unknowledgeable. So I went in a juice bar to have internet access, I drew a map of Indonesia with places to visit according to random blogs. Then I hitchhiked and many drivers offered me a lift at tourist price, excessive. One, named Buda, gave me a free lift. He warned me I should rent a motorbike, “it is the way,” meaning my way of travelling is not suitable in Bali. He also advised me to “trust no one” now graved in my mind. He dropped me off near Denpassar airport, actually where I came from, whereas I was heading to Selat via Gianyar. The good point is that I knew better my situation. Again, I walked along the road and motorbikes slew down “bisa ikut gratis? – Haha! Of course not! You can take the bus to Gianyar, do you want a lift to the bus stop? – No thanks.” The bus went to Batubulan, once there, no bus service, nothing after 3pm. Besides, I found a pink baby chicken in the Batubulan market, Indonesia is crazy!
I spent the rest of the day looking for accommodation, tenting was crazy because of the weather and the lack of any green and safe spot. After having visited bullshit and luxury hotel, I finally found one. Actually, one found me. He gave me a free lift to his guest house, a clean white building with sculptures. At that moment, I ignored the price and Gus said “150k?” so I answered “100k?”, he laughed and repeated “150k! It is actually 200k but you have a friend price! – Thanks, so why not 125k? – Haha! 150k. – 125k?!! – Hahaha! Okay! 125k. Come one, I'll show your room.” Air cond, two king beds, TV and a kind of bathroom, plus a mirror and a painting. Gus insisted that this place is safe. I smiled, thinking about the Buda advise “trust no one!”
I am still lost, spending my time looking for my way, transportation and accommodation.
Breakfast was included with the room so I started my day happy by tasting local stuff. Then I went back to the Batubulan bus station and was welcomed by a typical Balinese dude: machete, black hair and moustache, tanned skin, wearing a batik (a traditional shirt with fancy pattern) and flip-flop. He did not speak English but pointed me a bus further on the other side of the road. I asked to a girl managing tickets if the bus was going to Selat. So she babbled in Indonesian with three other guys and the free-for-all conversation looked animated but she finally offered me two options: either go to Klungkung, either Amlapura and then use a car or a motorbike. I chose the second one and jumped in the old bus. During that time, an inquisitive guy named Baidowi talked to me, curious about me as me about him.
Arrived in Amlapura, I went in a restaurant, people tried to explain all the food on shelf. I knew it was not a touristic place by the friendly people and the fair price. I shared the meal with a local family who advised me to visit Tirtagangga and enjoy a panoramic view. I got a lift for “50k – 15k? – No – 20k! – Okay for 20k!” I truly enjoy negotiating. Travelling my way through Bali is more expensive than New Zealand or Australia. The issue is not about money, but does my way of traveling make any sense now? Doubtful.
Tirtagangga has a water temple I discovered the morning and spent the rest of the day contacting farmers via a Wwoofing website. Besides, I tasted local food with no real pleasure, but I loved juices. I found the best ones in Indonesia, and most of them are alcohol-free. Here is a list of must-taste cocktails:
That day, I got a hot orange & honey juice and a positive answer for wwoofing in North Sumatra, so I also got a flight to Medan. Therefore I went back to Amlapura the next day by mini bus. Negotiation was rude… “10k – 5k – 10k – 5k – 10k – 5k!” I gave him 6k and the driver agreed. It is not a question of price but fair price. Locals increase rates for tourists, if he asked for 6k, I would say 3k. I was carrying 1,500k anyway. Yes, I was crazy too! I found myself in front of two buses, the drivers were in competition, trying to get me in. I did not try comparative negotiation but simply jumped in the one ready to go.
Back to Batubulan, I stopped in a shop, got a cappuccino bubble and an other one with cinggau. I was conversing with a guy speaking barely English, so I tried talking Indonesian. I learnt more in three days than Hebrew in three months in Israel where my goal was to understand the culture and way of thinking. Now, I also wanted to share their lives.
I found a hostel back to Legian. Then I walked along the beach, rubbishes were gathered like sand castles, crowded of tourists and business devoted to them. I spent the next morning to find the immigration office where I realised that buying a second month visa was not as easy because I needed to stay in one place and go to the immigration office of that place. I spent the tiring afternoon lost, finding my hostel. I could spend days hiking the bush but hours in Legian streets was hell. “Where? – … – Wherrre? – … – Where are you going? – Tidah butuh taksi! – Han!” an other one literally cried “YES! Taxi?” so I loudly answered “NO! Taxi!” they laughed, I made a nervous smile. I was in North Sumatra the next day.
In the airport, three young Muslim girls sat down on a bench. They had superb smiles and coloured jilhabs, well dressed to meet their mother. “Where are you going? – Samosir Island! – Oh! This lake is cold and dirty!” I was impressed about their English, superior to mine at their ages, and they were surprised I can say basic words in Arabic and a few sentences in Indonesian.
Early morning, I took the first bus to Amplar, an other one to Ajibata, then the ferry to Tomok. There someone said no bus went to Silimalombu today but I could have a ride in motorbike for 100k. I took the bus anyway, full inside with elderly and full on the roof with kids. I joined them and carefully watched the unsafe gravel road, I had to lay down from times to times, to avoid trees and electric cables. Once arrived, I did not know how much money the driver wanted, I gave 10k and he thanked me. I continued walking toward the remote village and their I was!
The village is Silimalombu, in Samosir Island, surrounded by Lake Toba in North Sumatra. My job consisted in cleaning spaces, digging seeds, destroying a shelter, removing plants from the garden and under water, cutting trees, and most of my time deforesting the jungle. Hard to take initiatives, to understand the why, no one could speak English! My weak ability in speaking Indonesian unsatisfied my desire of being as helpful as wished, leading my work meaningless to myself.
One afternoon, a mate asked me to climb a coconut tree but I had no idea how to do so. He made it and threw the coconuts to me. Then I learnt how to cut them. Food was the same, breakfast, lunch, dinner: rice and fish from the lake with sauce (better than my muesli). I carefully watched how the fish was cut and compared it to how William did. The New Zealand way consisted in (1) killing the fish by cutting its throat and removing the abdomen, (2) throwing away tail and head and (3) slicing along the spine in both sides so all bones are removed. The Indonesian way consisted in (1) cutting all tails completely, (2) removing scales partially by scratching on the wrong way and (3) slicing and removing the abdomen. That way, the head is part of the meal, including bones and eyes.
During my stay, the house hosted a young girl, three boys working for Ratna, and an elderly lady managing everyone. A road joined the two buildings under a sculpted and painted roof. One with the kitchen, the chickens and ducks, the dining room and one bedroom for girls. The other one with the living room, the bedrooms for boys and the bathrooms. The kitchen was made of black wood with one window without view except through the pigs that would finish a day or another in the pot. Hips of flies were there! The light came from a bulb, mighty as a candle, not enough to see the colourful species. The dining room was decorated with family pictures such as a son looking proud, wearing a school uniform with a piece of paper in his hand. They were paintings on four walls, with a rainbow, a coconut tree and buffaloes. Many species on a shelf, with teh and kopi. The living room was composed of a TV and a parabole, three chairs made of bamboo (where I enjoyed sitting down, thinking and watching the lake, majestic birds, mountains), the other kitchen was used for making tea and coffee, plus two unused barges, and interesting lights made of bamboo and white LEDs. One bedroom was next door and two others, including mine, was downstairs with the bathrooms. In-between is a bath, mind the gap or fall into half dead lobsters! The bathroom was typical, the toilet is flushed with a cup from the bucket of water – as clean and cold as the lake – used for washing the body. No paper toilet, so I used my hand for shit. My bedroom, with a simple mattress, was brand new painted in yellow, the warmest liveable space of the house, crowded with mosquitoes. A couple of electric cable (supplying 12 volts for the 5W LEDs) maintained an orange curtain on the large window with a pretty view of lake Toba. Fishes, buffaloes, eceng, veggies, chickens and duck families, wood stock, motorcycles and mucks were in the garden, surrounding the house.
Day after day, my mood and my body reacted differently with food. I first questioned myself about the fair amount of food needed for hiking, then the quality and the kind of food. Finally, I found links between my diet and my state of loneliness.
At day forty in Aussie, I was alone and I did not want chocolate, doughnuts or cheese. Food is like booze, better when shared. That day, I lost appetite for industrial food and said to myself I was chirpy enough to dislike an unhealthy kind of meal. Moreover, I do not feel good after fast food, I just feel full… and fool, as a mainstream simpleton. A burger in a happy-go-lucky fast food is useless for the body but fills of happiness the desires' customer, only because gratification pushes needs to positivism. The consumption society pushes to consume always more, and makes unbalanced desires. Contrariwise, being hungry for a few hours makes me feel better, as if my body tries to get as energy as possible. From day forty four and for the whole week, I purged myself by eating only fresh fruits and veggies and convinced myself to think before eating and think twice before buying. I was lucky to be able to afford the expensive fresh and healthy food.
Going back to nature is undoubtedly useful to find a sustainable diet but the city life was my testing field. Unhealthy food is easy access in cities that represented only market places and stopovers through my journey.
“He measured himself and those around him by an impossibly rigorous moral code.” Into the Wild. Unwise diet continued breaking myself whereas aware of the consequences, because I just did not mind. I had no moral code, which is required for a sustainable fair life. I could become stout and do not give a penny to a starving homeless. “It may after all, be the bad habit of creative talents to invest themselves in pathological extremes that yield remarkable insights but no durable way of life for those who cannot translate their psychic wounds into significant art or thought.” Theodore Raszak, In Search of the Miraculous.
“The person who thinks he is hungry may actually be seeking more for comfort, or dependence, than for vitamins or proteins.” Theory of Human Motivation by A. H. Maslow. Being hungry is – at first time – in mind, by experiencing appetite. I realised I eat unwisely only when feeling lonely, as if I need something else I do not have: relationship. My way of travelling helped me to meet friendly people everyday, and I had realised that it was not enough. I chose to travel by myself by choice, goals of this travel can only be achieved alone. Maybe the goals of my next travel will make partnership suitable.
One evening, I explained I would like to leave Silimalombu the next morning. After breakfast, I jumped on Marta, a pink, blue and green wood made boat. I put my backpack beside a bag full of fresh fishes making sporadic movements. Then I travelled five to six hours in the public bus to Medan. Merchants were selling food at main stops, the bus became a noisy trading floor for a few seconds. A girl behind me started conversing, always smiling and laughing. Lisna (Christian about thirty) offered me to stay in her friend's house in Bromo, a quarter of Medan. In the mini bus, a 19 years old girl in jilhab named Mia, speaking English fluently, asked my non existent phone number to hang out altogether that evening. Fortunately, Lisna was their and we met her in Yuki, near Bromo. The friend of Lisna has a 4 years old boy, a 2 years old girl and one would come soon.
The first questions asked depend on the culture so except the where-are-you-from question, there is no world wide rules. After months of travelling, I can say that the more religious someone is, the nicer he is. New Zealanders talk about religion later in the conversation but at the beginning when it comes to Indonesian and Israeli. They hardly believed me when I declared I am godless, that is forbidden, just six official religions are actually allowed.
On the morning, we got takeaways, rice with stuff packed in a large leave covered by a piece of paper. Then Lisna taught me how to clean my clothes by hand because three days were required to clean it at the laundry. At last, we went to Puri and found a guest house (100k a night) thanks to Lisna and her friends who talked to locals, the way to do. We had lunch in Yuki and wandered in a mall.
Even locals get lost in Medan. The driver asked on the street the way to go to a specific address with orientation details I wrote in Indonesian on a piece of paper from what Erica said. So I arrived late, she warmly welcomed me. She is a couchsurfer. I do not dislike that web network but avoid online activities when travelling. Erica and I talked about our life the whole evening. She advised me to visit the Mansion, so she dropped me off their (with the typical motorcycle) after a stop to the Buddhist place were Chinese pray. In the Mansion, I asked to the guide “do you like your country? – I love Indonesia! We are rich in everything, the culture is great and nature is gorgeous. We could be richer if only the government would act properly.”
Erica drew me a map to join her in a coffee shop. As usual, I tasted original things, a white chocolate chip blended with cream and ice, then a rum raisin ice coffee. We went in a park by night, as vast as a football field surrounded by trees, crowded of Indonesians, but no Chinese except Erica perhaps because I was their. Chinese are teased and do not feel safe their, “they are not actually Indonesians.” We got noodles in a restaurant and talked about our travels.
My next day was even more into her daily life, spending the whole morning in a Buddhist temple. Erica was teaching English and the meaning of giving, topic of this Sunday school class.
we can give energy, money, hard work or just a simple smile! – Erica
The kids' questions (about the ideas shared, the praying, the customs) where simple but hard to answer.
Erica's wisdom and open mind made my days with her meaningful and unforgettable. She loves her country because she learns many things to make the world better and she honestly does. I am really impressed about her strongness, motivation, and everything she does to help kids and those who need help, by teaching, building bridges, water supply systems, etc. For example, she spent eight months teaching to poor children – who did not speak English, nor Indonesian, nor Batak, and did not have enough money to buy sandals – in a classroom without blackboard, in a remote island with daily small earthquake. She also spent a week during vacation in an orphanage, helping disabled with nuns. At the moment, she was making posters for her next event consisting in gathering doctors, policemen, engineers and other professions with kids to motivate them of continuing studying.
Indeed, good education is the key for a better world altogether.
Erica is the bravest human being I have ever met, sociable, honest, kind, smiling, with a simple life and big dreams, giving to others first.
My notes took 37,982 feet high, as fast as 573 mph with an outside temperature around minus forty eight Celsius degrees, were focused on the consequences of the biggest self driven project I have ever made. My goal to discover the world before to taking part is a slight success. I tasted a slice of the world that already changed myself forever.
My goal was more to understand myself than the world. I finally learnt more during the last 201 days than the 3 previous years of engineering school. I do not blame my school but everyone who do not open their mind to alternative education. People say I am smart when I say that I have a master degree in electronics engineering. Having a relatively high education background does not mean I am smart, not even knowledgable. Being smart means avoid repeating our's or other's mistakes. So I am an idiot, but a qualified idiot. This travel helped me to compare myself with everyone I met on the road, so I know better my situation. I started looking at my lifestyle with an outside point of view, helping me finding better alternatives. I made the right decision doing that journey, despite all the harsh advises from my friends in France and my family against my motivation of a such experience in Australasia. You do not need only veggies to grow up, you also need to take physical and psychological risks.
Once back home, I found everyone I left exactly the same, so I hardly integrated myself in society but I got a job within a month as engineer in a leading consulting firm. The travel I made was positive for the company as well. Today, I still feel in transition, like an electron changing orbital but the environment break any excitement. I found so much better abroad that I now feel home sick.
This adventure had a substantial, unexpected and healthy impact on my new brainwashed life.
I do not drink a drop of alcohol anymore aware how meaningless it is, do sport (climbing) every week to coalesce my body with my mind, eat food with both my body needs and the environment in mind, follow my own values in a minimalist life, understand others in a much more open mind, disown TV or internet access in my flat and go online once a week at the library for a wiser use of information and communication tools. Actually, only a few days travelling was enough to find my “right motivation” but months to find a sustainable lifestyle and keep it. I hope this story helped you to realise that more you leave your comfort zone, more you learn. Actually, you can learn many things in your comfort zone, but much more if you look into what you are afraid of: the truth.
“Exploration is not longer about planting flags on continents; it's about the discovery of human wisdom and knowledge that you bring back to broaden the horizons of others. That's why the meaning of exploration will never cease to be important,” Tim Cope. So I hope you enjoyed this free story but my goal was actually to make you think out of the mainstream.
I have decided to go back in France in order to have a work experience in the country I am born in. Actually, I already plan to go away. There are other countries in the world with wiser values, higher-quality lifestyles, more open-minded ways of thinking. Retort I should stand for France, but I would rather help a country I love than help to love a country. And whatever the foreign country, I would never challenge myself as far as wished without leaving France. Indeed, “he who does not move does not notice his chains” (Rosa Luxemburg) and by travelling, I realised how locked is my mind. 202 days after landing, my lifestyle has changed for good but I hardly purified my mind, chains are strong.
After my nomad experience, I spent the first eight months in Paris, the worst place for me, nice to visit though. I knew after my travels that I would not stay a long time in the same city before to find the right one, in the right country. That is why being consultant, moving from client to client, was my way of travelling between different companies (different company cultures and processes) and different towns. In other words, my 202-day journey was the perfect way to find both a sustainable life and a career path. However, I failed to adapt myself to the Indonesian way of living and thinking. That is not a big deal to adapt yourself from a company to an other one in the same country, leave your friends, move to a new town. But when it comes to a completely different culture on the other side of your world, you must be brave! If adventure is “any experience with massive risks and a doubtful success,” (Wild by Nature by Sarah Marquis) then that travel was not a real adventure because I did not push my limit far enough, that is why I am ashamed. Next times will be different. I do not know if I will give to myself the opportunity to come up against my comfort zone so hardly to go back in Indonesia but leave France will be my next step.
Happiness is not a state to arrive at, but a manner of travelling.
Margaret Lee Runbeck
Couchsurfing is an online network connecting hosts and travellers, helping to meet locals. ↩
The ANZAC cookies can be stored for a long time, so it became the Australian/New Zealand army's treat! ↩
Named after the father's name of his mother for tradition. ↩
Aboriginal instrument. ↩
NZ$ 5,320 | IDR 49M | € 3,217 ↩
The pink robin (Petroica rodinogaster). ↩
NZ$ 13 | IDR 118K | € 8 ↩
NZ$ 5 | IDR 49K | € 3 ↩
Aotearoa means the Long White Cloud that is the NZ north island (Dept. of Education's School Journal in Feb. 1916) ↩
A batch is a small holiday house in a basic architecture, made of wood. ↩
Pronounce the Maori “wh” as “v”. ↩
A$ 28 | IDR 277K | € 18 ↩
Te Araroa walk goes through the main two NZ islands. But many others have great walks. ↩
I listened to The Lord of the Rings soundtrack many times during the writing of this book, my favourite peaceful ambient song. ↩
L'écume des jours by Boris Vian ↩
I had no cooker anymore. I used to get muesli sometimes mixed with dried fruits, three times a day. I prefer crunchy muesli but hard to find. Pita is fine but not as convenient for a hiker life. ↩
I serendipitously found in my thesaurus that cocky actually means farmer in the New Zealand slang. ↩
A$ 10 | NZ$ 11 | € 6.5 ↩
While helmet is compulsory for cycling in Victoria, AU, helmet for motor bikers in Indonesia is optional. ↩
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