Sunday, 30 March 2014

Dunedin: Days 16 & 17

I had an odd feeling when we left our lodgings in Naseby that I should be taking Te Harinui with us on the bikes. I talked it over with John and we agreed that the symbolic presence of the Gospel represented by this piece of wood was powerful and needed not to be consigned to the back of a van. But there was the danger of it getting stuck in a wheel, so we left it, clearly labeled, at Wedderburn  with the luggage.

The weather was great for biking. It was slightly overcast but not cold as we climbed slowly out of the Maniototo and towards Hyde. There was a tunnel and a couple of semi adventurous bridges. There was the usual passing parade of jaw dropping scenery. We wheeled into Hyde around 1:15 pm, having covered about 50 km before lunch. This was a pretty impressive feat for two newcomers to the team, Amelia and Megan, who were fairly new to this sort of cycling. We had lunch at Hyde before being picked up by our hosts and taken to Tussock Lodge. We got to this very pleasant country sleepery to find all the luggage piled up and waiting for us except Te Harinui.

I phoned Trail Journeys who were the luggage carriers. They asked the driver and he remembered seeing it but hadn't picked it up. Perhaps the proprietor of the Wedderburn Cottages would know more. They'd phone her and get back to me. Well actually, they didn't. I began to get a bit worried and after an hour or so of calling back with no reply, walking 50-100 metres down the drive every time to get coverage, I thought I'd call Wedderburn myself and looked up their website to get the number.

The webpage was pretty good. It had webcams! With shots updated every half hour. And in one of the shots there was our luggage, with Te Harinui leaning on the top. And in the latest shot, taken only 5 minutes ago in the same spot, our luggage was gone (naturally) but Te Harinui was still leaning against the wall. At least I knew where it was. Nicki, our amazing proprietor at Tussock Lodge gave me her car to go and collect it but only after enjoining me not to go putting any petrol into it.  So a 50 km roundtrip later it was safe and sound back where it belonged. I can't quite remember, but I may not have quite acquiesced to all of Nicki's injunctions.  I could relax and enjoy the great barbecue the lodge had prepared for us.

The next day, today, I devised a way of fixing the stick to my pack. It was actually no bother, and downhill all the way and with a bit of a tailwind I made it to Middlemarch a few minutes ahead of everyone else.

People keep asking me, "what's the highlight of the trip so far?" and I can't answer because every day there is a highlight. There was another one today. The Taieri Gorge Railway locomotive arrived in Middlemarch right on time at 12:00 noon and to my astonishment there were over 180 of our people on board. A sizable bunch had travelled up from Southland and there were people from all over the diocese. At 1:00 we pulled out and headed for Dunedin and I preached four times. We celebrated Eucharist in 4 carriages, with the services staggered 15 minutes apart. I arrived, spoke,  (interrupted at some interesting moments by the commentary on the train's PA system) and moved on to the next carriage. At the last one I was the celebrant. I moved among the people delivering the body and blood of  Our Lord as the train swayed and lurched and some of the most spectacular scenery that Otago has to offer rolled past the windows. It was moving in every conceivable way.

We arrived in Dunedin at 3:40 pm. We took a group photo which included most but not all of us rail pilgrims. Clemency drove me home and suddenly I felt tired. Very tired indeed.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Naseby: Day 15

It was foggy when we set out from Ophir. We left Blacks and headed down the main street so that we could cross the historic suspension bridge over the Manuherikia. The bridge was damp and the wooden surface was slippery. There were ridges running the length of it and Dion's front wheel caught in them. He fell, and his ear was badly cut. It was obvious that stitches were required so Ross Falconer, at the drop of a hat, drove up from Alexandra to take Dion and his wife Tash back to town for medical attention. The rest of us rode on in the damp cool morning.

The sun burned away the fog by about 10 and we rode on a slight incline through Lauder and after a very long straight stopped for lunch at the Hayes engineering works, whose various agricultural inventions include the fence strainer which has benefited generations of New Zealand farmers. Today the historic workshop is open to the public and a very good cafe operates out of a small pressed earth cottage nearby. It was a very good cafe indeed: great coffee, sandwiches that must be up there on the best 5 ever list, and, so I am reliably informed, a cook who knows how to make the perfect scone. Over lunch we got a text from Dion telling us he was suitably repaired and on his way back to meet us. We met in nearby Oterehua, where we found that this wasn't Dion's day. The heat from Ross's exhaust playing on his bike on a rack behind the car had blown the front tyre. But it was a quick fix, and the bike rental people were pretty understanding when I phoned them. The tyre has a bit of a bulge but it was OK to ride on and I will replace it in the morning.

The sun beat down and the track rose into the hills but at a leisurely, steam train like rate. We passed through a couple of tunnels and peered down into deep rocky gulleys. There were some beautiful, rugged old viaducts whose wooden surfaces made the bikes clack and clatter like an old train. It was quite a long day, what with one thing and another and as the track climbed slowly higher a couple of us thought walking might be preferable to biking. I walked with them which was actually a pleasant change, but when we reached the highpoint of the rail trail it was back on the bikes for an easy coast into Wedderburn. About 3:30 in the afternoon we were picked up by van and bought the 20 or so km to Naseby where we are spending the night.Over dinner we were joined by three additional people who will be journeying on with us.

Tomorrow we will go on to Hyde, and it's downhill from now on. I'm hoping for a smoother day, although the scenery, the company, the weather and the hostelries today were memorable.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Ophir: Day 14

The remnants of the past are all around us in Central Otago. The bare brown hills are, in places ravaged by the determination of the miners to find the mother-lode and get rich quick. The mutilation of the land is astonishing in one or two instances, but the ravaged landscape has its own beauty and grandeur, as in St. Bathans and Bannockburn. Some of the towns still contain the quaint Victorian buildings thrown up to service the miners' need for accommodation, food and liquid refreshment. And threading through it all is the bed of the long gone railway which used to haul people and freight between the widely spaced communities of this extraordinary place.

The railway no longer holds tracks and sleepers but the earthworks on which the railway lay are now surfaced with a fine gravel and have become the Otago Central Rail Trail. Because the old steam locomotives weren't much good at climbing hills, the trail is flattish and even. It runs over viaducts and through tunnels instead of down gullies and over hills. The old buildings of the gold towns and the almost extinct rural pubs have found new life servicing the many people who come from all over New Zealand, and the rest of the world to spend 3 or 4 days cycling the 154 km of the trail.

Various companies provide the essentials that a cyclist needs: they rent bikes and helmets, book accommodation, provide transport to and from the ends of the trail and meet any needs that may happen en route - punctures and so forth. So today we were picked up by one of them, Trail Journeys. We were shown an introductory video, given bikes and the requisite accessories for them, had them adjusted for us and let loose on the trail.

"We" are, for the next few days, a group of a dozen people representing a slice of our diocese. Some of us are people who might not otherwise have made this iconic Otago Journey. The youngest of us is 11, the oldest is 68. There are six men and six women.

We rode from Clyde to Alexandra, some of us new to cycling opting for the 8 km Rail Trail route, and some of us opting for the 16 km path beside the Clutha River. I was in the latter group, and I can't ever remember enjoying a bike ride as much as I did this one. It was through light forest, over rolling twisting ground that was at limes rocky, leafy, or silty. Direction and gradient changed constantly and the gears were worked pretty hard. it was wonderful. From Alexandra we headed towards Chatto Creek where we joined the 8 km party for lunch before heading for Omakau and Ophir. Straight after lunch the trail rose gradually as it followed the Manuherikia River until there was an equally gentle drop into Omakau. The whole ride was about 44 km and took about 4 hours, including the lunch break. It was a hot day with little wind but the autumnal tinge in the trees signaled a welcome briskness in the air which prevented too much overheating. From Omakau we rode another 2 or 3 km to the old gold town of Ophir where we are staying in the nicely renovated Black's Hotel, a small characterful art-deco country pub.

There has been no church service today but there have been some important conversations while cycling or while sitting around a table. This is a different phase of the Hikoi but one that is as profound as the rest of it has been. This afternoon Penny Sinnamon, a priest from Omakau showed us around her neighbourhood. She took us to St. Bathan's where I had been many times Cambrians where I had not. Ross Falconer, Vicar of Dunstan joined us for some of the ride today and dropped in to Blacks after dinner. It was quite inspirational watching him make his presence felt in the pub before he sat at table with us. Ross and I talked for a long time after the others had retired about this area and it's unique beauties and strong landscape and practical, determined, capable people. The unresolved question we both return to time and again is how to maintain Christian ministry in Central in the long term. As yet we don't fully know but we are both lateral thinkers and we are agreed on one thing: there will be a future for the church here.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Cromwell and Clyde: Days 12 & 13

I have been using my phone to connect my laptop to the Internet. What with all the blogposts, and putting photos on Facebook and whatnot I used up my monthly data allocation and haven't been connected for a couple of days. Today Benjamin arrived in Clyde with a gadget which allows me, and 9 other people at the same time, apparently, to go online. So here I am again.

After the lengthy trip to Smoothwater, the 17km stroll into Cromwell should have been a doddle, and so it would have been if we didn't strike the first foul weather of the Hikoi. We looked at Bonnie and Susie's orchards, olives, nut groves and garden, made our farewells and threw a left at the end of their road. Less than 1 km along SHW6 we met Grant Davis on his way to work at Red Tractor vineyard, which is owned by his son and which we just happened to be passing. He showed us the pinot noir grapes, let us taste a few and showed us how he checks them for ripeness. He gave us a bottle of the finished product and assured us that the heavy cloud looming before us wouldn't bring rain to this part of the valley. Grant is right about the local weather 99% of the time but this was one of the 1% when he was the teensiest bit mistaken. Another half hour and we were walking into a gimlet like southerly and getting considerably damp.

Damon Plimmer joined us an hour out of town and we walked around Lake Dunstan and into St. Andrew's church hall about 1:00 pm where we shared tomato soup and sandwiches with some of the locals. After settling into our billets we spent the afternoon walking around the gold tailings at Bannockburn: an extraordinary place which in all my many visits to Cromwell I had never seen before. The faintest remains of a once thriving town sit above a landscape permanently maimed by sluicing. An ingenious system of dams, water races and sluices funneled unimaginable quantities of water onto the hillsides, reducing them to tortured gullies and pinnacles in the search for gold.

In the evening we joined the people of St. Andrews for a meal and then I spoke of the Hikoi and John prayed. It was a blessed and graced event.

Today we obeyed the Road Transport Authority and biked to Clyde, the Gorge Road connecting Cromwell to Clyde being deemed too dangerous for walking. Goodness knows why they thought that. The wide, gently curving road has a broad shoulder running its entire length and we would not have needed to set foot on the actual road surface for all but about 100 metres of it. We covered the 21 km in about an hour and a half and cycled past the dam and down into the quaint little goldrush town in time for lunch. We sat and chatted with Ross Falconer, the vicar for a while before Ross took most of the crew off to pan for gold. Despite the temptation to go and get rid of my mortgage, I stayed behind to catch up with some paperwork.

Late in the afternoon Benjamin arrived from Dunedin with the gadget, and with details of the eucharist to be held on the Taieri Gorge Railway this Sunday. It is going to be a very different service of worship, but I have a sense that it is going to be quite spectacular. About 110 people have so far indicated that they will be there and the number will grow by the weekend. We also talked about the St. Hilda's Hikoi through the streets of Dunedin next Tuesday which, again, will be a very enriching and engaging event.

When Benjamin left for Dunedin Phil Clark left with him. He has been such an integral part of the whole journey it will be a bit odd setting off on the Otago Central Rail Trail tomorrow without him. He will return in time for the walk North from Dunedin to Waitati on Friday week.

This evening we dined again with the local parish, worshipped in the church and I spoke with the people. Again it was a blessed event. I walked back to my billet with a couple of the people who will be on the rail trail with me tomorrow. They are members of St. Matthews parish whom I had not met before today but whom I will get to know very well indeed over the next few days.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Smoothwater Haven: Day 11

Today was the longest journey so far. From St. Columba's Wanaka we walked 21km and biked 28km to this beautiful estate run as a B&B by Bonnie and Susie. As seems to be customary for this Hikoi, the forecast rain didn't materialise and instead we travelled under a warm, still, overcast sky.

All the walking today was off-road but the ten of us who set out from Wanaka still wore the bright yellow vests. They have become a uniform of sorts. Donning one makes you look and feel like part of the team. We took the footpath past Mt. Iron to Wallacetown and then down to the Cardrona River. Following the banks for a short while through manuka and across  some small bluffs we came to the Clutha which we walked beside for the rest of the day.

I have driven the route from Cromwell to Wanaka more times than I can count but the well prepared track covering about half the journey was completely new to me. The Clutha swirls and boils as it makes its way steadily towards the Clyde dam where it gets piled up to become Lake Dunstan. The track, for the most part, follows a terrace perhaps 20 metres above the river. We passed a few cyclists and joggers, including Damon Plimmer who walked with us for a while before haring off ahead to the end of the track on his regular fitness routine. Where the track ends just a little short of Luggate, we made lunch and changed into bike pants.

The ride to Smoothwater took about an hour and a half of moderate cycling on a road that trends downwards. We stopped briefly and discussed the niceties of gear shifting on an 18 speed bike with Phil who had not done a lot of riding up til about a week ago. He is a very fast learner and has mastered it pretty quickly, but on the whole I think he'd rather be walking.

We arrived at this lovely house in the middle of the afternoon. We have got Tash, one half of our new support crew, registered as an administrator on the Te Harinui Facebook page so that she can post photos and stories. Tomorrow is an easier day: it's a fairly flat 15 km into Cromwell. It's amazing how perspectives change. For Phil, John and me there was once a time when walking 15 km seemed a daunting task. We remember it well because it was only a few weeks ago.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Wanaka: Day 10

The regional event in Wanaka today was already planned before the Hikoi was announced. The local churches had long planned a thanksgiving service in the Rippon vineyard for this Sunday and were generous enough to incorporate us. It all worked perfectly. The weather was great: one of those hot, still, Central Otago days with the clear golden light and the dry air. The venue was a hillside with a view out to Ruby Island floating serenely in the blue lake with the lion coloured mountains beyond. At this time of the year the trees are just starting to turn colour, making them a vibrant light golden green. A couple of vintage Tiger Moth aircraft droned picturesquely overhead and the waterskiers on the lake were far enough away not to be heard.

All the churches of Wanaka were present and a few other people beside. A very good band from the New Life Centre played a variety of modern worship songs, people read and prayed and spoke on cue and all of them had thought about their various tasks and practiced them. A young woman from the Presbyterian church gave an excellent children's address and I gave an account of the faith that is within me. All of the local clergy took part in leadership and all gave a pretty good account of themselves.

Speaking to people who are sitting at a distance in the open air isn't easy, but there was a good sound system and the folk were attentive. I thought my talk went well and a few people were quite complimentary afterwards. The service lasted a little less than an hour and we all stayed on for a picnic in the sun. What impressed me was the congenial way people from the various churches moved amongst each other and interacted with one another. There was a very strong sense of community and common purpose which I found hopeful. I spoke to a lot of people and Clemency and I were fairly late in leaving the venue with our hosts, Mike and Becky Horder.

I had a quiet afternoon. I managed to replace my worn boots with ones of the same make but a slightly different model. Mike drove us around some of the new developments in Wanaka and we had an early dinner and then conversation before bed.

I like Wanaka. It is a tourist magnet but it feels less frenetic and more ordered than its bigger sister Queenstown on the other side of the Crown Range. It is in a different climate zone - warmer and drier - and has more space for development than Queenstown and I hope it manages to avoid the dangers of unregulated growth that tourism can bring. A town moving as fast as Wanaka offers many opportunities for the local church. Damon Plimmer is making a stunning job of leading our congregations there and in Cromwell and Tarras, and during the event today I lost count of the people who volunteered positive things about him and his family. This is one place where the Anglican Church is not in retreat and today's regional event helped fan the flames of hope in me.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Wanaka: Day 9

Photo (c) Wynston Cooper 2014
I stayed last night on a farm just out of Garston. I went out to breakfast at about 7:30 am and found the 9 year old twin boys in charge of things. They had scrambled a pan of eggs and made toast. Their 12 year old brother had cooked himself some porridge. They asked me if I wanted some tea and how did I take it? Then, as I ate my toast, conversed about their sports, their schools and their hopes for the future. One of them told me how much he had enjoyed hearing me speak about the Camino Santiago when I came to the parish in April last year. The 12 year old told me about his possum trapping endeavours, including the type of traps he uses and where and how are the best places/times to deploy them. I was intrigued at the sheer down to earth practicality of these kids; by their ability to relate easily to an adult; by their groundedness. They impressed me. In the middle of the conversation Wynston came in from taking the photograph above, and their father came in from his early morning farmwork. We talked about Life, the Universe and everything and I was shown something that I have been seeing all this trip: an appreciation of the church, a desire for its survival and immense good will to its ministers.

It was cold, almost frosty, when we left this warm, alive, lived in family home and drove in the great big Fiat towards Kingston. We arrived on the pier at 10:15, just before the ferry arrived from Queenstown. Right on the dot of its scheduled 10:30 it arrived with a large contingent of people all wearing dayglo yellow Hikoi caps, singing Te Harinui while being conducted by Clemency. Silhouetted against the still rising sun, it was a wonderful sight.

Amongst the passengers was the Archbishop of York, the Most Rev. John Sentamu and his wife Margaret.They are too briefly in New Zealand and had taken a couple of days to take part in the Hikoi. The Archbishop has been to New Zealand several times before and has a pretty good understanding of how we Kiwis tick. In the course of the day I enjoyed chatting to him about the plight of rural parishes, and other areas of mutual concern.

It was at this point we said goodbye to Wynston Cooper, who had been our main support person. The four of us had formed a very cohesive and mutually respectful little team, and we will miss him. His place on the front seat of the van has been taken by Dion and Tash, a young couple from Dunedin who have made a pretty promising start.

The ferry took us up lake Wakatipu on a beautiful still clear day. It was cool enough to want a jacket when standing in the shade and hot enough to want to promptly remove it when standing out of it. We arrived in bustling, vigorous Queenstown around mid-day made our way through the crowded lakeside market to St. Peter's church and had a magnificent barbecue on the front lawn. Around 1:30 we set out for the airport about 6 km away.

We had been gifted a helicopter flight across the Crown Range by Heli Tours, a young but rapidly growing company operating out of Queenstown airport. Paul, whom I had met at St. Peters a few weeks ago flew us in a spick and span looking Hughes 500 across the Lake and the town and then over Cardrona skifield to Wanaka.

We were met at Wanaka by a large group from the Upper Clutha parish for the 4km walk into St. Columba's. There was, of course, an enormous afternoon tea, Phil John and I spoke briefly then we were ferried to tonight's accommodation. We are staying tonight, Clemency and I, with a couple our own age. It is very congenial, comfortable and pleasant indeed, though I do miss those kids a little.

Kingston: Day 8

Photo (c) Wynston Cooper 2014

Today's schedule required us to travel almost 40km so it was decided to bike it rather than walk. Riding at a leisurely pace and stopping somewhere for lunch should see us there by 2.00, at least that was the theory. At Fairlight Phil's pedal fell off. So, rather than have him finish the day as a passenger in the support vehicle we decided to walk the last 12 km.

Much of the riding section of the day was spent on the cycleway, which is not entirely finished but with one or two diversions because of non existent bridges - and for one small piece, non existent cycleway - it was perfectly manageable. At Athol we stopped to visit St. Bartholomew's church. This pretty little building looks and feels loved. It is clean and uncluttered and is one of the few churches around which is permanently open and yet remains unmolested by vandals or thieves. It is a holy and whole place. Sadly, it is one of our places of worship whose future is doubtful because there are not a lot of people who use it anymore. Perhaps its role as a wayside chapel is enough justification to keep it. Perhaps. The use of such buildings is a huge issue we face as a diocese and there is no obvious solution to it in this case or in perhaps a dozen others.

Just down the road at the Lazybones cafe we met Carol who runs the cafe and cleans the church. The cafe is on the market, because for Carol and her husband 8 years of keeping it open for 7 days a week is just about enough. The Lazybones is filled with homecrafts for sale and a huge collection of old toys. It's a pleasant place to visit and the coffee is good. Sooner or later it will sell, and the congregation of St. Bartholomews will drop again.

At Garston we made sandwiches in the park and took photos under the sign proclaiming it to be the most landlocked town in New Zealand. Then it was on to Fairlight.

We walked to Kingston on the cycleway, but after a few km switched to the main road because it looked like it might be shorter. The road ran straight for most of the way but the sheer grandeur of the scenery stopped any sense of boredom. It was a fine, clear day, and the lake, when we trudged up to it around 4:00 pm was a translucent turquoise. Kingston on a day like today is very beautiful indeed though people tell me the winds can be pretty ferocious. Still, I couldn't help looking at some of the places with "for sale" signs up and wondering if we could run to it. Walking the last mile to the jetty we met a pleasant woman who turned out to be the editor of the local news sheet. She took a photo and some notes for a story and was mighty interested to learn that the Archbishop of York was going to be in town tomorrow.

So now we are safely billeted for the night. We have , again, been generously catered for, and met some very interesting people. The weather map looks settled for our trip up the lake and I'm looking forward to seeing the Crown Range from the air.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Nokomai: Day 7

photo (c) Wynston Cooper 2014
Leaving town in company with a small group of Waimea Plains parishioners, we walked past Ted and Shirley’s place, where had stayed the night before, and on to the newly formed Round the Mountain cycleway. The path sits on top of the stopbank of the Oreti River for a few km. It is broad and flat and has a pleasingly firm surface so walking was easy. About 3 or 4 km out of town a few people from Te Anau joined us, and a little further on, so did Dot Muir and one or two others from Invercargill.

Dot had brought Ezra, a 19 year old donkey and his paddock mate Rocky who is a small pony. Ezra has had a hard life, or at least he did until he was fortunate enough to be rescued by Dot a couple of years back. He was pretty anxious about Te Harinui, having some unpleasant memories involving people with sticks. Knowing that he also was a bit nervous about men generally, I bribed him by feeding him a couple of handfuls of scroggin before clambering clumsily onto his back. I rode him for a few km down the path. He wouldn’t go anywhere without Rocky, so the pony was led and the donkey followed. 

The short jerky vertical rhythm of riding a donkey is a bit different than the slow rocking motion of sitting on a walking horse. Ezra had an authentic Ethiopian donkey blanket on his back with a small cloth loop for hanging onto but we got on just fine and he never did anything that required an emergency grasp. John had a turn, his first time ever sitting on the back of a quadruped, and Phil tried, unfortunately synchronising his climbing on with one of Ezra’s unpredictable bolts forward.
We had lunch at the Five Rivers cafĂ© before switching to a less interesting, more reliable form of transport: we broke out the bikes to continue on to Nokomai Station. The others wished us well, but shook their heads gravely and warned us of the difficulties of biking over the Jollies. Whatever they might be. We continued on the still unfinished cycleway for an hour or so, negotiating the odd bridgeless creek and the occasional electric fence slung over the path, until with the addition of hi-viz  vests we turned out onto the main road. Immediately there was a steepish downhill, on which it was possible to gather enough momentum to carry us up the modest uphill which followed. A bit of a grind later we stopped for a breather and learned we were at the top of Jollie’s Pass. Pah! Apart from one of our number lying gasping on his back, the Jollies held no fears for this intrepid band!

From here it was downhill all the way. There was an exhilarating sweep down a number of long curves and then a right turn onto a 12 km stretch of gravel. We rode down a widening valley with mountains towering on every side with increasing majesty until we reached the station. There was nobody home at the homestead, a modern two storey brick house, so we followed instructions and went inside to find rooms and shower and make tea.  Our hosts Ann and Brian Hore arrived by light plane from a trip to Dunedin a few hours later.

At 38,000 or so hectares, Nokomai is one of the great New Zealand high country runs. Brian and Ann farm beef and sheep, and the family has a passionate interest in horses which live in paddocks close to the house. In years gone by Nokomai was the scene of extensive gold mining operations. The pleasant valley in which the main buildings sit was quite recently extensively excavated but it has been restored to better than new condition and apart from a large pond, now covered in paradise ducks, nobody would know there had been a digger near the place. There is an accommodation business running near the homestead with several discretely landscaped cottages sitting around the exquisitely restored old stone homestead.

We had a short 4X4 tour of the land a look at the old buildings. We had a magnificent dinner and an evening of conversation. Here we are a long way from civilisation, but it all seems very, very civilised indeed.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Lumsden: Day 6

Photo (c) Wynston Cooper 2014

We woke to a lovely day in a beautiful place and with a buoyant sort of attitude to the day - funny blighter, Johnny Psychology. We knew we were walking a "mere" 21 km, so it seemed like a bit of a rest day. Again, the forecast rain didn't materialise, and again we walked in soft autumnal sunlight in cool, clear air. Benjamin joined us for a few km and we stopped on the top of the Josephville hill for lunch. We kept a steady pace past the paddocks and trees, watching the mountains draw nearer until just after 2, or about 5 hours after starting, we strolled into Lumsden.Or to be more accurate, plodded in with probably the same amount of tiredness as on the previous couple of days. We found a cafe and sat still for a while before contacting Gillian Swift and entering the programme prepared for us for the later part of the day.

I find the time spent walking passes pleasantly and despite the many long straights and the sameness of much of the scenery it is never dull, not even a little bit. We talk as we walk, and sometimes via walkie talkie Wynston gives interesting information on local geography /botany/ zoology/ history, but for me the most precious times of the journey are the  times of silence. In these I use my own kind of kind of walking meditation. I am aware of the rhythms of my body: the movement of my breath in and out, the steady fall of my feet, the swing of Te Harinui as it moves in my hand and plants itself beside my right foot once every four paces. These rhythms fall in 3 different but related patterns and over the top is a fourth: the metre of the Jesus Prayer. I am aware of the theological import attached to each of the four phrases but I resist the trap of thinking about them. Soon the prayer fades and I walk in inner silence in the eternal present, trying not too hard to be present to God but consenting to God's presence to me. There are no words, just the passing greenery and the animals and the coolness of the air and the buzz of insects and the patterns of my body in their steady interactions. Of course this lasts until I realise I am doing it, or until some other thought pops into my head -i.e. not long -  and then I am just strolling in reverie until I call my attention back to the rhythms of my body and the ancient words of the staretz. This is a prayer walk, and praying means listening not talking. And listening means shutting off the internal commentary and, as far as I can manage it, the internal filters through which I usually perceive the world.

Tonight we took a mini hikoi through Lumsden, visiting all the churches in town before sharing a pot luck dinner in the RSA hall. Phil spoke with his usual energy and eloquence about an experience of sharing the Gospel. We prayed briefly and made plans for the next day. I hope to return to this parish in the very near future for a more extended stay - I know there is a lot more listening to be done in this part of the world.

Incidentally, I took my boots off this evening and noticed with alarm that they are completely worn through in a couple of places on the heels. I was pretty indignant to see this as they were a birthday present from Bridget and Scott and are thus not quite a year old. But when I sat down and, consulted my Endomondo history I realised I had walked about 860 km in them since April last year. Not brilliant but the wear is excusable, especially as most of that has been on hard pavement. I will see if I can get a new pair in Wanaka this Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Dipton: Day 5

Photo (c) Wynston Cooper 2014

The forecast rain didn't appear and instead we had a cloudless sky all morning and some wispy cirrus late in the day. We left Winton just after 9.00 with a small group of locals who accompanied us to the edge of town and then  we walked on through the crisp autumnal sunshine Northwards across Southland. For the first couple of hours there were some refreshing bends in the road and three hours into the day's walk the first hill of the Hikoi. We stopped for lunch at 1.00 pm and then there was a series of relentlessly long straights before we completed the 30 km to Dipton a little after 3.00 pm. The little grocery shop in Dipton serves the largest and best icecreams in New Zealand. We struggled through their "single" scoop cone and contemplated buying a treble scoop one not so much to eat it as just to see what it looked like.

We were picked up, just as we were finishing, by Sarah Stewart, our host and taken to the farm she runs with her husband Chris on a hilltop above Dipton, looking North over miles of pastureland and forest to the far mountains. One of the recurrent themes of this trip has been hospitality. We have been treated with such generosity and we have stayed with beautiful people living in beautiful places. It has been humbling and enriching. We sat at dinner tonight, the four of us and Benjamin Brock Smith who had travelled down today, with Sarah and Chris, and also Chris' parents Garth and Adrienne who are well known in our diocese. The farm cooked meal and the wine and the conversation were all warm and generously plentiful and re-creating.

We have developed our walking pattern pretty well. We walk at about 5 kph: fast enough to cover the distance in good time but not fast enough to damage anything. We walk for 2 hour stints, and a couple of stops for rest and food is seeing us complete the day in around 6 hours. Tomorrow we head for Lumsden and the distance is shorter: about 23 km but there is a hill.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Winton: Day 4

Photo (c) Wynston Cooper 2014

The road North from Invercargill to Winton is wide, clear and well maintained. Large trucks burble past with their accompanying gust of cool, diesel tinged air every few minutes but the shoulders of the road are wide and it never feels dangerous. There are no towns or settlements in the 28 km between Invercargill and Winton, so there's no reason to break the journey. Starting at 8:00 am we walked steadily but not briskly, stopped by the roadside to make sandwiches, put our rain gear on briefly and took it off again, and we were in Winton by 2:00 pm.

This is prosperous country. The fences are straight and the pasture is lush, green and free of weeds. With the wide roads and the flat paddocks stretching off in every direction and the great empty sky it feels spacious. I quickly get into my own rhythms on a day like this. The road stretches straight so far ahead I can't see the next corner; there are very few rises or falls and when they come they are slight. The landscape is pleasant but unchanging. It is no use trying to anticipate what might lie ahead; the Rapid numbers on the letterboxes spell out the slowly decreasing number of kilometres to Winton, so I just put one foot after another, keep awareness of my breath, sometimes say the Jesus Prayer, and enjoy the long, unfolding present.

It's so far so good as far as our fitness goes. There are a few minor aches and pains, but nothing that needs worrying about. Despite the lessons of the Camino I have far too much gear with me, what with cycling clothes and a computer and a couple of bits and pieces I might need. When I have the opportunity I will rationalise and lighten up a bit.

We walked into leafy, well kept Winton and were greeted by a few members of the parish who accompanied us on the 1 km or so walk to the Church. After a cup of tea in the Church hall John and I were taken to a beautiful, large, modern farmhouse a few km out of Winton where we settled into the guest wing just as the rain began to fall. Well, to be more accurate, tumble, cascade, persist. We have a pot luck tea tonight at which we will share our experience of the Gospel and we will begin the 28 km walk to Dipton at 9:00 am. The rain is forecast to continue into Wednesday so it might be damp. Never mind. Walking for a month in Otago and Southland is guaranteed to involve rain at some stage and we are prepared.

This evening a large group gathered to share food. I spoke about a particular and peculiar coincidence that had once happened to me, and of how many of us have these markers of a larger intelligence active in our lives. Afterward two people told me, one with tears in his eyes, of profound happenings in their lives which had convinced them of the reality of a spiritual domain and of God's active presence. The hunger for spirituality and the knowledge of the divine is far more widespread than the creaking structures of our church allow us to believe. 

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Invercargill: Day 3

photo (c) Wynston Cooper 2014
Today was almost a rest day. We had a leisurely breakfast with our hosts, Liz and Evan Cheyne before making our way to St. John's for the 10 am service where I was preaching. After the service we held the first of our regional events outside under the trees. As the rain was threatening we kept it brief. I acted as MC, Phil Clark spoke with his usual witty eloquence and John Franklin prayed a blessing on the city. We had a pretty good turnout, most of whom stayed for lunch afterwards and a few of whom walked with us in the blustery wind and light rain across the city to Gladstone. It was a day for talking, making links between Christian communities of our own and others' denominations, and listening to what is going on this energetic little city

Invercargill is a beautiful town, which I knew already but knew even more so when I had walked through Queen's Park and down a couple of leafy little walkways known to the locals. I stopped to have my photo taken, naturally, beside a sign which said "Kelvin St." and another which advertised "Kelvin House" whose business is, apparently, budget mixed mature accommodation.

We arrived at All Saints Gladstone after about an hour, having traveled by way of Holy Trinity North Invercargill. Richard Aitken then took me to a cycle shop where I bought white, padded, leather-look handlebar tape to fit to Te Harinui. This tokotoko isn't merely a ceremonial stick but is a practical walking stick which is used for hours a day and needs an absorbent, non stick grip. I have done my best not to detract from its aesthetics. Over the course of the past couple of days scores, perhaps even hundreds of people have used Te Harinui or at least handled it. Phil used it as an object lesson in his talk this morning, as a symbol of the Gospel, whose purpose is not to be carried about as some sort of highly decorated burden, but is a practical support to be used and leaned upon as we walk the path.

Tomorrow there is another long flat straight haul over the Southland plains and ditto Tuesday and Wednesday. By Thursday we will no doubt be competing fiercely for the use of the walking stick.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Invercargill: Day 2

photo (c) Wynston Cooper 2014

Today was our first real day of walking. We were at Stirling Point, the place with the signpost that everyone likes to take a picture of,  at about 9:00. As the list of people who like to take pictures of the signpost includes us, we started walking about 9:20 and arrived outside St. Johns about 7 hours later. I was happy with this time for the 30 km distance considering the fact that we had a number of people walking parts of the road with us who were well beyond their normal limits of exercise. 

The part of State Highway 1 which runs from Bluff to Invercargill doesn't appear on many of those New Zealand: A Scenic Wonderland type calendars. It is flat and straightish and runs through peatland that is given over to sheep and deer farms and to stands of battered looking macrocarpa. There is a fertiliser factory and a few small settlements but no towns. The road is not busy but very large trucks rumble by at regular intervals going to or from Bluff or the Tiwai Aluminium smelter. There was a sea fog for some of the morning and a clear autumnal sky for much of the rest of the day.

At Greenhills we stopped for a morning tea provided by the local church committee. We looked into the tiny historic church and then moved to the hall for some Southland hospitality. Over the past couple of days we have been presented with the most astonishing variety of food, all of it lip smackingly good. Between the basic metabolic rate for a man my size and the energy required to move my bulk at 5 kph for 30 km today I needed to take in somewhere around 5,000 calories. What with the breakfast whipped up by Steve before we left and the efforts of the Greenhills Church committee, I think I ingested that amount well before lunchtime.

Today was a day for getting systems sorted out. We have a support vehicle - a campervan driven by Wynston Cooper. The van follows closely behind, as is required by the Road transport Authority and we keep in touch via walkie talkies. All of those walking on the open road wear high viz vests, and we stick strictly to the shoulder of the road. There are good reasons for all of this, of course, but 10km out of Bluff we met a group of about 10 young people walking with enormous packs. They had been walking, since October, from Cape Reinga to Bluff. They didn't have a flashing light or reflective signs or high viz vests or a back up vehicle, and yet they had survived and looked likely to continue to do so for the last 2 hours of their journey.

As we walked today I was surprised and humbled by the goodwill of the people around us. All manner of folk waved and smiled as they passed. A man painting a fence knew who we were and what we were doing and wished us well. The local newspaper and the local television station both sent people to talk to us and take pictures. It's early days yet of course, but I have not heard one negative opinion of what we are doing. We find ourselves banqueted and engaged in conversation everywhere we go. 

And so we walked on. Tired and sweaty, we arrived at St John's church late in the afternoon. John, Phil and I were taken to our billet. And, of course, after a shower and change of clothes we went to a barbecue at Richard and Talita Aitkens place for conversation with some really lovely people and for a really enormous meal.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Bluff: Day 1

Photo (c) Wynston Cooper 2014

I woke early and ate a breakfast of homemade bread and hot cereal. The evening before, the conversation at St. Andrews Anglican Church had spilled over into a time of quite deep sharing with Bubba, Jo and Andy and the rapport built continued into the new day as we sat around the breakfast table. Conversation was interrupted by radio interviews, conducted by telephone as we ate, with Radio Live in Auckland and with a Maori station from Northland. Then we were driven to Wohler's Cross and the Hikoi began.

Stewart Island is a beautiful place and one of the most beautiful parts of it is the small hill above Half Moon Bay where descendants of the Rev'd Wohlers have built a memorial to this pioneering missionary. Below the bush clad hillside are several golden sand beaches with small rocky headlands and the sea is dotted with islands large and small. The memorial is a stone cross set in a small dell on the hilltop, with a view out to Ruapuke where the Wohlers' mission station used to be and down to the place on the beach where they are buried. We walked to the cross and stood in small groups talking as we waited for the right moment, in the way these events often happen. There were about 20 or 30 of us, I suppose, some from the mainland but most from the Island, including Wohler's great great granddaughter Nancy who lives permanently in this exquisite place.

When all seemed to be as it should be, Bubba welcomed us in Te Reo, speaking on behalf of the Tangata Whenua. He blessed the staff made for the occasion by Peter Tait and named it Te Harinui. Peter had carefully dressed a piece of manuka about 2 metres long. He fitted a small disk to the top in which is inlaid, in paua shell, a map of Stewart Island. He has decorated it minimally with nautical braidwork and, for the occasion, tied some tiny, highly fragrant Stewart Island orchids to the top. The perfume of the flowers drifted through the small dell during all the proceedings. I replied and spoke of the reasons we were walking; of the journies of Tamihana Te Rauparaha and Johan Wohlers and the reasons they made them; of the need for our people to be confident in their own experience of those same motivations. And then we began.

We walked perhaps 4 or 5 km back over the hills to St. Andrew's church where there was a large and delicious lunch and time for more conversation. Then a kilometre or two later, in a short, well crafted and deeply moving service, we  were blessed in the Oban Presbyterian Church before boarding the ferry for Bluff. On the wharf a Ngai Tahu woman whose work had prevented her from attending in the morning gathered us all together, said karakia and sang a waiata. The passage across Foveaux was mercifully uneventful except for the large numbers of albatrosses soaring around us as we left Stewart island.

In Bluff we were welcomed onto Te Rau Aroha marae, one of New Zealand's  best kept architectural secrets. The Wharenui is named Tahu Potiki after the great Ngai Tahu Tupuna and is, unusually, round, a tribute to the shape of the traditional housing of the local people. The interior is beautifully wrought with  carvings and tukutuku panels of the highest quality all of which are vibrantly, beautifully colourful. Around the interior walls of the house and in the centre are giant ancestor figures, all of whom are women. They tower above us and look down fiercely, each representing the matriarchal antecedent of a local family. Each is intricately painted and they are more naturalistic in style than those of other wharenui. Each contains a compartment in which the living descendents of the tupuna place photographs and records of the continuing family story, so in the house we are surrounded not so much by a dead past as a living present. There was a powhiri, and then, of course, another wonderful meal in a whare kai only marginally less splendid than the wharenui. After dinner I spoke of the presence of God in our lives and the way the Church can sometimes obscure our sense of this. I invited people to treasure those times when they have realised God's love in their own lives. I was grateful that this truly remarkable place had blessed our journey by enfolding us at its beginning.

We left early enough for the three of us to sit around with our host Steve Mitchell, share some of his excellent home brew and debrief this extraordinary day. Te Harinui, the Hikoi of Joyful news has had the most perfect first day that I could have wished for. I look forward to the 29 to come.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Stewart Island Day -1

I met with Phil and John for prayer this morning before we joined Richard Johnson and local Kaumatua Bubba Thompson for the flight to Stewart Island.

The trip across Foveaux Strait is made by either a swift catamaran ferry service or by Britten Norman Islander aircraft. Both cost about the same and both are at times equally adventurous. We are hedging our bets, flying to and boating from the Island. This morning was still and calm and I had the favoured seat, the one next to the pilot with all the knobs and dials and so forth spread out in front of me and the startling scenery passing a thousand feet below and visible on three sides.

We were met by old friends, Peter and Iris Tait, and taken to the Tait's place for coffee. Peter and Iris run an exquisitely laid out B&B operation as well as a charter boat service. Both are a fund of information about Stewart Island and a hour or so slipped happily by as they caught us up with what had been happening since I was last here. Around lunchtime we were taken to the predator free wildlife sanctuary of Ulva Island for a short tour, guided by Wynston Cooper, and then I was dropped at my accommodation, Andy and Jo's B&B. This is an old villa, stuffed with books and curios, run by gentle, intelligent, enquiring people: yet another two of those larger than life characters who make up the community of this astonishing place.

This evening there was a pot luck dinner in the RSA hall. The Anglican and Presbyterian congregations were both present along with a number of other folk. This was the first time in many years that the two Island Churches had met together for a social function. Coming together for the Hikoi has been another step in a rapidly growing rapport. The food was superb and plentiful. The conversations were long and relaxed. Phil gave a brief history of the Church Army and  I spoke about the reasons we are makig this pilgrimage. We were met by enormous good will on every side. and many of those present will turn up tomorrow morning when the Hikoi begins at Wohler's Cross.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Invercargill: Day -2

Four of us drove South at mid-day today: Benjamin Brock Smith, John Franklin, Phil Clark of the Church Army and myself. We had our gear for a month loaded into my not large car and a whole lot of stuff besides: magnetic signs for the side of the support van and a flashing light for its roof; a first aid kit and 2 way radios and various cameras; booklets and maps; a timetable. I had talked with Clemency and Debbie about the best ways to connect with me. I had procured an exceptionally cheap bike and prepared it for Phil to ride. All was ready, after this long time of thinking and preparation and we were finally on our way.

We had a quick lunch at Waihola and I tried hard, honestly I did, not to covet the Ducati Multistrada parked outside the restaurant window. We stopped in Balclutha on a baking hot afternoon and met the people from Anglican Family Care.

AFC has a small office in Balclutha which accomplishes an astonishing amount of good. Like it's parent office in Dunedin it punches far above its weight and is highly regarded by all in the social services field. We looked through the office, had a chat with the Deputy mayor, Stewart Cowie and then in company with some members of the local parish and the folk from AFC walked perhaps 1km to St. Marks Church. The Hikoi doesn't begin until Friday, but we got a few steps in anyway.

We arrived in Invercargill late in the day, found some dinner, bought a few provisions and sorted out a light pack to take to Stewart Island. Benjamin drove back to Dunedin and the three of us will fly to the Island on the first flight out in the morning.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Te Harinui: Dunedin

Lent has arrived. This week has arrived. Te Harinui, my pilgrimage from one end of the diocese to the other has almost arrived. When I first thought of doing this I imagined going to Bluff with a little pack and walking Northward, no great drama, not a lot in the way of preparation required. I hadn't factored in how much the walk would grab people's imaginations, and, with many wishing to participate, how much organisation would be involved.

Benjamin Brock Smith has been working pretty much full time on the Hikoi since the end of last year. He and I have driven the route, sorted it into do-able stages, made notes on all of them and publicised it to the diocese. We have invited invitations of interest and/or registration for differing parts of it. The original walk has developed to include sections by bicycle, train, aeroplane and boat. When I was in Wanaka recently a helicopter pilot generously offered to take me from Queenstown, over the Crown Range to Wanaka, a step that would save us the problem of negotiating the dangerous Kawerau Gorge. We have found bikes and bike racks, a camper van, all the necessary paraphernalia such as spare tubes and walking socks and wet weather gear.

The basic walking party will be myself, John Franklin my chaplain and Phil Clark of the Church Army, and Wynston Cooper is driving the main support vehicle. The Most Rev'd Dr. John Sentamu, Archbishop of York will be joining us briefly. Interest is rising in participating in one way or another. In Te Anau today several people told me of their intent of walking with us out of Lumsden, and registrations for the Taieri Gorge Railway and Rail Trail are starting to trickle in. The special sections (Rail trail, the boat from Kingston to Queenstown, the Taieri Gorge Railway) will have an upper limit of numbers, but there are still vacancies if you get in quickly.

We have seen the traffic department and registered our traffic plan. For long stretches of Otago and Southland we will be limited to 12 people on the road at any one time but near towns and on those parts of the Hikoi using off road tracks, there will be no limit on numbers. All are welcome, within those limits, though we aren't able to arrange drop off and pick up facilities for people, and folk will need to bring their own food.

On Wednesday Benjamin will drive us South to Invercargill, with a stop in Balclutha. We will travel to Stewart Island by plane on Thursday morning, and begin the Hikoi proper the next day at the Wohler's memorial. After a brief walk and talking with the whole Christian community on the Island, we will take the ferry back to Bluff, and visit the spectacular Te Rau Aroha marae. Our first serious day of walking will be the 28km to Invercargill next Saturday. See you there.

Te Anau

I had no scheduled services this Sunday, so when an emergency produced a hole in Te Anau's service schedule I was able to nip down and fill it. It was a lovely evening. I brought my camera. So, despite the world having no particular need of yet another photo of a sunset , I took a few snaps, some of which I was pleased with.