Paul Henry, Alison Mau and TVNZ

Many of you will have caught up with Paul Henry and his reaction to Stephanie Mills and her facial hair. We shouldn’t be surprised about Paul’s insensitivity or opinions.

What we might be more surprised about is Alison Mau’s comments as a reaction to Paul. In amongst reading the emails from irate and upset viewers she finally admitted what many of us have known for a long time – TVNZ is not serious about news – they are only interested in making ‘good’ telly and if good telly means they have to criticise and make fun of a woman’s facial hair, then so be it.

Reading out the emails and reaction to Paul’s comments Mau says without even a hint of irony:

“…but in actual fact, when you think about it, we need people to watch the television that we’re making, for good or ill, and I think, you know, even though you have been quite vile this morning, it’s…you know…it makes good telly…”

Scroll through to around 02:52 and watch her say it, live on the television.

TVNZ is only interested in crap, but especially in crap that generates an audience.

There’ll be a lot more of this rubbish when National removes the charter. At about that time I’ll be upgrading my Fatso subscription so I never have to watch TV again.

Fatso

FatsoI’m a convert.

After paying $23 at Wellington Library for overdue DVD’s and hearing my colleague talk about Fatso as an alternative I signed up on the 2 week free trial.

And am I impressed? You bet.

I registered on a Wednesday, and on Thursday my first three DVDs arrived in the post. Exactly what I ordered. No overdue fees again. And the plan I selected (6 DVD’s a month) means that my boys can have Star Wars, or Some Mothers Do Have ‘Em all month while we can churn through the very impressive array of Documentary titles.

Our current favourite is The Staircase – a fly-on-the-wall view of a murder trial that showed on SBS in the States last year. I won’t provide a link to it because I’m only half way through the 12 part series and I don’t want to Google and inadvertently discover the outcome of the trial. But if you really want to know look here.

Once you have finished watching the DVD you pop it in a Freepost envelope (provided) and send it back.

What’s more they are using my nickname to promote their newsletter – The Skinny from Fatso. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

Tongariro Alpine Crossing – Saturday 14 March

I have had a very active March.

No sooner had I returned from my motorcycle adventure around the South Island than I found myself in the car with Sugar heading for National Park. We were hoping to do the Tongariro Crossing, in fact we had been thinking about it for over a year.

We arrived at the Chateau around 11.00pm and were tucked up in bed anticipating an early wakeup call to get the 7.00am shuttle that would take us to the start of the track.

Saturday morning arrived, crisp and clear, with a light breeze. I knew the track was popular but wasn’t prepared for the hoardes of people getting off buses and out of cars and 4WD’s at the end of the Mangatepopo Road.

Sugar and I headed off. The brochure said the track was ‘challenging’. It wasn’t lying. The first part of the track crossed a volcanic plateau to the first toilet stop at Soda Springs. Then it was a steep climb up the Devil’s Staircase – aptly named. Very steep with magnificent views all the way to Mount Taranaki on the West Coast of the North Island.

We’d been walking in shade for over an hour. Every few hundred metres the track would be bathed in sunlight and we would find other trampers resting there to warm up.

At the top of the Devil’s Staircase the track levels off and enters this surreal landscape known as the South Crater. I swear this was where NASA filmed the lunar landing.

The whole while the slopes of Ngauruhoe loomed over the track. There is a side track that trampers can take which adds 2.0 hours to the journey – it takes you to the top of Ngauruhoe, and is not for the faint hearted or for those suffering from vertigo. It’s considered ‘very challenging’. I could see why. The hike up takes 1.5 hours – the scramble down takes 30 minutes. We stayed on the main track.

The climb up to the Red Crater, an area of anatomical-looking fissures and what looked like recent volcanic activity, was slippery and required sure-footedness.  There was ice under the volcanic gravel. But the view at the top of this steep section was spectacular and allowed a great vantage point down to the three small blue-green crater lakes. At one point steam rose up and the ground was warm to the touch.

The track down to the Emerald Lakes

The track down to the Emerald Lakes

We stopped for a while near the Emerald Lakes. The whole area swarmed with other trampers. There was no need to be concerned about being left behind. I reckon 80-100 people were with us at that point with more arriving every few minutes.

Further on the Blue Lake gave us an opportunity to have lunch and there was more room to spread out and be more ‘alone’. The track headed north from this point towards and down to the Ketetahi Hut, the first toilet stop since Soda Stream nearly 4.5 hours before.

From Ketetahi Hut the walk down was excrutiating, for me at least. I hate going downhill and this was incessant, and almost boring. It put tremendous strain on my long legs until by the time I emerged at the Ketetahi Carpark and pick-up point I was a hobbling cripple.

It took me days to recover – not in the sense of exhaustion but just in the pain in my legs. This is one of the most popular tramps in New Zealand. In summer months when the weather is good up to 800 people a day do the walk. That’s double what some tramping tracks do in a year!

On a side note: we stayed at the Chateau. It was an experience to say the least. Don’t expect good food – the restaurant does a great breakfast but the dinner was overblown cordon-bleu crap, and inedible. Sugar couldn’t eat her entree, and only ate half her main. I was too exhausted to complain about my lamb chop swimming in some creamy muck – I didn’t eat much of it, and my soup was luke warm.

And they charge $5 for a flat white.

But the Crossing is more than worth the price of a bad meal. Another wonderful domestic tourism experience.

Christchurch to Picton, then Wellington – Thursday 12 March

Lucky again with the weather. No rain, just a subdued Christchurch sky.

I’ve done Christchurch to Picton many times before and so wasn’t particularly excited at the prospect of the journey. And because I needed to be at Picton for a 5pm check-in there was a sense of just needing to get there, rather than enjoying the journey.

Fuel stop in Amberley. Lunch in Cheviot in a great café that had a gallery attached. A colleague from my previous life as a photographer, Doc Ross, had some large scale landscape prints for sale.

I rested my back and shoulders in Kaikoura. This incessant riding at 100kph just isn’t my idea of fun, and my bike revs quite high at that speed which contributes to my fatigue and results, ultimately, to a numb arse!

From Kaikoura I rode straight through to Picton. The only frustrations were campervans holding up traffic, and a stiff head wind.

My excitement for the day happened in Picton when I made use of the public toilets.

Instructions on the outside told me to push the green button. I did. The door slid open with a star-trekky whoosh.

I stepped inside a structure similar to The Tardis – much bigger inside than the outside indicated. Already disconvovulated (sp?) a chirpy American (male) welcomed me to the Exeloo. He spoke like he was introducing a boxer in the red corner. I looked around to see if he was in there with me. I was alone.

My new friend announced that I would have 10 minutes to ‘complete’. No indication was given of what might happen after 10 minutes of incompletion. Fortunately I wasn’t there for that type of visit.

Immediately after my riding instructions loud mu-sac (or loo-sac, or poo-sac) started playing – an accomplished instrumental version of Burt Bacharachs “What do you get when you fall in love…” A note above the toilet informed me that the toilet would flush only under two conditions. One, when I washed my hands, or two, when I opened the door.

There was a large cubbyhole in the wall – hands to the left squirted soap. Hands in the middle produced water. Hands to the right started the hand drier.

I pressed the button to unlock the door (after washing my hands) and as I left Brad/Scooter/Hank/my new best friend proudly thanked me for using Exeloo.

As I write this I’m imagining the countdown as the 10 minute limit drew near.

So, remember – if you have not been eating your bran, and are perhaps a little less than regular DON’T, whatever you do, use an Exeloo.

I’m about an hour out of Wellington now on the ghastly Aratere (the smaller of the ferries). The sailing is smooth but with a noticeable swell.

Since last Sunday lunchtime I have travelled just over 2000kms and ridden on roads I have never ridden before, including two rather exciting off-the-beaten-track experiences.

At the risk of sounding cliched New Zealand is an amazing place. And in these tough economic times it’s really time to explore our own country before heading offshore. This whole experience cost me less than $500 – I could have done it for a lot less if I hadn’t stayed in motels, or had to buy beer for the guys at Omakau Garage.

Bloody great adventure. Mission accomplished.

On a final, final note I would like to acknowledge my other (and better) half for allowing me leave of absence from family life. Thanks Sugar!

Kurow to Christchurch – Wednesday 11 March

Great news this morning. I woke to blue skies, sort of. Rain looked highly likely but it wasn’t raining yet.

I asked at the motel about the road conditions on the Hakataramea Pass road According to the motelier’s husband all rivers on the route were bridged. This contradicted what little I had read on the web, so I tried to confirm that at the garage when I refuelled.

“Mate, don’t worry. The fords won’t be deep. You’ll get through no probs. That’ll be $17.63.”

Great. Conflicting reports. I chose to mentally prepare myself for the garage owners version.

The road was sealed for about 25kms then turned to easy gravel. About halfway (40kms) I came to a gate. On the other side there were five 4WD vehicles and around 20 fully armed army personnel in camo. It was a surreal site – they blended perfectly with the surrounding landscape. Body-less arms waved me through.

The road narrowed, markedly, and a sign warned of steep grades, fords and unpredictable weather conditions.

As I climbed upwards an army truck rattled by, and then later three more 4WD’s with more army waving me on. The temperature dropped further and a light dusting of snow became apparent on the tops of the surrounding hills.

I crossed five or six fords, one of them giving me a bit of a fright and a flashback of my experience the day before.

At the pass (965m) snow was falling, lightly, but enough to leave a dusting on the ground.

Hakataramea Pass

Hakataramea Pass

I was nearly at the other end. The last ten kilometres was almost the worst of the trip. A wide, open and flat road but absolutely no formed tyre tracks – just a two or three inch layer of gravel. It was like riding on marbles.

Hakataramea Pass, Mackenzie Country

Hakataramea Pass, Mackenzie Country

Once off the track it was a 26 km trip to Fairlie. I stopped at a café and warmed my feet near a two bar heater.

My last detour of the day took me on the inland scenic route via Geraldine and the Rakaia Gorge. I wanted to visit Mount Somers. My great grandfather opened the first general store there in 1892 until he sold it in 1923.

The current store was not the original. In fact it wasn’t even in the same location. But I asked the lady that owned it about William Thomas Doak. She phoned a lady who was a volunteer at the local museum. That lady would meet me there in 15 minutes and show me what they had on my long lost relative.

William Thomas Doak, Store-owner, Mt Somers

William Thomas Doak, Mt Somers

When I arrived at the museum her brother turned up as well. He had photographs of my great grandfather – a sepia of him standing outside his store with a small child, and a wedding photograph. I also discovered there was a rail siding (now dis-used) named in his honour – Doak’s Siding.

From Mount Somers it was a quick dash via the Rakaia Gorge to Darfield. A pie and a flat white and the last 30km into Christchurch.

Then it rained, and rained, and rained. I’m hoping it’s rained itself out and that tomorrow will be a clear run through to Picton.

Queenstown to Kurow – Tuesday 10 March

Well, I wanted an adventure and today I got one.

My plan was to do Danseys Pass into the Waitaki Valley and then the Hakataramea Valley into Tekapo.

While getting petrol in Cromwell I pulled my map out and saw another track that went from Bendigo through to Omakau near St Bathans. That would link nicely with Danseys.

So, off I headed. My motorcycle atlas proved less than reliable. I turned off SH8 near Crippletown and headed up a very steep track to the old Bendigo diggings. 30 minutes later I came to a locked gate. So, I went back to the main road having wasted an hour.

I found another route up Ardgour Road. This looked more promising, confirmed when I came to a sign warning not to attempt the track in wet weather. Further on a hand painted sign said: “Bikes, keep on the track or PISS OFF”.

The track was the same one in my atlas just in a different place. It would take me past Mount Moka and through the Dunstan Range. The public road follows what is known as Thomson’s Track (Thomson Gorge Road). It is rutted and steep but perfectly passable with stupendous views back west to Pisa Range, and then near the tops east towards Raggedy Range.

There was a southerly front coming through. I could see it behind me. When I got onto the uppermost reaches of the track the wind was so strong I had trouble keeping my bike upright when stopping to open any of the numerous gates.

Thompson Track, Central Otago

Thompson Track, Central Otago

On the descent down into Omakau I passed a farmer heading the other way. Soon after I crossed several fords, one big enough to get my feet wet. By this time though I was feeling reasonably confident with my off road skills. The farmer overtook me soon after returning the way he came. And I had a clear unimpeded view into the valley. Destination in sight.

I came up to another closed gate on a steep descent. Because you can’t park a bike on the side stand facing downhill I turned to face back up the hill I opened the gate, returned to my bike and then proceeded to turn back down the hill. Disaster. In the blink of an eye the bike slipped and went over, facing down hill. This was a problem – a big one, weighing about 192kgs (wet).

I have managed in the past to pick my bike up when I dropped it, but not on a gravel road, or on mud (my last experience). I was stuck, high up a hill, no traffic, no way to get going.

I spent about 40 minutes trying to stop the wheels skidding by jamming big rocks under the wheels. I spun the bike round to use the slope of the track more effectively. No luck, except wrenching my back.

View towards Omakau - near where I dropped my bike

View towards Omakau - near where I dropped my bike

I could see farm houses in the distance and contemplated walking but they were a long way away.

I pulled out my mobile. There was coverage. Years ago I had taken photographs at the Omakau Garage. It was worth a shot – I figured it was about 10kms away. 018 gave me the number and so it was that I humiliated myself by asking for help. As luck would have it two of the garage workers were going off to fix a tractor. They would pass by and give me a hand.

Thirty minutes later two swarthy southern men pulled up in a white ute (symbolic?). The younger hopped out, walked up to my bike, grabbed the handlebars, and hoisted the bike up in one humiliating movement. I’m not called Skinny for nothing.

Thankfully they waited for me to load the bike back up, and we travelled down the mountain together. I drove to the Omakau Hotel and bought a dozen Speights and delivered it to the garage. Disaster averted, but the adventure was not over.

Riding out of Omakau the rain started. And then the wind. I headed towards Naseby ready to do Danseys Pass. The wind was blowing so hard it was difficult to ride straight.

I had ridden Danseys Pass back in 1982. I remembered it as relatively benign. But this time was different. 10 kms in the hail started. And the wind blew harder. I looked down and saw my crotch filling with pellets of ice. And to cap it off the road was much worse than I remembered. It was corrugated and hard to ride with ill-formed tyre tracks making negotiating sharp corners particularly challenging. And the worsening weather only made it worse.

Danseys Pass, Central Otago

Danseys Pass, Central Otago

The pass itself was hair-raising. Exposed to the fierce wind on the tops I seriously wondered if I would make it through to the Waitaki Valley. The earlier hail was followed by torrential rain.

I did eventually make it to Duntroon. The road to Kurow runs due west meaning the southerly now becomes a cross-wind. This is the worst and most terrifying wind for a motorcyclist, especially when it’s blowing this hard. Shelter belts gave some protection but they also released branches and debris across the road.

By this time I’m absolutely freezing and determined to stop at the first motel I could find. Hence, Kurow.

I’m hoping like hell the southerly will blow through and that tomorrows weather won’t be as bad as the forecasters are predicting. I need to make it to Christchurch for Wednesday night, but I need to do it safely. This means avoiding wide open spaces – bloody hard to do now that I’m near the Mackenzie Basin and the Canterbury Plains.

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