Saturday, 29 August 2009

1928 - Two boys cycling from Dunedin to Christchurch. Jim McKerrow and Arthur Hughes

Ch'church, Monday 29 December 1928

Dear Mother and Family

We got here alright and it was a very rough trip which I would not like to do again. From Dunedin to Oamaru it was nothing but up and down hills and the roads were nothing but boulders. We had head winds from Dunedin to Oamaru but from Timaru to Christchurch the road were concrete and could not have been better.

We covered 126 miles from Timaru to Christchurch in 6 hours. The first night we reached Palmerston and slept under a hay stack. The second day Christmas it started to rain at 6 o’clock so we slept in a goods shed. The third night we slept by the Rakaia River. We got up at half past 3 and rode until dark.

We don’t like Arthur’s people so we took Auntie Mary’s offer to stay at her place from Wednesday till Friday. Auntie Mary is a good sort we were out there on Sunday the whole day. Young Freddie had a bad accident with his push bike. He ran into a motor car. The whole family and Arthur and I went into the Hospital to see him.
I have lost all the skin off my face. It was 96 oF in the shade on Saturday, the hottest weather I have known.
We have been to Lyttleton and to have a look at our old house in Madras Street. Saturday night we went to the pictures. I don’t like the town people. They are very funny. If you ask them the way they don’t speak they just walk on. I don’t know if you will be able to read this. I have nowhere to write on. I am writing this up against a post. I will be home on Friday or Saturday, very likely Friday, I hope everbody is in good health. Arthur and I are alright. No punctures so far we were lucky. We thought the distance from Dunedin was 235 but when we got there we found that was by train. It is 246 by road.
This is all I can think of just now.
With love from

The Plum Pudding was good we had it for dinner on Christmas Day.
I hope Bob has a good birthday.

30 August 2009

When I was in New Zealand last month, my sister Marie, showed me a letter, written in pencil, that my father, James William Godfrey McKerrow. b. 02.02.1910, wrote to his Mother, after cycling from Dunedin to Christchurch in 1928.
I remember the bike carefully stored in our cellar in Dunedin. It was a big black roadster, with double forks. My Dad carried many bags of cement, 4 x 2's and lots of building material strapped to the frame of his bike, from South Dunedin, up the very steep Leckhampton Court and Forfar Street, to our house in Clyde Hill. It was a gutbuster. I wonder how many other journeys Dad did, but never recorded ? He fought in North Africa and Italy during World War 2, and I have most of the postcards he sent my Mum. That is his record during a very tragic part of world history. I am proud of my Dad and Mum.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The mountains had taught me about life........

I think I realised that my main interest did not consist in trying to test my strength.; nor was it essential for me to achieve some victory. The Mountains had taught me about life. I needed to learn that comfort and security are not esstential prerequisites to a sense of satisfaction…. The mountains had already given me physical fitness and friends, a deeper appreciation of the planet in which we live, a clearer perception of values distinquishing the stable and the essential from the petty and ephemeral… Mountaineering had to be the whole mountain experience = the huts in the valley, the shepherds in the upper valleys, the flowers by the glacier stream, the upper icefield, the snowy ridge, the rocky crest and the lonely summit. It was sufficient the mountains were aesthetically satisfying. I did not need to seek difficult climbs, although I tried to acquire competence to deal with difficulties that might arise in my quest for perfect accord with the mountain environment.


Saturday, 22 August 2009

2009 New Zealand Winter Games Underway

Forty nations, 800 athletes, 220 media, 400 volunteers, 34 events, 15 sports and 10 days of the best winter sports action ever seen outside of the Olympics - it's the greatest show on snow and it's 100% Pure New Zealand Winter Games!

New Zealand's Jossi Wells, on his way to a silver medal in the Free Skiing Slopestyle competition at the 2009 Winter Games at The Remarkables, Queenstown

It fills my heart with pride when I see the remote mountainous regions of the province (Otago) that my Great-Grand Father so faithfully surveyed between 1861 and 1863, and the province I was born in and learned to tramp, climb and ski, has become the venue for the 2009 NZ Winter Games, a key event before the Winter Olympics. It started last Friday, 21 August 2009.

The Remarkables, a place I started snow and ice climbing in 1966, one of the key venues for the 2009 Winter Games.

The inaugural 100% Pure New Zealand Winter Games opened last Friday afternoon in front of over 1,000 spectators and the world’s media.

A skydiver landing on the beach heralded the start of the opening, followed by 40 local school children arriving by jet boats across Lake Wakatipu, each carrying a flag of the 40 nations competing in the Games.

The rousing call of the putara (conch) called the crowds to attention for the start of the powhiri (welcome). The warriors of Kai Tahu issued a challenge to the visitors and placed a teka (dart) at the feet of Jean-Phillipe Roy of Canada who was representing the several hundred athletes present.

Governor-General Hon Sir Anand Satyanand officially opened the Games, highlighting the benefits and unique nature of this ground-breaking event, as well as it's potential for the future. He talked about the vision of Winter Games NZ chairman Sir Eion Edgar, and CEO Arthur Klap had to produce this event and how it evolved through the collaboration with the Olympic committees of the Pacific Rim countries.

It was good to see my that my old friend Arthur Klap's dream finally come true. I first met Arthur and his wife Lynn, in Chamonix France in the late 70's, when they were both young competitive free-style skiers. I spent some time with Arthur in those days and recall discussing the potential of the Otago mountains had fro winter sports, and one, day the venue for a winter Olympics. And Eion Edgar, another of my Dunedin generation, who used his vision and connections to make this happen. It is a proud time for us Dunedin lads to see Otago's mountains finally getting the oportunity to attract winter sport competitors from around the world to these first ever, New Zealand Winter Games

A map of all the venue for the 2009 Winter games

Cadrona, the venue for Nordic skiing
Jossi, proudly displaying his medal.

Team Australia’s experience won through in the first 100% Pure New Zealand Winter Games match of the double header Trans Tasman ice hockey series in Dunedin tonight winning 8 -2. In front of a crowd of 2500 at Dunedin’s Ice Stadium, the Ice Blacks made a thrilling start with goals by Paris Heyd and Brett Speirs putting them up 2-1 within the first thirteen minutes of the game. The Ice Blacks have never beaten Australia at senior level and this was the first time in their 10 match history that they had hit the front. However Australia fought back to equalise, with the score 2-2 by the end of the first period. The second Test is tonight.

100% Pure New Zealand Winter Games continues today Sunday 23rd August, with the Snowboard Slopestyle at The Remarkables, the cross-country classic skiing at Snow Farm, the start of the curling at Naseby and the final ice hockey test match in Dunedin.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Breakfast with Margaret Mahy

“We are leaving in an hour to live on a tropical island for a long time, and I am giving you a box to pack your books in. You can only take ten,“ I said to Margaret Mahy as we sat on her balcony at Governor’s Bay overlooking treetops and bush, towards the sea.
“Ohhh, that’s going to be difficult to chose, “ she said, as a smile broadened on her face.
She thought hard as she gazed into the bush. “I’ll have to take something of Dickens,” and deliberated.
King Solomon’s Mines is a must: I like Rider Haggard very much.”
And, I will have something by Lewis Carrol, perhaps Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass,” Margaret said quite excitedly. She decided on Alice.
Her dog Honey sat at her feet as we talked.

“Will I have food on the island so shall I take a cookbook? “ she asked. “You will be provided good food on the island so don’t worry about taking a cook book,” I replied enjoying this game.

Margaret Mahy, pictured left, was obviously enjoying herself as the warm winter sun shone on the balcony and warmed us up. My daughter Aroha and friend Lisa were with us enjoying the sun.

“That’s three books,” I said and sat back in my chair and waited.

“ I’ll have to take The Flint Heart for that is such a good book” Suddenly I felt embarrassed. I have never heard of The Flint Heart. Margaret sensed my disquiet and gave us a brief summary of the book written by Eden Philpotts and how the hunter found a large rock, and when he broke it open, there was a flint heart.

“ I suppose I should take the Bible.” That was five books. I noticed there were none on poetry and humour and waited.

Eventually she decided on two poetry books, one on English poets and another, an anthology of poets from all over the world. We were now up to seven.
I said, “ Margaret, you haven’t chosen any books that are solely humour.” She thought awhile and said, “what would you recommend ?” I didn’t have to think for long as I rattled off, “ A Dustbin of Milligan by Spike Milligan.”

She laughed and said “ He’s so funny and I loved the Goon Show.” She agreed to take Spike Milligin. Somehow we both ran out of steam and the game was over. But that is Margaret Mahy, the child who in her youth, her favourites were The Flint Heart by Eden Philpotts, The Jungle Book and Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines with the stoic Allan Quatermain crossing the desert to the mythical diamond mines. And then there was Kipling.

We discussed Glover at length and I was pleased she had the same high opinion of him as a poet, printer and publisher. I told her she was the third top NZ writer I had met. She quickly rose to the bait, and said “ Who were the others?.”
I told Margaret I met Denis Glover in 1973 when he worked in Lower Hutt at the Correspondence Institute and he autographed my copy of his book, Enter Without Knocking. Then when I lived at Franz Josef, I visited Kiri Hume a number of times and one night we drank two bottles of whiskey together. Her eyes twinkled and said, “ I would have like to have been there.”

Earlier in the morning we ate breakfast together, in her old house next to her new one, where her friend Lisa Anson lives. Lisa is an old friend of mine who invited me out for breakfast and said, " You may get the chance to meet Margaret."
Over bacon and eggs, we discussed poetry, but in reality we were trading poems, one by one. I quoted two verses from my favourite Robert Frost, The Bearer of Evil Tidings.
He took the one to the mountains.
He ran through the Vale of Cashmere,
He ran through the rhodendrons,
Till he came to the land of Pamir.
And there in a precipice valley
A girl of his age he met
Took him home to her bower
Or he might be running yet.

Margaret responded with one of her favourites from Banjo Paterson -
A Job for McGuinness

Oh, it's dreadful to think in a country like this
With its chances for work - and enjoyment
That a man like McGuinness was certain to miss
Whenever he tried for employment

He wrote to employers from Bondi to Bourke,
From Woolloomooloo to Glen Innes,
But he found - though his wife could get plenty of work -
There was never a job for McGuinness.

But perhaps - later on - when the Chow and the Jap
Begin to drift down from the tropics,
When a big yellow stain spreading over the map
Provides some disquieting topics,

Oh, it's then when they're wanting a man that will stand
In the trench where his own kith and kin is,
With a frown on his face and a gun in his hand -
Then there might be a job for McGuinness!

The few hours I had with Margaret Mahy were fascinating. A delightful woman with an impish sense of humour, and so unpretentious. We must have traded six or seven poems, volleying like young Wimbledon players. I feel she won with her passion and accuracy
She was deeply interested in my work over the years for Red Cross and she modestly told me how she had given a lot of support to UNICEF.

Before I left I presented her with my book on Afghanistan, Mountains of our Minds which includes poems I wrote and photos I took. I read her my favourite, Refugee Woman. Margaret asked many questions and displayed a child=like curiosity during our time together.
For those of you who don;t know Margaret, here is what the NZ Book Council has to say: Margaret Mahy is the most acclaimed of New Zealand’s children’s writers. The author of more than 120 titles, and translated into 15 languages, Margaret has readers across the globe. She worked as a librarian for more than 10 years before becoming a full-time writer. Mahy’s books ring with humour, fantasy, adventure, science and the supernatural, but always engage with the ordinary world. Awarded the Order of New Zealand in 1993, she has also won many of the world’s major prizes for children’s writers, including the Carnegie Medal and the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award.
I sensed Margaret needed to get back to her writing, so Lisa, Aroha and I took her dog, Honey, for a long walk over the Port Hills. On the way back to Christchurch I stopped into to have afternoon tea with Colin and Betty Monteath. Colin is a prolific writer on Antarctica and mountaineering. That, and many other experiences, during my one month long holiday in New Zealand will have to wait. I returned to Jakarta last Saturday night, inspired. That world famous children's writer Margaret Mahy left a huge impression on me. I am scrambling to find a copy of The Flint Heart.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Another Great Train Journey -Tranz Alpine New Zealand

What a day yesterday !! I never expected this to be one of my greatest train journeys, and to be parochial, in my own country. Over the years I have been up to Dajeeling in the Himalaya by train, crossed the Andes from Araquepa to Juliaca then on to Cuzco, from Bangkok to Penang in Malaysia, cris-crossed Switzerland by rail, so yesterday when I left Christchurch by rail on the Tranz Alpine, I had non expecations whatsoever.

I now rate this as one of the world's most spectacular rail journeys. The TranzAlpine Express runs across the Southern Alps between Christchurch and Greymouth. The trip is 223km long, lasts 4 1/2 hours and includes 16 tunnels and five viaducts.

Heading out of Christchurch the train first speeds across the farmlands and fields of the Canterbury Plains, through Rolleston and Darfield and the spectacular gorges and river valleys of the Waimakariri region. The views down into the Waimakariri river through most of its course, are spectacular. I recognised many of the rapids as I have kayaked it a number of times when competing in the endurance event, the Coast to Coast.

When you reach Springfield the train begins the climb into the Southern Alps headed for Arthur's Pass.

About here you part company with State Highway 73, which shadows the railway from Aylesbury, and your journey suddenly feels fantastically remote. As the train climbs toward Cass and Arthurs Pass it crosses the famous Staircase Viaduct which, at 73m, is the highest in the South Island. It was good to spy Paddy Freane As you travel through Craigieburn Station which has over 12,000 merino sheep, you run alongside the original coach tracks which Cobb and Company ran a regular service between east and west. As we passed Bealey Spur I could see Paddy Freaney's pub at the Bealey. Paddy was a great mountaineer and to some, the rediscoverer of the extinct Moa, NZ large flightless bird.

Keen trampers can break their trip at Arthur's Pass and visit the national park - the spectacular Bridal Veil track is especially popular. From Arthur's Pass station I could see many peaks I climbed some years ago: Mt. Rolleston and Rome Ridge, Avalanche Peak and Mt. Phillistine. Past Arthurs Pass the train reaches its highest point on the trip before heading into the Otira tunnel, one of the longest in the country. I was so excited to enter the tunnel I had written about in my book, and the making of the Otira Tunnel in my book Ebenezer Teichelmann-Cutting across Continents- but I had never been through
the tunnel. (To read about this check my blog out)
What an engineering feet, 7km long and built by pick, shovel and wheel barrows.

From there the gradual descent begins down through beech rainforest, past picturesque Moana on the shores of Lake Brunner, pictured above, and on to Greymouth.

Kira my daughter, and Leith my grandson were there to meet me. Kira, a jeweller, lives with her husband Paul in Ross. His father and mother are gold and coal miners, traditional occupations on the coast.

Kira drove me through Kumara junction, Hokitika to Ross, getting more of a fill of spectacular sea, mountains to sky scenery, as the Southern Alps were visible all the way.

Here are some photos of the scenery just south of Ross, where I am staying.

The spectacular coastline of South Westland. Photo: Bob McKerrow

A Church in the snow, or near the snow.. Hopefully we will be travelling to Franz Josef tomorrow. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The Waiho River which drains the Franz Josef neve and glacier. Photo: Bob McKerrow

I have four days on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand before returning to Indonesia. I must write about meeting Margaret Mahy last Saturday in her home in Governors Bay. Margaret is one of the world's greatest children's writers and a wonderful human being. This is turning out to be an amazing holiday with meeting family, warm people and viewing spectacular scenery.

The highest peaks in New Zealand. Mt.Tasman and Mount Cook Aoraki. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Monday, 3 August 2009

Postcards from dead climbers

The cross in the Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo. In the Church is a Book of Remembrance, a parchment book honouring all the early run holders, mountaineers, explorers, scientists, artists, blacksmiths, bullock drivers, innkeepers, coach drivers, wagoners, shearers, wool classes and rabbit inspectors. Photo: Bob McKerrow

When I placed a sprig of pine with small cones on Gary Ball’s grave at Burkes Pass today, and stepped back to say a few words to him, it brought back a flood of memories of sharing Plateau Hut with him in 1973, our friendship when I was editor of NZ Adventure magazine writing about his ascent of Mt. Everest with Pete Hillary and Rob Hall and the Seven Summits. Gary and Rob visiting our family when living at Franz Josef, and probably the most poignant moment was, the postcard I got from Gary, a month after he died. How many postcards have I received from climbers after their deaths ? I still have Robb Hall's one tucked away with Gary's. When mountaineers leave for the final push from base camp on big mountains, they know the risks they are taking and frequently send postcards to dear ones and friends, in case it is the last.

Gary Ball's headstone at Burkes Pass.

Hall and Ball. Back in Kodari, Nepal in May 1989 after a dramatic rescue off the north side of Everest in Tibet from left: 2 sherpas, Artur Hajzer, Gary Ball, and Rob Hall, (injured Andrzej Marciniak is in the bus)

The graveyard at Burkes Pass has a number of headstones inscribed with the deaths of mountaineers. One could lament the loss of great people but the cold stark facts show that mountaineering, skiing, snowboarding, serious tramping and rock climbing do have risks associated. I have been back in New Zealand 15 days and in that time, have read about two deaths in avalanches. A week before that was the tragic death of two people in the Tararuas.

Peter Hillary, Gary Ball and Rob Hall taken in Auckland in 1990 after their successful ascent of Mt. Everest. Peter Hillary is the only one of that dynamic trio who survived. Rob Hall died close to the summit of Mt. Everest in 1990. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Gary Ball, died on Mount Dhauagiri 6 October 1993. Knowing he had previous health problems at high altitude he gambled on getting away with it. Life is about taking calculated risks whether in the workplace, family or recreation. Looking round the cemetery I saw the headstones of other climbers who died either on Mount Cook or close by.

Burkes Pass cemetery

Here is some of the information I got from other headstones of mountaineers at Burkes Pass that may be of interest.

Gary Ball, died on Mount Dhauagiri 6 October 1993.
A quote on his tomb stone says "If I should bow my head let it be to a high mountain. "

Alistair Stevens, died from a fall on the Nth face of Mt. Barnicoat, Westland National Park, 8 April 2002

Keith Joyce, b. 21.3.48 in Sydney, died at Mt. Cook 9.8.84

Peter John Linscott, died on Mt. Cook 25.1.84, aged 21

Gerald Nansen, Mountaineer, died 6 March 1990 age 82, Psalm 121 quoted. At least Gerald had a full innings.

Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo. Photo: Bob McKerrow

As I am staying with my daughter Anita at her farmlet at Otipua, she and two of my grand children, Jed and Billy, accompanied me on this trip. The children brought laughter and warmth and livened up the Burkes Pass cemetery and the Church in Tekapo on this cold winter day.

With Grandsons Jed left, and Billy on my knee, at The Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo. Photo: Anita Mckerrow

The view one sees when you start the steady climb up to Burkes Pass in South Canterbury. Photo: Bob McKerrow
Burkes Pass is a mountain pass on State Highway 8 at the entrance to the Mackenzie country in South Canterbury, New Zealand. It is named after Michael John Burke, a graduate of Dublin University, who discovered the passageway leading into the Mackenzie Country in 1855. This was an alternative route to the Mackenzie Pass which the notorious sheep stealer, James Mckenzie, had used to take his sheep into the Otago goldfields.

Once down the other side of Burkes Pass, the peaks of the main divide are visible. I was curious to find out more about the Church of the Good Shepherd which was dedicated in 1935. Luckily I bumped into David Clark, a local authority on Tekapo and the Church. He showed me the inscription on a front pew 'In grateful Memory of Explorers & Climbers who have crossed the Great Divide. Presented by NZAC.'

David Clark (r) an expert on Tekapo and the history of the Church of the Good Shepherd. Photo: Anita McKerrow

Then David told me about the The Book of Remembrance which was under lock and key. a parchment book honouring all the early run holders, mountaineers, explorers, scientists, artists, blacksmiths, bullock drivers, coach drivers, innkeepers, wagoners, shearers, wool classers and rabbit inspectors.

David gingerly unlocked this treasure with the names written on old parchment in a very neat handwriting. Under the heading mountaineers, explorers, scientists and artists. the names were a walk through early New Zealand history.Julius von Haast, Broderick, Dr. and Mrs Lendenfeld, Green, Boss, Kaufman, Fitzgerald, Zurbriggen,, Mannering, Dixon, Harper, Fyfe, Graham, Jack Clark and Charles Blomfield the artist.
The Book of Remembrance was dedicated to Thomas John Teschmaker.

Next I asked David Clark about the death of Gottlieb Otto Braun-Elwert the mountain guide from Tekapo who died while guiding Helen Clarke, the Prime Minister of NZ, in 2008. See my article written last year.

As a friend of Gottlieb's, I asked David the whereabouts of the hut that Gottlieb died in. " Here, take the binoculars and look out the Church window, just above the island, there's a ledge with the hut on it." I could pick the hut out quite easily in the Two Thumb range. Gottlieb's death was another tragedy.
David also spoke of another tragic death of Gottlieb's protege, Erica Beuzenberg who died in 2005 climbing in the Mount Cook region. With Erica, Gottlieb managed to put a new and attractive slant on the concept of first ascent in 1989 by being the first, with his climbing protege Erica Beuzenberg to climb all 20 of New Zealand's 3000m peaks in a single winter season.
Gottlieb Braun Elwert Erica Beuzenberg
Climbing Mt Cook, Mt Tasman, Mt Dampier and the rest in a period of months is feat enough on its own, but in winter they had the added burden of deep snow (they often used skis for access) and the risks of avalanches, intense cold and short days. Their feats will be remembered by many NZ mountaineers.
A memorial to sheepdogs who shaped the economy of farming in the region. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Lake Tekapo takes on a sombre mood late in the morning. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The township of Lake Tekapo. Photo: Bob McKerrow

Jed McKerrow resting in a snow tussock at Lake Tekapo. Photo: Anita McKerrow

As I drove back from Tekapo through Burkes Pass, I thought of all those mountaineers who have died at Mount Cook, in the Southern Alps and Himalaya, a subject I have written about before. The death which affected me the most was the death of my close friend Keith McIvor which made me reshape my views on hard climbing and pushing limits to far. See link below:
The Church of the Good Shepherd at Tekapo, the cemetery at Burkes Pass are fitting memorials to those who died in the mountains. Today Gary Ball, Rob Hall, Gottlieb Braun Elwert, Erica Beuzenberg, Keith McIvor, Vicky Thompson and Bill Denz, climbers whom I knew well, were continually in my thoughts and prayers. When I got home I opened a bottle of fine Cabernet Savignon, and drank a toast to them. I also thought of Robb Kloss who is in the Ruahines. I prayed for your health and safe return Robb.

My favourite photo of Mount Cook, taken by me in the winter of 1972.