Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Return to Japan

Itinerant. Inoperative. Idle.

Why has it taken me so long to write this, possibly one of the last blog entries?

Well, three reasons. First, a relocation to Lincolnshire where broadband is still considered a form of magic and is likely to get you a seat on the dunking stool. Second, my brand new Hewlett Packard PC has had the bluescreen of death, the grey screen of death and the black screen of death (red screen next, I think). Finally, idleness. I’m surprised I could even be bothered to finish this final sente…..

My adventure came to an end in Japan……..


Within an hour of arriving in Japan we were lost. Khaosan Hostel, Asakusa was proving elusive, and it was only when we were politely offered assistance by a friendly stranger with a pushbike, who led us right to the door of the hostel, we could begin to unwind.

Already I was being impressed by Japan all over again. When I lived here 3 years ago, I always maintained that this was an amazing country. Only Shane blighted my experience. And once again, and so soon, I was re-acquainting myself with Japanese hospitality and their apparent lack of cynicism.

The room in the hostel was not so much tiny, as scaled down, like someone had selected “View at 75%” from a drop down menu. The doors were out of Alice In Wonderland. The beds from baby bear in Goldilocks.

Similarly, the shared toilet was so cramped the doors had to be opened in a specific order, like a Rubik’s Magic, lest you trap yourself in the room, or completely take out someone innocently shuffling down the corridor.

The toilet itself was ultra hi-tech. I discovered exactly how hi-tech when I accidentally set off the automatic bidet. Whilst my eyes opened in surprise, something else closed quite rapidly

After drying myself down, we were out for something to eat. This really brought it all back to me: gaudy neon captions, mental bikers, the greeting choruses of “irasshimase”, and this time, due to a drop in temperature, facemasks.

As I ate my katsu curry among salarymen and old bearded karate masters slurping noodles, I realised I really was happy to be back.

The first few days in Tokyo passed with relative ease. Highlights included a trip to an Okonomiyaki restaurant, where Japanese pancakes are cooked on a hot plate inches in front you (a really good reason to not put your elbows on the table), and a troll round Akihabara – like Dixons, except the size of a town. Had a blast of nostalgia whilst ogling over Street Fighter 4 which is now nearly photo realistic and fully 3D. The 12 yr old me would have actually cried. Or done a wee. Or both.


We left Tokyo and took the Shinkansen to Kyoto. The Shinkansen is Concorde on rails. It arrives to the millisecond, and pulls up to its marker merely a few thousandths of an inch out, avoiding that typically British mass dash for the misaligned door as it zooms past.

Such is the punctuality ingrained in Japanese society, the train dawdles but for 1 or 2 minutes. Barely have you had chance to take your seat or chuck your coat on the top shelf before it pulls away. There are no flustered late arrivals – young mothers budging their way down the aisles with pushchairs and holdalls, or students with their massive rucksacks.

If Tokyo was neon and speed and technology, Kyoto was temples, geisha, sliding screen doors and ninjas. Maybe not ninjas, then. Our suitably feudal accommodation, Gojo Guesthouse, was sparsely furnished with a small, low table, paper lantern and a futon folded neatly in the corner.

A late night walk in the rain revealed Poncho-dori, an alley so narrow you could touch either side by spreading your arms akimbo. The street was lined with immaculate restaurants restored in pine and festooned with billowing white sheeting emblazoned with Japanese symbols slashed in black ink. If Poncho-dori was the river, the tiny alleys firing off at right angles were the tributaries, even narrower than the main street, and again sometimes lit by red lanterns, sometimes by the blurred colours of a chattering bar and sometimes just melting indistinctly into the dark.

The next day few days were spent touring round the triangular temples, pagodas, bonsai gardens of Nijo-jo, Ryoan-ji, Kinkak-ju and other sure fire Scrabble winners (neatly ignoring the fact that Japanese proper nouns are generally disallowed). These effectively conjured up the myths and legends of samurai, geisha, dishonoured families and waves of arrows raining down on ninjas.

However, there’s nothing more likely to bring you out of reverie than scaffolding, safety cordons and orange cones. Clearly, winter was the only time when these relics could be restored, and so the carpenters had crawled out of the woodwork to fix up feudal balustrades and even up dynastic patios. Somewhat of a blow to the temples, actually.

Hiroshima – Osaka – Koya-san

Like a giant stalking thing, the scaffolding followed us 250 miles across the country to Hiroshima. The A-Bomb Dome, the most famous building to survive the blast of the atomic bomb, is a potent symbol of both the power of the nuclear age and the resilience both of the populace and their architecture. It stood the test of time for 60 years, but on the day we went was in danger of falling down. Typical. The result was a dome festooned with the best part of 50 tonnes of metal hammered into the brickwork. Thanks for that.

The day was lightened up, however, by old man waving at us before falling off his bike. We didn’t know him.

From there we doubled back to Osaka. Grim, grey and industrial, it struck me as a faded Tokyo, but I liked it. The highlight was the Umeda Building, a futuristic Arc de Triomphe. Lift up the “left leg” to ascend, take the diagonal escalator across to the topmost crossbeam then another lift to the very top. Incidentally this is all fully rendered in Google Earth complete with those escalators and lifts.

Eager to get out of the cities, the next day we made for the countryside. The destination was Koya-san, a village located atop a misty mountain. Our commuter train left Osaka and rattled out into the countryside through increasingly rural villages, padi rice fields, tumbledown shacks, and run-down temples. Japan’s megacities may be well kempt and regulated, but the gaps in between them - the fields, the sheds, the communities - are very ramshackle.

We decamped at an anonymous Japanese town to begin the climb up the mountain. Here we boarded the funicular - a cross between a cable car and tube train. It was only when we stood staring up at an impossibly steep alpine gradient, and at the “rails” disappearing vertically into a thick pea-soup mist, we realised how remote Koya-san was. I immediately started to get edgy, feeling outside my comfort zone; there was unlikely to be a Mister Donut at the top of here.

After a gravity-defying trundle into the freezing mountain fog, we were ushered into a bus and driven round a series of hairy snaking mist-shrouded bends. I would say the drop either side was huge, but I couldn’t see anything but fog. And I didn’t look too hard anyway.

The town itself was more developed than I expected and whilst it didn’t have a Mister Donut, it did have a decent little cornershop. The hostel, whilst basic, was both immaculate and authentic, complete with batty jamjar-bespectacled husband and wife owners.

From there it was out to Oku-no-in shrine. A mind-bogglingly-large collection of Japanese graves. And the Japanese really go to town on their gravestones. Oh yes. Not content with a slab of masonry, the Japanese are more comfortable with towers of precariously-balanced rock, monolithic totems of age-old granite shaped like this #, and most ostentatious of all, and presumably for the rich families, small moss-covered pyramidal tombs, complete with picket fence and mini-garden. If the creators of The Mummy franchise fancy flogging their already-dead horse some more, this would make a great filming location.

Return To Tokyo

We left the next day for a full days travel back to Tokyo, a long drawn out schlep punctuated only by the magnificence of Mount Fuji - now most definitely on the “to do next time” list.

That night we stayed in a capsule hotel. At the time this was considered to be a “good idea”. However, after 6 hours of (admittedly good quality) train travel it was rapidly beginning to look like a “bad idea”. Really, it was a colossal faff involving chaining up of luggage, the wearing of compulsory robe and slippers and scrabbling around in a baking hot plastic rectangle. Ideal if you’re a businessman who has missed his train. Not good if you’re a tourist with 43 rucksacks. And I had to shower in front of a load of blokes. Louise got her own cubicle. Typical.

We relocated to a posh hotel for our final few days in Tokyo and decided to take a day excursion to Yokohama. Yokohama didn’t make a good first impression. Like an emptier Singapore, cereal-box architecture and sparse city planning rendered the city rather cold. Even the giant ferris wheel couldn’t enliven the view. But that all changed once we had ascended the Landmark Tower to the observation deck. The tallest tower in all of Japan commanded fantastic views over all of Yokohama, taking in Fuji and, on the horizon, Tokyo itself.

As the sun set over the Eastern seaboard, I said goodbye to the finest country on Planet Earth.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

North Island Photos

Mt Taranaki

Mt Ruapehu

Waimangu Volcanic Valley

Top of Mt Maunganui

North Island: The Short Version

I could really go into detail here. I mean I really could.

I could tell you what colour shirt the man who served me the Raspberry and White Chocolate ice cream at the Bee Farm was wearing. Or how in Pakiri we took a wrong turn right but later found out that the right turn was wrong and the only turn left (left) was right. Or how we got Mangawhai (a village) mixed up with Waimangu (a volcanic park) which we confused with Wanganui (a town) because it sounded like Maunganui (a mountain).

But that would take ages. So I’m attempting to condense the whole of the North Island into tasty, bite-sized nuggets. Like the ones at MacDonald’s. Only these won’t give you the shits.

Barbecue sauce, please.

Palmerstone North – like Stafford but hotter. Visited biggest windfarm in Southern Hemisphere. Very striking visually but pity you need about 7,000 of them to replace one coal–fired powerstation. Biggest windmill went like this “vummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm”.

Hawera – accommodation in remote farmhouse. Took wrong turning at the entrance and ended up the middle of a field, banging my exhaust all the way down the gravel track. Owner made me do the “vummmmmmmmmmmm” noise, and then laughed at me for actually agreeing to do it. Great views of Taranaki. Nutcase pensioner in the next hut accused me of stealing jobs off Kiwis, and made a point of the fact he would only travel by horse, adding vociferously: “I’ve got more rights than someone in a car. If you run into me, you better have a lot of money!”. Codgerama!

New Plymouth – skirted right round the circular edge of Egmont National Park. Taranaki in view all along the coast. Looks like Mt Fuji, hence why it acts as its stunt double in Hollywood films such as Last Samurai. Resplendent and snow-capped. Arrived at Seaspray House in New Plymouth. Accommodation was proof that there is a fine line between “retro” and “dated”. Room big enough to house a new CERN reactor, but bed not big enough to sleep Kenny Baker. New Plymouth like Plymouth. But new. And nicer.

National Park – Travelled along the Forgotten Highway. Realised after 6 hours of winding road, some of it gravel, exactly why people would like to forget it. Called in at Republic of Whangamomona, a self-declared republic in the heart of NZ due to a loophole in a boundary dispute. Offered to stamp our passport. I refused, as really wouldn’t want to have to explain that one to Homeland Security if I ever visit the States again (they might think that Whangamomona was a rogue Islamic State)

Arrived at National Park. Declined to do Tongariro Crossing on account of soaring temperatures, a ban on jeans, and it being an 8-hour hike. Went up Ruapehu instead. Great views. Boiling at the bottom, but still snow at the top.

Taupo – visited Craters of the Moon, eggy volcanic holes in the floor. Didn’t really see much of the lake. Not sure how we managed that. Got kept awake by the hostel managers in next room. Had to tell them to keep it down.

Rotorua – posh B&B courtesy of my M&D. Proper bedspread and towels and everything. Was embarrassed to put my rucksack down. Cookies and lemonade on arrival. They don’t do that at hostels. Great hosts. Out to Rotorua gondola. Had a go on wooden luge. Lou miffed that I came over all competitive and kept trying to overtake her, so got wise and wouldn’t let me pass. Into town to Fat Dog, café with the biggest portions ever. Bloke on next table ordered ribs, couldn’t actually see him after his food arrived. It was like meat-based “Jenga”. Met up with Ivan from Drum. Had a chat. Felt the urge to get back to work.

Went to Waimangu Volcanic Park. Just like Jurassic Park. Best thing I did on the North Island. Steaming craters, ancient flora and fauna, bubbling swamps. Didn’t see Fred Flintstone. He was probably at the quarry. Got bit by something big with jaws and legs and wings. Right on my eyebrow. Was afraid a T-Rex might hatch out of my eye in the morning.

Maori cultural performance next day at Te Puia. Fully immersive Maori experience featuring song, costume and weaponry. Pretty good, but illusion shattered by burly security guard collecting tickets, dressed like he’d just come off the night shift at Blockbuster Video, and one of the grass-skirted women on-stage having a chat in English with someone just off-stage whilst the rest of the performers stomped their way through the Haka. Tsk!

Maunganui/Tauranga – went to beach, went up mountain. Had ice cream. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Tairua – woman who ran hostel never heard of me. Didn’t surprise me as she was rude and uncooperative on the phone when I booked it, way back in Wellington. Ended up in much better hostel anyway. Lovely town, deserted and idyllic. Great views from Mt Paku, a mini-Sugar Loaf Mountain.

Coromandel Town – Dug a trench in Hot Water Beach and sat in the hot water for a bit. Called at Cathedral Cove and travelled across to Coromandel Town. Knew woman in hostel was from Mansfield when she said: “I’ll show you yer room, duck”

Went on little train ride up a mountain next day. Great view from Eyeful Tower at the top.

Thames – Just a stop off. Nowt happened here.

Auckland – Flying visit. Caught up with Claire from Pink House

Mangawhai – Traffic Jam all the way up. New toll road opened that day, but was free first weekend so was swamped with traffic. Took 1½ hours to do about 15km. Went horseriding in Pakiri. Poor instruction and lax trainers. Didn’t feel in control of horse for the entire hour. Don’t think horse liked me either. Horses got spooked in the last 50 yards, scattered and bolted. I nearly went into a tree. Lou got thrown into a bush. Purple ribs next day. Not good.

Paihia – Excellent visit to Waitangi Treaty ground. Enjoyed it more than Maori cultural evening. Much more informative. Next day booked boat trip. Cloudy, and boat replaced at the last minute. Disappointing.

Kaihu – Visit the mighty Kaori forest. Biiig trees. Would make a hell of a lot matchsticks. Farmstay owner looked like a washed-up Santa and was surly and off his trolley. Thought we were trying to steal his beer, when really we were only looking for another fridge, as the one in the kitchen had mould in it. Went on a night-time excursion hunting for glow-worms. Eerie.

Auckland – all done

Not many more entries to go I fear, but hopefully two weeks in Japan, where it all started, will give me plenty to write about.



Monday, January 05, 2009

Wellington. And on. And on.

Derek Smith had non-specific urethritis.

When he passed water, it was like a wasp up the pipe. A course of fluxocillin would be the best option, I concluded.

Hang on. How did I know this? And what was I doing wandering through labyrinthine shelving , stacked to toppling point with fusty, dusty manilla folders, holding the results of Derek's urine sample with one hand and looking for his medical notes with the other eye.

Hmmm.....I should start at the beginning, really, shouldn't I?

(Rentaghost-style wobbly flashback sequence)

1.Windy Wellington - Living There Not A Breeze

Wellington is a great city: vibrant, arty and modern, with a sunny, airy disposition and well-designed waterfront. By rights, it should have been a breeze living here. But for a number of reasons, Wellington has been a struggle from day one.

First, there was the apalling hostels: Worldwide with its compulsory noise policy. Then Rowena's with its compulsory nutcase policy. Then there was the difficulty in securing employment: blank-eyed, I-Bought-My-Suit-At-River-Island, twentysomething recruitment consultants who would gladly parry you into a job cleaning baboons' arses at the zoo if it meant getting you off their back. And, of course, collecting their 10%.

After 6 weeks, we finally thought we were making headway: we'd managed to secure a flat above a corner shop in the centre of town; we'd established a circle of friends whom we saw regularly for the pub quiz; I'd finally got a job in Wellington Hospital's Medical Records Department, marrying up Derek Smith's urine test with his medical records.

Hey, it was all I could get - the recession was biting and cash-strapped ad agencies in Wellington are only ever about 12 people strong (as opposed to PHD which has close to 250) and thus had little room for some chancer from the Midlands turning up on spec. Nevertheless it was a job.

2.Trouble and Strife

But there were more problems ahead. The day I was offered the job at the hospital, I was also offered a job at Borders, that fine purveyor of over-priced books and CDs. I opted for the hospital job as it paid better, but on starting the following Monday, was told the job was actually only 3 weeks long. As the beardy immortal Knight at the end of Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade says: "You have chosen.......poorly"

So, I'd ended up a mind-numbing job and, overall, less money to show for it. My equally un-chuffed partner in crime was Kevin, who had just finished his Masters In Clinical Microbiology at Nottingham University. And so day after day, two post-graduates sat sifting through records detailing ulcerated colons, drunken domestic punch-ups, MRSA and endoscopies, and moving them from one place to another. Both our MAs being put to good use there, then.

As if that wasn't enough, it was around this time too, Louise and I became potentially homeless. We'd taken the room above the shop on the basis that a gap a between one absent flatmate returning, and one currently present now leaving, was such that a simple room swap would allow us to continue living there. So when that gap altered in such a way that there was more people than rooms, we started feverishly casting about looking for new accommodation.

And so whilst I shoved a piece of paper detailing Mrs Williams's rectal anomaly into a space on the Meccano shelving unit, and balanced on a rickety kickstool, I contemplated what it would be like to have a place to live, and I also what it would have been like to work at Borders.

Yes, a book shop would have been nice: an intellectual environment, surrounded by people drinking coffee, exchanging ideas. Just like Paris in the 1930s.

Actually, I was find out how far from the reality this idle notion was.


I recontacted Borders the day I found out about my curtailed contract at the hospital. Thankfully, I was welcomed back like the Prodigal Son, and I agreed to start a few days after I'd finished in Medical Records.

Borders was not the crucible of creativity and education I was hoping for, however. In fact, the most important thing I learned was that customers are arseholes. Oh sure, 90% of them are polite and cheery enough. Unfortunately, it's the other 10% who leave a lasting impression - forever seared into your consciousness, like the blast of a flashbulb on your retina.

Bad Borders customers can be broadly categorised three ways. These three categories overlap like a Venn Diagram, meaning if you're really unlucky you'll meet someone who can occupy all three categories:

i) the rude bastard

Someone once said "rudeness is the weak man's strength". Yes, indeed, there are some customers who feel they have inaliable right to be rude by sheer dint of the fact they are the "customer" and you are the "employee". Predominantly, these people lack social skill and have to fall back on what they see as their natural superiority to get them through the encounter.

One customer slapped his purchase down on the counter, snarling at nothing in particular and when I asked him if he required a bag, just continued to sneer and growl disdainfully, as if he was terribly affronted that I had the audacity address him directly. It was left to his wife, who peered out from behind his globulous torso, to decline the offer on his behalf, her tone carrying a subtle hint of apology.

I got off light. That same day, Todd the manager, upon enquiring whether a customer required a bag was told to "get fucked". Charming.

ii) the Hard-Done-To customer

Some assume Borders is nothing more than an unfeeling high street multinational, whose sole purpose is fleece the little man via lowdown trickery and skulduggery. Well, that may be true some of the time. But, believe it or not, it is possible for a company such as Borders to have customers' best interest at heart.

Borders charges 10c for plastic bags. I'm sorry they just do. They are so environmentally unfriendly that chain stores the world over are adopting a similar policy. Moreover, to prevent accusations of profiteering, the 10c goes to charity. But that doesn't appease some people. Oh no.
Me: Would you like a bag for 10c?

Customer: You're charging me for my bag, are you? You're selling me a bag. Is that what you're doing? What bullshit.

Me: Well, we want people to discourage people from taking a bag if it's it's not necessary.

Customer: Bullshit. You're just trying to make money out of me

Me: No, the 10c goes to charity

Customer: Yeah? Bullshit!

Me: It does.

Customer: Bullshit. That's just bullshit.

Me: Well....

Customer: Bullshit!

I can only assume that this guy lived on a farm.....

Similarly, customers are also frequently disgusted at what they see as your inflexibility. For example, our $10-off vouchers were designed to stimulate trade during the post-Xmas slump in January. Thus, stated very clearly across the top of the voucher, was: "Offer valid 1st to 31st January".

But that wasn't going to stop some haughty battle-axe from trying it on, explaining: " ... I came in your store last week and picked up one of your $10-off vouchers, but I've booked a holiday for January now, so I'd like to come in and spend it over Christmas......"

When I told her this was not possible, she exclaimed "That's not what I call customer service".
Oh, piss off, you ratbag.

Finally, I had one woman who claimed she was absolutely "horrified" that we didn't stock a particular Bernard Cornwell novel. "Horrified". Some people are horrified by the genocides in Rwanda, some by Israel's encroachment into the Gaza Strip. Not her. She was "horrified", because we didn't have a copy of Sharpe's Revenge.

iii) The Very Specific/Very Vague Customer

Some customers are completely clueless and assume you have the power of all literature at your very hands.

The Very Specific customer thinks that if they can even conceive of a book, then that very thought is enough to bring that very book into existence. And I'm the poor sod who is expected to know where to find it, regardless of whether or not it actually exists.

One customer said: "I'd like a book about China. I want it to have photos. I want it to have some writing about this particular subject. I don't want it be a travel book. I want it to be this big and cost this much"

Me: Sorry - does this book exist?

Customer: Don't know.

Another customer asked "Have you got any books on volcanoes for children?". When I searched the computer I discovered that, not only was there a book explaining how volcanoes worked, but that she actually had the copy in her hand.

"Ah yes" she responded "...but this is for 10-12 years old. I wondered if you had one ages 7-9"

I also had a woman ask for a book on "how to draw cats". Pure Little Britain. Margaret?!

Then, sadly, there's the Very Vague Customer. This is genuine:

Customer: "I've seen a book in the paper. I don't know the title or the author."

Me: Well, we have 200,000 books here. Without the title or the author, we don't really have anything to go on.....

Customer: But it's in the paper........

Amazing - if they've seen the book in the paper, why the hell didn't they take note of the author and the title. What did she think was going to happen? "I've seen a book in the paper. I don't know the title or the author." Me (grabbing the first book to hand): Is it this one? Yes that's it! Well done.

I must point out that the vast majority of customers are sound. Polite, courteous, friendly and patient. But what frustrates me is the perceived relationship between the customer and the retailer. Frankly, the customer is not "always right". In fact, not only is the customer often bang wrong , but also deserving of a slap. This of course is generally considered to be not conducive to trade, however.

Next time you're in a shop, remember to be reasonable and polite to the staff. It could be someone just like me.

Unless, of course, they've really, really ballsed up. Then let 'em have it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Dom Post

The Wellington Dominion Post is asking for well-written travel articles, so I wrote this. No idea whether they will print it - it's difficult to know what they are looking for.

We had a quick skim through their travel section for the past two months, just to make sure we didn't duplicate, and much had already been covered: Queenstown, Nelson, Chch, Dunedin.

So I chose to write about Haast because I think it's not an obvious destination, and because I think I'd found an interesting angle. Anyway, here it is:

Haast : Magnificent Desolation

Remoteness, isolation, desolation – three things you’re unlikely to demand from a holiday, I’m guessing.

Yet for some desolation can be inspiring and romantic. And so, yes, whilst New Zealand offers its fair share of extreme sports and snow-capped vistas, it also possesses something oft overlooked: nothing. Glorious, beautiful nothing.

If you’re someone who finds the idea of being miles from anywhere appealing, of being free from tinnitus-inducing ringtones and irate motorists, of finding space, then Haast, on the West Coast, maybe for you.

Myself and my girlfriend, travellers from the UK and Ireland respectively, never intended Haast to be more than an overnight stop en-route between Wanaka and Fox, but were soon won over by its rustic charm and magnificent desolation.

Nestling unassumingly on the West Coast, Haast consists of three main hubs: Haast Township, Haast Junction, Haast Beach. With a population of 297, the majority of “Haastafarians” live in the Township, a small pocket of civilisation, where you’ll find accommodation for most budgets, restaurant bar, mini-supermarket and, just up the road, the Visitors’ Centre.

But it’s not about Haast itself – it’s about its position within that beautiful nothingness. It was only when my girlfriend and I ventured out we really began to get a sense of the surrounding environs; the emptiness, the light, the space.

Heading South, we drove along a straight road that disappearing into the vanishing point, the ocean crashing on our left, clouds of wind-swept heather to our right.
Vast banks of wetlands soon scrolled into view, no doubt hiding a multitude of species. From bird life to seal and penguin colonies, nature is everywhere in the Haast region, as evidenced by the many organised river safaris running in the area.

Within a few minutes we had arrived at Okuru Beach, a deserted fishing hamlet, and took a walk along its craggy beach, the tide not so much coming in as seeping in from obtuse angles, sweeping into strange puddles, melting and eddying around jagged ancient the rock formations. We were the only people on the beach until a local resident joined us, a bright-eyed Labrador who insisted we play fetch with him. Soon he was gone, and we were alone once again.

From there it was on to Jackson Bay, about 45 minutes from Haast, and the southern-most point on the West Coast where the road just literally, well, ceases. Passing relatively few cars on the journey, we entered the village itself with a feeling that this really was New Zealand’s ultimate cul-de-sac. Not in a bad way, though; from Farewell Spit on New Zealand’s South Island to Land’s End back in the UK, there’s something inherently appealing about going as far as you can, venturing to the very edge, and this really was a frontier of sorts.

As if to echo my sentiments, hanging from shack, a splintered wooden sign, hand-painted in greasy green paint stated, “The End Of The Road ?”. I was intrigued by the question mark as, for me, there was no doubt – we really could go no further. Actually, it felt more like the end of the world.

Jackson Bay is another fishing village of some historical significance. Originally settled in 1875, immigrants hoping to start a new life found their hopes drowned as relentless downpours destroyed their farms. Pleas to the government for assistance in building a wharf were ignored, meaning the town was soon isolated and in need of vital supplies. Today, it is a privilege to actually enjoy that sense of isolation, for it was exactly that remoteness, that desolation that was be the downfall for those early settlers. Incidentally, a road to the village was not built until the 1960s and by then, the farming communities were long gone.

The modern day Jackson Bay has fishing very much at its heart. Rusted, salt-encrusted metal contraptions sit alongside all manner of hulking, spike-adorned paraphernalia. Meanwhile, below the wooden jetty, and amongst the frolicking seals, fishing boats bob on the grey water, their pilots clad in grimy waders and gum boots , their weather-beaten faces telling more than a thousand shanties ever could.

The Cray Pot provides the centrepiece to the village: a café in a portacabin serving fish and chips, whitebait and other locally-caught seafood. Totally authentic, it’s the perfect place to sit and tell tall tales of giant squids and mermaid sightings, and its reputation is such that blackboards advertising its wares can be found along the main road nearly all the way back to Haast.

After a day of big skies, near-silence and solitude we made our way back to Haast, calling in at Haast Beach on our return. A huge swathe of shale along the line of the coast, Haast Beach was, as expected, deserted, and strewn with oceanic bric-a-brac, the only sound the blustering wind and the crashing waves.

As the Sun cast long shadows in the golden twilight, and myself and my girlfriend meandered aimlessly along, I realised that Haast provided the perfect antidote to our previous two locations, Queenstown and Wanaka. Haast was quiet time. Haast was thinking time. Haast was alone time. Haast was great.