I’ve always admired New Zealanders for their sense of belonging in the outdoors. Their land really is the natural equivalent of the burger with the lot – glaciers, alpine peaks, volcanoes, beaches, rainforest, even one tiny spot of desert – and, in the main, the people appear to know and appreciate their natural good fortune. It’s a connection that seems to give them an insouciance about conditions and weather that you see in few other countries. There’s little that stops Kiwis from getting out to play.
When I arrived in New Zealand a few days ago, Cyclone Lusi was bearing down on the country. This storm had killed 10 people in Vanuatu and was forecast to arrive in New Zealand with wind speeds of up to 130km/h and the sort of rainfall that would have done Noah proud. And I was about to go canoeing.
At 4000 metres above sea level, footsteps come too slowly and breaths come too quickly. Appetites disappear and every effort is exaggerated. Life at this elevation is pure hard work.
When I hiked across the Simien Mountains in Ethiopia, climbing to the country’s highest point at 4550 metres, I was always surprised to look up and see village kids sprinting across the fields – usually barefoot – to greet me. They’d arrive beside me smiling, barely puffing, even as I sucked for air so hard I was in danger of accidentally inhaling one of them. And I was just walking. Around me there were sick and immobile hikers strapped to the backs of mules, and others so defeated by the pains of altitude that they’d opted out of the summit climb. And then off the kids would trot again, bounding like springboks. Continue reading