The Hillary Trail is a linked series of walks in the beautiful Waitakere Ranges. Have explored most of these places, many are regular ‘Alfie walks’ or road cycles from home. Amazing to think all this just a few kilometres up the road from home, about an hour from Auckland’s CBD (except maybe at rush hour!).
* This is my first blog posted from Live Writer on Windows 10!
Nice to see Benjamin used one of my photos, the beach highway at Muriwai, in his infographic. Have done most of these except a lap of Waiheke (which I have visited often) by scooter. The chocolate boutique is sometimes visited after Skeptics the Pub which is just down the road!
I remember the chaos, friendly smiling faces and warmth (both physical from the humid air and emotional from the people) of this little one street town. It was quite a contrast to the authoritarian atmosphere we’d just experienced at the Tibetan border.
Kodari clings to the mountainside between shear cliffs and a roaring river.
The images bellow are from a BBC news report tonight (05/17/2015). Kodari was near the centre of the quake aftershock and has been destroyed. It is abandoned, as the threat from damaged buildings and unstable hills is just too great. They said the Chinese Army had crossed the border to help with the recovery, then showed diggers attempting to move rocks the size of buildings.
I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be there during this, nowhere to run, and how many were injured or killed. There was no mention of that — just that many had fled to the hills — and no reports at all how Zhangmu, a similar town over the border in Tibet, had fared. Horrific.
Nice that 100% proceeds go to Nepal via the Oxfam Earthquake Relief Fund.
Sent from my Lumia 1520 Windows Phone
From: Team at the NZ International Comedy Festival Subject: Comedy for Nepal and shows on this weekend
The New Zealand Comedy Trust and Q Theatre are putting on Comedy for Nepal - a fundraising showcase with proceeds going directly to Oxfam NZ's Nepal Earthquake Response.
The worst earthquake in 80 years ha s hit Nepal: buildings are flattened, thousands are injured, the death toll has exceeded 8000 and is rising every day. At this stage survivors are in a race against time to secure shelter and adequate sanitation before the monsoon rains begin in early June.
OxfamNew Zealand is there, delivering clean water, toilets, hygiene kits, food and shelter to thousands. The agency has been in Nepal for over 20 years and knows the community well.
The NZ International Comedy Festival has an incredible bunch of comedians, staff, venues and supporters that all wanted to contribute to Oxfam New Zealand's relief efforts in Nepal. It turns out what we can do is put on an awesome comedy show to raise money to support the Nepal Earthquake Response.
So please join us for a night of stand-up at Comedy For Nepal!
Performers on the night include: Jeremy Corbett, Wilson Dixon, (USA), Paul Ego, Ben Hurley, Justine Smith, Jarred Fell, Eddy Brimson & Rich Wilson (UK), Harley Breen (AUS), Tom Furniss, and more comedians to be announced.
Tickets are just $35 or groups 10+ are $30 each, with no booking fee. 100% of proceeds from ticket sales go to the Oxfam Earthquake Relief Fund.
Thanks to @noahcole for noticing one of my photos appears in this article on a air travel related site he reads. No problem with it being used, with the link my creative commons license requires, but didn’t realise until he told me. Nice spotting Noah!
It has some great tips for those transiting San Francisco. My favourite way into the U.S. from NZ as the only other direct option is L.A!
When I saw TEDx Auckland 2014 announced I really wanted to go but was a bit torn. I loved the 2013 event but it meant a precious day of weekend gone. Weekends were crucial as I was trying to get fit for a rather demanding cycle tour in the Himalayas.
The TEDx 2014 theme was ‘Ascending’:
Ascending is about individuals and society rising to a higher level of consciousness.
Ascending is about finding the positives in any situation and building on them to make our lives, community, business and planet better.
As it turned out, the day spent at TEDx may have been the most valuable trip preparation I ever did thanks to Mike Allsop!
Click on the speakers name to link to a video of their talk (if on YouTube)
Bullet points in italics are unedited notes I took during the day using OneNote on my Nokia Lumia 1520 phone. I also used it for all the photos and John Boone session video clip.
The gathering crowds, the Aotea Centre was a near sell-out!
Back at the Radisson, Kathmandu. Last time I was here Kathmandu seemed rather strange, chaotic and exotic. The chaotic bit hasn’t changed but now it now seems reassuringly familiar and (almost) civilised.
Perhaps some of that was the rather westernised ‘bubble’ that the Radisson represents but a glance out the window soon reminded you where you were. I had a room with a very Kathmandu view.
Bike (back) in a box time
24-09-2014 – Wednesday.
After breakfast—a leisurely and delicious breakfast—it was time to pack up the bike. My bike box had survived the overland journey from Lhasa so I just had to scrub off the mud, pull it apart and pack it.
I must have done a good cleaning job. The customs inspector at Auckland said: “Are you sure this bike has been across Tibet, it looks brand new!”
I guess a cycle workshop in the Radisson car park isn’t an everyday occurrence. We had a few local observers watching us work!
Our Kathmandu cycle workshop, photo by Helen
Fire & Ice, twice
After packing it was time for lunch. Although we were going there for dinner Nic, Tim & I decided it was a good idea to check Fire & Ice standards hadn’t slipped while we were away.
Besides, for the last week or so of the trip I’d been craving that salty No. 25. La Marinaro anchovy and olive pizza enjoyed on the previous visit. The pizza was divine, even better accompanied with chilled beer and followed with gelato!
I didn’t really need another Kathmandu traffic photo but had to capture the astonishing sight of a man in a wheelchair (middle of photo below) negotiating this busy intersection. He was about halfway across when I arrived, traffic dodging around him.
Might seem crazy but with no crossing, no wheelchair friendly footpaths and no hope of the traffic stopping for long there was no alternative.
Bat Girl Kathmandu
Even though it wasn’t raining a close encounter with bat guano, earlier in the day, prompted Nic to deploy her umbrella walking under the ‘bat trees’ on the way to dinner.
Thought it looked cool against the traffic headlights but was amazed how well my phone (a Lumia 1520) captured it. Just had to turn the flash off (compare flash on) to get one of my favourite photos from the trip
The Nepalese crew joined us for the farewell dinner at Fire & Ice.
It was great they could come, a considerable journey for some, as we celebrated an awesome trip and Jan’s birthday!
Jan in her party hat, Photo by Kirsten.
It was a great dinner and, perhaps no surprise, I had yet another No. 25. La Marinaro anchovy and olive pizza!
I was flying out mid afternoon with Bas, Eric & Kirsten and B was leaving a bit later (headed for Aus.) so we shared a shuttle bus. My day began with soft alarm coos from the pigeons perching on the ledge outside my window.
We met for a last breakfast before heading our separate ways. A year or more in the planning, a few weeks in the living and now it was over.
Flying out, just.
Our trip to the airport was uneventful until we hit gridlock traffic. It wasn’t far from the Pashupatinath Temple we visited earlier in the trip. The Kathmandu traffic management response seemed to consist of several Policeman giving conflicting hand signal directions at each intersection.
Apparently a VIP visiting to the temple meant they’d completely stopped traffic on the main ring road off which the airport access runs. In this case that V.I.P made for Very Immobile People!
Although we had allowed, normally, ample time at one stage wondered if we would even get to the flight. It worked out OK in the end, must add the Lady running the Malaysia Airlines check-in desk at Kathmandu was awesome.
Home, then into Hospital
By the time we got to Kathmandu it appeared I was one of the lucky few avoid the “Survivor Tibet” lurgi. I still maintained that until I stepped of the plane at home in New Zealand feeling OK I couldn’t regard it as a victory.
My sister met me at the airport and seemed a bit flustered. I thought it was just because the parking monitors were hustling her out of the short term pick-up area (had taken me a while to get the bike out to the kerb) but not so.
While I was doing the dangerous stuff in Tibet, safely, at home my Mum had fallen—hanging out washing—and smashed her shoulder. It happened the previous evening, about the time I was leaving Kathmandu, and she was in Hospital awaiting surgery.
After a brief pit stop at home I was off to hospital, visiting!
As I write this in Jan 2015 Mum is recovering OK. The surgery went well and she is adjusting to her shiny new replacement shoulder!
You can certainly see the difference between Nepalese and Tibetan (OK, Chinese) infrastructure. That nine hundred kilometres of sealed concrete edged Tibetan highway we rode becomes this in Nepal:
Leaving Kodari on the Arniko Highway, yes Highway!
Beautiful Mountain biking down a highway
The Arniko Highway follows the river down a valley. Great for us as mostly downhill riding and bizarrely, considering it is THE highway, ideal for my hardtail mountain bike.
The lush green foliage and humid dense air was contrast after several weeks on the Tibetan Plateau. It really was noticeable how different the oxygen rich moist air made you feel and how different it felt. I had never thought of air as ‘thick’ before.
Does rocks on the roof suggest it sometimes gets draffy here?
Noticed further down the road that flasher houses have bricks, not rocks, holding down the roof.
“Comedians Rhod Gilbert and Greg Davies attempt to drive through the mountainous, landlocked nation of Nepal. Starting from the chaotic border with India, they travel across the country's most important roads”
The last 15 minutes showed their attempt to get from Kathmandu to Kodari, the Tibetan Border. They found the road blocked, impassable, by a landslide. It was not dissimilar to what lay ahead of us.
They abandoned their 4WD vehicle and tiptoed across the slip, still on the move, to catch a bus on the other side to the border. It was filmed in 2011, three years before I travelled. I was amazed to find the slip, although somewhat restrained and the road reformed, still there.
This house, the occupants they talked to—as rocks rolled down the hillside—were still living beneath it. A rock wall is their only protection from a vast loose looking slope above.
The trip notes recommended waterproof socks. I’d never heard of Seal Skinz and couldn’t find them in NZ. I’d left it too late to order them on-line but B kindly offered to bring me some from Australia.
I found they were brilliant in the cold, kept wind chill out even when it was dry, and ideal for roads with fords (as Kirsten & Eric are crossing below). Bike shoes are ventilated and overshoes (which I also had) are a real pain, both to fit and wear. I found waterproof socks just brilliant.
I was especially happy to catch B at one ford and shout as I passed:
“Seal Skinz rule!”
The road sweeps down the valley, it got even hotter as we descended.
Helen riding the decade old Warehouse bike.
X marks the B!
A terraced food supply system, rather lovely.
Barhabise Village/Town on the Arniko Highway.
I liked this Motorcycle service workshop advertisement (right).
Stopped to take a photo of it and a couple of guys walking past were interested in what I was doing.
Showed them my phone (admittedly an unusually large 6 inch screen Nokia 1520) , the GPS map that showed our location and that it was also a camera.
They were intrigued, especially when they saw our selfie shot (below). One of several occasions I’d like to have had a portable instant photo printer in my backpack!
A photo of Craig stationary at a drink stop because he’s too damn fast for me to catch and photograph riding!
First signs of the flood
This was the first sign of the devastation ahead of us. A muddy plateau with the remains of buildings. In early August a massive landslide created a natural dam which then burst.
KATHMANDU, Nepal — A major landslide early Saturday morning near Nepal’s border with China killed at least eight people and left hundreds missing, officials in Nepal said. It also washed out part of a crucial highway and blocked a river, leading to a dangerous build-up of water...
The landslide was enormous, you could see why it had such a devastating impact. 156 had died as an entire village was wiped out. The aftermath also will impact the lives of many beyond the local area this is Nepal’s only overland trade route with China. For Kiwis imagine this is SH1, and there is no alternative route…
We rode, pushed, walked over it and it was a mission on a mountain bike. They had carved this ‘road’ to try and make a navigable route for vehicles but it really was tough going. The hot sun and humid air meant our altitude training over the past few weeks got a good test.
B contemplates the climb so far, from only about halfway up !
Up, up, up, up it goes
The muddy bush line above the current river in the photos below shows the height of the flooding created by the natural dam.
Heavy rain in the days before we had arrived had washed out the temporary road. Excavators were still trying to bridge the stream.
Nic pointed out I was actually standing on a bit of an overhang to take this photo. Perhaps just as well I was several kg lighter than usual.
This photo below, and the deliberately angled one below it, was an attempt to capture the scale of the landslide. Even a wide format photo couldn’t get the extents without cropping off the top. Hard to give a sense of scale but I’d guess that hillside was at least 300-400 metres high.
There were people dotted around the landslide constantly watching the hillside above. They appeared to have phone, or walkie talkie, in hand to warn those working below of further movement.
I rode down from here, challenging with the soft dirt and ruts.
The tiny red dots in the photos (below) are porters carrying our kit bags. The 20x digital zoom of my IXUS camera just got them in frame.
Compare the rocks to this stranded truck for scale!
I watched this heavily laden truck attempt to drive up here. It was futile as it got stuck soon after and the road just led to that traffic jam further up the hill.
Before and after
I found this report on Disaster-Report.com while writing this post. The first time I’d seen a before/after photo of the area.
Massive landslide in Barhabise area of Sindhupalchowk region of Nepal has blocked the Sunkoshi river. Disaster area lies 1.5 km below the meeting point of Sunkoshi and Bhotekoshi river.
Death toll from landslide at Mankha VDC in Sindhupalchok district has risen to 156. The District Administration Office Sindhupalchowk today declared those missing as dead as there was no possibility of recovering the bodies alive from the debris, ekantipur reported. Rescue workers have only found 33 bodies from the landslide area.
They also had this news report from the time:
The boy, the toy and the photo I didn’t take…
In the small village a kilometre or so after the landslide I stopped for a drink from my water bottle. Noticed a small boy, maybe 7 or 8, playing with a Tonka Toy type excavator. He was digging a road into the face of roadside berm, a miniature version of the one up the road.
It reminded me of my childhood. We had a dirt bank a metre or two high. I used to build ‘dangerous roads’ into it for my own toy vehicles. I would liked to take a photo but asked his mother, or perhaps much older sister, supervising him. I couldn’t work out if the response was a yes or no, so didn’t. It was sad to think, on reflection, he could have been emulating rescue workers digging for his relatives as many people were still missing.
Sobering to think we had been riding over them.
School is in
In spite of the chaos around them I was impressed to see a temporary school in session. Amazing the value placed on education here, something too many Kiwi’s take for granted.
End of the cycling
Our ride ended soon after. I’m not certain how far I rode—my odometer was a bit out due to varying tyre pressure from 30-50 PSI—but it was about 920km over 16 days riding.
The Nepal crew had two buses (due to shortage of trucks!) to take us to Kathmandu. With all the camping and cooking gear, kit bags, bikes and bike boxes it was a full load.
The Bus ride
The drive back to Kathmandu was interesting. I was quite glad we didn’t ride this bit as the road was narrow, hilly and busy. After the relative isolation of Tibet, and the almost closed highway section we rode in Nepal it was a bit of a shock.
We stopped for lunch at a ‘café’ on the riverside. Although they had been advised we were coming it was amazing to see a wonderful meal appear in minutes in a place with few facilities.
I thought our bus driver was great but the passing traffic was amazing to watch. Probably better not to think about possible consequences! There were trucks overtaking on blind corners, cars overtaking trucks themselves overtaking mopeds which were passing pedestrians. I was amazed when our bus passed a car, itself not going slow only to have a fully laden truck following pass us!
There was one severe looking accident, a truck on its side in the deep ditch with a tarp covering the wrecked cab. Suspect, on a fine day, it wasn’t there to keep the rain out.
Some of the architecture as we approached Kathmandu was… um interesting.
I was surprised how far the agricultural land extended into the city.
Kathmandu, now relax!
We arrived in the middle of the afternoon/evening rush. It was nice to get back to the Radisson hotel, the prospect of a nice hot shower and a soft bed
After helping unload, my bike (on the bus roof) had collected a nice chunk of foliage from an overhanging tree on-route, it was nice to collapse.
I don’t recall going to dinner that night, think I just went to sleep!
Quote of the day:
Lots was said, lots more unsaid after today’s experience. It was a rollercoaster of highs and lows, adventure and reflection but the only one I can reliably remember was:
Seal Skinz rule! – Me & B
Friendship bridge altitude 1717.500 meters
After the slip, end of ride altitude 762.000 meters
After a forgettable hotel breakfast—really can’t remember what they had but when peanuts are the most viable breakfast buffet choice it wasn’t much—it was time for the final stuff gear into bag battle.
Today we didn’t have the luxury of extra space on the bus as our bags would be portered several times between here & Kathmandu. If it didn’t fit in the red bag had to stuff into our riding bag, carry some other way or leave it behind. I didn’t have much trouble but donated my remaining snacks (sweets, chocolate & nuts mostly) to the crew and left a rather worn pair of beach shoes in the hotel bin.
I suspect beach shoes are not exactly common footwear in the Himalayas. The trip notes suggested sandals, thongs to Aussie readers, to wear around camp. I get blisters from them so took some Body Glove beach shoes instead. They were great for camp, easy to get on/off and fast drying if got wet. Photographed at our closest camp to Everest, 4480m above sea level, about as far as you can get from a beach!
Having packed the bus it was on to the bike for the last day riding. We descended 470m from the Zhangmu down to the Tibetan border. It was about 8km of zigzag road lined with waiting trucks as a landslide in Nepal has closed the highway.
We’ll ride to, and over, the slip but heavy vehicles can't pass. The plan is to have a bus at the border to run our gear & luggage to the slip. Porters will then carry it across to two buses (for one for gear/bikes, one for us) for the drive to Kathmandu. It gives us about 30km cycling from the border with little traffic, avoids riding into Kathmandu on a narrow busy highway.
Bas had planned an early breakfast so we wouldn’t have to wait in a long line at the border. We were among the first to arrive, below, something which would become an issue for some later on.
There was some entertainment while we waited for the office to open. Monkeys playing, scrapping and, um, loving on the roof of a nearby building. They must give the wiring a tough time, but seemed to be quite happy up there.
There was some sort of morning parade, ceremony, on the bridge. I wonder if unusual as they had a professional crew filming it. The border didn’t open until it finished (about an hour later than ‘advertised’ from memory).
Morning parade on the bridge? Photo by Helen
The Tibetan vehicles can't cross the border so all the kit bags and camping equipment was portered across.
It was farewell to the Tibetan crew and Tashi. He’d been an excellent guide, a lovely man and it was sad to think he can’t do what we were about to: Leave Tibet.
Sujan (l) & Tashi (r), Photo by Helen
The last bit of our time in Tibet was spoiled by a bolshie Chinese pair who kicked up a fuss about not being in front of the queue.
I was down the back, away from the front line, but they got quite worked up. Seemed to think that being Chinese gave them priority. There was only one line, no separate queue for citizens as some countries have, so it was tough luck they arrived late.
It got a bit heated until they finally calmed down, if I remember correctly, after an intervention from Bas. I suspect the orange helmeted yellow & black lycra clad giant (he’s tall, as seen in the photo earlier in this post) made an impression!
The border kerfuffle seems to amuse Andy , Photo by Helen
I must say the officials at the Chinese border were actually pretty good and the whole process (once the office finally opened) was far less hassle than I expected. I thought they'd go through bags but apart from the usual run through the x-ray there was nothing.
Don't know what the porters who were transporting the kit bags experienced. It did seem odd that you didn’t have to accompany your luggage through a border, just had the bike & day pack.
Bizarre border art as we left Tibet, photo by braver than me Kirsten
Once across friendship bridge we had to re-enter Nepal. The contrast was immediately apparent. From the controlled organised, albeit illogical, cold authoritarian feeling of the Chinese border you stepped into chaotic unorganized friendly Nepal.
A last look at Tibet, over the Nepalese border gate (above) & Kodari main street (below)
Tourist Visa time, Sujan sorted the paperwork for those who needed it, Photo by Helen
While we waited for the formalities (visa paper work and our kit to come over the border) had a chance to watch some of the street life.
Another small cycle tour came through the border when we did. Didn’t seem very interested in talking beyond the usual acknowledgements as they passed. Think they were the grumpy looking lot we passed on the way back from Everest.
Took this photo of them and to remind me, never ever ever buy/wear white lycra leggings…
One thing I noticed as soon as we entered Nepal was branding, on vehicles and apparel, largely absent in Tibet. Lots of U.K. & European Football (soccer for Kiwis) team kit!
Old Corolla gets the Chelsea fan treatment, chrome wheels and big exhaust. Those accessories probably cost more than the car!
However, I suspect the bus which took our kit to the slip was probably not an official Facebook licensed one!
In Tibet I had struggled to lug two red bags (20-25kg each) from the truck to the border office door. Never mind six and a handbag as this lady portering our gear did…
Six on to one does go, Photo by Helen
Quote of the morning:
“It’s just how it was 20 years ago!” – Bas remarking how Kodari, unlike Tibet, hadn’t changed since he last cycled through here.