JoLt 2004: New Zealand – The Land of the Long White Cloud
2004 Expedition Diary
Who would have thought that we could achieve so much in a month? Many of the twenty four apprehensive young people who met up at Heathrow on 10 July had never flown before or even left home, and none had experienced such a long journey: twenty three hours in total. We returned a month later as a single cohesive force – tired but happy to greet friends and family, but with strong JoLt friendships well established.
The main ethos of JoLt has always been that through team work one can achieve anything that you set your mind to and JoLt ’04 was no exception. Perhaps we all thought we would have it slightly easier when we heard we were going to a developed country with good disabled access and facilities, but there were plenty of challenges to be met for all of us, both physical and emotional.
One of the greatest achievements for us as a group was the walk to Kea Point, a lookout near the base of Mount Cook. We set off in glorious sunshine on a mild winter day and returned about five hours later with the weather setting in around us. Two weeks earlier the path had been under a foot of snow and at first we were glad to see it had melted. However, the snow had turned to ice on this tortuous route up to the lookout. Having made slow but steady progress to the pinnacle of our walk, we all breathed a collective sigh at the glorious views to the summit of the double-peaked Mount Cook – until, one by one, we realized the mammoth task ahead: the descent back down to the bus. This downhill route took us over glass-like sheets of ice. Everyone pulled together, carrying wheelchairs and their owners one by one over each treacherous mini glacier. Several times breaths were held as the team, sure-footed as mountain goats, clambered over the precipitous path. Finally, we arrived back at the bus. A swift toilet stop in a swanky hotel and a well-deserved snack in the car park followed, before we eventually arrived back at our beautiful backpackers hostel to sit around a blazing log fire where, quite literally, the ice was broken. We were bound by a real sense of achievement at completing the walk as a group through sheer resilience and a bit of singing from the back!
The journey was an opportunity for a group of young individuals from very diverse backgrounds to discover more about themselves and others and, along the way, to develop self-confidence and undertake challenges many (including themselves at times) would not have thought they were capable of. Nine months previously teachers, parents, doctors, social workers or friends had nominated these youngsters for the expedition. They had been selected from a large number as being those who would gain most from this Journey of a Lifetime.
The journey proper started in Christchurch, where a visit to the Antarctic Museum got us ready for a New Zealand winter. A long shower followed by an early night was welcome after a long and exhausting flight. The next morning we travelled on towards Mount Cook, the largest mountain in South Island, stopping to admire the beautiful views of the mountain from Lake Tekapo and a semi-challenging walk through Peel Forest. Daybreak revealed stunning views from our backpackers hostel out towards the mountain and the highlight of the day was a helicopter flight over the glaciers. Landing in the snow felt like alighting onto the untouched top of an iced Christmas cake – that beautiful feeling was soon replaced by damp and cold as the snowballs started to fly!!
We waved goodbye to the friendly staff at Mount Cook Backpackers and headed off to Queenstown where we drove in four wheel drive vehicles through the stunning scenery around Skippers Canyon, a good site for movie buffs as much of the Lord of the Rings was filmed around the area. So “Hollywood” was the tour that the vehicles were named after characters from the films, and at least one of the drivers bore a striking resemblance to an Orc! The afternoon saw us jet-boating through Shotover Canyon with hair-raising turns next to sheer cliff faces and fun 360 degree turns.
We left the next morning bright and early to visit Doubtful Sound. It looked to be quite a disappointing boat cruise as we sailed through the fog and mist, but the clouds suddenly parted to reveal the beautiful fjord landscape and some unexpected fauna: dolphins, seals and a small penguin backstroking its way across the water. The day finished spectacularly, as we watched one of the wheelchairs speeding down the path towards the water – fortunately someone caught it in time, but a wet coat and backpack had to be stowed beneath the coach.
We travelled on to our most southerly point in New Zealand before heading back up towards Christchurch, stopping in Dunedin for a sports day of wheelchair races and Limb Ball – “the rules are there are no rules!” could be heard echoing all around the small university town. Our sporting triumphs continued as we met the Canterbury Parafed Team in Christchurch, several of whose members represent New Zealand in wheelchair rugby as the “Wheel Blacks”. We’re pleased to announce that the Jolt team acquitted itself well and the match was a draw. It was great to meet another inspiring bunch of people who have achieved great things in spite of their disabilities. We headed off towards the North Island by train, stopping via beautiful windswept beaches littered with large spherical boulders and for a day out whale watching – not many whales seen and a few too many good views of the seasickness bags!
From south to north – and Maori culture
After a beautiful tour of the South Island of New Zealand, we headed across the Cook Straits to Wellington where our crocodile bike tour of the city seafront was admired by the waiting press, who also greeted us as we sang and signed to the British High Commissioner that night. After a scenic drive around the volcanic lake we made our way to Taupo and to yet another challenge – the High Ropes – where our fear of heights was severely challenged. The bravest managed to scale a pole, stand on top of it as it swayed in the wind and hurl themselves at the trapeze. More down-to-earth activities followed with carting and buggy racing.
The taste for danger ignited, we dove up into the volcanoes past Tongariro and Ngarahoe (better known in Lord of the Rings as Mount Doom) to Ruapehu where several guides met us for a day of skiing. I don’t think Whakapapa ski resort knew what hit it – it was well and truly JoLted. Thanks to some brand new disabled ski equipment, we all managed a go at the nursery slopes and a few of us ventured further, braving the platter ski lifts further up the resort. A beautiful day meant the slopes stayed open later and, finally exhausted, we headed past a stunning sunset to our motel.
One of the cultural highlights of the expedition was our interaction with our Maori friends. North Island was really our cultural “hot spot”, with two Marae (Maori Village) stays. At each of the Maraes we were honoured to go through a formal ceremony of being welcomed into the village, with speeches and singing. We became part of the family for the days and nights spent there and slept in the Wharenui (Maori Meeting House) amongst the ancestors. We all shared the Hongi – the gesture of touching noses to symbolize sharing the breath of life – and then a Hangi, a beautiful roast meal wrapped up and cooked beneath the earth. At the first Marae we were considered so much a part of the village that we were allowed in the village hot pool – apparently a rare treat, although most of us were disappointed when we saw a small pool with hot smelly, muddy water and a gravel bottom! Paddling a Waka (war canoe), which took all 24 youngsters and the 8 accompanying leaders, tested our co-ordination and teamwork skills. We managed to wash the mud off the following day as we rafted down the Tongariro River surrounded by beautiful scenery and floating lava rocks (pumice stone).
Boats, tents and broken bones (not the group’s)
We saw very little of Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand, as we rushed to the Spirit of New Zealand, a beautiful Square Rigger which we crewed for three days. The ship, although used to disabled youngsters, was not designed to take wheelchair users, another unexpected obstacle. But the JoLt crew were certainly up the challenge, and all of us managed to climb the rigging and gather in the sails. The amazingly friendly crew made the art of tall-ship sailing manageable for everyone including the most nervous, and there was no shortage of volunteers to do the night watch. For many this was the highlight of their journey and an amazing achievement by the JoLt team.
Once we’d arrived back on dry land and regained our land legs, we travelled up to the far north to Cape Reinga. We stood at the end of the cape at the most northerly point of the North Island while the two seas (Pacific Ocean and Tasman Sea) met many feet below us. On our way to the Cape we crossed the Te Paki Quicksand Stream and took the opportunity to climb up the sand dunes. It was a hard slog up to the top but everyone made it, despite some reservations by the most disabled youngsters. But fear turned to tears of joy once we reached the top with awesome views to 90 mile beach and then journeyed back to the bottom at speed astride a Boogie Board. The exhilaration of sand boarding far outweighed the hard physical and emotional struggle of the climb.
Camping was something not even contemplated previously by some of the team, especially not in winter. But our beautiful campsite near the beach was perfect and we all slept surprising well despite the calls from the Morpok (native owls) and the scavenging possums. The ‘long drop’ toilet raised a few eyebrows, but again we proved that even out in the wilds with no specific disabled facilities we can cope with anything. The mammoth cliff path walk to and from the beach astonished everyone – the whole team again pulled together and battles, both physical and psychological, were fought and won that day individually and as a team. A bacon sandwich never tasted as it did at the top of the Cape that day! Sleeping at a farm stay was relative luxury and most of the group took the opportunity to ride the horses for a sunset and early morning short trek along the ridge.
Our cultural tour was completed with a lesson in bone carving by a master craftsman followed by another Marae, where we had the privilege of watching their award-winning Kapa Haka group practising for their latest competition – a dance with the Poi (fast spinning balls attached to lengths of rope – a training method for fighting which makes the wrists and hands more supple). Abseiling the next morning on one of our few wet days proved to be a much muddier affair than anticipated: the long grassy climb up to the abseiling rock turned into a mud slide on the way down, as crutches and wheelchairs were abandoned for a less conventional slide back down on our bottoms to the bus. On our final night the group provided their own entertainment with sketches and awards. More than a few tears were shed at the thought of coming home.2004 Expedition Diary
Each youngster and each adult leader was changed in some significant way by this fantastic journey; we achieved so much, physically, mentally, emotionally and culturally. Personal goals and achievements were met and often surpassed. Our experiences will be not only a source of happy memories in the future (especially to those who previously had few happy memories) but also a resource to call upon and build from for any future challenges that life may throw our way.
The success of each journey owes much to the teamwork, courage, good humour and personalities of the young people and leaders who participate. To every single member of the team who contributed so much and who benefited so much from the expedition, life will never be quite the same again. Problems will not vanish but we hope that each JoLter will feel better able to cope with the problems that life throws at them; better able to take control of their own lives and destinies, and better able to look positively and creatively towards the future. We are sure they will be more determined and more confident of their own ability to find solutions to problems and to achieve their hopes and dreams. We hope they will continue to turn to us in times of trouble and in times of success.
We are indebted to friends old and new, to the companies, schools, charitable trusts and strangers without whom the 2004 Journey of a Lifetime would never have been possible.
We are also indebted to the people who worked so hard both in Britain and in New Zealand to ensure that this was truly a “Journey of a Lifetime”. We thank you for your friendship and support, but most of all we thank you for caring.
Participants: Conor Allison, Sam Bartle, Sarah Buckle, Tomas Docherty, Mathew Faulkner, Stephen Haigh, Shaun Harper, Leanne Hobson, Wayne Holt, Jack Kirkby, Natasha Le Breton, Adam Leveridge, Elizabeth Lightowlers, Cameron Mackay, Daniel Maddocks, David McDougall, Adam McLaughlin, Simone Milani, Christopher Oliver, Abigail Pearson, Paul Sotiriou, Patricia Speirs, Carys Williams, Sarah Withers
Leaders: Stuart Berkely, Alan Buzza, Dorothy Dalton, Shirley Farthing, Olivia Hussey, Claire Isham, Martin Pickavance, Alastair Youdan.