How did you choose your route through New Zealand?
I planned it going from the North Island to the South Island, taking in the best places along the way. I wanted a variety of places and experiences volcanoes, earthquakes, rainforests.
How did you get around in New Zealand?
Most of the time I'm walking on my two feet. I've been on the four-wheel-drive bikes called quads when we were tracking the parrots in the forest. That was fun.
How many people travel with you?
Just me and my backpack! And hopefully several thousand children in spirit. The idea is to do it unsupported and experience the country I go through. By being alone, I get to meet a lot more people.
Why are you walking instead of driving or riding a bike?
By walking, you get to see a lot more of the countryside. If you're driving or on a bike, you don't get to see the same things. There's a lot you miss. By walking, you get to meet a lot of people and really see the countryside. As I was walking along the other night, I saw a shooting star, banks of glowworms, and two opossums up in a tree. It was all quite spectacular. And I might have missed it if I hadn't been walking.
How would you describe the people of New Zealand?
The people are very friendly and outgoing. A lot of them enjoy the outdoor life. Many of the people here are farmers, but a lot of people like hiking, cycling, or mountaineering because the country is so rugged. They are very interested in sports, particularly rugby.
Tell us about a few of the people you've met along your trek.
One of the people I met on the North Island was an ecological farmer. She has a farm with cows and beef cattle, but the way she farms, she tries not to harm the trees and plants around here. She's trying to improve the environment with her farming by planting native trees and plants. Maybe I should call her an ecologically-friendly farmer. She also has solar panels in her house for electricity.
They have a garden where they grow their own food, and are planting native trees and plants around the house. There are native animals there, too, like carnivorous worms. It was great to meet her and see how she's protecting the environment, and the native plants and animals around her.
Another person I met on the North Island was Manu, a Maori man. He was a schoolteacher who is very stern with his children, but he was very friendly with me. He used to be a wrestler, and when he wrestled he was called the "Detroit Assassin." He was quite a character, too!
How are the North and South Islands of New Zealand different? Are the people from the two islands different?
The North Island has more people than the South Island, so there's a lot less traffic on the South Island which is good for me! The people in both places are very friendly. But in the South, they're much more chatty probably because there are fewer people. The South is much more mountainous. It's been much slower going here because of the hills and mountains that I have to go over. It rains more in the South, too, because of the mountains. It's also colder because we're nearer to Antarctica. In the South, there are also more areas of native trees, rainforests, and vegetation.
Is English the national language in New Zealand?
Yes, English is the national language, but Maori is spoken as well. They have Maori TV programs, and a lot of signs will be in English and Maori. This is a mark of respect to the Maori, who lived in this country before the Europeans came.
Do people in New Zealand eat the same kinds of food as we do in the U.S.?
A lot of the food is the same. They do have McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken. But there are some different things as well. Tuatua is a type of shellfish. I had soup made from that. Kumara is like a sweet potato that the Maori eat, as do other New Zealand people. They also eat kiwi fruit. But on the whole, the foods are about the same fruits, vegetables, and meat.
Do most New Zealand schools have computers?
Most schools have computers in New Zealand; even some of the small schools will have a computer. And some of the Maori schools do; they can get money from the government. If they don't have computers, they are looking into it. A lot of schools are just learning how to use them. And a few are using them to communicate with schools in other countries.
What's the most popular sport in New Zealand?
I'd say rugby. The national rugby team is probably the best in the world. Pretty impressive that a country of three million people can produce a team that can win international games! Quite a few of the players have Maori ancestry. They can be a fierce people, so that probably helps. Rugby is like American football. In rugby, players don't wear pads or helmets.
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What was your first reaction to the Maori people? Were you ever scared of them?
Not really scared. When they do the haka, the war dance, it sent a sort of chill down my spine, because they looked very fierce. But when I got to talk to them, they were quite friendly. I spent a week with the Maori people in a small village, and I had a great time. I really enjoyed getting to spend time with them. The Maori people have been very friendly and welcoming to me.
What do you like most about the Maori people?
Their sense of humor. They are quite funny characters. They make fun of each other, and me when they have the chance. They are quite amusing and very friendly.
What is one traditional custom of the Maori?
They have a ritual welcoming when you go to the Marae, the spiritual ground in front of their meetinghouse. When you are welcomed onto the Marae, a young warrior comes up to you. He looks fierce and he has a weapon called a taiaha. Then he lays a twig on the ground in front of you. As the visitor, you are supposed to pick up the twig and then walk backwards with it. That is a sign of peaceful intent. When the visitor has done that, a girl from the village sings a song of welcome. Then the visitor is welcomed and can go on to the Marae. Once you've been welcomed, you do a thing called a homi. You press noses together and shake hands. By doing that, you are sharing the breath with the Maori person.
When you enter the meetinghouse, you have to take off your shoes. This is because the meetinghouse represents the body of an ancestor, and by taking off your shoes you are showing respect to the spirit of the ancestry of the house. The ritual is very complicated. Inside the meetinghouse there are carvings that represent other ancestors of the tribe. The Maori people show great respect for these carvings.
They have very long, involved ceremonies. There's a lot of protocol involved in being welcomed onto a Maori Marae. Doing anything in Maori circles takes a long time. Everything is very involved, and a bit tricky if you don't know what to do.
What is the Marae?
The Marae is the spiritual ground in front of the Maori meetinghouse. This ground is sacred to the people that live in the village. It's where the ancestral spirits can be contacted. Maori people call on the spirits of their ancestors in time of need. It used to be in times of war, or if they needed help finding food, or things like that.
What are the Maori children like? Are they really different from kids in the US? What are their schools like?
Hmmm, it's hard to generalize. Again, they're very friendly. Some are shy, some are confident. They have different personalities. I think American children talk a lot more than they do. But I had fun meeting the Maori children. A lot of the schools in the countryside are very small, and may have as few as 20 children from quite a large area. Some of the schools might have children of all different ages in the same classroom. Either that, or they'll be divided from say, ages 611 and 1218.
What do Maori men and women do for work? What types of chores do Maori children do?
All sorts of things. The people that I've met are schoolteachers, bus drivers, shop workers the Maori do all the regular jobs that are out there. They're like everyone else. Some of them are cultural performers, who do Maori song and dance for tourists. The children do the same kinds of chores that kids in the United States do as well. In many ways, they've adopted the Western way of life, but they still have their traditional customs and beliefs as well.
What kind of food do the Maori people eat? What have you eaten during your trek?
I haven't eaten many strange things. I did get to eat some tua tua soup that's shellfish. And some kumara mash it's like a sweet potato. Apart from that, I've been eating lots of fish and chips and things like that. (Chips are like American french fries.) Over here, there's a lot of fast food, so I've been eating lots of burgers and french fries, and trying to get some vegetables in whenever I can. When I've been cooking in my tent, I've had sardines and pasta as well.
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What is the scariest thing you've seen since you've been in New Zealand?
The scariest was when I was on the active volcano, looking into the crater. I was only about 4 feet away from the edge of the crater, and it was very crumbly ash. And I realized I was only 4 feet away from death if I fell. I was wearing a gas mask, and the volcano could have erupted at any moment. That was the most unusual thing I've done, too going over to this active volcano and standing at the edge. It was one of the highlights of my journey so far. It was the first time I'd experienced earthquakes and volcanoes. I was on a road called the Desert Road, which goes by the volcano Mt. Ruapehu, and I hoped the volcano wouldn't erupt as I was walking by. I camped my tent at the bottom of the volcano, hoping I wouldn't be covered in hot ash! The volcanoes here are pretty impressive.
What was it like to stand so close to the edge and look into the crater of a volcano?
Looking right into the crater, there was steam and black mud like ash and water mixed together. It was gushing about 40 or 50 feet high shooting out of the heart of the volcano. I'd seen geysers where hot water was shooting out of the ground, but this was like black mud shooting out. I was about 200 or 300 feet above it. Two days afterwards, when we were back on the islands, ash was actually thrown out of the volcano and came over to the mainland, which is about 50 kilometers away. So the volcano actually became more active after I left.
How often did the volcanoes you saw erupt?
The activity at the White Island volcano was considered an eruption. It sent out gas, steam, and mud. The mud that I saw is really an eruption. White Island is actually a continuously erupting volcano. Mt. Ruapehu, another volcano I visited, has actually stopped erupting, but it could become active again. One of the things I've learned is that there are different types of volcanoes; some throw out gas and some throw out ash.
Do you have any volcanic rocks from New Zealand? How are they different from ordinary rocks?
When I was near Lake Taupo, I picked up some pumice this is volcanic rock that's honey-combed. It's lighter than water, so it floats. This is produced when molten rock becomes full of bubbles of gas from the volcano. On my journey, I've been carrying this pumice. It's from an eruption in A.D. 186, 1,800 years ago the last time the volcano exploded.
Was New Zealand formed by a volcano?
It's actually a bit more complicated than that. New Zealand sits where two plates of the earth's crust got pushed together. So in the south of New Zealand, there are actually mountains being pushed up. And in the North, the two plates are being pushed together. The Pacific plate is going beneath the Indo-Australian plate, and this is causing the volcanic activity that has formed a lot of the North Island. Lots of pushing up of rocks, and where the Pacific plate goes beneath the other plate, it forms a lot of the magma that comes out in the volcano. There's a lot of geologic activity here, which is why it's such a shaky place.
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Have you experienced any earthquakes yet? What were they like?
The earthquakes in Rotorua were one of the highlight of my journey. They only lasted for a few seconds, but as the building began to shake, you wondered if the building would actually fall down. I experienced both the volcano and the earthquake on the same day. I returned on the boat from the volcano, and then that night I was woken up at about 2 in the morning because the bed was shaking side to side from the earthquake. I later saw a seismograph of the earthquake that I'd actually experienced.
What is the biggest earthquake you experienced in New Zealand? Were you scared?
The biggest was at Rotorua. That was 4.9 on the Richter scale. That's just big enough to cause damage to buildings. I was just sitting down to dinner in the cabin when the walls started shaking from side to side. I wasn't scared; I was more excited by the fact that I was in an earthquake. But when it went on for a few seconds, I started to worry about whether the building might fall down. But it was okay. The worst thing is that you don't know if a tremor is just the beginning of more earthquakes, or if that was it. So you're just sitting there waiting for something more to happen. In this case, there were more tremors after the main shock. I met some people who had been in a 7.2 earthquake. Their house fell into three pieces, and the chimney came through the ceiling. Everything was thrown off the shelves, and the refrigerator fell over and emptied itself onto the floor. Their story was pretty amazing and scary.
How many earthquakes have they had in New Zealand while you've been there?
There are lots of earthquakes. When I was at Rotorua, there were a hundred tremors in one day. I felt tremors in other parts of the country as well.
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What was the Fox Glacier like?
The Fox Glacier was pretty impressive. I walked on the glacier and stayed there for about six hours. On the glacier there was some wreckage of a helicopter that crashed about seven years ago. The wreckage has moved halfway down [the mountain] since that time, because the glacier moves down into the valley. My guide said that it takes about 70 years for snow that falls at the top of the glacier to move down to the end of the glacier. The Fox Glacier is supposed to be a fast-moving glacier. It moves about a meter a day.
Is it hard to climb the mountains to get to the glaciers? Did you slip on the glaciers? Did the spiked shoes help you climb?
It took about an hour and a half to get onto the glacier. It wasn't too strenuous. When I got on the glacier, the spikes on the boots helped, but I did slip twice. We also had spiked sticks that helped us balance on the ice. The ice was very slippery because it had rained the days before, and the sun was out when we were there, so the ice was melting a bit.
Were you close enough to look down a crevasse in the Fox Glacier?
Yes! We looked into lots of the crevasses. It was quite beautiful because the ice was a blue-white color in the sunshine. There were also very deep holes in the ice filled with water where the ice was melting.
Why is the water coming out of the mountains blue-green?
Because of the ground-up rock called rock flour. The ground-up rock catches the light and reflects the color.
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What animals have you seen on your trip?
I've seen lots of animals over here. I got to hold a kiwi (a native bird), which was quite an experience. It's a nocturnal bird, so you don't often get to see them during the day. I saw glowworms inside a cave they're larvae of flies, and they covered the entire roof of the cave, glowing. And I also saw a tuatara, which is described as a "living dinosaur." New Zealand is a very good place to see unusual animals, because it was isolated for about 60 million years, when the earth's tectonic plates were shifting. So some of these creatures like the tuatara have been around since the time of the dinosaurs.
What are the tuatara like?
They are reptiles that grow to be about half a meter in size. I saw them at the Auckland Zoo. They eat insects and small birds. They have been around for 200 million years a very long time. I saw them during feeding time, and one of them went for his feeder's finger! Their teeth are just extensions of their jaw bones, serrations of their jaws. They also have the remains of a third eye on the top of their heads. It's disappearing now, though. All in all, they are quite unusual creatures.
How do scientists know the tuatara is the oldest reptile, even older than the dinosaurs?
Scientists studied tuatara fossils from layers of rock that formed 200 million years ago. So that's one piece of evidence. Also, the scientists studying the tuatara believe their peculiar characteristics like their unusual jawbones show that they are very ancient reptiles. The tuatara skull has the same number of holes as the dinosaurs'. So that's another way they can tell the tuatara is more closely related to the dinosaur than to modern lizards. One of the fossils that they found was similar to the tuatara, but was much bigger than the ones today so they know that some of the reptiles were much bigger.
When you were near the ocean, did you see a giant squid? Did you see any other kind of weird sea life?
I didn't see a giant squid, although they are there at Kaikoura. Giant squid tend to be very deep under the water. The strangest creature I saw was a chiton. These are shellfish, but their shells are actually in segments.
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Have you seen any kiwi birds? What do they look like?
Yes, I saw some kiwi on the North Island. In fact, I got to actually hold a one-year-old kiwi! The egg was taken from the wild to the Auckland Zoo, and released when it was six months old. Scientists did this so the bird was bigger and could defend itself against weasels, ferrets, and other creatures which have been introduced into the country. The size of the one-year-old kiwi was one kilogram. By the time they're fully grown, they weigh two kilograms. From the end of their beaks to the other end it's probably about two to two and a half feet. Of course, their beaks are quite long. They look like small balls of furry feathers. The kiwi is very round and the feathers are a lot like hair. And there are whiskers coming off of their beaks! That was one of the most amazing experiences in my life to actually hold one.
Why is the kiwi bird their national symbol?
The kiwi is so unusual; they are only found in New Zealand. And they are cute! They scuffle around with their big long beaks trying to find insects.
What is the most colorful bird you've seen?
The takahe, which are very rare birds. There are only 220 of them in existence. They are bright blue and green with bright orange beaks and red legs. They are about the size of a large chicken.
Why are so many of these birds becoming extinct?
Much of the forest in New Zealand has been cut down. That was a big problem. But then there have also been predators introduced into the country. The native birds evolved without mammalian predators. Many of the birds are flightless or poor flyers, so they are vulnerable to attack. Stoats, which are like weasels, ferrets, and wild cats and dogs are the chief predators. All of these animals are killing off the native birds.
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What is the average temperature in the rainforest in New Zealand?
Temperatures now go up to 15 centigrade (Celsius) just a guess. It may get down to above freezing. It doesn't get too hot either. It's a temperate rainforest.
Did it feel cooler in the rainforest than in the rest of the country?
No. If anything, it was warmer than in the mountains.
Did you see any monkeys when you were in the rainforest?
No, there are no monkeys in the rainforest of New Zealand. The main animals were native birds like the kaka parrot, pigeons, and the New Zealand falcon.
Are there any animals that are bad for the rainforest?
Possums, which were introduced from Australia, are wreaking havoc on the rainforest, eating plants. There are 17 million of them!
How does the rainforest in New Zealand compare with rainforests in South America?
That's an interesting question. The rainforests here are temperate the temperatures are not very high. The plants here are unique and different than what you would find in South America. The native animals here are mostly birds and reptiles.
What was the biggest plant you saw in the rainforest? How big was it?
The kahikatea tree, which grows to 16 meters almost 200 feet! They grow in swampy areas of the forest. Similar trees have been around since the Jurassic times.
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Why is New Zealand called the "Land of the Long White Cloud?"
The Maori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa, which means "land of the long white cloud." Being between the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean means that there are a lot of white clouds around and a lot of rain. I've been lucky it's only rained 5 days out of the 54 days that I've been walking. So it's good for me! I'm hoping I'll just take the sun with me wherever I go.
What season is it in New Zealand?
We're getting towards winter; it's cold and windy. There's supposed to be rain in the next couple of days. In the mountains there will be snow.
What is the weather like today? [Note: Colin was in Barrytown, a small town on the west coast of the South Island.)
It's rainy outside. I'm going to have a wet day today. They call this the "wet" coast instead of the west coast because it rains about 200 days a year. The temperature is probably about six or seven degrees Celsius [about 43 degrees Fahrenheit]. It should go up to about 15 degrees Celsius [about 59 degrees Fahrenheit] by the end of the day.
During the fall in New Zealand, do the leaves change colors like they do in the United States?
A lot of the trees that are being introduced from other countries do change colors. But most of the native trees don't change colors. Many trees actually keep their leaves because the winters here are not as severe.
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How many miles do you average in a day?
The longest I've walked in New Zealand is 35 miles. Most days I walk between 20 and 30 miles. The hard part is not the walking, it's carrying the backpack, which weighs over 50 pounds now. But I do get days off, which I use to go and explore places.! The total journey was 1,500 miles.
How far can you go in one stretch?
The furthest I ever walked was about 40 miles. One time I walked 60 miles in 30 hours with a break of about 2 hours. That was in Britain.
How many pairs of shoes have you worn out in your walk around the world?
That's a good one! I have to think about that. I'm currently on my eighth pair of shoes. Crossing America I wore out four pairs of shoes and one pair of boots. The shoes I have on now have lasted a thousand miles. They still look pretty good, though they don't smell so good! This is still my first pair of shoes in New Zealand. And the good thing is that I haven't worn my feet out yet! They're just looking a bit old and crusty at the moment.
What specific supplies do you bring when you walk the countryside?
I carry some food with me. I eat muesli for breakfast and carry packets of pasta and rice for when I'm between towns. I also carry water and a small stove for cooking. I carry my tent, sleeping bag, and all the equipment to communicate on the Internet: laptop, cables, adapters, etc. I've been carrying up to 60 pounds of weight with me. Oh yes, and I carry clean clothes too, and four extra pairs of socks.
Where do you sleep at night in New Zealand? In a tent or with people you meet?
It's been a variety of things. I've stayed with some people, and stayed in motels so I can send messages on the Internet. And I've camped in my tent, too. One of the most exciting times was camping on the Desert Road next to Mt. Ruapehu. I was wondering whether it would explode, but I was so tired it didn't take me too long to get to sleep. Another night I was camped in a farmer's field, and these young bullocks swarmed around the tent all night, nudging the tent to check it out. I didn't sleep too well that night! The local wildlife is curious about my tent. It's getting cold now we're getting toward autumn here so there aren't as many mosquitoes around. So I'm not getting eaten alive anymore. At one place, I had about 20 bites at the same time.
How much sleep do you usually get?
Sometimes not as much as I like! When I walked to Rotorua, I walked till 4 in the morning and had to get up at 9! Generally, I get to sleep at least 6 hours a night but sometimes it's less than that. I haven't had 8 hours of sleep because it's been pretty hectic. I've been walking and meeting people and writing. I'm just playing for sympathy, though!
Do you ever get scared when you camp outside at night?
Oh, yeah, I do. One time I was in a field with young bulls. They started to eat the grass around my tent. Then they started to nudge my tent. I became worried that they were going to start chewing the tent as well. It was about midnight. I didn't sleep very well that night. When I woke up, I unzipped the tent and they ran away. It made for a very anxious night. At other times I've camped in rest areas by the road. That's always a bit scary because you don't know whether someone might come by during the middle of the night. But I haven't been disturbed yet, so things are okay.
Are there ever days you don't feel like traveling and don't?
When I came over Haast Pass. That day I woke in the morning after having walked until 12 at night. I had been sick in the night as well, then I had to go over the pass and walk in the rain and I was eaten by sandflies. On that day I had to keep moving to get to the next town, despite how I was feeling. When I got to the town, I decided to take a day off. The day after that, I was up and walking again. That was the all-time low.
Did you collect souvenirs during your journey?
Yes, I've got quite a few pieces of rock from various places, including volcanic rock from an eruption 2,000 years ago. I'm hoping to be able to take these pieces of New Zealand with me when I leave the country. I have a piece of green stone which the Maori people carve into jewelry. I also have a flat piece of stone which may have some flakes of gold on it.
Were you ever afraid for your safety?
Yes, one time I was crossing a single-lane bridge and a truck came within a few inches of hitting me. I was wearing a baseball cap and it got blown off the side of the bridge. The biggest danger has been the traffic while walking along the side of the road.
How often do you do laundry? How often do you stay in motels?
It's been fairly often I do my laundry about once a week. The last few days I've been in cabins or motels because the temperature is getting cold and there are more places to stay here in the south. When I came through the mountains I had to camp in my tent. It was 70 miles between towns.
What is your budget for one week of your trek?
That's hard to figure because of the larger costs, like equipment and flying. The whole thing costs around $20,000, so the average per week then was about $1,000. But with equipment and flying, the actual living costs were a lot less than that.
Have you ever been lonely on your trip? What do you do to keep your spirits up?
Yeah, I get very lonely. I'm missing my family quite a bit my little boy James, and my wife Monica. I sing songs as I walk along, and I sing very badly, so it's just as well there's no one there to hear me! I like to sing some Irish songs. I meet people along the way, and that cheers me up. I like to meet people and do things. And these people at Scholastic are certainly keeping me busy! When I was in Auckland, I met up with some people and we went out to hear some Irish music. And we ended up dancing and singing along! That was fun.
Are you having fun?
The walk is exciting and interesting never a dull moment. It's turning out to be a very good trip, and I'm learning a lot as I go, which is always fun.
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Where are you from?
I'm from the southeast of England, a small town near Dover on the southeast coast.
Tell us about some of your walks through other countries.
I'm actually walking across the whole world, and I've been across England, Iceland, and America. New Zealand is the next step in my journey across the world. When I was 18, I did a walk to raise money for a local school for handicapped children. That got me into doing long-distance walking. When I was 20, I did another walk across Iceland. When I was 22, I walked across America. All the walks I've done have been to raise money or provide education for causes.
What other countries will you visit in your "walk around the world"?
After this, hopefully I'll be going to Australia, Japan, China, and then back through Asia to England. This will take a long, long time. Between the walks I take time off to rest, save money, and prepare for the next trip.
Why did you become a biologist?
I've always been interested in plants, animals, and the life around me. I also wanted to understand how they worked. That's how I got into studying biology to find out how plants and animals worked at the molecular level.
Did you travel a lot when you were a child?
When I was a child, I didn't travel much at all, actually. It wasn't until I was 18 and walked across Britain that I got the taste for travelling, and realized that there was a whole world out there to see. And so since then, I've been trying to see as much of it as I can. I think I discovered that I had nomadic genes or something if not wanderlust!
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How long have you been in New Zealand?
Almost four months now. I want to come back! It's been a very exciting trip, but I'm ready to stop walking and have a break. I return home next week.
What has been your favorite part of New Zealand?
Right now, the end of the walk is my favorite. Kaikoura may be my favorite. That's where I got to swim with the seals and where I saw whales and dolphins. I was born by the sea and I love the sea and it was great to see the large sea creatures which I had never seen before. To swim with the seals was fantastic. Especially to be underwater and look into their big brown eyes.
Was there one moment when you thought: "Wow, I could only see this in New Zealand!"?
The time when I went out to see the kokako, the rare birds in the northern forest. There are only 1,500 left alive. To see one of those in the wild was a special experience. It was amazing because the Department of Conservation worker I was with just whistled and the birds appeared as if by magic up in the trees. That was a pretty special experience. The kokako don't fly very well. They scuttle up the trees by using their feet. Then they glide to another tree.
Do you think you'll ever return to New Zealand?
Yes. There are still many places I haven't seen. I'd like to come back and do some smaller walks in the mountains and see some friends that I've made here. Maybe I'll bring my wife Monica with me next time so she'll let me go.
What is the most important thing you'll take from your trek?
An appreciation for how people change what's around them. In New Zealand, people have only been here for 1,000 years. But in that 1,000 years, three quarters of the rainforest is gone and 40 different kinds of birds have disappeared. New Zealand is a place that has only been settled for 1,000 years and many other places have been much more affected than New Zealand. It's also good to see how people here are trying to protect what is around them.