I have long had a problem with the word "extraordinary". World Triathlon's rebranding came up with a new tagline, "Be your extraordinary". When I saw that, it took me back to 2014 and 2015 when Digicel Samoa (telco) used the phrase as their tagline: "Be Extraordinary". The problem, and it's mine alone, is the word extraordinary. In its simple form, it is asking me to be twice as ordinary. Suppose you dangle the word in front of a non-English speaker. That is exactly what it means to them. It makes sense too. Put the word "extra" in front of any descriptive adjective and it means you are twice as strong, brave, smart, intelligent and so on. So why is it different when "extra" and "ordinary" are put together? Even if English is your first language, the word's spelling is just that, extra-extra ordinary or twice as ordinary if not more so. But we speak of extraordinary as meaning out of the ordinary. It's a superlative of the highest order. But really, I would prefer instead the wording Not Ordinary.
For a whole two years and maybe longer, I used that tagline for myself in the face of Digicel's blanket coverage of their proud tagline. Everywhere you looked, there was a billboard exhorting Samoans and Pacific Islanders to Be Extraordinary, on television, in newspapers and on every online platform. It drove me nuts and extra insane, especially since Digicel sponsored everything else on the island except the amazing and not ordinary activities we were actioning. Like the 22.3km inter-island Apolima Strait swim, the Warrior Half Ironman race, the Samoa Swim Series, the 104km Perimeter Relay, Savai'i Marathon and more. Those were anything but ordinary activities. Like the Tokyo Olympics. How amazing was that? And how many times did you hear the word "extraordinary" being uttered or written to describe an out of this world performance by an athlete? Of all the superlatives, "extraordinary" was the most used.
However, the message is clear or meant to be from World Triathlon for triathletes to go beyond being ordinary and reach their best. It is a great message, but from a non-English speaking perspective, the message is tainted.
Mike Cochrane, Rosie Sharman and Kane Orr at 5 am before the Apolima Strait test swim.
The story of the Apolima Strait test swim 2015
Mike Cochrane, Rosie Sharman, Kane Orr
It was the perfect day for a swim and the worst day. We launched off at 5.23 am, off the ferry terminal at Mulfanua. The aim was to swim to Savaii 22.3kms away. Kane and Mike stuck together for the first hour until daylight and Rosie had a boat to herself. Each had kayak support and I was on the kayak for Mike. Kane had a boat to himself too, and Mike was a floater - actually he shared a boat with Rosie but you cannot contain Mike, he's a stronger swimmer than Rosie and he had me by his side.
On Kane's boat was his wife Narelle and Pauline English who swam to Apolima Island the day before. That in itself is a huge feat. Dave Champion, Pauline's husband, was on the kayak for Kane. On Rosie's boat was Scotty Rowlands and the two boatmen with Shane Taivai Paulo on the kayak for her. Mike and I were on our own pushing on ahead with everyone in sight.
The idea for the swim came from Kane. He is training for his swim across the English Channel. I wanted to help him achieve his goal of swimming to Savaii, but I then realised my timing was all wrong. The last thing I wanted to do after a busy Swim Series and Warrior Race was to spend a full day on the water on an inter-island 22km swim.
The swim was meant for Monday 10th August but bad weather meant it was delayed. Mind you, after a torrid week of SSS events a full cancellation was a welcome relief. But I had made a commitment to Kane and I was going to see it through. It was good Mike and Rosie joined the swim.
Finally, the weather forecast looked good for Wednesday. There was to be light winds all day and right through the day. Up to then everything was marginal - I even posited an alternative coastal 22km swim in the event of a full cancellation. But with the good weather forecast for Wednesday, I made the call for the full swim starting at 5 am. I was up at 2 am getting things ready and was at the swim site by 3.30 am. The two support boats arrived at Mulifanua Lodge where Kane and Mike and crew were staying, those were loaded with supplies. Still we were a bit late, starting 20mins behind schedule at 5.23 am.
The morning was perfect, the sea was flat and a perfect day for a swim. The surprising thing was, Rosie led for the first 8 kms of the race. Mike and Kane exited the Mulifanua channel quite wide and lost ground from the start. Soon after daylight when I became useful Mike and I took off, Kane by that stage very early on in the swim had had several jelly fish attacks. He was in some discomfort. Mike also sustained some stinger attacks and felt numb around his face. Rosie seemed to have escaped it all. Kane fell back as Mike and I surged forward to catch Rosie. Mike's feeding schedule was every 20mins or at about 1.5kms intervals.
From the kayak I directed the swim, and often called on Rosie's boat to ferry messages between the three groups. Soon after the start Rosie's boat veered right and was about a good 1km away and heading toward Russia. Several times I signalled over the boat, by raising the paddle high in the air to give instructions to pull Rosie to the left of the Ferry line - they were well to the right of that line. We kept on the left of the ferry line and kept to that until we caught up with Rosie and her crew. She was amazing and was going strong, as was Mike. Several reports back from Kane's boat indicated he too was going ok after the stinger attacks.
At the 8 km mark we caught up to Rosie and passed her. By then too she was finally well left of the ferry line and in line with us. Mike and I pushed on. Conditions were perfect. The sun was already up. To our left was first the island of Manono, then Apolima seemed to have awoken from a long night's slumber as the sun's rays touched her Cone peaks. We were in swim heaven.
Mike and I are on the left of the ferry line.
Mike reported fantastic underwater scenery of schools of tuna darting here and there, stacked several levels high in the water all the way to the surface. There was a lot of surface breaking by the fish and it made for interesting viewing from the kayak - but Mike had the better view. Mike also reported a huge coral shoot and could see the bottom. Later Rosie reported seeing tuna also, and a school of fantastic mantra rays way down below her. There were no signs of sharks.
At 16.5 km and 6 km to go for Mike - 5hrs into the swim we had well passed Apolima island to our left. Salelologa, our destination was clearly visible and it looked like we will finish at around midday. Rosie was swimming strongly and still veering to the right but the message was loud and clear from me that she was to keep to the left of the ferry line. To help that I called over the boat again and insisted on Scotty Rowlands making the calls on the swim and not the boat captain. Scotty was the swim captain and told him he had to make the calls on direction and navigation. He did that well to the end. Kane's boat by this stage was a dot on the horizon behind us.
Savaii ahead was a dark grey landmass with Mt Silisili the highest peak of Samoa way in the distance. From the 10 km mark parallel with Apolima that was an important landmark. We were to stay left of that, at about 11 o'clock from the top of Silisili. Then soon after the two prominent churches on the Salelologa side of the island were also great landmarks. We were to stay well left of those as well. The direct route was to aim for the headland at Tafua and just north of Apolima. That should get us to within the narrow Salelologa ferry channel for the final push to finish at the terminal.
We powered on. Mike was a machine, and I could see Rosie to my right and rear also going strong. Then 5 km to go, and four, we were doing well. The finish was an hour away. My backside was absolutely sore by this stage 6 hrs into the swim. I called over Rosie's boat again and asked the crewman to take over on the kayak. I had wiggled on my seat for the last two hours and I was in danger of falling in the drink. I crawled onto Rosie's boat and then went back to her and Shane. The sea was amazingly flat and I took a video and photos of Rosie and promptly posted them on Facebook to satisfy the curiosity of friends following the swim from around the world. My rest was brief however, we looked over and the crewman had led Mike to the right and wider than Rosie all in a short time. So we shot over and swapped again, this time with the life jacket as seat cushion. I was vulnerable now particularly if I fell in.
Soon after I got back in the kayak and with Salelologa wharf clearly visible, I could see the channel markers too - then the heavens opened and the rain came down. The wind beat up and the waves rose all around us. I could see Rosie's boat behind us about 2 km away but the land ahead disappeared in the rain cloud and we lost all landing reference. Mike and I were now close to the breakers and even from that distance we could not see land. This was a whiteout. I was a bit nervous. The narrow ferry channel was nowhere to be seen. You can see the finish conditions in the photo where Rosie exits the water. This turn of bad weather was not in the forecast. It came as a total surprise to Mike and me. We both had the same weather readings for the day.
Flat conditions for Rosie we can see the finish.
The sea was now rough and the 5 km per hour wind became 25-30 km per hour. As many know the sea outside the ferry terminal channel is ferocious where the reef acts as protector from the prevailing surging current. It was even more so now. But where was the channel? I kept Mike on sight and paddled left to look for the channel. None. Finally I went back to Mike who was swimming amazingly in the swell and he and I had a meeting. We will wait for the 12 pm ferry to go by to see which way it entered the channel. Fortunately we only waited about for about 10 minutes before the ferry came streaming through from Mulifanua / Upolu. It lined up for its approach to Salelologa and entered the channel. We were a good 1 km away from the channel. How quickly we had drifted. I then paddled and Mike swam behind me for 20 minutes to reach the channel. The sea was a heave-ho. Land could not be sighted still but least we had an idea where the channel was, so I thought. We got there and I took a wrong turn thinking this was the channel. I paddled right through the heaviest of swells and breaking blue waves, had my iPone in my shirt, my camera around my neck and I was totally soaked. I was surfing huge breakers with no lifejacket. How I did not fall in can only be put down to divine intervention. Earlier I had remembered my mother, and sang one of her favourite hymns as I was bobbing up and down behind the breakers - Iesu e, Tautai lo'u Va'a - Lord, You be the Pilot!
Now through the breakers I looked behind me and Mike had made it through as well. Only then did I realise that the channel was further to the left about another 200m. Never mind. We are almost there. The rain now also dissipating and the bright orange ferry building is now in view. We have broken through the mist barrier. The finish was only 500m away. There was a reef to negotiate and still rough sees and strong cross winds between us and the ferry terminal. I couldn't see the other two boats behind us now but not for long. To our left and in the channel Kane's boat came through and quickly, meaning he was not swimming. Then Rosie's boat came into view, she was 30mins back but least she also had made it through the channel. Kane's boat came alongside just before we got to the ferry landing and anchored to our right. It was hard paddling that last 200 or so yards. Mike was just behind me. The 2 pm ferry was loading as we made our approach. Finally we were there. Mike touched ground, got out of the water and looked very pleased with himself. And so he should. He had swum 24kms in just over 8 hours. Epic stuff.
End of the swim for Mike, notice the wind effect on the coconut trees.
Sure enough Rosie was 30 minutes exactly behind us and she powered to the finish. Her boat entered the reef 1 km away from the channel. That is where local expertise counts. Rosie's Her total was 26 KMS distance covered, that's because she was wide early on in the swim. Rosie however had the faster swim rate to Mike but Mike and I covered less ground/water to Rosie. This girl is amazing. She is white gold. She touched ground and exited the water to give Mike a big celebratory hug. By then Kane, Narelle, Pauline and Dave scrambled ashore to purchase tickets to catch the 2 pm ferry back. The three of us and our crews meanwhile were celebrating Rosie's achievement with howls of our own to add to the howling wind and rain. This was a Life moment. She had only just swum her longest swim a week before in the 10 km swim. This achievement is amazing and she deserves every accolade. Is she the first woman to swim to Savai'i ? We're trying to find out, but likely she will have that honour of being the first woman to make the crossing and fittingly so.
I was gutted for Kane, his next goal is to swim the English Channel in Aug 2016. This is how these things pan out, it is not all going to go your way all the time. As for Superman Mike, the guy is a Swim god. When things got rough and we were lost, there was no better person to be in the water with than Mike.
Mike and Rosie on the return ferry to Upolu on the same route they had swum a few hours earlier.
After our celebrations I then asked the boats to drop us off at Lusia's where only a week ago we had had lunch after SSS 2. We were back there, soaking wet, but happy and high in our own euphoria. We had beaten the elements.
After our lunch of fish and chips we then taxied over to catch the 4 pm ferry. The ride back was interesting on the same route the swimmers had swum only a few hours earlier. It was rocking and rolling most of the way - This was a truly Jekyll and Hyde experience - and we survived to tell the tale.
(Thanks to Robbie for the title of this piece and borrowing from Dickens for the opening line).
Jono at Hobbie Point. Photo / @SamoaSwim
Jonathan “Jono” Ridler
Age, 31 years
Grew up in Lynfield, Auckland
School, Hebron Christian College, and one year at Auckland Grammar
Work, Client Operations Manager, Fliway
Every time Jono’s phone rings in the next few days, it could be the call from his boat crew to get himself to Invercargill for his swim across Foveaux Strait. Within forty-eight hours of getting that call, Jono will be in the water swimming.
He is on full alert and soon he will take on the most feared ocean swim in New Zealand. When he crosses the finish line, he will complete the NZ Triple Crown of Marathon Swimming, inside two years. That in itself is a remarkable feat.
Jono swam Cook Strait in February 2019, twelve months later on the 29th of Feb 2020 he swam Lake Taupo. And now, he is on the cusp of adding Foveaux Strait to his impressive list of achievements.
The Foveaux Strait Swim (28km) forms the big three of open water swims in NZ that includes Cook Strait (22km) and Lake Taupo (40.2km), and yet, whereas 130 swimmers have crossed Cook Strait, only eight swimmers have swum Foveaux.
The Strait is not for bunnies, you have to be next-level off the boil, or beyond the boil to take it on. Even Jono himself outright rejected the idea of swimming it when a friend dropped a hint, as friends do.
That was his immediate and emphatic reaction to the suggestion.
“Foveaux scared me, at the time it really scared me because of the cold, that was the big factor. It scares me less now. But I have always leaned toward things that I feared and that has led to Foveaux.”
“You can count on two hands the number of people who have swum Foveaux, that speaks to a couple things. One, it’s a hard swim, second, there isn’t a lot of infrastructure around the swim, you can’t just call someone up anyone and say you want to do that swim in a couple of years. All the logistics need to be put together from scratch.”
The suggestion to swim Foveaux was made after his crossing of Cook Strait. Jono has one of the fastest swim times for the Strait finishing the swim at 6hrs22mins01sec. That is the 8th fastest time since the first crossing in 1962 (Barry Davenport).
When he was preparing for the swim, Jono found out that he wasn’t the first family member to cross Cook Strait. His dad Gordon had rowed across it with the Muriwai Surf Life Saving Club in 1969 long before Jono was born.
After Cook Strait, Jono set his mind on the next challenge and that was swimming the 40.2km of Lake Taupo. He did that in a time of 12hrs22mins, again, one of the faster times for Taupo.
Jono started to think more about Foveaux after Taupo and set out to piece it all together. He has put in some serious training for the swim.
Over the last two months, he has been alternating between sixty and twenty-five km per week. He calls it bulking week and the recovery week, in the bulking week he “smashes the KMS” then bring it down the next week to give the body a chance to recover. The aim was to double the distance of Foveaux Strait on the peak weeks.
Now that he has built up the miles, the next goal is to think about the time he is targeting for the swim.
“It’s always so hard to say because it really is dependent on conditions on the day. I would love to give the time record a go, but anything can happen on the day, but at the moment I’m targeting the record.”
That record belongs to Chloe Harris of Christchurch who swam Foveaux in February 2016 in 8hrs30mins. The other standout point of Chloe’s swim is Foveaux was her first swim of the Triple Crown, Cook Strait, and Taupo came later.
That is the type of challenge that captures Jono’s attention and Chloe’s swim time is one thing he can focus on.
“I want to give it everything I’ve got and do it as quickly as I can, that’s what my training has been geared around to hold a consistent pace and working on my top-level speed as well as my endurance speed in training which will impact my overall speed.”
The biggest factor will be the water temperature which will sit around 14 degrees Celsius. Jono has left nothing to chance. As well as swimming through the winter he built his own chest freezer ice-bath where he put silicon around the edges and added a digital temperature controller and a water filter. He has three sessions a week in the ice-bath for an hour at a time. On the day we met, he was planning on a ninety-minute session later that morning with the temperature set at 7 degrees Celsius.
For this session, he set up his TV to watch a movie, and every five minutes he will immerse his head in the water to get a sense of what that feels like.
“I think that will really help. Through the winter I did a tremendous amount of training in the cold, it was really tough, culminating in a 5-hour swim at about 13 degrees C. I was pretty happy about that at the time.”
There may be a silver lining, one of his skippers told him last week that he has seen some bluefin tuna in the Strait. It’s a good sign because the fish apparently only appear when the water reaches 16 degrees. The skipper said that he had recorded some spots in Foveaux recently at that temperature.
Jono is not concerned about what the temperature will be on the day of the swim.
“You can’t control what the weather is doing, but you focus on the controllables like training, adaptation to the cold, pulling together your team and crew.’
He has put together a great crew. The pilot and boat crew is a father-son duo who fish in the area. The son has 30 years of experience and the father 50 years of local knowledge, they know the Strait well. The Oreti Surf Club is providing an IRB. On the boat as the neutral observer for the swim – a requirement in ultra-marathon swimming – will be Simon Olliver who swam the Strait in February 2017.
The swim direction is unknown at this stage but is likely to be south to north, leaving off Saddle Point on the northeast part of Stewart Island and finishing on the back of Bluff hill. That was the same direction and starting point for Simon and Chloe. The reason for the S-N course is because there has been very good success in navigating the tides in that direction.
Jono is a regular participant at O Swim events
Jono has done his research, “If you time the tide right, I will start the swim in the last two hours of the flood tide, then in the middle of the Strait it’s flowing east to west with no real tidal advantage or disadvantage, it's more how you point yourself at that stage. The final stage is trying to find a suitable and safe landing point on the shore. At that stage, I will probably be towards the end of the second tide, the last of the ebb tide.”
It will be the successful end of ten months of careful planning. The measure of success for Jono will be achieving a personal challenge that also brings rewards.
“You have to put in the yards in training to get your body in shape, but you have to be really tough in your mind as well. There’s that part of it; the other part is there is a crossover with swimming and other areas of life. It gives you a lot of self-confidence to take on other challenges. There’s a lot of parallels that I find now with other things like business or relationships with what I’m doing now. Lastly, and more importantly, I’ve seen as a result of things that I’ve taken on has inspired other people to take on similar challenges. That’s been really cool to be able to see that what I’m doing is having an impact and being able to guide others from my experience. That is very rewarding for me.”
Swimming wasn’t Jono’s first love. He grew up playing tennis and football and dabbled in running. He was training for a marathon in 2014 when he got a nasty case of Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome (PFPS) that developed into other injuries. That’s when he retired from football and gave up running and started to focus on swimming.
In 2016 he swam his first 10km distance. Jono came to like swimming long distances and he began to wonder what he could do next. That led to a chat with Philip Rush, and Jono soon signed up to swim Cook Strait. From there, everything fell into place.
"I always wanted to do distance endurance stuff. I thought it would be running but it was not to be."
We wish Jono well on the swim. We will talk with him again after Foveaux and we look forward to bringing that report.
Caitlin is a regular swimmer at Samoa Swims & Events in Auckland. She met with us at the
Orewa Estuary for a chat and photos.
Age, 16 years
Lives in Waitoki, Rodney
In less than two weeks, on or about the 19th of February, sixteen-year-old Caitlin O’Reilly of Waitoki will swim Foveaux Strait, all 28 km of the treacherous pass between the Bluff and Stewart Island. The swim is timed for the lowest tide cycle in the Strait this month.
To those in the know, there is no doubting that Caitlin will achieve this goal just like she did when she swam Cook Strait in 2017 when she was only twelve years old. Then two years later, Caitlin swam 40.2km across Lake Taupo. The three swims form the sacred Triple Crown (TC) of NZ open water swimming. The Cook Strait swim makes up one of the world's Ocean 7 swims, the pinnacle of this global sport.
Caitlin’s focus was on completing Ocean 7 before turning twenty, but COVID19 got in the way. Last year, she was due to swim the Catalina Strait (USA) and the Tsugaru Strait (Japan). The other four swims the Molokai Channel (Hawai’i), English Channel (England to France), North Channel (Ireland to Scotland), and the Gibraltar Strait swim (Europe to Africa) were to follow. These swims will now have to wait until the world is well again.
The COVID19 interruption turned Caitlin's attention to challenges closer to home, and there is no none bigger than the NZ Triple Crown of Cook Strait, Lake Taupo, and Foveaux Strait.
When she finally lands on dry ground at the end of her swim in two weeks, Caitlin will have completed this rare feat even amongst some of the big names of ultra-marathon swimmers in this country. That list includes legends of the sport such as Phillip Rush (multiple crossings of Cook Strait, English Channel, and Lake Taupo), Meda McKenzie (Cook Strait, first NZ woman), Sandra Blewett (NZ Triple Crown), Barry Davenport (first to cross Cook Strait), Perry Cameron (Cook Strait), John Coutts (multiple swims) and Keith Hancox (second person to swim Cook Strait) to name a few. And of that list, only Sandra Blewett has completed the NZ TC, along with four others. Caitlin will be the sixth Kiwi to complete all three swims and by far the youngest.
The evolution of Caitlin O’Reilly is remarkable, it is based on a foundation of self-belief that belies her years. She is instilled with an abundance of quiet confidence that makes her an outstanding example for young Kiwis to follow.
Caitlin was only eleven years old when she decided to swim Cook Strait. At that time, she was coached by John Gatfield, himself a legend of the Cook Strait Swim. The year was 2004, and Gatfield was only 13 years old, and he swam Cook Strait becoming the youngest swimmer in the world to do so (8h 8mins).
Gatfield’s coaching and example made an impression on 11-year old Caitlin.
“Yep, I decided there and then to swim Cook Strait,” she said.
The next twelve months was spent preparing for the big swim. She wasn’t daunted or fazed by the prospect, nor were her parents Mike and Courtney when Caitlin told them she wanted to swim the Strait.
“My parents are wonderful people. They are in full support of what I do. I am very lucky to have supportive parents.”
“None of this would happen without them. When I come up with a goal, they don’t question it or ask whether I was sure I wanted to do these things.”
Caitlin admits that she didn’t fully understand what she was getting herself into. She knew Cook Strait was long, and it was going to be hard, but just how hard?
On the day, her swim started at 2 pm to fit in with the tide. It was all going well until it got dark.
“I cried. Phil told me I had 10 km to go, and I underestimated how long that would actually take me, and it looked like I wasn’t moving. And it was getting dark, and I had never swum in the dark before, so I cried.”
Caitlin kept swimming, then her concerns subsided when she was told there was only 2 km to go. She finished the swim after 9 pm well into the dark in a time of 7hrs 19mins 56secs. Her time is in the top 10 percent of times for Cook Strait (130 swimmers since 1962), even beating her coach by 48 mins.
The Taupo swim was a mere formality of lake swimming. She completed that in 13 hours.
For Foveaux Strait, Caitlin is planning on a swim time of around 9 hours. Phillip Rush will again captain the swim, dad Mike will be on the boat, and mum Courtney will be on the beach to welcome her at the finish.
The direction of the swim is not yet known, north to south or south to north. It will depend on the weather and tidal flow on the day, that bit of information will be known two days out, and the decision will be made for the final swim plan.
Caitlin says she is not concerned about things she cannot control, such as the weather and the direction of the swim or how cold it will be. The water temperature is expected to be 14 degrees Celsius, and she will swim without a wetsuit in keeping with the rules of international marathon swimming.
She will be in control of her approach to the swim, which includes a bit more speed than she employed in the first two swims. She will stop every half-hour to take on food and nourishment and then keep swimming until she reaches the finish.
“I’m not concerned with the swims on the day, but it’s leading up to the swims that is a real challenge, having to go to training when some mornings I just don’t want to go.”
Caitlin will keep the training up to within two days of the swim. She is currently putting in 40-kilometer weeks, and there was a 60-kilometer week recently. That has been the norm since May, a nine-month stretch of training.
With two weeks to go, she is super ready to take on Foveaux Strait, and we wish her well.
NZ Triple Crown Swimmers
It seems the Triple Crown challenge comes in pairs with the exception of Sandra Blewett in 1988. Belinda Shields and Michael Quinlivan completed the TC a year apart in 1984 and 1985, and Chloe Harris and Simon Olliver completed their Triple Crown in 2017. This time, Caitlin and Jonathan “Jono” Ridler from Massey, Auckland are swimming Foveaux Strait in the same tide window in two weeks to complete their Triple Crown. We hope to bring you Jono’s story next week.
Photos & Story - Samoa Events
Lake Wakatipu surrounded by all the men, Mts Cecil, Crichton, Ben Lomond and Nicholas.
Plan B it was for The Cold Tour today on Day 4 and the last day of the tour. Everyone had been looking forward to the Milford Sound trip and the swim to Stirling Falls followed by a 10-minute airlift to Lake Quill in the Fiordland National Park. It was not to be. High wind and low visibility put an end to the dream finish to the tour – so we thought. There was a Plan A(2) which was to fly to Te Anau then travel by road to MS, that too was aborted early on because SH94 was closed and the road beyond Homer Tunnel has been closed since Monday.
So, we boarded Air Milford’s latest addition to their 5-plane fleet, a 10-seater Cessna Caravan ZK purchased new in 2016 direct from the factory in Wichita, Kansas. The seating arrangement today saw me sit directly behind the pilot with Kerren directly across, Simon was in the co-chair seat. Duncan, the mouthpiece and laugh-machine of the tour sat behind me and the ladies occupied the rest of the seats behind us. It was a squeeze with all our luggage, but everyone had a window view.
Our pilot today is Antony (Ant) Sproull, GM and Chief pilot of this beautiful family airline. Air Milford was founded by Ant’s father Hank who still works the business and helped load our gear. The airline has a 100% safety record with all aircraft being personally maintained by the owners.
There is a connection between Air Milford and Samoa, Ant told me that he flew to Samoa with his father Hank in 1992 to purchase a topdressing Cessna from the Samoa Government. That aircraft was a casualty of Cyclone Valelia (1991) and they picked up a bargain. Ant told me that he sat in the co-pilot’s seat as a little boy next to his father flying that plane which was repaired and sold for a nice little margin. The profit from the sale helped launch Air Milford in 1998.
There were plenty of similar stories from Ant as he flew us to Te Anau. He showed us where his grandfather camped on the shores of Lake Te Anau hunting game and he told of how his father would drop him and sibling off sometimes at a remote lake to fish and play while Hank went off to do a job. That was his childhood and he has been in aviation ever since.
We were met with a warm welcome at Air Milford where we were given a thorough briefing of our flight path by pilot Antony Sproull who is General Manager and Chief pilot of the family-run airline.
Ant was a safe pair of hands, not that a few of us cared. For some in our crew, this was their very first flight in a small aircraft and there were nerves. We took off from Queenstown airport with a great view of Lake Hayes and the Remarkables, Wakatipu below us was surrounded by snow-capped mountains was a visual feast. It helped that today was the best weather day of the tour and the sun was out giving colour and light to water, mountains and sheep stations below us.
We flew southward for a short distance with Queenstown town to our right. All the boys are dressed in their Sunday best gleaming in the morning sun with snow flowing mountains to 500 meters; Mounts Cecil to our left, Ben Lomond and Crichton to our right and the remarkable Remarkables now fast receding on our left seemed to be keeping everyone in best behaviour. We also saw in context the sites of the two of the earlier swims of the tour on Days 1 and 2. Whatever we did in those two swims, it was barely a drop in what we were now witnessing, Lake Wakatipu in a long big stretch from north to south in the shape of Matau the Taniwha (See blog for Day 1 yet to be written).
As we came parallel with Mt Crichton, Ant nosed the Cessna to our left to follow the Von basin to Lake Te Anau. The Von river and valley, and Mt Nicholas were named after Nicholas von Tunzelmann who together with William Rees were the first Europeans to settle the Wakatipu Basin. The Von valley runs 35 km from Wakatipu to the Mavora lakes, the source of the Oreti river that flows in the opposite direction. The Von flows northeast and empties into Lake Wakatipu and the Oreti flows the other way all the way to Foveaux Strait. The Von valley is narrow at an average of 1.3 km between stiff cliffs on both sides of what essentially is a wind gully.
The small Cessna was now a toy as we flew southwest toward Te Anau against the wind. The fear of flying small planes for jittery passengers was now more defined as the Cessna flew within meters of snowy mountains and rough country in the valley.
We followed the Von river basin southwest to Te Anau against what seemed like a stiff southwesterly wind.
It didn’t matter who flew the Cessna, whether it was Ant or Neil Armstrong there were now serious doubts for our safety. We had been warned to expect a few bumps not that we expected any. The aircraft began to sway left and right as we entered Von valley. Ant informed us on the intercom that the best way to handle these conditions if we were nervous is to focus on the beautiful views. The stunning beauty we were witnessing however was a brief pacifier. Then there was a sudden drop of the plane in a vacuum of air. It was a big one. We were going to die for sure now. A few heads touched the roof and screams were heard quickly followed by nervous laughter. Duncan, who was behind me was now silent. Ant might be a great pilot but his travel-whispering skills was of little effect to nervous travellers.
The Cessna followed the Von river basin south and soon we saw Mt Turnbull to our right and Mt Nicholas to the left, the two guardians of Von valley. Then followed another river, the Oreti until the sole female-named height came into view, Jane Peak on the left of the basin overlooking the Mavora north and south lakes to our right. Left and right and everywhere in sight there was unbelievable beauty. Ant kept us informed of names of Sheep stations below us and of landscapes and landmarks. He pointed to where scenes of The Lord of the Rings were filmed.
That's how close we were flying to the mountains on both sides of the Von valley.
As we left the Von valley, we were met by a snowstorm and visibility was reduced. We were now flying just a few meters above the top of beech-covered mountains. The combination of fast flowing mist over green mountains made for great filming. Kerren and I were in our element. Afterall, we had a documentary to put together.
We have now crossed over to Southland from Otago. The township of Mossburn came into view to our left and we could see Lake Te Anau ahead. Fears and worries eased. Duncan was still silent. Our destination was just ahead. Ant told us he was going to do a double pass to make sure the wind was right for the actual landing on a private airstrip that is used solely by Air Milford. Once we landed the Cessna came to a stop at the end of the grassy airstrip and we walked a short distance to Lake Te Anau Downs for coffee and to relive everything about the flight from Queenstown to Lake Te Anau. Duncan was indeed overcome with nausea and was pacified enough not to speak for the next 60 minutes. New jokes at his expense didn’t take long to be laughed at loudly. We are back to normal.
Stage 2 was to come.
John Key got it wrong. Had he campaigned to change the name of the country instead of the flag, he may have had a better Cause and chance at succeeding. After all, change the name of the country and a new flag is a certainty.
Let's cut to the chase, in my view the name of this country will be changed within 30 years and none too sooner.
New Zealand for a name of this beautiful land of ours is a crime on all kiwis. The name is meaningless.
If rewarding first explorers and discoverers by naming landmarks they found in their honour then Kupe, who is credited with the first sighting of these lands and named it Aotearoa has been overlooked to put it mildly. It was Kupe and the occupants of the seven Waka who first discovered these shores.
There is more, the Maori descendents of the same first discoverers were living here when European ships first arrived. They lived and died, explored the land and settled the whenua. Children were born, battles were fought, victories were made and history created - for several hundred years. And they gave names to land, mountains, rivers and shores for several hundred years before Abel Tasman and James Cook arrived.
In that regard, all the foreign names ascribed to landmarks in the colonial discovery era of two-hundred years between 1600 and 1800 for these regions are also redundant. The late arrivals - Tasman, Cook and others came to lands that were already discovered.
Given our rich past, the name New Zealand has no connection at all with the land, the people and its long history. It is neither Maori nor British, the two peoples whose combined history has made this country what it is today.
The name New Zealand sounds distinctly un-kiwi in its entirety. Say it out loud and hear it for the first time in the context of this discussion, and watch yourself cringe at the Zee sound.
It is one of only two current words that I know of in the Kiwi vernacular with the letter “Z”. The other is buzzy-bee, a children’s toy.
The folks who named our country did so from 16,000 miles away not having set foot on these shores or seen the makeup of the land.
They were cartographers who took charge of maps and drawings supplied by Abel Tasman at the end of his journey of 1642.
Then, Tasman was the first European to set foot on Kiwi soil; he named these isles Staten Landt on the premise that it was connected to the southern tip of South America.
When Tasman returned to the Netherlands, mapmakers realised his error – Staten Landt was already taken and the new European discovery was a long way from Cape Horn.
And thinking the two islands – north and south – looked like their own North Sea land, the cartographers who were charged with Tasman’s maps saw that the new discovery was nowhere near the South American contintent promptly renamed it after a province in Zeeland.
This is a bigger crime, the country we inhabit was named by map makers who had not set foot on terra.
One-hundred years later when Dutch seafaring was on the wane and British exploration on the rise, James Cook arrived here in 1770 on the first of his three sailings. Cook Anglicised the name to New Zealand – but still a Dutch name.
The Dutch, being first in these parts also named the east coast of what is now Australia, New Holland.
At least the Aussies had the decency to change the name of that continent to Australia, meaning the great southern landmass it was.
Of recent times there have been a shedding of colonial names in favour of connection of meaning.
Other name changes from colonial days include Vanuatu for New Hebrides, Samoa for Western Samoa, Kiribati for Gilbert Islands and Hawaii for Sandwich Isles.
All the while we continue to retain a foreign name that has no connection or relevance to the land and the people.
If the Dutch had settled these isles themselves, then maybe Nova Zeelandia might be appropriate for a name.
But they did not, and so have no connection to the heatbeat of the place.
The crime is, and still is – there are very good and appropriate Kiwi names for the land, names that were born of time and place.
Names that have a connection, a spiritual meaning and historical relevance to the events that took place here.
Increasingly in protest, I refer to New Zealand as Kiwiland. It is Maori and British.
We seem to lack for originality when it comes to naming landmarks. We have North Island and South Island, the most significant landmarks that define us yet without world recognised names.
Every other single island around the country has a name but the two obvious landmasses that define us - these places with deep historical connection to the people and the many events that took place since the first arrivals.
There are other examples of meaningless names for significant kiwi landmarks – Auckland City for example was named after George Eden first Lord of Auckland who, as far as I know did not set foot anywhere near the Pacific let alone on these shores.
Yet Eden gets a mountain named after him and the city.
Naming landmarks in this fashion is a crime. When Cook sailed down the east coast of the country in early 1770 and saw a big mountain in the Taranaki region he pointed to it and named it Egmont after the 2nd Earl of Egmont, John Perceval. The tangata whenua who lived and toiled here had already named the same mountain Taranaki. In academia, first discoveries get naming rights. Failure to do so amounts to fraudulent activity. The same can be said for the name of this country.
We have of course a worthy name for the country – Aotearoa. It was borne of time and place by actual settlers of the land. The same can be said for the city that is Tamaki Makaurau (Tamaki of a thousand lovers referring to the many volcanic cones that define the city).
The shedding of colonial names by countries around us was in order to return identity of place to the people who actually lived in those lands.
Samoa, meaning Sacred Centre (of the universe) is simply Samoa. Removing the colonial title of West returns Samoa to what it is – a country named by Samoans.
Similarly Vanuatu - meaning a Land (vanua) of Truth (derives from Standing firm as in tu). The timeless home of the Vanuatu people is simply that, Land of firm belief and standing.
We are increasingly searching for authenticity. Going back to origins and meaning. We continue to ask, where did we come from and what is our identity.
Our identity is Kiwi, Maori and Pakeha.
All the more reason to rename our place appropriately by ditching the Zealand. It has no connection to the history, culture, wairua or spirit of these lands.
Steven Kent held off the challenge of Sebastien Priscott to take the win in the main race at Long Bay - ScottieTPhoto
London Olympian Steven Kent of Coast Swimming won race two of the O Swim Autumn series at Long Bay on Saturday. The former NZ representative with a time of 40:59 for the 3 km distance pipped current New Zealand representative, Sebastien Priscott (41:01) of the Waterhole club West Auckland to win a close race.
The two went toe-to-toe around the 1 km triangular course, in the end, Kent's sprinting experience secured him the win. Priscott is a national champion in his own right, he won the Epic 10 km open water in Taupo in January.
Kent and Priscott were competing in the first race after lockdown with thirty other swimmers. Finishing third was 15-year old, Alex Dunkley. The race at Long Bay was the only live sporting event held in Auckland on the weekend.
The first ocean swim event in Alert Level 2 was well controlled. Swimmers started ten at a time and fifteen minutes apart.
Ella Crowe, 15, won the women's 3 km race. Another teenager Elizabeth Brennan was the winner - overall - in the 2 km race; and Grace Crowe (U13) won the all-female lineup in the 1 km distance.
The other meaningful tussle of the morning was between two thirteen-year-olds, Jack Potier and Palepua Afoa; Potier took out this race by a good margin.
The Long Bay race was the first swim for most swimmers after the 7-week lockdown. It was a chance "to blow out the cobwebs" in perfect sea swimming conditions.
The autumn series has three more races to go; race three is at Maraetai on Sunday. The last two races are on Queen's Birthday weekend at St Heliers and Browns Bay. The series includes a Swim-Run event at Orewa on Sunday 31st May.
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