Filed under: twitchhiker project | Tags: auckland, campbell island, charity: water, invercargill, new zealand, south island, stewart island
When I landed in Auckland a week ago, if you’d asked then whether I’d settle for reaching Stewart Island and going no further, I’d have told you absolutely not. If you’d told me I stood a slim-to-non-existent chance of peering across to Campbell Island from a distant vessel, I’d have angrily disagreed. But as the week passed, it became disappointingly clear that Stewart Island would see me reach the end of the road.
At every stage of this journey there has been a natural momentum, an irresistible force born out of the ceaseless support on Twitter. Once I reached New Zealand’s South Island, that forward motion began to wane. Activity on Twitter Search started to slow, the re-tweets fell away. Why did it feel as if I’d stalled at this critical stage?
Running thirteen hours ahead of the UK meant I lost my home support, as my daytime activity was missed by the sleeping majority. I think there was an element of fatigue too – I’d been banging on about Twitchhiker for two months solid, and perhaps people felt they’d shouted themselves hoarse on my behalf.
I’m sure these points contributed, but I think the biggest obstacle was New Zealand itself. I remained out of contact for long stretches of time on my journey across the South Island, either because of a lack of internet access or mobile phone coverage. On a land mass the size of England and Wales, with just one fiftieth of the population, a cast-iron communications infrastructure simply isn’t necessary. Where I did find internet access, it was often decrepit to the point of useless. In fact wherever you go in New Zealand, residents will complain how utterly frustrating the technology is, one born of a telecommunications monopoly and the country’s remote placing on the planet.
So I wasn’t able to push my message as hard as I wanted to in the final days of the project. That, and there weren’t an awful lot of people around to hear it. Invercargill, the southernmost city in New Zealand, has a population of just 50,000. Stewart Island has a population of 400. As much weight as Twitter had thrown behind me, it was being channeled into a sparsely populated region that was unable to hear my call or support my cause.
After spending time on Stewart Island, I survived the organ-loosening ferry back to Bluff then saw out my remaining time in Invercargill. As the hours slid by, so did the options of progressing further south. To set foot on Campbell Island required me to be at sea by Friday; it was a three day voyage one-way. That was always unlikely; was I ever going to find a captain who’d risk his life and that of his crew across some of the most treacherous seas on Earth, for six days? Unpaid? Who was on Twitter? And on Saturday I spoke to a pilot in Invercargill, who told me that the planes making the daily crossings to Stewart Island simply weren’t up to flying any distance out to sea; according to most passengers, they’re screaming hellfire for the twenty minutes they are in the air.
After two months of living and breathing this project, I’d reached my journey’s end. I wasn’t going to see Campbell Island, but it honestly didn’t matter anymore. The aim was to travel as far as I could from home as possible within 30 days, and by reaching Stewart Island I’d travelled to a place the majority of New Zealanders have never set foot on, never mind the rest of the world. Since officially ending the project, the amount of money raised for Charity: water has smashed through the £5,000 mark, and they’ve received media coverage the world over. I’m sure Scott and the team will put the money and exposure to excellent use helping communities in developing countries.
With @SmileyKiwi at the wheel of our @MauiRentals camper van, we headed for home. The drive from Invercargill back to Queenstown was quiet and serene. I attempted to photograph the magnificence of Lake Wakatipo as we drove along its eastern shore; in the end, I put my camera away and lost myself in its glory – I couldn’t capture the scale and magnificence of the azure-blue waters and tumbling, crumbling valleys above. I would dearly love to share that sight with you, but no camera invented will do it justice; you’ll have to visit this country of wonder for yourself.
And so I’m here, back in the Sky City Grand in Auckland. I wasn’t going to say no to some plush five-star treatment after five days of hostels, camper vans, ferry crossings that Ernest Borgnine would balk at and cockroaches the size of horses.
Did I fail? Not at all. On a personal level, I saw the world, proved it isn’t full of rapists and bastards, and travelled more in one month than most people manage in a lifetime – hopefully you enjoyed the journey alongside me. The Twitchhiker project showed that kindness is universal, that the whole can be infinitely greater than the sum of its parts, and that social media may begin online but it will converge with the real world whenever and wherever you let it. Twitter proved without a shadow of a doubt that it is much more than a social network, but a user-defined network that can be harnessed to change lives and expectations, and provide unique experiences and viewpoints. And together we raised enough money to ensure that somewhere in the world, people will drink clean water for the first time, and for the rest of their lives.
The big question is: what happens next? I don’t feel like this is the end. I’m already mourning the loss of this project from my life. It now feels entirely natural to live out of a single messenger bag, to throw my belongings into the back seat of a strange car, to bed down wherever I’m offered charity.
There’s something else there. I just don’t know what it is yet.
30 Comments so far
Leave a comment