Twitchhiker | Paul Smith's travel tales from here and there


Day 29 / 30 – journey’s end?

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

I hope you are going to do some sort of report when you get home with pics/text combined. I am sad to see this come to an end.

R U going straight home to England? Twitter just wont be the same without your posts.

Comment by Karen E

Well, I think there’s probably a book in there. And you’re a freelance journo … so I’d go write it if I were you. Or at least loads of paid stories.

Comment by dizzymum

Paul, I think you’re simply amazing and it’s been a pleasure to make your acquaintance🙂

Comment by mrs_tim

Hey Paul,

What you have done is truly amazing! I utterly and completely respect you to bits. And I feel incredibly humbled to have been a part of your journey. You have demonstrated what I have always hoped and dreamed was true about mankind – that ultimately we have a deep love and connection with one another. Twitter strips away social barriers in a way like nothing else I have ever seen.

I really feel I have a friend in you now and when Scottie and I come over to the UK (hopefully later this year) we will definitely stop in and say hi.

I feel very close to tears reading your last blog. I am so honoured that you have seen my country in the way that you have and met Kiwis who will forever be your mates. I am one “UltraProudKiwi” right now😉

Take care on the journey back home – I know my Air New Zealand friends will take very good care of you.

Kia kaha. Ka kite anō au i a koe. Be strong, keep going. I’ll see you again soon.

Mel xx

Comment by Mel McKenzie

What a great adventure. Good on you. Well done and thank you.

Comment by Glenn

Paul,

I started following you late in your journey but well done. It’s been great to follow and for me it was a great start for my Twitter journey. As a newcomer to Twitter – it was brilliant.
Thanks
Carrie UK

Comment by Carrie

well, being 19, visually differently able, and a grate fan of twitter from india, i really have a deep respect for your efforts and what you have accomplished.

it is only technology and social online boundings that i’ve been able to use computers with accessible softwares.

truely, the power of social networking is endless.

and you’ve just proved that.

thankyou, thanks a tun.

regards,

ruchir.

http://www.ruchir89.wordpress.com

Comment by ruchir89

Thank you for posting that ferry ride. I’m sure
it was much more comfortable to watch than to
film. On your way back will you find out if it’s
felt by Australians that “cap and trade” has been so
unsuccessful at controlling carbon emissions in
Australia that we should skip it in the U. S. A.
and do something else about global warming? And
if so, what? Don’t go all the way home without
a new mission. Yours, Sandy

Comment by Sandy Smith

Found out about your adventure via Net@Night but was too late to be of any help (retweeting etc).

You have made a massive achievement and raised awareness around the world – you should be very proud of what you have done.

Comment by Dave

It’s a great thing you’ve done & I’ve enjoyed following you on twitter. As 1 born in NZ I’ve enjoyed your comments about ‘my’ country, you’re right about Wakatipu, it’s stunning. Did you get to see Lake Tekapo, & Lake Pukaki on the way to Mt Cook / Aoraki? Even better imho.

Comment by Greg

Awesome, brilliant, inspiring. Thanks so much for letting us be a part of your incredible journey.

Comment by mark

Yep, it’s been brilliant. Although you didn’t get the £1,000 from Paddy Power for getting to Campbell Island, you more than compensated for that by raising £2,000 more than you first expected, and by proving that old-fashioned kindness to strangers isn’t in fact dead, like some would have us believe. Well done Paul. Fantastic achievement. Maybe when you get home, give everyone a kiss, then turn your phone off for a day or two?😉

Comment by Adrian

Well done for making what seemed impossible possible!

Comment by wideawakewesley

Paul

Good on ya mate, top effort.

@BMR789

Comment by Blair Rogers

Absolutely fantastic journey! Reading your Blogg, watching your pix, an amusement par excellence!

Comment by Bokan

I am a very proud mum. WELL DONE!!

Comment by sshheeiillaa

Well done – it’s been great following you!

Comment by Nicola Braden

Paul, what an amazing journey. Thank you for taking us all with you. I agree – this has been an unmatched adventure and a great success. Congratulations. And thanks for letting us be a small part of your journey here in Kansas. Be well.

Comment by Josh Dutcher

hey paul, you’re right “hopefully you enjoyed the journey alongside me” i certainly did. from when you left home a month ago, i would log in every few days from work checking on your progress. a little excited and hoping you would make it. a most unsuspecting ride concocted from your mind. nice work and good luck on your next journey

Comment by Adam

Paul, when you passed through Frankfurt in the early days of this truly amazing adventure I would have loved to offer you a bed and beers before sending you off for the States. Unfortunately, on just that day I wasn’t in town.

Back then – is it really just a month? – I thought “if that guy makes it anywhere close the Pacific Ocean he can call himself a lucky man”. But you proved me wrong, you proved everyone wrong!

It’s been a wild journey, I’ve had great fun reading about here on your blog and following your tweets. And what you’ve accomplished will be an inspiration to a lot of good folks out there who will embark on other charity missions in other parts of the world. If by the help of Twitter or some other tool doesn’t really matter because you’ve proven that good will is everywhere.

Congratulations Paul, and have a safe journey back home!

Comment by Tapio Liller

Well done mate!

You have shown the world that twitter is not “all talk”. Why you picked Campbell Island is completely beyond my understanding anyway (as a kiwi!) as there would have been no cell phone or twitter coverage there.

While you mull over what is next here is a suggestion (for what it is worth)… how about continue your journey. You’ve prooved that America and NZ work (kind of).

You’ve raised $$ for water – now how about “earth” or “fire”. For instance, if fire then you could take a journey across to Australia where the big bush fires have just been – raise money for them – and aim to finish somewhere BIG – Sydney, London, etc where there are heaps of twitterers who can have a massive party with you.

All the best. Keep on inspiring us with the goodness of the ordinary person (and even some businesses).

Cheers Sarah

Comment by Sarah Wilson @AdeventureCoach

Oops. Spelt my twitter name wrong – it is @AdventureCoach🙂

Comment by Sarah Wilson @AdventureCoach

Awesome job Paul! I came in late on this project after hearing your interview with Leo, but have been looking back through the blog to catch up. What an amazing achievement, for all the right reasons.
Too bad about not quite getting to the Island, but honestly, I think you proved the point regardless. You should be very pleased with yourself.
If you find yourself in Sydney Australia, you have a place to stay… you are most welcome.
@betchaboy

Comment by Chris

What an amazing sciencefiction world we live in! To have got to the other side of the world on the kindness of strangers, all inspired by your charm and dedication. Thanks for letting us ride along on your adventure!

Comment by Skyring

Thank you for creating and sharing such a wonderful ride – you’ve got me on twitter (not quite sure yet what its all about, but based on your adventure it seems to have a lot of potential! @skysadventure ), and thinking more boldly in general. I’m so glad the kindness of others (we are only strangers until we meet) was proved so conclusively.
Can’t wait for the next mad plan you dream up – only advice is take your wife with you next time!

Comment by Sky de Jersey

Well, I don’t know what I’m going to do now the adventure’s over. Can you do it again?!

Seriously…well done feller – and I’ll definitely buy the book/see the film.

Comment by Blabers

Terrific stuff mate, would have met you at the Wine Vault were it not for a bout of unpleasantness – gutted that I couldn’t. Very well done indeed, inspirational is probably the word I’d use…

Crack on fella,

D

Comment by Bookemdanno

Just found out about your adventure by reading frugal Traveler article.Good for you…Will be following Thanks Joe Todd

Comment by Joe Todd

Congratulations! I just read about your idea and journey on another blog. I think it’s great that you raised money for charity via your adventure, and probably saw some great new places at the same time.

I’m constantly amazed at the power of social media, and your success is one of the best examples I’ve seen so far.

Comment by MLDina

Wicked journey! I just came across your story via an old article at Matador – gonna read up more about it. Thanks for the cool reading material and congrats on your awesome trip!🙂

Comment by G @ Operation Backpack Asia




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