Krakatoa – a dangerous adventure

krak mapI’ve been most fortunate not to have suffered any great misfortune when travelling. But I have had a few close shaves. I can thank my lucky stars I didn’t drown in Indonesia many years ago.

It was the year of the 100th anniversary of the eruption of Krakatoa. We set out from the coastal village of Carita in West Java, five backpackers in a narrow perahu powered by a tiny outboard motor and steered by a poker-faced fisherman.

We hoped to climb Anak Krakatoa – “Child of Krakatoa” – the volcano rising up slowly in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra on the exact spot where the original Krakatoa had blown itself to bits a century earlier.

Between my feet was a new camera bag filled with equipment recently bought in Singapore. The 100th anniversary seemed a likely story I could easily sell, especially with some photos of the new volcano.

Krakatoa’s eruption on 27th August, 1883, was the most destructive explosion of our time, a bang so loud it was reportedly heard in Alice Springs in the middle of Australia! Several cubic kilometres of rock and dust was blasted into the atmosphere. The resultant tidal wave, 36m high, killed an estimated 36,000 people in villages on Java and Sumatra.

Our crossing took a couple of hours. The new volcano, created by small, irregular eruptions since 1927, already rose 200m above the sea. From its slopes I could see remnants of the original Krakatoa poking from the sea at three distant points.

krakatau-mapIt was a torrid climb up to the crater of Anak Krakatoa, sinking ankle deep in the steep, crunchy surface of black cinders. By the time we returned to the boat we were exhausted and slightly sun-struck. The shivers began once we set sail.

The first squall struck within an hour. Black clouds appeared overhead and the afternoon grew cold. Light rain quickly turned into tropical deluge. The wind picked up pace and the sky darkened alarmingly as the situation grew more ominous. The five of us huddled in the bottom of the boat, shivering with the rain lashing our backs. The fisherman wrestled with the tiller, staring impassively ahead, refusing to meet our worried glances.

The sea grew angrier. Our tiny craft was tossed on heaving swells. We grew quiet and very afraid. Not a flicker of emotion crossed the fisherman’s face as he battled the storm. It seemed he was also rigid with fear. Drowning in the Sunda Strait seemed certain.

I thought about family and friends and that no-one would ever know what had happened to me. My passport was in my money belt strapped around my waist. All that was left in my backpack at the guesthouse in Carita was anonymous clothing. Tight-lipped and grim-faced we five sodden passengers clutched each other as the boat pitched and rolled perilously. At times we prayed out loud.

Our peril seemed to last forever but finally the storm abated, leaving us drenched and cold yet elated at our survival. After what seemed like endless hours we reached land only to discover that we’d been blown far south of our departure point.

The sand seemed to heave continuously under our feet as we trudged north along the beach, mildly hysterical at our good fortune at being alive. Not even my drenched camera bag with its brand new but probably ruined contents really seemed to matter.

Grand designs

IMG_0166When the Howard family – Simon, Rebecca and the children Merlin and Octavia – are at home they don’t receive visitors. But they don’t mind a bit should I – or anyone else – wish to wander around their expansive estate in England’s north east.

I’ve driven north from Sheffield, via York, to see their fabulous, famous home and I consider it’s worth paying the entry fee of £8.50 for my personal experience of Brideshead Revisited.

Castle Howard‘s fame spread beyond England when it was used as the location for the 1981 Granada Television adaption of Evelyn Waugh’s famous novel. That 11-part mini-series starring Jeremy Irons, Anthony Andrews, Diana Quick and Sir Laurence Olivier put this gorgeous slice of British real estate on the world map.

In more recent years a film of the same name, also shot on the estate, has prompted a new generation of curious visitors.

Castle Howard is one of northern England’s grandest historic houses, although “house” is a total misnomer for this immense and glorious stately pile. The estate is owned and run by a private company of which the incumbent Simon Howard and his brother Nicolas are directors. Simon and family live in part of the house while the rest is open to the public.

IMG_0107Building began on the house in 1699 and lasted more than a century until completed. A fire in 1940 destroyed the signature dome and gutted 20 rooms. The dome was not rebuilt until the 1960s and it was not until 1981 that the Garden Hall was restored.  Further extensive restoration took place in the 1990s but none of this is evident to the visitor.

Castle Howard overlooks an expanse of manicured lawn that leads down to the Great Lake. At the water’s edge I have views of the grand house similar to those seen in the TV series.

I also follow the incongruously-titled Polar Bear Walk between rows of old fruit trees. Beyond Ray Wood stands the Temple of the Four Winds and from here I have another splendid view, one that captures those “days when the ditches were creamy with meadow sweet and the air heavy with the scent of summer”.

Given my luck in being blessed with unusually glorious weather, I choose to remain out in the sunshine and explore the formal gardens rather than spend time inside the house looking at furniture and paintings. It seems the obvious choice on such a rare day.

All you need to know about visiting Castle Howard

Surreal surroundings

IMG_0244IMG_0243Antoni Gaudí is the undisputed starring artist of Barcelona, almost at the expense of compatriot Joan Miró.

Gaudí’s architectural omnipresence in the city is lauded by most guide books. Miró the eminent surrealist barely gets mention.

I counter this imbalance by spending time at the wonderful Fundació Joan Miró, which should most definitely be on Top Ten list of things to do in this vibrant Spanish city.

My enchanting outing includes riding the cable car up to Parc de Montjuic, so I have terrific views of the city prior to spending quality time in one of Barcelona’s most illuminating art galleries.

Joan Miró i Ferrà (1893-1983) was a Catalan born in Barcelona, a painter, ceramicist and sculptor. Miró gifted the foundation gallery to the city and it opened in 1975. This fascinating collection consists not simply of wonderful work by Miró but also a collection of contemporary art curated as a tribute to the artist following his death in Majorca on Christmas Day, 1983. Miró is buried in the cemetery on Montjuic’s southern slopes.

IMG_0242During my gallery visit I’m overwhelmed at the quality and the amount of what there is to see. Wanting fresh air I walk out onto the spacious top floor balcony to enjoy the humour of Miró the sculptor up close, as captured in the many whimisical sculptures.

The freedom to wander among Miro’s work, make such an intimate connection and take photographs, should you wish, is all part of the magic that makes a visit to the Foundation so rewarding. It most certainly equals goggling at Gaudí.

Fishy times in NZ

New Zealand has provided some of my most memorable outdoor adventures, including my best fly fishing moments along with some fishy yarns.

The Tongariro River on North Island is world famous for its wily trout with rainbows averaging 4lbs (1.8kg) and browns about 5lbs (2.26kg). Trophy fish in excess of 10lbs (4.53kg) have been hooked.

Fat fish were skulking in the shadows at Whitikau Pool. The idyllic peace of the surrounding forest was shattered only by my guide Mike shrieking “NOW!” whenever a trout took a tentative nibble at the fly. As the I Ching says, righteous persistence brings reward. At Whitikau I made my first strike. It was a 5lb female rainbow, it’s glistening body a shimmering pink that matched the flush of excitement on my face.

Trout are notoriously twitchy creatures and a pool fished too often soon becomes home to fish far too skittish to ever rise to a fly. So the keen angler hopes to keep the knowledge of at least one “secret” pool to themselves.

From Whitikau we moved to one of Mike’s “secret” spots, located on the Poutu Stream that spills into the Tongariro. At this secluded pool I managed to land a magnificent rainbow male after a thrilling encounter that left me spent.


“The one that got away is always bigger than the one you gotta weigh.”

We ate my catch for our dinner, during which Mike commented that we had enjoyed a “tu meka day”, which is Maori-speak for awesome. Anyone within earshot in the lodge dining room probably thought different and that I’d greedily used up all my luck in one swoop. Fishing is a competitive sport  ….

On another visit I spent time on South Island and while down Otago way I heard fishing guide Harvey Maguire spin the tale of a legendary trout that once lived in the Lochy River near Queenstown.

Years earlier an angler visiting from the US had watched this particular trout take his dry fly and immediately zoom off at great speed, slip around a large rock, hurtle into rapids above the pool and strip the fly right off the line, prompting the amazed fisherman to yell, “That’s no fish, that’s a freight train!”

In subsequent years this particular trout, forever to be known as Freight Train, was hooked many times but landed only once –  when the ferocious fish shunned its usual escape plan and instead sped downstream and was lifted in slower water. It weighed 8.5lbs. Returned to the river, this champion catch finally ran of steam in old age. You have to love a fishing yarn like that.