Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Article - performing under pressure

This article was in last week's Listener (New Zealand current affairs magazine). It's about the All Blacks cracking under pressure, but I found the second half of it quite interesting in relation to freediving.

I'm hoping that if you click on these images they will become bigger so you can read them. Otherwise you can try this link.

I think that as freedivers we should know our dives so well that in competition we can just switch off, do our best and enjoy the experience. I've always had a song for statics and I call on it if I'm struggling to just tune out.

Practicing under stress and positive thinking are also beneficial to freedivers.

Friday, 15 October 2010


I found some videos of me from recent competitions:

Deep Obsession last weekend in Auckland:
Static, 6 minutes 31s

Dynamic without fins, 136m

Dynamic, 180m

Wellington Winter Champs about 2 months ago:
Dynamic, 151m

Dynamic without fins, 154m (the contentious one with the foot touch)

Summer training workshops and competition

This is a preliminary invitation to all freedivers come and diving with Deep South Freedivers in February 2011, at the end of the New Zealand summer in a beautiful spot; Lake Wanaka. Please register your level of interest by responding to this email (or to the event on Facebook: search for "New Zealand freediving adventure") so I know what to prepare for!

The set up is to allow novice through to elite freedivers to participate (new divers would need to complete the courses over the first two days).

The training workshops will definitely go ahead and if there is enough interest I will also run a week long competition (see below).

The rough preliminary plan:

Sat 12 Feb: introduction to freediving course - dependant on numbers: min 2, max 6 people - NZ$200
Sun 13 Feb: intermediate freediving course - dependant on numbers: min 2, max 6 people - NZ$200

Mon 14 - Sun 20 Feb: Structured training workshops (lake, pool, theory - based around competitive freediving) and sightseeing trips around Wanaka which, as part of New Zealand's main adventure tourism region could include hiking, mountain biking, fly fishing, drift dive the Clutha river, dive Arethusa Pool (a lake on Mou Waho island on Lake Wanaka where there are 1000 year old totara trees preserved in the water), kayaking, visiting Queenstown, bungee jumping, jetboating, skydiving, trip to coast where you can collect paua in knee deep water (fairly untouched), etc

Mon 21 Feb: rest day and competition preparation.

Tues 22 - Sat 26 Feb: Competition covering all AIDA disciplines (lake and pool) - competition will be dependant on numbers interested. We can potentially make it a world record status competition but please express your interest now to make this happen.

Sat 26 Feb: party in evening

Sun 27 Feb: head home

Lake Wanaka is 311m deep with good easy access points from shore, and various deep bays that will allow us to find sheltered deep water if the wind is blowing. The water is clean and clear and the temperature should be in the mid to high teens (Celcius).

The weather is usually hot and settled in February.

Wanaka has a nice 25m pool, but we will probably go to Cromwell for competition in dynamic disciplines as their 25m pool is a bit deeper.

Wanaka has a lot of holiday homes, where we will book accommodation. If numbers are small, all accommodation and food will be included in a package. A rental car may be required too.

Roughly budget NZ$150/day all inclusive once you're here (it will hopefully be less) plus courses if required (includes for workshops, entry fees and eating in, but not tourist activities). I'm trying to keep prices down and am not doing this for profit!

Domestic flights into Wanaka on those dates are very cheap right now (NZ$157 each way from Auckland/Wellington) - expect these prices to double closer to the time.

Please send this invite around your freediving friends/clubs and respond as soon as possible. Hope you can make it!

Kathryn McPhee

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Wanaka Freediver Homestay

I just wanted to let you know that Deep South Freedivers is now offering a freedive homestay. Come and stay in stunning Wanaka, New Zealand, train with me daily (pool or lake - it's warming up now) and I'll coach you, receive full board (meals and basic accomodation) and have a bit of spare time to explore the region. Please comment with your email if you're interested (I won't post it) and I'll send you some more information. As of 1 October I no longer have work so have plenty of time that you could benefit well from.

Cressi World Record Challenge

25-28 September 2010, Naenae & Porirua Pools, Wellington, New Zealand

We were coming up to Wellington anyway for Simon's mum's exhibition opening on Friday so we stuck around for the competition - worth a try.

The competition was organised for Dave Mullins to set world records in Dynamic and Dynamic without fins since his national records in both events exceeded the world records. I think he had a glimmer of hope for a static too but that faded once he put his head under. He was sucessful and made nice clean dives to 265m and 218m respectively, but unfortunately did not push out his dynamic without fins national record of 232m.

I didn't have high expectations which helped reduce some of the pressure on me (very nice). I don't really want to make excuses but my pool has been shut for the last three months (re-opened on Saturday funnily enough) and I've spent the last four months commuting to Queenstown from Wanaka daily, over NZ's highest sealed road, through snow and ice in my little two wheel drive car, mostly in the dark and working long days. This is a photo of the summit of the Crown Range (taken on the way to the airport departing Wellington) - it's meant to be spring time now.

Anyway, I've managaed to increase my training in the last month from one in water session per week to two, by staying over in Queenstown one night a week and driving to Cromwell on the weekend, plus a couple of rather fatigued dry sessions. I lose about 20% of my ability when fatigued so really had no idea of my capabilities prior to the competition and was hoping that everything would come together in time. Thankfully a few things did. Having a couple of days off work before competing and some good sleeps helped enormously. My dives have only just come back to feeling wonderful again after having such a big break, firstly from the pool (training in Egypt & the Bahamas), then holidaying and then settling back into "normal" life. Please remember that eventually all your training will pay off and long dives do feel fabulous!

Since the last competition I've managed to fit in one max dive with my monofin, simply because it's hard to focus on more than one event with such limited training time, but feel that my technique is really improving (feeling much better than ever before). I managed 177m in the competition, which I was pretty happy with. I do have high hopes for future months but I guess we'll have to wait and see - I'm hoping that with some proper training and a bit more technique work to make everything more natural that it will all start to come together soon. The comp dive was still a bit slow: 3:02, which is that time I'm aiming to make it to 200m in when the technique actually starts to work properly.

I did dynamic without fins on Monday after a day of rest, good sleep and a lot of eating. The dive felt great (remembering that they are just starting to feel really wonderful) but there were still some issues. I feel my buoyancy has changed again in the last week or so (or perhaps the Porirua pool water is a little different) and it affect my stroke count each length. I made it to the 161m and came up but had one of the world's tiniest black outs (I could remember seeing the marker on the bottom indicating when I'd arrived at the WR distance). Anyway, it meant disqualification so I had to try again today. Today I opted for the safe option and decided to get a white card rather than chase numbers (always my preference). I managed 156m without fins with a white card. I was a bit disappointed that it wasn't 5m further (the world record is 160m) but I feel that I would have suffered the exact same fate as yesterday had I pushed through. It did save me $1000, which is quite significant considering my employment contract ends 30 September and I'll be without work again. There are definitely still things to work on as I essentially haven't had the time this year to work through any of the finer details. The next thing is to figure out how to stay under longer than 3 minutes. My 156m was 3:06, which is about the right speed. Please feel free to comment and post ideas... :)

If you haven't already, please become a fan of AIDA NZ on facebook. You can view videos and get regular updates on what is going on here in NZ. I also have a facebook page where you can click on like and see updates on me as a freediver and Deep South Freedivers.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Wellington Winter Champs 2010

Sorry for my poor updating skills lately. With commuting to work (through snow and ice in the dark twice a day over NZ's highest sealed road), working long hours and the local pool being shut for maintenance, I haven't had a lot of time or energy to dive lately or really do anything recreational. I'm having a day off work today thanks to the heavy snowfall to low levels on the Crown Range that stopped me getting through early this morning.

I started organising the Wellington Winter Champs for the Lazy Seal Freediving Club before I took the job in Queenstown, but managed to get it done without too much stress, thanks to my supporters in Wellington.

I went up there not expecting too much from myself. One pool session a week and a couple of dry breath holds don't really account to enough training in my mind. Anyway, the competition was good fun, with half the competitors using this as their very first comp. We had the rec grade who blew us away with their abilities (a little too good for a fun grade I must say).

I managed a 5:59 static, 151m dynamic and 154m dynamic without fins. The last one surprised me, but perhaps the training (two comp dives) the day before plus a couple of good sleeps really helped. Before you say anything about the comparison of the two distances, I hadn't really been training with the fin on and it just felt heavy and sluggish - I'm working on that now... In the no fins event I received a red card, but managed to get it overturned in a protest that went on for 11 days and was taken to the top AIDA International judges for debate. I exited, supporting myself on the side of the pool, where unfortunately the judge's foot was marking my distance. So, I touched it accidentally and any touch from another person in the 30s after surfacing is disqualification. My protest did not deny that this happened but that it was an error of the officials, therefore should be counted in the favour of the diver.

Full results are available on the Lazy Seal Freediving Club website:
The Lazy Seals are also on Facebook if you're keen to know what the club is up to and see some photos from the competition.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

How to organise a freediving competition

I've recently been asked to document this information, so here it is. I hope it's helpful to you. You can post a comment with your email address if you'd like me to send you a pdf version. Don't worry, I won't make your comment public! Please make comments - I'd like some feedback.

General notes:

Please note that this document has been set up only as a guideline to assist competition organisers. It is not intended as a finite document and organisers must be familiar with the current AIDA International rules, statutes, guidelines and forms to be found in the downloads/documents section on the AIDA website: Organisers should also consider local laws when organising events and investigate whether or not insurance is required. Any insurance cover must also protect officials and volunteers at the event. The organiser’s greatest priority should be to ensure the safety of all the participants, officials and volunteers at all times throughout the competition.

World record competitions require a little more organisation, further information on this can be found in the rules.

1 Decide on an organiser

I would recommend that you do not organise a Freediving competition as an individual. Organise it as a representative of an incorporated society (your club or AIDA National). In NZ this protects you and other volunteers, removing your personal liability. Stay alert and ensure that all required safety protocols are followed to avoid any claims of negligence.

Organising a competition is not difficult, there is just a process to follow. I have tried to outline the steps in this document to make it easier for you.

2 Decide on a date

Ask around your freediving buddies to find out when they are free.

Check that your competition is not overlapping with school holidays (they tend to make people busy and travel costs increase).

Check that there are no big sporting events (olypmics, world cups, etc), especially if you are expecting records to be broken, this means you are more likely to get media coverage.

Check the pool is available.

If using open water check there are no other events scheduled, eg ironman, triathlon, jet sprints, regatta.

I'd recommend starting this process at least two months before the competition so that everyone can get themselves organised and start training!

3 Read the rules

It's a good idea at this point to have a quick read through the rules to ensure you remember everything!

4 Book the pool

Consider your timetable and check the pool opening hours.

Remember that you need to allow around 15 mins to get set up at the pool. Allow 15 mins for an official's briefing and another 15 mins for the competitor's briefing. Competitiors need to check in 1 hour prior to their official top time (this should be after their briefing is finished) and need to have pool space for warm ups 45 mins prior to their top. This said, you are probably going to need to be at the pool one hour prior to warm ups so check the pool is open 1 hour before your booking. Also try to get people there early to avoid delays.

Consider how many divers you will have. I like to allow around 10-12 mins each for statics (obviously for some people we need to allow more time, eg if Guy Brew is getting in we'd probably allow at least 14 mins: start up to 30s late, 9 min breath hold, 30s for judges to assess, 1 min for congratulations and to clear the lane, 2 min countdown and a small contingency in case he smashes his record). I allow a minimum of 8 mins for each dynamic and again a little longer for the slow boys: 10-11 mins. Allowing a reasonable amount of time reduces delays through the event and gives everyone time to do their jobs without panicking.

Work out how many sessions you want. In NZ most people only like to dive once a day. If you are having 2 sessions than you might be able to make the second one a little shorter. Give divers plenty of recovery time between their dives to avoid accidents, have time to eat and allow people to perform at their best. I'd suggest a minimum of 5 hours.

Remember that you should give the judges a 10 min break every hour too.

If you have to book open water space, now is the time. Also think through your schedule. Remember it can take a minute or so for the officials to re-set the line to the correct depth after each diver.

5 Invite officials

Send around a official invitation to all the local judges, medics, helpers, etc. Outline the competition: dates, times, no of sessions, etc. Give them a date to respond by. Ask for a list of their credentials: judge level, experience, etc.

Remember that the organiser is obliged cover the costs of the officials. This includes transport, accommodation and meals.

6 Send info to AIDA National

In NZ, the AIDA NZ board does the final selection for judges for competitions. This is to ensure that all judges get to have a go at judging regularly and removes favouritism from organisers. It also ensures that there are no conflicts of interest. We attempt to have 3 judges for our competitions (rules require 2). We also generally announce men's and women's competitions separately so that we can use competing men to judge women, competing women to act as medic for the men, etc.

From the respondents of the invitation collate a list of those who would like to judge, with their credentials and send it through to the board. I would normally offer my recommendation too and any reasons why. Make sure that they get back to you quickly.

Remember that if you are expecting 50% or more international divers (eg non-Kiwis in NZ) the competition will be international as opposed to national and there is a different minimum level imposed on judges.

7 Inform officials of their selection

Confirm that the officials still want to judge, etc.

Check with their schedules and book their transport & accommodation.

Remember that if you are organising a depth event then the judges need to be available to measure the rope (in daylight) and you will probably need additional time for briefings the night before.

8 Announce the event

All competitions need to be announced to AIDA International.

Send an email to the AIDA International Sport Officer:

The following information should be included:
Name of competition
Competition type (eg national, world record status)
Date of competition
Place of competition
Names of judges and their levels
Organiser name and contact details
Events that will be held (eg STA, DYN, CWT)
Length of pool
Performance restrictions (eg depths limited to 90m)

The email needs to be received by the AIDA International Sport Officer at least 2 weeks prior to the event. In NZ we aim for 6 weeks.

9 Advertise the event

Let all the local club and AIDA national members know that the competition will be occurring. Send them an email or invite them on facebook. Add the event to your website. Don't forget your sponsors!

10 Ensure you have enough helpers

Check you have:
Medic and in water safety divers (remember your warm up lane/rope)
Boatsmen, time keepers, photographers, etc

Remember to cover their costs.

11 Prepare a budget

Consider your expenses:
Pool hire & entry fees
Boats (hire, fuel, etc)
Officials’ & helpers’ transport, accommodation and meal allowances
Oxygen bottle refill
AIDA International fees (2€/competition dive)
Purchase of any additional equipment (tape measure, rope, tape, tags, video cassettes, etc)
Phone calls
Insurance (if applicable)

I normally also factor in a bag of snacks for the officials (to keep them alert) and a lunch for everyone (competitors, officials and supporters) once the competition is over.

Consider how many divers you feel you can be guaranteed to participate and divide the costs, minus any sponsorship by the number of divers to find out your entry fee.

12 Prepare forms

The following should be prepared so everyone knows what to expect and to make it easy for you as the organiser on competition day:

Competition information:
Name of competition
Competition type (eg national, world record status)
Date of competition
Place of competition (include address and directions if necessary)
Any sponsors
Names of judges and their levels
Organiser name and contact details
Name of medic and their contact details
Events that will be held (eg STA, DYN, CWT) and when/where
Description of pool: length, depth, temperature, etc
Description of open water: visibility, temperature, currents, link to weather forecasts, etc
Performance restrictions (eg depths limited to 90m)
Description of any fun events outside the competition
Competition fees
Any AIDA National fees that might also be due
Link to competition rules
Schedule: Closing date for entries/payments
Times & locations for briefings/event committees (officials & competitors)
For each session: Closing times for announced performances, how & where
First check in time & where
Warm up times
First top time
Estimated finish time
Recretional events
Times & locations of social events, meetings, etc

Also include forms for participants to return:
Entry form: Name, contact details, sex, nationality
Emergency contact with relationship and contact details
Events they want to enter into
Costs involved (ie to be able to keep this form as a receipt)
Where to send forms & fees, & closing date
What to include: Medical statement & medical certificate
Liability release form
Copy of passport (if necessary)
Statement to allow club and AIDA National to utilise video/images from the event at their discretion.

Medical statement (from AIDA International website)
Liability release form

Also prepare a safety/evacuation plan. The plan will identify potential risks and how to deal with them at the specific locations involved.

13 Checklist

Write a check list for everyone and delegate tasks so everyone knows exactly what is expected of them. Follow everything up in the week prior to the competition. Re-read the competition rules to check you have not missed anything.
My checklist from a previous indoor competition looked like this:
Joy medic & media contact
alert local hospitals & pool staff: provide with safety plan
issue press releases
help set up pool during warm ups (measure, lane markers, etc) – optional
bring: t-shirt, stopwatch, tags, medical bag

Tracy head judge & jury
help set up pool during warm ups (measure, lane markers, etc)
bring: t-shirt, stopwatch, tags

John judge & jury
help set up pool during warm ups (measure, lane markers, etc)
bring: t-shirt, stopwatch, tags

Phil judge & jury (women only)
help set up pool during warm ups (measure, lane markers, etc)
bring: t-shirt, stopwatch, tag

Braedon judge & jury (men only)
help set up pool during warm ups (measure, lane markers, etc)
videographer – women, dynamic events only
bring: t-shirt, stopwatch, tags

Tammy in water safety
bring: wetsuits, fins, mask, snorkel

in water safety Tammy & coaches
videography Gavin

in water safety Tammy
Videography Paul (men) & Braedon (women)

in water safety Tammy
Videography ? (men) & Braedon (women)

Chris post comp draws & results on LSFC website comp page when they're ready

Jude shop for Sunday lunch & host it

Gavin bring: video camera incl cords & housing

Kathryn LSFC rep (organiser)
receive entry forms, liability releases, med certs, money
confirm pool bookings
Pick up and bring extra O2 bottle from Air Liquide, Seaview
Shopping officials’ snacks
receive nominations
compile comp draws & results
bring: O2 kit & first aid & masks
rope (starts)
lane markers & tape measure
sticky tape
rules (incl NZ)
protest forms
comp draw
competitors' forms
pens, paper & clipboard for judges
refreshments for officials
petrol vouchers for officials
briefing outlines (official time, lane set up, judges/jury, safety plan)
laptop and cords (protests)

14 Receive forms

Make sure you receive all the entry forms and payments well prior to the event so you do not have to chase anything up on the day. You might want to send a reminder email out a couple of days prior to entries closing. Chase up anything that is missing.

Let the AIDA National have a list of entrants to check they have paid their AIDA National fees.

Re-confirm your schedule and make sure you have enough pool time booked for the number of entries.

15 Receive nominations

If you are organising and competing you may need to receive nominations through a neutral party (eg a judge).

Once the closing time has passed set up the competition draw, post it on line and print copies to post at the competition site and give to judges to record results on.

The competition draw can be:
Lowest announcement first / deepest diver first
Lucky draw

The draw should include the following information filled in:
Date, name, nationality, sex, event, AP (announced performance)
There should be empty spaces for the following information to be filled in by the judges:
RP (realised performance), penalties, reason (eg black out, broke surface, late start), points, comments (eg national record, personal best).
Don’t forget your sponsors.

The draw, once filled out can then be used as the results list.

16 Competition

If you’ve done everything as noted above the competition should run pretty smoothly.

Ensure the lifeguards and the local emergency services know what you are doing and have a copy of your safety/evacuation plan, plus some understanding of the dangers of the sport.

Brief the officials, medic & helpers first to confirm they are happy with the way things will run, then brief the competitors. The briefings should at least include the following:

Thank your sponsors
Introducing the officials, organising and outlining their roles & ensuring that they have the appropriate equipment
Showing the competition draw
Where/when divers need to check in
Where/when boats will leave
Locations for warm up zones & competition zone and who is allowed to be where and when
Where photographers & supporters may and may not be
Where coaches may and may not be
Safety plan
Official time
Protest procedure
Outline of basic rules (optional)

17 End of competition

Tally up the points and have a prize giving if you have prizes.

Thank your sponsors.

Thank the officials/helpers and give them any thank you gifts, vouchers to cover costs, etc that you feel are appropriate.

Return original copies of medical certificates to the divers if you required them.

Post the results on your website/Facebook page/Deeper Blue.

Send out press releases if required.

Rest and recover!

18 Competition results

File the official competition footage somewhere safe and provide the AIDA National with a copy if they require it.

Send a copy of the results to the AIDA Nationals of all divers who broke national records.

Within two weeks of the competition ending you are required to do the following:

Send results list through to the AIDA International Sport Officer:

Ensure that if the judges changed from the initial competition announcement, that the correct judges are listed with the results, so that they have the competition credited to them.

Pay the AIDA international fee of 2€ per competition dive.


While I've been home for a few months now and haven't yet found a job, I feel like I've been working full-time! The latest initiative is new pages on Facebook:

I have set up a Kathryn McPhee fan page.

You can also become a member of the group "Deep South Freedivers" to keep up to date with what I'm planning here in NZ. Check out the discussion area as I've put up a few things that might be worth you adding your 2 cents.

While you're at it, why don't you join the Lazy Seal Freediving Club group?

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Deep South Freedivers, Wanaka, New Zealand

Learn to snorkel or take your snorkelling to a new level with Deep South Freedivers, an exciting new Wanaka based organisation fronted by world record freediver Kathryn McPhee. Kathryn offers one-off courses and regular training and coaching for novice divers in Wanaka and the Queenstown Lakes district, as well as a professional on-line remote coaching service for competitive freedivers from around the world. She also offers an exciting drift dive experience down the Clutha River.

Deep South Freedivers will also soon be offering sales of Orca wetsuits ( for more info), streamlined lead weights and freediver's nose clips.

Please contact Kathryn directly if you would like further information about any of these services: Diving Kat Fish @ (without the spaces!)

About freediving:

Freediving is often referred to as extreme snorkelling, however is really just the breath-hold part of snorkelling. It is a sport that is accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds, as minimal equipment is required; you just need water and a little willpower.

Learning to freedive opens up the underwater world to you for spearfishing, hunting & gathering, photography, and general scenic discovery. It is the best way to view coral reefs on your Pacific island holidays and is excellent for low impact general fitness.

Freediving is also a competitive sport. Competitive freedivers test the limits of their abilities in events based on time and distance in the pool and depth in open water. The world’s best are diving to depths greater than 120m and have static breath holds up to 11 minutes. Competitive freediving is as much a psychological game as it is physical. It is demanding and relaxing, frightening and peaceful. In 2008 New Zealand had four freedivers with world number one rankings!

Freediving can be dangerous. Always ensure adequate training and safety. We recommend participating in a course to test your limits, learn of the dangers, how to stay safe and how to assist your buddy if required. Never dive alone and ensure that your buddy is trained to assist you should you need help.

About Wanaka:

Wanaka is one of the most spectacular locations in an already incredibly beautiful country. The town of Wanaka sits on the edge of Lake Wanaka in Central Otago, a southern region of New Zealand’s South Island. It is surrounded by stunning mountains providing scenic hiking and mountain biking tracks as well as world class ski-fields in winter. The lake is easily accessible providing extremely deep and clear water to dive in.

About Kathryn McPhee:

Kathryn has been freediving since 2004. She has gradually worked her way up from absolute beginner to one of the world’s best. She has held a multitude of New Zealand and Oceanic records in all six competition events. In 2008 and 2009 she set four unofficial and one official world record in the distance based pool event of Dynamic without fins, swimming underwater breaststroke 159m on a single breath. She was published in the 2010 Guinness Book of World Records. At the 2009 indoor world championships in Denmark she won medals in all three events. Kathryn was voted “World’s best female freediver of 2008” in the ICARE awards. She has a breath hold of just over 7 minutes and has dived to a depth of 65m.

Kathryn ran the very successful Lazy Seal Freediving Club in Wellington from 2005 to 2009. There she taught most of the new members to dive and helped with coaching of the more serious divers. She has offered her remote coaching service since 2008 and has had successes with all students achieving personal bests and one even winning gold at the world championships in Denmark.

Kathryn is excited about bringing the sport of freediving to Wanaka and encourages you to make contact if you are interested in learning more about the sport, regardless of your background or ability.

Saturday, 3 April 2010


A little while ago, while still staying at my parent’s place in Palmerston North, a brownie and her leader knocked at the door selling girl guide biscuits. It brought back a few memories and I really felt a great urge to invite them in to chat, but managed to overcome it and let them go on their way after just a quick snuggle with Minnow (my dog). Anyway, I was left feeling a little inspired.

You see, I spent over 10 years as an active member of the girl guides. I started as a brownie, then went to guides, rangers and finally I was a pippin leader. I tried to complete just about every badge on offer including Cheif commissioner’s and Queen’s guide awards, took part in a Gang Show, attended scores of camps plus ran my own and generally had a good time doing things I would not have had the opportunity for otherwise. It all fell apart when I started studying architecture as there really just was no time left over beyond work and study to put anything valuable back, but I did try with a couple of Pippin groups in Wellington for a while. When I moved to Wanaka I was unpacking boxes and found my campfire blanket. I have still picked up the odd patch from my travels and had three new ones from my latest trip ready to sew on. My blanket is a bit of a story of my life. I started it about 20 years ago when mum bought me a bare grey blanket for Christmas. I sewed on all my brownie interest badges in a brownie ring, which was really unbelievable foresight on my part as a 10 year old. This ring later formed a space for all my guiding badges. Mum helped a bit with sewing on some of the swimming ribbons I’d won using the sewing machine for the first two rows. The rest were entirely stitched by me, by hand about 15 years ago. I quickly ran out of space for the swimming ribbons and had to double up the rows. There are badges swapped with people I’ve met from around the world and some that I’ve picked up on holidays in strange and wonderful places. There are even ribbons from the concert band champs from when I played the clarinet at high school.

Now the biscuits have all been devoured but I’m still inspired to add to the blanket. I feel that the now large part of my life as a competitive freediver is under represented in the blanket. I’m currently looking to set up my own small freediving school here in Wanaka and I’m hoping to have some very personal badges made up and am keen to stitch one on very soon.

If anyone feels they would like to be represented on my blanket, or has a patch that might be relevant, please feel free to post it to me - I’d greatly appreciate it!

South American adventures

Sorry, there haven’t been a lot of updates lately. I had a little disaster with a laptop in Peru that left me lacking the ability for non-essential communication for some time. The crisis has now been averted and I’m back into the blogging business! Fortunately we avoided the major crises hitting that part of the world. The floods causing severe damage in the area around Machu Picchu in January hit just two days after we visited. I believe the train has just re-opened. We were both in a Cusco hospital with Salmonella at the time, having felt a little dodgy periodically for the previous couple of weeks. Simon had giardia too. Some things I’m really just not jealous of. Other things I’m strangely thankful for. Not to worry though, the hospital was much better than our accommodation. There was a heater and someone comes running to assist every time you push a buzzer. Whereas the hostal buzzer went all night and just woke us up! They even brought us a laptop with internet and we had cable TV and comfortable beds with adjustable backs. The hostal had a tiny double bed that squealed every time I rolled over.

We also narrowly escaped disaster a second time departing Chile just a few days prior to their recent major earthquake. Thankfully our great hosts the Bennett family were OK in their flexible wooden beach house well above the height of the tidal wave.

We visited some wonderful places during our 10 weeks in South America. We started in a little place called Canoa on the coast of Ecuador, with a big wide beach, right before the Christmas rush. It was interesting to experience such a quiet town become so chaotic as the local tourists arrived in droves.

We spent a week at the Galapagos Islands, which was a major highlight. We were on a GAP tour which meant we had a small boat (14 tourists) and there was the option to go snorkelling daily. Our guide was amazing. He was so passionate about his job and excited about seeing the wildlife every day. Every Island was so different with respect to geography and wildlife. You have to be careful where you walk in case you trip on an iguana or stand on a lava lizard and the sea lions were great fun to play with in the water. They like to imitate you blowing bubbles, doing flips and corkscrews and generally racing around. They all had very different personalities and played with you in different ways with varying levels of intensity. I’d highly recommend visiting the Galapagos if you ever make it to South America – it’s worth the money whether you get in the water or not!

The Ecuadorian jungle was another little adventure. We stayed on the edge of a local community and experienced a little of their way of life. They took us on walks and boat rides through the jungle showing us different plants and insects and explaining what they are used for. We ate some termites (tasted woody funnily enough) which are meant to ward off insect bites (we still got bitten). We also tried some lemon flavoured ants which were actually quite tasty, but a bit odd feeling if they crawled on your tongue. Some big ants tried to attack me, but I managed to fight them off before they made it to the opening in my clothes between my pants and my t-shirt where they could access my skin and begin to eat me. It was a bit odd that there were no animals. They’ve all been eaten. Seriously. We did visit a wildlife refuge where we finally saw some of the animals and birds that once inhabited the jungle but are now few and far between. Most of these ones had been rescued from being kept as unmanageable pets or they had been injured in the wild.

We first experienced altitude in Ecuador. I’d never been very high before so didn’t really know what to expect. Every time I climbed a few stairs I’d puff unnaturally thanks to the thin air. I really had to take things easier than I’m used to while travelling. The highest we got was about 4800m above sea level. That was enough.

The real altitude started in Peru. We flew into Cusco. We opted out of walking the Inca trail as we’d heard so much about how it is just a big tourist trail, and we have beautiful walks at home that don’t cost anything. We did however take the train to Machu Picchu to experience the lost city. It was pretty impressive but I probably should have gone there before Petra. The rain even cleared up long enough for us to have an enjoyable morning on the mountain. For a moment the cloud cleared offering us spectacular views over the city. Inca ruins just aren’t as magnificent as other ruins around the world. It’s probably due to the fact that there’s no decoration. I’m not sure if they didn’t decorate or if everything was plundered or destroyed by the Spanish evangelists. They certainly stole anything gold despite the cultural value being much higher than the value of the very thin metal.

We spent some time at Lake Titicaca on both the Peruvian and Bolivian sides. The lake is the world’s highest navigable lake at 3810m above sea level. We saw (the tourist version of) the floating islands, which are pretty intersting. People live on man-made reed islands in the lake. The culture is pre-inca as they were left alone by the Incas and the Spanish who didn’t have boats or think to look for people living on the lake. They have gardens, fish farms, guinea pigs etc on the islands.

Bolivia was another level of culture shock. It is the second poorest country in South America. They resent the Chileans for taking their coastline in a war in the late 1800s and there are murals everywhere to remind them of the fact!

They have an interesting and diverse culture and landscape, and again it is mostly pretty high altitude. The highlight of Bolivia was visiting the Uyuni Salt Flats. We took a three day 4WD tour through the “white desert”. It was the rainy season and there was no wind so the salt had a film over water over it that clearly reflected the cloud formations – absolutely stunning. They also took us past colourful lakes full of flamingos, active thermal areas with geysers and hot pools, llamas made of salt, strangely shaped boulders, local villages, warm hotels fabricated from salt bricks and small bright green oasis’s in the midst of yellow desert. It was huge, diverse, strange and beautiful. The 4WD vehicles on the other hand were made for very small people with short to no legs and big soft cushioning bottoms. There were no toilet facilities (and if there were you were probably better not to use them) and the roads are incredibly rough (that’s normal in Bolivia unless there’s a mine nearby).

Civilisation felt sweet when we arrived in Buenos Aires. It was a welcome relief to be back at sea level essentially, plus we were finally able to cook for ourselves and pigged out on fresh steak and veges from the market every night. Buenos Aires is a very pretty city with a lot of Spanish colonial architecture. It felt so modern after where we’d been.
Chile too felt more like home (apart from the fact that no-body speaks English and their Spanish is different from everyone else’s so even the Spanish can’t understand them). Simon Bennett took us in and we went to his beach house in Quintay with his family for a few days. Simon and I went for a couple of dives straight out from his house (what a luxury). The water and scenery was much like being back in Wellington. Even the fish looked much the same. Simon’s son Marin (9) was our tour guide on the trip to Quintay. He is very mature for his age and fluently bilingual. He took us to the bus station, bought tickets, guided us around Val Paraiso, a cute seaside city, and guided us to the beach house in a collective taxi.

It was a bit sad to be finishing my big seven month adventure, but I was pretty tired and definitely in need of a week or so of rest prior to doing anything more. A holiday from the holiday was in order. Now I’m home and really am still holidaying. I’m actively seeking employment but still finding time to do interesting things. We walked the Tongariro Crossing with mum and caught up with different friends in the North Island before heading south to Wanaka to try to set up home there.