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.