Winner, 2007 ASTW Travel Writer of the Year Winner, 2007 ASTW Best International Story (over 1000 words)
I’m having second thoughts. The steep stone path we’ve been slowly climbing up for the last half an hour has disappeared and we’re standing on a small section of terracing with terrifying thousand-metre drops on three sides. Maybe this really wasn’t such a good idea. Maybe we should have heeded the advice of the security guard who told us not to carry on.
Suddenly, Rob (the only other person on the tour foolish enough to attempt this with me) spots a small sign pointing into what appears to be a sheer rock face. Further investigation reveals a hole and, after using our camera flashes to illuminate the entrance, we discover a tunnel. We exchange a “what the hell, we’ve come this far” look and I follow him in. On the other side is another flight of breath-sapping steps but the end is finally in sight. We edge around a large boulder, climb a small wooden ladder and join a handful of other elated climbers on what feels like the top of the world.
There can’t be many cities in the world where you can set off from an ocean on one side and four hours later be standing looking out across a sea on the other. Auckland’s 16-kilometre Coast to Coast walk threads its way from Waitemata Harbour on Auckland’s east coast to Manukau Harbour on the west, taking in some of the city’s most scenic spots along the way.
It’s a great way to spend a morning or an afternoon, providing, that is, you have someone who can read the map supplied by the tourist information centre.
Sitting at the bar wearing a traditional Russian fur hat, I’d just ordered a beer from a Keith Richards lookalike in a large stetson. To my right a girl was trying to decide between a tiara and a trilby, while on my left the American Indian, the biker and the soldier from the Village People looked worryingly close to breaking into a chorus of YMCA.
As dress codes go, it was certainly one of the more unusual: to get served at the bar, you had to be wearing a hat. Fortunately, there was a large range to choose from hanging up on the wall, but it wasn’t exactly the sort of thing I’d expected to encounter on a small island in the middle of the Zambezi River.
Dan Brown has a lot to answer for. While the upper echelons of the bestseller lists may be enjoying a respite from The Da Vinci Code, a small village on a hill in southern France is having no such luck.
Nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees in the Languedoc region of France, the tiny hamlet of Rennes-le-Chateau is being overwhelmed by camera-wielding tourists. There was a time when you could drive up the narrow road that winds carefully to the village without passing another car. Nowadays, the odds are you’ll be trailing a convoy of coaches crammed full of amateur historians.
All of which is a bit strange given that Rennes-le-Chateau is never actually mentioned in The Da Vinci Code. Where it is mentioned, though, is in The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail the book from which Dan Brown took many of his most controversial claims. First published in 1982, it never enjoyed the same stratospheric success as The Da Vinci Code, but it still made the bestseller lists and caused a maelstrom of controversy among church figures.