The art of travel - a voyage of discovery
Former Te Anau couple Andrew and Gaby Welsh have swapped the 9-5 life to take on the world. Here's their latest instalment in a series of articles to document their trip.
It's a glorious Queensland winter's day; a pleasant 26 degrees Celsius at 3.30pm and the air is filled with red-backed kingfishers, rainbow lorikeets and zebra finches. With pruning and rolling now finished on the vineyard, Gaby and I have a few weeks before we return to start on the shoot thinning, leaf plucking and harvest, so we decided to go on a road trip.
It's easy to see why Queensland is such a popular winter holiday destination for Kiwis; great climate with plenty of resorts and activities, but there is more to Queensland than Brisbane, Surfers Paradise and Noosa, and that's what we want to discover on this trip.
We decided on a three-week trip that would take us from Brisbane and up through "Australia's Country Way" to the expansive mining areas of the Moranbah region, down to the dry tropics of the MacKay area and then up to the wet tropics of Cairns and Port Douglas. We are returning via the Atherton Tablelands and the outback region of Charters Towers and Belyando Crossing.
This is a trip of about 3500km, so we have rented a small car, and the bikes are safely stored in the garage back at our accommodation in Emerald.
It's quite a novelty being back in a car. On a bicycle, your world is concentrated on the few metres of asphalt in front of the bike, staying aware of traffic, and thinking about what you will eat when stopped. Conversations are minimal, with the most common phrase being "road train!".
Now that we are in a car, conversation is difficult to avoid; generally, once I have solved the problems of the world, we always seem to drift back to the topic of what motivates us to do what we are doing. We have always held the opinion that resigning from good jobs, selling everything (apart from what can be carried on a bicycle) and committing to a long period travelling the world is not for everyone, but why do so many people we meet say they wish they could do what we are doing?
In 2014, the employment website Seek suggested almost 1 million Kiwis were unhappy in their jobs and it was reported in the online Guardian newspaper (May 9, 2016) that in the United States, the National Bureau of Statistics found that one in every 10 managers who die are killed (we assume this statistic includes law enforcement, fire, military as well as general management), clearly there are some unhappy people out there …
So why do so many prefer to take the "safe" (or conforming) option with life - dream and wish but few step out and take a risk? I liken it to many can walk to the edge but few will take the jump. Does life have to be all about a lifetime of working to save a million dollars so we can retire comfortably, as we are encouraged?
I was never happy at school, (especially high school). In fact, and as my school reports verify, I was a lazy, idle and self-opinionated timewaster who had plenty of potential but it was wasted on me. What my teachers didn't realise is my life revolved around Chris Bonington climbing Mt Everest and Sir Ranulph Fiennes completing his trans-globe expedition. My highlights at high school in my 6th-form year were my covert trips on an NZR bus to Te Anau once a month to avoid a double maths class; being able to view Mt Luxmore was of much greater benefit and motivation for me.
While I am not advocating that all students at secondary school should follow my lead, my resolve to abandon a conventional career and make a living around what I enjoyed doing (especially in the outdoors) was the right decision. Careers with the NZ Army and Department of Conservation allowed me to pursue my love of mountaineering, skiing and tramping; the wind, the rain and the sun, the shape of the mountains – for me they all have an extra intensity. An everyday life is quickly absorbed in to the immediate surroundings where nothing else matters but the mountain or road in front of me and the people who are with me.
Of course, this trip is not just about me. My wife, Gaby is an equal partner in this lifestyle. She had to be a willing partner who also was prepared to give up all for the uncertainty of a nomadic lifestyle that promised an uncertain future with regular doses of chafing, the odd saddle sore and plenty of cramps.
What drives us is the need to see and experience as much as possible before we are unable to do so. Death is a rather permanent outcome for the lives we are born into and, while we cannot avoid it, we want to achieve as much as possible. I admire great travel writers such as Theron, Theroux and Thesiger; they documented travelling through areas and meeting people that few knew about, and that provides inspiration to me and Gaby.
The book, The Art of Travel, by Alain De Bottom, explores the idea of why the reality of travel seldom matches our daydreams. Travel can be disappointing if it does not match the expectations we had for excitement, romance or pleasure. Just another ruin, standing in line for a brief glimpse of an artefact, delayed flights and hotel beds all contribute towards travel that doesn't meet our expectations.
For us, the success of travel is about people and finding happiness in a big world. It should be a voyage of discovery and not a life of self-imposed hardship or misery; battling the elements and dangerous or difficult roads.
We left our jobs (and source of income) 14 months ago; our children are still at university and we have friends and family spread around the world. We still need to work, because we still need money, so casual work (when required) provides a small income that allows us to live and travel. We travel cheaply (bicycles), live in a tent, eat modestly and really appreciate a real bed when the opportunity arises. The kindness of strangers, conversations with fellow travellers and opportunities to chat with locals all add to the great sense of satisfaction we have.
So, as we travel up through the tropics of Queensland, we realise just how lucky we are; when meeting strangers who applaud our lifestyle, we encourage them to live their dreams; life is too short to have regrets.
Our travels are summed up by this inspiring travel quote, credited to Mark Twain: "Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the things you did do. So, throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
Andrew Welsh is a former general manager for the Milford Sound Development Authority, and his wife, Gaby, used to work for the Department of Conservation in Te Anau.