Book Review: The Kiwi Pair, by Hamish Bond & Eric Murray, with Scotty Stevenson

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_kiwi_pairWe really only know what we hear through the media about the gold-medal winning Kiwi Pair of Hamish Bond and Eric Murray: the genetically gifted, unparalleled winners in their field, Olympic champions.

In The Kiwi Pair, you’ll discover a fascinating insight into the strained relations, the coaching styles, the epic levels of training, and the scant financial situations of New Zealand’s rowers over the last decade and more. It really shows what rowers Hamish Bond and Eric Murray had to power through to become NZ’s cherished Kiwi Pair.

The lads start their stories as alternating chapters, first using rowing as off-season fitness for rugby, then both discovering a coaches who would build and then cement their interest in rowing as their primary sport. Both made their way up the junior ranks of NZ Rowing’s age group teams, Eric a few years before the younger Hamish, both fighting hard for their spots in the Rowing 8’s and 4’s and sometimes the pairs, with other rowers. Then one fateful day, Hamish suggested to Eric that they become a pair with the 2012 Olympics as their goal. NZ Rowing & Olympics campaign coach Dick Tonks was in agreement, and there began the record-breaking partnership we know today.

Hamish Bond struck me as the ultimate competitor, unrelenting in his goals to push himself to see just how fast he could row and how far he could get. Eric Murray is a more relaxed personality, but provides the strong engine to glide the thin fibreglass boat through the water – and match the levels that Hamish Bond would set.

The relationship between the two could never be described as close, and they say themselves that their deep respect for the other and their abilities is what firstly comes to mind when asked to describe their relationship. Both acknowledge they are different personalities but they are so complementary on the water; it shines through their descriptions of absolute flow and connection as they win each race.

It’s interesting to read of the sour tensions between the Kiwi Pair and their initial Olympics rowing coach Dick Tonks, before they moved onto better relations and different training styles with their 2016 Olympics campaign coach Noel Donaldson. The book touches on some of New Zealand’s other top rowers including Mahé Drysdale, Rob Waddell and the Evers-Swindell sisters.

Eric and Hamish also touch on the difficulties in maintaining family life when required to tour overseas to race, and spend many hours training on the water. Hamish Bond also speaks of his growing interest in road cycling during his rowing years, a sport which he is now attacking with vigour in 2017.

The Kiwi Pair is a great read for all sports fans and anyone who has ever trained competitively. Written with the assistance of knowledgeable sports commentator Scotty Stevenson, the book contains insight and bucketfuls of inspiration and is just a good story of a great journey that deserves to be set down on paper.

Reviewed by Amie Lightbourne

The Kiwi Pair
by Hamish Bond & Eric Murray, with Scotty Stevenson
Published by Penguin Books NZ
ISBN 9780143574361

Book Review: To the Ice and Beyond, by Graeme Kendall

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_to_the_ice_and_beyondIn 2005, New Zealander Graeme Kendall set out on a solo 28,000 mile journey to circumnavigate the world in his yacht. To the Ice and Beyond tells the story of his amazing journey, the planning, the execution, and what he saw and experienced along the way.

The intrepid New Zealander was 60 years old when he set out, and it had long been a dream to sail around the world. Becoming financially secure early on in his working career, he was able to custom build his yacht, the Astral Express, for the journey and pay for the trip himself.

Graeme was happy to finance the dream, “Money should buy you time – it’s no use having one without the other. Money is always there to be made, time isn’t. Money should give freedom, not be an obsession. Make a little and spend a little, that’s my philosophy.”

Graeme plotted his course with much forethought, intending to set out from New Zealand over Australia to the Indian Ocean, round the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, up the length of the Atlantic Ocean through the Northwest Passage in Canada, dropping back down into the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia, back down through the Pacific Ocean to New Zealand. The toughest parts would be navigating the notoriously stormy Cape of Good Hope and the ice-prone waters in the Northwest Passage.

Preparations included a gun in case of a polar bear attack, weekly packs of dehydrated food prepared by a nutritionist, 140 litre tank and several bottles of emergency water, with a plan to capture rainfall along the way. Graeme used GPS, ice charts, satellite communication, and regular weather reports – modern technology that gives modern sailors a reduced risk advantage over early explorers.

His company in the wide blue oceans would be migrating birds flying alongside the boat. He saw a blue whale and a large 1.5m turtle in the waters. Huge 50,000 tonne container ships would silently glide through the waters transporting unknown product from China to America. He would be wary of pirates around Angola and sail well out into the ocean to avoid trouble. One of the best nights of the trip was seeing a group of 30 dolphins around his boat, with luminious phosphorescence clinging to their outlines – a lightshow to beat all light shows.

Graeme grabbed snatches of sleep where he could, sometimes a couple of hours nap, sometimes a 5 minute catnap, and 6-8 hours when he needed to. He would always set his radar and weather alarms to wake him up should trouble be approaching. Graeme kept exercise in the programme to keep the legs fit, with yoga and squats.

The Astral Express was caught up in Hurricane Harvey off the coast of the United States, and it makes for chilling reading as Graeme describes trying to keep the boat from rolling in the gale force winds and huge choppy swells. The power of the ocean and Mother Nature is terrifying as you imagine yourself out there. It makes you realise solo sailors need guts of steel to survive such encounters.

To the Ice and Beyond is a great read for adventure lovers, the detail behind organising such a mammoth trip is interesting and Graeme answers all the questions you might have over the course of the book. It’s a great book to have on the bedside table as the adventures he faces as he sails around the world channel into lively and limitless dreams for the reader.

Reviewed by Amie Lightbourne

To the Ice and Beyond
by Graeme Kendall
Published by Mary Egan Publishing
ISBN 9780473353278

Review: Pop-Up London, 50 Beaches to Blow Your Mind, and Just Point, from Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet has diversified beyond the traditional travel book in recent years, with phrasebooks, pictorial and gift travel books, destination guides, as well as a whole section of travel entertainment for kids. We look at three of their new releases in this review.

cv_50_beaches50 Beaches to Blow Your Mind is a beach-a-page, pictorial book designed to give as a gift, or to appeal to the traveller who counts their overseas beach excursions and trips as worthy of nostalgia. What this book does well is to show off the wondrous variety of beaches that nature gifts us with in different environments around the world. Wild, windswept, calm, stunning, geographically cool, white sands, black sands and so on. By using classifications, the book is able to add variety to the beaches they profile, showing off different looks and different vibes.

In 50 Beaches to Blow Your Mind, we tour through beaches of Bliss: tropical desert island paradises, Dramatic: wild and unusual, Action: surfing and diving meccas, Discovery: beaches for combing and exploring, Parties: social and nightlife beaches, Encounters: wildlife and conservation hotspots, and Family: calm, safe all-rounders. Coromandel’s Hot Water beach features, along with a few Australian beaches, but it’s hard to believe that only one South American beach makes the list. Many featured are in North America, with a portion of Europe for good measure. Overall, this book is nice eye candy, and could be a fun gift for that person in your life who loves a good beach, but it’s really only a flick through once-add to bookshelf kind of read.

cv_just_pointJust Point is quite a fun and unique idea. It’s a pile of cards pinned together that fans out to reveal a bunch of illustrations to help you describe food and drink, transport, and accommodation. It’s designed to help you out of that awkward situation in a foreign country where you don’t know the language but are desperately trying to communicate that you need the bathroom, want to ask for the bill at the restaurant or need a hairdryer. Simply flick through the cards, find the picture of Pizza Toppings and eagerly point at the little pictures of olives, salami, anchovies and frown meaningfully at the picture of pineapple. You need never fear the foreign language waiter again.

I particularly like the picture on the Restaurant Complaints card – a slow tortoise carrying a tray of food on its back to a table, underneath a ticking clock. AKA Hurry up with my food. I’m not sure entirely how useful this tool is going to be, but I’ll be trying it out overseas in a few weeks; for better or worse.

cv_popup_londonPop-Up London is a colourful pop-up display book from Lonely Planet Kids. The book tours the reader through iconic landmarks in London.

I invited Wellington almost-5-year-old Lily Carlyle to review this book for me, with her mother Kat. Lily loved the pop-up aspect of the book, she thought the bright colours were very pretty and she really liked the map at the back. It was very short though, and without a story, Lily was left twiddling her thumbs after a minute. Improvising, Kat used the book to generate questions about where London was, the fact that a real princess (AKA Duchess Kate) lives there and then spent some 30 mins looking at pictures of princesses on the Net.

Perhaps Lonely Planet should incorporate a story in these pop-up books – a very good idea! Big thanks to Lily for her review.

Reviewed by Amie Lightbourne and Lily Carlyle

50 Beaches to Blow Your Mind (Lonely Planet) 9781760340599
Just Point – A Visual Dictionary for the Discerning Globetrotter (Lonely Planet)
Pop-Up London (Lonely Planet Kids) 9781760343392

Book Review: Women of the Catlins: Life in the Deep South, by Diana Noonan

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_women_of_the_catlinsThis wonderful collection of stories from the women who live in New Zealand’s deep South are treats for the soul. Each woman bestows on the reader a sense of peace as they share the day-to-day stories of their lives. It’s fascinating to read of the way they have built their lives in the Catlins – a wild and isolated natural, beautiful part of New Zealand.

The Catlins is known to some of us as a place you drive through on your way from Dunedin to Invercargill, others may not be entirely sure where it is. You may wonder what the fuss was about as you drove past on the main highway, but the secret of the Catlins lies beyond this highway. You need to make the time to turn off and head down those back country roads to see the rolling green farmland interspersed with native bush, and cold, windswept wild beaches abundant with penguins, seals and seabirds. With no-one in sight.

Catlins resident Diana Noonan shares some of the best, the worst and the most fascinating things about the lives of these 26 women, none of whom would think they were remarkable in any way, but for the magical place they’ve chosen to build their lives. Through Women of the Catlins, we sneak a peek into their lives. Their stories are the kind that you might get if you were lucky enough to run into them at the local store, share a pint at the pub, and get into conversation with them about the history of their place.

Rona Williamson may tell you how seafood was abundant back in the ‘30s, the water was clear and clean, and flounders lay flat and plentiful in the beds. She’d walk all the way out to the mouth of the river spearing them as she went – some were so large they wouldn’t fit in the pan.

Christine Mitchell grew up farming, shearing and horse trekking, far away from anything and anyone – an hour this way, an hour that, sometimes the travel can be annoying. She notes that it can be a lonely sometimes, but on the flip side, she wouldn’t trade the amazing bush and ocean views out of their living room window, plus the kids love it down on the farm. Christine says they don’t need things, she knows and feels they have all they need, with a warm house and a loving family.

What is particularly notable about these women is the reflections that make up their lives, as they live among the woodland, flowers, native bush, animals farmed and wild, coast, sea and hillsides, in weather warm, cold and windblown. Each of the women has a rich knowledge of local people, community, neighbours – concerts and dances in halls, farms, views and peace and quiet. It’s a kind of charmed life for those of us that live in the hustle and bustle of the city, and its not for nothing that many of us crave a simpler life more connected to the earth and the elements.

I wish to thank these women for sharing a piece of their lives with us, and Diana Noonan and Photographer Cris Antona for bringing it to life. This is a wonderful book for anyone who relishes the dream of a slower, more connected life – taking the time to smell the roses, and the fresh baking.

Reviewed by Amie Lightbourne

Women of the Catlins: Life in the Deep South
Edited by Diana Noonan, Photography by Cris Antona
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9781877578977

Book Review: The World’s Best Street Food

World's-Best-Street-Food-1-(Mini)-9781760340650The World’s Best Street Food
celebrates the rich and wonderful cultures of the world through the flavours and colours of the food created for the everyday person on the street. Often sold by characters as vibrant as the food, it’s an experience not to be missed when you travel abroad.

You’ve either been recommended to try it, or warned to avoid it – street food stalls either pull people one way or sends them in the opposite direction. But sampling street food can give you lasting memories and a taste of the unique flavours of a city. It’s a chance to put your finger on the pulse of the people living there.

Many street food options have been cooked for centuries, and often have colourful histories. The World’s Best Street Food is essentially a recipe book of street foods from different countries, and each page has a snippet on the recipes’ origins which can be fascinating reading. For example, the Inca marinated raw fish to make ceviche centuries ago, but it was the Spanish Conquistadors who bought the limes to South America to flavour the bona fide ceviche that we know today.

The Malaysian and Singaporean murtabak (spiced lamb stuffed pancake) is believed to be invented in India in the Middle Ages, but was brought to South East Asia by Tamil Muslim traders in the 10th Century. Now you’ll find these tasty treats everywhere in night markets and outdoor food stalls.

The Tasting Notes on each page pitch you headfirst into the steaming, dusty, loud, colourful, zesty environs for where that particular street food is prepared and describes the flavours and how they fit into the experience. You’ll feel like you’re in Peru, the Caribbean, Malaysia, Bahamas, Mexico, Argentina, India, or that place you can’t recall but ate that amazing thing sold by that guy on the corner that blew your tastebuds away.

We tried making mohinga at home, a comforting noodle soup lemongrass, shallots, turmeric and freshwater fish – a national dish of Myanmar. It was less of a success than we’d hoped. The ingredients for the recipes will often need to be sourced from a specialist store – and you’ll be googling ‘substitute for gram flour’ for some of the more obscure ingredients. However this is a great book for the traveler and the creative cook, and if you can find the right ingredients, the results will be more satisfying.

If you’re worried about the safety of eating street food on that next trip to Thailand, the rule is to watch where the locals are eating and go there. They’ll often go there day after day and tend to know whether the food is safe or not. Also, if there are people waiting in line, it’s usually good food. With a copy of The World’s Best Street Food in your pocket, you won’t have to wait in line: impress your friends and make it yourself at home!

Reviewed by Amie Lightbourne

The World’s Best Street Food – where to find it and how to make it
Published by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781742205939

Book Review: Going Up is Easy, by Lydia Bradey, with Laurence Fearnley

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_going_up_is_easyIn this world of great achievements, it’s a real treat to read about Kiwis making a name for themselves on the world stage, against adversity and with attitude. Lydia Brady is one of New Zealand’s top mountaineers and adventurers, and the first woman to ascend Everest without oxygen. In Going Up is Easy, she tells the story of many of her great climbs including the ascent of Mt Everest, giving us a wonderful insight into the world above 8,000m.

One of Lydia’s earlier experiences is hair-raising, as she attempted the climb to Kedernath Dome in India in 1987. Exhausted after days on the mountain and in bad weather, Lydia and fellow climber Jon Muir were swept away by no less than 3 avalanches in a row. Reading how the soft whoosh surprised her and carried her away makes you fearful as you imagine yourself in that situation. Struggling to stay upright and dog paddling to keep her head above the surface, Lydia didn’t know which way was up when she was buried. The pair survived, but they knew they’d used up most of their 9 lives on that trip.

There are risks in mountaineering, but the payoffs are huge. For some people it’s the challenge they can’t find in their everyday life, and for others it’s the sport of it, the connection with the earth and life, and the views that keep them going. Lydia talks of the gap between being a strong, confident and clear-thinking mountaineer and being dead as very small. At altitude you do not always think your best or clearest, so climbing high needs both mental and physical strength, so you know when to go on and when to turn back.

The day-to-day experience is also a memorable part of the journey, not just the success of ascent. Living on what you can carry, making friends, laughing and enjoying the trip, mountaineering can be an addictive pastime. Expect the unexpected too: imagine sitting in a tent high in the mountains, crowding with your mates in a tent telling stories when you hear a ripping sound and a massive dagger-like icicle pierces the tent from a cliff above, missing someone’s head by 3cm. Lydia and the team slept with helmets on that night.


Lydia Bradey on the Minarets, Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park, photo by Michael Chapman-Smith from

Lydia’s ascent of Everest is a great read, she climbed up on her own and without oxygen, sticking to her plan of rest and rehydration on the way, but unable to take photos at the top because her camera had frozen – this was back in 1988. She allowed herself ten minutes at the top, viewing the various Himalayan peaks around and below her, and keeping her balance in the strong wind.

Lydia also bravely addresses the feelings she had on returning to the wider world’s disbelief that she had actually climbed Everest at all, coming from media as well as those in her own climbing group which included respected New Zealand mountaineer Rob Hall. It took time to prove that she had indeed completed the ascent, but there was more than a few years of disillusionment for Lydia in between.

As one of a group of aspiring mountaineers on a beginner Snowcraft course, I was lucky enough to hear Lydia speak last year. Lydia was leading a technical climbing course based in the same Mt Ruapehu lodge and was very generous in sparing her evening to chat to us about what life was like as a professional mountain guide. Her stories were magnetic and jaw-dropping; covering danger, rescues, medical mishaps, and daring adventure.

I’m pleased to see that even more adventures are covered in Going Up is Easy. I highly recommend it as a great read for anyone, it’ll give you a good injection of inspiration, motivation and encouragement for whatever you aim to achieve.

Reviewed by Amie Lightbourne

Going Up is Easy
by Lydia Bradey, with Laurence Fearnley
Published by Penguin Books (NZ)
ISBN 9780143573234

438 Days – An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea, by Jonathan Franklin

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_438_days438 Days is the astounding story of a Mexican fisherman who drifted over 9,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean, spending over a year at sea – lost, alone and fighting for survival.

Swept away from his home village during a ferocious storm, Salvador Alvarenga was cast out into the vast, empty and treacherous Pacific Ocean during an ill-advised fishing trip on 17 November 2012. The storm hit, the motor in the boat broke 20 miles off shore, the radio ran out of batteries and died, and the GPS monitor was not waterproof and was quickly waterlogged by the waves crashing over the boat.

Alvarenga managed one SOS call to shore before the radio died, and rescuers quickly mounted a search, but the weather was rough, and by the time a search began, Avarenga’s boat had drifted westward out of reach.
Lost, but with an indomitable spirit and a refusal to give in, Alvarenga learned how to feed himself by catching seabirds resting on his boat, hauling in turtles, and scooping the small but feisty triggerfish in his bare arms. With sharks bumping into his boat to remind him that one small swim outside his boat would mean certain death, Alvarenga was bound in his silent, lonely and desperate new home. Sheltering in the small icebox used to store a fisherman’s catch, he avoided the scorching sun, and by night, he lay on the floor of his boat and watched a sky filled with stars, satellites and wistfully watched the occasional plane flying over.

The description of Alvarenga’s life as a dirt-poor fisherman is fascinating. He lives in tiny beach village where drug-runners in boats share the same waterways as the fishermen, where a man can have his throat cut from a simple disagreement in a bar, or where people can disappear into prison for no known reason and never be seen again. But the fishermen create their own relaxation, days-long binges on tequila & Coronas with tortillas, chicken and cerviche on standby. Reggae, marijuana and non-stop banter fills the dirt huts with iguanas bumping noisily across the roof, the men emerge only to go fishing again, then spend the money on more parties on their return.

Lost at sea, Alvarenga had nothing but his 25-foot fibreglass fishing boat. He gives the reader an intriguing insight into what it’s like out there in the open ocean. Rubbish floats by constantly. In the middle of nowhere, Alvarenga rescued a barrel and small bottles to catch rainwater in to drink, shoes floated by, and bags of garbage floated 4000 miles from any landfall.

But the ocean could be mesmerizingly beautiful too – still, calm, the days tracked by the rising of the sun and watching the moon ebb, grow and flow cycle after cycle. Alvarenga describes the area as “the quietest place on earth” with a silence both eerie and bizarre. At times, Alvarenga felt a deep happiness living “without sin, without evil, just myself with no problems, no one to accuse me of anything. I was tranquil, and adapting to the ocean. This was my new life.”

Then there was terrifying action, packs of sharks circling around his boats, and the sounds of untold monsters under the sea, making massive noises and splashes through the night and sometimes emitting piercing shrieks. Alvarenga’s boat was visited by a whale shark – the world’s largest animal – floating beside him for an entire week, brushing the bottom of his boat, staring at him with a curious eye.

One method of Alvarenga’s to stay sane was to talk to the animals he saw, inventing whole stories and characters and talking for hours to keep a grip on his rapidly declining sanity. These stories became a part of his thread of hope; keeping fresh the memories of the things he wanted to live to experience again.

When you read of survival stories like this, you can’t help but put yourself into their place and wonder – could I survive this? This is a story of a man brought to the brink of death and emerging out the other side – completely traumatised and with an unimaginable tale to tell.

This book is utterly mesmerising, and I could not put it down. 438 Days is hands-down the best adventure book I’ve read all year, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Reviewed by Amie Lightbourne

438 Days- An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea
by Jonathan Franklin
Published by Macmillan
ISBN 9781509800186