Jean-Christophe Rufin: Walking your way to happiness – Auckland Writers Festival 2016

Two thousand people packed the ASB theatre at the Auckland Writers Festival on Sunday to hear Jean-Christophe Rufin (co-founder of Doctors Without Borders and former French Ambassador to Senegal) talk about walking.

Jean-Christophe Rufin, Image supplied

He loped on stage – tall, slim and packed to the gills with a kind of laconic Gallic charm. They are rare these men, but I have met one or two in my life, and what distinguishes them is their seamless fusion of Science and the Arts. When praised for his phenomenal CV he shrugged and said:

I am a doctor who writes, that is all.

Being the French Ambassador in Senegal is a bit like being the Queen in the British Isles. When his three year ambassadorial stint in Senegal ended, he found himself without all the trappings of a very high profile job. He had a reduced social status, no social calender, no servants and no idea what to do next. His life seemed to have become very pared down. In a fit of pique he thought to himself, so I will pare it right down. I will walk. I will walk a long way. I will walk the Santiago de Compostela. And you should try never to have that thought he said, because once you do it is like a virus, it will never let you go, you are entirely at its mercy.

The Santiago PilgrimageBut first you must pack your bag. That backpack will be your world. At the start everyone has huge bags. The weight of the bag represents your fear. Some people pack several raincoats. They are afraid of rain. Some people pack much water. They are afraid of thirst. What you pack in your bag will tell you a lot about yourself. When asked what he was afraid of on the walk, he jokingly replied – the snores of my fellow travellers.

But, one week from the end of the Pilgrimage, when he met up with his wife (they wanted to walk the last part together), he looked at their two bags. Hers was massive – packed full of beauty products and accessories. His was tiny. He had walked off his fears.

What do people talk about when they meet up as pilgrims on the Compostela? There are three main questions that get asked:

  • Where did you start The Way?
  • When did you start?
  • And most importantly: How are your feet? You meet people, and you love them, and it all starts with the feet.

That is all. No one ever asks: Who are you? What do you do? These questions are superfluous on the Pilgrimage. But sore feet will be lifted on to the table and viewed by all, like they were the maps of the soul.

And of course, he shrugged, he would love us to read his book – The Santiago Pilgrimage.

But he is adamant. You can gain no real benefit from reading about walking the Santiago. You have to do it. One painful step at a time, until you fall in love with the world again, and you find that you are happy.

Find out more

The Breeze Walking Festival 2015

It’s cool to be a cyclist, or a scooterer, or a Segway-er, but one of life’s simplest pleasures is walking. The Breeze Walking Festival goes from Saturday 26 September to Saturday 10 October. This year’s festival is in the school holidays, so there are plenty of walks suitable for the whole family.

  • 16 days
  • 37 free walks
  • all terrains, ages, and interests – many are suitable for people in wheelchairs and whanau with babies in buggies.

The NRG + Great Dog Walk
The Great Dog Walk, 2014. Flickr: 2014-10-04-Archie NRG Walk Oct 14

Here’s a few that you might like. You can see all walks in the programme, available to pick up from ibraries, service centres and recreation and sport centres, or download the programme [3.12MB PDF]

Greening the Rubble Walking Tour

  • Saturday 26 September 2pm to 4pm
  • Tues 29 September 10am to 12noon
  • Saturday 3 October 2pm to 4pm
  • Tues 6 October 10am to 12noon

Meet: Re:START, Pod Oasis. Corner of  Lichfield St & Oxford Tce, Central City
Approx distance: 4km
Explore transitional public gardens on demolished building sites across the city centre. Learn how the gardens contribute to the rejuvenation of our ever changing city with a guide from Greening the Rubble.
Booking required, limited to 20. Text only 022 071 6360 or email

Eastside Hikoi – Friday 2 October

Time: 10am–12noon
Meet: Cowles Stadium carpark, Pages Road to board bus to New Brighton Library.
Approx distance: 5km or 7km
Hikoi through the heart of the east with whanau and friends to celebrate the life and health of our wonderful community. Walk, talk and explore the new Aranui, Wainoni, Avondale trails. Free bus from Cowles Stadium or meet 10.30am at New Brighton Library.
Rain day: 9 October

All Right? Amble – Sunday 4 October

Time: 11am–3pm
Meet: Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre
Approx distance: 2-4km
Part treasure hunt, part orienteering, this is a fun family walk with a difference. Pick up your map from the Botanic Garden Visitors Centre by 2.30pm and scout out hidden delights. Collect a stamp at each point and return your map for a prize!
Rain date: Sunday 11 October.

SCAPE 8 Artworks – Monday 5 October

Time: 12:30pm–1:30pm
Meet: Corner Gloucester and Colombo Streets, Central City
Approx distance: 2km
Join us for a guided tour of the exciting temporary and permanent artworks which form SCAPE 8 ‘New Intimacies’ on the SCAPE Public Art Walkway.
Booking required, limited to 20.
Phone (03) 365 7994 or email

Spectacular Street Art – Tuesday 6 October

Time: 9:30am–12noon
Meet: YMCA Christchurch, 12 Hereford Street
Approx distance: 5km
Local and international street artists have transformed our cities blank walls into impressive works of art. On this walk check out some of the amazing walls that have been painted in Christchurch.
Rain date: Wednesday 7 October.
Booking required, limited to 30.
Phone YMCA (03) 304 8460 or email
Suitable all ages. Children under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult.

Art by Jacob Yikes, rear of 159 Manchester Street
Art by Jacob Yikes, Flickr: 2015-02-03-IMG_5728

There are lots more walks – see the full list  in the programme, available to pick up from libraries, service centres and recreation and sport centres, or download the programme [3.12MB PDF]

Cover of Walk AwayMore walking stuff

Step on! The Breeze Walking Festival 27 September to 5 October

Springtime is perfect walking time. The Breeze Walking Festival begins on Saturday 27 September, and brings you a range of events to get you walking, talking, and enjoying the sights of Christchurch, the Waimakariri and Selwyn.

Here are a few of our picks, go to The Breeze Walking Festival website for lots more.

Tou Olo o Saele – Let’s walk let’s bounce

Saturday 27 September 9am to 2pm.
Meet at Linwood North School, 221 Woodham Road, Linwood North.

It’s Tuvalu language week. Let’s celebrate the diversity of Pacific communities with our Pacific youth, families, nanas and poppas by going on a fun, interactive walk. Information sharing, health checks, great entertainment, celebrity guests, food and music completes this big day out.

Bookings required – phone Pacific Trust 3663900, email or register on the day.

  • Search the library catalogue for Tuvalu

Pukeko Stomp

Wednesday 1 October 10.30am-noon.
Meet at Burwood Plunket Rooms, 149 Burwood Road, Burwood.

A perfect outing for babies in buggies, young walkers and their families. Experience Travis Wetland including surprise guests, story  telling and fruit kebabs along the way. Return to the Burwood Plunket rooms for more fun and information about preschool children programmes and services.

Walking Festival 2014 Angus  Giant Pukeko reading WF booklet IMG_3010

Harbour Rockhop

Thursday 2 October, 2 walks, 1pm and 3pm
Experienced guides from Adventure Specialities Trust are taking 80 lucky walkers free rock hopping coasteering adventure around the shoreline.  Limited to 40 per walk. Must be 8 years old+ Get in quick! Bookings with CCC 941 8999.

Child of the Transitional City

Saturday 4 October, 2 walks, 10am and 2pm
Sense the cityscape with a child’s eyes on a guided walk through the transitioning central city.  Finish with fluffies.
Limited to 15 per walk. Must be under 5 years old. Get in quick! Bookings with CCC 941 8999.

The NRG+ Great Dog Walk

Saturday 4 October 9.30am-12.30pm
Meet: Roto Kohatu Lakes Carpark, Sawyers Arms Road, Harewood
Whistle up your dog and head to Roto Kohatu Lakes to take part in a dedicated walk for our canine friends. Celebrity dogs, information and
demonstrations by dog clubs and services will inform and entertain you. Dogs must be on a lead and under control at all times. All entries go into a
draw to win great prizes. Registration on the day: 9.30am-10am.

All Right? Amble

Sunday 5 October 11am to 3pm.
Meet at Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre, Botanic Gardens, Central City.

Part treasure hunt, part orienteering this is a walk with a difference. Pick up your map from the Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre and find five hidden
delights. Collect a stamp at each one and return for a prize! Last map available at 2.30pm.

Cover of Walk AwayMore walking stuff

The Breeze Walking Festival will put spring in step

Nancy Sinatra’s  boots are made for walking, however my boots are not. My sneakers are, and I’ll need good sneakers for The Breeze Walking Festival. This ten day festival features 25 walks across the city. The walks are graded, so you can choose anything from easy walks on flat terrain to hard walks on hills. Some walks are suitable for buggies; some are dog-friendly; all of them look like fun and will make a pleasant change from my usual walk through Bottle Lake Plantation.

Now I like winning stuff, though most of the time I can’t manage to win an argument.  During the Walking Festival, for every walk you do, you can enter a draw to win one of two prize packs from Stirling Sports.

The walks will be very social, so if you see me say hello.  I’ll be the one wearing white sneakers. It is quite possible that you will see me at the Halswell Quarry, or at The Groynes, or at the beach, or in the city, or…

You can pick up a brochure from any Christchurch City Library or Service Centre or download one [2MB PDF].

If The Breeze Walking festival has inspired you to take up walking:

Stepping lightly into twenty thirteen

Cover: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryWhen country singer Patsy Cline went out walking after midnight, we can be fairly certain she wasn’t after getting from A to B, nor was she looking to slim down and get fit. No, Patsy was after some soul searching. And walking for the soul has just hit its bookish straps. This is a soul walking blog with no mention  made of pedometers or lycra. Just strap on your metaphorical hiking boots and let’s get spiritual.

Many moons ago when I had long permed hair, listened to Woodstock Festival music and wore floaty tie-dye dresses, I read The Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananada. It was all mind blowing, but I remember best the descriptions of spiritual walkers (lung-gom pa) who could take giant steps and sort of fly over the Himalayas. I wanted to do that so badly.

More recently I have stumbled on book after book where the main character just ups sticks and walks off into the wide blue yonder. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is a lovely, gentle read about a man who walks the length of England to make a long overdue apology, and in The Lighthouse, by Alison Moore, the main character, newly separated from his wife, goes on a “restorative walking holiday”. Both books made the 2012 Man Booker Prize long list. Is that a sign of the times or what?

But wait, there’s more … In The Year of the Hare  by Arto Paasilinna, a man involved in a minor car crash walks away from his career, his marriage and his friends and wanders around Finland with a hare in his pocket. All the men in these novels learn a lot about themselves, to the dismay/rage of their left-at-home wives.

Walking for the soul has a long history that shows no signs of dying out. In fact, it’s starting to look as if we are hardwired to want to do it. For example, the popularity of pilgrimages to locations such as  Santiago de Compostela has increased over time and the library has many resources to inspire pilgrim hopefuls.

How about you, have you ever wanted to walk out of the house – alone – and keep going until you can go no further? Have you wanted to slow right down and think your thinks while placing one foot in front of the other? And, most importantly, have you remembered to arrange for your significant other to come and fetch you when you have had enough?

If any of this has crossed your mind, maybe 2013 will be the year when we all seriously decide to walk the walk.

Time to go awandering

The best thing about spring is being able to get outside and enjoy the fresh air without having to don hat, coat, gloves and three jerseys over head-to-toe polypropylene. Walking to work now seems more like a happy possibility than an inevitable grind. Gardens are flowering, birds are singing and fellow walkers pass with a cheery wave and ‘Morning!’ rather than a furrowed brow and a dripping nose.

Christchurch has some wonderful walkways which are well worth exploring. Many of these have been repaired since the earthquakes and they’re a great way of getting out and about in the city. There are walking groups catering for every level of fitness. Take for example the Sunday Walking Group which meets weekly or the thirty minute Walk and Talk programme for people wanting to combine exercise with some social interaction.

If you’re already fighting fit and in need of a challenge, there are tramping groups that head to the hills for day hikes or longer. Walking sports such as race or Nordic walking are guaranteed to give even the hardiest outdoor pursuiter a great workout. These groups are a great way of getting to know like-minded souls.

It seems the whole of Christchurch is getting into walking mode. The Breeze Walking Festival starts next weekend with a programme that celebrates everything the Eastern suburbs have to offer. There are 22 walks taking in the wildlife, local history, forest and coastline around Pegasus Bay and three ultimate walking prize packs to be won.

In the meantime, why not take a mellow stroll around the Christchurch Botanical Gardens? The blossoms are out and the magnolias are looking splendid. The Gardens would be my favourite walking spot. What’s yours?

City to Surf Times Two

Find Lost Art of Walking at Christchurch City LibrariesMy commitment to fitness goes in cycles. At the moment I’m in a deep trough of do nothingness but about four years ago I set myself to walk the City to Surf. I walked regularly and as D-Day approached I thought I had better do a “trial” to make sure I wasn’t going to embarrass myself on the day.

Off I went following the City to Surf route around the Avon. When I had been walking for about an hour I thought I had better turn around and head for home. At a crucial point I debated phoning home to be picked up but bravely decided to keep going. When I finally got home and looked on a map – I had walked the exact distance of the City to Surf!

The following weekend I did it for real along with fitness fanatics carrying large fence posts, the roller bladers, the lean, mean running machines, the yummie mummies with their battle tank baby buggies – the whole motley crew. A lot of sweat and one souvenir t-shirt later and my City to Surf career was over.

This year’s City to Surf  takes place on Sunday 21 March. The event has been providing people with a fantastic basic fitness incentive for 36  years. This year there is a 6km option as well as the 12km option. Our libraries have great guides to running (and walking if you find running too much to contemplate). A number of our libraries are the base for regular Walk n Talk programmes run by the City Council. CINCH (Community Information Christchurch) has the contacts for Christchurch walking groups.

Have you got a “fun run” story to tell?