On The Couch with Huw Kingston

 | Huw Kingston
| Huw Kingston

We sat down with Australian adventurer Huw Kingston and asked him about his most recent 12 month expedition mediterr annee in which he circumnavigated  the Mediterranean Sea, travelling through 17 countries by foot, sea kayak, ocean rowboat and bike from Gallipoli back to Gallipoli. Yet, Huw Kingston isn't only an adventurer, he is also an entrepreneur, environmentalist, cycling advocate, business consultant and writer....

Keep reading to find out how Huw juggles all these roles and most importantly - what inspires him to embark on his incredible adventures! Or come along and be inspired by Huw's stories in person at his national Australian speaking tour "A Mediterranean Odyssey" - coming to capital cities across Australia in September 2016. Book your tickets here!

1. You recently completed your mediterr année expedition for Save the Children; a 12 month, 14,000km, 17 country circumnavigation of the Mediterranean by foot, sea kayak, ocean rowboat and bike from Gallipoli back to Gallipoli. That’s a pretty incredible journey – what are the biggest lessons you learned on that trip?

I guess my mediterr année journey reaffirmed a number of things that I’d learned over many years of long journeys. Firstly that my creaking and abused joints could still propel me around the place for such a long period without squealing ‘stop’. But seriously it showed me the importance of flexibility in long journeys and as always the number one thing – just getting to the start line and everything will flow from there.

My year travelling through 17 countries also reaffirmed to me that in the mad world that we live in... the vast, vast majority of people are great people, good people, kind people.

Corinth-Canal,-Greece_brush-(small)Corinth Canal, Greece

2. Why did you choose the route you did, specifically, and what training did you have to do in the lead up to your trip?

The original ‘why circumnavigate the Mediterranean?’ is lost in a haze of red wine. I think it had to do with after having done 25,000km around Australia, a continent containing a single country, it was time to do a sea offering numerous countries and cultures.

As to the actual route; my original idea was to sea kayak the whole way. This would have taken more than a year and, much as I like sea kayaking, I couldn’t get excited about sitting on my rear end for so long. So the idea then became to sea kayak all the way but also climb the highest peak in each country as a means of stretching the legs (although past experience has shown that my short Welsh legs have never stretched). The journey then started pushing out to some 2 years at which point my lovely wife said ‘oi!’

Huw Map

3. Why did you choose to finish at Gallipoli?

What really gave my idea the fillip it needed was the realisation that the Anzac Centenary was occurring in 2015. This gave it a real Australian connection and I started to wonder could I get around the Mediterranean in exactly 12 months starting and finishing at Gallipoli. Anzac Day to Anzac Day? In parallel I realised that I could do this journey using a combination of human powered means – sea kayaking, walking, mountain biking and ski touring.

Mr Hops & Rainbow, GreeceMr Hops & Rainbow, Greece

4. What did you do to prepare and train?

A combination of the madness of preparing for 14 months away from home and my business, renovating our house and preparing for the journey left little time for training of any sort. And anyway, 2 months before I left Australia I put my back out and could hardly walk let alone train. When I kayaked away from the beach in Gallipoli, I’d been in a kayak twice in the previous 6 months.

All this said, to be honest what was I to train for? Sure I could have trained for paddling but then, after 3 months, my unused legs were still going to complain when I told them it was time to start walking across the Alps. mediterr année was a long journey; I had plenty of time to get fit on the journey itself.

5. People often wonder what goes into the planning of these types of trips once underway. How do you determine how much distance to cover during the expedition? Did you have a regimented schedule to keep?

Past experience has given me a good guide as to how far I will get whether on foot, bike, kayak or ski and how much rest/weather delays will be required on average. So I had an outline schedule but knew from the outset that political situations, major weather events and possible injury could and would change things. I was continually juggling the schedule, trying to see ahead; lying in my sleeping bag going through all the permutations and possibilities.

One of my biggest challenges was to juggle the endless offers of hospitality with the rhythm and schedule of the journey, a journey that was as much about the people as the places.

If I accepted them all then mediterr année, one year in the Mediterranean, could so easily have become mediterr deux année, two years! At times I almost not dare land on a beach in my kayak for fear a 10 minute stretch of the legs (there we go, trying to stretch those legs again) would become a 4 hour lunch in a local’s house.

Greece,-Beach-Camp-Halkidiki-(small)Greece, Beach Camp Halkidiki

6. What happened when things didn’t quite go to plan, such as when you found you could not go into Libya?

When I started planning my journey in earnest, in 2012, there was some optimism that the Arab Spring that started sweeping North Africa and the Middle East in 2011, might lead to making life easier to travel through countries such as Libya and Syria. The reality of course is that things became much, much worse; a tragedy of immense proportion and one that touched my journey on a number of occasions. A tragedy that had led to my Save the Children fundraising for the children of Syria.

So even when I left Australia I knew my route would change, knew I had to find a solution to get around Libya and other countries that were no go zones. I pondered solutions in the early months of my journey but was struggling to find any that was human powered. Then just by chance, in the early months of my journey, I ran into a young Slovenian adventurer.

By an extraordinary set of circumstances and coincidences the solution to my Libya problem became an ocean rowboat that I bought from West Africa and that this man, Marin Medak, and I rowed from Tunisia across the guts of the Mediterranean for 1500km. I’d never rowed in my life before. More of this of course in my talks!


7. You are an adventurer yet you are also an environmentalist, cycling advocate, café owner, event organiser, tour leader, writer and you run your own company. Where did you pick up all these skills?

I love projects and the whole process of taking an idea through to a plan, execution and ultimately success or failure or something in between. Whether running a mountain bike race for 2000 people or planning an expedition, the process is rather similar.

I think my skill is having ideas coupled with the drive and the ability to bring people along on the journey or project with me. I’m not sure where the skills came from and I certainly don’t consider myself a particularly skilled person. Perhaps a jack of all and master of none.

The café? I actually sold that some years ago and that project was really just an expensive way to fuel my caffeine addiction!


8. mediterr année is not the only expedition you’ve undertaken –you’ve also journeyed 600km on one of many ski journeys in the Himalaya, and over the course of 7 years completed City2City; a series of seven journeys totaling over 25,000km between Australian capital cities by kayak, foot, ski and bike.

What’s your main motivation for what you do, what are you seeking? Fitness, adrenaline, freedom..?

Above all I love the rhythm a long journey allows you to experience; the simplicity of sleep-move-eat for day after day, week after week. I am also in awe of the natural environment in this rather beautiful but fragile and damaged little planet.

Mixed in with this I do of course love the challenge of pushing myself and the fitness that comes from that. I absolutely don’t consider myself hard core in the activities I undertake but use those activities, human powered, to get me to where I want to go in the manner in which I love to travel.

9. Can you tell me more about your environmental work and why you do it?

I don’t think anyone who has seen such beautiful places and arrived at them under their own steam can fail to be concerned by what is going on in this world. Indeed I’d like to think that everyone would be but alas it is not so. We seem, as creatures, almost too adaptable so that as the planet collapses around us, the rivers choke and die and the rubbish piles up around us we just get on as if all is normal.

Without doubt we have an impact by just living in this world but there are so many things we do not need to do to trash it and go along with those who do. It does sadden me that the Australian government, as with most governments, are in the pocket of big business ahead of the desires of the planet and its people.

France_Mt Blanc SunMont Blanc, France

10. Tell us about your passion for reducing plastic bottles consumption?

I have supported a number of environmental causes over the years but in recent years a lot of my interest and time has been spent on the issue of the madness of putting water into plastic bottles and selling it to a gullible public at huge cost to them and to the environment. The cost of resource usage – water, oil to make the plastic, transport costs and ultimately disposal and littering. Since being behind the idea and success in 2009 of making my NSW home town of Bundanoon the world’s first bottled water free town, I have worked worldwide on the issue helping communities reduce the use of bottled water.

By extension, and even more so from my mediterr année journey, I see the problem of plastic pollution everywhere. In the Mediterranean Sea it is utterly out of control and the plastic bottle is the number one culprit. Here in Australia a massive amount of damage is being done to our marine creatures and seabirds by plastic.

11. You’re leading a cycling trip into the Kingdom of Mustang in 2017. What are you most looking forward to on this trip?

Rather surprisingly, despite a love affair with the Indian Himalaya stretching over 20 years, I have never visited Nepal and their stunning mountains.

When World Expeditions asked me where I was keen to create a journey I jumped at the idea not only of Nepal but of leading their first ever MTB journey into the Kingdom of Mustang. 30 years ago, when Mustang was still very much off limits, I remember reading about it and thinking about trying to plan an expedition there. Now, in 2017, I will get to go there leading what should be an excellent adventure.

12. Do you have any advice for people wanting to break out of their comfort zones?

You mean get ‘Off the Couch’? Quite simply get yourself to the start line and begin. Everything else will flow from there.

Thanks for having me ‘On the Couch’.

Huw Kingston National Speaking Tour 2016 - A Mediterranean Odyssey

This September we are bringing Huw to you LIVE as he relays some of his most exciting stories from his mediterr année in vivid detail.

His journey of physicality, landscapes and cultures was above all a celebration of humanity, and with heart-warming tales of endless kindnesses, multiple generosities and a whole load of coincidences along the way, Huw has a bottomless fund of stories to tell from his extraordinary journey. From the summit of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain, during his 3 month long trek across the European Alps, to bouncing around in winter storms in a row boat hundreds of kilometres from land, Huw will captivate and inspire on a night not to be missed.

So book your ticket and strap yourself in – Huw Kingston’s “A Mediterranean Odyssey” is sure to inspire and delight adventure-loving audiences around Australia!Huw Kingston Tour

Tickets are $20 each, book now to avoid missing out.

Brisbane - Tuesday 30 Aug - 7pm - Register Here
Melbourne - Thursday 01 Sep - 7pm - Register Here
Perth - Thursday 8 Sep - 7pm - Register Here
Sydney - Tuesday 13 Sep - 7pm - Register Here
Canberra - Wednesday 14 Sep - 7pm - Register Here

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