New Zealand Notes - January - April 2015

Note: Once again, these are based on various emails I sent during my stay in New Zealand. They have been lightly edited.

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Part 1: 4 - 25 January

Well I have been here for 3 weeks now and loving it, of course. The weather has cooperated mainly sunny with barely any rain, although with rather high humidity, though not too hot.

It was nice to meet up with neighbours Don and Anthea from Kanata for a few days earlier in the month, before they joined their NZ highlights tour. Lyndsay and I showed them some of Auckland and we had a meal in a rather nice restaurant at the top of the Sky Tower (The Sugar Club: https://www.skycityauckland.co.nz/restaurants/the-sugar-club/) to celebrate various birthdays, though none were very close to the day in question... it was just a good excuse to splurge.

On one of our tours around the city we stopped at a place that Chris and I had visited in 2004, and which since then has become a dear memory. It is almost surrounded by the ocean, with islands, sunshine, birds, green, boats and beaches in view. I had forgotten the name, but Lyndsay remembered the day we went there with Ray and was able to navigate us to the same spot for a picnic: Mahurangi West, north of Orewa on the east coast.

I also accompanied Don and Anthea on a boat trip to Tiritiri Matangi: http://www.tiritirimatangi.org.nz/ I had last been there in April and found it just delightful. It was a different experience at the height of the summer, and we saw and heard a lot of native bird species. Don and Anthea are now in the South Island heading towards Milford Sound.

I have done a fair amount of walking around the city and am getting to know it a bit better. I have also been doing repairs and updates in Lyndsay's apartment. (It is interesting to see the differences in how things are done, and am now more familiar with terminology - which is almost the same as the UK, but not quite!)

Apart from that I have become settled here for the next few weeks, going off to restaurants occasionally as well as movies and keeping up with UK TV shows like Broadchurch and Last Tango in Halifax, both being shown on NZTV shortly after the UK.

It is the 175th anniversary of the founding of Auckland, so lots going on this weekend. I took a helicopter trip over the city today (Saturday)... interesting to see it from different angles.

I am in the throes of planning my trip south, although the anticipated tour of parts of the South Island is now off, as brother Bill has been diagnosed with pneumonia and pleurisy, but is responding to antibiotics according to his wife Meryl. However, he will not want to travel for the next few months. I will visit them in Wellington in early March staying again with my niece Jan.

So a trip around the North Island will be the adventure this time, with another attempt to visit White Island (postponed twice because of weather over the years) and my first trip to the East Cape before going on to visit cousin Shirley in Napier for their Art Deco festival in February, then back to Auckland before journeying by train for a week in Wellington. Nothing really fixed yet.

Part 2: 25 January - 12 February

I've not done much exciting(!) since I last wrote almost 3 weeks ago, but am setting off for a 2 week road-trip this coming Saturday 14th, so better get this done before I leave.

As I mentioned last time, the weekend of 25/26th January was Auckland's 175th birthday. On the Sunday 26th there was a seafood festival on the harbour-front, and we ponied up to attend the evening session, along with a few thousand others! All very good natured, but L. and I both agreed it was a bit loud! and after savouring several dishes,(crayfish, scallops etc.), we decided to go back to the apartment to watch the firework display from there. We could easily see those set off from the Sky Tower, as well as most of those from barges moored in the harbour. So we sat back with a glass (or two) of Pinot Noir and.relaxed after a slow meander back along the harbour-front.

Later that week we also visited a Light Show at the Auckland Art Gallery; it originated at the Hayward Gallery in London - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ot2NXm6EGuE. Quite interesting, --- some parts were strangely disturbing. Other installations were certainly fascinating, and it is worth seeing if it comes your way on its world tour.

The following Saturday evening (31st) Lyndsay and I went with some friends to see a production of "Measure for Measure" at an amphitheatre on Lake Pupuke, Takapuna (north of the city) - http://pumphouse.co.nz/. It was well done, although some actors did not seem quite right for their parts. However, they had a lot of fun (as did we) playing up the comedic aspects - including all the rude bits!!! We had read a good synopsis before going, so it all made sense -sort of- even though I was unable to hear every word (not the actors' faults) largely because they were good actors!

Last week on Thursday 5th Feb the weather was lovely so we took the 9am ferry and went to visit friends Don and Rosemary on Waiheke Island, visiting an outdoor sculpture exhibition on the way. http://sculptureonthegulf.co.nz/ Not sure what to say about the exhibition overall, but there were a few nice pieces (and for sale too if you had a few $10000 about you!). This takes place every two years and attracts many visitors to the island. We made sure not to go on a holiday or weekend, but even so there were lots of others on the walk. Frankly, the walk itself was the nicest part, with stunning views over the harbour towards Auckland city, and nearby islands. We had a good visit with Don and Rosemary, and I was able to help Don a little with his new i-Phone and the accessibility software (he is visually impaired)...Rosemary is involved with the Hip Hop-eration dance group, who went to Las Vegas to take part in the world Hip Hop championships in 2013. When we got home we watched a wonderful, inspiring documentary on the venture which I bought... I will be delighted to show to anyone in Kanata when I get back! http://www.flicks.co.nz/trailer/hip-hoperation/10350/

The following day Friday was Waitangi day, NZ's National Holiday celebrating the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waitangi_Day . We decided to relax (again) and pottered around at home, occasionally watching some of the celebrations on TV.

The last couple of Sundays we went to "music in the park" events at Cornwall Park http://www.cornwallpark.co.nz/index.php - nice just sitting, watching and listening to music of different genres. The concerts last weekend were both big-band era swing music and we were further entertained by a swing dance group who seemed to have boundless energy and danced for most of the 4 hours!

I continue to explore the city by walking through various suburbs, and am getting familiar with parts of it and can navigate through it. Driving uses a lot of concentration , but climbing those volcanic cores in the city parks (domains) makes it easier to really appreciate the geographic layout, (though it also makes one appreciate the hilly nature of this country!). There are several of these cores within an hour's walk of here so they make useful 'exercise objectives'.

We took a short trip on Thursday (12th) to Piha (West coast near Auckland over the Waitakere Range)... among other things to see some art. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piha We thought we needed a day in the country, so we found this and went to see what it's like. The art did not impress!!! but the location was nice.

Apart from that, I continue to make myself useful doing a few more bits of "house maintenance" for Lyndsay...

Packing tomorrow to go on my road trip. More in a couple of weeks.

Part 3: 13 February - 10 March

I rented a car in Auckland and set off on Saturday 14 Feb to Whakatane where I hoped to be '3rd time lucky' with my attempt to visit White Island. The drive down was uneventful, stopping for a break at Waikino near my home town of Waihi. I had a look around the industrial remains of the old Victoria Battery where during the 30's and 40's and until 1952 my father was responsible for the ore-crushing and gold removal from the mine he was then managing in Waihi. It is now a peaceful site, but must have been bedlam in the days when it was active. I was somewhat surprised by the amount of material (buildings and old equipment) left after all these years. Nowadays, with the ecological harm that such sites did, I am sure they would insist on much more of it being removed/neutralised (by excavation and or removal of the ground around the chemical processing area for example - which used cyanide), but in those times, it was probably enough to just make it physically safe. Anyway, it was interesting to see, as I have a vague memory of going there once or twice as a child...

On arrival at Whakatane I found that the captain of the boat that was to take us to White Island was pretty certain the trip the next day was on, though departing late to accommodate the tides. Good news - and thus we left the next morning Sunday (15 Feb) at 11.30 from the nearby wharf for a trip to an active volcanic island!!! It takes a couple of hours to get there, and on the way out and back we encountered some pods of dolphins which (maybe who?) had great fun riding the bow-wave of the boat and leaping out of the water... just to show they could!!! There were about 30 people in the party, and some of them chose to wear the gas masks we all carried as the sulphorous fumes in the volcano were quite strong. All of us also wore safety hats and carried cameras at the ready!!! It did not disappoint. Lots of video and photos to help me remember and show some of you later (just ask).

Back on dry land I set off on Monday morning for the East Cape. That part of the country is sparsely populated and although the road is winding and has lots of one-way bridges as well as the final stretch being unsurfaced, I arrived at the lighthouse early afternoon. On the way, I decided to count the vehicles I saw - in one hour I noted 21 in total (both directions) including 3 motor-bikes, but not counting 2 horseback riders and a couple of cyclists. Not deserted, but quite quiet. And this is the only through road in the region! Most of the scenery was "regenerated bush", but there is still logging going on somewhere as later I did encounter trucks carrying massive tree-trunks (radiata pine?) on their way to Gisborne and beyond.

It's a pretty steep climb up the lighthouse, but I was rewarded with great views and solitude! One other person arrived while I was there and we chatted briefly. She was German (as were several of the visitors I met in motels etc) and had just arrived from the West Cape - on my itinerary later - she was spending 10 weeks in NZ, all on the NI, and would come back to 'do' the SI another time - which should allow her to get to know it pretty well!

The next day, after a pleasant morning drive, I stopped briefly in Gisborne for lunch. It seems a nice city and I noted that you could easily stroll from the main shopping area (bought lunch) to the large sandy swimming beach (ate lunch) in a few minutes...

I arrived in Napier where I was to stay for a week with my cousin Shirley- just in time for dinner...

On Wednesday she and I had lunch at one of the many vineyards in the area. It was very pleasant sipping glasses of their excellent "sauv blanc" while nibbling our way through a cold-plate, sitting in the shade with a cooling breeze - and we took almost 2 hours to finish!

Napier you may know/remember is endowed with many Art Deco buildings. Each year they celebrate this heritage with an Art Deco Festival. It seems everyone in the town takes part. Many of the local ladies and gentlemen dress in clothes of the early 30's. A little incongruous, since everyone seems to be going to a flapper party! But is is all good fun. There are many events over the weekend, and with my friends Shona, Pete, I wandered through the town on both Saturday and Sunday, they in the 30's finery, I with a camera slung around my neck looking the part of a twenty-first century American tourist! (Shirley is still recovering from a broken ankle sustained several months ago, so chose to stay at home.) Aerobatic displays over the seafront, displays of traction engines, a city picnic with many families in their "gazebos" set up on or near the sea front, eating dainty sandwiches with the crusts removed, served along with small pastries on 3-tiered plates, sipping local wine (in total contravention of the 'no alcohol' by-law) and observing us (the observers!). Great fun for all, and a general feeling of camaraderie as people met up (probably not having seen each other since last festival). My friends, being locals, saw several people they knew among the crowd.

In town there as a parade of vintage/veteran and classic cars (200 in the parade itself and another 200+ who weren't able to join in!). There was a soap-box derby in the main street, a static display of vintage aircraft at the airport. and lots of parasols/umbrellas!!! It was good weather throughout the festival with a gentle breeze keeping us from overheating in the bright sun.

And of course there is the architecture - which really does strike you as soon as you get into the town itself. For the story of the earthquake and why the town looks as it does you will have to explore the many resources on the web... 'google' napier new zealand earthquake art deco

A opera company was performing Donizetti's "Elixir of Love" in the magnificent art deco theatre, so I couldn't resist. It was well done and had been set in Napier in the mid30s! Very funny.

My cousin has aged a lot since last year - the long recovery from her broken ankle leaving her somewhat frustrated. We had a good time talking and comparing notes about our family - amazing how little either of us knew about the others branch of our maternal grand-mother's family!!! It was sad to leave, but I hope to be back - next year perhaps?!

The next stage of my trip meant driving over to the other side of the North Island at its widest point. I had decided to visit the west cape (Cape Egmont), having seen the other 3 extremities of the island, just to complete the set! I am interested in the geography/geology of the country and there is no better way to answer some questions than to drive through the relevant areas I haven't yet visited. Suffice to say that I was surprised by the variation in terrain as I drove westwards, so very different from the East, and in the far west dominated by Mount Taranaki (Egmont) itself. Again, much information about the area can be found by googling taranaki new zealand (it's an area/tourist region/mountain).

In addition to visiting the cape, I ascended Mt Taranaki as far as the road goes to the Park Visitor Centre. I had last been there in 1953 just before we emigrated to the UK. I recall it was winter and my older brother Ray delighted in showing me and younger brother Robert what snow was and demonstrating a snowball with the tiny amount he was able to collect from the grass nearby (only a few mm had fallen!) Almost 62 years on and it was now summer and no snow in sight even at the top of the mountain some miles away (although cloud did obscure the top for much of the time I was there.)

With overnight stops in Opunaki (a holiday cottage near a good fish and chip shop!) and Te Kuiti, (a backpacker well off the beaten track surrounded by bush), and a side trip to Waitomo (but not the caves themselves as I had done that on a previous trip) and the nearby west coast, I was back in Auckland by 5pm on Friday 27th - with laundry to do before I left for Wellington on Monday 2 March...Before I left, Lyndsay and I managed to fit in a play - The Ladykillers - and see our friends John and Jo from Christchurch who were passing through town on Sunday. All a bit rushed, but it was good to see them.

After all that driving a train journey to Wellington seemed a great idea. Almost 11 hours watching scenery without distractions. Very pleasant although the train arrived an hour late. I was met by most of my Wellington family and we all had dinner together- a normal weekly feature of their family life.There were four generations at the table. They really are a nice 'inclusive' crowd.

On Wednesday 4th Bill planned to take part in one of his regular walking (day tramping) groups in a "farm park" near Porirua where they live (north of Wellington near the west coast). He wanted to see how much he had recovered from a bout of pneumonia, and he passed the test! I went along and we covered about 8 km in 3 hours, climbing and descending 200m in the process. It was a perfect day and the views over the valley were beautiful, though the brownness highlighted the rather drought-stricken nature of this summer. Subsequently we have had two quite wet and stormy days here but not enough water has come down yet!

Over the rest of the week I spent a lot of time with Bill and Meryl, and talked long into the night with Jan (my niece in whose house I stayed), as well I explored Wellington city centre, visiting the museum Te Papa twice. My time in Wellington was quickly over and I fly back to Auckland this afternoon (Tuesday 10th).

Part 3: 11 March - 4th April

After arriving back in Auckland on March 10th, flying from Wellington, I settled into my usual routine with Lyndsay, taking part in some of her exercise walks and checking out other activities, including the various free concerts in Auckland parks. All very relaxed. Her first intern (lodger) of the year - a charming young German lady named Sabine - was away touring the SI when I arrived, but got back after a week, and flew back to Germany a week later. (Another intern, Henrick, arrived later in the month on the 31st and was still there when I left.)

The Volvo Ocean Race competitors were in town, and I was able to see and clamber inside a cut-away model of the yachts they used...All a little cramped and claustrophobic if you ask me, but I'm sure it is great fun when things are going well. They had a race in the harbour - the all-girl team won - and we were able to watch much of it live from Lyndsay's apartment, although the web-cast was much more informative with accurate positions and overhead shots from the helicopter we could see over the water!!! By now the boats should be somewhere off the South American coast or perhaps will already be in port at Itajai, Brazil. See http://www.volvooceanrace.com/en/home.html

Tropical Cyclone (hurricane) Pam (later downgraded to a storm) largely missed our part of the country, although some places further south and east near Gisborne and the East Cape apparently had a lashing with >200mm of rain in 24 hours! And there were heavy seas further north. We visited a bach (seaside cottage) just afterwards and all was OK - see below!

As it is now officially autumn (since 1 March) I can report that the last part of the summer here was awesome for holiday-makers, but rather too dry for the farmers. Hope they get lots of moisture into their land before I get back here next year (;^)) so they can withstand the weather I have requested!

Apart from the aforementioned trip to the cottage I pretty much stayed in the centre of Auckland for the last few weeks, exploring a few more places,

Lyndsay and I went with our friend Marilyn to her bach (cottage) in Pataua near Whangarei. It is a quiet spot, well off the main road, and the sandy beach is idyllic, with no-one there most of the 2 days we were residing! I did spot 2 or 3 surfers, and a dad making sandcastles for his small child, but nobody else on the sand... 2+ km with a gentle ocean swell (sorry surfers) and some birds and mussels on the rocks at the northern end. Marilyn's place has been described as a typical "kiwi bach" in a recent book. In fact there are two buildings - the older, smaller one being that illustrated in the book (where I slept), and behind is a larger, more up-to-date one where the girls stayed!

On our way home on Friday 20th we dropped in to see one of Lyndsay's friends at Ti Point. Peggy has 16 acres with her house overlooking the sea on 3 sides. Her gardens are wonderful, but I'm told much better in the spring/early summer. (I say, who needs a garden with views like that!...)

On Sunday 22nd, we went to hear the RNZAF brass band in an outdoor concert in one of Auckland's smaller parks (Falls Park, Henderson) - a pleasant way to pass the time...

Here in Auckland the whole city held its breath throughout the cricket match on Tuesday. I watched the SA innings on a public big screen down-town then came back to watch the Black Caps (NZ) innings with my sister in law after dinner. Terrific finish with the last 6 overs keeping us on the edge of our seats. As you say. Not boring!!! Within seconds of the winning hit with a terrific six, we checked outside and saw that the Sky Tower was lit up like a Roman Candle! They must have lit the match as the ball landed in the crowd!!!

On Friday 27th we took a boat trip to Riverhead, and had lunch at the pub there to celebrate my birthday (again!); the trip from the centre of the city takes about 2 hours each way, and gives a great impression of the extent of the Waitemata Harbour on which Auckland is situated. Although not a fast boat (we puttered along at not much more than walking pace for several sections), it is still revealing, with parts of the city I'd not yet visited (there are still lots of those!) and some historical sites on the way. After a nice lunch the same leisurely ride back to Auckland CBD (down-town) to arrive just in time for the 'sun to be over the yardarm'.

I went for my last walk on the beach at Takapuna (north of the city on the East coast) with Lyndsay's exercise group, fondly known as the Saturday Talkers (previously Saturday Walkers!)

We had invited my friends Don and Rosemary for dinner on Saturday. It was really my first opportunity to repay their hospitality during several trips to their place on Waiheke island. It was a good time, and I managed to help Don get a bit further with his iPhone using VoiceOver accessibility software

We watched THE cricket match on Sunday, 29th with neighbours Graham and Marie, cheering on the Black Caps as they lost to the Australia in a not very exciting (for NZ) game.

Thereafter I had a quiet week including finishing off a few of the jobs around Lyndsay's flat before flying home on Friday evening, to arrive in Ottawa just after midnight (ie very early Saturday morning)!

Overall a nice break away from the winter... although there is still a quantity of snow in my back yard, and even a few flakes on Saturday morning to freshen it up. However the sun has been shining and temperatures are soaring ( to +4 or thereabouts!) and Spring will soon really be here.