New Zealand Notes - January - April 2017

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

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2017-02-03 - New Zealand - January 2017

I have started my annual sojourn in New Zealand, and am here until 9 April!!! Hoping for no earthquakes!

After three weeks, I thought it was time to record some of what has happened so far...

I started off with toothache and a visit to the dentist near brother Bill and Meryl in Porirua where I was staying for for a couple of days before moving to stay with my niece Jan in Wellington itself. It turned out to be a cold-sensitive tooth, but the dentist was unable to see anything and we decided to see if it would settle down - which it has, though cold can still cause some discomfort... but no infection or cracks in the tooth thank goodness.

After that - the weather - well it has not been very summer-like! In fact windy, wet and cool (well 15-19 degrees so not cold, but certainly not seasonable).

Despite the poor start, I have had fun - taking part in a couple of half-day walks in the hills around the city, visiting various museums, and exploring the city some more on foot and by bus...

The first walk was supposed to be to Baring's Head lighthouse on the east side of the harbour, but bad weather forced it to be cancelled. In the end we helped another of the leaders, Rae, reconnoitre a walk she will lead next week. It took over 4 hours, and was to view the countryside where a new motorway is being constructed through Transmission Gully. It was invigorating, but at least it did not rain. This week the walk was up to visit Wright's Hill fort overlooking Wellington and the harbour, but in the end the weather meant that it had to be cut short, and we only completed half the walk.... The leader commented that this was the 4th attempt, and each had to be abandoned because of rain - better luck (for them) next time...

I have stayed most of the time with Jan my niece, and we have done a few excursions on foot and by bus around Wellington. One day we spent riding the buses, including route 14, which is reputed to be the most scenic city bus-ride anywhere. It certainly is interesting, and worth doing if you want to see the overall extent of the city and its various aspects... hills, parks, ocean, harbour and bush.

We also celebrated the collective January birthdays of several of the family with a wonderful "fush and chup" supper, enlivened with wine and NZ beer.

I visited Parliament, and was pleased to find that my remote wireless microphone worked very well so that I heard every word the knowledgeable guide said An excellent tour through an interesting series of buildings of various ages. All of them had been 'earthquake-proofed" in the 1990's, and this seems to have done the job very well, as only superficial damage is evident after the recent Kaikoura quake.

As I hadn't managed to visit the aforementioned Wrights Hill fort because of bad weather, Jan and I drove up there (much easier!) and we were rewarded with a magnificent view of the harbour and approaches - not perfect visibility, but enough to understand why they choose that position for a defensive gun battery in WW2.

We also visited Wilton Bush, not far from Zealandia (which I have visited several times over the years). This reserve is almost as good, scenically and includes a large native botanical collection. As it is not surrounded by a predator proof fence, there are fewer native birds, but it is a nice place to visit for sure.

So my latest visit to Wellington has come to an end. I can now navigate my way around the compact city centre and even some of the inner suburbs, both by car and on foot. It is a comfortable if somewhat hilly place. If there had been better weather it would have been even nicer!!!! However, I enjoyed meeting my various nieces and nephews as well having time with my older brother and his wife.

I am now settled in Auckland staying again with sister-in-law Lyndsay, to spend some time in the (relatively) subtropical zone....

I have already done my bit to improve my mind, with visits to a couple of art exhibitions: The Auckland Art Gallery had "Lee Mingwei and His Relations: The Art of Participation" which Lyndsay and I attended with her cousin Simon who was visiting from Australia. This was preceded by a very pleasant lunch in the gallery. And today, we joined friends at the Titirangi gallery for exhibition of art by a New Zealand artist: "The Creative Life of Anne McCahon" - this time preceded by lunch in a nearby Turkish restaurant. Both interesting. In addition, the day I arrived in Auckland I was whisked off to hear music in the "Cornwall Park summer concert series"

As usual I get a fair bit of exercise, going along with Lyndsay taking part in her 'nordic walking' when I take off for a wander around the streets in the neighbourhood. I also walk through the city to reacquaint myself with the place.

It is also great to meet old friends, mostly made during my series of annual sojourns!

Lyndsay and I have now planned and booked a trip to Melbourne and Adelaide in March to see the sights and visit friends. Should be a fun but hectic week.

2017-03-12 - part 2 - February/March 2017

It's been over a month since I last wrote some notes about this trip, and while it has not been wildly exciting(!), it is time to capture more of my experiences.

Since arriving in Auckland the weather has improved, and it has felt like a real NZ summer.

We went to a going-away event for one of Lyndsay's grandsons. Matthias has won a 3 month 'scholarship' to a think-tank - The DaVinci Institute in Denver CO about which I know almost nothing - see https://www.davinciinstitute.com/about-us/about-the-davinci-institute/ He will surely have a culture shock. There I met a few more of son-in-law Erich's German relations and enjoyed barbecued meats with several vegan dishes prepared by Alix (L's daughter)..

After settling in with Lyndsay for a few days, she kindly loaned me her car for a 4-5 day trip to visit my cousin Shirley in Napier. It is a fairly easy day's drive, and I arrived there in good time for dinner after a 10am start.

It was Art Deco time in Napier again, and the live opera this year was "Carmen", so I got a ticket for that. Of course I was a little concerned that I might no longer be able to enjoy the music, but in fact I found I was able to do so, (though I recognise that much of that is because the music is somewhat familiar). It was most enjoyable - the soloists were all very good, and included Moses Mackay, one of the Sol3 Mio group whom I have seen on TV and are very popular here: http://www.sol3mio.com/

Shirley and I had dinner one evening with Pete and Shona - Shirley's good friends, and Shirley and I visited the British car museum, run by a private individual, and displaying over 400 cars - mostly of post war vintage and including many models I, or friends or family, had owned over the years....very nostalgic seeing dozens of Morris Minor 1000's and Minis. When I asked the owner "Why?" he said said "cos Y is a crooked letter and you can't straighten it"!!! He has set up a trust to continue the museum when he can no longer handle it. Hope it can keep going. I also re-visited the National aquarium - last time was in the 80s! Not too exciting, but I enjoyed the penguins and kiwi!!!! We found a nice winery - Clearview Estate: http://www.clearviewestate.co.nz/ - to have a brunch which suited both our appetites. It was a little cool and wet, but we found a sheltered table outside under an awning. The waiter then brought us rugs to put round our shoulders to keep us oldies warm!!!!

Exploration of Auckland on foot has continued with visits to both familiar and new territory. Also been on short car trips to new sights nearby. I do find the city interesting and full of life.

Lyndsay's neighbour invited me for a day's fishing on his boat along with his son-in-law Ian. We didnt have to go far: about 100m outside the channel leading to the marina where he moors the boat he dropped anchor. So we spent several hours in the Waitemata harbour with the skyline of Auckland around us, cutting bait and feeding the fish. In the end I was the only one to catch a keeper - a small Snapper - and no one else had anything to show for a day on the water... I was proud to take it home to Lyndsay to prepare for our dinner. However, it appears not all New Zealand housewives are trained in how to gut and scale a fish, but with the help of the internet she as able to do the job. It was a delicious, though frugal meal as the 450 gm of live weight fish translates to only about 150gm of edible flesh after cooking and serving. We also felt obliged to let Lyndsay's current lodger/intern Sascha have a taste of the freshest fish around. So in the end there was only a mouthful each. Nice though!

Last weekend, Sascha expressed a wish to visit the "Mermaid pool" near Whangarei. It was a little late to rent a car, so Lyndsay decided it would be a good opportunity for me too, and once more allowed me to borrow her car for the day. The pool is a bit off the beaten track near the town of Matapouri: https://nzfrenzynorth.wordpress.com/mermaid-pool-matapouri-c9/

We didn't realise that the only route to the pool was along the beach and that was completely submerged at high tide (which of course was when we arrived) and for several hours either side. Obviously others were aware of this and stripped off, bundled their clothes etc into backpacks and carrying them on top of their heads, set off through the water, which was up to their chest. I decided I was not prepared for such an adventure, having no swimming gear and was also concerned about falling and getting my hearing stuff wet.... So Sascha went off while I sat eating lunch and chatting with another water-averse guy whose family paddled away without him. He turned out to be an interesting conversationalist with a background in pharmaceuticals who had written and self-published a book about his take on that and wholistic (- his spelling) medical approaches.

Somewhat earlier than I expected Sascha reappeared, having 'done' the pool. Unfortunately he had cut both his feet rather badly during his return trip through the water and we were fortunate to have the services of my pharmacist acquaintance who was able to be reassuring and to assist with simple first aid. Not a real emergency but we felt we should get home earlier than we otherwise might.

On the way back we took the short diversion to revisit my (and Chris's) favourite NZ spot: the coastal promontory (Tunguta Point) in Mahurangi West Regional park. It was another emotional time - just perfect as always with a 270 degree view over the ocean and islands! Thanks Sascha for indulging me when you still had some painfully sore cuts to dress when we got home... He's OK now and is able to go walking this weekend, weather permitting.

I have done a few more bits and pieces of home maintenance for Lyndsay. All-in-all, it has been very restful here.

Not long after I arrived in Auckland, Lyndsay and I were pleased to be visited by a couple of Monarch butterflies who had found her Swan plant (cousin of milk-weed) on the balcony 100 feet above the city streets! I had revisited a community garden a couple of days earlier where I was transfixed by the sight of a butterfly laying her eggs. I took a look where she had spent some time and was able to identify the tiny eggs (each the size of a pinhead). So when the butterfly visited the balcony I knew what to look for and was able to locate some of the eggs.

A few days passed and there were rapidly growing caterpillars - about 14 we thought, and the food supply was looking insufficient. A quick google located the local Monarch butterfly trust https://www.monarch.org.nz/ which allowed me to post a request for new plants and/or homes for the caterpillars. This was answered by the lady who started the trust - Jacqui - and we were able to visit her home, buy a couple of plants, and leave a few of our caterpillars in her care.

Since then we have taken a great interest in the remaining caterpillars and now the remaining 10 of them have turned into chrysalises. With the relatively cooler damper weather lately we have moved them indoors into a large glass vase where we can watch them and hope to see at least one emerge before we leave for Melbourne next week. Sascha has promised to look after them and take photos of the butterflies (and if he is lucky, their emergence) while we are away, but we really do hope to see at least one ourselves. The whole process from egg to chrysalis has been most fascinating - much better than TV.

The weather has been good, mostly sunny and warm (mid 20s) though sometimes a little humid. It has changed this week with tropical systems bringing lots of rain! The Coromandel and Waihi, the town where I was born, had ~250mm in one day. Auckland had ~200mm on Friday night. Several places were flooded and the rain caused slips in Whangamata, just up the road from Waihi, and was cut off for more than a day. The rainstorms have curtailed most outdoor activities, but we hope to catch up after returning from Australia on 21st March...

2017-03-30 - New Zealand part 3 - March 2017

Lyndsay and I recently spent 8 days in Australia, 4 in Melbourne, staying in a downtown hotel and searching out interesting places and things to do. Then visiting long-standing friends in Adelaide for 4 days.

Melbourne is a busy cosmopolitan city of 4 or 5 million, the capital of Victoria state. We arrived on their Labour Day holiday Monday (13 March) so the streets were very crowded with good-natured Aussies on holiday!

After checking in to the hotel (very central), we dropped in to an Organ demonstration at the town hall. http://www.thatsmelbourne.com.au/Whatson/organ/Pages/organ.aspx They have recently renovated this 9000+ pipe instrument. We only heard a very small selection played by local organists. But it is a magnificent instrument, and it would be good to hear it in full blast!

We had arranged through L's cousin Simon to visit an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Victoria of recent David Hockney works. Much of what we saw was produced by him using an iPad tablet with a stylus device. See: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-11-10/david-hockney-enjoys-creating-artworks-on-his-iphone-and-ipad/8012990. (Steve Jobs was wrong - the finger is not up to the needs of such an artist!) Several of the hundreds of works on display were shown as recordings of Hockney's 'brush-strokes', illustrating quite massive changes in direction/composition and detail. It was fascinating. In addition there were some apparently 'standard' portraits in a series of 70+ of people from young children to well-known individuals like Barry Humphreys (whom I coincidentally sat beside while watching one of the iPad recordings, only I didn't recognise him, but Lyndsay did!). We did have a short break before going back to see more and revisit some of the work. It turned into a long day as we had to leave the flat at 6 am for an 8.30 am flight.

On the Tuesday, our first full day, we caught the hop-on/hop-off bus and got an overview of the central area of the city. I managed to catch most of the commentary by attaching my remote mike to the driver. She was good, although some of the sections were pre-recorded so I didn't catch those too well, but it was still a lot to take in anyway.

L has already been to the museum so went off to explore the shops, I think, while I took in the history of the aboriginal people and their subjugation by the British - a depressingly similar story to many other nations and their original inhabitant!

We met up again to take the fastest lift in the S hemisphere to the highest viewing platform in the S hemisphere in the Eureka Tower...fantastic views over the whole city... Later that night we went exploring around the Rialto Tower where Lyndsay's daughter Alix had worked in the early 80s. At that time it was the highest building in the city. We found that the viewing area was now a cocktail lounge, (http://www.luibar.com.au/) so, despite our under-dressed state, we decided to have cocktails to get the experience. (My malt whisky was served with ICE which I returned with a request to omit the ice and I used the still water to dilute slightly to taste - it was a nice Caol Ila 12yo. and it was a shock that they didn't know better - especially as I specified when ordering no ice and plain water on the side!

Although we entered a lottery twice to get tickets for "The Book of Morman" (which was the only show that caught our fancy for which there was any chance of getting tickets) we were unsuccessful so had to content ourselves with a very nice meal in the Italian quarter, which was no hardship at all.

We did a lot of walking even with the free trams, as it allowed us to explore nooks and crannies.

Lyndsay recalled visiting a shop (or mall) where they had enclosed an historic Shot Tower which included a museum. We found that, and also a clock which marked every hour with an automaton display including music,

We took the Parliamentary tour through an interesting building. Again, the guide again allowed me to 'mike' him so that I heard every word (until he turned a corner so that the radio signal was momentarily interrupted).

On the Yarra river boat trip, the commentator (again wearing my wireless mike) was undoubtedly clear/loud enough, but his rather 'broad' Aussie accent meant that I could hardly understand any of what he said. Lyndsay said she felt the same...

We had great weather - although it was rather hot, 31 or 32, the humidity was reasonable and we didn't suffer too much. We did a lot of walking and we did use the trams a bit - all free in the city core. Another touristy guided tour on the tram was also useful in learning our way around.

All too soon we had to repack our cases and wait for the airport shuttle to take us on our way to Adelaide on Friday.

We were met at the airport by friends Dinny (Jim) and Helen. They kindly took us on a four day guided tour of the Adelaide area with historical highlights and much emphasis on the farming and land-use generally - Dinny had had a career in farm management and related fields (!), and Helen has a farming background too! It was a fascinating place.

On the Saturday Dinny and Helen were volunteering their afternoon in an Oxfam bookshop, so we were left to explore the centre of this rather nicely designed and compact city. Visits to art galleries and museums as well as shopping malls and wandering the streets filled the time nicely and we met D and H at 5 as arranged before heading home to a welcome meal and rest.

The next day, for sensational views over the city, Dinny and Helen took us up to the Mount Lofty lookout, east of the city centre. Later we went to the Cleland wild-life centre - http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/clelandwildlife/Home - which usually offers chances to cuddle a koala. The day we went was too hot for the koalas so we had to make do with photos. Also saw other varieties of mammals, including 'roos and bandicoots, and monitor lizards as well as birds... Unfortunately, the Tasmanian devils and the dingo found it too hot also (34 degrees although it was not humid), and so hid away. We found it quite tolerable if we did not exert ourselves...especially when the car and/or house air-con were turned on!

On Monday we toured one of the wine-growing areas south of Adelaide (McLaren Vale) and at one winery we had a nice lunch with a taste of Kangaroo meat, as well as checking out their wines. Bought a couple of bottles too. Nice way to spend our last full day in Australia..

On Tuesday we flew back to Auckland arriving in time to join Lyndsay's 'intern' Sascha to celebrate his birthday with dinner in a nearby Mediterranean/Lebanese restaurant (Ima Cuisine).

After a restful day on Wednesday, we spent several hours at the Gibbs Farm sculpture park. This is only open a few times a year and often to benefit charities, as was the case this time. The weather was almost perfect, slightly overcast and gentle breeze most of the day although there was one short shower around noon. The sculptures are all large scale works located in the park-like setting of the working farm. In addition to normal live-stock there are alpacas, zebras, giraffes, ostriches, emus and wild turkeys to see. I took loads of photos and some videos. The photos are on the web site.

One day we had lunch in a Turkish cafe with Don and Rosemary at Oneroa on Waiheke Island. Good to see them again, both looking much the same as last year.

There was another SWAG (Seaview Wine Appreciation Group) meeting this week - Seaview is the name of Lyndsay's apartment building. Great bunch of people, all of whom I have met before., and some tasty NZ wines from the Marlborough region - looking forward to attending next year when I might have to be the nominal 'co-host' !

I had read about the NZ Navy Museum - http://navymuseum.co.nz/ - and went over on the ferry to Devonport to see it. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality and presentation of the exhibits. It gives a good overview of the NZ Navy's achievements over more than a century. (Strange that we can see most of the navy in port from the balcony - wonder when and where they go today!). During the visit I was encouraged to listen to the musings of a veteran, played on a hand-held device rather like a phone. I was pleased that I was able to understand a large proportion of his story - in some parts just using the Cochlear implant!

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