New Zealand Notes - January - March 2018

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

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Part 1 - January 13th - February 13th

As usual I was based in Auckland staying with Lyndsay. We managed to go to a couple of art shows in January. The first (19 Jan) was a Banksy exhibition at the Aotea Centre in Auckland. He really knows how to make a point in a novel/twisted way. Great fun.

On Sunday (21st) we visited a Sculptureum in Matakana (see some miles north of the city. We booked a tour where the owner (Anthony Grant) gave a guided tour including various parts of the exhibition,and that proved very interesting. He was obviously unconventional in his processes of selection/curating the works, and made a point of not consulting with "professionals" in both selecting and displaying his artwork. Well worth a visit.

House maintenance this time around was rather limited, with the replacement of a tap handle and clearing a blocked drain using Drano being the major tasks. However Lyndsay's car required a little attention and I replaced the door handle which had simply loosened and fallen off at some point... surprisingly easy to fix.

As Lyndsay had her pacemaker exchanged because the battery needed changing, I was able to borrow her car during the following two weeks while she was not permitted to drive. Friends and neighbours (and interns) assisted her with shopping and other errands. I arranged to go first to Napier, then on to Wellington with a few diversions en route.

In Napier I stayed a few days with cousin Shirley and then spent the weekend with friends Pete and Shona in Waimarama which is on the coast south of Napier.. Weather has been rather strange... hot (over 30 some days) and humid over the whole country including the far south of the south island although some places are suffering from a drought. Good job there are sea breezes to get relief in most places... and thank goodness Shirley has air conditioning!

Napier is changing, with a "refresh" of the sea-front gardens and pathways as well as new 'traffic calming' measures to the road - all apparently planned and completed since my last visit!. Lots of kids still around in the late evening as school has not yet gone back --- I think it starts next week. There seem to be more cruise ships coming in too.

Heading for Wellington, I decided to take detour to visit a unique location on the globe. The longest place name in the world (or so they claim) is a spot on the map 100 km or so south of Napier as the crow flies, though a good deal further by road. I had learned the name from a record my brother Ray (Lyndsay's husband) sent me in the early 1960s. Peter Cape had managed to put it into a song...(The only version I could find on youtube is not his: ) I also remembered how to sing/say and spell most of it, but they appear to have added some extra syllables to ensure it really is the longest name....

"There's a joker on a hill-top playing a flute.
Cooler than Goodman, boy he was beaut.
And the thought that he thought in between each toot
Was Taumatawhakatangihangakoauautamateapokaiwhenuakitinatahu."

Wellington: it was almost as hot as Napier and Auckland when I arrived, but by the end of the week had settled down to its usual windy, and relatively cool. self! However, there were several days that allowed reasonable walking, so with my brother Bill and Meryl, his wife, I got my exercise in for the week.

This time I stayed with Neesha and Alan for a few days as Meryl and Bill had a nephew from Kaitaia staying with them. For the last part I stayed with Jan.

We also visited the Gallipoli exhibition at Te Papa, a stunning show, though rather depressing, or perhaps more appropriate words are "thought-provoking" and/or "horrifying".

We celebrated four family birthdays where I met up with just about everybody who was in town!!! And I introduced them to Canadian Ice Wine, which was most appreciated!!!

During the two day drive back to Auckland I used an AirBnB "homestay" in Mananui on the banks of the Whanganui river, not far from National Park. The host was an interesting character who played piano in a local lounge bar. Very opinionated about political issues in NZ, but we had an interesting chat covering transportation (ban long-distance trucking and bring back the railways), maori and pacific islanders (not going there!), Labour governments (he sounded like a red-necked National Party member), Winston Peters (who everyone loves to hate)...

Now I am back in Auckland looking out over a rather gloomy harbour scene with rain dripping down the window, and am only just able to see the edge of the quay! but hoping to get out for a walk later today. Forecast not great though...

Part 2: February 13th - March 21st

Lyndsay and I hosted a very successful Wine tasting. SWAG (Seaview Wine Appreciation Group) has about 10 members all residents of the apartment building where Lyndsay lives - so no driving required by anybody. We decided to choose wines from British Commonwealth countries, although we found there were not many represented in NZ. It finished with a Canadian Ice Wine, preceded by an assortment of characteristic wines from former British colonies, including a Californian Zinfandel (well it is an ex colony - sort of!). Later we had a short whisky tasting with appreciative neighbours which also went well. Friends Don and Rosemary visited from Waiheke Island, but we didnt make it over there this time...

The NZ Maritime Museum in Auckland offers various harbour trips on historic vessels, so I decided to try one on the sailing bark "Ted Ashby". It was an exhilarating experience as there was a nice breeze and the crew really did have to work at raising and lowering sails as well as trimming them, even though it was quite a short outing. We passed under the Harbour bridge and witnessed a couple of (probably German) bungy-jumpers getting their thrills.

South Island excursion

Lyndsay and I decided to spend a couple of weeks in the south of the South Island, finishing up in Christchurch to stay for a few days with John and Jo. I flew down to Invercargill on 1st March to visit Stewart Island solo as Lyndsay has been there several times. She flew down to join me on 5th March and we rented a car to drive from Invercargill to Christchurch over the next week or so.

Stewart Island

I spent 3 nights at the Stewart Island Backpacker which I found very comfortable and handy for town (but then everywhere is nearby!). Highlights included:

Much of this is best covered by the photographs on the website. During my stay I chatted with several other visitors (predominantly German!) and all agreed it was a fantastic spot.

I got back to Invercargill to pick up the car and stayed in a local back-packer- the former Grand Hotel which apparently hosted the Queen Mother on a trip in the 1960s. The present manager was very keen to show me the various rooms where royal functions were held. It was all rather 'faded splendour'. Although I didnt have much time in the city I managed to visit the museum which includes a special display of a successful tuatara (rare ancient lizard) breeding program with no at least nine at present in residence from months old to 50 plus! Despite the inclement weather I took a brief look at Bluff, the furthest extent of the main State highway, but the rain and mist were too much for an extended stay so back to Invercargill to pick up Lyndsay at the airport and on to the next part of the trip.

The Catlins

We stayed in a nice clean motel in Owaka, unfortunately arriving just too late for the local restaurants which either closed at 7pm, or were not open on Mondays! Luckily we managed to get into the supermarket and pick up a couple of TV dinners and a bottle of wine before it too closed!.

Lake Wilkie is a "mirror lake" near Papatowai. In a deep sheltered valley and surrounded by bush, it is a perfect place for reflection photography. Some of my efforts are on the photo pages.

A walk to Cathedral Caves was quite a challenge though we were fortunate with the tide as well as the pleasant weather. It is about 1.5 km from the carpark down to the beach - 100 m below. The caves are certainly spectacular and worth a visit, but then the return trip must be tackled. We made it, though Lyndsay was thankful there was no rush (as was I) and we paused often!!! This was followed by a pleasant lunch at the nearby Laughing Frog.

I unfortunately had left an essential piece of equipment (the battery charger for my cochlear implant) in the Backpackers in Invercargill, and after good deal of thought decided that the simplest and least worrying thing to do was simply to drive there and pick it up. As we had done a fair amount of walking that day, Lyndsay was happy to rest up at the motel, and I did the return trip in about 5 hours, getting home just before dark, (despite finding some main highways in that part of the world are still not paved...).

We also visited Surat Bay - where we were very fortunate to see a NZ sea lion and pup, one of only a handful born on that beach over the past decade, and Nuggett Point lighthouse.

The Catlins are certainly a beautiful and interesting part of the Southland/Otago area and I thoroughly recommend them. We saw a lot in the couple of days we were there, but had to miss out significant bits too, including New Zealand's Niagara Falls...See number 9 on the list.

Taieri Gorge Railway

The AirBnB overnight in Dunedin was very comfortable, but we had to get up early to be at the station to meet John and Jo (from Christchurch) for our next adventure, a railway trip up the Taieri Gorge and back. While we waited at the turnaround point of the trip in Pukerangi, the train manager picked some field ('horse') mushrooms which were the size of dinner plates! How mean of him not to tell us about them when we first arrived at the terminus!!! (However - see note below).

John's daughter-in-law Annie was on duty at the Dunedin Chinese Garden so we were treated to a short tour of this authentic replica of a traditional scholar's garden. A wonderful experience and very similar to the ones I saw and enjoyed in China a few years ago.

Restaurants near Oamaru

Lyndsay's 'bucket list' included visiting (and eating at) "Fleurs Place" in Moeraki, and the "Riverstone Kitchen" near Oamaru. We again stayed in an AirBnB place close to Oamaru, where we were well looked after by Robyn and Bob. Their house had a magnificent view over the Pacific and Rob cooked the most amazing scrambled eggs! Thoroughly recommended.

Both restaurants lived up to Lyndsay's expectations, and I also enjoyed the experience. In Fleur's case, the food was mostly fish - and all of it was caught and landed the same day in the (very) nearby fishing jetty. Lyndsay was able to have a chat with the owner (Fleur of course!) and explained that she and Ray had missed an opportunity to dine at her previous location in Dunedin by a day about 20 years previously. Fleur was an outgoing friendly host, and we were pleased to enjoy our meal there. She now employs a chef rather than cook herself. We get the impression that she keeps a very careful eye on the quality... It turns out that Chris and I, with Bill and Meryl, had eaten there on our visit in 2004, and we were equally impressed at the time, though had no knowledge of its reputation.

The Riverstone Kitchen is part of a conglomeration of businesses run by the Smith family, whose driving force is Dot - her son Bevan is the chef and her husband Neil runs the farms (six of them). The restaurant is in a stand-alone building next to Dot's castle (Dot always wanted to be a princess in her castle and now is almost there, though she hasn't moved in yet), and surrounded by its own gardens. Apparently all of the vegetables come from these - if the chef needs a carrot or a sprig of parsley he could just pop outside and pick it!!! And the meat is from local farms too. So freshness and innovative cooking were the highlights there. Note: We were able to lay our hands on a kilo of nice big and tasty Otago 'horse' mushrooms courtesy of the chef at the Riverstone Kitchen! We ate them during our stay with John and Jo.

Christchurch and Purau

Our good friends John and Jo were temporarily living in Jo's cottage near Lyttelton outside of Christchurch, as their house was occupied by some visitors from France. (They belong to an organisation that arranges house-swaps aroung the world). We were delighted to relax for a few days in a wonderfully quiet and relatively unspoilt part of the Banks Peninsula. The cottage is set on quite a large section/lot, most of which has been placed under a protective covenant and is being allowed to revert to its natural state over the coming generations without danger of development. We spent a day in Christchurch itself exploring some of the newly rebuilt city centre and speculating on how it might look in a few years. They have done a good job so far and it will be interesting to see progress in future visits. Much remains to be completed... We visited the Canterbury Earthquake Memorial overlooking the river and main park.

Back to Auckland and on to Ottawa

We flew back to Auckland and I had just enough time to warm up and get ready for my flight home. Managed to attend a couple of concerts in parks over my last weekend: some jazz in Manurewa and the NZ Air Force brass band at Falls Park, Henderson. Also the usual walking at Takapuna Beach and Kohimarama, despite some threatening (warm) rain. My flights home were uneventful and I arrived on time in Ottawa. I was lucky on the TransPacific flight to have an empty seat adjacent, and even managed to get some sleep, although I did end up with a stiff neck. Indy and Fi were pleased to see me home. After a few days I was waking at more or less the right time, but found that winter had returned with a vengeance so I haven't been able to get out on my bike yet...

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