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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

A road trip is, for a photographer, a series of missed opportunities. More so, when it is raining, which was the case as we headed north a few weeks ago. The rain and the mist created an ethereal atmosphere, the trees and the hills fading into layers of grey. I love that look – I always have. I was dying to catch it with my camera, but it was teeming, and so I wasn’t getting out of the car as my camera isn’t weather-proofed. Nor, to that matter, was I. So we drove up the coast and then headed into the hills in the centre of the island, just enjoying the scenery, taking artistic shots in my head. At least that way I couldn’t blame my camera or my poor photography skills for not being able to capture the beauty of what we were passing.

We stopped overnight in Taupo, which is only ever an overnight stop for us, and for so many domestic and international tourists. We secured our lake-front motel unit just as it started to rain again, meaning that the walk I wanted to take after five hours in the car didn’t eventuate. We sat inside and watched the black swans and ducks glide around on the calm water aas the rain fell steadily. One day, we’ll stay for longer, go for some walks in the nearby bush, check out the geothermal sights of mudpools and geysers (as it has been 30+ years since we have done that), and maybe finally get that walk around the lake.

After a few more hours drive the next morning, we arrived in Auckland. It’s been a long time since I have driven into the city there – usually we arrive by plane for business or a quick weekend away – and so the experience of the dense but fast traffic on the motorway unnerved me! I felt like the country bumpkin come to town, despite the fact that we’ve driven in and around much larger cities overseas. But since my rainy-day-but-very-gentle accident last year on our local motorway, I’ve been a much more nervous passenger – to my husband’s frustration. We both arrived at our central city hotel with some relief!

We were in Auckland both because it was a) on the way, and b) to indulge two passions, namely the Husband’s love of casinos (I am so grateful we don’t have one in Wellington!), and good food. So my husband headed off to the casino for an hour or so in the afternoons and later at night, when I had the chance to curl up for a nap, or read my book. During the day we walked through gardens, went to the museum, indulged in some food nostalgia with Thai food at lunch (lunchtime Thai food is very different – or should be – from dinner-style Thai food), and decided not to do any shopping!

After a very good meal and pampering experience at Sidart, NZ’s Restaurant of the Year last year, we drove further north. Apart from my sister’s wedding 11 years ago, I’ve only been north of Auckland once before. (I’ve been to Paris more often, which is shocking to me as I write this!) When we there for the wedding, I saw an area with vineyards and native bush and boats and coves and artists and potters, and vowed to return to spend more time there sometime in the future. We had planned to make the trip this time last year, but father-in-law care issues put paid to that, as did COVID in March. So it was good to finally get there, and prepare to relax and explore.

And that’s exactly what we did, as I anticipated here. We relaxed, and pottered around the region. It’s only an hour or so from Auckland, linked by one of NZ’s few toll roads (the fee is a whopping $2.40!), and I’ve heard of so many of the beach communities, which are the weekend playground of Aucklanders. But during the week in the middle of the school term and university exams it was perfectly empty, with just a few travellers doing what we have been told to do – go out and see New Zealand, and try something new. It is spring, and so the weather was warm, and typically we could have fine weather then torrential rain followed by sunshine again within a few hours. That at least meant that we could take things easy with a long lunch or coffee or nap on the couch as the rain came down, before heading out again.

One of the favourite things we did was visit a winery with a celebrated sculpture trail. “It’ll take you about an hour,” they said at the ticket desk, but that didn’t make allowances for a camera happy couple who enjoyed the art and the natural surroundings and wandered slowly. The art was interesting; amusing sometimes, weird others, breathtaking, and puzzling, and exactly what art should be. The natural backdrops were perfect, and the pathway led us through the native bush. This sculpture in the midst of the bush refers to the ghosts of kauri trees, so many of which were felled for their timber before restrictions were put in place. The sadness at the thought of the lost kauri (and those which are currently under threat by a spreading fungus) led to joy as the path wound up into a young(ish) kauri* forest. As we walked to the top of the path, we walked through gates with bells, reminiscent of the torii gates in Japanese temples, yet in a uniquely NZ environment.

The trail begins and ends at the Brick Bay winery restaurant, the Glasshouse. so of course we stayed for lunch, blissfully happy at the warm day, the sights we had seen, the water lilies and the pond and sculpture in front of us, and the particularly nice pinot gris I enjoyed. In fact, the food was just as good as everything else, and we booked to return a day later, when we knew the weather was not likely to be conducive to anything except a long lunch and wine-tasting!

We visited many of the seaside settlements, some more appealing than others. One was clearly the base for the rich and famous from Auckland, although I don’t really understand why you would want to recreate an upper class suburbia at the beach. But elsewhere there were endless inlets and coves, and uncluttered hills with winding roads and fabulous views, which is where I would built my holiday home if I had the money.

The famed local market was a little (or a lot) disappointing, perhaps partly because a) I found some gorgeous hand-made jewellery and didn’t buy any, and b) it was so much smaller than I had expected. I’d anticipated hours of happy wandering and tasting amongst artisans and fresh produce and food, and it didn’t deliver. Still, it was fun it itself, and the crepes we had for breakfast there were delicious! And a visit later to a local handmade pottery place saw the acquisition of a lovely large platter that – surprise of surprises – we both really liked.

The only other disappointment was discovering “Charlie’s Gelato” (albeit without the required apostrophe in their roadsign, which almost stopped me trying it but not quite!) on our last day there. It was only a few minutes from where we were staying, and was so good!  The summery temperatures were perfect for gelato, and it would have been hard to resist if we’d gone earlier in our stay. (As you might know if you followed my Lemons to Limoncello three months in Italy, I adore gelato, and ice-cream generally). Maybe that’s a good thing!

An outing at a regional park brought us unexpected delights too. We’d hoped to walk some of the seafront trails, but again the rain arrived, so we only had fleeting stops at coves in between the rain showers. But the sheer number of pukeko, a native swamp hen, roaming free was surprising, and so many of them had young chicks, all fluffy and black and awkward and cute. We couldn’t stop smiling at them.

We called in at my sister’s place in Tauranga over the weekend to see them, catch up with almost-teenage Charlie (!) and watch her volleyball game, see their new kitchen (which still needed a few finishing touches, including plumbing!), have a good catch-up, enjoy the beauty of their region, and of course to pick up some avocados from their orchard.

There was one more stop before we arrived home, but it was very special, and so I’ll write about that another time. The important thing is that we got home in time for my husband to go to golf, and for me to open a bottle of chardonnay in blissful solitude.

* I’ll write more about kauri on a Thursday Tree blogging day – they deserve more than a passing reference.

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#15 of Blogging with Friends

My mother was born a Rose, and I always envied her that. It’s a beautiful name, but she then became a Rooney, which isn’t bad, but it isn’t great either. It was common in the small farming district where I grew up thanks to my grandmother and my father and his brothers and my cousins. Otherwise it was not a common name – not one I saw in the media, or read in books, though not as unusual as that of friend who was the daughter of Dutch immigrant. But it was odd enough that people generally asked to hear it twice, and were uncertain how to spell it. I used to have to say “like Mickey” but not everyone understood the reference, despite all the replays of his movies that were shown on Sunday afternoons in the days when NZ only had one TV channel. By the 2000s, especially in Europe, it got easier. I remember in 2007 being amazed that a German hotel receptionist just nodded, and said, “yes, like the football player!” It was my first experience in many years when I didn’t have to spell the name, or think carefully whether the person listening would understand if I said, “double O.” (NZers typically spell things this way, saying “double L” or “double S” for example, but we’ve been told that others don’t do that.)

That double O has been problematic for much of my life. For some reason, a lot of people see Rooney (my surname) written down and automatically change it to Rodney. It makes sense when typed or written in upper case, but it annoys me nonetheless. A Cambodian official used to call me Rodney, which bugged me slightly, and I’ve had air crew look at my boarding pass and say, “Welcome aboard, Ms Rodney!” That’s a minor gripe though, compared with the habit a bunch of kids developed in high school, lengthening those Os, adding a few more, intoning my name and that of my cousin (in the same year) to mock us or embarrass us. When I got my AFS scholarship to Thailand, my class bought me a T-shirt with a NZ logo on the front. I was thrilled till I turned it around, and found they had written my name with four – FOUR!!! – O’s on the back. I took the T-shirt to Thailand, and wore it, and so of course, that meant my AFS friends adopted the same habit of lengthening my name, though with – I hope – more affection than mockery.

There’s obviously something about that particular combination of consonants and vowels, as ten years ago or so people started ending words with “ ….arooney.” (Search, for example, the word “fabarooney.”) I’ve even heard Stephen Fry do it on QI! I remember my friend saying it to me casually in a conversation, not even realising until I laughed and pointed out what she was doing!

And I’m not even going to begin to discuss what happens when a woman with a name beginning with an R spends a lot of time in Asia, where they have pronunciation difficulties with Rs and Ls, interchanging them frequently. Think about it.

Still, it is my name. I chose to keep it (or rather, I chose not to change to something new) when I married, sticking to my principles, happy to remain the person I’d been since my birth. I’ve never been Mrs <Husband’s name>, sticking to Ms or preferably just my first name and my surname.

And now I have another name too, also a flower name. Whilst I was given the name in 1980, I never really used it until I began blogging. I’ve been Mali (Thai for “jasmine”) for over 12 years now. I quite like the fact that I am Mali to so many, and I know I will answer to that when (I am being positive here) I eventually get to meet so many of my fellow bloggers and readers.

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The entrance to our farmhouse was always much grander than the farmhouse or in fact the farm itself. The house was situated on the corner of the road, but set back probably about 100 metres, which gave us added privacy. Road noise wasn’t a problem, as the only people who drove up this road were the few people who lived on it (a total of six houses) and the mailman. A driveway wound its way in front of the house, and around to the yard. (I’m using yard in the NZ context, which means a dirt (or mud, depending on the season, or maybe concrete) yard around work buildings.) From the yard, with the dog kennels, farm buildings, haystack, and carports for the cars and tractors, and the cowshed (milking shed/dairy) at the end, there was a large macrocarpa hedge separating the work area from our private garden and little house.

Lining the driveway off the road were large walnut trees.  They’ve been there forever – I realise now I don’t know when they might have been planted, but they’ve been there at least 60 years and probably 80 or more. At times they’d get so huge, joining together at the highest, leafiest points, my father would decide to “top” them, cutting them back sometimes by a third, sometimes more.  They provided luscious shade and privacy in the summer, and in the winter, after they’d lost their leaves, they were a stark but still constant presence.

The walnuts would fall from the trees, and we would harvest them in autumn – around April – and spend winter evenings shelling the walnuts for sale. We only did this in my teenage years – before that they were largely left, I think – and there was never much (any?) money to be made from them. My father was really the only one who liked eating them – though I quite like them now. It was always damp and cold picking up the walnuts that had fallen to the ground, and was not a task I particularly enjoyed. I do love the trees though, and I’m always happy to see that subsequent owners of the farm have kept them. I checked they were still there when we passed by in 2018 in pouring rain, though this photo is from two years earlier. Long may they last.

IMG_20161116_153107 Hook farm walnuts

Another in the Thursday Tree Love series – find all the other bloggers doing it here.

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