Archive for the ‘Spring’ Category

Often in New Zealand we are so hopeful for spring to arrive that we decide 1 September is the first day of spring, but it hasn’t really officially sprung yet, and truth be told, there is always at least one more winter storm to arrive before spring really sets in in October, but there are signs, and it might be premature of me, but I think right now they’re worth celebrating.

On our morning walk this morning, the tui were all going crazy, flying in and out of the vibrant yellow kowhai trees in flower, often the first sign of spring when everything else is grey and bare.

We had a rough weekend, but I went out on the deck today to try to get a shot of one of the aforesaid tui, as two of them were chattering and clacking in our tree, and although they flew off, it was warm enough to wander around in my socks and snap away some of the lovely camellia flowers in our garden, also a harbinger of spring.

As we’re getting back to normal after having a winter filled with our own travel and with travellers arriving here, I feel the urge to spring clean and start afresh.

The first asparagus spears have peaked through the soil in my friend’s garden, and I can’t wait for more to arrive, and to find them regularly in the supermarket, as I eat seasonally, and I’m getting a little tired of the winter vegetables which have all been so expensive this year.

And as I write this, I look out at the wonderful spring light that is shining through our new fence on the driveway, and through the macrocarpa trees, and feel hopeful.

I know that spring can also bring other things, including fierce winds and dust and pollen and allergies, and the temperatures will stay low for a long time yet. But today there is a hope that it is coming, and that lifts my spirits.


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(a variation on a theme)

kowhai spring

  1. For weeks, throughout the city, I’ve been enjoying seeing splashes of yellow from the blooming kowhai, and even though they’re ending now, the yellow is there on the footpaths and roads and in the gutters – just a reminder of the passing seasons.
  2. I need sunglasses again to drive, though I fight against it, squinting my way along the road.
  3. There is asparagus in my fridge, and I’m starting to think about salads, and less about lamb shanks.
  4. It’s birthday season for family, and friends – so many of us have October birthdays, and it is lovely to be able to share it with them all, celebrating surviving another year on this planet.
  5. After months of living in a uniform of jeans (blue or black) with black woollen tops, dressed up or down with jackets or jerseys, it is hard to make decisions about what to wear, never knowing if it will be a last icy blast from the Antarctic, or if summer temperatures will tease.
  6. Pasta and chardonnay nights have resumed every Thursday.
  7. The cruise ships have returned to the city, though I haven’t seen any yet, and I always wonder at the hardy souls who risk coming to New Zealand in spring.
  8. Wellington’s spring winds have returned.

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It’s a long weekend in New Zealand this weekend, as today is Labour Day, and we’ve had a reasonably lazy time of it, enjoying a dinner with a friend on her birthday on Saturday, but we have suffered too for getting up way too early (4 and 5 am respectively) on both Sunday and Monday to watch World Cup rugby games (ie I almost forgot it was a #MicroblogMonday). Unlike the rest of Wellington that disappeared this weekend, we beat the rush and escaped last weekend, to Napier and the Hawke’s Bay, where we stayed in Ahuriri, an area that was lifted in the 1931 earthquake that the town, in a hotel with views of cliffs across the Bay, the Pacific Ocean, wharves, containers and cruise ships, tugs and fishing boats, and locals and tourists in kayaks and yachts.

Apart from bookings at a couple of highly recommended restaurants (one’s first class reputation was entirely justified and a highlight of the weekend, one was interesting but a bit disappointing), our weekend was unplanned. A small but stunning installation at the new art gallery and museum, focusing on the state of immigrant, itinerant workers in the region’s vineyards and fruit orchards, was a highlight, as was the very small basement exhibition on the earthquake, which featured the Morse Code transmissions from the navy ship – HMS Veronica – that was in dock at the time of the earthquake, and which led the first rescue attempts. A walk through the blossom and flower-filled streets afterwards had me looking up at the fabulous art deco buildings built as a result of the earthquake, now a tourist attraction in themselves.

The major reason for visiting the region – other than warm weather and a break away – is wine, and vines abound, along the coast where we enjoyed dinner, and along the Gimblett Gravels area that produces such fabulous Bordeaux-style blends, and more recently wonderful syrah that are fast disappearing out of our price reach, along with excellent chardonnay, tropical sauvignon blanc, riesling and more. Wine-tastings were, of course, compulsory, but these days if we are driving they have to be limited, so we only visited a few (though still managed to fill the boot of the car with some old favourites, and – always a treat – some new discoveries). A local farmer’s market on Sunday morning saw us tasting and buying treats to take home, from delicious macarons – consumed that night – made by the dejected but resilient Frenchman (the All Blacks had demolished his side earlier that morning in the World Cup quarter-final, but he was already joking that he had a black jersey ready for next weekend), to passionfruit and lime curd, Christmas and toffee and ginger puddings, olive oil, and plum sauce.


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For five or six blissful months, I have (mostly) felt safe from the sun. In the winter, I am covered up, out of the sun. But when I’m in it, I’m relaxed. This is not the case the rest of the year. Last Sunday, a lovely day, we considered walking over to our favourite brunch place. I sighed. It is October, spring is in full force, and I knew that if I was going to spend an hour or more outside in the mid-day sun, I would need to cover up, and use suntan lotion. We took the car.

New Zealand and Australia have the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. We (mostly) have temperate climates (if you can call Australia’s regular 40 degree plus temperatures temperate), and very active populations that spend a lot of time outdoors. The man-made ozone hole over Antarctica extends over New Zealand and parts of Australia. It is beginning to heal, but will not be healed until 2070. In the meantime, exposure to the sun in New Zealand brings real risks – risks that you do not see in Europe. Peak UV intensities in New Zealand are about 40% greater than at comparable latitudes in Europe. I shudder when I see Europeans baking in the sun in the northern hemisphere, smeared with oil, something that went out of vogue in New Zealand by the 1980s. Fair-skinned northern Europeans (and their descendants who have spread throughout the world) are at risk everywhere. Sunbathing and a tan – any tan – is a recipe for wrinkles and leathery skin, for freckles and moles, for skin cancer and death. I’m not being melodramatic. A friend of my husband’s, about our age, died of melanoma two years ago.

My father too died of metastasized non-melanoma skin cancer. I have his pale Irish skin and green eyes. I burned badly as a child and teenager when we didn’t really know any better, but I’m very cautious of the sun now. Sunscreen is essential – carried with me during summer, always in the car (I love the high SPF Neutrogena spray cans that go on and stay on dry), and I won’t buy a moisturiser or makeup that doesn’t have SPF protection. Hats too are important. If we’re going to be out for a long time, we might wear long sleeves, and a collar to protect the hard-to-cover back of our necks. Sitting outside for lunch is one of the joys of spring and summer, but I need shade. Huge umbrellas at a café table, or picnics under a tree, are perfect.

I get annual skin checks. Earlier this year my GP removed two moles, just to be careful. I have tried Mole Mapping, but frankly, I have so many moles and freckles, it seems like an impossible task. I try not to be too paranoid, but being conscious of the risk makes me alert and cautious. I hope that’s a sensible balance. Certainly, getting our skin checked regularly is the bare minimum we should do. Today’s National Skin Check Day campaign has reminded me it is time for my annual check.

Spring and summer. They bring light and warmth and hope. But they bring danger too. Beware!

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  1. It’s windy, really windy, spring equinox windy, windy even for Wellington.
  2. Out of the wind, there is real heat in the sun, even when the temperatures are still cold outside.
  3. Everywhere I look, I see splashes of yellow from beautiful kowhai trees.
  4. There is asparagus in my fridge – and on the menu of my favourite brunch place – and basil in a pot on my kitchen benchtop.
  5. It’s birthday season, and my little sister turned … well, I’m not going to tell you, because I think both of us are still coming to terms with the number.
  6. Cafes leave their doors open, thinking summer is here, on days when the sun is shining but it is still only 13 degrees outside, and shivering teenage girls are dressed in shorts or spaghetti strap T-shirts, when IT IS STILL ONLY 13 DEGREES OUTSIDE!
  7. Thursday night was my first pasta and chardonnay night in six months – though I was a rebel, and had pasta and pinot gris, just for a change!
  8. Cruise ships have returned – the first one over a week ago when it was cold, cloudy, windy, and quite miserable, and another today, when the harbour city is sunny, warmer, and much more welcoming.

 kowhai spring

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There’s something about the harbour when the tide is in. It affects my mood, reminds me that where I live is full of beauty, fills my heart – like Evans Bay – near to overflowing, and is, just for that moment, perfect. The picture postcard mornings on the way to the gym, with the water almost up to the floor of the multi-coloured boathouses, the vista smooth and tranquil, are no more beautiful than the harbour today after the gym, the sea that deep cool blue, choppy in the blustery breeze, gorgeous even in its frigid hostility. I love that side of the harbour, yet I continue to drive around the bays, around the point into Oriental Bay, where coffee beckons and, as my friend’s mother once said, it is always Sunday. Here, the feeling is more hospitable, the water calmer, silvery, glittering in the sun, edged and protected by the city buildings, and green hills where I make my home.

Today though, an icy Antarctic blast reminds us that spring is simply a date on the calendar, not a reading on a thermometer, and I wrap my red scarf and woolly coat close around me. Still, I like to think that there is a subtle promise in the angle and the brightness of the sunlight that, one day soonish, spring might actually be a reality.


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Just four days after my drive through Canterbury, my husband and I climbed in our car for another drive, this time over the hill but not so far away, just a little more than an hour really, though it was probably less as we had stopped in Petone for a Subway sandwich by the beach, foolishly thinking it would be quicker than making a sandwich at home, so it was really only 45 minutes from the foreshore with its view of the blue harbour on a warm spring day until we arrived in Martinborough, over the Rimutaka hills and their winding sometimes scary (but safer these days with the new highway) roads steeply up then down, through drowsy little Featherston, along the green plains and down into Martinborough, a charming wine village that was quite literally blooming with spring, with kowhai and cherry blossoms and rhododendrons in full colour, exuberant and joyful at the prospect of the coming summer; a wine village that is home to my friend Peony and her husband, (and various other members of her family who have followed her pilgrimage there) and to their olive grove and charming cottage and lavender and croquet lawn and quince trees in full flower, and their separate guest accommodation, thankfully not rented out this weekend but reserved for us, so we could go wine-tasting without fear at Palliser and Cabbage Tree and Martinborough Wines – where Craig last year bought a $70 bottle of pinot noir that he probably should have cellared for several years but couldn’t really (because of the flight home to Florida) so we drank it that night with Hells’ pizza – and on to Tirohana wines where we had tired of tasting and wanted simply to drink, so the chef whipped up a platter of cheeses to accompany a bottle of rosé and we sat on the terrace in the late afternoon sun before heading back to the cottage (though first we gate-crashed Peony’s sister to see her soon-to-be world-famous-in-New Zealand eco-house, completely off-the-grid and sustainable but with interesting modern design and a wine cellar to die for and a fabulous, drool-inducing chef’s kitchen, which is appropriate because the man of the house is a talented chef) where it was time to roast the lamb and ice the chocolate cake and drink some champagne and nibble on the sourdough bread dipped in olive oil made from the olives only metres from us, before eating the said meal and consuming more of the said champagne, and some delicious pinot noir we had bought earlier in the afternoon, and a nice nine-year-old syrah from the Gimblett Gravels about four hours up the road, and finally finishing the evening by looking at their inspiring photos (requested by us, not imposed by them I must stress) of their Peru trip earlier in the year (where I now really want to go though I will need to brush up on my Spanish) before collapsing into a warm and comfortable bed, exhausted by the talking but mostly by all that wine, where we quickly fell asleep, only slightly and ever-so-briefly unnerved by the complete and utter silence outside.


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