Archive for the ‘Things I like’ Category

I’m in the midst of a big change. I’ve taken the plunge. Decided it was time. Decided if anyone has a problem with it, it says more about them than it does about me. Still a bit nervous, but not enough to stop doing it.

It was the lockdown, you see. Seven weeks when I only saw my husband, or neighbours on walks, or friends/family on Zoom. Gradually, as the weeks went on, I got used to it. Became fascinated by it. Realised I quite liked it, in a strange – to me, at least – kind of way. Then our lockdown ended, our communities declared COVID-free, and I had no reason to be shy, to stay inside, to stay away from people. I took tentative steps out, feeling a little exposed.

I hoped it was obvious enough to seem deliberate. I was aware of the double standards around it. Fine for men, but questionable for women. Fine for blonds to show theirs, but not for brunettes. I waited a bit longer. I was coping so far, and the longer I waited, the more it became something that seemed doable. Great reactions from a friend the first time we met post-lockdown encouraged me to continue.

Winter helped. Cold weather encourages hibernation, scarves and hats, shoulders held high around our necks keeping us warm. But that made me wary of taking the next step.

Finally, last week, it was time. I couldn’t delay any longer. Time to see if I could really do it, or if I would backslide, leaving the big decision for another day, month, year. So I took the plunge, dived in, got rid of the old, and emerged anew. Looking fresher, younger even, which was unexpected. Looking authentic. Surprisingly, to me at least, feeling authentic. Feeling free. I didn’t see that coming.

In case it wasn’t obvious, I have embraced the grey/silver/white. It first started appearing in my mid-20s, so it has been with me a long time. I don ‘t regret colouring. I’ve heard (and seen) a few self-righteous mid-50 year olds possessing only a smattering of greys and silvers in amongst their mostly dark hair criticise those of us who have coloured. But they didn’t have to face that in their 20s or 30s or even 40s. So I don’t criticise anyone for colouring. I just always knew it was coming. I didn’t want to be my aunt, who coloured her hair jet black into her 70s. When she finally grew out her dye, she had beautiful soft white hair. It was rare to see a Thai woman with grey or white hair, but the black hair on 70-and-80-year-olds never looked natural or right to me.

Ultimately, colouring perpetuates the image that ageing is a bad thing, that women need to be young or appear young to remain attractive. I knew that of course. But peer pressure and judgement is powerful. I’ve read people who have said they are embracing the grey because they don’t care, using a hashtag #greyhairdon’tcare. It’s not that they don’t care about their appearance, as implied by judgemental others. What they don’t care about is society’s obsession with youth, particularly for women, and society’s obsession in controlling how women should look and behave. They – perhaps I should now say WE – don’t care about the peer pressure, the double standards (the “men look distinguished, women look old” lying distortion of beauty), the way our appearance is so often related to value. It’s so wrong. It’s so sexist. It’s so discriminatory. I’m so over it all!

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Week 14 of Blogging with Friends

Last week, my husband and I ventured to Zealandia, a nature reserve and bird sanctuary that was established about 20 years ago. We’ve been only once before, accompanying elderly family members. This time we were ready to walk, and I went with camera in hand. It was cold, and it had rained the day before, so paths were a little muddier and more slippery than we had expected, so we kept to the easy path to start. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Zealandia is free to the public until the end of June, and so we’re hoping to go again this week, after a few dry days, and will venture onto other paths.

Zealandia was made as a bird sanctuary to be predator free, with high fences to avoid predators (cats, stoats etc) jumping over it, and dug deep into the earth to avoid predators (rats, etc) digging under the fence. There are multiple gates to walk through, to keep the birds safe. New Zealand birds are particularly vulnerable to predators, having evolved free of them until the arrival of humans. This is why many of our birds are flightless – they simply no longer needed to fly to survive. Sadly, the huge moa was such a good source of meat that they were hunted to extinction as a result. This sanctuary now has many protected species that call it home. Its extraordinary success has seen an absolute explosion in the bird population across Wellington, including the tui and kaka and kereru I love to photograph at home, and have talked about here ad nauseum.

As we arrived, we could see the endangered kaka parrots circling above the hills around us, squawking like the parrots they are. We knew we’d see plenty of tui – there is even an area called the Tui Terrace, where they have feeding stations, offering good photo opportunities.

A tui in Zealandia

But I didn’t actually expect to see a takahe, once thought extinct and still one of New Zealand’s most endangered species with a population of only around 400, to wander out in front of us. Apparently they feed them around 11 am every day, and the takahe turn up right on time.

These birds may be living in an enclosed reserve, but they are free to survive and thrive here without fear from predators. So too, their human kiwi cousins are now free to survive and thrive within our borders without fear of COVID-19. Today it was announced that we are free of the virus, after the recovery of our last case. At midnight tonight, all restrictions on life within New Zealand are lifted. Our borders are still closed, and we are still asked to keep track of our movements for contact tracing purposes, but other than that we can get back to life as normal. As free as a bird. I wish the rest of the world could enjoy this feeling too.

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Week 12 of Blogging with Friends

I love a road trip. That’s no secret. And as our PM has announced that, as of Thursday, we are free now to move around the country, and support our local tourism businesses, it seems appropriate that this week my Blogging with Friends topic is “take me on a walk, or road trip.” I’ve taken you on road trips before. I initially was going to take you on a short one, giving you intimate details of a short, lockdown drive my husband has been making to visit his father. But suddenly life seems a bit freer here, so I’m going to whisk you around the South Island, on my favourite route. No, it’s not a short trip; in fact, ideally you’d take three to four weeks (or more). But I’ll try to keep it brief. And a note for hopeful future travellers – I highly recommend this for international visitors too, as I think it is varied and captures the best of the South Island.

The perfect road trip begins on the ferry, just five minutes drive from our house. We leave the lovely harbour, cross the sometimes treacherous Cook Strait, and enter the always calm Marlborough Sounds, gliding through the Tory Channel and Queen Charlotte Sound, before arriving at cute little Picton, which we barely see as we drive off the ferry and into our South Island road trip.

We’re heading for the West Coast, but first we’ll make a quick photostop at Lake Rotoiti. This is where the famous West Coast sandflies first make an appearance, and as I always forget to have any insect repellent on hand, I take a few snaps, and get back in the car eager to continue my journey.

Lake Rotoiti, with mountains in the distance

Lake Rotoiti

In what feels like the middle of nowhere, we might take some sustenance for a meat pie and a coffee at the Inangahua café too. I have stories about meat pies, always a Kiwi favourite (especially amongst the men), but will save them for another post sometime. We’ll drive down the West Coast, one of my favourite stretches of road in New Zealand, from the aptly named Cape Foulwind in the north, past lakes and wild coastline and snowy mountains and glaciers, through beech and kahikatea/totara (podocarp) forests and narrow stretches of farmland squeezed between the Southern Alps and the Tasman Sea.

Road trips in New Zealand require patience – roads are windy and hilly, and so distances become deceptive. But that’s part of the joy of this route too – meandering around hills and landscapes, and never quite knowing what you’re going to see or find next. So we would usually overnight at least once on this road. Last time we did this route, just 18 months ago, we had two overnight stops, and enjoyed that little bit more freedom it gave us to explore and do some bush walks, and just relax in the beauty of this area.

When we leave the coast, we head west and then south again, through the gentle Haast Pass, a route lined with waterfalls, down through a valley with classic NZ shots of sheep grazing with snowy mountains behind. There are plenty of lovely spots to stop and take photos, or have a picnic, if you’re well-organised. We rarely are, and my most common phrase on a road trip – in NZ and throughout the world – is always, “that would have been a great shot” as we speed past!

Sheep grazing with snow-capped mountains behind

Sheep on Haast Pass Road

We arrive at Central Otago’s large lakes. Wanaka is my favourite spot here – I reminisce about childhood holidays in this area, known for its cold winters and hot summers. It’s beautiful in all seasons, though I associate it most with summer. Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu is – usually – tourist central, filled with adrenalin-spiking activities, or if you prefer, beautiful mountain scenery, winter skiing or summer walks, and really, really good wineries. A platter lunch surrounded by vines, coupled with a Central Otago pinot noir, looking up at the dramatic rocky Central Otago cliffs, is an absolute delight, and the reason we go there.

Now we head “home,” up to the east coast of the South Island. We take the Lindis Pass. It’s remote, and barren, but when you get up into the tussock at the top of the Pass it is beautiful, with rolling hills and the play of light and shadow.

View of the tussock-covered hills and valleys of the Lindis Pass

Lindis Pass

From there, it’s all downhill, down through the barren MacKenzie Country, past the three large hydro lakes and power stations on the Waitaki River, where my father used to go fishing (and where I caught my first and last trout), and cousins still holiday as often as possible. We turn inland, crossing the river, and drive through increasingly familiar farmland, where friends from school lived, through a narrow gorge, and arrive at the town where I went to high school. It seems so small now, and I don’t know anyone there anymore, but the streets are still wide, the gardens still lovely, and the huge silos are now covered in murals of local luminaries, including NZ’s first female GP, a local Maori chief, a former NZ Prime Minister who was born in the town, and a local hero and Victoria Cross recipient.

Silos with paintings of a Victoria Cross recipient Eric Batchelor, and Margaret Cruickshank, NZ's first female GP.

Waimate’s painted silos

Once I tear myself away from childhood memories – which always include a detour loop off the main highway down past the farm where I grew up, and these days a stop with my sister about half an hour further north – we’re into the Canterbury plains. They used to be lined with wheat fields when I was a child. These days, dairy beats wheat, fed by irrigation from the several great local rivers. The Southern Alps are now far to the west, but they are almost always visible under the plains big skies.

Christchurch is often an overnight (or two) stop as we head north. A chance to catch up with friends, check on rebuilding progress after the earthquake, and for the Husband to visit the casino. We met here, many moons ago, at university, so it is a city dear to our heart. Continuing on our final leg of the trip, I’ll take you the coastal route north, through the North Canterbury vineyards (where I get a favourite riesling and chardonnay) and then out to the coast, looking out for seals sunning themselves on the rocks, and a stop in Kaikoura, perhaps for some of the local koura (crayfish/lobster) of its name. Our last trip we saw all the new roads, the evidence of rockfalls, and the sea floor that had been lifted high and dry in the 2016 earthquake.

We arrive in the vineyards of Marlborough. Famous the world over for its sauvignon blanc, it is well set up for relaxed vineyard lunches, wine tasting, or staying out surrounded by the vines. We have come here for destination dinners (celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary), quick lunches before or after catching the ferry, relaxed stops of a day or two or three, or just for a weekend break. The chocolate factory is always worth a visit too, before heading back through the narrow gorge to get to Picton, in the heart of the beautiful and tranquil Marlborough Sounds, filled with canoeists and boaties and tourists in their camper vans (though not at the moment), and the ferries taking us home.

Vineyards backed by ranges of hills

Marlborough vineyards

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