Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

I’ve been away the last week, taking advantage of some (sadly only) temporary help (but welcome nonetheless) in the elder care situation. We visited the northeast of the country, to a part I’ve only ever visited for business, flying in to a factory with foreign visitors and then out again.

This time we took the slow route, taking time to stop on the way, to enjoy the landscape that is similar yet subtly different. The road north along the Pacific coast is winding, up and down hills and rarely opening up to large vistas, around farms and commercial pine forests, the large logging trucks ensuring we maintained vigilance on the roads, the dairy farms replaced by sheep – the farming of old New Zealand – then the sheep replaced by vines – the farming of new New Zealand – and then north into the hills, finding beef cattle everywhere, grazing on lush green grass, living the good life. Then we came across goats, more goats than I had seen anywhere in New Zealand, the source no doubt of the goat curries we saw on some menus in the area, and of the cashmere in the beautiful Tolaga Bay woollens I had bought in the years when income came easier.

We drove north to the bays of the Whale Rider, and the now disused wharves of formerly bustling communities, and through areas that have been home to hundreds of generations of Maori, past small marae and meeting houses, and in the local museum, we heard a class being shown around entirely in Te Reo, the beautiful language of their ancestors that has seen a rebirth in recent decades.

We stayed on a long, golden beach, where surfers rode the waves after work, and locals and visitors of all ages walked, some with dogs or small children or both running around them, some alone, some holding hands with those they love. The magic of knowing we were in the first city in the world to see the sun was made better by the beauty of the location (and the sunrise), the calming white noise of the waves, and the pleasure of briefly being free.


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When Kiwis travel to Europe, we are often entranced by the picturesque countryside, and the charming ruins. We ignore our own scenes – they’re too ordinary, with no charm, exoticism, history, we think.

But we are wrong. In the last few years, I’ve become entranced with our own rural ruins. Many are old wooden houses that are falling into decay, paint wearing off, wood rotting, battered by the elements, the winds and rain, sun and frost. Many others are corrugated iron farm buildings – barns or shearing sheds, often patched with different colours, gaping holes – and it isn’t always obvious whether they are no longer in use.

I love the idea of taking a series of photographs of these buildings, but I’m not confident enough, so we drive past, trying to figure out which angle would give the best shot, whether a house is abandoned or still occupied, and looking for a good place to stop and set up my camera … some time in the future. I did it again today, thinking, “one day.”

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Last year, summer did not turn up here in Wellington, but it must have had a guilty conscience as a result, because this year it arrived about a month earlier than usual, and in November we were already having our first barbecue, and eating outside, which in itself is a bit of a novelty in Wellington, hitting the combination of warm enough temperatures and lack of wind to be able to eat outside in the evening.

I have already received mockery from various unsympathetic friends on Fb when I have complained that these high (for us) temperatures overheat our house and that sleeping becomes difficult, so I’m not going to give you the numbers, and I will point out that everything is relative. We don’t have air-conditioning, and our house is built to catch the sun, not to hide it (for most of the year this is a good thing), but right now, we spend all afternoon and early evening trying to find the perfect combination of ventilation, directed air-flow, and closed curtains to keep out the sun. Of course, my husband and I have endless arguments on how this should be done, and when the heat makes us (okay, me) cranky, we do not agree to disagree on this matter.

Last night was cool, and I slept well (after the Australian Open Final finished about 1 am), but today the cloud from yesterday has lifted, the sky is blue, the heat pumping into the house and bedroom, with the forecast remaining warm for the next few days, and so we have a zoo trip and a barbecue for visiting relatives planned on Wednesday. Whilst this ability to plan in summer may be normal for many of you, it isn’t for me, or for most Wellingtonians, as usually, the one thing we can rely on is that our weather is changeable, and that just when the heat seems to be unbearable and lasting way too long, the winds will change and we will get some much-needed respite. I see lower temperatures and rain is forecast for Friday – a good day for the museum, I think.

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In these years of waning numbers of Christmas cards, both sent and received, I try to keep the cards I receive one year so that I am reminded to return the favour the following year. This year, there was one card I didn’t get around to returning, as I got caught up with overseas visitors, and then once Christmas had passed, it seemed too late. I’m sorry, Betsy and Craig!

I have had the card sitting on top of my desk, and finally, yesterday, after several weeks, I actually looked at it, and I thought, “I know that square!”
I knew exactly where it was, and went immediately to the photograph that would prove it:

Yes, in December 2016, my friend in Florida (though first met in my home town in New Zealand 37 years ago when she was an exchange student) sent me a Christmas card with a scene on it from Stockholm, a city I had already booked tickets to visit in May 2017, Then on my visit, without realising it, I photographed the same corner of the same square, in the Old Town, Gamla Stan. Although I will admit, the square looks much more appealing in December.

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A week ago, we packed our bags and the car, and headed over the hill – this one – to stay overnight with friends at their charming cottage amidst an olive grove.

They welcomed us with a lovely late lunch of delicious dark, seedy bread and cheese and tomatoes and asparagus and pâté and salami, and of course, being in a wine town we had to indulge in some local rosé, which is always perfect for a summery lunch and for nibbling with fresh berries from the garden.

Then came the business end of the day, as the croquet lawn was calling to us, and the game of the day was Croquet Golf – or was it Golf Croquet? My husband and I have only ever played once, some years ago, but beginner’s luck must have been upon us, as we took the first game 7-4. The second game didn’t go so well, with my husband wondering aloud, after further fortification from the rosé, just why the ball wasn’t going straight anymore! By that time it was close to 5 pm, and we figured that it must be time for some champagne – of course!

After a delicious biryani dinner and more berries from their garden, we took to the lawn for the deciding game, although by this time, our croquet brains had decided that attack was the best form of defence, and we all aimed at each others’ balls as often as we aimed at the hoops to score points. Appropriately, our hosts’ years of practice paid off and they trounced us soundly, so we retired to the campfire, and as the sun set and the almost-super moon rose, we chatted and sipped some more; a perfect end to a perfect day.




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Yesterday I finished a major project. It was the third of the photobooks I have created from our trip earlier this year to Iceland, the Baltic, and Norway. I’m very proud of it, as our photos from Norway in particular are beautiful. It would almost be impossible to visit Norway and come away without beautiful photos. Some of my favourite photographs were taken out the front of the car as we were driving, and some required a bit more thought or design; here are just a few.

Fjaerlandfjord, with boats in the foreground and snow on the mountains

Fjaerlandfjord, from our beautiful hotel, is the cover of our Norway photobook

A bookshelf on Fjaerlandfjord, with Boyabreen glacier behind

Mundal, on Fjaerlandfjord, is an international book town

The Geiranger-Trollstigen national scenic tourist route, surrounded in snow

The Geiranger-Trollstigen national scenic tourist route

Fb reminded me that this time last year I had already booked our flights and the Baltic cruise, and I was right in the middle of researching and planning our travel. I realised last night that, on and off, I’d spent a year planning and organising our trip, being on the trip, or completing photobooks after the trip. Of course, those aren’t the only things I have been doing, but I do feel that now I have some real space to think about other things. It’s time to move onto other long-neglected projects, and you know, that’s quite an exciting thought.


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My major project at the moment is sorting through hundreds of photographs from our trip. Both my husband and I had cameras – his a compact but with an enviable 40x zoom lens, and mine a mirrorless with interchangeable lenses – and we snapped away merrily at anything that took our interest.

There’s a point of view, often expressed scathingly, that those of us who like to take photographs (I’m focused on travel photography, rather than events or family gatherings) become observers, rather than staying in the moment, really experiencing what is around us. I heard this opinion again recently on the radio here, and then saw another article about it, and I have to confess that I’m getting a bit sick of the holier-than-thou attitudes of those who profess it. They seem to assume that photographers just want bragging photos they can put up on Instagram or Facebook and that by looking through a lens, we’re not actually looking with our eyes. As with anything, there are always extremes, and I like to walk the middle road.

I take photographs, but either before I take shots or after or both, I drink in the experiences. We spend a lot of money on our travels, and I am determined to embrace them – the sights, sounds, food, and feelings – to the limit. As I am a writer, I like to fully experience something so that I can describe it later. For every photograph of a fjord in Norway or a grand building in St Petersburg or every volcanic cone or lava field in Iceland there were dozens taken in my mind or written about in my head, and believe me, they take much more concentration and awareness of where I am and what is happening around me.

When I take photographs, I try to capture what had me gasping in awe, or laughing in amusement, or reeling in horror, in those photos. Whilst I’m an opportunistic photographer – I take what is in front of me (or within easy walk!), rather than carefully planning and composing shots – I also try to think about what I’m taking, and why I am taking it. I’m not good at taking photographs of people, as I feel rude and voyeuristic, though I adore looking at others’ shots of interesting people or people in interesting places. I wish I was braver!

I find thinking about composition or zooming in gives me an added appreciation of the view or events in front of me. Zooming, in particular, allows me to capture small nuances that might otherwise be missed. For example, I’ve learned a new appreciation and love of birds since I’ve had a camera that could capture them in detail. And sometimes there might be an unexpected bonus when we look at our zoomed-in image.

For example, here’s a long shot of a farmhouse dwarfed under a rock face, and then the close-up when we were able to find an off-road park.

But I was truly delighted when we got home to discover that this shot included a lot of old turf buildings outside the main farmhouse.

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The unexpected turf buildings

Blown up they’re grainy, but even when I look at the long shot, I now know they’re there, and it tells me so much more about Iceland and farming life and living there in the past.

I don’t take photographs just for Instagram. In fact, until we left on this trip I didn’t even have an Instagram account, and I probably posted more photos (maybe one or two every couple of days) on Facebook for family and friends who were interested. Equally, because I adore travel, I also adore seeing other people’s photographs too.

I don’t take selfies for a lot of reasons. But when they’re too frequent – they always seem to be more about the person (“look at me, look at me, look at me,” as Kath would say) than the place or events occurring where they are. Though my father always said that he liked to see a photograph with a person in it, so we always take a few shots with one of us in it or both, and likewise, when family or a friend is travelling, I love seeing their faces pop up in exotic places. Most recently I’ve loved seeing friends’ faces in Istanbul and Macchu Picchu and Scotland.

Unlike a lot of people, I actually do things with my photographs when I get home, and love looking back at favourite trips in our photobooks (and albums in the pre-digital days), or with the photos hung on my wall or the ones that flick up in my screensaver (which is one of the best ways to regularly see your favourite photos). I have a good memory for people and places – but seeing the photos keep the memories alive. And besides, it means we’re getting better value for money for those flights and accommodation every time I look at a photo and smile.

It’s not a case of “pics or it didn’t happen.” Many of the most memorable occasions on our trip could not be captured in a photograph. Driving across the vast sand and ash plains of southern Iceland, desperate to beat the predicted high winds that could sandblast our rental car (and empty our bank accounts), was a bit scary but quite exhilarating. Likewise, it was wonderful driving through the huge lava fields of southern Iceland, enjoying the textures and play of light of the lichen and moss growing on the lava, imagining what it must have been like as the lava flowed. The three or more hours we spent sailing through an archipelago of islands when leaving Sweden gave us a wonderful snippet of rural and weekend Swedish life. Standing out on the deck of our ship as it spun on a pinpoint in the river in St Petersburg, pushed and pulled at the same time by tugs, was a special treat few would ever get to experience. Photographs couldn’t really capture these experiences (although I tried), and yet these were such special parts of our trip.

My name is Mali, and I unashamedly like taking photographs. Doing so helps me stay in the moment.


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