Archive for the ‘New Zealand’ 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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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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One of the joys of hosting visitors from overseas is showing them about my city. Yesterday, instead of staying at home and writing my Microblog Monday posts, I was walking through our town with my sister-in-law from Perth, Australia. She lived here briefly in 1989 and has visited periodically, and now as her children are growing up, it is easier for her to leave them for a few hours, and we recall the pre-children days when we used to explore the Wellington designer shops on each visit. Yesterday, we poked through a few NZ designer clothing stores (she tried on and rejected, I drooled and resisted), poked through some favourite gift shops (she purchased, I didn’t, though I did find a display cabinet that I want to buy if it is for sale, but that’s another story), and had a long chat over udon noodle soup for lunch.

But first, we visited the Gallipoli (a battle in World War I that is iconic for Australians and NZers) exhibition at Te Papa, the National Museum, which her children had visited a few days earlier when the adults had retired to a nearby restaurant (a good excuse for me to try a place I’ve been wanting to visit for ages) for a more sophisticated lunch. Amidst the exhibits of clothing and provisions and the simulated trenches and periscopes and the animated battle scenes, Weta Workshop (the brains behind the special effects and models of The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit/King Kong movies, as well as a myriad others, have created huge life-like models of particular personalities at Gallipoli, some soldiers, a doctor and a nurse. We see their eyes, their sweat, their injuries, feel their fear and pain and exhaustion and caring, and hear their stories, thanks to letters shared by their families. It’s a reminder of how lucky we are in little old Wellington, to have such world-class artists here to bring these people and their stories to life so poignantly.

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I love travel photography. That’s no surprise to those of you who know how much I love to travel. But I’m a bit shy, and I’m not very good at asking people if I can take their photographs. My husband is much better at it than I am, and he is especially good at getting children’s photos. Neither of us, however, like getting our own photographs taken. So when last week’s photo challenge was to take a portrait of someone in their natural habitat (work, hobbies, for example), I groaned. I had great plans of snapping the builders putting an extra storey on the house next door, or the road workers just down our street. But I didn’t. Then I thought that a photo of myself sitting at the computer, or my husband reading on his iPad, would be a good example of an environment. But that wasn’t going to happen. So, on my walk the other day, I sneaked this photo of a mailman, as he turned the corner ahead of me.

P1020635 mailman web

The other challenge at the time was for perspective. This could be something as simple as a scene showing perspective by distance, or a forced perspective (the classic “holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa is an example of this), which I have always felt are … well … forced. The idea of showing the perspective of distance is easy when you live in the hills. So I was lazy and didn’t go out actively seeking shots. On the same walk that I found the mailman, though, I came up the stairs that deposit me (puffing) near my house. Maybe the difference between the stairs at the bottom and top would be perspective, I thought. And so I snapped away. I’ve since discovered that there’s a name for this – vanishing point perspective. I hope you’re impressed, not with the photograph which is very average and quite boring, but with the fact that I regularly climb these stairs (I’d already climbed about 20% of the stairs to be able to even see the top) at the end of my walks around this hilly suburb.

P1020645 stairs sm


Those were both last week’s challenges, and I haven’t even begun to think about this week’s subjects, so I’m slipping behind. Last weekend I finally completed the book of my blog Lemons to Limoncello as I noticed there was a 40% savings offer to get it printed. It required detailed proofreading and polishing the formatting, and I am delighted that I have finally ordered it, even beating the deadline for the discount. I’ve been shopping for the trip – a cheap tripod (though my husband has suggested I’ll have to leave some shoes behind if I want to fit it in my suitcase*) – and researching and reading about my destinations, figuring out where I can see particular species of wildlife, and trying to learn how to photograph in different conditions.

Real life seems to have taken over – now that’s perspective for you!

* Needless to say, I was not amused.

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After the gym this morning, I stopped around the bays at one of my favourite cafes for a welcome coffee, after abstaining over the weekend. The good weather of the past week of so had vanished, and we were encased in misty rain and low clouds, limiting visibility and sucking the colour from everything except the bright yellow and orange lifeguard stand in the middle of Oriental Bay, pointless and forlorn, useful for only a few short days this summer-in-name-only.

Unlike the sunny days we basked in last week when locals and visitors had filled its tables inside and out, today the cafe was not crowded. I had avoided it for the summer months when school holidays and cruise ships had contributed to crowded waterside cafes, and today it was just how I like it. Cosy inside, with its deliberately kitsch 70s decor, there were a variety of customers; a man on his laptop between meetings, the three elderly women catching up over coffee and cake, a few young couples, including the couple grabbing a coffee in the under cover outside tables so one of them could smoke, later replaced by a man who was simultaneously indulging his caffeine, nicotine and crossword addictions, and of course, there was me, reading, watching, and writing.

Outside and also under cover, a sleepy bulldog was curled up in the dog bed, looking ever so slightly grumpy and unappreciative when one of the staff woke him to give him a pat. He was then regularly disturbed by deliveries and customers coming and going, wearily opening one eye to check on proceedings as they walked by. He’s trying to sleep again now, his eyes closed, weighed down by his wrinkles, plump and perfect, unlike my own.

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