Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘New Zealand’ Category

New Zealand is a pretty small country, and I’ve travelled quite a lot of it. But when my sister rang a week or so ago and asked if we wanted to join her (and her husband and Charlie) for a few days at a town we’d never visited, we jumped at the opportunity.

I love a road trip. Travelling in the middle of school holidays is something we usually avoid like the plague, but as we were driving mid-week it wasn’t a problem. We drove familiar roads and unfamiliar roads, enjoying the scenery. We saw native plants and trees, and exotics showing off their spring blossoms. One town seemed to have adopted the rhododendron as their official plant of choice, and they were all flowering at the same time, lining the roads into and out of the town, and filling both public and private gardens.

On the road, we were surrounded by lush, green fields and hills, dotted with dairy cows on the plains, and sheep as the hills got higher and more rugged. Occasionally, further north, we saw goats, and wild turkeys, llamas and alpacas.

We stopped for lunch at the town at the base of the ski-fields on Mt Ruapehu (an active volcano) in the centre of the island. For a day right in the middle of the school holidays, it was surprisingly peaceful. Everyone must have been up on the mountain, swishing down the slopes, enjoying the last days of this year’s ski season.

1130336-015653658818456389726.jpeg

Mt Ruapehu

Raglan, our destination, is a small but well known coastal town, popular for its surf beach. One afternoon we headed out to the beach to watch Charlie (who had already been on a horse trek that morning) surf the waves, along with about 50 others. The learners stayed close to the shore, but others hung further out, looking for the bigger waves. Whilst it was a warm day for this time of year, the sea would have been icy cold, so Charlie’s wetsuit was essential. Her mother and I played around with our cameras, and I managed to get a shot of her up on her board, and a second shot as she did a dramatic fall into the water. When I zoomed in, I could see her face was covered with a huge grin. She came back exhilarated and not at all exhausted, despite battling the waves for some hours.

1130457-016787563343366651462.jpeg

As it was my sister’s birthday, we had champagne on the deck of their rented house, went out for a special dinner, and generally over-indulged with coffees and cooked breakfasts and avocadoes brought from their orchard.

It was a quick but hilly walk into the town for a coffee and look around the shops and galleries, and the following day we climbed down to the bottom of a waterfall and with much less enthusiasm back up, although the rain put paid to my plans of walking the track that went right in front of the house where we were staying. Instead, Charlie and I played table tennis in the garage, but we never did get around to having the darts match we’d planned.

And in between we relaxed, read and chatted, or just enjoyed the views from the bach.

All too soon we had to leave. School, work, and real life called for us all. We decided to take it easy on the way home, and so detoured along the west coast to a town I’ve only visited once before. It too is nestled under another volcano, which didn’t emerge from the clouds hiding it until we were well on the way home. I caught a view of the top only through the back window of our car. Isn’t it always the way?

Mt Taranaki before the cloud lifted

Read Full Post »

Fbk reminded me last week that it was on 25th September 2016 that wild kaka* came to visit for the very first time. My sister and her family had only just arrived to stay after a long drive, and we’d made cups of tea and popped open a bottle of prosecco to celebrate. I turned and saw two kaka in our tree. They weren’t (and generally aren’t) scared of humans, and were curious about the contents of the teacups and prosecco glasses, hopping along on the top of our fence to take a look or a sniff. It was getting dark, and I attempted to take a video of the kaka, and the tui who were upset at these new upstarts taking over their tree.

Since then, I’ve seen kaka regularly, including two shagging in that same tree, as their population has exploded in our city. They are protected birds, but in Wellington, we have to say they are no longer rare. They hop around on the fence and in the tree, try out the garden furniture for comfort, and occasionally pose nicely for me and my camera. I still get a thrill to see them. Click on the photos below to see larger pics.

But three years on, I have to say that they’re not always so welcome. Our macrocarpa trees at the back of the house suffer at their beaks. Kaka are parrots, and have strong powerful beaks that they use to rip bark off the trees to find the insects they like to eat. Native trees can handle this, but exotics find it harder. It is common now to walk out of the house and find fresh bark strips all over the driveway. The macrocarpa trees are huge, so I’m hoping they can survive the onslaught, but they’re very old, so I’m worried they might not. We also have a wooden house – I’m worried too that the kaka might develop a taste for it.

How quickly the source of wonder and excitement turns into a source of concern.

 

* Kaka is a Maori word, and so does not take the English “s” in the plural.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Today is my idea of a pretty perfect day. It is calm, with only a light breeze at times. The sky is clear, with just the occasional cloud making an appearance, breaking up the monotony of a plain blue sky. It is still cool, but not cold. I like that. It was chilly enough this morning to appreciate a woolly coat, but there is starting to be some real warmth in the sun. The harbour was sparkling and beautiful, even if the sight of a middle-aged man emerging from the water in speedos was a bit shocking.

IMG_20190910_111644-01
The dullness of winter is also over, as blossoms start to appear, camellias flower everywhere including our garden, and on my walks around my suburb, I see the blooms of numerous flowers I can’t name. As I look out my windows, I see splashes of yellow all over the valley, and these gorgeous yellow kowhai flowers intoxicate the tui, who are chirping, clicking and clacking wildly, happy that spring is here.

IMG_20190910_115911

Kōwhai flowers in my supermarket carpark

 

 

Read Full Post »

Sightseeing in some cities (Tokyo) involves taking subways, which are usually convenient, cheap and easy to take. In other cities, it involves the adventure of local bus services, especially adventurous in places with different languages and scripts, though locals are generally friendly and helpful, telling us when to get off (Busan, Korea) because they can guess where we want to go! In many cities though, it involves walking, a lot of walking, and we certainly got our step counts up in many of the cities we visited in the last couple of months. In some countries, we can supplement the walking with taxis and cyclos/rickshaws etc if we wish. Walking in the heat and humidity is another issue. Coming home, though, we realised how easy it would be to lapse into a habit of only occasional exercise. So, on days when it hasn’t been raining, we have ventured out to pound the streets.

This morning, it was an absolute joy to put on my walking shoes, my cap, sunglasses and a lightweight walking jacket and head out. It was a perfect winter’s day – still, clear, cold but not too cold (about 11C probably). The greens of all our evergreen native trees were very green, the blue of the sky was blue, and the tui were going mad in the macrocarpa tree just down the street. The harbour was calm and blue, with container ships and ferries gliding across it. A few trees and shrubs were in flower – I don’t know if that’s by design, or because this winter has been unusually (or perhaps the new norm) warm.

School holidays started this week, so the park at the bottom of our street was full of boys at a football camp, whilst their parents were at work. A new home-owner was out digging up her garden, doing some serious restructuring with a pick-axe at this time of year. Another woman further on was pruning some trees, taking off major chunks. New parents ventured out of their driveway with their twins all wrapped up against the cold in the double pram.

I love walking in new places, to see new things. But it’s nice walking here at home too.

Read Full Post »

We went for a walk yesterday morning. After a few weeks when we had to endure, off and on, a lot of mist and rain, it was a delight to get out in the lovely autumn sunlight, enjoy the perennial contrast of the green trees against the brilliant blue of the sky, and take pleasure in the oranges and reds of the occasional deciduous trees before they lose their leaves completely.

We weren’t the only ones out getting some Vitamin D either. We walked past teams of girls playing soccer down at the all-weather sports ground, their watching parents and coaches no doubt also grateful for the fine day. We passed a man who, as I remarked to my husband, always looks like a hitman walking his wife’s lapdog. He didn’t move aside for me to pass, but looked straight at me with hostile eyes, forcing me onto the road. There were others out on the road too;  an elderly lady and her daughter, a former colleague of my husband’s who stopped his bike ride to walk the last hundred metres or so alongside his wife who was walking her little dog too, and two young girls on their scooters who stopped for an awkward conversation with two loud, confident, but much smaller boys.  And we weren’t the only couple out walking together, though we were moving at a rather faster pace than most, determined to boost our fitness for all those tourist days spent out on our feet in a few weeks.

What a lovely way to spend a Sunday morning.

Read Full Post »

I was hoping this week to write about something more uplifting, but understandably, the horrific mosque shootings are top of mind in New Zealand over the last ten days or so. Last week I wrote about my initial response, and now I want to mention the responses of others.

There have been positive responses, not least from our Prime Minister, ranging from national actions to simple small acts of kindness. I’ll list just a few:

  • Love is the message, not violence or retaliation. In a strange way, because the emphasis has been on love, I felt free to vent my own anger (here, last week). I could see too that Jacinda (our Prime Minister) was angry, but was focusing that anger through love and compassion to the victims and their families. Whereas when leaders come out promising retribution and violence, I always feel compelled to modify that and plead for calm.
  • On Friday, marking one week from the first shooting, the Muslim call to prayer was broadcast nationally, followed by a two-minute silence to remember the 50 people who were killed in the shootings.
  • As the mosque where most of the shootings occurred was not open, their regular Friday prayers became part of a public ceremony in Hagley Park, attended by approximately 20,000 people, members of all political parties, and the Prime Minister.
  • The Imam said, “New Zealand has shown the world how to love and be caring.” He thanked the PM “for honouring us with a simple scarf.”
  • Women throughout New Zealand on Friday wore headscarves, the hijab, in an effort to show solidarity, and to help Muslim women feel safer in public. Policewomen who were guarding the mosque wore the scarf and a rose whilst carrying a semi-automatic rifle. I was far more uncomfortable about the rifle (our police are not normally armed) than I was about the headscarf.  A young Muslim woman wrote that she did not support non-Muslims wearing the hijab, and saw it as tokenism, a gesture designed to make non-Muslim New Zealand women feel better. That is undoubtedly a legitimate point of view. But other Muslim women commented that they felt safe and embraced by all New Zealanders when they could see so many other women wearing the hijab.
  • Non-Muslims formed human chains of protection around mosques in other centres for their own Friday prayers.
  • Military-style semiautomatic weapons were banned, with the support of the major political parties.
  • Catholic churches tolled bells throughout the nation – 50 times, one for each of the victims.
  • Flowers and offerings of support expressed to mosques all over the country.
  • Haka after haka was performed* to express manaakitanga (respect, kindness, caring for others)
  • Schools (including Charlie’s) forming heart shapes and/or the words Kia Kaha (stay strong, in Maori) and sending the photographs out to send love to those affected
  • Sales of T-shirts (printed by Good Bitches Baking but sadly sold out by the time I went to buy one) exhorting us to Be Kind have raised tens of thousands of dollars for the victims’ families.
  • Internationally, the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa lit up with a photograph of Jacinda Ardern’s face as she hugged a Muslim woman, under the word Peace in Arabic and English.

These are just a few.

However, there is a danger that we become too self-congratulatory at the compassion shown towards our Muslim brothers and sisters who have endured such an attack, as pointed out by the young Muslim woman I mentioned above. We are in danger of being too proud of our Prime Minister. The focus instead should be on the victims, the families, the wider community, and what we can do to help. The focus should be on racism. New Zealand is not perfect. Not now, and not in the past. Name a country that is.

And there are critics. Despite the fact that the terrorist did not grow up here, I guess we are all thinking, “but he could have.” And so academics have been speaking out on racism. Eager for validation, they point out the obvious (to me, at least) – that there is, and always has been, racism in our country. Muslims and other races have reminded us that they experience day-to-day racism, small slights, or intimidating harassment from time to time. Some Muslims here have never encountered it, but others apparently have.  And so an important national conversation is being revisited, but this time with the recognition of the violence these views can bring. It’s a good time for the conversation. Now is, after all, the time that we are most likely to listen to this message, to agree that racism and discrimination is unacceptable, and to resolve to do something about it. Now is when we have to decide to stop being “polite” and to call out the racists, call out the casual and even unconscious racism or bigotry that exists here, as anywhere.

There are other critics of the gestures made by the government and by New Zealanders. Gun owners (but far from all of them) complain about tighter controls, and fundamentalist Christians have spoken out about the country reaching out to Muslims, though their views have been largely derided. Personally, I have been surprised by two or three representatives of these groups who appear on my social media feed. People I generally want to keep in touch with, but who are essentially a piece of my past. I don’t want to offend anyone, and I certainly don’t want to be drawn into a social media battle. But my silence makes me complicit. So this week, I’m going to stand up for what I believe in, and call a couple of people out. Because if we want to be “seen as the good guys”** then we need to act like good guys.

“It’s not who we are” has been a catchphrase from Jacinda’s earliest speech after the horror. But it was, perhaps, who we were once. We are not proud of our colonial history, after all. It might still be who some, perhaps many, people are. Though as a nation, we have made huge strides. And it is certainly not who New Zealand wants to be today. And so, whilst we know we’re not always the good guys, maybe, just maybe, for a week or ten days, we have been the good guys. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll all put more effort into being the good guys in the future.

 

A beautiful pink rose with tears of dew

Have a rose for peace, with tears of dew

* not danced. NEVER danced.

** Ta-Nehisi Coates gave me this phrase in a similar context as I listened to his audiobook on my walk a few days ago.

Read Full Post »

A few nights ago, just as I was about to go to bed, I looked out the window and noticed a stunning moon. The moon was big and bright and surrounded by interesting looking clouds. So I rushed and got my camera. Though by the time I had set it up on the tripod, the clouds had gone.

“Never mind,” I thought. “This is an opportunity to practice moon shots, and to see if my new lens is any good for it.”

So I stood outside on the deck, and snapped away. I got distracted when I saw some mist hanging in the valley, and snapped away at that too. Then I decided to try my hand at some star shots, and played some more. I discovered that a 30 second exposure is sufficient to prove that the earth is turning (ie, far too long to photograph stars!) and got a decent photo of what we call The Pot (which is also Orion’s belt but the northern hemisphere’s version is upside down and so not the cooking pot/saucepan that we see here).

It was a beautiful evening, and I was still in the strappy sundress I’d been wearing all day. By this time, I knew it had been a mistake to dash outside so quickly. I was starting to itch. But the clouds had returned around the moon, and I had to try that too.

Finally satisfied I headed inside, with an urgent need for medication for insect bites. It took ages to get it on and even longer to begin to feel some relief – perhaps another hour. I felt distinctly unwell.

So I’m not 100% convinced that I want to photograph the supermoon tonight. Lesson learned though. If I do venture out, I will be wearing insect repellant!

Footnote: There were no photos good enough to show you.

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »