Campervan Adventures Parts 2, 3 …..

It’s been a while since we started our adventure driving Vera north from Christchurch. I don’t mean we’re still driving, just that I haven’t got around to continuing the story!

Where were we?

We awoke to a beautiful sunrise on the Kaikoura coast. Vineyards and rolling fields took over from rugged coastline as we drove towards Picton. Made a brief stop in Blenheim for a cup off tea with one of my colleagues, lunch in Picton then onto the ferry.

An uneventful but always beautiful sailing. The scenery is stunning especially as we sail through Queen Charlotte Sound but it was a bit chilly on deck so after a while we made our way to a sunny spot in the bar!

Onwards then to Silverstream where we parked up at Chris’. Somehow I needed to get in at least a 3km walk/run as I was taking part in a ‘March run streak’ which meant I needed to run everyday in March for at least 3km! The offer of wine was tempting but it would have to wait until after a run. I managed my fastest ever 5km run… nice and flat along the Hutt River! Then it was time for wine, dinner and a catch up with all Chris’ news.

We spent the next day at Nethui combining work with pleasure and plenty of opportunity to walk as we got the train in from Silverstream and then walked along the front in Wellington to Te Papa. It was a special copyright edition of Nethui with a keynote by Cory Doctorow. But more of that elsewhere.

We headed north the next day on a wee tiki tour of central North Island taking the opportunity to visit some places we hadn’t been to before as well as some old favourites.

Foxton; a visit to the Dutch windmill and a picnic on the windy beach accompanied by scavenging and very bold seagulls!

Taihape; quick coffee stop in the old post office which is now a cafe. New Zealand’s clock towers are an interesting study; they all seem to be of a similar vintage, equally ugly but strangely charming!

Taupõ; on our holiday in 2005 we stopped on the shores of Lake Taupõ for a cup of tea in the campervan we had hired. Where better to take a break after a wee walk in the bush to get my 3km run in!? Blackberries as a bonus too!

After a brief stop in Taupõ itself to get dinner we set off on the last leg home to Hamilton planning our next trip on the way.

Adventure in Mo’orea

So, Nigel and I have escaped for a real holiday. Overseas, together, just the two of us. I feel a song coming on! No, sorry, I won’t even go there!

Anyway, we’ve run away to paradise. Tahiti. I might write some other blogs to tell you about what we’ve been up to here, and our photos will all be on Flickr as usual.  But this evening’s blog is just to recount the adventure we had today.

Our plan for our time away is to be as active as possible. Two reasons – one, we just don’t like sitting around sort of holidays and two, we’re in training. I’m running the Abel Tasman trail event in two weeks time so just need to keep my legs moving and, in January we are both doing the Old Ghost Road.

We explored what guided walks were on offer so that we could learn about the local flora and fauna and history. We couldn’t find any that went on ‘real’ walks although we were given the number of a local ‘sage’ who we tried to contact but were unsuccessful.  Undaunted, we decided to go it alone.

Mark, our host at our accommodation, Mark’s Place, told us that a well visited view point called Les Trois Cocotiers (three coconut trees) was accessible by a less well-travelled route from just a few kms around the road from us at Vaianae. It is also possible from Les Trois Cocotiers to continue on to Le Belvedère which is where most people walk from.  Our plan was to try to get across to Le Belvedère and then return by the same route.

Mark dropped us off at the start of the metalled road just a few metres further on from the shop at Vaianae. He gave us some basic instructions as a starting point but told us to call in at a place called “La Maison de la Nature” and introduce ourselves and say that Mark had sent us. They would give is more detailed information about the route from there.

On the way we chatted to a local who confirmed what Mark had said; it would take us about an hour and a half to reach the col and then a further 90 mins to get to Le Belvedère. However,  unlike Mark he said the route was quite straightforward and well way-marked.

The first 30 minutes climbed gently up a metalled road past houses which varied from being simple dwellings, with gardens full of fruit trees, chooks and dogs to more lavish houses with well-manicured gardens. There are dogs everywhere here.  Even though they bark they tend to stay put even when there is no fence but I still find them alarming.

Man walking up metalled road palm tree to left, lush vegetation all around, cloudy sky but sunshine.

Our first challenge came when the road split. One way went over a bridge and then turned sharp left up the hill. At the bend was a white house. The other road turned left up the hill and it seemed to be the continuation of the road we had been following so we took it.  About 100m higher up there was this sign;

Hand drawn map of local roads showing where people should be to start a walk

It might have been more useful to put it at the junction!  So back down we went,  over the bridge and up the rougher road.  Ten minutes or so further on we came to a building.  By this time the road was more overgrown,  the trees much thicker. There was a sign but it only had a phone number on it.  It looked like the whole place was being renovated.  To the right we could see a large shelter with a sort of climbing wall.  We climbed the wooden stairs which kindly asked us to walk ‘doucement’ to a balcony where a pair of jandals sat on a mat. We called bonjour,  but got no answer and didn’t feel that we should walk in so we continued up the track.  However, it went past an upper entrance to the building where a man was working a saw of some description.  We introduced ourselves, said we were staying at Mark’s Place and that he had said to call in.

His instructions were as follows.  Continue up the path,  at the windmill turn right,  continue on until you get to a stream. There used to be a bridge but it’s broken so just follow the track across the stream then turn left.  Keep going to the col. At the col, head left for about 10 minutes to the viewpoint where you can see north and south.   It should take about 45 minutes. To carry on to Le Belvedère, go down at the col for about 20 minutes or so then the path traverses, meandering up and down through beautiful terrain.  Roughly an hour to an hour and a half. ..

Off we went. No sign of a windmill (We saw it on the way down) but a junction of sorts – the single track path through knee high grass was clearer to the right.  Then we spotted a sign post hidden under the tree.  Confirmation.

A windmill in bush area with a mountainn in the background

Old signposts with indistinct writing attached to a tree

Reminders that La Maison de la Nature used to be, and may well be again, a ‘Colonie de Vacances’ for children lay half buried in the grass and vegetation.  Rope swings, balance beams, stepping stones and other adventure challenges. We came to a waterfall at a stream with a broken crossing but not what we would call a bridge and there was no obvious way on.  From the way the description had been given, I didn’t think we should have got to the stream crossing yet anyway.  So we looked for another way on and found a grassy track heading up to the left. It wasn’t well-defined but it was definitely a track and there were more kids’ adventure type obstacles half buried.  Convinced we were on the right track we continued.  Until a fallen tree seemed to block the way.  Maybe not,  we thought, and went back down looking for another option.  But not finding anything we went back up again.  The fallen tree negotiated we refound the path. A little further on we started to descend gently on a grassy slope, back to a single track in knee high grass.  A junction gave us a choice of continuing down or turning sharp right.  A rope looped between wooden posts helped to convince us that this was the right way.

Now we came to another junction.  A wide grassy shelf headed up gently to the right, to the left, a narrower steeper path.  I went up it to recce. It seemed to continue on as a well defined path, but we weren’t sure it was heading in the right direction.  We tried the other way. After 20m or so, there was another wooden activity challenge but then the path seemed to head back down in a loop.

Man walking in forest, heavyvvegetation, lush and green

We decided to go left.  On we climbed.  The path was rugged, steep at times, very rooty with quite a lot of fallen vegetation and we had to keep our eyes peeled to stay on track but it was clearly a path. All the way up were had enjoyed the changing vegetation, the lush tropical plants – the sort that I once had as house plants in my bedroom as a teenager in the 70s. The colours are beautiful,  bright red hibiscus in the trees around us and also splashes of colour on the path where the blooms have fallen.

Mountain shrouded in cloud seen through forest

The path started to climb more steeply and through the trees we glimpsed the impressive tall rocky peaks, half shrouded in mist. We were still waiting for the path to turn right and eventually it did. After having spent the last half an hour on a ridge we descended into a bowl of trees. Quite different, dark but not foreboding.  We were still searching for the way on when we suddenly noticed the trees.  Tall, incredible buttress roots, gnarly and twisted into the most surreal shapes.  We marvelled at them,  realised these were the chestnut trees or Mapes that we had read about, and thought about sitting down and having lunch.

twisted buttress roots of chestnut tree in a forest

Man in the middle of a forest of tall trees, sunlight shining through the branches

We decided we couldn’t have far to go by everyone’s timings so thought we would press on.  Despite thinking that we needed to stay right, we weren’t happy that right took us down hill.  So we went left,  uphill thinking it would swing back round.  After bushwhacking our way through more fallen trees and rotting vegetation up an indistinct but definite path we came to a stream and small waterfall which we crossed.  We were clearly climbing higher,  the canopy was lighter,  we could see the sky.  Surely we would hit the col soon!  I battled my way up and got to a point where I could see down to the ocean on the west side of the island.  But just more forest behind me.  A path alongside a stream led us up to an impressive black wall of rock with a path to the left.

Black rock wall with hollowed out area at the base, and a stream bed running down towards the viewer, fallen trees across the valley with new growth growing upwards from horizontal trunks

By now we were well past 45 minutes.  This was not an easy route.  We seemed to be heading in the wrong direction. We must have gone wrong way back down at the ‘shelf’ when we chose to go left and not right.

We turned round.  On the way down we noticed slash marks on the trees. In NZ in the back country, hunters and bushmen mark the trees to help them back track.  We started to think that we must have come across the traverse route from Tuatapae which we had read about.  It didn’t take long to get back down to the Mape forest where we spent 15 minutes or so just checking that we hadn’t missed a way on.

Feeling quite weary now and very frustrated and annoyed that we had missed a turn off somewhere, we knew we should really eat to put some energy back in our bodies. We had been bashing through the bush for over an hour but were reluctant to stop until we knew where we were.  So, we retraced our steps. Back down to the ‘shelf’ in no time. As we had thought the first time,  it simply looped down to the waterfall. I crossed the stream and climbed up the other side.  An unlikely route as it was not easy. The stream that fed into the waterfall bounced over dark rocks and I scrambled over and through but could find no easy path.  I heard Nigel call me.

white fungi growing on a fallen tree

Just a few metres back down the track he had spotted some bits of wood.. broken structures of some kind which he assumed were more of the kids adventure stuff.  Looking the other way,  a track down to the stream was more obvious and Nigel then spotted more wooden debris.  The broken bridge

stream bed, foliage and broken wooden structure in the streambed that used to be a bridge

We were back on track! With renewed energy we set off up the much easier, open track.  Still quite gnarly,  lots of trees roots, the path zigzagged up the flank of the hill, the stream gurgling beneath us.

A few very rickety bridges were crossed very gingerly and a couple of fallen trees negotiated. But it was well signposted with Xterra race markers.

man wearing walking clothes - hat, shorts, tee-shirt waking gingerly across a rickety wooden bridge

35 minutes later we reached the col!  10 minutes after that we looked out north and south at the coast and along the ridges at the peaks shrouded in cloud.  Stunning! Worth the effort! And time for lunch.

signpost that reads "le col tetoatoa dit des 3 cocotiers alt 357m'

Man on top of a hill with more hills in the background.

A couple at the top of a mountain, clouds gathering atop a mountain in the background

Panorama of a view of mountains from the top of a hill

Man climbs the last few metres to the top of a hill. He is just emerging from the vegetation. Hill shrouded in cloud behind him

Down was uneventful.  And quick.  Despite stopping to take photos of the abundant, colourful and beautiful flowers on the way. We called into the Vaianae store for refreshment…a nice cool Hinano beer, and we trudged the last 3km back along the road.

Total kms: about 15km!

Total elevation: more than 500m!

Total time on feet: over 6 hours!

 

 

 

 

 

A fun day out

Yesterday I ran/walked in the Surf to Firth off road half marathon. Here is my race report!!

Are you tough enough? The Surf to Firth is described as ‘the most technically challenging off road marathon in New Zealand’ on its own website . There are so many off road races now, in so many different parts of New Zealand, and I haven’t done enough of them to compare, but it certainly was a challenge. Having said that, I suspect that in fine weather, it is a lot less of a challenge.

I enjoy technical stuff having spent the 30 years before taking up ‘trailrunning’ walking, tramping and caving in the Lake District, Scotland, Wales and Europe. I am used to uneven, rocky, slippery, muddy and steep trails. However, I am a bit of a self-doubter and worried, after I signed up to the half marathon in a random moment of insanity, whether I wasn’t going to be ‘tough enough’! There are no aid stations on the route, just SARs volunteers at checkpoints along the way to ensure that everyone is accounted for on the trail. Only one of them about 7km from the end had some water and lollies. I was well-prepared with enough fluid and fuel to last me and some more in case of disaster. I also carried emergency gear – thermals, beanie, gloves, first aid kit and blanket, although the event didn’t stipulate any compulsory gear. I am an ex-rescue team member, after all, and it wouldn’t look too good to become a statistic due to my own poor preparation! IMHO a compulsory gear list is something the organising group do need to consider.

It rained during the week in the run up to the event, but the message on the Facebook page was positive, despite rain forecast it was going to be warm so the race would go ahead – just make sure you have a rain jacket. It rained steadily all Friday night. We were in our wee campervan in a motorvan stopover in Thames and I woke regularly to hear it falling on the roof, wondering if it would peter out before the morning. It didn’t, but the race was still on and we were bussed up to Wainora campground where the half marathon started.

The river up the Kaueranga Valley was already high and the fords were flowing. The bus driver made light of them but we all looked out a little nervously! I had opted to go with the early tortoise group – walkers and run/walkers who expected to take more than 4 hours 30. The faster hares would follow an hour later. It tippled it down as the race briefing happened and then we were away. The first part is on well-prepared, very accessible trail and we set off at a good pace. A few fast folk raced ahead, I chose to plod in the middle and the walkers brought up the rear. Then we hit the steps – I was reliably informed by a local that there were 350 of them but I didn’t bother counting. The rain was steady at this point but it was warm and I was tempted to take my jacket off. Once off the steps we hit a real steep section, very rough ground, roots, rocks, mud. Quite a lot of upper body work to pull yourself up the steep climbs – I love that sort of stuff so went past a few who struggled a bit more, just making sure as I went that they were ok. In between the steep bits the trail was very muddy – deep pools of water, some of which you could skirt round the edge but mostly just waded through the middle. Sometimes they were ankle deep, others I sank knee deep in the mud! I think that’s what made it hard on the legs – you never knew what was underfoot and couldn’t get into any rhythm. It was dark in the bush and at times it was difficult to make out the profile of the trail to pick where to put my feet. And the rain just kept pouring down, every now and then the bush lit up with flashed of lightning followed by huge, long rolls of thunder. The wind also started to get up and I was glad I had kept my jacket on.

For a while I was running with a couple of other people and it was nice to have company. The steep section was done, we reached the ridge where I stopped to take a photo of the stunning and atmospheric view of the clouds and rain over the forest.

female trailrunner, wearing turquoise cap and purple rain jacket. Self portrait at the top of a hill in the rain with dark clouds and forested valley in the background
Light at the top
Dark clouds, rainy and low cloud in a forested valley
A break in the rain
Dark clouds, rainy and low cloud in a forested valley
Atmospheric view over the valley

For most of the way we were literally running through a stream – water poured on to the track from the hill at the side and found the line of least resistance down the trail. The middle section was more runnable albeit on terrain I have just described. I reached a junction with several ways on and initially followed another competitor down a track which was marked with the orange DoC trailmarkers we had been told to follow. However, I wasn’t convinced and said I was going back to check – just thought we had made the decision too quickly. When I got back to the top, a couple of others arrived and they confirmed that we were wrong. We shouted and whistled to the girl who had carried on, contemplated trying to catch her, but decided that we wouldn’t manage it, and that if she carried on she would end up in the valley. We would let the SARs guys know so they could pick her up. We weren’t to know at that stage that the Kaueranga Valley was now impassable, the marathoners were trapped and their race had been canned. Fortunately, she had heard our shouts and whistles and caught us up about 15 minutes later.

The three of us ran together through the mud and water until we reached the final checkpoint. I had no idea how far we had gone and only a vague idea of how long we had been running as I had had a ‘watch fail’. We were told at this point that we were being re-routed. I had been expecting some more of the steep terrain we had had at the start, with drop offs, roots etc, but instead it was pretty plain sailing – actually a boat might well have been handy! The trail was more rocky with the stream still flowing steadily along it, quite hard on my hips as there was no give in it and I couldn’t always see what I was putting my feet on because of the water, so keeping balance was a challenge.

water flowing down a trail in the bush
‘Stream running’

The added excitement now were the streams we had to cross that flowed over the trail. None were very wide but required me to be in the water with both feet for two or three steps, so I was quite circumspect, tried to find branches or rocks to hold onto and test the depth before committing. The deepest was thigh deep, but most were mid calf to knee deep. Running ‘blind’ – no watch to indicate time or distance is weird but quite liberating in a way once I had got over the frustration of my watch giving up the ghost! As the vegetation changed, I sensed that I was getting closer, then I heard a siren which meant I must be close to a road, then I saw the Hauraki Gulf through a break in the trees…. then I met a volunteer who said ‘Not far now!” “How far?” I asked. “About a km, down to the road, and there might be a bus waiting for you.” It would be a bit over the top to say that it was the sweetest thing I had heard, but it was great to hear I was so close as I was sure that I still had 2 or 3 kms to go. No big finishing line, just a time mat and a van, and a few other finishers waiting for the bus.

Whilst we had been running, the organisers had been working maniacally in the background troubleshooting, problem solving, trying to make sure we were all safe. I have some questions about decisions made about to go ahead with the event given the weather conditions. And I know that the marathoners had a pretty hard time. But once the proverbial hit the fan, they did what needed to be done to get people out. Plenty of learning to be done, I think! I loved my 4 and a half hours out on the trail/stream. I was tough enough! I will be back. It’s all in a great cause, after all. Proceeds go to SAR.

Wet training shoes, a race number and muddy socks

Our first adventure; Part 1 Christchurch to Kaikoura

So, we flew to Christchurch and met ‘Vera’. Although I had bought her just a few weeks ago, I have to confess, I was a little worried that I might have been sold a pup! It all happened so quickly.

Nigel: There’s a camper van in CHCH, see if you can arrange to view.

Anne: OK.  Contacts vendors, they bring it to my hotel, I look around it. Test drive it around Christchurch on roads I don’t know, scared to go too far in case I get lost! Decide the vendors sound legit, WoF and history seems ok, bit tatty, but engine seems fine, drives ok. Deal done! Money transferred. 24 hours later, they deliver it to work. We are the owners of a 25 yr old Toyota Hiace camper van!

Now what? Well, I won’t go into the details of driving the wrong way up a one way three lane street, nor the narrow missing of a huge boulder rolling down the hill and landing on the other side of the garage where we parked the van for safekeeping for a few weeks.

We’ll start the story as we head north with our new acquisition.

Part 1: Christchurch to Kaikoura (the naming of names)

Camper vans have to have names. Don’t they? So my friends say, anyway. And my Dad always named his cars. Kevin, who looked after the van, whose own car even more narrowly missed being hit by aforementioned large boulder, has two very tiny, very cute dogs. One of whom is Vera. Seems to fit! Nigel isn’t sure…

Pandas also need names. Not entirely sure what panda’s history is but he (she?) came with the van.  On the way north we stopped for coffee with the rellies. They had a tour of the van and when William asked what Panda’s name was, we asked him to do the naming honours. Pete it was. Pete the Panda.

Panda soft toy looking out of a white campervan
Pete the Panda

Apart from the coffee detour we also had a whiskey detour. Who would have imagined a whisky distillery in the middle of suburban Kaiapoi? We didn’t, but it would have been rude not to have called in! And even ruder not to have bought any!

The Kaikoura coast really has been decimated. In 2016, it was the centre of a magnitude 7.8 earthquake which pretty much cut the place off.  Subsequent ‘weather events’ have undone some of the remedial work that was done on the roads and when we drove north, it had just been re-opened, albeit with a curfew.  Access was only in daylight hours, – 7 am to 7pm.  The landslides and the damage to the road and coastline are incredible and progress is slow with lots of the road operating one way only with traffic lights or Stop Go signs.  It has been difficult to imagine what the road looked like from the constant news articles, and I think that it is worse than we ever thought.

mountain landscape in the background, repairs being made to a road, cranes and diggers working on the road. Bottom right hand corner is the reflection in the wing mirror of the car of the photographer taking the photo.
Roadworks

We stopped at Kaikoura itself for a break and a wander along the seal colony. It is 13 years since I was last there and so memories are a little hazy.  But we saw plenty of seals basking like large slugs in the sunshine. However, there is evidence of the earthquake apart from the obvious shift of the level of the coastline. In one section of the trail, we noticed skeletons of young seabirds, in situ, seemingly in nests. It was quite eerie. We have struggled to find any documentation specifically and it may well be that these are victims of a weather event subsequent to the earthquake.

skeleton still with feathers of a seabird nestled in the remains of a nest in the white pebbles on the beach
Young seabird skeleton: Kaikoura
man wearing a red tee short and shorts walking across the rocky beach area at the coast. Mountains in the background with wisps of cloud in front of them.
Nigel at Kaikoura

folded white rock whic looks like it is waves. A single windswept tree stands on the horizon on a hill

As 7pm drew close, we needed to make it off the road. The NZ Campervan Association manual told us that there were several possible overnight campsites along the road. Unfortunately, it didn’t tell us that they were no longer available because of the damage to the road. Maybe because the NZ campervan association is almost entirely analogue and so can’t easily update. However, eyes peeled we scanned the coastline and soon saw the telltale white of another van parked up close to the beach. The railway track was now conveniently on our left and so we easily pulled off, followed our noses and found a sweet spot right on the beach. We nudged Vera backwards so that we could open the tailgate and have a view of the ocean. Set for the night.

Sunset, fire, sleep, sunrise. Magic. #campervanlife

panorama of the sunset over a beach.

fire on the beach with a glass and a bottle of whisky in the foreground
Fire and Kaiapoi whisky – sweet combination

sunrising over the ocean, turbulent waves in the forground

 

 

 

 

A new chapter…

A new chapter has begun in the Robertson household. It’s exciting, scary and sad all at the same time. Aonghas turned 18 last October, he passed NCEA Level 3 and has finished school. He is still at home, working as an out of school care assistant (OSCAR) for the YMCA after school hours, coaching his old secondary school 2nd XI hockey team and mostly, for the rest of the time, playing computer games.  Transition is a hard time. Frustrating, confusing, unsettled.  Well, it is for the parents, anyway. Not sure Aonghas is bothered! Lachlan is in his final year of university (hopefully), he is between houses so he is back at home. Living in my office, so I have decamped to the living room. The house and garage is full of ‘stuff’.  They are good kids, they will get there, wherever ‘there’ is, sometime.

Family of two sons, parents and aunty in a restaurant.
All ‘growed up’

Why is it exciting? Well, we are ‘free’ of being a taxi service now that driving licenses have been acquired, although our cars are still required … not sure how that happened! So we can get away for weekends, no need to ferry boys to sports matches, no need to stand freezing on the sidelines. We can plan our weekends around ourselves and our own needs. Our boys have exciting adventures ahead of them, when they work out what they are, that is. They have new life experiences to look forward to.

Why is it scary? So much unknown territory. We have been ‘four’ then ‘three’, now we are ‘two’ again. Time to rediscover ourselves, each other. Can we find ourselves again after years of our focus being on two boys and not ourselves? Scary too, that we don’t know where the boys are. How do we keep them safe? How did we ever keep them safe? Are they spending too much time on computer games? Are they drinking too much? Are they taking drugs? Are they driving too fast? Are they doing stupid stuff? Where do they go when they answer the question, “What did you do with your mates?’ with “Oh, just hanging out, doing stuff.’ ? Hell’s teeth – what is ‘stuff’? and where were you hanging out?

Now I know what/how my parents felt.

Why is it sad? There is a hole. A hole which was once filled with hugs and cuddles, and new experiences that were shared and enjoyed together, and conversations, and worry about friends and school, and laughter, and I am unsure that it can be filled again. I miss my boys. I miss the spontaneity that seems to have gone now they are older. There is a hole where there were football matches and hockey games and mountain biking and lawn bowls and squash.  And binge watching of Star Wars and Harry Potter. Oh, I know it filled our weekends, but now it’s not there, I miss it. I miss standing on the sideline cheering them on, chatting to other parents, being an embarrassing parent – “Mum, do you have to shout so loud!?” I miss watching ‘George of the Jungle’ for the umpteenth time. I miss the noise, I miss the excruciating pain of standing on the lego brick in barefeet, I miss the lego creations and the battlefields of monsters, soldiers, and strange creatures arranged across the living room.  I miss the bedtime reads, the treasure hunts,  the looking after, and  … well, I miss being ‘needed’.

I am not ‘needed’ anymore.

My boys are ‘all growed up’.  They are pretty much independent. So I am not needed, at least not in the way that I have been ‘needed’ for the last 23 years.

So, we have found a way to fill the hole.

white camper van parked by the beach. Sun is setting, sky is pinky orange in the background.
First evening in ‘Vera’. Kaikoura.

We have bought a camper van so we can escape whenever we feel like it. There are so many places to explore that we haven’t been to yet.  More time to rediscover who we are, in new places.

It’s only a wee thing, and it’s pretty old and battered. But it’s ours. She is ours. Vera is ours. Okay, the name is not fixed yet and Nigel isn’t convinced but I’m working on it! She came with a free panda – Pete the Panda. (Name courtesy of William!)  I bought her when I was in Christchurch for work and then parked her at a friend’s house for a few weeks until we could fly down and pick her up.  That was our first camper van adventure.

 

 

 

 

Hamilton Gardens

December 29, 2017 at 09_21PMI went to Hamilton Gardens today with a friend. Met her for coffee then we had a wander round the gardens. My son took visitors from the UK there on Christmas Eve. We also took two lots of visitors, one from overseas, the other from Te Wai Pounamu there in the last month.

I run through the gardens regularly as part of my training route early morning or evenings.

I believe that Hamilton Gardens are the jewel in the crown of Kirikiriroa Hamilton and they are what draws people to Hamilton.  For the visitor, there doesn’t appear, on the surface, to be much else.  And, let’s face it, it hasn’t had a good press over the years and so is struggling to get over that.

I love Kirikiriroa, don’t get me wrong. Whilst we didn’t choose Kirikiriroa specifically when we moved here from the UK 10 years ago, (it was where the job was that my husband secured) we have made it our home and we are happy here. We love how the centre has developed to become a more cosmopolitan, modern place which is buzzing with people. We have enjoyed, though we certainly haven’t been as often as we wanted to, the exhibitions at the museum. When our children were younger, the libraries were a haven. We have explored the outskirts; places such as Pukemokemoke, Taitua Arboretum, the Sculpture Park at Tauwhare have been and still are, regular haunts.  The river footpath is another treasure and one that we are lucky enough to be able to use often as we live in Hamilton East. We can walk into town in 25 minutes and enjoy the changing mood of the river depending on the season, the weather, the time of day.

December 29, 2017 at 01_41PM

So, back to the Gardens.  As my friend and I walked through today we watched the children running their hands through the fountains, splashing in the pool at the American Modernist Garden. We watched people bending to savour the scents of the flowers, marvelling at the bees and butterflies as they flitted from flower to flower, listening to the cicadas. We witnessed families feeding the ducks, picnicking in the different open spaces and enjoying time together as a family. We saw people working out the time from the sundial, finding where their birthdays were and where the shadow would be.  We saw people sitting on the benches, sheltering from the sun, enjoying the space, meeting friends and family.

We wondered how many of these people were visitors to the Gardens and how many were locals making the most of their space during the holidays.  When we first arrived in Kirikiriroa 10 years ago, it was a sweltering hot January. We had no transport, so we had to walk everywhere.  (We did start to use the bus service after a couple of weeks but we actually arrived on Auckland Anniversary weekend and there was no bus service that weekend!) We discovered Hamilton Gardens in full bloom and fell in love at first sight.  Shall I tell you why?  First of all, (not the most important factor, but significant) for a family that arrived with very little cash until we could set up bank accounts etc, it was free. There were open spaces for our boys (8 and 12yrs old) to run around. The themed gardens were fascinating (still are), and the afore-mentioned pool in the American Modernist Garden provided a perfect place to cool off.  There was so much to explore, we could get to the river, we could find shade, we could picnic. It became our special place.

Since then we have taken every person who has visited us to Hamilton Gardens. They have all been amazed at how beautiful it is and how different it is to other gardens around the world.  We have loved how it has developed and not stood still.

Would we have taken them there if we had had to pay $10 per adult to go? I know that the Council proposal is only to charge for the special gardens and not the open spaces or the river sections. But how many visitors wander into the themed gardens as part of their visit, just because they can?  In doing so they expose their kids to different cultures, different experiences that have an impact on their learning and their understanding. I have heard kids asking their parents why there are some plants in some gardens and not in others, or why they are laid out differently.

So, rather than moan about the proposal to charge, and enter into the discussion about how much the Gardens are worth, or whether there should be a ‘locals’ rate, or how much setting up the payment system might cost, we have a suggestion.  If we believe that the Gardens ARE a ‘pull card’ for Hamilton, rather than charge for them, (which may stop people visiting, anyway) why don’t we capitalise on the attraction by enhancing the experience?  What if there is a way of making extra cash to support the Gardens without charging an entry fee which is more likely to deter people from coming than encourage them. If we had had to pay $10 per person over the last 10 years for the people we have brought to the gardens, we would not have come.

One thing that we have always considered to be a weakness of the Gardens is the paucity of refreshments available.  Until recently, the cafe was not great. It has improved massively over the last couple of years but is still often under pressure especially in busy times.  We heard kids today saying they were thirsty, hot, hungry.  What if, we could build on the themes in the gardens to offer refreshments that matched?  Afternoon tea and scones in the English Country Garden,  fresh cool Lassi  or Kulfi in the Indian Char Bagh Garden,  Chai in the Chinese Scholars Garden, home made lemonade or iced tea in the American Modernist Garden, Gelato in the Italian Renaissance Garden…… Once people are in the gardens, they get thirsty, they would buy an ice-cream or a drink if there was one on hand. I am aware that many people don’t bother going to the cafe once they have come out of the gardens because of the wait time, so  they go home or to another place in the area instead.

Yes, we considered the rubbish that may be strewn, and the space that a permanent structure would take up, that might detract from the attraction of the gardens.  But how about committing to recycling and sustainability and not using plastic packaging and providing sufficient receptacles for recycling paper packaging?  Handbarrows could be wheeled into the spaces as needed in busy times so a permanent structure is not necessary. They could be designed so that they matched the culture of the gardens, after all, all the countries associated with the themed gardens have street food and drink.

We know that there is far more to a plan like this than meets the eye, lots of factors that we are not even aware of. But surely it is worth considering more creative options….?

We had another idea about involving the local schools to support the Gardens too, so that kids who grow up here have some ownership and pride in a space which is theirs… I’ll save that for another day!

December 29, 2017 at 09_17PM

Welcome to a bi-cultural Aotearoa!

180_HCC_Citizenship_28Jul17.JPGTwo weeks ago my family and I became New Zealand citizens.  We came here 10 years ago this coming January from the UK. Why did we choose New Zealand over any other country? Partly because Nigel lived here 40 years ago when his parents emigrated from Scotland when he was 2 years old. He went to primary school here and his brother was born here.  Although they went back to Scotland when he was 8 years old, by that time his Aunties had come out and so we have some relatives here and a strong connection with the place.  Partly because it is an English speaking country so the boys and Nigel wouldn’t have to cope with learning a new language (our other option had been France). Partly because we are adventurers!

We came for a holiday in 2005 with our boys and we were struck by the beauty of the landscape, the open spaces, the lack of traffic on the roads…. Careful not to be swayed by the rose tinted glasses of being on holiday, we tried to look beyond the veneer as we travelled and considered whether NZ was a place we could live in.  As a traveller and a linguist, I am fascinated by language, culture, customs and people and how they interrelate.  I was fascinated by the fact that Aotearoa is a bicultural country with three official languages. Although I was struck early on by the lack of visibility of Te Reo; apart from a few signs at the airport saying Haere mai, Kia ora, Haere ra, images of the All Blacks performing the haka, Māori patterns and carved pou, there is little beyond that to indicate that the Māori language is living and breathing in all facets of the country .

Over the last ten years, I have learned a lot. I have made every effort to find out more about Māori tikanga (customs), and learn Te Reo Māori. It is hard. Not like any other language I have learned. Mainly because so many of the words have multiple meanings depending on the context. It is heavily nuanced and spiritual.  I think to learn it you really need to be immersed in the language and the people.  I am surprised as I learn about the pronunciation of the words, how badly the general populace articulates place names such as Taupō, and how they refuse to accept the Māori names of places they have long known in English such as Taranaki (Mount Egmont).  Places whose names were changed when Europeans came to Aotearoa and settled here.  This is because they have been mispronounced for so long that people believe that the way they were brought up pronouncing them is the correct way.  However, there is a growing awareness of the language and how words should be pronounced and I hear that on the radio, on TV and amongst my friends and colleagues.  I also know that many resist!

As an educator, I am encouraged to recognise diversity and respect the bi-cultural nature of Aotearoa.  For the last two years, I have been lucky enough to work for a company that values the language and the tikanga, celebrates what everyone brings to the table and promotes cultural responsiveness.  I am learning more language, developing a greater understanding of tikanga (though I have so much to learn) and  I am learning more about Te Tiriti o Waitangi and how it represents a partnership between Māori and Tou Iwi (other people).  A responsibility to recognise the values that all cultures bring to the rich tapestry of Aotearoa.  The articles are:

A1. Kāwanatanga
Honourable Governance: the right of the British to govern

A2. Rangatiratanga
Māori Retaining Agency, Voice, Choice
the right of hapū to retain sovereignty

A3. Ōritetanga
Equity: the guarantee that Māori would have the same rights as others

A4. Tikanga, Ahurea, Whakapono
Cultural & Spiritual Freedom: Māori customs shall be protected (the spoken promise)

Image of an original version of  Tiriti o Waitangi -it is an old, yellowed document with maori text By Archives New Zealand from New Zealand (Printed Sheet, Te Tiriti o Waitangi) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

So, back to our citizenship ceremony. This was our official welcome to the country we have chosen to call home.  We dressed in our best clothes – I got the boys “Robertson” ties to reflect their Scottish heritage (we thought about kilts but it was just too expensive!), took the day off work and school, planned a celebration (at the behest of friends – any excuse to party) and turned up at the Pavilion in Hamilton Gardens.

It was pleasant enough – 132 people representing 22 different nations, all seeking to become NZ citizens. We recited our affirmation of allegiance together and then one by one, family by family, received our certificates from the mayor and a Kowhai sapling to plant.Bright yellow flower formed like elongated bells

What was missing then?  Any indication that we were becoming citizens of a bicultural country.  Oh, apart from a bit of tokenism.

Neither the MC, nor the Mayor, nor the Member of Parliament who spoke to welcome us after we received our certificates of citizenship made any attempt to use any Reo Māori.  The Kaumatua seemed to have been ‘wheeled’ in to fulfil the niceties of the occasion but it was shallow and meaningless. How can officials of our bicultural country, a country which has at its basis a partnership, hold an important ceremony in which they fail to even use the most basic words of one of its official languages?  Our Member of Parliament even made reference to the diversity of the country and how all cultures were welcomed and recognised. He even urged those 22 different nationalities to hold on to their customs and languages, to keep our identities, hold on to our whakapapa (though he didn’t use that language). He went as far as stressing that our language is an essential part of who we are.  Yet he didn’t use Te Reo Māori, he didn’t even make reference to the Māori name of Hamilton, Kirikiriroa, as he welcomed us.

I left feeling a little empty and quite angry. Maybe I expected too much. From the land where the Haka is performed with such pride and gusto at every international rugby match, a visible and very physical representation of Māori-ness to the world.  I have grown used to Pōwhiri, to waiata, to karakia. To the warmth and richness of celebrations and welcomes in schools I have been a part of and that I have visited. I have been privileged to have been welcomed on to Marae as I have travelled the country, to have been welcomed into communities with warmth and friendship.  Our citizenship ceremony lacked that warmth, that true welcome, it lacked a bi-cultural depth.  It felt like it was a ceremony that goes through the motions – well oiled, smoothly executed. But it didn’t really seem like it was all about he tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.  It was Hamilton’s opportunity to show how important it perceives Te Tiriti to be as a guiding document and a way of living in partnership. To exemplify what partnership is to 132 people who have chosen to live in a bicultural, multicultural country. I don’t feel that it did that.

However, we do feel that we belong…we have been welcomed by friends. colleagues and whānau ever since we arrived here 10 years ago, so maybe we should put the ‘official’ welcome in context.  This whakatauki talks of Turangawaewae, of belonging.

E kore au e ngaro, he kākano i ruia mai i Rangiātea

I will never be lost for I am a seed sown in the heavens

 

Rakiura Track

Another beautiful day in paradise. Not sure where the forecasters got their info from but the 5 days of clouds, rain and wind were not really what we got. Maybe it’s all part of the plan to gear you up for dreadful weather so that when it isn’t quite so bad you feel like it’s amazing!

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Early morning at Ringaringa Beach

The Rakiura Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.  The 32km is usually covered over 2 or 3 days but we planned just to walk out to Port William which is usually the first leg and then back again.  The walk starts at the anchor chain at Lee Bay and follows the coast line climbing up over headlands and across swing bridges at beautiful sandy bays.  There are low tide routes across some of the bays but at high tide you need to take alternative routes. At the sign at the top of the steep steps leading down to the beach at Little River on the way back we considered whether we wanted to risk going down to have to come all the way back up or whether we should just take the high tide route.  Just as well we chose the high road as the beach we had walked across on the way there was completely covered with thigh deep water!

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Crossing Little River

We stopped for a while at Maori Beach to explore the old sawmill. Logging and milling went on here until the early 1930s and it seems that a thriving community grew up around it. Today, all that is left are a few rusting hulks – the remains of the boiler and the twin-cylinder steam engine that was the heart and lungs of the enterprise – half buried in the native bush.   It always amazes me how technology and industry come and go and, in time, nature reclaims its place.  It is fascinating to think that this now tranquil place with Tui and butterflies flitting around, the sound of birdsong, cicadas and the waves lapping the golden sands was once a hive of industry with the rhythmic chugging of a steam engine and people’s voices and steam and smoke filling in the air.

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Maori Beach
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Remnants of the sawmill at Maori Beach

After reaching Maori Beach which took us just an hour, I suggested either continuing on to Port William (another 4km there and back) or going up and over Garden Mound (less distance, more climbing but supposedly a great view!) on the way back to Lee Bay.  They opted for the distance although, as they suspected from experience of taking options provided by me, there was still a fair degree of climbing to do on the coastal track!  Onwards then, across the swing bridge which crossed the river at the far end of the beach and up the steep climb into the bush.

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Swing Bridge at end of Maori Beach

The forest here was cool and dark with tall trees reaching skywards towards the light whilst those in the understorey filled the gaps . Lush ferns scattered the forest floor, splashes of bright green as they caught the sunlight.  As with lots of NZ DoC tracks, this one is well maintained with plenty of cut steps.  I don’t like steps though, as they force you to stride at a length which is not your own; I much prefer picking my own path over steep ground but I understand that providing a route helps to prevent erosion and keeps people to the path to allow vegetation and wildlife to develop.

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Walking through the Bush
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Boardwalk along the coast

We soon popped out of the bush and onto the long Port William Beach.  Another golden bay with clear blue water so enticing that I just could not resist! But not yet…. We walked through the campsite, pausing to have a chat with some folk who were just packing up to head on to North Arm. They had arrived on the island the day before and were leaving the day after, so had literally just come to walk the Rakiura Track.  It seems many people do that but it does seem, to me, a waste of the quite expensive ferry fare to only be on the island for two days and a waste of the opportunity to savour so much more of such a beautiful island.

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Port William

As well as the campsite, there is a hut just a few hundred yards further on.  We chatted to the warden, a young volunteer just there for a few weeks (maybe that could be a retirement project – volunteer for DoC and “man” huts in isolated places!) and he said that they had seen kiwi in the grounds the previous evening and penguin on the beach that morning.  For the first time in our two weeks “down south” we were pestered by the huge sand flies we had been warned about, but then it was the first day we had really got well into double figure temperatures and little wind!   Since the place was uninhabited and the tide was close in, I stripped down to my knickers (much to the embarrassment of my teenage son!) and dived into the crystal clear waters.  Sheer Bliss!

The walk back, as there, was punctuated with stops to watch the birds and admire the views.  Interestingly, there was less birdsong here than we had heard on our previous walks but still plenty of Tui, Kereru, Fantails and a host of other small birds.

The plaques in the ground at the start of the track by the anchor chain carry thoughtful quotations. Interesting that Leonard Cockayne‘s message  “The face of the earth is changing so rapidly that soon there will be little of primitive nature left. In the Old World, it is practically gone forever. Here, then, is Stewart Island’s prime advantage, and one hard to overestimate. It is an actual piece of the primeval world.” suggests that the natural environment in 1909 was already under threat, if not gone altogether.  A hundred years on and Stewart Island is still relatively unspoilt and, according to Neville Peat  in 1992 holds the “hopes of generations unborn that places like this will always exist”.

It certainly is a beautiful, unspoilt place. A haven of tranquility, a chance to get back to nature.

Just pottering around

Gale force winds and rain were forecast for the rest of our time on Stewart Island. But we had cagoules and merinos and we grew up in the north of England and Scotland so we are no strangers to adverse weather conditions. There is some mileage in the notion that when you are expecting the worst anything else feels like a bonus.  So a day spent dodging showers, with the wind in our hair and plenty of sunshine in between times made us feel very fortunate! After our long day on Ulva Island we had a lazy start to Sunday.  The conservatory was a beautiful place to sit and read, it absorbed the sun and afforded us a stunning view over Ringaringa Bay.  But after an hour or so the heat became unbearable and Chris and I decided that it was time to make the most of the sunshine and headed out to explore leaving Nigel and Aonghas in bed.

20160110_132522The cottage we were renting came with a little 4wd which was a real boon. According to the DOC information it was a 40 minute walk from Ringaringa into Oban Township – what a delightful name – but it was quite hilly and by car was just 5 minutes which meant we could cover more ground and stay dry!

20160110_112751.jpgOur destination was Moturau Moana a public garden gifted to the NZ Government by Miss Noeline Baker in 1940.  It houses a collection of NZ native plants and we spent half an hour or so wandering around.  The rain held off and we had a great view across to Oban.  We both agreed that although it was a pleasant spot, had we made the effort to walk all the way from Oban we would have been a little disappointed.

Back into Oban, there was great tumult. At first we thought the new arrivals from the recently docked ferry were just taking photos but as we drove past we saw the object of the excitement – a sealion casually phalumping up the street.  He was a real celebrity, stalked by townsfolk and visitors alike as he made his way up the road.  A sharp, sudden downpour sent everyone scurrying for shelter and having snapped our shots of him we went home.

Sealion ObanA quick lunch and we were off again to walk along to Horseshoe Point. The path leads unpromisingly to start with through the refuse station but soon onto a dry, dusty track lined with old, twisted pine trees which cracked and groaned in the wind. A rope swing strung from high up in one of them entertained Aonghas for a short while. Then the pines gave way to shorter shrubs and bracken and the track narrowed and meandered up and down.  Out of the trees we were less sheltered from the wind but the sun was out and it was not too cold.  We didn’t see or hear a lot of birds but we were graced with the presence of kereru which turned up just as the sun did – just look at the iridescence of its beautiful green head and shoulders!kereru Horseshoe Bay

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The end of the peninsula is marked by an old, metal trig point and another spectacular view out across azure blue sea to more of the islands that scatter the Stewart Island coastline.  It seemed a perfect place to continue a tradition of mine to do a handstand on trig points around the world. So I did!

“Stewart Island anchors more than Maui’s canoe. It anchors in its rocks, rivers, and rugged shores and in its garnishment of plants and animals, the hope of generations unborn that places like this will always exist.”      Neville Peat, 1992

Te Punga o Te Waka a Maui, the original Maori name of Stewart Island, positions it firmly at the heart of Maori mythology. Translated as “The Anchor Stone of Maui’s Canoe“, it refers to the part played by this Island in the legend of Maui and his crew, who from their canoe (the South Island) caught and raised the great fish, (the North Island).  The more commonly known and used name however is Rakiura. Translated as “The great and deep blushing of Te Rakitamau” an early Maori Chief, seen today as the glowing sunrises, sunsets and the Aurora Australis or Southern Lights.” We weren’t fortunate enough to see the Aurora but we did see the anchor chain that connects Rakiura to the mainland.  It is a sculpture designed by local artist Russell Beck and is located at Lee Bay at the start of the Rakiura track, a 32km three day tramping track. Controversial when first installed it now appears to have acquired an iconic status. Its large, rusty red chain links are quite impressive and certainly provide a great photo opportunity for the young and young at heart!20160110_152907.jpg

20160110_152640.jpgThere is not a lot in Oban but it boasts three restaurants for the many tourists that visit.  “The French Crepery” (I have to cringe at the incorrect spelling, sorry!) was very high on Aonghas’ list of places to go so we decided to have an early tea (it closed at 5pm).  One bonus was the range of vegetarian options for Nigel and the savoury crepes were very good and came with a wholesome, comprehensive salad not just a limp lettuce leaf and a few  bits of chopped tomatoes and cucumber.  Aonghas, of course, went for a sweet pancake too but was disappointed when his favourite traditional lemon and sugar pancake came with icing sugar and not castor sugar. Nevertheless, he made a valiant effort but had to be helped to finish the huge dollop of ice-cream that came with it…!crepe

All good, because he worked off the sugar keeping warm whilst playing Nigel at giant chess in the freezing cold wind that whipped the sea front.

chess.jpgBack home to our little piece of paradise for a game of cards – we taught Chris how to play “Hearts” – before an evening walk down to the beach to go penguin spotting.

ringaringa beach.jpgOn arrival we saw some tracks which we thought might be penguin tracks leading from the sea across the sand to the bush line.  Not sure how many pairs might nest in the same vicinity we thought it was worth hanging out. It was a beautiful evening down there, the sea was calm and the light breeze wasn’t too cold and we were well rugged up.

We kept vigil for an hour and a half and, although we saw a penguin swimming in the sea, it dived beneath the waves and must have headed to a different beach as we never saw it resurface. Reluctantly, we headed back up the steep, narrow but short path in semi-darkness to our home for the week to round a great day off with a wee dram.20160111_210907.jpg