Category: NZ

Campervan Adventures Part 2

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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.

A fun day out

NZsportwalks

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

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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…

NZtravel

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

kirikiriroaNZ

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!

NZ

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

 

2016 – another year gone by!

NZ

Another year has gone by and we have been quite remiss at keeping everyone up to date. Facebook seems to be the main way of communicating with people on a day to day basis now. I will write a more detailed review of our year to send to friends and family without access to the internet but for now here is a photo story.

Rakiura Track

NZ

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

NZ

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

Ulva Island / Te Wharawhara

NZ

20160109_110203.jpgUlva Island is an unmissable trip if you are on Stewart Island.  We crossed from Golden Bay on the Ulva Island Ferry – a small 8 seater motor boat, fortunately with a zip up canopy to protect us from the wind and spray. We were handed our boarding passes by Anita – an elegant, tall lady wearing a long, flowing, green coat and wooden clogs; Mutton Scrub Leaves with the words Ulva Island Ferry handwritten on them. Mutton Scrub leaves were used as postcards and could legally be sent by mail until the 1970s in New Zealand. 20160109_111020

The crossing only takes 5 minutes and going over was a bit bumpy but by the time we came back at 4.30pm the wind had got up and there was a two metre swell and 85kmp winds! Quite exciting and just a little scary!

20160109_113528We landed at Post Office Bay, site of the first Post Office in the Stewart Island region established in 1872 by Charles Traill and immediately saw the flash of green Kakariki fly across the bay and into the bush.  The trail from there to Sydney Cove, to Boulder Bay and then back to the wharf is only 4km and we did initially wonder how we would make it last four hours!   No need to have worried, we even ended up rushing the last section to get back to the wharf in time for the ferry.

20160109_120912I think what struck us most was the richness of the birdsong; there was rarely a time when the forest was silent.  The glossy green and black plumage of the Tui as they swooped across the path was a constant.  One of my favourite birds it was wonderful to be able to watch them and listen to their songs. We were very excited when a wee grey bird hopped fearlessly on the path when we sat down on a bench to have a biscuit.  It posed happily for us as we took photos and identified it as a Stewart Island Robin.   Aonghas decided it looked like a Brutus and so the game of naming Stewart Island Robins began!  There were plenty more – cheeky little things, they followed us along the path and every time we sat down they would come begging for crumbs.

The bush too was lush and green. Bright green ferns, spiky Lancewood, droopy Rimu, Manuka and so many more plants and trees of every shade of green, brown and yellow camouflaged the birds which we could hear but not see.  Bright red Rata flowers carpeted the forest floor at times and lichens and cushiony mosses enriched the fallen logs and leaves. 20160109_125529.jpg

As well as the Robins, Tomtits, Bellbirds and Yellow Heads stayed around long enough and close enough as they flitted around in the trees for us to see them and positively identify them.  We may have seen Grey Warblers and Brown Creepers but can’t be sure as they move so fast through the leafy branches in the bush.

20160109_141508The telltale soft thudding of Kereru as they fly through the bush was also a constant and we saw them often perched statue-like on branches.  Their white “apron” and metallic green head makes them easy to pick out.

We heard the noisy chattering of more Kakariki but didn’t see any more but we did see several Kaka majestically seated on high branches carrying on their conversations.  I love the way that their claws are almost prehensile as they walk along the branches and then hang upside down to reach food.  Their habit of stretching a leg and a wing out fascinated us too. 20160109_132147

The sections of the walk are punctuated with visits to the bays.  Here we were subject to the onslaught of the burgeoning wind from which we were sheltered in the forest. An incoming tide stymied our plan to have our picnic lunch at West End Beach although it is unlikely we would have found a spot out of the wind anyway.  As on other beaches we visited around Stewart Island, the Oyster Catchers were fiercely guarding their nests in the sand and I, for one, would not like to be on the receiving end of those long pointy beaks! So we took photos, marvelled at the wild beauty of the coastline and the crashing waves and retreated to the forest and the waiting Robins.

20160109_132523As we walked back along the track I paused to look at a bird that flew across in front of me and landed in the bush to my side. It was clearly a Bellbird and was chatting away as I tried to turn my camera on to take a photo, it flew to the next branch frantically calling. I turned around to see a Weka run out of the bush and across the path. It almost seemed as if the one was following the other as they made their way noisily through the trees, the Bellbird flying and the Weka running. Later on we saw more Weka foraging in the leafy undergrowth, and wandering across our path, seemingly unperturbed by humans.  Eagle-eyed Aonghas also spotted a baby Weka which was quickly joined by its Mum although she didn’t seem bothered about us watching.

We really were sheltered in the bush and even on the beach at Sydney Cove where we sat watching the curious, comical, synchronised dance of the Oyster Catchers we were unaware of just how strong the wind was.  20160109_152921

The steep walk up to Flagstaff Point was done rather faster than we had planned but, amazingly, time was running out!  It was here that we were hit by the gale force of the wind – quite exhilarating. The view was spectacular out to Rakiura with white clouds scudding across the blue sky.

We had to wait at Post Office Bay – Ulva Island Ferries had clearly had a busy afternoon navigating the short stretch of water from Golden Bay as there were twenty or so people waiting to be taken home.  It was an interesting 5 minutes back with the waves, at times, coming right over the top of the plastic awning on the tiny boat! 

It was a fabulous day!

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