Ulva Island / Te Wharawhara


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!

Rakiura – land of wind and birdsong


January 8th was Nigel’s birthday so a lazy late start to the day and a birthday visit from a cheeky Kākā.

We headed off to Ackers Point dodging the rain showers. First stop brought us to Harold Bay and Acker’s House which was the first European house on the island.  Lewis Acker, an American, came to New Zealand as a whaler but turned his hand to boat building. He, his wife and their nine children lived in the two roomed stone house he built in what is now known as Harold Bay.  Apparently they had a 5 storey bunkbed! 

We continued on the undulating track which follows the headland dropping down a couple of times to sea level just for the fun of it and managing to shelter from the squally showers in the bush.  image
Little Blue penguins nest in this area although we wouldn’t expect to spot any in the middle of the day.  It amazes me that such tiny birds hop up such steep terrain to  build their nests.  Mutton Birds also nest here although mostly they are  across the sea on the Tītī islands but it seems that they pretty much slide in to land on chutes that lead to their nests.  After missing albatross in flight on Otago Peninsular, we were keen to spot them here and we were excited when we did.  Strictly speaking they are Mollymocks which are slightly smaller but they belong to the albatross family and are just as elegant and majestic in flight.
At the end of the headland is a stunning view straight across to the Tītī islands and to the right is The Neck.  An unmanned solar panelled lighthouse stands above the information boards where once there was a gas powered lighthouse.  The lighthouse was moved to Acker’s Point in 1927 when the main population moved to Halfmoon Bay from The Neck. 
In the afternoon we persuaded Aonghas to take Nigel out whilst Chris and I feigned tiredness so that we could make birthday cake.  Once it was in the oven we battled the wind and rain and walked up to Wohler’s Monument.  The constantly changing light that comes with the switch from sun to rain and back again is magical. I love the wind and how exhilarated it makes me feel. A wonderful result of sunshine and rain are rainbows and we have not been disappointed. We watched this one ‘grow’ from out at the island.


After birthday cake afternoon tea we headed to the South Sea Hotel for tea.  Not ideal for vegetarians since pizzas were not available and the onion soup was made with chicken stock so Nigel had a choice of Nachos, veggie burger or salad but the Blue Cod and chips was pretty good!

We ended the evening playing cards and with a wee dram of Drambuie!  Good first day on Rakiura!

Rakiura – Stewart Island



Our last day in the Catlins dawned sunnier than expected and so after a quick trip to McLean Falls and Lake Wilkie we headed to Tautuku beach.  McLean Falls are stunning although the morning sun made it difficult to photograph.  Once again Gus and I had fun clambering over stream boulders to get different shots of the three parts of the falls.  Definitely worth the climb to get to the top. 

Lake Wilkie is a tiny lake in the bush,  a tranquil spot where you can take a breath and just savour the beauty.  Dragonflies hummed all around us at the lake edge and the birdsong which has been a real feature of our walks in the Catlins was delightful.

At the beach the water was cool but being ‘hard’ northerners (of England) we could hack it! After all I was brought up on North Sea holidays in Filey and Scarborough! 
We headed to the Whistling Frog for tea – great fish and chips but mediocre beer which was a shame since it was a local brew.
The journey to Bluff was uneventful although mention must be made of the weather which was still surprisingly and unexpectedly good.  The continuing sunshine and lack of wind made for a relatively smooth crossing of the Foveaux Strait and brilliant views of Stewart Island. 
Mona meet us at Oban with the Rav4, our vehicle for the week which comes with the cottage.  Ringaringa Cottage is not really a cottage but a tidy two bedroom 1970s house.  What makes it is its location overlooking Ringaringa Beach with a view out to Native Island and a conservatory which is an absolute suntrap. 

It is also home to a host of native birds and we have already been visited by Tui, Kereru, Kaka, as well as thrushes, sparrows and other small birds we can’t name!

A short but steep walk takes us down the crumbling cliff to the beach. For a while we watched the seagulls surfing on the waves as they rolled gently in on the shallow beach, then we wandered along accompanied by the incessant sqwarking of an Oyster Catcher. We thought he was protecting a mate and a nest so walked past quickly aiming for the rocky point as we had been told we could get right round to the next bay. 
However, he flew ahead still shouting at us, then he was joined by his mate and we decided that maybe retreat was the advisable course of action – I certainly didn’tfancy beingon the receiving end of those long, sharp orange beaks!
Conscious that we may not have any sun given the bleak forecast,  Gus and I went for a swim.  I love the clarity of the water in New Zealand, it is impossible to resist plunging in however cold it may be!

After a trip into Oban for some essential supplies (beer and wine) and a recce of the pub and the DOC centre we headed home to light the stove and have tea. Oban, like it’s namesake in Scotland is a port and is the access point to the mainland. It is a busy wee place with a well-stocked general store, a pub, a couple of restaurants, an outdoor clothes shop (merino wear – an essential fabric for the changeable weather and especially useful for those of us who forgot their thermal leggings!) boat supplies, ferry terminal and places offering guided tours of the area.
The forecast,  as I already said was bleak – rain, wind, more rain, gales, rain! You get the idea… So since it was a fine evening,  Nigel and I went out for a short evening walk to Wohler’s Monument.  It afforded us a fantastic view across the bays and up close sightings of Kereru and Tui.

To the right…


Having  gone left yesterday, today we went right. The plan was to go all the way to Waipapa Lighthouse and then work our way back but we were distracted by the Lost Gypsy Gallery which at first glance seemed to fit the bill to be in Owaka – rusty old bits of bicycle fashioned together and a ramshackle caravan. 
However, we were soon mesmerised by the quirky, ingenuity of the ‘lost gypsy’.  A hundertwasser style coffee shelter with coloured glass bottles embedded in bench seats and  walls along with a myriad cornucopia of cogs, wheels, old tools, coins and anything else I recognised from my dad’s collection of tins in his shed.  The ‘temptation’ button tempted us (and everyone else who went past!) and our transgressing was rewarded by being sprayed with water.
Inside the old caravan is packed with an amazing array of inventive engineering using aforementioned bits and bobs of everyday life. All those things my Dad hoarded because they might come in useful; springs, wires, string, bolts,  nails, cogs, wheels artfully blended with shells and driftwood with snippets of cartoons, interesting newspaper cuttings, pithy sayings and political satire thrown in for good measure.  Press a button and a wee train runs around a shelf above your head activating lights, jingles and other stuff. Kaleidoscopes,  light boxes, mechanical trompe d’oeil – the more you looked, the more you saw.  We spent a happy half an hour exploring the caravan and were so intrigued by it all that we decided to pay the princely sum of $5 each to enter the ‘Theatre’. 
The ‘Theatre’ houses larger scale inventions,  some simple and some intricate but all made of things we would normally throw away; old telephones, bicycle wheels, bits of transistor radios,  television tubes, dolls, buckets, bells,  hairdryers,  whistles…..  The pièce de résistance was the piano, each key activated a different set of noises or actions. We must have spent a full half an hour ‘playing’ and identifying which key did what in this amazing theatre of light, sound and action.  Probably the best 5$ I have ever spent.
Back on the road we amended our plans.

The day hinged on getting to Cathedral Cove for low tide so we decided to go straight to Slope Point and miss out Waipapa.  The rain fell for much of the car ride but cleared by the time we got to the most southerly point of South Island. Here the trees and grass appear to grow horizontally so strong is the prevailing wind!  It was a bracing walk to the point which is marked with signposts indicating the distance to the two poles.   Below the waves crashed on to the rocks the white foam exploding out of the blueness of the water on impact.  Mesmerising.
Onwards now to Curio Bay where 160 million year old trees lay petrified in the rock. Mud and ashflow from volcanoes felled the forest and buried the trees, the ocean levels rose and all were covered. Dropping sea levels exposed the rock and the action of the waves has gradually eroded the softer rock around the trees so trunks and stumps are clearly visible. 

I love walking around rock pools anyway but Curio Bay is special. Once you get down onto the bay and look from ground level you can see the extent of the tree stumps and easily visualise the forest – tall, leafy trees where now there are only stumps.  Where there might have been lush undergrowth there are now rock pools rich with life – easy pickings for the gulls, oyster catchers and shags that stalk the beach.
Seaweed is an incredible plant, isnt it?  There is a narrow channel there which is full of huge ochre coloured seaweed. clamped to the rock at one end its long ‘tails’ are free to snake backwards and forwards as the waves pulse in and out.  It is other worldly and the ‘heads’ atached to the rock made me think of the ‘ood’ from Dr Who!  
Yellow eyed penguin nesting sites are roped off to protect them but it is sad that some people ignore the signs.  We spotted a group clustered up on the rocks close to the shrubs and dunes and realised that they were following a penguin.  Nigel managed to get a great video with his new camera on zoom of the penguin hopping away but that was the closest we got.

Last stop of the day was Cathedral Cave. You will get wet, she said. How wet will depend on how well you judge the waves. We got wet! The huge caves are formed by erosion from the waves beating against the cliff.  Cathedral Cave is unusual in that there are two parallel caves which join at the back and form a horseshoe.  Apparently, years ago they were easy to access at low tide but the sand level shifts over the years and currently it is lower so the sea is always around the entrance. 
Along with tourists from all over the world we hopped on rocks, dodged the waves and dashed between them to get into the cave without getting too wet.  By now the sky was blue and the sun was out so the views out of the majestic archway were impressive.  We wandered around for ten minutes or so before getting cold and heading out. 
To Aonghas’ great amusement, Chris was caught by the back splash of a wave on the rock against which she was leaning and was drenched from head to toe!   Before setting out on the steep track through the bush back up to the car park Gus persuaded me to go for a swim.  Well, it has to be done, doesn’t it? Who can resist sun dappled, crashing waves?  Not me!

The Catlins: Left and then Right


At the bottom of our lane there are things to do in both directions. The question on our first evening “What shall we do tomorrow? ” was answered with “Let’s go left”. So we did. And then the next day we went right.
To the left – waterfalls, bush, beach and wacky Owaka
A short walk down through the bush to Matai and Horseshoe Falls. ‘It is Summer and we will wear shorts and sandals!’ We were definitely underdressed by comparison with the rest of the visitors and I have to admit to feeling a tad cold in the damp and dark of the bush. However, clambering over rocks to get closer to the falls soon warmed me up as did the climb back up to the car park.  The falls are interesting without being spectacular.
Owaka is a curious wee place.  I wonder if it is isolation that breeds weird and wonderful curiosity shops or whether those with an eccentric bent are attracted to wilderness places!  There are three cafes, Dougie’s Man Cave which houses a mixed collection of artsy bric-a-brac, pre-loved clothes and local crafts, an art gallery, and a Four Square as well as a Fire Station and a Community Centre. But the pearls in the oyster are Aunty’s Attic and the Teapot House.  Have to be seen to be believed!  I guess one man’s junk is another man’s treasure but, seriously!?  Aunty’s Attic was stuffed full of every bit of household junk you could imagine – $35 for 6 old milk bottles! A collector’s paradise! The Teapot House has maybe seen better days, and is really a teapot garden. The owner beseeches us to count the teapots and spot the fairies, and photos, the board suggests, can be taken for a gold coin donation. 

The caffeine and quirkiness hits propelled us on to our next stop. Jack’s Blowhole is an impressive 35m deep fissure 200m in from the seashore. By now blue sky outweighed cloud, the sun almost counteracted the sharp wind and we enjoyed the short but steepish climb from the beach and along the cliff top with the sun on our backs.

Purakaunui Falls are reputedly one of the most photographed falls in New Zealand and they are certainly picturesque. The light at the end of the afternoon filtered through the bush and dappled the water. Aonghas and I clambered again over the rocks, initially to get a different angled shot but then just for the fun of it. We thought we might be able to get onto the second “tier” of the waterfall but it proved too slippery.
The Old Coach Road was our last foray of the day.  This is an old road used by traders and sailors back in the day and you can clearly  see the formation of the track through the bush alongside the estuary  This is an area that had been used by Maori well before the European settlers arrived. A site is marked where Moa bones have been found. This track leads to one of the many beautiful golden sandy beaches of the area.


Summer Holiday – Southern road trip to Stewart Island


Part 4 of our plan to top and bottom the extremities of New Zealand.  The south of North Island was easy; Wellington is the capital city, after all and we have ample excuse to visit with rellies in the area.  I think Cape Palliser is officially the southernmost point and I think we have driven round there on a trip to the Wairarapa. 
Next came the ‘Top o’the South’; the Abel Tasman track was our main goal and we took the opportunity to explore the area by camping out at Collingwood.  It was an eventful trip – more details in this blogpost.
Two years ago we headed up to Cape Reinga on our northern odyssey and took in sand dunes, kauri forest, silica sands and gum diggers on the way. 
Summer 2015/16 then is the turn of the south and here we are. 

Chairs which represent the people killed by the Christchurch earthquake Feb 2011

Hogmanay with cousins in Rangiora gave us the chance to explore Christchurch a little before driving down via Moeraki Boulders to Dunedin. 

We had seen similar geological phenomena up in Northland at Koutou Boulders in Opononi but time and the tide prevented us from seeing all of them.  The Moeraki Boulders are impressive even with hordes of (other) tourists milling around and we had fun jumping from one to another, taking silly photos and marvelling at how they were formed. 

Onwards to Dunedin and the stately victorian buildings are evidence of it being the oldest city in New Zealand.  One of the things we miss about the UK and Europe is the history but being so used to it, we almost took it for granted in Dunedin before realising that it is not what we see very much in Hamilton especially but even in Auckland and Wellington.  Historic buildings are there, of course, but not to the same extent. 
After a week or so of sweltering weather up north we had been brought down to earth with the unpredictability of southern climes with temperature differences of 10 degrees from one day to the next. 


A visit out to the beautiful Otago Peninsula to see nesting albatross was characterised by hot sun tempered by chill winds.  It is difficult to believe we were only half an hour from a big city as we walked out to the Pyramids, beautiful golden sands and azure seas.  Unfortunately,  (or maybe fortunately) we didn’t encounter any sea lions in the sand dunes and, sadly nor did we see any penguins. 



January 2nd brought the rain so we were glad we had saved the Cadbury chocolate factory tour but so, it seemed, had the rest of the New Year visitors to Dunedin and the first available tour was after lunch.  Luckily the rain stopped for a while so we decided to do the street art trail.  A series of 25 murals by different artists decorate the walls in alleyways between buildings around the city centre. The paintings are beautiful, all very different and they definitely brighten up some dilapidated areas.  It kept us happy for a good couple of hours until it was time for chocolate!  The Cadbury tour is everything you might expect it to be… very Willy Wonker-ish but entertaining nonetheless and we did learn a little bit about chocolate making.

Our whistlestop road trip back on the road, we headed south to the Catlins.  As we had driven down from Christchurch the huge expanses of flat lands had given way to rolling hills and then steep gorges. Now we were struck by the lush greenness of the pastures and hillsides. 

View from Hilltop

Our home for four days is Hilltop cottage in Papatowai. As its name suggests it is perched on a hill with beautiful views out to the coast to the east and inland up the Takahoma valley to the west.  A wee weatherboard house with “character”, we have fallen in love….

Photo a Day 2016


Decided that to document the 366 days in 2016 I will aim to post a photo each day –  here is the link to the blog…. 366photos2016.wordpress.com
Starting off with the very last photo of 2015 as the clock struck 12


Christmas News 2015


Family at dinner

A momentous year: our boys turned 21 and 16 respectively and Nigel and I celebrated 25 years together – milestones in their lives and ours.  Putting together a slide show of photos for Lachlan’s 21st Birthday party took us on a journey into the past. How far we have all come? Where did the time go and how did my tiny 5lb premature baby get to be a tall, strong, beautiful young man?  And we look at the Facebook pages of all our friends and their children and they too are young adults making their own ways in the world, taking on challenges that we couldn’t really imagine them ever getting to when they were tiny tots but proud that they have grown strong and independent.

We’ve had a couple of visitors this year from the UK.  So nice to welcome friends and children of friends and show them round our place. Andrew Kyles and his friend Matthew spent a few days with us in winter on their trip around NZ.  As well as meeting them it was lovely to catch up on news from home and chat again to Vanessa and Iain via Facebook.  In October, we had a great week with Imy Farmer re-exploring the Waikato. I love seeing how all those children have grown up and become such wonderful adults.  We don’t have much space but love having visitors so “come on down”!

The year started for me in Costa Rica and Nicaragua with a team of girls from school. What an amazing trip and it has left me with more places to explore and to take the rest of the family. We climbed volcanoes , made chocolate and ziplined through coffee plantations in Nicaragua and trekked through rainforest and worked in a local community in a very isolated part of Costa Rica.

Nigel and Aonghas went on a good old Kiwi road trip to South Island, visiting rellies and exploring the country.  Lachlan spent the holidays working – life is hard isn’t it?

In March I walked 100km in 18 and a half hours with three teammates to raise funds for Oxfam.  Oxfam Trailwalker is a huge challenge but very rewarding. Lachlan and Aonghas were my amazing support team (Nigel was away in Oz for work) and they provided me with food, massages and encouragement. I couldn’t have done it without them! And thanks to all of you who donated to the cause. Look out! because I have madly signed up for another one and my 54th birthday will be spent walking 100km in Whakatane. Begging emails and FB posts are on their way!  I also managed to run my first (maybe my only) half marathon. I think I might pick and choose – I don’t really like running for running’s sake but do like a challenge and being out in beautiful countryside.  The Kinloch marathon was along the mountain bike tracks by the side of lake Taupo so the views were stunning and it was a great day to be out there.

Nigel continues to work at the University of Waikato in the Waikato Centre for Elearning (WCEL) whilst I made a big change this year and left the classroom! I am now working for a company called Core Education on a Ministry of Education contract. I work with schools providing them with advice and support as they integrate digital technologies into their curricula.  It is a huge change from being in a classroom but I am enjoying the challenge and the flexibility of working from home. The “Craft Beer” resurgence in NZ has meant that there is good bottled beer aplenty for us to sample.   Now the boys are either not at home or old enough to leave on their own we have also rediscovered a night life and some good drinking holes in The Tron that we can almost call our locals!

I managed to fit in a fleeting trip to Spain in July, between jobs. I received a scholarship to study at the University of Salamanca for two weeks along with 9 other NZ teachers. Very complicated in the end due to changing jobs so didn’t manage to have any extra time to make it to the UK or France as I had hoped. Unfortunately, it was also the wrong time of year for anyone to dash across the Channel to meet me in Madrid. However, I hired a tiny little car and drove for 6 hours down the amazing motorway and bridges of Portugal to meet my friend Gail for a weekend in Lisbon. What an incredible city and so good to catch up with Gail.Salamanca Plaza Mayor

20150718_173814Lachlan decided this year that working in a shop didn’t offer very exciting lifelong prospects and has enrolled at university. He is studying Philosophy, History and Political Science. Must be thinking of being the next politician who will change the world!  He is living with a group of friends and learning how to cope with the challenge of people who don’t have the same standards of cleanliness that he has! Who would have known that the boy who’s bedroom carpet was only revealed once he left home would be frustrated at other people’s messiness!!??20151006_201734my boysAonghas started his very extended summer holidays back at the beginning of November when exam leave began and apart from three weeks of relatively concerted study time has pretty much spent his time playing DOTA or Minecraft – oh, apart from the times we can pry him away to load/unload the dishwasher, hang the washing out, do some gardening ….! Still a long way to go until February when the next school year starts. Oh, those summer days when we were young! He still plays hockey and as well as playing for school is also playing for a local Club team. 20150816_19280820150925_141426

No longer a teacher, I have joined the realm of 4 weeks holiday a year + stats, so my Christmas holiday days are just the standard Christmas Day, Boxing Day, News Year’s Day. But the office is closed from 24th Dec to 5th Jan so I have to take leave then.  I have also taken some annual leave to tag on to the end of that so we will have a couple of weeks away.  Our destination this year is the southernmost tip of South Island.  We’ve “done” the north of the North, the south of the North, the north of the South and now it is the turn of the south of the South!  Aunty Chris is coming with us and we are looking forward to a road trip and a chance to explore more of this beautiful country. We still get out and about walking and biking but less than we would hope – weekends are still pretty much tied up with hockey and football matches!

waikatoNigel Walk Blue poolsFacebook seems to be our main way of keeping up with people and their news so keep on posting and we’ll keep on stalking. Otherwise, email makes communication quicker than “snailmail.”

Wishing you all our best wishes and lots of love and thoughts for the Christmas season and the New Year.  

Anne, Nigel, Lachlan and Aonghas xxx (please note, I am now the shortest member of my family!!)



Making Imagination Reality


I wrote this post on the last day of my trip to Spain at the beginning of July and have just found it in the notebook I wrote it in which was in a paper bag inside a tote bag I bought in El Museo del Prado… don’t ask! I have been busy and haven’t had time to sort out the bits and pieces I brought back. Anyway, as a reflection of my thoughts at the time I think it is worth posting even if the dates now don’t fit, so please ignore the references to time.

Ultimo dia en Espana!  A little strange to be starting a blog on the last day of my trip but I just bought a notebook  and pencil at the Museo del Prado with a quote by Picasso on the cover;

notebook with quote from Picasso in Spanish that translates as "All that you can imagine is real"“Todo lo que puedes imaginar es real”

Having seen and studied some of the paintings by Picasso and Dali over the last few days, I am unsure that my imagination even approaches either of theirs! Weird and wonderful! But I do believe that if you work at what you want you can make it real.

Yesterday was my last official day of working as a teacher in a school, at least for the next two and a half years. After 30 years teaching children and adults in schools and colleges; mainly French, German, Spanish & Phys Ed, but also Health, Drama, Food & Nutrition, PSHE and ICT (phew!) I am taking a scary but exciting step into a new world.

Not too big a step though… I will still be working in Education supporting schools and teachers integrate digital technology into their schools and curricula. I have been working towards this over the last few years in my role at school as an “eLearning Mentor” supporting my colleagues as they cope with the huge changes that technology has brought to their already busy worlds within and without their classrooms.

Change is scary. It is stressful. Technology can be overwhelming and make people question their worth, their competency and knock their confidence. goldfish jumping from small bowl to large one and the words

I saw a Facebook post earlier that said “Making a big life change is pretty scary. But know what’s even scarier? Regret.”

Decisions I (we) have made, big ones, like moving the family to the other side of the world, over the last decade have maybe been made on that basis. How would we feel 15 years on? Would we always say to ourselv
es “What if…?” But maybe, in today’s text speak, there is also a little bit of FOMO there too?

I have a dear colleague in the UK who asked me to promise when I left that I would learn to say “No”. I get excited about new things, new directions. My imagination starts to run riot (not quite like Picasso or Dali) when I see the possibilities and I often do take on too much. But that’s just who I am. Is it FOMO, is it fear of REGRET or is it PASSION or IMAGINATION and the BELIEF that I can make my imaginings real?  I don’t know. Sorry, Sue. I have not learned how to say “NO” but my world is getting bigger and I am excited (and a little bit scared) about my next big step.

Bring on the reality of my imagination!

Post Script

Five weeks into my job and I am loving it.I  am being challenged in all sorts of ways but realising that I know more than I thought I knew.

It’s all in a name!


Thursday was the end of another chapter.  I start a new job in two weeks time.  Not as a teacher of children but as a facilitator for a company called Core Education. I will be part of a Ministry of Education team advising and supporting schools as they integrate technology into their learning programmes. This sort of work has been a large part of what I have been doing over the last 7 years anyway but it is a big step to take and I feel just a bit weird!
Anyway, more of that in a later post. For now I am in Spain; long complicated back story but basically I was lucky enough to win a scholarship provided by the University of Auckland and the Spanish Embassy to come to Salamanca University to study Spanish for two weeks.  I am going to make the most of it because for the first time in my life I will not have 11 weeks holiday a year to play with! So the next few posts will be ramblings from Spain.

Madrid, Plaza de Sol

Viernes el 3 de julio
I promised myself a trip to the mountains out of Madrid and a visit to Manzanares. So up reasonably early to catch train at Atocha at 9.00am. Just as well I gave myself plenty of time because the station was heaving and I had to queue for half an hour for ticket. Then found that train was at 9.30 ! Next: breakfast. l had an Oferta de Manana- coffee, orange juice and croissant for 3€ standing up at bar “a la Espanol” Confusion abounded then as I searched for my way into the platforms- 3 different sets of platforms at Atocha: Local, regional, national! More confusion once I found the right one as hordes of people are milling around at the top of the stairs going down to the platforms.  It seems we are in some sort of holding area waiting for the lady who spends more time on her phone or greeting long lost friends than doing her job.  “Espera,  espera!” she repeats to everyone who tries to ask for help.
20150704_110759Finally, I am on the train; the uninspiring industrial and commercial buildings typical of the outskirts of any big city have given way to dry, undulating, yellow fields of olive trees to my left, green fields to my right with low hills in the middle distance. Every now and then clusters of red roofed, pale terracotta houses seem to be evidence of the creeping urban sprawl of Madrid linked by the main road that runs alongside us. The embankment wall is scrawled with grafitti mainly of the bored youth variety but occasionally a political slogan or two.

First stop Aranjuez, I have no idea how many stops before Manzanares but it will take 2 hours so I have plenty of time to enjoy the scenery. This is a “go with the flow ‘ day.  Apart from reading a few sentences that said Manzanares was an interesting place to visit and the fact that you can walk in the forest and hills around, l know nothing! I have 8 hours to explore! Hoping it’s not going to be too hot! But I have my hat and my “abanico “, a bottIe or two of water and my adventuring head on! Here goes!

Stop 2: Villasequilla
20150704_185428Sun parched fields, olive groves, dry baked earth – yellow but tinged red, unclouded blue sky and the heat shimmering on the horizon. Looking out from an air-conditioned train, it looks pleasant but I know what heat is going to hit me once I step out!
White windmills with red roofs and big sails, the old-fashioned type, sit on the hills just above a village. T o my left, along the whole length of the ridge, the tall, elegant modern day sort stand resplendent, their three sails turning, turning, turning.

Stop 3: Villacanas.
20150704_102357A small, industrial town- I say industrial became it looks like there is a factory, a chimney, warehouses and water towers, but it is surrounded by fields – a splash of a different colour in the centre of the flat lands of yellow.  It seems amazing that the newly planted olive trees (l presume that’s what they are but will confirm later ) could survive the harsh sun.

Stop 4: Quero.
Storks perched precariously on abandoned buildings. More grafitti daubed walls.  A nothing place!

Stop 5: Alcazar de san Juan
20150704_105350Alcazar means castle or fort but this looks industrial.  I wonder what the town and its people are really like?  Here I am making judgements from the glimpses I have as the train enters and leaves the station. A corridor view, blinkered by the constraints of what I can see from my seat.  Grafitti decorates the walls, bright, artistic, expressions of youths’ boredom, frustration or just a need to make a mark.  After all people have been doing it for centuries! It is more than a blip on the landscape. An old steam train is parked to the right, not haphazardly and I wonder what it’s used for.  Large white tanks and the tell-tale factory zig-zag roof profile help to strengthen my thoughts about this being an industrial hub.

I think my stop is next!! But still 20 mins to go. Little white buildings with red tiled roofs at the corner of each planted field . Not sure what the little trees / bushes) seedlings are – olives? It’s still very flat – where are the hills? Starting  to see vague outlines in the distances, smokey brown shapes through the heat haze.

Phones ringing,”Dime, dime!” conversations going on with invisible people ! Even stranger when folks don’t have a phone but just ear pieces as they seem to be talking to themselves!

Final stop: Manzanares
20150704_113100So….. wrong Manzanares! l sort of knew that the place I wanted was called Manzanares el Real, But when I asked at the railway station for a ticket to Manzanares I didn’t know there was another town called “Manzanares “and they didn’t ask which Manzanares I wanted.

20150704_113932So, no walking in the mountains! But l am exploring this little town, not entirely sure how to fill the time until 7 pm when my train leaves as there are only so many churches & museums to shelter from the sun in. The grand looking “Gran Teatro” dominates the street as I walk into town to the tourist office to find out what there is to do here. There is something intellectual about european grafitti! But then when a country is in economic crisis and there is something to protest about, and 25% of under 30s are unemployed, there is time to be creative.


The gems in this place this morning though have been the Museo Manuel Pina and the Museo de Queso Manchego. 5€ well spent.  Manuel Pina was Spain’s leading fashion designer in the 80’s and 90’s. He designed clothes for Almodovar’s characters and was highly influential in the fashion world. He took his inspiration from the women of the region, the colours of the land and the climate. The museum is small, Pina died at the age of 53 fm AIDS, but it is delightful. Housed in the cellar of a old house, the mannequins stand in the vaulted brick arches, artistically lit and not so many that you are overwhelmed.  The clothes are bold, they make statements about the land and its women and Manuel’s relationship with them. I love the quote from him that translates as “A man’s shadow is sometimes more human and more real than the man himself”.

Next up el Museo de Queso Manchego. This gave me a greater understanding of the land I travelled through on the train. It is a great little museum housed in a former dignitary’s grand dwelling with tiled floors and walls and a courtyard with a well in the middle. Cool in the heat of the sun.  A mixture of local art and pottery alongside artefacts from the cheese making industry and a well-planned explanation of the importance of the cheese industry to the  area. I thought the child friendly synopses of the extended written explanations were brilliant idea. They certainly helped me! The cheese tasting at the end ( with wine) topped the visit off.20150704_133122

Less impressive is the Castillo; it has been recently renovated and looks a bit like a mock castle now -walls too straight, the bricks/ stones too regular. l didn’t go in , not even sure you can. I am currently sitting in la Plaza de la Constitucion opposite a beautiful XVI century church which goes by the rather long name of la Iglesia Parroquial de la Asuncion de Nuestra Senora, drinking beer and eating enough for two! A huge plate of jamon iberico and an ensalada mixta – wondering if l can get a doggy bag. On the other hand I have all day so might as well order another beer!

Interestingly though, talking about regular bricks. it does seem that the natural building material here is clay bricks. They are a beautiful, warm pinkish red colour. Many of the older buildings have them whereas more modern constructs are concrete with a painted plaster covering.

It is getting hotter and I am struggling. I think the travel days have caught up with me. I decide to head to the station to see if I can get an earlier train.  Manzanares is a ghost town.  I have arrived on day 2 of the annual fiesta. Shops that normally close at 2 pm and reopen at 4pm will not open un til 6 pm. The population is holed up preparing to party tonight.
20150704_162408One more place to visit though,  since I am here.  The Parque de Poligono de Manzanares.  A bit tacky but I am too hot really to appreciate anything right now. Normally I would delight in the peacocks strutting around – well to be honest they’re not strutting, I think they’re too hot as well!  The feature of this park are the planets all laid out in order from the Sun to Pluto.  On a scale of 1/166.500 the sun has a diameter of 8.4m and the Earth 7.7cm.  It is quite fascinating but not in 38 degrees after travelling halfway round the world.
Off to the station, surely I’ll be able to change my ticket? Long story short, I couldn’t.  The guard must be having a really bad day – I’m trying to be charitable here… the train is practically empty, it is due to stop in only three places on the way,  he won’t let me on. I have to wait another two hours.  As he closes the doors on me, I plead with him.  Frustration wins and I hurl English abuse at an unhearing man and a disappearing train.  As the concerned couple in the station say when I explain what has happened, I should have just got on rather than being honest and asking.
Self pity is bearing down,  and I almost let it engulf me. I indulge in a few tears and then remember the bus station.  Maybe there is a bus!? Loathe to spend more money.  Maybe I can find a bar to sit in the cool until the train?  A walk back down the street answers that question – Manzanares is still shut!
Bus station,  bus in 10 minutes, yayy! I buy a ticket and head to the bar – yes, the bus station has a bar – and I get a beer. Standing at the counter I almost knock it back in a oner! So thirsty despite drinking loads of water.
Fell asleep in the bus about 10 minutes out of town,  wake up as bus pulls into Madrid!  Day done!  It was an adventure.

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