Year 10 of my two year break

It was ten years ago today that I left New Zealand for my second Overseas Experience. The OE, now known as the gap year I guess, is the thing you do when you’re a young Kiwi, not a 49 year old single father of three mostly-grown children. My life was perfectly ‘fine’ but I was burnt out and needed a break from work and the repetitiveness of the everyday, plus I wanted to see more of the world than I had managed to so far. It was to be an opportunity to clean house and unload a bunch of physical and emotional baggage and escape reality for a while. When I flew out of Auckland Airport, destination Singapore, I had no plan beyond a flight to Borneo three days later. I told family and friends I’d be gone for no longer than two years, but secretly hoped to make it past the three weeks I had committed myself to. It wasn’t as if I’d a job or a home to return to after three weeks if I chickened out and accepted that the mundane was safer, quieter, less challenging and maybe pretty damn good after all.

Here I am 10 years later, back in Auckland for five months; and preparing to leave again in another two. The reasons for leaving this time are very, but not entirely, different, but at least now it feels more like going home rather than running away. Of course Eleanor is the big difference to how I feel about home, and she is the main reason why my ‘maximum of two years’ plan was discarded so long ago. I am a much happier and far more content man than I used to be. I think I am a better human too.

I left New Zealand to travel, and over the first 15 months I travelled a lot, visiting countries in SE Asia, Africa and Europe. Did I do all I planned? Yes, more than I could ever have dreamed of, but was it enough? Heck no. I still have the wanderlust; but now it’s restrained by the reality of being 59, by finances and right now, by Covid. The future of travel and wandering is uncertain and that does make me a little sad, there are still a lot of places I want to see and experiences I want to have. I am greedy and selfish I know, I’ve done more than most and should be satisfied with that, though I’m not.

I need to learn to enjoy the now more than I sometimes do, enjoy the very good things I have in my life; the family, friends, the job and its money, the freedom and the privilege. I do understand and appreciate all those things and more and know I am incredibly lucky, but one more backpacking trip wouldn’t go astray…

I have a few regrets from that time; I would love to be a better granddad and spend more time with my grandchildren, and I would like to be physically closer to Mum too. This trip to New Zealand was supposed to be the start of that journey, but New Zealand is just not where I’m meant to be. I have learned many things about myself over the last ten years and one of those things is I have to look after myself first. If I’m no good to me then I am no good to anyone else. Some may see this as a selfish point of view, and I can’t deny that it is selfish, but I also know the alternative is unsupportable over the long term.

The other big regret is not making better and more use of my photography and writing. I have always been too cowardly to try and make a living, albeit small, doing something I absolutely enjoy. I would love to have been a travel writer and should have at least given it a go when I had the chance.

I should end on the many many positives, so here are a few highlights of the last 10 years?

Though the past couple of year have been rather unadventurous, I have done a lot of interesting things and been to some amazing places since I left New Zealand, I have done a lot more than most men of my age, I would imagine. 

Number 1 is, of course, Eleanor. I am constantly amazed by, and grateful, that she has put up with me for eight years and I just cannot imagine life without her. She makes me very happy and I love her very much. There could be no other number 1.

Number 2 was the birth of two grand children, one in New Zealand and the other in Australia. Though I don’t get to see them as much as I would like, I’m the one who has chosen to live on the other side of the world. They, and my mum and the rest of the my family, are good reasons to keep visiting New Zealand and Australia; with the occasional sub-adventure on the way.

Number 3 has been buying the flat in St Leonards-on-Sea. While it means I’ve much less disposable income and we haven’t been visiting many other places for the past couple of years, it’s an anchor as well as an investment and I’m missing it a lot.

Number 4 was making it past three weeks of travelling. Three weeks was the minimum I set myself when I went to SE Asia, I was determined to at least give backpacking a decent try and I admit there were many moments in the five months I lasted there when I wanted to stop and give up, but I stuck to it and had one of the best experiences I’ve had and proved to myself I could do something different and something that wasn’t easy. It was a life changing experience and I know I came out of it a better person.

There have been so many individual highlights that I cannot possibly name them all; so here is today’s top ten, I am sure there would be a different selection if I was asked tomorrow.

1. One thing I will treasure until I leave this planet will be the day I spent with wild Gorillas in Rwanda. Wow, that was a lifetime highlight not just of the last ten years. Expensive as it is, and that is not including getting to Rwanda, I would love to do it again one day and highly recommend it to anyone.

2. Seeing Orang-utans in Borneo. Admittedly I saw them in nature reserves, but I would love to go back and see them in the wild. They are my favourite animal.

3. Before I left New Zealand, under the advisement of my friend Alex, I completed a scuba diving course in Auckland, and wow, that was an extremely wise investment. I completed close to 40 dives in the first two years away and went diving in so many great places. I regret not keeping it up, and would one day like to do some more.

4. Also under Alex’s advice I attended the Hindu Thaipusam festival in Kuala Lumpur. I have never been to anything like this and it was the people-based highlight of the trip. This was hugely out of my comfort zone, so was a challenge I had to overcome and it was a magical experience.

5. This is getting repetitive, but Alex also recommended I attend the annual camel fair in Rajasthan as it coincided with a short trip I was planning to visit India. The camel fair was pretty amazing and lot of fun, though the aftermath had some money challenges I had to overcome.

6. Angkor Wat was close to, if not on top of on my list of places to visit before I die, and I was not let down at all, I absolutely loved it and just regret not taking a better camera with me.

7. I hadn’t heard of Bagan before I started planning the Myanmar leg, but as soon as I heard of it, it was number one on the list of places I had to go to. I have always been interested in old stuff, ruins and temples, castles and forts, anything ancient that can be looked at, walked around and investigated. Bagan has all that in spades, plus rickety old bikes and more. I absolutely loved the three days I spent there, it was one my favourite places, not just for the scenery but for the people I hung out with.  I feel so much for the people of Myanmar and their current, awful, situation.

8. Copenhagen with Eleanor was our first European break together and the first place we visited together where English wasn’t the first language, not that that is a challenge in Denmark. It is a lovely city to visit and we were scheduled to return in 2020 as stop over on a 10 day train trip from Oslo to Amsterdam that was cancelled due to the pandemic

9. When I was a child I read a lot of adventure stories, including those by Willard Price, and these really set my imagination for places and animals on fire. Settings from those books stuck in my mind and being able to visit some of those places of adventure was a genuine thrill. When I travelled upriver into the ‘wilds of Borneo’, and entered cities such as Mandalay and Zanzibar I thought of those adventure stories, of swashbuckling heroes, mystery and hidden danger, experiences beyond the usual. I get excited thinking about it. There are still a few to visit, though some, such as Timbuktu, will sadly be impossible unless the world changes in the next few years.

10. I absolutely loved Namibia and Laos, two wildly different countries, and for wildly different reasons. Two small nations that probably most of the world has not heard of and some of those who have heard of them would never be able to point out on a map. Both amazing places.

It’s been an incredible ten years; if the next ten are even half as good they will be fabulous, and I am looking forward to the journey. I am not sure if the blog will last much longer, it was supposed to be about travel and I’m just not doing enough of it anymore. I will see.

Huge hugs to those of you who have been here for the whole journey!

Merry Christmas day 2021 from sunny Auckland. xx


Killing time

Wednesday 15 December 2021 – Auckland.

Ten days to Christmas, crikey! My first Christmas in New Zealand in ten years and I’m not entirely sure what I think about it, it’s certainly different to the last nine years. It’s hot to start with, too hot sometimes; there was a moment this morning as I was walking the bike path when the sun cleared the dense low cloud and it felt like walking in a SE Asian city. It was heavy, airless, hot and uncomfortable and luckily it only lasted a few short minutes before the sun disappeared behind some cloud and it felt like Auckland again. I was relieved. Heat and humidity will be our future so I have to get used to it, particularly as I am wanting to finish some travelling in hot and humid places.

This week seems to have gone by quite quickly, though to directly refute that I’m struggling to believe it’s only Wednesday, it feels like it should be much closer to the weekend. The heat and humidity feels worse this week and sleep at night has been hard to find and I feel jet-lagged most days. Not working means an afternoon lie down is possible, though I’ve yet to manage a nap that has refreshed. I’m constantly tired and can’t shake off the lethargy I was feeling last week, though as a bonus I’ve read more than I have in years. I have also been watching travel documentaries on Youtube which has been entertaining, interesting and not a little depressing. There’s still a lot of world I want to see, though I’m not sure I’m brave enough now to visit some of the places remaining on my list; but who doesn’t want to see the Sapeurs of Congo, Komodo Dragons, search for wild orangutans in Borneo or wonder at 1000 year old palaces or temples?

I went out for a walk mid-morning to avoid the worst of the heat and the expected afternoon rain. I have been walking infrequently over the past couple of weeks so have committed to get out more, even if it’s just to complete a mindless loop. I’m hoping that exercise will help break the lethargy as well as let me drop a few pounds. Eleanor bought me a book with some short walks in the centre of Auckland that looks at the city’s architectural history. The book reminded me that I’d yet to walk past my favourite city centre building, the Courtville Apartments, so with an end game in mind I set off out the door with the camera in my bag.

My other objective was to walk the ‘Pink Path’, more officially known as the Nelson Street Cycleway, it was opened in 2015 as stage one of a safe cycling and walking route from the top of town down to the water front. It’s built on an unused section of motorway off ramp and is a great safe short cut as well as a good use for a large chunk of old and unused infrastructure.


The path starts between the Nelson Street Motorway off-ramp and the Hobson Street on-ramp, which makes for a good road challenge just to get there, these are busy and fast intersections and red light running is the norm. As the city has opened up the traffic has got significantly busier, noisier and dirtier. On a hot day waiting to cross is unpleasant.


The path is about 1km (at a guess) and passes under Karangahape Road ( K Rd).



There is a little bit of a view through the Perspex screens that slightly reduces the road noise from the motorways below. 


The screens are quite grubby with car fumes and every single one seems to have some graffiti written in the filth. There is very little other graffiti elsewhere on the path.



The path ends near, then crosses, Upper Queen Street, before continuing as the Grafton Gully Path, crossing under Symonds Street, down the side of the Symonds Street Cemetery and running alongside the Grafton Road motorway off ramp to the back of the university. The interesting looking Ironbank Building on K Rd. is also in the book Eleanor bought me and I could just see it popping out above the buildings between us.


There is nothing to see on the Grafton walk, it is just a traffic-free way of moving through that part of town and is probably best done on a bike, at least the downhill bit. I was glad I was listening to music as I walked.


I took a couple of photos at the back of the university buildings. There are some very colourful pohutakawa trees here, a nice contrast with the monochromatic building behind it.



The Auckland High Court building was completed in 1868 and is one of the city’s lovelier buildings, or at the least frontage is, the building itself has been more recently expanded in generic blocky, yet practical brick. There are a number of gargoyles around the entrance and adorning the tower, one of them looks a lot like Queen Victoria, though less so from the angle I took this photo from. Without the wide-angle lens I couldn’t get the whole building in.



Next to the court lies the Courtville Apartment building/s, my favourite residential building in the city centre, and second to The Pines tower block in Mt Eden, as my favourite in Auckland. I’ve always liked this three story block of flats. It was built in 1915 and has had some interesting occupants and I’m sure it still does. It was the first residential block built in New Zealand; people were not interested in apartment living in Auckland at the time so it was quite controversial. As it slowly ages and mould and the residue of diesel fumes seeps into the concrete exterior it reminds me of somewhere like New Orleans or one of the other Creole speaking towns left when the French were kicked out of America; a memory derived from television as I’ve never been to the American south. I can clearly see touches of the Laotian cities of Vientiane and Savannakhet in how the building is aging and the seasonal greenery;  both places I visited on my travels and coincidentally,  somewhere else the French were kicked out of. The hint of early 20th century Parisian design rather than that of London is quite unusual for vintage Auckland buildings, just look at the high court building next door. It’s that non-English Europeaness that I love so much about it.

Vive la difference.




No sunset photo today, the weather has been more like this lately;



I feel like I’m just killing time until we go back to London and then St Leonards-on-Sea in a couple of months. There is a lot of time to kill and most of me wants to make good use of that time and do some upskilling, or writing or more photography, however there’s a small part of me that is idle and tired and bored, and sadly that small part is dominating and I don’t do anything much at all.

The clown show

Friday 10 December 2021 – Auckland.

This post isn’t a commentary on the current UK Government, nor its Prime Minister. Apologies for the potentially misleading headline.

Today is the end of the first week where mostly everything in Auckland has opened up and things are relatively normal; whatever normal means for Auckland City. I have been away too long to know. The southern and northern border of Greater Auckland effectively remain closed to most of us for five more days, opening just in time for those with money to flee the city to their holiday homes for the Christmas and summer holidays. There are no east or west borders, only the sea. The city will effectively be fully open, though rules on gatherings and masks will still apply, whether they are followed or not is yet to be determined.

I’ve not done much over the past couple of weeks and am struggling to remember what I have achieved other than visit people, very enjoyable though that has been. I had my Covid-19 booster shot earlier in the week which explains the lethargy I’ve been feeling for the past couple of days; it was my first dose of Pfizer so I wasn’t surprised by being tired and listless. It’s also very warm and even more humid than last time I wrote and this isn’t helping clear the woolly head nor motivate the woolly body. A few books have been read and plenty of music listened to. To be fair I’m mostly happy, though I acknowledge that rarely comes across in my writing.

It’s time to come clean and say that unless something drastic happens we’ll be heading back to the UK at the end of February. Of course with Covid and the new omicron variant then something drastic could happen; who (WHO) knows, it’s too early to tell. We’ve yet to fix a date for the flight and there are a number of variables that affect that decision, though I start back at work on Monday 7 March so that’s certainly a target date. There’ll be more on the decision when it is made in the new year and the impact of omicron on travel and borders is clearer.

I’ve done very few walks recently, though today I made it out for an hour mid-morning, the impetus today was to get nice bread from the French café for lunch. I’ve walked most of the central city area and as it’s got busier as the city opens up it’s a less enjoyable place to just vaguely and aimlessly stroll around. The more the traffic increases the more negative I become. I sometimes think we should have left last month when my view on the city centre was more positive. I’m not yet at the level of dislike I was at before we came back which is something I guess.

I walked up to Westhaven Marina, crossed the motorway by Pt Erin Baths and then walked back along the old foreshore walk between the base of the cliff and the motorway. Much as I like walking along the seafront I prefer the foreshore walk, fewer people and more things to look at.


I was trying to find a ‘New Zealand Christmas Tree’, the pohutakawa, that was sheltered from the persistent breeze. I didn’t have much joy, though took a few photos just in case there is no better opportunity before we leave.


The pohutakawa tree blossoms bright red through December and the big old trees look magnificent. December also appears to be a very windy month, which makes it more difficult to get a good close up of a pohutakawa. I took a couple of photos today, but am not overly excited about them. I was using the 50mm lens which I need to replace as this one is not quite sharp enough for close up work. When I’m back working it will be the first thing I buy myself.



As I’m sure I have mentioned before this section of the foreshore walk runs alongside the motorway leading to the harbour bridge and it is becoming one of my favourite walks with a nice mix of urban grunge, greenery and the odd bit of the mad conspiracy sharing that has been growing in Auckland’s fringe.





The barrier between path and motorway does a fine job of blocking most of the noise, though I generally walk with headphones. Today I was listening to a rare podcast, music being my usual fancy when I walk. 


I enjoyed the walk and bought a very nice loaf of bread for the delicious squash and blue cheese toasties Eleanor made for lunch soon after I returned.

After Eleanor had finished work for the week we took a walk to the art gallery to see the ‘Vocabulary of Solitude’ installation which opened the day after we last visited. The installation by Swiss born New York artist Uno Rondinone is a collection of clown figures in various poses reflecting his view on solitude. The installation is made more dramatic with coloured film covering the huge windows in the gallery which cast ever changing shade and light over the figures. The clowns are foam dummies, though some appear quite realistic until you look closely; I was half expecting one of them to be a real human and was waiting for a quiet smile and the raising of an eyebrow as I looked at each one in turn.





The light effect was particularly strong when we arrived, fading as the bright sun dropped, departing completely when it disappeared behind the neighbouring buildings.  





The installation was first shared in 2014, but with Covid-19 and the solitude that has been enforced by it and it seems even more relevant and poignant now. I saw myself in some of those faces.


We stopped for a glass of wine in the gallery café before walking back home via The Warehouse; where we picked up a small Christmas tree. I made a damn fine shakshuka to wrap up what was a pretty good day. The weekend ahead has plenty of promise too with a meal out with friends booked for tomorrow night and a Skype with friends in the UK on Sunday.

Like the last post, I will end with another image of one of the glorious sunsets we see from the balcony.


Culture vulture

26 November 2021 – Wynyard Quarter, Auckland.

Another month almost gone and the news of the week (month, quarter) is that Auckland will mostly be back to normal on 3 December. I’m particularly looking forward to the gym over the road reopening and hopefully moving the 7am exercise class inside as I’m heartily sick of false woops of encouragement first thing every day of the week. Who wants that sort of positivity at 7am on a Sunday? 

I’m nervously interested to see how quiet our flat remains once things open up, will the streets around us be full of 3am shouty drunks, and will the neighbours kick-off party season this weekend? I like things just as they are.


The one gotcha we face with the country opening up is there will be a requirement for vaccine passes (passports/certificates as they are called in other countries) to enter most places. I agree with these in principle, however at the time of writing neither Eleanor nor I can get one. In theory those with overseas vaccinations will be able to get a pass on Dec 2, but both of us have had issues with what the New Zealand health ministry have on file. Mine seems to now be resolved, but poor Eleanor has been round in numerous circles with the very friendly and trying to be helpful staff at the call centre, seemingly with little joy. Try again on Thursday was the advice today.

We have been out a bit over the past few weeks. I haven’t taken many photos as we haven’t really done much of interest, we have mostly been enjoying ourselves which is the important thing. Primarily we have been walking around the city centre, though it’s getting warmer and humid and there’s a lot more traffic now, so city walking is less pleasant than it was. I’m not particularly looking forward to peak summer, especially in the new year when I suspect many more office workers will return to their desks and the traffic will be back to it’s normal awfulness.



It’s hard to believe that Christmas was over two months in the future when I took these two photos in October.



We visited Auckland Art Gallery the evening after it re-opened to the public, there were very few people there and at times it felt like it was just us and the staff, it was very enjoyable. We missed the opening of an interesting looking exhibition featuring clowns, ‘Vocabulary of Solitude’, by 24 hours so will go back sometime to see it.


We did catch the Bill Culbert ‘Slow Wonder’ light sculpture exhibition which was interesting, though sculpture is not really my thing I kind of enjoyed it.


The gallery are showing a collection of their stored works titled ‘Manpower: Myths of Masculinity’ which was interesting. Seeing paintings and sculptures grouped outside of their regular context and used to tell a story is something I am starting to appreciate a lot more as I go to more galleries and more exhibitions that are not solely focused on a single artist.


The following week Eleanor and I visited Auckland Museum. We wanted to visit these public institutions before the city border was re-opened and they became more popular with internal tourists. We also wanted to get in before the vaccine pass became mandatory to avoid issues if we remain unable to get one for a while. This was the first time we have visited the whole museum together and it has changed a lot since I visited just before I went on my travels. Changed for the better I might add.



Interestingly I particularly enjoyed the WWII collection, possibly because I’ve now been to a few of the places in SE Asia that New Zealand troops fought in. I’m not usually that taken by military collections as I’ve tended to (mostly incorrectly) link these to glorifying war or victory over another nation, though this is definitely changing and the words being used in museums to describe what’s on display are, in my view, significantly more neutral in their stance. There also seems to be more acknowledgement of the horror of war and more importantly, the atrocities committed by the ‘good guys’; i.e. us. Visiting the ‘American War of Aggression’ Museum in Ho Chi Minh City (old Saigon) and seeing a war museum from the point of view of those my nation(s) fought against was an eye-opening experience, and perhaps the start of this journey.




There is a link in my mind back to the ‘Myths of Masculinity’ exhibition at the art gallery and how society’s view on masculinity has changed over the years, particularly more recently. Taking time to be able to reflect on things has been one of the few positives of lockdown and there is more thinking, and talking, to be done on this particularly subject.

Being able to visit the library, gallery and the museum have been real highlights of our time in Auckland. Signs that the city is opening up again and places that inspire, start conversations and open minds being allowed to open before pubs and restaurants shows a maturity of leadership missing in the UK. Much as I miss the pub and being able to eat out, I can drink beer and eat a good meal at home; I cannot stand and admire a work of art or a piece of history in my sitting room (and looking online is not the same).

Continuing on this unintentional military theme, I have walked, run, cycled and driven past these two WW2 installations on Tamaki Drive hundreds of time though only just learned they held search lights and not large guns.



Way, way back in the middle of October I took a walk through the Nikau Grove in Auckland Domain and had planned to go back to take photos once I had collected the tripod from mum’s place, which I have now done. After the 30 minute walk from home I discovered that somewhere on the journey I had lost an essential component which rendered the tripod useless. I back-tracked all the way home, then repeated the walk the following day in a hopeful attempt to find it, though these were both in vain. The tripod is now a three-legged lump of aluminium and worthless, and sadly the part does not seem to be available in New Zealand. This means there will be no further photos of the nikau grove other than this last hand-held shot of a punga tree.  I was looking forward to spending time making more images there, and for that a tripod is a must.


Some last minute pre-click-on-post good news.

Our UK vaccines have now been registered in New Zealand and we both got our vaccine passes this morning, Yay! Even better news is we are eligible for booster shots, something that has been on our mind as Eleanor is now 6 months from her second shot and I will be in December. Eleanor had her booster this morning and I will try for mine next week. This will provide additional protection when we do some holidaying over the festive season and when we fly to Dunedin in the south island for my nephew’s wedding in February (fingers well and truly crossed that we can do these things.)

We’ve had some very nice sunsets from the deck of the flat lately, so I will end with a photo of one.