Lloyd Park, Walthamstow

Monday 14 March 2022 – Lloyd Park, Walthamstow.

We’ve been back in the UK from New Zealand for two weeks and I’m not quite yet in a position to say if it is good or bad here. There’s been plenty of good, but crikey it feels really cold after weeks of temperatures in the mid-to-high twenties. We are at staying at Eleanor’s in Walthamstow until mid-April when we will relocate back to my place in St Leonards for a while. We need to see what demands our employers make on us attending our respective London based offices on a regular basis before making any longer term plans. The good news is that there are currently limited demands, though I’m sure this will change over time.

I’m back at work now, mostly working from home though I’ve been into the office a couple of times. The first time I went in I got off the Tube at Green Park and walked through the park and across St James Park towards Victoria, then down to my office on Marsham Street. It was a lovely morning and a walk through the park seemed the right thing to do as I’m about 7kgs over my normal weight so longer morning walks are a good idea. The following time I took my camera.

I enjoyed walking through these two lovely spring-filled parks, but got a genuine heart-pumping thrill once I got back between the buildings, that lovely mix of gorgeous Queen Anne terraces, the brutalism of the Ministry of Justice Building and my favourite building in the area, the old Transport for London offices at 55 Broadway. This is the city I love, and I never get that little heart pump of joy walking in Auckland city.

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When I’m not going into the office I’ve been taking a pre-work morning walk in nearby Lloyd Park; it’s about 200 metres from the front door and is one of my favourite ‘inner-city’ parks. It is more than logical that I walk there most mornings, though I suspect I’ll get bored by it eventually; hopefully not before we move down to my flat. I can barely wait to move, but I have a tenant in there till 1 April so patience is the key. Eleanor and I are taking a day trip this coming Saturday and I will probably do a walk-by of the flat.

Once the grounds of William Morris home, Lloyd Park was donated to the people of Walthamstow by the Lloyd family in 1898. The council buying a further 16 acres from the Aveling Estate in 1912 to create the park as it stands now. The park hosts a range of activities; there is a bowling club, public tennis courts, a small café and gallery, a skate park, outdoor gym and a kid’s playground. None of those things particularly interest me, I just like the park for walking and I’m not the only one. It’s not a huge park, maybe twenty minutes to loop the whole thing, though it has two large fields and is very popular with runners and dog walkers, especially, it seems, in those hours before work.

My first attempt at taking photos was only partially successful, I left the house about 8:00am and the park was quite full with adults taking small children to the schools that surround it. It was very busy and I’m not comfortable taking photos surrounded by people, though I can settle into it when I try. I’d have thought after years of taking photos that this would be second nature for me, but it isn’t. Perhaps I should do a self-confidence course?

The main gate to Lloyd Park is on Forest Road, and was the front entrance to the lovely, what is now, the William Morris Gallery. Morris was a 19 century artist and ardent socialist, his major contribution to the arts was in textiles, particularly with interiors; wallpapers, tapestries, furniture etc. His influence and work is broad and still relevant today and he was a proud Walthamstowvian too.

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I think the socialist in Morris would be pleased to find his old stately home is over the road from ‘Five Star Fish Bar’ (not bad) and ‘Pat Bunz’ (never tried). Much as Walthamstow has been gentrifying over the past few year, that gentrification is yet to hit Forest Road.

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There is a wall that runs to the west from the side of the gallery, separating the grassed front of the garden from a more formal as well as a ‘wild’ (I’m not sure how to describe it) garden at the rear. I absolutely love this wall, it’s one of my favourite bits of the park. It has aged so gracefully and has been stained over the years by the sun, the rain and the vegetation that has grown up against it.

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There are a few of these plants, (possibly a Cardoon?) growing in front of the wall and they are magnificent, some are taller than me, though they grow on quite slender stems. I took a few photos of them over a couple of visits.

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Outside the  rear of the gallery are what is left of the formal gardens. These get planted each season, but are not as resplendent as they used to be according to Eleanor. I guess with more funding there would be more resource to pour into this popular space, though the council has many other worries and much more important things to do with the limited money they have.

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Moving on from the gardens there is a fenced off moat surrounding an ‘island’, which has a band stand at one end that was used for concerts, public speaking and other events. Inside the fence line on the island side of the moat the scrub has been left to go wild and is now mainly a huge tangle brambles; hopefully home to some of the insects and wildlife that use the park.

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I love how this tree has grown over and around the fence.

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My walking route takes me through the centre of the park, past a small café, the large kids play area and a room that has been used as a small independent gallery space, then on to the skate bowl and outdoor gym area.

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I usually turn right here and walk around a large field. The first morning I was there to take photos it was quite busy,  as I said above I didn’t take any, though I enjoyed walk.

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I went much closer to 7 am the second time out and there were far fewer people when I arrived than before, though it got busier with runners after 7:30. 

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I missed the sunrise, but managed to capture some nice early morning light over the trees and houses that surround the fields at the back of the park.

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Completing the loop I finish back at the front of the gallery before wandering off home to see how successful I had been with the photos. I was pretty happy with my efforrts.

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The loop normally takes 20 minutes or so, it’s not huge; but enough to set a clear delineation between sleeping and starting work each week day.

There is a great mural of William Morris painted on the outside of a house next to the park.

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Wanstead Park

Thursday 03 March 2022 – Wanstead Park, London.

27 April 2022 Update. This post has seen a huge surge of views in the past few days, presumably from lovely folk like yourselves looking for photos or info on Chalet Woods and the bluebells. This post was written well before bluebell season, but you can click here for bluebells.

Mud, mud, glorious mud!

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It’s been a long while since a muddy walk has featured in my life and after today’s stroll I’ve vowed to never leave it so long again. A similar vow was also made today about walking in Epping Forest, a place I frequented on an almost weekly basis a few years ago, yet had barely been to since I bought the flat in St Leonards in 2019. This became especially true when we relocated there during the lockdowns as working from home was not just the norm, but was actively encouraged. I intended to walk in Epping Forest in the month we were back in Walthamstow before we left for New Zealand, but like so many other things, I didn’t get around to it. My heart just wasn’t in it. I wonder (if I’m honest with myself, I know) that if I went to the forest, or even just for a decent walk, more regularly I would be in a much better place, and my heart would be in it (whatever ‘it’ is) again. A virtuous circle, unlike the vicious cycle I have been in.

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Wanstead Park is the most southern outcrop of Epping Forest. Looking on a map it doesn’t appear to be connected to the forest itself, though I’m fairly certain I could find a way between the two where I wouldn’t be fully exposed to the sky. A linked muddy trail under tree canopy looping between scrub and ferns and bracken and holly, and the only roads are roads that were crossed, not followed. It would be a grubby edgeland, empty cans and bottles, used tissues scattered everywhere, well used and abused by the human inhabitants that surround or pass through it. Not necessarily a path to take at night.

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A friend of mine who is now retired (I feel I’m turning into an old man as friends start to retire; however my mortgage lender tells me I’m years off joining them) has been walking some mutual friends dogs once or twice a week in Wanstead Park and earlier this week he invited me along on one of his walks, an offer I gratefully accepted. We caught the bus from Walthamstow to Wanstead, I was tempted to walk but in the end I was glad I didn’t as we walked far enough with the dogs and I’d have been even more knackered if I had taken those extra thousands of steps.

I’m not sure what breeds the dogs are or how old, they are small and whitish, extremely well behaved, and frankly, just lovely little dogs. One male and female, the female was the most adventurous. We collected the dogs and were in the forest almost immediately after leaving their home. The dogs were off the leash for the entire walk with the exception of the four road crossings; two there and two back, they knew the walk better than us. The first section of parkland we walked though was possibly Bushwood, though I’m not 100% certain of that. We walked past the rather impressive looking Belgravia Heights, which appeared suddenly when we momentarily popped out from under the trees. It would look great in the fog.

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Wanstead Park was opened to the public in 1882, two years after being acquired by the City of London Corporation, who also manage the wider Epping Forest. The land was enclosed during the reign of Henry VIII, about five hundred years ago, and was the manor ground of Wanstead House, originally a royal hunting lodge. After serious financial mismanagement the house was demolished in 1824 and parts of the grounds were sold off over the following few years. The park has a number of small man-made lakes with islands in the middle and paths round the outside. It’s a great place to walk and I’ve been here a number of times before, usually in late spring for bluebell season. I’ve never done the walk we did today, and I was surprised to find the park was much bigger than I’d previously thought.

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The Temple was originally built in the late 18 century, though numerous additions were made in subsequent years, it is believed the colonnaded middle was the original construction, and it is certainly the nicest part. The building has been fenced off ever since I’ve been visiting and I wonder if there is anything inside. The avenue created by the chestnut trees was only planted in the 1990s; it’s a lovely addition and really does draw your eyes towards the building when you enter the park from the west, as we did.

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Our walk took us along the paths that run alongside the ponds on the southern and eastern boundary of the park, we met quite a few other dog walkers on the way. This is a popular place and the dogs appreciated the opportunity to run unfettered and make a few friends on the way. After a few days of rain it was pretty wet everywhere and the River Roding that flows on the far side of the trees in the below photo was very full and very muddy. There was a lot of mud in the paths under the trees.

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Half way along the ponds we spotted The Grotto, which came as a complete surprise to me as I haven’t heard of it before. It’s original construction was completed in 1764 and it was built as a rich man’s pond side folly. Over the years that building has served a number of purposes though was destroyed in a fire in 1884 when it was being used as a boat house. The ruins have only been exposed in the last ten years, but are sadly all fenced off. They were a nice surprise.

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We stopped for a coffee at the popular tea hut in the park before walking back to where we started, eventually returning a couple of very muddy dogs to their owners. The dogs seemed to have as good a time as we humans did, at least I hope so. I suspect they slept well.

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It was a longer walk than I expected, though very enjoyable. It was so nice being out under the trees, walking in some mud and chatting with a good friend. I need to do more of this.

Farewell New Zealand

Thursday 24 February 2022 – Auckland.

Neither with a bang, nor a whimper we leave New Zealand on the 18:15 Emirates flight to Kuala Lumpur; destination Dubai, then onto London three hours later. Six months and 24 days after we landed in Auckland and were whisked directly to a managed isolation hotel, not passing go on the way. We spent two weeks in that hotel and then the city went into a full hard lockdown 2 ½ days after we left its front door for the one and only time on 14 August. The city eventually opened up just before Christmas, almost four months later.

I’m not going to call the trip a failure as it wasn’t really, but from my perspective it wasn’t a great success either. Eleanor made much more of the trip than I did, which is absolutely a good thing, though it wasn’t really the holiday she, nor I, were expecting to have. I don’t really feel as rested as I should after six months away from work, and Eleanor worked virtually the whole time we have been here. I really feel for her, we both start working again in just over a week on Monday 7 March (how can it be March already?)

Of course this whole trip was blighted by the real and perceived risk of Covid and the necessary restrictions of the New Zealand Government, so it was just a case of unfortunate timing on our behalf. A part of me wonders if we should have delayed until things got better, but I’m not really sure when it will be a good time to travel again. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but ultimately I think we did the right thing in coming.

I didn’t do a lot of what I normally do when I come back to New Zealand. Not once did I go to Piha or Karekare and I only ventured into the very fringes of the Waitakere Ranges when I walked along Exhibition Drive, and I’m almost embarrassed to even suggest that Exe Drive is even a fringe of the Waitaks. Not having a car didn’t help, though of course I could have rented one, and did on a few occasions, and we were offered the use of cars as well, I just didn’t take those offers up. I never had the right headspace to get out there, though the few times the effort was made it was fine and enjoyable and not as stressful as expected.

Headspace and desire were an issue for most of the last six months. I have struggled with motivation and finding the energy to think about things, let alone do them, was almost impossible some days. I loved managed isolation and we made so many plans over that time of things to do when we were free, so going almost immediately into lockdown was a bit of a blow, and I underestimated how much of a blow it was. I definitely didn’t do the people I love and the country the justice they deserved. It will be better next time around, I promise you this.

Overall I’m glad we came, I loved spending time with family and I got to see plenty of my grandson and son, my Auckland sister and her two children and spend loads of time with mum. They, particularly mum, were the main reason I came, not going for walks in the bush or mountain biking or travelling around sightseeing.

We did get out of the city a couple of times and I very much enjoyed the few days with friends in Whangamata and the weekend we had on Waiheke. They were proper highlights of the trip and gave me opportunities to take photos and write notes that were positive and excited as well as just being fun times in themselves.

We took one final walk around Wynyard and the Viaduct last night, and I enjoyed a final glass of Man o’ War Syrah outside the park Royal Hotel. We liked it there a lot.

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We are looking forward to being home in a few (too many!) hours, and will spend a month in London before moving back to St Leonards where we plan on staying for a while as we figure out what’s next, where our next holiday will be and when we come back.

I’m not going to miss the humidity though.

Challenge House

Anyone reading my blog over the past few weeks will have noted I have some antipathy to Auckland’s Central Business District, particularly the rampant, seemingly unregulated, and frankly, hideous construction that blights the city centre, and has done for years. It seemingly never ends; and I’m not talking about the work being done to build the new underground light rail system, which is something the city desperately needs. What the city doesn’t need right now is more commercial and residential blocks.

I absolutely agree with and understand that a city centre needs to move as its demographic changes. The city centre; particularly Queen St, is no longer the primary retail centre of Auckland it was in the 1960s and 70s, and it hasn’t been since suburban shopping malls arrived in New Zealand. As retail moved out to the ‘burbs during the finance boom in the 1980s the centre became further aligned with  business and new office blocks and shiny towers to mammon went up almost as fast as the older buildings came down. Buildings by the corporate raider Ron Brierley (jailed for possessing child pornography) and investment bankers such as Fay (accused of tax avoidance and insider trading) and Richwhite (only accused of tax avoidance) were erected to show how important and flush they were with other people’s money.

Admittedly the Fay Richwhite Building completed in 1992 and now known as 151 Queen St or the SAP building is one of the better constructions. I worked in a slightly less lovely office block next door in the 90s and was slightly jealous of its shininess; until someone jumped off the roof in the midst of the financial crash that followed the boom, when other people wanted their money back.

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There has long been a move to include more residential living in and around the centre, though the explosion of cheap and poorly built blocks of tiny flats for overseas students wasn’t what most people had in mind. This appears to have changed for the better with more attractive and thoughtfully designed (read more expensive) blocks, such as the one we live in, now being built. However, there appears to be a lot of inner city flats for sale (there are 1198 Auckland City apartments on realestate.co.nz today) and walking around the city I see a lot of apartments that appear to be vacant. Like cities and towns all over the world, absentee and second home owners buy property they rarely use, pushing up prices for everyone else and leaving city centres void of much needed life.

As I wander around the construction site that used to be Auckland’s heart I wonder if the work going on to build new towers for offices and flats is a final attempt by the monied class to remove the last remnants of a working class presence in the city. There seems to be a desire to finish the job started in the boom of new wealth in the 1980s to demolish the last of the small workshops, the warehouses and factories where the less privileged slaved for poor wages before schlepping back home to the suburbs. Each decade sees more of the old working city disappear and I find this monumentally sad. Blandness will eventually reign supreme.

I worked for a Brierley owned subsidiary when I arrived back in New Zealand in 1988 after a couple of years in London. Brierley bought the business, asset stripped it; flogging the good bits to another one of his companies, then making the warehouse and retail staff redundant. The building I worked in just up from the city centre, on Hobson St was demolished in 1991 and is still a small shabby car park to this day.

I walk along Wolfe Street on about 25% of my walks through and around the city because I love this derelict and half demolished building. It used to be Challenge House and was sold in the early noughties to be demolished for some new thing. However, there were issues with the consent to demolish so nothing happened and the first three floors were eventually turned into a very rough car park. The demo of the car park first finally started sometime in 2018 but stopped soon after. This is what it looked like in October of last year. It was graffitied and messy, with dangling plastic secure fencing on some levels, but no razor wire and no scaffold and no work being done.

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Almost the entire block is now being demolished to make way for a ’multi-level commercial project planned to maximise gross floor area ratios’ (whatever that means in normal people speak). Naturally the developers are backed by overseas finance  with a company registered in that bastion of financial openness, the British Virgin Islands; not that I’m suggesting they are carrying on with the property development and financial standards set by their predecessors (accusations of tax avoidance etc). A couple of the old buildings in the block will have their frontages preserved in a new found rush for facadism in Auckland, though that is as it says,  just a façade. Nothing much is preserved and even that small amount is not by choice.

The block includes the building that housed Food Alley a very popular hawker style food centre which I used to enjoy eating at when I was working in the city. it was a good place to meet friends, buy a beer and food from the multitude of, primarily Asian, food stalls. It was the closest Auckland got to Singapore style eating and that has been taken away. Maybe it was too radical for the good burghers of Auckland city.

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Weirdly, when I looked the address up on Google Maps, the shadow from one of the older towers casts a darkness over the building site; as if Google or the Gods don’t want to acknowledge the development is happening; or maybe its just the CIA have hidden something.

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When I was walking past last week I was shocked to find that the demolishers have come back, razor wire is all around the site and scaffold is now up and work has commenced on pulling this old, and frankly ugly, mess down. I took a few photos over the fence to remember the place as it will be gone when I’m back in New Zealand; possibly, I thought that last time I was here too.

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Though I’ve just called it an ugly mess, I am a little saddened by this, this graffiti covered relic of a bygone era was unloved by many but it was symbolic of the rush to knock down the old and rebuild with the new, even if the new had never been planned, financed or even agreed. ‘Pull it down’ they say, ‘once it’s gone it’s too late to protest and they will accept our cunning plan for a replacement. Bastards.

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The building on the other side of Wolfe St, number 6, was for sale in 2018, I’m not sure if anyone bought it. Built in 1912 it has been vacant for 23 years, and it still is. I wonder who owned it and whether it had been land banked until the money was right, though why it couldn’t have been repurposed for something and saved I don’t know, surely there would have been some value in restoring a heritage building? Perhaps I’m just a fantasist who longs for days past?

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Challenge House was nothing special; so much so I couldn’t find a photo on the internet of when it was built or being used as it was intended. So, given its current state it has to go.

Few of the other remaining early twentieth century buildings left in town are ‘special’ either, but that doesn’t mean we need to get rid of them. There is an excess of commercial and residential property in the city, and now its largely unaffordable, few see the city as a retail destination either. We just don’t need any more large buildings; investment should be made in preserving and re-purposing the last remnants of Auckland heritage, while there is one.

Challenge House is dead. Long live Challenge House.

10 days left

Monday 14 February 2022 – Auckland city.

Though I (we) don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, it was worth noting February 14 in 2022 for two reasons. Firstly, six months ago, on 14 August we finished our time in managed isolation and were free to roam new Zealand (for three days before the Auckland lockdown ruined any plans we had), and secondly, we were going to fly to Christchurch for a week long holiday that afternoon, but…

I cancelled that trip last week due to the rise in cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 in New Zealand. Though the daily infection rate is still very low (981 today) compared to the UK (35,000) it’s on the rise and the risk of getting ‘pinged’ and told to isolate for 10 days is rising with it. We can neither afford to have to isolate in hotel somewhere in the south island, nor do we want to miss our flight back to the UK on the 24 Feb, in 10 days. Perish the thought we actually got sick with Covid.

The primary reason for the trip south was to attend my nephew’s wedding in Dunedin where he is a student. It would have been the first time I’d have seen him, his brother and parents (his mother is my sister,) for a few years and we were really looking forward to having all the New Zealand based family together for the first time in ages. Due to Covid related risks none of the Aucklanders (mum, sister, son and other nephew and niece) are heading down to the wedding, which is a real shame. Eleanor and I were also looking forward to seeing some parts of New Zealand we haven’t seen before, Lake Tekapo for me, and hanging out with friends in Christchurch, a city I haven’t really visited since that terrible earthquake in 2011.

The days and weeks since we came back from Waiheke have been a real drag; with returning to the UK on the horizon, Eleanor working until last Thursday and the threat of Omicron growing exponentially I have really struggled with motivation and have done very little other than lie about reading a bunch of books; hoping somewhat for enough inspiration to get me out the door. It has been quite hot and extremely humid over the past week and having air-conditioning didn’t help me out of the flat’s front door.

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I’ve been missing a destination, after roaming the city off and on for weeks I’ve not only run out of steam I’ve also run of interest. It isn’t the nicest centre to walk in at the best of times (and with all the construction at the moment it isn’t the best of times). I need somewhere other than the library to visit, a café or bar for instance. The kind of bar I could find in London, or any British or European city doesn’t seem to exit in Auckland. I want a bar or café with a sofa, or a comfy corner chair to relax into; and these just didn’t seem to exist. It’s all backless bar stools at high tables, benches or criminally uncomfortable wooden or plastic chairs. These things are fine when hanging out with a group of mates (except for those bloody bar stools), however they’re hopeless to lounge in with a good book for a slow hour over coffee or a glass of pinot and I like a lounge, and I want to lounge in comfort.

Recently my friend Martha introduced me to the atrium of the De Brett Hotel House Bar and subsequently we’ve been occasionally meeting there for a mid-morning coffee. The coffee is good too. Eleanor and I went there for a glass of wine one evening after work last week and it’s exactly the sort of place I dreamt about. Quiet, decent wine and comfy chairs, it looks fab and the music isn’t as awful as pretty much everywhere else in Auckland; i.e. not 70s/80s and 90s ‘hits’. It also had the feel of a place where I could sit with a book and headphones over a drink and I wouldn’t feel like other punters were staring at me like I am some sort of bookish loaner freak.

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One of the books I read was ‘Flâneuse’ by Lauren Elkin. Eleanor was loaned a copy by a London friend before we left but didn’t get a chance to read it so got a copy out of Auckland Library, of which we are now both members. I enjoyed it more than Eleanor did, I think. 

One of the things the author mentions was the pleasure found in getting ‘lost’ wandering a city, something I still like to, and can do in London. I enjoyed the aimless, almost lost wandering in some of the places I have visited on my travels; places like Singapore, Hanoi, Paris, Barcelona and Valencia and I need to do more of this. It’s something that is seemingly impossible to do in, or near, Auckland’s city centre. Of course part of the reason for this is I’m pretty familiar with the city as I’ve lived here most of my life. Though having said that. I still like to place the blame for this squarely on the domination of the skyline by the sky tower. One of the benefits of walking under low cloud and in light rain is the absence of the sky tower.

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I know I could  get out of the centre and catch a bus out to Howick in the east or Beachaven in the north (I know the west pretty well) where I could lose myself fairly quickly, but who wants to walk in Howick or Beachaven? Not me. There is probably nothing wrong with those places, but I don’t want to walk suburban streets I want to walk in an urban centre, where there is some life and activity, some culture and some grit, and life goes on 24/7…

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I finished reading ‘Flâneuse’ as a period of bad weather arrived, the wind, rain and cloud bizarrely inspiring me to get out to try and take some photos. I managed a couple of short walks, but missed the worst of the weather, which was a shame as the rainy city was what I wanted to photograph as I’m a bit sick of the constant nice weather. Weather forecasting in New Zealand is an even more inexact science that it is in the UK.

As I was wandering around I decided to buy myself a new Canon 50mm lens, the ‘nifty fifty’, it is very cheap and probably my favourite lens. The one I bought second hand in the UK before we left isn’t as sharp as it should be and I broke the one before that. I ordered one online last week and will collect it later today. I will do some comparison shots between the two, hopefully it will prove the lens I have is too soft; it’s either that or I cannot hold a camera steady anymore which would suck massively. I will sell one when I get back to the UK, they seem to hold value there better than here. I guess having some ‘spare’ money is the only benefit of not travelling to the south island, though I still need to be careful with the cash. My sabbatical ends soon and I start work again on 7 March, (in three short weeks, where did that time go!)  but I won’t get paid until the end of the month.

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I walked around the High St area, which is pretty much my favourite small bit of Auckland.

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Then up to, along and around the back of K’ RD (Karangahape), avoiding the record shops on the way.

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As always once I am out, I enjoyed taking photos again and wish I could do more. However, I’m still suffering from a mental block, a lack of desire to do anything more than lie about reading. I found writing this post chore enough and it’s taken four days to get it to print. I had to make myself do something as I want to write and photograph more but just can’t. I’m hoping a return to the UK will boot me out of this ongoing and frankly rather tedious lethargy.

Anyway, I will close by saying it’s not all doom and gloom in my head and there is plenty I’m excited about and looking forward to.

Happy Valentine’s Day lovely xx

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A big view of Auckland

Sunday 16 January 2022 – Auckland.

Looking like a junkie’s dirty syringe waiting to inject gambling into the veins of Aucklanders, the Sky Tower thrusts into the sky above the city, the early morning dream of a well funded architect compensating for a small penis.

Visible from everywhere in the city, at 328 metres, the Sky Tower is the tallest building in New Zealand, the southern hemisphere (surprisingly yet to be unclaimed as Australian) and the 28th tallest structure in the world. It is an important communications tower and popular tourist attraction but its main purpose is to act as a giant phallic advertisement for the casino it sits above. Before the tower there were no casinos or seemingly a need for a casino in Auckland.

Photo taken in October.

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It was constructed between 1994 and 1997 and was, at the time, deeply unpopular with the people of Auckland; though I suspect most are, at best, ambivalent about it now. Approval was railroaded through with all the false commitments of economic benefit you would expect from an international gambling empire; the promised ‘world-class’ conference centre is being built now (delayed due to Covid). I hated it when it was first built and have a love/hate relationship with it now I’m used to it dominating the skyline. It’s hideously ugly, but also beautiful in a brutalist, functional fashion. For all my dismissiveness, it does have a great view over Auckland, and much as I never want to contribute to the casino’s vast profits I would still recommend going up the tower to look at one of the world’s prettier cities when viewed from on high.

The threatened cyclone had failed to materialise by mid-afternoon so, as the sky was relatively clear and Eleanor had a handy discount voucher, we took the opportunity to visit the towers viewing decks, one of the few items left on Eleanor’s Auckland to-do list. The tower is close enough that if it fell over the tip of the mast would likely hit the far side of the apartment block we live in, so it didn’t take long to walk there.

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There are five (I think) publicly accessible levels in the tower; level 51 is the first viewing deck, 50 is the café, 52 the revolving restaurant, 53 access to outside activities and 60, the top viewing deck.

The automatic lift, with a viewing window in the floor, took us directly to level 51. Eleanor didn’t step onto the glass and I can’t recall doing so either. It was weird watching the journey up the lift shaft, it felt very sci-fi.

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As you can imagine, the view from Auckland’s tallest building is wonderful, from this height on a clear day Auckland is a lovely looking city, the two harbours almost mirror-like in the sun. The central business district almost looks grown up. I took a few photos though the heavily tinted and solid looking glass.

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Just like the lift there are windows in the floor allowing a clear view down to the ground 200 or so metres below. I stood on the glass, though it was tentative and I didn’t stay for long. A nearby sign advised the glass was as strong as the concrete floor I was more than happy to walk on. Perceptions eh?

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We caught a second lift up to the floor 60 viewing deck, there were fewer people up here which was nice, not to say that level 51 was crowded min. Very restricted numbers allowed up the tower during Covid.

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Most people were wearing masks on 60, unlike the floor the below. I took a photo out towards our apartment block, the white building touching the bottom left corner of the park.

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This photo was taken in December out the bedroom window, as I said earlier, we are close and the tower is tall.

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After circling the deck a couple of times, with me pointing out places of interest, or places where we had visited we took the lift back down to 51, then walked down to level 50 for a glass of wine and a relax over the view in the café. There was only time for one before we were tossed out at 6:00 closing.

It was still early so we walked to the Park Royal Hotel near the Wynyard Quarter and had a final couple of glasses of wine for the weekend (I had one more Man O’ War syrah) and the best fish and chips we have had in the city. It was a great end to a great weekend.

Waiheke weekender

Sunday 16 January 2022 – Waiheke Island, New Zealand.

Waiheke; an island of sun and sand, vineyards and restaurants and cafes, all connected by Auckland’s friendliest bus drivers. What else could you ask for in a weekend away?

Waiheke Island is the largest of the Hauraki Gulf islands and about forty minutes by fast ferry from downtown Auckland. It’s extremely popular with wine tourists, hen parties and other, less-alcohol focused day trippers. We spent the weekend there and it was a highlight of our time in New Zealand. Unsurprisingly, other than family and friend time, the moments I have enjoyed the most have been when we have left the city behind.

Over coffee earlier in the week a friend told me her brother and sister-in-law, who we’ll be staying with in Christchurch* in three weeks, were doing up an old bach (holiday home) on the island. I said we were going over for a day trip and was advised to contact them about staying there, which they happily agreed to.

It was finally time to break the backpack out from its long slumber, the last time it was used was in India in 2016. I love this backpack and can’t wait to be donning it for some sort of adventure in the future, pandemics and finances willing.

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We left for the ferry as soon as Eleanor finished work on Friday afternoon. We arrived at the ferry terminal 30 minutes before the ferry,  joining the end of an ever growing queue before getting on a full ferry. Those at the end of the queue, being forced to wait for the next ferry. It looks like the island is going to be busy.

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Not being familiar with the location of ‘The Shack’ as our friends called their bach, we took a short taxi ride from the ferry. As the driver dropped us off he asked if we were sure this was the right address. The Shack is on a section that our friend’s US based brother bought to build on when he returns to New Zealand in a few years. The Shack will be demolished and a new house built. In the meantime our friends are making it habitable for use as a bach without spending too much money on it. We are the first to stay there. It sits just above, and has a view over, Sandy Bay and we loved it. It is very much my sort of place; informal, quirky and a bit ramshackle. A bit like me really.

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I have seen some before photos and could see quite a bit of work had been put in to get it to a liveable state. My favourite interior design feature was this life-sized Donald on the loo door, and I now want one for my flat in St Leonards. Great for those suffering from constipation. I also particularly loved the astro-turfed floor.

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The view from the deck is fantastic.

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After unpacking we walked up the road and caught the bus into Oneroa. The first of six excellent bus rides with the nicest bus drivers in the world; they even wait for you to sit down before taking off, amazing! A number of the bus stops had mini-libraries in them too.

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We had dinner booked at Vino Vino in Oneroa but were too early for our reservation so had a drink in a nearby bar. I think the state of their wind break is a visual summation of the place; no vaccine passports, no masks and the worst wine on the island. We won’t go back. Imagine having that view for your customers and caring so little.

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Vino Vino was exactly what I want from an island break restaurant; a stunning view, great service, the best ceviche I’ve ever had and great wine, including the first glass of syrah from local winery, Man O’ War. A syrah I will now dream of, as at $50 a bottle I won’t be drinking it often. We enjoyed our evening and were the last out the door. They cleaned their windbreaks too, just sayin.

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Saturday dawned wet, the first rain we have seen for a while, it wasn’t unexpected and we enjoyed hanging out in the Shack for a few hours until it stopped later in the morning. The rain was welcome.

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We caught the bus to Ostend and visited the Saturday market where we shared a waffle for late breakfast.

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The first stop on our unofficial ‘wineries on the bus route tour’ was the Tantalus Winery. We thought about going to Te Motu, and probably should have, but half the bus got off there so we went to the next winery on the bus route. We didn’t particularly enjoy the glass of wine we had at Tantalus so only stayed for one.

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We walked up to Heke, a recently opened brewery/distillery/restaurant 100 metres up the road. It was busy and we got a high-table in the very noisy bar. I had another Man o’ War syrah, accompanied by some great fries and bread for second breakfast/early lunch. I mostly liked Heke, if the bar staff weren’t so loud it would’ve been nicer, credit to the staff for great service given the number of people there. The fries were great too. I tried a glass of one of their Waiheke whiskies. It was alright, a nice full round flavour but still a bit rough, though it was certainly drinkable. In a few years it will be a more enjoyable experience. Life is too short to not enjoy what I’m drinking. Eleanor had a gin and tonic with their gin which was very nice.

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We caught another bus to our final destination, Onetangi Beach. We had dinner booked later in the day so took our shoes off and walked along the almost empty beautiful beach, feet dipping in out of the warm sea as the tide washed up and down.

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Then up some steps; lots of steps,

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to a great view over Onetangi from the top.

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A hundred yards up the road we arrived at Casita Miro, our destination for the rest of the afternoon and my favourite place of the weekend. Casita Miro is a restaurant and small winery, heavily influenced by the flavour and art of Spain it serves tapas and makes a remarkable albariño, of which we had a couple of glasses.

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Access to the winery is via a dusty brown gravel road with grapes growing down one side. Walking under the warm lazy, humid sun, if I squinted my eyes I could easily place myself on a similar road in rural Spain.

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From the winery entrance to the tasting room is a long wall where a neo-Gaudi extravaganza is being created. Seeing the wall completed is reason enough to return when we are back in New Zealand next.

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We relaxed for a couple of hours over a couple of glasses of wine and a mid-afternoon snack of manchego cheese with crackers and jelly. As the vineyard is quite small the vintner only produces a limited amount of each vintage each year and these are only sold in the shop. It was tempting to buy some, though they are expensive. It seemed much better to drink some wine in situ, enjoy the experience and have the memory to take away, and look forward to coming back with more money in the wallet.

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Reluctantly we left the winery, walking back down the stairs (they seemed steeper and longer) and along the beach to our final destination of the evening, Restaurant 370, over the road from that fabulous beach.

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We met a couple of friends for a drink outside before heading in for an enjoyable dinner, and a final Man O’ War syrah.

A tropical cyclone had been forecast to brush the east coast of the North Island late Sunday or Monday. We had been keeping an eye on the weather all day with the idea of going back to Auckland after dinner if it looked like the wind would make the crossing unpleasant. It didn’t, so we had a final night in the Shack before catching the first ferry back to the city on Sunday morning. It was a lovely smooth and unexciting ride back to the city and reality. Boo hiss to reality.

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*We are flying to Christchurch on 14 Feb for a week in the South Island. With the omicron variant of Covid-19 only just making an appearance in New Zealand, we are hoping we’ll still be able to do this trip. However, the SI trip concludes three days before we fly back to London so we may be forced to re-evaluate that decision. I hope not.

Karangahake Gorge

Thursday 6 January 2022 – Waihi and Karangahake Gorge, New Zealand.

Karangahake Gorge is close to the top of my ‘Favourite places to visit near Auckland’ list. It has everything I want in a destination; lovely bush, an interesting history and the ruins to support that history, a good walk and a great river. Its main downside is it’s also on lots of other ‘Favourite places to visit near Auckland’ lists. It is hugely popular. We drove though the gorge on the way from Auckland to Whangamata, where we’ve been staying with friends for the past four nights. I had planned to stop but it was very busy as we passed through so we decided to stop on the way home instead; aiming to arrive earlier in the day to avoid the worst of the heat as the walking path is very exposed to the sun.

We managed to make the gorge as we drove home, but again far too late in the day for the full walk, it was another hot and busy day. Tottenham (Eleanor’s football team) were on the telly first thing in the morning so we had to stay and watch the match before we left.

As it was so late in the morning, and we had missed the early walking opportunity, we stopped for brunch and a quick look around Waihi as it was on the way. Waihi is a gold-mining town close to the eastern end of the gorge and, like the gorge, is interesting from a New Zealand perspective.

The Cornish Pumphouse was built on the edge of Waihi around 1904 to service the nearby Waihi Mine, New Zealand’s most profitable gold mine. It was modelled on the pump houses used in Cornwall in England to pump water from tin mines. I love this building, it stands on a small rise right on the edge of the town and can be seen for miles.

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The open-cast Waihi Mine is no longer working and you can see a landslip on one side of the mine. If there was time I think a tour of the place would be really interesting. Another ‘next time’ activity.

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The Karangahake Gorge was formed by the lovely Ohinemuri River which runs through the gorge. The gorge’s history is heavily linked with gold mining, though not in the same way as Waihi with its huge open-cast mine. Here, tunnels were dug into the hillside and the mined rock was dumped into the river. Pump houses pushed the water and rocks through large batteries which crushed the rock exposing the ore. The remains of that old industry lie all along the river side and I’d like to come back one winter, when it’s cooler and less busy, and photograph them again. At its peak, around the start of the 1900s, gold from the gorge made up 60% of the gold found in New Zealand. Prospecting still goes on in the area, but not to the same degree and it is all hidden away.

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My favourite bit! I’m a huge fan of trees growing in and around ruined man-made structures, and I never tire of finding them.

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We crossed the swing bridge over the Waitawheta River, a tributary of the Ohinemuri River just so I could take the above photos. From memory there is a good walk up the tributary that is less busy than the main path, though we didn’t really have time to do either today.

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We dropped down to  the edge of the Ohinemuri River for a quick look before walking back to the car and continuing on the with journey home. I think Eleanor was pointing to my finger being over part of the lens…

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We made a final, brief stop in the town of Paeroa for the obligatory photo by the giant Lemon and Paeroa (L&P) bottle, the town’s main tourist attraction since 1968. L&P is a soft drink that used to just be lemon and carbonated spring water from the town, but it’s been owned by Coca Cola for years and probably has loads more ingredients than is necessary.  L&P isn’t sold or well known globally, but it is ‘World famous in New Zealand’.

Eleanor seems thrilled to have her photo taken near a New Zealand icon.

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And that was it, the end of four great nights away, our first holiday in ages.

The Mount

Wednesday 5  January 2022 – Whangamata, New Zealand.

Famous for its small peak, glorious beaches, great surf, and drunken New Year’s Eve violence, Mount Maunganui has been a must go summer holiday spot since the invention of beer cans* for any young New Zealander with the means to get there and beer to drink.

I’ve never been to ‘The Mount’ for the New Year festivities but I have visited on a number of occasions over the past 30 or so years. The last time was the middle of the noughties when I used to do day trips to the nearby Port of Tauranga for work. I left Auckland early enough in the morning to get there for a run round the Mount, a quick swim in Pilot Bay to cool down then in to the office before most of the local staff turned up. It was usually a good day out.

Pilot Bay is one of two beaches at the Mount and is on the inside of the small isthmus, with the main surf beach on the outside. It’s a great place for a quiet swim and is family friendly. Eleanor and I started the 45 minute walk around the Mount from here.

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We were in Mount Maunganui for the afternoon visiting friends who recently moved into a home mid-way between the two beaches. It is a 2 ½ hour drive from where we’ve been staying in Whangamata. It was another brutally hot day so Eleanor and I were advised the best thing to do in the midday heat was to take the easy and reasonably shaded walk and experience some of the fabulous views and the sea breeze that whips round the point. We weren’t the only people making use of the breeze, though not all of them were on the ground.

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Leaving Pilot Bay there is a short and gentle climb which is pretty much the extent of the uphill walking all the way round. There were a few walkers but nothing like the crowds that filled the main shopping street. This is a very popular tourist spot and it gets extremely crowded over the few days around Christmas and the New Year.

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As you near the tip of the point the stunning view over the Pacific and the bush lined white sandy beaches on the other side of the fast running harbour entrance comes into view.

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The view all the way around is magnificent and I took quite a few photos.

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Three quarters of the way round the almost complete circular path is a great view down the surf beach towards Tauranga. Eleanor enjoyed the view as well.

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As the circle came to a close there are some steps that start the path up to the top of the Mount, I ran/walked up there ages ago and it’s tough going. It would be brutal on a hot day like today as there isn’t much shade on the early section. I’m very glad** to be rather unfit at the moment, that and the heat were goods reason to not make the climb.

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We had a cool down dip in Pilot Bay once we had finished the walk and then went for an enjoyable drink and early evening pizza with our friends before driving back to Whangamata. I’m not as comfortable driving as I used to be and was loathe to be driving on windy country roads in the dark, so was quite happy we made it back soon after I’d put the headlights on.

Another great day on this lovely little break we are having, though we head back to Auckland tomorrow.  We may come back to Mount Maunganui and explore a bit more before we leave for London in seven weeks. We just have to see how timing works and what else we need to fit in, and time is disappearing quickly now.

* This may not actually be true.
** This is also not true, I’m not at all happy about being so unfit.

Wentworth Falls, Whangamata

Monday 3 January 2022 – Whangamata, New Zealand.

There was a brief moment after I entered the bush as the others walked on down the gravel path towards the cars, their scuffed steps and voices receding into the short distance, when all I could hear was nothing at all. It was as if all the birds had collectively held their breath while they guessed my intent and the gentle breeze stopped disturbing the trees to allow them to listen to me blundering about below. A half second or two of silence and then the wind ruffled the tops of the punga ferns and the bird chatter and song started up again. A brief moment of what seemed like total silence, a thin gap between human sound and nature, like a line drawn in the sand that I was allowed to cross. It was heavenly.

I love punga trees as much as I love quiet; The punga is a tall fern, almost palm-like, that grows in most low-land New Zealand forest. I love the vivid green of their fronds and how they spread out canopy like. I have been trying to take photos looking up into the mixed fronds of neighbouring trees with a bright sky above. It has been difficult, the punga is a low to mid canopy tree, meaning there is often a taller or even two taller trees growing above, between it and the sun. I’ve yet to find exactly what I want, and today was no exception, though, I’m happy enough with this photo and more importantly enjoyed stepping off the track to it.

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With another scorching hot day and uneven waves that were no good for surfing and a little too rough for family swimming I was surprised but not that surprised to find a lot of cars parked on either side of the narrow road to Wentworth Falls. The car park is a ten minute drive from where we are staying in Whangamata and it was busy. Half of Whangamata must have had the same bright idea as us; a cool walk in the bush.

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I love the New Zealand bush. Though it’s just a bunch of trees and scrub, maybe some ferns and grasses; all grouped together there’s nothing like it anywhere else. Due to New Zealand’s long isolation from any other land mass there are plants and trees here that don’t exist anywhere else on the planet.

Before I go further, and leave any wrong impressions ‘the bush’ is what Kiwis call a forest; large, small or any size in between, if there are a bunch of trees together and those trees are primarily New Zealand natives then it is the bush. A pine forest is not the bush, it is a forest.

The bush is generally considered to be ‘safe’, and I say this in quotes as it’s not entirely safe; the bush can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, get lost or fall or otherwise hurt yourself away from other people, there are vast tracts of densely forested and unpopulated bits of New Zealand. However, New Zealand has no land animals that will kill you; there are no snakes, no majorly poisonous spiders, no crocodiles, no tigers/lions/other large cats/wild dogs with large teeth, nada. You can yomp around in the bush in bare feet to your heart’s content and nothing is going to fatally bite or sting you. There aren’t even any stinging nettles. However, there are lots of spiky things and some grasses with really sharp edges, so walking out of the bush with dried blood on your legs is not uncommon.

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Unlike the south east of England, and due to its volcanic and tectonic birth, the New Zealand landscape is very bumpy; steep sided valleys are everywhere, which means there are a lot of rocky fast running streams, and these often lead to some pretty fabulous waterfalls. I used to take a lot of photos of fast running water, lots of lovely tripod mounted long exposures to blur the running water. With no tripod those photos are impossible, though I still enjoyed watching and listening to the water.

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The bush was lush and cooling, it took us most of an hour to walk to the falls, mostly along a gravel path with a gentle gradient until close to the destination when, as you would hope when you are going to a waterfall, the path became a lot steeper. This is old gold mining country and there are a few bits of the old works still around. Though we didn’t have the time to do a proper explore I did find this huge stone wall, and I can’t tell you what it was for either. A mystery stone wall, with yeas of scratched graffiti and a punga stump in front of it.

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The falls have a have a total drop of 50 metres and are in three stages and would be fabulous after some heavy rain, though were pretty spectacular as it was, though hard to capture on a wide-angle lens at that distance. There were a few people at the viewing areas so we didn’t linger and hog the selfie spot. It would’ve been nice to just stand and listen to the water pounding on the rocks below, the wind in the trees and the gentle song of the birdlife, but it was not to be; too many humans.

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We walked up to the top of the falls to take a look at the view over the bush and out to sea. Glorious. I could spend all day here if I could, but sadly that was not the case today. Onward, upward (in this case downward to the car) and enjoy it while you can.

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