Four days of Christmas

Tuesday 28 December 2021 – Auckland.

In the ten years since I left New Zealand I’ve intended, and have indeed talked about on numerous occasions, to come back to spend Christmas with family. I’ve never quite made it and there has always been some reason or other, usually the massive increase in the cost of travelling to New Zealand for a summer Christmas. Anyway, this year we got to spend Christmas with my family, and it was lovely and fun and a welcome distraction from everything that is going on in my and the wider world.

I struggled a bit through the days leading into Christmas. Eleanor worked to mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve and had a lot of complex work related things to deal with. I tried to be supportive and think I did OK, but I find the whole lead up to Christmas an anxious time and wasn’t as fully on as I would’ve wanted to be.

My focus over those last few days was booking a brief holiday in the South Island to coincide with my nephew’s wedding in Dunedin. We now have an itinerary, and flights and accommodation are booked to match. Fingers crossed Omicrom doesn’t balls it up. I also booked our return to the UK. We fly soon after returning to Auckland from Dunedin, and just before the lease on the flat runs out. This was an anxiety filled booking. Even though I resolved to return a few weeks ago it was still difficult to actually click the continue button and I feel like in some way I’m letting people down. I’m also trying to not spend too much money as I haven’t had an income for five months which is also adding to the stress level. While I don’t want to wish Christmas away, a part of me will be relieved once it is over.

Eleanor is a Christmas person and I’m not that into it at all. I think there is a big difference to how northern and southern hemisphere people process Christmas and I’m stuck somewhere in between. I don’t dislike Christmas, but I don’t love it either. One of the things I appreciate most about our relationship is we have accepted, and continue to accept, our differences (Tottenham / Arsenal for instance) and move on. I wasn’t really capable of that in earlier relationships which is something I’m not particularly proud of. I know I can be a bit of a stubborn arse at times.

In the days leading up to Christmas we took a couple of walks around central Auckland to see the Christmas lights, though there were far less than normal this year due to the pandemic. Franklin Road which is very close to where we live usually has a big and popular display with all the houses lit up, though the council cancelled it this year which was a major disappointment to us. We visited the display in the Smith and Caughey department store on Queen St, the story across a number of windows was popular with young families.

IMG_1874

We then walked down to Britomart to watch the short and largely uninspiring Christmas projection, though this photo is very unfair on the display. Great sky though!

IMG_1882

IMG_1879

The following evening we went to see the new Spider-Man movie, my first trip to the cinema since some time in 2019. It was an OK film, but it was great just being in a cinema again. The new Matrix film will be next.

IMG-20211223-WA0008

20211223_211722

I have rented a car for a few days, so on the way to my sister’s house on Christmas morning we took a detour and drove along Tamaki Drive. It was a glorious day, very unusual for an Auckland Christmas. I think Eleanor was surprised at the number of people enjoying Christmas day on the beach, even though it is a bit of a New Zealand Christmas cliché. I was surprised too. I was looking for somewhere we could park the car next to a pohutakawa, the New Zealand Christmas tree. It wasn’t easy finding something, though we did in the end. It would have been nice to be able to spend some time here, but I’d left it a bit late to leave the house so we didn’t have any time to hang about without leaving the rest of the  family waiting.

IMG_1900

20211225_105750

All my Auckland family were together for Christmas lunch which was fabulous, this was the first time ever that all four generations have been in the same room on Christmas Day. 

IMG_1922

It was great being able to spend time together, enjoying a meal and sharing gifts. I’m not sure when, if ever, it will happen again. With pandemics and climate change and the cost of global travel who knows when we’ll be back and if the younger generation (s) will even still be in New Zealand when we do return for Christmas. It was a great short few hours.

IMG_1928

While we were all together we had a brief Skype call with my South Island sister and her family as well as my family in Australia. It was lovely to get some more photos from Queensland of my son and granddaughter later in the day.

IMG-20211225-WA0024

When the young folk had left mum, my sister, Eleanor and I went for a short walk to a local park with my sister’s dog, Millie. It was brutally hot and with Christmas lunch belly it was an uncomfortable time, we didn’t stay outside for long. I am used to a colder Christmas day and a post-lunch snooze, not a post lunch walk under a hot blue sky.

20211225_163021

I’m not sure what my sister was saying, but mum was obviously horrified!

20211225_114646

Christmas was enjoyable and fun and being able to see and celebrate with family was one of the primary reasons we came back to Auckland this year. I am so glad we did.

Since dad’s passing in 2007 it has been a Boxing Day tradition to visit Muriwai where his ashes were scattered. I drove mum, Eleanor and my Auckland sister up there in the rental car. I love Muriwai so it is always a pleasure to visit, though I haven’t been in the surf for years.

IMG_1948

IMG_1941

There were a lot of gannet chicks but I only had the wide angles on the camera which was a shame. It was surprisingly empty at the gannet colony which meant there was no pressure on time at viewing platforms and the paths were less crowded and easier to walk on. While it was warm out it was not as hot as yesterday, I guess the sea breeze helped; thankfully a repeat would have been most unpleasant.

IMG_1958

IMG_1946

IMG_1968

We stopped by the spot we scattered dad, before getting in the car and heading back to Mum’s for a late lunch, and then on to home.

IMG_1950

The following day, Monday, and the 10th anniversary of me leaving the country, Eleanor and I took a drive out of Auckland, along the coast road by the Firth of Thames, which runs along the southern end of the Hauraki Gulf. We were going to have fish and chips at the famous cafe at Kaiaua but it was closed for a few days. Disappointing. There was not a lot open anywhere along the coast which was surprising given the number of people out and that so many places had been closed to pandemic restrictions not that long ago.

IMG_1982

IMG_1983

IMG_1977

It was a lovely day for driving in an air-conditioned car and we enjoyed being out of the city for most of the day, visiting places Eleanor had not been to before. At Miranda we headed back inland and drove back to Auckland via highway two. The traffic going in the opposite direction, towards the Coromandel Peninsula and Bay of Plenty beach towns was appalling. Auckland empties at this time of year. I hope it isn’t so bad next week when we make that same journey. Back in the city we drove around central Auckland looking for fish and chips but none of the takeaway bars were open. Monday is not a good day for fish and chips it appears. I think I cooked when we got home.

Tuesday morning we met mum and my sister at Auckland Art Gallery to visit the Mary Quant exhibition. We arrived 15 minutes before opening and there was already a (very short) queue forming. There would have been twenty people by the time the doors opened. I am glad we got there early as we had the exhibition largely to ourselves.

20211228_101017

With Covid restrictions applying there were fewer people in anyway, masks on and vaccine passes mandatory for entry. The exhibition was really good, I would have liked to have seen more period photos to see the clothes in the real world, but other than that minor thing I very much enjoyed it. It was interesting and entertaining and some of the clothes were amazing. There was a big queue outside the exhibition when we left. I love 60s fashion.

20211228_103355

Eleanor I drove out to Hallertau Brewery for a fabulous late lunch, as I was driving I  only drank two small beers. It was then time to return the rental car and the four days of Christmas were over. It was an enjoyable time, and I appreciated being able to spend time with mum and my family over Christmas, for the first time in 10 years.

20211228_160638

Unless things really turn to shit, we arrive back in the UK on 25 February and I start back at my old job on 7 March. I’m not sure if this is the right or the wrong thing to do, but this was my call. I miss London and St Leonards and while I love being with family and New Zealand is mostly a nice place it is no longer really my home.

Muriwai Beach

Saturday 30 October 2021 – Muriwai Beach.

Yesterday morning Mum caught the train into the city to come and see me, and we met for an enjoyable coffee and a walk around Wynyard Quarter and Victoria Park before one of the many brief showers that have plagued this week finally caught up with us. While we were together I asked to borrow her car for a few hours over the weekend; an offer that she’d previously made to us.

Eleanor is under physio orders to not walk too far for a couple of weeks so her knee pain can be resolved. Borrowing the car so we could do something more than walk the block was her idea and I’m profoundly grateful to her for having it. I’ve been in a slump this week and getting out of our immediate surroundings was the right thing to do. I must admit to having thought of asking to use the car, but rejected it as I really wasn’t in the mood for driving as I often find driving in New Zealand stressful. I’m not the road warrior I used to be, or thought I was. Anyway, it was a great idea, and we had a nice, albeit brief, time at Muriwai before the rain arrived and we made our way home again.

IMG_1529

Muriwai is one of my happy places. As well as being a place where I’ve enjoyed mountain biking, trail running and photography, Dad’s ashes were scattered here too. It’s a place I always visit when I’m back in Auckland. It is the only place I ALWAYS visit when I’m back.

IMG_1533

Eleanor and I caught the bus out to Henderson and met Mum in a park near her home. We had coffee and a chat (Covid) before getting the keys to the mighty Hyundai Getz, a small getabout car that was perfect for Mum and our needs, and my driving reluctance.

Muriwai Beach is normally a thirtyish minute drive from Henderson. The traffic was really heavy today, and there was a long tailback going into Kumeu. It felt like normal, unlocked down traffic to me, and both in Kumeu and at Muriwai there were a lot of unmasked walkers. More than in the city centre at least, the west was always a bit wild. I don’t blame people as I’m sick of mask wearing too and my compliance in some situations is waning.

We arrived at the beach just on midday and went straight to the café to order a portion of fish and chips for lunch. We have been thinking (drooling at times) about chips for quite some time, but sadly these weren’t as good as we would’ve liked for our first non-MIQ chips, oh well. I am sure there will be other opportunities. It was nice being able to enjoy fish and chips outside, near a beach and in the sun; the perfect place to eat them.

20211030_121257

After stuffing our (mine in particular) faces with chips we did the short loop walk from the beach up to the cliff top viewing platforms that look out over the sea and it’s renown gannet colony.

IMG_1535

Just below the first of the viewing platforms, on the Muriwai Beach side is where we scattered most of Dad in 2007. I always stop and take a moment or two to reflect on what a good man my dad was and that I still miss him. This year I hope to be able to visit on the anniversary of his passing.

IMG_1541

I took a couple of photos from the viewing areas, though I am not particularly pleased with the output; the images are all a bit ‘soft’. I think I was shooting at too slow a speed for my ability to hold the camera still. I was also using a polarising filter which I now regret, though I think the case for the filter is in London, which isn’t much use to me here in New Zealand.

IMG_1539

I love the viewing platforms and they were quite popular today with both humans and gannets. There are about 1200 pairs of gannets that mate and nest on those small vertically sided islands and this narrow stretch of cliff, attracting a significantly higher number of human visitors each season who come to see them.

IMG_1542

IMG_1544

There were some people making a huge mandala in the sand at Maori Bay which was looking pretty good, though very unfinished as we walked back down towards the car as light rain started to fall.

IMG_1556

IMG_1546

I drove us along the short and mostly unsealed road to North Muriwai, where I used to run and ride in the pine forest before I went on my travels. I was interested in seeing what it was like now, and very busy was the answer, so we didn’t stop. On the way back to the main road I was passed by some yelling knuckle-dragging youth in two of these ridiculously large utes (utility trucks) that seem to be everywhere in NZ. I said bad words, loudly.

It was good getting out of the city and I very much appreciated having the use of Mum’s car. A number of people have offered us the use of a vehicle, which has been lovely and very welcome. Once we were home and I’d successfully negotiated how the car lift to the car park in the block worked I was feeling so much better about the world, so thanks Mum and Eleanor, xx.

Sunday update – The car was making very strange sounds when I started it to go out for a Sunday drive. I ended up taking it back to Mum in case it was something serious. She told me later in the day that it always sounds like that when the engine is cold. In lieu of a drive and a short walk somewhere different Eleanor and I had a glass of wine on the deck instead. That was enjoyable and probably less stress inducing than driving again in Auckland’s traffic.

Muriwai Gannet Colony

Wednesday 30 November 2016 – Muriwai Beach, Auckland, New Zealand.

Muriwai Beach is about a 50 minute drive from central Auckland, on a good traffic day… It is one of my favourite places in Auckland and I have been taking photographs here for many years. It became even more special to me, and to my family when we scattered dad’s ashes over the cliff tops after he passed suddenly in November 2007.

img_5588

I generally go there when I come to New Zealand, and mum and I went up for a visit this morning.

It was high tide for a change, from memory the last few times I have been the tide has been quite a way out. So it was nice to see and hear the waves crashing on the rocks.

img_5577

Mum and I have a pretty regular wee walk we do when we visit, up the steps from the beach to the cliff top where we left dad, then over to the various gannet colony viewing platforms and then back down the path near the road. This morning was no exception.

img_5587

The gannet colony on the cliff tops is now a very popular tourist attraction, gaining more and more visitors each year. We were lucky it was very quiet today. It is also getting busier and busier with more gannets coming each year, primarily due to successful breading. It was not that long ago when the number of breeding pairs numbered under a hundred. There are now well over 1000 birds nesting here. It is not yet peak gannet season, so the numbers are down a bit, though the nesting area has really spread along the cliffs since I was last here.

img_5594

img_5590

img_5604

There were quite a few birds sitting on nests. The gannets only lay one egg at a time and the parents share responsibility for sitting on the egg, you can just see one under the front bird.

img_5595

I was quite surprised to see that there were some chicks here as well. They start off bald, but soon turn in to white balls of fluff,

img_5600

Before their full colours come on, and they spread their wings and fly.

img_5598

It is a very cool place.

img_5602

See you next time dad. xx