Family time in Auckland.

Monday 21 January 2019 – Auckland, New Zealand.

We had a total of eight nights in Auckland, not long considering how far we flew and how bad the jet lag hit. Five nights staying with mum, two with my sister and one at an airport hotel the day before we left. Not a lot of things were done, but not a lot of things were planned to be done. It was a pretty successful trip really. The only regret was not getting time to see friends, a quick drink on Friday afternoon with a couple of friends was it. We did get to celebrate my youngest sister’s birthday which was an added bonus.

I never get too excited about going to New Zealand, I love seeing family and friends and getting outside, but I have limited holiday to use each year and a list of a 1000 places I want to experience, If only I had the will and the courage to go to them. New Zealand was good this time though. El came along this time too, and I am enjoying seeing her develop a relationship with my family. Not planning on doing a lot meant getting to spend more time doing family things, seeing my grandson and son, hanging out with mum and my Auckland based sister. yeah, it was a good trip.

Highlights;

The weather was nice for virtually the whole time we were away, including Brisbane and Singapore. There was the odd shower but not one that impacted or made us change our plans at all. This has to be a first for me on a holiday.

Spending some time with my son and grandson. Mason is four now, we have spent time together before so he is quite familiar with me. He was a lot of fun to spend time with, very engaging and engaged. His family do not want him on social media, so just a sneaky photo of him unwrapping the Lego we bought him for Christmas.

I got to go for a swim in the sea with Mason and my son, Aiden. We drove up to Orewa Beach, just north of the city for a swim and an ice cream. I love the sea, and do not get to swim in it that much, though perhaps moving to St Leonards will fix that. The sea was remarkably warm, it has been a warm summer in NZ. There were no gasps when the water hit the goolies !!

The first time El and I came to Auckland we took a day trip to Waiheke Island, about 40 minutes away from the city in the Hauraki Gulf, and one of its many wineries. We had a fabulous lunch (and a few glasses of wine), and it was one of the highlights of that visit. We decided to repeat the trip this year, taking my sister as a birthday gift. Like the visit four or so years ago we had magnificent weather, another fabulous lunch (and a few glasses of wine). Waiheke is certainly an Auckland region gem, and one I highly recommend taking a day to visit.

There was a nice view of the iconicRangitoto Island from the ferry.

A key part of a every visit I make is taking a drive up to Muriwai Beach with mum. Walking to the cliff tops over the gannet colony, looking back up Muriwai to the north and over the spot where we scattered dad’s ashes. Muriwai was always one of my most loved locations, made even more so now that dad is there to. It is not a maudlin trip, and we never talk about dad when we go, but it is always on my trip plan when I go back. It was a blustery Sunday, probably the worst weather of the trip, but the rain held off, eventually clearing to sun over lunch. There were a number of gannets nesting in the colony, and I managed to get a photo of a mother feeding a small fish to her chick, wishing, not for the first time, that I had a better camera on me.

We stopped for lunch at the very busy Hallertau Brewery on the way home. The food, wine and beer we had in NZ was fantastic, even the risotto I cooked one night at mums!

Mum and my sister, Sarah.

On the day of my sister’s birthday we (mum, El, my sister and I) went to the botanical gardens for a walk, where it did actually rain for a few seconds. I haven’t been here for decades, and while I am not really a plant person I really enjoyed walking round looking at things. You cannot really tell from my photography that I am not a plant person, as there are a lot of photos of plants, and here are some more!

I enjoyed New Zealand this time, more so than usual. I didn’t have expectations and I didn’t plan on trying to fill every minute and see as many people as possible. I was really jet lagged, so lots of early nights, and the occasional afternoon nap. I think I needed the rest. Not being able to work while I was away due to not be able to take work equipment out of the country really made a difference to.

For our last night we had decided to sleep in a hotel at the airport, primarily to avoid the morning traffic that could add stress to getting to the airport at 6:30. There is a mini-golf course nearby so Aiden and I decided to have a quick round. He thrashed me.

I can confess, and didnt mention it to him at the time. After sneaking off for a quick wee behind a bush in the carpark, I jumped over the low fence to get back in I took a tumble, landing heavily on  my shoulder. I was in pain for the last 9 holes. That was really why I lost !

Singapore next!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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,

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

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It is a very cool place.

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See you next time dad. xx

A walk up Ben Nevis. The New Zealand version.

Friday 25 November 2016 – Nelson, New Zealand.

I arrived back in New Zealand in the middle of the night on Monday. I spent Tuesday around Auckland with mum and family – and got to spend an afternoon with my grand son Mason. I will do an Auckland wrap up post when I leave and there will be some Mason in there! On Wednesday my youngest son, Aiden and I flew down to Nelson to see my sister, Alison and her family, and to catch up with some old friends of mine. The plans were changed just before I left the UK with my sister asking Aiden and I if we could stay with my friends due to my nephew being in the middle of very stressful exams. Exam stress not being helped by the recent earthquakes in the top of the South Island. While Nelson was not really impacted by the shakes that have destroyed Kaikoura, they were felt there and my sister’s family did evacuate the house in the middle of the night during the worst shakes. An experience I am glad to say I have not had.

Aiden and I arrived in Nelson and picked up a rental car from the airport. The flight down was really good – magnificent views out of the window over the North Island with Mt Tongariro poking its head out. A great day for flying!

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My sister had arranged to meet us in town for lunch, so we parked up in central Nelson and spent a good five or ten minutes seeing all the sights…. Nelson cathedral. Not sure if there is much else to see in town:)

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Fortunately, my old friends Paul and Jane joined us for lunch and as we were staying with them we went back to their place after. Where we drank very nice craft beer and chatted for the rest of the day. It was good to catch up. I don’t see them very often, even when I lived in NZ as we awere on different islands. Paul is my oldest friend, I met him soon after we moved to New Zealand in 1973, and Jane; well, she was my first girlfriend, way back in the very early 1980s. Lots of memories with those guys…

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The following morning we were joined by Tom, another old old friend who lives not too far away and while Jane went to work, the four men went and walked up a big hill.

Nelson is surrounded by hills, it is an outdoor person’s paradise and both Paul and Tom have worked in the environment all their lives. Unlike Aiden and I they are fit, though we are all getting a bit older. I was a bit nervous about the walk, but in the end it was not the fitness that let me down…

We elected to walk Ben Nevis. At 1619 metres it is almost 300 metres taller than its more famous name sake, and the UK’s tallest peak, Ben Nevis in Scotland. This Ben Nevis is just another lump in the Richmond Range. Luckily we got to park the car at around 950 metres so it was not a massive slog up. Though it was very steep to start with.

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As is very common in New Zealand forests that edge towns the foothills have been planted with pine trees, before giving away to native forest. The wind has caused a lot of damage through here in previous years, and the shallow rooted pines took the worst of it.

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It was quite warm at the start, and we were all (most of us) puffing and sweating after only a few steep minutes. We cleared the first small peak before popping out onto a ridge line, and magnificent views up and down the range.

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I suffer from mild vertigo, mostly it does not impact me, though you would not catch me working on a roof like Aiden does. I struggled on this ridge line, there were a couple of sections where I was really pensive, hold on to rocks when I was climbing up or down. In general it was ‘easy’ going, but some areas were tricky.

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We couldn’t see the peak up ahead as the expected cloud rolled in about half way up.

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We dropped back down again and back below the tree line. I love Southern Beech forests, the trees are fabulous and they leave small crunchy leaves littering the ground. The cloud just carried on rolling in and it started to cool off a bit, we were all glad to have prepared for this. Not that it got cold, but the difference between the bottom of the climb and the top was marked.

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We stopped for a snack at the last tree, before heading off up into more alpine conditions, with grasses, small shrubs and lots of rock.

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Soon after,and about 400 metres (about 100 meters vertical) from the top we hit a loose shale section of path and I had to stop, I had been finding the walking a bit nerve racking and am hopeless with loose shale. I had already slowed down significantly and didn’t want to stop the others from the reaching the summit. So I stopped and let them carry on without me. I thing that if it had been clear weather I may have continued to the top for the view, I am not sure though!

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They were only half an hour away, made it up to the top far quicker without me, though of course they didn’t see anything, and I could barely see them as they came down.

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The walk down from where I waited was a little slow, but at least it was semi-clear.

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After a lunch stop, back in the beech trees we made pretty good progress back down through the easy walking alpine forest section.

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With me slowing down to almost a crawl on the ridge line again, though we were briefly rewarded with a glimpse of the valley floor way down below.

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The cloud had settled down a lot further, making the steep and wind devastated section almost spooky.

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And that was pretty much the end of the walk. My knee started to play up at the end, but apart from that my legs felt fine – and surprisingly there were no aches the following day either. Though mountain biking in Auckland on Saturday was a nightmare! The walk was brilliant. I loved getting up in the hills, and walking with a group of mates was very different than my usual solo walking – and the craft beer and chat after was really good too! Thanks Paul and Jane and Tom.

On Friday morning, after bidding farewell to my wonderful friends and hosts, Aiden and I drove up the coast to the small town of Motueka. We are having lunch with my sister at her farm and the plan was for Aiden and I to see a bit of the coast before going to the farm. The weather decided that it was not going to play ball and it rained all morning. This pretty much put paid to all our plans so we went to a cafe in Motueka and then a cafe in Mapua to kill some time, stopping between cafes to stand in the rain and stare at the harbour.

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On the way to my sister’s place we found this derelict house on the side of the road, I stopped to take some photos and was tempted to climb inside. If it hadn’t been raining and there was more time I probably would have.

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We had a great lunch with my sister and three quarters of the family. Stupidly I was engrossed in chatting I did not take any photos of the family, though I did take an admiring cell phone photo of their amazing wall sized book shelf. Something I am very envious of!

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And that was it, after lunch I drove us back to the airport and after a bit of a delay Aiden and I flew back to Auckland.

I really enjoyed Nelson, it was great seeing people I do not normally see when I come over to NZ, my sister included, and I really liked the walk in the hills, especially with Aiden along as well. Thanks Paul, Jane, Tom, Alison and family 🙂

A trip to the zoo, a final day with Mason.

Tuesday 05 April 2016 – Auckland, New Zealand.

Last day in New Zealand – it has all gone so fast, 12 days is such a short time. Even though it is our last day I was looking forward to it as we were going to take Mason to the zoo. I love the zoo. Auckland Zoo do this cool thing where you can buy an annual pass for a named child and get a free un-named pass for an adult to go with it. This means any adult can take the child to the zoo for free. I think it is a wonderful scheme.

El and I did a fair amount of packing and organising before we left for the zoo with mum, we picked up my grandson Mason on the way and arrived at the zoo late morning. It was a glorious day, it will be good to leave Auckland on a good weather day – means the flight departure will not be too bad either !

The kids pass seemed to be well liked as there were loads of mums with prams making use of the lovely day. Mason seemed intrigued by what was going on.

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There was not a lot to see for the first hour we were at the zoo, it was a warm day and the midday sun seemed to force a lot of the animals into wisely slumbering in the shade. Mason was sort of interested in what was going on, but there was not a whole lot of it. The zoo has had a real make-over over the past couple of decades, no longer do you see listless animals pacing in small boxes, there are far less animals but in much bigger and more appropriate enclosures. We did stop for a look at the lemurs.

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I wanted to visit the Kiwi House, so I could show El what the kiwi bird looks like. They are nocturnal creatures, small, brown, flightless and defenceless. They are an endangered species, but I do not think they are on an immediate concern list. We did see a couple walking around behind their glass shields, though it was very dark, and impossible to take photos in.

We stopped outside so Mason could have a drink and a snack, he only stayed in his stroller for a few minutes and had been walking around for a while. He only has little legs. He also has a very cheeky grin.

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After looking at the elephants we stopped for an ice cream, and in my case a much needed coffee. Mason and mum seemed to be very happy with their ice cream.

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After watching some other kids playing, Mason wanted to go and walk around in the little fountain, so like a true kiwi kid, it was shoes off for a splash.

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Mason finally found his happy place in the zoo, not with any of the animals, he found a bike. Mason loves bikes, cars and trucks, and these are some of the few words he has. He was very happy to be able to sit on the old scooter on display in the African section.

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Then joy of joys, there was another bike!

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The highlight for Mason, and for us watching him, was a small looped tunnel that led to a viewing window in the middle of the meerkat enclosure. He spent quite a bit of time running in and out of the tunnels with two other children his height – just short enough to stand up. It took us a while to tear him, and the other kids away, it was great listening to them laughing out of sight in the tunnel.

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He also quite liked the meerkats, as did I.

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That was pretty much the end of our loop of the zoo, a couple of hours had disappeared really quickly. Mason was knackered (I know how he felt) and he was asleep in the car before we even left the car park.

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We dropped him off at home, and I got to have one last cuddle before he went inside. I won’t see him again for a while, hopefully I will be back in New Zealand before the end of year.

In the evening we had dinner with Mum, my sister, Mel and Dickie and Aiden in a Sri Lankan restaurant not far from Mel’s place. It was great to have kotu roti again, the food was excellent, and very good value. After dinner we said goodbye to Aiden, mum and my sister and Mel and Dickie took us to the airport for our flight to Hong Kong at midnight.

And that was it. Our time in New Zealand was over, all too soon once again. We had a really good time, we both enjoyed our road trip up north, and it was fabulous seeing family and friends again. It was especially good to be able to spend some time with Mason and take a few photos that will come back to London with me. El liked Auckland a lot more than she did last time, so the possibility of buying a property there is on the ‘maybe, one day’ list. We will have to see.

Thanks to mum and my sister for letting us stay, for looking after us. Mel, Aiden, Dickie, it was great seeing you and Mason again.  Love you all and looking forward to seeing you on Skype and hopefully in the flesh November(ish). xx

Visiting and old friend with an old friend.

Monday 04 April 2016 – Auckland, New Zealand.

Like most bloggers I also follow and read a few other WordPress blogs and sporadically randomly read a few others. I like to see what is out there, what other people are seeing and doing and maybe get ideas about writing and photography for my own use. I recently read a post by a youngish guy, I think he was English, who had just left Auckland. He was moaning about how boring, expensive and unfriendly he thought New Zealand and specifically Auckland was. In between his moaning he described what he did in Auckland. Pretty much nothing, he never left the city. No wonder he was bored.

I, on the other hand, always get out of the city, and today was going to be one of those out of the city days. I had yet to see my good friend Vicki on this trip, there just hadn’t been time so far to fit enough time in, but I had kept a day up my sleeve just in case. Vicki and I usually catch up over a walk or a run somewhere in the hills, as I did not have a huge amount of time we decided to keep it semi-local and go to one of my favourite places in the whole world – Karekare Beach.

Karekare is on Auckland’s west coast, it has no shops, few houses and a toilet block was only built there in the last few years. It feels remote, yet it is under an hour from the centre of the city, less if there is no traffic on the very winding road. It is a magical place and I have been here to run, walk, swim and photograph many many times.

There was not going to be much running today, I am woefully unfit and Vicki is very very fit and would leave me for dead on the trails, but we had lots of gossiping to do so a good walk was definitely in order. We started walking along the black sand beach – following where we could find them, the trail markers for the Hillary Trail.

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I have mentioned the Hillary in previous posts, it was created in honour of Sir Edmund Hillary, and is 75kms of interlinked trail traversing the Waitakere Ranges from South to North (or Vice Versa). When it was first created it was a rugged and gnarly walk using old hiking trails. Over the last few years, it is slowly being ‘dumbed down’ and made easier and safer – though it was never dangerous. This is to cater more for the walking tourist who may not necessarily want to get their boots dirty, well that is how it seems to me. This section along the beach did not exist when I left the country, the trail was back in the hills then.

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Back in the old kauri logging days there used to be a train line running along this section of the coast, ferrying the great logs to Whatipu where ships used to take them into Auckland, the train line is long gone, but the old tunnel at Tunnel Point still remains, as does a rusting hulk of a cylinder.

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I stopped to take a few photos of the small lake that has long been here, stuck between the sand dunes and the cliff face, over a rainy winter this whole area can flood as the water comes down from the hills and finds nowhere else to go.

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One of the things I really love about New Zealand is, apart from some people, there is nothing dangerous, too bitey or poisonous living here. Wading barefoot and legged through a swampy flooded lake might not feel good on the feet, but at least no animal is going to try and kill you. Being the end of summer, there was no flood, and no need to wade barefoot through anything at all. The only life we saw were a couple of black swans.

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We turned inland past the lake and headed up the start of the Pararaha Valley. The first hundred yards or so cuts through reed beds and the track is a low boardwalk. Designed to allow 365 day access to the area, though I have walked up here before when the boardwalk has been submerged as well.

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And then it was UP ! Buck Taylor was always one of my least favourite tracks on a long run or walk, it is steep ! But the view back down over the entrance to the valley is always worth it.

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I was surprised by how much mud there was when we got to the ridge line at the top, there wasn’t huge amounts, but I was surprised to find any at all, given that it is the end of summer. It was good to see the tracks here are still proper hiking tracks with mud and roots uneven steps. Just how I like it.

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We followed Zion Ridge Track, it is pretty flat and a real joy to run on, the bush up here is really nice too, with lots of manuka, kauri and puriri trees leaving layers of crunchy leaves on the trail.

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We came across this big old puriri tree, slowly being taken over by the vine like rata. It is a massive tree, ancient and twisted. Lovely.

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Very soon we were on the cliff top overlooking Karekare Beach where we started. Looking back down the beach towards Pararaha Valley.

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Karekare Beach.

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Now you can see why this is one of my favourite places ! Beach, surf, hills, mud, trees, wilderness. What is there not to love about Karekare.

It was a great couple of hours out and about, Vicki is good company, a not too old friend, but one of my best friends and it was great to catch up. Vicki is the editor of Kiwi Trail Runner magazine and is very enthusiastic about anything trail and trail running. She gave me a couple of issues of the mag to take home with me as I was not quite up to date !!

She also stores my trail shoes at her house, to save me carting them back and forth from England. Now that is a true friend !

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If it’s yellow, let it mellow.

Saturday 02 April 2016, Northland New Zealand.

The morning broke open with a better sky than it closed with last night, solidly grey but not raining at least. Today we return to the car and continue our journey south. Not a long day driving again, we are spending a night in Leigh, an hour north of Auckland. We were not in any rush.

We took in the view from the front of the B and B as we were packing the car, I love the way the mist is curling up out of the hills, feeding that big wet blanket looming above them. Perhaps that rain might come back?

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We left just before 10:00 and I made my first stop not far out of town, my last Northland church on this trip. The church at Taumarere was originally built in Paihia in 1874 and was barged here in 1926. It does not look like it is used overly much anymore. I was trying to get a photo with the mist and low brooding hills as a backdrop, but there was not enough space on the narrow strip of land surrounding the church.

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Our first stop was in Kawakawa at the famous HunterWasser toilets. I had been looking for these a couple of days when we passed through Kaitia on our way up the country as I was sure they were in that town. I was really pleased to find I was wrong and we got see them today. I have heard about them before but never seen them in the flesh. Friedensreich Hundertwasser was an Austrian architect and artist who migrated to New Zealand in 1975, he passed away in 2000. He has designed buildings all over the world and I always thought it bizarre he built a public toilet in northern New Zealand. They are a shining light in an otherwise unspectacular rural NZ town. And they are free to use !

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Whangerei Falls was a fairly regular stop on any northern journey, though the car park and facilities have improved since I was last there, there are some facilities at least. The falls sit in a residential area and the size of them really come as a surprise to the newcomer. At 26 metres high they are bigger than you would have thought.

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There is a nice circular path from the top to the base and back up again to the car park. They were a really enjoyable diversion on our travels south.

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There was a huge amount of spray coming off the falls, I took a quick snap before heading back into the trees.

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We were meeting my daughter and her B/F on the way back south. We had agreed to meet in Matakana but sadly ended up being forced to meet at the Brick Bay Winery Smile The pinot gris was really really nice and I was gutted to be driving. Even though it is sunny in this picture, a very heavy shower passed over soon after, and heavy showers passed over for the rest of the day, we got damp a couple of times. Me thinking ‘I wish I was not driving!’

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After a soothing glass and a shared cheese board we headed off to nearby Snells Beach for a walk. It has been a popular Auckland holiday destination for many years, but I was shocked at how big and built up it had become since I was last here.

The beach is still lovely, and this photo of my daughter Mel and her B/F, Dickie is one of my favourites of the whole trip, the light was just perfect for those few minutes.

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As you could tell by those clouds, we did not get to stay for much longer and they were soon on top of us, and they dumped a fair amount of rain in a very short time. Though it did not seem to bother these two old blokes netting for their tea.

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We stopped in Matakana on the way out to Leigh to pick up some provisions, cheese, crackers etc for a pre-evening drink. El really liked Nosh, the deli we shopped in, and Matakana in general.

I had rented a bach for the four us to stay in. The original plan was my son Aiden, and grandson Mason would join us as well. However, Aiden had tickets to a music festival in Wellington and had stuffed up dates for the weekend… A bach is basically a beach home, they used to be small and full of shabby furniture, mismatched crockery and cutlery, piles of board games and a BBQ outside. Seems these days that most cost more than a million dollars and are palaces for the rich. NZ is changing like the rest of the world.  Though, our bach, in the village of Leigh, is a proper bach bach, we loved it.

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Brown Fibrolite is classic New Zealand bach building material, it made me nostalgic for times old.

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I was really pleased that I had picked such a good place to stay, Leigh itself is a little bit inland and does not have the spectacular sandy beaches some of the other places on this stretch of coast have but this place made up for any of that. El really liked it though she was not so impressed with the loo poetry.

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The other reason for selecting this place was it was walking distance of Leigh Sawmill Cafe, where we went for dinner – and a couple of bottles of, you guessed it, pinot gris.

Kicking about in and around Paihia.

Friday 01 April 2016 – Northland, New Zealand.

Wanting to stay away from the main tourist hubbub of ‘downtown’ Paihia, I booked El and I a room in a small B and B in Haruru Falls, a couple of kilometres inland. The room was very comfortable, (it had the nicest chairs ever !) had nice views and good wifi. Perfect for a down day on our small road trip, and a welcome opportunity for me to not be driving all the time. El does not have a drivers licence so we could not share the driving. We had expected that the day was not going to break like yesterday with a great sunrise followed by clear a clear sky, so we were not surprised to look at the window at a grey old view. It is still a damn good view!

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After a very nice breakfast in the B and B we headed out to see Haruru Falls, and maybe get a short walk in before the forecasted downpours arrived. In the very early 80s friends and I hitch hiked up here from Auckland over a couple of summers for the new year celebrations in nearby Russell, we used to stay in the campground near the falls and it was pleasing to see the old campground is still there, looking a bit run down mind.

We were lucky in that there had been a little bit of rain over the past few days as this meant there was some water passing over the falls.

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We spent a bit of time around the top of the falls, I was waiting to grab a photo without other viewers, something I always try to do. We didn’t have to wait too long mind.

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The rain that was due to come had not materialised so we decided to do a short walk along the path to Waitangi. I had originally planned that with good weather we could do the full three hour return walk, but with heavy rain forecast we decided against it. We did get down to the water edge and through a small section of mangroves, before turning back as rain drops started to fall. Naturally the rain stopped before we got back to the car.

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The walk we did was nice enough, we got to stretch our legs a bit and saw some interesting flora along the way. This is a very unusual and spiky plant, it looks quite n nice, but it is wild ginger and is an imported noxious pest and one of the most invasive weeds in the world. I have never seen it flowering before and was not sure what it was until I looked it up.

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The owner of our guest house told us to visit Mt Bledisloe; at a mighty 105 metres high it is hardly a mountain, not even higher than the hill next to it. It does have a big view over Paihia, Waitangi, over to the Hen and Chicken Islands and up and down the coast. On a clear day I am sure it is spectacular. I liked the useful sign at the start of the track.

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Bledisloe was the governor general of New Zealand and presented this ceramic plaque on the top of the hill to the nation in 1934. The plaque was made by 11278 miles away in London by Doulton and is fabulous.

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We drove down to Waitangi to have a look at the treaty grounds. The Treaty of Waitangi is the founding document of New Zealand and is (in theory) the guiding principle by which the government make and change law. It was signed in 1840 as a treaty between the British Crown and a group of north island Maori chiefs and was the document that made NZ a part of the commonwealth.

The treaty grounds are now part of a large new museum which now attracts an entry fee of $40 each, which is far too expensive for us. I was really unhappy that all the museums we wanted to visit had what we considered an exorbitant entry fee. Maybe we are just too used to free museums in London, or low cost museums elsewhere. I was particularly disappointed by the fee here as this location and its history is fundamental to New Zealand’s history and should be made as widely and freely available as possible.

Carrying on to Paihia we stopped near the very cool ‘wee’ public toilet.

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We had a bit of a walk around, and stopped for coffee and a cake, but as a tourist centre there is not a heck of a lot in Paihia itself. Especially on such a grey day.

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There is a a lot to do and see nearby, but apart from eating, drinking and sleeping Paihia holds limited attraction. So we drove up to nearby Kerikeri instead.

Like Cape Reinga I do not recall ever having seen the Stone Store since I was a child. It is one of the classic north island tourist locations, but I just never had cause to go there as an adult. Showing El around was a good excuse to check it out.

The Kerikeri mission station was founded in 1819 and was the first European settlement to be built under the blessing and protection of local Maori chiefs. It was part harbour, part safe haven and part mission site.

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The stone store is New Zealand’s oldest stone building. It was built in 1832. Living in the UK, I do find the fact that it is so new, but still the oldest stone building, quite laughable, but in a cute and loving way!.

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I recall the church at Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight that was REBUILT in 1070, and it is so insignificant that hardly anyone has even heard of it, ‘old’ is very subjective.

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Kemp House (or the Mission House) is the neighbour of the stone store and is New Zealand’s oldest building, it was completed in 1822.

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One of the things I find amusing in an angry ironic way, is that the early European settlers decided to bring little bits of home to New Zealand, the church at the mission station has a lovely old English oak tree growing next to it.

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While the oak is fine, what the settlers also brought with them were pests; rabbits, deer, possums, rats and mice. These animals have devastated the New Zealand countryside, destroying native vegetation, birds, insects and reptiles. With very few exceptions, New Zealand had no land based mammals prior to European visitors. The early Maori bought pigs with them from Asia, and prior to that there were only bats and sea based mammals. The native birds and insects had no chance.

I loved these epiphytes growing on the branches in this tree, I have seen these on a few occasions before, there is small one in my sisters garden, but I have not seen one this massive, or close to the ground. An epiphyte is a plant that grows on another plant without harming it.

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On the way back to Haruru Falls we stopped in the Cottle Bay Winery for a small tasting, I was driving so needed to be very careful. They made a really unusual walnut liqueur which was really nice, so we ended up buying a bottle of that and a white port to take back to London, as well as a bottle of wine to drink later on.

I ended up driving a lot more than I wanted to today, but the weather sort of dictated what e could do, but it was good to get too a few places I haven’t seen, as well as show El some more of my lovely adopted homeland!

 

Cape Reinga

Thursday 31 March 2016 – Northland, New Zealand.

After a really nice evening, we slept well and were up early. We had quite a big day ahead, with five or six hours driving to get up to the top of the country and back down again, but to Paihia on the east coast. El was up to watch a great sunrise, but slack bugger that I am I missed it entirely. I am not much of a photographer! I did catch the glow just before the sun fully popped up over the horizon.

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After an unspectacular breakfast (I still ate like a pig) we checked out and were on the road early. I had planned on catching the car ferry from Rawene, but foolishly did not check a timetable before we left and arrived with a 45 minute wait for the ferry. I took a photo of the great old church at Rawene.

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With another half an hour to go we checked out the local coffee shop and sat out on the deck in the sun, gazing over the harbour and enjoyed a very nice flat white.

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The car ferry is small, it is only a 15 minute journey, and there were only eight cars on it, still more than I expected for a mid-week morning.

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I took a photo of the route planner that was outside the car window on the ferry. We drove up from the bottom of the map to the top, up the right hand side and down the left. Luckily there are not too many road choices !

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The small town of Rawene.

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Another church, stupidly I forgot to note the name of the church, and even more stupidly I cut the top of the spire off. Doh!

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The drive up to the cape is very pretty, wild and remote, and fairly deserted on the road as well. We decided to not take the beach route (and the rental car terms forbid it anyway) and with so much driving already planned we did not take any detours either. We could have gone to 90 mile beach for a look. Next time.

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The road to the cape is excellent, it was unsealed not that long ago, pleased to see some of the petrol tax dollars I paid in NZ put to some good use.

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We arrived at Cape Rienga early in the afternoon, the car park was about half full, which was a relief, I was half expecting a load of tour buses, but it was pretty quiet. The walk to the tip and the lighthouse takes about 20 minutes. I was a little bit excited as I had very much been looking forward to coming here, and showing El some of my adopted homeland.

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Soon we were there, at the cape.

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where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean at the very end of New Zealand.

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Only 18029km back to London!

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We were a little snackish as we set off back southward. I had been big-upping the fish and chip shop at Mangonui on Doubtless Bay on the way, so we stopped there for a very late lunch. We were not impressed, service was a bit confusing and not particularly friendly and the small fish and chips were nice, but massively overpriced. I was disappointed to be honest. It is not on my recommended list any more, sadly.  We had such a good eating and drinking experience in New Zealand, shame to have a couple of places bring it down a bit.

After the break we carried on driving down to Haruru Falls, just outside Paihia where I had booked a room in a B and B for two nights. I was glad to get there, after six hours in the car, albeit with lots of breaks, it was nice to not have to get back in and drive again.

Though we had to in the end, there are no restaurants in Haruru Falls, so I had to drive into town for dinner. We did have an amazing Thai at Amazing Thai.

It was another good day.

Lord of the Forest

Wednesday 30 March 2016 – Northland, New Zealand.

As this New Zealand trip is a large part of El and my holiday allowance for the year I snuck a few days away for just the two of us amongst the family and friend visits. Family and friends are a crucial part of my visits back to NZ and I really enjoy them, but after long flights and jet lag I find them stressful and draining as well – especially trying to fit everyone who wants to see us in to such a tight schedule. El and I were both looking forward to going away by ourselves for some R and R. Naturally I planned on squeezing in touring and road trips and sightseeing and as much as possible. I never learn.

I wanted to go up to Cape Rienga, the most northly tip of New Zealand, the only other time I was there was in 1975 – mum and I think so anyway. It is pretty much a new bit of New Zealand for both us, though I have been as far as Omapere before. It is a long drive from Auckland so I broke the trip up over three days so we could relax a bit and see a few other things on the way up, and down again.

It was a slow start to the day, we left mum’s place at 9:30 and after a wrong turn here, some incredibly bad traffic there and some stupid lane choices and getting stuck going the wrong way on a non-moving motorway it was an hour before we actually were officially ‘on the way’. I had elected to go up the western side of the island and come back down via the eastern.

By some sort of miracle, it was a stunning day, warm and sunny and perfect for driving. I have slowed down a lot on the last few years, Kiwi drivers are notoriously awful, not madly suicidal like some countries, just rude, arrogant and ignorant. I was that person behind the wheel. No longer; cruising ‘up north’ at a sedate pace was the order of the day, enjoying the reasonable quiet off-season, mid-week roads, and some great scenery.

Our first stop was Matakohe, at the Kauri Museum, we decided not to go into the museum as it was a bit pricey, but we did look in the shop and I took a couple of photos of some of the buildings outside. I have a thing for the old churches in Northland, I have a few photos from ‘back in the day’ kicking around somewhere. I was going to stop and take photos of as many as I could, but only managed to grab a few. They are quite unique, mainly built in the latter part of the 19th century when Anglican missionaries flooded into the country, they are small, wooden painted white, often with a red roof. They look lovely.

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The old Matakohe post office – also lovely. New Zealand’s history is not very old, there are no ancient buildings, but the ‘old’ buildings are quiet unique to New Zealand.

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Heading further north we came across this wonderful old derelict church.

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After a pretty reasonable, though quite expensive lunch in Dargaville we were soon heading north again up to the Waipoua Forest. The Waipoua is one of the largest areas of northland kauri remaining in New Zealand, and I was keen to stop briefly to see Tane Mahuta, New Zealand’s biggest kauri tree. The road north was surprisingly good, a lot of work must have been done here in the last few years, though it is pretty windy and we got stuck behind someone going really slowly and the Kiwi driver came out in me for a while and I was muttering and cursing for the ten minutes we were held up.

We stopped by the Waipoua River to take a couple of photos of the river and some of the other kauri growing.

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After a leg stretch, we were back in the car and finally stopping at the entrance to the short path to the big tree itself, Tane Mahuta ‘Lord of the forest’. It is not a particularly tall tree at only 58 ft tall, but it is 45ft round and looks massive. It is quite impressive up close.

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The tree is accessed via a board walk to prevent visitors from trampling too close to its roots, as the bush is quite dense the tree almost appears by surprise when you walk round a gentle bend in the path. I have been a bit obsessed with taking photos with a bit of flare in them but went full flareage here !

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It is only a short drive from the Tane Mahuta car park to our final stop for the day at Omapere on the edge of the Hokianga Harbour. There was a viewing point at the top of the hill above the harbour so we stopped to have a look. I hadn’t really told El much about the places we would be staying and she was really excited to know that we were in a small hotel right next to the wharf in the bottom of the photo. What a view !!!

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I had booked a room on the internet, but had not really specified any particular requirements, once we were there I asked if we could upgrade, for a nominal increase in cost to a beach view room, and thankfully we could. Wow ! out of the room, on to the ground level deck, across a small stretch of grass was sand and then sea. We could not be any closer. After nipping back up the road to the shop to get a bottle of pinot gris, I was togs on (NZ for swimming costume) and into the sea. My first swim in 18 months. It was cold, but not too bad, El watched…

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Once dry and refreshed with a glass of wine, it was camera out and I took a lot of photos as the sun slowly sunk into the sea in front and to the side of us, the golden hour was truly golden.

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The sky started off with a nice set of clouds and I was really looking forward to a great colour show once the sun dropped out of sight below the horizon.

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However it was not to be, as the clouds slowly dissipated before my eyes and the wild red and purple sky that was in my head did not materialise. It was very special all the same.

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A great start to our road trip, tomorrow is Cape Rienga!

There are dreamscapes and realscapes.

Saturday 26 March – Tuesday 29 March 2016 – Auckland, New Zealand.

El and I arrived back in London two days ago. With my body clock completely wonky I was fully awake at 5:30am so spent some time in Lightroom and finished sorting through all the photos I took in New Zealand. After staring at completely blank pages where notes should have been written in my notebook, I suspect that this post will be quite short. It is a wrap up of all the days between doing other things, things that I will write about separately; in the not too distant future.

Our time in New Zealand was short, we only have 12 days in the country and for five of those days El and I are heading ‘up north’ on a wee road trip. I am really looking forward to that, getting out of the city is something I always want to do when I come back, and showing El more of the country I call(ed) home is exciting too. Of course, I am really looking forward to spending time with family and friends as well. With such a short time I am not going to see many of my friends unfortunately, but I expect to be back in November and will make more time for people then. If I didn’t see you this time round – I am sorry.

After a shaky start to the weather since we arrived on Thursday, Saturday morning broke nice and clear. I have rented a car for nine days and El and I caught the bus into the city to pick it up. We left nice and early and I got a bit of record shopping done on the way, picking up a new compilation LP of material from an old Dunedin Flying Nun band The Stones – I have no idea how they got away with that name! I also got two LPs by another Dunedin based Flying Nun band, The Clean. One of the LPs is a vinyl reproduction of a cassette that came out in 1982 – ‘Oddities’. I did not know this existed and I was so happy to pick it up, the cassette copy I had is long gone and the title track is my favourite The Clean song.

After shopping we dropped in to my daughter’s recently refurbished cafe for breakfast and coffee. The place was pretty busy, though the food was fabulous, and the coffee was good enough to want to have two. Mel and her halo 🙂

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After breakfast we picked up the car and headed north to Orewa Beach to visit El’s only New Zealand based friend, an ex-work colleague from London. We arrived a little early so parked up and went for a walk along the beach, stopping for a half pint in a small bar. It is Easter Saturday today, when I was a kid Easter weekend was usually the last weekend you would expect to go for a swim, so it was pleasing to see people in the sea today. Actually, to be honest it was just pleasing to see the sea, the beach and the sun!

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We had a good afternoon with El’s friends, I was driving so it was light beer for me!

On Sunday we moved to stay at my sisters house for a couple of nights, we had a family lunch and I managed to sneak a few more photos of Mason Smile, it was a great lunch and good to see my nephew and ex-brother-in-law as well.

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Four generations of Platts… (and a Wither Hills pinot gris :))

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I love my sisters house and after a nice walk – which I covered in the last post, El and I slobbed on the couch over a glass or two of pinot gris – a wine we drank a bit of while we were in NZ.

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The sunset was pretty good too!

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Monday was another fine day, now we had a car we headed back into town again, aiming for lunch with some friends. Unfortunately I got the day and the time all horribly wrong and there was no one home. We drove down to the waterfront, and up to the viewpoint at Achilles Point with its great view out over the harbour, the gulf and Rangitoto Island.

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Some wonderful friends of mine had a BBQ at their place with a few of our other friends along for the fun. It was great to catch up with people again, a short but brief catch-up this time, and one of only two opportunities to catch up with friends.

On Tuesday El and I went back into the city again, we had coffee at Mel’s cafe again – it was nice enough to sit outside this time.

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We then crossed over the road to Albert Park for a walk around the magnificent old trees there, really old Pohutakawa and Moreton Bay figs, I love these venerable old guardians of the park. When I get back to London I am going to look for a course on how to take photos of trees, something I want to get much better at.

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On the edge of the park is the Auckland Art Gallery, I always visit when I come back, and this time was no exception. We did not have a huge amount of time, so did a quick pass through. I liked this giant web from John Ward Knox, though I missed an exhibition by Fiona Pardington which I am a bit annoyed about, she is a wonderful photographer.

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We had arranged to meet mum for lunch down by the old ferry building and once united with her we walked out to the Wynyard Quarter, a more recent development along the waterfront. To think, that not six years ago I used to work just around the corner from here…

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It was a really warm day and we found a nicely shaded table outside one of the many cafes that adorn this section of the harbour side. Lunch was excellent, washed down with yet another pinot gris. After eating too much we walked out to Silo Park, I used to come here to take photos a few years ago, especially on foggy mornings – but there was none of that today. I still like the lines and shapes made by the old silos.

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Street artist Askew One, painted some of C.K. Stead’s poem ‘Auckland’ on the side of these tanks as part of the broader ‘Tank Art’ project. The title of this post is the opening line of the poem.

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The next day El and I headed off on our road trip and I will write about that shortly, but we did have an awesome time away.