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.

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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Whangamata, New Zealand

Thursday 6 January 2022 – Whangamata, New Zealand.

For the first time in an age I feel refreshed. A break from the city combined with four nights of solid sleep had me almost perky when we arrived back at the flat. We’ve just returned to Auckland after a fabulous time staying with friends at their bach in Whangamata. The quiet, sea air and stress free environment, matched with great friends and good food and wine was the perfect antidote to the noisy and fume laden city we live in.

It was about 20kms into the journey south, I was driving and Eleanor was in charge of the music,  when the stress and anxiety that had built over the last few weeks started falling away. I almost felt physically lighter as the emotional load seeped though my skin and was sucked out of the car windows. The further from the city centre we travelled, the better I was feeling. I just knew we were going to have a good break, even when we caught up with the first traffic jam of the day.

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A bach is a New Zealand holiday home, often found near the sea. The glory days of the traditional one or two room bach made of wood or fibrolite with a tin roof are long gone. Some of the new places are bigger than the average house and as, if not more, expensive. Old friends Michael and Jan’s place is closer to the traditional bach than most, but it’s still large, with four sleeping spaces and a good sized kitchen/living area. It backs onto an estuary that flows along the southern edge of the town of Whangamata and is 100 yards from the surf beach. Whangamata is about 2 1/2 hours south east of Auckland and has a permanent population of about 2000 and a peak summer population of 25,000. It is peak summer.

We didn’t do much in Whangamata itself, it’s a small town with little of interest other than being located alongside a glorious 2km Pacific Ocean beach with occasionally good surf and a sea that is eminently swimmable in summer. For a short summer break who needs anything more than that? We seemed to busy the whole time we were away and only managed to take one walk up the beach; to the northern end, where we met our friends at a café on the main street and enjoyed one of the best breakfasts I’ve had in New Zealand. The sun burned the tops of my feet as we ate, thankfully not badly. The tide was very high when we set out so we had to make the occasional dash up a sand dune. In places we could see the damage this tide was causing the dunes and could imagine what Whangamata will look like as the sea level rises.

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Unlike Eleanor and I, this couple, mutually dressed in black and wearing the same model shoes, seemed to be having less fun walking the beach. I was laughing at them (inside of course).

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After breakfast Michael drove us to a bush-clad lookout over the town with a cool tree-shaded 15 minute walk around a headland. The tree line has changed since some of the lookout spots were defined leaving few clear wide open views over Whangamata and the ocean, though there was plenty to see and with a 30 degree day the tree shade and light breeze was very welcome. With or without trees the view was stunning.

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Michael also showed us nearby Onemana where his family used to have a bach. What seems to be typical of New Zealand beaches there was little shelter here; as the beach was closed due to dangerous surf we didn’t linger. The leaning trees are an artefact of using a wide angle lens, the trees were standing nice and upright 🙂

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Unlike the harsh daytime the evening light was warm and soft and welcoming and I used the camera a few times. I imagine the early morning light was equally as good, though until the last day I didn’t see any early mornings, sleeping to beyond 7:30 each day. Sleeping-in is part of my rest and recovery routine, photography should be as well I suppose, but I have never seem to manage morning photography.

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On our final day I was up earlyish and managed to get one final body-surf in before we left for home, stopping in Waihi on the way. Waihi will be the subject of a near future post.

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Though I’ve not been working since July and we’re staying in a rented apartment in Auckland rather than our usual home in the UK, these past five months have never really felt like a break, especially as Eleanor worked for four of them. This was our first proper holiday in such a long time, and it was just so enjoyable. I can’t remember the last time we went away, it was pre-2020 anyway. We should do a lot more of it; now we are allowed to again.

Thanks Jan, Michael, Paul and Lisa!

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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