Waka on the Waitemata

Waka

This experience is one of the highlights of my year in Auckland – sailing on the Waitemata harbour in a waka, a traditional double-hulled canoe, with an expert crew of Maori sailors. As we went under the harbour bridge, photographer Chris McKeen snapped this amazing photo. Look closely – I am standing to the left of the front sail, wearing a blue cap. It was a gorgeous summer’s day with smooth water and deep blues skies. We meandered around the harbour with its spectacular views of Auckland city and some of the islands of the Hauraki Gulf. I will never forget it.

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Swimming in Penang

Penang pool

We’ve just had a long weekend in Penang and spent a lot of time in and beside this magnificent pool at the Eastern and Oriental Hotel. It feels decadent staying in this relic of the colonial era, where the sea wall hides the detritus bobbing in the Strait of Malacca  from hotel guests lounging around the pool and the hard-working fishing boats are decorative additions to tourist photos. Still we thoroughly enjoyed our break here and made good use of the pool, swimming numerous lengths to justify our next meal. Lying in damp togs in the evening breeze is not possible in Auckland’s fickle spring weather! Balmy evenings are the compensation for the heat of tropical days.

Wellington on a beautiful day

Welly

It is a Kiwi cliché that there is nothing to beat Wellington on a beautiful day. Like all clichés, it is true. I’ve just spent a weekend in our capital city and on my last day, the clouds and rain retreated, the wind died down and the sunshine turned the sky a bright antipodean blue. The main reason for my visit was the He Tohu exhibition at the National Library. An exquisite rimu walk-in treasure box encases three of the most important New Zealand constitutional documents – the Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand, the Treaty of Waitangi and the Women’s Suffrage Petition. Apart from the spine-tingling experience of seeing the actual documents, there is an excellent interactive exhibition where one can find out more about each document and the people who signed them. I highly recommend it. I also caught up with two dear Wellingtonian friends who played tour guides and took me to some of their favourite places. Go to Wellington – you won’t regret it, especially if the sun is shining!

Michael Joseph Savage

Savage memorial

With a general election in less than a month, it seemed appropriate (and perhaps propitious) to visit the Michael Joseph Savage memorial. He was New Zealand’s first Labour prime minister (1935-1940). A socialist and trade unionist, he is credited with instituting the welfare state. His charisma and oratory skills made him an almost revered figure in New Zealand politics and his memorial near Bastion Point in Auckland exemplifies the esteem in which he was held. I viewed the memorial on a glorious spring day – standing beside it looking out over the glistening waters of the Waitemata harbour, it seemed that anything was possible!

Hokianga

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Earth can have very few sights more fair than this view of the Hokianga harbour. As you come over the hill and round the bend, this breathtaking view greets you. We were fortunate to see it on a beautiful late autumn day when the blue of the sky and the sea seemed boundless. We then meandered down through the little settlement of Omapere and into Opononi, where we had delicious coffee, confirming our opinion that, even in the smallest New Zealand town, you always find good coffee. Then we viewed the statue of Opo  – a wild bottle-nosed dolphin who started following fishing boats in the harbour after her mother died. She soon became a celebrity and would allow children to swim beside her and played with the balls they threw to her. She died in 1956 and was buried in a special plot near the town hall. As I looked out over the magnificent harbour that was her playground, Don McGlashan’s song Miracle Sun went through my head. Only in New Zealand!

A big tree

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Our daughter lives in Northland, which has given us the opportunity to explore a part of New Zealand that we’ve not seen much of previously. Driving through the Waipoua forest on the way to the Hokianga, we stopped to view Tāne Mahuta. This is a giant kauri tree estimated to be between 1,250 and 2,500 years old. Its name means ‘lord of the forest’. While we were gazing in wonder, another family arrived. An older child told her younger brother to look. He gave it a cursory glance, said “big tree” and then hurried over to a bench so that he could climb up and jump off it. I was very amused. To call this giant of the forest a big tree is such an understatement! To a small boy, the opportunity to jump off a bench was much more appealing than looking at a tree. I hope he has the chance to see Tāne Mahuta again when he is older and feel the sense of awe that I remember when I look at this photo of us dwarfed by its magnificence.

Sunset

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On a grey Sunday afternoon in Auckland as we approach the shortest day, it is good to remember this glorious sunset that we experienced in Raglan at the beginning of May. The sea was aglow as the hills disappeared into the gloom. I walked from Whale Bay to Manu Bay and stopped every few seconds to snap another photo, and every time it looked different. When I got back to Manu Bay, the surfers, including my beloved, were sitting in the dark, transfixed by the iridescent water surrounding them. They came out reluctantly, one by one. We stayed till the last light had disappeared and it was still and magical.