Strawberries

Strawberries

There is a strawberry and blueberry farm close to where we live. During the short summer season we go down there every couple of days to buy some of their delicious fruit. We try to get our fill before the season ends and never tire of a breakfast bowl of red and blue fruit or a pink smoothie. I was at the farm gate this morning and noticed a blackboard sign beside the racks of fruit. It informed customers that the farm would not be taking advance orders over the holidays as they have done in past years. The reason for this was the abuse suffered by the farm staff from customers who were not able to place large Christmas orders due to the shortage of fruit. My pleasure at picking up my punnets of fruit was soured by this news. During the season of joy and goodwill to all, there are some who spoil it for everyone by ranting at hard-working berry pickers! Shame on them! Fred Rogers, who is played by Tom Hanks in a new movie called A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, said “There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.” I hope 2020 will be a kinder year for all of us.

Raglan coconut yoghurt

20180821_091950

Readers of this blog will know that Raglan is our favourite place in New Zealand. At present we live just 40 minutes away and can visit often. We also love the coconut yoghurt (http://raglancoconutyoghurt.co.nz/) that is made there. In this country dominated by dairy farming, it was difficult for people to access non-dairy yoghurt and this product fills that gap. We eat it most mornings with our fruit and muesli and it is delicious! In addition, it comes in glass jars from which the labels are easily removed. You can then wash out the jar, take it to your favourite refillery and use it for whatever dry goods you need. In the photo above I’ve used the jar for shredded coconut – very appropriate.

Otorohanga

20180720_142444 (1)

I have not spent much time in Otorohanga, which according this billboard outside the town’s quaint railway station (where, by the way, you can get an impressive espresso), is New Zealand’s Kiwiana town. There are colourful hanging baskets along the main street, which is lined with the usual shops, banks, supermarket and pharmacy. I met my beloved at the Thirsty Weta (http://www.theweta.co.nz/) for lunch last week. With its fantastic name, this eatery has a great atmosphere and was cosy on a winter’s afternoon. The menu is not extraordinary but our chowder and salad were perfectly adequate and the coffee was good. After lunch I went on a little wander and came across the House of Deco (https://www.facebook.com/houseofdecovintageclothing/), which sells vintage and steampunk clothing. It is well worth a visit – the wares are interestingly displayed and the owner, Jan, is charming. We had a chat about where her customers come from – all over the world it seems!

Coffee culture

IMG-20180707-WA0001

It hasn’t taken us long to get back into New Zealand’s coffee culture. It was one of the things we missed most when living in Malaysia. This morning we went to Empire Cafe in Te Awamutu (https://www.facebook.com/empireespressobar/+). In addition to good coffee, which you could smell as you approached the door, there was cool music playing. When asked one of the young staff told us she puts together her own playlists and this was one of her favourite Saturday mixes. It was obviously aimed at clientele our age – rock favourites from the 60s and 70s – and one wall is covered in chalk drawings of album covers. Our delicious Hummingbird cake was accompanied by Raglan coconut yoghurt – yum! They are reluctant to serve take-away coffees in disposable cups and there are signs encouraging you to sit down for a coffee or use a keep cup. They also do not use straws. Empire Cafe runs a pay-it-forward lunch programme – you pay double for your order and they provide a lunch for a hungry school student. What a great place!

Tūrangawaewae

Manu Bay 18 March 2018

We’re back! A brilliant Sunday morning in Raglan: into the surf at Manu Bay (see pic above) for Jim, up the hill into the Bryant reserve for Jane, tūī, pīwakawaka and kererū sighted on the way, coffee and brunch at the Shack. We couldn’t have asked for a better home-coming.

Kihikihi

Walkway

I have just walked the new cycle/walkway between Te Awamutu and Kihikihi. It is pretty flat (indeed the road you walk along as you get to Kihikihi is called Flat Road!), which makes it a cruisy walk or bicycle ride, and at 4.5 km each way, it is the perfect distance for a morning’s outing. The flatness of the path is redeemed by the green beauty of the countryside and the glimpses you get of mounts Maungatautari, Kakepuku and Pirongia. The little village of Kihikihi (Maori for cicada) revealed a delightful cafe (see pic of its courtyard below) called the Hummingbird (https://www.facebook.com/thehummingbirdltd/) and an ice cream parlour which also sells doughnuts (https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=hoops%20and%20scoops%20kihikihi). They are both on the main road through Kihikihi, so next time you’re travelling on SH3 south from Hamilton, stop for a coffee or a cone. You won’t regret it!

Hummingbird Cafe

Saigon

Ho Chi Minh

This huge statue of Ho Chi Minh dominates its surroundings in the city that was renamed for him after the reunification of Vietnam in 1975. It is a spectacular setting with the People’s Committee Building as a backdrop. This beautiful building was originally the Hôtel de Ville de Saïgon and was built between 1902 and 1908. We found it interesting that the city is almost universally called Saigon despite the numerous memorials to Ho Chi Minh and the red flags (both the gold star and hammer and sickle versions) flying from every building. Indeed the bustling commercialism of Saigon is in stark contrast to the rhetoric of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. We thoroughly enjoyed our four days in Saigon amidst the heat, noise and manic traffic consisting mostly of small motorcycles whose riders take scant notice of red lights! It is a charming mix of beautiful colonial buildings, peaceful tree-lined courtyards, overcrowded sidewalks, food stalls and markets, temples and pagodas. And we ate the most delicious food.

Hokianga

027

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!

Summer’s lingering

Mission Bay 008

It was a perfect summer’s morning when I walked from St Helier’s Bay to Mission Bay early today – still and calm, the water turning pink as the sun rose. When I started out there were very few people about but as I retraced my steps, the cafe tables, where there was a strong aroma of coffee,  were filling up, people were walking their dogs and the more energetic were cycling or kayaking. I walked back with the now risen sun warming my face and filling me with a sense of well-being. Summer won’t last forever but today it felt like it may linger a little longer.

Waitangi weather

waitangi-day

Today is Waitangi Day, New Zealand’s national day and Aucklanders celebrated in magnificent summer weather. The bays along the waterfront were packed with picnickers, swimmers, paddle-boarders and kayakers. I wandered along Tamaki drive enjoying the views of the sparkling water and people watching. It was lovely to meet up with friends. I even had an ice-cream cone! A perfect summer’s day.