Hope …

… springs eternal, or so they say. It has been difficult to be hopeful during a Covid-19 Delta lockdown and then another vile terrorist attack in New Zealand on Friday. It is tempting to say, along with die-hard pessimists, that things are bad and getting worse. But on my walk today, I saw this – a pohutukawa tree about to burst into flower – and suddenly I felt hopeful. In New Zealand the red pohutukawa flower is synonymous with summer, sea and sand. So along with the perhaps misguided optimists, I look forward to freedom from lockdown, summer and the season of goodwill to all.

Peace amidst the chaos

Opito Bay (Coromandel, North Island, New Zealand)

Today in Washington DC, armed protestors stormed the Capitol and disrupted the normal business of their democratically elected Congress at the behest of the outgoing President.

There were 7,200 new coronavirus cases in Arizona.

1,041 people died from coronavirus in the UK.

Northern Ireland’s food supply chain was disrupted due to incorrect or absent Brexit-related documentation.

More than 50 pro-democracy figures, who have the best chance of winning legislative council seats in an upcoming election, were arrested in Hong Kong.

Te Waikoropupū Springs

Near the town of Takaka in Golden Bay (South Island of New Zealand) are the Te Waikoropupū Springs. Though we’ve visited Golden Bay before, we hadn’t seen these spectacular pools. They are very close to optically clear water, with visibility to 63 metres, and are surrounded by native bush with prolific bird life. Alerted by his distinctive call, we saw a grey warbler flitting around in foliage right beside the walkway – this is the closest we’ve been to this tiny elusive bird and it was thrilling. It is easy to see why this place has been a taonga (treasure) for Māori since they arrived in the area over 700 years ago. It is also wāhi tapu (held in high cultural and spiritual regard) so there is no contact with the water at all – you just look, listen and marvel.

Cable Bay

On a recent visit to the top of the South Island, we went to Cable Bay for the first time. Though it was the middle of a New Zealand winter, which is often grey and rainy, we were there on a gloriously clear day, as you can see in the photograph. As we edged our way along the narrow road to the bay, we came across a couple persuading a pair of cows into a paddock – apparently the cows were in disgrace because ‘they’d already munched their way through Grandma’s garden’. When we got to the bay and parked on the shingle, we noticed two more people bundled up against the cold wind, sitting on canvas chairs holding fishing rods. Then we put on our jackets, scarves and beanies and braved the elements ourselves, walking up the steep incline to read the information board. The bay was the site of New Zealand’s first overseas cable link – via Australia – and was opened in February 1876. It revolutionised the lives of settlers who could now get a message to their families in Europe in four days, instead of the six weeks it took a letter. The cable station operated till 1917, after which it was moved to the North Island, at Titahi Bay near Wellington. I’ve just checked the track details on the DOC website and noticed an alert – the track is closed for lambing. How much more Kiwi could it be? Cows, fishing, lambs and splendid isolation!

Freewheelin’

Bicycles for hire – Penang, Malaysia

We took up cycling during lock-down thanks to the gift of second-hand mountain bicycles by a friend. It was liberating to ride around mostly traffic-free country roads during those restricted weeks and it reminded me of the feeling of freedom a bicycle can bestow. It’s also true that you never forget how to ride a bike – I hadn’t ridden one for at least 40 years but had no problem at all, except for getting the hang of all those gears! We went for a ride this morning after a long break. And it seemed to me that the slogging up hills and the freewheeling down the other side was a metaphor for the ups and downs I’ve experienced recently. New Zealand has all but rid itself of the coronavirus and we’re at level 1, which is normal life but with closed borders. This has been cause for great satisfaction among the five million of us who live on these beautiful islands in the south Pacific. We’ve gone back to work and re-connected with family and friends – so good it feels like freewheeling down the hills on my bicycle, wind whistling past and sun on my face. But I’ve also experienced loss alongside family and friends – Jackie who lost Trevor, Simone and Ollie who lost Rachel, Rosanna who lost Chris and Jo who lost Jonathan. These sad losses have irrevocably changed lives and seem unbearable for those left behind. Lying awake in the long watches of the night thinking about them feels like slogging up an endless hill in the rain. It is almost always the first thing I think about when I wake in the early morning, wishing that sympathy could change anything for any of them.

As much sense as a chook

We live on a farm where there are plenty of free-range chickens, some of which wander into our garden. This is fine with us, especially if they lay us some eggs, which they do from time to time, and stay out of the vege garden. Today one of the hens was out on the road with her four little bundles of fluff. They were feasting off insects, oblivious to the danger from cars and trucks. It seems like a metaphor for those of us who rushed into the supermarkets as soon as the lock-down was announced and bought enough groceries in one day to feed 10 million New Zealanders, oblivious of the official announcements that the supermarkets will remain open and the food supply will be maintained. We need to be smarter than that! We have at least four weeks of lock-down ahead so we’ll need to pace ourselves and use our common sense. I’m happy to report that the hen and her chicks survived (by wandering back into the paddock beside our house) and so will we. Stay home and stay safe

Going green

For months we’ve relied on our indoor plants for greenery. It hasn’t rained properly for weeks and outside plants, trees and fields are dry and brown. But yesterday and today it has rained off and on continually and one can almost watch the paddocks going green. How welcome this is when one is isolated – all New Zealanders are now working from home unless they are in an essential business. All our indoor plants have new green shoots, which seems like a welcome act of optimism, and helps counter the grey skies and feelings of impending doom. Stay safe everyone and be kind to yourselves and others.

Alexandra redoubt

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Yesterday it felt like summer may be on its way, helped by daylight saving which began on 29 September. The late afternoon was warm and windless so we took ourselves to Pirongia. A little way out of the small town is the Alexandra redoubt, which was built by the British colonial forces after Māori had been forced back behind the confiscation line. Tawhiao and his people settled in Whatiwhatihoe, just two kilometres beyond the aukati, Māori for the line that should not be crossed. Settlers in Pirongia (then called Alexandra) were afraid their small settlement was vulnerable to attack and so the redoubt was built. Pirongia was never attacked and the relationship between Māori  and Pākehā was remarkably good considering that more than a million acres of highly productive land had been confiscated. We stood on the grassy slope of the redoubt and gazed at the bucolic scene in the photo above. It was so peaceful bathed in the glow of the evening sun that is was hard to imagine the violent events of the 1860s and the extensive loss and deprivation that ensued for so many. It is also worth reflecting that keeping the redoubt maintained so that the public can visit it and read the history on the boards at the entrance is a good way of keeping alive this story and its meaning for us.

The east coast

Mount MaunganuiReaders of this blog will know that our favourite New Zealand seaside spot is Raglan, which is on the west coast of the North Island, south-west of the Waikato city of Hamilton. But last weekend we ventured over to the east coast to Mount Maunganui, known locally as the Mount. The two coasts couldn’t be more different. Raglan has waves courtesy of the Tasman Sea breaking off a series of points, black volcanic sand and a steep ridge line descending to the beach. Access to the beaches at the Mount is through gently undulating dunes and you emerge onto a wide white sand shore. There are some surf spots but generally the waves are small and placid as befits the Pacific Ocean. Raglan has kept its small surfer town feel whereas the Mount is all large modern houses, shopping centres and restaurants. Nevertheless we had a good day – Jim got into what surf there was and I took a long walk down the beach towards the mount itself and then followed the track that goes right round it. We got some tasty lunch from the food trucks that line the main beach before heading back across the Kaimai Range, which separates the Bay of Plenty from the Waikato.

A safe harbour

Raglan harbour

New Zealand should have been a safe harbour for Khaled Mustafa and his family. They are Syrian refugees who arrived here in 2018 after spending years in a camp in Jordan. Khaled is a farrier and he thought New Zealand would offer a future for him, his wife and three children. Last Friday Khaled and his son Hamza were murdered in a Christchurch mosque where they were saying their Friday prayers. And nothing will ever be the same – for Salwa, Khaled’s wife and Hamza’s mother, their son and brother Zaid, who is recovering from two gunshot wounds to his leg in Christchurch hospital, and their 10-year-old daughter and sister. And nothing will ever be the same again for any New Zealander.