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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Perth

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It is good to remember the blue-sky days Jim and I enjoyed together in Perth a few weekends ago now that the storm clouds accompanying Cyclone Cook are gathering over New Zealand. We met there because it’s about half-way between Kuala Lumpur and Auckland. Neither of us has ever been to Western Australia and we thought Perth was lovely. The city is easy to navigate around and the free buses are a boon. We spent a morning in the impressive art gallery and ate some delicious food in stylish cafes. We caught a ferry down the Swan River to Fremantle, which is delightful. It was exhilarating to watch the Fremantle doctor creating white horses on the Indian ocean. We also strolled through the magnificent King’s Park, Perth’s botanical gardens perched high over the city and the Swan.

Cronulla

cronulla-beach

On my recent trip to Sydney I spent time in Cronulla – an underrated and much  maligned part of the city. This is due to the racially motivated brawls that took place there in December 2005 and the prevailing opinion that Cronulla beaches are for locals only. However, I thoroughly enjoyed being there and not only because I had the welcome company of my children. The beaches are beautiful, with tall cliffs that provide heaps of shade, and warm, clear water. The village is charming and there are plenty of good cafes and interesting shops, including a wonderful bookshop. I highly recommend a trip out there and it is the only Sydney beach with direct train access.