Too good to be true

There is an old saying that if something seems to be too good to be true, it probably is. We recently spent a night in an off-the-grid eco-cottage where there was an outdoor bath. The cottage, which has both gas and solar panels but no electricity supply, has hot water and a hose to run it into the bath. However, we were there in July, which in New Zealand means it’s cold and wet. Getting up to cottage involved driving along muddy farm tracks and up a steep incline, which requires a four-wheel drive vehicle. Once we were in the cottage and had the fire going, there was no way I was going to take a bath in the open air! Fortunately there was a perfectly good indoor shower with a plentiful supply of hot water. It was a lovely experience having our dinner in front of the fire before getting into a comfortable warm bed. Then waking up to the sunrise turning the valley golden – as you see in the photo above. Perhaps we should go back in the summer when the prospect of an outdoor bath while drinking in the glorious view is much more enticing.

Autumn calves

We are lucky to live on a farm, which gives us the lovely, wide views that have been a life-saver during lock-down. It also means we can walk out the gate and up the road without seeing anyone else. We do, however, see lots of animals on our meandering around the neighbourhood – cows, chickens, sheep, goats, hawks and the odd bold rabbit. It was a delight to find a paddock filled with cows and their new calves one sunny afternoon. There is something so hopeful about seeing young animals in the autumn.

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.

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.

Otorohanga

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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

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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!

The view from my window

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This was the view from our kitchen window this morning as the sun made its reluctant appearance over the eastern horizon. When I woke, the icy temperature anticipated clear skies but it was still pitch dark. The time was edging towards eight o’clock when the sky turned the splendid deep blue that precedes the glow of sunrise. It is a thrilling sight particularly after rain yesterday.

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However, the sun played its part yesterday too, creating this beautiful rainbow. I spend most of my time at home now, recovering from a broken shoulder and unable to drive, so I am fortunate to have these views as compensation.

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

Full circle

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We arrived home a week ago. This week we’ve moved back to the Waikato where we lived before transferring to Malaysia. It is beyond wonderful to be here. But it also feels somewhat strange … to be in such familiar surroundings and yet to be newcomers. Most things are the same but, of course, there have been some changes and the town we’re living in at the moment has certainly developed in the four and a half years we’ve been away. What hasn’t changed is the landscape – the rivers, the mountains (like Kakepuku in the pic above) and the wide, green vistas. I’ve been enjoying walking around the area in bright summer sunshine while poor Jim has been getting to grips with the job!