Sounds vs noise

I did my favourite Raglan walk today – through the Bryant reserve, along the beach and then back to the bush track that takes me to the lookout, where I snapped the photos above. One of the delights of this walk is the sounds – the boom and crash of the waves, the cries of the gulls and the calls of the birds that frequent the bush, the sighing of the trees in the breeze – which is why I don’t emulate those who walk with headphones plugged into their ears. Most of the human activity is muted – the occasional shout of a child finding the water colder than they’d expected, people one passes on the track saying hi, the slap of a surfboard hitting a wave. But today, the high-pitched whine of several jet-skis could be heard even above the sound of the surf. They set out at speed from the Manu Bay jetty, accelerated along a stretch of coastline and then performed noisy U-turns before heading back the way they’d come. They repeated this several times, with no discernable purpose apart from going as fast as they could, making as much noise as they could. On my way back to the track I passed a couple sitting on a bench overlooking the beach far below. I have often sat there myself, enjoying the view and listening to the waves. But this couple were playing music from some sort of portable device – why is it always music with a repetitive beat and inane lyrics (she asks judgmentally)? And then there are always a few people who fail to remove their dog’s droppings, which is not noisy but noisome for others using the track. It was a relief to get to the lookout and enjoy the quiet of the bush all around, watching the silent surfers below and the silent paraglider above.

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!

A glimmer of hope

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Readers of this blog know well that Raglan is our favourite weekend getaway. We were there again last weekend and I walked through the Bryant Scenic reserve, as I’ve done often before. This time there was this notice, put up by Karioi Project https://www.karioiproject.co.nz/ – a community conservation group that is working to restore biodiversity in the coastal region around Karioi, the volcanic mountain that looms over Raglan and gives the beaches their distinctive black sand. By trapping and eliminating predators like stoats, rats and ferrets and setting up burrows, the Project has helped 22 oi chicks fledge from the Karioi coast, eight in the 2019 season. Oi are native grey-faced petrels, whose burrowing habit makes them susceptible to introduced mammalian predators. So reading this notice in this beautiful place on a sunny summer morning made my heart lift. Good things do happen, even though it may seem as if they’re very few and far between!

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.

In sight of the sea

Raglan coast

August 1st was the 200th birthday of Herman Melville, the author of perhaps one of the least-read classics of English literature, Moby-Dick. I admit to never having read it but it has always been on my horizon because of all the references to it, for example, the white whale that shall remain “unpainted to the last”, Starbuck (first mate of Captain Ahab’s doomed ship the Pequod), “damp, drizzly November”, “the sea we swim in”. You know that when you call someone an Ahab, it is not meant as a compliment. Philip Hoare is convinced that Moby-Dick is the novel for our times – see his article here https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jul/30/subversive-queer-and-terrifyingly-relevant-six-reasons-why-moby-dick-is-the-novel-for-our-times

Hoare says Virginia Woolf read Moby-Dick three times and her work was inspired by the evocative vision of “a fin rising in a wide blank sea”. But it is Hoare’s assertion that Melville was born “in sight of the sea” that transported me from my desk to the west coast of the North Island, where I took a long ramble weekend before last. It was a calm, overcast and not particularly cold day, a rarity in New Zealand’s winter, and perfect for walking. I started out at the top of the ridge overlooking the Tasman Sea and made my way down the track, with a long pause at my favourite Raglan look-out, all the way to the wide black sand beach. I walked along the beach before heading up towards the ridge again and found the bench where I took the photo above. The bench was dedicated to a baby boy who had lived for only one day and reading the inscription added to the greyness of the day. But it was hard to stay melancholy for long – watching the waves rolling in, hearing the sea birds cry and catching the scent of the harakeke on the breeze. I was reminded of Don McGlashan’s song The Waves Would Roll On, in which he describes the unrelenting ebb and flow of the sea that will continue after he’ll no longer be there to watch. There was something so soothing and timeless about the scene that I understood why the baby’s family had chosen it as the spot for their baby’s memorial.

Walking along a beach …

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… has always been one of my favourite things. Here I am on a beach in Awhitu with its characteristic black volcanic sand. Just over six weeks ago, I was walking on a Cronulla beach when I fell and hit my right shoulder on a rock, fracturing the humerus in the process. It’s amazing how one wrong step taken in a split second can have such far-reaching implications. Having one’s right arm immobilised in a sling means that it’s very difficult to wash and dress oneself and washing one’s hair is impossible. I can feed myself provided someone else gets the food to the table for me and gives me a spoon to use in my far-from-dexterous left hand. I’ve discovered that I can load and unload the dishwasher with said left hand and wield the vacuum cleaner, though the corners remain dusty. The worst aspect of my present day-to-day life is that I am unable to lie down and have to sleep in a reclining chair. However, the excellent medical care that I have received both in Australia and at home, the wonderful help from Jim and our daughters, the good wishes from family and friends mitigate all the pain and frustration. And I am slowly getting better and look forward to starting physiotherapy at the end of the week.

 

Maungarei

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One of the advantages of living in a volcanic zone is the existence of high green spaces for walking and enjoying views of the city. Despite having lived in Auckland off and on for over 20 years, I have never climbed Maungarei (Mount Wellington). That changed yesterday and it was glorious – late summer sunshine, bright blue sky and 360º views. There is a path around the perimeter of the crater and views from every point along the way. It is an extremely pleasant walk and I highly recommend it.

Palmy

Manawatu

We spent some time in Palmerston North last week. This is the first time I’ve explored this much maligned town and I was agreeably surprised. The town centre surrounds The Square, which has pleasant gardens and plenty of benches. There are interesting shops and cafes fragrant with coffee. There is a fantastic bookshop (https://bmbooks.co.nz/) and I had a long, interesting conversation with the proprietors of Pork Chop Hill clothing (https://www.porkchophill.nz/) about the origin of the name of their business. The art gallery and museum (https://www.temanawa.co.nz/) are well worth a visit. Best of all are the gardens and walking/cycling paths along the Manawatu River (see pic above). There is a paved path all the way along the river and it is well-used, judging by the number of cyclists I saw. There are also walking paths through the bush between the gardens of Victoria Esplanade and the river. These are a delight because of the dense foliage and the cacophony of birdsong. Go to Palmy – you may be as surprised as I was.

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!