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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

Sunrise in KL

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The sunrise this morning over a hazy KL taken from our hotel room in Bangsar. The temperature was already 25ºC and is forecast to rise to 33º. The highest temperature in Auckland today was 23º and this time next week we’ll be there! We are returning home after four years in Malaysia. Our stay here was the reason for starting this blog as a means of keeping our family and friends up to date with our news. While we are thrilled to be going home, inevitably we’ll miss things about our life in Ipoh, not least the people we’ve met and the friendships  we’ve formed. But we will not miss the heat or the haze! I’ll have to rename my website – From Ohaupo to Ipoh to ??  We’re not sure yet where we’ll be living but it will be somewhere in the middle of the North Island. It may even be back in Ohaupo! Watch this space.