hurts so good…

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Three days home. Travel brain is nearly gone and home-brain is working again. Mostly.

We have been away traveling for nearly six weeks. I was going to give you a heads up that I might not be writing and then, with no warning, I developed a nasty head cold a week out from departure. It did not go away before flying. This is not a good thing. If you have ever had to fly when your sinuses are in turmoil, you will know what I mean. In fact the cough and sinus stuff did not leave until three weeks into the trip. So, I was not feeling like writing much of anything and hope you understand.

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Guggenheim exterior, Bilbao, Spain

Travel is a good thing. It is. But it is not among the easier undertakings one might pursue. When I say travel, I’m not talking about a vacation to the beach where you bask all day, between margaritas and naps. Our version of travel, while perhaps not arduous, does deplete one’s energy. We walk a lot, see a lot, process a lot of information. Therein lies the second physical challenge for this trip. Walking. I have had a sore foot for months. It gets better and then worse, then even worse still, which it did on the trip. ‘Plantar Fasciitis’ is a common problem for which there is not much known about either cause or cure. Some things work and some don’t. Sometimes it leaves and sometimes it doesn’t. I know because I had it 15 or so years ago and that is exactly what I experienced. The exercises the podiatrist gave me did not work, in fact made it worse. Stopping them, adding stretches of my own saw it go away in a couple of months. This time I’ve had it much longer, have tried both the previous methods of stretching, as well as nothing, had a couple of days of complete absence of symptoms but essentially nothing has fixed it. So I walked. In pain. For six weeks.

I dropped into bed every night of the trip, exhausted mentally and physically, but did actually manage to take in the experiences and enjoy it for the most part. Just not the pain.

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Well’s Cathedral Musical Director practicing with musicians for a future performance.

And while we are at it, there are a few other things I will enjoy not dealing with for a while.

  1. having to forage for every meal based on food intolerances. This is not easy and I spent a good deal of the time being hungry. Yes, I lost weight.
  2. having a different shower to figure out with each and every change of accommodation…It is a fact, every hotel in the world has a different shower mechanism from every other hotel. Am sure there was a primordial agreement in the ethers that caused this to happen.
  3. soooo much processed food…if it says on the packet it is healthy for you, it isn’t. Generally, food that is good for you doesn’t come in packets. And while I’m thinking of it, not everything must be consumed on a waffle or wrapped in bread, piled on pasta or rice or have onion or garlic flavouring added.
  4. searching for a place to wash our clothes—I nearly kissed my washing machine when we returned home. What do other travellers do to clean their clothes? Hand washing is just not possible, most hotels and B&B’s don’t even allow it, and frankly, hand washing is not my idea of travel fun.
  5. crowds—I can hear the neighbour’s little dog yapping this morning, and even that is music to my ears compared to crowded, noisy places.
  6. the smell of cigarette smoke in front of every building on every street in every country.
  7. filthy toilets–having to lay toilet paper on the seat before I can sit down, because there are never paper seat covers in the toilets where they are needed, only the cleanest ones have them! Humans are filthy creatures at times.
  8. bad coffee—there are a lot of people who don’t realise you can have the best coffee machine but if the beans are bad, it won’t make good coffee. Likewise, stewing coffee or storing it in an urn is just ruining any chance that coffee has of being good.
  9. loud mouth people in airports, especially on their cell/mobile phones (don’t you know everyone around can hear you? and does not care about your employee problems??)
  10. crappy hairdryers–(my husband hypothesised, there must have been someone traveling just ahead of us putting the same bad hairdryer in each different hotel, or there had been an excellent sales pitch to sell the same inferior device to four different hotel chains!) I have a new shorn hair style and vow not to need a hairdryer for future travels.
  11. bad lighting in bathrooms—worst lighting prize went to two, otherwise nice, B&B’s, best lighting prize goes to the Sheraton at the Falls in Niagara Falls, with a magnification makeup/shaving mirror with it’s own lighting as well as a surround light for the large mirror. Bless them.
  12. filthy, smelly taxis—our daughter has promised to explain to us how to use UBER. Nuff said.
  13. and while I’m at it, taxi drivers who use their phones while driving (not to mention bus drivers who talk on their phone WHILE filling out paperwork, WHILE driving—please leave multitasking to people who are not driving, or walking down the street)
  14. High fructose corn syrup—my sworn enemy.

The foot is strapped and receiving regular ice packs. The mountain of laundry is done, repairs to the garden are nearly done. And there are murmurs…of future adventure…

What keeps me traveling? I’m glad you asked. The mechanics of it are tiring, frustrating and downright unpleasant at times. However…when things take my breath away, or a sudden connection of a piece of knowledge turns on a light inside me, or something unexpected brings me to tears, it feels all worthwhile. When I see Wells Cathedral and a lump sticks in my throat, when I am gobsmacked by the incredible Guggenheim at Bilbao, when a Spanish woman spins her grandson in dance to a Basque folk song, when the most powerful show of water I’ve ever seen tumbles and mesmerises so that I can hardly look away, or when I stop in an ancient cemetery and realise that the man in that grave signed the Declaration of Independence…that is when I know I’m not done yet.

It hurts so good…give me more.

shifting focus…

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This morning I was reading an article about how to blur the background of photos on my iPhone:

You won’t always want to take photos with a blurry background. In landscape photography, you’ll want everything in focus from near to distant objects.

But there are many situations where a shallow depth of field will improve your image.

If the background of your scene is messy or distracting, it takes attention away from the main subject. Blurring the background eliminates distractions and makes the subject stand out.

And so it is with life.

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focussed on the weather…

Looking at the ‘big picture’ where everything is of equal clarity, you can see what is going on, in a general sense. But if you stay in that mode all the time you find that your attention is very scattered, first looking at the sky, then the buildings, then the trees, cars, birds and so on.

Sometimes we need to bring our focus sharply onto a single subject, in the present, so we can see what is important. Clear away the distractions. What is important might be a person, an emotion or a moment of realisation. When we are unable to shift focus back and forth, and then edit the image, our picture of things can get all out of whack—too fragmented, narcissistic—take your pick of a variety of counterproductive behaviours.

We need both ways of seeing.

This winter various aspects of life have gone in and out of focus for me. I look at the big picture for a while, and then zoom in on practical or emotional needs. However, I can never stray far from creative endeavours of some kind, and every now and then poetry pops into my head. If you ascribe to the theory that Elizabeth Gilbert (and others) talks about in Big Magic, you might believe me when I tell you, there are ideas in the form of energies that exist on a different level from our normal experience. We  can tap into it the way we hear sound as it moves through the atmosphere, or see light via different vibrations. These energies move through a person, and can be brought into our plane of existence. If it is not responded to, it will move on, allowing someone else to bring it to this plane. This seems as plausible to me as any other explanation for creative inspiration–elusive and mysterious to most of us.

If I respond quickly, the idea often comes pouring out, almost completed, with little editing required. It is usually brought to me in a moment of intense experience. I sometimes think my memory is quite strange…remembering the moment that inspired a poem for many years; or a particular little café in Bratislava, Slovakia, 8 years ago because I had the most delicious hot chocolate I’ve ever had. But if you ask me about a particular movie or book I’ve seen/read, my memory is likely to be very vague. I suppose it is the intensity and relevance an experience has for some of us that is the determining factor.

Regardless, these energies seem very real to me, and are a source of joy and satisfaction. Thank you for reading.

More

After I kissed you goodbye in your ear,

You looked at me and said ‘I love you.’

I replied ‘I love you too’ and your lips quivered ever so slightly—

the way sorrow settles into a person when they need

a little more time,

a little more nurturing,

a little deeper loving.

That look stayed with me like I had failed you,

But you were the one who had to go,

So I could only kiss you and say goodbye.

let it go, and move on…

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There is a long tradition of lawn sales in Alice Springs. In the US we called them garage sales. Either way, it’s a way of moving along items you no longer want or use so that they find new homes, and so your home is less cluttered…or has more space for new stuff, depending on your motivations. My reason for decluttering is because I have discovered I function better, and more peacefully, with less stuff to have to store, clean, use, wear, whatever. I’ve never been a hoarder or even much of a collector. I am too much like my paternal Grandmother for that. My first serious divesting of goods was over three years ago. It felt wonderful to have space in the cupboards and drawers, but I realised how difficult it is to responsibly dispose of things you no longer require. The process made me respect the act of acquiring new things much more deeply. In addition, we also have the concern of waste in the world, and how to dispose of things properly and conscientiously.

Lawn sales, a solid tradition here, are both sociable as well as practical. Some even find them fun, which they are—on the day. However, the sorting, pricing and organising preparations are more like punishment. That part can be made more fun with friends to help, but ultimately you just have to make the decisions yourself. Recently a good friend and I had a ‘team sale’ where we put things together so that it would have a larger presentation. I didn’t have nearly as much as the one a couple of years ago, because I have been pretty careful not to accumulate things again. What I had realised, however, was the first culling uncovers things that later on you can see you should have let go of as well. Hence the most recent cull and gathering of things.

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photo courtesy of google

There is such an eclectic selection of things people put into lawn sales; things you have never even heard of or seen before, but suddenly yearn to own at that bargain price! There was a humorous documentary made in 1996 about the culture of lawn sales in Alice Springs. It is called ‘The Search for the Shell Encrusted Toilet Seat’. I saw it on TV all those years ago and have searched for it to watch again but have not found it. It was clever and quirky and I think surely it will find a place on YouTube or somewhere one of these days. It tells the story of someone who saw a toilet seat with sea shells ‘suspended’ in acrylic for decorative effect. If you have ever sat on one, which I have because my former mother-in-law had one, you would know they are most disconcerting. You feel like your bottom will certainly come off the worse for the experience, but in fact no lacerations were caused in the use of that seat. There are some things in life we really don’t need to experience. The fellow in the documentary prevaricates and doesn’t purchase the shell encrusted toilet seat when he first sees it. He later regrets it. But where was it he saw it? At which lawn sale of dozens had he seen it? Thus begins his search to retrace his steps through Alice’s interesting lawn sales and characters.

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The view over our rooftop of the blood moon full lunar eclipse with Mars in attendance

Each sale has its own unique quality. I’ve always strived to only sell things that are well kept and clean, even if they are well used or old. My friend is the same and so the items we had were of that ilk. The starting time was 7am, and believe me when I tell you, people were parked on the street at least 10 minutes before that, so you’d better have yourself organised! We had the sale at my friend’s house about a three minutes’ walk around the corner from our house. It was the morning of the beautiful blood moon and rare full eclipse, with Mars in attendance. As I set out from our house at 6.36am and walked up our driveway, I looked back. Over the roof of our house was the beautiful sight. I hoped it was an omen for good sales!

The evening before, my friend had arranged things on tables, so that the following morning all we had to do was carry the tables out of the garage to the carport area. Easy. The punters swooped like hungry birds, one going immediately to the large number of CD’s and DVD’s we had, saying ‘Here they are!’ as if she had discovered gold! We haven’t played any of them in years and are not likely to, given we only have one old boom box left to play the CD’s, and nothing on which to play the DVD’s. Early on, a nicely presented and discerning woman came and very, very carefully looked over everything. She added an item at a time to her purchase pile. When she finished she had quite a stack and had to make two trips to her car. A little while later she returned, accumulating another stack of things and then departing. Finally, a while after that she returned again, buying several more items. We heard her say as she walked out of sight ‘you won’t see me again, but thank you for the great lawn sale!’

And we didn’t.

As they used to say in the newspaper in the small town I am from,

‘And a good time was had by all’.

 

(In the link above, to my previous post on this topic, there are references to helpful guides. In addition you may find what Courtney Carver has to say helpful. This link is for clearing your wardrobe, but she has books and other courses you may find more interesting, or you can just use her newsletter for inspiration)

giddyup to the coffee horse…

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To say I don’t get out much would probably be an understatement. I’m not a gadabout when we are in town. I don’t like crowds so I don’t even attend exhibition openings, choosing to go after the opening to see an exhibition. I see many amazing sights when we travel so when I’m at home, I’m at home…except… that my good friend introduced me to the Coffee Horse.

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My good friend, Betty helping me solve the problems of the world! Note the rocky outcrop in the distance.

It is hard to put into exact words why the Coffee Horse has me infatuated, but it does. Betty feels the same. Some of the reasons we love living in Alice Springs are the down to earth experiences of having the bushland nearby, a thriving arts community and people wanting to ‘have a go’ at doing something a bit unusual.  Coffee Horse has it all. I hope I haven’t gone and spoiled it now that I’ve let the cat out of the bag! We also like that Alice is a small enough place that you can get to know the owners of the various shops, but big enough to be anonymous if you want to be…more or less.

Of course the flip side of our isolated, small town life is that we sometimes long for the finer things the city can offer. Recently, and arguably, our best hairdresser in town closed its doors after 36 years and some of us are mourning the loss and wondering if we are doomed to be follicle-ly challenged for the remainder of our days. So, it is with great appreciation, that we have discovered another place which feels special.

Many of you will have seen or procured coffee from a ‘coffee van’. On our recent travels a coffee van in the middle of nowhere seemed like a little miracle. One coffee-less morning on a lonely stretch of road in New Zealand, my husband and I saw a handwritten sign, alerting us that we could get ‘good coffee to go’–on a stretch of road that looked highly improbable. In fact my husband stated his doubts aloud, in the form of a chuckle when I proposed we might find coffee on the road between Franz Josef and Haast. He further expressed doubt as to the quality of such a find, to which I responded, ‘you can get a very good cup of coffee from a coffee van’. Moments later, like a mirage in the wilderness, there it was, the coffee van. Festive flags motioning us with their siren-call-promise of a great coffee. It was all true. I promise. It’s not often I’m right, but on this occasion I was…absolutely.

Meanwhile back in Alice…The Coffee Horse is an unassuming, small, repurposed caravan, located on a lot with a thriving art supply and framing business. Also, located next to it on the same lot is a shoemaker. I don’t mean a shoe repairer, I mean a shoe-maker of fine custom fitted shoes, for which you have to wait. Quality takes time. His website says requests are currently closed but you can leave a contact when there is an opening. Good for him. Sprinkled about the grounds is evidence of the creative hearts that have passed through this place—sculptures made from ‘junque’ and repurposed items —one person’s trash is another’s treasure…

At the back of the lot, behind the outbuildings, sits one of Alice’s many rocky outcrops. Sometimes when we are sitting and soaking up the winter sun, or shaded from the heat in summer, you can see kangaroos hopping through the scrub. Now you don’t get that in a city cafe!

People from all around this light industrial area come to fill their ‘keep cups’ and have a break from their day.  Some buy the custom made pottery cups, or opt for the standard, mismatched mugs and cups. The coffee that fills them is second to none. Decaf is my poison of choice and it is as good as any I’ve ever had. They make lovely toasted sandwiches (I’ve heard) and their vegan, grain-free treats are delicious (I’ve dabbled). There is no loud music playing, just the coming and going and quiet conversations of patrons. Some quietly indulge in a book, or sewing, others have their heads down in their phones, though I don’t see that very often. Most people are quietly chatting and laughing. It is a happy place. Even Alison, who operates this little oasis, gets a short break now and then. You can find the Coffee Horse on Instagram. Her new creation opens at a second location, near Watch This Space Gallery, next week. It will be called the ‘Silver Brumby’–a ‘brumby’ is a wild horse. We will check it out and report back to you.

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Creator of the Coffee Horse, Alison, soaking up some winter sun.

Who would have thought a young woman with an old repurposed caravan could draw me out of my house and into an alternative comfort zone?

In Alison’s words ‘May the horse be with you!’ And with you Alison…and with you.

 

**I have not received any payment or even free coffee for this post, I just thought you might enjoy this slice of Alice Springs life.

a survival story…

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Let me set the scene for you. It is the day after the twelve boys and their coach have been rescued from the cave in Thailand. It is a winter morning and -3C (26F) outside. I prevaricate over my usual morning walk. Will I? Won’t I? Gee it is cold. Those 12 children and their young coach got through 16 days trapped in a cave, surely I can put on my nice warm clothes and walk for 50 minutes.

I jogged up the hill near my house, walked 30 metres or so to catch my breath and then decided more jogging must happen to warm up. As I jog down the other side of the hill, still trying to get my blood pumping, I see some scavenger birds circling a distant, dark shape on the fairway of the fourth hole (we live on a golf course). A few more metres and I realise the shape is a Dingo feeding…on a dead kangaroo. I pull my camera (which is my iPhone) from my pocket and open it up, hoping that my cold fingers can still get the touch controls to work. I take a photo that I know will show very little, but it is just to get the settings right and make sure the touch control is working. As is my usual practice with wild life, I slow down. As I approach, every few metres, I take another photo, and another, refocusing and getting closer each time.

The birds of prey begin to scatter. The Dingo eyes me nervously but he is hungry, so he continues. Finally, he thinks I am too close and he reluctantly begins to head toward the taller grasses at the edge of the course, looking back over his shoulder all the while. He still doesn’t want to leave his meal behind so he stops…and watches me. I’m relieved that he is somewhat afraid of me since I am walking alone and have no means of fending off an attack. He has what he wants anyway, and that is not me.

I quietly walk on and soon am getting farther away. He decides I mean him no harm and he approaches the carcass again. Now I can see the bloody bare bones of the rib cage but I know if I stop it will spook him so I continue on. I don’t want a graphic photo of the corpse in any case. I know this is Mother Nature and all part of the survival of the fittest.

And what about those boys and their coach, and their rescuers? If that isn’t also a tale of survival, I must have missed something. The world is a marvel and a mystery, revealing itself every day.

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Dingo and dead kangaroo in the middle ground of the fairway

the stories within us…

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Just after the sun had broken over the horizon, sending a few bleak wintery rays across the grasses in front of the house, I looked out the expanse of windows that stretch the width of the west facing end. There, about 30 feet in front of the windows, silent and purposeful, strode a lone Dingo. So quiet, the neighbourhood dogs even missed a good chance to raise the alarm. So quiet, I later wondered if I had seen it at all. Nearly the same colour as the dried, blonde grasses, only the dark spot of his eye and his nose and the sunlit hairs on the ridge of his back and the plume of the tail shone his shape. Perfect camouflage.

Lingers in my mind’s eye like a dream.

I set out for my walk moments later, in the direction the Dingo was heading. A single lone Dingo was probably nothing to be concerned about since I wasn’t walking a small dog that might be mistaken as breakfast. I kept my eye on the tall grasses walking over crisp, frosted ground, down the desolate back of the golf course on a Sunday morning. No further sightings. I wondered…is this the new normal of our cohabitation? The Dingo casually strolls through the neighbourhood while I keep a watchful eye and go for my morning walk.

Stranger things have happened.

The day before, a small mob of Wallabies had converged on our patio, scratching themselves thoughtfully, studying the windows…the same windows on the world through which I had seen the Dingo. The two adults and two joeys probably saw their reflections, or maybe some slight movement inside as I adjusted myself for a better view of them. Most likely the reflections of the rocky outcrop and sky behind them was their point of interest. It must be very confusing for them. Imagine if we all became focused on what was behind us rather than moving forward. The Wallabies were not seduced. Slowly they moved up the breezeway that gave them safe passage to the bottom of the driveway and within a few hops of the road. If they cross the road safely, which has always happened in the 20 years we have lived here, there is only one row of houses and then they are back in the bush again.

With the Dingoes.

Almost 40 years ago, I looked out of another expanse of windows. It was a whole lifetime ago for me–for the world. I was high atop the World Trade Center in New York City. The place was called ‘Windows on the World’. We were there for a cocktail reception for a national gathering of Television Promotion Managers and Art Directors. Below, an enormous world of skyscrapers, tiny ships and cars, and even tinier humans, spread out for many miles. They went about the business of the world. And now, I watch the business of Mother Nature where species learn to live with one another and it is survival of the fittest. No trace or photos of any of it, just what my brain has selectively conserved. Why would this memory visit me now? Why can I remember conversing with two fellows from Australia, one from Sydney, one from Wollongong, forty years ago, but have trouble remembering what I had two days ago for breakfast?

How do we reconcile the worlds within us? For the most part it is an unconscious process. But now and again we tell stories and make art and that turns something with seemingly no purpose into something of value.

 

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Winter Solstice

 

 

the road to Fleur’s place…

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There is probably little left that I can add to what has already been said about Fleur Sullivan, either by herself or by the many thousands who have eaten at one of her restaurants. Even when the renowned Rick Stein was asked if he could eat any place in the world, where would it be? Answered Fleur’s Place in Moeraki ‘because how could you want anything more?’fullsizeoutput_3f58

Fortunately a colleague had mentioned this to Don some weeks before we began our trip, because you definitely need a booking to be assured of a table. We had only a couple of hours’ drive between Dunedin and Oamaru the day we drove through Moeraki, and we planned it so we could have lunch at Fleur’s Place. But first…we had to take me to Mazagran Espresso Bar* before leaving Dunedin. I needed another one of the best coffees I’ve ever had, having also had one the day before. Thank you Mr. Google. Don is very patient with my coffee addiction, just as I am patient with his wine enthusiasm. We have suffered worse.

All coffee-d up and ready for the next leg of our adventure we decided to explore an area just south of Moeraki called Shag Point. And yes, we did see the real life idiom ‘Shag on a rock’ that is a familiar Aussie description for someone hanging about, alone. Shags are a type of bird, and they were true to their reputation, lonely and abandoned looking, though in large groups. I know, makes no sense.  It was also a viewing point for the native New Zealand fur seals. They lazed about that sunny morning on the well worn cliffs…looking for all the world like large brown…well, you know…logs. Ahem. My iPhone makes them look smaller and farther away than they were. They were enormous. It was heartening to see them in quite a few places around the South Island during the three weeks we visited. They had been endangered at one point, hunted to near obliteration for their fur, but are now protected and have repopulated well.

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native fur seals basking in the sun

It was still a bit early for our one o’clock lunch at Fleur’s so we drove up the coast just a few minutes passed the turn off to Moeraki to view another natural phenomenon, the Moeraki boulders. These are very peculiar, perfectly round, rock formations like nothing we had ever seen. Some looked as if the cliffs were giving birth, revealing the boulders where they must have formed millions of years previously.

Finally, the time was near when we could deliver ourselves to the much anticipated lunch. Still being a few minutes early, we slowly approached, observing the setting from across the bay, then closer, letting the ambiance soak in. The restaurant was purpose built but it has the casual feel of a hybrid fisherman’s cottage come boat shed. Inside, neatly scrawled all over the walls and window sills patrons had left their names and often their gratitude for Fleur, praise for the food and atmosphere. (I guess people just need to validate their having been in a place, as per last post…) Once again, we had never been any place quite like it. This was becoming a mantra for our visit to the South Island.

If you don’t like seafood you probably wouldn’t have liked the menu, however, we were spoilt for choice. Given my consumption limitations I stayed with my new favourite fish, Blue Cod, a New Zealand speciality. It was pan fried with no flour and served on a bed of the freshest cooked vegetables, accompanied by home made tartar sauce and lemon. That fish had probably been swimming around only 12 hours previously and the freshness was definitely reflected in the flavour. Now, I didn’t really need dessert, but if you think a little thing like that was going to stop me trying Fleur’s Crème Brûlée, you don’t know me very well! Don ordered an apple crumble with homemade ice-cream for his dessert. We did not need dinner that evening. And this time, that really did stop us!

Fleur’s Place was really as much an experience as it was a restaurant. Watching 76 year old Fleur hefting boxes around and fussing about place settings, then sitting down with some of the diners, and then returning to her duties was like a well rehearsed play. Two of the people who served us had French accents and one was New Zealand. We wondered with Fleur’s french name if there was a connection and I suppose I will find out if I read her memoir. (there is a nice photo of Fleur on the cover)

The entire experience was delightful from beginning to end and we kind of hated to leave when our meal was finished. So we wandered around outside and I happily took a few more photos.

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large fur seal that slept through the entire arrival of visitors and the fairy penguins

Somewhat reluctantly we drove on to what was our destination for the next three nights. Our accommodation in Oamaru (Fleur’s hometown) was a 1930’s B&B. Our hostess gave us details and said it was an ideal evening to go and see the Fairy Penguins arrive on shore. So off we went to purchase tickets for the nightly arrival of the adorable, little blue penguins. When I say little, I mean tiny. They are only about 30cm (12”) tall, some even smaller. They come in after dark, in ‘rafts’ (groups) of about 20-30 at a time. The water is rough and they have to scramble up a rocky bank and you fear for them every time. But this is their life and they are well adapted. That night 148 arrived and scurried across the open ground between the two pavilions of spectators. We were told to be very quiet and there was absolutely no photography allowed so you will have to check out this link and imagine the cuteness overload! I still smile every time I recall those impossibly small, blue darlings*.

We arrived ‘home’ at our B&B, very cold from being on Penguin watch, but our hosts had turned on the electric blanket, the under floor heating in the bathroom, and the heater for the room. Now you don’t get that in a hotel!! We snuggled in, dreaming of Fleur’s and little blue apparitions.

When I think back about this day, I see that it embodied the very essence of New Zealand. It had been a perfect banquet of quirkiness, kind people, wild animals, and amazing food, against a backdrop of stunning beauty, wrapped up in one delicious day. The road less traveled is a wonder.

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boulders and the sea

*Mazagran is a cold, sweetened coffee drink that originated in Algeria

*The only other place in the world you can see fairy penguins in the wild, besides New Zealand, is Phillip Island in Australia. The observation stands in Oamaru were built well after the preservation of the dwindling colony was reversed and all steps have been taken to protect this naturally occurring colony.

nothing lasts forever…

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I knew if I left writing about our travels until I got home again the writing would not be the same, if it even happened at all. There is always so much catching up to do, even when you are away for only three weeks, as we were. And then there is this thing I have noticed…I am never the same when I return from a trip to another country. I can never quite fit back into the same groove as when I left. Truth be told, I kind of like that. Travel changes me in ways it is difficult to describe. At least I have photos, and a few notes I managed to make along the way.

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Debris along Bruce Bay

About a week into the trip, on a grey, overcast and lightly raining day between Franz Josef Glacier and Haast in the northwest of the South Island of New Zealand, we came upon Bruce Bay. We had not heard of it but it came at a time when a break in the driving was welcome and we were curious. When we first got out of the car I noticed an odd pile of smooth, white stones. It was obvious they had been intentionally placed there, but to what purpose? Looking up and down the beach we could see that there must have been some serious weather in recent times. The beach was eroded and large pieces of trees and giant seaweed had been washed up. Don walked off a little way, while I studied the stones. I was curious about the source of the stones and looked over the edge of the small precipice created by the erosion. Down below, maybe 10 feet, I could see smooth stones scattered all over the wet sand. It appeared people had been walking down to the beach and choosing a stone to bring back up to the top. And then, being human, they did a very curious thing. Each stone had been written on with texta (markers). There was either a message or a person’s name. I wondered if the name on the stone was the person who was writing the message, or someone they were missing. While we were there we noticed a couple of other people who arrived just after us, contributing to the pile. We did not. I recently heard, it says more about us, the things that we don’t do, than the things that we do. I wonder. Don said he was amazed how many people were carrying permanent markers! We laughed…and later I realised I had one too, in my drawing kit!

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Stones of humanity

The day was monochromatic, ranging from mid-grey to almost, but not quite, black. As I looked up I saw Don standing on the beach, debris strewn on the sand as far as one could see. At my feet were the stones, a kind of monument to the human race, I supposed. Individual, but gathered together as a whole. Most were inscribed in a very considered way, and so neatly done, some faded, some vibrant. I took the photo of Don. And then I took a couple of photos of the stones. I wish now I’d taken more, why, I have no idea.

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Some faded markings on beach stones

Later that evening we settled into the least luxurious accommodation of our trip, and logged into the Wifi to check email. The room was cramped and smelled of dampness, which was the prevailing condition in this part of the island. The wifi was good but there was no telephone signal! Haast is in a 244km blackout zone, and was just about to get mobile phone reception for the first time at the end of May 2018. This small, remote  community had a nice information centre and several motels large enough to hold a few busloads of tourists. The town also housed the people who serviced it all.  Don looked up from his iPad and said, “I’ve just gotten a message from Steve…Dad has died.”

I thought of that solitary silhouette I captured on the beach, and the pile of humanity represented at my feet earlier that day. I wonder how many people have a photo of themselves on the day their last parent has died? Alone, but not yet knowing you are alone. It was all okay, but still. Don had returned from seeing his Father, for what he knew would be the last time, only two weeks before departing for New Zealand.

Such is life. And death. They find us no matter where we are.

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Alone.

land of milk, honey and Wapiti…

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There’s a saying in Australia “Wouldn’t be dead for quids.” Quids are pounds in the English money they used before the Australian dollar…and dead…is dead. So we have had nothing but days you wouldn’t want to miss for anything, in other words, since we arrived in New Zealand. Even the two very wet days. After the last post we traveled from Haast  having had a cold and wet 24 hours… By the time we had traveled up over the pass, the temperatures had dropped to 3C, that is pretty cold in anyone’s book. While it was raining at our level, only a short distance up the mountains we could see snow accumulating. This was a minor worry because we did not have snow tyres on the car we hired.

The rain was incredible, sending ribbons of water flowing from every opportunistic crevice, creating road side waterfalls. Water flowed over mossy rocks, glistened from tiny streams up high, gathering in white torrents as they pounded into the creeks and rivers along the roads. The thing we had become keenly aware of was how tenuous the traveling here can be…humming along minding your own business one minute, and a slippage impeding your progress the next. When you start noticing, all along the roads are just loose rocks that have come tumbling down during inclement weather, earthquakes, or just because… We continually encountered road works, some are still reconstructions from the earthquakes in 2010-11, some just ongoing and never ending maintenance. This is a small country in land mass and also by population with only about 4.7 million people. And when the roads are impassable life is very, very difficult here. The reality of what a huge job this must be for the government really hits you when you drive all around the island as we are doing. The ‘roadings’ crews, as the workers are called are a very dedicated and skilled bunch.

Rain

It rained and rained and rained

The average fall was well maintained;

And when the tracks were simply bogs

It started raining cats and dogs.

After a drought of half an hour

We had a most refreshing shower;

And then; most curious thing of all

A gentle rain began to fall

Next day but one was fairly dry

Save for one deluge from the sky,

Which wetted the party to the skin

And then at last—the rain set in.

—Anonymous  (From the information center in Haast)

As we made our way up over the pass, the ‘divide’ as it is known, we noticed the river was flowing the opposite direction. Further down toward Queenstown the temperature started to rise again—a balmy 7C! Though veiled in fog and cloud we could see the spectacular setting of Queenstown, which only got more spectacular as the clouds lifted over the coming days. The thing about rainy days, is it makes the sunny ones even more stunning.

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View from our hotel room in Queenstown

We’d been traveling long enough by Queenstown that we had begun to gather some knowledge about some of the specialities of New Zealand. They are famous for their dairy products, well, at least in this part of the world. The cheeses and milks are delicious. We ate cheese made in Oamaru that was some of the best we have eaten. Their Sauvignon Blanc is second to none here, the grapes loving the volcanic soils and climate of the central Otago region. Another specialty that we were already aware of are the bee products. The humble honey bee uses the nectar from the Manuka trees (Ti Tree) to make a honey that is highly prized for it’s antibacterial properties, and contribution to health gut microbiome. New Zealand actively protects this industry and it is doing well for them after many years of development. Be careful if you buy Manuka honey that it is authentic, some attempts have been made to counterfeit the products. It can be very expensive for the authentic products so research it and know what you are getting.

Another very interesting industry, we have been told, started here in New Zealand back in the 1970’s, and that is farming deer. Mostly the Red deer are farmed, for venison and milk, and apparently for the velvet from the antlers, which is used for various medical products. The milk is highly prized in China, being used in cosmetic products. Early white settlers brought deer and rabbits and possums to New Zealand to hunt as well as eat. The animals adapted so well here they are now a nuisance in huge proportions in some areas. So the government allows hunting of these animals, sometimes for bounty, all year around…with one exception. Wapiti. What is a Wapiti you ask? It is an American Indian name for Elk. The Wapiti elk were gifted to New Zealand from America originally, but have since become feral. However, the government does require hunters to have a license and they are only allowed to hunt them during a specific season. We have also learned that some farmers raise Wapiti as well as deer and we have seen them grazing in the same paddocks, especially in the south western region of the South Island.

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One of many waterfalls in Milford Sound

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Cruising on Milford Sound, a natural fiord, and the wettest place in New Zealand

I will most likely have to post the remainder of things after we return home as I have hardly any time to write while we are traveling. This tiny country has held many surprises and is still revealing itself to us daily.

 

land of the long white cloud…

The weather is straight out of Antarctica today. The rain has pelted down all night and the wind whistles every now and then, just to let you know it is there too! We are in Haast on the southwestern coast of the South Island of New Zealand. If we were at home on a day like this I would make soup and we would hunker down in the warm house. But we need to get some breakfast at the nearby restaurant and be on our way in a while. We had hoped to visit several waterfalls along the road to Queenstown today but that is looking less likely in the pouring rain. Apparently this is normal weather for here. You don’t get all this beautiful temperate rain forest without a lot of rain. In fact this area’s annual rainfall ranges between 1500mm (5 feet) and 8000mm (26 feet). We are supposedly here during the more ‘stable’ time of the year, too!

I’m not much of a travel blogger, so I thought I’d just share with you a few of the highlights during the first third of our trip. Sadly, New Zealand is another good example of how humans have screwed up a perfectly wonderful environment and ecosystem. New Zealand was the last major land mass to be settled by humans, the Maori people, about a thousand years ago. The Maoris brought with them cats and dogs. As white inhabitants settled, thanks to Captain Cook’s multiple visits in the mid to late 1700’s, further devastation happened to the old growth forest covering the islands. The sea animals, especially eels, were fished to near completion and many birds are now extinct. The national bird, the Kiwi is almost extinct but there are a number of programs including reestablishing the habitats, that are ongoing.

We took a cruise up north in the Marlborough Sound that was named ‘the mail run’ in Queen Charlotte Sound. It was so named because it is the run that delivers the mail to the inhabitants living in remote parts of the bay, only accessible by boat. At each stop the resident came to meet the boat, usually with a dog in tow and often a few children who waved at us. The Captain had special dog biscuits with him and don’t you think the dogs didn’t know it! They waited, tails wagging, for their treats. Fun for the dogs and good entertainment for the punters!

An important stop on the 4.5 hour cruise, was a place called Ship Cove. This was the exact place where Captain Cook stopped a documented five times on his explorations of this part of the world. Whatever else he was, Cook was a great navigator. To have found this idyllic, protected cove once would have been a good thing, but to be able to find it again, four more times, is nothing more than genius. This area is blessed with ‘old growth’ vegetation and is so dense you can hardly imagine it being much different in Cook’s time. The sound of birds was quite pronounced, and a few Weka came to see if anyone would feed them, and a very cute, wren-like Fantail flitted around me at one stage until I thought it might even land on me! Both birds are natives. But it was on our return trip back to the port of Picton, when we encountered a large pod of bottle nose Dolphins. In this part of New Zealand the dolphins commonly reach a size of four metres, about 13 feet. They were not at all perturbed by our presence and the captain hovered in the area for probably 10 minutes until the pod had passed and swam into the distance. It was truly a memorable experience…all of it.

Much of the original native vegetation has been encouraged to regenerate and one can now drive along for kilometres on roads lined with gorgeous ferns and native trees. One stretch of road on the drive between our overnight destination of Haast, and Jackson Bay, the southernmost settlement on the Southwest Coast of the South Island, was certainly one of the prettiest drives I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately we couldn’t stop at the section of the drive that was the best, but just near it we stopped and I took a photo so you can have an idea.

At Jackson Bay, there looked to be about six houses. Some enterprising person had brought in a little diner style demountable, painted bright pink and named it the Cray Pot. The rain was teaming down and no place to pull over so I couldn’t get a photo, but imagine the most crisply new and brightly coloured little rectangle overlooking the turbulent sea, and surrounded by the accoutrement of a tiny fishing village, and several very modest homes. The lights were on and it looked quite cheerful and I’m sure it is a favourite place for the locals and also a welcome sight to those who have ventured all the way to that remote point and want a place to stop. Here are a couple of photos taken from the car, looking at the tiny village an its jetty, and also looking out to sea from about where the ‘main street’ of the village would be.

This blog writing from an iPad is less than satisfying and more into cumbersome, possibly due to user ignorance, so I will not try your patience further on this post. I’ll see if I can refine some technique for future mobile postings. The bottom line is, New Zealand is amazing!