Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Alone at Christmas? Worried? Don't be, here are some handy hints to help you enjoy the day

  Christmas is a day for families and friends to be together so being alone on the day can be crushing. It doesn't matter why you are alone, it could be that you are traveling, or your children all live overseas, or you have recently lost your partner. Whatever the reason the key to enjoying the day is to plan ahead to make it fun and less lonely.  Here are a few ideas I have gathered together.  I hope they help.

My Christmas Wreath
1. Book yourself on a bus tour, a train trip or a cruise, depending on your finances.  Ensure it includes Christmas Day.  There will be a real spirit of camaraderie amongst your fellow travelers and you may even find it is one of your best Christmases ever.

2. Check into a hotel or even a back packers which is offering a Christmas dinner and enjoy the company of fellow dinners.

3. Volunteer to assist at one of the many charity Christmas dinners which you will find in most towns and cities.  Christmas is a time of giving so giving your time will be satisfying and fitting.

4. Invite your neighbours, even those you don't know and especially those alone, in for a drink before they head off to their celebrations.  One of them might even invite you to theirs. If having people in is not your thing perhaps you could call on them with small gifts and your Christmas wishes.

5. Visit a loved one's grave.   In New Zealand cemeteries are cheerful, happy places on Christmas day with groups of family and friends visiting and all willing to chat.  It sounds morbid but it isn't.  I do this every year and the spirit of happiness and goodwill there is quite uplifting.

6. Even if you are not religious, go to church.  Enjoy the Christmas carols, the joy of Christmas and the feeling of community.

7. Go for a walk and wish every one you meet "Happy Christmas".  You are bound to get merry greetings back and may even enjoy some conversations.

8. Relish being alone.  Eat what you want, listen to music you like, become absorbed in a TV movie, light candles, decorate the house. If this sounds lonely just visualise how fraught a big and noisy Christmas can be, especially when that difficult uncle turns up!

9. Spend the day planning something really special to look forward to.  It is  easy to become so lost in planning something on the internet that suddenly the day has slipped by.

10. Remember Christmas is just one day and tomorrow is another day.  The key is to plan ahead and to get out there.  Don't sit at home by yourself feeling miserable.

Please feel free to add your ideas in the Comments section.  

 And have the best, happiest, most wonderful Christmas!
St Heliers Bay, my local beach,  Because they always bloom at Christmas time
Pohutukawa are known as the New Zealand Christmas tree

Monday, 4 December 2017

Rhubabrb mojito recipe straight from my garden

Here in Auckland the days have been long, hot and sunny, perfect weather to be out in the garden enjoying nature.  It is my happy place. I love pottering around on my own, thinking my own thoughts and tending my plants.  Each day I am accompanied by a plump, glossy feathered tui which sits in the tree above me and sings melodiously as I work.  At the end of the day a long cold drink is just the ticket.  What better than a rhubarb mojito with both rhubarb and mint from my garden?  You'll find the recipe at the end of this post.

A corner of my garden
This year I have planted beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuces, capsicums, potatoes, spring onions, butternut and corn so I'm looking forward to many fresh, home grown  salads through summer.   Healthy crops of silverbeet and rhubarb lord it over my garden beds and many different herbs pop their heads up here and there.  My peach tree and blueberry bushes are covered in fruit and my lime, lemon and mandarin trees are covered in blossom.  It is a joy to see plants bloom, develop and then fruit and to gain the enormous satisfaction of picking dinner straight from the garden. 

Spring onions and rosemary and, right, rhubarb
 I always put in a few flowers  here and there.  They attract bees for pollination and add a lovely splash of colour to an otherwise green garden.

I grew this begonia from a bulb.
The flower is 15cm across

Silverbeet, always on hand

And here is the promised recipe:


Cut up 4 stalks of rhubarb and place in a saucepan with 3/4 cup of sugar  2 cups of water, 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon and a 1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg.  Bring to the boil and simmer for several minutes until the rhubarb is soft. 
Strain through muslin or a very fine sieve and place in the fridge until very cold. Save the rhubarb pulp to use as a desert with ice cream, yoghurt or custard.

There will be enough syrup for several mojitos.

When syrup is cold assemble the mojito

Place 5 or 6 mint leaves in the bottom of a glass with a tablespoon of lime juice and some lime zest . Muddle well (I use the end of a wooden spoon for this) making sure the mint is well bruised and torn to release the flavour.  Pour in 2 ounces of rhubarb syrup and 1 ounce of white rum.  Add plenty of ice and top with plain sparkling water or soda water for a long refreshing drink.

Decorate with a rhubarb stalk as a stirrer and a sprig of mint.  Adjust syrup and rum to taste.  Enjoy!

#rhubarbmojito  #rumandrhubarb  #gardening

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Sydney, Australia - The Chinese Garden of Friendship

Tucked away in the back corner of Darling Harbour is, to my mind, one of Sydney's best attractions.

The Chinese Garden of Friendship was a gift to Sydney from its sister city, Guangzhou, in southern China. It was designed and built in the 1980s in recognition of the large Chinese community living in Australia and also as a celebration of Australia's bicentenary. It is a glorious oasis of peace, calm and beauty.

The dragon wall depicts Guangdong, the brown dragon and New South Wales, the blue dragon
 They are playing with the pearl of friendship.

Covering one hectare the garden has been laid out using the Taoist principles of Yin and Yang and the five elements of earth, fire, water, wood and metal.  The idea behind these principles is to emphasise Qi, that is the force of life and energy. Everything in the garden has been chosen to reflect the five elements and the life force which, when combined together, create harmony .

Surrounding a large central lake, fed by a gushing waterfall, the garden provides everything from a tranquil black bamboo grove, a bonsai corner, carefully placed rocks and sculptures, to several pavilions for viewing the lake, the koi carp and the lotus blossoms. At the highest point of the garden is The Gurr, or Pavilion of Clear View which provides a panoramic view of the garden and is embellished with intricate wood carvings, a golden roof and an ornate lantern, a symbol of prosperity.

I love this garden.  It is a perfectly formed, serene, corner in a big and bustling city. At $6 admission, little more than the cost of a coffee, you can spend a quiet hour soaking up the beauty of nature and enjoying refreshments (for an extra charge) in the large traditional tea pavilion on the edge of the lake. It is the perfect place to just pause a while. The afternoon I was there I saw only a few other people, apart from a Chinese wedding party having photos taken against a background which, no doubt, made them feel at home.  I have visited these gardens twice and intend to make them an essential part of any trip I make to Sydney.  #chinesegardenoffriendship

Monday, 6 November 2017

30 Hours in Sydney, Australia

It had been 15 years since I'd been to Sydney and although I have been there several times before I was really looking forward to my stop off in this beautiful city. Arriving by cruise ship on a romantically misty morning, sailing down the sublime harbour through its quiet sleepiness, staring, once again gob smacked, at the spectacular Opera House and admiring the heritage wharves, this was the perfect way to arrive.

I had a check list of things I wanted to squeeze into my extremely short visit, things that held good memories for me, things I had enjoyed with my husband and my son.  I thought the best way to get around the city would be by Hop on Hop off bus so jumped aboard and paid my $50AU for a day long ticket.  This turned out to be a big mistake. Why? Because it started to rain and the downstairs part of the bus was crammed to bursting with people fogging up the windows, hence no view. The only option was to go upstairs - but there is no roof! So there I sat miserable and cold with my umbrella up and rain dripping everywhere. Added to this the bus made lengthy stops at some of the bus stops and that, together with a lot of road works hold ups made for a slow and unpleasant trip.

HANDY HINT : Do not take the Sydney Hop on Hop off bus on a rainy day, it will be full downstairs and there is no roof upstairs.  You would be better to get a day pass for the train and go from destination to destination.  At least the bus commentary was good, although, due to roadworks, we didn't follow the normal route so  the commentary didn't fit some of what we saw.

Above and  below right: The Rocks

My first stop was at The Rocks, a beautiful part of Sydney and a place held dear by my late husband.  On his many business trips to Sydney he stayed there and he and I stayed there  together on a couple of occasions.  It was also at The Rocks that we celebrated our eldest son's 30th birthday. The Rocks was first settled by convicts in 1788 and although having had a colourful past is now gentrified, charming and character filled. Australias oldest pub, Fortune of War (1828) is located there too. Fortunately the rain eased and I enjoyed strolling the familiar, timeless heritage streets, picking and poking around the Sunday market, a great place to buy some good quality Australian arts and crafts.

I took the complete circuit on the bus and then decided it would be better to walk the streets from my Darling Harbour hotel.  Darling Harbour is a great spot, packed as it is with restaurants, bars, shops and with a safe sheltered boat harbour, the starting point for many  harbour cruises.  There are also a number of attractions there - Sea Life Aquarium, Madame Tussauds and Wild Life Sydney Zoo. It is an easy walk up to the central city from the harbour.  I love walking so spent several hours enjoying a close up and personal look at Sydney.

Part of the GPO in Martin Place 
The many grand, heritage buildings which are lovingly protected and give the city so much character are very impessive.  Martin Place boasts some of the finest, including the GPO which is 374 ft long and dates from 1866.  They don't make them like that any more! My own city of Auckland could take a leaf out of Sydney's book.  In Auckland, it seems,  many old buildings get ripped down with little respect for our heritage, our past.  It really grieves me.

Queen Victoria Building with the Town Hall tower on the right.
Something else of note is the huge amount of attention and respect the city pays to the ANZACs, that is the Australian, New Zealand and Canadian armed forces who have served in wars around the world.  There is even a daily ceremony to remember them at the large, impressive ANZAC memorial in Hyde Park.

The Queen Victoria Building or QVB, what can I say?  It is exquisite with it's sumptuous interior of stained glass, heritage tiling and chandeliers.  I walked around and up and down several times not wanting to leave.  If I'd had a companion I would have had high tea at a cafe purely so I could linger.

Then back down the hill to visit the Chinese Garden of Friendship, which is stunning and will be the subject of my next post.
Darling Harbour - not a bad view from my hotel room

Complimentary bubbles in my room overlooking the glorious Darling Harbour rounded out my day and left me longing for more time in Sydney.  I am determined to go back, for longer next time.  There are numerous museums and art galleries I wish I'd had time to see.  I would've loved to have had time to spend at the National Maritime Museum, since I work at New Zealand's. And I'd love to see Sydney, once again, in the sun.

It was interesting to note that the Sydney newspapers were full of exactly the same things New Zealand's are....the cost of housing, the housing shortage, population growth, immigration etc.  These topics are not unique to New Zealand, despite what many may think, or Sydney, or anywhere, they are universal problems. The population of Sydney is projected to be 8 million by 2050...the population of the whole of New Zealand won't even reach that!

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

In Wellington, New Zealand, for a visit? Here's a hotel worth staying in.

Sometimes you book a hotel because you know it and love it and other times you book a hotel for it's location or because all other accommodation is full.  Location was the reason I booked the QT Museum Hotel for our overnight stay in Wellington.  Right on the waterfront, opposite the National Museum and a short walk to the stadium where my daughter-in-law and I were going to see WOW (World of Wearable Art- WOW, a New Zealand Icon, the previous post on this blog) it's location was perfect and, boy, were we in for a surprise.  This hotel is stunning, what a stroke of luck, truly another wow!

Room key
The Museum has a fascinating history.  Originally located on the opposite side of the road it was set for demolition in order to make way for New Zealand's National Museum, Te Papa.  Fortunately Chris Parkin, an art collector, Wellington City Councillor and business man could see the potential in the hotel and embarked on the plan to employ an amazing feat of engineering to move it from one side of the road to the other. Over a period of 5 months preparations were made for the move which entailed laying  8 sets of rails alongside a main road, hoisting the museum up onto the tracks and taking it 100 metres along the road, turning it 90 degrees and then crossing the road to rest it in place on its new foundations.  The actual move took only two days and amazingly the only thing removed from the hotel  was bed linen, everything else stayed in place, even the bottles in the bar and, even more amazingly, nothing was damaged. Once rested on its new foundations it was business as usual for the Hotel which rejoiced in its new name of Museum Hotel de Wheels, later renamed the Museum Art Hotel and, more recently, after a sale to the Australian QT Group, the QT Museum Hotel.
Hotel Public area with art works on walls and in cabinets
Although Chris Parkin no longer owns the hotel he lives on site in one of the Hotel apartments and is  curator of the art.  The hotel has an agreement with him to keep the art for at least three years but this could be extended by agreement of both parties.
The Hotel Lobby with works by prominent New Zealand artists
From the moment we checked in we were gob smacked.  This is a hotel like no other, it is more like an art gallery with accommodation attached than a hotel. Dark walls enhance the many beautiful original art works lining them. Lush furniture and unusual lighting work in harmony with the works by prominent New Zealand artists. Chris Parkin collected the art over many years and with his enthusiasm for beauty and artistry, in many different forms, has included paintings, sculpture and even motor cycles for display. I have always had a feeling of peace and contentment when I walk into an art gallery and entering this hotel was no exception.
View from our room of the inter island ferry entering Wellington Harbour 
Our room was spacious and elegant with a good sized covered balcony and views out across Wellington Harbour.  It also had the funkiest mini bar I have ever seen with strip neon lighting and such wet weather delights as Domino sets, cards, Pick up Sticks and a shopping bag for purchase.
Funky and well stocked mini bar
Early evening drinks in the Hippopotamus bar under sparkling chandeliers while watching the inter island ferry arrive from the South Island was a great start to our night.  Then it was straight across the road  to the superb Field and Green restaurant for dinner before a pleasant walk along the waterfront to WOW.
The Hippopotamus Bar overlooking Wellington Harbour
We slept well and the next morning got up early to prowl the museum looking at the art on every level. We were reluctant to leave but, sadly, a flight awaited.
My daughter-in-law admiring a state of the art motor cycle on display.
I loved this hotel and can't wait to go back.  It is packed with character and style and is now my 'first choice' hotel in Wellington.  Apart from the ambiance and art it is perfectly located for most of Wellington's attractions.  The rooms are lovely with the bathrooms offering a choice of a standard or monsoon shower. The bar has an extensive list of  'by the glass' wines and the restaurant has an excellent reputation. It is higher end price wise but for the occasional splurge or a special occasion, why not?  It is well worth it, in my opinion.


Sunday, 1 October 2017

World of Wearable Art- WOW, a New Zealand Icon

Back in 1987 Nelson sculptor and artist, Suzie Moncrieff, wanted to promote a small art gallery in rural Nelson at the top of the South Island New Zealand.  She came up with an original concept of taking art out from galleries and displaying it on the human body. In doing so she created the entirely new genre of wearable art, an art which combines design, art, movement and drama, performed as a show supported by state of the art stage lighting and technology. World of Wearable Art was born.

A bit of Street Art outside the venue

The first performance, held at a small rural venue in Nelson, attracted around 200 people and was an instant success. Over the years its fame grew, becoming more and more popular, to the point that Nelson could no longer cater for the crowds wanting to attend.  In 2005 the show was moved to Wellington to take advantage of a larger venue, a bigger population and to be more accessible for the people who fly in from all over New Zealand and the world to attend. It now attracts an audience of around 50,000. In 1999 WOW won New Zealand's Supreme Tourism Award. Suzie Moncrieff was awarded the honour of Officer of the New Zealand order of Merit in 1998 and made a Dame Companion in 2012.

Today World of Wearable Art attracts work from designers all over the world.  From around 300 entries the best 170 make it to the stage with 400 people involved in the show's production. This year categories included Aotearoa, Avante-garde, Science Fiction, Red and Illumination. Winners from these and other categories shared a prize pool of $170,000  and offers of scholarships with companies such as Cirque du Soleil and Weta Workshops, founded by Peter Jackson and Richard Taylor of Lord of the Rings fame.

And the stage is set
I had been to WOW about 4 years ago and was gobsmacked by it.  I had never seen anything like it before. It is spectacular, awe inspiring, fun, mind blowing, colourful and intriguing. The imagination of the designers, and their precision in creating the garments, takes your breath away. If you have never been, I suggest it is a 'must do'. 

Last week my daughter-in-law and I flew to Wellington especially to see this year's WOW.   It was Jane's first time at WOW, and she had the same reactions as I'd had and I was no less amazed this second time round.   As we walked back to our hotel, along a calm and star lit waterfront, my daughter-in-law was very quiet then, after a while, she said she was simply stunned at the spectacle and creativity of it all.

This short clip, made a few years ago, is well worth watching. It gives you a small glimpse at the wonder of WOW and describes it so much better than I could.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Snorkeling Great Barrier Reef, Australia

In the back of an exercise book I have written a wish list of things I want to do before I am too old. My problem is that as soon as I tick something off I soon find something else to add. I think I'm going to have to live a very long life. Being in Port Douglas gave me the opportunity to tick snorkeling Great Barrier Reef, Australia off the list. It is something I had wanted to do all my life.

I did quite a bit of research before choosing to take a full day snorkeling tour with Wavelength Cruises. I chose this company because it was snorkel only, took small groups and was staffed by marine biologists who are conservationists and have a great knowledge of the ecology of the reef.  

At the reef (photo by Wavelength)
One of the 7 wonders of the natural world, and a world heritage site since 1981, the reef is 2300 Kilometres long, covers 300,000 square Kms and is made up of thousands of smaller reefs and around 600 islands.  We were going to spend the day snorkeling at three different spots on the 10k long Opal reef  where Wavelength has exclusive use of some sites.

After a very slick and efficient check in at Port Douglas Marina I joined the other 44 passengers aboard Wavelength 4 for the  90 minute trip out to the reef. Now I have been on boats all my life, I have traveled from New Zealand to England and back by sea, my family has always owned boats and I have never, ever been sea sick, or even queasy, but there is a first time for everything!  The trip out was incredibly rough with the boat being tossed around like a cork and I am embarrassed to say, I was sick, twice, but that was it, I felt perfectly fine for the rest of the day which is just as well because what a fantastic day it was.

As we approached the shelter of the reef the sea became calm and the water a combination of navy blue and the most beautiful clear turquoise.  Kitted out with wet suits and given information on what we would see, where we should go and the important etiquette required to protect  the reef we were off for an hour's snorkeling.  The underwater world is a magical place, it is beautiful, peaceful and other worldly, I love it. I couldn't have been happier sharing the water with masses of colourful tropical fish, coral, brightly coloured and otherwise (more on that later) and sensuously waving sea weed and grasses.

Morning tea was served aboard the boat and then we moved to another location for another hour of snorkeling, every bit as good as the first.  

A marine biologist crew member giving a lunch time lecture
After a generous lunch we were invted to a lecture on deck about marine life, the ecology of the sea, threats to the sea from pollution and global warming, and what to look for in coral.  It was all fascinating, I learnt so much I did not know. For example, urinating in the sea is damaging to the coral, as are certain sun screens ( Wavelength provide free sunscreen which is not harmful). Healthy coral is generally not brightly coloured but is usually olive green, brown, tan or pale yellow.  Brightly coloured coral is coral showing signs of stress, either because it is getting too much sunlight or the water temperature is rising.  The bright colours are from tiny organisms living on the coral.  Coral bleaching, or dead coral is a concern because healthy coral is vital for the health of the sea. Although periods of coral stress wax and wane, over the last few years the bad years have been getting closer together. Wavelength staff also monitor the reef for signs of coral bleaching, and hunt out the damaging crown of thorns starfish which feed on and kill the coral.  Another interesting fact is that people, trying to be helpful, attack crown of thorns by hacking at them, thinking they are killing them when in actual fact they are just causing them to multiply.  Each starfish has to be removed in its entirety to have any effect on diminishing the population.

We found Nemo - (photo: shutterstock)
After lunch we went to our third spot.  I enjoyed this spot the most because we were split into groups and taken on snorkeling tours with  marine biologist guides.  This was fantastic as our guide was able to dive down and show us things we may have missed.  My guide was able to point out barracuda basking on the sea bed below us, a giant clam which closed up when she waved her hand above it, several little clown fish aka Nemo, nestled amongst the sea weed, reef sharks  and countless other marine delights. I couldn't have been happier.
This large friendly fish came to see what was going on.
We had afternoon tea back on board the boat and then a pleasantly smooth trip back to the marina.  One of the crew sat and chatted with me a while.  I told her I was embarrassed about being sea sick on the way out and she told me she goes out most days and had felt sick not just me then!  Anyway, it was worth it. The day was everything I hoped it would be. I have done a lot of snorkeling over the years and this was my very best day ever, I am so glad I had this on my bucket list. End of the day - contentment.

I highly recommend Wavelength, and their young, enthusiastic and well educated crew. 
  NB: This post is not not sponsored by them, it is purely about my own experience. #wavelengthcruises #greatbarrierreef