Monday, 27 June 2011

Wellington - It's a capital city!

I love Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand.  Yes, sure, it has terrible weather, is built on an earthquake fault line, and is full of bureaucrats and politicians.  And, yes, flying in or out over the wind swept ocean and between mountain ranges can be hair raising, to say the least, but it is a stunning little city in so many ways.

 I love that it is compact and so easy to get around.
Much admired, and often painted, houses
 overlooking Wellington Harbour
 I love the brilliant waterfront walk studded with art works and poetry quotations carved into stone.  I love Kircaldie and Staines, the grand old department store, an essential port of call for my every visit to the city.  I love the fact that because it is so windy nobody owns an umbrella yet everyone owns a full length rain coat.  I love the wonderful supermarket in the railway station.  I love the (relatively!) efficient public transport systems.  I love the bizarre place names like Scorching Bay and Worser Bay and Stout Street which conjur up visions of a burning beach, a horrible beach and a fat street waddling along. I love Days Bay's quaint tearooms and old world atmosphere.. I love Old St Pauls church, a glorious example of colonial wooden architecture.  I love the wealth of art galleries and museums.  Goodness, I even love Wellington's self proclaimed but inaccurate boast of being the cultural capital of New Zealand.  I love its insecurity when it eyes big brother, Auckland and its "look at me, look at me," little brother attitude. I love the cable car and the stunning views of the city and harbour from the top. I love the light traffic flow on the streets during the day. I love the cafes, my favourite - Smith the Grocer in the sublime Old Bank Arcade.
I love the scruffy, funky bohemian feel of Cuba St with its much loved by some and and hated by others, but nevertheless mesmerising, bucket fountain. I love the artificial nikau palm pillars at the city library. I love its vast number of old but character filled houses. .....And I especially love that several members of my family live there so I can visit often.   Please don't change Wellington, you are lovely as you are.
Artificial nikau palms
Cuba St bucket fountain
Poetry on the waterfront walk

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Mt Maunganui - Big Mountain

A couple of weeks ago I had a brilliant weekend with my two sons and their wives in Mount Maunganui, a small seaside town about 3 hours south of my home town, Auckland. Affectionately known  as "the Mount" and "Surf City" for its famous golden sands, excellent surf and deep sea diving and, of course, the mountain, it is a popular spot for people from all walks of life from retirees to family groups to the summertime party animals.  Its hard not to like its laid back, holiday atmosphere,beautiful beaches and thriving cafe culture.
View from "The Mount"
One  son and his wife were visiting from England so our objective was to have some fun quality time together and visit a part of New Zealand my Irish daughter in law had not seen before. Once settled into our accommodation we were all keen to climb the mountain, an extinct volcano.  Maunganui means big mountain in Maori but at 232 metres it isn't really very big by mountain standards.  Nevertheless I can tell you it looked mighty big from the bottom looking up and anticipating the climb!  The last time I had climbed the mountain was around 20 years ago and then it was quite a job to scramble up the rocks to get to the top.  It is much easier now with well developed tracks and stairs winding up the side.  It still took a bit of effort, though, not helped by the many smarty pants fitness freaks who sprinted up and down the mountain beside us as we trudged our way ever upwards. The climb is well worth the effort, though, the rewards are stunning views from the top, a sense of satisfaction....and, maybe, justification for that big fat muffin we all had for morning tea.
With my wonderful family on Mt Maunganui
 The Mount is also known for  its hot salt water pools at the base of the mountain, the ideal relaxant after the sweaty climb.  We didn't go there this time, though, because our hotel had its own hot pools where we spent a blissful, relaxing time  basking and chatting in the comforting water.

The next day we took a walk along the golden sand beach and out to a small offshore island, accessible at low tide.  Fishermen were perched along the rocks casting huge surf rods into the navy blue sea and hauling in fish for their evening meal.  I reckon the island would be a perfect picnic spot with its sheltered bays and grassy clearing, ideal for whiling away a lazy I-wonder-what-everyone-else-is-doing-at-work kind of day. 

My late husband talking to an old gold miner 
Karangahake Gorge 1970s
The trip between Auckland and The Mount is worth doing for itself.  Typical New Zealand countryside of rolling farmland is punctuated by stretches of flat plains, bordered by mountains and cute provincial towns.  Worth mentioning is the Karangahake Gorge, a ravine which cuts through a mountain range and was once the site of a gold mining frenzy a hundred and thirty or so years ago.  The winding road through the gorge follows the beautiful Ohinemuri River which twists and bubbles its way along the ravine floor.  Many years ago my husband and I were traveling through the gorge when we spotted an old gold miner's hut on the far side of the river.  We made our way across and whiled away an hour or so chatting to the old timer who lived, very happily, in his old shanty forever dreaming of striking that rich seam in the hill side one day.  His hut is long gone now and I feel very privileged to have had this tiny contact with the colourful gold mining history of the area.  Further on is the town of Katikati, one of the major kiwi fruit growing areas of New Zealand.  In an effort to entice more tourists to the town someone came up with the idea of painting murals on many of the shop and public buildings facades.  Well worth a stop they are fantastic, portraying the history of the town and scenery from around the area.

So that was pretty much our weekend....walking, drinking, eating, browsing the wide range of attractive shops at The Mount and hanging out drinking coffee in a few of its excellent cafes.  It was the perfect get-away weekend and such a joy to be together  enjoying each others company.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

My five minutes of fame

On my recent trip to England I was killing time at the railway station in Bath, waiting for a train connection.  A woman on the platform kept catching my eye and smiling at me.  It was a little unnerving.  Eventually she bounded up to me and our exchange went like this:
Woman: "Hello! How are you?"
Me, smiling: "Hello!  Very well thank you"
Woman: "How did you enjoy your holiday?"
Me, becoming bemused: "I had a lovely time, thank you"
Woman: "You went to Spain, didn't you?"
Me, becoming more bemused: "No, it was Italy"
Woman, a bit crest fallen: "Oh, I read it was Spain"
Me, the penny dropping: "No, it was Italy"
Woman: "Don't I know you off television?"
Me: " No, I'm a New Zealander visiting my family"
Woman, blushing furiously: "I'm terribly sorry!"
Me: "Don't worry, it will be nice to imagine being rich and famous for a little while"
Woman beats a hasty retreat down the platform and stands as far away from me as possible.
I stand there smiling and reflecting that if I really was rich and famous I would not be standing on a draughty platform waiting half an hour  for a suburban train.

Later my daughter-in-law trawls through anyone she can think of on television who looks remotely like me and comes up blank.  She concludes I must resemble someone off a daytime soap or some similar programme she never watches.  Now it's my turn to look crestfallen, my hopes of a lucrative career as a celebrity look-alike dashed.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Hong Kong - Fragrant Harbour

Now my time with the family is at an end it is sad farewells and I am on my way home.  I've got a couple of nights in Hong Kong which is always fun.  I love Hong Kong, the hustle and bustle, the interesting street life, the food, the shopping, the buzz.  I have decided to splash out and stay at the Sheraton right by the harbour in Kowloon.  My room is in the Towers, the executive floor, and has a magnificent view of the harbour and Hong Kong Island opposite.  The view is so lovely and the room so good that I am tempted to just sit by the window and watch the activity on the harbour, reputed to be the busiest  in the world,  instead I head out for a long lazy stroll up Nathan Rd.
View from my hotel room.........

....and another view from my room
  I traveled to Hong Kong many times for work and know the good shopping spots and markets so make my way to a favourite market which is largely unfamiliar to tourists.  I wander up and down  the market not seeing  anything much I want to buy. I have found lately that  I am less and less interested in actually buying things but do still enjoy looking. I buy my grandson a shirt and forget to bargain, paying twice its local value It still seems  a reasonable price, though. Further on is the famous tourist trap, the Ladies Market.  I walk up and down buying a few small gifts for friends and family AND remembering to bargain with good success.

T shirts for tourists - Ladies Market
Chicken for dinner anyone?
Later, back at the hotel, I take advantage of their generous Happy Hour which offers free drinks and plenty of finger food in the guest lounge. Goody, no need to buy dinner tonight!  I meet an interesting Singaporean man and his son-in-law and we have an enjoyable evening talking about everything under the sun from politics to geography to history to children. Back in my room I take a bath which has a clear view to the television and right across the bedroom to the harbour.  I lie in the foaming bath watching the CNN news and the nightly laser and light show on Hong Kong decadent is that? Luxury! The next day it rains so I take my time at breakfast and watch the harbour activity before a walk around town.  I stroll through Kowloon Gardens, an oasis for the teeming millions who live in the city.  It is verdant and pleasant with winding paths, quiet contemplation areas, a large walk-in bird aviary and flamingos on the lake.  Then it's back for a complimentary afternoon tea in the hotel lounge while looking out at a grey and drizzly city and later another happy hour before walking down to the sea front, to watch the light show again.  I have seen it many times but still enjoy it.  Loud speakers along the sea front play music synchronised with the lights and lasers which run up and down the sky scrapers surrounding the harbour.  When I watched it from my room last night the show was greatly diminished by the lack of music.  The rain has stopped and it is a beautiful evening.  I find a perfect spot and wait for the show to start.  Some friendly Australians are standing near by and we have a good chat.  The show is, as always, excellent.

The light show..a feeble attempt at photographing it!
The next day I am heading home.  The transport system in Hong Kong is brilliant.  A free shuttle bus takes me to the Kowloon train station and a $20NZ train trip takes me to the airport...quick, efficient and painless.  The new(ish) Hong Kong airport is lovely, bright, modern and spacious.  A quick check in, a short wait and I am on my way home.  I love visiting Hong Kong but wouldn't want to live there.  The skyscraper apartment blocks are packed in to the tiny land mass and the streets are crowded.  I am now looking forward to the green,  space and beauty of New Zealand.