Thursday, 20 December 2012

Christmas in New Zealand

Down at the bottom of the world it is summer and hot beachy weather...and it is also Christmas week.  Today is glorious and sunny, making it hard for us to imagine a snowy, cold Christmas. Summer and Christmas go together for is what we are used to.  Anyway, where ever you are I wish you great joy and special family times this Christmas and best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2013.  A special thank you to my readers all over the world who look in on my blog from time to time, there are nearly 8000 of you now!  Tales of my French travels will continue next year, meanwhile here are some photos I took today in my suburb, St Heliers, Auckland.

St Heliers Bay with Pohutukawa in bloom. Because they always bloom at Christmas time
Pohutukawa are known as the New Zealand Christmas tree

St Heliers Bay 21 December 2012

St Heliers Bay shopping centre

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Musee Maurice Dufresne - France

The great thing about travelling with a group of people with varied interests is that sometimes you go to places you wouldn't normally think of going to on your own and you end up finding them fascinating.  For me, this was the case when one day four of us decided to visit the Musee  Maurice Dufresne, a short distance from Azay-le-Rideau in the Loire district of France.

 Maurice was born in 1930 and trained as a blacksmith. Eventually he built up his own very successful business in scrap metal dealing.  He noticed that a lot of old machinery was being tossed out for scrap once new technology was developed and it was from there that his passion to save old machinery, for posterity, grew.  He became an avid collector of all things mechanical, and much more besides, to the extent that his collection grew so vast he eventually bought an old, disused, paper mill to house it.  Today the collection consists of over 3000 items including Bleriot's plane used for his Channel crossing in July 1909. There are also between 500 and 600 period vehicles of all types,  pedal cars, washing machines, early bicycles, weapons, advertising posters, even an entire silk mill which he bought lock, stock and barrel and transported back to the museum. The centrepiece of the museum is the Fontaine water turbine, which was restored by Maurice and is fully working.

For those with a love of the macabre there is even a genuine French guillotine, said to have loped off more than 100 heads (pictured right)  and a rather creepy collection of wax heads of condemned people.

 Maurice died in 2008 but his legacy continues under the management of his daughter, Monique.  The museum is a popular place, visited by thousands every year  but the day we visited there was only a handful of people there and we were able to take a leisurely stroll around the exhibits.  The museum is so vast, though, I don't think a crowd would be a problem.

We wandered through the galleries for a whole afternoon...there was so much to take in, almost too much, and my mind turned continually to my late husband and son, both motor enthusiasts and lovers of machinery who would have been thrilled by it.  I would suggest a visit here would be a great antidote if you are all "Loire chateaued out". It is a gem of a place in a tranquil setting by the river and includes a bar and restaurant for refreshments and a gift shop for souvenirs.

Right: A complete silk mill which Maurice bought and set up in the museum,  It is exactly as it would have been, right down to the supervisor's desk and work books and the clock for staff to clock in and out on.

Below:  This is a travelling pedlar's cart, dating from the time of the French Revolution.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Des Goupillieres - Troglodyte Village - Loire Valley

Cave dwellers, known as troglodytes, have made their homes in the soft tufa or limestone cliffs along the Loire since medieval times.  Because the stone was easy to carve and maintained a constant year round temperature of around 12 degrees villagers were able to create simple, secure houses, largely protected from the elements. The idea of cave dwellers is fascinating and we were keen to explore at least one troglodyte village so, one morning, a few of us set off from Prieure de Relay for Des Goupillieres, a few kilometres out of the village of Azay-le-Rideau, tucked away up a small country lane and easy to miss if you don't know it's there. While many of the Loire  troglodyte settlements have now been turned into smart holiday accommodation, or private holiday homes, this village has been restored by its owners to as near authentic a medieval troglodyte village as possible.

The village was discovered by Louis-Marie Chardon who, as a boy, enjoyed roaming and exploring his father's orchard. It had been inhabited until around 1900 but by the time his father bought the land it was overgrown with trees and brambles.  Louis-Marie eventually inherited the property and started to restore it and today the village is laid out as a medieval farming village complete with various farm animals, orchards and vegetable gardens.  Unlike some of the other troglodyte villages it is not prettified, gardens are surrounded with rustic fences cut from branches and the animals are kept in various pens, just as they would have been when the village was a bustling subsistence community.

 We were surprised by the houses.  I imagined cave like structures but the rooms are, in fact, squared off as a regular room would be and have sophisticated built in ovens.  Most houses have an adjoining room, open to the living area, where their horse or donkey was kept.  Not only was this, their most valuable possession, kept safe and dry but the animal also helped keep the house warm. There is even an underground refuge accessed by a narrow tunnel, which none of us were game to enter, where the villagers hid from marauding enemies and robbers. 

I really enjoyed strolling around this village.  I could imagine life as it was so long ago, could almost see the villagers scurrying about their business, gardening, baking, caring for the animals. It must have been a tough existence but the morning we were there it was quiet and peaceful, the only sound birds chirping in the trees.  Oh, and the fact that the people must have been very short, judging by the door and ceiling heights, made me feel right at home!


Saturday, 3 November 2012

Prieure de Relay - Loire - France

All too soon our short stay in Paris came to an end and we were off on the train to Tours to meet up with a large group of friends, and friends of friends, we were joining for our three week holiday in France.

All went well...that is if you don't count nearly forgetting to get off at the right station then scrambling to get off in time, finding the rental car company we had booked a car from closed, getting lost trying to find our accommodation, which wasn't recognised on the GPS, and spending an hour waiting for help in the blazing sun...yes, apart from that all went well!  Oh, and I won't mention that the nameless driver of our rental car seemed to be very drawn to curbs along the way!

After being rescued by some friends, who had already booked into the accommodation, we found we had been searching in the wrong direction and, to be fair to ourselves, the owners do not widely advertise their location because they get as many bookings as they can comfortably cope with without needing to.

The delays were soon forgotten, though.  We were thrilled when we finally saw the  Prieure  de Relay, a 12th century priory with a colourful and fascinating history.  Founded in around 1108 for Benedictine nuns it was visited by various kings of France from Charlemagne to Louis XIV.  Joan of Arc also called in for refreshments as she treked across France.  The pathway she led her troops along runs right beside the priory grounds and is still used as a horse treking trail.  The buildings were ransacked by the French revolutionaries and  occupied by the Nazis during the second world war.  There are bullet marks in the exterior walls where the Germans held rifle practice.  Today it is is a serene, tranquil place, in the private hands of a French couple who have fully refurbished the interior and rent most of the property out as holiday accommodation....and it is beautiful.

We were delighted when we drove through the stone gate to see the ancient buildings looking picture perfect in the afternoon sun.  With geraniums spilling from window boxes, roses climbing  up the walls and shutters framing the windows it is a photographers delight.  It is located in the forest of Villandry, the nearest village, Sache, the home of the famous 19th century writer, Balzac, is 3kms away. The property has 30 acres of land including several fields of sunflowers which were at their best during our stay, their smiling golden faces paying daily homage to the morning sun.

Our group had the priory to itself.  The accommodation included the main priory building, where I was, together with half our group of twenty, and an adjoining farmhouse where the other half stayed.  I was allocated the smallest and plainest room and I couldn't have been happier. It was an original nun's cell, simply furnished with a view over the gardens and away from the blazing afternoon sun.  At night I slept with the curtains open enjoying a million sparkling stars and the occasional aeroplane in the distance, the only sound the occasional hooting owl.  It was so peaceful.

Left:  My room

It was a great pleasure to stroll and explore the grounds at the end of each day. The remnants of the large vegetable gardens and orchard are still visible.  The chapel is surprisingly intact although the Germans built a wall through the middle of it to use it for storage.  It is a lovely chapel and still used on occasion.  Joan of Arc is celebrated in a modern stained glass window (picture below).  There are caves which were used for storing food and wine and for hiding from enemies (now gated off for safety purposes) and a large dove cote which has been largely restored. 


We had a blissful week at this divine location, relaxing, reading, chatting, making occasional forays to the nearby village of Azay le Rideau and sightseeing.  Evenings were spent enjoying long lazy meals under the stars by the priory's atmospheric stone walls.  It was extremely hot - in the high 30s and even up to 40 degrees which, thankfully, ensured that the nine children under nine in our group spent most of the days at the swimming pool, with their parents, some distance from the main building and us!




Saturday, 20 October 2012

Paris - that most elegant of cities.

It  took me all of about five minutes to agree to go to France for a three week adventure with my sister-in-law and a group of her friends.  It was a grey, rainy morning when she rang to ask  me to join her and visions of a European summer and, more truthfully, baguettes, french cheese, french wine and general all round slothfullness turned my head mighty quickly.  We were to meet up with the group at a small town in the Loire district but would first spend a short time in Paris before rendezvousing with them.

Paris is, well, Paris and I cannot add anything much of value to the screeds and screeds already written about this wonderful city.  So here are just a few of my observations and a couple of, perhaps, helpful tips.

Elegance everywhere you look
We booked into a small, inexpensive, independent hotel in a sublime location.  Hotel Quai de Voltaire is basic, to say the least, but clean, welcoming and every room has its own en suite bathroom which, as far as I'm concerned, is essential.  The hotel's location, right on the River Seine and directly opposite The Louvre, is ideal.  Our room looked out across the river with a great view of the river boats going up and down and the famous riverside bookstall holders plying their trade.  We chose not to have breakfast at the hotel because the small on-site restaurant, while it looked romantically like a scene from an old french movie, reeked of cigarette smoke, an anathema to we New Zealanders used to smoking being banned from all restaurants.  Be warned - the French are very heavy, and defiant smokers.

Crowds waiting to go up the Eiffel Tower

As it was August, and the height of the tourist season, all major attractions had lengthy queues.  We did not even attempt to go up the Eiffel Tower, or into Notre Dame, as we were not prepared to waste precious hours standing in queues.  I had been to Paris on a couple of other occasions and had done these things before but it was a shame for Mary for whom this was a first visit. She was philosophical, though, "Great excuse to come back to Paris" she said.  Instead we took the hop on - hop off bus which is fantastic value and visits all the main attractions of this most beautiful and elegant of cities. We enjoyed this trip so much we did the complete circuit twice, sitting in comfort  in the glorious sunshine on the open top deck.

Unfortunately I had built the manic traffic around the Arc de Triomphe up a little too much, I think. Well it had been manic last time I was there but on this particular day it was quiet and restrained, much to Mary's disappointment.

 Tip 1:  Go to Paris late September or early October when the weather is still good but the crowds have diminished.

Tip 2: Buy a ticket to the Louvre the day before your visit, as we did, to ensure quick entry the next day.

Art Noveau bistro - so Parisienne
It was a great feeling to sail past long snaking queues at the Louvre and walk straight in. We watched aghast as bus load after bus load of tourists raced in and ran, and I mean literally, ran, to see the Mona Lisa. Ten minutes later they were all heading back to their buses... they reminded me of trophy collectors - "that's done then, now we can tick the Mona Lisa off our list."  We decided to go in the opposite direction and what wonderful treasures we discovered.  Our most exciting find was an exhibition of delicate, moody, watercolours by French artist, Eugene Isabey (1803 - 1886), which we spent quite sometime admiring, having the gallery almost to ourselves.

Other delights of Paris we enjoyed were a visit to Hediard, the stunning delicatessen in la Madelaine district, an afternoon of lustful " not shopping" in Galleries Lafayette, window shopping in some of the side streets away from the main tourist traps and long, lazy, bistro meals people watching.
Hediard delicatessen
People watching has to be some of the best fun in Paris.  Goodness me, they are an elegant lot!  As the weather was warm, and sultry, pavement side dining was a joy.  One evening we had a delicious meal at a bistro near our hotel.  A middle aged woman dining alone at the table next to us kept stopping the busy waiter for a chat and holding him in conversation.  He seemed happy to chat and we thought they must know each other well.  They seemed friendly and companionable - that was until she got the bill for her meal.  Then she began to argue about how many glasses of wine she had had.   He said it was three, she said it was two, he pointed to the empty glasses on her table.  She was not happy and after paying the full bill flounced out of the restaurant with gesticulations, gallic shrugs and filthy looks at the waiter.  We wondered if she had been trying a charm offensive on the waiter earlier, whatever, it was very entertaining.

All too soon our brief sojourn in Paris came to an end but we had so much more to look forward to  and so  it was that  with great anticipation we headed to the railway station to catch the train to Tours, in the Loire district.

Here's to a great holiday!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

San Francisco - Foggy and Friendly

This week I went to San Francisco for the first time.  Everyone I know who has been there told me I would love it, that it was a wonderful place so I was really looking forward to the visit.  And I did find it wonderful but probably not for the reasons others had told me.

San Francisco is rather strange in that although it is known as the city on the bay the central city area is cut off from the sea on one side by the very steep hills which the picturesque cable cars labour up and down all day, carrying mainly tourists and by the financial district on the other.  It is also very hard to find an area which you could call the heart of the it where city hall stands?  Is it Market Street where the good shopping is?  Is it famous Union Square where artists display their work and which is surrounded by high end retailers?  Is it  Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf where seals bask on floating pontoons and locals and tourists alike flock for meals and recreation?  And there are other unique areas the financial district, China Town and Little Italy.  During my time there I couldn't decide where the heart of the city was but I did decide that the people of San Francisco are the friendliest, most obliging, helpful people I have met in a long time.  For me they were the heart of San Francisco.

And I was fascinated by the stunning architecture of the city.  My sister in law and I stayed in a beautiful Personality Hotel, Kensington Park, just off Union Square.  The hotel is from the Art Nouveau era and is decorated authentically.  The staff were outstanding, rooms lovely, view over Union Square excellent..  This is definitely a hotel to be recommended and not just for the free sherry served in the lounge each early evening! But all over San Francisco there is beautiful architecture. I had heard of the painted ladies..a row of pretty wooden houses on a hill above the city but everywhere there are chocolate box three story houses with lavish and flamboyant decorations.  They look like something out of a Macy's Christmas catalogue...too cutesy pie to be real and decidedly charming for it. The towered green building from the art nouveau period which belongs to Francis Ford Coppola juxtaposed with the tall needle building behind makes an exciting visual is a city which values all styles of architecture.

So then the famous Golden Gate bridge...I crossed it twice but never saw it.  It was completely shrouded in thick fog however I did love the authentic Japanese Gardens in Golden Gate Park and was gob smacked by the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition at the art gallery although I found the nearby Academy of Sciences rather light weight.

So...San Francisco..what do I think?  A very pleasant city with a lively cultural scene, interesting architecture and truly lovely people....that has to be pretty good, doesn't it? And good enough reasons to visit.

p.s. I have photos to go with this but cannot put them up for some reason.  I will insert them at a later date.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

A South Seas Dream - Vila Chaumieres - Vanuatu

Vanuatu is a relatively unspoilt island paradise, kind off how I imagine Fiji used to be before it became over commercialised.  The people of Vanuatu (Ni-Vanuatu) are warm and friendly with ready, dazzling smiles so, not surprisingly,  Vanuatu has been named as the happiest country in the world in several surveys.  As Mark Lowen of Vanuatu Online has said " People are generally happy here because they are very satisfied with very little.  This is not a consumer driven society.  Life here is about community, family and good will to other people.  It is a place where you don't worry too much."  I think we can learn much from them!  I have been  to many  pacific islands but Vanuatu is my favourite as the ideal destination for a laid back and relaxing holiday. There are a few resorts on the main island of Efate but still few enough that the island does not feel over run with tourists.  Oh dear, I hope I am not speaking too soon. Mind you if you are looking for full on five star luxury resorts, there are very few.

My husband and I spent an idyllic week on  Efate, a few years ago and an absolute highlight of our stay was the evening we went to dine at Vila Chaumieres, the most romantic of restaurants in a quiet and simply stunning location about four kilometers from the centre of the main town, Port Vila. A short walk from the road takes you through immaculate tropical gardens  to the restaurant. Located right on the edge of Erakor Lagoon it is a simple fare-like structure hanging out over the water. Lights shine down into the water to attract all sorts of sealife for the visual enjoyment of the diners.  Apart from a multitude of fish we saw crabs and star fish and heard the occasional splash and slap as larger fish leapt out of the water beyond the lights.  The palm trees on the other side of the narrow lagoon are also lit and look romantic and ghostly as they flutter gently in the breeze. We could see flickering lights from cooking fires in the villages through the palms and hear the occasional dog barking in the distance. There was a timelessness about it all. The food was outstanding and the service friendly, attentive and not intrusive.  On the evening my husband I dined there large white gardenias floated past us at regular intervals, almost as if someone upstream was dropping them in the water just for us.  It was just so absolutely romantic it nearly brought tears to my eyes.
My late husband in Vanuatu.  The sign says in pidgin " Sipos Yu wantem ferry yu kilim gong"
i.e. If you want the ferry ring the gong.

When my husband was very ill I told him I would take him for a holiday anywhere he would like to go...he asked to go to Vanuatu and specifically mentioned returning to Vila Chaumieres.  I duly booked and paid for the trip but, sadly, he was too ill to go and never got to return there.  About a year later I used the booking to travel back with my son and his girlfriend, now his wife.  It was a sad and nostalgic trip which included an evening at Vila Chaumieres where we toasted my late husband and shared memories of him. It was a wonderful evening and  I can think of no better place to remember him...he would have been delighted.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Saltaire - Yorkshire - England

Salt's Mill on the River Aire
Saltaire - the name conjures up images of briny breezes and crashing waves so it was somewhat of a surprise to find that this small Yorkshire town is completely landlocked.  Not named for the sea, Saltaire takes it's name from both its founder, Titus Salt, and it's location on the banks of the River Aire. One morning, a couple of years ago, I took the half hour train trip from Leeds, to explore what is said to be one of the world's finest examples of 19th century industrial town planning. Saltaire gained UNESCO World Heritage status in 2001

Titus Salt was a highly successful 19th century mill owner in the heavily populated and polluted industrial town of Bradford.  Astute, civic minded and deeply religious he owned five large mills around the city making his fortune mainly from weaving the then little known alpaca wool into fine fabric. A philanthropic soul he grew increasingly concerned about the squalid and impoverished living conditions of his workers so decided to build a new town to house both his mill and his workers.  It was a completely purpose built, some would say, Utopian, town and provided every facility imaginable including a church, school, hospital, recreational hall, shops but no pub...definitely no pub!  Although not teetotal himself Titus had seen the havoc caused by drink in Bradford and insisted his workers did not drink in Saltaire. Today a trendy restaurant and bar on the main street takes a swipe at this paternalistic rule.  It is called "Don't Tell Titus"

The best place to start a tour of Saltaire is at the mill.  This colossal building, across the road from the railway station, looks more like a palace than an industrial building.  It is 545 feet long and six stories high and is now home to vast open plan galleries, shops and restaurants.  It also houses the largest collection of, local boy, David Hockney paintings in the world.  You can pick up a good quality print for 20 pounds.....or, if you're feeling flush, a 3000 pound Charles and R Eames chair from the Home Design Store.  If shopping is not your thing you can stop for a bite at the hugely popular Salt's Diner, (interior design by David Hockney) for bangers and mash, pizza or something a little more upmarket.  The Mill is a weekend destination of choice for the people of Leeds, York and Manchester so I suggest visiting on a weekday to avoid crowds. It would be easy to spend the whole day in the mill but don't.  Watch the short informative film in the Saltaire history gallery then head out into the town to see first hand the fruition of Titus Salt's vision.

Boarding houses provided for single workers
The carefully preserved town is laid out in a grid pattern with the streets all named after members of the royal family or Titus' own family, which included 11 children. Most of the original town remains as it was when he built it.  He provided every level of housing, from boarding houses for single men to grand houses for the company managers.  The history of Saltaire notes that workers were delighted with their accommodation which, no matter how humble, was a giant leap in quality from their previous homes in Bradford.  It is interesting to note that Titus did not live in the town himself but in a mansion high on a hill overlooking it to escape the grime and smoke from the giant mill chimneys.  There is a whole other story to tell about his home.  Maybe another time. 

The alms houses for the aged or infirm
Despite his paternalistic attitude, Titus genuinely cared for his workers.  he was keen that everyone receive a good education and provided good schooling for the mill workers' children and training courses for the adults.  He also provided alms houses for the aged and infirm.  The alm houses, in warm yorkshire stone, are pretty and, no doubt, desirable residences today. The terrace houses are still modest homes, backing on to tiny alley ways and some of the grander homes look, well, grand. The public buildings are solid and impressive.

Saltaire Club and Training Institute
 It is quite incredible to think that the whole town with its schools, churches, hospital , recreational club etc was built by one man to better provide for his workers. The facilities in the Saltaire Club and Institute were astonishing.  There was a reading room, a library, a laboratory, chess and draughts rooms, smoking room, billiards room, lecture theatres, schools of Art and Science, a gymnasium and a rifle drill room. No wonder Saltaire was held up as a beacon for industrial towns.  In return for all these facilities and the higher quality of life the workers were expected to toe the line.  Churches of several non conformist denominations were built and the workers and their families were expected to attend and mill managers watched over the town from watchtowers above their homes to ensure "all was well in the town". Over the years the mill's fortunes fluctuated, mainly as a result of world events it had no control of and in 1929, in order to avoid bankruptcy, the town's housing was sold off enabling the mill  to continue  trading until 1986.  After that the mill fell into disrepair and it was only through the vision of a local man, the late Jonathan Silver, that it was restored and reopened as the popular destination it now is.

I loved my stroll around Saltaire with its views across the Yorkshire countryside.  I ended my day at the local bakery for a cup of yorkshire tea and the local curd tart before catching the train back to Leeds.  Saltaire is a little known gem providing a fascinating insight into a, thankfully, bygone time when an employer could completely control his workers.  The people of Saltaire were just fortunate that their boss was Titus Salt.

Left: The manger's watchtower so he could make sure the locals were behaving

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Napier - the Art Deco capital of the world

Many small towns claim to be the world capital of something or other in order to make their mark and draw tourists in.  Their claims are often just that, claims, however, Napier's claim to be the Art Deco capital of the world is a more realistic one.  The only other city in the world to have, perhaps, an equal claim is South Beach in Miami where the prevalent architectural style is Streamline Moderne, a later Art Deco style.
Art Deco colonnade on Napier waterfront - a memorial to those
who lost their lives in the 1931 earthquake

The massive earthquake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale,  which struck Hawke's Bay, and Napier in particular, on February 3rd 1931 remains the biggest earthquake in New Zealand's history with the greatest loss of life. 256 people died in the region and the town of Napier was reduced to rubble.  What remained standing was soon engulfed in a fire which smoldered for days.  Because the water pipes had been fractured firemen could do little but stand by and watch the city burn.  Both my parents-in-law were in the earthquake and it was something they never forgot and talked of often, right up to their deaths.

Overlooking the suburb of Ahuriri. The flat land in front of the mountain
 range was  thrown up from the seabed in the earthquake.

This terrible tragedy, however, has had some very positive spin offs. 9000 acres or 3600 hectares of land was thrown up from the sea bed and  marshland on the edge of the town giving Napier room to expand and to provide a site for the city's airport.  It also gave the city a chance to rebuild in a modern style which it did in an astonishingly short two years.

Main street Napier.

The fashionable style of architecture at the time was Art Deco and it was ideal for the rebuild.  It's stucco construction was economical, it was a move away from the heavy masonry which killed and maimed so many in the earthquake and it provided Napier with the image of a city looking to the future.  Although other styles, such as Spanish Mission and Stripped Classical, were used in the rebuild it was Art Deco with, in some cases, the unique New Zealand twist of incorporating Maori motifs, which was the most popular.

Since my late husband's relatives on both sides of his family are from Hawke's Bay we were regular visitors there over the years.  I remember the first few times I visited Napier it looked  shabby and old fashioned, but not any more.  Napier has embraced its Art Deco heritage with pride and the city now looks wonderful.  The buildings are protected, restored, maintained and treasured. The soft ice cream colours of the buildings and the palm tree lined streets evoke the 1930s era of glamour.

The much photographed Tobacco Company building is a mix of Art Deco
and Art Nouveau styles

 Each year in February the city holds an Art Deco festival with over 200 events celebrating the 1930s and 40s.  People flock to it from all over the world to enjoy the huge vintage car parade, a Great Gatsby style picnic, garden parties and jazz concerts among a myriad of other events. All year round walking tours, organised by the Art Deco Trust, are available for visitors.  I have done one and loved it.  On my visit to Napier last week to visit family and friends I spent a lot of my time just walking around the city centre enjoying the Art Deco architecture and detailing.  There is so much to see, it was a real pleasure and is definitely a "must see" city for any Art Deco enthusiasts.

Shop front detailing, Napier

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Waipu - golf, stunning scenery and history

One thing, among many, that we are blessed with in New Zealand is an infinite number of beautiful and accessible golf courses.  As a keen golfer it is always a pleasure for me to play on a course I have never played before so last week when a couple of friends invited me to join them for a game at Waipu I jumped at the chance.  Waipu is just south of Whangarei, around an hour and a half's drive north of Auckland. It is a well groomed, coastal, links course with stunning views and excellent greens.  We had a brilliant day strolling down the fairways under glorious skies with waves rolling in on the shore and  dramatic islands dotting the sparkling sea. We were charged only $10 each green fees and  pretty much had the course to ourselves.  It was a great way to spend a day. HINT: The green fees vary from day to day and depending on the time of day so check with the club beforehand if you want to be sure of the charge.

Views of the Waipu Golf Course

The nearby tiny village of Waipu boasts a museum recording one of the most remarkable migrations to New Zealand.    Scotsman Norman McLeod was a feisty character who lost his preaching license in his village in Scotland due to conflict with the established minister and consequently left to settle in Nova Scotia, Canada in 1817. There was already quite a large settlement of Scots there due to the land clearances in Scotland and many others soon followed.  By this time Norman was a fully ordained Presbyterian minister and his stern, firebrand style appealed to many of his fellow countrymen who became faithful followers known as Normanites.  After a few years of harsh weather conditions and failing crops the Normanites led by Rev McLeod decided to try their luck in Australia.  The sea trip was gruelling and challenging but they finally made it.  Australia, however, was not the promised land they had hoped for, land prices had soared due to the gold rush and three of Rev McLeod's sons died of typhus there.  The struggling group once again,  looked for greener pastures.  They made a plea to Governor Grey of New Zealand for some land, he obliged and the Normanites sailed for New Zealand settling in Waipu and the surrounding area in 1853.  Eventually others followed from Scotland with the number of settlers rising to almost 1000. They spoke Gaelic, maintained their heritage and thrived in New Zealand. Today their descendants number tens of thousands. Although Gaelic is no longer spoken and there has been much intermarriage  Waipu is still immensly proud of its Scottish heritage with a Scottish Heritage shop and many of the street names reflecting the history of the Normanites, there is even a registered Waipu tartan.  In order to celebrate its heritage the village holds an annual and highly popular Tartan Week and Caledonian games celebrating all things Scottish..

The history of the Normanites is reflected in the street signs. The museum at Waipu is worth a visit.  It is an excellent, small museum with audio visual and interactive displays and a superb gift shop with a wide range of products including tartan rugs which can be made to order.