Sunday, 28 February 2016

Kaipara Coast Sculpture Gardens

Regeneration by Murray Swan
Regular readers of my blog will know that I enjoy strolling around sculpture gardens, pondering the art, and soaking up their ambiance and scenery. As far as I'm concerned it is the perfect combination for a day out.  A week ago I took a drive into the country to visit the Kaipara Coast Sculpture Gardens, about an hour's drive from my home. What an unexpected delight.

 Owner, David Bayly, grew up on the land on his family farm. From an early age he developed a deep interested in plants and eventually bought a part of his father's  farm to turn into a very successful plant nursery.  The sculpture gardens were part of his vision and through the determination and sheer hard work of both David and his wife, Geraldine, they now form a sublime and tranquil backdrop for the art exhibitions they have held every year for the last eight years.

The Secret Life of Trees by Denise Marshall

 The one kilometre trail winds through a peaceful, rural valley with constantly changing vistas.  Along the twisting pathways you will find a well maintained vegetable garden and orchard, mown lawns and hydrangea lined paths, groves of pine trees and New Zealand bush reflecting in ponds, the whole coming together harmoniously.  Against this backdrop are the sculptures, 59 in all, carefully picked to suit their specific location.

 I liked the whimsical display of brightly coloured ladders, with amusing quotes written on them, set amongst the orchard, a contribution to the exhibition  from the Bayly's.
Example: Quote from Mae West "She climbed the ladder of success from wrong to wrong"

Hydrangeas by Janette Cervin

As with every sculpture trail some of the art is beautiful, some is challenging and some is more prosaic. It is a good mix. There are plenty of places to picnic and also seating for quiet contemplation.

Taraxacum Forest by Janet and Mario Downes
A recent addition to the gardens is a bush walk created by David and his father, Don, which winds down into a valley past a stream and a waterfall, sadly rather summer dry when I was there, but a lovely walk with excellent views out over the Kaipara Harbour.

The bush walk was carved  using traditional tools - wheelbarrow, shovel and rake
I spent about 2 and a half hours in the gardens, had them completely to myself and loved every minute of my visit. I was on a high for the rest of the day and will look forward to returning next year to see the new exhibition.  One thing to be aware of - 14 of the sculptures are on the long driveway into the gardens.  I nearly missed them and they are worth seeing. There is also a cafe within the plant nursery which was very busy the day I was there.  The current exhibition runs until October. 

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Dragonfly by Bruce Young

Seagulls by Jay Lloyd ( the Kaipara Harbour in the distance)

Monday, 22 February 2016

Auckland's Chinese Lantern Festival

 I bit the bullet on Friday and attended Auckland's lantern festival. My aversion to crowds meant that I have avoided it for the last few years but when I heard it had moved to a much more spacious venue I thought it was worth another visit.

Living in a large multicultural city has great benefits; there are numerous authentic, ethnic restaurants around the city serving delicious food from all corners of the globe and an increasing number of cultural festivals to enjoy. The downside is that there are also large crowds attending those same festivals.

2016 is the year of the Monkey
  Since Aucklanders of Chinese heritage now make up 10% of Auckland's population it is fitting that the Lantern Festival, timed to coincide with Chinese New Year, has become one of New Zealand's most popular festivals.  Held over four days it is a combination of stunning lanterns,specially created in Sichuan, China, which are hung from trees and scattered around the gardens, cultural performances and asian ethnic food stalls.  No wonder it is popular!

I think I played it just right this year.  I arrived early in full daylight.  Found parking very close to the venue, bought my dinner before any queues had formed and enjoyed the slowly developing spectacle as the sun went down and darkness descended. I watched martial arts displays, musical performances and, of course, the lion and dragon dances. Having viewed all the lanterns in their glory I made my way home as the crowds continued to swell to almost impossible proportions.  I felt very content if not slightly smug as I passed the food stalls with queues of 50 or more. Nevertheless the good thing about the new venue, the Auckland Domain, is that there is plenty of space surrounding the festival area to picnic and watch the festivities from a distance, away from the crush, if it gets too much for you.

Here are some of my photos from the night, they don't really do the lanterns justice.

Monday, 15 February 2016

To Cruise or not to Cruise? - that is the question

January 1963 aboard the MV Willem Ruys, England to New Zealand
"Our gang" - I'm on the far right

When I was 14  I traveled by sea from New Zealand to England  with my parents and three of my brothers.  The trip took around 5 weeks and was absolutely wonderful.  All those weeks of freedom, hanging out with other teenagers all day, indulging in heaps of innocent fun, no chores to do, entertainment and meals laid on and our parents relaxed in the knowledge that we were safe and happy.  15 months later we made the return journey and it was just as good.  Stops at exotic ports along the way were an exciting added bonus. They were some of the happiest times of my early life and are etched deeply in my memory.  Curiously I have never felt the urge to go on a cruise again.  Partly, I think, because my late husband suffered terribly from sea sickness and wouldn't entertain the idea, but also because I saw it as an activity for either the elderly or for young and rowdy party animals.  Nevertheless, when my brother rang and invited me to join him, his wife, and a couple of their friends on a very short cruise I jumped at the chance.  4 nights at sea seemed like the perfect tester to see if I liked it or not. So here is my list of the pros and cons of cruising:

1. Getting up early and walking around the ship when everyone else was still asleep.  Morning is my favourite time of day and having a deck to myself to enjoy amazing sunrises was bliss
Sunrises at sea are spectacular
2. Being mesmerised by the dark navy blue sea, the frothing whitecaps and the ship's wake
3. Sharing meals and company with friends and family. We had a delicious meal at the premium restaurant one evening.
4. No telephone, no internet, no news,  no chores, no cooking = no stress
5. Good quality shows in the theatre
The beautiful, captivating, endless sea
6. Unpacking my suitcase and not having to pack again until I left the ship
7. People watching - an endlessly fascinating pastime
8. Dolphins at sea and tug boats and pilots in port.
9. The Great Gatsby Party - a theme night on our particular cruise - loads of fun
The Great Gatsby Party - everyone got into the spirit of the night
10. The adults only Oasis bar on the rear deck
11. The gentle almost imperceptible rocking that lulled me to sleep each night
12. The feeling of well being from huge lungs full of fresh sea air

1. Crowds of people
2. Too much noise.  It seemed every time we were settled in a quiet bar for a chat a quiz competition or band started playing. Most of the entertainment in the bars was pretty cheesy. Several times we had to pick up our drinks and move elsewhere for some peace
3.  As above, trying to find a peaceful spot to settle with a book.  I did manage to find somewhere each day but it took some doing
At last!  A quiet place to read
4. The feeling of being trapped aboard
5. The short time in port. It is impossible to get to know a city in a few short hours.  I like to really get to know a place, mix with the locals, eat local food etc.  It didn't matter on this cruise because I had been to the one city we visited many times before but if I was going on a longer cruise I would feel cheated.
6. From my observations over many years I have noticed that prices suddenly go up in shops when a ship is in port and small towns get over run by large numbers coming ashore.  Some passengers like to wear their ship board ID cards proudly around their neck when they come ashore.  Big mistake!  You are advertising yourself as a cruiser and therefore fair game.

There are many grades of cruise ship from pretty basic to 6 star so it is a good idea to do your homework before booking a cruise to see what best suits you.  Some ships cater more to families and the young party set, others cater to the older generation looking for peace and quiet and yet others cater to everybody.

As you can see my "Pro" list is longer than my "Con" list.  Would I go on a cruise again?  Yes, I would, but it would be for the cruise itself, not to see the world. Cruising is a  relaxing, stress free holiday but  to see the world properly and get to know a people, place and culture, requires longer time ashore than a cruise can provide.