Monday, 4 March 2013

Last two days on North Island

The main focus of Sunday Feb 24th was to get to Henderson, west of Auckland to see Sam, Dietmar and family who had left our circle in Chertsey 9 months earlier in search of a better life. I paced my long journey well and arrived within the accepted time frame at a house that immediately said 'Yes, we do have a better lifestyle'. Sam and I caught up with what was going on in each others lives, and generally chewed the fat about many things pagan. After a good meal with her family, and equally good conversation with all of them, as dusk was falling, I took to the road again for the hour drive to Matakana.

I got to Natalie's around 10.15, very tired and hot. Not long after I was cooling off with a skinny dip in the pool – liberating maybe, but mistake certainly for I got mozzie bites in places I shouldn't have!

Monday was a day for just chilling in the relaxing settings of Matakana, and taking stock of everything before leaving for Dunedin to stay with Roz the next day.

Spending so much time driving, I had plenty of time to reflect and also think about the next stage of my journey. I was now getting to the end of my holiday and had to think about the UK again. A few work related issues had been emailed to me and I was slowly beginning to be more aware of time and date, things that I hadn't had to think of at all this year. I began to think about the long haul home. I had booked budget airlines most of the way so couldnt change them at all. I had booked to have 5 days in Bangkok again, but 2 things made me feel this was not what I wanted. Firstly, the idea of facing food that made me ill did not appeal, and having a long haul flight on top of it made it worse. Secondly, Andy was not going to be in Thailand as work had taken him to Manilla for a month. Andy was at least a barrier or defense to help me find food that was OK for me. So on that drive north across the NZ landscape, I decided to see if I could bring my return from Bangkok forward so that I only had one night there. I couldnt change the NZ to Thailand flights. Luckily, the next day when I phoned the travel agents, it was possible.

Having sorted out that in my head, I began to reflect on the means by which I ear my crusts. For a while the universe had been knocking on my door telling me it was time to teach healing etc again. I am very happy with my work teaching English and don't want to stop that at all. Furthermore it is a passport to travel, I am not prepared to forego. However, my days with Patrick and Natalie had awakened that aspect of me, so maybe it is time to do something. Exactly what and when is to be sorted, but it would seem that its a skill I have and should be used. Also my conversation with Sam seemed to give me a deeper connection to the earth based spirituality that I follow. I feel, having spoken to her, that my Firedance Circle will continue perhaps opening up new avenues of thought to explore, possibly reflecting on lessons from my sojourn to The New World.

Journeys are not necessarily just a means of getting from A to B, or for pleasure. They can also reflect journeys of the spirit and soul as well as education. My experiences had been all this, and now it was time to start steering homeward.

There was one last bit of my holiday to enjoy, and on Tuesday, I returned my hire car and flew to Dunedin on the south island to stay with Roz and her parents for a week. Roz' sunny disposition and never failing support when I ran The London Reiki & SKHM Healers group was always a breath of fresh air, and all I needed was to be around her again. It would be interesting to see her on home territory this time.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

The Bay Cities

I was glad to reach a more varied landscape on the outskirts of Napier, and easily navigated to Chris' house in Hastings, arriving around 5. A cuppa and a natter later, and the years began to roll back from our last meeting. Chris was determined to show me as much about the Kiwi lifestyle she could in the brief time we had together. It was refreshing to see it through her eyes as a settler rather than a local who maybe took too much for granted. She prepared a good meal of local lamb and home grown salads. When I said how much I loved lamb she asked if I would like it again the next day, and went about hauling an enormous side of lamb out of the freezer. No chance of going hungry in this household, just like the old days when our kids were at nursery together!

On Saturday, I woke around 7.20 am which rather surprised me as I have been sleeping a lot longer than that recently. As I made my way to the bathroom, Chris asked me if I had felt 'it'. 'Nope, what?' was my reply. The earthquake she explained. Well I hadn't consciously felt anything but it almost certainly was the reason I had woken earlier than usual. That area has a history of earthquakes and a later check online showed that there were several that day, but the 7.2o one was the largest at 4.8.

In 1931 Napier had a large quake that really shaped it future. Napier sits towards the southern end of Hawkes Bay, on the coast. (Hastings is a few miles further south and inland, but the 2 cities are often referred to in the same breath as The Bay Cities – well, in tourist bumpf at least. In the UK neither would merit as a city on size alone.) The beaches of Napier are long, clean and inviting. There are some deceptive rip currents, which make swimming a bit dangerous. Looking out across the sea you cant see another island or landmass. It's a case of next stop Chile. Consequently, earthquakes in Chile can produce tsunami warnings in Napier, and indeed Chris has seen one of about metre. Further up the coast in Matakana, Natalie said that Tsunami warnings were no strangers to her lifestyle, but the biggest to date hadn't even reached a metre. Here she said what went on in Japan influenced their risk too.

Back to 1931. A 7.8 earthquake destroyed Napier, and claimed 256 lives through the ensuing fires. Houses were, and still are, mainly built of wood in this area. The ship lap construction can be seen throughout the country. Although the wood used is often the native Kauri which is extremely hard, it is not magical and still burns well. The houses are generally single storey bungalows, (land is plentiful so why bother with staircases?). Most of the city was flattened and had to be rebuilt. Since there was severe economic depression, workers cam from far and wide, and within 2 years the city had been rebuilt in the current modern style, Art Deco, with some Spanish Mission and some Stripped Classical. To this day the area is internationally renowned for its 1930's architecture, and often is used as a filming location for anything of that period.

The first sightseeing Chris took me on was naturally around Napier to view the architecture and shops. We started with an over view from the top of Bluff Hill, then went into town where it was really fascinating to stand on a street corner and to feel transported to another era when looking at the buildings in any direction. Of course the fashions and cars gave the game away that we were in the 21st century, although for one weekend a year even this changes. No trip to any town is complete without a visit to a coffee shop, and NZ again showed off its fantastic food to me. We went into Opossum World where I learnt how this creature had become a pest in NZ and there was a keen drive to eradicate it. We checked out a few shops and then, a quick walk down the Esplanade later, we were off to explore another aspect of the area.

Hastings is known s the fruit basket of NZ, and indeed on my drive there the day before, I was aware of orchard after orchard after vineyard after orchard after grove. Kiwis, apples, pears, grapes, peaches, plums, nectarines, lemons, olives, oranges, melons and apricots to name a few. We were now going to sample some of these fruits in modified form. The Filter Room ale and cider house is a brewery in the heart of an orchard and vineyard. The sun shone, a band played live music and what better way to continue exercise our jaws and catching up than over some of the local brews. The beers and ciders all met with my approval – that was a first on this trip!

When this was done we had to address the more mundane needs of shopping. Supermarkets are just that – NZ ones are smaller than UK with less choice but the fruit and veg suppliers down the road are something else. Fresh from the fields and often organic. Nothing imported from further than 10 miles away, but often lot closer.

Having done that we went to Te Mata peak, which is about 400 mtrs above sea level and gives a breath taking view across Hawkes Bay. The day was beautifully clear and we could see for miles across to Mt Ruapehu, which I had seen on my drive the previous day was covered with snow. There's a Maori tale about this peak being the body of a local chief who died while trying to win the hand of a maiden. Maori folk lore is full of such stories. There's another one that tells how Maui who is one of the most famous of the Maori gods fished up the North Island out of the sea. The hook he used is said to have become the cape at the southern end of Hawkes Bay.

That evening we dined on the most delicious roast lamb ever and drank local wines. It was such a shame I had so little time here. I could really get to like it here.

Sunday came with an early start. I took my leave of Chris at 7.30 am armed with enough packed food for the long drive that would eventually take me back to Matakana. I had arranged to have dinner with another friend and her family in West Auckland, about 6 hrs away.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Rotorua, Taupo and Mountains

 I took my leave of Patrick on the Wednesday, as he was going to be leaving for a tour of Brazil teaching SKHM before I was due to return to Matakana, and started the drive to Rotorua. Being used to UK driving, it really surprised me how restrictive the speed limits were, and consequently how long it took to get anywhere. The drive was uneventful, and as at the time of writing this, it would seem I somehow got down there without getting any speeding tickets. The road was good quality duel carriageway most of the way, and not very busy by my standards. As I drove over the hills ringing Rotorua, my first glimpse of the town and lake told me I was looking down into the biggest volcanic crater I had ever seen. Of course Lake Taupo is much much biggger, but I hadn't yet seen it.

Finding the backpackers hostel (Spa Lodge) I had booked into was easy (I don't use satnav, cos I rarely cant find my way). The welcome and service at the hostel was impressive, and soon I was walking around town exploring what was what. One of the nice things about checking in was they had upgraded me from a single to double bedded room. As usual, I spent time just sitting at the waters edge watching life go by. This time there were helicopter landing on the jetties for sightseeing trips, not something I could afford! I wanted to tell myself that this was mindful of the Swiss Lakes, but the feeling really wasn't there, so then I focussed on Windermere, and the UK Lake District. Nope this wasn't like that either, this was Rotorua and had its own feel. I walked through a small park to get a slightly elevated view of the lake, but my feet and knee didnt want to explore more so I wandered back to the hostel, via the supermarket to fix dinner. I like hostels lots more than hotels because of the camaraderie and homeliness. I sat and talked with other 'inmates' and then went for a soak in the spa, which was over 40 degrees so I didnt stay in long, but it did soothe the feet and knee.

I slept well that night, and after a convivial breakfast in the guests kitchen drove to Kuirau Park on the outskirts of town that has a fair bit of geothermal activity. This was a public area with no charge to wander through. I parked near a children's playground, where a nearby kindergarten had taken maybe as many as 20 children out to play. All the children and staff were wearing high viz jerkins with the name of the school on them. There was no fence around the playground, and I marvelled at this display of freedom, and common sense. You would never be allowed to take kids out of a school like that in UK.

The hot springs and mud pools were fascinating. Every area was fenced and there were signs telling you to keep to the paths, which were along lines that were less likely to spontaneously become hot spots, which does happen on rare occasions. Non the less there were many orientals who didnt seem to appreciate it. I didnt see anyone become chink soup but there are stories of this happening.

After a picnic lunch, I went down to the Maori village of Ohinemutu on the shores of Lake Rotorua. This is a working village, and not one that charges admission and then puts on a display of dancing and entertainment for tourists. The architecture is all the same Tudor type of build, but instead of black timbers, they are a reddish brown colour. There was a large Marae, and when someone opened the doors, I could see it was full of ordinary chairs like any meeting hall or parish room. There was also a community centre and through the open doors I could see a class in progress where men dressed in jeans or shorts and (sometimes) singlets or T-shirts were practising their traditional dances and chants like the Haka done at the start of rugby matches. Later they moved outside to the grass by the water, which was easier to watch.

The centrepiece of the village is a lovely little church called St Faiths. Unfortunately you were not allowed to take photos inside and I popped back several times to see if it was empty, to break that rule as there was a very clever window in the side chapel. The window was plain glass, etched with a picture of Jesus. When you got far enough away from it it looked like he was walking on Lake Rotorua, as the window overlooked the lake. I later went to the souvenir shop, where I had a chat with the Maori lady running it about how they can reconcile their traditional faith with Christianity. She thought my question was surprising as she didnt have a problem that there was one God (or whatever you wanted to call it/him/her) and also to have lots of minor or demi gods and goddesses. How refreshing was this to my ears, and how like my own belief system. She said they always would off a prayer to the god of water before going fishing – why not? It takes a little time and you always want to be safe and also have a good catch, so why take chances? We talked more, and I could see how similar one earth based religion is to another. One difference I did see was that she never mentioned fire as an element.

After leaving I went along to another area of geothermal activity called Sulphur Point. I watched some wader birds in the mud but really didnt feel like wandering through more hot spots. I was still considering the conversation I had just had with the Maori, and soon went back to the hostel, via the supermarket.

NZ supermarkets are much the same as any except they are smaller and dont have half the choice we have. Imported food seems to be a little more expensive than for us, but local produce cheaper. Of course peaches and apricots are local for them, they grow all their salad crops and most veggies. Apples, pears and grapes are also local and therefore cheap. Meat seems much the same price, but lamb is far cheaper – no surprise there eh? The quality of food in NZ is way above that in the UK though, even the pre packed bags of salad taste fresh. I was disappointed with the quality of the bread though. No instore bakeries and only factory produced bread, and again not much choice. However village shops that include bakeries and butchers are common, and the lack of choice in supermarkets is what allows town and village shops to survive by offering alternatives. Fish shops are also plentiful. Many fried fish outlets will also sell fresh fish, and the NZ 'chippy' is as common place as in UK. However, nowhere is more than a few hours from the sea and the fish is extremely fresh. It doesnt go through big wholesale markets before getting to the customer. Greengrocers as we know them dont seem to exist. Instead there are road side stalls selling produce straight from the fields, some are big comprehensively stocked shops, others smallholding outlets with just a few things. Of course this works in a sparsely populated country where the largest city has only 1.5m people. You would be stuffed living in Chelsea is you had to drive out to Guildford for fresh produce in UK.

On Friday I packed up to make my way to Hastings via Taupo. My aim was to get to Hastings around 4.30pm to stay with Chris, who was one of my best buddies in the days when our kids were at kindergarten together. I was on a tight timetable this weekend, and I didn't want to miss anything. Only 30 mins down the road, between Rotorua and Taupo was my main sightseeing stop of the day, Wai O Tapu, the home of the Lady Knox Geyser, which blew every day at 10.15. I was intrigued to know how something could be so precise with its timing when much of this nature is unpredictable. The story was wonderful and explained all. In1901 the first open prison in New Zealand was established at Wai O Tapu, its object to accommodate some of the better behaved prisoners from around the jails of the Rotorua Lakes District. It was a gang of those prisoners who first discovered the clearing in which the geyser is situated and they realised that they no longer had to cut wood to make fires to boil water to wash their clothes. However when they added soap to their wash pool the geyser erupted and their smalls were distributed far and wide. Today's science explains this as being the addition of surfactants to 2 liquids of different temps being held apart only by their surface tension. The soap breaks this tension and an eruptions happens. This is used today to evoke an eruption each day at 10.15am using eco friendly surfactant especially made for this use.

The rest of the area was an amazing walk through geo active areas where water was coloured through the minerals in it to any colour of the rainbow. After 2 hours I had to leave so as to keep within my time frame, furthermore my blood sugars were low and it was lunchtime.

On the outskirts of Taupo I saw signs to Huka Falls. Chris had told me these were well worth looking at, so I did, and they were! I viewed them from 2 locations. This also meant for the 5th time that day I bumped into a German couple from the hostel! We decided that we should exchange visiting cards as the Universe certainly thought we had things in common. I then started the drive to Hastings, which was incredible. I knew it was going to be through mountains, but I really hadnt considered what the landscape would be like. I had been warned to make sure my car was fully fueled before leaving Rotorua, but the reality that there were no petrol stations for 130 km didnt really sink in until I began to drive the mountains, hills, more mountains, a plateau and even more mountains. This was the scenery for about an hour and a half. Some times you would pass a logging station or a farmstead. there were 3 or 4 small cafes, but no other provision. The single carriageway road continued up hill and down dale, mile after mile. I saw thousands of sheep and hundreds of cattle. There were quite few other vehicles on the road but nowhere much for anyone to stop. I felt very much like I had done when I went across the Nubian Dessert from Aswan to Abu Simbel, there there had been sand followed by sand and sand and more sand. Here there were mountains ad infinitum.

I was glad to reach a more varied landscape on the outskirts of Napier, and easily navigated to Chris' house in Hastings, arriving around 5. A cuppa and a natter later, and the years began to roll back from our last meeting. Chris was determined to show me as much about the Kiwi lifestyle she could in the brief time we had together. It was refreshing to see it through her eyes as a settler rather than a local who maybe took too much for granted. She prepared a good meal of local lamb and home grown salads. When I said how much I loved lamb she asked if I would like it again the next day, and went about hauling an enormous side of lamb out of the freezer. No chance of going hungry in this household, just like the old days when our kids were at nursery together!

Friday, 22 February 2013

Chez Zeigler

I was glad to get out of the grubby Hotel Jucy in Auckland (see my review on Trip Advisor) on the Friday morning, although I would've liked another day in the city to go round the museum. I had arranged a hire car to drive an hour north to Matakana to stay with me good friends Patrick & Natalie. I had seen some photos of the views from their home but even these had not prepared me for the Wow wow wow factor. The house is perched on the end of a promontory with 3 or 4 terraced lawns of maybe an ¼ acre each going down to the river. The living rooms are on the first floor to make the most of the views and the bedrooms on the ground floor. I was housed in an adjacent cottage with its own garden of peach, apple and apricot trees. Natalie grows most of the veg they eat, and with 4 kids to home school and a business to run, that's no mean feat. Dinner was always delicious (with the possible exception of the Durian Fruit). Often there would be snapper on the menu caught within the past 24 hrs by Patrick and one or two of his boys.

It was good to be in a relaxed family atmosphere again, and just relax. The views across the river were very reminiscent of The River Dart with its width, steep wooded banks, and large expanse of mud flats when the tide went out.

On Saturday, Patrick took me to the market in Matkana with Zen and Zahn. I was amazed at how safe they were, and that they, and other kids were allowed to go off on their own. (Ages almost 6 and almost 8). I knew this would be a great day as we walked past a busker playing 'Mr Tambourine Man', a very special song for me about freedoms and living young. The market was full of good things to eat and drink. I had samples of anything going - honey wine that tasted like good mead and olives freshly taken from the trees. Some one had a stall selling spices and dukkahs that reminded me of Red in the Adelaide area. Was I biased that Red's was far better? I decided to buy an abalone patty, however, both Patrick and myself agreed that it only tasted of the lemon pepper that it had been seasoned with. Organic food seemed to be the norm. No wonder everything I had eaten in NZ tasted so good. We then went for look round Warkworth. First stop the river where there was a small rally of steam boats. I wanted a ride on one - I always do head for water and boats when given free reign. The 45 min trip was for free - great! To Patrick's surprise the boys also enjoyed the ride. These boats run on the waste oil from fish and chip shops. There are almost as many fish and chip shops in NZ as in UK! It was then back home via the ice cream parlour for a dip in the pool.

On Sunday I took myself off for a drive exploring the amazing coastline, and experiencing some 'interesting' roads - unmade ones down mountain sides!! This wasn't a matter of me going 'off piste', this was the only road if you wanted to go from one place to the next! NZ roads are nothing like the UK ones and I was surprised how long it took to go relatively small distances due to the speed limits, which to be honest are generally right for the road conditions. However if I manage not to get a speeding ticket it will be a miracle!

Natalie had invited some friends over for dinner that evening with their kids, so when I returned, the house was full and we sat down to a good feast, with excellent local wines and conversation. It must've been just what I needed as I slept long and late that night and felt really relaxed.

Our plans for the next day were that we would do our own thing until 3 ish and then meet up half an hour down the road at Waiwera thermal pools for the rest of the day.

The experience was awesome and to me the total relaxation while floating in warm water was very similar to a Ket (which is a self initiation experienced during SKHM healing), I later reflected on this and wondered if the fact that the only symbol in SKHM is the infinity and the symbol of Waiwera was also infinity had anything to do with this, not withstanding who my host was. Floating in water heated geothermally in the open air seemed to connect all elements and I felt the nature of the pentagram completely. To me the pentagram's 5 points represent the 4 elements and self. Here I was floating in water that issued from earth as did the fire to heat the water, as I looked skyward to the air, which cooled the water to an acceptable temperature. Everything seemed in balance.

Having fed spirit and soul, it was then time to feed body, and we sat in the cafe there eating and discussing various subjects. The Zeiglers went home but I stay for another hour before heading back to a welcome bed.

Tuesday was another water day. We all went up to Goat Island, a marine conservation area, to watch the fish, using snorkels. I did a bit, and felt I wanted to know more about what I was looking at, so paid my money to go in the glass bottomed boat, which was incredible, even if, before the end of the 45 min trip, I was feeling a tad green around the gills. Head down while bobbing around on the ocean is a bit like reading on a car journey – not for everyone! It was a great beach day for me.

We went back via Warkworth and had dinner in The Bridge House, which was lovely. Back home we watched Les Miz before turning in for the night.

The next morning, I took my leave for Rotorua to learn of more delights of this enchanting country.


I arrived on the red eye flight without much sleep and went to my hotel, where I was able to slump on a sofa until my room was ready. I also killed time by going for breakfast.  I wish I could remember where i went as it was the best scrambled egg I have ever had, all soft and delicious with good granary bread.  I bought a bottle of water to take back to the room with me  -  waxing lyrical about water seems a tad OTT but that too seemed to taste cleaner and clearer than anything else I had experienced.  However, this really was an indicator of NZ food and drink  -  simply the best.

I showered and slept for a few hours when I got into my room.  Then, still tired I wandered around town and spent time people watching on the harbour, collecting tourist information leaflets by the score en route.  Auckland Harbour is far larger than Sydney, but if Sydney's shoreline was crafted and finely chiseled out of the rocks over years by Slaty Bartfast, then Auckland's shore and hinterland was created in one fell swoop by a pre incarnation of an explosives maniac, making large semicircular bays here and leaving inland craters there;  dumping the rubble anywhere to create either islands or irregular hills.

I decided to take a ferry to one of the townships on the other side of the harbour and find somewhere for dinner.  Devonport was only 10 mins across the water but from that short trip you could get a really good feel for the vastness of the harbour.  Devonport NZ is the naval base of the country. It's picturesque and relaxed, and I found an extremely good place for dinner, that added to earlier feelings that there was something special about NZ food.  The homemade lemonade was possibly the best I have tasted. I got  the 20.30 ferry back to Auckland as dusk was settling in.  I noted when I got back just how quiet the city seemed, not really what I would have expected from a city.  I was happy to get back to my room and have an early night.

The Maori name for New Zealand translates as 'The land lf the long white cloud', however, I woke the next day (rather late) to find it was also the land of the long black cloud.  It was raining, and my idea to investigate one of the islands didnt seem good, so I took the sightseeing bus on a figure of 8 tour around Auckland, spending time at the Cathedral (Holy Trinity), which I found thoroughly enchanting.  I had long conversations with the ladies who were in the Cathedral as official welcomers, and did learn the history of the  fascinating architecture.  The main building is partially in the classical gothic style, albeit modern, and this part was based on Guildford Cathedral at home. The other part is based on a Maori Marai with some stunning modern stained glass and some indifferent modern stained glass.  Alongside this, is the wooden church of St Mary which was moved from across the road to become an ancillary to the cathedral.  There was a special energy in this art deco building, and I was intrigued to find the lectern in the pulpit  had been crafted by Thompson aka the mouse man of Kilburn, Yorks.  With a little searching I found the mouse, and was told by the lady welcomers that I was only the 2nd person in the 20 yrs they had been here to do so.  Must be some pretty stupid people visit as all I did was read the description of its whereabouts and have a good grope.  Later I had a good chat with the bus driver about paganism to counter this unusual interest in things christian,  he was wearing a pentagram ring which started the whole thing off.  All this chatting meant I hadn't got time to go into the museum, but travelling isnt all about places and things, its about people too.

Back in the city, I walked along the waterfront for a while and decided to try a restaurant for dinner that several had recommended, Kermadec. The food was again fantastic, although I was disappointed with the frozen chips.  Somewhere of this calibre should do handcut ones.  I don't usually eat desserts but gave in to the crème brulee which was again the best ever, although the lemon sorbet and chocolate dust didn't seem to match the flavours, the toffee popcorn and fresh berries with it were inspired accompaniments. It was then back to my room to watch a DVD.

Thursday brought much better weather so I took the ferry to the Island of Waiheke, which was a hippy colony in the1960's and today is famed for its wines and has a strong modern art culture. I got a day pass on the local buses and rode almost every route there was. Not much other than vineyards and beaches to see with one village to serve the retail needs of the tourists and locals. I stopped in one vineyard for a meal and wine tasting and basked in the sun for a while before moving to the adjacent Stoneyridge vineyard. Here I struck up a conversation with some people from Richmond on Thames, and was urged to try the most expensive wine on the list 'Larose' at about £200 a bottle. Yum, you could see why this was so expensive, an absolutely divine red, perfect in every way. I hasten to add I only had a taster at £8. I took my glass out into the garden and sat with my back to a tree contemplating the vines and the clear blue sky. After a while I became more aware of where I was sitting and looked behind the tree. Kwan Yin must be following me, as there was her statue!

I ended the day there by going for a walk across the longest beach there, paddling in and out of the waves. I got talking to a couple of ladies doing the same, one of whom owned a holiday home on the island. It was interesting to hear what she had to say about life on an island and how similar it sounded to life on Alderney in the Channel Islands. I accepted their offer of a lift back to the ferry so we could talk more, and after exchanging visiting cards, went for a wander around an art exhibition for half an hour before getting the boat back to Auckland with another collection of happy memories.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

A Long Weekend Around Adelaide

My valiant chauffeur, Martyn, left work early on the Friday to get me to Melbourne airport for 5 pm.  The flight got delayed, but it wasn't long until I was at Adelaide arrivals hall being greeted by one of my best and longest standing friends, Ken Howard.  Ken and I used to indulge in tutored wine tastings together back in the Cambridge days, so I was looking forward to this weekend as he lives so close to the Barossa Valley.

It took about an hour to drive back to his place in Lewiston, which truly was in the back of beyond. It is a single storey long, veranda fronted wooden building in several acres of land with sheep and a horse in the paddock. It was good to meet the new lady in his life, Robyn, and over a great Aussie favourite, steak, and a few glasses of local wine we became friends.

On Saturday we headed into The Barossa with Robyn at the wheel, first stopping at Mount Pleasant farmers market where Red had a stall selling spices and home made curries.  It was good to see her again and to see Ken's sons David and Declan, both chips off the old block.  The market was similar to our farmers markets, with fruit and veg that is produced on a smaller scale than the market I had been to the previous week in The Yarra Valley.

We started by exploring The Eden Valley but didnt find  a cellar door for tastings.  The Eden Valley has a micro climate within The Barossa and is becoming well known as an independent wine area.  The countryside was splendid, and the drive by no means a waste of time. We stop near the Mount Adam vineyard to take photos, and then moved on.  Robyn drove from one vineyard to another, stopping for lunch on the way, while Ken and I sampled  wine after wine, mainly agreeing that the Shiraz were not as good as its reputation.  I was later to learn from a NZ vineyard that this is because climate change  means the grapes of this variety are not able to develop to their full potential. We visited Penfolds because we know I can get the stuff in UK, but the vineyard that pleased the most was an artisan vineyard that we found by chance at the end of the day, Kabminye.  This vineyard is owed by the wonderfully named Mr Glastonbury who told me his ancestry took him back to Dursley in Glos, which is 'Cider with Rosie' country, and is also where my surname hails from.   I voted strongly  for the Durif blend, and bought a bottle to enjoy with dinner that night, and a bottle of the Muscat to thank the driver for her valiant services throughout the day.  Other notables were the boutique vineyard of Charles Melton .  The Shiraz was unappealing, but the Nine Popes Blend was fantastic. Also, from Grant Burge, The Kraft Sauvignon Blanc had a really refreshing zing of grapefruit in its complex palate.

Horror of the day, week, month, whatever must go to Jacobs Creek for their wine factory.  Having seen so many lovely artisan and boutique producers, this was an eyesore.  Looking at it made me wonder if they also pasteurised the wine to make sure it all met a standardised taste.  It rather put me off their label.

As we neared home, knowing my devotion to Kwan Yin, Robyn stopped outside a Vietnamese temple dominated by a statue of my Lady Goddess.  I went in and paid my respects and was invited by the monk to join them the next day for New Year celebrations.  With time so short in the area, I was unable to take him up on that.  Having a mediteranean climate, this area historically attracted many Italians, who planted not only vines, tomatoes and bell peppers,  but olive groves.  Having made their money, they are now going elsewhere and selling up to the new wave of migrants from Vietnam.  The crops are changing, and pak choi is in abundance on the Adelaide plain.

Sunday was another interesting day being driven around the beautiful area I was in, this time by Ken, in the Adelaide Hills.  There were times when looking across the hills you could've thought you were in the UK.  There was a hint of green in the fields, rather than the hue of ripened hay, along with deciduous and pine trees.  Palm trees were not in so much evidence to tarnish the image and the gum trees at a distance could have been deciduous trees.  There is a long history of German settlers in the area as can be seen by the names of villages and towns such as Hahndorf and Lobethal.

Our first stop was at The Toy factory in Gumeracha, that sports what claims to be the world's biggest rocking horse as its symbol.  It was easy to connect all these wonderful wooden toys with the German influence but further investigation taught me that this was only about 40 yrs old and set up by someone with a very English name!

After a further drive along scenic roads we went on to explore Hahndorf, and go in search of some black forest gateau.  (Why not when in a Germanic town?) After a saunter through various of the shops I got side tracked by a micro brewery, and while Ken and Robyn had a small cider each I enjoyed a tasting paddle of the cellar masters finest half dozen.  Excellent!  Next stop was a lovely German tea shop and a generous slice of Schwarzwald kirchtorte.

We stopped off at the pizza shop, and went home for another evening of relaxation.  After the meal and a glass of the local wine we relaxed in the hot tub on the back verandah watching the stars come out until our skins turn wrinkly.

I slept well that night!

Neither Ken nor Robyn were going to work on the Monday, so we spent a leisurely morning and then went into Adelaide for a whistle stop look at the city.  We celebrated the Chinese new year by having lunch in Chinatown, and then went for a quick look around the art gallery.  I was enchanted to find a couple of Waterhouse pictures, and some by George Frederick Watts, whose magnificent sculpture "Physical Energy" is in Hyde Park, and whose gallery, south of Guildford I often visit.  The gallery of Australian artists was a revelation.  I had never heard of them yet they were top rate classical style artists.  I clearly have to educate myself for the future.

Time waits for no one, nor do airplanes, so only too quickly we had to make our way to the airport so that I could get back to Melbourne.  We said our goodbyes, with the promise to meet up again next year in Cambridge, UK.

Back in Melbourne the ever faithful Martyn was there to meet me with my large suitcase.  We then had a meal in the airport pub and said a final goodbye as I proceed through security to catch a midnight plane to New Zealand.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

(Don't) P..P..P..Pick up a Penguin

On Thursday Martyn had again offered to take me further afield than the Melbourne area. This time the plan was for me to meet him from work and to drive out to Phillip Island to watch The Penguin Parade, which starts at dusk.

The drive there wasn't quite the expected 90 mins, as there had been an accident on the freeway, which added an extra hour to the journey. So folks, long delays are not just the provenance of the M25 and M1. All this meant was that instead of having dinner at a beach town near to our destination, we joined everyone else at the resort for a mass catered meal. Which I have to say was far better than offered at similar places in UK.

Phillip Island is a wild life haven, and famously has a large colony of Little (or Fairy) Penguins, which are no more than 12 inches high. At dusk they return from the sea to their burrows on land, marching up the beach and through the dunes a good few hundred metres. This happens every night, and they dont seem at all fazed by the presence of human spectators. In the dunes a possum and a wallaby also popped up to say hello to us, again the penguins didn't mind.

We took our seats and waited, marvelling at the bad behaviour of a whole load of orientals - Korean? The stars of the show were expected sometime around 9 pm, but at 8.30 one little joker appeared and waddled a short way out of the water looked around and then ran back. He did this several times much to our amusement. It was about 9 when the beach landings began. They penguins seemed all black and sleek when they first emerged, however, later when we saw them on land they were fluffy and cuddly looking, more grey than black. To be honest the emergence from the sea was not in the flocks (Actually the group name for penguins in the sea is a raft.) I had imagined.

After watching them for a bout 20 mins we took to the board-walks to watch their progress through the dunes. This was much more like it, and you were able to get very close to them, but not that close to touch. At one point we were halted by the rangers as one fluffy Pingu had decided to leave his track and walk across the board-walk. Penguins have priority here and the wardens make sure they can get where they want to in safety.

The sky was so clear, and I love being by the sea. The whole evening was magical.

After a coffee we returned home, this time without any hold ups. Tomorrow late afternoon I would be leaving for Adelaide.