Saturday, 21 January 2017

Out of Africa (via Singapore)

For all our adoring fans who missed us, we’re  back, for a limited time.

Our annual expedition to New Zealand, via South Africa and Singapore this time, got off the best of starts. The two `twenty-something’ girls who sat beside me on our flight from Heathrow to Johannesburg asked me in conversation what I did for a living. When I laughed and told them I had retired some five years ago, they were shocked. I thought you were about my dad’s age – 55! Thank you very much, I thought.

It’s an overnight flight to South Africa, on Virgin, and with a time difference of only two hours, it’s relatively easy to adapt. We were through customs and getting into our rented vehicle before 10am. We had made the same journey in 2003, before GPS and that time got out of the city no probs. This time, with a Sat Nav, it took us all round the houses, but as I had popped in inadvertently an instruction to avoid toll roads, I was half expecting it.  So we poodled along on a leisurely route south-east through the heart of South Africa and its towns and townships. It’s not a tidy place and I’d forgotten the locals do like to walk in the road, and seem completely oblivious of your presence most of the time. The roads were either excellent or awful, with huge pot holes in the rural towns. I certainly would not like to ride a motorcycle round there, especially at night. It took us five hours to get to Ladysmith, about an hour longer than taking the motorway.

Our room at Bullers Lodge
Bullers Lodge was even better than when we were there last, back in 2003. The owners have changed, but the place is still charming and homely . Lots of round, thatched lodges sitting in beautiful gardens. We had the room with the terrace overlooking the town and the Drackensburg Mountains in the distance.
Bullers Lodge.Our room's on the left

The manicured grounds

Getting into the colonial spirit in the `Boer' Bar
On our first night we had dinner with two South Africans, who were very jolly, and knew a lot about the UK. They were quite keen to know if I had tried Biltong yet. I was tempted to say “If I want to chew a bit of leather I have several belts in a drawer in my room”, but I kept quiet and told them it was not for me.

Britain’s military presence in Africa in the mid to late 19th century was not one of our finest hours. I was expecting to take quite a hammering from our South African tour guide about our imperial zeal for gold and territory, as we toured the Anglo Zulu and Boer War sites, but she turned out to be a very sprightly 78-year old, who was born in Little Gaddesdon, about 10 miles from our old home in Welwyn Garden, but had lived in Africa for over 40 years and gave us, what I thought was a balanced view.

`They don't like it up `em'
I wanted to see Rorks Drift, where Michael Caine and co, in `Zulu’ saw off 5,000 Fuzzy Wuzzies, after the Zulus swooped down and attacked their small mission, but first Liz, the guide, took us to Islandwana, about 20 kms away, where two days prior to the Rorks Drift attack, the Brits made a tactical blunder with their encampment and thousands were massacred by a huge Zulu force who cut them to shreds. Small mounds of white stones, show where massed bodies are buried. It’s a strange and eerie place.

With Liz Spiret, our Guide at Islandwana
The battlefield at Islandwana. The white stones denote mass burial sites of the British troops
Rorks Drift is tiny and you can still see the outline of the defences. The two large buildings that were central to the story are still there too. One has been converted to a church, the other a small museum. About 100 soldiers defended RorksDrift, and 11 VC’s were awarded. God it was hot there. Around 32 degrees, but that didn’t last long as the sky darkened.

The outline of the defences at Rorks Drift
The storeroom, set on fire by flaming Zulu spears
`Front rank fire'
Our journey down to Durban was interrupted by several showers, but by the time we got to our hotel on the beach, it had stopped long enough for us to have a good walk along the promenade, which is huge. I was surprised at how big a city Durban was. After a great meal in a restaurant on the outskirts of the city, recommended by Trip Advisor, which was every bit as good as they said, suspended over the ocean, and where we were the only diners, we set off into the interior for our Game Park experience.

The promenade at Durban. Storm clouds gather
The view to the north
My eyes are not what they were, so we both shared the driving. Considering the game park is about the size of an average English county, it was quite difficult to find, but find it we did, and had two dull, damp days at Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park which is claimed as being  the second biggest game park in SA, and home to the white rhino, which is not white at all, though with all the wallowing going on in the mud, it was pretty hard to tell what colour they were. We stayed at `Hilltop`, the resort centre at the park, high up, staying in thatched huts, and eating centrally. Very posh it was too, and not too shabby with the regulation monkeys swinging through the trees and elan nibbling at the foliage outside the lodge.

The lounge at Hilltop
Pat's clothes complement the land cruiser. Picnic basket at the back.
We saw all the animals you’d expect, though at 5am, as you rattle round the park in the large open-backed vehicles, with your eyes peeled for any wildlife, it’s quite a surreal experience.  And then 12 hours later the same day we also did a moonlight drive, which I thought was more enjoyable, even though we didn’t see the variety of wildlife we saw in the morning.

Grid lock in the park when lion cubs are spotted

A white rhino experience
Then it was back to Johannesburg and off to Singapore. There’s not much to dislike about Singapore. It is incredibly clean, no hassling from beggars or chancers, and the natives seemed friendly enough. They don’t like or respect queues though, especially the Chinese contingent.  Pat had to put one in their place when she tried to muscle in the fried egg Pat had had been waiting to be cooked for her at breakfast. And like most cities now, every other person has a phone pressed to their ear. As our time was limited we took the city bus tour to orientate ourselves, but could not sit on the top deck too long; it was just too hot. We shouldn’t have worried, the rain which had followed us across Africa, found us again, and there were a number of huge thunderstorms to dodge.

One of the iconic views of Singapore
The fountains of wealth at Suntec City
The Gardens By The Bay celebrate Chinese New Year
Part of the very impressive Rain Forrest walk

Our hotel near City Hall

Singapore has, of course, the reputation for cheap shopping and while I only brought a new phone case for my mobile (great value for a fiver), Pat bought a couple of pair of shoes. Our hotel sat on top of a shopping mall, and on investigation, there were six music shops down there with about 200 ukuleles of all shapes and sizes for me to investigate. Uke heaven. I think we’ll have to go back.
Pat looks to plan a kitchen for us, behind the two doors behind her.
But now we are back in Wellington and guess what. Yes, it’s tipping it down. Pat is planning a new kitchen with the cat on her lap and I am re-aquainting myself with the Bose sound system I bought last visit.


Friday, 8 July 2016

Haera ra

Our last meal together with Livi, James, Erica and Ben in our local `One Fat Bird`
Well that six months certainly flew by and we are now just a few hours away from our flight tomorrow (Saturday) that gets us into Heathrow on Sunday afternoon.
I think we both have mixed feeling about returning, but we are ready and prepared for the worst the British summer can throw at us and looking forward to seeing our boy Kev and all our chums.. We have been following the UK weather forecasts and it does appear that the temperatures here in Wellington are only one or two degrees short of what is happening at home. Mind you, everybody here says this is not a typical Wellington winter, and today has been cold, wet and windy.
We will now have to wait and see when, and if, we are offered residency. There seems no reason why that shouldn’t happen but we have been advised it could take several more months. That being the case we will need to spend another 180 days here next year. I’m not complaining. We have really fallen for this place and all its little peculiarities and we are back mid-January, after stops in South Africa and Singapore.
Haera ra Aotearoa

(It’s speak Maori week in NZ)

Saturday, 18 June 2016

A good dose of the `All Blacks`

New Zealand seems generally a safe place to live. Domestic violence may be a real issue here with the highest rates in the world and there are the usual drug issues, especially in parts of Auckland, but we have never felt uneasy, wherever we have travelled.

Our home in Karori is only a couple of miles from the centre of government, and we are regularly in the city, but never hear of security alerts, which are a day-to-day fact of city life in the UK these days. I was in a large department store recently and spotted an unattended carrier bag sitting by a lift. I reported it to a member of staff who was very indifferent. Customers just ignored it. If that was Britain, I expect the store would have been evacuated PDQ.

I mention all this for the other day I was mugged. Yes friends, and there was a bunch of them. At least six or seven, I reckon. I was having a cup of coffee and cheese scone in the cafe at Wellington’s fabulous Botanical Gardens with Pat and young Ben our grandson, when in a co-ordinated attack a flock of sparrows swooped down and took half the scone I was holding from my hand. Cheeky little buggers. I never realised how organised they must be to carry out such a daring raid, but it’s probably quite common. We returned there last week and I found myself consciously scanning the horizon for  incoming squadrons of feathered felons. 

The sparrow reconnaissance patrol .
It’s been pretty quiet here. We are now officially in Winter, and at times, it does get cold and wet, but not that cold. Not cold like we experience in Britain. I went to my regular Wednesday night ukulele club last Wednesday and they were all moaning how cold it was. It was 10C. Positively balmy, I thought. We are still getting sunny days and coldish nights, but there is little heat from the sun. But when it rains, boy does it fall. And it’s erratic. Last Saturday the grandkids were in the sea paddling – the day after was cold and windy.

Our routine has been altered though, by the arrival of Bella. She is a 14-week old all- black kitten, who we have now had for six weeks. Erica chose her because she seemed very calm around the children, and it was a good choice. Ben wants to poke and chase her all the time and she is very forgiving. I think she has only scratched Livi once and that was during play. I had forgotten what it’s like to have a kitten in the house. Basically she is just a naughty girl. But very loving. We will miss her when we leave here in a few weeks. 

Bella, our Kiwi `All Black` kitten makes herself at home

And helps with a bit of decorating
Last Saturday was so nice that Pat and I took ourselves off to Scorching Bay, a popular beach fairly close to the city, for a walk along the front there. It’s a lovely spot with some pretty expensive housing.  But Scorching Bay, like the rest of the coastline around the city, is very susceptible to  Tsunamis. Wellington Harbour sits on a fault line and we get shakes regularly. But if a big earthquake were to happen out in the harbour, a tsumami could decimate many of the coastline communities in and around the city. It’s something that every Wellingtonian is very aware of, and every house, ours included, has an emergency box in the garage with torches, bottled water, radio etc, just in case the big one hits. Out here in Karori, we are quite high up, but it is quite common to see the sign below  all round the coast. It directs people to the safest place in the area, in the event of a tsunami. This one was at Scorching Bay. 
Scorching Bay
A common sight round the Bays of Wellington
The more time we spend discovering Wellington, the more we fall for its charms. New Zealand likes to give its cities taglines. So Auckland is the `City of Sails`, Christchurch was always known as `The Garden City`, though since their major earthquake it’s being called “The City That Rocks!” and everywhere in Wellington you see `Absolutely, Positively Wellington`, which started by accident in the early nineties and has now been adopted by the City Council. It’s a nod to the `Can Do` mentality that exists in the capital, and reflects the artisan spirit that prevails here. It hasn’t made it onto the hillside where the “Wellington” sign is though. A bit like Hollywood it welcomes the ferries and cruise ships and sits near the airport. Occasionally the letters get changed around. It’s been `Wellywood` when Peter Jackson premieres one of his films here, and the “All Blacks” get promoted during Rugby World Cups. The flyaway letters at the end of the sign is a nod towards Wellington being one of the windiest cities on the planet. 

Our thoughts have now turned to our impending return in early July. My, it’s gone quick. We normally hire a car in the UK when we need one, but we have decided that this time round we will lease one for six months. Our lives are quite hectic this summer and autumn, and I can’t see us getting out very much on `The Cat’s Whiskers`. That disappoints me, and we will go out cruising, but it will have to snatch a week here and a few days there.

I am still playing with `The Ukes Of Wellington` on a Sunday morning and `The Hutt Valley Ukulele Orchestra` on Wednesday nights. The man who runs the Wednesday night sessions is a very good player and pushes us. It’s improved my playing a lot, especially further up the fretboard.

The Ukes of Wellington Sunday morning session in Cuba Street. My mate Ann sits to my right
The Queen’s 90th passed here with little fanfare. Ironically, her birthday is always celebrated in New Zealand with a public holiday, so it was no big thing. There was a gun salute from Government House. We went on a skyline walk above Karori and could see the little puffs of smoke in the distance. The average New Zealander was far more concerned how the new look All Blacks would do against the visiting Wales side who are in NZ for three tests . I picked up a national newspaper the day after the first match, and they had devoted eight pages to the match report, which was the first All Blacks game of 2016. I am not really surprised. This, after all, is their national sport and they are pretty good at it. Rugby infiltrates all parts of life in NZ. It is part fascinating and part infuriating,  but they certainly `walk the walk`.

It was our turn in Wellington to welcome the Welsh this weekend and my niece, who lives in Auckland, asked if James and I would like to go to the match. Her husband Mark had got some tickets. Now I am not a great rugby fan; I prefer a rounder ball, but I was not going to say no to seeing the best team in the world, on home soil.
Three Brits, one Welshman and a Kiwi get ready for the match
The Welsh Team run out at the Westpac Stadium
Essential lubrication
The game and all the razzmatazz around it did not disappoint. We had a great night. Mark brought along a Kiwi mate and his Finance Manager Mark, a Welshman, who flew over from Sydney especially for the match. The All Blacks just seemed to go up a gear when they needed to, but the Welsh were no push-overs and for much of the game it was a very spirited match. And then of course there was the usual pre and post match drinking.

And finally, I am thinking about buying a new boat, having seen this recently. Could be good for popping down the village and tying up at the pub. Just needs a small outboard. What do you think? Won't have to worry about it rusting.

So Toodaloo for now.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

The Cape Crusaders

Wellington. Our part of New Zealand - We live middle left. 
It’s been school half-term here over for  the last couple of weeks so we thought we’d take advantage of the situation and go for a bit of a road trip around the North Island and then take a flight to Nelson in the South for a few days, to see our pals down there.
I was not sure how our little car would cope with the journey north, given that you never have to travel very far in New Zealand without ascending into the clouds and then there’s the inevitable descent back. And this happens with alarming regularity due to the country’s rocky backbone and contributes to the country’s  incredible beauty. I am delighted to say that our little Honda performed admirably, but if we change our car next year, I think we will buy something that’s two litre or thereabouts.
It was while we were way out East, stopping for supplies, that I was called “Bro” for the first time since our arrival. We were in Maori country – on the East Cape - and it happened after I bumped into a young fella in Opotiki. “Sorry Bro”, he said apologetically.
Now that is `very Kiwi` and is certainly up there alongside “ As Sweet As” “Yeah Nah”, and “Hot Chips”, which are chips, which are different from “Chips” which are crisps. Then Flip Flops are Jangals, and so on.
It was the first time I had been called “Bro”, and it came as we started the most isolated of our journeys, the 550 Km drive around the East Cape. I had been planning this for quite a few weeks. Our week-long road trip took us north to see our pals Helen and Kevin, who own a 200-acre farm, near Hamilton, where they keep, predominantly  cattle, and then on to Tauranga and south towards the East Cape.
Our pals from Hamilton, Helen & Kevin outside the fish `n` chip shop on the wharf at Tauranga
This area gets very few tourists and you can cruise for an hour around its rugged coast and maybe pass two or three cars. There are no towns to speak off and the road hugs the coast and then climbs to reveal spectacular views of sweeping rocky bays and the odd house and Marai (Maori Meeting House), before plunging inland for a bit. I was, frankly disappointed, not to see kids on horseback galloping bareback along the highway. Evidently that is quite common. It’s certainly a very wild place.
Tuihiaura Beach on the East Cape
There are not very many places to stay on the route, unless you want to camp, so when I saw this place advertised in the `Lonely Planet` I could not resist it. Nestled right on the beach, and I mean `right on the beach`, it’s higgldy piggledy stairs and driftwood furniture made it  pretty unique. We were there with a family from Auckland and spent the evening chatting around a fire, with wood we gathered from the beach.

The Beach Retreat at Maraehako Bay. Spot our little white Honda
Our room. Just a stone's throw from the water
The East Cape route finishes in Gisborne, which has a beautiful beach and has had a lot of money spent on it, but is a bit shabby in places. We would certainly re-visit though and watched a very popular Kiwi film there, “The Hunt For The Wilder People”. Gisborne is  where Captain Cook first landed in New Zealand and every street in the city centre is named after one of the crew. Naturally there is the ubiquitous Captain Cook Motel, Bakery, Dry Cleaners, Car Showroom, etc, etc.
The spot in Gisborne where Capt. James Cook is said to have landed.
The pier at Tolega Bay. Better watch out. The 11.30 is almost due.
From Gisborne it’s about a three-hour journey to  Napier, where we met and stayed with John and Diana, who are Kiwi boaters, and do what we do, but the other way around. Napier is the place I blogged about where they have the fabulous Art Deco weekend every February.  John and Di are off to the UK in two weeks to cruise on their boat “Molly Rose” and will return to NZ in October. We hope to see them sometime this summer.
Before we left Wellington I had bid on the equivalent of our “E Bay” for a Kiwi Long Stockman’s Wax Coat. I’ve been wanting one of these for ages, mainly for the back of the boat when it rains, or for stomping round the marina in similar conditions. There are frighteningly expensive in the UK and I had been looking through “Trade Me” here to see if one would turn up, and turn up it did. It cost me £25, and although it had been in a garage for several years, smelt a bit, and needs a good coat of wax, I am double-chuffed with it. We picked it up from a fruit farm in Hastings, close to Napier.
My Kiwi Stockman's Coat
Last weekend we flew over to the South Island to my absolute favourite place in New Zealand, Nelson. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times we visit this small city, neither of us tire of it. We have good friends there and the combination of a smart, clean, bustling, arty-crafty city, sitting beside a beautiful bay, with great sandy beaches, and with vineyards and a National Park just minutes away make it a great place to visit. We both think sometime in the future we might move there. There are some good drinking establishments too, though two beers and three ginger beers and a bag of crisps (chips) cost us £23 last Friday night. Ouch... Nice pub though, in an old church.
Nelson City Centre, with the cathedral in the background
The Free House, Nelson. Great pub, shame about the prices.
Since I last blogged we have had the tree surgeon in and what a difference it has made to the garden, opening it up to the light. Young Alex, arrived with his chain saw, and worked like a man possessed. I helped out, operating the industrial chipper he had brought with him. We have several large bags of mulch now, as well as piles of firewood. Don’t think I’ll be filling a suitcase with it mind, but I hear it will burn very well, especially the Manuka.
Alex, and his trusty chainsaw, set about taming the garden
While Roger works the chipper out front
The work Alex did, has opened up a corner of the garden which was very much out of bounds, and  James and Erica are now pondering the best use for it. It looks likely to be a children’s play area.
So now I can see the sky, I am now slowly working my way around the garden and have made good progress over the last few days. The weather continues to be bright and sunny though we could really do with some rain.
We follow the weather at home and see you are due for a heat wave over the next week or so. Our Lodge, on the Marina, continues to be well used by hirers. It was busy in March and April and we have odd weeks booked through the summer.
A busy morning at the zoo is.....

...followed by a snooze with Granny
This week we finally send off the 101 documents we need in support of our NZ residency. Everything is in place so we are hopeful that by the time we return at the beginning of July we will know how the land lies.
Finally. the Kiwis may have rejected the fern for their flag, but it still pops up everywhere.


Monday, 28 March 2016

Cool Fun In Hot Water

In the limited time we have spent in New Zealand I have always thought of the country as being a fairly conservative place; where the status quo is rarely troubled, and where traditional values are still seen as important.  But stick some hairy guy in front of a microphone and all that changes, for it seems that practically `anything goes` on the radio over here. I tuned in the other day and there was a phone-in on pubic hair and the use of mirkins! I heard of another station that had sent an undercover DJ to spend a night with a local hooker and then asked him to describe his experiences live on air. This wouldn’t be so bad if they were broadcast after the water shed, but this is on Breakfast Radio at 8.30am, for all to hear! And yesterday afternoon as we were driving down from Rotorua, some adverts came on the radio with a gentlemen pleading for `my poo`. I kid you not. I guess he must run some sort of sewage disposal business emptying septic tanks on the Kapiti coast. His tag line was `We are number one for your number twos!` We had to laugh.
it’s been over three weeks since I last blogged but it certainly doesn’t seem like it. The weeks seem to flash by and here we are with Easter come and gone, four weeks into the kiwi autumn, though you’d never know it. For here, in Wellington, and throughout much of the country, it’s still very much T-shirt weather, though the sun is reluctant to put its hat on much before mid-day. But as we get most of the sun in our garden in the afternoon that’s fine by us. I suspect these 20+ temperatures can’t last any longer.
We’ve been here now over two months, but I still find myself continually comparing prices and services with those in the UK. I know it’s crazy. The UK has a population of around 64 million, while little old New Zealand has less than five million. Things are bound to be more expensive here and the choice a bit limited. But there is one area of the High Street where NZ wins hands down and that is the DIY superstore. There are two major players: the Aussie company Bunnings and the Kiwi equivalent Mitre 10 – and are they on the ball.
Our local Mitre 10
Walk into a B&Q back home and you can easily spend 10 minutes playing `hunt the assistant`, and when you find one, and ask for a particular product you are usually met by a glazed expression. Here, there always seems to be someone with a smile on their face and a spring in their step ready to advise or take you to that elusive zip bit you need. Their assortment is extensive and varied and you don’t have to wait at the checkouts for 10 minutes because the person in front has a pot of paint with a barcode missing. Having now just finished the tree house I am on first-name terms with `Dan` and `Jimmy` at our local Mitre 10 at Crofton Downs.
The tree house was a big hit at  Livi’s fourth birthday party a couple of weeks ago. A bigger hit though was the fairy and her helper who played games and enchanted the children for two hours. The day was bright and sunny (that was a first for her birthday) and the garden was the perfect setting for the event. And Livi didn’t burst into tears, though the fact that I was banned from singing `Happy Birthday` on my uke might have had something to do with it.

The fairy and her helper were a big hit Livi's birthday party
Our little White Honda Fit (Jazz) is going well. We took it for a long road trip over Easter and it never missed a beat. It’s a bit of a pain for James to keep moving the child seats out of their car into ours, but it is really handy to have a second car and all the family (who have driving licences) are using it.

Even Ben wants to drive our new little car
Last week we entertained Pat’s niece, Julie from Australia. She was on her way to a conference in Auckland, with three of her pals, and they decided to see a bit of the north island on the way.
It was great to see her again after several years, and her friends, David, Glenda and Danii, were delightful and great company. David and Glenda are boaters as well, but his craft on the Murray in Mildura, might be as long as `The Cat’s Whiskers`, but it’s about five times as wide, complete with all mod-cons. He has invited us over next Easter for a few days for a bit of a cruise, and it is possible Pat’s sister Monica and her hubby Gary, might join us as well from Vancouver Island, Canada. Should be an International hoot. The Aussies are also keen to visit the UK in 2018 to try narrowboating, so we will have some serious planning to do.
Danii, Pat, Julie, David and Glenda, when they came round for dinner last Wednesday
We spent much of Easter in Rotorua. It’s very much the centre of geo-thermal activity in New Zealand, about 400 miles north of Wellington, and as you travel into the city, you encounter big plumes of steam coming up through the ground on either side of you. We did Rotorua back in 2003, and hit all the tourist spots then. It’s a bit smelly (the sulphur smells like rotten eggs), though not nearly as bad as I remembered it being last time.
Julie and her pals were also in Rotorua on Saturday, en route, for Hobbiton, from `The Lord Of The Rings`, which is down the road, and we met up at their luxury B&B accommodation for a barbecue and several drinks on Saturday night. The main reason we went though, was that my niece, Lucy, her husband Mark, and their two children Imogen and Ben, were spending the weekend there, driving down from Auckland. We hadn’t seen them this trip, and we had a great time catching up and playing with the children. On Easter Sunday morning we went to one of the most popular thermal parks to see one of the geysers erupt. They tease it into action by pouring down a substance that looked suspiciously like soap powder to us, and it responds accordingly shooting water high up into the sky for several minute. Mark is MD of Unilever in New Zealand. I told him he should consider sponsoring the event with `Persil` as the detergent of choice at the Park. Non-bio, of course!
My niece Lucy, Mark, Ben and Immy with the erupting geyser in the background
After lunch we caught the cable car up high above Rotorua, where you get spectacular views of the town and lake, and then took the gravity luge down, though we had to queue for nearly one and a half hours for our turn. I think every tourist in town turned up at the same time. Good fun though. The kids seemed to like it, though Pat has never been that keen on cable car or chair lifts.
The Skyline Luge with Rotorua in the background
This week its back to normal, looking after the kids and after many weeks, Livi has started to want to come out with us, so we hit the zoo last week and are planning some other days out, if the weather holds up. Inbetween we getting the 101 documents together we need for our residency application. We got the medicals sorted out today, so that is a big step forward.