Sunday 24 December 2023

Season’s Greetings

I took this photo two days ago. Today it’s windy and grey, and tomorrow, Christmas Day, will probably be the same. We Kiwis do like to boast about our summer Christmases to our northern hemisphere friends but, honestly, the weather on the day itself isn’t usually that great. Certainly not often as glorious as in the photo (that’s a pohutukawa in the foreground, our native Christmas tree - it’s been a stupendous season for their blooms this year).

It really doesn’t matter about the weather - in fact, for the majority of us following the roast dinner tradition, it’s actually preferable. We know the sun will be back in a day or two, and certainly for New Year’s Day, which is guaranteed glorious. And since we had cyclones and stuff last summer, that means we’re due a good one overall this time round, eh? 

Anyway, enjoy your Christmas wherever you’re having it. I hope you have good times. 

Tuesday 19 December 2023

Best place to go? Not Ingham

I see Ingham's in the news again. It's only been 80 years since the last time. 

Today it's because northern Queensland has been hit, yet again, by dreadful floods and, in amongst all the other misery they are causing, there's the inevitable Aussie problem of displaced wildlife. In this case, it's a croc in the middle of Ingham, a small town of fewer than 6,000 doughty banana-benders, causing some  excitement before its being caught - by harpoon, unexpectedly. It was only 2.5m, nowhere near the 5m+ that they regularly boast about up there, but big enough to be a nuisance, certainly.

I visited Ingham 10 years ago, on a Queensland famil, and was distinctly underwhelmed by the town, not helped by some hiccups in the itinerary. Its only other claim to fame is also a negative one: that it's the actual location and inspiration for the Slim Dusty song 'A Pub with No Beer'.

That was because, in 1943, a contingent of US soldiers had passed through and literally drunk every drop of beer, to the disgust next day of Irish farmer Dan Sheahan, who had ridden his horse for 20 miles into town, lured by the vision of a foaming pint. Admirably, fobbed off with a glass of warm white wine, he wrote a poem instead of getting angry, and in 1957 the song that resulted became Australia's most successful single.

The pub, in 2013 anyway, was still a brightly-lit, basic place full of leathery old boozers, its only nod to sophistication the wide-screen TVs on the walls. I did a review of it anyway, which you can read here. Earlier that year they'd done a 70th anniversary re-enactment of the draining of the town's beer, with an audience of thousands. The town itself had little else of note, and would have been hell for a hungry vegetarian. 

The most notable bit of that whole visit was when we went to a nearby cattle station for a farm tour. No-one there knew anything about it, so I just went to the toilet instead. When I flushed it, two small brown frogs were washed out from under the rim, and disappeared down the loo. Still feel bad about that.

Oh, and one other thing that I learned from the flood reports - there's apparently a town in Queensland called Yorkeys Knob. Not in the least surprised to read that.

Thursday 2 November 2023

Waiheke Walking Festival - Earning nosh

I paid for this outing myself. I know!

Since walking 100km last week wasn't enough, I headed off to Onetangi again this morning on another of the Waiheke Walking Festival's offerings - the much gentler, and gastronomically rewarding, Progressive Lunch.

We set off along the beach again, lamenting the fact that insurance costs have recently been hiked up so far that the classic, fund-raising Onetangi Beach Races won't be taking place this summer, and headed up the hill. It took us no time at all to stroll past sprouting vineyards, and a couple of unexpected turkeys, to the lovely Casita Miro, where I hadn't been for ages. 

Since my last visit, they've got into mosaic work, big-time, and it was fun to see the latest project, the wall alongside the driveway, taking shape. I've done my share of mosaicking, and could admire the skill and detail. 

At the cellar door, we all (50+ of us) streamed in under the high ceiling and sat eagerly waiting for our entrée course, which was a pleasant sliced potato dish and a triumphant goat's cheese croqueta, which was so delicious, I could have eaten six and gone home happy. The rosé was good too.

We carried on, through more rolling vineyards to Te Motu, where we settled in on the long benches at The Shed with its open sides for the main course - beef eye fillet, burnt parsnip, chimichurri and cauli rice. It was a bit of a long wait, but well worth it, and everyone was fully into the mood by now, chattering away happily and clinking glasses (smooth red for me this time). The food was excellent, and we were fully fuelled for the next section, through more vineyards - Stonyridge and Tantalus - and past a beer brewery and a gin distillery. Honestly, Waiheke can supply just about any alcoholic desire.

We had a lovely taste of nature next, trailing through bush, up a hill, through a leafy nikau forest, along a boardwalk, over a bridge, up steps and along some quiet roads past a scattering of very nice houses, and finally down again back to the beach.

The weather had been lovely, but clouded over now as we sat outside at Charlie Farley's, eager for our pudding. Apple and blueberry pie, with icecream, and more rosé, since you ask - all very yummy - plus plenty more chatter. What a lovely way to spend a day, getting just enough exercise to earn all that delicious food, without any of the serious exertion involved in last week's Te Ara Hura expedition. I can't wait for next year's Walking Festival. Great job, guys!

Friday 27 October 2023

Te Ara Hura, Day 5 - Saving the best till last

With thanks to Walk Waiheke for this famil

This was going to be the best day, I had already decided; and despite less than ideal weather thanks to ex-tropical cyclone Lola, I wasn't disappointed - though it was up against stiff opposition from the first half of Day 2. We set off from the marae at Blackpool and climbed up through the bush, around the headland past Cable Bay (where, er, the electricity cable comes ashore) and into Church Bay. The timing of the entire walk was dictated by the height of the tide along this section, so we could go along the various beaches.

This bit of the island, like the Bottom End, is where the really rich people live (or, have homes) and we passed some pretty impressive buildings tucked away in, usually, private spaces. They have great views out across the water towards Rangitoto, Motuihi and the skyscrapers of the distant city, and I bet they get some spectacular sunsets.

After a while we got onto a more familiar section, where the Sculpture Walk trail takes place every two years, and we went past a corten steel piece that I particularly liked from last time, which evidently the property owner did too, and bought it. After that we continued around the coast, through bush, up and down steps, and eventually arrived at the ferry terminal at Matiatia where, since it was wet and windy, we went inside to eat our lunches.

After that we headed on around the bays, a lovely walk I've done before with more excellent views and big houses with gardens dotted with artworks, and a vineyard with a zebra sculpture, right the way round to, once more, our starting point on Oneroa Beach, 100km and five days ago (by which time, having been busy taking multiple photos of the inside of my pocket, my phone had died). There was a cheerful speech, a presentation, many thanks, some tears and then a group move up the hill to the fish and chip shop for rewards both liquid and solid.

So. The weather (cheers, Lola) could have been better for views and colours - though there would then have been considerably more sweat. There were sections that I really didn't enjoy, plodding along with nothing to think about but my sore feet and aching legs. And - well, and nothing else negative. All the rest was just lovely: the new bits, the private bits, the local stories, the guides' enthusiasm, and especially being part of such a positive group.

It was interesting how, initially, the chat was all about other walks people had done (very impressive, multiple Caminos plus every other one - including *cough* the Inca Trail). Then it got a bit more personal, about people's lives and families - and, finally, there were really deep conversations about relationships, health, death, career choices, mistakes and successes. Also, how long to hard-boil an egg, and the recipe for a Pornstar Cocktail. The scenery was lovely, the effort was satisfying (afterwards) but the company was best. Would recommend.

Thursday 26 October 2023

Te Ara Hura , Day 4 - Roosters, ducks and dotterels

 With thanks to Walk Waiheke for this famil

Setting off today under an encouragingly clearing sky, we enjoyed the sun slanting down through the leaves above us as we walked through Whakanewha Regional Park, following the Mamaku and Nikau Tracks. It was beautiful, with waterfalls, green ferny leaves and shafts of sunlight, and Sarah's suggestion to have ten minutes of reflective silence as we walked went down well with everyone.

At the bottom we followed Dotties Lane along the coast, taking care on the beaches to keep well clear of dotterel nesting sites. We headed up and over the hill to follow the road down to eclectic Rocky Bay, where the store has seen better days but the Omiha Memorial Hall opposite is apparently the place to go for arty events and the occasional cream tea.

It was a long walk from there up and over the hills and along the road past the Te Whau winery and the sports park roostery for our lunch stop at Ostend. En route though, we had classic Waiheke brilliant blue sea framed by pohutukawa - just gorgeous. While we ate we had a couple of families with ducklings keeping us company as we sprawled over the playground near where all the houseboats are moored - or, today, stranded on low-tide sand.

We carried on then, along tracks I'd never seen beside a road I travel often, and passed into very familiar territory at Surfdale and finally Blackpool beach. There we finished the day with another little treat - the walk organiser met us, opening her car boot to reveal a basket of local wines and beers. We were just below the town of Oneroa where the Island Gelato shop drew many walkers up for more rewards after another day of solid effort.

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Te Ara Hura, Day 3 - Ups and downs. Especially downs

With thanks to Walk Waiheke for this famil 

We started our walk today at the (Waiheke-)famous row of letterboxes above the jetty at Orapiu and popped down to Mary's house for a welcome and some local history. That's one of the many nice things about this walk - the input at various places from people who live there and know the inside stories. Mary told us how Captain Cook cut kauri tree masts here, gold miners passed through en route to Coromandel, there were boarding houses for city-dwellers in long dresses with parasols, and an excellent ferry service - all gone now.

We headed along the coast and then up into the bush to the road, passing Passage Rock vineyard and the celebrated Ooh-aah view which today was somewhat muted. We paused for morning tea in the Pioneer Cemetery where we decided that Samuel Powell had an unsuitably big ego, and felt sorry for poor Anne.

We headed back down into the bush, crossing over a creek where big black eels lurked, keen for a feed. It was a long, long climb up through the bush - but with no clumpy steps to haul ourselves up, for a change (sorry, Make Tracks, you do great work, really) to the Puke o Kai picnic table at the top. In an ideal world, we would have settled here for a break to enjoy the expansive views, but the weather was blotting out the hills, and we set off straight away downhill. We had a brief Italian diversion as we passed a line of tall cypresses beside the Poderi Crisci vineyard, and then stopped to gird our loins near the Awaawaroa Ecovillage, where we finally had lunch.

Then we set off to tackle Trig Hill, plodding gamely up and up to the day's high point - which was a descent. I'd been hoping that, since the 'gentle' and 'flat' descriptions of the previous two days had not been at all accurate, the same would apply today. Er, nope. Boy, this drop was steep, and slippery, and very definitely challenging. So steep was it, that a rope had been fixed to the fenceline, for us to cling to as we slithered down the 45° slope. Honestly, the photo doesn't do it justice.

There was more clambering further down, less steep but no rope, only trees to grab hold of, and then finally we were at the bottom, congratulating ourselves. Except, further along, up (of course) a hill, word came that someone had slipped off the concrete culvert over a creek, and fallen in. Cue official concern, the one young man in the tour group conscripted for carrying duties, some quiet cursing at our being in the most inaccessible bit of the trail so far, and a long wait. But it all turned out ok, with Liz wet all over but otherwise unhurt, and so we continued the walk, down through lush bush with the odd fallen tree to negotiate.

Finally, as the sun came out again, we arrived at Batch Winery, walking up through the vines to a fabulously welcome snacky spread and a glass of rosé, sitting at long tables and all enjoying our achievement today. It sure was tough, and the climbs were steep, but we did it!

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Te Ara Hura, Day 2 - a day of two halves

With thanks to Walk Waiheke for this famil.

We were told that today would be 'long but flat' so it was a bit disturbing to start with a very steep climb up from Onetangi, past some gorgeous homes, through a reserve to the road at the top. We followed it to Bruce Plested's place, which is actually a couple of big farms where, now at retirement age, he spends his time titivating the land, for our pleasure.

And it was a real pleasure, to trail through his rolling paddocks, past a big flock of sheep with bouncy lambs, and across another with a herd of curious heifers. The townies amongst us were alarmed at their boldness, and then astonished when one beast, caught on the wrong side of the fence, jumped it like a horse. 

There were some beautiful stands of ancient pohutukawa, which are going to be spectacular next month when their red flowers bloom; and I enjoyed looking down into all the little bays around the coast. We appreciated our morning tea on a headland with great views.

Then, though, we left the farm and hit the road, which Sarah said we were lucky had been dampened by the short, sharp rain that had swept over us, so wasn't dusty, as usual. That was the only thing good about it - it wound on and on, up and down, up and down, unsealed and bumpy, for SO long. Our various feet, knees and hips complained and we all got a bit fed up with it, only momentarily diverted by occasional views out over the water. The biggest island is Pakatoa, once a resort where a young Russell Crowe, under the name Rus le Roq, was an entertainer and bingo caller. It's for sale, if you've got a spare $40-odd million.

We had lunch by the beach at the Man O' War winery, which was, sadly, shut; and then hit the sodding road again, as above. I decided that Sarah's suggestion to adopt an 'intention', to be in the moment, was a bad idea, since here and now was all about aching leg muscles, sore feet and panting. I could have done with rising above all that; or at least distracting myself with trivia.

But we ploughed on, and on, and finally made it to the pick-up point at Orapiu, where I gratefully collapsed into Kate's car and silently groused about the 'flat' part of the official description of today's route. And tomorrow? 'Challenging'. Can't wait.


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