Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Blogger has an acute lack of acutes, alas

I'm writing about Mare, in the Loyalty Islands near New Caledonia, today, and wondering if Henri is still with us since that was in 2005 and he was 75 then. He was a character, but a scary driver, hurtling us around the narrow roads with cows wandering along them, waving hello to people and dogs and keeping up a running commentary all the while. He was very proud to serve us this - well, it looks exactly like a giant orange head-louse, doesn't it? - but it's a coconut crab, the world's biggest arthropod and able to take off a man's finger with those fearsome pincers. They live to about 60 and can reach almost a metre across, claw to claw, and really, since they're getting rarer, we shouldn't have been eating it at all - but what can you do? Rude not to... It was absolutely delicious, coconut-flavoured, with grated green pawpaw "for the digestion" and a dollop of glistening home-made mayonnaise. Mmmm! (Not such a great fan of the next night's fruit bat casserole, however.)
I was thrilled to come across something even rarer the next day as we did a bit of beach-combing: these nautilus shells just lying there surrounded by the much less welcome plastic rubbish that washes up everywhere these days (though nice Boniface, who was guiding us and pointing out the coconut crab bait in the woods - they live on land, you know, and only go to the sea once a year to lay their eggs - was delighted to score a fishing net float and a face mask). The water in the lagoon there is gin-clear, truly, because there are no rivers flowing into it, and it's so shallow that even the aquatically-challenged (or those the worse for wear after a long outdoor lunch with plenty of French wine) can snorkel safely to their heart's content. Which, on a day when a shark-attack fatality has been reported here in NZ, the first confirmed death since 1976 and only the 14th ever recorded, makes it seem even more appealingly safe.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Small city, small world

Had I realised I would be photographing my bag today, I would have taken the fancy cork one I bought in Portugal and not my battered old faithful. So disregard its tatty lack of style and focus instead on the rectangle of carpet beneath it: "a shag for your bag" our cheerful waiter said, as he went around the table putting down these little mats so our handbags needn't sit on the bare concrete of the terrace. What a sweet little touch! We were at Cibo for a long lunch hosted by Rail Europe, RailPlus and Switzerland Tourism, a jolly tableful of 8 pleased to be there on a balmy afternoon.
The food was interesting and delicious, with lots of unusual ingredients and combinations - like this chilled lettuce soup with prawns, tangy and refreshing, and leaving lots of room for the main course of scallops with dehydrated mandarin and other good things that the equally good pinot gris is preventing me from remembering. And then there was dessert: pavlova for which the Aussie in the group made no historical claim (he was outnumbered) with passionfruit sorbet, and other small sweet treats.

Although we were on the other side of the city from the Tourism Tasmania event two of us attended the previous evening, our hosts from that were at the next table, which made the travel business seem a very small world in Auckland. And so it is - though you can hardly claim the same about LA, which makes it extra astonishing that one of today's group, while being driven around there in a bus, spotted another of the group walking along the footpath, there on a separate trip. Now that was amazing - and so, on reflection, was the fact that anyone was using their feet to get about that car-focused city.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Miranda means admirable, you know

We took a drive south to Miranda today, to have a look at the godwits before they depart in a couple of weeks' time for their long, long journey all the way to Alaska to breed in the northern summer. The world is full of mysterious, idiosyncratic and perversely long migrations of birds, but the bar-tailed godwit has been shown to make the furthest non-stop journey of any bird: 11,026 km from here to the Yellow Sea in China, in 9 days. Later, a tagged female, the inspiringly-named E7, was recorded as flying for 11,680 km from Alaska to the Firth of Thames - but, of course, that's downhill, so pft.
It's the most astonishing journey for these otherwise fairly nondescript waders to make, and it's really hard to imaging them flapping and flapping for so long and so far, over all those seas and the Pacific, through wind and storms and baking sun, without stopping. And that makes it so heart-breaking to read that China is so busy expanding and reclaiming land and building on it that they are destroying the wetlands where the birds stop for their desperately-needed rest and refuel before resuming the flight to Alaska. Sigh. The godwits, and other migratory birds, do have their champions there, but it's a very one-sided battle.
We sat in a hide and watched them, out on the flats in their thousands as the tide slowly pushed them closer towards us. It was another hot day, and it was very pleasant to sit there with a warm breeze in my face, bringing the smell of the sea and the sound of the waves beyond the cockle-shell bar, and waving the bunny-tails growing along the edge of the beach. All neatly facing into the wind were gulls and oyster-catchers, some herons and a pied stilt, a black-backed gull and lots of red knots in amongst the godwits, prodigious migrators themselves, despite being half the size. And I think I'm a traveller.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Life of P

Saturday again, so it's photos: this time, since I went to see Life of Pi today, one of the tigers at Dreamworld on Queensland's Gold Coast (and an emu, just because). Dreamworld is mainly a theme park, one of several, with some seriously scary rides, but it does have a bit of a zoo attached. They have dingoes and cassowaries and koalas and roos of course - Aussie creatures are always guaranteed to get me gawping, though the young boys I saw in the well-filled reptile house were more fascinated by the fact that someone had put a $10 note in the perspex collection box.

It was a busy trip, with all sorts of activities, to which I added some unwelcome excitement by flushing my hire car keys down a public loo, but there was time for quiet contemplation at one of the GC's many classic beaches.

Friday, February 22, 2013

In-gene-ious

Here's a first: this week's NZ Herald Travel containing my (cut) Easter Island story on page 5 - and then, on page 10-11, the Firstborn's account of her junket last year to China. Yes, yes, she has stories in the main paper all the time, and frequently on the front page, but that's what she was trained for. It takes a different set of skills to write as entertainingly and informatively as this about a destination, and that's why I'm unfairly claiming some DNA-based credit for her story about channelling her inner shopper in Shanghai.

I have been to the city myself, but only for half a day at the end of our cruise with Silversea up the coast from Hong Kong, so the visit was tinged a little with regret at leaving behind the friendly luxury of the Silver Whisper. It was also shortly before the city hosted the World Expo, and it was full of road diversions, bamboo scaffolding and the smell of wet cement as it raced to get ready. Even so, it was an astonishing place, especially to arrive at along the river one murky morning, under elegant suspension bridges and past all those bizarre skyscrapers on the Pudong side (so many of them now, and so heavy, that apparently the ground is cracking under the weight - which hasn't stopped construction on the Shanghai Tower, to be the second-tallest building in the world after the Burj Khalifa).

We just had a quick look around and visited some character buildings, and then caught the Maglev train out to the airport. That's as in 'magnetically levitated' off the rails so there's no friction slowing it down. We waited for the boring 300kmh train to go so that we could catch the fast one, that went 434kmh at its fastest - so fast that by the time I got my camera trained (ha!) on the indicator, it had already started slowing down again. It was super-smooth, quiet, really tilted on the corners, and got us to the airport in just 7 minutes. Shame the flight home couldn't have been equally quick.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Stalking la Condamine

This is a book that I reviewed for the Press back in 2004 - not something I would ever have thought to read, otherwise, and what a loss that would have been. I enjoyed it so much that I've re-read it several times since, and become a huge fan of a French scientist with the girly name of Charles Marie de la Condamine, who died in 1744. 'Scientist' is a bit vague - he was an explorer, geographer and mathematician, and in 1735 sailed to Ecuador to spend what turned out to be 10 years there measuring the length of a degree at the equator so that it could be compared with the length of one further north, and so test Newton's hypothesis that the Earth wasn't a perfect sphere. Dry stuff, you might think, but it's an absolutely ripping yarn, with swaying liana bridges over chasms, icy hurricanes trapping the team in a reed hut on a mountain top, crumbling paths along precipices, swamps alive with mosquitoes that could bite through clothing, and muddy slopes so steep they slid their mules down them like toboggans.
When I went with World Journeys to Ecuador in 2009, I got a real buzz from reading the book on the plane and landing briefly at Guayaquil which was featuring in the story right at that point. But that was nothing compared to when we took the extraordinary Chiva Express north from Quito and spent a night at the hacienda San Agustin de Callo. It's a marvellous place, originally built as a palace by the Incas in 1440, used subsequently as a monastery, and later as the residence of a twice-elected President of Ecuador. Our hostess, Mignon Plaza, was his grand-daughter, and the daughter of a bull-fighter.
It was a colourful evening, starting with hand-feeding llamas before a lovely dinner in a room with Inca walls, live music played on Pan's pipes and an armadillo guitar, singing and dancing, a cooking lesson in the kitchen learning how to make Mignon's signature potato soup, and finally a bath in my room in front of a roaring fire, with hand-painted cherubs on the bathroom ceiling. It was an amazing day, full of marvels (did I mention the gaucho on the high chapparel with the ocelot chaps?) - but the most wonderful part of it all was discovering that Charles Marie had slept under the very same roof.

Monday, February 18, 2013

This little piggy went to market...

I'm happy to say that I don't have dentures, especially not the sort that would prevent me from feeling the joy on the back of a motorscooter as shown in this inspiring ad in today's paper. I do though currently have a chipped filling in a molar, thanks to a particularly resistant bit of pork crackling yesterday. And - ooh look, a coincidence - pigs are looming large with me at the moment, because I'm writing about Ecuador. Now don't get the wrong idea: life in the cities like Quito and Guayaquil can be pretty sophisticated, and in the country we stayed in some fabulous lodges.
But we also went to village markets, and that's where we saw our most memorable sights (Galapagos excepted). Talk about vivid! Not just the clothes, though there was a lot of indigo and bright pink and yellow; but the bustle, the animals, the heaps of fruits and vegetables, the mouth-watering smell of roasting and frying food, the music and chatter and laughter. You tend as an outsider to think that everyone around you knows what's going on and what they're doing, but the lady above seems a bit nonplussed by her newly-purchased pig; and the man who's beginning my story for me clearly hadn't realised what even I knew, that pigs and horses don't mix. Good luck getting his pig home. I think he's going to be walking...
But the most startling pigs that we came across were in a little town where a festival was in progress, with the main square and the streets around filled with stalls selling balloons, toys, flowers, with music and fortune-tellers, the church full of people holding candles - and of course food everywhere: doughnuts and sweets and other treats, plus yummy empanadas; and then this, which made even a life-long crackling fan like me think twice.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Perhaps a train-driver's uniform?

Enough of the crouching outside in the hot sun, drilling tiny holes in seashells - where do I think I am, Fiji? So now I'm back inside doing proper work, a story about the lovely Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam for the Herald on Sunday which has today launched its makeover issue with - how did I know this was going to happen? - fewer pages for travel. Sigh.

Anyway, the museum was a little gift for me as I wandered the city centre, criss-crossing canals and leaping out of the way of tunnel-visioned cyclists on appealingly old-fashioned bikes of the sort I can relate to, having grown up in a flat city myself. [Digression: if you're the owner of a bike-tour operation, please consider that middle-aged tourists there to see the sights will not enjoy having to fit their bottoms onto g-string saddles and pedal along bent over racing handlebars, traumatising their cervical vertebrae by twisting their heads up so as to be able to actually see anything more than the patch of road ahead of the front wheel.]

I do love quirky and super-specific museums, and this is one of the best: three floors tracing the history of the handbag, all 500 years of it from a Flemish pouch to a Vivienne Westwood shiny red patent leather number. In between are 4,000 bags of all types made from every imaginable - and some unimaginable - kind of material. Leather, lace, velvet, plastic: yes; even, regrettably, snakeskin, tortoiseshell and stingray. But armadillo? Complete with face and feet? Eel, zebra, horse, shark and lizard? A leopard's head??? It was an education; and like all good lessons, left me with questions, chief amongst which was: What possible kind of outfit would you wear to complement the bag and matching shoes made from toad skin?


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Snakes alive!

It's Saturday, so here's just a photo. Taken in '07 in Kuala Lumpur, on the one free day on a very busy famil when, unlike all the travel agents on the trip, I didn't go shopping and to have a facial, but tramped miles through the sweaty, sweaty heat to visit the National Mosque, a butterfly farm and the zoo, where I stroked a tiger cub and was draped with these snakes, which had just been moisturised with Johnson's baby lotion and which I totally had to trust were neither venomous nor pythons, despite looking like one of each. This is the life of a travel writer, see.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Atiu! Bless you...

Finished with Easter Island, now I'm on to Vietnam, so naturally I was thinking about motorbikes. No-one who's ever been to Vietnam can remember it without thinking of motorbikes - the sheer number of them, the initial terror of taking on an unbroken tide of them while trying to cross the road, the ever-more-incredible loads carried on them. I was wondering when was the last time I actually rode one, after spending seven years of my youth puttering about the streets of Christchurch on a Vespa 90, and another one in England astride a Honda 50 (no matter how well I wrapped up, I lost so much body heat going to work in winter that it truly took me till morning tea time to thaw out).
Anyway, the answer is five years ago on Atiu, in the Cook Islands. Not many people go there, compared with Rarotonga and even Aitutaki, but it's just a 45 minute flight away. It's known as the island of birds, caves and coffee, because that's just about all there is to see there; certainly it's not the place to go for classic white beaches and turquoise lagoons. It does have those, but they're very small and shallow - no windsurfing here. Nobody lives by the beach because the coast is ringed by a wall of fossilised coral, so the only habitable bit is on the volcanic plateau at the centre.
But the birds are brilliant, literally, and the jungle is a vibrant green, the beaches that do exist are white powdery sand, and the narrow ring of lagoon is turquoise. Some of the caves have birds nesting in them that navigate by echo-location, there's an underground pool you can swim in by candle-light - oh, and other caves are full of human bones and skulls. There are also bush beer clubs where you can sit with the locals in a circle on palm tree stumps and drink orange-juice based beer from a communal coconut shell. It's surprisingly good - perhaps the original boutique beer?
The coffee business, run by a German, is interesting to visit, and his wife makes beautiful traditional and modern tivaevae, or appliqued quilts. So there is tourism there, but very laid-back and low-key, just like everything and everyone else on the island; which makes hopping onto a motorbike for a lazy circuit a very pleasant thing to do. Just watch out for the traffic.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

'Stay-cation' advised

While I continue scribbling away about Easter Island, trying to condense four days of busy personal experience and about 100 years of scientific study into 1300 informative and entertaining words, you can read a list of what are apparently genuine complaints by UK clients of Thomas Cook Travel; and we can both wonder if there's any point in what travel writers like me do.

1. "I think it should be explained in the brochure that the local store does not sell proper biscuits like custard creams or gingernuts."

2. "It's lazy of the local shopkeepers to close in the afternoons. I often needed to buy things during 'siesta' time — this should be banned."

3. "On my holiday to Goa in India, I was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant served curry. I don't like spicy food at all."

4. "We booked an excursion to a water park but no-one told us we had to bring our swimming costumes and towels."

7. "The beach was too sandy."

8. "We found the sand was not like the sand in the brochure. Your brochure shows the sand as yellow but it was white."

10. "Topless sunbathing on the beach should be banned. The holiday was ruined as my husband spent all day looking at other women."

12. "No-one told us there would be fish in the sea. The children were startled."

13. "There was no egg-slicer in the apartment."

14. "We went on holiday to Spain and had a problem with the taxi drivers as  they were all Spanish."

15. "The roads were uneven..."

16. "It took us nine hours to fly home from Jamaica to England. It took the Americans only three hours to get home."

17. "I compared the size of our one-bedroom apartment to our friends' three-bedroom apartment and ours was significantly smaller."

18. "The brochure stated: 'No hairdressers at the accommodation'. We're trainee hairdressers — will we be OK staying there?"

19. "There are too many Spanish people. The receptionist speaks Spanish. The food is Spanish. Too many foreigners now live abroad."

20. "We had to queue outside with no air-conditioning."

21. "It is your duty as a tour operator to advise us of noisy or unruly guests before we travel."

22. "I was bitten by a mosquito. No-one said they could bite."

23. "My fiancĂ© and I booked a twin-bedded room but we were placed in a double-bedded room. We now hold you responsible for the fact that I find myself pregnant. This would not have happened if you had put us in the room that we booked."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Scratching my head about the heads

I've got a couple of stories to write about Easter Island and, you know, even having been there now, the place is still such a mystery. I've just been watching video of an experiment in Hawaii showing how three small teams of people moved a 4.4-tonne replica of a moai by using ropes to rock it 100 metres along a flat path. Like a fridge! But many of the statues on Easter Island are much bigger than that, plus they were moved miles over rough terrain, plus they were placed on platforms about a metre high, plus they had red vocanic stone 'hats' that were put on their heads last of all. So many unanswered questions.
They're not all alike, either. Everyone's seen pictures of the ones like this, with the clean lines and sharp nose and chin that appears to us most striking and attractive, but actually there are lots of different looks, as in the Easter Island First XV in the top photo (so called because they have nothing above the eyes). They're actually ariki, or chieftans, not gods, so their features are based on real people.

Though it's an amazing place to visit, it's also a bit of a downer, because of the environmental destruction - denuded of its forests, pests imported, people exported for slavery to Peru, then a few stragglers returned again bringing disease, foreign capitalist farmers imprisoning the people in their town so actual generations never set foot in the sea... It's an object lesson in what not to do.

And another oddity of the place is that, with all those statues, because of the dedicated work of the imported rats and falcons, I only ever saw one with a bird on its head. Is that a plus?
 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Swings and roundabouts

 
So, on the one hand, this happens: a single issue of the NZ Herald's Travel section, and inside not one, not two, but three stories of mine, one of them featured as the cover story. Quite a varied selection, in subject as well as time-scale - the Rail Trail one from a couple of weeks ago, travelling Europe by train from last year, and one about looking at old and new planes in Washington state from two years ago. It was pretty exciting, to be honest, particularly as I was expecting only the plane one. I was thrilled to see it on the cover, although it was only a shortish piece - usually it's the big read, the 1200 words on the centre spread, that gets that treatment; and also that it was on page 3, ie the first real page of the section. Then I looked through to see who else had got in this week, and found the horse one featuring my photo - and then, amazingly, the train one at the back.

I was thinking, apart from "Yay!" that it was famine or feast again, as it always seems to be (not that I'm complaining about the feast bit) - but actually, it was the swings and roundabouts phrase I should have been referencing, because what did I discover a couple of days later, but this:
That's my photo of Geoff Scholz of Gawler Ranges Wilderness Safaris in South Australia, doing a bit of emu-whispering. Looks great, doesn't it, on the cover of this travel mag that's taken a number of my stories in the past, though not recently. I was delighted to see it, then puzzled as I couldn't remember sending them a SA story, then confused to see it twice inside, on the contents page and again with a story about Gawler by someone else, and finally furious to realise that they had not only used my image without permission, attribution or payment, but had printed above it 'Images by Patrick Gawler'.

He doesn't exist, I've discovered. The magazine must have used the reference name on the file of photos sent to them, without thinking; and the image had been mistakenly (and still somewhat mysteriously) included with stock photos supplied by SA Tourism. They are now very apologetic and will pay; the magazine we're hoping will print a correction in the next issue; and it was all a genuine mistake rather than deliberate copyright infringement. But it's still so disappointing that my photo has been given such fabulous coverage, but with no credit to me. Bummer.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Onetangi Beachfront Apartments - review

We booked our week's accommodation at Onetangi Beachfront Apartments online, attracted by their being right across the road from the beach. As they are - although only the upstairs ones have views of the sea that you can enjoy from your apartment, because they're built at right-angles to the beach, behind the owner's house at the front. The website is misleading as it concentrates on photos of the newer Beach Apartments alongside, which have better views and look smarter.
Ours, the first along the drive, turned out to be more ordinary-looking than the ones in the photos on the website - it's a two-bedroom, single storey, and I'm a bit puzzled as to why they call it an apartment when to me it's a motel. Perhaps its the serviced aspect, which I'll get to shortly. Still, looks pretty nice, and one of the fixed seats by that outdoor table allows you to see a bit of the sea. The sheath protecting the umbrella was torn and we had to climb up on a rotating chair and then onto the table to remove it - not my favourite kind of exercise, after falling off a ladder last year. I suppose we could have asked someone to do it for us - equally, a non-torn cover would have come off more easily. Though most of the sliding glass doors had stickers on at eye-level, the main one didn't, and though we are familiar with the operation of glass doors, both of us still managed to walk into it at different times. I cut my nose and the mark's still there - plus, it hurt.
Very small point, this - but why would you stick the number on a pillar so that it's hanging out over the edge on one side, while there's plenty of room on the other? Except to irritate anal people like me? And make them wonder how much care and attention goes into other aspects of the apartment?
Ok, this was perfectly pleasant. The furniture was well-made and much more comfortable than you normally get in this sort of place, the lighting was generous, the kitchen well-appointed, the TV a good size and there was plenty of storage space in the main bedroom. The bed there was hard, though, made of two singles with a really noticeable ridge down the middle.
Sorry, this photo insisted on loading itself sideways. It's the bathroom floor, something there is ample opportunity to study in detail. It doesn't show up very well, but the grout is pretty revolting: totally black in many places, overlaid under the washing machine by granules of washing powder. When was this floor last properly scrubbed? A quick swipe with a mop isn't enough. The bathroom otherwise seemed clean, but though I'm not super-fastidious, the floor put me off. Not enough attention to detail here (see 24 above). While I'm on the subject of floors, why on earth they didn't supply some sort of foot bath at the front door to prevent sand being trailed through the unit, I really don't know. Doesn't have to be a fancy ceramic thing like at Pacific Resort Rarotonga: a plastic bowl would do. More thought needed.
Here's another pointer towards the cleaning team not doing their job as well as they should. A burnt saucepan is hardly a hanging offence, and since there was no scourer supplied, the guests who scorched their baked beans had no way of cleaning it properly themselves. But shouldn't the cleaners coming in between lettings check this sort of thing?

The girls who appeared at the door each day offering to make beds, replace towels, toiletries etc were cheerful and friendly - but I'm thinking they needed to be a lot more professional. This place wasn't cheap: it cost $300 a night, which seems pretty pricey to me. The location is brilliant (especially for the lucky ones upstairs) but the standard of housekeeping wasn't. I didn't feel uncomfortable, I was confident the sheets were clean and so on, and they did do what they called "a full clean" halfway through, but still... There are also dodgy electrics in 24, which kept tripping the switch for the hob - the receptionist showed us what to do. She did say if it happened again they'd call the electrician back to have another go at sorting it. Again, $300 a night for this?

It gets worse. When we first entered, there was a smell immediately apparent: hard to describe, sour, stale, definitely unpleasant, very like cigarettes. It dispersed a bit with everything open, and I hoped that would be it - but it wasn't, it lingered, it came in waves, it was very noticeable in the evening from the sofa, and everyone who came to visit us smelt it too. I complained after a few days and the receptionist was concerned and promised the cleaners would look into it. Yeah, right. We lived with that stink all week. It turned out to be caused by a leaking hot-water cylinder that they promised would be attended to immediately - so we were told in an email that we read back home, several hours after checking out, leaving my business card and telling them that I wouldn't be able to give them a good review. They also offered us a 10% discount on our next stay. Will we take that up? What do you think?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

All good things...

Though I'm with Lucy, from Peanuts, who when told there have to be ups and downs in life, stamped her foot and bellowed, "Why can't there be just ups and ups?" I don't see why good things have to end. I could quite happily have stayed on on Waiheke and not come home at all. Lots of people do. Though that's because it's where their homes are, of course, lucky things...

So, no more wine and water, the rose and the turquoise. No more bobbing about in the warm, clear sea, or trotting along the sand picking up the shells that winked at me, or both having and taking the time to conduct a slow-motion experiment on the wet sand. Ever wondered how long you'd have to stand there with the ebbing waves sucking the sand from out under your feet before you were completely buried? I can tell you that it won't happen: the tide will leave you high and dry before you're up to your ankles. (You're welcome.)
No more early(ish) mornings walking to the end of the beach to where the path zigzags up the cliff, and ducking under the pohutukawa, the one with the swing that the little girls have so much fun on, all by themselves. No more stopping at the top, after the 16th zig - or is that zag - to admire the view back along Onetangi and the neat regularity of the lacy scallops made by the waves (the only reason I stop there, of course).
No more morning serenade from Max and his ukulele, walking past the Beach Front Cafe cheerfully singing his Waiheke song and strumming away as he follows his dog along the road while we eat creamed mushrooms and ciabatta or French toast and banana (with extra-fancy 'mapel' syrup).
No more of any of that. Just a slow chug across the harbour on the car ferry, back to the city and home and ordinary old life again. Sigh.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Just another Waiheke Saturday

Here's a bit of a photographic essay for you: a summer Saturday on Waiheke. What to do? Well, having collected today's visitors from the ferry, first stop was Ostend Market, where the locals come for gossip and to shift some stuff, and tourists come to eat crepes and toy with homeopathic remedies and to buy second-hand books. Which were being sold at, cannily, apparently bargain prices, as above. There was a little girl scraping away at a violin, peering at her fingering and not achieving anything like a tune - or, sadly, any money in her open case. I bought the latest in my lifelong quest for the perfect sunhat (which has already failed, both drooping and and being blown off my head. The search continues...).
Then we visited the little museum, which we'd never been to before, and I was charmed by its eclectic mix of artefacts, although some of them were alarmingly familiar. It's never good to see stuff from your childhood in a museum. Apart from the main building which housed a fascinating collection of stuff, there were little baches from all over the island relocated and furnished either as homes or themed displays. The medical one with the kidney dish holding a stainless steel speculum was especially riveting. Outside there was an actual longdrop, carefully explained, the description ending with 'Display only. Not for use'.
Then it was lunchtime, so we went to Cable Bay for a delicious meal that we regrettably miscalculated, thinking entree and pudding would do us well. Here though, alas, the entrees were proper, traditional, actual entree size, so my meltingly tender pork belly with crunchy popped barley was tantalising rather than satisfying. We should have listened to the waitress. Never mind, the accompanying rose was lovely and the pudding equally delicious: gingerbread icecream, raspberry sorbet, cherries, chilli chocolate and hokey pokey. A glorious melding of flavours. Yum. My mouth is watering again just writing this. Our only mild complaint was that the wind blowing through the open doors was a bit cool, so we had to go outside afterwards onto the lawn with the lovely sculptures and sprawl on the beanbags in the sun for a while to warm up again.
Then we went back to Onetangi for a swim, my second of the day might I mention, which was very pleasant, the water having warmed up heaps since we first arrived. Five days of hot sunshine will do that, you know. There were family parties and dogs and couples and old people, all enjoying the soft sand and gentle waves and clear water. Our friends had to catch the ferry back home to the city then, and we were all amazed as we went through Oneroa at how chokka the bay was with boats. Car park!
And finally, we fetched up at Little Oneroa for a delicious Dragon-fired pizza to eat with another glass or two of rose beside the beach watching people play with frisbees and balls in the water, and at the end feeding the crusts to the seagulls, pleased at succeeding in giving plenty to the bird with only one leg (there's always one with only one leg) and having others take bits from my fingers. What a lovely day!

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