Tuesday 29 October 2013

Sea sight

Sculpture by the Sea is not a Sydney exclusive - there's one every second year on Waiheke Island in Auckland that's (shhhh) better, I reckon - but this one's been running for years and certainly has a dramatic setting. It starts at the southern end of Bondi Beach and the artworks continue to Tamarama along the coastal walkway.

The cliffs themselves are sculpted by wind and water - some might say even more artfully - and there was plenty of the former in evidence today, whipping the turquoise sea into foaming breakers that rolled into the beaches, blowing the bushfire haze back into the interior and making the clifftop walk really quite exciting - so exciting, in fact, that the path was closed shortly afterwards to prevent people from being blown over the edge.

There was a wide selection of sculptures, most of them pretty ephemeral and clinging on quite impressively in the blustery wind, but the sphere above was my favourite ('Horizon' by Lucy Humphrey). I might have voted for the steps, if it weren't that I'd seen them before:

Left: Waiheke Island, Auckland, 2005                           Right: Sydney. 2013

Monday 28 October 2013

Big birthday

It's a strange creature, the saw fish - very strange. Also quite hard to look at on its own terms and not see instead some sort of grotesque Halloween-type monster. Those are gills, not eyes. I think.

That's the trouble with the Sydney Aquarium: though it's extensive and on all the lists of Top 10 Things to Do here, it's not actually much good at informing you about what you're seeing. All substance and no style. So I didn't learn that much, though I did see some striking creatures. Could do better - and not cheap either, at $38 each for adults.

That's what we all are this time around, 10 years on from our last family trip here, for my previous Significant Birthday. If you're going to have one of them, it eases the pain to spend the day as we did, with its main focus a lunchtime cruise around the harbour on a lovely day, ignoring the commentary about all the points of interest, which were simply a backdrop for some family jollity.

Captain Cook Cruises, it was: nicely done and recommended.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Professional side effect or personal defect?

It feels very odd to be here in Sydney on an actual holiday with no itinerary and nothing particular to do other than enjoy time with my family. After so many years and so very many trips as a travel writer, this is taking some getting used to - that time spent just mooching isn't time wasted.

On assignment, I'm usually following a detailed, dovetailed itinerary that's generally as full (sometimes fuller) as possible, whisking from one thing to another with, my usual complaint, never enough leisure to enjoy the detail. But this time, with only one thing planned, it's hard to adjust, to listen to conversation instead the bus-tour commentary, to just drift.

This must be how it is for most people who go away on holiday to relax, rather than to travel and see the sights; those people I see everywhere as part of the scenery, sitting outside cafés and lying on beaches as I trot past. Honestly, I can't say I like it that much: even in a familiar city where we've done our tourist duty on previous trips, I'm uncomfortable not making notes. Tch.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Hard times. No, really.

This was a first (and probably a last, too): this week's NZ Herald Travel, me on pages 10 and 11, the Firstborn on page 18 - my story about a cruise up the Rhone, hers, bar-hopping in Samoa. Type-casting? Never...

Though this was my third Uniworld Rhone story to be published, I do actually have another hanging about, looking for a home. That's quite good going for one event, I think (they are different stories, though obviously with a similar core) - and it's the only way to make any sort of money out of travel writing. Even better would be to sell the same story twice or more times, and I have done that in the past; but it's become less and less possible now, with publications automatically slapping stories up on their websites for the whole world to see. That's good for your personal overall Google-rating, but back when a newspaper story was wrapping cod and chips the next day was much better for overall recyclability.

Fairfax has gone even further in consigning travel writers to garrets by making them sign a contract dictating that not only do they have exclusive use of the story for one year (after acceptance, not publication, as some doughty writers have battled long and hard to establish) but they may also retain it online for as long as they want - which of course means that it's never going to be attractive to a different publication. Unless you didn't tell them, but it would be the work of moments for them to check, and there goes your credibility. And all this to earn, in the Fairfax newspaper sector at least, a few pence from their "tiny budget" (editor's own description) or, more likely, nothing at all, if you're willing to sell out on principle.

Fairfax's opposition APN at least pays almost what has been the going rate for, I'm told, about the last 30 years (how fabulous 40c/word must have been back last century!), but even that is under threat from the big bosses. So thank goodness for the magazines that still pay a respectable rate per word and for photos (separately), even though they're monthly at best, and extraordinarily hard to get a foothold in. All of which is to say that I'm so pleased that I'll soon be seeing my second story this year in Mindfood magazine - especially since it's the one about rhino poaching, which will hopefully galvanise some reader reaction.

Now that really would be a great excuse for a drink.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Back to school

I've taught in a whole bunch of classrooms, both here and in England, but this rural school in South Africa was, no surprise, by far the barest. No ceiling, rafters showing, concrete floor, no lighting, blackboard with chalk writing on it (though no actual chalk to be seen, not left carelessly lying around the way whiteboard markers are here - clearly too precious). No shelves of books, no posters, no apparent resources other than the teacher. Which wouldn't be so terribly bad, if the teacher was a good one - but that's sadly in doubt.

This was the school with the horrible fat woman who whipped a dozen or so kids just for saying hello to us. They were the ones we'd met the day before at the bush camp, where ranger Zama was helping them identify spoor, teaching them about the wildlife that they rarely see. It's a great programme, introducing them to conservation and hopefully engendering an interest in and feeling for, amongst other creatures, the rhino. But the school teacher who was accompanying them was asleep in another room for most of the time we were there (in the middle of the day) and when he did emerge was of no use anyway. I thought he was a resentful parent rope-in; I was shocked to learn he was their teacher.

The children were all very neat and clean, though their uniforms had seen better days; as had many of the shoes lined up along the veranda outside, with their trodden-down backs and holes. They were shy of us, understandably, a dozen or so white people suddenly arriving from another world with books and balls and pens, and getting them to respond was hard. Of course it didn't help that their first language is Zulu and all I could say was Yebo, which means Hello, yes, ok, thanks... Versatile, like kia ora.

We wanted to encourage them to colour in their rhino pictures with imagination and flair, and to write heartfelt anti-poaching slogans. At least one of them got the idea.
These photos by Chloe Boshoff.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Getting catty about Africa

For a trip that was meant to be all about the rhino, I'm happy to say that I came into contact with an awful lot of cats during my 12 days in South Africa. Not 'awful' at all of course: they were just beautiful, even this one, Moya, at the Endomneni Cat Rehabilitation Centre, who after being totally relaxed about being patted and petted by a series of slightly anxious tourists, suddenly swiped at one man's face, drawing blood. A bit more rehabilitation needed there, it would seem. There were caracals and servals too, and African wild cats that looked just like domestic moggies, though rather more fierce, even when they were playing.
Then there was a leopard strolling around camp at night, where our group had been blithely moving through the trees between our cabins. There was a genet there, too, with its long, long tail, prowling around the braai at the edge of the circle of lamplight, pouncing on thrown scraps of meat.
I saw lots more cheetah at Phinda: a couple of cubs with their mother in the dusk, another two in a boma, or enclosure, awaiting relocation and which I watched from the back of a ute nearby standing alongside an impala carcass the same as the one they'd just been thrown. Cheetah eat fast, as they're prone to attack by leopard and lion (there's no solidarity in the African cat world) and always on the watch. They start at the rump, because that's got the most meat, so if they have to run, they'll at least have had decent a chance for a good feed.
They also tire themselves out when they run down their prey, so that it's not unusual for the actual kill, which is by strangulation, to take longer than anyone would like because they haven't the strength left to grip really tightly. That's how it was when we watched a hungry quartet, a mother and her male cubs, catch a young nyala antelope. It's pretty gruesome (actually not pretty at all) to watch an animal literally being eaten alive, and wailing.
And then there were lion, a pride of five staring back as I stood nearby in that ute still with the bloody carcass at my feet; and later a fabulous muscled single lion with what looked like a combed mane. Then, finally, there was Missy, who staked out my bed as her own at the family home I stayed in for the last night, and who I would happily have brought back with me to my own home. If the present incumbent here would ever have allowed it.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

A Bantam to save a rhino

How I do love it when this happens! Trawling through a whole notebook of crabbed-written notes on the South Africa trip, as well as transcribing three hours-plus of interviews, I went off on a bit of a side-track to find out more about the NZ-built Bantam that was referred to by Lawrence, below. He's the operations manager of ZAP Wing, which flies surveillance over 24 game reserves and responds to incident call-outs (read: ambushing rhino poachers armed with guns). It's one of their two fixed-wing aircraft, supplementing two helicopters, one of which I flew in.

Now, the Bantam is another of those heart-warming stories of Kiwi ingenuity that I also love so much. In this one, Max Clear got the flying bug as a boy from a passing crop-duster that waggled its wings at him, and went on to build his own planes. When he fancied something completely different, he couldn't find any plans to suit, so he designed it himself, and so the first Bantam was born. It became hugely popular, and he built and sold over 300 of them, of which almost half ended up in South Africa being used by farmers and game rangers to keep an easy and close check on their land and stock; which is how ZAP Wing came by theirs.

And here's the connection: Max died in 2011 and the business was taken over by Croydon Aircraft at Mandeville, where I went this January. Booked to fly in the yellow Tiger Moth in the background of the (supplied) photo above, I didn't notice the Bantam at all - but if I had, and had read the info board displayed inside the hanger, I would have learned all about its use in the fight against the rhino poachers. The people who own Croydon are on board with the cause, and there's a chance that I've been able to bring together people who could really make a difference to the rhino's looming extinction. So that's an even better kind of link.


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