Thursday, December 31, 2015

Wai the heke not?

I've swapped green for blue: it's been a distinctly watery year. Mostly, it's been the sea, as I've trailed back and forth across the Hauraki Gulf here to Waiheke Island, and cruised various coasts in the Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean and Timor Seas; but I've also pootled along the Seine, various headwaters of the Amazon, and the Grand Union Canal. It's a bit of a puzzle how I've done so much cruising this year, since it's not something I've sought out; but as it's such a huge part of the tourism industry these days, I suppose it's not to be wondered at - or complained about, certainly. It's hardly a penance.

First this year there was the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition in Perth, where the warm blue Indian Ocean was the backdrop for some spectacular works of art, and hissed up onto the sandy beaches of Rottnest Island, notable for its cute and grinning quokkas.
Two weeks later, I was back in Western Australia again for a Kimberley cruise along the north-west tip: blue sea, green bush, orange rocks. There were Aboriginal paintings, waterfalls (two of them Horizontal), a swimming hole, reefs, fishing and a 6-hour lightning spectacular, all of it underpinned by comfort and excellent food on the Kimberley Quest. And not one crocodile!

Next came Turkey, and the Anzac Day centenary commemorations at Gallipoli, where the literally dark Aegean lapped onto the pebbled beach of Anzac Cove, a sound amplified during quiet moments throughout the night before the Dawn Service, and forever after inescapably evocative. There was Istanbul too, many trips up and down Istiklal Caddesi, muezzin calling, a forest of fishing rods on Galata Bridge, cheerful touts in the Grand Bazaar... And the ruins of Troy, cats draped over the marble at Ephesus, a hundred hot-air balloons at dawn and sunset over the outcrops of Cappadocia, twirling Dervishes, Ataturk everywhere, and Barcin throughout, telling the stories.
Then there was an elegant and eminently civilised cruise along the Seine into Normandy, notable for cheese, cream and cider, another 6-hour effort (a rice pudding this time), comfort and luxury aboard Avalon's Tapestry II, and good company throughout. Also the inexhaustible Quan, and the Pet Cemetery which was, in its way, more memorable even than Versailles, which I finally got to visit just the 37 years after first trying.

After that I learned how to steer a 16m narrowboat through a single lock gate and hold it steady as the water rushed in, and how to shrug off bumps and scrapes as part of the canal-boater's lot. England was green and gold and lovely, fringed with poppies and full of birds. And pubs. With old friends, it was a rare holiday rather than work.

That came next, busily hopping through Peru and Ecuador, revisiting landmarks like Machu Picchu and Galapagos but with the diversions (heaven forbid these places should become ho-hum) of passport fraud at Huayna Picchu, catching piranhas, spotting pink dolphins and patting manatees in the Amazon, Cotopaxi spitting clouds of grey ash, and seeing water-walking seabirds and military-style gannet diving displays in Galapagos.
Then there was Istanbul again, departure port for a Silversea cruise that started dull but got good (ports, that is - onboard was just lovely, as always) especially at Rhodes and Mykonos - but even they were trounced by Santorini's blue domes. Even so, the most memorable meal was in unpretentious Piraeus: a Greek salad and prawns at a back-street family restaurant - a reminder that, despite all the imaginatively-presented, visually stunning and delicious feasts I was served everywhere, simplicity is hard to beat.

Finally, the shortest and most momentous journey of them all: 35 minutes across Auckland harbour to a new home, where the sea is always present, always different, always a plus. I could have stayed at the old place, home for 21 years - but when Conde Nast's world's fourth-best island and Lonely Planet's global fifth-best destination is so close, well, Wai the heke not move there?

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