Thursday 10 May 2018

Dunnerstunner stats

It was the last day of the TRENZ conference today, and the busiest for me, with the afternoon completely full. I've met so many enthusiastic operators/owners of tourism products here, lots of them new operations, and almost all of them places I would like to go, things I would like to do, good story material - particularly my last appointment, which produced the offer of a helicopter trip into the Southern Alps with Richie McCaw...

In the media presentations each morning, I've learned about this industry that I slipped into through the back door: the country's biggest export earner, it brought in $36.6 billion last year, and employs one in seven people in 400,000 jobs. Sixty percent of that income is from domestic travel, though, and the industry wants to encourage more international visitors. I was interested that our ratio of arrivals to population is 0.8:1, whereas in my personal bucket-list destination, Iceland, it's 5.2:1 - that's another way of looking at getting two million visitors a year when your population is only 300,000. No wonder they're feeling overwhelmed and aren't keen on hosting people like me who will only encourage more tourism. 
Even in New Zealand we feel a bit that way sometimes - dodgy foreign drivers are always in the news through the summer (dodgy domestic drivers hogging the headlines for the rest of the year); and crappy (literally) freedom campers have also been a pet hate nationally this year. Certainly, living on Waiheke, you know when it's tourist season, and especially when there's a cruise ship in port. But, on the other hand, we like to be liked, and mostly the buzz is enjoyable, and certainly there are a lot of jobs dependent on the visitors.

It cuts both ways: we took 2.9 million trips overseas ourselves last year which, for a total population of around 4.5 million, is a fairly impressive statistic in itself. I was thinking that I wouldn't be contributing to that figure myself this year, but happily I've just learned that there is now an overseas trip pretty much confirmed - not quite Iceland, but close: Norway. So, watch this space. And, in the meantime, here's that Ed Sheeran mural I forgot to look for on my street art wander on Monday:

Wednesday 9 May 2018

Freedom! And variety...

Everyone at the conference was looking forward to this afternoon. At last we would get the chance to break out of the Edgar Centre and get some sunshine, fresh air, and a taste of all that natural beauty/wildlife/culture/history that we'd been nattering about non-stop since TRENZ began on Tuesday. My choice was, surprise, the outing titled 'A Walk on the Wild Side' - which, inevitably, had us piling onto a bus for the first 45 minutes. But we had a yummy lunchbox to explore and consume, and an enthusiastic guide to listen to, and some glorious scenery, and weather, to enjoy en route.

This is what everyone who comes to Dunedin should do (even the sainted David Attenborough says so): drive out along the Otago Peninsula to Taiaroa Head at the end. The road is narrow (though they're working on that, tastefully) and curls in and out all of the little bays with their cute boatsheds. Once you're finally at the end, you get a great view of the sandbar at the entrance to the harbour which means cruise ships (80-odd of them this year - 115 coming next season) have to make a 270-degree turn in quite a confined space, and must have their captains hunched nervously over their mini-joysticks.
We, though, just enjoyed the long views down the harbour to the city and Saddle Hill beyond, of the hills all around, and the glossy blue, blue sea - next stop, Chile. Our first activity was to have a very brief taste of what Perry at Nature's Wonders gets very passionate about (he waylaid me in the events centre to do just that, and all I was doing was passing by). His family has farmed there since forever (which in NZ terms means around 1860 or so) and now are returning big sections of the property to its original vegetation totally self-funded (he was very emphatic about that). 
We explored on a sturdy little 8-wheel drive vehicle from Canada called an Argo, which our driver flung through creeks and up and down deeply rutted, steep tracks with what was once called gay abandon. It was lots of fun. We went past gun emplacements from the wars - believe it or not, the first enemy that had them worried here was Russia - and sheep of course, headlands, beaches, lighthouse and cliffs. We stopped at Penguin Beach which Perry's family closed to people 30 years ago because it's where the endangered hoiho or yellow-eyed penguin lives. We saw some at a distance, as well as NZ fur seals with cute pups right up close.
The peninsula is famous in birding circles for being the world's only mainland nesting place for royal albatrosses, so we went next to the Albatross Centre to have a closer look at them - four fluffy white babies at the moment (it's late in the season), one of them with a webcam parked right by its nest. The birds are a pleasure to see, though they annoy the fanatics who polish and oil the 1886 Armstrong Disappearing Gun there that's uniquely in the world still in working condition, but unable to be used because birds. You wind it up out of its hole, aim and fire it, and the recoil slams it back down inside the hill again. Never used in anger, naturally.
It was a lovely afternoon, and we were all thrilled to have scored such perfect weather. Then, after a quick change back at our hotels, we were off again back to the peninsula, but on the top road this time, to go to Larnach Castle for the media function. I've been to the castle before - NZ's only, built in 1871 and painstakingly restored by the current owners - but it was fabulous to see it at night, lit up. There was even a horse-drawn carriage standing outside. Though I felt sorry for Bea, the bay mare between the shafts, being out in the cold and dark, I did go for a spin around the edge of the lawn, and it was comfortable and cosy inside.
The family were all dressed up in Victorian clothes, even to the little boy done up as a chimney sweep, blackened face and all. His sister was being taught amo,amas, amat in the schoolroom and in the study her mother was being dissuaded from taking seriously women's emancipation by old William Larnach, as he sipped his whisky and puffed on a cigar. Up the steep stairs on the turret, a piper was sending Scotland the Brave up past the flag to the southern cross in the sky right overhead. Fun!
Down in the ballroom there were huge and beautiful flower arrangements over a blazing fire, and at the end a suckling pig with perfect crackling waiting for us to get stuck in - as soon as we'd paid due attention to the Haggis Ceremony, that is. It was Ian again, the same kilted Scot who'd done it at the Welcome Function, but in a smaller space he was able to be more dramatic, and funny. There were some speeches, but nothing too long, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the evening. I know I did.

Tuesday 8 May 2018

Bloody jazz and an almost black eye

It was a day full of animals and the outdoors. Sheep, naturally, but also penguins, albatrosses, kiwi, takahe, Angus bulls, alpacas, horses, deer... Plus lakes, mountains, beaches, boats, helicopters, bikes, bungy jumps and inflatable rafts - and all the activity that goes along with that stuff. Only trouble was, it was all indoors. I can't remember when I last spent an entire day inside with only about six breaths of actual fresh air between hotel, bus and convention centre. All a bit of a contradiction. And the tattooing was unexpected.
TRENZ is also pretty tiring - so much talking! And listening! I can't decide who has the harder job: the buyers and media, like me, listening all day, paying attention, remembering information, asking questions - or the sellers, delivering the same spiel over and over again, for hours. It was good though to meet so many enthusiastic people, keen to share their bit of the country, their unique activity, their  way of life. Quite a few were owner-operators, always genuinely eager to talk about what makes their patch different from - and better than - the rest.
And it was especially good to be offered so many yummy things to eat and drink, from my first whitebait fritter for years to surprisingly tasty haggis (traditionally presented) to some inventively-named and genuinely Seriously Good chocolates. 
The final delight was the tenderest, tastiest lamb chop I have ever eaten, which went some way towards making up for my having mistaken the time that the comedian was to do his set at the evening cocktail function, and turning up too late. I waited vainly for him to appear while enduring the best part of an hour's horrendous jazz - honestly, you would not believe how long they dragged out The Girl from Ipanema with their ghastly "wabbeda wabbeda tish tish ga-blap bap tiddly piddly drivelly meaningless squeaky shrieky pish pish drr-bap bollocks" (thank you again, Ian Martin). It felt like an appropriate way to end a day that had begun in the small hours with a visit to the loo in the dark and whacking my eyebrow on the bathroom door handle as I bent over to sit down. Sigh.

Monday 7 May 2018

Not Denver but Dunedin

Alert readers ( - ) will remember that I was looking forward to going to IPW again this year, which will be held in a few weeks' time in Denver, where I have never been. Mile High, Red Rocks, Rocky Mountains, all that. But I had to pull out, disappointingly. However. Fate has conspired to present me with an alternative so today I have come to TRENZ, the NZ equivalent of IPW - being held this year in Dunedin. (Although, for today's connection, the woman I sat next to on the SkyBus to the airport in Auckland was from - you've guessed? Denver.)
Now, Dunedin is not Denver. It's small and sea-level, for a start. It's also proudly Scottish, and maybe a bit more Glasgow than Edinburgh. On the basis of my walk this afternoon along Princes Street, through the Octagon and on along George Street to the Otago Museum, I'd say its large student population is responsible for the high number of pubs, cafés and op shops that I passed today - as well as party goods shops, and a 'Marijuana Museum'. It's all a bit of a contradiction with the sturdy Victorian and Edwardian buildings with their pediments and pillars, many of them former insurance companies and banks.
But it's lively enough - although I was impressed by everyone obediently waiting at pedestrian crossings for the signal to change, despite there being minimal traffic along the main street - and I especially liked some of the street art (haven't found the famous Ed Sheeran one yet).
The museum is - naturally: university city - very good, and included Sir Edmund Hillary's camera amongst other memorabilia; and some fabulous ship models. It was a bit sad to see the stuffed animals in the Victorian-themed attic display - they did warn me that it wouldn't fit with modern sensibilities, to be fair. Polar bear, Sumatran rhino, a couple of poor lions that escaped a circus and evaded recapture. But otherwise it's a professional, modern museum, and well patronised.
They're very keen on their sport here too, and boast the country's only covered stadium, which I went to tonight for the Welcome Function. There were bagpipes, of course, and Maori speeches and singing, and highland dancing, and Chinese dragons, surprisingly, and the Bledisloe Cup and Richie McCaw - with whom of course I did not get a selfie, committed rugbyphobe that I am. 

Wednesday 2 May 2018

Several sorts of flying things

Of course, the day I go home from this trip which involved two rained-off activities is the best, weatherwise. It was a real pleasure to walk along Whakatane's waterfront, as the sun came around the corner to light up Moutohora and the statue of Wairaka at the entrance to the harbour. She was a feisty woman who disobeyed tradition and saved a waka, and the other women in it, from being swept out to sea while the men were ashore. 
After all that eating over the last couple of days, it was good to have just coffee and a pastry at L'Épicerie before setting off back towards Tauranga for my flight home. It was a really pleasant drive, the traffic light, Mt Edgecumbe brooding, the bare trees skeletal and sculpted, the sky big over the sea. 
I stopped off for another meeting at ComVita, which turned out to be a remarkably big factory processing manuka honey, and Lara gave me a tour at the Visitor Centre. She was a bit mischievous with her trick questions - how many eyes does a bee have? What sex are the workers? (I should have guessed. Can you?) How many in a hive? How much honey produced in a lifetime? At least I knew that one - half a teaspoon - because having learned it so long ago it always makes me feel guilty digging my knife into the pot. And now that I know that, by choice, bees would not restrict themselves to the tiny manuka flower which makes their work even harder, I feel guilty about that too. The single-source diet is forced on them by plonking the hives in remote areas where nothing else grows. Is it slightly inconsistent that the company is all about health and mindfulness? But nice to see good old EMF being quoted there (see also: above right).
I drove on then back to Tauranga in the sunshine, arriving too early and killing some time in the Aviation Museum at the airport, which is a working/conservation affair, so there were lots of old white men bustling about feeling important as they played with their big toys. A few of the planes were accessible and I was kind of shocked by the claustrophobic interior of a De Havilland Heron - a civilian plane used by NAC from before I was born. But the windows were luxuriously big! It was really an enthusiast's museum rather than general interest, but they had a lot of machines, civilian and military, if that's your thing.
And then that was that, Bay of Plenty done. Shame about the kayaking, and the trip to Whale Island - one day later and I would have been good. Have to come back again, I suppose. But now it's time to do a bit of flying myself. Shame about the piddly windows...

Tuesday 1 May 2018

Not going hungry

It doesn't take long to do Tauranga. A brisk stroll along the waterfront, pausing to admire the ruru mural, register the fishing boats and smile at the Hairy Maclary installation next to the playground, and that's pretty much it. There are cafés and shops, of course, and an Art Gallery (closed) and one day there might be a museum, but it's not what you would call a hub. The Mount snaffles all that sort of attention.
So, fortified by Trinity Wharf's excellent Bircher muesli, I drove away on a bright, sunny morning, down the coast along a smart toll road, the countryside green and fertile, Whale Island, or Moutohora, distinctive across the tussocky beach. Through Whakatane, and over the hill to Ohope, and then on to little Kutarere where I met Scottish Kenny at his home perched above the shiny, sheltered waters of Ohiwa Harbour, one of the locations where he does kayak tours.
Today though we were cycling, and I got kitted out at Motu Trails with mountain bike and helmet, and then we set off with Jim along the road towards a pretty fancy suspension bridge over the Otara River and then down the coast on the Dunes Trail. So, no mountains were involved then, for which I was thankful (though there are hilly trails in the area, if you're that sort of masochist). Growing up in pancake-flat Christchurch means I am by birth useless at managing gears on a bike, so it was as well that the ups and downs were so moderate that I could manage on one setting.
It was a good trail, packed hard gravel or boards, no soft sand - the most challenging part were the frequent pinch bars we had to squeeze through, there to prevent horses and motorbikes from using the track and cutting it up. There's a lot of hard volunteer work gone into building and maintaining the track, and restoring and replanting the dunes, and they're naturally protective. So we saw only dogs, and pukeko, and a couple of e-bikers grinning their way along, as e-bikers always do, despite some negative vibrations from Jim, who's a dedicated single-gear biker (as was I, today). There was sunshine, lots of chat and information, an empty beach, a cup of tea and a feijoa muffin, and then the return the same way, meeting a bunch of barefoot schoolkids on the bridge, out practising their cross-country. We did 12km, which felt just right to me.
The guy who runs the Two Fish café in Opotiki, where we had lunch, has his lifestyle sorted: open weekdays only, closing at 2.30pm and the rest of the day and week for himself and his kids. It's apparently a common attitude here in the Eastern Bay of Plenty - work/life balance including plenty of room for family and fishing. Sensible.
It was a lovely drive back to Whakatane, the sun golden, the sheep-nibbled hills like green corduroy, the trees autumn red and yellow or starkly bare already, the river still running high. My next appointment on this rather full programme was at Mataatua, a historic meeting house that, under protest, was uplifted by the Government in 1879 and taken for exhibition in Sydney, Melbourne, London and Dunedin. Eventually, more than 100 years later, it was returned to Whakatane in a sorry state, having been re-erected at least once with its walls inside-out. It was restored and finally reopened in 2011, and we four visitors today were given a genuine and authentic Maori welcome and tour of the wharenui. The carvings are amazingly detailed, considering they were done with obsidian, from Mayor Island.
Afterwards, there was an unexpected feast laid on next door: seafood chowder, mussel fritters, venison rolls, fried bread with jam, and kumara brownies, all washed down with kawakawa tea. I had a dinner out scheduled, but decided to cancel it, and did my best, with Maru's encouragement: "Ae, Aunty, have some more!" Back outside, the sky was pink, the river was glossy as a couple of silhouetted waka slid along it, the tui were still singing in the trees along the cliff face; and I went to bed well-nourished.


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