Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Trans-Tasman bubble, yay!

Well, thanks for including Tassie, Scott - but, the Apple Isle aside, you’ve left out some of the best bits. Victoria, yeah - but what about South Australia, and the Northern Territory? I’ve had some of my best Aussie fun in those states. 

Both my home town, Christchurch, and sister city Adelaide owe some of their history to the same dubious character, Edward Gibbon Wakefield (his page on begins with the throwaway sentence: Wakefield developed his theories of colonisation while serving a term at Newgate Prison for abducting and marrying a teenage heiress. They don't talk about that in SA when they're telling you, as they always do, that they're not convict-settled.) 

So I felt comfortable there, with the grid road system, heritage buildings, central square, all that - but it's outside the city that I've had the best times. Riding a camel, herding cattle on horseback, glamping, hiking through the Flinders Ranges, sighting an enormous feral cat, swimming with tuna and sealions, spotting koalas and being wowed by cuttlefish on Kangaroo Island, sleeping underground in Coober Pedy, surviving a dust storm, eating sheep's milk haloumi, cuddling a roo joey, being awed by amazing ancient rocks, lying on my back in the grass waggling my legs in the air to - successfully - attract an emu. And people think SA is just about the wine!

And then there's the Territory. Where to start? With Darwin, the frontier town? Japanese bombing, Cyclone Tracy, a-dingo-ate-my-baby court case, NT News headlines, rough and ready citizens. Really, though, it's all about the Outback - gloriously empty mile after mile of red soil and blue sky, and a flicker along the edges where the colours meet. Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Kings Canyon. Aboriginal culture, ancient and modern art, music and stories. 

Even rougher and readier Alice Springs, where the annual Henley-on-Todd regatta involves people holding boats around their waists as they run along the dry riverbed. Opals. Road trains. School of the Air and the Flying Doctor. Stone curlews screaming like murder victims in the night, dingoes howling, bats ticking past like clockwork toys. More water than you'd expect - lakes like mirrors, waterfalls, rivers below towering canyon walls, or between sandy banks draped with untrustworthily sleeping crocs. Barramundi on every menu. 

I could go on, and on, and on. I've had so, SO much fun in the Territory and South Australia. Terrific places to visit, and guaranteed to deliver great stories. Go there! You can, Kiwis, now...

Monday, 5 April 2021

To be not disappointed

 Although I had two pages in the Sunday Star-Times travel section all to myself yesterday, the triumph was somewhat mitigated by the cover story being about the Southern Lights flight. This is a special organised by Viva Expeditions with Air NZ, to fly from (and back to) Christchurch in a Dreamliner on a 10-hour search for the aurora australis. The plane flies in the dramatically-named stealth mode, all external lights off, internal too, so everyone's eyes can adjust and fully appreciate the aurora.

They found the lights quite quickly, and they were pretty spectacular, according to the photos and video. But - and this is a HUGE but - not according to most passengers' actual eyes. The trouble is, our eyes, and especially older eyes, aren't very good at picking up the colours, so what almost everyone saw were swirls of white - the green and pink only showed up via cameras.

Now I would have found that deeply disappointing, to put it mildly. Seeing the aurora is one of my top wants, but to pay all that money, fly all that way and only see white? Nah, Instagram has spoiled me for that. I want proper colour, end of. And if I have to go to Finland, or Norway, or Alaska for my chance to see it, well, that's just icing on the cake. Or actual ice. Whatever. Even if it turns out my eyes can't do the business, at least I've been somewhere interesting and not just been squashed into a plane for ten hours, flying from A to A.

Travel should not be about disappointment, especially when it involves world-famous spectacles or landmarks. I'm happy to report that right up there with cast-iron guarantees of satisfaction (for the locations, tourist throngs notwithstanding) are the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu, the Galapagos Islands, Easter Island's moai, the Eiffel Tower and Tower Bridge. There are lots of others. As further proof, most of those listed I've been to more than once, and been 98% thrilled to see them again. And, for today's connection, two of those - Machu Picchu and Galapagos - I visited the second time courtesy of Viva Expeditions. Thanks, Rachel.

Sunday, 4 April 2021

Another first for New Zealand

I remember when Daylight Saving was first (spoiler alert: or so I thought) introduced in New Zealand. That was back in 1974, to help with the energy crisis of the time by reducing the demand for lighting and heating. It has been periodically lengthened since then, after surveys indicated the public wanted more of it - or maybe they were just keen to postpone the depressing transition back to standard time in autumn, which happened early this morning, and tonight will inflict darkness upon us at what will feel like an ungodly early hour.

But it turns out, not only has NZ played with DST previous to that, but, the whole concept was invented by a New Zealander! Of course I knew we were first with the jetboat, plastic syringes (sorry, environment), electric fences, powered flight (sorry, Wright Bros), bungy jumping, Zorbs, jogging (thanks for the guilt, Arthur Lydiard), the jetpack, the egg beater, the referee's whistle, Sealegs amphibious boats... the list goes on, honestly. But I didn't know about Daylight Saving.

Back in 1895, Post Office clerk George Vernon Hudson presented a paper to the Wellington Philosophical Society, suggesting changing the clock by two hours in order to give people more free time in summer to pursue outside interests - for him, collecting insects. His enthusiasm wasn't catching, however, and the idea was ignored until 1927, when it was suddenly recognised as an excellent plan, and introduced.

In 1941, because of the war, it was extended to last the whole year, and in 1946 became NZ Standard Time. Eventually, the idea of summer time was revived again and it restarted in 1974 and has continued ever since, with modifications. Meantime, the idea had been suggested in 1907 in Britain, liked by Winston Churchill but rejected by those in power, and finally adopted, following Germany, during WWI. It was actually a little town in Canada that officially started it first, in 1908.

Today some countries do, some don't. And within countries - well, I haven't googled that far but I can confidently report that, in Australia, the Northern Territory is the only state not to change its clocks. How do I know? Because my 1975 epic rail trip itinerary that I booked in Sydney had me turning up at the station in Alice Springs to catch the train down to Adelaide, to find the gate locked, the tracks empty, and the train already departed. Idiot clerk. I was almost out of money and had to live on peanut butter sandwiches for three days until the next train.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Furneaux x deux

Hmm, that was shamefully slow of me, to make this connection. I'm writing (again) about the Bay of Fires Walk in Tasmania which I did in 2011 - and yes! There's beginning to be editorial interest once more in foreign stories! (After all this time, Australia genuinely counts as foreign rather than just the cuzzies across the ditch, no question.)

Anyway, I was just explaining that this section of Tassie's north-eastern coast was given its name by Tobias Furneaux, who captained the boyishly-named HMS Adventure, accompanying Cook on his second voyage round this bit of the Pacific in 1773. He saw lines of fires along the beaches, which were the campfires of the Aboriginal people who lived there, and who had been living there for 40,000 years - not that Cook had recognised that in 1770, mind, declaring Australia 'Terra Nullius', or nobody's land, and promptly claiming it for Britain.

It was only when I was checking something about Tobias and Google suggested 'Furneaux Lodge' that I realised I'd been there too - it's a very comfortable hotel on the Queen Charlotte Track, in the Marlborough Sounds, not accessible by road. I'd started walking that day 17km away at Ship Cove, a favourite location for Cook, who hung out there several times, doing repairs and having a bit of R&R with his crew. I wasn't surprised: it's all beautiful around there, with turquoise blue sounds, green bushy hills, sheltered little bays, lots of birds and even - very unexpected, on both sides - two deer on the track.

I had a lovely day, wandering along, but was still pleased to get to Furneaux Lodge in Endeavour Inlet for some well-earned comfort. Which it delivered, in spades - modern little motel unit in the garden, pretty heritage main building built in 1904 (by another seaman), welcoming, excellent food (still mourning that sticky date pudding I didn't have room for) and beautiful setting.

It's a shame, then, that it's indelibly connected in the national consciousness with the mysterious disappearance from there and presumed murders of Ben Smart and Olivia Hope on New Year's Eve in 1998. Scott Watson was found guilty but is still denying it. He was in the news again just a week ago when a key witness in the case, the last to see the victims alive, and who disputed the Crown's identification of the boat he'd left them at, committed suicide. The mystery continues...

Friday, 26 March 2021

Godwits, God wot

Godwits are amazing birds. Our bar-tailed godwits are the largest of the species, but they're still only about 40cm head to tail (and a fair-sized section of that is beak) - pretty flimsy for a creature that flies, non-stop, up to 12,000 km, twice a year, every year. What's more, they can do the journey between Alaska, where they breed, and here in just 8-9 days, averaging 56km/h. Talk about exhausting - and also, really, godwits? Do you have to? Couldn't you find more convenient breeding and feeding sites? 

Leaving aside my incomprehension about why so many species of birds make their lives so difficult for themselves, insisting on flying across the Sahara, or over the Himalayas, or, in the case of the incompletely-named Arctic tern, doing a 90,000km round trip every year from one pole to the other - which equates, over a lifetime, to going to the moon and back three times. Leaving that, as I say, aside - the arrival of the godwits at their feeding sites here is a celebrated event, and not just by binoculared birders. 

When they turn up at Miranda, on the Firth of Thames just south of Auckland, all sorts of people go out to see them, and be heartened. That happens around September, and they spend the summer here assiduously feeding on the mudflats before, about now, heading away again. Some of them have satellite transmitters fitted (it's always a slight niggle, how much harder that might make the journey for them, though they seem to manage ok). Individuals are known by their number, like this season's record-breaker 4BBRW who, thanks to some inconvenient winds, flew the longest-ever recorded non-stop flight of about 12,000km and got here in 11 days. (His name seems a bit clinical but just refers to the leg band colours - blue, blue, red, white.)

The Miranda Trust does all the tracking and communicates the data, and is now following them as they head north again. Maybe because it's uphill (actually, probably head winds), they do stop on the return journey, in Asia (not without problems, sigh, because of loss of habitat in some places there) and it's been announced that some of them are already in South Korea.

South Korea! I went there once, back in the golden days... I only went because I'd been invited, to help publicise a new Air NZ route, never having seriously considered it as a destination before. Big mistake. It's a really great place to visit - nice people, excellent architecture, colourful culture, vivid history, natch - and the food! Just SO good. I was really pleased to have gone there, and would happily go again.

Thursday, 25 March 2021

I can’t remember my passport number any more

Wow. One whole year since we all got this alert, NZ went into Level 4 lockdown and everything changed for what still feels like forever. My diary for 2020 is mostly completely blank, apart from a few crabbily crossed-out booked events, which include a still-mourned Seabourn cruise to Greenland, and a Viking one around Japan.

I wonder if I'll ever get to those places now? The news about international travel is so glum - not just the ongoing drama of Covid-19, though of course that's massive, but also the low rumble of sustainability/climate change/environmental degradation affecting airlines, cruise ships, hotels, tourism operators, all that. It almost feels as though we're going back to the fifties, when only the rich could travel overseas and the rest of us had to keep it domestic.

It's important to protect the planet as much as we can, and stop messing it up thoughtlessly and stupidly, no argument. It doesn't actually belong to us humans alone, and we've been very selfish for a long time now. That has to stop. But it's really hard to adapt to not having the right to travel as we please any more - and also, so tough for all the towns, businesses and employees who depend on tourism for their livelihoods. In the face of which genuine hardship, I hesitate even to mention the deep disappointment of us travel writers...

Monday, 22 March 2021



“Tasmania. Isn’t it quite cold there?”

I was cheerfully polite in my answer, but inside I was spitting. That is exactly the sort of question that lazy, unimaginative, boring people ask about Australia. These people think they know Aussie, because they’ve been there quite a lot — but always to the same few places. They go to the Gold Coast for the sun, to Sydney for the shopping, and, if they’re feeling briefly cultural, to Melbourne for a show. And that’s it.

The rest of the country? The rest of the actual continent? It’s a blank, to them. I would be annoyed at their ignorance, if I weren’t more sorry for their missing out on so much stunning scenery, unique experiences, personable people and, well, wombats. The glorious Outback culminating at the one and only Uluru, swimming with whale sharks at Ningaloo, cruising the Kimberley’s colours, walking the length of Busselton Jetty, sleeping in an underground hotel at Coober Pedy, swimming with sea lions — or sharks — at Port Lincoln, exploring the marvellous national museum in Canberra — that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the bragging rights you can earn by getting off the well-beaten tourist track in Australia...

That started out as a travel story intended to encourage people to go to Tasmania, which will soon be accessible by a direct flight to Hobart from Auckland - but it very quickly deteriorated into an unpublishable rant. Which means it's ideal blog material, of course. I really do get frustrated by people saying there's nothing to see in the Outback, who go always to the same places along that south-eastern corner of Australia (though I do enjoy the joke about that being the most populated part of the country because it's the closest they can get to New Zealand without getting their feet wet).

Anyway, the connection is that, having abandoned the story, I later sat to watch 'Coast' on TV and it was about the Kimberley - where I've done a short but vivid cruise with a company I'd seen an ad about just yesterday. Kimberley Quest is a catamaran that can go up rivers and across the amazing Montgomery Reef, but is big enough to fit a helicopter on its roof. It really was a terrific trip, with nice other passengers, excellent crew, delicious food, all sorts of activities, and stunning scenery. Loved it. And love the Kimberley, too - it's colourful, ancient, interesting, beautiful... A memorable must-see that those narrow-minded Gold Coast fans are stupidly missing out on. Their loss.

Thursday, 18 March 2021

Luna Eclipsed...

 ...was the clever headline in the NZ Herald the day after Team NZ beat the Italian boat Luna Rossa in what turned out to be the beginning of the end of the series. Yesterday we beat the Italians to score the seventh win, and so retained the America's Cup. The mere fact that I used 'we' in that sentence will alert regular ­čśÇ readers to the massive domination of all other - and actually important - current affairs by this (spit) sport.

Actually, many people other than me have argued about its being a proper sport, seeing as how it's mostly about money - these crazy yachts that fly along above the water on their foils don't come cheap. But even I have to grudgingly concede that there is also plenty of real skill involved, as well as a refreshing element of chance - winds, and all that. So I was one of the 1.4 million TV/online viewers yesterday afternoon.

Throughout the series, Auckland's waterfront has been buzzing, the harbour has been chokka with boats, the sailors are our new heroes, and everyone, apart from the Italians (with their Aussie skipper), is now very pleased. If anyone else in the world was watching (unlikely, they do have other concerns) , they would surely have been shocked and discomfited by seeing the pre-Covid normality of 40,000 spectators packed closely together at the Viaduct, watching on the big screens and cheering. 

Hopefully, though, they would also have been impressed by the clever graphics onscreen and the general beauty of the setting - blue harbour, looming green bulk of Rangitoto, flotilla of 1600 small boats, city skyscrapers, enviable seaside suburbs. Good stuff. Oh, and the travel connection? Team NZ is sponsored by Emirates...

Friday, 12 March 2021

Life goes on

Cemeteries are such peaceful places, it's easy to forget that they hide so much drama. Not everybody has been fortunate to drift out of this world while lying comfortably their beds at the end of a long life - some poor souls were violently wrenched from theirs far too early. Like the Bain family, for instance - nationally famous and, the murders not solved, still in our collective conscious, getting on for thirty years later.

It's a bit the same, flying over the countryside, looking down and vaguely admiring the scenery without thinking about all those lives being busily lived on the ground, all of them involving a mix of good and bad, to different degrees. Mt Taranaki is a symbol of that: pleasingly symmetrical, peaceful, lovely, but only there because of a huge eruption - which, as it's officially dormant, could happen again, any time (as we know to our cost, with Whakaari White Island).

You can't live your life thinking such deep thoughts, though - or I can't, anyway - so it was a pure pleasure to get back to Auckland and find myself surrounded by people having simple (if rather expensive) fun. The day's America's Cup racing was over, and the big flotilla of spectator boats was moseying back to the city while the ferry crept along through them in the opposite direction at just 5 knots. It meant the journey took almost twice as long as normal, but nobody was bothered: it was Friday evening, we'd won the race, there was lots to look at and enjoy out on the water - and then we got the final gift of an excellent sunset. Welcome home, indeed.

Thursday, 11 March 2021

Dunners is not a dud

It's a bit odd, as a visitor to Dunedin, to be directing around the city two people who were born there, one of whom has lived there as an adult, but neither of whom had any idea of where they should go for a bit of downtime sightseeing. So I guided them into the city, past the cathedral and the back of the Robbie Burns statue, through the Octagon and along George Street where we were all, to be honest, astonished at being able to drive straight into an on-street free car park.

The Ed Sheeran mural went down well, as did the indoor malls with such an excellent range of shops that even non-shoppers like me were attracted inside. Best of all was Maher Shoes, with some extraordinary Brazilian artworks that it was hard to imagine anyone actually wearing.

The Railway Station was a success too, as always, with its over-the-top decoration, pillars, arches, pediments and towers - and that was just the outside. Inside were nearly 750,000 Royal Doulton tiles in the floor mosaic, gorgeous stained glass windows featuring, naturally, steam engines, and the Otago Art Society gallery. There were not only lovely artworks, but also a couple of friendly, chatty artists at work - very different from the snotty woman behind the desk of the NZ Sports Hall of Fame opposite, who was very curt and unwelcoming. Made me glad I didn't want to go in anyway.

Ironic across the road does an excellent own-blended coffee, but I can't recommend their cheese rolls, which came flat, dry and crisp. I would have liked to visit the Chinese Garden nearby, which looks lovely in the brochures, but there was no interest from the others so we drove back out of town, attempting to find a lookout on Saddle Hill but failing - because, we learned later, all the signs had been taken down to dissuade people from using the carpark as party central. Student town, see.

And we finished by going to see a house that has a long history for us all, but which is now sadly unloved and unlivable, and very much smaller than we all remembered. It surely won't be standing for much longer and seeing it was, as if we needed it, a memento mori moment.

Wednesday, 10 March 2021

Home and away

First time on a plane in FOURTEEN MONTHS! It felt strange and yet so familiar, as if I could once again have been jetting off somewhere exotic, to stay in a fancy hotel, swanning around doing fun things and seeing lovely places...

Except this time I’m going somewhere I’ve often been, sleeping in a living room, eating takeaways, and the high point of the day being a visit to an impressively good supermarket. Where I photographed this clue for you to guess my location:

Monday, 8 March 2021

Rifts, both hot and cold

17,000 puts our three (plus aftershocks) into perspective, for sure. And - hopefully - we're not likely to have a proper eruption like this on the mainland in the near future; though it has happened here, of course, within even my memory. They don't seem much bothered, in Iceland, about this potential event - it's 25km from Reykjavik and apparently there aren't many people living near there. The worst prognosis is that lava might flow over a road.

It is, though, in an area where all tourists (including me) go - the Great Rift Valley, where the two tectonic plates that Iceland sits on, the American and the Eurasian, visibly butt up against each other, and there's some spectacular scenery around there. Most notable is the Blue Lake, which is thermally heated, and so a magnet for people wanting to skite about swimming in it (naturally, I didn't go there, yawn, we've got plenty of that sort of thing here). 

There's also the Silfra Fissure in ├×ingvellir* National Park, where people go diving and snorkelling because of the brilliant clarity of the water and, naturally, the skite factor. I didn't do that either - but I did enjoy walking around the area, appreciating the rocks and the rivers, the flowers and the birds, and the pretty little church. It was lovely.

Speaking of Great Rift Valleys, that reminds me there's another in Kenya. I went there, too. It was warmer. And very optimistic.

* That's ├× as in Th, ie thorn for you fellow linguistics veterans.


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