Wednesday 28 July 2021



Does it count as two degrees when it's a place, not a person? Probably not. I've already scored a proper 2° connection with our PM, and to be honest I really couldn't care less about Australia's. That was just an angle to introduce the fact that when I saw this photo in the NZ Herald today, which was taken in late June when they had a meeting in Queenstown, I instantly recognised where they were standing - because I stood there too, only a couple of days later.

That's the big deck out the front of Kamana Lakehouse, which is the highest hotel in Qtn and has magnificent views. That section of balcony in the upper left of the photo? That's the corner room along from ours, one of the Lakeview rooms that have a grandstand view of mountains, town and lake, including sunrise and sunset (both of which, since it's winter, came at very convenient times).

Down below Jacinda and Scott you can see the roof of the three hot tub rooms, where we wallowed for an hour one night, steam rising into the darkening sky, sipping our drinks as we watched the sunset fade and the lights of the town and the stars above brighten. It's a very nice hotel with a Scandi feel to the décor - lots of blond wood, even birch trees in the lobby, and stone, and space. Very comfortable bed, Alexa in charge of operations in the room, and nice food. Bit of a hike into town, though - ok going, because it's downhill, but it would have taken more effort returning. Recommended all the same - though not for scungy ScoMo, who has since pushed off back to Oz, and should have taken all his 501 'trash' with him.

Thursday 22 July 2021

Roll on December

I don't know if it was wise, to site a dazzlingly colourful and architecturally crazy building right next to a big intersection with traffic lights and all - the distraction element will be immense - but still, I can't wait to see the Hundertwasser Art Centre in Whangārei completed.

From the outside, it's already looking close, though the official opening isn't till the end of the year. The mosaiced walls seem complete, there's planting been done, the cupola has been installed, and the men working on the curving and hilly swirling brick paths look nearly there. It is, and it's a rare thing to say about a building, exciting - and that must surely apply as much to the workers as us observers. How much fun they must be having, breaking all the rules, with scarcely a right angle to be seen anywhere! And they're allowed to exercise their own creativity within the overall design, which must be a delightful novelty.

I actually shouldn't be writing any of this - the whole thing is meant to be a great secret, apparently. The outside is screened all the way around (though people have poked holes) and the workmen aren't allowed to take any photos. That's because the building is considered, by the Hundertwasser Foundation in Vienna, an as yet unfinished work of art. (Friedensreich Hundertwasser, architect, moved to NZ in 1975 and died in 2000. This is his last project.) The installation of the golden cupola was naturally on national TV news, however. If I were a local, I might be a bit offended by the notice on the outside of the screen making it quite clear how well protected the gold leaf is, and that any attempt to remove it would render it worthless.

In the meantime, though, there's still a lot to enjoy along Whangārei's Town Basin. Water and boats are always a good start, but now there's an appealing Canopy Walk to view them from, as well as lots of inviting places to eat and drink, galleries, a place to watch glass blowing, a Clock Museum, shops and a playground that looks like good fun.

There's also, I discovered only afterwards, a Sculpture Trail along the river. Drat. That will have to wait till next time - which there certainly will be, and not just because of the Hundertwasser.

Wednesday 21 July 2021

Otterly different - or is it?


Another day of protest at Kennedy Point starts quietly. Kayaks and a swimmer are the only movement to see. The workers are invisible inside, the security guards chat on the path behind me, other protesters take their place at a table covered in pizza boxes, and look at their phones. It’s Day Something of the standoff with no end in sight: marina v little blue penguin colony plus an overlay of Māori territory angst. 

I support the protest, always on the side of penguins and not sympathetic to rich people with boats wanting a floating car park too. Go somewhere else! But, looking at the rocks around the edge of the bay where the penguins nest, it did remind me of somewhere and something similar that I took great pride in pinning down almost immediately.

It was Friday Harbor on San Juan Island in Puget Sound, back in 2010, and I was standing by another stretch of calm water. This one had a jetty and lots of boats, though, and was quite a busy little place. So I was surprised and delighted to see a creature emerge from the water and trot along the jetty to its nest in the rocks at its base. 

Except, now that I’ve looked it up, of course it wasn’t a penguin, so far north. It was an otter. So, not many points, memory - and also, no thanks for now sending me down a rabbit hole of species comparison and evaluation. 

Monday 5 July 2021

Two extremes

 With thanks to Destination Queenstown for this famil

Last day in Queenstown, alas, but it began splendidly, with a real show-stopper sunrise that just got better and better. Today was all about frightening ourselves fifty years too late. Way back in 1980, on our grand top-to-bottom tour of Newzild, we drove our Cortina along the Skippers Canyon road, marvelling at such features en route as the Blue Slip, which is exactly as it sounds - the unsealed road cutting across a hillside of unstable schist. We breezed through (apart from cracking the sump on a rock, that is).

Today, going with Nomad Safaris in a 4WD Land Cruiser driven by Peter who's done the trip about a hundred times, we looked at that still-unsealed narrow road with its deep ruts, the drop-offs and overhangs, the tight bends, and shook our heads at how badly it could have turned out for us back then.

With Peter, though, it was comfortable, educational and spectacular. There were movie-worthy stories (like the boys rescuing their dog at Maori Point scoring a big find of gold and heading home off-road to avoid discovery; and about the struggle to build the road itself), and lots of stops to marvel at the scenery and peer down cliffs at the river so far below. I really enjoyed the icicle encounters - huge, they were, whole swathes of them hanging beside the road.

At the end, at Skippers where there's just a reconstructed school house and a little hut remaining of the settlement (there used to be three towns along the canyon, one of them the first in the country to have mains electricity), we had drinks and bikkies in the snow. Inside the classroom, which is, and was then, unheated, we gasped at the conditions that they lived in back in those 1860s gold rush days. In the old photos on the walls, though, they were all dressed so neatly.

We had a go at gold-panning down in the river, but saw only the tiniest speck of colour (I was more successful long ago on the West Coast, straining my hard-won flakes into my handkerchief - and then, later, forgetting, and blowing my nose on it). It was a good outing, and really interesting. Last night, when I crossed the Edith Cavell bridge, I tried to remember who she was and why her name was so familiar - Peter told us today as we went over it that she was a wonderful British nurse in WWI who was executed by the Germans, but is celebrated by memorials all around the world. Including a mountain in Jasper National Park in Alberta. Which I've seen.

The only disappointment about the Nomad Safaris trip was that, because of the snow and the possible need to fit chains, we were in the Land Cruiser and not their amazing Tesla Model X that owner David drove us back to the hotel in. That windscreen! The seats! The doors! The info screen! It would be an incongruously but fabulously glamorous way to explore Skippers. Next time?

Sunday 4 July 2021

Bed, boat, barbecue, bow-wow, burger, bliss...

 With thanks to Destination Queenstown for this famil

Kamana Lakehouse's beds are so soft that they are very hard to get out of, if you see what I mean. But the view we opened our curtains to was great compensation. This morning I walked about 20 minutes into town - almost enjoying the novelty of frosty, icy, slippery surfaces - to go on a cruise on the 106 year-old TSS Earnslaw, the Lady of the Lake. Sadly, she wasn't up to it today - plumbing is frequently a problem with old ladies - so we went instead on a perfectly serviceable boat with much less (ie no) personality. Never mind - I've sailed on the Earnslaw at least three times before.

Filling in some time beforehand by wandering along the waterfront, I was pleasantly surprised by how friendly everyone was - much more so than in summer. Maybe it's because we were all battling with the cold? Anyway, nice - except for this busker, belting out Neil Diamond songs with his big hairy dog howling along. The dog was called Happy but, going by my brief encounter with him, the guy's name should have been Crabby.

So, we sailed off across the lake, hearing some history about the goldrush days, and marvelling at the crisp, clear and magnificent scenery all around us. We were welcomed at Walter Peak Station and shown inside the lovely heritage homestead for a really yummy and beautifully-presented BBQ lunch. It was all good, but the Silere merino lamb leg was amazing. The individual sticky date pudding went down pretty well, too.

Then we went outside for the sheepdog demonstration by Al, from Wales, and his eyedog Kim, who was fully focused on him and her job. She spent the whole time he was doing his introduction in the little amphitheatre, hurtling up the hillside, leaping over a fence to eye up the sheep, and run back again, over and over. Of course the sheep, though bolshy, did as they were told, coming down into a little pen.

We wandered round the farm then (the original farmhouse roofed with 9 tons of tiles from France) and got friendly with various animals, like Highland cattle, goats and pigs, and then filed back onto the boat for the return trip. Lovely outing.

Graham, aka Twinny (from twin-screw), retiring skipper of the Earnslaw after 30 years, showed me over her when we got back - she sure does have character, and will be back in action again tomorrow. I liked that he said the best stokers (one tonne of coal per trip) were the old guys "bent over like a half-open pocket knife" - because they'd learned the hard way how to be efficient.

Another Queenstown icon, though rather younger, is Fergburger - a burger bar with a permanent queue outside for the last 20 years. Though, as it happened, mid-afternoon we found we could walk straight in. So we did, and I was able to inspect and taste a standard cheeseburger, and testify that it was indeed exceptionally juicy, tasty and well-presented by friendly staff. Tick. (Photo doesn't do it justice.)

My final job for the day - oh, such a hard life I lead - was to head out of town again at 8.30pm for my session at Onsen Hot Pools. These are Japanese-style, down the hillside overlooking the Shotover River in its canyon, and very nicely done. There's all the usual spa stuff there, of course, but I just had an hour-long wallow (with Whittakers chocolate, and wine) in the wooden tub under a partial roof, wondering how it would be in daylight but fully compensated by the Southern Cross and Milky Way overhead, and the snow below lit by candles. Gorgeous. And then it was back to Kamana's lovely bed...

Saturday 3 July 2021


With thanks to Destination Queenstown for this famil 

Whereas yesterday I was zipping down on the snow, this morning it was all about trudging up snowy slopes. That sounds a bit negative - I was walking uphill, but it wasn't that steep and the pace was fine. What made all the difference was that I was trying out snowshoeing. Snowshoes today are very different from the tennis racquet affairs I was imagining: they're light, efficient and easy to wear and use. Having learned the hard way back on that glacier in Iceland not to get my crampons tangled, I very quickly got the hang of keeping my feet apart.

I went with Basecamp Adventures, who do all sorts of scary stuff - ice-climbing, anyone? - so this was a bit, er, pedestrian for mountaineer guide Chris; but he seemed to enjoy himself as much as I did. He was full of information about all sorts of things, so that meant lots of stops to listen, which helped.

We set off from the Remarkables ski base (in Chris-speak, that's 'the Remarks' - Glenorchy is GY, Treble Cone is TC, the gondola is the gondo...). Carefully crossing the ski run with all its variously-skilled skiers and snowboarders scooting down, we headed up and away from the runs. Off-piste! The virgin powder snow was glorious, dry and soft, and actually good fun to fall into, which I did a couple of times when I strayed out of Chris's shoe prints. Snow can hide big pockets of air, you know.

We climbed up to frozen Lake Alta and gazed up at the highest point of the Remarks - Double Cone at 2307m. Rather chasteningly, we were passed by ski tourers plodding uphill with packs on their backs, who were going to spend the night camping on the mountain before doing some climbing. So our trip felt a bit tame, in comparison - but it was still lovely to be up there away from the bustle of the runs, in the sunshine, spotting hare tracks in the snow, admiring the layered schist of the rocks, and the spectacular long views.

After all that fresh air and exercise, it was very pleasant to transfer to Kamana Lakehouse, and have a private hot tub session to ourselves. It was perfect, sipping drinks and lolling in 38 degree steaming water, looking out at that lake and those mountains, as the sun set and the candles brightened in the dark. Kamana is lovely, very woody and Scandinavian, and appealingly modern (Alexa does everything in the bedroom, if you see what I mean) - and the food is good, too.

Friday 2 July 2021

Queenstown rules

With thanks to Destination Queenstown for this famil

The advantage, of course, of being so far south in winter (in the southern hemisphere, remember, regular 😀 reader) is that the sun gets up at a civilised time, so everyone can be smug about enjoying a pretty sunrise. Which we had, from our Juliet balcony at Brown's Boutique Hotel here, just above Queenstown's centre.

It was to be a busy day today, and first up I was whisked to the airport to join five other punters for a helicopter sightseeing trip with Glacier Southern Lakes Helicopters to Milford Sound. It was originally to have been a chopper up a mountain to do some snow-mobiling, which sounded exciting but, amazingly, given what I saw from the plane yesterday, there wasn't enough snow. So this was the very acceptable substitute: scooting up the lake to Glenorchy and over the mountain tops to Milford Sound. We landed there for a coffee (it was amazingly quiet - in normal times, in the middle of any given day it would be heaving with coaches and people) and a wander along the shore to marvel at Mitre Peak before taking off again.

We stopped again on a remote beach to appreciate, well, the remoteness - though there were some picturesque ruins there from the whaling days - and then swooped away again over the sound (actually, fiord) for the most exciting bit: landing on a snowy glacier way up in the mountains. Virgin powder snow, a classic triangular peak right there, and us the only signs of life, surrounded by white pointy mountains - magic!

The pilot, Albie, who did a lot of aerial filming for LOTR, made a specialty of drifting alongside steep rocky slopes - surely closer than the 500ft legal limit - then lifting up slowly to reveal, as we crested a knife-edge ridge, a whole new vista of mountains and valleys. Spectacular.

That ought to have been enough excitement for one day, but I was then picked up from the airport and driven all the way up to Coronet Peak, Queenstown's iconic skifield, to do a spot of Yooning. Honestly, it would have been enough to just watch everybody happily skiing and snowboarding, at various levels of expertise - something I'd never seen up close in real life before. But I was introduced to friendly, enthusiastic Tuki, owner/operator of YoonerNZ, who is Tahitian but also, bizarrely, a snow fiend. His thing is the Yooner - a sort of low sit-on scooter with one ski and a handle grip, that you whizz along on with no fear of falling since you're only inches above the snow anyway.

Well! It was huge fun. Super-easy to operate, so that after a couple of runs on the nursery slopes with all the little kids, I graduated to a proper ski run, 100m higher up the ski lift. Tuki said (repeatedly!) that I was amazing, scooting down, trailing my hand in the snow to make sweeping turns, avoiding the other sliders, and pulling up at the bottom just like that. But I wasn't really - it was just so easy. I could have kept going for ages.

But that was my taster done. I took the gondola then up actual Coronet Peak, where there was a steep and dodgy track right to the very top, all ice, with no handrails at the start and finish. Reader, there was crawling. The views were worth it though, on this fabulous day.

And still the action wasn’t over - next, mulled wine by the fire with oddly-named but chatty host Peter-Ray at Brown’s, and the other guests, which was nice; and then we took the gondola up to the Skyline restaurant on Bob's Peak, where I don't think we'd ever been before at night-time. The town looked lovely, all lit up down below, and then it got even better when the Welcome to Winter fireworks began. WTW is a smaller substitute for the usual much bigger Winter Festival, but that didn't mean they stinted on the fireworks - they were terrific.

The restaurant though wasn't great - buffet food, which feels odd these days even in (currently) Covid-free Enzed, and the plates were cold; but the desserts were yummy.

And that was the day -  so busy, but lots of fun, and full of glorious sights. Well done, Queenstown.

Thursday 1 July 2021

There are no roads in the air

With thanks to Destination Queenstown for this famil
Unfortunately. So even when you’ve flown between the same destinations previously, there’s no guarantee you’ll take the same exact route again. I dunno, wind? Anyway, the upshot was that my gamble on sitting on the right side of the plane (should I say starboard?) so I could gaze upon the Southern Alps in all their post-Polar Blast glory, backfired spectacularly. Reader, I saw sea. And more sea. Meanwhile, those on the port side (I’m getting the hang of this now) got the whole package of snow-capped Ruapehu, Tongariro and Taranaki, with the final bonus of a close-up of Aoraki Mt Cook. Spit.

Mt Aspiring did its best, near the end, there was a glacier, I saw the full length of Lake Wakatipu, looked down at Walter Peak Station, and it was all very lovely. Just not properly spectacular.  Again, spit.

Anyway, here I am once again in Queenstown, star of New Zealand’s tourism sector, doing a first: winter. Yes, yes, people come here from all over the world to ski and soak in hot pools, and swan about in beanies and puffas - but not in my experience, which has always been in summer. Brown hills, swimming (er, not actually me - it’s still a mountain lake, you know, always 9 degrees), ice creams, all that. Gorgeous. 

Ever of the inquiring mind, and equally always looking for an angle to pitch, I decided it was time to round out my Queenstown experience - so here I am, just past the shortest day, here to get a taster of everything this chillier version has to offer. Bar skiing. That’s a chance I missed, back when I was fit and young, but also an impecunious student, and I’m not chancing my arm (more likely hip) at that now I’m so long in the tooth.

There is still active fun to be had, and I will be having some (heard of the Yooner? No? Then be sure to come back) - but today was about glorying in some beautiful snowy scenery. Classic drive up to Glenorchy at the top of the lake with perfect reflections, skeletal winter trees, slippery shaded patches on the road, and snow all over the place, adding a whole other dimension to this familiar but always spectacular bit of the country.

Finally - after giving up on finding a parking place in streets that were choked with traffic (on a Thursday!) - there was dinner at Flame Grill, the restaurant full of people chatting loudly in an unexpected variety of accents given, you know, Covid. Very international - plus the menu was heavily South African, focused on meat, of course. Yebo! Pretty good sustenance for a startlingly cold, but pretty,night. 


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