Monthly Archives: October 2014

Coromandel, 28/10/14

The first part of my stay in Auckland I spent in a hostel in Ponsonby. It was very convenient, with good cafes and book shops and the like. Even better, I was very close to where Teia, who I met on the shuttle, lives.

I went for dinner in at his invitation, in a beautiful house, where I met his mother-in-law, Anna. She is great, with a big smile and lots of information about interesting people and places in New Zealand. We got on well and planned to go to the West Coast on Sunday, but her daughter, Ruth, flew over from London and so we only had time for lunch, made by Teia, and agreed to meet up again.

I had to move hostels on Friday. Kayleigh, a young woman sharing a dorm with me, was moving to the same place, so we decided to visit Waiheke Island together.

The day wasn’t entirely successful, both because of the highly changeable weather, which entailed frequent removing and replacing of jumpers and rain-jackets, but also because the maps we had were inadequate and misleading. However, we enjoyed the coastal views and sheltered from the rain by wine-tasting at Cable Bay cellar door. All in all, we both agreed we had a good time.

Our hostel was in the heart of Auckland, which is a bit lacking in atmosphere. Hence the move to Coromandel, erstwhile home of the Yonghy Bonghy Bo, (Edward Lear – please look it up if you don’t know the poem, as it is poignant and ridiculous).

The ferry doesn’t run on Mondays, so I took the bus. I’m glad, because the drive, once you get out of Auckland, is lovely. Green, green grass; round tussocky hills; grazing cattle, spring flowers. The road runs right by the coast, with a choppy, silvery grey-green sea. Arum lilies and nasturtiums have naturalised everywhere. The driver even stopped at one point, to let us admire the view.

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A sea-eagle soared in the distance and two swallows skimmed the hills in acrobatic twists and turns before us.

It’s all wrong, of course, because the land has been completely transformed by logging and the introduction of non-native species. It’s still delightful.

I intended to stay at Dharma Gaia Garden, a place recommended to me by Anna. Due to a temporary fault on my phone, however, I wasn’t able to confirm a place there for Monday and arranged to spend two nights in Coromandel Town.

While waiting in Thames for the connection, I got talking to Thor, a young German with dreadlocks, who seems to know the area well and is house-sitting there. He has offered to keep in touch to furnish further information.

Yesterday, after I arrived, I went on the local walk over the coast

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And went to see the big tree, a Kauri “giant” that’s estimated to be 1200 years old. Extraordinary bark, that manages to be smooth and lumpy at the same time. This picture shows about half of one side.

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This morning I went on the Driving Creek Railway. This is a narrow-gauge track running over 3 km of hilly forest, laid entirely by one man, Barry Brickell. First a teacher, then a potter, he extended the track and opened it to the public to pay off a bank loan. Now a wildlife sanctuary and a forest restoration project, it’s a fantastic piece of work and an entertaining ride.

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The route passes over several bridges, into tunnels, through “Ravington”, named after the parties they had up there, and is lined in many places by walls of wine bottles, the contents of which were mainly consumed on the premises of Barry’s pottery, which now has studios for visiting potters.

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In contrast, this afternoon I went on a guided tour of some naturally regenerating forest, an area which contains a small grove of mature Kauris, that somehow escaped the loggers, and Waliau waterfall.

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Tomorrow I go to Dharma Gaia for two days “mindfulness retreat”. Time to stand still.

Sydney-Auckland, 24/10/14

I am sitting in the departure lounge in Sydney airport, waiting for my flight to Auckland. Free WiFi so I’ll try to catch up on my travels.

It has been surprisingly complicated to arrange travel to New Zealand, as you need to have an onward ticket and complete other formalities. Consequently I’ve been feeling a bit disgruntled. I recognise that I had a grumble about Greyhound services in my last post, which is strange considering that in the past year I’ve travelled on buses that were crowded, uncomfortable and even dangerous. Perhaps it’s because it’s been a relief to have comforts such as good sanitation that come with a first world lifestyle and I’d forgotten some of the stresses that come with it. It seemed that there were a lot of regulations to attend to and I was resentful.

Thinking about this I realise that all the cultures I’ve experienced have their own rules and requirements. Indeed, some of the simplest societies have the most binding dos and don’ts, especially around the separate roles of men and women, with stringent sanctions to enforce them. It appears to be part of the human condition. We tie ourselves in knots, yet yearn to be free.

Even if I have spent quite a bit of energy getting things organised, I have continued to enjoy myself. Melbourne is an interesting and attractive city. I had the good fortune to meet up with Halley’s family and was invited to stay by her grandmother, Helen. She was a prison governor before ill health led to her retirement. Although she has spent most of her life in Australia, she still has a Scottish accent. She is strong-willed and out-spoken, kind, with a droll sense of humour. I am very grateful for her hospitality and help.

With Halley’s mother and nephew, we went to Marysville, a beautiful resort North of Melbourne, ravaged by fire on “Black Saturday” in 2009. Many people died and members of her family had houses completely destroyed. As an outsider, there were places where I would not have guessed what had happened, as the forest has quickly regenerated, but there are still scars. The mountain ash on the heights are dead and it will be many years before their growth is established.

Halley’s family have faced much adversity, but they are funny and generous and open-hearted.

While in Melbourne, I explored the museums, arcades and arty alleyways. There are some lovely Art Deco buildings, a good tram system and cosy bars and restaurants. Not so sure about the weather, though. They all laugh about ” four seasons in one day”, but I did manage to avoid the worst of it.

They’re calling my flight now, so I’ll fill in the rest later.

I’m now in the Central Library in Auckland. Yesterday’s arrival was chaotic. The plane took off over half-an-hour late. We made up some time on the way and I got through passport control quite easily. Then through to baggage hall that was full to bursting. It was so crowded I couldn’t find a trolley and ended up standing in a queue for bio security for an hour and a half with my rucksack on my back. I declared my cowrie shell bracelet, from Sumatra and then on to baggage X-Ray.

On the shuttle service bus to my hostel I had a most delightful encounter with a Maori named Teia. He was travelling back from Bali with his six year old son, Ace. The family have a jewellery business with production based there and his wife has stayed on for a few days, with his daughter. He lived in Chalk Farm in London for many years, playing bass guitar for a band called Spektrum, that toured the world, but often used to hang out in Hackney. We shared some opinions on music and I discovered he has a friend in the UK who went to the Kate Bush concert and got backstage. Teia used to be vegetarian, but has a mother-in- law who still is and is into meditation. He parted by giving me his number and inviting me to call to arrange a dinner to meet her.

Anyway, before I got diverted by my first experience of NZ, I wanted to mention my trip to Kyabram in Victoria. My father was born there in 1920, but I was unable to find out anything further about him or his parents from Melbourne Library records, apart from their names. I thought I’d go to see the place, nevertheless. To do this I had to take a train and a bus. From hilly countryside we passed onto a vast flatland and then into orchards as we approached the town.
This is the Main Street, almost 100 years after my father was born somewhere in the vicinity.

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There are a few buildings from the first half of the twentieth century.

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I had lunch, (a pizza), here –

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– where there was a picture on the wall, taken in the last century.

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It is hard to imagine what it was like to live there in my father’s time, though there is a restored “Hazelman’s Cottage” from 1867.

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I ended my time in Australia back in Sydney. I managed to get to The Blue Mountains this time and stayed in Katoomba. I took the train, which was electric, quiet and quick. They have a clever system where you can fold the back of the seat over by hand. This means that you can face whichever direction you prefer, or sit in a party of four if you wish. Very practical.

After an initial wander around on the first afternoon I arrived, I set off for the Wentworth Falls on a local bus, which I had all to myself. Everywhere was bursting with bloom, whether it was the indigenous Australian Wattle and Banksia, or the imported fruit trees and rhododendrons At the start of the walk there was a lookout point, which was bustling with people chattering and taking selfies. The view, though, is stunning.

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There is a rock formation named The Three Sisters.

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Then I found a track under the crag which was completely deserted. Water dripped from overhanging rocks, producing showers like raindrops and forming basins with mossy growth. Birds were singing and fluttering around me. The waterfall, when I arrived, was relatively slight and placid at the top.

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It gathered force and character as it dropped through the gorge.

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Crossing over the bridge, I found another disused pathway up the hill and through the bush. After a lunch of bread, cheese and ginger beer, I took the train back to Katoomba. Another beautiful day.

My last evening in Australia I spent with my special friends, Nick and Tash. I hope that we can meet up again someday.

I shall be in New Zealand for three months, all being well. I hope to spend Christmas here and make some new friends. I’m now officially half way round the world.

Sydney, 15/10/14 (Part Two)

The excursion to Uluru involved a lot of driving, as I have said. During this I finally saw two wild kangaroos by the side of the road. This is in a country that says it has too many kangaroos.

We also saw a small herd of wild horses, which is rare. They were magnificent, so unlike the animals you encounter at riding schools. They galloped along the side of the road, heads aloft and muscles tense. Each one had different colouring and there were two young colts. Quite a thrill.

I left Alice Springs by Greyhound bus. I would not recommend them. I bought a Kilometre Pass earlier on in my travels around Australia. However, when I have tried to use up my remaining allocation, they always seem to calculate the distance as being too great and the top-up costs more than the ticket.

In this case, the air con was not working during the day and the windows could not be opened, so the temperature in the bus reached 35 degrees. Then at night, the heating wasn’t working and we all got very cold. Eventually the driver tried some minor repairs and on came the heat. It then stayed full on all night until the temperature was up to 36 degrees. I felt like a Baked Alaska.

My trip ended in Adelaide. I cannot pretend that I saw it at its best. The first day was cold, wet and windy at first, then warmed up too much for what I was wearing in the afternoon. On the Saturday, it was the Grand Final of Australia Rules Football. The Sydney Swans were playing the Hawks, who are from Melbourne but supported by Adelaide as they are Victorians. What this meant in practice was that the city was filled by extremely drunk men being extraordinarily loud. Many had not sobered up by the following day. They were not especially intimidating, but certainly to be avoided.

However, I did go on a wine-tasting tour myself. At first it seemed that we were only served very small tasters, but after four vineyards, six or seven red, white and rose wines to taste in each and a couple of fortified wines, on a blazing hot day, I was happy to retire to bed early, without making any noise at all.

I would recommend the museum in Adelaide. It has a South Sea Island section which is rather like The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford again, but more organised and better labelled. There are drawers of exhibits to pull out and explore and altogether far too much to see in one day.

Then it was on to Melbourne. I have run out of time again, so will write about that another day, when I can do it justice.

Sydney, Wednesday 15/10/14 (Part One).

At last I’m able to get free WiFi and continue the story of my travels.

Alice Springs was rather sad. Although there were pubs and restaurants and gift shops, many places were run down or closed. There is little to do there. The aborigine people paint and make artefacts, but I didn’t see many in employment. I did see quite a few drunk on the streets and arguments breaking out. Reading about their past at Uluru made me understand their present predicament better.

It made sense to me to take a guided tour of the area and arranged this at a discount through my hostel. Our guide and driver was a surfer dude/farm boy called Luke. He took his work seriously and had studied his subject, but also liked making bad puns. The tour involved long drives, so it was important to keep him talking to help him to stay awake.

Our first day was spent at Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park.

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The first white explorers named places after their friends or sponsors, but the indigenous people have other ideas. In fact, they do not like the name “Aborigine” – hardly surprising with its associations as a term of abuse. The inhabitants of the NW Territory call themselves Anangu, meaning ‘people’. There are many different tribes and languages all over the country. I think it is important for me to be aware of this when I visit their sacred places as a tourist. The history of Australia over the last two hundred years is full of destruction and exploitation, but there are signs of a turn-around and a desire to do better.

Anyway, the six kilometre walk around Kings Canyon begins with “Heart Attack Hill”, named because of its steepness. Actually, it’s not too bad, but you are not allowed to start the walk if the temperature is over 35 degrees Celsius, because of the risk of sunstroke and dehydration. The views from the top, at 100 metres, are impressive.

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The rocks themselves are sculpted and coloured.

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About half way round the walk there is a descent into the “Garden of Eden”, a permanent water hole and a sacred space.

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At the end of the day, hot and tired, we drove to our campsite out in the wild. Dinner round the campfire, (we had gathered firewood earlier in the day). Then my first opportunity to sleep under the stars in a swag. This is a roll-up mattress, enclosed in a heavy-duty plastic cocoon. You use it with a sleeping-bag, it zips up and there you are, sleeping under the stars, (though you can pull the top over your head if it rains). It was comfortable, as we were sleeping on sand, even if we all felt a bit cold below the waist. Not much sleep, but a beautiful night.

Up at dawn to see the sunrise, with a mug of hot chocolate and the footprints of dingo, lizards and birds that had visited us overnight.

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We then went for another walk, this time to Kata Tjuta for “The Valley of the Winds”. This is a walk through the Olgas, though Kata Tjuta is a Pitjantjatjara expression meaning ‘many heads’.

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Our guide informed us that this is a special place for Anangu men and that we should keep to the track. This walk seems to divide people’s opinions. Though there were some good views, the track was stony and gravelly, so hard going. It was windy in parts, but also hotter than the day before. A large part of the walk was through flat bush land. Some people on the internet prefer this experience to Uluru, but I think this misses the point.

So what is my point about Uluru?
It is a single piece of sandstone, formed under the sea millions of years ago. Seismic shift caused it to tip over on end and like an iceberg, the greater part of it lies below the surface. Those are some of the facts.

If you go to the Aboriginal Cultural Centre and really listen with your heart, there is another story.

The Anangu tell of how the earth formed from chaos and was built up by the spirit people. It is hard to explain how the stories and the art combine to give maps, history of tribal migration and ritual, and a concept of the world. All of this was essential to the survival of the people in an environment that was frequently hostile, as some of their stories explain in terms of conflict. Then the white man (and woman) came. There are recordings of those who can remember the first time they saw a white person. They brought guns, alcohol and jam. This led directly to their own people being dominated, dispossessed, alcoholic and diabetic.

The local people ask us not to climb Uluru, though there is a long scar on one side, made before the Anangu were given back control over the rock, which has steps and a chain to help tourists get up to the top more easily. Our guide told us that there are cigarette butts up there and that men used to urinate on the top. It would be unimaginable for those same people to do that in St. Paul’s or the Vatican.

There are also requests not to take photos in certain places, which are considered sacred and have a secret significance. However, there is a question about taking any photos. One exhibit remarks that people come and take photos and then they have . . . a photo. In Anangu belief, the past and the present are one time, the dreamtime is still being played out. The lesson of Uluru is to be here now. That every moment and every place is sacred.

So I walked around the rock on my own and took no pictures while I was there.

I did take photos of the sun going down and the sunrise the following day. It was cloudy and moody and even Luke, who has seen it hundreds of times, said it was spectacular. So here is one for the road.

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