Samstag, 27. Juni 2015

Time's up at Takaka

Bed & Breakfast bolthole. Sadly it's time to leave our heavenly hideaway.

"So, what do you think you've learnt from your being here?" asks Fiona on our last evening at the organic farm. The question sounds like something a benign headmaster might ask a pupil on their last day of school. But I know exactly what she means, because three weeks of alternate, back-to-nature lifestyle on remote South Island certainly have impacted our attitude to life ― almost like an epiphany.

"That homes don't have to be spotlessly clean and tidy", replies Bea, smiling. I'm glad she says this and not me, because I'm usually the one who leaves crumbs lying around on the floor or bits of toothpaste sticking stubbornly to the sink.

So what did we learn from our stay in organic paradise?

1) Learn to love the moment!

                               

Each morning, as sun rises over the mountain, is a gift. That's not hard to notice on holiday. It's like you have all the time in the world to cherish the wonders of nature, of course. If only we could take time to savour this gift in everyday life too! Sometimes we are so focussed on our daily chores that we easily overlook the magic of every new day.

2) Care and share in the community      

                                

It's quite normal for neighbours to "pop in" unannounced, just to check up everything's OK. That's quite helpful when the nearest neighbour is often a few kilometres down the road, and the nearest shops much further of course. Not only that but kiwis seems much more willing to share their worldly goods, such as garden produce, than we Europeans. And so it happens that one day a neighbour suddenly turns up with the most ginormous melon I've seen in my whole life. What you see on this picture is only a small wedge of the fully-fledged fruit.

3) Don't tie yourself to material wealth!


Material possessions and keeping up with the latest fads 'n' fashion isn't everything it's cracked up to be. Happiest when running around barefoot, I've never been that much into fashionable footwear anyway. Still, I'm glad these ones aren't mine.

4)  Time spent "doing nothing" with each other is prime time too!
                               
 
Just being able to lie around, talk and play without clock-watching all the time ― like here on the beach ― is so good. I'm so happy we had this prime time together as a family.

And so we come to our very last day in Takaka. After a final swim in the Tasman Sea (oh how I wish it would last forever!), we pay our last respects to Dangerous Kitchen. We've been such regular customers there (thanks to their heavenly coffee & cakes and free WiFi) that the girl behind the cake counter instantly recognises us by the sound of our step. She even knows the name of all Matilda's cuddly toys. They haven't got my favourite dessert today ― the outrageously sweet and gooey caramel slice ― but there's a divine-looking slab of vanilla choc cheese cake instead. Who could honestly resist that?

So yes, we're going to miss the laid-back life of Golden Bay in many more ways than one. Isn't it funny though, how wherever you go in life the grass always seems greener on the other side? As we leave the little town of Takaka we pass a hitch-hiker holding a cardboard sign. It says "Anywhere".

Montag, 18. Mai 2015

Gum boots on guys - we're going digging for all that glisters

It was meant to be a nice surprise, but when I tell Bea I've hired us a guide to go gold digging she immediately looks alarmed. "Hey, you know we're getting short of cash. How much is this going to cost?". "Ahm, she didn't say", I reply. In a lengthy telephone call with Yulia, a local geologist, we'd discussed everything to do with gold, and the chances of finding some here in Golden Bay. But, ironically, we'd not talked about money at all. "Ooh", says Bea, her face brightening up a bit, "perhaps we can pay her in nuggets".

Slipping into gum boots and other waterproof gear – we’re heading for a gold-rich spot on the Takaka River – Matilda starts counting on her fingers. “I need eight pieces of gold”, she announces “Ha?” I retort, fascinated to know what sort of entrepreneurial arithmetic might be going on in the mind of my six-year old daughter. “One for each of my friends”, she replies.

Bang on the arranged time of 10 AM Yulia arrives in a smart SUV. “Jump in”, she calls chirpily. We’re glad she’s offering us a lift as the gold-search area is quite some way down the river, at the end of an unsealed road. We already have one stone chip on our windscreen, and are worried that a further chip might cause it to shatter completely. It’s a bit of a squash though – the vehicle is jampacked with enormous drum-size buckets. “Are they for all the gold we find?”, I ask, immediately recognising what a silly question. “No”, she replies, “they’re for you to put your bags in”.   


Yulia digs underneath bed-rock for suitable panning material, while Tim studiously updates his diary.

Half an hour later we’re squatting on our knees around boulders at a bend on the river – the site of a former goldmine. Yulia shows us how to pan stones and shingle: "Get water on, shake pan, remove dust", she says, as if reading from a get-rich-quick instruction manual. Seeing our excitement at the prospect of striking rich at any moment, Yulia brings us down to earth with a jolt. "There is no guarantee we'll actually find any gold", she says.  Still, we feel we've got a pretty good chance, since this Russian-born geologist is an alluvial platinum gold specialist. Her precious metal research takes her on jet-setting missions all around the world. She's just come back from lecturing at an international platinum group metal conference in the USA. 
 

Yulia makes it all look incredibly easy. You simply wash off the lighter pebbles, and the heavier sediment remains in the pan. If there's any gold that's where it will be. Bea already has some suspiciously gold-looking sediment in her pan, but our geologist is sceptical. Testing it with a magnetic pen, she shakes her head apologetically: "Nothing so far, sorry". She encourages us to carry on though, saying we've found a lot of magnetite, which is a good sign, since that's a heavy metal too. Gold is heavier than magnetite, so any gold would naturally stick to it.
 
                                 
 
Tildy, meanwhile, seems to be having more success than either Bea or I. "Yeah, yeah, yeah", encourages Yulia,"you're already professional, Matilda. You can have a job with me as a field assistant".

There's no job offer for me, sadly. But when I tell Yulia that one of my greatest hobbies is reading, her eyes immediately lighten up. "If you want a really awesome story read The Illuminaries", she suggests. "It's about the early gold miners". Yulia goes on to describe how there was absolutely nothing glamourous about early gold prospectors' lives: "They had to save up three weeks' wages just to buy a bag of flour. "So", I reply, making a note to put this in my blog, "they were sold a dream and ended up with a nightmare". Visibly impressed by my commentary, Yulia nods. Matilda, in the meantime, has lost interest in gold prospecting and gone off to skim stones across the river.
 
If it was tough for early pioneers it's not proving easy for us either. The odds are heavily stacked against us. "For every ton you dig up you get one gram of gold", says Yulia, "and that's a good result".  Normally you need to search 80 pans of pebbles a day. We've managed just four. Yulia adds that to stand any good chance at all we also need to dig five to seven metres. We've probably not been digging much deeper than just a couple inches. 

                             

Still, we've had good fun, and the morning's prospecting really gives us a feeling of early pioneering life, warts and all. Comfortingly though, even the experts don't always strike lucky. Yulia is wearing a lovely three-gram gold charm around her neck. When I ask her if she found the gold locally, she grins and says "Actually no, I got it in a store in Sydney".
 All that glisters is not gold
  William Shakespeare
 
 

Freitag, 3. April 2015

Never mind Plan A, Plan B's A1 too.


"You can't come to New Zealand and not do a Great Hike", says Fiona, spreading an enormous trekking map out on the dining room table, "There are nine of them, and one starts just down the road. You've got to do it". Then, lest we have any different ideas about how we plan to spend the following day, she adds "There's a bus that leaves at 9.45 that'll take you to Tataranui. Then you can walk back. It'll take you about 4 hours".

It sounds a good plan. We'll spend a full day hiking part of the 60-km Abel Tasman Coast Trail, one of the country's famous "Greatest Walks". We've even found a home for Matilda for the day - she'll play with a same-age girl at a neighbouring family we've got to know quite well during our stay in Golden Bay. The only problem is we oversleep the following morning, and don't wake until 9 AM. There's no way we can make the bus. Realising we can now only cover half the intended route, we resort to Plan B. We'll drive to the start of the coastal track, walk some 10 km to Whariwharangi Bay, and then hike back on the same track.

First leg of hike and great views of the Wanui estuary.
After a short initial climb, the track soon levels out and we're enjoying delightful views of the estuary, which we've just been driving along before parking our car. Climbing a little higher, we can see the entire length of Golden Bay, stretching right up to Farewell Spit, the narrow strip of sand at the northernmost tip of South Island. I'm hit by the feeling I've often had in this country - that everything is somehow so familiar. Cut out the beautiful ocean backdrop, and you could easily feel back near home, somewhere in the Swiss Alps. The only other difference, of course, is there are no cow bells clanging.

To savour the view just a while longer, we stop on a bench and hungrily tuck into avocado sandwiches smothered with Fiona's home-made paneer cheese. The feeling that this could easily be paradise is driven home as we sit talking about the pictures we've seen of Germany over the last few days. Facebook posts by friends back home describe the grey, dank, damp winter they're having in Europe. As we sit in the shade of fantrees, it seems strange to think that when we arrive home late March spring will be well on its way and the garden will hopefully be awash with daffodils.  


The scenery on the walk changes at almost every corner. One moment we're trekking through thick bush, the next instant we're walking through tunnel-like vegetation. As we turn the corner on the path above we suddenly see the sea again, and a number of beaches which can be reached only by boat or foot. We head for perhaps one of the most beautiful of them all, Whariwharangi Bay.  

Where bush meets beach - Whariwharangi Bay


What strikes me here is not just the almost glass-like clearness of the sea, but the pristine, pure white the foam whipped up by the waves. It could almost pass for froth on a freshly served cappuccino.

While we're sitting, just enjoying watching the waves unfurl and crash in a carpet of foam, a group of girls - they look German to me - appear on the beach, all carrying enormous backpacks. No sooner have they dumped their bags in a pile than they're touting their mobiles around, busily taking pictures of each other jumping up and down in front of the waves. None of them actually go into the water. Then all of a sudden they disappear. All this happens in a whirlwind speed of less than three minutes.
 
We're left with this world-class beach completely to ourselves. That is apart from a 4-strong colony of gannets. We enjoy watching them waddle over clusters of foam clinging to rocks in the corner of the bay. We swim, sunbathe and collect seashells, savouring this little outpost of heaven for as long as we, before hitting the 10-km trail back home.

One and a half gannets


Sonntag, 29. März 2015

Selfie snappers and blowholes

There's one major sight on the Coromandel coast which we didn't see on our first visit to the region just after Christmas. Some 7 to 8 million years ago, volcanic activity led to caves being created. Enlarging through erosion, they formed an archway near the little resort of Hahei. Cathedral Cove is undoubtedly the number one crowdpuller in this most northeast part of North Island, and particularly popular with Germans and Japanese.

On the day we go in March we're under heavy competition from these nationalities for the few remaining parking spaces on the hill above the cove. Motorists are parked all along the double yellow lines leading up to the small carpark. If this had been Germany traffic wardens would be having a field day.  We're actually 60 km from the nearest town, and there's not a single warden in sight. Come to think of it, I've not seen a single traffic warden anywhere so far on this trip round NZ. It makes you wonder why they're not tapping such an obvious source of revenue.

As we set off on the 30-minute walk down to the beach we pass large numbers of walkers huffing and puffing their way back up the hill. It sounds like they're doing this more out of a sense of duty, as if they're simply ticking off another box on the to-do list.


                                  

Cathedral Cove - so named because it looks like the nave of cathedral - is needless to say, teeming with tourists. We've been so used to having beaches almost to ourselves in this country that the sight of all these crowds comes as something of a shock. The archway looks totally different from how it's portrayed on postcards - water flowing through, sun shining, and not one single tourist to be seen. Today it's overcast, the tide's going out, and the archway's full of trippers literally tripping over themselves to snap selfies.

A little further down the beach another attraction awaits. An enormous piece of rock stands sticking up out of the water. It looks like the hind leg of a horse. This too, we learn, is the result of cave formation. Only this time the caves collapsed to form an off-shore stack.

                                  

As we sit on the sand eating our picnic and admiring the stack, about a dozen kayaks suddenly appear in the cove. They queue patiently in a long line, as if lying in wait to ambush the enemy. We watch as they start paddling beach wards, landing one by one. On shore a leader goes around and high fives everyone. He looks like a sports teacher, so I go up and ask if this is a school trip. No, he replies, explaining that his kayaking company runs trips every day round the bay, and these are mostly backpackers. "We let them run around a bit and give them a hot drink, then take them back to Hahei". They're certainly running around, but only ankle deep in the water - just enough for a facebook selfie and to snap shots of each other posing in front of the archway. No one seems interested in swimming.

The New Zealand tourist board has done a great job of marketing Cathedral Cove. Sometimes though large numbers of tourists can spoil the very attraction of the attraction they're visiting. Just as we're leaving this tourist trap we notice a Japanese couple. Actually you can't help notice them. The husband has an enormous selfie stick and is shouting orders at his wife. It sounds a bit like "Oyoyoy!". He's obviously looking for the perfect pose in front of the perfect backdrop. She evidently dislikes being bossed around, because she's replying "Wawawawawa!". That's what it sounds like, at least. We hear them repeating this hostile exchange until we're finally out of earshot halfway up the hill.

The best antidote to somewhere with too many tourists is to go somewhere where there are no tourists at all. The following day we head for Pokohino, accessible only by a 6-km dust track and a half-hour downhill trail. We have this gloriously remote beach all to ourselves the whole afternoon, except for one short moment when an elderly man appears and asks if we've seen a blowhole. We have, but quite by accident, while looking for shells in the rocks along one side of the beach. The archway entrance to the hole is actually quite similar to the one in Cathedral Cove, only much smaller of course - you have to almost bend over double to enter. Grateful that this geological wonder hasn't yet made its way into the guide books, we decide to call it "the no-name blowhole".

 
      Hidden beauty on one of New Zealand's loveliest beaches.
          - thank goodness Lonely Planet knows nothing about it.

Freitag, 20. März 2015

Tale of the lost elephant and why kiwi men are so awesomely hands-on




Oputure Beach - unusually cloudy and windy, but so relaxing and peaceful. 


Fast forward to our last week Down Under. We fly from Nelson on South Island to Auckland, then back over to Whangamata on the Coromandel peninsula. This time our friends Vicki and Chris loan us their lovely bach (NZ English for small holiday home, pronounced"batch"), just a few minutes from the beach.

After a day or two just chilling, getting used to our new environs we head off for our favourite beach, some 10 km up the road from Whangamata. Oputure (pronounced Opotchury) is a 4-km surf beach, reached by a short stroll through pine woods. Alternatively, you can reach it by skirting round the river estuary at low tide. Lined by swamps and grasslands, it's a sanctuary for nesting dotterels, one of New Zealand's many beautiful protected birds. We opt for the estuary route. We spend a lovely morning on the edge of a spit, surrounded by dotterels and crab snappers, all pecking around in the sand.

We're just getting back into the car when Matilda announces she hasn't got her favourite elephant. "When did you last see him?", I ask, sounding more detective than dad. Reflecting a moment, Matilda replies "On the beach. I made a house for him". "And when we left, did you take him with you?" I further enquire. "No-oh", she replies, as this were the most obvious thing in the world. "Well that's that then", I say. It's a half-hour walk back to the beach, and besides I'm anxious to get home and have lunch. No way am I going back for a cuddly toy. Seeing Matilda just about to burst into tears, Bea says "Wait. I'll go back and get him". Turning to me, she asks "When's high tide, by the way?" Fortunately I'd been into the Tourist Information first thing that morning to find out. "20.45", I reply, smiling "so plenty time to go home and have lunch first." Playing devil's advocate, I whisper to Bea "Let's just leave the toy there. One less piece of bagage to carry home." Making quite sure Matilda doesn't hear me, I add "We'll call it burial at sea, OK?".

On the way home we agree that Bea will go back to the beach to retrieve the toy, while Matilda and I go along to a "Summer Fete" at the local school. Bea drops us off, and we make a beeline for the giant bouncy waterslide. Like most inflatable kiddy attractions at school fetes in New Zealand, it's free. They make their money, of course, on the barbecue and refreshment stands. Glad to be saving a few dollars I let Matilda ride the slide for a good hour, while, without venturing too far away, I look around at what else is going on. A decorate-your-own cupcake stall catches my eye, and it's not too long before Matilda notices it too. The result of her efforts looks, actually, surprisingly edible.

This is an Area School, that's to say one where you enter at 5 and leave aged 18. It strikes me though that most of the kids running around here are of primary age. I see hardly any in their teens. This takes me back to my own schooldays, when it was no longer cool to be seen at the school summer fete - and certainly not with your parents - after the age of 13. In a tent queuing for "fruit and marshmallow on a stick", I overhear one girl, aged about 10, say to her friend "I've already seen six teachers. Even Mr. Priestley's here". So it's OK to go along as a teacher, at least. Just as I'm changing Matilda out of her swimsuit, and rubbing her dry after the slide rides, Bea reappears. "Look who I found on the beach"' she grins, pulling elephant out from behind her back.

Friends reunited...

Overjoyed to be reunited, Matilda is happy just to spend the next half hour sitting playing with him, while Bea and I enjoy watching "Mr. Whangamata". In a 7-point challenge, contestants have to carry out various tasks which all New Zealand males are supposed to be good at: Change a bike tyre, remember five birthdays, fix a surfboard fin, fillet a fish, and braid a girl's hair. All that successfully completed, the eight competitors have to find a piece of chewing gum in a bowl of cream (using mouth only, of course), and blow it without it popping. We laugh together with the crowds of kids, mums and dads as, at one point, whipped cream and fish fly around everywhere. I can't help wondering how many of these challenges I could manage - probably not even half of them. New Zealand males are definitely more "hands on" than we Europeans. The winner, incidentally, completes all tasks in just 15 minutes.

One of the contestants, it turns out, is Head of English, so I introduce myself, explaining I teach English at colleges in Bavaria. When I mention being interested in teaching in NZ too his eyes light up. "Oh yeah, good on y'er, go for it mate, we're desperate for younger teachers here", adding that the average age of teachers in NZ is currently 58. I feel flattered that he regards me as young, and that I could help reduce this figure a little bit.

Samstag, 14. März 2015

Doing the hippy thing in Takaka

There can’t be too many places left in the developed world where almost everyone’s clothing comprises baggy, rainbow-coloured trousers, where barefoot pedestrians outnumber those in shoes, and almost no one seems in any particular hurry to either do anything or go anywhere. Welcome to Takaka, home to New Zealand’s happiest hippy community and our home for the next three weeks. 

We're staying at an organic b&b on the Anatoki River, run by a friendly ex-pat couple who keep goats, Muscovy ducks, chickens (known in NZ as “chucks”), sheep and a loveable old horse, all of which roam some 18 hectares of meadow surrounding the farmstead. David and Fiona’s produce, ranging from large succulent avos to lemons, nashis (Asian pears) is 100% organic, and sells well at the weekly farmers’ market, where local growers team up with the resident hippy population to offer an eclectic mixture of healthy, wholesome food alongside sundry assorted home-made jewellery, healing and palm-reading services.

Eclectic entertainers

The whole atmosphere is vibrant, fun and laidback, although the music the day we visit, I must say, leaves something to be desired. Chewing on tasty apple pie washed down with locally roasted organic coffee, we’re entertained by a motley band of beatniks producing a rather monotonous, hypnotic-like sound. “It’s not always quite so hard on the ears”, laughs Fiona, who’s selling avos at a stall alongside. Fiona’s offering four avos for 2 dollars, which strikes me as akin to charity, considering we’ve each just forked out twice as much just for a frothy hot drink.

Bag a bargain: Fiona's avos - four for just two dollars

Fiona introduces me to Grant Knowles, who runs the market along with the local art gallery. Barefoot, dreadlocked, and draped in shawl and baggy trousers, Grant comes over as the ultimate hippy guru. His straggly ZZ Top-type beard blends beautifully with the phalax symbol-like craftwork he's selling. 

The Knowles clan

Same day as the market we see a “Picnic for all Ages” advertised at “The Lovin’ Gardens”. Billed as the largest communal garden in the southern hemisphere, anyone who wants can rent a small allotment, and sell their produce to the garden, with profits ploughed back into the community. It sounds a great social system but the prices, we notice, are not exactly social – even for NZ standards. Above an honesty box a sign instructs self-service, self-pay customers to “Give more than you take”. Venturing into the crowd, we discover that the picnic is not quite for all ages. Most picnickers look like they’re stuck in a 60’s-style time warp, somewhere between student life and adulthood. Bea and I, dressed in plain shorts and the only ones wearing any type of footwear at all, seem rather out of place. We dither whether to join the cross-legged crowd, or to stand aside with the remaining party people, most of whom seem to be locked in a permanent bear-hug embrace. Exchanging glances with Beata, I’m relieved that she’s feeling the same way. Although it’s gently drizzling we decide to quietly slip away and head off to the beach for a walk instead.

Wedged between the Kahurangi and Abel Tasman National Parks, Takaka is unique in many ways. Geographically it’s accessible by road only from one direction –  a 2-hour zigzag ride up and down the mountain range fencing off Golden Valley from the rest of the world. People tend to come and drift away only very slowly – like several hundred hangers-on, who have just been to Luminate, the annual earth-friendly festival of art, music and culture.

Germans everywhere

Or they simply stay - for good. Like several hundred Germans, who have made their home around Golden Bay area, performing a variety of activities, from bread baking to wood carving. Passing traffic in this region is virtually unheard of, as most sealed roads end up as gravel or dirt tracks – generally at the start of a national park trail, such as the 80 km Heapy Trail. These tramping paths often provide the only overland access to the north, east and west coastline. Since a lot of young backpackers are travelling through Golden Valley between these trails we give them a lift whenever we can. Over the three weeks we carry an assortment of nationalities: Germans, Americans, Aussies, French and Belgians. Squashed up on the backseat between their bags, musical instruments and a rather bemused Matilda, they're always very talkative and cheerful. One such hitchhiker has an enormous skateboard with him and, when we drop him off, literally catapults himself off the backseat onto the pavement.

Beach combers' paradise

Searching for shells

Early one morning we visit Milnthorpe Park, 25 km north of Takaka. It’s an enchanting little corner of Golden Bay, thick bushland, crisscrossed by paths with playful names like Bob’s Bit, Mitch’s Loop and Ian’s Incline. The sun is glistening on the sea, little sparks of reflection giving it an almost silver hue – more magical than anything we've yet seen. The tide is going out and Matilda and Freya chase each other around, squealing with delight each time they stumble upon a starfish or a saucer-shaped shell. These they add to the ever-growing seashell collection taking over our rental car boot. We spend a lovely few hours bathing, playing tag and other games on the sand, before Freya reminds us she has to get back to Takaka in time for her weekly Drama class. On the way back we pass a signpost to a café called The Mussel Inn. Signposts in New Zealand, whether to major or minor attractions, are placed just after the turn-off. That means by the time you’ve seen the sign it’s too late to turn off. You end up indicating at the very last moment and doing a clumsy 90-degrees turn – invariably being horn blast by the motorist behind as they cut past at terrifying speed. Or you just keep going a few more kilometers until the first opportunity to u-turn. We end up going miles out of our way, but get back to the Inn in the end.

“Mussel Inn” is certainly true to name. With seafaring souvenirs like old ship steering wheels and anchors adorning the walls and creaky-timber ceiling it’s more like something out of a Robert Louis Stevenson novel. The theme pub is so popular it ranks amongst Lonely Planet's 18 Best Free Things to do on South Island A trio is practicing for a gig that night, and we sit watching them play as the kids wait for an ice cream sundae "to go". I’m just about to order beer to stay - some of the tavern’s tasty tapped lager - when Bea reminds me of the drama class we're supposed to be rushing home for. Heavy hearted, I pull myself away, but not before glancing up at the live music board and noting a number of other music nights in the coming week. 

Enjoying band rehearsal at quirky Mussel Inn

While the girls do drama we walk around town, inhaling the vibes of this unique little town so detached from the rest of the world – both geographically and spiritually. As we collect them I notice a queue of flashy-looking SUVs (known in NZ as Utes, short for utility vehicle) lining up to collect other kids bundling them in one by one and racing off – presumably to the next ‘play date’. I mention this to David later and he says “Oh yes, that’ll be the wealthy dairy farmers”. No wonder – milk is the number one income earner in this region, there are over 30,000 cows in Golden Bay. It seems odd, however, watching the wealthy wagons – which probably wouldn’t look out of place anywhere else – cruise down the main street past throngs of happy-go-lucky hippies and hitchhikers.

Sky at night

What I love about the Southern hemisphere is that it can be a pitch-black starry night at say, 5 in the morning, which gives the impression that you’re still only half way through the night. And yet just an hour later virtually all the stars - far more than you could ever hope to see at home in Europe - have disappeared from view, and you can slowly feel the light growing stronger behind the surrounding mountains. It’s the time of day I like best, a chance to quietly relax with the first coffee of the day and sit at the laptop which David has kindly lent me to update my journal.

Crowded Inn 

Our chance to revisit the Mussel Inn comes earlier than expected. I’d seen the advert for Chimuka Marimba Ensemble playing at the venue the following weekend, but their music is billed as “ethnic techno”. I'm open to lots of music styles, but techno's not really my favourite. David and Fiona, however, who've seen the group play live, persuade us to go. “Don’t worry about Matilda”, they say, “we’ll see her to bed”. So we put on our best clothes, kiss little Miss goodnight and shoot off. After drinking craft brew around a cosy log fire in the garden we pile into the crowded inn, where dancers of all ages already fill the remaining floor space between same-level “stage” and bar. I soon see why they call this “techno”– its relentless beat is trance-like, making you want to bop up, down and around to the same rhythm. Yet every tune is somehow different. It reminds me of a gypsy dance, circling around, whirling and swirling your head, hands, arms and legs to the wild, addictive music, willing it to never end. When it does finally end we join the crowd shouting “We want more!”. And we get it too. We finally head back home well after midnight, our bodies still bouncing up and down to the divine vibes.

Mittwoch, 4. März 2015

Dressed in Drag - this film makes me turn Fifty Shades of Scarlet



Good to go  ̶

but what on earth am I letting myself in for here?

"So do you just want to look sexy or do you want to go totally over the top?" asks Linda, who's standing in front of me, tape measure around neck, looking and sounding extremely business-like. Linda helps with costume hire at Takaka Drama Society, and she's been given the task of dressing me up as a woman. "Oh, totally over the top of course", I reply, not yet fully aware of what I'm letting myself in for.

Minutes later I'm standing face to face with myself in the mirror, sporting a silky sequin-studded bodice, not unlike Madonna's in "Like a Virgin". It's extremely uncomfortable. "How do I get out of this?" I ask Linda. "How did you get into it?", she replies. Looking round the dressing room I notice Bea's wearing a Marilyn Monroe-like wig, has slipped into a awesomely sexy black dress, and is trying on some stilettos. She looks totally hot. I might not look hot, but I certainly feel it -and sweaty. The bodice prickles and tickles and I'm desperate to get out of it. Deciding to clothe me in something a little more "senior", as she calls it, Linda calls over to two assistants to organise a dress and various accessories. As they start running around me - one of the ladies is already measuring my inside leg - I feel a bit like Julia Roberts in the "Pretty Woman" clothes store scene.

When they're finally finished I hardly recognise myself. I look like a cross between Priscilla Queen of the Desert and the Ugly Sister in Cinderella. Matilda, who's been enjoying dressing up as a princess while all this has been going on, looks at me curiously and says "Look at daddy, he looks like a girl!". Sizing up my makeover, Linda just laughs and says "You look totally deranged!".

I've never been called "deranged" before. But then, I've never dressed in drag before either. I'm putting myself through this ordeal for a good cause though. We're going to the Golden Bay premiere of "Fifty Shades of Grey". The event is billed as "Ladies' Night", a fund-raising event, with an invitation to "Come in drag!"

Unfortunately we don't have enough money on us to pay for the costume hire. We agree to drive to the nearest cashpoint and return before they close at 9 PM. We're just going down the high street, however, when we feel the hire car lurch and skid sideways. We immediately move onto the kerbside, and get out to inspect the vehicle. The tyre on the driver's side is totally flat. Luckily we're close to The Dangerous Kitchen, where earlier that evening we'd enjoyed a delicious gourmet pizza. We go in and ask if we can use the phone.

"Our tyre's just burst" I explain to the waitress, who's not at all surprised to see us again so soon. "I know", she smiles, "we saw you drive past skidding and screeching and wondered what was going on". I call David at the b&b, explain what's happened, and he kindly agrees to drive out and help. While waiting we discuss the expense of a new tyre - something we hadn't factored into our holiday budget "Well", I say smiling, "at least we won't have to pay for the drag costumes, that's 30 Dollars saved!". We've clearly missed the 9 PM deadline, and the theatre doesn't open again for another week. "We could just ask Rae if she'll lend us something", suggests Bea, "she has some pretty dresses". Just this moment David appears outside the pub. With him is one of the ladies from the theatre, carrying our box of costumes. "I saw you drive off with a flat tyre, I was shouting to you to stop", she says, adding "I'm surprised you made it even this far". To be honest we'd not heard a thing, we must have had the car music on too loud. Thanking the lady we pay for the costumes and load them into the car, which David has already jacked up. Changing the wheel, he looks surprised at how small the tyre is. He's right, it's more like something off a wheelbarrow. "Let's hope you don't have to go back up and down Takaka Mountain on this"' he laughs.

It's been fun dressing up in the theatre, and then putting on the clothes at the b&b, much to the delight of our organic farm hosts, David and Fiona. David, I think, is particularly impressed. As I come down the stairs in my pink dress he does a double take and says "Ooh, you look very attractive!". However, I'm secretly dreading the moment I have to appear like this in public. Fiona has lent me her horse riding whip and we shoot some hilarious photos on the lawn, before climbing into the car and heading off into town.

We park the car as near to the cinema as possible - for obvious reasons. I'm just getting out when a vehicle goes past and a guy calls out "Hey darling, show us your a***!" Locking arms together, we head off down the street. I try to walk as naturally as possible – glad l didn't go for high heels. I keep my eyes firmly on the pavement, anxious to avoid any further contact with men. Until we get to the cinema, at least.

Before the performance - showing some leg


Joining the queue at the Village Theatre I notice a few heads turn our way, a general look of surprise on people's faces. To my absolute horror I realise we're the only ones in drag. Rae, who we've become good friends with during our stay in Takaka, writes for the local newspaper and is waiting to take our picture in front of the "50 Shades" banner. She wants to do an article about our travels for Golden Bay Weeky 6 March 2015. Just as we're finishing the photos, an elderly lady approaches. Pointing to my dress she says "Pull it up honey, you need to show more leg!”. I'm not sure whether she's trying to be helpful or just plain teasing.

After buying some raffle tickets we're served complimentary "Mocktails". We also get to choose between a white or dark blank Belgian chocolate. Far too nervous to eat, I stuff mine into the silver handbag hanging rather clumsily from my wrist. Looking around the cinema hall, all I can see is girls, many already giggling after just one sip of alcohol. The only other man in sight is the guy selling popcorn.

                               

Pre-show entertainment includes a special-guest appearance by Takaka's very own Mr Grey, eloquently dressed in bow tie and black suit. "Are you ready?", he asks. "Yes ple-ease!", shouts one excited lady. Grey goes on to explain that all proceeds from the evening are going to the local toy library. "Kids' toys, not adult toys", he adds, grinning. There's a great deal of cackling, catcalling, and general whooping from the audience. And that's before the film’s even started.

By the time it's finally running I feel I'm turning Fifty Shades of Scarlet. - my nylon dress is unbearably uncomfortable. While the action builds up on screen - Miss Steele is already melting in Mr Grey’s arms - all I can think about is how soon I can get out of my costume, so tight it's pinching my stomach. "This dress is killing me"' I whisper to Bea, just as Steele serves Grey a 1.8-meter rope, some masking tape and cable ties. "Pschht!"' she whispers back, "Wait till the interval!"

During the first half a group of girls in front of us can't stop giggling. Some one behind mutters "I don't know what's so funny!". She's right, but maybe they're just not taking the whole thing seriously at all.

As soon as the curtain falls for intermission I hurry off to the gents, thankful for bringing a change of clothing - men's of course. Tugging at my dress I'm horrified to find it's stuck and won't come off in any direction - neither up nor down. Pushing through the crowds coming out of the hall I race back to Bea, who helps undo the straps behind. "You see what women have to go through now, huh?", she laughs. Just as I head off back to the toilets the lady behind whispers "You be careful in there sweetie, some women are using the men's too!"

The leading roles are actually so badly played, it's difficult to know whether you're watching a comedy, tragedy or porno film. I really loved the toughness of Mr Grey in the book, but in the movie he comes over as all soppy, sentimental and colourless. Personally, I can't be bothered to sit through Shades of Grey II and III, just to find out if there's any chemistry between Mr and Miss. There certainly isn't in part I.
Although  unlucky in the raffle, we do win a prize for best dressed: A 1.8-meter rope, masking tape and a pack of black UV cable ties.

Sonntag, 1. März 2015

Fishing fiasco and fun film



It’s not really Friday but we fancy a bit of fish. Just over the river there’s a chinook salmon farm, which lends visitors a line and lets them try their luck. They charge 20 Dollars a kilo, and even prepare and cook the catch for that price too. It sounds like a “real deal”, as they say Down Under, so we go along.

The girl handing out fishing equipment makes it sound so simple. “Just throw bait all around your line and the fish will bite in no time. “ Handing me a bag of fishy-smelling pellets she adds “This should be enough. Only two Dollars. Pay me when you come back with your catch”. I’m a little surprised that the line itself doesn’t need bating, but just assume it’s so easy to catch something here without.

Two hours later and it’s not looking great. I’ve thrown in heaps of bait and the greedy salmon are biting every single scrap I throw in – everything that is except my hook. A small group of young tourists on the other side of the lake seem to be having a lot more luck. They’ve just netted a real whopper and are posing for photos, holding it over their shoulders like some Olympic trophy.

Having resigned myself to possibly leaving the lake empty handed I ask – half seriously, half joking – if they’ll let me pose with it too. Laughing, they suggest I take over their “good luck” spot on the lakeside, while they go off to get their catch cooked. Just that moment, one of them reels in another whopping great chinook – it must be at least two kilos. I notice a German gentlemen nearby, who like me is having equally little luck. Reeling his line in he sighs and says with a heavy accent “Enough. I go for a glass of vine”.

I wish I’d joined him actually, since I spend the following hour unsuccessfully instructing Matilda how to make the catch of the day. A born multitasker, she insists on both casting the line and reeling it in too. The chance of catching even a tiddler decreases yet further, particularly when she finally manages to cast the line (“Wow, super darling!”), only to find, seconds later, that it’s got hooked up nice and firmly – not onto a tasty Chinook but my brand new Aotearoa t-shirt. We manage to get the hook out without ripping too much of a hole in the clothing, but that’s the end of fishing for us today.

At least we don’t go away hungry. They’re selling fish at the farm café, although it’s hardly the “real deal”: Six salmon nuggets for the same price as the divinely fresh filet that my trophy-winning neighbours have just been served up, all nicely smoked with Cajun sauce. Watching them lick their lips I ask how they managed to catch two fish. Weren’t they, after all, using the same unbaited line, just like everyone else? “Hey man”, says one of them, “you gotta reel the line in every time. Not just let it float around, hey”. “I did”, I reply slightly impatiently, “what else?”. “Hmmh”, he says, “You gotta throw loads of bait in of course”. I’m just about to reply “Did that too” when the German man comes up to and tells me, leaning in, as if to share a secret: “Zees man, he use real bait. He put salmon on zee hook”.

So that's how they did it, so simple. Too bad I didn't figure that out earlier.

No luck today

Film fun

The film that I’ve been waiting months to see is finally showing Down Under. I’m really glad we’re seeing it at Takaka. Although named “The Village Theatre”, it’s actually a cinema, and apparently it’s so unique it even has its own entry in Lonely Planet, which describes it as “Possibly the best cinema in the universe”. I’m not too sure about that but it’s certainly the most comfortable cinema I’ve ever visited. It’s a really old building, clad in timber, with rafters crossing the ceiling, so that it almost feels more like a barn. Instead of standard cinema seats - which I personally find very difficult to relax in - it’s furnished just like a lounge: Bean bags for kids and plush twin sofas for adults. They’re big enough to put your feet up and lie down together – which quite a few couples actually do, I notice. What I love most though is the intermission. Halfway through, the film suddenly halts and the lights go on. No cause for panic though – it’s simply an invitation to join the queue for the “lolly lady” –the usherette, as they were once known, who used to show you to your seats with a torch and come round with ice creams at the interval. It’s a real throw back to my first trips to the cinema as a kid.

Oh, I almost forget to mention the film - “What we did on our last holiday”. Set in the beautiful Scottish Highlands and starring comedian Billy Connolly, it really is laugh-out-loud funny – certainly the funniest British film I’ve seen in a long time. What strikes me is how similar the Scottish scenery is to our surroundings here in South Island. Which is probably why I laughed particularly loud at the following line in the film: “Poor Uncle George can’t come to granddad’s party – he’s stuck in New Zealand.”

As we leave this sweet little cinema someone giggles and points to a poster proclaiming the premiere of “Fifty Shades of Grey” the following Friday. “Come in Drag!” says the invitation.

Freitag, 30. Januar 2015

Birds, birds, birds

One of our most enjoyable and memorable experiences Down Under to date was a trip the other day to see the largest mainland gannet colony in the world.  

We're staying in Napier, a sweet little art-deco town half way down the West coast of North Island, and for the first time this holiday I haven't been able to do what I love most - go swimming. The waves are almost as high as doubledecker buses and are guaranteed to grab you, whirl you around and thrust down you down on the shore with a thud. Safe no, but fun to watch, yes. They whisk up a cappuccino-like froth better than the best italiano barister, spreading foam up the beach before being sucked up by the next great wave.

Tim proudly up front with driver, Clive


This is the backdrop as twenty of us jump onto a trailer and are pulled by a vintage 1940s US farm tractor to the bird colony at Cape Kidnappers. On the other side of the shore rise skyscraper-high cliffs, some over 4 million years old. Now and again Clive our driver stops to explain the geology, and at one point even gets off to chip away fossils engrained in the massive cliff face. At the start of the trip he jokes that he'll happily stop for anyone whose hat blows off. "Husbands, I'll even stop for your wife if she falls off. But only if you want, of course!" Now, however, he's spinning the tractor round and dragging us back already. Not to retrieve a hat or fallen persons but because he's seen a different type of fossil - half a motorbike sticking out of deep sand. "Poor rider got a bit stuck", he jokes, adding that the bike's been there about 10 years. Sometimes it's visible but mostly sand washes back over and submerges it.

Shake, rattle and roll -  rough ride, great fun


After about an hour's ride over sand and stone - Clive calls it "rock 'n' roll" - we reach drop-off point for hiking uphill to the gannet colony. We can't hear or see anything of the birds till we round the final bend of the steep path, which exits at an enormous plateau - home to over 20 000 nesting gannets. These birds can live for up to 25 years, and they sure can make a noise too. We take loads of pictures of the birds, which are so tame they'll even let you stand right close and eyeball them.

For me the greatest, most wonderful and lasting impression is staying for a while after everyone else has left. I enjoy simply being on my own with all these beautiful creatures, watching them circle overhead, flying over so close that you can almost touch them, before stretching out their wings to come into landing - not easy when the "runway" is blocked by thousands of other feathered friends......

I enjoy it so much that I totally lose track of time. Racing back down the hill, I reach the tractor to find everyone waiting and wondering whether or not to report me lost. All told though, a telling off for lateness is a small price to pay for a private audience with these fascinating creatures at the other end of the world - a memory which will stay with me long after the holiday tan fades.

Top cliff, top sight and sound!






Sonntag, 11. Januar 2015

Bears, Baptists and Beaches

 
We kick off the week by going to see Paddington at a really oldy-worldy cinema with original 70s decor. Tildy is pretty scared (some scenes are actually pretty frightening when they're trying to shoot the poor creature), but all the British sense of humour makes it a very funny film. I enjoyed it, anyway.

Next up, trip to touristy but fun Hot Water Beach. A real communal experience with people of all nationalities - all digging holes and then bathing together in geothermal water out of a hot spring. You just have to be careful you don't walk over sand where the hot spring actually flows, otherwise you get a scolding hot experience. The whole thing's a sort of cross between kids' beach party (though most of us seem to be adults) and sauna.

Sunday service with local Baptists. Church is fun in NZ because whatever type you go to, at the start of the service they always go round with a basket of chocolates and whoever's traveled the furthest gets first pick. Good for Europeans .. For me though church is a highlight here thanks to the modern praise music and the laid-back, informal way so many Zealanders seem to worship.

The best though - as always in NZ - is the beaches. The loveliest to date has been Pokohino Beach. Because the beach is quite difficult to reach - we had to drive 7 km off road along a bone-rattler dust track, then trek half an hour downhill through thick bush - we were virtually only ones there. Sea is opaque green and glorious to swim in, the sand fine and silky - just like in the Bounty adverts.
                                                           
Bounty Beach