Sydney, Australia – Manly, Men & Fur Babies

Farewell Aotearoa, hello Aussie-land!

As is becoming the habit on my sojourns to the motherland, I make a point of stopping off in “Straya” to annoy my NZ, Aussie and Swedish friends & family who dwell there. First stop Mike, Gustav and the fur babies. Now to enlighten you as to who these individuals are: Gustav is my friend who I met and got to know in Sweden, who met an Aussie (Mike) on a farm in France owned by kiwi Brent. Now Mike is a doting father of Malamutes who has travelled the world with his furry friends Bondi & Munson both who have passed on to that great grassy park in the sky. Munson on his world travels made it all the way to Sweden for my 50th birthday. On this visit I would get to meet the next generation Malamute – Rollo. What I did not know at the time, was this would be the first and only visit with him for he would pass away not long after my visit barely 3 years old of a pneumothorax. Since my visit, his nephew Raff has joined the family and I look forward to making his acquaintance on my next visit. While Mike is a canine herder, Gustav is a cat cuddler and he has the coolest cat, Logan. He attached himself quickly to me, and as a cat lover myself, we became “beasties”. It might also have been the fact I was the only one at the house during the day while the others were at work.

Mike’s adventures with his lovely Malamutes can be found on his blog – El loco el lobo.

Having visited Sydney so many times, the points of interest I wish to visit get fewer and fewer and the time with family and friends more important, so there are the usual rounds of coffees, weekend brunches and dinners. The Marrickville area has quite a few of its own coffee roasters plying their trade in hipster coffee houses. Why brew your own when you have the best next door – Coffee Alchemy, Double Tap, Fat Poppy, Double Roasters. One thing I always enjoy is wandering the areas in and around the Enmore/Marrickville/Newtown areas and the beautiful colonial industrial buildings & workers terraced housing. Once forgotten and left to decay, that are now being rejuvenate and coming back to life.

One of the exploratory trips I made was to test the Sydney transport system and take myself from Enmore to Manly, a distance 20 km. A bus, a train & a ferry, and 70 minutes later I was there and all for 8 dollars. The trip alone was worth it. A bus trip on a sunny day through Enmore’s & Erskineville’s stunning Victorian architecture before arriving outside the Imperial Hotel to catch a train from Erskineville station. Now why should I mention this particular hotel? Well, this Art Deco Hotel from the 1940s has had a chequered history. From its immigrant patrons of yesteryear to the dark grungy debauched & brutal drag scene of the 1980s, and then being lifted from a rough nicotine soak seedy dive to a modern vibrant gem in the LBGT life of Sydney. All because of a film, “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”, loosely based on some of the hotel’s more colourful drag artistes such as Mitzi MacIntosh and Cindy Pastel. One of my all time favourite Aussie films. The opening & closing scenes and the bus departure for the desert are all filmed here, and I accidentally stumbled on it when alighting from a bus for a departing train. I was able to check one off the gay to-do-list sights in Sydney. The city was cloaked in the Pride flag colours as I had arrived in Sydney during Mardi Gras season. While not participating in it as actively as Gustav, it was with pride that I wandered the city awash in a mass of colour celebrating our right to freedom.

From Erskineville station it was a train ride to Circular Quay where I exchanged my mode of transport from a train to a ferry for the 25 min trip across the harbour to Manly. As you leave Circular Key you are treated to magnificent views of the city, the Rocks, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Talking of the Opera House (which I have visited and where I have seen performances many times), it has many associations with the area I currently live in (Skåne, Sweden). Jørn Utzon the Opera house’s architect lived just a 100 km from Malmö in Hellebaek, Denmark and has designed many buildings & houses around the Öresund area. His son Kim who worked closely with his father designed a building for Malmö University as an addition to the Tornhuset where it combines elements in the spirit of the opera house. There is an additional association to this area of Sweden through the approximately 1,000,000 ceramic white & cream tiles on the roof of the opera house. They were all produced here by the Swedish company Höganäs Keramik AB, 65 km up the coast from Malmö and across the water from Utzon’s home.

Leaving the central city behind and heading towards the Sydney Heads, one was treated to spectacular harbour views of coves and beaches surrounded by houses with million dollar views. The heads are a series of sandstone headlands that form the 2 km wide entrance to Sydney Harbour and were used as a series of defensive fortifications to protect the city. North Head and Quarantine Head are to the north; South Head and Dunbar Head to the south; and Middle Head, Georges Head, and Chowder Head to the west and within the harbour. The Heads are contained within the Sydney Harbour National Park. Some features located on the heads are heritage-listed sites such as the Hornby Lighthouse, Macquarie Lighthouse (Australia’s first lighthouse) and the former Quarantine Station for immigrants located on North Head which was in use from the early 1800s until 1984 when it was closed.

Manly is located on the neck of a the spit leading to North Head. Manly was named by Captain Arthur Phillip after meeting the indigenous people living there and stating that “their confidence and manly behaviour made me give the name of Manly Cove to this place”. From Manly wharf you can traverse the spit along the the shopping precinct “The Corse” and 5 minutes later you are on the beach among the Manly men 🙂 with its yellow sand and the blue Pacific Ocean. The area is a popular tourist destination so the beach is well populated. To be honest I preferred the beach back on the harbour side of the spit in Manly Cove. Quiet, relaxed and less hysterical and just as picturesque.

On the return leg from Manly to down town Sydney we were entertained by Americas Cup AC-50 boats darting at high speed around the harbour and the ferry. Of course of interest to me as NZ has dominated the America’s Cup for the last 10 years with the actually trophy “The Auld Mug” housed at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron in Auckland. The speed of these boats is amazing. At times reaching up to 70 km/h. Our arrival into Circular Quay was hampered somewhat by Police boats milling around below Admiralty House on Kirribilli Point opposite the Opera House. The magnificent 18th century imposing Admiralty House is the Sydney residence of the Australian Governor-General (G-G) and located alongside it is the beautiful Kirribilli house, the Sydney residence of the Australian Prime Minister. Now why all the fuss about Police boats circulating in this area. Well it could only be a NZer causing all the fuss. The New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was visiting and was actually holding a press conference together with the G-G and Aussie PM at Admiralty House, just by the flagpole on the point. Her voice reaching us on the ferry as we passed by. After finally being able to disembark the Manly ferry among the chaos, I continued my wander through the heart of the Sydney CBD decorated in Pride colours, past the Queen Victoria Building, Town Hall Square towards Darling Harbour, Tumbalong Park and the Haymarket. Again taking the chance to take in the beautiful Victorian architecture interwoven with modern surprises such as The Exchange on Darling Square. A Japanese designed building covered in 20 km of timber ribbons giving the impression of a bird’s nest. The day concluded with a spin around the famous 150 year old Paddy’s Markets before the bus home to put the feet up.

On my last evening I got to experience a spectacular event in Mike & Gustav’s garden. A nocturnal display of the succulent – Queen of the Night – flowering (also known as the Moonflower – Selenicereus). It is one of the most mysterious flowers in nature. The flower blooms once a year in the dark and usually lasts only one night before wilting. Two weeks later, the fruit appears, known to us as Dragon fruit. The succulent had draped itself along the back fence of the garden giving a spectacular display. And in the shadow of the succulent was the beautiful and fragrant Frangipani aka temple flower. I love the spectacular colour and variety of tropical plants. What a spectacular way to end my visit to Sydney. Next stop Brisbane.

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North Island Visits & Day Trips – part 2

Next day trip was on my own to Paeroa, Karangahake and the Bay of Plenty. Paeroa is a town in the at the gateway to the Coromandel Peninsula where I had first thought of traveling, on the Waihou and Ohinemuri River close to the Firth of Thames. It originally was a railway and mining hub when gold was found in the Ohinemuri Goldfields but New Zealanders know it these day for its mineral springs, and the famous drink Lemon & Paeroa made from the springs waters. It is more commonly referred to as L&P (a sweet soft drink) created in 1907, and was traditionally made by combining lemon juice with carbonated mineral water. As one of its ad campaigns catch phrase was: “World famous in New Zealand” and what would lunch be without an L&P to go with it. When in Rome? and childhood memories.

From Paeroa I turned eastward towards the Bay of Plenty and the Karangahake Gorge – a sharply winding canyon formed by the Ohinemuri River and a nationally significant gold heritage site. The Karangahake Gorge was once a maze of bridges, tramways, water races and stamping batteries. The remains of the Talisman, Crown and Woodstock stamping batteries can be found at the lower end of the gorge, and are some of the most significant reminders of the time. Their location at the confluence of the Waitawheta River and the Ohinemuri River was chosen to make use of the available water power of the rivers to drive the batteries. Mining at the batteries occurred roughly from the 1880s to 1950s, with the most productive years around the turn of the century when the area produced 60 percent of the total gold from New Zealand. The batteries were used to release the the gold contained within the quartz by crushing the ore obtained from the tunnels in the steep mountainsides of the Waitawheta Gorge. Erected in 1897 to crush quartz, the Victoria Battery was considered the largest and most advanced facility of its type in New Zealand. The path follows the route of a bush tramway and passes by “windows” in the cliff face at the end of mining tunnels, which were used to tip the tailings down into the Waitawheta Gorge. In March 1875, opened a canvas tent town which grew to a population of around 1 600 people with about 20 stores and grog shops. The heavy machinery required for the hard quartz mining had to be brought via the Waihou River and up to Paeroa. The river was the only highway and hence Paeroa became a thriving transport and distribution centre for the goldfield.

Continuing to head east through the gorge and Kaimai Ranges I emerged out onto the open plains surrounding Waihi Beach and the beach side town of Athenree. The Waihi beach environs typify the opportunities Kiwis have for access to beaches and in establishing holiday homes by the sea up and down the country. The phenomenon of black sand beaches on the west coast of NZ are shown in the pics from Raglan and here the yellow sand beaches of the east coast can be seen on Waihi. The main beach is about 10 kilometres long and ends in the beautiful beach holiday town of Athenree at the northern entrance to the lagoon behind Matakana Island. The lagoon ends in the south 40 kms away with the entrance to Tauranga Harbour. Athenree is known for its thermal springs right on the on the beach front, a sign of the geothermal activity under the surface. Offshore you are able to get a good view of Mayor Island/Tuhua and further to the south is the infamous volcanic White Island/Whakaari. Whakaari exploded in 2019 while 47 tourists were on the island killing 22 and leaving 25 with life threatening third degree burns. Boats that had just departed were spared but recorded the scene as it developed and returned to help rescue those who were injured stranded. This type of activity and the major earthquakes that occur from time to time are a sober reminder to Kiwis that they are living in a land on the Pacific rim of fire that is constantly undergoing change.

Kiwifruit or as it is known in NZ as Chinese Gooseberry flourishes in the sub-tropical regions of the central North island particularly in the Bay of Plenty and Hawkes Bay region. Vines could be seen around the beach area. Originally from China it has become synonymous with NZ where it grows much more rampantly and has lead to a large export industry, hence the name Kiwifruit. Kiwifruit grow on vines and require both a male and female vine to produce fruit. Kiwifruit vines grow vigorously and need a lot of space to grow and can be found growing on fences or pergolas. These days it has been trademarked under the name Zespri to separate the name kiwifruit from our national symbol and flightless bird the Kiwi.

That reminds me of a story from when I first arrived in Sweden to start work. A colleague asked, “What are people from New Zealand called.” I replied, “Kiwis.” And to this she replied, “What? A bunch of fruits?” Thirty years later I still laugh when I think of it.

And just like that and my visit to NZ was over. Time to head to Auckland and make for Sydney Australia and Mike, Gustav & their fur babies.

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North Island Visits & Day Trips – part 1

The story continues albeit a long while after the fact.

When you come from a large family there are always obligations to visit and keep contact but the benefits are you always have a place to stay and food on the table. Having left Christchurch in the South Island, I made for the metropolis of Auckland to visit family and friends in the upper half of the North Island.

During a short stay in Auckland I manage to squeeze in 2 of my nephews, their families & pets over a couple of days. While there we managed to terrorise the central city with a visit to the downtown areas of a roof top gin bar and the viaduct. The downtown area has become totally tourism dominated and as a kiwi one can feel slightly out of place. A visit to “The Churchill” a lovely gin palace atop the Sheraton Hotel on Queen Street soon fixed that. A place where you can create your our combinations of gin, mixers and botanicals to delight your taste-buds. Mine for the evening was a lovely Ophir Spiced Gin with East Imperial Yuzu Tonic and Orange & Ginger botanicals. As the eminent Sir Winston Churchill one said, “The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives and minds than all the doctors in the Empire” 🙂 Not usually one for hip trends but I could get used to this one quickly.

Next stop the viaduct for dinner at Dr Rudi’s Rooftop Brewing Company to sample some of the in house brewed bevvies (NB! notice the proclivity for rood tops tonight). The viaduct was once a run down commercial harbour area on the Auckland waterfront that has been turned into a development of upscale apartments, office space and restaurants. The precinct enjoyed considerable popularity with locals and foreign visitors during the 2000, 2003 & 2021 America’s Cup hosted by the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. The time we chose to visit the viaduct it was hosting a week long Pride event. Lots of beer tasting and some great food.

All to quickly my few days in Auckland and it was time to head south to friends in Hamilton. After dropping my nephew at Auckland airport I hit the motorway south past Pukekohe and over the Bombay Hills. They often say the Bombay Hills divide New Zealand and not Cook Strait. 🙂 It was not hard driving south to see that this region was suffering from a drought which was in stark contrast to how I began my trip down under with major flooding in the deep south. Auckland city with its 1 million plus inhabitants was running out of fresh water due to the drought. I suppose something we will see more of in the future with weather extremes due to climate change. The weather would continue to treat me to glorious sunshine with temperatures hanging around 30 everyday. Other than catching up with Greg & SJ, I would continue my exploration of regions of New Zealand I had not visited earlier. On my last visit to the Waikato area I visited Hobbiton and the geothermal region of Rotorua. This time I had thought of visiting the Coromandel peninsula but that would require overnighting and I wanted to visit with my friends. So slight revision of plans and visits to Raglan, Paeroa & the Bay of Plenty would allow me me to explore and visit with my friends. There is a twist to the plot regarding my friendship with Greg in that we studied together for many years before finding out we shared a common ancestor – Johan Fredrik Ericsson mentioned in the previous post.

One of the day trips that was planned was to the coastal Waikato town of Raglan west of Hamilton. Raglan is a surfing mecca and characterised by dramatically scenic areas of black sand beaches – Ngarunui & Wainamu beaches. The drive there is an exciting adventure in itself with steep windy roads and hooligans not used to driving on such roads. We were following one car which tried to pass and it was lucky not to be wiped out. These roads are not made for passing! Took a while for the heart to slow down. As a surfing mecca, many people believe that Manu Bay on the coast has the longest, most accessible and consistent left-hand break in the world. If you have the required level of skill, it’s possible to catch a wave and cruise for up to two kilometres. Manu Bay (also known as The Point) was featured in the 1966 cult surfing movie Endless Summer. Raglan township has an entertaining mix of cafés, bars, surf shops, galleries and an interesting mix of individuals. This part of New Zealand has always attracted people who are into sustainable lifestyles, so the residents are full of character. The town became the scene of public civil disobedience campaigns in the 1970s. Sun & Surf.

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South Island Visits & Day Trips – part 3: Swedes, Shipwrecks, Lighthouses & Flying Machines

It has been awhile. Covid restrictions and a new job have severely influenced my blogging. Basically the lack of time has not allowed me to sit down and write, but here goes. Back to February 2020 and my trip to New Zealand (NZ).

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My time in the South Island was drawing to a close and it was time to say more goodbyes and move on heading further north. Leaving Oamaru and continuing along the east coast of the South Island to Ashburton to overnight with family before heading to Christchurch to catch a plane to the North Island. Along the way would be two important stops for different reasons. One in Timaru and one in Temuka.

The first stop was at the Timaru cemetery. A little odd you may say, but here I was able to connect a relative to the country I now live in. A visit to the grave of my grandmother’s Swedish grandfather John Fredrick Ericson (or more correctly his Swedish name Johan Fredrik Ericsson). A Swedish immigrant from Masthugget, Gothenburg (Göteborg). He grew up there and later went to sea serving on several ships including the largest one ever built in Sweden, the “Kronprinsen”. This ship was later wrecked in North Sea where John spent 48 hours in the rigging clinging to the ship before being rescued and taken to Plymouth. He completed 4 trips around Cape Horn before boarding the “Star of Brunswick” and heading to Australia and subsequently from there on the ship “Rona” to New Zealand (NZ). He arrived in NZ in 1864 aged 22 and decided to go gold digging on the West Coast of the South Island but upon arriving in Greymouth he discovered you had to cross the Grey River to get further south to the gold fields. He instead ended up building a boat and starting a ferry transport service across the Grey River for those heading to the goldfields, becoming affectionately known as Fred the Boatman. While there he became friends with Richard “King Dick” Seddon who would later become the 15th Prime Minister of NZ and the longest serving at 13 years.

While on the West Coast, he met and married a girl of English heritage, Charlotte Kidson and returned to the sea. With his Master Mariner tickets he began sailing and piloting ships around the coast and later became the head pilot on the treacherous Wellington harbour. It was here he started and began to raise his family. Later he would decide his life as a pilot in these waters was too dangerous for a man with young family and return to the land as a lighthouse keeper. His work as a keeper took him to many of the major lighthouses around the NZ coast (Wellington, Taranaki, Banks Peninsula, Southland and Canterbury) while raising a family of 11 children. The rugged coast of NZ became the graveyard of many immigrant ships arriving in NZ and John was often sent to remote corners of the country to construct and man the lights. Some were so remote that they only received visits by supply ships 3 or 4 times a year. For example, Puysegur Point see below.

While John lived at most of the major lights around the south coast of NZ, I remember him for the one he was involved in building in 1881 at Waipapa Point after the wreck of the steamer SS Tararua. The SS Tararua was a passenger steamer that struck the reef and sank off Waipapa Point on the south coast of the South Island during the night of the 29 April 1881. It was on its way from Dunedin, NZ to Melbourne, Australia. It is the worst civilian shipping disaster in New Zealand’s history with the loss of 131 of the 151 passengers and crew on board. Most died within a 100 metres of the shore as attempts were made by crew and passengers to get ashore in the heavy seas over the 20 hours the ship was stranded on the reef before she broke up and sank. The stormy surf prevented locals getting out to the ship. The boiler of the ship was visible on the reef at low tide for almost a century after the wreck before it disappeared. Nearby in the Tararua Acre are buried 55 of the victims.

John arrived to assist in the construction of the lighthouse and is recorded as the first keeper. He remained at the light for a further 11 years before moving on to others and finishing his career at Tuhawaiki Jack’s Point lighthouse south of Timaru (1904-?). He died at the ripe old age of 80 in 1932. From where he is buried today you can see the lighthouse at Jack’s Pt. While at Waipapa Point some of his sons and son-in-laws while beach-combing found a large piece of ambergris, a substance produced in the stomach of sperm whales and excreted but when it has solidified it was highly prized by perfume makers as a fixative. They knew what they had found was valuable and when it was sold it provided enough funds for the 4 men to buy farms next to the lighthouse. The farms had remained within the families until recently.

Having acquainted myself with my Swedish relative and reciting some Swedish words for him, probably the first he had heard since leaving Sweden, it was time to hit the road for my second point of interest today.

Hidden outside the little South Canterbury community of Temuka at Waitohi is a memorial to a much debated incident in history involving who was the first man to make a powered flight. It is claimed but unrecognised that possibly Richard Pearse (1877 – 1953), a Canterbury farmer and inventor, made the first powered flight on 31st March 1903. According to witnesses he flew a 100 metres along a road before landing unceremoniously in a gorse hedge. This was nine months before the Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk, USA. Documentary evidence for these claims remains open to interpretation and dispute. While the original aeroplane has not survived (possibly due to Pearse reusing or re-purposing some of the parts) it was of a monoplane configuration constructed of bamboo with wing flaps, a rear elevator and tricycle undercarriage with steerable nose-wheel. Pearse is also credited with several far-sighted concepts including a propeller with variable-pitch blades. Pearse continued his flying experiments until about 1911 attempting to develop a vertical take-off and landing aircraft, and a rotocraft. Later in life he became bitter and paranoid and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in 1951, where he remained until his death in 1953. The memorial to him is located near to where his farm was located and where the alleged first flight was to have taken place.

My journey continued on to Ashburton where I overnighted and the got the chance to catch up with my Uncle & Aunt and their family before heading to Christchurch the next day to catch a modern 21st century jet to Auckland & the North Island to continue my trip. I wonder what Richard Pearse would think of our modern air travel and the jumbos of the skies.

Whittakers Chocolate, Best chocolate in the world, Christchurch Airport

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South Island Visits & Day Trips – part 2

My journey continued northward from Dunedin along the east coast of the South Island to visit my life long friend Dave in the town of Oamaru. The 112 km drive along the East Coast is dramatic through rugged hills over the Kilmog and along the rough coastline bounding the Southern ocean giving spectacular and dramatic views. The weather wasn’t the greatest to show the coast at its best but that is the temperament of the Southern ocean. I made a stop at Shag Point to have lunch and enjoy one of MacGregor’s famous mutton pies (a legend in these parts) while visiting the fur seal colony. The seal colony is magnificent and can be observed from the cliff tops giving you great views without disturbing the seals. I have been fishing at sea with my brother here. We used to launch his boat here (see the last picture before the pie). It was always a skill to catch the waves correctly going out and especially when returning when the swell could rise and fall 3-4 metres between the rocks.

The town of Oamaru is nestled in the hills south of the mouth of the mighty Waitaki River.  It is a moderately large but rather sleepy town servicing the rural community in the hinterland.  It was once a bustling port exporting frozen lamb all over the world but when the port closed it retired into itself.  The technique of exporting frozen sheep meat was developed south of Oamaru on the Totara Estate leading to the use of the new steam-powered freezing technology to send meat to the other side of the world.  This lead to the first ever shipment of frozen mutton from New Zealand to England was in 1882 from Oamaru (a three-month journey) launching an industry that lead to New Zealand’s prosperity.

The town is probably better known now for it fantastic limestone Victorian architecture and its strong association with the arts and sports.  Many public buildings are constructed of the local creamy white limestone known as Oamaru stone.  The Victorian precinct in southern part of Oamaru is one of New Zealand’s most impressive streetscapes due to the fact that many of these prominent 19th century buildings constructed from this material are preserved.  The Victorian theme has been embraced by local shops and galleries in this part of Oamaru further enhancing the feel of times of an era gone by.   Many of the buildings in this area close to the harbour used to serve as commercial warehouses and stores and now provide large spaces for galleries such as the Forrester Gallery, the Grainstore Gallery, The Libratory and Steampunk HQ.  In August 2016 Oamaru made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest gathering of steampunks in the world, a term that was coined in the 1980s and is based on imagining inventions the Victorians might have created for the modern world.

Further around the harbour from the Victorian precinct is a colony of little Blue Penguins, right in the middle of town.  The Little Blues or sometimes called Fairy penguins, grow to no more than about 30-35 cm tall.  They live in underground burrows in the clay cliffs and can be observed leaving in the morning to spend the day at sea feeding before returning at dusk on mass to their burrows for the night.  Often a Sea lion can be found lurking around nearby to try and grab a meal as they leave the water and lose the agility & mobility they had in the water.

Beside the penguin colony is a collection of small red wooden buildings which have an unknown historic significance.  They are the old Harbour Master’s hut and telegraph buildings at the end of Sumpter wharf.  In the early hours of the morning of the 10th of February 1913, a ship (the Terra Nova) arrived and refused to identify itself.  Two officers were rowed ashore and then the ship mysteriously left.  The two officers then sent a coded message by telegraph and subsequently left by train for Christchurch to catch up with their ship again.  That coded message was sent across the world to London and informed the world of the death of Robert Falcon Scott and the members of his team on their ill-fated expedition to the South Pole.

One of the days while staying in Oamaru, Dave & I decided to take a road trip through to Central Otago where we both had lived at one time or another. Along the mighty Waitaki River Valley to Omarama and from there over the Lindis Pass to Lake Wanaka for lunch. The on to Cromwell where my family had lived, to Alexandra where Dave had lived, then through the Maniototo via Ranfurly back to Oamaru. A round trip of 550 km.

the first stop was at the famed Elephant Rocks near Duntroon. The are a collection of large weathered limestone rocks. The rocks themselves are rounded and pockmarked from weathering, but do not specifically resemble elephants. The Elephant Rocks area was used as a film location for the first Chronicles of Narnia movie in 2005 when it was transformed into Aslan’s camp.

The trip continued up the Waitaki River, one the South Island’s large braided rivers that runs some 110 kilometres from the Southern Alps to the Pacific Ocean. It starts at the confluence of the Ohau River and the Tekapo River in the MacKenzie Basin. These rivers are fed by three large glacial lakes, Pukaki, Tekapo, and Ohau. At the head of Lake Pukaki is NZ’s highest mountain Mt. Cook/Aorangi (see my previous post). At the beginning of the 20th century the first of a series of 8 hydroelectric dams was built (Waitaki) and the last in the 1985 (Ohau B & C). The Waitaki flows through Lake Benmore, Lake Aviemore and Lake Waitaki, these lakes being created behind the hydroelectric dams of the same names before entering the Pacific Ocean. The lakes and river are supplied by water fron the melting snow of the Southern Alps which form the backbone of the South Island. The Waitaki hyrdorelctric power schemes is one of the largest in New Zealand’s renewable energy supply however while being touted as environmentally friendly, it has not been without controversy and division of public opinion. Some have been lead to even write songs about it.

Song of the Waitaki (Plainsman – 1967)

Rippling waters of Waitaki sing your song of power to me
sing of  tall distance mountains, Mackenzie lakes so free,
tell of how the men have tamed you, hear the turbines giant roar,
listen to your waters lapping in the penstocks at Benmore.

At the head of the Waitaki River you arrive in the South Canterbury town of Omarama (Māori for “Place of Light”, a reference to its extraordinarily pure and clear sky). It attracts anglers to the high country trout fishing, artists because of the exceptional light, astronomers due to the clear unpolluted night skies, skiers to the nearby Ohau skifield and sailplane enthusiasts (its world renowned hot air thermals that can keep sailplanes aloft for a whole day). I referred to this area and the spectacular clay cliffs briefly in an earlier post in 2013. From there we turn south to head over the Lindis pass (971 m) into the Clutha River Valley and to Lake Wanaka

Dave & I have spent many a summer and winter in Lake Wanaka. I spent part of my youth growing up in the town of Cromwell 30 km away and Dave’s parents owned a summer house here. The winter’s were spent on the skifields above the lake (Cardrona & Treble Cone) and the summers enjoying the holidays on the lake. The town has grown substantially since those hazy days of the 80s & 90s from a local holiday paradise to a national & international destination leading to tourist domination similar to Queenstown (probably a more budget orientated clientele). If you follow the shores of the lake westward you can access the West Coast of the South Island on the other side of the Southern Alps via the Haast Pass (562 m). After lunch the journey continued down the Clutha River Valley to Lake Dunstan and Cromwell, once my home town. Lake Dunstan was formed in the time I lived there by damming the Clutha River in the river gorge at Clyde behind a 100 metre dam about 15 km south of Cromwell. Cromwell is known to be one of the hottest and coldest spots in NZ. In the winter it can reach as low as -10 C with spectacular hoar frosts and in the summer can knock on nearly +40 C. The river valley where it lies is a high mountain desert with an average rainfall of about 40 cm a year, so regardless of what time of year it is relatively dry & sunny. The area was most notable for the major Central Otago Gold Rush of the 1860s with major strikes along several parts of the Clutha River including Cromwell. Methods of panning, sluicing and dredging have left their scars on the landscape until this day. Today, the gold produced in the town is stone & pip fruit (cherries, apricots, nectarines, peaches, apples & pears) and wine (Pinotage & Pinot Noir). Again the lake’s summer activities and the access to the nearby skifields have turn the town into a summer holiday centre and it bears little resemblance to how I remembered it, however the house we lived in still stands on Ortive street 50 meters from the lake shore.

Our journey continued down the Clutha River to Alexandra at the other end of the Cromwell gorge and on the other side of the Clutha Dam. Alexandra too has its roots in the gold rush and today is the largest service town in the area. Having a similar climate to Cromwell, it has the same horticultural based industries of fruit and wine and a similar attraction to holiday makers but perhaps more of the homegrown type. From there we turned north into the Maniototo, an elevated inland plains region at the head of the Taieri and the Manuherikia rivers bounded by the Kakanui Range to the north and the Rock and Pillar Range to the southeast. It is a sparsely populated, harsh, desolate & dry tussock grassland region with spectacular rocky outcrops. The scenery between Omakau and Ranfurly appeared in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings film trilogy as the location for many of the scenes set in Rohan. During the 1860s the region was also another of the sites for the Central Otago gold rush. Sheep farming is the major source of income for the area today. The area is closely associated with the sport of curling with irrigation dams freezing solid in the winter providing natural outdoor curling rinks and here is the only natural luge track in the Southern Hemisphere.

The last stop on our road trip before heading back to Oamaru was in Ranfurly at the pub/hotel for dinner. While quenching a thirst with a cold beer and refueling on some “pub grub”, a memory from 1988 was brought back into cold clarity of having spent a night in the hotel after an accident at the top of the Wedderburn. A mini van we were traveling in on a ski trip to Wanaka slid off the road in horrible ice conditions during the evening leaving us stranded in the hotel until morning when we could assess the damage and return to Dunedin. No one was injured but it gave us all a fright. Anyway, after adequate refueling and a warm summer evening we hit the road for the remaining 1.5 hours back to Oamaru. A trip down memory lane to the both of us.

A few days later I said farewells and headed north to visit a old Swedish relative in Timaru, family in Ashburton & Methven, aviation history in Temuka before flying out of Christchurch to the North Island. All in the next post.

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South Island Visits & Day Trips – part 1

It has been awhile since I have had the opportunity to update my blog.  Apologies to those who follow it.  I haven’t had the time to sit down during the last few months.  Too busy enjoying the Swedish summer and preparing for a new job, but now that autumn has arrived and rainy days keep you inside, I now have the time to catch up.  On with my winter journey to New Zealand in February & March 2020.


With living on the other side of the world and only having the opportunity to visit home every other year, your trip tends to be a lot of catching up with family and friends in different parts of the country.  I have turned these visits to friends into mini trips renewing friendships and reacquainting myself with parts of the country I have not visited in a very long time and trying to discover areas I have never seen before.  There was a tourist advert campaign in the 1980s in NZ with the catch phrase “Don’t leave town until you’ve seen the country”, designed to get people to see their own country before heading overseas.  I must say I had seen about 65% of the country before I left in 1990 and ever since I have devoted one week of my visit home to go somewhere I have never been before.  In 30 years I have probably increased that to about 80%.  This trip will added a few more percentage points to that I hope.  My goal is eventually to say, I have seen ALL of my home country before the passage of time puts an end to my globetrotting travel around NZ and the world.

Here are a few of the places I revisited in the South Island of NZ:

Visits

Queenstown – is a town I have a love hate relationship with.  It is only 30 km from Cromwell, one of the towns I grew up in.  It has become NZ’s most popular tourist destination over the years.  A town of ~15 000 residents but with 3.2 million visitors per year.  It is one of the most spectacular beauty spots in NZ on the beautiful Lake Wakatipu in the shadow of the magnificent Remarkable Mountains.  The mountains are probably best known as the backdrop to Mordor in the Lord of the Rings & Hobbit trilogies.  It is both a summer and winter adventure destination surrounded by ski-fields for the winter and water based adventure activities for the summer.  It is often called the Aspen of the South Pacific.  Its beauty has attractive overseas million/billionaires looking to invest in residences here and the constant procession of tourists has mean it has almost priced itself out off the market for regular kiwis.  The constant hunt for the might dollar by those there and the tourist who comes just to take a pic and tick it off the bucket list, has turned a once beautiful place for me into something very ugly.  The only thing that brings me back to this place is the lifelong love of dear friends.  I still have to admit it is a beautiful place.  I was here this time to visit life long friends.  David & Margaret’s house is located in the perfect place with spectacular views.  Many an international property speculator would love to get their hands on it.

It was with deep sadness that I visited this time as David was no longer with us having passed away unexpectedly in Australia while on holiday in 2018, shortly after my last visit home.  It was great to catch up with his wife Margaret again after his passing.  His parents were great friends of my parents and I grew up with David and his brothers Tick & Mervyn enjoying their family holiday home on the spectacular Lake Manapouri that my father built shortly after completing his builder’s apprenticeship in 1955.  I last visited the house in 2018 and also had a chance to visit the hunting lodge in the Takitimu Mountains that David’s father built after returning from WWII (to us know as “the Hut”).  Still used today by David’s brothers and my brother Alastair.

My connections to Queenstown are not limited to just the present but also the past via a beautiful old steamer, the TSS Earnslaw, which still plies the lake today.  It was built 108 years ago and my great grandfather Peter Charles McQueen Connell (whom my father was named after), was a Scottish immigrant and shipwright who worked on building her.  He left the shipyards of Glasgow for a better life in New Zealand in the late 1800’s.

6-sept15-tss-earnslaw-queenstown

My next visit was to the city of Dunedin.  An old stopping ground from my illustrious university days and the 9 years I spent at the University of Otago.  Dunedin is a city of about 120 000 and located on the south east coast of the South Island.  It lies within the crater of a long extinct volcano which provides a natural harbour and surrounds the city with steep hills and the southern ocean.  The name Dunedin comes from the Scottish gaelic for the city of Edinburgh, reflecting the city’s forefathers heritage.  The city in the late 1800s was the largest city and financial capital of New Zealand due to the gold rush in nearby Central Otago before the north began to grow and take over as the dominant area of NZ.  The blue stone basalt architecture of the city reminds me of the typical buildings you would find in Aberdeen, Scotland.  Many of the fine stone buildings and magnificent wooden villas from the late 1800s are preserved today giving the city a distinct Victorian look.

Dunedin panorama from Signal Hill

The topography of the city means you are either going up or going down keeping your degree of fitness high if you walk.  Most homes within the city command magnificent views of the city, harbour, hills & ocean in many different directions and for many miles.  The steepest street in the world is here, Baldwin Street, with its horrendous gradient of 1 in 3 over a distance of 350 metres.  It is so steep, traffic is forbidden, and the road is concreted as asphalt would run down the hillside.

The city is renowned for its beaches in the heart of the city, for the production of its famous Cadbury’s chocolate (a sore point as it was recently closed down by its Australian head office, who also changed the recipe for the worst), and for the drink that has probably sustained university students through its 125 year brewing history – Speights.  Speights beer often referred to as the Pride of the South can always been found hanging around a student party or at a barbie (BBQ) in the homes of the residents of the two most Southern provinces of New Zealand, Otago & Southland.  It has been worshiped in a famous ad campaign and immortalised in the song Southern Man.

The visit allowed me to catch with old friends from the hazy university days albeit we are one less with the recently passing of one of the gang – Sam.  We are all a little older, rounder and greyer, although a few many not admit it.

I was able to pay a visit to my old alma mater the University of Otago (Te Whare Wānanga o Otāgo) currently ranked within the top 1% of universities in the world.  Something I am very proud of.  In the 30 years since I walk its grounds, the university has developed nearly doubling within that time in both students and size with many new buildings complementing the historical ones.  It is quite unique in that most of the university campus is a pedestrian precinct covering some 20 city blocks.  The number of faces left on campus that I still know are beginning to be very few as most of old teachers have retired and the ones I do know were fellow contemporaries of mine as students who are now on staff; Phil Professor of Food Science, Louise Head of Oncology at the hospital and in particular Kerry.  Kerry’s husband Buck did his PhD around the same time I did and was later on staff at the Department of Microbiology where I studied.  Unfortunately, Buck passed away way too early in life and this was the first time being able to catch up with Kerry since then.  She is still the whirlwind and the blast of fresh air that she always was and has now joined the university as the Development Manager Health Sciences for the University.  Miss you all.

In the quadrangle of the university has appeared the old university bell.  It was not there during my time as it had been lost when the university shifted sites in the 1870s and reappeared again in the 1990s.  It was placed in the university quadrangle on the university’s 150th anniversary in 2019 (Lund University where I work in Sweden celebrated its 350th in 2016).  A new tradition has been inaugurated with the return of the bell, that PhD students when they submit their thesis in the nearby Clock Tower building have the right to ring the bell.  As it was not there when I submitted mine, I took the liberty to give it a little pling to celebrate submitting my doctoral thesis back in April 1990 🙂

 

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Waitangi Day – 6th February 2020

waitangi day

It has not been often in the last 30 years of living abroad that I have been home at the same time as my homeland of New Zealand celebrates its National Day, Waitangi Day on the 6th of February.  I can only think of a handful of times.  When I make my biennial summer visits, I have usually left NZ before then for Australia and have thus probably participated in Straya Day (Australia’s National) on the 26th of January more times than Waitangi Day.  On this visit Waitangi Day was right in the middle of all the flood chaos and slid by without much celebration.

So why is NZ’s National day called Waitangi Day and celebrated on the 6th of February?  Many wonder why we don’t call it New Zealand Day.  Quite simply, it was the day the British Crown signed a treaty between the indigenous Maori folk of Aotearoa (NZ) at a place called Waitangi on the 6th of February 1840.  The document received the name the Waitangi Treaty (Te Tiriti o Waitangi) and hence the name given to our National Day.  It is considered the founding document of our nation.  For most it is an extra day off in late summer before the reality of winter arrives.

The Treaty was written at a time when NZ was being settled by the British and when some Māori leaders were seeking protection from the British against incursions by the French trying to establish a colony.  It was drafted with the intention of establishing a British Governor of New Zealand; recognising Māori ownership of their lands, forests and other possessions; and, giving Māori the rights of British subjects.  Approximately 530 Māori chiefs (at least 13 of them women) signed the Māori language version of the Treaty, despite some Māori leaders in the Waikato cautioning against it.  An immediate result of the Treaty was that Queen Victoria’s government gained the sole right to purchase land.  In total there are nine signed copies of the Treaty of Waitangi, including the sheet signed on 6 February 1840 at Waitangi.

The text of the Treaty includes three articles:

  • Article one of the Māori text grants governance rights to the Crown while the English text cedes “all rights and powers of sovereignty” to the Crown.
  • Article two of the Māori text establishes that Māori will retain full chieftainship over their lands, villages and all their treasures while the English text establishes the continued ownership of the Māori over their lands and establishes the exclusive right of purchase of the Crown.
  • Article three gives Māori people full rights and protections as British subjects.

It is bilingual, with the Māori text inaccurately translated from the English.  The Māori text and the English text differ in meaning significantly, particularly in relation to the meaning of having and ceding sovereignty.  These discrepancies led to disagreements in the decades following the signing, eventually contributing to the New Zealand Land Wars of 1845 to 1872.

During the second half of the 19th century Māori generally lost control of much of the land they had owned, sometimes through legitimate sale, but often due to unfair land-deals, settlers occupying land that had not been sold, or through outright confiscations in the aftermath of the New Zealand Land Wars.  In the period following the Land Wars, the New Zealand Government mostly ignored the Treaty, and a court-case judgement in 1877 declared it to be “a simple nullity”.  Beginning in the 1950s, Māori increasingly sought to use the Treaty as a platform for claiming back rights to sovereignty and to reclaim lost land, and governments in the 1960s and 1970s responded to these arguments, giving the Treaty an increasingly central role in the interpretation of land rights and relations between Māori people and the state.  In 1975 the New Zealand Parliament passed the Treaty of Waitangi Act, establishing the Waitangi Tribunal as a permanent commission of inquiry tasked with interpreting the Treaty, researching breaches of the Treaty by the Crown or its agents, and suggesting means of redress.  In most cases, recommendations of the Tribunal are not binding on the Crown, but settlements totaling almost $1 billion have been awarded to various Māori groups. Various legislation passed in the latter part of the 20th century has made reference to the Treaty, but the Treaty has never been ratified and made part of New Zealand municipal law.  Nonetheless, the Treaty has become widely regarded as the founding document of New Zealand.

The day is usually celebrated with Maori and European activities on the Marae (Maori meeting grounds) and on the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi with representatives for Maori, the Government and the Crown participating.  It begins at dawn with Maori welcoming the guests onto the Marae, then later moves down on to the Treaty Grounds in front of the house where the treaty was signed in 1840.  This is followed by the arrival of the great whakas (Maori canoes holding up to 80 persons) and the NZ Navy.  Once again Maori challenges and speeches by the Government and the Crown are given to mark the occasion.  At the conclusion of formalities it usually turns into a day in the sun with lots of food.  For the average New Zealander, it can be a day at the beach followed by a good old Kiwi BBQ.

My celebration this year was drying out from the floods and enjoying some home grown fresh fruit – apricots, peaches, cherries, & nectarines.

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Water, water and more water!

With a few days of recovery under the belt from the flights from one side of the world to the other in 40 hours, the family decided to assemble for my first weekend home and have a reunion.  Mum, all 5 children and their partners, 8 of the 9 grand children and 3 of the 6 great grand children managed to make it, 22 in all.  Those first few days home were warm and pleasant however the day after the reunion it began to rain and it did not stop.  It continued for another 4 days.  Rain like I had not seen outside the tropics, with 110mm in one day.  It seemed ridiculous to be getting this much rain at a time when 90% of New Zealand was baking under extreme temperatures and suffering droughts.  In the far north they had even run out of water in one council area and were having to ship it in.

My home town of Gore is a rural service town of approximately 13 000 on the plains of the southern most province of New Zealand, Southland.  Gore is best known as the Capital of New Zealand Country Music and the site of illicit whiskey distilling in the surrounding Hokonui hills (Hokonui Whiskey) from the 1870s until as late as the 1950s during prohibition.  It straddles one of the major Southland rivers, the mighty Mataura.  The river dissects the town into 2 halves with my mother, one of my brothers and one of my sisters on eastern side (East Gore), and my other sister on the western side (Gore Main).

Gore fish

We began to suspect on the 3rd day of rain that things were beginning to look a little dicey.  That night one of the smaller rivers, the Waikaka River, feeding into the Mataura just south of Gore burst its banks and began to flood an industrial area of the town.  My sister’s partner’s workplace went under within a few hours.  Later on that Wednesday night the first civil defence alarm went off around 9 pm (exactly a week after my arrival).  The alarm asked us to pack & prepare for evacuation.  Where we were at my younger sister’s, we were up on the side of the hill so there was no risk of flooding but there was a risk of getting cut off from everything else.  The main arterial route through New Zealand, State Highway 1 was cut off just north of the town so things were going from bad to worse.  We immediately began storing water, finding all the necessary articles, batteries, gas bottles etc. before heading off to bed.

The first I heard was my sister being called out at 4.15 in the morning.  She manages a local supermarket and the Civil Defence Authority were wanting to collect all the fresh bread, milk and other necessities for the evacuation centres they were beginning to build up.  Then at 6.14 my telephone began screaming an emergency message to evacuate.  A decision was made to move to my mother’s & brother’s who were high up on a terrace overlooking the river where we would have access to my brothers emergency generators and gas barbecue.  My sister arrived home about that time to get clothes and necessities.  Her supermarket was on the other side of the river to us and there was a risk if the river continued to rise they would close the bridge and she would be stranded on the other side.  She also informed me, my other sister & her husband on the lower side of Gore had been evacuated as the river was at risk of breaching its banks and they were in the flood zone if it went.  The floods of 1978 and 1987 had inundated that area.

Having moved to my mother’s, I went through her emergency gear and for the most part we were well prepared with the exception of having no means to cook.  At around 8.30am we were informed they would be closing the bridge between the two sides of the town and the power & water supplies would be switched off to protect the generators & pumps.  Unfortunately, we had gone for a walk to see how high the waters had arisen around the terrace we were on and had failed to boil water and put in thermoses for coffee & tea.  Fortunately, my brother lived only a hundred metres away and had a gas BBQ so we could heat water and cook if needed.

Here are two links to videos of the flood water (just click on the link):

Flood 1    Flood 2

As we wandered the perimeter of the terrace above the river where my mother lives, it became apparent that the volume of water surrounding us and the speed at which it was moving was going to equate to the floods of 1978 & 1987, if not worse.  The first day I was home I had wandered along the flood bank (levee) of the river in the beautiful sunshine and commented on how low the river was and that you could almost walk across it.  I happened to take a panoramic picture of the river on that first day so I continued take a series of panoramic pics from the same spot over the coming 36 hours as the river rose and then fell.  Here they are.

pan01pan02pan03pan04pan05

While standing on the flood bank I could compare the water levels on one side to the ground level on the other.  At one point the water level of the river was 2-3 metres higher than the ground level on the other side the flood bank.  If the flood bank didn’t hold the houses on the other side would be gone in a tsunami of water.  It was of considerable concern to the emergency organisation as this flood bank was on a corner in the river and was taking the brunt of the upstream pressure of the flood waters.  Here are pictures of the houses behind the flood bank.

At one point the town centre on the other side was at risk of flooding as the flood waters from the river were beginning to back up through the storm water system and pop the manhole covers in the streets.  Immediately, they began sandbagging the shops and businesses to prevent flooding.  My sister was evacuated out of the supermarket to higher ground as they were concerned the water levels could overwhelm them in minutes if the banks went.  All the meanwhile helicopters were flying backwards and forwards over the town.  Some part of the emergency teams and others part of the news crews.  The views they were sending back to the ground were both spectacular and scary.  The red area on the map went under first.  The green and orange areas were evacuated but did not flood, while the rest of the area flooded.  The little plateau above the red area was the terrace we were on.  At the bottom tip of that terrace is the bridge across the river.

Other parts of the southern region were also hammered with Fiordland in the west taking the brunt of it.  Fiordland is where the headwaters of most of the Southland rivers originated including the Matarua running through Gore.  The main road into one of our major tourist attractions, Milford Sound, suffered badly and will probably be out with only limited access until after the winter.  The devastation can be witnessed in the photos below.  The force of the water must have been tremendous to rip the road like that.

About 12 kilometres south of Gore along the Mataura river is the township of Mataura with its meat works and old paper mills on the banks of the river at what is called the Mataura falls, where the river drops vertically about 10 metres.  When it flooded the falls disappeared and the water lapped the walls of these factories.  Housed inside the old paper mills was toxic dross from the local aluminum smelter further south.  A one point they emergency services were extremely concerned that the factory would be flooded.  If the dross was to get wet it would release toxic ammonia fumes and would be a deadly risk for all those in the vicinity.  At one point my nephew was in the building sandbagging the wall against the river to strengthen it. Crazy!  The photos below show the river in normal flow and when it was in flood.  The red brick building is the old paper mill.

As the river heads south it eventually reaches the estuary on the southern coast at Fortrose.  This is a tidal estuary where the water levels can rise and fall 2-3 metres with each tide.  The volume of water flowing in the river meets this estuary and if the tide is on the way out it flows out to sea.  But if the tide is on the way in, it backs the water up acting like a damn and causes it to spill out over the low lying farmland in the area of Wyndham.  With the sea tides on a 12 hour cycle between high tides it meant that under the 36 hours the river was in high flood that it pushed to water out over the low lying farmlands at least 3 times.

flood 3

Thirty six hours after the chaos began, the rain stopped, the rivers dropped and the sun came out.  Now was there was a massive clean up to take care of.  The best thing was the flood bank below us held and the houses behind it were saved.  As the flood waters receded the damage to the roads, buildings and businesses became apparent.  Then began the big clean up that would take days, weeks and in some places months to complete.  I spent the next couple of days helping my sister cook and deliver food to those doing the clean up.

My brother works with water systems for local farmers.  We made visits to several farms to inspect damage to their pumping systems which are usually located on the river banks transferring water from the river out over the farm.  There were not many places we visited where the pumps and their electrical systems had not been under water, and in some places under several metres of water.  Even the roads at some points were washed out or piled high with river gravel.

The Gore and Mataura River areas will be cleaning up and recovering from this over the next few months.  It will be remember as one of the big floods just like the 1978 and 1987 floods which I remember well.

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Biannual Pilgrimage Home

That time has come around again for the biannual pilgrimage to the homeland to visit family and friends.  I was home in June & July of 2017, a winter visit which had only occurred because of a wedding.  I try to visit in the summer months down under (January or February) in order to catch 3 summers in a row.  The planned itinerary for this trip was as follows.  Little did I know of the events that would unfold during this trip that would make it one to remember.

Itinerary

  • 27th-29th January – Malmö-Copenhagen-London-Hong Kong- Auckland-Dunedin
  • 29th January-15th February – Gore
  • 15th-21st February – Gore-Dunedin-Oamaru-Ashburton-Christchurch-Auckland
  • 23rd-26th February – Hamilton-Auckland-Sydney
  • 26th Febraury-1st March – Sydney
  • 1st-5th March – Brisbane
  • 5th March – Brisbane-Hong Kong-London-Copenhagen-Malmö

Monday the 27th of January duly arrived and it was time to depart Malmö by early morning train for Copenhagen airport.  As I crossed the bridge in the fog from Sweden to Denmark, I was contemplating what was in front of me.  Relief from the depths of winter, lots of sunshine, plenty of warmth, however this was tempered quickly by the realization of the 41 hours of travel I had in front on me.  The first stretch was from Copenhagen to London to catch my flight to Hong Kong & NZ.  I would have a 5 hour layover in London before boarding the onward flight.  It seemed strange to fly 2 hours to London just to turn around and fly back over Copenhagen on my way to Hong Kong 7 hours later.  Very environmentally friendly???

All checked in.  Next time I’d see my bags would be in Auckland.  The flight to London was almost like a short bus ride compared to the coming flights.  You were barely in the air before it was time to land again.  As we approached the UK our flight route and descent into London took us in over the Thames Estuary and along the Thames River at Tilbury.  Tilbury was where Elisabeth I mounted her land defenses ready for the arrival of the Spanish armada in 1588, which never arrived and was sunk by her navy in a storm at sea.

The reason I make reference to our flight path into London Heathrow is associated with some TV I saw the night before leaving.  Having completed my packing and putting the apartment in order, I sat down to enjoy a cup of tea before heading to bed.  I stumbled onto a documentary about the Maunsell Sea Forts guarding the mouth of the Thames River and low & behold I saw them as we flew in over the coast.

The Maunsell Forts were armed towers built in the Thames and Mersey estuaries during the Second World War to help defend the United Kingdom. They were operated by the Royal Navy to deter and report German air raids using the river Thames to find their way to London, and to prevent attempts to lay mines by aircraft in this important shipping channel.  This artificial naval installation is similar in some respects to early “fixed” offshore oil platforms.  A concrete pontoon with a bunker in it was sunk on to the sea floor and 5 to 7 metal towers were mounted on this pontoon containing accommodation, work spaces, magazines, search lights, gun and radar platforms.  They were abandoned after the war but due to there strong construction many are still standing.  The construction technology was later employed in the construction of offshore drilling platforms.  We were treated to a beautiful view of them as we flew in.

Duly on the ground it was time to change terminals from Terminal 5 to Terminal 3.  To give you an idea of the size of Heathrow it takes about 20 minutes between terminals by bus.  Once security clearance was completed, I made use of the 5 hour lay over to browse the duty free for potential purchases on the way back.  I found two new Game of Thrones Johnnie Walker whiskeys – A Song of Ice & A Song of Fire, which will be picked up on the way back to add to my collection.   I also took the opportunity to visit WH Smith’s bookshop for some English reading material (a rarity to find English literature in Sweden, mostly have to buy online).  Suitably stocked with reading material I decided to do a few laps of the terminal to stretch the legs, for once I started on my intercontinental flights there would be little opportunity to get some exercise.  From the gates at one end of the terminal to the other is almost a kilometre so a single lap is a good 2 km walk.  Exercise done, time to find the Cathay Pacific Business lounge and enjoy the free hospitality.  It had been renovated within the last year and provided a very fresh and inviting environment with great beverage & food service, a tea house, relax rooms & showers, and great view out over the southern runways.  I indulged in a late lunch of dim sums, a glass of chardonnay and settle into an armchair in front of the window and started into some of my recently purchased reading material (“Dissolution by C.J. Sansom).  After a few hours of slumming it and total engrossment in my new book I found my flight being called and made the 0.5 km trip to gate 32 for my 17.50 departure.  Priority boarding allows plenty of time to settle in, unpack and enjoy a glass of champagne while the remainder of the passengers board.  Hong Kong in 11 hours.

The business class cabin in both the Boeing 777 and Airbus A350 I would be flying on the route to New Zealand, are in a reverse herringbone 1-2-1 pattern (economy is a 3-3-3 pattern).  This allows each seat access to the isle and gives plenty of privacy while sleeping.  I had the luxury of a window seat which is a single seat with 2 windows.  All the seats in business class glide down into flat beds.  The addition of a mattress and a duvet makes for a comfortable bed of 190 x 65 cm.  Massive.  Plenty of space for me to curl up.  The overall service onboard is fantastic with staff using surf pads to send your orders to the galley and within a few minutes arriving to your seat.  A pre-dinner G&T followed by a resplendent dinner of 4 courses with matching wines.  The Asian airlines really know how to do service.  With the blood sugars up and feeling sleepy, time to test the bed.  It wasn’t long before I was counting sheep and six hours later I was woken for breakfast service prior to landing in Hong Kong.

Arrival into Hong Kong was a bit of a chock.  We were channeled through body scanners and had our temperatures taken before being allowed into the transit area.  This was the first contact with the reality and consequences of that virus we would all being talking about and suffering the consequences of in a few weeks.  Prior to leaving Sweden I had been discussing with my travel agent the risks of flying via Hong Kong because of the democracy riots where twice the protestors had invaded the Hong Kong airport and managed to shut it down.  The word Coronavirus had barely been mentioned prior to my departure and now I was being confronted directly by it.  As of the 28th of January it was still confined to China so hadn’t really made news anywhere.  The transit time was relatively short with just enough time to visit The Wing Business Class lounge for a shower and a chance to change into more summery clothes for my arrival into New Zealand, then it was time to board CX 199 for my 12 hour flight Airbus A350 to New Zealand.  No protesters just a virus!  Time to seat back and enjoy a glass of champagne while waiting for push back.

Twelve hour later after lots of sleep on the flight we touched down in Auckland.  I had spectacular views of our approach into the land of the long white cloud (Aotearoa) over breakfast.  Home to summer 🙂 As we taxied off the runway, we all received a little vision of what was too come worldwide in a few weeks.  The captain duly announced we would not be docking with the terminal, and that quarantine would be boarding the aircraft to examine one of the passengers.  The aircraft was parked short of the gangway and surrounded by HAZMAT vehicles who began docking with the plane.  Onboard came personnel in full HAZMAT kit.  Which cabin did they decide to enter – business class, and where was the passenger sitting?  Two seats behind me :O  There was little one could do but sit and wait.  Full medical examinations were made of the child and her family onboard.  As I was so close I could here what was being said.  It was clear the child was very sick and its sibling was showing signs too however it was determined it was abdominal and not respiratory.  With the children and family disembarked to ambulances, the plane was drawn forward to the landing gate and we were allowed to disembark after almost 2 hours.

Originally I had a 5 hour layover in Auckland but that had been shorten considerably and meant it wasn’t to hard to fill in the time.  It was just nice to be out in the sun and warmth after the northern winter.  There is a very special light in New Zealand, everything seems brighter and more vivid.  The direct flight from Auckland to Dunedin seemed like a hop skip and a jump and then we were there, compared to the previous 18,000 km I had just done.  Family were there to greet me and all that was left was the one and half hour road trip to Gore.  Let my holiday begin.

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SIDE NOTE: Culture Night, Stockholm April 2017

I never managed to make a blog post regarding the first Kulturnatten (Culture Night) I visited in Stockholm in 2017, but in writing about my visit in 2019, I was prompted to make a side note of the visit in 2017.  This visit in 2017 inspired me to make return visits each year to this annual event.  The highlight of that visit in 2017 was realising a dream of standing in the Blå Hallen (Blue Hall) of Stockholm’s Stadhus (Town Hall).  Why?  Well that will become apparent for 2 very good reasons, so read on.

Stadshus - Stockholm Town Hall

This beautiful building dominates the island Kungsholmen upon which it sits and has commanding views of Riddarfjärden on Lake Mälaren.  Taking 15 years to build between 1908 & 1923, the architect Ragnar Östberg was inspired by the Doge’s Palace in Venice and combined influences from Italian renaissance, Nordic Gothic and Islamic art to create his own style.  At a time when art nouveau was the style and dominating Europe aesthetics, it places well with its counterparts.  The building consists of nearly eight million dark red bricks, called “munktegel” (monks’s brick) and its towers boasts a height of 106 metres.

Within the building, it houses several well known rooms with names such as Blå hallen (the Blue Hall; 50m long x 30m wide x 22 m high), Gyllene salen (the Golden Hall; decorated by golden mosaics) and Prinsens galleri (the Prince’s Gallery; with Prince Eugén’s paintings).  A large number of well known national artists and designers have contributed to the decoration of the building – the brothers Aron och Gustaf Sandberg, Carl Eldh, Christian Eriksson, HRH Prince Eugén, Axel Törneman, Einar Forseth, Axel Wallert and Carl Malmsten. Stockholm’s Town Hall has become a masterwork of modern architecture & design.  A favourite of mine.

So why all this raving about this particular building apart for the wonderful design.  My first reason for this side note.  Well here on the 10th of December every year is the Nobel Banquet to celebrate the Nobel Laureates.  The banquet of banquets!  The pinnacle of all academia celebrations.  A happening unrivaled in splendor, dignity, decorum and decadence.  Men in tails and women in fantastic ball gown creations adorned with tiaras, jewels, orders och medals.  Only 1200 guests can attend and after all the Laureates & family, members of the academies, academics and dignitaries have their places there are a few seats every year for the general public which are balloted for.  Unfortunately, my name has not come up yet, however, our Faculty does receive a few invitations and in 1999 it looked like I might get one of them but the Dean had to withdraw the offer for another more prominent guest.  Ah well, next time.

After the ceremony takes place at the Concert House, the guests are bused to the Town Hall.  They enter the Blue Hall draped in flowers sent every year by the city of San Remo, Italy (the city where Alfred Nobel died).  It is fantastically lit by candle light and upon the tables is the beautiful Nobel Dinner Service (produced for the 90th anniversary of the Nobel prize) with gold trimmed glass & porcelain in the colours of each of the Nobel prizes, and cutlery in gold and silver.  I received for my 50th birthday collectively from family, friends, workmates & members of different societies I am a member of, parts to make up a complete Nobel Dinner service for 6 persons.  Since then I have chased pieces at auction over the years to built the set out for 12 persons.

Nobel Dinner Service

Following the dinner the Royals, Laureates and families retire to the Prince’s Gallery while the rest retire to the Golden Hall for the dance.  The sun often appears before the night is over.  The Golden Hall is adorned with golden mosaic tiles with the Queen of Mälaren (nickname for Stockholm) presiding over the room.  In one corner of the Golden Hall, there is a small mosaic of a distant Swedish relative – John Ericsson – known for the invention of the screw prop propeller and for the building of the famous Civil War ship, the USS Monitor.  He was half brother to my maternal great great grandfather Johan Fredrik Ericsson who immigrated to New Zealand in 1840.

Wandering these hallowed halls on Culture Night you could almost imagine you were there at the festivities so what better than to take a glass of champagne and soak up the atmosphere in the Golden Hall.  Cheers Patrik & Stefan!

Leaving the Nobel festivities behind us we continued our wanderings through the building visiting the beautiful Prince’s Gallery and the magnificent City Council chamber.  We also passed through a little room called the “Oval” where the civil marriages of Stockholm are performed.  The room is draped in french tapestries from the 1690s.  Little did any of us know that with in 7 weeks Patrik & Stefan would be standing in this very room saying their “I do’s”.  Not even they knew.  My 2nd reason for this side note.

Stefan apart from being a friend, is actually a professional guide in Stockholm so don’t hesitate to contact him if you are looking for a guide when in Stockholm via his website: https://www.guidebognas.com/en/

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