Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Swan Valley

I reclaimed the green beastie on Tuesday and found my way to the Swan valley. All the wedding stuff seemed to be under control - or would be as Dave was on the case - and it was my last opportunity to see something the area.

I had a really nice trip but I was disappointed in the Swan Valley. It was very very flat, I saw very little of the river and one field of vines looks much like another - especially when you're driving and having to reject all the invitations to taste! I had a very pleasant lunch at the Riverside vinery - though I never did see the river there. On my way back I stopped at an aboriginal art gallery and came away with a boomerang.

Got back to find that Ben's visit had started with a trip to Ikea ............. But all the shopping was done and the transport to and from the wedding - including a Rolls - was booked. Dave, Ben and I had a very quiet but very good steak dinner. Ben spent the night with his soon to be brother-in-law. I'm glad I didn't!

Reindeers and snow men

How can you take Christmas seriously at 35 degrees - even if the shops are full of snowmen and reindeers! We had a serious shopping list for Monday - the grooms wedding ring; the bride's earrings; hat, shoes and shirt for the father of the bride to name but some of what we were to get. I couldn't be left out ........... bought another pair of shoes! Very classy black suede wedges - absolutely impractical for that dry, dusty environment and not much better for Scottish wet but irresistible!

Dave and I spent the evening making the place cards for the wedding - Blue Peter has nothing on us!

Helen (Louise's mum), Stav (Helen's partner) Ben (Louise's brother) and Freya (cousin) were all arriving around midnight. I was quite happy to leave Dave and Louise to the task of picking them all up from the airport. Ben was to be in the house with Dave and I, while the others had a separate apartment.

Family and a fish hook

Dave made the bacon sandwiches on Sunday morning. Louise had stayed over and gone into work very early to finish up, she called to say that Craig had a fish hook in his finger and could we pick up a scalpel on the way over! To cut a long story very short Craig finally gave in to family pressure and had the hook removed by a doctor on Sunday evening!

Dave, Louise and I took another trip to the wedding location where Dave and I reinforced our earlier advice to Louise - that gold stilleto's not wise if wanting to get up and down 90 stone steps as beautiful bride! Dave also decided that wearing a suit for the wedding was above and beyond what should be expected of the father of the bride!! It reached about 37 degrees during Sunday afternoon.

Craigs Gran, aunt and cousin arrived during the day as did friends Iain and Laura who are
back-packing round the world. The day finished with a Barbeque in the garden at Craig & Louise's house - with enough food to feed the entire wedding party for a week!

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Saturday in Perth

The adrenaline and jet lag caught up with me on Saturday morning and it was nearly 10 when I woke up - about 4 hours later than usual. After a fantastic bacon sandwich I headed for the Swan Valley - lovely river, dozens of vineyards. Except I missed the turning and ended up in the centre of Perth. As cities go it is very attractive (small! lots of water!) and I decided to make the most of my mistake and explore. Having zig zagged through the main streets I started to climb and found myself in Kings Park. The views of the city are great and the park is beautiful.

Louise called while I was in the park and asked if I could get some place cards for the wedding dinner. She gave me the name of the shop and said it was past the shopping mall. Silly me - I didn't ask how far past the mall, or more to the point, which direction past! I found it eventually - at least 3 miles past the mall on the way into the city. And incidentally found out how and why I'd got so badly lost the night before. The shop did not have what was required but I left with all sorts that would serve a Blue Peter presenter very well.

I met Louise from work as she wanted to visit the location of the wedding and the restaurant at the same time as the real thing. This was her last day at work before starting 2 weeks leave - unpaid leave but she's not been there long and had been pleasantly surprised that her job was being kept open for her.

The location at Roleystone was beautiful and the views from the restaurant spectacular. And the visit took longer than we thought because Louise got a call from Dave to say he had landed. So instead of dropping me off at home and going to meet her dad by herself he got both of us. Which was fine as he'd hired a car - another Holden but a brand new one with LOTS of air conditioning. So I took the green beastie and left them to catch up.

We had a very pleasant evening - vague memories of crisps, sausages, peach vodka and too too much wine. Only absolutely sure that it wasn't me drinking the peach vodka!

Another classic motor.......

It was about 9.30 and I was just about ready for a second G&T when Craig and Louise arrived. It was great to see her, she looked smashing and despite being tired was excited about what the next few days would bring. So was Craig but he was also down because work - and therefore his anticipated income - had fallen through with no notice. He'd got a new job lined up but the timing of it all was c***!

Louise manages a jewellery shop and had been working until 9pm. She had driven over in their other classic car - classic in that at 26 it is as old as she is. Yet another Holden, this one a Gemini that is bright green and was to be mine for the next couple of days. Louise warned me that the plastic seats would get hot and there was no power steering. Never mind, we'd get on fine.

Friday morning was hot and I realised that I needed shorts. So I made a trial run in the small green beastie back to the shopping mall. It wasn't too bad on the way there as the car had been parked in the garage all night but getting back into it after an hour in the mall car park was torture! Plastic seats, no air conditioning and no fan!

And you're right I'm glossing over the fact that despite trying on just about every pair of shorts in the place I couldn't bring myself to buy any - I looked ridiculous!! I compromised with a couple of short skirts - mutton dressed as lamb rather than sack of potatoes tied in the middle!

I then took a couple of deep breaths and pointed the green beastie in the direction of Freemantle. No problem! Got straight there and even found a tree to park under. Coped reasonably well with only 4 gears - don't think I quite stripped the gear box - the engine agreed with my instinct to change up! Freemantle is very pretty and I enjoyed my walk around the harbour as well as the prawns from the water front cafe. I also enjoyed an exhibition of metal sculptures - fabulous things but far too big to pack in a suitcase.

I was really impressed with myself as I got back to the house without getting lost and after a quick change I headed to Louise & Craigs - Louise was taking me to Scarborough beach for fish & chips and to watch the sun go down. We had a great time - despite my new skirt and my knickers getting drenched by an unexpected wave. It was dusk when we got back to their house and Louise had confessed that there was a slight problem with the rear lights on the car - they probably didn't work....... So I headed straight off to be back before I really needed them. Except that I got thoroughly and seriously lost. Found myself in the wrong part of town and being followed - not by the police - but by young men in a couple of cars trying to frighten me. They did!! I eventually found my way back and calmed down with a glass of wine.

Pohutukawa Trees


Throughout New Zealand the Pohutukawa - or New Zealand Christmas trees - were coming into flower as I left. There are more in the north and I was often told that they look absolutely stunning as they are covered in bright scarlet flowers.

As Craig was driving me to the supermarket I saw one, pointed to it and said "so you have Pohutukawa trees too". I got a blank look at first and then "yea, bottle brush tree, native to Oz". Well it might be, but there's not much poetic about bottle brushes.

Shopping with Craig was much like shopping with Mick...... "What do you want that for? That's too expensive, this one's reduced". He was right about one thing though - Australian bacon is much better than ours - and not just because the rashers are 18" long!

Despite having enough food for a small army I was too tired to eat much - I'd lost 5 hours coming from New Zealand - so I settled for a large G&T.

Arriving in Oz

The plane arrived a little early into Perth which was some compensation for the time it took me to get through immigration ............ The form asks you - amongst other things - if you are bringing in any food and if you've been on a farm in the last 30 days. I answered yes to both these questions as I had spent a great weekend on Michael & Gaye's farm in the Wairapa and I had succumbed to some Pineapple Lumps! I also had a box of wonderful chocolates that Anne had given me.

Admitting the farm visit meant that my footwear was checked. Despite turning out the case that I was sure the sweets were in they couldn't be found and it was decided that the 2nd case should be x rayed. Pleased to say that the Pineapple Lumps are fine!

Craig (my soon-to-be-nephew-in-law) was coming to meet me as Louise was still at work and after adjusting dial codes I got to speak to him and was told to look out for a big blue truck. It was about 6.30 by the time I got to the front of the airport and about 22 degrees - much better than the 45 that I had been threatened with!

The big blue truck is a classic Holden - bench seat in the front and gear stick on the steering column and plenty big enough for my suitcases. Having collected the keys and paperwork we set off to find the house that my brother Dave was renting for us. This took some time and led us to a garage, a couple of alleys and confusion.... Calls to Louise didn't help.

A beige building near the booze shop...... It was looking like we'd have to point the remote control at every building we saw then a question "Is Louise a little dyslexic?, could 916 really be 961?" She is, it could be, and it was indeed a beige building near the booze shop. It was also a very nice house - ideal for Dave, Ben and I.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

The Ninety Day Rule

As I was driving back towards Christchurch there had been initial news reports that the new Government were planning to bring in a Ninety Day rule. This was not unexpected as many of those I'd met had been talking about it as a priority. It will mean that anyone working for a small employer can be sacked for any reason - other than discrimimation - within 90 days of being employed. A retrograde and worrying step for many. As I drove to the airport I listened to a number of employers welcoming the move and justifying the right to sack people without any right to appeal. I'll be following developments..........

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

24 hours in Auckland

I had already decided that I wanted to spend my last night in New Zealand overlooking Auckland Harbour so my first stop on landing was the I-Site office. It took a while but I was booked into a harbour view room at the Copthorne. I was advised that I wouldn't need a car as I could walk most places in and around the city from there. I got the super shuttle from the airport - mini bus and trailer that takes about 10 people and delivers them to whatever door they want. $30 instead of the estimated $75 for a cab. I was about the 4th person off so I got a bonus small tour of the city.

The Copthorne is just across the road from the harbour and ferry terminals and my room was on the 10th floor so I had a good view. I had come to realise that every time I arrived in a city I'd lost little time in leaving it again - and this time was no different. Within 20 minutes of checking in to the hotel I was on the ferry to Waiheke Island. Conor had told me that this was a very special and lovely place and she was right. I've got a brochure from an estate agent in my suitcase! The Auckland skyline is impressive viewed from the ferry and the island is very very pretty. I got a bus to the town and walked enjoying the beach, the views and the flowers. Lovely!

When I got back to Auckland I was hungry and I found an asian restaurant that I liked the look of and had some very good prawns in coriander and lime. Back at the hotel I spent a little time on the blog and a lot more watching the lights and movement over the harbour.

I woke the following morning with a very heavy heart knowing that I had very little time left in New Zealand and not liking it one bit! I was looking forward to my niece's wedding but I really didn't want to leave New Zealand. But it had to be done.

I was up and out really early for a last and fast walk round the harbour area and was still at reception in plenty of time for the return trip to the airport by super shuttle. I'd arranged this with the concierge the afternoon before as I left for the ferry. Except that it didn't turn up and upon enquiry I learnt that it had not been booked.

I might not have wanted to leave but I wasn't going to miss the flight. Suffice to say I was not a happy woman and the hotel were left in no doubt of this! I travelled to the airport in a taxi at the expense of the hotel.

I don't need to say that checking in, boarding, taking off happened in a haze of tears and sniffles - pathetic! I gave myself a stern talking to as the plane headed out over the ocean - I'd had a truly truly fabulous experience and the last thing I should be doing as I ended my first visit to New Zealand was snivel!! Remember, rejoice, PLAN! I'll be back.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Flat whites and long blacks

Not to be confused with All Blacks, Black Caps or All Whites..........

A flat white is a coffee with milk. Nearest description for a long black is a double espresso - I thought I liked strong coffee but some of the long blacks I've had have taken my breath away - and the enamel off my teeth.

NB - Black Caps - cricket. All Whites - football. You can work out for yourself what the Badminton team is called.

Leaving the South Island

Both Sharon and Murray left the house before me on Wednesday morning so I had a little time to work on the blog though I have never yet caught up with myself. Maybe when I'm back in Scotland?

This drive to the airport went without a hitch though handing the car back took a while as I reported the dent and a mass of paperwork ensued. Should have said nothing - it was fully insured. I tried to arrange another car for Auckland but they only had an automatic and I've never driven one. I know lots of people have said they are easier than manuals but only when you know how and I wasn't planning to waste any of the precious few hours I had left in NZ fiddling with a gear stick - or whatever it is that automatics have instead of gear sticks.

I spent the entire flight looking out of the window with lots of sighs and a good few tears. And the pilot was good enough to tell me when we flew over the Waitaki river.

Back to Christchurch

The views of Lake Pukaki were much better today as the rain had stopped and it was much brighter. Though none of the surrounding hill tops were visible. At the foot of the lake I turned left and rejoined Highway 8 which took me past Lake Tekapo. Sharon & Murray told me later that there are no motor boats on Lake Pukaki because a kind of volcanic silt blocks the engines. I didn't see any but there are motor boats on Tekapo. What I saw was another very beautiful turquoise lake. My route took me over Burke Pass and I had wondered if this would be a steep climb but once again the road was well designed and it was just part of a pleasant drive.

I stopped at the Farm Barn Cafe for fruit juice and the sickliest cake I've ever eaten - sort of millionaires shortbread with coconut and sultana's too! Certainly did the job as an instant sugar hit. But I rejected the offer to take away the half I couldn't eat!

Shared some fond memories with the guy running the place - he had worked for some time at Loch Fyne. Realised as I left the cafe that my timing had been perfect - a coach party pulled in as I got into the car. Until then there had been only two other customers.

At Geraldine I decided to take the "inland scenic route" back to Christchurch. The hosts of lupins continued and for a long time were the only feature that told me I was in NZ rather than Scotland. In fact I was starting to wonder why I'd chosen a scenic route that required clear skies to be scenic! Especially when I got to Mt Somers - a dozen or so houses a couple of shops - but definitely no mountain!! It wasn't lost in the clouds - there isn't one - I drove round twice just to make sure.

But then I got to Rakaia Gorge and, as I hope you can see from the photo's, this really is a gorge with steep steep slopes on both sides. It made the choice of the scenic route well worth while.

At about 5.30 I rang Sharon with a progress report and was told that I was probably about 2 hours away, and that there was roast lamb for dinner. So with thoughts of that in mind I made my way back to Waikuku beach and my last night in the South Island. I suppose it had to happen - I got to the store at Waikuku beach and then couldn't find the house. Sharon's phone was off when I tried so I drove about some more and still couldn't find it. After about 20 minutes I got through to Sharon who said that Murray was out looking for me - and just at that I saw his very familiar van! Rescued and escorted home!

Murray was very disparaging of his efforts but the dinner was absolutely great - I really enjoyed both the meal and the company. Sharon told me that the total for Christmas dinner at their place had risen to 14 - I'm not surprised as they are such welcoming and comfortable hosts. Thank you both once again for looking after me so well.

Friday, 12 December 2008

And while I'm talking about cars........


Have you seen the photo's of the SFWU (Service & Food Workers) cars? "Proud to be Union" sun strips and the union logo on the side. I've always thought UNISON should badge our cars and I was real impressed with these! John Ryall the Gen Sec told me that there was some initial resistance - concern that the cars would be damaged but it has never happened. However, he has had one or two calls of the "you'll never believe where I saw one your cars" kind!

When Campbell Duignan came to meet me in Christchurch not only was the car wearing the union logo but he was wearing a union shirt. Not a campaign T shirt but a proper tailored shirt with the logo on the sleeve. Very smart, very professional. I'll await the comments from colleagues!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

You might be interested to know

Mentioning toilets in the last post reminded me of some things that I've been meaning to tell you about...........
  • There are lots and lots of public toilets in NZ. Even some very small towns have more than one and I've been astounded to see them in some really remote areas. They are basic but clean and all have toilet paper. Who keeps them that way when they can be dozens of miles from anywhere? Anyway I'm deeply appreciative - have not had to resort to a bush once. And that's more information than you need.
  • It's not like Scotland in that - apart from the occasional farm complex - I have seen few individual houses in the countryside I've travelled. I expected to see houses perched on hill sides or next to the road as I would in Scotland but it's not like that. Housing is concentrated (and that's not the right word because it suggests crowded and it's far from that) in small towns.
  • There are lots of cafes providing everything from a cheese scone to a three course meal. They open early and close late - also not like Scotland!
  • Road repairs are interesting...... it seems to me that several tonnes of road metal are dumped in the area to be fixed. This is spread about the full carriageway by something looking like a snow plow until its reasonably level. Temporary 30 kph speed restriction signs are put up at each end and the road is opened again. On bigger roads there will be some cones. For the next few days the traffic acts as a roller and the surface becomes progressively smoother............ I've missed seeing the final finishing stages but have choked on the dust a few times. The finished product is good - all the roads I drove on were in good condition.

Sure there will be more..........

Dreich Tuesday

I might not speak Gaelic or Maori but there's a few Kiwi's who now speak dreich! I'm still not sure I spell it right but it's now in use on parts of Highway 8.

It had stopped raining when I woke up on Tuesday and I could see the base of the mountain so I decided to spend some time over a leisurely breakfast updating the blog and waiting to see if the cloud would continue to lift so I could see the mountain - and confirm that $20 mountain view!

Having spent about an hour writing about Saturday and Sunday the whole of my text vanished as I pressed the publish button. I don’t know how or why but I do know that I came close to throwing the laptop and myself over the balcony of the Sir Edmund Hilary CafĂ©! Instead I decided to give up on Aoraki – “Cloud Piercer” wasn’t going to live up to its name this morning so I was off to find something I could see.

On the way to Mount Cook I’d passed a sign to the Tasman Valley and I’d read that there was a lake with ice bergs floating in it. You don’t get that in Scotland! I drove down a gravel road until it became a track with a sign that said that it wasn’t maintained for cars. There was a footpath suggesting that it was a 20 minute walk to the lake and off I went. The edged and gravelled footpath soon became steep but well maintained steps which gave way to giant gravel steps and then I was climbing over boulders and rocks guided only by a couple of stakes. The last 100 yards were just about vertical. I was puffing like an old horse and if I’d had any breath I’d have muttered under it about a stupid middle aged woman not considering that she’d have to climb a mountain in order to see a lake at ground level. Anyway I’d started so I’d finish – and it was a great cure for my temper. You need energy to remain in a paddy!

I chatted on the way up with an Indian family from Canada – they thought I was being sociable, I knew I was getting my breath back. But I moved on when they started telling tales of people who’d died on the glacier and helicopters that had crashed into it!

I made it to the top and it was incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it - the Tasman Lake was milky white with lots of large and small icebergs. Still lots of cloud so I couldn’t see the Tasman Glacier itself but Cloud Piercer was doing its best and I got some very brief glimpses.

After being awe inspired and just staring at it all for ages I had to get down and realised that it wasn’t going to be easier than up. Now’s the time I have to confess that I’d done the climb in a pair of crocs – fake ones at that! Could have been worse – could have been those lilac and lime sling backs I suppose. Anyway I am delighted to report that I got down without injury and on my feet – did think I might land on my bum at several points. Big advantage of travelling alone - no photo's of undignified scramble! Chatted with a retired tour bus driver from the north of North Island on the way down. He was very envious of me living in Scotland. Did think of suggesting an exchange but conscious that we really do need to improve the gender and age balance on the management team!

At the foot of the path are some toilets and a shelter. Both have chains from the roof into concrete blocks. They aren't design features - they serve the very necessary purpose of keeping the roof on when it blows. Realised that I had been very lucky as there had been no wind at all on my climb.

Monday in the rain

I had planned to start my day with another walk round the bay and some photo’s but the mountains had disappeared so I decided to hit the road – confident that it would soon dry up and I would have plenty to see. How wrong was that! It did not stop raining all day and the cloud didn’t lift above the roof of the car.

From Queenstown I went to Wanaka – I’d been told that this was a smaller and perhaps prettier version of Queenstown. The lakeside walkway was very good but it was raining heavily so I didn’t stay long. On leaving Wanaka I had a slight tussle with myself about whether to change my route and head for the west coast – the Southern Alps and the Franz Joseph Glazier and twice as far as I had planned. Common sense prevailed and I stayed on the road to Aoraki/Mount Cook.

There was little traffic on the roads which were well maintained and easy to drive. I’d expected more climbs and hair pins with those hills but the glacial valleys were long and wide and most of the driving was on long straight roads. It still felt a long way and I was beginning to feel that I’d seen it all before! One foggy hillside is much like another even if it’s the other side of the world.

It was late afternoon when I stopped at Twizel having remembered I’d nowhere to stay that night and little idea of what was available at Aoraki. Within a few minutes of visiting the I-Site office (tourist info) I was booked into "the most famous hotel in New Zealand" – the Hermitage. Or so said the Lonely Planet guide. I got a very good rate. Partly because it was afternoon but also - I realised from the conversation with the hotel - because I appeared to be a respectable mature lady. Really not sure I felt happy about that – so solaced injury to feelings with more cherries over my ears!

Weather report at Twizel was that the day was a write off as far as seeing anything at all but tomorrow would be much better! I think they say that to all the tourists – especially the respectable women.

While misty mountains and rain are very familiar the miles and miles of mountain lupins were not. I can’t remember exactly when they started but at first there were a few on the road side and then there were dense clusters and often there were whole fields with mauve, lavender, pink, cream and even yellow lupins. I’ve taken a couple of pictures but the light was so poor I don’t think they’ll show well – had to resort to a postcard!

To get to Mount Cook you turn off the main road and drive alongside Lake Pukahi – despite the rotten weather still very turquoise and I was really hoping I’d be able to see more of its' backdrop on my way back. It was raining heavily when I got to the hotel and while it wasn’t cold it was really good to smell the log fire burning in the entrance hall.

The Hermitage is a very big hotel which is also home to the Edmund Hilary Exhibition Centre and it took me a while to find my way round. Ever the optimist I’d asked for a room overlooking the mountain and that’s what I had – with its own balcony too. It would have been lovely the day before! You’ll be pleased to know that I had removed the cherries before checking in and was back to being a respectable mature lady again – one of dozens though most of the others were Japanese.

I’d booked dinner in the Panorama restaurant – the a la carte rather than the self service buffet and was feeling a little extravagant until I went to find it. The route is through the buffet restaurant which seats about 400 and was heaving - all the coach parties appeared to have been booked in at the same time – and there was nothing respectable about some of the tactics being used to get first servings!

The Panorama was an oasis of calm and I was very pleased to be shown to a window table – unusual for a woman alone. Just a pity that I could see nothing at all from it. Really haven’t seen the cloud base at ground level before!! Dinner was very very good – a six course taster menu. I know gluttony is a vice but it was ‘tasters’ and I couldn’t get beyond a mouthful of the dessert!! I don’t think I will have lost any weight on this trip though.

I slept well despite calls from OZ and the UK checking that I was ok - others might think I’m a mature respectable woman but to my mum and dad I am still their little girl on her own on the other side of the world! Think I reassured them that I’m absolutely fine and having a ball!!

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

From Alexandra to Queenstown

The road from Alexandra runs alongside the river Clyde - this one a beautiful deep turquoise with a dramatic dam where I stopped for some photo's. There were lots of vineyards all along the route to Queenstown and whilst I stopped and admired I tasted not a drop - had the distinct feeling that if I'd started I'd still be there now!

Which reminds me - I was offered a job picking grapes at Gladstones in the Wairarapa. That's where Michael and I had lunch and a bottle of "12,000 miles Sauvingnon Blanc" - named for the distance that the producers travelled from Scotland to make it.

The terrain was getting more rugged now - Glencoe rather than Campsie Fells - but very beautiful and very easy to drive - there's a lot to be said for glacial valleys. For the last stage of the journey to Queenstown the road ran parallel to Lake Wakatipu - fantastic. I was travel weary by the time I got to Queenstown but it was worth it. The town sits on a bay in the lake and is framed by hills and mountains. The breeze was picking up but it was still hot and I wanted to make the most of the rest of the day - it was about 6. There's a hotel overlooking the lake and I got myself a discount for a lake view room (and a recommendation to go elsewhere for a better value/quality breakfast which is why I haven't named it but UNISON folk will be familiar with the one across the road from the London office).

Queenstown is commercial in that there are a lot of shops, restaurants and tour offices but I enjoyed wandering around and some of the shops were wonderful - wonderful prices too! I nearly bought a hat trimmed with shocking pink possum fur - I think it might even have suited me but I'm so used to looking ridiculous in hats that I doubted my own judgement! Anyway it would definitely have clashed with the lilac and lime shoes!!

By the time I'd completed my walk round the bay and trawl of the shops I had gathered 2 recommendations for the same restaurant and an appetite. So I took myself of to Wai (Maori for water) for dinner. It was a great meal. As one of the staff said to me - "we charge you an arm and a leg but we do it with quality and a smile". I think that was the scouser but it could have been the lad from Ayr and it was quite true.

The combination of a hot days driving, good food and good wine meant that my plan to update the blog after dinner came to nothing - I slept instead. And woke up to an all too typical Scottish summer morning. It was raining and the mist was rolling down the hills.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Sunday and those cherries

I headed south out of Dunedin towards Milton to join Highway 8 which would take me north and most of the way to Queenstown. It was a beautiful day and getting hot. It was like driving to the Highlands on the best summer day imaginable. Except that the rolling hills and trees and gorse went on and on...... I stopped in Lawrence for lunch - a sandwich and cold drink in the very pretty garden of a cafe. The temperature was showing as 28 degrees by then and the air conditioning was on in the car.

Soon after leaving Lawrence I got to fruit country - miles and miles of cherry trees and road side stalls. The one I stopped at operated an honesty box and on leaving $6 dollars I made off with half a kilo of large ripe cherries, scattering stones and stalks up the highway towards Alexandra. Of course, I'd also found several pairs of cherries and had hung a set over each ear as I drove along hopping from one fading radio station to another for news and reasonable music.

By the time I got to Alexandra I was ready for more fluids, some jandals (flip flops to me) and some CD's.

I'm not sure that Alexandra was ready for me - I'd forgotten to remove my ear decorations and created near hysteria in the grocers when I went to pay for my water. I thought they were very fetching myself! Having consumed the cause of hilarity I moved on to look for music. Not hilarity this time but confusion....... I asked some advice about good contemporary Maori music. Asking a spotty 16 year old about contemporary in any country is probably silly and it took a while for me to make clear what I wanted. However, my fundamental flaw was to ask a 16 year old for his recommendation on anything. I should have asked him what he would buy for his great aunt Flossie! Anyway the CD cover had a very good looking Maori with tattoos on his face and hands and I bought it. I suppose I should not have been surprised that young Kiwi's like rap music but it's taken a while to come to like the CD.

Anyway I hadn't heard the CD when I found the shoe shop. After trying on all manner of sensible, soft leather sandals and jandals.......... I bought a pair of lilac and lime green sling backs! Strange that I never realised I needed them until I got to Alexandra. I just need a new wardrobe now to go with them.

More later........ another plane to catch

Sunday - cherries, shoes, music and much else...

I woke on Sunday morning to rain, mist rolling down the hills and an understanding of why there was an electric blanket on the bed! However, as I drove back towards Dunedin (missed the turning for the one castle in New Zealand - Larnach) it got brighter and brighter and it was warm by the time I parked for a walk round.

There are some fabulous buildings - especially the railway station and I laughed out loud when I saw the council logo - it's a highlander and a Maori either side of a crest. I hope the photo is clear.

On my wander I found a car charger for the bb and the holiday people had found me an adpator so communication was once again possible. When I was planning my trip there had been a lot of controversy about whether I should go to Queenstown - beautiful but commercial. Majority view was that it was worth it so that's where I was headed. You'll have to wait a while to hear about the cherries etc...........

Ancient Edinburgh

From Moreaki I was back on the highway to Dunedin, centre of all things Scots in NZ. Though I did think that the snow gates were going a bit far in making me feel at home!

I had been told that I would have no problem with accommodation as it was not yet fully summer. What no-one realised was that it was graduation weekend in Dunedin where the University of Otago is based. What with gawking at the street signs for Moray Place, St Andrews Street, Princes Street and staring at lots of beautifully gowned and grinning students I'm surprised I didn't hit anything! But I made it to tourist information and much appreciated the 30 minutes spend trying to find me a room with a view! The harbour at Dunedin is smashing..... There was nothing in Dunedin so I was soon back on the road towards the Otago Peninsula and a holiday complex at Portobello. The road runs right along the water, there are no crash barriers and water regularly splashed over the road - it was absolutely spectacular but I needed to concentrate! Well aware though that there are some who would have relished such a drive!

Portobello very pretty though the beach is much much smaller than the one I'm used to. My accommodation for the night looked like a cross between an aluminium shed and a bus stop - it was very cute. Very new, very modern - double bed, kitchenette, shower room but not a hanger or a hook.

A walk to the end of the road took me to the beach, the unlicensed grocers, the pub and the fish & chip shop and I was soon settled in with rolls for breakfast, a bottle of wine from the pub (dozens to choose from, all chilled) and some blue cod for supper. That's when I discovered that I'd left the blackberry charger and adaptor in Christchurch and my grand plan to finally up date the blog lasted as long as the battery in the laptop - not very long. There's much to be said for watching the sun go down over the hills drinking chilled New Zealand fizz!

Heading south in South Island - in bite size chunks

I'm going to re-write this in bits so I lessen the risk of losing it all again..........

By Saturday morning Muggsy had decided to be friends and I left Sharon and Murray's with the familiar feel of cat fur on my lap. Murray works on Saturdays and very kindly bundled me and my baggage into his van and off loaded us at the car hire place. "Turn right, turn right and keep going until you've had enough" got me out of Christchurch and I was soon cruising down State Highway 1 at 100 (120 really but the limit is 100) listening to classic rock songs. So, I admit it - it was km's and a Ford Focus but it was a great drive and I knew exactly where I was going.

Just about everyone I spoke to since I arrived had told me that if I were heading south I must go to Fleurs Place at Moeraki. I could miss the boulders but the restaurant was an essential - the best fish place in NZ. So that's where I went. Blue skies, blue sea, small boats, houses perched high above the bay. If Fleur had offered me a job washing dishes I would have been sorely tempted! I even saw the perfect house - and took a photo from its helipad!

My baked sole with lime and caper sauce was superb but I left some of the dessert - strawberry rissotto - which prompted a visit from Fleur (wearing gorgeous lavender specs) who asked if I'd liked it. When I said it was too sweet she summoned another member of staff and spoons. Having tasted it she pronounced it baby food! Took it off my bill, off the menu and gave the chef a telling off! I wasn't really surprised to find that Rick Stein had been there before me.

During my post lunch tramp round the bay I spotted a beautiful blue crab shell and bent to pick it up. Not sure who was the most surprised when I discovered that it was firmly attached to a living crab. Do know that the crab came off best - it nipped me before I could put it down!

When the PC nearly ended its days in NZ....

I spent some time on Tuesday morning describing my travels on Saturday and Sunday while I waited and hoped that the cloud would lift and let me see Aoraki/Mount Cook. I'd just given up on that and was finishing my very lengthy post when it vanished, never to be seen again.

I was sorely tempted to throw both the pc and myself of the balcony but resisted............

I will write it again........

Monday, 8 December 2008

Equilibrium restored

There's nothing like a drive through the Highlands in the rain for regaining a sense of perspective............. I will meet up with Conor again, Scotland is only 13,000 miles from New Zealand.............

I'm ahead of myself again. As far as the blog is aware I haven't finished in Christchurch yet.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Te Runaka ki Otautahi o kai Tahu

Sharon told me that the Christmas meeting of the Runaka would be a very good antidote to my farewell blues and she was absolutely right. When we arrived we were handed a standard minutes/matters arising/any other business agenda of the kind I have seen a thousand times before.

The Runaka is open to Maori in Christchurch and deals with any and all issues of relevance. The guest at the previous meeting had been the then Prime Minister, Helen Clark. Sharon and her colleagues are welcome at the meetings as she has proved her active support. Today people were congratulating her on the legal case - many Maori live in the housing affected.

Sharon and I were warmly greeted by Louise - the organising powerhouse behind it all. She is a blond lovely with a traditional Maori facial tattoo. It is patterned on that of her grandmother and denotes her status and authority within the community. Sharon told me that it was not an easy decision for Louise - who otherwise looks entirely pakeha - to make but that the elders had asked her to have the tattoo to show her importance.

Maurice, a Minister, is the leader of the Runaka. He was running late as his son was ill so Louise got the meeting and the party off to a good start with some singing. I have no idea about the words but many of the tunes reminded me of the sing songs we had at family Christmasses when I was a kid. There were some very good voices and guitar players.

When Maurice arrived he started the meeting with a formal welcome and blessing and the next hour was spent dealing with the business - largely matters arising from 4 pages of minutes.

You've all been there and met the one who
  • is 2 pages behind everyone else
  • has their own agenda that's never committed to paper
  • just thought of something interesting that everyone should know
  • is more interested in talking to their neighbour

Despite lots of exhortations for progress so that the party could start the meeting lasted 30 minutes longer than planned - just as well because lunch was delayed. But the meeting was interesting and very good humoured. Wally my Koumatua from yesterday was part of the kitchen team today so I didn't see much of him.

Traditionally Maori cook in underground pits called hangi but the health authorities have something to say about that these days so a steel version is used. Lunch was great - honey roast chicken and beef with all sorts of veg. Followed by some fabulous pavlova. I passed on the trifle and Christmas cake! No alcohol - all sorts of soft drinks.

Just before the singing started again I got to make a presentation to Maurice and the Runaka. I had taken some Quaich's with me engraved with UNISON Scotland as gifts and wanted to leave one with the Runaka. Most Maori know and can recite their lineage back to the first settlers in NZ. I wasn't expected to do that but explaining that I am an English woman with a Welsh name living and working in Scotland generated several comments about rugby - only my Welsh ancestry got any accolades here!

After a hug and a hongi - touching noses and foreheads with Maurice - the quaich was passed round and much appreciated though the general view was that it would have been better if I'd brought the whiskey too!

Sharon and I returned to her office so she could catch up and I could arrange to meet Campbell from the Service & Food Workers union. I also arranged a hire car for the next 4 days.

Campbell collected me from the office and took me to the CTU offices - with a brief detour to visit the memorial to the suffragettes and Kate Shepherd. NZ is justly proud that they were the first country where women achieved the vote and Kate is acknowledged as leader of the campaign.

Campbell is the southern Regional Secretary of the SFWU and was keen to know about UNISON and it's similarities/differences. We had a too brief discussion before joining colleagues from other TU's based in the building for Christmas drinks. Sharon and her sister Fiona came to join us and a great networking session was had by all. Understandably the unions are very supportive of the action taken by ChchCOSS on housing costs. I also got to meet my 2nd Labour MP - a Cabinet Minister until three weeks before. Campbell also provided me with a practical itinerary for my tour of south island that would take me to some fabulous places and ensure I got time to appreciate them.

My day ended with a brief visit to Sharon and Murray's local followed by an indian takeaway with the family - now enhanced by a visit from Fiona's son Phil. It was a very comfortable and relaxing end to a really great but busy working week. Many many thanks to Sharon and Murray for making me so welcome.

Saying goodbye to Conor

Friday's activities started with a drive to the airport as Conor was flying back to Wellington and to home. Very selfish when she was still not well and missing her boys but I wasn't wanting to say goodbye. Don't need to tell you that I shed tears - and am doing so again as I write this, so I'll move on.

A really special gift


First stop on Thursday was the Christchurch office of the New Zealand Council of Social Services to meet Sharon and for Conor to generate even more paper for the Seminar. I went to the pharmacy for more lemsips - both Conor and I still not right! Sharon was up to her eyes in press calls. The council had increased rents on their social housing by 24%. ChchCOSS had taken them to court claiming that they had not followed due process. The court had agreed, and the high profile mayor was loudly and publicly throwing his toys out of the pram.

The final seminar was held in a very beautiful community house that in one incarnation had been a youth hostel. It was also a beautiful day so we made the most of the garden too.

Q - Why do Kiwi's always take their shoes off?
A - Because they can!

The seminar was opened by Wally, a Kaumatua in training. While I don't understand Maori the words of welcome and blessing are melodic and I had kicked off my shoes, sat on the window seat enjoying both the breeze and Wally's words. I came back to earth - but not my shoes - when I was asked to join Wally for a presentation. Conor and Jane had arranged a truly beautiful pounamu (greenstone) for me and had had it delivered to Sharon so that it could be blessed and presented. It is a Koru - an unfurling fern that denotes new beginnings, growth and harmony. After blessing the pendant Wally put it over my head and I shed some tears. Jane and Conor - it is a truly wonderful gift and absolutely a treasure. Thank you so much.

The Seminar was another success - though this one generated the first comment that my contribution wasn't relevant to what was important in the sector in NZ. Not a bad response from about 100 participants across the conference and the three seminars. Generally all of the feedback has been positive providing a great basis for Workplace Wellbeing to develop and expand on the issues that have been covered. It's great for me that I have had the opportunity to be part of it all.

From the seminar we adjourned to the Oasis Hotel, officially to debrief and meet up with Sharon's sister Fiona but actually for long, cold G&T's - well deserved! From the hotel we went back to the motel to collect my and Conor's luggage and to drop off Anne who was staying another night before flying home to Sydney the next morning. Hugs and astonishment - Anne will be 67 in a couple of months! She's planning to retire in a year or so. Hope I look that good at 66!

Sharon then took Conor and I to her house at Waikuku beach where Murray, her husband, was organising the BBQ. After a great meal we went for a walk on the beach and I got some pictures of a spectacular sunset. Caught a glimpse of Muggsy the cat but she was in the huff - doesn't take quickly to strangers!

Yet another night when I was asleep as my head hit the pillow.........

Reunions and headaches

The second Workplace Wellbeing Seminar took place in a Wellington Council building overlooking the harbour. But then most of the city overlooks the harbour as it is built on very steep slopes that run down to the water - it's a very beautiful place but hard work getting uphill! Some of the houses at the top are on struts and seem to be suspended in space.

Conor and I met up again with Anne Junor back from having a great time at a Bosnian wedding. Before we arrived Anne had met Roger who had not been in time to prevent a projector screen from falling on her head so she was feeling a little sore - in more ways than one. Other 'old friends' Michael from the Federation of Voluntary Welfare Organisations and Kerry from the PSA (Public Services Association) were also part the team presenting at the seminar which, like the one in Hamilton, was over subscribed.

Those attending were largely the combination of Community & Voluntary Sector managers and governance reps that were invited to attend in pairs. For people not known to be positive about trade unions they were very polite - and for the most part interested in what I had to say. The event went really well - ending with Michael making a brief but passionate exhortation for people to join and engage with their unions. I hope that they do.

From there Conor, Anne and I made our way to the airport in a specially arranged taxi big enough to take enormous quantities of baggage! Not much of it clothes but lots of lap tops, work books, employment resource packs, handouts and other necessities for the third and final Seminar in Christchurch. After some reallocation of stuff between us we got checked in without paying excess baggage - I was amazed!

After a glass of Sav and some surprisingly good curry - and another sav on the plane - we arrived in the south island at Christchurch and after another taxi ride found ourselves at the Avalon Motel our accommodation for the night. The journey from the airport took us down some of the longest, straightest streets that I have ever seen. Christchurch is a very attractive City.

The unit that Conor and I shared at the motel came with a tartan sofa so I felt completely at home. The continental breakfast - juice, 4 slices of bread, cereal, choice of tinned pears, peaches or apricots - came that evening for completion (bread in the toaster) and consumption the following morning. I'm still wondering what would have happened if I had asked for pears and peaches? We cheated and had the orange juice for supper!

The motel owner was really helpful and I left the office with a huge pile of maps and leaflets about the south island. In fact, I woke up the following morning buried under most of them having had one of those dreams where you never arrive at where you want to be............

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Tuesday continued..........

The meeting in Backbenchers was arranged for me to meet Ros the senior officer of the New Zealand Council for Social Services - another partner in the Workplace Wellbeing Project and a long standing friend and colleague of Conor. Also Roger who works with Wellington Council, he claims to change his title almost weekly but most importantly he's the man responsible for providing the venue and lunch for the Seminar taking place the following day. Great people both of them and we had a very very pleasant hour together.

Backbenchers is a haunt of MP's and Parliamentary staff but you'd wonder why when you look at some of the decor. There are some truly wonderful 'spittin image' type figures on the walls - including on the outgoing and incoming PM's. I hope the photo's have come out ok. From there Conor and I went to the offices of the CTU (council of trade unions) in Wellington for the long heralded 'think and drink' session on equal pay. It was very very good - once again lots of interest and some sharp questions - including the one about how the New Zealanders avoid what we have! I have always liked Sauvignon Blanc - I've not had a bad one since I've been here and having had quite a lot of practice I'm even learning to call it 'Sav' like a kiwi.

After the think and drink Cheryl the Regional Secretary of the NDU (National Distribution Union) collected me and my baggage for the journey to Conor's.

And I've just lost an entire paragraph of beautiful prose on this d*** laptop! It keeps happening and I don't know why! I'll try again............

We stopped at Cheryl's house to feed the dog, the cat and the chicken and to detour on to the beach that she walks on each morning. When we resumed our journey I had the very serious task of holding the 'pav' that she'd made for dessert. The Aussies claim to have invented pavlova. The Kiwi's know that it is a NZ creation. It was wonderful - but I'm getting ahead of myself......

Conor and her husband Dennis were hosting dinner for Cheryl and her colleague Annabel from NDU, Pat - the 3rd member of the conference debating team and the one who wore the pith helmet. His partner Moira and I. They live at Pokerua Bay on the coast and I'd been told by Graham Cuffley to admire Kapiti island from the bay. Except like Edinburgh castle when the haar moves in - it was invisible.

Dinner and the company were absolutely great but the best part of the visit for me was that I got to meet Paddy and Joey - Patrick and Joseph - the three year old twins who are gorgeous and great fun. Fortunately definite preferences for green and red were identified so the tartan bonnetted teddies were acceptable! I slept that night in Conor's studio - fear not it has a bed and an ensuite! Aswell as everything else Conor is a very talented artist and I enjoyed seeing several of her works in the house.

On Wednesday morning Dennis drove us, with the boys, into Wellington for the seminar there. Conor travelled on the back seat in the space between the boys car seats - watching her getting in and out was a joy! Problem is the boys thought it was great to have mummy so close and she may have to continue what she started.........

I'll need to continue this an other time as I have stupidly left the adpator and the blackberry charger in Christchurch. Its annoying because I had planned to bring the blog up to date this evening. I'm actually in Portobello on Saturday evening but as far as you know I'm still in Wellington on Wednesday morning!

Friday, 5 December 2008

Still busy

Tuesday was another long but very productive and enjoyable day. It started at the Department of Labour, Pay and Employment Equity Unit with a briefing and discussion with about 15 staff on what's happening with equal pay in Scotland. This was an audience full of experts in pay equity issues and as I expected the questions and debate were thorough. A very pleasant lunch in an Asian restaurant was followed by a couple of hours off which I used for a whistle stop tour of Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand. It's huge and wonderful and I could have spent a week there and not seen it all. I concentrated my time on the area dedicated to Maori history - which includes a very beautiful Marae. I also managed to fit in an exhibition of New Zealand art.

From the museum I went to a pub called Backbenchers. No prizes for working out that it's next to the Parliament Buildings. But you'll have to wait to hear more about that as I need to go to my next meeting now. And there was a lot more to Tuesday...................

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Working hard in Wellington

Its been a busy few days since I last updated the blog - I've been too been too busy doing to be writing. I got to meet Frank the eel on Sunday evening - though I left it to Michael to make the physical contact and give out supper - Frank's huge and he's not alone in that stream! I saw at least 6 others of at least 18 inches long.

My visit to the Wairapa finshed early on Monday morning when Michael drove us back into the city for the day's activities. For me that was introductions to more of his colleagues, the chance to spend a little more time with Tina, who is the manager and who I had met at the Conference last week.

Michael then interviewed me for an Access Radio programme called Collaborative Radio - I was given a copy of the interview which will be broadcast in January.

Michael and I had lunch in Ernesto's which is in the Cuba district of the town - but you may have realised that! I had a cheese scone - fantastic things! I have had the best cheese scones ever since I arrived in New Zealand! Still haven't found out what New Zealand cuisine is but their scones are brilliant.

After spending some time working through dozens of emails I made my way to the PSA - Public Services Association and UNISON's sister organisation in NZ. I was met by someone very familiar to many in UNISON - a former member of the NEC. Graham Cuffley is now working as a PSA organiser in Wellington. He asked to be remembered to everyone and I have one or two personal messages to deliver when I return.

I made a presentation on equal pay in Scotland to an audience of trade unionists and government reps from the Pay and Employment Equity Unit. There were a few dropped jaws when I'd finished and understandably most of the questions were of the kind that would help them with how not to end up where we are!

It was a good session, lots of positive feedback and thoughtful questions. Also very positive in that I even managed to make Peter's 'Bainbridge' diagram clear and understandable!!

Dinner at a Turkish restaurant followed, Conor came to join us and I had a really great evening in the company of a smashing bunch of bright, smart women absolutely committed to achieving pay parity - and to ensuring that I continue to have a fabulous time in New Zealand. I have so many suggestions for what to do and see when I'm in the south Island. I'll have some tough choices to make.

I spent Monday night in a hotel with a double bed and all the things that I'd usually take for granted in a hotel - it felt pretty tame!