Monthly Archives: November 2016

NZ Day 10 – The long goodbye


Last days are always strange. You’re sort of in between two places. Ready to get back to your normal life but also having to say goodbye. There are such a mix of emotions and that is what today will be. I came over here having met none of Claire’s family but I go home having met most of them.

 The experience has been lovely and it’s been nice to get to know the people who have had such a huge effect on Claire’s life. I’ve heard many of the voices over the telephone but now I’ve actually spent considerable time with them. So it will be sad going home too. 

 I had my last wander around the mean streets of Onehunga this morning and finally found the second hand bookshop id been told about which was a maze of shelves and stairways with books quite literally lying all over the place. It was quite an experience. In fact when I left I walked past a woman walking in who just said ‘wow’ when she saw the inside of the shop. 

 Onto lunch and to meet the final one of Claire’s friends for this trip. Our venue was the Garden Shed Cafe in Mt Eden Village. Again struck me as rather Melbourne with a cafe that adopts a theme. This one was full of plants and even have shovels for the beer taps. The burger though was my first of the week so I can confidently say it was the best burger in New Zealand.

 The afternoon passed fast. We chatted and ate for an hour or so. Went to a bottle shop to grab a couple of good beers to bring home and then quickly to a cake shop. We returned home to have a quick afternoon tea with Claire’s parents before them driving us to the airport. 

 It was a sad farewell but all farewells tend to be. But I did appreciate having so much time to spend with them and for what on paper looks quite a apprehensive filled situation I genuinely enjoyed all my time spent with them and found communication easy and natural.

 We aced extra legroom seats on the plane somehow, I’m not sure how, we checked in just in the morning and two were free. When both of you are around 6 foot this is a bit of a god send even on a four hour flight. Plane rides are always pretty boring though but I do appreciate sometimes not having the chance to do anything but playing games on the iPad or reading. 

 By the time we’d touched down in Melbourne and my epassport through the egate had failed for the third time in a row. I was beginning to get a bit grumpy. Especially with it being 9 pm at night as well. When we walked to get our cases from the travelator, there was no-one at the customs check but by the time we’d finished, the line was about a hundred long. Although it did move pretty fast.

 We exited the airport into the warm Melbourne air. Still about 25c outside and a complete change from the weather we’d come from. As with everything else the taxi line was pretty long but we made it home by about 10.15 pm. It’s always nice when you’ve been on holiday, come home and open the door. The smell, the sights it’s all about being home. The feeling of comfort. We sat up for a little while, it’s something I’m learning as I’m older when I come in I don’t go straight to bed like I used. We sat down had a hot drink and relaxed.

 It felt like I’d never been away and the holiday was a distant memory. I just remember the thought of how comfortable our own bed was before drifting off to sleep.


NZ Day 9 – A day at the Races



Coffee and look round the mall, a bit like my grandfather. In many ways we never forget, they live on through Us. The way we treat people, the things that interest us, the way we are. He liked to walk, as did my dad and so the traditional carries.

I wandered up to explore the Onehunga mall. I suppose the only way you really appreciate a place is walking it. You miss so many things when you drive through areas in a car. Like a mural I found on the wall, I’d never have it if I hadn’t walked. After touring the shops, I briefly wandered over to a walkway by the Auckland harbour. Beautiful views back over Onehunga but also out to the harbour.

This afternoon we headed out to Pukekohe racecourse to indulge in one of my passions, the horse racing. It’s been in my life a long time and something I used to enjoy with my maternal grandfather as a child. Many an afternoon were sat in front of the TV with him watching. I never got to go to the track with him and always wished that I had before it was too late. But alas it was not to be.

Pukekohe was just on the outskirts of Auckland and had the feel of a countryish track. More so from the people and the age of the facilities. The TAB was strange too and seemed rather labour intensive as opposed to the Australian one which is very automated. Pukekohe racetrack also had a car racing track round the outside so you got nowhere near the horses. 

There wasn’t a large attendance and we didn’t win a lot of money but it was fun to visit a racetrack in another country. And in spite of the lack of wins, the appalling weather and the scarce attendance I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve always felt very at home at the racetrack. To me it’s a place of many rules and regulations, from which stand you can go in to where and how you bet. It’s something that suits me. 

After a 40 minute trip to Auckland. We had an appointment to take Claire’s parent’s out for her dad’s 70th birthday. We went to a little place called the French Cafe in Mt Eden. From the row of shops it was in, it didn’t look much however inside was a completely different experience .

It was subtly decorated with a couple of pieces of art covering the scant cream walls. Each light, of which there was about 20 hanging down threw out a dim glow that created quite a cosy atmosphere. The service was attentive but not too much so, the food was good and the beer and wine lists were substantial. It was a beautiful dinner and nice to sit down with everyone and just chat. Something we haven’t had a chance to do since our arrival.

It really brought to home to us that tomorrow we head back to Melbourne.


NZ Day 8 – 12 and counting 


Galbraiths. A lunch time event to meet Claire’s best friends family. Arranged at a craft beer bar. The bar had a range of craft beers and I remember counting at least 12 before leaving the establishment. A definite draw back for future trips. The bar was decorated in a typically English style and of course I have a few problems with this because I question the authenticness of it and whether it as just in Australia, just a bar pretending it was english/Irish.

My thoughts are if you brew your own beer, you should be authentically local and not really pretend to be something else. Your selling point is indeed, at least in my eyes that you are local and you brew locally brewed beer. I suppose it poised a bigger question and that is, what is the kiwi identity? From my point of view I understand this question from the pubs I drink in and so far, I haven’t been able to establish it. The Aussie identity seems to be sports bars with cheap drinks and gambling machines. In the higher class venues, maybe a range of craft beers and a rusticy feeling bar although maybe this is just a world wide theme and maybe no country any longer has that sort of identity. Maybe it’s a sign of the times. 
The beers however went down well. I wouldn’t say they were earth shattering or whether I found my favourite drink in the world but they were at least nice. And 12 beers in there was quite a nice haze going and one that was lasting into the afternoon.

Claire’s mum suggested a walk into Auckland, I readily agreed because I really needed one. We walked for around 20 minutes and hit the Main Street of Auckland. At this point my interest in any sort of shopping has wained and what I most appreciated was the walk. We wandered around the Britomart precinct which was in my mind so much more than it actually was, a glorified DFO.

People wander by. Some run, some walk and some even dance. You sit and wonder what everyone is doing, what they’re motivations are, where they are going and what they’ve done. Shop workers, children, tourists. The guys doing the treasure hunt that sit on the beanbags in the square, take a picture and then run off elsewhere. Everyone has something else to be doing, and nothing that links in with what we are. 

People smiling at their phones, couples hand in hand, shoppers with lots of bags looking shopped out. Time ticks on, I wonder where Claire has gone. I realise ten minutes is never ten minutes though.

Claire wandered back about half an hour later and we headed off for our second Vietnamese meal of the holiday. This one was more of your inner city Vietnamese rather than the suburban one we had last night. The food was good about on par with the previous night and we then decided to finish the day by visiting the theatre to watch a play called Perplex and perplexing it certainly was.

I’m unsure really what it was all about. The characters weren’t static and everyone swapped roles. The play wasn’t linear and there were lots of corny jokes. Mix that in with s fair amount of male nudity and I’m not entirely sure what you have. I’m glad I saw it but I wouldn’t see it again.

Our return trip home in our uber was relatively uneventful and out Friday was over.


NZ Day 7 – Returning to Auckland


We both woke up like two hobbits who had enjoyed a massive banquet the night before. Both rubbing our stomachs and thinking it might be a good idea if we skipped breakfast and just headed on to elevenses.

We rose pretty slowly this morning with thoughts of that American guy singing the song from the Green Dragon on our walk back to the bus, the English guy who asked way to many questions and the girl who dressed up in a medieval outfit and claimed it was one from The Shire.

Today was all about making our way back to Auckland and Claire’s parents. Although a stop in Hamilton on the way was being made to meet another of Claire’s many friends. We arrived in Hamilton quite early and has a wander down to the river. Our initial thought was we would take a stroll into the botanic gardens but seemingly the weather system of this week has been sun for 10 minutes, rain for 15. Repeat. So we managed to park in the car park of the gardens but never got out. Our river walk was interrupted as expected by rain and we took shelter under a portion of the boat shed whilst watching the rain yet again stream down.

We visited the art gallery, or in fact the art gallery shop. We tried to enter the exhibitions but we’re told they weren’t ready until tomorrow. The museum though had an interesting exhibit in Maori culture and the sacrifice of NZ in the First World War.

Lunch was then eaten in a portacabin cafe whilst chatting to Claire’s friend from med school. Lunch over we made the drive back to Auckland.
Having not seen many shops yet I asked Claire to take me to see some. Due to the increasing traffic as we got closer to Auckland, we pulled into a Westfield like shopping centre at Sylvia Park. Quite like a Westfield it felt like being in Australia with all the shops basically being the same.

We then decided to see a movie. For how long we’ve been together we’ve seen very few so Nocturnal Animals was our choice and it was a real cracker. One of the best films I’ve seen in a while with lots of meanings not exactly obvious and a story within a story.

A Vietnamese restaurant on our way back to Claire’s parents and our day was done, we head into our final weekend in NZ.


NZ Day 6 – The Hobbit Banquet

Today was to be a day of touristy stuff in NZ. I got the distinct impression this was not going to be Claire’s favourite day of the holiday but I suppose doing tourist stuff in your country of birth isn’t really that exciting, regardless of if you’ve been to the locations before.
On our agenda was Waitomo caves and Hobbiton. But first there was a little three hour drive to get out of the way. I decided I should take my share of the driving today so the first leg from New Plymouth to Waitomo was mine. Claire did mention it wasn’t an easy drive but in my cavalier way I said I could handle it.

We seemed to go up and down about five mountains, windy roads and got stuck behind the trifecta, caravan, truck and camper van. I think the older I get, much to my dismay, I get more like my father. I spent most of the journey complaining about people going slow or another truck appearing on the horizon ahead. I did though unlike my dad ever would, stop on the way. I remember many childhood journeys where he refused to stop on en route.

We arrived at a very touristy looking Waitomo caves with tourist streaming all over the place and my spirits dropped a little. I find a very touristy experience can diminish my enjoyment of certain things but I was completely wrong. We were taken into the caves by a very jolly slow talking guy who I reckon would make a very good primary school teacher. He made a few dad jokes like ‘they say if you feel one or two drops of water in the caves, it’s good luck, if you feel more than three you’re under the toilets’. One of the caves we went into was famous for singers holding concerts in and one of our group took the plunge and sing. She would have been late teens/early twenties. Such is the shamelessness of the youth eh? The sound of her singing filled the cave in such a rounded way. Our guide let us know the acoustics were pretty much perfect.

This incident though was preceded by a funny event. One customer in the group in front of us asked our tour guide to be quiet because he couldn’t hear his tour guide, to which our guide replied ‘talk to your tour guide not me’, the customer then kept waffling on and our guide was having none of it so he asked our singer to sing as loud as possible.

We got on a boat to drift through the glowworm caves which was quite amazing. They twinkled like stars on the ceilings and walls and lit the caves like a bright night sky. If you looked closely you could see them wriggling so the light was never static. It’s very rare you have the opportunity to sit in the dark, in silence and admire your surroundings in such a way. It was quite awe inspiring and something I was glad I did.

A short drive our motel for the night in Cambridge was followed by us heading out pretty quickly to Hobbiton to see where The Hobbit was filmed. Again I harboured a few worries that this would be a major touristy event and maybe ruined by that however I was pleasantly surprised to find the group numbers were limited, the tour guide funny and the whole experience pretty neat. It started with a tour around Hobbiton itself with the guide explaining how’s the Hobbit holes were built to how the whole place was kept. I did find myself wondering why they’d chose to build something and preserve it that they used only very sparingly in the film but I suppose it was one of the only fixed locations.
The culmination of the tour was a hobbit banquet at the Green Dragon pub. There was way to much food but of course as with every banquet everyone does have a habit of over eating. I think the beer was nice, I tried both on tap and couldn’t complain.

After 5 hours in Hobbiton we jumped on the bus and returned to the car. Only to realise both our phones had died and we didn’t really know where our motel was apart from 30 mins away. Probably the first real test of our relationship but together we pieced together the fragments of our memories and reached the motel after only three or four wrongly taken roads.


NZ Day 5 – Having a beer with Mike 

We woke to complete darkness and no sound. The best hotels tend to be like this. Whilst enjoying the spa bath last night we’d noticed the wind blowing through the vent. However our room faces an internal courtyard and so we had no exterior facing window so were unaware of what was going on outside.

Perhaps our first indication of it was a text from Claire’s mum apologising for the storm overnight. We thought nothing of it as we headed downstairs. As we got outside we were greeted with a huge gust of wind and worse rain than we had experienced on the drive here.

We’re starting to plan our food recommendations around the Lonely Planet and this morning liked the sound of Chaos. A modern jazz playing, hipster cafe round the corner from our hotel. We only got drenched a couple of times on the five minute walk but the ambience and food was well worth it.

This afternoon was a bit of a treat for me, a trip out to Mike’s brewery just outside New Plymouth and the perfect thing to do on a rainy day. The place was relatively empty, we stayed a couple of hours, ample time to get through all the beers on tap (all 12 of them) and to look around the merchandise. The place was pretty cool, a variety of buildings, a cellar door type, a brewery and another couple of sheds. Our time outside was limited though by the torrential rain streaming down the windows. The glimpses of the brewery cat darting past the window certainly provided some entertainment though.

Claire now took the wheel to drive back, I did offer but it was kindly yet firmly refused. A brief stop at a roadside green grocer for some more strawberries and grapes broke our trip back to New Plymouth.

Once there Claire took me on a trip down memory lane showing me the place she lived, where she use to work and the places she used to go. It was quite nice seeing her reaction to them and the mix of emotions they threw up.

We returned to the hotel to park and take a walk down the seafront. I think it’s probably the first time I’ve seen black sand, so unusual compared to the golden sand of most Australian beaches. The walk was cut short by the rain once again starting and we retreated to our hotel room.

Dinner was at what seems is a popular refurb in New Plymouth. Any eatery that pretends it’s something else, or maybe Joe’s Garage was once a garage but it’s not anymore. The decor was full of pictures of cars, the door handles were spanners and the walls were brick. It was nicely done but I suppose Melbourne is two a penny of these so to me it felt a little like being back home.

As we headed home to our hotel, the excitement started to build, tomorrow we are going to Hobbiton!


NZ Day 4 – You shook me all night long

It had just gone midnight. I felt something strange, the bed was moving, the doors were opening and closing and I was gently rocking back and forth. I don’t know what I thought I wasn’t quite sleeping but I wasn’t quite awake either. Was it a dream? A scene from poltergeist playing over in my head?

Next thing I felt Claire push me to wake me up and then I heard her raised voice say ‘stop the bed rocking’. It’s all still very dreamlike, it doesn’t make much sense. The whole house is creaking as the bed rocks ba ck and forward. Through Claire’s panic, I try and process what is going on. I can hear noises from outside, my first explanation was its a strong storm and the house is pitching in the storm. For a second this seemed to make sense before I discounted it.

I was too busy trying to work out what had gone on to be scared. Then it came to me. A few years prior when living in Elwood, I remember lying on the sofa one night and suddenly a shaking began. I instantly got up and the apartment felt like I was standing on one of those rope bridges across a river that bounce up and down. I remember jumping up and down to see if it felt worse. Now I know though this was an Earthquake.

Claire came to the same conclusion pretty fast. The tremor stopped and I wandered through the house to make sure everything was okay. On my return to bed, my thoughts turned to confirming the thought. A quick check of Twitter confirmed a 6.6 magnitude earthquake had struck the South Island with shocks felt all the way to Auckland.

This day was about goodbyes, we said goodbye to Claire’s sister who flies back to the U.S.. And to Claire’s parents who flew back to Auckland. Although that one was less final. We now drive back to Auckland over the next few days. And today was my day to get back behind the wheel. 
After dropping everyone at Palmerston North International airport we drove off towards New Plymouth or rather I did. First time in Claire’s dad’s car so I attempted to be very careful. Probably best I don’t tell you the story about how I managed to get it up to 140 kph at one point. He did say it doesn’t get much of a run out so in mind I was just testing its capability out. It passed by the way.

I extended our journey round what I thought was a coastal route but what turned out to be no-where near the coast route but instead the scenery was fields and torrential rain. We stopped briefly at a strawberry farm. About 4 hours later we arrived at our destination for the next few days, New Plymouth.

Always nice to get an upgrade and our spa room is certainly different from our last two nights accomodation and the king size bed will be more comfortable than the double we slept in.

The rain continued to pour down and we decided staying close to the hotel was the best idea. We picked a closeby restaurant to the hotel out of the lonely planet and as luck would have it, it was in the hotel. The Japanese meal went down well. We retired by 9pm, drifting into a deep sleep.


NZ day 3 – A Somber Affair


Not the best nights sleep. Well it was one of those nights where I didn’t think I slept to well but I still appear to lie in bed till past 9am so it really can’t have been that bad.

Swimming was again on the agenda this morning after a successful swim in Auckland yesterday so off we went to the local pool. Considering the size of the town, the pool complex was amazingly big with three separate pools, a steam room and a sauna. And really not anyone about either. A leisurely 28 minutes was spent swimming up and down whilst the last two were spent challenging Claire to a race. We then eloped to the steam room for a few minutes before a freezing cold shower and a ride home.

Breakfast was kept simple, a couple of pieces of toast sufficed before I decided a wander was in order to explore all Palmerston North had to offer. An hour wandering into the city centre, round Rebel Sports (just to see how if differed from Oz), to the memorial in the centre and then a wander into Countdown (NZs Woolworths) and that was about all the highlights.

At the moment I’d wandered into Countdown, initially to get a paper but it then progressed to me innocently wandering up the beer aisle and gazing lovingly at the many beers I’d never tried, Claire messages and asked how far away I was. As an man in this situation would do, I took this as ‘come home now’ and so set foot slightly hurriedly back towards our Airbnb.

This afternoon was on paper for me at least a somber affair. A few weeks ago when we were in Coogee we learnt of the death of Claire’s grandmother. This afternoon was to be a memorial for her and the reason we’d flown to Palmerston North. I made it back in time for the second car over to the venue (Claire’s uncles house). In truth in the second carload there was just me due to my lateness arriving back. 
We pulled into the driveway of a beautiful large property with a very pretty garden, picturesque veranda and an ornately decorated house. I noticed as we pulled up at least 10 cars in the drive, so many more than I was expecting.

We walked towards the house and was instantly greeted my Claire’s uncle who I instantly found very warm, maybe it’s a bit of a NZ trait but everyone seems so welcoming and very happy to chat. Its not necessarily what I find in Australia and when you don’t know people it’s very nice because I’m feeling everyone is making an effort to come up and chat to me. It certainly makes events like this very easy and inspite of the reason we were there I really enjoyed conversing with a hoard of people about a variety of things from how we’d both met to what I thought of Brexit to how I came to Melbourne.
The more welcome and loved people make you feel, the more you let yourself become you.

The speeches were quite beautiful and although I never got to meet Claire’s grandmother it certainly gave me an idea of how she was and many of the traits I see in her granddaughter now make sense. Especially her strange love to grapes. Claire’s mother’s speech was particularly touching and gave a timeline of her life from leaving England in her teens to her final few years.

Much drinks and food was consumed over the course of the day and I thoroughly enjoyed being there. We arrived back in our Palmerston North home for a debrief and to head to bed after a long day.

IJS 13/11/2016

NZ Day 2 – Toot if you love Palmy

It’s not really anything I get nervous about. I used to but now it’s something I quite enjoy. Maybe it explains my love of biographies, I enjoy meeting new people, learning their stories. We wandered up from the bottom of the house, I’m feeling the apprehension coming from Claire. We walk into the kitchen and are greeted by two big smiles. Claire’s father and sister. From there it’s seamless, conversation flows back and forth, I feel the warmth in the room. Claire’s mother arrives back from the shops with the breakfast, the introductions are over. It’s strange how fast things feel normal in these situations.

Breakfast over I head out for a swim. Supposedly it’s good for my back which has been playing up for weeks but I just think of it as a vigorous exercise I can do without pain. I’m the worse swimmer though, I don’t like to get my hair wet so there is absolutely no head under water stuff for me. After my 30 minute swim I noted a few things, in Melbourne I’m a slow lane swimmer but in Auckland I’m a fast lane swimmer, no-one gets naked in the showers (apart from me) and there is hardly anyone swimming on a Saturday morning.

The morning passed and we climbed on another plane off to Palmerston North. The flight was a pretty easy hour up in the air and upon landing I did something I’ve done for the first time. Walk from an airport to the place we were staying. Saying that it was only forty minutes and I did manage to get a picture of me under a large sign saying ‘toot if you love Palmy’. Obviously to me this all talks about my love of chicken parma but to others it may talk about the city we’ve just arrived in.

We arrived at our Airbnb which was a nice house on a quiet suburban street. Have to admit since Claire has introduced me to Airbnb I have begun to love it. The places you stay really are a bit more homely than a roadside motel. The house was large, four bedrooms of which we only require three and a nice fully fitted kitchen. Where we prepared and cooked a functional yet delicious meal for Claire’s parents and sister who drove down from Auckland.

We briefly walked a quick 10 minutes down to the local supermarket where my eyes lit up at the amazing selection of beers I hadn’t tried before. Claire shopped the rest of the store whilst I spent 10 minutes wide eyed in the beers department.

The night was lovely. We all sat round the table, eating, drinking, talking, doing crosswords with a mixture of serious and not very serious conversation. Sometimes the best of times are the simplest of times. It was a lovely evening full of warmth and laughter.

IJS 12/11/2016

NZ Day 1 – The short haul 


Claire eating yoghurt. It’s quiet. Lots of empty seat as. Light streams in from the window. The tails of the flying kangaroos roll past the window. It’s that time again. Our second international trip but it’s only the same time travelled as a trip to the west of this sunburnt land.

The airport is empty, it surprising. People slowly stream through as we get nearer to check in. It’ll be midnight when we arrive, well ten really the two hour time difference loses us a couple of hours.

I can’t remember if it’s my third or fourth trip to New Zealand. I can remember two times so in all honesty it’s probably my third. This time is different though. To travel with a kiwi as your partner is bound to offer a different experience much as I’d imagine someone visiting the UK with me would be. There are relatives to meet, events to attend and an insiders view to appreciate.

And so just past midnight (NZ time) we crawl off the plane into Auckland airport. The journey was relatively uneventful and quick. I suppose having travelled to Berlin a few week ago the near four hour flight was relatively insignificant. It doesn’t feel too unusual as it does sometimes when you land in strange new lands but that maybe because of Claire and her knowledge of this place it feels less unusual than it maybe should. We arrive at Claire’s parents house, security lights come on, I feel from Claire the comfort of home from the atmosphere that she creates which I dwell within. I have a quick scan around a home that is new to me but familiar after the many pictures I’ve seen.

We drift off to sleep in joint slumber with the rest of the house.

IJS 11/11/2016