Road Trip

Arthurs Pass barren

Arthur’s Pass Highway.

This can be a travel post of sorts. Well it’s not even of sorts; it’s a travel post. I went for a drive. I know I don’t write much anymore. Not sure why, it’s not like I’m short of things to say. I mostly spend my spare time taking photos these days. You’ll probably know that anyway. I’ll chuck a couple of photos in here to break up the words. (A couple of the photos aren’t from this actual trip, but the same trip recently. I’ve driven it a few times.)

Most of my readers aren’t from New Zealand so I’ll try to bear that in mind rather than assuming you know where the places are that I refer to. I’ll be more specific than I might if I was chatting to someone on the street.

Now I do love a road trip, short or long. My happy place is in the car and luckily for me as the case might be; I had to go to Christchurch for a meeting. Christchurch not quite half way down the East Coast of the South Island, probably about a third of the way down actually. But from my place on the lower West Coast of the North Island it’s about 562 Kilometres including a 3.5-hour ferry crossing from the North Island to the South Island.

The two islands actually aren’t all that far apart but there are only so many places you can park a ferry terminal so the crossing is longer than most might think.

So, I set off from my place in the dark to get to an early ferry in Wellington. Here’s my first tip. If you are taking a ferry, there are two companies operating. The Interislander and the Bluebridge. You choose which you prefer. If you choose the Interislander, sign up for their loyalty programme, ‘Nautical Miles’. It only costs $25 a year but you get a free premium lounge pass worth $40 for one crossing and you get priority boarding. So there’s free stuff right there. There are other benefits but priority boarding alone is worth it.

Hope for a smooth crossing, Cook Strait can cut up rough. I’ve crossed with waves crashing over the 8th deck. It’s a large ship.

I personally prefer to stand on the deck for the crossing rather than lounge about inside. There’s a lot to see out there. Albatross, dolphins, seals, even whales if you are lucky. Plus there are the amazing landscapes of the South Island looming in the distance as you sail. There are comfy seats inside if you just want to loaf about though of course.

Kaikoura

The Kaikoura Ranges, from Wellington Harbour. Over 200 kilometres away. (Taken in October 2015)

Even if you do stay inside for the crossing. Go out to watch as you pass into the Marlborough Sounds through the Tory Channel. It’s a narrow channel where the churning ocean changes to become millpond calm as you enter the sounds. You’ll sail down Queen Charlotte Sound towards Picton for an hour or so. It’s unbelievably beautiful.

Tory Strait Exit

Crossing through the Tory Channel. (February 2016)

From Picton you have two or three choices which direction to head. This is about my road trip though, and I was heading for Christchurch.

You arrive in the Marlborough wine district sooner than you might think. If you are here for the wine, base yourself near Blenheim. This is where we grow most of our Sauvignon Blanc. For the record, I prefer the wines from Hawkes Bay.

It’s worth mentioning, if it’s your first trip to the South Island that you’ll encounter some shocking driving on the roads. It’s bad enough in the North Island, but the South Island takes it to a whole new level. To survive, assume everyone in any car you encounter is looking at the scenery rather than the road. Expect them to be on your side of the road around any corner. To be fair though, wait until you see the scenery. You haven’t got to the good stuff yet.

On State Highway One heading south, once you’ve left Marlborough and passed through Blenheim, you’re heading for the Kaikoura coast, which is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Bold statement, but it is, you’ll see.

No words do it justice so I’ll simply post a couple of photos.

SH1 Kaikoura Coast

State Highway One, north of Kaikoura, (taken in October 2015)

Kaikoura Beach

Stony beach near Kaikoura,(taken in October 2015)

You might like to stop at one of the many small shops to buy a small crayfish for an unfeasibly large price. Do it once and learn your lesson. Kiwis have learned that tourists will pay ridiculously large sums of money to consume things that should cost a lot less if it’s in a scenic location.

Beyond Kaikoura, is the Hurunui. The road winds through rough hills, forests and farmland until you arrive in the rolling country of North Canterbury. You’ll cross some huge braided rivers winding their way from the Mountains constantly visible to your right, to the sea. Once you are an hour north of Christchurch the road loses it’s appeal a bit for me. A series of small towns like Cheviot, Amberley, Kaiapoi. Little to recommend any of them, except you’re probably ready for a coffee, or a pie.

I’m not going to talk about Christchurch much. I was here for work. I would never come here for pleasure. It’s a sad, broken place. Wrecked by massive Earthquakes and fear of more. They should have bulldozed the entire city. A pall of anger, depression, anxiety and fear hangs over the city. I didn’t like Christchurch before the Earthquake and I like it even less now. I had my meeting and left as quickly as possible. My mood lightened noticeably.

Christchurch is on the coast, to the East of the Southern Alps that effectively run from one end of the South Island to the other. There are only 3 roads that cross the South Island. The Haast Pass to the South. Arthur’s Pass in the middle and the Lewis Pass to the North. They are each incredible drives. We were taking Arthur’s Pass. We being my partner and I.

To get to Arthur’s Pass, you drive across the Canterbury plains towards the Alps funnily enough. You can see them looming large in the distance, growing as you approach. The road suddenly starts to climb, and climb. There are surprisingly few people on the road really. We were there in February, still plenty of camper vans plying the roads like giant snails. Plus the ubiquitous rental cars, identified by the number plates or the writing in the rear window. Some simply by their driving habits.

They often travel 15-20 km/h below the speed limit, the worst We encountered was traveling at about 30 km/h (on a road with a 100 km/h limit) an hour while his passenger was videoing the mountains, completely oblivious to other road users. More dangerously, they are often on your side of the road. We drive on the left. Most tourists come from countries that drive on the right.

Arthurs Pass approach

The Arthur’s Pass Highway, heading West

Arthur’s Pass though, in summer is a barren, alpine wilderness. Great rocky outcrops, scree covered mountainsides above the snow line. In the winter, much of the scenery is covered in snow. You drive through a parched landscape, in the rain shadow created by the mountains. Before long though, you are in temperate rainforest. It’s hard to credit the landscape could change so completely in such a short space of time.

So, you drive up the Alps, across the pass and down the other side. The most awesome vista here in my view is of the Waimakariri River. See?

Waimakariri River Arthurs Pass

The mighty Waimakariri River Valley at Arthurs Pass

Once you descend the Western slopes, you’re driving through rain forest until you emerge at the wonderfully named Kumara Junction. You can turn north and head for Westport and beyond, or the Lewis Pass. Or turn south, for Hokitika, Franz Josef, Fox Glacier and the Haast Pass back across to Otago. I turned south.

We were here to see the White Heron colony at Whataroa, and would be staying the night in Franz Josef. Franz Josef is a small town at the foot of the Southern Alps and the home to Franz Josef Glacier. Subsequently the place is heaving with camper vans and busloads of Asian tourists.

This is tourist mecca. The sky was full of helicopters ferrying the adventurous off the Glacier when we got there. They start early in the morning and retrieve the ice walkers at about 5pm. It’s like being at a busy helicopter base, which is what it is.

Expect to be over charged for everything at Franz Josef like any other major tourist site in New Zealand. It’s an undeniably beautiful location, full of people in bright coloured, expensive wet weather clothing and sturdy footwear.

We decided to get up at 5am to pop down to Lake Matheson near Fox Glacier, which is famous for it’s reflective qualities. I wanted to see the sun rise there. I hoped the clouds wouldn’t spoil the view. They did and they didn’t but being there at dawn was bucket list stuff ticked off. We could see the Mountains in the pre dawn light, the reflection was perfect but the clouds rolled in before dawn to obscure the peaks. We had a brisk one and a half hour walk all the way round the lake before the sun rose over the Alps. I’m not normally that energetic. Pretty awesome light in the mountains though.

Lake Matheson purple

Lake Matheson, pre dawn, about 6am

Moutain spotlight

Awesome Sun rays at dawn. Near Fox Glacier

Back into Fox Glacier for an overpriced and underwhelming coffee before setting off for the point of this particular day which was the White Heron Sanctuary at Whataroa.

It was a birthday gift. I’m a keen photographer of native birds as well as our landscapes. What I know now is that it’s better to go to the White Heron Sanctuary at Whataroa a month before we did.

Still, we had a fantastic ride in a Jet boat into absolute remote wilderness. We got to see some White Herons. This is the only place in New Zealand that they breed. There are only about 30 breeding pairs. So unbelievably rare as well as incredibly beautiful.

Two Herons2

Two young White Herons.

From here, to Punakaiki and on to Westport. The Punakaiki Rocks are another big draw for tourists on the West Coast. Stacks of rocks looking like piles of pancakes in a wild coastal setting with a rainforest backdrop. Definitely worth stopping for and the best bit is that it’s free. Actually the best bit is the scenery but I also like not paying to see it. They make up for the free scenery with the price of things in the adjacent shops.

Punakaiki One

You’ll notice I didn’t mention Greymouth, except you didn’t notice until now. I’d always found Greymouth to be a dreary name for a town and I’m sorry to say, it’s a bit aptly named. Maybe it was the overcast weather. As we pressed on north from Punakaiki though, the sun came out and the coast drive was simply incredible.

West Coast Look North hill top

“The West Coast’ Looking North

Westport was next. Westport was the stop for the night at the excellent Westport Spa Motel. This is the place to stay if you are in this part of the world. We weren’t here for long and were getting a bit tired now. I can’t talk about Westport much as we slept and left.

To return to the ferry, one must navigate the Buller Gorge. My favourite gorge, which I believe is simply a name for a place where a river passes through a mountain range. The Buller Gorge is the best of our many gorges though. I know this now although I was unaware of it before.

Buller Gorge sun

Buller Gorge

We had one more night to spend in the South Island and I was returning to somewhere I had stayed before. It’s now the place I will always stay the night before my ferry north. Te Mahia Bay in the Marlborough Sounds, the Kenepuru Sound to be precise. The Marlborough Sounds are a collection of inlets with their own names, like Queen Charlotte, Pelorus, and Kenepuru. I’m not actually sure why a body of water is called a sound, or when a sound becomes a Fjord.

We needed supplies though so stopped at Nelson, which is the largest city at the top of the South Island. Nelson is very beautiful but apparently it’s where you go to retire if you have a lot of money. It seemed to be full of old people who were also quite rude.

We needed to get to my new special place now. Te Mahia Bay. To sit, watch, and listen the extraordinary calm and exquisite beauty. I don’t use exquisite much as a word. This place deserves it though. I mean just look at it. I’ll leave you with that. Our ferry home to the North Island was just an hour away in the morning. We want to stay here more and for longer.

Te Mahia Bay

Te Mahia Bay

New Zealand. Probably the best road trip in the world. This was just a little one. A few days and 2000 kilometres. It’s good to be home. New Zealand is home. I’m very lucky.

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under General views, Motoring, New Zealand, Travel

Part Three, The School Bus

ShackIf you have been following my blog over the years, you’ll know I’ve been prevaricating about writing a ‘novel’ for years. I’ve started it. But couldn’t start to finish it. My new year’s resolution for 2016 is to finish it. Happy New Year by the way.

Here you can have a preview of where the book moves on to from ‘A Giant Eel’ and ‘The Wrong Place’. Those chapters are available on this blog as well. This is the next chapter. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

Hemi didn’t get to go to boarding school. He didn’t know anything about where Guy had gone to school. Just that he had gone away. Hemi was going to the High School in the nearest town. The one Guy’s mum didn’t think much of.

It used to be a good school, once upon a time. Maybe that was a story the older people used to tell as you can’t really prove any of that stuff, except by how good the First Fifteen was in the old days. Too many New Zealand High Schools have the fame of their first fifteen being the thing people talk about the most. For all our progression as a young country, we still set too much store by sporting accomplishment instead of academic achievement. That’s not what this story is about though. I digress.

Hemi was going to take the bus to the local high school. He’d been given his uniform to start his first day at High School. His mum had borrowed bits of uniforms from other people who didn’t need theirs for their kids anymore. None of if fitted properly of course and it all looked pretty second hand, which was what it was. Hemi thought it looked stink, but he’d never had a brand new bit item of clothing in his whole life anyway. It wasn’t that it was second hand, it was that it stunk of mothballs and they hadn’t bloody worked anyway if the moth holes were anything to go by. It was more than stink, it was ‘shit house’ Hemi thought to himself.

His parents had no advice to give him about School. It was a bloody long time since they went there and they didn’t pay any attention when they did. Hemi had never had any sort of conversation of any sort about education with his parents. His mother made him some sandwiches to take. Stale bread sandwiches, with Marmite and cheese in them. Bloody awful by lunchtime after a morning in a hot school bag, he knew that much about school anyway. He didn’t reckon high school would make his crappy lunch taste any better.

He’d met some of the kids who were going to be going to his new High School though as he’d played Rugby with and against them in the winter. It was a rural community so you pretty much knew who everyone was within a 50 kilometre radius. Which was about the size of the catchment area for the High School.

The School bus is a microcosm of New Zealand society. There’s no class system, but there is definitely a hierarchy. Kids from different backgrounds stuck together. They sat together on the bus. Farm owner’s kids mostly went to boarding school. On the school bus the farm manager’s kids were the top of the table at provincial High Schools, then the people who owned businesses. The local stock truck company, or the rural pub. Then there were the shepherds kids, the shepherds might be farm managers one day. Then there were the shearers and the fencers kids. The people doing the hard physical stuff, that required skill with the hands and repetitive experience, were often Maori.

There actually aren’t a lot of Maori in rural ‘middle New Zealand’. What they call the heartland. The Maori tended to live in town, or at the coast, up the East Coast, or up North. Not out on some country road in the middle of nowhere, not as a general rule anyway, not unless it was in some little community on their Turangawaewae, their land.

So Hemi was going to take the bus. He waited out by the old bus shelter on the dusty road. The bus shelter was an old corrugated iron water tank that had been cut in half with a piece of wood for a seat. He sat and waited, watching the morning happen, listening to the gentle sounds that penetrated the silence. He could hear Magpies, warbling to each other in the Macrocarpa. There was also the sound of sheep coughing and then bleating contentedly. That maaa, sound they make with a mouthful of grass, as if passing comment on the quality of the pasture. Off in the distance there was a Fletcher top dressing plane working some far valley. He could also hear the bus making it’s way up the long winding hill road, changing up and down gears. There was quite a lot to hear in this rural semi wilderness. He wasn’t thinking about anything in particular, just watching and listening.

The bus doubled as a mail bus, It had already been travelling for a few hours before it got to Hemi’s place. It came from down on the beach, a small community a long way from anywhere, beside the sea.

He knew how long the trip was going to take, and wasn’t looking forward to it. He lived so far from town that getting to and from High School was 3 hours of his day, every day. That’s a long time in an uncomfortable seat. The bus ride to town from Hemi’s place took over an hour and a half, it was half an hour until they even got to the tar seal. Hemi was the 2nd kid to get on after the bus left the beach. The beach was 40 k’s away. The 1st kid on was from the big station in the hill country. Hemi could choose his seat .

Choosing a seat for the 1st time on a new school bus is a minefield of social etiquette. He had to decide where ‘his place’ was. He wouldn’t go down the back, as he’d find himself marooned among the hard kids, or the ones who thought they were. You had to earn a place at the back of the bus. He couldn’t sit at the front either. That’s were the goody goods sat, the tell tales, the kids who would dob you in for anything. No, he wasn’t one of them either. He needed to be in the middle, but he might sit in someone else’s favourite seat, he could bugger up the dynamic of the natural unstated seating plan.

He decided to sit across the way from the kid from up at the Station. He knew her by sight only. It’s funny. He’d lived within a couple of k’s of this girl for all of his 13 years. She was just up the road. But he was the shepherds boy on a different farm. The people in the big station didn’t mix with the other people out here. He didn’t know why she didn’t go to boarding school. She looked a bit strange though. Not quite right somehow. He gave her the standard New Zealand greeting of someone you see but don’t want to use any words to say g’day. When you are just acknowledging them rather than actually greeting. It’s a physical expression, you sort of jerk your head up a bit, sometimes while also raising your eyebrows a bit or sticking your chin out slightly, all in one swift fluid movement.

That’s how you say g’day in New Zealand without using any words. It says all you need to say with one movement of your head.

He sat in his new seat and looked out the window. The bus pulled away and he watched his place get smaller in the distance.

The bus stopped and started, picking up more kids, young adults, the chatter increased. Nobody stopped to say g’day to the new boy. There was no need, they knew who he was and he wasn’t one of them. He was the Maori shepherds boy.

All the kids who got on the bus knew exactly what seat they were going to. They sat where they always sat and with whoever they always sat with. He wasn’t in anyone’s seat yet. He didn’t reckon the bus would fill up either. He might even get to have his double bench seat to himself. Choice!

Then she got on and sat beside him.

She came out of some crappy house on a run down block not that far from town. The house was in a shittier state than his and that was saying something. She was a Pakeha, with dirty hair and a scruffy uniform. It was dirty. Then he smelled her. She smelt of piss. There was always someone at school who smelt of piss. Like she’d pissed herself and hadn’t had a wash. It was Monday morning, the start of a new school year and she stunk of piss and was in dirty clothes. What the hell was that about? Why did she have to sit with him? He couldn’t get up and move. She was in the way and he didn’t have any reason to move, other than he was embarrassed to be sitting with her, a Stink Pakeha girl.

It’s a real dilemma for a young fella on his first High School bus ride. What to do man? This sucks. She was ugly, stunk of piss and was in dirty clothes, sharing his seat, what if people think he’s mates with her. His mind was swimming. He looked out the window, trying to pretend she wasn’t there. But she was inches away from him. She said hello. Well not so much as hello as Hi. She said her name was Beverley. Beverly Simmonds. Hemi’s heart sank, now he had to say g’day, so he gave her the wordless greeting. She wasn’t going to settle for that though. She asked him where he was from, she hadn’t seen him before, she wanted to talk to him, make friends, that was bad enough, then the penny dropped who she was.

She must be old mad Bert Simmonds daughter. Everyone for miles around knew about old mad Bert Simmonds. He had no nose, blew it off himself with a shotgun when he tried to kill himself when his mrs left him. He missed, how the hell do you miss your own head with a shotgun? Jeez man, how could something so stink happen on his first day. He did not want to be making friends with this dumb stink Sheila. He was getting all worked up now, but not showing it though ay. He was just going to have to suck it up until he got to school. He had a look around the bus for where he could sit on the way home. He wasn’t going to make this mistake again that’s for sure.

8 Comments

Filed under General views

What were they thinking?

IMG_0222In England they put blue plaques on the outside walls of places important or at least significant people used to live. ‘Orson Wells lived here once’ sort of thing. A friend posted a thought provoking and mildly ironic photo taken outside somewhere George Orwell used to live. Bolted to the wall below his blue plaque is a large CCTV camera. The picture is actually a fake but someone clearly thought it was worth the effort. A pointed reference of course for anyone who is familiar with one of the key tenets in Orwell’s famous book, 1984, about the frightening development in his future imagined world of ‘thought police’ and ‘thought crime’.

In his grim future world, we would be pursued, tried and convicted for thinking the wrong thing. Sent to Room 101 for re-education in the right way of thinking, along the party lines, whoever the party happened to be and what the acceptable thoughts were at the time. The world famous book and generally impressive movie were relentlessly depressing. Imagine being controlled and persecuted for thinking the wrong thing?

Thankfully the nearest real life manifestation of this horrendous subjugation of the general public came and went with the rise and fall of Soviet Russia and the somewhat lightening of at least the obvious widespread repression in Communist China. The last proper bastion of thought police in apparent public practice is in North Korea.

And in our homes.

In our homes? Yes, every day, we judge and categorize people for what they think. We deem them worthy of our attention, adoration or opprobrium based on what they think. Simply according to if we find what they think acceptable or not. We form opinions of people, life long ones, on the way they think. With the arrival of social media, we can now take our own thought policing to a far more public platform. We can judge everyone, not just the people we know. If anyone on the internet is wrong, we can publically scold, humiliate and correct them with our opinion which is the correct one. Reading any comment section on any online newspaper story that allows comments reduces my faith in humanity. It’s amazing. People took time to log in, and compose that stuff. I digress…

It’s like this. You know people you have some sort of interaction with every day; you will treat them convivially should you share a common thought process or with barely concealed or outwardly displayed contempt because you disapprove of how they think. In that case you might have otherwise liked them very much, but they consistently and stupidly fail to see your point of view on something important to you. They dare to even think the opposite; therefore they are a complete ignoramus and lower form of life than you. Because they think differently to you. You also think differently to them but they maybe feel less strongly about it than you. Losers.

One of the great causes of explosive personal conflict is the argument over a strongly held difference of opinion, which is simply two opposing thought processes. The less articulate will come to blows rather than being prepared to accept someone might be a worthy person in general but unfortunately takes a particular view on a particular touch point, thus negating any other redeeming features. The falling out is often total, the judgement of character intense and destructive, because of an unacceptable train of thought by the other person.

It doesn’t have to be as extreme as religion although that’s certainly the most public, global and historic example of people killing each other in the 100’s of millions over the centuries for thinking the wrong imaginary friend created the universe. It could simply be politics which is ingrained into children by their parents. Children grow up having the family political view enforced upon them until they gain the educational wherewithal to form their own opinions about which political ideals they might have themselves. Most just vote for who their parents voted for, or threw petrol bombs at when rioting for democracy, depending on where they were born

Here’s a revolutionary idea. You know you could just ask that individual you are so contemptuous of to explain in detail why they hold such ridiculous beliefs, so alien to your own. Get some perspective and understanding rather than berating, belittling and briefing against people until they change their core beliefs to match yours, thus giving you a victory over them. It’s called broadening the mind, broadening your understanding of the world. Be a bigger person and have some understanding of what it is that people seem so intransigent about, you know, like you are?

Because someone thinks differently to you, doesn’t make them a lesser being. Frankly the world would be a frightfully Stepford place if this was the case. A planet of nodding automatons agreeing with each other about everything all day. Healthy debate is fun and invigorating, you learn things, chief among the things you learn if you debate rather than argue is understanding. When we have understanding we are able to agree, even if we agree to differ. When we agree on the principles but differ in the detail or vice versa we can achieve a compromise and in compromise we avoid conflict.

Some people vote left and some vote right, some people fix cars and some people make them. Some are good at sums and others can’t count to save their lives but can string an agreeable sentence together. Belittling a worthwhile contribution a person makes to their corner of humanity because they also believe in fairies is actually making you the smaller person. If you disagree with a train of thought, deal with the thought, don’t just insult the person. Show you bothered to understand what you disagree with, not simply that you don’t like it because it’s a view other than your own.

We see this a lot in politics, the uninformed party faithful on one side or another will often simply resort to personal abuse of each other rather than offering any sort of alternative political case. This is most widely demonstrated on social media because it’s the easiest platform to be ignorant before the masses. Sadly, far too many take and use that opportunity.

Be informed about stuff; don’t let anyone catch you out for an ignorant ill informed opinion. Every argument has two sides, both are right to those arguing. Articulate a point of view, don’t just shout the odds as that simply makes you look silly. So debate an issue instead, get some understanding of what motivates other people, what causes them to think as they do, you never know, maybe it’s you who is in the wrong. Now that would be a thing.

2 Comments

Filed under Inspiration, Politics

Because You’re Worth It

Angel Rainbow2I can’t actually remember what caused me to start thinking about this or why. Maybe one just has a moment of quiet reflection when we get to a certain age, an examination of our situations and ourselves. When I say one, I mean me. I do.

I’m one of the luckiest people on Earth; I’m a white male, born in a first world country. Everyone else had a less fortunate start than me, apart from other white males born in first world countries of course. I was born with a head start over most other people and what did I make of that?

This is the point I think I will be making. What is the value of us, our worth? How is it measured? By whom? Who sets the standard by which we can feel our life has been worthwhile, a success? It’s a work in progress until the day we die if you think about it.

The milestones along the way are mere yardsticks, where we measure our success against other people, if we are that way inclined. Certainly other people will be forming opinions on how much our lives matter, how successful we are. They will measure you by their yardstick, which isn’t the same as yours necessarily.

I often wonder how people define themselves; it troubles me when people define themselves by their relationship to other people, or the people they used to be. You can read a lot about a person by the stuff they say about themselves, in profiles on social media for example. ‘Devoted wife and mother or partner of an amazing man, or woman.

I know of an amazing woman, active on social media who despite being a talented actress, author, mother and business owner, described none of these things, but was defined by who she was married to and what she used to do. I often see people who refer to themselves as ex-something, something they used to be. Ex-servicemen spring to mind.

I’m going to digress for a moment on that. Veterans, ex-servicemen or women in the current age are regarded with extraordinary reverence and will most likely be defined by that service for the rest of their lives. Without wishing to diminish their efforts, because I understand better than most having once worn a military uniform myself, I don’t like the virtual saint like status bestowed upon these people.

They applied for a job, which happened to be in the military, they chose their occupation. You’ll often hear the phrase, ‘they fought for their country’. No they didn’t. Fighting for your country is when the invading hordes are massed at the borders ready to take your property and subjugate your population. Flying in a jet transporter to do battle in someone else’s country to enforce the will of your Government upon a tyrannical regime ruling in a manner they disapprove of but who pose no actual threat to your borders or way of life, is not fighting for your country. That’s just doing your job as a salaried member of the armed forces.

But these people are regarded as though they took up arms to fight for the very survival of humanity itself. Stop it, they chose the path they followed. You may find that an objectionable view. Tough luck. The soldiers in the armies of the West weren’t forced to fight. They chose to. They are defined for life and bestowed with added value as human beings by other people because of a decision they made. They are not reluctant heroes, forced to defend a belief system. They are successful applicants for a dangerous job.

Now where was I? Yes, our worth. Everyone breathing has a value as a person, it’s the extent of that value and what they make of themselves which dictates how other people see their merit, or value and how they see their own value, or worth. Does it matter how other people value you? Or how you value yourself?

Clearly the Latter is the key as those that place any value upon your worth, will be using their own measure, which is not the one that matters. It’s how you feel about what you’ve achieved, what you do, who you are that dictates how you feel about yourself, your self worth.

What’s the difference between worth and value? You are of value when you are born; how you live your life decides your worth.

I guess my point is, if I have one. Is that your value, your worth shouldn’t measured in stuff or by other people. But you have a responsibility to yourself to make your life worthwhile, by your own measure. Don’t define yourself by the value of others around you and what they have, they are not you. You are unique. Never ever say, it’s only me, or it’s just me when you are talking to someone. You are an amazing person in your own right. Not a just, or an only you as though you are not of any consequence.

I go back to the military thing, let’s say you were doing things overseas where the wild things live and you were kidnapped and threatened with your head being cut off on the Internet. The people in charge of your country of origin would take steps to free you, successfully or most likely otherwise, because you are a person, not because of what you do for a living or who you knew with money. The fact that you are breathing means you are a person of value. What you do to make your life worth something is up to you.

So, how do we decide what we are worth? What value was our life? My family, well some of them, think that by writing stuff down like this, I’m being ‘a self indulgent prick’. Seems I’m not supposed to write my thoughts down, I’m supposed to keep them to myself. To hell with that, if you think I’m being self indulgent, don’t read it.

I’m 50; I have no assets to show for a lifetime of being quite clever and good at stuff. I have no assets because of decisions I made. I have nobody to blame but myself for the financial situation I find myself in rather than the situation many yardsticks might find acceptable for a man of 50. Many would say I’m a failure; some have because I’m this age and have few assets. These are people who measure success in life by accumulating things and financial security. Which are very important but have eluded me entirely because of decisions I have made, some good, many bad, some risky, some not so much. Nothing befell me though, I made this, I chose it.

I spent some time processing that, judging myself by the success, the assets that others my age had accrued. I should certainly have more stuff. I don’t but I’ve seen a lot of things and been a lot of places. I have some creativity and wisdom I would have not gained had I settled for the picket fence, made sound financial decisions on things and taken the sensible route. I face an uncertain future. I have another 15 years or so of statutory working life to put together some security, buy a house, make a home.

I judged myself harshly and let others tell me I was a failure, because I hadn’t met the standards of what other people felt was an acceptable showing for a life lived so far. The harshest criticism and judgement came from my own family. I have little to do with them as while being the quickest to judge, they are in no position to do so.

I’m good with the space I occupy, I contribute things that enhance people’s lives and mine has been interesting so far. I don’t have much stuff right now, but it’s not over yet.

You? Only you can know if you feel you are worthwhile, if you feel you are not, have you taken ownership of your life, or do you let the lives of others define you? Have you taken any steps to realise your dreams and be the things you wish you could be, because if you haven’t and feel unfulfilled. It’s on you. Don’t blame others for the things you can change. Don’t let others dictate your value. You decide what’s important to you, you decide your value and demonstrate your worth by what you do. Not by the association with or the judgement of others, who aren’t you. It sounds a bit Dr Seuss, but only you are you, and you choose what you do.

Put simply your value is intrinsic, you are born with it. What you do of value, which dictates your worth, your self worth, is up to you and only you get to decide the value of what matters to you. Don’t let others decide what defines you. Because you are worth it.

10 Comments

Filed under General views

More pictures, less words

I know the wordiness has become less and there is more photography. I actually get more joy from photography than writing. I think this is because I’m better at it, I don’t know. What I do know is that I will happily go to far greater lengths to capture a pleasing image than to construct a good sentence.

My speciality is Landscapes and New Zealand Birds. I’ve got no desire to photograph people or random things to look arty.

Since returning home from England I have got a much better sense and appreciation of the incredible natural beauty of New Zealand that is all around us, not just at the main tourist destinations. Our bird life is incredible.

So I photograph the stuff we New Zealanders see every day but often take for granted. I take my camera everywhere as I travel around the region and nationally. I’m lucky to be able to get about a bit.

Since I wrote to you last, I’ve been busy doing things with my photography. My images are now selling in a Cafe/Gallery, just mine.

I’ve entered a contest or two and set up an online shop. Oh yes, you can see where this is going already. Never mind, stick around because you don’t have to do anything. I’m just very proud of my little shop and my photographic achievements thus far so I thought I’d fill you in.

You don’t really want to be reading what I was tempted to write about anyway as it was leaning towards a sociopolitical rant and there is plenty of negativity in the media to keep you angry, you don’t need me to help.

Let me help you be cheerful instead, even if it’s just being pleased for me. I’m simply very happy with what I’ve achieved so far with my main passion. Photography.

So, this is the stuff.

I entered the annual Smithsonian Magazine contest. They get hundreds of thousands of images entered and my photograph of the incredible Rangitikei River Valley from Watershed Road was chosen as ‘Photo of the day’. Awesome!

Rangitikei River Valley – Photo of the Day

Secondly. I was selected as a contributing photographer for the highly respected New Zealand Birds Online Website.

NZ Birds Online

There is my online shop where people can buy stretched Canvases of my photography to adorn their homes should they feel inclined to do so.

Sandysviews on Etsy.com

So, please have a look and tell your friends. I’ve also been commissioned to create some photographic books of the local region and take photos of local properties for farmers and home owners. Photography is my passion and my hobby.

I even have a ‘thing’. Minimum Gear, maximum impact.

Oh, and there is also my photography blog. There’s a link to it up there, right at the top ^^^^

I’ve cleverly named the link, ‘My Photography blog’.  Have a look around!

I carry one camera and one lens in my little Billingham shoulder satchel. A Canon 60D and Canon EFS 18-200mm lens. When I’ve made some money I’ll upgrade the camera and lens as I feel lack the sort of resolution and clarity of image I need to go to the next level. Maybe it’s just me being fussy. But for now, I’ll be keeping an eye out for the awesome, always.

13 Comments

Filed under General views

Taking pictures

I know I usually string words together for the sake of amusement, entertainment, information or occasionally even inspiration, but I haven’t been feeling particularly wordy lately. What I have been doing a lot though is taking photographs of the stuff all around me. I carry my camera everywhere I go and if the saying, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ has any basis in reality then here are the equivalent of about 40,000 words. These are images of Central New Zealand, nowhere in particular. Mostly Rangitikei and Northern Manawatu. Everyone knows and has seen the big tourism images of all the famous places in New Zealand. There are the other places, the places most people don’t spend too much time photographing. But it’s a beautiful place. Here, I’ll show you.

See, it’s nice here.

19 Comments

Filed under General views

Driving south in the North Island

FullSizeRender-3I’ll get straight to the point for once. I said once upon a time that only two towns in New Zealand were worth making a special trip for. Russell and Queenstown. I’d like to revise that outdated advice. Some New Zealand towns have been giving themselves a bit of a makeover since we realised people from other counties might like to buy things other than a pie, an ice-cream and some rural supplies when they visit a township. I’m going to revisit some of the New Zealand towns I have had the good, or less good fortune to pass through since I returned home from England. This isn’t a detailed look at every town in New Zealand. I’m not writing a travel book, just a blog post, so I’m going to limit my visit and brief descriptions to the towns along New Zealand’s main road. State Highway One in the North Island.

Firstly though, there is something that has been troubling me since I got home and that is the pretty startling experience that first time or even regular visitors to New Zealand have to endure when they arrive here. Leaving Auckland and getting your holiday underway. People who come here by and large spend a decent chunk of that visit on the road. New Zealand is a road trip. Getting out of Auckland is confusing and unpleasant at best and a nightmare at worst.

When you leave the airport, if you wish to head north first, you turn left. The first signs you encounter saying ‘North’ and therefore indicating your best northward route are pointing you at the wrong road to take if you wish to head North. They would be more accurate if they said ‘Western Suburbs’. There is no obvious access to any practical route North in that direction despite what the ‘North’ sign says. I gather there is a road currently (slowly) being built which will enable people to actually head North from the airport. But it’s not there yet even though the signs have been for years. They are misleading at best.

If you ignore the incorrect signage and follow the main suburban route eventually arriving at the Epsom on-ramp to the Southern Motorway, heading north. You will find yourself at the most poorly designed motorway on and off-ramp combination in all the world. There is heavy traffic wishing to leave the Motorway for the central city just 100 metres north of where you are trying to join it.

When you successfully find yourself on the Southern Motorway, heading North, the next set of traffic lights are about 65 kilometres distant, at Warkworth. Here you will find the most poorly designed traffic intersection in all the world. If you are lucky, you didn’t sit in a queue of traffic up to 25 kilometres long to arrive at it. That actually happens in the Summer holidays. You might like to visit Warkworth while you are here. Stock up on supplies for your northern road trip. Warkworth is a pretty town with a nice river and worth a short wander to stretch your legs after your long flight and longer that you expected journey out of Auckland. I’m not going to talk about the places to the North. I’m going to focus on the New Zealand towns south of Auckland. The North should have a post of its own. I’ll get around to it. The North of New Zealand is home to our most beautiful coastline. A place of extraordinary natural beauty of the seaside variety. Like I said, I’ll get around to writing about it you but can see some images of it here though. I took these pictures. New Zealand coastal awesomeness

If you are heading South, you turn right when you leave the airport. Where you will drive along a carriageway through industrial South Auckland all the way to the Southern Motorway. The first town you come to when you leave Auckland and head down State Highway One instead of making for the Coromandel Peninsula, is Huntly. Don’t judge New Zealand by your first impression of the first town you encounter. Huntly is on the banks of the Waikato River and has a large power station on the opposite side of the river from the main road. Huntly also has a large ugly railway siding beside the road. Some unattractive run-down buildings in the centre and a small industrial estate on the south side of the town. Huntly must be New Zealand’s most unsightly settlement. New Zealand gets better after this, but not for a while. You have to get south of Hamilton to get to the good stuff.

Hamilton is one of New Zealand’s largest cities but there is no good reason to stop here. Thankfully there are a number of by-passes to choose. Choose one of them and use it.

I don’t need to talk about the Coromandel Peninsula as all the guide books discuss it at length. The Coromandel is a very beautiful place to visit.

When you’ve succeeded in avoiding Hamilton, you will most likely arrive at Cambridge unless you gave Hamilton the widest possible berth. Cambridge is very nice, leafy and expensive looking, You wonder what all the obviously rich people who live around here in huge houses do for a living. I believe they do things with horses and expensive cows.

Beyond Cambridge is a town apparently made out of Corrugated Iron. It’s called Tirau and I don’t think they make corrugated iron here but they very clearly love the stuff. They also have shops along the small main street that look to be worth having a poke about in. Expect things to be priced for the tourism market. New Zealand retailers like everyone else in the world believe tourists are easily pleased and happy to pay over the odds for poor quality useless things, mostly made in China, to remind them of their holiday. We also have the most excellent ‘antique’ shops. Really cool stuff from not all that long ago. I think ‘Retro’ shops would be a better description. They are all full of iconic items from our own childhood rather than expensive pretty things from Europe or other countries colonial furniture.

There are of course small settlements off to the left and right of the main highway, or road, to give it a more accurate description through the North Island, but they are mostly functional places full of farm machinery and rural supplies.

South of Tirau is Putaruru, which is unremarkable, then Tokoroa which exists for lumberjacks to buy whatever lumberjacks buy. You can tell it’s a timber town as there is a very large wooden sculpture of a man wielding a chainsaw beside the main street. Tokoroa is a biggish town on the edge of the Kaingaroa Forest, the largest planted forest in the Southern Hemisphere. Almost entirely pine trees. A little known fact about New Zealand is that trees grow faster here than anywhere else in the world.

After Tokoroa you drive through a small section of the giant pine forest until you get to Taupo. There is a bypass where you can avoid Taupo and head south or towards Hawkes Bay where they grow fruit and wine. It’s good to go into and through Taupo though as you’ll be ready for a stop again. Taupo is sometimes called ‘The Queenstown of the North Island’. I’m not sure who by, but I’m guessing it’s by the Taupo tourism board because Taupo is not the Queenstown of the North Island. Not even close. Taupo is a town made up almost entirely of motels along the side of the lake. Lake Taupo is actually a giant volcanic crater. One of the very few super volcanoes in the world. 2 of the 3 most cataclysmic volcanic eruptions in the last 600,000 years were right here in this crater. You’ll see the evidence in all the geothermal steam about the place. This is where the world as we know it could end at any time. Mind how you go.

Upon leaving Taupo, you drive the very scenic route alongside the Lake for half an hour or so and head up onto the Volcanic Plateau. Before you do that you pass by Turangi, which you visit if you like trout fishing as that’s what Turangi is for.

Ruapehu 26.01.15The Volcanic Plateau, where you drive the incorrectly named ‘desert road’. This is a tremendously atmospheric piece of alpine wilderness in the Central North Island rather than a desert. If you are lucky and the skies are clear you will get a great view of the three volcanoes which live here. Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro. They are all active.

At the end of the desert road is Waioru which is predominantly a bleak place beside an army camp, The amazing New Zealand Army museum is here and is one of the best museums in the country and one of the best army museums in the world. Definitely worth a look so you can be amazed at how such a small country with a tiny population can have such a completely epic military history.

Next stop is Taihape which for generations has been the butt of many kiwi jokes about gumboots and rural middle New Zealand. They have fully embraced their gumboot in Taihape and have installed a large one made out of corrugated iron beside the road. Taihape is full of character but small and behind you quickly as you continue south.

From here you pass through the extraordinary Rangitikei region with one of the most beautiful river valleys you’ll find anywhere. High white cliffs and big views across the jagged landscape from the beside the road. You’ll come down a big hill and see an aeroplane made into a café. An old DC3 in Mangaweka. Mangaweka is a village which serves the adventurous tourists who want to spend some time upside down in the Rangitikei River Rapids.

Hunterville is the next town/village and has the distinction of being the Huntaway Capital of the world. The Huntaway being the most iconic New Zealand sheep dog. No, not the ‘heading’ or eye dog. The big noisy one is the Huntaway.

Hunterville is also home to New Zealand’s largest General Store. This will surprise you when you go inside, it seems quite small. But you can buy everything here, from ice-creams to livestock, not pets, livestock. Sheep and cows I don’t think they carry them in stock though, you have to order them in specially. Hunterville also has a number of interesting shops and café’s. It’s a good place for a pit-stop on your road trip.

Refueled and fed you’ll get to Bulls next. Bulls is where the road turns left to continue south or right to head for Wanganui and Taranaki. For the record I think Wanganui is New Zealand’s prettiest city.

Bulls have put some clever marketing puns on all the significant buildings. Based around the word bull. I’ll let you see that for yourself. It’s unbelieve-a-bull

Once you’ve departed Bulls, crossed the river, turned right at Sanson which also has some roadside shops worth pottering about in, you start down the most boring stretch of road in New Zealand. The run from Sanson to Foxton and beyond. This is where the drive becomes a chore rather than an adventure. All the way from Foxton to the far end of the Kapiti Coast is where I lose the will to live I’m afraid. Boring towns, often heavy traffic, nothing to see here, just keep moving along please.

For me the road journey has now lost it’s joy, albeit briefly, and I don’t recapture it until I pass the old Paekakariki rail station. From here, there is much good scenery in places and the arrival view into Wellington when you round the corner at the bottom of the Ngauranga Gorge is truly magical on a clear day.

Wellington is a very scenic little city. Spend a couple of days here before catching your ferry to the South Island. The South Island is a very different world to the North Island. Did you know the two islands of New Zealand were formed by completely different geological forces? Mountain Formation in the South Island and Volcanism in the North Island. All New Zealand’s geothermal landscapes and Volcanoes are in the North Island. There are no volcanoes in the South Island.

This has been a summary of just a part of a single road. but the one most people moving down New Zealand use. There are many other roads to explore. Like I said before, New Zealand is a road trip. Enjoy your trip. Sorry about the unusually long post, I was on a roll.

11 Comments

Filed under New Zealand, Travel