20 Tips For Surviving Driving In New Zealand

open-roadIt seems an awful lot more people are visiting, or moving to New Zealand these days. Either because of Brexit, or Trump, or cheap airfares and new aeroplanes, which can fly further. Whatever the reason, New Zealand has more people sharing the roads with the locals than ever before.

I’ve touched on the topic of driving in New Zealand briefly in previous posts, but I feel something so important and topical, deserves a post all of it’s own, especially with a British and Irish Lions rugby tour about to deposit tens of thousands of British rugby fans into motor vehicles and onto our roads.

There are two issues with driving in New Zealand, separate but connected of course. Issue one is the state of our road network and issue two is the state of our road users.

First things first, if you are even considering a self drive holiday to New Zealand, congratulations on your choice, as NZ is one big road trip, it’s the worlds best road trip. Making the most of your New Zealand trip is all about the getting from one incredible bit of scenery to the next, then looking at that scenery, or climbing up or jumping off it. It’s not about any of the largely low rise unattractive towns where you might stop, or stay.

There are only two towns in New Zealand worth making a special trip for, the rest are simply there for the purposes of supplies. (The two towns are Russell in the Bay of Islands and Queenstown). Everywhere else out of town is worth making a special trip for. New Zealand is about the country, not the towns. You’ll see.

With respect to the roads, there are few of them. We have a remarkably low number of sealed road surfaces here. In many cases, there is only one practical route from one place to another. In the alarmingly frequent event of your chosen road having half a mountainside tumble onto it, or being washed into the sea. The detour can be measured in days rather than hours. New Zealand is a mountainous, earthquake prone wilderness with a small population. The roads are reflective of this. Outside the main cities and large towns and away from the wide single lane main artery in the North Island, the roads are often steep, usually winding, mostly narrow and it will take you the visitor much longer to get from one place to another than you might think after first glance at a map.

Ocean Beach road.jpgBut mostly the roads are fine, if a bit exhilarating in places. The views from the roads are amazing. You’ll spend far too much time looking at the view instead of the road. Which brings me neatly on to the greatest driving hazard in our fair country. The locals. The locals will tell you it’s the tourists that pose the greatest danger on our roads. I’m on our roads every day. Yeah nah, it’s the locals.

Put simply, New Zealanders are the worst drivers in the developed world. As I’ve said before, it’s not so much the lack of driving skill, but the complete disregard for other road users. I’m generalizing of course, but spend any time on the road here and you will be aghast every single day. So I’ve put together 20 helpful tips to aid your survival when driving in New Zealand.

  1. Assume every driver of every car you see is a complete imbecile.
  2. Expect the other drivers to do selfish, ignorant, obstructive things in their car that you couldn’t imagine anyone with any regard for human life would do.
  3. Assume the other drivers haven’t seen you, or don’t care you are there.
  4. Expect that they would rather crash into you to make a point than give way.
  5. New Zealanders see giving way as a sign of weakness.
  6. Do not expect any considerate driving.
  7. Do not assume the indicator is telling the truth.
  8. In NZ, usually the indicator apparently also immediately transfers the right of way to the driver who used it, regardless of who actually has the right of way.
  9. Do not expect a slow driver to concede their space on the road by pulling over even when the perfect opportunity presents itself.
  10. Kiwis hate sharing the road with you. You being anyone.
  11. If you are driving a rental car, they will assume you are an idiot with zero driving skills and will try to bully you out of their way by tailgating.
  12. Expect that despite driving at 80km/h on the open road, many road users will accelerate to 110 km/h in passing lanes then decelerate back to 80 when you can no longer safely pass.
  13. Footwear is optional when driving, winter or summer.
  14. Kiwis don’t know how to use roundabouts. They’ll stop to see if anything is coming.
  15. When you go round a blind corner, or crest, expect some halfwit to be stopped on the wrong side of the road gazing at the scenery, they will be a tourist.
  16. If you see another rental car, expect the driver to be looking at the scenery rather than the road. See point 11.
  17. The roads have sheep on them sometimes.
  18. ‘State Highway’ doesn’t necessarily mean highway, it just means road, which could often be a barely more than a track.
  19. Any single lane bridge, no matter how remote the road, will have another car approaching it from the opposite direction at the same time as you. Even if you’ve not seen any other traffic for hours.
  20. There is probably a Policeman, often an Ex-Pat British one. waiting in the hope of writing you a speeding ticket around every corner on any road. They have nothing better to do during the day and they really enjoy giving out speeding tickets.

That should be enough for starters. Assume and expect the worst and you are unlikely to be surprised, which is disappointing but true. It’s better to be amazed, or incredulous than surprised when it comes to safe motoring.

Don’t be put off though. New Zealand really, genuinely is the world’s greatest road trip. You’ll see the most incredible natural wonder and experience wonderful hospitality from New Zealanders once they’ve parked their vehicles. Plus as an added bonus it’s very far from Donald Trump or Theresa May.


Filed under Motoring, New Zealand, Travel

The Living Is Easy

mt-naki-hayWe have an iconic New Zealand comic character from the 1970’s called Fred Dagg. We were big fans in my home when I was growing up. Fred Dagg was an archetypal Kiwi farmer sort of character, blunt, plain speaking, dry wit and observational humour. He also sang a few modified and original songs. One of which was ‘We don’t know how lucky we are’. It was basically extolling the good things about New Zealand as opposed to living in other parts of the world.

I was reminded of this recently, not that I haven’t always felt that way, about how lucky we are, or at least it was bought into sharp focus again when I returned to England after being away for over three years. You may or may not be aware, depending upon how often you visit this blog, but then even I don’t visit this blog very often, that I lived in England for 20 years, from 1991 until 2013. I was back in NZ in 1995/1996.

I went to England for Christmas, I love a Winter Christmas, it feels more Christmassy than Summer Christmas.

Having spent a couple of weeks, and a couple of weeks was enough, I felt inclined to jot down a few observations, for my own benefit and for those who sometimes lose sight of how lucky we are to be New Zealanders. It may be topical that our ‘national day’, Waitangi Day is looming and far from being a national celebration, it’s largely been hijacked as a tiresome national day of Maori grievance. That’s a whole other story, which I won’t bore you with here. Suffice to say, a handful of activists making ridiculous public statements and demands have put a tarnish on the only current day we have to celebrate our birth as a modern nation. But then I’m a ‘Pakeha’, I’m sure if I was Maori I’d feel different. In actual fact, I believe we should have that national date marked as sometime in 1984 when we were dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century after the previous 150 years effectively being one of England’s offshore islands, albeit at the other end of the world. That’s also another story.

I flew Air New Zealand via Los Angeles for the 2nd to last time; the last time was the return journey. I will never fly Air New Zealand via Los Angeles again. The experience of stopping for fuel made so horrendous by the American department of Homeland Security unnecessary checks on transit passengers, I never wish to repeat the experience.

We landed at London Heathrow in fog so thick as to render the runway invisible. The first I knew about being anywhere near the ground was the mechanical noises from outside the aeroplane and the bump as we touched the tarmac, there was nothing visible from the windows, just impenetrable fog. That plane would never have touched down in New Zealand. In New Zealand pilots have to see the runway to land on it. I’m not sure why they can’t use instruments as these pilots did.

The arrivals halls at Heathrow terminals can be seething masses of humanity; this time was reasonably quick and civilized thankfully. After a long haul flight from NZ, spending an hour or so waiting in a snaking queue to get a stamp in your passport isn’t high on anyone’s list of good ways to spend your time.

I digress, this isn’t about the journey.

First observations on the ground? Infrastructure, lots of it, everywhere. I was interested to see how I would find England after I left, how I found it was busy. The vast scale of Heathrow airport, the volume of traffic coming and going, the confusing signs to exit the airport. The sheer weight of society on the move.

You travel from several lanes of roads onto another major artery with even more lanes, each one full of traffic moving at about 70 miles an hour if able, usually not because everyone else is busy using each lane.

You notice the rubbish, litter, debris, abandoned stuff all along the side of the motorway, you have to drive as fast as everyone else or you’re in the way. Luckily we knew the way and someone else was driving, but for a tired driver of a recently rented car on their first trip to England, the first experience of the motorways would be extremely daunting. It gives one a momentary extra thought of contempt for those delicate souls from New Zealand who, despite having a driving license, claim to be unable to drive in Auckland or Wellington. True story, those people exist.

As we leave one motorway for another, and drive deeper into the English countryside, the roadside debris is still abundant. The winter landscape is stark. In winter in England, everything dies back; all the trees lose their leaves, it starts getting dark at 3:30pm. Bleak is the only way to describe it. The trees in New Zealand pretty much all keep their leaves all year round. Darkness in the depths of winter arrives about 3 hours later.

I spent time in Winchester, Bath, some country villages and London. I love the architecture, the trappings of history. The shopping is amazing. Shops full of high quality things in abundance, the choice, the styles, the variation. Shopping in New Zealand is pretty woeful. Certainly for chaps. It’s almost impossible to buy a quality pair of shoes, or a well made shirt for example. We seem to only need cheaply made, lightweight but expensive clothing. I’m not sure why that is.

What does strike me, constantly as I move about in England is the heightened stress levels, everyone looks put upon, everything good has a long queue. Everywhere you go, everyone else is there already. Because I’m tall I can see the sea of heads bobbing along every footpath, short people would just see a wall of people.bridge-crossing

People in a hurry to get anything done, business or leisure before everyone else gets there. This was the quiet period; the no mans land between Christmas and New Year. I just wanted to go home.

Leaving the house is a mission in England. It involves taking on everything and everyone just to go to the shop. Going for a drive is an expedition to be endured, anything you might want to drive to is at the far end of many busy roads. There is nowhere to stop, usually nowhere to park. You can drive through several towns looking for a place to park in a Supermarket. The idea of getting a park outside any shop or place you wished to visit, a wistful fantasy. Blind luck rather than any sort of hope or expectation.

I have no idea really how I survived this for 20 years, a couple of weeks and I’m ready to leave. I wanted my space back.

When I was on my way home, several hours into the 2nd leg, what I thought was several hours; I turned on my little aeroplane TV screen. I chose the flight map to see where we were over the Pacific Ocean as I had ‘lost the will to live’ a few hours ago. What I thought would be about 5 hours out from home was 2. I shed a tear. I was much nearer home than I had thought.

I nearly kissed the ground when we landed.

This isn’t about knocking England though. England, Great Britain is what it is. A heavily populated major country just off the coast of Europe.

What’s different here? Why was it so good to be home? Actually everything works much the same here as it does in England; we drive on the same side of the road. Things in shops are recognisable; the money works the same way. We eat similar things and obey the same rules.

What we have here though is space, time, loads of it. The incredible natural beauty we are rightly famous for and ease of living. Leaving the house to go out and see stuff is a pleasure rather than something you have to psych yourself up for. The queues for good things are small; the roads are largely empty apart from bits of Auckland and when Wellingtonians go to and from work. The air is clear and the sky is huge. You can come and go as you please, you don’t have to navigate humanity. People are reasonable and largely helpful. Except when they get into a motor vehicle. Something about getting into a motor vehicle turns kiwis into monsters. We are the worst drivers in the Western world. Selfish and obstructive. This is a national disgrace, that and too many dairy cows pissing into all our waterways.

We have many social ills. Poverty, domestic violence, unaffordable housing in Auckland. But this really is the greatest little country on earth. We are incredibly fortunate to live here.

We have abundant beauty, safety, peace and quiet. You’ll be constantly open mouthed at the natural wonder all around you. But what we have most is ease of living. Living is easy. Doing stuff is easy, going places is easy. There’s a tangible lack of global oppressiveness in the air, we are a chilled out country. Aware of, but far removed from the issues facing the less fortunate. We punch above our weight in so many respects. Sport of course, the arts, politics, economy, you name it. But what it boils down to for me is how easy it is to get through each day, while being lucky enough to be surrounded with the incredible ‘New Zealandness’.



Filed under General views, New Zealand, Travel

Democracy, it’s not for everyone

imagesI’m reminded of the lyrics to the Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel. Although the recent cover of that classic by The Disturbed is by far the better version


‘Hello darkness, my old friend

I’ve come to talk with you again

Because a vision softly, creeping

Left its seeds while I was, sleeping

And the vision, that was planted in my brain… still remains

Within the sound of silence’

The obvious reference of course is that I haven’t written anything on this blog since February. The dual reference is the darkness unfolding in the good old US of A, the darkness of the horror of the potential Presidential election outcome.

Much has been written on the rise and rise of Donald Trump by far more worthy outlets than this humble, hardly visited blog site in my corner of the internet. However…

There must always be a however for Sandysview. Many times in the past, that was the whole point of Sandysview, the ‘however’ on a popular topic, or my take on current events. This is a current event, literally happening right now and this is my take on it.

The global media vessels, outside the state sponsored press of dictatorships and tyrannies, are united in their condemnation of the hateful diatribes of Presidential hopeful Mr Trump. They remind their readers, listeners and viewers that none of us should support his ridiculous, extreme views on pretty much everything.

But there is apparently the best part of half the US electorate who share his horrible worldview and hideous, hateful plans for the future. It’s unfathomable or course, but the sort of people who believe an insular, hatemongering, racist, xenophobic US President is the way forward are most likely people you and I are unlikely to have round for drinks and dinner.

Herein lies my point. Outside the USA we can agonise about the insanity of the sort of individual who is likely to put a red cross or a green tick, whichever it is, beside Trumps name on the ballot paper in a few weeks time. We wonder, aghast at the madness of the people who will gleefully put control of nuclear weapons in the hands of a lunatic.

That’s not the point though.

How is it that those people are able to bring that about? How is it that the breathtakingly ignorant, the woefully ill-informed, the catastrophically un-informed, the vast swathe of the general public who choose sensationalism over sense, who prefer a headline in bold letters and a catchy slogan on a baseball cap to the truth, are able to bring disaster upon those who paid attention at school?

That’s democracy in action you see? It’s people making history affecting or effecting decisions one tick at a time based on their personal biases and insecurities. The people who care about one thing that’s important to them even though they haven’t the first clue as to the actuality or otherwise of what they fear most, personally. Even though the majority of the population knows it to be nonsense. Those who vote as a result of successful fear mongering over facts are the real darkness, not our old friends.

They shouldn’t be allowed to.

Gasp if you must, but they shouldn’t be allowed to.

If you are going to vote on life changing stuff, which affects the whole world, or at least your own country and everyone in it, you should have the first clue what you are voting for. I vote for the pre vote, voter test. A simple general knowledge and social awareness test which you have to pass in order to get a say in anything, anything at all.

Brexit was another example, hundreds of thousands of the people who voted for Brexit admitted they had no idea what Brexit meant in reality. They had no idea of the impact on their lives of what they had just voted for. How does that vote count? How does someone get to cast an important and deciding vote upon an important issue yet have no knowledge of its importance?

At the far end of the ignorance spectrum, civilisation sits in harsh judgment of those who live on the fringes, contributing nothing but hate and fear. Hate groups, we call them, extremist organisations, terrorists at the extreme of the extreme. They all have a vote though and they only care about bringing universal hatred of the people they despise. They want to normalise their vile ideals. They will all vote for Trump. That’s democracy in action

The frightening reality is that once the endorsement of the wrong thing by the wrong people who had no clue as to the fallout from their ill-informed decisions has been made. It’s very hard, verging on impossible to unmake it.

People must have faith in their leaders making the right decisions, whoever they are. People in positions of power make big decisions based on thorough examination of all the facts and consequences apparently.

Really? The USA invaded Afghanistan starting a war that lasted longer than the 1st and 2nd world wars combined and probably cost more, to look for an old man in a cave. Turns out he was in bed in Pakistan.

They invaded Iraq destroying an entire country to look for stuff that wasn’t there in the first place.

Trump makes that President look like Nelson Mandela.

Trump talks of making America great again by building a giant wall, and bringing manufacturing jobs back to America from offshore, among other things. Apparently Americans do want to work in factories making consumer electronics. The reality is that this will make their iPhone cost $5,000 instead of $500. I’m morbidly curious to see how a heavily unionized American factory worker will embrace the sort of wages and conditions gratefully accepted by workers in Asia and the Sub Continent, whose living costs are a hundredth of those in the USA.

That aside, there’s ‘gonna be a reckoning’, not a pretty one and the democratic choices made by people who shouldn’t really be allowed to vote are going to affect us all and probably make the news bulletins a bit more interesting for years to come. The common consensus is that the world is over populated anyway so perhaps a couple of global conflagrations will be a good thing in the long run. Careful what you wish for. Of course, Hillary could win…That will go down well with the millions of Hillary haters.

I’m going to make a bold prediction though. As this Presidential campaign nears it’s zenith and one of these two undesirables gets to be President, there are going to be riots and people will die in the street. Sorry, I know it’s cheerful stuff, something to look forward to as summer looms in New Zealand.

‘Ten thousand people maybe more

People talking without speaking

People hearing without listening

People writing songs, that voices never shared

No one dared

Disturb the sound, of silence

“Fools,” said I, “You do not know…….’


Filed under General views, Politics, Rants

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.


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.






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.


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.


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.


Filed under General views