Friday, 24 March 2017

Sea Walls: Murals for Oceans, Napier New Zealand

Have I told you I love street art? Ever since David and I stumbled across the Open Air Museum in Valparaiso, Chile, I have been a street art addict, tracking it down wherever we go. Napier, it turns out, is a street art addict's idea of heaven.

In March 2016, Napier hosted the Sea Walls: Murals for Oceans public art project in New Zealand. In collaboration with the PangeaSeed Foundation, Napier City Council brought 30 national and international artists to the city to transform 29 blank walls into stunning works of art. In keeping with PangeaSeed's mission to educate and inform on oceanic environmental issues, the murals draw on the theme of threats to the health of the world's oceans. In February 2017, when we visited Napier, the murals looked as fresh and bright as though they were painted yesterday.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Cycling in Auckland: Was it worth all the hassle?

Cycling in Auckland
If you read my post a few weeks ago titled A Cyclist's Lament: Welcome to New Zealand you will know that our New Zealand trip got off to a rocky start. Why was I not surprised? The last time we flew our bikes to the Land of the Long White Cloud we struggled to get them through quarantine. You can read the saga here - Life in the Slow Lane: Welcome to New Zealand. The time before that, our troubles began at Sydney airport. You can read that story at  - Queenstown and the Flying Bicycles - or why you should never fly with a bike!

Friday, 10 March 2017

From Disaster to Art Deco in Napier, New Zealand: How an earthquake shaped the city.

Art Deco Napier
At 10.47 in the morning on 3 February 1931 disaster struck the city of Napier in Hawke's Bay, New Zealand. For two and a half minutes the ground convulsed; heaving upward, pausing for a moment, then slamming back to earth.  Buildings swayed, collapsed and disintegrated. Gas mains burst, fires began and terrified residents ran out into the streets only to be killed by a deluge of brick and masonry. This was New Zealand's deadliest earthquake. When it was over, 256 people were dead and Napier was all but destroyed.

When the city was rebuilt, Art Deco was all the fashion and the inhabitants set about making their home a showcase of architectural design. Today, Napier boasts one of the finest concentrations of Art Deco style anywhere in the world.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Wai-O-Tapu: Geothermal Wonders in New Zealand

Champagne Pool, Wai-o-tapu
You know an attraction is good when you do it again the first chance you get. Wai-O-Tapu was like that for us. We discovered this geothermal wonderland two years ago on a trip to New Zealand's North Island. On our return this year, Wai-O-Tapu was top of our list of things to see.

Wai-O-Tapu (meaning 'sacred waters' in Maori) is a stunning geothermal attraction with a well-deserved reputation for being the most colourful and diverse in New Zealand. Wai-O-Tapu is part of one of the most extensive geothermal systems in New Zealand;  literally covered with steam vents, boiling pools of mud, multi-coloured mineral laden pools and collapsed craters.

Friday, 24 February 2017

A Cyclist's Lament: Welcome to New Zealand!

Bicycles, totem poles
Sometimes David and I make things difficult for ourselves. When it comes to great countries to ride a bicycle in, New Zealand is right up there close to the top of the list. The whole country is criss-crossed by rail trails and cycle paths. We have come here to cycle. We are going to start out in Auckland, head north for a few days and then spend a week near Napier in Hawkes Bay.

Auckland is a city of 1.5 million people. You would think it would be a simple thing to organise bike hire for a two week trip in a city that size. Not for us, the easy option. David doesn’t hire bikes. He dislikes the way they are never as comfortable as his own bike and he hates the extortionate cost - often more than renting a car. He much prefers to subject himself, and me, to the enormous hassle and precision planning required to fly our bikes with us across the Tasman Sea from Australia. 

Friday, 17 February 2017

Searching for Kiwi at Kiwi North, Northland, New Zealand

For a country which produced the All Blacks, some of the toughest footballers in the world, it seems incongruous that New Zealand's national symbol, albeit an unofficial one, is a 45 cm (17 inch) high, flightless bird which registers about 15 out of 10 on the timidity scale - but there you have it, some things in the world just can't be explained.

David and I are in Northland, the northern tip of the North Island of New Zealand and today we went searching for kiwi. We didn't go looking in the wild - kiwi are nocturnal, shy and very hard to find - but we did the next best thing, calling in at Kiwi North. Kiwi North has a purpose built Kiwi House where Puna and Kapua, the two resident kiwi, live.  Their environment is as close to nature as possible with a carpet of leaf litter allowing them to forage for insects and other food the same way they would in the wild. It even rains - twice a week. Special lighting turns day into night so visitors can see them at their most active.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

The Huts of the High Country

Fitzgerald Hut

Scattered throughout the Australian Alps are more than a hundred historic huts.  They date back as far as the 1860s. Many were built as shelters by stockmen grazing their cattle on high country pastures. Others housed fishermen, gold prospectors, foresters, workers on the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme, skiers and bushwalkers. Today they are used as emergency shelters for skiers and bushwalkers caught out in the changeable mountain weather.

The huts are the antithesis of luxury. Most are simple corrugated iron or wood constructions. Very few are easy to get to. They are tucked away in the back country, far from roads and other services. Over many years of skiing, bushwalking and mountain biking David and I have come across a half dozen or so of these huts. With a few exceptions they are a challenge to find and it is always fun when we come across one. We have never camped out overnight so all the huts in this post can be reached in a day's bushwalk or mountain bike ride from the nearest road.

Friday, 3 February 2017

The Great Victorian Rail Trail: Australia's Longest Rail Trail

The Great Victorian Rail Trail

Trail - The Great Victorian Rail Trail
Location - Tallarook to Mansfield, Victoria, Australia
Distance - 134 km one way
Terrain - Compacted sand and fine gravel.
Difficulty - Easy to moderate with a few long, steady climbs.
Highlights - Reaching the top of any of the long climbs.
Suitable for - Mountain bikes, touring bikes, walkers and horse riders.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Cycling in Hobart: The Intercity Cycleway and The Clarence Foreshore Trail

Foreshore Trail Hobart
Hobart and cycling are not words which sit comfortably together in a sentence. David insists on taking our bicycles with us almost everywhere we go but even he agreed to leave them at home on our recent trip to Tasmania. Part of the reason was cost. As hard as it may be to believe it costs less to fly bicycles the 12,000 kms from Sydney to Los Angeles than it does to fly them 1,600 kms from Sydney to Hobart. Mostly however, it just didn't seem worth the effort for the one or two leisure cycling paths we were able to find in Hobart. Being neither road cyclists nor super-fit mountain bikers we look for easy, relatively flat, family-friendly, off-road paths - and sadly these are in very short supply in Tasmania's capital.

Friday, 13 January 2017

The Heritage Buildings of Launceston, Tasmania

Customs House, Launceston
I have to confess that Launceston was about the last place I expected to find heritage buildings. I am not even sure why we went there. Don't get me wrong, it turned out to be a great destination but when I asked David what possessed him to book us five nights in a cottage just outside the city he didn't seem to have an answer.

It turns out Launceston is known for having one of the finest early Colonial and Victorian cityscapes in Australia with many of the buildings beautifully restored and freshly painted. This week I am going to let my camera do the talking and give you a taste of what you might see if, like me, you find yourself inexplicably in Tasmania's second largest city.