It's The People

We're more than halfway through our time in New Zealand. On our last visit at the end of 2007, we split our time between North and South Islands and found South Island much the more spectacular in terms of scenery. This time we are just on North Island. We've revisited a couple of places, but mainly have been to new ones. In doing so we have found that North Island is equally spectacular in its own way, especially when routes take you over the mountains or through river gorges. Most spectacular of all though, are the people. We didn't spend any time in Wellington, and will be only very briefly in Auckland, right at the end of our trip, so I can't speak for the big cities, but rural and smaller town Kiwis are fantastic. There isn't just a hospitality industry here; it's a hospitality culture - from friends of the friends we have stayed with welcoming us into their midst and into their homes as if we too were their lifelong friends, to the lady we met a couple of days ago at her family's jade workshop and shop who, on discovering that we had walked half an hour from the centre of town on a very hot day, immediately offered to drive us back. At this point we hadn't even started browsing and so she had no reason to believe that we would actually spend any money. We did buy some items, and we declined her offer of transport; the beach was nearby so we walked back at - or more precisely, in - the water's edge. I shall remember the Kiwis long after the memory of the places we visited has faded.



Well, here we are enjoying a Napier summer. We arrived on Sunday afternoon and checked into our seafront hotel, where Trailfinders had booked us a room at the front, and so we look out from the fifth floor at a South Pacific of quite unbelievable turquoise. We chose Napier as a stopping place as it sits on Hawke's Bay, home to New Zealand's. red wine industry. Yesterday we spent going from one winery to another, at each one being offered tastings of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay to prove that they also make excellent whites, followed by Pinot Noir, Merlot and Syrah. At a couple of wineries we were ALSO offered a late harvest, sweet Cabernet Sauvignon, produced as a dessert wine. We visited six wineries in total, so even though I did a lot of spitting, I had a gentle, warm glow for the ride back to the hotel.
We chose Napier, as I say, pretty much by chance, so it was a bonus to discover the city's other claim to fame as an Art Deco city. On the 3rd February of 1931, around one o'clock in the afternoon, a devastating earthquake which lasted for three minutes, flattened the town. When things had settled down seismically the decision was taken to rebuild on the same site, but also to build a city that would be a monument to those who had been killed or injured. They chose the then very much in vogue Art Deco style. In the USA, home to Art Deco, construction was virtually at a standstill - rather like Spain today - as the country was in the grip of the Great Depression. Napier can justly claim to be the world's foremost Art Deco city. A fascinating place to walk around.


Living The Nightmare

You will no doubt remember that a couple of years ago Christchurch, on the South Island of New Zealand, suffered not one, but two major earthquakes in six months, each inflicting enormous damage. Christchurch came into the conversation on Sunday evening at the barbecue in the winery. The lady I was talking to explained to me that New Zealanders had been awaiting "the big one" for some time, in the same way that Californians know that a major jolt to the San Andreas fault is long overdue. What shocked Kiwis when it happened was that did not hit Wellington which sits astride two plates, and where buildings have been built to withstand the shocks, but in Christchurch, which was thought to be located in a geologically stable region, and where no precautionary steps had been taken.
I mentioned this last night to our friends and asked how the reconstruction programme is progressing. For the majority apparently, it has not yet even begun. And the reason is horrifying; it is officially judged to be premature because, in the two years since what I thought of as "the earthquakes", Christchurch has suffered five thousand aftershocks. That equates to an average of around seven a day.
In addition, a large part of the affected zone is suffering liquefaction, a phenomenon which turns the ground to mush. The people living in this zone, some in damaged but habitable homes, some in undamaged homes, have to begin each day by clearing away several inches of mud which has oozed up through the floor during the previous twenty four hours.
So far the world is concerned, the disaster happened, did its damage and now is over. I was shocked to learn that that is not the case. And I ask myself two questions. How would I respond to daily mud shifting? And if I had lived through two major earthquakes, how nonchalantly could I react to the start of a new tremor no matter how small?


From One Extreme To The Other

From Hong Kong we flew to Wellington in New Zealand, via Auckland, and then dove a couple of hours north to the town of Masterton to stay with friends of many years standing, dating back to the time that we all lived in he Rossendale Valley in Lancashire. Peter is now the vicar of Epiphany parish Church in Masterton. Saturday we spent recovering, but the following day we went out for a late lunch to a local winery, accompanied by the principal of the primary school linked to the church. After lunch, we were taken to another winery nearby, where we we able to taste - and buy - some of the local wines. Sunday evening saw us at a third winery, this time the home of Peter's archdeacon and her husband, who were hosting a barbecue. Not often that my choice of wine at a barbecue would be one retailing at NZ$ 40 a bottle (25€)! I was delighted to discover that they ship this excellent Pinot Noir to the UK under the Pirinoa Road label. I shall be online searching ahead of my next UK trip by car.
Our friends have a home outside Marton to which they will ultimately retire; in the meantime it is used as a holiday home, and we headed over here on Monday or the rest of our time with them.
What a contrast to Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated places on the planet. New Zealand - a country with about the same land area as the British Isles - has a population of four and a half million people, one million of whom live in Auckland and another million are on South Island. There is an abundance of land which, even allowing for the restrictions on permitted building density, is easily affordable. Most construction is off-site and then simply assembled and completed on the plot. Their home stands on a 10 acre block in the midst of farmland, with several stands on trees, and is an absolute delight to be in. A neighbouring farmer has the use of the grassland for grazing. The place is so quiet that you can stand outside at the front of the house and the only sound is that of the sheep cropping the grass 300 to 400 mtres away.

What Time Is it Exactly?

I am writing this some 36,000ft above the South China Sea. My watch is on Auckland time, my body clock on Hong Kong time - an adjustment achieved by a three day stopover - and the iPad on which I am writing this, declares it to be 23:27, though God only knows where. All three, however, agree a) that it is dark, and b) that sleep appears to be over for the night. This is a view shared by several other people who keep getting up and walking about (one man in a distinctive, hooped polo shirt, has been into the toilet across from me so many times that I am beginning to have serious concerns for his prostate; what propels the lady in the red jumper in the same direction with similar frequency, I don't dare to speculate.
Reading that back, it occurs to me that writing style has been severely contaminated by the two chapters of "Hard Times" that I've just read. Thorry about that, Thquire. I thall thign off at onthe.


Chacun A Son Gout

We arrived in Hong Kong yesterday after an overnight flight from the UK and transferred to a very smart hotel on Hong Kong Island, looking out from the 22nd floor across the harbour to Kowloon. We have heard a lot about HK, but this is our first visit. First impressions? This is not a cheap place to stopover on the way to New Zealand, our ultimate destination. After five years in Spain, I tend to think in terms of euros when comparing prices, and that is quite handy here as in broad terms €1 = HK$10. Thus, I can inform you that a coffee - just an ordinary coffee, you understand - while we were out this morning cost €8 each. Last night a couple of glasses of NZ Sauvignon Blanc n the hotel lobby set us back just over €10 each.
What else can I tell you? Well, if ridiculously tall buildings, all crammed into a small space appeal to you, you'll love this place, as you will if you find a stroll down London's Oxford Street bracing. Me? I'll be glad to get on the plane on Friday afternoon.


When Pragmatism Is King

Right now I'm making final preparations for our trip. We won't be home until mid-February, so today required a trip to the pharmacy to stock up on my regular medication. A great benefit of the system here is that because my various conditions are stable, my GP writes up a prescription for the whole year, which is stored electronically on-line and my health card has a chip. I hand it to the pharmacist who pops it into a reader, from which cane be seen what I am able to request, and dispenses the items.Unfortunately, one item that I need cannot be provided before mid-January as the current pack was only dispensed about a week ago. No problem; this is where Spanish pragmatism kicks in. He sold me a pack. By the time that i return, I will be entitled to the prescription, so then I just take the pack into the pharmacy. they cut out the barcode panel and reimburse me the money that I paid today. When the person is given priority over the system, rather than vice versa, sensible outcomes are readily achieved.