Wednesday 8 March 2017

When that Maori God of Earthquakes shakes your world...

Ready to explore

Having become more comfortable with the constant changes of scenery, people, and activities during my travels in the UK, it felt like the time to take a braver step again and go further afield.

Time for a larger step.

Which almost proved to be too big a step when right at the start, just outside Thetford, vandals hurled a rock at the bus and cracked the window pane. Two hours later, and one replacement bus, meant we did arrive in time for the plane however!

Getting to the plane was an adventure in itself!
Sometimes, the massive shake-ups in our lives can be just what we need. Although not always welcome, they can lead to new, unexpected things. They can of course also be extrememly devastating.

We spend alot of our lives convinced we are in control, and that our lives are safe and protected. Living in the UK, earthquakes are not a fact of life. Arriving in Christchurch, New Zealand, I was met with the devastating effects of the quakes there, the last in 2011. The city is still recovering. And the people affected by the earthquakes will always carry the memory with them.

Ruaumoko - God of Earthquakes

And whilst being away in New Zealand, and witnessing what I can only imagine to be hugely traumatic events, I was struck by the resilient nature of both people living in New Zealand, and specifically Christchurch. Living with earthquakes, day in and day out, cannot be easy. 

But then, to think about the people who first moved out to this remote island in the pacific ocean, that resilience must always have been there.

The tram in Christchurch gives tourists a journey through the transitioning city

I was greatly struck by the touches of similarity, and the shades of difference here. A nice pace, friendly (oh so friendly) people, and whilst on South Island, so few people. Vast swathes of countryside without settlement. The 1950's is the decade most frequently associated with it, and this was often felt, in the architecture and the lifestyles.

The cows in the sunny fields

Gentle river walks

The landscape is hugely dramatic. A relatively young country, its mountains are still growing and shaping and they literally cut into the sky.

The grey waters rushing down from Fox's Glacier

Highrise roads winding through Arthur's Pass

Falling glacial waters
New Zealanders have a terrific obsession and love affair with the classic car, and examples could be seen on farms, in the street, at remote hotels, and in fields...anywhere really. They were a joy, and give a sense of period frozen in time.

Sitting comfortably at Otira Stagecoach Hotel


More film set than street in Murchison

Old faithful

I was able to take more time working on my journal during the visit. There is nothing more relaxing than sitting at an old harbour on Golden Bay and sketching, or cutting and pasting bits and pieces out of old bus timetables to help re-create your travelling day to Lyttelton, Christchurch's port.

Golden Bay

Capturing the day creatively in my journal

As well as finding the people really friendly, the wildlife can be too, although sometimes a bit over-familiar. The curious Kea birds for instance can present something of a challenge, and have been known to strip the rubber off vehicles, and steal anything left unattended. A moment of horror was had when I realised that I had forgotten to close the driver's window of the hire car! Disaster was averted however.

Kea birds are full of michief!

Kea birds aside, other experiences with animals proved to be much more cordial, including friend Gavin's dog, Cody, on the beach, which proved to be much more civilised, and the three sweet dogs belonging to Shane and Damien in Picton...

Cody and friends at the beach

Zorro, Zanthia and Zina with Shane and Damien in Picton

There is a great contrast between the North and South Island of New Zealand. The South is sparcely populated, with the vast majority of people living on North Island. And the majority of people living on North Island live in Auckland.

Auckland harbour perspectives

The Ferry Building, Auckland

Auckland was exciting, and huge, especially when compared to my previous locations. Other cities on North Island were not as large, but had their own unique and perhaps gentler qualities. Wellington for instance at the south of North Island, although windy most of the time, does have a relaxed atmosphere to it. Towns and cities on South Island appear to be much more gentile.

Precarious at the seaside in Wellington, North Island

Grove Station in Nelson on South Island

And the towns and cities on South Island again have their own unique characters, with Nelson even presenting a train station from yesteryear.

Part of my stay in New Zealand involved volunteering at Autumn Farm, near Takaka, and there I spent a significant amount of time making new friends, and strong connections with people.

Faced with dashing all over to explore as many places as possible, I was to spend alot of my time in one place, and I found it a wonderful opportunity to delve deeper, really get to know people, listen to their stories and settle into a place.

As part of the placement though, I was able to take part in housekeeping, newsletter production and even a spot of being a waiter, and also ground maintenance and gardening...especially needed after a storm developed with hurricane force winds, bringing down one of the large trees shortly after my arrival!

Many people come to unwind here, and enjoy their time away from work, and as well as gain experience of varied tasks, I was able to take part in wine tasting events, as well as go on walks with guests, and even experienced the local agriculture shows, with sheep shearing and log chopping competitions.

Making friends whilst volunteering!

Housekeeping of characterful accomodation like the Ark
Even though there was ample work to do, I would still have time to unwind with friends and paint and travel out into the countryside.

The road goes ever on

Not all my experiences in New Zealand were fun however.

During the visit, I learned of the untimely passing of my good friend Alex Kinnear. Our friendship had lasted for over 18 years and to find yourself on a different side of the planet at that time shook my world. The repercussions of this loss would, I am sure, always be with me. And it reminded me of the precious nature of all our lives. This definitely reminded me to make the most of this time and every day. We meet people for a reason, I believe, and they say too, often for a season. I experienced many changing seasons with Alex, and the final winter came far too soon, and unexpectedly early. The influence she had on me though, was tremendous. As is the influence of many people in my life.

And although I was to experience the loss of such a good friend whilst here, I also gained connections with other precious people. Again, these people have appeared for a reason, and I look forward to exploring that further. The experiences gained have enriched my life and given me a much wider perspective. Something I shall always be grateful for.

A perfect day

Street painting
Oh, and although I didn't go to see Hobbiton, nor visit places made famous by The Lord of the Rings, during a visit to Otira Stagecoach Hotel, I may just have found the Precious!