MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Sentosa Island

By the time I left my life in Scotland behind to emigrate to New Zealand back in early 2012, I’d spent more time than I would have liked transiting through American airports. They’re not the friendliest of places and with a real dislike for Los Angeles airport (LAX) I was keen for an alternative transit point between my new home and old home. My original booking that took me to New Zealand had been a return ticket, so I’d used the return leg with its LAX transit to go home and visit my family for Christmas at the end of 2012, but I was keen to avoid the same route back, and booked a ticket home via Singapore. I had a few hours layover at Singapore’s Changi airport and was blown away by the country’s national carrier that took me there and also the airport itself. I transited Changi twice more on my next visit to Scotland in 2016 and again revelled in the marvel that is now my favourite airport. With a multitude of gardens, entertainment zones and shops and eateries that stretch far through the concourse, it almost feels like the airport is a destination in itself. It also whetted my appetite to see the country who’s borders it sat within, and so when a work-related conference was announced in Singapore, there was no doubt in my mind that I would be attending. So last September, after a couple of weeks spent in Scotland, I left Amsterdam behind and flew to Asia.

 

I arrived in the early morning, and after obtaining a travel card for the public transport system, I caught the train into the city and went in search of my hotel. It was far too early to check in, so I simply dumped my bags and sat in the lobby perusing a guidebook, wondering what to do with the day. This was one of those trips that I’d left totally unplanned, making it up as I went along, and after a bit of reading and studying the transit map, I decided to take the train to Harbourfront, the gateway to Sentosa Island. Attached to the mainland via a bridge, there are a multitude of ways to get onto the island: a cable car, a train, boardwalk and road all link the island to Harbourfront. Looking to save money, and naive to the heat that would hit me that day, I decided to walk over, coming out of the Harbourfront mall and taking the boardwalk. Despite the early hour, the temperature was on the rise and a slight hazy smog coloured the sky, and before long I was sweating. In fact the humidity kept fogging my camera lens as I tried to take photos and I found myself torn between admiring the view and seeking out shade.

 

On arrival to Sentosa, I was greeted by a large resort but I was so early that nothing was open and there was hardly anyone around. It made for a pleasant walk in relative solitude as I cut along the promenade, admiring the cityscape across the waterway. At the main building complex, I cut up through what would no doubt be a bustling shopping and eating mall during opening hours and past several water features which led me up and out the other side at a raised area where I was faced with the giant structure of a Merlion. The official mascot of Singapore, represented by a lion’s head with the body of a fish, it is an iconic symbol of this island nation. There are several Merlion statues in the country, but this one on Sentosa is the largest and it is possible to climb up inside it for a fee. Here, I was thankful for the early arrival as the crowds had yet to appear and there was only a handful of people milling around, making it relatively easy to get an uncrowded photograph.

 

I skirted round the base of the Merlion and down Merlion walk, a paved route with a funky water feature running down the middle. At the far end, stairs took me down to the back of the beach amphitheatre, but rather than head straight to the coast, I double backed past a funky sculpture and a scented garden to head up into the higher points of the island where the cable car comes in. Up in the canopy, the insect noise was epic, and a boardwalk led away from the cable car complex towards a trail through a forested area. A few more people were about now and I regularly passed others as I meandered through the tree-lined path up, round and over the hill here. The path eventually cut back down to the north coast and once more I could see back across to the mainland.

 

By now I was grateful for every piece of shade I could find. The heat combined with the high humidity was intense. But the view across the water made up for that, and I soaked it in as I became more and more saturated in my own sweat. At the western end of the island I found myself at Fort Siloso, a gun battery utilised in WWII. Free to walk around, it is a cluster of buildings, tunnels and guns, and although I wasn’t really interested in the history of the place, I still took my time to wander around it. I was especially glad of the air conditioning that was on in some of the buildings which now represent a museum. At the back of the complex, I found myself at the Siloso skywalk, an elevated walkway that gave a stunning view across to both the mainland and the nearby beach of the south coast. For the first time I could see the reams of ships berthed just offshore and I realised how important Singapore must be as a shipping port. Now quite high above the main level of Sentosa, I had planned on getting the elevator down off the platform but it wasn’t working, and so I retraced my steps back to Fort Siloso and cut down the hill at the side of the walkway. Only when I got near the bottom did I realise that a high fence blocked my path, and frustratingly in the heat, I had to climb back up the hillside and cut back through the fort to get out.

 

The south coast was the gem of this place for me. An expansive series of stunning sandy beaches, turquoise water and off-shore islands welcomed me and the now increasing crowd of people. The remnants of a sand-art exhibition was being dismantled as I first hit the beach and I was quick to take my shoes off and paddle in the water as I wandered. I’m not one for relaxing on holidays, instead I have a constant urge to explore when I’m abroad, so although I was sorely tempted to get in the water and swim, I hadn’t actually brought by bathers and as such, I had to be content with just dipping my toes in the water. I was by now pretty hungry, and thankfully there were some eateries here, so I found myself a shady spot in one, ordered a nice cold drink and got myself some food to fill me up for the rest of the day’s walking.

Of the offshore islands, a couple have a bridge over to them, so at Palawan beach, I crossed the swing bridge to reach the largest of them. Immediately at the far side, a sign declared it to be the Southernmost Point of Continental Asia. Looking at the location of it on a map I highly doubt the accuracy of it but that didn’t stop me and everyone else getting a photograph at the sign. Two towers behind here took me up above the canopy for a view back onto Sentosa Island and in the opposite direction, seaward where once more I was astonished by the shear quantity of ships hanging around offshore. Back down in the undergrowth, I found a spot to lie down in the shade and promptly dozed off, overwhelmed by the heat and humidity following my inability to sleep on the plane ride there. I awoke a little while later when the shade had moved and the sun reached me. I returned to wandering around this islet before cutting back across the bridge to Sentosa.

 

I briefly considered continuing along the coast to Tanjong beach but as beyond that the island is pretty much consumed by a golf course and resort, I decided that I’d had enough of the heat, and instead retraced my steps back to the Merlion walk. Cutting across the island here, I headed to the S.E.A. Aquarium and decided to head inside. I’m not a big fan of aquariums and zoos, and discovered after buying my ticket that this aquarium had captive dolphins which I really don’t agree with, but I was desperate for some air conditioned indoor time so headed on in anyway. What I discovered inside blew me away. After going downstairs and into the complex, I came through the entrance to a floor to ceiling glass wall that was the end of a huge exhibit, complete with shipwreck and a collection of sharks and large shoals of fish. It was exceptionally crowded, but I didn’t mind that I couldn’t get right up to the glass, because even from a few steps back, it was so high that there was plenty to take in. I stood here at this first exhibit for quite some time before moving on. Nearby there was a skeleton of a Great White Shark, which due to its nose, was rather amusing.

 

Through a tunnel below sharks and past eels I came out at a coral garden, and wandered past a really cool tubular aquarium. At the far end of the complex was the extensive Open Ocean Exhibit, another exceedingly large floor to ceiling glass panel wall that looked into one of the largest aquarium exhibits I’ve ever seen. Containing 40,000 fish within it, it was mesmerising and it was no wonder there were so many people draped across the various levels of the viewing area just staring at it. I too parked up in different areas to just watch the creatures swim by, and was torn between the happiness of seeing manta rays and the sadness that they were in captivity. I’ve seen manta rays in the wild off two different continents and they are an awesome sight to see. When I finally pulled myself away from the place, I found some jellyfish appearing to dance. Then there were octopus and more coral exhibits and I was glad to see that I could skip the dolphin section without visiting it, as I really didn’t want to see them in there. Finally, the route takes you back through the other side of the shipwreck exhibit and I left the building utterly impressed with what the place had achieved. It is definitely the best aquarium I have ever visited in my life.

 

The sun was dropping low as I returned to Harbourfront mall to catch the train back to my hotel. The mall was a total rabbit warren and I went round in circles looking for the station within it. I ended up among the rush hour crowds so I was happy to finally reach my hotel although I felt rather self conscious appearing in my sweaty and disheveled state. I’d booked my accommodation some time in advance and I can only assume I got some kind of deal because what I had noticed when I’d dumped my bags that morning was that it seemed rather posh, and this was confirmed on checking in as I discovered that my hotel was 5-star. As someone who regularly stays in hostels, and had in fact just been staying in a shared dorm in Amsterdam prior to arriving, this was a slightly shocking change of scene. Nonetheless, I was certainly going to make the most of it and had a huge grin on my face as I wandered round my large and fancy looking room. This would be just the ticket to come back to each day whilst in the city, and I soon felt at home.

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Return to Amsterdam

It was an early morning flight that took me away from my Homeland once more, speeding towards Amsterdam with an unusually high tail wind. In fact, the flight I was on broke a record for the route, having reached Amsterdam well ahead of schedule and before I knew it I was back at the Clink Noord hostel in Amsterdam Noord. There was a totally different vibe to the city than there had been a couple of weeks prior. The weather was looking a lot more unsettled for one, but it was a Saturday, and as it turned out, there was a city-wide walking festival taking place in a city full of bikes. The crowds on both sides of the IJ river were intense. But despite this, I couldn’t come back to Amsterdam and not do it on wheels this time, so after dumping my stuff at the hostel, I hot-footed it round to the nearby bike rental office to get myself some transport for the day.

The free ferry across the IJ river was as packed with walkers as it was cyclists, and a surge of people disembarked at the Amsterdam Centraal pier. I cut up and under the railway station and immediately came out at a mass of people, cyclists, trams and cars. It took every sense I had at full alert to navigate this sea of hazards whilst trying not to get herded in the wrong direction nor fall off the bike. I didn’t want to end up in the city centre which was where the masses were going, so I cut off towards the Jordaan district to try and shed the crowds. I wasn’t always sure of the street signage to determine rights of way so at times I meandered off in random directions, doubling back or winding round canal networks if necessary. It wasn’t being lost, it was just making an interesting route. I knew where I was aiming for, but I had no time commitments and it was fun to explore side streets as I went. There were pockets of the Jordaan district that were busier than others but the main bridges across the canals were often a focal point for tourists and I could see some locals getting annoyed with those that abruptly stopped on the bridges when they were trying to go about their daily lives.

 

The crowds started to build up as I circumnavigated the main city centre and aimed for the crossing near the Rijksmuseum, marking the entrance to the museum district. This is one of the city’s major tourist zones and there were people walking, cycling and stopping everywhere. Whilst the large facade of the famous museum dominated the view forward, I was more interested in the beautiful turreted building that stood on the river opposite it. The bridge here, like many of the city’s bridges, had flower baskets along the railing and the blooms added a pretty touch to those canal views. Amsterdam has some incredibly famous museums with some incredibly famous exhibits, but the museum district was not my target destination at that stage, so after getting my fill of photographs of the canal, I cut in front of the museum instead of under it as most people were doing, and headed a couple of blocks away to the narrow entrance of Vondelpark.

 

I loved cycling through Vondelpark. From this access point, the park was narrow, and consisted mainly of the access path and a bit of green space either side, but after a long stretch of this, it cut under a road and entered the main part of the park where immediately I found myself at a lake and a route decision to make. Although busy being a Saturday, only small pockets felt crowded, and I was loving the cycling, so I started off by looping the park round the outer trail, past pretty buildings, statues and lakes. The main track was wide enough for multiple bikes to pleasantly pass each in other in both directions and before I knew it, I was back at the first lake where I’d started. The second time through, I utilised the narrow secondary tracks to snake through the park and enjoy the various points of interest. Being late September, it was autumn, so there was a variable amount of blooms and foliage. I spied a heron in a lake where some fountains sprouted up, and nearby there was a rose garden where some roses were still thinking about blooming.

 

After this second circuit, I was getting hungry and decided to get lunch at one of the cafes halfway up the park, but when I got there there was absolutely nowhere to lock up my bike. I’d noticed often as I’d cycled through the streets that every available post or bike park was often taken and in other places, especially bridges, it is not allowed to lock your bike. I certainly didn’t want to risk losing the bike, so after circling round the area looking for somewhere free, I eventually had to give up. I cut across to the more southern side of the park where a path hugged a lake across from some large houses. The sky was rather grey but the reflections of the houses on the water were still distinct. Nearby, there was an exit from the park and I headed back into the melee of streets and urban life.

I was only a few blocks from the museum district and turning onto the main street of Van Baerlestraat took me deep into chaos. The pavements were packed with people, the cycle lanes packed with cyclists and between all of this was a very busy tram line. I passed eateries that were packed to the brim, and struggling to negotiate the crowds, I found it difficult to get off this street, being herded by the masses in a straight line. There was definitely a knack to turning against the flow, and whilst the locals knew how to do it, I certainly did not. I ended up a lot further down than I’d planned to before I was able to cross over and double back. My hunger was driving me, so I decided to park up the bike and look for a place to eat on foot, but this was easier said than done as every possible bike park was full. Cutting down back street after back street I finally found a single bike park and quickly claimed it, only to discover that I couldn’t work the padlock. Finally sussing it out, I was glad to get walking for a bit, mentally making a note of where I’d left the bike as I made turn after turn to retrace my steps back to the main street.

The cafe that I’d eyed up from the bike was beyond crammed when I walked there and so was every other cafe within sight. Only when I found myself at the Stedelijk Museum did I realise there was a large restaurant there, so finally I could satiate my appetite. I spend a lot of time travelling solo and this means I eat out a lot solo. Even at home in New Zealand, I have no qualms about dining alone, but in different countries, this habit is often met with a variety of responses. The man that was serving me here at the museum restaurant seemed a little put out that I was on my own. It wasn’t that there was a shortage of tables, but I seemed a little unimportant to him, and I struggled to get served. If I hadn’t been so hungry I might have walked out, but eventually I got myself a coffee and a sandwich. My coffee arrived with a little Stroopwafel, a small Dutch wafer biscuit, and although the coffee was much better than the one I’d had near Anne Frank Huis on my first visit to the city, it still wasn’t as good as back home.

The weather was really making a turn for the worse by the time I was back out on my bike. The clouds were thicker and darker and there was a hint of rain in the air. There had been a few light and brief showers as I’d cycled that morning, but the afternoon was looking ominous. I’d seen photos on social media of the ‘I amsterdam’ sign outside of the Rijksmuseum and when I first saw it in the distance, it was only a hint of the red and white amongst a sea of people. The crowd here was phenomenal and for the first time I felt like was seeing the Instagram effect. As I moved closer, I was astounded by the mass of people posing on or in front of this sign, with people dictating to and grumbling about the people in and around their shot. It was impossible to get a photo without a multitude of other people and I found myself taking photos of the crowd itself rather than the sign. It was an unbelievable scene. There were some distinctive buildings around here though, so I left the crowd to ogle at these for a while before it started to rain.

 

I wasn’t interested in visiting any of the museums, so when it looked like it might get quite wet, I decided to head for the nearby Heineken Brewery. Finding a bike park round the cornere from it, I joined the long crowd of people waiting to get in. If planned ahead, it is possible to book a time slot to turn up for, but on a whim, I had to wait in a queue for a space to open up. It took quite a while to get in, and the rain was just starting to get heavy as I finally made it indoors. It turned out to be both interesting and fun. In groups, we were led round an introductory section where staff talked about the history and the beer itself, and as we went deeper into the experience, the groups merged together to form a mass of people gradually meandering around the one-way system. Passing giant vats and an old cart horse, the experience became a bit more digital as we got shepherded into a large room for a CGI experience. Out the other side of that, we got our first taste of the beer with a small glass of Heineken.

 

The rest of the levels were quite interactive with the ability to film short movies, and pose for silly pictures. There was so much information about the history of and association with this famous beer, and I was amazed with how much time could be spent here. These latter levels were also completely blocked in with no windows to see the world outside, and it felt like a rabbit warren walking through small corridors and holes in the wall, up and down stairs with no idea where I’d come out. Where the route did end up was what I assume was down in a basement, in a busy and loud bar where you could claim the 2 glasses of Heineken that were part of the entry fee. This sort of thing is the one time I can feel a bit self conscious being on my own, especially as I’m introverted and won’t openly talk to strangers. Nonetheless, I found a spot with my beers to hover and I enjoyed them immensely. I’m really not into beer, but Heineken and Stella Artois are the two that I actually quite like, so I enjoyed these more than I had done the Tennents Lager on my recent trip to that brewery a week or so prior.

After quite some time in the cocoon of the Brewery, I was shocked to step outside to heavy rain. Back on my bike which was soaking wet, I pedalled back to the Rijksmuseum to discover that the crowd had thinned out a lot by the famous sign. The food trucks I’d spotted earlier were thankfully still open and I ordered some waffles to huddle up and eat under an umbrella as the workers started to pack up for the day. The rain got heavier and heavier until it was torrential so by the time I’d finished my waffles, there was barely a sole at the sign and I was able to snap a quick photograph before the cold drove me onwards. In the archway of the Rijksmuseum, there was a group of men playing classical music and they had drawn a decent crowd. It was a good excuse to shelter from the rain for a bit, but it became increasingly clear that the weather was not planning on abating. I had had a whole route planned back to the hostel to see a few more sights but the weather meant that my day was going to have to be curtailed as before long once back on the road, my waterproof jacket failed and I became soaked to the skin.

 

By the time I reached Amsterdam Centraal it was dark and gloomy and I was hungry again. I parked my bike and headed inside to eat at one of the eateries there. Grabbing a free spot in an otherwise busy restaurant, I waited and waited and waited to get served. I failed to grab anyone’s attention, and after an extended time drooling over other’s people meals and feeling positively ignored, I walked out and bought some food at the market shop to take back to the hostel. It was still grey the next morning when I made the now familiar trundle with my suitcase to the pier, across the IJ river and into the train station to head to the airport. I’d left with plenty of time and so had a lot of time to wander around the expansive terminal. The elephant parade was on display so there were several of these dotted around the terminal to look at and I laughed to myself when at the end of the terminal, I stepped outside to find another ‘I amsterdam’ sign with absolutely no-one about. The backdrop might not be as impressive as the Rijksmuseum, but that was okay. Finally it was time to leave Europe behind and head to Asia, to finally explore the city who’s airport I know so well.

Fife Coastal Path

For 117 miles (188km), the Fife Coastal Path leads the way round the coastal edge of the Kingdom of Fife, from the Firth of Tay to the Firth of Forth. Despite being officially opened some time ago, I hadn’t really heard much about it, but when my brother suggested we do a section of it on my most recent trip back to Scotland in September last year, I was happy to take the suggestion. With both brothers living in the southern suburbs of Glasgow, we set off early, leaving the dark clouds of the west coast behind for the not quite 2hr drive across to the east coast. We planned on sticking to the Forth estuary side, walking west from Crail to Elie, and with a bus to catch, we were eager to get the distance behind us. We made it to Elie and found a park with a brief bit of time ahead of the bus that took us through the various villages before we got off at Crail.

A long time ago, in what feels like another lifetime, I used to date a guy who had a pilot’s licence and his own plane. I remember flying over the patchwork of inland Fife and the coastal villages and it was a perspective of the coastline that most people won’t see with their own eyes. I was excited to see the coast from ground level and it had been so long since I’d explored Fife at all. Crail’s main street was compact with narrow side streets and the buildings had the village vibe going on with their brick look. Passing the distinctive Golf Hotel, we cut down Kirkwynd to find the coast and the starting point for our walk. The tide was out, displaying the sloping slabs and boulders of the coastline.

 

Just before the harbour, we cut up to the elevated path under the wall of the Watch House and this gave a great view onto Crail’s harbour, which would have looked prettier had the tide been in. As we entered the harbour proper, I was amused by a sign stating not to feed the gulls that had a big splat of bird poo on it, as if the gulls had taken vengeance. Cutting up to the road to skirt the back of the small beach, I spotted the Isle of May off the coast, an island which I’d visited many moons ago with my dad, and which is great for lovers of sea birds. The views over Crail were also spectacular as we cut round the corner and left the streets behind to rejoin the path.

The path remained low and gently undulating as we made progress along this long uninterrupted section. About halfway to the next village we found ourselves at Caiplie Caves, a tall red sandstone structure that had been shaped by the pounding waves after the retreat of the glaciers. More a series of inter-linking arches than true caves, they were fun to weave through and the colour of the red sandstone was divine. We’d pretty much been under a blue sky and warm sun up to now but as we continued west, the sky grew more hazy: the leading edge of the weather system that we’d left behind on the west coast that morning. Flat agricultural fields spread out to our right, and the gently lapping waves accompanied us to our left.

After this long rural section, we reached the relative sprawl of Cellardyke. After leaving the caravan park behind, the path became the road that lead down to the harbour and then through a maze of narrow streets lined by tightly knit brick buildings. At one point, in a gap between the buildings we spied a puffin sculpture that had been carved out of a tree stump. It’s not overly clear where Cellardyke ends and Anstruther begins, as the two appear to merge seamlessly into one another, but Anstruther is the hub of this coastline with the largest harbour of all that we would visit that day, and a tourist draw, making it a pretty busy place to be. After our solitude for the past few hours, it was a bit of a shock to be amongst the relative hustle and bustle of this harbour town.

 

Anstruther is famous for its fish and chips, being made with fresh catch of the day, and with the crowd, all of the eateries at the waterfront were busy. We were pretty hungry by this stage, but eventually settled for a sandwich out of a tiny little cafe at the far end of the harbour front. We ate them on the pier, staring out at the boats moored up and making the most of the warm day. On the opposite side of the pier was the view of the route ahead: the little beach framed by a small church and more quaint little buildings. I was enjoying walking through the village streets as much as I was the coastal views because the narrow streets felt historic and there were so many pretty and cute little cottages and inns, such as the Dreel Tavern on the way out of Anstruther.

 

We finally found ourselves back at another beach where the path resumed, taking us next to the local golf course. There were plenty of people on this part of the path as well as plenty of people out on the golf course next to us and I secretly wondered if anyone had ever been hit by a stray golf ball. At the far end of the golf course was the next fishing village, Pittenweem where we popped into a local shop for some local ice cream to fuel ourselves for the final few hours of the walk. The tide had remained quite a way out for our walk so far, which had made some sections look a little less picturesque, but past the main harbour, the lower water level had allowed for some pretty cool reflections of the nearby cottages in the water. The final section of Pittenweem took us past a row of pretty cottages which faced out to the sea, several of them with benches outside to enjoy the view from.

It was another long uninterrupted section that eventually brought us to a busier part of the walk by the St Monans windmill and salt works. Being a short distance from St Monans, there were a lot of locals out for a stroll here. We managed to get the windmill to ourselves for a bit before some of the other walkers arrived, but by this stage my eldest brother was getting a little antsy to be finished. The clouds had thickened up and the hours had ticked by and so we pushed on. Past yet another fishing harbour, and through more village streets we came face to face with the pretty and dominating Auld Kirk of St Monans. The first church on this spot dates from the 13th century and it commands the coastline with its little cemetery around it. Here there is a brief diversion with a high tide route and a low tide route, but we were able to stick to the lower route, skirting below the church and continuing onwards to a slightly more dramatic stretch of coastline.

 

With a few small cliffs along this next section, it was much more undulating, and a few historic ruins dotted the way. A round structure sits at a bend in the path and beyond here, the ruins of Newark Castle stand resolutely above a small cliff. Past the other side, the track cut down to sea level again meaning the ruins seemed to dominate the now grey skyline. Further along, the path cut through the middle of another ruin, this time the 15th century Ardross Castle, and past here we could finally see the structure that marked the end of our walk, Lady Janet Anstruther’s tower on a headland at the end of a long stretch of beach.

 

When we finally reached the end of the beach, the coastal path curved inland a little, and whilst I would have liked to have gone down to the tower, my brother was keen to get home and so I looked at it from afar before we cut across to Ruby Bay and then the large expanse of Elie harbour. It was the last chance to see the sea before the road cut up into the streets of the village and we found ourselves back at the church where we’d caught the bus, and back to our waiting car and the long drive home. Although the clouds had gradually moved in, the weather had remained overall pleasant and it had been a great chance to catch up with my brothers properly as well as a great introduction to this beautiful coastline. Goodness knows if I’ll ever get round to doing the other sections, but I’m sure they’ll be just as stunning.

Reunions

In 2011 I made the decision to move to the opposite side of the World. Although my official plan was to go for a year, deep down I knew this was likely to be much more long term than that, and so after selling as much of my belongings as I could, and boxing up the rest, I left my friends and family behind in December of that year for an unwritten future. I spent a month volunteering in the South Pacific before arriving in New Zealand and within the first couple of weeks of reaching Aotearoa, the Land of the Long White Cloud, I knew this country was to be my new home. As I had a return ticket, I used the flight home to spend Christmas with my family in 2012, and then I didn’t see them again until 2016. The long gap in between had become increasingly difficult, and I vowed to do my best to get back every couple of years if I could. With a nephew to meet and friends continuing to move forward with their lives, I had returned to Scotland in September last year with 2 weeks and no plans, so that I could dedicate my time to reunions and family time.

After a last minute change of plans in Amsterdam meant I arrived in Glasgow a day earlier than expected, it was finally time to meet my nephew. He had been in NICU during my visit in 2016 and so this was our first official meeting at the age of 2. I’d travelled for days to get there and I was met with a look of uncertainty followed by a prolonged cautious stare before eventually he decided that I was acceptable to interact with. That was the first time that my entire family were all together with my nephew, and whilst it couldn’t be further from my normal style of holiday, this epitomised exactly what this trip was all about: family.

The next day, after having some culinary reunions with some of the foods I miss from home, several of us went with my nephew to the Sea Life Centre at Loch Lomond Shores. Having moved away from Glasgow in 2006 to seek work, this was a place I had never been to, so wasn’t sure what to expect. It was a bit of a drizzly day so we headed straight into the centre out of the rain. I’m not a massive fan of zoos and aquariums, preferring to see wildlife in the wild, but for my nephew he was fascinated, and there was certainly enough things to keep him interested. He watched the otters swimming around and we hung around for their feeding talk. I love otters, and was lucky enough to have an encounter with one on a beach in the Outer Hebrides in 2010, but as they are usually wary of humans in the wild, it is not easy to see them in their natural habitat.

Passing through a short tunnel with fish swimming past us, there were some smaller exhibits before we reached the ray pool. There were some swiftly swimming rays and a couple of giant eels in there too. Nearby were some clown fish which are always a popular find. After my nephew had had his fill and the grown-ups had gotten an appetite, we headed back outside where it was now dry but still overcast. Although tucked away towards the end of Loch Lomond, there was still a hint of the surrounding mountains and forests and the paddle steamer Maid of the Loch was moored up nearby. Even with the threat of more rain, it was a pretty prospect. We headed into a cafe nestled amongst the row of shops before heading home for some haggis, neeps and tatties.

 

My parent’s back garden is very wildlife friendly which meant breakfast was often accompanied by some visitors outside to watch. Later on that next day, we took a family trip to Calderglen Country Park in East Kilbride. The weather really wasn’t that great so we weren’t able to make use of the park itself or go for any walks. Instead we headed to the glasshouse which had some meerkats and small monkeys amidst the plants and fish tanks. The meerkats were very active, digging and foraging whilst one stood on guard and their constant activity kept my nephew engaged. There was an ant colony nearby that had a rope system rigged up for them above our heads so you could watch the ants walk above you as they performed their daily chores of bringing back vegetation to the colony. When finally there was a break in the rain, we headed outside to the aviaries where we were all caught off guard by an African Grey parrot demanding some chips in a Glaswegian accent. It fascinates me how well these parrots can perform mimicry, and hearing one talk with a Glaswegian accent was just hysterical.

 

After ending the day with a friend from school and her partner, the following day was a sibling day where my two brothers and I headed to the east coast for a day of walking. We had done a similar thing in 2016 when they had joined me for day two of the West Highland Way. It is a rare occurrence for the three of us to be in each other’s company for more than a few hours since I moved out of home. We’ve spent longer time together in two’s but it was great to have a catch up as the three of us. Walking a section of the Fife Coastal Path took a large chunk of the day and aside from never having walked it before, I hadn’t been to this part of Scotland for a long time which was an added bonus.

 

I headed back into Glasgow city centre the next day to catch up with a couple of friends. I lived and worked in Aberdeen for 5.5 years before emigrating to New Zealand, and two of the friends I made there were able to meet up in Glasgow. I was amused by a comical busker on Buchanan Street as I headed to Queen Street Station to meet my friend coming down from the Granite City. As she wasn’t familiar with Glasgow, I took her to the Duke of Wellington statue and up to the observation deck at the Lighthouse so she could get a bit of a skyline view. When our other friend arrived from down south we headed to Princes Square for lunch. Full of designer shops and posh eateries, this was never a place I frequented when I lived in Glasgow during my student days. It felt like a total novelty playing ‘ladies who lunch’. Glasgow is a city full of familiarity but yet it still feels foreign to me. After eventually seeing my friends off on their respective transports, I took the familiar route to Central Station to catch a train to the south side. There was a new statue outside and a few new shops inside since last time I’d been past, but otherwise it was the same station I remembered from my nights of socialising in the city.

 

The weather the next day really wasn’t great so I hung out with my nephew indoors at his house. That evening, my friend from uni picked me up and we headed for dinner in Blantyre. The gastropub that we went to is famous for its desserts and has a large cabinet full of giant cakes. After a delicious meal, it was rude not to get a cake, but after ordering a chocolate eclair, I was presented with a foot long eclair loaded with cream. As divine as it was, there was no way I was finishing it, so the remains came home with me for my family to help me finish.

One of the tourist things I hadn’t gotten round to doing on my trip in 2016 was visiting Glasgow’s Transport Museum. It is one of the vague memories I still retain from my childhood, and the museum was moved and revamped some years ago, now a distinctive building on the bank of the River Clyde known as the Riverside Museum. Although autumn, we were still in the season for the boat that crosses from Govan on the south shore, so whilst my brother, sister-in-law and nephew drove straight to the museum for parking, my parents, other brother and myself drove to Govan and caught the little ferry over. I recognised many of the exhibits on display from the original museum, and whilst a little jumbled and cramped together in places, it was interesting enough to keep the various generations engaged. My parents could reminisce about the Glasgow of their childhood, and my nephew was enthralled with the trains and trams.

Moored up immediately outside is the Tall Ship Glenlee, which can be boarded and explored. We’d got there later than planned so unfortunately didn’t have time to get on her before it closed, but the promenade outside meant I could get a view of the river and Glasgow skyline that I hadn’t seen for so long. Some much needed investment in the city ahead of the 2014 Commonwealth Games has really revitalised the river bank which I always remember as being such a dump when I used to live there. The distinctive outline of the SECC on the north shore, and the science centre with its infamous tower on the south shore framed the river Clyde. Eventually, as the museum was reaching closing time, we caught the ferry back across to Govan to head home. My brother and I later went out to see Scottish cyclist Mark Beaumont talking about his cycling adventures around the World.

 

After a day spent hanging out with my school friend and her kids, my nephew was in hospital for a routine visit the next morning, so I wasn’t going to be able to see him till later on. I decided to go for a walk round the suburbs I grew up in, and knowing that my high school had been bulldozed and replaced, I walked first to there to see how it had changed and beyond there I couldn’t believe how much housing and development had occurred. When I was young, my parent’s house was about a 10-15 min walk to the edge of the city and after that was miles of countryside. Fast forward a few decades and it is now a 30min walk to reach the countryside, and the paddock with the horses is gone, and the farm where I used to milk the cows is now a housing estate. The southern suburbs of Glasgow have exploded so much that for the people who live there, there is really no reason to go into the city at all with entertainment and shopping complexes all within easy reach.

 

I found myself eventually at Rouken Glen Park, location of various school events. I found wood carvings, maintained gardens and round the edge, a wilderness area through a woodland. Hidden here was waterfalls and old stone structures, and despite being a weekday, there were many people making use of the trails that cut through. Towards the southern end, I found myself at one of the park’s more well known features: a multi-tiered waterfall that flows under a stone arched bridge. I was amused to discover that the railing on the bridge had become the local ‘love-locket’ site. Copying the more famous locations in Europe where loved ones are immortalised on an engraved lock that gets attached to a bridge, there were plenty of them here too, and I read some of the engravings with feigned interest before walking round the nearby pond and then heading home.

 

After an afternoon playing with my nephew, my mum and I caught up with my aunt and cousin for dinner at Intu Braehead. I hadn’t been here before so my cousin gave me a tour to show me the indoor ski slopes and ice climbing centre that she takes her kids to. Next to the climbing centre near the entrance, I’d been eyeing up the giant helter skelter whilst my mum and I had waited for them to arrive, so I didn’t need much encouragement to have a go on it, and my cousin joined me for a slide down before we went for dinner. I hadn’t seen my cousin since her wedding in 2010 so it was great to have a chinwag after all these years.

But all good things must come to an end unfortunately and all too soon it was the last day and we spent it as a family together. Every time I go home, I insist on a group photo and this was the first time to include my nephew. I had an early morning flight back to Amsterdam the next day, so as always it was a sad farewell, this time before even going to bed as it was too early for my parents to get up the next morning. My brother kindly offered to get up and drive me to the airport at stupid o’clock in the morning, and before I knew it I was leaving Scottish soil behind once more.

Return to Glasgow

With my last minute plans to leave Amsterdam a day early, I threw my family for a bit of a loop, but thankfully they were still able to pick me up from the airport when I flew into Glasgow in the late afternoon. It had been over 2 years since I’d last seen them, but it took no time at all to slip back into the usual family dynamics as my dad drove us home through the rush hour traffic. My visit home last September was over 12 years after I’d moved away from the city and although I will always think of Glasgow as my home town, it is almost as foreign to me now as any other city I visit. The Glasgow that I remember from my student days has continued to morph and grow in my absence, and as such I love to play tourist every time I return.

On my previous visit in 2016, I spent 6 weeks gallivanting around Scotland and Iceland and although I had a fantastic time, by the end of it I felt that I hadn’t spent enough time with my family. So this time round, with just 2 weeks in the country, I went with no plans at all in order to have quality time with them, and especially to get to know my nephew who had spent the entirety of my last visit in NICU, completely oblivious to my presence. Emigrating to the other side of the World has meant sacrificing being present in my family’s lives and I have often felt jealous hearing about their time spent together and especially missing out on my nephew growing up. But meeting my nephew properly for the first time would have to wait as my unexpected early arrival meant he had plans the day after I arrived.

In 2016, I had a cracking day in Glasgow walking the Mural Trail, and there had been some new additions to the route since then, so I headed into the city on my first full day at home to take a wander around. I wasn’t so lucky with the weather this time unfortunately, but it could have been worse, so I spent the day making use of my legs and walking everywhere. I headed first to George Square which is surrounded by some iconic buildings, and was busy with people taking breaks from their work day. The distinctive pink banners stating ‘People Make Glasgow’ adorned the many lampposts surrounding the square and nearby the entire facade of a building had been turned pink with the same statement emblazoned on it. East of here was the beautiful mural painted by artist Smug of St Mungo as a baby. It ties in with Smug’s other portrait of St Mungo which I’d seen on my last visit to the city.

 

From George Street onto Duke Street I found myself at the Tennent’s Brewery. I’m not really a lager fan, and was just here for some more mural spotting, but on a whim (partly because some rain was threatening) I decided to sign into a brewery tour. A small group of us got shown round the various parts of the site before being taken back to a bar for a tasting session. My pint of Tennent’s lager was presented with a much more acceptable head than the Heineken I’d received in Amsterdam a few days prior, and we also got to taste some specialty brews including some much stronger ales. Suffice to say I was a little tipsy by the time I headed back out on the streets, cutting down the east-end streets of Glasgow to reach Glasgow Green, a place I hadn’t been to for an incredibly long time.

 

I found myself at the large Doulton fountain which was framed by the People’s Palace, one of the city’s museums. The sun was trying desperately to break through the clouds again, and after circling round the fountain to look at the ornate depictions on its circumference, I headed into the People’s Palace to look around. I’m a bit of a museum snob: I’m easily disappointed by them, with only a handful rating highly in my mind, so I wasn’t really fussed spending much time looking at the displays. I circled through only glancing at them, heading to the conservatory to wander around the plants before stopping for a late lunch in the cafe. I was excited to find they served coronation chicken sandwiches, one of those things that despite loving, had forgotten even existed. I’ve never seen it anywhere other than Scotland, so was quick to order and shovel one down when it came.

 

I had meant to wander through Glasgow Green to see the monument that had been erected for the 2014 Commonwealth Games but forgot about it, so instead of cutting through the Green, I headed back up to the main road to head west back into the city. On route, I found a couple more murals that I hadn’t seen including 1 of 3 that depicts Billy Connolly, or the Big Yin, one of Scotland’s most famous comedians and personalities. This first one I didn’t actually like, and the paint that had been used was too reflective so it was actually difficult to photograph. The rain had arrived by now, so I didn’t linger long, continuing on to the Merchant City.

 

Whilst Edinburgh is often lauded over by many foreign visitors, Glasgow has so many beautiful buildings and is brimming with statues and monuments. At the start of the Merchant City is the turreted clock tower which is faced by a mix of old and new style buildings. Whilst the Trongate at eye level looks like a collection of pubs and shops, a simple raising of the eye to the top half of the buildings reveals some stunning architecture. Heading along the Trongate towards Argyle Street brought back many memories of shopping trips with my mum when I was a kid, as I used to get brought to this part of the city to get clothes for the new school year.

 

Nearby was another Billy Connolly mural, my favourite of the three, and past here I headed into the St Enoch Centre shopping mall which had been revamped since I’d last been there, which was when I used to still live in Glasgow. Out the other side was the final Billy Connolly mural, overlooking the beer garden of a nearby pub. Unfortunately the rain returned with a vengeance, and after taking some photographs, it was time to make a hasty retreat so I headed into some shops to wait out the rain. Eventually though, the sun returned and I found the last of the murals I’d wanted to see, down an alleyway of Argyle Street, before heading up Buchanan Street, one of the city’s main shopping thoroughfares, and another street with some beautiful buildings if you look up.

 

When I’d played tourist back in 2016, I had gone to the Lighthouse and headed up to an indoor observation room. I’d discovered later that I had completely missed a higher outdoor observation deck, so this time I headed back to the museum again to suss it out. Unlike the indoor viewing area which can be reached via elevator, the outdoor area involves climbing a spiral staircase and the outer area is quite cramped. But boy is it worth it for the view overlooking the rooftops of the city. Again, I’m totally biased when it comes to my love for Glasgow architecture, and although there are some modern buildings juxtaposed against the old, there is so much history evident looking across the older buildings that disappear into the distance, with domes and turrets poking up at regular intervals. From this vantage point, the bright pink facade of the ‘People Make Glasgow’ building could be seen once more behind Strathclyde University.

 

Finally, back in the rain, I headed to my favourite statue in the city, the Duke of Wellington, which stands proudly outside the Gallery of Modern Art on Queen Street. Famous for its permanent attire of a traffic cone, this statue sums up Glaswegians for me as well as showing that people really do make Glasgow. Edinburgh is a great city, but I will always love Glasgow more and I always wander it struggling to hide the grin that the sound of a Glaswegian accent puts on my face. Sometimes I can feel quite sad about the fact I don’t have a Glaswegian accent. It’s gone in my favour whilst abroad as people can usually understand me very well, but when I hear the Weegie patter spilling out Weegie banter, my little heart swells with pride like it does to the sound of bagpipes, and secretly I wish I sounded like I belong there.

Exploring Amsterdam

I’ve spent an inordinate amount of my life transiting in airports, and some airports have stolen more of my life than others. As a former resident of Scotland, London Heathrow was my often unavoidable transit stop to reach a large portion of overseas destinations. After yet more arduously long layovers at LHR on my previous two return trips to my Homeland since emigrating to New Zealand, I vowed to do my damndest to avoid this soul-sucker of an airport. So when it came to my most recent visit back to Scotland in September of last year, I had done some searching of alternate routes and decided that Amsterdam would be a great alternative, given that I had never been there before and it had great connections to Glasgow, my final destination.

My style of travel differs from one holiday to another. I stay in hostels in some places, hotels in others; and I’ve done B&Bs and motels too. Some trips are planned to the hour, others are spent winging it and making it up as I go along. I might be on a budget on this trip, or able to splurge on that trip. But I will always ensure I know how to get myself from the airport to my first night’s accommodation, and it is often the ease of transit to said accommodation that determines where I will stay. The city of canals and rivers has plenty of options and locations to choose from. The city’s main sights are spread about the city and there is a multitude of transport options to get around, so after doing some research on how I would get from the airport and which parts of the city I wanted to avoid, I ended up booking in at the Clink Noord hostel in Amsterdam Noord, an area of the city across the IJ river from the main city sprawl.

After 2 flights and my customary transit in Singapore’s Changi airport, I arrived in Amsterdam tired and eager to dump my stuff and shower. The train took me straight into Amsterdam Centraal in no time at all and then I just had to trundle my bag out to the river side, jump on the free ferry across the river and trundle across the canal and round the corner to the hostel. It was too early to check into the hostel but a shower was at least an option, so once freshened up I got straight back outside again to explore. I had 1.5 days in the city before moving onward, so with this full day, it was all about walking the city. Taking the free ferry back to the city side, it was all about my two feet and I prepared to walk until they gave out.

Amsterdam is a very busy city. The pavements are crammed full of people and the roads are as filled with cyclists as they are with cars. It took a lot of concentration to make sure I wasn’t mowed down by somebody in control of wheels. The canals full of boats begins immediately past the main train station, and following a vague route, I wove my way towards the Jordaan district. I really could not recount the exact route I followed that day. I just wanted an overview of the city and its highlights and had a rough idea of where some of the city’s more distinctive buildings were. This was definitely one of those trips where I’d done a bit of research, but was effectively making up my plans as I went. I’d missed European architecture, and although the streets can at times be narrow and struggle to remain fit for purpose in a modern World, I was in love with the style of the place, quick to acquire that grin that covers my face when I go to a place for the first time that I’ve long read about or seen photographs of. As I followed first one canal and then another, I was accompanied intermittently by the noise of a passing canal boat. They came in all shapes and sizes.

 

As I approached Anne Frank Huis, the streets got busier and busier. By avoiding Centrum, I’d managed to escape the worst of the crowds so far, but now I was in touristville and everywhere was packed. I managed to find a vacant table across the canal from Anne Frank Huis and settled in to drink some terrible coffee and consume a tasty sandwich while watching the World go by. People watching is a favourite pastime of mine. The sun was vaguely trying to push through the clouds and it was nice to feel a bit of warmth having come from the Southern Hemisphere’s winter.

Once satiated, I pressed on with my wanderings. At the bridge by Westerkerk, I turned deeper into Jordaan in search of interesting side streets and photogenic canals. I had no desire to go to Anne Frank Huis and as the crowds outside attested it needs to be booked ahead. I do like historical sites and some museums, but I’m not a museumophile and don’t feel the need to go to a museum just because it’s famous. I did however stop at the Anne Frank monument on my way past as I gradually headed into the melee of Centrum.

 

I eventually found myself at De Dam near the National Monument. There was a buskers show taking place and the performer seemed to be stirring up a bit of controversy as there was some tension between him and a local man who was heckling him. This place was surrounded by distinctive buildings, and despite the crowds, I hung around for a bit taking photographs and acknowledging the immense number of tourists. Heading north from here seemed to be one of the main shopping districts and tram lines which I was quick to leave behind.

 

Nearing Amsterdam Centraal, which is prettier from this side of it than the IJ side, I picked my way via the canal system to the Red Light District. It is probably a very different experience at night, but most of the windows were inactive during the daytime. Instead it was an interesting and curious region to explore and the aroma of marijuana hung thick in the air in places. This was another busy place, full of tourists and devoid of locals. I ogled at shop windows as I went and contemplated popping into the Condomerie for some novelty condoms before deciding to pass on it. I also now know where to go if I ever want cheap sex toys whilst in Europe.

 

There are some pretty buildings here too, including Oudekerk. I really loved the Dutch churches and took detours to see as many as were nearby. The tall narrow buildings that line the canals are generally very picturesque too and I spent a lot of time looking up as I wandered. Eventually I found myself at Amstel, the large canal to the south of Centrum which was broader than all the other canals I’d seen so far and was full of boats powering along in one direction or another. I’d previously spotted a boat tour that looked a little more low key compared to some of the larger commercial canal boats, and decided I’d head back to go for a canal trip. However, I’d wandered in such a maze of streets and canals, that I couldn’t quite find it again and after a large chunk of the day on my feet, I decided it was time to head back across IJ and take a break.

 

After checking into the hostel properly, I organised a ticket for the A’Dam Toren which was almost next door. After posing for some obligatory silly photos as part of the entrance fee, I headed up to the rooftop where there was a 360o view and a bar. It was a cracking view in all directions, from the expanse of IJ either side, to the city rooftops beyond Amsterdam Centraal, and elsewhere the more industrial and residential portions of the city. There was even a glass floor inside offering a view directly down to the pavement below. After taking my fill of the view, it seemed only right to order a Heineken at the bar, but I was a little shocked to be presented it with such a head on top, accounting for around 20% of the proffered drink. In the UK, the British Beer & Pub Association states that poured beer shouldn’t be served with a head exceeding 5%, so this was a strange concept to me. I didn’t complain as I was on holiday and didn’t care enough to be pernickety but on enquiring with a Dutch friend, it turned out that this larger head was normal in the Netherlands. Eventually hunger took me back across the river again, and I joined the large queue at one of the city’s recommended fast food joints to partake in some friets, the quintessential Dutch fries with sauce.

 

My original flights had me in Amsterdam for 2.5 days, but after arriving in the country, I was worried about a short connection time on my way home so opted to split my Amsterdam trip in two. So the next day I had only the morning ahead of an afternoon flight to Scotland. As I didn’t know whether I would ever return to the Netherlands or not, it made sense to seek out a molen, or windmill, one of the iconic Dutch landmarks. Being in Amsterdam Noord, I noticed on my map that there was a molen within walking distance. About 40 minutes following the Noordhollandsch kanaal brought me to Krijtmolen d’Admiraal which was built in 1792. I’ve seen windmills before in Denmark but that seemed so long ago and I was glad that I’d gone out my way to see this one.

 

My last exploration before heading to the airport was the NDSM Werf on the bank of the IJ river. With the aid of Google Maps I took as direct a route from the molen as I could and this meant wandering through residential and industrial parts of the city. Whilst I didn’t see anything of particular note, it was still interesting to see the real Amsterdam, away from the tourist hot spots and the crowds. I saw nothing but locals going about their daily business and it was a side of Amsterdam that most visitors won’t see. My reason for visiting NDSM Werf was because I’d read that it was a bit of a mecca for graffiti art which I am a fan of. There wasn’t a lot of activity when I got there, and the place was more industrial than the industrial chic that I was led to expect, but there was plenty of artwork on the walls and even a crane that had been converted into a hotel. I absorbed as much of the art as I could, including a stunning mural of Anne Frank by the incredible Brazilian artist Kobra, before working my way back to the hostel to grab my belongings. There was still plenty of things to see on my return, but my tired legs could attest to the amount of ground I’d covered on my time in the city so far. Now, there was just a few hours between me and seeing my family for the first time in 2 years.

Christchurch Coastal Pathway

Although its moniker is the Garden City, Christchurch has some great coastline within its reach. Several of the eastern suburbs sit on either the banks of an estuary or overlook the Pacific Ocean. The Port Hills behind the city provide many resident with their weekend playground, and while I enjoy getting up there myself, I also love to breathe in the salty air from sea level. The Christchurch Coastal Pathway forms part of the lesser known Christchurch 360, a path still in its beta phase, which circumnavigates the city. Spanning the foreshore between Ferrymead and Sumner, it is a nice flat gradient to follow, and is a great local walk to do on a sunny day. I’ve now walked it a few times after first discovering it in August last year, and always park in Ferrymead to walk first in the Sumner direction before returning, using Sumner as a great spot to break up the walk with a coffee or lunch. This is purely preference though, as it doesn’t really matter where you join the walk, whether you walk one-way or return, or which direction you start off in. The Sumner bus serves the route, making it easy to do as much or as little of it as desired.

From the little parking area in Ferrymead near the road bridge, the route cuts across the road bridge that was completely overhauled after the 2011 earthquake. The shared walking/biking route that hugs the road as it follows the estuary margin is also a new addition after the local road system was upgraded as part of the area’s rebuild. Depending on whether the tide is in or out, this first section can look very different. When the tide is in, the water is right up at the sea wall, and when it is out, there is a large mudflat that often has herons or shags hanging out on it, and occasionally the odd cockle gatherer will be brave enough to head out. Between Mount Pleasant and Redcliffs, the road and walkway form a causeway.

At Redcliffs, the path diverts away from the main road so there is less traffic accompanying you as you skirt through then round some swanky houses. The view across the water is to South Shore, at the south end of the New Brighton beach spit. Where the path turns to cut back up to the main road, a small beach is tucked in to the corner. The path now follows the main road for the rest of the route out east. Skirting past the leading edge of Barnett Park, one of the city’s many green spaces, it curves round into Moncks Bay where the opening of the estuary into the Pacific Ocean becomes apparent.

 

The section that sweeps round Moncks Bay into the western end of Sumner beach is still to be upgraded and is much rougher in comparison (although not really that rough at all). It is in the process of being upgraded as the road is, and the final sweep round Moncks Bay has already changed from when I first walked this track. Under a brilliant blue sky with the sun overhead, the colour of the water, like so much of the sea around Banks Peninsula, is a stunning shade of blue, and when I first walked it last year, there was a frame of purple flowers in bloom at the far end of the bay. Sometimes people fish off the rocks below here, and this is also the section where the path is at its narrowest, making it a bit of a squeeze if there is a lot of foot traffic.

 

Once at Sumner, you can choose to cut down onto the beach and walk the sand, or stay up on the path and follow the road. Either way, Sumner offers plenty of choices to replenish yourself in reward for the exercise, with a multitude of bars, cafes and ice cream shops. If the tide is out, I always take a meander through the cave that divides Sumner beach in two. Sometimes I take the steps up to the top of the rock to look down on the beach and get an elevated view over the many beach goers. When you’ve had your fill, you can either hop on a bus or make your way back the same way.

 

The first time I walked the route I took a detour at Barnett Park on the way back. A few tracks lead off from here including one that cuts up the hillside to Summit Road on the top of the Port Hills. One of the park’s main tracks has been closed since the 2011 earthquakes, and as such is no longer being maintained, but this doesn’t stop people following the now unmarked route that splits off the track up to the summit. As I hadn’t done it previously and because it is unmarked, I initially missed the turnoff, climbing higher up than necessary before working out where I’d gone wrong. Once on the right track though, there was a little bit of light bush bashing as parts of it were overgrown, hiding your foot fall. It was rough and muddy in places and the narrowness of it on the slope made it interesting in places when there was the need to let someone heading in the opposite direction pass by.

 

When the track comes out below the cave, it is especially apparent why this track is listed as closed: the steep wooden staircase that heads up into the cave is missing multiple steps and part of the bannister. In my opinion, hiking and outdoor adventures should always be at user risk. I can understand why the city council doesn’t want to be held responsible for incidents that occur in its area of jurisdiction, but I also think that a walker should be as able to make a risk assessment to follow a track as a hiker would out in the wilderness. In other words if you’re fit and prepared for the route that you’re following, it should be your decision to take it. So if using an unstable staircase is outwith your comfort zone, then this track is not for you. But there are plenty of people that still enjoy this track, many with children, and once you’ve scrambled up into the cave you can see why: it’s a great view down into the park and the estuary across from it.

 

Once back out of the cave, the track loops round to head down on the opposite side of the valley. Shortly after leaving the cave behind, a large boulder sat where it found its resting place post-earthquake, blocking the route. Foot passage over the years has worn out a detour, and this return stretch is as rough and overgrown as the way up is. Glancing back from time to time, the cave grows smaller before disappearing round the corner, and eventually back at Barnett Park, I cut back across the road to rejoin the Coastal Pathway and make my way back to my car at Ferrymead.

Botanic D’Lights

Just two months after fulfilling a dream of attending the light spectacular of Vivid Sydney, my home town of Christchurch had its own little winter light festival in August. Set within the Christchurch Botanic Gardens and the nearby Arts Centre, this exceedingly popular event was never going to reach the dizzy heights of its Aussie neighbour but it was a great event to make the most of the long winter nights. I’d attended Botanic D’Lights a couple of years prior and this bigger event pulled in large crowds each night.

Queen Charlotte Sound

As much as I love being in the mountains, I love being by the sea, and as much as I love travelling, I love cetaceans and spotting them in the wild. Not only have I been fortunate enough to travel in 6 continents, but I’ve also had the privilege of spotting wild dolphins and whales in 5 of them. Last August, I took the opportunity to make the most of an off-season deal on a whale watching trip in my home country of New Zealand, and so, despite an unsavoury looking weather forecast, I headed up north from Christchurch to Picton, the gateway to the Queen Charlotte Sound.

I had things to do at home and as the weather wasn’t looking that flash, I didn’t set off till late.  Following the Kaikoura earthquake in 2016, State Highway 1 (SH1) has changed quite a bit where it reaches the coastline south of Kaikoura. The roadworks meant the drive north was longer than it used to be, but it was fascinating to see the extent of the repairs that had taken place, and I found myself driving over brand new land that had been reclaimed from the sea. I arrived in Picton in the darkness, checked into my motel and set off in search of dinner. There’s not a lot of exciting choice for eating out in Picton but I found somewhere with space and ordered a Caiparinha, a drink that conjoured up a lot of memories about my time in the Galapagos Islands.

 

It was dry but overcast the next morning, and I had to be down at the pier early for the E-Ko Tour which would take me out through the sounds in search of humpback whales. I’ve been lucky enough to spot my favourite species of whale off the coast of 5 different countries, and I’ve also never been on a whale-watching trip and failed to spot one, so I was excited to add country number 6 but nervous that this could be the first failed spot. None-the-less, the steel sky and low clouds actually created a hauntingly beautiful scene, and in the end I was happy enough to just get out on the water.

 

We didn’t have to travel far to find some activity. Some Australasian gannets, one of my favourite sea bird species were bobbing on the surface and a little further ahead some more were diving into the water and in between, the arched backs of dusky dolphins broke the still water’s surface. The dolphins came right up to and under the boat, popping up all around us as they rounded up the fish below the surface. There was plenty to see no matter where you stood on the boat, and we bobbed around for a while until the dolphins and birds began to dissipate. We cruised slowly around the vicinity watching the stragglers as they left, eventually being passed by the Interislander ferry as it headed into port.

 

As part of the tour we headed towards the mouth of the sound, stopping at the remains of the Perano whaling station, an eerie remnant to the days when the whale watching nation was a whale hunting nation. In fact, the hunting of the migrating humpback whales in the Cook Strait, like so many places around the World, led to their near local extinction. Now though, in an ironic twist, some of the ex-whalers became whale spotters, trading their harpoons for log books, their skills making them useful for scientific studies into the species’ return to the local waters. The whaling station was a conglomerate of rusting metal: large vats where blubber and oil were heated, rendered or stored. The smell in its day must have been foul. Even with the photographs on the wall of the hut and the video that we watched, it was hard to imagine what this place was like in full swing, and as a cetacean lover, it is hard to fathom how the days of whale hunting are not that far behind us. This particular whaling station closed only 54 years ago.

 

A light drizzle began to fall as we waited to board our boat again. The Bluebridge ferry, the other inter-island ferry, turned into the channel south of Arapawa Island, and before long we were out on the water again, heading for the Cook Strait. The rain thankfully never got heavier than a drizzle, but alas despite zooming up the South Island’s Cook Strait coast as far as Glasgow Bay, we saw no whales and for the first time ever, I failed to get a whale sighting on a whale watching trip. I was rather disheartened when we eventually returned to the channel after a long time bobbing on the Strait’s waters.

 

As we headed back to Picton though, we happened upon some dusky dolphins again and this was enough to cheer me up. Dusky’s are social and playful and were happy to show off around the boat. I would have happily bobbed around out there for hours if they were prepared to hang around with us. Eventually though we had to head back to Picton. It remained grey overhead, but that didn’t stop me stretching my legs along the waterfront at Picton, looking out at the view with the ferries in the port.

 

After lunch in a local cafe, it was time to head home to Christchurch. Reaching Kaikoura, I was tired, so drove out to the Peninsula to take a break. Hauled out on the boardwalk near the car park was a large New Zealand fur seal, snoozing away, mostly oblivious to the numerous people posing near it to take photographs. Despite the sign though, a few times people insisted on getting too close, jumping in fright when the seal barked in their direction. I had been watching it from the seat of my car, but I decided to head down onto the rocks on the seaward side of the peninsula to stretch my legs a little. It was also overcast here too, and a little cold, but I took some time to watch another fur seal that was sitting up on some rocks across a channel from me. I’m a major wildlife enthusiast, and am always excited to see these marine mammals no matter how many times I spot them. After I’d got my fill as the light was lowering, it was time to head back on the road and travel south, negotiating the roadworks and joining the crowds on their return to the city ahead of a new week of work.

Taylors Mistake to Godley Head

Being able to look out over the sea and hear the sounds of the ocean makes me happy, so it probably comes as no surprise that one of my favourite local walks to do is a coastal gem. Heading east from Christchurch’s city centre, the road soon joins the coast of Pegasus Bay and follows the coastline to Sumner, a popular outer suburb. Cutting through to the far side, the road cuts steeply and hairpins its way up and over the headland to reach the end of the road at Taylors Mistake, a beach nestled deep within a bay. There is little here aside from the beach itself and an amenities block, but with a walking trail, mountain bike tracks and surf breaks, people are drawn here in droves and the car park can often be overflowing.

The coastal walk to Godley Head takes about 3hrs return to follow the same track in both directions. It can be made shorter by taking a short-cut back across the shared-use bike tracks but I always like to maintain that closeness to the sea. The start of the track can either be reached by cutting across the large green field and behind the row of beach shacks, or by going down to the beach and walking to the far end where a set of stairs cut into the hill lead you up to the same place. Once on the track, it quickly leads away from the beach, providing a multitude of views back over the beach itself.

 

The headland varies from green to brown depending on how dry the season has been, and it is regularly cut into by the sea creating a weaving track as it hugs the coastline above the dazzling blue water. There have been a few upgrades since I moved to Christchurch in 2012 and as it is so popular, it is a very well maintained track and usually busy with people, especially on sunny weekend days. Eventually it passes a cut-down to a bach that is down the hillside and nestled among the trees, and beyond this side-trail, the main track starts to zig-zag up the hillside to reach the eastern end of the Port Hills. Suddenly, the entire Pacific Ocean opens up in front of you and the track begins to cut south.

 

With the expanse of the Pacific Ocean to your left, the mouth of Lyttelton harbour becomes increasingly visible and beyond that, the disappearing coastline of Banks Peninsula. Again the track ziz-zags up the hillside where it reaches the remains of a World War II gunnery. The port within the harbour was protected by this coastal armament in case of attack from the ocean or the air. More often than not the main part of the World War II remains is locked up behind a chained gate, but sometimes it is open to the public. The last time I walked the track, it was closed for an undefined period for the purposes of preservation.

 

Once past that, the track cuts briefly inland past some buildings and through a small copse of trees before snaking its way towards the mouth of Lyttelton harbour, and from here, it passes yet more World War II remnants as it hugs the harbour coastline towards the car park at Godley Head. Godley Head marks the end of Summit Road, the road that traverses the summit of the Port Hills, and as such, this track can be approached from either direction. Near the Godley Head car park, a small bench provides a glorious view, and if you time it right, there may be some ships going in or out of the harbour to offer an added bit of interest. Then, it is simply a matter of either reversing the route back round the coast, or crossing the road from the car park to join one of the shared-use mountain bike tracks to take the short-cut back.

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