MistyNites

My Life in Motion

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.

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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.

Winter in Tekapo

Last year, my partner and I only had two coinciding full weekends off the whole year, one in June and one in December. I don’t know whether a week day 9-5 job is still classed as the norm, but neither me nor my partner know that life and as such, scheduling weekends away far ahead of time is just how it rolls with us. So I had found us a nice place to stay on the shore of Lake Tekapo for a summer weekend break in December, but a change of plans meant rescheduling it for the June weekend instead and when that weekend rolled around, we duly headed off across the mountain passes to get there. As it turned out though, the weekend didn’t quite work out the way I had wanted it to.

Being in the middle of winter, there was enough snow on the surrounding mountains to paint a pretty picture. We arrived early enough to have several hours of daylight ahead of us and it was gloriously sunny, although cold. We couldn’t check in to our accommodation yet so we parked up in the main car park and wandered along the lake shore. I had been here 7 months prior on a road trip with my brother who was over visiting from Scotland, but my partner hadn’t been in quite some time and the village has undergone a bit of change since he’d last been. Yet more development was in the process even as we visited. It is one of so many changes occurring around New Zealand in response to massively increasing tourist numbers. I was beginning to feel a little under the weather that day, but not enough to stop me from enjoying a nice cocktail at the pub before we headed to check in to our place for the next couple of nights.

 

I’d been excited by the lakefront location of our cottage until as we headed up the driveway we discovered that not only was lakeside a bit farfetched, but our ‘cottage’ was in fact a converted garage, hidden behind another building. It was also exceedingly dated inside, and more importantly for the time of year, not very warm at all. My partner and I just looked at each other silently as we walked around rather disappointed. It had not been a cheap booking either, and my partner thought it was hysterical to bring it up for some time to come. Nonetheless, we made a point of getting straight back out again and wandering around another section of the lake before the short winter afternoon came to a close. I stayed by the lake to watch the changing colours of the sunset for as long as I could tolerate the coldness, before heading inside.

 

In the darkness, we headed to the far end of the village to the Tekapo Springs where 3 pools, shaped to coincide with the nearest lakes, offered a thermal experience. It was cold to nip between the pools but in the water itself it was divine. It’s no Hanmer Springs, but with the steam rising into the darkness, it was nice enough. Back at our cottage though it was freezing and the heating failed to make much headway in the large open plan living space. Thankfully the bedroom was much more compact so we were able to stay warm in the bed and get a reasonable sleep.

The next morning was another beautiful day. I still wasn’t feeling completely right but after breakfast we took a drive up to the Mount John observatory that overlooks the lake. One of these days, I’ll do the walk up, but circumstances have always led to me driving up. From the car park and the observatory itself, the views over snow capped mountains and the glistening blue lakes is divine. There is a cafe here which is always busy, and now there is a fee to drive up when it used to be free, but whether you walk up or drive up, it is a definite must-do viewing spot in the area. From here we took a drive along the road that heads up between Lakes Tekapo and Alexandrina, turning round at Lake McGregor.

 

We had reservations for an early dinner at one of the eateries in town which was delicious. But unfortunately, back at the cottage, we struggled to get the place warmed up and to top it off, the anxiety which I had been living with for a couple of years by that point, hit me with a vengeance as I fretted over something outwith my control and started to have a panic attack. Sadly, this is not the first time that my mental health issues has tainted a trip away. It is an affliction with no logic, hitting me out of the blue at times, and often interfering with my down time. I have wasted many days off over the past couple of years, wallowing in my angst and feeling ill. So it was no great surprise that I felt rundown and pretty blah the next day, and I didn’t feel like doing anything. In fact I felt feverish and ended up just sleeping through portions of the drive home. Tekapo had been as beautiful as ever, but it hadn’t quite been the weekend away that I’d hoped for.

Vivid Sydney

I was still living in Scotland when the inaugural Vivid Sydney occurred. I didn’t know of its existence prior to my move to the Southern Hemisphere and I can’t quite remember at what point I found out about it, but I had started to harbour a desire to see it for myself, and last year, for the event’s 10th anniversary, I hopped across the ditch to experience it. Whilst the crowds were a little suffocating at times, the event itself was incredible, and is definitely better witnessed in first hand rather than just from photographs or videos. The atmosphere was at times electric, and the variety of installations was incredible. With this year’s event just around the corner, I’m already wishing I could go back.

 

DARLING HARBOUR

 

TARONGA ZOO

 

CIRCULAR QUAY & THE ROCKS

 

THE ROYAL BOTANIC GARDENS

Familiarity

I was hitting it off with the weather on my winter break to Sydney, and woke up to another day of sunshine. I’d bagged a package deal at the hostel I was staying in which included a choice of breakfast options, so I filled up before heading out to explore. Many parts of Sydney are exceptionally familiar to me, and the walk from the Rocks down to Circular Quay is one of them. Being a Friday, many people were heading to work but there were also plenty of tourists around. Armed with my Opal card, a must-have for public transport in the city, I jumped on the ferry to Manly, somewhere I tend to go every time I’m in the city. I know the sights on route very well and always sit outside to watch the city buildings pass me by.

 

From Manly wharf, I passed up the main thoroughfare to the beach which had more bird life on it than people. This place is usually heaving with people in the summer months or on the weekends, so although there were plenty of people on the promenade, it was strange to see the beach so empty. I always do the Manly beach to Shelly beach coastal walk, but I’d never before headed to the opposite end of the beach, so for the first time I took the promenade north instead of south. A this northern end there was a rockpool, a common finding on many of the beaches around here, and behind the beach, the piled up sand blocked the exit of Manly creek, creating a bit of a lagoon. I cut up to the promenade and followed this round to head up the side of the creek, where parents with their children hung out on the grassy areas around it.

 

After a while, I turned back and followed the promenade back to the south end of Manly beach and round to Shelly beach. This adjoining coastal walk is a great place to spot water dragons, as I almost always see them sunning themselves below the cliffs here. There are some cute little sculptures incorporated into the wall as well and if that wasn’t enough, the view along the coast and the sparkling blue water is stunning. It was mobbed at Shelly beach and the eateries were packed as always. I was torn between waiting for a table and eating late, and in the end decided to go for a walk into Sydney Harbour National Park. I did this walk on my very first visit to Sydney in 2012 but hadn’t been since, so it was nice to re-familiarise myself with it.

 

Heading up the slope first to the coastal lookout, the track cut inland towards a historical gun placement. I kept a similar line on another track until back on tarmac, I took the road down to Colin Flat beach. I was fairly sure I could walk back to Manly via the coast, and thankfully was proven right. From Colin Flat beach, a track led round to Little Manly beach where a plethora of boats were moored up a little offshore. Then it was just a matter of following the road behind here round the headland to Manly Yacht Club at Cabbage Tree Bay, where the path led round to Manly wharf. By now very hungry, I ate here ahead of catching the ferry to Watson’s Bay.

 

I’ve been to Watson’s Bay a couple of times, but never from Manly. The private ferry that cuts from this North Head settlement to the South Head settlement has limited times and is not included in the Opal card. But it saved a massive amount of time by removing the need to detour via Circular Quay so it was well worth it. One of the differences between South Head and North Head is that you can see the city skyline from the south. From Watson’s Bay itself but also on the coastal walk round Green Point Reserve and Camp Cove there are a myriad of view points to look back across to the buildings of the CBD. Camp Cove is a cute little beach and round from here is a popular walk that passes a nudist beach and round to the Hornby lighthouse which stands tall at South Head. By the time I’d completed the loop to the Gap, a dramatic cliff at the back of Watson’s Bay, and followed the cliff walk a little further south to Don Ritchie grove, the clouds had moved in and it seemed altogether darker. Back at the ferry wharf, I watched a pelican waiting patiently outside a fish restaurant before catching the last ferry back to Circular Quay.

 

In the gathering darkness I caught the ferry to Taronga Zoo for my first experience of Vivid Sydney. Whereas the main light displays of Vivid are free to walk around, the zoo’s display is a ticketed and time-slotted event that I decided to go to. Buses awaited the ferry’s arrival and in hoards we were taken up the hill to the main zoo entrance where a reasonably well organised queuing system had me inside with relative ease. Following a set route around the zoo, there were ample displays to look at but it was incredibly mobbed. I hate crowds and this was only just bearable but despite the masses, it was well worth the money.

 

Eventually I returned to the city and disembarked the ferry at Circular Quay to join the throngs of people exploring the main thoroughfare of Vivid Sydney. The atmosphere was incredible, but again some parts were just a bit too crowded. Some displays couldn’t be approached due to either the wall of people surrounding them or the sea of people following the one-way walkway like a single impenetrable unit. At times it was at your peril to try and cross this melee. The route led round past the Opera House which turned through a series of animations and pictures, and cut into the Royal Botanic gardens where I had walked through the day before. Some displays were understated, some not so popular, but many of them were spectacular and there were definitely many favourites among them. Then the route cut into the Rocks where there was a hub of eateries and in places a bit of a party vibe. I absolutely loved it.

 

With my friend having twisted her ankle a few days prior, our planned joint explorations had had to be cancelled. Not only was she unable to join me walking around Vivid, but she also wasn’t able to do the Bondi to Coogee walk with me either. Instead, we planned to meet up in Bondi for lunch, so I set off early on the Saturday to catch the bus to Coogee and walk the route in reverse. It is a gorgeous walk and yet again I had glorious sunshine. Last time I walked it was in the summer where the heat had been extreme, but the winter temperature was a lot more pleasant. From Coogee the track cuts up onto the headland at Dolphins Point and round Gordons Bay where a man was taking his dogs for a swim. Next up is Clovelly where the headland offers some great views south. The beach here is a little odd as it is cut right back into a little cove. I came immensely close to dropping my phone into the public toilet here, although the floor of the cubicle didn’t exactly look that clean either. Thank goodness it is waterproof as it got a good clean in the sink before leaving.

 

The path is supposed to follow the coast at the bottom of the massive Waverley cemetery, but at the time of visiting, the lower path was being reconstructed following a storm washout. Instead, the detour headed into the thick of the cemetery past a variety of headstone styles with a backdrop of a glistening Tasman Sea. Bronte and Tamarama beaches came and went and eventually I found myself at Icebergs and the famous azure swimming pools at the south end of Bondi beach. There is something so iconic about the pool, the beach and the Surf Life Saving club and I spent quite a bit of time on the road overlooking the pool, dreamily looking down at the blue pool surrounded by the blue sea which met the blue sky above. In the distance, Bondi had the most people on it of all the beaches I’d passed that morning, but even it was quiet compared to what I’d seen on previous visits.

 

When I lived in Aberdeen in Scotland, my best friend lived in London, England. Then I moved to Christchurch, New Zealand and she to Sydney, and since we’ve both been in the Southern Hemisphere, I’ve seen her more than we ever managed when we lived in the UK. Even so, we’re still a sea apart and in two different countries, so we don’t get to hang out half as much as I would like. So it was unsurprising that we managed to pass a good amount of time in Bondi just catching up. Eventually though, she had to head away to a party, and I found myself in a giant queue for a bus back to the city. I’d underestimated the crowds of both Bondi on a Saturday and the commute of those heading into the city for a Saturday night on the town or to visit Vivid. Bus after bus passed by with no space to board, and the sun had set by the time I finally got onto one. In the end though, this meant it was already dark by the time I reached the city, and it seemed like the perfect excuse to just go straight into the Vivid Sydney route again.

For my last night in the city, I took the route through the Rocks, taking the time to make a few detours to some displays I hadn’t seen the night before, as well as lingering at a few favourites. At the waterfront, I ogled the changing look of the Opera House and slowly made my way back to the far side to head into the Royal Botanic Gardens again. The crowds here were just as bad and I waited in line for quite some time to get into the Samsung display. Through the gardens, I took my time walking through and out the other side, a poor little possum was terrified by the large crowd that surrounded it to take its photo. In New Zealand, possums are introduced and therefore pests, but in Australia they are native and protected which is always a shift in perspective that I find quietly amusing. By the time I’d completed the circuit and was back in the Rocks, it was the end of the night for Vivid and the end of the event, which was celebrating its 10th anniversary. There was still lots of buzz in the air as people dispersed, and I’d had an incredible time over the two nights.

 

My friend was up to doing a bit of walking the next day, so I headed out to the suburb of Newtown. I’d read about a street art trail here, and with my friend familiar with the area, and armed with a rough walking guide on her phone, we spent the day eating food, walking down side streets to look at and discuss the artwork we found and visit a few random places in between. Aside from Newtown itself, we took a wander around Sydney park, a nearby green space, and in the near opposite direction to Sydney university. I was heavily reliant on my friend’s local knowledge as Newtown and its surrounds felt a bit like a rabbit warren to me. We covered so much ground, more than my friend’s fragile ankle probably should have, but by the time we found ourselves back at the train station, we’d eaten and drunk as much as we could, and seen as much street art as we could. It reminded me of visits to see her in London, when I always got to see a different side of the city to the tourist spots, where the real people live.

 

By the time I’d reached the Rocks to grab my belongings, the sunset had painted pink hues onto the sky. I spent a few minutes on the rooftop overlooking the harbour before I had to force myself to leave. It had been a very satisfying 4 days in my favourite city in the World.

Across the Ditch

I settled into my window seat, excited about the days ahead of me. I was on the right side of the plane and I was sure that this would offer me a great view on the descent at my destination. Smiling as a woman placed her young child on the middle seat next to me before taking her own in the aisle, I read my magazine distractedly, waiting for the plane to get ready for push back, impatient to get going. Out of the corner of my eye, the woman gave her child something to eat and then all of a sudden the child projectile vomited all over herself, the seat, and her mother. The smell of sour milk hit my nose and I didn’t know whether to laugh or retch. There were several minutes where the woman feebly dabbed with wet wipes, not sure what to do, before the air stewards realised the conundrum and sprang into action. I have a soft spot for my national carrier, Air New Zealand, and it was fascinating to watch them deal with the mini crisis, which had to be handled swiftly and with minimal damage before the flight could take off. The seats were dismantled and the various components bagged for cleaning and I was requested to be moved, getting sat on the left side of the plane, and upgraded to thank me for my co-operation. I was a little gutted to lose my vantage point for arrival, but I felt extremely sorry for the frazzled mother and it was an interesting start for the fun days ahead.

I’d heard about Sydney’s annual light spectacle Vivid Sydney some years ago, and having previously visited the city in Spring, Summer and Autumn, it made perfect sense to complete the seasons with a Winter trip to coincide with the event which was celebrating its 10th anniversary. With my best friend living there too, it was also a great excuse for a catch-up. Having taken the morning flight, I arrived early on a Thursday morning, and headed straight to my favourite hostel YHA The Rocks, where I stay every time I visit the city, to dump my stuff. I rushed up to the rooftop for my beloved view over the Rocks before heading down to the harbour. The sun was out but low and Circular Quay was partly in shadow when I arrived to make the oh-so-familiar walk around the waterfront. As always, Circular Quay was a very busy place to be, and I was hungry, wandering past the expensive waterfront eateries, trying to decide where I wanted to grab a snack.

 

I was distracted from my search for food for a while as I ogled over the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House on my way to the Botanic Gardens. I could see some of the Vivid Sydney displays in the distance but my grumbling stomach led me down the steps to the Opera Bar and eateries just below the Opera House itself. I ordered a coffee and toastie and took my seat in the sun, watching the Sydneysiders going about their day. I was amused as a few people got mobbed by seagulls trying to steal their food. My coffee arrived first and I enjoyed it, laughing as someone got their food stolen, reminiscing about that time I got hit on the head in Southland earlier in the year. My toastie finally arrived and I greedily stuck in to it, breaking it into pieces to help it cool whilst I started to devour it. On my second bite I got whacked on the back of my head and couldn’t believe that for the second time that year, I’d been hit from behind by the wing of a bird trying to steal my food! Clearly it was time to get on the move again.

 

The Botanical Gardens were just as busy as Circular Quay had been, and even although the displays were not lit up, there were so many people taking in the Vivid Sydney displays in the daytime. It might have been winter but it was a gloriously sunny day with enough warmth to be in just one layer. I don’t always go to the Botanic Gardens when I visit the city, so it had been a while since I’d taken the promenade round the waterfront. I briefly cut away from the water, following the Vivid Sydney displays round the back of a small wooded area, framed by the city’s skyscrapers. I could only imagine how these would all look lit up in the darkness.

 

I was in the process of cutting back to the waterfront when I noticed a flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos crowding round a couple. It turns out that you can buy little cups of cockatoo food to feed the birds in the park, and as such the couple literally had birds on top of them, eager to grab some of the mix that they had on offer. I hovered around, taking the opportunity to take some close-up photos, when suddenly after bending down, a cockatoo jumped up onto me. It was an awesome experience until it started trying to eat my clothes, and biting at my neck, threatening to get a little rough with its annoyance at my lack of food offerings. Still, it didn’t drive me away and I hung around with them and the couple of corellas that were there too, for as long as I could before eventually dragging myself away and heading onwards.

 

It had been a nice break from the sun, but now I was out under the orb continuing my way around, past a statue I’d never noticed before and round to the flower fields offering a floral-framed view back across to the Opera House. There’s also a stunning vista of the cityscape as you reach the point where Mrs Macquaries Chair can be found. There was a good crowd here as this point has become a bit of an Instagram location, and there were many people rock hopping in order to get their own shot across the harbour.

 

As I continued around the headland, I discovered a swimming pool that I didn’t remember from my last time round there in 2012. The dominant structure in Woolloomooloo Bay though is the long building of expensive apartments that juts out on the pier. It was easy enough to cut back into the Royal Botanic Gardens from here at the Lion Gate entrance, and I took in the succulent garden and through to the lotus pond where there was a lot of bird activity to catch my eye. It was a chance to get a close up with some ibis which are quite big birds, but yet scavenge like pigeons.

 

Built since my last visit, the Calyx was an interesting structure hidden near the back of the Botanic Gardens. A circular structure, it contained a massive living wall inside which was fascinating to look at both close up and from the far side of the room. Spelling out the word Pollination, the wall was covered in a plethora of plants and there were displays about the role of bees in pollination and the threat that bees are under worldwide. Back outside in the warm sun, I cut up to the Governor Phillip fountain which I’d never seen before, walking around it as office workers were coming out for lunch. The shaded benches and grassy spots started to fill up with those seeking shade to enjoy their food, and as it got busier here I moved onwards. I skirted past the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and Government House to Bennelong Lawn where you can look down onto the front of the Opera House.

 

Back at Circular Quay, the sun was now higher in the sky, removing the shadows from that morning. As there often is, a large cruise ship was docked and there was a hive of activity around the wharf and on the water. Climbing the many steps up the steep face of the Rocks district, I found myself at the Sydney Harbour bridge. I’ve previously climbed the bridge twice but never actually walked across it, so it seemed about time to do so and I joined the mix of locals and tourists on the footpath. It is a noisy affair being so close to the passing traffic as well as the intermittent addition of a train on the far side, but looking east, the view on crossing was of the city, the Opera House and the myriad of boats that plied the harbour.

 

Kiribilli on the north shore reminded me a bit of a district in London where my friend used to live. That same friend also briefly lived in Kiribilli (and in fact I saw in New Year here a few years ago). I mainly just wanted to hang around the waterfront though, so I passed under the bridge and cut down to the baths behind Luna Park, and then the promenade itself. I headed west for a bit then turned and headed east under the great arch. As the afternoon was wearing on by now, shadows were creeping in again, and I watched the harbour goings on for a bit before my hungry stomach kicked me into gear.

 

Once back across the bridge I headed for an early dinner at the Australian, an iconic pub in the Rocks district. I had gotten a sweet deal at the hostel which had included a discounted meal here, and having been here before, I knew I was in for a tasty pizza. Unfortunately my best friend had twisted her ankle, meaning our planned days of walking had to be curtailed. Instead I was to head to her place to catch up at home where she could rest. With a bit of time free prior, I took a long walk as darkness fell round from the Rocks and past the Barangaroo Reserve into Darling Harbour.

 

Whilst the main Vivid Sydney lights were around Circular Quay and the Gardens, there were a handful of displays in Darling Harbour. The most striking one was a large moving creature that was propelled by a couple of helpers. There was a large crowd as the creature interacted with some diners at a local restaurant. In the water, there was so much light and there was a general buzz in the air. Eventually though, I had to leave and I set off to catch up with my friend ahead of much more activities to do over the coming days.

Winter Wanderings

Despite all my years in Scotland, where winter is synonymous with coldness and darkness, I really struggle with the winter months in New Zealand even though the days aren’t quite so short, and the temperature where I live rarely gets cold enough for snow. I think having Christmas and New Year to break up the Northern Hemisphere’s winter months helped, and where I used to live in Aberdeen, there was plenty of snow every year. But in Christchurch where I live now, we rarely get snow, although I certainly see it coating the distant mountains, and the Port Hills behind the city gets the odd light dusting. But with no Christmas and New Year to break up the monotony of the winter months, I find that when daylight savings ends in April, and I find myself leaving work in darkness, I have to grit my teeth and bare the winter months here, spending my days dreaming of September when daylight savings return and the spring flowers start to bloom.

So last June, I decided to take a week off work to try and lighten my winter blues. I had an exciting few days planned abroad at the end of the week, but at the beginning of the week I stayed closer to home. My partner’s friend came down from Auckland and we got to show him around the city, showing him what had changed since the last time he’d visited. I’ve really loved watching Christchurch evolve over the years since it suffered incredible destruction in the February 2011 earthquake. I don’t like everything about the new layout (the city centre cycle lanes and speed limit is a bit of a bugbear), but for the most part we are getting an incredible new city and bit by bit the city is returning to full functionality.

There were some pockets of Canterbury that my partner’s friend hadn’t explored so we took a drive west to head into the Southern Alps. As is often the case, the weather to the east of the Divide can be very different from that within the mountain ranges and the clouds were low over the mountain tops as we wound our way through the Southern Alps to reach Arthur’s Pass village. We stopped for lunch in the cafe-come-village store, hugging our hot drinks for warmth. The three of us had spent a winter weekend away in Methven some years prior and whilst we didn’t visit any ski centres on this trip, it reminded me of then: sitting in a cafe in a little mountain village.

 

To the west of Arthur’s Pass are a couple of viewpoints where there is a reasonably good chance of spotting kea, the delightfully cheeky and intelligent alpine parrot. True to form, when we pulled in at the first of the lookouts, where the road spans the valley in the form of a bridge, we found some. The low cloud swirled around the bridge, and whilst we couldn’t see much of the mountains, it was actually a pretty dramatic view. Despite the cold and the threat of drizzle, we were entertained enough by a pair of kea that posed in front of the bridge, preening each other and just generally being photogenic. I’ve stopped here many times and only once not seen kea (sadly this happened to be when my brother was visiting from Scotland).

 

Just a little further along the road is another scenic lookout and excitedly there was the biggest group of kea I’d ever seen. They were merrily hopping around on the road sign and the fence nearby and as usual were completely unfazed by the attention they were receiving. As fewer people tend to stop at this lookout, and probably also because the weather wasn’t very clear, we had this lookout to ourselves for quite some time before another car pulled in. This meant we had plenty of time to just watch these parrots play, and I went snap happy, even although they rarely sat still long enough for me to get them in focus. Unfortunately the weather didn’t really permit stops anywhere on route back to Christchurch, but it was still a fun mini road trip out of the city.

 

The poor weather the next day made me head to the Christchurch Art Gallery. I’d been before shortly after its opening, and I have to admit that this place is rather lost on me. It’s personal taste, but whilst I love photography and the work of a few specific artists, I’m not really much of an art lover, so art galleries don’t tend to wow me. Thankfully, entry is free, and after wandering round rooms with different styles of art, I finally came across the yellow room, where everything within it was related to yellow. A large bull sculpture caught my eye, made out of old food tins, and it took centre stage. There is a nice viewpoint onto the street below from the opposite side of the building and having had enough of the exhibitions, I watched one of the city trams meander past before leaving.

 

With more poor weather, I ended up doing a bit of cafe hopping, just to get out of the house. I had delicious belgian hot chocolate at Theobroma, the chocolate shop, on one day, and visited Miro, a recently opened posh cafe another day for their breakfast tray. A few days later, I enjoyed brunch at Unknown Chapter, my favourite cafe in the city. But besides all of this, I was excited to have a few days across the Tasman Sea, in my favourite city in the World, for an event that I had been dreaming about attending for a very long time…

Washpen Falls

About an hour outside of Christchurch, on the back road that leads to Rakaia Gorge, there is an unassuming turnoff that leads to a farm where you can join the crowds that park up at the unassuming Woolshed. The track to Washpen Falls that leads from here is on private property and as such there is a $10 fee per adult to walk it. This had put me off exploring this for many years but finally, last May, I decided to see what the fuss was about. I’ve seen photos and heard that this waterfall was pretty and worth visiting, so I duly turned up to find the parking area packed, and it took a bit of maneuvering to find a spot to pull in out the way. The day I visited, the Woolshed was manned, and it is important to pop in here first to pay your fee. I have to admit I was surprised at the number of people there considering the charge.

Following the marked track past the Woolshed, the track was quite muddy as it headed into the forest and started climbing. The track effectively follows an anti-clockwise route round the valley formed by Washpen Creek. Breaks in the treeline allowed a view across to the thick bush on the opposite side, and being well into autumn, the lower sun meant the side I was walking on was in shadow. Cutting back into the trees again, a natural shallow cave is passed before a flight of stairs passes by the side of a small waterfall trickling down the rock face.

 

From there the path climbs up and into the sunshine as it reaches the top of the hillside that surrounds the creek. The path effectively arcs round in a horse-shoe shape and as it does so, the expanse of the Canterbury Plains becomes evident. It was a gorgeous day and the many visitors were littered all over the track, several of them stopping here to admire the view and have a snack. As it was though, the wind started to whip across the hillside as the track continued over it, and at the main viewpoint up here, several of us were buffeted whilst a couple of children had to work hard to walk against it.

 

To reach the waterfall, the track cuts down from the hillside to reach another branch of the valley, most of which was in shade. This was another busy stretch of track but I paused here in a couple of places to listen to the bird sounds. The track starts off winding down the valley side before reaching a steep staircase that leads down to Washpen Falls. The downside of hiking the track at this time of the year was that the waterfall was completely in shadow making it difficult to photograph. There is a good viewpoint of it from the staircase as well as at the base of the falls itself. There isn’t a lot of space to accommodate the amount of people that were on the trail that day, so once I’d taken some photographs, I moved on to allow others the chance to get some shots too.

 

The track continued down the far side of the creek below a tall rock face. At one point, drips of water fell from the cliff above and a small side-track led to the bank of the stream. Beyond this, the track climbed a little again into the forest where a side-track led to a small cave, then beyond here it cut down through the forest, until eventually it reached a green pond with a shelter nearby. Several families had stopped here for a picnic and it was a pretty little spot. I left them to it, following the far side of the pond and rejoining the main track at the far end.

 

Aside from a small ruined waterwheel, the rest of the walk was just a meander through the forest. I was surprised to come across a sign in the middle of nowhere reminding passers by to enjoy the sounds of nature. I had a bit more solitude here as I made my way back to the car by the Woolshed. There were still plenty of cars parked here, and I returned glad to have finally done this walk. The whole loop track took me 1hr and 45mins, and although a muddy and rough track (which may put off those with very young children), it was a very easy to follow hillside walk that would suit families.

Hororata Night Glow

Sometimes, it is hard to find the words to write. For various reasons I have found it increasingly difficult to keep up with this blog this past year, and then a few days ago life here in Christchurch took an unexpected turn and I find myself once more bereft and unable to link my thoughts. So instead of words, having found myself perusing photos of the country I love, I decided to share some visuals of a fun event I attended with my partner in rural Canterbury last April. The Hororata Night Glow was at the time a unique event where hot air balloons lit up the sky in time to music and although a little cold, we were glad we made the drive away from the city to attend. I was amused to see a Tennents Lager balloon, a reminder of my former life in Scotland. The event is taking place again this year in May.

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