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>> Towards the Within <<

p1090693You know you’re in a good place when you no longer are interested in looking back, you prefer to enjoy the journey. It felt good to feel the sunshine on my face again. It was such a challenge to stay awake on the bus ride home, I was that annoying person that kept passing out and waking up far too near to the stranger sat next to you. Luckily for me she was nice, and offered me sweets and snacks for energy. I was being picked up by Michelle to return to her lovely home for a restful night’s sleep. I had the following day to recover, and to nest into the cottage again, along with the thoughtful items I’d been given from friends and family including those sensory items like incense and candles, tasty chutneys and glazes, photographs and books that would ultimately make it feel more like home. img_20170106_200639_900

I’ve struggled since the residency finding time and headspace to be as creative as I would like. Now that I am comfortable with the job routine it’s clearing my mind a little, and gaining a workspace in the cottage has enabled me to access the progress of the artwork so far. I know that as soon as I get the fire burning I will be up and running again. I have made a few taster sketches of pieces I want to work on, including delicate studies of venturing through the cave, particularly with very low light. img_20161222_205026_605

At work we offer photography tours, which I always love to guide, I enjoy learning from the artist’s, and can feel that deep creative connection which reminds me of why I am doing the job in the first place. When exploring and taking time to sit and look at the incredible surroundings, although a daily occurrence, it is still a meditation that I do not take for granted. Of course the connection is stronger when the customers are having the same intense feelings (which is fairly often) -it’s a beautiful thing to be part of that with them.

Yosuke Kashiwakura is a Japanese photographer who had booked in to take photographs of the glow worms for a National Geographic article. Myself and Heath took him down to the main glow worm cavern and watched him setup his sweet looking camera, with limited English we let him figure out what he wanted, which took no time at all. He had Heath stand down stream of the river, head torch glowing, and created an astonishing portrait shot of him. Capturing the cave formations the glow-worms were clustering in an around, and Heath standing enigmatically in the distance.

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The Christmas celebrations were complete at home and I felt a strange emptiness as it approached Christmas Eve back in New Zealand. I was working and the sun was shining, I was afraid I was masking emotions of the first experience of Christmas time without loved ones around me. I decided that because everything was ‘upside-down’ to what I was used to in the UK that I would embrace the surreal couple of days ahead and try and make it memorable for different reasons. Having previously enjoyed spontaneously exploring with Heath I asked if he’d like to join me on a Christmas Eve exploration- a chance to locate those areas that have drawn curiosity, and to experience the cave in quite literally, a new light. We enjoy each other’s easy company and are able to talk and climb freely, stopping from time to time to reflect and enjoy a celebratory beer. The glow worms really put on a performance, the best we’d ever seen, they began to gently light our faces as we opened up to each other. It was a real buzz to find areas even Heath hadn’t been to before, despite his growing up with the cave in ‘his garden’. A particular highlight after crawling over stalagmite formations was an inviting tunnel in blue and copper hues, we took it as far as we could.

p1090703It’s an addiction- the natural high of exploration, wanting to fulfil curiosity, playing around down there for what turned into around a 5 hour trip. The last area on my ‘checklist’ was to take a dip in the crystal clear water of the Lime Cave, and of course to see where it lead to. It was very muddy! But freeing all the same. My thoughts were heavily distracted in the best possible way as the night drew to a natural close and Christmas Day arrived.

I was kindly invited to Bevian (Heath’s father) and his partner Myra’s home for a Christmas lunch in Te Awamutu, along with Michelle and Stefan. I still fall in love with the landscape and immense amount of space around New Zealand properties (that is out of the cities I mean). They were all sitting in the sunshine of the garden as I was presented with kind gifts and a tasty BBQ lunch.

dsc_1398After a little deliberation I headed back to Heath’s in Pirongia. As kind as the offer was I was concerned at feeling like a spare part due to his kids and girlfriend staying there. Nobody likes to be the gooseberry, but I knew for the first time I didn’t want to head back to the cottage on my own and that I needed to be around people- I run away too easily. Well the bottle of wine stopped me driving anywhere and as I relaxed Colette and Heath were great company and a phone call from Hendrik was comforting after so long not hearing each other’s voices. I left early morning, still feeling heady and emotional and enjoyed a long drive in the sunshine of Boxing Day. I still struggle with the shift from closeness and then the emptiness upon parting…even if I’m not so sure on what I want in the first place.

Settling back into work for the next few days the time had come to plan my upcoming days off. I would be heading down to Apiti on the Sunday so decided to book myself in for a treat 5 hour cave tour, with another company here in Waitomo. It is of course great to experience, compare, research, but mainly just for the love of adventure and to see some more beautiful places so nearby. The tour was a 7am start (ouch) and included an abseil to start the trip, something I haven’t done since I was 11 years old on a trip to an adventure park near Corfe Castle 🙂  followed by ‘tubing’ which is essentially floating through the cave tunnels in a big rubber ring. The group I was in were fit, young men, meaning that we were powering through the trip and gaining access to other areas due to our speed and ‘skill’. Tight squeezes in darkness and of course the glow-wormies were in abundance. Not so much of a diverse mixture as our cave but an enjoyable experience all the same. If I’m honest, somebody carrying me back up afterwards would’ve been nice rather than the impending final rock climb (I’ve never been good/happy with vertical climbing) it was safe to say my body was done.

15940490_10154469719949737_4247798651540657387_nI’d been following (that does sound pretty creepy doesn’t it) an interesting caving chap on Instagram as I realised after caving all around the world, posting incredible diary photographs along the way, Nick was now in the Waitomo area- I was very keen to meet. I obviously wanted to pick his brain about all of his incredible discoveries and adventures and plus it was a good excuse to get out and have a pint. Nick was sat looking pretty intriguing as he studied his notebook, scribbling down his finds of the day. As I approached, conversation came easy (of course we did talk about a cave or two) he’s an interesting and passionate character who I think will be a lot of fun to be around, we’ll meet up again and hopefully do some exploring together sometime. As perfect timing had it, my friend Luke who is now back in Southampton knew of a girl heading to New Zealand from our home town, called Lauren. Lauren and I exchanged messages on Facebook and the evening I was with Nick was when her Kiwi Experience coach was staying in Waitomo (good hey!) So she came over for a chat and drink, a lovely sociable bouncy character spending a year in New Zealand on a Working Visa, I’m sure we’ll meet up again for a yarn.

15965061_1214016078676654_8092223788433813616_nThe day had arrived and I took the long scenic drive down to Hendrik’s tavern with a good mixture of excitement and anxiety thrown in. It had been around 2 months since we last saw each other, and although in reasonable contact, things change and feelings can change, it’s just the way it goes. Trying to be realistic I kept this in the front of my mind and was happy to spend time with him regardless. Things were a little different in the sense I now know I am staying here for a time, so the road ahead is less uncertain in that sense. We have a great connection and are very aware of living our own lives and yet, when we come together, it’s magic. After a short meeting I headed down the road to start work on reinventing the Apiti Tavern road sign, complete with updated logo and directions. I should’ve relaxed the day before, I have felt very restless of late, haven’t been sleeping well and emotions have been up and down, trying to make sense of what I really do want and need, recent situations and people close to me have made me question this.

p1090743I returned back to the pub, calling it a day and looked forward to some quality time together. To my surprise I was cooked a beautiful seafood chowder and we saw the night in with red wine. This was the start of things to come, the following day we exchanged gifts and later on he had booked us into the local Makoura Lodge, in a beautiful secluded dip of land was our very own Riverside Cabin for the night. Complete with huge fire pit, BBQ and super comfortable lodging. I was overwhelmed at the thought and effort- it left me a bit speechless. It’s fantastically exciting to share hopes and ideas together I love hearing his enthusiasm for the pub and what he intends to do, it’s really quite great how well it’s going there for him, it’s lovely to hear someone talk about something they are passionate about. Oh, and he said he took time to listen to Dead Can Dance (that’s special).

p1090737To be with someone whose eyes light up when yours do, whose heart races when your blood also pounds, who is enticed and inspired by the same forces that drive you forward, is a gift many of us never truly get to experience. Because we settle. We settle for the person we love over the person who could push us- to be bigger, stronger, greater versions of ourselves. We tell ourselves that love is enough. That it conquers everything. But we forget that love shouldn’t be the thing that conquers our lives – we should be. And we should do it deliberately, triumphantly, by the side of somebody who shares all our joys and successes. So how do we meet such a person? That’s simple – we do more of what we love. We give ourselves up to uncertainty, to searching, to pursuing what we want out of life without the certainty of having somebody beside us while we do it. We throw ourselves wholeheartedly into the things that we love and we consequently attract people who love what we love. Who value what we prioritize. Who appreciate all that we are. We throw ourselves into the heart of possibility instead of staying comfortably settled inside of certainty. Because we owe it to ourselves to do so. We owe it to ourselves to live the greatest life we are capable of living, even if that means that we have to be alone for a very long time. At the end of the day, love is wonderful but it isn’t enough to make up for an entire lifetime of compromising your core values. You don’t want to spend forever gazing into somebody’s eyes expecting to find all of the answers you need inside of them. Wait for the person who is gazing outward in the same direction as you are. It’s going to make all of the difference in the world.’

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Soundtrack: The Orb – COW (full album), Clannad – The Hunter, Throwing Muses – Teller

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There be gold in them there hills ◮…the Wild West & re-visiting friends

DSC_0780It made sense to travel back up the island through the rugged west coast. Renowned for its damp and lush green rainforest like landscapes it didn’t disappoint. I crossed the Haast pass in murky wet weather, stepping out to climb over some giant rocks and take in the energy of my new surroundings. Heading north along the coast line, I left the snow behind and began to see waterfalls and rockslides.

I took a nights rest in Hokitika, famous for its abundance of sacred greenstone and gold mines. I finally made the commitment of buying a beautifully carved jade fishhook, as I didn’t want the regret of not owning a piece of this unique green jewellery. The following beautiful sunny morning I craved a walk after so much driving, I found myself on a mysterious track through old gold mining tunnels, head lamp at the ready, I was far too curious to not enter. I came out in one piece :). Heading further north that same day (time was getting tight) I made what was to be one of my finalP1080468 stops on the south island. Punakaiki- a small community between Westport and Greymouth, home to amazing rock formations which were formed 30 million years ago from minute fragments of dead marine creatures and plants landed on the seabed about 2 km below the surface. Immense water pressure caused the fragments to solidify in hard and soft layers. Gradually seismic action lifted the limestone above the seabed. Mildly acidic rain, wind and seawater sculpted the bizarre shapes. Fierce water pressure pushes through the rocks and blow holes causing a chimney like effect, a real wow moment.P1080496Further on up the road there was a ‘cavern’, just like the ‘chasm’ in the previous blog, this word is far too interesting for me to not visit. Curiousity sparked, head torch at the ready (always) I made my way in. It was a dry and peaceful cave, a few areas to climb and crawl into, and a wonderful inky black haze surrounded me. I sat for a while and enjoyed the atmosphere. P1080514The hostel I’d booked into couldn’t check me in for a while, sadly for me it was right next to a pub overlooking the sea as the sun was setting. A cold pint of Waikato beer in hand, I reflected on the day, realising my southern trip was nearing an end, but what an excellent high I was on! I made my way back to Nelson, to catch up with Renee for a couple of goodbye drinks. One of the most rewarding things about travelling alongside the incredible sites you see are the amazing people you meet along the way. I feel so humbled to have friends I can visit all over New Zealand and create memories with. The ferry was very choppy back up to the north island, so much so it was turning into a Monty Python sketch with everybody making heaving noises due to sea sickness (nice image eh?). Arriving in Wellington that evening it felt a great comfort to see Steve again. He was putting me up/putting up with me in Mirimar for the week. He had a good friend Jason from South Africa staying too as they were both working on a big film together -I’m not going to tell you which one of course 😉 we had a fun week of chatting, drinking and playing computer games, when they weren’t working their arses off at Weta of course. Jason is a cool dude with a fro, very easy going, super talented and has recently worked on films such as Mad Max.

DSC_0677It was the time of year my great friend Dan from back home hosts his annual Gig In The Garden. It is a gathering of family, friends, great music, tasty grub, and being the amazing friend he is, he set up a live stream so I could enjoy the action as it happened, with interludes of people coming up to the webcam to talk to me, it really was the next best thing to being there. Another random meet up happened that week in Mirimar, with Dana, a drama teacher from the school I used to work at. He was over visiting his son Alex, who now lives in Auckland. Dana happened to be at the Weta Workshop with Alex- so being up the road I decided to tag along! It was fun to see Dana and he very much enjoyed meeting Steven and finding out about his crazy Weta lifestyle. On the final evening myself and Steven took a walk through a ambient pinky violet sunset to the Mirimar ‘cave’, it’s a bit of a secret, and home to a self-made bed structure and eerily a pair of sandals. Walking back through the sand he told me of his adventures back in South Africa with his daughter, it was poignant and inspiring, I’m really happy to know him.

P1080573I had received an email from a John Brebner through the WWOOFING site asking if I would like to help out and experience a residency at his gorgeous studio in Feilding (roughly a couple of hours north of Wellington). I tried to make the timing work so that I could visit John on my slow trip up north for my Earthskin Muriwai art residency starting in September (much more info on that in a later blog) I arrived at Homeprint, welcomed by a lovely hug and introduction to John and Allison’s quirky old home, complete with vintage printing presses, letterpress fonts, art gallery walls, historic library- an absolute art lovers dream. John and Allison have a lifetimes experience of printing and teaching art and it was a pleasure to help them out for the week. A particular highlight was cataloguing famous NZ artist Michael Smither’s fantastic screen prints- oh how I’d like to have taken a few of these home with me. I slept in the printing cottage, meaning that after lighting myself a comforting fire for the evening, I would crack on and print until the wee hours, mainly drypoint, I realised how much I’d missed the medium since my university days. IMG_20160818_185051I was enjoying the daily routine of helping John with the practical side of his business then continuing my artwork later in the day. I did however enjoy a visit from Hobbiton (it’s that word again) friend Hendrik, who had recently taken over a tavern in nearby Apiti. We’d not really formed much of a friendship at Hobbiton, but curiosity and regular contact afterwards happily inspired us to meet again. Another South African (!) with a gentle, charismatic presence, I showed him around the studio, the pieces I was working on, and had a coffee before planning to meet at his pub a few days later.

Moving on up to Apiti up to Hendrik’s gaff, the scenery begins to change, the rolling green hills pass me by and I can see the snowy peak of Ruapehu in the distance. To be honest I was a bit anxious about spending the day with somebody I barely knew, I can get a little shy, but it all adds to the excitement. I needn’t have worried -we had surplus natural highs in store. To settle in we took a walk through a nearby forest, I never tire of its wonderful charm. I love the glinting sunlight and the mysterious gloom, we shared a smoke and talked about family. Later in the day we drove out to a somewhat secret glow worm cave, which in the mellow darkness of the early evening was incredible. IMG_20160829_205321We walked through mazes of shallow water guided further in by the lights. We took a seat on a dry rock and could see both the stars of the night sky and the glow worms surrounding us. We made our way back to the tavern and continued to talk, drink and smoke for hours and hours. It was sad to part the next morning, driving up towards Rotorua with a car full of tunes recommended by Hendrik, and a day of great memories, I was in a happy place. The next few days were about revisiting friends on my way back up to Auckland. I found a great hostel in Rotorua with a collection of fun travellers, amazingly all into great music, think Pink Floyd, Led Zep, Doors, so in the midst of rather uninspiring weather we hung out, drank and played games for a few days, while I took time out to prepare and research for the residency. Matamata was next, where I was really pleased to catch up with Luke from Southampton who has been there working since I left in May. We had a pint and lunch in Megan’s parents pub in Te Poi (Megan ex. Hobbiton) and wandered up the Kaimai range for a Kauri tree walk. It was more of a very deep river walk! we had fun negotiating these, getting wet underwear and laughing lots. 14102292_10154070565749737_1969560709872382206_nA lovely day was rounded off by a drink with Megan and Stephanie in the Redoubt (where else) and then back to the holiday park with Luke to sit in the hot pools in darkness staring and the stars listening to great tunes. A beach day with Linda at Mount Maungani was next on the ‘great reunion tour’, on the most summery of days we had a great chat and spent time on the beach. Just a few more days until I needed to be up at Muriwai Beach, so on the recommendation from Linda I planned a few sunny chilled days on the Coromandel, and chose a location I hadn’t yet visited in Tairua. Well it was so beautiful that I spent 3 nights there, trekking, paddling and enjoying the view.DSC_0848

There were a couple of interesting guys at the hostel one of which gave me a list of ‘classical music I have to listen to’ (he also had the best beard ever) and the other (we didn’t do the name exchange) was studying geology in the area and suggested I visit Hamilton Gardens on my way back up. Sat in the sunniest café garden in Hamilton I awaited a lunch date with Matt (Christchurch, Kent) and this time around he was much healthier! I had a pretty flowery salad and we reminisced on funny festival experiences together. He really is a great friend, we have had many good memories. After this reasonably quick lunch I was spending my last night before the residency in the smallest hostel ever (thank god it was the last I thought) and escaped in the evening to share a lush dinner and drink with Hobbiton chum Jessica.  _20160831_194456I was soon realising that this may well be the last time I see these great friends which is bittersweet, but I’m never one to waste time on regrets, you just have to go for it 🙂

Soundtrack: Jenny Lee – Boom Boom, Lamb – Lusty, REM – Nightswimming, Led Zeppelin – Going To California, Leftfield – Leftism

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Into The Great Snowy South ❆

DSC_0519As previously mentioned in the last blog, I finally made it back to Auckland, despite the cancelled flight and the best part of 2 days spent in the airport terminal. It was all ok really, I wound up staying in much smarter accommodation than I had booked , complete with room service (4 toasties at 2am no less) I was in no rush to get back to Christchurch either, but I was getting pangs of helplessness and just wanted to get back into my trusty car and drive off.

The next port of call on this southern trip was leading me towards Lake Tekapo, this worked out well as Hobbiton friends were working on Mount Dobson ski field and living nearby in Fairlie – their adopted second home. Hannah and Luke had been in New Zealand for getting on for 2 years now, and this is the place they spent their last winter – they loved the community atmosphere there. It was great to arrive at their cute little home they were sharing with 3 cool flatmates. It wasn’t long before we greeted each other with a hug and a cheer and began to fill in on our time after Hobbiton.

Hannah was a fellow tour guide and Luke worked in the Green Dragon Inn. They began working at Hobbiton around the same time and also left Hobbiton shortly after myself. They are a great fun-loving couple from ‘up-north’ in the UK (everything is ‘up-north’ to people from Southampton) complete with good strong accents we got on immediately and I’m sure we will share some wine and beers when we all get back home (probably in The Hobbit pub of course).P1080010

As we began to catch up over some lush NZ navy rum it was apparent they had been through a fair bit, with lingering illness issues and a recent car crash giving them prolonged insurance grief, loss of their car, but thankfully they were fine. We were hoping to ski the following day, due to a fresh bout of snow arriving, although sadly the road up to the mountain was closed, due to ever-changing weather conditions, it just wasn’t meant to be! We took a trip out to Mount John instead taking in some of those amazing snowy mountains I had so far only had mere glimpses of. We stopped at a discreet art gallery shack, which wound up to house some incredible pieces by a local artist that Hannah and Luke knew, although they did not know the talent he was hiding! (often the case for creatives). After a day of eating, drinking, chilling and being merry I drove off into the night to the Geraldine Observatory. Now I have a deep lack of knowledge when it comes to astronomy, but what I do have is a deep fascination and curiosity. I was greeted by fellow brit Peter who offered the chance to star gaze from his garden’s observatory (that’s such a lovely word too) Peter has a lifetime experience of astronomy and still works closely with NASA in search of supernovas. He houses 2 observatories, one solely robotic set up with a Celestron C14 specifically for supernova hunting. The two observatories are 2 of 7 that he has built over the years. I was drawn to stargaze here as it is one of the ‘dark sky’ areas of the world, also because Peter offers the tours out of pure passion and loves to share his experience and findings, and his photographs? they’re mind-blowing. With the help of Luke and Hannah I began to have a plan for the next couple of weeks, including the best places to visit and stay. That is the beauty with meeting new people all the time is that you can be selective as to where to visit due to their experiences and of course, what you personally feel like doing at the time. I left Fairlie early (see what I did there?) back towards Tekapo as this is a usual scenic route, picking up some good photos of the well photographed Church of the Good Shepherd. DSC_0492I was heading towards Mount Cook, wow what a landscape. All of this beautiful fresh snow had really painted a picture, I was staying at a wooden clad youth hostel, one of only a handful of accommodation in the area. I began a hike the following day along the Hooker Valley Track. It was beautiful sunlight that day, becoming very cool indeed when traversing swing bridges closer and closer to the glaciers. This day will forever be in my memory, it was so unlike anything I’d experienced before, lacking in colour, the landscape was a stunning charcoal sketch I’d dreamt of experiencing.

P1080143Senses fulfilled, it was on to Wanaka for the night. I made a pit stop at the touristy Puzzling World exhibition. It was rather kid-tastic as expected, but provided some decent holograms and a particularly strange wonky room experience. I was happy I visited, I’ll try anything once, but I was also happy to be leaving the kids in there :). Wanaka was very ski orientated, as it would be this time of year, I found myself wandering aimlessly but did crave a bit of company I must admit, especially in a sociable town environment. P1080230Finding the balance of enough of a plan to look forward to and aim for, and not scheduling things down to a tee is tricky. I work well knowing that I have somewhere to go the next day, but at the same time I end up making it up as I go along anyway. This seems to work most of the time, I have had moments of anxiety, particularly on my drive down to Queenstown. Signs were up reminding me to carry snow chains (something I had no experience with and certainly didn’t own) I was approaching the famously picturesque Crown Range Road and I started to doubt my rather powerless automatic (sorry car). I turned back and headed down a not-so pretty road to Queenstown.

Arrowtown is a historic gold mining town, not far from Queenstown, and was worth a stop. A really dreamy feel to this place, up-market shops and restaurants, everything had style. I had a cuppa, walked around the nearby historic Chinese settlement which was pretty interesting and got back on the road down to Queenstown.P1080257I arrived in the evening and after a beer and awkward moment with an over-enthusiastic Swiss guy at the pub, I started to do the rounds on the ski shops and garages for advice (they opened late). The advice was rather conflicting! a big load of snow was due the next day, so after a demo or two I decided to rent some chains just in case. I found time to also sample the famous Fergburger, the place was heaving, apparently this is pretty common, oh my, what a mighty fine burger it was! The kind of food you crave from that day onward even when you’re not hungry! I enjoyed the buzz of Queenstown, not so much the sweaty ‘young person’ hostel I stayed in, but hey you have to take the rough with the smooth.

The next day held yet another scenic drive (you can’t really go wrong on the south it seemed) up towards Glenorchy. This is a drive I had researched last year, sadly for me it was the most overcast and rainy day yet! I made the drive anyway due to time constraints and hoped for better weather on the way back. On the advice from Hannah and Luke I stopped at the Glenorchy General Store and picked up a rather delicious arty mug souvenir before continuing onto Kinloch Lodge- a serenely beautiful stay for a night in the middle of nowhere it seemed. The best thing about the stay, apart from the great company from room mate Lucas, was that snow started to fall overnight, meaning I woke up like a giddy child to a winter wonderland.P1080311Due south some more I made my way to Te Anau, which is basically the place you start in and return to after a trip to Milford Sound. Milford Sound is a fiord in the south west of the island and a World Heritage Site. It is one of New Zealand’s must-sees and people travel from worldwide to experience a cruise around the spectacular rock forms, countless waterfalls, varied sea life and awesome atmosphere. I had a boat cruise booked for the next day and in the meantime I was in a town with a pretty lake and about 3 shops, oh but it did boast a cave the other side of the lake. Now it’s preferable that I locate a cave, with nobody else around so I can explore and soak it up in my own time, but the Aurora cave network did lure me in with an interesting story, complete with evening boat ride, I was sold. After a few worried minutes being on a boat with so many people, I escaped to top deck where it was cold, windy, empty and the sky was full of stars. We were split of into groups of around 8, where we witnessed incredibly powerful cave waterfalls (Te Anau literally means cave of rushing water) alongside a silent drift through to the glow worm filled grotto. Feeling warm and fuzzy back at the nice hostel, I peacefully drifted off into sleep ready to wake up early and hope the Te Anau road was open to Milford Sound. The road hadn’t been open for 9 days, but much to my delight it re-opened on the following morning. The 2.5hr road trip to Milford is known for being just as picturesque and sometimes more remarkable than the boat ride itself. I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. Our driver Frank took us through a damp lush green landscape until we hit the snow, approaching the Homer Tunnel, you can’t stop due to avalanche risk, in fact it’s one of the most dangerous roads in the world.

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Absolutely stunning.

It was a Mount Cook moment all over again, I could actually begin to see avalanches forming as we wound our way down what seemed like an impossibly high road. Again, everything was like a beautiful drawing, my eyes couldn’t comprehend where the mountains ended and the sky began. The boat trip was serene, once again after people left the top deck that is. A little overcast, but we saw dolphins and seals swimming around us as soon as we departed, it was 2 hours of peaceful drifting taking in the awesome scale. Top deck got me pretty cold and I looked forward to the ride back to be honest, to see all the amazing sights from a different perspective. Frank made many stops to and from Milford, my absolute stand out was at a place called The Chasm (do you love it already?) Everything on this adventure was messing with my perception and the camera can’t do the scale any justice! Sometimes though, you get those winning shots that are worth the risk, like this mystical waterfall cascade that yes, I got drenched taking, but it captured it, that feeling.

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Time for a Western adventure…(not John Wayne style)

Soundtrack: Mark Pritchard – Sad Alron, Lamb – Lusty

art, art studio, carly mann, Uncategorized

Redwood ➸ Harwood ↞The Lost Woods

P1070808Leaving behind friends and a memorable experience at Willow Creek Farm I was greatly anticipating getting stuck into an art project. A lovely roast lamb cooked by farm co-worker/new friend Annie made for a great evening’s grub and company before heading to Motueka to meet Barbara. Myself and Barbara had exchanged many emails regarding an exhibition she had ideas for one gallery or maybe more…

DSC_0272Barbara was a kind soul, deeply interested in philosophy and art- particularly important shifts in art movements pre 20th century. I arrived after a scenic bridge drive over to the other side of Motueka where I was welcomed into Redwood Cottage. This was to be my home for the next week, and how perfect this turned out to be. I felt instantly comfortable and in a great mind-set to discuss the artworks Barbara wanted me to create. We had interesting discussions about our ideas and where to begin, I was very much in a position of planning, curating, and offering my advice and experience. Barbara had many intriguing books particularly focussed around Paleolithic and Neolithic art- right up my street. The Lascaux cave paintings situated in France seemed like a fitting starting point given the chronological date and my deep interest in caves and sacred stone structures. The very next day I began work armed with all the materials I could possibly need, listening to The Pentangle, Neil Young and Leonard Cohen to set the tone.

Work flowed organically. I played with texture, different scales, a limited colour palette, as well as metallics to produce a coherent set that I believe evoke the feel of the caves and invite the viewer to experience a unique insight. I was on a creative buzz all week, enjoying down time chatting to friendly Japanese and German wwoofers staying in Barbara’s house, and friends back home over a gin or 3 in the cottage that felt so like home.

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Renee was staying in nearby Nelson and joined me for my last night, drinking gin (a theme?) and playing board games- we had previously enjoyed the Light Nelson event, which was a free event creatively lighting up the city. It was pretty impressive  (what I can remember of it!) But I wanted one last trek up Abel Tasman way, and managed to twist Renee’s arm into joining me. This place was called Harwoods Hole, at 176 metres deep it is the known as the ‘biggest vertical shaft’ in New Zealand (tee hee) The walk to it was also used for filming scenes of ‘Chetwood Forest’ in Lord of the Rings.

P1070820We walked, Renee with her melodica in hand (we found it at the cottage) and decided to play Zelda tunes as we walked around (we’re too cool) when approaching the semi circle of immensely high rock formations we could feel this was a special place, egging each other on to get nearer the edge and peer down, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Awesome, enigmatic, and bloody scary all at the same time. A look out point on the way down proved to be a justified detour, that is until I fell onto very sharp angular rocks, giving myself a good few good cuts and bruises. It’s moments like this that it’s important to have a mate around- I was glad to have Ren there as I concerned my knee had given up the ghost.

P1070857Time to depart through the famously scenic Queen Charlotte Track, gradually heading south towards Kaikoura, situated on the east coast. Kaikoura is predominantly known for its whale and seal watching and was a beautiful first glimpse of those famous snow capped mountains. I stopped off at the Ohau Stream Walk to watch baby seals swimming playfully, it’s also where I happened to bump into Danny- the super cool bus driver from Hobbiton , well met with a hug and quick catchup, this lifted my spirits even more. P1070904After a night in Kaikoura it was time to swing on down to Christchurch. Christchurch was a place I certainly wanted to at least pass through whilst in New Zealand. It is another large city, but this one experienced a devastating earthquake, a 6.3 on the richter scale in fact, killing many and destroying the surroundings and leaving the city unrecognisable. When I arrived it was a grey day and I was moved by the mess of it all. People I’d met on my journey so far had spoken about the optimisim and creative regeneration emerging through shipping containers, and impressive ‘cardboard cathedral’ and the like- sadly, it certainly had a long way to go in my opinion. As a diversion from isolating feelings of walking around a now soul-less city, it was to be a sociable few days ahead.

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I sat myself in a nearby Mexican restaurant sipping a tasty margarita, anticipating the arrival of Californian Steve. Steve purchased one of my first ever glass works I created, inspired by the band Dead Can Dance. We had been in contact since then, and the dates worked so that we could meet up on his last night in New Zealand. 13710045_10153970064979737_3232642962097901750_nWe greeted with a hug and it felt instantly comfortable with flowing conversation including his incredible life stories managing bands, running radio stations, hanging out with famous faces, his INCREDIBLE music collection oh, and he’s an award-winning racquetball extraordinaire. We spoke for hours over a tasty Asian meal, I left feeling glad we had the chance to meet.

The next day was time to meet a friend from back home, Matt, who has just recently secured permanent residency in New Zealand. We have been friends for many years, usually frequenting at the Beautiful Days festival or numerous Levellers gigs. Although he wasn’t feeling 100% when we met (more like 40% in fact) he was sweet conversation and it felt like all was well. 13690875_10153974173174737_7142613928823160983_n

The following day was The Cure day! I flew myself (I’ve grown wings) up to Auckland to meet free-spirited Linda (Hobbiton bus driver) as we had previously bonded over a love of great music and stayed in regular contact since my departure. To say I was excited to see The Cure would be an understatement. I have loved them and been inspired by Robert Smith since I was about 12. The fun, quirky, gothy, playful goodness of the band is so unique, and 40 years later they haven’t ‘sold out’, they are still attracting fans of all ages, and quite frankly write bloody good songs and perform them exceptionally well. Altogether an emotionally exilerating 3.5hr gig that confirmed my love for the band- the first time I’d seen them myself and my partner at the time cried afterwards- it was overwhelming 🙂 Linda and I sunk a few, rocked out with fellow fans, and just had a bloody good time.

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A hungover Carly, a cancelled flight, and 2 days of waiting at the airport failed to take off the shine…

Soundtrack: The Cure – How Beautiful You Are, The Doors – The Crystal Ship

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The Emerald Lake: Coffins, Chickens & Sowing the Seeds of Love

‘But where our hearts truly lie is in peace and quiet, and good tilled earth. For all Hobbits share a love of things that grow’ The Lord of The Rings – JRR Tolkien

IMG_20160616_072208I landed myself another WWOOFING location overlooking the Maitai River, just out of the city of Nelson. So far I had been choosing hosts based on common interests, type of jobs required, and also relatively small families or lone people. When I arrived, Kristine and her friend greeted me after returning from a dog walk, we enjoyed a tasty cup of coffee and started to get to know each other. I must mention at this point that I hadn’t yet noticed the coffins on my arrival. We were sitting around a relatively small space filled with music and books and it didn’t take long for Kristine to begin to tell me about her life and the business that she runs. Her business specialises in ‘family led’ funerals, which to my understanding is, trying to educate people to bridge the gap between someone dying, and being ‘handed over’ to a company to deal with all of the aftercare of the body behind closed doors. Instead this aftercare and burial is dealt with naturally by the family. It is unusual that this very natural event suddenly takes on an unnatural and clinical process, something has certainly been lost along the way. It all seems to skirt over the very vital element of the grieving process. It is a very western idea that we hand over a body to somebody else to ‘deal with’. We just have to look to countries such as India, in Hindu religion where the bodies are ceremonially burned and sent down the river by the close families. Festivals like the Day of the Dead overthrow all of this and celebrate the lives of those no longer with us. So the business is essentially Kristine planning and educating people into learning the preservation burial ‘process’ for themselves.

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Now this isn’t mentioned on the WWOOFING page (!) as I guess some people could be quite uncomfortable with the idea of it all, however, I was very interested. I watched Six Feet Under obsessively during my teens (HBO series, well worth a watch) which is a series based around a family running a funeral home and the dark, complex and often funny situations that this put the family in. In a influential time of my life it did spark my interest in the industry, it is so vital, and to be able to provide a special service run on love not money sounded ideal. Now realistically a few years later I have since shaken this off, I have been fortunate/unfortunate so far to not have many dealings with the death of a loved one, I say unfortunate as I am unsure the impact this inexperience will have with my grieving when it does inevitably happen.

IMG_20160606_171251.jpgSo far as the ‘death stuff’ we chatted about it most nights over dinner, and Kristine’s own struggles in her life, but what really struck me about a week with Kristine was her sheer determination and strength (both physically and mentally), she has a wonderful ‘can do’ attitude. The house was split in 2 in order to rent so I had the top apartment to stay in which was flooded with light and more than comfortable next to a lovely log fire. It also enabled me to have space and light to paint, I made some small oil sketches which were successful and mark the start of an interesting body of work.

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The WWOOFING work mainly involved gardening- wood chopping, nut cracking (satisfying), mosaic cleaning and sorting. The most rewarding thing we achieved was moving an iron bath down the garden to a gazebo area in order to bathe outside over-looking the river! (great idea) This was one of those jobs when we doubted our strength but sure enough it worked… and we were bloody great!

I spent a few days there, all the while getting offered an interview at WOW to realise I just wouldn’t be in the country long enough to suit their needs, big bummer. It was and Irish Music Festival in Nelson, myself and Kristine went to the local pub to grab a tasty craft beer or two and enjoyed the music and said our farewells.

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Next stop- chickens, around 4000 in fact. The next WWOOFING host was a free range egg farm near Motueka, on the way to the Abel Tasman and yep, it was one of those locations that the sat nav takes you into a ford rather than your proper destination. At sunset I found the farm ok much to my relief. Willow Creek farm is a free range egg business that’s run by an incredibly welcoming and lovely family originating from South Africa. I have met more South Africans in the past 2 months in NZ than I have in my life and not wanting to stereotype but, I have got on with each of them very well and had good times. I was greeted by a very friendly Sharon and the two farm dogs Ice and Teddy. Now I only proposed to stay a week, but typing this I am still here a month later! This gives credit to how comfortable I have felt and how much I have enjoyed the work. P1070622.JPG The farm is roughly a 40 minute drive from Nelson but it hasn’t been an issue keeping occupied whilst I have been here. The daily routine would ordinarily consist of a 6am (!) feed of the chickens in 3 sheds, and the same again at around 4.30pm to begin the end of day feed/cleaning and processing routine. Some days I would help with egg collection, each egg in the nesting box is collected by myself, cleaned and stacked into trays, and at most we’d roughly get around 48 trays from a shed, depending on the age of the chickens. So it was fast paced work but therapeutic and I’m pretty sure the chickens enjoyed me talking to them about The Wizard of Oz. It was always a bit of a family joke that I resembled Dorothy from the creepy but great Oz sequel Return to Oz. Here at the farm is was nice to finally spend time with my own ‘Bellinas’ and gaze upon the ‘emerald lake’ (algae pond) in the cold frost of the morning. Here at the farm I have seen night skies like never before, so filled with stars it was a privilege to view each morning and night. We were also treated to some amazing sunrises and sunsets so working around the clock became a great way of seeing different things in a different light.

IMG_20160706_143042.jpgI had the good fortune of having lovely co-workers at the farm, I’d since been offered paid work which was a great turn of events. Annie and Cynthia in particular were good fun and made dealings with chicken poo good fun! I can honestly say I didn’t feel a ‘chore like’ moment on the farm, it felt so natural to me and offered great escapism. Due to this escapism it also provided a good state of mind for painting, I was able to get stuck into my Outdoor Room concept and produce some mixed media pieces inspired by Wellington and Kaitoke Park. OK, so I wasn’t at the farm all of the time, I had a day off each week to go and explore, and like much of Nelson, there are a great deal of artists practising nearby so I had myself a few art roadtrips. I was also very happy that my Hobbiton chum Renee had made her way back down south. We met up in a groovey Vegetarian restaurant named East Street, where we enjoyed chatting, eating, and drinking. DSC_0103.JPGI didn’t know Renee too well really, but I always wanted to hang out as I thought we may have loads in common, ever since I noticed her Zelda coin purse back in Matamata. It is going to be hard for us to fall out if you are a true Zelda fan, it had so much influence on my childhood, my desire to adventure, the creative storytelling and of course the consistently lush artwork the game creators designed. We also shared another day together hiking and exploring caves along the Maitai River (caves are becoming quite a theme). This nearly didn’t happen due to miscommunication and a high speed chase behind Ren to grab her attention as she drove off! Ha! It was fun, wet and muddy. We grabbed a well-deserved pint and sat down to hear Cynthia from the farm sing in a choir, alongside her sister Angela, in Nelson Cathedral.

P1070749.JPGGetting dirty on a daily basis, riding the quad, the ute (NZ word for pick-up) and hanging with the other animals was a great experience of a different way of living, hard work, but natural and rewarding.

Sharon cooked up hearty meals each day and was very motherly, this was the most comfortable I had felt since I left home, who doesn’t enjoy being spoilt from time to time? In the last week I worked on helping to get the vegetable bed up and running, the majority being weeding, but sowing the seeds of love too. I feel a real connection when I am gardening and feel really peaceful, I looked forward to getting outside each morning, greeting the sheep and tilling the earth. It is one of those interests I am happy to have gained from my grandparents and parents alike, I am making plans for my own garden of delights.

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So I am moving on now, making my way to the city of extreme earthquakes and sending myself healing vibes on my back that has since gone ‘twang’….

Soundtrack: Tears For Fears – Sowing the Seeds of Love, The Doors – Alabama Song

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Birthday celebrations for a Hobbit sized tour guide

 

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March was my Birthday month, and I turned the big 30. I feel really comfortable at this age, and despite most of my work colleagues at Hobbiton being younger, I enjoy the confidence and life experience this age brings with it. Matamata, in the Waikato region of New Zealand would be my home for the next two months while working at The Shire. I have got know it’s two pubs well-that didn’t take long, and the whole work family (it really is like a family) spend most occasions in a bar named the Redoubt. The hours of the job can be pretty unsociable in as much as weekends need to be worked, but there is always someone around to have a drink with on most evenings, meaning you get to know different groups of people really well.

Luke, the friend I made in Te Aroha from the same home town as me, pretty much followed me to Matamata one day and ended up staying (that’s not as stalker-like as it sounds). He managed to find work in nearby Cambridge working on a Kiwi picking farm. It’s been really cool to spend more time with him as he is such fun, easy company to be around. We have spent days off exploring nearby landscape such as the vivid Blue Springs on the nearby Te Waihou walkway, contemplating life over a beer or two.

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We headed east on another sunny day off to explore Mount Maunganui a relaxed beach town that occupies a peninsula at the southern end of Tauranga Harbour. We climbed the mount, enjoyed spectacular views and a super pizza afterwards, not too shabby at all.

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Luckily for me my birthday fell inbetween my days off. I was treated to a lovely breakfast from the family I live with alongside many presents and cards that had arrived in the mailbox from home and school, such a sweet surprise. After a great night spent at the Redoubt pub drinking with lovely aussie tour guide Anna and some locals, myself and Luke decided to head for the Waitomo Caves the next day.

Under the green hills of Waitomo lies a labyrinth of caves, sinkholes and underground rivers. We travelled with a company called Spellbound who specialise in smaller tours in far more remote, less tourist laden caves. I had wanted to visit the beautiful caves since planning my trip back in the UK. We explored the incredible milky way of glow worms gliding silently by boat gazing around in pure wonderment. Oh and we were both nursing a hangover that didn’t lend itself to intense adrenaline fuelled cave activities (!). It’s been great to re-ignite creative inspiration and I have made many sketches and paintings since my time in this area. There are no real conclusions to the pieces, they are just ideas I am playing around with and will feed my body of work ready for the artist residencies later in the year.

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I feel the privilege each day as I get to work each morning, not knowing who I will be meeting and ultimately sharing a once in a lifetime experience with. Of course I become more grounded when I have to contend with the few ignorant tourists and at times it can be like herding cats, but altogether, it’s worth it for the ones who love being there. There aren’t many greater natural highs than having a connection with somebody. I have made some really good relationships with people at Hobbiton. It has only been a two month period that I’ve spent here, but some how it has seemed more intensive and easy to strike lasting friendships, I really do feel so humbled. I am going to miss the laughs everyday, comparing high and low tour experiences with fellow tour guides, listening to Kate Bush, The Cure and Pearl Jam back from set with Linda- one of the coolest tour drivers: (we were lucky enough to get tickets for The Cure show in Auckland this July) and the ultimate sense of contentment when arriving at the beautiful Green Dragon Inn at the end of each tour. Oh how I wish I could drink the ale each time…

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I have met many people from around the world, including Southampton (it seems you can never escape) and had many offers of accommodation and I’ve never had so many comments about my eyes?…strange. The job role is to be on show to people all day everyday, which honestly isn’t in my nature at all, I am much more introverted and do find it tiring to be in this ‘state’ all of the time, so long as I have my down time then the balance levels itself again. I did really want to challenge myself and knew that the role would build confidence but more importantly for me I have felt part of something really special, a once in a lifetime opportunity that will always make me smile when I am reminded of my time there.

The south is calling. I only have a few days left at Hobbiton which is bittersweet, but my gaze is firmly set on that horizon and this year is about exploration after all.

Time to pack my bag.

Soundtrack: Mark Pritchard- Beautiful People,  Kate Bush – Aerial, Fairport Convention – She Moves Through The Fair

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Big Mossy Rocks ~ Creative Unblocks –

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It was time to plan places to explore en route back up to Matamata for work, it is very easy to find places of interest in New Zealand on a road trip, the trickier part is being selective about the ones you have time to see. In a change to my normal approach, I thought I would see a couple of tourist hotspots, rather than discover the lesser well known areas, first stop was Huka Falls. The Huka Falls are a set of waterfalls on the Waikato River that drains Lake Taupo. A popular favourite with Instagrammers, I soon joined the club. I decided a good 20 minutes enduring the raw power of the falls and luscious teal tones of the water was enough. A tip off from Roman led me further north to Rotorua, now this was a return trip of course but this time there were more geothermal pools of colour to see – something I’d missed out on last time. I visited an area called Wai O Tapu ‘Thermal Wonderland’ unlucky for me I couldn’t read the sign without singing it to the tune of ‘Boogie Wonderland’, which made it lose it’s sacred energy somewhat 🙂 P1060742This was a really enjoyable experience, although obviously a tourist site, after entering I could roam free, escape the crowds and get a really decent walk in. What a stunner! With areas such as the ‘artist’s palette’ so called because of the spectrum of colours seen in small blobs, so unnatural looking but pure nature doing it’s best to show off. It was a super hot day as well so I felt as though I’d been thrown in a boiling pot of water, a really surreal experience. Looking down over the large expanse of blue and green pools the surrounding trees had grown accustomed to the environment and framed the water with their claw like branches and luminous leaves, they looked like a miniature creation from the Weta Workshop. One of the main things I really enjoy about New Zealand is the diverse landscape, it really has it all (and I haven’t even ventured south yet). Just on this thermal site I experienced intense colour, heat, forest walks, dramatic light and not forgetting the smell (how does anybody get used to that…it must like, get into your system or something).

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Afterwards I had another Air BnB stay in Rotorua in a lovely home, they gave me beer on arrival, which is always most excellent. I decided to head for Te Aroha to stay for the week prior to work starting, on the same holiday park as before- in a caravan. It was a bit far out from Hobbiton but offered great views and importantly solace- time to get some headspace and to continue with a series of drawings I began in Napier. I quickly befriended a guy on reception called Luke who as it turns out, is also from Southampton(!) On a working holiday too, we had lots to talk about a shared a beer or two most nights. It was a really good balance being able to actually be creative and then unwind with new friends, it seems silly but I really haven’t done a lot of drinking since being away, I can only put this down to not settling somewhere long enough, or maybe it’s a comfort thing, who knows, but it is out of character. DSC_0001It didn’t take long before work started and most of my free time I started to spend with Luke. He is very easy company with similar interests in music, creativity and gaming and I am sure we will be very good friends when we get back home too. All really positive. I spent a day climbing the nearby Wairere Falls track, the weather was pretty crazy with rain but it gave the area a completely different and almost eerie feel. Huge rocks had gathered an excellent green moss and made for a great climb. Water trickled down the imposing rock walls and an artist had been hard at work creating balance art with various sized rocks on the waters edge. Upon reaching the summit I was nearly lifted by the shear power of the falls. I couldn’t see much amongst the mist and rain but overall the trek was thoroughly rewarding and reminded me of my weeks I would spend in Dartmoor painting in any weather…P1060791

Soundtrack: The Cure – From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea, Type O Negative – Love You To Death

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Rotorua, Rotovegas, Roto.. um, nowhere?

‘Don’t drink here, traveller, from this upland flood- It’s lukewarm, full of mud

Churned by the flock-But walk a little further, go, Over the hill-top

Where the heifers are grazing, then stop

By the lone pine, and gushing from the rock

Is a spring colder than the northern snow.’ – Leonidas of Tarentum

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During my stay at Raglan I managed to arrange last minute wwoofing with a family north of Lake Rotorua. They were particularly pleased I contacted them as they were heading off for the weekend and needed a dog and cat sitter -this suited me fine. I had started to feel a little unwell and needed a couple of days to myself to plan and try and shift the sickness.

It was a straightforward drive eastward after dropping Dana off in Hamilton for her shuttle back to Auckland. I was greeted by 2 lovely dogs and a big friendly fluff-ball of a cat.P1050889.JPG Judy, the mother of the family came to welcome me and show me around their 2 acre property over a nice cup of tea. The family was Judy and Mark and sons Eben and Kim (their daughter Poppy lives in the UK).

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They established their farm in the 80’s and had built it up from nothing which was really inspiring. Although no longer housing farm animals they had an abundance of flora and a particularly well stocked veg patch. They were also trying to establish truffle growing alongside their house, which as Mark explained is a fine art and fantastically hit and miss. I found it pretty magical that a fungus can produce such a hidden valued delicacy.

A typical wwoofing day consists of 4 hours work in return for accommodation and meals. Both of which were really good! Home cooked grub and a decent nights sleep was what I truly needed. I was itching to do some work (didn’t think I’d say that) after a long time in holiday mode I really wanted to get into something practical and get some experience under my belt. It’s a win/win situation really as I can provide help for a busy family whilst I have somewhere to nest for a time.

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Amongst my tasks were weeding and tending to the vegetable plot, plaiting garlic, collecting and stacking firewood and preparation for meals. On the rainier days I was asked by Judy, who is a photo enthusiast, to scan old negatives and slides to organise her collection. Everyday was changeable and I particularly liked being outside in amongst the organically grown vegetables, with the lush smells and grubbiness there is a real job satisfaction to this kind of work. The dog Ludo and cat Tails were constant company, and I could lose myself fully into the job at hand in the warming sunlight. Talking of warming sunlight, it’s incredibly easy to get sunburnt/tanned in New Zealand due to the hole in the ozone layer. Each day is a ritual of suncream and bug spray, those relentless bugs and rose thorns have done nothing for the condition of my skin, still I’m the most tanned I’ve been in a loooooong time.DSC_0018 1

Meals were prepared predominantly from veg straight from the garden- I ate really well this week. When the daily work was done I was free to explore to many sites that were of interest nearby. My first experience of Rotorua’s beauty was in the nearby site of the Hamurana Natural Springs. With Ludo in tow we took a walk that guided us to each spring, but firstly through incredible rusty coloured redwood trees. Each spring had an unusually mysterious teal blue colour to it, and was crystal clear. So pure and endlessly interesting to watch, this really was a beautiful walk that I returned to and make sketches. Intrigued to see more woodland I also spent a day at the Whakarewarewa Forest, home to the most gorgeous redwood trees.

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After a full day of weeding (there really was an endless supply, believe me) I did the tourist thing and visited Te Puia. Te Puia is a top Rotorua attraction that boasts the world famous Pohutu Geyser, kiwi enclosure, Maori art and crafts institute and many other geothermal wonders along the way. Now, throughout the year I will wind up doing the usual tourist spots no doubt, but I also find the hidden gems through the people I meet, it’s a great balance.

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Te Puia didn’t disappoint (when I managed to finally escape the other tourists) I watched a Maori song and dance performance that was enjoyable, then spent a good few hours wandering around the chalky white and luminous green rock that housed the erupting geysers. It was alive, stunning and…smelly! a true sensory experience..

Soundtrack: Lisa Gerrard- Biking Home

 

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Well Hello New Zealand – Auckland & Raglan

Thailand has been great – excellent in fact, but it was time to move on to the reason for me leaving my friends and family behind, New Zealand. I found myself watching Flight of the Conchords on the plane from Sydney, excitement ever growing.

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My first thought when landing into Auckland airport is the distinct lack of people around. I thought it may be the change of climate that hit me, but it was unusually humid in Auckland, pretty uncomfortable in fact. I took the most expensive taxi ride ever (I’m not exaggerating after the cheapness of Thailand either) to Haka Lodge. It was a nice new clean hostel although with a severe lack of air. It was situated in a quieter part of the city, but there was a karaoke bar just opposite, offering the worst talent in NZ. I realised that I would need a few days to get over the jet lag, and the rendition of My Way, and needed to sort out mundane things such as a bank account and tax code, enabling me to get paid for work in NZ. I also decided in Thailand that I’d buy a car for NZ (the best way to get to see everything I wanted) and also find a job oh and sort accommodation. It was all pretty overwhelming, and a sweaty hostel room with 6 others wasn’t the best environment for clear thinking.

So trying to sort out a bank account and tax number to enable me to work was pretty much a massive ballache. It’s really easy to gain a working visa, but they’re reluctant to give you a bank account without a permanent address-this adds to further complications with other things too. I took a wander around Ponsonby, which is full of lovely bars and stunning local art shops, the type I’d happily purchase just about everything.  DSC_0793The Art Gallery in Auckland felt very comfortable for me, I spent a lot of time there…and yes I asked about vacancies 🙂 I wasn’t just dawdling around, honest, I was desperately trying to plan accommodation, work, but mainly at this stage I was using the NZ equivalent of Ebay to find myself a car.

A Mazda Familia in (not sexy) Grey is my new ride. After looking at a few, or rather the owners driving the cars for me to see 😉 this one stood out as being well looked after – a bit of independence, finally! I could now begin to plan escaping the expensive, soul less, but perfectly nice Auckland city centre. I met a fun girl called Dana from California, we hung out, ate some ridiculously tasty grub, chatted about bands we love, and began to plan a trip to Raglan.

Raglan was unknown me, and Dana began to explain that this little place held one of the best ‘left hand point break’ in the world…yeah I didn’t know what she meant either. The time had arrived to leave Auckland in my new wheels, around a 2 hour trip, tunes playing loud, excited about our 3 night stay at Solscape.

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Solscape was up a very steep hill, overlooking the west coast, and the view was INCREDIBLE. I spent ages just staring at it in disbelief. The place was created as a surf and yoga retreat, with the accommodation created from old train carriages, not just a gimmick, these things really made sense as affordable accommodation. DSC_0836.JPGEveryone there seemed to have the same ideals, and were really friendly. We spent a good amount of time drinking and listening to each others stories of life and travel.

I signed up for a 3 hour surf session, as well as meditation and yoga. I really wanted to get as much out of this place as I could. Meditation included chanting, blessings, counting beads and the guy played his organ while singing (don’t be rude now..) I don’t know how I felt about it as a lifestyle choice, but certainly enjoyed it more when he was playing hypnotising music. DSC_0863Yoga the following day held no big surprises, it was a long session at 90 minutes but it felt really beneficial and I needed to get my body back into the practise.

The surf session started well – there was 4 of us, all absolute beginners, myself and 3 young German girls. Our leader, Andrew, was beautiful and funny (most surfers seem to be) he actually came from the Isle Of Wight! So we joked about swimming to Fawley Refinery and the fact we both went to art school. We were first off taught the way of the wave on a towel on the grass, then wetsuits on, a small drive to the beachP1050859.JPG and we were ready to hit them waves! (or at least the white foamy stuff). I’d just like to point out that I’m a bit rubbish at swimming, and my experience of the sea was a freezing cold pebbly beach in the UK and a bit of body boarding in Biarritz when I was about 10.

I stood up! More than once! What a great feeling, your mind clears, and it’s so unlike anything I’ve ever done before. It didn’t take me long to feel exhausted, the muscles I’d awoken in yoga were starting to get pretty lazy by the end of it all. Another experience on the checklist done, what a blast!

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Leaving Raglan with a positive re-charged attitude, and on to Rotorua to spend a week with a family on an organic farm…WWOOFING…

Soundtrack: Pearl Jam – Big Wave, PJ Harvey – Good Fortune

 

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New Skills/Continuing Commissions

After a weekend of learning exciting new techniques I am in an interesting position where I have a few projects running simultaneously so I think an updated Blog is in order! I spent the weekend at the Creative Glass Guild in Bristol, and under the tuition of inspirational Chris Ainslie learned techniques in sandblasting and engraving on glass. I’ve always found it difficult to settle on one medium when it comes to creating art, however glass seems so versatile and such a beautiful and endless range of techniques can be utilized and I just want to learn more. Chris Ainslie’s work was familiar to me through google image search I think? Thanks Google! He has extensive knowledge of working with glass and his current work is very playful and incorporates his imaginative figurative drawing skills, teamed with sandblasting, etching, painting and gilding, exciting stuff! There were just two of us attending the course so we had pretty much one to one tuition from Chris and produced lots of work. It’s probably a good time to point out my admiration of the Creative Glass Guild, who as well as stocking everything glass related you could possibly dream up; they have reasonably priced excellent courses. This was the second course I have attended there, the first being Traditional Stained Glass Painting with Graham Dowding, another excellent weekend and great teacher.

One of the current projects I have been commissioned for is a sandblasted 6ft mirror with an image of Bacchus, Diana and child, quite an undertaking I have now realised but with Chris’s help I feel more confident with the technique so hope to complete the panel in the next few weeks (pictures to follow when finished).

Update on the Eastleigh Borough Council commission- I visited Prysmian again today (I’m getting to know quite a few of the workers now!) and collected the brass commission I am adding gilded panels to. It’s so exciting; the design looks beautifully sleek and very well engineered, with a nod to the ‘triforce’ on the top. It’s now time to make my mark on it and get the piece finalised, then I can finally reveal what it is we are collaborating on ;).

Lastly, at the end of August 2014 I was awarded the Making It 7×7 artist grant from Making Space, based in Havant. In a nutshell it is a grant for 7 local artists and makers to further their practice, try new techniques, plan an exhibition, and/or collaborate with the focus being on the act of ‘making’. We meet up every few months and share our progress and the final culmination of ideas will be around May 2015. This is not to say anybody is expecting a finished article, more a journey of documented artistic discovery. A part of the project for me personally is working with the local retired community which will form one element of a proposed exhibition. We are working on a collaborative painted stained glass panel that has developed from using old photographs, focussing on memory, heritage and the importance of illuminating the past. It is a BIG project, that I still need to exert more time and energy into, I am of the mind this will happen when other projects are completed, shifting my focus back on to this.

So in the meantime, drawing, experimenting and completing commissions. I am really grateful to be in the lucky position of having lots of interesting projects on the go at once and I am embracing this important time.