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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

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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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The Wide Window

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It was time to get back to the original plan of heading south. After a vibrant 2 months spent in Hobbiton I was ready to start travelling to explore more of this amazing country. It is quite the drive down to Wellington so the pit stop along the way would be Mount Ruapehu, to explore some caves and a good chance to catch up with Steven who I’d met a few months prior, on my last visit to Wellington. We met at Skotel Alpine resort (think of The Shining) in some..curious weather, it was incredibly overcast and windy, enough to close off the nearby Tongariro Alpine Crossing for the weekend. It was exciting anticipating seeing Steven again as we’d only met for 4 hours previously but had managed to stay in touch despite life going on. It wasn’t long before the first bottle of wine was opened and we had chance to get used to each others company in a small wooden room. The ‘guest room’ had a wide selection of…VHS tapes, complete with annoying shaky lines and reluctance to play, we managed to dig out Jason and the Argonauts, I thought this may be fitting given Steven’s job role at Weta Workshop-we both decided it still looked pretty good for its age. Talking of age, the room also housed the saddest looking coin operated funfair game with around 10 out of date chocolate bars ready to be won, Wahooo!

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The Okupatu caves situated in the Tongariro Forest were our main destination for the weekend. We took some crazy ‘roads’ until we finally made it to the entrance (thankfully Steve had a 4×4, my automatic would have had a hissy fit). The entrances seemed pretty log-jammed at first but with a bit of careful manoeuvring thankfully we were able to enter. It was quite a network and we didn’t even discover all of it. It was rather beautiful, we had a glow worm display just for us. Steve was very mindful to create markers along the way so as not to get lost, I couldn’t help thinking of the Father Ted episode with the wool from Dougal’s jumper ‘guiding’ them. P1070201

We continued our journey to Mount Ruapehu as the sun began to set and cast beautiful long shadows across the unusually piled rocks. The short walk began at the bottom of the Centennial Chairlift and then on up to Meads Wall. This was one of the Lord of the Rings filming locations for around 5 weeks for a few different scenes. Think steep sheer cliffs, impressive views, and time to sit on a rock and feel small and insignificant in the landscape.

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The Tangiwai disaster on 24 December 1953 happened when the Whangaehu River bridge collapsed beneath a Wellington to Auckland express passenger train at Tangiwai, in the central North Island of New Zealand. The locomotive and first six carriages derailed into the river, killing 151 people. The disaster remains New Zealand’s worst rail accident. It was at this memorial we decided to part ways (on a nice cheery note!) However, it was only to be for one night…

To break up the 6 hour drive down to Wellington I decided to stop over in Featherston and stayed with a kind man who very much enjoyed talking about the Hobbit and listening to my tales of Hobbiton (that made me sound like I lived there didn’t it?). The following day I took the coast road all the way down to Cape Palliser lighthouse . The road to Cape Palliser is dramatically scenic. P1070272 This area of New Zealand has a rich history of early Maori occupation and heritage sites are part of the fascinating landscape. For the final part of the journey, the road clings to the edge of the coast, providing unstoppable views of Palliser Bay. I climbed the lighthouse and enjoyed the sun and wind on my face as I sat there with not a person (or seal for that matter) in sight.

Taking the state highway through busy Wellington across to Miramar I arrived at Steve’s small and quirky home later that day, nestled in bush up a hill- the view from the deck was inspiring. I started to gain a better appreciation of just how many films and incredible creations he has made along the way, it really is quite positively intimidating and thoroughly fascinating. Although work was to swallow him up for the week, it was my time to settle and have a few days of exploring –the places I didn’t get to see the first time around. One of these was Zealandia, a protected natural area in Wellington, a real sanctuary full of incredible birds that I enjoyed spending the day hanging out with.

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One weekday evening Steve took us around some creepy WWII army bunkers, and took great pleasure in creeping me out (it was a fun week of usual mocking of my height and accents- his was a South African/Kiwi/Irish hybrid). We also enjoyed PS4 Star Wars action, maybe more than we should’ve..

Wellington was also home to some other great friends to meet up with. One night I spent with Dana (Auckland/Raglan chum) and Lauren (Auckland/Welly chum). We drank some tasty cocktails in an interesting bar named Motel in Courtney Place while Dana told us her best Tinder experiences ever. The following evening, along with Steve this time, we headed out to Goldings with it’s Sci-Fi colourful décor to meet a good friend of my brother’s wife, Dan. What a lovely guy! We chatted, drank and ate ‘the best pizza in New Zealand’. DSC_0053 I was really beginning to love spending time in Wellington, everything was buzzing and so creative and I felt a great connection with Steve, much more so than I anticipated.

Ultimately, it’s all very fleeting, these amazing moments are there to be enjoyed and then they’re gone. It’s a strange mind-set when everything is so temporary, but it does make me appreciate even the smallest moments. I felt quite emotional discussing my love of music discussing Dead Can Dance, Lisa Gerrard, Kate Bush and I hope some of my passion for music has rubbed off. Our response to certain kinds of noise is something so profound in us that we can’t switch it off. I have found myself in a strange headspace unable to distinguish quite what it is I am doing here, heavy I know, but true. Most of the time I am riding the waves, but I do touch down every so often and feel a little lost, I am trying to get used to this and embrace it as part of the process of growth.

After locking ourselves out on the coldest and windiest night of the week we finally got inside (thanks weary locksmith!) ready to enjoy the weekend together. The Putangirua Pinnacles or The Paths of the Dead to the Lord of the Rings fans out there was our next location. A gentle walk led us to the viewing platform of this strangely wonderful rock formation. Our walk following the river out led us to an incredible find. Perched on the edge overlooking the sea, a house had lost itself to the cliff. Like a scene from Lemony Snickets- A Series of Unfortunate Events, myself and Steve were excited to go and explore! (Ok so he was braver/crazier than me) it really did mess with my senses, seeing that state of undoing holding on by its last threads. Exploring the abandoned was soon becoming a theme …and it’s intriguing and addictive.

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On our last day we had a super breakfast, visited a terrible craft fair, and took a walk around some impressive graffiti laden bunkers-that made for some great photographs. I have an excellent signed Gandalf miniature and Neanderthal skull for keepsakes and a reminder of a truly great week with an gifted artist.

 

After a change of heart I have decided to catch the ferry to the south island tomorrow, I was tempted to explore a few niggling desires pulling me back north but no, it’s time to go now. See you on the other side…

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Soundtrack: R.E.M.- What If We Give It Away, Canned Heat- On The Road Again, Bulgarian State Choir – Mir Stanke Le

art, Uncategorized

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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Uncategorized

Wanderlust-Wellington, Weta & Work

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My journey south continued onto Wellington. I had arranged more wwoofing, this time with an older lady named Cathie. Cathie was like grandma to me, we sat in the garden each day drinking tea talking about the various plants and fruit that was growing so well in the garden. Cathie had an abundance of apples, lemons, pears and peaches which I could treat myself to daily. I spent a good 4 or more hours each day tidying the garden, removing ivy and also mixing up concrete for a big slab next to the compost bin. It was rewarding to help somebody with tasks they find hard to make time for or harder to do. Cathie spent most of her days involved with community groups and such, including a fundraiser event that included watching the film The Lady in the Van in the sweetest theatre in Petone (I was DEFINITELY the youngest there). Now Cathie’s place is situated in Lower Hutt, a little way out from the city centre of Wellington. This meant for a short train ride into the main hub which was actually great as it gave the illusion of crossing the water when daydreaming out of the train window.

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Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, sits near the North Island’s southernmost point on the Cook Strait. A compact city, it encompasses a waterfront promenade, sandy beaches, a working harbour and colourful timber houses on surrounding hills. Though sunny and mild most of the year, strong winter winds through the Cook Strait give it the nickname “Windy Wellington, it certainly lived up to it’s name. I soon realised that doing my hair ready to go out was rather pointless!

After a few days of being rather hermit like at Cathie’s I ventured into Welly to soak up some of the arty goodness and culture I’d heard so much about. I spent a whole evening in the Te Pepa museum (I returned the next day and stayed most of it). There was an exhibition I was particularly interested in Gallipoli-The Scale of our war. I was interested mainly as I knew that super special effects company Weta Workshop were behind the literally larger than life models. They were really impressive and the scale was unlike anything I’d seen before, there was something uncomfortable about the size and detail and you couldn’t help but be moved by the exhibition as a whole.
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 After a late night opening at the museum I was excited to meet up with Lauren who I had met in my first few days of arriving in Auckland. It’s really cool to be able to see people again and fill in the gaps of our different experiences so far. We met in an Irish bar along with some friends Lauren had made along the way.

DSC_0243There is street art everywhere in Wellington, live bands playing along Cuba street, and the Weta Cave workshop and studios at Miramar were a real stand out experience. A humble team of exceptionally talented artists working on some of the biggest film and television series, most notable for their work on The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, District 9, Avatar and many others.

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I was in a particularly good mood by this point in the day as I had found out that after much researching and applying for jobs that I had struck gold. I was now officially a tour guide at Hobbiton!

The news was VERY sweet, the only bitter taste being that I needed to head back up north from this city I was really starting to love, I needed to make my last night in Wellington one to remember. I had arranged to have a drink with a guy I met who worked for Weta Workshop- Gandalf’s nose? Yep that’s his hand’s that created that, among many other seriously impressive pieces. We drank lovely wine and contemplated what Cheerios were on the restaurant menu (turns out they’re cheap nasty sausages, not the cereal, sorry folks). We shared a love of art, and the night was rounded off with a walk up to a stunning viewpoint of Wellington. We’ve planned to see each other again.

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It was time to leave Wellington and yet again my road trip lead me through some amazing scenery. I made a stop off at Kaitoke Regional Park, home to pristine rainforest and crystal clear rivers creating the magical elvish tranquility of this Lord of the Rings filming location, also known as Rivendell. It was certainly a beautiful site, the area was long since rid of its sets used for filming and all that marks the site is a carved arch and sign posts telling the viewer scenes that were films at certain points. This was all I needed, just a hint of what was, leaving plenty of room for imagination to kick in.P1060670

En route back up to Hobbiton I made a detour east to Napier. A national disaster resulted in Napier becoming one of the purest Art Deco cities in the world. On the morning of February 3rd 1931 a massive earthquake – 7.9 on the Richter scale – rocked Hawke’s Bay for more than three minutes. Nearly 260 lives were lost and the vast majority of buildings in the commercial centre of Napier were destroyed, either by the quake itself or the fires that followed. I spent more time in Napier than first planned mainly because I got on so well with Shontae who was letting my stay in her house for a few days. She was a really kind soul, fascinated in natural health and self healing and was busy planning her travels to Europe. We especially enjoyed eating curry and chatting! Simple things..

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