27 February 2015

A Date with The Three Sisters

On the drive from Hamilton to New Plymouth during our Christmas holiday, I'd been hoping to make a stop at Tongaporutu to walk out to The Three Sisters - a renowned rock formation on the coastline that is only accessible at low tide. However, the tides weren't quite right when we drove past on this occasion, and as we only had two nights planned in New Plymouth we felt we had better maximise the time with my gran - so we left it for another time.

So fast forward a mere six weeks and we found ourselves again heading up to Taranaki for the long Waitangi weekend. This time the planets were more likely to align as I'd done my research and discovered that low tide was at 7pm and with sunset at 8.30pm, the chances were indeed high for good light assuming we were also lucky enough to get good weather on the day.

Lucky for us it was a very good day - so after an early dinner we headed up the coast an hour for our date with The Three Sisters.

From the carpark it's about a 10 minute walk along the exposed riverbank so it's is almost easier just to ditch your footwear (especially if you're in jandals) for this bit as the sandstone is quite slippery.

The Three Sisters is a fascinating stretch of NZ's coastline, not unlike Wharariki Beach that we visited back in October. But one gets the impression that unlike Wharariki, the coastline here is changing even more rapidly.

The Three Sisters rock pools

Prior to our adventure here, I did a bit of reading up about Tongaporutu and found out that the third Sister (you can see there are only two above) was actually destroyed in an epic storm back in the spring of 2003 - I found this fascinating article about a local photographer Pat Greenfield who has been documenting this coastline for the past 11 years and who has witnessed the incredible changes in the landscape over this time.

The Three Sisters boulders

A third Sister has since broken away from the main cliff again but is not as far out to sea as the other two.

We were fortunate that on the evening we went the skies were so clear that Mt Taranaki was even visible on the horizon if you look closely.

Two of the three Sisters Tongaporutu

This rock below is about as close looking to a mammoth as you could ever get, don't you think?!

Mammoth Rock Mount Taranaki

My best option for taking photos was to stand in the wet sand to capture the reflections of the rocks and cliffs - I just had to keep one eye on the surf as an odd rogue wave seemed to come in every ten minutes or so that had far more reach than the rest and threatened to take me out as well as the camera and tripod too.

Tongaporutu reflections

Black and wihte The Three Sisters Tongaporutu

The Three Sisters reflections


You can clearly see where the third Sister is in this shot I captured of the boys.

The Three sisters sunset sunflare bokeh

As the sun began to sink lower in the sky I took the opportunity to try and catch a sunflare on the corner of the biggest Sister. And was pretty pleased with the results!

Sunflare at sunset Three Sisters

The Three Sisters sunset boulders

The clear skies meant the eventual sunset wasn't filled with amazing red and pink hues, instead some rather lovely golden and salmon hues which stretched across the sky as the sun sank below the horizon.

Sunset reflections Three Sisters

golden sunset reflections Three Sisters

It was a truly incredible night to have been here and I'm hopeful that the planets will align again for the timing for me to one day soon return and capture her beauty again.

24 February 2015

The Amazing Anniversary Race: how we raced around the world without even leaving Wellington

It's no secret that hubby and I love travel. Sure, settling down and having two kids has made it a little more difficult to gallivant all over the world but we do still manage to get out and about and see new spots around NZ these days on a regular basis - which is still travel - it's just closer to home!

I decided to spring a little anniversary surprise on my beloved for our 11th wedding anniversary on 21 Feb. This year it fell on a Saturday night so it worked out well to be able to incorporate some activities together around Wellington as well as dinner out. We are also big fans of the Amazing Race TV series and I thought it would be fun to jog his memory and let us reminisce about some of our more memorable travel experiences around the world.

He thought we were going to Taste restaurant in Khandallah and he knew I had something planned beforehand but he didn't know what! As we drove down the street and around the corner, I pulled in and handed him his first Amazing Race card. If I'm honest, he wasn't overly thrilled to begin with. I think he thought I might be planning on making him do things out in public that would embarrass him which I definitely wasn't intending! Anyway, after a bit of a rough start to the night, it gradually got better as we went along. So off we went:

Clue 1: Find and drive to the place you might go if you wanted to get a visa to visit the country where we saw elephants and turtles in the wild.

This was of course Sri Lanka - Mark had been working for Kuoni Travel in the UK in his first job out of university, and the top sales person after their first three months on the job was up for a holiday. Mark and his mate Dan were neck and neck all the way to the last week - so they decided that no matter who won they would take the other person on the holiday and pay for the partners to come along too. So as it turned out the four of us had the most amazing week or so away in Sri Lanka and the Maldives in May 2001.

We drove to the Sri Lankan Embassy at 32a Izard Street Khandallah - which was the most unassuming embassy I've ever seen - a normal house with a Sri Lankan flag flying outside - where I handed him his next clue.

Clue 2: Drive to the place that's just around the corner that has the name of the country we visited at the same time.

Which was of course Maldive Street and turned out to be pretty easy to find.

Clue 3: Now find and go to the place that most reminds you of Santorini in Wellington.

This is the Greek Orthodox Church on the same street that Mark's office is on back in the centre of town. We visited Santorini in July 2004 for our honeymoon - it was the most incredible place for sunsets - and warm - at nearly 40 degrees - although it was a dry heat with a constant meltemi wind blowing to cool things down. The sunsets there are to die for - how I wish I knew then what I knew now about photography to capture them!

Clue 4: This very nearly got us into big trouble in Perth. Where around here do you think you could buy it? Go there and find it.

When we moved back to NZ in 2002, we spent an amazing 3 weeks in South Africa and then a short stop over in Perth on the way home. However, we didn't think to declare the biltong we had planned to bring back home for my brother and then once customs found that and the wooden giraffes we also had in our luggage we very nearly got a $10,000 fine! Eek! So the biltong was duly found in New World where I handed him his next clue.

Clue 5: While you're here find something that's named after an island we visited in 1999.

This was Kos (although I wanted him to find cos lettuce). Our trip to Kos was our first holiday abroad together in late September 1999 and it was my first taste of the magic of the Greek Islands - we also later visited Keffalonia in 2001 (inspired by reading the book Captain Corelli's mandolin) and of course we also visited Santorini in 2004.

Clue 6: There's a restaurant near here that has the name of a place we visited in Amsterdam as part of its name.

This one had Mark stumped for a while - and so he had to resort to good old Google - he knew it was Heineken (we'd visited the Heineken factory whilst on a city break in Amsterdam) but he wasn't sure how to relate it to somewhere in Wellington - I'm not surprised as I also had to put my thinking cap on to get the association when I was making up the clue - but it turns out that St John's Bar is actually called the St John's Heineken hotel. Once he got that we headed there for a drink. My plan had been to have dinner here (as we have been here before on at least one other anniversary) but unfortunately they were booked for a private function so I'd had to rethink the whole route mid-week after I thought I had the whole night sussed - never mind!
When I handed Mark his next clue it took him a while to figure it out and I needed to give him a few clues - it was a little obscure as I don't think the Lovelock Bridge in Paris was probably even famous when we were there back in 2000 - but I knew Wellington had one and that it was only a couple of minutes walk away.

Clue 7: Near here is a place that's a smaller replica of a much more famous place in a European city we visited in 2000. What roadblock do you think we need to complete here?

But once he'd figured out the location - he knew exactly what we were planning to do. During the week I'd scoped the bridge out and put a padlock - the famous thing about the bridge in Paris is that couples put a padlock on the bridge and then throw away the keys - symbolising their eternal love.
Back in our earliest days when we were working together at the Museum Hotel in Wellington , we used to use 'Ma' and 'Me' as a short form of our names when signing off on things so it was only fitting we use the Ma and Me for our wee symbol of love here.

We had to be a little surreptitious as I'm pretty sure you're not meant to actually do this so while no one was looking Mark dropped the keys into the water while I clipped the padlock to the bridge!

Clue 8:  Head down the road to a shop that sells something we did in late 2001.

This was the snowboarding shop on lower Cuba Street - and was a memory of our snowboarding trip to Switzerland in December 2001. Originally we'd been planning to go to New York but then September 11 happened and we decided it probably wasn't the right time to go. So we headed off to a little ski-field called Crans Montana not far from Montreux and had an interesting week of sightseeing and a little snowboarding - I say a little as it was really much too early in the season for good powder so we had a fair few frustrations trying to find a good place to board with chair lifts (as I found the T-bar lifts nigh on impossible to manage!).

Clue 9: From here we're going to a place that's named after an impressive mountain we've seen.

And this was of course the Matterhorn - we went to Zermatt and ended up doing a day of sightseeing here and then came back later on in the week for another day of snowboarding - it was no small feat to get to from our little village - nearly 2 hours and 3 different trains to get there.

Wellington's own Matterhorn restaurant is another place we'd been to for another anniversary some years ago - although it had pretty bad memories as I ended up with one of my 'sore tummies' afterwards and the walk home from the restaurant was anything but fun. Mark got so fed up that at one point he told me I was like a 'bulldog chewing on a wasp' at one point - a funny memory that has stuck with us ever since.

Clue 10: And now it's time for tea!

So it was definitely time to lay old ghosts to rest and have a much more enjoyable Matterhorn experience this time round. Which we most certainly did.

Clue 11: Where close by can you get one of our favourite desserts from a country we've visited twice and haven't mentioned on this adventure yet?

For the last clue of the night, I wanted Mark to guess tiramisu and then give him the choice of a couple of restaurants nearby that I knew served it on their dessert menu. As it turned out, he chose Scopa which was only a short hop up the road from the Matterhorn.

We got a takeaway serving and walked back through the night market where we managed to scrounge a couple of spoons and then ate our tiramisu at the top of the cable car watching the city's lights twinkle below us.


On the way round as Mark had ticked off each clue I'd also given him a puzzle piece at each stop which when he put it all together at the end read:

It was definitely one of our more memorable anniversary evenings - it was very fun to plan and gave us the opportunity to relive some of our funny, awkward and awesome memories of the past 17 years together!

20 February 2015

It's official: we are a bunch of crazies

Last July I dragged the whole family for a night away at Castlepoint, a tiny settlement at the end of the Earth. Well, it's at the end of a long road in the Wairarapa so it might as well be the end of the Earth. I was hoping to get some good sunset and sunrise photos - luckily the planets aligned and I took what it is still one of my favourite dawn-lighthouse shots here.

Whilst tidying up the computer files the other day I came across a series of short videos that Mark and the boys had taken on his underwater camera from the morning we were standing up at the lighthouse waiting for the sunrise. It was freezing and windy - being a 7am start in mid-winter.

It makes for some funny viewing (even if just for us anyway!).

There's a screaming banshee, some ninja moves, unusual running commentaries, a bit of a whoopsy daisy as the camera has a slight accident falling off the railing. Seeing the sun coming up on screen is pretty sweet and then I'm pretty sure there's someone checking out my butt, a bit of rock throwing and feeding the ducks at Rivendell and maybe even a pip pop?! It's all happening I tell ya!

I'm so glad that we have this memory of this wee trip away - I know I take a lot of still shots which capture the moments but there's something really cool about actually seeing and hearing the fun you had on an adventure too - especially months later!

17 February 2015

Celebrating a life well lived

Last week my Nan (my dad's mum) passed away at the incredible age of 97 and 10 months. She was an amazing lady and I want to do her memory justice by telling you a little bit about her and how we cherished her memory last weekend.

My Nan, Marie Ruth Fletcher was born 18 April 1917 in Wellington. She lived in Wellington in her early life, firstly in Arawa Road, Hataitai before moving to Norway Street in Kelburn. This house has incredible significance for me as when Mark and I bought our first house, it was also in Norway Street right across the road from my Nan's old house. I often think that the reason the little 2 bedroom villa caught my eye in the property magazine was because I recognised the name of the street.

Marie's Dad and my great-grandad, Maximilian Gandar was a strapping 6 foot 6 (you can see how much taller he was than everyone else in the photo below!) and was involved in town planning and surveying and he also helped build the very steep zig zag path that connects Norway Street with Plunket Street above.

After they moved there, my Nan attended the school my kids go to now - and last year when the school had its 100 year centenary, I managed to speak to the oldest attendee who remembered my Nan and her family as he had lived on Norway Street too!

Marie's brother Les (who later became a politician, Vice Chancellor of Massey University and High Commissioner to London) attended Wellington College and was a keen rugby player who went on a sport exchange to Nelson during which time he was billeted with the Fletcher family, and the friendship that Les developed with Iain Fletcher from this trip eventually led to a burgeoning relationship and a marriage proposal for my Nan.

They married in 1941, but only six weeks after this my Pa Iain was sent off to war as a medic, and they wouldn't be reunited for 4 and a half years.......imagine being apart for all that time! During his time in the war, he fought in the 26th Battalion in North Africa and Italy, and was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery in rescuing injured troops under fire in the battle of Cassino. This is an excerpt from the records of the battle:

'As the dawn approached enemy mortar and shellfire increased. Direct hits were scored on a number of houses but no casualties resulted. No. 8 Platoon, stationed in and around the Roundhouse, was unlucky. A mortar bomb wounded five men, including the platoon commander, 2 Lt McLean.39 Up until this stage Capt McKinlay had been unable to make wireless contact with Battalion HQ and all messages were being relayed through B Coy's set. By this means Battalion HQ was advised there were casualties to be evacuated. Captain Fletcher decided to go forward and attend to the wounded on the spot, despite the fact that it was broad daylight and the Germans were shelling all approach routes. The doctor arrived safely, and later the injured men were evacuated in jeeps, which ran the gauntlet of enemy fire to reach the station.'

During the war, my Nan kept herself busy working for the Shell Oil drafting office and as a voluntary nurse in the maternity ward in Wellington. After the war, they spent some time living in England as Pa won a medical scholarship to go there and I recall my Nan telling me how hard those times were living in post-war London with all the rationing while raising a small family - with four children born in just six short years.

On their return to NZ, they settled in the small town of Waitara, just north of New Plymouth where my Pa practiced as a doctor running his own surgery for nearly 40 years. My Nan as well as raising four children supported Pa in his practice answering the telephone. I have wonderful memories of family holidays here in their glorious big garden, checking for fish in the goldfish pond, the luxury of having a spa at their house, listening to records and stories like Thomas the Tank Engine on their gramophone and the sound of the mantle clock chiming every half an hour. I was lucky enough to inherit the clock and although it's seen better days I hope to be able to restore it to its full glory.

My Pa was a keen tramper and introduced all his children to the love of the outdoors, but my Nan had always had trouble with her hips and wasn't able to go on these long walking adventures. Her hip troubles meant that during her life she had 3 hip replacements but despite her physical limitations she was never idle. Her time spent gazing at beautiful scenery while the others were off walking may well have been a reason for her developing her love of watercolour landscapes and pen and ink sketches. She would stay at the car while my Pa walked, sketching and later painting what she saw. She even held art exhibitions for her work, and during her life must have painted hundreds if not thousands of still life and landscape works. Even in 2013, at age 96 she was still donating her art for a good cause - I found this article in the Taranaki Daily news about her donating her art.

She was also an accomplished organist and singer - having sung in the New Plymouth choir for many years. At some point, she also took up a role transcribing books into Braille using a special typewriter - something she did for 25 years and was awarded the Queens Service Medal for Community Service in 1995 for her many years of effort doing this.

They retired to New Plymouth in the early 1990's and celebrated their golden (50th) wedding anniversary surrounded by all the family in 1991. Despite Pa's health deteriorating around the time my Nan turned 80 and their move just down the road into the Molly Ryan retirement home, they even managed to celebrate their diamond anniversary in 2001 before my Pa then passed away in 2002.

My other grandmother (Gee Gee) who is nearly 90 and still lives in her own home lives about a 5 minute walk from Molly Ryan so on every visit to see her, we would also pop up to Molly Ryan and spend an hour or so with Nan. She had an incredibly sharp mind and memory and could tell us amazing stories from her earlier life - being Wellingtonians we were always especially interested in her childhood stories from Wellington and her years spent in London.

At Easter last year with her health deteriorating further, she made the difficult decision to move to Auckland to be closer to my aunty Jan. We visited her at Molly Ryan as her life was being packed up around her, and it would be the last time I saw her. She died peacefully on 12 February.

Her funeral was held last Saturday on Valentines Day - and it wasn't until we were with the extended family that I realised that my Pa's funeral had also been held on Valentines Day - 13 years earlier. The day was an incredibly special one - attended by all 4 children, and 11 of her 14 grandchildren. She also had 21 great-grandchildren although only a few were able to attend. It was the first time I had seen many of my cousins for over 20 years and was a wonderful opportunity to catch up on their adult and family lives.

My cousin Ruth and me

My cousins Stephen and Campbell

Cousins Daryl and Jono

My dad with his older brother Rob

My mum with my dad's older sister Corrine

We congregated at my Aunty Jan's house in Drury, South Auckland before the funeral and Nan was brought to the garden before the church service so we all had a chance to say our own farewell to her - it was a beautiful setting having her there under the big old oak tree.

My dad, his sisters and their special friend Kerry farewell their mum

Jan, Rob and Corinne (my dad's siblings)

Jono with mum Corrine

Rob and Carol with my mum and dad

Cousins James and Andrew with their dad and Andrew's little boy Josh

Ruth, my aunty Jan with her daughter Rebecca and me

The beautiful grapes hanging overhead you could pick and eat straight from the vine.

Each of the children spoke at the funeral, and as it was Valentines Day, all the grandchildren put a red rose on the casket during the ceremony, and the great-grandchildren who were there also put on a white rose.

Pa's war medals (including his Military Cross) and her trusty walking stick also accompanied her on her final journey.

She was an incredible lady and her life touched many.

Our loss is heaven's gain.


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