Monday, September 14, 2015

A Man, A Mountain

 New Plymouth and a Tribute To My Cousin Bill Geange 1953 - 2015

 New Plymouth is a city nestled on the west coast of the North Island, in the province of Taranaki and is geographically dominated by the nearby imposing majesty of Mount Taranaki ( formerly Mt. Egmont ), a 2518 metre high conically shaped volcano. It is deemed an active volcano with activity averaging every 90 years and a major eruption every 500 years. The last activity was around 1850. Most of the year it is snow covered and when visible ( often it is obscured by cloud ) is awesome and beautiful.
Our previous ventures to New Plymouth have been to attend the Womad festival which is held yearly in the beautiful Pukekura Park. Womad is a wonderful 3 day festival of music and culture from around the world. Hosted in many countries the New Plymouth Womad is often said to be the best Womad venue anywhere. We have been a few times and it has always been a fantastic weekend.

This last weekend however we were in New Plymouth to attend the funeral of my cousin Bill. Very sadly Bill had passed away not too far off his 62nd birthday.
At age 22 Bill suffered kidney failure.  He had 40 years living an unfathomably difficult life, several transplants, all of which failed, many operations and many years of having to hook up to a dialysis machine every 2 days. 40 years of health intervention ruling his life daily yet despite this he had an outlook on life that was inspirational.
Right up to the end he lived his life without complaint of his condition, rather, he looked at all the positives in his life - his love for his wife Phillipa and their children, Kate, Mathew and David, his extended family, friends and his career ( as a guidance councillor at New Plymouth Boys  High School ) were all foremost in his thoughts and his daily life. He put his disability to one side and got on with the good things he had in life.
Glowing tributes were paid to him from so many of his colleagues, friends, family and boys that he had inspired from his school. Inspirational was a word often used by those who spoke about this larger than life, formidable gentleman.
Rest in Peace Bill. You were a rare person in the lives of all who knew you.

New Plymouth, even now without Bill, is a great place to visit. Being on the coast and having the mountain so close geography is big on the attraction list. With surf beaches, coastal rivers emptying to the sea, estuaries, the mountain and lush green rolling farmland and small towns there is much to do and explore.

The city itself is very walkable and the one thing that strikes you are the large artworks on building walls, the streets and parks.
Art is very big in New Plymouth and high on the list of must sees is the Govett - Brewster Art Gallery housing many works of kinetic sculpture from Len Lye. These installations are large perpetual motion pieces commonly in stainless steel. They wave, or wobble, or rotate and seem to have an infinite life of their own. The gallery building is an architectural statement in itself with tall multi-curved reflective stainless steel walls - very impressive inside and out.
The coastal walkway is right beside the city centre and a walk along here is a must. Again there are artworks and installations all around and an abundance of restaurants and cafes to enjoy on your way.
Such a vibrant and friendly city, New Plymouth should be on your list of places to visit if you are in New Zealand. Best times to visit would be in March for Womad when the weather is still warm, or Spring ( September ) where the  mountain still has a full covering of snow, the temperatures are  cool to warm but fresh and new born lambs and calves can be seen amid the lushness of the countryside. If you come to New Plymouth from the north then do try and stop at Awakino, Mohau and Tongaporutu for stunning coastal and estuarine landscapes and you must try the Whitebait Fritters on offer at most cafes. Delicious.

There are many places to stay in New Plymouth. We can highly recommend One Burgess Hill which is sited on a large property in the countryside just out of New Plymouth on the road to Startford and Wanganui.
Nestled amongst hills beside a flowing boulder lined river, with paddocks of sheep ( and baby lambs whilst we were there ) and cows. A number of accommodation blocks are scattered around the estate. Much thought has gone into the design of the buildings and the landscaped grounds that surround them. The river walk and a leisurely stroll around the property is recommended. 
The rooms themselves were very stylish and comfortable. A variety of layouts and prices are on offer. Ours at the cheapest end was still very up market with a deliciously deep spa bath to relax in and soak at the end of the day. A huge comfortable bed, T.V. with full Sky and free wi-fi are standard. All rooms have kitchen facilities and a variety of breakfast options can be provided if required.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Coromandel Photos

These photos are from a small area on the lower eastern Coromandel Coast 

Photos left to right:

- Te Karo Bay ( also known as Sailor's Grave Beachas there is an old gravesite here from a ship that sunk nearby )
- The Alderman Islands from Te Karo Bay
- Otara Bay - after a beautiful walk along a bush track from Te Karo Bay 
- Woodpigeon in the bush at Opoutere Youth Hostel - a recommended place to stay, very peaceful with stunning views over the harbour.
- The rather unusually hooped Belted Galloway in a paddock near Ohui.
- Boat Restoration at Tairua Harbour - a big job by the looks.
- Tairua Beach with Paku hill in the background
- Opoutere Harbour, one of the prettiest places around
- Opoutere Harbour at Sunset taken from the Youth Hospital
- Opoutere beach resting place. The seats have names on them for the people who installed them.

The next 3 photos are of Ohui ( The Meeting Place ) which is at the northern end of Opoutere beach.
Early this year we had the opportunity of a lifetime to purchase into a shareholding arrangement with 14 other families at this private end of the beach. It is Paradise and if you find yourself in this part of the world you are most welcome to come and stay for a few nights.

- Ohui sunset from the balcony at our place looking over to Slipper Island
- Ohui Beach. Looking down the 5km beach toward Opoutere
- Daniel and Mack in the surf at Ohui Beach. Dan is our eldest son and Mack is our first grandson

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Coromandel Peninsula

The Coromandel ( Peninsula ) is one of the many beautiful coastal places that New Zealand has to offer. From sparkling clean beaches, with swimming, surfing and fishing, to high native bush covered hills ( not quite NZ mountains due to the warmer weather and the northerly latitude – although from time to time you will get snow ) crystal clear flowing rivers and cascading waterfalls and greenery galore all make the Coromandel one of our very favourite places to visit.

Living in Auckland ( a story in itself that I will cover soon ) we are fortunate that the Coromandel is so close. We can drive to our favourite spot in about 2 hours. To get to the northern most tip another hour or a little more as you should take it slowly the road is rather winding and very spectacular.
The drive is pleasant and relaxing once you clear the Bombay Hills which mark the southernmost past of the city. South of the “ Bombays “ you find yourself in the Waikato*, a largely flat and fertile landscape whose focus is largely farming and agriculture.
The Waikato district title comes from the Maori** name for a major river ( NZ's longest, but not largest by volume ) that is central to the area for many reasons, irrigation, power generation and water supply being the some important reasons, and one with a very special spiritual, historical and family ( Whanau*** ) significance for Maori.

New Zealand roads are something else if you have never been here. Apart from some multi-lane main highway sections, usually near ( or between ) large cities, most roads are single lane in each direction. The speed limit is 100kph but often you will find yourself slowing down to 80-90kph for corners and slower traffic. Passing lanes are eagerly looked forward to by many road users.
Due to a succession of foresightless Governments, N.Z's once proud Railway System has slowly been wound/ closed down ( to only a couple of main trunk lines ) so you will encounter many large trucks on the road. Truck drivers on the whole are very good drivers but inevitably you will come across hilly sections and are forced to slow down behind these well laden behemoths. There are also large numbers of Campervans travelling around the country and they also are not going fast.

Getting back to the the Coromandel and and our drive there in an easterly direction still in the Waikato region. Beef and sheep farming is predominant and recently with Spring arriving you will see baby calves and lambs in abundance, adding to the experience of the drive. It never pays to hurry on New Zealand roads.

1 ½ hours ( a traffic jam free drive ) after Auckland you arrive in the Coromandel district and you will have noticed as you approach the large and ominous looking mass of hills ahead of you.

You now have a choice of turning left at the roundabout ( just past the big new bridge ) or right followed quickly by a left over and through the hills to the east coast.

Even if you are heading to the East coast it is worthwhile, if you have time, to go left as Thames is only 5 minutes away. Thames is a pretty and historic gold mining town and on Saturday mornings they have a great Farmers Market in the main street. Good for all sorts of fresh produce as well as crafts etc...the shops are all open and offer plenty of interest in antiques and collectibles. There are a number of good cafes – we recommend the Cafe Melbourne on the left hand side pretty much in the middle of the main shopping area. Good food and coffee and a little different in d├ęcor.
The architecture of the buildings in and around Thames is fascinating with many old houses and shops around 100+ years old.

I will continue this story soon and load some photos of this special area.

*  Waikato - pronounced Why-cah-toe
** Maori - ( mow-ree ) are the indigenous and original people of NZ or Aotearoa****. Maori are believed to have arrived here between 700 or more years ago travelling over sea by canoes from Polynesia. ( See below for extract from www. re European settlement )
***Whanau - ( far-no ) is Maori for family, extended family and close community.
*** Aotearoa ( ah-ow - tay-ah-row-ah ) meaning - Land Of The Long White Cloud.

With pronunciation I have " tried " to emulate the sound which must be said fairly quickly. Easy if you know how, not so if you are new to the language ( te reo**** )

****Te Reo - the official Maori language pronounced tay-ray-oh

Following extract taken from:


In 1642 the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman made the first confirmed European discovery of New Zealand. He charted the country’s west coast from about Hokitika up to Cape Maria van Diemen. Subsequently a Dutch map maker gave the name Nieuw Zeeland to the land Tasman had discovered. A surprisingly long time – 127 years – passed before another European reached New Zealand.
James Cook first visited New Zealand in 1769, on the first of three voyages. He circumnavigated and mapped both main islands and returned to Britain with reports about the country’s inhabitants and resources.

An Australian outpost

For 50 years after Sydney was founded in 1788, New Zealand was an economic and cultural outpost of New South Wales, and most of the earliest European settlers came from Sydney. In the late 18th century sealers and whalers began visiting; by the early 19th century some began to settle, and some to farm. During these years, New Zealand was part of a Pacific-wide trade system, and New Zealand goods were sold in China.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

New Posts Coming Soon

Hi there folks.

Sadly this blog has been neglected since we moved back to NZ we are no longer desert Kiwis, dessert Kiwis might be a better description nowadays.

We intend to get back posting and will do a few about NZ and various places we visit here. NZ is a beautiful country still relatively unpopulated ( 4.5 Million ) and is very green and lush. We have spectacular mountains, forests and beaches.

Keep an eye out for some new posts soon.

Thanks to everyone out there that still looks at this blog - there were 188 views last month which tells us we need to get back into it.

Friday, March 8, 2013

From Desert Kiwis to Aotearoa kiwis

Gosh it has been nearly a year since I last posted to this blog. Quite a bit has happened since then....
The project i was working in Abu Dhabi with Cognition finished at the end of June. I had a great year working in 2 boys prep schools......loved the team of advisors I worked with and enjoyed the working with the teachers, especially Theyab at Zayed Al Thani and Ahmed at Al Moatassem.
The team I worked with at Zayed (Colin, Dave and Shane) decided to apply for an advisory job in Khazakstan with Capita. We had the interviews in Dubai and were offered the the start a 4 month contract with no definite start date. Last day working in AD was Mid July. Brian working for Cognition, he stayed to pack everything up to send home.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


Lebanon is a fascinating blend of people, religions and history. With sites dating back before 3000 b.c. 18 recognised religions and a geography where you could be swimming in the Mediterranean in the morning, yet with a 1 hour drive be putting on your boots for some skiing in the afternoon.

Lebanon derives its name from Labneh which in Arabic means yoghurt. Travellers approaching from the dry and arid east would be stunned by spectacular views of snow covered mountains and snow would most likely be something beyond their experience or comprehension so it must have appeared that the mountains were indeed covered in yoghurt. They must have scratched their heads pondering the population of goats and sheep and labneh manufacturers. In our time there we encountered glorious sunny days, some rain, snow, hail and quite a lot of yoghurt.

The country has a population of about 4 million but there are, depending on who you ask, between 12 and 15 million Lebanese living abroad. Brazil interestingly has the largest expatriot Lebanese population of about 8 million. Millions of Lebanese left during the civil war and years of occupation between 1975 and 2000 and many young people continue to leave today for work overseas where they can earn so much more. Tourism, banking and agriculture are the biggest economies in Lebanon.

 Beirut is the capital and is a city of contrasts, where shelled and bullet ridden buildings sit among new flashy high-rise,  brand new Audis and BMW's vie for space on congested roads with 40 year old Mercedes, Peugeots and V.W's. Elegant Ottoman and European style buildings in the central suburbs soon lead to shabby and roughly built apartment blocks.
The predominantly Algerian populated suburb of Bourj Hammoud is a bustling bargain hunters shopping area with very reasonable prices for jewellery, leather, shoes and clothes. Nearby Gemmayzeh is very trendy with bars, cafes, restaurants, boutique shops and nightclubs and has many amazing deco styled buildings from the 1940's. Hamra ( where we stayed ) is again trendy with cafes, restaurants and all the latest fashion stores from around the world. It is the student area housing the American University on Bliss Street.

The Beirut Central District ( or Downtown as it is known ) was reputed as being the Paris of the Middle East. In the 1980's it was the centre of the war zone and in the late 90's became the focus of one of the world's most ambitious rebuilding programs. Today it is spotlessly clean and relatively traffic free. The Ottoman and French styled buildings have been lovingly restored and it is here you will find the Al-Omari Mosque, originally built as the Church of John the Baptist in the 12th century and converted to a mosque on 1291, St Georges Cathedral a Maronite church dating back to the Crusades and the very impressive National Museum. Discovered during reconstruction of Downtown and since restored are the Roman baths and the Cardo Maximus a Roman era market area. A great area for walking with so much too explore and see.
 We used Nakheel Tours for our daily sightseeing trips and they are to be highly recommended. The guides are very knowledgeable, helpful and friendly. We travelled in newish small buses and it was good to meet so many different people from so many countries. A large banquet Lebanese mezze lunch was included each day and was a truly magnificent feast. So much so we seldom felt the need to have dinner that night, usually a bit of a walk out to a cafe or bar for light liquid refreshment and a small snack was easily enough. So with free breakfast at the hotels each morning and free lunch we hardly spent much on food during our trip.
We had organised 4 days of sightseeing for our trip and this is probably enough time to visit most of the important places of interest. In retrospect we would have changed our Day1 itinerary and skipped Beitaddine Palace and Deir al-Qamar and arranged a visit to Sidon and Tyre in the south instead, which we've heard from friends as being well worth it.
Day1 started with the Jeita Grotto, 18kms from Beirut, is a labyrinth of caves with magnificent stalagtite and stalagmite formations and definitely worth visitng. Unfortunately the lower cave, which can include a boat ride was closed due to flooding, common at this time of year. Photography is forbidden, probably so you have to buy postcards at the little shop at the entrance. Pity really as there wasn't much in the way of postcards for sale at the shop anyway. The caves go some 7km into and under the hillside and although we were limited to less than 1 km they are very impressive.
Next we continued to Beiteddine Palace. Built over 30 years from 1788 it is an interesting blend of Arab and Italian architecture. Of particular interest are the Hammam or baths with stunning feature inlaid multi piece glass ceilings. Nearby Deir al-Qamar is a picturesque hillside town with traditional Lebanese houses and the oldest mosque in the country. We had lunch here at a neat little restaurant in the main square and it was possibly the best we had. 

Day2 and not far from Beirut is Byblos ( also known as Jbail ). Excavations have shown that Byblos was probably inhabited around 7000 years ago. In the 3rd millenium BC it was the most important Phoenecian trading port on the eastern Mediterranean, trading in cedar wood and oil in exchange for gold, alabaster, papyrus and linen. The Phoenecians are credited as being the inventors of the alphabet. The Greeks ruled from 333 BC followed by the Romans in 64 BC. In 1104 AD the city fell to the Crusaders. The Crusader castle today is the most prominent building still standing and fantastic views can be had from the top ramparts over the whole site and across to the original port. It was fascinating to see where original Roman columns had been laid in rows to help form the foundations for the castle. There are still many Roman ruins to be seen, in particular the amphitheatre as well as part of the Colonnade, columns and royal tombs that housed sarcophagi, some of which still remain. Many of the best exhibits including amazing gold covered figurines can be seen in the Beirut National Museum. Byblos as well as the museum are well definitely worth a visit.

 On the way back to Beirut we caught a very steep cable car to a hilltop 600 metres above sea level where a large statue of the Virgin Mary ( Our Lady of Harissa ) dominates the skyline. Great views up and down the coastline can be taken in here. It was at the top that the skies opened up and from the shelter of a small cafe we drank tea and coffee while large hail stones pelted down around us.
That evening we decided to walk down to the Pigeon Rocks at one end of the Corniche to watch the sunset. There was a fair swell rolling in and it didn't surprise us one bit that a bunch of lads in a small boat were hooning around the rocks and speeding through the cave.
Walking back into Hamra we found a very pleasant bar that was serving one of Beirut's newest boutique beers - 961 Red Ale, brewed not far away in Gemmayzeh. They were advertising  Happy Hour and this seemed to be an offer too difficult to refuse. After a few very delicious 961's we departed feeling rather happy indeed.

Next day after a good breakfast we headed off by bus to Baalbek in the Bekka Valley and home area of the Hisbollah. Baalbek was named after the Phoenician god Baal. The greeks called it Heliopolis ( City of the Sun ), the Romans made it a worship site for Jupiter and the remains of the Roman City are pretty impressive and are one of the more spectacular archaeological sites in the Middle East, comparable to Jerash in Jordan and listed as a World Heritage site. The Temple of Bacchus ( also known as the Small Temple ), completed around 150AD, is amazingly well preserved and is most definitely not's huge. With snow covered mountains off in the near distance this is a particularly beautiful spot.
On the way back to Beirut we stopped at the Ksara winery, Lebanon's largest winery. Behind the front main building are a series of natural caves, apparently discovered by the local monks who's chickens were being killed by a fox. One day by pursuing the fox the caves were discovered and they proved to be perfect for making and storing wine. We sampled a few of the wines - they were ok but we thought not really up to NZ or Australian quality.
Nearby is Anjar, built in the symmetrical Roman style by the Islamic Umayyads. In the city's heyday  shops ( 600 have been uncovered ), palaces , baths and mosques lined the two 20 metre wide main intersecting avenues, the Cardo Maximus and Decumanus Maximus.

Having done all the historical sites day 4 of sightseeing was up to the mountainous area known as Cedars. On the way we stopped in a beautiful village where Khalil Gibran lived. We has a look around a small museum dedicated to him.
The cedar forests in Lebanon were famous 1000's of years ago and it was a major trading commodity. The Lebanese will tell you that their cedar is the best quality. Nowadays unfortunately there are only small pockets of them left.
It was a beautiful blue sky sunny day and to be up in the snowline admiring these old, large and snow covered trees was delightful. Many on the bus had never been in snow before and the kids had a great time playing, jumping, rolling in the snow and throwing snowballs at each other and their parents.

Our first 4 nights were spent at the popular Mayflower Hotel in Hamra, which was pleasant enough, although the wireless internet was limited and usually required standing on one leg in one or two certain parts of the room with your tongue in just the right position. The last 2 nights we stayed at  the more upmarket and a little more expensive Hotel Cavalier where we were given an upgrade to a Superior suite which was just fantastic. There was a really pleasant little bar across the street which was playing some fantastic Middle Eastern crossover music. The owner was a real music nut and we spent some time chatting with him over a few beers and leaving with a list of recommended artists.
We really enjoyed our brief holiday in Lebanon and really ought to have stayed a few more days to allow a bit more time in Beirut which is a fascinating, vibrant and bustling city.

On the downside, like in many Middle Eastern countries there is a large rubbish problem. People just toss their rubbish willy nilly and too many of what could be truly beautiful and pristine places are somewhat ruined by littering.  However Beirut itself was surprisingly pretty clean, well the city centre areas anyway. Parts of the country are deemed to be dangerous, especially the Syrian and Israeli border areas. Just after we got home we heard of shooting on the Syrian Border and a cameraman was shot and killed.
On the plus side there is just so much to see and do and the food is just so delicious. The Lebanese ( particularly in Beirut ) are modern, liberal and progressive thinking and are very friendly and helpful. Nakheel our tour provider are to be highly recommended and their in tour guides are wonderful . We found that their prices which you could organise from your hotel are a lot cheaper than if you book ahead before you go. Big thanks to our tour guides Rania, Eliya and Natasha, your immense knowledge and enthusiasm was much appreciated.
 The unique blend of peoples, religion, politics, geography and history make for a holiday destination where you come away feeling like you have been somewhere quite special and very different indeed.

Photos from left to right are:
Pigeon Rocks, Beirut;  Shell and bullet ridden building, Beirut;  Beirut buildings, Downtown.
Interior Beitaddine Palace;  Phoenician Alphabet;  Phoenician figurines from Byblos
Byblos -   Roman amphitheatre;  Roman columns used in Crusader Castle foundations;  Columns and Lintel;  Cable car to summit
Bacchus Temple in Baalbek;  Lions head in Baalbek;  Picturesque village of Khalil Gibran; Cedars in the snow
Al-Omari Mosque and Buildings at sunset in Gemmayzeh;  Elusive snow kiwi;  Individual prayer spaces on Al-Omari Mosque carpet

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sri Lanka Photos

Some photos from our visit to Sri Lanka. Titled from left to right:

Boat Harbour - Tangalla.
Nice Spice - Tangalla. 
Distant Hills - Ella

Cosmic Truck - Nuwara Eliya.
Looking East - Dondra Lighthouse.
Recycling - Pinnawala elephant orphanage.

Lion Mask - Galle
Flower Geometry - Weherahena Temple
Party Mode Murali  -  Galle

Sunset Moorings - Weligama Bay
Fishing Boats - Weligama Bay
Traditional Outrigger Fishing Boats - Ho-o-maniya

Galle Street
Galle street with Morrie
Galle Street with tuk-tuk

Road Crossing Monitor - Tangalla
Colourful Skirt - Weraherahena Temple
Columns/ Doors - Kandy Temple of the Tooth

Comic Relief - Weherahena Temple
Fringipalmy - Tangalla
Lighthouse with Coconuts - Galle