I left UK on May 19th for 10 months of freedom and exploration with a Round the World ticket. Will I find New Zealand as perfect as it was fifteen years ago? How has Australia changed? Will I learn any Spanish in S America?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Fish and Chips and Tyragarah Lakes

To get there: head out north from Byron on Pacific 1 over roundabout to Tweed Heads direction turn right at sign ot Tyragarah Airstrip go straight ahead up gravel road for about 2k until you reach sign for nature reserve.
I am indebted to a couple who live in Glastonbury but were staying at Belongil for alerting me to these lakes. Really Byron itself is nothing special. You need to get out further away to enjoy the coast, Byron is big has huge supermarket and cinema and a crowded main beach. The lighthouse is nice to wander up to in the evening. Good fish and chips though at Fishheads on the front. Much better than any fush n chups I had in NZ - they can't get it right in NZ for some reason ( with perhaps just the one exception of Waiheke island in the main town) In NZ you get a TINY piece of fish more like one fillet broken in two , funny tasting animal fat batter, usually too thick and soggy , not crisp and independant of the fish and uncared for chips, in meagre portions , hardly ever hand cut, badly fried and soggy again. They charge you a fortune for a tiny bowl of ketchup and wrap teh whole lot it in so many layers of paper that it's like pass the parcel with the ever diminshing prize inside. Price around $9.50 and no satisfaction. The only little saving grace is that you can for a little extra get kumara chips which are delicious and seem to be les of a cullinary challenge to cook.
In Australia by contrast the fish was substantial , barramundi, tasty, not overcooked , firm and flesh white not yellowish so obviously FRESH. The chips were not soggy they were plentiful and tasted of potato not animal fat. In an easy to carry and more seagull proof ( highly important) single thin cardboard carton was included a large tub of tartare sauce and a slice of lemon. This cost me $7.50.
I issue a challenge to NZ - come on Kiwis up the ante ! Beat the Aussies on the fish and chip front and I will .......... move there???

Tygarah Lakes
The lakes sounded like a great place to get away from usual coast stuff , though you can walk along the beach about 7k from Belongil and walk up a track to them but I drove because of my foot problem . A slightly worrying sign just before the path reads - " Sexual harrassment will not be tolerated" . However there was only one other person around when I got there , a naked man who couldn't decide whether to keep his orange sarong on or take it off. and he didnt look very harassy.
I gradually realised as time went on and single men kept arriving and sitting down in amongst the trees with very little interest in swimming that I wasnt going to get any trouble here.
There are two lakes as far as I could tell on e on each side of the road. The nicer, slightly smaller one has tea trees all around it which is supposed to be the reason for the dark colour of the water but I think it just is the colour of deep lakes. Further back are ecucaluypts and on the water itself round the edge are water lily pads with serrated edges and purple flowers on long stems with yellow insides. They smell heavenly. Red and blue Dragonflies were darting round the flowers and over the water. I stepped down via the roots of a eucalyptus growing on the waters edge and the water and was blissful - in the shallows it was warm and in the deeper parts refreshingly cool. It was a big lake and it took me a good 15 minutes to crawl to the far side but it was just just indescribably perfect. No one really around , birds flying overhead and calling, no lanes no waves no whistles no chlorine. JUst clean fresh unpolluted unspoilt swimming . It is a site sacred to The aborigines - I know nothing about why or whether it is part of a dreaming - there is very little info if you just chance on these places - a big difference from NZ where every sacred Maori site will have an info board and request for respect for their culture. In fact I haven't yet seen a single Aborigine and I have been here for 3 weeks now. A couple arrived and were the only other people swimming - they swam to the far side and covered themselves in pitch black mud from the bottom - maybe it is infused with tea tree oil and good for your skin?

I had a hard boiled egg sandwich for lunch from the back of the car and then drove out down the highway towards Bellingen where I was going to meet Viv Jones the flying fox lady - I think she is probably a bit tired of all the usual puns so I wont try any! I emailed Viv from Belongil and asked if I could meet her to talk about flying foxes and photography and she responded very positively.

Everybody Surfin Now......

Except me. I did try . I had a half day lesson with Miles , a pro boarder in Raglan, NZ. Miles is tiny ,I towered over him, dark caramel colour skin from the sun , curly hair, intense bright green eyes, one tooth missing and scars everywhere ( worn like badges of honour I think) . He was confident that I would "stand up and surf" though secretly I was sceptical. We started off practicing in the privacy of his front room rather than in public at the beach- good! We established that I am goofy footed ( I think from memory this is Left footed - ie when I stand up, sorry - pop up - my left foot leads) and then it was learning how and where to lie on the board and then rehearsing the three moves to standing - all easy on carpet.
Down at the beach the waves looked comfortingly small. I lay on the 8 ft board whilst Miles held it steady and picked the waves I would go for. He had ommited to tell me you had to paddle with your arms to catch the right moment but having tried this lark once before with Candy in Cornwall I did know that much - my first attempt was my best and I at least got to a semi standing position Ok. After that it was all downhill , either I lead with the wrong foot , or the effort to pop up had me diving head first into the water. I went round the washing machine a couple of times too. I gritted my teeth and stuck at it for a good hour by which time I was exhausted. I felt I had made my best endeavours to mount the board but I was quite clearly no natural. Stamina plays a large part - the next day my upper body really felt like it had had a good workout - which was really nice and I'd like to keep that bit up! But for now I 'll stick to body boarding which you can get quite a thrill on anyway - the waves are very powerful here and you can travel a long distance in. Some people body surf really well - no props just technique.

I found the Australian surf much more powerful. Those east coast waves knock you off your feet and are really fierce - I don't think Byron Bay would be a good place to learn. Surfing mags lie around in the hostels and I am fascinated by the language ........
Barrels and pipelines , sick waves, a'grom' ( I think this means an inexperienced surfer)' stoked' ( as in ready to go) it was 'macking" - I dont know what this means ..... the surf magazine stories are something else - I'd love to try and write an account of my expereince in surf speak.
Australia's Surfing Life is the most tacky tabloid one - it has headlines and stories like " Confessions of a Surf Groupie" all about "Screaming Eagle " which is about 4 pages long and very detailed. The other stories usually consist of grisly details of terrible accidents where the awful injury inevitably seems to make the surfer think his scars will make him more attractive to girls ( and they probably do ) , expeditions to do ridiculously impossible waves ( eg Cyclops in W Austalia ) and obituaries for dead surfers ( mostly in their 20s) who never reappeared from a wave.
Some choice examples ; " Pipe Local Gets Metal in His Melon" - "his head opened like a tin can - it required 19 stitches" "Yerin Brown , Byron Bays favourite Pizza chef has a head like a toe punted rissole and a shattered snot flute " "I was in the lip ( of the wave) and just had to jump. But it was bone dry. I could actually see the dry rock and that's where I had to land . "He landed from 20ft up feet first onto a dry ledge before being pummelled across the reef for 90ft. He ended up with 16 stitches. " " Defending champ Mark Mathews slammed feet first into the bottom bending his toes up to meet the top of his foot " and so on and so on. It's a wonder anyone still surfs after reading that. Statistics also matter , the height of the wave, the number of stitches etc etc. Many stories also keep the badboys mythology alive - surfing in the philiipines is all about the number of girls the boys get , how much beer they drink and how stupid they can be with scuba equipment and whose trousers they pulled down in the airports - usual target being Japanese businessmen. It makes you despair! But I bet it sells copies and I do love the action packed inventive language.

Belongil Travelling People

The beachhouse was much quieter and far more laid back - instead of didge lessons there was free yoga on the grass every afternoon which I did and felt wonderful afterwards very relaxed with people- we did some of the ultra trendy now I think Tibetan 5 ways or 9 ways or some number of ways which if done every day are supposed to keep you healthy and alive for longer and the cafe next door did wonderful long lattes which probably knocks a few health points off but you do need a little vice. We were taught by Jules from somewhere in the west country - she wants to set up a business somewhere warm offering yoga retreats with her sister doing diving - she is a dive master. Lots of young Brits here escaping the British winter or doing their 12 month working visa in Australia.
There were a few interesting people here who I would have liked to get to know more - there was the UK woman called Carol who runs her own personal development compan y - she had a laptop with a huge amount of adaptors and power surge stoppers on it which I couldn't help commenting on - and we started talking. She organises life coaching etc for corporate companies. She loves finding out what makes people tick. I told her my problem was always having too many ideas and not being able to stick and focus on one but she said the most common problem she comes across is people who have no ideas at all of what they want or want to do. She comes to Australia or other nice beachy places for inspiration and fresh perspective - good lifestyle. Hanna and Holly ! Become life coaches!
The other person it was nice to talk to was Ivan who was hanging out with the Brit group but who seemed to want a bit more stimulation than they were giving him. He was born in S Africa but with his parents moved constantly all over the world living in AUstralia , UK , US a real international boy. He is training as a yoga teacher now in Byron Bay ( Yoga mecca) but has just spent the last three years in Japan where he worked on an English language newspaper taking photographs - so then we were really talking! We talked about taking photographs of people mostly the how and different photographers. A young Canadian woman with just a sliver of a body joined in - she was making big eyes at Ivan and totally ignored me and everything I said . Eventually she stood up showing off her flat exposed stomach to its best advantage, lingering for a while before leaving, softly whispering to Ivan but with not even an acknowledgement of my presence. Hmmmph! But that is the way some people operate.

I had a bad night in the 4 bed dorm when the two American girls came back at about 1am having done Saturday night in Byron and turnedon the lights. One of them was promptly sick in the wastepaper basket and therest of the night spent going in and out of the room slamming the door moaning and crying and barfing. Her friend totally ignored her. So it was me that had to get out of the top bunk and let her back in when she forgot her key. O dorm joys. But at least no one snored.

There was a little boy staying there who thought very sincerely that he was batman. He was certainly super charged and was climbing up every tree in site and jumping out of it and holding his hands up in front of him like a little mouse or perhaps like kangaroos do as an indication of his batmaness and was very clever with the hammock which he ran into at first not seeing it but was totally unfazed and leapt up and said "O no you don't, I'm batman" and put the netting over his face like a mask and grimaced at me - "I'm Batman. "He drove the tanned young man lying in the next hammock away - he got up and walked off in his de rigeur designer low slungs - "Your bottom's hanging out " Batman yelled with little appreciation of modern fashion after the clearly embarrassed man . I nearly fell off my bench laughing.

Byron Bay part 2 - Community Radio

After two days the Arts Factory was too much for me. Everyone was perfectly pleasant but there were just too many people in their 20s and early 30s with their perfectly tanned bodies and impossibly tiny waistlines ( and the boys with their designer mussed up hair and jeans slung somewhere below their hips showing their cheek line so you are dying to pull them down or hope they will just fall down and trip them up- perhaps that is the whole idea???) having a big party. There is no need to leave the complex as there is a cinema, bar and restaruant small swimming pool internet didge lessons etc etc so its always busy. Interestingly no one seemed to get that drunk and most were in bed by midnight - strange- I don't remember it that way at all !
The staff were all really friendly though which isnt always the case in these places and were happy to reccomend somewhere else to stay - so I went to Belongil Beachhouse further down the road. They had a nice quiet internet room with connection for $4 an hour so I spent a lot of time in there writing three short pieces on South AMerica for Live!Travel guide. There is no guarantee that they will accept them and not much money in it even if they do but at least it got me focused and writing which felt good though I now find composing stuff longhand quite hard I am that used to the computer.

Community Radio
In the days of the social welfare state when people actually cared about other people and people were people not consumers there was a flowering of community radio stations in Australia and in New Zealand too. ( Nicola Wooding told me about the Takaka station , and Grant said he helped set it up - Nicola had a programme on late at night and she and her friend played whatever they felt like but got so nervous that they always drank before going on air and it got more and more outrageous and they were having a ball until her friend went one step too far and got fired but Nicola carried on by herself for a bit longer. It is still supposedly a community station ( Fresh) but now commercial and its DJs are professionals not locals. I wish I had been around for the original version.

Byron , being a bit of an ex hippy place though it seems perfectly mainstream in the centre with millions of shops though apparently the local community has made a stand against the big name fast food operators so you will not find a McDonalds or a Starbucks here) has a community radio( 99.9FM) station which I kept tuned in to in the car - it played great idiosyncratic and highly varied music and the presenters had a nice authentic amateruish air so maybe its still got an element of the homemade and indiginous about it - hooray for that I say! I really noticed it driving out of Byron as the transmission started to cut in and out and I kept hanging on to the last snatches of some obscure funk band before Bonny Tyler and Total Eclipse of the Heart and others of that ilk took over on Triple J for the remainder of the journey.

In Bellingen too they had community radio and still do but the lack of government funding means that the transmitter has a very weak signal and only a few houses can pick it up. They were overtaken when Coffs Harbour got a commerical station 2CS . But in its heyday many of the locals were involved and had their own programmes - Viv Jones ( more on her later) did a Saturday morning classical music programme and would tell people about up and coming concerts locally and play that composer and give some background info. the old crew now say that the programming is all boys who don't talk playing back to back rock music. There should be a mix surely. As we drank coffee in the cafe strip of Church lane the old hands were getting excited about getting involved again - we'll get a better transmitter somehow- and I hope they do.

I have always liked the idea of community radio and did a short training course in Edinburgh ages ago . Then last time around in NZ I went on Plains FM in CHristchurch and talked about travelling in AUs and NZ as my friend Jo(anne) Kearns had a Sunday pm slot and basically made me do it although I was petrified beforehand. But I loved it really. I'd love to find Jo again but internet search gave nothing and Lisa went through all the Kearns in the Aucklandphone book for me but also came to a dead end. Thank you Lisa!

Bower Birds

Julie and Zi had one in their garden this year , just behind Julie's outdoor sculpture studio in some bushes. But I was too late for the really exciting bit which happens around November. The male makes a bower, two opposing walls of grasses arching almost to reach an apex at the top and then and this is the interesting bit , he goes off and collects anything blue to adorn the bower. So around a bower will be things like blue water bottle caps, blue toys that have been lying around sandpits, blue bits of cardboard or paper , a little blue rake, bits of plastic, anything as long as its blue and the bird can manage to carry it in its beak! He also carefully selects yellow petals to intersperse with the blue objects! The boudoir all nicely decorated the male then starts warbling out his mating call to attract females to admire his handiwork. If they are impressed and consider him home decorator of the year they will enter his bower and it's love. HOwever they make a nest off the ground to lay eggs but I don't know who makes the probably more prosaic nest. I now want to see the whole thing myself of course! Nothing remained of the old bower but I expect they come back to same area. THere are satin bower birds and Regent green bower birds.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Bellingen to Byron Bay

I said goodbye to Julie and Zi today -I really enjoyed my stay ( it was lovely being in a room on my own again after the tedium of dorms _and seeing Bellingen and Dorrigo- I took pictures of Julie's rehearsal for Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - she plays Miss McKay the headmistress at Coffs Harbour community centre. She is still touring with the Vagina Monologues - which I haven't even seen - and I thought I might try and catch one of the last performances in Armidale but apparently there has been a cock up( sorry) over publicity so may not happen. I was very grateful to Zi too who did my laundry for me and folded it so that it was creaseless - thank you Zi!
I hired a cheaper car to get me to Byron as I reckoned that the bus - which takes twice as long to get there - isn't that cheap anyway.

It was straight up Pacific Highway with very little traffic for a main route in another Hyundai though a two door manual this time. Unlike New Zealand I was able to tune into several radio stations - NZ - it's almost impossible to get decent reception for any length of time. Not very interesting en route though there were koala signs as we went through dense eucalputus groves.

I am staying in a dorm with bunk beds 3 high, 12 to a room. Luckily I managed to get a ground floor bunk though I had to pipe up quickly. It is very young and groovy here , with digeridoo lessons every morning at 11am - ( not compulsory) and a lounge cinema with cushions and some accomodation in tepees - this ensures it is always full. The arts complex of which the backpacker accom is only a part has been going for ages apparently. I think I must have left out Byron last time or Im sure I would remember it. Where I am now is exactly like a university bar/common room. THere is a Doctor Who pinball game in the corner and several pool tables and other video games.

Monday, February 20, 2006

More Dorrigo and Dragons - 20th February

Hired a car yesterday in Coffs for 24 hours initially , not cheap at $68 but Europacar who are much cheaper were either having lunch or at the airport- their cabin though it had an open sign was firmly closed, so it will do. It's another automatic and a Hyundai this time smells plasticy new and drives well.
Before I hired the car Julie took me to see the water dragons who live in a bend in the creek overlooked by the Clog Barn - a Dutch themed cafe and sort of amusuement park ( on a very small scale). We had coffee and hot chocolate and raisin toast and leaned over the low wall to observe them - however the owners seem not to be particularly interested in them and couldnt tell us anything more about them . I found out that they lay their eggs Nov- Dec and the young hatch in Jan feb.
[21st - Actually I am now in Byron Bay, staying at the Arts Factory and I overheard a young man in khaki overalls, bare feet, and bracelets and necklaces made from a large carniverous animal telling a group of young 20 somethings all about them as there is a pond here and a huge male water dragon , even larger than the Coffs Harbour specimen. He was saying that the Aborigine group local to this area say that the water dragons place of origin is very near here and it is a sacred creature for this area.]
There were lots of them about 50-60cm long from head to tail - spotty and bar markings long long tails which they used like crocodiles do in the water just their heads sticking out, then they would climb up the concrete wall to find a sunny spot to dry off, static except for the occassional twitch of a claw or slight raising of a scaly arm. Suddenly there would be a bit of a tiff and a scurrying as one of two would vie for positions favoured such as on a log uduslly ending in a loud plop as one hit the water in not too sophisticated fashion.
Then the daddy of them all appeared , head way above the water, making for the main hang out - a huge thing maybe 80cm long, with an angular jaw , massive head and reddish underbelly and much more pronounced horny crest running from his head to his neck and a saggy throat pouch too. He had to be the male. Julie fed him bits of raisin toast but he was a bit slow or dim and the other smaller female or young dragons got the morsels from under his nose - chomping them with big pink fleshy mouths - I couldn't see any teeth but they are carniverous so perhaps they just have acid juice stomachs like the carniverous plants.
I caught a glimpse of a turtle in the water too - hanging around an aquatic plant of some sort I saw a flash of white belly and four brown paddles at each corner , but it was gone just as quickly.
They are Gippsland water dragons.

I drove back up to Dorrigo about 3pm and walked through the park slowly , taking photos with the camera on a tripod.By 5pm there were hardly any people there. By 6.30 pm I was the only one there - I had the rainforest to myself apart from a house phone somewhere which I could hear ringing! THere must be a house further up the road on the way to Never Never ( a real place) whichitself is in the Promised Land!Really, this is what the area is called.
I stayed till 8.20pm when it was pretty dark but dusk fell about 7.45pm and I had been reading a book in the car and eating licorice and when I looked up I realised there were shapes out on the grass area through the trees - I think they were pademelons - a type of roo - or else they were potoroos but I think these were too big - must have been pademelons. I approached as quietly as possible and one took off with a great thumping as its feet hit the ground but suprisingly not everyone was scared and after a while just accepted my presence as long as I didnt get too close and I took some photos grateful for the infrared light which automatically comes on so I could actually see what I was taking - just. There were also some mousey/rat type of animals who were very active for a bout 10 minutes rushing round my ankles on the path but then suddenly decided to be quiet again and disapperared back in to the bushes. Slightly unnerved me as they didn't seem scared of me at all at first and I thought about four of them were going to run up my ankles.

I ventured down the ramp into the rainforest proper to try and see the fireflies which a ranger had told me were there but I couldn't see them and no matter how calm I felt it was a bit spooky to penetrate the forest even further.The only torch I had was the illumination on the alarm clock which doubles as my timepiece. Actually fits well in my pocket and has survived a washing machine once.
I stayed out until 8.20pm - I had thought I might also see the flying foxes but I think there were actually micro bats ( ie the sonar insect eaters) in stead.
Poor Julie and Zi had started to get worried about 9pm that something must have happened but it took me much longer to drive back than I thought and also to find the right turn off the main road - not much street light.
As I was leaving Dorrigo the thunder started to rumble and the sky to be lit up periodically with electric light. That night I didn't sleep well - a huge electrical storm , wind and rain and a power cut. The bedroom kept illuminating with the lightning and it felt just like a tropical storm should be - in the morning the oppressive heat of the last few days had dissipated and it felt comfortably cool.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Daleks Dragons and flying fruit bats - 19th february

The rainforest mists greeted me this morning and it was much cooler than yesterday. I spent the night dreaming about fleeing from sleeping daleks by organising my small group's escape via a small aeroplane which I would be flying though they were very slow to move and I was increasingly worried that the daleks were that moment stretching out their gun sticks and sleepily intoning the first exterminates of the day. But Zi and Julie ( complete opposite of Daleks) weren't back from their walk for another hour at least so I had a shower and breakfast and watched a pair of brilliantly coloured lorikeets and a lone honeyeater taking the pollen from the yellow flowers of the grevillia out on the verandah which has a wonderful view of the Dorrigo mountains about 29 k away.
A kookaburra , enormous bird , perched on a eucalyptus branch and eyed me whilst I tried to get the automatic focus to focus.

Zi and Julie came back from their daily walk -Zi had stubbed his toe and it was bleeding through his sock - I later got a bloody sock when a leech latched onto my ankle in Dorrigo NP and got behind my sock to have a good long suck - it let go reluctantly when I first pulled it then flicked it clear but all day my blood has been running because they dilute it with their saliva to water it down as neat is obviously not to their liking and they like it fast flowing. This really makes me feel as if I am in the jungle - even in Manu , Peru I didn't have leeches as well as mosquitoes and sandflies appreciating my blood.

Julie drove us to Dorrigo National Park where I was in heaven. I love rainforest second only to cloudforest - the enormous range of animal insect and botanical life , the colours the sounds - all wonderful.
We walked round the 2.5 hr Wonga Walk , mostly in the shade due to canopy which was just as well as the heat , well up into the mid 30's. There were lots of birds, often hard to see in the canopy but could make out a currawong which has a song reminiscent of the NZ tui - Julie pomnted out the bowerbird's song and we both saw rufous fantails which migrate to New Guinea. There were also scrub wrens, yellow thorated and white browed. We didnt see unfortuntaley any pademelons ( which look like relation of wallaby) or poteroos - also look like small kanga type thing but we did see the rare southern angle headed dragon - and I took photos. It isn't really the size you'd expect of somehting called a dragon - no komodo this - but nethertheless it was an impressive little reptile. Huge butresses of stangler figs , giant stinging trees with their enormous hairy and naturally very stingy leaves, cedars, coachwoods, rosewoods, tamarinds and lots and lots of short 2m or less walking stick palms with many strings of red berries dangling from their branches . We rounded a corner and there on the path was a wonderful large goanna - wearing wonderful yellow spotted trouser legs and white polka dot shirt on his back - and forked tongue waving in the air - for insects or smell ? I don't know which. Famously they sometimes mistake humans for trees and run up you to hide on your head when they sense danger - doesnt seem too bright a creature but it wouldnt pose for me like the angle dragon did nor as the interestingly named land mullets did - I saw two of the latter, pretending not to be there , but standing out rather well for a photo on the lower reaches of a tree trunk. They are a milk chocolate brown and look plump and well feed little lizards.
- We walked behind the Crystal SHower Falls at which point my camera battery failed - of course - battery having been used a lot to focus on small things at which it is not very good and even macro function is not very reliable but difficult lighting in the rainforest so I shouldnt be too harsh.
We had lunch in the information centre's cafe - A Dorrigo potato each -and sat right next to and almost on top of the only fan inside as it was really baking by now. Dorrigo potoato is a baked potato with cheese and salad. A quick visit to an art gallery in Dorrigo ( which is apparently a little more red neck than laid back Bellingen) finally had me digging for my card - I didnt buy any souvenirs in NZ but here bought some very modestly priced objects - just the two. There was no one else on the streets of Dorrigo at all.
Back in Bellingen we went to see the famous Bellingen fruit bat colony on Bellingen Island which is right next door to a ( human) camp site. There is supposed to be a bad smell but I smelt nothing untoward and was amazed by the sight of hundreds and hundreds of bats or flying foxes hanging by their legs , black robed with wings folded across their chests, vampire like, occassionaly fanning themselves with one wing to keep cool. Flying Fox is a more accurate appelation as they are mammals and don't hunt for insects by sonar. Instead they hunt by night for pollen and nectar from gum trees and also but not exclusively fruits of the rainforest. When there are no rainforest trees beacuse they have all been chopped down they will feast on the fruits of domestic gardens and orchards which has made them rather unpopular with farmers and councils etc. They rather liked Melbourne's Botanic Gardens but were culled as they were stripping all the trees. However despite being shot and killed in numbers they persisted in roosting there and I think the MBG have now relented and they , as native inhabitants have been allowed to stay- the ones that have survived. THey are close to featuring on the endangered species list beacuse of shortage of food sources , persecution and slow breeding - the females can only breed at 3 years old and gestatation seems to be from what I can make out about 8- 9 months. A female only has one baby a year and the young stay with their mothers too for many months before becoming independant. The population has halved in the last 20 years.
They don't eat in the day. At dusk in Bellingen,every night , from a viewpoint by the bridge over the river, you can see the most spectacular sight as noiselessly thousands upon thousands of flying foxes leave their camp and follow the river to their feeding grounds for the night. Roughly 20,000 foxes live in Bellingen but they are nomadic and may spend time in Queensland .
They are very beautiful - with little red bodies and jet black wings and legs and keen little eyes which observe you from their upside down perch as you wander beneath - it was obvious that some had babies snuggled up to them. They have fox like little faces and really are very sweet and fascinating - how on earth did they evolve? - they do look like a cross genetic experiment- the wings are enormous. We saw them climbing around trees using the claws on the ends of their wings.

At dusk Julie drove us out to see the bats flying out at dusk - we got there just before they flew - the sky was clear one minute then I could make out about 20 flying figures rising above the trees in the distance downriver - in a matter of minutes a fully fledged convoy was on its way - the evening sky filled with clear bat winged forms , making no noise at all save for a very occasional chirrup , all heading down river towards the sea. We stood for about 20 minutes watching before the sky was almost clear again.

For more info on flying foxes try www.bellingen.com/flyingfoxes/. Vivien Jones, a wildlife photographer has taken some wonderful photos of the bats , the next best thing to actually seeing them.

I might be able to post some blurry pics of the bats later on plus slightly better ones of the reptiles - hopefully.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Coffs Harbour

It poured with rain all Thursday and the air was so heavy and muggy that I fell asleep after breakfast reading "The End of Globalism" . It looks as if a US led invasion of Iran is just a matter of time, Tony Blair will back up his friend of course .
Friday - three Uk young ladies staying in the dorm with me - they are here for the wedding of their Australian friend who they met back in blighty. THey were all very sweet and polite and communicative and totally restored my faith in British people.
The YHA is brick and new - piped soft rock in the corridors which I hate. But it is squeaky clean apart from the showers in the mornings and there is a walk in freezer for a fridge. Great for cooling down!
Spoke to a Taiwanese woman called Sherry who is here on holiday to improve her English - she is a primary school teacher back in Taiwan - she wanted me to write something for her about what I read in newspapers for an assignment she has to complete and I explained the meaning of "shot in the dark to her" and "cat on a hot tin roof" where these have been used as subheadings with double meanings for stories. I asked her how to say Thank you in Chinese - it is "xie xie " - (thank you for putting me right on the spelling, Patience!) Sherry speaks Taiwanese and Chinese and English.
10.30 pm - all the UK girls tucked up in bed and asleep!
Friday - blue sky few clouds - very very hot.
Jetty Beach to swim - fish jumping clear of the water close to the beach. Don't know what type they are but look silvery and long and they seem to jump in a line.
Julie Fuad picked me up from bus stop in Coffs and drove us to Bellengen. I haven't seen Julie or Zi her husband since I was last in Australia 17 years ago.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Pacific Highway to Coffs Harbour

Bus trip from 7am to 4pm to reach Coffs Harbour. The road, considering it is a main highway is in terrible condition bumps and patch repairs the whole way - absolutely awful.
YOu have to wear a seat belt in the coach. On the whole I have been more comfortable on S American buses!
Coffs Harbour drizzly and not terribly inspiring , the YHA a bit antiseptic with piped pop music - urggh.
Big Hostel , 212 Elizabeth St where I stayed for 4 nights inSydney was best hostel I have stayed in so far very very friendly adn helpful staff who remember your name incredibly. BIg clean dorms with max 6 beds in room, lots of storage, clean bathrooms and a roof garden with BBQ and they give you a very adequate free breakfast as well. Free internet ( 10 mins at a go) - 9 out of 10. At no more cost than other hostels.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Sydney Australia

At 4.10m on Friday 10th feb the alarm went off.
Kate , Lisa's cousin who was flying to Nelson for a friend's wedding drove us both to Auckland Airport.
Non eventful flight but someone coughed heartily behind me all the way and I hoped I wouldn't catch anything. I havnet been ill at all since Argentina back in October.
Flying over Sydney harbour was quite emotional - seeing the busy harbuor with the white trails of ferries and boats everywhere , the opera house and harbour bridge just reminded me what a wonderful city it is.
I am staying at the Big Hostel in Elizabeth St. I am amazed at how well I remember the city and how little it has really changed. The bookshop where I worked for 3 months is still there just opposite Central Station- the University of Technology CO op Bookshop - and in fact it has even got bigger! But I doubt anyone I know still works there -Rose and Mark and the guy who used to bring us all croissants for breakfast.
I also took a walk down Crown St just off Oxford St - still the same - even the house I lived in has the same rather grungy look and the Dolphin Hotel is still open. I couldn't see the Maltese bakery though and one of the other formerly grungy pubs has gone upmarket.
I went to see Broke back mountain which is apparently based on an E Annie Prolux short story but I dont remember reading it.
Sydney has cheap internet - hence the ability to catch up a bit!
Very hot and steamy here. Dormitory of 6 - all but 2 of us Koreans studying english. Maria is a model from Germany, only 20 yrs old and out here to model for a while with a different agency. She is worldly wise beyond her years very intelligent and good fun - we walked and talked around the harbour area this afternoon.
Sydney siders are much cheekier than their Auckland counterparts - I have been called Darling about 5 times so far - not once in Auckland- hate it because it's so patronising but no longer have the energy or patience to engage in objection .
The hostel is very friendly - although there must beat least a hundred staying there the woman who checked me in remembers my name and all the staff are genuinely friendly, its also clean and well organised even nice pics and photos on the corridor walls and a roof garden. Bit pricey though at $27 a night though this does include breakfast if you get up earlier enough for it. It is also thankfulluy not a party hostel which is why I chose it quite frankly. Some of the hostels are full of organised groups of young things after a "good time" and I want to be as far away f rom them as possible. Look at how old and fusty I am getting!

Napier to Mahia Peninsula and New Plymouth

I made an unscheduled stop in Wairoa due to a puncture. I noticed the car handling strangely and pulled into a petrol station. Once out of the car I saw that the tyre was completely flat. As it was nearly 9pm and almost dark I decided I might as well stay the night. Luckily Wairoa is awash with car mechanics and tyre fitters for a town of its size . The breakdown guy affiliated with my car rental company was with me in 5 minutes even though it was a Sunday evening , he put the emergency tyre on and he directed me to the campsite. I decided not to put up the tent and slept in the car which was actually very comfortable as the passenger seat alm ost reclines horizontally - a lot more comfortable in fact than the Peruvan semi cama ( half bed) buses! - but the mossies got me at dawn.
Everyone was still in bed when I went to the showers. 50c for 5 mintes of hot water. Very clean with soft rock playing from a big speaker. Oddly no music in the kitchen and no one else there.The walls were covered in photos of the owners dressing up for carnival and posing with water skiers. There was an article about their camp bbq which is a model of the backend of Chevrolet. The boot lifts to reveal the grill. The numberplate is BBQ natch. They installed it in response to an inspectors report that the site was in good order but rather dull!
I boiled 2 eggs forlunch in the camp kitchen and talked to Stu Brown -who appeared aftera few mintues - ex army he had been married 3 times , has 5 kids but now single , drives trucks and stays on the campsite when in town - no longer has a house - he was very friendly and spoke to me first. No one else up which was a relief as I didnt feel like weaving in amongst lots of people. Stu spoke about his life , his trip to Japan at the age of 21 which sounded like the highlight of his life, and his failed marriages. He seemed a sensitive soul who enjoyed meeting travellers and the water skiers who come to Wairoa , proud of his children's achievements and fond of conversation - I was quite happy to let him do all the talking.
I dropped my car off to get a new tyre and walked round Wairoa - Marine Parade just one long straggly row of shops parallel to the river. I spoke to the guy in the DOC office. He gave me a start when he suddenly appeared behind the counter as I was engrossed in leaflets. I confided to him about my problem heel and how the very thing I most wanted to do in NZ I could no longer do ie long 3 or 4 day walks. He said well it will give you something to do when you come back next time!
I drove to Mahia Beach. Main beach rather bleak with a cliff up above on which waving long grass ripped as if alive in the wind. Even after a swim it didnt feel like the place I had come to visit so I drove to another beach further north - Mahanga - which was much much nicer - a proper bay with shells and small hidden private baches furhter back from the shore. Someone had hung a sprig of lavender in the ladies public loos. The beach was covered in beautiful shells which went all hte way up above the tide mark and clinked together to make very pleasnt sound. I made a little driftwood windbreak and ate lunch and then read on the beach. A man in a car with two small children arrived in a car and they loaded the boot with driftwood of which there was plenty.
Read about the whale that swam up the Thames but has now died. Meanwhile the Japanese are narrowly missing harpooning Greenpeace inflatables which are trying to disrupt their cull of 95 minke whales for "research" . No one except the Japanese now believe the cull is for anything nore scientific than eating.
Camped in a huge motorcamp back in central Mahia as the other campground which was nicer and on the beach has gone the way of so many council and private sites and been sold for private development. Camp managers blame the government which gaves no rates relief whatsoever to campsites - and they simply cannot make their business work. This and the high values for property and land have meant that a way of life for Kiwis is rapidly disappearing.
Started reading Lyall Watson's 1970's classic SuperNature.

Next day it poured with rain.
I stopped at Nuhaka on way back out to the main road and asked in the shop about seeing the local Marae ( Maori meeting house) - yes I ve got a key said Jan the owner who it later transpired is a Mormon but also a marae board member. She took me over after shutting up shop . The marae was built with mormon money . The figures all round the room are individuall y carved out of single blocks of kauri and each tells a story. Natural wood is stained with red ochre. This is only marae in NZ with a stage.
Still raining. I drove to Lake Waikaremoana , via Mokau Falls but it was still raining heavily. A family chatted to me when I stopped to look at falls and wished me luck on my trip. The rain really set in then and I considered continuing onto Rotorua as the family were to avoid any possible landslips.
instead I found the campsite - beautiful - right by the lake - but the rain was unremitting and the car became my home for next 12 hours.

Dreamed a lot in the night but rain had cleared up by morning . Drove on through beautiful country along SH 43 the Lost Highway as the tourist office calls it.GOes through beautiful stretches of rainforest and beside roaring rivers. Camped on top of range of hills - the only person there. Cheese sandwich again as no kitchen facilities.
Next morning stopped in Whangamoana which is a collectoin of old wooden buildings and 43 inhabitants. A sign at the entrance to the town says "pop 43 - Join Us!" there is even a little border crossing booth - a remnant from the day in November 1989 when they declared themselves a republic in protest at a proposal to remove it from Taranaki county. On htat day there were passport checks and a toll for passing through the town. Apparently it is frequently used as a film location. The butchers shop was up for sale.

I arrived in New Plymouth in the afternoon and set up my tent in the YHA Ecolodge. A young woman flashed me a big smile as she pulled in in her car - she was also camping. I went over and said hello and she was as friendly as her smile had indicated. Sylvia , a former tour rep from Germany and I talked for most of the next morning which meant I didn't do half the things I intended but as the weather had been increasingly hot and I hadn't really talked to anyone for about 4 days it was very nice to chew the fat with someone. I told her she must drive back to Hastings ( where she is based picking apples )via the lost highway.
I then met Eileen from UK who inspired by her son is travelling in NZ. SHe is a retired special needs teacher and she talked about the alarming rising number of cases of children who seem to have no moral sense and enjoy inflicting pain. Her school has been closed down due to withdrawal of govt funding so these children now have very little options for edcuation.
I immediately asked if she knew Doris Lessings book the Fifth Child and of course she did. I often wonder what experience Doris L had to inspire her to write 5th child.
I cooked Eileen and myself a cauliflower curry as hte kitchen was wonderfully equipped.

Saturday - Sylvia and I went to the beach just round the coast from New Plymouth - very rough and powerful waves, great for body surfing and lovely water temperature. Eileen Sylvia and I made a big pasta salad and had this with wine - all very civilised in the backpacker kitchen. Place was swamped later by cyclists taking place in race round Mount Taranaki ( aka Mt Egmont) which was used as a stand in for Mt Fuji in film The Last Samauri. Though of course I am not in the least interested in the current craze for seeing locations for films such as Lord of the Rings and Narnia though plenty of tourists are and you can even buy road maps with the sites marked on or pay a pile of money to be taken on a tour. But I do wonder where they filmed TV programme Xena Princess Warrior which in more escapist moments sitting at my desk at work I would imagine running away to work on in some capacity!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Auckland again - Julian and Sue Godwin & Dim sum

I was due to fly out to Sydney on 9th February but decided to extend one more day to squeeze in some admin stuff and also to make a visit out to Howick to visit Julian and Sue. I got a bus out to Howick which was very painless - buses are all very clean and efficient but they are not terribly plentiful and don't have that many stops ( which makes them fast) adn Julian picked me up at the Howick shops.
I was amazed at all the sewn together dinghies in various sheds around the house - there is a lovely looking one called Sew Long - picture when I get access to fast internet.House is simple and comfortable and covered in wonderful paintings and drawings - . We discussed the state of the world over dinner with homegrown green beans and tomatoes and Julian told me how he'd been involved in his engineering capacity with the restoratoin of the Pupu Springs power station which generates some 10% of Takaka's energy and also the restoration of another water powered energy station on private land at Onekaka.
I stayed the night and caught a bus back to central Auckland and met Lisa for lunch near her work place at Viaduct Harbour - the best dim sum I have ever had! A rather smart Chinese restaurant where waitresses bring round bamboo steamers full of dumplings of all different types to the table and you just choose which ones you want and they are ticked on a card to be tallied up at the end. The trouble is things just keep on coming and it is hard to say no to some of them.

Napier & Hastings Art Deco NZ style

More buildings in Napier and Hastings. The handsome clocktower is in Hastings. I arrived on a Sunday afternoon and the town was all but deserted. That's a very noticeable thing in NZ - shops all close at 5pm and at lunchtime on Saturday and everyone goes home or out to fish,surf or walk. Towns are completly dead - cities a little less so.
In Napier after the art deco walk of the morning a woman seemed to be chastising herself loudly on the grass outside the Sound Shell on the promenade. However as I drew closer it transpired she was sermonising to some checkshirted people, heads bowed in misery at the extent of their sins. Our passions lead us astray she was saying.
I decided not to have a coffee in a cafe and instead I wrote postcards on the grey shingled beach pausing to eat half a water melon in between . I had rung Lisa the previous day and she had asked whether my diet included any fresh fruit -she seems to sense these things and as I was having quite a run on cheese sandwiches I followed her advice to buy some seasonal fruit - aproicots nectarines and cherries and the water melon and of course felt much better though a large bag of plums went rotten in the intense sun on the back ledge of the car before I could eat them.
I was taking a picture of a cafe called Paxies when a man came rushing out and yelled "O no you dont- this is my cafe - No Photographs - I own it!" The cafe was totally deserted and I couldn't help thinking that if he'd made a photograph conditional on buying a coffee he might do better business but maybe he enjoyed having the cafe to himself.
A man in a shop where I bought a tripod for camera showed me a camera I asked to see in the second hand window - a Olympus Pen E - a compact camera it takes half frame pictures so from a roll of 24 you get 48 photos. Obviously today it is hard to get anyone to develop films like this but he offered to lend me the camera for a day and then develop the film for me but unfortunately I didn't think I could justify another day in Napier just for the camera but it was kind of him all the same.

There was a great museum in Napier - I tried to draw some of the Maori wood and bone carvings .

The old Newspaper building. Now owned by Bayleys the estate agents ( I am gusessing but their flag flys from the mast - which Lisa works for in Auckland)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Castlepoint and buildings in Napier

On left the New Zealand Shipping Company, which my father worked for before it was subsumed into OCL and subsequently P&O. This building is actually later than many of the Napier buildings and only dates from 1950's.
Napier suffered a massive earthquake in 1930 and was pretty much razed to the ground. It also gained in size as the sea went out ( not in - no Tsnaumi) leaving previous marshy land high and dry. A progressive town council decided to commissoin young recently graduated architects to rebuild the town in the style of the time . There is now an Art Deco week in Napier with associated events. All the motifs associated with Art Deco, fountains, ziggurats, stylised flowers etc can be found on buildings around the town. Some have incorporated traditional maori patterns into the buildings too.

Castlepoint lighthouse: after dropping in on a friend I met in Ecuador at his parents' house in Masterton I headed for Castlepoint for the night. David's parents told me how just the week before Peter Jackson had been spotted on the beach taking photos of seagulls. He has a huge mansion nearby apparently. All hte local builders are thoroughly fed up of working for him because he keeps changing his mind about the decor which is constantly being redesigned.
There are some nice dunes here and I had my cheese and beetroot sandwiches hidden away looking out to sea and playing guitar until it got dark.

Leaving Wellington

On the left" State Highway 2 which winds up through Lower and Upper Hutt from Wellington to a summit called.................................................

Nautilus shell in Te Papa museum.


I stayed at Rowenas hostel which was about 15 minutes walk from centre of town. Dropped off Very in Newtown for a Mcgillicuddy party - before this he gave me a quick tour of his Wellington ie the square where he used to secrete pigeons which he would then release from his cloak to impress the office workers .
I would have stayed but was just so pooped and didnt feel up to vibrant conversation so excused myself and cooked some pasta and brocoli before bed, a book and glass of wine in the tent. In the night the tent flapped violently in the gale force winds which took a huge toll on Christchurch. I wedged my tent in between a flax bush and a hebe which gave it some protectoin even so I didnt really sleep well as the door was constantly flapping against my head.
Walked to town and went to Te Papa ( Our Place) the National Museum to find out about earthquakes and giant land snails.
Strolled along water front. very pleasant city. Saw The constant gardener which impressed me and also King Kong which premiered at the restored art deco cinema The Embassy at the bottom of Kent and Cambridge. In fact a lot of impressive buildings in Wellington. surrounded by lots of hills with wooden villas and white dairys ( corner shops) .
King Kong was excellent film much better than I expected. Also went to see a so so play in fringe theatre.
Good second hand book shops.
Best thing was taking cable car up to Botanic Gardens one evening to watch live music - funk band - teh Hairy Lollipops in the sound shell . Lots of people , families kids wonderful music a picnic and the magical lights. Great night.
Met Duke of Wellington aka Tony for a coffee and he drove me a round to see a bit of Wellington - the municipal beach with imported sand .
Met up with David King as well after a job interview for a coffee and watched outdoor jazz at Te Papa. A nice city.

Left: Painting of Fay Godwin and her sister by Ruth ANgus, NZ painter who I greatly admire. I m sure I wasnt supposed to take picture with camera but that didn't occur to me at the time. There is a wonderful gallery on the 5th floor of the Te Papa museum which has a thrilling selection of NZ painting.

The Tattoo museum ( not actually very good or educational) in Wellington - on a wet and windy day.

The lighting installation in the Botanic Gardens - really magical! There was also a sensor in the trees which operated a follow spot which had little children and adults having great fun jumping in and out of the limelight and having it follow you up the (garden)path!
Live concerts were playing nightly in the 1950's sound shell next door to the gardens.

This is the famous corrugated car which the artist drove round NZ - it is now installed in Te Papa museum as part of the NZ ingenuity exhibition.

The other painting I just really liked.

Rowenas Backpackers Wellington

I met some nice people in Rowena's which in a way was a typical old style hostel . It was a huge rambling building with rather worse for wear carpet in the grungy common room which had stained formica tables and plastic office chairs which were loosing their rigidity. Nothing looked terribly new or clean .
If you have never stayed in a hostel these pictures will probably give you a bit of an impression ( not to mention put you off for life!)
The "mother" sign is international and appeared in shared lodgings in Peru Bolivia Ecuador etc , in Spanish of course with various variatoins on the theme usually along the lines of " I am not your mother"

Photos NZ

Left: the ladies who work at Trash Palace - Takaka's clothes recyclingshop.

Above: Martyn Milligan, jeweller

Far left: Karst stone : the top of Takaka is one great karst landscape with a large marble quarry just off the main road.

Left: Very Impressive, Shaman of South

Golden Bay photos

Below is the view from Martyn Milligan's kitchen window over the Para Para inlet - I think it is gorgeous! I used to live just a bit further up the same road, but without the view, in a Tipi close to the Para Para river, which still has a lot of gold in it. Last time I was here Cirrus, whose tipi it was took me panning for gold and I still have some little flakes in an old film container.

To the left is a painting by an artist who works from a "hobbit house" at Jester House.

Near left:Very, Stripey and Alex

Far left : a huge cave on Wharareiki beach where 11 of us went for a picnic - it is always very windy here and the cave gives a bit of a relief and is a good place for a picnic without the added sand garnish. It has also been used as a wedding venue!
The man on the left is Chris Bone ( not his real name) who carves bone and teaches people how to carve in his workshop behind Commerical Street in Takaka.
His workshop is in true Golden Bay artistic style with every inch of wall covered in fascinating bits and pieces.
He showed me a piece of very rare gold coral that he had hidden away in a draw which he will use as inlay for a piece.
You learn on cow bone - I made a cow bone Hapu or fishing hook first time in NZ, but the more expensive pieces are always made from much sought after whale bone.
No one is supposed to dig up the beached whale carcasses so I m not sure where it all actually comes from!

Pupu Walkway

Dan and Nome on the Walkway

Pupu Springs, near Puramahoi, Golden Bay

Pupu Springs is the largest freshwater spring in the southern hemisphere.... DOC have built a werid upside down periscope to enable you to view the "dancing sands" - agitated by the power of the water welling up directly from beneath the ground. There is some impressive statistic about how many gallons emerge every second but I can't lay my fingers on it right this minute. Big salmon swim about underneath and ducks love paddling around on the top. It is prohibited to swim in the water as it is a site sacred to the Maori adn this would amount to pollution but for some reason divers can "drift dive" which means float around in the current.

Whoops! Somehow managed to get multiple images again! HOwever if I press delete on any of them I will delete all of them as that is the way this programme seems to work.

View of the Anatoki River, near Takaka NZ

From Takaka you drive over a bridge over the Takaka River and then turn off towards the Anatoki Valley The unsealed road then follows the river up to the Rainbow community where the Kiwiburn was held . There is a beautiful swimming hole near the site, deep and clear and icy cold. Everyone is worried about the rogue water weed didymo getting into all the NZ rivers.

Sun Blocks and Creams

Eidelweiss Sun block?? No way is some flower extract going to protect me from the sun! This is what went through my mind in a heath food shop in Nelson. I bought instead a huge bottle of sunblock SPF 30 with a reassuringly long list of chemical ingredients from a conventional pharmacist.
I thought I might just make a note about this topic as it is a hot and slippery one.
Everyone knows that you need a good sunblock now that in these days of ozone depletion the sun is so much harsher and noticeably so in New Zealand where even Lisa's cousin who lives in Sydney says she thinks the sun is actually stronger here and she is right - there are large and plentiful holes allowing more UV light in here than nearly anywhere else. Burn time is 10 minutes.
However many of the sun creams especially the higher factor ones( SPF - Sun protection factor) -contain very toxic carcinogenic ingredients so it is worth checking the label before buying. Of course I read this in Organic NZ magazine just after I had just bought a large bottle of suncream, factor 30 , which contained nearly all the villains!
The things to avoid are:
Titanium dioxide
Padimate O
Octyl diethymol PABA

HOwever most skin damage caused by exposure to the sun happens before the age of 18 - so chances of getting skin cancer somewhat influenced by exposure to sun in childhood years and it is probably not worth using a reallly high factor unless you are of tender years.
Sun cream also only protescts you for so long and the main message of the article is not to spend too long out in the intense sun in the first place.

So what to use?
Mineral based sun blocks such as zinc oxide tend to be less irritating than chemical sunscreens. Try those based on aloe vera, evening primrose oil and other natural oils. Zinc ointment is good.
Other ingredients which are safe and efficacious against UV and also mositurise are, jojoba, african shea butter, hemp seed oil, neo heliopan, bees wax, mimosa flower wax, lecithin from soybeans and vitamin E oil . Weleda are a good make to buy and in the end, having po pooed Weleda's product I had to eat my words and now I have my eidelweiss cream handy all the time - though needless to say they are more expensive than any of the conventional creams.

So slip on a hat and slap on some flower extract for your own good!