I loved our trip home to New Zealand.
We flew into Wellington late on a Sunday evening, so late that we decided that no one would want to see us, let alone put up with us put us up (we went to stay with friends a few days later), so we checked into a motel. Next day we woke to bright and sunny and breezy weather, and the Dominion Post, which I still miss, for the Independent crossword, and the nine-letter puzzle (nine letters in a grid, out of which you form as many words as possible, minimum length four letters, all using the central letter, one word must use all nine letters; the object of doing the puzzle is to beat your partner to the nine letter word, for which you get honour and glory and smug). I know, I could get the puzzles on-line, but it’s not the same.
We wandered down the hill and had breakfast at Sweet Mother’s Kitchen, best cheap eat in Wellington this year, and after that, carried on up the street to Arty Bees secondhand bookshop. Standing at the counter was a former student of mine so I stopped for a chat, during which the sales person worked out where my student was employed, so she asked him to take a message to one of his colleagues. Wellington moment #1. (It’s one degree of separation in Wellington, and I have never, ever, gone down Lambton Quay without seeing someone I know.) Up the street some more to the library for coffee and lunch, and then on to the supermarket to get some wine for dinner, where I bumped into a former colleague. Wellington moment #2. In the early evening, at Mr Strange Land’s urging, we took the children down to the premiere of The Lovely Bones, so they could see a red carpet in action, with cameras and press and people in glamorous clothes. Dinner with Mr Strange Land’s family, in an apartment overlooking Evans Bay, where we spotted a pod of dolphins circling back and forth. A glorious day.
And so it went on – a busy and happy week of meeting friends and family, spending time with the people we love. I was so pleased to meet Dr Tiso for the first time, and his partner and their children, outside the Wellington City Art Gallery (it used to be the library), which has spots.
My sister-in-law came along too, to see the girls, whom she loves dearly. She and Giovanni and his partner looked at each other, and realised that they had met each other a few times about ten years previously, through a mutual friend. Wellington moment number #3. Next day when I met Giovanni and Dr Tibby for coffee, Giovanni said that it explained his nagging feeling that he knew Mr Strange Land: it was not Mr Strange Land he knew, but his brother (they are very alike).
The Wellington moments continued – I met friends down the street, saw former colleagues, recognised faces that I knew, by good chance saw my sister-in-law in the library and so had time for a long talk with her, all by myself. Those Wellington moments and connections are both blessing and curse; a joy to feel that you are part of a community, but worrying to think that very little can be done privately. On the whole, I regard them as a blessing.
The day before we left, we found some guerrilla weaving on a fence in Vivian St.
Christmas with my parents. My mother made dessert. Desserts. A lot of desserts.
Baked cheesecake, berries, poached apricots, poached peaches, chocolate macaroons, brandied fruit salad (made by Dad), Black Doris plum spoom, panna cotta, raspberry semi-freddo, limoncello icecream, panforte. The Christmas mince tarts and the Christmas cake are not in this picture. All home made, of course.
After Christmas we went out to Mum and Dad’s farm (one, two, three, four). It’s not really a farm – some grazing land is leased to a neighbouring farmer, but most of the land is native bush, and it’s protected by a Queen Elizabeth II covenant. That means that the land is gifted to conservation in perpetuity. It is fenced off so that stock can’t get into it, and action is taken to protect the native plants and wildlife. In practice, for Mum and Dad, that means running a trapping programme for mustelids and feral cats and possums. Many farmers put a QEII covenant over some of their land, protecting a waterway or a block of bush, something that could not be used for farming anyway. It’s a gift to future generations of New Zealanders. Mum and Dad’s place has extensive wetlands, one of the more significant wetlands in Taranaki. For them, protecting the wetlands and the native bush is very much a matter of helping to ensure that the bush and birds and plants that they love so much will be there for their grandchildren, and greatgrandchildren, and for all New Zealanders. I admire them so much for doing this.
Up alongside one of the ponds, there is a bank with old and new kotare (kingfisher) nest holes in it. One of them is currently occupied, and as we stood quietly in front of it, we could hear the chicks inside. Not cheeping. They creak in a groaning way. It was the first time I had heard kotare chicks. Mum and Dad have also heard puweto (spotless crake) on their farm, but they haven’t seen them. Evidently there’s good reason for their European name.
You can tell that this kotare nest is occupied, by the external evidence.
To prove that I could, and because the woodfired stove got up to a high enough temperature, I baked a batch of cheesy muffins for lunch. They rose and rose and rose.
On the way up to Auckland, we stopped to use the “conveniences” at Otorohanga. How many of these names do you know?
We saw family and friends in Auckland, and to my great delight, I met the fabulous Julie Fairey, and the glorious Jackie Clarke. Alas, I missed the lovely Ex-expat: she and her partner were driving down the road to New Plymouth just an hour or two after we drove up it to Auckland.
Ms Eleven has been reading Under the Mountain by Maurice Gee, so we took the strangelings off to play in the crater of a volcano.
We came back to Adelaide to find our home safe, and our garden kindly cared for by our neighbours. I loved my time in New Zealand, but it’s good to be back in our own space again.