Waiheke Island: a different view

reg_waih  photo 2 photo 1 photo 4 Te-Motu_Enjoi-Waiheke-Wine-Tours  images  Wild-on-Waiheke-Food-and-wine  mudbrick-images-031

Happy New Year! Let’s start 2015 with a new look at Waiheke, Pamrovia’s favourite island. (Actually it’s the favourite island of all Aucklanders. About 20,000 of us take up temporary residence there each January.)
Mansions, vineyards, restaurants and beaches make Waiheke famous. But there’s another side. The Maori story of Waiheke is being told through a tour business called Hike Bike Ako. Ako is the Maori word for ‘learning’.
Chief guide Dr Robyn Manuel (she has a PhD in science) meets me at the ferry. We do some moderate hiking, some gentle biking, and a lot of learning. The overseas visitors on the tour love hearing the meanings of Maori words, the names of the trees we shelter under, and the legends of the islands. For Pakeha on the tour, it is a new take on some things.

robyn 2   .above matiatia    visit-auckland-200x200  p-09714957-DEDB-AE5B-F23553CDC02EBC73-3775908_400_400_s_c1_center_center

Looking across the gulf to Rangitoto Island, we remember hearing that Rangitoto means ‘blood-red sky’ in reference to Maori witnessing the eruption of the volcanic island. Not so, says Robyn. The name refers to the chief Tamatekapua bleeding into the waters around the island after a fight caused by a wife-stealing incident.
Tamatekapua, we are told, is the man who gave Waiheke its name. He named the island Waiheketua after his grandmother of that name who stayed behind in Hawaiki when Tamatekapua left to captain the Te Arawa waka south to Aotearoa. Others will tell you that Waiheke means ‘cascading waters’, but Robyn sticks to her version.
“There are no waterfalls on Waiheketua.”
The name of the island’s best beach, Onetangi, is sometimes translated as ‘water falling on sand’. A stream? Rain? To Robyn’s annoyance, it is sometimes said to refer to a chief urinating on the sand. It really means ‘place of sadness’, she says. One is sand, tangi is tears. The Te Arawa canoe left from here as it continued its journey south to Maketu, leaving some of the explorers behind.
As with all legends, centuries-old stories and oral histories, there is space for differing interpretations. It all adds to the colour.
We take a break at Piritahi Marae. Piritahi means ‘coming together’. It refers to the marriage of a man and woman from warring tribes, and there is quite a story attached to that. It runs as far as the present day, but I will leave it to the Hike Bike Ako team to explain that to you.

tourists at marae    marae entry     P1030453     a leisurely hike


If you fancy a tread-lightly, vehicle-free, cultural but light-hearted experience on Waiheke, this is well worth considering. A half day costs $99, a full day is $159. www.hikebikeako.co.nz

Sundials – timely tourist trails

Who knew? It’s true, there are trails which take enthusiasts from sundial to sundial around the country. Public parks, universities, schools, hospitals, churchyards, and the walls of buildings – they all hold examples of this ancient way of telling the time.

This one is at Lake Wanaka. DSCN2849

And this one is at Tauhei, near Hamilton. Sundail at Tauhei, near Hamilton

Most sundials are simple stone structures standing about one metre high. Many show their age and lack of love through their covering of lichen, and vandalised or stolen gnomons (they are the upright metal pointers which cast a shadow to show the time of day.) Others are restored and well-cared for, like this one at St Cuthbert’s College, Auckland (photographed by Emma Boyd).

This sundial is at St Cuthbert's College, Auckland. photo by Emma Boyd - Copy

These two are in Wellington. One is above the entrance to Logan Brown Restaurant in Cuba Street.IFThe other is in the Soundshell at the Botanic Gardens. An armillary sundial in the Botanic Gardens, Wellington - Copy


Others are popular for their oddity value, such as this umbrella sundial in Invercargill.


The ‘Sundial of Human Involvement’ in Wellington’s Botanic Gardens, for example, uses the human body as a gnomon. So when a passerby stands on a stone slab in front of a semi-circle of small stone pillars topped with numbers, the person’s body casts a shadow which becomes the pointer on the clock.

Sundial of Human Involvement, Botanic Gardens, Wellington - Copy

There are three ways to look at sundials. Some fans enjoy them for their beauty. They admire the sculpted stone and engraved metal, and marvel at the craftsmanship of the people who made them.

The second thing to look for is the motto written on the sundial. Usually the witty or sentimental saying is in Latin, so a mobile phone with Google, or a mini Latin dictionary, are useful to take along.  ‘Use They Time Wisely’ is a popular motto. Others are ‘Always Time for Friends’, ‘It’s Later Than You Think’, and ‘Time Flies’.  This memorial sundial at Taradale, Hawkes Bay, says ‘Enter the grounds not in sorrow but in pride. Try to live worthily as they died’.

Enter the grounds not in sorrow but in pride. Try to live worthily as they died says the memorial sundial at Taradale (1)

And the third aspect is the science of sundials. How do they work? Experts speak of elliptical planes, of prime meridians and of equatorial rings, of sundials in different forms such as horizontal, vertical and armillary.

A self-confessed sundial addict by the name of Rosaleen Robertson is behind the setting up of sundial trails. Here she is in the Chatham Islands. Rosaleen Robertson of the Sundial Association is listing every sundial in NZ. This one is in the Chatham Islands - Copy

There are fully-documented trails in Timaru and Wellington, and Rosaleen and other sundial admirers are tracking down and recording sundials throughout the country. You can join the sleuths, and get information on the trails, at www.sundials.org.nz

The Grand Traverse – in defence of the Guided Walk

Intrepid trampers or a bunch of softies? Pam Neville puts the case for guided walks.

We’re a bedraggled bunch at times, we tail-end Charlies. One has boots with soles flapping loose, held together only by regular applications of sticky tape. Another is walking in jandals, having abandoned boots because of agonising foot pain. A third has a nasty head wound after scalping himself on a fallen tree. More knees than not are encased in braces, bandages, straps and supports.

The proper trampers are out in front, leaping over boulders and cantering up steep tracks like so many mountain goats. Leading the herd is a fit and competitive Australian. He is barely challenged by the hike, even at the end of the longest day when he finds someone sneaked rocks into his pack in a breakfast-time practical joke. (It turns out the joker is a demure Englishwoman. “It’s always the quiet ones,” mutters the Australian.)

My group of 24 is on a six-day adventure in the foothills of the Southern Alps, walking the Greenstone and the Hollyford tracks. Guiding company Ultimate Hikes calls this the Grand Traverse. They have combined what are usually two separate walks for the benefit of foreigners such as Australians and Aucklanders for whom getting to Queenstown is expensive. Accommodation is three nights in huts with bunkrooms, and two nights in lodges with private rooms. Breakfast, dinner and bedding are provided, but walkers carry their own personal gear and lunch.

But guided walkers are not “real” trampers, according to a friend back home who lugs her own food, clothing, and sleeping bag – even a tent if there are no DOC huts on her route – in a pack weighing two or three times the 6kg I allow myself.  Another “real” tramper pooh-poohs the guided folk relaxing in their lodge, wine in hand. “A well-earned rest after a hard day carrying a pack containing a spare handkerchief,” he scoffs.

Unfair, I reckon. We are still walking 65km, over difficult terrain, and a guide assures us we will have walked nearly 100km by the time we’ve done some extra sightseeing, side tracks, and trips to the bar. We traversed the Main Divide – twice – and we ventured intos two national parks, Fiordland and Mt Aspiring.

From a lookout called Key Summit, there are sweeping views down three valleys, the Greenstone to the east, the Eglinton to the south and the Hollyford to the west, with rivers leading to three oceans, the Pacific Ocean, the Southern Ocean, and the Tasman Sea. From the Hollyford face, we look across at the Darran Mountains, down the Hollyford valley and out to the Tasman Sea reaching towards Australia. From the Harris Saddle and Conical Hill we see the surf at Martins Bay on the West Coast.

As well as the mighty panoramas, there are myriad close up views, of South Island robins and wrens, of tomtits and kea, of sparkling waterfalls, fast-moving crystal streams, little alpine lakes, and of cushion plants and snow berries.

Grand views indeed on the clear days we are blessed with – less than half of the trampers who come here enjoy such fine conditions. It’s sobering to pass a plaque commemorating two children who died in a storm on the track 50 years ago.

The weather gods were kind on this April 2014 Grand Traverse. When I walked the Milford Track in January 2013, conditions were entirely the opposite.

“Pray for rain,” the publicity people say, “as you’ve only seen Fiordland at its most incredible when the waterfalls are in full flow.”

So prior to starting the Milford, I put up a prayer. It rained so much that the Clinton river rose one-and-a-half metres in as many hours. Ahead of us, the track was neck-deep in water. Whole cliffs became waterfalls. Plunging sheets of water obliterated the mountains. Twelve kilometers past our last lodge and four kilometers before the next, my group was rescued by helicopter.

I realised too late that the pray-for-rain slogan is just a public relations excuse to cover the fact it rains pretty much all the time in Fiordland, up to eight metres a year. So walking the Greenstone and the Routeburn for six dry days is a blessing. Dainty, silken waterfalls suit me fine. I saw enough of nature’s raw anger on the Milford.

By lunchtime on Day Six we have conquered the Grand Traverse. Fast or slow, fleet-footed or flappy-booted, we knocked it off, and grand is the rejoicing.

I might not be a real tramper, I might even be a pampered pansy, but I am a convert to guided walking. Why not have a hot shower at the end of six or seven hours’ hard slog? The Greenstone track is gentler, but the Routeburn has a couple of tough climbs, with rocks to scramble over and steep descents. And then there are the sandflies to contend with, and the snorers in the shared bunkrooms! It’s not easy. Every steak, every lamb rack, every pudding and every pinot noir was well-earned.

The Grand Traverse

It’s been so long!  But Pamrovia is moving again.  This time it’s a tramping adventure called The Grand Traverse.  Six days of walking in the Fiordland National Park and the Mt Aspiring National Park in the South Island of New Zealand.  Here are some photos.  The next post will be a story I’ve written which will be published in a magazine later this year.

The Hollyford face is a challenging walk 1 - Copy       One person swing bridge greenstone track 1 - Copy    Routeburn Falls Lodge tucks into the bottom of the alpine basin with grassy flats below - Copy sue P- Copy   Guide Tony Phillips repairs a flappy-soled boot 3 - Copy

Lake McKellar 1 - Copy   The small views are as stunning as the panorama - Copy    rock arch copy   mossy forest floor - Copy

Descending into the Upper Routeburn Valley - Copy   Steele Creek Lodge 3 - Copy   A rest break at Earland Falls 1 - Copy  P1030375 - Copy


Gibbs Farm Sculpture Park


Horizons by Neil Dawson is my favourite at this wonderful place.  Dawson – he of the large suspended steel orbs such as Ferns in Wellington’s civic square – has created his biggest work ever for Gibbs Farm. Horizons is 36 metres high and can be seen from miles away. The size and hilltop site give the sculpture majesty and power, but to me it seems delicate and lace-like. Art expert Rob Garrett writes that it suggests “a giant piece of corrugated iron blown from a collapsed water tank on some distant farm”.

dismember 1 - CopyThe biggest sculpture on this 400ha (1000 acre) farm an hour north of Auckland is the bright red Dismemberment Site 1 by Anish Kapoor (now Sir Anish, since the British knighted him last year). Is it a trumpet? Is it a trampoline? A megaphone, or some strange medical instrument? Certainly it is a huge PVC membrane stretched between two giant steel hoops snuggled into a cleft in a ridgeline. The artist has described its texture as being “rather like a flayed skin”.

Dismemberment with Len Lye behindBehind Dismemberment can be seen Wind Wand by Len Lye, New Zealand’s late and great kinetic sculptor whose biggest body of work – much of it brought home from America after his death – is held in the Govett-Brewster Gallery in New Plymouth.  This sculpture shoots out bolts of lightning when it is switched on, and could not be built until after Len Lye had died as only then had technology caught up with what he had in mind.

Gibbs Farm is an outdoor art gallery of mind-boggling scale. New Zealand rich-lister Alan Gibbs bought the land in 1991 and has been commissioning works from the world’s leading contemporary minimalist sculptors ever since.  Most of the sculptures are the biggest pieces the artists have ever designed. Some of them took years to come to fruition as Gibbs and his engineers battled with the challenges of making and installing them. (If you visit The Barn at the farm, you will see some of Alan Gibb’s other challenges – his prototype amphibious vehicles. They were and are tested on the shallow waters of the Kaipara Harbour which borders the farm.)

tractor mowing A Fold in the Field - CopyHere is a tractor mowing A Fold in the Field by American artist and architect Maya Lin, who has created “a systematic ordering of the terrain” on flat land at the harbour’s edge.

contour - CopyAnd on a hillside is Te Tuhirangi Contour by American minimalist sculptor Richard Serra. The 56 six-metre-high steel plates had to be made in Germany as no closer steel factory could do the job, and they nearly sank a ship during transport.

P1030287 - CopyThis is 88.5 ARCx8 by Bernar Venet, another example of the site-specific work reflecting the landscape and climate. The artist says “I am thinking about the sunrises and sunsets, and the golden light that steeps the Corten steel in red and brown hints.”

red cloud - CopyYou are probably not supposed to play on the sculptures, but who can resist Leon van den Eijkel’s Red Cloud Confrontation in Landscape which – so the brochure says – is “a dialogue between European modernism and the southern hemisphere environment”.

Pyramid - CopyAnd Pyramid (Keystone NZ) by Sol LeWitt, an American artist who used the good old Kiwi concrete block to indulge his love of the cube shape, is just made for climbing.  Although not everyone will have the energy after walking up, down and around the rolling hills for several hours.

And anyway, Gibbs Farm is in many ways the personal playground of its owner, when he’s not living in his London or Detroit homes. There is a water polo court for an athletic grandson in one of the lakes, and a quirky collection of exotic animals.  A sculpture of a giraffe by New Zealand’s Jeff Thomson in his signature corrugated iron, overlooks an enclosure with three real giraffes.

P1030283 - Copy

It’s not easy to visit Gibbs Farm. The place is open to the public only one day a month, and you must book in advance. At present, the next available visiting date is in September 2014.  The good news is, it’s free. And absolutely worth the travel and the wait.  See gibbsfarm.org.nz for booking.

red square black square - Copy the mermaid - Copy buffalo


Six of the Best Things About Wellington


The smell of coffee as you emerge from the plane. You know you are in Wellington the moment you leave the air-bridge. The aroma comes from Fuel Espresso which takes up two walls just alongside the main gates. Also welcoming you to the capital is that happy buzz which seems to emanate from groups of people drinking good coffee. Travellers, those awaiting arrivals, and groups of air crew all keep Fuel Espresso busy. The coffee is so good Fuel has expanded from Wellington to Hong Kong, and now to Shanghai.  Other New Zealanders sometimes think Wellington is a bit precious about its coffee culture, but there are so many good places for coffee here that the chances of getting a bad brew are quite slim.  Unlike Auckland, where you’ll get great coffee, provided you know where to go.

cuba mall

Cuba Mall.  It might be under the red-card cloud as the whole streetscape is branded an earthquake risk, but it’s still a delight to stroll along.  Linger to watch the Morris dancers (I don’t know why, but they were there), and look in all the quirky fashion, art, design and junk shops.

morris dancersA new vintage shop called Unearthed is a joyous browse. vintage shop


Eating. Especially brunch.  Prefab is the hot new destination, run by Brigid Dunn and Jeff Kennedy of Café L’Affare fame. (Jeff sold the coffee roasting business he set up to multi-national Cerebos 8 years ago for $25million.) The interesting thing is that Prefab serves filter coffee, bottomless style as per the American diner. Jeff promises filter is great, “it’s not weak”.  Celebrity chef Al Brown is also serving filter in Auckland, so it must be the new trend. Last Saturday, Prefab had a line of people waiting for a table, as usual on weekends. Life is too short to queue so we went to Olive in Cuba Street. An oldie but goodie, Olive serves excellent espresso, and perfect poached eggs.

 olive cafe

Wellington-sign-New-Zealand-MiramarThe Windy Wellington sign.  I love it. And all the other wind-inspired sculptures around the city. The sign is called Wellington – Blown Away, and it won a competition to find an appropriate sign to replace an old All Blacks sign, and a (thankfully) brief flirtation with Wellywood.  You Can’t Beat Wellington On A Good Day, the saying goes. But sadly, you can’t avoid the fact it’s incredibly windy far too often.  I guess Wellington-without-wind would be such a perfect place that everyone would want to live there, and the sheer numbers of people would ruin it.

I-dream-of-FishesArt at the Museum Hotel.  Just stroll in and wander around the lobby to view a high-powered collection of New Zealand’s leading contemporary artists, like this painting by Grant Hanna.  The hotel is like an extension of Te Papa. You’ll see 100 artworks by the likes of Raymond Ching, Robin White, Gretchen Albrecht, and Dick Frizzell.  At reception, you can borrow a guide book which lists and describes it all.  A new John Pule work is just beside the lift.  Across the lobby are pieces by Bill Hammond, Nigel Brown, Brent Wong and more.  You don’t even have to stay there!  Although the Museum Art Hotel is undoubtedly a great place to stay, just across the road from Te Papa and the waterfront and an easy walk to Cuba Street and Lambton Quay.

apartmentsThe new apartments on the old Overseas Terminal are looking good. They’ll set you back though.  Most have been sold off the plans with the cheapest at $1.3 million. Those remaining are among the most expensive.  Remax has a three-bedroom penthouse listed for $3.5 million at the moment. What Wellingtonians know as the Overseas Terminal is now called Clyde Quay Wharf. There are 75 apartments, due to be ready to live in mid-2014.

Helena Bay, Northland

Different worlds rub up against one another in Helena Bay (more correctly but less commonly called Mimiwhangata Bay). A typical holiday bach is basic and weather-beaten. Often the bach is extended into a mini-compound by one or more old caravans. Electricity is optional.caravans Then there is the relatively posh beach bach, often half a century or more old but well maintained or renovated by ensuing generations.teal bay bach Within the larger Helena Bay is Teal Bay, also called Ngawai Bay, a well-kept cluster of holiday homes, the majority built along the steep beach in the 1950s and 1960s. The residents are proud of their summer holiday community and express themselves in street numbers and letterboxes. sign1 letterboxes sign3lazydaze sign


And a Teal Bay permanent resident, who goes by the name of Hohepa, expresses himself in his trusty tractor, which he uses to launch his tinny in the estuary most days.tractor 1

A little further around Helena Bay is Otara Bay where under construction is a holiday haven a world apart from the usual Northland bach-and-caravan set up. This is the summer home of Russian steel magnate Alexander Abramov. On his 215ha farm he is building a dacha comprising three villas, one for him, one for his family, one for guests, and living quarters around an Olympic-size swimming pool. He has also managed to get permission for a sealed pathway around the rocky foreshore to his personal jetty so golf carts can meet his super-launch when it turns up. Alexander is expected at Helena Bay this February, for a short holiday. russian, Helena Bay

There has been protest at the development, and criticism of the local council allowing it, but opposition is tempered by the Russian’s promises to look after the land and create a wildlife sanctuary. He is also employing dozens of local people on his project. Jobs are scarce, and appreciated, in Northland.


Mimiwhangata: A special place

New Zealand has many remote parks and reserves, wild stretches of coastline, and havens for threatened wildlife. Among the lesser known is the Mimiwhangata Coastal Reserve in Northland, a working farm surrounded by a marine reserve and crossed by walking tracks. In ponds and wetlands pateke, the rare brown teal, are thriving, and in areas of forest kiwi are hanging on. Volunteers join working bees to protect and increase their habitat.

mimi mimi2 mimiwhangata-coastal-park-map-aug-2012-565accommodation sign

There is a camping ground, and the Department of Conservation rents out a beach house, a cottage and a lodge. This is Okupe Beach, near the rental accommodation. Okupe BeachThe camping ground is a short walk across the Kaituna Peninsula in equally beautiful Waikahoa Bay.

okupe 2


Mimiwhangata was the scene of  battles between Maori tribes in pre-European times. The name Mimiwhangata means ‘stench of urine’, in reference to the decaying bodies of slain warriors. Europeans began farming here in the 1860s. The land was bought by New Zealand Breweries, now Lion Nathan, in 1962 and a huge coastal resort was planned. But concerns for the natural, historic and archaeological values of the place saw wiser plans prevail and the brewery sold it to the government. Mimiwhangata was briefly world famous in 1970 when the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Princess Anne came ashore from the royal yacht Britannia for a picnic. Nowadays the place is cherished by those who know about it, but remains unknown to most of the country.

Mimiwhangata is an hour’s drive northwest from Whangarei, and a similar distance south from Russell.

Wake Up, Pamrovia!

It’s a whole new year and I’ve been taking it easy. pamrovia rests Thanks for sticking with me, loyal citizens of Pamrovia  – all several of you.  A Princess of Pamrovia is travelling in Vietnam as we speak. She promises a guest post. Time will tell. Meanwhile, I will try to be more efficient.  Trouble is, I think I’m stuck in 2013.  I want to be in last year’s scenario, cruising around the Med on Seadream 1,  having my every whim catered to. I barely had to paddle my own canoe on that nifty little ship.27743-9 The reality of 2014 is that I’m driving a fishing boat in the Hauraki Gulf – where there has been an uncomfortable wind many days this January – while a fanatic puts out lines from the back, and pulls them in with very few fish to speak off. This is the face of someone who would rather be ashore. driving Hirani 2 And if this photo seems to lean sideways, that’s because at times my vessel was in the same state. “This boat is a dog side on to the sea,” says the fisherman, cheerful and completely unconcerned. I sensibly decide that I need a land base, somewhere near the fishing grounds, in walking distance of the water but not actually on the wet stuff.  I found this lovely old bach at Palm Beach, Waiheke Island. It needs a complete do-up, you can’t see the ocean, but it’s only a few minutes walk to the sand. palm beach bachTrouble is, the asking  price is $1.7 million.  So I found this flash house at Enclosure Bay, on a very steep site, five minutes walk (at least) to the beach.  enclosure bay houseAsking price: just under $1.2 million. Out of the question!  It’s back to the rocky tub on a turbulent sea. And dreaming of a life of luxury afloat on the Mediterranean. I’ve been thinking about some of the lesser known tourist islands of Europe. Next post will be a story I’ve written for a newspaper about them. Anybody have a favourite Mediterranean island to add to the list?

Onetangi Beach, Waiheke Island, Auckland, New Zealand

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Hurry up pohutukawa, we can’t have Christmas until you are in full bloom.