Beach Tiki Tour


A tiki tour is the name given for a drive with a general idea of where you’re headed but with flexibility about changing where you go and how you get there.  Phil and I are early risers; by 7 am we were on our way south to Warkworth, just north of Auckland, to pick up a piece of equipment purchased last week.  By 9 am our pick up was accomplished and we headed east from Warkworth with plenty of time to explore the coastline.

Matakana was our first stop.  Originally a sleepy farming community, over the last ten years it has transformed into a trendy holiday escape for Aucklanders who appreciate art, music, fine wines and great food.  We were a day too late to enjoy the renowned Saturday market, but enjoyed a quiet wander through town before discovering a short bush walk along the river that ended at a restaurant and patisserie.  We indulged in a couple of pastries and a loaf of Turkish bread to share later in the day and resumed our trip east.



Water from this fountain comes from the local stream that meanders through the village. It’s a clever way of keeping people aware of the health of the waterways throughout the year.












After a brief stop to admire the Leigh wharf we continued to the Goat Island Marine Reserve.  It’s a beautiful spot with clear waters, tidal pools, fascinating rock sculptures and extensive views north and east.  There were three separate groups of students preparing to scuba dive when we arrived.  Auckland University has a marine studies centre that provides an excellent research facility to monitor the ecological impact the reserve is having in the region. Goat Island Marine Reserve

From the edge of the rocks we could see snapper, sting rays and parore but the glare made it impossible to capture them in clear photos.  Little Barrier Island was visible to the east and the view north encompassed the Poor Knights and Hen and Chickens Islands plus the sweep of land out to Whangarei Heads.

We left with definite plans to return over summer with snorkels to further explore this magical spot.

(left) Phil’s degree in geology came in handy to explain the weathered conglomerate rocks sculpted into magnificent shapes.

(right) We could hear the native tui’s excited song 100 metres before we discovered the source!

Our final stop was Pakiri Beach, 20 minutes north of Goat Island.  The white silica sands stretched to distant points north and south creating an idyllic beach.  We quickly discovered the tide line was covered in a treasure trove of every sort of shell.  I was particularly excited to find two intact sand dollars as I’ve never seen them at any other beaches in New Zealand. A playful dalmatian with energy to spare adopted us for the duration of our stay. His owners were no where to be found but were likely the local holiday park owners.

In addition to tent sites the holiday park offers a range of beautiful cabins to rent that overlook the beach.  We added them to the growing list of things to do over the summer.

Pakiri Beach Holiday Park

While we didn’t stop at any further beaches, we drove through Mangawhai, Waipu Cove and Waipu Beach as potential future holiday stays.  We are so spoiled in Northland that it’s easy to limit ourselves to a handful of stunning local beaches.  Our Sunday drives are reminders to sometimes take a detour, stop along the way, and to embrace the journey as well as the destination.




Don’t Wait for the Weather


Phil and I took a drive on Sunday to Mangonui to share salt and pepper calamari and a piece of blue cod with chips.

The weather was dodgy (we’d driven through rain and low-lying cloud on the way up) but we decided to walk from the fish and chip shop to Rangikapiti Pa.  Phil had never been and I was keen to show him ever since Barb and I had visited a few months ago.

Half an hour later, a little puffed but warm and dry, we arrived at the top. It was worth the effort.





RangikapitiPa (9)The trig station, listing lines of latitude and longitude plus height above sea level.

RangikapitiPa (2)The view towards Mangonui township and harbour.

RangikapitiPa (5)Out to sea we could see boats returning from early morning fishing trips and a group of yachts heading out for a race.

RangikapitiPa (7)In the distance is the Karikari Peninsula which includes Tokerau Beach, Whatuwhiwhi and Matai Bay where we camp in the summer.  You can just make out Mt. Camel to the right.

RangikapitiPa (4)Coopers Beach at high tide.  We’ll have to save that walk for another day.

RangikapitiPa (11)Our selfies seem to work better using Phil’s long arms!



Helene Wong is a writer, actor, director and film critic who was born in New Zealand from Chinese immigrant parents.  Her recent book, “Being Chinese:  A New Zealander’s Story” made her a natural choice to present the Michael King Memorial Lecture at the Auckland Writer’s Festival.  She discussed the dichotomy of being both part of this place but also set apart.

New Zealand is considered a multi-cultural society whose core identity is a bi-cultural mix of Maori and Pakeha (British, Irish and Scottish colonial ancestry).  Our location in the South Pacific accounts for the large numbers of Pacific Island, Indian, Indonesian, SE Asian, Chinese, Korean and Japanese immigrant populations. Colonial ties also explain the large numbers of immigrants from the United Kingdom (UK) and South Africa,

The core of Helene Wong’s talk focused on how we look on the outside as opposed to who we are on the inside.  As a Chinese woman she has dealt regularly with other people’s stereotypes.  She played a funny but cringe-worthy film clip on the experiences of three actresses applying for t.v. roles.  Each was from a different Asian country but all were seen simply as “Asian” and expected to either know martial arts or to react unemotionally (‘Asian’?!) in stressful situations.

Helene’s parents set aside their Chinese heritage in order to ensure their children grew up identifying as Kiwis.  They succeeded in their goal but only to a certain point.  There was no getting around the fact that they still looked Chinese on the outside even if they felt like Kiwis on the inside.  It was only as an adult that she began to reconnect with her Chinese heritage.   She shared a moving story of visiting her father’s birthplace in China where she was told, “This is your home,” by villagers.

Helene helped organise the ‘Banana’ Conference with other Chinese New Zealanders who were interested in reconnecting with their cultural heritage.  It was their humorous way of identifying the sense of being yellow on the outside and white on the inside.

She also discussed the rising levels of xenophobia not only in New Zealand but globally.  It is not a new phenomena.  Historically, large movements of immigrants have resulted from the need for cheap labour, wars, famine or simply to maintain stable population numbers as a balance to emigration.  While most people enjoy cultural diversity, there can be a fear of cultural invasion, otherwise referred to as ‘inv-Asian’.


The session resonated with me on many levels.  I immigrated to Zealand almost 22 years ago.  I look Pakeha but as soon as I speak my accent gives me away as American.  My friends and colleagues tend to overlook or downplay this fact.  I’ve lost track of the number of conversations about the US or Americans that have been halted mid-sentence with the comment, “But we don’t mean you, you’re not really American.”

It is a challenge facing millions of people today.  As an immigrant, how do you retain those parts of your past that reflect your values today?  Each year, my family hosts a Thanksgiving party that has grown in excess of 100 family members and friends.  They have fully embraced this holiday that values the universal theme of giving thanks for all that we have in our lives.  I cook American recipes handed down by family members, and at Christmas I am renowned for my over the top tree and lights that are a little out of place in what is now a summer holiday.

I attend Waitangi and Anzac Day services, have learned to cook scones and pavlova, and understand and support our national rugby and cricket teams.  Every year we dress up for an afternoon tea to celebrate the Queen’s birthday.  Cucumber sandwiches, scones with jam and cream, and other treats are washed down with cups of tea on the good china.   That is not a typical Kiwi tradition, but it is ours.

If it was a question of getting used to new foods, clothing and celebrations it would be simple. However, today immigration poses huge challenges.   How do you tackle the differences in values and morals of immigrant groups that might view women’s rights, sexual orientation or protecting the environment in significantly different ways to the culture where they settle?  This is of particular concern in practicing democracies where citizens elect their politicians.  It is sensible to question what impact voters with different values could have on government decision-making and legislation.

Helene Wong finished by challenging the audience to speak up rather than remain silent when witnessing the hate speech of xenophobia.   Kiwis are traditionally non-confrontational but she questioned, “Is this who we are?  Who we want to be?”  She pointed out the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S. as symptomatic of the frustration and fear that can result from unchallenged bigotry. When there is no more room for discussion or differences of opinion democracy falters.

"We hate everyone!!!"
“We hate everyone!!!”


Attitude Adjustment

Yesterday, after almost a month of dithering, I finally chose new glasses.  I have been using reading glasses for almost a decade, and six years ago bought my first pair every day glasses.  Meg was with me when I picked them up and my exclamations of “Wow!  Look at those leaves!” were met with head-shaking laughter.

My eyes aren’t too bad.  I can see well enough in the distance to recognise anything for what it is; a tree, road sign, person.  The problem began when I couldn’t read the name on the road signs and, worse, when I would stare at people at the supermarket because although they looked familiar, I had to be pretty close to see the details of their faces to be sure I was right.  It made for some uncomfortable moments.

My new glasses were a wonder.  Not only could I read signs or recognise people from a distance, the world was in sharper focus.  I hadn’t realised that my world had taken on soft edges.  This can be a useful technique depending on what you’re viewing.  I’m not sure I need to see how much ear hair the check out guy is sprouting, but when it comes to nature sharper is definitely better.  However, within a year I went from wearing them all the time to dragging them out once or twice a month for movies or driving at night.

We had family visiting this weekend and took them for a walk to the Stone Store Basin. Our area is historical for Maori and early European settlements.  The Stone Store is New Zealand’s oldest European building and behind it sits Kemp House, a former missionary station.  About eight years ago a new bypass was constructed further up the river towards town to divert vehicle traffic away from the basin.  While drivers enjoyed passing the beautiful setting, tourists didn’t appreciate cars whizzing past while they posed for photos, and the vibrations from vehicles were slowly undermining the stone and mortar construction of the building.  Also, frequent threats of flooding occurred when seasonal rains carried fallen trees down river, were trapped against the bridge and acted as a dam.

There was huge controversy over the removal of the old bridge.  It was considered ‘historic’ and a petition was started to save it as a footbridge across the river. Quite frankly it was an ugly bridge, made up of old concrete and steel with no aesthetic appeal.  Most importantly, it was poorly designed to withstand flooding and so it was removed.  A new, beautifully arching foot bridge was built a short distance up river to link both sides and provide a stunning view over the basin.  Within six months of the removal of the old bridge not a whisper has been said against the removal of the old bridge.  The area is beautiful, peaceful and used extensively by locals and tourists for picnics, playing, swimming and simply hanging out.

Back to my glasses.  You see, I realised on Sunday as I stood overlooking this gorgeous heritage site that I too had to let go of the past and get used to a new and improved future. I don’t like how I look with glasses.  Over the last month I’ve tested the patience of my friends as I’ve made them act as mirrors while I’ve vacillated over countless design options.  The truth is that with glasses on I look different, not better, not worse, just different.  I’ve ordered two pairs that are pretty and feel comfortable to wear.

In ten days time I will embrace the clarity my new glasses will provide and my eyes (and friends) will no longer be tired from my indecision.  Oh, and I’ll focus on the leaves instead of the ear hair.

P.S. Here are my new glasses. They are very comfortable and I’m enjoying clarity every day!

Altered States


If possible I love starting the Auckland Writer’s Festival off with attendance at the NZ Listener Gala Night.  Eight authors get seven minutes each to ad lib a chosen topic.  In addition to being entertaining, it’s an efficient way to gain exposure to new authors.

Carmen Aguirre, actress and former revolutionary under Pinochet, was the first speaker and set the bar high.  She recounted an engaging story about performing in a play (The Suicide) in which her main goal was to impress a cute waiter she’d given a ticket to to come home with her.  An unexpected new character joined the play on opening night and we didn’t find out until the end that he was the ghost of a past player who had committed suicide on stage.  Her lively presence,  unpredictable humour and expert timing had us all believing in the supernatural.

Peter Garret, former Midnight Oil front man and politician, interpreted the theme as stages in his life.  His transition from a wayward vagabond singing about the wrongs of the world to an influential politician who had to learn discipline and compromise to achieve change was thought-provoking.  With the US Presidential race gathering pace, it was a timely reminder about the difference between those who can talk and those who can do.

Tusiata Avia, Samoan poet, had us enchanted.  She arrived on stage holding her high heels, claiming when she was by herself she could be a short as she liked.  Our culture, gender and past can result in people all experiencing the same event in very different ways.  As an epileptic she experiences what is called ‘jamais vu’, when experiences should be familiar but are unfamiliar.  People and objects have auras that allow her a point of connection and writing is her method of channeling those encounters.  She concluded, “I’m still looking for my ending.”

Vivian Gornick, NY woman of letters, had us alternatively laughing and groaning as she shared her first marriage to a sociopath.  She was willfully blind to recognising who he truly was through her sexual infatuation with him.  Her story touched a nerve and connected with many in the audience who have also been besotted to the point of blindness in young relationships.

Herman Koch, author of The Dinner, shared his inspiration from writing resulted from telling lies as a child about his school days.  His parents were so thrilled he was sharing information that his lies became more and more intricate to the point of absurdity.  At fifteen years of age he confessed his years of lying to a psychologist who advised him to think about whether he wanted to return to address the issue.  A week later he rang the psychologist’s office only to discover he’d died the day after Herman had made his confession.  He knew at that moment that being a writer was his future profession.  He brought the house down.

It was hard to imagine the final speaker being able to offer more but she did, and then some.  Jeanette Winterson is a marvel.  As an orphan adopted by an evangelical family, her childhood was rich pickings for writing.  Her step-mother would write passages from the bible and leave them scattered around the house, along with a range of weaponry she collected as veiled threats of consequences for not obeying the rules.  She was not allowed to read anything but the Bible because as her step-mother stated, “The trouble with a book is you never know what’s in it until it’s too late.”

She learned about hypocrisy when she was sent to the library to check out murder mysteries for her step-mother so that no-one would know she was reading fiction.  For herself, Jeanette began checking out classics in alphabetical order from a shelf and then began to purchase her own copies in secret.  She hid them under her mattress and over time her bed grew higher and higher.  Finally, her step-mother could ignore them no longer and threw the books one-by-one out the bedroom window, covered them in kerosene and lit them on fire.

As horrendous as that story is, it provided a moment of clarity for Jeanette in which she knew writing was her future.  Her parting words were powerful, “Whatever is outside can be taken away: not what’s inside.”



Auckland Writer’s Festival 2016


Each year I treat myself to the Auckland Writer’s Festival.  It’s a week-long event, but most of the activity is centred around Friday, Saturday and Sunday sessions.  This year’s theme was “Read the World” and focused on questions of identity, perception and migration (voluntary and involuntary) from a range of New Zealand and global authors. Carmen Aguirre, Vivian Gornick, Herman Koch, Jeanette Winterson, Helene Wong, Giovanni Tiso, David Fisher, Janet Wilson, Julian Baggini, Hirini Kaa, Jean-Christophe Rufin, and Janna Levin were just a few of the stimulating speakers at sessions I attended.

Perhaps the greatest highlight was seeing Gloria Steinem.  At 82 years of age, she has been an icon for me and others for decades and she shared several stories from her life as an activist.  One included her attendance at the March on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr.  He had finished his planned speech and was about to leave the stage when one of the women organisers shouted out to him, “Tell them about your dream!”  His ‘I Have a Dream’ speech was not only impromptu in its delivery, but in its construction.  She also spoke at length about Native American activists she’s worked with and admires.

I was touched most by her responses to audience questions.  One young woman (22 years old) explained how difficult it was to find others who identified as feminists.  First, Gloria recommended that she see beyond labels to the substance of what people stand for.  As much as she is comfortable calling herself a feminist she said that what was most important was that people recognised barriers to people achieving their potential.  Equalist, womanist, human rights activist, she said it doesn’t matter how they label themselves or if they refuse to do so as long as they’re taking action.  Then she asked if 10 people would be willing to stay after the session to meet up with the young woman and dozens of hands shot up.  She left with a smile on her face and plans to share a wine with new-found friends.

Another young woman who was only 14 years old said she already feels overwhelmed by the issues facing young people today.  Gloria gently suggested she find one issue at her school that needed addressing, something simple that everyone knew was a problem. Then, create a group who will work towards making a change.  She reminded her that no one person is the answer to any problem.  Circles of support remind us that it takes a team to bring about change and to support each other through the challenges.  I thought in both instances her suggestions were very empowering to those young women.

I left feeling thankful for my own circles of support.  I am surrounded by friends and family near and far with shared histories.  There have been plenty of laughs and tears in my life that make up a rich tapestry of stories.  Those stories and the people in them define who I am.  They are my past, present and will be an integral part of my future.

More to come…

All Things Big and Small

PaihiaOpuaWalk (64)

The day of our BIG WALK arrived, sunny and calm with just enough autumn coolness to keep us comfortable over the 5-6 hours we set aside to achieve our goal.  We arrived in Paihia in high spirits, hats and sunblock on, snacks and water packed and grins worthy of a Lewis Carroll story.

We expected to see stunning views.  Living in the Bay of Islands it’s impossible to get away from countless vistas encompassing water and hills but this walk is special.  The first 6 kms encompasses a waterfront path that includes a wooden walkway through mangroves and ends at the Opua wharf.  In New Zealand we have what is called the Queen’s Chain, which establishes a 20 metre strip of public pathway along the shoreline, even on private property.  The path led us through several secluded coves where it was easy to be respectful of the privacy of the 2-3 houses as our gazes were drawn to the view and not their windows.

The wait at Opua allowed Barb and I to grab a quick coffee to wash down the oatmeal biscuits/cookies I’d made.  Ten minutes and $1 each later we were at Okiata Point.  It never ceases to amaze me how different the bush walks are in such a small catchment.  The track was very steep, with both natural and reinforced steps cut into the hillsides.  Nikau palms were everywhere and my friends waited patiently while I photographed countless mushrooms and fungi.

The steep track soon gave way to a boardwalk where high tide masked the distinctive sulfur smell of mangrove roots. We spotted commercial oyster beds sitting in the bay and the brilliant autumn colours of a lone liquid amber tree in the distant hills.  Several blue herons crisscrossed the estuary, one kind enough to pose at the end of a stretch of walkway.

A kaleidoscope of hibiscus colours greeted us on our arrival in Russell, five hours after the start of our adventure.  Well-deserved ice cream cones and a return ferry trip to Paihia finished the trip perfectly.

It’s so easy to fall into the same routines and I do love my daily walks with great friends but I finished this walk inspired to keep finding the hidden treasures in this special place I call home.

life in New Zealand is never boring