Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ponsonby Rd and High Street Auckland Defeats Starbucks.

This letter was published in an abbreviated form in the New Zealand Herald 27 January 2011.
I responded to a feature by Nathan Field. Nathan is senior equity analyst at Gareth Morgan Investments.
Nathan tells only part of the story about why Starbucks will not be the dominant player in the New Zealand coffee market . We don’t all prefer coffee carts or seek edgy places. Starbucks have retreated from Ponsonby Rd and High Street . Both these streets are the home to high quality, well established, independent coffee roasters.
I know these establishment well . Yes some of the crew can be tattooed and occasionally you may be served by a surly actress . The reality is something different .
The lounges are comfortable all have clean toilets and Auckland City A grade hygiene certificates. Their friendly, knowledgeable staff make great coffee and know their product .
All these small businesses actually lead the way in service and quality . Starbucks is a different experience and their crew seem to be scripted . It is great that staff are on message . Better still when they actually believe it . This is another difference you get from the enthusiastic staff in their Ponsonby Rd and High street coffee lounges, they take seriously what they do.
Despite Nathan’s purple prose, Starbucks know that not being on Ponsonby Rd or Primrose Hill in London they can only be another chain of which there are many. Auckland is home to well travelled kiwis and increasing numbers of European and South Americans.
It is patronising for anyone to state that we are not true coffee aficionados .

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Queenstown Jazz and Blues Festival Labour Weekend 2010

Queenstown is known for its outdoor activities and it is the home of the bungee jump. It is not known for culture and music. Dunedin, the provincial capital of Otago, is the home of music and culture there. However, the Queenstown Jazz Festival is now a mature 30 years old. From small beginnings in smoky local pubs (weren’t they great?) it is now a festival of over 50 events performed at outside venues, pubs in Queenstown, and Arrowtown. The Memorial Hall was decked out to resemble a Harlem or Chicago club. It worked well.
I caught two acts there on Friday. Erna Ferry, backed by band leader Roger Fox and the NZ School of Music. In tribute to Peggy Lee, the woman and her music, Erna gave a tight and at times passionate rendition of Peg’s hits. She also gave a narration of Peggy’s life and loves.

Saturday I saw a Queenstown singer Kiri Winders who paid tribute to the 1940’s. YES! Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Louis Armstrong, and Frank Sinatra. Life did seem more interesting before TV! Winder is more than a competent jazz singer or diva. She was part of the famous Dunedin sound in bands Valve and My Deviant Daughters.

I concede I’m a sucker for big bands and jazz. Perhaps having a father who jumped ship in San Francisco to see Dinah Washington, Bing Crosby and Duke Ellington and his band at the Coconut Grove instilled some passion in my veins.

Kiri Winders and her 1940’s Jazz Club. Her show radiated energy from the first minute as she slipped the faux mink off her shoulder. As it slid down her body the influence of Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Munroe felt real. She carried it well all night long. Her jazz club were all veteran players and never missed a note. Even the festival organizer Simon had a part in the show. After the third costume change he was definitely part of the show ‘Hey Big Spender’, 'New York, New York' and ‘Its Amore’. He was hot! I am a fan of cabaret and am a sucker for a show. Tonight was a great night for Jazz. Ronnie Scott would have been happy if this was his club. Ardie Shaw, Ella Fitzgerald, and Duke Ellington would have been happy to have this Jazz Club as their band. Actually Roger Fox would be happy too. I met my old doctor Denise and her husband, we spent the evening together all of us totally captured by the show.

Jeff Bradley and the Delta Swing were my personal highlights. They opened for Kiri and from the first notes from Jeff's clarinet the audience knew they were in for something special. These men, like all the musicians I watched over the weekend, had a real love for their music. Jeff and his band lifted the quality of most and equaled the other big bands. Yes they too would be at home at Ronnie Scotts – A truly world class band!

Saelyn Guyton Quartet is a much understated name for an exciting band. Saclyn is a recent winner of the’ world famous in Gore’ Gold Guitar. This is no mean feat. She performed in the warm afternoon sun at the Village Green. A great venue and a good time to play. Many of the young people who work in the local hospitality scene are South American and European and before they started work, they hung out. So the crowd was young, well travelled, and hip. What an audience to play to! Jaclyn and her band were a little like Mike Frost and The Icemen, with Mojo Webb who also played in this slot really hit the spot with the audience. It might be a very nice outdoor spot, not the house of the rising sun, but this green lived on as the sun moved over the southern sky.

It seems impossible not to include in a jazz festival performers from Auckland. I caught up with, and shared a glass with Nigel Gaven, Richard Adams, and Caitlin Smith. We were all going to catch the blues acts, Nigel lamenting that 20 years ago Auckland was full of blues bands. We talked of great Kiwi Bluesmen Hammond Gamble, and Midge Marsden. We caught up with King Leo of Dunedin, a native of Virginia. He has been in New Zealand for six years and has developed a justified following in the south.

The imported stars were Mike Frost and the Icemen, with Mojo Webb from Queensland. Their bassist couldn’t make it so local, hip young, blonde, Shelly Osland fitted in with the band of hard nosed Chicago influenced bluesmen. I caught them twice on Friday, at the Village Green, and down by the lake at Earnslaw Park.

An emerging talent, was Sacha Vee, I tried to catch at Pog Moghones Irish Bar but the venue was unsatisfactory. Better suited to a singer/song writer rather than a rocking band such as Sacha Vee's. I also caught another Auckland singer Josephine Costain, like Nigel, a regular at Ponsonby 121 Café. She performed in the afternoon singing some very reflective songs in a 100-minute set.

I caught for half an hour the James Annesty Quartet, a Melbourne based quartet playing contemporary jazz with palatable influences of folk and rock. This made for an inclusive sound that invited the audience to enjoy, almost like a conversation.

Gerrard's Southern Scenic Route Travels

Tuesday October 26th
Picked up by Mikey, a friendly Green Cab taxi driver (, also a rock and roll dancer, with a Zephyr 6 modified to a convertible.

Cost won the argument in my choice of airline. It was Jetstar. I arrived 80 minutes before departure and just as well, Jetstar has a Stalinist booking system which demands you check in on-line and print your boarding pass out. My boarding pass would not scan. In fear I approached the check-in desk where Marie, a smiling, genuinely friendly clerk, checked in my baggage – thankfully I was well under weight. Marie offered me a lounge pass for $15.00, which was probably good value – I declined. I spent $11.50 on a coffee and croissant at the café. Auckland Airport has free broadband computers available and they were being thrashed by appreciative travelers.

My Jetstar flight was comfortable and the route was below the clouds. Jetstar is one of the newcomers to aviation with a growing operation and new routes.

My rental car from Ace Cars ( was a Subaru Legacy with 6 change C-D player ideal for this trip. I don’t need an international company and prefer to support local business and Ace rentals are great value. We do need to save forex.

I dined at a French Café the Solera. Me, the ‘lone kiwi’, the other customers from around the globe. Larry and Jean hailed from Missouri. We enjoyed Ray Charles playing on the sound system, good food and wine. For me, a salmon salad and Peregrine Chardonnay. We talked of Jessie and Frank Jones, mythical bank robbers. Also Senator Thomas Eagleton, George McGovern's choice as his running mate in the 1972 American Presidential election. It transpired that Larry and Jean were personal friends of the Eagleton's.

It was damp and misty as I drove out of Queenstown, past Lake Hayes and onto the Crown Range. I played the Rolling Stone's CD, 'Exile on Main Street'. The shambolic album of 1972 having been re-mastered and one which brings back pleasant memories of my youth. Secret Virginia, perhaps the CD’s finest track played as I climbed toward the peak. Snowflakes were dropping lightly, and with thoughts of romance in my head, I rang partner Sally and invited her to join me. She declined. I arrived in Wanaka around 5pm to a warm welcome from my in- laws Mike and Gill. Like a true Southern man, Mike placed a bottle of Speight’s in my hand before my suitcase hit the floor

I awoke after seven hours, an eternity to me in recent years, and felt rested.
I drove to Alexandra to meet Peter, Sally’s father. Having just enjoyed his 97th birthday, he was in fine form. We talked about the amazing mine rescue in Chile. Peter funded his way through university as a miner. He was a member of a Wobbly West Coast Miners Union at Waiuta. He graduated as a mining engineer, and in the Second World War rose to the rank of Major, serving with distinction in the North African campaign.

We also talked of Syria, a place Sally might visit next year. His memories of Damascus are not only biblical but of a fine sophisticated Middle Eastern city. He recalled the inland intelligence trip where he surveyed every bridge in an internal valley from the Turkish border to the sea. One of the bridges was rusting away as a contractor had mixed the cement with seawater. If the bridge was blown up they would have been doing him a favour, as there would be hell to pay. As Rommel did not choose this wrath, the bridges were saved and all except a very rusted one is in use today. No points for guessing which one we enjoyed KFC for lunch. He chose mashed potatoes and gravy; I had French fries to accompany colonel Sanders fourteen secret Herb& Spices

I drove the old Earnscleugh road, past orchards and vineyards onto Clyde, a very attractive, 19th century mining town. It was 3pm and talkative children in uniforms cycled through the historic streets, mingling with others, of all ages, from around the globe, enjoying the Otago Rail Trail. Arguably one of the world’s most picturesque rides.

I was surprised at the buzz in this town. Construction humming, but quite obviously a plan to retain the village charm. The reproduction street lights blended well with the original 19th century streets. I chose the Old Bank Cafe over the well recommended Old Post Office Café. The Old Bank had a number of cycles outside, the riders tucking into tasty looking home baked pies and salads. I chose a fruit loaf, generously filled. I was not disappointed.

Out of Clyde, I stopped at a couple of look-outs and the 15 minute gut-buster to the old reservoir was a worthy trek. The reward, a wonderful panorama of Cromwell, old mining areas, and cherry blossoms painting the valley spring.

I drove towards on Tarras, a small town on the other side of the lake, which is also the southern entry to the Lindis Pass As Merino sheep clung to the hillsides, signs informed that this was the home of Ice Breaker (Ice breaker is a local company which has developed an international market for its fine Merino products). The large and well established, 1910, Bendigo Station runs beef cattle and sheep, and among its attraction is the Pelagrine vineyard that dominates the area for miles. On the CD, Al Green’s, Take Me to the River, played as I made my way back to Wanaka

Mike, Gill, Finn and I wandered up the Clutha River walkway to Albert town. It was a cool clear morning. As well as the half dozen or so walkers, we are passed by two silver-haired mountain bikers whose blond partners could be their daughters. They live in Waipu Cove, just south of Whangarei, in Northland, and take spring and autumn holidays in the South Island every year. Attracted by colors and lack of crowds, they have campervans and know the back roads well.

Gill wandered back to get the car while Mike and I continued for another hour, on tracks which skirted emerging sub-divisions, past Mt Iron, one of Wanaka’s more gut busting walks, continuing out to the main road.

Wanaka is a summer and winter playground originally for the Otago/Canterbury wealthy, now catering to visitors from throughout the world. As well as skiing and fishing, mountaineering in Mt Aspiring National Park also a number of local walks. On previous visits I have walked up to the Rob Roy Glacier – a very attractive and demanding walk. This visit I intended to undertake some less demanding walks -perhaps a ‘ramble’ is a better description.

It turned into a warm sparkling day. New Zealand enjoys a reputation as a pretty, green, sustainable place. Every community has its local tip, where each week dads' would take their rubbish. They are now called Recycling Centres, and Wanaka’s is a real goldmine. It also employs a number of people. Skiers dump their gear and at times you can get a real bargain. A pair of Swiss [insert name] skis for $10.00, a real find! Yes they were. Mike checked out that if they were in good shape.

That evening we dined at Relish, perhaps Wanaka’s top restaurant. It was a lovely warm, wooden building. Our waitresses Amy and Sarah were knowable about the food on offer and great fun. I had an entrée of hare pate, really good. Goat for the main course, served rare, on a salad with roast potatoes, delicious.

Mike and I checked out the Wanaka Toy Museum, amazing. However, boys and girls of all ages would need a day there, so much to see. Also a microbrewery – Wanaka Beer Works. The tastings were finished for the day so we bought a mixed six-pack.

We continued onto Luggate, 10km from Wanaka, for a pint. The pub caters for skiers during the season and on that warm spring afternoon; a group of self-opinionated farmers were expounding their thoughts on a number of issues. Surprisingly, they were drinking Coronas rather than the quality local brew ‘Speight’s’. Our barmaid was a highland Scot who hooked up with a local lad a half dozen years back. The skiing was her first attraction. She poured a good pint. Her long jet-black hair with its red tips, kept well away from the taps.

We ambled along the Glendu Bay walkway. The poplars, which grow prolifically along the shoreline, are rotting and have been culled for safety. A beautiful tree, but for a woodsman, a waste of space. They burn fast and produce little heat. Wanaka winters need better wood than that. There were only a couple of other walkers - a well dressed athletic woman with her pointer and a slow moving old fellow with the physique of a rugby prop. Perhaps his slow movement was the result of too many tough games.

We stopped at the Edgewater Resort for coffee. Our waitress, a vivacious blonde with great sense of humour, told us things were quieter than she wished. A rangy Dutch woman sipped her coffee and shared the wonderful time she had walking around Wanaka. Next day she would travel to Dunedin to see a rugby game. The local team, ‘The Highlanders’ were at the bottom of the national league. Most likely to be a dull game, I felt, but I didn’t say, that if she wished to have local culture she would be better off watching the game in a local pub.

Saying goodbye to Gill, Mike, and Finn (their Jack Russell), I headed back over the Crown Range. The snow had melted and I stopped to enjoy the vista. Sealed in 2000 it is now the main route between Wanaka and Queenstown. It is also our highest road at almost 1100 meters. From the summit there are great views, only surpassed by the ski fields and the top of Aspiring National Park.

I decided to walk the one hour Mt Pisa walk. It is a gut buster and I was definitely not as fit as I was a year ago. However, my efforts were rewarded with amazing views.

I lunched in Arrowtown, finding a fresh fish shop with a special of whitebait fritters. That’s a no-brainer. $13.50 had me 60 grams of whitebait. I added 100 grams of pan-fried bluenose and chips. The local bottle shop sold me a Wanaka Brewski Lager, it partnered well. I shared my table with a retired couple from Timaru, who had been tramping at Glenorchy. They enjoy this paradise; it gets them away from the problems at their local polytechnic which has had a funding cut. They will not be voting for Mr. Key. The other couple were young English lawyers enjoying a gap year. We all enjoyed the spring sun and chatted easily.

I visited the St Patrick’s Catholic Church and pay my respects to Australia first Saint – Sister Mary MacKillop. They have the signs up outside her cottage. She was a resident here for a while, establishing the order known as the Brown Joes. It is already a tourist attraction. A couple from Melbourne have made the connection and travelled over from Queenstown on the strength of this. Not bad since she has only been a saint for a week. (Don't get this?) She was canonized the week before.

I checked into Queenstown Apartment Motel (www.queenstownapartmentmotel). Vanessa gave me a warm and helpful welcome, and lots of advice. She wrote on a map about restaurants, bars, and the venues for the Jazz Fest. I had not intended to stay in Queenstown; however Jazz and Blues do touch my soul. The great thing about a road trip is freedom – that is why I’m here.

Queenstown from a media perspective is well served with print media. The local weekly Mountain Scene is supplemented by the Queenstown News and also served by two provincial dailies ‘The Southland Times’ and ‘Otago Daily Times’, and from Auckland, ‘The New Zealand Herald’. I bought and read the Southland Times. The Friday editorial, lamenting the state of the venerable old steam train the Kingston Flyer, which has falling into disrepair through the financial situation of its owners. It lamented how it is now out of action for the second tourist season and described it not only as a financial and venerable asset to the south, but as a cultural one too. I agree it is. Southland has already lost the Fluety Paua shell house a couple of years ago, stolen in the middle of the night like the Elgin marbles. Now the Fluety house is an award winner at the Canterbury Museum. A double dose if you like, of Rough Justice!

I found the Halo Café situated beside St Peters Anglican Church, an excellent spot for breakfast and the Sural Café and Bar in Rees Street another excellent place for an aperitif and a meal.

The Saturday editorial in the Times was about the Hobbit movie, calling the actor’s antics to get a deal clumsy and silly, but it noted the cost of the claims would not be a significant impact on the budget. I find it incredible that the movie shoot would be moved to Ireland or England where costs would be much higher. The editorial concluded it will be the $$$ of government subsidy required and noted that Sir Peter Jackson in his own submission about the film industry calls for more subsidy. This has been the most reasoned statement on a dispute in what is a very important industry to New Zealand.

Sadly the debate has been more emotional and the language inflammatory. Perhaps this is the way in an industry which all the players are passionate about and love. The only way through this mess would be the government to call an industry conference to discuss and work out a plan. The government is a major funder through the NZ Film Commission and as a generous provider of subsidy has a legitimate interest. It would be in their interests to facilitate the industry to sort this out. It is called leadership.


I walked down the hill back to Halo for breakfast. St Peters Anglican Church was having a jazz service and attracted quite a flock.

On the way to Arrowtown; the road a mixture of cyclists in bright coloured latex outfits, campervans and an occasional jogger. There is still the odd paddock with sheep. Lake Hayes reserve was a mini gymkhana and the young girls on their beautiful mounts would have made a wonderful calendar shot.

I arrived with plenty of time at the Buckingham Green to soak up the Prescott Calder Quartet from Dunedin. Veteran players who injected a little humor in their performance which worked well with the late brunching crowd

Buckingham Green is in the centre of the village. The stage was above the green and music drifted down to fill the park, which had filled to a hundred or so people. Families picnicked and tourists, without the benefit of a blanket or fold- out chairs, sat at the cafes. I took a walk around the old Chinese settlement, which tells the stories including discrimination, hardship, and opium.

Back to Deep South ice cream parlor for another serve of their tasty product and I made my way to the information centre to use their computer facilities. $5.00 got me an hour of broadband in comfortable surroundings.

On my way to the ’Tap Room” to catch Jeff Brady and the Delta Swing again, I caught up with Kate and her daughter Ruby. Kate had worked in the Tourism NZ Media Group, taken a job with Tourism South Island and ended up married to a farmer. She was in fine form and we had a decent yarn

Jeff Bradley and the Delta Swing took well in the mid-afternoon sun. The band comprised Roger White on Piano, Mike Cain on bass, and drummer Bob Bair. In spite of a few sound issues we were treated to a warm and tight performance. A really solid set for jazz purist’s including, 'St James Infirmary', 'The Basic Street Blues', Aker Bilk's, 'Stranger on the Shore', 'Petit Fleur', 'Sunset', Benny Goodman, 'If I had you' and 'My baby just cares for me'. This band would be at home on a good night at Ronnie Scott.

They were my personal highlights. I watched many bands over the weekend; all of them had a real love for their music. Jeff and his band lifted the quality of most and equaled the other big bands. Yes they too would be at home at Ronnie Scotts – A truly world class band!

I headed down to Willows Bar to catch blues band King Leo. I was sprung again. Willow's is owned by former B&B owner, Sis Walker, a natural host. The food was generously proportioned and well presented. It tasted fine too. The beer was cold and a warm-hearted banter went on between Sis, her crew and the guests.

Queenstown is no cultural desert at least around Labour weekend. The diversity of its population is its savior in many ways, including a weekly mass in Portuguese at St Patrick’s in Arrowtown. The congregation can look like they have come in from Rio's Coco Cabana beach.

Back to Halo for another great breakfast. Surprise surprise! Musicians and singers Nigel Gaven and Catlin Smith appeared, then Ponsonby Road Grand Central bar owner Jeremy. We talked about the festival. Jeremy referred to Queenstown as the dark side but he had a good time too. He lives in Wanaka for much of the year.

I visited at their Arthur's Point home, Andy and CJ, regular guests of ours, who have just had a baby Angerana-Eve. The Arthur Point pub, a landmark built in 1862, looked derelict and trashed. Andy said there are possibilities of it being moved to the other side of the road, on the riverside. I hope so. I have such fond memories of a few sessions there a time or so back

On to Te Anau, stopping at Kingston. The train no longer runs, the engine rusts and the carriages gather cobwebs. Yes, another victim of a finance company’s collapse. The café on the corner of the main road is run by a short rotund Southern man (he rolls his ‘r’s’) and his Vietnamese wife. The coffee was insipid, and the toasted sandwich overpriced. The Australian ice cream was good.

On through Garston, Athol and Five Rivers all with more promising eating and drinking options.

The sun was high, all was beautiful. Traffic cops swarmed like bees. Te Anau was blessed by sun, the lake reflecting the green of the forest. Just minutes before I had been in the sweep of red tussock land.

At Te Anau Lodge (, this brick, former convent looked impressive, like a baronial mansion. Sitting on 6 acres of land, mainly lawn, with a water feature. A small wooden church from Clydedvale a Southland village and also the original homestead from nearby Mararoa Station is now situated on the property. Both these heritage buildings will be renovated into quality accommodation. Yes, every room in every building at Te Anau Lodge can tell a story. The interior with hard wood floors, stained glass, and high ceilings, contains 8 rooms of varying sizes. All are comfortable and well decorated. Welcomed by Margaret and George and before I can get a request out of my mouth I am offered a choice of refreshments or a tour. George took me for an extensive viewing of the house and grounds. Te Anau Lodge has more than a few stories to tell. Built as a residence for the teaching nuns at St Josephs Convent in the Southland mining town of Nightcaps, in 1936, and shifted in 2000 to Te Anau it is really something special. George and Margaret are not only generous hosts but knowledgeable guides.

We all dined at a local pub/restaurant, ‘The Ranch”. For me a venison steak, washed down with an Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir.

Breakfast was a great cold buffet with a choice of freshly cooked options to choose from.

Next, Doubtful Sound. Laurence, the Real Journey bus driver arrived on time at 8:45 to pick me up. A retired couple from Tokoroa were already on board. We stop to pick up a couple of Spanish honeymooners from the City Inn and also a retired English couple from around the town.

Laurence has lived around Te Anau for a generation, and like all the other Real Journey drivers, is a Southlander with a warm matter of fact way to tell stories of the region and its development.

Peter Wadd, our bus driver and nature guide, also added the historical dimension of the Manapouri Power Station. This history is colorful. The cost of the road over the Wilmont Pass was embargoed for thirty years and has only recently been disclosed. Yes, a 21-kilometre road, which in 1964 cost over $2,000,000 making it one of the most expensive roads anywhere.

The Wanganella, a Trans-Tasman liner of the Huddart Parker line was decommissioned and became the accommodation house for several hundred single men. Peter Duncan, my partner Sally's ex, had the soft job – the only soft job in the whole project as the projectionist on the ships cinema. Peter helped consume some of the 1,000,000 beer cans that slipped under the Wanganella and now sit in the depths of Doubtful Sound.

The initial laborers on the project were Italians and Yugoslav tunnellers who pushed through the mountain. The water that has produced the power Comalco Te Wai Point aluminum smelters and contributes 15% of the Hydro electric power in New Zealand. Also among the workers is one of New Zealand’s most colorful sons – Tim Shadbolt. In the 1990’s when Southland Capital and New Zealand’s most southern city wished to shake off its conservative image, a few of Tim’s old work mates persuaded him to run for mayor. He has just been re-elected mayor for the 6th consecutive term. Tim’s 1972 biography ‘Bullshit and Jellybeans is highly collective. I own a battered copy

Captain Cook, on his second voyage, in 1773, named the Sound, Doubtful. The Fiordland coast is rugged and many a small boat has been lost.

In the 1970’s I had a job on the Wairua – the then Bluff to Stewart Island ferryboat. Part of the ship's work was to provide services and tending to the lighthouses. At the southern end of the Fiordland, World Heritage Park is Puysegur Point. On the 24-hour trip from Bluff, it was the only case of seasickness I have had in my life. When I returned to Bluff and felt terra firma I was still shaking three days later.

Lake Manapouri is one of the world’s most beautiful areas. This was my third trip here in over 40 years. Those trips have been some of the highlights of my life. On this trip I was disappointed, well only slightly, because the sun was shining and Doubtful Sound is at its finest when wet. On those days waterfalls magically appear. Previously I have experienced dolphins playing in the mist and birds flying low under the clouds. The area receives 7 metres of rain a year. Today the sun is shining and the vista is wild beauty. A little cumulus but the sky was mostly electric blue.

I travelled on Real Journey’s Patea Express. It is a purpose built vessel. Our crew Peter, Eugenice (Portuguese, I never found out how she got here) and Russell the Skipper were all professional and obliging. Based on my experience today, these folk comfortably qualify as amateur naturalists, botanists, and historians. Their knowledge is the difference of why you should travel with Real Journeys. The wildness and beauty speaks for itself. The birdsong is a tribute to DOC’s efforts but it is the knowledge and warmth of this crew that made the trip, for the 79 passengers, a great experience.

We were unlucky the dolphins and penguins chose to take a break, but the Southern Fur seals in the inlets were a first rate consolation prize. Young seal pups play and slid down the rocks. Oh la la, great to see kids having fun. Then there was the green attraction of sphagnum moss which among its benefits also helps the bush and the trees.

The proposal to raise the level of Lake Manapouri which would have killed much of this became a battleground for the green movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. When Norman Kirk and Labour won the 1972 election, Kirk committed not to raise the level of the lake. 250,000 New Zealanders signed petitions and Kirk’s landslide victory gave him the mandate to honour his words and credit New Zealand with the greatest environmental victory on our planet.

Fiordland National Park has been rich in resources. Hard men slaughtered thousands of seals in the 19th century. Fishermen today hunt Crayfish (lobster) – some at times risk their life for Blue Cod.

In the 1960’s deer stalkers, who received a bounty from the crown for each deer they shot, discovered another El Dorado using helicopters. Unfortunately many lives were lost and the only area to lose more life in these tragic figures, Russell our guide told us, was in Vietnam.

Today tourism sustains the local economy, creating real jobs, many with career prospects and returning tens of millions of dollars to New Zealand.

Real Journeys’ take the environment seriously and promote sustainable practices throughout the operation. The Patea Express was a great way to explore Doubtful Sound.

Say a prayer for Wilmont Pass, without it we could not visit.
There would be a few deerstalkers, fishermen, a cruise boat watched by kiwi, kaka and a few other birds and from time to time a visiting cruise boat. Perhaps in time we will get another man with a broken heart like Richard Henry (the ruins remain of his house) who battled from 1904 to 1908 to save endangered native birds from introduced stoats and rats.

Raise a glass for the Wilmot Pass and say another prayer and enjoy another glass

Within minutes of arriving in Manapouri, the penny drops that you are somewhere special. No, not Disneyland – but the Fiordland National Park. It is New Zealand’s first World Heritage site. The Te Wahipounamu World Heritage area comprises Fiordland National Park, Mt Aspiring National Park, some of South Westland, and Arokai, Mt Cook.

The Te Anau, Manapouri region offers much. Ideally you should allow a minimum of three days, and at least one of those days should be with an activity such as visiting Milford or Doubtful Sound.

There are also a variety of walks from an hour or two days, the choice is dependent on your wishes. It can be easy or more challenging. I chose a middle way. Yes, today you could call me Mr. In-between.

Beware of sand flies, although I fortunately didn’t meet any this time. They are a painful nuisance – get lotion, and lots of it!

The Doubtful Sound trip involves a launch ride over Lake Manapouri. The wow factor is automatic. A coach trip over the Wilmont Pass and then three hours on Doubtful Sound itself, more wow and wow. A visit to Manapouri Power Station at West Arm, and then back across the Lake. The sun was high, the green of the forest making the lake verdant. The snow had receded to the mountaintops and heaven is here on Lake Manapouri.

I didn't have time to consider walking the Milford Track, but had some choices for a few hours. There are a number of walks 2 to 3 hours drive from Te Anau on the Milford road.

The three I list here I have walked on previous visits.

• The Lake Gunn nature walk is 3km - allow 45 minutes easy walking. The mosquitoes resembled the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on a previous visit.

• The Divide to Key Summit is a 400 metre climb about 5 km return and offers fantastic views - allow 2 to 3 hours.

• Lake Marian is also about 5km and around two and a half hour return. Perhaps this is my favorite short walk anywhere. It offers great views walking up to a wonderful alpine lake - it is also a 400-metre climb.

All these walks are around 75 to 85 kms on the Milford road from Te Anau.

I made my way to a waterfront watering hole ‘The Moose’. I was in luck, a happy hour. My pint a bargain and slipped down easily. I dined at the Toscana restaurant, choosing a fungi and prosciutto pizza and salad. – A good choice.

Wednesday October 3rd

George suggested a three-hour walk from the base of the Kepler to the dam. It is a great walk and suitable for all. No gut busting hills. Within minutes you enter a thickening and the birdsong replaces the sound of the Upper Clutha river flow. Little fantails created a din chasing moths. They would not co-operate with my photography. I have stacks of photos to develop. The walking track is well formed and the sound of the river is almost constant. The greenery, the moss, ferns, and trees make a wonderful walk. There are small clearings where you can throw a rug down and pull out the thermos.

At 3pm I said my farewell to Margaret and George and head off on the Southern Scenic route. My destination Riverton/ Aparima. I had intended to walk a little of the Humpback Track and explore Tuatapere. Unfortunately time was short so I just passed through. I stopped at Clifden Bridge for a photo. Entering Riverton from the north, the late spring sun cast a warm shadow and with the remnants of the once great fishing fleet, it appears a very picturesque village. This area should be protected. It currently fits wharf sheds quay and period housing. Should some shortsighted development happen, Riverton would lose most of its appeal to the visitor.

For a bed I only had one choice, ‘The Globe Hotel’. $30.00 got me a nice room with a queen bed and washstand. The bathroom, a long walk in the middle of the night. It's not ' The Great Ponsonby ' but it was clean and friendly. My host, Tia, recommended that I go to the other pub the Aparima and have the Blue Cod. The bar had a half dozen regulars talking Chevy engines and Kim the barmaid was a good sort. She works in a number of pubs and confides that she has occasionally forgotten where she is.

Tia and her husband Leon joined me. They had been there a year and previously lived in Melbourne for many years, returning to have a family was their intention. He is a photographer and works in Invercargill. Conversation was about the late spring snow that wiped out 90,000 Southland lambs. It will take some years for Southland to recover. Also many farmers are selling to other farmers who are doing dairy conversions. There is a possibility of another freezing works closure as well as shortened season in the works. All this definitely impacts economically on this region

I slept well and rose to a damp day. I kicked myself for not taking photos the day before and headed off to photograph some buildings. Riverton has a number of attractive buildings along Palmerston Street and also a very impressive giant Paua shell which has also featured on a New Zealand Post stamp. This is the high street and other streets are named after Indian places like Lucknow and Delhi. In Bath Street I went to the Fiordland Souvenirs factory shop where Nicola, a cheery sales woman, sold me a number of Paua shells. This is a busy workshop and gallery. The selection included good quality jewellery. At Mrs. Clarke Café, est. 1891, I feasted on smoked salmon and poached eggs. My orange juice freshly squeezed. Made with premium Havana coffee, from Wellington, my flat white is the best I have enjoyed in the South. The café is quite chic and busy – truck drivers, policemen, retired folk and firm bodied young mothers. Some of the conversation is about whether the dairying will work out when Fonterra establishes its huge farms in South America and China.

The previous night Leon had said there was nothing to hold young people and you could think he is correct looking at Mrs. Clarke’s punters. However the front page of the Southland Times yesterday was about the Riverton swimming pool and how the community raised $3,000,000 to resurface it. They also have a skateboarding park. There is also continuous fundraising for the Riverton sound shell.

In the 1960’s Riverton was Southland's Riviera. No Bridget Bardot, but Southland talent and the sound shell ran everything from talent quests to concerts with national stars performing to thousands of people. Colac Bay and its surf is still the talk of legend and young men still dream of joining them

Mrs. Clarke has a great menu and is open for breakfast, and morning and afternoon teas. Run by Patrick and Cazna Gilder who bake lots of the goodies and also make cheese rolls, (South Island sushi). This café is a must and is at 108 Palmerston Street. The local council has developed a Main Street plan, work is ongoing and Mrs. Clark is fortunate in having a bricked footpath and also lamps.
I visited the information centre and museum, Te Hikoi, The Southern Journey. My guide was a retired school teacher who provided me with an informative tour.

The museum is a tribute to all the races who have settled in the area and the industries and some of the folk lore that accompanies this history. It is a substantial investment in Western Southland which will provide another anchor for visitors and more importantly build on the already strong regional pride of these people.

On the highway outside of Riverton there is an overbridge of a long dead railway line. At Otautau I connected with a railway line that goes through to Mataura, the industrial town of Southland, with a freezing works and until a few years ago a paper mill. It was the only blue collar community of any size in this rich farming region.

Driving up through the middle of Western Southland, into the small hamlets, there is even a building owned by a pipe band club. Yes, from the Highlands of Scotland there is influence. Pipe bands and Scottish dancing clubs still flourish, along with the inflections of their language.

Southlanders roll their ‘r’s’ and speak in terms of wee, lass, lassie. (oh rubbish!) Their holiday homes are called cribs and solid brick Presbyterian Churches and yellow gorse are testament to their heritage. The Scottish highland town of Plocton where the TV series ‘Hamish McBeth’ was shot is a connection to Southland. The poor crofters were cleared off their land three times and on every occasion some emigrated to Southland.

These hardy people built settlements in some of the hardest land anywhere. I refer to the Catlin coast, which I write about later.

The trip took me to the isolated mining towns of Nightcaps and Ohai, then back through the farming towns of Winton and Dipton. They will never appear on a tourist map. Invercargill bound with Greg Johnson drifting in and out of my head

Nightcaps is alive and well with the open cast mine owned by Eastern of Australia and has a couple of schools, grocers, and a pub. The Nightcaps rugby team is still a force in Southland rugby. The town of Ohai has an open cast mine run by the State's Solid Energy. It appeared very dead. There are no shops, the pub is a house, and even the police station appeared unmanned. There were tidy brick units where retired miners live. Some of the larger houses are still occupied, but many are on the market.

Driving into the Solid Energy mine, all was quiet. A red ute drove by, stopping to enquire, as I took photos. He questioned me closely and after a few minutes Gary accepted it was for personal reasons. He rang the Eastern mine and spoke with the manager who seemed to be shocked that there would be a tourist up there but he welcomed me. I did. The manager, Mark, was also inquisitive about my reasons but opened up. He offered to take me around and asked if I knew anyone else who might be interested. Unfortunately it was raining heavily and I did not have the opportunity.

Mark's office was not grand. It was pre-fabricated unit and you would be forgiven for thinking this was a permanent feature. Mark is absolutely confident about the future of mining in Southland. The most interesting thing in his office was two picks which he believed may be close to 100 years old, and a map of all the underground shafts.

I then made my way to the Railway Hotel, which is absolutely flourishing. The Takatimu mine employs a number of contractors from out of town and the pub is where a lot of them reside. The public bar was warm, a fire is blazing, with a bucket of coal beside the wood burner – I think more for appearance than use. I buy a pint and chat with the publican. Brian is 40 something and has had pubs on the West Coast as well as Southland. He is affable and believes that Ohai may come alive soon as natural gas has been discovered. I told him that I am surprised that unlike the West Coast there are no monuments to miners, their history or culture, or even to record the lives lost in the dangerous underground industry. He is really unconcerned and told me there are some private museums. I expressed surprise, as I thought tourism would be helpful for his pub and for the community of Nightcaps.

Within weeks the nation is shocked by the loss of 29 miners at the Pyke River mine on the West Coast. There is something about mining, with its inherent dangers, and a respect for the people who work in this industry which touches the psyche of people everywhere. I bought a BBQ pork roll, before heading off into the rich farming district of Southland.

I wonder if that future generation will know of the hardships and the national Labour’ disputes that these Southland miners were involved in and how with their backs and some with their lives help build our nation. Once they had a strong identity and sense of community. They would have needed all that and some special qualities to have survived in such an isolated community.

Through Dipton, I think of Caza’s comments that at least around Nightcaps I would see some real farms. She was referring to sheep farms. She is not happy about dairy farms, the smell and the way they affect the waterways. She spoke of an uncle who had suffered significant losses of lambs and that he might have to take an offer from someone who wishes to convert to a dairy farm.

Sheep certainly are still the most prevalent animals around here. The land is lush and open. I reached Dipton to find there is little there. An engineering workshop, a dairy, a gift and fashion shop, and a Memorial Hall. There was no gas station or pub. Dipton is so dull it makes Bill English look interesting.

Winton, the Matamata of the south. It is rich and has some substantial buildings, however it was damp and I wanted to visit a few things in Invercargill. The Invercargill Information Centre is at the Southern Museum, which is set in the beautiful Queens Gardens. The museum has wonderful exhibits on nature and human settlement, with a current exhibition on Nga Tahu, the original settlers, now a powerful force in the South Island economy.

I made my way to the famous “Gerrards Hotel’, now back to its original name ‘The Victorian Railway Hotel”. It is owned and operated by Trudy and Eoin Read. They took it over in 2006 and closed it down to renovate and restore. They have done an amazing job and have won an award from the Invercargill City Council for this. It is also listed by the Historic Places Trust.

Trudy and Eoin are warm hosts who go out of their way to welcome you. It is a guest and host experience similar to what The Great Ponsonby offers. This is not a faceless hotel with plastic smiles, it is not a brand. It is quirky, interesting, and friendly. They offer a restaurant and have a bar for guests; however I wandered the streets to get a feel for our most southern city. I considered dining at Louis Café and Tapas bar but it was a cold evening and I needed the warmth of comfort food.

I found a bar/ restaurant, ‘The Kiln”. It was welcomingly warm and had a good crowd. I sat at the bar enjoying a pint, and dined on crumbed sweetbreads, a delicacy I had not eaten in 20 years, and oven baked blue cod. Both were exceptional. After dinner I wandered around, taking some photographs. Thankfully Invercargill has not done much 'development' damage and a number of fine buildings remain. I photographed a few, including the recently restored Opera House and of course the Victoria Railway House.

Returning to the hotel I met some guests including two couples, one English, the other Australian, in the house bar. We talked of Nightcaps and Trudy piped up that when she qualified as a teacher she headed off to Nightcaps in her old Morris 1100. She told of a wonderful community and how when the mines were corporatized, shops closed, and the heart was ripped out of these communities. All of us were interested in her story and surprised there was no monument to the miners and their industry in these coalfields.

I headed to Hayes Hardware shop to see the motorcycle collection which included Burt Munro's motorcycles. Another good reason to spend a couple of days in Invercargill. A credit to the city, are the public gardens. The populace also takes pride in their home gardens. Whether it be a doctor’s residence or worker’s cottage the gardens are well maintained and add to civic pride.

Next, a lunch date at Julie and Chris' farm near Clinton, a three-horse town on highway 93. Townie that I am, I shot past their gate and had to ring. Julie suggested she cycle down to meet me at the mailbox. Italy can even reach Clinton as she waits in style on her Italian Abici pushbike. It appears they're not all plebs in the south. It's a comfortable home with garden to match.

Julie's Mediterranean salad with roasted pepper, asparagus, and their own Limousine fillet beef cooked rare and beautifully marbled. It is a real treat. They run 4,500 sheep and smaller beef operation. Marketed by Hereford Prime, if you have the pleasure of eating this beef, you will most likely be dining at one of our top-end restaurants. Steve, Chris’s brother who farms nearby had unfortunately had an accident. Helicoptered from his farm to Dunedin Hospital in less than one and a half hours. Remarkable. Cell phones, helicopters, and ACC have certainly made farm life less isolated, comfortable, and safer.

Chris left to attend to Steve's farm. Meanwhile Julie produced a banana box of her grandfather's personal papers. Born in Armagh, County Down, Northern Ireland and a plumber by trade before arriving in NZ where he worked for the, once great, but no longer, firm called A & T Burt. He worked for the Union Steamship Co and during the war, from 1916 to 1917, served on the SS Maheno. Poignant letters and historic postcards record this experience and reveal a tender hearted man with a deep love for his family. This is interesting stuff and Julie has a few projects to work on. The stuff may well fit into Te Ari, the on-line encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Next, down the Owaka Valley. The sun was out, not a cloud and the land shines. Sheep graze and beef cattle look supreme. This was my first ever visit to the Catlins and I was in luck for three days. Yes, the Catlins are renowned for wind and rain, but the Sun Gods worked overtime for me.

Owaka is a small town with too many empty shops, a pub, restaurant, hairdresser, general store, grocer, a church or two. A great museum, I spent time there, but not enough. There were a number of books on the Catlins and of the shipwrecks on this wild coast. I took a double sided Catlins map, a heritage guide, and bought a book of highlights of the Catlins, as well a tea towel showing the ships that were lost. I also picked up a heritage trail brochure, which I used as my guide. The museum staff advised me that there are limited food and accommodation options in the Catlins.

I bought an ice cream at the grocer and mulled over whether I should buy some provisions too. I decided to chance it and drove to Fortrose, the southernmost point of the Catlins.

It was a wonderful drive and I went to all the viewpoints and beaches including Curio Bay. I didn’t find any sea lions, seals, porpoises, or penguins, but I did see a lot of kelp.

At Waipapa Point I visited the lighthouse built after the loss of the SS Tararua in 1881. This is our second major maritime tragedy in human terms. 131 of the passengers and crew lost their lives, including the captain, who was found accountable by a court of enquiry for navigational errors and not posting a proper lookout.

The lighthouse was manned with a lighthouse keeper and his family for 100 years. With the automation of the lighthouse in 1980, the cottages and other buildings were sold off. Tourism was not a major industry then and the cottages would have made a fine Catlins maritime museum. There has been over 650 years of maritime adventure on this coast. Maori certainly paddled their wakas and fished here.

As I drove to Tokanui, I waved to the backpackers eating dinner beside their vans, envious of their situation. On to Waikawa. Not much happening there but at Niagara Falls Cafe the gate was open. This was a great find. The restaurant busy. The maitre d and husband of the chef welcomed me with enthusiasm. I was surprised by the menu and with aromas wafting down from the galley, Johnny Cash playing in the background; I felt I had hit gold. These two are applying for New Zealand residency. I hope for them and the Catlin’s that they get it. Food of this quality and the warmth of the hosts are relatively few and far in this part of the world. It is in our national interest for them to stay.

I asked them to find me a bed. They did. I enjoyed seafood chowder made from local kai moana, and a main of blue cod. To drink, pale ale from an Invercargill brewery. Grace was; ‘thank the heavens that I found such a place.’

I made my way back to Waikawa towards the penguins. If I had waited to see penguins I could have driven back to Curio Bay to see them, but decide to see what my bed at the backpacker is like instead.

In the backpacker kitchen, two young couples (one French, one English) shared a meal. I paid the $50 after checking out my bed. Later we shared a bottle of red and I learnt they were staying a week to attend a surf school. They must have been hardier than they looked!

My bedroom was the cottage's main bedroom and had a queen bed. Fine for my basic needs. No doubt many romantic backpacking couples had been there before me, and were perfectly happy. My purpose, sleep. I managed to get some but in a bed that didn’t seem primarily designed for it.

I took photos around Waikawa, including the Sea View accommodation, which would be my first choice. However with only two rooms, I could see it was full.

I visited the local cemetery overlooking the sea and was surprised by the infant mortality. If you could survive six months, you make it to your eighties. A harsh land and hard people.

Back at the Niagara Falls Café I enjoyed French toast, banana and bacon for breakfast. I met some of the other guests who also had dined there the night before. ‘The Catlin’s are a dream. ‘Everyone in Germany knows of the Catlins, Dirk, a banker from Colene told me. He said 97% of New Zealand has cell phone capacity, the Catlins doesn’t and he was having three days away from the phone. 'This is paradise’ he informed me.

Heading north, the road is tar sealed but remains beautiful. My first stop, McClean Falls. It is an easy walk and as soon as you start you hear the sound of water. The morning sun filtered by the bush provided a soft diffused light. At 22m tall, they are arresting the track was built by DOC, parents and students of Kings High School in Dunedin, and the New Zealand Employment Service. Kings High school is well established and perhaps more than 130 years old. Its zone is the wealthy St Clair and working class South Dunedin. I know two of its pupils, and they reflect much of the quality of this school, the suburbs they grew up in, and their families too.

One is Chris Laidlaw who currently hosts National Radio's Sunday morning radio show. Chris is a former parliamentarian, diplomat, and All Black. The other is Gary Parsloe, a seafarer unionist, who holds national office in the maritime union, and the international labour movement. He was also a good rugby halfback. Both men are respected and made considerable contributions nationally and internationally. One might accept a knighthood, one would not. One is republican, the other not, but both in a way are representative of Kings High School, this track, and how it could happen.

As you turn off to this walk, there is a good quality café and accommodation option. I enjoyed coffee and giant scones with fresh cream and homemade jam at The Whistling Frog, owned and operated by a Kiwi and San Francisco couple. Paul and Lynn are obliging and provide useful information to get the most from your time in the Catlin’s. They thoughtfully have built a complex that doesn’t detract from its situation and has many accommodation options.

Cathedral Caves is another natural wonder. However, to visit them depends on the tide. The tide was in and my luck was out.

Forestry and sawmilling were major activities in the Catlins to the 1950’s. The Lenz reserve 550 ha contains some walks in the forest and also a display quite close to the road of a bush railway and machinery. It is worth a look, and the quality of the walks available would need at least a day or so.

My next stop was Lake Wilkie, an easy walk with a boardwalk only a short distance from the road. It is surrounded by regenerating forest.

I stopped again to walk for an hour up the estuary, at Papatowai. A score of Oystercatcher calls accompanied my walk.

I took the back road to the Purakannui falls. A short walk in and the discovery of a Salvation Army couple exchanging marriage vows. Bridesmaids in high heels teetering on the uneven pathway, while hymns sung out to an accompaniment of roaring water- fall. A dramatic event.

Time running out. I missed Jack's Bay and Blow Hole, and headed onto the Lumberjack Café in Owaka. A group of middle-aged motorcyclists were tucking into steak. For lunch, I chose battered blue cod and chips, washed down with a pint of Speights.

At the Nugget's, and Kaka Point, the sea was crashing. A fleet of campervans were on the metal road to Nugget Point. Climbing the narrow track to the lighthouse I could feel the force as the sea broke through the rocks. Kaka Point was larger than I thought. For a decade or more, it was the home of one of our greatest poets, Hone Tuwhare. Part of the mystery was why did this sociable man with a thousand friends choose to spend his last years at Kaka Point, where nature is far from kind?

Balclutha with its beautiful bridge. A most attractive architectural feature.
They seem bent on destroying any building of merit in this town. It is possibly the Bogan capital of Aotearoa. Yes ACDC rules here.

Up the river to the former mining town of Kaitangata on its banks. This is where the mighty Clutha River meets the sea. The aroma of the Finegand Freezing Works, that greets you as you enter Balclutha.

Kaitangata, the home of black gold, has a pub and it's clean and tidy. Up on a hill its residents enjoy good sun and have bountiful gardens. The town may not be rich but the household gardens have a value which is great to see - the homes are simple but their gardens provide a natural beauty.

There is no visible tribute to the industry that built the town, only a small coal wagon. One of our recent All Blacks, Tony Brown, hails from here.

Another ice cream at the dairy/takeaway bar, as boys sipped cokes and watched the girls opposite walk by. I drove slowly as I headed north, contemplating the trip and how I would write it all up

Dunedin and to the Brothers Boutique Hotel. Rod, the owner greeted me like a long lost friend. My travel of the Southern Scenic Trail all wound up.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Buenos Aries to Rasairo by Train


Friday May 7, 2010

I rise with the birds and I take a taxi to Retiro station. The sun is shining, through the diffuse light. The autumn leaves add an orange tint to the green parks and plazas. Even the sleeping drunks and homeless at San Martin look good in the morning light
Ritiro station look as grand as the original railway barons 100 years ago instructed their architects to create.
The station is a hub of activity with doughnut bakers and newsagents selling their products. Workers hurry to the buses and taxis others walk off to go to their work clutching their bags in case pickpockets are lurking nearby.

-Retiro Station

I make my way to platform 8 which is full of families and merchants with bags full of wears to take up to Tucuman which is eighteen hours away (I am happy that my trip to Rosario is a mere six hours). The families loaded up with Hessian bags and cartons are heading to tourist class. Young children smiling and laughing who perhaps should be at school drag huge bags across the concourse. Humongous looking men pushing barrels who look as if they could kill hustle for trade and they are getting plenty of custom. A smiling girl is carrying a 20L container of fresh food, obviously for their family lunch.

Today is the 91 birthday of Evita
Celebrations are taking place all over Argentina. In Retiro women are holding their rosary beads bent over in corners praying for her soul. They know the tangible and phyiscologal benefits that Evita bought to their families

Today at the Recoletata cemetery hundreds will come to lay flowers on her tomb and pay their respects

-Train to Tucuman (There were more than 30plus carriages).

When the massive humanity has moved off the platform I make my way down to check out my seat. I have booked a recliner seat and my carriage is clean. In fact it reminds me of the trains we used to travel on in the 1960’s. My seat is comfortable. The other passengers have a real interest in me as gringos do not travel by train.
[In fact middle class Argentineans and tourists travel by long distance buses. I had previously taken a bus from Salta to Mendoza and in a first class sleeper. And if unadventurous, it was certainly comfortable]
. One of the passengers takes me and shows me the restrooms and the restaurant which are all clean and the smell of the coffee percolates into the neighbouring carriages.
The train leaves on time at 9.55am and slowly makes its way through the marshalling yards. At the last minute a slim woman with long curly hair, long leather boots, looking quite hip sits herself down beside me. Her name is Monica and she is from Tucaman. We do not share a common tongue but my language guide provides a happy medium. I discover quickly that she has adult children and has a boutique in Tucaman and like the rest of them, she has been down to Buenos Aires to buy stock and also some perfume. In fact, my language book turns out to be quite a hit. She also has discovered the page about commerce and how to buy things including discounts. She writes the English translation down to the Spanish words. Other passengers are intrigued by her activity. She explains what it is. And my translation book disappears out of my sight for about an hour as all the other merchants in the train write down these commercial terms. In fact later on in the trip I gave a small lesson on pronunciation of these terms. I rock off to sleep and get a good hour kip. The train is making good speed and the whole line is double tracked. In every carriage there is a water cooler and polystyrene cups and keep the carriage and toilets clean.
There is a constant stream of people with their thermos flasks going down to the cafeteria to refill them to keep their beloved matte continuously flowing. The view out the window is a picturesque little towns occasionally dotted between large cattle farms and also some alfalfa and soy bean. Some of the towns we passed through have very attractive semi detached houses not unlike we have at home. Then from out of the blue from what seems nowhere a shanty town appears.

Beautiful brick railway stations fly by, a few look sad but most are maintained and look as strong and impressive as a locomotive. My ticket for a very comfortable recliner seat was only 29.5 pesos or approximately US$8. Economics were not the driver for my trip but purely adventure. And I would do this trip again. In fact the final destination Tucaman is worth a visit for some days and also the next stop at the town of Salta where I stayed 9 days.

Actually you could do a trip from Buenos Aires, stopping in Rosario for some days, get back on the train and travel another 6 hours to Salta and more days there and then on to Tucaman. This would be a great trip for those who are into trains and prefer adventure as opposed to a boring if comfortable bus.


Rosario is world famous for being the birth place of Che Guevara. In fact Che, 30 years on, has sparked a tourist boom. People used to come and look at the building where he was born in, which is now a bank and the traffic became so much they have made a memorial at the Plaza de la Cooperacion.

-Che Guevara Memorial

There is now a Che Guevara hostel that you can stay in opposite his old home. And stone the crows there is a five star hotel opposite his memorial. There is a news agent there with a successful business selling the international herald tribune and other international publications and off course postcards, magnets and other paraphernalia of Che

. I arrived in Rosario booked into my wonderful Bed and Breakfast. Lungomare Trieste ( This is one of Rosario’s best kept secrets and a great home from home experience. The house is Catalan in style and the five bedrooms are brightly coloured and all have private bathrooms. A discovery on the roof terrace is a plunge pool. It is ideally suited for discovering Pichincha.
Pichincha is also where the railway station is sited and is now the cities hippest barrio. Once it was a nefarious like the old Montmartre of Paris.

I was met by the cheerful Alejandra who welcomed me like a long lost friend. After a welcome drink I hyped off with my map and went for a walk down to the Macro which is a modern art gallery situation in old grain silos painted in pastel colours.

-Macro Modern Art Gallery

I head off along the river bank soaking in the fresh air and the river views. I take a left turn where families and happy children are queuing up for a circus and opposite them was what looked like a pretty tough neighbourhood. I took a turn away from there and in chanced to meet a woman outside a shop who gave me directions back to my B&B and some bars and cafes. Flor and her friend Vanessa a firm bodied 34 year old architect invited me in for a drink.

Saturday morning I rise and go to the café boulevard Organ for toast and coffee. This is a deli café which serves continuous meals all day, boxes of food, tins of olives, crates of wine sit beneath the well stocked shelves and in front of a chillier of freshly prepared interesting and healthy looking food. The owner and host is colourful and smiling. His chef is jovial, good natured and can cook. I was to return later that night to have my evening meal where the food was warm and hearty and the clientele is local.

Herman and Daniela are a couple from Rosario who I had met a folk club in Salta.
I meet after lunch Herman and two of his friend’s brothers Javier and Sebastian. Sebastian lived and worked in New Zealand in 2009. New Zealand could not have a better ambassador than this young man. They are my hosts for the afternoon. We drive around the extensive river bank of river Parana which has got beautiful waterfront buildings which are in the process of restoration and the oldest used railway stations have been restored and are used as public amenities. The Parana River is the second largest in the Americas and flows from Brazil to the Atlantic Ocean. In Rosario it forms a huge Delta with lots of small islands and waterways. We also visit the Plaza de 25 and Mayo. There is a massive monument The Monumento Nacional a la Bandera. This is a monument to their national flag. It extends a block and is entirely made of concrete. It has a large viewing tower where there are 360degree views it also has an amphitheatre with wide steps as seating. A band is setting up for a concert as we wandered by. Argentine families including young children are wearing ribbon in blue and white which are the national colours and some young children have even bought their own flag. A continuous gas flame to the Unknown Soldier has a number of women dressed in black who are praying to the unknown soldiers who have lost their lives. Near the river is a monument for those who lost their lives in the Malians. This has again become a conversation topic and is an issue which is destined never to go away.

-Monumento Nacional a la Bandera

British oil companies have struck oil and the Argentine President Kircher has asked Hilary Clinton to mediate between Argentina and Great Britain to see a satisfactory settlement can be achieved over this disputed land. This land is known to the British and the Falkland islands where a war was fought in 1983. The Argentinean generals and dictators gave Margaret Thatcher the tools to win a landslide victory in 1983. This enabled her to entrench Thatcherism into the British economy and vocabulary.

Local’s camp, kayak, sail and fish in this natural maritime wonderland. There is a fish market with several fish mongers selling the fish which the river yields. This is near the stunning Puente Rosario-Victoria Bridge completed in 2006 which links the Rosario and Victoria provinces. Redundant river boats sit at piers and a modern day Che would take this bridge rather then a river boat and miss the adventures of some of his youth. This bridge along with the Macro gallery of contemporary arts set in a former serious of silos boldly painted in green, violet, blue and magenta give a 21st century look to Rosario. Rosario is a surprising find with hip café’s, bars and beautiful renaissance buildings. Cycling kayaking and walking options enable you to get a real feel for the city. As I have said before the creative use the wharf warehouses and old railway stations. As public amenities help give this a real 21st century feel. They still have a considerable stock of empty warehouses but the well respected socialist local government which has been elected now for three continuous terms has an ongoing renovation project and some of them are being used as stadiums for their volleyball and basketball teams.

Football is a religion and is present in most conversations .The coming world cup and the qualities of the various Argentine players are a known quality .Their concern is that will Maradonna be able to weld a world cup winning team .
They sympathise with me when I explain that this is the second time that New Zealand has made the draw and that we are against Brazil .

There is talk of improving railway services to fast modern trains, although this will certainly bring economic benefits to the region I would hate for it to kill off the old slow express.
Train travel will never appeal to some but to others is addictive and trains like this are a pleasure

-Puente Rosario-Victoria Bridge

The boulevard Orona is a beautiful street that stretches for 30 blocks. It has a central promenade which is beautifully sculptured public seats during the day grandparents watch their grandchildren play hop scotch and the old men play chess sipping their matte. During the night it is well illuminated as people promenaded. This is no boulevard of broken dreams.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Rarotonga November 2010 - A South Seas Paradise

Sally and I talked about a holiday in the wonderful Pacific again, regular travelers, we have been to many places, but the Pacific is on our doorstep.  We love the weather; we love the friendliness of the Polynesian people and Melanesians.  It is a great place to go and relax.  We grabbed from Air New Zealand a “Grab-a-Holiday”.   Let’s Go!


When we saw a wonderful deal from Air New Zealand, Sally and I decided to go to Rarotonga.  We left in late November on an afternoon flight.  Before we left, we called a taxi, and Joe our smiling driver lifted our suitcases with ease into the boot of his LPG powered Falcon.  Yes he was a big man and he generously
exploded into a grin when we mentioned our destination was the Cook Islands.  He said ‘those beautiful Islands, named after the great explorer’.  He had never been there, but knew them by reputation.    This is high praise coming from a Samoan.  That country is also a stable Polynesian paradise.

We arrived at the airport and Joe helpfully got a trolley for us and lifted our bags out of the back of his car and we made our way in.  As we were flying on a Works Deluxe Package with Air New Zealand we were able to go to the premium check-in.  There we met Karen, a friend who has a retail shop on Jervois Road.  She also has a French Bulldog Foxy, who is a good friend of our dog Hemi.  Karin, who works in the rag trade, in a very niche market company she works for, Yvonne Bennetti   we caught up in the Koru Lounge, she, like all, told us to have a wonderful time.  She herself has been to Rarotonga and had great fun.  She particularly liked the wind whistling through her hair as she road a motorcycle.  She also mentioned that what you spend in the Pacific Islands stays in the Pacific Islands, benefiting the local economy, it’s not exported.  I thought that was pretty wonderful. 

Sally and I had missed lunch, so we tucked into a lentil and kidney soup, and a portion of shepherds pie.  Karen is surprised that we eat this, but I explain that the menu on the Island flights is a little lighter these days than the Trans-Pacific, and that we had missed lunch.  We all bemoaned that there are no nibbles or nuts to have with the drinks.  Karen has a Pinot Noir and Sally a Chardonnay, while I sip on a Sauvignon Blanc made by Tony Visitich who is a winemaker from Westbrook, which is so good I have another glass.

Our new Air New Zealand Airbus 320 was filled and we were lucky enough to be in the old business class seats.  Sally and I made a comment to the purser where is the Qualmark Enviro Gold sign given the plane.  Air New Zealand is more than a great airline; it is also a profitable one.  A rare thing these days, it also takes the environment seriously and has been a major global player on sustainability.  It is also positively proud of its Qualmark gold award.   At The Great Ponsonby, not only Sally and I but also the whole crew, are also very proud of our Qualmark Enviro Gold award. 

When we get into our seats Sally is very happy.  They are large, leather, and quite plush.  But she is going mad with her new cell phone, and it is driving her crazy.  Karen had suggested a new I-phone to connect to her I-pad and Mac computer.  They are both Apple advocates and addicts.

Our flight crew is very friendly and the work on this route is pretty high-pressured, they are running around non-stop.  But the atmosphere is set up with the innovative and humorous   Air New Zealand safety video using the All Blacks, their coaches children dressed in provincial colours and a mature women as a streaker.  It is fun, effective, and holds your attention. However something happened and the streaker and the camp kiss have gone

The crew is quickly off the mark getting the servings happening.  We fly regularly, and although Air New Zealand is our airline of chose, sometimes they are not flying the routes we are, or we have been spontaneous and have not been able to get a seat.  Air New Zealand flight crews are very good.  This particular crew on flight ANZ48 stepped up to the mark and beyond.  They are real ambassadors for Air New Zealand.  There was no difficulty in getting a second scotch and soda and they really looked after us.  In fact anything we wanted they seemed to do in a jiff.  We were ahead of schedule and it was a really good flight.

Air New Zealand is fighting hard to keep their   position as the Pacific’s leading airline.  They do know the Pacific, they fly the Pacific regularly.  Business class may soon be a distant memory on any Pacific flights.  Air New Zealand is being innovative as it launches Pacific and Tasman flights with four fare structures on board.  You have a basic seat and bag option, and other options are a full service deluxe package that we are flying with.  I would really recommend it.

We are first through customs when we arrived in Rarotonga avoiding the queues at the duty free shop, which may have been a mistake considering the Pacific’s cheapest tobacco and there are hardened tobacco addicts getting their supplies.

As soon as we arrive through customs they put a lei around our neck and give us a bottle of water each, which is pretty amazing.   Our transfer to the Edgewater Hotel – we were first on the bus at reception, however two misfortunes happened simultaneously.  One our booking at the hotel is a day forward, and the second an anal retentive receptionist who wanted to complete an FBI enquiry into our booking.  Other guests behind us were getting frustrated after a long flight and wandering what the hell was going on.  In fact I would describe them as bewildered.  The Edgewater do have spare rooms, and after what seems like an eternity the receptionist agrees to give us a room and sort it out later.

Our rooms are comfortable and three star.  We crash for the night and sleep well. Breakfast by the pool is wonderful.  It is pleasant and children are splashing in the pool as we eat our fruit platters.

We check out without any fuss thankfully.  The Budget Car Rental offices are open, so we get a car, which is fun.  I get a temporary license, which allows me to drive to the police station to register it.  We have a small Nissan convertible, which is like a Noddy car, which in the heat is wonderful.   Rarotonga, as everyone knows, is beautiful, and the road follows the coast.  Motorcycles are popular and with a maximum speed limit of 50km per hour you are able to get a really safe ride and take risks here more than you would be prepared to at home.

We visit the Saturday market, which is a bright and colorful affair.  Families sell their produce, tropical fruits, eggplants, and other vegetables.  There is also a fishmonger and people selling handcrafts and brightly coloured straw hats, fruit bands, and sarongs.  It really is wonderful.  Black pearls are a high value product, and the dealers range from families who are selling what they have dived for to pay the university fees for their children in New Zealand, and professional dealers who know the world price and supply a very good product.

We drive out to the Rarotongan Resort.  We are warmly welcomed and within minute’s a flute of punch in our hands.  Bill, our receptionist, is professional and helpful.  There is also a mistake in our booking, which affects all our plans.  I wait while Bill   the front office manger offers Sally a range of different room options and I am happy to just go with the flow.  I am on holiday.  We will spend our first two nights in a luxury honeymoon suite; this has a spa bath and internal hot tub, as well as steam room and sauna.  Seems crazy in Rarotonga, but they do get a mild winter, so German and Scandinavian honeymooners will be well catered for with these options.

We lunch by the pool, Sally chooses a chicken salad and I have a grilled fish burger.  Both excellent choices, we enjoy a litre of Sangria a good choice anywhere on a hot day.  We wander around the resort, which is spread along the best beach in Rarotonga. It comprises two resorts; The Sanctuary, which is a childfree resort and The Rarotongan, which is very child friendly.  Both are great options, and both have high quality kitchens.

I look for the sports section of Saturdays Herald.  Sally has dumped it without consultation, World War 3 erupts. We have an hour’s kip, or try to as I stew.  That evening drive to Little Polynesia, which is Lonely Planet’s top choice for accommodation. 

We are the dinner guests of two of our guests Peter and Elizabeth Angel.  Peter is in Corporate Law in Oxford, and we talk and speak of Rugby and league.   Peter also looks after some of the interests of that venerable institution founded in 1215, Oxford University.  John Hood, the New Zealander who got the top job there, is not so respected he tells us, and has managed to get off side with many of the people, including his friends.   John’s friend or some would say girlfriend Judy, had got on well with people and been really successful.

Little Polynesia boasts a great kitchen.  Sally and I both had scallops poached in white wine and herbs.  Our main was a local fish called Miamia, which was beautifully cooked, pan-fried with grilled eggplant on the plate.  I settled on the local lager, Matutui, which is yeasty and well rounded.  Peter, Elizabeth and Sally shared a bottle of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. We said goodnight after a really wonderful meal in which we enjoyed their company, and promised to drop back tomorrow Dick Scott’s Years of the Pooh Bah, The History of the Cook Islands Trading Company, and The Cook Islands to Independence of 1967. 

We spent Sunday morning around the pool at The Sanctuary after a great tropical breakfast and copious cups of moderately strong coffee.  I enjoyed reading The Rough Guide, to The Rolling Stones.  We met a New Zealand double Olympian in rowing Eric Murray and his wife, who are on honeymoon after a four-year delay.  She is a horsewoman, which is major employment industry in their hometown of Cambridge.   They were chilling out as Eric had won the National Champs at Lake Karapiro the previous week.

Main highway in Rarotonga

Sally and I drive out to Little Polynesia to give Peter and Elizabeth The Year of the Pooh Bah.  It has gone 2pm and most of the cafes have closed. We find Delicious an Internet café with really good coffee, sandwiches, and Maitai larger. When we get to Little Polynesia we stop to talk to Peter and Elizabeth.  Their suite is a real stunner, external bath and shower, and views of the water from the king bed.

We circumnavigate, stopping at a church and are back at The Rarotongan within an hour.   Some hard case ladies we discover are actually rednecks from Mosgiel are in fine form singing the praises of the waterfront bar called the Whatever where they had partied the night before.  By all accounts a pale imitation of the Banana Court of colonial times.  This couple was plumbers and they were large employers in Mosgiel, a former Mill town in Otago.   They came to Auckland to see the Rolling Stones on their last Auckland visit, and by chance socialized in the house bar with Mick Jagger and the other Stones. A Lovely couple from Murrays Bay is also hanging out at the pool.  He is a customs agent and she is a nurse.  She has given more pricks than we have had hot dinners. The pool scene also includes a couple of Australian women who are in their seventies. They quaff white wine with a good patter and are very amusing. Yes very Kath and Kim.

Sally and I dine in the   Tipina   restaurant at the resort, enjoying a set piece Japanese banquet.  It is a really fine meal, which we partner with a Hawke’s Bay Gewurztraminer. The Poolside, drinkers have shifted nearer to the bar and have a great head of steam on.  Their racist redneck views provide us with the excuse to head to our room.

Monday morning we change rooms, a downgrade which actually works better for us.  No spa, and a smaller room, but upstairs there are sea views and a small deck. It is wonderful.  I wrote my notes from here, drinking beers and sipping some coffees.

Back at the pool in the morning we meet a young New Zealand couple from the Mount.  The husband is a wandering minstrel who teaches music at a number of Bay of Plenty High schools.  He is heavily tattooed, she less. They are on their honeymoon too and  a really interesting and fun couple.  She is a photographer who develops much of her own black and white film.

In the pool a couple of thirtyish mothers who have escaped from their children for the morning.  One is Australian and the other French.  They are both sharing non-alcoholic cocktails.  They know what they want, and would rather be here than San Tropez.  I agree.  It is a really warm day and Sally and I are content to spend much time in the pool.  Eventually we pry our way from it, jump into the convertible and drive to The Salt Water Café for lunch.  Sally chose poached eggs on toast, I had a fish burger which is yellow fin tuna and tastes great.  We speculate about the domestic arrangements of the couple that run the restaurant.  He is a German, thirtyish, and holds the lease.  A Thai woman, who works the front, cooks the menus, and a Rarotongan woman washes the dishes. With a large personality is part of the show too.  Her body language indicates it is not necessarily a German/Thai coupling.

We drive off towards Avarua stopping at a duty free gallery.  This is a real find, pearls, paintings, and painted waka.  Even a Tavavae is on display.  This is the first one we have actually seen since we have been here.

Tavavae is a traditional village craft, the woman would all work on the same piece for weeks, sometimes even months. Modern life now takes preference.  Perhaps if we were to go to some of the outer islands we may strike it lucky and find some.

We drive into Avarua to explore the shops.  Sadly nothing takes our fancy.  There isn’t a large selection, and also better quality can be found in Auckland, Apia, and Suva.  We check out the watering holes.  Sadly the Banana Court is now reduced to about 20% of its original size, and is a very tame coffee bar.  They have also converted some of it into Shops and a takeaway bar.  It has lost its charm and some of the infamous stories of yesteryear will now only live as legends in the memories of older people.  Whatever bar is an upstairs bar, which is essentially a large deck which benefits from a cool breeze.  It is happy hour, and my DB Export is only $3.00.  Sally has a Tui Blonde, and we share a small bowl of nachos and salsa from Master foods for $15.00.  The proprietor is a thirty-year-old Cook Island Maori; he is friendly and has two firm young blonds as crew who are ready for action.  Sixties soul music plays through the sound system.  Obviously this is a place for fun.

Our next stop is a venue called Trader Jacks where Beaver, the singer, had a residency for quite a time. Sadly Beaver is no longer with us, having passed away a little time back.  Trader Jacks is a very nice spot on the waterfront and favoured by the local business elite and government officials.  It also has good food and is a pretty hip place to hang out.  We enjoy a beer on the pier as Iron men and Iron Women head off for a 16km paddle.  There is also a large waka with a lot of crew hanging around it.  There are going to be Vaka Elva event starting this following week, it will attract over 2000 people and return millions of much needed dollars to the Raratongan economy as well as installing much pride in the populace . It is the Waka event in the pacific.

We go to the post office to do some basic things.  Back at the hotel we have a swim in the sea then retire to our deck for a beer.  We dine at the Tipani Restaurant.  Sally has Nasi Goreng, and I settle for a butter chicken.  The other guests in the restaurant in a thin blonde American Rasta who sits cross legged at the bar eating noodles.  A family is enjoying a banquet of really fine food.
 And of course more Australian honeymooners nibbling their food while concentrating on each others eyes.

William, our kiwi raised bar tender is in fine form maintaining a repartee whilst mixing and serving cocktails.  Pretty tough job!  The plumbers who have ridden in the motorcycle convoy have just had their last drinks and steaks at the Whatever Bar, and are back to pay the bill and have a final drink before they fly.  Personally I can’t say I will miss them, the resort may though, they were really good value at the bar, and good spenders.

A lone Australian who is swigging his second Carlton Crown joins us for a conversation about the Rarotongan general election which is taking place tomorrow.  Tim works for an international organization, NGO, and spends half the year in the Pacific.  He hopes that one party will get a majority, but fears another coalition government.  The individual constituents are very small and it is possible that one family can win a seat.  He also hopes they can choose a Prime Minister with a national and regional vision.  The staff at the resort   we talked with are voting for the old democratic party.

Tuesday is Election Day.  We woke up to a wet day, and on my stroll to breakfast I meet the old birds from Queensland – the Kath and Kim’s.   They ask me how I am doing and how do I feel, when I answer ‘fine and dandy’ their response is fast and classic ‘self praise is no recommendation’.

The breakfast area is virtually empty; I take a seat near the beach, but make a retreat when the wind whips a little rain in.  Kath and Kim arrive and pass humored comments like that it is a nice little breeze.  Nothing will stop them from having a good time.   They are part of group of 50+ from Queensland, and all I can see are fit tanned 70 plus widows.  Everyday for them is an adventure, it is wonderful to see. 

The damp day quickly dries out around midday but the sky remains grey.  The sun is allowed to break through from time to time. 

We had lunch at Le Bon Vivant, a French Café/deli.  Jamie, our young kiwi waitress, is friendly, chatty, and has a great sense of humour.  She also makes the best coffee we have had so far.  Sally has a fish pie which is excellent; my brie and ham sandwich is equal to anything on Ponsonby Road.

We discover The Art studio at Aorangi   owned by Kay and Ian George who have one of the Pacific’s finest galleries.  Kay designs a range of fabrics and items of clothing, wall hangings, table placemats, curtains, cushion covers, which evokes the Pacific and its region.  Paintings are by Ian and are uniquely striking.   Visitors to Rarotonga who are interested in art should make this their first port of call.  Ian is a well known art curator through the high schools around the Cook Islands.  Previous to that he lived in Rotorua where he also been Head of Art at the local high school.  Kay has a degree in art from AUT.

We dined in the famous Tamarind house Restaurant.  The food was tasty, involving island fruit, petals, and fish.  Lamb and beef was also available.   I choose a mild curried shrimp served in half a papaya, and yellow tuna served on rice with more papaya.  Amazing    food.  It would probably, without doubt, be one of the finest restaurants in the Pacific, including New Zealand and Australia.   Sally has a raw fish dish served in taro leaves, and also the tuna.   We choose a 2008   Shingle Peak chardonnay as our wine.  All choices work well.   The restaurant is situated in the old Union Steamship Company    manager’s home which was owned by a former employer of mine in the 1980’s.  It was then bought by the local Solicitor General and British Consul.  Sue Caruthers the current owner has developed much of it into restaurant and extended the verandahs out towards the sea.  There is a huge lawn which goes right to the waters edge.  The Union Steamship Company, or the Southern Octopus as it is known, has certainly used its influence to ensure they got the best position I think anywhere in the Pacific.  I may have made a fine manager in this location.   There are a lot of photographs around the walls of old Rarotongan ship visits by the Royal Mail line.  But sadly none of the Union company fleet, the Tofua and Matua and regular callers here.

In Rarotonga today there have been so far three finds.  They are the hotel where we stay, Kay Gregory’s gallery, and the Tamarind House Restaurant.  New find number four is Truffle Garden Café.  The garden stretches from the inland road to the   sea.  Seven acres of gardens developed over many years, it is the Garden of Eden.  The walks are stimulating and wheel chair friendly.   They also have a nursery with plants for sale.    The café has many choices which cater to most tastes.  Much of the produce is from the gardens, and like all of the chicken we have had so far is organically free range.   Yes, you can tell the difference.

The next day we fly to Aitutaki our flight is delayed for thirty minutes.  We can’t buy a Cook Island News anywhere.  They are always sold out and it appears it is almost a conspiracy.  However a friendly café attendant gives us a copy of Thursdays which has the Local Government election results. It is a landslide to the opposition Cooks islands Party even if Norman George and another colorful character make it back it is a real result and can only be good news for the Cook Islands.
We read the New Zealand Herald on line and discover the Pyke River tragedy where 29 miners are trapped in the mine. This is really sobering – Sally’s father and my grandfather were miners Sally’s actually on the West coast. We both recall the Strongman mine disaster of and pray that this is not a sequel.
Our café attendant is a kiwi Raratongan a bright young lass who is also doing a design course and is most confident .

We board our Air Rarotongan flight. Our plane is a Saab and is more than comfortable for our 45 minute flight.Flying into Aitutaki the island is surrounded by a turquoise sea and is strikingly beautiful.

We land and frangipani leis are placed over our heads and are offered chilled coconut juice in the shell. Two other guests, a retired English couple from Plymouth, join us on our trip to the resort. This involves a van and a small boat trip. We are welcomed by a warrior playing a clam shell flute; we were all blown away by the warmth of the welcome. Sally and I are delighted, we’ve been upgraded to a lagoon villa from a garden villa, it is a stunner, and the lagoon is just a hop skip and a jump away. We lunch at the beach front café, sharing a margarita pizza and a couple of beers. We meet and chat with the resort manager, Rob. He is originally from Birmingham and has been at the resort for over 11 years, he started as the engineer. He is very affable and an open warm soul.

We talk about hurricanes, and costs, and how challenging and fun the business is to be in.  Some years are almost biblical in how long it takes to make a profit.  The sky is open and we shelter at the café a while.  We spend the afternoon looking at our view and listening to our music.

We dine at the resort restaurant, BBQ Mahi and vegetables.  Our baked potatoes with sour cream are in tin foil.  It maybe 70’s style, but they are great.

With four other guests we go out on a guided pub crawl. Our first stop is a Rainforest bar.  It is a shed in the bush where they make home brew.  It is a male refuge where we are treated to a concert – it is wonderful.  The next watering hole is a fishing club on the waterfront, a container tacked onto an open plan cargo shed
Run by a couple of knockabout Aussies, enjoying a sea breeze and is a good spot, although the mosquitoes do wear saddlebags.

Our Aussie companions are Mark and Tina from Sydney and Nathan and Emma from Melbourne.  All are great fun and we are enjoying ourselves. Our final bar, Crusher, is the local disco and perhaps the most happening scene, especially to see the young cook islanders dancing and enjoying themselves. But the consensus of all was that the highlight of the night was the Rainforest Club. The night would not have been as much fun without our host Mata and James who was our driver. They were wonderful hosts and really looked after us all.

Non-honeymooners are a rare sight on this island, it will good again to be in normal company.  Just joking, we could easily stay and wish we had been here a lot longer. 

Saturday: Lagoon Cruise
Bishop Cruises. The sun gods repaid with interest any who had complained about the previous grey day. The sun bit the skin and smiles delight were visible everywhere. Our boat crew of four had been our hosts and part of the choir at the Rainforest bar the night before. Additional crew was a nine year old boy from Glen Innes and a fifteen year old girl from Papatoetoe. Education does come in many shapes and sizes. As we cruise out of the lagoon sail boats are assembling into an armada. They are the local kid’s trialing to be in the Aitutaki school team for the Pacific cup competition in April next year. I wonder how many of these will become part of around the world race teams for America’s cup sailors. Sailing and navigation are well and truly part of Pacific folklore and life. Our cruise has around 50 people; at least 20 couples were honeymooners, some German pensioners and a Tongan NZ couple. The later are Southern Sting and Commonwealth Gold medal winning netballer Daneka Wipiiti and her Southland and Highland rugby player husband Joe Tuineau. After about an hour we stopped at a great swimming beach where the TV series Shipwrecked was filmed. Our next stop was for snorkeling. The coral is dead but schools of tropical fish are a wonderful delight to swim amongst. We stopped for lunch at One foot Island where you can get a stamp in your passport for $2.50. WE enjoy a BBQ with Marlin and salads and a concert care of the ship’s crew. We also explore the island and swim. We return about 4.30pm and dine at the boatshed café with a Huntly miner and his wife we shout them dinner, as we bore the bad news about the Pike River tragedy. They were very concerned as they have friends who have gone down there to work. This is not the news you want to hear on your honeymoon. Sally and I offer some moral support, sally had rung her father a - 97 year old former mining engineer - who had serious concern about the gas in the mine.

We go to church at the CICC church which was built in 1828 making it one of the oldest churches in the Pacific.  The church is not longer filled to the rafters even with the three parishes of today from around Aitutaki. So there is plenty of room for the 20 or so tourists present. We are treated to an amazing concert. Sally and I are privileged to have a soprano behind us. Some of the hymns, including How Great We Are and Old Langsyne we recognize and are able to sing to. After the service, we are invited to a substantial morning tea from the church hall. Our driver says grace. I have a chat with David a builder from New Plymouth who is in charge of the third and fourth phase of the re-construction after Cyclone Pat ripped through Aitutaki February 2010. He tells it is progressing well and he has 95 really competent and committed   cook island staff working with him. Cyclone Pat damaged 89% of the housing stock. David acknowledges the churches as an essential partner in this reconstruction. Their churches are where all gather in an emergency, they are the focus of the community. Like their NZ counterparts they have an increasing number of non- attendees at services, but when there is a need, they all come back. We lunch at the Koro café, the choice of food is typical Ponsonby Rd style and they also have handicrafts available along with WIFI. Sally and I both eat fish - I have a fish burger and Sally fish and chips. Sally checks email using the new (and sometimes frustrating) Ipad. I check the NZ Herald online to see the news about Pike River. 

The Koro café is run by a Kiwi/Cook Island couple. Dad is running the kitchen with a baby in a papoose on his back. His wife runs front of house, supervising her Aunties who are her serving staff. The café also has a modern house attached to it and they have a couple of waterfront bungalows you can rent. This enterprise has been created by Mum and Dad retiring from Auckland where they owned a house of Franklin Rd. The sale of this house, which had been the family home for a generation, created this business. Not a bad result in working class terms for a life’s work. We spend the afternoon reading, swimming and listening to music.

Monday James drives up to the Needle and we climb the 120 meters to the top in the company of a Lebanese Marinite Christian couple from Sydney. They are good humoured, but also unprepared jandal wearers for this hike.

In the afternoon we frolic in the lagoon, in the evening at the resort we are lucky enough to enjoy a traditional Rarotongan concert out in the hotel.  The dance of the Pacific followed by fire eating performances and a Rarotongan band.  It was an absolutely great show.   You can understand why Blye’s crew wanted a mutiny and  why Cook had pretty strong discipline on his sailors when he sailed through there.  We also eat what is possibly our best meat.  I have a trilogy of pan fried tuna, marlin, wahee?  Sally chooses a pork loin which is tender and tasty.  We share a Trinity Hill Chardonnay. 

We are up early for out ten o’clock departure back to Rarotonga.  James and Mark wish us farewell, we promise to get some gospel and other music to him soon.

We arrive back in Rarotonga, the bright sky that said goodbye to us is not there.  We head out from our villa to go to the night market, but instead go to the local market where we pay $80NZ for a ukulele made from coconut.  We sink a few more lagers and watch the swimming race, part of the Vaka Elva event.  As I said before, teams are from all over the Pacific, and the competition is really on.  The event actually puts $2M into the local economy, which is impressive.

Trader Jack is now getting a name as an institution.  It sits in the waterfront and a breeze blows through there taking the sting out of a hot day.  It is well covered and if the rain is around and it is still humid, you have that wonderful breeze to chill you out.   It is a more up market bar of Rarotonga, where local government officials and private business folk dwell.  It is very informal and casual, and in my Fijian Bula shirt I feel very much at home.  The food is also very good. Sally and I look out at the harbor.  There is a big old boiler from  a sunken steam  ship from over 100 years ago which now a sort of route which people swim or paddle out to and round it.  Today we see ironmen and iron women rushing down to get into their boats, they are going on a 16km paddle.  This is the week that people are getting really fit and training because next Monday is the start.  It is a major Polynesian event which brings over 2000 people to Rarotonga, and pumps the local economy as well as getting everyone’s passion flying.  There will be teams from as far north as Hawaii, and also from various parts of the pacific and   New Zealand, including Tangata Whenua teams, and also teams from Australia.

One of the swimmers who we briefly chat to is an Australian lass, also a vet and a volunteer at the Esther Honey Foundation, a local trust that looks after animals.  Wearing a wicked smile telltale of the fun she is having she tells us that Rarotonga is very addictive.  I smile, this is very true.  Esther Honey NGO which has stolen ground from the established RSPCA, I wonder what is going on.We have entrées at Trader jacks enjoying a beer or two.

We make our way to the Whatever Bar which is happening. A group of young kiwi women are hanging out for a few days and have struck a great relationship with the band and are sing the chorus. We have the famous sirloin steak and chips .The steak does live up to its reputation. 

Ocean-going waka