The Cave at the Edge of Reality

POMS AWAY!

It wasn’t raining, but it had been. The air was as grey as the carpark behind us. Before us, the path disappeared into the moist, black trees. Everyone we’d met in Waitomo had told us to do this, so here we were. At dusk. In winter. Entering the bush at such a time went against everything we’d been taught about staying safe.

“It’ll be fine,” I said, turning my head torch on. “It’s a popular walk in a thickly touristed area. It’s bound to be well signposted.”

Waitomo CavesI must admit, I felt a shiver of excitement as we started down the path. We weren’t doing anything forbidden, but the hairs on the back of my neck strained against the darkness. I jumped at the shadow of a man that turned out to be a wooden post; again at the shadow of a snake that turned out to be a branch.

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Vikings, Trolls and a Magical Gateway

POMS AWAY!

There’s something strange going on in Norsewood. A small, sad town on the way up to Napier, its main tourist attraction is a shop selling woollen socks. Most people don’t bother looking further than that, but I’m glad I did. Like I wasn’t going to explore a town whose street names include Odin, Thor, Hengist and Horsa!

Campervan in Tongariro National Park

My partner Tim and I were on a New Zealand campervan hire tour of the central North Island. (That’s why I didn’t post anything last week.) After a couple of days around Tongariro National Park, we were driving towards Napier and decided to spend the night at Dannevirke Holiday Park, because it had received excellent reviews on the Rankers Camping NZ app.

Dannevirke Playground Viking Longship

The first thing you notice upon entering Dannevirke is a giant Viking. That’s because Dannevirke, like the nearby town of Norsewood, was settled by Scandinavians. Dannevirke literally means Danes’ work…

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Solscape: A Relaxing Campsite in Raglan

solscape raglan

You know when your tent starts glowing with the light of dawn? And the sounds of nature gradually permeate your dreams? Cockerels cock-a-doodle-dooing. Cicadas building to their perpetual crescendo. Distant waves rushing into the bay. Other couples thinking they’re bonking quietly. You know that moment, when you feel totally in another world? Work doesn’t exist here. You’re free to do nothing but stare at the view.

solscape ragland

And what a view Solscape has. It’s not a place I’d have chosen to come myself. It’s a friend’s birthday and he chose the place. It’s one of those eco campsites that oozes kombucha-flavoured self-righteousness. It advertises itself as a ‘harmonious diversion from conventional forms and patterns’ and uses phrases such as ‘holistic wellness’ and ‘to nurture our connection with each other and the natural world’. The café is called the Conscious Kitchen. You get the idea.

railway carriage caboose solscape raglan

And though we’ve all made a few too many chakras jokes since arriving, even I have to admit that I like it here. The Conscious Kitchen overlooks a gorgeous bay. The composting toilets and solar showers are actually quite nice. The cabooses made from old railway carriages look awesome, as do the earth domes and the tipi forest. The permaculture gardens and glorious sunflowers add to the relaxed atmosphere, and even though I can’t eat much of the food here due to an intolerance to veganism – note that I’m not trying to be a dick; I am genuinely intolerant to most fruits, many vegetables, some nuts and all beans (including, of course, soy) – I would definitely come here again.

solscape raglan mud huts

If you’re on a New Zealand campervan trip, I’d recommend booking one of the powered van sites here. It’s a little on the expensive side, but it’s a place worth seeing. As we’re in Raglan, one of the most famous surfing spots in the world, Solscape offers surfing lessons as well as the expected yoga. There’s a beach within easy walking distance, and the town of Raglan is a short drive away. I’ve written about the town before, in Raglan on a Winter’s Day – you should definitely check it out.

solscape raglan mud huts

Raglan’s a bit of a hippy (as well as a surfers’) paradise. It’s full of quirky craft shops and cafés, often down intriguing, little alleyways. If you’re a fan of household art, vintage clothing and macramé necklaces, it’s got your name crocheted all over it. There’s even a tiny secondhand bookshop. You can walk straight from the town centre to the sea and – not far away – you can find one of the most beautiful waterfalls in New Zealand, Bridal Veil Falls.

sunflowers solcape raglan

It’s time for us to leave now; to return to our respective unconscious kitchens. I’m really going to miss this view.

solscape raglan

The Katherine Mansfield Garden

katherine mansfield garden hamilton new zealand

One of the first things we did upon returning to New Zealand was visit the Hamilton Gardens. During the six months we were overseas, a new garden had opened as part of the Fantasy Collection. I was quite excited to see it, as it had been themed around a certain famous New Zealand writer, Katherine Mansfield.

katherine mansfieldIf you haven’t heard of Katherine Mansfield, she lived an interesting life, scandalising the polite society of the early twentieth century. She was friends with Virginia Woolf and shared my love of Oscar Wilde. She died in the 1920s, young, of tuberculosis, leaving behind a wonderful bouquet of short stories.

When I was a teenager, a kind stranger read some of my writing and sent me a postcard with her picture on it. Having moved to New Zealand from England only a few years previously, this was the first I’d heard of Katherine Mansfield. I’ve held an affection for her ever since.

katherine mansfield garden hamilton new zealand

The Katherine Mansfield Garden in Hamilton features the facade of a posh colonial villa, old-fashioned flowerbeds surrounding a fountain, a mock tennis court with a marquee, under which lies a long table laden with (presumably fake) cakes and jellies, and – in pride of place – a Model T Ford. No doubt it will be a fantastic place for events.

katherine mansfield garden hamilton new zealand model t ford

As my regular readers are aware, the Hamilton Gardens are a magical place to visit. I’m very likely saying my “I dos” there next year! Here’s a list of other articles I’ve written about them:

The Best Place to Go in Hamilton

Hamilton’s Italian Paradise

Getting Lost in Fantasy Gardens

Springtime for Hamilton Gardens

What Connects a Train Station in Germany to a Toilet in New Zealand?

It was New Year’s Eve and we were on our way to Berlin. As we’d purchased the cheapest train tickets possible, we weren’t speeding between cities, but meandering from small station to small station. Standing, freezing, on dilapidated platforms, we gazed across the tracks towards a succession of depressed and depressing buildings. One such station boasted a vainly optimistic advertisement inviting the traveller to actually stop there for a change, instead of merely passing through. ‘Passing-through towns’ seems an apt name for these places.

There was, however, one town we passed through whose station was surprisingly intriguing. Even beautiful. I was so tired – all the shabby stations we’d passed through already had so blurred before my eyes – that at first I didn’t notice this one was any different. Then strange shapes started to loom out of the mass: wavy lines, bulging columns clad in garish mosaics, and golden spheres that could have been from an old, tacky sci-fi. It reminded me of the various bits of Gaudí architecture we’d recently seen in Barcelona, but it also reminded me of a public toilet.

hundertwasser uelzen bahnhof

Not just any public toilet, you understand: a specific public toilet in New Zealand, designed by an Austrian immigrant called Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser. The Hundertwasser Toilets are a major tourist attraction in Kawakawa, a small town in the Northland Region of New Zealand. If you’re ever on a road trip between Auckland and the Bay of Islands, you’ll probably pass through/water in it. The toilets are worth seeing, with an architectural style that can, at worst, be described as quirky. Built in 1999, just before Hundertwasser’s death, they’ve transformed Kawakawa from merely a ‘passing-through town’ to a destination in its own right.

hundertwasser toilets kawakawa

The longer I scrutinised that German train station, the more convinced I became that it had been designed by the same person. We googled it. Sure enough, we found the Uelzen station was indeed a Hundertwasser and, like the toilets in Kawakawa, it had transformed its hometown into a tourist destination. I wish we’d had time to explore it properly, but we were already on our next train, sauntering towards the next small station.

hundertwasser kuchlbauer tower

Another Hundertwasser, the Kuchlbauer Tower in Abensberg

Throughout our European adventure, I’ve found myself revelling in the discovery of even the slightest New Zealand connection. Despite a certain stand-up comedian in London telling me (and an amused audience) no-one gives a f**k about New Zealand, people we meet won’t stop proclaiming their love for it. On a train in Barcelona, I saw a woman with a New Zealand-themed tote bag and said, in my half-remembered high school Spanish, “Vivo en Nueva Zelanda.” Her face lit up and we talked, in a broken mix of Spanish and English, about all the places she’d visited. In London’s Natural History Museum, I pointed out a stuffed kiwi with perhaps a little too much excitement.

I think it’s fair to say that, after five-and-a-half months of globetrotting, I’m ready to return to my adopted home. First, though, we have a couple of weeks in Malaysia!

My First Christmas in New Zealand

This year, I’m celebrating Christmas with my fiancé’s family in Germany. Just a few days ago, I walked through a Christmas Market whilst snow fell like wisps of candy floss. Here’s what I wrote two years ago, when I was dreaming of this in New Zealand…

POMS AWAY!

When you’re an immigrant, that first Christmas hits you hard. The rest of the year, you’re distracted by work and house hunting and getting on with life. Then Christmas arrives and everything stops. You realise what’s missing: family.

My first Christmas in New Zealand, the house felt empty. There was tinsel everywhere, draped over everything except my mum, dad and little sister, but it couldn’t fill the hole. There were presents – I remember getting a Harry Potter wand, but opening them felt weird. There was a turkey, but I could barely eat any of it.

The absence of Grandma, Nana, Grandpa and Uncle Damon had drained all the Christmas spirit from the air. It didn’t help that the air itself was warm and humid. Our windows were thrown open to catch the non-existent summer breeze. They should have been closed, with the curtains drawn, keeping out the winter gloom…

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Cold?

I’ve been in Europe four months. Two left. People back in New Zealand keep asking how I’m coping with the cold. They’re experiencing a warm, humid spring whilst I’m experiencing a cold, rainy autumn. My answer surprises them. I’m not finding the cold difficult to cope with at all – it’s the warmth.

The cold – easy. I bought myself a pair of fleece-lined boots and some fleece-lined leggings and they work perfectly. I can walk around all the German Christmas markets I like in comfort.

But then you go inside, into a shop or café, and no matter how many layers you shed, it’s too bloody warm. Like almost-passing-out warm. I’m always having to go and stand outside!

In New Zealand, the temperature change when you enter or exit a building is never so drastic. This is partly to do with the fact that New Zealand rarely gets that cold, (at least the North Island doesn’t,) but also New Zealand’s buildings are, in general, poorly insulated.

It’s not the cold, but the constant and extreme changing of temperature that’s getting to me.

Also, the darkness.

In New Zealand, when the sun rises and sets doesn’t vary all that much between winter and summer – not compared to where I am now, in any case. Here, I feel like the day’s barely gotten started before it’s getting dark. It makes me feel unproductive and sleepy!

But I don’t want to complain. This is exactly what I wanted. I wanted to experience a European Christmas – I haven’t experienced one for seventeen years! I wanted the cold and the darkness. They make the Christmas lights seem cosy.

So far, I’ve been to three different Christmas markets, in Luxembourg, Aachen and Bremen. (The one in Bruges was still being set up when I was there.) You can imagine a typical Christmas market: fairy lights twinkling amidst a labyrinth of wooden stalls, surrounded by old, stone buildings… people sipping mulled wine, swaddled in warm clothing… various smells drawing you this way and that, roasting chestnuts and sausages and sweet things… And don’t forget to add a cathedral looming over the scene like an indulgent grandfather.

Yes, I’ve dreamed of this for a long time. When Christmas Day comes, though, I bet I’ll be missing New Zealand.

(All the photos in this post are from my recent trip to Bruges, by the way.)

Here are some things I’ve written about Christmas in New Zealand:

Christmas in New Zealand

The Immigrant’s Christmas

My First Christmas in New Zealand