New Zealand: Auckland in midwinter


While the northern hemisphere is celebrating the summer solstice by touching Stonehenge and other rituals, the 21st of June is the midwinter solstice down here in the southern hemisphere. We drove from Hamilton to Auckland for our last few days in New Zealand. The sunsets just after 5pm behind the city so we walked down to the harbour to enjoy the evening light.

Someone I was at school with has been living in Auckland for many years and had invited us over to their house in Devonport for an evening meal. We took the 10 minute ferry with all the commuters returning home in the dark and had a very enjoyable evening. The following morning the forecast rain had arrived so we decided to visit the museum which sits in Auckland Domain and had a very wet walk there. The neoclassical building was constructed in 1929 and is Auckland War Memorial Museum. Most of the top floor is devoted to the war memorial collection. However, it contains many other gems. On the ground floor Maori and Pacific Islander artefacts are on display.

In the ancestral meeting house (remove your shoes to enter) a restoration project was underway.

Although New Zealand had its own potteries from the late 19th century, we found a link with home as Royal Doulton and a tile manufacturer in Hanley produced china and tiles with Maori decoration in the early 20th century. There were also silver teaspoons from Birmingham. Other exhibits were Wild Child: childhood in New Zealand, sections on volcanoes, natural history, 20th century Japanese ceramics and a very powerful photographic exhibition entitled Being Chinese in Aotearoa chronicling the experiences of Chinese people in New Zealand in over 90 photographs from the first settler in 1842 to the present day. Unfortunately, we will not be here to see the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition which starts on 7 July 2017. It was raining less on the return journey but the sky remained overcast and the Sky Tower was in the mist so not an evening to go up for the view.

On Friday morning, we were back on the Devonport ferry for a wander around the town. Close to the ferry terminal is Windsor Reserve with a very large tree that has numerous aerial roots. The New Zealand Tree Register identifies it as a Moreton Bay Fig, also known as an Australian Banyan.

Devonport has two bookshops, both on Victoria Road. Bookmark has secondhand books including a large section on military history in addition to all the usual sections. The shop on the other side of the street sells new books. On Queen’s Parade, we found a gallery selling antique maps and prints, Japanese woodblock prints and other modern prints and a few paintings but nothing to add to our collection. On a clear day, it would have been worth walking up Mount Victoria for the view but as the mist had descended, we confined ourselves to walking on the beach where I found some sea glass and had some conversations with the dog walkers, one of whom was originally from Northern Ireland.

As the city was shrouded in mist this was also not a day for the Skytower.

At the ferry terminal, I picked up a free copy of Paperboy, a free magazine published every Thursday and is a great guide to what’s on around the city. I spotted a photographic exhibition at the Trish Clark Gallery and would have loved to see it but the gallery opened so late that we could not manage it before a late lunch and the walk to Eden Park. We had a great lunch in the Indian restaurant opposite our hotel. A Fan Trail had been marked out for us to walk to the venue and entertainment was laid on along the route. These ladies were dancing to Amy Winehouse:

There were people dancing with fire, various bands (one of whom were doing a not very good rendition of UB40’s Red, Red Wine and people dressed up in all sorts of costumes. It took one and a half hours to get there and find our seat. Unfortunately the British and Irish Lions lost the match with the All Blacks so we slipped out early and caught the first train back to the city centre. Tomorrow we leave Auckland to start the long journey home.

New Zealand: Hamilton


En route to Hamilton on Highway 1, we stopped for coffee at Tirau, a town that does not make it into the guide book. It has numerous cafes and so is a good place for refuelling but its speciality is corrugated iron art. Some of the buildings including the information centre and merino wool shop are housed in large corrugated iron animals.


The metal is used in many of the buildings in a more usual fashion but there are also smaller art works and some for sale in the stores. I was feeling a little under the weather so after arriving in Hamilton we limited our explorations to finding some dinner. The next morning we walked the three miles from our hotel into the city centre. The guide book is somewhat scathing saying that the ‘grey-green greasy Waikato River rolls through town’ but is ignored by the city layout. There was certainly one signpost down to the river walkway from Victoria Street and another area where access is going to be made and will open in early 2018. The riverside path runs along both banks for several miles. On the east bank the path runs thorugh the Memorial Garden and Hayes Paddock, both green spaces.

We crossed the Anzac Bridge and walked along to the Hamilton Gardens which are southeast of the centre. Fifty years ago the area was a quarry and rubbish dump. There are now gardens in several different styles: this is the Italian Renaissance one

They are situated in a large park with a cafe and restaurant, childrens’ play area, productive garden, a rose garden and herb garden. We took a bus back into the city centre and browsed in Hamilton’s secondhand bookstore ‘Browsers’ on Victoria Street. We had passed the old now empty shop on the other side of the road the previous evening so assumed it had closed. It was a pleasant surprise to find it had relocated. As seems to be the case in New Zealand, there was a large local interest section but they covered a wide range of topics and had a child-friendly area. You have to keep your wits about you in the city centre, as cyclists also use the pavement. Many cyclists have no lights or bells so can catch pedestrians unaware. Tonight there is another rugby match and then we return to Auckland tomorrow.

New Zealand: Wellington to Lake Taupo

We spent most of the morning on Highway 1 dodging heavy showers and getting used to the new rental car. The road runs by the coast for the first few miles before continuing inland. We had a brief stop on the windblown beach at Pukera Bay with Kapiti Island in the distance.

Foxton was our coffee stop and as this area is not very densely populated, reminded us of many places on the South Island. We were the only customers in the cafe at the time. Foxton was a New Zealand flax-stripping centre, has a Dutch windmill in the town centre and a beach. As we drove on, listening to music on the iPod, The Stranglers’ ‘Something better change’ came on and seemed very apposite given the political situation back home in the UK.

Sanson sits at a road junction and that is all it seems on the map, so finding The Ministry of Books was serendipitous. This very large shop is well-organised, has a huge selection on all aspects of New Zealand and many other subjects as well as some antiquarian volumes.

By the time we emerged with a couple of purchases it was raining very heavily. The next big road junction was at a town called Bulls. In addition to a large black bull sculpture, a notice welcomed visitors saying it is ‘a town like no udder’. The next town on our route was Waioru which described itself as an ‘oasis in the Rangipo Desert’ at 792m altitude. It is a garrison town and entry to much of the countryside on the road through the desert is restricted as it is an army training ground. We had our lunch at the rain-soaked summit which is at 1074m and noticed several military police vehicles, a fire engine and ambulance passing us on the road, red lights flashing. A rainbow appeared in the sky

but the torrential rain continued and only a mile or so down the road we had to sit and wait for more than an hour until the accident was cleared. We then descended down to the lake and alongside it into Taupo and our hotel but all we could see was the rain.

New Zealand: crossing the Cook Strait

Just after sunrise and while the moon was still high in the sky, we were driving out of Nelson.

Highway 6 runs through the mountains and over a couple of passes before descending into the Rai Valley. We had breakfast there. Further on, the road crosses the Pelorus Bridge and can be closed when the river is in flood. At Havelock, there are two options to get to Picton where the ferry departs from. You can stay on Highway 6 and get there via Blenheim or take the windy and scenic route. We chose the latter and were only a little way along it when we came to a look–out with views back up the valley and over the Marlborough Sounds.


Eventually this road descends to the shores of Queen Charlotte Sound and we arrived in Picton. We had a little time to kill before the ferry so coffee, a look in Down Under Books, the local second-hand bookstore which has a good selection of books on New Zealand as well as all the usual sections. Before heading over to the ferry terminal we had a short walk around the marina to Shelley Beach. There are other trails around here for walking and cycling.

Our mileage so far on the South Island has been 1604 miles. We dropped off the rental car as they charge you £500 to take one over to the North Island. We had arranged to pick another up in Wellington the following day. The ferry was not too busy at all and you can check in your cases so that you don’t have to lug them around on board.

The crossing was smooth and the sun went down before we docked in Wellington.

After getting my fix of mountains and forests it was quite strange to be back in the city with concrete flyovers, skyscrapers and rush hour traffic. We took an electric taxi to our hotel and had dinner at a nearby Belgian pub. We finally had some venison for the first time here after seeing so many red deer being farmed on the south island and were served by a guy from Leeds. We have met so many young people from the UK and Europe who are working here. Most of the antipodean youth seem to head for London.

Back in Southwest Scotland

A coach-load of Rangers fans en route to the Old Firm match in Glasgow, accompanied us on the 7.30am Larne to Cairnryan ferry.
They were very well-behaved despite some having cider for breakfast but G4S security were lurking in the background just in case. As we disembarked there was a police presence at the port. We were heading for Wigtown, Scotland’s book town but en route stopped at Torhouse Stone Circle. It is about 4 miles west of Wigtown and dates from the Bronze Age. It is thought to have been designed to represent the midwinter sun. There are 19 granite stones. The three large upright stones in the centre of the circle are known as King Gauldus’s Tomb (he was a mythical Scottish king). This type of stone circle is most commonly found in north-east Scotland and unusual for this part of the country.

At Wigtown we browsed in the shop which says it is the largest bookshop in Scotland, Byre Books in a cowshed surrounded by greenery and Reading Lasses which is devoted to women’s literature. Another was holding a reading as there is a festival on this weekend so we could not look in there and one was inexplicably closed.

Laden with books and a few plants from a market stall we drove into Newton Stewart to find Elmlea Plants, a nursery specialising in perennials and grasses. More purchases were made for garden renovation projects at home. The A75 follows the edge of Wigtown Bay amongst gently undulating fields with the southern uplands ahead. We cut inland to Kirkcudbright where we had arranged to spend the night. In the harbour fishing boats were returning and the tide was coming in.

We visited Broughton House, the former home and studio of the artist E.A Hornel. He was influenced by Japan, used photographs rather than drawings as the basis of his paintings, collected books and was also interested in local history. Here is his studio which has his palettes and paintbrushes as well as several paintings.
Kirkcudbright ‘Castle’ in the centre of town is really a fortified townhouse dating from the 16th century. the original castle down by the river was captured by Robert the Bruce in 1313 and destroyed. There were attempts at excavating it in 1913 to 1914 but many of the stones had been removed by the townspeople for building projects. Hornel had a collection of some maps, drawings and dig notes from the excavation which was never completed because of the First World War. At the back of the house is a long garden extending right down to the marina. The house and garden are now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.

We stayed in the Selkirk Arms which dates from the 18th century. It has been claimed that Robert Burns wrote the Selkirk Grace here in 1794 but this has not been confirmed. Just before we left we visited the plant sale in the centre of town and found a few more unusual plants for my woodland garden. There were only two stops on what was a quiet run home from Kirkudbright. The first was at Dundrennan Abbey, a former Cistercian monastery.


The last stop was at Annandale Distillery so that I could add some shots to the Book of British Distilleries I am compiling for James. This was only reopened recently after closing in 1918. They have excavated the place the old stills stood when it first opened in 1830.

Northern Ireland: Belfast

The train takes an hour to travel from Ballymoney to Belfast, which we have not visited for several years. On arrival, we walked down to the riverside and crossed over to the Titanic Quarter. There are several art installations along the way. This one is in Thanksgiving Square

and another, Big Fish by John Kindness in Donegal Quay.

The Titanic Experience is well-presented. You can join a tour or view it independently which is what we did. After wending your way around the first floor of exhibits you take a lift to the fourth floor and hop into a car which moves fairly rapidly in three dimensions with sounds and low lighting depicting the building of the ship and all the different trades.

The remainder is devoted to the launch, journey and sinking of the ship, the survivors, the inquiry and the depictions of the story in the media. I used to work in Stoke on Trent and Captain Smith hailed from the city. It now has a brewery called ‘The Titanic’. Outside is SS Nomadic, the sole surviving ship of the White Star Line. It can also be visited with the same ticket.

By the time we emerged, it was lunchtime so the nearby Dock Café which operates with an honesty box filled us up. It has a small art gallery and a prayer room for anyone who needs one. We then wandered back into the city centre and found Keats & Chapman, a secondhand bookshop at 21 North Street. There is only a small front on the street but the shop extends a long way inside with a large selection on many subjects. James found a 1930s Ward Lock Guide to Belfast & Northern Ireland. There is another secondhand bookshop opposite the Linenhall Library but it is not so well-stocked. We had no intention of seeing all the sights on one trip so the library will wait for another time as will some of the other buildings despite walking six miles in total. Here are the exteriors of the City Hall and the Municipal College of Technology.


The Crown Bar is well-known, dates from 1849 and fantastically decorated inside and out.


We could not resist a cold beer. You could spend a whole day just looking at street art and graffiti for example and we did not get as far as the Botanic Gardens, the Museum and Art Gallery, the cathedrals. It was soon time to get our train before the mass commuter exodus.

Finding books in Bakewell

My early childhood memories of Bakewell in Derbyshire are being taken there by my grandparents to feed the ducks and swans. The River Wye runs through the market town. Feeding the waterfowl is no longer allowed as bread is not nutritious for birds and can also cause problems including algal blooms in the water. There were still plenty of birds on the river in the town centre when we arrived : mallard, mute swans, coots and moorhens and a few Canada Geese.

We were in the town to attend a provincial book fair. These take place at different locations around the country and are particularly good for unusual and antiquarian books. Most can also be found online but they are also an excuse for a day out. The fair was taking place in the agricultural market building just across the river from the town centre. This is modern and clearly a well-used venue. Our local agricultural market recently closed and a housing estate is to be built on the land. We arrived a little early while it was still cool and the market cafe had not yet opened so wandered across the bridge and into town. The bridge padlock craze which begun in Paris has reached Bakewell. You can buy a padlock and have it engraved at the nearby key cutting and shoe repair shop. Several city authorities around the world have removed the locks as the additional weight became dangerous or they were deemed unsuitable.

The town has a few independent shops amongst the high street and outdoor chains and also the original Bakewell Pudding shop and tea room. We picked up a few essential items and then returned to the fair where I added three volumes to a collection and enjoyed browsing and chatting to the booksellers. We also discovered another antique map seller who is not very far away from home. When we emerged, the town was getting very busy and Morris Dancers were getting ready to perform. The sun had at last come out. Driving back over the moorlands was also busy as there were lots of cyclists on the road and walkers parked up near the local trails. The campsites were open and very busy. 50% of the population of England live within 50 miles of the Peak District so if you want peace and quiet, don’t come on bank holiday weekend. We did find one empty space in a lay by so that I could get a couple of shots of the landscape.