Back to Japan: Nakatsu 2001


Yep, this is me, new to Nakatsu

I first lived in Nakatsu, in Kyushu Japan, arriving in August 2001. It was a freezing day when I left New Zealand and a sweltering one when I touched down in Japan. On the train down from Osaka, sweat pooled in my boots, after I’d removed my woollen socks to supposedly help cool me down. I was met off the train and taken to my apartment, a short walk away. Everything was close in this old castle town. Some might have called it ‘sleepy’, but I found it a perfect place for finding friends and cycling around.

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Looking Back: Tuesday 21 May 2002


Near my work in Nara

As we will not to be able to travel widely for some time, this week I have been looking at some mementos to sketch from the times I have been able to travel overseas. I have sketched many items I’ve brought home from places visited in the past, so I needed to find one I had overlooked. Ah ha! The chosen one is a very old (and rather grubby) fabric doll I bought in Japan, when living and teaching in Nara, several years ago. It was a special time, as an old friend from New Zealand had come to stay for a week or so, and we enjoyed tripping about when I had time off work.

the approach to Hōryū-ji

Adrienne was a great planner, and this day we were going into Nara from Ikoma (20 minute train ride) then a bus (a stop and start hour), to take us to Hōryū ji, the oldest surviving wooden complex of its type in Japan, founded by Prince Shōtoko in 670. It did have a nasty mishap around that time when it was seriously damaged by lightning. Fortunately the central buildings were reconstructed, some 1,300 or so years back. The kondō (main hall) is recognised as the world’s oldest wooden building. In 1993 the complex was recognised as Japan’s first UNESCO World heritage site under ‘Buddhist Monuments’ in the Hōryū-ji area, and we felt most fortunate to visit such a large and illustrious site.

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An interesting encounter

Whenever I read a regular post by someone from Brittany, I am immediately taken back several years, when I met two men from that region. I had been staying with a friend in the fabulous Villefranche-sur-mer, on the southern French Coast, when she suggested we visit some nearby gardens she had spotted in a tourist magazine. Hanbury Gardens. Old, and of historic interest. The images looked beautiful, so I said “why not?” and we planned our trip for the next day, Saturday.

Me on left, all ready to go.

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Punakaiki to Nelson

At Punakaiki Rocks

We continued our West Coast travel northwards. The weather was no better by the time we reached Punakaiki, and it was clear I wasn’t going on any horse trek here. I have only ridden a few times, but always thought that I’d like to learn to do it properly – some day. Probably never now. And then there was the scenic flight over the glaciers which quickly became an unfilled whim, but once we walked around the Punakaiki (or Pancake) rocks, we held no remorse for losing those dreams.

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Franz Josef to Punakaiki

It is true, that the weather was lousy the day we drove to Franz Josef, and the road flooded in patches, but we arrived safe and sound at the Alpine Glacier Motel. It was hard to realise that mountains surrounded us, as the sky had lowered to road level. Rain, and hunger saw us drive to Alice May’s restaurant for dinner (although it was a mere 5min walk), for rain continued to fall. This is THE place to go to dine, for three reasons: the friendly staff, whitebait omelet, and to read the legend of Alice May. One of twelve children, from Hawkes Bay. She worked as a hotel maid, fell pregnant, and was rejected by her lover when she lost the baby, when he’d originally promised marriage. She shot and killed the man, and was imprisoned. The Socialist feminist movement petitioned widely for her release, and she was, six years later. Later, after moving to the South Island, she married Charles O’Loughlin and they had six children together. Jennie O’Loughlin, the owner of Alice May’s restaurant, is one of Alice’s many grandchildren. Amazing story.

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Down South again

Last week, Kerry and I headed off for another South Island adventure, with family this time. No bike riding, but a train trip on the TranzAlpine, through the Southern Alps to the West Coast. On the day we left home I dressed for the cold, boots and all, as Christchurch, our first destination, is always colder than Auckland in winter. On the plane, I felt like a swaddled babushka and sweated in my seat, while I looked out in awe at the snow-clad Kaikoura Mountains on the East Coast. What stunning views. And luckily I had the window seat. And, yes, I was the photographer this time.

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South Island Trip: Part Three, Doubtful Sound

Map of Fiordland National Park

We were heading to Doubtful Sound for the last leg of the trip; which involved more of an adventure than we bargained on. First up was a short flight on a small plane from Alexandra Airport to Manapouri Airport. Mm, the weather wasn’t shaping up well, although we were all keen to get going. There was a huddle of ‘powers that be’ at Alexandra airport as we looked out at downcast skies, and a decision was made. We would take off, and IF things got a little turbulent we would land at Queenstown, disembark and board a shuttle to Lake Manapouri. Let’s just say that short flight was a little curly, and with a very sharp dip and audible intakes of breath, we landed at Queenstown, relieved to set foot on terra firma and to travel by bus.

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South Island trip: Part Two, cycling in Central Otago

Chris from Central Cycle Trail, Clyde with our bikes

This blog recounts our three-day cycle experience, travelling on different trails in Central Otago. There were five couples and tour leader Gerard in our group. All had biking experience, and with e-bikes, which was good. On our first day, it was cool to start, but a fine day, and all were eager to get going. First, we were shuttled, with our bikes on a trailer, to Oturehua, and the start of our ride.

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South Island trip: Part One, Central Otago

Schematic map of our trip

After considerable discussion my husband and I said ‘let’s do it! to what looked like a fabulous nine day trip to Otago & Fiordland over the Easter period – a trip which offered cycling, flights in small planes, canoeing, boat rides in idyllic places and wonderful hotel stays. Add great food to that list. How could we not go? We tried not to out-guess what we’d find, as we packed our gear, and just accept what came our way. We both felt so fortunate to be able to travel.

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The aftermath

A shadow of my former self

I have done little since returning from the family holiday, as I arrived home ill, and still feel a shadow of my former self, three weeks on. Such great plans I had: to get cracking on my new novel, sketch and sketch some more, but for anyone who understands what exhaustion feels like, you’ll understand. I have also been wanting to write a substantial post on art, writing or similar, but that is yet to come. All I have to offer are a few pen sketches and a short excursion to talk about.

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