It’s just a hill, get over it…

To get to my sister’s home town in Golden Bay, you have to climb over Takaka Hill. And when you reach there, people routinely talk about “going over the hill” in the same way others would talk about going overseas, as in “oh, I don’t think I’ll be going over the hill this week/month/any time before Easter”! To be fair, although it only takes just under an hour in good weather, the journey between Motueka and Takaka in Golden Bay is pretty spectacular, not unlike the hairpin-heavy mountain passes leading to Alpine ski resorts, and features as one of the world’s most exciting and dangerous roads to drive.

But the journey is totally worth it, the scenery all around is spectacular, the weather its own Mediterranean microclimate and the atmosphere is as laid back as a Greek olive grove in the late afternoon sun. Takaka itself is like entering into a hippy time warp, where shopkeepers are open to bartering, swapping and “lay-by” purchase-in-instalment arrangements, hand-painted signs and murals everywhere you look (even the corrugated iron walls of the Freshchoice supermarket sport a mural) whilst barefoot travellers laze around, playing music and making art and jewellery.
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Wonderful birds of NZ

I have seen so many wonderful birds in New Zealand in my first few days here: Australasian harriers, kingfishers, three different species of shearwater, storm petrels walking on the water, a couple of blue penguins out at sea,  and yesterday my first fantail. I haven’t managed to capture all of them on camera (harriers and kingfisher seen whilst driving!) but here are a few of those that I have. 

Fluttering shearwater
Storm petrel, or JC bird’ walking on water!
Pukeko (purple swamp hen) & chick
Hmm. Is this a young dunnock? If not, then what?
Spur-winged plover
Australasian black backed gull
Pied shag roosting
Australasian gannet
Blue penguin
Pied shag
Pied oystercatcher
Pied oystercatchers
Variable oystercatcher
Red billed gull
Myna bird

Whose land is it anyway? 

To get to Paihia is a good three hours’ drive from Auckland airport. Once I left the main city suburbs the land gets greener, as the road twists and turns through wooded forests with the ubiquitous Myna birds hopping by the roadside and once an Australian harrier floats across and over the trees. The land seems parched – on a stretch of road just south of Whangarei, the acrid smell of smoke permeates the car, and a helicopter flies overhead dragging an enormous bucket – it’s one of two urgently ploughing back and forth into the river and dragging water across to put out a bush fire.

I cross the brow of a steep hill and there! A beautiful sparkling bay studded with tiny wooded islands glints in the late evening sun. I lean that the Te Reo (Maori) name of this place Paihia means “Good Here”.
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I’m an alien…

It’s been a longish flight already, and we’re about to start our descent into Dubai to refuel when the woman in the seat in front of me turns around and asks me to hold her hands. Quick, quick, she says, put your hand here. I instinctively obey, and place one hand on top of hers, and the other below. There are slivers of paper on her hands between ours – they’re intricately patterned henna tattoos, and she needs help getting them to stick! She moves around, plonks herself next to me, and tells me she’s on her way to Somalia to see her mother. Born there herself, Sehara has lived and worked for the last 27 years in East London, whilst bringing up four kids. But this lovely, friendly, hard working woman is on Donald Trump’s Muslim ban hit list, should she ever try to visit her brother in the States right now.

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