In 2012 I retired again and we are traveling in Europe. In 2009 Ron and I retired and we volunteered at Quaker Meeting House in Wellington, New Zealand for a year.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


It has been a fairly quiet month, but I will bring this blog up to date now because for the next month we have various family members visiting, so there should be lots to write about. I also find the digital camera very helpful in remembering what we did when, and making these entries more interesting. Full credit goes to Ron as the primary photographer.

Our main outing this month was another train trip up to Carterton in the Wairarapa valley to visit our friend Craig from Meeting. The weather in Wellington had been windy and rainy, but Carterton, only an hour and a quarter away, was lovely that day. Craig drove us out to Castle Point, a little more than an hour due East on the coast through some pretty farm land and coastal hills. There is a small village of summer houses (called baches, short for bachelor pads) facing a lovely curved beach, a lighthouse, a lagoon and then the very tall headland of Castle Point, named by Captain Cook. On the drive back we got caught up in a flock of sheep being moved back to their paddock after shearing. One guy was on a small tractor at the barn end, with his dog persuading one recalcitrant sheep to join the flock. Most of the sheep seemed to know the gate they were supposed to head to, but there was one other fellow, also with his dog and also on a small tractor, at the far end, just in case. We had a nice late lunch in Masterton and then caught a 4:00 train back home.

I don’t have pictures of it, but we had fun going down to the harbor on Guy Fawkes Day (Nov. 5) for fireworks, a well done 20 minute show. It was nice having fireworks without the nationalistic overtones, even Ron liked it.

Our premier musical event was going to a performance by a Sumatran couple at Victoria University. Their group is called Suarasama. They have been artists in residence there for 3 months. We had seen them perform at Te Papa, and then they had also come to do a concert for the local primary school because one of the teachers there plays in the University’s gamelan orchestra. It was through her that I found out about their farewell performance, otherwise it was not widely publicized. We took these pictures while they were setting up. The concert was a very fun and interesting fusion of a lot of music. Two pieces were done in combination with Celtic musicians, a couple with different Indian musicians, and one with the gamelan orchestra. Gamelan is not a Sumatran tradition, it is Javanese. There were also some modern piano pieces played by some other artists in residence. It was a wonderful example for the value of this kind of program for both the guest artists and the local ones because of all the cross cultural fertilization. They also were clearly having a lot of fun! We bought one of their CDs.

Just recently, Wellington was host to the New Zealand premier for Peter Jackson’s latest film, The Lovely Bones. We had other commitments, so we didn’t stand around to watch the stars arrive, but we did enjoy watching the preparations. A major street and those leading up to it were shut off for the day and a red carpet laid for a couple of blocks. Apparently Susan Sarandon thought it was supposed to be summer, so she walked down barefoot in a sleeveless black dress, and had to cut short her autograph signing because she was shivering from the cold wind.

Christmas preparations are going on all around us. It very nice being half a world away from any responsibility for present exchanges! There are a few lights up and the occasional Salvation Army band. The main natural phenomenon associated with Christmas here is the blooming of the pohutakara trees. They can grow to be a large spreading, multi-trunked tree, and they become covered with red blossoms. It is a bristly sort of flower close up because they are related to the bottle brush trees. We know that the first Maori arrived in December or January because the story goes that they were so astounded by what they thought were all the red feathered birds in the trees that at least one chief threw his feather cloak into the bay, figuring that he could make a new and better one here. The story goes that some lesser member of the crew fished it out, but refused to return it when the chief realized his mistake. There is a Maori folk saying along the lines of: a cloak gone is gone, a cloak found is found.

The city has set up a 7 story Christmas tree of lights which constantly change pattern. They positioned a mass of bean bag chairs underneath it so that you can sit looking upwards. It is surprisingly neat.

Finally here is a little random sampling of pictures. A chard harvest from the over-winter garden, called silverbeet here. I considered whether they would make a good Christmas tree but decided against it.

A view from the second story of a waterfront pub.

And a picture of members of the Wellington Quaker Meeting gathered to celebrate the 8oth anniversary of the Meeting House.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


The Auckland Quaker Centre is a larger, roomier, and sunnier building than the one here. On the other hand, guests stay right in the same house with the Resident Friends in Auckland, whereas here we have more privacy, with the guest rooms separate and having their own entrance. There were lots of activities during our week. Besides Sunday Meeting for Worship, we participated in two different discussion groups, one Thursday evening and one before the Wednesday noon Meeting for Worship. There was a Tuesday morning walking group, which included many of the same people as the Thursday evening discussion group, all of whom we knew from Yearly Meeting or visits to Wellington. There was also a Saturday evening shared meal and activity, which for October was decorating Christmas fruitcakes. This was a real cross-cultural experience, because we have nothing like it that I know of in the States. First, we don’t decorate fruit cake; second, I don’t think you could get similar icing. To decorate, first you roll out an almond paste icing from a can until it is big enough to drape over the cake, which is about 8 inches square, encasing and preserving it so you can store it in a cupboard until Christmas. Then you roll out sugar icing from a can until you can drape it over the almond icing. Then you take sugar icing that you have mixed with various food colors, and cut out or form shapes to stick on top. People made Santa Clauses, angels, trees, holly leaves, stars and animals. It was fun to watch.

One of the things that surprised us about Auckland is that I think of it as flat and Wellington as hilly. However, walking around Auckland, we went up and down hills much more frequently than we do walking around Wellington, so I felt we got in good shape there. Walking downtown is at least a kilometer down hill; often we took the bus or train back, but sometimes we walked. As I said before, our first day there we mostly rested up, so Friday when we were on our own, we walked downtown and went first to the Auckland Art Gallery. They had a special show of the paintings of Rita Angus, a 20th century NZ artist. I was very impressed. In some ways she reminded me of Frida Kahlo in her use of color and a somewhat flat and stylized design. There were landscapes, portraits and still lifes.

Next we walked down to the harbor and took the short ferry ride to Devonport. We walked up to the top of the hill there and had a great view of the outer bay with all its islands. The closest is the newest volcano in the Auckland region, Rangitoto, which erupted out of the sea about 600 years ago – within Maori times. Apparently each period of volcanic activity is centered around a new vent, so none of the volcanoes get very tall, but that is why there are some 40 volcanic hills within Auckland. Wellington only has an earthquake threat! After lunch, we continued walking around the town, which has many examples of 19th century NZ houses.

We went to the Auckland Museum in the Domain, a big park, twice. We enjoyed their Maori and Pacific Island wings. They also had one of the better displays on natural history and NZ evolution that I have seen. It was easy to follow and not too overwhelming. Did you know that the kiwi, about the size of a chicken, lays an egg about the same size as an ostrich’s? I also really enjoyed their exhibit on volcanoes. In one area, you are sitting in a living room with a lovely view of the harbor and Devonport while the TV is telling you about the warning signs that a volcanic eruption is imminent, so Auckland is being evacuated. Then the building shakes, the electricity goes off, the sea in front of you starts to boil, a volcano starts to appear, and then a pyroclastic wave sweeps through and we all die. Very realistic. I should think most people would move somewhere else. Of course, no one thinks it will happen in their life time. At least you do get warnings about volcanic activity. Earthquakes usually strike without warning. The Domain also has a lovely pair of conservatories, called the Winter Gardens, with orchids and other tropical plants. For some reason there is a tall plinth in the outside garden with a statue of a cat on it, which looks like it is batting at a butterfly.

Saturday, October 24, was a World Climate Day of Action, sponsored by 350 is the level of carbon in the atmosphere we should try and stay under, except that I think we have already exceeded it. A number of people from the Meeting joined a couple of hundred people on the top of Mt. Eden where there was a large 350 sign on the hillside. We could see at least one other group on another nearby hill. We sang and made noise for about an hour, and then trooped down the hill to a small festival in the park. It was fun, but I didn’t see anything in the newspaper the next day. We had also seen an interesting school kid demonstration downtown the previous day. The kids were at an intersection where the “walk” signal is for all four directions. They would wait at all four corners and when the walk signal went green, they would all cross, making noise and shouting 350. In between, on the corners, they were singing “We are the Children.” Although there seems to be a lot of grassroots concern about climate change in NZ, the recent election voted in a more conservative government, which does not want to make farmers or business pay to reduce carbon emissions.

Among other places we saw was the new Anglican Cathedral, which has the largest expanse of stained glass in the Southern Hemisphere. On the same property is an old wooden church, which is even bigger than the wooden one here in Wellington. We thought one window there depicted St. Eustatius, since it had a deer in it, but it turned out to be the Welsh St. Aidan.

The walking group went to One Tree Hill, which is a large park with many interesting trees, some old buildings, and another hill top view of Auckland. We also went to an historic home, Highwic, built by a well-to-do landowner in the 19th century.

And we saw the Rainbow Warrior memorial at the waterfront where it was bombed.

One day we took a ferry ride to one of the bigger, further out islands, Waiheke, where there is a Quaker House. It is used for retreats by individuals or small groups and has a Meeting for Worship twice a month. Monday October 26 was NZ’s Labor Day long weekend, so they were having a work weekend, and we went out to help. Ron got to cut down brush and I weeded a gravel path. We also got to walk on the beach, of course.

We returned to Wellington on the Overlander Train. Our seats were right in the back just in front of the observation seating area, so we had good views. The half way point and mid-day break was at the National Park in the center of the North Island. We had good views of two of the volcanic peaks there, but the biggest, Ruapehu, was still obscured by clouds. We caught a little snow just after we left the park.

November has been a quiet month back here in Wellington, centered around a German Film Festival in the second week, in honor of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. I won’t bother describing most of the films, because there is little chance you would see any of them. The festival’s guest of honor, Andreas Dresen, directed four of the films presented. After each film he had a question and answer session, which usually only had 25-30 people. We all started to recognize each other after a while! This kind of opportunity to interact with important people in their fields is very New Zealand, since it is such a comparatively small country where it seems like there is only one or two degrees of separation between everyone.

Today is Thanksgiving, although we are of course 16 hours in advance of the East Coast. We are going out to an evening of astronomy talks. It is a group we have not gone to before. One advantage that we do see to Thanksgiving is that at least it holds off the worst of the Christmas rush. There has been Christmas hype here since Labor Day at the end of October. It still feels strange to see the decorations and parades and such as we approach summer. Still, we are looking forward to Christmas at the beach with Cici.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Rotorua and Coromandel

For the second half of October, we arranged with Howard and Rosalind Zuses to switch Resident Friend positions, so we went to Auckland for a week while they came down here to Wellington. We took an extra four days to get there.

We took a bus to Rotorua on October 17, which was a quite comfortable way to travel and pleasant to be able to see the sights from high up and nap whenever we wanted. It was a cloudy and sometimes rainy day, so we did not get a clear view of the tall mountains, but we did have a good view driving around Lake Taupo, which I also remember from our visit 20 years ago. We had a studio room with kitchenette in Rotorua. The motel had five thermal pools, so we soaked in the spa pool with the water jets, a mineral pool, and the outdoor swimming pool. We then took a walk down to the lake, which has a large population of black swans. We walked over to the Maori Anglican Church on the lakeside, which is a very pretty wooden building. It is most notable for an etched side chapel window of Jesus. Since you are looking out over the lake, it looks like Jesus is walking on the water. It was also the warmest church we’ve been in, since hot water is piped under the floors. After dark, we walked around the grounds of the Museum and Spa. Sunday morning, we walked through the town park, which has many steam vents and hot water and mud pools, as well as rhododendrons. In fact, there are steam vents even in people’s back yards. I liked the little church so much that I went back for the Sunday service, which was quite well attended and is conducted half in Maori and half in English. Ron walked around the Museum grounds to take pictures. We will have to go back to Rotorua, because there is a lot more to see and do.

We picked up a rental car in the late morning and drove north to the Firth of Thames and the little town of Miranda, which has the largest hot mineral water pool in the Sothern Hemisphere! There were lots of families there, picnicking and having a day’s outing. Besides the large pool, there is a smaller, though still good size, hotter soaking pool. We were very content. The other thing Miranda is known for is their shorebird bird sanctuary, so in the morning we drove out there and walked around. Unfortunately, without binoculars, it was hard to know what we were seeing. Next, we headed around the bay to the Coromandel Peninsula, site of gold mining and logging in the nineteenth century. The town of Thames had many picturesque old buildings and the drive further up the coast to the town of Coromandel was very scenic. After lunch we went to Driving Creek Pottery, the studio for one of NZ’s most well known potters, Barry Brickell, which is actually best known for its 3K narrow gauge railway, which the potter also built. Ostensibly it was built to various spots where he digs out his own clay, but mostly he just likes trains. It ends at a 2 story tower high on the hill. They are also doing extensive kauri tree planting. The Coromandel was covered with these massive trees until the settlers cut almost all of them down. They can reach many hundreds of years old with 15 foot diameters. All the current logging is done on pine plantations, because of course, no one wants to wait that long to be able to harvest timber.

We then drove over the hills to the East coast to the town of Hahei and our cabin near the beach. The camp ground and the beach cove reminded us of our favorite spot in Australia, Emerald Beach, except that the temperature was 10 degrees centigrade cooler.

The next morning, we hiked up the beach and the headlands to Cathedral Cove, which has a striking tunnel under a headland and numerous small steep islands in the coves and bays, reminiscent of Cannon Beach, Oregon. The cove was used as a set at the beginning of the Prince Caspian Narnia movie.
Stopping for refreshment at a café in town, we met up with the local parrot named Piaf. We thought it belonged to the other patron whose shoulder it was sitting on, but when he left, it came over to visit with us. It stayed with us on the whole walk back to our cabin until we went by a house where someone was sitting on the porch when it finally decided to fly off. After lunch, we had time to walk to the headland at the other end of the beach, wait out a rain storm in a little cave overhang, and still drive out to Hot Water Beach at low tide. You are supposed to dig a pool in the sand which then fills with hot water. Unfortunately, it is impossible to dig a deep hole in water-filled sand, but there were a lot of people trying. We decided that it was not worth getting all sandy just to sit in four inches of hot water. We stood in various pools instead. It was interesting because one part might be very hot, and just a foot or so over it would be cool. You can also squirm your feet deeper into the sand to get hotter.

We had to leave very early the next morning to return our rental car to Rotorua and pick up a bus to Auckland, arriving about 5 pm. Howard kindly met us at the bus station, and Rosalind had a nice meal, homemade bread, and cookies ready for us at the Quaker Centre. They had a Premises Committee meeting after dinner, so we took a walk up to the top of Mount Eden. The next day we mostly rested, except that Howard took us for a walk around the neighborhood to show us where the grocery store was and such like things. They headed off around 5 pm for a flight to Wellington. I think I will write about our week in Auckland in the next entry, as this one seems about the right length.