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.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Wellington details

So now that we have been in Wellington about three weeks, what kinds of things have we done?

Our second night here we discovered that every Monday both of the Irish pubs that are in the nearby Courtney Place entertainment district have Irish music sessiuns (their spelling) with musicians coming in to jam together informally: fiddles, accordions, pipes, drums, singing. It was lovely to sit and listen to. We just went back last night; it is a nice option for a Monday night. We were sitting near enough to the musicians today to find out that they all sounded Irish when they talked too.

There has been an International Film Festival here during these three weeks, so we ended up going to 2 documentaries and 2 American films that we had not seen at home. First we saw Burma VJ, about the demonstrations in Rangoon in 2007, particularly by the monks, and the underground journalists filming them and smuggling the footage out of the country to BBC and CNN. Then we saw Synecdoche, NY, which is a strange movie with a great performance by Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Now that I am writing a journal and posting a blog, I can kind of understand the self-referential and spiraling nature of the story, but the mood was too depressing. Later we saw Youth Without Youth by Francis Ford Coppola, which although also a strange movie, we liked much better. Both movies are about growing old and dying, but very different. Youth Without Youth was not depressing, I think partly because there were places were the main character took the chance to do what he thought was right. In the other movie the main character was very passive, except for turning everything that happened to him into the theater piece he was working on, ad infinitum. Finally, we saw Trouble The Waters, about one family’s experience of Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath. I won’t try and describe it, but I would recommend both documentaries if you can get them on Netflix.

We have been to the National Museum, Te Papa, a number of times. It is just a short walking distance away on the harbor, so we can go and not get tired from trying to see too much. They have a program every Thursday evening, plus other lectures. Their big exhibit at the moment is Monet, which we have not gone to yet. We are waiting to time it with a floor talk. We went to a lecture about Einstein, Quantum Mechanics, and the Large Hadron Collider by a professor from Oxford. The main new thing I learned is that when Einstein was first working at the patent office, technology to synchronize clocks, particularly for trains, was a big deal, which is probably part of what got him thinking about his thought experiment with time relativity. The lecture also included talk about Einstein’s appreciation of music and violin, so there were interludes of violin playing built into the lecture. We have also been to one Monet/Impressionism themed evening, with a floor talk in their art gallery about the influence of Impressionism on New Zealand painters and also English and Scottish pictures in their collection, two other lectures about New Zealand and Impressionism, and one about Katherine Mansfield’s use of Impressionist imagery, and finally a pair of piano duets. We don’t have enough data yet to say that all NZ lectures incorporate music, but it seems like a great idea.

Live music has definitely been the most prevalent art form for this month. We have been to two performances by the NZ School of Music. One was a combination program with their Gamelan Orchestra and their Jazz Choir. Some of the gamelan was by itself and one piece included a song translated from the Indonesian. The choir sang 2 pieces a cappella but with a gamelan beat. It was a very interesting program. Later we heard the school Symphony Orchestra play “Romantic Masterpieces” by Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, and Dvorak. We also heard the Bach Choir perform Jesu, Meine Freude by Bach and the St. Nicholas Mass by Haydn.

We have also been to the Museum of Wellington. It is a small museum but very well organized. It is the kind of place where I want to read and look at almost every exhibit, so I have not gotten very far though it yet. It has a spooky but cool hologram show about some Maori myths. It is on a small but real stage where these foot tall hologram people recreate the stories. They are very real looking which is the spooky, yet cool, part.

We took a tour of their Parliament Buildings, which was neat because we had just done a tour of Congress before we left the States. New Zealand has just one legislative chamber, and also most administration is under Parliament. What we think of as the Executive, I guess would be the Governor General appointed by the Queen. Although he signs off on laws, I believe his function is mostly ceremonial and very little functional.

There was a quilt show at the Fine Arts Center which I enjoyed very much. It was part of a Biennial Convention that one of our guests was participating in. It was fun each morning to find out what her workshop had done the previous day.

And the neat thing about all of this is that all these activities were within easy walking distance from our house! I suppose we could be doing as much stuff at home, but we would have to be driving or taking the Metro. Of course, if we were home there would be a lot more to do around the house. Here the living space is small, so even though we have to clean between guests, it doesn’t take very long. There is frequent laundry, of course, and New Zealanders are very into using solar/wind technologies for drying clothes – known as a clothes line. I have bought some lettuce, spinach and chard plants for a winter garden, and there is a composter to tend to. We still get to harvest an occasional winter squash, tomato or strawberry from the summer garden, which is nice.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Wellington overview

Our first full day in Wellington was Sunday March 29, so we have been here a little more than two weeks. Today I will try and give a general description of our life here, and the next post will have more details about things we have done and places we have seen.

The Quaker Centre where we are staying is a complex of three buildings at the end of a short cul-de-sac. The Meeting House is a square brick building built in 1929 sitting on a terrace slightly raised above the street. In the center is a new building – it was not here when we were last here in 1990 – with an office and garages at street level and a community room upstairs where people gather for tea after meeting. It gets a lot of sun from its north facing windows – a solar orientation that I am still getting used to in the southern hemisphere. George Fox House, where we live, is on the right. Our apartment occupies the front of the house – living/dining/kitchen room on the right, and bedroom on the left, with bathroom and laundry room behind it. The two guest rooms, with two single beds each, are in the middle of the building with a separate entrance. There is an apartment in the back with about 5 students living in it, but we don’t have any responsibility for their living space. Our guests come in for breakfast – coffee/tea, cereal, fruit, and/or toast – between 7:30 and 9:00. We have had 1 – 2 guests every day, except for three days off about a week ago. So by 10 am, we are free to go out and about as we wish. We need to be back here in the evening if a new guest is arriving. Although either the Meeting House or the Quaker Centre is used by a community group almost every week night, they have their own keys, and we only have to make sure everything is locked up at night.

Wellington sits on a harbor that is shaped like a backwards J, so it actually faces north. There are many hills, although most of the areas we walk around are pretty level. Mount Victoria, the name of our neighborhood, or suburb as they call them here, rises behind us as the first hill on the eastern side of the city. From our house it is only about a six block walk and we are in the restaurant/entertainment district. Lots of coffee shops, restaurants of all kinds, bars, and theaters. Stretching for another kilometer, either along the streets or the waterfront, is the business/finance/shopping/government district. If we go the other direction, we can walk along the waterfront for miles – although we have only gone a little way until the restaurants run out. There is an indoor public swimming pool with sauna and hot tub on this quay that we plan to check out. In the business district there is a cable car that will take you up to the university and further up to the Botanical Garden which is on the hilltop opposite to Mount Victoria.
So almost every day we walk somewhere, usually together but sometimes separately, sometimes just to pick up groceries. For a downtown, it is actually very convenient that there is a large supermarket within about six blocks, a Sam’s Club type store within about four, and hardware or electronics stores also close by. We try to confine ourselves to eating out only every third day, but it is very hard – there are so many good restaurants!
The National Museum, called Te Papa, is within easy walking distance on the harbor. And there are also a number of smaller, more specialized museums. There has been a film festival for the last 2 weeks, so we have gone to 5 films. Also, 2 lectures with musical interludes, 3 concerts, and 2 jam sessions of Celtic musicians at the 2 Irish pubs. We have been lucky enough to be loaned a car by a meeting member who is in England for 6 months, so we have taken 2 excursions out of town.
Meeting for Worship on Sunday is at 10:30 with 25 – 30 people attending. We did not go the day we arrived, so we have been to 2 worships. It is strange to have Easter as a harvest festival rather than a spring holiday, although in fact no one made any seasonal reference at all during Meeting; it was just something I thought about. There is also a 12:15 Meeting for Worship on Wednesday with 6 – 7 attending and sharing lunch afterwards. With the tea after worship on Sunday, we are starting to meet people and remember names. In addition, there is a Monday night study group (6 people) following a British course on Quakerism called Hearts and Minds. On the second Sunday there is singing at 9:30, a new development, and family worship and a shared meal (potluck) on the third Sunday. And a group called Slightly Older Young Friends which meets once a month at night. The meeting is probably slightly weighted towards older members, but there are also a goodly number of people younger than us too. There do not seem to be a lot of families with children though, but the family meeting got bumped a week because of Easter, so we shall see. We have our own support group of two people that we have met with twice. We are starting to get some invitations out, so we are starting to get to know people better. I think it should evolve well.
We have been having excellent fall weather. It has only rained hard one day, and most days are a mix of sun and clouds. It rarely gets warmer than 70 even in the summer, so I would say the warmest days have been around 65 – 68. However, Wellington is famous for its winds, so it often feels cooler. I have put in some lettuce, chard, and spinach in the little vegetable garden, and we have harvested some herbs, 1 tomato, and 2 strawberries!
More details later. I love to get emails from home and friends, so write!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Last week in Australia

Since I am so behind on my postings, I will try and finish up quickly.

The weather was not great in Queensland, so we decided to head back to New South Wales where we had really liked the beaches. Friday March 20 we drove 600 kilometers and stayed at a campground outside Nambour on what is known as the Sunshine coast. It poured rain on and off all night. The next day we drove past Brisbane, pronounced Brisbin, without stopping. Here it is thru the car window.

We then took the coast road over to the town of Surfers Paradise. Think Miami Beach, except that I have never been to Miami. This is called the Gold Coast and it is 20 or more kilometers of high rises along a gorgeous wide beach with surfers and surfing schools and swimmers alternating down the coast. So we strolled along and thoroughly enjoyed the scene, and then ate lunch at an Indian restaurant. We camped that night at the south end of this stretch of beach in Burleigh Heads. The headland itself is still reasonably undisturbed bush, so we took the nature trail back around to the beach and town for an evening walk. We discovered that hundreds of lorikeets like to settle in the pines along the beach at night. The sound was deafening! It would make a great movie sound for an alien invasion.

Before continuing south the next day, we took a side trip to Springbrook National Park. Twenty million years ago, this area, mostly just south of the border into New South Wales, was once a huge shield volcano. It has now eroded down to a circular set of ridges around Mount Warning, the highest point in eastern Australia. Here are two view pictures.

Finally we got to the end of the road at what is called Best of All Lookout. Here is what we saw.
Luckily the internet gave us a picture of what we would have seen on a clear day. If you click on the picture, it will enlarge.

On the path to the lookout, there is a grove of Antarctic beech trees. It the fog and dripping forest, they are very eerie. Of course they haven’t grown in the Antarctic for millions of years, but they still exist in a few pockets in Australia. They recently discovered another tree that was thought to have gone extinct millions of years ago in a deep river gorge just a few miles outside of Sydney. We saw an example of that in the Botanical Gardens in Sydney. Don’t know if they are trying to grow these beeches anywhere else.

So after these wonderful views we continued south and returned to our favorite spot, Emerald Beach for four nights and three full days. I have to say that this north end of NSW is the prettiest countryside that we drove through. The mountains are close enough to the sea to form a lovely backdrop, and the hills and vegetation are very inviting.

I have already talked about Emerald Beach, so I will just say that these days we hiked around the beaches and headlands and swam in the ocean and the pool. We got up at dawn two mornings to see the sunrise. The first morning it was clear enough to see a really brilliant green flash as the sun peeped over the horizon. I have had trouble seeing this at sunset in the Caribbean, although everyone talks about it. I think it may be easier to see at dawn when it is the first light than at sunset when your eyes are semi-blinded by the sun as it goes down. We saw various mobs of kangaroos feeding in the evening on the headlands, and a foot long iguana on the trail to the beach. We spent one day in Coff’s Harbour, once the banana growing center of Australia. The Botanical Garden was pleasant to walk through, and they have converted a WW2 bunker into the Bunker Cartoon Gallery, which had an exhibit of women’s art from around the world. Wednesday March 25 was Ron’s birthday, so we had a gourmet dinner at the fancy restaurant at Emerald Beach.

Ironically, although we had great weather, we read the next week in the newspaper that Coffs Harboour got 44.5 centimeters of rain and the Bellingen river flooded at 8 meters!

We decided for our last full day in Australia, we would return to Sydney, so Thursday we drove 550 K to a camper park right in a nature reserve in a north suburb. The people at he campground sold us an all day train/ferry/bus pass, so we walked to the train station and arrived downtown with one switch. We decided to go to the zoo first, which is a pleasant 12 minute ferry ride. In particular, we wanted to see those iconic Australian animals that we hadn’t seen in the wild, like koalas, dingoes, Tasmanian devil, and platypuses. The zoo also had a number of bird enclosures, although it is still hard to spot a lot of birds in there, even though they had signs around with pictures to help. So here are a lot of zoo pictures.

We had a lot of fun and ended by riding the cable car back to the ferry dock. When we got back to Sydney, we decided it was too late to go to a museum, so we grabbed a quick lunch and took a ferry that went all the way up the Parramatta River that Sydney is on. It was like having a free cruise, since we were using our day pass. When we got back two hours later, we took a different ferry to Darling Harbour, where we had wine and an appetizer at a fancy Indian restaurant called Zaafran’s, although it’s pronounced saffron. Then we walked back to Central Rail Station and took the train back to our campground. We felt we got full use of our all day passes!

Saturday, March 28, we had to return the camper van, but we had time in the morning for a side trip to the town of Parramata to take a picture of the gravesite of an early Australian missionary, another research interest of Ron’s. This also let us avoid the harbor tunnel or bridge, and may have been easier driving. Anyway, we got the van back in good time to collect our other bags, move clothes around, and get to the airport with a comfortable margin before flying out to New Zealand. The airline stewardesses even told us that they were turning as many lights off in the plane cabin as they could in honor of the Earth Hour at 8:30.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Tropics At Last

It is now Tuesday March 17, and we have left Maryborough and are heading north through the coastal plains of Queensland. The landscape looks a little more tropical because there are now fields of sugar cane, as we are going to go through, but not stop at, Bundaberg, the home of bad rum and good ginger beer. I never find out if they mix the two into a cocktail.

We are aiming for the little town of Agnes Water, 130 kilometers further up the coast. We find it has a lovely park at the beach where we eat lunch and swim. The surf is gentler than at Emerald Beach, but even so, like every beach in Australia, there are surfers. Actually, once we get inside the Great Barrier Reef, there is no longer any surfing, I am told. The different color flags tell you where to swim safely where there are lifeguards.

We check out the campgrounds between Agnes Water and the Town of 1770, where Captain Cook first landed in Queensland and decide to stay at the Captain Cook Campground. Unfortunately, the walk to the beach is 800 meters through coastal scrub. We discover that this is a long distance, especially as we are only wearing sandals. Ron’s give him a blister. However, all is forgiven when we check out their restaurant for an evening cocktail. We pick up a small order of French fries (chips) to go with our dinner salad for 3.50. The box of fries I am given would fit about 4 large orders of McDonalds fries in it! We see our first kookaburra and our first bush turkey. It is too dark to get a good picture of the turkeys, which look a lot like American ones except for they have no wattle. But the kookaburra sits patiently for its portrait.

By the time we leave the campground Wednesday morning, we realize we have also been introduced to Australian sand fleas. Some of the bites that I scratched still have not healed.

Finally, later Wednesday morning we reach Rockhampton, which sits on the Tropic of Capricorn. It is also the Beef Capital of Queensland, so there are lots of statues of cattle around in different colors, kind of like Washington had donkeys and elephants a couple of years ago.

Here are Ron and I sitting on either side of the line of the Tropic of Capricorn.

We drive over to the coast as far as Yeppoon looking for campgrounds. We stop at a very nice picnic area on a long stretch of beach. In many ways it reminds me of picnic spots along Lake Michigan. However, the weather is cloudy and blowing hard, which makes the beach totally uninviting. We stay at a campground nearby that is about a quarter mile away from the ocean and has a pool. We find that we are also sharing the camp kitchen with a group of Catholic middle school students and teachers. They are there for a regional sports competition. Although in some ways it feels ironic to be in the middle of all these kids, we actually enjoy talking with the teachers and following their progress.

Finally, on March 19, we take a day tour of Great Keppel Island to get a bit of an experience of reef life. Unfortunately, the weather is not good – intermittent drizzle and blustery. But we dress appropriately and most of the time it is not raining. There are only 13 passengers on the large catamaran that takes us out to the island, and only nine of us on the tour. (The island also has various resorts and lodges for people to stay overnight.) It is just a half hour trip across a very choppy sea. After tea and some free time to walk on the beach, we go out in a glass bottom boat to look at coral. The wind and waves restrict where we can look, and the clouds and turbulence means that visibility under water is limited, but still we see some interesting coral and learn something of the ecosystem. We see very few fish. We then return to the big boat, which takes us around the island to an uninhabited, and sheltered, area.

Some people snorkel, but Ron and I elect to walk around. Seeing that some trash has been blown into the bush by the storm, we end up getting plastic bags and picking up trash! Not that much, thank goodness, but it feels good. Then lunch on the boat - barbequed tofu for us veggies. The boat then proceeds slowly down the coast of the island trailing what they call a boom net which the swimmers grab on to or sit on and are pulled by the boat. Much hilarity for both swimmers and audience.

Finally we go to an abandoned marine research station that acts as an artificial reef and the crew throws food out to the fish which come darting in schools to the surface to eat. It is actually more interesting than I expect.

Luckily, the trip back to the mainland is not nearly as choppy as the morning ride because we are going with the waves. It rains most of the evening and all night. The next day – the Equinox! – we decide we have had enough of tropical rains and head back down the coast to look for beaches and sunshine.