The joy of independent bookshops

Independent bookshops are such an endangered species in the face of the relentless march of online shopping. How lovely, then, to find two very different indie bookshops in Auckland.

The Women’s Bookshop in Posonby has become a go-to place if you want to find good and interesting books of all kinds. Their purpose is to promote women’s writing and to provide a range of books that meets the diverse interests of women, though there are many male authors represented there and many male customers too. Everyone likes the different focus here.  I enjoyed the hand-written mini-reviews of many of the books on display. This review task is clearly shared among the staff as each one is signed. The walls, where not covered in books, present articles about women writers’ lives and achievements. Generally this is an uplifting place – do bring your credit card as it is hard to leave empty-handed.

Another amazing institution is the ‘Hard to find’ secondhand bookshop in Onehunga. Keeping part of the orignal window from its time as a fruiterer’s, it’s a maze of small rooms and under-stair spaces with books on subjects ‘from the rare to the recent’ as their blurb says. So bookworms will never be bored in Auckland!


A loo with a view – on Tiritiri Matangi Island

Yes, I should write more like a travel writer – maybe – and less like a loo-obsessed nomad, but this is too good not to share.

The travel guide bit first: Tiritiri Matangi is a wildlife sanctuary, just a ferry ride from Auckland. It’s a magical place where volunteers are an essential part of its establishment and continuing maintenance. It is free of mammals which prey on native birds so rare native birds are safe here. They don’t know to be scared of humans so you can walk among them and enjoy their calls and their antics.

Everything about the island is eco-friendly – of necessity as well as because that is the ethos of the place. This was my second visit and it was even more magical because I knew the history of the place and what to look out for in terms of the birds.

The toilets are set a little bit away from the visitor centre and I admired the view while I waited for my turn. It was a sociable wait, with much chatting about walking sandals and comparing views from other toilets. The most spectacular loo-view I have seen was in Ethiopia in 2009 but this one comes a respectable second.


House-sitting: a win-win solution

I have (temporarily) reinvented myself as a house-sitter here in New Zealand. It seems a perfect way to get free accommodation in exchange, usually, for a bit of pet care and giving the house a lived-in look. My charges are a cat and a goldfish. Neither are very challenging though the cat seems to have trouble remembering that I don’t wish to be clawed when she sits on me. Cats like to stay at home – they don’t seem much to mind who feeds them, as long as they are fed and can sit on a lap in the evening. The goldfish is even less demanding – and prettier!

No money changes hands in a typical house-sit. I was amazed at how competitive it is, though. This is a reflection of the huge problems people in so many countries have in getting a home of their own. They spend many years in insecure housing situations, staying with parents, friends, etc. House-sitting gives them a space of their own while they save up for a deposit or get their finances back on track. When I started looking for a ‘sit’ I thought that house-owners would be pleased to hear from me. Not a bit of it. You have to make a pitch with your first response to their advert (it is normally arranged via a website) and make your offer stand out – just like applying for a job. Once I learnt that I had more success.

I’ve had a lovely time in an airy and bright house with ‘my’ cat and fish. In the next week I will add the neighbour’s cats to my duties. I am becoming a bit of a community resource which feels just fine. I am sure that some arrangements don’t work out but most of them do and, when they do, everyone wins.


Christmas Eve – French style in Auckland

What a lovely way to spend Christmas Eve! We went shopping in the French Market in Auckland. As well as an outdoor area full of fascinating stalls (Sicilian liqueurs, Italian pasta and, of course, various patisseries) there is an indoor food area. We had the best coffee along with a chocolate tart that was just to die for. To add to the ambience a French family were chatting at the next table. The main speaker looked very French. As you know, I am getting more and more intrusive with my camera but, even with my bad manners, this was the best image I could capture. He wore a striped top and a flat cap – deliciously French.

Laden with goodies to top up our already-full fridge and cupboards, we then had lunch on the Auckland waterfront, which is such a lovely public space, shared by diners, families and just people enjoying the start of the holidays.


Great bus services in New Zealand

West Coast view

I must give a ‘shout-out’ for Intercity buses in New Zealand. I know that there are other companies and I am sure they are great but the Intercity ones really do go that extra mile … or two.

In my experience over two weeks of travel, the drivers introduce themselves and give a bit of chat about the areas we are passing through. They make sure that they have the correct number of passengers before moving off from all of the numerous comfort or food stops. But, to cap it all, if it is raining, the driver will take you home. When I arrived at Franz Josef it was raining cats and dogs. At the penultimate stop, the driver asked each person where they were staying. He then mapped out a route around the town and dropped everyone to the door of their hostel, motel or hotel. I gather that this is not an isolated incident.

Another driver, on arrival in Nelson, where it was not raining, stood by the bus directing everyone to where they were staying. This was after a 12 hour working day for him. Bravo these drivers! Go Intercity!


Orange is the new Black

Coordination in orange

It seems that orange is now the colour of choice of young backpackers – well the ‘parents’ money’ group anyway. I have no problem with the colour – it’s fine. My attention was drawn to it, however, by a petulant young ‘miss’ on one of my long-distance buses here in New Zealand. Apart from her entertaining (if you were not the driver) behaviour, I was mesmerised by her coordinating flip-flops, rucksack and laptop. It was a bit rude to take photos of her but I hope you get the idea from this image. Whoever heard of coordinating your laptop with your shoes? Maybe I have just lived too sheltered a life.

When joining the bus she seemed alarmed that there would not be a food stop for four hours. She complained that she hadn’t eaten today (it was 2 pm). When the driver asked why, she explained that she hadn’t had time. He was a gentleman so did not comment that she’d obviously had time to do her make-up, though dressing wouldn’t have taken her very long. When she was given 10 minutes to go to a shop, she returned with the complaint that they had no ‘normal’ food. She then ate her purchase, which was a sandwich. At the next (toilet) stop, she found a supermarket and seemed pleased to have ‘won’ some kind of battle with the bus driver – the most patient man you could meet. From her shopping bag she produced and ate a punnet of strawberries – this is, presumably, her ‘normal’ food. I am sure her parents feel that their money is being well spent on her travelling experiences.


No bike locks

otago_mini_collageI just finished the Central Otago Rail Trail – a great New Zealand cycle trip of 150 Kms. It’s flat, easy and magical – especially when completed over five leisurely days. There were many amazing things about it – the landscape, the skies, the rurality

Perfect lunch spot

but perhaps the most unusual was the lack of bike locks or any need of them. We could just park the bikes anywhere and they were perfectly safe.

Lunch was always a lovely mini picnic. Coffee stops were often had before we had biked very far – a record low was 100 metres. I was so sad when the trip was finished but other adventures beckon.


Te Anau – a well-hidden secret

Icabbagetree_snow_laketeanau can’t resist a post about this gorgeous town between Queenstown and Milford Sound – both of which are well-written-about. This is a great town and I stayed in the recommendable YHA hostel. It’s not clear that it is so easy to pick up a Milford Sound tour from here – the buses all stop for a break and you can book it from here, rather than Queenstown. That was hard information for me to find but I got there.

Lunch spot

I took a guided bike tour of the lake area this morning and was the only client. Apart from a wild wind, which would not have been out of place in the Outer Hebrides, it was a glorious morning. There’s been snow in the past few days so the mountains are delicious (that is when you are not trying to walk them). Cycling at lake level was a wise choice.

Quintin McKinnon

The Scots have been here, of course. There is a statue to Quintin McKinnon who was paid to explore routes here in the 1880s. In an unusually honest account of him in the little museum, he is described as having a fondness for a drop and having abandoned his wife and family. He had a colourful but short life (1851-1892). On a cheerier note we were lucky to see a Takeha couple and chick. This endangered flightless (there’s a clue right there) bird was thought to be extinct but survives up here and is being protected. Magic to see the mum feeding the chick. There is a long story about this but I will spare you as I favour short postings on this blog!


A giant Scotland

Lake Wakatipu

I flew into Queenstown today – very far south in New Zealand. What stunning scenery!  The light feels very bright, even when cloudy and then raining. Other than that it feels very like Scotland, though a very large-scale Scotland, but the air feels like the European Alps. So I am all confused. Then it rained and I felt instantly at home and glad of my decision to eat in.

chilly_weddingFor a town that really is very far away from most other places, let’s be real about this, it’s a ‘happening’ place. It has become a centre for outdoor extreme stuff and also for a place to hang out and party (if you are a lot younger than me). This brave couple were cold but the bride’s warm coat was waiting for her just out of shot.

I am delighted with my hostel which has a free spa pool – just hop in and chat to the others …. er … I went for the free soup instead, though you could have both, though not really at the same time.  My dorm has its own kitchenette – all very convenient, specially when it is raining hard out there. I can see how the Scots of old felt quite at home here.

Milford Sound tomorrow. Chilly too.