My Top Ten #Holiday Highlights of #NewZealand’s #NorthIsland (2)

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Our very ‘private beach’ during our trip to Northland

Welcome back, everyone!

Today I continue showing you discoveries of New Zealand, through my words and pictures. Most of the photos I have selected are from my own collection. I also ‘borrowed’ a few from my fellow fine photographers John and Linden. Not too keen on selfies, I usually rely on others to put me in the picture ;-).

Now let me continue my list of Top Ten personal picks from NZ’s North Island:

6) Lakes and Huka Falls: Not only does New Zealand have some of the best coastline surrounded by the South Pacific Ocean on the one side and Tasman Sea on the other, but also it has a number of fresh water lakes in the middle of North Island, most notably Lake Taupo (largest NZ lake), and the “Lake District” near Rotorua. During our short stay overlooking Lake Taupo, we took a leisurely walk around the lake and spotted a group of black swans, seagulls and ducks swan near the shore. There were many water activities and it would have been a great place for canoeing, rafting and sailing. However, it was a windy day so we opted for a boat trip by Ernest Kemp, after many other local cruises had sold out. Despite the fear of sea sickness, we ventured on board and were able to see one of the treasures of Lake Taupo: A striking modern Maori rock carvings which can be only seen from the water at Mine Bay. The modern carvings dated from late 1970s while other smaller ones have been there much longer. The largest is a stylised image in likeness of Ngatoroirangi, a navigator who guided two Maori tribes to the Taupo area over a thousand years ago.

Huka Falls are a set of spectacular cascades on the Waikato River that drains Lake Taupo. You can take a jet boat to get to the base of the Falls, getting both thrills and soaked, or like us, taking in the views from above. The most striking thing, to me, was not the speed and volume of the falls, but the pure blue of the rushing water and the roaring sound that brought Nature closer to my heart. I had to make a few small recordings to take them home with me, and I listen to them as I write this.

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The Blue Lake

I mentioned in the previous blog that we explored a Living Maori Village in Rotorua, and this is one place which you can’t miss if you go to New Zealand. Apart from wonderful thermal pools, geysers and boiling mud pools, it is surrounded by an amazing array of lakes, the Blue and Green lakes, Lake Tarawera and it goes on. We had a quick lake-hop in our hired car but I wish I had more time than simply stopping for a few snaps before leaving this heavenly place.

7) National & Regional Parks: New Zealand is a super green country full of national and regional parks. My friend Lulu said to me that her favourite place on North Island was Tongariro National Park, and also top of recommendations of any NZ guidebooks. It was a real pity that when we drove up there, the sun which had consistently greeted us had decided to hide behind the clouds that day. There was some snow on top of the highest peak Ruapehu, and we could see it from 20 miles away. Had we had more time to take one of the many trails/hikes and had it been a better day, we could see some of the most scenic offerings. As it was, our short stop only allowed us a glimpse of the dramatic volcanic landscape, giving the feeling of being transported to a very different place. I could see Lord of the Rings in my mind’s eye.

Our plan to visit Hobbiton was derailed because it was fully booked, but we were not disappointed. There was so much else to see and every day our eyes feasted on the natural beauty and wildlife, from Oystercatchers on the beach, flittering Piwakawaka at Shakespeare Regional Park and thousands of gannets on the rocks at Muriwai Gannet Colony.

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8) Pohutukawa, also known as New Zealand Christmas Tress: New Zealand is full of trees, ancient, massive and weird looking specimens. We came across many wonderful trees, and most common of all were those that produce a brilliant red, occasionally other colours. They especially like to hang out on cliffs and by the many beaches we visited. Guess there is a bonus in visiting New Zealand during Christmas time, Pohutukawas were in abundance and with beautiful blooms, and they rewarded me with contrasting colours in fabulous photos. You can see from the slide show below the kind of trees we have seen, and from time to time, a swing which could be found in many places.

9) Waitomo Caves: One word to describe this place: MAGICAL! ‘Wai’ is the Māori word for ‘water’, and ‘tomo’ a hole in the ground. Visiting Waitomo Caves was an unforgettable experience. No photos were allowed inside the cave but we had a Maori guide whose great grandfather discovered the cave about 120 years ago. We walked through majestic caverns, limestone shafts, marvelling at the stalactites and stalagmites – one is called bungee jumping kiwi (bird) and another looks like an elephant. The tour ended with a boat ride through a grotto lit by thousands of tiny native New Zealand glowworms. I pinched one photo showing inside the cave from the Internet, but you really have to go and be awed by what you see!

10) Wedding: Here comes the main reason why we took the long haul trip to the far end of the Earth. We wanted to celebrate the special day with my Brother-in-Law Mike and his beautiful new bride who calls New Zealand home. I would like to take this opportunity to wish the newly weds every happiness and lasting love for each other. I also want to thank them, for making one of my dreams come true. New Zealand has been on my bucket list for a very long time, and their wedding in December had persuaded John, far more effectively than I ever could. Being the best man was the duty he took seriously, and definitely the icing on the cake!

The wedding venue was truly enchanting, on a headland in the stunning Mahurangi Regional Park overlooking the South Pacific Ocean, and by a massive Pohutukawa tree. It was a little cloudy on the day but still a perfect occasion for the family and friends. I know that my sister-in-law is a very private person, but I am sure that she will not mind me sharing some of the fabulous photos on the day. It was really a perfect year end to a not so perfect year, for which I will forever be grateful.

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New Zealand, a most fascinating and magical land. Two short blogs are hardly enough to include all the memorable moments we have had in the delightful three weeks we spent there. It’s without a doubt a trip of a lifetime, and next time we will be going to South Island too and we won’t be rushing back.

Let the fun, love and happiness extend to 2018 and beyond.

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Like a bird, I wish I could fly to New Zealand!

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Ciao and See You Again Soon!

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My Top Ten #Holiday Highlights of #NewZealand’s #NorthIsland (1)

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Catching a cloud, Hahei Beach, Photo credit: John Kirk

Many of my followers and friends are aware of my most recent, life-affirming winter break across the ocean at the far end of the globe: New Zealand. The journey itself was long and exhausting in a span over two days, from Birmingham, via Amsterdam and Guangzhou, with an 13 hour time difference between the UK and NZ. It was precisely because of the long distance, John once said to me: If I ever go to New Zealand, I’m not coming back!

We went, in the depth of winter on this side of the world, just before heavy snow grounded a number of international flights across the country – what a lucky escape and great timing, and we came back, reluctantly and with sadness. The air is still filled with a winter chill, but we have the most treasured memories of an unforgettable trip, with nearly four thousand pictures I took and many mini videos I have made, to share and to keep, in the tender part of my heart.

In today’s post, I will share with you some of my best loved places and happiest moments of my trip Down Under. Three weeks were hardly sufficient to explore fully this amazingly beautiful country, hence our decision to concentrate on the North Island this time. We also had a very special reason to be at the North Island in December 2017, which will be revealed towards the end of my next post, and of course, some of you on my social media networks are already in the know :-).

Without further ado, here are my top picks and recommendations, if you are ever lucky enough to pop over for a visit ;-:

  1. Bays and Beaches: Honestly I have lost count of how many bays and beaches I have been to during this trip, and as someone who loves the sea, sand and the sound of the waves, I have been to many stunning beaches in my life time. I must admit that New Zealand boasts some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever laid my eyes upon. They simply took my breath away. Just look at the pictures below and tell me that you can’t agree more.
  2. Boat Trip from Auckland: We were lucky! We have family members living and working in NZ. My sister-in-law’s brother, a successful business man, resident of Auckland, took us for a fabulous ride into the stunning part of the South Pacific Ocean on Christmas Eve. He anchored his boat near a few small islands some twenty kilometres from the largest NZ city Auckland which is surrounded by the sea. In the crystal clear water under the shining sun, our family party enjoyed diving, kayaking, snorkelling and swimming. Even though not a great swimmer, I decided to take the plunge. I mean, when will I go swimming in the Pacific Ocean again next? Isn’t this the most perfect Christmas gift?

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  3. Gardens, Parks and Tropical Flowers: As the chill of the winter deprived many plants of their flowers in the UK, New Zealand was blooming with a variety of summer flowers wherever we went. There were dahlias of different colours from my sister-in-law’s garden, as well as one of my favourite tropical flower, Bird of Paradise, and other species, many of which I have no name but a deep fondness for. In urban areas, there are many parks and gardens and we visited a few, including the Auckland Domain and Cornwall Park, where I happily snapped away. Thanks to my Facebook friend Pieter who is living in Hamilton for suggesting that we visited Hamilton Gardens. We did, on Christmas day, joining many local residents there on a fine day. The many fine gardens of this world (Chinese, English, Indian, Italian and Maori etc) were featured here, not to mention a fabulous rose garden too!
  4. New Zealand Food: I am a foodie and I enjoy sampling different foods of the world. New Zealand didn’t disappoint. I had the freshest oysters and New Zealand mussels, and not to mention one of the best ice creams in the world. I know the Italians would say that they invented ice creams and have the best on offer. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law would probably disagree. At every place we visited, they were keen to show us the best ice-cream place and the Kiwis give you the most generous potions! I would say that the Italians have more variety, and the New Zealand offerings have more quantity in terms of cream composition and serving volume. After all, New Zealand has probably more cows than people. John and I were also served many fresh, organic vegetables grown and prepared by our sister-in-law. On top of that, we were recommended the best Sichuan restaurant in the country located in Hamilton, again curtesy of my Kiwi friend Pieter. An authentic taste of China and my home region served to further fire up my love for this land.
  5. Native Maori Culture: You cannot visit New Zealand without coming in contact with the Maori culture, and we did what we could with the limited time we had. Following recommendations from another friend Julian, who flew his whole family down there last Christmas, we visited a number of tourist places in the North Island. In Rotorua, we spent a few delightful hours in a Living Maori Village, Whakarnewarewa, where the chief guided us through a journey of discovery. Nestled in a unique geothermal valley, we were greeted with Pohutu Geysers, thermal pools where they still cook and bathe. When some were too hot to handle, they served as a reminder how powerful Mother Nature was, and how incredible some of the natural creations were. Our visit to Wai-O-Tapu was another experience which will be deeply embedded in our memory. This thermal wonderland, with volcanic dome of Maungakakaramea (Rainbow Mountain), was covered with collapsed craters, cold and boiling pools of mud, water and steaming fumaroles. Some of the most unforgettable sights were the Champagne Pool, Sulphur Cave, Inferno Crater and Devil’s Bath. I know people who belong there ;).

I would conclude the first part of my New Zealand blog here, and I hope that the very brief introduction and selected pictures have given you a reason to visit New Zealand one day, or at least, a reason for you to come back soon for more virtual tour of this amazing country.

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More fab photos to come. See you soon!

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Farewell to #2017 With #Acknowledgements and Reflections

IMG_4728Every year, as the autumn leaves fall and are swept away by the chilly wind, I take a look back on the past 12 months and remember what I’ve been through, good times and bad, peaks and troughs on an often eventful journey. On the path I walked, with integrity and sensitivity, there are new places I’ve visited, new friends I have made and significant events that took place, changing the landscape of society or on a personal level, circumstances that have altered my attitudes and priorities in my life.

Many of you will probably agree that 2017 has been an interesting year. From a macro-political perspective, the UK is dogged by Brexit talks and subsequent backlashes, and across the pond, Trump and his outlandish political antics on and off social media provide constant debates in the media and once in a while threaten World peace as we have seen. Shootings and earthquakes topped the man-made and natural disasters which claimed many unfortunate lives.

On a more personal note, I would say that the first few months of 2017 were pretty awful, when I found myself battling with pure evil, looking in the depth of the very rotten and corrupt souls of human beings. Lying and ugly monsters who will one day be brought to justice. I have only contempt and sheer disgust towards these morality-lacking egomaniacs. One day I will look back at 2017 as one of the most challenging chapters of my life, and as we are near its cold and bitter end, I can not help but smile at the prospect of turning my back on it. Moving forward into the warmth and sunshine is the only way to go.image001

In the last blog post of this eventful year, I will not dwell further on the troubles and unhappy memories, instead I am going to share some wonderful moments with you, and I’ll also acknowledge a number of people, who have been in my life as a positive force, a reminder that there is always hope and love. They are the ones who have encouraged and supported me, and whose very friendship and presence made a world of difference to my life.

I’ll start with a series of pictures featuring a number of mini breaks and travels I’ve done, in chronological order:

Weekend visit to lovely Loch Lomond


Lake District mountain walking and hooking up with friend Aiden from Taiwan


Delightful holiday retreat in stunning Sicily – please also see two previous blogs on Sicilia.


The Gem of Seville in Southern Spain

 

Two Trips to London, meeting Facebook friend Roland, dinner with Tao and celebrating John’s Birthday

Work and Pleasure in China: Chengdu, Hangzhou, Nanjing and Shanghai

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More Pictures of my China trip can be found: The Best of My Trip to #China 2017: A Picture Tour.

My heart-felt thank-you to a number of people, in no particular order:

John – Thank you for standing by me without fail, also for your unwavering integrity, kindness, loyalty, love and strength. You show me what really matters in life.

Fiona – It’s lovely to meet and spend some quality/coffee time with you. We both have moved on to more solid ground, following a shaky start. Many congrats to your new job at University of Bath. You deserve it!

Margaret – First you were a fan of my books, for which I thank you! Then we shared many happy chats on Facebook. I’m very glad to be your eyes and legs, catching beauty in flowers and Nature to share with you on almost daily basis. Thank you for sending me the book of Pollyanna through the post, at a point when her never-failing positivity was greatly needed. I’m delighted to have met you face to face, recently and ever so briefly, thanks to your son Julian. I so appreciate your compliments on my writing. The fact that you loved my trilogy and are keen to read my next instalment is a driving force, among the many distractions that I face on a daily basis. I will not let you down.

Friederike & Colin – It’s always a pleasure to see you both, and to be treated with your wonderful hospitality and understanding. Your encouragement and appreciation of my writing efforts and everything else in life are greatly appreciated.

Mum – I know you can’t read English and will not be able to understand anything I write in English, but you have been a rock in my life. No matter what I post on WeChat, you’re usually the first to press ‘like’ even though sometimes you had no idea what I was talking about – I mean how much would you know about some people’s obsession with UK university ranking or my ranting against Brexit? They are far far away from your world.

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Professor Lalage Bown

Lala – I have not been able to see you for a long while, but you have been my inspiration ever since my days at University of Glasgow under your brilliant supervision. I promise to visit you in Shrewsbury in the New Year.

Douglas and Michelle – It is a pleasure to be working with you, and thank you for seeing the value of what I do, and for your belief in me, and restoring my faith in professionalism and good leadership.

There are many more people I want to thank, but too many to list here. Those on my author network (Eden/Helen, got to mention you here for your continued support); those on my social media platforms – Facebook, LinkedIn, WeChat, Twitter, Instagram, GoodReads and my website etc. Some of you I never had a chance to meet and perhaps never will, but you always took time to like and comment on my posts, and told me how much you enjoyed them. You are the reason that I am actively engaged in the digital world. When the real world becomes too stressful, there is a place I can retreat to and feel welcome and valued. This is an electronic thank-you card – you know who you are.

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Thank you for all the Likes and Interactions in 2017,  before and after!

On the cusp of 2018, I am looking forward to a very positive end to a turbulent year. I will be embarking on a journey of a lifetime, and I can’t wait to share my adventures with you all.

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May the Globetrotting Continue!

So sit tight and belt up. Let’s take off! To new beginnings!

Xmas card 2013

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Go Gently Into the Night, Maureen Mitchell Kirk

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Beautiful Maureen

Author’s Foreword: I published a blog about my two mothers just over two years ago on Mother’s Day, and today I’m sharing it below, to pay tribute to my Mother-in-law Maureen Mitchell Kirk (November 1933 – November 2017), who passed away in a home in Derbyshire, England on Friday night, 18th November 2017. She died after fighting a painful and sustained battle against the terrible disease of Alzheimer.

Rest in Peace, Maureen! As a born Catholic, you are now no longer suffering the pain and strife of this world, and you are in a happier place. May God be with you!

 

My British and Chinese #Mothers: Two Different Lives

While browsing through posts by friends on social media, i.e. Facebook and Chinese equivalent WeChat, as I usually do first thing in the morning, one post caught my eye: 中国老人抱怨儿子儿媳不孝顺,英国老人说的一段话让所有人沉默了…. To roughly translate into English: When the Chinese elders complain about son and daughter-in-law for not being filial, what do the British elders say in response?

I have seen it before. It is a mock dialogue between an elderly English parent and an elderly Chinese parent, and it started something like this:

Chinese parent: My son has no conscience, no heart.

British parent: What do you mean?

Chinese parent: He asked me if I was willing to live in an Old People’s Home!

British parent: Old people’s home is very good. I live in one.

Chinese parent: Oh? How could you go to such a place?

British parent: Why not?

Chinese parent: That is a place for the lonely old people. If I went, I would be the laughing stock among my relatives, and my life would be cut short.

British parent: That so? When you’re at a certain age, living in a Home is very convenient. How could it be a laughing stock?

……

This conversation goes on, talking about Chinese parents living with their children and grandchildren, British parents choosing to live on their own. There are also debates about why British children strike on their own from age 18, and they don’t give their parents money nor expect their parents to look after the grand children etc.

Obviously this conversation never took place for real, but I can easily imagine the scene if it did. You see, I have a very typical Chinese mother, who gave birth to four children and lived in China all her life. My mother-in-law, a beautiful Derbyshire woman, also has four grown-up children, like my own mother.

Today, I want to tell you a little bit about my two mothers, and how vastly different their lives have been. To show their differences, I’d like to start with the similarities between them.

My Mother Yijun and Mother-in-Law were born in the same year, 1933; my mum six months older. While my mother grew up in Sichuan province, had an University education, worked in a secondary school all her working life, retired when she was fifty-six and now happily living in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province. She never lived anywhere outside of Sichuan, and the furthest she has ever travelled to was Hong Kong. (It’s a real pity that she has never been able to visit me in the UK, but that is another story).

My Mother-in-law Maureen was born in Chesterfield in Derbyshire, the eldest daughter of a coal miner. Her family didn’t have enough money to send her to University. Working as a secretary she married an engineer who joined the RAF and travelled with him to Kenya, and then the USA before returning to the UK.

Both my mother and mother-in-law were politically active in their time. While my Mother is a Communist Party member and spent many years of her life teaching political science in school, while I and my siblings were being brought up by our grandmother (as was the case for Pearl Zhang in The Same Moon). My mother-in-law, on the other side of the globe, was active in the British Labour Party while working and bringing up her four children. Although they both shared an enthusiasm in politics during their prime, I suspect that my mother’s motivation was more a case of being embroiled in the political heat rather than a matter of choice.

In the last twenty years or so of their lives, while my Dad was still alive, my parents lived in a number of places in Sichuan, sometimes with one of my brothers, other times on their own with a full-time nanny – My father suffered from poor health and needed full time care for the last ten years of his life. After he passed away in 2006, my mother has kept a full-time nanny of her own – my brothers are busy businessmen with families and children of their own.

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My parents with me, their first born

My mother-in-law has separated from my father-in-law for more than twenty years, so for many years she lived on her own. We once offered for her to come and live with us. She didn’t even want to entertain that possibility, being the independent soul that she had been. It saddened me deeply when she was eventually diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s disease. For the past few years, she had full time care in her own house, and as her conditions became so poor that she was transferred into a specialist care home.

My own mother, on the side of the world, has fared better health wise. We talk on FaceTime sometimes and she even started using WeChat, downloading Music and ordering Uber from her home, although I know that she had never used a computer and sent an email. But hey, this is the Internet Age and even an 84 year old dog can learn a new trick or two.

thumbnail_IMG_1023Author’s Endnote: I ended the above post on a positive note when it was first published. Today I am in a different place emotionally, having just lost my mother-in-law. I am deeply saddened, and relieved at the same time. Maureen is free of the dreadful disease which ate away at her elegance, her intelligence and her sanity. She is now in a peaceful place where she is meant to be. Here is a poem by Dylan Thomas which I dedicate to my late mother-in-law.

Do not go gentle into that good night

Dylan Thomas, 1914 – 1953

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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My mother-in-law with three of her 4 children: John, Mike & SJ

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The Best of My Trip to #China 2017: A Picture Tour

I love words and I enjoy writing, but sometimes they are redundant when a picture can tell us just as much, and often more. So today, I’ll try to be economic with words and let pictures speak for themselves. I hope that you will enjoy what you see.

Family Reunited: With my 84 year old mum and extended family.

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Food: The spicier, the better!

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Friends: Old and New

Fun times to treasure

Finally: a bit of work just in case that I forgot what I was in China for 😉 

Thank you for stopping by and joining me in my travels for work and leisure.

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