Month: January 2011

I’m an extra in Bollywood film (Wellington NZ)

A run through before filming starts - my position is to be below the fountain

A multi-million dollar Bollywood movie – an Indian remake of The Italian Job –  is being filmed in Wellington,  by IFC films– and I am an extra here in my new home city – one of about 600 needed!


My role? I am a tourist taking photos of my (real) grandson, we are right beside the “Albatross” fountain on the waterfront when suddenly three minis race around the fountain – followed by many motorcycles – making me have to quickly move out-of-the-way wondering “what’s happening?” as they race by. This extra-role meant I had my camera on set.

My grandson is an extra while on holiday!

Players features A-list Indian actors Abhishek Bachchan and Sonam Kapoor, and brother directors duo, Abbas and Mustan. They are often called as the ‘Men In White’ and have always been associated with many a super-hit Bollywood films.

The men in white

The chase sequence of the British original of The Italian Job (Michael Caine) featured robbers driving Mini cars and was filmed in Turin, and a 2003 American remake was shot on location in Venice and Los Angeles – it’s now set in Wellington – the capital of New Zealand.

Wellington is said to be “playing itself” in the Indian version and the varied terrain of the central city with its steep streets, leafy suburbs, dramatic coast and natural harbour will be on show to the world.

“It’s going to be huge. It’s not just the billion population in India back home, but also the Indian diaspora which is all over the world,” said Nirang Desai, the film’s line producer.

It is estimated that up to NZ$4 million of Bollywood money will be spent during filming in New Zealand, and Players could pave the way for even more films.

“I already have a few proposals lined up, people wanting to come,” said Desai.

I have motorbikes race by on both sides!

The film is due to be released first in India in October 2011.  See more here on TV1 News

List of top birding sites in Gujarat, India


With a remarkable diversity of habitat Gujarat is home to, or a stopping off place, for some 350 species of birds.

After a trip to the Global Bird Watchers’ Conference ( November 2010) in Jamnagar, Gujarat. India, here are my top picks – in no particular order.

The new picture book ‘Birds of Khijadiya’ says there are 257 species here, and with brackish, sea, and fresh water  within its 600 ha, it certainly provides a diversity of conditions for both resident birds and the migrants along the Indo-Asian Fly-way.

'Call me' said Bharat, president of Porbander Bird Conservation Society

Created in 1988, this sanctuary is in the city of Porbandar ( which also birthplace of Gandhi) This is a popular destination for local ornithologists with both resident, nesting  and migratory birds. Contact local bird-man / photographer Bharat Rughani   for more info.

Always picturesque!

Only  40 kms north-west of Ahmedabad this lake was created in 1912 and covers about 7 sq. kms  visiting here with birders –

Irish birders - Chris & Doris - at Thol

Doris and Chris Murphy who highly recommended this spot, especially in winter when the migratory birds are here.

Short-eared owl (I believe!)

On  a bird migration route and near the Gulf of Kutch, this sanctuary provides an important feeding, breeding and roosting habitat for about 70,000-75,000 birds who nest in the 250 acres.  On the list as a possible UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is a remarkable and unique landscape  that becomes a  coastal wetland for about a month after the annual monsoon  rains.

I used JN Rao Travel for my travel arrangements. For more info see their website and of course the official Gujarat Tourism site.

NOTE: When I was visiting the Little Rann  area I stayed at Desert Courses, Camp Zainabad – where there where about 50 or 60 different birds just around the camp – so a perfect spot for birders!

Clamydotis macqueenii on edge of the Rann. Photo by Fritz Mueller
Birds in Gujarat, India

Birds in Gujarat, India

Spoonbills and painted storks

I have just returned from my second trip to Gujarat, India – this time for three weeks – and where I joined about 500 others for the Global Bird Watchers Conference (GBWC) in Jamnagar.

As someone who enjoys nature and birds, but knows very little, it was interesting to be surrounded by a flock of  people from all over the world keen to see India’s special birds – evidently Gujarat has some 40% of India’s birds.

both freshwater & salt water habitats are close to each other

It also provides a variety of habitats for them: desert, sea, rivers, lakes, rural and cites – there is somewhere special for all birds whether migratory or  resident.

Ted Floyd of the American Birding Association said in one of his blogsGujarat was the ideal venue for the GBWC. Yes, the birding was wonderful, but that’s not what I’m getting at. Rather, Gujarat was ideal in a socio-cultural sense. The people of the state of Gujarat are fantastically diverse. The myriad languages, religions, and ethnicities of Gujarat stretch back through the millennia. Think of somewhere like Brooklyn or Los Angeles—and then add to the mix several thousand years of cultural diversification. That’s Gujarat. That’s Jamnagar.” Well said Ted!

So, bookmark this page and come back and follow my travels, and not just birds, but also Gandhi’s birthplace, his ashram, the people of the salt-pans, the wild ass, the food and the people and many other topics.

Thanks to JN Rao Travel for my travel arrangements. For more info see their website and of course the official Gujarat Tourism site.

A local guide

Freedom camping in New Zealand

Each district in New Zealand has different rules about freedom camping and parking of campervans. Sometime places it’s permitted, and in others  it will result in a fine and you being moved on.

The best place to find information about where you can camp and what rules to follow is from those who know the area. Ask locals for information:

  • i-SITEs
  • Holiday Parks
  • Department of Conservation  (DOC) Visitor Centres and offices

The impact of freedom camping on our environment, as well as safety concerns, means Tourism New Zealand does not recommend freedom camping in New Zealand. Use the camping grounds unless you are in a fully equipped campervan with its own toilet.

Note: these on-board toilets can only be legally emptied from motorhomes into Dump Stations, which are normally found in holiday parks: these are free to use even if you’re not staying in that camping ground. See more tips  here about travelling in a campervan – Loved my time in the Backpacker van I travelled in recently.

The coolest capital in the 2nd best country to visit in 2011

What happens you move to another city, know very few people, feel down after a bout of giardia (an unwanted souvenir from India) and are sick of the still unopened cartons in the office-cum-spare-room.

Just one of the features on the waterfront

Well, if you have just moved to the ‘coolest little capital in the world’ according to Lonely Planet in the country  that’s second on CNN’s list of  the world top destinations for 2011, you put the blues away and go for a walk – after all, ‘you can’t beat Wellington on a good day’, and it’s a good day today.

It takes only minutes to walk down Cuba St (and Mall) to arrive at the Civic Centre and there, in the sunshine, a message awaits me from Lauris Edmonds, one of this cities favourite adopted daughters.

It seems appropriate as I once had a poem published –  A Message to Lauris and now, standing on the over-bridge, leading to the waterfront, I read her words as selected for a plaque on the Wellington Writers Walk

“It’s true you can’t live here by chance, you have to do and be, not simply watch or even describe. This is the city of action, the world headquarters of the verb – ” . From ‘Scenes from a  small city’ 1994

There’s my answer – be active: after all I’m a travel writer so must travel around this city and write. Already I have a list of Wellington places and events to write about (starting with Zealandia and the Carter Observatory so there is some of the action I need to do: thanks Lauris, I’m ready to become an active Wellingtonian – 1st January 2011