Travel and reading: what do you read?

The world is a book and those who do not travel, read only one page” according to St Augustine.

I am an avid reader and traveller so want to read and see it all. I wonder how many pages you have read? Maybe you don’t believe the old saint and see the world in different ways. Of course his world was smaller than we know it today, and we all read different types of literature.

Guess that makes the saying true, maybe it is a book – if we use that word it’s widest meaning. Some will go to Rome – for instance – and read a very different book to the one that you or I will read.web passport etc

Maybe you are an encyclopaedic type person and will have read all the history you could before arriving. You will know the dates – or at least the order of – all the various reigns and many historical twists that the city has taken. You will know some of the bloodthirsty events that took place at the Colosseum and all about the Sistine chapel in the Vatican City – the city within a city.

Other will prefer their book to be a comic, perhaps a classic that will give them all the details quickly and in manageable bite-sized portions. Comic readers will be like a couple of Aussie women and me, who, when we had been subjected to more than enough views of cathedrals were saying “ABC.” Translated it meant – another b**** church, or another WEB naked-front-coverboring cathedral. It was as if Europe was throwing pearls before swine- we had lost our appreciation when each day seemed to be dominated by yet more churches, cathedrals and their inevitable pigeons – all beginning to seem the same.

Other books I have read to inform me before, during and after my travels are the travel guides. A plethora of them and these too can range from a full hearty meal, a silver service six course classy event, to some world-wide chain takeaway food on the run, or a get your fingers dirty banana-leaf curry. As always the choice is ours: our tastes change with the weather, venue and hunger.

Travelling through this mosaic-like world – physically and via words – is a wonderful privilege and just recently I read figures that really showed just how privileged this travelling life-style is.

  • While well over 50% of New Zealanders have been overseas – so must have passports – I discovered less than 25% of Americans do; World-wide the figure for people owning passports is 3%. Although I haven’t been able to verify these figures they show a number of things. DO YOU KNOW?
  • We are an island nation so have to have a passport to go anywhere! That passport owning is not a right but a privilege – and sign of our wealth – and that kiwis, despite being flightless birds, really get around.
  • Using St Francis and his saying it seems we New Zealanders are avid readers. But what does it say about the other 97% of the world?

For many, in the poorest countries, the word is not even in their vocabulary as something they could aspire to owning. But what does it say about the world’s richest nation when so few have passports. Is it any wonder we hear words such as insular and naïve credited to them at times. Perhaps it’s because collectively they haven’t read much of the worlds pages that St Francis was talking about. Remember 10 years ago – the disbelief of the Europeans (and us Kiwis) when they found out that ‘Dubya’ – the new head of so many people- had never been to Europe, or so it seemed, ever left the USA!

Once again it makes me wonder, do broad-minded people travel or does travel make people broad-minded? I have always been broad-minded – albeit forced on me by circumstances at times – but travel has made me more so: I will keep reading the pages of this world.

There is nothing more exciting than to be alive with travelling, to not know where you will sleep that night – just the absolute certainty of knowing that it will be somewhere you have never been before.

What a wonderful freedom and richness that living on an affluent island that was peopled by adventurous explorers gives us. The privileged richness of owning a passport and therefore reading so many more pages than other nations can or do.

However, remember that privileges are equally balanced with responsibilities.

World Buskers Festival.

Organised pandemonium takes over Christchurch, New Zealand, as each January locals and visitors of all ages flock to open-air city malls, the city’s cultural precinct, and out to the seaside suburb of New Brighton to witness the world’s very best busker talent: the World Buskers Festival. Belly laughs, amazement, admiration, and surprise fill their lives for ten days every summer.

This is when artists, from countries as diverse as Portugal, UK, Japan, Australia, Italy, the USA wing their way to Christchurch, the largest city in the South Island, to provide over four-hundred free shows – although, as it’s their livelihood, optional donations are always welcome.

“The festival’s reputation for excellence and our great locations here in the heart of Christchurch’s cultural and heritage  precinct  are  big  drawcards for both international and domestic visitors, as well as for  local  residents,  and  it  has  become  an  icon event for the city” festival director Jodi Wright tells me. Such is the reputation of this event that, sitting in her office under the old university observatory, Jodi is inundated with pleas for an invitation from buskers around the world.

Hub of activities for the dare-devils, outrageous comedians, juggling divas, and other mischievous people here to entertain, is the Art Centre, site of Christchurch’s first university and the first place in the British Empire to admit women.  Some famous alumni are; poet Denis Glover, novelist and playwright Dame Ngaio Marsh, Sir Karl Popper scientist and philosopher, and our celebrated artist, Rita Angus. This university is also where the great 19th century scientist, Sir Ernst Rutherford, had his ‘den’ and where he explored his theories which led to the splitting of the atom.

When plans emerged for the Gothic Revival buildings to be demolished – in the 1970s when the university moved to a new site – Christchurch residents pleaded for its retention. They finally won the arguments and the resulting Arts Centre is now firmly established as the cultural hub of Christchurch and is one of New Zealand’s most significant historical and cultural attractions: a fitting place for the smash hit the World Buskers Festival has become in the Christchurch calendar. Numbers attending the shows have more than doubled since its inception in 1994.

Christchurch was New Zealand’s first city (by royal charter in 1856); is lauded for its gardens, and sits on a large plain between the Southern Alps and the Pacific Ocean. It could easily be called festival city: as well as the buskers, festivals celebrating the arts, writers, jazz, and floral themes are just a few of the others. Known as ‘The Garden City’, it has won many national and international horticultural awards and these show the importance locals place in having a beautiful city in which to live, work, and play: there are maps of great drives and walks around the city available from the information centre in ‘the Square’ – the original centre of Christchurch.

The Christchurch Botanic Gardens, founded in 1863 and acknowledged as possessing the finest collection of exotic and indigenous plants in New Zealand, is co-opted as the setting for the children’s part of the Buskers Festival. Witches, magic, and juggling create fear and fun with the kids: parents love the acts too.

Each evening the Busker Comedy Club, a cabaret-style, outdoor variety show in the Arts Centre grounds, is packed with people, many of who arrive  an hour or so early with rugs and cushions to sit on. Others have booked one of the tables which are well-supplied with tasty nibbles and drinks to enjoy as they laugh at the adult-only entertainment.

Over the lunch hour, under the gaze of an old statue of one of the city fathers and alongside modern sculpture and the cathedral that dominates the skyline of Cathedral Square, I watch a Canadian as he flouts the rules of physics. Using his engineering degree he tests the quantum theory by impaling a cabbage on a spike on his head and tells us he is proud of his pasty, lanky look and ability to out-talk a senior citizen. Known by his stage name – the Comedy Engineer – he also says that ‘comedy has been waiting a long time for an engineer.’

The crowd remains when he finishes and soon Mario, Queen of the Circus, takes over the pitch. Winner of awards in Germany, Switzerland and France, he is a master of impeccable timing and phenomenal juggling skills: this is showmanship at its best and I loved every minute of it.

Recalling his show, a word of warning seems appropriate. Some performers, like this queen of the circus, may ask you to volunteer as a participant in their show. However, as the festival programme says: ‘please feel free to decline their request (for any reason) and use common sense and caution at all times’.

Nevertheless, the only injury I witnessed was to a friend’s ego when she was surprised by one of the roving acts – at the airport! Just off the plane, she was welcomed to festival city by The Crowd Maintenance Crew when they popped out from behind a wall and dusted her down with their feather duster ‘just making sure you are in tip top condition’ they tell her.

Other roving acts this past January included a pavement artist, living statues, and two local women – The Chick Taylors – who are the personification of improvisation with a range of characters from the Paranoid French or German through to Retro English Geeks: they are up for anything and it’s great to see locals in such a high-calibre extravaganza such as this festival.

Featured on the Discovery Channel programme, “Fantastic Festivals of the World,” this one-of-a-kind event extends out the beach suburb of New Brighton which sits on the long sweep of Pegasus Bay and the Pacific.

It was a hot sunny, beach-suburb-appropriate day when I caught one of the very popular shows by the Blackstreet Boys. Discovered by festival organiser Jodi Wright as she explored Venice Beach, California, these young men are irreverent, light on their feet, full of mischief and the crowd and I loved their performance. I hear that when they are not on the streets of LA they teach and choreograph would-be artists – this has included MC Hammer.

Locals claim the Christchurch cultural precinct is the finest in the southern hemisphere. Planned by the city founders – some 150 years ago – to create a cultural heart for the province (Canterbury) it is still a wonderful backdrop to many of the arts and heritage activities of Christchurch.

‘I’ll meet you at the Arts Centre’ or ‘let’s have coffee, dinner, or supper – before or after the show,’ can be overheard wherever locals gather. The old university, with over forty galleries, studios, theatres, cinemas, cafes, restaurants, shops, bars, weekly arts market, fabulous bead shop, and ethnic food stalls, this vibrant place is the perfect backdrop for the World Buskers Festival.

Park your car as this  an easy area to explore by foot or tram, and most of the activities are free, and include places such as; New Zealand’s only remaining Provincial Chamber buildings, Our City O-Tautahi with its changing exhibitions, the fabulous glass fronted Christchurch Art Gallery, the Canterbury Museum, and the Centre of Contemporary Art. So when you are exhausted from laughing at the class buskers acts that are spread around the city, complete your stay in Christchurch by enriching your senses with food, fun and culture in this very public heart of a great city. See you there!

for other world festivals check out 2camels website.

©Heather Hapeta 2008

15 top tips for great photos

Make your holiday snaps even better and impress your friends with these simple hints

Maheshwar, India
Maheshwar, India

Want friends to love your holiday photos? try these tips

Travel sharpens awareness of our surroundings; the different, the unusual and it’s these things, the view of a new eye that makes great photos.

As a travel writer I take many photos during my first few days in another country, a different culture. (www.kiwitravelwriter.com)

If you want your photos to be more than a mere record of your travels try these tips.

  1. Keep your camera with you : some of my ‘best photos’ are the ones I missed by not having my camera read
  2. Filling the whole frame adds impact to many pictures
  3. Eliminate the unessential, cut the clutter. Don’t try to grab it all.
  4. Early morning and late afternoon have the most favourable light.
  5. Avoid midday as overhead sun drains the colour.
  6. Simple blocks of bright colour make bold statements look at other people’s photos to see what works, what catches your eye.
  7. Vertical shots are great for height and portraits, while horizontal ones are good for getting some background.
  8. Hold your camera at an angle for some fun shots: I won a photo-of-the-month prize because my angled shot stood out.
  9. If possible, leave the subject lean on something, or put their weight on one leg for natural pose.
  10. Take photos when the person is unaware of you.
  11. Use a background that enhances the subject: don’t have poles, trees, or the Eiffel tower growing out of your subjects’ head
  12. Balance the picture; rarely does the subject look great right in the centre.
  13. Take a series of photos: signs, doors, sunsets, fountains, or faces.
  14. Use something to frame the subject, a tree trunk and branch, a door, a window – but not with all your photos.
  15. Finally, be considerate and don’t take photos of people who don’t want to be photographed – eg the hill-tribes of Laos. If I believe I will publish a photo of people, I get permission to do so (when possible) and pay them in an appropriate way.
Takahe - a colourful native
Festival of the Hungry Ghost. Malaysia
Kaikoura, New Zealand

Hot air ballooning makes me fall in love

“When the wind blows in your face, something different is about to happen,” we’re told. It’s true and when the wind blows on our faces we change direction during the best morning I’ve had for ages. In fact it is so good I’m in love – in love with hot air ballooning. It is such fun even clichés fail me.

At 4 30am I was woken with a phone call. “It’s on, the weather is perfect, and your transport will be at your door in 20 minutes. It takes an hour to reach Methven, (1025 ft above sea level) home of Aoraki Balloon Safaris and close to Mt Hutt ski fields – and also on the Lord of the Rings route, a nearly a New Zealand-long-trail. Meeting with others who have driven from Christchurch or stayed overnight, we’re given overshoes, have our names and weights recorded and divided into two groups. A short bus ride takes us to the Methven Show grounds where we’re to be launched upwards.hot air balloon over village

Already the excitement is building and our group of eight or nine strangers are talking freely with each other. We’re all virgin balloonists and are anticipating a great time. Unlike many tourist ventures, on this we get to assist with the preparations. Some drag the traditional wicker basket (willow cane and rattan) from the trailer while I help unfurl the colourful giant balloon from an impossibly tiny bag: even the basket seems too small for us all. The balloon is now stretched out on the ground, a Kiwi and Swiss traveller hold open its mouth and two huge fans begin blowing. Slowly the multi-coloured nylon takes shape and our excitement continues to grow. We are all taking photos – recording the time for future memories – and finally it’s full – so full in fact that there is around eight tons of air in it. Now to heat it – apparently this is what makes it rise – and guess it’s why they call them hot-air balloons. Our pilot directs the roaring jets of flames into the mouth without burning it and shortly the balloon is moving. It rolls slightly to the right, back to the left, centres itself, then as we let go it leaves the safety of the ground to do what a balloon does best – it flies.

As it hovers above the creaking basket, so evocative of ballooning images, we climb aboard, are given safety instructions for landing (facing forward holding the rope handles and bent knees,) and, after being given the chance to bail out, and no one wants to disembark, the heat is turned up and off we go. Actually it’s up we go. Magic. Cool cool cool. What else can I say? It is at this moment, as the ground falls away below us, that I fall in love. I’m having a natural high and I know I’m addicted with this first rush. Although I watch the other balloon, I am too preoccupied with my own experiences. web hot air ballooonThe world looks very different from up here; it’s quite different to a plane because of the lower altitude and speed. A local is taking a photo of us from her terrace but it seems most of the other 1000 villagers are still asleep on this crisp clear spring day. A dog is barking, magpies are chortling, hares and sheep flee, cattle stare, and the Swiss traveller breaks out some genuine Swiss chocolate to share. Perfect. He, like many of the others flying today, was given the flight as a birthday gift: one couple were celebrating their wedding anniversary.

The South Islands’ snowy-backbone, the Southern Alps, provide a perfect pristine backdrop for our 360°views. New Zealand’s highest mountain Aoraki-Mt Cook can be seen in the distance along with beautiful braided rivers. Across the productive, but dry Canterbury Plains, the port town of Timaru and the Pacific Ocean are clearly visible. I click my camera frequently: the rest of the time I’m awe-struck. No wonder parts of this scenery was used in the Lord of the Rings ( And, am I the only person in the world not to have seen the movies?)

All too soon the gas is getting low and it’s time to land. We have been watching the chase vehicle following us and our pilot points out the landing spot, and reminds us of the landing position. The lower we get to ground the faster it seems we’re going. Then, cattle staring and even following us, we skim over the final fence, more air is vented and we land in an empty field. One little bump, back up into the air briefly then we land. As if in slow motion the basket gracefully falls on its side and the journey is over. We burst into laughter as we gaze, from our backs, up into the sky that only a moment ago we were floating in. Although we have landed, the adventure is not quite over. The farmer and our chase vehicle are driving towards us and we have a balloon to pack. With more laughter we roll our bodies along it to expel the air, and then squeeze it back into the very small bag. It fits. The traditional ballooning breakfast: a glass of good kiwi bubbly or orange juice, coffee, croissants, jam, cheese and fruit.

The farmer gets a bottle of bubbly to take home. As a child lying on my back, and watching clouds drift by, had whetted my appetite for flying like a bird. This, surely, is as close as one gets.

Facts and figures The balloon is 81 feet in diameter – 93 feet highHolds 245, 000 cubic feet of airThe air is heated with LPGBalloons always fly east to west, the circular direction of the world’s major weather patternsThe balloon and basket were made in South Dakota, USA

now to roll it up
now to roll it up

Brief history of ballooning. Paper-makers Joseph and Etiene Montgolfier, who were looking for new applications for their product, made the first hot air balloon, in France. The brothers made a balloon from paper and fabric and it rose when put over a flame. They first tested it with a rooster, a duck and a sheep – under the orders of Louis XV1. The brothers never flew. The first flight with people was in Paris in front of Louis and Marie Antoinette while outside France the first was ten months later (Sept. 1784), by an Italian in London. Marie Antoinette is on record as having said, “It is the sport of Gods” The traditional bottle of champagne was given to the farmer on whose fields the balloon lands was not so much for the joie de vivre of today, but to stop the farmer attacking these strange and uninvited creatures with pitchforks.

To read more by this writer buy her book: Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad.  Readers reviews are on this website – see above.

Happy Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year: travelling in Penang, Malaysia, (a couple of years ago)  temporary stages were all around the city during the days leading to the Chinese New Year. Large semi-solid structures are at temples or outside affluent establishments or homes where people have financially supported the theatre or opera that is about to be staged.

Happy Thai new year
Happy Thai new year


For a few days before New Year opera plays nightly. Outside a supermarket two colourful dragons cavort, their fluttering eyelashes making the dance look flirtatious. As in many warm climates, evenings are when places come alive in a different way to the daytime busy-ness. Locals wander the streets talking to neighbours, eating meals in noisy gaggles and now in the Chinese New Year, watch local theatre.


As with all travellers, I too watch the theatre of life that unfolds itself daily, hourly, minute by minute and as part of that kaleidoscope, watch the shows. To a Western ear the sounds are often discordant, loud, and too highly pitched.  Each evening I wander the streets of Georgetown, watch the opera and gradually my ears become accustomed to the tone.

Men, often dressed as women, are in colourful clothes and the story usually seems to be about long-lost loves or love betrayed;  well that’s how I, with no knowledge of any Chinese language, interpret them.

Four or five men, sitting behind screens, make up the orchestra, and during long speeches or songs from the stage, I could hear their conversations and watch as huge plumes of cigarette smoke drift from around the screens and out to the audience.

The audience emerges from the shadows of alleyways, shops and homes as the band tune their instruments. I am given a sheet of newspaper to sit on, others sat on their rickshaw, bike, or chair carried from home, while yet others sat on newspaper too. Most smoke. Adding to the pall of smoke is the token money burnt in temple grounds as people make offerings to their ancestors.


If you can, spend  some time on the road early in the western-calendar year. Leave New Zealand  ( or whatever country you live in) after your New Years eve party and picnic the next day, then start counting. Counting the celebrations you can indulge in. Chinese New Year is usually first, both it and Islam’s end of Ramadan, the next new year, aren’t fixed dates but are lunar events so check for the dates. Then finally, in mid April – the Buddhist New Year.


Four fabulous New Years in a short space of time, all celebrated in very different ways and all wonderful times to be travelling and learning more about how other cultures enjoy the change of year.

To the Chinese community – Have a happy New Year!

NOTE: See photos of the Chinese New Zealand in Christchurch elsewhere on this site