I join a delegation to visit Xiamen, China

The island city Xiamen
The island city Xiamen

Tomorrow I leave New Zealand with a delegation of Wellington, New Zealand citizens – and we’re heading to our sister city, Xiamen, South China.

Once known as Amoy, this island of 4 million has been an important port for centuries, and is a vibrant, modern, and affluent city – rather like Wellington, all except being an important port for centuries, and NZ as a country only has only about 4.5 million.

xiamen 2The Wellington Xiamen Association is a volunteer group of locals who, with the support of the Wellington City Council, form long-term relationships between the two cities by exploring each other’s culture through information, events and various projects in education, art and culture.

 

 

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On this trip, in a gesture of goodwill, a large choice of quality, award-winning books from Te Papa Press will be presented to the Xiamen city’s chief librarian.

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In essence, sister city organisations promote peace through people-to-people relationships, including programmes varying from basic cultural exchange programmes to shared research and development projects between linked cities.

Founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, Sister Cities International is non-partisan, non-profit organisation and around the world has tens of thousands of citizen-diplomats and volunteers in 570 member communities with over 2,300 partnerships in 150 countries on six continents.

The 'best little capital in the world' according to Lonely Planet
The ‘best little capital in the world’ according to Lonely Planet

This Wellington delegation includes, artists, translators, photographers and me, as a travel writer of course.

20160520_184152We have met twice, over Chinese food of course, and all told me they look forward to being good ambassadors from New Zealand’s capital city, as well as bringing information back about the culture of Xiamen to share with other Wellingtonians.

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dessert

For more information: See www.wellingtonxiamen.com and, of course, watch this blog for stories and photos from our week there and what appears to be a full, and diverse, itinerary.

 

Christchurch’s Arts Centre reopening soon – hurrah

Over the past five years, returning to the city of my birth, Christchurch, New Zealand, was often like returning to school – but the old three R’s rule of reading, writing and ’rithmetic had been replaced with different R’s – I often had to ask if it has been reopened, renovated, relocated or reduced-to-rubble. Unfortunately, with something like 80% of the inner-city, my old stomping ground, demolished because of quake damage, many were reduced to rubble or relocated.

Of course many of my favourites have another R as they remained-open or have reopened after minor damage was repaired, while a few had to close temporarily while neighbouring buildings were ‘de-constructed’.

A few of my special city-centre places in the remained open (or just closed briefly) category are, The Classic Villa; Canterbury Museum; Botanic Gardens; and The Antigua Boat Sheds.

Two months before the September 2010 quakes, a mayoral candidate said if he became mayor he would apply for World Heritage Status for the city’s unique Gothic Revival buildings. It seemed no city in the world had such a collection of Gothic revival buildings ‘of such high quality and so well preserved’ and I went to the Great Hall in the Gothic style Christchurch Arts Centre, another of my favourite places in the city, to hear about the proposal. He said, “these Victorian buildings date back to the 1850s and as a group are of enormous international significance. They represent the outcome of the furthest migration of any group of people in human history.” He continued, “They are more than bricks and mortar, they are at the heart of our city”.

See more I’ve written about our Gothic buildings post-quake.

A bad selfie of me with Andre Lovat
A bad selfie of me with Andre Lovatt

I’m now back at the Arts Centre, very fortunate to get an escorted, behind-the-scenes, peek at the work being done in this part of the ‘heart of our city.’ Andre Lovatt the Arts Centre CEO, who values the heritage buildings in our city, is showing me around. He knows that ‘with enough time and money, you can do anything’ and time and, money has been and is continuing to be used on this collection of buildings. (Donations welcome to help this work – see their website)

Although the Gothic style is usually associated with churches the mid-Victorian architects used it in other buildings such as Canterbury College in 1873. Other buildings were added and eventually the college became Canterbury University. Over a century later the University moved to a new campus in the suburbs.

With plans to demolish the buildings locals demanded they be kept and eventually the empty buildings became the Arts Centre, which incidentally, my father had said would be a waste of money for the city and ‘should not be saved.’

A number of architects designed the individual buildings, the most well-known being Benjamin Mountford: it’s been said that the Great Hall was a good example of ‘his ability to adapt the Gothic style to colonial circumstance and to produce magnificent buildings within the constraints of limited resources.’

Much of the Arts Centre is reopening this year (2016) and there is anticipation and excitement by retailers who hope to return to the centre and by Cantabrians in general who look forward to being able to enjoy the area again. Check their website to find out the dates various buildings will be opened – and I’m hoping a New Zealand craft market will eventually open there too.

use hh IMG_5974webThe Fool by Sam Mahon  is one of my favourite pieces of public art … I wonder where it will move to within the Arts Centre grounds.

The Fool in its original spot outside the Court Theatre
The Fool in its original spot outside the Court Theatre

A new sculpture to be installed within the Arts Centre is the twin to this one by Antony Gormley  – which is in the Avon (between Worcester and Armagh Street bridges.

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I believe one of the first places to open this year will be Rutherford’s Den. This Kiwi, Ernest Rutherford, is one of the greatest scientists of the modern age, and he studied at this college from 1890 to 1894: this den is where he conducted some of his earliest experiments and is now a  museum and information area. The Den was extremely popular before the quake and now that it has been  totally updated I can see even more locals and tourists visiting it.

For more information about the wonderful Arts Centre, check their website

Here are some photos taken during my visit in February 2016 – as you can see there were workman everywhere.use arts centre 2016 (67)web

Including skilled stone masons

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Wandering with Walk Wellington

20160419_104332.jpgHad a  great 2 or 3 hours today with Walk Wellington.

Interestingly, the others on the walk were all Wellingtonians (U3A Members) and all were learning things about the city they didn’t know.

Here are some of today’s photos :

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Ash Keating creates a huge art work in Christchurch, New Zealand

Ash Keating, the Melbourne (Australia) artist was commissioned (by Gap Filler and the Christchurch Art Gallery) to create a large art work in Christchurch in 2012.  He was in the city at the time of the February 2011 quake and I loved his great rusty orange work on Manchester Street.

In January 2016 it was tagged and he has just returned to repaint it … I had seen the tag and then a few days later walked past as he was repainting it. (NOTE: If you are looking for it, it’s just around corner from New Regent Street, and a couple of blocks south of the magical Margaret Mahy playground)

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Christchurch has a long history of great art and artists, and since the seismic shaking over 5 years ago it has again embraced art and I will later blog some of the art around the city.

For more information on the artist see his Facebook page here

It seems the tagger has been identified – he was bragging about it on Facebook. Duh!

This is one of a series of blogs I’m writing on Christchurch  and how its emerging five years on from the 2010/11 quakes when it lost some 80%, yes eighty percent, of its inner city buildings- not because they fell down, but had to be demolished because of the damage – I will be writing about what it is now, not what was lost.

*See recent posts about the quakes – an elephant in the room and one about Christchurch as it is.

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Why no posts kiwitravelwriter?

Sorry I’ve not been posting for last month. I fractured my right wrist nearly 4 weeks ago (right is my dominant arm) so finding one finger left hand writing difficult and slow. 

Also finding it hard to take photos which is a pain as I’m travelling in Oman and UAE right now. Still have few and will post after the cast is off on 10th November!  Unfortunately they just are not as good as I expect of myself!

In the meantime go back and check some old posts and pictures you haven’t seen … I’ve published some 1200 posts as I recall.

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Leaving New Zealand with my silver fern on my cast – supporting our big love … the ALL BLACKS rugby team which we love win or loose. (All our sports team wear the silver fern – a native tree fern)

Kapiti Island is a rugged lifeboat for endangered birds

Heading for Kapiti
Heading for Kapiti

Kāpiti Island’s 1965 hectares has been a rugged lifeboat for New Zealand’s endangered birds for over 100 years.

The local tangata whenua (Māori for ‘people of the land’) kept 13 hectares around Waiorua Bay and I spent a night at the lodge that is on the top, north-eastern, of the island.

The owner-operators of Kapiti Nature Tours are the whanau (family) – John and Susan Barrett, and John’s sister Amo Clark – who live there. John and Amo’s iwi (tribe) and whanau (family) have lived on Kapiti Island since the 1820s.

Kapiti Nature Lodge is the only accommodation on Kapiti Island and was inspired by the homestead of John and Amo’s grandmother who opened her farm homestead to visitors. It was a family member, and nature guide, Maanaki, who met us when we landed at Rangatira, about 2 kilometres south of our final destination, Waiorua Bay, for the nocturnal kiwi walk and our bed for the night.

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One of the first birds he introduces to us was the beautiful Tieke (north island saddleback). Its glossy black, has a tan saddle and long red wattles at the base of its black bill. Its birds such as this, he tells us, that they work closely with the Department on Conservation to nurture and protect.

The very vocal tieke
The very vocal tieke

Other species that need the safety this predator free environment provides include the Little Spotted KiwiTakaheKākāWekaKereru, Kokako, Hihi, and  Toutouwai (Robin).

Amo tells me living and working on one of New Zealand’s most precious Taonga (treasures) is wonderful. “Nature belongs to everyone, and sharing our knowledge is all part of our hospitality.”

Kapiti Island is home to over 1,200 Little Spotted Kiwi, making it one of the densest populations of Kiwi to be found and, “one of the easiest places to see them in the wild” we are told.

My next blog will be about our kiwi spotting tour and accommodation on this unique island.

See an earlier blog which sets the scene for this trip to Kāpiti.

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Feeding the lions!

When I arrive at Christchurch International Airport my favourite car rental company  (Rental Cars New Zealand) has a car ready for me and I immediately  head to Orana Wildlife Park to feed the lions!

I recall my father being very dubious about a brother giving a little money to support the idea of a wildlife park and now, how surprised he would be to see what a successful place it has become. My kids have always loved a day at the park and especially driving into the lion enclosure, always hoping a lion would rub against our vehicle. This has since stopped because of stupid people who could not follow directions about keeping windows up – endangering not only themselves but also the lions and Orana staff.

I don’t have to worry about windows on this safari! I’ll be in a cage and the big cats will be fed through the wire with the big chunks, hair and bone included, down a chute.

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Planes fly overhead and memories of previous trips waft through the air, along with the smell of exotic pines and eucalyptus mixing with our native trees and the hot dusty Christchurch summer breeze. Families, young couples, the Christchurch Star’s Christmas party group, mingle with groups of tourists – all enjoying the day and its surrounds.

I have my ticket and a stamp on my arm, which guarantees my entrance into the lion’s den and arrive early at the gate in anticipation: it’s a hard day at the office – NOT!  I have two cameras and a backup battery primed for the lion encounter, an well-worth extra on the entrance fee.

Before long our guide arrives, we’re given a safety briefing then are led to the vehicle. We, about 20 of us, are chattering excitedly. Being up close to the King of the Jungle, Leo, the symbol for my birth month is thrilling.

We leave our bags at the entrance and go into the wire-caged truck back and before we push through the gates are again reminded to keep our fingers inside the vehicle. We are not to attempt to touch the lions – they’re cats but not as we know them!

It’s a wonderful experience, and my only regret is it doesn’t last long enough … that we didn’t stay still for a few minutes after the last food has been given to them, so we could just watch them.

However I’ll let the pictures tell part of the story … for best results, have a lion encounter yourself!

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To get to Orana Park see here … including taking a shuttle from the city and here is their Facebook page

Interestingly, most of the endangered animals at the Park do not belong to Orana Wildlife Trust but to the relevant international breeding programme which makes decisions about which females are best bred with which males to make sure the most diverse gene pool possible in the captive populations. From time to time animals are moved between various zoos and parks to enhance the genetic diversity of their particular species. See here for more of their conservation activities

More stories from my Orana Wildlife Park visit to follow … also other Christchurch stories including about the lovely Eliza’s Manor House where I stayed.