100. Blenheim and Picton – a flying visit

Leaving Christchurch and driving north through hills ablaze with yellow gorse, we stopped off in Blenheim for a few days on our way to take up a homesit in Appleby between Richmond and Mapua.


Robyn, her backyard and her cat Kassia all gave us the usual warm welcome. We were fortunate to catch the wild golden poppies in full bloom in the river beds near Blenheim, although we had to wait impatiently for them open each morning.




IMG_4434In some places the flowers were so dense there was hardly any room for other blooms. Note the tiny white-bearded one. And a single blue lupin.


The vineyards are waking up, everywhere are rows and rows of bright green leaves on delicate tendrils. Following the European custom many vineyards also grow roses at the end of the rows or on the boundaries.


We made a day trip to Picton to visit a jeweller who will remodel my wedding and engagement rings; the latter was getting very worn and one small diamond already lost. She has now designed a magnificent new ring, I can’t wait to see (and wear) it. Meantime I am wearing a $3 copper ‘wedding ring”! Standing outside a nearby cafe on the Picton waterfront deliberating whether to have coffee, out of the cafe burst Dave’s old workmate another Dave … we can’t seem to stop bumping into people we know!

We enjoyed another 2-for-1 pizza night with Robyn and her friends at Renwick’s Cork and Keg. Wonderful value, great surroundings. Their other food is very good too. Then it was off again heading for Nelson and up the Moutere Valley to our next homesit.

99. History Repeats Itself

Two years ago we were in Te Aroha, a small town in the Waikato area of NZ’s north island. T5 was parked in the grounds of a private club which offered a secure site and the use of the club premises for a nominal fee. It was our wedding anniversary and I was determined to celebrate (hey, 9 years married to a feisty Kiwi…!). All dressed up, we (or rather I) decided the Club’s pub  grub style restaurant was not good enough for such an important event, but where to go? We drove into town ….  and there towards the end of the main street was an authentic Italian restaurant. Amazing!

We had the most wonderful meal in an eclectic atmosphere, topped off with an Affogatto served with style in the proper italian manner by the proprietress. A scoop of vanilla icecream, a demitasse of extra strong coffee, and a shot of liqueur. I have never forgotten it, it’s been my benchmark for affogatto ever since.

Fast forward two years, we are in Blenheim and again it is THAT DATE. Blenheim on a Friday is not very scintillating. Where to go? All the Vineyard cafes closed at about 5 pm. The one very good restaurant was booked out, as was No.2. on the ‘best restaurants in Blenheim’ guide. Pub grub did not appeal, no matter how good it is on other occasions. We drove round and round and were almost resigned to going back to T5 for left-over pasta when Dave spotted … an Italian restaurant! Rocco’s was not on the list of Blenheim restaurants which we had checked earlier. Once again we had a scrumptious meal, with a gorgeous Sicilian wine (in Marlborough wine country!), and for dessert I ordered – you guessed it – affogatto. Although very tasty it did not live up to the Te Aroha benchmark. Talking to the proprietor, he promised to make the coffee stronger next time!

It was a lovely anniversary.

(I am posting this immediately, but have two other posts still to do which really precede this one in time….)

98. The 2015 Hororata Games

Just before leaving Christchurch we spent an awesome day at the Hororata Highland Games. This was the fifth year of the Games which started after the Christchurch earthquakes as a project to lift the community’s morale. It has morphed into one of the biggest and best Highland Games in the country.





Last time we attended the Games, although a clear bright day there was a cold wind, so in expectation of the same I dressed fairly warmly. The caravan tends to be a little cool in the mornings and it is not until one has been outside for a while that the weather can be accurately gauged, at least as accurately as ANY New Zealand weather can be gauged, seeing it can go through four seasons in a single day. After picking up sister in law Alison we were just on our way when Dave realised he didn’t have any spare batteries for his cochlear implants, so we drove back to the caravan (only a short distance away) and I took the opportunity to change into something rather more summery and was very glad later on that I had. It was glorious, hot day.

It was impossible to cover everything. Two years ago the innovative event was scurry racing; this year it was a Highland Spin competition – “… a Fleece to Garment challenge where teams of six people race to shear a sheep, spin the wool and knit a child’s jersey in six hours.” By the time we arrived the sheep had already been shorn and three teams were hard at work carding, spinning and even knitting straight from the spindle. The Highland Spin tent was a hive of activity; as well as the three teams there were spinning and sheep shearing demonstrations. Some spectators were settled in for the long day … with their knitting!


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I was disappointed not to catch the start and to see how long before the knitting actually started. When I returned to the tent some hours later, the knitting was well advanced but still the wheels spun. Concentration was absolute and the atmosphere electric. We also managed to catch the end, but I do know the victorious team completed a very reasonable-sized jersey well within the allotted time.




A beautiful new elevated stage made the Highland Dancing far more visible to everyone. I cannot comment on the quality of the dancing but I was very impressed by the younger children doing the sword dance. According to the programme there were 34 different dancing events over 13 different age groupings, as the Games also hosted three different Canterbury West Coast and one South Island Highland Dancing Championships.


I could not get into a really good position to take photos of the caber toss, or indeed most off the heavy athletics cpmpetitions, some of which involved women; but I did see some of the tug’o’wars.



Apart from the usual crafts etc stalls seen at all country fairs there were some with a particularly Scottish flavour:



There was a large sign near the entrance explaining the Heavy Athletic events, something I appreciated. Do any of my readers know, for example, that a perfect cable toss is called a twelve o’clock turn, where the caber falls straight away from where the athlete released it. In a 12 o’clock toss, the caber falls away rom the thrower and forms a straight line through the thrower. Sometimes the caber falls off slightly to the side – a 10 o’clock, 11.30 etc. I gather that if the caber falls back towards the thrower, the toss is void.


Bananas are essential fuel …


I also missed the Hororata Pie Eating Competition – not that I think there would be anything particularly interesting watching people scoffing pies as fast as possible – and they are very good pies, such a shame to treat them so!


There was plenty of food available though including scrumptious whitebait patties on the usual white bread (no other type of bread will do), Scottish pasties and haggis, waffles, and NZ ice-cream including an experimental whisky flavoured ice-cream. I cannot say I could really taste the artifical flavour but both of us enjoyed a taste of the special Hortorata Whisky and came away with two reasonably expensive bottles.


The Kilted Mile (which involved far more than just running – and yes there was some pie eating involved too!) drew quite a crowd. the winner was a very fit young man.


Being a Highland Games there were of course many piping and drumming events. It was good to see so many young people of both sexes taking part in these competitions.


There were a number of Have A Go activities for both adults and children – “Visitors love to get off the bleachers and get hands on with various activities such as tossing the caber or sheaf, farmers walk, archery or the Haggis toss.”  And indeed many people particularly young ones did indeed have a go. It was such a happy atmosphere.


For entertainment as well as the serious Game events, there were Scottish Country dancing demonstrations (which we nearly disrupted by greeting some of our old dancing group friends who we haven’t seen for two years, not long before the music started!) …..


….. and a game of Hurling – something like lacrosse and hockey combined.


We visited Clan Lane and the Johnston(e) Clan table of course – both of us are Johnstons, but unrelated. There was a lovely vase of Red Hawthorn – the Johnston Clan flower – which I have not seen before. I was interested to see a display by a Society of Orkney Islands descendants and will be following up with them later about one of my ancestors. I visited the Orkneys in the late 60s and remember them well, one of the highlights of my Big OE.



The Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) made their presence felt with a tent housing weaving, medieval manuscript illumination and sewing displays, and outside there was a woodworker clad in full armour and various other people in medieval dress. I once used to dance with a Renaissance Dancing group and although not part of the SCA we shared many dances in common.


Footsore, sunburnt, well fed and happy we were just about to leave when Dave was accosted by a rather desperate lady – could we possibly help start her car? We always carry jumper leads so Dave was able to help, but it was indeed lucky that after a good clean-out of the back of the ute, Dave had only placed the jumper leads back in the evening before. A happy ending to a memorable day.

I have finally managed to get the website looking more respectable; if you want to read some my family history stories they are under ‘Genealogy’.  There’s also a story about the “Cornelius” on which I spent a wonderful ten years.

97. Christchurch again.

We arrived back in the chestnut orchard a month ago when the trees were still bare  ….

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…. and when we left last week the orchard was a field of dappled green grass covered with small white daisies, bright yellow dandelions and thistledown heads which look like a faintly bluish carpet when viewed in the late afternoon sun.


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Birdlife had increased markedly; apart from the usual sparrows and blackbirds etc there were some quail and ducks. We had a daily visitor named Chookie who would be most insistent if I did not feed her NOW, came at my call and took bread from my hand. Penny was very good and ignored them all.

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Not long after our arrival we joined a local Dog Walk event, but unlike the one in Blenheim people were not very friendly. The walk was supposed to be a 5 km round trip in the Groynes area through some nice semi-bushland, much of it reclaimed land, but 2/3 the way or so we came to a locked gate and had to return the way we came. Quite a walk!


IMG_3951I’ve spent some time recently knitting trauma teddies to send to a friend of a friend in Ireland who is collecting them to give to refugee children together with a special book. A great way to use up some spare wool. The Australian Red Cross are doing the same thing.


Driving around Christchurch we were both struck by the increasing number of changes. It is getting progressively more difficult to work out one’s location!  More new buildings have gone up since our last visit, including the impressive new bus exchange. There have been some mutterings because the buses have to back out of their pens, normally buses are forbidden to reverse. The temporary ReStart mall (made from shipping containers) has been moved to a new location.






Late one cold and windy afternoon we decided to go to the Ferrymead Historical Park as the vintage steam train and trams were running.


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There was also an early electric tram. We had a number of rides but not time to explore much else.



We did however visit the smithy; in the cold afternoon wind we enjoyed some much-needed hot lebanese food and coffee.


As it was a special weekend many people were dressed in period costumes including these ladies (one with a spoiler!) and three children who I spotted from the top of the electric tram. When I tried to find them later they had all disappeared.

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One old cottage had a walk-in pantry. They seem to be coming back into vogue as they are feature of several Show Homes we have seen recently.



That rather annoying American custom of Halloween rolled round again, and one of the caravan ‘ladies’  went round all the caravans in our little community to warn people that her grandchildren would be visiting that weekend. She gave us bags of sweets to give them as most people would not be expecting the peace of the orchard to be invaded. As dusk fell the visiting witch with her little ghostly helpers DID look rather good, although Penny wasn’t too sure what to make of them! Grandma obviously went all-out to give the grandchildren a wonderful experience, even decorating their caravan.






We went out to our house in Templeton (Christchurch) and removed all our remaining belongings which were stored out of sight in the attic, plus some bookshelves etc still in the garage. Grateful thanks to Nienke for arranging a trailer. We’d been expecting to need to do quite a bit of gardening but the tenants plus the regular lawn mowing guy have kept the place reasonably neat and little was required. It was a bit of a wrench to see all my roses, grape hyacinths, daffodils etc and the two ballerina apple trees all of which I had planted when we first arrived, just starting to look their best. Two of the rosebushes we had brought from our old home in Linwood Ave but they will have to stay now.

We are currently home-sitting in a lovely little country home between Richmond and Motueka, More in the next blog. Just before leaving we attended the wonderful Hororata Highland Games – also in the next blog.