Head in the clouds

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Today –  the day after NZ beat SA in the Rugby World Cup semifinal, the day dawned grey –
I guess you could say the sun did not come up…
I thought it might be a very good day to explore the Kirstenbosch Gradens here in Cape Town.
I drove in and arrived there without too much trouble. I didn’t know there was a market day just before the entrance, so I had to drive my way through cars going in all sorts of directions, trying to get into – and out of – carparks. Various men directing traffic, not always very efficiently. However once inside the Gardens, all was calm.
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The Gardens at Kirstenbosch are well spread out, with gardens ordered according to type. These are not gardens like the Hamilton Gardens, where everything is rather manicured. These are Gardens showing the wild vegetation of the Cape in its natural environment. There are Gardens of Erica, Fynbos, and Protea – among others. There are also gardens using little water, providing health benefits and of course gardens of edible plants.
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….and also the treetop bridge, which moved round rather disconcertingly, but apparently very safely.
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20151025_115706I also took the opportunity to climb up a large tree, which would be a child’s wonderland. No it was not always safe Mum  :)….. it took me back to when I was young and used to sit in a tree reading a book.
As I noted in my journey last week, the gardens tend to be dots of colour rather than splashes of colour.
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However the Nelson Mandela Strelitzia and the Red Coral tree make a brightly coloured tapestry effect.
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I have been to Kirstenbosch a couple of years ago, but this time I thought I would see how how high up the side of Table Mountain it goes. As it turns out, it goes all the way, though I turned back once I came to the clouds about 20 minutes short of the top. The temperature there (according to their website) was zero and visibility zero as well. I decided that I was not dressed for the cold and any adverse weather conditions. The photos below show some of my views as I ascended. As I returned, I noticed that a couple of helicopters flew past lower than I was. My watch tells me I climbed over 100 floors of stairs – I think that means 1km high at Fitbit’s stated 10 metres per floor.
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I ended up following a small ravine up the side of the mountain, with mostly very steep steps cut into the mountain and stopped when I met some people coming from Table Mountain down. They said they had taken about 20 minutes to get to where I was at the time. They were descending and were about 30 years younger (and fitter) than I, so I decided that discretion was the better part of valour – especially when they confirmed that the cloud I was in went right up to the top and the outlook was nil. I sat on a large rock next to a small tree, which was clinging literally and figuratively to life growing in a small crack in the rock and had some lunch.
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I was at the bottom again, I was very glad I had returned. The descent was harder on joints than the ascent and my knees were feeling weak by the time I reached the bottom – even though they are carrying about 10 kilos less than they were a few months ago. There is a sign that tells you when you are entering Kirstenbosch. I did not see it on the way up.
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I did see a few guinea fowl (and babies) on the descent from the clouds
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Table Mountain can wait for another (hopefully better) day.
This was a great day, with a challenging opportunity of getting my head in the clouds….
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Creatures Great and Small

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I set out early yesterday morning to drive along the coast road northwards to the town of Hermanus. Everything is further than it looks in South Africa. What looks like a hop step and jump on the map, seems to take much longer than one would expect. So I drove out past Gordon Bay and onto a road which nestles into the mountain beside the coast, with views across Cape Town Harbour – a haven, which I am sure has been a very welcome sight for many sailors over the centuries
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The first noticeable feature of this drive (apart from the scintillating view across the Harbour is the fynbos growing alongside the road.
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Fynbos is the heathlike vegetation, peculiar to the Western Cape and Cape Town areas. They are an astonishingly diverse group of plants with often colourful flowers with often very small differences between the various types. They don’t provide a carpet of colour – more like a pointillistic tapestry like this roadside vista. Below are some of the flowers that I saw in my various stops along the way along the coast road.P1050843 P105090120151017_085946 P1050849 20151017_094031 20151017_094130 20151017_093556 P1050850
I stopped at Rooi Els, almost at the mouth of the harbour looking across at the other side of the harbour entrance from Table Mountain and Cape Town Central- through a rather misty morning. This is a small settlement with several restaurants and very expensive looking houses among the red clay road, with a view out over the Cape Town harbour and the South Atlantic ocean.
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After this, I had a fairly short drive into Hermanus, the whale spotting capital of South Africa. Once there I made my way to Sievers Point, which was one of the lookout points that appealed to me. Once there I made my way down to the edge of the rocks – seeing a whale spume as I was on my way down the path to the lookout. I swallowed my dislike of heights and settled down right at the very edge, overlooking a long drop to rocks and stormy waters below. This was to be a long stint
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Whale watching is some akin to watching underwater submarine races (with the right company, submarine races could be said to be more exciting!). However after about 40 minutes of sitting, the siren at Hermanus sounded, letting people know that whales were in the bay and sure enough, they settled about 300 metres off-shore from where I was sitting. Great to watch, but just a little too far for good photography. However there was a small pod of about three whales, who  frolicked happily together. One of them appeared to be small and the other two quite large.
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After about an hour of watching them – and hoping they might come closer – I went for a walk along the Cliff Path. If you stop and listen, you hear a multitude of sounds of the animals around, that remain hidden from sight
However I  saw several small animals and birds on this walk. I couldn’t recognise the bird, but it had a tuneful call… Below is a lizard basking in the sun, a blue dragonfly that stopped long enough for me to catch it in my camera and a small rock rabbit, that scuttled away (almost soundlessly) and hid behind the branches of a bush – no doubt moving after I lost patience and walked onwards. I was told that Rock rabbits – though they may be small – are the nearest relative to the elephant……. true or false, it sounded true out of the mouths of the couple that told me this. You have to look carefully to see it in this photo.
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On my return to Cape Town, this time driving on the main highway, I stopped at Sir Lowry’s Point to take a photo overlooking Cape Town. Lowry’s Point is in the Hottentot mountains, that dominate much of Somerset West – where I am staying presently. I move more into the city centre next weekend for the remainder of my time here.
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And as a corollary, here is a photo taken from above Somerset (today) looking back over Somerset, Strand and Gordon’s Bay towards the Hottentots and up the coast – much clearer today.
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This was a stunning adventure for me, where I was fortunate to see all manner of creatures great and small.
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Cathaius interruptus

Spoiler: this blog post is really rather dull with very few photos.
Because of a typhoon in Hong Kong on Monday, I missed my last night’s connection to South Africa by about ten minutes – almost three hours late. Apparently Cathay have taken two or three days to catch up on cancelled flights etc, so the aircraft was late arriving into New Zealand. Very likely the plane next door to mine – which was loading as I disembarked at Hong Kong – was the plane travelling out, but they had already cancelled my onward flight in any case.
So after more than an hour of talking and negotiating, it was decided that I would not travel through Dubai to Johannesburg, but instead, take the same flights a day later. To those of you thinking that things would have become very fractious, you might have been surprised just how diplomatic I can be at times…They were still smiling at me after an hour! I am not sure, at the time of writing, that my last leg to George has been booked and confirmed etc. It was never booked by Cathay, but they seem to think they have managed to change it, so I will have to trust that they were not saying one thing but meaning another……
(Postscript to this: When I arrived to check in at Hong Kong airport, I found that my booking had been cancelled. they told me the flight had been cancelled. Another hour of waiting to be told that they had booked the same flight again and they would have a representative at the gate to help me through. I may even make an earlier flight if current flight information is correct)
I stayed in the Regal Airport Hotel ( at Cathay’s expense of course) – five minutes walk from the terminal. This is quite a nice large hotel and I have made the most of having a rest day, after arriving here at 2.00am (around 7.00am in NZ time), with very little sleep, as I had planned to sleep on the leg to Johannesburg overnight.
I decided quite early on to change into South Africa time, so I first got up for a nice buffet breakfast about 8.00. Salad, cooked tomato and bacon, melon, pineapple, coffee – all gluten-free. There were also various cooked dishes available, but I managed successfully to avoid them. Having lost the weight I wanted to lose, I am not about to put it all back on! So much travel in the next few months means lots of restraint needed at hotel spreads!
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After a quiet morning, my “South Africa day started with about an hour in a very nice gym here  – mostly quite a gentle workout, but it should help to work off the effects of yesterday’s flight. After then I went to have “breakfast” (at 1.00pm here) in the same buffet type restaurant as before. It is really quite impressive, with the food reflecting several cultures and types. Again I managed to eat very well and gluten-free. It was extremely noisy however, with, at one stage, about 150 people talking and laughing.
In the afternoon I went for a “morning” walk around the airport precincts. It was about 28 degrees, so it was rather warm for somebody coming from NZ’s very changeable Spring weather! The airport is far enough away from the centre of Hong Kong to avoid the pollution levels of the inner cirty, but it was still rather hazy, with the blue sky lacking the intensity of a clear New Zealand day. In the end though, the best view was that from my window. I must say that I did not hear a thing from the constant aircraft flying past. Note the haze in the background. this is a clear Hong Kong day…..it does lend a sort of “soft touch” blurring to the image.
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I am spending the “afternoon”  at the airport lounge before travelling overnight to Johannesburg. I have melatonin to take at a South african bedtime, which will hopefully help me to adjust more quickly to daytime hours the next day. Cathay would not book me on the early flight to George – in case I miss that as well, but they did say that I might be able to change to the earlier flight if I do manage to get through immigration and pickle up luggage quickly. The last time I did this flight, I was booked on the same early flight and made it easily, so we shall see.
It would be good to arrive early, but not a calamity to spend 4 hours at Johannesburg airport. I have lounge access – even for domestic flights, so I can always freshen up a little. Apparently a Cathay ground crew person will meet me at Johannesburg to take me through. I am not sure if that is a good sign , but Cathay have been quite helpful after initially creating the problem, because of their delay. The hotel here (plus food) is all at their expense, so I haven’t put out my budget…yet!!  🙂
I hope my future blog posts are rather more interesting than this blog, with rather more photo interest, however we shall see what adventures await after the “Cathay interrupted” flight.
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Oh to be in England, now that April is here…..

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After a direct flight to the UK from NZ, with a short stopover in Hong Kong, I was intrigued to see England in the Spring. After a trip over premium Economy, it was interesting to see the difference between Aiur NZ(first leg) and Cathay Pacific (Second leg). I must say that Air NZ came out clearly as the winner in this contest. Better seats, a proper leg rest, footrest and more space with better recline ability), allied with better food/drink and a semi-waiter-like service and better TV monitor. It was a real experience. Cathay in comparison was economy class with better seating (with more space and recline facility, but only a rudimentary footrest) and early boarding. One of them was totally worth the extra cost. All up it did mean that I arrived in better shape than I have after an economy direct flight, so I was ready to investigate the sights of an English countryside in Spring.

The first thing I noticed on the train trip up to Birmingham, was that the trees have leaves…! How astute of me! However that meant that I did not have the panoramic view of the countryside, that bare trees in Winter allowed.

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However after conference I travelled down to stay close to Cambridge. Here I have been able to wander through woods, gardens and even a next-door garden centre, looking at the myriad of plants growing here in the Spring in England.

On a drive, the first thin I noticed was field upon field full of beautiful yellow flowers. I found out that these are Rapeseed flowers, from which we drive Rapeseed Oil. When you think about the name, you can quickly understand why it is not a very popular  oil, though it is blended in a large majority of cooking oils. Apparently it is a very good cooking oil on its own, but not often sold as such, because of the associations of its name. Such a beautiful scene however.

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After arrival at my”English home”, we went for a walk in the adjacent wood. The Buebells, I was told, were well past their best. However they were still quite breathtaking and I loved the dappled light coming through the Spring green leaves on the trees. This is a different England!

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I can see the real difference between seasons, having been here so often in the grim darkness of Winter. I was here only three months ago, when there was no snow, but also, not much else apart from bare branches without even signs of buds or life. It is not so much that it is so incredibly beautiful( which it is…..it is the difference between the seasons, which we in New Zealand are not fortunate enough to experience. we have a sort of gradual merging of seasons. In the English Spring, there is a sense of regeneration  – apparent also in the psyche of the English people – with the optimistic spirit of a new renaissance – despite election results not pleasing everybody!

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I went through the Garden Centre  and was interested to see how much emphasis there is on flowers and quick-growing plants rather than the more slow-growing shrubs. I imagine this is a result of the harsher winter here and the relatively short time for flowers and plants to flourish preoprly.

The other point to notice is  the way that people fit so much colour and life into relatively small spaces. In New Zealand I appreciate we think our garden spaces are much smaller than in the past, but this is much more apparent in England.

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I was fortunate to be taken to a beautiful traditional English garden with the grass, obviously well cared for and a true sense of an “Olde” English country garden (cue music here….”in an English country Gar—ar—den”!).

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I was amazed to see some Camellias, coming well into blossom – or finishing flowering. In New Zealand these are seen as Autumn/Winter flowers, but here in England they obviously flower in Spring.

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After a walk around the village here – including the ubiquitous cricket pitch and field – under mostly blue skies and a temperature in the late teens, I was still happy to return to my “English home” and well earned coffee – albeit English coffee…..

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So my trip here has been great. I have loved seeing the transformation of the scenery. I am able to really understand and enjoy those immortal words of Robert Browning (with one important loss of a “t” in the last word, and apologies for being a month late – we are slower in New Zealand…  🙂

“O, TO be in England. Now that April ‘s here”……

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Peaks and troughs

Monday seems to be the day on which I do some of the tourist activities around Hong Kong. Last week we went up to the peak of Mt Victoria, on Hong Kong Island – the part of Hong Kong which was first settled by the British, when they wanted or needed access to the port of Canton.
On the way across to the tram, we walked up through Chater Square and past St Andrews Cathedral.

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Chater Square

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Chater square looking up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The traditional way up the Peak is the tram, of which there are two – connected by a large wire at the top of the peak. As one tram ascends, the other tram descends, passing each other (presumably) in the middle of the line, where the track is divided into two. The slope is very steep, so try not to think too much about the possibility of the wire’s breaking. There may be some sort of braking system on the trams…? These are old-fashioned trams, which seat quite a lot of people in three carriages

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The peak is not really the peak. It is close to the peak, but I do not know if people are allowed to walk up to the actual peak. Still from the lookout, there is a wonderful vista of Hong Kong (on a clear day!) On a polluted day, the tops of buildings appear. I have been lucky that most days here have been clear, until the last few days, when it has also (thankfully) been a little cooler

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Wisely or otherwise, we set out to walk around the peak. This starts off as a pleasant path – Reminder to self – there is no need to buy the expensive lookout ticket. The view is just as good from elsewhere. Next time save HKD$40. So back to our walk. AS I said it began rather pleasantly, with the path degenerating after a little into a roadway with varying degrees ( or not!) of pavement. The houses here are probably the most expensive real estate in Hong Kong. Mostly well established – with no doubt old wealth, they look out over Hong Kong, the New Territories and the South China Sea. There are trees here! the Island is mostly trees, with a few very dense housing areas at various places. My previous blog concerned my trek to Stanley, but Aberdeen is found here, as well as other bays and of course Central Hong Kong and Wanchai etc.

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Landscape away from the Harbour

The roadway seemed to go down forever – I was thinking what goes down has to come up again?….and we thought for a time we had gone off the track. However it started to ascend again and we took a very slippery path by the road straight up, only to find that it ended at a construction site and they were not about to let us across to get back to the tram station terminus, so we had to slide our way down the path once more and continue up the road.
Eventually we found ourselves back at the terminus , looked around the shops and had some over-priced food and drink before setting off down the Peak on foot.

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Watching the Cable car approach

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… and closer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I did this first in 2004, when I was able to follow the tram line itself – mostly in concrete steps. However that has been stopped now and we followed our way down a very wide pleasant road. Again there is greenery here – something you don’t really see in the central parts of Hong Kong. You also realise how steep Mt Victoria is, and wonder at how they have managed to build on such a slope. I think it is even worse than Wellington.

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Mid-level Escalator – the Steps on the bottom section.

Once mostly down, we managed to get to the Mid-Levels escalator which travels several hundred metres down to Central Hong Kong. However the escalator goes one way….and you guessed it….it was travelling upwards at that time of day. So we found ourselves walking down more steps until we found a friendly looking bar where a beer at happy hour prices was gratefully downed.

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This was a real change from the sedentary remainder of an examiner’s week –  a journey through Hong Kong Island with its peaks and troughs.

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Two faces of Hong Kong

A week of being back in Hong Kong… Time has flown by this week with a plethora of diploma exams. However there has been a little time for other things. Time to look around…look for places I remember from last time i was here. Much is familiar but many changes have occurred in the three years since I last spent a long time here. The nice Japanese restaurant next door …😯. The great bar where we watched the ABs in that heart-failing Rugby World Cup final of 2011…gone 😕 Optometrist. …still there ☺ New glasses ordered😎. Frozen yoghurt bar….gone 😰
Perhaps I am more mindful of the differences between NZ and HK now. They say Hong Kong never sleeps…. try to find a shop open before 10 or 11am. Agreed they stay open late into the evening. However before 10am Hong Kong sleeps… I am working at the top floor of the Festival Walk shopping mall in Kowloon Tong…about 6 or 7 floors up by the time you count lower ground 1 and 2 and ground, upper ground….well you get the picture. Going up the escalators at 8.30 in the morning the place is almost completely empty. You could swing a Ragdoll cat (!) and it wouldn’t hit anybody. In fact the top escalators are turned off.

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Emerge from my little cell about 10.15 and there are a few people around. Mostly along at the foodhall at the far end. Come lunchtime…well I made the mistake of going to buy some lunch. It was a 15 minute wait before I was able to find a seat and eat the lunch. 15 minutes in this deafening roar of humanity….. and I had yet to eat.
Here a few shots of Festival Walk. It is a fairly upmarket mall with lots of trendy (read “silly money”) shops.

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But there’s more…Last night I was over on Hong Kong Island. This was a shot I took in one of the walkways.
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Excuse the slight lack of focus. Hong Kong people are impatient people, mostly in a rush…I decided that I would like to walk 3 kilometres back to my hotel and my stewards had orders to go with me to make sure I arrived safely…from the reaction, I realised I would need to go with them in a taxi…for which we waited 15 minutes as the traffic crawled painfully past. In fact we didn’t get one until I suggested we move to another street….
Back to my story…Having taken the photo above I turned around to find a square almost empty of people so I took this photo below.
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There are beautiful sights here. These shots are taken from my hotel room.
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I could watch some of the daily laser light show from here. However new large buildings here have impeded the view somewhat…
So now to turn the other cheek…in a manner of speaking…..we are talking of the two FACES of Hong Kong…..

Today I went on a tramp. Five minutes by taxi from Wanchai (close to Central on Hong Kong Island) over Violet Hill to Stanley. Starting the walk about 6.45 and arriving in heat of 27 degrees into Stanley about 9.20. So I turned off the phone…which felt quite liberating really….more in another outburst another time…..and off we went straight up the hill.
I have too many spectacular shots from this walk to include. However what struck me was how close we were to built up areas of Hong Kong yet how far away in terms of environment. We saw a few birds…heard rather more….and saw no footed animals larger than a few butterflies, spiders and dragonflies – no snakes! Apart from that I revelled in the spectacular scenery amid the backdrop of Hong Kong from a rather different perspective. I will stop my verbosity and let the photos tell the story.

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So we arrived at Stanley about 9.20. Generally full of people, you can see from the following shot of the Stanley market that there was nobody around or open.
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We cooled down with a very nice Mövenpick Sorbet and my first coffee since my arrival here and then wandered along the boardwalk….

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…..after which we wandered through the market which was still….at 10.35….empty.

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So while Hong Kong is so busy in the buit up areas, it is relatively simple to escape the urban areas, which according to Wikipedia, make up less than 25% of the total area. There are indeed two faces of Hong Kong.

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Test new babies

This is a test of the new update from my phone

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