Glimpses of Paranormal Warwickshire Part 1: Shakespeare’s Ghosts and Spirits

This is the first of a series giving you a few tasters from my book Paranormal Warwickshire which will be released by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman cover design. Published Amberley 15 November 2020
Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman cover design. Published Amberley 15 November 2020

Warwickshire is a county steeped in the supernatural, as befits the county of Shakespeare and the many ghosts and spirits that he conjured up in his works. In Paranormal Warwickshire I investigate the rich supernatural heritage of this county at the heart of England in places both grand and everyday, including Guy’s Cliffe, the Saxon Mill, Kenilworth Castle, Warwick Castle, Stoneleigh Abbey, and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, as well as in the towns of Rugby, Nuneaton and Leamington Spa.

When I began my book, I was inspired by the spiritual resonance of so many locations in Shakespeare‘s county of Warwickshire. It seemed entirely appropriate to draw all the stories together through the central theme of Shakespeare’s ghosts and spirits.

Shakespeare’s plays are full of these supernatural encounters and characters. In Julius Caesar, Brutus, tormented by guilt, is haunted by the ghost of murdered Caesar.

Brutus & Caesar's Ghost 1802 Wikimedia commons Shakespeare Julius Caesar SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire
Brutus and the Ghost of Caesar from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Painting dated 1802. Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

In Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, grief-stricken and betrayed, agonises over whether or not he is visited by the spirit of his father.

Hamlet and his father's ghost. Shakespeare's Hamlet. Painting by John Gilbert. Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons. SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire
Hamlet and his father’s ghost. Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Painting by John Gilbert. Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

In Macbeth , the king of Scotland (whose name many actors are too superstitious to mention), cannot believe he is the only person who sees Banquo’s spirit at the feast…

Ghost Banquo at Feast. Shakespeare's Macbeth. Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons. SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire
The Ghost of Banquo at the Feast. Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Alongside those who witness the apparitions, we have some wonderful sceptical foils or sounding boards. Cassius in Julius Caesar is convinced Brutus’s vision was just the power of his imagination. In Hamlet, Horatio tells his troubled friend that it is but a fantasy. Antigonus in The Winter’s Tale says he has heard but not believed the spirits of the dead may walk again.

And as for spirits, either they are serving the will of the magician Prospero in The Tempest

Prospero, Ariel & Miranda from Shakespeare's The Tempest. Paiting by William Hamilton Image sourced from Wikipedia. SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire
Prospero, Ariel & Miranda from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Painting by William Hamilton. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

or setting out, like Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to accomplish the task of teasing mortals…

Puck a Sprite. Painting by Arthur Rackham. sourced from Wikimedia Commons. SC Skillman Paranormal Warwickshire
Puck, a Sprite. Painting by Arthur Rackham. Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

But in the end, are they but airy nothing, to which the poet’s pen gives a local habitation and a name?

Whether they are purely dramatic devices, or whether Shakespeare himself believed in ghosts and spirits, we cannot definitively say. Scholars and Shakespearean actors and lovers of the Bard differ in their views. But one thing we can say for sure; they fired Shakespeare’s imagination to the highest degree, and he lavished upon them great poetry, humour, playfulness and mischief, the heights of powerful drama, the depths of despair, guilt and existential angst, and his most discerning observations of mental distress.

Throughout my book Paranormal Warwickshire I have used quotes from Shakespeare. In every case I found a quote which I believe resonates with how I feel about the place.

Perhaps Shakespeare would have been surprised to know that four hundred and twenty years into the future, a belief in ghosts and spirits would prevail with such strength in our society. Or perhaps he wouldn’t. He reached to the heart of the human condition, and the emotions and dilemmas he presents are fresh and vivid and relevant to us today. So I confirmed when I toured many places in his county, Warwickshire, and found not only spiritual resonance from the rich stories associated with these places, but many people who have tales to recount, of experiences for which they can find no scientific explanation.

Check out some of my previous posts on the subject of Shakespeare:

Shakespeare and the Plague

The Brightest Heaven of Invention

Our wills and fates

In my next post I will share some photos and discoveries at Warwick Castle.

Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman will be published by Amberley on 15th November 2020. Pre-order now either online or from your local bookstore.

Cornwall Mini Series Part 12: Trellisick National Trust

View Trellisick to Fal Estuary Cornwall SC Skillman
View from Trellisick to Fal Estuary Cornwall SC Skillman

What an enchanting location this is for a grand house: situated on the Fal estuary in Cornwall, views across to the water are to be glimpsed from the terrace at the back of the house, and also from many places in the parkland.

As one of my friends on social media remarked, grand houses like those in the possession of the National Trust always remind him of Cluedo. Here at Trellisick, we weren’t able to go into the house due to the Covid19 restrictions, but certainly I was tempted to gaze through the windows of the orangery and imagine which part of the plot might unfold in there behind the giant terracotta urns…

Moving round into the gardens, it seemed every bend of the path brought new vistas and new delights.

I loved a gazebo in the gardens with stained glass windows which was decorated with natural objects; fir cones had been embedded into the design and created an exquisite fairytale effect.

The walk through the gardens eventually leads d

own to the King Harry Ferry which carries motorists and pedestrians across the river Fal and is the best route to take from Trellisick if you are, as we were, planning to visit St Mawes later. You might like to check out some other bloggers’ thoughts, feelings and information about the glorious gardens here at Trellisick: Tinbox Traveller; Trellisick ranger blog, and Trellisick garden blog.

Check out the previous posts in my Cornwall mini series.

Part 1 Mawgan Porth

Part 2 Watergate Bay

Part 3 The Eden Project

Part 4 The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Part 5 Port Isaac

Part 6 Truro

Part 7 Trerice

Part 8 The Screech Owl Sanctuary

Part 9 St Michael’s Mount

Part 10 Tintagel

Part 11 Falmouth Discovery Quay and Pendennis Castle

A Resurgence in Withdrawal – Covid-19 Lockdown Art

So many of us have reacted in different ways in the UK lockdown, some being energized and leaping into action in house and garden, others relapsing into lethargy, feeling flat and down and disorientated and bewildered by what’s going on in the world. Others may have taken up a new activity or found themselves behaving differently.

I’ve taken up art. An artist friend Jane lent me her artist’s supplies before the lockdown and then of course I had no chance to call on her to give them back. She urged me to use them, though I hadn’t painted for years.

The sumptuous thick squidgy texture and the brilliant colours of the acrylic paint called me, and the full set of artist’s brushes invited me to engage with them.

So I ordered a Strathmore art pad online and began painting.

At first I laid on blocks of colour in an abstract design…

bright coloured abstract design in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art
bright coloured abstract design in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art

Then I seized a chance to lavish cobalt blue onto the paper…

blue and purple iris in acrylic paint SC Skillman lockdown art
blue and purple iris in acrylic paint SC Skillman lockdown art

Then I thought I’d try a tree of life…

tree of life in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art
tree of life in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art

The next one was in freestyle, and ended up looking like a fabric design:

red and yellow design acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art
red and yellow design acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art

A beautiful blue borage flower caught my eye in a friend’s photo on Facebook. Some see it as a weed. I loved the colour and the symmetry.

borage flower in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art
borage flower in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art

The next day a photo of a quarry garden inspired me. My husband looked at my painting and identified the ‘path’ as a river, and that’s when I realised the photo is just a guide, and at a certain point lack of technical skill tips you over the edge into fantasy.

river and garden in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art
river and garden in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art

I love the combination of trees and parkland and rich verdant landscapes with man-made features such as a bridge and a carefully designed lake and a temple. Capability Brown, step forward.

parkland, lake, bridge and temple in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art
parkland, lake, bridge and temple in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art

My sister sent me her photo of rich rainforest on the Queensland/New South Wales border. I loved the perspective. Standing on the edge of a cliff, the viewer gazes down to the waterfall far below.

rainforest and waterfall in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art
rainforest and waterfall in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art

Following a week in Cornwall visiting some vibrant tropical gardens, I felt like capturing one of the many vistas at Trebah:

garden and bridge in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art
garden and bridge in acrylic paints SC Skillman lockdown art

Each time I paint a picture there’s always a point when I think, ‘This is going to be a mess. This feels so random’.

Later I take a photograph of the picture, and when I look at the photo I think, ‘oh it’s not so bad after all’.

Viewing a photo of art enables me to see it more objectively. It also changes the colour slightly and makes it appear more muted and subtle, and even gives the image a different feeling.

Something happens in that moment, something liminal, which makes me feel happy.

I later shared the photos of the paintings on social media, and people responded to them. Each time I felt a sense of surprise. They feel naive to me, and yet it is thrilling to evoke a response from a simple image.

I’m a writer but I never forget how people will often respond to an image first.

Have you taken up anything new or creative in lockdown?

Perhaps feeling flat and dispirited and down has led to something unexpected, which has given you a sense of fresh possibilities?

Inspiration for Creative Writers From Grayson Perry in Grayson’s Art Club

Honesty and truthfulness – these are the outstanding virtues of a great artist. And as a creative writer I am currently finding inspiration from  artist Grayson Perry as he showcases “Covid-19 lockdown art” in his TV show “Grayson’s Art Club” on Channel 4.

Grayson makes use of our contemporary culture which he transforms into art –  tapestries, lithographs, glazed vases. One of my favourite items in a Grayson Perry exhibition in London was his “career advancement vase” upon which he had painted lots of different cliché words and phrases job seeker use on CVs.  These words are so evocative. They carry within them all sorts of pretensions, eagerness to impress, compulsion to present a false picture of oneself to the world.

In. another exhibition of Grayson’s works, I loved his “Walthamstow Tapestry

In Grayson Perry and Wendy Jones’ book “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl”, co-author Wendy Jones writes: “During the interviews Grayson appeared almost physically malleable. It seemed that sometimes he would look like a First World War pilot, then a mediaeval minstrel, then a housewife suffering from ennui, then an elegant hurdler. He was always morphing – I hadn’t come across that before and I doubt I shall see it often again.”

This capacity to morph strikes a chord in me as I watch Grayson’s Art Club, listen to his raucous laugh, and observe the change in his hairstyle between scenes. I also find myself imagining him as a young girl, in one of his many other personnas, I love the idea of a “fluid and flexible ego”, something I believe Grayson Perry has; and I used this idea myself in my novel “Mystical Circles” where it is eventually understood as part of the shapeshifting gifts of a shaman. Wendy Jones’ description was fascinating to me as I have known of those who morph in this fashion and have witnessed it myself and worked it into my own fiction.

Grayson Perry suggests that we “sit lightly to our beliefs”, and “let go of a compulsion to seek meaning – we will enjoy life in this world much more.” His art bears this out; everything is referred back to his childhood teddy Alan Measles, his “guiding spirit”; everything is set against that barometer of his childlike perceptions, even to the extent of  dressing as a little girl.

Grayson Perry  has important things to say, strong challenges to make to me. I cannot ignore these challenges as a creative writer.

Grayson Perry in one of his colourful alternative personnas
Artist Grayson Perry

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 28: Queensland, Australia: from University Campus to Botanic Gardens and Iconic Lookout: Brisbane Highlights

This is the twenty-eighth and final post in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about our final visit in New Zealand: Auckland Botanic Gardens. Whilst there we enjoyed the outstanding Sculptures in the Gardens exhibition which continues to showcase and celebrate New Zealand sculptors and artists, through to March 2020..

After flying from Auckland to Brisbane, we were to catch up on some of Brisbane’s highlights in the closing days of our visit.

Promotional websites for Brisbane will point up a number of places to visitors as the “jewels in the city’s crown” but I think the University of Queensland campus certainly deserves to be one of them. I worked there in the School of External Studies, during the time I lived in Brisbane during the 1980s. Much has changed since then but I still enjoyed walking once more through the cloisters of the Great Court, and admiring the wonderful landscaping and of course the magnificent poincianna tree with profuse blossoms, and fragrant frangipani trees which you may see here. Among many other outstanding features, the campus also has a stunning art gallery.

Out last two visits in Brisbane were to the Look-Out and the Botanic Gardens at Mount Coot-tha.

The Lookout is one of Brisbane’s most popular tourist destinations, offering almost 360 degree views. I’ve been there many times in the past, and often a glorious blue sky and clear atmosphere makes this a joyful experience for visitors. However, on this occasion, at the summit the heat was fierce, and the smoke from bushfires was very much in evidence, filling the Brisbane skies.

For me this was a nostalgic, poignant visit, though it has always given me pleasure just to be there and do some tourist-watching! The views from this lookout must be the most popular place in Brisbane as a backdrop for photo opportunities, and at the height of the holiday season, myriads of holiday-makers from all around the world enjoy posing in happy and often artfully-arranged groups.

Our final visit was to Mount Coot-tha Botanic Gardens. These gardens, too, I have loved and often wandered around in the past; today, sadly, the temperatures and humidity were so high, we were unable to tour the gardens as there is much uphill walking, and again a lovely lookout at the highest point of the gardens.

Instead we did the Rainforest Trail: always a blessed relief and an excellent option in times of fierce heat and humidity!

I was also a pleasure afterwards to enter the air-conditioned atmosphere of the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium. The day of our visit the Planetarium was offering as its midday show, “Cosmic Collisions” narrated by Robert Redford. I’ve been to the planetarium show too in the past and greatly enjoyed it.

It was a pleasure to return once more to Brisbane and to the many familiar haunts that I remembered from the four and a half years I spent living there in the 1980s. Inevitably there have been tremendous changes, and yet these simply serve to highlight and set in sharp relief those elements which endure, and arouse a sense of recognition, bringing again a sense of deep connection.

These can arise at unexpected moments, sometimes the subtropical forest of a mountain lookout, or a kookaburra sitting on a branch in front of the panorama of the Samford Valley; at other times the glimpse of a gracious colonial Queenslander with its iron lace balustrades; or the feeling of walking through spacious galleries and gazing at the water features of the State Library of Queensland or the Gallery of Modern Art, or the lovely landscaping of the South Bank Parklands.

Perhaps I may best end by highlighting an excellent presentation of the history of the city, in the Museum of Brisbane to be found in the City Hall in King George Square.

There, aboriginal people speak on video. They represent the ancestral owners of all the land upon which Brisbane is built.

“We believe the land respects us if we respect the land.”

Another said, very gently, of the great city that has risen up on this land: “We wish it wasn’t here. But times change.”

I thought of the corroboree spaces, the campsites, the burial grounds and other places of aboriginal life along the Brisbane river in the past. These were all vividly depicted on a timeline map of the Brisbane river, to be found on display in the museum.

“We believe the land respects us if we respect the land”.

Their words, and the feeling behind them made me feel sad. And yet, I reflected, if the feelings of the aboriginal people had been respected, and their land not taken from them and occupied…. I would never be here myself.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 27: North Island, New Zealand: Auckland Botanic Gardens

This is the twenty-seventh post in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today concludes my account of a journey through New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about our visit to the Coromandel Peninsula.

Map of the Coromandel Peninsula

I described our stay in Hahei, on the South Pacific coast, and our boat trip to Cathedral Cove: which appears as the first dramatic setting for the Pevensie children as they arrive unexpectedly in Narnia in the opening scene of the film Prince Caspian.

On the last day of our day we headed south again back to Auckland. Before returning to Auckland airport for our return flight to Brisbane, we visited the Auckland Botanic Gardens.

The entrance to the gardens featured lovely architecture, sculptures and water features.

Inside the entrance area we found an art gallery and cafe. Here in the Auckland Botanic Gardens, Sculpture in the Gardens will showcase and celebrate some great sculptors and artists through to March 2020. We found much to inspire, move and challenge us. I was particularly impressed by a white sculpture of a sad seated girl: poignant, graceful and evocative.

White sculpture of sad seated girl in the entrance area of Auckland Botanic Gardens

Another sculpture which fascinated me, by artist Oliver Stretton-Pow, represents a vision of a city. Called Just City, the artist created it in 2019 using wood, steel and found objects.

Just City, a sculpture in the entrance area of Auckland Botanic Gardens, created in 2019 by artist Oliver Stretton-Pow, using wood, steel and found objects.

Out in the gardens we found this intriguing installation by artist Jeff Thomson. Jeff is known as “Mr Corrugated Iron” and he called this installation Islands. Using corrugated iron, water, galvanised steel mesh, hay, wire, wetland and aquatic plants, he has re-created some of the 50-pus islands of the Haurakia Gulf. He hopes that by playing with positive and negative shapes, he will make us question the relationship between land and sea.

Later we wandered through an area of the garden which featured giant bees on honeycomb.

The ingenious use of arts and sculpture interwoven with colourful planting delighted us all.

Elsewhere in the gardens, we found an area devoted to demonstrating styles of garden design and planting suited to specific climates and location; I was interested to find a recommendation of “green manure” very similar to that seen in Ryton Organic Gardens in Warwickshire a year or so ago. ‘Green manure’ rules, in both the UK, and in New Zealand twenty six hours fight away!

We then set off for Auckland airport and so ended our tour of New Zealand’s North Island, a green and beautiful land full of majestic landscapes and sublime coastal scenery, along with outstanding tourist attractions and awesome geological wonders.

In my next post, the last in my ‘Australia and New Zealand’ series, I share more images of lovely botanic gardens: this time, on the slopes of Mount Coot-tha in Brisbane.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 25: North Island, New Zealand: Rotorua and the Tamaki Maori Village

This is the twenty-fifth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today is the eighth of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about our visit to Rotorua, and The Redwoods Treewalk, a tranquil experience, walking through the forest canopy among the graceful, majestic Redwood trees, along high swinging timber walks suspended from slings secured around the tree trunks.

The evening of our visit to the Redwoods Treewalk, we joined a busload of tourists to visit the Tamaki Maori village. All were expecting “a Maori cultural experience”. What we may not have expected was that we would become a Maori tribe for the evening, and one among us would be chosen as the Chief, and that person would need to memorise the name of our tribe along with certain Maori terms and also carry out the formal greetings required between one Maori chief and another.

One of our number, a Scandinavian visitor, volunteered to be Chief. Meanwhile, all of us needed to learn certain Maori terms; and I think I can guarantee that the one word we all did carry away with us from the experience was “Kia-ora” which was repeated so many times it would be difficult to forget! It translates as “have life” or “be healthy” and is used for “hello” or “hi”.

Before we arrived at the Maori village we were instructed that during the opening ceremony we were to be quiet, to remain unsmiling, and not to laugh or copy any of the Maori warriors’ actions; although we were allowed to take photos.

Each tourist group present had an elected Chief, and a tribal name. Our own Chief stepped forward, and the traditional greeting took place (nose rubbing)

As soon as the formalities had been completed, the atmosphere was transformed. The cheerful Maori Leader welcomed us and said we could all now laugh and smile as much as we liked, and then everyone relaxed and made ready for the most enjoyable experience ahead.

We moved forward into a lovely “Maori Village” environment; Maori huts were arranged around a forest glade, beside a creek with a traditional canoe in it. Each hut was a “station”, between which we moved to see demonstrations of warrior moves, games, cooking, basket-weaving, tattooing and its symbolism. Participation was strongly encouraged, and great fun was had by all.

After that, we moved on to see a demonstration of traditional Maori hangi: cooking foods using heated rocks buried in a pit oven.

Demonstration of traditional Maori ‘Hangi’ booking

Then we entered the “Ancestral Meeting Hall”, to watch a performance of song, dance and storytelling.

Finally we entered the dining hall for a feast and later on a choir sang to us Maori songs and gave another dance performance. A brilliant experience and I can thoroughly recommend the Tamaki Maori Village attraction to all visitors to Rotorua.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 24: North Island, New Zealand: Rotorua and the Redwoods Treewalk

This is the twenty-fourth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today is the eighth of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about our visit to Rotorua, situated on the shores of Lake Rotorua and famous for its thermal areas full of natural wonders such as boiling mudpools and geysers. I described our visit to the awe-inspiring Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, a very popular tourist attraction.

The Lady Knox Geyser at Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

Rotorua is justly famous for its many attractions, and we visited another of these after lunch on the same day of our visit to Geothermal Wonderland. The Redwoods Treewalk offers a tranquil experience, walking through the forest canopy among the graceful, majestic Redwood trees, along high swinging timber walks suspended from slings secured around the tree trunks.

When you arrive at the Redwoods Treewalk visitor centre you will find that everything here has been constructed to harmonise with the natural environment – even the toilets. They were probably the most beautiful ecologically-inspiring toilets I had ever seen (although in fact we did see some other beautiful toilets in New Zealand – the Hundertwasser public toilets in Kawakawa, which are so exceptional they are on the tourist route as an artistic destination in their own right).


The toilets at the Visitor Centre of the Redwoods Treewalk, Rotorua – harmonising with the natural surroundings
The Visitor Centre at the Redwoods Treewalk
winding path through the forest at the Redwoods Treewalk

Reaching the start of the treewalk, you climb up to the first platform.

the start of the Redwoods Treewalk

The treewalk is a peaceful, almost meditative experience, once you have acclimatised yourself to the feeling of the swinging timber walks 20 meters above the ground. Informative signs along the route give you plenty to find out, pausing on your journey. You may very well wish to spend some time at each of the platforms, just to regain your feeling of standing on a solid surface once more!

As you make your way along the treewalk you will also see giant lanterns suspended from the trees. These are the Redwoods Nightlights, an art installation by artist and ‘sustainability champion’ David Trubridge, and at night they illuminate the trees and no doubt thrill the hearts of all those who take the walk after dark.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 22: North Island, New Zealand: An Artistic Vision Arising from New Zealand's Worst Earthquake in 1931: Napier, and Hawke's Bay

This is the twenty-second in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today is the sixth of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about our visit to the enchanting Lake Taupo.

Lake Taupo

From Lake Taupo, we headed south east to Napier, through a landscape of golden broom and vast pine plantations, which gave way to grand mountain scenery, as the road crossed a precipitous chasm. Our first view of Napier was from a great height and we saw areas of dry bleached grass for the first time since our arrival in New Zealand, with evidence of the logging industry everywhere.

The town of Napier was destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 which killed 256, injured thousands and devastated the Hawke’s Bay region. It remains New Zealand’s deadliest natural disaster. Out of this tragedy, though, a new and beautiful town was reborn; subsequently rebuilt in the Art Deco style of the period, Napier today is an artistic vision with evidence in its architecture of the most minute attention to the highest standards of design. Every years the locals hold an Art Deco Festival with a Great Gatsby picnic on the sea front which I would love!

The region is also noted for its wineries and first of all we visited The Mission winery outside the town. I was intrigued to learn that it is New Zealand’s oldest winery and ‘the birthplace of New Zealand wine‘; and started life specialising in communion wines; hence the name. We certainly enjoyed our wine tasting there.

We then went down into Napier, where we became absorbed in gazing at and photographing many elegant buildings as we strolled around the town.

After that we drove to Bluff Hill Lookout overlooking Hawke’s Bay where vast numbers of stacked pine logs awaited transportation by ship to other countries.

Bluff Hill Lookout was developed by Napier City Council on the remnants of two 2nd World War gun emplacements, so that visitors today may admire the panorama of Hawke’s Bay. We enjoyed the beauty of the gardens surrounding the lookout, full of colourful flowers, and the fascinating view of the bay.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 18: North Island, New Zealand: Paihia and the Bay of Islands; and Kawakawa and its Famous Hundertwasser Landmark

This is the eighteenth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today is the second of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about West Auckland and the spectacular beaches of Karekare and Piha . Today we head north from Auckland and our destination is Paihia and the Bay of Islands.

We drove north through a landscape of green hills and trees and bright flowers; the North Island of New Zealand in November reminded me of rural England at its best in spring and summer. No wonder the makers of The Lord of the Rings films settled upon this landscape as the ideal location for its idyllic, bucolic Hobbiton.

Stopping on the way at a delightful Honey Centre (New Zealand is famed for its Manuka honey), we arrived at the Top 10 Holiday Park in Paihia.

The holiday park was situated on the bay with tranquil views.

view of the bay from the Top 10 Holiday Park, Paihia
bayside view, Top 10 Holiday Park, Paihia

The following day we planned to cruise around the Bay of Islands. But before that we followed the Waitangi Loop with magnificent views of the Bay. This area is famed for the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. The two parties to the treaty were the Maori Chiefs and representatives of the British Crown.

We then visited the small town of Kawakawa, a town which celebrates its significance as the “Cultural Junction of the North“. It demonstrates this by ensuring that evidence of artistic inspiration is seen everywhere.

The town is famed for its unusual choice of venue to celebrate artistic genius: the public toilets designed by the Austrian designer, Friedensreich Hundertwasser. These toilets are on the tourist route and a visit there is mandatory!

After our visit to Kawakawa, we returned to Paihia, to stroll around the town. This very tourist-conscious community and its architecture reminded me of a film-set: hotels, motels and architect-designed houses nestled among restaurants, bistros and boutiques. We were struck by the church which is to be found here, looking incongruous amongst all the contemporary residences: St Paul’s Anglican Church, which was constructed of Kawakawa stone in 1925, on the site of the original mission church.

Properties in Paihia
view of Paihia village

I was interested to find a gravestone in the graveyard behind the church, inscribed to Ngaurupa Te Ngawa Korokoro with an epitaph in the Maori language. As we left the graveyard, we found that a large bottle of water was provided with a request for visitors to wash their hands on leaving the Rupa (graveyard) as a mark of respect to a sacred place.

Maori gravestone in graveyard of St Paul’s Anglican Church, built in 1925 on the site of the original mission church in Paihia

Inside the church I found a prayer-poem for those afflicted by earthquakes. I hope you can read it here.

Later we set off to board a cruise launch for a cruise around the Bay of Islands. But before we embarked, we looked around a fascinating exhibition in the visitor centre which told us that Russell, the small town across the bay from Paihia on Tapeka Point, was once known as ‘the Hell Hole of the Pacific’ because the sailors who docked there rampaged in it, until the missionaries came to sort them out!

Distant view of the Bay of Islands.

As we cruised round the Bay of Islands the weather was breezy and cool, and the captain told us he would only go out to the Hole in the Rock (Motukokako) if the weather conditions made it safe.

In fact we did go there, but were unable to sail right through the hole in the rock out to the waters of the South Pacific beyond as they were too turbulent.

The boat stopped as those on board took the oportunity to photograph this natural wonder, with the waves of the South Pacific crashing against it.

During the cruise we saw dolphins playing in the water around us. Truly a enchanting way to experience the Bay of Islands in this understandably very popular tourist destination.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.