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.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 17: West Auckland, New Zealand: Piha and Karekare Beaches

This is the seventeenth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019. Today is the first of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

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

We flew into Auckland from Brisbane, and our first experience of the spectacular scenery was in West Auckland. Driving along the narrow, winding Piha Road, I was particularly struck by the rich, vibrant forests rising up high on either side of us, in which we identified giant tree ferns, casuarina, honeysuckle, callistemon and pandanus. The intense green reminded me of the paintings of Gaugin in Tahiti.

First we drove to the car park for visitors to Karekare Beach – where scenes were filmed for The Piano.

In fact, it’s hard to go to any spectacular New Zealand location that hasn’t already featured in a major film. Later on our trip we were to visit the Hobbiton movie set in Matamata that was used for The Lord of the Rings films, and the sublime Cathedral Cove which featured in the opening scene of Prince Caspian.

A scene on Karekare Beach from the film The Piano

The west coast of Auckland we also found to be a glorious setting, as we walked along the black sand track that leads to the beach, past rich flora and greenery.

Along the path to Karekare Beach
on the path to Karekare beach

Signs warned visitors of dangerous rip currents and advised swimmers only to use the area between the flags, when the lifesavers from the Karekare Surf Club were on duty.

Karekare is known by the Maori people as Wai Karekare, ‘the bay of the boisterous seas’, and we found there a carved Maori ‘pou‘, symbolising the spiritual guardianship of Karekare.

flowers alongside the path to Karekare Beach
Surf Lifesavers sign at Karekare Beach

Karekare Surf Club
The Bay of the Boisterous Seas
Carved Maori ‘Pou’ symbolising the spiritual guardianship of Karekare

Karekare Beach itself is awe-inspiring, despite the fact that, as you can see, the weather for us was rather more moody than when the film camera crew were here.

On Karekare Beach (image credit Jamie Robinson)
Karekare Beach looking towards the Tasman Sea, photo credit Jamie Robinson

Late we drove to Piha village, and walked on Piha beach crowned by Lion rock. Another amazing location, which is also a Tsunami evacuation zone, as warning signs made us well aware.

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.

Cornwall mini series Part 3: The Eden Project

This is the third in a series of short reflections on places in Cornwall.

There will be few words, and mainly images.

The Eden Project is now famous for its extraordinary vision, which emerged from the original idea of one man, Tim Smit. And now it is a glorious display of the wonders of this earth: both natural, and man-made.

A visit here will inspire you with new faith in the human race. It also warns us of what a precious, fragile treasure we have in our hands, as stewards of the planet earth.

Above all, just come here to wonder, to imagine, to feel joy and inspiration.

SC Skillman

psychological, paranormal and mystery fiction and non-fiction.

My next book ‘Paranormal Warwickshire’ will be published on 15th June 2020 by Amberley Publishing.

Glass Sculpture Transforming Kew Gardens

I recently made another visit to Kew Gardens, where we were enchanted by several glass sculptures by artist Dale Chihuly.

Placed in the most surprising areas – at the top of the Sion Vista, just outside the Temperate House, hovering over the pond in the water Lily House, or cunningly nested in amongst the tropical foliage in the Palm House, they enhanced and playfully transformed the natural shapes and forms to be found throughout these gardens.

A day of wonder and joy, as Chihuly’s multi-coloured art twisted and curled and rose and nestled among the already abundant beauty of Kew Gardens.

SC Skillman

Psychological, paranormal, mystery fiction

author of Mystical Circles, A Passionate Spirit and Perilous Path

The British Library and the Anglo Saxon Kingdoms

Recently I found myself in the British Library in London, and among the large number of visitors who had flocked there to see the exhibition on The Anglo Saxon Kingdoms.

Anglo Saxon Kingdoms: art, word, war
Anglo Saxon Kingdoms: art, word, war

There displayed for us to see were certain treasures of the age before the Norman Conquest. Here were the magnificent original illuminated manuscripts, the highly ornate and jewelled medallions worn by high-ranking women, inscribed with runic symbols; and other time capsules left to us by the magnificent and privileged, those in Anglo Saxon times who were important and wealthy enough to leave precious time capsules for the British Library to display centuries later. Behind these original objects lay the spirits of the scholarly and the gifted: kings, monks and abbots; and the mighty, such as Offa, “a king who terrified everyone” and who built a great dyke between Wales and Mercia.

King Canute, we learned, was a great giver of books to churches.  I wonder what Edmund Ironside would have though of that, had he known it when he was desperately fighting to stop the Danes from ruling England? Or would he have thought it just a pathetic attempt to make reparation for all the upheaval and battles and loss of life he had caused? And we learned, too, that even the Christian kings were thought to have descended from the Norse god Woden. The exhibition contained an original prayer book, the very volume found by St Cuthbert’s head in his tomb at Durham Cathedral, which was indeed an awe-inspiring object to contemplate.

It was fascinating to learn of the intersection between English and European art and thought, and to discover that many went on pilgrimage to Rome. Canterbury and Jarrow were the two major spiritual centres; Canterbury represented the influence of Augustine and Rome, while Jarrow in Northumbria represented the Celtic Christianity which emanated from Ireland.

Here was evidence of intense hours of devotion by scribes and craftspeople and artists and gold and silversmiths; of devotion to study and scholarship and piety by these people who we tend to dismiss because they came before William the Conqueror. A rich and thought-provoking exhibition with much scope for contemplation and meditation upon our own history and what it means for us.

The National Portrait Gallery, London: a Cloud of Masters and Witnesses

At the National Portrait Gallery recently, as I wandered through the Victorian and Twentieth Century and Contemporary Galleries, I realised that I was surrounded by all the most amazing people who have moved or inspired me or touched my heart, during my lifetime.

The National Portrait Gallery, London
The National Portrait Gallery, London

The people whose faces I gazed at included preRaphaelite artists John Waterhouse and Arthur Hughes;

The Lady of Shallot by John Waterhouse
The Lady of Shallot by John Waterhouse

April Love by Arthur Hughes
April Love by Arthur Hughes

novelists Thomas Hardy, Wilkie Collins, Sir Arthur Conan DoyleCharles Dickens, Oscar Wilde,  and Jerome K Jerome (all of whom have written novels which are on my most-loved list); inspirational writer and thinker John Ruskin. And amongst the women, I find the Bronte sisters,

Painting of the Brontë sisters
Painting of the Brontë sisters

Iris Murdoch, Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Malala and Queen Victoria: yes a mixed bunch, but each one of them has inspired me in her own individual way by her courage, or her defiance of convention, or her spirit or her genius.

It is truly a moving experience to gaze upon the faces of each of these people, and to reflect upon the impact each one of them has had on my life. Some of them look very unexceptional; others have been portrayed in a way which truly conveys their individuality. But what all have in common is this: they are like a cloud of witnesses, a gallery of masters who have found their way into my heart and mind over the generations and seasons of my life, through something they’ve written, or painted, or thought, or expressed.

To gaze upon their faces, even imperfectly rendered – for how can I tell the accuracy or the insight of the artist, having never encountered the sitter in person – is to be deeply touched.