A friend of mine (Claire) admirably completed an ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro in 2013. She was very humble about her achievement and described how difficult it was just to breathe, and indeed walk, in getting to the top – even with guides and porters to assist the group. An amazing achievement. She is very fit and active and the idea that she struggled really marks out how hard it must have been.
I have no wish to try to align the following notes with what Claire achieved, but I do want to tell you about the first mountain I have ever climbed. Just north of Lake Taupo, Mount Tauhara stands at a modest 1,088 metres (3,569 feet) above sea level and it was a lovely morning…so why not try to do what the Kiwis do and go walking…?
After the first 20 minutes of walking through steep open farmland, my knees were screaming at me to stop and my wife felt a little faint. It would have been easy to stop and we debated it but decided we should carry on…to be honest, I think I would have been ashamed of myself to turn back.
Once into the trees, my legs loosened up a bit and I was able to manage a fairly challenging track climbing over rocks and tree roots while ascending upwards. After around 2 hours we reached the summit. The views were stunning looking over the enormous Lake Taupo towards Mount Ruapehu (an active volcano and the tallest mountain on the north island) which can be seen smoking as you enter Taupo. Well worth it. And the climb down was thankfully much quicker!
I like to reflect on things and what you learn about yourself in such situations. (Motivational speech alert) It would have been easy to stop but the rewards for pushing on were so much greater…so don’t give up at the first hurdle…give things a chance…and you might just surprise yourself with what you can achieve…even if it is only a small mountain you are climbing.
I have noticed, especially since I started working here in NZ, just how often the word awesome is used to describe something which really is not awesome at all.
The dictionary definition for the word “awesome” is as follows:
“Extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring awe.”
It is important to note at this point that the British are a generally under-enthusing bunch whereas the Kiwis are outwardly quite positive so my view is coloured by cynicism…but when you are told on a regular basis that something really basic is awesome you start to feel like either someone is taking the proverbial or their expectations are quite low…either that or I genuinely am awesome – inspiring feelings of awe the world over!
It is not offensive really of course and people do mean well but it is a strange thing indeed and shows up a small difference in our cultures! Isn’t the use of the English language fascinating?
Someone asked my opinion on something recently and I said I thought it was “alright” which is kind of positive…but it just didn’t cut it as a response so I then had to elaborate on the positives and negatives…something to bear in mind perhaps…although of course it isn’t just what you say but how you say it.
We went to our local garden centre…the delightfully named Plant Barn…to pick up a few house plants to help home feel a little more homely…and to ensure we didn’t cart empty plant pots all of this way for no reason!
It is interesting to see which type of plants you can get in a different country…especially when we are living in a sub-tropical climate like Auckland.
Anyway, we came back with a coffee plant. All being well, this should bear fruit around Christmas time at which point, we should in theory be able to roast and ground our very own beans! Fingers crossed we don’t succeed in killing it before then! 😳
Coffee is a very popular drink here in NZ (isn’t it everywhere?) and they have something called a flat white which they and Australia contest the invention thereof. It is a bit like a latte only less frothy and, I would say, nicer…perhaps we can make our own in due course…
“Hobbits are an unobtrusive but very ancient people, more numerous formerly than they are today; for they love peace and quiet and good tilled earth: a well-ordered and well-farmed countryside was their favourite haunt.” J.R.R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings
Not far from Matamata in New Zealand’s north island lies the Alexander Family sheep farm – home to Hobbiton from “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” films. It is a large working sheep farm of some 1,200 acres which was spotted from the air as an ideal place to set The Shire in the film series’. It is some distance from the road and has a rolling landscape complete with a natural party tree which featured so prominently in “The Fellowship of the Ring”.
I love The Lord of the Rings books and films (less so The Hobbit which is more of a fairy tale in my eyes) and so for my 38th birthday, off we went. I was expecting to be slightly underwhelmed ahead of time…thankfully my expectations were well-surpassed – it really is stunning how well it is merged into the landscape.
The set was originally due to be dismantled after “The Lord of the Rings” was completed but freak weather delayed this and led to a rethink which ultimately led to the farm owners becoming tour operators. Aspects of the set was falling into disrepair and has thankfully been re-built to last as a result of The Hobbit films being made and as such we encountered a delightful view and insight into film-making, glorious countryside and perhaps just a small wish that life was actually just like that envisioned by Tolkien and latterly by Peter Jackson on the big screen. Maybe that is a part of why the books are so loved by millions.
Who would believe that the tree atop Bag End is now made of silicon and steel and has 200,000 leaves individually wired to it? How about making a distant barn look like a tree just for filming? Having the whole area as a government-enforced no-fly zone during filming? Bringing in a handful of black-faced sheep because they looked more Hobbit-related rather than the NZ Romney? How they aged wood using vinegar? Created their own lichen using (in part) yoghurt? The list is pretty long and is just a taste of things we learned. I can recommend this as a tour for any enthusiast…and perhaps just for those who love a view of what life could look like in a distant Middle Earth.
A 2-hour tour included a free drink in the Green Dragon pub and overall (complete with additional purchased ale in hand), a very satisfied customer. Enjoy some photographs of New Zealand/Middle Earth below…I will aim to bring you some more views from the films in the future!
One final word, my favourite quote from any book…
“I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.” Bilbo Baggins – The Lord of the Rings
…Beanz Meanz Heinz
97% of the baked beans in the world are eaten in Britain. An astonishing fact. Made in Wigan, Lancashire. One of my readers, a lady with the code name “Ronnie Corbett”, has asked me for more food reviews so here is the first…
Firstly, you can buy British recipe Heinz baked beans here in New Zealand. Why would you want to eat them so far from home when curiously, Heinz own the Wattie’s brand which are made here? Flying with the strap line “Best in BeaNZ” (clever eh?), let’s see what they are like.
Well, the tin looks a lot like Heinz and you cook them in the same way…they look similar but the sauce is a much deeper red than in the UK. The NZ variety has a much richer taste…perhaps a bit less sweet and a little more salty. So which is best…? Not actually sure…I would have said Heinz were always my first choice but I could eat either kind happily…at a push, I would say that the less salty UK taste wins out but only just. However, I won’t be buying them so far from Wigan so ultimately Wattie’s will win, but given that Heinz own them…Heinz wins either way!
Nothing like sitting on the fence. Incredibly, baked beans and their impact on flatulence has recently been debated in relation to climate change in the UK political arena…how ridiculous! Trust the Daily Mail to come up with hard-hitting journalism of the very highest order!
See it here…