Saturday, January 31, 2009

Protest March

Nothing like a good old fashioned demo, and great to see a goodly gathering of about 1500 of the Dunedin citizenry out and about exercising their freedom of speech.

The folly of the proposed stadium is staggering given the lack of interest on the part of the private sector, in contributing to the horrific cost of building the stadium. It's a cost that is too much for a small city in these dire economic times. The old boy's network and business interests are all clearly very keen to benefit from what would become a disastrous white elephant that would sink Dunedin, and they're all obviously not interested in investing in the project, just in gaining advantage from the profligate emptying out of the public purse.

One of the spurious arguments in favour of the new stadium is that it will "put Dunedin on the map" and be the making of us.

But as Professor Jocelyn Harris so eloquently said in her speech today, "Dunedin is its own best asset".

As evidence we had all read in this morning's Otago Daily Times that Dunedin had come out well ahead in a survey of the best cities in New Zealand to live in. (That's probably because weather wasn't included as one of the criteria! If you take weather out of the equation, Dunedin is a marvellous place to live. Or at least it was until this arrogant and spendthrift city council took over, with their fantastic self-aggrandizing monument-building agenda.)

We don't need a massive sink of debt to be funded by struggling ratepayers and that will benefit only a few, and that will take away funding for essential services.

Jocelyn's succinct speech was a highlight. There were a tad too many long-winded speeches at the rally after the march, with the whole event lasting an hour and a half and trying the patience a little, given that the speakers were preaching to the converted. But then again there was a good media presence, and this was a chance to get the message out.

An independently designed opinion poll recently showed that about 80% of Dunedin residents are against the building of the stadium. The "Stop the Stadium" website gives full argument and evidence for the widespread opposition.

What's the next step? A "rates revolt" has been suggested. The first move is to cancel automatic rates payments as a message to the council not to gamble with public money.

The crowd also showed its willingness to take the next step of delaying rates payments if the council was unwise enough to attempt to perservere with the ludicrous stadium project.

The Tabby's favourite cartoon

New Yorker July 5, 1993

Friday, January 30, 2009

Salmon Bagel

Overland & Overlander

Here I am wearing my railway geek hat I got at the Railway Museum, Port Adelaide. That's where they let you operate the steam whistle. Sigh. Heaven for train nuts. That's Australia in the background, and I was on the Overland train heading to Melbourne, a city I am in love with. I want to live there. But I haven't yet learned the trick of how to make that happen.

I wouldn't want to choose between the Oz Overland journey between Melbourne and Adelaide - which I've only done twice - and the NZ Overlander between Auckland and Wellington, a journey I've made more times than I can count, most recently four days ago.

What a journey, down the main trunk line, past the Waikato River, through the central volcanic plateau, around the Raurimu spiral, past snowy mountains, over the Rangitikei viaducts, along the Kapiti Coast. It takes about 12 hours. Once upon a time, many years ago, I met the future father of my children on that same long journey!

These days there are more tourists than Kiwis on the trains. We should make a big effort to get NZers back on trains, and of course that was happening not so long ago, especially with the formation of Kiwirail. Alas I fear the new Tory government is anti-train (and it's probably fair to say based on their attitudes to things like energy saving light bulbs, anti-planet in general).

Thousands of people signed the petition in 2006 to save the Overlander train service, when it was in danger of being axed. Now all the rail services are under threat again from an unfriendly government looking to sell off the family silver yet again. So I did my bit these holidays to support the Tranzscenic network, by catching a few trains. It was no great sacrifice on my part. Hehe.

There's a spacious viewing lounge in the very last carriage with a view out the back as well as the sides.

The viaducts are awesome. Difficult taking photos from within the observation car because the windows are so reflective and the passengers crowd in when the viewing is good. Makes for interesting photographic effects though - images of all the fellow travellers become embossed on the spectacular landscapes.

Out on the open air viewing platform. A train is still a great place to meet random strangers. These two were having a wonderful time, and it was good to see that the romance of train travel is not dead.

The train stopped at National Park for long enough to have lunch at an excellent cafe (great coffee and food!) The outside windows of the train were even more highly reflective, and picked up a great image of towering Mt Ruapehu.

Stop the Stupid Stadium

Thursday, January 29, 2009

First we take Wellington

Then we take Auckland.

Heat Exhaustion

It has been so blazingly hot lately, everything's wilting...

Have a Gecko

Anthropomorphism-R-Us: Is that a smile or what?

Spotted these geckos at the Visitor Centre in the Waitakere Ranges, Auckland. They seemed happy.

Inflight Reading

Boarding a plane with just the right reading matter is really important for me, especially if it's to be a short turbulent flight. I like to have something very interesting, preferably surprising, to read. Stories and poems work well because with choice and variety comes more chance of finding something distracting enough to take my mind off any bumpy interludes, or while landing. Most of the time I love flying, but I don't like that final approach at the end of the journey, especially if there are crosswinds - and for some reason there often seem to be crosswinds. Dunedin airport is subject to wind shear, and I just wish I didn't know that.

So I was delighted yesterday to have with me a poet I hadn't previously discovered, and whose poems I found absorbing and while I was reading, the rest of the world faded. Great! It's a gift I have that has always frustrated the people around me. Once engrossed in reading, I can be oblivious to any attempt to grab my attention. It's a useful talent to have if one is unnerved by the prospect of being caught in an unrecoverable downdraft.

The slim volume I had with me is called All Blacks' Kitchen Gardens by Tim Jones. I bought my copy at Unity Books Wellington, and it had been pre-autographed by the author who had added the exhortation "Happy reading" - that gave me a good feeling right there!

Finding a new poet I like reading is like meeting a new friend.

Here's a poem from the book, online, about a child and a parent watching the stars. I can relate to this poem, except for the child feeling the cold. My mother used to drag us out to watch cosmic phenomena (I will always be grateful that she passed on that enthusiasm to me) and as we lived in Auckland it wasn't ever freezing. But here in the far south of New Zealand - where the poem appears to be set - the best viewing conditions seem to be on the coldest nights. Even here I often brave the cold, with telescope and all, when there's something to see, so I guess I can relate to the father in the poem, who doesn't feel the cold.

With just one poem triggering such thoughts and memories, no wonder I found the book perfect for flying with. There was another wonderful poem ("Love Scene with Monks") about Buddhist monks walking in the Dunedin Botanical gardens while a couple of lovers roll on the grass. I know those gardens. I know those monks. It could have been me, rolling on the grass.

One of Jones' other books is called Extreme Weather Events but I wouldn't have been reading that on a flight scheduled to cross from a southerly airstream into a northerly front.

On Googling, I find that Tim Jones has a website and a blog.

That he has performed a community service by editing Kiwi literary magazine JAAM 26.

And that he has recently published a book of short fiction called Transported (Vintage NZ 2008) so I'll be looking out for that at the airport bookstore next time I fly.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Tail of Two Kitties

I was offered excellent hospitality on my stay in Auckland, by this calico cat and her house mate the tabby-and-white.

It was good weather for cats: relentlessly hot and sunny.

Beyond Google

Further to my earlier post, here is a photo of an adult lancewood. This one is of a species so rare that rather than chop it down to make room for the environmental education centre (at which we can learn about trees like the lancewood) the decision was made to build around it.

I found this and many other lancewoods of different sizes shapes and ages, in the bush around the Arataki Visitor Centre in the Waitakere Ranges.

Yes, I went out beyond Google, into the real world!

Here's a reminder of how different this quirky plant is when it's a juvenile:

Poster child Horoeka, Plant ID walk, Arataki Visitor Centre, Waitakere,
25 January 2009

Leonard Cohen Live

A miracle.

Consider me blown away. The words were always good, the voice is even better now. The music was brilliant. What a wonderful, wonderful concert.

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Ah, that amazing growly deep voice, that seemingly humble and ever so courteous and generous performer, with a wry smile and heaps of attitude. The rakish hat. The irony and the self-confidence. What a package. Yes, it was a product, a carefully, lovingly conceived one, full of value for money, and full of things that are worth more than mere dollars.

Yes, I had a fantastic seat near the stage - and in that bizarre sign of these modern times, it was also a big plus that I was right next to the enormous video screen. As with all the others sitting nearby the screen and the stage, I was torn between watching the man, the band, and the backing singers on the stage, not that far away, or watching them close up on the screen, live and HUGE, but of course digital. So it was a bit of a tennis match sometimes, but am I complaining? Noooo! I think I managed to strike a balance, between seeing minute facial details, and close-up virtuoso instrumentals, and watching the magnificently choreographed spectacle in person.

He started with "Dance me to the end of love" and that's when I first cried. Just from sheer joy, or the beauty of the voice and the music. It took me by surprise that I was going to weep so much. I usually only weep at classical music or the ballet. Leonard Cohen is Deep, man.

Why was I crying? Later on, after one sublime song, during which I sobbed again, I felt that I was at a revival meeting. I had been washed clean in the light, and healed. Hallelujah, brother!

The lighting was exquisite. It was various, and very appropriate to mood. Above is just a poor taste of the yellow golden glow - stunning - that graced the magnificent "crack that lets the light in".

He sang almost all of the big songs that we all know so well. He knew what we wanted and delivered it, professionally, and with a genuineness to the warmth, that was disarming. A baby boomer like me (and most of the rest of the audience!) has lived out my life with a Leonard Cohen sound track. He sang our own life back to us. And skipped on and off stage during a show that went for over three hours.

And I know you know already - if you're a Leonard Cohen fan - that the concert was fabulous. because you've been told ad nauseam. You won't hear anything different from me!

And if you're not a Leonard Cohen fan - then why are you still reading? Shoo! Believers only here please!

I have discovered that some of those that missed out, as soon as they realise I was there, put their fingers in their ears and say "Don't tell me! I don't wanna know!" And then they rock a bit, and wail... I almost have to apologise for having been there.

Unlike most concerts that I've been to with big acts, there was very little singing along. We were there to hear Lenny. It was not karaoke. Save that for the ride home!

Please, please Mr Cohen & Co, release a copy of the Leonard Cohen in Concert 2009 DVD. I'll buy it.

And everyone that missed out can share the pleasure.

Although I think you had to be there, when the Webb sisters did their cartwheel :-)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


'Lancewood', alias horoeka, aka Pseudopanax this or that, is probably my favourite New Zealand shrub. It comes in two distinctly different forms. As a juvenile it presents as a spiky unwelcoming bunch of sword-like long sharp fronds radiating downwards off a stark wooden stake. Eventually, after a very long time (the progress in some examples is truly glacial) the lancewood becomes a fairly normal tree, with big fluffy juicy leaves and an umbrella-like area of foliage; perhaps its most unusual feature as an adult is that these leaves are stored way up at the top of a quite tall trunk.

As a child I wondered at the fact that these two quite different plants were really related. They are like the tadpole and the frog, or the caterpillar and the butterfly with their dramatic metamorphosis. But the life cycle of the lancewood happens so slowly you can't see it happen. You just have to live a long time and wait. But I have never managed to catch it changing from the staunch and defensive little set-faced urchin into the liberation of middle-age, with its wild free swagger as the wind catches the branches and shakes the leaves high up in the forest cover.

I like the youthful lancewood best, especially the "saw tooth" variety that looks as though the forest elves have hand-painted little rusty daubs on each serrated tooth of the blade, splashing blobs of other colours artfully and tracing a red ochre line roughly along the length of each spine.

I was always told that the dimorphism is all about evolution, and it's to do with the moa. The young plant is inedible, very uninviting to animals browsing near the ground. It's not until the plant has grown up out of the range of a tall flightless bird, that it produces the tasty fleshy leaves. Seems like a good theory.

And I can relate to the need to use a disguise to deter predators. Us women have to do that all the time, especially when we are young and delectable, or risk being told by the policemen of our town that an attack was all our fault because we flaunted ourselves (which includes the sin of becoming deliciously intoxicated).

Ah yes, there's something to be said for the advancing age, when we don't have to either hide or work hard to be attractive. Now that's freedom.

Tasman Littoral

Robert Gray is an Australian poet whose writing belies his name - it is intensely visual and colourful, and entangled in the New South Wales coastline. Though his poems are composed of vivid details from shore, sea, land and town, it is difficult to pull these details out of his syntax, which in its movement often mimics the seeing/thinking poet walking around his region.

The poems record the process of engagement between the eye of the poet and the natural world.

"My life, I imagined, must be a hymn to the optic nerve." ("In Thin Air")

I first came across Gray last year in an anthology of Australian poetry called Landbridge. A long poem describing a daylong seascape, "A Sight of Proteus", startled me by its quality and vision, and I sought out his New Selected Poems (Duffy and Snellgrove, Sydney, 1998). I've been reading them, with pleasure, for a while. They are foreign to a New Zealand eye because of the botany and geology that we severed from 90 odd million years ago, but the social landscape that Gray interrelates with his natural landscapes is familiar: "A brick side wall had a Bushell's sign more deeply blue than / the sky" ("Memories of the Coast")

Gray is a kind of visionary materialist: what you see is what you get. But underlying the metaphors and similes that evoke a constantly morphing world of creatures and things and human society, is the void, which is fiery:

Light on the clouds opposite sunset
was like that in the foyer of a seashell.
White eucalyptus rose about me in front of the sea, their leaves
long like green parakeets.
The mind easily fragments within such dimensions: I felt it poise
far above, a second, as I was leaning
there, on the moist, thin rind
which is all that is delicacy, all that's edible fruit,
of this country. Then I realised how probably the land
I had just walked over was already owned
in some boardroom of Hong Kong or Japan. And all I'd just seen
became things that lay in a fire
in the moment when they still have their form.

("Under the Summer Leaves")

Gray writes about Buddhism in earlier poems, and there are Buddhist echoes in later poems. Though usually focussed on a solitary consciousness, he also brings to angular unpredictable life a shark, a meatworks, an ancient Chinese poet, the louche inhabitants of coastal towns, and numerous other creatures and things. Clouds keep billowing in his poems as they do over the foreshore, in every variation of colour, shape, and association. They are the classic symbol of mutability, but Gray skewers them with his sharp original eye and rhythm.

Gray occupies one side of the vast and turbulent lake of the Tasman, a margin dweller who calls to mind our own home-grown littoral poets: Allen Curnow, for instance, in his bach on the wild west coast of Auckland looking out into the guttering sun and the dark fissures beneath the breakers; Alistair Campbell trawling historic and bloody seascapes at Kapiti; Elizabeth Smither seeing an angelic kind of elevator rising in the sky over Cape Egmont (my memory supplies this image - I haven't gone back to the printed page to confirm - still it's the residue that poetry leaves us which is what warms us, the images and rhythms mutating, becoming part of our own metabolism); Peter Hooper's tenacious foothold on the narrow ledge of Westland; and the endlessly transmogrifying Pacific and Tasman clouds of David Eggleton. (To mention a few.)

In my recent literary beachcombing, Gray is a real find.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Day the Internet Died

The day the internet ended
dawned like any other.

Everyone has a story to tell
about where they were
and what they were doing
when they first heard.

I didn't know there was a problem
until I tried to log on,
on that fateful afternoon.

Nothing. Just a Blank Page.
No error message.

As you know, it was
an unexplained collapse.

Theories continue to rage.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

One Day in South Dunedin

It was only when I downloaded the day's photos, that I realised there was a theme to the events I had witnessed.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sunflower Update

This is as good as it got, last year. The small but perfectly formed sunflower I'm pictured sitting next to, was grown in a flowerpot. That's not the ideal way to grow sunflowers. They need more nourishment and more space. Sunflowers grow up to be a generous, optimistic giver, dispensing goodness and glowing with a benign sunny light. But as infants they're hungry and demanding. They need rich soil and lots of room to grow, and they're thirsty for water and for warmth. They soak up the sun they later give back to us so disarmingly.

But although that crop of sunflowers was stunted, it produced mature blooms, and their bright yellow flowers never failed to make me smile.

I've always loved the cheerfulness of a sunflower. Even a bonsai one!

Things are different this year. There are giants on the way.

They're not dwarf sunflowers, they're "skyscraper" sunflowers. And they're planted in the garden rather than in pots. The helianthus annuus have the vast planet Earth to stretch their roots out into. One of them is already as tall as my shoulder, and they are still only half grown.

Their big smily faces are gonna be as big as dinner plates.

Friday, January 16, 2009


I have very much enjoyed some Woody Allen movies. I feel safe with him, his humour, his gentle poking of fun at pretentiousness coupled with his respect for the creative spirit and his pity for the artistic yearnings that are no respecter of the lack of ability to fulfil them.

One of my favourite movies is Allen's Interiors, because it contained such a perceptive portrait of the most tragic member of an artistic family, the one who has as much creative angst as the rest of them, but none of the talent.

In Vicky Cristina Barcelona we also see a seemingly hopeless search for creative expression at any cost, but I thought Allen's touch was lighter this time, and he leaves his characters with their mystery and their possibility for growth.

I just loved Vicky Cristina Barcelona. It was funny and beautiful. The tongue in cheek is never cruel. Is it bi-curious voyeurism? or just a grown-up comedy of manners? I didn't take it seriously enough to even care. Woody Allen's detractors portray him as a leering dirty old man - but while watching this movie I didn't feel invited into his head. The rich sensuality of the love scenes qualify this film as a high class chick flick. And the smooth seductions the tourists fall prey to, are artfully analysed.

Having run screaming from academia myself, I also appreciated the spoof on the bloodlessness of the sterile intellecual dissection of blood-filled messy topics.

The art/photography theme, with a wonderful dark room scene, reminded me of Patricia Rozema's dazzling classic I've Heard the Mermaids Sing.

Barcelona isn't as perfect as Mermaids (which I really want to see again soon) but it's pretty damn good, and makes for a pleasant summer holiday movie, with a touch of travelogue thrown in.

I feel like I have been on a Gaudi sightseeing tour too, especially after having seen the TV doco Liquid Stone about Gaudi, just a few days ago.

Today in History: The Boston Molasses Disaster

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Inspiring Women

There's a little jpeg flying around my bloggerhood - a picture of Marie Antoinette languidly reclining in fully resplendent couture, holding an open book. The very image of the well-turned out chic literary blogger. The Tabby has been humbled and a bit surprised to have been awarded the "Inspiration Award" that the Marie Antoinette logo represents, from women whose blogs the Tabby is not fit to wash the feet of.

Surprising because here on Schroedinger's Tabby we mostly just lounge around having a good time and half-reading books, sometimes just photographing a pile of the latest purchases rather than actually reviewing them, and that doesn't seem to be as useful a community resource as are the many excellent blogs that assiduously comment, faithfully document, and that are consistently enlightening and informative about matters literary and political as well as personal.

The Tabby's motto is "Eat. Play. Sleep." I do find that the blessed state of feline bliss is a goal worth striving for, but the secret of attaining it is in redefining all the necessary daily activities as "play". I haven't achieved that nirvana yet.

If there is one thing I'm proud of, it's probably the very attribute that gets me the most into trouble, and that's my tendency to take risks, to court failure, and to speak out when silence might be more comfortable for everyone.

I genuinely believe that if you don't take a risk you can never achieve great things. The fear of failure is also the fear of success.

So here I am speaking freely but hoping not to offend. I have my heroes who inspire me too, in history and in the blogosphere. But I have to be honest and say that Marie Antoinette is not one of them. (I know, I know, I'm a fusty old fuss pot!)

I have been reading up about Marie Antoinette just to make sure I wasn't labouring under archaic misperceptions about her. I do find that for many she has been 'rehabilitated'. Reclaim the night, and reclaim Marie Antoinette while you're at it.

Many of those who admire her do it because of her fashion sense, or her courage, or her reputed compassion, or because she was the dignified victim of so much slander and hostility.

She was a viciously maligned woman, who never did in fact say "Let them eat cake".

It seems she was badly done by, and most of what we know is lies, motivated by envy and sexual jealousy. Anyone who pokes their head above the parapet knows how it feels to be the target of character assassination. Nasty.

But on the other hand, if you're not part of the solution you are part of the problem, and she was right on the top of a stinking crap heap that was crying out for Revolution. Sorry, but I don't find the Barbie Queen of France inspiring, so I'd rather replace her with some other historical star who is less problematic for me.

Not that our heroes have to be without flaw or completely unambiguous. I admire Eva Peron very much, but apparently she doesn't stand up too well to close scrutiny. Too bad, she was human, and an early death often makes up for a multitude of sins.

The "Inspirational Blog" award is there so we can tell another female blogger that we are inspired by their blog, and as I think that it's always a good idea to affirm the people who inspire us, I too would like to give the award, but I'd like to replace the Marie Antoinette figurehead with some other historical characters I personally find more worthy (although not all of them live up to her sartorial elegance I'm afraid!).

So I'd like to give The Sound of Butterflies the Frida Kahlo award:

I'd like to give Overkill the Marie Curie award:
I'd like to give O Audacious Book the Emily Dickinson award:

I'd like to give Ice Lines the Margot Fonteyn award:

I'd like to give Art and My Life the Georgia O'Keefe award:

I'd like to give the women at the Hand Mirror the Rosa Luxemburg award:

Everybody else gets the Virginia Woolf award.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Under a Tabby Sky

Mackerel Sky, Sunset, St Clair Beach Dunedin, 14 January 2009

A "mackerel" sky is so called because this particular mottled pattern resembles the scales of a mackerel.

A mackerel tabby cat's pattern is so named for the same reason! The Tabby has the very same pattern as the one in the skies over Dunedin tonight.


And here was the vantage point. A millionaire's view enjoyed by the Tabby's blog team members. We were sitting on the deck of Swell, the new cafe on the St Clair Esplanade. A brilliant spot.

For just dessert the champagne socialist ordered the white chocolate and strawberry cheesecake, and Mr Pudding chose the chocolate macaroon.

Ah, summer. La dolce vita.
Back to old clothes and porridge soon enough.

"Table for one, please."

I don't let travelling on my own spoil the pleasure of trying out a new restaurant or café. The staff recognise the bravery of the solo fine diner and usually give you an excellent table.

Here are a couple more eating places in Kaikoura I can highly recommend.

Hislop's Café - Organic, whole foods, busy, great place for a group meeting

I have to declare an interest here, in that this business is run by cousins of mine. The Hislops of Kaikoura have been a reliable name for many years in the production of organic and whole foods. So how suitable it is that family members have started an organic whole foods restaurant!

The food is delicious and healthy - what more could anyone want? This cafe appears to be popular with locals and tourists alike.

The White Morph

Old fashioned good dining right on the sea shore in a gracious old building, with 5 star accommodation on the premises. Food and friendly service couldn't be faulted. It has that dignified poncy restaurant ambiance, but given that everyone has spent the day swimming or clambering over rocks, and they're all in summer holiday casual mode, it's the classic Kiwi take on fancy-pants cuisine. Down to earth with frills. Very nice food too. Pictured is just a very tasty meringue and berry treat I had for afters. Seafood is of course their forte, and the sauce on the fudge-textured scallops and the perfectly al-dente prawns, was divine.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A town called 'eat crayfish'

Kia Ora Kaikoura

kai = 'eat'
koura = 'crayfish' (rock lobster)

I've just returned from a brief summer sojourn in the North Canterbury seaside resort town of Kaikoura, the Whale Watching, dolphin-swimming, crayfish-eating eco-tourism centre of New Zealand.

My trip wasn't planned as a holiday - I was there for a family funeral. But I stayed right on the seaside in a very beautiful meeting-place between mountains and sea, where the wild life abounds, and that's just the backpackers!

One morning I breakfasted outdoors at the Craypot Cafe, the one with the big sign 'DON'T FEED SEAGULLS'.

Well, while I was there nobody fed the seagulls, deliberately anyway, but as you can see by the boldness of the lone seagull keeping vigil over the table next to mine, the seagulls do post deputies to keep a close eye on the situation, ready to call in a flash mob at any opportunity to scavenge leftovers. Not long after I took that photo, the diners left the table and then seemingly out of nowhere all hell broke loose.

A whole screeching flock descended, beating wings, all alighting onto the table at once, snatching the food and scattering the plates, knocking the tall glass tumblers onto the floor where the arcoroc proceeded to smash into a thousand tiny pieces and scatter across the whole terraced area. The noise and commotion was tremendous, and as this was all happening so close to me, I automatically adopted a defensive pose as if I were under attack myself.

Scenes from Hitchcock's terrifying The Birds flashed into my mind.

If I had been wanting to watch a film rather than recreate one in real life, I later found a charmingly well-kept old movie theatre, the pinkly resplendent art deco Mayfair:

The last time I stayed in Kaikoura for any length of time, it was not the busy and crowded tourist destination it is today. What a change there has been from the peaceful village atmosphere I remember from the first of many visits to see Aunty Grace and her branch of the family tree. I was a 'townie' growing up in the big smoke, and I remember sleeping out on the farm up on the top of a hill and looking up into a sky that contained more stars than I had ever guessed were up there. The stars were so bright and so numerous I was awe struck. I had never realised before that Auckland's lights had been hiding the true beauty of the night sky from us 'city kids'.

So I'm not surprised this little paradise on earth has been 'discovered'. But as I noted in an earlier post about finding a giant exclamation mark in an idyllic spot, the warning signs do indicate that not everything there is totally 'clean and green'.

I do enjoy being in a cosmopolitan atmosphere and trying to pick all the accents and origins of the tourists, especially if they are speaking an unfamiliar language. (Thanks to Paul Theroux, I have a new useful guideline: "When you cannot understand a single word, it is usually Hungarian.")

I was almost tempted to go watch the whales and the dolphins and the seals, because it seemed like tremendous fun, albeit rather expensive. If I hadn't already fraternised with whales, seals and dolphins, then I think I would have paid up for the sight-seeing. But I have been lucky enough to live in several different places on the North Otago coastline, also a popular basking place for seals. 'Right' whales and orcas regularly visit Warrington beach, where I also lived, so I've had the privilege of watching those magnificent animals lolling about just behind the breakers.

On my last morning as I was packing my things together, the motel cat miaowed at my door just before 10 am. I opened the door to find the proprietorial pussycat looking up at me. "Miaow," repeated the cute tabby-and-white. Accommodation is at a premium in Kaikoura this time of year. I took the miaow to mean "You have to check out by 10 am or we will charge you for an extra hour."

Clever cat!