Sunday, December 27, 2009

Farewell Spit ... or is it Murderers Bay?

I join Farewell Spit Eco Tours on the last day before the time of the tides prevents vehicles travelling on the spit for a few days every so often. (Check for dates and bookings)

My driver-guide, Elaine, is in her fourth summer and says “it’s the best job in the world” and she is driving Lily. “In front of you are handles. These are for you to grab during the bumpy bits when we go off road” she tells us as we get our safety instructions, then off we go – we have 24 kms to the start of the spit and 15 one-way bridges to cross.

Originally called Te Onetahua, meaning ‘heaped up sand’ – the long sandbar stretches out 35 km and Paddy Gillooly, manager of The Original Farewell Spit Safari, has a family history with it as old as Collingwood. He prides himself that his hand-picked guides ‘know what they are talking about – they give accurate information and can't just be a bus driver. They also have to have great people skills and must constantly read the beach, watching for quicksand.’

First called Murderers Bay by Abel Tasman in 1642, when James Cook came he called it Massacre Bay and the early settlers first called it Coal Bay. It was then re-named in 1850s when alluvial gold was discovered in the Aorere River, giving the area its current name – Golden Bay, much more melodious and welcoming.

Growing out of a service delivery, taking fuel, food and school lessons to the light housekeepers and their families, carrying passengers began so they too could enjoy the landscape and see the wading birds. It’s from those beginnings the trip I’m on began.

I had not expected the pools of water all over the bay which replace the long wide beach I had expected – no wonder wading birds love it here – and the cockles grow so well – I’d had forgotten it’s a mudflat not a beach.

The tides rise and fall fast. ‘At about walking pace’ I’m told: not at ‘the speed of a galloping horse’ that the Nelson artist, Anna Leary, had been told as a young girl – a dramatic picture that has always stayed with her.
Whale strandings happen in Golden Bay too. It is particularly notorious for pilot whale strandings and during the 1990s there was often one every summer and is why some whale experts call these months 'the silly season.'

Over the years more than half were refloated, but several hundred have died and been buried on the beaches where they died. The most recent major standing was in December 2005 when 123 whales beached at Puponga and after a massive rescue operation, were refloated.

After visiting the northern-most point of the South Island, Cape Farewell, a bold cliff top which provides a spectacular view of the wild Tasman Sea, we head for the spit, passing ‘the oldest resident in Puponga’ on the way: a face in the craggy rocks. Through the locked gate we drive, from here, the public may only walk.
Down the beach we drive, seeing a few spoonbills and black-billed gulls and many black swans feeding, reminding me I am too early for the godwits which arrive in the thousands from Alaska and resolve to return when I can join a bird watching tour with this company. Wading birds abound from September to April, with February and early March being the ultimate time. With so many seasonal feathered visitors, its no wonder this area has been named a sanctuary, a wetland of international importance.
Driving over the spit to the northern face of Farewell Spit I now see the huge sand beach I was expecting on the bay side. It’s impressive.

‘The spit could be likened to an iceberg – up to 250 metres deep” our guide tells us, “and growing in length at 4-metres annually. The sand dunes further along the spit are up to 25 metres high. This makes about 3.4 million cubic metres of sand.” I later find it has been growing for some 6,500 years and settlers have visited the area since the 1870s.

At our first stop at Fossil Point I pick up 3 plastic bottles which have washed up on this pristine area and search for fossils: we find a few in the rocks and I watch some Caspian terns swooping and diving into the sea. There are also some black oystercatchers with their distinct red legs and bills and shrill calls warning me against coming too close! Despite the name, here they dine on tuatua.
Down the beach we drive and I gloat as we pass the post – 2 km down the beach and 4 km from the locked gate – as this is as far as people can walk, while we continue for another 22 km to the lighthouse.
The wind is picking up the loose sand making the dunes look like the waves beside them: the Nor-wester is the prevailing wind and it is windy 70% of the time, an essential element in forming the spit and consequently Golden Bay.

‘How good is this?’ asks Elaine ‘No roads, no signage. So no advertising and no traffic so just sit back and take in the awesome picture of nature undisturbed.’ And undisturbed it is. She has already told me it’s been about 18 months since she got stuck in the sand although in her first year it happened regularly. Her male colleagues kept telling her they would paint her shovel pink.

They had also told her “You are only really stuck if you can't dig yourself out. If you have dug yourself out you weren’t really stuck!”

“There are probably photos of me on the end of a shovel all over the world” she laughs.

We eventually arrive at the lighthouse which has its power line buried the length of the spit although I think the lighthouse itself is solar powered and the light rotates every 15 seconds.

As a result of many shipwrecks, the first lighthouse was commissioned in 1870, a wooden structure that had to be replaced in 1897 with a steel one. Automated in 1984, this lighthouse is also depicted in a 1969 stamp series of light houses: The Farewell Spit stamp was valued at 10 cents.

After afternoon tea in one of the lighthouse keepers old houses, I climb to the second level until my fear of heights beats me and I retreat and go to look at the Pouwhenua which depicts my favourite, pacific-wide, mythical person: the mischievous Maui Tikitiki a Taranga who is credited with fishing up the North Island while standing in his canoe, the South Island.

According to the notice beside this carving by locals, “as Maui pulled on his line, his feet were dragged along the land, pushing sand in to the dune formations which form Farewell Spit.”

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas eve, diabetes, and keeping healthy

Well here it is Chrismas Eve in NZ (well its 1030 on the day of the eve) and all is well.

I have just had a text from my daughter wondering if I can bring new potatoes, strawberries, broad beans, tomatoes and mint up on the plane today ... well the potatoes and mint are possible but not the rest - this year!

On the diabetic front all is going well: I have been booked in for a 'diabetic checkup' in mid-Jan and will also be having my eyes tested to see if there have been any diabetic-related changes - and this reminds me that altho there is much I can do (diet and excersise) there are other areas I have no real control over and yesterday my GP told me it usually takes 2 years to settle into the diabetes diagnosis. I guess it was a  good reminder to me (and my control and want-it-now attitude) that joining wirght watchers and losing wieght is not the whole answer.  I had a sneaky belief that my health would be perfect once I had a 10+% wieght loss. oh well, guess it will make an overall diffence - so will keep up the healthy eating (esp the quantity)

My christmas holiday break has started - my bags are packed (2 instead of my usual one), the shuttle bus booked, the cat-sitter has been given the tour of the appartment, now all  I have to do is put the dishes away and I'll have an hour to relax and answer a few personl emails.

This is our rare native (NZ) mistletoe

I hope you have a great Christmas break, here in New Zealand the weather is set to be the perfect summer weather we hope for but dont always get ( NOTE: if you are comming to NZ, late Jan, February, and early March are the best, hotest months - unless you are into skiing of course) So for us this is not 'just' Christmas but our summer break. Short or long, hot or cold, have a good one!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Out of town and off line! (and a Prince too)

For the next week I will be not only out of town but also off line for a few days.

Buy while I'm still here, and still on the Indian theme of my last blog - on Thursday, I broke my shoes bought in Ernakulam especially for my trip to stay as a guest of a Prince. Well 'shoes' is a high-sounding name for flip-flops - or jandels as we call them in New Zealand.

I been told that Prince Shivaji Rao Holkar, son of the last Maharaja of Indore, expects his guests to dress for dinner when you stay in his fabulously restored palace  (read here  about my time there) and as I only had my backpacker clothes, had a salwar kaamez (tunic and pants and shawl) made for the occassion and bought some jandels to wear with them: these are the black flip-flops that broke 2 days ago - less than two hours after a  friend had just said "I like your jandels".

The complete outfit, shoes included, worked well for the three or four nights I was in Maheshwar with Prince Richard (I can well recomend it as a fabulous place to go to if you can, (more details here - and of course, tell him I sent you!)

So that's all about India, and me for now, see you in a week, in the meantime here's a photo of me on a different trip - to Gujarat to celebrate Navratri -  about 6 months before I went back to India  and travelled form north to south:  I must write some more travel pieces about the trip.

PS the child was sleepy and it was a good excuse to get off my feet after the nights of dancing .. it's the longest dance festival in the world  - nine nights!


Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas is coming and I'm loosing weight

That title almost seems an oxymoron with all the luches and dinners I am attending - todays will be the worst calorie-wise as I'm off to an Indian restaurant (with a  friend with whom I'm doing a Thelma-and-Louise type road trip in March) and of course India does have high calorie food ... I will just have to be like them and have small - normal - amounts and enjoy it all.

(NOTE: a hint for if you want to loose wieght by limiting alcohol check this out a US study shows alcohol DOES NOT burn off no matter how you cook it - read more here)

I'm reading a great book (Nine Lives by William Darymple) which looks at nine Indians and their belief systems and actions: have only read two of the nine lives so far but I'm really enjoying it ... the one I have just finshed was in the Kerala area and it brings back great memories. This seems an appropriate place to confess: I think I'm one of the few women ever to have put on weight in that great country - so you can see I do have to watch portion sizes! But I do admit I'm looking forward to an authentic thali and will just have to make sure I take a 30-min plus walk this afternoon.

Talking sizes, I'm doing well and this week my weight-in was enjoyable as I'd lost a kilo (2.2lb for any Americans reading this) so moving smoothly toward my first goal of 5% (of my original weight) weight loss. Incremental goals seem to work well for me ... if I looked at what the end result needs to be that would be overwhelming .. and even with just 3kg fat gone, I've had a few people tell meI'm looking good .. nothing like stroking my ego for me to want to continue, especially as this has to be a lifetime change, not just a quick weight loss then breathe a sigh of relief and go back to my old ways. (which I have done before). My rule for health around food needs to be - "is this next mouthful supporting my health goals, or hindering them?" 

Well although I planned on putting some Christchurch photos on this blog - as in the square yesterday, as I walked home from weight-watchers, I stopped to watch some guys playing chess on the outdoor set and a Maori group perfoming traditional kapahaka - dance and song - and thought I'd use those photos but in honour if the meal I will be eating in 3 hrs, I'll take the cat (Mista) off my lap and hunt out a CD of my Indian photos and use some of them.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Diabetes, food and loosing weight

It's nearly 3 weeks since I was diagnosoed with diabetes and the sky has not fallen on my head. so thats a good start. however, I am very conscious of food - more than before, as now I have to think about it all with questions to myself such as  'is this mouthful moving me towards my goal or away from it - towards health or towards diabetes complications' and although I find that helpful, I will be happy when this new way of eating becomes ingrained as a lifetime habit - which is my goal. I'm lucky that I dont have to change WHAT I eat as much as HOW MUCH I eat. I especially have to cut down on the carbs (a bit of a carbo queen I was) and  of course people ask me about giving up sugar and chocolate, but I didn't need to eat that: my body was busy converting the carbs into sugar without me having to eat it!

And, of course it's holiday season, and all the food events that entails. I believe our Christmas dinner  (at my daughters) will be seafood-based this year: yum yum yum! Fortunately I dont like the heavy Christmas dinners of old, but if I see a palova anywhere I will be having a little!

I've just arranged to meet a friend for lunch on Friday .. an Indian thali .. which of course is high calories and I will have to watch the quantities .. a little of everything seems to be a good motto for me right now. so see what i mean about thinks and talking food food food!

Well thats it from 'the life of Heather today' files and will finish on a note of pleasure ...  a woman I was at university with, and not been in touch with for years, in fact just caught up with each other on Facebook, sent me this message.

" .have just finished your is are such an inspiration,
an intrepid, courageous, wonderful woman!"

this will be even more of an OCCASSIONAL treat!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Grief at Christmas -- how to cope with the pain?

As Christmas approaches many of us find it difficult to deal with our grief. (I am writing this a mother who had a 20-year old son die, a husband die at 35, and about four years experience as a bereavement counsellor some years ago)

Grief is a necessity and privilege, it stems from giving and receiving love. Just as love doesn't end with death, neither does grief end with the funeral: sometimes our grief is more painful.

There are no rules or simple ways to take away the pain. Sights, sounds and smells bring back pleasure as well as pain and it's important to find people who will support you, and most importantly, allow you to be yourself.

So, how will you cope with Christmas? Will you make a plan or take it as it comes? Most people find advance planning helpful; just remember that plans are not carved in stone and they can be changed.

By the time the first Christmas arrives most of us have realised that ignoring grief does not make it go away. Conversely, talking about our pain does not make grief worse, although it may feel that way.

Often friends stop talking about the deceased person, (or you may with people who don't know the person you are grieving). They assume that when you cry they have made you feel bad - as if their talk could increase our pain – and it's difficult to explain to them that crying is beneficial. I believe it is because they feel uncomfortable with tears rather than their concern for us that stops them talking about our loved one. And we oblige by not upsetting people … funny how the griever often supports the friend – weird but true.

Friends and family may encourage you to keep active, or to "get on with life", "you have to let her go' and other non-helpful advice such as "he wouldn't want to you keep crying". I am sure you have heard these and other such homilies.

Keeping busy will not heal grief, in fact, experience shows it often increases our stress and merely postpones or denies the need to talk, feel, and cry. Time heals grief 'they' say: not true. It's what we do with the time that does the healing – ask anyone who has used medication to dull the pain: when the pills are stopped our pain is still there, just waiting for us to deal with it.

• Remember you are not alone. Find someone to talk to.

• Use your loved ones name. Talk about them, good times, bad times, and other holiday seasons.

• Eliminate as much stress as possible. Plan ahead, keep it simple. Ignore others' expectations.

• Involve your children in your discussions and planning - it will help their grief too.

• Do what’s right for you & your family, don't be pressured into doing things that aren't OK

• Use whatever form of spirituality is meaningful to you.

• Pace yourself physically and emotionally, be tolerant of your limitations...grief is tiring!

• Christmas will come no matter how much you may not want it. You will survive.

• Remember the worst has already happened!

• Take one day at a time, one hour at a time.

• Anticipation of the event is always worse than the actual day.


• Buy a special gift and donate it to a charity in your loved ones name

• Burn a candle over Christmas to symbolise their presence in your thoughts.

• Write a letter to them in your journal. Describe how Christmas is without them.

• Change holiday habits: Christmas breakfast instead of dinner; restaurant instead of home.

• Keep all your holiday habits. For some, the familiar is reassuring.

• Expressing your feelings honestly always helps.

• Volunteer to work at the local mission, old folks home.

• Have a special toast to absent loved ones before the main meal.

• Tie a yellow remembrance ribbon on the Christmas tree - your own tree, or the town one.

• Set aside an evening to look at photos and talk about him or her.

• Make a memory book. Children find this really helpful too.

• Make a list of things you found helpful, share it with others. Keep for next year!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Saturday in Christchurch

This morning I met with some friends then  by lunchtime, I left them to have a lazy afternoon in my neighborhood - taking a  walk to help with my 'get healthy, loose weight, reduce diabetes symptoms' plans.

What an eclectic series of experiences I've had: had coffee with a friend who wanted to buy a copy of my book; watched a canoe escape from the boat sheds and float downstream; saw one of the men don shoulder high 'waders' and drag it back to its mooring; talked to man fly-fishing in the Avon; went past the museum, Art gallery, Art Centre and the Victorian clock tower that I can see from my kitchen window ( only in the winter when the leaves are off the trees) and took a few photos. 

These are not them but some others that I thought you may like from my city neighborhood  - I 'm fortunate indeed to live in such a place ... and so my healthy day concludes!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

weigh in day!

Not such an impressive loss this week - as to be expected. Still 400 grams is nearly a pound if I remember my old weight measuments correctly so I'll take it. The weight watchers leader tells me the average weekly loss is between 300 and 500g.

As I write I'm watching a 'Survivor' type programme ... now that's a way to loose weight quickly .. not that I would learn any good eating habits. An island off the Sth East of peninsula Malaysia is the setting for a European survivor programme ... called Robinson Island on the TV show as I recall... and I stayed there once for a wbaout fours days: it was almost survivor for me too and I bailed out after 4 days (had planned on a week's solo R&R) as I was absolutely chewed to pieces by sandflies and couldn't wait to find a phamacy to get some anti-histamine cream.

Still as I have often said, "I put on weight in India" - perhaps I'd do the same on a survivor island. So for now I'll stick to the WW plan of healthy eating, the slow and steady and healthy way to loose this unwanted weight.

photographers gather to record the hatching of an endangered bird

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Diabetic day 14 and I'm doing ok!

The old band rotunda is now a restaurant: Christchurch

No blog last night as I was out eating at Wagamama ... as delicious as ever.

Tommorrow I will find out if I am eating as well as I think I have - its weigh-in day - so more will be revealed in my next blog.

Not much to talk about,  so go check out my blog (HERE) about the most famous one-legged kiwi in the world and the zoo hospital where you could stand and watch the animals be treated -- yes , even operations.

And come back tomorrow  for the big reveal!

Monday, December 7, 2009

thinking thin - thinking healthy

I wonder if it's wishful thinking or true. Today it seems I am thinner .. well thats what my body tells me I am so hope its true. However, I have to work with the facts and I will not know my wieght until I hop on the scales each and evry Thursday lunchtime.

And between now and then I have two big food events. tommorrow night the NZSA is hvaing an end of year dinner at Wagamama ( here in Christchurch. ( I've eaten at their Wellington, NZ and London UK restaurants but not in my hometown - yet)

Then on Thursday I join a group of us undervalued freelance writers for breakfast at the very yummy Crumpet - our regular breakfast meeting place ( > So, although I am thinking thin, thinking healthy, my attitude will be put to the test but I'm sure I'm ready for it: the goal of good health is well worth delayed gratification.

My 'today' has been good for walking; I did well with drinking water and my food intake sensioble and enjoyable (and so was the weekend). Today I also received a pdf copy of the brochure for the wrting courses in Fiji next year. ( if you want a copy of it please email me ( ) and I'll send youa  copy. it's exciting to think in a  few weeks I will be able to say "this year I am teaching travel writing at a great resort in Fiji' see more here:  - it will be no problem to eat well there!

Here's me teaching travel writing at the Karori Wildlife Centre

Friday, December 4, 2009

Weight loss, paint drying, and a sailing ship

The sun has been shining in Christchurch today ... maybe summer will arrive after all! I went for my 30 min walk today, this time on city sreets so I could deliver a pile of booklets to the library .. free books for people to read about the Christchurch Writers Trail put together by the local Society of Authors.

I've decided to blog just every couple of days re my diabetes, as lets face it, this will be a long (ish) journey as I move toward better health coupled witha  lower weight - it will be boring enough for me at times let alone fro readers .. sort ot like watching paint dry perhaps.

Thats it for this week, off for weekend as I have a Wellintonian down for a while and we will be having fun doing other things rather than tweeting, bloging or writing travel stories.  Now, to find a picture to decorate my page - if you want to read more go over to and read some travel pieces. And then, check out my webpage and see what else you can  find there!

I take the wheel of an old sailing ship the Spirit of NZ in Akaroa harbour - this reminds me I must do a photo  blog re yachts I've sailed on
Note my 'Say no to War' top bought in Malaysia when I signed up to support 'Malaysians for Peace.'

Thursday, December 3, 2009

feeling good!

Well today had my first weigh-in after a week of working on loosing weight and so improve my health status: I have lost 1.8 kg.

Guess if I keep doing what I've been doing I'll keep getting the results which is a good thought. what was not such a good thought was when I worked out what my weight would be ( in the old stones and pounds of my youth) when I  have lost 10% of my current weight I was shocked. Still THAT heavy! I thought if I got rid of ten percent of my body weight that would be all I have to do. I would be svelte, diabetes-symptoms-free and full of the joys of life. Now I know what it is in stones/lbs I also know I wont be svelte. so back to concentrating on my immdeiate goal -- loose 5%, then focus on the next goal, and then the next.

I'm a great believer in just doing todays challenges today, and need to remember to stay in the now, and day, with this weight loss and increased health goal journey I'm on.

Another kiwi who reached his goals - Sir Ed Hillary gazes up to Aorangi-Mt Cook in NZ's South Island.

So thats it for now, its good to to have a successful 7 days behind me, and tommorrow I start it all again.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

just another little slice in the life of the kiwitravelwriter

I waited for my Discover Chch at the tram stop in the square - the tram is all dressed up for Christmas

Well it's about a week since my diagnosis of diabetes and subsequent decision to get healthy and loose weight in public, mostly I think I have been on track (the test wiil come when I step on the scales tommorrow)

I have become more aware of what goes in my mouth .. well not so much 'what' but how much: and of course I've upped my walking. Did my regular track this am and although it was the same amount my dodgy pedometer says it was .3 of a kilometre longer. I WAS ALSO ONE MINUTE FASTER!

Excuse the caps - I didn't mean to shout, but when I look at them it seems appropriate to leave them there for that sentence.

Well nothing really to report today .. just want to be in the habit of thinking about my day and health each evening and this focuses my mind, so ciao until tomorrow.

"wait for me' calls one of the tourists on the Hassle-free tour

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Discover Christchurch was on todays agenda

Just a quick blog today as i am off out agon very shortly, and have been out all afternoon - with Hassle-free tours.  I was testing ( for you) their new Discover Christchurch tour. i concur with an Asian traveller on board "I enjoy very much."  So, I'll be blogging about it on my wordpress travel blog soon so check there in a  few days.

Something I discovered about me today is how I need to be more aware of my lack of eating patterns . was hungry late morning, ate a couple of rice wafers and pickle, which of course took the edge off my hunger and it wasnt 'til i was waitng at the Tram Stop in the square for hassle-free to pick me up ( its so great living in the centre of ChCh -- which is how we shorten the name Christchurch) that I realised I hadn't eaten lunch! Not eating is not good when you are supposed to be eating well and regularly.

Well guess what, as soon as I was on board  the mini-bus I was given a little bar of chocolate and a tiny bag of crisps. (what Americans call chips). of cousre i ate them, and now home have worked out that calorie/food value wise, thay are about the same as a meal would be .. empty calories but at least not over my allowance.

now, with a meal of my organic home grown lettuce, potato, cold meat and dressing, i ma now full and ready so go out for the evening .... so ciao, and thanks for listening.
 one change in behavour tonight was I didnt stop to get take aways from the Thai restaurant down the road ''cos its late and i have to go out' but came home and within 10mins had a tasty healthy meal in front of me. PPS
I didnt do the extra walk today as planned to make up for yesterdays sloth so tommorrow  I WILL!