East Cape 8: Catching up with whanau
We’d just finished blasting around the East Cape but the main point of us being in the region was a family gathering in Gisborne over the weekend. Read more
We’d just finished blasting around the East Cape but the main point of us being in the region was a family gathering in Gisborne over the weekend. Read more
Dad was keen to get home when we did so that he could go to a reunion of ex-Vietnam servicemen. These events happen every couple of years or so and are well supported by many veterans who enjoy the opportunity to catch up with men they served alongside more than 40 years ago.
Mum has always gone to these events and in recent years, my brother and I have tagged along for parts as well. Kyle and I have always been interested in this segment of dad’s life, with early memories of looking through the photo albums and slides of his time in South East Asia. I visited Vietnam three years ago and went to the area where the Kiwis had predominantly been based and am part way through recounting that trip in this blog.
Anyhoo… the reunion this time was to be held in the Bay of Islands in Northland. Of particular significance, the memorial parade and service on Sunday would be held on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds; only the second time a unit had been invited to march there.
Waitangi is one of the most significant places in NZ being where the country as it is today was in a sense ‘born’. In 1840, members of the British Crown, together with more than 500 Maori chiefs, signed a treaty which ultimately gave Britain sovereignty over NZ and retained certain rights for Maori. It has been the subject of endless controversy and debate since. Waitangi is where the initial signatures were gathered.
A few months out it was confirmed that dad and Kyle would go to the reunion as mum would still be overseas. I wanted to be there for Sunday morning and so I secretly plotted. It coincided with the time Mike and I would be in Auckland and was a doable deviation to the north. Luckily Mike was keen, so I moved our flights out by half a day and booked a rental car.
Fast forward to Auckland. We hit the road in our small underpowered car late Saturday avo for the 3 hour drive north. My stamina was poor (we’ll blame jetlag and birthday indulgences) and I had to hand the wheel to Mike part way lest I drove us off the road. We arrived in Paihia in darkness. This area is a big holiday destination and it was a shame we wouldn’t be around to enjoy it for long.
In the morning we had to leave quite early. At least it was daylight and the pies we found on the way for breakfast went down a treat.
Once parked, we joined a ragtag procession of others up the road to where the veterans were assembling for the walk onto the Waitangi grounds. It wasn’t long before I saw the large form of my father. He soon looked over and did a bit of a double take when he saw me. Surpriiise! A good surprise – I think.
Mike and I went through to the vast lawn area and soon saw the large form of my brother. After the usual brotherly-sisterly greetings and put-downs we wandered around and waited for proceedings to start.
After formalities concluded they assembled for group photos (eventually; it had the appearance of cats being herded). We caught up with dad though not for long as we had to get going. I exchanged a final insult of endearment with my brother, and we left, walking back across the grounds and down beside the beach. Here we were able to catch up with the Iriquois.
Undoubtedly these machines are one of the enduring icons of the Vietnam War and probably quite amazingly they’re still operational in NZ today. They are gradually on the way out though. At an airshow in March we had the opportunity to see the machine that will eventually be replacing them.
The final activity before heading south was a lunch date with my dear friend Janice, who moved to the area with her husband some years ago. By coincidence we had planned to meet at a cafe very nearby.
So it was a very rewarding side trip. And a few hours later, after the drive back to Auckland and the short flight to Wellington, after five weeks of being away, I was home.
And then my five weeks were up. I had one final day to tick off some final things before dad and I were due at Heathrow in the evening. Mum on the other hand would be staying on for another week to partake of some Diamond Jubilee events (including a concert with her beloved Russell Watson).
The weather was again amazing and it lent itself to covering a bit of ground on foot. Which wasn’t the best for dad’s knee but he coped admirably. He and I set off, leaving mum behind to catch up on stuff. We tubed to Trafalgar Square and trotted off down Whitehall.
My main priority of the day was to go through the Churchill War Rooms.
The rooms were really interesting and I ran out of time to do justice to the huge wealth of information in the museum at the end. Needless to say, dad was done and dusted long before I emerged.
Our arrival at the War Rooms had coincided with the arrival on Horse Guards Rd of a long ribbon of Foot Guards en route to the parade grounds. A really impressive sight and after cross-checking photos with information, I think all five army regiments from which Foot Guards are drawn were represented.
And as if through divine synchronicity, by the time I emerged from the War Rooms they were heading back.
I wanted to show dad Buckingham Palace and the NZ War Memorial in Hyde Park Corner so we did the Mall and Constitution Hill circuit.
By now dad’s knee had had enough so we tubed back and found mum. The rest of the afternoon was sorting out stuff until it was time for us to do the final luggage heave-ho down to Paddington where mum waved us goodbye onto the express train to Heathrow.
Dad was well ready to be getting back to familiar surrounds and I had loved my time in the UK but was looking forward to getting back home to Mike and celebrating my birthday. (I had fleetingly considered timing the flights such that I would spend my birthday in the air, which on the return would mean losing a day… meaning I could avoid actually turning 40…)
Just 24 hours in economy to endure first. Sigh.
It was our second to last day in London and the weather gods were still in a good mood. This meant one thing: we had to get out and see stuff, as much stuff as possible. Mum and I had swapped notes about things we were each keen to see and with it being dad’s first time in London, a hop-on / hop-off bus tour made sense.
We made our way to Trafalgar Square where, somewhere, I was to pick up the pre-booked tickets.
Easier said than done (let alone where in this large area the bus stop actually was) and with a dented sense of patience we eventually connected with a bus.
It was fairly slow going but we were on the open deck and had plenty of time to study our surrounds and take many uninteresting photos.
We got off at the Tower of London as much of what we wanted to see was in that area. This didn’t include going into the ToL as mum and I had been there done that previously (and dad wasn’t all that bothered).
The first sight I was interested in was the nearby remains of the original Roman wall. This stuff fascinates me and later on I hunted down another section of it in the financial district.
With dad’s dodgy knee we had to watch the amount of walking we did but for now it was ok. We wandered across the iconic Tower Bridge which we had cruised under the night before.
I wanted to look through the Belfast, a museum ship since the early 1970s, and figured dad would probably be keen to as well. It had only been reopened a couple of weeks after being closed for six months following a partial collapse of the gangway.
With all my camera faffing around dad finished long before me and I eventually collected he and mum from the embankment to continue our improvised walking tour. Plans had been made to catch up with a cousin of mine after he finished work and it made sense to head to the financial district and stay there until it was time to meet Steve.
Mum and I left dad to rest his knee at the statue of Wellington near the Bank Station crossroads and we went off to find churches and stuff.
We popped into St Paul’s before retreating at the sight of the entry fee. Still I would’ve felt short-changed to have paid all that money and not have been able to take photos. Anyway, the exterior is stunning enough.
We then split up so that I could find the Temple Church and more of the London Wall. I was half successful. Conveniently, the Temple Church had just closed before I got there so I had to again be happy with a nosey around the outside. The wall I found after a bit of a walk and was worth the effort.
I found mum and dad back at Wellington around the time that normal people were finishing work. Steve and Sheree arrived and whisked us to nearby bar Coq d’Argent – the perfect choice for tourists as it turned out. A rooftop venue with a lawn area and fantastic views. Very cool.
The locals took us somewhere else for dinner – and with the promise of a restaurant that served only steak and chips, I suspected dad would feel the long day had been worthwhile! I don’t often blah on about restaurants or food-related travel experiences because it’s typically not something I’m interested in reading about myself, and I’m not a foodie (except when it comes to consumption). However, Relais de Venise l’Entrecôte deserves a mention because it was fantastic.
No menu, just a salad starter and steak plus frites for the main, served in two batches. There’s no way in heck I eat meat that’s anything less than well and truly dead and mine came out beautifully well done. The sauce was so delicious it would probably be liquid death if you came here too often. Not quite done after that, we all embraced the occasion with dessert. I chose profiteroles. Wow.
Full of enough calories to last the next week, we shared a cab back home. It had been a big day, but there would be no slacking off tomorrow!
I looked into river tours while researching stuff to do in London with mum and dad. An evening cruise with dinner sounded good as being after hours it would give us more flexibility to squeeze in daytime activities to our very limited time, and I liked that it went up to the Thames Barrier (in fact that was quite a selling point for me). I booked three tickets for Sunday night – the same day we went to high tea. Call it a continuation of my London birthday.
We reported to Westminster Pier at bit after 7pm and found a bunch of others also waiting for the ‘Showboat’. Once onboard we were shown to our table in what was a large restaurant type space, and the dinner service began. I think we stayed moored until the meal was fairly well advanced.
Once we were away and puttering downriver, mum and I were more interested in taking in the sights from the upstairs deck and would dart up and down in between completing the courses. I was surprised that the majority of people stayed inside for the whole trip.
At some stage the ‘show’ part of ‘showboat’ cranked into gear. A covers singer. She was good, and I’m pretty sure there was dancing, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. There were lots of other partakers though.
This was disappointing. I was really quite interested to see the Thames Barrier and this tour seemed to provide a good opportunity. Luckily we were upstairs at the time our proximity to the barrier got a brief mention on the commentary as we were suddenly turning around to head back to town. My opportunity to see it was rapidly evaporating so I quickly snapped a few photos but they were rubbish. I felt the tour under-delivered (or over-sold) this feature and I gave them feedback accordingly.
And by now we were well ready for the tour to finish. It was worthwhile, the views from the river in daylight and dark outweighing any negatives. The meal was good and there was opportunity to both enjoy the food and nip upstairs for unobstructed city views. And we lucked out on the perfect night weather wise.
Bed was a couple of tube rides away so we lingered locally for a couple of uniquely London photos on our way to the station.
We left our cottage in Durley, said goodbye to the Merc in Reading*, and caught the train to London. A budget hotel near Paddington would be our home for three nights, then dad and I would fly home.
* where I managed to leave the mount for our satnav still attached to the windscreen, not discovered until I got home. Dummy.
I’d been to London briefly twice before (including at the start of this trip) and had expected to not like it. The opposite happened. So I was glad to have another couple of days there – even if it was only a couple of days. And even if this time would force me to start crossing the threshold into another decade….
Ten years ago for my 30th I had a joint party with my father who turned 60 around the same time (it was billed as our ‘90th’). As it transpired, within a few months I began my 30s by leaving a city and a marriage and starting what has become a great new life in Wellington.
I wasn’t as inclined to be quite so dramatic this time round. But what to do for the 40th? Another party? Travel? Both? 🙂
The trip concept with mum and dad started to take form, which was partially built around being able to celebrate dad’s 70th in St Andrews. Between that, the family history stuff, and proximity to my birthday, the trip went from concept to certainty. I would meet mum and dad in Scotland at the beginning of May, take dad on a side trip to Turkey, meet back up with mum in England, and finish up in London where we’d have an early celebration for my birthday.
The dilemma then became what to do in London that was a bit special, a place in which you’d never be stuck for choice? As well as my parents, I have a couple of friends there who I was keen to include. It was pretty easily decided in the end: high tea with everyone, and a dinner cruise on the Thames with mum and dad.
So where for high tea? You could lose yourself in the research as it seems there are so many excellent places these days. But I wanted more than just great food, service and reputation, I also wanted the ambience and decor – and in looking at websites it wasn’t always obvious what the dining rooms looked like.
I chose The Ritz. It seemed to tick all the boxes.
At the beginning of this year, four months out, I decided I better make the booking. There was only one viable day and I’m lucky I didn’t muck around any longer as I only had the choice of an 11.30am sitting or 7pm! ‘High lunch’ it was.
The day arrived, a really hot day. This was London’s heat-wave-before-the-many-weeks-of-dismal-weather-before-the-Olympics. We caught a cab and loitered outside the prestigious address until my friends arrived. It was lovely to see them.
Inside we transited through the amazing hotel entrance and lobby were shown to our table in a very proper, naturally, but friendly manner. I was so pleased with the choice: the Palm Court was stunning. Golden tones, elaborate furnishings. It was buzzing with other high tea goers in this two-hour sitting.
Louise has been a friend since babyhood and has lived in London for several years. Danielle I met soon after moving to Wellington. She moved to London at the beginning of the year and it was great to share my 40th with her, as I travelled to Vietnam to help celebrate hers a couple of years ago.
We all enjoyed the tea offerings. To be honest though, I went to a high tea at one of the nice Wellington hotels last year and while The Ritz tea may have been more traditional (?) I didn’t feel it was any better in either quality or taste than my enjoyable local experience. We happily nibbled from the tiered plates of food, alternately sipping between chosen teas and glasses of bubbles.
But there was also cake! There was a minute of happy embarrassment as the cake was brought out and the staff sang happy birthday. Everyone at our table had to have a compulsory slice though I don’t think anyone had room.
Dad and Louise. Until recently, when dad retired, he worked for Lou’s father in rural West Auckland.
The time flew. It was sort of like a wedding day – a bit surreal; lots going on and not enough time to do proper justice to the company, the food, the surroundings. All too soon it was time for us to vacate our seats as groups for the next sitting were already hovering in the lobby. It’s a shame you can’t linger for longer, but it is a hugely popular activity and their several sittings per day are usually booked solid for at least three months.
(The balloon was part of the gift from Louise!)
Not sure what I’m looking at!, but around that time an odd man watching our proceedings shouted a few offensive things at us. That didn’t mar what had had been a fantastic occasion, especially the brief catch-up it enabled with the girls.
And after dipping my toes in the waters of 40, I wasn’t feeling too bad. Just very full.
As I’ve mentioned once or twice, Portsmouth featured prominently in our itinerary because of dad’s origins. His dad was born there and lived there until late in his teens when he moved to New Zealand. My grandfather had a few sisters and as a result, dad has several English cousins who materialised only in recent decades.
During our week in and around Portsmouth we saw all and met all we could with a tie to dad’s family.
He also worked on the HMS Illustrious.
When my great grandfather died he left six children, my grandfather being the eldest and the only boy. He emigrated from England on his own as a teenager under a scheme which was to have seen his sisters and mother eventually join him. However for various reasons that never happened and he never saw his family again. Happily though he met my grandmother and they proceeded to have 10 children, who produced 24 grandchildren (voila, me!).
When we left Portsmouth for London that was the end of the family history theme of the trip. It was this theme that prompted me to travel around with my parents for a month, particularly as mum has collected so much information about who-what-where-when. Between her ancestral ties with Cornwall, dad’s with Hampshire and going to these places, have to say I’m pretty happy with my English roots and my decision to have gone on the trip.
We wanted to see Stonehenge. It wasn’t actually the main drawcard for us in Wiltshire, but, y’know, since we were going to be in the neighbourhood…
Our stop for the night ended up being in nearby Amesbury. The route there took us past Stonehenge, or should I say beside – I was really surprised at how close to the road this famous place is. I imagined something a bit more remote. It is incredibly accessible.
Many stop to simply view the stones from the road, saving themselves £8 or so. Not us though.
We returned for our proper look-see the following morning, arriving just before opening time. While you kinda gotta resign yourself to queuing at these places, mercifully at that time of day we didn’t have too long to wait. After 20ish minutes we were in, collecting our audio guides and walking through the tunnel that takes you under that much-too-close road.
From here you pop up at the start of the walkway that takes you around the outside of the stone circle.
This was the closest we would get to the stones. I probably should have lingered here longer, but a) I lacked patience in among the big crowd of people clustered in the same spot wanting the same photo; and b) I knew there was still a bit to fit into the day.
Until 1977 the public could freely walk amongst the stones. To get closer these days you can try to book a sought-after tour in the early morning or late evening that allows you to gain access to the circle. This did appeal to me, but it simply wasn’t something we had time to contemplate organising.
It is thought that the stone structure originated between 2000 and 3000 BC, and the whole site (much bigger than the main circle and contains other stones as well as earth banks and ditches) probably took around 1500 years to complete. It is quite something to be in the presence of such culturally significant oldness.
Experts believe that Stonehenge was last used for ritualistic purposes in the Iron Age, which in Britain was roughly the period 1200 BC – 400 AD.
Some restoration was undertaken periodically up until the 1960s, mainly to stand up the stones that had fallen over. As you might expect, archaeology has been carried out at various times and I can imagine how fascinating a place it must be to uncover traces of its past life.
I try to minimise the number of photos of the same object in each post. But I can’t help being a bit repetitive with this one!
As close to civilisation as the site feels, it is thanks to some concerned people of the 1920s that it was saved from further urban encroachment. The National Trust was able to acquire the site and steps were taken to start preserving it: nearby buildings were removed and grass allowed to return. However, the roads were left and today the site is flanked by two main A roads. I see there has been much debate about this over the years so I’m by no means alone in feeling concerned about how intrusive these are.
We completed the circuit and I contemplated going around again, but we really did need to get going. But that wasn’t the end of our stone monument visits that day. Next though we needed to find a local landmark with a strong link to New Zealand.
After leaving Dartmoor we continued south to the coastal city of Plymouth.
You can’t really visit a city in one afternoon but that was the plan, and we had a fairly narrow scope to give it some purpose.
The interest in Plymouth is its historical connection to New Zealand and to our family. In 1840, NZ joined the British empire and ships set sail from Plymouth, as Captain Cook’s vessels did in the 18th century, to take settlers to the relative no man’s land that was then New Zealand. The city on the west coast of the North Island which they would help establish was named New Plymouth.
Aboard the William Bryan, the first ship to depart, was my great x4 grandfather who had lived in Boscastle, along with his wife and their four children. It took them 133 days to reach New Zealand. Ugh.
Fast forward 172 years and I was in search of a car park. It wasn’t the best choice in the end and involved a bit of a walk for parents who had twinges in limbs, but at least we were roughly in the right area.
Our walk took us around past the aquarium, across the footbridge over the entry to one of the marinas (where we twiddled thumbs for several minutes as the bridge was raised to let boats in) to the Barbican area. There are numerous memorials here, including ones to the ships which departed for strange faraway lands.
We continued around the waterfront, kinda winging it from this point. Mum and dad with their aches and pains streaked ahead of me as I dawdled with my point-and-shoot. There were plenty of distracting features – the coastline, historical landmarks, navy ships in the harbour, restored foreshore facilities, abandoned foreshore facilities, and several war memorials. I had a great time.
The coastal route had such appeal I walked back along it, and that was pretty much my experience of Plymouth. By the time I eventually caught up with mum and dad it was time to get back to Boscastle for our final night in Cornwall.
While attending religious services doesn’t interest me, I do appreciate that churches are usually historic sites and reflect the origins of the settlements they served. Then there are the aesthetics – I love old stone buildings, which the churches in Great Britain typically are.
Probably though it is the graveyards that hold the most fascination, and these were often located in the grounds of the churches we saw.
So yep, if I ‘have’ to visit a church, I’m usually quite happily occupied.
This topic applies to the trip generally but the post focuses mainly on our time in Cornwall where we visited a few churches that ancestors on mum’s mum’s side of the family had frequented.
Our typical routine was: drive to the church; mum and I get out of the car; dad stay with the car; mum go into the church; I frolic around outside; dad survey the immediate surrounds, and wait… and wait…
We stayed up on the hill near Forrabury Church during our few days based in Boscastle.
St Breward Church
The village of St Breward in Bodmin Moor is home to the church with the highest elevation in Cornwall – though this is more just fact than inspiring selling point as, well, it’s not that high really.
St Tudy Church
Located in St Tudy village, the church was closed much to mum’s disappointment – unfortunately some churches are no longer left open because of theft. So we just had a quick blat around the grounds.
St Gennys Church
The hamlet of St Gennys contains a church of the same name which has wonderful sea views from the sloping graveyard.
St Juliot Church
I recall that getting here required navigating a few narrow country lanes, enough to make you wonder if a church could really be in the middle of nowhere. Very quietly located (if you don’t count the tractor on the farm next door), St Juliot is fairly famous due to its association with the writer and poet Thomas Hardy.
St James Church
The odd one out here being located in Devon. We drove to the village of Ashreigney on the day we left Cornwall but the church was closed. The grounds were fairly boring but included (as many churches seemed to) a border of memorial stones.
Church of St Nonna
No family connection with this place on the north-eastern edge of Bodmin Moor, but as we drove through it on our way back from Lizard Point I felt compelled to stop and take a pic. And for once there was somewhere to pull over to fulfil this whim. The village is called Altarnun and the church is also known as the Cathedral of the Moor.
We also went to Minster Church in Boscastle.
But as churched out as he was after all this, we were still to visit the area of England that his father came from. Sorry dad, there were still one or two more churches to come!