Sunday, February 28, 2010

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Rafting Down the River

If you're about to visit New Zealand - or even if you live here - and you want to test yourself on one of our famous outdoor adventures, then head for the little alpine town of Hanmer Springs in the Hurunui and Thrillseekers Rafting. This mild-mannered Grade 2 adventure is the perfect answer for those of you who are not quite ready for a nail-biting, teeth-gritting Grade 5 white water adventure.
Located near the historic bridge that takes you into Hanmer itself, Thrillseekers is a one-stop shop for adventure freaks and the rafting is a soft option that takes you gently up the Waiau River. When I say 'gently' I should point out that you do have to paddle, so expect to get a bit of a sweat up. But on the way, you can marvel at beautiful landscapes, jagged rock, cliff faces, water holes and the general beauty that has made this region famous - and a popular year-round holiday destination. You'll be in the company of experienced guides too, so no need to panic about anything. Simply grab your paddle and enjoy the journey. And if you want to check out a wider itinerary for this area, check here.

Friday, February 26, 2010

StreetscapeNZ - 69

Colombo Street, Cathedral Square,
Christchurch, South Island
December 2009, Ajr

Thursday, February 25, 2010

An Alpine Indulgence

Luxuries for the Body
Exclusive to Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa
Skincare to Die For

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cycling and Walking - With Wine

When I called in at the Nor'Wester Cafe in Amberley recently, I was quick to pounce on information about the proposed Hurunui Cycling and Walking Trail, a vision for a network of trailes for pedestrians and cyclists, covering the Hurunui District. Friends of the Trail is a group that has been set up to promote the trail within the local community and to people passionate about cycling and walking. They've all been working madly to have the first stage of the trail - The Waipara Trail - open in 2010. The whole project has been reliant on fundraising for development, promotion and trail maintenance and a key part of that, has centred on sales of 'Waipara Trail' wine. Both Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir are available - this lot at Nor'Wester cafe. It's been a huge collaborative effort by locals and the trails look to be a great asset to the rural communities they pass through. The first stage of the Waipara Trail will, happily, pass through local wineries and assorted scenic and historic sites. As funds allow, this trail will be extended and linked to others in the greater Hurunui District, all the way up to Waiau and Hanmer Springs.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

From the Food Files

One Bee Sting
A Dutch Cake
Flat, Cream-Filled, Dusted
At Oxford Farmers' Market
February 2010 Ajr

Monday, February 22, 2010

Barry's Provocative Unpublished Minutes - 83

"Boxing Day Nightmare"
An Artist looking for visual mischief during the holiday season.
For more witty observations from one of New Zealand's leading senior printmakers, click on Cleavin in the label line below this post.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

An Unexpected Church Find.

St Matthews Anglican Church at Fernside, near Cust in North Canterbury is a pretty little number, tucked into a stand of big oak trees. I came upon it on a Sunday drive and, following the sign off the main highway, came upon at the juncture of four narrow country roads. Sadly it backs onto a giant poultry farm and the smell was appalling. I hate to think what it must be like to have to sit through a church service there, with the odour of smelly chooks filtering between the pews. It doesn't bear thinking about. But I did love the bell tower!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

One Tree, Two Views

Sadly, it was a gray afternoon when I ground the car to halt to photograph this perfectly shaped tree sitting in the middle of a normally golden barley field. There was a lovely symmetry to the scene...... an even spread of green foliage and a shimmering sea of barley heads swaying around the tree trunk.....which is not quite captured here. But that didn't stop me taking at least thirty photographs and you will see it again.

Cool Cars - 70

One Black Thunderbird - Spotted in Bromley, Christchurch

Friday, February 19, 2010

For Furniture Fans.

'Ply-ability' is the first exhibition in New Zealand devoted to the fascinating story of innovation and change in New Zealand plywood studio furniture. I was sent these gorgeous images from the show, which is showing at Hawke's Bay Museum and Art Gallery until June 27.
The exhibition is a celebration of the extraordinary talents and innovation of one of New Zealand's most important furniture designers, Garnet Campbell (Garth) Chester [1916-1968], who was a self-taught designer who worked from the 1940s through to his retirement in 1964. He is recognised for his innovative bent-plywood furniture designs from the mid-late 1940s and for his steel-framed designs from the 1950s.
Ply-ability also recognises the work by other New Zealad designers working with plywood. It includes rare examples of local Modernist furniture, experimental works by amateur designers and designs by some of our leading contemporary furniture designers - like David Trubridge, Humphrey Ikin, a number of architects (John Scott, Michael Payne and Allan Wild) and many more.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

For Chocoholics!

If there's one thing Amberley's Nor'Wester Cafe does to perfection, it's a contemporary take on the old-fashioned chocolate pudding. That's not to say their astonishingly good Chocolate Mud Cake isn't also worthy of attention too. In fact, if you like chocolate, you could just about spend the day here trying a little bit of everything.

StreetscapeNZ - 68

Main Street, Riverton
November 2009. Ajr

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Place to Stay

I don't know about anyone else but if I'm looking for a quiet, peaceful retreat, I go somewhere...well...quiet and peaceful. Braemar Lodge & Spa, tucked away on the brow of a hill, down a quiet, gravel road about ten minute's drive from Hanmer Springs, is such a place. You'd never know it was there if you hadn't been told.
There's been a lodge of some description on the site for years - at least a decade or more - but this latest incarnation opened 18 months ago after a $20-million upgrade. To my mind, the architecture is less than inspiring. It looks a little like a concrete block apartment block But the views across the Hanmer basin to the village are quite something and the huge rooms are priced for incredible value. The bathrooms alone are almost the size of some tiny hotel rooms. Each of the 24 suites also has its own hot tub on a private balcony; and the double Vichy shower and enormous, high-tech spa bath inside are luxuries to be reckoned with - in more ways than one. It took me ten minutes to figure out how to use the shower and only then courtesy of a blast of freezing cold water.
But when dinner the night before has been such a culinary triumph, I'm prepared to excuse a bit of high-tech mumbo-jumbo. After all, much of that probably comes down to my own technological ineptitude. Braemar has had the good sense to hire Michelin-trained, South African executive chef, Nikki Brown, who presented us with a meal fit for a king. Highly decorative and divine tasting, I'd go to Braemar again on the strength of it. Altitude Restaurant itself is a little cavernous and lacking in atmosphere but who cares when you're well fed? Overall Braemar Lodge is incredible value for money. What it lacks in imaginative architecture is more than compensated for by the size and quality of rooms, by its serene rural location and its first rate cuisine. It's a great spot for a weekend getaway.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A CountryHedge - Or Three

Excuse me while I prattle on about hedges again.
I spied these two beauties out at Oxford last weekend - sturdy old pine and macrocarpa hedges riddled with character and a certain 'tortured' beauty that I found irresistable. But then, I find most hedges irresistable. It's a weakness of mine. I have photographed hundreds of hedges throughout Australasia - mostly the manicured, domestc hedge in all its variables. But here in the South Island, there are a multitude of handsome country hedges - windbreaks on farms and shelterbelts around public parks and showgrounds. I found these ones at the Oxford Showgrounds and I love the fact that they have 'lifted their leafy skirts' to reveal their inner skeleton - their sturdy, architectural framework that holds them against the powerful North Canterbury winds. To me they seem almost animate and if I were still a child, I would be planning my next 'treehut' already. To see some of my many other hedge photos, just click on HEDGES in the label line below this post.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Barry's Provocative Unpublished Minutes - 82

"By A Hare's Breath."
I love this latest print from one of New Zealand's leading printmakers. See others by clicking on Cleavin in the label line below this post.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Knock, Knock!

One Blue Door
With Iron Knocker
At Cust (See below)

A North Canterbury Church

We came upon this striking brick bell tower at Cust, on our drive back to Christchurch from Oxford last weekend. I'm a big fan of old brick work. I can't explain why exactly but I think it might be something to do with the way it alludes to the traditional skills of old craftsmen. I'm a sucker for the old crafts. Put that together with church architecture and I'm there....with bells on.
The bright cobalt blue doors and the wonderful old steel door knockers caught my eye too.
The cluster of buildings belong to the Anglican Parish of Oxford-Cust and the church - St James-on-the-Cust, was surrounded by giant oak trees and lovely parklike lawns. A sloping lawn fell away at the rear, to a gully below. Sadly, as is so often the way these days, all the doors to the church were locked. I would have loved to have a peek inside the bell tower too. Perhaps another time?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Provincial New Zealand - Architectural Style

Cust Museum- in the formerWaimakariri-Ashley Water Supply Board building.
You don't have to drive far in New Zealand to find a small town filled with a crazy assortment of buildings - public and private alike. Last weekend I was out in Oxford, about 40 minutes north of Christchurch. That's a small town that has changed significantly over the last five years. An Oxford gift store & bookshop - in the old Salvation Army Church Building. Circa 1930-1940 Originally a saw-milling town, then a rural service town, Oxford is now being billed as "a destination, a quaint village with an English atmosphere." I put that down to slightly hysterical marketing hype myself, because frankly, you don't get 'English village atmosphere' simply by virtue of sharing the name of one of England's most iconic villages. It doesn't feel at all English to me. It feels iconically Kiwi provincial. I don't know why people want to sweep that under the carpet and pretend to be English. Private Residence. Oxford. Probably 1940-50s with 1970s conifer plantings. All that aside, I do like like Oxford, Canterbury, New Zealand (and nearby Cust). It really does have a glorious assortment of buildings that shine a light on different architectural styles across the decades. And I love the way buildings morph and change use over time - the old church building that is now a busy gift store; the old villa that is now a popular cafe; an old council building converted into a tiny museum. It says so much about the industriousness of country people and their ability to turn just about anything to good use.
Old villa, possibly early 1900s; now a cafe
Fernside Memorial Hall and Community Centre at Fernside. There is no denying that the first European settlers in New Zealand were English (and Scottish) predominantly but come on people, that was over 150 years ago. It's lovely that we have clues to that in some of our early architecture but all these decades on, surely it's time to claim these small places with their quirky buildings as quintessentially New Zealand - not some so-called 'quaint English or French (Akaroa) outpost.' I find that sort of regional marketing embarassingly twee. It makes me want to stand up and scream "NEW ZEALAND - This is provincial New Zealand. Enjoy it and be proud of it for what it is. Don't try to make it something foreign."

StreetscapeNZ - 67

Queen's Gardens, Dunedin
South Island.
November 2009 Ajr

Friday, February 12, 2010

A New Gallery

I walked right by this new art gallery in small-town Oxford in North Canterbury last weekend. I'm seldom lured into brand-new psuedo-colonial style buildings in little country towns; they usually house some awful retail atrocity that I'd rather not subject myself to. But my friend went in on our second passing, so I followed her in. It actually turned out to be rather a nice exhibition space - though I could happily have worn blinders against most of the art on display. Turns out that this is stage one in a large development - Arts in Oxford - which will grow to include a large area of workshops at the rear in stage two. It's supported by the Canterbry Community Trust, The Keith Laugesen Charitable Trust, the Waimakariri District Council and the Waimakariri Community Arts Council; and in the rapidly growing and propserous little town of Oxford, it's bound to serve a useful purpose.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Highway Highlight -The Perfect Stop

The giant Phoenix palm outside the yellow ochre, 1928 bungalow beside State Highway 1 in Amberley, North Canterbury, is famous. Not so much for being a giant Phoenix palm, as being an easily recognised marker for the much-awarded Nor'Wester Cafe. Back when owners Tim and Trish Coleman first opened its doors in 1997, the Nor'Wester was something of a sensation. It was one of the first decent cafes in the Amberley-Waipara area and predictably, it took off.
I called in there for breakfast with friends on a recent trip north, to Hanmer Springs. Located just 25 minutes or so north of Christchurch on the main highway, it's perfectly placed for the first stop and if you strike a fine morning, there's nothing nicer than a warm, alfresco breakfast among the lavender and agapathus. Like just about every other restaurant and cafe I've ever set foot in, up and down the country, they make a big deal out of using fresh, local ingredients but I'm prepared to forgive them the cliche because in this case it's true - and it tastes like it. Their brunch meals are beautifully presented and tasty with it. See for yourself above. We pigged out on Smoked salmon, caper berries, preserved lemon, cream cheese, rocket and toasted whole-grain cabatta (top); and Eggs Benedict with spinach (lower image). The Nor'Wester is open every day and from start to finish the menu is filled with temptations. Parmesan dumplings, prawn cutlets, sticky pork belly with soba noodles and coconut and pomegranate panna cotta with pineapple marmalade are so far removed from the old home's former life as the town's medical centre, it's almost laughable. Some in our party that day, are regulars at the Nor'Wester and so enamoured are they of its chocolate desserts, that we were all talked into trying one - for breakfast. I can think of worse fates. And I will be back to show you the photographic proof that a chocolate dessert at the Nor'Wester is a thing well remembered.

Cool Cars - 69

One White Mustang - Spotted in Sydenham, Christchurch

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Day at the Springs

If you've never been to Hanmer Springs you might wonder what draws close to 500,000 people to this dreamy little village set amid 13,000 hectares of exotic forest, 380 metres above sea level. Tucked beneath Mt Isabel, its streets are quiet and it's hard to believe that on any given day, the usual permanent population of around 865 can swell to over 4,000 people.
Invariably you'll find them steaming themselves silly at Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa, the promotional flagship of the increasingly busy Hurunui district and the appropriately-billed Alpine Pacific Triangle that forms a neat pleasure-filled shape that includes the thriving Waipara Wine District, Kaikoura's marine attractions and Hanmer's thermal pools. Now one of the most visited tourist destinations in the South Island, Hanmer Springs has a long history of attracting attention - right back in 1859 in fact, William Jones observed "a remarkable fog" near a well-used walking track and went to investigate. There he found seven circular pools, the largest 7-8 yards across. Even then early settlers had pleasure on their minds, eyeing up the pools as a potential health resort; but it wasn't until 1878 when John Fry built a dressing shed by the main pool that things got moving and the trickle of visitors began to grow. By 1879 regular coach services to the pools had begun and in 1883, the pools were officially opened with James Stewart as the first caretaker. Today it's a whole new ball game. The 14-pool complex is nationally and internationally recognised as one of the finest thermal resorts in the country. Last year's $4-million expansion plan - the third in just over a decade - saw the addition of more thermal pools, large landscaped picnic areas, conference facilities and an international-class day spa facility focused around water-based massage and beauty treatments. Flushed with the success of the new facility, they're about to embark on yet another expansion - an $8.5-million project that will re-develop a block of land purchased from the owners of the adjacent and now-disused Queen Mary Hospital. This will include a new freshwater pool and a new slide attraction. The site of the existing freshwater pool will be converted into three giant jacuzzi pools featuring waterfalls. They expect to have it all completed by 2011. I visited the new Day Spa complex - complete with new private pools - a couple of weekends ago and I have to say it's an excellent addition to an already-popular attraction. There was a steady stream of white-robed visitors - male and female - lining up for little luxuries in one of the thirteen new treatment rooms. Body wraps (the chocolate wrap is a special indulgence), deep tissue and relaxation massage, facials, manicures, Vichy massage, skin treatments and reflexology - they're all there. All you have to do is lie back in their quiet, tranquil environment and let the experts transport you into the realms of pleasure. And don't for one minute think this is just for the girls. I was amazed at the number of men visiting the day spa. And who could blame them? It's a sign of the times perhaps, as more and more people treat themselves to the pleasures of New Zealand day spas. Hence the formation of Best Spas of New Zealand, a selection of the country's top spas - Chuan Spa, Auckland; Bliss Reflexology,Auckland; Polynesian Spa, Rotorua; Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa; and The Spa at Millbrook in Queenstown - ensuring you can be indulged from one end of the country to another. If you'd like to look at a possible itinerary to better plan your visit to Hanmer Springs, check here.


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