Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Trip to Selwyn Huts

I have lived in Christchurch for nineteen years and during that time, a good number of people have told me about Selwyn Huts. They've told me about the quaint little archetypal New Zealand community that sits near the mouth of the Selwyn River, where it opens out into the wide expanses of te Waihora, Lake Ellesmere. But until a few weeks ago, I'd never been there myself.
It was a classic Canterbury Nor'wester Sunday when I finally decided to drive out there - big blue skies and enormous drifts of white cloud swirled into dramatic patterns. I drove through Taitapu, through Lincoln and turned down a side road soon after - one of a number of convoluted routes that will eventually get you there. I was happily driving through the flat green that characterises the Canterbury Plains when all of a sudden the road ended in an abrupt 90-degree turn. If I hadn't been paying attention I would have driven straight on through a farm gate. A few hundred metres down the road I suddenly found myself at Selwyn Huts.
I'm not sure what I was expecting - perhaps a few scattered huts on the edge of the river bank? I certainly wasn't expecting a tight little fistful of at least a hundred cottages/baches/cribs (see below) - fabulous little dwellings that are the product of every architectural whim anyone has ever had. Some are lived in permanently; some are holiday spots, with doors locked and curtains drawn. Whatever else you might think of these quintessential New Zealand communities that spring up beside the country's beaches, lakes and rivers, you have to admire the inventiveness of those who choose to put down roots there. There's something free-spirited and carefree about that, that speaks far more to the notion of home and gathered memories than any of the fancy architecture that is currently springing up in our cities. Selwyn Huts are a quirky mix - old converted tram carriages, converted buses, rickety old cottages, makeshift dwellings put together with building oddments, cute little huts that have been prettied up with vegetable gardens and flower beds and even a modern dwelling or two. And down a stretch of metal road, a kilometre or so on, there are the Lower Selwyn Huts - a smaller gathering that overlooks the river and its wobbly jetties. A 1924 photograph I found of this area shows the river lined with jetties and moored boats and speaks of Selwyn Huts as "a weekend resort for Christchurch anglers" keen to try their luck at netting the trout the river is well known for. The word 'resort' might be stretching it a bit by today's standards but there was something about this place that drew me in. I'll be going back - and if I can find an empty cottage to rent, I'll be staying a few days. There's an undertstated magic there that got to me.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Country Hedge

A fat macrocarpa hedge at Greenpark, near Springston.
Call me crazy if you will but there was something about this fabulous fat hedge that reminded me of a woman lifting her skirts to show off her legs and ankles. It's as if the hedge has lifted its own green petticoat so we can peek at its architectural core, the structure that holds it firm against the toughest Canterbury winds, providing shelter for the farmhouse behind. Sturdy and reliable it has obviously done its job well for decades. I'm a bit of a fan of hedges and you can see some of the myriad of hedge photos I've taken by clicking on the word HEDGES in the label line below.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Visual Stuff

Christchurch. December 2009 Ajr
To say that I am inspired by the visual is an understatement!
My whole approach to life is testament to that.
Wherever I go, wherever I am, my eyes cast about for the detail of things. It's something I no longer even bother to control. I just make sure I am always carrying a camera. There was a time when I would pause to sketch but the older I get the more time seems to be galloping away without me, so a camera is my saviour - my way of capturing the tiny visual moments that make me look twice. It's not about anything special. Most of the things that draw me up short are things that I am sure other people would walk straight past....these coloured letters and rolls of gift ribbon in a store for instance. It wasn't just the fact that I love typography - in all its forms - it is also about the underlying connotations of things - the memories they trigger, the urge to create, sometimes a nostalgia, sometimes an overwhelming sense of the beauty of small things. We live in a fast world, a world that no longer seems to place value on the small and the insignificant. We walk past beauty every minute of every day and we complain that our lives are dull and uninteresting. We fail to realise that the beauty of life really IS in the smallness of one's life. That in fact, is philosophy that sits at the core of this entire blog.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Cool Cars - 64

One Bronze 1966 Ford Mustang - Spotted near the Arts Centre, Christchurch

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An Evansdale Moment

Superb handcrafted cheeses from the Dennison Family
At Evansdale Cheese, Otago.
They've been in operation since 1980.
I love the fact that they've now set up their factory in the old Cherry Farm mental hospital.
Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'mad about cheese.' www.evansdalecheese.co.nz

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Tree, A Window.....

...........A Cathedral....
Christchurch Cathedral
Christmas 2009

Architectural Grey

It was a grey, overcast day with strong winds when I was out with my camera last weekend but I didn't let that slow me down. There were some amazing cloud patterns, though I'm afraid I didn't capture them so well; and I loved the way they interacted with some of the inner city buildings. I was particularly pleased with the top photo of Rydges Hotel, which I've photographed against skies of all colours. Full size, this image makes the building look almost silky and ethereal.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cathedral Christmas

Blue Star
On the Cathedral Christmas Tree December 2009

A Choristers' Christmas

When I was out walking last weekend, I dropped into the Christchurch Cathedral in the Square to see what was happening. I timed it perfectly for this colourful Christmas shot. One of the choirs was in full voice and the beautiful interior columns were a-glow with festive lighting. I've photographed this and many other churches, numerous times - click on Churches in the label line below for more - and it always surprises me just how different images of the same place can be, dependent upon lighting and circumstances.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cafe Cool

Joe's Garage, the cafe 'chain' that started in Queenstown, spread to Arrowtown, then to inner city Christchurch, has now opened its new cafe at Sumner in Christchurch. It's different but the same. Located in a new building that has been squeezed between two old shops, it's a long thin den of 'Joe coolness' - the same toy trucks and cars are skittling along shelves and counters; and there's that same pared-back interior. There were more staff than customers when I called in last weekend but it may have just been the time of day. I'll reserve judgement for now.

StreetscapeNZ - 58

Cumberland Street, Dunedin
South Island.
November 2009 Ajr

Friday, December 18, 2009

Cafe Cool

If you find yourself in Gisborne any time soon, make sure you seek out Cafe Ruba, which I found, quite by chance, behind a red door in the old Union Steamship Company building a block up from the river. Great little cafes and eateries are not exactly thick on the ground in this part of the country, so you'd do well to seek this one out.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Back on November 13, 1924, Frederick Goodman of Gisborne signed a contract with the Tolaga Bay Harbour Board for the construction of the Tolaga Bay Wharf and road for the grand sum of 60,331 pounds but it wasn’t until 1929 that the wharf was officially opened. It closed to all shipping in 1968 and to all vehicular traffic in 1977; and today it remains – all buildings removed – as a popular spot for fishing and a destination for tourists. It is, after all, the longest wharf in New Zealand and it sits in the spectacularly beautiful Tolaga Bay, 45 kilometres northeast of Gisborne. The day I swung by in May, there was a steady flow of visitors calling by for photographs and a leisurely walk to the end. I would have done the same but for the fact that I was on a travel deadline and had to get to Gisborne before dark. My photographs were therefore hurried and unspectacular.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hedge History

When it comes to gardens – and I’ve written about hundreds of them – I’m a bit of a free-form, free-spirited sort of girl myself. I like a garden that is left to develop its own character in a loose, abandoned kind of way. I like a garden that isn’t too perfect – one with a weed or three poking up through the greenery, one with daisies in the lawn and creepers looping through the hedges. At the same time though, I do admire the commitment, the labour and the energy that goes into creating the perfect formal garden. I sometimes think the plants in these sorts of gardens are probably too terrified to twitch a leaf for fear of having it lopped off by a gardener with an obsession for order, but there is also a compelling beauty in this sort of rigid formality. I visited one of these large formal gardens just last week – on a cold, grey, drizzly day that heightened the vibrant greens and set my camera a-clicking.
What struck me most about this property, were the hedges – the DOZENS of huge, lush, perfectly manicured, cleverly-interlocking hedges. No surprises there for anyone who follows this blog. I’ve been rabbitting on about hedges for years. There isn’t a hedge I’ve seen and haven’t loved whether for its size, shape, colour, rigidity or rampant neglect. But this garden left me speechless – not for the size and beauty of it – but for the sheer bounty of its hedges. There were hundreds of metres of large macrocarpa hedges defining the precise garden beds; there were boundary hedges, little decorative hedges, espaliered hedges, hedges in numerous plant varieties and most spectacular of all, an intricate weaving of tiny buxus hedges that made up a series of unforgettable knot gardens. I could hardly contain myself and before I knew it I was spilling out a stream of unnecessary, clich├ęd superlatives like ‘marvellous’ ‘beautiful’ and ‘amazing’ until I was even boring myself. All this got me to thinking about hedges and their history – something you can’t really avoid when you start writing about the tradition of knot gardens and parterres that became fashionable in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries. Turns out the first hedges were created right back in the Neolithic Age, 4000-6000 years ago, when someone (probably very hairy) planted them to enclose cereal crops. Others have been recorded in the Bronze age, 2000-4000 years ago and a good number of hedges created during the medieval period are still alive and growing well in the United Kingdom - in Cornwall in particular, which is rich in historic hedges; three quarters of them several hundreds of years old. I take comfort from all of this. It lends weight to the fact that I am not alone in what some have called my “unnatural passion” for hedges.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Looking Glass

"New Beginnings" from 'Life Within Series, 2009. Ben Young.
Photo: Quinn O'Connell, Courtesy Sarjeant Gallery.
Wanganui’s Sarjeant Gallery has opened its first large scale exhibition featuring the work of New Zealand glass artists and I for one, wish I could be in Wanganui to see it. I like the central idea of the show – ‘reflecting ideas,’ which refers to the brief each of the 21 participating artists was given, “to reflect on the ways in which their idea had evolved, and show its relationship to their interest in glass and the process of making their work.” Each was asked to present a group of three works that would show the scope and development of an idea – in some cases one of the three pieces may be the trigger point for the final glass work, the source of their idea.
"Bombora Gigantes" 2009. Lee Brogan.
Photo: Lee Brogan. Courtesy Sarjeant Gallery
Wanganui is well known as a major centre of glass art in New Zealand. The then Wanganui Polytechnic (now Wanganui UCOL) started its glass studios way back in the 1980s. I was living in Wanganui then and was always enthralled by the stream of international glass artists who visited the polytech and its annual summer schools. Since then, the glass arts have flourished. Today the Wanganui Glass School is a leading glass teaching facility and around thirty practising glass artists live in the town. Wanganui also hosts an annual Festival of Glass in September, featuring exhibitions, hot glass demonstrations and studio visits. The Chronicle Glass Studio, home to a collective of glassblowers is also a major attraction. I love the fact that they’ve colonised the old, 1912 newspaper building in the old part of town near the river, converting the old press pit into their glass-blowing facility with a retail gallery in the mezzanine area above.
"Quill" 2009. Crystal Chain Gang: Jim Dennison & Leanne Williams.
Photo: Emma Smith. Courtesy Sarjeant Gallery. Throughout all that, the Sarjeant Gallery has been keeping an eye on things. Back in 2002 they hosted The Cast, which was followed in 2004 by Southern Exposure – two glass exhibitions that featured a range of practitioners. Initiated by members of the glass fraternity, they focussed on “what was happening there and then.” The current much larger exhibition, “Looking Glass: reflecting ideas,” has been organised by the Sarjeant and curated by Grace Cochrane and Sydney and Greg Donson, who were keen to “drill down deeper,” to offer insights into how each artist had reached their final creative work. The show continues at Sarjeant Gallery until March 14, 2010. www.sarjeant.org.nz www.chronicleglass.co.nz www.wanganuiglassschool.com www.wanganuiglass.co.nz

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Small Moments of Greed

Dark Chocolate
Swirled With Cream
In a Dish

The Complete Picture

I HAD to stop and photograph this church when I was in Gisborne in May. The combination of red-brown brick, yellow-green paintwork and blue sky against the leaden grey clouds too much for me to resist. It's the Holy Trinity Anglican Church by the way.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Collectors - 12

It's been some time since I brought you something from my favourite Collectors series, so here, in a particularly decorative moment, is a fabulous collection that I spied last week - HAT PINS! I've often thought about collecting hat pins myself but there comes a time when one has to stop adding to the household clutter. I have a friend in the North Island who has a lovely hat pin collection and I did think this one quite colourful and splendid. It's tempting.... but no...for now I will take pleasure from someone else's efforts. If you'd like to see others in the Collectors Series just click on Collectors in the label line below.

Cool Cars - 63

One Bright Green 2001 Toyota MR-S - Spotted in Hereford Street, Christchurch


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