Ireland visits Normanton Reserve (“not” Devonport Dog walks #5)

Ireland in Normanton Reserve

Although I’m including this post in the Devonport walks series, it actually relates to a different part of Auckland. This is because Ireland, the dogshare Labrador I’d been walking most afternoons for four years, has moved out of the city with his owners’ family. Contact is less frequent now, but our bond continues unbroken, and Ireland greeted me ecstatically when we met halfway for a visit to the Normanton Reserve in the Wairau Valley suburb.

I had driven around there many times in the past for business purposes, not for pleasure because it is a rather unattractive industrial area prone to traffic congestion. I had no idea there was a peaceful green reserve close by, hidden away at the end of a cul de sac.

Lower field
Playground

The large flat grassed field on the lower level of Normanton Park offers activities for both adults and children. On the path that encircles the perimeter there are a series of exercise machines – I did not try these. There is a playground, a small basketball court and a small skateboarding park, a picnic area and toilet block, all clean and well maintained.

On an upper level, reached by a short flight of steps, is a large field in a more natural state with plenty of room for a dog to run free.

Upper field

Ireland’s departure has been a loss but I will certainly keep in touch with him and meanwhile, with other local dogshare opportunities on the cards, have had the gaps in our garden hedge sealed off …

A puppy-proof fence

Waiheke interlude

Brian and I spent two days on Waiheke Island, staying in a comfortable and spacious holiday home surrounded by native bush and overlooking the sea. Though New Zealand’s summer is nearly over, the weather was sunny and hot. Waiheke has a semitropical climate, lush vegetation, sandy beaches, boutique vineyards and olive groves, a friendly and somewhat bohemian vibe, and feels a world away from the mainland.

Huruhi Bay viewed from the balcony

Except during Auckland’s lockdown periods we have often made day trips to Waiheke. The 40-minute ferry ride from the city centre, across a calm blue sea flanked by other small islands, always induces a sense of relaxation. Parts of my novel Cardamine are set on Waiheke and this extract contains some references to the history and geography of the island.

Waiheke Island. Source: Wikipedia

Waiheke holds many memories for me, some bittersweet. Stonyridge Vineyard has been our usual venue for birthday and anniversary lunches. Our group of local Bach flower remedy practitioners, now depleted by the loss of key members, has held weekend gatherings in more modest settings such as the Quaker meeting house. The sad story of my first rescue cat, Orange Roughy, had a happy ending when he was successfully rehomed on the wild far reaches of the island.

During this recent short holiday we went swimming at Palm Beach, climbed up and down a steep track for coffee and galettes in Bisou cafe at Surfdale, dined at Vino Vino and The Courtyard in Oneroa.

Palm Beach

Ireland visits Mt Cambria (Devonport dog walks #4)

To quote from a local tourist website: “Mt Cambria Reserve is quiet retreat in the pretty seaside town of Devonport. The attractive landscaped garden sits in the remains of Mt Cambria volcano, which was a quarry for scoria rock between 1883 and 1985. Mt Cambria Reserve is situated behind Devonport Museum on 31a Vauxhall Road and is an ideal spot for walks and relaxing picnics.”

Ireland can smell a picnic

Ireland has to be kept on a tight lead when picnics are in progress – like most Labradors he has an insatiable craving for food. But provided there are no picnics, Mt Cambria is a lovely place for dogs to run free. It’s quite a small park, dotted with clumps of trees, and has a steep slope at the back.

Ireland rolling down the grassy slope

From the top of the park is a view of Mt Victoria, another good place for dog walks as described in an earlier post.

A highlight of Ireland’s week is his “club day” when he spends an hour rushing around Mt Cambria with a group of his canine friends while their owners look on.

Writing as an Englishwoman in New Zealand

Here’s a little background to my new novel Cardamine: A New Zealand Mystery. Amazon links: US, UK, AU

Most novels contain elements of autobiography and the setting for this one was informed by my own memories of visiting New Zealand for the first time, discovering the beautiful beaches and countryside, the enticing vineyards and coffee shops. Several North Island locations – Waiheke, Browns Bay, Riverhead Forest, Muriwai – are featured in the book. There are also references to the confusion that can arise from subtle differences in culture and use of language between two English-speaking nations. My background in medicine and psychiatry had an influence on the plot, with speculation about how emotions, beliefs, personality factors and mental or physical illness can contribute to crime.

The main character, Kate, is in New Zealand on holiday on the eve of the Covid-19 pandemic. She is much younger and more adventurous than me but shares my liking for sea swimming and the local wines. After drinking rather too much of them during a vineyard tour, she loses the bag containing her valuables and so misses her night flight back to London. A rich and eccentric elderly man comes to her rescue and invites her to stay in his country house, called Cardamine after the flowers around the pond in the garden. His wife, a “mail order bride”, is mysteriously absent. Kate’s summer holiday had begun as an idyll of sunshine and swimming and budding romance, but she becomes aware that the country’s “clean green” image conceals a darker side involving racial prejudice, illegal drug use and unnatural death.

Cardamine is available in paperback or Kindle format from your local Amazon website: US, UK, AU. New Zealand residents can buy a print version directly from me – please write via my contact page if you’d like to order a copy.

Ireland visits Mt Vic (Devonport dog walks #3)

Ireland the Labrador loves walking up Mount Victoria/Takarunga, known by Devonport locals as Mt Vic. Of unknown age, it is the tallest volcanic cone on Auckland’s North Shore, though being only 87 metres high it is really a hill rather than a mountain. The wooded lower slopes are surrounded by old houses, churches and a primary school and there are several access points.

Mount Victoria viewed from Cambria Park

We usually approach the site through the historic cemetery, dating from the late 1800s, where the Maori warrior and peacemaker Patuone is buried alongside early white settlers.

Mount Victoria cemetery

Mt Vic was once a Maori pa (fortified settlement) and the remains of old terraces and kumara pits can be seen alongside the walking tracks that now encircle the site. Ireland seems fascinated by the place and sometimes, perhaps drawn by sights or smells or spirits of the past, he dashes up the steep grassy hillside and on one occasion took half an hour to return. At other times he freezes on the path as if hypnotised.

Ireland transfixed

On the summit, with its panoramic views of Rangitoto, the Hauraki Gulf, Waitemata Harbour and Auckland’s CBD, are various modern structures: mushroom-shaped vents for an underground reservoir, a signal station for shipping, a disappearing gun. There are a few older military remains on Mt Vic and a delapidated army hut, known as the Bunker, is the venue for the local folk music club.

The Bunker

After completing the steepest part of the walk, Ireland and I stop for a rest and a snack.

Ireland hoping for another biscuit

Ireland visits a maze (Devonport dog walks #2)

Last week I wrote about taking Ireland, my dogshare Labrador, to North Head. Another of our favourite places to walk around Devonport is Ngataringa Park. Developed in the 1990s from an old landfill site, this is not a formal park but mostly consists of large fields which provide an ideal space for dogs to run and play and roll in the long grass.

Various local landmarks can be seen from the curved path that runs through the park. Auckland’s harbour bridge, viewed from across the tidal estuary with its mangrove swamps. Mount Victoria, or Takarunga – the highest volcanic cone on the North Shore – and another good place for a dog walk. The massive new retirement complex being built on a nearby hill overlooking the site. There is a skate park in one of the fields, and a piece of artwork, a pair of wooden statues called The Guardians.

At the far end of the path is a maze, intended to represent the interweaving between Maori and Celtic cultures. Beside it, a network of small circular paths bordered by stones is hidden in a group of trees. This is the halfway point of our walk, and while I have a rest on one of the rustic seats made of driftwood, Ireland eats a few biscuits and then waits patiently at my feet.

We can either go back the same way that we came, across the fields, or take the lower path which is shaded by an arch of trees.

Ireland visits North Head (Devonport dog walks #1)

As Auckland’s lockdown continues and we are told to stay within our own postcode area, the highlight of my daily routine is a walk with my dogshare Labrador, Ireland. There are several interesting places nearby and one of our favourites is the hill called North Head, or Maungauika, which forms a prominent landmark at the end of the Devonport peninsula.

Dogs are permitted here – on lead

The hill is encircled with a network of paths and from the higher ones there are spectacular views of Cheltenham beach to the north, Rangitoto and the islands of the Hauraki gulf to the east, the Waitemata harbour and Auckland’s CBD to the south. It was a wonderful location for watching the yacht races during last summer’s Americas Cup.

Cheltenham beach
Rangitoto

North Head was formed by a series of volcanic eruptions about 50,000 years ago. About 1,000 years ago it became occupied by a Maori tribe, then after European settlers arrived was put to use as a coastal defence site. During the late 19th century a number of large guns were installed to deter a feared Russian invasion. Fortifications including more guns, searchlights, tunnels and underground rooms were added, using prison labour, to cope with subsequent threats during the two world wars. The army left the site in the 1950s but a naval training school remained on the summit until 1996. The site is now managed by the Tupuna Maunga Authority and open to walkers and their dogs (on lead).

One of the many guns on North Head

Remains of the old military installations can be seen around the site. Some of the tunnels are open to the public, others shrouded in mystery and rumoured to contain aircraft or military secrets. At present however all the tunnels are closed due to Covid restrictions, as is the colourful toilet bock.

Ireland denied access to tunnel
The toilet block

I find North Head a fascinating place which carries an air of mystique. It features in Carmen’s Roses, the first short novel I wrote after coming to live in Devonport.

Murder mystery in Matakana

Matakana, a pretty village in the wine-growing region north of Auckland, was the venue for Sunday’s launch of the novel Blood on Vines by my friend Madeleine Eskedahl. My husband and I attended the event and stayed in the Matakana Motel overnight.

Matakana Estate, photo from TripAdvisor

I am unable to drive while recovering from a wrist fracture, so we took public transport. This involved working out the connections between four bus routes: 814 to Akoranga, NX1 to Hibiscus Coast, 995 to Warkworth and 997 to Matakana. We were almost the only passengers for parts of the journey, and as the modern double-decker NX1 on its dedicated busway sped past the traffic jams on the parallel motorway we wondered why Aucklanders are so wedded to their cars. However the trip did take a long time because the rural buses are infrequent. Our wait in the charming little town of Warkworth was pleasantly occupied with lunch and a riverside walk.

The book launch took place in The Vintry, Matakana, an intimate bar in a complex which also contains a cinema, restaurant and boutique shops. We were served with a selection of local wines accompanied by platters of cheeses and tapas while listening to readings from Madeleine’s novel. I haven’t opened my copy yet so can only quote from the back cover blurb: “… an ex-wine-maker is murdered … a rampage of death is about to rock the local community to its core.” The event was well attended and it was good to see some fellow members of the Auckland Crime Writers group.

Madeleine and Jennifer

Afterwards a walk down Wharf Road to the Matakana River. The public toilet buildings at the top of the road looked most distinctive.

Photo by Brian Barraclough

A dip in the pool at the Matakana Motel, and a delicious dinner at the Matakana Country Kitchen, rounded off the evening and our overnight accomodation was quiet and comfortable. There was a spot of panic in the morning when, due to a discrepancy between the timetable on the bus shelter and the information on the Auckland Transport app, we risked missing the 997 on its occasional trip from Matakana to Warkworth. But all was well and we were home by lunchtime. It felt good to have had a “mini-break” especially considering that, due to lockdowns, I haven’t been away from Auckland since my last visit to England in 2019.

Trauma on Cheltenham beach

One of the loveliest walks on Auckland’s north shore, only possible at low tide, goes around the headland between Cheltenham and Narrow Neck beaches. Three weeks ago I set out on this walk but slipped over backwards on a wet rock and automatically put out my hand to break my fall. A sharp pain, accompanied by faintness and nausea, told me I had broken my wrist. A kind passerby helped me walk to the road, and a kind friend drove me to an emergency clinic where Xray confirmed a displaced Colles fracture of the radius and fractured tip of the ulna. Over to the public hospital, and a long wait to have the fracture reduced under local anaesthetic. Home at midnight with swollen fingers peeping out from a pink plaster cast.

Having had previous injuries that recovered quite easily, I wasn’t prepared for the long haul ahead. For the first fortnight I was constantly in pain, and struggled with basic self-care. It was a great help to have my husband taking over household tasks, and relatives and friends providing meals. I expected the worst would soon be over, but met with a setback. A followup Xray at the outpatient clinic showed that the bones had slipped back out of place and a further attempt at reduction, this time without local anaesthetic, was unsuccessful.

Surgery was proposed. I packed my bags and spent an anxious few days awaiting the call to come into the hospital, after starving from midnight. But apparently, discussion within the orthopaedic team had reached the conclusion that the likely benefit of the operation was too marginal to justify the risks (and New Zealand had just gone back into another Covid lockdown, limiting hospital services). I’ll find out more at my next appointment this week, but from what I gather so far the recovery will be a slow process and I’m likely to be left with some permanent deformity and weakness. Things could be far worse, I know, and I hope to be able to return to my former activities of dog-walking, cathedral choir, swimming and driving before too long. Meanwhile I can still go for walks, and enjoy the glorious summer weather. And in theory I have plenty of time to work on my next novel, though typing with one hand is cumbersome and inspiration lacking.

I’d like to be able to say that my recent exploration of Stoic philosophy is helping me to cope with all this. A recent article https://classicalwisdom.com/philosophy/stoicism/marcus-aurelius-stoicism-and-pain/ emphasises the basic precept of focusing only on those aspects of an illness or injury that are under personal control – for example making informed choices about treatment, and taking general steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle. There is no point dwelling on the negative aspects, or getting stuck in feelings of resentment, frustration or regret. The aim is to accept the situation and develop a constructive response. Simple basic advice, not so easy to put into practice.

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Jennifer Barraclough, originally from England and now living in New Zealand, is a retired doctor and a writer of medical and fiction books. Details can be found on her author pages: https://www.amazon.com/Jennifer-Barraclough/e/B001HPXGZI (US) and https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jennifer-Barraclough/e/B001HPXGZI (UK).

Summerland and Hope Gap

For many years after coming to live in New Zealand in 2000, I was able to make regular return visits to England to see my friends, relatives and favourite places. Spending a day with Lesley, who lives in East Sussex, was a regular feature. After having lunch either at her home or in a local pub we would go for a walk on the windswept downland between Seaford and Eastbourne with its views of the Seven Sisters cliffs (inspiring a scene in my novel You Yet Shall Die) followed by a cup of tea in her beach hut.

My 2020 visit had to be cancelled due to the pandemic restrictions. It’s been some compensation to be able to talk to people on Zoom, and to see my home country on screen. I was excited when Lesley told me that two movies – Hope Gap and Summerland – had been filmed in the area where we used to walk.

Hope Gap, which I saw last year, is a family drama charting the breakdown of the marriage of a middle aged middle class couple. Their young adult son takes long walks by the sea while pondering how to mediate between his introverted father, who has announced that he is leaving to live with another woman, and his melodramatic mother who is devastated by the situation. This film tackles its subject seriously but with touches of humour. It would not be to everyone’s taste, but I found it an absorbing story intelligently told.

Summerland has only just arrived in New Zealand cinemas and I saw it yesterday. The main action is set during World War 2. A reclusive woman writer, embittered since the ending of a lesbian love affair, is furious when she is forced to take in a boy evacuated from bomb-ravaged London. Predictably, her heart eventually softens and the film has a happy ending. I found the story rather sentimental and contrived, but the scenery was lovely. Although allegedly taking place in Kent, most of it had been filmed in the same part of the East Sussex coast pictured above.

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Jennifer Barraclough, originally from England and now living in New Zealand, is a retired doctor and a writer of medical and fiction books. A list can be found on her author pages: https://www.amazon.com/Jennifer-Barraclough/e/B001HPXGZI (US) and https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jennifer-Barraclough/e/B001HPXGZI (UK).