Processing Home ...

When I returned from New Zealand there was a bleak Belgian winter going down and so I simply holed-up, in my office here, processing photographs taken during our 5 weeks back home.

At some point I realised how sad I was becoming, missing the freedoms of home, missing the light, missing people I loved and so I quietly put the rest of my photographs away.  Unprocessed.

Spring arrived ... then left after one day, making repeated attempts over months until finally one day it was ours and I realised I had moved on too.  I had stopped comparing there to here and was focusing on European people and projects again.

I wandered over to Genova, worked like a crazy woman for 5 days and returned to Belgium, swearing I would never attempt Italy in 5 days again.  It's too short a time.  Then Gert took his summer holiday and we explored a small part of France ... discovering some of Bourgogne then falling for Doussard, near Annecy.

Back in Belgium, we have overcast skies and heavy rain today.  We were at 31 celsius two days ago ... it's like that.  Will summer come ... maybe, sometimes.

And I have some exquisite projects in front of me.  A photography exhibition in autumn, the wedding of some favourite folk in France in summer, two workshops in Italy, and the promise of meeting some excellent people along the way.

But today ... today I turned back towards New Zealand and worked through images taken of a favourite family in Fiordland.  Hunter, pictured below, is a treasured friend. 

After I left Fiordland, way back in 1998, he sometimes had work in Dunedin and would come stay with me and my dog, bringing fresh venison from the hills.  Bringing himself and his stories.

He introduced me to the music of Buena Vista Social Club by turning up the volume on his car stereo while we sat out on the deck of my little wooden cottage on the peninsula.

It was good to see him again, to be back in Manapouri for a while and to spend time with his wife Claire, and with their daughter Phoebe too.  Photographs to follow if permissions are given.

L’Art'e Cafe and Gallery, Taupo - New Zealand

Every detail had been so lovingly added at L'Art'e Cafe and Gallery ... even the stairs.

But read what L'Art'e have to say ... Judi Brennan has been a successful clay artist for many years. She has won several pottery awards including a merit in the prestigious Fletcher Challenge Exhibitia and has her work all around the world.

The pathway leading to the studio created huge interest from people wanting to make something similar in there own garden – Judi had embedded feature pieces that she had made out of clay eg cats, dogs, fish etc into the paving to form a fun pathway. This interest led to years of producing, with a staff of 5, the Clay Art Studio mosaic feature pieces that everyone has come to know and love.

There is more, so much more, over here on the L'Art'e website.

L’Art'e Cafe and Gallery, Taupo - New Zealand

There is so much to write about L'Art'e Cafe and Gallery ... so much.

The mind-blowingly beautiful location, the friendly service, the truly sublime food, the superb coffee, the exquisite artwork ... and nowhere do I exaggerate.

It's that remarkable! 

This was brunch on that first day back in New Zealand.

I miss my morning walks in New Zealand

Outside, there was that predawn kind of clarity, where the momentum of living has not quite captured the day. The air was not filled with conversation or thought bubbles or laughter or sidelong glances. Everyone was sleeping, all of their ideas and hopes and hidden agendas entangled in the dream world, leaving this world clear and crisp and cold as a bottle of milk in the fridge.

Reif Larsen, from The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet.

Meanwhile, I'm playing this song on repeat and up loud as I work here this morning

And before I forget, I found the opening quote over on the marvellous Terri Windling's blog.

A glimpse from one of those early morning walks I took, back home in New Zealand ... Cooks Beach, on the Coromandel Peninsula ... sunrise.

On Arriving in New Zealand ... this happened

On arriving in New Zealand, I was greeted by a character from Lord of the Rings. 

I was discombobulated for sure.

The creature knew my name.  He was shouting it, welcoming me, dancing around ... or that's how I remember it.

My friend, Christine, could see that I was not quite on the planet after 40 hours spent crossing the world ... she shouted, 'You don't know him!  Don't worry!' 

I appreciated that because I had no idea but felt it was entirely possible that one of my old friends, 8 years unseen, might have been messing with me. 

I had warned Gert that, in some instances, being loved by New Zealanders was a little like being loved by bears.  They're rough, it may hurt as they verbally sting you, and you might feel attacked but mostly it's love. 

And Peter, well there he was, behind-the-scenes, photographing that startlingly unusual welcoming committee.

Hunter and Clare Shaw's Eco Retreat, Fiordland, New Zealand

On the first night of our roadtrip round New Zealand's South Island ... otherwise known as Di's Island, we were heading for Hunter and Clare Shaw's eco retreat in Manapouri, Fiordland.

I first met Hunter and Clare when I was living in Te Anau, back in 90's, and one of my favourite life stories is about their daughter Phoebe who came home from school and told her mum about the new girl's interesting mum.  The  'favourite' part of that story is the part where she told Clare that I reminded her of Lucy Lawless ... aka Xena Warrior Princess.  Who could resist...?

And that was the beginning of the friendship.  Later, after we moved to Dunedin, Hunter used to come up to work with clients in his Hellerworks massage practice and so he would stay, bringing venison fresh from the mountains or farm.  He taught me how to cook the most divine venison steaks.

Still later and they popped in and stayed a few days with us here in Antwerp and there was always an invitation to go stay with them when I finally got home.

And so we did.

I cannot recommend booking their eco retreat highly enough.  Gert and I were stunned when we were shown the light-filled, spacious cabin where we would be spending our 2 nights in Fiordland.

It's private, it's an exquisitespace, and it felt like home.  I'm highly qualified in the field of 'feels like home' as I've been searching for places that feel like home since forever.

But here is a taste of what they offer in their words: Lake Manapouri is just 3km away, the start of your Manapouri-Doubtful Sound experience and we are well placed for trips to Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park. There are many walking tracks nearby of varying degrees of difficulty, whatever your fitness level you will find something to suit and be able to experience hiking in Fiordland from the popular tracks to those that are used by few.

Your hosts are Hunter and Claire Shaw who both have a wealth of knowledge about the local area, its history, and the flora and fauna of the surrounding park, not to mention the numerous places to visit.

Hunter is a professional guide with interpretation being his specialty and has lived in the area for over 50 years. All Hunter’s working life has been involved in the National Park - in the early years with wild deer hunting and more recently leading trips through the World Heritage forests of Fiordland

And friendly, so friendly.  Hunter is a story-teller, a man I spent a couple of days interviewing once upon a time.  He is a book.  I didn't write it but he talks about doing it himself one day.

So ... all this to say, if you are heading to New Zealand, or if you live there, and you are thinking about visiting Fiordland, consider staying at Hunter and Clare's cabin in the woods.   You won't regret it.

One of the things I loved about New Zealand ...

I loved the friendliness of strangers back home in New Zealand.

It's like nowhere else for me.  Turkey has been a close second, then Italy but New Zealanders ... they're my people and I'm so proud of them.

It was across the board, from the supermarket workers, to the people at the cafe sitting nearby,  people on the beach, and those jetski guys, to name a few.

They came into view while we were out on the boat in Mercury Bay.  I had the long lens on and couldn't resist.  This is the last shot I took of them.  The farewell shot.  Before this, they put on quite the display, making me laugh as I attempted to capture them in action.

A beautiful day, courtesy of Christine and Peter, much-loved friends of ours.

Channeling Katherine Mansfield...

Very early morning. The sun was not yet risen, and the whole of Crescent Bay was hidden under a white sea-mist. The big bush-covered hills at the back were smothered. You could not see where they ended and the paddocks and bungalows began. The sandy road was gone and the paddocks and bungalows the other side of it; there were no white dunes covered with reddish grass beyond them; there was nothing to mark which was beach and where was the sea. A heavy dew had fallen. The grass was blue. Big drops hung on the bushes and just did not fall; the silvery, fluffy toi-toi was limp on its long stalks, and all the marigolds and the pinks in the bungalow gardens were bowed to the earth with wetness. Drenched were the cold fuchsias, round pearls of dew lay on the flat nasturtium leaves...

Katherine Mansfield, extract from At The Bay.

I love the above extract, more than any other, from New Zealand writer  Katherine Mansfield.  She was a rather remarkable modernist writer, the one who caused Virginia Woolf to write, after Katherine's early death from TB, that Katherine's writing was 'the only writing I have ever been jealous of'.

But back to tales from New Zealand ... yesterday morning I woke to what I've been known to call a Katherine Mansfield kind of morning.  All of the above was out there.  It was truly stunning at 7am, as the fog began to burn off.

I wandered along the walkway and down by the river and on to the beach where spotted these two, in conversation with one of the boats leaving via the river mouth.

Did I mention how much I love New Zealand ...

Home ... ?

I woke from an anguished dream about working as a wedding photographer for a friend and experiencing complete and utter gear failure.  My camera batteries ran out, the flash wasn't attached  correctly, I had no memory card ... it was a horror of a nightmare and I woke in a terrible panic that I had missed everything important of the wedding.

I briefly caught up with family and friends in Belgium via Skype then ran out the door to the Botannical Gardens here in Dunedin.  I was meeting with Nikki's exceptionally lovely family for a quick photography session.  She's a much-loved friend of my sister's and so I knew it was going to be a pleasure to take some photographs, just for fun.

But this morning I realised that for all the lightness and joy in my posts about coming home there is the growing awareness that it's almost time to leave this country I love. Driving familiar city streets this morning left me wondering what it is that I want from my life ... maybe the weight of the nightmare was still there in my mind because it seemed like a heavy thought on such a beautiful morning.

You see I have devoured the air as we have wandered the South Island, overjoyed to be smelling the yellow lupin and the cabbage tree flowers, sniffing out and identifying the wet stone-scent of Fiordland, the intense forest-bouquet on the West Coast.

I have loved the food, I have loved the people, I am loving summer in this place that I know so exceptionally well.  And is that the lure ... the seduction? The familiarity, after 10 years away from all that is known to me.

Driving the city streets today, I was wondering if Icould return to New Zealand ... the little island-continent out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean at the bottom of the world? 

I think I need to go back to Europe now, revisit Genova because it gives me so much of what I require, check out Antwerp because I have this Belgian bloke who loves that city, maybe visit Paris on a day-trip once we recover financially ... just to explore what I need.  And to try to understand what I would do if there were choices ... you know?

Meanwhile, my beautiful Katie-niece sat next to me as I sat here writing and downloading today's photoshoot.  She photographed me at work ...  so there you have it, a real-time photograph of the Di Creature.

That Belgian Photographer Bloke ...

The Belgian bloke out in the McKenzie Country ...

I think I've convinced him about New Zealand being the greatest little island-continent in the world.

We're in Twizel tonight, using the slowest internet in the world, cursing it a little ... as one does.  But the room is lovely and we spent an hour chatting with our neighbours here.  Frank and Dianne Sedlar from Michigan.

News from the New Zealand Road Trip

We have stopped in Oxford, out on the Canterbury Plains, with my aunt.  The aunt I have, quite simply, adored for years.

We have stopped after 1,700kms - the distance from here to Dunedin traveled these last 5 days, via the convoluted route I chose to take Gert on.  In my 8 years away from New Zealand, I've only driven once.  There was that visit to Ireland to see Rob and Angie.  I was a bit nervous back then but Gert put me in the driver seat and told me to drive from Dublin to Connemara ... so I did.  And I loved it.  It does all come back and I used to have a big passion for driving in NZ.

This trip has been something else again and we have driven some truly interesting New Zealand roads.  The Haast Pass, then the road between Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph, and yesterday it was the Arthurs Pass.  All been spectacularly memorable with their 25km hairpin corners, kms of twisty-turny mountain roads, mountain passes, and gradients that once saw me drop the car into second-gear. 

That was this road: 'State Highway 73, and remains an important communication and transport link between Canterbury and Westland. There are 11 bridges with a total length of 406.6 metres (m).  Road gradients range from 1 in 30 to 1 in 8. Five bends through a zig zag section facilitate ascent and descent over the Pass. 

Over the years work has been done to improve blind corners and ease bends. However, the nature of the landscape and the weather can still make the Otira Gorge and Arthurs Pass road a challenging driving experience.'

There have been a million stops to take photographs along the way ... stops so Gert could buy my exquisite greenstone/jade necklace in Hokitika.  Stops for pies, and stops just to wander along some beach or mountainside lookout.

Yesterday, on safely reaching the other side of the alpine pass, we stopped because I needed out of the car for a bit ... and voila, we met a Kea, who was most confused when I mimicked his cry. 

As per the rules, we didn't feed him but we did 'chat' for a while, and that was just lovely. 

Arthurs Pass ... I wondered why I didn't remember anything about that 'interesting' alpine crossing.  I had never driven it before, I just thought I had and I have to say ... I won't be in a hurry to take a 1600CC car across it again.  The little red car is a valiant little car and I'm completely loving it but, by crikey, that was an interesting road.

Absolutely loving the whole driving thing though.

It's summer here.  It's a little confusing but easy enough to embrace.  Auntie Coral has a chicken roasting in the oven tonight, there are new potatoes boiling, and I can hear her cutting up some silverbeet.  She kicked me out of the kitchen but I'm on dish-duty. 

All is good out here on New Zealand's Canterbury Plains.

I'll wrap this meandering post up with a photograph I took of that Kea I met ...

The Simplest Things ...

I woke at 5.30 this morning ... again.  Then again, I was dragging my tired self around at 10pm last night.  So much earlier than happens in Belgium.

My body clock has changed, possibly inspired by this small passion I have developed for lying in bed and listening to the dawn chorus here in New Zealand.

Today we're still on the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand.  This morning, we'll hunt down a glacier - Fox or Franz Joseph Glacier, although access isn't what it used to be since 2 young men were killed by falling ice a year or two ago. 

I remember the awe-inspiring feeling of getting up close to those lumbering icy creatures but I'm happy to remain safely at a distance with my telephoto lens.

The telephoto lens has been the lens of choice (as usual) on this trip ... even when it comes to the intricacies of capturing fern fronds.  I carry my wide-angle lens everywhere but it's rare that I use it.

This morning I was lying here in bed thinking about the air and the water here in New Zealand.  I've been loving them both.  The air ... I presume the quality is all about low population density and the extreme number of trees and plants, most especially as we have traveled through these massive national park areas.

The air is like air on steroids, good steroids.  And finally Gert understands why I struggle so much with his world in Antwerp.  He has seen me in the context of the place where I was born and grew.  But more than that, coming home after 8 years away, I am seeing myself in context too.  It's almost recommended ... that length of absence.

I finally understand why I like wandering so much. What it is about packing a car ... any old car, and just going.  And I see that I am a creature who works with her senses.  Here, where there is so much to see, smell and listen to, I feel like all of me is operational again.

Each region here in the South Island has its own scent.  Fiordland is mostly about the scent of water and intense beech forest-type vegetation, although the Cabbage Tree was in flower while we were there, and it sweetened the air in the most exquisite way.

Westland is more about mountains and forest, with huge sweet bursts of scent from the sea.  The coast here is owned by the Tasman Sea, where waves arrive from their beginnings hundreds of miles away.  Often the beaches are littered with huge pieces of driftwood and the trees on the coast bend inland, twisted by the powerful winds.

The sights ... Gert gets it now.  There is a visual smörgåsbord on offer out there.  We have stopped so many times along the way ... that mountain, this beach, those trees, that view.  I'm driving the little red car, the one that is happiest at 90kms but the days have been longer simply because there is so much to photograph ... not that you would know that, as I work through my fern stage.  I pull over whenever someone comes roaring up behind us.  Traffic is rare and I love having the whole road to myself.

The birdsong has stopped me in my tracks so many times.  There are the dawn choruses but then there are the Bellbird and Tui songs throughout the day.  And last night, here in Fox township, I heard the magnificent mountain parrots calling to each other ... the Keas.  They were about but I didn't manage to find them ... I was mostly too tired to try.

It has been the simplest and most basic of things that have made me happy here.  I loved those things before but now ... now it is more intense and I find myself wondering if I could give up Europe for home. 

That thought is quickly followed by the realisation that I probably couldn't afford to live here and that has been the most stunning thing.  New Zealand's current government has some disturbing policies  that seem incredibly shortsighted in terms of the future here, confirmed by conversations I've had with friends and locals along the way.  Some see it now, some don't but that's for another day. 

This morning it's about finding a good coffee.  I've been rapt with the coffee culture here.  It's an excellent one.  New Zealanders have always been wanderers on a major scale, as seen in our history, and it appears there are some who have gone out and brought back the gift of good coffee.

Anyway, a good morning from this wild coast in New Zealand.  I hope your day is a truly delightful one.


Seeing 'Home' in a New Way

I've come back to New Zealand, after 8 years away, clear on some of the things I need to see, do, and taste however there are other things ... things that have startled me as they have turned my head, again and again and again.

I've fallen for fern fronds in a fairly major way.  The hotel manager here in Fox Glacier just discovered me out in the front garden and introduced me to the hotel's private garden. 

It was grand out there ...