Tag Archives: Antipodes

Trip to the Antipodes series : New Zealand (part I)

1st January 2015 : Sydney to Christchurch –  As you can see from my sketch I started the year with a tall glass of promising ‘Green and Lean’ juice at Lumiere Cafe on Bourke Street. Five seconds later, a massive portion of Egg Benedict followed. New Year resolutions be damned.

To work that off we voted for a walk from City Hall to Sydney Opera House and see the iconic building one last time. What seemed like a great idea, gradually lost its appeal as the day became hotter. Most shops were closed and there were understandably few people on the streets after last night’s revelries, making our stroll even less fun. The chilled passion fruit smoothie at Starbucks saved me from passing out before the flight.

Sydney to Christchurch / 1st Jan : Highlight of the day was picking up Charlie from the airport.

Sydney to Christchurch / 1st Jan : Picking up Charlie from Christchurch airport was the only highlight of the day.

And then – Kia Ora New Zealand! We picked up Charlie, our rental car from Christchurch airport around midnight. John Steinbeck may have something to do with my naming our red Toyota Corolla. Charlie’s Odometer Reading showed : 43300Km at the time of pick up. I kept a record of the readings on my sketchbook to gauge how much we drove each day.

2nd January 2015 : Hanging out in Christchurch –  The scars of the 2011 earthquake, were prominent on Christchurch. Vast spaces lay bare in between buildings. We walked past piles of rubble, damaged structures, collapsed, stripped to the core with iron rods sticking out of them. It was heartbreaking especially the plight of the 100 plus years old Christchurch Cathedral. Outside these cordoned off areas containing the wreckage, the story was one of resilience and hope.

The Re:start mall seemed such a beacon. Everything from food, carpets, sweaters, shoes, clothes, souvenirs and kiwi knick knacks were sold from inside of colourful shipping containers! We shared a bench with a family from Wellington and sipped lemonade right in front of a bright red metal box that had become the home for Scorpio books.

Christchurch / 2nd Jan : We had dinner at Indian Sumner, an Indian restaurant at Sumner. After surviving on Egg Benedict, Fish and Chips, sandwiches, wraps and burgers for days, a slice of home felt heavenly.

Christchurch / 2nd Jan : We had dinner at Indian Sumner, an Indian restaurant at Sumner. After surviving on Egg Benedict, Fish and Chips, sandwiches, wraps and burgers for days, a slice of home felt heavenly.

If there’s one place I’d like to return to in Christchurch, it would be the Risingholme garden, inside the Botanical garden. The serenity of nature, the meditative silence and the feeling of being minuscule, inconsequential amid the giant oaks, cedars, beeches and Spanish chestnut will remain special. I flitted from one tree to another, hugging, smelling, caressing their massive trunks, finally settling under the shade of Cedrus Atlantica, from where this sketch was done.

In the evening, Charlie drove us to Sumner – a pretty seaside suburb of Christchurch, about 12 km away. We watched a dramatic sunset and walked on the long beach in the golden light, listening to waves violently crash against the jagged rocks. It was cold, so we huddled up close to each other and held hands. For a little while, the poignant reminders of a brutal calamity writ large upon Christchurch was forgotten.

3rd January 2015 : Onwards to Lake Tekapo  – Black Betty, a stone’s throw from Southwark Apartments, was open for business, post new year. We were among the firsts to show up. The gothic accents were interesting but thankfully not overpowering for detractors. The hot chocolate and blueberry muffins lived up to the great reviews.

But we didn’t want to fill up because our next stop was Lyttelton Farmers Market, in the port town of Lyttelton, about 12 Km away. I was so enamoured with Sue’s marinated olives that we spent an inordinate amount of time at her stall. It was very hard to turn away from the rest of her wares – semi-dried tomatoes, dolmades, marinated artichokes, several kinds of dips and hummus – everything fresh, fragrant, glistening and ready to eat! “I used to own a cafe there (apparently the legendary Volcano Cafe)“, she said pointing to her right. Then added “..but after the earthquake destroyed it, I do this.” Sue has developed the volcano brand of delicatessen food that she sells at various farmers markets.  After she helped me pick out 4 different kinds of olives, I sketched her little set up. She graciously signed her name under it, at my request.

Christchurch to Lake Tekapo / 3rd Jan : We were lucky to be able to experience something as local as a farmer's market at Lyttelton. Meeting the people, chatting with them, hearing their stories and, watching them go about their business trumps any tourist attraction. And sketching is the fastest way to make friends!

Christchurch to Lake Tekapo / 3rd Jan : We were lucky to be able to experience something as local as a farmer’s market at Lyttelton. There were times when I wished I was a local just to be a part of their spirited community. Meeting the residents, chatting with them, hearing their stories and, watching them go about their business trumps any commercial tourist attraction. It felt real and authentic. And sketching seemed like a great way to start conversations and make friends out of strangers!

Walking through the market felt like gatecrashing a private party. ‘How’s your mother doing?’, “You looked great in that bikini the other day”, “Were you out of town?”, “Happy New Year!” were some of the snippets of conversation I heard been exchanged between the bread, mince pie, cheese, sausage, herbs, fruit and vegetable stall owners and their customers.

A band played slow music beside a cafe and the harbour across the street looked beautifully blue. Armed with a gigantic ( about 20cm in diameter) Focaccia bread that took us 5 days to finish, 100 gm each of herb and garlic cheese and my treasured olives, we forged ahead towards our destination.

The first sight of Lake Tekapo had us swooning over its terrific blueness. It was bluer than the bluest blue I had seen. Up at St. John’s Observatory, the air was so clean and transparent that the farthest mountains in the backdrop became visible, forming a soft undulating dark green outline in contrast to the stark and edgy blue foreground. For urban dwellers heavy-handed with photoshop and Instagram filters, this sight would be a revelation.

4th January 2015: Mount Cook bound – The owner of Glacier Rock B&B – our fantastic lodging (the view from the patio alone makes it worth the stay) in Lake Tekapo said to us at breakfast, ” I have a feeling that you’ll have a clear view of Mt. Cook today“. Apparently, it isn’t uncommon for the weather to turn without warning and for us that could mean losing our only chance to view the highest peak of New Zealand. Already the radio was abuzz with the news of the three missing mountaineers attempting to scale Mt Cook after the weather deteriorated. I hoped Mrs. MacLaren was right.

Lake Tekapo - Mount Cook - Omarama / 4th Jan : Peak of the day was dipping my feet in glacial water at the end of Hooker Valley Walk. And the bland under seasoned pea soup I had at Shawtys in Twizel has to be the slump of the day. Yes, it was worse than the 120$ speeding ticket.

Lake Tekapo – Mount Cook – Omarama / 4th Jan : Peak of the day was dipping my feet in glacial water at the end of Hooker Valley Walk. And the bland under seasoned pea soup at Shawtys in Twizel has to be the slump of the day. Yes, it was worse than the 120$ speeding ticket.

After a short stopover at Lake Pukaki, the plan was to drive non stop to Hermitage Hotel, take in the famed view of the mountain from there, then start on the 4hours tiring yet spectacular Hookers Valley Walk that ended at the Hooker glacial lake. But the closer we got to the mountain, more compelled were we to make random roadside stops just to adjust our senses to the beauty unfolding. Unsullied nature at such a grand scale was a lot to take in. It was humbling to stand on that listless road snaking feverishly though a sweeping landscape of massive forbidding mountains surrounding us, rising from the ground like mighty waves.

The day ended at Omarama – the starting point of our ‘gold heritage trail’.

5th January 2015 : A long winded route to Dunedin – There is of course a straightforward and quicker route to Dunedin which we did not take. Relaxing is something we forget to do on holidays. Instead we carved out a day long plan to drive through the preserved goldrush towns of Cromwell, Clyde, Alexandra, St. Bathans, Naseby, Ranfurly, Middlemarch and finally to Dunedin, that claim their origins to the discovery of gold in 1861.

Otago's Gold Heritage Trail/ 5th Jan :  I got myself four souvenirs from this trail - a 'Lavender, Lime and Spice' soap bar from Cromwell, a maori dolphin tail locket made out of bone from Clyde, a tacky fridge magnet from Alexandra, a sticker for my diary from St. Bathans. I cannot bring myself to use the soap. For now it perfumes my study table.

Otago’s Gold Heritage Trail/ 5th Jan : I got myself four souvenirs from this trail and none of them was gold. I picked a ‘Lavender, Lime and Spice’ soap bar from Cromwell, a maori dolphin tail locket made out of bone from Clyde, a tacky fridge magnet from Alexandra and a sticker for my diary from St. Bathans. I cannot bring myself to use the soap. For now it perfumes my study table.

The historic precincts in each of these towns being pedestrian, it’s easy to slip back in time just by walking past the retro architecture. Art galleries, restaurants and cafes are housed in some of these establishments. Some act as museums, some sell handcrafted soaps. But together they exude a cute picture postcard beauty and nostalgic charm that made the detour every bit worthwhile.

6th January 2015 : Touring Dunedin – Except Omarama, where our lodging didn’t turn out as expected, I did a pretty good job in finding unique accommodations on this tour, the creme de la creme being Lisburn House in Dunedin – a stunning 19th century Victorian property turned into B&B that will feed your fantasy of living as a member of 19th century English nobility.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time at the Otago Settlers Museum. Not because it was hot outside and I needed the shelter, but because it was of the best curated museums I had visited – one of those educational establishments that believes in telling a compelling story through its exhibits, encouraging its viewers to join the dots instead of spoon feeding them.

Dunedin / 6th Jan: We woke up in a Victorian dream home, toured a chocolate factory and climbed the world's steepest street, all in one day. Pretty productive, I'd say!

Dunedin / 6th Jan: We woke up in a Victorian dream home, toured a chocolate factory and climbed the world’s steepest street, all in one day. Pretty productive, I’d say!

After romping about the city some more, we drove 70 Km to see an unique geological sight that had intrigued us ever since we saw its pictures. Moeraki Boulders seemed like gigantic concrete cannonballs randomly lying on the beach, some in clusters, some solitary. There were deep cracks all over their surface, like some sort of design. Some boulders were intact, whole – people climbed over them and took pictures, while others lay cracked open like an egg shell, with fragments scattered all over the sand.

At sunset, the tip of the boulders became golden tinged. The waves crashed against their smooth bodies, trying to pull them in, but failing and sliding off the sand around them instead. It was hard to make sense of their existence, but that was a good thing because it’s better to be curious than blasè. Isn’t it why we travel?

 

 

 

 

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Trip to the Antipodes series : Melbourne

 

25th December 2014 : Singapore to Melbourne  –  The flight was decorated with mistletoe and holly and in the middle of service, flight attendants pinned snowflake shaped brooch to their uniforms. “As a part of our special Christmas Menu, we have turkey today! Would you like to opt for that, Ma’am?” I was asked by the flight attendant, with immense hope and expectation, as if there was some tacit Christmas turkey consumption target, she had to meet and my choice of meal would greatly affect her cause. No thanks. I’ll stick with chicken I said and tried to smile as bright as her. I really tried. “How about you Sir?”, she moved on. ‘Ummm..what the heck..I’ll try the turkey!’ said my husband with enough benevolence for both of us.

Sketched on flight from Singapore to Melbourne

25th Dec + 26th Dec/ Melbourne :  Inflight sketch from from my seat; Hot chocolate and muffin at Starbucks; Rice paper rolls bought on Flinders street consumed at Fed Square with seagulls and people.

In the evening, we jostled against hundreds of people to watch the Christmas light show projected on Melbourne’s Town Hall, had great dinner, clicked some praiseworthy photos of Flinders station, sipped warm coffee and munched on deliciously fluffy chocolate muffin at Starbucks. If the first day on the trip is any indication of what’s to come, we were pretty optimistic. Then, came the abrupt uncalled for, unprepared for rain right after the coffee people shooed us away at closing time. Without umbrella and jackets, we shivered in the cold under the shop’s awning in the peak of Australian summer, and after a very long wait, deep in the throes of the night with hobos and drunk for company, we finally trudged back to the hotel in clumsy rain soaked shoes.

Karma caught up with me. I should’ve accepted the turkey. And with grace.

26th December 2014: On our Own – As much as I love the Indian cricket team, I didn’t accompany my husband to the famous Boxing Day Test match between India and Australia held at Melbourne Cricket Ground. While my husband walked to his pilgrimage early morning, I set out to soak the city, explore, observe, experience and make impressions. It was a day with no itinerary and no agendas. I perched on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral and watched a sea of people, cars, trams criss crossing each other at the traffic signal.

26th Dec / Melbourne : Flinders Station sketched from the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral

26th Dec / Melbourne : Flinders Station sketched from the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was extremely breezy. I had a hard time holding on to the paper.

When my interest waned, which was by the time I finished this sketch, I crossed the road, bought myself some Vietnamese lunch from a Flinders street eatery and came back to Fed Square to finish it. The seagulls begged and begged for scraps but I was too hungry. The inimitable Immigration Museum consumed my entire afternoon and in the evening I went back to the same Starbucks for coffee and was quite pumped when the lady at the counter got my name right the first time. That instantly erased memories of the night before.

26th Dec / Melbourne : Right in front of the Starbucks was a green patch where stood this giant Christmas tree which everybody queued to take pictures with; Greek Dinner in the heart of Greek precinct

26th Dec / Melbourne : Right in front of the Starbucks was a green patch where stood this giant Christmas tree which everybody queued to take pictures with; Greek Dinner in the heart of Greek precinct was chicken and lamb souvlaki with pita and beetroot dip.

Having checked off one of the items on his bucket list, my husband joined me for sumptuous Greek dinner at DION. Between mouthfuls of souvlaki and pita, we talked about our day and tried to prove which one of us had a better time.

27th December 2014: Initiation to the Laneways – Vicolino Cafe on Degraves Street served the most surreal Egg Benedict I had ever tasted in my life. This breakfast perked me up so much that I immediately landed a detailed sketch of a creperie right opposite Vicolino in my sketchbook, while shuffling on the tiny stool I was perched on, in the cramped corner of a grungy back lane riddled with graffiti, exposed wires and torn posters. It was unconventionally atmospheric and an unkempt tipsy man slinking through the shadows with his beer bottle fitted the scenery seamlessly. Reams of tourists and locals streaming in and out of the narrow cobbled street, eating, drinking, shopping, people watching, fed to the palpable energy. We kept coming back like hopeless addicts.

27th Dec / Melbourne : Breakfast in the laneways;State Library of Victoria; Captain Cook's Cottage

27th Dec / Melbourne : I sketched this cute eatery called ‘Creperie’ while having breakfast at Cafe Vicolino on Degraves Street; a portion of the magnificent La Trobe Reading Room was tackled inside the State Library of Victoria; a tiny Captain Cook’s Cottage in the extreme right was sketched in the late evening under the tall shadows of English Elms.

Part of the day was spent admiring the fabulous octagonal La Trobe Reading Room in the State Library of Victoria. Ever since I read Pico Iyer’s insightful article ‘Shelter from the storm’, where he says, “..one of the best places to visit in any new city is the library”, I’ve been actively frequenting these emblems of stillness. Imagine cozying up to a musty smelling tome on a period reading table fitted with bottle green-reading lamps, under a spectacular white dome! I was wielding a sketchbook, but it had the same effect.

By the time we ambled through the splendid Fitzroy Gardens and arrived at the doorstep of Captain Cook’s Cottage, nobody was home. It was way past visiting hours. But the silky grass, the lulling breeze and the slanting rays of the golden sun causing the stately English Elms to cast tall sombre shadows called for a brief stopover. I captured some memories on paper before ending the day at Nandos. I sketched our food order number, which was 29, while listening to our neighbours blithely discussing their recent trip to Singapore. They sounded very pleased.

28th December 2014: Away from the CBD – Starting the day with a Laneway breakfast was a no brainer! Back on Degraves, Cafe Andiamo served the most scrumptious crepes with strawberries and vanilla ice-cream that melted by the time I finished my sketch. Well, the day was hot. And by the time we finished a 2 hours walk along the waterfront from Southbank Promenade to South Wharf along the Yarra, we were cooked and toasted by the blazing sun.

28th Dec / Melbourne : Laneway breakfast

28th Dec / Melbourne : Laneway breakfast at Cafe Andiamo

A very long ‘passion fruit smoothie’ break later, we landed ourselves on a silky green patch of land beside the Ornamental Lake in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens, where I sketched this scene because sometimes you’re so overwhelmed with what you see, you need to express your joy and gratitude in some way.

The evening was quiet except for the screeching of the cockatoos. It was getting colder, pleasant actually. I took my shoes off and rubbed my feet on the grass, releasing a raw earthy smell. A slanting golden light coloured the trees, plants, bushes and shrubs of variegated foliage, arranged like little jewels along a turquoise lake, that held their reflection in absolute stillness. It was one of those rare moments when you sense a primordial connection with your environment.

28th Dec

Dinner was at Blue Train, back at Southgate promenade, which was now teeming with evening strollers and joggers. The lesson that I took away from eating here, was to garnish my future homemade pizzas with spring onions – it makes a phenomenal difference!

29th December 2014: Taking it easy – Just when I thought nothing could top my love for the stately English Elms of Fitzroy Gardens, we found the conservatory. It is one happy rendezvous of plants and flowers in all kinds of shapes, sizes and colours, arranged in pleasing designs. There are empty cages hanging from the top, a tiny bridge  with railings at the centre and old fashioned benches for people to rest and take photos. Soft muted light streams in through the beautiful arched transom windows. Obviously I sketch.

Lunch was at Cumulus Inc. at nearby Flinders lane and I cannot say this enough – If you’re ever in Melbourne, eat here at least once. Unparalleled customer service (which seems to be the norm in Melbourne, though) pales in comparison with the food. Your taste buds will experience a firework of flavours. Probably this should be their tagline.

While I was sketching the conservatory, an old British couple breathed over my neck. They were pretty intrigued and while leaving said. "You're clever, aren't you?".

29th Dec / Melbourne: While I was sketched in the conservatory, an old British couple breathed over my neck. They were pretty intrigued by what I was doing and while leaving said. “You’re a clever girl, aren’t you?”. Ahh..ummm..mmm..I’ll be better prepared next time.

St. Kilda’s Pier hogged our last evening in Melbourne. We strolled hand in hand (more so coz I needed something to cling on to) on the historic pier with waves crashing on either side and the wind throwing us off balance. It was an exciting change from what we’ve been doing past four days. The day ended with an intensely golden sunset and the sight of penguins swimming to the shore at dusk.

 

Absconding with a reason!

Hatching the plan

Having tackled the drudgery of life for an entire year (also known as living!) we decided to get our lungs some antipodean air and come back ably renewed and refreshed to pick up the yoke of 2015. By the way, Happy New Year folks!

Seeing it through

That innocent decision birthed in a moment of romantic wanderlust was followed by endless reading, preparing, planning, discussing, arguing, booking, packing and apprehending. The process was tedious and grossly unromantic. But we didn’t give up. Not because the smell of adventure kindled our vigour. The flight tickets were non-refundable.

Front Cover of my trusty Moleskine Japanese Album. I gave it a facelift!

Front cover of my trusty Moleskine Japanese Album. I gave it a facelift!

Making a decision (at least trying to)

When things started falling in place, this is what the itinerary looked like : We’d spend 25th Dec to 31st Dec in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia and from 1st Jan to 10th Jan we will hire a car and drive around scenic routes in the South Island of New Zealand. So naturally, even before deciding what to wear, my one track mind was thinking of ways to capture the experience in pages. It made lofty promises of filling sketchbooks and loose sheets with astounding art and demanded I buy suitable art supplies to be able to achieve that. We debated day and night, weighed pros and cons, charged each other with a salvo of arguments, defended with smart retorts. It wasn’t easy. ( Yes, I have a fertile imagination and a very active inner dialogue). But we came to a decision.

 

Justifying that decision

Backcover of my Japanese Album decorated with stickers I collected from various locations - some bought, some handed for free by museums, souvenir shops, tourist info centres who thought it was 'such a neat idea'!

Back cover of my Japanese Album decorated with stickers I collected from various locations – some bought, some handed for free by museums, souvenir shops, tourist info centres who thought it was ‘such a neat idea’!

It would have to be Moleskine’s Japanese Album with 50 pages, 165gsm.

It ticked almost all the boxes. The idea was to carry something handy that fits in the bag easily, isn’t heavy and definitely not intimidating for my subjects. A smaller page would also mean lesser time investment when filling it. But most of all, I was hunting for something, where I could illustrate the entire trip, the whole 19 days in one continuous sheet of paper, where daily events can merge into one another and the observer can see everything without having to turn the page! Wouldn’t that be fun! As you can see from the picture below, the Japanese Album fits the bill! The only quibble is that the paper isn’t great for watercolours, but accepts light washes. I took that in my stride coz, the aim was not to produce elaborate frame worthy paintings, but to document the journey by illustrating my thoughts, misgivings, explorations, observations.

 

This is how the sketchbook looks when I open it

I unfolded the sketchbook and laid it on the floor of my study.

Going for it

I documented every single day on the trip starting 25th December 2014 and ending on 12th January 2015. It took a bit of getting used to initially both for me and my husband until with a bit of discipline it became second nature. Every single morning I’d sense the potent urge to record my observations for that day and my travel partner would learn to give me time and space, sometimes patiently lingering in the background or finding things to do on his own. In that sense, the 50 pages worth of memories that I hold in my hand is a collaboration.

In the first two pages I drew every single item that went inside my blue Herschel daypack that I carried on the trip, for sketching on the go. It weighed slightly less than 5Kgs, although I learnt to downsize based on what I wanted to carry on a particular day.

This is what I packed in my backpack for sketching on the trip

This is what I packed in my backpack for sketching on the trip

I’ll share the rest of my sketches from the trip on this blog, accompanied by little stories. Should be fun! Regurgitating and reminiscing begins.