Welcome to Motueka

I arrived here in the pouring rain. White-grey clouds hung in damp swathes half way up pine trees, and I squinted ahead through the spattered windscreen wondering where the hell I was going, or if I was even in the right place. My journey to the south island, starting from a little suburb in Wellington had gone without a hitch so far, the most pleasurable part being a north-west drive along route 63, vineyards either side with a long straight highway ahead. I had the whole road to myself and enjoyed singing along to my Waterboys Live album.

As I drove along the unsealed road, feeling uncertain of the exact address, I saw four very wet horses in a field to my right. My hosts said she had horses, so this could be the place. Turning into the driveway I wondered if I was too early, but coming to a halt on the asphalt driveway I could see my host across the grass shutting the gate to a field. I wrestled with my rain mac and stepped out of the car, suddenly aware that I’m wearing fishnet tights, a summer dress and Doc Martins and being struck with the thought that I look like a real townie… what was I thinking when I put this on this morning when heading to work on a farm?

Walking towards the concerned looking woman I outstretched my hand “Hi I’m Bryony, nice to meet you.” We shared a sodden handshake “Janice. Welcome to Motueka. Have you seen my dog?” She looked around frantically “I don’t know if he went with my husband or if he’s gone off, roaming around.” Janice seemed very concerned and quite preoccupied in searching for her absent pet. “Here I’ll show you the cottage and you can get settled” She had a strong east coast American accent and stood at around five feet tall. Her shoes were not made for such a downpour and I could see they were wet through. I pulled my backpack from the passenger seat and followed her around the back of the huge garage to a little one roomed cottage with a deck that looked out towards the paddock with horses. Janice showed me the separation toilet system which is similar to a compost loo, explained the shower workings and the solar electricity use and left me to unpack my things.

Whenever I arrive at a new place, almost by default, I flick the kettle on and have a brew. It’s my way of making a place feel more like my home and musing over where I need to put things. I tested both beds and browsed the bookshelf which was full of travel books and non-fiction about sustainable living and wild plants of Alaska.

Sometime later I came into the house which felt somewhat warmer than the cottage, with the smell of slow cooked chicken and potatoes bubbling in the crock pot. Janice and I talked about her French ancestors in Quebec, learning French, my time as a chalet host in the Alps, and her friends who own a vineyard near here. “I did a whole day of grape picking with them yesterday” She told me “it can be really quite medative, and it’s so good to get to know people in the local community”.

I listened while she told me about her campaigns and petitions to ban the use of 1080; a deadly poison being dropped in rivers and woodland very close to their land. “They call it conservation, to kill off non-native animals and plants. But when you kill off what you don’t want, you also kill what you do want. It’s obscene. Complete eradication of life.” I mused on this for a while, and thought about my cousins work, a company contracted by DOC to pull out and tag non-native plant life. Do they use spray and chemicals I wonder? How many years does it stick around in the soil?

“Here’s a red I uncorked earlier” Janice took an unlabelled bottle from the sideboard and filled two small glasses of wine. I felt cold, my feet were damp on the floorboards and the window was open, I could have done with another cup of tea but when we chinked glasses and I tried the wine I was pleasantly surprised by its warm fruity flavour. “This was payment for yesterday’s picking” she smiled, and her dark brown eyes became warm and soft with the dusk light in the dining area. Janice and I played a game called Quirkle at the table, matching little wooden tiles with symbols and colours. She did well to explain it to me, my brain had become quite addled after a long journey and new surroundings and I tried as best I could to not completely muck up the symmetry of the game. Later, her step-son and husband Barry arrived home from a trip into town and they had Kai, the pet Labrador! Needless to say, Janice was thrilled to see him. I went to bed shortly after dinner and washing up, feeling quite tired from the journey.

The next morning I woke to the sound of the river, high with all the rainfall from the previous day, gushing vigorously over black rock. It was a cool dawn and the sun had just begun to rise over the high hills which were not visible when I arrived. I opened the door and the view took my breath away. I was struck by the beauty of being nestled in a steep valley of dark green fields, native bush and with patches of pine trees higher up. It reminded me of arriving in Morzine in the French alps; the first time I’d seen a real alpine town, there was snow settling on the higher pines and blowing into town.

Pulling on my chequered shirt, I thought about poo picking the paddocks, the sound of horses munching on hay, what I might eat for breakfast, and a steaming cup of tea.

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The morning view of the valley
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A long weekend in Sweden

A shot of the Stockholm skyline
A shot of the Stockholm skyline
On a warm, late July day in central Stockholm I arrived in the city brimming with anticipation for my trip. After departing with my rucksack at the hostel I took my map, compass and guidebook to head out into the mid-afternoon sun and do some sightseeing. Still feeling groggy from my journey I decided to head east to a local church to find some peace and quiet. Before long, I found The Church of Adolf Fredrick named after the king who laid the foundation stone. I walked slowly through the well-kept gardens, observing the trendy Swedes relaxing in the shade before heading into the church. Silence; it was wonderful. The interior was very bright inside as light poured in through the clear round arched windows and bounced off the white interior. It struck me how different this space is to other protestant churches I had been in; a central dome is suspended by relatively shallow tunnel vaults and the church is built in the shape of a Greek cross. I put 10SEK in a box and lit a candle; I prayed for a safe trip in Sweden.
After admiring the large, dominant altarpiece by Sergel which depicts Christ rising from the tomb on Easter morning I headed back out into the city bustling with many cyclists and overly cautious pedestrians waiting patiently at every crossing. I had read about Gamla Stan the old town that dates back to the 13th century, defined by its medieval alleyways and cobbled streets, so I walked south over two clean waterways to the tourist hotspot of the city.
I was welcomed by sweet smells floating through the air from quaint patisseries and corner cafes and a Medieval or lap harpist creating a beautiful sound. Making my way through the narrow streets in awe of the archaic architecture and absorbing the atmosphere, I found myself wondering into the second church of the day; Tyska Kyrkan or “German Church” named for standing in the centre of a neighbourhood that in the Middle Ages was dominated by Germans. The contrast could not have been more striking. Dark, ornate and smelling of solid wood wormed pews this Catholic place of worship was built and adapted over four centuries. Tyska Kyrkan is dedicated to the Saint Gertrude (626- 659) and was founded on location for the present church in the 14th century. I took a minute to seat myself on an empty pew and watched as other tourists sauntered in, wide-eyed and open mouthed to gawp at the incredibly colourful interior before them. In my eyes, the Kings Gallery stole the show with vibrant gold used in every crevice, illuminating the corner of the church. The pulpit was also beautiful, but somewhat more discreet using largely black so as not to impose on His Majesties gallery.
The brick steeple and copper covered spire of The German Church help create the iconic Stockholm skyline featured on many postcards and travel guides. Before long I was ready to walk back to the hostel to relax in the sauna and have a cold shower in true Swedish fashion.

Writen : August 2012