Saturday, 16 March 2019

Footprints in the sands of Kapiti
 You cannot leave footprints in the sands of time (in Kapiti) when sitting down is a slightly adapted quote meaning, loosely, nothing is achieved unless you are active.
It is no surprise most of us are easily drawn to an ocean-side sandy beach. And, walking or running, whatever our age, we eagerly glance behind to spot our retreating footprints. With a Christchurch Tramway colleague, Ken Henderson, I recently visited a former tramway operation’s manager, John Smith, who retired from Christchurch and relocated to the Kapiti Coast, about 55 km north of Wellington.  He lives in Paraparaumu. Another popular Kapiti town is Waikanae. John Smith is one of those wonderful larger-than-life characters with a booming laugh. The three of us were long-time good mates on the tramway. A Kapiti reunion was therefore essential.

                                    John Smith

Who takes who for a walk on the beach?
Kapiti Coast is sparsely populated compared with Wellington and the Hutt Valley. And it is just far enough north to miss the southerly blusters that wrap around the toehole of Wellington.
 Kapiti towns with their generous amenities are squeezed into a narrow strip of coastal land between the Tararua Mountains and the off-shore Kapiti Island. Most inhabitants, including our erstwhile manager, reside within a few minutes’ walk to the ocean-side. Needless to say, our days began with a brisk stroll along the foreshore.  My step counter would predictably record in excess of 10,000 steps – a good morning’s exercise. The first morning was punctuated by a scrumptious breakfast at the Green and White Ribbon cafĂ©.
Established in 2018 by Gordon and Norma Ratahi, it is a thriving business that, Norma says, gives back to the community through support for worthy charities. Coffee was good and, unusual for me, I had eggs and bacon on crisp toast. Gosh it was good.

The three of us enjoyed much merriment along with reminiscing. To add to the camaraderie we caught up with Ian Wilson, another trammie who had retired in Waikanae.    
 During our morning exercise we did not have the pleasant Paraparaumu beach to ourselves. It was heavily populated by joggers, dog walkers and those, like us, enjoying the fresh sea air and the ocean views while contemplating stopping for the morning coffee break. As always I was intrigued by patterns left in the sand by ever changing tides.

Patterns in the sand

Sea shells, devoid of their marine inhabitants, were scattered like pebbles in the sand. Birdlife was abundant; the common red-billed seagulls and the larger Black-backed gulls. The latter stood tall, their animated reflections seen in small pools of seawater trapped by the retreating tide. Kapiti Island was our constant off-shore companion. A tractor curiously mounted above oversized wheels pushed a trailer into the sea. It was waiting for the Kapiti Island tour boat to arrive and it would be towed onto Paraparaumu beach.
High and dry
 The crossing to Kapiti Island takes 15 minutes. The predator-free island is 10 km long and two km wide. It is billed a magical place, the home of birdlife no longer seen on the mainland. The narrow strip of ocean between the island and Paraparaumu Beach has incredible water clarity. It is therefore a popular location for scuba diving.
I mused about Kapiti Island once being the home for the warmongering Maori chief Te Rauparaha who captured the island in 1822. With his Ngati Toa people, Te Rauparaha lived there until his death in 1849.  It was his base for raiding tribes between Marlborough and Whanganui. He is believed to have been buried on the island but his grave has not been found. Kapiti Island was designated a reserve in 1897. These days the island is administered by the Department of Conservation. A permit is required for a visit. Visitor numbers are limited to 68 per day.
The island was originally known as Entry Island. It was so named in 1769 by Captain Cook owing to its location at the entrance to his namesake Cook Strait, the seaway separating Aotearoa-New Zealand’s North and South Islands.
Kapiti Coast is accessible from Wellington by a frequent metro train service. Kapiti Nature Tours will get you to the Island. A permit is obtained from Department of Conservation. Advisable to make bookings in advance.

 BBQ experts, Ken Henderson left and John Smith 

Thursday, 7 March 2019

I visited Prague
Prague is so crowded, even in September. This is unexpected, my thinking the summer tourist rush would have been over. Maybe the warm summer jettisoned into autumn has brought the locals out?
I had been intrigued by this country from seeing Czechoslovakia on stamps when I was an aspiring young stamp collector. For some reason stamps from Czechoslovakia were common in schoolboy-affordable bargain bags from stamp shops. Those days I never thought I would visit the country’s capital, Prague.
 Czechoslovakia has a chequered past instigated by Nazi reprisals of WW2 followed by a Soviet-backed coup. Later, on the first day of 1993, the embattled country was dissipated to become the Czech  Republic and Slovakia. 
Getting to Prague is a pleasing three hour train journey along the Ebony River from Dresden in East Germany.  We glide past fascinating castles and other sites. I am thinking this would have been a prize bicycle touring route. Everything is pristine particularly along the German section –reflecting Germany’s vigorous environmental efforts.
 Despite Czechoslovakia being an EU country, it has stuck to its complicated Czech Krona currency rather than adopting the simpler Euro.  Paying our beer waiter is an exercise in confusion, especially with my Euro mind-set, having previously been in Germany. The city (pop. 1.281 million) is delightfully ancient European. No wonder it is known as the ``City of one hundred spires’’
The old town of narrow cobbled streets is a gem. It was laid out during the fourth century. It has impressive cathedrals surrounding the town square. It is especially famous for its medieval Astronomical clock. Regrettably it is disguised by scaffolding and tarpaulins while under repairs. Anything 600 years old is likely to need major rebuilding.  Cannot imagine the work that will be required on me when I am that old? In action, the clock exhibits an animated display on the hour.

Old Prague
 I discover many curiosities including a special Tobacco and Alcohol shop, a live bronzed motorcyclist statue reminding me of our Burt Munro and a street-side BBQ offering grilled piglet.

                                                              Bronzed motorcyclist. He gives me a wink.

 A Prague highlight is walking over the picturesque 14th-Century Charles Bridge linking the old town to the slightly more modern Prague and the castle where Czech rulers have resided for more than 1200 years. The bridge is named after King Charles IV who, in 1402, instigated its construction over the Vitava River.

Towers on Charles Bridge

 The many statues of, mostly, Catholic saints are complemented by animated artists and musicians. Musicians perform with amazing emotion. I surmise that is the Czech style.

Portrait artist

Exuberant musician

 The bridge is so crowded. Many set out to cross it early in the day. Predictably the old town and Charles Bridge has offered many movie locations. A short documentary of 2011 is Art on the Bridge.
The slightly more modern Prague has a busy tramway (light Rail metro). Some classic vintage tramcars have modernised and still operate on the system. Unlike many European metre-gauge tramways, Prague’s tramcars run on Stephenson’s standard gauge (1435 mm) Route km is 518 on which 857 tramcars operate.

Prague light rail

                                                            Modernised classic tramcar

 And the Czech beer is totally wonderful. A pilsner Urquell is popular on warmer are some tasty dark beers. No wonder the Czech Republic boasts the world’s most beer drinkers per capita. To drink beer in Prague is to partake in a cultural experience.  We are delighted to participate.