Tag Archives: walk

Salad from under my feet, and other small wonders

It’s amazing how good a daisy leaf tastes. I had no idea until last Sunday afternoon. I went on a local foraging walk and found out just how much of the common plants we walk over, through and around all the time are not only edible but tantalising to the taste buds and highly nutritious.

I’d already considered myself a forager. Every year I know spring is beginning to show its face when the first wild garlic appears. Actually, it’s often the smell of wild garlic that you notice first. This year I went with a gaggle of friends to gather bags full of the pungent leaves. I think we may have overdone it somewhat (not that the wild garlic minded – it’s rampant), but some of us later reported having more wild garlic than sense! Never mind, it’s great stuff and a real wild food milepost in the year.

I also try to gather elderflowers every June, to make cordial or champagne or flower-infused vinegar. And then in autumn elderberries (and also sloes). I just finished off my last bottle of elderberry cordial from a batch I concocted a couple of years ago. It’s reputed to protect from colds and other illnesses, and I believe it works. A friend tried making elderberry vodka. This was unfortunately comically vile. It became the focus of a party game last summer – who can make a cocktail that makes this liqueur palatable? So wild food is ripe for experimentation.

On Sunday’s foraging expedition, the guides took us to a green space near the start of the Bristol and Bath cycle path. Very much an urban, everyday sort of place. Every few steps we’d stop and there would be perhaps five different plants growing near our feet that it’s possible to eat, and/or make a tea from, and/or treat an ailment with.

We tasted garlicky, mustardy foliage (that would be the garlic mustard, also known as Jack-by-the-hedge), the lemony freshness of daisy leaves, the feathery bitterness of yarrow (whose leaves can also be used to staunch bleeding), the celery-like crunch of thistle, which we stripped first with a knife to remove the prickly bits. We also found and gathered nettles, dead nettles, dandelion leaves and flowers, wild chives, hawthorn leaves, lime leaves and flowers, willow twigs, burdock, herb Robert, cleavers, pineapple weed, plantain, chickweed, cow parsley and the buds and young leaves of blackberry. We also learned about a few things NOT to eat, including the highly poisonous lords-and-ladies.

Later we took our gatherings back to Trinity Community Garden, which was running this event, where we tried nettle soup (delicious and made, if I recall correctly, from nettles, potatoes and garlic and was served with lemon juice and lots of salt and pepper), dandelion flower fritters and wild garlic pesto with fresh bread. There were also flasks of teas to try – cleavers, nettle and dandelion.

I continue to feel inspired, and this weekend I may go on a little forage on my own and see what wild salad I can bring back from a wander in one of the green corners of this city.

wild food nettle soup

Finding my way

When I first moved to Bristol I could barely get from my front door to the local shops without a map. For a time, everywhere I went – and I went everywhere by foot – I carried with me in my bag a Bristol and Bath A-Z (that’s ‘A to zed’ for the uninitiated).

Someone I work with, a new arrival to Bristol, was asking the other day which of two routes (displayed on Google Maps on the PC screen before us) I thought was the best for getting to a particular location. I thought one would be quicker but might require her to wend her way through a few streets and so I asked, ‘Do you have an A-Z?’ I almost instantly laughed out loud, conceding that she would obviously just use her phone to find her way and would have no need for a paper book of maps. To be fair, it was only 8 years ago that I came here, but I guess that’s a long time in some ways. I’m only just getting my first smart phone this very week (it so happens), so the way I look at such things is probably a bit skewed anyway.

I still have my A-Z and I still use it from time to time. I like how it’s been softened and dog-eared by the years, the corners of certain key pages are turned down and there’s the occasional sticky note on a page with scribbled instructions for getting to somebody’s house. I’ve lived and worked on a number of different pages in this book and I’ve visited many more. People used to stop me in those early days of my Bristol life and ask me the way to somewhere. I’d usually say that I didn’t know…but that I did happen to have a map. Together we’d have a look and find the elusive destination on one of the pages.

I learned this city on my feet. I used to walk off in some direction or another just to get lost and then, when lost enough, I would find myself again using my book of maps. It didn’t always work and sometimes I’d stay lost longer than planned. I once dragged an unsuspecting brother of mine, visiting from the US, along on one of these ‘lost with a map in hand’ escapades. But eventually my feet did, and usually do, (somehow) find their way.

Volcanic wanderings – part two

My last morning in Taupo I did the Huka Falls walk. To get there you walk alongside the river, and go past the Taupo Bungy centre. I watched a few people do their jumps over the river. Nice spot for it.

Then through the bush (cue pic of tree fern and…tree)

and finally you hear the rushing and roaring of the Falls. They must be near! The view when you get there is quite breathtaking.

I headed back after that, stopping off at the Taupo Bungy cafe for my habitual coffee. Still no bungy jump for me, in answer to those who were betting I would do one while in NZ. Don’t you know I don’t follow tick lists?

It was now time to get my stuff and get on the bus to Rotorua. Sulphur City, here I come.  And yeah, you do smell it as you approach. I’d had a preview during the Tongariro Crossing, actually. Yum yum, eggy fumes.

Some fascinating facts about the area, now pay attention. The Rotorua Basin was formed by volcanic eruptions, and I read somewhere that Rotorua has one earthquake a day, of Richter magnitude 2 or less. You get geothermal water spurting to the surface in geysers in some places and there are lots and lots and lots of sulphur flats and pools, complete with colourful (and hardy) microorganisms and that delicious odour.

I set off that afternoon to explore the city. First up, the lake (it’s a spent volcano under all the water, of course), where there are black swans. Which are more dangerous than you might think.

Notice how on the sign the beak illustrated is so that of a kea. Yeah? Must be a multipurpose ‘don’t feed the birds’ symbol, but makes me laugh everytime I look at it.

Then onto the steamy, smelly stuff in Kuirau Park. This is a thermal area you are free to wander around (there are paths to keep you safe) amongst the sulphur, bubbling mud and steam.

That evening I met up with my Magic bus friend who I’d been coincidentally trailing through the North Island, and we had a beer and talked about boys. Good stuff.

I had set myself the challenge of going mountain biking in Rotorua. The forest just outside the city has some of the best mountain biking trails in the country.

My roommate in the hostel (who hails from Bristol, UK!) would have joined me but she needed to go to work, so I was on my own. To get to the place, I needed to take the bus and then walk out to the start point for the trails, where there is also a company that rents out bikes, even to beginners like myself. The woman there handed me a map and showed me which trails she recommended, then off I went, starting with a warm up on the Kids Loop (don’t laugh). I moved on to more challenging trails but still within my ability…until the Creek Trail I was on suddenly went ballistic and there were some massive twists and turns. I got going too fast and knew what was going to happen. Now just to minimise the damage…  Yep, down I went! I have the battle scars that go with that, grrr, tough Tracy. But everyone knows what you do when you come off your bike. You get back on. (You are allowed a breather first, though.) It was a fantastic and exhausting experience and I’m thinking I should get a mountain bike when I return to Bristol! I just wish I’d had time for the Dipper

Slept soundly that night! Next morning was up for one more walk amongst the odours before my bus to Tauranga, my last stop before Auckland.

Tauranga is not as great as I’d hoped so far. I went on an estuary walk yesterday that incorporated far too much Big Noisy Road for my taste (as well as an unhelpful diversion where part of the route was closed but luckily I do like a puzzle). I then had a longer than desired walk to the nearest supermarket but I’d already worked out a fun evening plan to relax. Two main ingredients. 1) Treat myself to a falafel for dinner, and 2) go to the cinema, as it was Tuesday (and it’s cheap Tuesday at the cinema in Australia and NZ, for some reason). Falafel was tasty and the film was fine. Back to hostel, and to bed. NZzzzzzzz.

Today I’ll be taking the local bus to nearby Mt Maunganui, which should hopefully be pretty. I’m in the mood for some nice scenery here in the so-called Bay of Plenty.

Volcanic wanderings – part one

On Saturday I did the Tongariro Crossing – and it was amazing. I was showing my pictures to a friend here and she wasn’t that impressed with the scenery so I’m thinking maybe you did kinda hafta be there… But it’s a volcanic and thermal landscape (an active one too!) and quite otherworldly. I’ve put some photos below to give a flavour.

The walk starts off gentle. Here you can see Mt Doom, er I mean Mt Ngauruhoe.

Eventually you start climbing. And up and up you go, along the so-called Devil’s Staircase, giving you views of the surrounding terrain and clouds. This part is a killer.

And eventually you find yourself above the Red Crater.

Coming across a ridge, you then get fantastic views of sulphurous lakes. Very pretty, but don’t contemplate a swim here!

Beyond the ridge, you can look back and see the Red Crater from a new angle. Such striking colours!

The terrain changes again and you can see the steam from some thermal springs as you make your way downwards.

And eventually everything settles down into the usual forest bushwalk. Ferns, ferns and more ferns, etc. You can see pics of that sort of thing elsewhere! Then after approximately seven hours of walking, one drags one’s exhausted carcus onto the waiting shuttle bus. So that’s my very quick overview, hope it’s vaguely accurate.

Here’s me with Mt Doom. Picture was taken by a guy who was running the track. Madman.

Well, I’m now in Rotorua and have more to tell of volcanic and thermal deliciousness but that will have to wait until my next post as it’s dinnertime, I’m afraid. Suffice to say it’s quite eggy here in Rotorua. (I’m not talking about my dinner.)

Adventures of North Island backpackers

Flight up to Wellington was rather a non-event but it transplanted me nonetheless back to the North Island. Managed to jump off my bus at the right spot for the YHA, then after checking in went for a somewhat mirthless walk in the city (sorry but the weather was bleak and I felt a bit off).

But when I returned to my room I met one of my roommates, from England and a similar age to me, and we got on great. I invited her to share my stir fry (one of about two specialties of my hostel cookery) and then we thought we’d go out for a drink. Now Welly is supposed to be all cool and it is but I felt a bit less than cool as the night continued.

Check us out. We thought somewhere with live music would be good but then the place we thought sounded good wouldn’t let you in if you had a water bottle in your bag. We couldn’t ascertain the reason but moved on and were given vouchers for a free drink at someplace called The Mermaid. We thought this would be a trendy bar but maybe worth it for a free drink (backpacker thinking, you see). We tracked the place down and when we entered were accosted by a heavily made-up woman who looked at us with disdain as she pointed out we’d still need to pay the entry of $20. We removed our backpacker selves, fleeces and all, from there quite quickly and then looked back into the place to see that it contained mostly men, with just one other woman in evidence…and she was wearing basically underwear. Ah. (Though the voucher had come with a flyer advertising a ‘ladies night’, this being illustrated by naked male torsos. Anyway.) I must admit we cool girls finally just settled on a hot chocolate each, which we sipped in the hostel lobby while engaging in a bit more girl talk before bed.

Next stop on the Kramer itinerary was Napier. After a long bus ride, I arrived at was greeted by my friend from the night before and her friend from Scotland (they both are travelling on the Magic bus, a tour company to which they give mixed reviews; I was on the ol’ InterCity). I wiped the sweat from my brow as it was a sultry evening in Napier and headed out the door with them to get some dinner. Napier touts itself as the Art Deco city (because I believe it was flattened by an earthquake and then rebuilt in that style), and there was an Art Deco festival of sorts going on. Lots of old cars and older people prancing about in period costume.

After we ate we felt like a stroll. This walk incorporated a visit to the supermarket (the highlight of every backpacker’s day or night). This may not sound exciting. However, when we exited the supermarket we were suddenly lost. Yes, lost when exiting a supermarket we had just used. Hmm, anyway, the three adults eventually used their combined wits and the map to find the way back to the hostel. Which was just down the road. Ha. We were all tired, ok.

Next stop Taupo, and I shall be here two nights. They have a great big lake and all that. But look at this!

I have booked myself onto the Tongariro Crossing expedition and will be walking my socks off tomorrow. Weather report is good. Just need to get off this computer, make dinner and go to bed so I am bright and shiny for that 5:40 am pick up tomorrow. Ahhh…!

Dunedin and northwards

I stayed at one of the best hostels ever in Dunedin, Chalet Backpackers. The rooms are big and airy and have harbour views and it’s cheap. Big kitchen, big long table in the dining room for chatting with your neighbours. Listing the details doesn’t do it justice, really. The point is it feels like a home from home here and the people who run it are extremely friendly and helpful. (They are not paying me either, this really is a lovely place!) Anyway, this is where I made my home for four nights.

People often say that Dunedin feels very English. It has Scottish roots actually, amongst others, and my understanding is that Dunedin is the Gaelic for Edinburgh. But what you need to know about Dunedin is that it is very, very, very hilly. Like San Francisco hilly. In fact, it boasts the official steepest street in the world. I went up on a hot afternoon. Yeah, pretty steep but I seem to have developed insane walking skills (or just plain insanity) so didn’t bother me!

In fact, after a coffee in the cafe of the botanic garden I found another really steep road and walked that for awhile to try to get to a viewpoint that some people had told me about over dinner the previous evening. I didn’t find the lookout but I did get up high and sweat a lot and get a nice sunburn on my hair parting (that burn’s peeling now, nice and flakey). The botanic garden is very big and a great place to pass some time. One highlight for me was the aviary where I saw various exotic birds including two African grey parrots who have learned to wolf whistle. They demonstrated for me. Nice work, guys.

The day after the hot, climbing day was freezing and rainy. I of course left the hostel wearing summer clothes and proceeded to freeze. I did start to wonder if this was Britain…but the the Kiwis will tell you their weather is changeable too. Luckily, I fancied visiting the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, which is a beautiful space to view art. They had some very interesting things indeed, including a Tom Kreisler exhibition which I found intriguing and amusing. Later in the day I put on many more clothes and went on the Elm Wildlife Tour to the Otago Peninsula to get up close with some of the area’s wildlife. We saw royal albatross, some sea lions, yellow-eyed penguins and yet more New Zealand fur seals (always a pleasure), plus various birds including oystercatchers.

My last full day in Dunedin was devoted to getting my arse into gear trip planning-wise. Following much behind-the-scenes drama I had now decided on a rough plan for the final less-than-two-weeks of my trip. I was headed to Oamaru just an hour or two up the east coast to see the blue penguins. Then to Christchurch to fly to Wellington. From there various versions of North Island itineraries float like geographic gumdrops before my eyes. But more of that later.

Sunday was also Chinese New Year, as I am sure all are aware. Dunedin’s Chinese Gardens were open for free that evening and there were lion dances and the like, and to top it all off fireworks. I went along with a Kiwi roommate of mine, where we were initially underwhelmed by the ‘launch of the lanterns’ we’d had advertised to us. But then we had the dances followed by some truly vibrant fireworks! You can’t get tired of fireworks. Happy Year of the Tiger, everyone.

Before catching my afternoon bus the next day I explored the shops a bit and drank some coffee (Dunedin has a very strong cafe culture – now you have many facts about the city; just ask for more, anytime!) and then visited the free Otago Settlers Museum where I learned more about the heritage of the place. My favourites were the room that was set up like the – what do you call it, cabin? – where people who were coming to settle would have slept in bunks and taken their meals on the long sailing voyage to get there, and also the transport gallery. There is a penny farthing bicycle there you can try out by climbing up some steps but I was too chicken to do it without an accomplice. (I felt similarly when sitting in a city park and eyeing up the zip slide and other intriguing equipment. Ah, there are unexpected drawbacks occasionally to travelling solo! And why do we have to be ‘too old’ for certain things anyway?)

I eventually dragged myself away from all these diversions and took the bus to Oamaru. Now the big draw in Oamaru is the blue penguin colony. So first stop was the hostel (another friendly place complete with Tigger the cat), then to the i-site for info, ended up booking tickets for the evening ‘viewing’ of the penguins with a guy from Hong Kong who’d I’d met when we discovered we were both heading to the same hostel. Then we both felt like a walk so followed the ‘skyline walk’ to get some views of the city and harbour. The route also dips into forest, including some native bush. Here’s a view of the harbour and some cabbage trees. They have a lot of those in Otago but I don’t know why it’s called a cabbage tree:

At some point I found a ready-made club (or is it a back scratcher?).

For dinner, I had fish and chips and Tigger tried to charm me into giving him some. No such luck, kitty! Then to see the penguins. Do not expect any photos here as people are not allowed to use cameras within the viewing area, and you can only use one without flash outside of there (in the dark), so use Google image search instead. Blue penguins (also found in southern Australia, where they call them fairy penguins) are the smallest species of penguins. They are also the only ones to have blue and white feathers rather than black and white. The ones who have been out at sea fishing all day band together into ‘rafts’ for safety as it starts to get dark and then arrive on shore together. At the Oamaru colony we watched each raft come up out of the water, preen their feathers and shake the salt out of their faces, and then eventually make their way up to cross over the the nesting areas in groups. They move in the determined way of penguins on land, leaning forward and inducing smiles. I love ’em. They also make a racket as they call to mates and tell off anyone who tries to poke their beak into their nest burrow. As you leave the evening’s viewing you can look out for penguins in the car parking area, as some of them nest out that way in burrows or under buildings. We came across a few and watched them but unfortunately it was far too dark to get a decent photo.

Today I came to Christchurch on a full-up bus with very little leg room. My ipod served me well – so glad I remembered to transfer it from backpack to daypack before I boarded, life saver. The journey had an extra element of excitement as my Travel Companion Extraordinaire was in town as well (I describe him as such, as I know now he’ll be reading, having discovered this to be the idea way to remember all the best bits about our camper van trip – hi there). We found each other and I dumped my stuff at the hostel, then had to feed my flat white addiction. Chocolate fudge cake added itself to the proceedings, but this was not instigated by me. Boys and chocolate, eh! After this the sunny afternoon needed to be honoured further by a walk in the park. We found ourselves in the botanic garden and there was absolutely no silliness at all.

Now time for pizza and a beer. I’ll miss ya, J, you big…thing. But will defeat you in our tennis rematch in Bristol…

End of internet session. Logging out!

The road to Wanaka, second time round

So we made it to Milford Sound, on a day tour by bus with a cruise on the sound at lunchtime. Fiordland is so raw, the scale of the earth brought home to me in this landscape carved by glaciers. As for Milford Sound itself, it will perhaps always for me be associated with a sense of sadness and loss (or a memory of such, one day) and with, of course, sandflies. My face was still swollen. We chatted with the crew, who sympathised with my plight. A bite to the eye of lip will often swell up frighteningly (and very unbecomingly). In my case it was just a longer plight due to allergic reaction. (But as I write I am quite recovered from this particular suffering!)

It is a beautiful place, somewhere that the mist becomes. It is serene but there is life there – seals, and a rushing waterfalls, one of which the boat approached so closely I stood in a wild shower, laughing as I filmed (hoping my camera would forgive me the dousing). (Maybe I’ll post the video sometime…)

The next day we set out from Te Anau for Wanaka. I would be staying on in Wanaka, while my travelling companion of three weeks would continue on to Christchurch, over the next couple of days, to return the van to its starting point. My plan was to spend some time in peaceful Wanaka then to carry on to Dunedin to avail myself of the wildlife dense Otago Peninsula. From there I was (and remain) uncertain as to what my next moves would be as I made my way back up north.

I love the sea but have found a different sort of beauty, one I did not immediately fully appreciate, here in the lakeland setting of Wanaka. I have done some fantastic walks around, and overlooking, Lake Wanaka and the surrounding landscape. I have gone kayaking on the lake (by morning, so peaceful, and also so amazingly energising). I have met fantastic people in my hostel (YHA Purple Cow, check it out when you’re next in town…they show a movie every night at 8pm!) from all over the world, have had glimpses into other lives…and into my own life as well.  Remove yourself to another place and you may leave the mundane but you take yourself with you. Of course, you say…well anyway. I must stop now, nearly time to gather my bags from the hostel and catch my bus to Dunedin and leave this pretty place.