Gretchen Markle

Travel Blog

(posted on 22 Sep 2016)

Funny day today. It was forecast to be cloudy (it was) with showers (so far none), heavy at times. In the icon, there was one of those little suns peeping out above the clouds, and, lo and behold, there have been very tiny episodes of sunlight. When they do happen, the effects can be quite stunning. I've tried to capture one such time, but paint can never capture the brilliance of the contrasts, can it? (And I can't seem to manage it either, though I must say this photo is quite dull compared to the painting.)



I think I've mentioned that they have real postboxes here. You know the kind I mean - individual ones, rather than a boring slot in a whole bank of uniform boxes. Well, we don't seem to be the only ones using our friends' mailbox. Some bird - and it must be fairly small to get into it through the little slot at the top - keeps trying to build a nest in there. Every time we go to pick up the mail, we have to clear out handsful of grass.

(posted on 21 Sep 2016)

It's the last couple of days before equinox, what I consider the real beginning of spring. And the weather sure feels like a New Zealand winter. Cold, wind and driving rain. Just lovely.

Not a chance of working outdoors, so I've been playing around inside, trying new approaches. Not much to show for it. This is experimentation. Gotta make mistakes in order to learn. So far, I just seem to be redoing the same old, same old. I won't bore you with them all.

Here's one where I was playing with colour:

Hopefully, tomorrow...


Equinox happens here at 0221 on Friday, Sept. 23. Then we go to Daylight Savings Time on Saturday!

(posted on 19 Sep 2016)

The usual Monday morning. Into Warkworth for groceries. It's a good time to go when there aren't too many shoppers. You can find parking spaces, and the checkout lines are short. I did the rounds and headed home.

The afternoon was quiet. A walk along Ridge Road (which really does run along the top of the ridge, so there are great views) to 'Tui Row' (not its real name, just a tip of the hat to all the great birdlife along this particular stretch of road). Then taking my time to roast a lovely little chicken that I found in town. Simple grub, but tasty. And while it cooked, I tried to put more colour into my paintng,

Edge of the Front


The cars here are made by the companies that you'd expect in Asia - Mitsubishi, Toyota, Nissan, and, perhaps not surprisingly, Ford. Thing is, none of the models are the same as back in North America. Most of them we've never seen or heard of before. Even the good old Ford Ranger is different. Here, it's a crewcab with a short box and much more heavily built than the ones we've owned. And in the last couple of days, I've seen my first Kia Soul! I felt like flagging it down and communing with the driver.

(posted on 18 Sep 2016)

Shades of the past. All my paintings are still grey and green. It doesn't matter that most of the skies are grey, and the fields and forests are green. When I paint them that way, it makes for dreary looking scenes and disappointment in my work. Here it is years and years later, and I'm still fighting to free myself from the strictures of painting things as I see them.


Olive Grove

(posted on 17 Sep 2016)

No painting today. Just a long drive through the pouring rain to get back to Scotts Landing. We didn't bother doing the tourist thing since we wouldn't have been able to see much through the rain and fog. Good to be 'home', and happy that we had two decent days for our exploration. The kitty seems happy to see us, too. (She's probably just really, really glad to get in out of the rain and wind. Ha.)

(posted on 16 Sep 2016)

(Sept. 15 in North America)

I had a wonderful (birth)day. We went to beautiful places, and I got to paint.

In the morning, we went to Arai Te Uru, the southern headland guarding Hokianga Inlet. There's a whole Maori mythology about this marvellous place. Suffice it to say that it's a headland overlooking the entrance to the inlet with its killer sandbar offshore, rocky reefs, and tides that create huge standing waves as they roar through the gut. There was a light station up there years ago, but it's gone now and there are no remnants except an open area in the scrub and feral pelargoniums down by the beach.

Anyhow, from the top of the hill I did a sketch of the Tasman Sea rolling into the bay, then did another from down on the beach.

Tasman Sea at Arai Te Uru

This afternoon, we hiked a forest walk up through a narrow gorge to a lovely little waterfall and beyond. The forest was amazingly rich and varied, from tiny little antler-shaped mosses, to towering tree ferns and native palms, to epiphyte-laden Pahutukawa trees to massive Kauri up on the ridge. It was a true wonderland and probably the most wonderful place we've yet seen in New Zealand. And mostly unsung. There was nothing in the literature to indicate that this would be such a magical walk.

The waterfall was quite delightful, but I found the upper falls and pools even more gorgeous.

Upper Waiotemerama Falls


New Zealand money is coloured and of the same size as Canadian bills. That's OK with the twenties, since they're the same green colour. But you must be very careful because the $10 NZD is exactly the same blue colour as the $5 CAD!

(posted on 14 Sep 2016)

It's Hump Day, Wednesday, down here in New Zealand. Midweek. Quiet. A day for a morning walk south along Ridge Rd., then down, down, down to the water on the west side. Skirt the Burton Wells Scenic Reserve via the sandstone/lava beach littered with small native oysters (does anyone eat them?), then up, up, up to the road again. Down, down, down through the bush on the east side to 'Tui Row', where the Tuis gurgle and chirp and cackle in their spring mating ritual, past the amazing, epiphyte-draped Pahutukawa tree, back up, up, up to Ridge Rd. and home again.

Prepare for our excursion to the Kauri Forest, planning an early get-away. All the food is ready. We simply need to get up, eat and go. One final quick sketch of the ridge on the other side of the valley, and it's time to have a drink with the neighbours (they're taking care of the cat while we're gone).

Tomorrow it's off to explore!

Triplet 2, a.k.a. The Three Kings

(posted on 13 Sep 2016)

What a difference a few hours make. This morning dawned cool and drear. We needed to put on a bit of heat to take the chill off the living room. But by lunchtime, the clouds had pretty well cleared, the sun was shining, and it was really quite lovely.

After playing around with watercolour in the morning, I decided to go out and sketch some of the plants that we see pretty well everywhere we go, common native plants that help to give this landscape its distinctive flavour.


Tawharanui Reworked

(I can't resist colour.)

L. to R. Flax Plant, Tea Tree, Tea Tree

As you can see, I don't plan my sketches very well and consequently run out of room at the top!

(posted on 12 Sep 2016)

We had a quiet day. Started out with a trip into town for the weekly grocery run. While in Warkworth, we finally took the time to go see the famous big Kauri tree in a park near town. We were very pleasantly surprised with the park. We had expected to see a big tree - yep, it's big, sorta like that huge Sitka spruce we saw in Olympic National Park, WA - but we hadn't known that there was also a boardwalk trail through a native forest full of younger Kauris, tree ferns, and lots of other native species. It was really very interesting and lovely.

Spent the afternoon making arrangements to visit the Kauri Forest later this week and prepping some food. Didn't have time for any fancy kind of painting, so I'll go with a loose rendition of the top of the valley:


(posted on 11 Sep 2016)

Today we went back to Scandrett. It was the first park we went to after we arrived. Ha. We had been here only a couple of days and were much less used to the roads and driving. We were thoroughly traumatized by the trip there and back - a mere 10-15 minutes in each direction. Now it seems so tame! There's still the long, twisting, gravel access road with the blind corners and barely any place wide enough to crawl by oncoming cars, but now we've seen so many other hair-raising tracks that this seems pretty tame.

The day was stunningly gorgeous - sunny, warm and windless. The fields had dried out so we could take the track out to Mullett Point and from there around the perimeter of the headland, through the high field dotted with huge Pahutakawa trees, then down the draw to the beach and back along the hard-packed sand past the Dotterels and Oystercatchers to the parking lot. Along the way, I took time to do a quick sketch in my notebook of a fisherman on the shore below the headland.

Fishing at Mullett Point

Spring is here. We saw more boats out on the water today than we have seen in almost the entire time we've been here. We also saw other walkers - perhaps half a dozen in the entire park. I guess Kiwis don't visit their parks that much in winter. Fine by us. We have the place to ourselves!

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