Bulls

The town of Bulls in New Zealand has a gimmick that makes it udderly memor-a-bull. Also avail-a-bull is Forgive-a-bull (Anglican Church), though I’m not sure I’d forgive these terr-i-bull puns.

Not surprisingly, it’s twinned with Cowes in the UK…

Taranaki (the Volcano)

The volcano Taranaki gives his name to the whole region here, and it’s not hard to see why: on the map the volcano creates a huge bulge on the west coast of New Zealand.

In beautiful New Zealand style they’ve defined a National Park with an almost perfect circular boundary, and of course it’s particularly stunning when seen from the air:

Why Taranaki is here, of course, is told in legend: one of the big seven New Zealand volcanoes, he reputedly fought with his mates (Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro) over the lovely Pirihanga – and lost the fight. In fact he was so disruptive that he was banished from the main group in the middle of the North Island, and forced to live out west.

To do the trip properly, aim to stay overnight. If you’re desperate, get a camper van and stay in the car park; failing that, get a bed at the Dawson Falls Lodge, which is the main visitor centre for the park. The lodge is a bit dilapidated, but that seems to be part of its charm – the chance to get away from it all, have time to watch and photograph the volcano overnight, and see the utter beauty of the Milky Way in a crystal-clear sky. And although the electricity is 1930s direct current and the Wifi connection is terrible, the Coconut Muesli is well worth going back for.


And here is a young Taranaki entrepreneur. On the road to isolated Cape Egmont he was stopping every car – I assumed to tell us there were cows up ahead, but it turned our he just wanted us to buy one of his signs. For sheer cheek I thought ‘go  on, you can afford it’, so I bargained him down to $10 for the sign and then gave him another $10 for the photograph. There followed a long conversation about how he and his dad make the signs from old packing cases, how he’d already made $40 that day, and how any money he made would go to more power tools… and all just because he likes power tools.

Priceless… and if you look carefully you’ll see one of these signs has the mountain the wrong way round!

 

Foxton

How do you become a little town with some grand old buildings? You start as a medium-sized port at the centre of the flax trade, and then the river silts up. Mind you there is a windmill, which is quite unusual. Welcome to Foxton.

Napier

In 1931 the town of Napier was flattened by an earthquake, killing 258 people. When the town rebuilt (to much stricter building codes), the obvious style to use was 1930s concrete and Art Deco – with its emphasis on surface decoration it was fashionable, cheap and relatively safe.

As a result the town has a fantastic collection of buildings from the period, ranking second only to South Beach in Florida as an Art Deco city. They run a great programme of events to celebrate it all – look at the Art Deco Napier website for more.

 

Stonehenge Aotearoa

Stonehenge Aotearoa is an entirely serious attempt to teach astronomy and celestial timekeeping: it also explains some early Maori myth about the heavens, though in general it makes a point of debunking astrology. But best of all is Richard, the enthusistic astronomer who does the guided tour (his wife says he ‘looks like he’s measuring fish…’)

Here’s a link to the official Stonehenge Aotearoa website.

100 Victoria Embankment

I’ve cycled past this wonderful building many times and wondered what was there. Open House weekend 2008 provided the answer, after a fashion: it’s the headquarters of Unilever, makers of hundreds of household products including soap powder, washing up liquid, dishwasher tablets etc. And I guess they also do vast amounts of other stuff in the global chemicals industry, judging by their corporate structure (see below).

Slightly disappointingly, it turns out the classical front of the building is just a facade: behind it everything’s been reconstructed as a modern block. It’s certainly stunning…but it’s nevertheless still the usual atrium, glass lifts, corporate furniture, hot-desking and all the rest. Still, get over that and it’s a joy…and not everywhere has a garden on the roof!


100 Victoria Embankment


The traditional Entrance Hall


Behind this, it’s all modern corporate…


…yawn, yawn…nothing is actually made here…


On the roof there’s a brilliant garden…


…which produces unexpected views of St Paul’s


…the rest of the views are, of course, terrific