Timing Travel

an empty Upper Trafalgar Street, Nelson, holding my rain-soaked, mask-fogged glasses. I was assured that on a sunny day it would be chocka with people dining al fresco …

A recent trip to Sunny Nelson at the top of our island, Te Wai Pounamu South Island, to meet up with friends we haven’t seen for many years, was a bit of tremendous. Even though it rained throughout the whole three days we were there.

Oamaru corner of stone

It was a trip planned before lockdown so we breathed a sigh of relief when our part of the country went into Level Two, and the trip was again possible.

As we were getting together with friends we hadn’t seen for quite some years, some time travel was bound to be involved .

The weather started off sunny and bright. On the way, we stopped off to visit our granddaughter at her kindergarten – permission given. (However, her grandparents arriving unexpectedly and all masked up, may have thrown her somewhat.)

Lunch in Oamaru followed.

Travelling at Level Two necessitates getting into the groove of masks-on, masks-off, masks-on, masks-off. I’ve noticed that if we momentarily forget, there’s a universal ‘sign’ for, ‘Oops. Forgot. Mask.’ The hand floating to the mouth, the eyes apologetic, the general stance one of annoyed guilt before a quick dive back to the car.

taken from the car as we whizzed along the Canterbury Plains, the Southern Alps in the distance & this photo not doing them justice

Running all the way up the middle of the island, the spine of the Southern Alps. Always astonishing – especially with the occasional peak rocking a pompadour of snow.

saying ‘bye to the family’s pet – Piko

In the morning, after a night in Otautahi Christchurch discovering how our son, his wife and two kids do walkabout takeaways in Riccarton, it was off to Nelson, via Lewis Pass.

taking a coffee break along the way in Hanmer Springs, a town we’ve decided is well and truly resorted.

Farther along the road, at Springs Junction, it started to rain. Buller District-style. Moody. Here we met up with the other couple accompanying us to the ‘friends time travel reunion’. Out of the six of us, four of us first met as students fifty years ago. Do the maths. Or not. (Better not.)

The rest of the way we travelled in a two-car convoy (if indeed two cars qualify as a convoy?)


cottage where we stayed in Nelson. I took this photo the first sunny day we had – the day we left

We stayed in Gibson Cottage, a restored cottage dating back to 1843. The present owners spent three years restoring it from a tumbledown wreck with a ladder the only access to the house from the street.

A house with good bones (kauri floorboards for one) has a lot going for it. Help from the local council for the restoration? Nil. This the final line, the final say, the end sentence, on the well-stocked info. sheet informing guests on all that went into the process of this historical restoration. Surely of benefit to the city’s history? Surely worthy of some grant towards restoration costs? Oh well. The Thomsons should feel extra proud to have done it without assistance.

The house does have a tragic story. Around 1850, the Gibson’s eight-year-old daughter, Amelia, died of burns when her dress caught fire as she was placing a kettle of water over the open fire.

I thought about Amelia a lot.

this photo and the one below are from the Gibson Cottage website


Seeing old friends and being transported to times past, is a wee bit eerie. A bit bamboozle-y. (Especially with wine?)

It works best when you are able to freewheel back there while still standing with both feet firmly planted in the present; happy to have been there then, but also happy to be here now. And despite the inevitable youthful mistakes made, no regrets.

(Grey hair? What grey hair?)


The morning we left, the sun came out.

Time to head south and home.

Lunch in Havelock. A pretty, kind of secretive little town keeping itself to itself despite its keenness to attract the tourist dollar.

Then Blenheim a place we had trouble finding our way out of – surprising, given that I wasn’t the one doing the driving.

Away and over the Dashwood, a road I cannot travel without hearing Seals & Croft’s Summer Breeze (a personal memory hook). To the town on the corner – Seddon – where in 1974 I was a teacher at the school.

Here I am lording it from the remarkable Seddon war memorial. The sign above my head momentarily taking on another meaning, but we needn’t go there.

Then over a hill that – if my memory serves me right – the locals call the Lion’s Back, past the Lake Grassmere salt mines, along a bit of coastline, then Ward, which also has an impressive stone war memorial – so what’s with that? Neighbouring-town rivalry? Past a lot of vineyards – grapes replacing sheep since I was here last – alongside the coast, alongside the railway line, the railway line, the railway line, finally, there’s dear, broken Kaikoura. Evident, signs of 2016’s earthquake, and (hopefully) full recovery.

lobster / crayfish / kōura; near Kaikōura. (‘At that price, we’d better call it lobster.’)


We didn’t make it all the way to Christchurch, staying that night just north. Early the next morning we were in the city to watch our grandson’s game of football at Edmonds Park. Ensuing eyerolls from teenage granddaughter at the robust (okay, raucous) sideline support some of us may have engaged in.

Before the game, we strolled around the gardens where the Edmonds factory used stand – that austere building featured on every cover of Edmond’s Cookery Book.

Wikipedia info. on Edmond’s recipe book: It remains New Zealand’s fastest selling book with over 200,000 copies sold in one year.

Too right. After all these years, it’s still the first recipe book I reach for.

Edmonds Factory Gardens: full of quiet surprises of colour, ponds, gates, seats, patches of light, nooks, crannies, corners. And Spring.


Travelling in Level Two aint bad. You just have to remember your mask and to sign in everywhere – even at the toilet stops.

The next day, once home again – the beach.

I sat on a sand dune watching the rhythm of the breakers and the seagulls wave-diving. I reflected on the time away.

It was good to reunite with friends we have shared many good times and memories with. They are friends who will always remain dear – despite time and distance keeping us apart much of the time.

I thought about all the years that have rolled in and out. Like waves.


Writer from Dunedin, New Zealand.

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