Gold Skiers


It’s Monday morning on Mount Ruapehu. The weekend crowd of young folk and families has departed, and a new demographic has arrived. It’s those of the grey-hair, gold card, kid-free, care-free retirees.

Those of us who are lucky enough to have reached 65 years old, with knees that still work and a bit of spare cash, can escape for freedom on the snow fields. In fact, if you are 70+ years old and have your own skis, you don’t even need the cash. Your time and days on the mountain are unlimited…well, providing you stay healthy and active.  Ruapehu Alpine Lifts “gifted” this opportunity several years ago and since then the number of senior skiers has continued to rise. Steve Huish, Marketing Manager for RAL says, “At the moment we have 392 people aged 70+ and 1013 aged 60-69 with season or life passes. Not only that, 318 of the 70+ have already signed up for the 2019 Super super pass”. These figures don’t even touch on the number of senior day pass holders.

Now if you think this demographic is the kind that totter, waddle or snow-plough their way to the chairlift gates you are wrong. Most of these skiers have skiid for life and approach the start of the day like a racer ready for a Le Mons start. Calmly clutching helmets and queuing for the First Lifts option they are as keen as anyone to make the most of a mountain day. And, to be fair, the better equipment, well-groomed runs and faster chairlifts have made the sport much easier than when we were younger.

While family groups round up stray children and juggle home-made sandwiches and thermos the super pass skiers seem to know just the right balance between the number of runs and the number of flat whites to have at the mountain top cafes. It’s a vastly different ski experience to the years spent paying for the privilege of taking children skiing, dealing with them screaming prostrate in the snow and pole-towing them to the chairlift. But we were younger then and it was all part of the ‘fun’. On a perfect day it’s hard not to stop atop a peak and take a selfie to post to family on Facebook, a wee reminder of the good old days and confirmation that we are at least, still standing.

Like all sports, a reasonable level of fitness is required and age-related issues such as maintaining balance, flexibility and loss of muscle mass can result in an increased risk of injury. But older skiers tend to take fewer risks and recognize when their body is becoming fatigued, the time when most injuries occur as we brace for one more run before relaxing with a mulled-wine. We know, that an injury at this age will mean a longer recovery time so carefully balance the excitement of skiing with the sensibilities of not over-exerting ourselves. So, what better way to pace yourself than waddle back to the campervan, one of many which are parked on the ski fields, for a wee nana-nap.

At Turoa there is a noticeably high number of campervans parked. Not the small Wicked or Juicy vans, but rather the larger, home-away from home models., another indication of the number of seniors on the slopes. And why not? There is nothing more satisfying than making those first runs early in the morning then popping back into the campervan, taking the boots off and diving under the duvet for a bit of a rest while fortifying oneself for another couple of runs when the crowds have thinned.

In our golden years with it seems only right to make the most of the opportunities available. It’s the end of spring and time to get in quick for those cheap passes for the 2019 season. If you’re 70+ don’t forget to register.

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A Smashing Time

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gabriel-matula-300398-unsplashIt had been one of those weeks. The hot flushes were swooping in with monotonous regularity, I was irritable, angry and the entire family, including the dog were giving me a wide birth. Desperate, I sought help from my doctor, “You need to give me something before I kill someone.” I pleaded. He smiled the sort of smile that indicated he had no idea how I was feeling. “I’m sure you’re not that desperate,” he said with a patronizing laugh. He was wrong, and as I sat in his tiny, overheated office I wondered who this angry woman was.

I left the clinic with the obligatory white slip offering a bit of chemical release but, I knew there had to be another way to relieve the tension I was feeling. That’s when I saw the sign for the “Aggression Session”. My prayers had just have been answered.
All it took was a phone call and I was feeling better already. “Dig This Invercargill” was going to be my saviour even if only temporary.

The friendly voice on the phone advised me not to drink any alcohol as a breath test was mandatory. It was a big call feeling the way I did, but deep down I suspected the red wine may even have been stimulating my flushes.

“Dig This” is in effect a giant gravel pit, New Zealand’s only heavy equipment playground where visitors can operate bulldozers, diggers and skid steers, smash a car or truck and leave with a sense of empowerment and in my case a little less anger.

“I’m ready for this” I told my instructor, Geoff Shepherd, as I started striding ahead to the biggest most destructive machine I could see. “Now hold on little lady” he said. My hackles raised. The sudden ignition of anger had become one of the hardest thing to cope with during this menopausal madness.

“We’ve got a quick Health and Safety talk and some training before we let you loose on the monster,” he said. I was keen, so took note of the quote on the wall “You’ve got two ears and one mouth and should use them in that proportion” and kept quiet and listened. Briefing concluded it was time for some action.

First challenge was getting into the digger. The steps were high and my legs are short. “Step here, here and here. Three points of contact at all time,” he said as I struggled up. I’m sure he probably wanted to give my big bottom a hoist but he waited patiently as I climbed and got myself sorted. Feeling slightly heady and overpowered by it I was finally belted in with headphones on and ready for digger control 101.

“Right hand back, out and in, push forward, push out, pull in to leg. Push out closes the elbow, do this and it spins left, do this and it spins right. This is the brake. Push these two levers forward and the tracks move. Easy.” Geoff’s disengaged voice floated through my head.
“Arm, elbow, bucket, I repeat, got it. Not!”
“In the event of an emergency just take your hands off the machine and the kill switch takes over. Remember, Keep breathing.”

As he gently coaxed me, the giant digger rose on back tracks into a mechanical kind of handstand and spun around on its axis. At this stage I had grave concerns that my squealing was exceeding the decibel limits for Geoff’s headphones. I raised my hands. Everything froze. I was tilted back like in a dentist chair and my head was spinning.

“Relax,” he told me. “Apart from your vocals you’ve got it sussed.” Second challenge was to dig a hole. A deep hole. A very deep hole. And as I dug it I thought of what I’d like to bury in it. My angst, anger, frustrations, baggage. Lots of old baggage. This therapy was really working.

“You’ve done well. Time for the Aggression Session,” Geoff said guiding me out of the machine and leading me towards a much bigger digger which sat beside an old car. My aggression had lessened and slowly been replaced with a sense of euphoria.
A surrounding wall was covered in graffiti, “anger, tax, rent, mortgage, wanker”. “Do you want to spray paint anyone’s name on the car before you crush it?” he says with a laugh. “Ex-husband? Mother in law?” The doctor runs through my mind but I know I was just being irrational.

I revel in my new skill base, raising the shovel as high as I can then releasing it fast and hard, plunging it onto the chassis. An overwhelming sense of power takes over and I’m raising and dropping that shovel at double speed. The more it crushes, the happier I am. How flat can a car get? Very! When it was completely flattened I switched off the motor, climbed down, and stood like a conqueror on the crushed remains.

Would the release I felt last? Probably not. But for a short time at least I could feel the old me return, a strong, powerful, woman in control of her life and destiny.


Not Holland but Otahuhu


“Auntie…I need a coffee, can I have a coffee?”
“Not long now. Just stay in your cubical.”
“Auntie…I’m going for a smoke.”
“No. Wait. Stay here, we’re just organizing x-rays.”
An orderly arrives but it is too late. The patient has disappeared.

From calls of “Nurse, I’ve got stinky feet. Can I use a shower?” to abusive patients being pushed around by a swarm of family, the activity in the A&E department of Middlemore Hospital never stops. It is like being in the middle of a reality TV programme.

This is not where we were supposed to be. We were suppose to be in Holland, tiptoeing through the tulips at the Keukenhof, drinking coffee and appeltart at sidewalk café’s, joining family for a fun reunion followed by a month of climbing and kayaking in the Norwegian Fjords.

Instead, Dirk’s knee became painful, swollen, unbearable the night before our flight. We spent three ten-hour days in the A&E, during which time we saw two cars full of armed police arrive, (a scary sight at 6am) an obnoxious, abusive visitor being taken away by security, calls for security to remove others, and had a visit by a senior hospital staff member to see if those of us (and there were lots!) were okay after the aggressive disturbances.

Finally, on the fourth day, back in the hotel room which we were extending day by day in the hope of a miracle, we got a call for Dirk to go back to hospital and be admitted. A diagnosis, an operation and now on Day Six things are looking better.

I have nothing but admiration for the staff at Middlemore hospital. Such kindness and patience during days of the junior doctor strikes, an unappreciative public and the daily threats of violence is unbelievable. I am full of respect and gratitude.

Back at the hotel I am greeted like a long lost friend. Perhaps they see dollar signs when I walk towards the counter every day or maybe they are just very friendly. I have become one of Uber’s biggest supporters, booking two rides or more a day. The drivers have all been immigrants, living in New Zealand for less than six years, holding down two jobs and always, always praising our country. I’ve never felt safer.

It looks like the tulips and cheeses will have to wait. For the next few days I will continue my holiday in Otahuhu, Auckland.

The writer of this blog has not been sponsored by Uber, the hotel or the hospital however the insurance company will sure as heck be called upon!
Happy Holiday to those of you who have made it onto your flights.


We should be drinking Dutch coffee and eating Appletaart.

20190503_174633Instead we were holidaying in Otahuhu and staying at Middlemore Hospital.



The campervan squeezes along the narrow streets. We suck in our breath and pray that nothing comes the other way. I’m grateful that our friends discovered Blokzijl in the northern Netherlands by canal boat and told us about it, otherwise we would never have found it.

Now we sit in an old café. The owner seems as old as the building. He creeps in the darkness amidst tables set with candles and surrounded by art work in the style of the Dutch Masters. The rain and gloom is fitting with the atmosphere but somehow adds to the experience of visiting this medieval fortress built in the 1600’s. We are the only patrons.
Outside the rain quietly fills the gaps in the cobblestones spraying afar as red cape-clad cyclists pedal passed. They stop momentarily and peer in the window. No doubt we do not make a suitable display and they pedal on in the rain. Barry Manilow sings on the radio in contrast to what I see and feel.
As I finish my coffee and yet another slice of Dutch appeltaart the music changes, the radio now plays “You can be a Champion” transporting me back to Vanuatu where Facebook reminds me that I was two years ago. The song was sung loudly and enthusiastically by my Grade Six class as they graduated from primary school, many of them departing to boarding schools in more developed countries. How life changes, so quickly, and yet Blokzijl reminds me that in reality, some things never change, they just wear the markings of time.


Ski Soar


I’m sitting in the café at the top of the Bergisel ski jump in Austria, site of the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics. It’s a nauseating height. The kind that even spectacular panoramic views can’t help you ignore. I feel as if the collective nerves and adrenalin of the hundreds of competitors who have launched themselves into record books have gathered in my stomach.
I order a strong espresso but it only seems to heighten the nausea, so, I order an apple Strudel in an attempt to take my mind off the scenery and onto my stomach.

Then I saw it. The reason I was so nervous. A young Austrian jumper, on the slope, preparing to jump. Perhaps I had been channeling his nerves?
Heart racing, perspiration pouring down, a quick prayer as the seconds ticked by….and that was just me! In contrast, this athlete appeared as cool as an Austrian snowflake. His lithe body bends, clips onto the two ski rails , adjusted his vest and soars.

Skis crossed, sky high and then a graceful landing down the artificial grass slope. A terrain watered and tendered like a prize cricket pitch. Visons of Eddie the Eagle flashed through my mind. I was in awe.
Thinking how lucky I was to witness this in the height of summer I make my way slowly step by step, slope by slope….down the path. Suddenly the jumper runs passed me, back to the cable car, back to the top. Unlike me, he didn’t need to stop for coffee and cake at the café. I rushed to the bottom to get a shot from below. A group of Indian tourists were gathered on the teared seating getting an informative brief from an English speaking, Austrian coach. I stop, and listen in. Discretely of course.
Huge sprinklers spray water droplets into the sky creating rainbows and sparkles like thousands of Swarovski crystals.

As soon as they stop, a tiny speck appears at the top of the jump then soars through the sky. The crowd applauds and break into a clacker of disbelief. The smiling ski-jumper takes time to approach the group, pause for a few quick photos, then its “auf wiedersehen” and back to the top. Me, well, I head down to the next coffee shop. All that exercise and energy has made me exhausted.


Freewheeling in Holland



“Look out for the bikes” my friends warned as I left for Holland, little did they know that I was the real danger, not the Dutch! Fortunately for me other cyclists were tolerant when I erred to the wrong side of the path and cars had no option other to avoid me. In Holland, bikes rule.
The Dutch and their long term love affair with cycling has been long known but I had not anticipated the depth of use. Within days of arriving we had seen every make, model and adaptation possible; singles, tandems, trikes and tandem trikes. Babies on the front, babies on the back, mothers with babies on the front AND on the back. Dogs in baskets, flowers in baskets and flowers around baskets. Paniers and carriers carrying cargo, bikes towing trailers, pushing trailers and carrying kids in trailers. Electric powered or pedal-powered you cannot miss them. They are an intrigal part of the Dutch way of life. For leisure, pleasure, transport and sport, every age, size and shape are pedaling their way somewhere.
To cater for the masses the government has constructed more than 32,000 kilometers of bike tracks. They run alongside but separated from main roads or as cleverly signposted routes. Amsterdam alone has more bikes than citizens (population 811,000). More than 800,000 bikes are stolen in Holland every year so we are careful to lock them rather than loose them.
The bike is more than a mode of transport, it is a way of life and the trails, tracks and roads are built to accommodate them, even having bike traffic lights on some pathways.
My Dutch partner Dirk, comes from the east, a predominantly rural area. Perfectly grassed fields are carefully mowed and the grass fed to cows housed in long cow sheds. This is the farmer’s way of maximizing grass growth in a country with little spare arable land, and in keeping with the tradition of keeping the cows inside, especially during the long harsh winters. Large thatched farmhouses beside the sheds make the area one of “chocolate box” images.
A short distance away is the Veluwe National Park. An area perfect for trying out our new bikes. The riding is easy, choosing a route was difficult. Do we follow the orange signs for the Royal Route, sunflowers for artistic inspiration, clogs for farmland ? Or do we follow the river some distance, crossing the John Frost Bridge also known as The Bridge too Far and passing airborne landing sites where thousands of paratroopers dropped from the sky in September 1944? The myriads of routes are numbered with a system which also allows you to create your own itinerary taking in watermills in the Veluwezoom region, a Taste of Van Gogh at various cafes and historic Hanseatic architecture. We choose to “pick and mix” making sure we have lots of coffee and apple cake (a Dutch favourite) on the way.
If this all sounds a bit sedate cyclists can ride more difficult trails, following three of the stages of the 2016 Giro Italia or go mountain biking, although bear in mind that with a country one metre below sea level the hills are not what we would experience in New Zealand.
One of the best things is….NO helmets! This is a country where bikes rule and cars giving way to cyclists. So, dangers aside, I was soon freewheeling passed heathlands, marshlands, woodlands, farmlands, and sampling enough Dutch product along the way to make me a roly poly cheese look-a-like! Hopefully all the cycling will counteract the calories. And, if I have a few speed wobbles…so be it.


Deventer, Every Reason to Head East


A piece of medieval history on the shores of the meandering Ijssel River, Deventer is recognized as one of the oldest towns in the Netherlands. Its ancient fairs drew merchants from throughout Europe. The fair theme still seems to continue as huge carnival structures are erected beside 500 year old cathedrals for a holiday weekend. We meander through small cobblestoned streets, some with boutique clothing and art, others with layers of cheeses, the pungent smells causing me to linger outside until beckoned in by the Cheesemaker for a taste of his wares.
I refrain from taking more photos of the pots of red and pink geraniums, climbing roses and other flowers which decorate the tables of restaurants who vie for business by showcasing artistically prepared table settings, tempting customers as they head for home.
Church spires dominate the skyline, bells ringing out every 15 minutes. A deep resonating sound, wonderful to hear. Directly across the river is a campervan park, (€15) large green spaces, peaceful (until the church bells ring) and super convenient. We set up camp and then catch the ferry (€1.50 return) back into town. The ferry-man seems suitably bored after a day of ferrying people back and forth on the five minute journey.
Deventer is not unique in it’s history and architecturally significant buildings, the riverside settlement of Elbert, rural Almon, and other Hanseatic villages make the extraordinary seem ordinary. The Lonely Planet guide to Western Europe dedicates one sentence to this beautiful place suggesting Deventer as a side trip. Personally, Deventer, along with most of the west side of Holland, has been a highlight.


Caption: Boats at rest, Elburg