PC 88 Coromandel

Maybe you’ve heard this word before, this name, maybe you haven’t? But some words just ooze intrigue, spiciness, even, dare I say it, sexiness …….. and I think ‘Coromandel’ is one of these. If you ‘Google’ it you get lots of hits!

Geographically the land of the Chola dynasty in south-eastern India was called Cholamandalam in Tamil, which literally translated as ‘the realm of the Cholas people’ from which the Portuguese derived the name Coromandel. Nowadays the Coromandel Coast is recognised as the coastal region between the southern tip of India and the western side of the Bay of Bengal.

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As India was part of the British Empire until partition in 1947, it was inevitable that this evocative name would be used by its Royal Navy. In fact five ships carried the name HMS Coromandel. One of these ships arrived in Holdfast Bay in South Australia in 1837 with 156 English settlers. Maybe naval life didn’t really suit some of the sailors, as they fled inland, and made their home in a valley which became known as Coromandel Valley! Other minutiae about the name is that it’s been used to name one of the earliest Indian superfast trains – the Coromandel Express. And Chanel, the French perfumery, obviously think as I do about the sexiness of the name, as they have a scent called “Les Exclusifs de Chanel Coromandel” ……. ‘an inspired fragrance, a rich composition of Frankincense, Benzoin    and Patchouili’ ….. and ‘oriental-woody ……. enveloping notes of its amber vibrato before giving way to …..’ …. Whatever! Sounds like some of those descriptions of wine so beloved of wine snobs.

OK! So why have I launched into this PC about one word – Coromandel? Well, because, in addition to all of the above, an HMS Coromandel stopped in a harbour on a large peninsula to the east of Auckland on New Zealand’s North Island, in 1820, to purchase lengths of Kauri. Kauri is a tall tree with very dense wood, ideal for ship’s masts, and only grows north of 38 degrees S on the North Island. The name was adopted by both town and peninsula; and I started writing this on the Coromandel Peninsula, in a town with a population of 4500 called Whitianga. In the Maori language ‘wh’ is pronounced ‘f’, so it sounds like Fitianga; you could also get your tongue around Whangeri, Whangamata, Whakapapa (just say this one out loud for a laugh!) and so forth.

The Coromandel Peninsula extends 85kms north from the western end of the Bay of Plenty (another great name huh!) and forms a natural barrier from the Pacific for Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf. It’s quite mountainous, so the small population tend to live on the narrow coastal strip and some of the interior is virtually uninhabited. Originally settled in the 1960s by those wanting a somewhat alternative lifestyle (ie hippies!!) the Coromandel has become a magnet for seasonal tourists and more recently for those Aucklanders happy to commute the 2 hours or so  from New Zealand’s largest city.

I first came to New Zealand in 1986 on a business trip and at the time I had no inkling that my great great grandfather Henry Nation lay in a grave in the Parnell suburb of Auckland. It was another twenty years before I started to uncover my ancestor’s links with New Zealand and meet some of the distant relations. Despite having travelled extensively over both North and South islands, I had only seen photographs of The Coromandel ….. and wanted to visit it.

On a recommendation, we drove out to Optio Bay ……. and walked along the empty beach. A few beach houses, traditionally called batches but these more substantial and modern, hide behind the dunes.

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On the way back we stopped at Luke’s Kitchen for a rather late lunch. Around the corner a small café sold ice creams. It was clear that the size of the scoops reflected the enthusiasm the ladies who served us had for their own ice cream.
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Never one to duck a challenge, I ordered 2 scoops. The pile of ice cream must have been at least 12cms tall, dwarfing the little cone ……. and in the hot sun it  started melting as soon as one was outside. They could have doubled their profits by halving the quantity without anyone complaining – but where would the fun have been in that?

We had chosen to stay in some self-catering apartments in Whitianga – and a quick rifle through one of the drawers uncovered endless little colourful brochures for all the ‘normal’ attractions of a modern holiday destination …… glass bottomed boats, water-skiing, scuba diving, theme parks and hot pools, bush walks and eating ….. and drinking ……   but actually there is nothing nicer than finding a virtually deserted beach and walking barefoot along the water’s edge ……. particularly when  the sun on your back is warm!

New Zealand’s ‘Coromandel’ did not disappoint.

Richard 19th January 2017

PS Some rather quaint post boxes in the interior

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PC 87 Travelling is such joy!!

Flew out of UK on 4th January to Australia but before we flew, 10 days before, we had our trip to Portugal.

Lisbon 29th December 2016. We checked in our bags, showed our boarding passes, paper ones although we could have provided them on our iphones from our EasyJet app, and made our way into that peculiar area where, depending on the airport and/or the country you have to separate your lotions & potions, electronic gear (which seems to be more and more these days), take off your shoes/belt/jacket etc and walk through the x-ray machine, hoping it doesn’t ping and you have to start again ……. and then to get dressed, fill your pockets with this and that, check you still have your passport and boarding pass and move into the departure area.

They called the gate at the appropriate time and we joined the throng …. to have our passports inspected – again. Sadly the eye recognition software booths were not working so we had to face up to a civil servant. Aware that seasonal freezing fog had disrupted travel in the UK we didn’t really expect to get away easily ……. but we did board as if we would, although instead of getting the bus we walked the 200 m to where the EasyJet aircraft stood expectantly, with its attendant vehicles and chaps is high-vis jackets.

Seems to take forever, as there is always uncertainty of which seat was where and where could one put cabin luggage and as the plane was full there was no free room anywhere  …. we had chosen those seats with a little more leg room by the emergency exits ……. eventually we were all in and settled ….. expecting the doors to be closed with that satisfying thick ‘clunk’.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen this is Mike from the flight deck, your captain for this evening’s flight to London Gatwick. Since we gave instructions to board, we have been informed by air traffic control (you heart sinks as soon as he says these words) our take off slot will be 2115 (one and a half hours late!) ……. So I’m going to top up on fuel in case we have to divert from Gatwick. (Ed Note: Aircraft expecting to land at Gatwick the previous evening had been diverted to Manchester (240 miles – about 5 hours by road) – good when your car is at Gatwick.) “Sit back and ……” As if … but there is nothing to be done and slots have a habit of being adjusted so advisable to be ready to fly …..

The Captain again. We have got a slot for a take-off at 2110 so this will see us into Gatwick at 2300, a little later than scheduled but ….”

Over the Bay of Biscay. “Just getting our instructions from UK traffic control and it looks (audible groan from other passengers) like we’ll go into a holding pattern north of Brighton.”

Approaching Gatwick. “Ensure your seat belt is tightly fastened, your table stowed in the upright position, and let the cabin crew have any rubbish as they come through the cabin. We’re going to land using ATLS (Automated Take-off & Landing System) as visibility is extremely limited. So all electronic devices switched off please, not simply in ‘aircraft mode.”

Gatwick 2320. Safely down …..with visibility about 100 m; we taxy to a stand (Easyjet, being a budget airline, keeps costs down by not paying to be attached to a finger) ….. and we wait and we ….. wait.

Well it’s the captain again. Those of you on the port side of the airplane will see the buses lined up to take you to the terminal. Unfortunately we do not have any steps to attach to the aircraft. Please sit down and be assured we are trying to locate some.” (I thought at this point, as we were sitting next to the emergency exit, we could practise our drills …. pull out the door, down the slide and …….. – just a passing thought!!)

30 minutes go past …… like in some bad dream ….. this is not Easyjet’s problem this is the company running the airport.

You must be getting fed up with me. The good news first; they found some steps. The bad news is that they are covered in ice (the temperature outside was -3°C) and it’s too dangerous to use them …. until we can get them cleared and de-iced. Oh! And the luggage is being offloaded so you should find your bags waiting for you in Baggage Reclaim.”

Another 20 minutes go past….. it’s now 10 minutes past midnight.

At last the steps are safe and we descend into a very cold and foggy night, onto the bus. I saw some airport staff just chatting, seemingly not concerned about the appalling service being offered. We head for Passport Control and telephone the company who has looked after our car “be out in 10 minutes”. ……. Down to the baggage reclaim area. The passenger information board showing which carousel we should go to says: ‘wait’ and we wait

Another 15 minutes go past (you lose track and interest …. you just want to get home with your bags.

Eventually ‘No 2’ comes up, no rhyme or reason why our bags which went into the system together are so far apart (5 minutes!!) but then through customs, out into the chilly night where all the cars are covered by a heavy frost ……. Find the car, load the luggage and drive slowly, in the fog, home to Hove where, shielded by the South Downs and warmed by the sea, it’s a balmy 2°C.

0145 – Home ….. and never, ever has it felt so good ……  to be home!!

Richard 9th January 2017