Sunday, 30 September 2018

Silver Spoons

I may not be able to travel too far myself right now, but it's given me the ideal opportunity to tell you about some of the wonderful people we have met on the road.  Today's blog is well overdue!  We met Tony Hamilton back at the start of the year.  He and his wife, Beth parked next to us for several days in their adorable gypsy style house truck.  Every morning, Tony would unload boxes and boxes onto a large table and would spend most of the day working with various pieces of machinery.  I didn't like to be too nosey, he was obviously busy but one of the boxes looked as though they contained spoons.  I couldn't imagine why anyone would want so many spoons, let alone living in a mobile home but I figured there must be a good reason!

When is a spoon not a spoon?  When it's in the hands of Tony Hamilton!

The following day we got talking, as we campers do, and after the usual sort of chat he said 'Ah well, I'd better get back to work.  I've got some bracelets to make'.  Instantly my curiosity was piqued.  'Bracelets? Ooh lovely!' I said.  'Come and have a look if you like', he said, leading me over to the table.  And I learned what the spoons were for.  Pretty much anything except to eat with!  Where most people see cutlery as something purely plain and functional, Tony sees countless opportunities to turn them into something precious and beautiful.

As Tony set about his work, he was kind enough to let Gareth and I watch.  Born in Christchurch and raised in Upper Hutt, he and Beth have been living on the road for 16 years.  Before then, the couple were mortgage free with no kids.  For some that may sound the perfect scenario, but Tony hated his job.  'Why were we slogging our guts out full time, for only three weeks off a year?  We knew it was time to change'.  That change came when they purchased their first house truck, back in 1995.  'It came up on Trade Me and we bought it unseen, apart from a mechanic check', Tony says of their leap of faith.  'We knew who built it and it was his third build, so we had a pretty good idea what we were getting'.

'The best advice we were given was that the first year would be the hardest, and it was', Tony said, remembering when they first started out.  'When your dream becomes a reality, you lose the dream.  You need some sort of plan, or every beach starts to look the same'.  Fortunately Beth and Tony had no shortage of skills between them and were soon able to find plenty of work to keep them busy and support their new lifestyle.

Silver cutlery makes ornate and surprisingly effective windchimes!

One of Tony's delightfully unique oil burners

Even the coat hooks have character!

Tony's first foray into silverware art and crafts was in 2004.  'I made six windchimes', he smiled at the memory.  'I took them along to markets but wasn't having much luck selling them, so I made more while I was sitting there to pass the time.  I ended up with 74!'  From there he started making oil burners, coat hooks, cell phone stands - you wouldn't believe what this guy can make out of silver spoons!  And then there is the jewellery.  It turns out that spoons really do make beautiful bracelets!  I loved looking at the huge array and began to see the ornate knives, forks and spoons I remembered as a little girl in a completely different way.  How I wish I had kept them!  They don't make them like that any more, I frowned, thinking of the bland, mass produced stuff from Kmart or The Warehouse we all tend to eat with these days.

Just some of the huge array of hand made rings

They don't make cutlery like this any more!  

'No two pieces of anything I make are the same', Tony told me.  'I come up with new ideas all the time.  You get to know what people want'.  Honestly, you have no idea how gorgeous jewellery made from cutlery can be, you have to see it to believe it.  But when you think about it, it makes perfect sense; after all, it is silver!  While we were talking, a lady came along to pick up a ring which had caught her eye and Tony was adjusting to fit her.  I asked to see more of the rings and was instantly charmed by an adorable ring made from a fork and shaped to look like a tiny elephant.  I'd never seen anything like it!  Needless to say, it was on my finger that afternoon and I haven't taken it off since.

Tony can make anything from pendants to bangles and rings to earrings

Every piece Tony makes undergoes a painstaking and careful process to restore the silver to its former beauty

'Do you do online orders, or have a website?' I asked.  'Nope, we only sell in person or at markets.  Summer is an incredibly busy time for us, travelling around the market circuit.  You get to know where people go on holiday and which are the best ones to go to'.  Indeed, that was how Beth and Tony came to be parked next to us, in preparation for one of Gore's biggest events of the year, the annual A & P Show.  In addition to Tony's amazing silverware skills, Beth also makes a staggering range of beautiful dreamcatchers.  What struck me most about this lovely couple however, was how incredibly content they are.  And how could they not be?  What nicer way is there to live than travelling around this wonderful country of ours, making beautiful things and bringing happiness to others?   It was a pleasure getting to know this lovely couple.  Hopefully one of these days our paths will cross again!

Look out for Beth's bright and beautiful dreamcatchers at a market near you!

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Parsley Day at Lake Monowai

Now we're back home and on the way to recovery, I need to back up the van a few weeks so I can tell you all about a lovely day out we recently had!  September 8th is Parsley Day, which is our affectionate term for the day Gareth and I met.  We wanted to do something nice, and the weather looked promising so we decided to pay a visit to Lake Monowai.  This beautiful place marks the gateway to Fiordland, coming from the Southern end but is more off the beaten track than its touristy counterparts, Te Anau and Manapouri.  

Am thoroughly enjoying being a passenger!

For new driver Gareth, it was going to be a great chance for him to experience a wide variety of roads and conditions, the first of which was fog.  Fortunately it wasn't long before the sun decided to make an appearance, by which time we were well on our way.  The only downside to Lake Monowai is that dogs aren't allowed there, so we softened the blow for poor Minnie by first taking her to one of her favourite places, Fraser's Beach at Manapouri.  I have to say, it's one of my favourite places too and Gareth always has quite a job trying to prise both Minnie and I away from there!

Minnie in her happy place

But there were new places to explore today and so we enjoyed a spot of lunch and then continued on.  For me, being a passenger is still quite a novelty and I really enjoyed looking at everything with fresh, new eyes along the way.  There had been a heavy snowfall the night before and there was plenty of snow on the mountains.  Eventually we turned off to Lake Monowai and proceeded along the next six kilometres of gravel road.  The further we went along, the more it felt as though we were really out in the middle of nowhere, there was nothing around for miles!  But at last we arrived and I was surprised to see not the usual tourists, but half a dozen boat trailers parked at the ramp.  Years before now, this had been a common sight for me in the North Island and I would have been in a boat just like them.  It made me realise how much my life had changed and how many more lakes I see these days, just for fun, to simply enjoy their beauty.  

The long, gravel road to Lake Monowai

There is heaps to do at Lake Monowai and indeed the whole Borland area.  You can explore it by boat, kayak, mountain bike or on foot.  The Borland Road provides access to trampers, hunters, mountain bikers and other recreational users of Fiordland National Park, passing through beech forest to the Borland Saddle and further on to the Grebe Valley and Lake Manapouri.  If you enjoy hiking, you're spoilt for choice, with options to suit everyone, from a 30 minute stroll to a full day tramp.  There are also plenty of places to camp, courtesy of several Department of Conservation huts, or the freedom camp at Lake Monowai itself.  On this day it was quiet but we have it on good authority from others who have stayed there that tourists are packed in like sardines in the summer!  While there are toilets there, making it suitable for both self contained and non-self contained vehicles, there is no water available for miles, so if planning to stay, make sure you've got plenty on board.

The Lake Monowai forest walk is so soft and fluffy!

You'll probably want to spend more than 30 minutes here!

While I would have loved to do the six-hour hike to Green Lake, my body was far from up to anything of the sort!  Besides, we had Minnie with us, so we had to keep the schedule simple and content ourselves with the 30 minute nature walk to the Lake Monowai lookout.  This gorgeous and well maintained track starts at the main carpark and while I had been looking forward to it, it was even better than we both expected.  You may remember me mentioning Lake Gunn before now.  It's one of our favourite places on the road to Milford Sound.  The forest walk at Lake Monowai put us very much in mind of that incredible place.  The bonus to Monowai however, is that you don't have to drive for hours on the Milford Road, crawling along like ants and shuffling for space among thousands of tourists.  Here, you get to enjoy all the amazing otherworld-liness the easy way!  Both Gareth and I were enchanted with the fairy-like forest, all soft spongy moss and winding trees and grottos and consequently spent closer to two hours there, rather than the estimated 30 minutes!

A peek at Lake Monowai from the boat ramp

No amount of photography can do this place justice!

Gareth doing his best to get close to the action!

Lake Monowai looks beautiful enough from the carpark and we were impressed enough with the view simply standing on the bridge next to the boat ramp.  However nothing could have prepared us for the view from the lookout.  You know that feeling when you just know that you're going to see something spectacular, but when you get there, you couldn't possibly have imagined just how much?  That.  As we emerged through the trees and on to the lakefront, we were both just gobsmacked.  Talk about ethereal.  Everything was completely silent, except for the gentle trickle of the water.  We climbed onto the rocks and just stood and looked at it for ages.  You can never see enough of a view like that.  Every time we do something like this, it makes me so very glad I changed my life!  You just can't put a price on this stuff.   Once upon a time the giant moa used to inhabit this very forest, and you can just imagine it looking around.  Indeed the area is rich in cultural history and was very important to the indigenous Māori, who frequented it on food gathering expeditions, hunting the poor old moa and kakapo and fishing for eels. Lake Monowai itself also powers one of the South Island's oldest hydroelectric stations, which opened in 1925.  We went to take a look before returning back to the car, stopping every now and then to chat to the friendly anglers returning back from a day's trout fishing in the sunshine.  

The hydro station is one of the country's oldest

By the time we got home it was well after dark.  We were both beyond wanting to cook dinner - besides, it was Parsley Day!  But there wasn't much open at that time of night, especially for a couple of picky vegans!  Fortunately we found a fish and chip shop still open.  '$10 chips?  Are you sure that's all you want?' the owner said at the other end of the phone.  'Yes, that's right!' I replied.  It was all we could have from the menu, and besides we were starving!  Years ago, $10 chips would have fed a kids' rugby team and $2 chips would have bought you a feast, but not any more.  We knew we were going to need more than a dozen fries each!  What we didn't know was that this takeaway was a family business, ran by people who knew what $10 chips used to look like.  As I handed over my $10 I was presented with two enormous paper wrapped parcels, enough to feed an army!  We didn't have a hope of being able to eat even half of them, and Gareth enjoyed another three feeds out of them over the next couple of days!  It made us smile to see such good old fashioned value.  All in all, it was a wonderful day.  I'm not sure how different Lake Monowai may be in the height of summer, but I have no desire to find out.  As far as we're concerned, it's perfect right now, just as it is.

We had a wonderful Parsley Day!