Summertime, and the living was easy

11 January 2016
Ben Pentreath

So we got back safe and sound on Friday…. and it’s been a very quiet weekend. There’s no doubt it takes a little while for the brain to catch up with travel over such a long distance; that weird feeling of being so tired in the middle of the day, so awake in the middle of the night – (although if you’re an insomniac, like I have been from time to time – I suppose nothing feels more normal. Either way, I hope you’re not reading the blog in the small hours at 3am).  But looking back at the photographs feels all the more dreamlike just now – here in London, which has suddenly got cold and very wintry… I’m writing by the fire, and New Zealand, sunshine, long days – it all feels a very long way away.

We didn’t do masses or go too far – it was a trip all about visiting friends and family and it was heaven. We toyed with the idea of a trip up north and then thought why go near an airport if you don’t have to. So we moved slowly and saw a lot of places we’d already been. But I’ll also say it was heaven, just at the greyest time of the year, to be in the middle of summer – late evenings, early, early mornings; roses, sweet peas, dahlias, green leaves, abundant vegetable gardens. Bliss. Feeling the warmth, or maybe (this being New Zealand, I should say heat) of the sun on your face is a very good thing right now.

A lot of the trip was all about green. This was on a walk to the Sharplin Falls…

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Where, nearing the approach to the waterfall, the whole air is filled with a fine mist of water vapour:P1060263

Or a view of the farm, early one morning:

Another day, at the Christchurch botanical gardens…. The fern house, Charlie’s favourite. I think we’re going to be getting a few ferns in the garden in London sometime soon…P1060280

We were not sure about the giant Moa bird sculptures creeping around the place….P1060283

The Palm House is even more beautiful…P1060296 P1060299

The roses were perfect, P1060304

The hydrangeas even more so.P1060326 P1060331

We popped into the brilliant Christchurch Museum, where nothing has changed in decades of display – so rare these days to see unmessed-around-with 1970s museum exhibition design.  These are a few of my favourite exhibits:P1060344

P1060348We especially adored the dioramas in the bird galleryP1060358 P1060360 P1060365 P1060368

And luckily, just in case you weren’t quite sure where you were:P1060361

Downstairs is this fabulous room….P1060374 P1060378

It’s a brilliant place.  Here’s the front door:


We spent the night with our friends Laura and Andy in Lyttleton – badly damaged in the earthquake – now very much back on its feet and completely brilliant (as well as charming).  The Lyttleton Coffee Company on London Street has the best coffee we tasted anywhere and the best breakfast. P1060387 P1060389 P1060408 P1060409 P1060413

The following morning we went on a walk high over Lyttleton, which was beautiful. Back in Christchurch that afternoon, we called in to see the extremely kind blog followers Alison and Michael who work at the Christchurch Art Gallery – just reopened.  Alison had left this comment on a previous blog:

Another great London walk and pint or two on a Sunday afternoon the only way to go.Love the camel shot.
Now Ben and Charlie I have a suggestion you mentioned in your last blog that you are coming to New Zealand again so if you have time and are in Christchurh please visit the Art Gallery.We are about to reopen after being closed for five years as a result of the earthquakes.Make sure you ask for Alison or Michael we are both avid fans and would love to meet you.


The Gallery was wonderful to see, and it is so great for the city that it has at last re-opened its doors – tens of thousands of visitors have been flocking in since it opened just before Christmas. Time and again people said that it made them feel reconnected with their old Christchurch again. We were sad to miss the giant New Zealand landscapes gallery which opens next month – but the whole new display was buzzing.  Here’s Michael and Alison…P1060467

Such a kind welcome!

I’d quite like to get this giant neon sign made for down the wall of the office. It’s pretty much about true, whatever we have to read in the news every day:P1060468

Christchurch is filled with new construction. I suspect when we are next back it is going to feel dramatically different. I don’t know much about the city at all – but I’ve got to suspect that the trauma of the earthquakes will turn out to be the best thing that ever happened.  There is an energy about the place.

We went back to the Botanical Gardens, probably our favourite spot in the whole city, a couple of times – here is the giant herbaceous border glowing in the bright afternoon sunshine….P1060474 P1060476 and again in the soft light of dusk…
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The dahlia border was getting going. Charlie and I were dreaming of high summer in England. He’s sitting in bed next to me this morning ordering 1000s of seeds from the catalogues.P1060502

The Edwardian-esque rose garden:P1060506 P1060514 P1060516

The next day we headed over to the east coast to stay with our friends Forbes and Bridgie – Bridget who runs the incredible Land Gardeners that I have blogged about before.  Their house is basically perfect. We had such a happy time.P1060545 P1060549 P1060592

One night we went wallaby hunting, which started with a picnic in the most idyllic landscape you’ve ever seen. Of course it goes without saying I was much more interested in the landscape and the only shooting that I did was with my camera. Better for everyone that way.P1060612 P1060616 P1060625 P1060627 P1060640 P1060644 P1060662 P1060666 P1060675 P1060677 P1060702

It turned out I was a reasonable shot, but not perfect (my little lumix camera has an auto focus which was more interested in the grass than the wallaby):P1060706

Up there on the hills we were close to heaven:P1060709

Charlie’s birthday breakfast the following morning:P1060723

And then we were off to Kirsty and Simon at Glenbrook Station for 3 heavenly mad days with their crazy happy three young boys. P1060731

Kirsty is the most incredible gardener in the harshest of conditions (we had a frost the night we were staying, for instance):P1060738

This is her vegetable garden extension, surrounded by the dry landscape of the 2015 drought, and beautiful blue hills beyond. Simon farms thousands of sheep on these hills.P1060740 P1060743 P1060747 The following day it poured with rain all day long. This was a dream for the drought-parched land, and for the vegetable garden. The boys went a bit stir crazy locked inside all day.

But the following day was clear and blue. Simon gave us a tour of the farm:P1060755 P1060767 P1060770

And in the afternoon, Kirsty, Charlie and I went on a trip to Mount Cook.  This is Lake Pukaki, whose extraordinary blue waters are the result of glacier ice melt.P1060786 P1060794 P1060795

Mount Cook is the tallest mountain in New Zealand, and was the place that Sir Edmund Hillary trained for his ascent to Everest. The landscape as we got closer was breathtaking.P1060807 P1060811

We went for a walk up to the glacier. Completely stunning, and intensely memorable:P1060818 P1060820 P1060826 P1060833 P1060834

Mount Cook daisies:P1060837

And one of the last-flowering Mount Cook lilies, which would be spectacular a month earlier:P1060838Of course I loved seeing great banks of foxgloves everywhere too:
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The last of the dying rays of the sun on the great west face of the mountain was a spectacular sight.

The following day we were off, but not before being given a final tour of the garden by Ted and his rabbit:P1060863

We drove north through the great lupin fields that lie on either side of the road. I know that locals pretend to ignore the lupins and complain about their invasiveness but we could help but stop. Dream. The scent was intense. In another week or so they would have been completely over – we just caught them. Insanely beautiful and such a treat to see.P1060874 P1060877 P1060883 P1060885

Our trip was coming to an end. So much of our time in New Zealand is spent driving along long, incredibly straight roads, in complete isolation, with no other cars to be seen for miles. This landscape is entirely practical… shelter belts of trees, telegraph poles, remote farm buildings and silos, and the beautiful engineering of the great irrigation pivots that so dominate this agrarian landscape now. It has a strange, compelling, mesmeric beauty.  It clears the mind.P1060894 P1060911 P1060922It was a shock to leave this landscape behind and find ourselves, on Friday afternoon, stumbling, blinking our way out of Russell Square tube station on our way back from Heathrow. London was packed, hectic, wet and dirty. We’ve been easing our minds back home ever since, and these wide open roads, bright blue skies and the heat of the New Zealand summer seem a million and one miles away.

We’re missing it all – but it’s good to be home as well, and starting the New Year, full of excitement and expectation.

23 comments on this post


Amazing. Wonderful.


The Old Street at the Christchurch Museum is a travesty compared to the original. There the horse and cart sat on cobbles outside each store, inside finely dressed life sized ladies were glimpsed. As a child you raced across the little dark street in case it was about to run you over. The shops were filled with glorious textiles and wares of the nineteenth century. Life sized model shop assistants served at the counters. I KNEW they moved when out of eye sight. On the other side of the street were life sized time pieces of domestic life. Through the window you were drawn into some intimate past moment- the Cavalier leaning on the fire place chatting to his wife who sat sewing and the Victorian settler family around the cradle, with all in their night dresses, were my favourite. Now these clothes are on models in the fashion gallery. Static. I can only imagine that it was changed for changes sake. It would rank as a brilliant piece of narrative curation now. The sense of being there was as in the bird hall which, as you witness, remains magical. All gratitude to the strengthening that saved the museum building itself!

David Sanderssays:

Ben, it’s interesting to get an outside take on my home town of Christchurch, and indeed the province of Canterbury, as I come from a farming family.

The giant neon sign attached to the side of the Christchurch Art Gallery, certainly ruffled a few feathers though. Not least because of the spelling of “alright”. It may have something to do with the fact that this once very English, colonial city still holds on to some traditional values – as I do – so it’s “all right” for me.


Well, that settles it! As I have suspected for decades, I desperately NEED to go to New Zealand. Thank you for another wonderful post.


Ben – thanks so much – great to see my country through your eyes. Most of us who live here (and who have travelled a great deal) know how lucky we are to inhabit this place: its worth the very long trip to get here.


So glad you had such a wonderful time. Your photographs are so spectacular


Marvelous photos Ben. The mountain landscape is spectacular. I also heartily approve of the Moet at breakfast on Charlie’s birthday!!

Happy New Year to you both and happy anniversary.


Nicola Lawrencesays:

Exquisite photos. New Zealand looks so lush and beautiful and Mount Cook is incredible – and the lake – botanic gardens – family gardens. Peter’s father was looking at a Merino sheep place on the south island about 20 years or so ago but they expanded north west (Australia) instead, the landscape of which could not be more different from this incredible NZ one. Bridget’s home is beautiful – gently beautiful if that makes sense. Don’t shoot! Peter bought me a 410 with which to shoot snakes but i just watch them slither by…. Too scary as I think I will shoot someone or a dog in my anxiety. I fear guns. (What a mixed up comment I have made…. all in one paragraph). Kind regards, Nicola


Thank you so much for this gorgeous armchair holiday! So exciting to discover the nuances and really explore through your eyes, you have recreated it all for us so beautifully!

deby (in Canada)says:

everything IS going to be alright!!!! You bring such hope, zest for life and beauty to everything you share with us! Glad it was such a great trip…
Thanks and hugs


I may have died and gone to armchair heaven…..thank you

Sadly my NZ aunt passed away this time last year and so I will never get the chance to go and visit her in her adopted homeland, but her daughter, my first cousin, Anna Chrichton is a very successful satirical cartoonist, illustrator and ceramicist based in Titirangi, and it is my dream to visit her one day. You have revved up my enthusiasm to fever pitch now. Time to get some serious savings sorted to make it a reality. The parts of NZ you have shared here really do look very close to heaven for me! Thanks x


Was that car an Austin 1100/1300?!! Best, Nicola


Thoroughly enjoyed this, armchair tour indeed. Come visit me in Italy when you are somewhere in the region Milan – Turin – Genoa ? My view is also not bad at all.
Enjoy being back at work U2 !

Oh my gosh, those pastel blue hydrangea, those lupins! So beautiful.
Looks like you had an absolutely wonderful time, I hope the jetlag is not too cruel, nor the chill of Bloomsbury!


Wonderful blog as always Ben. Thanks to you New Zealand has gone from a country on the distant edges of my awareness to right at the top of places I would like to visit.


Wonderful photos, made me very homesick.


This brings back memories of a trip we made to the South Island over Christmas in 2006. The lupins were incredible then, although sadly the weather over the entire period we were there was disappointingly cold and damp (much like the winter we are having here) so few of the sights glowed with the same lush intensity of colour that you have captured in these wonderful photos. I’m pleased you had such a fabulous time.


Thanks for your eye-opening photos. Lupins… Who knew?


I am emigrating there…..or at least I was before this morning’s walk through snowdrops, hazels and everything that is home. Perfect to enjoy N.Z. through your eyes.
If you like old world museum’s try Quex Park in Birchington?

It’s five fifty on a cold morning here in Atlanta and this essay was wonderful to read over coffee – it made me very happy. What a beautiful place New Zealand looks to be and the acres of lupins on either side of the roads must have been terrific to see and smell. I do enjoy your blog.

Andrew Beansays:

Another fascinating blog with breathtakingly beautiful pictures. THANK YOU


HOW incredibly beautiful! Thank you for my armchair tour..

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