Watch “MURIWAI! ☆ Gannet Colony ☆ Surf Beach ☆ Auckland, New Zealand” on YouTube

Recently went home to New Zealand and managed to spend a couple of hours at Muriwai beach before heading to the airport.

Incredible West Coast surf beach with black sand and a gannet colony… check it out.

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ANZAC on the Western Front – the pilgrimage that changed my life

ANZAC Day often takes on a new significance for Aussies and Kiwis living in Europe, and for many, the time will arrive when the decision is made make a pilgrimage to Gallipoli.

Last year, I decided that for me, this would be the year.

ImageCaterpillar Valley Cemetery. Image copyright Charlotte Everett.

An unexpected turn of events came about, when – before I’d even had a chance to look at Gallipoli tour options – a friend happened to mention to me that she and her husband were going to spend ANZAC on the Western Front instead. The Western Front? I had to confess, I knew very little about it. I thought it was a bit odd that a Kiwi couple would choose to go there over Gallipoli. My friend explained: “Gallipoli was amazing. But from what I’ve heard, the Western Front is mind-blowing. It’s something else entirely.”

Curious, I decided to look into it. One thing that had stopped me attending the Gallipoli ANZAC services in the past was concern that the crowds would affect the overall experience for me. First Festival Travel were offering a Western Front tour that promised a sombre and unique experience away from such large crowds. I was also surprised and rather disappointed in myself to discover that I knew so little about the Western Front – the most heavily fought area of WW1. In just one day of battle on the Western Front, the number of ANZACs that died is equal to the number that died during the entire Gallipoli Campaign.

Having mentioned in cyberspace that I was thinking about doing the Western Front tour, a few other friends came forward to say that they’d been on the same tour in previous years. One was insistent that I do the tour. She was convinced that this was a trip that would change my life.

From the moment I booked the tour, my journey began.

First Festival staff encouraged investigating whether we had any family who had fought or died on the Western Front. When I mentioned to my 90-year-old grandmother over the phone that I had booked the tour, she was overcome with emotion. Her father (my great-grandfather), Peter Gill, had served almost 4 years on the Western Front with the NZ Expeditionary Force, as a horse-drawn field ambulance driver. He had survived, but from his wartime diary (which astonishingly my grandmother still had) it was clear from the horror he witnessed and experienced that he got to the point where he thought he would never make it home. My uncle transcribed his diary, and emailed it to me. It was a heart-wrenching read. Along with photos of both my great-grandfather during the war – and photos of the cup he had been awarded by Major-General Sir AHR Russell KCMG for having the best ambulance horse – I was already getting a deep sense of the significance of the Western Front.

Image My Great-Grandfather, Peter Gill.

Having booked the tour before knowing that it had any personal significance for me or my family, I was feeling incredibly grateful to now have a personal history to unravel. I certainly wasn’t expecting to then find anything more – but there was still the paternal side of my family to investigate.  I casually asked my Dad about the Western Front, not expecting any life-shattering discovery. He told me that his father’s eldest brother Bob had been a heavy gunner on the Western Front and had survived, but that was all he knew.  My own investigations kept running into dead ends. Until  a few days before my departure, when an English cousin recalled something his grandmother had mentioned to him almost 50 years ago. Bob wasn’t my grandfather’s eldest brother – he was my grandfather’s eldest SURVIVING brother. Granddad’s eldest brother, Jack, had been killed on the Western Front in WW1. Granddad had seemingly never mentioned him. Family in New Zealand weren’t even aware that Jack had existed. And as neither Jack nor Bob had any children, if this discovery had not been made now, their stories could have been lost forever. I was to be the first member of the family to visit the Western Front since the First World War. And I was determined to find Jack and pay my respects.

Upon arrival in Lille on the morning of 24 April, we boarded our coach to journey through the battlefields of the Somme region with our local guide, Mike. Mike took us through and to several major sites of importance for both Australians and New Zealanders; including Villers-Bretonneux, Lochnagar Crater, and Caterpillar Valley – where many NZ soldiers are buried. Mike was also able to shed some light on where some of the places were where my great-grandfather had been, so I was able to get a sense of standing very close to his own footsteps. Given that the countryside has changed so little, it was remarkable to look out over the fields and consider how different it would have been for my great-grandfather and his ANZAC comrades as they journeyed through these areas.

Mike also shared his own father’s recollections of life on the Western Front during WWI:

“I was cold. I was wet. I was hungry. I was thirsty. And I was frightened… And the German soldiers were feeling the exactly the same as I was, on the days that I was.”

Having checked into our accommodation in Ypres that evening, many of us headed down to the Menin Gate Memorial (to the missing) – the only place in the world where that Last Post Ceremony takes place every day of the year, at 8pm. It was incredibly overwhelming. The memorial itself is of staggering scale (think of other great arches you’ve seen around Europe); covered in names – and not all of the missing are named here. In fact, no New Zealanders are named here, as the decision was made for NZ soldiers to be remembered closer to where they fought and fell.

ANZAC Day, we attended the Dawn Service at Buttes New British Cemetery, Polygon Wood. Here, I was to lay a family wreath on behalf of my grandmother. We were led by candlelight through the woods, to a clearing in the cemetery, where the intimate ceremony took place. It was unlike any ANZAC service I had ever attended. Following the service, we were all invited to come and collect little crosses and place them on the graves of fallen ANZACs. It was then off to breakfast with the Australian and NZ consulates and dignitaries, before we spilt into separate Australian and NZ groups to attend our own services and events, coming together again to join the march through Ypres to the combined ANZAC service and Menin Gate.

In the afternoon, something very special was to happen from a personal perspective. Our local historian, an Otago boy – Martin, offered to take a couple of us out to pay our respects to our own. I was taken to the Ploegsteert Memorial to the Missing, where my great-uncle Jack was named. I had been sad to discover from a friend who had done a bit of research into Jack for me, that he had no known grave, but grateful to have the opportunity to visit Ploegsteert, and place a little memorial cross for him on behalf of the family. When I saw his name, I broke down. I was so sad for Jack, and for my family. Yet I left Ploegsteert with a sense of peace and closure having been able to pay tribute to his memory.

Image Visiting the Ploegsteert Memorial.

The next day was spent walking through the Messines area for a few hours, in the footsteps of the Kiwi soldiers – lead by our wonderful guide, Martin. The weather was horrendous, yet I doubt any of us would have wanted it any other way. We paid our respects to an unknown Kiwi soldier who had only been found and re-buried late last year. We then visited Tyne Cot – the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world – the scale of which was unimaginable. We also visited a German cemetery, which contrasted sharply with the look and style of the Commonwealth cemeteries.

The final visit for the day was to Essex Farm, famous for John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields”. This cemetery was one that really got hold of me emotionally. Here, there is a grave belonging to a 15-year-old Irish boy – the second youngest of the fallen, that we know of. His family only found out he had enlisted when they were informed of his death. At Essex Farm there is also a Dressing Station, which gave me a deep sense of my great-grandfather and the sheer horror that his day-to-day life on the Western Front entailed.

Image My Great-Grandfather Peter Gill is standing between the two horses. His ambulance horse is the darker of the two.

Although almost a year has now passed, my experience on the Western Front is still sticking closely with me. I am still struggling to process it all. I feel immense gratitude to the people of France and Belgium, for the respect they continue to show to our fallen – not only in the way they care for our memorials and cemeteries, but also in their capacity to show friendship and compassion towards us, and in embracing our heritage – several towns, museums (and even a school!) are dedicated to all things New Zealand; all things Australia. Above all, I have left the Western Front with profound appreciation for life and humanity.

The Western Front has a lesson for all of us. If we choose to listen, we can greatly impact our future.

This article is adapted from my original article featured on NZNewsUK. First Festival Travel are very generously offering readers a discount on their Budget Coach Package for the same tour this year. Please contact me via email or via the NZNewsUK Facebook page for your discount code.

How to survive the long-haul nightmare

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I’ve just gotten back to New Zealand after another 25 hours spent on an aircraft. A few people have questioned why I’ve come back so soon, given that I was only here in February. Well, this will be my first Christmas at home in 5 years – there’s something extra-special about being here for that experience, and I’ve been unable to travel at this time of year for the past few years for a variety of reasons. Plus, my grandmother is turning 91 in January, so the chance to be here for Christmas was too important to let pass…

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My grandmother on her 90th birthday in January. Photo by Jackson Andrews.

But I have to admit, the thought of 25 hours on a plane again so soon didn’t exactly have me jumping for joy. This is a trip I try to do at least once every 18 months (once a year if possible!) – and it does get a little easier each time. There are a variety of factors though that determine how well I cope with the journey, and the after-effects – including jet lag. So since a few people have asked, I thought this would be a good time to share my tips for the most pleasant long-haul experience possible. But first, let me shatter a couple of myths for you…

Myth 1: “You’ll be jetlagged for at least a week unless you do a stopover.”

Now don’t get me wrong. I’d love to break up my journey with a 2-3 day stopover in LA, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Singapore or Bangkok. But these things cost money, and I quite simply don’t have the luxury of either the time or the finances (yet) to take a break between legs. Yes, it is true that the longer you’re on the ground between flights, the less jetlagged you’re likely to get. And when I first started doing long-haul, I was often jetlagged for a good few days. But this hasn’t happened for years. Plenty of people travel smart non-stop, and even go back to the office the next (or even the same) day that they’ve completed their long-haul travel.

But if you are going to do a stopover, I recommend you do it on your way to the colder climate/season. Plenty of people (myself included) have remarked on how they’re less likely to suffer jetlag upon arrival in a warm and sunny climate, whereas travelling from the heat to a dark snowy winter often equals post-travel suffering.

Myth 2: “You’re less likely to get jetlag or other side effects of long-haul travel if you travel Premium Economy or Business Class.”

This simply is not true. I’ve had the good fortune of being upgraded a couple of times – but this had no effect whatsoever on jetlag, or even how I slept on the plane. Yes, you’ll have more space and be more comfortable – but that’s about it.

Right. So, myth-shattering accomplished, here are my tips for the most pleasant non-stop trip possible…

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1.) Book night flights

Where possible, try to book flights with either an evening or late-night departure time, as it’s less likely to mess with your sleep patterns. As most people usually take a few hours to wind-down into a flight (after being fed and watching a movie) a late-afternoon departure would also be acceptable. I was fortunate enough to have both legs of my journey at night on this occasion: departing London at 8.40pm, and Hong Kong at 7.20pm.

2.) Wear comfortable clothes in-flight

Avoid jeans and tight clothing that will restrict you from getting totally relaxed in your seat.

3.) Pack your cabin bag with long-haul essentials

An unsung hero of comfortable journeys is the humble cabin bag. A lot of people just seem take what would usually be the contents of their handbag and a book, and stuff it into the overhead locker or under the seat in front of them, only to remain untouched for most of the journey. But here are a few things that I always have in my cabin bag, to ensure maximum comfort throughout the journey…

Neck pillow – thankfully, a lot of people these days are starting to embrace the traveller’s neck pillow. Yes, airlines include a pillow and blanket on your seat, but neck pillows are far better designed for in-flight travel (especially for travelling Economy). My comfort during travel changed dramatically with the purcahse of this inexpensive item.

Poncho (or loose jumper) – this one may seem a bit strange, but is an essential for me. I always get cold in-flight, even with the blanket – and a poncho is more comfortable for sleeping than sleeping in a jacket.

Socks – your feet swell in-flight, so I always take my shoes off once I’m in my seat and cover my feet in big warm socks.

Eye mask and ear plugs – the lights aren’t always dimmed, and there are other distractions that may disturb your sleep or wake you up – such as people moving about, the passenger next to you putting their reading light on, coughing and babies crying. I barely manage to get a lot of sleep on long-haul flights anyway, but do get significantly more now that I use an eye-mask particularly.

Deodorant, wipes, toothbrush and toiletries – I rarely freshen up in-flight, but I always make a point of doing so between flights. After the first leg, my first stop is always the ladies bathroom so that I can brush my teeth and freshen up. Unless you’re fortunate enough to be a member of a business lounge, most airports do not have public shower facilities – and after one long-haul flight, you really already need one. I usually go into a cubicle, get undressed, and wipe myself down with body-fresh wipes. You can even buy specific travel ones for an “instant shower”, but I find that the regular body or facial wipes are fine. Then some deodorant, and change into some fresh clothes. This really does make all the difference in my opinion. The tap water in the bathrooms at most airports is safe for drinking (or labelled otherwise), so perfectly fine for washing your face and cleaning your teeth. Just remember the 100mL limit for liquids in cabin baggage on flights – so be sure to take travel-size or check the volumes of any cosmetics before packing them in to your cabin bag. I rarely wear any make-up on long-haul flights – the air inside the cabin will dry your skin out, so pack a good moisturiser to apply to your face several times during travel.

Change of clothes and underwear – as mentioned above, freshening up and changing into some fresh clothes between flights makes a world of difference. If space/weight allows, I sometimes take a third set as well for changing into before arriving at my final destination.

4.) Drinking

It is really important to stay hydrated in-flight – so do drink plenty of water. To save getting up all the time or having it brought to you by the cabin crew, it might be a good idea to take an empty drink bottle onto the plane for them to fill up for you.

I’ve been told to avoid alcohol if I want to avoid jetlag, but personally I’ve found that having a couple of drinks in-flight is the only thing that will settle me and get me to sleep. Just don’t go crazy – a jetlag hangover is far worse than a standard one.

5.) Eating

Eating light long-haul is key, though you don’t want to starve. Make an effort to eat the in-flight meals and ask for snacks if neccessary, but avoid eating a large meal at the airport between flights – your body has enough to cope with long-haul already.

6.) Get active

Your blood circulation slows down and sometimes struggles in-flight, so it’s important not to stay seated for hours on end. Every 1-2 hours try some exercises such as rolling your shoulders, ankle circles, arm curls etc – and get up and walk around the cabin when possible. I usually go near an emergency exit to do some stretches. For long-haul, I always book an aisle seat regardless of where I’m going, so that I can get up regularly without having to worry about climbing over sleeping passengers and their tray tables.

7. Be mindful of getting some rest

As tempting as the in-flight film selection may be, it is important to at least try to get some rest. I limit myself to two films before putting my eye mask on and just relaxing, even if I can’t sleep. Then I’ll watch something else in the last 2-3 hours of the flight. Try to rest during the designated time that the cabin lights are dimmed – once they’re up again, the crew will be making a heap of noise with the breakfast service and other things.

8.) Take some anti-jetlag pills

“No-Jet-Lag” is the only product I’m familiar with – and unfortunately, I’ve only ever seen it in New Zealand. But it can probably be purchased online. It’s an inexpensive homeopathic product designed specifically for long-haul travel.

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9.) Between flights

Time on the ground or in transit can be boring and drag you down emotionally. If you’re in a transit lounge or stuck at the gate for a couple of hours, do some stretches or yoga, and try to move about a bit. If you have free reign of the departures terminal, wander about, even if you don’t plan on shopping. Your body will thank you for it. Resist the temptation to simply sit in a bar or restaurant and “load up”. Make sure you’ve packed a book even if you have no intention of reading it in-flight – it can save your sanity in between flights.

10.) And finally – after the flight… stay awake!

The final and in my view most important tip is to resist the temptation to simply crash out after your flight. As hard as it may be, resist the temptation to take a nap – as it will only muck your body clock up even more. Do your best to stay awake until the evening, and then get an early night. Under no circumstances go to be before 5pm! Staying up until 9pm is ideal. This will allow your body to adapt more easily and quickly to the new time zone.

I hope these tips make long-haul travel a much easier experience for you. Bon voyage!

Charlotte 🙂