From the beaches of the Coromandel peninsula to the National Gallery of Victoria, what a life!

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Otama beach is 2 km long with pure sand and no-one except the inhabitants of the few houses above

New Zealand and Australia are two very distinct countries and I would never dare compare them, but I had such a wonderful time in both, that I will share again two small experiences. A week long stay on Otama beach, 3 hours Northeast of Auckland, and a fabulous visit of the Ian Potter centre, the Australian art collection of Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria, designed by Lab Architecture studio/Bates Smart Architects, in 2002. While the exterior of the building on Federation square, is really hard on the eye, I loved the interior galleries which combine traditional white walls and concrete spaces for sculture.

Harold Parker “Iris”, 1913, Web Gilbert, “The Fallen Idol” 1915, Harold Parker, “Ariadne”, 1919, Web Gilbert, “The Dreamer”, 1915, Bertram Mackennal, “Tragedy enveloping Comedy”, 1909, at Ian Potter center

I only had one morning to see the Melbourne museums and chose the Australian art of the National Gallery of Victoria, a museum free for all! I was surprised by how modern the main building designed in 1968 by the Sir Roy Grounds  (whose houses in Tasmania serve as welcome buildings for MONA, which I sadly did not have time to visit). The galleries include XIX th and XXth century art with furniture and paintings by very talented artists, born in England in the early 1800’s who decided to settle in Australia, and others later like Hugh Ramsay, Agnes Goodsir, Max Meldrum, John Longstaff, Ethel Carrick… who trained in Paris in the 1900’s.

Agnes Goodsir, “Woman Reading”, 1915, Naarm Melbourne

Tom Roberts, one of the pioneers , was born in Dorchester in 1856 and moved to Australia in 1869. His famous “Shearing the rams” dates from 1890. I loved that on each cartel, the name of the Aboringial territory was mentioned: in this case, Blocklesby Station in New South Wales is called Yorta Yorta County.  A curious very modern drawing by William Barak represented “Figures in possum skin cloaks”. It is particularly interesting since possums are now a protected species in Australia. They are not in NZ where traps are positioned everywhere in the fields to catch them…

Henry Burn, “Swanston Street from the Bridge”, 1861, Naarm Melbourne

John Glover, Robert Dowling, photographer Charles Nettleton all have wonderful sceneries of the Yara River and other Melbourne streets, while Frederick McCubbin portrays the Royal visit of the Duchess of York in 1901.  In every room, there are center pieces with sculptures or feather coiffes. There is sadly very  little aboriginal art, not as much as I expected anyway. But the visit was extremely varied and pleasant.

The three bedroom house designed by David Berridge on Otama beach is worth a detour!

Back to the beach in NZ where I had the privilege of spending five days with nothing to do except watch the sun set and drink excellent martinis and gin and tonics. David Berridge, a former skipper for Bill Koch’s maxi boats, became an architect in Long Island after studying at Parsons’ School of Design. He works out of Sag Harbor. HIs ream wa to build a house in paradise in his homeland and here it is. a wooden and glass house, invisible from teh beach with teh most fantastic views from bedrooms and living room. There are a few charming neighbors like the painter Michael Smither who lives in Otama full time. He has a piano in his studio because he is also a composer and has done some paintings with the color of musical notes.

Otama beach and its few houses is a well kept secret

On the way to Otama from Auckland, we stopped at Miranda farm where we had a beautiful “stained glass window” cake at the Stray dog café and visited Annie Wilson‘s gallery where local artists exhibit ceramics and paintings. Everything is very relaxed in this part of the world and everyone’s  kindness seems almost old fashion. There is only one little restaurant Luke’s kitchen where young surfers from America congregate wit local families and an ice cream shop Kuaotunu. The only “town” for shopping, Whitianga, has an old fashion airport where you board flights in two minutes and the sexy young pilots takes you to Auckland in 30 mns. It is a real treat to fly over the islands along the way.

Architect David Berridge shares his life between Sag Harbor and Otama Beach

I have to admit I was afraid to be bored in this faraway beach with no museums to visit,  but with a rhythm of one long walk on the beach and one swim a day, a very active cocktail hour with the neighbors and an excellent book, time flew. It is a perfect retreat place for a honeymoon or the writing of a book far from beach clubs and resorts.

Summer in New Zealand is between December and March but the temperature is mild all year long.

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