Saturday, February 22, 2014

Roaring Forties

I've only been back on the island a week during which time the weather has ranged from one extreme to  the other, often in the same day. It's now 10°C outside with driving rain and gusty winds, down from our high today of 25°C with sunshine and relative calm. On Thursday I cut grass in 35°C heat and night temperatures rarely dropped below 15°C. It makes it hard for visitors to know what clothing to bring and I feel sorry for any trampers spending tonight in a tent.

I guess you can't have hot weather without cold air rushing in to fill the void and the wild swings of weather around the world suggest that calm and settled weather may be taking a holiday elsewhere in the Universe. At least we can change our clothes to suit the conditions but spare a thought for our flora and fauna that could be in dire straits if climate change happens too quickly for them to adjust.

The early morning eastern sky had a super-bright star this week and with the help of Google I found that it was probably Venus. My camera is a lovely wee Sony and zooming isn't one of its strengths so I was thrilled to capture this handheld shot when it was still quite dark.

Twinkle, Twinkle, big bright star
My guess of Venus is what you are
It wasn't quite so easy taking photos of a weevil that found its way inside. It was late at night when I found it crawling up the window and he/she didn't want to stand still so that the camera could focus nicely. Does anyone want to make an ID from the photos on this Landcare Research page? (link opens in new window)

The grass around the house has been cut for a third time and hopefully I've caught most of the dandelions and Lotus major before they've seeded. My Stihl scrub-bar went like a charm but I need to sharpen the blade before I use it again. Just as well there's plenty of YouTube videos to watch on the subject - I don't learn that well from the instruction sheet!

The temperature has dropped to 9°C; bed and an extra blanket here I come!

Holiday adventure - part 3

Auckland has grown considerably since I last visited and I'm glad I live as far away as possible! It can't be a relaxing start to the day when faced with so much traffic and I didn't see many walkers during my time there. We stayed at the Poenamo Hotel on Northcote Road and my room was clean and comfortable with free wi-fi; a tad noisy on the second night when a group sang and talked throughout the night and kept most guests awake. I had a great meal in one of the hotel restaurants (The BackYard), one of the few that has offered a great side dish of yummy vegetables!

I had a great coffee the next morning at Coffee Labs in the Wairau Valley - a great selection of coffees, friendly and knowledgeable baristas and a relaxed environment. Just around the corner was a PBTech store, so after coffee I walked round to get my fill of the latest portable technology. I didn't take my computer away with me and was suffering withdrawal symptoms. Notebook computers seem to be shrinking (10" to 14" screens) apart from the expensive gaming models with 17" screens; prices ranged from $450-$2500 but only a few had solid state hard drives. I'm fast getting left behind in the technology game but does it really matter!

Coffee Lab, 15 Silverfield, Wairau Valley, Auckland 0627
In the afternoon we braved the crowds and drove around Mission Bay, ending up at the MJ Savage Memorial Park which was definitely less crowded and with even better views.

Our last morning in Auckland was another hot and sunny day and we left the hotel early and drove to Devonport. I caught the 9.10am ferry to Waiheke Island whilst the others had breakfast and then headed off to the airport to return to Christchurch. Unlike our Bluff to Stewart Island ferry, the water was flat as a pancake and 35 minutes later it reached Matiatia Wharf. It's been almost 40 years since I visited Waiheke Island and it sure has changed! Lots of vineyards and denser housing, a big shopping area including a large supermarket and even a hardware store. The population of the island is around 8700 (92 sq km, 95 people per sq km) and good weather and proximity to city amenities makes it a great retirement spot. It's not my island though - I love the ruggedness and bush cover of Rakiura, I'm not a fan of hot weather and having little rain would drive me mad. I was very envious of how quickly vegetables grew though - and no restrictions on all those interesting veges like capsicums, cucumbers, tomatoes and aubergines. No doubt fruit trees would be great there too.

Vineyards and olive groves on Waiheke Island

Onetangi Beach

Rocky Bay with dotterel nesting area

Whakanewha sculpture by Toi-Te-Rangiuaia at the
entry to the dotterel nesting site
After two lovely relaxing days it was time to head back to New Plymouth and for a change I took the freight ferry to Half Moon Bay. This suburb of Auckland is responsible for Stewart Islanders having to change their postal address from Halfmoon Bay to Oban as our mail was ending up at the other end of NZ. The roll-on, roll-off ferry sure made transporting goods and vehicles so much easier although it was a tad pongy with the rubbish truck being close to the passenger area.

One of Sealink's roll-on, roll-off ferries

The top passenger deck - most people stayed down at the second level

Easy to get trucks and freight to the island - would make life easier
on Stewart Island but I don't think the ferry would be seaworthy
on Foveaux Strait!
It was good to get back to New Plymouth to see family and friends for a week or so and even better to get back to my island haven; tripping around is all very well but the pace of life is much too fast for me. One of the great things about Stewart Island is there's no rushing - it all gets done on 'island time'. Perhaps that's spoiled me for living anywhere else!!


Holiday adventure - part 2

Showing overseas visitors around makes me see things anew; scenery that's taken for granted takes on renewed respect as I realise how lucky we are to live in Aotearoa with its fresh air and wide open spaces. Our road trip party was an interesting cross-section - me from bush-clad Rakiura, 2 from Christchurch and 5 from overseas. Population density figures that I could find (mostly June 2011 data) showed how diverse our living spaces are:

More up-to-date info was available for New Zealand and I was surprised to find how similar the land areas were for Rakiura and Territorial Christchurch - but with very different population densities!!

Also surprising were the varying statistics for Rakiura's land area ranging from 172 to nearly 2000 sq km. I'll remember to take my tape measure next time I venture out ha ha.

Back to our trip! We travelled from New Plymouth to Taupo via Te Kuiti, stopping off at The Fat Pigeon Café in Piopio for lunch. The Awakino Gorge's bush-clad hills made me feel at home although I'm sure there's been more felling of native bush since I last went through. More stops at Huka Falls and Craters of the Moon were slotted in before heading to Waiotapu.

Looking across Lake Taupo to the Central Plateau mountains

Huka Falls

Our accommodation for two nights was Waikite Valley Lodge, overlooking Lake Ngapouri. This excellent 6-bedroom base was 3km from the Waiotapu Tavern (best fish burger I've had) and only a 20 minute drive to Rotorua. The spacious central room with kitchen, dining and lounge areas was 2½ times my entire house area! Coincidentally it wasn't far from my sister and brother-in-law's new home so it was great to visit them for dinner and to have a dog trial exhibition from Graham and Murphy.

Waikite Valley Lodge
Get in behind!!
Time was limited in Rotorua but we fitted in a trip to Whakarewarewa Village and thermal area - the last time I went there with Arnaud, my French exchange student, it was frosty cold and only a tour around the village; interesting for English-speaking visitors but perhaps not the best option for others. This time the temperature was in the 30s and the native bush around the thermal area offered some respite from the sun's glare.

Whakarewarewa Village thermal walk

Ha ha, don't want to get scolded so had better stay out!

Back on the road again for our last leg to Auckland via Lake Karapiro, Cambridge and Hamilton.

Lake Karapiro and dam structure
We had lunch in the Hamilton Gardens; what an amazing place to showcase different styles of gardens and architecture. It featured on Campbell Live last night which prompted me to sort through my photos so I could put them up on this blog.
The Italian Renaissance Garden

The Chinese Scholar's Garden

The Japanese Garden

The biggest vege garden I've ever seen!
Back in the cars for the last stretch to Auckland; up until now I'd been reasonably okay with fast-moving traffic (I wasn't driving but 3 years on Stewart Island has changed me) but 4.30pm traffic on the motorway was scary. No wonder people get out of touch with their natural environment when living in such a concrete jungle.

They paved Paradise and put up a motorway
More about Auckland and my trip to Waiheke Island in the next blog :)

Holiday adventure - part 1

What crazy weather during my first week back home - stinking hot one day and the next cool and rainy. Looks like the wind is getting up over the weekend so glad that I'm home to keep an eye on the shade house.

The Weather Gods blessed us with fine weather for our road trip although this southern lass prefers the coolness of her island - it's easy to put clothes on but there's a limit to how much I can take off when it's too hot!

First stop away was Christchurch: I stayed at the Garden View B&B in Rolleston where hosts Beth and John Keoghan went out of their way for me and our family. I'm definitely a 'raving fan' of their fantastic customer service; proved by arriving as strangers and leaving as friends; what more could one want!! (all links open in a new window)

The beautiful setting at Garden View Bed & Breakfast
Today marks the third anniversary of the devastating February earthquake and it's testament to the resilience of Cantabrians to see the recovery kicking in with more rebuilding now than demolition. A tour around the city was sobering as empty spaces dominated the landscape but the rebuild seeds are sprouting as Christchurch rises once again. One of these projects is The Tannery in Woolston, a Victorian arcade treasure being developed by the Cassels Family - more info on the project can be found on's website here.

Lovely boutique shops line both sides of the arcade
Delectable edibles in the cake shop window
Teddy cars - special treats for birthday parties
Another impressive project is the Faringdon residential development in Rolleston; a planned 20-stage 80ha subdivision of over 1000 sections and a community of around 4000. The developed areas are well-planned with green belts and playgrounds, wide streets and fibre broadband.

Looking forward to seeing how the green areas look in a few years' time
Stage 3 of a planned 20-stage development
Next stop was New Plymouth and a stunning day to show our Hong Kong visitors around...

Lake Mangamahoe
Mt Taranaki from the North Egmont Visitor Centre
Pukekura Park
Chinese Gardens at Brooklands Park
Amazing detail on the underside of the pavillion roof
Michael Smither's Aotearoa sculpture in Brooklands Park
The Whitaker Civil Engineering-designed pedestrian bridge
Another view of this stunning bridge over the Waiwhakaiho River
Only two nights in New Plymouth before heading off again, more in next blog...

Last glimpse of Mt Taranaki from Awakino Beach on our way north













Saturday, February 15, 2014

Coming home

Going off-island is exciting, especially when you are going to a family wedding, followed by a road-trip visiting family and friends. But coming home is something extra-special and I'm still pinching myself to check that I'm not dreaming! I've exchanged my jeans for fleece trousers, walking shoes for gumboots and I've been sitting out on the deck listening to the birds rather than the traffic - just perfect!

I've covered a few kilometres since my last post; 7 plane trips, 2 ferry rides, over 1,000km of road travel and several trips on foot or pushbike. I've gained a beautiful daughter and met her lovely family, and visited several friends/family who have moved recently to different houses; so much easier now to picture them in their new homes and lifestyles.

It will take a few days to sort out photos and the garden might take a while to tame but I'll share my photos from today before heading off to sleep in my own bed.

Mt Taranaki at 9am this morning
Flying in to Rakiura has some great views, even when cloudy.
Foveaux Strait in the foreground, Paterson Inlet at the top
Pilot Sam from Stewart Island Flights bringing me home

An overgrown silverbeet patch and the rhubarb has gone crazy

The mesclun has gone to seed but doesn't it look pretty!

My mystery plant is broccoli

Inside the shade house - the tomatoes even have flowers!!

Drunken Woman fringed lettuce - tastes and looks good