Sunday, 15 May 2022

Town Basin

I haven't spent as much time along the Town Basin as I used to before I retired.  It was always a good place to fill in time or to meet someone for a cuppa or a meal.  It  has been a pleasant place to spend time but the recent redevelopment has made it even more so.

The most recent addition has been the Undertwasser Art Centre, a project dedicated to Friedensreich Hundertwasser, an artist, visionary and ecological activist whose work in Kawakawa we Northlanders have been familiar with for quite some time.  The common themes in his design are bright colours, organic forms, strong individualism (to say the least) and rejection of straight lines.

A cupola covered in $50,000 worth of gold leaf sits on top of the building.  I'm pretty sure I lack appreciation of art, I just can't see the point of it, to me it makes the whole structure look sort of comical. 
You can see the little red boat that took us for a trip down the harbour to Limestone Harbour last week berthed nearby.

Below is the toilet which I think was built first to prove we had the craftsmen capable of completing the creation. Maybe that is an urban myth but the idea appeals to me so I choose to believe it.


Beyond the structure below lay landscaped grass terraces leading down to the harbour edge, making a very pleasant seating option.  There is also an interactive water feature (where, last week,  several children were having loads of fun) and a children's play space.


I've always been a bit hopeless with Labels on my blog.  I know I've twice before shown photos of the Waka Wave, one of the sculptures along the waterfront.  Now I know this artwork is best viewed from the water.

Sorry about the large blank space.  I left the draft for a few days hoping I could fix it but ...


Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Limestone Island

Thanks to my friend, Chris, I had the opportunity to go on a boat trip to Matakohe-Limestone Island, which sits in the Whangarei Harbour.  


 The M.V Waipapa docked at the island

All the boat day trippers were senior folk so the trip wasn't planned for physical activity. I would have liked to have a bit more time to wander around but I enjoyed the talk by the ranger and the time we had amongst the ruins of the old cement works. Also on the island are a couple of shipwrecks, the remains of an old school and cement works manager's home.

Originally the island was a strategic Maori Pa (Maori village defensive settlement). The little island (37 ha, just over 90 acres) has an interesting history. It lays claim to the first cement made in the Southern Hemisphere being produced there 1881 and being a thriving cement works until around 1918, when most of the buildings and equipment were moved to nearby Portland on the mainland. The island was then farmed before passing into the ownership of the Northland Harbour Board.  Portland Cement, which can be easily seen from the island, is still a major sponsor for ongoing rehabilitation on the island.

The old and the new - Portland Cement in the distance, on the left.

At one stage there were 250 workers at the cement works, 200 residents on the island.   The only human resident now are the ranger and her partner who kayaks back and forth across the harbour daily to his job off the island.  There is a flock of half a dozen sheep which keep the grass down around the ruins.


All that industry and later neglect left the island much worse for wear - in 1960s the island was in a degraded state with only a handful of trees remaining. Its main visitors were ships coming into port who dropped off their rubbish to be burnt in the quarantine incinerator located on the island!

Luckily a group of passionate members of the local community came along with a vision of seeing Matakohe-Limestone returned to its former glory. They became Friends of Matakohe–Limestone Island Society and have transformed the island into a regenerating forest habitat. They have planted 155,000 native trees to date and their work continues. Mammalian predators have been eradicated from the island, meaning this ‘new’ forest is now a safe home for a growing variety of threatened native fauna that have been re-introduced.


Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Angels galore

The scenic location of the HSBC building on the Auckland waterfront was lost on me.  I usually enjoy the sight of the old ferry building looking so staid and solid amongst all the high-rises.

My memory was having a good day, I remembered the Australian Consulate is on the 7th floor.  I was hoping it was the 7th floor of their current location and not the previous one.

Going up the escalator to the foyer I passed this colourful hanging artwork.  

 photo by Tiffany Singh

Had I stopped and asked for directions from the concierge I probably wouldn't have got past that point.  It didn't even enter my mind.  Somehow I knew when I'd reached the lifts but what had the shape of lift doors appeared to be more artworks.  Artworks that matched the hanging installation.  And there were no lift buttons near them.  So there I am, not even realising I'm doing my bewildered old lady act again, trying to admire these artworks whilst thinking nah, too much for me, don't like them and another female voice asks what floor I'm going to, and wouldn't you know it, she's going to the same floor and says, "Come with me."  And as if my magic, one of the artworks parts and reveals itself to indeed be a lift.  My new guardian angel explains how the lifts work, seems awfully complicated to me.

When we get out of the lift (another minor miracle she works on the same floor) and she learns I'm visiting the Australian Consulate and have no appointment she tells me I have no chance of getting in there, their security is "next level" and no-one gets in there without an appointment.  That is news to me.  I think I've followed the directions on the webpage and have come to lodge my passport renewal application in person as it says.  And anyway, I've tried for three days to ring hoping it was possible to arrange to post my application and each time after holding for over an hour a voice tells me they are unable to service my call today.  I might add that their on hold music has almost robbed me of the wish to proceed with my application.

Anyway...the consulate office is through glass doors off to our right and a large (very large) and rather surly looking security guard can be seen on the other side.  I tell my angel I'm going to bang on the doors until he looks up and sees me and she becomes quite agitated and beseeches me not to set off the security alarms.  What's left of my common sense comes to my rescue.  I stand in front of glass doors and wave my arms in the air instead.  My angel, still by my side,  is a bit disturbed by this.  What did she think might happen?

The guard hauls himself to his feet, scowling, comes over and presses the button to open the doors and my angel starts to beg for my entry.  I think she has underestimated me, I've still got it when it comes to talking.  Eventually the guard gives up explaining there's no admission without an appointment, says he will see if he can find someone to interview me, my angel says she will wait for me to take me back down in the lift again.  And the guard - did I say he was surly? my mistake - puts an arm on my shoulder and tells her he will take care of me.  And that he did.  A very nice lady came from somewhere in the depths of the building to take care of my application.  And when I was ready to leave the guard escorted me back down in the lift.  It did dawn on me that maybe he just wanted to make sure I was gone.

But the thing is.  I keep thinking about those lovely people who helped me.  Where have they all been in the past when I've been lost?   No-one rushed to my aid when I was in Thessaloniki airport in Greece trying to understand the announcements, hoping like hell I was lining up for the right flight.  Or when I was trying to get a flight attendant to understand me in Uruguay. 

Do I really look that old and helpless now?


Here's my passport photo, taken the day before my expediation.  I think I look more like someone who shouldn't be messed with.  And it would take a brave person to tell her she shouldn't end a sentence with a preposition.

Monday, 2 May 2022

It's a whole new world

It's a whole new world!  Progress does not stand still while I live my quiet life in the sticks.  Which if fine with me, I'm all for change and improvements.  But then comes the day I need to re-enter that brave new world and I find that the years that have been quietly passing by have stolen some of my confidence for venturing amongst those changes.

I knew I'd never find a carpark in downtown Auckland so took an easier way out.  I'd catch a train from a suburb with which I used to be very familiar.  I'd been to the building I needed to visit before and knew it was just around the corner from the downtown train terminal.  (And it was the terminal so I couldn't miss the station.)  Couldn't be a better plan. 

And then I met the first obstacle.   And the first of several kind people who came to my aid. The carpark was all changed and there were roadworks outside, I couldn't find the entrance.  I took a side road and stopped to seek assistance from two young ladies having a chat over their prams.  One gave me a withering look, obviously patience with old ladies is not her strong suit. But the other lass was lovely, walked with me to the corner so she could point out exactly where the entrance was, explained how tricky it was, and even offered to come with me if her friend would watch her pram for a few minutes.  I wasn't going to bother her grouchy friend again, that's for sure.

Next new experience was buying a ticket for the train from a machine.  Normally I think I could manage that but the arrows on this one did not respond to my touch and I was desperately trying not to punch it when a teenage Asian girl came along who knew exactly how to deal with it.  She spoke to it in very terse language (don't ask me which one) then gave me her opinion, very politely, of the Auckland rail service.  Somewhere in that conversation she decided I needed a guardian angel and she stayed by my side until she reached her station just a few stops short of mine.  Which is just as well because I find I am no longer equipped to travel city public transport on my own.   My pint size companion had no hesitation telling an old Afghan man on the other side of me to, "Leave her alone," when he invited me to go to the mall with him and when I declined said he'd come with me instead.  Three youngsters who I'd guess would be around the same age as her bumped my leg with their bikes and she told them to apologize.  Which, bless them, they did.  I wanted to give her a hug when she left.

With a definite "I've got this" attitude I left the train and headed towards the building that housed the Australian Consulate.  Note I say housed.  As in past tense.  I don't know if I could give a repeat performance of the stunned look I gave the board that tells which business is on which floor.   It appears the whole building is now private apartments.  I think this is when I started muttering to myself.  Any ageing friends, take it from me, this is the best way to get help when you need it.  Just mutter to yourself and look around in an utterly lost, bewildered fashion. 

Luckily a very beautiful, upwardly mobile looking youngish lady was passing me heading for the lifts and made a detour to the letter boxes when she spotted me.  I sometimes object when people call me "dear" in a condescending fashion but I let this one get away with it, I was so thankful that she knew where the Consulate was (were?) now located - and it wasn't very far away.

A visitor is expected at any minute so will tell you later about the next level security at the Australian Consulate.  

Saturday, 23 April 2022

That pigeon

There's been a lone pigeon driving me nuts.  Maybe not quite but darn near.

Just one.  Not one of our beautiful native pigeons, a feral pigeon.  I think that's what they are called.  The type that are found around human habitation.

It's living somewhere close by but I've never seen it.  But hear it?  Oh yes, I hear it.  Day after day, hour after hour.  I watch the clock waiting for mid-afternoon when the sound stops.

I don't know why it annoys me so much.  It brings back memories of my grandmother and no memory of her is ever unwelcome.  I tell that pigeon daily it's lucky Gran isn't here, she'd have it trapped and in a pigeon pie before it could utter another coo.  Maybe it's her voice somewhere deep inside me saying, "Go and chase those blimmin pigeons away from the chook food."  They were always 'blimmin' pigeons, the closest Gran ever came to a swear word.

Maybe I'm finally turning into one of those cranky old ladies who doesn't need much excuse to be irritable, although when it comes to words I prefer irascible.

On the bright side I got to spend time with my oldest grandson over Easter.  And that young man is the most golden-natured of people, could cheer the grouchiest of souls.   He was helping his mother to paint inside her unit.  Being so tall he didn't even need a step-ladder.


Wednesday, 13 April 2022

Storm coming

About 10 years ago the weather bureau issued a serious storm warning with the usual advise about securing loose outdoors items, etc.  Little Georgia helped me haul anything that could possibly be moved by a strong wind into the house.  Before she went home she told me to be careful not to trip over anything as the living room was a bit crowded.

There was no storm, not even a strong wind and when she arrived the next day, the cheeky little girl asked didn't I feel a bit silly now?

Yesterday, when the serious storm warnings started about ex tropical cyclone Fili moving near the country I moved the deck chairs to a safe place and started watching the sky.  I took a photo but noticed when I looked at it that it certainly didn't look very threatening but it probably was a bit darker than it looked on the camera.  So I stood on the deck and checked the camera settings.  I must have been quite engrossed, the next thing I knew the sky opened and dropped buckets of rain on me.

It hasn't rained since.  Not here, anyway.

Thursday, 7 April 2022

Leap Castle


Yesterday I had reason to look for more information on Leap Castle in Ireland, with which my paternal ancestors were associated. After reading for hours, I now think perhaps I should deny any connection. 

Leap Castle - Wikipedia

 Photo courtesy of Wikipedia 

The castle was built by the O’Bannon family somewhere between the late 12th century and the 15th century, although likely around 1250.  It is well accepted that the fortified tower house was built upon a much earlier settlement site which dates back to the Iron Age. Though the O’Bannons were powerful in their own right, they were pledged to the O’Carroll family, who took control of the castle away. The O’Carrolls used the castle as a site for battles, and numerous massacres occurred inside the walls.  Yes, that's my lot.

Thanks to my DNA and I've been in contact with a third cousin on this side of the family, a retired high court judge who is an amazing researcher.  I so wish I'd known her when I visited Ireland in 2015.  I visited Galway, Limerick and Cork all of which aren't very far from the castle which is located in County Offaly, Ireland, just outside of Coolderry, north of Roscrea.   Another relative has visited in the last couple of years and was shown around by the current owner, Sean Ryan.  She has sent me photos but they aren't as good as those I'm using, thanks to Mr Google (sorry Debbie).


 Photo courtesy of Wikipedia 

It is often called “the most haunted castle in Ireland,” thanks mainly to the bloody history of the O’Carroll clan. 

It is also home to one of the world’s most famous oubliettes.  The history of Leap Castle is deep and dark.

Leap Castle-oubliette-castle-bloody chapel-ireland-haunted castle

The opening of Leap Castle’s oubliette

 Photo courtesy of

I had never heard of an oubliette!  It's a French word and it translates to: a forgotten place where criminals and undesirables were thrown and left to die. It was a deep pit often found in castles. Dating back centuries, it frequently had sharp spikes and a narrow opening with a wider base which made it harder to scale back up.

The victim may or may not be impaled when they hit the bottom, it was a matter of chance. Usually the fall or spikes would not cause immediate death. Instead, the doomed would suffer for days if not weeks before death mercifully took over.

The oubliette at Leap Castle is housed in the Chapel (of all places), generally known as the Bloody Chapel because one of my ancestors stabbed his brother to death at the foot of the altar. 

The Bloody Chapel at Leap Castle | Irelands Abandoned Ruins 0 | Ciaran  McHugh Photography

The Bloody Chapel

The O’Carrolls were brutish and treated their enemies violently. Stories are told of the O’Carrolls hiring other nearby clans to act as mercenaries to murder other clans. Rather than paying them for a job well-done, the O’Carrolls invited them to a feast at Leap Castle, where the unsuspecting allies were poisoned and thrown into the oubliette.

During the 1920s, repair work uncovered the oubliette hidden by a trapdoor and it was cleaned out. Remains from over 150 bodies were rolled out in wheelbarrows. A pocket watch from the mid-1800s indicated how recent the oubliette had claimed souls.

The O’Carolls called Leap Castle their home until it was wrenched from their hands in 1642 by an English soldier of the Cromwellian forces named John Darby.  The castle has been subject to much remodelling and restoration over the years, most of the remodelling having been done by the Darbys. The Darbys inhabited Leap Castle from 1642 until it’s burning in 1922.  Unfortunately Leap Castle was the target for an uprising and was looted and burnt to an empty shell in 1922.  Here it lay dormant until it was purchased in 1974 by an Australian, Peter Bartlett, a descendent of the O’Bannons. This saw the awaking of the ancient building. The work is now being continued by current owners, the Ryans.

Sean Ryan claims to have personally met several of the ghosts including the Lady in Red who wanders the castle holding the dagger she used to take her own life and crying for her murdered child, and the ghostly spirits of two little girls who are believed to have lived at Leap Castle in the 1600s. 

The Most Haunted Castle In Ireland: Look Inside Leap Castle


Wednesday, 30 March 2022

Goodbye, dear Alan

Usually I am a very tidy sleeper.  I barely disturb the bedclothes.

Not so last Saturday night after I'd received word of the death of my dear, dear old friend, Allan.  I was filling in for one night as a house-sitter at One Tree Point, right on the harbour.  I pulled back the curtains and spent most of the night gazing out at the harbour watching the lights go out on the other side of the harbour until finally it was just the channel markers blinking in the dark.  I heard the waves gently lapping as the tide came in.  I gave thanks that I was here by the sea as I grieved, as Allan had loved the sea and so many of our good times together were spent on or in the ocean.


Early morning, low tide

All night I tried to keep the sadness at bay, thinking of the fun times and concentrated on one night in particular.  It was in winter in the late 80s or early 90s. I was 'keeping company' with Allan, who lived at Mangawhai by the sea not far from where I lived. During the summer months we had enjoyed floundering at night. Let me rephrase that – we enjoyed night-time flounder fishing the old fashioned away, with a spear.

We would wade in shallow water as quietly as possible along the estuary armed with a light held close to the surface of the water. The flounder is a flat fish which come into very shallow water - sometimes only inches deep - after sunset. Stalking shallow beach water and estuarine areas by night offers a totally different perspective to fishing. The fish life can be prolific, with mullet, eels and other creatures of the night more common than the skittish flounder, which can be difficult to see, camouflaged against the sand. When the light is shone on the flounder, they stay very still and should make an easy target. Well, you’d think it would be easy. More fun than easy really. Many flounder lived to swim another day.

When the nights became cooler Allan applied himself to thinking up a way we could still go floundering without having our feet in cold, cold water for hours. He came up with lamps that operated under water (maybe it was battery operated, I can’t remember) which we could suspend from the front of our kayaks. It worked well. In theory. In practise, I found it difficult to gauge the depth of the water while seated in the kayak rather than knowing how far up the legs it came while wading. I thought I was getting the hang of it when I spotted a BIG flounder and enthusiastically thrust the spear at it. However, the spear (with me holding on to the end of it) traveled much deeper into the water than I thought it would and I became unbalanced and tipped into the freezing water. OK, just very cold. But far too cold for me. I screamed and shrieked and then we laughed and laughed as we hurriedly hauled in the kayaks, got them on to the car and headed home for a much needed change of clothes and some warmth.

In those days Mangawhai had a permanent population of about 600 (which was much larger during the summer months) and houses close to where we had lunched the kayaks were all holiday homes. No lights, no-one around. So we presumed no-one was aware of our misadventure.

A few nights later we were visiting friends who lived on the cliff above the estuary but quite some distance from where we had been. After a while the man said we should have been at their place during the week. He and his wife had been watching TV when they heard a blood curdling scream above the sound of the TV. It came from down on the water and they were alarmed, wondering what on earth was going on down there. They thought someone was having their throat cut or something equally terrible. But after a while they heard laughter and voices. They thought the laughter sounded familiar but hadn’t been able to work out who it belonged to. Allan and I didn’t say a word but must have exchanged a look, or perhaps a smile because they then remembered whose laugh it was they had heard. We had forgotten how sound travels on the water on a still night.

Ahh, Allan, what good times we had!

He will  have a funeral service in Australia where he has lived for many years and then his Kiwi family will scatter his ashes in the sea at Piha, a beach he loved so much.

Scatter his ashes on the sea
And as he floats on crested wave
He wants no tears or grief
Or duty visits to his grave.....

Don't bury him beneath the ground
No cold imprisoned tomb for him
Or headstone with an earthy mound
That's not the place he'd want to be.

It's where the winds blow fresh and free
I know that he will lie content
The sea he loves his cemetery
And waves his only monument.....

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

The bowling green

Thor and Zeus were battling it out overhead on Sunday night.  I can't remember when we last had such an impressive storm.  I got out of bed to draw back the curtains then enjoyed it immensely, laying snug and warm in my comfy bed, watching the flashing fireworks in the sky.  I did spare a thought for young children having their sleep disturbed and perhaps being frightened as thunder shook the houses.   I gave thanks once again that my grandmother had shared with me her love of a good storm, the wilder and turbulent the better, her only concern that her fig tree didn't fall on the house.

The storm came with torrential rain, the most we've had in quite a while, causing lots of local flooding.  It drained away quickly.

This photo was taken early the next morning of the bowling green, just a stone's throw from my house.  

photo courtesy of Lisa Netto

Friday, 18 March 2022

Close to Home

It was a bit later than originally planned but last weekend my friend, Chris and I finally had our 2021 mid-winter break.  At the end of summer.  Covid interrupted our plans. 

We first took a mid-winter break together in 2000 when we explored the Coromandel Peninsula.  Sometimes it's just been for a couple of nights, sometimes a bit longer.   This was a short one, just two nights, Friday night in Parakai near Helensville and Saturday night in Dargaville.  Maybe it will be a longer one this winter.

Helensville is only a couple of hours from here and the garage I use to service my car is in Dargaville so I go there reasonably often.  You can see Helensville at the bottom on the map and Dargaville at the top.  And lots of harbour in between. 

When I first came to New Zealand in 1973 I lived at Pouto and in the early 2000s at Tapora at the end of the peninsula on the opposite side of the harbour, so the Kaipara Harbour holds many memories for me.  

With Covid restrictions finally lifting, Kairpara Cruises, which are based in Helensville, are once again operating their two day harbour cruise from there, with an overnight stay at the grand old Northern Wairoa Hotel in Dargaville.

 photo courtesy of Kaipara Cruises website

The boat coming to pick us up on a dreary Sunday morning.  On a fine day the hills of home, the Uppity Downities, are clearly visible.  It rained shortly after but cleared again an hour or so later.

I didn't get any decent photos.  My newish camera has been a disappointment.  It takes nice photos but I can't see the screen when I'm outside on a sunny day.  Not sure if it is the screen or my failing eyesight.  And my phone wasn't purchased with it's photographic ability (or lack of same) in mind.  And then I was so busy looking at the sights that I forgot about photos and got lost down memory lane.

Just a couple of bays before we reached Pouto Point
It was a wonderful weekend.  Everyone on board was friendly and enjoyed the cruise immensely.  Our hosts, Terry and Gaye couldn't have done more to make us comfortable and keep us well fed and watered.   Captain Terry's commentary on the points of historical interest were informative and interesting. Gaye is a brilliant hostess.

Wednesday, 16 February 2022

Remember planes and airports?

Until a few weeks ago, my last flight was returning home from visiting my family is Australia the week Covid arrived in Australia.  I've always loved air travel, no matter how long or short the flight but strangely, I hadn't missed it.  I'd just forgotten how good it feels.

The weather gods were out to please me on both the day I traveled down to Taranaki and yesterday, the day I came back.   The beauty of having two short flights is the plane stays low enough to allow good views of the countryside below.  On the flights south I just sat there enthralled, with my eyes glued to the sights below.  I'd forgotten how beautiful our world is.

After the downgraded version of Cyclone Dovi passed over us in Taranaki when I was family sitting while my daughter was in hospital in Hamilton and her husband was keeping her company, I'd been watching the weather, waiting for the wind to die down, wondering if my flight would be cancelled as New Plymouth airport is right on the coast and subject to bad winds. 

I couldn't take any photos of the first leg of the journey as the plane window was so scratched I could barely see out of it. (Not good enough, Air New Zealand.)

The window was slightly better on the next leg, my photos are still murky.


Sorry about the crooked horizon.  I've forgotten how to straighten it.  This is a semi-regular occurrence, I'll remember again in a couple of days. 

Tide was out coming into Whangarei

It's good to be home.  I enjoyed my time in Taranaki despite the fact we didn't leave the house much.  My daughter was concerned about having to postpone her surgery if she caught Covid. 

Saturday, 12 February 2022

Yesterday's scene

 My outlook is vastly different today.  I think we are enveloped in the clouds that hang around the mountain.  Still raining, really heavy downpours from time to time.  A stay at home and relax sort of day.

Friday, 11 February 2022

Time passes

I've just realized my last post was just after Christmas.  As it turns out it wasn't my last, just my latest because here I am with the will to post again.  Thought it might have left me permanently.

I've been through a bit of a down time, no particular reason why, just lost enthusiasm for life (and blogging) there for a while.

At the moment I am grandson, dog and cat sitting in Taranaki while my daughter is in hospital having an operation.  Nothing too serious, thankfully.

Mustn't forget the three sheep and a goat.  Here's my youngest with the ram.  I could write a book about this girl and her pets, she's had a pet of some description at her heels since she was a toddler.

The sheep have been shorn since I arrived.  It's been really warm and humid, so they are lucky to be without their heavy coats.  The little dog, Jasper, seems to think there's something interesting in the wool.  He's wonderful company but I think he is fretting a bit.  I hope he'll be happier at the weekend when Aiden will be home all day.

No pics of Lola, the cat I gave to Justine as a rescue kitten over 12 years ago.  She's always been aloof.  I remember how she wouldn't come into the house when Aiden was a baby and in the living area.  She'd wait until he was out of sight and asleep.  She's now like that with the dog.  But she has finally mellowed a little and will let you touch her - briefly.

The house next door is for sale and thanks to their For Sale ad I have this drone photo of my daughter's home and Mt Taranaki.  (We cut the neighbour's house out of it.)

This is the lovely view of the ranges from my bedroom.  The lawn and hills will be green again in a day or two after all this rain.

It's raining lightly today and slightly cooler.  We had really heavy rain a few days ago and more predicted for this weekend.