Thursday, 31 December 2009

and on the last day of the year......she made jam

Add jam maker to my cat sitter duties.

The cat looks happy enough. She eats and sleeps and ignores me most of the time. The rest of the time she watches me as if she distrusts me immensely.

Justine and Bill's plum tree is overloaded.  I've made two batches of jam so far and haven't made an impression on the amount of ripe fruit on the tree outside the kitchen window.  I'll make another batch this afternoon and then I will be out of bottles. 

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Ladies only

I hope the Chinese are starting a new trend with their first in the world car park for women only at the Wanxiang Tiancheng centre in Shijiazhuang, about 400km southwest of Beijing.  Long way to go for a decent car park.  I don't give a fig if some think it is sexist to build extra-wide parking spaces for women only.  Maybe they are going a bit too far with the bright colours and cute cartoon characters but no-one will argue with extra lighting and security.

I'm forever complaining about shrinking car park spaces (I don't mention it out loud very often but I do a hell of a lot of muttering about them).  I accepted a long time ago that men have better spatial awareness skills than women which gave them the edge when it comes to parking.  But, to give myself due credit, I've never had a car park scrape.  Not that I can recall.  No, I'm sure I haven't.  Well, pretty sure.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Thank you, Alan Gibbs

My preferred route to Auckland is not via State Highway One but rather the less popular SH16 which twists and turns, following the Kairpara Harbour most of the way.  I prefer to have a second rate road to myself
rather than share a first rate road with others.  Give me the road less travelled and the occasional lovely view any day!

One of the things that make SH16 interesting is a 1000 acre sculpture park, modestly named The Farm, owned by millionaire Alan Gibbs.  He bought the windswept site in 1991. Since then, he has commissioned sculptures featuring original works by local and internationally renowned artists.

Slowly over the years we have been watching the changes as we drive by.  Not that you can see much from the road but a glimpse of this huge wall has always intrigued. 

I found this photo of the man himself and the wall sculpture on the net. 

But next month, if I had $250 to play with I could visit The Farm on one of the rare occasions the property is open to the public.  Alan Gibbs will host a couple of former politicians to discuss what they would do as "New Zealand's dictator for a year".

If guests at the champagne lunch aren't interested in politics they can wander among the farm's priceless giant sculptures and African wildlife.  I will need to pay a "standard" or "premium donation" – the latter includes a ride in Gibb's invention, Aquada, an amphibious car.   I think the $250 "standard" will do me fine, thanks.  I'd just love to roam that outdoor gallery, see all 22 sculptures as well as the giraffes, zebras, water buffalo and yaks.

Click here if you are interested in knowing more about the amphibious car.

Imagine seeing this out in the middle of the farm somewhere.

Yesterday, as I was driving to Auckland the fountain was playing.  I think it must only be turned on when Mr Gibbs or guests are at the property as it's not on most times I go by.

But yesterday I stopped and peered over the security fence to watch it and breathe in the beauty of the setting.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Another angel

The Christmas angel this year was Justine.

Justine is the planner and organiser in our family. She is wonderfully creative and this year has discovered baking and cake decorating as outlets for her creativity.

Danny keeping an eye on Justine's hand made chocolates

A plate of her Christmas cakes

Michael examining one of her little cakes

A new family tradition

On Boxing Day my son, Danny planned a family expedition into the Tangihua Forest that is our neighbour. The entrance gates on our side of the forest is kept locked but said son leases a block of land that borders on to the forest and we could drive as far as the boundary fence. Which is a very high deer fence and had to be climbed. Thankfully, only my daughter and I had cameras and we weren't tempted to take embarrassing photos of each other scrambling over that fence. But was easier (and quicker) than the 30 minute walk from the road would have been.

The day was warm but noticeably cooler once we got inside the forest. Dan decreed a walk to the Kauri Dam was first on the agenda. The original kauri dams in New Zealand were copies of the timber-built structures of Nova Scotia. But over time and as experience was gained, improvements included a simple but effective lifting gate design that allowed the dams to be released by a rigger and then re-used. It is estimated that over 90 years, up to 1,000 log dams were built. And one of those is at the head of the little creek that runs through our farm.

The walls of a kauri dam

The dam collected a large amount of water on a fairly small stream. Over many months, as the dam slowly filled, logs were felled and laid in the stream bed. The gate of the dam was tripped, usually during a storm (to enhance the natural flood), and the power of the water drove the logs down the little creek. The little creek flows into a bigger creek and that creek into a bigger creek still and the logs would float on down until they reach Dargaville on the west coast. There, a floating structure of wooden booms collected the logs. A dam might be re-used for several years before it was abandoned.

Can you imagine the noise when the dam was tripped? Witnesses described the power of a log drive as unforgettable.

Little remains up in the forest now. A few huge planks across the bottom of a gorge. But you can imagine by the shape of the gorge how it would have worked.

The walk to the Kauri Grove was bit longer (twice as long actually). While the others were playing on the Challenge Course that is set up near the Lodge that is used by school groups, the youngest and the oldest, Georgia and I set out. This track was narrower and in denser bush. It followed along the banks of the little stream for about 20 minutes before coming to a creek crossing. In some places the track was very slushy and muddy, there must be springs everywhere up there in that forest.

Two of our party decided to stay at the creek but I decided to carry on and trail on behind the younger ones at my own pace. (As the two who stayed by creek sat there quietly they saw little native lobsters in the water!) Georgia dropped back to be my companion. She had been listening when we'd explained the rules of walking in the bush - never leave the group, never leave the track, etc. And after much huffing and puffing, we made it to the Kauri Grove. (The literature says the walk may require skill and an average level of fitness - yay me!)

Danny and daughters dwarfed by the kauri.

The light shining through the trees was quite magical.

Strange how the walk back always seems quicker! No, it definitely was, it was mainly downhill. And by then Danny had found me a sturdy walking stick.

Danny decided this going for a Boxing Day bush walk would make a great new family tradition. I think he should have come up with the idea when I was younger and fitter.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Let's go fly a kite

My son-in-law Bill went to a lot of trouble to make a kite for his beloved for Christmas. And they got an opportunity to play with it a bit sooner than anticipated mid morning on Christmas Day when my other daughter rang to say she and her family had not yet left home, the car wasn't sharing their enthusiasm for the trip north.

I'm not wanting to torture those of you in the northern hemisphere (well, not much!) but it was lovely and warm on Friday, with just the faintest hint of a breeze. What better to do with time to fill on Christmas Day than go fly a kite.

After a quick debate about the direction of the available breeze we headed off to a little hill. Occasionally a little breeze would spring up and Bill nearly got the kite to fly:

Krystal's kite from last Christmas couldn't really get airborne either.

But we had some fun and enjoyed the glorious weather. And I stopped and looked at some things I usually pass on by without noticing:

the new growth on the trees

tiny flowers amongst the grass

even a dead thistle looked beautiful

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

My Town Shoot Out - Angels

Thinking about Angels for this week's topic, I decided to acknowledge the angels in my life who make my day to day life enjoyable.

The angel who makes my coffee on a regular basis - and always serves it with a sweet, gentle smile:

The angel who gave me a job when the rest of the world seemed to think I was "past it" and brightens my daily life with her vivacious personality:

The angel I work with who always has time to listen:

And my guardian angel, Lewey:

Thanks, Kim for this week's topic. I've enjoyed thinking about the angels in my life much more than I have gathering the photos. My angels are a reticent bunch, more than a little camera shy. Like all angels, they don't make themselves visible to everyone, but I know who they are and where to find them.

To see lots of angels click here.

I wish you all lots of blessings and joy for Christmas!!

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Hidden treasures

My activities this weekend are very domestic compared with last weekend when my guest and I were only home long enough to eat and sleep really. But at least with all the gallivanting we did we ate and slept well.

We started off our sight seeing on Sunday with a quick walk in the bush to visit a kauri tree:

and the unexpected sight of a native bush pigeon:

then on to the estuary in Ngunguru:

followed by the sights of Tutukaka:

When we got to Matapouri Bay the tide was fully in and I wasn't too sure about whether we would be able to get around the rocks to get to one of my favourite spots. Had there been any waves that day we wouldn't have been able to but we managed to scramble around the rocks without getting too wet.

At one stage we came up behind a lad of 12 or 13 who was bending over playing with a dog in the water right in front of me. I couldn't go around him as he was in the shallows where I wanted to be. As we stood there waiting for him to get out of the way the tide swelled a bit and I had to hitch my pants up higher and said over my shoulder to GB, "Pull your pants up. " The lad was a little startled because I don't think he was aware I was there - but he pulled his pants up!! Funny, huh?

I don't know if I can describe the place we got to. Access is gained by trekking through long grass, then climbing down through a gap in the rock. On the other side is a very rocky little bay where the tide seethes in through a narrow causeway between the rocky headland and a rocky outcrop.

When there is a good surf running it is quite spectacular but was still worth the walk on a day when there were no waves at all. I savour every minute I'm at this place as I realize I won't be able to scramble over the rocks to get there forever, I'm not as sure-footed now as I used to be and with each visit I notice how I move more cautiously.

Can you see the slither of daylight in the middle of the photo? - that's the access:

GB about to start the scramble through the gap on the way out:

After standing aside to allow a family through - it's one way traffic only:

I thought for a minute I'd lost him in the long grass but, no, there he is, the Northland adventurer!

Sirocco, New Zealander of the Year

Sirocco the kakapo gets cosy with zoologist Mark Carwadine.

I think the Broadcasters Handbook states that this weekend is when radio and TV personalities should start reviewing the year just passed.

This weekend, not the Friday prior to this weekend.

Yesterday morning the radio announcer who accompanies me on my drive to work, was asked to name his New Zealander of the year. He was obviously taken unawares. But as radio announcers must avoid long pauses he muttered briefly, grasped onto a passing thought and decided that a native bird is a New Zealander and chose Sirocco, the kakapo.

He didn't elaborate much but recommended his listeners look the bird up on the net. Obviously I had missed that news story so I looked it up. A few kakapo facts:

The kakapo is one of New Zealand’s unique ‘treasures’ and with only 124 known surviving birds it is listed internationally as a critically endangered species.

With so few kakapo remaining, they all need special attention which is provided by the Department of Conservation (DOC) who work to save them from extinction. They have moved all kakapo to New Zealand's off-shore islands, where there are no predators - like possums, rats and stoats.

It is the rarest parrot in the world. It’s flightless, nocturnal, it’s the world’s heaviest parrot, it's possibly the oldest living bird and it has a subsonic mating boom that can travel several kilometres, just to name a few things!

Sirocco, Mike Hoskings' New Zealander of the Year, had an uncertain start to life, suffering a respiratory illness at three weeks old. The treatment he required meant that he had to be hand-raised, and he was the first male kakapo for this to happen. Unfortunately he had to be raised in the absence of other kakapo, and as a result became imprinted on humans. Older age doesn’t seem to have increased his interest in other kakapo yet; he doesn’t associate with them at all, and instead he booms in the presence of humans.

As a result, staff realised he is unlikely to be an effective breeding bird, but decided he had a future as an extremely good advocate for his species; and can provide a great opportunity for people to meet a live kakapo. He has been visited by many school groups, and provides hard-working volunteers with a good chance of seeing a bird.

Sirocco remains a wild bird in that he does not live in captivity, but he has visited several places in the last few years - on tour as ambassador for his species.

He achieved superstar status in October 2009, when the BBC series “Last Chance to See” featuring Stephen Fry and Mark Cawardine aired in the UK. A YouTube clip of Sirocco getting ‘up close and personal’ (read trying to mate) with presenter Mark Cawardine 's head gained more than 700 000 views in just one week! And that's a lot of hits for a New Zealander.

To see how Sirocco gained his fame, click here. It's very funny!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Friday My Town Shoot Out - Decorated for Christmas

I guess I'm a bit hopeless really. I'm just not into Christmas decorations. My youngest daughter is exactly the opposite. She loves to decorate her tree and take her Christmas photo in front of her tree.
Justify Full

But everywhere I look, I see the countryside decked out in its Christmas finery. The pohutukawa tree flowers at this time of year and is known as the New Zealand Christmas tree. And what could be more beautiful?

Outside my office at work young hibiscus trees are flowering for the first time - and look very festive:

At the beach this tree will soon be in full bloom and what better gift could be sitting under it?

Closer to home some paddocks are thick with carrot weed - yes, it's a weed but it sure is pretty. I think that looks kinda Christmasy.

Despite Christmas decorations not being my thing I'm looking forward to seeing other FSO posts. You can check them out by going here. And, if you see something you like, it's not too late to do it for yourself. Maybe I will be inspired to want something other than a nicely decorated cup of coffee: