West Island: Part I – avoiding Brisbane

West Island

When I worked in National Parks I’d often meet tourists who expressed surprise at how hard it is to get here, they (usually USAmericans) had this idea that NZ was a small island just off the coast of Australia, well I have to say it’s the other way around, Australia is a small continent a long way off the west coast of NZ. We’ve recently had a flying visit to that red continent, some of us affectionately refer to as the West Island or  The Big Red Dusty.

Kirsty and Rellies on Mt Coot-Tha, Brisbane city behind.

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One of the things we Treecroppers are known for is struggling with marginal crops.  For me, number one has to be figs.  We have a few varieties strategically planted with a wall to their south to try and make that extra warmth they need.

One is an experimental variety which I lost the name of but it’s attractive with a strong fig flavour

Don’t know the variety but this fig tastes like caramelised brown sugar with some sort of spice added in

Not at all like the bland brown turkey variety

Brown turkey fig, nice colour and sweet but low in flavour

When we can get them they make good hot puddings, jam, fig and apple leather and are excellent with feijoa on cereal. Continue reading

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Farm Foresters in the hills of Cheviot

Mendip Hills

Thursday last week, North Canterbury Farm Forestry visited Mendip Hills. We looked at a harvested site, some young cypress and Douglas fir and got blown off a highpoint (the planned lunch venue), by a wet and icy wind. No bother, retiring to the woolshed there was a great hubbub as farmers from all over North Canterbury had a general catch up.  After that we were told how large areas of native vegetation are being managed for carbon sequestration and collecting manuka honey.  The latter is a sideline that the owners intend to enhance with manuka planting and carbon farming on the less productive parts of the station, such as the c. 25km2 Mt Stewart block.

Now if you’re new to this site and feeling a little disoriented that’s OK, because as any Brit probably knows The Mendip Hills are in Somerset not Canterbury. It doesn’t help that the nearest town here, is Cheviot, nestled on the edge of a formerly swampy plain, when anyone from the Borders knows Cheviot is one of the high hills in Northumberland. This Mendip Hills is bounded on the East by the Conway River (after the River Conwy in North Wales ) and on the south and west by the Leader River (after the River Leader, on the Tweed near Lauder in the Scottish Borders). This then is not The Mendip Hills but the Mendip Hills Station. The English settlers here might as well have drawn names out of a hat for all the geographical sense they make, or perhaps I just like order too much.

Mendip Hills is a big station at around 6000 ha but a fraction of it’s original 16,000ha, this link gives a quick review of some early history and a photo of the 1917 woolshed

Photo of Mendip Hills Woolshed in 1917

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First proper post in a long time

Sometimes I get to do hard graft in interesting places.  A recent overnight stay on the coast south of Kaikoura was brought about by a seek and destroy mission for Old Man’s Beard (OMB), Clematis vitalba, and Banana Passionfruit.  It also gave me my second contact with the Kaikoura district since the devastating earthquake over 18 months ago, even though Claverley at the mouth of the Conway River (Piri tutae putaputa) is really on the periphery of the core damage areas.  Environmental weeds just haven’t been a priority put up against rebuilding roads, houses, sheds and fences.

Above and below: Old man’s beard, Clematis vitalba, smothers native forest

Banana passionfruit, attractive and tasty but a scourge for coastal forests

This was a revisit to follow up on work done three years ago, long overdue but unavoidable with road closures and a shortage of accommodation with so many houses uninhabitable after the big quake.  Three years ago, trees were being pulled down by the weight of vines and there were vines of all ages throughout the native forest remnants that were to be rescued.  OMB was spread over a 20m circle having already pulled down the trees in the middle.  Banana passionfruit, had vines so big that I dragged my arborists chainsaw into the jungle and with great piles of vines like spaghetti on the ground I fashioned a drill bit to fit into one of those old spiral ratchet screwdrivers and injected a stiff mix of glyphosate into the holes.

Gallery, mouse over for captions or click to enlarge.

Some of my vine drilling had been very effective but on vines that had layered (rooted where the vine touched the ground) or with decayed cores, it hadn’t always done the job.

The real challenge is finding all the banana passionfruit vines and not killing a whole heap of  the native vines, particularly as one remnant forest is full of native passionfruit and the vines are near to identical, while the leafy bit 10m up on the outside of the canopy can be 20m away from the vine on the ground.

Gallery: a litany of lianas

Accommodation for the night was a self contained cabin on a local farm.  Arriving in dusk I didn’t notice the stunning view until the morning, and as I was leaving I finally noticed  the earthquake damage to the adjacent house (soon to be demolished).

Some of the areas to be gone over, are old sea cliffs where getting around relies heavily on swinging off, standing on and hauling up on, the trees, vines and grasses. Topping out from a scramble involving hanging off the wind-sculpted dreads of pohuehue, Muehlenbeckia complexa, I could hear a murmur and much heavy breathing.  Raising my head, almost close enough to touch, a mob of young Angus had gathered at the clifftop drawn by my thrashing and muttering, quite unused to seeing a prone human.


Prime Angus

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On Hay fever


Suffer from hay-fever? Looking to reduce the chemicals in your life? Phil Garnock-Jones a retired professional botanist, based in Wellington recently posted on how he avoids using anti-histamines, on his mostly botanical blog “Theobrominated”.  As he repeatedly says ‘this is not medical advice’ but if you’re a hay fever sufferer and you can’t go to Antarctica for the main pollen season, this just might provide another level of relief.

The blog is hosted on Blogspot so I can’t just re-blog his post, you’ll find it here  ‘Theobrominated’

Fortunately I don’t have problems with hay-fever but Phil, what about migraines?


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Historic Fairview Homestead For Sale

Looking for outdoor living space? Got a bunch of kids with no where to play? Into horses?  Fairview might just be the answer.

I’ve been helping get the trees under control on friends’ 3 acre section as their interests have outgrown this historic Waddington estate with its extensive grounds. With their interests elsewhere, they’ve made the hard decision to sell Fairview and I’m just easing the woody stuff and creeper filled wilderness into a more presentable shape. Continue reading

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Flax cultivars for weaving

This coming Friday 18th August, the Canterbury Botanical Society will be having a guided tour of the Rene Orchiston, living harakeke collection at Landcare Research, Lincoln. Meet outside the main reception, 54 Gerald St, by 1.25pm.  Parking is limited, so it is recommended to find a roadside parking space, and walk to Landcare Research.

The collection comprises over 60 varieties of flax selected by Maori weavers and brought into cultivation for their diverse properties.  To understand what  I mean by that, download the catalogue (PDF) and read some of the descriptions.

Rene Orchiston collection – catalogue

The catalogue also has a brief introduction to the many uses and history of NZ flax, that is well worth reading.

The varieties include both swamp flax/harakeke (Phormium tenax) and mountain flax/wharariki (Phormium cookianum).

Harakeke is the 3m tall stiff bladed flax that fills the marshy ground beside lakes, rivers and lagoons as in this variety copied from the catalogue

ARAWA (42)
Source: Rotoiti area.
Description:  Straight, fairly long, medium green blades. Up to 2.5 m tall. Reddish-orange margin and keel. Very high flower heads but seldom flowers.

Uses:  Excellent muka harakeke. The best Mrs Orchiston found

detail from a family portrait. My great grandmother modelling a bone patu with flax wrist loop, bone hei tiki and a feather cloak (colours are hand tints by the printer late 19th C)

for producing long strands of clean fibre with hāro method (stripping with a shell).

Good for piupiu because it is so easy to prepare. Especially good for ladies piupiu because of the length although the prepared strips do not dry as strong as other cultivars. When boiled for one minute, it dries to a cream colour. Ideal for whenu and aho in kākahu and for muka kete.

Without harakeke and it’s muka the weaving methods of taaniko and feather cloaks might not have developed.


Wharariki is that tough and shiny chest high tussock that flexes to the wind in exposed sites from coastal cliffs up into the sub-alpine zone where it joins hebe, turpentine scrub and mountain daisies above the treeline.  Wharariki is pliable but it is difficult to extract the fibre so is more likely to be used in weaving such as kete/baskets, as in this example from the catalogue

Source: Tairawhiti (East Coast).
Description:  Short, bendy, bright yellow-green blades, giving the bush a yellowish
Uses:  Very valuable for kete as it dries to a clear yellow when boiled for half a minute. Gives good contrast for patterns when used with other cultivars. When unboiled, it dries to rich bronze-golden shades. Not a muka variety.


For a full story on the history of NZ flax this link goes to a New Zealand Geographic article, that starts in a replica collection, in a paddock near Takaka Flax-the enduring fibre, NZ Geographic

Heres a condensed video, from paddock to wardrobe, of the making of a mans (short) piupiu.


kete: a basket

kākahu: a cloak

muka: the fibre that remains after the flesh and skin of the leaf is stripped away.

aho: in weaving, the weft.

piupiu: skirt of dried and jointed harakeke leaves woven at the waist to form a belt.

whenu: in weaving, the warp

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Honesty Box

Facing the back of the Old Canterbury University


West of this Y


yet East of this Y


is what must be the smallest public Continue reading

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Cultural Shift

We must have been having terrible weather lately because I received a couple of emails (even one from Oz) asking how we’d fared with the storms that have hit Canterbury recently.

Well thanks for asking

We’re fine

We had a one day wonder

The consummate divaricate, wiggiwiggi, Muehlenbeckia astonii

Then we had a week of sun and frosts

followed by a bit of wet

looks like the 8″ culvert is blocked

after that a week of sun and frosts

During which there was a whole day knocking in steel ‘Y’ posts

followed by another bit of wet

and now we’re finally getting the sort of frosts that usually start in June.

That’s the air temp, not the frost temp. The frost was more like -10C

I’d really like to know how it is that frosts dry up puddles overnight!

It’s part of the human condition that we keep adjusting our idea of normal to match changing conditions, that’s Cultural Shift. The classic example from the 20th C. was the size of fish. When I was a kid a 5lb snapper would be let go as a tiddler. By 1990, 2lb was a good fish and 10lb would have a good chance of winning the annual surf-casting competition.

Surf casting at Birdling’s Flat, Banks Peninsula

Cultural Shift with weather seems to happen really fast, the reality in Canterbury is that we’ve just had two very dry winters, so dry that we haven’t had water over the 8” culvert for just under 3 years,

and it seems a lot of people, especially the media, are thinking this is the new norm, what the locals call a green drought. Now we’re back to average everyone is grizzling about how wet it is, but this sort of flooding is normally a 3 – 5 times a year event. Then in Christchurch, ever since the big earthquakes it doesn’t take much to get flooding, a combination of some suburbs that are one to two metres lower, streams that are narrower and the Avon – Heathcote Estuary got higher near the outlet. That all adds up to even poorer drainage than what you get from building a city in a swamp, should’ve built it like Venice.

Christchurch and the Avon – Heathcote Estuary from the Summit Road on the Port Hills

So for those that were wondering if we were affected by the bad weather,  Yeah ( the ground is a bit waterlogged) thanks for your concern


but really  – Nah.

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Seeing Red

Looking at the sites stats for this blog the most visited post is getting started with carving wooden spoons, which is totally weird as that’s not really a focus for Between the Ocean and the Sea. However given the interest and that the related blogs I look at, have recurring questions around getting cut, I thought I would share a recent experience. If you’re using good technique, correctly you won’t get cut, but most of us make mistakes, don’t we? Please tell me I’m not alone in this, because here’s a doozy.

Caution the first photo is somewhat graphic

I see red when I make a total stuff up Continue reading

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