West Island: Part II Brisbane to Girraween

Brisbane to Girraween National Park via Boonah, Woodenbong, Tabulam and Tenterfield

We could have flown, bused or railed to Sydney but decided to take a few days, spending each night in a different National Park. I’d also decided that I didn’t want to travel the main roads. On Google Earth it looked like the old Pacific Highway was mostly through conjoined towns with the only breaks in the houses coming at coastal National Parks while the relatively new M1 coastal motorway takes a more inland route (good if you want to do the 11 – 12 hours drive in one sitting but that’s about it). Inland the New England Highway sweeps through the landscape in graceful curves bypassing features and an expectation of being pushed along by the other traffic – boring and frustrating I expect. So I found a compromise of winding but sealed roads to take us between the two main routes venturing onto the New England Highway occasionally and sadly the M1 from Newcastle to Sydney. Our route took us back and forth over the dividing range with the added bonus that for much of the journey altitude moderated temperatures down into the high 20’s (Celsius)


Heading south from Brisbane toward Ipswich

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The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Armistice WWI.  Today is the Centenary and I missed it! It had slipped my notice until the commemoration events hit today’s news, taking top spot in all the reporting.  But it’s not too late for those in the rest of the world to take part.

New Zealand events were all over the country with two minutes silence followed by an encouragement for people where ever they were to recreate the celebration sounds (horns, whistles, cheering etc. etc.).

I heard tell of another commemorative horse ride, but I couldn’t find any reference to it.  I did do posts on two rides a couple of years ago, here and here, and found that I’d missed another noteworthy horse event A YEAR AGO, the unveiling of Hamilton’s warhorse sculpture. http://www.toti.co.nz/he-tangata-project/war-horse


Warhorse sculpture by Matt Gauldie. Photo http://www.toti.co.nz/he-tangata-project/war-horse

To be a Mounted Rifle the soldier needed to bring his own horse from NZ, most of the men forming close bonds with their horses.  The sculpture depicts a Waikato horse searching for it’s fallen rider at Beersheba, a town near Gaza, taken by the Australian Light Horse on 31 October 1917.  First a major infantry engagement on the far side of the town, and to clear the way for the Australians, a 6 hour fight by the Auckland, Wellington and Canterbury Brigades of the NZ Mounted Rifles and the First Australian Lighthorse Brigade, to take a fortified hill , Tel el Saba, overlooking the line of approach and  the town.


We can let the Australians have this one, a similar feat was achieved by the NZ forces at Ayun Kara on 14th November 1917



Earlier that year the Otago Mounted Rifle Brigade played a key role in the Battle of Messines, Belgium in the lead up to the Battle of Passchendaele.  Two British corp and the II ANZAC Corp would advance on Messines and the Otagos would charge through them to speed the advance and gather intelligence on enemy positions and movements.  In the event they made it 800m behind enemy lines before being forced to dismount by heavy fire.  A rather heroic painting by M. Gauldie, depicts the charge (part of which is shown here).  From 7 June to 9 June the NZ Division (just one of 9) suffered 3700 casualties.




In Christchurch, Cranmer Square has been decorated to portray Canterbury’s losses with 4389 crosses and 1 Star of David (see if you can find it).  The full article on the Christchurch City Council website can be found here: https://ccc.govt.nz/news-and-events/newsline/show/3136



Cranmer Sq, Christchurch, Armistice Day Centenary commemoration. Photo CCC

“In all, 103,000 New Zealanders served overseas during World War I from a population of 1.1 million. There were 59,500 casualties, with 18,200 dying and 41,300 wounded.”


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Tu Matakuru

Finding the elusive wrybill, ngutuparore (lips turned aside),

female wrybill and nest

in the Rakaia River is sometimes pleasant

Rakaia River, Canterbury, NZ

sometimes simply vile Continue reading

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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: SOLD


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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