The Overflow

If you were being asked to take part in a word association test and you were given “The Overflow”

how would you respond?

Chances are, a Kiwi would respond like an Australian, for many of us share in that heritage of the Bush Ballad, particularly those of Banjo Paterson and our schooling would bring us straight to…”Clancy of The Overflow”. Anyhow that was my mental response when I made enquiries about the junkshop in Mayfield and was told it’s ‘The Overflow’.

Clancy of the Overflow (link)

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The Road to O Tu Wharekai Part II

Back in September last year I did a post “On the way to O Tu Wharekai” it was hasty, photos weren’t so good and I fully expected to quickly find out what was meant by O Tu Wharekai and let you know.  Well it only took 7 months to get to the bottom of, and then I did literally, crutch deep in stinking mud and slimy water (sorry no photos, much too busy extricating self).


Hakatere huts – Ashburton Gorge

Now I had an idea that O Tu Wharekai had something to do with food – the wharekai on a marae is the dining hall, but I couldn’t see the fit for Tu.  Capitalised ‘Tu’ is usually an abbreviation for Tu Matauenga the god of war and just plain ‘tu’ is to stand or often to ‘take a stand’ or a fighting stance.  It finally became clear recently when I got to stay a few nights at the Hakatere huts and had the leisure to read the information panels there (no pub, no telly, no phone, no cell cover, definitely no internet). Continue reading

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From the Uttermost ends of the Earth

Tomorrow, 25 April 2016, marks 100 years since the first ANZAC commemoration, 101 years since the brief, bloody and ultimately futile war for control of the Dardanelles was kicked off by British and Australian Troops landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula.  The slaughter at Gallipoli led to the erection of memorials of some sort or another throughout the land.


Woodbury War Memorial, South Canterbury, NZ

The New Zealanders would land in the 2nd wave behind the Australians, collectively, ANZACs.  Perhaps the greatest feat of the campaign came when the Turkish troops looked out on the Aegean Sea at dawn on the 20th of December, 1915 to find the flotilla of ships that had been there for the past 8 months gone, 40,000 troops had been evacuated without the Turks having an inkling, even though they could look into almost every position. Continue reading

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Mountain Men and Mariners

A month ago I went West again through the parched hills of North Canterbury, to Westport for a 92nd Birthday. Fiercely independent my father had recently been forced into care.  If he was single and had his way, he’d be out in the mountains still, content in a tin shack (or so he says).  He gave up being a Mountain Man, trapping fur and prospecting in the mountains to chase a dark haired vision and then provide for a family but the passion for wilderness remains, long car journeys are out, so what to do after the celebrations?


Hanmer Springs in a dry February


A sign of relief, a skiff of rain at the Boyle in the Lewis Pass


Can you smell it? Rain sizzling on hot tar


They say ‘the camera doesn’t lie’ but I swear I couldn’t see the white line. Nearly out of the Buller Gorge, tropical rain defeating the wipers on full speed.


Happy 92nd! Mississipi mudcake with a smattering of whanau at “J’s” Cafe in Westport.


With nieces and nephew from near and far we had coffee and cake at “J’s” Cafe in Westport. Jay had tried calling it “Middle Break”, a reference to the Middle Brake on the Denniston Incline but being a local, everyone kept calling it Jay’s.  This little video will give you an idea of what the Denniston Incline is all about. And this one an idea of what it is like now

The weather was atrocious so later we tried the North Tip Head for a taste of the wild side and weren’t disappointed.


Buller River, North Tip Head


Deja vu: for a moment it feels like being on the fore-deck of a Cook Strait Ferry


The Tasman Sea has a well earned reputation.


It was my father who taught me how to read the sea, to see the pattern of the sets and always keep an eye out for the rogue wave.

Such a wave, is one of my earliest memories from further up the coast at Karamea, one minute my sister and I were playing in driftwood tossed high on the beach by a long forgotten storm, next thing we knew we were rolling around in amongst it and soaked.  Bruised and scraped from head to foot we forgot about that when we realised our parents were no longer on the beach in front of us.  Apparently the wave had popped out of no-where and swept along the beach so they’d had to run along the beach not up it, to escape.

I’d forgotten about the lost Mariners memorial to which has been added in recent years plaques in memory of those lost at sea from this little town.  Click on an image to enlarge it.

There was a time when drowning was known as the ‘National Death’ and the western river and harbour bars have taken more than their share, a moments inattention or just bad luck and it’s all over, as with the Craig Ewan on the Grey in 1993. In this newsclip tragedy-on-greymouth-bar

Still they don’t always end in tragedy as in the wreck of the scow Fairburn in 1936:

“….upon departing Westport for Little Wanganui to load timber for Wellington the master, Captain Thomas C. Sawyers, found the seas on the Buller River Bar too rough, and decided to return to Port; but she was caught by the seas and driven on to the North Tip-Head of the Bar. She struck the wall with such force that she made water fast, and her crew of six just managed to get to shore before she sank.”

And these fishing boats entering the Grey River just down the coast

With the appropriate fast food on hand we returned to the Shingle Beach for the peak of the high tide.


Half a mile up the river is the ‘Shingle Beach’, supposed to be a safe place for swimming but with the taint of sewage on the air, it’s scenic but I’ll pass on the dip.

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Firing Ground


Coming out of the Ashburton Gorge with a layer of smoke over the Canterbury Plains

I understand why

and I know it’s allowed

but I also know it isn’t necessary so:


It’s appalling this layer of smoke over Canterbury for the last month on every nice day.


Stubble to burn under smoke burdened clouds

It’s appalling that a third world practice persists in a country that trades on its ‘clean – green’ image.

Theeere goes, Another One!

Theeere goes, Another One!

It’s appalling that an arable farmer can fire paddocks, burning the carbon in the surface of the soil, when a forest owner has to buy carbon credits when a tree is felled.

And Another

And Another

It’s appalling that a high-tech farmer can increase profit by transferring the environmental cost of poor practice to the population at large through air pollution, anthropogenic global warming and depleting the soils natural potential.

Stubble fire, Geraldine, Canterbury, NZ. An unsustainable but accepted farming practice.

Stubble fire, Geraldine, Canterbury, NZ. An unsustainable but accepted farming practice.

Bottom line: this pall of smoke is unsustainable and needs to end.


Stubble fire – smoke haze. Mt Peele from near Mayfield, Canterbury, NZ

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Refugees and xenophobia

This post is political and controversial, as such I figure there’s a need for a comments policy.

Comments Policy:  Comments are welcome but please keep them civil, no abusive language, no name calling, no attacks on commenters.  I reserve the right to delete/edit obnoxious comments.

In the strawbale house


Earth plastered strawbale house interior

alongside the horse-float that I’ve been calling home for the summerRIMG0723appeared an unplanned artwork, a commentary on international policy and humanitarian crises.


Your produce is welcome, your labour is welcome but you, my friend, can stay where you are.

I’ve been watching the unfolding of the Syrian refugee crisis and the various responses to it.  Here on the opposite side of the world there’s not much else we can do but think about our own responses to what is going on in our own backyard.

Back in Europe Angela Merkel took the politically brave and equally astute step of opening Germany’s doors to the refugees.  Sadly, Germany is now back-pedalling after the electorate back-lash.  The move was astute because most refugees return to their country of origin when peace returns, and they will go with gratitude for the country that gave them shelter in their hour of need.  They will have a new appreciation for things German and a willingness to trade with Germany over countries that didn’t help.

Nearer to home our government has agreed to raise the pitiful cap on how many refugees get settled here (better than nothing I suppose?), and Winnie has been wind-bagging on about NZ for New Zealanders – what is a NZer anyway?  We’re all descended from migrants and refugees.

Australia persists with the Pacific Solution despite the stories of atrocities filtering out of the concentration, I mean detention camps on Nauru and Manus Island.

Meanwhile in the US the primaries are drawing to a close and Don Trump appears to be soaring to a high note on a wave of nationalistic, anti-immigrant fervor.  It’s the same xenophobic ranting that’s being repeated throughout Europe and is giving Angela Merkel such a hard time.

What really surprises me is that the nations of the former ANZUS pact, whose populations are built from migrants and refugees seeking opportunity and freedom from persecution, seem to have forgotten their roots and lost any sense of compassion in the process.  Come to that the ongoing nature of the Syrian crisis is, at least in part, due to the intervention by the West.  It seems that even as we move to a global economy, global communications and a global labour force that we are also determined to prevent people engaged in a struggle for existence from escaping the hell that they face daily.

Refugees are not the problem, our attitude is.

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Sssss… stands for:

Strolling in misty mountains not far from Edoras inRIMG1469

Search of Scaly Snouts andRIMG1479 Continue reading

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Crazy Christmas time again

It’s been a while since my last post and the Christmas break is giving me a chance to at least acknowledge that. I’ve been working away from home, sleeping in a horse-float and cut-off from internet things during the week, with too many chores and too knackered on the weekends to keep up to date.  However I have been having a ball and taking a heap of photos of the work and mountain environment I’ve been in so I intend to catch up in due course.

The landlord (where the horse-float is parked) has an earth oven and is building a straw-bale house so I have some comforts.


frosty morning

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RIMG0036I’m being charged by a diminutive knight across a field of grey stone, suppressing a chuckle because her gallant defiance is undermined by her comical appearance with long black lance bent sideways at the tip.  Charge completed I am presented with displays of broken wings and ruffled tail feathers, but I ignore her and continue scanning the grey stones until I spot 2 stones that are oddly symmetrical of equal size. Continue reading

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On the way to O Tu Wharekai

Home Bush woolshed

Home Bush woolshed

Rakaia Gorge

Rakaia Gorge

A couple of weeks back, dawn found me one hours drive down Scenic Route 72, passing the historic brick woolshed at Home Bush Station, boring through Glentunnel, humming through Wind-Whistle, hopping the drop into the Rakaia to skip and jump the dual gaps that squeeze this miles wide, braided river down to less than 100 metres wide.  After climbing out on the south side it’s a down hill run past the Mt Hutt skifield entrance, over the Taylor River and North

North Branch Ashburton River

North Branch Ashburton River

Branch Ashburton River, around to Alford Forest where snow lingered not far from the road 0n the treeless hills.

Mt Somers

Mt Somers



With Mt Somers looming ahead Staveley Cafe is closed and dark so no espresso for this express.  A little further is Mt Somers village and the turn-off for Lakes Heron and Clearwater, Mt Potts and Erewhon Stations and the Hakatere Conservation Park, gateway to the Arrowsmith Mountains. Next up is the South Branch Ashburton River followed by Mayfield. From Mayfield it’s a long haul toward an ever receding vanishing point under leaden skys of norwester tortured altocu and the passage of time marked only by DSCN3756the growing presence of Mt Peele and its prominent ridge.  It’s a taste of Highway One south of Christchurch just quieter, narrower, bumpier and a lot less tedious with much better scenery.

Rangitata River on Scenic Route 72

Rangitata River on Scenic Route 72

Slowing for the  Rangitata River the bed is choked with introduced weeds, pushed around by bulldozers and constrained by stop-banks (levees) that prevent the river developing its normal braided character.


Rangitata water storage

Behind the stop-banks there are new water storage ponds (lakes really) to quench the thirst of dairy conversion on these dry stony plains.

A little further and I arrive in Geraldine, famous for ‘Barkers Elderberry Wine‘ and just the right distance from Kaikoura to be an overnight stop for tourists on their way to the McKenzie Basin and Mt Cook National Park.  Geraldine will be my home away from home while I learn about wrybill, ngutupare (ngutu – lips; pare – turned aside) and tarapiroe, black-fronted terns the hard way,  As part of the work around the “O Tu Wharekai” project I’ll be monitoring their breeding success on the Rangitata River.


ngutupare wrybill

These birds are endemic to NZ breeding only on the braided rivers where population decline is such that they are now largely confined to the eastern South Island rivers.  They are joined here by a third braided river endemic, the black-billed gull, superficially similar to that mobber of seaside picnics and fishing wharves, the red-billed gull.

All three are in trouble and have been for some time.  Top of the list of woes is habitat loss, by engineers forcing the


tarapiroe black-fronted tern

rivers into a narrow bed and by the damming of many of these rivers for

hydro-electricity; by an army of weedy introduced plants that occupy potential nest sites and  stabilise the riverbed preventing the creation of new sites; and more recently increased extraction of water for irrigation making the rivers less suitable for nesting and less productive.


An engineers playground, gotta have straight lines.

Next on the list is human related disturbance: dogs, motorbikes, 4WD vehicles and fishers oblivious to the mayhem they cause.  Elsewhere in NZ I’ve encountered dog-walkers proud of how their dog “put up” the birds earlier.

Last but not least there’s the onslaught from all the introduced predators: cats, stoats, ferrets, weasels, ship rats and Norway rats and a surprise to most people is Mrs Tiggy Winkle and her prickly brood, who take eggs of any age and disrupt the breeding cycle.  For those who don’t know the tale of Mrs Tiggy Winkle follow this link.  O Tu Wharekai is seeking to find more affordable ways of dealing with these pests.

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