Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Lunch with self confessed "white collar greenie" and long-time committed conservationist Colin Ryder, somehow led me to the ferry next day, and Matiu/Somes Island. The little place that sits out there in the middle of my office view. Matiu has a chequered history; fortress, quarantine station, p.o.w camp and farm. It is now a recovering island paradise. Dedicated volunteers have replanted all but the most historic sites on the island, and now the bush is starting to flourish. Kakarikis, which I have not seen so close since a visit to Whenua Hou, play like fighter jets through the whiteywood.

Tuatara live here too, and weta. Cook Strait Giant Weta! And Blue Penguins around 800 banded at last count. The uncommon spotted shag roost on the south end of the island, which we peer over, looking back towards Wellington, the natural city, nestled in the arms of Tangaroa. It is great to be out here. This place that so many stare at. On this harbour of the many moods.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


We were in danger in doing no exploring of substance all weekend, but Penny pulled me off the track. Kapakapanui at just over 1000 metres high towers over the Kapiti Coast at the southern end of the Tararua Range. The loop from the end of Ngatiawa Road in the Reikorangi valley is a great fast walk of about 4hrs. The climb is solid though 900 metres vertical over a few kilometres.

View Larger Map

There is some great bush on this loop. Tawa and Pukatea on their stream side platforms. Kamahi abd beech up higher, with Rata crawling everywhere. Or towering above. It seems to be all or nothing with this plant. The gyrocopter like Toro appear in the mossy goblin forest of the tops along with Horopito, the pepper tree. And on the tops astelia and even leatherwood can appear pleasantly proportioned when there is an easy track to wander through.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Cheese Toastie of Moments

I was thinking selection, or snippets, or maybe slices. A few paragraphs of travel writing like slices of bread. But then it hit me, cheese toasties.

I hugged the tree. Especially soppy. But I can explain it, it was a mountain cabbage. I had been grumpy that morning. A grumpy bastard. The others were long gone when I was wiggling my pants on trying to avoid the condensation on the roof of the tent. They had left the shelter a mess, as you do when the water is frozen. Ever tried wiping a frozen bench with a frozen cloth? And the camera was gone. Disaster. I had cursed then contemplated boredom, the empty campsite surrounded by bush in the lonely valley. It was mahi that settled the soul. Litter duty eased my troubles. I cached the gear, left a note and strode towards the mountain. My heart lifts with exercise and the mountain cabbage with its spiky hairdo lets down its defences in layers of old fronds.

They have found the missing link. It scythes across the valley side like a water race. Seemingly blasted from rock. Standing above precipices. It splashes through the river then twists up to the pylon on the other side. The trees grow now over the gorse. Mountain biking ecology. Plant natives around the tracks and help them last forever.

It is a place where couples hang-out. Wellingtons favourite romantic slightly adventurous sunset. We have been here many times before, and sat on the old gun emplacements. This time we walked further south towards the bay and sunk in the enormity of the windmills. They emphasise how poked things are. These stripped coastal hills struggle to regenerate. But they will. In 50 years time this land will be bush and we will take down some of these windmills. Those that intrude on our less garish aspects. And we will move on.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Antarctic Exploration

I just stumbled upon this great old film, part 1 of 5 on Youtube. George Lowes account of the 1955-1958 Commonwealth Transantarctic Expedition. Great footage of earlier expeditions by Scott and Shackleton, as well as Hillary and team training in the Southern Alps.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Hut Track


We were up at the mountain for the weekend. In the North Island everyone knows where "the mountain" is, Ruapehu. Ruapehu in Maori legend is the broad shouldered partner of Taranaki who dallied with the squat but volatile Tongariro. Now she is the winter playground for thousands of people who flock to the skifields at Turoa and Whakapapa.

For me it was a great place to take a few photos. There are not many places in New Zealand where we humans intrude into the alpine environment as much as at Whakapapa.

For Penny it was a chance to learn some new climbing skills and get to know some more people.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Its greytone today. Southerlies from Africa, straight down from the Cape of Good Hope (where they are northerlies) over the frozen continent and straight up our spines. The front last night dumped plenty of snow on the Tararuas. I can just see the thrills of the skirt now. Just before the sun shone briefly on the headwaters of the Hutt. A haze of piercing subdued light, which I know from my time in the mountains can give false warmth and optimisim before the greytone returns.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Wayne Barrer

A friend reading in this blog of my curiosity for photography of the Urban Fringe, tipped me off about contemporary New Zealand photographer Wayne Barrer. I have never been interested in photography in this sense before so it is quite a journey of discovery ahead of me looking at our country anew through the lens of an artist.

The book she suggested and that I have found down at the Kilbirnie Library is "Shifting Nature". The photograhs of Wayne Barrer with an introductory essay by the late Geoff Park. The photos are landscapes but not as most of us know them. The picturesque New Zealand is there, tinged by a suggestion of the sublime, behind the camera. The subjects are the edge of our wild spaces, where the tentacles of our culture reach into nature.

Park sums it up well "by looking at the landscape as he does, Barrar lets us slip inside it a little. Integral to that craft is his pulling at our legs, imploring us to come down from The Picturesque Viewing Tower. He doesn't shout because he knows that won't get the message across and considered. But he doesn't want us to stay up there in the bitter colonial wind.

And it is Barrer himself who describes that space which I have crudely refered to as the urban fringe.There is a margin around most of our towns, and along most of our rivers and coasts - a border zone where until recently, few regulations were enforced and little responsibility was taken. At worst a dumping ground for waste or toxic leakage from industrial use, this margin can also be represented by the ordinary landscape of a summer beach community sprawling over the surrounding dunes. This "vernacular landscape" is true marginal land, and as such, carries the responsibility of providing a huge array of uses. It is also where I go to experience the greatest intensity of collision between natural processes and people. Great photos, great book.

It's nothing but a heartache....

The Wellington International Ukulele orchestra.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Sand and Mirrors

Aotea Harbour - the mud flats mirror the desolate sand scape of the north side of the harbour. Mt Karioi in the distance


Penny hates it more than me, heaving her hefty bike up the path on cold mornings. I like pretending our path is an adventure race. It is slippery enough to be.

I was out for a Saturday morning cruise, down the footpath through Treasure Island to the Hataitai beach and round the waterfront looking for photos. It was an unusually misty morning and the becalmed yachts looked into the fugg fearfully.

Yesterday before the rain hit I had been intending to take some photos down at the "arsehole of Wellington". The gravelly beach of Evans Bay. This beach is the terminus of the body of water that sweeps below our flat. Northerly one day, southerly the next. It captures for a time any plastic debris that doesn't get sucked out the mouth of the harbour. Evans Bay Beach is the first piece of coastline any visitor drives by after leaving the international airport. Unfortunately the narrow built up verge and neglected plantings serve to shield it from their eyes...

I used to feel superior to the Guatemalans and Indonesians, in regards to their attitudes towards rubbish. Now I just feel shame. Would we do any better if we didn't have to do more than just leave it at our door. Hell no! At least they are not hypocrites, prepared to live amongst it, rather than pretend it never existed. I will never forget seeing an albatross chick vomit a plastic glove. I am reminded everytime I see plastic intermingled with the pebbles on a beach. Everytime I see another shitty single use container, or bag used in my hand. Even in the paper today, there is a report that the rare Blue Whale washed up on the West Coast was found to have a 7metre length of heavy duty fishing rope stuck in its throat. No one would have dared check its gut I suspect.

I moved on via Miramar to something infinitely more hopeful. A planting day for Forest and Birds Places for Penguins group at Tarakena Bay. Over 1000 plants, coastal and dune specific, were planted to revegetate an area to encourage little blue penguin nesting. Efforts are being made to revegetate the coast side of the road because too many penguins are being killed crossing the road to nest in the more established bush. A little video clip best shows the industrious little group at work.

And there is action around the world. Watch this video! It is one of the most surprisingly good environmental action videos I have seen. Take care out there.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Long Way Home

Hawkins hill isn't far from downtown Wellington, especially with 27 gears. From here a rough path descends gradually then sharply into red rocks. The rain has settled in before I pounded the coastal road to Kilbirnie and home.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Smoking Kills

Just came accross this great documentary from Dunedin Documentary maker Nick Holmes. Smoking kills....turtles. A turtle found with 1000 cigarette butts inside it was killed by... nicotine poisoning, and so the film says 1 cigarette butt pollutes 40 litres of water...

On similar tracks...I attended a Forest and Bird meeting in Wellington the other night where a speaker related that during a recent beach clean-up of the groomed beach at Oriental Bay a feature of the rubbush collected was 2000 cigarette butts....

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Urban Fringe

I have been contemplating becoming an artist of the urban fringe, studying the edges of our society and examining the flows of energy through our environment. My basic misunderstanding of physics, chemistry, ecology and photography may make this a challenge...so don't worry I won't give up my day job.

A couple of great web resources I have found recently are the National Radios archive of the "Our Changing World" series and the New Zealand Wildlife Management Forum.

I sat down this morning and listened to a few interviews with some great New Zealand scientists - Matt McGlone on climate change and conservation - Graeme Elliot and Kath Walker on Wandering Albatross...while on the other site I found out about the reintroduction to Great Britain of the Bumblebee!!...

After being last seen in the south of England in 1998, and declared extinct in 2000, the short-haired bumblebee (Bombus subterraneus) is going to be reintroduced, from stocks reimported from New Zealand. The project hopes to see the first bees released into the wild in 2010 or 2011, conservation group Natural England says:

The short-haired bumblebee was originally exported to New Zealand in the late 1800s to pollinate red clover (also imported), which was used as cattle feed. Now the plan is to recreate enough wildflower habitat to support the bees in their native land—England has seen a loss of 98% of its wildflower meadows in the past 70 years.

Initially about 100 bees will be collected in New Zealand and then flown back in cool boxes. A captive breeding program will be developed to support the population before reintroduction.

I found that loss of wildflower habitat staggering, 98%. Hopefully when the day comes that they want mustelids returned we may have managed to wipe them out.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Well I haven't been made redundant, I'm probably more classified as "long term unemployed" or maybe I don't even count in the market economy. But I still can't get a job and I still occasionally feel pretty redundant. There is not much good either in knowing that you are one of many, because it really makes you despair at how our society can possibly repair itself, that is in the New Zealand context, let alone in the globalised world.

You read in the news some people claiming we don't value our young, some we don't value our old, but the reality is that we don't value our people and their need to fit into some sort of community. There are way too many losers in our society and plenty of them have lots of money and stuff.

I am one of many looking for a job. PFO (please go away) letters are full of the stats...150 people applied for this job all the applicants were of a very high standard...each one of those probably spent 2 hours tailoring their application...300 hours....nearly 8 working weeks, cut down to 4 or 5 interviewees in an hour or so of an HR persons time. I volunteer for a few different organisations at the moment...what we could do with someone working fulltime for 8 working weeks! Argh.

You are left with the choice of endlessly pursuing opportunities that may or may not be there or trying to create something. Last time I was in this position I tried to create an events business, but the only way to make that pay is by providing pleasant weekends out for the wealthy. My passion lies with connecting people to the environment and helping them learn their humanity through suffering and achievement not with providing nice days out for the already successful.

So now I am trying to plot something else. I am researching the concept of "social business", see the new blog, trying to understand how socially driven businesses may be successful in cases of current market failure. I am volunteering for several organisations, most importantly "Leave No Trace" an international outdoor ethics centre setting up in New Zealand..see www.lnt.org ...and trying to stay positive. Every now and then I run out of energy, but Penny and nature generally save me from getting too down about it. The photos spread through this post are from a recent flight from Rotorua down to Christchurch where I am now for my Mums 50th and little brothers 21st. If there is little else of use us redundants can do in society we can do our absolute best to protect and support this amazing place, which often society doesn't even notice. The land, as a whole system is as outside and remote from societys concerns as we are...

Somewhere in that last left hand photo is home...tucked beneath the big pine with a pohutukawa out front...


I was lucky last weekend to be able to travel to the South Waikato. The primary purpose was a weekend of orienteering (check out the video in the next post for some footage of this) but equally important was the catching up with. We booked a bach out in wop wops of Aotea Harbour, where none of us had ever been, and used the mornings and evenings to get to know a special little part of New Zealand.

It was late Saturday night by the time we got there, though Rach and Rhys had the fire cranking, Sunday morning I was up early getting some photos around the village with the tide close to low.

The bach looked over the harbour channel towards the North Head of the harbour which is a giant looming sandhill. It reminded me of the Swedish town of Kiruna with its giant pile of tailings, exccept this is 100% natural, indeed declared a scientific reserve for its archaelogical and ecological values. Behind the sand dunes in the far distance is the volcanic cone of Karioi which towers over the famous surfing beach of Raglan.

I wondered about the village appreciating the amazing light and the timelessness of the place. There is change though. On the ridge overlooking the old bach settlement modern houses are springing up in a new subdivision. They loom over the township like alien spacecraft waiting to suck the souls out of the little children that go exploring to far away from town.

Later in the morning Rachel, Rhys, Oscar and I went walking around the headland towards Kawhia. The tide was still low enough for the pram to find hard sand. It was great to feel the sun again after an eternity of terrible weather. Ancient pohutukawas nestled in hollows at the tops of the eroded clay cliffs. And recently one had fallen. Though pohutukawas are amazingly tough colonisers able to re-root where there branches touch the ground I think this one was doomed. Its death and its neighbours life were displayed in symmetry by the horizon of the cliff top.

Rachel, Rhys and I share many values about ecology and it was nice to wonder along discussing some of them. How the patterns in nature repeated in changed scales. You can see a landscape in the erosion of the beachs...or equally in the dissolution of the rock

When you try to comprehend nature as a system, with an ecological view, be it as limited as ours (which was also a topic for discussion), you see cycles, and flow and inter-relationships and you try to percieve of the human impositions on that and the effect they have. I found this abandoned gas canister as a useful metaphor in my thinking...

Its a beuatiful walk with springs welling on the beach (rumours of hot springs further around), and weathered rocks. Further around as we left the shelter of the harbour hills the rugged south head of Kawhia harbour came into view, stretching down to worn stacks on its seaward side. In these rugged oceans the NZ Maui's dolphin struggle for existence, possibly the rarest dolhpin in the world mow that the Chinese river dolphin, the Baiji is extinct.

Oh yeah and driving out of Aotea I saw a bittern...how cool is that! In its alarmed pose on the side of the road, beak thrusted directly up revealing its striped belly used for camoflague in the reeds. Whenever I think of Bitterns I always think of the classic New Zealand childrens book "Bidibidi". Bitterns, sheep, dogs, barb wire, ghosts and a man with a rainbow coat...but anyway...