'I'm always looking for the Hows and the Whys and the Whats,' said Muskrat, 'That is why I speak as I do. You've heard of Muskrat's Much-in-Little, of course?'
'No,' said the child. 'What is it?'
- The Mouse and his Child. Russell Hoban.

Go here to find out more.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Hobbit Production Video

Fili and Kili
Taken from TheOneRingdotnet
Composite of all the dwarves here.

Speaking of Sir Peter Jackson, I got quite a thrill out of seeing the latest 'Hobbit' production diary video. It's always nice to see my New Zealand scenery through the eyes of visitors, and Sir PJ clearly enjoys sharing these snippets and teasers for the Hobbit movies.

Thanks J.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Our own Film Room

Exactly* the same as Peter Jackson, here at TLVD Mansion we have our own home movie theatre.
Just before Christmas I decided to start painting the lounge and got as far as one wall. Now we have the perfect place to project and watch our zillions of movies.

* More or less. I can't find a picture of his online, so I'm not 100% sure.

Monday, 27 February 2012


Yorkshire Pudding has recently done the predicable post about funny English place-names.*
It got me thinking about New Zealand place-names, and how most of them are a plethora of English transpositions, or from the Maori.
However, just off State Highway 6 between Queenstown and Invercargill is a tiny rural district called Fairlight. It's right in the centre of the Google Earth image below, in the valley, and surrounded by mountains. When we were passing through last, I snapped the image of the old railway station building.
Very shortly afterwards as we travelled a little further, the clouds parted for a minute and the view of the hills revealed why the area was so named.

* Despite the initial 'titilation', this is as usual a thoughtful and interesting post.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Christchurch Farewell to the Godwits, 2011.

Traditionally each year, the Cathedral bells have pealed when the last of the migrating Godwits have left the Avon-Heathcote estuary in Christchurch on their journey to their breeding grounds in Alaska.

Source: http://growingyoungereachday.wordpress.com/category/nature/

Two days before the 22 February 2012 Christchurch earthquake I was out on the New Brighton spit with hundreds of other people, for the official 'Farewell to the Godwits'.

Keith Woodley, author of Godwits - Long Haul Champions, was one of the speakers, and was also spotted being interviewed for a radio programme.

After the speakers, the crowd made their way down to the sand at the end of the spit.

On the way home in the golden dusk, I was of course completely unaware that so soon Christchurch city would be rocked by such a destructive aftershock.

Two days later large rocks - some the size of a truck - would be shaken loose from here; the citadel of Kahukura - Te Tihi o Kahukura - Castle Rock, and the prominent feature of the Port Hills overlooking Christchurch would never look like this again.

...and the Cathedral would look like this.

Source: http://growingyoungereachday.wordpress.com/category/nature/

Thursday, 23 February 2012

This Time Last Year

We were lucky. We were staying in a solid concrete block motel on Riccarton Road.
I was texting my sister in Hawkes Bay at the moment the 22.2.2011 earthquake hit. I thought it was an aftershock of the type that they had been getting quite often since the September one. I fell over, got up, fell over again. I opened the sliding door and watched the builders on the two-story building opposite being swung around as they held on to the scaffolding. I smiled through my adrenaline because they were whooping and cheering. It was rather surreal. The cars in the carpark were jerking back and forth about a metre or more. I remember thinking how weird that was, since they all had their brakes on. There was a lot of noise. The large plant pots outside the door fell over and, for something to do, I tried to put them upright, but had to have a few goes because I was shaking and my arms felt weak. (Another quake about 3 minutes later threw them over on their side again.)
I went around our little unit. The power was off. Things like salt and mugs were knocked over but nothing was broken. Water had slopped out of the loo and was all over the floor, so I got a towel and mopped it up. I thought 'Help, the poor things! If that's the kind of size of aftershock they've been experiencing ever since September...!'

The motel owner knocked on the door and asked if I was ok. I said yes. Then I said 'That was a pretty big aftershock! Have you been getting lots like that?' She shook her head and looked very serious and said 'Not like that. Not like that!'.

I texted family and friends to reassure them I was ok. My son first. There was nothing on the internet yet, he said. Then about a minute later he said people were tweeting about it. He said the cathedral had been damaged, but I had no idea of the devastation in town of course. We'd find out more through the car radio news once K. came back.

K was luckily out of the central city. When another big aftershock struck he was on a motorway overbridge. The lamp standards were swaying, and he had a vision of earthquake news items showing cars being thrown off overpasses. It took him about 3 hours to do a 30 minute trip. We were both glad when he got back.

Above: Motel stayers listening to the news on our rental car radio.
Below: Air force plane flying over the city assessing damage.

Little shocks were coming every ten minutes or so. It was hard to think of anything else. I'd always been told that the first was the biggest, but suddenly that seemed turned on its head. I was really scared there would be another one bigger still. I felt extremely unsafe. (Actually the first was the biggest, but the February aftershock was shallower and closer to the centre of the city). We were booked to fly back to Auckland at about 4 pm the next day. Foremost in my mind was if the airport runways were damaged, and would we be able to get out. There was nothing to do of course, but wait and see. I was beginning my academic year with a residential course that began on the Thursday.

We had cheese, bread and marmalade for tea. We watched a movie on my laptop to try and take our mind off the shakes. Power came on again about 8 pm. Hooray! we could make a cup of tea. I didn't sleep well, despite being very tired. In my dreams I kept expecting the ceiling to drop on the bed. I imagined the slab was being systematically loosened with each tremor. We still didn't realise quite how lucky we were. Some people were to be without electricity for weeks, and sewer connections for the next 4 months. Liquefaction was a purely academic phenomenon I remembered from a distinct geography degree. Wellington was where the big one was going to be - not Christchurch; that genteel English town.

Next morning I tried to finish my powerpoint presentation. It was exceedingly hard to concentrate, but I got it done. The ground continued to shake. The airport, which had been closed overnight, was pumping out flights all morning. It looked as though we'd be able to leave.
I had had a prescription for Maxalt faxed to a pharmacy just off our route to the airport, so we left about midday, in plenty of time to pick it up (if the pharmacy was open) and also to drop back the rental car.
The first signs that this had been a major event were the cracks in the roads on the west side of Hagley Park:

Brick walls had fallen over:

And suddenly there were signs we couldn't ignore, everywhere. Silt all over some roads, and blocking drains, yet other street looked perfectly normal and untouched.

We took the small detour to this pharmacy. What a shock to see it. Somewhere in there was the prescription for my migraine tablets... Suddenly I seemed to properly realise what had happened. It hit me hard and I started feeling shaky and sick. I hoped no-one was hurt.

We had to drop off the hired car and I needed the loo, but the car company's toilet was out of action. After some scouting I managed to find a working one in a business up the road. For the first time I wondered how the sewerage system had held up in the city, if it was damaged so far out. It turned out, not well at all.

The airport was full of people. Many were sitting on the floor, but everything was very calm and efficient. The main sign of the 'quake was the cafe that was silent and closed off with tape, and all the half-eaten meals were eerily still sitting on the tables. There were a couple of aftershocks while we waited for our flight, which, because of all the extra flights that had been put on in the morning, was only about 30 minutes late.

It was good to get off the shaky 'ol ground. Although right up until the second the wheels actually left the ground, I kept wondering what would happen to the plane if we were taxiing at speed and there had been another major aftershock.

I felt guilty to be leaving Christchurch. As if my staying and sharing the fear and destruction would somehow help the Cantabrians...

When I arrived in Auckland I was still wobbly for another four or so days, as if I had been on board a ship and had to get my 'land legs' back again.

I've checked the Quake meter every day, and send my thoughts to people down in Christchurch when there's been anything over a 3.5. I know what they are like.
It's a terribly unsettling time, and will be for a while yet.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012


Today I got this card in the mail. It must be my Birdsday. I guess they could say '... and many happy reterns'. Ha ha.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Tawharanui Open Sanctuary

Today, this blog takes you on a visit to Tawharanui Open Sanctuary. Here is the general area. It's a little less than an hour north of Auckland (90 km). The Tawhanui peninsula is in the top third of this map. The Sanctuary is a 588 hectare area behind a predator-proof fence at the end of six kilometres of winding gravel road.

A vast number of native tree and shrub seedings are being grown and planted to reestablish cover on the peninsula.

Here is the old wool shed that is used to host find-raising activities like the annual 'Art in the Woolshed'. This March (10 - 18) it will be a celebration of the ten years since the sanctuary was started.

There are plenty of parrys and pooks (paradise shelduck and pukeko) everywhere we look.

First we pass one of the wetland areas. I can't see any spotless crake, bittern or fernbirds today, but they are known to be here.

Most of the peninsula is open pasture grazed by sheep, with pockets of bush (native forest) and fringed with beaches backed by dunes. As we saw, there's an extensive planting programme underway that is slowly but surely returning this 'inland island' to forest. In the meantime sheep share the pasture with hundreds of pukekos - the ubiquitous blue swamp hen common throughout Asia and other parts of the world.

On the top road the open panorama is a bit drizzly today, but on a clear day, would be breath-taking.

(click to see this image better)

A gull poses in front of a pohutakawa near the beach. Around Christmas these 'NZ Christmas Trees' are a spectacular mass of tiny crimson flowers.

This is Little Barrier Island (Hauturu) in the distance. Its name means 'resting place of the wind'.

In a little ponded area we see two Scaup ducks - Papango. They are the relatively common diving teal duck, but are becoming rarer despite the new environments offered by the hydro dams in the South Island. The photo below is what they look like up close. They have a distinctive pale ring around the eye.


We stop for a walk in the bush out of the light rain. The magnificent iconic tree the kauri is under threat from a fungus-like pathogen. It's thought it came from the tropics to New Zealand and there seems to be no cure. As it's spread by root contact with infected soil, we need to clean our shoes with the scrubbing brush and disinfectant spray that is just inside the gate.

I like the beach, but the bush is my favourite place in New Zealand. It envelops us and reveals its forms slowly as we move along the path. Our host begins to quietly click her tongue and zip her fingers on her jeans. She's calling a little bird that frequents the trees just inside the gate.

About twenty paces in, the local friendly North Island Robin comes to check us out. It seems fearless. Imagine the time before predators were introduced to New Zealand, when all the birds were this tame. TOSSI is working so that Tawharanui can be like this again.

Then, a few steps further on, an even more precious experience, for me, at least. A bellbird begins to chime up in the canopy. The sweet bell-like notes wash over me like honey-flavoured cold spring water. I crane my head for so long trying to catch a glimpse that my companions comment how much easier it is on the neck when looking at their favourite birds - the shore waders. But at this moment I wouldn't wish to be anywhere else, as it's only the second time I've heard a Koromako (Kor-roar-maa-kor). Captain Cook described the bellbird as sounding like '... small bells most exquisitely tuned'.

Here's what we can hear, even if we can't see the bird: