Catching a Weather Window in Fiordland

Planning trips around the weather has never been as problematic as it was this Summer, and as the calendar flipped over to January, my son and I found ourselves in one of the dampest places on earth – Fiordland. Our fingers had wrinkled up with water in Milford, and on New Years Eve we’d dutifully stood in the rain by a bonfire at midnight in Te Anau, and despite being able to kill time from the dry comfort of our van, I was kind of over – I mean really over – the rain. What I really wanted was an overnight hike in Fiordland, but with only one day not painted red in precipitation on the radar, I had to come up with a new plan.

On the other side of the Waiau River mouth on Lake Manapouri, there is a nice little figure eight hike that is home to two huts. My information told me the closest loop – Circle Track – was 3hours, and the second – which sidled passed the huts – was 6hours, plus a half hour link that joined them. With a 9 hour hike out of the question for my son, I hatched a plan. If we kayaked across the bay from Frazer Beach in Manipouri, we could bypass the first loop and just do just the second.

Putting our kayaks in at the southern most end of Frasers Beach, we pointed our bows at The Monument Hill – a conveniently obvious landmark for our purpose. I’m fairly handy with a map, but I still couldn’t be exactly sure where we needed to land so as not to over shoot the track. But as luck would have it, as we neared the beach at our set direction, I spotted a pink buoy swinging from the bough of a beech tree. That had to be a marker of some kind. So we grounded our boats and tied them off. Sure enough the buoy was marking the end of the beachside section of the track. Exactly where we wanted to be.

Within 20 minutes of landing our kayaks we made it to the signpost for the link route that connects the two loops tracks. We decided to do our loop in an anti-clockwise direction and set off toward Hope Arm Hut.

The beginning section of our hike was typical of Fiordland and reminded me of the third leg of the Kepler; mountain beech ceilings above endless carpets of crown ferns, and lounge suite sized mossy mounds. About halfway to Hope Arm we crossed a suspension bridge above the soil rich Garnock Burn and entered a brief swampy patch with it’s telltale friend, Bog and Celery Pine. Soon enough it dried up underfoot and we popped out onto the golden beach at Hope Arm.

The beach was so littered with fallen mountain beech leaves that it was springy and soft, and my son marvelled at the irony of a beach made of beech, so he celebrated with backflips off the natural trampoline. Stuffed with lunch, we then went to find the hut which was hidden at the southern most end of the beach. It is a sturdy 12 bunk hut, and we found it housing a group of day visitors who had come in by boat.

From Hope Arm Hut the track headed inland into the swampy interior flats. Quietly, we got sucked into the stillness that hung over the bush, which was permanently on the breathless side of the wind. It spoke a forlorn story of being left out, and forgotten, by the colourful stories told by the breeze. Two hours later we crossed the aptly named Stinking Creek on a wire walk, to pop out into a clearing, in which the tiny Back Valley Hut squatted in a corner. This was a Hut that had seen better days. However, despite its quirky and rustic dilapidation, the hut book reported plenty of activity for both rats and hikers, with the clearing being used for large parties of explorers at times.

From the hut, a side trip to Lake Rakatu is possible, but with time against us, we carried on to continue our loop. Under the gaze of spindly legged Manukas and lichen bearded beech, we squelching our why through large tracts of mud as we skirted the edge of a swamp. Sandflies and larvae mucked in the wallows. I could not help but marvel at how different the two sides of this loop track were – a Lord of the Rings analogy would put Orcs on this side, and magical Tree Elves on the other.

Pleased to finally leave the swamp, we climbed atop a low lying ridge, making our way back into Elven territory, and the mossy green wonderland from the beginning of our hike – completing the circuit in 7 hours as promised by the adding of track signs.

With evening and hungry sandflies upon us, we hastily removed boots and slipped our kayaks back in the mirror glass of Lake Manapouri. Letting our arms do the last of the work, we enjoyed the slow and mellow paddle back to our waiting van. It was a beautifully still evening and the perfect end to a day.  Grey clouds hung low.  Promises of rain were made.

Access: Pearl Harbour Manipouri (boats available to hire to cross river)

Grade: Moderate tramping track

Time: 6-7 hours return

Accomodation: Hope Arm Hut (12 bunks) Back Valley Hut (4 bunks)

MapTopo50: Manapouri CD07 and Lake Monowai CE07

Posted in Fiordland, Kayaking, New Zealand Scene, Otago, Tramping, Travel, Travel Writing | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Sunset over Glenorchy

McIntosh Loop Track, Whakaari Conservation Area
It’s well known that Otago’s history is steeped in gold. What is less well known, is that the area was also mined for scheelite – a shiny metallic ore discovered in the 1880s and boomed in demand during the warring years to produce military armaments. Five minutes drive from Glenorchy is one such abandoned mining area, high up on Mount Judah overlooking Lake Wakatipu’s head and the bottom of the Humboldt Mountain Range. This, in the Whakaari Conservation Area, was to be our destination for the weekend.

Mt Judah Road – a private gravel access road that sidles along its namesake – is a reasonably popular day walk for those wishing to see the historic scheelite mining sites and valley views. My son eagerly explored and clambered over old rusted equipment in the abandoned Glenorchy Battery, we temporarily ditched our packs to slink down a side track to Chinamans Flat and poke our heads in the entrance of an old mine, and I read the informative storyboards paying homage to the Glenorchy miners whose sweated brow toiled the area.

Our guiding maps said it would take 1.5 hours to reach The Junction, yet our exploration of the historic sites added an extra hour to our hour trip. The Junction separates the shorter Heather Jock Loop track from the longer more difficult McIntosh Loop track. We stopped here to nibble scroggin and marvel at the golden summit of Mt McIntosh that still bears the scars of its mining history, as well as the roofed speck that was to be our nights’ accommodation – McIntyre Hut – hidden in its tussocky underbelly.

From The Junction, the track dropped steeply, and we were forced to weave our way through flood debris much of the way down to the river – Buckler Burn. Obviously, this would not be somewhere you’d want to be caught in heavy rain. Stopping on a knoll above the churning burn, I had a serious river safety briefing with my teenage son before proceeding. After finding the safest passage, we stepped to our thighs into the strong ice cold current, and then with hungry sandflies in pursuit, made a hasty retreat up a very steep slope on the other side.

Zigzagging out of the gut of the valley, the track finally relaxed to crescent its way along the flank of Mt McIntosh at a less arduous gradient. Golden grass and wildflowers bent in the breeze and four hours after leaving the car park we made McIntrye Hut. The hut was basic but tidy, with a gravel floor and six berths – spoilt, we had it to ourselves. There was no heating, but the cabin was warm as we cooked dinner, relaxed and admired nature’s pastel palette as the sun sank over the Humboldts.

Heavy rain was forecast for late on our second day, so we made a quick exit the next morning. The first hour up to Long Gully Saddle was easy if not a bit soggy underfoot, and as we crest the saddle our world opened up and we got our first glimpse of the valleys and mountain peaks on the other side. McIntosh Hut – the second hut option on this loop – overlooking us on its high perch and two hikers could be seen making their way down to join us at the saddle.

But our climb wasn’t yet done. A brief but very steep half hour later we had ascended from the saddle to the ridge top. This opened up views in all directions including the Rees and Dart Valleys, Pikirakatahi, and of course Lake Wakatipu. From here we meet the park’s boundary fence, and followed it along the ridge top and back down into the valley. The descent was quite literally straight down, so the fence line came in handy as a makeshift balustrade to prevent the complete ruin of my knees.

Relieved to be off the slope, and out of the tussock, we entered overgrown grasses and meadows and followed a remarkable creek that seems to defy gravity. Dropping down into a honey scented white flowering Manuka forest we meet up again with Buckler Burn, before the track finally spat us out onto the Glenorchy -Queenstown Road. Five and a half hours since breakfast, we walked into the doors of a Glenorchy cafe for hot drinks, and as if on cue, the skies finally opened up as promised. (727 words)

  • Access: 5km south of Glenorchy
  • Grade: Advanced/River crossing experience required
  • Time: 8-10 hours return
  • Accommodation: McIntyre Hut (6 bunks) or McIntosh Hut (4 bunks)
  • Map Topo50: Glenorchy CB10


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Pipes and Crags

Twenty minutes. That’s all it takes to reach Wye Creek, from the seething mass of tourists that makes Queenstown equally vibrant as it is overwhelming. I had many times passed the benign little sign on the road verge 20 minutes out of town – between Kingston and Queenstown – and wondered what lay beyond. So one lazy school holiday summers day, I threw my son in the car and our small adventure up the creek began.

 Navigationally challenged, we zipped past the small flaky green posting twice, before finding our way through the arm of a farm gate and into the parking area. Soon after slapping on the obligatory sunscreen, our upward slog began. The first 25 minutes was spent zigzag our way to the top of a steep gravel access road – accessible only to the most robust 4wd vehicles – which then gave way to a small cattle-stop gate and a bush clad single track walkway.

 Another half hour quickly rolled by as we darted in and out of bush and around rocky bluffs, as we followed a large hydro pipe upwards. A more studied look at one rock face as we passed revealed vertical lines of steel bolts – the residual mark of rock climbers. Later in the day we would discover that South Wye Creek is home to a very popular rock climber’s crag.

 In just under an hour we reached a hydro dam, where green blue waters cascaded around and over its rocky obstacles, and where the large pipe we had been following begun its journey.

 At the dam the track forks. An orange marker tagged “track” directed us further upwards, and to the south on the other side of the dam was another unmarked track. We followed the marked DOC track up another ten minutes where we found a little side track that popped out onto a large rocky knoll with sweeping views over Lake Wakatipu, Bayonet and Cecile Peaks, Queenstown township with Ben Lomond behind.  

 After our picturesque lunch stop, my son found the perfect walking stick and transformed into Gandalf the Grey as we continued up the wandering track. The track follows Wye Creek – heard not seen – through lush knotty beech forest for about an hour before popping above the tree line. From there the track officially becomes a ‘route’ that continues all the way on to Lake Alta above the Remarkable Ski Field. To continue on would not only require a vehicle pick up at the other end, but alpine garb and planning more substantial than board-shorts and a Gandalf stick. But with many more daylight hours at our disposal we decided to back-track down to the dam and explore the mysterious unmarked track on the other side of the creek.

 From the dam, the unmarked track balances atop another hydro pipe, flowing this time from Wye Creek South Branch. This made for a rather unusual and leisurely twenty-minute stroll to the main part of the rock climbers crag, where we found a score or so of climbers sitting in the sun, belaying each other or hang about the cliffs.  

 With the gorgeous South Wye Creek cascading down the mountain side below the climbers, the spectacle of amazing athletic feats on the cliff faces, and the iridescent Lake Wakatipu glistening in the afternoon sun, we stopped and admired our surroundings for good long while before reluctantly beating our way back down the hill and home. (579 words)

  • Access: 20 minutes south of Queenstown on the Queenstown-Kingston Road
  • Grade: Intermediate
  • Time: 4 hours return to bush line on Lower Wye Creek track. Will need to allow an extra hour to explore Wye Creek South Branch as well
  • Accommodation: N/A
  • Map Topo50: Queenstown CC11

Posted in New Zealand Scene, Otago, Southland, Tramping, Travel, Travel Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Otawa Trig Track

Looking for somewhere new and interesting to take my trail running adventures I found this trail on nzwalksinfo website.  Trig Track in Otawa Scenic Reserve is one of the most out-of-the-way trails within the Papamoa Hills area.  Granted, it was a little more of a drive to the access point than I anticipated (32 minutes from Mount Maunganui), but my extra petroleum expense was generously rewarded with a challenging trail that I selfishly had to myself.   I didn’t encounter another soul during my little sojourn into the woods, despite it being a busy summer weekend in the Mount area.

2016-01-10_1439Starting my excursion from Te Puke Quarry Road heading south, it was a 5.15km ambling, yet unrelenting, three to four degree incline through a low land forest along a ridge line generously peppered with rewarewa and tawa giants.  Finally bursting out onto a small clearing at the Otawa Trig –  557m above sea level – at a small parting in the treetops, I was spoilt with views over the Bay of Plenty lowlands and coastal 5

photo 2

Now if I were a sensible day-hiker, I would have stopped here, had a quick bite to eat and returned the same way I had come. However, being more inclined towards revelling in self-inflicted hardship, I continued down the other side to Manoeka Rd towards Otawa Lodge.  The decent – with an average pitch of negative six degrees (and at worst 15 degrees) – was rooty and technical with that distinct “mud slide” look should it get the scent of rain. So I hopped,  slipped, stopped and tripped my way down – listening to my knees whistling dreams of belonging to an agile feather-light branch hopping cotton-top monkey and not me.  Towards the end of the trail there were a few stream crossings to douse my feet, and the trail became increasingly wide and ATV abused – obviously a regular haunt for hunters – before finally plopping me out onto a sad and desolate torn-up Manoeka Road end – not quite 10km from the start.  Yah – I had found my way exactly to nowhere in particular.

photo 4

IMG_1767With wet shoes and tired knees, all this slipping and root hopping would have been perfect had I organised a pick up at this exit point.  But since I am hardy – a.k.a. stupid – the only alternative, of course, was to backtrack via return journey.  Unsurprisingly, it is exceedingly more fun coming down than going up.  However, the journey was thoroughly enjoyed, hauntingly beautiful, especially the Nikau forest – my favourite – and ended with a satisfyingly sweaty been-there-done-that feeling.

Summary: Depending on fitness level, transport arrangements, and ability with technical terrain, this trail can cater for anyone from trail hardened athletes to Gentle Annie summit walkers.

  • Summit Return: 10.3km (easy)
  • Full-length one way: 9.7km (not so easy)
  • Full-length return: 19.4km (hard)

Access: Intersection of Te Puke Quarry Road and Reid Road (or alternatively Manoeka Road end).  There is a little car park directly opposite Ried Road intersection on Quarry Rd.  The first 1.5km of the trail is across private farmland before heading into the bush.  Please be respectful of farmland and leave gates as you found them.


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One (TOO MANY) Square Meals

If you're wondering where White Rock got it's name ... and the point that marks the beginning of the long ride inland.

If you’re wondering where White Rock got it’s name … and the point that marks the beginning of the long ride inland.

I broke off a small piece of the OSM, rolled it into a small sheep-shit sized ball, and simultaneously threw it into the back of my mouth along with a large swig of water, careful that the OSM did not touch cheek nor tooth.  I shouldn’t have been so reckless with my water, but I was toenail biting hungry.  Yesterday morning I had loaded up with 5 litres of water but I was now down to my last 300mls and it was baking hot. No useful cloud cover, no wind.  Just a dusty empty road in the middle of fucking nowhere.  Piece by tragic piece, the entire OSM had now been swallowed. I looked at my last 300mls, how long would it have to last?  I rummaged through my backpack for painkillers.  One last quick swig and the sheep-poo-OSM was followed by two ibuprofen. F&*^% my teeth hurt!

Long dusty road back inland after four glorious days on the coast

Long dusty road back inland after four glorious days on the coast

My experimental “muesli-bar mountain-bike ride” was backfiring spectacularly.  How was I to know that my teeth were allergic, for lack of other explanation, to OSMs?  The first few bars were okay, but by the time I was two days cycle from the nearest shop it was too late to realise that my only source of energy, the glossy brown bar, would shoot white-hot pains up my teeth and into my head.  It was a pain like no other.  From the first small contact, my teeth would fall like dominos, one after the other, set fire to with a burning pain that would have my whole face in waves of agony.  Until the point, I couldn’t bare it any longer and have to stop my bike to pop yet more ibuprofen.  It didn’t help, but at least it felt like I was doing something.  Luckily I had packed the painkiller, but like my water, I was now running dangerously low

All misadventures begin with a brilliant idea.  Pack light I exclaimed!  I could leave my touring bike at home and take my full suspension MTB instead!  All unnecessary touring palaver could be eliminated.  No stuffing around with panniers or cookers, no cleaning plates, cups or forks, no boiling water, just beautifully packed muesli bars in their shiny metallic packaging.  I imagined other campers’ envious faces as I’d rock up, camp up and piss off, all in the time it took them to squat in a pack around a primus burner poking their pink plastic forks at muddy coloured porridge.  I strapped my sleeping bag and tent to my handlebars, threw a few OSM in my pack along with one set of thermals and a raincoat and I was set to go. Whoop! Whoop!

The last OSM I hope ever to eat.

The last OSM I hope ever to eat.

But right then, as I swallowed the last OSM I hope ever to eat, I would have murdered those campers for their muddy coloured porridge, but instead, I prayed for tank water at the closed rural school of Tuturumuri 20km of midday gravel slog away.  I was the veritable hobo, energy sapped by the sun, dishevelled and sweaty, hungrily pushing my bike from shade tree to shade tree, taking in the air conditioning underneath, all the while cursing the sparse wispy mistakes for clouds for not getting their miserable arses up and in front of the sun.

Fortunately, there was tank water at Tuturumuri School.  I lapped at the water like an eager puppy drinking a litre on the spot, but I couldn’t face another muesli bar. The road changed from gravel to tarmac and the final long slow haul to Martinborough began.  With a body fuelled only on water, all pretence of the athletic cyclist evaporated with the clouds and I trudged listlessly up even the slightest rise.  I formulated a shopping list in my head: whisky, peanut MnMs, potato chips, a steak salad and a bar of soap. To be consumed in that order.

A long hot day out. Glad to make the top of the hill and the view of this wind farm. All down hill into Martinborough from here

A long hot day out. Glad to make the top of the hill and the view of this wind farm. All down hill into Martinborough from here

Once back in the civilised world of convenience shops, I gave the rest of my OSM bars to my dead ancestors in the Featherston cemetery.  One day a bedraggled vagrant walking the length of the country will discover them perfectly preserved in their shiny foil packages.  They might think they have discovered some life-saving nectar, but since it was just such a person that I got the brilliant idea for my muesli-bar mountain-bike tour in the first place, I hope their fucking teeth hurt!  It will be their curse for stealing food from the dead!

My gift to the dead

My gift to the dead

Cycling Route Information:  300km give or take, 1/2 gravel 4WD tracks.  I took me 5 days, but 6 would be better if you want to get the most out of Cape Palliser.

Route: Wellington-Eastbourne-Pencarrow Head-Baring Head-Corner Creek via Wild Coast Cycleway-Pirinoa-The Pinnacles-around Cape Palliser via Ngapotiki Block Station-White Rock-Martinborough-Lower Hutt via Rimutaki Incline cycleway-Paekakariki via Haywards Rd-Paraparaumu.

Opinion: Despite the above ‘exaggerated’ nutritional problems for a couple days, this trip was one of the most scenic and beautiful cycles I’ve done in NZ.  It does pay to pack light as lots of sand and large gravel to negotiate in parts around the three capes.  I struck lucky with the weather – I’m sure they don’t call it the ‘wild coast’ for nothing.  If you have any questions about this ride, please don’t hesitate to contact through the comments forum.

Posted in Cycle Touring, Cycling, Mountain Biking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Summer with the Birds

If you’re not yet a Mahi Aroha fan, you should be!  My family and I again took full advantage of this year’s summer programme, and our choices this year had a decidedly birdie flavour. Kids today learn a lot about the climate and species conservation at school and just how interested they are in this stuff might surprise you.  Mahi Aroha is rich with conservation activities and is a great way you can get out there in the field with your kids, interact with, and discuss, the flora and fauna of this great country – and all during their summer holidays.

Waiaraki Golf Course, Sanctuary & Kiwi Crèche

Hitting a birdie might be something you don’t want to do at Waiaraki Golf and Sancturary.  This special character golf course, which is home to at least 50 species of bird both indigenous and imported, is a superb example of how business and conservation can work together for the betterment of all.  My 11 year old son Marco, who is a veritable tree-hugger and animal-lover, was very excited to go on this trip, especially about the prospect of holding a live baby kiwi.

Patting the rare Ginger North Island Kiwi at Waiaraki + Sanctuary

Patting the rare Ginger North Island Kiwi at Waiaraki + Sanctuary

Expectations hit par, as Marco got to meet and pat a rare ‘ginga’ North Island Brown Kiwi chick, who not surprisingly was not quite as pleased to see us as we were to see her.  We also enjoyed an incredibly scenic golf-cart ride, informative talks by the golf-course and DOC staff on the sanctuaries history and the success of the kiwi crèche, close encounters with noisy frogs and the flittering behaviours of a curious tom-tit.  This left my 11 year old fully satisfied with his afternoon out at the golf course, however at a cost of only $5, I was a little surprised that Marco was the only child on the trip.

“The kiwi’s feathers are prickly” … “My favourite part was encountering a tom-tit that seemed to like me”

Whio Tongariro River Raft Trip

My teenagers, who are a little more difficult to get excited about bird watching, were easily convinced to go Whio tracking because it came with the lure of white water on the Tongariro River.

Fun times on the Tongaririo River

Fun times on the Tongaririo River

The trip was led by D.O.C field worker Bubs, who took his first Whio conservation trip as a 10 year old, and now considerably longer in the tooth, is still out their protecting these precious birds.  Bubs was a wealth of information on the birds, and it was fascinating to hear about their habits and behaviours as we bobbed down the river. We learnt the hazards to living and breeding on a river, learnt the difference between Shag and Whio poo as we floated by potential Whio territory, and stopped to turn rocks over looking for yummy Whio tucker.  The Tongariro River Rafting guides, despite their effervescent gung-ho river tomfoolery, were also genuinely interested in the birds and quickly slowing rafts to watch the two mating pairs we did manage to spot.   Of course all this was interspersed between squeals of terror and delight as we shot down rapids and bounced off rocks, which made for not only a thrilling but educational day out.

A beautiful day for Whio spotting on the Tongariro

A beautiful day for Whio spotting on the Tongariro

“Oh my god I thought that rock was going to tip us out” … “I found the Whio stuff really interesting” – Monica (18 years old)

Black Backed Gulls – Tama Lakes Walk

I couldn’t convince any family members to come out in January’s ‘heat-wave’ for a 6 hour hike upon the dry and dusty volcanic lava flows of Mt Tongariro.  However our small party of hikers had their average age significantly reduced by the two teenage boys that joined us for the day.  The boys were there as part of their summer job doing odd jobs for DOC thanks to parental contacts, and as a high-school teacher I couldn’t have been more impressed with these two boys, and by how mature and interested in the world around them they were.  They showed respect for their environment carefully dodging the sensitive vegetable sheep, and were eager to learn the names of the delicate mountain flowers and orchids they found.  They constantly grilled the senior Tongariro-Taupo volunteers with questions that were acting as our guides for the day.

The Boys take in the scenery atop the lava flows

The Boys take in the scenery atop the lava flows

After a few hours picking our way up and down ancient lava flows we found ourselves on a small flat plateau, smack-bang in the middle of the black-backed gull colony. The boys were fascinated with the gulls circling and squawking above their nesting area, not happy about our presence, and were completely blown away to see the eggs in the nests.  The highlight was the close encounter with a black-spotted baby chick that was doing a runner off its nest due to the presence of the intruders.  “Wow, so cute, they look just like their eggs!” says one of the boys.

Black Backed Gull nest and eggs on Mt Tongariro

Black Backed Gull nest and eggs on Mt Tongariro

Poronui Mountain Bike Ride

Thanks to the new owners of Poronui, there is access across their farm into the northern end of the Kaimanawa Range, which hasn’t always been the case in the past.  Access is normally by foot only, but once a year during Mahi Aroha, 60 participants are allowed to mountain bike their way through.  With January’s heat wave in full swing, this trip took its toll on my skinny son Marco, who was not too impressed with the arduous hot and dusty ride across the farm.  However his mood took a much happier turn when we finally hit the walking track through the beautiful and much cooler beech forest into Oamaru Hut.  “My favourite part was the bush walk”  He also got to buddy up with two of the three other children on the trip who took no time at all to jump and play in the ice-cold river by the hut.  “I saw a fish in the river” exclaims Marco!  After lunch and an all too brief relax at Oamaru hut overlooking the Mohaka River it was time to saddle up and head back to our cars.

Swimming in the Mohaka at Oamaru Hut

Swimming in the Mohaka at Oamaru Hut

Lunch at Oamaru Hut

Lunch at Oamaru Hut


Mahi Aroha’s closest translation is ‘volunteer’ and it is fitting term to replace the name of DOC’s summer programme, as conservation is no longer solely the role of DOC, nor should it be.  More and more businesses, conservation groups, clubs and local iwi are volunteering time and money to help DOC with the enormous task of looking after the ecological health of our country.  So a special thumbs up the following businesses and organisations that made the four trips I took this summer possible: D.O.C, Greening Taupo, Waiaraki Golf Club, Tongariro River Rafting, Tongariro Taupo Conservation, and Poronui.  I encourage you to support these groups where possible.

Mt Tongariro on a Scorcher January day.

Mt Tongariro on a Scorcher January day.

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Giving Thanks

Earlier today it was hot, really hot. The wind barely moved on the plot of earth where I worked. I rhythmically drove a spade, pitch fork and pick axe into the ground in the scorching heat, salty water seeping over my brow into my eyes. I wrestled with the ground, a mix of topsoil and clay, asking it to open its bounty and food-giving potential to me, stopping to save the lives of the worms as I went, tossing them into the compost bin we had constructed earlier out of scraps of sheet iron, recently felled gum trees and hand-dug holes. Near to me was a strong-jawed man in chaps and wet t-shirt, hacking the sharpened blade of a worn machete at the base of the head-high Wild Ginger. He cleared the tropical nuisance to extend the flat piece of land we were working on. Blisters formed and muscles burned as much from the work as from the heat in the sun. I dug. He swung. We tamed the land; readying it for its first garden. I have pioneer blood – I love this shit!

Now, I rest on a lumpy torn couch situated on a balcony 50 metres directly above the Thames harbour. The house to which the balcony belongs has the ethereal smell of Cyprus, is without power or kitchen, the water runs cold, the carpet is torn, wrinkled and loose. Animal traps, boots and stained clothes accompany me on the balcony to air in the evening breeze. The sun is setting, burning the sky orange and ocean a brilliantly speckled royal blue. The ocean sings its sloshy rhythm on the rocks below, the cicadas scream, and a warm summer wind is in my hair, up my skirt and in my breath, salty and clean. This is just another perfect moment among a billion similar perfect moments. I love New Zealand.  I love my heritage. I love being here.

I am a 5th generation kiwi born New Zealander. I want to give a resounding thanks to my ancestors who brought me here, whose blood I share.

The final resting place of my GGGrandmother Ellen Jane Dillen, and my GGGrandfather William Spearink in Featherstone Cemetery.  I leave them a note of thanks and some OSMs to get them through the next 100 years. Sad to see the tombstone broken.

Leaving a letter andOSMs to Ellen myGGGrandmother and William myGGGrandfather at their final resting place in Featherstone Cemetery.Sad to see the tombstone broken.

Dear Ellen Jane Dillen

You were brought to Nelson in 1840 as a founding settler as a one year old. You and your younger brothers grew up as the very first European kiwi kids, where having mud on your shoes, sand in your belly button, healthy lungs and strong bones was ‘normal’, unlike your poor cousins back in England where childhood death from disease remained their ‘normal’.

In Picton you helped your mum run a male boarding house for early settlers, and later travelled the country in what I can only imagine as trying conditions as a lone woman. You even worked for George Grey’s, the Governor General’s, wife as her hand maiden in Auckland. You would have gained insights into the world of what it was to be an early European New Zealander, from the optimistic young men come to mine gold, to the railway gangers, to the policy makers and their political concerns of the time.

Surviving as an attractive lone woman in a world both beautiful and harsh, and male dominated you had to be independent, strong and resilient. Thus, with woman like you in our genetic heritage it is no wonder that New Zealand woman were the first woman in the world to gain a political vote.

You died 91 years before my birth but I know your stories, passed on down to me from the independent woman before me. I have always felt a deep connection to you, and want to thank you in particular, as my life came at your cost. My life brought you death, along with the birth of your only child, my great grandmother.

Thank you for your legacy. Thank you for my life. Thank you for my heritage. Thank you.

Juliet Jones
Your great-great-granddaughter.

My Great-great-grandmother Jane Dillen arrived in NZ in 1840.  Died in 1881 giving birth to her only child aged 41.

My Great-great-grandmother Ellen Jane Dillen arrived in NZ in 1840. Died in 1881 giving birth to her only child.

Ellen's daughter and granddaughters. My GGrandmother Wilhelmina and Grandmother Nellie on her knee.

Ellen’s daughter and granddaughters. My Great Grandmother Wilhelmina and Grandmother Nellie on her knee.

Posted in New Zealand Scene | Tagged | 3 Comments