Benmore Power

The BIG spill

Great time to travel up the Waitaki Valley. With flooding lifting lake levels, the spillover from Benmore Dam is the most dramatic I have ever witnessed.

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Loopy about lupins!

I am drunk on the sight and smell of lupins.

They are a colour palette profusion – from pales pinks to deep purples, oranges, reds, whites, yellows, a whole galaxy of blues. Standing bright against the rumpled browns and dry yellows of the McKenzie Country landscape, they wave a wild garden welcome from what are usually more subtle ends of the colour spectrum.

It started just short of Lake Pukaki – small bunches of bright colour that grew into roadside swathes demanding to be photographed.


First against the rounded yellow hills; then contrasted with the startling turquoise of the snowmelt lake; then as foreground against distant sharply silhouetted, snow-flecked peaks. And as we turned to head for Lake Alexandrina, just for the sheer boisterous joy of a lupin carpet that stretched in every sense-drowned direction all around us.

By now, the perfume is overpowering. On  olfactory overdrive, I inhale a secent that is sweet, subtle, clinging like bees feet in a gentle breeze.

There are stories about the lupins. The mainly yellow breed that once hugged coastlines and river edges was seen as a weed that blocked the natural flow of water along stony braided river beds. At one stage, it was being poisoned and grubbed out.

Someone told me that the multi-coloured variety now springing from roadsides and riverbeds is the result of one high country sheep farmer – a woman I think – who collected seeds and chucked handfuls out as she drove the country.

They are seen by some as interlopers that subvert the almost monochromatic subtlety of this sharply etched landscape. Others regard them as useful survivors that help nitrogenise the snow blasted soil. Visitors like me just get drunk on their sassy exuberance.

Snail in the lupins

I’ve never driven the Lindis Pass when it’s been so vibrant with colour. The stark layers of mountains stacked like so many triangles of gold or umber, edged in black or brown still dominate. But the lupins offer a soft laughing counterpoint.

I want to roll in them, eat them, to briefly become a bee so I can enter the heart of that sensuous scent.

I am drunk on lupins.

Helen in the Lupins

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A surfeit of seals?

Young fur seal

Just days before I stopped to watch seals at Ohau Point, north of Kaikoura, some 20 of them had been found bludgeoned to death.

Seal pups, females and even big bulls, their heads beaten in, were left bleeding on the rocks. It was a ghastly find – particularly in an area that makes a living from introducing tourists to its rich wildlife. Watching whales, swimming with seals or dolphins, visiting easily accessible seal colonies spread along the wild coastline – these are pursuits that attract 1000s from all around the world. It has turned Kaikoura from sleepy fishing village into humming destination with restaurants, craft shops and motels.

Since I last visited, maybe some 15 years ago, the town has changed a lot. Now it’s visible further north with motels and housing developments stretching along the main highway. That’s before you even reach the turn-off to the town centre and road winding out to the peninsula seal colony – both of which now sport a whole bunch of eateries including the ‘original’ seafood cart.

Kaikoura’s transformation is even used by one of the major banks in its TV ads. These tell the “story” of how a business venture based on whale watching helped grow the whole community, offering local youngsters the sort of opportunities they would once have had to leave town for.

Tourism has flourished. So have the seals.

Hunted nearly to extinction in the 1800s, fur seals have long been protected by law. Penalties for killing or harming them include up to six months’ jail or fines of up to $250,000. The colony at Ohau Point was only established about two decades ago but healthy breeding numbers have seen its population steadily increase.

When I stop there on my way South, it is grey, drizzly and cold. But it’s totally worth getting a bit wet for.  I love watching the suprising agility with which the bulls haul their large bodies over the craggy coastline, flopping across the crevice or sharp protusions on a cushion of blubber. Some dominate rocky platforms while others lazily tumble in the wash of waves, occasionally hauling out on boulders, where the sleek black wetness of their bodies blends into the surrounding stone.

Seal at Cape Paliser

It’s good camouflage. I remember when I was about 12 and not long arrived in New Zealand, running along a stretch of sand at Shag Point, north of Dunedin, happily jumping across boulders when one of them reared up and barked at me. I’ve been inclined to cautiousness around seal colonies ever since.

These days, with my eyesight, seals look even more like rocks and rocks like seals.

A couple of days earlier, when exploring another fur seal colony at Cape Palliser, I’d totally missed one outlier whose colouring also blended into tussocky grass well back from the shoreline.

I’d been peering through the telephoto lens at a group of youngsters powering around a nearby pool, tumbling over and feinting at each other, their high-pitched squeaks and barks echoing around the stony amphitheatre when a cough close behind me nearly made me drop the camera.

I thought I’d seen – or smelt– all the nearby animals and had been keeping the closest well in my sights. But the fairly large bull that was now way way closer than the approved 10-metre safety margin was something of surprise. So was the fact I could still sprint.

Sharing space with wild animals is both wonderful and slightly scarey.

Seal at Ohau Point

So far on my travels, I’ve found myself drawn to the edges of the country – the wild coastlines where colonies of seabirds – or seals – still outnumber people. I love that sense of an untamed landscape. But I also feel, particularly when on my own, the vulnerabilty of an interloper. This is not my natural territory. If stranded here, I’d have trouble surviving. The seals belong.

It’s like that down much of the Kaikoura coast with the road winding in and out of rocky headlands where seals rule. But by the time I get to Kaikoura township, the human/animal balance has shifted. At the original seal colony out on the end of the peninsula, a bunch of tourists are aiming their cameras at a lone seal resting on grass near the carpark.

Somehow the balance of respect has also shifted – and the whole space sharing issue becomes a bit more fraught. Seals need to be protected from people and there are rules about how close people or boats can go to them so as not to disturb their natural eating/breeding/resting behaviours.

As the seals become more numerous, that can cause problems. There are mutterings from the fishing community about how difficult it is to keep the required distance. There are issues of human safety that need to be addressed. And what about competiton for catch? Wildlife experts and fishing spokespeople seem to differ in their opinions as to what exactly the seals are eating.

My space!

While noone condones the killing of Kaikoura’s seals, it does open debate around how best to share space. At what point does seal impingement on human activity become unacceptable; at what point does human impingement on seal activity become unacceptable.

Nobody, of course, suggests culling the humans.

It’s just the local version of a worldwide problem – and when animals and humans start competing for space and resources, it’s usually the animals that lose out. Personally, I’m for the seals. And if it really came down to who has first call on the resources, I know I can live without eating fish but I frankly doubt a seal could either grow or survive on spuds.

I also know that I’m very grateful New Zealand still has plenty of stunning wildlife-dominated spaces that are readily accessible for me and snail. I just hope that ready accessibility doesn’t end up threatening what makes these edges of the land so attractive – as places where wildlife still rules and people respect that reality.

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We are stardust…


Joni Mitchell said it years ago. The Woodstock song. But I hadn’t really equated it with the self-contained recycling scheme that is our planet until a recent conversation with NZ sculptor Johnny Turner.

Sculptor and stone

He works with rocks that are 600 million years old. I guess that can give you a different perspective on life, death and regeneration. When he cuts into a chunk of Russian red granite, there is a sense of awe in being the first to see what that ancient timeline has wrought.

It’s a brutal process – sculptor vs rock. A contest with many rounds.

Rock, he says, is the most obdurate material you can work with. Sculpting traditions talk of ‘killing’ the stone before it is subjected to the metamorphosis of mind and tool – reshaped, rebirthed, polished lovingly into its new possibility.

He goes to bed dreaming those possibilities, wakes up wanting to bring them into being. Pieces of marble, basalt, granite lie waiting in various stages of composition –all just a stone’s throw (so to speak) from the eternal pounding sea.

Working at his Wainui beachside home, Johnny likes  to see himself as a participant in the grand recycling scheme. From the balcony where he chips and grinds, dust blows into the sea, sinks to the bottom, finds its own faultline in the earth’s crust, drops back into the melting pot of the earth’s core to re-emerge erupted from a volcano….which is how basalt arrives.

There’s a kind of irony in it. A point of tenuous balance.

Working on rock allows thought to drift outside the normal timespan of daily life.

It’s what helped him to survive after family tragedy left its “hoofmarks” pitted deeply in his sense of being. Discovering sculpture in his mid-40s became his own rebirth. It probably prevented him from being just another sad drunk, he reckons. Instead he works out the hoofmarks in his daily contests with the obdurate rock – they give his life a purpose.

As he says, it is all about life, death, regeneration. That’s the attraction of stone for him. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Just like humans. “We are stardust…” he sings atonally with a bit of a grin.

“She’s talking about the deal we do with life – we have this short fleeting moment and it ends. The deal is, it ends. The fact that this material is stardust is what attracts me to working in it ..”

It’s all here, the matter of our tiny world, nothing is added, bar the odd meteorite, nothing is lost bar what NASA and Co dispatch into the near or distant reaches of space. This is what we are and all we have.

Thinking of timespans beyond our own is something most of us aren’t too good at.

It’s perhaps why we lack the humility to respect and mind our precious place in the continuing pattern of life, death, regeneration. It’s the anxiety that sits at the back of my own mind constantly – it is, I believe, an anxiety that hovers in the collective consciousness.

Like the elephant in the room that noone wants to acknowledge because then they will need to address it, the knowledge that we’re too many and we consume too much. And we can’t go on in the way that we’ve become habituated to.

So we scrub between the elephant’s toes, measure the area of its skin, figure out ways to sell or rent the growing space it needs to occupy…Avoid looking it in the eye.

Because the elephant is all of us. We need to change – but really we don’t know how. Tootling around with my world contained in a small box on wheels might give me the illusion of living a simpler life – but I couldn’t do this without diesel, without roading infrastructure, without shops that sell me the produce I’m not growing or the batteries to power my camera.

What is the best path to collective change? What has to be sacrificed to get there?

I don’t have the answers. But it’s part of the battle of resistance and change that informs Johnny Turner’s sculptures. It requires humility, patience, acceptance of our tiny precarious place in a world that will carry on the regenerative cycle with or without us.

What marks will we have left in the compressed timelines of ancient marble? Or the densely compressed reality of basalt born from the earth’s molten core?



It’s all here,

Always has been.

The obdurate rocks

Pushed down, pushed out.

Nothing escapes.

A leaf falls.

A child dies.

We’re all made

Of ancient dust

And to dust we return.

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Gannets galore


The small snow storm over Cape Kidnappers is gannet down. It wafts in the air, settles on your sammies and is captured on photos like stray sparklers.

I’ve never been so close to so many gannets. It’s a fantastic sight. There are an estimated 8000 pairs nesting in two large and several smaller colonies on the 13ha reserve.

In November, the youngsters are fully fledged and testing their flying skills. The results are often hilarious. The air is full of low-flying gannets, undercarriage dropped, squawking their imminent arrival.  One lands just the wrong side of the low chain surrounding the nesting area, skids underneath with wings tangled, then waddles off trying to  regain some kind of dignity before settling for a bit of poking and preening.

There’s a lot of preening – much of it mutual – golden heads bent, long elegant necks weaving around each other in a sort of synchronised grooming dance.  The gannets also rest on each other, one’s beak drooping over another’s chest or lying across its back looking oddly like a two- headed bird.

At just 18 months, with not much prior flight training, they do what so many NZ youngsters do – take off across the Tasman for their big OE.  They fly – or sometimes paddle – some 2800 kms and stay away for two to three years before coming home to raise their own families.

'Ole Blue Eyes

Looking at photos in close up, you can see that what looks like bright blue eyes is actually some sort of membrane surrounding a paler, sharply pupiled eye. Their eyes have to be sharp – they hunt-cruise at up to 30m above the sea, then perform a brief, centering flutter before speed diving straight down, catching prey up to four metres below the surface.

Off on gannet OE

Special air sacs prevent them breaking their necks or getting seawater forced into their lungs. I’ve always loved watching them fly around Waiheke in long lazy glides. I’ve even spent many minutes balanced with hand-held telephoto lens on the rolling deck of a yacht wallowing close to the Gannet Rock colony off the island’s Eastern End to try and capture that flight.

In comparison, this is a feast of photgraphable gannets.

Hmmm..I think it might rain

I walked here from Scotsmans Point in Clifford after overnighting at the Clifford Road Reserve. It’s a lovely parkup – right by the beach and not too far from a damn good fish and chip shop. An enthusiastic Swiss man spends hours at the edge of the water trying to catch his own. Result, just one Kahawai – and that too small. “The crabs, I think, are taking the bait,” he laments.

By sunrise, I’m parked at the start of the 9km walk around what, at that hour, was a non-existent beach. I check the tidetables on line, discover I’d been working off yesterday’s chart and pause to make some coffee. DOC’s advice is to leave around three hours before low tide, then head back 1.5 hours after it.

Just under an hour later, cars start arriving but when I ask if they’re heading around the beach, they somewhat cryptically inform me that they are volunteer “wardens” for the day.

I should have been warned.

At about four hours before low tide, I start out – having to hug the steep, crumbly sandstone cliffs to avoid waves, eventually giving up and removing shoes to do the entire walk barefooted. There is nobody else around, just the odd trickle of small stones falling from high above.

Just as I see the first lot of nesting gannets about 8 kms later, I’m passed by two runners, splashing through the lowering tide. They are wearing numbers. It’s the start of a running invasion. Literally 100s go by, some raising camera or phone to flash a quick shot of gannets as they charge by the shoreline colonies. It’s an odd juxtaposition. When I come across some of the aforesaid “wardens”  I discover it’s a special fund-raising run that covers some 30km.

When they’ve all finally run through, I’m alone again, bar one German tourist who was one of only three other walkers I saw on my way there and back. When I make the steepish climb to the plateau colony, she is again the only person present. But by 10.00am or so, the first little ‘overland’ tour bus has turned up and people start stragglng up from the tractor tour that travels the beach track.

I’m glad I started early – but the walk back seems longer. The cliffs still tower steeply overhead – but at a safer distance, I can admire the layers of sandstone, river, gravel, pumice and silt that make up the sharp diagonal striations. Material laid down up to one million years ago –pushed up out of the sea, faulted and fragmented by volcanic activity.

It makes me think of the recent conversation I had with sculptor Johnny Turner. He works with rocks that are much older and it has helped him think differently about life, death and regeneration. More on that shortly.

Layers of life

More of my photos can be found at

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In praise of slow…

It’s affecting me – my snail home.

After circumnavigating first the Coromandel then East Cape, 80kms an hour feels like a panic attack for both of us. We’ve taking to tootling happily along in the 50km speed bracket. We risk becoming a traffic hazard – we may never be able to face a motorway again.

Snail is happy – diesel engine chugging sweetly along. I’m becoming addicted to life in the slow lane.

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Once was … East Cape

Beachfront Tokomaru

Tokomaru dotterel

Beachfront Tokomaru. I’m hoping the sun is hot enough to run my computer off the solar panel. But it doesn’t look promising. The inverter is squeaking at me in a fussily alarming manner.

It’s not quite 9.00am and the weather is already a welcome contrast to yesterday’s grey chill. This has to be one of my favourite camps  – and competition for top spot is high around the East Cape. I’m parked with door open to the gentle crash of waves on a driftwood strewn beach.

This is one of Gisborne District Council’s freedom camping areas. It’s just a few paces from the water’s edge next to a small skatepark and across the road from what used to be Tokomaru’s commercial centre. Still imposing but deserted buildings once housed the New South Wales ( “chequing accounts”) and Bank of New Zealand operations.

“Once was” seems to be a characteristic of the Cape.

It’s a place that has seen industries come and go –bustling settlements once served by coastal shipping now drift in a dreamy desertion. For visitors it’s part of the charm – but it’s clear locals struggle to make ends meet. Telecom obviously hasn’t invested much here – cell reception was patchy to non-existent until I hit Tokomaru.

I did manage to get texts up at East Cape Lighthouse – but just in one small area and only if I held the phone in a certain direction at the right height. It felt a tad desparate.

I’d spent the previous night at “once was” camping ground. The Eastern Cape Camp is still advertised in the Motor Caravan Association mag –and apparently in Lonely Planet. But the “office” – on an isolated knoll overlooking a windswept beach – is derelict, its ‘honesty box’ holed on both sides. A shame. It proved an amazing park up. And still boasted running water – though little else.

Initially reluctant to park alone without cell coverage in such a deserted looking area, I found a flat place, then got so lost photographing driftwood on the wide sweep of beach below that I forgot to worry. By the time I got back, two young women from the Netherlands had pitched a tent beside my van and, later two German tourists turned up in a camper.

We were all set to do the “first light” thing at the East Cape Lighthouse. But dawn had already broken when I woke up and decided to take advantage of the water to do a quick hairwash before braving another few kms of windy unsealed road and climbing 750 steps (yes, I counted) to the lighthouse.

I was far from first. It was surprising to discover a little bunch of vehicles in the park – and some young German tourists had made sure they were there for dawn by taking sleeping bags and dossing down at the lighthouse base.

All for nought, really. As one noted, walking down with tripod slung over shoulder, “there wass light, somewhere…but the clouds…” It’s my first grey day in this part of the world.

Even overcast, New Zealand’s most easterly point is an impressive place. More amazing, the lighthouse was originally stuck out on Whangaokena – an island that looks far too steep sided to access, let alone support three families of lighthouse keepers.

Surrounded by strong currents, Whangaokena was valued as stronghold and kapata kai (foodhouse) by local Maori. Now it houses only a cemetery, sadly containing three lighthouse children as well as five sailors – one the captain of a ship that foundered there in a 1906 gale. Originally commissioned in 1900, the lighthouse was shifted to its present mainland site a couple of decades later, when slips made the island too dangerous.

first light

I did capture the first sun rays rising over Whangaokena from the access road. By then I was already on a cheap set of camera batteries that didn’t last the distance. The whole East Cape drive is a photographer’s wet dream – from Ohiwa Harbour, south of Opotoki to my current camp.

Last night I went slightly dotty over the local Tokomaru dotterels (their markings are different to the Waiheke clan) and spent so long trying to capture the odd pause in their busy scurrying that I ran both cameras completely out of battery power and this morning had to just click a mental image of the glorious sunrise.

Now my house battery is warning imminent depletion. Some time today, I have to do my GST return. Reality bites. I also have a small novel to write about my East Cape trip so far – but it  might have to wait.

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Serendipity rules

When I first started ‘planning’ my year-long  trek around New Zealand, I decided it would be wise to have a theme – a series of articles that totted up to some coherent body of work. Something, even, saleable.

But somewhere along the way to finishing the home-based work, sorting the office chaos, preparing the van, leaving the house etc, that rather vital part of the project slipped from sight. Then a friend came to the rescue with a sort of unplanned non-theme – go with what you haven’t got and do a serendipity series.

How it works is that you just head for a place or person recommended as a ‘must visit’. That in turn  leads onto the next ‘you should meet….’ and you just send yourself across the country like some kind of chainmail letter.

It’s not working out quite that way – yet. But escaping habit is already opening  doors to a whole bunch of serendipitous happenings. Even the semi-planned stopovers don’t have any expectations attached and it’s wonderfully freeing.

First  stop, just out of Turua (home of the Swamp Festival), is with Ruth and Rob. They’re into sheds. Of all sizes – some big enough to house boats. The backyard also features a yacht, a camper for the truck and an unusual looking windmill. With its positive/negative circles it looks like a kinetic yin/yang sculpture but it’s also an efficient energy source – when it’s connected.

After being offered a choice of powered, unpowered, covered or open sites – or a comfy bed in the house, I’ve opted to park next to the “ablution” block which has loo and a great shower. Rob is up on Opua putting the finishing coats of paint on another boat that’s due to go in the water in a couple of days. But catching up with Ruth is just great.

I’ve known her since our kids were little on Waiheke, back in the days of hippy lifestyles and encounter groups. Later, escaping a relationship that was turning sour, I flatted with her in Grey Lynn – making my home in a platform bed that had  a great view into the living room of a glue-sniffing addict next door.

Even with two walls and a narrow corridor between, the glue smell often wafted up and erratic, uncontrolled behaviour it produced was scary. But living with Ruth and her two boys was fun.

We worked together on our separate desktops, declared brandy breaks whenever one or other of us had period pains, made several hilarious starts to our great Mills & Boon novel and, when decisions had to be made, consulted Tarot cards.

I remember my most frequent card was “The Fool” – the cheerful chap forever confidently stepping out over a cliff. It’s an image that’s stayed with me and really informs what I’m doing now. Chucking work and life habits is a bit like stepping off a cliff. You find yourself eating odd food combinations just because you happen to have them; deciding to stay somewhere longer or stopping at a campsite you hadn’t intended to just because you can.

And you discover other people leading serendipitous lives.

A slightly scary drive to Port Jackson is rewarded not just with the beauty of the place itself but the couple who run the local DOC (Department of Conservation) camp. For seven months from October to April every year for the past seven years, Bill and Ann park their bright green bus alongside the camp office to greet visitors, care for both people and place – and go fishing.

Their freezer is stocked with fat fillets from a range of different species– some that even they have to look up in their fish species bible. They really enjoy catching fish. But over seven months, the full-on fish diet apparently palls a bit and even before I leave the office, I get presented with a pack of frozen snapper fillets.

In November, campers are a tad sparse but over summer Port Jackson becomes a 500-strong village strung out along a kilometre stretch of the curving sandy beach. Bill and Ann now have friends among the regulars and have got to know a bunch of overseas visitors many of whom stay in touch by email.

Their Port Jackson tenure was completely serendipitous – coming via a contact who had been doing some work for DOC when they visited the Coromandel several years back. Originally offered a caretaking role at Stony Bay, they instead ended up at Port Jackson.

“We thought why not – it wasn’t like we had any other specific plans,” says Bill.

They had already opened the door to serendipity by then. With kids grown up and gone, Bill had found an Australian buyer for his trucking business and they were able to indulge a long-held dream to live in a bus.

The first long holiday in it proved life-changing. Return to normal work was short-lived. When Bill came home one day and said he’d had enough of it, he found his thoughts exactly mirrored Ann’s. So they quit their jobs, sold everything up and moved permanently into the bus. They love the life.

Later, Bill comes over to have a go at fixing my van door – blown nearly off its hinges by a vicious wind gust when I’d stopped on the top of a hill for a photo and now creaking alarmingly.  A few gentle heaves against a block of wood and it’s a lot easier to open and close. That evening after a walk around the coastline to Fletcher Bay – and lift back with a couple of German tourists – I cook up the snapper with a bit of oil.  Nothing else. It’s delicious.

When Bill and Ann do their evening camp round,  I invite them into the van to choose some of my photograpic cards as a thank you for the fish. “Fish,” says Bill. “You can have more of that – call in before you leave tomorrow.”

This time, I’m given two packets. Which is why, when I catch up with friends Vivienne and Percy in Kuaotunu, we have a delicious meal of gently poached snapper – washed down with wine and homemade rhubarb pie. Two days later – and I’m taking some of that homegrown rhubarb to my next port of call in Katikati.

It’s not exactly a chainmail letter – more like “pass the produce.” But, so far, serendipity is making a lot of sense.

Plan to load some pics on Please visit!

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How long is goodbye?

When you’ve just broadcast your departure for places farflung, it becomes kind of bad form to keep popping up in the spots people usually expect to see you.

Instead of the normal ‘hi- how are you’ sort of greetings, a quick visit to the supermarket or appearance at a neighbour’s party earns a whole bunch of variations on the “you still here?” theme. To the point you feel at tad fraudulent about farewelling anyone. Until the real departure. Then it all gets quite hard.

When you’ve had the ‘last’ dinner/lunch/coffee and you’re at the point where seeing someone is no longer going to be a daily/weekly event, it starts to feel just a bit final. A lucky token greenstone necklace delivered with an impromptu speech about friendship reduces me to tears. An outbreak of balloons at the ferry taking me off the island starts a pattern that oddly repeats.

A blue one, straying away from its companions floats gently out as the boat leaves. The rest – tied to the van – are eagerly divvied up by my four-year-old twin grandsons when I arrive at my next stop in Auckland to steadily meet the usual deflating fate of all their kind. But a few days later, as I pack to leave again, a stray white balloon wafts fatly into the backyard where I’ve been parked up, dancing around the wheels. I have no idea where it came from.

By then I’ve had to provide answers to endless repetitions from one twin of the same question. “But why are you going in your van and driving a long way away?”

An outbreak of bad behaviour later he tells his mum that he doesn’t want nana to leave.

It starts a whole round of questions in my own mind. Why exactly am I going? I have the best home, great friends, a loving partner, close family…..

I don’t know. There’s a restlessness for the things that I don’t know, the people I haven’t met, the roads I have never driven. And in a few weeks’ time, there will be my Mum – and a family Christmas with the South Island clan.

I hope it all makes sense as I go along.


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Backing out of tight spots

Snapper for dinner tonight. Not through any efforts of my own – unless you count navigating the bone-shaking, suspension shattering one-lane road to Port Jackson bay as sufficient effort.

Seems I was fairly singular in my luck of meeting a large, green articulated stock truck on the final eight kms of narrow, winding, sheer-drop-to-the-sea-on-my-side road. Seemed a little rough when I’d started out from Fantail Bay early enough to, I thought, beat any traffic.

Good news was the little pull-off  just before we met – the thought of trying to back my van (on mirrors and reversing camera) along that road was seriously scarey. Though in rather different circumstances two days earlier, I had managed backing out of a tight spot without damaging either self or others

The circumstances were quite different. Back then the danger was not so much disappearing over edge of road into sea as inadvertently wiping out a show of Audis and BMWs.

After leaving family in Auckland, I was staying with an old friend, Ruth, just out of Turua (near Thames) and had driven over to meet Waiheke Islanders Alex and Lesley Stone as they sprinted between exhibition openings in the Kaipara and at Waitakaruru Arboretum near Morrinsville.

That latter has been painstakingly created over about four decades in a disused quarry. The result is beautiful. Artificial lakes just coming alive with water lilies, bright rhododendrons, lush ferns, colourful colestemon – and sculptures, some permanent, others, like today, temporarily on show.

It hadn’t occurred to me that a launch would fill what was euphemistically described as “bus parking” with a clutch of tightly parked, rather expenive looking cars – nor that it was a dead-end rather than drive-through option. I’d driven too far in and could hear distant speeches of the “opening” kind interspersed with clapping as I tensely manouvred my very out of-place vehicle back to the entrance gate.

By then speeches were just about done – as were the nibbles and wine. But at least I found Lesley and Alex – who had his latest sculpture on display. “Form 2” is a scrummaging machine finished (this is the Waikato) in cowhide. When we get to it, Alex talks a couple of passing blokes into testing it out, To his horror it moves, several feet. The organisers haven’t filled a water tank designed to make the wooden structure too weighty to shift.

Another Waiheke Island, Chris Bailey, also has a piece on display and by one of the lakes, a group of Japanese-style drummers are thumping up an exciting rhythmn – colourful costumes reflecting in the water – until a swift rain shower halts play. The hide drums are easily damaged.

I’d never heard of Waitakaruru before but it’s worth a visit. Getting there – and back makes me think I might need a GPS. Dealing with written instructions or maps means swapping driving for reading specs. Doing that in the dark seems jeopardy too far so I borrow Lesley to navigate and we find our way back to Ruth’s like homing pigeons. Reward then was a G&T and dinner.

Now, I’m completely independent of any home-style luxuries. But I have my site with a view of the curve of Jackson Bay. I have snapper for dinner – courtesy camp proprietors Bill and Ann (more on them later); Bill has also helped fix the van door damaged by a vicious wind gust yesterday; the sun is out and I’m heading for a swim.

Life’s good.


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