So we’d heard and read all about the hot water springs.  How you could go to the beach and dig a hole in the sand which would fill with hot water and you could lie in it.  Woo-hoo!

It was en route, so we turned down the road.  Then it was another 9km so we turned back.  Imagined it instead, kind of like your bath at home except with sand in your bathers.

Some things are better left to others.



Canal developments are destructive and polluting, I dislike them intensely.  They are indicative of developers running wild, unhindered by considerations of conservation.  Predictably the towns where we saw this were characterised by soulless town planning and ‘lifestyle’ housing – which precludes character and negates the natural beauty which made the place attractive originally.



a clay crusherIMG_0187-HDR(3) a brick making machineIMG_0196-HDR(3) a clay chopperIMG_0202-HDR(3) and a really impressive one – because the turns are so tight on the railway track the train wheels wear on the bogies.  So they have designed independent-axle wheels with independent hydraulic motors.  Thus each train has 16 independent powered wheels in contact with the track, and can haul a trainful of humans – more than the clay it was supposed to – with ease. IMG_0316


This is a very efficient and cheap kiln, which took my fancy.  A couple of diesel fuel pumps are driven by an electric motor, paralleled in 3’s to give 4 outlets of high flow diesel through 4 injectors to fire a kiln for bricks.

The fuel is filtered sump oil, and the secret of getting it to burn is to mix water with it – the water evaporates and disperses the oil, allowing it to combust completely.

IMG_0208-HDR(3) IMG_0211-HDR(3) IMG_0217-HDR(3) IMG_0220-HDR(3)


He built the railway as a natural engineer – having been building things all his life, starting with a kiln age 7.  I was mighty impressed by the simple straightforward approach to doing everything.

Naturally in these sad days of the rule of occupational health and safety wonks the ongoing success of this enterprise is limited – some twerp will come up with some rule which kills it.  Nevertheless it’s still going, and I did ask – all the engineering is checked and is up to standard.

IMG_0300 IMG_0256 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA IMG_0267 IMG_0281 IMG_0298 (Medium)


Barry Brickell always wanted to be a potter and was fascinated by trains.  He got a teaching qualification, then a short-lived job in Coromandel high school, before starting life as a potter.  He bought a 60 Ha property just outside the town, largely because it had excellent sources of clay on it, and despite the fact it was a bare hillside.

He became an inventor, engineer, designer, potter, conservationist and teacher.

Since the clay he wanted was up the hill, the obvious thing was to make a railway to bring it down.  Buying railway track and bits at scrap prices from the mines in the area, he surveyed, benched the hillside, and laid a railway all the way to the top.  It took him 25 years, initially done by himself, later with many volunteers.  Not only is it the newest railway in NZ, it has been built completely without government money and with the help of volunteers.

Bricknell, now 79, doesn’t do much manual work nowadays and is mainly interested in conservation – having started and directed the planting of about 30,000 trees on the property.  The once bare hillsides are now lush bush, protected under covenant.



Found this place quite by accident while driving along the Coromandel coast road.  It was started 50 years ago by a German couple who established the gardens, then bought by two other owners, the present one having also discovered it by chance.

A remarkable place, beautifully set out, giving a feeling of tranquility after you’ve walked around it for a while.



IMG_0727-HDR(3) (Medium)

tis the season – just before the end of term for the summer holidays, they’re all out on excursions.  Here you see the remains of a large bunch of them who descended on our peaceful lunch spot by the river, immediately started throwing stones, then dispersed away from the teachers, jumped along the rapids, fell in, started fighting etc etc.  Then, like a flight of finches, darted off to disturb the peace elsewhere.


IMG_0682 (Medium)So for a change of pace from all them hobbits we went north to the Coromandel peninsula, stopping at Karangahake Gorge.  Some amazing ruins of gold getting there, one of the things I find extraordinary is the extent of the buildings in those days, huge plants and transport systems.  And now it’s all gone.

This is all that’s left:

IMG_0760-HDR(3) IMG_0763-HDR(3) IMG_0766-HDR(3)I wonder where all the cyanide went from these massive tanks.  I don’t suppose they disposed of it thoughtfully!



The big oak tree at the top of the hill – above Bilbos home – was actually a manufactured trunk, though totally realistic, with artificial leaves wired to it. Naturally the sun turned the leaves pale after a while, so they periodically take them off and repaint them!


They had even gone to the trouble of getting glass made with uneven thickness, as in the old glass, for the windows.








The hobbit holes were made different sizes to allow the visual illusion of small people and big humans. This meant that everything to do with the holes was made at that scale. They had children actors wearing adult clothing, working around the holes to give the right perspective.

Some of the holes were full size for parts of the movie.

This gave us an odd illusion at one point – we had got used to the tiny size of the holes, then a full sized gardener came out of a full sized hole – and immediately looked like a tiny person.

IMG_0333 (Medium)

IMG_0330 (Medium)


IMG_0024-HDR(3) (Medium) IMG_1212 (Medium)

We went to Hobbiton today, or more precisely the film set where the movies were made.
It was expensive to go on a 2 hour tour ($75), but it wasn’t tacky despite the large number of people going through, and it was definitely worth it.

We booked for the first tour in order to have a bit more of the place free of people – worked to some extent I think. We went around in groups of 35, driven to the site in busses, and guided round by a young woman who was happily not too fussed about us lagging behind to take photos. She was worth listening to however, since she told us some interesting things about the set.

I think the whole experience was successful because of the care that went into making the set, and the extraordinary detail with which it was imbued. In addition there is a small army of keepers who ensure that everything is fresh – the flowers, the vegetables, the clothes and props around the hobbit holes. It really seemed as if we were looking around a village where the inhabitants were away for the day – the little touches gave the impression of a vibrant life in the community, even though the hobbit holes were actually just facades. Nevertheless the grass was green, the flowers were real and tended in a natural disarray in the gardens, and the tools were clearly in use, just set down while the owner had lunch for example.

One of the things we hadn’t realised is the tricks that went into making the size of the hobbits realistic – the holes were made 100%, 60% and 40% size (and everything around them cut down accordingly). Children were used as extras, dressed as hobbits, to occupy the smaller holes. The few proper sized holes were used, with perspective tricks, for scenes with Gandalf and Bilbo – Bilbo’s hole at the top for instance.

The more I saw, the more impressed I was about the realism of the place. No effort was spared to make things look real – the clothes on the lines were the ones worn by the extras, but, since they would fade the were treated with something to keep them fresh, and replaced when they got worn.

It’s bit business, about 500 people per day, say an average of $50 each, for, say 150 full days per year gives them an income of about $3.75M per year. From which they pay all the staff and upkeep, but there’s no doubt still a healthy profit in it.

The set was built by the army as a ‘training exercise’ courtesy of the then PM since funds were running low for the movie. Quite a bit of excavation and a big road was made, and clearly now there is more to come, presumably since it is successful.

I met Tolkein when I was a teenager. My father was having his hip done in the Nuffield Orthopaedic Hospital in Oxford, and Tolkein had broken his ankle. The two were in adjacent rooms and the two old guys got on well together during their rehabilitation. I had just read Lord of the Rings, and so was mighty impressed by the chance of meeting the author. He was a kindly old man, and patient with an eager teenager. He signed an autograph for me with ‘A star shines on the hour of our meeting’ in Elven writing. I asked him what it meant when he’d written it – ‘go and find out’ he said, with a smile. And I did of course – nice thought. I think he would have liked Hobbiton today – not perhaps the crowds and the commercialism, but the whole thing seems to have been done exactly right.

And it was just what I’d imagined 50 years ago when I first read the books.


At Orokorire, a campsite in the grounds of an old hotel. The camp is on a tree-lined lawn, simple, cheap and very peaceful. We had a swim in their hot pool – a pretty basic concrete tank down by the river. The hotel is past its prime, but retains enough of the grandeur of former years to remind you what it used to be like – all wood panelling and big rooms. The shower block, kitchen etc are all pretty amateur – I imagine the job of building them was given to the gardner in the 1920’s, and he gave it to his assistant. While the lad showed promise, he’s not there yet. The hotel is adjacent to a golf course, which is probably its raison d’etre. Nice if you like golf, and the course provide a pleasant walk in the evening when all the golfers had gone back to their nests.

We had a meal in the bar last night – didn’t look promising but the steak and the fish was very good indeed. Sat out in the garden by the van this afternoon, birds all around, river down the hill, large established trees behind us. Delightful. It doesn’t have anything like the facilities of one of the modern camp sites, but is far more preferable.



This lake, Inferno crater lake, whose colour changes depending on the dissoved minerals, and whose temperature varies with the level, rises and falls on a roughly 6 week cycle.  The lake in the previous posts does the same, but in the opposite direction.  They think there is some complex set of chambers underground which oscillate between pathways to each lake – the acidity of the lakes varies markedly too.

IMG_0102-HDR(3) (Medium)



Here’s what the valley looks like now:


And here’s what it looked like after the 1880 eruptionIMG_0033-HDR(3)
And here is what it looked like when the geyser was operating – note that the lake has filled in and become a mud-flatscenery-010You can just see an observation hut on the top of the L hill.  4 people were killed when they went to watch the geyser from a lower hill – known to be dangerous but they thought they would have a go.  Apparently washed away by a wave of boiling water.



The Waimangu Geyser was the most powerful geyser in the world. Its workings were apparently created by the great 1886 Mount Tarawera eruption, which opened a 14 km-long (8.75 miles) fissure down the mountain, through Lake Rotomahana and the Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley.

The geyser was first seen erupting in 1900. Its eruptions were observed reaching up to 460 metres (1,500 ft) in height, and it excited worldwide interest. As a result of a landslide which changed the water table, the geyser became extinct on November 1, 1904.

The water expelled by the geyser was black with rocks and mud from the surrounding terrain, so the indigenous M?ori people named the geyser Waimangu, meaning ‘Black Waters’. The geyser gave its name to the surrounding geothermal region, the Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley.

On August 31, 1903, David McNaughton, Joseph Warbrick, and sisters Ruby and Catherine Nicholls were killed after ignoring requests from Warbrick’s brother Alfred to return to a safe distance, after venturing close to the edge of the geyser. The four were swept away in a sudden violent eruption.

Waimangu scenic reserve’, URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/media/photo/waimangu, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 15-Jul-2013

scenery-010 Waimang-photo-1_large Waimangu_geyser


We went down this valley in preference to other hot pools in the region because it’s more interesting. We’ve seen plenty of hot springs and coloured pools, but what distinguishes this area is that it is a newly formed volcanic valley with a recorded history.

Most of the NZ attractions of the volcanic variety happened a long time ago – mostly before living memory, and mostly without photos.  Not so Waimangu.  Here’s a valley which was a tourist attraction in the 1880’s, then blew up twice since then with massive changes to the landscape, all photographed, and today showing ongoing changes.  We spent a very interesting afternoon walking through the valley floor.

Originally it was said to be the 8th wonder of the world, with fabled pink and white terraces which people traveled from all over to see.


the following is copied from a guide book:

Visiting missionaries and European traders were stunned by the Pink and White Terraces. Word spread, so that growing numbers of visitors began to make the long trip to see these magnificent natural structures for themselves.
New Zealand’s first tourist attraction

The Pink and White Terraces became New Zealand’s most famous tourist attraction. Visitors from England, Australia, Canada and Europe braved a ship passage of several months, followed by an overland trip of 150 kilometres to make the pilgrimage to Lake Rotomahana.

Maori villagers living nearby benefited from revenue obtained from their services as guides and boatmen in the burgeoning tourist trade. Visitors were entertained with dancing and singing.

All this changed during the night of 10 June 1886. Already rumblings in the ground, earthquakes, creeks emptying and refilling, lake water levels rising and falling, were indications of strange happenings. Moreover, a few weeks earlier a group of Europeans and their Maori guides had seen a canoe appear in the distance on the lake. They watched the canoe approach until it suddenly vanished before their eyes. Everyone agreed on what they had seen, but to the Maori it was an apparition, an omen of danger and death. This night was to confirm their predictions of disaster.

The eruption opend up a line of craters from the northern end of the mountain. Seven small villages were destroyed. Many human lives were lost. All plant, animal and bird life was destroyed. Lake Rotomahana exploded to 20 times its size, with a new water level 40 metres higher than previously. Tragically the fabled Pink and White Terraces were gone, presumably destroyed.
Pink and White Terraces rediscovered in 2011

In February 2011 a team of researchers came to Waimangu Volcanic Valley armed with seismic surveys and sonar equipment to help them map Lake Rotomahana’s floor, hoping as a bonus to discover the whereabouts of the destroyed Pink and White Terraces.

Their luck was in. They first discovered part of the Pink Terraces and in June 2011, coinciding with the 125th anniversary of Mt Tarawera eruption, they announced the discovery of a section of the White Terraces.

In March 2012 scientists continued to probe the bed of Lake Rotomahana and further confirmed that about three quarters of the Pink Terraces remain intact. The fate of the White Terraces is less certain, having been situated in part of the lake significantly disturbed by the Mount Tarawera eruption.

It is unlikely we will see the Eight Wonder of the World again. The Terraces remain hidden 60 metres below the lake surface and caked in 2 metres of mud.

In fact since this discovery was published another paper credibly suggests that the terraces discovered on this expedition were not the recent ones, but much older terraces, suggesting previous cycles of eruption.

Here’s a picture I took at about the same place as the older one to show the destruction of the 1886 eruption:

IMG_0108-HDR(3) IMG_0105-HDR(3)



Ten years ago when I was around these parts with Katie, we feasted two or three times at the Fat Dog Cafe. It became the gold standard against which to judge other feeds – most, I have to say, falling short.

So naturally we had to have breakfast here, and its eclectic decorations, relaxed atmosphere, and quantity of good food allowed it to keep its place of honour. One nice touch – the waitress forgot to order Sallys bacon on the side, apologised, then came back with a plate of bacon enough for both of us.

On yer, Fat Dog!


I didn’t like Rotorua last time I was here, and I didn’t like it to start with this time. It seems to me that the town has built up around the intriguing, (but not all that much) idea that steam comes out of the ground in and around the town.

I suppose there has been an endless procession of tourists supporting the economy over the years to prove me wrong.

We had to do a bit of shopping and so wandered around the centre, which actually was quite nice.

There are steaming things all over the area, but the central park contains a handy selection of steaming things, including an impressive collection of mosquitos breeding in the warm water.

hdr (23) (Medium) hdr (15) (Medium) hdr (11) (Medium)


Came across this place en route to Rotorua.  Just by the roadside, nearly missed it.  But out the back rising up a hill they had made a wandering path with a display of sculptures.

Very taken with the way the paths wound around the trees and ferns, and, using old timbers and some new decking, created a lovely peaceful place.

Gave us ideas of doing something similar in our garden – maybe not the scultpures.

IMG_1182-HDR(2) (Medium) IMG_1202-HDR(2) (Medium) IMG_1198-HDR(2) (Medium) IMG_1194-HDR(2) (Medium)


I’ve noticed that most of the letterboxes are the same – boring plastic things that came out of the same shop. You can drive for miles and miles and see no excitement except a change of  colour.  Choice of red, green, yellow, blue with ditto flag things to show you have mail.  Unlike Tas where there are some really creative efforts, here they all look businesslike.

Except for the 3rd from R and far L.  I’m with them….



Here’s a neat demonstration of what a shelter belt does to the wind velocity at its base. Technically a shelter belt will drop the wind for 6 times its height, but this one shows it’s a bit less. Maybe sand particles are a bit heavier so drop out of the air quicker. It also shows that just next to a semipermeable wall – ie the base of the netting – the wind velocity is still quite high. So don’t plant your lettuces next to the shelter, plant them a bit back.



IMG_0015-HDR(3) IMG_0023 (Medium)Rich farming and tourism from here all the way along the coast to the Coromandel peninsula.  $2Bn in Kiwi fruit alone apparently.  Immediate change from scrappy cars to shiny ones with vanity plates.

Endless wide, flat, windy beaches down Opotiki way.  Nice little town. They do a lot of fishing, though I can’t see how they get the bait & hooks out as the wind is onshore. Not much boating, not much swimming.

Nice beachscapes though.



IMG_1173 (Medium)

This morning I decided that I had to wear something something to cushion my splint – undersplints as it were. Despite it being a brand new funky post-modern cool-dude black affair with 3 straps and Velcro, the splint wasn’t quite soft enough for long periods of wear. Ticking off the possibilities in my mind it became clear that what it lacked was a sock.

On the way out of Gisborne I spied a ‘garage sale’ sign and suggested that perhaps this was the sock opportunity I’d been waiting for.
At this point there are those who would make a noise somewhere between a disbelieving guffaw and a derisory snort – perhaps more inclined to the latter.

Nevertheless we did stop, and the next sound would be a disbelieving gasp as, within 20 seconds I secured le soc juste – a fluffy girl sock, matching black with a fetching pink trim – for a tiny sum and a spare for free.

Are we surprised? Nope. Garage sales have and always will, come shining through in our hour of need.


Stopped at a development by the sea for a bowl of cereal, and started looking around. Nice paddocks, good for sheep, now taken over and processed into yet another ‘burb.

Not that anyone’s complaining – cept the sheep I suppose – the blocks this wee paddock are worth a total of $2M:


There should be a law against things like this:


And here’s an example of simple and complicated building – the one on the right is all funny angles, roof tiles and ditzy walls, costing a fortune to build.  On the left a simple shape, roof you can walk on.  A bit box from this angle, but more interesting from the front.  I know which I’d rather spend my money on:


Here’s one that at least is interesting – I’d like to see how it will turn out.  I’ve always been a fan of container architecture and this could be a good one:

IMG_0015-HDR(4)But when all’s said and done, and all the millions have been spent, these people are living on a flat, windy bit of ground.  And just over the dunes is a long, flat, boring beach. What’s the point?





We’ve been seeing a lot of caravans on this holiday, and for want of anything else to think about I’ve been thinking of them.

I’ve been interested to see how people push the envelope in what constitutes a caravan. It used to be, and as far as I know still is, that the definition of a caravan was a towable dwelling on wheels which can be moved with 24 hours notice.

It starts with something like this – simple caravan parked in a paddock:

IMG_0003-HDR(3)Then maybe they put down a bit of something to stand on:

IMG_0006-HDR(3)Next there’s an awning:
IMG_0009-HDR(3)Which gets firmed up a bit:


And maybe now it’s there it gets done up a bit:


But maybe now the awning/front porch/front room itself needs a bit of an awning:

IMG_0021-HDR(3)And while we’re at it, how about some big windows – and a couple of pot plants:


Now you’re talking.  But why have the front room attached to the caravan at all – more convenient to separate it a bit:


And before you know it they’ve done a bit of work on the extra room and look what you’ve got:





Dave, an ex-grape farmer, local character, and all-round raconteur, took us to the walk and picked us up at the end of the day.  He loves fishing so en route back to the camp he took us to a spot he knew and we did a spot of fishing.  The wind was blowing strongly onshore, which he said blew the caddis fly larvae into the shallows, muddied the water and so made it hard for the fish to see us as they hunted for the larvae.


And by jingo he was right.  We put on polaroids and walked along the edge of the lake to see trout come right inshore.  He hooked 3, caught one.  Very impressive.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHowever he wasn’t so impressed when I told him my greatest skill as a fisherman was tickling trout out of creeks.  So he taught me how to fly-fish.  With moderate success. Well, none, actually.


But the fresh rainbow trout, baked with lemon for 20 minutes, was absolutely delicious.



The big trunk is a Rimu – a much prized protected species of podocarp which was extensively logged in the past.  Massive trees in climax forest.  But look at the size of the smaller tree growing around the rimu trunk. This is a Rata vine, which growns from the top down – windblown seeds settle in the top of the tree and send roots down to the ground.  This one may eventually strangle the rimu, or more likely will be there as a tree in its own right when the rimu dies.

Northern rātā (Metrosideros robusta), is a huge forest tree endemic to New Zealand. It grows up to 25 m or taller, and usually begins its life as a hemiepiphyte high in the branches of a mature forest tree; over centuries the young tree sends descending and girdling roots down and around the trunk of its host, eventually forming a massive, frequently hollow pseudotrunk composed of fused roots.

But there is a second epiphyte – the large diagonally curving one which I think might be Passifloria tetrandra – also attached to the tree.  Normally seen as a slender vine about 3/4 in thick in the forest, this one has been in place for many years and is now huge.

Epiphytes and vines are fascinating – here’s a reference to much, much more if you want:


and another pdf:






IMG_0047 (Small)

Also possums, rats, cats and deer.  Hence this electric fence which cuts off a peninsula and protects the kiwi population which has declined by about 90%.  Apparently it’s working.

Keeps out hunters too, who are otherwise encouraged to shoot deer and pigs.


There’s a rare species of duck which used to be very common, called the blue duck.  Signs on the road warn of little ducklines crossing.

The blue duck happen to lay their eggs where stoats – an enormous pest and very destructive – like to dine.  Sometimes the stoats eat the eggs, sometimes they wait for the chicks to hatch and eat them, sometimes they eat the mums.  So now the blue duck are rare.

These duck aren’t blue, and they aren’t rare,  however they are making a guest appearance in this blog because I couldn’t find any blue duck.  And they are cute.

IMG_0011 (Small)

We did see some blue duck at the previous campsite.  They weren’t blue either.


I thought this was a dammed hydro lake but its not. It does have a dam, and it does have a hydro station at the dam, but the dam is natural. About 2,200 years ago the lake was a lot smaller, then an earthquake came along and caused a huge landslip which dammed the exit, causing the level to rise, drowning the forest.

When the hydro came along and tapped into the natural dam, they found that the lake shores were eroding, so they dropped the level of the lake, exposing the dead trees – just like the Tasmanian hydro lakes. The trees were a hazard to the boats so they cut them down. Filled the lake with trout and put some excellent bushwalks around it, and here it is – a great recreational lake.

The true story is a bit different:

Māori legends tell that Lake Waikaremoana was formed during an epic domestic struggle. A chief, Māhū, asked his daughter Haumapuhia to fetch some water from a sacred well. When she refused he went himself, but was very slow. When Haumapuhia went to find her father, he was still angry and tried to drown her in the well. The gods of the land heard her cries for help and turned her into a taniwha (water monster). She carved out the lake bed during her struggle for freedom.

IMG_0012-HDR(3) (Large)

IMG_0015-HDR(3) (Small)

nice campsite, big DOC one, nearly empty as usual.  The winds were pretty fierce so we managed to tuck ourselves away behind some bush.IMG_0045-HDR(3) (Small)

Stitched Panoramasunset panorama-



Just thought you should know.

NZ has many good things, this isn’t one of them.  Better than those on the W coast of S Island I suppose but that’s not saying much.  They do sell a bug repellant which has the property of dissolving plastic (about the only sure sign of a good one I find), but that doesn’t stop these little guys working out where you haven’t applied it – CCTV cameras or a guide book I suppose.

We have different methods for treating the bites, which don’t start to itch for a day or so, then go on for 4-5 days. Sally prefers not to scratch them and thus lives in torment like St Francis of Assisi beset by arrows.  She starts off with little lumps on her skin and ends up with little red marks and her teeth ground flat, knuckles permanently white.

I prefer the direct approach and scratch them with great ferocity, and, if possible, immediately jump into a thermal pool.  I start off  with little lumps on my skin and end up with same lumps with holes in them, followed by red marks.  Teeth and knuckles intact however.

I really don’t see the point of all this itching.  Since they don’t kill us I suppose it’s a waste of time waiting for evolutionary pressures to breed immunity to the bites.  I’ll just keep scratching.



IMG_0042-HDR(3) (Small)Came across this gem by the road. Shows what you can do with steel plate and timber. There is no welding here – all the parts are cast or cut steel fitted together in symbiosis with the timber to perform a single purpose: moving something very heavt. We don’t see this sort of engineering anymore, timber no longer being used in this way. But it’s nice to see what could be done, and to appreciate a design that worked.

It was made as a low loader trailer to haul parts of the heavy machinery up to build the power station at the lake head. Entirely constructed out of timber and steel, it could carry 25 tons. Note how the wood grain is oriented in the blocks in the steel wheels; the braking system operated by a worm drive; and the massive steerable front axle.

After it had done its job it was used as a bridge for about 20 years before being put out to pasture for the admiration of people like me.

Apparently it is still in good working order.

IMG_0021-HDR(3) (Small) IMG_0024-HDR(3) (Small) IMG_0027-HDR(3) (Small) IMG_0030-HDR(3) (Small) IMG_0033-HDR(3) (Small) IMG_0036-HDR(3) (Small) IMG_0039-HDR(3) (Small)




IMG_0038-HDR(3) (Small)

In this rare piece we see indigenous artists from Whaketalup offer us an installation of cultural significance.

Placing the treated remnants of a sacred hunting animal reverently on a plain timber support they emphasise the division between the modern and the past. The ethnobiological trope speaks to the link between culture and place, clearly informing the arrangement of objects and contrasting with the simple shape of the support which guides us on our way.

The sensitive use seen here of found objects makes a profound statement about the way in which the departed soul of the animal calls to travellers passing through the natural landscape of their forefathers. The creative form gives pause to, and refreshes, the modern journeyman through this ancient land.



I’m somewhat taken with gliding, and managed to squeeze in another go at ‘club rates’ this time – 1/3 of the original fee.  The afternoon looked good, but actually there wasn’t that much thermals and we spent a long time going round in circles. Then we had to land.

The instructor let me do most of that, but it didn’t work too well since I discovered that gliders are made for right handed flyers, the wind spoiler lever being on the left.  So just as we came in I had to transfer my left hand to the flap, take the stick in my right hand (naturally I’d taken off the bandages for the flight), and coax it down.  Not surprisingly he took over round about then.

Landing the glider - sort of (Small)


So there I was springing back down the steep bit like a young mountain goat when I slipped back, put out my hand to save myself and it hurt. A young whippersnapper jumped forward to help up the old dude (bah!), grabbed the offending hand and that hurt too.

By the time I got to the bottom the wrist was swollen and painful and I thought I’d broken something.  When I don’t have the benefit of Xrays in the bush, my rule of thumb in these situations is to treat the offending limb as if broken, and, if it’s still painful after 48 hrs then there’s a fair chance it is.

Since we were heading south away from civilisation and we didn’t want to hang around hospitals, Sally made a splint in the traditional fashion using a pair of underpants and a cardboard box, which worked well for a couple of days till we found some decent quality tourist brochures to replace the cardboard and a clean hanky instead of underpants.

IMG_0002 (Small)Now fast-forward to Gisborne, where I’m doing these posts at the next available wifi, and after 5 days it still hurts.  Which injury has meant Sally has had to do all the driving and the washing up.

I’ve just had the required xray, and sure enough there was a small avulsion fracture of the triquetral.  Happily the triquetral, one of the 9 wrist bones and the second commonest to be broken by my classic outstretched-hand fall, heals pretty well with a simple immobilisation.  I’ve swapped the tourist brochure splint for an official one (which actually doesn’t work any better, but looks good), and will no doubt get better in about 4 weeks.

triquetral avulsion fracture



Stitched Panorama

In the main South Crater area, which is quite old, there are grasses slowly establishing themselves on the lava, with the very occasional flower bringing life to a barren landscape – it reminded me of Antarctica, where there is just rock, ice and snow.

red crater (2) (Small)

But one of the interesting things was the different types of rock on the ground – some lava, some dense and heavy, some shiny and flat – all showing a record of the activity this area has been subject to.

red crater (4) (Small) red crater (Small)

The main flat area is of sand, but to emphasise the activity beneath it, clouds of steam come off at intervals.

red crater (1) (Small)

Off to one side is a lake – nearly dry now but filling in winter – whose colour comes from dissolved minerals. In other parts of the crater complex is a blue and a green lake, again their colours are from the minerals in the water.

red crater Naughaoe (Small)


I find people interesting, and there was plenty of interest on this trip.  Many nationalities on the same path – naturally the Swedes were thin, fit, and coming down as we went up, probably having started at dawn after a bowl of muesli.  The Brits, Poles, French, Indians and Asians, a tranche of Israeli girls, Yanks in the biggest brightest gear, and harassed teachers looking worried and tired.  And us of course:

IMG_0118This guy ran all the way…..why?IMG_0044-HDR(3)These two took their kid up with teddy firmly tied on – reminded us of when we did this with our kids in the Kimberley for up to 2 weeks, lovely time,
IMG_0205And the lady in the middle, just next to the pole, went all the way down the steep hill on her bottom, which impressed me.  Took quite a while though.
this lady went down on her bottomBut the guy who impressed me most, and for obvious reasons I didn’t take a picture of him, was a small chap with a partial right hemiplegia who, dressed in an ordinary coat and trousers and with a stick, hobbled at the same speed as the rest of us along the track.  He didn’t seem to be with anyone, but just went on by himself.  How very much harder it must have been for him than for us.


The mountain is still active, and has erupted 3 times in the last 100 years. The last lava flow was in 1975 and is seen here as a darker stain on the side of the mountain. We tend to think of these things as happening in the distant past, but that’s not the case here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a cutaway bit of the track about 1200mm high at the top of the mountain.  Note the different layers of deposition from the various eruptions.  The bottom layer was warm and steaming, and remarkably, sandflies were  prolific up there.ash layers at top


The Tongario crossing is a 19km walk going between the two mountains of Tongariro and Ngauruhoe, then dropping off the N side of Tongariro down to the road at Ketetahi. It’s billed at the thing to do in the Tongariro park, and, naturally enough has considerable support in terms of bus shuttles from one end to the other. It’s quite a high walk, going up to 1,900 metres and the conditions can get fairly nasty if the weather turns.

Mt Ngaurahoe:


We had a look at the route and decided that doing the whole thing wasn’t such a good idea, since the second half was basically a long walk down a steep mountain. Accordingly we decided to do the first half, which involved walking up to the crater area and coming back the same way. That meant we could go at our own pace, had more time in the craters, and weren’t dependent on picking up a bus.

This picture shows the track up to Mt Ngaurahoe, from the carpark at the base of the cinder cone in the L middle of the picture

looking back along the trail

Turned out this was the right thing to do. Since this was the first day in a week or so that the weather was good, there were hundreds (literally) of people doing the walk. The track was pretty good, well maintained as you might expect but it needed to be, since for most of the way up we were walking in bunches of people – queueing to get up the steps, standing aside for the fast ones (and I have to admit we were doing a quite a bit of standing aside).

At the very top we had lunch while the crowd kept going, and on the way back we pretty well had the place to ourselves, which was good. Despite the crowds the mountains were vast and impressive, and we could forget about the people around us and marvel at the scenery.

I found that the immense size of everything put the meaning of volcanic activity into perspective and gave it the scale I hadn’t hitherto appreciated. Reading about volcanoes is all very well, and they are easy enough to understand, but seeing them is something else. To see huge mountains simply blown apart by the forces of the earth brings home the reality of vulcanism.  And seeing the mountains giving off smoke – as this view of the back of Tongariro shows – emphasises that it could all still happen:

Tongariro active at top of path down


This view from the southern end of the lake shows its immense size.  lts really too big to imagine an explosion blasting away the size of the lake (and at the centre 500ft deep) into the air.  Not surprisingly the effects of this were seen in China and Rome 1800 years ago.

This volcano is not predictable, whereas others are.  This means it could decide to do the same again.  Erk.

The two cones, one in the centre and one off to the left, are cinder cones from smaller volcanic vents.  The island right of centre is what is left of the epicentre of the explosion.

Taupo pano



This was the best fun we’ve had in a long time.  We spent many hours in the air during the 10 years in remote medicine, and it’s still a big buzz to take off.  I’ve always wanted to go gliding, never had the chance.  Wonderful experience – no noise for a start, and the plane – a $190,000 German glider, was light and responsive.  Took a while to get used to turning and so on, but toward the end of the flight it started to feel natural.  Might just do it again….

Happy Sally pre-take off.
sally Just about to release the towsally

Figuring it all outOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Catching an updraftchris (3) (Small) Coming in to landchris (1) (Small)


Looking up it is a wonder how the huge trees support massive branches sticking out many meters from the main trunk.  It is all done by balance.  The large branches, several tonnes worth, seem like they should overwhelm the trunk.  But it can be understood if this weight is thought of in terms of two forces. And the forces are separated into horizontal and vertical components.

The vertical component, magnified by its distance from the centre, is directed down the trunk where the dead central cells easily support compressive loads.  The remaining horizontal component is directed toward or away from the trunk and pulls the tree one way or the other, but its effect is more or less balanced out by similar forces from other branches.  So, just as a boat can be balanced on its keel by supporting timbers, so can the trunk support massive branches.  To stay balanced it only needs to counteract the sum of the horizontal pull of the branches.

This balance is done by the growing outer ring of wood in the trunk.  This horizontal pull is a dynamic force, changing with the wind and shifting as the branches grow and sometimes fall. If the tree is on a hill there is a tendency for increased force in the direction of fall.

This outer wood contains fibres under tension like tent guys.  This tension is visible sometimes when milling a log.  Cutting into the upper surface, you find  the timber will peel off  and curl up like a banana.  And the rest of the log, left overnight, will form a hump as the fibres on the opposite side contract.Pureora 08 (Medium) Pureora 16 (Medium)


An artist once said how dull it must be to see things with a scientists eyes.  Knowing all about how something works takes the mystery out of it which, he thought is essential and sufficient for the artistic view.

It isn’t that way at all.  I see the beauty in the forest, the light playing on the endless patterns made by growing things, rocks, the earth and the clouds.  But knowing the structure of these things, far from detracting from their beauty enhances it.

Ferns have a beautiful fractal symmetry, shown in these pictures.  But the beauty of that idea goes much further – nature makes incredible complexity out of an elegantly simple idea.  The idea is to make something – perhaps a simple structure, but include a place in that structure where the structure itself can be repeated.  So the ferns use the same shape as their leaves get smaller.  Steven Wolfram, Buchannan, and many others, have explored this and shown that much of what we see in nature is built on simplicity, not complexity.

And this extends to a more powerful idea – allow the basic shapes to modify the underlying structure as needed.  Whereas these ferns repeat the same shape, as do the bronchi in the lungs and the blood vessels of a mammal;  the arms, legs and spine are shaped differently for all species of mammals – and dinosaurs for that matter.  But the back legs are essentially the same as the front ones.  The pelvis is similar to the shoulder girdle – and, for that matter, one half of the body is pretty well identical to the other.  So, once nature has got the idea of how to make a foreleg, it can make a hindleg, and a leg on the opposite side too.  And once it can modify that basic shape, it can make pretty well any body it likes.

It has always staggered me that I can go to a museum and look at a creature’s skeleton living hundreds of millions of years ago, and recognise the same bones, in the same order, doing more or less the same job as the ones keeping me together.  It’s the incredible, staggering simplicity of that which adds to the beauty of the objects.  The same staggering simplicity that makes these ferns beautiful.
IMG_0076-HDRs(3) fractal fern patterns (Medium)


The rainforest is a conglomerate of communities living at different levels.  All interacting with a delicate symmetry.  The leaves at the top of the highest trees are small to reduce evaporation, while the roots are deep to supply the water needed for these great trees.  Under their shade, in the tranquil understory, the leaves of the plants are large to collect what light they can, and they are more delicate – shallow roots and slender stems.




Pureora 33 (Medium)Ended up at Pureora forest reserve.  Nice DOC campsite in the bush.  The weather wasn’t so good, so we went for a walk in the rain forest, which, after all, is designed to be seen in the rain.

This was the site of a major logging protest in the early ’70s.  NZ had logged most of its old growth forests by then, and this was one of the last stands of old trees.  Amid fierce opposition protesters drew attention to this, and finally won as the government changed its mind and stopped further logging.  Now the area is a beautiful forest, and happily the ranger station doesn’t try to hide the history of the protests on its display boards.  Takes me back to the days of the Franklin protests in Tasmania, and what a victory that was.  However the mood of the politicians is changing, and the present Tasmanian Liberal governments avowed aim to restore the logging industry may well see further destruction of what forests we have left.

I do however see beauty in this old machinery – the shape of the metal, the light and shadows reflect the moment; the wear and tear evokes hard work over many years – especially since this is machinery at the end of its life, bearing all its scars; and the intellectual satisfaction in seeing how the parts fitted together to do the job – comparing what they could do in those days with the evolved machinery of now, seeing ways they harnessed the strengths and circumvented the weaknesses of the long-forgotten technology.  All of this takes time to fully appreciate, which is why I like to spend ages just walking around these displays.  Just as in a museum, it takes a while to absorb them. People sometimes wonder why I like to spend time contemplating these old bits of junk.  Well, that’s why.

Pureora 31 (Medium)

Pureora 32 (Medium)

Pureora 34 (Medium)

Pureora 36 (Medium)

Pureora 37 (Medium)

IMG_0032-HDR(3) (Medium)

But let’s not forget that this is what these machines do:

Pureora 22 (Medium) after logging (Medium)


Tufa, or Tuff, is volcanic rock (it’s also the name for limestone concretions in water).  Having more than 50% tuff in a rock makes it ‘tuffaceous’ – lovely word that.

It all comes from the explosion of Taupo – or more accurately the hole that is now Lake Taupo, 1800 years ago.  Which was unimaginably huge.  The forests were burned to a cinder, and the ash cloud fell back onto the surrounding land, forming mounds of what is now extremely rich soil.  Hence all the grass and cows.

You can see the bubbles in the rock in the first photo, and the depth of the ash in the second.  And how it’s all mixed with stones, like concrete, in the third.

IMG_7071 (Medium) closeup IMG_0134 (Medium) (2) IMG_7070 (Medium)


We were given bikes with the van, and used them this morning.  I forbore to take pictures of us since we looked a bit dorky having not been on bikes for a good while.  Riding a bike isn’t just like riding a bike – you do forget what it feels like.

So we cycled along the path with some trepidation because there were no sides to the pathway.  Other stronger types zoomed past us, one even asked if we needed help.  As if.

IMG_7073 (Medium) IMG_7069 (Medium)