The Heart of England

Next Neil and Cath.  Great to see them.  Neil, after all these years, hasn’t changed a bit.  Touch greyer perhaps.  The Old Rectory was lovely as before, great view

What I hadn’t realised is that Neil’s family is built into the village – they built Wilson’s Mill.   The Wilson name’s everywhere.  He’s got family trees – a small family orchard in fact – on the wall up the stairs.  

Nice old Yorkshire village:

And here’s the man – you’re looking at the very fabric of Yorkshire

Brings back memories

And so on to York to see off the kids – Sarah to catch the plane back to Australia, Katie to travel around Scotland for a week.  

This platform brings back a lot of memories – for 5 years my parents used to see me off from here on the train to school in Edinburgh.  Where I wasn’t very happy at all.  And here I was, 45 years later, saying goodbye to my own child.  Much less traumatic!



We went off to Bridlington where the family used to go to church.  Pretty boring I thought in those days.  Now I didn’t think that at all, really interesting church – the only one with gargoyles of Prince Charles and Camilla.  Yup, really.







You can only imagine the excitement I felt.

Bempton Cliffs is nearby – some of the highest cliffs in England at 100m, running for 10km and bubbling with boids.  The others wanted to see same, so I tagged along.  I used to go there with my Dad when I was a kid.  It was much easier to fall off and kill yourself in those days,but now there are fences all along the edge.  Progress of a sort. 

So I did some boidwatching. Here’s what I saw:

These are very rare – Fat Twins, got a big tick in my little book, that’s for sure.

This one’s also quite rare – a solitary female. Tick.

A pink-breasted male, hunting. Tock.  Time passed – the whole thing took about 2hrs……

A solitary male, noodling.

A male preening

Some can be quite inquisitive if disturbed.

Mostly however they exhibit strong flocking behaviour.

Here’s my little flock.

Flocks clustering at the feeding grounds

I was able to observe everything without leaving my cup of tea at the cafe.  Heaven knows why the others spent so long outside.

What I didn’t tell them was that before I came along my Dad used to abseil down these cliffs with his mates and steal the eggs.



Holy ground

We like Cathedrals, so we visited a few of the greats in England, giving Katie and Sarah a chance to see some of the most beautiful buildings of their heritage, and for us to revisit them.  

Here’s one:

This one was put together a while ago (3,000 years) by 3 sisters.  Before breakfast apparently.  Something to do with giving them somewhere to get away from their men. Hard to believe the latter, nowhere to hide I’d have thought, but I can see how it wouldn’t take too long with a simple structure like that.  Unlike some of the others – Wells, York Minster etc which took 200-300 years to finish. 

And another cathedral of a sort – Dartmoor prison.  I have liked to stop and poke around, but they weren’t having any of that – pity, since I’ve spent 7 years doctoring in prisons I wouldn’t have minded a peek.  Different sort of medicine, far removed from suburban practice….

Home visits

It was important to me to show the kids my home country.  We went to Muston Hall, a beautiful gracious home where I grew up.  Not much changed in 50 years – the willow tree where my sister and I swung on the branches is still there on the left, as are the gardens and the fields.  I could have walked back into my childhood up that driveway.  So much of my life took place behind those windows……

And, still full of memories, but perhaps not quite so gracious, the beachfront at Filey – the cheap, noisy arcades, tourists, and the beach where I got away from it all on the rocks and fossil hunting on the cliffs.  

Treated the family to a horrible, fatty, meal of fish and chips, winkles, crab and green mushy peas.  Just as disgusting as it always was.

Then on to Scarborough – Victorian funland and just as gross as Filey, but bigger.  Here’s where I began my sailing career on Dad’s little yacht, Gloria.


Saying goodbye

One of the reasons for going as a family was to scatter Peggy and Don’s ashes on Meon Hill.  It was a special place to them during the war, he was a spitfire pilot, she was in the land army.  When they could get away they would go up there and get a bit of peace.

We had our wedding reception near there, and flew kites off the hill afterwards.  Now we were back there with our children – grown up women.  Nice to remember all those times, and Peggy and Don. 

Each of  us had ashes and walked along the hillside spreading them in the wind.

Later in the trip we went to East Yorkshire to a little village called Thwing, where my parents are buried.  On the Yorkshire Wolds, it has been largely untouched by the last 1100 years.  A beautiful sunny calm day, we tidied up the grave, added gravel and flowers and all sat together on a nearby bench.  Perhaps the last time I will visit their grave, perhaps not, but a time for me to think of them and our life as a family back  in my childhood.


Family matters

First up we went off to Sallys home village, where she met some old old friends.  Memory lane for her.  But the village is now the home of the very rich English middle and upper class – close enough to get to London by train, full of old old Tudor houses, it has become one of the most sought after places in the country.  Pity, it was nicer before that….

Then off to Exmouth where her family gathered in large numbers – I don’t have any rels, so I was somewhat staggered by the quantity (there’s an equal number in Canada).  Nice bunch though, we spent a weekend talking and doing stuff.

En route we had a look at some old old settlements on Dartmoor.  Amazing thought that these were put up about 3,000 years ago and haven’t been shifted since.


The blog ground to a halt after that, and I’m adding a precis of what went on offstage as it were.

To write this blog, which I really like doing,  I need a decent internet connection to noodle around the web, and plenty of time.  Remarkably Britain has a lot of pretty crappy internet with rare sparkles of good.  Mostly I used my phone’s hotspot, but that was flakey too.  And time – I just didn’t have any, buzzing around from place to place as we were.  And Sally not being disposed to sit around while I do the blog thing.  So it ground to a halt.  Normal service will resume as soon as possible.

But I didn’t stop taking photos, so, now I’m home, here are the highlights.



The motto of New College is ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’, which means ‘evil be to him who evil thinks’ – or, more or less, don’t criticise others lest ye be criticised.

The motto is adopted by the Order of the Garter. Membership of the Order is limited to the Sovereign, the Prince of Wales, and no more than 24 living members, or Companions. This Order started in 1347 by Edward III.  It is said it was formed as an attempt to re-create the Knights of the Round Table as in the Arthur legends.

Apparently its origin is a bit mysterious but the best story is when King Edward III was dancing with Joan of Kent, his first cousin and daughter-in-law. Her garter slipped down to her ankle causing those around her to snigger at her humiliation. Edward placed the garter around his own leg saying, “Honi soit qui mal y pense. Tel qui s’en rit aujourd’hui, s’honorera de la porter.” (“A scoundrel, who thinks badly by it. Those who laugh at this today, tomorrow will be proud to wear it.”)

I think garters were a bit more important in those days.





Not so ‘new’ actually – it was built in 1379.  Not only does it have the best academic record in Oxford, it is the richest, and it has one of best choirs in the world. 

We had a look around, well worth it.  The gardens are immaculate and very peaceful, I’d love to have studied in that environment.  

The garden below is 725 years old.  Just behind it is a church which is 950 years old. Puts Australia in perspective – when I lived here I just took all this for granted, but now I’m visiting after 40 years it seems very special.



All Souls is a graduate college where Fellows are admitted after passing an exam. Any Oxford immediate post graduate is eligible to sit it once a year for 3 years. The exam, said to be the hardest in the world, consists of 3 days of examination, each being a 3 hour essay – two on the candidates subjects (all Classics) the third an essay on subjects such as “charity”, “error” and “mercy”. And, somewhat interestingly “Does the moral character of an orgy change when the participants wear Nazi uniforms?” (That one might be worth 3 hours, not sure about the others.)

Two candidates succeed out of dozens who try every year. One of the failures was Hugh Trevor-Roper, who tried to teach me (briefly and unsuccessfully) to be interested in History.  One of the successes was Lawrence of Arabia.

The inmates are thought to be some of the finest minds in the country.

To prove it every hundred years, and generally on 14 January, there is a commemorative feast after which the Fellows parade around the College with flaming torches, singing the Mallard Song and led by a “Lord Mallard” who is carried in a chair, in search of a legendary mallard that supposedly flew out of the foundations of the college when it was being built in 1437. During the ‘hunt’ the Lord Mallard is preceded by a man bearing a pole to which a mallard is tied – originally a live bird, latterly either dead (1901) or carved from wood (2001). The last mallard ceremony was in 2001 and the next is due in 2101.

Oliver Cromwell in about 1600 said the fellows should sing  it ‘more loudly and in a bawdy manner’ at about 3am.  Which they did for a couple of hundred years, but have apparently toned it down a bit now.

After this bit of wassailing they go back to being brainy for another hundred years. 

Some fairly startling stop press: the present Master of the College (aka ‘Lord Mallard’) has written some new verses to the song. 


Here’s the side door for the priest and choristers to sneak out in the breaks.  Interesting porch roof of solid stone, and a very old door.  Carved into the lintel is some ancient graffiti.  I wonder what has happened in this little space over the years.  

(In my case, in another church, it was a choirgirl called Anne Hope, age 10).


Classic countryside round here.  Little paths winding o’er the lea, well maintained near the villages.  Church spires behind the hedgerows just like Constable painted.  These river meadows which flood regularly – owned by the Church since mediaeval times.  Deer roam around  causing havoc in some gardens – in the olden days they used to be the property of the lord and hunted for sport.  Foxes ditto.



Hawthorne is a handy spiky bush which has been used for hundreds of years as fencing material.  Not as durable as stone, it takes much less effort to make a hedge.  

It has to be thick to work, so there are two ways of achieving this – plant a lot of bushes in a row, about 4-6 feet across:

 or a single row of woven plants:


This involves letting the hawthorne grow to about 6ft then partly cutting it at the base and lying it down.  Hawthorne will grow from a part of the stem, so if the stem is laid flat the twigs sprout up from that.  If the stem is woven with others, and held with vertical stakes, then the stakes are woven at the top with willow branches so a solid hedge results:


Cotswold dry stone walls go back hundreds of years.  They are built without mortar, each side slopes inwards with a fill of small stones in the middle.  The bottom of the wall is about 500 wide, the top about 300, then there is a capping of some kind.

The stones themselves are laid sloping slightly downward to shed the water, so the wall stays dry inside.  Properly made they last for many years without much maintenance.

The thing amazed me was the sheer number and length of the walls (it’s the same in Yorkshire).  Some of the walls by the road were 8ft high and ran by the road for many kilometers, and that doesn’t count the ones around the paddocks.  When you think of the weight of stones which need to be carted on horse carts, picked by hand and cut to shape you realise that the labour force and effort was enormous.  We don’t think of that anymore because fencing is now easy – wire and strainers are (relatively) easily placed.

As an alternative to this there was only wooden fencing, which was time consuming and fragile (no split posts like in Australia because the wood was not so easy to handle).  Or hedges.  Hedges were either thick Hawthorne or laid Hawthorne – see the post on that.



We went to spend the day with Simon and Alison, friends and colleagues for 40 years – and my best man at my wedding.  They live in a lovely Cotswold stone house built in the garden of their big but cold and uncomfortable house.  Their new house is energy efficient, beautifully designed and light an airy.

The plaque on the wall is a copy of the one carved on the church choir stalls several hundred years ago: Kidlington made up of kid (goat) ling (fish) ton (weight) with a medical caduceus behind it.


Bike sharing is all the go these days.  It was tried in London with the result that bikes were strewn across the pavements, and dumped by the bike companies, and dumped in the Thames by the bike riders.  Cost 60M pounds apparently.

Not so Oxford which was the first UK city to trial the scheme.  They still get dumped in the river, but not in such enormous numbers (why would you?)

I wanted to try one, and signed up for the ap, but it said my phone didn’t have enough battery to complete the ride, so I couldn’t.  Ah well.


One of the foundation Oxford colleges (1897), with 9 students, this is now a huge settlement of females up the river in the education zone (lots of private schools, colleges and river park). It started taking in males some time ago. Now there are 600 students, with extensive and beautiful grounds.

Women were not deemed fit to receive degrees, nor be members of the university until 1920 (so what I wonder did they do in the 23 years before that?)

It has a Fellows’ Garden – hidden from view by tall hedgerows – and a Fellow’s Lawn, on which walking is forbidden. Actually we did walk on the hallowed grass of the lawn and the fellows garden – we went accross the park to the punt place the back way – via boat across a moat and via the LMH gardens (because the bus driver’s instructions weren’t all that accurate after all, forcing us to be a little creative with our route).

Happily nothing bad happened to us but we can reveal all here – the gardens do look good, excellent for thinking in,  here they are:

The whole place is pretty impressive – this is the bike shed – no messing around with simple structures here.

Lovely joints on the roof

Cloister walk – a lot of thoughts have been thought here I think.


Finally we reached the Cherwell boathouse, where the afternoons entertainment was to be held. It was one of my life’s goals to steer a beautiful damsel up a river on a sunny afternoon like in the Victorian novels. Somehow I’d never got around to it, due, I think, to a lack of rivers, punts and damsels. Today was to be the day.

 The Thames in the city had a fairly stiff current, and I didn’t like the look of it for a new punter. So we went upriver to the Cherwell on the advice of our friend (and erstwhile best man) Simon.

 The Cherwell Boathouse has been hiring punts since 1907 when it was built as Tim’s boathouse. Punts have been used for centuries as small commercial vessels, but in victorian times were introduced for pleasure. They were used all over the waterways of Britain until, with the introduction of power boats, whose wash made them unstable, are now used only in small quiet waterways.

What’s more, punting was considered especially suitable as a gentle entertainment for young ladies: the oldest of the women’s colleges, Lady Margaret Hall, still keeps its own punts on the river.  Accordingly we deemed it suitable entertainment for Sally.

Driving a punt is not all that simple – it is easy to make a mess of it, but takes a bit of practice to persuade it to go in a straight line, especially with the current and snags in the river. The long pole is just about long enough to reach the bottom in the middle of the river, and has a tendency to stick into the mud and catch on the trees at the edges. There is no rudder, so the pole is used to push the boat in a straight line, then you hang it off the back as a steering oar. So you can’t propel the boat and steer at the same time – plus of course you have to push it fast enough to get the pole working to actually control the direction.

These guys were entertaining. The bloke with the pole was being instructed by the lady who obviously knew what she was doing. This was just after they had biffed into a bush and backed off. With ribald comments from the audience (me) and chortles from the inmates, they managed to get free. All taken in good part – after all, nobody was in a hurry.

I got the hang of it after a while, but with the help of Sally paddling the single oar as a bow-thruster at times of crisis. Everyone was pretty good-natured, and it’s not a place for driving personalities, so the afternoon was pretty peaceful.

In a heroic pose I brave the hazards of the river – ducks and tree branches – to steer my lady on a voyage through the bucolic pastures of the Oxford countryside. Something which chaps like me have done for the past 100 years.

Meanwhile Sally sits, demure as ever, in the punt trailing her fingers in the water and dreaming romantic thoughts….


The bus driver’s route was via a large riverside Park. It was a delightful walk, with well laid-out paths, seats in the right places, lakes and all. We enjoyed our lunch on a bench surrounded by flowers and large trees.

Further along was a cricket match in progress – all in whites, in front of an imposing clubhouse. A world away from the busy Banbury road all I could hear was the click of ball and bat, occasional call of the players, and sporadic clapping of the spectators.

 My history with cricket was fairly painful. As a child at prep school I was forced to play games, but being uncoordinated, clumsy, uninterested in the rules and – the worst sin of all – didn’t care who won – my sporting career was short and sour.

 But now on a sunny afternoon in a park in Oxford I thought it was all rather nice.

It recalled the well-known poem I had to learn at about the same time by Robert Graves – Grantchester – which in part goes:


And in that garden, black and white,

Creep whispers through the grass all night;

And spectral dance, before the dawn,

A hundred Vicars down the lawn;

Curates, long dust, will come and go

On lissom, clerical, printless toe;

Say, is there Beauty yet to find?              

And Certainty? and Quiet kind?              

Deep meadows yet, for to forget              

The lies, and truths, and pain?… oh! yet              

Stands the Church clock at ten to three?                   

And is there honey still for tea?


I generally avoid buses. I find there are too many variables in time, place and bus and am worried that I’ll end up in some far-flung suburb next to a deserted factory with the bus disappearing in the distance and night coming on (yup, that’s exactly what happened). Safer to go by train, taxi or walk.

 Sally however has no such fears, so when we decided to go to Cherwell for a spot of punting she strode off toward a bus stop with me flapping in her wake. Jumping on a red double-decker bus she asked the driver if he was going there – he said he wasn’t – but another lady said he was, and another passenger said it could be done if we got off at the right stop (see what I mean).

 In the end a committee was formed as we drove to discuss our proposed trip, the two passengers, us with the bus driver interjecting from the front. Finally discussion was settled by the bus driver who halted off one stop too early saying we’d have a nice walk through the park to the boathouse. The other committee members agreed it might work, and anyway he’d stopped the bus, so we had to go – perhaps to the driver’s relief.

 As we drove up Banbury road the committee discussed the weather (it was Britain after all). We all decided that the present generation of Brits are basically weather wimps, and the recent freeze all over Europe was nothing compared to the winter of 1962.

All this mightily entertained of the rest of the passengers, who, being British, never look at each other on a bus let alone speak unless it’s in whispers about life-or-death matters.

 The Brits are a funny bunch.


We walked from Roger’s house into the city to go punting.  The river is a whole different world to the traffic choked streets, impressive buildings and busy footpaths.

Right in the city centre is this peaceful river Thames

Many barges used as homes, here’s and interesting roof garden

Swans on the river

No longer a traffic bridge, this Victorian beauty carries water pipes into the city

Dinky little riverside cottages – which are flood prone but very nice

This one impressed me – turrets, bay window and it’s own floating verandah


So at Carfax, right in the middle of Oxford, there was this cafe. Looked like a cracker, French cakes and all, splattered with donly types looking academic and the waitress (pardon me, waitperson) was talking about all the essays she had to write.

 So all we wanted was a cup of tea and a cake. What we got was a pot of English Breakfast tea (I hate all those teas), and a jug of pale water – ‘see-through milk’. I took the water back and asked a waiter (sorry waitperson) if I could have something which was actual milk, and full cream no less.

 He looked at me as if he’d found me on the bottom of his shoe, saying ‘We don’t have that sir, what we have is light milk, fat free milk, almond milk, goat milk, soy milk, tofu milk, wilted lettuce milk, aioli milk, meditation milk, sugar free milk ….” and every other bloody liquid that isn’t milk at all but millenials think it is.


 Avoid, Waterstones was a heavenly experience by contrast.


Years ago, when I was 16, I tried for Pembroke College in Oxford. My mum and Dad wanted me to be an ‘Oxford man’, especially my mum. My rich godfather sponsored me (as well as a building at the Radcliffe). All to no avail.

Apparently my written essays were good, but three august bodies interviewed me with a focus on chemistry. A mistake on their part since I didn’t know much in that department, and declined to let me in.

 I often wonder where life would have gone if I had been here. Very different I expect.

 So I wandered into the entrance with a view to having a look inside for old-times’ sake and was halted by the porter at the gate. Who told me it wasn’t open to the public, sorry sir.

 And so I didn’t get in today either.


Looking out of the plane window as we flew out of Hobart I thought about how nice it is to live in a place where it’s so beautiful and the air is so clean.

And after a long flight, we got to London and onto a bus to Oxford. First thing we noticed was the pall of brown smog hanging over the city.

 A friend of ours used to fly jets in the RAF. He said when he went up over Europe in the 50’s he could see dirty brown smog over all the cities.

 Makes you think about what you’re breathing.



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:, (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)