For Brenna

Brenda is a lovely friend of mine who lives in ‘Away’- that’s that country that is anywhere that is not The Coast. The Coast? That’s the narrow strip of land between the Southern Alps and the sea on New Zealand’s South Island. I took a niece and her daughter on a wee trip to ‘The Glaciers’ and I promised Brenda I would show her some perdy pictures of this lovely part of Aotearoa New Zealand. So……

Just south of here is a lovely wee lake, Mahinapua.

It’s just wee thing but is a good illustration of our glacial history. It’s perhaps 30-40 kilometers to the Alps but many thousands of years ago the ice rivers that flowed off them reached the sea, just a couple of hundred meters away.

Down The Coast is Okarito- and this sign is a real warning. Kiwi live in the area in large numbers.


Okarito is a beautiful lagoon where the famous white heron or kotuku rookery is situated. They can’t be seen from the road but the lagoon is very pretty.


The beach here at Okarito is showing how steady erosion is becoming a factor in many places.

WP_20150308_018[1]The black sand is a good source of alluvial gold which is mined in many places on The Coast. Hard work but rewarding.

But our main purpose was to visit the two principal glaciers on this side of The Hill- Fox and Franz Josef. I’ve been visiting these on and off since the late 60s and it is astonishing how far they have receded in that time, but more scarily over the last decade or so!

We went to the settlement of Fox Glacier first, deciding to have a look at one of our iconic NZ lakes- Lake Matheson that has become world famous for its wonderful reflections.

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This pic is from an earlier winter trip. It’s a pretty special place, winter or summer!

We then visited Fox Glacier itself. It’s probably less spectacular than Franz, but it used to be the better one to view- the track to the viewing point climbing along the valley wall so you were able to look down on the lower parts of the ice flow. Not so much nowadays as the glacier has gone so far up the valley it is now difficult to reach it, let alone get to view it from above. (This is possible of course from the air and the buzz of helicopters is constant from 8am until 6pm every day.)

fox glacier
You get an idea of the pace of melting that’s happening given these two photos are separated by no more than 12 months!!!

It is an awesome valley with wonderful cliffs and beautiful waterfalls- even after a long period without rain.




After a very pleasant sojourn in one of the hostelries in Franz Josef, where Chontelle’s steak was awful (the first one and the redo!!) and my braised lamb-shanks were superb!! we slept the sleep of The Just and then headed to Franz Josef Glacier. The day didn’t dawn all that well but breakfast was going to give it a chance to improve!!


Our first visit was a side track to one of my favourite places- Peter’s Pond. What a gorgeous quiet place to gather one’s thoughts and reflect on how lucky we are! This was formed by ice-melt when the glacier broke up hundreds of years ago. It is now some way up that valley in the distance.

peters pond reflection

It is certainly an eye-opener when you see illustrated so clearly how far the glacier has receded over the years!

WP_20150309_009[1]When I first came here the glacier was filling the area at the head of the river. Now the track winds past that for another 4-500 meters. I guess it’s easy to blame global warming but I wonder what the next ice-age will bring?
The glacier itself is still magnificent but best seen from the air. From the valley floor you see just a tiny fraction of the ice flow which starts in earnest at the top of this view then heads back up the valley to the right, almost to the summit of The Alps.
It is majestic country and we are sort of shown our significance somewhat when we wander here. Just to think that just a few hundred years ago all of this valley was covered in a river of ice hundreds of feet thick, so let’s not put ALL of the glacial-melt down to our folly and global warming- they’ve been receding for much longer than we’ve been buggering things up!!

From Franz we headed homeward taking a wee detour just out of Hokitika to view the beautiful Hokitika Gorge, a narrow chasm the beautiful blue river flows through. The river is always this colour (or brighter when the sun is shining brightly) because of the origins in the ice-fields just a few hundred feet up the Alps.
And so a pleasant wee bush walk to end a lovely two days with my niece and grand-niece from the North Island.
They enjoyed the scenery, I enjoyed their company.



Acts of Kindness Not So Random

Hi Reader- thanks for visiting!
This isn’t an explanation- it’s a brag. Id’ really appreciate it if you would read this before you continue with this piece- it will make it so much more meaningful.
I met L through Twitter (as you do).
She’s military (or ex-military) and I have lots of connections even though I haven’t served- I taught at Waiouru and THINK our paths may have crossed but more importantly I have family who have served- brothers (one dead), son, father, nephew, uncles, and my namesake was killed at Melamie air-field on Crete and is buried at Suda Bay on that island.
(…and now I’m quietly crying thinking about it!!!) 🙂
I’m sure L’s met my brother, and likely she may have even met my son (who has done two tours to one of the worst shit-holes in the world- Afghanistan……. and the government is committing  us to go to the next worst!!! Sorry!)
Her Old Man is ex-absolute top non-commissioned position in the NZ Army and a man I have the utmost respect for.
So we started tweeting and occasionally messaging as you do on occasions. 
It so happens that she was going through a ‘thing’ and I was able to be a shoulder and offer her support which she obviously found some strength from. I’ve been around the block a couple of times and what she was handling resonated a bit. I won’t go any deeper into that because that is her stuff to talk about- not mine.
Suffice it to say we have made a wonderful connection. Obviously there’s nothing more- we have just jelled, and it’s wonderful.
This lady is doing this WW100 Gallipoli tour (and that is no small part of her stress) and I have made a big request of her. I initially asked her to take with her a piece of my pounamu (my special toki made early on in my jade-carving ‘career’) with her to ANZAC. And to see if she were able to bathe it in the sea at Suvla Bay where our guys landed. In so-doing it would impart huge mauri and mana so my beautiful pounamu toki might become a very valued family heirloom. To my absolute delight she said she would do this for me!!
(…more tears.)
After thinking about what I had asked, I then cheekily went one better and asked her to take my tiki (the Most Treasured Possession) for the same purpose. You will by now realise how special this taonga is (to me) and this will be treasured in time by other generations of my family, and now with it will be the story of its sacred journey to one of Aotearoa NewZealand’s most hallowed places overseas and one which holds such a special place in our national psyche.
AND SHE HAS SAID YES, and one of the Maori policemen who are her protection squad will recite karakia over it!!
(……Now I’m howling even more!!!)
I will be giving her the pieces, along with a special piece of pounamu I have carved for when we meet, which I am delighted we are going to be able to do!!!
So there you go!!
I’m proud to have shared this with you.
It’s not private- it’s awesome!!

“As The Sun Sinks Slowly In The West…”

“As the sun sinks slowly in the West, we say a fond farewell to…”

There seems to be some disagreement over who first said these (almost immortal) words, but, quite frankly, I DON’T CARE! I do know I thought it was some American commentator at the end of a South Pacific travelogue back in the fifties, but if this is not the case- such much! It is however a fair description for a special time of the day down here on ‘The Coast’. (For those who haven’t read other posts on this blog and have missed me rabbiting on about ‘The Coast’, it is the western side of the Southern Alps of New Zealand, running the whole length of the South Island from the Kahurangi National Park in the north to Fiordland in the south.)

I live in Greymouth now, having spent all the rest of my life living in various places in the North Island, and I have the good fortune to have a place on a hill with a clear view to the Tasman Sea- The West that the sun sinks slowly in.

Now it has to be said that one of the features of The Coast besides magnificent glaciers, beautiful lakes, superb coastal vistas and majestic mountains is rain forest and we all know you can’t have rain forest without rain! Naturally this phenomenon gives plenty of people living in all other parts of our lovely country the reason/excuse/justification for seriously maligning the weather down here, and they are happy to announce, generally with tons of conviction that “…it always rains on The Coast!”

Well, you make up your own minds as you browse this selection of images all shot within that lovely segment of time that is “as the sun sinks slowly in the west.” It must be said that most of these are winter photos because the geography of my situation has us losing the sun (as it dips into the sea) behind the shoulder of a hill just around the street sometime in late spring and it doesn’t return until autumn is with us. It is a source of extreme pleasure to look off my deck and see…these!







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sunset 2

sunset 3I love this place.

A Little Piece Of Ireland?

Earlier this year I visited Fox Glacier having to ‘do a bit of business’ but as I’m not heavily into ‘business’ that part didn’t take too long and I found I had a few hours spare. What to do? Obviously there is the glacier but each time I go there I tend to be more depressed by the unseemly haste with which the glacier’s charging back up the valley!! I remember where the terminal face was when I first visited in the late 60s but that position is left behind as you continue past to drive to the car-park hundreds of metres away, with a further 300-400 metres on foot to where the face is today!

But there’s a sign-post indicating “Gillespies Beach” is just a few kilometres away across a bush-covered range behind Lake Matheson (where my ‘business’ was completed) so I decided to investigate and took a right turn at the T intersection on the road from Matheson.

The road’s well-formed if a bit windy but if you don’t aspire to being a rally driver or are driving a BIG RIG it’s a pleasant drive of about 9 or 10 kms from the bridge- or 20 from Fox Glacier township.

As you exit from the bush just a short way before the beach, the camping ground and beginnings of walking tracks
2013-09-19 23.24.52 there is a signpost for the Gillespies Beach Miners Cemetery. Just 2 minutes? Why not!! (…and if you take your time, or include the time taken parking the car it may take you 2 minutes!!)

The ‘bush’ in the immediate area is low scrub, flax and tea-tree but the track heads towards more established natives…
gillespies beach cemetery …and suddenly you are there- no gates, no fences, no fanfare, just a nicely maintained walking track entering a grassy reserve sparsely patterned with a variety of headstones and gravesites, and indeed a few rather suspicious depressions in the ground!
gillespies beach cemetery1It is a very eclectic collection of graves and possibly points to the mixed fortunes of the people who are buried there. There is a range of graves here, from those with impressive headstones to those with a simple wooden cross or even none, from those with properly formed concrete plots to those with no obvious burial plot ‘construction’ at all.
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And who are they and where were they from, these early pioneers? Browsing the headstones in any cemetery never gives us a LOT of information on the person or persons who lie there but in an isolated little cemetery such as this, the community that they established may be pondered on, and the ‘Miners Cemetery’ gives a big clue!
2013-09-19 23.27.24This is the last resting place of James Walsh, a native of County Clare in Ireland. He died in 1889 (aged 60yrs) and his loving wife Ellen erected this headstone to mark his passing. Nearby is this grave-
2013-09-19 23.29.34where are buried father and son, Edward RYAN of Limerick, Ireland who died 22 Aug 1899 (57 yrs), and his son 
John Edward RYAN
who died in 1902 aged 31.

Among others who are able to be identified from the inscriptions on headstones from Ireland are James O’LEARY a native of Cork in Ireland who died in 1892 (interestingly his headstone was erected by Edward Ryan!!), Annie (d 1894) & her husband John QUINLAN (d 1910), and (I’m taking a guess here) Patrick CARROLL. Patrick, who was the son of Michael Carroll drowned in nearby Cooks River 1890 aged just 17 yrs.

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Obviously not all of those buried in this quaint wee sacred place were from Ireland as this headstone attests- Robert Curry McINTOSH was a native of Rothesay in Scotland. Whether Henry MORRISON who died 1911, or Eleanor or Fredrick MEYER  who are also buried here are Irish or not isn’t clear…
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It is a very peaceful part of New Zealand and can reasonably be thought of as being a little bit of ‘The Emerald Isle’ in far off Aotearoa.

It must be said that this cemetery isn’t all there is to see at Gillespies Beach and spending some time walking the tracks there is rewarding both from a scenic point of view and also for a glimpse into the history of gold mining as well as seeing current operations (assuming the old bugger’s still working his claim- either suction dredging in the lagoon or black sand from the beach.) Or you can just walk along the wonderful seashore filling in time before another one of the magnificent sunsets that can be seen on The Coast!

Enjoy your day.

“14 Mile”


The point at 13 Mile looking back towards Greymouth (coincidentally 13 Miles away!!)

I had an inquiry from an ‘associate’ this morning regarding “seaside holiday baches for rent” so I thought I’d put this page together- BECAUSE I KNOW OF 1!! (Before we go any further, don’t growl at me for my spelling of ‘bach’- that’s what we call them in Godzone- bach or crib, which is normally a holiday abode at the beach or at some favourite recreation area- river, lake etc..)

I live on ‘The Coast‘ and I have made reference to how lovely this part of Aotearoa New Zealand is in a number of ways- I’m sure if you dredge through previous posts on this blog you might find some of those!! Suffice it to say it is a very special part of the country and is a place that one could do MUCH WORSE than to visit. It is served by good quality roads from the Kohaihai River north of Karamea (and one anchor point of The Heaphy Track, the longest of NZ’ Great Walks) to Jackson’s Bay, a tiny fishing village south of Haast (the point at which SH6 leaves The Coast to head east to Central Otago.) You will have heard of a number of the ‘most important’ (best known) sites on The Coast- Punakaiki, The Glaciers or any of many other ‘iconic’ places.

13 mile bach

“GoogleEarth” view of the bach at 14 Mile. Yes, that’s it between the road and the rocks!

And thereby I pin the tale (tail?) of the wee bach at 14 Mile.

14 Mile? That’s how far it is from Greymouth in the old steps, and relates back to when places in New Zealand were often named by just that- how far they are from a more notable centre of population. (Not infrequently this ‘other notable place’ didn’t amount to much more than a settlement but at least had permanent buildings!) Not surprisingly the place nearer Greymouth that has homes and baches is ’10 Mile’!!

The bach at 14 Mile is remarkable for one pretty notable feature- it is just metres (vertical, not horizontal) from the Tasman Sea. The narrow deck on the front actually extends over the high tide mark!


The deck at ’14 Mile Bach’ extends over the high-tide mark….EXCITING!

Next to the bach is a fresh-water pool, achieved by the simple expedient of building a wall across the wee stream that runs out of the ranges over the road (which runs from Greymouth to Westport.)


The fresh water pool is always bracing!

It is pretty much a ‘traditional’ bach in that it’s very utilitarian and has been added to on occasions- ‘indoor plumbing’ and sleepout and extra storage and such. There is the usual large communal kitchen/dining/living area with a lovely big open fireplace for the chilly nights, (and of course re-stocking the wood supply can be a fun sideline of beach walking! You’ll be guaranteed to find some driftwood if you don’t find any pounamu cobbles or pebbles!)

Have a wee browse through the gallery and see whether you agree with me- this place is SPECIAL!

(PS- I am not their agent!)

Ships In The Night?

I took a wee trip down to The Glaciers a few weeks ago and I’m so glad I did!

The drive down the West Coast of the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand is one of the finest in the world. This isn’t my claim, it is according to Total Travel and you can view what they say here. In my opinion the best part of the drive is actually between Charleston and Greymouth (where I started my journey) but even so the further south you go the more impressive the views become and the whole trip is a truly memorable one.

Southwards I went until I came to a place south of Hari Hari where it appears the locals have discovered a new cash-crop-

2013-09-20 16.59.45ragwort!! Some years ago this was declared to be a noxious weed but it would appear that local councils have put its eradication into the ‘too hard’ basket as it is as rampant on road verges as it is in this paddock! I hate the bloody stuff as do stock so one wonders why cockies wouldn’t be a bit more proactive in controlling its spread on their land. Oh well, their choice, I guess, seeing councils don’t seem to give a damn!

I also took a side trip in to see what the glacier flight setup was just north of Whataroa. It’s some way from Franz and Fox glaciers but I guess they have access to a few lesser known ones close by. It wasn’t an operation that would set the world on fire but I guess they must make enough helicopter flights to keep them in fuel with a bit left over for the groceries!! (Or until they sell their crop of ragwort, maybe?) The old road-bridge pillarsWP_001004were quite impressive but the really impressive thing about the place was the lock they had on the door of their dunny! For those unfamiliar with the term, a ‘dunny’ is a lavatory, toilet or, for our American friends, ‘bathroom’ [even though there’s not a bath within cooey!!]2013-09-19 19.48.20This the sort of security every littlest room should have! If you were REALLY pretencious you could always use a greenstone boulder!

South of Whataroa I took a side trip out to the Okarito Lagoon. People know this for the iconic kotuku or white heron that nest and breed there, but it is also a special place just to visit for views both of the lagoon

okaritoand the beach. (If you of a mind to you can contact my mate Ian Cooper and arrange to view kiwi in the wild!)

On south to the glaciers. I went through to Fox Glacier first and did a wee bit of business before taking a run out to Lake Matheson. This is a special wee gem but usually best visited in the calm of the morning because its claim to fame is the view of Aorangi Mt Cook (New Zealand’s highest mountain which is just 17km from Fox in The Alps) that is reflected in the lake’s calm waters, a bit like this.matheson1cmprssdIt is a famous view sometimes depicted on various NZ stamps and is much more impressive in winter with the snow on the mountains, but… you see what I mean.Lake-Matheson2From Matheson I drove out to Gillespies Beach, an area that was mined for gold for many years. There is a nicely kept wee cemetery that’s worth a visit if you go there,

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many of the headstones with dates going back well over 100 years. One gets the impression that not all of the graves have had much care lavished on them2013-09-19 23.27.50and that there are many unmarked graves on the fringes or even in the surrounding bush. There are old gold workings to be seen further down the beach and the beach itself is typical of the West Coast- long, sweeping and worth investigative rambling!

I came back from Gillespies and decided to have a look at the glacier as I hadn’t been to it for many, many years and all of the talk of our glaciers receding at alarming rates has made me wonder for some time what the difference of some decades would be. It was just short of dusk and as I drove into the car-park I saw a pair of young ladies walking in the middle of the road towards the glacier. They separated as I drove up and thus I stopped, wound down my window and jokingly said “You realise that by doing that I won’t be able to run you both over together!!” Luckily she laughed, her friend joined us and we walked together to view the face of the glacier.

What a shock. My hazy recollections had the face of the glacier being closer to the road than where the car-park was now, and that it was quite high and broad and ran from side to side of the valley!2013-09-20 02.09.00Now the terminal face isn’t a face at all and the volume of ice-field that ran up to the entrance to the valley proper is paltry. It was really quite sad. I probably bored the lovely company with my teacher upbringing coming to the fore and acting the glacier guide -a bit presumptuous seeing I hadn’t see the bloody thing for about 40 years! Very kindly they didn’t opt to eject me from the group and their company was very welcome.

I suppose the glacial melting will get worse before it gets better but the following gives some idea of what has happened up the road at Franz Josef over the decades and it is logical the same graphic for Fox would be just as awful.2013-09-20 13.51.07 2013-09-20 13.50.56 2013-09-20 13.50.45 2013-09-20 13.50.34 2013-09-20 13.50.12More about that soon.

I offered the young ladies a lift back to Fox Glacier township with the idea we have a coffee which they accepted as it was now past sundown and getting a bit chilly. After proper introductions it transpired Nicole was a young German lassie and Frida hailed from Sweden, and both worked at the local tourist hotel as part of their OEs. It was delightful to chat with them for a while and find out a wee bit about each other.  I made hollow threats of dire consequences if they didn’t contact me when next in Greymouth before I took my leave and set off to  find a place to stay.

Next morning I was in Franz Josef by about 7:30 and made myself a cup of coffee in the glacier carpark. It has to be said that the road in,2013-09-20 15.05.30the presentation of facilities, the information boards and so on are MUCH better at Franz Josef, although this didn’t impress me much (nothing to do  with DOC, of course!) On the wall in one of the toilet cubicles-

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Not impressed, tourist people!!!

The walk up to the terminal face was too far for me to contemplate that morning but the walk out onto the river flats was pleasant but again quite a shock.2013-09-20 14.04.27 The series of pics above shows very graphically what has happened and it was alarming to picture where the face had been and how far it had moved up the valley.2013-09-20 13.49.19‘Ka Roimata O Hine Hukatere’ has now disappeared around a corner and it is not until one completes a several km trek or takes to the air that the glacier is actually properly seen. One of the logical consequences of this is how people now experience the glacier- nowadays it is largely by air as it is getting to be a bigger and bigger tramp to even reach the glacier and today’s tourists desire things to happen somewhat quicker than can be achieved by foot! The buzz of helicopters and higher flying ski-planes is constant competition to the birdsong- I’d prefer just the birdsong!

One must do is a short excursion into the bush at the carpark, along a well-formed path2013-09-20 13.46.44to reach Peter’s Pond, Franz’s answer to Lake Matheson.peter's pondWhat a gem! It is a kettle lake which is simply where melt water from a glacier ice-block has been trapped in a natural erosion bowl in solid rock. This one is not very large but as you can see it’s beautifully positioned to give some gorgeous reflections!

Having done most of what I’d gone South to do I headed back home and kept pondering on the highlights of the trip. The weather was typical of the West Coast- brilliantly fine. The new places I visited were interesting. The glaciers were food for thought (although I think I am of the opinion that while global warming/greenhouse gases/ozone depletion are all buzz-wordy convenient excuses/explanations for glacial retreat we should not completely lose sight of the age-long cyclic nature of climate Earth. Don’t get me wrong, man’s influence on the planet is far from blameless in this regard but I have an optimistic bone or two that tell me that the glaciers will return. Doubtless I won’t be around to welcome them back!!!) The silence in some areas in the bush was a worry (1080?).

But doubtless the highlight of the trip was people. I met a couple of Yanks and we chatted about greenstone (they didn’t buy any of mine!) I picked up a hitch-hiking Israeli and our conversation was quite enlightening- I am not a fan of what the Israelis do on their own doorstep but this young lady had quite a refreshing attitude and this I found interesting because she was doing an OE having just completed 3 years of compulsory military conscription! I met an Argentinian couple who I chatted to about memorabilia and souvenirs, having seen them browsing displays of awful home-produced kitsch. (They didn’t buy any of my stuff either!!) And then, of course I met a young German and a young Swede. And that was the highlight. Two young visitors with perfect English who were happy to chat about this, and that, and the other, and who were effusive in their opinions of Aotearoa New Zealand. I had the impression that they weren’t peeing in my pocket, either, but were honestly happy to be here and enjoying the company of Kiwis they met. To have my home and fellow Kiwis praised so readily by visitors was balm to the soul!!

My time with Frida and Nicole was limited but it was a delight to be contacted by Frida a few weeks later to be told she was coming to Greymouth for the day, and would I like to meet her for coffee? Would I!!?? We met, completed her few errands then I took her home for lunch as she said she hadn’t had breakfast and was starving! We chatted for what was far too short a time and I then took her to meet her friends. It wasn’t until we had taken our leave of each other that it dawned on me that I might never see this young person again. Ever. This really gave meaning to the saying, “Ships that pass in the night”.

How often do we have such brief encounters and then go our separate ways? I know it is in the nature of the mobile world we live in, but…

Jag kommer att sakna dig.

Te Tauraka Waka A Maui

A couple of weeks ago our jade carving course joined the chefs course for a noho marae to Bruce Bay further down ‘The Coast’- (way further down!) I was pretty excited about this trip having driven past the marae a few years ago when on our way to Central Otago. I was a intrigued by the wee whare partially hidden by a stand of kanuka between the road and the tall rimu and kahikatea that marked the start of extensive pakihi swamp further inland.??????????????????????????????? On our way down we had a couple of stops to enable the chef trainees to gather cress for the planned boil-up, and to visit Okarito, a gathering place where ‘mahinga kai’ was traded back in the days of Maori travels on The Coast. In our case (‘mahinga kai’ referred to traditional food items that the culinary arts students would learn to recognise, collect and use in their cooking.)

When we arrived at Te Tauraka Waka A Maui we were welcomed with a traditional powhiri on the marae atea in front of the beautiful whare nui- “Kaipo”.bruce bay cmprssd 7Atop the barge-boards that represent the encircling arms of the tipuna that the whare is we see


Maui who stands on a large toki.???????????????????????????????After sailing from Hawaiki Maui’s crew thought they sighted land but he thought it was a mirage, (he tiritiri o te moana) but it was the Southern Alps. The weapon (called ‘te hei mauri ora’) is what he used to kill the two taniwha who guarded this beautiful bay that he landed in before going on to fish up the North Island, Te Ika a Maui.

We were invited into the whare for the whaikorero and hariru. (Interestingly on this marae whaikorero is always done indoors rather than on the marae atea as is the norm. The reason is simple- namunamu.) The interior of this whare is wonderful. Around the walls are story-telling tukutuku panels between beautifully carved poupou that each represent one of the ancestors of the Ngāti (Kāti) Māhaki ki Makaawhio . Featured in a number of the poupou is pounamu, that magic stone that is so important to the people of Te Wai Pounamu. Several poupou have a panel with a thin slice of pounamu that is back-lit and gives the whare truly unique ‘night-lights’ providing striking visual addition to the pou while creating a subtle soft light for those who need to negotiate their way through what may be a crowded ‘whare-moe’.  After the hariru (the shaking of hands and hongi) with our tapu status removed we proceeded to the whare kai, called ‘Poke’ after the tipuna wahine who was the wife of Kaipo, for shared kai with our new ‘whanau‘.

After we had all ‘broken bread’ together to cement the new bonds of whanaungatanga we returned to the wharenui for a talk from our host about the whare and then mihimihi.

Jeff Mahuika was our host and as a stone carver was responsible for carving all of the greenstone neck pendants that were given to our 2012 Olympians. As we sat on our mattresses around the sides of this lovely house, Jeff told us about the ancestors that are represented by the poupou and the various special historical elements of the area represented in the tukutuku panels that line the walls. It was a fascinating session and to see and feel the reverence of this guardian of his hapu’s heartplace was somewhat humbling.

(As I age I increasingly regret being of a race that relies on written records for these can be lost, can be undervalued or can be overlooked. I know my family has or had bibles that had our full bloodline in but I have no idea where these bibles are. I know who last had the Australian one but sadly he has lost any interest in his family history and has no recollection of where it is either! I know my father had inherited one but when he died and his widow (not my mother) moved from the family home that one was lost. I know that one of my family is researching our family history but the frustration that exists waiting for the results of that research )

Mihimihi is the process whereby we introduce ourselves to others and recite to them our ‘whakapapa’. This is one of the most daunting of tasks for those who are doing it for the first time, to stand in a new and strange place among a group of strangers trying to recite a family tree (that may have only recently been learned) in a new language- mihimihi should be delivered in ‘te reo’ (the language, in this case, Maori.) Of course all of the ‘manuhiri’ (visitors) had been given some time to research and learn their own family roots and put them in the traditional form- first you tell of your physical origins naming your waka (or canoe that your iwi arrived in Aotearoa aboard- this relates to the fact that all tribes trace their origins to tipuna who came from Hawaiki on one or other of the waka of the great fleet) your mountain (maunga), your river (awa), your iwi (tribe), your hapu (sub-tribe) and perhaps your notable tipuna/tupuna who came with your waka. From these important elements of where you came from you then name your progenitors, your immediate family line. This may go back as far as you wish- in fact in many instances for pakeha or non-Maori this may only be for a couple of generations, whereas for Maori verbal historical record-keeping means the whakapapa may extend step-by-step from the very waka mentioned at the start of their mihimihi and extend generation by generation in direct line to one’s immediate mother and father, and self. You should realise, of course, that such a ‘direct line’ has many branches if all of the forebears who contributed to one’s being are named- everybody has maternal lines, and paternal lines, and these are all seen as equally important to Maori. Of course as this was a learning experience for the young and not-so-young people in our group and we were in the whare rather than on the marae atea where it is traditional to speak only in te reo/Maori, some chose to recite their mihimihi in English while some, rather than make up their own ‘traditional’ elements gave due deference to the hosts by using the local maunga, awa, iwi and hapu and then their own family.

My mihimihi went something along the lines of…

“E nga mana, e nga reo, e nga iwi o nga hau e wha, tena koutou. (I could have then said, somewhat facetiously “Endeavour te waka” but chose not to…) Ko Ben Lomond te maunga, ko Loch Lomond te moana, Ko Campbell ofArgyll te Iwi, Ko Buchanan me Graham of Monteith toku hapu, No Taranaki ahau. Ko Jean raua Charles Crozier i Bathhurst oku tupuna ki te taha o toku whaea, Ko Alma Patterson i Tasmania raua Bill MacGibbon i Castlemaine oku tupuna ki te taha o toku matua, ko Allan raua Jeannie MacGibbon oku matua, ko Murray toku ingoa. No reira, tena koutou, tena koutou tena huihui tatou kotou. Kia ora.”

The next couple of days were simply spent- sitting on the beach watching Bruce Bay sunsets,???????????????????????????????and just quietly talking about this and that and learning more of the rohe,visiting the Makaawhio Riverbruce bay cmprssd 3to look for the special stone, aotea found only in that river, trekking along a bush trackbruce bay cmprssd 9looking for ‘mahinga kai’- pikopiko shoots, mingimingi berries, kiekie seeds, kareao or supplejack shoots, and being told about the medicinal properties of so many of the fruits of the forest.

It was wonderfully restful (even though there was a continual running battle with the namunamu (sandflies) that are a real feature of the area.)  Of course we all shared the various tasks of food preparation, cleaning and ‘housework’, and had some formal ‘lessons’ but these were all ‘in context’ and didn’t serve to detract from the overall sense of being at peace in a special place.


After a poroporoaki on the marae atea we somewhat somberly loaded ourselves on our buses and headed home, mostly warm in the knowledge we would always be welcome back.

Our first stop was at Fox Glacier to ‘water the horses’ and to buy a welcome cup of ‘proper coffee’ before we detoured down to Lake Matheson for lunch. As magical as Bruce Bay is, Lake Matheson is also a very special place and we were lucky to arrive when it was calm and clear enough to experience what is special about the little lake,bruce bay cmprssd 8the iconic reflection of Aoraki Mt Cook in the still waters. After a walk around the lake and a leisurely lunch we continued our journey home stopping only at Harihari for a comfort stop. Here we saw a new addition to the village,???????????????????????????????a project being installed by renowned Kiwi artist Sue Syme.???????????????????????????????Each one of the colourful message tiles has been designed by the sponsor of it and then glazed by Sue. Visually exciting!

It was a great trip and everybody brought something home with them. Some were pleased with their pieces of aotea found on the Makaawhio, some with their new knowledge of mahinga kai, or their broader knowledge of tikanga Maori, some with their new-found friendships and some simply with the warm sense of having been there. If you have a bucket list add a stay in this very special place to it.


I don’t claim any of this but the photo was so impressive I felt I should share it!! It shows  a kaka fledgling soaring over Zealandia, the Karori (Wellington, NZ) wildlife sanctuary.

kakaThis was taken by Janice McKenna and you can see more of her work here. The following data is from Zealandia‘s website.

Common name: North Island kaka
Maori name: kākā
Scientific name: Nestor meridionalis septentrionalis
Large, olive-brown forest parrot. Has orange plumage under wings and a strong curved beak. A ‘cousin’ to the alpine parrot, kea.
Has a loud ‘scraak’ call and also some beautiful songs and whistles. The word kākā can mean ‘screech’ in Māori.

My Most Meaningful Possession

Aotearoa New Zealand has much that is special, and a beautiful jade called ‘pounamu’- that comes with wonderful folk-tales explaining its origins [who needs sensible geological explanations!], an aura and mysticism that affects all who see, touch or wear it, and a wonderful presence that in no small way comes from the wide range of tools, weapons and talismans that the Maori people traded, raided and even killed for, is one very special thing.

In the legends of the Ngai Tahu people of the South Island of New Zealand, the guardian of pounamu is a taniwha, a giant water creature named Poutini. His home is in the rough seas off the West Coast of the South Island or “Te Tai o Poutini”. Long ago Poutini used to venture far afield. One day, while resting in the warm waters off Tuhua (Mayor Island, in northeast NZ) he saw a beautiful woman, Waitaiki, bathing in the sea. Poutini looked at Waitaiki with lust in his heart. He rushed forward, snatched her up and fled towards the mainland.
Waitaiki‘s husband, Tama-ahua was a powerful chief and skilled in the rituals of the spirit world. When he realised that his wife had been taken he threw a magical dart in the air.  The dart pointed in the direction his wife and Poutini had taken so Tama-ahua and his slave paddled after them in hot pursuit. Reaching the shore Poutini lit a fire to warm Waitaiki but hearing Tama-ahua approaching he took her up again and moved on. The chase continued across Aotearoa (New Zealand).

Each time Poutini stopped he lit a fire to warm his captive Waitaiki– at Tahanga on the Coromandel Peninsular, Whangamata, Taupo, Rangitoto Ki te Tonga (D’urville Island), Onetahua (Farewell Spit) and Pauatane on the West Coast. The rocks at all of these sites, all of them important sources of stone for Maori, are all still stained by the fires of Poutini
Fleeing further south Poutini and his captive reached Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) but  weeping with cold and fright, Waitaiki begged him to turn around, so he carried her back up the coast, taking sanctuary in the headwaters of the Arahura River. 
At Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) Tama-ahua found his wife’s tears preserved forever in the stone named Tangiwai (Bowenite). He realised that Poutini and Waitaiki had turned back so he tracked them up the coast to the Arahura valley. That night Tama-ahua rested and prepared for the final showdown.
Poutini was concerned. Fearing Tama-ahua‘s strength and determination he decided that if he could not have Waitaiki, no-one would. 
He transformed her into his likeness- ‘Pounamu and laid her in the cold waters of the river, then slipped downstream past the sleeping warrior. 
In the morning Tama-ahua set out to do battle with Poutini to reclaim Waitaiki. But when he reached the head of the river, his enemy had gone. He found his young wife cold and lifeless, transformed into stone in the riverbed. His tangi, or song of grief still sounds throughout the mountains. 

To the Ngai Tahu people Waitaiki is the mother of Pounamu and the jade fragments that break from the mother lode and roll down the river to the sea are her children

The weapons and tools were hugely valued because the stone (the Maori had no metal) was not only beautiful but incredibly hard and strong and once an edge had been ground it would last for a long time before needing to be ‘touched up’ and thus the chisels and gouges used in carving or whakairo were as highly valued as weapons. Because these stone tools were so good they also carried great ‘mana‘  (power & authority) and chieftains (or rangatira) often flourished them when wishing to add emphasis to their whaikorero, or speeches (or brandished them in battle!)

There are many intricate and meaningful personal ornaments that are treasured by their guardians- (although anyone may have pounamu one isn’t ever really an ‘owner’ as much as one is in possession of it until the spirit determines it will be passed on to the next ‘guardian’. Pounamu should never be bought for oneself, rather it should be a gift from another- in a sensible pragmatic way it may be bought but it should be bought for someone else. This process of transferring guardianship is also a wee bit fraught in that the pounamu will make up its own mind as to whether the recipient is worthy and there are many people around today whose jade taonga (treasure- all pounamu is taonga) has either broken or been ‘lost’. Maori will tell you that if this has happened it simply meant you were not meant to have the taonga in the first place. It is also said that pounamu will ultimately find its way home and that if you are meant to have it you will go with it.


For many years one of my hobbies has been bone carving, a skill I picked up developed through presenting ‘elective’ programmes to children at schools I taught at throughout my career. I loved playing around with designs and then trying to form these in bone. I had some success and will always enjoy trying to get finer and more intricate in my creations, but I have at the same time had an urge to get into something a bit more esoteric than crappy old beef shin-bone!! But more of that later.


Many years ago I was a teaching principal of a small school in the Bay of Plenty, a school that had very few pakeha (European) children, in fact on occasions the only blond heads seen in the playground were the three that belonged to my children!!! During this time I underwent a sort of cultural ‘fine tuning’ that was brought about by, on the one hand, the perception that a 90% Maori roll required a ‘different’ type of education and, on the other the wonderful and inclusive nature of the tangata whenua (the local Maori) who welcomed our family and undertook to include and involve my family in the life and times of the community. Coincidentally much of the ‘life and times’ revolved around the happenings at one or other of the two kainga (villages) that were nearby. At each was a substantial marae (comprised of, among other things a wharenui or meeting house, wharekai or communal eating house and marae atea or courtyard meeting place where traditional events and meetings occur.) There were two because the area was on the border between two iwi or Maori tribes.

Because of the use of te reo (the language, i.e. Maori) is traditionally mandatory on the marae atea I felt somewhat out of things because I wasn’t fluent. This was particularly so when I was invited (instructed) by one of the kaumatua (elders) to join him on the tangata whenua paepae (front row of the speakers’ seat) for the purpose of speaking on his behalf to pakeha with the manuhiri (visitors) to the ANZAC Day celebration “in case some of them wouldn’t understand his speech”! This was an incredible honour for me but it reinforced my misgivings about how little grasp I truly had of te reo. (I guess I stuttered through OK because I wasn’t told off by the kaumatua and he stayed a friend and mentor- wonderful wisdom.)

As a step towards addressing both issues I enrolled in a 3 day residential holiday professional development course at Nga Hau E Wha National Marae (the four winds)in Christchurch on “Using Te Reo In The Classroom” expecting any course that was going to address that issue would also be at least some sort of starting point in improving my own grasp of te reo.

After a full powhiri (welcome on the marae) we were escorted into the magnificent wharenui, ‘AORAKI’ (which is the name of our highest mountain, Mt Cook.) We were introduced to the whare and among other things were told that the carvings represented every iwi in the nation. As is traditional the visitors sleep communally in the meeting house and we were told to find a mattress (already placed on the floor around the perimeter of the whare) to call home for the next couple of nights. Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered that the carved poupou (carved panel that tells a story) I had chosen was carved in the style of the Taranaki iwi. Why delighted? Because I was born in Kaponga at the base of Mt Taranaki! Coincidence? Or something more.

After an interesting couple of days covering a number of strategies for improving aspects of classroom programmes, particularly for Maori students but benefiting non-Maori as well given the Ministry’s stated aim of raising the awareness of te reo for all Kiwi kids, dinner and the evening session of the second night, a number of us went to the local for a night-cap. We invited the ringa wera (hot hands- the cooks and kitchen staff) to join us and it was one of these who admired the bone-carving I was wearing. (Remember my hobby?) It was really nothing particularly splendid- just a simple triple twist similar to a skein of knitting wool, but she seemed to like it a lot- so I took it off and put in on her neck in appreciation of her appreciation, I suppose. She seemed delighted and one of the other locals quietly whispered to me a bit later that the lady was so taken by my simple act of kindness that “She’ll probably give you a piece of pounamu!” I instinctively thought “That’s nice,” but thought little more about until next morning at breakfast. The gentle little Maori lady from Arahura (remember the Arahura River in the story of Waitaiki and Pounamu?), proudly wearing her new bone carving around her neck, came up and held out her hand for mine, opened it then gently placed a velveteen bag in it. I could hardly believe my eyes, which I promise you immediately started watering in humility when I saw the ‘piece of pounamu’ I found in the bag.This thing is magnificent! Dark, dark Arahura pounamu with a puku so fat and clearly carved in the traditional way using stone-on-stone and hand-grinding. This seemd an old piece and I just could not rationalise this act with mine- a potentially priceless Maori artifact against a worthless piece of cow-bone! I gave her a long hongi, kiss, hugged her- and cried.

So that is my most meaningful possession.

Oh! Sorry! I haven’t finished telling you why it is so meaningful (as if all of that wasn’t enough!!) I retired at the end of 2004 and my wife and I were pondering where we might throw out the anchor. There were, after all lots of places we have lived with our children, there were many more that I had fond memories of with my ‘growing up’ family- either holidaying or living, and of course there are the places where our children (and now, grandchildren) live. So, you might ask, what is the point of this apparent post script? Well, it’s this-

We now live on the West Coast of Te Tai o Poutini just a few short kilometres from the Arahura River from whence came my ‘piece of pounamu’

My tiki (Maori stylised human neck ornament) has found its way home- I’ve just come along for the ride! 

‘Taika, Taika Burning Bright’

(Sarah Daniell in The New Zealand Herald poses 12 questions to Taika Waititi, Director of “BOY”, the delightfully funny, sad, funny New Zealand movie.)

Taika Waititi directed and starred in New Zealand’s highest-grossing film, Boy. But Waititi, an Oscar nominee in 2005 for his short film Two Cars, One Night, last month launched a campaign appealing for $90,000 to help sell the hit 2010 film in the United States. Donations from 1826 fans exceeded $110,000 on the Kickstarter website. Waititi has promised to think of those generous fans each night as he goes to sleep.

Why does the star and co-creator of Boy have to appeal to his fans for money after it made $9.2 million at the box office in New Zealand?
“Although the film made a bazillion dollars, unfortunately most of the profits went to the distributors and cinemas. That’s the current system; basically the artist does all the work and the people who sell popcorn make the most money. You can understand why more people are turning to the internet to release films. I’m opening a popcorn company at the end of the year.”

What single most important lesson did you learn from makingBoy?
“If you pray to the gods that it won’t rain for eight weeks during the wet season, they listen. That and not taking things too seriously. You have to let go of the control and allow things to develop. You need to have a flexible attitude, especially working with kids. .”

What is your next project about?
“Nazis. It’s a comedy. I’m not lying.”

Who would play you in the film of your life?
“Me, if I’m still alive. When is this movie being made? What dates? I’d wait a few years to allow the real me to do some more stuff otherwise the film will be a bit short. If I’m dead I don’t think you should make it. Anyone else will just screw it up.”

For what cause would you lie down in front of a bulldozer?
“People fighting for the right to sleep with construction machinery.”

When did you last laugh out loud?
“Literally seven seconds ago. I laughed at my bulldozer joke.”

What music unravels you?
“By ‘unravel’, do you mean ‘lose my mind and want to kill myself’? If so, then probably Dubstep. Unravel kind of sounds like making love to yourself. If you’re asking that, then it’s obviously Kenny G.”

What is your favourite word?
“It used to be ‘wriggle’ but now it’s ‘wraggle’. I made it up as an alternative to wriggle. It also works as a tag on to wriggle, as in, ‘I’m gonna wriggle-wraggle over to that pudding and eat it’.”

What would you most like to change about yourself?
“I wish I was less good-looking and more unpopular. Then I could get into politics and use my pent-up resentment about being ugly and unpopular to systematically destroy the country.”

The nation you most identify with, other than New Zealand?

What do you dream about?
“I actually keep having this one recurring dream where I’m a little number standing in a line of other numbers that look identical to me. Then there are more and more of these numbers that follow me, again and again and again. It’s more of a nightmare.”

What would be your epitaph?
“He slipped on a banana peel that was meant for someone else.”

Entertaining fella. Thanks to NZHerald