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.

2013-04-10 13.17.53

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.



Stone Works

“Ahakoa he kohatu koe, he taonga tino ataahua.”

2013-02-27 11.13.30Our ‘Jade & Hard-Stone Carving Course’ aims not only to teach us to carve stone but also to appreciate the wonderful medium that hard stone is. Obviously for us, jade is the ‘ultimate’ stone, but ours is not the only art form that utilises stone and to enable us to better accept this premise our tutor took us to view the the stone sculpture symposium being held near Lake Kanierekaniere2 27Feboutside Hokitika. It would be sufficient for some to simply visit the ‘open day’, the exhibition where all of the finished pieces are displayed for viewing. but this was not for us. Instead we visited first as the artists were just getting started on their creations, when they were commencing ‘stock removal’, when all of the big, grunty tools were doing their work- drills, saws, chisels, hammers & such and things were very noisy and dusty!!! We returned a week later to see the works much nearer completion and in finishing stages.

One might get a sense of what might be intended by the artist, but this isn’t always the case especially when any initial rough drawing of design made on the block has already been removed with first cuts. The artists were great with us, interrupting their work to help us understand something of what was going on- the stone, the particular tools they were using, hints about what was about to happen next, and so on, and to answer our questions.2013-02-27 11.35.11We must have really been an unwanted distraction but we weren’t once told or signed to “bugger off- I’m busy”!!!

Of the artists who were sculpting at the symposium one was the host, Rory McDougal who was making a Celtic sword form of Dunedin basalt,2013-02-27 12.19.12a lovely dark grey, almost black volcanic stone that looked quite ‘tight’ but didn’t give any hint as to what it might look like when finished.

Barry Te Whatu told me that his first loves are the stones from his rohe potae, Taranaki but the stones (yes, stones) he was using at the symposium were a local granite2013-02-27 12.18.45and a lovely fine-grained black basalt.

Lauren Kitts is a naturalised Kiwi who hails from the US and their loss is very definitely our gain. When we first visited Lauren was almost doubled up using a very noisy, dusty and angry hand saw2013-02-27 11.14.07to remove unwanted stone from a lovely orange granite sourced from a local gold mine.

Anna Korver is another sculptor who comes from Taranaki where she and her partner have an art gallery which features works by herself and her partner, Steve Molloy. When we arrived Anna was almost completely obscured behind billowing clouds2013-02-27 12.25.06of serpentine dust.

Jordi Raga Frances is a young Spanish sculptor who now lives in England and in the process of making his way to Aotearoa New Zealand he became separated from his tools and when we visited they had still not arrived and so he was still playing with his designs for the angular block of serpentine2013-02-27 11.42.24he was to create from.

It was fascinating to wander among these creative people and to see how they went about their art. It obviously had parallels to what we did back at the studio with their use of hand-saws, mallets and grinders2013-02-27 11.20.34against our use of trim-saw and coarse grinding tools to take away unwanted stone and to rough out the desired form. But honestly the connection appeared a bit tenuous!!

Much had been achieved by our sculptors by the time we returned the following week and they were all pretty much in the semi-final(?) stages of ‘finishing’ and this ranged from a variety surface effects to polished highly reflective surfaces that allowed light to play on the form and for the stone to show its inner beauty.

Lauren had almost finished her flowering bud2013-03-05 12.11.44and was using wet sanding discs to achieve the desired smooth surface to the petals while retaining a rough, stippled effect on the inner stamens. Her intent was to make a form that expressed the opening up of potential and she used the flower form with stamens erupting to achieve this. She told me that this local granite is the hardest she has ever worked- they even breed rocks tough on ‘The Coast’.

Barry was making a matau (fish-hook) with the shank being a white granite2013-03-05 11.57.18 and the barb2013-03-05 11.57.06(that would be affixed) made of the very fine-grained, dark basalt.

Rory had completed all of his shaping of the sword form and was giving the basalt a range of surface finishes.2013-03-05 12.07.14There were to be smooth areas that would have the velvet feel to them and highlights achieved using a rough-textured finish. Wetting2013-03-05 12.07.36the piece gave some hint to the final look of the sword.

Jordi’s tools had obviously caught up with him and he had made great progress on his work2013-03-05 11.57.45that he indicated was to look like a shape that had had the air removed from the inside. As he worked with his grinding discs to get the smooth, flat faces he desired Jordi achieved a fascinating effect with the dust that was trapped in the top bowled surface, an effect that our tutor (a mine of information) was able to explain to him.2013-03-05 didn’t need an explanation, I just enjoyed the effect!! At this stage the beauty of the stone was yet to be revealed.

Anna’s sculpture was nearing completion and she showed us its intended position2013-03-05 11.26.24 when it was finally mounted on the base that was being prepared for it. The lovely colours and patterns inside the serpentine2013-03-05 11.49.54became very evident when the almost finished smooth surface was wet.

The symposium was moving to its completion and I went again on the last day to see all of these great and different works finished and on display. The day wasn’t the finest with a bit of overcast which didn’t do some of the pieces complete justice, but I felt it was wonderful to see each piece as the artists intended them and ready to move to their sponsors’ homes and gardens where they would be displayed to the best advantage. And here they are-

Lauren Kitts’ orange granite emerging flower2013-03-09 McDougal’s Celtic sword2013-03-09 Raga Frances’ deflated stone form with his unique hand-etched surface2013-03-09 Korver’s beautiful serpentine flying figure2013-03-09 Barry Te Whatu’s granite and basalt matau.2013-03-09

I don’t know that I have a favourite favourite but I am a bit of a sucker for serpentine so Anna’s piece probably goes to the top of the class (because I think it was a nicer serp than Jordi’s piece of stone) but then the velvety feel of Rory’s  basalt was almost sensual so I might push that up the order somewhat. Of course I really do like the matau form and I think Barry’s design was very pleasing, so… No, there can’t be a favourite because each piece is unique and thus very special in its own way, whether it was the form/shape that the artist gave to the piece, or the treatment the artist applied to the variety of stone, or any combination of other factors each beautiful sculpture deserves pride of place wherever it is finally placed.

Thanks, Ric- it was a very enjoyable and rewarding hikoi.

Thanks Rory, Anna, Barry, Jordi and Lauren for being great hosts- sorry if we got in the way!!

And the meaning of my ‘whakatauki’ at the beginning? ‘although you are a stone, you are a beautiful treasure’. My thanks to my mate Derek Fox for his guidance in this.

Post Script: On our first visit we picked up various chips of the off-cuts from the sculptors’ stock removal and so I made a wee bit of a thing for Anna out of the serpentine she was carving.2013-03-06 19.22.37.cmprssdWhat a nice stone to work it was!! 

Arahura Marae

Some time ago I wrote about one of my most treasured possessions. The place this taonga (treasure) came from is a tiny settlement at the mouth of the Arahura River.The sub-tribe of the people who live in the area are Ngati Waewae who are providing cultural experiences for visitors to The Coast and, of course are marketing their major taonga, pounamu or New Zealand jade.

I heard that they were in the process of building a new marae on the hill overlooking their settlement and having a couple of minutes to spare on my trip from Greymouth to Hokitika recently I decided to go up and have a look.Wow!! Some development! This is an architect’s artwork of the project that is featured on the notice at the site’s entry. The dark building in the centre will be the whare nui (big house) which will be the focus for manuhiri (visitors) who will be welcomed after being called onto the marae atea (open courtyard in front of the meeting house) by the tangata whenua (local people).

The other buildings that will complete the complex will include ablutions, sleeping and very importantly, the whare kai (eating house).

I look forward to seeing this when it’s finished because it promises to be a spectacular addition to the West Coast.

Golf Challenge

If there are any golfers in New Zealand who read this, maybe we will meet up in March!

I am at the pointed end of the organising committee for a new golf tournament to be held on The West Coast in March of 2013- Tuesday 5th, Wednesday 6th, Thursday 7th and Friday 8th. Each day will feature 18 holes of stableford golf on one of the four main courses- Westport, Reefton, Hokitika and Greymouth in that order. These are four quite different golf courses and offer their own special wee challenges but at that time of the year they will be in their best shape and so whatever problems arise they will probably be self created.

We have already secured over $11500 worth of competition prizes but guarantee there will be much more on offer. I am determined to make this a promotional opportunity for ‘The Coast’ and as such we will be featuring artists and craftspeople from all over, and hope to send many of our golfing friends away with a memento of their enjoyable visit to ‘The Coast’.

If you are interested do visit the West Coast Golf Challenge website here and also visit our Facebook page here. (-don’t forget to ‘like’ the page and perhaps leave a friendly comment or two!)

You will find all the information you need about the tournament, things to do (other than golf) when you’re on ‘The Coast’, and a range of quality accommodation establishments choose from to stay in while you’re here.

I look forward to making your acquaintance in March!! Tight lies!