Thursday, 2 June 2016

A walk on the wildside

Yesterday I got paid for going for a walk - now that's not a bad gig, is it? OK, best I explain before you get upset that I am being paid for pleasurable activities ...

There is an old (mining stopped there back in the 1930s) gold mine site up the Snowy River Road near Ikamatua (well, there are a few but one was our focus yesterday). It is on the list to be cleaned up and I am tasked with doing a bit of planning for that so the Governance Group can make some decisions about it.

We were meant to do this walk back in April but had to re-schedule because I went home early when David's mum started going downhill. But yesterday was a stunning day to do it - it was blo*dy cold when we set off (3 deg C) from the DOC office in Greymouth and I am sure it was colder when I left Hokitika an hour earlier than that in the dark- I'd had to throw a couple of kettles of water over the windscreen and side windows to remove the frost.

Getting to the mine (ex-mine) is an hour's drive from Greymouth into the hills through farm land and then into beech forest on a single lane gravel road. Once above the bushline we had to stop a few times to move fallen branches off the road. Jim and Dean did the first three and I said I'd help with the next - of course that one was more of a tree trunk about 8 inches in diameter! Fortunately it was rotten so broke up easily and I didn't have to get back in the van without having helped move it. That would have severely dented my pride!

Mountains on the drive from Greymouth to Ikamatua

Frosty scene as we drove up the Snowy River Road - just before we got to the bushline

Jim is the fundi about the historic features around this area - he is a historic ranger at DOC and has been the driving force for getting some of the sites cleaned up, as well as being instrumental in a whole heap of restoration projects as a volunteer. I posted about him here back in February

John is the Engineer to Contract in the Waiuta Remediation Project that I am currently working on and Dean is its Primary Contractor. (Dean and I turn out to have previously been related through my former marriage to Dean's mum's second cousin - I remember going to his mum and dad's wedding, and I also seem to remember dandling Dean on my knee when he was a little baby... Spooky, eh?)

John returning from having a pee. Note that he peed quite a distance away from his pack ... He's the youngest of the four of us and wore shorts for the trek.

Dean setting up the EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) so we can be found if we get lost.

I was going to caption this as Nearly ready for the Off, but John's clothes are still not back in the van, Jim's not ready and the EPIRB is still getting itself sorted. I am posing for a photo though, so I am ready! Look closely, you can see my shorts are over my longjohns - classy or what?

Once we had parked and got kitted out - me with boots and puttees, (merino) long johns and shorts over them (such a cool look) and thermal top, sweatshirt and fleecy, plus silk scarf (OK OK I know silk may not be standard bushwear, but it is light and very warm) - Jim did our JSA. That's the Job Safety Assessment where he briefed us on the hazards and how to avoid them, what to be careful of. It was blo*dy cold, as I say, particularly when standing still in the shade ... Then off we went, heading for the river so we could cross it a few times - well, why not?
That white stuff isn't blossom - it's ice! And you can see the frost on the ground too.

Jim and John. Jim has a proper gnarly stick, John is using one of mine that he confiscated as I was finding two sticks were more of a hindrance than a help.

There were meant to be 4 river crossings on the way in and four on the way back - well, Jim lied! Unless of course he wasn't including the streams in that count. I am sure I must have crossed about 30 waterways each way. OK, I exaggerate but only slightly. I was dreading crossing the rivers a) because it was going to be cold, and b) because I was unsure how I would cope walking on rocks.

Just another mountain in the background - one of the lower ones

I rather liked the patterns on this rock - plant life
 So the water was very cold, but my fabulous woollen workman's socks (in the smallest size available) are amazing at being wet but warming up with my feet as the heat source and making the water inside my boots lovely and warm - my feet were the warmest parts of me at times. So that fear disappeared. And given I was wearing merino longjohns, my legs kept warm even though I was up to my thighs crossing some parts of the river - of course, it was merely up to Jim's knees then ... The man is excessively and unnecessarily tall, in my opinion.

And I wouldn't have been able to cope crossing the rivers with fast-ish moving water and rocks underfoot. But John suggested at the first crossing that he and Dean should link arms with me and help me across. That was modified to holding hands and it worked an absolute treat. One of the dis-benefits (I know, crap made-up word, but it's in use in projects for some reason) of getting older is the loss of surefootedness/balance on uneven surfaces. I used to leap about rocks and muddy slippery places up at the bach in Taranaki - but over recent years I have become so much less good at that. Without the guys either side of me yesterday I would have been sitting down in freezing cold water on numerous occasions, I know for sure.

(I am really lucky to be working with such a great project team - great guys everyone of them, and each with their own strengths to bring to the work. Besides which they are kind and helpful - that was borne out yesterday in spades.)
The first river crossing - Jim went first to check out the depth. This is where the young guys decided to help the old woman across each time - good call, I say! What a fabulous team I have working with me!

And when we weren't crossing rivers or streams, there was lots of surface water to slosh through. The West Coast has had the rainiest May since 1877, and last week's rain hadn't fully soaked away or evaporated in the sun that has been shining since Monday. So my new boots are still looking good but no longer pristine - they are drying out at the moment. A bit of a big ask as they are goretex on the inside, so they don't leak, except over the top and that water doesn't come out so easily as it goes in.

Beech forest with minimal undergrowth - very different from Taranaki bush, that's for sure.
It took an hour to walk in - I know the guys would have done it in about 40 minutes without me, but hey! As Jim said today the slower pace gave him time to look at artefacts on the way in, check the state of the old roadway we were following and make mental notes of what needed attention.

Jim, not quite in my shadow ...

We stood around in the sunshine eating lunch - I had to sit as I hadn't made sandwiches and had to construct my rice crackers with ham etc. So I got out my emergency heat blanket - a giant sheet of aluminium foil - and spread it on the ground to sit on. Necessary as the frost had melted into dew and it was very wet.

At the battery site in the lovely warm sunshine. That is a warning sign you can see notifying people that the area is contaminated.

There was much discussion over lunch of how the remediation could occur then we went further into the bush to check out the roaster. Jim and Dean disappeared off to take water samples from a few locations up and down river of the mine site. While we waited we checked out the roaster, John took lots of arty photos plus lots that would inform the decision-making process.
Some kind of moss stuff growing in the middle of the old road - Jim will tell me what is really is.
I liked the look of these feathery seedlings ... (and he'll tell me what they are)

and of these red berries (and he'll identify these too)

It was damn cold standing around waiting for the water samplers to come back, so we took the first opportunity to head back to the battery site to stand in the sun and warm up. Gosh, the sun felt lovely on our faces.

Then back we headed the way we came in. Seemed quicker going back than the trip in somehow, but that always seems to be the way, in my experience.

It was definitely getting colder even though it was only about 2.30. John and Jim changed clothes but Dean had left his change of socks in his car at Stillwater, and I had left my entire change of clothes in the car at DOC's office in Greymouth - doh!! So while John and Jim changed I took photos ...
John getting his jeans on - brave man as he was barefooted in this photo and the ground was pretty chilly.

Jim wringing out his socks

The heater went on full bore on the way back, and once we'd discussed and organised a planning session for next week, so I can quickly pull a short scoping document together for the Governance Group, it got rather quiet in the back seats.

On arrival at Greymouth I really couldn't be arsed changing my clothes so I drove back to Hokitika still feeling warm and with sloshing boots.
On my drive back from Greymouth I had to stop near the Blue Spur Road and take photos of the mountains.

I tell you, the West Coast is NZ's best kept secret - a stunningly beautiful area that I reckon overseas tourists know more about than we do as NZers.

Wet boots, puttees and longjohns - sitting outside the motel room

Puddle #1 from one wrung out sock

Puddle #2 from second wrung out sock and a pair of now chilly feet exposed to the air.

Then it was into the shower and off out for dinner with Katrina and June - plenty of wine and chicken tikka marsala. Then back to the motel and into bed for an early night for some reason.

Not going to be long out of bed tonight either - all the excitement is catching up with me! The motel unit looks like a laundry - socks, longjohns, shorts all drying around the place. Most importantly, my boots are drying upside down on my walking sticks above the wall heater - chilly night means heater stays on - I am getting old and soft!

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Westport and those Southern Alps

A few weeks ago I had to go to Westport for a meeting. It's a fairly long drive from Hokitika, but what amazing scenery I went past!

I have been to Westport a couple of times before, once with David, Mum and my aunt Molly when we brought her out to NZ for Mum's 70th birthday, and once with our friend Jo Brownie when she and I drove to Blackball to deliver Melita's cat Spike to her mum's place.

I had forgotten how stunning the drive is along the coast. It is amazing and it is no wonder that this whole coast is such a tourist destination, even though it is pretty remote by the standards of NZ and other small countries.

Anyway, it was a good thing I had left Hokitika with plenty of time to spare on the drive up to Westport - I had to keep stopping and looking and taking photos. It's not a fast drive by any means, and I took it quite slowly so I could drink it all in. And I was clear that I want David to come down so we can travel that route and enjoy it together in a relaxed fashion.

The day wasn't particularly sunny, and the sea-spray is evident.

Just so you know, I did pull over into a layby to take these photos. That is a cyclist coming up the hill - gives an idea of the height of the cliffs alongside the road.
The view inland up Fox River

I remember this bridge from our trip with Mum and Molly back in 1993/4. Had to stop for the sake of reminiscing.
Can't remember where this is but it looked pretty impressive - I did wonder how it all stays in place in heavy rains ...

These flowers are apparently a weed, but they do look lovely along the sides of the road. I had seen them on the way to Westport, but they were on the wrong side of the road for safe photography.

And they are rather beautiful close up.
Then on my flight home a couple of days later, the Alps were starting to get some snow on the tops.
See what I mean? Looking impressive, eh?

Funny how it settles down in the valleys.

That big one is Aoraki Mt Cook, NZ's highest mountain.
Aoraki / Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand. Its height since 2014 is listed as 3724m, down from 3,764 metres before December 1991, due to a rockslide and subsequent erosion.

How lucky am I to be working in a place where I get to see such amazing sights? I truly understand why so many DOC rangers love working for the organisation - they get the legitimate work-based opportunity to spend time out in the mountains, in the ranges, up the rivers as part of their daily life. I feel fortunate enough to fly over those mountains and visit stunning parts of this beautiful country.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Goodbye, Mary

On Saturday, David's mum Mary died at home, with David and Ginny holding her hands. They had been with her for almost five weeks, since she had been diagnosed with pancytopenia - her bone marrow had stopped functioning, so she wasn't producing white or red blood cells or platelets. For the first 4 weeks she was fine but got slower and tireder. She still tottered around using her walker, and laughed and joked with them. It is only in the last week or so that she was bedridden and slipped in and out of consciousness. A few days in a row David would ring and say they thought today would be the day, but she hung on - her incredibly strong little heart just kept on beating.

But on Friday the Kahukura nurses who provide in-home palliative care in the Wairarapa told David and Ginny that the end was nearing. And on Saturday at 12.45pm she died peacefully and calmly with her two favourite people there, one each side, loving her and gentling her as she left.

She has been a lovely mother in law - I have always reacted strongly against mother in law jokes as they are such a crappy stereotype. And for me they could not have been more wrong or cruel.

David came home on Sunday, Ginny is staying with friends for a couple of days before they start the inevitable clearing the house - Mary was no hoarder, and most of John's hoarded papers were disposed of in an orgy of skip filling a few years ago. So it will be an easy task this time - easy in terms of there not being much, but hard as it'll be the memories of particular things that will get them.

Mary is being cremated tomorrow with no fuss (she is of the generation that did not like a fuss), and on Sunday next week we are having an At Home for friends. I am facilitating the event and will do most of the catering - Mary loved my cheese tart (as do Ginny and David), and she loved sponge cake, lamingtons and custard squares. Even though she won't be there eating them, we will have some of her favourite foods - I do draw the line however at grated cheese and celery salt on crackers ...

My lovely sister Dee has been here with me since Thursday (she had to look after herself for a few hours till I got back home from being an earner) and she is still here - together we have been looking after David, the newly orphaned.  We have been very kind and loving, with the occasional pis*-take - our thinking is that he needs to know that life continues, that we will treat him lovingly as we always do ...

This morning some dear friends came for breakfast, which if I do say so myself, was spectacular. (Dee and I are a damn fine team in the kitchen - we've had lots of practice over the years.) But the main purpose was for them all to be with David and give him their support. Two bottles of bubbly appeared with the guys for toasts to the newly orphaned (and his entree into the Orphans club) and to his lovely Mum.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Happy birthday, dear husband

Today David is 67. He is now sitting up in bed working out how to make his new video camera work. That will keep him occupied for a couple of hours, so I guess there is no chance of him doing the vacuuming before guests turn up for his birthday lunch. Damn, should have made the present ceremony conditional on the vacuuming being completed - poor project management, I say!

No worries, guests are coming to see him, to eat food and drink wine, so a slightly messy carpet isn't a problem.

Update: Quote "My first job is to learn how to get the power on." And guess what? He is reading the manual!! That IS definitely a sign he is aging, even if it wasn't his birthday today!

I have to get up and get things underway. As well as roast beef and the accompaniments, I have to re-do the apple and sage jelly that I did last weekend - it didn't gel because I put in too much sugar, so I cooked up some granny smiths yesterday and left them hanging in a muslin bag overnight. That juice will be added to the un-jarred non-jelly, boiled up (and I am going to add pectin just to be sure as well as some lemon juice to cut the sweetness), skimmed and then bottled again.

Just added two to the guest list for lunch, so more potatoes to be peeled!

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Hokitika Gorge

A few weeks ago when David came down to join me in Hokitika for the weekend, one of the places we went was Hokitika Gorge - it is a must see when you come down to the West Coast. The drive out to it is wonderful and the gorge itself is pretty amazing.

The baby mountains - only foothills really - on the way there.

Some slightly bigger ones - toddler mountains perhaps

The bridge was originally built for a farmer whose farm was both sides of the river. His cows used to cross the bridge each day.

The blue of the water is something to do with ice and rock - see below for an explanation I found on-line.
The water is turquoise because finely ground rock is present. We are able to observe the blue light produced by the water’s absorption, because light is scattered by suspended matter and so returns to the surface. Such scattering can also shift the spectrum of the emerging photons toward the green, a color often seen in water laden with suspended particles.

There you go - educational or what?

A picnic down by the river. Clever David set up the camera on the timer and managed to get back and look relaxed with his sandwich. Still pretty speedy for a nearly 67 year old!

The bridge is a marvellous feat of engineering, but I didn't like being on it much, especially when the two guys behind me were coming across marching in time - the bridge swayed alarmingly then. David tells me it's the harmonics - same as what caused the Millenium Bridge in London to have to be fixed just after being opened. It seems that people in groups naturally fall into step. By the way, I am not sure what effect holding on to the sides would have had if it collapsed  but it seemed not to be optional for me.

On getting back to the old hire car, I discovered the battery was flat - I had left the lights on. The car is so old that it doesn't beep to let you know the lights are still on when the key is switched off and the door is opened. (And I am the one who complains about the appliances talking to me at home - the washing machine tells me it is going to fill with water to rinse, and then tells me when the cycle is finished, the stove tells me when it's up to temperature, the induction hob tells me when I have put something on its controls, the fridge tells me when I have had a door open too long ...)  OK, back on topic - I always drive with the lights on on the highways, esp in the South Island which has heaps of tourists most of whom come from weird places where people drive on the right hand side of the road instead of the correct side of the road, ie the left.

Anyway, it was a damn and blast moment, given how far away we were from any town and the lack of cellphone coverage in the area to phone for assistance from the trusty Automobile Association.

But to our rescue came the guy in the photo below. We had seen him down at the river - he'd jumped in off the bridge as we were making our way down and was bemoaning the fact that he'd forgotten he had his go-pro camera on him when he jumped. He lost it as he landed in the water. We were unsympathetic and and scoffed privately about his idiocy ...

However when I went around the carpark looking for someone with jumper leads - he was the one who had some. He is from Sweden and was touring NZ in an old car that he had bought and very sensibly stocked with things he might need to keep it going. So who was the idiot - me, not him!

No trouble to start the car - we gave him $20 for his help and suggested beers. He thought he might put it towards a new go-pro camera. Much more sensible than we had given him credit for.


Last Tuesday I flew to Christchurch for a meeting. It was the most beautiful flight - the weather was lovely, there was no wind and the views of the South Island as we headed south were just amazing. I hadn't realised just how mountainous much of the South Island is - no wonder it has fewer than a million people living in it!

Two mountain ranges visible in this photo with the alps a long way over in the background. The visible ones are the Seaward and Inland Kaikoura Ranges.

And the peninsula and isthmus that make up the town and area of Kaikoura. Back in 2001, David and I had a lovely walk from the motel we stayed at on the northern side, around the coast and then up over the hill and back down to the motel.
NZ is beautiful, but don't get it into your heads to all come here and live - there's not enough room!

Boatie visitors

Last year while on the Grand Union near Cassiobury, we met Pat and Roger from nb Cat's Whiskers. We saw them again (well, I did with Olek and Lesley) at Napton.

Today they came to lunch here at Cafe Rata.

The common denominators in this are these:
  • I have been present at each meeting
  • David has not. 

Well, to be strictly honest, he was present at Cassiobury but Barry and I had banished him from the deck or the locksides as he was suffering badly with plantar fasciitis and had to stay off his foot as much as possible; and when we met at Napton, David was in Scotland; and today he is up in Masterton.

Like us Pat and Roger do summer in each hemisphere - their daughter lives in Karori in Wellington and they come out here for 5 months or so.

It was lovely to catch up today over a few hours - often the interactions in locks etc are only a few minutes long. Enough to have a quick conversation and make a snap judgement about whether it's an acquaintanceship worthy of being developed into a friendship.

This one was. And lunch was fun.

Dessert was omega plum sponge pudding, cream with passionfruit and a chocolate. We had started with soup (pumpkin, kumara and celery), followed by prawn salad with rocket for them/ avocado for me.

They look like they are well fed and happy, don't they? I note my glass is empty ...
And we had a lovely but short walk along the beach, a coffee in one of the cafes nearby, and I managed to get lost twice by turning into the same wrong street - doh!

And then home again to chat some more. And in popped John who is heading to the UK for a holiday next week - he is borrowing our UK map book. I'd made an extra dessert for him - much better than just being offered a cuppa, don't you think?

Roger and Pat left with a bag full of perpetual rocket from my vege plot and two cuttings - a pelargonium and a geranium. And I've just realised I forgot to give her a piece of the tree fuschia - dammit! OK, next time ...