Sunday, 29 January 2017

Angelina’s story

Last year I met Gerard Hindmarsh at a Christchurch genealogical society. He was speaking about his family history which resulted in his fascinating book Angelina.
Gerard calls his writing ``faction’’ or fiction based on extensive research.

Angelina Moleta was Gerard’s grandmother, brought up on a remote Italian Island, Stromboli off Sicily. It was known for its frequent volcanic eruptions.  Usually inhabitants, anticipating pending activity, escaped to sea. They eventually returned to access the damage to their homes and village.
In 1906, Angelina at 16 years old, left her tiny island home and family to travel to an even remoter D’Urville Island in New Zealand’s Marlborough Sounds.

Gerard believes in telling a family story as it is, warts and all. This story has its share of humour, family conflict and tragedy. Amongst the worst happenings was losing a child as a result of illness when stormy weather prevented getting necessary medical help.
Losing their oldest son to untreated appendicitis makes painful reading. 

Gerard took up journalism in 1991 having spent years truck driving and as a builder in Golden Bay. But you could say he was born with printer’s ink in his veins. He can talk about his upbringing when his father was a journalist on one of the Wellington dailies. He remembers his father’s typewriter being a feature of the family home. Gerard recalls helping his father write his stories. But admits his father needing to re-write them.
Angelina is matron of one of two pioneer Italian families breaking in farm land on D’Urville. Interestingly, her closest friend is Wetekia Ruruku Elkington, a high-born Maori woman. Angelina is introduced to Maori legends, crafts and customs. She masters the Maori language before English.
The story is told alternately by Angelina and her husband Vinenzo. Hence the story has alternate points view.

I admit, had I not met Gerard, a story of a pioneer Italian family on D’Urville Island may not have appealed. The giveaway that it might be an interesting read is its publisher Craig Potton, now Potton Burton
Also confirming this is a worthy story is a media story I came across saying Angelina is earmarked for a movie.

I did not have cash to pay for one of the books Gerard brought along to the genealogical society. No problem. He gave me a signed copy and told me to send him a cheque.     



Friday, 27 January 2017

                                                                   World seabird capital

Summer having finally kicked in has me thinking back to early October last year when I was walking along the beach at Orewa north of Auckland city. Apart from cheerful clumps of yellow flowers (Bidens Rockstars) spring was struggling to become a reality. A small number of brave people were testing the water temperature. Others were beach-walking or enjoying a coolish picnic.
As always, above an ocean beach were the raucous squawks from seagulls. Some, to the amazement of the children, swooped down for some easy pickings from their picnic lunch.

I was reminded of that brilliant story Jonathan Livingston Seagull written by American author, Richard Bach. Bach had spent hours hiding amongst rocks studding their flying ability. His story is about one special seagull intent on perfecting his flying skills. Bach used his vast experience as an aviator to tell his story.
The seagulls I spotted at Orewa were the red-billed gull also known as the mackered gull, scientific name Choicocephalus scopulinus.
Our entire world claims 9000 bird species. Of those, 360 species are seabirds –birds that obtain much of their food from the sea. 86 of these species breed in New Zealand. 38 species, or 10 per cent, of the world seabird population, breed only in New Zealand. A further nine species are migratory. They breed elsewhere but visit New Zealand annually.
Such statistics confirm New Zealand the ``world seabird capital.’’
Amongst our seabirds are penguins, albatrosses, petrels, shags, gannets, turns, skuas and several species of seagull.  
New Zealand is blessed with an abundant marine environment stretching from sub-tropical Kermadec Islands to the sub-Antarctic Campbell Plateau. An associated topography of submarine landforms offer an abundance of nutrients for marine life.
Seabirds are observed in many locations.
Gannets are found near Auckland’s western beaches. Otago Peninsula is famous for the royal albatrosses and yellow-eyed penguin.
Oamaru in north Otago offers the best penguin viewing points. And don’t miss an opportunity for seabird viewing if travelling on Cook Strait ferries.
During a recent trip to Western Australia I spotted notices advising not to feed seagulls. Seems an easy meal discourages them from foraging for their natural food. Also greasy food will be detrimental to their health and breeding. But be warned, seagulls will take every opportunity to grab a free meal.
As it is, seabirds are not immune from threats to their existence.
A recent, disturbing, newspaper report claimed 90 per cent of New Zealand seabirds were at risk of extinction.
The story was prompted by Statistics New Zealand and the Ministry for the Environment releasing the Our Environment 2016 report. 
New Zealand has the highest number of threatened seabird species in the world. Marine mammals are also at risk.

The report blamed a degraded habitat resulting from global warming and polluted coastlines.

Rising temperatures contribute to increased acidification of the oceans, effecting shell species and plankton essential to the ongoing food chain.
Dairying expansion along with urban areas close to the coastline were cited as contributors to pollution.

Birds were also compromised by fishing practices. Vulnerable species were being entangled in fishing nets.

Some species of seabirds have been in decline since 2008. 

In response to the report, Environment Minister Dr. Nick Smith says new laws introduced to Parliament next year will bring New Zealand marine legislation into the 21st century.
New Zealand’ commitment to reducing greenhouse gases will also be vital to preserving our seabirds. Let’s hope a troubling trend is being reversed.








Thursday, 19 January 2017

Swiss Christchurch Return

This week I met a long-time friend Fabienne Huber, a marketing guru from Stanserhorn, Switzerland.
She had been touring New Zealand for a month with her friend Erika Bircher. Erika had to get a leave pass from her hubby and two grown-up daughters.
Christchurch was their last port of call before returning home.
Having returned their hire car, they rode the Christchurch Tramway and we walked to a variety of sites in the CBD  –the Transitional (so-called cardboard) Cathedral, 185 chairs representing those who lost their lives in the 2011 earthquakes, Kate Sheppard memorial, World Peace Bell and Botanic Gardens. We ducked into Ilex for a lunch snack to escape a muscular southerly change.
Fabienne had been in Christchurch seven years previously so was shocked to see the devastation of still crumbling buildings. She was, however, impressed by the rebuild progress along with the opportunities (with Erika)  to go shopping, making a start in the Restart: Mall, continuing to Ballantynes, the BNZ Centre, colourful Cashel Square leading to Scorpio Books and ANZ Centre.  She was also delighted to catch up with tram driver Ken Henderson on tramcar No. 11. She had met Ken on her previous visit. Ken passed her contact to me and I met Fabienne her at Stanserhorn during my 2010 Swiss cycling trip.
Stanserhorn, a shortish (20-minute) train ride to Stans from Luzern, is an 1898metre-high mountain reached by a three-section old-time funicular railway of the 1890s and cable car. The summit in the Uri Alps offers great views along with a revolving restaurant. Fabienne kindly treated me to a sumptuous lunch. And she showed me a photo album of her Christchurch visit the previous year. The Christchurch Tramway was a highlight.
During my visit the Stanserhorn cable car was soon to be upgraded with the world’s first Cabrio able to carry 60 people with many enjoying a Biggles-like rush of air on an open upper deck. The CHF 28.1 million Cabrio opened two years later. The concept and manufacture of Cabrio was proudly almost 100 per cent Swiss.
The two Swiss women thoroughly enjoyed their self-guided New Zealand tour, even venturing to earthquake devastated Kaikoura. They went on a Whale Watch tour and were rewarded with sightings. They ventured up the Christchurch Gondola on their final Christchurch day.
For me, Fabienne and Erika brought back cherished memories of my three trips to Switzerland. The most recent, in 2010, was principally to tackle the Furka Pass a tough cycling ride and part of the Rhone Route One beginning in Andermatt (in heart of Swiss Alps) and concluding 300 km later in Geneva.
I would not say ``no’’ to a fourth Switzerland visit. I have probably done the bicycle journeys I am capable of. A couple of rail trips are in the ``remaining business'' basket. 



Monday, 9 January 2017

Lady of Lawrence
At the conclusion of a cycling adventure I reward myself with something special.
Having completed Roxburgh Gorge and Clutha Gold trails, Lady of Lawrence boutique B&B ticks the boxes.  Firstly, I am impressed with the attention to detail at the stately Lawrence dwelling. Much of it reflects the proprietor’s equestrian passion. Artwork is well chosen as is the chandelier lighting. A bottle of Port awaits a willing guest’s nightcap.
And the Lady of Lawrence herself, Verity Wolf, is the perfect host. She speaks with that distinctive, almost musical, Melbourne accent and frequently finds something to laugh at.

She hails from the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne. She loved it there but was unsuccessful in purchasing a B&B. ``I missed out, and missed out and got really frustrated.’’  
A girlfriend in East Taieri suggested Verity paid her a visit.
``I came for a holiday determined to never end up working in New Zealand. But look what happened,’’ she laughs.   
She chanced upon the ``Sycamores,’’ at 20 Peel Street, Lawrence. ``I really fell in love with it. I was soon thinking about renovating it. The ``Sycamores,’’ was built in 1912 for Archibald Mc Kinley who had made a lot of money goldmining at nearby Gabriel’s Gully.  Later the ``Sycamores’’ became a home for Presbyterian ministers. 
The property had once been a small scale B&B but was not sold as a going concern. Also, it had been vacant for two years.  Verity bought it as a house. Then she had to work through necessary compliances to establish a B&B.
Hours and hours were spent bringing the garden back into shape. And lots of cleaning, and repairing fireplaces.
``It was a bigger job than I anticipated. I refurbished the rooms myself with help from a local handyman. Tradesmen were mostly electricians.
``My partner Duncan helped with the last room. The ceiling needed four coats of paint and I had done two. I then put on the poor girl act saying my shoulders were really hurting. ``Duncan said, ` all right.’ I was realty grateful.’’
Verity has a degree in Horse Business Management from Melbourne University.
``When I told someone about my degree he misheard and said, `Oh terrific, you have a degree in being awesome.’ ’’ She subsequently worked in equestrian as a professional dressage rider and in the racing industry.
``I worked with people as well as in administration –time management, customer service and all that.  Many of those skills tie in with what I am doing now. She bought a Mountain bike to ride sections of the Clutha Gold Trail.
``I came here partly for the lifestyle so need to get out for recreation.  But changing to bike-power from horse power presented challenges. A narrow bicycle seat is vastly different from sitting on a horse. ``I changed the seat for one with much more padding.’’
Lady of Lawrence has been going for only a few weeks when I call by. The few previous guests have included mid-aged couples completing the Clutha Gold Trail. Others were there for events in Lawrence.
``I can see the trails as a big bonus for Lawrence.  There’s been a lot of positive feedback. And people are requesting somewhere really special to stay at the end of the trail.’’


Quince cottage overnight

Mine hosts Cally and Wendy are as delightful as is my accommodation with its cottage atmosphere, bed of many pillows and charming décor detail.
Their large rural property, a boutique B&B near Millers Flat, is an ideal stop on the Clutha Gold Trail running almost 80 km from Roxburgh Dam to Lawrence. It is also ideal for those in need of a little pampering following a few hours of pedalling.  
Cally says two cottages on the property were upgraded when they knew Clutha Gold Trail was going to be a reality. ``We were delighted when we knew it would go past our gate,’’
I ask is Quince Cottage is benefiting from the trail?
``Absolutely,’’ says Cally. ``And it is getting better.’’
Wendy is a competent DIY guru and Roxburgh school teacher.
Cally, also a teacher, has taken four months off to work full time on the property which includes a well-tendered vegetable and herb garden. ``Mowing the grass takes me up to five hours. It gives me time to think up new schemes.
``With people arriving daily we have got to keep it tidy.’’
A previous venture was Dunedin’s Glenfield House B&B.

They established the business, hosted private dinner parties, and ran it for 12 years. 

Wendy perches on a railing of their Loggia semi-outdoor dining space where she can see across to the cycling trail. She says they inherited established trees when they arrived. 

``We’ve just added to them. The property has sort of evolved.’’

A laburnum tree is glorious in the evening light. It displays bright yellow blossom and pods. Their poisonous seeds and have been implicated in murder mysteries.
A Quince Cottage point of difference is the dinner option.  Cally is dinner chef. Her sumptuous three-course meal would qualify as fine dining. I suggest she might do well in MasterChef.
She laughs, ``No not for me but I love the programme. 
Our first course is prawns and Thai salad.
All greens are from the garden. The variety of herbs, amongst others, include Vietnamese mint. Bok choy leaves, especially white stalk at end. The dish is garnished it with a typical Thai dressing. Mains comprises Lamb back straps. They are accompanied by a Wild rocket and parsley sauce, beetroot chutney and chili and crab-apple jelly.
Dessert is a Ricotta and lemon cake. The indented top is filled with lemon honey.
Cally says she likely got her culinary skills from her mother but has had lots of practice

as well. She worked as a chef in an English pub.

``Cooking is just part of this creative thing I’ve got.’’

Next morning’s breakfast is also beautifully presented.

I could have chatted to Cally all day but have to get along the trail.

I enquire where Cally and Wendy could go for a holiday that would eclipse their wonderful Otago home.

``Oh we have a place in Italy,’’ says Cally.   


Incomparable Clutha/Mata-Au trails

Arriving at Alexandra’s AL Park View Motel on a sweltering late summer afternoon, mine host Tony Martin is departing for his Wednesday mountain bike ride.  He is typical of those I will meet over the next few days when pedalling 100 km along Roxburgh Gorge and Clutha Gold trails.

Many locals are bike crazy. No wonder with so many great trails nearby.

Roxburgh Gorge Trail is a continuation of the Otago Central Rail Trail. But Roxburgh Gorge, linking Alexandra with Roxburgh hydro dam, has real hills.  Much of it is elevated offering distance views of the trail along with the magic of the swirling turquoise Clutha/ Mata-Au and Lake Roxburgh.

The trail is ridden in two stages –Alexandra to Doctor’s Point (10 km) and Shingle Creek to Roxburgh Dam (12 km). Owing to land access issues, a central 12 km section is made by jet boat. The jet boat costs $95 and is a highlight of the trail.

Heading into Roxburgh Gorge I pass signs ``Ride at your own risk.’’

I recall Tony Martin’s wife, Evelyn, chatting about riding the trail on opening day in October 2013.  

``Tony kept yelling, `ride closer to the bluff. If you fall into the Clutha you will be washed down to Roxburgh Dam in no time.’ ’’

The river is New Zealand’s second longest after the Waikato.

But the 338 km Clutha/Mata-Au, draining Lake Wanaka and flowing into the Pacific at Balclutha, has the greater water flow. It discharges 614 cubic metres every second, placing it amongst the world’s swiftest.

For all that, the Clutha/Mata-Au is visually magnificent rather than menacing. Its Maori name Mata-Au translates, a current or eddy in an expanse of water.

The European name ``Clutha’’ is the Gaelic form of Clyde.

Near the Narrows where the Clutha is its most muscular I pass another cautionary sign.

 ``Walk Bike 300 m.’’

Here the trail is steep, confined and perilously close to the edge.

I wouldn’t risk riding this part but later hear of three undeterred Swiss guys.  They had been recruits in the Swiss Army Bicycle Regiment.

A moderate nor-wester, occasionally bringing a light shower, is propelling me along. Cloud patterns appear as ``sky art.’’

A final challenge is a daunting switch back climbing away from Lake Roxburgh. It eventually levels out and leads to a kiosk at the end/start of Roxburgh Gorge Trail. Had I continued over Roxburgh hydro dam, I would have descended a short distance to start the Clutha Gold Trail, terminating about 80 km further on at Lawrence.

I am met by Rod Peirce, long-time chair of Clutha Gold.

``I’ve got something for you,’’ he says cheerily in greeting. His hand vanishes into a paper bag.

Dreading a can of warm beer, I am delighted to see a large red plum emerge. It is not long from the cool store. ``Juicy buggers, ’’ says Rod as he loads my bike into his car.

Juicy, cool and wonderfully refreshing, I muse. The plumb is ``Fortune.’’ I am introduced to the superb fruit-growing region of Roxburgh Valley.  

Roxburgh people are upbeat about their Clutha Gold Trail.  In the Goldfields Hotel I ask proprietor John Lane for something cold.  He suggests ``water.’’ Having caught me out, he pours a Speights. He enthuses about the future of Clutha Gold. ``Something was needed to stem the exiting young people.’’

Colin Turner at Roxburgh Motels is also a trail convert. He and his wife Joyce are starting to see benefits to their cosy accommodation which they have upgraded to include a facility for cycling groups.

Campervans loaded with bikes cruise Roxburgh’s main street, many heading to the popular 103 The Store café.

Colin gives Rod and myself a lift to Roxburgh Dam and we pedal the first 10 km of Clutha Gold.

Unlike Roxburgh Gorge, Clutha Gold is mostly flat. Rod says, by utilising the Queen’s Chain the trail has been able to meander amongst the willows. He tells me how the trail surface pebbles have been mixed with eight per cent clay to give an excellent riding surface.

I imagine Clutha Gold Trail in late April. It would be truly golden. The river is also associated with precious metal.  Otago’s biggest gold rush began following Gabriel Read’s discovery of gold in the Tuapeka River near Lawrence on 20 May 1861.
``At a place where a kind of road crossed on a shallow bar I shovelled away about two and a half feet of gravel, arrived at a beautiful soft slate and saw the gold shining like the stars in Orion on a dark frosty night,’’ Read wrote of his discovery.
 Hopeful gold seekers arrived from many corners of the world. After year or so the easy gold had been found, prompting miners to move on.
Fearful off economic depression, Dunedin’s Chamber of Commerce invited Chinese to come and pick over the old workings. A steady flow arrived following the spring of 1865. These days’ remnants of their makeshift dwellings are found along the river.
Some are little more than overhanging rock shelters. A chimney was added. Sometimes a window appeared and even a garden. Their self-sufficient lives were exceedingly tough. Gold mining was necessarily performed during harsh winters owing to the lower river level.
I break my ride, overnighting at Miller’s Flat and Beaumont.
A final two hours beyond Beaumont has me riding into Lawrence. I pass signs tempting end of ride spa treatments. But I am running a little late for an appointment at the town’s enticing Wild Walnut Café.












Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Pedalling on – and on

I have been a regular cycling visitor to Tai Tapu Café Store. It is about a 40 km round trip from home and includes two small hills, the Halswell Downs. Half the ride is on the Old Tai Tapu Road, a delightful Canterbury rural road from yesteryear. It is reminiscent of a country lane found in Britain.
This week I made my first ride to Tia Tapu in yonks. I set off in pleasant weather hoping the Met Service had got it wrong about the vicious southerly change. They hadn’t. It hit with strong gusts when I was two km from Tia Tapu. On the return ride I was soaked, arriving home like the proverbial drowned rat. The only good part was being blown along with the southerly. Sometimes, arriving home to a hot shower is a glorious experience.

The reason for the ride was a worthy one. The Magpies riders were out in force to help one member, Graham White, celebrate his 90th birthday. Typically Graham arrived in style on his road bike.

Graham was born on the Old Tai Tapu Road 0n January 3, 1927. He was born in a cottage with no running water and no hot water. The midwife in attendance was slightly drunk but as usually happens the birth turned out okay. The cottage still stands. It is close to where Graham lives these days with his wife, Janet.
He recalls the stock driven along the Old Tai Tapu Road enroute to stockyards in Lincoln Road.   Riding his bicycle to Halswell, co-inciding with a cattle drive was no fun, particularly when getting the strap for being late through no fault of his own.

Sometimes stock would break through a fence and wreak havoc is a previously glorious flower garden.
Graham’s father was a milkman. Despite being told he may never work again owing to injuries inflicted during World War One, Graham does not recall his father having one sick day.

As well as producing the milk, his father distributed to milk cans to outlets quite a distance from home.
Graham was brought up on a diet including full-cream milk and plenty of cream. That was obviously no hindrance to his longevity.

He says he was lucky to have never taken up smoking.
He did take up running and recalls running the Milford Track with Ross Bush and Don Cameron. Knee problems had him take up mountain biking. Then a colleague, Graeme Milner (about to celebrate his 88th birthday) encouraged him to take up road biking and join up with the Magpies.

Thus Graham White, occasionally accompanied by Janet, became a regular at Tia Tapu Café Store. On a pleasant day up to 50 Magpie cyclists, spread amongst the outdoor tables, can be seen enjoying camaraderie. Graham says he and Janet have always enjoyed the company.

``The other cyclists always take an interest in our conversation. We are one of them, not elderly fuddy-duddies.’’
More than 30 Magpie cyclists squeezed into Tia Tapu Café Store this week. Graham shouted the coffee.
One of the group, John Brownie had composed a couple of relevant songs. We all joined in.

Always a bit of a philosopher, Graham says in life one starts out on something and sees how it will turn out. Cycling definitely fits into that concept. One sets out with some expectations but for the outcome, one has to wait and see.              



Monday, 2 January 2017

A heritage delight to never to tire of

I call regularly at Christchurch’s quaint 135-year-old Antigua Boatsheds. I stop for coffee or a lunch break snack. It’s an agreeable place to socialise.

It is one of a small number heritage buildings to emerge mostly unscathed from the earthquake of February 22, 2011. That is mostly thanks to heritage restoration work previously undertaken by present owners Mike and Sally Jones. Prior to their efforts the boatsheds were merely sitting, unfastened, on the riverbank.

The predominately green buildings appears to be earthquake damaged but they have had a habitual lean for as long as I have known them.

Antigua Boatsheds are the sole survivors of six or so boatsheds along the Avon. Antigua was built in 1882 by two Lyttelton boat builders, Albert Shaw and J.T. Tidd.

My memories are of hiring a boat when a grumpy old man was owner. He was Bill Dini.

Dini, said to have the air of a Mediterranean boatman, owned Antigua from 1948 to 1978. His grumpiness was likely related to us kids hiring a boat for one hour and turning up back at the boat sheds two hours after our hour had expired. Of course, we did not pay for our additional hours. In not demanding extra payment he might have displayed a streak of kindness that went unnoticed to us ungrateful youngsters?

In another time, with notebook and camera, I would have welcomed his company. He had previously been associated with the de Havilland Aircraft Company and pioneer New Zealand aviation. He also collected old phonogrammes and was associated with Radio Ferrymead.

Dini sold Antigua Boatsheds to Maurice and Diane Phipps.

Then, in 1986, they sold to their daughter Sally and her husband, Mike Jones. The couple recently commemorated 30 years of ownership.

They had converted the milk bar to a classy riverside café, leased part of the building to Punting on the Avon and introduced bicycle hire. (Mike Jones is, himself, a keen cyclist. His ID number 625 from the grueling Le Race event has been proudly displayed in the café.)

Mike and Sally managed to navigate through the cordoned city following the February 22 earthquake. They found their boatsheds looking mostly okay. But what a shambles inside to clean up.

Luckily, Max the boatshed’s cat was a survivor.

The Jones’s were up and running within weeks. Punting on the Avon resumed over Easter 2011. A sharp downturn in visitor numbers following the earthquakes did not help business. Nor did the old Antigua footbridge being cordoned off and finally rebuilt help matters.

But that is, as they say, water under the bridge. The popularity of the boatsheds over the first days of 2017 is encouraging despite the occasional long queues at the service counter.  

Mike and Sally believe they have the right business model for the Heritage-listed building. They have no wish to change it and thoughts of retirement are off the agenda.

And that suites me fine. Few locations in the city give me more pleasure than sitting on the river’s south bank on a warm summer afternoon and enjoying all the water action with the boatshed’s backdrop. It is, perhaps, a reincarnation of a paragraph from Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows:

Believe me my young friend, there is nothing –absolutely nothing –half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.