Archive for the ‘me’ Category

Catalina flying boat.

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

Art Deco Weekend comes around every year around the anniversary of the 1931 earthquake that flattened Napier. For all of the time I’ve been here I’ve seen the the Harvards, the Mustang and the Catalina doing circuits over the weekend. The sound of the Mustang’s Merlin engine is spine-tingling. Close behind that is the beating sound of the twin radial engines of the Catalina. Anyway, here’s a picture of the Catalina flying over the Queen Vic.


Shortly after this I decided to go and check out the ground part of the air display at Napier Airport. As is the way of NZ the entry was a gold coin, so 1 or 2 dollar coin. I didn’t have either, but a 20c piece showed intent. Whilst looking around and taking a few pics I overheard that it was only $100 for a trip in the Catalina. Not a huge amount to help conserve a historic aircraft and at the same time go for a half-hour flight at around 1000ft over my current stomping ground.

My boarding pass for the Catalina flight.

This aircraft is only a few years younger than my dad, so it’s very cool that it’s still flying. They don’t land it on the sea anymore, but they do land on some of NZs freshwater lakes like Lake Taupo.

On its final approach.

One of five Harvard trainers bought from the RNZAF by Warbirds over Wanaka. Note the cool roundel.

The star of the show, the North American P51D Mustang. A half hour flight in this is available if you have a spare NZ$1500 dollars!!

A(nother) Triumph of British Engineering.

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

Triumph Motorcycles are one of the last bastions of British manufacturing. OK they went bust in the seventies due to the old favourites of complacency and idiotic unions. But the name was bought by an astute business man from the building trade. Not a biker or with any knowledge of the industry, but with a keen eye for a business with serious potential, John Bloor bought the Triumph name. In 1990 they launched a new range of Triumph motorcycles.

I bought a second hand 1992 Trident 900 in 1994 and covered a lot of the UK and a fair bit of Europe on it over a period of about five years. I’ve had a few bikes in between, but always liked the look of the Speed Triple. When the latest Speed Triple model was released in 2005 I REALLY wanted one. I’ve been saving for 2-3 years and in mid-January 2008 the first one I’d seen in black, of course, and with the accessories I wanted at a reasonable second hand price came up. Imported from the US , but that didn’t bother me. So I flew down to Christchurch and the guy kindly picked me up at just after 0800 in the morning. The bike had only done 7500km including some use by the importer. It has a couple of blemishes, but nothing you’d notice unless you know where to look. At around 0930 I departed Christchurch for the long trip back to Hawkes Bay. It was four-plus hours to Picton, half an hour wait, three hours on the ferry, and another four-plus hours till I arrived home at 2130, a twelve hour journey. I hurt in places I’d forgotten you could hurt as it had been too many years since I’d spent a whole day in the saddle. Credit to the bike though, despite it’s sporting pretensions, it’s a whole lot more comfortable than the TL1000 which was crippling in a medieval way.

This picture shows my new toy with the massive Queen Victoria, one of the biggest liners ever built, being shepherded into Napier Port.

On a bike capable of the national speed limit in first gear, not having a fairing, as the TL1000 did, makes you very aware of the speed. Advantageous in both self preservation and license preservation terms.

Can’t decide if this view is better. No big queen in the background this time :P.

I’m really looking forward to touring NZ on this bike. The East Cape is on as soon as good weather coincides with a weekend or when I can grab a few days off work.

The South Island needs to be taken two or three weeks at a time, so needs a bit more planning.

I’ve got clear memories of the Trident (the whine of the straight-cut primary gears), but the exhausts on the speed triple are much louder – they sound great – but are legal and not too attention grabbing. The Yoshimura cans on the TL1000 used to set off car and shop alarms…… They’ve also made the induction sound audible which is very addictive. The handling is superb, except the suspension is a little jarring front and back. I’m pretty sure I can adjust that out.


Hideaway Island, Vanuatu

Saturday, October 20th, 2007

I had originally intended a break in New Caledonia. Beautiful, huge lagoon which is reasonably sheltered for water sports, good food with the French influence and it’s named after the old country. However, after some consultation with the travel agent it became clear that New Caledonia was expensive for no obvious reason and that there was an attractive option in nearby Vanuatu – still linked to the old country as it’s part of the New Hebrides. Hideaway Island ticked most of the boxes and came in at least 30% cheaper than New Caledonia for a secluded resort rather than a hotel in town – done deal!

Hideaway Island
Hideaway Island from the main island, Efate.

I arrived two weeks ago Sunday. Even at 8.30 in the morning it was hot and humid. It is about ten minutes from the airport to Mele Beach. From there, five minutes on a little ferry. The island is as small as it looks with only about a dozen bungalows and a couple of backpacker dorm houses. then there is the bar and restaurant, dive shop and activity hut and gift shop. My waterside bungalow was simply furnished, but very comfortable. It was East facing, so morning sun and shade in the heat of the afternoon – perfect.

The view from the patio doors of my bungalow – not too shabby!

It had been a hellish six weeks running up to my well-deserved break with my fellow manager away for nearly five of those six weeks. Throw a delayed product release and a couple of major problems blocking production into an already hectic schedule and you end up with some crazy hours just to stay on top of the seriously urgent, never mind anything else. So, I did a fair bit of sleeping and dozing in the sun in the hammock for the first day and a bit. But, then I got bored. I’m not one to lay on a beach for a week, I need to do things. I explored and found that the catamaran (singular) was in pretty poor nick as were the kayaks. Two of my intended pastimes immediately less attractive. I went snorkeling and the reefs and fish were awesome. I decide to do the introductory scuba dive and see how it went – an option I was aware of, but not set on. I inquired about the open water dive course and doing the introductory first to see how I enjoyed it. Momentum gathered quickly and I was suddenly enrolled in the open water course and doing the introductory dive in an hour – wow! Well, what the hell. The first dive involved a quite a few drills and definitely took me out of my comfort zone. Having completed that I was given a textbook and a bunch of questions to answer – homework. Still, not a bad place to have to do it! It was good timing on my part as the island was pretty empty, so I had an instructor to myself.

On Tuesday afternoon a group of us went to the local village, ‘Mele’. We were shown round by a staff member from the island who lives there. The houses are primitive, but when the temperature probably never drops below 20 Celcius, who needs windows.

Mele village house.
A typical house in Mele village.

Mele village child
The kids are so innocent.

At the end of the trip we went to one of the village ‘kava’ bars to try the kava. This is a drink made form the kava plant root which is pounded with water to make a muddy beverage. During the years of joint British and French rule, kava was banned, but the locals had ready access to alcohol. This resulted in the usual drunken brawls. Since independence, kava is again allowed and there is no more brawling as kava is a sedative rather than antagonist. It makes your mouth numb and gives a slight, relaxed high similar to marijuana – I’m told.

Kava bar.
Supping on the kava.

Homework all good, followed by some theory on dive tables and then more practical just off the beach. Not easy, but I was a lot more relaxed and breezed through it. Both instructors were off the island the next day and one of the girls I was hanging out with was heading to the ‘Cascade Waterfalls’, above Mele village, so I joined her tour.

Paradise, and it only gets better.

The main waterfall.

Karli has a ‘Priscilla’ moment by the main Cascade Waterfall.

Cool tropical rainforest.

That evening was the, so called, Melanesian Feast – buffet dinner would suffice. Compulsory headgear, more kava and some more good food, so no complaints. Oh, and some singing and dancing around the fire.

Me and my beautiful companions from the week after the feast – all sporting de-rigeur headgear.

On my last full day I had three dives. The first started with surface drills which I’d pretty much mastered by now and then drills on the bottom at around six metres. The same as I’d done in three metres, but with some choppy waves. All good. Then a half hour cruising around the reef as deep as twelve metres. Having passed all my drills in the first open water dive, the next two were purely recreational, but necessary for the certificate. So, that was that, now a certified open water diver.

That afternoon I went for a snorkel and tried a bit harder with my new camera. I’d not taken it diving as I was going deeper than the maximum 10m and didn’t want, or need, the distraction. There was a lot of surge from the swell, so most of my initial pic’s were crap. Heres one that wasn’t too bad.

A Butterflyfish above Delicate Fire Coral.

A great holiday and met some cool new friends. Learning to dive was the cheap bit, now I need to buy the gear and keep doing it. I may very well go back to Hideaway Island as there are a whole bunch of dives beyond the twelve metres I was limited to which sound awesome.

The Kopuawhara Express

Saturday, October 20th, 2007

On the last Saturday of September I went on a train trip from Napier to just south of Gisborne and back, an all day trip. This line has been closed to passengers for many years and runs only a couple of freight trains a day during the week. It is one of the classic New Zealand rail routes with serious ascents and descents, many tunnels and big viaducts. It took a long time to build and a lot of people died in the process, mainly in one flash flood. With such little traffic it could close any time, so worth a day whilst the opportunity is still there. The trip was run by Steam Incorporated who maintain the only mainline certified, fully restored steam locomotives and rolling stock in New Zealand. This one wasn’t steam, but did use their restored steel and older wooden carriages. Whoa, sounding like a trainspotter there – I was in it for the scenery and a bit of history.

Photo-stop near Blacks Beach
Here’s the train near Blacks Beach, just short of our final destination of Beach Loop.

Leaving Napier the track skirts the residential back yards and out over the bridge across the lagoon at Pandora. Once out of Napier we pass the airport and through Bayview to the Esk Valley. From there it is a long, steep climb through a few tunnels and with vertigo-inducing drops alongside the Esk into the ranges to Waikoau. From here the line levels out and heads across the plateau across three huge viaducts, the Waikoau, Matahourua and Mohaka before dropping down to Wairoa.

Wairoa Station
Some people jumped off at Wairoa to watch rowing on the Wairoa River.

Onward to ‘Beach Loop’, the final passing loop just shy of Gisborne. We cut across the Mahia Peninsula, past the old fishing harbour of Waikokopu before climbing up and past the Kopuawhara Stream, the site of a disaster where 21 people died in 1938 during a flash flood whilst the railway was being built. Next through the 3km Tikiwhata Tunnel and a couple of shorter tunnels before we stopped for a picnic stop just short of Beach Loop.

The train heads off to Beach Loop to swap ends.

The Beach Loop beach.

On the return leg I secured a good vantage point on one of the open balconies at the end of one of the old carriages to take some photos.

Typical New Zealand bush from a little viaduct.

Tree Fern
A Tree Fern, or Ponga Tree with a bit of New Zealand behind.

Mohaka Gorge
The mighty Mohaka River and gorge.

Mohaka Viaduct
Approaching the Mohaka Viaduct, the biggest in New Zealand at nearly 300m long and 97m above the Mohaka River.

All in all, a great day out. Perfect Hawkes Bay weather with not a cloud in the sky, fantastic scenery and a bit of history to boot.

Olympus µ770SW

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

After my trip to the Auckland Islands I realised that I had taken very few photos because it was wet weather and the ground was saturated, so my camera stayed in its bag in my rucksack most of the time. It was a conscious effort to get the camera out and given my hands on role I rarely had the chance. Most of all, I didn’t have those people doing things photo’s. I need a small camera that could handle some rough treatment and getting a bit wet.

As it happens, I’m heading off to Vanuatu in a few weeks for a holiday on a tiny resort island in a marine reserve, Hideaway Island. Waterside bungalow, snorkeling, sailing, kayaking and scuba diving if I feel so inclined. Should be good. A camera like this would be great for the trip.

I did a bit of searching on the web for weatherproof, or splashproof cameras and came across the Olympus µ770SW. ‘S’ for shockproof and ‘W’ for waterproof. Not only did it meet my requirements, but beat them by a country mile by being waterproof to 10m. Perfect for my upcoming holiday to capture all those cool fish while I’m snorkeling and I can take it on sailing boats and kayaks with no worries.

Only problem, price! List price in NZ was NZ$700. Not outrageous, but more than I had in mind. I looked at second hand ones on Trade-Me (NZ’s answer to eBay), a couple, but too expensive. Google came up with a great price at NZ$480’ish, but it would be a grey import with a limited supplier warranty of three months duration, not the factory twelve months. However, it was so cheap that I went for it, but their website was broken! Fate. A couple of days later I checked the Dick Smith (NZ geeky electronic store, like Maplin in the UK) website to see if I could get a second rechargeable lithium battery. Amazingly they had just announced a special price of NZ$160 discount for the camera plus a 2GB xD card. Given the internal memory in the camera is virtually useless, you need a memory card and a genuine Olympus 2GB xD card is way more than the price difference from my failed Google buy. And, for another NZ$80 I got a pack containing a 256MB xD card, a spare battery and a bag. All this for less than the list price for just the camera a week before, very cool!

Olympus µ770SW

I’ve had the camera for a couple of weeks now. I haven’t got it wet yet, but love it so far. It has a macro and super macro mode, but better still it has a white LED to illuminate the object. I’ve used this a number of times at work in the last two weeks as it is so easy. Great for documentation, so easy. Beats trying to arrange suitable lighting and the super macro mode is great for real close up pics, such as electronic circuit board faults.

I’m really happy with my new buy. It’s small enough to fit in most pockets, tough and waterproof. It has some cool features, including an automatic lens cover, so no fluff or smudges whilst in your pocket. Oh, and its 7.1 megapixel.

If you need a pocket camera which is water and shock proof, even just in case, and is well designed and easy to use, I’d consider the Olympus (mju) µ770SW, especially if you can get a great deal like I stumbled on.

Red Moon

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

On the night of 28th August 2007, my wee bro’s birthday coincidentally, there was an eclipse of the moon visible from NZ. I took a few photos up to almost the full eclipse when the clouds scudded in and obscured the event. Here’s a nice pic’ of the near eclipse.

Red Moon

It was pretty cool to watch!

A Big Mountain – Kaweka

Monday, August 27th, 2007

On Sunday past I headed off reasonably early to the foot of the Kaweka Range. When I rose the sun was just rising and there was a pretty hard frost outside, -2 or so, as hard as it gets in coastal Hawkes Bay. After chucking a few things in a bag, I headed a couple of hours inland. The sun fully up revealed a cloudless sky with the usual warming sun and little or no breeze. I stopped on the way to the carpark at a viewpoint and took this pic of the Kaweka Ridge.

Kaweka Ridge

I got to the carpark and put on my boots and looked at the map. The carpark is around 900m and the top of Kaweka J (junior I think, but turned out to be higher than North Kaweka by about 20m) is about 1725m, no easy stroll. The weather forecast was fine with any wind dropping away and bright sunny conditions. What the hell, lets go for it! I set off to see how far up Kaweka J and possibly North Kaweka I could go.

The first bit was an easy climb, but after a k’ or so I realised I was on the wrong path due to the signage being a bit confusing. I was on the right ridge and had followed the right signs, but was on the harder of two spurs with the guide book not mentioning the easier spur by its name. Looking at the map and up the ridge I was on, I decided to continue. After a good old slog up about 400m with some scrambling over scree and a couple of craggy outcrops my spur joined the main spur. After a wee rest I pushed on up the next 150m or so up to the Dominie Bivouac.

North Kaweka beyond the Dominie Bivouac

Another rest and it was starting to get cold. I had been in shorts and teeshirt ’til then, only cold when occasionally exposed to the wind on the ridge. I was also well into the snow by now. The last big climb took me around the South side of the ridge (S. hemisphere, sun free side) and I crossed a couple of wee snow fields. The clincher was one about 20-30m across. I couldn’t see what was below it (could have been a long drop and a real short stop) and there were no steps across it. Without walking sticks, crampons or an ice-axe – and alone and not having given anything other than a vague plan to my neighbours – I decided not to risk it and turned back. Annoying as I was only 100m or so in height and 1km distant from Kaweka J after slogging up about 700m. Mind you, my legs were like jelly when I got back to the carpark.

I had earlier seen signs to ‘Hot Springs’ and given my tired legs I decided to go and check them out and maybe have a bit of a soak. On reaching the main road, which quickly turned to gravel, it was a good half hour drive to the Mangatutu Hot Springs. Again, only two cars there. On the way down to the spring I passed a couple heading back up the track, but not another soul in sight. At the bottom of the path DOC have kindly built a wooden platform with a fibreglass pool to soak in. It looks out over the mighty Mohaka River – a very cool spot. With nobody around I took a risk and skinny-dipped in the pool. Very pleasant! After about half an hour I got out and sat in the warm sun and warm breeze until I was dry and could get dressed. I hadn’t planned coming here and hadn’t packed a towel or spare clothes. Back home in Scotland this place would have been mobbed, so it was awesome to have most of an hour of relaxation with no disturbance in amongst the ferns, native shrubs and the towering introduced gum trees.

Note to self – perhaps be less ambitious when you haven’t climbed a mountain for a year or two! Boy are my legs sore today!

New ve-hicle

Monday, August 27th, 2007

I have recently acquired a new (to me) vehicle. It’s a 1981 Range Rover in remarkably good condition. In Scotland it would be dead from salt corrosion. Apart from light surface rust in places it’s solid.

1981 Range Rover

I bought it down in Nelson on the South Island. Having spoken to the owner a couple of times on the phone it was clear he was/is a bit of Range Rover nut and had spent most of what I paid for it in the preceding couple of years – with receipts. So, I took a punt on the understanding that if I found anything seriously expensive I could back out of the deal.

So, a few Saturdays ago, I took the early flight, 5 a.m. start, from Napier to Nelson. On airpoints, so didn’t hurt at all. The owner picked me up at the airport and I drove back to his house. It is in good nick as had been described and drove well. I believe the 165,000kms as the wear on the pedals is not severe. My only grouch would have been the tyres, but the owner had already dropped the price considerably after getting no interest (Nelson isn’t near anywhere and it’s on the South Island, inconvenient for most people) and I didn’t have the heart to haggle when I was getting a bargain. So the deal was done and, after picking up a box of spares and a Haynes manual, I set off for Picton and the ferry, an hour and half’s drive or so.

Approaching Havelock, the original – not Havelock North where I live, the oil pressure went off the gauge. Not low as you might expect with an old vehicle, but high pressure!? The engine was still pulling fine, the temperature fine, so I put it down to a faulty sensor and carried on. Since then it seems to have recovered – fingers crossed!

So, across on the ferry. Food approximate to Cal-Mac standard which is disappointing, must be something about ferries.

Headed straight up the road from Welly with a brief stop in Woodville for fuel and a sandwich. I got home just in time to watch the All Black beat the Crim’s.

A 16 hour adventure and a new vehicle. Average fuel consumption of a little better than 15mpg (not too painful when fuel costs less than half the UK price).

OK, got it!

Friday, August 17th, 2007

OK, my wee bro’ just prompted me that I haven’t updated my blog for a while – quite right!

ErikBlood@xe new blog

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

Blogging newbie. This continues where left off.