Nelson and Golden Bay

November 11th, 2010

A couple of weeks ago I traveled to Wellington and then Nelson with a colleague, Chris, from work. We had meetings with DOC (Department of Conservation) in both cities. After our meeting in Nelson on Friday morning we drove down to St Arnaud beside Lake Rotoiti in Nelson Lakes National Park.

Lake Rotoiti, Nelson Lakes National Park.

If your hovercraft needs topping up with eels then Lake Rotoiti is not the place!
It would be like shooting fish in a barrel.

I dropped Chris off at the airport later that afternoon. I checked in to the Custom House backpackers hostel that night which was exactly what it said on the tin. I had a great meal on Friday night at the Boat Shed Cafe, a Nelson institution.

On Saturday morning I had breakfast at Lambrettas cafe, another Nelson institution and definitely recommended.

I was a little disappointed it was cloudy when the forecast was for clear skies. I then drove to Motueka, a wee bit inland and up, up, up. The gravel track up to Flora Saddle carpark is a cracker. There are sections that are seriously steep, steep enough that an aggressive approach was required in a little front wheel drive rental car. There were pitches where I was trying to maintain some speed, but was getting slower as the front wheels were struggling for traction until the gradient eased a bit. Fun, but not for the faint-hearted when you see the drop-offs at the side of the track. A good friend recommended walking here and he was right. Starting at over 900m, well above the low cloud below, it was brilliantly clear and sunny.

The splendid view from just below the Flora Saddle.

I walked part of the Flora Track, past the Flora Hut and on to the Gridiron Rock Shelters, the site of one of NZ’s gold-rushes.

Gridiron Gulch sign tilts to the gold-rush history, used to be a population of 471 apparently.

The Upper Gridiron Shelter has a hut with bunks and a fire-pit outside. The Lower Gridiron Shelter is alfresco but looks like a cool place to spend a night.

Lower Gridiron Rock Shelter

A 15km round-trip, not particularly challenging, but stunning scenery and interesting history.

I had booked a night in a cottage at the Eatery on the Rock, just outside Takaka, the hub of Golden Bay. From Motueka there is the amazingly tortuous Takaka hill road over to Golden Bay. I thoroughly enjoyed driving my little rental car like I stole it. You can have a lot of fun in the smallest rental car on a really twisty road and you’re nowhere near the speed limit! Whilst enjoyable in a wee hire car, it would be fun beyond description on two wheels – it could outdo the amazingly twisty road I traversed on a rental VFR800 in the Sierra Nevada’s a couple of years ago – even if that topped out at 11,000 ft compared to less than 3000 ft on the Takaka hill road.

The weather forecast for the Sunday was appalling, so I explored as far as I could that evening. Golden Bay is a beautiful area and I will definitely head back on the motorbike, to tramp, or to get on, or in the water. I had a great dinner, the pan-fried deep-sea dory was cooked to perfection. Overnight the weather did turn to poo as forecast. It was absolutely chucking it down, so I headed straight back to Nelson and managed to get an earlier flight home to Hawkes Bay.

First trip in the GT car – The Wairarapa

September 2nd, 2010

I left work at 1630 on Friday and drove to Martinborough where I had booked a b&b for the night. Arrived at 1930 and enjoyed a glass of wine with the host and a couple of friends, very civilised. 5 minutes walk to the town centre and watched some of the rugby league match on the TV over a beer, but too busy and noisy for eating. Settled on ‘Est’ over the road from the hotel and had an excellent meal with a very nice glass or two of local gewurtz.

Martinbourgh main drag, cool old ‘Western’ style wooden buildings.

A nice breakfast of scrambled eggs on toast with a couple of rashers and a great conversation with the host, a retired wildlife documentary maker who had been to the NZ sub-antarctic islands. Went for a drive to look at the wineries around the town and then back to the centre for a wander around. After a coffee I headed South to Lake Ferry – yes, used to be a ferry over a lake.

Looking North from Lake Ferry.

After a nice, if a bit too soggy fish and chips (tip: salt your wet fish to dry and firm it up a bit before rinsing, battering and frying) at the Lake Ferry Hotel I headed down to Palliser Bay, the fishing community of Ngawi and Cape Palliser. Two things of interest at Cape Palliser, the New Zealand fur seal colony and lighthouse.

New Zealand fur seal at Cape Palliser

Cape Palliser lighthouse at the top of more than 250 steps.

Then back to Ngawi, the town with more bulldozers per head than anywhere else on Earth – apparently.

A very few of those on offer with the S4 in the background.

There is also a pink one – called ‘Babe’

A serious bit of hardware, a commercial boat and mobile dock shifted by a massive ‘dozer

The tracks of said outfit down the increasingly steep shingle beach

A fan of the local All Black and Hurricanes star Tana Umaga

After Ngawi I headed back North a bit to Kawakawa Station and my accommodation for the night. I had booked their cottage and dinner with the hosts.

The cottage

5000 acres of seriously steep country run with sheep and Angus cattle, worked mainly on foot and horse with quad bike where possible

Dinner was a delicious Angus beef and venison (wild kill on the station) pie. For breakfast I had home baked bread and eggs from the farm chooks, so scrambled eggs on toast. Very pleasant and relaxing night. On the Sunday I headed back North to Hawkes Bay and home sticking to the back roads until Masterton.

The next trip is likely to be to the ‘naki, Taranaki, over Labour day weekend. After that the East Cape either by bike, or S4 when the Pohutukawas’ are in bloom.

The sensible thing

August 31st, 2010

When the recession bites and the company you work for is working very hard to keep sales figures up, a bachelor must do the sensible thing and buy an expensive luxury sports car. Seriously though, I haven’t explored NZ enough and I want to do it in a wee bit of style. I’ve never owned a vehicle with electric windows, central locking or any of that. Now I have very cool car with automagical everything – a proper GT car (Gran Turismo). It also goes like a stabbed rat and sticks to the road like glue. Fuel consumption is as good as it gets for a 4.2l V8, but cruising at 100km/h (‘ish) gives about 25mpg. Might never be in a position to own such a luxury again, so I’m enjoying it while I can! More to follow…

Home Produce

November 2nd, 2009

Living as I do on a two acre section, and given the obscene increases in the cost of food, my neighbour/landlord Frog and I decided to put in a vege garden. We worked out where to put it, but it involved building around 50m of fencing to keep the livestock and rabbits out. We had milled, Frog has a portable mill, a number of macrocarpa (cypress) logs that have been lying in the paddock next to the cottage since before I moved in six years ago. A lot of them were rotten where they had been sat on the earth and even through to the heart. So, we had a lot of firewood, but we also had a whole load of 200 x 200 x 4m+ slabs we would use for the raised beds and 150 x 40 x 4m+ boards for the fence. The fence was constructed the same as the other fences on the property. The process started at the end of last summer when we tried to bore the 600 deep holes for the posts. The first two went fine but most of the others defeated us. The two man post hole borer gave us a workout and a bit of a beating as we tried to persuade it through the hard pan at 200mm after the long hot summer. After a couple of holes where we had smoke coming off the auger, we eased off. We filled the holes with water and kept topping them up for the next day or so before trying again. With the holes bored, we concreted 50mm galvanised steel waterpipe into the holes. It stayed like this for most of the winter as we were busy with other things like felling, ringing and splitting firewood. Anyway, we eventually laid out the beds and shuttered and poured the concrete nib to tie the fenceposts together. This was an afternoon of shovelling a couple or three tons of builders mix and cement into a mixer for me, worked up a bit of a sweat! The next weekend we put up the boarding and the next again weekend we stapled chicken wire to the outside of the fence to make it rabbit-proof. Fitting the gate and plumbing in a couple of taps finished it off. Frog got a few cubic metres of mushroom compost from the local mushroom grower for the beds and planting began.

New fence down the left and across the back, lots of veges after a couple of months.

Outside the fence is another source of cheap home produce. A ready supply of abandoned lambs for free which would otherwise be dispatched. This year there are 15 running around the paddock. Some will be fattened up and sold on, a few will fill the freezers.

Aren’t they cute. From the left we have Chops, Shanks, Rump…. you get the picture.

RR’s New Boots

November 1st, 2009

I never did post a picture of the Range Rover with the new suspension, wheels and tyres, so here it is outside work the other weekend when I dropped in to grab something from my desk. It certainly sits higher than the 27-odd year old saggy springs that were on there and may sit higher than standard, but the stronger springs and stiffer damping transform the handling. Might still fit the sway bars (anti-roll bars) as it still rolls, just way, way less than standard.

Newly shod old girl. Note the typical Hawkes Bay sky, I doubt you would see a cloud anywhere.

The 235 section tyres give great grip for road use and fill out the wheel arches looking pretty sharp. The fronts rub slightly on the radius arms when reversing on full lock – no big deal. Not sure how they will fare with off-road articulation? May find out one day…

Seafield Road Motorcycle Hillclimb

April 20th, 2009

My good friend Steve TXT’d me about a hill climb, or sprint, whilst I was in Washington DC at a workshop in mid-March. I’ve been to hill climbs at Te Onepu and Salisbury Rd a few times to watch a variety of cars give it a go. However, I missed the point of Steves TXT when I was in DC. On Saturday past I got a TXT from Steve about another hill climb. I called him that evening to discover that he and a group of local bikers had arranged for the road closure at Te Onepu and now at Seafield Road to allow bikers to legally thrash up the road as fast as they dare.

The road was closed from 0900 until 1630. In that time they hoped to get as many runs as the time, number of riders and any incidents allowed. On the day there were 35 bikes and they should manage maybe 6 or 7 runs through the day for the princely sum of NZ$40 (GBP15). If I had the DRZ ready with the supermoto wheels I would have given it a go. But given the fact that I had way less than 24 hrs notice and the fact that I’m a bit rusty having not ridden much over the last month or so, I wasn’t prepared to risk it on the Speed Triple which could bite back much harder than the DRZ. I’m definitely up for it next time.

In the meantime, some photos from the day.

Steve launches the CBR off the line and keeps the front wheel on the floor

Haven’t seen one of these for years. Well used, but smelled and sounded the same!

Familiar sight of the day – big thumper hoists the front off the line…

Not sure if the full moon was out….

… but more sane than this in my book.

Thankfully the owner/rider didn’t attempt to run this up the hill. With a 350 c.i. Chev motor in there it is extremely long, wide and heavy. Must handle like a pig, but sounded pretty good.

Old Man Emu

April 20th, 2009


My 1981 ‘Classic’ range rover, three door finally failed a WOF (warrant of fitness) because of worn tyres. I’d been preparing for this and had lined up some 235 section tyres to replace the 205s. At the same time I knew I had to replace the shock absorbers as I could feel the front wheels pattering over bumps which means poor handling, reduced braking efficiency and excessive tyre wear. One of the rear shocks had eaten its lower rubber mounting bushes too. After some research it appeared that the best solution was a complete set of springs and shock absorbers from OME, or ‘Old Man Emu’, supplied by one of the main 4WD suppliers ARB. The four springs and shocks, plus the steering damper, are tuned for the vehicle. Many reviews I read suggested that this choice transformed the handling on and off road and removed the temptation to either remove the rear ride height strut or add anti-roll, or sway bars.

It cost me around NZ$1500 or about GBP600 for the full set, but it has indeed transformed the handling. It would have been interesting to compare against new original suspension since mine was 28 years old. However, I’m happy with new setup.

Now I’ve had a heater bypass hose blow. Old vehicles – love ’em!!

The 158 dollar kebab

March 23rd, 2009

The tyres on the range rover were pretty thin when I bought it, so no surprise that it failed its WOF (Warrant Of Fitness – NZ version of the MOT, but every six months rather than annual). It was Saturday morning and I was in Napier, so I went straight to ‘Landy Heaven’ to see what he had in the way of wheels and possibly tyres. I knew I wanted to go up to 225, or preferably 235 section which is the maximum possible without bodywork mods and/or reducing the steering lock. I got a set of 4 gray alloys from a later series-one Disco for the equivalent of GBP200 including wheel nuts. Early the next week I spent a lunchtime tripping around tyre joints looking for a deal. I eventually got from over $300 per tyre down to $255. On my way back to the office I picked up a kebab for $8 (not your greasy doner, but a healthy and tasty chicken one). Sadly I didn’t quite ‘stop’ at a stop sign and was issued a $150 fine. I didn’t sail through the junction, but slowed to a point where I could stop if necessary. There were no cars in sight, but the rules are rules, especially when the local council can make some quick bucks. I have no idea why that junction has a stop sign when many other similar ones don’t, but the bastards have been skinning people wherever they can recently. I pointed out the the fact that the police in the UK had given up such obviously cynical revenue earning as they had lost the respect of the public. They were seen as tax men rather than solving real crimes. The officer agreed, but it still cost me $150 for almost, but not quite stopping. So, $158 for a kebab – it was tasty, but not that tasty!!

A Week in Hawaii

March 23rd, 2009

My good friends Melinda and her husband of nearly a year now, Kim, live half the time in Hawaii where Kim works at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology and the rest of the time in Richmond, a suburb of Seattle, where Melinda works as CEO and Technical Director of Wildlife Computers – competitors to Sirtrack, but friends and colleagues too. We have enjoyed each others company at a number of conferences and workshops around the world over the last few years. I have shown them around my home turf here in Hawkes Bay and what little I know of Auckland. I have enjoyed their hospitality in Seattle and the offer of accommodation and hospitality in Hawaii was too good to ignore.

So, I arranged to stay with them for a week in early February. By the wonders of the dateline, I left Napier at the crack of dawn on Saturday 7th Feb. and arrived in Honolulu mid-evening on Friday 6th. I finally managed to use my second complimentary Airpoints Gold upgrade to business class which made the 10 hour flight very comfortable. Having attempted to use it several times and failed it was great because it was due to expire in a couple of weeks. I picked up a hire car and headed North and West. I overshot a wee bit, but after a phone call I was sipping my first cocktail about 10pm.

Sunset on the lanai, or balcony, overlooking Lahi-Lahi Bay.

After a relaxed morning we drove the 40 minutes down to Honolulu. We picked up some food for lunch in Chinatown and a few beers and headed to the harbour where Kims boat, Imua, is moored. We motored out of the harbour and headed North towards the Reef Runway, used jointly by Honolulu International Airport and Hickham Air Force Base. The US Navy had managed to park a billion dollar guided missile cruiser on the namesake reef at the Northern end of the runway near the entrance to Pearl Harbour. They had just refitted it and taken it for sea trials. They were stooging around in the dark dropping off civilian contractors into shore boats when they ran the USS Port Royal up onto the sand and rock reef.

USS Port Royal high and dry on the reef off Honolulu’s main runway.

When we saw her they had attempted to tow her off twice and failed. They had pumped out her fuel, water and half the crew jumped ship, but this still didn’t help. There were a lot of guard ships and other vessels around. They again failed to tow her off that night, but I wonder if they didn’t even try, but removed a significant quantity of weaponery under cover of dark that night. She was successfully towed the following night after ‘removing the anchor chain and other heavy items’. Most embarassing for the US Navy was that every plane landing at the airport had a clear view of this large ship listing noticably with the thankfully small surf breaking around her.

On Sunday morning we walked out to the North Western tip of Oahu, Kaena Point. The path is the bed of an old narrow gauge railway used to link the North coast and West coast sugar cane plantations, long since unused, but the sleepers are visible in a number of places.

Looking South down the West coast of Oahu. The old railway bed pathway is visible below.

We stopped to watch humpback whales breaching in the distance when I noticed a familiar outline on the rocks below us, a Hawaiian monk seal basking in the sun. At the point there is a nesting area for laysan albatross and wedge-tailed shearwaters. We also saw a white-tailed tropic bird flying around. On the way back we pointed out the monk seal to a couple of young tourists, sharing our observation and knowledge – big mistake! They immediately walked right down to the poor animal and took pictures of each other next to it. I was surprised that it did not head for the sea or lunge at them. I will in future keep it to myself, some people do not deserve to share natures beauty, no respect. That afternoon I drove up to the North coast for a look around.

Pesky tourists showing no respect for a Hawaiian monk seal minding it’s own business and enjoying the sun.

On Monday we started early and dropped my car at Ko Olina marina, pretty much halfway between Honolulu and Waianae. We then picked up Kims work boat from Honolulu with his colleague David to try and catch and tag some striped marlin. We headed out to the nearest FAD (Fish Aggregation Device) and immediately caught two mahi-mahi, or dolphin fish, a good feed as they were not the target species. At the end of the day, having caught nothing, we hooked up a big blue marlin. I was right beside the reel it hit and it was my fish. It took out more than half the line on the reel, well over 1000yds. The drag was way too hot to touch and was cooled with water several times. We hauled it in to only 20 or 30 metres from the boat after it had pretty much given up fighting, but one last leap in the air and it managed to break the line with it’s bill. Bugger! Never mind, I got to experience having a 300lb plus fish on the line and saw it leap a few times.

The last gasp escape of a 300lb plus blue marlin.

On the Tuesday we headed to Kim’s work, the HIMB (Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology) lab on Coconut Island in Kaneohe Bay on the East coast of the island. It was originally a playground island for a wealthy family with many animals including an elephant apparently kept for their amusement. It is now wholly owned by the University of Hawaii.

Coconut Island research centre from mainland Oahu.

Whilst on the island I hung out for a while at Kim’s shark tank. There was a long tank, maybe 6m wide by 30m long, which contained a medium sized shark and a slightly smaller local reef fish which followed it constantly. Not much else to be seen. At the far end of the tank is a small penned off area which was very cool. I watched it for about an hour and took a few pictures.

A large puffer fish which came in small and enjoyed a good life until it couldn’t get out through the net any more.

The main reason for the small tank was to grow small fish to move to the main tank. Here’s a small hammerhead and a stingray.

The puffer fish was very cool. It would do a couple of laps and then come and check me out. It would stick its head out of the water and on a few occasions squirted water in my general direction – only 20 to 30cm, but cool to watch.

On Wednesday we took a colleague of Melinda’s and his family out for a trip on Imua. We searched around for dolphins and whales, but didn’t find anything. I gave Kim some stick about not having a line out, so we put a single trolling line out. On our way home passing close to Waikiki Beach, where you never catch fish, we took a strike on the one line out. I jumped down from the flying bridge and got on the reel. After about 20 minutes I had reeled in a good sized mahi-mahi. Kim vowed that he would religiously put out a line no matter how unlikely the result.

Flying the flag on the way home.

A good sized mahi-mahi, very tasty!

Those were the highlights of my holiday in Hawaii. Great place and I look forward to visiting again soon.

The Big Four-Oh

December 23rd, 2008

Yup, it happens to everyone eventually. Natural selection has worked in my favour so far, and I have reached 40 years of age.

On Saturday 20th December 2008 I planned to hold a party with my neighbours’ support and their shed. I wanted to do something a bit special and something I hadn’t tried before, so I decided to spit-roast a whole lamb. I spent most of the Sunday before fabricating and a couple of evenings finishing off the spit. My neighbour, Gordon, or ‘Frog’, is a stainless steel fitter and welder. He has a lot of second-hand stainless kicking around and new stock left over from jobs.

On the day it was very windy and three sheets of mild steel were welded together as a wind-break- very effective. We had pine, macrocarpa and peach wood to burn for embers. The spit design needs some fine tuning, but we got the lamb on their and stuffed with slashed lemons, garlic bulbs, onions and herbs, followed by a good quantity of the olive oil and lemon juice based marinade. The cavity was stitched up and the spit placed on the stand as soon as the flames died down to good hot embers.

Lamb on a shiny stainless steel spit. The shed and guests in the background.

Work colleagues and friends with kids turned up mid-afternoon to enjoy the pleasures of the ‘lifestyle block’. The more hardcore party types pitched up later for the food and drink.

My neighbours house with kids on the lawn. My wee cottage in the background.

Cooking the lamb took considerably longer than I expected. I was determined not to burn the outside and I suspect the wind didn’t help despite the shelter. Anyway, an hour and a half after my upper estimate of 8.00 pm, at 9.30 pm the lamb was ready.

Mark and I take the lamb to the table for carving. You can see the lemons, onions and garlic inside the beast and the stitched cavity.

We let the cooked lamb rest for 10 minutes or so before carving.

Phil was a chef in a previous life. It was a pleasure to watch him work and I carved the pieces as they came off the carcase.

There were a few people hovering and picking, but Moony grabbed the first available leg-bone for a good gnaw.

Moony caught gnawing on a leg-bone at the back of the shed.

I guess there were fifty-or-so people there, so one lamb, two rabbits and some venison, plus some sausages for the kids doesn’t go that far.

The remains of a whole lamb with happy guests. The dogs, pigs and chickens will be happy for many days to come!