21 March 2017

Flying With Godwits - Tapuae o Uenuku - 1998

Flying With The Godwits

The previous day we had slogged up the Hodder Valley- 50something river crossings – and we're now standing on the top of Tapuae o Uenuku (2885m) the highest peak of the Inland Kaikoura Range of New Zealand's South Island. This day in early March 1998 was perfect; blue skies, no wind, and Warren (my son) and I were congratulating ourselves on our effort and tucking into some food and drink when it happened - quickly.

A glance to the south revealed a dark fast growing smudge. In a matter of seconds my eyes focused on it as it passed, heading northwards, passing about 20m from our perch on the summit.  It was a peloton of godwits – about 20 of them – birds drafting at speed, packed together, beaks extended, wings pumping, working, eyes fixed on the northern horizon. In a matter of moments they were gone.

"Did you see that?" I exclaimed to Warren. "Yes - what were they?" They were godwits and I was stunned and excited. I'd never dreamed of having a moment like this on a mountaintop. Once, at 7am on the top of another high inland peak, I looked up to find a seagull hovering directly overhead. I'd once ridden with the Morochucos in Bolivia too – special moments - but nothing like this. This time – for a split second – it seemed like I'd flown with the godwits. I've never forgotten that moment – a special moment in a good life. Moving.

Good Day for Viewing Godwits on Tapuae o Uenuku
Godwits in Flight (Photographer unknown)

Godwits April 2017 Miranda - most have departed.
The migratory flights of the godwits are one of natures great events. Recently several godwits flights have been recorded by satellite telemetry. When the first complete flight of one of these birds (E7) was recorded bird lovers from all over the world were riveted to their computers as they followed her flight across the pacific from NZ to the Yellow Sea - and beyond. Click here to find out more about this amazing flight.

09 January 2017

A Two Week Autumn Tour of Central Japan - 2016

Recently Catherine, her sister Margaret and I visited Japan for two weeks during the autumn season. Although about a week too early for the best of the colours we saw enough of them to appreciate the beauty especially in mountainous central Japan. We started in Tokyo - seeing the usual things and had a short attempt at printing Japanese woodcut blocks with David Bull in Asakusa, near the old Senso-ji Temple.

Tokyo - Reflection of Tokyo Tower from our room.

Japanese Printmaking Bench - Tokyo
We journeyed westwards into the mountains to Kamikochi and then across to the west side of Japan by an amazing variety of transports. On the Trans Alpine route it went - train, bus, tramcar, trolley bus, walk, underground cablecar, ropeway, trolley bus again, bus - and finally by cable car down through forest to Tatayama. I was amazed by the huge Kurobe dam with volcanic activity of the Tateyama thermal area only a short distance away - Japanese fatalism perhaps? Our highlights were the day walk in the Kamikochi area, the crossing of the Alps, the train journey up the Kurobe gorge and the overnight stay in the traditional Gokyama village. And later, of course, Kyoto where we met Tsukiko a friend who lives there.

Kamikochi Valley (Photo: Catherine Smith)

Kamikochi Lake

Kamikochi Forest
Alps Autumn Colours
Autumn Colours
From Kanazawa we travelled by fast express down to Kyoto. Here we visited several gardens on our first day and next day were delighted to meet Tsukiko, a friend we had met in New Zealand. She gave us a generous tour of some gardens - more spacious and less populated than on our previous day.  She also honoured us with a sumptuous meal at her home in central Kyoto.

River Fish Cooking in Traditional Way

Arashiyama Bamboo Walk (Photo: CHS)

Traditional Dress in Kanazawa Garden

Golden Temple, Kyoto

Margaret, Tsukiko, Catherine - Tokyo

Kyoto Garden

Kyoto Garden

And so back to Tokyo in the 'Bullet Train', shinkansen. Very fast, very efficient and as we found in all our travel by public transport, you can set your watch by the train times. I was nearly cut in half by being half a nanosecond late getting off a train!

Japanese Excellence in Food Presentation (Sashimi)

Geisha (Photo: Catherine Smith)

I was deeply impressed by Japan and its people. Despite their high population and modernism they adhere to their traditional customs. They are hard working and disciplined people with very polite, kind and respectful attitudes. While I admire the different cultural characteristics of the world's peoples I do like the idea of adopting the best of all things - at the same time preserving our own cultural identities. As we have with food.

Our tour was organised by Journeys to the East; it was guided by excellent English speaking local guides and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

15 December 2016

Siggy - a school friend mountaineer lost. 1961.

You were awkward and accident prone, Siggy, all elbows, heels and knees in a ruck, and quite capable of drowning a team-mate on a flooded Westland rugby field. "Get off me (gurgle, gurgle) you bastard". It was OK though, the local priest was not far away to deliver the last rights.

Sigmund Huston - Siggy

And then there was that infamous weekend. The front wheel of your motorbike lost its grip on the newly creasoted planks of the Porter River bridge on our way to Arthur's Pass - and you and your motorcycle bounced your way from side to side of the bridge onto the shingle at the far end. Following behind, I was grateful for the warning. And later that weekend after a good, but slow, climb of the Otira Face of Rolleston we found that, and on a moonless night without torches, we'd had to spend a cold night on some Waimak river flats - without any gear or even a match - and found everything covered in hoar frost in the morning. After my motorbike chain broke that morning near Klondyke Corner we pushed my BSA up to Arthur's Pass and onto a train. Then we doubled up, packs and all, on your Norton for the return to Christchurch. And on the Castle Hill straight you opened the throttle full. The rear tyre blew out and we became three projectiles heading for home down the shingle road: me tied to the two packs on my back, you and the bike. Petrol was pouring from your damaged tank and after we righted your bike, you passed out from the shock of it all.  Luckily the first vehicle on the scene was a Ministry of Works truck and they saved our bleeding bacon and gave us a lift to Springfield, together with your motorbike. The weekend stands out in memory.

Pete Brandford and Siggy

But the final accident got you Siggy.  With Pete, another class-mate from school, you - an acolyte in all senses - climbed over your first and last high pass, Pioneer. The avalanche cut you both down on your final traverse. I often wonder where you both are these days - even if the summit of Cook did come down to give you both your final burial - a few years ago.

We always had one foot on a banana skin in those days. One night, on my BSA motorbike, I fell asleep and ended up in a farmers paddock. The bike had gone down into a ditch at 70 mph - I was projected through a fence and rolled into the middle of the paddock leaving behind a trail of feathers from my ruptured down jacket, the BSA cartwheeling on down the road. I always wondered what the farmer thought next morning when he discovered his ruptured fence and the feathers - low-flying bird? I was glad not to have hit a post or strainer.

27 November 2016

Japanese Print Party

We had a free day in Tokyo, Japan recently.  On the basis of a recommendation from a Whangarei printmaker at a workshop I attended a month or so ago, I arranged for Catherine and me (and Margaret, her sister) to have a morning shot at Japanese printmaking. This happened at Mokuhankan a print making facility in the Asakusa district within a short walk of the Senso-ji Temple - the oldest temple in Tokyo. The print workshop is run by David Bull, an English-born Canadian, who has lived in Tokyo for over 25 years. The procedure for the event is to pay a fee of $20 and for that you have the opportunity and guidance to make your own prints from existing woodblocks.

I learned a lot from David Bull.  The design, woodblock production and printing are traditionally carried out by separate craftsmen in Japan . Unusually, David does both block cutting and printing. He also has a staff who also assist with both. I was interested in the differences between the Japanese and other printmaking methodologies that I'm used to. For instance the ink is water based, it is applied by brush rather than roller and a baren is used rather than a press. The effects are very pleasing.

Print Bench (red, blue, yellow, black colours) and blocks

Note brushes for applying ink and baren for pressure. (Photo: Margaret Prentice)

Catherine and I both did three prints each and Catherine produced the least flawed print! Margaret took photos!

Back home, I looked at David's videos of his production of his own woodblock and prints of the famous print by Hokusai, "The Great Wave" - a marvellous exposition of attention to detail and craftsmanship. Very well worth looking at the "Wave ..." production here and his work more generally here.

Catherine's Print

15 October 2016

UQBWC - Sixth Reunion of Ancient Australian Bushwalkers.

The University of Queensland Bushwalking Club (UQBWC) exists these days only in spirit. The new system of regularly prescribed course work, projects and examinations put the sword to many University interest groups - it seemed a pity to me as the regular intercourse of ideas between students from different disciplines added so much to university education.

But the UQBWC bushwalkers kept in touch and, over the years, had regular reunions in Queensland (even one in NZ) with people coming from afar as France for the event. This year the event was held (as often before) within walking range of the sacred Mt Barney (and in the event of bad weather, within car range of the coffee shops of Boonah!).

The Sacred Mt Barney (Photo: Catherine Smith)

The weather forecast for our reunion this time was somewhat dubious with the best weather forecast for the 20th September. This meant that the most ambitious walking was planned for that day. Accordingly a group of six took off for Mt Barney via the South Ridge. All reached Rum Jungle, an attractive bit of rain forest between the two main peaks of Barney, and three struggled on to the summit and back to the Mt Barney Lodge where wine, food and friends awaited their return. This blogger was one of these intrepid three but he suffered some sort of combination of old age, starvation, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and mental deterioration which resulted in very wobbly knees and general weakness. He was gently ushered off the mountain by RonC and RogerE after a 13h day. Worse happened. On his return to NZ he failed to declare the importation of plant material - a Mt Barney stick broken off inside his calf muscle. Fortunately he was not apprehended and fined but the resulting leg swelling caused suspicion of deep vein thrombosis. Eventually ultrasound scanning revealed the broken off stick which was subsequently removed (and incinerated to save the NZ economy). There were other sequelae but of a delicate nature! And of course there is a very good camera sitting somewhere up on Mt Barney.

The Stick - in situ - ultrasound image

Meanwhile others did sterling stuff - walking the main range and visiting the gastronomic fleshpots of Boonah.

Bronwyn Willmott, William Grey, Sybil Curtis, Eli Skoien, Gordon Grigg, Jim Lydon, Pat Conaghan, Barry and Jane Baker, Warwick Willmott, Judy Hines, Jenny Timmins, Alan Timmins (Photo: Catherine Smith)

The following day there was an attempt to reach the Mt Maroon waterfall. The first crossing seemed deep (for old folk) and, with the river seemingly rising, prudence dictated that the least hazardous option was lunch at Boonah.

Soggy UQBWC Old Folk at the Swollen Barney Creek (Photo: Gordon Grigg)

During all this driving about in cars the older UQBWC members could be overheard discussing such topics as the imminent plebiscite on same sex marriage (so that the Oz marriage industry does not loose too much business across the Tasman), assisted dying for the elderly, the merits of a burial plot at Barney View ($300 plus the use of the local farmer's tractor and front end bucket), and just how many wives Roger had endured (and his impending grandfather status). The story of Basil's underpants being used years ago as a filter for the drinking water at Malte Brun Hut was also retold.

In the evenings there were many slides shown, early trips re-lived, old friends remembered and toasted and there was some show and tell apropo individual hobbies and activities. There were paintings, woodcuts and etchings, books (ranging from crocodylians to Antarctica) On the last day people drifted off towards Brisbane but there seemed to be a general reluctance to part company.

Helen Cox, Rosie and Jim Millar, Jane and Barry Baker, BarryS, Pat Conaghan, Ron Cox (Photo: Catherine Smith)

This blog cannot be signed off without grateful acknowledgement of the superb organisation of Sybil Curtis (helped by Gordon Grigg in the important matter of the wine).

17 September 2016

Out West in NSW, Australia - Conservation - AWC (Australian Wildlife Conservancy)

Last May Catherine and I were met at Sydney Airport by her sister, Rosemary and husband (Jim) and then headed west. We had lunch in the Blue Mountains at a lookout and spent the night at Dubbo (cattle territory).

Cuppa at the Blue Mountain lookout (Rosie, Catherine, Jim)

The next day we travelled further west, finally crossing the Darling River into Willcania - fuelled up again before heading to Menindee where its lake was dry but we observed the dead trees and the control works on the Darling River. The lake is now full again!

Sunset at dry Lake Menindee

Checking our GPS - are we there?

Old Shearing Shed - Kiwi Shearers Beware

Broken Hill - Each Rose a Mining Death

Blade Shearing Stand

Catching Pens

Western NSW Sunset

From Menindee we headed out to Broken Hill (which gets its water from Minindee) - a shadow of its former self. We visited the miners memorial, the hill of sculptures just outside the town and stayed at a grand old hotel - The Imperial. There was some confusion as Broken Hill exists on South Australian time as it does most of its business with Adelaide.

Next day we moved on to Scotia near the South Australia border, a 65 000 hectare wildlife reserve established by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, a privately funded organisation with 80% of its staff in the field. This reserve was partially (8000 hectares and more is planned) fenced off with a predator proof fence a bit like the the NZ Xcluder which surrounds Maungatautari near Hamilton, NZ. The Scotia one is designed to exclude foxes and cats, the latter a serious problem in outback Australia. At Scotia we were well looked after and managed to see bilbies, numbats (I saw one as we were waiting to leave on the last day! Little more than a fleeting glimpse as it ran across a road with its tail erect), malas, bettongs and several methods of controlling pests in the area. It rained while we were there and we had to be escorted out to the sealed road.

Convoyed Out from Scotia

Typical NSW Car (Photo: Jim Millar)
Emus along the way

Mala and Joey at Scotia (Photo: Jim Millar)
 At Wentworth we picnicked at the junction of the Darling and Murray, the two most important rivers of Australia's inland, before spending the night at Mildura, the heart of Oz's dried fruit industry.

Our next destination was Lake Mungo the site where Mungo Man (and his lady) was found, about 40 000 years after his death. The roads were muddy and more rain fell while we were there. This impeded our getting about in the area but we did manage to have a good long walk and saw lots of kangaroos, emus and some of the early station wool sheds and other buildings.
NSW wet enough for Mushrooms!

Tang Exhibition

Tang Exhibition

Our last day was big, 1000 km back to Sydney, passing on the way the Murrumbidgee River. In Sydney we visited the nieces, nephews and families and had our obligatory visit to the Art Gallery of NSW which was showing 'Tang', a collection of art from China. Good place, Australia. Better when they learn to play rugby!

22 August 2016

Navigator during WW2 and Midair Collision by Liberators over India

For years my family has been in possession of a photo of my father navigating during WW2. Beside him on the wall of the aircraft (he flew in Ansons, Wellingtons and Liberators) is an escape axe, and what seems to be a crank handle (starting the plane?). We always thought that he was smoking a cigarette (he did smoke) and that such things may not have been uncommon during wartime flying. However I looked at it more closely recently and wondered about the offending cigarette. My brother has blown it up and agrees that it is a bright bit of light shining on his left side collar. So we've  photoshopped it out and it makes a much better impression now.

Dad - WW2 - Where's the cigarette?
So after all that and with the aid of Google I've managed to also solve another mystery about the end of my Dad's WW2 service.

We had understood that he had always (while based in eastern India and Rangoon with RAF 358 Squadron) had Ray Bullen from Christchurch as his pilot and was upset at the loss of Bullen in an air accident. It wasn't until very recently that I stumbled upon a report of the accident. The crew had been split up towards the end of their service and Bullen was flying another Liberator in a 'formation flying' exercise when two of the planes collided after they suddenly flew into monsoon cloud. Both  Liberators came down and all fourteen crew died. Luckily Dad was not part of the exercise. The whole tragedy was recorded recently including communications with the families and some acrimony about the causes. It makes interesting reading and at one stage there is reference to my father and his other former crew members - all very interesting to discover about 73 years after the incident. The report can be read here.

Liberator in RAF colours
Interestingly, the accident occurred less than three weeks before the end of WW2. Dad ended up staying on in the Rangoon area for five months (flying out POWs from SE Asia etc) and arrived back in NZ to find all the housing gone and we ended up living in a couple of small army huts for two winters.

BLS and Chum: Army Hut, Hastings 1946

08 August 2016

Getting Knocked Up in Antarctica.

Several nights ago I attended a very interesting talk about how we humans have managed, over the millenia, to measure and record time. I discovered that at one stage after the industrial revolution workers were required to be at work on time and they could be docked half a days pay for being late. Because the poor could not afford timepieces, people were employed to wake them in the morning. This was done by knocking on their windows - or in the case of those who slept upstairs, shooting dried peas at their upstairs bedroom windows - the term used for this practise was "knocking up" and later it came to be used for just waking someone up. I learned the expression from my father who would often refer to being "knocked up" at a certain time in the morning.

I'm not sure how it came about, but the term also came to be used for making a woman pregnant. My mind boggles about how the term came to have this other meaning and I did wonder that, if the "knocker up" 'knocked' too early, the double entendre, "early rise", could have resulted in the impregnation in those days preceding birth control.

A ?Knocked Up Lady 'Knocker Up' Takes Aim at an Upper Window

Back in 1960 near the Beardmore Glacier in Antarctica I became stranded at a primitive weather station with a few Americans manning the outpost. One night I left the comfort of their Nissen hut  for my polar tent and asked a RNZAF person there to 'knock me up ' at six the next morning because I had a radio call the next morning. The following morning I was interrogated by the Americans who only knew of the impregnation definition of the phrase. They were a bit sceptical of my explanation of the term!

Crew at Beardmore Depot

In the photo above, from left, Peter Rule(one of the rescued RNZAF airmen), 'Carp' USA (whose father was killed in the WW2 attack on Pearl Harbour), Athol Boag (RNZAF who was asked to 'knock me up), two from USA, 'Con' who had the interest in the differences between American and English phrases.

There is a very interesting discussion of the phrase in the linked discussion here. And the interesting story of the RNZAF rescue is recorded here and here. It also is in one of my previous blogs - and presently featured above - about the antarctic rescue.