The Fort

January 2, 2020

Recollections 7

The fort is probably something that looms larger and more perfect in memory than it was in fact. But even if it was half the establishment we think it was it remains something quite creative and even formidable. At least in the eyes of a kid. 

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The Plan(tation)

December 30, 2019

Recollections (6)

So, while it’s a small town with only Puketapu (Pookie) to geographically mark it for the passing traveller, there were any number of points that anchored my boyhood view of the place. The curved platform of the railway station for a start. That always entranced me, as did the rails, the rolling stock, the fragrance of coal and oil mixed with earth, and the prospect of far away places. The Plank, a ford or river crossing of the Shag River where we fished for eels, cut down trees, jumped from an old willow tree into the deepest part, sailed toy boats, lured elusive trout, threw rocks and made dams. Summer day memories of exploring downstream from the Plank through long green grass, the smell of wild mint, cutting through every now and then as we checked each dark pool for the shadow of fish. The Shag River empties into the ocean at Shag Point, both named after the cormorant that lives along the coast, otherwise known locally as a Shag. Black Shags mainly. Little Shags too. Trotters Gorge was a special, favourite location. “The Valley” already mentioned which traces up along the Horseback and Kakanui Ranges and through which Highway 85 runs. Macraes Flat (long before the mine) and Nenthorn, country familiar to many thanks to the Lord of the Rings. Places that were familiar to us but which were often never signposted, or had any specific centre of settlement. Morrisons is part of our DNA. The old coach inns, some repaired and some now vanished along side the highway from Cobb and Co days (there tended to be a settlement every ten miles, the distance horses hauling a wagon of goods could make it in a day). The weir at Glenpark, full of dark water under silent willows. Other places of special note included the library (Mrs Green) and the Post Office (Mrs Jopson). The Newsagent owned by the Applebys. Dad Appleby and his twin sons, nicknamed Drip and Drop by some, but never us. They were too generous and kind for that. Applebys was an Aladdin’s Cave of variety but especially the source of fishing lures and other tackle and in later years sneak peeks into Playboys while some of the gang distracted the twins. The home of Doctor Harper. The Presbyterian Church building next door and its accompanying Clark Hall. “Horrible Halls”, a derelict run down place in which we hid a hut in the attic. Any number of huts perched up trees dotted around the district or small underground bunkers dug into forest floors.  And of course the numerous homes of friends which were open homes to us. 

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Bay of Pigs in New Zealand

September 6, 2019

Recollections (2)

In April 1961 an attempted military-by-proxy (a favourite US formula) invasion of Cuba took place by those who were no admirers of Fidel Castro and his Communist buddies. Backed and trained by the CIA the invasion at the Bay of Pigs was reduced to naught in three days and is often used to define the word ‘fiasco’.  At least on the part of the Americans, for it cemented Castro as a national hero and helped stitch up the relationship between Havana and Moscow. Emboldened by the idea that they had a friendly ally so close to the US and from which you could throw stones onto houses in Florida, Moscow figured they would plant missiles there. So between April 1961 through into 1962 the world was drawn into an increasing period of tension which culminated in the Cuban Missile Crisis as Russia deployed SS-4 Sandal medium range missiles onto Cuban soil. Eventually Moscow and Washington defused everything and the crisis was considered over in November 1962 but not before everyone thought they would be cooked in an instant of ‘one flash and you’re ash’ ‘mutually assured destruction.’

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Three Butterfish

December 24, 2016

The day started around 2 or 3. I usually check the time when I wake but didn’t do so on this occasion. The hut is warm. Too warm and I am lying on my sleeping bag in a sweat. The boys and girls around me are sharing snoring duties. As one stops another starts, the baton handed back and forth as sleepers shift and stir. I am sure I was contributing to the chorus. In my half sleepy state the atmosphere is surreal. The hut is bathed in LED white light, reflected in off the water and beaming from the moon. Read more

Half a Rat

December 20, 2016

I barely wake through the evening and don’t hear the male and female kiwis that everyone else is talking about. Both sexes make raucous calls, but the female is especially disruptive, as we heard when we camped under our Rimu. Their combined cacophony had most of the group awake at 0600. As planned we were waiting for the other groups to leave before we fully stirred. The family of five have to be at North Arm Hut by 3.15pm for a boat pick up. We are dubious about that deadline. “How on earth are they going to do that” we all wonder. The young couple is off for North Arm as well. They finally head out at 0700 and we get ourselves ready. We are fed and watered and good to go by 0830. We hit the track at 0850 after crossing the bridge and posing for photos at the start of the track. The rain starts as we wait to cross (one at a time) the very swollen Freshwater Creek but based on the long term weather forecast and the charts I have brought with me I am confident that the weather will lift. It can be hard to remain convinced of your reasoning as the rain soaks you. Read more

Zero Traction

December 16, 2016

This day is a mixed up one indeed. After our struggle through the night our timings are now messed up. The state of the track is so bad we have no confidence in our ability to get over to Masons Bay in the time we have allowed. We have walked in to the hut at Freshwater at the very time I was hoping to head out to Masons Bay. And the rest of the team are only just recovering from their ordeal so, even though I feel pretty fresh by having that midnight kip under the Rimu, I don’t want to push an agenda which no one will enjoy. So its generally decided that we will stay here for the day. Read more

One Loud (Female) Kiwi

December 7, 2016

creek (1)There’s so much to this day it’s a bit hard to know where to start. Maybe it best to start at the end. And the end was a damp arrival at Freshwater Hut the day after this section of the track was supposed to be concluded. We had departed North Arm Hut at 0807 in a light rain. It had rained all night and was not too heavy along the coast but as we were about to discover it’s been heavy up in the hills. In the end the rain made for a 22 hour day, far longer than anyone was expecting. Read more

One Robin

November 30, 2016

start-1It’s a tiny black and white bird that drops onto the track and peers up at us in some sort of weird avian challenge to our right to be on the track. He seems not at all perturbed by our size and proximity but soon flits off, joins another of his type and starts a chase through the fern and moss draped branches that close in this part of the track. We stop and watch them for a moment or two and before we know it the group has vanished into the bush. This is thick scrub and its capacity to swallow up fellow walkers and sound is not unlike the tropical forests of Papua New Guinea. We departed Rakiura Retreat at 0834 this morning amid birdsong  – tui’s chatting and chortling like possessed things. We reach the head of the track at 0937 at which point the bird chatter vanished altogether. It’s a strange thing but the bush is dark and silent. But welcoming and embracing as well. I had dropped Kathryn at the head of the track with all our packs at 0815 then returned the car and joined the others to walk back to the head of the track. That means we walk 5km to the start line without our packs. It’s a nice way to start. Read more

Two Kakas

November 29, 2016

arrive-1On last light , which at this latitude is about 9.30pm, two parrots arrive on the roof with a clunk. A few minutes later the older of the two shifts to an outstretched arm of one of our neighbours and chows down on a piece of apple. It’s a silver domed, bright eyed, ruby red bellied Kaka, with a wicked scythe of a beak and a raucous call. Soon one is on our arms eating dates from scones Barry brought along. The second, clearly a fledgling, is not so confident about the interaction with humans and fluffs its feathers, arches its neck and screeches its protest. Its parent, if it is such, pays no attention and gently and calmly works on the fruit it has so delicately taken from our fingers. Read more

Four Starlings

November 26, 2016


firs-1They sat sparkling on a powerline. Huddled together in the sun after a shower of rain had passed through. A fifth sat a little further off, like a barely tolerated younger sibling that could be oh-so annoying. Sitting above butter yellow gorse, against a green backdrop of fields that is so vivid we spent all afternoon commenting on how unreal and artificial it seemed. Starlings. Gorse. Verdant paddocks. Little things that remind me of how different this place is from what I now call home. The differences announced themselves at first light with audio cues. The constant blackbird and thrush chatter, and the calling of ewes to lambs and lost lambs bleating for ewes. All so familiar and yet equally so far removed by all those decades the sounds startle me even while they transport me to childhood times when they were a common backdrop. The whole day has been marked by those sorts of cues and reminders. Read more

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