From gnomes to shaggy dogs

You know that feeling of being watched? I was noseying around Mitre 10 Mega’s garden centre the other day and I just knew someone – or something – had their eyes fixed on me. Turned out it was this sweet shaggy dog. What soulful eyes – really made me want to take him home.

100B3028

Nearby was a cute wooly sheep, and when the cyclamen come out it’s a sure sign that winter is on the way.

100B3031 100B3033

Other delightful garden decor included these artfully rusted pigs. I don’t think much of the plastic flamingoes, although more thought to displaying them might have made them a lot more attractive.

100B3037 100B3035

When I got home from this trip to Mitre 10 I took another look, in a new light, at a pair of garden gnomes that were my brother’s and my pride and joy when we were younger – maybe 50 years ago. Lance’s one has the dog and mine is playing the tin whistle. Like many a Roman statue they have lost much of their colour, but are none the less attractive for that. And unlike most Roman statues, they’ve kept the brilliant blue in their eyes. Their beards were originally black but have over the years turned snowy white.

100B3062   100B3075

They don’t live in the garden anymore – in fact I have them next to me on my desk. Some years ago Dad decided to paint them – I particularly love this blue “by moonlight” one.

100B3073 100B3070

Are they the most painted garden gnomes in Auckland?

100B3071 100B3072

 

Advertisements

Birdwatchers’ paradise

Like me, you’ve probably driven past certain places often enough, wishing there was time to stop and nosey around. Usually another destination is calling – have to get here, have to get there – and that intriguing spot is left behind for another day. For me one of those places is the Miranda Shorebirds Coast on East Coast Road about 60 kilometres south east of Auckland. I’ve driven past so many times, looking longingly at gleaming strip of white shells that defines the coastline.  Thousands of birds gather here over our summer to escape the winter in Alaska and Siberia and to feast on a rich seafood diet. When they return north in March other migrating birds arrive from closer to home, leaving New Zealand’s South Island for the milder North Island winter climate.

100B3020

This crushed-shell road  runs parallel to East Coast Road between Kaiaua and Miranda

So the coast line between Miranda and Kaiaua is a birdwatchers’ paradise and I really enjoyed the day we spent picnicking there last week.

100B3023

Self-contained camper vans (ie with on-board toilets) can stay for 2 nights overlooking the Firth of Thames. In this photo there are just a handful – during the summer months when the birds have gathered there can be thirty or more vans parked along here.

The drive out to the coast is lovely: we left east Auckland through Howick, turned right at Whitford, and left at Brookby onto Twilight Road. This scenic route wends through native bush to Clevedon and from there it’s on, across rolling farmland, through Kawakawa Bay to Kaiaua. The abundance of yellow-eyed mullet here (aua in Maori, while kai means food or eating) gave the settlement its name, as these fish thrive in the Thames estuary. Leaving Kaiaua, there are plenty of places to park along the shelly beach overlooking the Firth of Thames. This is a lonely, windswept stretch of coast, with not a house is sight and very few trees, and yet as the tide went out, leaving the mudflats glistening in the afternoon sun we appreciated its peaceful, enigmatic beauty and admired the clouds reflected on the seabed.

100B3026 100B3025

Looking across the Firth of Thames at low tide to the Coromandel Ranges and towards Thames.

The birds followed the tide out, so this was a good place for binoculars. We recognised oyster catchers, pied stilts and of course a variety of gulls: ideally we would have been there nearer high tide when it’s so much easier to identify the birds! In late afternoon the sun picked out every fold and ridge in the rugged Coromandel Peninsular. The coastal town of Thames seemed suddenly so close across the Firth’s deep bluey-green waters. When it was time to head home we decided to go back the way we’d come. However a complete loop would have been to continue on along the coast to Waitakaruru. This would have taken us past the Miranda Shorebirds Centre (www.miranda-shorebirds.org.nz) and Miranda Hot Springs, and from Waitakaruru north to Pokeno and then up the motorway back to Auckland. So either way, there is plenty of interest to make this a really enjoyable day out.

Ellerslie Garden Racecourse

Shady and cool.

Racecourses are essentially vast open spaces, but when I think of Ellerslie Racecourse, much more than the race track itself – I’m not a race goer – I think of the magnificent trees and shaded walks that make it Auckland’s garden racecourse. This park-like setting dates back to the mid-1800s: Scotsman Robert Graham named his estate in the area Elderslie after his home in Larnarkshire. This name soon mutated to Ellerslie and was applied as well to the settlement that formed near Graham’s property. When the railway heading south from Auckland reached Ellerslie in the early1870s Graham developed part of his land as gardens and even a small zoo which he hoped would attract visitors to the area. At the same time a racecourse was inaugurated in adjoining fields – the first race was held there in January 1874 – and when Graham’s farm was sub-divided in 1889 the landscaped part of it was incorporated in the grounds of the racecourse.

The grandstands have been enlarged over the decades but the racecourse, its outbuildings and its carefully tended gardens have changed very little since I used to love playing here with my cousins when we were children and lived nearby.

100B2983 100B2984

Two of the original buildings in the Auckland Racing Club’s colours.

100B2986 100B3011

Sir Edwin Mitchelson, pioneering timber and kauri gum merchant and politician was president of the Auckland Racing Club from 1905 to 1932. Both during this period and in earlier years when he was mayor of Auckland, he was passionate about landscaping and the creation of parks and reserves throughout the city. It is largely thanks to him that Robert Graham’s gardens were shaped into the beautiful place they are today. this monument to him – the sculpture is by Bertram Mackennal – is backed by a benchseat flanked by a pair of winged horses.

100B2985

100B3007 100B3008100B3003   100B3009

Palm trees add a tropical, riviera-like touch to the gardens. In the right the new Events centre. the racecourse’s heyday has long since passed – nowadays the gardens are a backdrop to social events and there is even a golf driving range infield and a dog and owner training school in part of the stables.

100B3000

the racetrack with the golf range infield behind finishing post

100B2994

100B2992 100B2993

Hard to see the logic in this – how can horses make a building hazardous? Another opportunity for a proofreader’s red pen!!!

100B3005 The finishing post.100B3012

Race day traffic uses this entrance while pedestrians use the shaded central pathway.

The racecourse gardens are open to the public except on racedays and a used car market is held in the carpark on Sundays. To check out the dress code for race days, see http://www.ellerslie.co.nz

100B3019 1900

 

 

 

‘Nduja and other gastronomic delights

‘Nduja!

It’s the last thing I’d ever have expected to find at Hobsonville Point Farmers Market, but as the free taster – I’m told by the stallholder that it’s a sort of chorizo – melts in my mouth I recognize it instantly, as much by its texture as by its flavour. A specialty of southern Italy’s Calabria region, ‘nduja is finely ground pork meat and fat turned bright orange and fiery by the addition of ground chili pepper and spices. Unlike salami which can be thinly sliced, ‘nduja (pronounced “in-do-ya”) is soft and spreadable – delicious on a cracker or stirred into a pasta sauce or stew. And being so hot, a little goes a very long way.

100B2944

‘nduja New Zealand style from Farm Gate Products http://www.the farmgate.co.nz

As well as ‘nduja, Farm Gate Produce make delicious sausages from free-range pork and beef, and stock great manuka-smoked bacon too. They are one of the many friendly stalls at Hobsonville Point Farmers Market and it’s inspiring to see so much locally produced and really delicious food: cheeses, breads, sweets (Magnolia Kitchen’s rocky road and edible marshmallow clouds are a real treat – http://www.magnoliakitchen.co.nz) , honey (loved Earthbound Honey’s manuka honey – http://www.earthboundhoney.co.nz), jams, relishes and sauces, olive oil, snack foods and of course home grown seasonal fruit and vegetables.

100B2935 100B2936

NZ-made mozzarella and scamorza and pizza from a portable wood-fired oven

100B2939 100B2945 100B2946 100B2938

eggplants, cheeses, bagels, olive oil, fresh bread – the mouth waters constantly

100B2947

Salash Delicatessen is a family business with Serbian origins. Their sausages and salami range from mild to hell hot – my favourite. http://www.salash.co.nz

Every Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 1pm Hobsonville Point Farmers Market takes place in and around a giant ex-airbase hangar, breathing new life into a building that was decommissioned when the New Zealand Air Force moved away from its helicopter and seaplane base there in 2002.

100B2943 100B2954

18-year-old Basil keeps an eye the market activities.

100B2956 100B2953

Hobsonville Point, in Auckland’s west and on the innermost reaches of the Waitemata Harbour, is one of the city’s newest suburbs. The development’s well-chosen slogan is “Moments away, a world apart”. During the week this is entirely true: it’s a 25-minute ferry ride between downtown central Auckland and the Point’s new all-tides wharf.

100B2930 100B2933 100B2980

Taking the ferry up the Harbour, under the Harbour Bridge, past Chelsea Sugar Refinery, to step off the wharf where the market is held.

By car or bus I imagine it’s rather more than just moments away, but it certainly is worlds apart – the Air Force buildings (hangars, barracks, married officers’ houses and the Base Commander’s house) and open spaces remain as part of the suburb’s unique identity, making it completely different to any other emerging residential area in Auckland. Panels along the covered wharf recount the area’s history and Virginia King’s Hinaki eel trap sculpture on the wharf is one of several that make up the urban décor.

100B2959 100B2964

This giant stainless steel dog by Steve Woodward stands in front of the soon-to-be-renovated barracks. Below one of the fine houses which were built for the married Air Force officers.

100B2965 100B2976

Virginia King’s Hinakieel trap extends through a hole in the wharf, down towardsthe sea. It is encircled by Fiona Farrell’s poem Eel.

100B2941  100B2940

The Radar Station has become a children’s activity centre, complete with aircraft-inspired wall paper.

For now the ferry service doesn’t run at the weekends but when the Farmers Market organisers put on a special event, such as last weekend’s “Doggy Day Out”, a charter ferry service runs for a very reasonable NZ$10 return, making a trip to Hobsonville Point and its market well worthwhile. And as with all great food markets it really pays to go early and buy early – stocks of specialist goodies do run out towards closing time.

100B2967 100B2942

More Coromandel Highlights

Sarnie, our  Coromandel Adventures guide to the Waiau Kauri Grove spreads her arms out wide and asks us to imagine a kauri tree (Agathis australis) with an eight metre diameter: filling the gap in the forest immediately in front of our viewing platform, where its ancestor either fell or – more probably – was milled in the 1800s, it would tower over us today and its canopy would blot out the sunshine.

 100B2893 100B2895 100B2896

Behind the space that our imaginary tree would occupy, five or six ‘young’ kauri (they’re around 800 years old) escaped the brutal milling process and our scenic walk takes us to their base. Along the way Sarnie shows us two baby kauri – just two and three years old, with only a handful of leaves and just a few centimetres tall. Then we climb onto a platform around the base of the kauri: this wooden structure allows us to ‘hug’ the trees and breathe in the scent of their tangy resin and at the same time prevents us from trampling on the ground over their roots and thus reduces the risk of anything on our shoes conveying the ‘dieback’ disease to these kauri trees. In other parts of New Zealand dieback (a fungal disease, Phytophthora taxon Agathis) is destroying kauri groves and forests but so far the Coromandel Peninsula has remained free of it.

 100B2891 Nikau palm (Rhopalostylis sapida)

100B2892 Mamaku – Black tree fern, cythea medullaris

Like the hillside where we travelled on the Driving Creek Railway, the Waiau valley was almost completely denuded during the late 1800s, but whereas at DCR the reforestation has been done by hand, here in the Waiau Valley, just a few kilometres south of Coromandel township, the secondary growth of native trees has occurred naturally through seed brought by the wind and birds.

100B2902 The Boatshed, Pottery Lane Cottages 

When we return to Coromandel it’s late afternoon – perfect for relaxing on the verandah of our ‘Boatshed’ cottage at Pottery Lane Cottages. The boatshed is one of three cottages in a peaceful garden setting just a few hundred metres from the centre of Coromandel township: a perfect location for a short stay.

100B2912

Dinner time finds us a short walk from the cottages, in the Star and Garter – an historic building which was once a bank and then a drapery and is now a café-pub-restaurant. The long kauri bar is made up of the three counters where fabrics were measured and the walls are a fascinating collage of old photos and snippets of news relating to the gold mining days.

 100B2901

This platter (above) of mixed seafoods, including local, melt-in-the-mouth, green-lipped mussels in tempura batter, featured on the  Star and Garter’s menu as a starter for four, but my friend and I shared it as a very delicious main course.

 100B2918

Coromandel was humming in the late summer sunshine on Sunday morning and we enjoyed another great meal – brunch (above) at the Success Café. Success was the name of one of the gold mines that was particularly productive. This plate of pancakes with bacon, boysenberries, cream and maple syrup set us up for the day.

 100B2921 Leaving Coromandel, 4.30 pm 9th March 2014

As the Auckland-bound ferry left Coromandel on Sunday afternoon we were lucky that the sea was still fairly calm: the perfect ending to a great weekend.

For more on the places mentioned, see www.360discovery.co.nz for ferry details, www.drivingcreekrailway.co.nz for the narrow gauge train ride, www.coromandeladventures.co.nz for guided tours including the Waiau Kauri Grove, www.coromandelcottages.co.nz for Pottery Lane Cottages, www.starandgarter.co.nz

Coromandel highlights

The ‘360° Discovery’ ferry to Coromandel, a catamaran, clips purposefully down Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour on a dead calm sea. Brief stops at Waiheke Island’s Orapiu wharf and at Rotoroa Island are soon, like mainland Auckland, far behind. Ahead, as the cat crosses the Firth of Thames, rise the mountains of the Coromandel Peninsula. To the south, where the mountains fade into the horizon, there is only a faint, hazy hint of the Hauraki Plains. Gannets dive for fish and little blue penguins frolic endearingly. Islands – lush and large and small and craggy – are strung along the Coromandel coast, so the township only comes into view as the ferry approaches Hannaford’s Wharf, inside the island haven.

100B2906 100B2863

Just two and an half very pleasant hours after leaving Auckland we arrive in Coromandel at lunchtime. The town was named after HMS Coromandel – in turn named after eastern India’s Coromandel Coast. The ship visited the area in 1820 to take on kauri timber for masts. Until then, the village was known by its Maori name, Kapanga.

Coromandel is the birthplace of New Zealand’s gold mining era. Charles Ring discovered gold in October 1852 and although he managed to keep his find secret for a while, Coromandel was soon inundated with prospectors, traders … everyone and everything needed in a bustling gold mining town with a population of around 10,000. Sadly the deforestation which had begun with the milling of the ancient kauri forests for masts and ship building accelerated during the mining days and again when forested lands were cleared for farming.  

100B2914 100B2919 100B2917

Although there are fewer than 2,000 inhabitants today, many of the buildings of the mid-late 1800s remain, making Coromandel both fascinating and appealing. Green-lipped mussel farming and tourism have both boosted the town’s economy in recent years. And very gradually, through planting programmes and natural second growth, the forest is regenerating.  A great ways to see how the native forest is growing over hillsides that were completely bare in the early 1900s is to take the narrow gauge (38cm) Driving Creek Railway (DCR) ride. Artist, engineer and conservationist, Barry Brickell began building the railway over 35 years ago as a way to get clay out of the hills for his pottery. At the same time he started replanting native New Zealand trees – to date 37,000 trees have been planted by Barry and his helpers. The railway line is now a very popular tourist attraction – it wends its way  for 3 kilometres through the bush and tunnels, over bridges (including a double-deck one) and zig-zagging line to the Eyefull Tower – a viewing platform surrounded by forest and with magnificent views in all directions.

100B2885 100B2849 100B2861 100B2853

Coromandel Highlights – part 2 coming soon

 

Fencible life

In the mid-1800s New Zealand was a fledgling British colony. Scattered settlements around the newly established capital of Auckland were vulnerable to attack from certain native Maori tribes and from aspiring French colonists. Retired British soldiers who had already seen at least 15 years active service in other British colonies, particularly India, were recruited to settle in the Auckland region. Their duties were hardly ‘military’: they were to patrol their own settlement and attend church service. There were four such settlements (in Onehunga, Otahuhu, Panmure and Howick) forming a line of defense against attack from the south and east. They were known as Fencibles, meaning simply ‘able to defend’, and being essentially of good character, tradesmen, usually married and in their 40s, they were ideal immigrants – just what the new colony needed. New Zealand offered many of the Fencibles an escape from the squalor of the Industrial Revolution or the despair of the Irish potato famine. Not that getting to New Zealand was easy. In the 1840s a sailing ship took around 100 days to reach Auckland from Britain. Conditions onboard were difficult. Once the excitement of the departure had passed the days at sea must have seemed interminable. Each family’s baggage allowance was limited to a wooden chest, measuring 80cm x 50cm x 45cm.

100B2748 

Once the families came ashore their hopes were dashed of finding the two-roomed wooden houses (on 2 acres of at least partially cleared land) that they had been promised during recruitment. A tent on the beach was often their first shelter.

100B2746 100B2747

Notice how the pillow (and the mattress) was stuffed with what appears to be twigs. This is mangemange (muehlenbeckia complexa), a native New Zealand plant which is wiry and springy and actually quite comfortable to lie on.

100B2750

As soon as possible the fencibles moved into huts made from bundles of raupo – New Zealand swamp reeds.

100B2803 this to this 100B2814

Cooking could at least be done inside – the soot-darkened roof is from an open hearth in the centre of the dirt floor. Insects tended to live in the roofing so a sheet was slung over the beds as a sort of ceiling.

100B2758 100B2757

100B2761

Some of the raupo shanties had a wooden chimney, and although there was sometimes glass in the windows these dwellings must have been miserably cold and damp when it rained. No wonder the Fencible families rebelled: this was not much better that what they had left in Britain.

100B2770 100B2769

An earth-sod cottage, with wooden chimney and fireplace for cooking

Gradually the wooden cottages were built and the scrub land was cleared. Sometimes larger, two-family cottages were built right on the boundary of two plots of land: a thin partition divided the cottage in half but provided scant privacy for anything above a whisper. At last though they had a brick fireplace, real beds and the chance to paper over drafty cracks in the walls with newspapers, pages from ‘The Illustrated London News” and even wallpaper.

 100B2786 A 2-family cottage

100B2773 100B2774 100B2784 100B2813

layers of wallpaper and newspaper covered the walls (on the right)

100B2799 a long-drop toilet

In spite of the hardships the Fencible families generally flourished and real communities formed. Between 1847 and 1852 around 2,500 men, women and children were brought to New Zealand with this scheme. After seven years their cottage and land became their own property. Many of the families stayed in the  area and contributed greatly to Auckland’s growth and development.

 100B2780

The Fencible and early settler period is brought to life at Howick Historical Village in east Auckland. The open-air museum was established by bringing together on one site buildings from Howick and Panmure’s Fencible period. All the photos in this article were taken at the village. As well as furnished dwellings, other buildings include a school, a courthouse, a pub, a church (where weddings are held) and a blacksmith’s forge. www.fencible.org.nz

Maria O’Leary, the wife Captain Robert Hattaway, one of the Howick Fencibles, planted these macracarpa trees on their farmland in the 1850s.

100B2743 100B2742    

The trees are now within the Cascades Reserve, a wetland area crossed by the Pakuranga Stream and Wakaaranga Creek, and adjoining the Howick Historical Village site. The waterways and their catchment area are currently being revitalized by Landcare Trust through a public awareness and environmental education campaign called ‘Volcano to Sea’. www.landcare.org.nz

100B2739  This track, paved with volcanic rock slabs from nearby Pigeon Mountain-O Huiarangi crossed the reserve, It was constructed by pioneer farmers in the 1840s.