19 April 2021

Four Men in a Boat - Adventures in Hauraki Gulf and on Great Barrier Island (Aotea)

 At last, the plan to visit the outer Hauraki Gulf came to pass. Four of us gathered at Terry Jeffries' place in Drury and proceeded to the Pine Harbour Marina and stowed our food and other necessaries aboard "Reminisce", Terry's beautifully crafted yacht. That night we dropped anchor in Owhaneke on Waiheke Island. and the following day sailed over to Barrier arriving at Oneroa (Red Cliff Cove) just outside Fitzroy Harbour at about 3.30pm. The main event of the day was when a distracted helmsman lost his bearings and the mainsheet on the boom caught Terry's arm as it swung across, taking a slice of skin with it - a plastic surgeon couldn't have done it better. An optometrist expertly patched Terry up, a veterinarian, while the other two managed the yacht and offered sympathetic comments.

Motoring Through Man-O-War Passage (Geoff, Terry and Mike)

The following day we motored through Man-O-War Passage and across to Fitzroy, anchoring inside Quoin Island. Like the night before we had time for nibbles and a drop to drink before one of us would cook (better to describe it as reheating the food our wives had lovingly cooked) and then after tea there might be time for a little rum-laced coffee or something similar. And apart from the occasional grunt, there were no snorers among us. This routine continued for the remaining nine days and, being a compatible group we were always discussing something of mutual interest. A frequent topic was the origin of the 'snap, crackle, pop' we heard often on the hull (it seemed) and Geoff suggested the theory of 'snapping shrimps'. The role of phosphorescence was also suggested. Breakfast, by prior arrangement, was each organizing his own.

Our first outing in Terry's little dingy was to the Akapoua campsite to get our land legs back (!) and in the evening talked to David, who was Acting-Manager for the DoC presence on the island, and who gave us good advice. The next day we walked into a beautiful small waterfall on "Warren's Track" a short jaunt. At the end of the walk we braved the cold showers DoC supplied in the camping ground. We were taken with the Pateke (Brown Teal) which were plentiful about the bay with one of them even paying the yacht a visit.

Pateke Reminiscing

We motored around to Bush's Beach on Kaiarara Bay and the next day we headed off relatively early for Mt Hobson on well-formed and graded tracks. In the upper mossy mist zone, we spied many Entaloma hochstetteri, the beautiful blue mushroom found on our $50 notes, more than I've ever seen before.

Entaloma hochstetteri - photographers paradise.

We found clusters of them every minute or so as we struggled up the steep upper steps. There must have been over 200 of them - thousands if you consider that we only saw those visible from the track. I was in photographers' heaven and had to be encouraged along the track by my companions - hungry for the lunch we were to have on the summit. And get back in time for tea. The track was great and even the steep steps appreciated by some!

At lunchtime, we were joined by several other climbers of Mt Hobson. I was amazed at the number of times I heard the word "Paradise" in the conversations. Yes, I agree.

View From Hobson (Little Barrier in the Distance)

After lunch, the blue mushrooms continued down towards the Heale Saddle hut - a delightful new hut with a grand view. We continued down on our chosen circuit - an excellent track until it petered out near the bottom due to riverbank washouts. After the usual evening drinkies and nibbles (and a meal) we retired to a well-earned rest. 

Geoff on 'Warrens Track'

Mike on Hobson Track

Terry at Smokehouse Bay

After a lazy start, we moved over to the "Smokehouse Bay" visited by Geoff many years ago. What a magnificent place.  Now run by a Trust, the bay has all the facilities boaties could want, baths, pizza facilities, whatever - everyone should find some firewood. And that evening we cruised up the harbour to find a gentle anchorage ready for the next day. After breakfast, we motored back through Man-O-War passage and southwards down the coast to Whangaparapara where we anchored and visited the old whaling station and the timber mill.

At the Old Timber Mill

The next morning three of us did a great circuit ending up at the hot springs which we relished and then returned along the edge of the Kaitoke wetlands - and so home to our floating palace.

Reminisce anchored off Wharf at Whangaparapara (Orcas arrived about 30 min later)

But it was just as we were getting off the dingy onto the yacht that we had the fright of our lives, We hadn't seen them coming but suddenly three Orca surfaced only five metres away. I think that Geoff who was the last to get out of the dingy cleared the yacht railing by about six feet! They were so impressive close-up. We thought that they were hunting stingrays. We watched them for some time and it seemed that there were two groups of three in the harbour. They were not aggressive towards us but were so close that they had to change course sharply to avoid the yacht.

Reminisce's Dingy (even more beautifully crafted by Terry) - Awaiting an Orca

I made contact with friends of both myself and Geoff who happened to be on Barrier but by the time arrangements to say hello were being proposed we were well on the way to Kawau. And so the next morning we set sail with a tailwind. There was much enthusiasm from Geoff for the spinnaker and although we set ourselves up for the spinnaker we just made do with the mail and jib, goose-winged out with the spinnaker pole - we made good progress.

Heading Back to Kawau Island

Dolphins gave us a short visit along the way. We relaxed and rested safely before Governor Grey's old residence but decided later in the afternoon to move around the corner to a gentler mooring. Here we happened upon Terry's sister and several other members of the family. They invited us to moor on their jetty and we spent a very pleasant time having drinkies and nibbles with them - delightful situation. That evening we anchored just off their jetty and next morning headed off back to Reminisce's permanent mooring via a couple of short 3-4 hr hops over two days.

And so ended a very pleasant sojourn amid amiable companions and in a great part of New Zealand. One mystery remained from the trip. Geoff always finished his meals with a perfectly clean plate. We could never fathom how he got it so clean and we could never catch him in the act of licking it clean. The mystery remains.

 I'd never been to GB before and was much taken with the surroundings and the well-maintained tracks. There seemed to be something wrong with the kanuka (?manuka) on a couple of parts of the island. We wondered about myrtle rust (or such like) but never got close enough to get any samples.

? Kanuka dieback ?

And finally, I've done a bit of offshore sailing about the Pacific (always as crew) and as for the Hauraki Gulf, I reckon it offers some of the most enjoyable sailing imaginable. There are wonderful safe anchorages all over the place and you can pick and chose your sailing days according to whim and weather. And the islands are wonderful, each with its own character and history. A sailor's paradise.

08 March 2021

Oldies on the Old Ghost Road (From Covid to Contorta)

Our first oldies project for 2021 was to walk the Old Ghost Road from Lyell on the Buller River on the West Coast of NZ to Seddonville about 50 km NE of Westport. Mike White, who'd done the walk years ago when some of it was just a marked trail, offered to walk in with us to the first hut and then return and drive around to the other end and walk in to meet Jim Wilson and me. The plan was then to go up the Kowai Valley near Porters Pass and spend some time murdering wildling Pinus contorta which are starting to establish themselves there - probably having been blown there from the Castle Hill Basin. We'd just bedded down ready to start next morning when the mobile phones blasted off, alerting us to the Covid lockdown to level three in Auckland. Next morning we headed off hoping that Covid wouldn't follow south.

Carol and Steve - even my neighbours were there.

Halfway up to the Lyell Saddle Hut I was surprised to find my Hamilton next door neighbours, Steve and Carol on their bikes heading for the second hut on the track.  They were just a few of the many who overtook us along the way over the next few days - I don't recall us overtaking anyone!! As expected we were last to arrive at the hut. The huts were full and the friendly occupants, once they discovered (from our wobbly gaits and drooping flesh) that we were somewhat aged, ensured that we always had bottom bunks. Respect for the aged is still alive and well  in NZ I'm pleased to say! Next morning Mike returned to the car and Jim and I plodded on northwards. 

Jim plodding up Old Ghost Road

We now left the old original horse and dray road and continued along the newer-formed track linking the south with the northern tracks of the pioneers. We were astounded at the efforts of both the early pioneers and the recent coasters who'd constructed the track - in places so steep that explosives had to be used to get about the granite bluffs. At lunchtime we emerged from the bush and had lunch. Here a weka emerged too, this time to peck Jim on his resting head and to try and steal my hat.

Three Old Codgers

At Lyell Saddle Hut

Most of the afternoon was spent above the bush line in glorious weather - which stayed fine for the whole trip. At Ghost Lake Hut we saw our track for the next day in the distance and a glorious view to the east. We cooked well and were reminded of our youth when a new arrival wolfed down the leftovers of our meal.

Upper South Branch - Mokihinui River

Nice Spot For Lunch

The Wicked Weka

Next morning we thought how wise we'd been to walk the track when, on foot, we descended a quite 'technical  bike' track and then the 300 odd stairs down from the 'skyline ridge'. The hut warden from the Ghost Hut had taken these two old codgers under his wing and saw us down to the bottom of the steps - and safely off his territory!! Back in the bush there was lots of zig zagging in the bush and a good slog down to the 'already fed' trampers and bikers. Another night on bottom bunks provided by our now friends. We girded our loins for the 25k long day to follow.

View East from Ghost Lake Hut

Looking Back Up at Ghost Lake Hut

We were first to leave but one by one they all overtook us. The 'grave yard' turned out to be a huge earthquake slip but thankfully the track only traversed a little of it and we were warned not to stop on the last part of it. On over the Solemn Saddle we descended down into the final catchment. We stopped at Goat Creek to ease my feet in the cold water. The last several kilometres were hell on the soles of my feet and I had to stop every couple of km to take the weight off them. Jim had taken on our Prime Minister's advice and was very kind and patient. But it all came to an end when we staggered into the hut where most of the others had already fed and they burst into applause. "Noisy bastards aren't they", I said and Jim said he felt a little insulted by their deference to our age. Nor very gracious of us we thought in retrospect.

Track in the lower Mokihinui

And so we struggled on into the last day and past the amazing slips into the Mokihinui River where we could see huge trout lolling about amid the rocks - where no fisherman could reach them. By now all our passing fellow trampers were aware that the 86-year-old Mike was coming in to meet us. And sure enough when we met up with him he said he'd been regaled with stories about his 'young friends' who would 'soon' be arriving.

Water Along the Way

Lower Mokihinui River and Slips

Mid afternoon we arrived at the track end and continued to Westport where we had a good Indian nosh-up and then on to RCS at Arthurs Pass and a well earned sleep.

Next morning, not too early, we packed again and headed for the Kowai Valley armed with two saws and two loppers to do battle with the dreaded 'contorta'.  Getting up to the John Hayward Memorial Hut was at out usual slow place and the next day, after killing off a few contorta visible from the hut, we wandered up the valley towards Red Peak to the scene of our previous engagement with the enemy. We now had the hut to ourselves as two fathers and their delightful daughters had returned to the lowland swamps. On the last day we engaged with more contorta but discovered more than we could cope with. We slaughtered a few before heading down valley to inform the farm manager of his problem. He concurred and admitted that plans were in place for their ultimate annihilation. We'd managed to get about 50 of them.

Kowai Valley and Red Peak

When I got back to Christchurch my brother, John, invited me on his weekly walk - this one about the South Brighton beach and estuary. More sore feet - but with a coffee. And so back to Hamilton for a rest.

24 November 2020

Pole Dancing in the West Coast bush, New Zealand.

Mike White and I decided to do a four day cycling journey through the West Coast last August - NZ had done its best and we'd ridded ourselves of the dreaded COVID-19 disease - we deserved a break. After a short sojourn at Arthur's Pass the journey started at Hokitika where we left the car. We were transported to Ross from where we cycled back along the coast to Hokitika via the Tree Top Walkway - very impressive.

Treetop Walkway

Mike - not far from Ross

Next day we journeyed inland to a place called Cowboy Paradise. There were eleven in our group doing the cycle. At Cowboy Paradise some local flavour was added by two farmers plus the local baker and butcher joining us for a beer. The meal was good and we were pleasantly chatting afterwards when some raunchy music came on and out came our Chilean receptionist in shiny black leather and started pole dancing on the table top. We were most impressed and it turned out that she had learned the skill in Chile and had practised it while on her OE. It wasn't sleazy at all.  Good fitness exercise.

Much of the Trail Followed Waterways

On our third day we cycled through bush and down into historical areas. We burst out of the bush into a small clearing where a local had a holey tarpaulin. It was slung over a warm fire and an urn of hot water for a tea or coffee. He regaled us with local history and his business (port-a-loos) and Mike and I spent over an hour yarning with him, There were the remains of a 150 year-old wooden dam in the stream nearby - amazing what these 'coasters' achieved in those early days.

Not All in Bush

We carried on down on excellent bike trails ending up at "Beths Shed" (we'd met Beth on the way to Ross. She was a neighbour of Mike's in Christchurch years ago, a coaster who'd returned home). We spent a pleasant time in her unusual shed and enjoyed her hospitality.

Beth at her grand piano on the after-deck of her Spanish Galleon

That evening was spent in Kumara and the following day we cycled to Greymouth - mainly along the coastal dunes. The weather had been excellent and we returned to Christchurch via Arthur's Pass. Ann looked after us - Jim had gone skiing - we wished him good luck, there wasn't much snow about. A very satisfying four-day cycle - and much recommended. 

03 June 2020

How I Learned to Play Rugby

I suppose it started with games of bullrush at primary school in Hastings. It was quite serious stuff at the time - and we learned to tackle. When my parents shifted to Taranaki bullrush was still the order of the day. On my first day at school in Kaponga we played bullrush at lunchtime. I tackled another kid and he cried. After school his big brother intercepted me on my way home from school. "You made my brother cry" he snarled as he grabbed me by my shirt collar. He then proceeded to beat me up. He was a big cow cockie's son from up near the mountain and had big milkers' fists. My parents couldn't understand why I chose the long way home from school for days after that encounter.

We had a school rugby (what else) team and used to travel to the local schools to play them. I think I played on the wing then - not that I was fast. After being fatherless for most of WW2 I was always keen to impress my father. One day when we were playing another local team at a field across from our home I happened to spy my father watching the game from a hole in the nearby hedge. I inserted myself into the inner backline and screamed for the ball. It duly arrived and I ran through the opposition fending them off right, left and centre. I ran over the goal line and raced around to ground the ball between the posts to the tune of the refs whistle - feeling very pleased with myself. The opposition swarmed over to the ref. "Sir," they clamoured, "he ran over the dead ball line before he scored the try." The ref looked at where I'd run - sure enough the field had the dead ball line very close to the try line. "Sorry son," he said, "I think they are right" and disallowed the try. I looked to where my father had been standing and he'd gone. It was the first and last time, as far as I knew, that he ever watched me play rugby. Neither that night at home nor ever afterwards was the incident ever mentioned.

Taranaki and the Hedge - Across the Road.

When we moved to Christchurch the bullrush continued and eventually I attended Secondary School at Xavier College. It was a tough school and we were expected to play rugby. We trained on cinders from the gas works across the road. We were coached by Marist Brothers who were also tough. I have a few memories of games and of training. I remember Brother Maurice, our first 15 coach and school head master teaching us how to control the ball at our feet during the days of the great forward dribbling rushes. Maurie would roll the ball forward to our feet and we would try to dribble the ball past him. My turn came and I succeeded admirably. I dribbled he ball past (and over) him and in the process managed to knock him to the ground and stomp all over him. He picked himself up from the gasworks cinders , and started to dust himself off. I'm for it I thought. All he said was, "Good grief, you're a bony bastard Smith." and left it at that.

One of my school mates, Sig Houston, was somewhat clumsy - elbows and knees and heels all over the place. You had to get into the rucks in front of him if you didn't want to be maimed. On one occasion on the West Coast we had to play on a flooded rugby field. Sig and half the scrum collapsed on top of my head burying it in about six inches of water. I remember waiting anxiously for the ref to blow his whistle - not easy when you've been gasping for air. I thought I was going to drown.

And at one stage I was selected for a Canterbury under-age representative team. We played another team further south with me at fullback. On one occasion someone kicked the ball towards me. I took it on the run, sidestepped some of the opposition, and with only one person between me and the goal line - kicked it for touch ! ! Our captain wandered over to me later to remind me that I should have linked up with some of my team mates for which would have been a certain try. I was never picked as a rep again.

In a Queensland Uni inter-faculty game I once distinguished myself by riling Jules Guerassimoff (Australian International and, soon after, chosen as one of the top five rugby players in the world) in the front row (my, and possibly Jules' first and only time as a prop) by demonstrating how not to go down in a scrum. The other players had to tear him away from me. "Don't you know who that is" they said. I was terrified!

Big Jules - "I was terrified"

And then there was my last game of rugby - two days before I married Catherine. It was the final of the University of Queensland inter-faculty rugby competition.  A little later the ball ended up in my hands and thinking I'd demonstrate to the Aussies what I understood was a 'Maori sidestep' (think of Jona Lomu and an English fullback) I ran full tilt into an opposition player. The result was an unconscious opposition player and me with a broken collar bone. Not a good way to start married life. That was my last game of rugby. But I still enjoy watching it.

27 April 2020

Reunion of the Ancients

Well this time, as is often the case, I fitted our reunion about other things. One was Catherine coming with me and us having some time with our grand-daughter in Christchurch, Olivia. The other was to attend Hugh Wilson's birthday celebration (together with twin sister, Hilary). Hugh is the long term manager of Hinewai  - a 1250 ecological restoration project on Banks Peninsula.  Both visits were wonderful - well worth the effort. Met lots of old friends at Hinewai - wonderful.

Olivia and Grandparents - Christchurch 2020 (Photo: Sally Blake)

Hugh, John, Hilary Wilson - Hinewai 2020

Then Jim, Mike and I headed off to Lewis Pass area where we anticipated doing high altitude traverses of the tops. Well, that was the plan. Jim picked me up from brother John's place - then to Mike's place and on to the Lewis Pass. We tweaked our ambitions as we neared the mountains and the hills appeared ever steeper. On this trip we found ourselves disagreeing, not just about the old stories, but also the identity of peaks appearing on the skyline. Were we safe to be out on our own?

View from Nina Hut

Almost at Devilskin Pass

Always a mushroom to photograph
So we headed up the Nina Valley with ideas that the tussocked uplands might await us beyond the Nina Hut. Hurunui College, we discovered, had been trapping pests in the valley and the results were obvious - every time we stopped, robins popped up to hop about our feet - they seemed to agree with the three old gentlemen about the beauty of the valley and its restored wildlife.

"Nice valley chaps, eh?"
The hut had no water because the tank had been emptied - dead rat! Jim went off up the track looking for water and returned about an hour later with a bucketful - meantime we had found a good supply only about 100m from the hut and had a brew made. Nice hut and a warm sunny evening. We decided that the nearest tussock tops were up on Devilskin Saddle so next morning we set off up the track passing Jim's impressive water source along the way. 

Anyway it seemed a long way to the bush edge. When we finally arrived there we could see the two-man hut on the saddle ahead of us but the valley was quite attractive where we were, so we stopped for lunch and a snooze. Back to the hut we enjoyed another warm evening and next day we decided to descend the valley back to our car - plan B.

Plan B was to head down the west coast and up to Arthur's Pass where the comfortable Rough Creek Shambles awaited us. And there we whiled away some of our remaining time, telling stories, making cups of tea, cooking and resting up from our exhausting trip up the Nina. We were getting older, we decided - yet again.

We had a couple more day walks. Like last year we went up the Otira Valley. Every time we sat (or lay) down to rest people would find us half asleep and probably wondered if they should call for a helicopter. We'd always have a chat with them - sometimes finding that they were grandsons or granddaughters of friends we knew back in the olden days. When they calculated that we were so old we had to restrain them from dialling 111 on their always-ready cell phones. It was all good fun.

Upper Waimak Dreams of the Past

Brew at a Secret Location
At the end we stayed for a couple of nights at the bach owned by Trish at Bealey Spur. This delightful little haven sheltered us while we went up to one of Jim and Ann's secret campfire spots up towards the Jordan Fan on the Waimak River. Here we met a group from Lincoln University. They had covered a lot of territory and had some very impressive and modern firepower so I regaled them with stories of shooting my first dozen deer with my single shot .22 - before I got serious with my father's cut down ex WW2 .303. They were good company and we walked out with them and helped them get their car from the Bealey Spur.

The next morning Jim and I walked up the Bealey Spur where we got a great view up and down the Waimak and dreamed, yet again, of the good old days and noticed the vast numbers of other people using the track. Every time we lay down (quite often) people would stop to check that we were still alive.

And so back to the 'car-infested swamp' of Christchurch - and so to Hamilton for me. But before we parted we started making plans for our next trip - maybe just pulling out some Pinus contorta in a secret valley, not too far from the road.

14 April 2020

How I Learned to Play Cricket

Cricket didn't come until we moved to Christchurch and I was about 14. Other boys seemed to be playing cricket so I decided I should try too. First it was a ball in a sock on a string suspended from my mothers clothes line. Straight bat was what my book on cricket said. Then there was bowling a tennis ball up down the concrete drive at home. If I bowled fast enough the ball would bounce back from the shed door and I wouldn't have to go so far to get it. Then came tweaking the ball with my thumb to make it spin - I could even make it curve in the air before doing an off-break. But then there was the hard cricket ball and for a while I had to try and get my hands on one at school during the breaks. I did eventually get one at home - a composite one - and then Uncle Trevor came to visit.

He was a keen cricketer and was talked into bowling to me down the drive. My mother whose kitchen was at square leg from me warned him not to bowl any down the leg side. "No worries" he said. But eventually his concentration lapsed and I hooked the ball straight through the kitchen window. Glass flew everywhere. My sister, Karen, was helping my mother in the kitchen. The ball flew past her and knocked the pressure valve off the top of the hissing pressure cooker - screams, steam and glass everywhere and a very angry mother and sister as well. Luckily I had Uncle Trevor to share the blame with but he left soon after. And about that time, my sister, Karen, was being introduced to the art of cricket. She was acting as wicket keeper and I said I'd demonstrate how to hook a ball. She must have been standing up close behind me and I gave her a beaut black eye with the bat. More abject apologising.

Anyway at school I never distinguished myself any further than the second eleven - and in that neither as a batsman or a bowler. I did get a prize once for being the best fielder - but that just meant that I ran after cricket balls like a happy dog and maybe took a few catches in the slips. I do remember one occasion when after all our bowlers tried, unsuccessfully, to get the opposition's best batsman out - he'd got to nearly 100 runs, they threw the ball to me as a last resort. Give Smith a go for once seemed to be the idea. Anyway I decided on only one thing - good line and length - and I could see the champion batsman relishing the chance to introduce this new kid to the boundary - and out flew his middle stump on the first ball. "What a good fluke" they said.

Anyway that was cricket for me - until I arrived at Ruakura - my next door scientist friend suggested that I have a game or two for Ruakura who had fielded a team in the local President's Grade. Nothing much happened and I always batted at about number 8 or 9. I remember being very impressed at the way the ball could hiss past me on the way to the wicket keeper before I could even swing the bat at it. And then there were a few beers at the local hotel while our early batsmen tried to score a few runs.

So one day they asked me to do a stint of umpiring. It was always the batting side that provided the necessary umpires. I've never umpired before - "I don't know what to do", I pleaded. They assured me that as a scientist I should be able to count to six (the number of balls bowled in an over) and sent me out. All went well until I noticed that the bowler was dragging his foot over the crease. He did it again so I shouted, "No ball". Next ball he did it again so I 'no balled' him again. I had to cure this bowler of his bad habit. After the third time he apologised and asked what he was doing wrong. I told him about dragging his rear toe over the crease and it wasn't allowed. He explained to me that this rule had been changed about nine years ago - the front foot now had to not go over the popping crease. " Play on", I said and we adjusted the extras that had been marked against his side. That was one of the last games of cricket I participated in.

But then there was the time I was ordered from the wicket on the famous MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) but that is another story.

The photos are taken of wood engravings by the late Campbell Smith - one of NZ's leading wood engravers.

16 March 2020

The Mysore Tiger

We were touring India in 1987 and had arrived at Mysore the night before. Someone looked at the travel book we had and suggested we visit the Mysore zoo, which was said to be quite good.  We duly arrived early and wandered about looking at the animals.  A voice behind us said, “Does anyone want to go in the cage with the tiger”.  We turned and there was a man in a zookeeper’s uniform and he seemed to be addressing us.  I made a quick decision – they don’t usually put foreigners in cages with man-eating tigers and leave them to perish.  So hoping that they had already given the tiger his breakfast, I volunteered.  The zookeeper led me into an empty cage and then exited through a side door leaving me alone in the cage.  I saw a tiger sized door at the back of the cage and began to feel a little worried.  No need to worry, the keeper soon appeared through another door with a huge tiger on a lead.  The tiger was certainly big but he looked slightly thin, more from old age than hunger I hoped.

Tiger Cub at Hamilton Zoo
I looked at the tiger and the tiger looked at me.  He didn’t look too fierce and I decided that he was really just tame cat.  So I hunkered down in front of him and as I’d been taught by my father offered the back of my hand.  Reaching out the front of your hand to an animal can be seen as an act of aggression – with unpredictable results.  The approach worked.   The tiger moved forward and, almost purring, started licking the back of my hand.  Ah, I thought, you’re just an old pussycat.

But next thing and so smoothly I didn’t even have a chance to react, he opened his mouth and took my hand between his teeth.  This wasn’t so good.  He had my hand and I daren’t pull away suddenly.  The tiger slowly jawed his way up my arm.  He didn’t exert any pressure on my arm – he just seemed to be playing with my arm the way a cat plays with a mouse.  I felt a sweat on my forehead and a trickle of sweat ran down my neck.  When he got to my elbow I started to get worried.  I looked from his big yellow teeth to his big eyes and tried to read his thoughts but was like trying to read a poker players face.

Tiger Cub Eyes (insert arm)
I looked up at the zookeeper and became very worried.  His eyes were like saucers.  It was a cold day and he was also in a sweat, something you don’t often see with Indians, even after the hottest curries.  “Please, Sahib” he said, “Do not be putting your arm in the tigers mouth”.  "Did I?", I thought. The tiger seemed to relax his grip so I decided to pull away.  As I started to stand up the tiger lunged forward roaring and straining on the lead.  “Go NOW Sahib” the zookeeper said.  The keeper was a small man and the tiger seemed to be dragging him towards me.

As I rose to run I felt something on my back.  It was Eric; my friend who I hadn’t noticed had come into the cage with me.  As I spun about to take my leave of the cage, Eric slid off my back.  “Good” I thought.  I had Eric between the tiger and me.  We made haste to the gate and as we slid through the opening, I looked back.  The zoo keeper was still struggling to get the tiger back into the concrete house at the rear of the cage.  The last we saw of the keeper was him disappearing into the tiger house with the enraged tiger.  While all of this was happening a large crowd of Indians had gathered.  As we joined them they all applauded.  I wondered if this was a regular entertainment and also how the entertainment might conclude on certain days.  Meat was  quite expensive in India.

I've since heard stories of tigers causing human fatalities in zoos (even here in Hamilton zoo) and think I was rather unwise in Mysore.

11 February 2020

CMT - Compulsory Military Training - New Zealand

When I turned 18 I was expected to register for and attend the, then, compulsory military training scheme. Jim Wilson, who was one of my climbing mates, and I attended the same basic training course, the 18th intake, at Burnham Military Camp. We had just completed a three-week trans-alpine climbing trip and were in great condition for the course. Surprisingly, we quite enjoyed the experience and in later years I remember Enoch Powell saying that military training was one of the more satisfying periods of his life. There was something secure about the military organisation. We were gathered from all walks of life from all over New Zealand and lodged in long reasonably comfortable huts.

The first few weeks were basic drilling to accustom us to military command and discipline. Repetition and precision seemed to be the main order of those early weeks. We would march up and down, run confidence courses where individually or in groups we would fling ourselves through a series of obstacles. Jim and I managed well as we had arrived relatively fit. Some were not so fit and one unfortunate guy, Dave, had to contend with an inborn lack of co-ordination. During the confidence courses Dave would fling himself at walls with a sickening thud and just sink to the ground. He never gave up and we shuddered each time he ran at the wall and imagined how quickly he might succumb to machine gun fire in a real war. In the end we would help him over the walls. I think Dave also had a great sense of humour. On one occasion he saluted, in his uncoordinated manner, an officer as he was cycling around a corner. Officers were expected to return the salute on a bicycle by stiffing to attention. This didn’t work very well for the officer concerned and he fell off his bike. The story spread like wildfire about the camp – to everyone’s amusement.

We had lots of rifle drill - on the range - and the worst I remember was an assault exercise where an officer stood outside a building we were passing through, throwing 'thunder-flashes' into it to make it seem more real and hasten us on our way.

Hut Cleaning Day - CMT Burnham 1956 (left Henry Zelas, right Jim Wilson, third from right BLS)

Part way through our basic training we were allowed a night in Christchurch but with instructions to be back on the returning troop train. Jim and I were attending to our affairs of the heart and of course missed our train but were on parade the next morning – we had biked back to Burnham, and stashed our bikes in the end of our huts. They were useful for all sorts of activities until the army found out about them and we were ordered to take them away on the next train.

Jim and I (because of our mountaineering trip fitness) did well in the intercompany sports events. At this stage we had joined the Medical Corps for our special training and it was not really expected that a bunch of 'first aid poofs' would do well against the tough infantry companies. At the intake concert there was a big surprise. Out onto the stage came this amazing Polynesian hula dancer who set the place on fire. There were very strict rules about women in camp and everyone was perplexed. It turned out that the dancer was Trevor Rupe from the other end of our hut. He became well known later as Carmen and I met him a few years later in Kings Cross, and had contact with him much later when he turned sixty.

Carmen - Trevor Rupe

On our final night at Burnham there was a bit of noise in the hut next door. So I put on my boots, and lemon squeezer and grabbed a strong torch. I clumped into the hut shining my torch into as many eyes as I could, at the same time informing them of the rules about ‘lights out’. In my loudest RSM voice from my time in school cadets I ordered them out of bed, into their gear and onto the parade ground. Half of them were lining up on the parade ground when I couldn’t stand the suspense or risk anymore and fled into the night. But it showed how they had been brainwashed to obey orders. In the showers the next morning I shivered in fear as I heard dire threats planned at the unknown perpetrator of the previous night’s antics.

Our intake ended with a field exercise on Birdling’s Flat. We enjoyed this too but the army wouldn’t agree to our request to leave early to start University so we missed out on our first week or two of lectures. Our unit was disbanded the following year so we never had to attend the annual two-week camps.

But I often reflect on the CMT experience. It was a great coming together of NZ youth from all walks of life. All people of my similar age remember the experience fondly and I often think of it as something that could have some value in present day society - not necessarily with any military purpose - but with social and environmental aims. Discipline might be a problem.

13 January 2020

The Datsuns - Poetry Noise Abatement Notice

Back in 1999 I used to have a regular meeting with Kai Jensen where we'd discuss poetry and our latest efforts. One day Kai ask if I'd stand in for him at an event as he had to be somewhere else. I agreed but was slightly wary of the circumstances. Apparently the local Waikato University had organised a concert from a 'heavy rock' band that was just getting established. It was to be filmed and broadcast on the University TV channel. My role was to recite poetry between the band's items - and here is the bit -  I was to do the recitations naked in an outside bath.  There was no way I was going to sit naked in a bath with heaps of drunk students and wild musicians - at least shorts were going to be worn. The band was called "The Datsuns".

The Datsuns (photographer unknown - stolen from Wikepedia Website)

So the day arrived and with some trepidation I turned up at the venue a large suburban house used as a student flat. Rain was imminent and the TV crew said the concert would have to be held inside - their gear was too valuable to expose to the rain. The bath couldn't be brought inside so that let me off the hook. The band arrived, set up their gear and then drove off. They arrived back and set to work. I was amazed at the intensity of their music. Students crawled out on hands and knees to offer the lead guitarist their backs as a footstool. I was wondering what everyone was on! I did my bit here and there between items. It was all good fun.

Then the noise police arrived. Even though it was a weekend afternoon the neighbours had had enough. It was near the end of the concert so the band packed their gear and took off.  Normal occurrence they said. The last I heard, they had toured Australia and UK - without me! They left me being issued with the noise infringement notice. It said we must stop the noise and if not we could be taken to court and fined up to $10 000. I hoped the students would not keep up a noise after I left. As I left I saw the neighbours skulking in the shrubbery. I think Catherine could hear the noise at our place.

I have a feeling that I was the first (if not the only) non-musical poet in NZ (the world?) to be issued with a noise abatement notice. My claim to fame!

Here is one of the poems I recited - it had been for unit I'd done at the time as a task for an MA at Waikato Uni.

Agememnon on the Eve of Battle

The airmail edition
of the Paris Tribune
thumps onto the wall
of Agamemnon’s tent.
On its front page
a photo of tomorrow’s victor.
The time warp machine
malfunctioning again,
news coming in
before it has happened.

Just not good enough.
He consults the Penguin
Dictionary of Historical Slang
before saying “beep”-
the remaining papers
will need rounding up
and the image of Achilles
excised before the troops
see it in the latrines
tomorrow morning;
best not to have him
too confident on the eve
of the showdown.
Can’t have the wrong man
dragged about town
by a wild horse.

Just then he hears the click
of Xtra signing in
he sighs when he reads
Sender: Bill Manhire
Subject: Hector
bugger this poet-laureate
with his free wine
and making himself at home
up on the hill with Andromache.
Drinking Cab Sav again,
he guesses.

It was making him suspect
his agent’s credentials;
everyone knew this was not
an Icelandic saga,
despite a retreating icesheet
and the scarcity of mammoths,
and what about this visionary
intelligence …

     “… a wooden horse
up to its hocks in a high tide
outside some city gates
men who descend a ladder
into waves of tears,
all for a Trojan woman.”

Well, the last line made sense,
the only sense
from a poem-quoting seer.

Why don’t his E-mails
mean anything any more?

Agamemnon’s sword hand
grabs the mouse
the cursor hovers over
the delete button…

06 January 2020

NZ Wildlife and Bushy Park

Late last year we had a great few days travelling with a friend from Adelaide through New Plymouth, Whanganui and Palmerston North - and back home via Pukawa. The main purpose was to attend the NZVA Wildlife Branch Conference at Bushy Park, in an old historic homestead just NW of Whanganui. At New Plymouth we visited the Te Rewa Rewa bridge and Pukekura Park.

Bushy Park Homestead

For the conference we stayed at Kai Iwi on a beach where we had red sunsets, courtesy of the Australian bush fires - sad business. And it got worse.

Sun Setting in Bushfire Smoke

The conference was great with the usual crowd of inspirational young people talking about ecological restoration in the North Island and the health problems associated with the native birds. We went mad at Whanganui and purchased some ceramic art - wont get it until October 2020 when it's exhibition ends.

Our New Art Work

We Found a Dead Tui
The highlight of the Conference, for me, was the conferring of Life Membership on Maurice Alley, an old colleague of mine from the Wallaceville days in the 1960s. It was accompanied by lots of complimentary speeches and a standing ovation - well deserved and quite moving. He has done an enormous volume of work on NZ bird life through his few hundred papers on their diseases. And supported and encouraged so many Massey veterinary students in wildlife pathology.

Dorothy and Maurice Alley

The last day of the conference was in Palmerston North where we visited the Massey Veterinary School Wild Base Recovery Unit, a joint public access facility constructed by MasseyUni and the local city council. Well planned and very impressive. The floating collection of mobile huia (extinct), seen below, represents their flight into extinction - the white birds representing the ghosts of those who first passed on - another sad NZ story.

And so home via Pukawa where the birds welcomed us back with much song and birdbathing.

Huia Moving on Into Extinction