Andy’s year 2009 -10
Happy Xmas! (the Southern Hemisphere Xmas, that is). This year’s Xmas newsletter is (more or less) 6 months late due to summer being a terrible time to get a newsletter together - particularly so this year, as I spent Xmas in one of the most isolated spots on Earth (Campbell Island). A big Thank You to all who send cards/ letters/ e-mails last Xmas - I really appreciate them, so keep me on the mailing list!
My last year has not been quite as eventful as the one before, but I still got to enjoy lots of life’s variety. So here goes!
*Stop press!* I'm planning to do sponsored cycle ride from the Cook Strait to the top of Mt Ruapehu (the highest point in the North Island) to raise money for a rat eradication on Henderson Island (in the middle of the pacific). Check out my fundraising webpage for more details. I really need everyone to donate generously and help me raise my target of lots of money!! Saving the world starts here!!
Our bach (kiwi slang for holiday cottage) was finally completed in Autumn 2009 with the addition of a wood burning stove, a lovely thing that pumps out vast quantities of heat, and makes the bach oh-so-nice even in the coldest weather. Van loads of wood from our garden in Wellington have stocked up the woodpile enough to last at least two or three years, and I love chain-sawing and axing up the wood - a highly theraputic activity that enhances the enjoyment of the resulting fire.
Meanwhile, I have been planting lots of trees. Some for firewood (generally Eucalypts) which should be big enough to coppice in a few years. Some ornamental trees in the paddock - nearly all exotic, as the native stuff refuses to survive the windy, frosty exposed conditions (even though a lot of fairly tender plants grow nearby in the native forest surrounding us). It has always been an ambition of mine to grow an arboretum, and I’ve finally got a chance! Some native trees I’ve planted in the native shrubland by the stream, which I hope to restore to native forest in time (though massive amounts of weed/ bramble control is still needed!). I also planted a row of fruit trees- just apple and quince so far, but its just a start! Finally, I have planted what must be the only avenue of Monkey Puzzle trees in New Zealand along the driveway, which will be a grand statement totally out of scale with our humble abode.
Disappointingly, I have largely failed to enjoy the mountain (Mt Ruapehu, the volcano who’s slopes we have built on), the wonderful forests and mountainbiking possibilities in the area. Every time we go up we seem to work on the property! Hopefully this will change, and I did manage about 10 days skiing and snowboarding on the mountain last year.
I also worked at the local vet practice (in Raetihi about 10km from our bach) covering weekends for 4 weekends last winter. However, I didn’t enjoy it- having to go out to big scary beasts in a blizzard, and working with someone else’s unfamiliar instrument/ drug kit quickly lost its appeal. So this year I’m sticking with the small bitey animals in nice warm Wellington clinics.
Our house in Wellington continues to be a wonderful social mixing-pot, with an ever-changing cast of homestay guests, wwoofers (Willing workers on organic farms – people helping in the house and garden in exchange for lodgings), various other flotsam, jetsam (human and feline). We try to encourage people to use their skills, and a recent wwoofer Mark from Ireland (who wants to work at the film special effects company Weta) is making our most elaborate garden art to date- a sculpture in fibreglass.
Through the year, we have had many other amazing woofers and homestay guests who have enriched our lives - too many to list here, but a few have made a special impression, such as Jake and Farley last year.
My garden is maturing rapidly - the main problem now is to fit in the odd botanical gem that I simply must grow! Occasional sacrifices of the less interesting flora are occasionally required (usually with much complaining from Kris, who also complains when the interesting flora crowds out uninteresting features such as paths and lawns).
The unintended death of a lemon tree allowed space for a series of raised vegetable beds (filled with rich volcanic soil imported from Horopito), and has boosted our home grown produce to at least 0.1% of what we eat. Well, its a start.
Once more, I got to go to the subantarctic with the Department of Conservation (DoC). This was to be my longest trip yet- 2 ½ months on Campbell Island. This is where I had been 2 years previously, surveying the population (and had found more animals than expected).
My boss in DOC, Louise, had uncovered a sharp drop in numbers of pups born on the main sea lion colonies on the Auckland Islands during the 2008/2009 breeding season (which is due to mortality of adult females in the evil squid fishery, though we aren’t allowed to say that - supposed ‘lack of evidence’... Just don’t eat squid rings!). As a result of this, myself and veterans of the last Campbell trip, Marie Haley and Chris Muller, were sent down to investigate the state of affairs on Campbell.
And it was COLD!! As before, the weather was at its worst when we had to camp out at Davis Point, the main colony. Temperatures in single figures, wind and rain in mid-summer. One morning, a chilly 3.5 degrees and wet, I was greeted by the sight of 57 dead pups scattered around the colony, nearly all from hypothermia/ exposure! Davis point is about the most exposed place on the island to form a colony, and in all, 64% of the pups born here died. By late January, pups born here were still no heavier than at birth, whereas at the smaller Paradise Point colony, pups were nearer 20kg, twice birth weight. (These pups were in a much more sheltered spot, in thick forest, which gave some excitement to our work as we crawled on hands and knees to grab them from protective mums and territorial males).
Despite the weather related mortality, the pup production on Campbell was stable or up on 2 years before- we counted 677, compared to 583 last time, though fewer survived. The lack of any large-scale fisheries around the island is just co-incidence, of course!
The weather did improve towards the end of our trip, when we were mostly based at Beeman Base, the large DoC hut in the middle of the island. However, without the company of other people (last time, the Albatross team helped us stay sane), and too much time on our hands in the last weeks, we were all glad to get back to the mainland, just in time for good weather to finally arrive in NZ – a golden Autumn which lasted until late May.
During the last week of that golden weather, I was once more working with sea lions for DOC, this time on the Otago peninsula, near Dunedin. This time I was helping to catch some of the adult females to remove time / depth / GPS recording devices, which had been glued on their backs a couple of months earlier. One also needed an anaesthetic to get blood and milk samples and bacterial swabs (most had had this done when the devices had been attached). It was a lovely few days- warmish and sunny, and very social. Much more fun than my usual work. Only a few females breed in Otago, starting with a single female in the early 90’s. This year 6 pups were born, and around 14 breeding size females live here. A slow return to their former range- they once bred all over the NZ coast, but were wiped out by Maori in pre-European times. Not hard to see why, as they are curious and attracted to people, even after being caught multiple times!
If anyone is in the mood for some intellectual self-flagellation, my paper on the 2008 Campbell Island expedition is online here
Are growing up fast. Ella is now 15, old enough to try paragliding! (See photo)
Asher is now 13, and enjoys Jump Jam, some sort of competitive aerobics (I think he likes to impress the girls!), and like all teenage boys is addicted to computer games.
Neve is 10, and Te Koha is 5, and both are lovely children.
They live in Christchurch with their mothers, so I don't get to see them as often as I would like, but did get to visit for a few days over Easter and spend some time with them. Plans to take Asher tramping, were, however, thwarted by bad weather in the mountains. I did manage to take Ella for a paragliding adventure though - I'd bought her a tandem flight for her 15th birthday - and it was nice to be in the air with her.
My main holiday in 2009 was a 3 week trip to Australia in October/ early November with Kris and Chris. The first week was spent at the annual Canungra Cup paragliding competition, which Kris and I had entered. As usual, the weather gods frowned. I had one flight the day I arrived (a day before before the comp started) in lovely weather, until a highly aggressive eagle attacked and drove me out of the lift. After that, the weather was terrible, with only one rather poor flying day in the first 5 days of the competition (and much rain!). On day 6 the weather improved somewhat (to half-decent) and I flew 28km.
Unfortunately for me, Chris and I were missing the last two days of the competition to go to stay in Nimbin (more of this below), a fact that the weather Gods obviously knew, as they organised perfect flying weather for the last 2 days of the competition. Kris stayed at Canungra and had great flights.
We had all been invited to the ‘Glitterball’, the annual party run by the Australian ‘Radical Faeries’ near Nimbin (about 2 hours south of Canungra), so Chris and I had accepted, which meant catching a lift on the day before the party and missing those last flyable days. We stayed at the Faerie commune for nearly a week, helping with the party, and then just hanging out at the commune, avoiding the (extreme) heat of the day on the balcony of the ranch house that formed their communal living space, and walking around the land watching Paddymelons (tiny kangaroos) raid the gardens.
The party was great- a big gay/ lesbian /queer /pagan rave in a village hall miles from anywhere. People came from Sydney and Brisbane to be there, such was its reputation- Much more fun and friendly than Mardi Gras or any of the other big commercial parties.
We made good friends, none more so than Sam, a young guy from Sydney. He offered to let us stay with him in Sydney, and so at the end of the week, we drove down to Sydney with him and his friend Leon (an elderly guy from Perth).
On the way down, we stopped briefly in Coff’s Harbour, as I wanted to meet Kristian Benton, a didgeridoo maker. Unfortunately, his stock was low, and the didgeridoo I really wanted was already sold (It sounded like liquid honey on my lips... I fell in love!) so I hope to re-visit this year and find my perfect didgeridoo. Kristian made a prophetic comment “Looks like rain’s coming” as we left. That night, 452mm of rain fell on Coff’s Harbour, a New South Wales record! (Consider the average annual rainfall in the UK is 1000mm).
Back in Sydney, we had rather better weather, and a rather lovely week, going to beaches, visiting friends and chilling out at cafes. Sam was a great host, and we reciprocated by hosting him in Wellington in March.
We have booked a holiday in New Caledonia in September for a couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to this after months of a very heavy work schedule. NC is home to about 6600 higher plants in an area about 5% the size of New Zealand, a paradise to a plant nut like myself. I hope to do lots of tramping through the mountains, perhaps some canyoning, and certainly some diving on the largest fringing reef in the world.
Following that, Kris and I will be visiting Australia in October for the Canungra Cup paragliding competition again. Chris will be travelling too, but not paragliding, and we may visit Faerieland again, as well as Sydney. Finding a didgeridoo, and a week rock climbing at the Arapiles (Aussie’s premier rock spot) with friend Anjali may also be on the cards.
Summer on Enderby Island with the sea lions is likely too.
And in winter (southern hemisphere winter) 2011 I hope to travel again in South America. I would like to spend more time exploring Amazonian shamanism and Ayahuasca at Blue Morpho (www.bluemorpho.com), this time with Chris and Kris, then take a river journey along the Amazon to Ecuador. After this, I’ll be back in the UK to catch up with family and friends, have holidays, and maybe work a little to pay for it.