Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Growing, growing...!

In an earlier post I think I may have mentioned that, back in March, we collected and planted the seeds from some native trees. They took ages to germinate, and lots of the seeds failed to do anything at all, but six months on we have about half a dozen healthy-looking seedlings. We've managed to identify the trees they'll eventually grow into (providing the rabbits/possums/insects don't get them first, of course.)

(pronounced KAW-figh)

Kowhai are small trees, growing to a height of only about 8 metres. They're so common that the kowhai flower is the official national flower of New Zealand. Many species of kowhai are deciduous, which is unusual for a native New Zealand tree (most are evergreen). The tree gets its name from the Māori word, kōwhai, meaning 'yellow'.

Pookie poses with our baby kowhai trees

Kowhai bloom on bare branches in early spring

Raucous tui love eating the nectar of the kowhai flowers


(pronounced MAT-eye)

Matai is a type of native pine tree that grows up to 40 metres high. The seeds are dispersed by the kereru (New Zealand pigeon), which eats the matai berries and passes the seeds in its droppings. In the past the timber was used in house building, especially for flooring.

Our matai seedling (I don't think it's big enough to be classed as a sapling yet!)

A mature matai- we'd better not plant ours too close to the house!

Among the birds our matai should attract is the kereru (the New Zealand pigeon)

Hope you enjoyed the pics.


Sunday, 31 August 2008

Back to square one

We had some disheartening news this week.

The first of the builder's estimates has come in for our house, and it's almost 50% above our upper budget limit. It's looking unlikely we'll be able to build the house Phil designed for us. The the other two builders' estimates will probably be pretty similar; if anything, they're likely to be higher, as they're both registered master builders and the bloke who's already submitted his quote isn't.

We'll wait until we get the other two quotes in, then we'll make an appointment to see Phil and discuss our options, but with one third of the total cost needing to be trimmed, and with few frills, only one bedroom, and the fact that we're already planning on doing most of the interior fit-out ourselves, there's not much room to make the radical cuts needed.

As well as being disappointed, we also feel disgruntled with Phil, because his estimate of what the design would cost was so far out. We made our budgetary constraints clear to him when we had our initial meeting, and he assured us he could design something that would come within them, give or take the usual 10% margin of error. We knew we were taking a calculated risk when we employed an architect to draw up plans, but it still smarts a little, knowing we've spent $3,500 for nothing.

So it looks as if we're back to square one with our 'grand design', and we'll need to spend more time re-evaluating all the options open to us. On the positive side, the collapse of our plans may force us down a more adventurous path - of building our own home out of adobe bricks, for example, or of living in a yurt. While neither of these possibilities could be considered an easy option, either of them would give us an exciting change of lifestyle, and an opportunity for personal growth.

Maybe things not going according to plan isn't such a bad thing after all!


Sunday, 17 August 2008

Our neighbours are building an ark...

...not really, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were, because it's been raining incessantly for weeks. It's great news for the reservoirs, which are not only our source of water, but also a major source of power, but it's a bit of a drag for any animal not endowed with scales or webbed feet (or preferably both, like this little fella).
The Lesser Duckodile

Rather frustratingly, we've not been able to do anything related to the house build over the last few weeks. There's nothing else we can do until we get the estimates back from the builders and that's probably another week away yet. As far as being granted title to the land is concerned, we've just going to have to keep on waiting. Part of my daily daydreaming time has been spent thinking up possible names for the house once we've built it, and one idea that came to me this week is 'Manawa-nui' which means 'patience' in the Māori language. The other name I'm threatening to give the house is 'The Hermitage', which is my way of pulling Iain's leg about his desire to get away from it all. Any other house name suggestions welcome.

One of the things we have been able to do in the last couple of weeks is to submit our application for New Zealand citizenship. The process can take a while to complete - up to eight months, apparently, but the application process is ten times easier than applying to emigrate, and when it's complete we'll be eligible to apply for New Zealand passports, which opens up Australia and many of the pacific islands as visa-free destinations. We're not going to give up our British citizenship, but it will be nice to feel as though we really belong in our adopted homeland.

In the last few weeks a couple of the writing projects I've been working on lately have been published. As part of my contract I usually get a couple of free copies of each title, and it's always exciting to see the finished product. Here are some pics:

Boost English - a series of 21 workbooks for ages 4 to 12, for Pearson Education, Australia

Rocks and Minerals Workbook for Dorling Kindersley, UK

In desperation at the end-of-winter downpour, last week we went on a fantasy holiday to the little-known Pacific island of Tongmoaji. In case you were wondering, it was while we were on the island that we took the photo of the Duckodile.

A holiday snap: me doing the hula on the beach

Must dash -- still got to get the sand out of my smalls.


Sunday, 3 August 2008

Whittaker Witterings

Blimey, where have the last three weeks gone? Is it really that long since I last posted to the blog?!

I'm very excited about our new 'Visitor locations' map, which some of you may have noticed on your previous visit. In the last fortnight we've had more than ten hits from the UK (hi Relatives and The Burton Crowd!), at least one from Canada (hi Donna & Doug!), and at least one from Auckland (hi Carin & Jim and/or Ian & Carol!) I know these are pathetically small numbers, but they're tremendously encouraging for us, because if only one other person is reading this blog apart from us two, (and of course Richard D, who doesn't really count)*, then it's worth doing. 

Iain's latest obsession is with learning to play the keyboard, and in recognition of the fact that he's stuck it with for the last four or five months or so (nothing short of a miracle where Iain's concerned), he's treated himself to a Roland something-or-other. Not Orzabal -- he was the bloke in Tears for Fears with Curt Smith -- but a type of synthesizer. A set of headphones was an essential companion purchase for reasons I'm sure I don't need to go into.

If Iain gets a synthesizer for sticking with the keyboard for five months, I'm beginning to wonder what I might be entitled to for sticking with yoga for eight years - I'm sure it must be worth a yoga studio, at the very least! Actually what I'd really like is to have not only the intellectual understanding that I am, in fact, one with the universe, but also the ability to feel it. Think I'd better stick with the meditation.** It's just a shame that it's so bloody hard

As far as the house build is concerned, in the last three weeks we've:
i) received a letter from our solicitors saying, to paraphrase, 'Goodness me, this land purchase is taking a long time!' (It was nice of them to tell us, otherwise we wouldn't have known.)
ii) had another letter from ours solicitors containing a copy of a letter from the vendor's solicitors saying they can't give us an estimate of how much longer it will take
iii) sent off copies of the plans to three local builders for a rough estimate. 

The weather has been pretty bad over the last few weeks. Storm after storm has battered the country, but we've got off pretty lightly here; in other parts of New Zealand there's been extreme winds, severe flooding, landslides and power outages. Nevertheless, the days are beginning to draw out, and when it stops raining long enough for the sun to come out, it's been getting almost warm, so spring, although not here yet, is definitely within sniffing distance. 

I've just realised I've gone rambling on for ages and I've not got any photos to break up the monotony. So here's a gratuitous cat photo (it's my post and I'll put in whatever photos I like! :P)

Right, that's all for now.
Catch up with you again soon.


* Only kidding, Richard!
** Or should that be medication?

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Developed concept plans

Hello everyone; this week’s blog post is a little different from normal. Instead of typing in the text, I'm dictating it. No, I haven’t employed a personal assistant; I'm trying out a computer dictation program.

I've been spending so many hours a day typing, I've been getting a lot of pain in my hands and arms. I'm not able to cut down on the amount of writing I do, but I can hopefully find a way of cutting back on the amount of time I spend pounding away at the keyboard. By using a dictation program I might eventually be able to reduce my keyboard time by 25% or so. It takes a lot of getting used to, though. You have to speak very clearly, and even then it's not 100% accurate. You always need to go back when you’ve finished, and correct the mistakes. Iain has tried it out, but didn't get very good results. Maybe the program didn't like his Stoke accent!

Last weekend we drove down to Wellington to see a rugby test between New Zealand and South Africa. Even though we've lived in New Zealand for over three years, this is the first time we've seen the All Blacks play live. The atmosphere at the match was excellent, and it was great to be able to cheer the All Blacks to a home win. It's a refreshing change for English people like us, to be able to support a national team that isn't woefully inept. :-)

On Friday our architect, Phil, sent us the developed concept plans of our little house. He's added a carport on the eastern side of the house, and we think this will not only be practical, but will also help to visually balance the roofline. At the moment the plans show a store and woodshed on the southern side of the house, but we've decided to get rid of these, which will open up the back of the house, and allow more light into the bathroom and laundry. We think a couple of cheap sheds off the driveway will do the job just as well, for a fraction of the price.

The pictures below give a rough idea of what the front of the house will look like. (Apart from the fact that Blogger has mangled the colours for some reason; must be going through its Blue Period.)

Two views of the front of our house (click for a larger image)

The choice of cladding will make a big difference to the way the house looks. We think we’ll probably go either with board and batten, in a plain wood finish, like the first photo, (except not blue!) or else with a vertically grooved board, painted red, as in the second photo.

The 'board and batten' cladding style --
it looked good when I uploaded it! :-(

The 'Shadowclad' cladding style (this is our rental in Titirangi)

The developed concept plans include a specification list, so we’re now at the point where we can get some quotes from builders. This is an exciting stage of the process, but it's also pretty nerve wracking. If the quotes come in way over budget, we may have to rethink our whole plan, give up our dream of a one-off cabin, and opt for something a bit more standard. We’ll also have wasted all the money we've already paid the architect. Still, we knew the risk we were taking when we started off down this road, and as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

About three months ago, we started collecting seeds from trees whenever we went out for a walk. We've been planting them up, and we now have a collection of seedlings of various native trees, only a couple of which we know the names of. Hopefully, some of these will survive long enough so that we can plant them out in our new garden. Next week, we’re going to make a start on growing some fruit trees. The climate here is mild enough for lemons and olives, so we're going to collect stones and pips, soak them overnight, plant them out, and see what happens.

Well, I'd better go now, as it's my bedtime! Catch you again soon.


Friday, 27 June 2008

A visit to the big smoke

Last weekend we took advantage of a spell of unexpectedly sunny weather to take ourselves out for an airing. It was a bit too chilly for a stroll along the beach, so, seeing as Iain had a pile of old computer games he fancied trading in for a couple of new ones, we set off to the nearest big city, Palmerston North, for a rare shopping expedition. Palmerston North was given the second part of its name by New Zealand Post in 1871, to distinguish it from another town called Palmerston, which is on the South Island. Around here people simply refer to it as 'Palmy'. Iain and I like to call it 'the big smoke'.

The town park, where ducks rule

More ducks in action

When we say 'big' it's with our tongues firmly in our cheeks. It's the biggest settlement between here and the capital city, Wellington (which is a three hour drive away), but its population is only about 79 thousand. I wanted to look up a list of English towns and cities by population, so that I could find a town to compare it to, population-wise, but the only list I could find didn't have anywhere with a population of less than 100,000. So, it's probably safe to say it's not very big at all by UK standards.

Roses in June (the equivalent of December for all you 'topsiders')

Palmerston is a monumentally unattractive town, in stark contrast to Wanganui, and it has its own rather unfortunate microclimate that means it sees far fewer sunshine hours than here, gets a lot more rain, and is several degrees cooler, especially in the winter. When John Cleese toured New Zealand a couple of years ago, he referred to Palmy as the "...suicide capital of New Zealand. If you wish to kill yourself but lack the courage to, I think a visit to Palmerston North will do the trick." According to Wikipedia, one of the municipal rubbish tips now has an official-looking sign naming it "Mt Cleese".

The city council offices

While we were out and about I took a few snaps with the little camera I always keep in my handbag, and hopefully these show some of the more photogenic sights that you can catch in Palmerston, if you know where to look.

The wild west saloon look, typical of old pubs and hotels

That's all for now; it's late and my brain is flagging. I hope to be able to post an update on the house build before the week is out.


Saturday, 7 June 2008

Apt and witty title suggestions welcome

A bit of an update on the house-building front.

Last week I went to meet Phil at the section, so he could get a better feel for the site and its outlook. He gave me printouts of the CAD drawings of his initial concept plan. These include a more detailed floor plan, all four elevations and two perspective views, one of the front of the house and the other of the western outlook. We can't post these here, unfortunately, because they're on A3 paper, which means they're too big to fit onto our scanner.

Iain and I studied the CAD plans and there are just a few minor tweaks we've asked Phil to make; mainly concerning the size and positioning of windows. Next step is for Phil to come up with a developed concept plan. This needs to be detailed enough for builders and other trades people to be able to draw up quotes for products and services. I expect this planning stage will take the longest to complete, as there will be so many details to consider, so lots of to-ing and fro-ing with the specifications. At the end of the process we aim to get something that fits the budget constraints, suits the smallholding lifestyle and excites us. Not a very tall order, really! ;-)

Phil says he's been inspired in his design by the architecture of Friedensreich Hundertwasser, an ex-pat Austrian who lived in New Zealand for the last twenty-five years of his life. Before I came to New Zealand I only knew Hundertwasser for his paintings, but he's probably better know for his architecture. His public toilets at Kawakawa, in Northland (the northern part of the North Island) are a well-known landmark here and are on the tourist trail.

Hundertwasser's public toilets in Kawakawa, NZ...

...the entrance

...interior view

Hundertwasser was famous for his dislike of straight lines and right angles, preferring everything to be wonky and curved. Looking at Phil's design for our cabin, it's difficult to see where the Hundertwasser influence comes in, because all the lines are straight, with no curves at all. I expect Phil's used straight lines for the reason most architects do; straight shapes are much cheaper to build.

One area in which we might be able to make the house more Hundertwasser-like is in the exterior colour scheme. Phil's proposing cladding the house in plywood panels, which can then be painted or stained in a variety of colours. Maybe he was thinking of this building in Vienna:

The 'Hundertwasser House' in Vienna

To get even more of a Hundertwasser vibe, it might also be fun to use coloured bottles and mosaic tiling in both the interior and exterior detailing. I've done mosaic work before, and I'd be keen to incorporate it into the new house. I especially like the idea of a mosaic on the wall of the outside room.

Anyway, I've got to go now; I've got a busy day today and my allotted 'posting time' is now over.


Saturday, 31 May 2008

Autumn up the river

This week's post is going to be light on words and heavy on images.

We had a very special book club meeting this week. We went out to Annette's place, which is about 45 kilometres out of town up the river road, and stayed overnight. Iain and I have stayed there before, as paying guests, when we took Jane and Pete up the river, and we had a wonderful time. See our write-up here. It was great to be going back again so soon. Here are some photos.

Tree ferns in the early morning light - can you spot the Moon?

Annette and John's house, as autumn turns to winter

On the deck

One view from Annette and John's deck...

...and another

...and another

...and another!

Inside the cottage where we stayed

Loading up the eponymous Flying Fox, the cable car across the river

View back to the house from the cable car

Me on the cable car

Gaye on the cable car

Carvings at the cable car station


Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Baby steps

Yesterday we took a couple of baby steps on the house-building journey.

The vendor's solicitor rang yesterday morning to say the surveyor is finally going to do the survey. He reckons it will take around four or five weeks for the legalisation process to be completed, at which stage it will be back in the hands of the council. With a bit of luck, we should finally have title to the land in about 3 months' time -- thirteen months after we signed the contract!

We got another pleasant surprise in the afternoon. We hadn't expected to receive the initial concept sketches from the architect, Phil, for another month or so, so we were delighted when they turned up in my e-mail inbox. Phil explained that some ideas won't let go of you until you put them down on paper, and this had been one of them (I know exactly what he means -- sometimes poems and stories do the same to me!)

Iain and I spent a few hours last night poring over the design and talking it through, and we really like it -- Phil's met our criteria really well, and we've got a renewed sense of enthusiasm about the whole project. It's going to take a lot of time and effort, because we'll be managing the whole project ourselves, and doing the majority of the internal fit-out too, but we're confident we're going to end up with a home we'll love.

Anyway, I'm going to sign off now. I've got a raging sore throat and my brain is fried. I just wanted to share the good news and show off the preliminary sketches.

I've got a site visit with Phil next Wednesday, so I'll give you an update after that.


Click on the pics to get a bigger view.
Initial concept: Elevation

Initial concept: Floorplan

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Land stuff

H phoned up the district planner today to find out what the hold up is. For a council department they were refreshingly open and forthcoming. No big issues by all accounts, just the need for the vendor's surveyor to do his job and submit the survey, then it's all done. It'll take 2 months from then to process.

The surveyor is, however, a muppet. So to anyone in the area who wants to employ a surveyor, I'd recommend avoiding John Harrison of Harrison & O'Sullivan unless you like waiting 12 months to get a field surveyed. Our surveyor did a really detailed geotech report in less than a month, so how a basic land survey can take this long beggars belief.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Decisions, decisions, Part 2

Apologies for not posting part 2 sooner, but another contract came along (thankfully a nice short one this time!) When I'm chasing a deadline and spending long hours at the computer every day I try to avoid spending any of my spare time at the keyboard.

Anyway, trying my best to pick up where I left off last time...

After making the decision to get a house designed with an architect, one fell into our lap, figuratively speaking. Iain was talking about our plans with a work colleague and it turns out she knows an architectural designer who works in Palmerston North, the 'big smoke' about an hour's drive from Wanganui. She gave us his contact details and we looked up the website of the firm he works for. We felt a bit intimidated when we saw the buildings in their online portfolio, but we dropped him an email nonetheless, asking if he'd be interested in designing a 'hippy cabin'. Thankfully, he said it sounded like fun, and would we like to arrange a meeting to discuss our ideas?

So that we'd have something to discuss at our meeting, and to give the architect, (whose name is Phil, by the way), a better idea of the sort of thing we were after, we sifted through the hundreds of house-related images we've collected from the internet over the last year or so, ever since we decided to build a new home. Initially we narrowed it down to about a dozen that we both liked, but I thought we might actually muddy the issue if we gave Phil too many images. I thought a single, well-chosen image would communicate our vision much more effectively.

Here's the image we gave him:

An interior we both really like

There are so many things that appeal to us about this interior: the 'solid' feel (even though it looks as if it the walls might be straw bale), the rough plaster finish on the walls, the rough wood cladding, the wooden post and beams, the wooden doors and windows, (yes, we're suckers for wood!) and the way it manages to feel both light and airy and cosy at the same time. It's neither strikingly modern, nor overtly traditional, but a clever and unpretentious blend of the two.

Once our 'key image' was chosen we needed to communicate the nitty-gritty of what we want from the house, and we decided to draw a mind map for this. When we first started we thought the complementary areas of form and function would be pretty evenly balanced, but as the mind map evolved, we discovered that for us, the functional considerations far outweigh the aesthetic side of things. This came as a bit of a revelation, or at least it did for me. I've always been an out-and-out dreamer, and I never realised before how important practicalities are to me. Maybe it's a function of middle age? (All observations welcome.)

Click here to view our new home mindmap. (Be patient; it's a big file!)

We had our initial meeting with Phil last week, and explained our ideas. We also gave him some photos of the section, as well as a map the engineer drew when he did the geotech report. He said it was an ideal spot to build a house, which was gratifying, because it confirmed what we've thought all along - that we've got a real cracker of a site, which we should be able to make into something really special.

Phil's busy on a big project right now, but he should be free in about six weeks time, and then it should only take him a couple of weeks to draw up a concept plan. Fortunately Phil seemed to think it would be possible to build the sort of thing we're looking for within our budget, and he even talked about the possibility of building a mezzanine, which is something we'd always fancied, but always assumed would bump the price up too much.

On the land purchase front there's still no more news on when the subdivision is likely to go through; we won't be at all surprised if the first anniversary of signing the contract comes around and we still haven't got the land.

Anyway, it's getting late, so I'll sign off now and catch you again next week.


Sunday, 4 May 2008

Decisions, decisions Part 1

Ever since we signed the contract on our section out at Turakina almost ten months ago we've been talking about what to do with the land, and the main topic of our discussions has been what type of house to build. 

Thanks to Iain's tireless research efforts, we've looked into many possibilities. They are, in no particular order:
  1. Relocating an old house and renovating it on site. 'House Movers' has a whole different meaning here in New Zealand, where houses are stick-built and can be picked up and put on the back of a lorry, even if it does mean cutting them in half first.
  2. a Lockwood Home (the 'posh dream home' option).
  3. an almost-dream-home with one of the other national house building franchises who have branches nearby
  4. a standard home design with a local builder
  5. a non-standard home designed by an architect
  6. a lined and insulated garage
  7. a tipi
  8. a yurt
  9. a caravan
  10. a house truck
  11. a geodesic dome
  12. an earthship
  13. a prefabricated wood cabin
  14. a prefabricated 1880s style cottage
  15. a kitset home (you buy the materials in kit form and either build it yourself or get a local builder to put it up for you.)
  16. a bach (cheap holiday home)
We were anxious not to overlook any of the options open to us, but after a while it became necessary to throw out some of the ideas, just to keep our heads from exploding.

Decision number 1: Build a permanent home. We made this decision because we want to live in a particular spot on our section. If we were to build a temporary structure, someone on an adjacent section could build their house too close, and we'd lose our ideal, private building site. The tipi, yurt, caravan and house truck had to go. 

Decision number 2: Borrow as little money as possible. Both of us earn only modest amounts of money, but in discussions with the bank we found they were willing to give us a quite immodest loan, which would translate into mortgage repayments that would soak up a truly scary proportion of our disposable income. Tempting as it might be to borrow the full amount the bank is offering, if we did so we'd never be able to afford to develop the land, to go on holiday, or to do any of the other things we enjoy doing, and we'd be suffering extreme anxiety every time interest rakes took a hike. What's more, we'd never stand a chance of paying our mortgage off before we reached 65. Iain also did some rather sobering calculations on the long-term cost of borrowing, and found that the overall cost of borrowing doesn't rise proportionately with the size of the loan, but exponentially. Out went the dream home and the nearly-dream-home.

Decision number 3: Go for practicality. Practicality is always an important consideration for us in most areas of life, so I'm surprised we didn't reach this decision sooner. 

Impracticality comes in many forms, and we decided to get rid of the renovating an old house option because of the potential for significant overspend. It's difficult to estimate costs accurately until you start dismantling things, and discover the whole roof/framing/floor needs to be replaced because of rust/wetrot/woodworm/*insert other problem here*. 

We binned the geodesic dome and the earthship on the same 'impracticality' pretext. It would cost a lot to get either of them built, because they use specialised building techniques, and we weren't prepared to take on the huge task of building them ourselves. 

Decision number 4: Go for something that inspires you. At a stroke this decision got rid of options 4, 6 and 16. We just didn't feel excited about the prospect of building a cheap, off-the-peg kiwi house, a garage or a bach. 

That left us with just four options, (numbers 5, 13, 14 & 15) which was a much more manageable number to choose from. We weighed all these four options up again, and decided that the one that enthused us the most was to get a non-standard home, designed by an architect. 

Iain found out that, on average, it costs about 20% more to build an architect-designed house rather than an off-the-peg one, but there are several ways that we're planning  on clawing back the extra expense: First of all, we're willing to sacrifice size (there are only two of us, after all - we don't need the 'standard' 150 to 200 square meter home - we reckon between 80 and 100 square meters is plenty big enough. We're also happy to use building materials that are chosen for their practicality rather than their aesthetics, i.e. rough board and batten cladding instead of the more expensive weatherboard. Finally, we're willing to pitch in and do the interior work ourselves. We've looked into what's involved in an internal fit-out, and while it will be very time-consuming, we're confident that we've already got most of the skills involved, and those we don't have, we're capable of learning.

Well, this post has gone on for a lot longer than I expected and I've run out of time, so I'm going to have to make it a two-parter, with part two next weekend.


Thursday, 1 May 2008

Quiz team celebrates in style

This is just a very quick post to upload some photos I was given (thanks, Frank.) I'll write a proper blog entry at the weekend.

Some of you may remember a post from December 2006 with photos of our pub quiz team's Christmas bash. Well, I'm pleased to report that the team's still going strong, although we've moved to a different pub, where the quiz is livelier, the food is better, and the prize vouchers are not only more generous, but they're also valid for twelve months rather than for three nights of the following week.

We've been doing pretty well in the quiz, often coming second and sometimes even making first place, and as soon as we collect enough vouchers, we spend them on a celebratory meal. Here are some photos of our latest 'team meal' last weekend.

'Bill's Clues'. On the right (l to r): Scott, me, Frank and Linda

On the left, (l to r): Jane, Andrew (AKA Maccas), Iain and Bruce (AKA Lippy)

Bruce before drinking the Sambuca...

...and after


Monday, 21 April 2008

Jane and Pete's visit - Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of Jane and Pete's Visit. This time I'm going to let the photos do the talking, and keep the words to a minimum. Partly, this is because I don't want to bore anyone with my rambling narrative, but mainly it's because the things I'm writing about happened about six weeks ago, and they're beginning to fade from memory. While I have an amazing recall of useless facts and figures, I've always had a very poor memory for events, and the older I get, the woollier it becomes.

After returning home from our trip up the Whanganui River we hopped aboard Jane and Pete's mobile home, and set off for a bit of a tour. First we went to Waitomo Glowworm Caves, near Hamilton. Flash photography isn't permitted, because it disturbs the glowworms, so the only shot I got was of the river as we emerged into daylight at the end of our trip.

The Waitomo River, outside Waitomo Glowworm Caves

There's an interesting short video about Waitomo Glowworm Caves here.

After Waitomo we made our way to Rotorua, which many kiwis call Rotovegas, because it's the tourism capital of the North Island. The two main attractions we checked out while we were in Rotorua were Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, and Tamaki Māori Village.

Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland

The Devil's Bathtub - he must use Radox

Bubbling mud pools

Thermal Park Panorama - The Artist's Palette and The Champagne Pool

The Lady Knox Geyser

Jane and Pete in the foreground, some geyser in the background!

Iain and I

For more information about Wai-o-Tapu Termal Wonderland, visit their website.

Tamaki Māori Village, Rotorua

The cultural evening at Tamaki Māori village was excellent. We didn't manage to get any decent photographs, though, because we were at the back of the group, and most of the events were held outside, in the dark. As a result, I have several dozen beautifully illuminated photos of someone's bald head, and not much else. To see some good photos, and to find out more about Tamaki village, visit the Tamaki Māori Village website.

On our way back to Wanganui from Rotorua we stopped off at Huka Falls near Taupo. Huka Falls is the largest waterfall on the Waikato River, and although the water level was much lower than normal, after several months of drought conditions, they were still spectacular. I fancied a ride on the jetboat, but had to make do with watching it from above. That's an experience to write on my 'to do' list.

Huka Falls, near Taupo

The Huka Falls Jet Boat - looks like fun!