Quite a large amount of rain

Five inches of rain in 12 hours (with about half of that in one hour) was dramatic:

It actually peaked a bit higher than even this:


Takapu flood May 2015

The water is wide

The next day, when the waters came down a bit:


Takapu flood May 2015

This fence held, fortunately.

A 18cm (7 inch) banded kokopu Stephen caught (with his bare hands) in a neighbor’s driveway (which had become a river due to a blocked drain).  We figured fish ought not to be crossing roads — at least not by swimming over them, so we plonked it into the stream proper.

Banded Kokopu

Gone fishin’ on Takapu Road. Yes, ON the road…

The force of the water stripped the surface right off the road on places.

Damaged road surface

Bit of a mess, that.

There were several power poles down where the stream had eaten the ground out from around them.  A few hours later, this scene was littered with trucks and cranes re-siting the poles into the paddock on the other side of the stream.  Power was only out for 24 hours.

Takapu flood May 2015

That would be why the power went out, then.

The industrial area at the bottom of the valley was also hit pretty hard.  Warehouses were awash and stuff was tossed every which way.  Up in Porirua whole cars were floated away.

Shipping container washed over a bridge

Downstream, there was just more and more water.

There were massive logs jammed up against the water main.  Our neighbors found two of their bridges several culverts down stream. Driveways were washed out, and fences have been pulled down all up and down the valley.  We have some fences to replace, and repairs to do to the protective works on either side of our bridge, but all in all we came out of it a lot better than most.

The Great Project has begun

As Tam mentioned in her earlier post, we’ve begun work on the barn.

We’ve been discussing building the barn since… well, since not long after we moving in 10 years ago. The big shed we built back in 2005 (with much help from Steve and Jennifer) has been great, vital even. The concrete floor we (finally) got poured in the shed back in 2011 has made it even better.

When we moved in, the place came with an empty concrete foundation- where the old cattery was located.  It naturally attracted piles of junk (firewood, scrap timber, Yvonne’s jumping-rails and equestrian-stuff). Serious construction plans started in 2010; I took a draft barn plan to council. They pointed out that the existing foundation was 20 years old, but the code required that the foundation have a minimum of a 50-year lifespan.  Time to call in the first engineer! They confirmed the slab was in good shape, that it was on good firm ground, and that there was steel in the slab, as per plan.  They couldn’t guarantee the lifespan of the slab unless he cut it in half… which kinda defeats the purpose.  So he suggested we pour a new footing around the perimeter. That way the barn will be resting on the new (50-year-lifespan) footing, and center of the slab is now just a floor with no lifespan requirements.

A couple of years passed as I worked on the building consent, and we went through many, many iterations of the barn plan. We settled on a final plan in 2012, and I got the building consent approved (a lengthy saga of its own, building consents are becoming excessively ponderous in their required paperwork).

Last December Dave M and I built the form-work for the new concrete footing (and I put in lots and lots of reinforcing steel), and in early January with the help of my new neighbor Dave W we got the concrete poured.  Woo!

And then they announced the road running through our farm. So I lost 4 months reading, researching, writing, meeting with local mayors and councils, etc.

Back in June I finally got to the construction phase. I would build walls and bits during the week, then on the weekend get some friends over and we would prop them up and bolt them in place.


barn under construction

Two walls

Alpacas exploring the barn under construction

The alpacas aren’t concerned


Yesterday was a big day- the posts and beams.  This was not going to be a 2 or 3 person job, so I put out the call and we got a big team.

The posts are 250x250x27000 macrocarpa, rough saw straight from the sawmill. They look great!  And they weren’t that hard to get in place.

The large beams are 410x90x5400, LVL (laminate veneer lumber- essentially structural plywood).  They were HEAVY. I was glad for all the extra people.


barn under construction

posts and beams

barn under construction


With that done, I can now continue.  A floor, the second level walls, then the rafters and roof await!

Been a bit full-on

I see that the last post was the “this year’s babies” post…  Spring, with shearing, matings and birthings is our “silly season”.  After that, we usually have the big camping event down south, with the frantic period of prep as we try to get stuff finished off around the farm, and try to get projects finished for the trip itself.

Then this year, when we got back from down south, we got hit with the news that the New Zealand Transport Agency wants to build a new highway literally through the middle of our farm.

Cue several months of crash up-skilling ourselves on the Wellington regional roading network, national and international motoring trends,  assorted traffic modeling tools and analysis, regional resilience plans, etc.

The good news is that the road they want to build is actually a dumb road, and there are better roads they could build (and/or upgrade) to solve the problems they are supposed to solve.  The bad news is that because this is a well-funded government bureaucracy, that might not matter.

In the middle of this, my mother and her partner came to visit, which was the expected mix of additional stress and genuine fun.  We had a lovely little trip up north.

I’ve had to build a new PC.  I will probably get it dual-booting Windows 8.1 and Linux Mint.  We’re shifting to new herd management software as well.

AND we bought in a new stud alpaca from Australia.

AND Stephen was a guest speaker at the Australian alpaca conference.

AND we’re putting in photo-voltaics and starting (finally) the build on the new barn.

AND my job is being restructured out of existence, so I need to get a new one.

So yeah, busy.

Spring is bustin’ out

Here’s this year’s cohort (photos by Stephen!):

MAGOTHY and mother Marlett:



FOXACID and mother San Serif:




ESCHELON with big sister Suleluri in the foreground and mother Svalinn in the background.  That’s FOXACID’s butt to the right (they’re already playing together) and various others in the background.  One of the two remaining geese is the speck back left.



It’s the first time we’ve had one of these born here !  Very cool !  The mare is Rosie, being looked after by our grazer, whose own mare is due to give birth in another couple months.  Then we’ll have TWO baby horsies ! (Something about this little guy makes me twelve again).


It’s actually kind of startling how disproportioned they look at first.  Check out those legs.


He faced Death standing

Sunday we lost one of our stud males, Fred.

Every year a few of our animals die. It’s the inescapable statistics of scale. Some of these deaths are easier than others.

Fred was not our first stud male, but he was probably one of the most successful. He was purchased on short notice, a little fellow originally imported from Australia with lovely soft brown eyes. He sired many cria, and passed through genes that helped our herd.

But at nearly 18 he was starting to slow down. We don’t know how long he’d been feeling crook, camelids are so stoic they hide their illnesses too well. But when we were bringing Fred and the young boys up for shearing, he was having a tough time of it, having to pause and rest every few steps.

Anaemia, quite severe.

We didn’t shear him, knowing if he was going to have any chance we had to keep him warm and happy. I treated him as best I could for his anaemia, but to no avail.

On Sunday it was clear he was fading. He was gasping for breath, his thin blood incapable of providing him enough oxygen.

Tam and I got him out of the paddock, though we had to assist his walking by carrying most of his weight using a towel slung beneath him. To our surprise he hopped up into the trailer, a good cooperative soul to the end. We expected him to promptly sit down as we drove up to the yards, but he stood the whole way, then hopped out and walked in on his own. We’d brought him up so I could take him to his final appointment with the vet on Monday.

Then we left, off to shear alpacas all day. When we returned, he had died.

Normally an alpaca dies sitting. It is natural to sit when you feel weak and sick. We find them on their side, with the neck curled back in the posture of death. It’s how we expected to find Fred. He’d been mostly sitting in kush for days, rarely standing, as the anaemia took its toll.

But I could tell from the way he lay that he’d died standing. His heart stopped, and he toppled over.

Did he know his death was coming? Did he stand up to face it? We’ll never know, but he certainly left a mark on our herd, and in our hearts.


RIP Cedar House Frederick    2.2.96 to 3.11.13

Introducing Ziggy

New llama arrived Friday morning!  Meet Ziggy:

Ziggy the llama

Ziggy, with Hob in the background.

A closeup of Ziggy the llama


He has one light blue eye and one dark blue eye.  Guess how he got his name? (No, we didn’t name him.)  He impressed us with his general grooviness when we met him back in May.  Stephen’s already taken him through Tawa.



A bit of drama

Yesterday afternoon I was giving Tam a ride home from work. I’d popped into town for my regular plasma donation, which has to be done down at the hospital complex, and I time the donation so I can just pick Tam up and we go straight home.

Heading north on SH1 a car about 100m ahead of us flipped over!

In the ‘good timing’ department I’d just had a first-aid refresher course on Saturday.

Multiple other drivers stopped, and by the time I got to the car two other guys were already working on yanking open the drivers-side door. The three of us got the single occupant out, and away from the car. (She was really afraid of the car exploding, which is nearly impossible, but we were doing what we could to calm and comfort her.)

One guy had a big first aid kit with him, but we couldn’t find any gloves. There was a fair bit of blood from the laceration on her hand. Thankfully Tam had a nitrile glove pack in her bag.

Other people who had stopped were helping to manage the scene and direct traffic. An off-duty St John’s guy stopped, too, which was very helpful.

Emergency services were there very quickly. I expect the driver will be okay, hopefully not more that a couple of stitches.

I’m glad we could be there to help. It’s good to see so many people stopping to render assistance, and to render assistance well.

Flipping a car on one of the two main highways out of Wellington at 4:30 did bugger up traffic for the evening rush hour, though.

A cold hurricane

What a weekend.

It started Thursday evening. Ironically enough I was at a community resilience planning meeting, where we were working on what Tawa planned to do to help itself in the event of “the big one”. A large storm was predicted to hit Wellington that evening, and by the time we all started arriving at the local fire station it was already starting to blow.

By 7:15 we lost power. We continued on for another 10 minutes by emergency lighting. Then the fire fighters got called out, and the station started hopping as the volunteers came in. We decided to postpone.

I couldn’t get home owing to the giant tree blocking Takapu Road. Thankfully I’d taken all my kit with me that evening, and the moment I got out of the road and back into cell phone range I got a text that PERT had been activated.

Spent the next five hours driving around Porirua, doing reconnaissance of the storm damage, including trying to assess routes and rising streams around an IHC facility that was considering evacuation. I almost didn’t see the raging torrent in the dark, wind and rain. Ben called out in time to prevent me from plunging into the torrent. It was hard to distinguish the ankle-deep water I was sloshing through from the stream.

Couldn’t get home when the EOC closed at 12:30, still a tree in the road. So I crashed at Kerry’s place. We were up early, she had to be back at the EOC by 7. I got up the valley in time to watch our neighbor John demolish the giant tree in the road with his 12-ton digger. Impressive. There were down power lines all over the road, though at that point they’d been down for 12 hours, and everyone was presuming they were no longer live (not always a safe assumption, but thankfully they were dead).

I got home, had some food, then headed out to help with clearing the road. John had dealt with the giant tree down his way, but there were plenty more trees blocking the road and driveways. Thankfully we are well equipped, and roving mobs of chainsaw-wielding people roved the valley looking for people in need of help. A fine way to meet neighbors you hadn’t met before. Tiring work, though.

Then Saturday we had our annual “Darkest Day” party to celebrate the solstice. And it really was dark, seeing as we had no power (mostly), and all illumination was provided by hurricane lamps and LED candles (and some real candles after the little kids had gone home).

I say “mostly” no power because Friday evening Tam discovered the cat bed was still warm, to the surprised exclamation “God must love cats!” How can the power be out, mostly? Well, not all the cables to our house broke, we still have one phase and a neutral. So we have one circuit of power outlets that are live. So the fridge is plugged in, and extension cables criss-cross the house (which is how I have internet and this computer to post onto the blog).

Light is still provided by means of lanterns, heat comes from the wood burner (though we really notice how the lack of ceiling fan means the heat mostly lingers at the tops of the room).

We should have power by the end of the week. Hopefully.

It was a big storm. It came very close to the Waihine storm of ’68, so-named for the inter-island ferry Waihine that sank in the harbor mouth during that storm for the loss of 52 lives.

Thankfully no such disasters this time, though a moored ferry in the harbor (the Kaitake) slipped its moorings and needed its anchor and tugs to ride out the storm.

The sustained 10-minute average wind speed over this storm (~100 kph) was less than the Waihine storm (133 kph), but wave heights at the harbor mouth were higher (15 m as compared to 12-14 m in ’68), and the peak wind speeds were higher (200 kph).

So we basically got hit by a category 1 hurricane that lasted 2 days, but was cold. What fun!

In the end all the animals came through okay. Our back garden now gets more natual light as one tree fell apart, but otherwise the farm was undamaged. And now I have acess to plenty more firewood as I help neighbors with their cleanup. Yay!


Last Wednesday we had one of our two llamas, Opa, euthanized.

Opa was, as his nick-name suggests, an old man. 22 is a respectable age for a camelid. (Oldest one I know of lived to 29, most start dying of “old age” in the late teens or early 20’s.)

Opa arrived six years ago. We had purchased Hob after Jim died in 2007. Julie asked if we wanted a second free llama. Opa was 16, retired, and completely besotted with Hob. Julie wanted to let the friends stay together (plus it got another animal off her then-heavily-stocked farm).

The first few years Opa went out on some adventures, but as he aged his feet started having troubles (down in the pasterns) which precluded long walks. He’d always be so anxious for Hob’s return when we took the other llama out, running along the fence in excitement because HOB was back!

Opa was the boss of the boy herd, even as he aged, and as such he provided one great service, he taught the stud-alpaca Zeus how to be social. Zeus had spent a couple of years in the “paddock mating” situation, left in with a group of females. He’d become an uber-macho, a male that would attack and try to kill any other male. This made it tough on us, since we didn’t want to leave Seus in with the females, nor is it kind to leave them alone.

Zeus battled Opa for dominance. This battle would run an hour or more of knock-down, drag out camelid wrestling. Every single day for a year! Zeus was younger and full of testosterone, but 145 kg trumps 80 kg. At the end Zeus finally gave in, and then realized once he was no longer #1 that it was possible to live with other males as friends. Zeus and Hob became buddies.

I’m glad Zeus had moved on before age started to really catch up with Opa, as I’m not sure if he could have stood up to Zeus this last year.

We’d known for months that Opa was slowing down, to the point were last month when we were at the llama association AGM we were actively shopping for a new companion for Hob. Then in the weeks before he died he started to loose weight, and spend more time separated form the herd.

It was most likely liver failure, based on all the symptoms. The liver is often the organ that goes first in camelids.

There was also some grim comedy around his death. After Julia was done, and Opa was dead, we needed to get him to the graveyard and into the hole I’d dug.

Just then the phone rings. One of Yvonne’s horses had gotten spooked on the property next door, and bolted through a fence. Yvonne couldn’t get out of work, and Carol is 8 months pregnant.

And we had a dead llama in the middle of the driveway, and guests coming over in an hour.

So we can’t help with the escaped horse, We manage to get the body onto the back of the ute (not easy with a 140 kg corpse, I used ropes, a pulley, and a chain-ratchet).

But we’d had 25 mm of rain the previous night, and the track was too slick and muddy for my ute, even in 4WD.

Then the garage calls, Tam’s car (in for a WoF and service) is ready for pickup. So we have to throw a tarp over Opa, and drive into down. Yeesh, what an adventure.

Thankfully the next evening with the help of a couple of neighbours and a quad-bike we got Opa up to his grave.

Life on the farm, and all that. Now we have to pick a replacement llama (or two), so we can make sure Hob has some llama-buddies.

The third degree

Phrases you don’t often hear: “I spent a pleasant evening being questioned by the police.”

But I did, last Wednesday. I volunteered to help out at the Police College (which is just up the road in Porirua) with a DVI course they were running. DVI = Disaster Victim Identification That’s what you do when you have lots of casualties/fatalities, and especially if the bodies are damaged or disfigured. The sorts of things that happens post fire/bombing/earthquake.

My job was to play a “next of kin” which the two officers got to question. They were working from a huge form which is used internationally (but not in the US, they have their own, of course).

Because it is an international form, NZ police has very little say in its 5-year periodic review. We had a number of criticisms of its content/design.

One topic that really got me was “race”. You get 3 choices: Caucasian, Mongoloid, or Negroid. It felt very 19th-century. And just how am I supposed to categorize a Maori? Or someone form India/South Asia? OR the ever-growing fraction of mixed-race people? Not very helpful.

Other questions were a fun investigation into your perception and memory. What is your spouse/partner/sweetie wearing today? EXACTLY. Colour, style, brand. Underwear. Socks. Shoes. Can you describe them all accurately enough to help identify the body? How about tattoos? Amazing how many people know their partner has one, but when asked to describe it has trouble remembering which arm it’s on, or what it looks like. It’s doubly-hard to precisely describe moles, scars, or other skin blemishes.

Part of the fun was that one of the two officers questioning me had a thick Texas accent- he married a Kiwi and moved down here a decade or so ago. But being questioned by a Texan-ex-marine-policeman? That makes it feel like a gritty crime drama. They just needed the single light bulb hanging above the table to finish the scene.