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.

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!

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.


We did our yearly trip up to the Central Districts Field Days in Feilding on March 8th.

As often happens on that trip, we ended up picking up a hitch-hiker near Foxton. We was an interesting looking fellow, with his little pack, beard, and clothing that at-a-glance reminded me of the Amish.

One of the first things he said to us, in a thick accent, was “there are lots of police about because there was just an escape from the local prison. Always a great start to a ride.

Actually, he was a fascinating young man. He was from near Cologne, on a 3-year journey. He was a traditional craftsman, a joiner, who as part of the traditions of his trade had to spend 3 years travelling and working after completing his apprenticeship before he was allowed to return home. And those travels were to be done wearing the traditional garb of his trade (19th century-style, in his case).

He’d just finished 3 months in NZ travelling and working, and was hitching his way north towards Auckland to fly back to Europe and complete the last few months of his travels. A nice guy, but we could only get him about 30 km further forth before our paths diverged.

And that’s why I never went to training again…

It was a fun-filled week for emergency response training.

Last Monday (our usual night) it was raining, so we decided to run a radio and maps exercise. Two people per car (5 cars total) each with a radio and a map. We would send them coordinates, which they would have to find and get to using the map. Once there, they would radio back their location (street corner) and we would send the next coordinates.

As we went along, the rain intensity started to increase. Then a bit more. Then it was hosing down. Some of the teams out in their cars started reported roads blocked due to flooding, or having to stop and assist other people.

So we turned the evening into a real-life recon. We re-tasked the teams to check stream levels, bridge clearances, and flooding in different parts of the city. Back and base we were recording this all on a map, and forwarding the relevant info on to the fire service. We were also prepping to head out with pumps if required.

Then the rain started to slow, and the flooding abated, and it became clear that the fire service could handle the remaining issues.

Wednesday was Waitangi day. It was time for us to work in the “public education” arena. We set up in Te Raupuraha park where they were holding the “festival of the elements” and work on educating the public about what they need to do in terms of their household preparedness. That and let them know about the team and what we do.

Then shortly about 2:30 PM team member cell phones started to go off- there had just been a shallow magnitude 8 quake east of the Solomon Islands. The sort of quake that can generate a serious tsunami. For an hour we waited to hear if a Tsunami risk had been declared. When the alert came through, it was time to pack up *fast* and get back to base. The Coast Guard, who had the display next to ours, were similarly speedy in their pack-up. (The public seemed blissfully unaware of our hastened departure, and of the conversations as we packed along the lines of ‘get that boat out to sea’ and ‘we have to move this equipment to high ground.’)

We were in the process of fitting the Tsunami alert/evacuation sirens to the tops of my ute so I could start driving around the beachfront communities when the alert was called off.

So, if good things come in threes, What’s going to happen at training tonight? We went from local flooding to Tsunami thus far. Is step three going to be an asteroid impact or something? I guess we’ll find out in twelve hours or so.

Animal Interactions

So, as you well know, we do stuff with our llamas and alpacas. Beach walks. Christmas Parades. Stuff like that. Back in November I had Hob (llama) and Durendal (alpaca) up at the PakNSave Porirua for the SPCA street appeal. Camelid work well for money-raising, as people come up and pet them, then look guilty and put money in the bucket.

The SPCA folks, seeing how well camelids did with the public, asked if I could bring them along to a more challenging and potentially more rewarding environment- a visit to a secure Child Youth and Family facility for highly troubled teens.

This is way more than a foster home, it is in-effect a low-security prison for kids who are starting to go really off the rails. A psychiatrist-friend was not very optimistic of my chances of having much of an effect on the kids, who in her experience were early-stage psychopaths most of whom would spend the rest of their lives in and out of the Justice system.

The problem many of these kids have is that they cannot connect, cannot trust people, due to a long history of abuse and other serious issues. The SPCA works with CYF to bring in animals to try and get positive reactions from the kids. They assured me that there would be plenty of staff on hand, and that the kids are “generally on their best behaviour.”

And it went really, really well.

Hob is the largest and thus most intimidating, but he is also amazingly calm and groovy. The alpacas were a bit less forgiving, and that was what made it really work. I gave the kids a talk about how if they moved or acted like predators (loud, fast, sudden) then the animals would be afraid of them. They needed to be calm, controlled and gentle- and they needed that to be in their body language.

And it worked.

The kids really, REALLY wanted to interact with the animals. Lead them around. Pet them. And they discovered the more they controlled and calmed themselves, the more they could do with the alpacas. It was a situation where the kids got to see immediate positive feedback if they controlled themselves. Sure, the CYFs counsellors can tell them that self-control is important, but when a formerly-dubious alpaca lets you quietly pet his neck, then it makes the value of self-control real.

I expect we’ll be going back. Over time I can try and vary what I tell the kids before we start, and what mix of animals I bring, to try and maximize the value of the experience.

Advanced Technology

Our phone died yesterday. When the tech came out to repair the fault (which was in a cable about 0.75 km north of our house) I had a nice chat with him.

He was from the Philipines, where he had also worked as a telecoms tech. When he got to NZ he needed a bunch of extra training because the equipment we use here is so old he’d never actually worked with it before.

He was also horrified at the parlous state of high speed internet here in NZ, copmpared to the Philipines.

Thanks, Telecom, your excellent monopoly has served the country well.


I think that’s the best term for how I’m feeling right now.

This weekend I discovered a teesie-weensie problem in version 1.4 of my book. Or more accurately, Stefano pointed the problem out to me.

It’s missing an entire chapter.

Somehow Ch 14 got dropped during the formatting, I don’t know how.

Version 1.4 is the version that I’ve sent to the most people, including the professional author in the US who read and commented on the book. At least a dozen people have read v1.4.

And nobody noticed an entire missing chapter. A chapter that sets up the final action of the book. A chapter that is one of my favourites.

What does people not noticing the absence mean? Is my book so riddled with unexplained discontinuities that skipping an entire chapter is no better or worse than the rest of the prose? Or perhaps is speaks more generally ill of the SF genre, and what is considered an “allowed” level of continuity error?

In any case, it has done my head in rather severely.

If anyone out there would like the corrected, v 1.5 of the book (now with Chapter 14! Woo!), please drop me an email.