So, we are back from the Alpaca Association of New Zealand conference in Rotorua. A long, fun, informative and very tiring weekend. A few highlights:

Drove up Thursday night, taking SH1/the Desert Road. But as it was pitch black we could see nothing of the terrain we we driving through. Pity.

Friday we had all day classes. Tam was in a Camelid handling class taught be Marty McGee Bennet, who is THE person for llama/alpaca training and handling. She is also really nice and a fun person. I was in an Alpaca Selection course taught by one of the first US breeders, Mike Safely. Very educational, now we have to exchange notes.

Saturday was all-day lectures. They had two lecture tracks running, so again we split up. The opening speech was given by local politician Jim Anderton, who made very good points about the need for value-adding to products if the country is going to go forth and prosper. (A cubic meter of unmilled pine log is NZ$70, a cubic meter of cell phones is NZ$700,000- which is more likely to make your country prosperous?) He seemed like quite a rational fellow. Much of the virture of Saturday was networking durig the periodic tea-breaks. We have developed a breeding strategy for our herd, and with hordes of breeders large and small in attendance, we were schmoozing left and right trying to get leads on some good starter females. Hopefully we have some good ones in line, now we just have to finish the discussions via email. The evening was capped off by watching the All Blacks take down the Argentina Pumas. Though kudoes to Argentina for being plucky. Most of their success came from the simple approach. No fancy passing, just run up the middle really fast. Everybody expects something a bit more complicated than that- so it the simple way can acually work. And they managed to score a try against the ABs, something England could not manage in two games! That same night the English were getting pounded by the Aussies.

Sunday we had yet more seminars. A schedule-reading mistake led us to get up an hour early (urgggh), but that turned out well. We had breakfast with Marty McGee Bennet, and ended up chatting through the extra hour (animals, US politics, the state of the world, standard breakfast fare). One of the morning seminars was on the development of a herd-genetics-traking database, and Tam apparently showed insufficient reluctance (plus a bit of knowledge), and is now helping out a bit there. The final two seminars in the afternoon were quite boring (homeopathy and biodnamics, both of which I am okay with in moderation, but in this case they surpassed my grain-of-salt tolerance level), so we left early to drive back to Wellington (and were glad we did). Just outside of Rotorua we picked up two young women from Newcastle who were backpacking their way across country and took them with us down to Wellington (they needed to catch the ferry to the S.I.). They were not very chatty, but we did notice as they got tired their accents got thicker and thicker. Hee. We popped into town to drop them off at a backpackers (it was pouring rain, and leaving them anywhere else late on a Sunday night would ahve been cruel), and headed home for much-needed sleep. The drive home was made longer by the rain. By the time we got to the Wellington-region the rain was heavy enough that slips were becoming a concern, but we made it through without problems. At least by leaving early we go to see the Desert road by daylight this time. Wacky volcanic plateau. Have to go hiking up there some time.


Some assorted observations:

— the Rainbow Warrior is here, tied up at the visitor’s pier across from Shed 6 and the kayak ramp.

— the Capital E gallery in Civic Square is full of life-sized papier mache heads of Vincent van Gogh.

— the list of things I may have to swerve to avoid in my drive to the train station includes (among many other things) sheep, cows, hedgehogs and peacocks.

— of all of the places I’ve lived, this one had the weirdest list of “things abandoned by the former owners” (how’s that for a new LJ meme ?). In addition to the usual old paint cans, our previous house came with a 20 foot aluminum ladder and a set of loppers. This one, on the other hand, came with a potted olive tree, a trampoline, and a pony.

I like parties, and here's a big long list of names

I like parties. They seem to result in beautiful women dancing in my living room, people making music, singing, talking. Carey (whose name I have almost certainly just misspelled) and I went out and attacked some of the local cypresses with loppers and hung it up around the house. We tried for some ivy, but the stuff taking over the front corner is of a kind that bruises easily and goes all slimy and wilty when you pull it up. We found some *fantastic* flowers in the back — some kind of leucadenron. Robin graciously shared her birthday (and food for an army) with us. Sharon came even though she had a ton of work to do — she parked in the conservatory with her laptop and the whale mug full of Turkish apple tea. Oskar — a Rhode Island ex-pat — brought the makings of the new Darton arbalest. Steve and Oskar and Richard (and Stephen, of course) actually went out to fight, while the rest of us mostly did crafty-things (sewing, cardweaving) or decorated. Alan made me an origami dragon out of the pretty blue iris rice-paper that I’ve been saving bits of ever since Holly gave me something wrapped in it way way back at Bryn Mawr ! Sylvia came wearing garlands of jasmine — how bad can Winter be, really, if the jasmine is blooming ? — and Liz found narcissus *somewhere* and it smells divine. Speaking of jasmine — Melanie identified the bit of vine we clipped off one of the cabbage trees out front as native jasmine — how cool is that !

The bonfire, as Stephen describes, did not burninate. Two days straight of soaking rain made it doubtful to start with. It started raining lightly just as we were heading out at dusk, but most folks gamely trooped out through the pasture to give it a go anyway — even Julian made it up and over the muddy tracks on crutches ! Now that’s keen. Stephen and Carey did their best, but it really started hosing down & we all trooped back, completely soaked. We set up the drying rack over the stove & did people’s jackets & sweaters in turn.

The fire in the stove was raging cheerily, though. Beverley came dressed in fire colors, and bringing fire and light (in the form of a warm red patchouly pillar candle). And there was mulled wine to warm us (between the wine and the tea and the hot chocolate, I think I washed every mug in the house at least three times…). Helene wore a nifty gown I think she made herself & I got to show off the old impala skin and the new goat skin we got at Greta Point on the trip with my Mom. Carey and Susan showed me how to play knucklebones with the ones Keri got me way back. It’s sort of like jacks. I need to find another one, ’cause you’re supposed to have five (my set has four, for fortune telling). Liz played violin, and Joy and Ross played dumbek & they made Sybille shimmy for, like, three minutes straight. Hee. And Jennifer and Carey and Melanie and Sybille and Hillary and I sang Christmas/Solstice carols out of the Revels songbook — Sybille sang a few in German, some of which we knew English versions of. Various mobs joined in singing various ones they knew. Susan made these *neat* cookies with colored candy windows in them ! And holes to hang them by, except that we ate them all, and didn’t leave any to hang. Speaking of colored hanging things, Sybille does these things that are sort of like gigantic un-shrunk Shrinky-Dinks(tm) & we got a classic peg-legged, parrot-bedecked pirate — ARRR !! He’s hanging from the antlers. Hee. And there was a lot of talking. It was only after most everyone had gone that I remembered that we own a dryer, so Richard and Geoff got toasty dry jackets to wear home.


I know I’m forgetting stuff, but if I don’t spew it all out, I’ll forget more.

Midwinter Fun

This past weekend marked the shortest day (well, technically it was Monday, but we figured Sunday was close enough), so we decided to have a party. It started as a SCA day-O-fun, where we get together for fighting, archery, and various craft activities. Then it was to morph into a midwinter party, with lots of non-SCAdians coming over. Oscar brought the bits of the arbalest-under-construction. I am looking forward to when Darton has its own seige engines!

The planned big bonfire, however, did not happen. I had a nice big pile of gorse ready to go, but just as we were all heading out to light the fire, it started raining. Slowly at first (“we’ll be fine… only a drizzle”). But over the following miniutes it slowly cranked up to a downpour. The fire burned for only a few seconds before being extinguished by the pounding rain. Not having 20 liters of diesel on hand to “help” get the fire really going, we headed back in. Thankfully the house was nice and toasty-warm with the inside-fire, as we were all quite moist.

In all 21 people attended (plus Tam and I). There was singing, some dancing, some music playing, and lots of good conversation. Plus plenty of food. For these parties Tam and I have learned to provide some basics (bread board, hummus, some drinks), then we see what else shows up. Some people bring nothing, others bring food-for-fifty. The end result is a mixed and tasty pile of assorted foodstuffs. It is also clear that this is more of a wine crowd than a beer crowd. We always end up with more wine at the end of the night than we started with! Who knew throwing parties was an effective way to build up your own collection!

Bang! thud-thud-thud

So, when I was out brush-cutting on Monday something exciting happened. With a juddering thud a piece of the saw blade disappeared. A nice jagged chunk about 3×2 inches in size. Thankfully it not disappear into my femoral artery! Considering the blade was whirling at a few thousand rpm, I don’t want to think about the starting velocity of that metal chunk. All in all I was rather sanguine about the affair, an opinion shared by neither Tamara nor Yvonne when they saw the missing chunk and thought about the possible consequences. Now, I do wear safety gear when cutting (steel-toed boots, helmet, ear protection, face shield, jeans, long-sleeve shirt, welding-gloves), but I am not sure how that would have done against fast sharp steel.

Yesterday we went and bought a replacement blade. I have since leanred that I was not properly re-sharpening the old blade (though I don’t think that played a role in its failure). The old blade was DULL. But since it went dull slowly I did not notice so much. The new blade… wow. I am waiting for it to become light (and late) enough this morning so I can run out and cut gorse like mad for a few hours! Plus with heavy rain predicted the next two days, I had better get my mass-destruction fix in today!

Some updates

So, my mother and Joel are on their way home, barring a short stopover in Auckland (Mom still has a handful of trinkets to buy — I assured her Auckland could supply). Yay mom ! Have a good flight !

The cold snap has eased a wee bit. We were super-cozy last night on the new electric blanket, in the new flannel sheets. Yum.

Saw “Van Helsing”. Certainly not a good film, but not what I’d leap in to call a bad film, either. It was a refreshing brain-scrub, anyway, and fun to watch and laugh at. Like just about every modern rehash, though, it can’t decide how far over the top it should go (started off good, meaning “way, way over”, then slipped) or how tongue-in-cheek it should be. Ah well. Rotten Tomatoes lists it as pretty rotten, but if you look at the reviews, about half of the critics complaining about it are the ones who’ve clearly never read a comic book published after 1973, and disapprove of the way the movie messes with Canon. The sorts of people who’d be utterly bewildered by an Elseworlds story. Suck it up, goobers. I *did* have a little trouble with David Wenham as Friar Carl, though, as my brain kept sticking up a hand to ask why Faramir was suddenly the Stock Comic Relief. But then, you really need to club your brain unconscious to ride these kinds of movies anyway.

In other news, the All-Blacks pasted England (who won the World Cup last year, some may reluctantly recall) Saturday night, and the whole country is rolling in the Smug. Bets are on whether they’ll get all sloppy and complacent now.

Go Black!

South Island Holiday

So, this last week has been full of activity, so full we did not have time to update the blog! Here is a short synopsis.

Thursday May 27- Tam’s mom and her husband Joel arrived after 24 hours of transit from Atlanta. We took them around the farm, introduced them to the ponies and ‘paca. Then Tam got to open a bunch more birthday presents. Later that evening we introduced them to Hell Pizza.

Friday May 28- We drove up to the Lindale Farm center in Paraparaumu by means of the very picturesque (and windy and cliff-filled) Paekakariki Hill Road. Fun was had shopping and feeding the various critters, including hordes of greedy chooks and ducks.

Saturday May 29- We drove up over the Rimutaka Hill Road to the Wairarapa. Driving to escape the clouds and rain on the Wellington side. We visited Paretai Alpacas, a small operation, but with a really nifty kitset barn. We really want a barn, and are looking for inspiration. We had lunch, then dropped by the Paua Shell factory for more gift shopping (Carol had promised souveniers back to most of her many co-workers). Then we drove out across the eastern hills to Castle Point. Wow! Really cool. Looking out over the pacific ocean, plus tremendous wind-and-water carved features (and plenty of howling wind! and cliffs to fall or be blown off of- into a raging sea no less!). Tam and I are looking forward to some future day-trip out there to hike some of the cliffs along the sea. The drive back was about 2.5 hours, and we got home about 9 PM. Sunday we were leaving for the south island, but before we could go we needed to get the new fence around the home-paddock ready for the horses to be moved. This involved fencing by moonlight, a new sport that I think everyone should try.

Sunday May 30- We caught the 9:30 ferry (the Arahura of the Interislander line) to Picton on the south island. The trip was about 3 hours. Then we grabbed food and hopped on another boat- a small catamaran of the Cougar line as it made the rounds of the various bays of Queen Charlotte sound, dropping off/picking-up passengers and small cargoes. Many of the places in the bays are only boat-accessible. Coming in May has certain advantages- the weather is colder, but the places are empty. Like blowing tumbleweeds empty. I think in 12 months we may have to return to many of these places to have a longer vacation (plus many give cheaper winter rates!) After the trip we drove over to Nelson (about 2 hours).

Monday May 31- At the suggestion of Gerry, the nice man running the B&B, we hiked up the hill behind Nelson to the “geographic center of NZ”. (Convenient that it is on top of a lovely hill with great views… but I will be generous and allow a slight fudging of the data for such purposes). The hike took a bit longer than anticipated, and by lunch we were a bit worn out. A few art&craft galleries was all the afternoon activity we could muster.

Tuesday June 1- The arts and crafts death-march. Ahem… I mean we looked at lots of nice little galleries throughout Nelson. Tam and I commissioned an order for new dinner plates. Then we went down to the World of Wearable Art. Tam and I both wished we could magically teleport Maura down right then and there to see the wild and wonderful costumes. Have to love component lists llike “Silk, cotton, fiberglass”. WOW started in 1987 as a little art/fashion show, now it is a major event attracting thousands and running over 3 days (with lots of categories). The stuff ran the range from beautiful to wacky to overwhelming. We just wish they had a good book of photos! What books they had were totally inadequate. The moment they put out such a book we will buy two copies, one for us and one to mail north! After WOW we drove up to Takaka over the Takaka hill road. As Hill-roads go it was easy. Nice and wide. Only rarely did death seem immenent. It did provide impressive views, as did the look-out at the top. At the top the wind was… primal. Like if you opened your mouth it would cause your cheeks to flap primal. Made the outlook viewing platform quivver- which was fun as it was set at the top of a cliff. (The wind was rushing up the cliff, one step back and it was nearly calm). The B&B for the night was in Collingwood, the northnermost “real” settlement on the South Island. That night we walked on the beach by (very bright) moon-light. Fun!

Wednesday June 2- We drove way up to the top of the Island, Farewell Spit. Again everything was empty (and many shops and cafes closed) due to the off-saeson. We hiked across the DoC-run farm to Fossil-point, a wonderful beach with raging surf from the Tasman. Beautiful rocks and plants. Tam and I found a cave system that connects to the beach. We could only crawly 20-30 meters in before we would need light, helmets and knee-pads. Have to put that on the “come-back-to” list. The fenced-off sections of native bush were all stunningly beautiful. Later in the afternoon we went down to Takaka and walked through the Labyrinth Rocks. These are a cool Karst-limestone formation that some fellow purchased and turned into a little walk/theme-park. We had a good stoll through the twighlight passages, with massive birdsong filling the air. I hope of the pictures came out.

Thursday June 3- On our way south we dropped by Abel Tasman National park, making our way around the coast to the north. We took a lovely little walk up to a waterfall (Wainui falls). It had a fun swing-bridge for Carol and Joel, so they could get the real NZ experience! Then it was time for a moderately lengthy drive south, past Nelson/Motueka down to the Nelson Lakes National park. We spent the night in the Tophouse B&B. Tophouse deserves multiple mentions. It is a 116 year old place made of mud and straw- still with the original roofing iron. It is a place with lots of “history”. By history I mean in 1897 a fellow who was in love with the governess of the children went drunken-wacko, murdered two people with a shotgun (while out “hare shooting”), and tried to kill the governess and the wife of the tetgraph master (who he killed earlier). The wife was sending desperate telegraph messages. Very creepy ones to read along the lines of “my husband went out- I heard a shot. Now there is a man with a gun outside trying to get in!” Then he cut the telegraph lines. A party sent to investigate arrived the next morning, just in time to hear the last shot. The killer had taken his own life (messily) on the front porch. You cans till see the damage the shot caused to the roof. Sleep well! 🙂

Friday June 4- A rainy day. We drove west to the coast and went to Punakaiki, home of the Pancake Rocks. These are a weird geological formation, nobody quite knows how they formed. They were used as background in one scene of Walking with Dinosaurs. Really, really cool. A “must see” fr anyone touring the South Island, IMHO. We were doubly lucky in that we got a 20-minute window in the rain, and managed to see the rocks unhampered. Plus the storm had driven up the surf, which made the rocks much mroe impressive. Afterwards we drove down to Greymouth. We stayed at a B&B with Mary, a 10-pound-pom who came to NZ 42 years before. She married a fisherman, and lived for many years at a disused whaling station in the Marlborough Sounds. What a life! What a place to raise four kids!

Saturday June 5- We drove south to Hokitika (for all the greenstone you can eat). Then further south to Ross to see the old gold mine they are now converting into a big (and reeeeaaaaly deep) lake. The mine owners would like to move the town (pop 320) to mine where it was. They offered to build a new town. But some people didn’t want to leave. For now the owner is starting a new mine a bit further south. And on weekends he occasionally takes out his Tank to play with. It was all he wanted for his 50th birthday, and his wife got him one. Apprently they have lots of fun knocking down houses that need demolishing. It is quite the crowd-drawing spectacle, apparently.

Sunday morning before the train we drove up to Blackball, a coal-mining town inland. This is the area where the Labor Party was born about 100 years ago. We saw the site of the worst mining disaster in NZ (65 killed). We discovered later that if you want, you can walk around the old mine under the town. Bring gumboots and a flashlight. Maybe next time. The TransAlpine train to Christchurch was fun. There was fresh snow in the mountains, which made it all extra-scenic. We passed the Jackson Inn whose propriator back 100 years ago used to welcome stagecoaches and trains with his bagpipes. Pipes that had been carried onto the battlefield at Colluden! Those pipes are now in the national museum. In Christchurch we split up, with Tam and I off to the airport for the flight home. Due to the perky 200 kph tail wind the flight back to Wellington only took 26 minutes! (normally 45).