Sultans of Spring

At the end of yet another long, cold, very wet winter we had a promising start to spring. I transplanted some daffodil bulbs last year to the border in front of the studio, they added some early colour along with the camelias.

Sadly, apart from a few sporadic sunny days, the weather of the past two months has been nothing short of atrocious. Amazingly, there are many stoic soldiers that have battled on through the gloomy days, torrential rain and high winds. Nothing seems to deter the annual display of daffodils and a lone jonquil,

and a kaleidoscope of crocuses continue to pop up in unexpected places.

Florentina iris and Spanish bluebells braved the elements

and a surprise appearance from Lachenalia emerged from a young hydrangea shrub.

We have a few clumps of Clivea around the garden but they are often chomped by our nocturnal visitors.

The Magnolia tree is still recovering from years in the shade and will be helped by the impending removal of a few huge gum trees.

The rhododendron blooms in the same section of garden are stunning this year and have the most delicious scent, no wonder the bumble bees are happy.

New tree fern fronds are eagerly unfurling in anticipation of warmer days.

Another spectacular show from the Waratah, although the flowers are now struggling with the prolonged inclement conditions.

Our blueberry yield was very poor last year so we protected them from gale force winds while the fruit set. It is looking promising for this year’s bounty, now we need to protect them from birds and marauding fauna.

Geraldton Wax and grevilleas are providing the bees with much needed nourishment.

I am hopeful that the solitary oriental poppy will become many next year.

Zealandia

One of the places on our ‘must see’ list while in Aotearoa was Zealandia, the world’s first fully-fenced urban eco-sanctuary. For millions of years, native and endemic species had evolved without the need to defend themselves – until humans, and the mammals they introduced, managed to render at least 51 bird, 3 frog, 3 lizard, 1 freshwater fish, 1 bat, 4 plant, and a number of invertebrate species extinct. Formerly known as the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, the 225 hectares (just under a square mile) of forest, surrounded by 8.6 kilometres of pest-exclusion fencing, has reintroduced 18 species of wildlife to the area after being absent for over 100 years. We exited the visitor centre to the magnificent view of Karori Reservoir.

Completed in 1878, the Karori Dam and valve tower hailed the beginning of the municipal water supply to Wellington City and continued to contribute until the late 20th century.

There are many kilometres of walking trails through the sanctuary, we headed up the main path that followed the lake.

It wasn’t long before we encountered a gorgeous family of pied shags. Known in many countries as cormorants, they are brilliant swimmers and, because their feathers are not waterproof, can stay underwater for up to 30 seconds. Unfortunately, this means they get quickly waterlogged and cold and need to spend a lot of time preening and drying their feathers.

When a predator approaches a nesting colony, the chicks will jump into the water long before they can fly and are very good at climbing back up to the nest. Both parents build the nest, incubate the eggs and feed their adorable  young.

Further along the path, we encountered a pair of birds enjoying a drink at a sugar water bar.

The kākā is a large, olive-brown forest parrot with flashes of crimson and orange plumage under their wings. The word kā can mean ‘screech’ in Māori and so the name kākā is thought to be a reference to their loud call. Effectively extinct in Wellington since the early 20th century, fourteen captive-bred kākā were transferred from zoos between 2002 and 2007 and breeding has been very successful at Zealandia.

As the trail narrowed and foliage thickened,

we could hear unusual clicks, croaks and bell-like sounds. Looking up, we spied a beautiful black bird with white pom-poms at its throat.

The tūī is known for its complex vocabulary and can mimic other birds, ringtones of phones, door chimes and even human speech thanks to its ‘double voice-box’. While watching and listening, mesmerised, it became evident in the sunlight that the dark plumage was actually a dazzling iridescent green.

We stumbled upon what appeared to be old iron railway tracks in a clearing. Alluvial gold was discovered in the area in 1869 and local residents flocked to lay a claim. Two years later, quartz mining took its place with water wheels and crushing machinery installed. Presumably, these are remnants of the mine sites.

We traversed the upper dam wall, completed in 1908

and paused to take in the stunning vista across the upper reservoir toward urban Wellington.

We crossed a suspension bridge, enveloped by dense forest

to travel a different route back to our starting point. We didn’t expect to see the elusive tuatara but the mainly nocturnal creatures were basking in the sun.

Tuatara means ‘peaks on the back’ in Māori and they are considered to be messengers of Whiro, the god of death and disaster. Scientists refer to them as ‘living fossils’ because they are the only living members left of the Rhynchocophalian order. All other members became extinct around 65 millions years ago.

We first spotted these birds while staying at Motuoapa Bay. Though not a native species, the California quail is a welcome substitute for the now extinct New Zealand quail, helping to balance the ecosystem.

With a hint from this Tūī that lunch time was nigh,

we left Zealandia in search of sustenance.

boating bliss

Winter is the perfect time of year to visit friends in Darwin, especially when they own a boat.

No, not that one….this one.

We set off on a sea of glass from Cullen Bay Ferry Wharf

and rounded the headland,

before the hint of tropical houses in the suburb of Larrakeyah peeked at us through the trees.

In the distance, Darwin city cut the colour blue with a swathe of silver and green.

Larrakeyah was one of the first parts of the city to be developed, with the colony’s first hospital built in 1874. It is named after the Larrakia people, the traditional custodians of the land.

In 1869, Dr. Robert Peel, a surgeon with the first survey team, found water ‘…in a gully between Fort Point and Point Emery’. Aptly named Doctors Gully, it soon became a landing point. In the early 1950s, a nearby resident started throwing bread scraps to the fish that would gather at high tide and in 1981, Aquascene Fish Feeding was established. Visitors can now stand in the shallows and hand feed the fish in the waters of this official marine sanctuary.

The Esplanade runs the length of the waterfront overlooking Darwin Harbour and alongside, Bicentennial Park is home to monuments and memorials as part of the WWII walking trail. Lookout Point is a good place to start.

With calm waters and stupendous scenery, it was time to serve drinks and nibbles.

Continuing down the coast toward the end of the park,

the Deckchair Cinema operates seven nights a week in the dry season. Established in 1954, Darwin’s only independent cinema gives audiences the chance to watch a diverse range of movies that would otherwise go unseen on the big screen.

Adjacent to the cinema, Parliament House was opened in 1994 on the site of the Darwin Post Office that was bombed in February 1942.

On the other side of the cinema, Government House is well hidden from view. It is the oldest European building in the Northern Territory and has been home to Government Residents and Administrators since 1871.

At the end of the Esplanade, Jervois Park marked our point of return

as the evening sun cast the cityscape in a new light.

The occupants of this fishing boat should probably have looked behind them.

On the horizon, eight jet skiers resembled the riders of the Apocolypse, fortunately not close enough to shatter the serenity.

As Sol descended,

we returned to Cullen Bay

and another day came to a spectacular close.

happy hens

Our crazy Barnevelder chooks are now nine years old. Two died last year in their sleep and the remaining duo hadn’t produced an egg for many months. We don’t have the heart to despatch them and so, we welcomed four newcomers instead. This time, we veered from any particular breed and sourced them from a local “farm”. I didn’t realise the state they were in until I got them home, many feathers missing at the back end, they obviously had worms and possibly lice. We treated their ailments and have become very attached to these lovely red hens. They are intelligent (for chooks), inquisitive and each has her own personality.

Winter has been wet and dismal, our poor girls have endured without complaint. We took to the internet in search of ways to make life more interesting for them and made it our mission to cheer them up. Having seen videos of chooks playing on a swing, we were inspired to make one. Unfortunately, our girls haven’t seen the videos.

We then fashioned a couple of hooks on string to hang vegetables from (silverbeet is prolific in the veggie patch) and that was a hit, though they make short work of it.

At least the swing is getting some use, for hanging long grass over.

Next came a forage cage so the girls can nibble the greens that grow through without scratching and ripping them out of the ground. Someone was eager to try it out, adding her own brand of fertilizer as a bonus.

We gleaned from our search that chooks find mirrors fascinating, this was more successful than the swing.

So, they now have a playground in the secure pen.

They also have a larger uncovered area that is fenced to prevent the destruction of our garden. We created another forage cage and the same cheeky chook couldn’t wait to check it out.

Last weekend, we added another novelty for them, a chair made out of old fencing posts.

I’m pleased to report, spring has sprung and we are now having more sunny days than wet ones. The forage mix is starting to grow

and the girls have all recovered their health and fluffy bums.

The two old girls are going strong and one has even started laying again.

The ultimate indication of chook happiness is indulging in a dust bath in the warm sunshine.

Pumphouse perfection

As we left Pumphouse Point at the end of a wonderful sojourn in March 2019, we vowed to return for a winter experience. With one thing and another, it has taken three and a half years to realise the promise but we finally made it earlier this month. We had stayed in a room on the middle floor of The Pumphouse that first time, a wonderful feeling to wake up surrounded by water and endless nature. For a different perspective, we booked the Panorama Room in The Shorehouse, considered to be the best room on the property.

Living up to its name, the spacious room spans the entire side of The Shorehouse on the first floor and the huge windows embrace panoramic views across the lake and mountains beyond.

The larder was stocked with tempting goodies to enjoy for a picnic lunch or midnight snack and a hot sourdough loaf was only a phone call away.

Another reason we opted to stay on dry land is, we didn’t relish the idea of walking the 240m flume in rain, wind, ice, snow or any combination of these, to return to our bed in the evening. The inclement conditions that had accompanied our four hour drive abated for our arrival, we could just discern the snow-capped peaks beyond The Pumphouse.

All guests are invited to partake of pre-dinner drinks at 6pm in The Shorehouse lounge before randomly seating in the adjacent dining room. Three courses of fresh, locally sourced fare are served, complemented by your own choice of beverage from the honesty bar. The shared table occasion may not appeal to everyone but it makes for new acquaintances and lively conversation. We awoke the next morning to blue skies and a crispness of air that can only be breathed in the middle of nowhere in Tasmania.

Fuelled for some exercise by a hearty breakfast, we embarked on the Frankland Beaches walk. The 3km track meanders along beaches and glacial moraines as it  follows the shoreline of Lake St Clair, Australia’s deepest fresh water lake.

We warmed up with a hot chocolate and Drambuie chaser at Lake St Clair Visitor Centre before our return trek. Viewed from Cynthia Bay jetty, our destination was a mere speck in the wilderness.

Along the way, nature exhibited her artistic talents,

this tree is a sculptural masterpiece.

We assembled a picnic lunch from the larder and settled into the lounge to savour the surroundings as much as the food.

Michael insisted I endure an hour long massage, a relaxing indulgence that wasn’t on the menu when we last stayed. Once I had recovered, we wandered across the flume to The Pumphouse for a nostalgic reminiscence

before returning to freshen up for another evening of delicious food and interesting repartee with a different group of travellers. Our adventure was over far too soon and, even though the gloomy skies had returned, another day or two would have been very welcome. A three night weekend stay is next on the list.