swallow summer

Over the years, there have been a few attempts by swallows to set up home on our cedar cladding. We resorted to inventive ways to deter them with success. In early January, a determined pair began construction in a cosy corner of the back deck.

We decided to allow them to share our space and made allowances for the anticipated mess that would ensue. The little birds worked tirelessly, collecting mud and grass

and three days later, the nest was complete.

Welcome Swallow couples stay together for life, they both build the nest and feed the young, although the female alone incubates the eggs. Two and a half weeks went by and the parents seemed to be spending a lot of time away from the nest, so Michael reached up and took a photo.

Another three weeks went by and we hadn’t heard any baby bird noises or calling for food, although the parents were still attentive. Time for another photo, there was no mistaking two tiny heads.

Of course, I became obsessed with trying to capture some special moments and three days later, two little heads popped up.

A third soon joined them

and within a couple of days they were starting to explore beyond their comfort zone.

I was surprised by the lack of chirping, even when food was approaching.

They gradually ventured further each day and after a couple of weeks, no longer returned to the nest at night. We haven’t seen them for a few days now, hopefully they will return next year.

Nelson

One of the reasons we included Nelson on our New Zealand itinerary was to visit the workshop of Jens Hansen, a must for any true fan of The Lord of the Rings.

Danish-born Jens moved to Auckland in 1952 and, after completing a jewellers apprenticeship, settled in Nelson with his wife and young son in 1968. He knew and loved The Lord of the Rings and was thrilled when approached, in March 1999, to design the fabled ring. Fifteen prototypes were submitted from which the final ‘movie ring’ was chosen. Forty variations of The One Ring were made for the filming, scaled for different scenes and sized to fit Hobbit or human fingers. Then there is the 8” version seen spinning and turning through the air in the prologue of the first film.

Sadly, Jens was diagnosed with cancer in 1999 and died in August the same year at the age of 59, never seeing his rings on screen. His legacy continues under the guidance of his sons and a remarkable team at the workshop.

Having made a very special purchase, we drove a few minutes out of town to the Grand Mercure Monaco Resort, our home for the next two nights.

Reminiscent of an English countryside village, the resort offers a range of accommodation from self-contained two bedroom cottages

to boutique hotel rooms. We had a stunning view of the Monaco Peninsula.

The guest lounge was cosy and comfortable

and we enjoyed a delicious dinner, as well as breakfasts, at the restaurant.

The grounds have been set up beautifully, with a peaceful lake enticing a variety of birdlife.

A short stroll down the road, The Honest Lawyer, exuding the charm of an English country pub, was the perfect spot to imbibe a pint of Guinness in the afternoon sun.

Perusing the menu, we decided to stay for dinner before a slow walk home as the sun was setting in spectacular fashion.

The next morning dawned crisp and clear, another day of adventures awaited.

veggie patch revamp

When we created our veggie patch, we used reclaimed hardwood roof trusses to make the raised beds, thinking they would outlast our time here. Eleven years of Tasmanian weather proved us wrong and the timber was starting to rot, the screws were no longer holding and the boxes developed all sorts of twists and turns.

After weeks of mulling over possible solutions, we came up with the idea of reinforcing each box using metal sheeting on the inside. Our local Colorbond supplier was very helpful. We gave them the measurements of each piece required and they cut them from ends of rolls that would otherwise have been discarded (at a reasonable price). After digging away the soil at the edges,

the strips of steel were screwed to the timber with pond liner at the corners to avoid water seepage.

We were happy with the tidy result.

The rhubarb box was a bit of a challenge, just as well it needed thinning out.

We had a truck load of loam/ compost mix delivered and topped up all the beds

just in time for spring planting.

The fruit salad tree box had to be completely demolished and rebuilt (I was too distracted to take photos of the process).

Our unpredictable spring weather meant I was constantly chasing sunlight and warmth for the seedlings

but I finally had success and planted out in summer.

I threw some marigold seeds in for the first time, they supposedly deter pests as well as looking pretty.

By the end of January, there was no stopping the flow of produce.

Thankfully, we found some willing recipients for the monster zucchini.

Enchanted Walk

There are many wondrous walks to choose from in Cradle Mountain National Park but my favourite is Enchanted Walk. Just over one kilometre long, the circuit takes around twenty minutes, depending on how much time one spends admiring the scenery. The trail starts at Cradle Mountain Lodge and follows Pencil Pine Creek as it bubbles along, embraced by mossy banks and majestic trees of the rainforest. On this morning the sunlight danced on the water, highlighting natures artistry.

Tannins from surrounding buttongrass moorland created a startling palette of orange hues amidst the shadows.

As we meandered further into the forest, verdant lichens complemented the russet glow.

At the end of the walk, the creek tumbles over rocks at Pencil Pine Cascades on its way to Pencil Pine Falls and, eventually, on a convoluted journey into the Forth River and Bass Strait.

north to south

I had assumed our journey from the North Island to the South Island of New Zealand would be in a north-south direction. In actuality, the crossing of Cook Strait is from east to west. Named after Captain James Cook, who first mapped it in 1773, the waters of the strait are considered among the most dangerous and unpredictable in the world. The regular ferry service is often disrupted due to rough water and heavy swells from strong winds. Fortunately, our early morning sailing from Wellington was on a sea of glass.

About half of the 70 kilometre voyage is in the strait before entering the spectacular Marlborough Sounds.

Many of the small settlements, surrounded by steep, wooded hills, are only accessible by boat.

With 1500 kilometres of coastline, the islands and peninsulas of the Sounds comprise one-fifth of New Zealand’s total.

Made up of four distinctly different Sounds (Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru, Pelorus and Mahua), it is boggling to think that 10,000 years ago, this stunning area was actually a valley.

Three and a half hours after leaving Wellington, we arrived in Picton Harbour at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound.

As we drove out of town, we paused to look back at the breathtaking scenery and bustling harbour before continuing our South Island adventure.