Friday, August 22, 2014

In Praise of DOC Huts

We have a unique system of public backcountry huts in New Zealand. From poky, smoky huts etched with history through to Great Walk palaces with solar lighting, these huts provide much needed shelter on our tramping tracks. Often a convenient day's walk apart, most provide the basics of bunks, benches, rainwater tanks and a tap, with an outdoor toilet at a pong-free distance.

There's nothing quite like the sight of a hut in the distance after a tough day on the trail. Glimpse it in the distance through the bush or across the bay and suddenly your pack feels lighter, the rain less persistent, and hunger more bearable.

But best of all is the view from the hut, having been on the move all day, you can now sit and enjoy the view out to sea, up the river, or deep into the bush interior.

The huts on the North-West Circuit of Stewart Island, are all in inspired locations. Each hut we came to had its own delightful setting. Thanks DOC!

Here are some of the huts paired with their views.

1. Most welcome view of a hut in the distance - Bungaree

2. Best dolphin watching spot - Christmas Village
3. Most peaceful river setting - Yankee River
4. Best view from the loo - Long Harry
5. Top marks for location - East Ruggedy
6. Most rewarding arrival, after a slog through the mud - Big Hellfire

Monday, August 11, 2014

3 Top Nature Websites for Kiwi Kids

As a writer of children's books I spend a lot of time reading and researching, using books and websites. I keep an eye out for websites that I can recommend to children and their parents. It's amazing how many websites there are that fall into the New Zealand nature category. Check out my Pinterest board New Zealand Nature Online to see some of them. Most are written for general audiences but many are specialist sites that focus on one geographical area, such as a sanctuary, or one species, such as yellow-eyed penguins.

Here are my top three nature websites for children interested in New Zealand nature. 
My criteria are: easy navigation, informative and interesting content that children can grasp, a range of media (not just text to read).

Number one is the Kiwi Conservation Club website

The site isn't restricted to members of the club (although children might want to join when they see what's on offer!). It has a good range of information about New Zealand wildlife, habitats and conservation issues. There are quizzes to do online as well as hands-on project ideas. And it's written specifically for children

Second is New Zealand Birds Online
This site gets top marks for easy navigation. It's easy to find information about a particular bird or to identify a bird. Each bird has its own page with audio files as well as lots of photographs. It's not written for children, and so children may need some help interpreting the information. Adults or older children helping out will probably get hooked on this site too!

And number three is the Marine Studies Centre website
The highlight of this site is the Marine Life Database which has undergone some recent improvements, making it easier to search for sea creatures.

Aside from the database there is a link to a YouTube channel and there are some children's games and downloadable resources.

The organisations responsible for these websites - Forest and Bird, Te Papa, Birds New Zealand, DOC, Otago University - deserve our congratulations and support. They're helping make the internet a rich resource for kiwi kids.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A Wasp's Nest!

My friends found these wasp nests when they replaced their roof. Years ago the wasps built these nests, and although the wasps died long ago, the nests have endured.

In "In the Garden" I wrote that wasps like to nest in warm places such as house roofs and Ned illustrated the wasp beautifully.  
But we didn't show a nest or talk about how wasps build them.

 Look closely at this photo of the wasp's nest and you can see it looks like its made of papery wood shavings!
Photo by Max George
The wasps chewed up wood from trees or their surroundings and mixed it with saliva to create their nest.

We were lucky that this was an abandoned nest. Wasp stings are very painful, so you should never approach a wasp's nest unless you know for sure its empty!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Watching Nature with NatureWatchNZ

You may have noticed that a 'widget' has appeared in the right-hand column of my blog, headed Nature Watch NZ.

Explore and Discover Nature is all about observing nature: quirky events like the By the Wind Sailor beach invasion last year or the Sea Foam after the Storm ; through seasonal observations such as Winter Walks in the Bush, to places to go and things to do when out and about.

By the Wind Sailors

I'm recording observations on NatureWatchNZ. You can see the five most recent observations under the Nature Watch heading. Click on the heading and you'll get taken to the NatureWatchNZ site, while clicking on my observations will take you to all the things I've recorded so far.

Apart from recording what you see in your garden or at your beach, you can join projects set up by people with a particular interest. I've started a Tree Daisies project because I like the way these intriguing trees stand out from the crowd and want to see what different shapes and sizes they come in.

Better still you can record an observation and have an expert help you identify what you've seen.

There is also an iPhone or iPad app for people on the go to record their observations.

There is only one reservation I have - I can't record everything I see - there isn't enough time in the day. So I'm mostly recording things I've photographed, that are on this blog, that we've seen on Forest and Bird or Zealandia walks, or that have got me intrigued. Not exactly a scientific approach!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Mangaone Walkway - one of the best local bushwalks for family and friends

A short drive from Waikanae, tucked away behind the hills, at the end of the winding Managone South Road is one of the best easy bushwalks on the Kapiti Coast.

Features of this walk that make it a good one to introduce overseas visitors, non-tramping friends, children and grandchildren to the delights of bushwalks.

It starts with a Swing Bridge.
And there are other bridges, including this one which is up in the tree tops.
The path is easy to negotiate because it was once a logging tram track. The logging finished in the 1930s and since then the bush has been regenerating. It's a magical mix of tree ferns, moss and taller trees.
After only an hour or so of walking, you arrive at an large open grassy area. Perfect for a picnic and a paddle in the stream (the Waikanae River).
 In the winter, there are still things to enjoy. Like finding this bizarre Stink horn fungus.
Or seeing the stocky figures of Wheki-Ponga emerging from the mist.

Here's the link to the Department of Conservation description of the Mangaone Walkway. I recommend that for first-time walkers, families and out of town visitors that you walk only as far as the end of the Kaitawa Scenic Reserve (for your picnic and paddle) and then return the way you came. This would take 2-3 hours. The full walkway is a good opportunity for a longer walk if you walk its full length and return, about 5 hours.

Thanks to Sheena Hudson for her kind permission to use photos 12,3 and 5.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Favourite snacks for the outdoors

Ever sat down for a break and looked enviously at your walking companion's food? It seems I've been the subject of food envy, with so many people asking me for the recipe to my homemade muesli bar that I've decided to add it to my blog. It's easy to make, tastes good and keeps my energy levels up.

Banana Tramping Bars

Preheat oven to 200 C
STEP 1  In a large bowl mix together:
photo 3.JPG1 tbsp vegetable oil
2-3 eggs
4 tbsp manuka honey (or golden syrup)
3 mashed bananas

STEP 2  Then add in  the following and mix well:

photo 4.JPG3 tbsp milk powder
1 cup wholemeal flour
1 cup ground almonds
½ cup each of sunflower and sesame seeds (or 1 cup chopped nuts)
1 cup each of sultanas and apricots (or 2 cups other dried fruit)
1 cup chopped dark chocolate (Whittakers’ Dark Ghana highly recommended)

STEP 3  Now stir in:
photo 3.JPG
5-6 cups soft rolled oats

Add enough oats to ensure that mixture is firm and not too wet.

STEP 4 Put into muffin tins or trays.  I use silicone ones which don't need greasing.

photo 4.JPG

STEP 5  Turn oven down to 150 C. 

Bake until only just starting to turning brown, about  40-45 minutes if in a tray, or about 25-30 mins in muffin cups.
Then turn oven off and leave in oven for another 10-15 mins until golden brown.
Take out of the oven and put on racks to cool.
Once cool cut the slice into bars. Freezes well.

Acknowledgements: This recipe is based on Sue Hely’s Muesli Bars, Canterbury Tramping Club website and has been adapted to be made without butter - and with chocolate!

Monday, July 7, 2014

My Bird Count

warm up
get ready
look out the window
one yellow hammer
in a flock of sparrows too many to count

step out
in the garden
two seagulls high in the sky
shadows of starlings and silver-eyes flying through
two resident blackbirds rustling under trees
one fantail flitting
one chaffinch perching
one tui coughing and chuckling
count me, count me