Monday, December 27, 2010

No Place like Home!

Thought it was time I updated the photos of my new home now the lawn is sown, growing an bright green!  It's so nice to look out on that, rather than the brown weeds that was there before, but it's taking a bit of work.  My shrubs I planted at teh beginning of winter are up, and my vege garden is growing well.  So all up I'm really pleased.  I've been in the house for 10 months now - how time goes so fast!  Here's the house with the street view....  Look at that bright green lawn, and the beautiful vineyard right next door!

Here it is again without the messy garage showing. As you can see no plots of sections around my house have yet sold. I'm quite happy about that, but even if they do sell, it's not going to have much impact on my property as I face out to the vineyard, so I'm very private.

This is the side of my house (west). I've made that garden leading up to the front door a rock garden, with river stones from the local Wairau River. The barter system is alive and well down here. I bartered the rest of my red bricks, for a few trailer loads of river stones. I'm really pleased with how it turned out. You can also see the nice long line of lawn leading up to the back. I'm pleased with that - makes me think of some of the gardens of national significance I visited during the week of Hunters Garden Marlborough. On a much bigger scale of course, and naturally I don't have the lawn tennis, summer houses, or olympic sized pools! Will have to win lotto before I get those!

This is the deck looking over to the vineyard. That's Mum drinking a beer at midday as she had just cut the lawn and was hot. She wasted the beer though, as a bug flew into it. What a bugger! Kass the cat is trying to get out of the hot sun. The sun down here packs a bit of punch!

This is looking at the backyard - towards the vege garden. You can see that all the shrubs I've planted are gradually growing. Some have almost hit the top of the fence! I love how they stand out against the black fence..

Now lets have a closer look at that vege garden...

I'm picking carrots, lettuce, beetroot, spring onions, chives, sage, thyme, leeks at the moment, and have just plated more spring onion and carrots, and more spinach. Beans, cucumber, tomatoes and courgette will be read in a few weeks. Loads of fun.

The original vege garden was built by the same people who built my deck. That is 3m x 1.8m and a nice height so I don't have to bend over too far. The smaller raised garden next to it - I built myself. Not without considerable pain either..

I managed to hammer the wrong nail! It hurt. I cried for nearly an hour. I said the F word. Several times. I kicked the bricks of my house. I ended up in A&E getting it x-rayed, having a hole put in the nail to release the pressure, and having some local anaesthetic put in my finger to dull the pain. Short lasting they said - maybe 4 hours. It lasted 48!!! By the time I got home, I was feeling no pain at all, and went about and finished building it, although I friend of mine came round to help in case I hammered any other part of my body!

I blame males for this totally. They should have come up with some sort of tool to prevent these sort of accidents by now!

The results of my garden has been great... Cauliflower, broccoli, carrot, spring onion. Note the brown grass before my lawn got put in...

The Cauliflowers were quite something. All five I picked were no smaller than 26 inches - and my freezer is now totally full...

My cat will have the last word on this blogpost. She loves her new abode and loves catching rabbits in the vineyard next door. She likes nothing better to lie in the sun on top of my outdoor table...


Saturday, December 25, 2010

The New Zealand Weka

I've been really enjoying seeing Weka around places I visit in the South Island.  Until February this year, I had never seen one at all.  Just before I came across on tthe ferry, I visited a sanctuary in the North Island near Levin, and saw a North Island Weka for the first time.  Since I've been in the South Island, I've seen them in the wild now on three occasions.

There are (or have been)  four types of Weka in New Zealand,  one is now extinct, and the other are on the 'threatened' list.  Each one is slightly different.  The South Island one I have seen is the Western Weka and is mainly brown, and the North Island is described as more grey - but I thought they had more teal colours than grey...

The Weka or woodhen is a flightless bird species of the rail family and are endemic to New Zealand. They are sturdy brown birds, about the size of a chicken. As omnivores, they feed mainly on invertebrates and fruit. Weka usually lay eggs between August and January; both sexes help to incubate.

The Buff Weka formerly inhabited the eastern districts of the South Island but is now confined to Chatham Island and Pitt Island to which it was introduced in the early 1900s, and where they are widely hunted and eaten, being considered 'introduced'. Reintroduction into Canterbury has been unsuccessful so far. It has a lighter overall colouring than the other subspecies. I haven't seen any so can offer no photograph here!

The North Island Weka is represented by original populations in Northland and Poverty Bay, and by liberations elsewhere from that stock. This subspecies differs in its greyer underparts, and brown rather than reddish coloured legs.

The Western Weka  is found mainly in the northern and western regions of the South Island from Nelson to Fiordland. Distinguished by dark red-brown and black streaking on the breast, the Western Weka has two distinct colour phases, that of the southernmost range showing a greater degree of black.

The Stewart Island Weka is smaller than the other subspecies and, like the Western Weka, has two colour phases; a chestnut form - similar to the chestnut-phase Western Weka - and a black phase which is not as dark as the black Western Weka. The population is confined to Stewart Island/Rakiura and outliers, and to Kapiti Island to which it was introduced.

Weka occupy areas such as forests, sub-alpine grassland, sand dunes, rocky shores and modified semi-urban environments. They are omnivorous, with a diet comprising 30% animal foods and 70% plant foods. Animal foods include earthworms, larvae, beetle, weta, ants, grass grubs, slugs, snails, insect eggs, slaters, frogs, spiders, rats, mice and small birds.  Plant foods include leaves, grass, berries and seeds. Weka are important in the bush as seed dispersers, distributing seeds too large for smaller berry-eating birds.  Where the Weka is relatively common, their furtive curiosity leads them to search around houses and camps for food scraps, or anything unfamiliar and transportable. Which is probably why they came running when we stopped by the side of the road, hoping to swipe some food off us.

The breeding season varies, but when food is plentiful, Weka can raise up to four broods throughout the whole year. Nests are made on the ground under the cover of thick vegetation, and built by making grass (or similar material) into a bowl to hold about four eggs. Chicks are fed by both parents until fully grown.

 Weka are classed as vulnerable. Weka are problematic in conservation; some subspecies are threatened, but have been a problem to other threatened wildlife on offshore islands, especially when introduced to an island that they would not naturally inhabit. Weka are unable to withstand the current pressures faced in both the North Island and South Island. However, they can be very productive in good conditions and high food availability. Year-round breeding has been recorded at several sites with up to 14 young produced in a year. Weka populations can persist in highly modified habitats, but they have disappeared from huge areas of their former range, suggesting that they can adapt to a wide range of conditions but are particularly vulnerable to threats.

Doc has identified eight main threats to Weka. Predation by ferrets, cats and dogs are a threat to adult Weka. Stoats, and ferrets are a threat to chicks. Stoats and rats are a threat to eggs. It faces competition with introduced species for fruits and invertebrates, and suffers from the impact browsers have on forest composition and regeneration. Habitat depletion is caused by the modification and degradation of forests and wetlands. Diseases and parasites have been associated with population declines, although little is known. Drought has been implicated in the disappearance of Weka from some areas. In some regions, motor vehicles cause a significant amount of roadkill death. Pest control operations sometimes kill Weka, as they have ground foraging habits vulnerable to poison baits, and traps are laid in a way that Weka can reach. Genetic diversity can be lost during the transmission of genes through generations, affecting isolated populations.

Weka are curious and feisty, with a bold personality. This leads to them being relatively easy to catch. Weka were used by the Māori as a source of food, perfume, oil to treat inflammations, feathers in clothing and lures to catch dogs. Early European explorers and settlers frequently encountered and utilised Weka, who gave them the name "bush hen". Tales of Weka stealing shiny items and bags of sugar are part of New Zealand folklore.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Places to go to...

Wendy has just been down for four days, so it gave me an excuse to get out with my camera and my new 10-22mm lens, which I am loving.  On Thursday, knowing the weather was going to eventually pack up and rain, which is nearly unheard of down here in summer, I took the opportunity to go up to Lake Rotoiti again....

This is what greeted us when we arrived...

The sky was blue, and the lake was like glass.  Perfect for trying out the new lens.  The lake was like a mirror...

But when I pointed the camera a bit further down, I managed to capture the crystal clear waters and the green plants underneath...

With the lake only an hour away from my place, I tend to take any guests there as it's always a pleasure to walk in the bush and listen to the bellbirds which are abundant.  I have never heard so many all in one place, and it's all thanks to the Department of Conservation for really coming hard down on all the introduced pests such as rats, possums and stoats.  I imagine it is like what New Zealand's forests would have been like before civilisation destroyed them!

This is one of the Bellbirds at the  lake taken back in May when they were actually showing themselves and singing to me on the lower branches where I could actually photograph them.  Unfortunately on Thursday, while we could hear them, they refused to come close.   You can hear what they sound like here.

Both Wendy and I recorded the bellbirds on our phones, but I haven't got a USB cable for my phone so I'm unable to transfer the sound file to my computer, to in turn upload it to the blog.  We tried  to do it via bluetooth to no avail, as my phone is simply too 'basic'.

Wendy loved the lake, and in particular the ducks...

This was after our walk in the bush along the lake edge to the right of this image.  Note the clouds are starting to build up already. 

Here's the lake again from another angle, and I could only get all this in with my new 10-22mm lens - the old 18-55mm just wouldn't get the length of the whole lake....

We took off over to the other side of this bay after this shot, but not only had the clouds built up, but the wind was just starting to get up as well, changing the whole mood and colour of the water..

I took a photo of the actual water patterns made by the wind just for fun..

At the waters edge there was a black swan that came right up close to us and just sat there in the water.  We could have reached out and touched it.  I used the 10-22mm for this shot as well - gives the whole swan a different perspective...  Almost looks like the Lochness Monster!

We left the lakes, and travelled further west to Murchison.  We fossicked in an old bric a brac shop.  I think everyone who ever dies in this region, all their 'treasure' goes to this shop.  Bargains galore can be found if you know your antiques.  Lots of collectibles.  I bought an early 1800's iron made from cast iron - one of those ones that gets heated on a coal range.  I'll use it as a doorstop to stop my doors banging in the nor'westers!

After lunch at the Murchison tearooms - a typical kiwi lunch consisting of a meat pie with tomato sauce - we headed down to the swing bridge on the Buller River.  Just after the turnoff that leads to Westport, we crossed a bridge over the Buller River and it looked so beautiful, I decided to stop to take photos.  Pulled in to a parking bay and by the time I had my camera out, a South Island Weka was making a beeline to us from across the road.   I was terrified that someone would come round the corner and squash it!

 It was almost tame, but wouldn't quite let us touch it, but came close.  A campervan pulled up, and asked what it was.  After I told them, I suggested they give it some bread as that was obviously what it was wanting.  They obliged and the guy pulled out his Nikon DSLR to take photos, but made some rude comment about my image that I had taken of the Weka, was not bad for a Canon.  Typical Nikon user - I've always found Canon users much more polite!!  I made sure I mentioned something about him being Australian to get him back!

The river was beautiful though - and it was so hot I felt like diving in, as the water was crystal clear...

We moved on down the road and arrived at the swingbridge.  Apparently the longest swingbridge in the country and it costs just $5 to walk across.  Wendy bought a ticket and I decided to stay on the 'right' side and just take photos of her as she crossed..

Unfortunately, this is as far as she got before she wimped out.  She couldn't do it as she didn't like the instability.  So...  I took her ticket off her and went over with my camera...

Even with having no balance, I have no qualms about walking over a bridge suspended by wires!  I simply have no fear - at worst I'd fall in the river and go for a cold swim!!  This is halfway over looking to the left...

And this is on the other side looking downriver.  Note the jetboat - for $85 you can do a few thrills on this river with an experienced driver.  You can also pan for gold here for $12.50.  Any gold you find you can keep.  Probably with the price of gold these days, it might be worth it - Imagine if you found a sizeable nugget!

We headed back home after this, and it wasn't long until the rain we had been expecting all day started.  We pulled in for one last look at the lake to get a photo of it in the rain...

Quite different in the rain.

All up a great day, which both Wendy and I enjoyed....


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Battenberg Cake

It all started when Anne's friend Jay came home to Auckland, NZ from the UK. She bought me a small packet which housed a Battenburg Cake. It was divine.

When Anne came home in June, she bought me one as well. I didn't even want to share it, but I managed to - just.

Then Anne posted me out another one this month, which was snaffled up very quickly. If I didn't do something about it, then Battenburg Cake from the UK was going to be the UK's biggest export to New Zealand.

So I went searching on the internet, and found a recipe. And I made one.

It's a bit fiddly, but well worth the time. This is what it looked like, I managed to take a couple of photos before it was all eaten!!

The Recipe:

Battenberg Cake

* 150 grams of butter
* 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
* 3/4 cups of white sugar
* 2 eggs
* 1 1/2 cups of plain white flour
* 3 teaspoons baking powder
* 1/4 cup of milk, approximately
* red food colouring
* 1/4 cup of apricot jam
* 250 grams of almond paste / fondant to cover

1. Pre-heat oven to 175 degC.
2. Line sponge roll or shallow square cake tin with baking paper.
3. Cream the butter, vanilla and sugar until light and fluffy.
4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each.
5. Sift the flour, baking powder and fold into the creamed mixture.
6. Add sufficent milk to give a soft dropping consistency.
7. Spoon half the mixture into one half of the prepared tin as neatly as possible. 8. Add a few drops of red food colouring to the remaining mixture to turn it a pink colour, then spoon this into the other half of the tin, try to get the join between the two mixtures as neat as possible.
9. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the cake is well risen, springy to the touch and has shrunk slightly from the sides of the tin.
10. Turn out and leave to cool on a wire rack.
11. Trim the edges of the cake and then cut into 4 equal strips down the length of the colours.
12. Gently heat the apricot jam in a small pan and stick the stripes of cake together, one plain piece next to one coloured one, and then vice versa to make a checker board effect.
13. Brush the top of the assembled cake with apricot jam.
14. Roll out the almond paste into a rectangle the length of the cake and sufficiently wide to wrap around the cake.
15. Invert the cake on to the almond paste, then brush the remaining 3 sides with apricot jam.
16. Press the almond paste neatly around the cake, arranging the join in one corner.
17. Serve in slices

This has made me realise I haven't had lunch!

History: (From Wikipaedia)...

Battenberg cake is a light sponge cake. When cut in cross section, displays a distinctive two-by-two check pattern alternately coloured pink and yellow. The cake is covered in marzipan and, when sliced, the characteristic checks are exposed to view. These coloured sections are made by dyeing half of the cake mixture pink, and half yellow, then cutting each resultant sponge into two long, uniform cuboids, and joining them together with apricot jam, to form one cake. Established variations are for coconut flavouring to the sponge cake and lemon curd or raspberry jam in place of apricot jam.

The origin of the name is not clear, but one theory claims that the cake was created in honour of the marriage in 1884 of Queen Victoria's granddaughter to Prince Louis of Battenberg, with the four squares representing the four Battenberg princes: Louis, Alexander, Henry and Francis Joseph.

The name is also used to describe a smaller cake in a similar, but more decadent vein. A small cuboid of sponge (normally about 1 inch square by 3 inches long), usually white, is encased in buttercream and wrapped in marzipan. Visually at this stage, the cake looks like a miniature version of the checkered pattern cake above, but without the two-by-two grid. Each end is then dipped in chocolate up to approximately a third of the length, leaving the central third clear of chocolate. This is allowed to set, before being eaten.

Traditionally in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Battenberg cake is eaten with a cup of tea.

So there you have it - easily made and a lovely taste! I might make some more tomorrow!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Mt Vernon Station

A couple of months ago, the photography club had a trip to Mt Vernon Station, a private farm that hugs the coast on the eastern side of Blenheim. Four wheel drive only, so I hitched a lift with another member.

We got there quite early, when the sky still had a tinge of pink in it. Jet paths crissed crossed in the sky...

This is looking North East towards Port Underwood.  I love the way the clouds hugged the mountain ranges.

The whole coastline is an important wetland area, and is home to one of the largest spoonbill breeding site in New Zealand. There is a natural boulder bank that runs along the coast, protecting the whole wetland area. This is actually closed to the public as there is many Maori buried or repatriated on the boulder bank, as it is the site of historic land wars in the 1800's. As well as Maori skeletons, there are the skeletons of our extinct Moas, so to protect the area from fossickers, it's closed to the public.

The farmer had his working dogs with him. They whisper sweet nothings in each others ears!

While we stood around and took photographs of the wonderful landscape opening up to us!

The cliffs were majestic...

And this is looking the other way down the boulder bank.

We then drove up to Jamie's Knob, the highest point on the station with 360 degree views of the area. This is looking once again down on the wetland area and boulder bank, and the mouth of the Wairau River. Note the flight paths of the jets in the sky!

Up at the top was the microwave thingy for the area. I hoped that it wouldn't interfere with my implant, and it didn't seem to.

This is looking back towards Blenheim township. You can't see my house from here - it's a bit further down the valley!

Another shot of the boulder bank, mouth of the Wairau River and the wetlands area, for no other reason that I like it!

On the way back down we stopped at the edge of the cliff for another photo session!

I practised my minimalism shots which I have yet to perfect. However, I love the blue tones and the big sky in this shot.

Back down to ground level, where we had a picnic lunch on the beach.

After lunch a walk down the beach to take a closer look of the interesting cliffs, full of cavelike holes. I imagine these rocks are quite soft, and the holes are being formed by the rain running off the hills. Quite a bit of erosion.

I did a short walk, but my foot was still giving me grief. The beach was mainly shingle, so extremely difficult to walk with an injured foot. I can't wait to be given the opportunity to head down that way again when my foot is healthier, and I can manage a bit further! I would really like to get to the end of the beach!

Thoroughly enjoyed being out with my camera, and with the great people in the Marlborough Camera Club.