Sunday, November 15, 2015

Crossing The Empty Quarter #1

The Rub Al Khali - the Empty Quarter. The largest sand desert in the world.
An Englishman born in Pil (home of my paternal grandparents - another story) became the first 'white man' to cross the Rub Al Khali from Salalah to Doha in 1930 -31. He was assisted by many camels and tribesmen throughout the 60 day journey. His name was Bertram Thomas.

85 years later, this journey will be recreated. My English friend Mark Evans has put together a small team of people - two Omanis, himself, and a handful of camels to walk the 1100-1200 kilometres following in Bertram Thomas's footsteps. In addition will be be two others, driving the two support vehicles, capturing the journey on movie and still photography, searching for archeological items, etc.

I am fortunate to be one of those two support people - and may become the first Kiwi to cross the Rub Al Khali. I depart NZ on the 15th November 2015. The actual journey will commence on the 10th December at Salalah - the same day Thomas started 85 years ago. I am due back home on 26th February 2016.

The expedition can be followed on
Bertram Thomas's map 1930-31 (the solid red line is the route we plan to follow)

Monday, November 9, 2015

Bucket List.

We all have a bucket list - or at least we all should have. Those things to tick off before before we can no longer do so - mountains to climb, valleys to tramp, huts to visit, countries to explore, cities to investigate, galleries and museums to wander through - and friends to visit.
My list is long - very long. So long, I figured that I needed to live to 150 to complete the list. The trouble is, I keep adding to the list - faster than I can tick items off. A few years I drew a short straw and was diagnosed with prostate cancer, now treated and all behind me - but it did make me stop and think about that bucket list. Can I really complete it and do I really still want to do all that? I looked thoroughly at that bucket list and came to the conclusion that, allowing for slowing down (something I hate to admit is gradually happening) and a few other distractions, I could maybe complete that list by the time I'm 145 years old. I've cut 5 years off the original estimate!!

This all brings me back to the present. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to accept a place on a tour to China and Tibet with the New Zealand China Friendship Society. A photographic tour and I knew many of the other participants planning to go. The price was good so it was a no-brainer. I was going!
And so to attend to two items on my bucket list.
1. Since I was a teenager, I've wanted to see the Polata Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. Tibet is a country that has always fascinated me - for its culture, religion, monasteries, altitude, people - and of course its mountains. It is a country that has gone through a huge amount of angst since the 1950s.
2. I've also wanted to see the panda bears. Ideally I would like to see them in their natural habitat but that is virtually impossible so I was happy to see them in a sanctuary.

Maybe later I will talk about the rest of the China/Tibet journey, but for now share with me these two ticked items on my bucket list. Both hopefully will be revisited with Chris at a later date - maybe enroute to other bucket list items.

Breakfast at the Great Panda Centre near Chengdu
Almost replete
Polata Palace at dusk - Lhasa, Tibet

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


I stumbled across a quote that appealed to me a few days ago - attributed I think to Clint Eastwood who is still directing movies - and possibly still acting too - well into his 80s.
"Never let the old man in"
Yesterday I found this on Facebook - posted by someone else who also had nothing better to do at that moment! This too appealed to me. Have always been a Snoopy fan.

Friday, August 14, 2015

A New Toy

I've just bought a new toy - a travel camera.
A Panasonic Lumix FZ1000.
Single Leica lens, 25 - 400mm zoom.
My present camera bag with all its toys weighs in at over 7kgs. When I travel, I'm getting tired of lugging a heavy camera bag with me everywhere.
I'm about to travel for 3+ weeks, so I've taken the plunge and procured this new camera. It's not the smallest camera - but it has a great zoom range, got pretty much all of the options my Nikon has, has great reviews - and it is light - ~0.8kgs.
I have no idea whether I will like it or not, but I will know by the end of September. Who knows, there may be a virtually new camera up for sale.
Yesterday I took the new camera on the weekly walk to trial it. So far, so good.
Here are a handful of samples from Day 1..................

Low tide, South Shore beach (25mm)
Hemi - must run 4-5 times the distance we walk!! (~250mm)
Estuary channel (~35mm)
Dinghy unmoved for years! (~50mm)
Stilts in Estuary (400mm)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

What is it??

The tide was fully out so this Wednesday's walk with the lads had to be a beach walk along the beach, round the spit and back via the estuary.
On the mud flats of the estuary on the latter half of the walk we came across a number of very large jellyfish - some were 70-80cms diameter, possibly larger.
We weren't sure if they were dead or simply awaiting the incoming tide to float off and away. I suspect the former.

Graeme did some investigating on internet and thinks they might be Cyanea capillata, the Lion's Mane jellyfish - the largest known species. They are found in colder waters of the Arctic region but a related species is also found in Australia and New Zealand. Apparently these can grow up to 2 metres in size! Impressive.
This reminds me of a weekend with a group of Kiwis on Jana Island in the Arabian Gulf (between Saudi Arabia and Iran). We were on Jane island to observe the green turtles laying their eggs - we weren't disappointed. On the Sunday morning the temperature at sunrise was well over 40 degrees - the only sensible option was to go snorkelling off the boat. I was on my own only about 40-50 metres from the boat when I was almost enveloped by what seemed a huge jellyfish - it was almost translucent. I felt I could have put my hand out to touch it - rather the opposite and I struggled back to clamber up to the safety of the boat deck. At the time I was thinking of the Portuguese Man o' War, but could it have been one of these Lion Mane jellyfish. I guess I will never know. I'm not a strong swimmer and that was the last swim I had that day. I gather the sting from these creatures is best avoided!!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Huts 01 - Barker

I'm feeling a tad nostalgic - and I'm procrastinating big time!!
I'm meant to be commencing a huge task of scanning many of my 'annual lads tramping trips' from the pre-digital era in preparation for a new book. Browsing through some old images I came across a folder labelled 'huts'.
Many of these old images were captured on very basic cameras, some 50+ years ago.
So I thought 'why not' - I'll start a wee series of anecdotal memories based around huts.

One of the earliest images I have of Barker hut at the head of the White River, a tributary of the Waimakariri River at its headwaters. This image was captured on a Halina Viceroy twin lens reflex camera, the first camera I ever owned. A Christmas present from Mum and Dad at the age of 14 - so this photograph would have been circa 1963. Note the shovel tied above the entrance door.

I used to tramp up to Barker hut frequently in a weekend. Jump on the railcar at 2am Saturday and dropped off at the Bealey Bridge ~4.30am, eight hours tramp up the Waimak and the White, early to bed, up well before sparrowfart, a quick bite to eat, and off out to climb the likes of Murchison, Harper, Speight, Wakeman, etc. Back to the hut by noon, then 8 hours tramping back down to Klondyke Corner and the Bealey rail bridge by 8.30pm to catch the railcar back to Christchurch - get off at Hornby, walk home at ~11.15pm, greeted by Mum who was still up anxiously awaiting my safe return, off to bed for a well earned sleep, ready to bike 6 miles to school the next morning.
Today, I'm exhausted just thinking about those great weekends.

On one occasion we arrived at Carrington hut on New Years day in mid afternoon ~1969. Recent entries in the intentions book mentioned parties returning from Barker hut saying they could not find the hut. We took off late afternoon in the direction of Barker figuring that previous parties did not know the location of the hut. About 8pm that night, we staggered up the final slopes to find just the roof of the hut sticking up out of the snow. The roof was crushed and the shovel was nowhere to be found.
We set to work with ice axes and dinner plates to dig our way down to the door and eventually forced our way in. The rafters were broken and touching the floor but we managed to make ourselves vaguely comfortable and get dinner on the primus before nightfall. That winter must have been one hell of a snowfall!!
There is a new hut up there now - new being a relative term - it's been there probably at least 30 years or more now!! Unfortunately I can't locate an image of it right now, although I have visited the new hut several times.
The view down the valley from the bluff just beyond the tarn by the hut is one of those great views you never forget. So good, Austen Deans painted it many moons ago. Now I'd love a copy of that.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Lovely West Coast

The magnetism of the West Coast never diminishes.
This time (the last school holidays) a visit to friends who live rurally between Charleston and Westport. Sue and John met in the Antarctic a few years ago and tied the knot on their beautiful property just over one year ago - on our wedding anniversary as it happens. Sue used to work with me in Oncology and John an expedition/emergency medicine doctor who was expedition doctor on my friend Mark's first expedition to Svalbard as a leader. Small world!!
There is nothing better than the West Coast in winter. Fine blue sky days with chilly mornings - and sandflies still hibernating. We had 4 days of this whilst the East Coast experienced snow almost to sea level and heavy dumps on the alpine passes.
The holiday concluded with three nights at Hanmer Springs with Graeme and Sue (another Sue!) in snow and temperatures down to minus nine degrees.
A great week away from the issues of the city.

Waimakariri River - can never pass this spot without stopping
The Southern Alps from 'The Tiphead' at Greymouth
Aoraki Mt Cook - and a bevy of 10,000ft'ers
Rapahoe Beach north of Greymouth (the waves have hair as Juliet used to say)
Punakaiki Mood
Not a bad view from your doorway - Sue and John's. Their own lake!
A challenge to my big brother - how many of those 10,000ft'ers can you identify in image #3?

Monday, July 27, 2015

Recycling - and Vision

You will hopefully be aware that the city of Christchurch was brought to its knees in late 2010 and early 2011 with two devastating earthquakes. Thousands of houses have been either destroyed or demolished, many of them without the owners being being allowed back to retrieve possessions.

However, one such house was selected for a project. Over a period of nine days a team carefully deconstructed and everything - EVERYTHING - was removed, tagged, itemised, and stored.
What followed was awe inspiring. Various artists, artisans, etc (~250 in total) - not only from Christchurch, but from all over New Zealand and some from overseas, selected items stored and were given a time line to manufacture a recycled product.
The exhibition is currently on at our Christchurch Museum. It will close in about three weeks time and two days later there will be an auction of many of the items.
Below are a few examples of what has been produced - there are too many to include. Maybe I will add more later if anyone is interested.
Go see the exhibition if you can. You will not be disappointed. It is one of the best exhibitions i've ever seen.

Wall divider made from Lath and plaster batons
Snakes and Ladders
A boat made from corrugated iron plus other items
A dog woven from electrical wire

NGV #3

No visit to the NGV is ever complete without sitting on the inside of the entrance windows for a lengthy time just people watching on the outside. An activity best done on your own as it could easily become boring for someone without a camera.
For those unfamiliar with the NGV entrance windows, they are 'fish shop windows' - with water running down the outside. You will have to be older to understand 'fish shop windows' - they  were very common as I grew up, but I haven't seen them in decades!!
Here is what sitting on the inside for an hour can capture..................

NGV #2

Still in the NGV I continued to wander - and I came to two very large rooms with not a soul in sight.
In the middle of each room were 10 chairs delicately positioned.
We used to have a restaurant here in Christchurch called 'Six Chairs Missing'. With a nod to the restaurant which used to serve good food, I chose to call this 'Ten Chairs Waiting'!

And lo and behold, just as I was about to leave the second room, in walks a class of students and teachers all carrying their own chairs! I liked the juxtaposition of it all.

The art - and the framing - was excellent too.

NGV #1

Whenever I visit downtown Melbourne, I am invariably drawn to the National Gallery of Victoria just south of the Yarra River. There is always something happening there. This last visit a month or so ago was no exception - especially after the Australian Classic Car show I'd gone into town to see was closed the day I chose to see it!
As many of you know, in my retirement I have become a qualified custom picture framer - an occupation I love even if it does take up rather more time than I originally envisaged. I was sobered when I wandered in to this room at the NGV to see a conservation project in progress.

You can see the original artwork leaning on the back wall. It was approximately 8 x 4 metres in size. One of the largest frames I've ever seen. The width of the frame was ~35-40cms and ~20cms deep. It is difficult to get a handle on the size in these images.
A mammoth task - way beyond my capabilities!! You have to admire conservators.
Unfortunately they too were having a day off!

Deeper into the NGV I came across more artworks - but it was the framing that captured my attention. Do they make frames this intricate today? Marvellous works of art themselves.

Friday, July 24, 2015


It is always great to fly over to Melbourne to see Juliet and Shea - I just wish we could do it more often. A week wasn't enough but that was all the time available so the three of us made the most of it. As always Julz had plenty of options for things to do - as well as just hanging out together and checking the local eateries.
It was so good to see Shea growing up and doing so well with his AFL football.

Shea and Juliet
The goal kicker
When I'm in Melbourne, I never tire of a quick visit downtown. There always seems to be something happening.

The Yarra River area 
Melbourne Sky-rise
Melbourne Central
I'd never been up in to the Dandenongs, ~1 hour out of town. Juliet knew of a wildlife sanctuary that had been developed over the years by a local man. An incredible effort. If I remember his name and the name of the sanctuary I will add it to this.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Duke of Edinburgh

One of the better incentives for young people was introduced way back in the 1960s from memory.
Interestingly, my school was never involved with it - a school of rugby (and rugby only!), army cadets, and religious studies. My mate Graeme was involved with D of E at his Christchurch high school at the same time.
Now granddaughter Arna is at Burnside high School, she has fully immersed herself in most opportunities to further herself. Through the school she is now fully involved with air cadets at Wigram.
She has now - almost - completed all that is required for her Bronze level D of E.
The last activity was her bronze journey. An overnight journey for two days, involving a minimum of 4 young participants and 6 hours of activity each day. I had the privilege of being asked to be their assessor and Chris as a chaperone!
Well done all of you - very well done!

Almost at destination - Woolshed Creek hut in distance
Three hours of activities in vicinity of hut
On the way out - Arna leading
Happy campers at old mine
Journey's End - Rakaia Gorge bridge