Quail island

It was in the depths of the winter when we first made the plan to go to Quail Island with the Trick-Pendles. There’s an old hut there that DOC recently renovated, but the proximity to Christchurch means it must be booked well in advance. With the hut a mere 500m from the ferry jetty, it sounded like an achievable weekend for all concerned, so we locked it in. Note: this is old history now, the date for this expedition was 7-8th December.

Lyttleton harbor was made by 3 different volcanic eruptions in the ancient and more ancient past, and what is now Quail island has been covered with lava the times in geological history. But now it’s a mild grassy knoll a short ferry ride from Lyttleton harbor.

We hired a sea kayak from the canoe club, put the kids and the gear on the ferry with Emma and Ian, and paddled over amidst a rain squall.
The weather brightened after a cup of coffee and we went down to the beach for a paddle.
The sun was strong enough to warm the water in the hose and inspire me to a “bath,” much to the amusement of our friends.
The kids played, as kids do, around the hut. Naomi and Amelia preened their hair while perched on tree stumps… and went a wee bit wild.
Milo and William built weaponry and practiced on pine cone targets.
All the kids played soccer as the moon rose. The lights in the background are Lyttleton.
Historical plaques declare the utilitarian uses of the island, among them a training ground and quarantine for dogs going to Antarctica, a prison, and a quarantine facility for lepers at one stage and cholera patients at another. Our even boasts a boat grave yard. A mostly sad history, though now it’s just used for recreation. We strove to lighten the atmosphere with good old silliness.

If my teacher was a witch….

I picked up a flier at work a while back advertising a writing competition for kids.  A local author was launching a book on Halloween had organized it, and we handed it to Milo one evening.

“A competition….what would I get if I win?” he asked.  He’s Mr. Competitive.  You’d never get him writing a story just for the fun of it, but if given a challenge, he might rise to it….if the incentive was strong enough.

We read the flier more thoroughly.  “You’d get a book, and a book for your school library,” Jeremiah informed him.

“Hum,” he shrugged.

“I’d buy you pizza if you won,” Jeremiah offered.

“And I’d buy you ice cream,” I countered.

We both figured the chances were remote.

He perked up.  He likes pizza and ice cream.  He got several big pieces of scrap paper, folded them in half, stapled them like a book, and got to work.  For the next several afternoons he worked.  It’s amazing what incentives will do.

When he was finished Jeremiah suggested that he could type it.  He was surprisingly keen, and laboriously got to work.  A page in I offered to transcribe if he dictated, and that same evening he sent a Google Doc link to the author.  Such a Gen Z.

Here’s the story he produced (imagine colorful formatting added):

If my teacher was a witch

By Milo Shaw.

I was walking to school when I saw my best friend william. when we got to school I found a broomstick and a cauldron next to it and there were foot steps that lead to a cat. On Mrs Adams’ desk i saw lots of potions I reminded william that we had a reliever today. I took a piece of paper and drew a picture of the broomstick, the cauldron, and the cat. 

“I think that our reliever is a witch,” I said. 

“A WITCH!” shouted william. “I hate witches!” said william.

“What was that you said, Mr william?” said the witch. 

“um, no ma’am. I said that witches are cool, not ugly or anything like that,” said William.

“So are you the reliever?” I asked.

“Yes, I am,” said the witch. “We are going to learn how to make potions.”

I had one more look around the  room to see if there was anything else different about the room today.  “Hey, look at the witch’s evil grin on her face,” I said to William. “I saw a bottle of  frogs on a shelf.” 


set off to work.

When I was trying to catch them I remembered something that my dad told me.  He said “If you ever meet a witch, use its spells against them.” Ok, I will.  And then I quickly snatched the witch’s wand.

“No, you thief!” said the witch.  “Why should I have ever trusted you?  Please don’t curse me with bad luck forever.”

“Ok,” I said, “but you have to put my friends back to normal.”  “What was that you said, little boy?” and she turned him into a frog.  Then she turned everybody else except me into frogs.  

“I wonder what she’s going to do with me,” I thought.

“Hey you, with the brown hair,” she said.  

“Me?” I said.

“Yes you, come over here.”

“Um, ok,” I said.

“Would you like to be my assistant?” said the witch.

“Oh yes, please! What are we going to do next?” I asked. “Make a potion to heal my dad?”  

“Yes, yes we are, you read my mind,” said the witch.

“So what do we need?”

“Lots of frogs,” said the witch.  “Catch all of them!”

“But those are my friends,” I said.  

“It doesn’t matter about them,” said the witch.

“Ok,” and I set off to work.  When I was trying to catch them I remembered something my dad told me.  He said if you ever meet a witch, use its spells against them. Ok, I will!  Then I quickly snatched the witch’s wand.

“No, you thief!” said the witch.  “Why should I have ever trusted you?  Please don’t curse me with bad luck forever.”

“Ok,” I said, “but you have to put my friends back to normal.” 

And with that she clicked her fingers, and my friends were back.  

Just then the principal walked in and said, “Oh my word, how did I not come here first.”  He got his phone out and dialed 911. Two minutes later the cops came and arrested the witch, but no one knew that the witch had an extra wand.  With that, she turned the whole world into a giant frog. It kept moving, so when I fired the wand, the frog would move, so it hit something else and made that a frog.  One hour later the cops finally caught the witch and got her into prison so that she could not get her wand, because she accidentally left it in the car.  

The End. 

The writing was due 25th October, and he was immediately keen to hear if he had won or not.  He is an optimist, his father’s son!

It wasn’t too many days later that the momentous email came–he HAD won in his age category.

Milo: “I was surprised that I writted four pages,” he reported.  “I like writing.”

The competition was a book launch for the author, so she came to the school to present her new books to Milo and to the school library.  Quite a proud moment for an 8 year old.  He was chuffed!

Turns out the publicity of winning a writing competition–the author visiting one’s classroom–was almost as good as the pizza and ice cream. Almost.



Sometimes you’re the windscreen; sometimes you are the bug.

“Sometimes you’re the windscreen.  Sometimes you are the bug.”

I contemplated the truth in that old Dire Straits refrain as we drove back to Christchurch Sunday night after a weekend trip in the back country.

I knew which one I felt like.

In the back of my mind I knew I was being melodramatic, but why, oh WHY, did trips with the family always seem like such hard yakka?  And how could I change that for next time?

There’s a three day weekend in October to celebrate Labour Day.  [That’s right, this story is a month old already.]  Since it had been a while since we took the family on a hike, we decided it’d be good to go on a family adventure together.  We weren’t very proactive with plans, for various reasons, and the very week of the holiday found us still looking through maps and bouncing ideas around.

Part of the problem with weekend plans is that we all have very different ideas of what constitutes a good weekend.  The kids want to watch cartoons in the morning, see their friends all day, possibly at a playground or a skate park, and eat lots of candy.  Mom and Dad want to adventure in the back country, climb some hills, work up a sweat.  Mom wants a break from cooking, Dad wants to eat meat; Mom wants to make impromptu plans, Dad wants careful planning and execution.

West coast weather wasn’t looking too promising, and we wanted to limit our driving time, so we chose a trip out the back of Hanmer, at one end of the St James cycleway.

Jeremiah got the gate combination from DOC, and we decided to drive in as far as the Rav4 would go, then bike the rest of the way to the hut.

Turns out the car made it all the way to the hut, which was already occupied by teenage boys, but the weather was nice and we set up tents in the grassy paddock nearby.

“What do you want to do this afternoon?” I queried Jeremiah.

“Let’s bike up over the saddle to the Waiau River,” he suggested.  I looked at the hill.  The kids would most definitely be walking their bikes, but maybe that would be ok….I hoped. [this photo isn’t of the pass, just the cool bridge that crosses the river before the pass]

Turns out it wasn’t ok.  Not only did they NOT ride their bikes, but they whinged and carried on, even when I walked their bikes for them.

So we left their bikes by the side of the road, caught up with Dad, and told him we needed a change of plans.

We walked a little bit up a ridge line, but first one, then the other decided that walking up hill wasn’t for them.

We left them to stew in their whiney attitudes and eat the rest of the candy in their bags while we walked up a little higher.

Then we turned around and walked back down.

Back at camp we decided a foray to the local hot pools was in order.  Natural hot pools aren’t usually the vision of paradise on earth that one might dream of, what with the bacterial slime, the sulphury smell, and the sand flies, but this particular set of pools was about as good as they get.  People have built up the edges around the hot spring seep, so the water is contained and lots of people can fit in the deepened pool.  Sand flies can’t swim, we told the kids, put your shoulders in the water—but not your face or ears, or you might catch a protozoa that swims to your brain and makes you DIE.

Kids don’t mind muck, or the threat of brain parasites, so they quite liked the pools.

Jeremiah’s not much of a hot spring fan, so he cooked sausages, which we ate while reclining in the water.  Not a bad way to end a day.

“Sometimes you’re the Louisville Slugger, baby; sometimes you are the ball.”

Yep, that evening we were the slugger.

During the night the Norwest picked up, rattling the tents and putting boundaries on the plans for the next day.  Until you’ve experienced a New Zealand wind you might not appreciate how much of a show stopper it can be.  We hunkered in the shelter between the two tents for breakfast and thought about strategy.  No exposed hill walks for us.

We decided to go for a leisurely valley walk, Jeremiah with his gun and binoculars, kids with an eye for rabbit highways.

In the end that part was brilliant—we found rabbit highways, state roads, back lanes, condominiums, porches, porticos, and no shortage of rabbit toilets.  The kids were amused imagining the bunny dramas, while Jeremiah scanned the hillsides for bigger game.

Back at camp for lunch, we took stock.  The wind was, if anything, increasing, and the clouds were starting to look suspicious.  We decided to break camp, hit the hot pools one more time, and head home that evening.

On our drive out we were passing the best 7 km stretch of the whole St James cycleway.  Cognisant that we were ending the “biking weekend” without doing much biking, I suggested that we drive to the hilltop, park, and bike down the easy grade decent to the homestead.  My memory of that stretch was a sweet hardly-push-a-pedal glide with a smooth surface and effortless speed, just the kind of ride kids would like.  I’d have to bike back up to get the car, but that seemed a small task.

The catch was that the westerly had really turned into a gale.  We parked the car and felt it rock in the wind.  “You really want to bike with the kids in this weather?” Jeremiah queried.  Yes, I wanted to.  “I’ll just run back up, it’ll be easier than biking in this wind,” I offered.

Near the trail start the track turned sideways down a hill, so the wind was at our elbow, and at the same time there was a slight up-hill grade.  Naomi slowed to a stop and the whinge started.  Milo and I plowed along, laughing at the gusts, but Naomi wasn’t restarting.  I left my bike and jogged back.  “I don’t think it’s a good idea to bike with the kids in this weather,” Jeremiah posited.

“The wind’s at our back, it’s all downhill, and we have rain gear—how freaking easy can it get?! Let’s go!” I commanded.  So we went.  Whenever we got to the slightest incline, I heard Milo behind me moaning about the hill.  Naomi basically checked out and coasted the whole way, underneath her waterproof hood I couldn’t tell if she was enjoying it or not, but I thought it wise not to stop her and find out.  We reached the bottom, I parked my bike with the food basket, and turned around to run back into the wind.  After 10 minutes I glanced over my shoulder to see if I was making any headway, and there was a full arched rainbow stretching over the valley, through the flinging raindrops.

“Sometimes it all comes together, baby; Sometimes you’re gonna lose it all!”


Revelatory night’s sleep

I stood at the kitchen counter and the unfamiliar suggestions crept into my conscience.  “Whole wheat waffles might be nice this morning.”  I opened the flour cupboard…. “cinnamon roles, haven’t made those in a while….or a nice loaf of oatmeal bread?”  I paused, reflecting.  I haven’t felt like cooking or baking in years.  Was I carb starved?

I looked at the forecast.  Nice and warm and overcast until afternoon rain comes in.  “Hum, I could take the kids walking at the quarry….we have some beautiful white rocks we could paint first, then we could hide them for other kids to find….that would require sharing my new paint pens, and potential mess control….that could be fun.”

What?!  My new unwashable paint pens in the kids’ hands?  Am I going crazy?

Maybe not.  This is how I used to be.  Energetic.  Project-oriented.

The night before I was bushed.  I put the kids to bed at 7:00, then went back out into the garden to attack the bed I’d started earlier, but I could barely keep my eyes open.  It was only 8:00, but I called it a night, took a shower, closed the curtains against the still-bright sky, and crawled into bed.  Two minutes later I reached for my phone, thinking that with a quiet house I should at least read a chapter of my book….but gave it up after 10 minutes, squirted nasal decongestant up my sinuses (I’ve had a stinking cold all week), and turned out the light.

The next morning I stirred and looked at my watch.  6:00.  I turned over; a luxury of a Sunday morning is that I don’t have to get up early.  But I didn’t sleep again.  I wasn’t tired.  It wasn’t even 7:00 a.m. yet, on a Sunday morning, and I got up, made a pot of tea, emptied the dish washer, then started on the strangely energetic thoughts.

Revelation:  At 37, maybe I’m not old.  Maybe I’m just chronically tired.

In the end, we did the rock painting. I’m fascinated by eyes. Naomi loves color. Milo came to the game late.

And we did the Halswell quarry walk as well. Here’s lookin’ at ya!

Grr! Not sure why the aggressive pose, but she did just place her pink for to be found by the next lucky passer-by.

School holidays

School holidays roll around remarkably quickly–the kids have 2 weeks off at the end of every 10 week term.  I take some days off of work, I trade kids with friends (I have theirs when I’m home, they have mine when I’m working), and we send the kids to some holiday programs.  It’s always a bit of a juggle, but this time it was enjoyable too.  On days that I’m home we step out of the normal routine and see friends that aren’t in our regular school-time loops anymore–friends from preschool and family friends.

One day we went into the Hagley Park and met Naomi’s friend from preschool.

Another day we met some family friends at Halswell Quarry. There are lots of painted rocks hidden around public parks in Christchurch–“Chch rocks.” They are for finding and rehiding for the next kid to discover, and Milo got right into the game.

One day we went into the new city centre library, multiple stories of books, kid activities, and cool architecture. We happened upon a free workshop on making rope from cabbage tree leaves, and Milo went a bit fanatical that afternoon, twisting a rope that reached almost around the house.

Another day we went into the big city centre playground. “I’m bored,” Milo whined, “can you buy me a slushy?”
What?! Kids can be simply soul-destroying. “I’ve taken you to the Biggest Playground in the Southern Hemisphere (as they say), AND brought along a friend for you. Your boredom is NOT my problem.”

That afternoon we came home and had a couple hours of intensive drawing–that’s my style school holiday!

Naomi has been counting down the days until her birthday for a few weeks, and the long-awaited event was the culmination of the holidays. Here we are making her cake–marshmallow cake, as requested.

Naomi chose ice skating for her birthday party this year, a fortunate choice since the weather that particular day was rather rainy. She’d never been skating before, but she loved it.

And she liked her cake–essentially chocolate covered candy, what’s not to love?

We got her rollerblades for her birthday. She’d been asking for them consistently for some months now. I was a little bit worried that she’d take one fall and decide they weren’t for her, but she stayed in them for almost the whole day. I’m looking forward to hours of happy skating in our future.

Today was our last casual morning, making Sunday pancakes with Dad. Tomorrow the routine returns.

Biking Stour River

Our current phase of life doesn’t lend itself well to spontaneous weekend trips.  To go on an overnight tramp or kayak or bike trip, the weekend needs to be staked out on the calendar weeks (sometimes months) in advance, when the spouse’s calendar, the hiking companion’s calendar, and the companion’s spouse’s calendar is still free.  Clearly, we can’t schedule the sun’s part in this orchestration.

That’s one of the many reasons I enjoy planning activities with Sally.  As a native of England, she lives by the adage “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”  She’s not going to ditch weekend plans because of a spot of rain, or a deluge really….but we may shift locations to avoid the worst of the river crossings.

Which is just what we did looking at the weekend forecast on Thursday night.  We had bantered around ideas for a few hikes in Arthur’s pass, but the Metservice radar looked particularly unfriendly for that region.  We thought we could detect a little relief from the precipitation if we went a bit further south, so we set our sights on Stour River, about 1.5 hours southwest of Christchurch.

As we drove we kept peering hopefully through the flopping windshield wipers.  “There, there’s a light spot in the clouds up there,” Sally observed, optimistically, pointing at the sullen sky.  The drizzle would ease for a few minutes before resuming again.

Still, when we arrived at the car park the misty precipitation hadn’t turned into anything worse, and it wasn’t windy.  We zipped up our coats but didn’t don rain jackets.

There were several small river crossings on the track, and I had rather hoped to be able to bike across them with dry feet.  Sally was more pragmatic.  She whipped off her boots before each ford, preserving dry shoes for the next day’s tramp, and I decided to follow suite.

We made it to Manuka Hut for lunch, and decided to keep moving to Double Hut, not far up the valley.

At Double Hut there were residents already in place–though they weren’t there in person.
They had stacked all 6 mattresses under their 3 sleeping bags and we surmised that they were hunters, from the empty bullet shells lined up on the window sills.

 There weren’t lots of beer or whiskey bottles and they may have been a perfectly pleasant bunch, but the afternoon was still early so we decided to head back to Manuka Hut, where we’d probably have it to ourselves.

It was a bit drizzly on our way back to Manuka Hut, so we were happy to arrive (again).

There aren’t many trees in the Hakatere and most down wood was wet from the recent rain, but we scavenged some dead standing wood out of a small tree and Sally built a fire. It was more for ambiance than warmth, since an open fire doesn’t warm the hut like a wood stove, but it was still good.

While Sally tended the fire (one match start!) I cooked dinner.

We were thankful for warm sleeping bags that night. One of the luxuries of sleeping in a hut without other guests is the opportunity for a sleep in. I didn’t wake up until 8:00; it was great.

It’s hard to tell, but this is the dawn of a sunny day, before the sun has peaked over the mountain to warm the valley.

We spent a little time basking while eating breakfast

Enjoying the sun that was a pleasant surprise given the previous day’s weather

We packed lunch and climbed the ridge behind the hut

Climbing gave us a great view of the massive glacial valley spread out below us, with the ridges of rock that the glacier hadn’t obliterated strung out between the gravel-filled valleys with hanging terraces.

The mountains in the other direction were covered in snow. I had debated about bringing my snow shoes, hoping to make fresh tracks, but we didn’t go high enough to need them.

It’s fun hiking with a geologist (Sally), because she has good explanations for the landscape we’re gazing at, and doesn’t seem to mind my rapid fire questions.

Snug photo/lunch spot, before the wind picked up.

Since we had biked up the river valley the day before, the way out was a gentle downhill, almost imperceptible, except to make the biking a breeze.

Dry foot ford!


Wet foot ford, but not too soggy.

We finished out ride under sunny skies. when we got back to Christchurch, we learned that Saturday there had been downright wet, and Sunday morning had been drizzly. It makes the trip away that much sweeter to have escaped the bad weather!

Winter blue skies

Broom and gorse are invasive species in New Zealand, so I know I’m supposed to despise them. But I can’t help but admire the brilliant egg-yolk-yellow flowers against the saturated blue winter sky, so blue that it feels alien.

I was biking the Kennedy’s bush track to the summit road on the last official weekend of winter.  The flowers give off a heavy scent, warm and musty-fruity; they SMELL as yellow as they look.  I remembered the first time I saw broom, in Argentina; masses of yellow flowers with red highlights.  I don’t suppose introducing that crimson genetic variation in the New Zealand population would be a popular move….

“Here, I’ll get up.”  The man move stiffly as he vacated the style steps, and I hefted my bike up and over.

“Haven’t I seen you here before?” I inquired.  The face and cultured accent triggered a memory of a conversation at the style on top of Kennedy’s track from months before.

“A long while ago I used to bike up here.”

“Ah, I used to run up here, and now I bike.  I guess it’s the age progression.”  I laughed, ruefully, remembering the former days when I had trotted agilely up and down this track, training for a marathon.

“Yes,” he chuckled, “and now I’m sitting here, getting up the energy to walk back down.”

“Down’s easier than up; you’ve got gravity on your side,” I countered, cheerfully.

“Yes, and I have rather too much help from gravity these days.” He patted his ample stomach.

I continued along my route.  It wasn’t early, but almost no one else was out.  I had the Flying Nun trail to myself, and feeling bolder than normal, I swooped around the cobbled corners and even tried a tiny jump or two.  With no one riding my tail, I felt zippy all the way down the Loess Rider trail through the forest in the Adventure Park.  “Maybe I’m finding my groove,” I said to Jeremiah later.  “Or perhaps I’m just getting over confident and am cruising for a big fall.”

“That’s what a negative person might think,” Jeremiah retorted.

Oh well, maybe so; I think that all the same, I’ll still enjoy riding.

The next day was Father’s Day, and Jeremiah’s choice of activity was to take the kids on a mountain bike ride.  I pondered the difference between my perspective on Mother’s Day, when I wanted a BREAK from being a mother.  “It’s called not called ‘Mothers’ and Children’s day,’ after all,” one of my friends had quipped.

But Jeremiah is made of different material, it seems, and he wanted to spend the day with the family.

The kids really haven’t been excited about biking since our Christmas trip last year, a 5 day ride on the Otago Rail Trail.  In face, they’ve been on what amounts to a bicycle strike.  When Jeremiah announced the plans for the day, they moaned and grizzled.

They only started to resign themselves to the idea of a bike ride when I let them pack their candy treats for the outing.

They bickered all the way there in the car, but surprisingly, when we launched down the gravel trail at Bottle Lake Forest, they were cheerful.

And stayed that way for the duration of the trip!

Maybe the hills were easier, because their legs were a year older, or maybe the lure of the self-chosen lollies kept Naomi’s spirits up.  Whatever the reason, Naomi rounded the last corners of our 90 minute ride bubbly and cheerful, and announced:  “I love my bike!”

“Zoom, zoom!”

That sounds like a win to me.