The Heat Goes On International Tourism

A new study from the British Met Office states that catastrophic climate change, previously thought to be 100 years or more over the horizon, could occur within 50 years. Meanwhile, in the lead-up to the Copenhagen climate negotiations in December, the European Union is calling for 10 and 20 percent carbon dioxide emission cuts for aviation and shipping.

Why should the New Zealand tourism industry care? I argue that we all have an urgent responsibility to act on climate change, because if we don’t, we are going to spend the rest of our lives dealing with the increasingly dire consequences – consequences which will include droughts, floods, tropical diseases reaching New Zealand, and sea level rise that will make investing in coastal property – including those parts of our major cities that are just above sea level – a really, really bad idea.

But just suppose you don’t care about that. Suppose all you want to do is turn a buck from international tourism. So far, you’ve been lucky, relatively speaking: international aviation, on which inbound tourism to New Zealand depends, was exempted from the Kyoto Protocol, the current international agreement on climate change policy that expires in 2012.

This exemption is unlikely to last forever. Not only is international aviation a rapidly growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, but because most emissions from international aviation occur high in the atmosphere, the effect of aviation emissions on the atmosphere is magnified. The aerospace industry has been lobbying vigorously against the inclusion of aviation in future international climate agreements. As recognition grows of the effects climate change is having, and how rapidly those effects are increasing, it’s most unlikely that aviation will escape the net forever.

That is going to increase costs, and in a price-sensitive tourism market, long-haul travel will be especially sensitive to cost increases. But carbon charges are not the only likely source of cost increases: although the recession which began in 2008 caused international oil prices to drop, the International Energy Agency predicts that another sustained rise in oil prices is not far away. Airlines hedge fuel prices where possible, but those price rises will ultimately have to be passed on to passengers.

As costs increase, New Zealand’s battered “clean and green” reputation will come under increasing pressure, partly from the very emissions that result from flying round the globe to get here. If I were involved in the tourism industry, I would be protesting vigorously to the Government every time it or its agencies propose investigating conservation lands and national parks to see if it can mine them, or digging up farmland to mine highly-polluting lignite. Those things do nothing for New Zealand’s international image, quite apart from the damage they cause in their own right, and as the 10-20% Pure New Zealand campaign shows, people are noticing the contradiction.

The credibility, and ultimately the existence, of New Zealand’s international tourism industry depends on vigorous and public action to combat climate change and find genuine alternatives to present unsustainable transport methods. Better to get to grips with the issue now than have it get to grips with you in the near future.

Tim Jones is a Wellington writer, editor, and sustainable energy and climate change activist. For more on Tim and his writing, please see his blog Books in the Trees.

NZs paradise shelduck was called the painted duck by Cook

web paradise ducklingsI saw my first Paradise ducklings of the season over this past weekend … these birds are unusual in they sometimes nest in trees, some 10 – 15 metres above the ground.

They are also the only birds in New Zealand who have increased in numbers since Cook arrived in NZ: he named them the painted duck.

female on Avon river
female on Avon river
male paradise -- they pair for life
male paradise -- they pair for life

See other blogs I have written about NZs flightless birds and this website for more information.

Farewell Spit – the north of the south

Farewell Spit Eco Tours: South Island, New Zealand

I join Farewell Spit Eco Tours on the last day before the time of the tides prevents vehicles travelling on the spit for a few days every so often.
(Check for dates and bookings – AND tell them I recommended them to you!) Above photo courtesy of Farewell Spit eco tours.
My driver-guide, Elaine, is in her fourth summer and says it’s the best job in the world and she is driving Lily. “In front of you are handles. These are for you to grab during the bumpy bits when we go off road” she tells us as we get our safety instructions, then off we go.
We have 24 kms to the start of the spit and 15 one-way bridges to cross.
Originally called Te Onetahua, meaning heaped up sand the long sandbar stretches out 35 km and Paddy Gillooly, manager of The Original Farewell Spit Safari, has a family history with it as old as Collingwood. He prides himself that his hand-picked guides know what they are talking about, that they give accurate information and can’t just be a bus driver. They also have to have great people skills and must constantly read the beach, watching for quicksand.
First called Murderers Bay by Abel Tasman in 1642, when James Cook came he called it Massacre Bay and the early settlers first called it Coal Bay. It was then re-named in 1850s when alluvial gold was discovered in the Aorere River, giving the area its current name  Golden Bay: much more melodious and welcoming.
Growing out of a service delivery, taking fuel, food and school lessons to the light housekeepers and their families, carrying passengers began so they too could enjoy the landscape and see the wading birds. It’s from those beginnings the trip I’m on began.
I had not expected the pools of water all over the bay which replace the long wide beach I had expected  – no wonder wading birds love it here, and the cockles grow so well, I’d had forgotten it’s a mudflat not a beach.
The tides rise and fall fast. “At about walking pace” I’m told: “not at the speed of a galloping horse” that the Nelson artist, Anna Leary, had been told as a young girl  – a dramatic picture that has always stayed with her.
Whale strandings happen in Golden Bay too. It is particularly notorious for pilot whale strandings and during the 1990s there was often one every summer and is why some whale experts call these months ‘the silly season.’
Over the years more than half were refloated, but several hundred have died and been buried on the beaches where they died. The most recent major standing was in December 2005 when 123 whales beached at Puponga and after a massive rescue operation, were refloated.
After visiting the northern-most point of the South Island, Cape Farewell, a bold cliff top which provides a spectacular view of the wild Tasman Sea, we head for the spit, passing “the oldest resident in Puponga” on the way: a face in the craggy rocks.
Through the locked gate we drive, from here, the public may only walk. Down the beach we drive, seeing a few spoonbills and black-billed gulls and many black swans feeding, reminding me I am too early for the godwits which arrive in the thousands from Alaska and resolve to return when I can join a bird watching tour with this company. Wading birds abound from September to April, with February and early March being the ultimate time. With so many seasonal feathered visitors, its no wonder this area has been named a sanctuary, a wetland of international importance.
Driving over the spit to the northern face of Farewell Spit I now see the huge sand beach I was expecting on the bay side. It’s impressive.
The spit could be likened to an iceberg “up to 250 metres deep” our guide tells us, “and growing in length at 4-metres annually. The sand dunes further along the spit are up to 25 metres high. This makes about 3.4 million cubic metres of sand.”  I later find it has been growing for some 6,500 years and settlers have visited the area since the 1870s.
At our first stop at Fossil Point I pick up 3 plastic bottles which have washed up on this pristine area and search for fossils: we find a few in the rocks and I watch some Caspian terns swooping and diving into the sea. There are also some black oystercatchers with their distinct red legs and bills and shrill calls warning me against coming too close! Despite the name, here they dine on tuatua (a shellfish which we Kiwi love to eat too).
Down the beach we drive and I gloat as we pass the post – 2 km down the beach and 4 km from the locked gate –  as this is as far as people can walk, while we continue for another 22 km to the lighthouse.
The wind is picking up the loose sand making the dunes look like the waves beside them: the Nor-wester is the prevailing wind and it is windy 70% of the time, an essential element in forming the spit and consequently Golden Bay.
Qucksand a constant presence

“How good is this?” asks Elaine “No roads, no signage. So no advertising and no traffic so just sit back and take in the awesome picture of nature undisturbed.” And undisturbed it is.

She has already told me it’s been about 18 months since she got stuck in the sand although in her first year it happened regularly. Her male colleagues kept telling her they would paint her shovel pink.
They had also told her “You are only really stuck if you can’t dig yourself out. If you have dug yourself out you weren’t really stuck!”
“There are probably photos of me on the end of a shovel all over the world” she laughs.
We eventually arrive at the lighthouse which has its power line buried the length of the spit although I think the lighthouse itself is solar powered and the light rotates every 15 seconds.  
As a result of many shipwrecks, the first lighthouse was commissioned in 1870, a wooden structure that had to be replaced in 1897 with a steel one. Automated in 1984, this lighthouse is also depicted in a 1969 stamp series of light houses: The Farewell Spit stamp was valued at 10 cents.
After afternoon tea in one of the lighthouse keepers old houses, I climb to the second level until my fear of heights beats me and I retreat and go to look at the Pouwhenua which depicts my favourite, pacific-wide, mythical person: the mischievous Maui Tikitiki a Taranga who is credited with fishing up the North Island while standing in his canoe, the South Island.
According to the notice beside this carving by locals, “as Maui pulled on his line, his feet were dragged along the land, pushing sand in to the dune formations which form Farewell Spit.”

red rocks, seals and a maori myth & Kiwi Travel Writer

blood red rocks, a Maori legend, the Interislander sails by, and seals are cavorting in the tide .. all within a short trip from the centre of New Zealands capital city, Wellington

rooms with views

This week (this was written a few years ago)I am writing from a room with a view. A  room in which various national and international ‘artists in residence’ have used to relax or work.

As I sit and await the muse to visit (surely there must be some residual energy from those other writers) I gaze out the window at the view.

The Peacock Fountain, in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, was built in cast iron in 1911, and is the background to many photographs travelling to all points of the compass. As people pose, it sprays it’s water regularly from the dolphins, and is well decorated with herons, lily leaves, and other undefined foliage.

I sit and think of other views, other places. Some from on high, others through a door or window.

A palm-roofed hut, just large enough to place a double-sized bed and still walk around it, produced a romantic view of white sands, palm trees, and blue skies. Idyllic – a genuine travel brochure scene.

The view from my downtown Manhattan hostel window – taxis abandoned in the middle of the street and only the top of the yellow-cabs roof showing through the snow.

The view from  a tower in Istanbul may have been amazing but I was too busy clinging to the building to appreciate it. It is hard to be a tourist or traveller with a  fear of heights!  Nevertheless I do recall seeing the busy Bosphorus and the skyline of minarets through adrenaline-impaired-vision.

Once I nearly got over my fear enough to inwardly consider urban rap-jumping from the Novotel in Auckland. I am pleased to report I recovered my senses enough to keep those thoughts to myself and remained firmly on top of the hotel and did not walk down the side of the building- face forward – and now own a Tee shirt that says; I wouldn’t dream of urban rap jumping. The view of downtown Auckland and the harbour was great: however I was not really appreciating it right then.

With these confessions of fears, you will be surprised to know that I have done a bungee jump – right in the heart of Wellington. I was really fearful as they tied my ankles, the soft towel to prevent ropeburn did not reassure me. I must be crazy I think. Ropes tied and tested I am under starters orders. “Move to the edge of the platform” he tells me and I shuffle forward, “A little more” I move imperceptibly more, my heart beating at an uncontrollable speed. The view is now clearly in front of me, the water is fast, cold looking and a long long way down. I still have time to back out of this but my pride won’t allow it. The countdown starts. Three. Two. One. Bungee! Over the edge I go, plummeting downwards, waterwards, my heart undecided if to climb out my throat  or smash through my ribs, I’m screaming. I bounce, up and down, down and up again swinging side-ways and slowly come to a gentle halt. They untie my legs as I wonder did I wet my pants? I slowly walk away. That may have only been virtual bungee at Te Papa but it was real enough for me!

Another memorable view from the top was in Scotland. Inveraray, a village built by the head of the powerful Clan Campbell (my clan) in 1745, has a bell-tower built, on top of a hill, as a memorial to the Campbell’s who have died in battle. I climbed, sometimes crawling on my knees, to the top for a fantastic view of the village below, the Clan Campbell castle (Inveraray Castle) and the beautiful Loch Fyne and the tiny village. It seems amazing that such a calm, peaceful setting was the training ground for some half a million troops prior to the D-Day landings in WW2.

My journal, written on top of that hill, notes my grief at my sons death some five years earlier, and how I had then thought I would die from the pain, yet now, on the date of his birth, I was enjoying the view from a hill in Scotland. Grief produces such paradoxes, out of pain, or perhaps because of it, growth and life and laughter happens. Just as Buddhists explain the lotus flower and how its beauty grows out from mud.

Maybe the muse that has been left in this room is a reflective one. One that looks out windows and wonders what’s it all about. I certainly don’t know, all I know is the more I know, the less I know, the less I need to know.

the good news and bad news about Canterbury NZ

This article by Heather Hapeta was originaly published in the Ecan magazine 2008

Canterbury plains are one of the worst examples of the loss of native plants in New Zealand’ Professor Ian Spellerberg tells me. ‘Less than 0.5% of native vegetation remains on our plains.’

When colleagues from Europe ask, as he drives them from the airport to Lincoln University, ‘where are your native plants’ he understands their surprise. Returning to Canterbury, he too was disappointed. Spellerberg had become used to UK landscapes with their hedgerows making great use of native plants and which are now some of the last bastions of habitat for wildlife.

However, there is good news about our plains: the Te Ara Kakariki Greenway Canterbury Trust has been formed and is encouraging us to increase native plant communities for all reasons – not just restoration, or beautification as some critics suggest, but for boundaries, shelter belts, crops, tourism, and ideas that we haven’t yet thought of. Its long-term vision, maybe taking hundreds of years, is to make connections between the mountains and sea by using corridors and stepping stones of native plant communities – and connecting existing patches. Another goal is a one-stop-shop for information: cost, availability, economic benefits, where to get natives, after-planting care and research – perhaps leading onto field days. Encouragingly, Motukarara Conservation Nursery says they can’t keep up with the demand for native plants.

The land between the Waimakariri and Rakaia Rivers gives the project an identity and all Cantabrians can be involved: country or city; on public and private land; for economic and ecological reasons, alongside roadsides, railway lines and rivers.

This year, (2008) in conjunction with Southern Woods Nursery, has seen 25 Selwyn schools being invited to design and plant a native plant community for their school.  Judging (November 08) will be around the knowledge pupils gained, not just the design. (Good luck to Southbridge, Templeton and Ladbrooks schools, and others, who Robyne Hyndman tells me have signed-up).

Spellerberg’s enthusiastic. ‘I have this dream of tourists coming to see Te Ara Kakariki, a Canterbury icon! Imagine native plant hedgerows on those long stretches of road. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? It’s the loss of associated native wildlife too: maybe we could re-introduce the Kakariki back to Canterbury.’

‘We underestimate the value of natives in an uncertain future. What’s the environment going to be in ten years? What about land use? Changes in weather? We have to think about what roles native plants will play then. It might be crops, better shelter belts – after all, these plants evolved to live in dry windy conditions.’

‘Why aren’t we proud of our native heritage of plants?’ he continues. ‘We owe an apology to nature for the devastation of our native plant communities. We should be celebrating them, they are our wealth.’

‘I’m putting my money on Te Ara Kakariki becoming an icon for Canterbury.’ I see tourists coming to see this landscape project which communities, schools, and other groups have created. A wonderful greenway of native plants and native plant communities.’

Books about natives for Canterbury

Native plant communities of the Canterbury plains (Dept of conservation)

Living with natives (2008) Canterbury University Press. Edited by Ian Spellerberg & Michele Frey. Available July-August.

Going native (2004) Canterbury University Press Edited by Ian Spellerberg & the late David Given.

Living with natives (2008) Canterbury University Press. Edited by Ian Spellerberg & Michele Frey. Available July-August.

Establishing shelter in Canterbury with nature conservation in mind. Available from ECan or the Isaac Centre for Nature Conservation.

Plant Nurseries for natives

Motukarara Conservation Nursery

Trees for Canterbury

Southern Woods

(& others)

Do you want to be involved?

Want advice for your property?

Have you got a case study or project idea?

Do you want to help with planting?

Would you like to make a donation?

Would you like to be involved in our Management Group?

Would you like to help with fundraising?

If you answer ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, or have other suggestions or questions, please contact the trust.

Professor Ian Spellerberg: re info or talks. Email: Spelleri AT

red rocks, seals and a maori myth

Blue skies and a group of Australians were my companions when I joined the Red Rock Seal Tour in Wellington.

Leaving from the tourist information centre twice daily there is plenty to see on these tours including landmarks, seals and great views.

We wind our way through the Wellington (capital of New Zealand)  streets and within ten minutes we are having a wildlife experience on Wellingtons doorstep- this amazed the Aussies who expressed surprise that Wellington didn’t sprawl on for suburb after suburb until our tour-guide explained to how Wellington is constrained by the harbour.

On we went around the south coast of the North Island, through a disused quarry, past the flowering gorse-covered hills, on past the occasional fisher, scuba-divers and walkers and finally reach the red rocks.web red rocks

Science is not at all romantic and says the rocks are about 210 million years old and are made of iron oxide.

Legends are much more colourful. However they are also less definite and I was given one version to explain the rocks by John, another by an ex- Wellington resident, and the book The Great Harbour of Tara by G. Leslie Adkin gave me two more.

Legend 1 says it is the blood from Maui who used his own blood to bait the fish-hook when he caught the North Island (Te Ika a Maui)  During a phone call from London I was told “ No. It’s the blood from a high born young woman who threw herself off the cliffs because she couldn’t marry the man she loved as he was a commoner.”

Confused I went to the library and found these explanations. Pari whero (red cliffs) is where Kupe had his hand clamped by a live paua and it was his blood from that injury that stained the rocks. Story number four says it’s the blood from the two daughters of Kupe who gashed themselves in grief at their fathers long absence.

rock pools are always interesting to me
rock pools are always interesting to me

Which ever version is correct, the rocks are dramatic because of the small area they are confined to and their very different colour. Other interesting rocks in the area are the ‘pillow rocks’ which have been thrown up by an undersea volcano and the pushed-up-and-twisted rocks that have been formed by earthquakes around the Wellington region.

Also in this area are small caves where adzes and stone chisels have been found many years ago- before the base of the cliffs were covered. This whole area was raised up by a large earthquake rocks3

Continuing along the rocky coastline in the four-wheel-drive Landcruiser we start to see the NZ fur seals (kekeno) who hang out here in a bachelor-pad non-breeding colony – they leave their harem behind in the South Island to rear the young.

Some stay all year but most just winter over on this coast – so this tour continues all year.

Onto the main seal group we go, up a steep climb, through the Devils Gate then stop to admire the great pointy-snouted, small-eared mammals and have a cup of tea or coffee.

inter island ferry on horizion
inter island ferry on horizion

New Zealand fur seals love relaxing and mostly they ignored our photography session. Because they reach weights of some 200kgs and 1.8 metres in length I resisted the urge to pat their incredibly soft-looking fur which is grey-brown in colour, long and fine on top and very thick under-fur.

The trip is circular and after we leave the coastline and the view of the leaning light-house, we climb up the steep hill where we are told “we get a bit of a lean on here, but we should be right”. Most of us wimps preferred not to look too closely at the steep drop!

This part of the journey is via a private road that follows along the Wellington fault-line. From there we go past the Hawkins Hill radar station, which has a radius of about 400 kilometres, and looks like an ominous giant puffball from a distance. Not long after that we stop at the Wellington wind turbine generator for an impressive 360 degree view of Wellington and its environs before heading back to the city.

This trip was a great break from the city yet did not take all day to travel and left me free to visit Parliment gardens and buildings in the afternoon. Wellington is a wonderfully compact city and if you book ahead you too can ‘send yourself’ to our capital city for a reasonable cost.