stoats kill more endangered birds

 

 Brilliant blue body,  green wings and back, combined with sturdy red legs, feet and beak make the takahe a bird not to be forgotten. Territorial,  it lives in pairs and both parents incubate and raise the young. Unfortunately their fertility rate is very low with many of the eggs infertile.takahetakahe - a colourful NZ native

Once found throughout  NZ, the takahe (prounounced  tar car hay )  was thought to be extinct for over fifty years before being rediscovered by Dr. Geoffrey Orbel, in 1948, while he was bush walking. The population of a round 150 continue to live mainly in the marginal environment of the South Islands Murchison  Mountains,  foraging for it’s favourite snow tussocks in competition with introduced herbivores.  

Conservation measures include  the eradication or reduction of the stoat which eat the eggs and the deer which feed on the same tussock. Management of their habitat is vital for their survival. Sadly the 2008 population count have found a large number have been killed by stoats. Read more here

Another measure to save these birds is to hatch eggs artificially. Removing one of the two eggs laid increases the number of chicks born as usually only one hatches in the wild.   Young chicks are then reared;  hand puppets for feeding, an artificial parent to shelter under and taped sounds of various feeding and alarm calls.  This ensures they can be returned to the wild and are not dependent  or imprinted on humans. Chicks are later transferred to Kapati and Maud Islands in the Cook Strait or a fenced area the Murchison valley.

One of my special memories is the time I spent as a Department of Conservation volunteer at the Te Anua Wildlife Centre with these beautiful birds and saw the young being fed with the puppets and knowing the numbers have declined is really upsetting.

Two places to view these birds that cannot fly are Tiritiri Matangi Island in the Hauraki Gulf, and Mt. Bruce National Wildlife Centre in the lower North Island. Mt. Bruce is open all year and is a good place to learn more about the work being done to save these, and other endangered species.

 

 

guests: fish or friends?

Are you a good quest? are you a fish or a friend?

It’s that time of year again when we descend on friends and family, and conversely they descend on us. It seems timely to check ourselves -am I a good house-guest?

I am sure you have heard the old saying – guests and fish are similar, they both go off after three days. In an attempt to ensure they we don’t go off quite so quickly, lets consider how not to be a guest from hell.

First of all what is a guest from hell? .

The lazy one; she thinks it’s a hotel she’s booked into, that you are her mother and find  pleasure in picking up after her. There are males with the same traits. In fact he can be even worse as his gear usually includes smelly, or very smelly, sox and sneakers lying in the middle of the lounge floor. A male will often spend long periods of time in the toilet. When this is in the same room as the shower and you have to go to work and or the kids get to school, well . . . paint your own picture.

The fussy one: they’re similar to the lazy one in that they too think you are their mother, ecstatic at being able to provide all their needs. The fussy-one tells you she is a vegetarian just after you have spent hours producing a meat dish using fashionably long slow-food methods. He tells you he hates tomatoes when the only food left in the cupboard is a packet of dry pasta and a tin of tomato sauce.

The cheap one: spends hundreds on sky diving, bungee jumping, hot air ballooning, and expensive bottles of booze, for himself, but fails to even think of a buying you a coffee when you pick him up at 1 15am when his flight, train, or bus arrives. He tells you about his budget and how far he has travelled or an oily rag but never asks about your budget.

The boring one: is often not family but someone met in a bar when your perceptions of people were somewhat distorted. The amusing convivial fellow has turned into a right-wing bore who knows how this country should be run, loves reality TV and channel surfing, sleeping late and mostly, the sound of his monotone voice. Have you met him? Or her. They are hard to get rid of.  

Now, I am absolutely positive you are not like that, nor do I expect my family who are flying in to stay with me over Xmas to be anything like this but, lets review some of the etiquette required to be a good guest. Common sense and courtesy are the key principals. This is a time when the golden rule “do as that you expect done to you” needs upgrading to platinum, “do as your hosts want you to do”. Guess what- it’s their home you are in so their rules rule.

So, to remain on your hosts xmas list, do the opposite of the above examples ( and there are many varieties of hellish guests, this was just skimming the surface, perhaps you could add more from your own experience)

Open your wallet and purse to buy the basics. Toilet paper, coffee, food. Sure its easy to buy, and nice to get, a bottle of wine or box of chocolates, however you will more than likely drink half of it…grand gestures are OK as long as the basics are covered too. Absolutely pay for your phone calls and don’t spend ages on it.

Clean up after yourself. Don’t put it down – put it away. Keep your bed made and all your gear tucked tidily into a corner of the room. Keep the bathroom clean too.

As well as the clean up behind you, an extra task each day will be appreciated by your hosts. For example, water the garden, when you do your washing offer to do the house wash too. Strip your bed, wash the sheets and tidy the room when you leave.

Cook a meal for the family: buy all the ingredients, and do the dishes afterwards.

If it all sounds too much – don’t stay with friends or family. Book into the closest hostel, hotel or bed and breakfast and visit them from there. Both of you will appreciate each other that way and the friendship will continue.

traveller or tourist? what is a backpacker?

Am I a tourist or traveller? What are you? As a backpacker, I belong on one side of the great divide in the world of travel snobbery. The saying that prevails around this group is – tourists know where they are going, but don’t know where they have been, while travellers know where they have been but don’t know where they are going.

web james bond islandOf course, my friends who stay in hotels are horrified at the idea of sleeping on a rooftop in Jerusalem with 29 others, or any of the other shared places I’ve slept in.


I, on the other hand, cannot imagine spending any more than the occasional night in a sterile, albeit luxurious, hotel.

Many of my friends hate to leave home without knowing where they will sleep, what tours have been booked, what times their transport will leave and exactly where they are going. They think I am crazy to have no idea where I am going, where I am staying and what I will see. This is, for me, the difference between a traveller and a tourist, characterised by the freedom of time and attitude. As Hostelling International says in one of their adverts, backpacking is about attitude not age.


However if you have two, three or four weeks to enjoy an annual holiday, or this is your one chance to visit Europe, China, or Australia, and it is important you see all that you can join a tour. Being part of a tour is the only way to fit in the top sites.web beach at indigo pearl Just make sure you are not in a cultural quarantine – returning home untouched by any contact with locals.

As a nomadic wanderer, I often miss many of the ‘must see’ tourist places but leave a country having been to a wedding, had a long coffee and meal with a local school teacher, taught swimming to a group of young Thai boys and on another occasion, spent three weeks on an island cleaning up a marine-reserve after a monsoon. Am I the only person who went to New York and merely stood at the bottom of the Twin Towers?


Conversely, I don’t know any ‘tourist’ who volunteered their time in a soup kitchen in the middle of a New York blizzard. The snobbery evident on both sides of the fence: ‘I can afford to stay somewhere clean and civilised’ versus ‘I can afford the time to spend a long time travelling’. Different strokes for different folks.


web laos polly and iSo what do others have to say about the topic? Larry Krotz (Tourism. 1996) says travel, or going somewhere as a tourist, has become something we do in order to share our culture – like going to an annual sports or cultural event. He discusses the shift over 150 years, from travel for education and knowledge to the enjoyment factor of today, ‘something everyone does’.

WEB naked-front-cover


Mass ability to travel, as things became cheaper and faster, was captured originally by Thomas Cook mid 19th century, making a fascinating topic to read. So, if you want to know about the conveyer belt that tourism has become; how we are a product to be seduced, fed and watered, displayed and then returned home go to the library.

So, if you want to know about the selfishness of people like me who get off the beaten track and then don’t want you to discover it too; if you want to know about the affects of tourists or travellers on the country we travel in, I recommend the whole section on tourism in your local library.

Travel and reading: what do you read?

The world is a book and those who do not travel, read only one page” according to St Augustine.

I am an avid reader and traveller so want to read and see it all. I wonder how many pages you have read? Maybe you don’t believe the old saint and see the world in different ways. Of course his world was smaller than we know it today, and we all read different types of literature.

Guess that makes the saying true, maybe it is a book – if we use that word it’s widest meaning. Some will go to Rome – for instance – and read a very different book to the one that you or I will read.web passport etc

Maybe you are an encyclopaedic type person and will have read all the history you could before arriving. You will know the dates – or at least the order of – all the various reigns and many historical twists that the city has taken. You will know some of the bloodthirsty events that took place at the Colosseum and all about the Sistine chapel in the Vatican City – the city within a city.

Other will prefer their book to be a comic, perhaps a classic that will give them all the details quickly and in manageable bite-sized portions. Comic readers will be like a couple of Aussie women and me, who, when we had been subjected to more than enough views of cathedrals were saying “ABC.” Translated it meant – another b**** church, or another WEB naked-front-coverboring cathedral. It was as if Europe was throwing pearls before swine- we had lost our appreciation when each day seemed to be dominated by yet more churches, cathedrals and their inevitable pigeons – all beginning to seem the same.

Other books I have read to inform me before, during and after my travels are the travel guides. A plethora of them and these too can range from a full hearty meal, a silver service six course classy event, to some world-wide chain takeaway food on the run, or a get your fingers dirty banana-leaf curry. As always the choice is ours: our tastes change with the weather, venue and hunger.

Travelling through this mosaic-like world – physically and via words – is a wonderful privilege and just recently I read figures that really showed just how privileged this travelling life-style is.

  • While well over 50% of New Zealanders have been overseas – so must have passports – I discovered less than 25% of Americans do; World-wide the figure for people owning passports is 3%. Although I haven’t been able to verify these figures they show a number of things. DO YOU KNOW?
  • We are an island nation so have to have a passport to go anywhere! That passport owning is not a right but a privilege – and sign of our wealth – and that kiwis, despite being flightless birds, really get around.
  • Using St Francis and his saying it seems we New Zealanders are avid readers. But what does it say about the other 97% of the world?

For many, in the poorest countries, the word is not even in their vocabulary as something they could aspire to owning. But what does it say about the world’s richest nation when so few have passports. Is it any wonder we hear words such as insular and naïve credited to them at times. Perhaps it’s because collectively they haven’t read much of the worlds pages that St Francis was talking about. Remember 10 years ago – the disbelief of the Europeans (and us Kiwis) when they found out that ‘Dubya’ – the new head of so many people- had never been to Europe, or so it seemed, ever left the USA!

Once again it makes me wonder, do broad-minded people travel or does travel make people broad-minded? I have always been broad-minded – albeit forced on me by circumstances at times – but travel has made me more so: I will keep reading the pages of this world.

There is nothing more exciting than to be alive with travelling, to not know where you will sleep that night – just the absolute certainty of knowing that it will be somewhere you have never been before.

What a wonderful freedom and richness that living on an affluent island that was peopled by adventurous explorers gives us. The privileged richness of owning a passport and therefore reading so many more pages than other nations can or do.

However, remember that privileges are equally balanced with responsibilities.

World Buskers Festival.

Organised pandemonium takes over Christchurch, New Zealand, as each January locals and visitors of all ages flock to open-air city malls, the city’s cultural precinct, and out to the seaside suburb of New Brighton to witness the world’s very best busker talent: the World Buskers Festival. Belly laughs, amazement, admiration, and surprise fill their lives for ten days every summer.

This is when artists, from countries as diverse as Portugal, UK, Japan, Australia, Italy, the USA wing their way to Christchurch, the largest city in the South Island, to provide over four-hundred free shows – although, as it’s their livelihood, optional donations are always welcome.

“The festival’s reputation for excellence and our great locations here in the heart of Christchurch’s cultural and heritage  precinct  are  big  drawcards for both international and domestic visitors, as well as for  local  residents,  and  it  has  become  an  icon event for the city” festival director Jodi Wright tells me. Such is the reputation of this event that, sitting in her office under the old university observatory, Jodi is inundated with pleas for an invitation from buskers around the world.

Hub of activities for the dare-devils, outrageous comedians, juggling divas, and other mischievous people here to entertain, is the Art Centre, site of Christchurch’s first university and the first place in the British Empire to admit women.  Some famous alumni are; poet Denis Glover, novelist and playwright Dame Ngaio Marsh, Sir Karl Popper scientist and philosopher, and our celebrated artist, Rita Angus. This university is also where the great 19th century scientist, Sir Ernst Rutherford, had his ‘den’ and where he explored his theories which led to the splitting of the atom.

When plans emerged for the Gothic Revival buildings to be demolished – in the 1970s when the university moved to a new site – Christchurch residents pleaded for its retention. They finally won the arguments and the resulting Arts Centre is now firmly established as the cultural hub of Christchurch and is one of New Zealand’s most significant historical and cultural attractions: a fitting place for the smash hit the World Buskers Festival has become in the Christchurch calendar. Numbers attending the shows have more than doubled since its inception in 1994.

Christchurch was New Zealand’s first city (by royal charter in 1856); is lauded for its gardens, and sits on a large plain between the Southern Alps and the Pacific Ocean. It could easily be called festival city: as well as the buskers, festivals celebrating the arts, writers, jazz, and floral themes are just a few of the others. Known as ‘The Garden City’, it has won many national and international horticultural awards and these show the importance locals place in having a beautiful city in which to live, work, and play: there are maps of great drives and walks around the city available from the information centre in ‘the Square’ – the original centre of Christchurch.

The Christchurch Botanic Gardens, founded in 1863 and acknowledged as possessing the finest collection of exotic and indigenous plants in New Zealand, is co-opted as the setting for the children’s part of the Buskers Festival. Witches, magic, and juggling create fear and fun with the kids: parents love the acts too.

Each evening the Busker Comedy Club, a cabaret-style, outdoor variety show in the Arts Centre grounds, is packed with people, many of who arrive  an hour or so early with rugs and cushions to sit on. Others have booked one of the tables which are well-supplied with tasty nibbles and drinks to enjoy as they laugh at the adult-only entertainment.

Over the lunch hour, under the gaze of an old statue of one of the city fathers and alongside modern sculpture and the cathedral that dominates the skyline of Cathedral Square, I watch a Canadian as he flouts the rules of physics. Using his engineering degree he tests the quantum theory by impaling a cabbage on a spike on his head and tells us he is proud of his pasty, lanky look and ability to out-talk a senior citizen. Known by his stage name – the Comedy Engineer – he also says that ‘comedy has been waiting a long time for an engineer.’

The crowd remains when he finishes and soon Mario, Queen of the Circus, takes over the pitch. Winner of awards in Germany, Switzerland and France, he is a master of impeccable timing and phenomenal juggling skills: this is showmanship at its best and I loved every minute of it.

Recalling his show, a word of warning seems appropriate. Some performers, like this queen of the circus, may ask you to volunteer as a participant in their show. However, as the festival programme says: ‘please feel free to decline their request (for any reason) and use common sense and caution at all times’.

Nevertheless, the only injury I witnessed was to a friend’s ego when she was surprised by one of the roving acts – at the airport! Just off the plane, she was welcomed to festival city by The Crowd Maintenance Crew when they popped out from behind a wall and dusted her down with their feather duster ‘just making sure you are in tip top condition’ they tell her.

Other roving acts this past January included a pavement artist, living statues, and two local women – The Chick Taylors – who are the personification of improvisation with a range of characters from the Paranoid French or German through to Retro English Geeks: they are up for anything and it’s great to see locals in such a high-calibre extravaganza such as this festival.

Featured on the Discovery Channel programme, “Fantastic Festivals of the World,” this one-of-a-kind event extends out the beach suburb of New Brighton which sits on the long sweep of Pegasus Bay and the Pacific.

It was a hot sunny, beach-suburb-appropriate day when I caught one of the very popular shows by the Blackstreet Boys. Discovered by festival organiser Jodi Wright as she explored Venice Beach, California, these young men are irreverent, light on their feet, full of mischief and the crowd and I loved their performance. I hear that when they are not on the streets of LA they teach and choreograph would-be artists – this has included MC Hammer.

Locals claim the Christchurch cultural precinct is the finest in the southern hemisphere. Planned by the city founders – some 150 years ago – to create a cultural heart for the province (Canterbury) it is still a wonderful backdrop to many of the arts and heritage activities of Christchurch.

‘I’ll meet you at the Arts Centre’ or ‘let’s have coffee, dinner, or supper – before or after the show,’ can be overheard wherever locals gather. The old university, with over forty galleries, studios, theatres, cinemas, cafes, restaurants, shops, bars, weekly arts market, fabulous bead shop, and ethnic food stalls, this vibrant place is the perfect backdrop for the World Buskers Festival.

Park your car as this  an easy area to explore by foot or tram, and most of the activities are free, and include places such as; New Zealand’s only remaining Provincial Chamber buildings, Our City O-Tautahi with its changing exhibitions, the fabulous glass fronted Christchurch Art Gallery, the Canterbury Museum, and the Centre of Contemporary Art. So when you are exhausted from laughing at the class buskers acts that are spread around the city, complete your stay in Christchurch by enriching your senses with food, fun and culture in this very public heart of a great city. See you there!

for other world festivals check out 2camels website.

©Heather Hapeta 2008

15 top tips for great photos

Make your holiday snaps even better and impress your friends with these simple hints

Maheshwar, India
Maheshwar, India

Want friends to love your holiday photos? try these tips

Travel sharpens awareness of our surroundings; the different, the unusual and it’s these things, the view of a new eye that makes great photos.

As a travel writer I take many photos during my first few days in another country, a different culture. (www.kiwitravelwriter.com)

If you want your photos to be more than a mere record of your travels try these tips.

  1. Keep your camera with you : some of my ‘best photos’ are the ones I missed by not having my camera read
  2. Filling the whole frame adds impact to many pictures
  3. Eliminate the unessential, cut the clutter. Don’t try to grab it all.
  4. Early morning and late afternoon have the most favourable light.
  5. Avoid midday as overhead sun drains the colour.
  6. Simple blocks of bright colour make bold statements look at other people’s photos to see what works, what catches your eye.
  7. Vertical shots are great for height and portraits, while horizontal ones are good for getting some background.
  8. Hold your camera at an angle for some fun shots: I won a photo-of-the-month prize because my angled shot stood out.
  9. If possible, leave the subject lean on something, or put their weight on one leg for natural pose.
  10. Take photos when the person is unaware of you.
  11. Use a background that enhances the subject: don’t have poles, trees, or the Eiffel tower growing out of your subjects’ head
  12. Balance the picture; rarely does the subject look great right in the centre.
  13. Take a series of photos: signs, doors, sunsets, fountains, or faces.
  14. Use something to frame the subject, a tree trunk and branch, a door, a window – but not with all your photos.
  15. Finally, be considerate and don’t take photos of people who don’t want to be photographed – eg the hill-tribes of Laos. If I believe I will publish a photo of people, I get permission to do so (when possible) and pay them in an appropriate way.
Takahe - a colourful native
Festival of the Hungry Ghost. Malaysia
Kaikoura, New Zealand

Hot air ballooning makes me fall in love

“When the wind blows in your face, something different is about to happen,” we’re told. It’s true and when the wind blows on our faces we change direction during the best morning I’ve had for ages. In fact it is so good I’m in love – in love with hot air ballooning. It is such fun even clichés fail me.

At 4 30am I was woken with a phone call. “It’s on, the weather is perfect, and your transport will be at your door in 20 minutes. It takes an hour to reach Methven, (1025 ft above sea level) home of Aoraki Balloon Safaris and close to Mt Hutt ski fields – and also on the Lord of the Rings route, a nearly a New Zealand-long-trail. Meeting with others who have driven from Christchurch or stayed overnight, we’re given overshoes, have our names and weights recorded and divided into two groups. A short bus ride takes us to the Methven Show grounds where we’re to be launched upwards.hot air balloon over village

Already the excitement is building and our group of eight or nine strangers are talking freely with each other. We’re all virgin balloonists and are anticipating a great time. Unlike many tourist ventures, on this we get to assist with the preparations. Some drag the traditional wicker basket (willow cane and rattan) from the trailer while I help unfurl the colourful giant balloon from an impossibly tiny bag: even the basket seems too small for us all. The balloon is now stretched out on the ground, a Kiwi and Swiss traveller hold open its mouth and two huge fans begin blowing. Slowly the multi-coloured nylon takes shape and our excitement continues to grow. We are all taking photos – recording the time for future memories – and finally it’s full – so full in fact that there is around eight tons of air in it. Now to heat it – apparently this is what makes it rise – and guess it’s why they call them hot-air balloons. Our pilot directs the roaring jets of flames into the mouth without burning it and shortly the balloon is moving. It rolls slightly to the right, back to the left, centres itself, then as we let go it leaves the safety of the ground to do what a balloon does best – it flies.

As it hovers above the creaking basket, so evocative of ballooning images, we climb aboard, are given safety instructions for landing (facing forward holding the rope handles and bent knees,) and, after being given the chance to bail out, and no one wants to disembark, the heat is turned up and off we go. Actually it’s up we go. Magic. Cool cool cool. What else can I say? It is at this moment, as the ground falls away below us, that I fall in love. I’m having a natural high and I know I’m addicted with this first rush. Although I watch the other balloon, I am too preoccupied with my own experiences. web hot air ballooonThe world looks very different from up here; it’s quite different to a plane because of the lower altitude and speed. A local is taking a photo of us from her terrace but it seems most of the other 1000 villagers are still asleep on this crisp clear spring day. A dog is barking, magpies are chortling, hares and sheep flee, cattle stare, and the Swiss traveller breaks out some genuine Swiss chocolate to share. Perfect. He, like many of the others flying today, was given the flight as a birthday gift: one couple were celebrating their wedding anniversary.

The South Islands’ snowy-backbone, the Southern Alps, provide a perfect pristine backdrop for our 360°views. New Zealand’s highest mountain Aoraki-Mt Cook can be seen in the distance along with beautiful braided rivers. Across the productive, but dry Canterbury Plains, the port town of Timaru and the Pacific Ocean are clearly visible. I click my camera frequently: the rest of the time I’m awe-struck. No wonder parts of this scenery was used in the Lord of the Rings ( And, am I the only person in the world not to have seen the movies?)

All too soon the gas is getting low and it’s time to land. We have been watching the chase vehicle following us and our pilot points out the landing spot, and reminds us of the landing position. The lower we get to ground the faster it seems we’re going. Then, cattle staring and even following us, we skim over the final fence, more air is vented and we land in an empty field. One little bump, back up into the air briefly then we land. As if in slow motion the basket gracefully falls on its side and the journey is over. We burst into laughter as we gaze, from our backs, up into the sky that only a moment ago we were floating in. Although we have landed, the adventure is not quite over. The farmer and our chase vehicle are driving towards us and we have a balloon to pack. With more laughter we roll our bodies along it to expel the air, and then squeeze it back into the very small bag. It fits. The traditional ballooning breakfast: a glass of good kiwi bubbly or orange juice, coffee, croissants, jam, cheese and fruit.

The farmer gets a bottle of bubbly to take home. As a child lying on my back, and watching clouds drift by, had whetted my appetite for flying like a bird. This, surely, is as close as one gets.

Facts and figures The balloon is 81 feet in diameter – 93 feet highHolds 245, 000 cubic feet of airThe air is heated with LPGBalloons always fly east to west, the circular direction of the world’s major weather patternsThe balloon and basket were made in South Dakota, USA

now to roll it up
now to roll it up

Brief history of ballooning. Paper-makers Joseph and Etiene Montgolfier, who were looking for new applications for their product, made the first hot air balloon, in France. The brothers made a balloon from paper and fabric and it rose when put over a flame. They first tested it with a rooster, a duck and a sheep – under the orders of Louis XV1. The brothers never flew. The first flight with people was in Paris in front of Louis and Marie Antoinette while outside France the first was ten months later (Sept. 1784), by an Italian in London. Marie Antoinette is on record as having said, “It is the sport of Gods” The traditional bottle of champagne was given to the farmer on whose fields the balloon lands was not so much for the joie de vivre of today, but to stop the farmer attacking these strange and uninvited creatures with pitchforks.

To read more by this writer buy her book: Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad.  Readers reviews are on this website – see above.