Award Winning NZ Home With Hecka View

Governors Bay, Lyttleton, Canterbury, New Zealand

Imagine waking up to this view every morning. Or coming home to this view after a long day at work. You’d never want to dine out again. Building here requires that you tackle a heck of a slope and invest in very tall pilings to bedrock. And growing a garden comes with some extra challenges. Nonetheless, the beautiful New Zealand outdoors feels a part of every room in this home. My friends Ole and Karen have been living in this three bedroom, two bath home for over a year and they love it.

They used this plastic “mail” developed for Lord of the Ring films. Karen saw it used on commercial sites and she and Ole adopted it for a screen in the bedroom. Very high cool factor.

The design and finished home have won awards including a Gold Medal in the house of the year awards for Canterbury and are under consideration for a national award. It was described as “It’s the hygge high-life harbourside for these Scandi design fans.”


It is a super comfortable for a high-style home. They used a lot of clever devices, such as the plastic chainmail screen in the bedroom that allows the view/light in with more privacy. They also are using a humane rodent trap in their garden. The rat puts its head in to check out the bait and CO2 knocks it out permanently–and the rat never knew what hit it. I was super excited (given another winter of rodent battles after my roof replacement) until I realized that it doesn’t transfer to California as easily. In Auckland there are NO native rodents and they are all invasive and bad for birds. Whereas, I wouldn’t want to exterminate squirrels or skunks passing through my garden and if I put it under the house or in the attic I wouldn’t know I killed anything until I smelled the corpse!

I enjoyed seeing a lot of new living situations for my Kiwi friends. Ole and Karen have a fresh start after the earthquakes in Christchurch, other friends have moved into stylish, but smaller apartments for their retirement years, and other friends put in new features in their longtime home to make it even lovelier to live in. I am pleased for all of them. And once again struck by how gracious living in New Zealand is (and not just for people with means).

Karen and Ole enjoy their new home even more than the attention it is rightfully garnering.

Christchurch’s Exciting Evolution

Captain Cook still presides; Christchurch is now an interesting mix of old and new.

When I first visited Christchurch in 2010 I enjoyed the Botanical Garden and walking along the Avon River; however, I thought the City felt stodgy and old-fashioned. They had already had several big earthquakes and I experienced a couple of small ones when I was there. The following February the downtown was largely destroyed by another quake and then rattled by hundreds of additional aftershocks. I didn’t visit again until 2012. The National and Canterbury governments were still grappling with the magnitude of damage. Houses were being “red-tagged” and individuals were moving to other parts of New Zealand to keep their children in schools and to find work. On this visit (my third or fourth visit), I was impressed with progress made, and by the new spirit exhibited by the art and buildings created downtown. Christchurch is cool.


Early morning at Margaret Mahy Playground includes a skate park.

The downtown has been opened up and its relationship to the Avon River has been redefined. The pathways and landscaping enhance the pedestrian experience. Plus a real investment has been made in public art. I walked from my hotel, the Crowne Plaza Christchurch to the Margaret Mahy Playground. This new complex is awesome for kids and families. Even early in the morning the number of children using the playground was exciting.

I walked along the river walkway towards the Christchurch Botanic Garden. I passed through Victoria Square and took a slight detour to the Commons–a collection of businesses in pop-up type buildings. Along the way I enjoyed the public art.


On my return I walked through the Cathedral Square. A Farmers Market was setting up and vendors were setting up and early arrivers were sipping coffee on the edges. There are signs of determination to rebuild the Cathedral in its old glory. I can understand the attachment to the old buildings at Christ College and the Cathedral. But the energy is all coming from the new forms and functions in the city and makes Christchurch an exciting place to visit.


Earthquake Recovery: Christchurch

img_1152What people refer to as the  Christchurch earthquake was actually an aftershock of the first quake in September. The destructiveness of the February 2011 aftershock displaced the earlier incident as “the quake” and deservedly so.

Christchurch earthquake 6.3 magnitude on the Richter Scale. (Why Can’t Kiwi’s Fly?, p. 56):

A more accurate measure of how strong an earthquake feels or how much damage it causes is the Modified Mercalli Scale. It gauges the effects of an earthquake on the Earth’s surface, humans, buildings, and trees. It has a scale of I –XII (1-12); on this scale the Christchurch earthquake is rated IX (Violent: general panic, damage considerable in specially designed structures, well-designed frame structures partially collapse. Buildings shifted off foundations.) Some argue the Christchurch earthquake should have been rated as high as X (Intense: some well-built wooden structures destroyed; most masonry and frame structures destroyed with foundation. Rails bent. Large landslides.)

Another measure of the strength of an earthquake is peak ground acceleration or PGA. This does not calculate the total energy (magnitude or size) of an earthquake, but rather how hard the earth shakes. On that scale the Christchurch earthquake recorded one of the highest PGAs ever: at Heathcote Primary School it was an incredible 2.2 g, or 2.2 times the acceleration of gravity. And to compound the destruction, the greater force was upwards, with people lifted off their feet. Only the recent Japanese earthquake in Tohuku, on 11 March 2011, recorded a higher PGA—2.7g.

As geologist Hamish Campbell said: “No wonder so many stone churches, including Christchurch Cathedral, were destroyed. Such structures were simply not designed to be thrown up into the air and left to go into free fall, even though the fall is all over in a matter of milliseconds to seconds.


I first visited Christchurch in October 2010. I experienced a small roller during my stay, but I’m from California so I wasn’t unnerved. I’ve never experienced what Christchurchians did for a period of several years: a seemingly never ending series of aftershocks of varying strengths. I feel like I followed it with the Ole JackMeter. My friend David introduced me via Facebook to Ole and Karen and I visited them and got the deluxe tour of Christchurch and Banks Peninsula in October 2010. They were away from Christchurch on the fateful day in February, but they endured many more sleepless nights. It was not uncommon to be woken up by the sound of a train–held in suspense as to the size of the coming trembler. Ole posted on Facebook when there was another significant quake by saying something like it was another “Jack night” meaning he was going to need Jack Daniel’s whiskey to get to sleep. Whenever I read this from my home in California I’d say a little prayer and think of the beautiful city in Canterbury.

Ole and Karen gave me another tour in 2013. Streets and sewer lines were dug up for repairs almost everywhere we drove. Places I had admired in 2010 were in ruins or closed. Upheaval was ongoing including occasional aftershocks. There were also signs of vitality. The Restore Mall had recently opened with shops in shipping containers.

UK Sarah made time on our road trip to meet Ole for breakfast (Karen was on a business trip) and he gave us another deluxe tour. The roads are in much better shape. There are more and more signs of life returning to normal. The Children’s Bookstore I love is closing/for sale; however, it is hard to say if it is earthquake or book industry related. Now the Sumner suburbs are completely cleared and going back to nature. The fallen rock along the Redcliffs is almost completely removed and many people have already rebuilt to a new standard.

I predict that Christchurch will go from tragedy to triumph. It takes time. And they’ve only just stopped shaking.

This documentary gives a moving account of the “big one”.

Postscript: Their Monday morning they experienced more earthquakes (7.8 Richter, 5+ aftershock(s)). The epicenter was further north near Kaikoura. I am sad to see the photos of the destruction of this beautiful seaside town. My prayers are with them. We can also donate to the NZ Red Cross.

Evening Penguin Safari on Banks Peninsula

One of my earliest penguin experiences was with the Pohatu Penguin Plunge in Akaroa. Several years ago I got up at the crack of dawn in Christchurch and drove out to Akaroa to go seakayaking and observe the penguins in Flea Bay on the Banks Peninsula. It was a wonderful experience, except for getting very, very seasick (but I’m easily prone).

I recently returned to the Banks Peninsula and was able to convince UK Sarah to go with me on the evening penguin safari at the Pohatu Marine Reserve. We reported to the Pohatu Penguin Plunge office in Akaroa and met the 3 other participants and our guide Ben. We climbed aboard the van and began the drive up the side of the old volcanic crater and down the other side to Flea Bay. We stopped along the way for some great views. Ben explained with his French accent the history of Akaroa from volcanic formation, to French settlers landing 4 days after Waitangi Treaty was signed, to the current efforts to conserve the penguin habitat at Flea Bay.

We stopped at the farmhouse to collect binoculars and to put on some camouflage raingear. We also fed bummer lambs a bottle and gave some pellets to the ewes. There is a bathroom here (and the last stop for the next several hours).

We headed the short distance toward Flea Bay—so named because early explorers noted that the penguins here were covered in fleas. Ben took his notebook along to make observations along the way. He reminded us the importance of watching the penguins from hides and not touching them or using flash photography.

It is tricky to time the penguin viewing—the start and finish of tours changes as spring turns to summer—because the penguins have adapted to the introduction of mammal predators by postponing their return to land until nightfall. When we began our walk only a few little blue penguins had returned, and as it got darker, we could see more and more penguins but less and less of them. And the ground is rough (you are walking along a hillside on a sheep and penguin trek not a proper path).

Almost right away we came to an artificial penguin nest provided by the Pohatu Penguin Plunge. If left to their own devices, the penguins would dig out nest in the dirt, but this requires a lot of energy and the colony is struggling to maintain its numbers. Providing the artificial boxes is a common practice approved by the Department of Conservation.

It is easy to tell the occupied boxes by the tell-tale poop outside the door. Each nest is numbered and the lids on these boxes are removable so Ben and others can check on them and track the number of chicks and help to educate us, the interested public. Ben showed us two different nests—one with a male and some chicks and one with a female and some chicks. The chicks were still small and difficult to see. Ben cannot touch the penguins so unless they shift it is difficult to know for certain. He replaced the lids and then added a rock to keep curious sheep out of the nests.

The little blue penguins in this colony are growing in numbers but only gradually. They experienced a 5% dip after the biggest Christchurch earthquake due probably due to stress. Their survival is threatened mainly by overfishing of their food supply and by stoats and other alien mammals harassing chicks and eggs. In the van, Ben explained the Department of Conservation approved poison program and then on our walk showed us a stoat trap. He recently started baiting the trap with mouse juice (pee from pet mice) and is finding more stoats than before. The most vulnerable period for the penguins is during the month or so when they molt and gain a new coat of feathers.

We walked to a set of hides where we could see the little blue penguins without disturbing them. I asked Ben how the chicks finally move out after weeks of being fed by their parents. He explained that the parents finally just stop going back to the nest and the young adults spend several days getting hungrier and hungrier until finally they clamber to the sea and begin fishing for themselves.

The Yellow-eyed penguin appeared much bigger to my naked eye than this photo suggests.

We walked to the furthest hide and received our reward: a lone yellow-eyed penguin. He was very handsome preening himself before going home. We watched him for some time. And while we watched we also saw a New Zealand fur seal go into the water from the nearby rocks. The seal swam just off shore and the returning little blue penguins avoided him as they returned from feeding all day.

In this area the white flippered penguins and the little blue penguins coexist and breed with one another. They are not considered separate subspecies. Only along these shores on the Banks Peninsula and Motunau Island will you find the white flippered penguin. I was pleased that with the help of binoculars I could soon tell the difference with the penguins we watched come ashore.

We returned slowly to the farmhouse and returned our gear. It was a lovely experience and the five of us from Scotland, Malaysia, England, USA and France were united in our admiration for the penguins.

The evening penguin safari costs $75NZ per adult and lasts 3 hours. Transportation is provided from Akaroa. No food or drink is provided by the tour company. Reservations are recommended. Uneven terrain may be a challenge for some, ask about accommodation if this is a concern. The Department of Conservation provides guidance for conserving the marine reserve but no funding. The Pohatu Penguin Plunge activities help to pay for the conservation of the habitat in Flea Bay. Best time for viewing is September through February.

Salmon Connections


A funny thing happened on my way to New Zealand, my colleagues told me about the Pacific Chinook Salmon living in New Zealand. Whaaaat??

It seems that once upon a time when a young United States was expanding in the west, an energetic Livingston Stone was US Deputy Fish Commissioner, America’s Senior Fish Culturist, and ultimately the “father of fish culture on the Pacific Coast”. He zealously went about the western U.S. introducing non-native fish like striped bass into streams and the California delta where they harass dwindling salmon populations. (Thanks Stone.) He also shipped Chinook Salmon eggs around the world in the late 1800s.

Some of those eggs found their way to New Zealand and were planted on rivers in South Island including the Rangitata, Opihi, Ashburton, Rakaia, Waimakiri, Hurunu, and Waiau Rivers. Alas, the Kiwis also built hydro-electric facilities and irrigation canals that blocked the salmon’s access to the high mountain streams and the spawning grounds they love. Some remain.

Today you can fish for Chinook salmon whose ancestors swam in the Russian River on the two wild and scenic Rangitata and Waimakiri Rivers. I spoke with Barry Clark by phone, a fishing and hunting guide based in Lake Tekapo, and he explained that the salmon adapted well. They come back after 2-3 years at sea so they are smaller than California’s salmon. The wild stock are also fewer in number due to harsher conditions at sea–what with warmer sea temperatures and increased commercial fishing. Otherwise the life cycle is the same: spawning on gravel beds, and rearing on floodplain from fry to smolt, before going out to sea.

The story comes full circle as the Winnemem Wintu tribe in Northern California believes that the surviving salmon in New Zealand are genetically closer to their historic salmon that spawned on the upper McCloud River but were all but destroyed when Shasta Dam was built. They are lobbying for these fish to be reintroduced and NOAA is studying the genetics of the fish and considering the possibility. The tribe’s quest is detailed in an award-winning documentary. This is part of an ongoing debate over fish hatcheries–including the one named after Livingston Stone.

If you do find yourself in the Canterbury region of South Island in New Zealand, then give Barry Clark a call (6806-513) and he can show you the best places to fish for trout in canals and lakes year round or to fly fish from the first Saturday in November.

busy-beePostscript:  Not every introduced species is problematic. Another case in point is the bumblebee. Four species of bumblebee was introduced from Britain at the turn of the 20th century to pollinate red clover. None of the native bees had long enough tongue to reach inside red clover flowers, but the imported bumblebees could do the job. Red clover is essential to sheep and dairy pastures.  Over time, England’s bumblebee, Bombus subterraneus went extinct. Now beekeepers in England are working to reintroduce New Zealand bumblebees. The bumblebee also inspired a classic Kiwi toy.