Success is getting what you want; happiness is liking what you get

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Music in the Night

There was wonderful musical entertainment put on every evening at the NZMCA Easter Rally – singers, musicians, and bands. The hall was packed full of campers all out to enjoy themselves, and those who arrived early secured the best seats.   But by far the most enjoyable, in our view, was the performer on Thursday evening, Steve McDonald, who kept us enthralled with his Celtic music.

Imagine this – a passionate kilted man,  long hair flowing from his cap, putting his heart and soul into his singing and music.  Yes, my Scottish blood was completely in tune, and I loved every minute of his performance.  This Kiwi born bloke, with proud Scots McDonald blood flowing through his veins, had the whole hall listening to his Celtic songs.  And with St Patrick’s Day being celebrated recently, he even obliged with a few Irish songs to keep the green clad brigade in the audience happy.

Steve McDonald

Playing keyboards and the rather strange looking red instrument, he replicated the sound of bagpipes, drums, guitars as he sang the old songs of Scotland, plus some of his own compositions.  I was rather taken with  “100 Pipers” and did not know the story behind this song.  Written around 1814 the song tells of a force of Scottish soldiers numbering 1000 who swam the Esk river to do battle with the English. The Scots would always have their piper(s) pipe them in to battle, so in a bid to make the English think they were a much larger force, they had 100 pipers blow their war cry. So grand was the sight and sound that the English ran without a single sword being drawn.  And just to show that I wasn’t the only one who was smitten – at the end of the show Steve McDonald received a standing ovation – how often does that happen!

There was a “double bill” on offer on Friday evening.  First up were Coasters Musical Group who performed a variety of theatre songs, with the highlight of the evening being a rendition Queen’s “Somebody to Love” by a young female soloist.  It wasn’t until she performed this number that we realized what a wonderful voice she had – it had been rather hidden away when she was singing with the whole group.

Coasters Musical Group

This group was followed by Gil Mohi, who sung the lovely deep, rich ballads which I love, like those from Elvis, Tom Jones, Engleburt.  There is nothing nicer than a passionate love song, is there?  And he sung two of my favourites, Save the Last Dance for Me, and ……..Ten Guitars, otherwise known as the New Zealand National Anthem.

Gil Mohi, soloist

Then on Saturday night we were entertained by the Andrew London trio.  And he was joined on stage with Wayne Mason, of “Nature” fame, on keyboards – this song was voted No.1 in a list of the Top 100 New Zealand Songs of All Time.  The evening was full of jazz, blues and country, as well as some rather amusing original numbers written by Andrew,  including one about his daughter's scary new boyfriend.  As I sat listening to the music, I become aware that “someone” was tapping in time on my posterior!  The bloke sitting behind me had one leg crossed over his knee, and his foot was moving in time to beat, through the back of my chair onto my rear.    Once I had turned around and asked him to stop patting my bottom, he hastily desisted!  No photos of this musical evening as we were late getting to the hall and had awful seats on an angle to the stage – a good reason not to arrive late!

There was a “Dressed up to the Nines in your Best Bling” evening scheduled for Sunday evening, but we decided to go out to the local Cossie Club for dinner instead.  Fellow campers Geoff and Eileen joined us too.  We all chose pork for our meal, and very tasty it was too.  This was our last evening of the Rally, and after the short Closing Ceremony on Monday morning, it was time to pack up and head for home.  By the time we were ready later in the morning, just about half the camp had departed, obviously keen to get on the road and away.  What a great Easter Rally – we caught up with old friends from earlier years, and met and chatted to some interesting people who had come from from all around the country to attend the rally.    

Monday, 28 March 2016

During the day we were busy, busy, busy

With 700 or so rigs on site at the Easter Rally, the organizers had arranged plenty to keep us all happily occupied.  We registered on arrival and collected our Goody Bags, actually a back pack, which was a really handy item to have.  Inside was info about the rally, brochures about this and that, Easter Eggs and Easter Buns, notebooks and pens, and all sorts of interesting things.

New caravans and motor homes were on display, and had a steady stream of people checking them out, us included.  We are not really thinking of changing vans at this point, but you just never know.  I was quite intrigued with the Jayco van which came equipped with built in washing machines.  And then we saw a Roller Team motor home which had a drop down bed from the ceiling – that’s certainly different. 

Kea motor homes for sale

The trade display had all sorts of things on offer to tempt the discerning camper, and Robin came away with a dashboard monitor for the backing camera on the car, and the rear view camera on the caravan.   He also had a chat to the Honda generator man – we have one of these and find it excellent when we are camping off power and need to top up the batteries.  The traders were very generous and donated a great range of prizes for the raffles.

Chatting about Honda Generators

We caught up with Robyn from RV Travel Lifestyle Magazine – we already subscibe to this, and decided to subscibe to her Today magazine as well, so she was pleased to organize that for us.

Robyn Dallimore, Editor

The food trucks did excellent business too, with fast food on offer from coffee, burgers, and chips.  And I couldn’t go past my favourite, a curly potatoes from the Hungry Monkey stall.  Yes, I did buy myself one, plus something quite new for me, a pipi fritter, served between slices of bread.   I’ve never tried pipis before – they are small molluscs, similar to a clam.

Happy with my curly potato!

All campers attending the rally with a pet were given a “goody bag” full of pet related bits and pieces, and there was even a cat and (separate) dog show held during the weekend.  We considered entering Muffy, groomed her coat to make her look extra pretty, feeling sure she would take out a prize for “The oldest Cat at the Rally”.  But then, on reflection, decided against it.  She gets rather upset these days with loud noises, and putting her through the stress of a lot of noise and strange people crowding around would have been too much for her to cope with.  She was given a ribbon for just attending the rally, so that is good enough for us.

Muffy with her Rally Ribbon

There were bus trips organized for the out of towners attending the rally – something we like to go on if we are at a rally in a different area, and a Craft Show another afternoon.  The two Open Days brought in a huge influx of visitors keen to see what these crazy campers were getting up to.  Members of our Caravan Club came calling so it was great to catch up with them.  But it was up to the individual how busy they wanted to be – we had several quite relaxed 4zee afternoons under our awning rather than join up with the 1500 others attendees in the huge hall.  And we even had balloons in the skies above us, the whoomp of the gas ignition had everyone out the door in the morning and looking skywards.

Hot Air Balloon overhead

The organizing team had been working for 4 years to put this event together, and they had done a marvelous job, starting each morning with a 6.30am breakfast meeting.  There were a huge number of volunteers to make sure everything ran smoothly, manning the gates, the Information Stand, running both the Kids and Pets programmes, even organizing an early morning walking group for those who were keen.  So congratulations to all concerned, you did a great job.  And organizing the shuttle buses was a god-send, as we were seemingly miles away from the action.  This is only the second (huge) AGM rally we have attended – who knows, we might even be at the next one.


Saturday, 26 March 2016

NZMCA Easter Rally at Levin

It was just a hop, step, and jump to the Levin A & P Showgrounds for us to arrive at the Easter Rally.  Although we lived relatively close by, due to an urgent appointment, we didn’t arrive to late in the afternoon.  So there was no way we would get a site close to all the facilities.  No….. we were placed in the overflow area, in the adjacent school field, quite a walk to the hall.  No good at all for Robin’s sore knees, so it was lucky that a  shuttle was operating, and we took advantage of this service when we could.


It was the 60th Anniversary of the Association, and as the Wellington Branch is named Area 60, they were determined to run this particular AGM Easter Rally.  And they did – very successfully and with great gusto.  Our rally weekend was officially opened by our Mayor, Brendan Duffy, who welcomed all the visitors to his town.  700 or so caravans and motor homes bring a lot of cash into the community, and many will stay on after the weekend to check out the local area.


One of the dignitaries on stage was Heather, daughter of one of the founders of the Association all those years ago, who told us of her parents endeavours to get NZMCA off the ground.  60 years ago, motor homes were new and did not have their own category for registration, instead they were lumped together with a hearse and ambulance and the fee was very expensive.  It was great to hear that this after very first motor home belonging to Andy and Glenis Anderson has been found derelict, a project is underway to restore it to it’s former glory and display it in a museumn.  And another twist to the story is  that the Personalized Plate “NZMCA 1” was recently discovered  for sale.  A group of NZMCA members clubbed together to secure ownership, and it has been donated to the Association to be reunited with the motor home when it is restored.
We had quite an interesting get together with our neighbours, a “Possum Plucker” from Taranaki who offered Robin a glass and a cold Tui.  And this is what arrived.

A glass and a cold Tui, courtesy of the Possum Plucker

Our rally site

More later about this very busy rally – there's been plenty happening to keep us busy.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Our Town is abuzz with Campers

Little old Levin is buzzing as motor-homes and caravans roll into town from far and wide for the New Zealand Motor Home Association Easter Rally, which officially starts tomorrow.  So all these “out of towners” will have to find somewhere to park up tonight, before the grounds to the Levin Event Centre open up bright and early tomorrow to welcome the travellers.  About 800 or so rigs are expected to the weekend rally, which is also the Association’s 60th Jubilee.

Planning for this giant rally has been going on for quite some time, and it is sure to be extremely well run, with entertainment provided each evening in the hall.  Then there are workshops available, sight seeing trips for the out of towners, children's programme, and the pets aren’t forgotten either.  But just how much Muffy wants to take part in that will be debatable.  Robin is always keen to check out the trade stalls, and drool over the latest in caravans and motor homes, and I’m sure to find plenty to look at in the market stalls.

Packing up for the Easter Rally

Our journey tomorrow will take us all of 10-15 minutes or so, depending on traffic.  So today we are busy packing the caravan, which has been moved around to the handy car park right outside our door.  We’ll leave the perishables for tomorrow, and then we will be off.  Just hope the Easter Bunny can find us over the weekend amongst all those other campers.

And see those flags fluttering over our fence?  The results of the Referendum to choose between the two flags will be announced shortly.  Then we will know if our national flag will change or not.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Herd of Bulls?

Bulls is one of those towns you seem to drive through on the way to somewhere else, towing a caravan behind you, or travelling back home.   Time and time again, we say, we really  must stop here one day and have a good look around. Staying for several days at nearby Mt Lees, we finally had the opportunity.
Herd of Bulls?  Sign at the south end of town.

The small rural town of Bulls marks the junction of State Highways 1 & 3. Originally known as Daniell’s Bush, Middle Rangitikei, and Clifton, the town was finally named after James Bull, an English settler who established the first general store in the town in 1862.  He was a leading light in many enterprises in the settlement, postmaster, storekeeper, timber miller, wagoner, and farmer.  James Bull was also a very generous man, and donated land for the local hospital and the Town Hall.

All through the town, there’s signage that capitalizes on Bulls’ unique name. We soon found Consta-bull (Police Station), Forgive-a-bull (Anglican Church) & Cure-a-bull (Medical Centre).

Consta-bull – the Police Station

Finding our way around town

We called in to the Information Centre – Inform-a-bull

We always enjoy looking around local museums.  As well as the more usual early settlers items on display, we discovered that motoring legend Chris Amon was a local lad and grew up in nearby Scott’s Ferry, (we never knew that). The only child of wealthy sheep-owner Ngaio Amon, he persuaded his father to buy him an Austin A40 Special, which he entered in some minor local races and hill climbs along with practise on the family farm. He progressed to a 1.5 litre Cooper and then an old 2.5L Maserati 250F, but only began to draw attention when he drove the Cooper-Climax T51 which Bruce McLaren had used to win his maiden Grand Prix.



Information board about local boy Chris Amon

There was also a display about another local hero, the war horse Bess, one of the few who were brought home after spending time overseas during WW1.  Originally known as Zelma, the black thoroughbred was presented to the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment, and she was allocated to Captain Charles Powles, who renamed her Bess.  We spent quite some time last year trying to find the Memorial to Bess – read our earlier blog about it here

Memorial to Bess

We then had an interesting conversation with a couple from Hawaii, who are holidaying around New Zealand for 6 weeks.  Of course, we just had to mention that we had been to Hawaii (twice) so travel stories were swapped, and we gave them some ideas for the rest of their trip.  Such as trying local whitebait, oysters and crayfish when they venture down south.  Yum – we would like to try them again too.

Our trip around Bulls finished with lunch in one of the many cafes – and then we spotted someone familiar.  It was the bus driver from Dalroy Tours who collected us from our “One Day in Taranaki” train trip organized by the Feilding and District Steam Rail Society, to Hawera and back.  The bus was waiting for us at Hawera Station and drove us up to Dawson Falls for lunch.  (Read our earlier blog about the bus trip here).  The driver was amazed that we remembered him, and was rather chuffed too, we thought.

Leaving the delights of Bulls behind us, we headed back to the peace and quiet of Mt Lees Reserve – such a pretty place.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

More on Mt Lees Reserve

The Reserve was part of the 2,800 hectare Ngaio station bought by J G Wilson in 1873, and in 1931 Ormond Wilson inherited 320 hectares of the then much diminished Ngaio station. He built the homestead at the head of a gully containing pockets of bush but already much damaged by stock, overgrown by vines, as well as being infested with gorse.  This forward looking man saw the potential of developing the 'bush gully' and set about clearing the gully of the infestations, preserving native trees, encouraging regeneration and planting exotic specimen trees and shrubs. 

The homestead was built and the first shelter belts were planted in 1931. Fencing around the bush was completed in 1951 and during the next decade most of the clearings were planted with specimen trees. It was a lifelong project for Ormond Wilson who in December 1971 gifted the homestead block and bush to the Crown as he doubted future landowners 'would have the will to preserve and continue the work I had begun'.  Today the reserve is administered by the Manawatu District Council, and an extensive planting programme has been carried out.  The reserve is rich in bird life  - Kereru (wood pigeon), Morepork, Grey Warblers, Fantails, Tuis, Bellbirds, Wax Eyes and Kingfisher flourish here.

Camping in front of the Homestead, now operated as a B&B

Many visitors just come for a few hours, to bring their children to play on the swings, or feed the ducks.  Others come to enjoy the beautiful bush walk.  And campers like us are lucky to stay for a night or two enjoying these lovely sheltered surroundings, all for the cost of a small donation in the honesty box.  I enjoyed watching the antics of the resident bird life, such as this starling standing guard on top of the nesting box.

Starling on duty

The ducks were much quieter, busy sleeping, or eating, or pooping!

We chatted to B&B Manager Graham and he proudly showed his fat and greedy Monarch Butterfly caterpillars, munching away on their favourite food, the swan plant. But they obviously have a taste for something different now and again, as we saw them on several other flowering plants in the garden.

Monarch caterpillars making short work of a swan plant

We certainly enjoyed our three night stay at Mt Lees.  It was a handy place to stay while Robin did his volunteer duty for the Cancer Society at the Field Days on Friday.  The weather was perfect, and unusual for the Manawatu, not a breath of wind.  And we are only home a few days before Easter beckons – surely not another trip away?

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Mt Lees and Fieild Days

Three nights staying at magical Mt Lees – what a beautiful place to stay.  With a large grassy space to park in, surrounded by a beautiful area of native bush teeming with bird life,  friendly ducks who come calling – what’s not to like?  And we’ve got the whole place to ourselves too.

Camping alone at Mt Lees

Sleeping ducks – then they spotted me and my camera

While I was pottering around the camp taking a few photos, Robin was part of the team manning a stand at the Field Days held at Manfield.  The Cancer Society had a stand concentrating on “Men’s Health” and as a volunteer worker he had been asked if he could help out too.  No problems – we took the caravan up and made a long weekend out of it.

Robin on volunteer duty

Visitors to the Cancer Society’s stand were given a “Welcome to the Colossal Colon”.  At the entrance the bowel the lining was pink and smooth, just like a healthy bowel should be.  Walking through, the poor old bowel went through changes, showing what polyps look like, then cancer growths from stage 1 to stage 4.  Not pretty at all, but knowing about symptoms could save lives.

The Colossal Colon

Sadly, most men were not in the least interested in checking out the colon, so the helpers handed out some brochures to get them to check their health risk factors.  Women, on the other hand, were much more interested in anything to do with their family’s health, and often stopped to chat.  Professional medical staff were also on hand if anyone wanted any advice.
After his time on duty, Robin then checked out some of the other stands.  Sadly, there were no new caravans to drool over, but cars, tractors, farm quad bikes, even tractors.  He sat down and enjoyed a hearty steak sandwich eaten while watching some very clever Border Collie dogs put through their paces, these are one of the most intelligent of dog breeds, we have read. 

Who is a clever dog, then?

In the early evening, the B&B owner from the adjacent homestead called over for a chat.  He’s a camper too, and likes to get away when he can. 

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

A bit of a Wally

Walther (correct spelling, not to be confused with Walter) is a bit of a wally, his owner said.  But he is also a rather ruthless killing machine.  You wouldn’t think to look at him, though.  Especially curled up as he was, happily laying on the coffee table, amongst the visitors knitting and stitching projects.

Walther the cat

But this is a cat who lives on a hill top rural property, in Shannon.  They breed them tough out in the country, it seems.  Walther’s rather impressive kill rate for the first three months of this year is nothing short of phenomenal.  So far he has caught and dispatched 24 rabbits, 2 stoats, and 1 rat! Nine year old Walther may well be considered a “bit of a wally” by his owners, but he is certainly earning his keep.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Tea and Cake with Waka Huia

It was afternoon tea and catch up time with the crew of Waka Huia yesterday.  David and Marilyn have the best of both worlds, having the time of their lives cruising the canals of Britain on their narrow boat Waka Huia during the English summer.  And then they come back home to enjoy their second summer season in New Zealand.  They write an interesting blog about all their adventures, appropriately called N B Waka Huia – The Treasure Box.

We met up at Geoff and Eileen’s property yesterday for afternoon tea - and what a lovely spread it was.  Marilyn is a great cook, (just read their blog to see what delights she regularly produces at seemingly no trouble at all) and came bearing a delicious Orange Syrup Cake.  Eileen had whipped up cheese scones, and I took along an apricot slice.  Fortified with food and cups of tea, or coffee, we got down to the serious business of catching up with news since our last get-together a year ago.

Robin and Jenny, David, Eileen, Marilyn and Geoff

Marilyn told us about her interesting new job where she gets to fly back and forth to Hokitikia over Cook Strait and the mighty Southern Alps mountain range in a tiny plane – white knuckle flying and not for the faint hearted.  The conversation ranged from narrow boats, and that subject dear to the heart of narrow boaters everywhere – toilets!  (We have to tell you Marilyn, caravanners don’t have the same obsession with toilets as boaters seem to.) Blogs we read in common and the interesting people who write them.  Trips taken and trips planned.  Caravans, motorhomes, and the joys of  travelling around New Zealand.  The Waka Huia crew could well be interested in trying out a camper-van holiday on their next trip home it seems, taking to the highways and biways while showing a treasured friend what New Zealand has to offer.

Geoff and Eileen’s collection of narrow boat brasses were a talking point and made quite an impression.  They do look great arranged on the wall.

Collected on Geoff and Eileen’s hire boat trips

Our afternoon came to a close, and the guests took their leave.  Not for long though, when it was discovered that David had left his jersey draped over the back of the couch.  A quick call on the cell phone and they hurriedly back tracked, collected the missing property, and were on their way once more.  They are social butterflies indeed, afternoon tea with us, and dinner out with other friends on their return home.  It was so nice to catch up with them again.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Caccia Birch House

We joined our 60s Up group aboard the big white bus for a visit to Caccia Birch House, a Palmerston North icon, catching our first glimpse of this historic house as we drove into the property along the tree lined driveway.

First glimpse of Caccia Birch House

Ushered inside by the Manager, we started our visit with morning tea – freshly baked scones with tea or coffee.  And what whoppas those scones were, they were twice the size of a “normal” scone and certainly took some eating.  Some of the ladies on our table wrapped up half of their scone to take home for later.

Enjoying our morning tea

Fully sated, we were then told the history of house, one of the first large houses to be erected in the city, and was built for Norwegian immigrant Jacob Nannestad and his family in 1895.  Jacob was a partner in a saw milling firm, engaged in clearing the bush in the surrounding area.  This is the only known photo of the family, taken a year later in front of their home.  They are clad in valuable Maori cloaks, thought to have been loaned to them by the local Rangitane people.

Jacob Nannestad and his family

The fortunes of the saw millers declined and the house changed hands several times.  Over the years the house was extended with conservatories, nurseries, and servants quarters to make it the very elegant building of today.  Stables were added to house polo ponies, then later, the first motor car of the region.

Caccia Birch House entrance

William Charles Caccia Birch was bequeathed the house by his uncle in 1921, who had died childless, and lived there until his death in 1938.  Unable to sell the declining property, the family decided to donate it to the Government to help in the War effort, becoming military staff accommodation, and later as a convalescent home for war veteran nurses.  It was then used by Massey University for some years and later stood empty and neglected for quite some time, with calls made for it to be demolished.   Help finally arrived when a Trust was established 20 years ago to manage the property and commence to slowly  refurbishing the house. Caccia Birch moved with the changes and now earns it’s keep as a conference centre and wedding venue, helping to generate funds for restoration.

We were then invited to look around the house, and climbed the lovely staircase to the upper floor admiring the rimu panelling and the chandeliers. 

Rimu paneled foyer

Stepping onto the balcony, we had a lovely view over the lagoon, edged with rather posh houses.  The lagoon  was originally part of the property, but later sold to the city to be a civic amenity.   The garden contains many notable exotic trees, planted with seeds brought back by various family members as they returned from overseas trips.

View from the balcony

The Coach House

Peter the bus driver chatting to Robin

It was “all aboard” and Peter drove us through the picturesque Victoria Esplanade Gardens on the way to our lunch stop at ChinaTown Restaurant.  Who doesn’t like a Chinese buffet?  Plenty of choice, plenty of room for our bus load of passengers, nice friendly staff, and very reasonable prices too.

Our lunch stop

Another great 60s Up trip taking us to somewhere we hadn’t been before, great weather, and a nice relaxing day out with friends.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

T.U.I. - The Ukulele Institute

Most Kiwi blokes have heard of Tui beer, the world famous beer brewed at Mangatainoka.  But we were involved with a different kind of Tui on Sunday afternoon, and not a single sip of beer was involved.  After lunch at  Limelight Cafe Calvin had arranged for our SLG friends to listen to Shane from The Ukulele Institute at his Sunday Strum event at Expressions Gallery, Upper Hutt.  Ukulele lovers come along every month for a “ukulele jam”, and we were there to listen to the music.

The serious ukulele players sat in the front row, and our group of seven sat behind them   Shane was delighted to see us, and brought over a box full of goodies.  “You can be our percussion section”, he told us.  In the box were all sorts of various rattles, shakers, and a tambourine or two.  We each selected something that took our fancy and would make a noise, and we were all ready for when the music started.

A box full of rattles and shakers

The Sunday jam session was for any ukulele player, from beginners to the more advanced.  Before each song started Shane ran through each tune, played a few chords, and handed out sheets showing the cords to be used, and more importantly for us, the words.  He had a small drum and cymbal set-up beside his chair, which he used enthusiastically.  The afternoon was about teaching, music, and having fun.


We joined in the songs with gusto, shook and rattled our instruments to the beat of the music, and had a fine old time.  “Trailer for Rent”, released in 1965 by Roger Miller was probably our best performance of the afternoon, I reckon.

Members of the ukulele band

Shane brought his Elvis puppet out to show us.  He was dressed in a specially made patchwork jacket over a white satin jump suit.  I just had to go and investigate him.

Elvis puppet

With the concert over, we said our goodbyes to our SLG friends, and drove back to the Hutt Valley.  Robin wanted to refill his water bottles with natural artesian water, which is not available in our home town.  He swears it tastes so much better!  There is always a steady stream of people arriving with their own water containers to do the same.

Filling up water bottles.

Then we did a detour to Burnsco in Gracefield so he he could buy something technical for the caravan.  I left him to his shopping and admired the view of the marina and all those expensive boats.  They look nice, but they are not for us, we’ll stick to caravanning, thank you very much.

Lots of expensive boats moored here

Our homeward journey took us along the motorway towards Wellington, turning off at Ngauranga.  There were several small craft out enjoying the sunshine in Wellington Harbour. Then it was along SH1 through Kapiti and home.

Enjoying the sunshine

It was a great day out, thanks to Calvin for organising an interesting outing for us all.