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Archive for the 'Taste of Kiwi' Category

The Giant’s House, Akaroa, New Zealand #travel

The Giant’s House was build in 1880 and is made of native totara and kauri timber. The house was originally owned by a bank manager. Artist and sculptor Josie Martin purchased the house and has used the gardens as her artist canvas and created a wonderland—a fun place for both children and adults to explore. It is also a bed and breakfast.

Here are a few photos of the gardens and sculptors.

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The sculptures are whimsical and colorful and highlighted by the different plantings.  I’ll be back later in the week to post more photos of the Giant’s house. It’s a photographer’s dream!

The White Heron or Kotuku

While the white heron is common in Australia and parts of Asia, we’re lucky to see them. They are considered rare in New Zealand. The Maori called them kotuku and their white feathers were highly sought for decoration. It is known as a graceful and beautiful bird and is featured on the New Zealand two-dollar coin.

We have a resident kotuku in our area. He or she hangs out at the local pond where he wades and fishes for fish and eels. We never know when the heron will be at the pond, and it disappears for months at a time.

Here are a few photos taken during one of the kotuku’s visits.

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Kotoku

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A beautiful bird. Have you seen one before?

Rangitoto, Auckland. The Youngest Volcano #travel #newzealand

This year we’ve had lots of overseas visitors, which means we’ve been reacquainting ourselves with the sights around Auckland.

The city of Auckland is built on on a field of volcanoes, and Rangitoto Island is the youngest one – a mere 600 years-old. The island is pest-free (a big deal for our native bird populations) and is a short ferry ride from the central city.

The fascinating thing is that the silhouette of Rangitoto looks the same, no matter which part of the city you’re viewing it from.

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These photos were taken on different days, from different parts of the city.

We didn’t have time to do the walk to the summit, but if you visit Auckland for a few days, I highly recommend it since the walks are easy and the view back to the city is beautiful.

For more information on island walks and details of travel to the island check out the Rangitoto Govt site.

Fiordland, New Zealand #travel

Fiordland is the largest National Park in New Zealand and at 1.2 million hectares (3.1 million acres) is also one of the largest in the world. It is an area of wilderness that stretches from Martin’s Bay in the north of the South Island to Te Waewae Bay in the south, and from the lakes of Te Anau, Manapouri, Monowai and Hauroko. It contains 14 fiords, some of which reach up to 40 km inland.

The area is known for rain. It rains over 200 days each year, which makes the waterfalls spectacular. The heavy rainfall creates a permanent freshwater layer above the sea water within the fiords. The freshwater is stained by tannins that cut down the sunlight and restrict marine life to the top 40 meters of water depth.

Whales and dolphins frequent the area, along with little blue penguins and fur seals.

We cruised up the coast and visited Dusky Sound, Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound. The scenery is simply stunning, and my camera got a real workout.

Dusky Sound

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Entry to Milford Sound

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One of the many waterfalls that tumble down the steep sides of the fiords into the sea.

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As you can see from this photo, Milford is spectacular with tree-clad cliffs and waterfalls. Captain Cook and many of the early explorers sailed right past Milford Sound, not realizing the existence of the fiord.

There is one road in to Milford Sound. By car it takes about 2 –3 hours via Te Anau. The bus ride is about 4 – 5 hours. Access is available by plane or as we did on a cruise ship. Some people walk in via the famous Milford Track, which is a four-day walk.

If you’re ever in this part of the world, I highly recommend a visit.

Recipe: Kiwi Crisps

Last Saturday I made some biscuits (that’s cookies to those of you in the US) and I took them out to my father’s farm on Sunday. Last night, my sister rang.

Sister: I’m sending those biscuits back to you via courier.

Me: Why?

Sister: I’ve eaten three, and I’m not meant to be eating sugar. They’re very moreish.

Me: *laughing* I’m so sorry! I didn’t think.

Sister: It’s only three. I’ll start my diet again tomorrow. Only another 20 kg to go.

My sister has lost a lot of weight already since visiting a dietician. Her new sugar-free diet and increased exercise has made all the difference. I’m so proud of her.

Anyhow, here is the recipe for the troublemaking biscuits – Kiwi Crisps.

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Ingredients:

4 oz butter

2 Tablespoons of castor sugar (2 oz)

2 Tablespoons condensed milk

1 1/2 cups plain white flour (6 oz)

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 oz dark chocolate chopped

Method:

1. Heat the oven to 350 F (175 C)

2. Cream the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl.

3. Add the condensed milk and mix well.

4. Stir in the chocolate.

5. Add the baking powder and the flour and combine well.

6. Line a tray with baking paper.

7. Roll the dough into small balls. Place on tray and flatten slightly with the heel of your hand.

8. Press down with a fork. To keep it from sticking to the dough, I dipped my fork in a cup of warm water.

9. Bake for approx 12 minutes.

10. Cool on the tray for a few minutes, then remove to cool completely.

Shelley’s Notes.

1. I used dark chocolate chips and they worked perfectly.

2. The recipe said to bake for 20 minutes, but in my oven this was way too long. I cooked mine until they turned color slightly because I prefer my cookies crisp, but around 10 – 12 minutes should be okay, depending on your oven.

3. These biscuits have a caramel flavor, thanks to the condensed milk, and sprinkling the biscuits with a hint of flaky salt would give them a salted caramel taste, although I haven’t tried this yet.

As I said, these biscuits are very moreish, and it’s difficult to eat only one. Now, my question for you. Are you able to stop at one biscuit/cookie?

Beautiful Tekapo, New Zealand #travel

Tekapo is a gorgeous spot in the Mackenzie basin of the South Island. Lake Tekapo is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike.

Lake Tekapo

The lake is glacier-blue since it is fed from the Southern Alps.

Church of the Good Shepherd

The Church of the Good Shepherd was built by settlers in 1935. It sits on the lake shore and worshipers have a stunning view of Lake Tekapo.

View from Church of the Good Shepherd

The dog statue, not far from the church is another popular landmark. The statue of the collie sheepdog represents the contribution of man’s best friend to the Mackenzie region.

Tekapo Collie Statue

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A close up of the statue.

The entire Mackenzie basin is known for one other thing. It is part of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. Both nights we were there we got up in the small hours of the morning to stargaze. I don’t have any photos, but I have never seen so many stars in all my life. The sky was carpeted with stars and planets, and this is a memory that will live with me for a long time.

I love this region of New Zealand and highly recommend a visit if you’re ever near this part of New Zealand.

Christchurch: Then and Now #travel #NewZealand

On 4th September 2010 an earthquake struck Christchurch in New Zealand. A second struck on 22 February 2011 with loss of life and property damage.

I visited Christchurch in 2006 and this year was the first time I’d returned. It was sobering, even now almost five years later. The center of Christchurch remains empty with ruined buildings and lots of vacant lots.

Christchurch Cathedral

This is a photo of the cathedral and the square, taken prior to the Earthquake.

Christchurch Cathedral

A second view of the cathedral.

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Cathedral Ruins

Cathedral Ruins

Cathedral Ruins

As I said, sobering. The cathedral is one of the many buildings in the city center that is still damaged. There are also many empty lots where the buildings have been removed. There is talk of restoring the cathedral, but the cost is phenomenal. I would like them to reinforce the shell enough to make it safe and to use it as a memorial. It’s certainly an emotional topic for the Christchurch locals.

Update: A 5.7 magnitude earthquake occurred on Valentine’s day (14 Feb 2016)–the first big quake for some time. Thankfully, there were no fatalities.

The Ladder for Spirits

At the very top of the North Island of New Zealand is a point called Cape Reinga. This is a special site in Maori mythology. According to the tales, an old pohutukawa tree grows on the cliff, and it is said that the roots of this tree provide a ladder for spirits to descend into the tumultuous waters and the final underworld below.

A non-stop procession of spirits travels through the far North to reach Cape Reinga and the ladder path to the underworld. The northern Maori tribes used to hear the rustle and passing of countless people and especially after a big battle when many warriors were slain.

All the ingredients for a fictional novel, I think!

Cape Reinga Lighthouse, New Zealand

This is the lighthouse at Cape Reinga. The ladder for the spirits is supposedly on the cliffs beyond.

Source: Favorite Maori Legends by AW Reed, revised by Ross Calman.

The Lost Moa

The moa is a flightless New Zealand bird that became extinct around the arrival of Europeans. There were several types of moa, the largest of which was taller than a full-grown man.

They had long necks, big sturdy clawed feet, an ostrich-like body and soft brown feathers that were almost like fur.

Moa in Auckland Museum

In 1993, three trampers reported seeing a moa while hiking near Authur’s Pass in the South Island of New Zealand. They walked around a corner and came across a large reddish-brown bird. The bird ran off but former British Army Commando, Paddy Freaney took photos of the bird and the footprints it left.

The sighting made world headlines. The three trampers were questioned and their stories were identical. The photos were blurry and not positive proof of a sighting. Some people thought the sighting was a hoax to attract customers to Paddy Freaney’s nearby pub. Paddy died in 2012 and never admitted to a hoax.

I love the idea of big birds wandering the plains of Canterbury and other locations in New Zealand. There are still occasional finds of moa bones and sometimes rarer moa eggs. Visitors can learn more about the moa in our museums.

My fascination led me to use these birds in one of my House of the Cat books, Hunted & Seduced. My characters Ellard and Gweneth meet the giant birds while they’re in the jungle on the planet Narenda.

What do you think of the trampers’ report? Hoax or not?

Tales of the New Zealand Eagle

During our recent visit to Alaska we saw quite a few eagles and I saw their nests. The Bald Eagle is an impressive bird with a huge wingspan.

Eagle

What most people don’t realize is that New Zealand was home to the world’s largest eagle for thousands of years. The Haast eagle had a wing span of 2.9 meters and weighed as much as 13 kilograms. It looked like a golden eagle and stood almost a meter tall and had bright eyes and a black hooked beak. Its massive yellow legs were said to be as thick as a child’s wrist. Its wings were a darker brown and had a lighter underside.

The Haast eagle used to perch at a high vantage point and would dive-bomb its prey with deadly force.

According to sources, these birds would have a chick every second year, and they would have a life expectancy of twenty to thirty years. They used to feed on moa, a large flightless bird, which was hunted to extinction. It was also said the eagle would capture young children with ease.

I enjoy taking parts of New Zealand history, the flora and fauna and using them in my books. The Haast eagle had a starring role in book one of my Middlemarch Capture series, Snared by Saber.

What do you think? Can you imagine an eagle that big?