Wednesday, December 29, 2010


How can an old (mature) man give life advice to a young man still in his high school days? First problem is finding the opportunity (what is called "quality time" nowadays) far from the distractions of modern life. Such occasions are rare. Then will he listen or reject the advice as just another harangue from a irrelevant grey-haired old codger. The time and place happened to me unexpectantly while on a walk in the bush - where better! Here is a synopsis of my impromptu talk.

Through a combination of luck and determination I enjoyed my working life. Working in the woods on the science of forestry was my bliss. "What you need to think about, John, for your future", I said, "are the five "Ms" - the five alternative paths of life ahead of you".

Your first option is to be a mercenary: These are the financially successful men who understand money and how to make it. Here you need to be smart, streetwise, believe in yourself and have determination, plus luck.

Your next and equally rewarding option is to be a missionary. Men whose work is their bliss and the monetary reward is a secondary. A commitment to study is often, but not always, a prerequisite for such a career. I guess I fell into this category.

Don't become a mug. These are the poor sods trapped in jobs they dislike or hate. Few will take the chance to find a better life. No difficulty to qualify here, just cruise along and take the easy path.

Even sadder is to end up a misfit. A weirdo, addict or worse who through misfortune or choice, lives on the fringe of society.

And I know you are not a potential mongrel. A thug or lawbreaker who passes his best years of life in and out of jail.

Look at your elders and peers in life and guess which "M" they are or will be. Then set your goals and choose where your heading.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Fishing is a primeval human activity. I have yet to meet the person who shows no thrill in catching their first fish, even if it is only a small herring or cock-a-bully. I began fishing for "mountain trout" or kokopu in the creeks around Whangarei harbour using cotton and a bent pin with worms for bait. My Maori friend, Johnny Pitman, and I would fill our pockets with fish and then liberate them into cow water troffs. I remember a scolding from my Aunt Shirley after she found four week old fish in the pockets of my shorts.

There were many trips sea fishing on Whangarei harbour with my father, Herbie, and Grandad Bill using hand lines to catch snapper, kahawai and kingfish. Nets were used for piper, flounder and grey mullet. Johnny and I would have most fun netting ourselves sometimes catching a stingray in the net. That was a scary thrill like capturing a fearsome taniwha.

Ever since I have fished whenever the opportunity arose in the mountain rivers and on the nearest sea coast. Fishing for me now is less a sport than simply a pragmatic process of food gathering. It is a game of cat and mouse with a creature I need/want to eat. It's a life or death struggle for the fish.

My fishing gear is minimalistic, weatherbeaten and only just adequate for the job and let's me down sometimes. This slightly increases the odds for the fish. Not for me the sportsmen who spend a small fortune on the latest tackle and designer clothing to look right for the event. Sport shops are full of fancy stuff designed to catch fishermen more than fish. My gear proves that fish can be caught on the simplest of gear. It is more being in the right place at the right time. When the fish are hungry they'll take any thing that looks edible.

My gratitude is to the NZ environment for the fish we have plus the progress the authorities are making in managing fish stocks for all. Despite all the controversies and problems we've had in the past, there are signs of a growing maturity in our attitude to fish resources. In the next few years with more marine reserves and better fisheries management our children should enjoy good fishing as much as my generation have.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Climate Change

Global warming! - I must say that it is doing wonders for Okarito. It appears to be tempering our prevailing westerly and causing less rain, though still plenty to keep the garden and bush green. Bring it on!

The change from 30 years ago is quite noticeable, in particular, the absence of "old-man floods". Bit of a puzzle because we were told to expect more extreme events. We still suffer periods of dismal wet weather, as happened in September this year, but they seem briefer compared to the recent past.

I do not subscribe to the politics that NZ should lead the world in reducing our carbon footprint. Check out the climate models on the ICCP website and you'll see that NZ suffers the least temperature rise of any nation, bar the Falklands, because our climate is moderated by the surrounding oceans. Hardly cause for panic. Despite all the rhetoric from the left the reality is that NZ has spent little to mitigate climate change -we can't afford to.

I also disagree with NZ's choice of an ETF scheme rather than a simple carbon tax. The problem being that ETF's will create an army of measurers, administrators and regulators - a feast for "ticket clippers" who will inevitably burden the productive sector. A carbon tax applied to coal, oil products, etc would have been so simple by comparison. My carbon tax would be set high, deliberately, to generate significant revenue which would then be offset by reducing company and/or personal tax, thus providing real incentive for change.

Coming back to Okarito, the only problem I foresee is a minor issue about having to stand waist deep in water in our kitchen in 100 years time. But by then our house will be derelict and my great great grandchildren can live on the hills overlooking the ocean.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The joy of riding 4-wheel motorbikes

A bloke must have his toys and a Yamaha Grizzly is my favourite. Bike-riding is poor man's flying. On the West Coast the bureaucrats haven't banned bikes from the beachs yet so most blokes have a bike and ride free for miles down the coastline.

As you head south from Okarito the first adventure is negotiating the narrow sand strip between the surging Tasman sea and the cliffs. This can only be done two hours either side of low tide. To make things more interesting the route is littered with boulders, aptly named by geologists as "eratics". What they do is cause you to pause just long enough to be lined-up by the next rogue wave. Woosh!!! Tangaroa, the Maori god of the sea, will poke out his tongue doing his utmost to suck you and your bike into the surf. On this coastline he is not known for taking prisoners.

The next bit of drama comes at the outlet of Three-mile Lagoon. In the 1870's, 21 poor gold miners drowned at this place. The outlet is usually blocked by a narrow sand bar making crossing a breeze. But if the lagoon is open then you must make a decision whether a ford is feasible or not, keeping in mind the 21 who misjudged the call! There is often "sinky-sand" in the ford just to make things interesting.

After a successful ford, the travel south is smooth along the sandy beach until the Five-mile Lagoon outlet is reached. This requires another life or death decision on whether to ford. Beyond is Five-mile beach a more remote and rougher stoney beach but the views are majestic. Mts. Cook, Aoraki, and Tasman, Horo-Koau, tower over the landscape.

Finally, the journey ends at the Waiho River, which is like reaching the beginning of another world. Unfortunately, as it is with life itself, the next world is beyond reach. The Waiho is definitely an ugly river, rarely fordable.

No alternative but to retrace the journey home. If you want more thrills there is a large steep-sided sandhill at Three-mile where you can rapidly attain your level of incompetence as a rider. Only centrifugal forces generated by speed keep you on the sandhill so it is a death or glory game.

Time for home before you run out of tide.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

My Place, Okarito

Okarito is where I choose to live. For me it represents NZ's last frontier far away from an urban centre. The surrounding landscape is 95% natural coastline, forest and wetlands. It is still a blokes' paradise but liberty is being eroded by the steady onslaught of urban rules.

Okarito is often described as a haven but in reality, peace and isolation exists only during the winter at Okarito. During the summer months, a stream of urbanites arrive every day around mid-morning to peer at the mishmash of cottages and homes wondering what on earth could happen in such a place. They kayak or boat tour on the lagoon or walk the beach and tracks. By evening most head back to civilisation, known locally as Franz Josef township.

Okarito living is village life in every sense. Social life can be hectic with potluck dinners, coffee club, culture and entertainment in Donovans Store. Locals meet and chat constantly during their daily lives. Even when busy, eye-contact and a wave are universal. If you need exercise don't walk through the village - head south along the coastline to three-mile beach. Even there, you're bound to meet locals, DOC workers or tourists along the way.

To leave Okarito you travel north over a winding hill climb known as Mt Hercules to reach Hokitika. Travel south and you strike a worse winding road over the Weheka Hills between Franz and Fox Glaciers. An old-timer once said "If you live south of Mt Hercules you're half mad". "And the poor buggers south of the Weheka Hills are totally mad". He followed that by adding, "All South Westlanders are either missionaries, mercenaries or misfits - take your choice".