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A Day in Threatened Paradise - I am a Lucky Man

Posted by Iain on June 28, 2019, 7:38 p.m. in Lighthearted

I have been having one of those magical New Zealand days that reminds me why I was so lucky to be born in this country. 

It is mid winter, yet temperatures continue to be mild; it’s dry and for the most part sunny but certainly not tropical. It can be a fantastic time of year with days of blue skies, little wind and bookended by chilly nights snuggling up in front of a fire with a glass of good New Zealand red wine. The days are perfect for getting outside, working in the garden and taking long walks in our patch of rainforest or along local beaches. 

My wife and I try and spend Friday working from our beach house in Northland. The beach house sits high on a hill overlooking Bream Bay and the coast, lined with fine whitish sand which sweeps in a wide arc to the north of us. 

I was chatting to a client on my cell phone this morning when I looked out and saw the unmistakable fine mist of an exhaling whale. I nearly dropped the phone. 

Orca are regular visitors to this part of New Zealand and while massive schools of pygmy pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins regularly hunt and pass through the bay, large whales are a rarity but are increasingly being seen. There is a resident population of around 200 Brydes whales in the Hauraki Gulf that lies between us and Auckland to our south, and many years ago through my telescope I saw a pod far out to sea from our deck. 

The two whales this morning however were very large and no more than 300 m offshore. I was clearly looking at a mother and her calf. 

For a while they were rolling onto their sides exposing their massive dorsal fins. I wonder if in fact they were not Brydes but Humpbacks or possibly Southern Right whales, once incredibly common around New Zealand and clearly making a comeback.

Then, this afternoon, when I was talking to my colleagues in Melbourne and Auckland on a Skype call I heard the unmistakable song of a bellbird outside and then saw it sipping from a banksia flower, a tree planted many years ago to provide winter food for nectar loving native species. Bellbirds are quite a small bird, olive green with a flash of yellow on their wings but possess an outsized call that is incredibly melodic and beautiful to listen to. This forest bird is very common in some parts of New Zealand where predator control takes place but they are rare at Langs beach where we are. Like the whales however they are making something of a comeback.

With more and more people stepping up trapping programmes and controlling the numbers of rats and mustelids on their properties, thus creating safer environment for our native birds to breed and raise chicks, I am increasingly seeing species like Bellbird that we have never seen in the 23 years we have owned this property.

I have to say, it lifts my spirit.

Having recently returned from another three weeks in Asia cooped up in concrete and glass buildings and being surrounded by so many people so far removed from nature, I find it hard to not feel a certain level of despondency when I think of leaving this corner of the world behind. I certainly feel claustrophobic in those cities. I actually question the future of humanity when most of the population lives in cities and have no connection to the natural world. They consume relentlessly without understanding the damage they do to the environment that sustains us and every other living creature on the planet.

That disconnection from nature, a connection that by and large as New Zealanders we take for granted, might explain the oceans of plastic I encounter when I go scuba-diving in Asia and the mountains of rubbish that line the roads in countries like Malaysia. I’ve almost stopped looking out of airplane windows flying over Malaysia and Indonesia as I bear sad witness to the intense destruction of the rainforests.

Over this weekend however my ritual of clearing and re-baiting our traplines of possums, rats, mice, the odd feral cat and occasional stoat or weasel will continue.

I absolutely love the time that I spend in the rainforest and I tell myself that over time as we continue to eliminate the introduced predators one at a time, we will be creating a home for native species like the Bellbirds. After 18 months of trapping we are now approaching 500 dead possums, mustelids and rodents but it seems as fast as we kill them, the faster the traps we set fill up. 

It is not an exaggeration to call it a war and one which never seems to end. A war I'm happy to fight even though I’d prefer not to be killing what in other situations are extremely cute animals. 

When the reward is the song of Bellbirds, the promise of our embattled Kiwis (birds) being seen in their ancestral forests once again and our seas have enough food in them to sustain migrating and resident whales passing through in peace, it is all so very worthwhile.

I am indeed a lucky man.

Until next week...

>> Southern Man on Instagram (New Zealand)
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Posted by Iain on Feb. 26, 2017, 4:26 p.m. in Lighthearted

Sun. Rain. Wind.

It is interesting how much of a role climate - perceived or real - plays in terms of where migrants might choose to live.

If you are Singaporean or Malaysian you love the fact that New Zealand is, for the most part, both drier and for most of the year, cooler, than you are used to. Comfortable is the word I hear a lot. Migrants from these countries tell me how much they love the climate of ‘New Zealand’ (they are usually referring to Auckland or Christchurch).

If you are a South African you tended historically to perceive the climate in New Zealand as being both cold and wet. I should say as thousands more South Africans settle here this perception is changing as expectation hits reality. 

If you are from the UK you’ll report back to friends and family that it seems you have moved to the tropics (which the very north of New Zealand it is starting to become).

Rainfall in Auckland is around 1200mm per year. Tauranga 1100mm. Hamilton, the same. Christchurch 600mm. Dunedin 700mm.

Durban has around 950mm. Johannesburg 500mm. Cape Town around 700mm. Singapore and Kuala Lumpur average 3000mm or more. London, believe it or not, comes in around 750mm.

As many readers know I have a beach house which is 160km north of Auckland and about 50km south of Whangarei (NZ’s last northern most biggish city). Nestled along the east coast temperatures here and only 90 minutes drive north of Auckland are at least 2 degrees warmer at any given time of year. Rainfall in Whangarei is 1500mm per year which makes it probably the wettest big city in the country. 

Temperatures up here last week were in the low 30 degrees (Celcius) with temperature records being set almost monthly. 

This part of NZ lies in the sub-tropics and I was reading an article recently which said if temperatures increase by as little as 1 degree Celsius then this region will begin to be more tropical than ‘sub’.  

While it has been a funny old summer (it came later than ‘normal’ and many evenings have been far cooler than normal) and climate change is playing its part, we have had a preponderance of South Westerlies which is unusual for us in summer. Lying on the east coast of the North Island the rain shadow effect has been amplified so I suspect the summer has been a far drier one for Northland than ‘normal’. 

Having said that in the past 8 years there has been drought in all but three years up this way. So ‘big dry’ summers are very much the norm. The fields and paddocks are the colour of the Serengeti. Stock has been moved off many farms. Many of the small villages that rely on rainwater and don’t have water bores for their water supply have dry tanks and have to buy it in from water tankers. 

Spending so much time up here the annual pattern of rain has almost started to mirror the tropics insofar as there is increasingly a rainy season and a dry one - both of around six months.

I have 6000 square meters of land here which I am slowly planting out in native trees and shrubs. By September each year I consider laying drainage across the property so my trees do not drown. By November I have to irrigate. The past few years here in January there are cracks in the hillsides big enough to lose a toddler down (okay, slight poetic license) such is the lack of rain.

When it does rain here in summer, it rains. A week ago I suggested to some friends that what we desperately needed was a solid 24 hours of non stop light rain or my water bills for irrigation will go through the roof. I got my wish and then some. I suspect we have had close to 70mm the past 24 hours. Today the sun is out, the temperature is around 25 degrees and the humidity must be around 90%. I can almost watch the plants grow. It feels very much like a cool day in the tropics.

At the same time and 1000km to the south Christchurch has been reeling as a massive fire has spread through thousands of hectares of farm and forest on the city’s outskirts destroying homes, buildings and resulting in one death. That part of the country gets half the rainfall we get up here ‘normally’. Their summers are warm and the wind they often get coming down off the Southern Alps, desiccates the land. These fires are the result.

In the Hawke’s Bay where summer temperatures are routinely over 30 degrees and their rainfall is closer to 600mm per year they too are coping with a lack of rain, drought and fires.

Northern Canterbury (north of Christchurch) has seen no significant rain for three solid years.

One only needs to travel 100km or so to the west (and through the weather system blocking Southern Alps) and rainfall is in the order of Singapore or KL - 3000mm plus.

So rain falls in very different quantities in very different ways across the country.

It is overwhelmingly wetter in winter (although the wettest month in Dunedin in the deep south is actually December) and much drier in summer.

This country has such rugged terrain with mountains and plains, hills and valleys all spread across 1600km of (relatively) thin islands and is surrounded by very warm oceans in the north and cold ones in the south. It means you can drive 30km and find very different microclimates. For those from larger countries with more consistent topographies and spread over fewer degrees of latitude it can be quite a climatological shock.

In fact we probably have a far more varied climate than Australia for example which is probably 20 times our size. This myth of sun, surf and BBQs everywhere there is exactly that. Myth. Many parts of Australia are far wetter than many here in New Zealand. Many parts of New Zealand have far hotter summers than parts of Australia. 

I am constantly surprised for example how cold Melbourne is whenever I am there between April and October - far colder most of the time than, say, humid Auckland.

Perceptions and realities.

The climate you find when you get here might in the end be very different to what you perceived the climate and rainfall to be like before you emigrated.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod

Southern Man - Letters from New Zealand

That Summer Feeling

Posted by danni on May 6, 2016, 8:07 p.m. in Lighthearted

One thing that surprised me as a South African migrant was just how summery New Zealand is so much of the time. 

Maybe it’s because I’m from Johannesburg that being surrounded by beaches means “holiday” to me, but I’ve travelled quite a bit and really think that Auckland in particular has one of the nicest, most ‘summery’ summers ever. And it seems to last forever too…

A few short weeks ago I started writing a blog post about this in the midst of a scorcher of a summer – a post sparked by having to slow my car down to allow what can only be described as a shimmy across the street to the big blue ocean by a gaggle of ladies (all over 70), their polka dot towels flung over their bikinied bodies. Even today – and it’s definitely cooling down – on my way to work I saw two people frolicking in what must have been a pretty cold ocean in the mist at 7am. We South Africans don’t believe this kind of life will be the case when moving to New Zealand! Not weather wise necessarily but this perpetual summer feeling.

It’s so beautiful and temperate so much of the time and while it does rain, it’s often just a mild spurt a few times a minute. For the remaining seconds it’s really quite pleasant and often quite bright and sunny...(sometimes experiences committment issues, the weather does).

Having looked up the average rainfall for both cities, it seems it rains twice as much in volume in Auckland as in Johannesburg. Sometimes it rains hard for days at a time…but it doesn’t happen too often. (And it’s quite nice when it does, isn’t it?)

Before moving to New Zealand I was sure the weather would be different and particularly rainy and a lot of potential migrants do too - while it’s different (lightning storms are pretty scarce, I miss those on the Highveld) it’s never felt “rainy”. It still looks and feels like I’m on holiday outside so much of the time - 6 years and counting. 

Last weekend my husband was lucky enough to be invited aboard a 50ft yacht for a sail through the Hauraki gulf – the weather was perfect although autumn has definitely started taper off. That summer feeling really never does! (Have a look at the shots below he got from the ferry on his commute to work in the city from Gulf Harbour - these photos are a day apart although a very extreme example!)

Day 1 - Gulf Harbour to Auckland City Commute


Day 2 - Gulf Harbour to Auckland City Commute


This week at Little Manly beach on the Hibiscus Coast (close to where two of us from IMMagine live and about 45 minutes from the city) locals were treated to a visit by a pod of dolphins. Not just once but every single day for almost a week. On one occasion when the dolphins where particularly close to shore, they stayed for nearly 7 hours just playing with the people who’d gathered in the water to be with them. 

It even got a mention on the news – you can read about it and see some pictures here. I saw this spectacle right in my back yard and thought…you can’t beat this. It’s a good place to live and honestly, the weather’s great. Mostly.

- Danni Balsaras, Auckland Office 

New Ausland

Posted by danni on April 15, 2016, 6:07 p.m. in Lighthearted

One of Crowded House’s most well known songs is called “Better Be Home Soon” – but where, actually, is “home” to the band?

This is just one of the topics Australians and Kiwis argue over in what’s often termed a “sibling rivalry” between the two countries. It’s a question many of us ‘down under’ have heatedly discussed (and that includes New Zealand, by the way. Given its geographical location, you might say NZ is even further "under" than Australia but let's not argue!) - Are Crowded House a Kiwi band, or are they Australian?

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the banter between these two brother nations. It doesn’t help the ego of either to learn that many people around the world admit to not even knowing that Australia and New Zealand are individual countries to begin with! Who could forget the Olympics faux pas when our medal count was combined for the country "New Ausland"?

I must admit I enjoy the rivalry – when two countries have the time and inclination to focus on things like who really invented the Pavlova, it means that they’re clearly not desperately trying to avoid being hijacked in South Africa or blackening of their children’s lungs from the filthy, polluted air in parts of Asia.

My husband, upon touching ground in New Zealand, declared himself an instant Kiwi by immediately denouncing any form of affection for Australia and adopting the ‘Pavlova Stance’. He said it’s a rite of passage into Kiwihood! He can’t be blamed – his South African father is notorious for saying that he supports the Springboks “and any team playing against Australia” so the country was never given a fair chance in his eyes.

I can only speak from my own perspective, but frankly, I love Australians. (I can hear the wailing from my New Zealand office mates and the cheering from my colleagues in Melbourne…) Maybe you need to be a real Kiwi to really feel it, but I love their slightly dark humour, their often brash approach, their ‘salt-of-the-earth’ realness and as a South African, I especially love their accents. (And yes, fellow Saffas, it is possible to tell the accents apart…eventually!) 

As for the actual country of Australia – the contrast of beauty and danger in the wilderness, the great expanse of the Outback, the harshness of the land and environment – all of that is character building! I often joke that I’ll send my kids to school in the Outback so that they develop strong spines and the ability to defend themselves. It’s not that this is impossible in New Zealand, but it is a more delicate comparison! (On the North Island, anyway. My husband always reminds me that the South Island exists and that the environment there is harsh in many ways, too.)

I put together this list of some of the things both the Aussies & Kiwis lay claim to, just for fun:

Crowded House
Crowded House were a rock band formed in Melbourne, Australia, in 1985. The founding members were New Zealander Neil Finn (vocalist, guitarist, primary songwriter) and Australians Paul Hester (drums) and Nick Seymour (bass). So if you're going by numbers, Australia should probably take this one...(sorry, Paul) - although, granted, Neil's Kiwi brother Tim joined the band later which balanced it out a little. 

Crowded House - Kiwi or Aussie?

Phar Lap
Champion horse Phar Lap, the thoroughbred foaled in New Zealand but trained and raced in Australia where he forged an incredible career. Phar Lap was best known for being much faster than other horses and has since been a disputed possession for both nations.

Phar Lap

The Pavlova
In 2007, insurance company NZI ran a humorous series of television advertisements in New Zealand highlighting what are locally considered to be historic New Zealand icons being adopted elsewhere, including the pavlova playing on its status as a common feature of the friendly trans-Tasman rivalry. NZI's parent company is Australian owned!

The Pavlova...who's is it?

Russell Crowe
Well, I'm not sure why either country wants to claim him, but he was in fact born in New Zealand. What's really funny is after Mel Gibson (who was born in Australia) lost the plot and became the anti-semetic lunatic he is, Australia instantly disowned him and called him an American!

Russell Crowe

To be honest, while researching the finer points of this post I found very few Australians ranting about New Zealanders, and many New Zealanders expressing their thoughts about Australians – make of that what you will! – perhaps there’s an underlying sense of living in Australia’s shadow, and Kiwis do not like that.

New Zealand has a very strong sense of “little New Zealand nationalism” whereby we take national pride in being small and punching above our weight. We revel in being the plucky country that surprises everyone. The two countries do however share language and cultural traits as well as similar political, legal and economic institutions. The Anzac spirit forged at Gallipoli in 1915 has endured through theatres of war in Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia and the way I see it is, like brothers we are rivals. But in war & times of crisis, we are united.

Just don’t mention the rugby...

- Danielle Balsaras, Marketing Coordinator, Auckland Office

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