Tuesday, 27 March 2012


That's the sound of my chin hitting the table on Monday morning; "Welcome back, we want you to be the acting AV team leader. By the way, we're totally restructuring the AV group. Welcome aboard!"

Looks like I have a new job, with a forecast of certain doom. More later, I'm sure.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Moving on

On the road back from Coromandel to Auckland, we made a sudden decision to avoid the joys of the southern motorway, and turned up the west side of the Firth of Thames, past Miranda. It was a pretty drive, though most of Miranda's famed seabird population had left for northern climes.

The road carried on through the countryside, eventually bringing us to the semi-urban areas of Clevedon and Whitford, then into Botany and Pakuranga. At that point we realised that we didn't have a decent Auckland street map (I'd left 4 or 5 on a shelf back home) and neither of our phones had a GPS. I'd left my Android tablet home as well.

So we navigated by dead reckoning and guesswork, and found our way to the central city, but then we wasted 20 minutes prowling around Grafton and the Domain area looking for the car rental drop-off. A nice guy at a BP station (not the clueless kids working there) told us how to get to the place in Parnell, and 5 minutes later we met Logan, who was waiting to collect us.

Now we're at the Moss's apartment in central Auckland, planning to go to the Britomart Market for breakfast. Last night we had dinner at a restaurant at Princes Wharf; excellent food, but terrible service. Tonight we go to the Crosby Stills and Nash concert, the original reason for doing this trip, then we have an 11.30am Sunday flight back to Christchurch.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Still wet

It rained all night, then cleared (well, lifted) from about 11am till 1.30pm. Heather had gone out for a walk about 10.30, and found that The Iron Lady, the Meryl Streep movie about  Margaret Thatcher, was about to begin. She called me but I was just out of the shower and not ready, so she went alone while I stayed at the motel reading.

Earlier in the morning we had considered getting out of Whitianga and going to stay with our friend Logan Moss in Hamilton, but the clear patch gave us hope and we decided to stick with Plan A and stay here, in the hope of getting one good day. After Heather returned and we had lunch, we went for a walk through town and to the ferry wharf, but the rain had picked up to the point where it was stupid to stay outdoors.
The ferry from Whitianga to Cooks Beach; $5 return, each trip takes approx 2 minutes.
So it's back to reading in the motel; I'm trying to complete a couple of recent Wired magazines that are due back on Sunday, and then there's Keith Richards' autobiography "Life", which I've only just started. It's 550 pages, and I've only read 80, but the magazines have a deadline, so they come first.

Of course, we could have stayed in Christchurch, with a sprinkler running on the roof, and saved $130 a night (plus air fares and rental car), but where's the fun in that?

The forecast for tomorrow looks good, so we're living in hope. Tonight we will try one of the local eateries. We could try the starters at Dino's Pizza and Pasta; that salad looks interesting.

UPDATE: We went to the Wild Hog, down by the ferry wharf. They lit the fire, and we had long chats with the chef and other staff as they battened down the hatches for a rough night. They brought tables and umbrellas off the decks, and generally removed anything that wasn't fixed down. The power flickered several times, but it hasn't gone off - yet. Our meals were superb, with excellent wines and coffee.  

Monday, 19 March 2012

A bit wet

Rain poured down from about midnight, and by morning it had settled back to intermittent heavy showers and misty drizzle. Around 11am we decided to get hats and coats and go out anyway; a motel room and morning TV are not an appealing combination. We drove back down towards Thames for 5-10km, then turned inland on the "309 road", a gravel road that is the funky alternative route to Whitianga. (The Crown Range, not the Cromwell route, in Wanaka terms.)

Anyway, it was a pretty good gravel road, well maintained, and about 10km up we stopped at a sign for the Kauri Grove, a 10 minute walk. The rain had almost stopped completely, so we walked down the track for 5-10 minutes to a viewing platform on the side of a creek gully. Across from us was a virgin forest slope with a variety of trees, including several rimu and eight handsome kauri trees.
Rimu and kauri trees, Waiau valley
After photos and attempts at species identification, we walked back up and drove on another couple of kilometres, then did an even shorter walk into the river valley to see the falls on the Waiau River. (The third Waiau that I know of, there may easily be more.) They were at their best with all the recent rain, so I had fun trying to keep the camera steady to get some slow-shutter photos. As we were getting back into the car, the rain returned; talk about lucky!
Waterfall on the Waiau River
Back to Coromandel and a great pizza at Umu cafe, highly recommended. Then we explored the shops in the main street; rather like Arrowtown, a 50-50 mix of cafe/bars and gift shops held together by a couple of grocery/supermarts, a chemist and a hardware shop. There's only one bank in town, no lawyer or dentist that we could see; a typical tourist town mix. Coromandel must be really quiet in June-July, I bet a lot of locals go on holiday then.

We returned to the town for dinner at The Pepper Tree, a good decision. It's a little more up market than the pubs and cafes in town, but the ambience, food, and service were all excellent, and on a quiet Monday night we had a choice of places to sit. Heather had whitebait fritters (don't know why you'd come up here then order that, but there you are) and I had oven baked snapper on potatoes in a chili-cream sauce. We shared a dessert, had coffee, and waddled out to the car.

Photos are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/gregor_ronald/ - check out the recent sets.

Sunday, 18 March 2012


A smooth trip to Coromandel; 3.45pm flight to Auckland, in a rental car by 5.45, stopped for a break in Thames. We had an excellent, if a tad slow, meal in the Brew Cafe in Thames, and bought some breakfast stuff in a service station (then discovered a Four Square grocery still open further down the street...) and set out for Coromandel 54km up the peninsula. The road was constantly winding, with many 40km/hr bends, so it was a slow trip, but we were at the Harbour View Motel about 9.45pm.

The bay in front of the motel is totally covered in oyster and mussel beds, so I doubt that we'll be swimming here - but there are dozens of beautiful beaches close by, and we're going out to explore.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

More holiday plans

I've been looking for a combination of some free time and a Grabaseat deal to go to Wellington to see my brother and sister-in-law's new house at Otaki Beach. This morning I did a quick phone call to check it was OK with them, then nabbed some $59-each-way tickets, so we're having a 4 day weekend at the end of April. With Anzac Day in the same week, that will be a very short week, and then a 4-day week to follow.

At the end of April I will have worked 11 years at UC, and I must start planning to do something with the two weeks of long service leave I qualified for last May. We're currently wavering between northern Queensland (including a Whitsunday yacht charter, then Cairns for a Great Barrier Reef tour, and the Daintree Rain Forest) or skiing in Canada or Japan, or going to the UK & Scotland, or New York (with a cycle tour in the fall colours in Vermont, of course). No wonder we haven't made a decision. We'd have to wait another year or two anyway, to save the money - having lots of leave is all very well, but actually doing it is expensive!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Holiday plans

On Saturday we're off for a week in the Coromandel; 3 days in Coromandel itself, 3 days in Whitianga. We're looking forward to sunshine, swimming in the sea, trying some sea kayaking, and exploring old gold mines and the bush.

Sorry, not next week; take a look at the Thames weather forecast. Bugger!

Saturday 17 Mar
High 23°C Overnight 13°C
Fine apart from cloudy periods. Easterlies.

Sunday 18 Mar
High 20°C Overnight 16°C
Showers with northeasterlies.

Monday 19 Mar
High 20°C Overnight 15°C
Rain. Northeasterlies.

Tuesday 20 Mar
High 19°C Overnight 13°C
Rain. Easterlies.

Wednesday 21 Mar
High 19°C Overnight 13°C
Showers. Easterlies.

Thursday 22 Mar
High 20°C Overnight 13°C
Rain. Northerlies.

I think I'll pack an extra book to read.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

The great shed erection

With the ever capable help of Dave Hurring, the cheapo-tinfoil garden shed we inherited with the house is now firmly attached to the outside wall of our bedroom. Within its new found rigidity we have the long handled garden tools, the lawnmower, and petrol and gas tanks. (Always better to store those outside the house.) It is so small, approx 1.8 x 1.2 metres, that you can get what you want by standing at the door and reaching; it would probably be more truthful to call it a big cupboard. Still, it cuts the clutter in the garage and gets the fire risk outside.

We've even parked cars in the garage this week; my Camry last Sunday to unload groceries in the rain, and the Mazda AZ3 on Friday and Saturday. It's actually pretty awkward to get around, once a car is inside; you have to sidle between the car and the shelves at the end, and you can't lay stuff out on the floor. It's nice to know we can do it, but we may not do it much.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Up and running

Life is well and truly back in the work groove, with lots happening at UC as the term swings into week 3.  We are getting lots of requests from staff, but this year we're noticing more emphasis on good teaching and less on "drop the files and run". Staff have ideas for innovative ways to make their subject interesting, and approach it with the students' needs in mind, much more than they did 5 years ago.

We always thought that sooner or later we'd get over the technological bow wave and get up on the plane (as we boaties say) and this may be that time. In an inside-out sort of way, the February 2011 quake gave teaching a shake-up; it forced everyone to think about what is essential about a subject and ignore the window dressing. Then it forced them to use Moodle seriously, not just as a file bucket - and it shows.

At the end of next week we're off to Auckland, with 6 days in the Coromandel to start with. I'm really looking forward to it. Then it's Easter; it's a tough life.

Oh, I nearly forgot; Schroeder and I went out and did a bit of filming on Sunday morning. We'd heard about a Gap Filler public piano project in Woolston while at the pub on Saturday, and the beer said "Dress up in tails and film it".

Thursday, 1 March 2012

The US should buy the Afghan opium crop

This isn't a new idea, but with Obama pulling troops out, and the Taliban sitting on the hillsides watching and waiting, the poor Afghans are going to be back where they've always been unless the West does something. So, some thoughts as a discussion starter...
  • The West has an aging population, which will need an awful lot of medicating (and euthanising?) in the next 20 years.
  • The annual opium crop is worth approximately $US 3 billion a year - this is peanuts compared to the cost of keeping an army there.
  • The opium revenue is keeping the Taliban alive and active.
  • Village chiefs feel pressured into cooperating with the Taliban to sell their crop; this would remove the issue.
  • Purchase deals with village chiefs will be contingent on good behaviour, including womens rights, education, and agricultural development.
  • Villagers who break ranks to sell to the Taliban or the black market will jeopardise the whole village's income. If the chief thinks his Hilux will be repossessed, he'll become very diligent about stopping defections from the arrangement. 
  • Any miscreant will also get the hard word from his neighbours, who'll see their irrigation systems and new roofs put at risk.
  • Once people get economic growth and education, they won't willingly return to ignorance and bullying.