Last Monday was Labour Day here, our first public holiday since the Queen's birthday in June, and a much needed break from the daily grind.
We began the weekend in fine style, with our monthly Phoenix board gaming session. We took along Alhambra, one of the two games which we gave each other for our wedding anniversary, and which looks like it is becoming a favourite, at least amongst the members of the group who have played it. We also played a game which is new to me, and which I didn't do very well at, but in itself is great fun, called Dominion. It's a card based game, where the rules are easy enough that you can understand what you are doing within a round or two, but there are so many different tactics that it will take a few games before I'll really get going! I'm looking forward to next month already!
Sunday, we had planned to spend very quietly, after a reasonably early start Skyping the folks back in the UK. However, as I went out to hang out the washing, our South African next-door neighbours came out and said that they were having a braae (pronounced "bri" in the evening, and did we want to come? They have been talking about holding a get together since we moved in, so of course we said 'yes'. A braae is very much like a British BBQ - cooking over hot coals / wood. But very different from the NZ BBQ, as BBQs here are mainly cooking over gas - to the extent that our neighbours have to call round some of the other folks in the street to let them know that they are holding a braae and not to call the fire brigade! Everyone was bringing something, and we were promised some traditional South African food. The evening started early - we went over at about 5:00, just as Gary was lighting the fire, and we sat outside and enjoyed the sunshine with a glass of wine with them and their other friends and neighbours, both South African and Kiwi. It was a very jolly evening, with plenty of wine being drunk, a great deal of laughter, and a lot of food being eaten - I particularly enjoyed the South African sausage, which one of the other South Africans gets his butcher to make up from a specific recipe, and the Pap, a porridge-like food eaten with a tomato based sauce. We didn't end up leaving too late (about 10.00), but as the party had started at 5, it felt a lot later than it was!
The Monday dawned a typical public/bank holiday gloomy - however, it wasn't actually raining. The sun did make a few attempts to break through the cloud, so we decided to head out to Matiu-Somes Island (it has a dual Maori-Western name), a nature reserve in the middle of Wellington harbour. We had to get a catamaran ferry over from Petone
The island isn't very big
with a small wharf for the boats to moor against:
Small as it is, there is an even smaller one just off the edge. The Maori name for it is Mokopuna Island, which is far nicer than the Western one - Leper Island, due to the exiling (and death) of a Chinese worker there after he was diagnosed as a leper (though that is now believed to have been a misdiagnosis).
Because Matiu-Somes is a nature reserve, we had to go through the same bag checks that we did at Zealandia, making sure that no mice had got into our picnic bag. Then, after a short wildlife lecture with photographs by one of the Department of Conservation workers (most of which seemed to consist of him telling us what we weren't likely to see; "This is a tuatara, but it will be too cold for him to be out," "this is a skink, but it is too windy for it," "this is a North Island Robin - we introduced 35 of these to the island, but unfortunately, due to a lack of insects for them to eat, we only have 7 left..."), we were allowed out to wander round. There was a stern injunction not to miss the direct ferry back, otherwise we'd be charged $80 for the regular ferry to divert to pick us up!
The island was full of bird song, amazingly loud and clear. So many of the birds had absolutely no fear of people at all. This blackbird fledgling was very happy for me to take a picture of it, after it had eaten.
This bird let us get within a foot or so of it before it got up and wandered off. It is also the first bird that I have ever heard sneeze!
The Kakariki were everywhere, and far more interested in food than they were in us.
As a number of the paths were grass based, there were a number of sheep kept on the island as lawnmowers.
The views from the edge of the island were gorgeous - Te Papa o Tara (or, more prosaically, Shag Rock) was covered in seabirds - mostly seagulls, rather than terns or shags.
There were a number of boats out enjoying the day.
Matiu-Somes has a very interesting past; it was used as a quarantine station, both for people and for animals, and was also active during both world wars, both as an internment camp for 'enemy aliens', and also as a degaussing station (the entrance to Wellington harbour was mined during WW2, and not all of the mines have been found!), and an anti-aircraft gun placement:
The island also has an important lighthouse on it - it is ideally placed to guide ships in to the harbour, with a three coloured beam - white if the ship is coming in at the right angle, but set so that there is also a red and green light if the ship is veering off course (to the port and starboard respectively). The lighthouse is no longer manned, apart from by the seagulls, but the tramway which took supplies up to it through the bush is still visible (in the third picture).
The island is also home to a huge number of sea and water birds, most of whom seemed happy to pose for photographs:
But, on our way back down to the ferry, we took a short cut down a track where the DoC had been doing some logging and clearing out of the underbrush. There was a very happy blackbird picking over the turned up soil, who followed us down, presumably to make sure that we weren't going to steal any of his worms. Then, as we got to a bend in the track, this bird appeared in front of us:
I was absolutely delighted to be able to recognise it from the lecture we had had earlier as one of the 7 remaining North Island robins on the Island. It was very friendly (even if it didn't want to sit still long enough to be able to be photographed - that was the best picture we got of it!), and came up incredibly close to see what we were up to. We were able to watch it for about 5 minutes before it got bored and flew away.
We then headed back down to the wharf to wait for the ferry and to sit in the sunshine:
It was a fantastic way of spending a public holiday; incredibly relaxing, and so wonderful to be able to see more of New Zealand's native life.
The rest of the week has been as busy as always; I once more had something on every evening from Monday through to Thursday. This included catching up with an ex-colleague after work on Tuesday, and having a work Halloween event on Thursday evening (it didn't finish too late, and was really nice to be able to catch up with colleagues who I don't normally get to see), as well as the usual orchestra and TKD.
Yesterday we had our Phoenix monthly PIG social, this time with a Halloween flavour - I attempted to make these. The taste was good (as long as you like sweet things!), but I don't think I'm ever going to make icing cakes a career - I've been finding bits of blue food colouring all over the kitchen today! As I also made my coconut and cherry cookies, and some salmon and cream cheese dip (probably one of the easiest 'posh' recipes I have *ever* made!), I have spent most of today washing up - I managed to dirty pretty much every utensil, plate, pot and pan that we own!
And in three hours, it will be November - where on earth has the year gone?