Wheel alignment

Saturday 23 December 2023

2023 - a mixed bag review

Tropical cyclones and lesser storms, a change in government, significant surgery, spending more time out and about in our classic car, a major time-consuming project of Jennie's and a host of other things made for an unusual year in New Zealand.  However, there was still much to be thankful for.  In this review, I've used photos wherever possible which haven't been previously posted. 


Our region got hit by a series of tropical storms which caused widespread flooding and landslides, including a major arterial route which has only just reopened.  This caused significant economic damage to the Coromandel Peninsula because of access difficulties for visitors.  Fortunately, the direct impact on us was relatively small as we don't often need to use the roads with the biggest damage.  Here's an excellent video of the area since it reopened in December, courtesy of Deano's Motorcycle Rides:

The crappy weather actually offered a serendipitous opportunity for a black and white photo early one Sunday morning.  We get very little in the way of fog where we live but the wet, warm conditions had created a fog bank across the harbour.  I thought that a photo with the fog behind one of the locally moored yachts would make a good composition so I walked down the road and blazed off a few shots.  It wasn't until I got home that it was apparent that I'd also captured a gull flying past which added to the interest.

Long Bay Road, Coromandel

February and March

Jennie's sister Sue arrived from the UK for a couple of months.  That's quite a bit of time to have someone else under the same roof but Sue is so easy to get along with that the time just flew by.  Mind you, it didn't get off to a good start with Cyclone Gabrielle making landfall just a few days after her arrival.  We were all booked to attend a British classic car festival on the other side of our peninsula, which was really touch and go.  The first couple of days were in perfect conditions but we decided to cut and run at the end of day 2.  Just as well as  the roads we needed to get home became impassable not long after we got back.  Mercifully, no damage to our property apart from broken branches but a lot of local infrastructure damage.

Jennie and Sue, overlooking Coromandel Harbour where we live

Fortunately, the rest of Sue's stay was in pretty good weather so we were able to act as tourist guides around the upper north island.  During a trip to the Rotorua area, we visited Wingspan, the national bird of prey centre where they are rehabilitated and also bred to release back into the wild.  Watching birds being taught to hunt is quite an experience and having a NZ native falcon (Karearea) perch on your arm is surprisingly emotional.

Sue with a NZ native falcon


The more settled weather meant I could get out more on the e-mountain bike to maintain fitness in readiness for a knee replacement, whenever that may be.  I'd covered about 2500 km on the bike, mainly on the off-road trails in our area and as a bonus; had shed just over 10kg.  Good for overall health and less load on my dodgy knees!

Some local off-roading fun without face plants

April also signalled 12 months since retiring from riding - an opportune time for reflection as to whether I'd retired in a timely fashion or pulled the trigger too early.  Not too much reflection required - still love bikes but preparation for eventual riding retirement over several years means that my fall-back interests offer new and interesting pathways.  I think I got it right!

The start of the very last ride - April 2022

One of the fall-backs was joining the Whitianga Classic Car Club.  I'm quite happy just driving with Jennie on our own but the members of WCCC are a delight to travel with to a lunch destination somewhere round the Peninsula.  A great mix of vehicles from Ferrari through to Morris Minor Countryman but there are absolutely no egos on display with everyone down to earth.  There must be some deep pockets though.  The Ferrari 355 shown below requires regular cam belt changes - every handful of years.  To replace it, the engine has to come out.  How about something in the region of $10,000 for the job?  In a similar vein, 10 year old XK Jaguars and similar are really going to hit you in the wallet when things go wrong, hence the very modest purchase price thanks to massive depreciation.  I'm happy to have chosen an MGB GT!

MGB GT, Ferrari 355 and Daimler Sovereign at a lunch stop


May saw the first "proper" maintenance on the MGB GT with a complete flush of the cooling system.  The previous owner was meticulous with record-keeping of the restoration but there was almost no information on what routine maintenance had been carried out.  Flushing the system and adding a long-life coolant was surprisingly easy and something I shouldn't have to do again for a few years.   The purchase of  an infra red heat gun to check the temperature of various components triggered a bit of eye-rolling in certain quarters but eye-rolling is a common occurrence in our household anyway!

Yet another toy, sigh.....

I also became involved in the design and construction of a school science experiment chosen by our  granddaughter Georgia. She wanted to build a power-generating waterwheel and test power output against a number of variables.  It was all a bit of a panic due to time constraints but raiding the local transfer station and working with Georgia on building it was an absolute privilege.  Her work ethic couldn't be faulted and we had a huge amount of fun together.  Her experiments all worked and she achieved an "exceeded expectations" grade in her accelerated learning class.  Her work was also submitted to a regional science fair and was awarded a silver rosette.  Enormously proud of that young lady and the future is in good hands with young people like her.

Waterwheel spin test


The winter month of June sees a lot of bird life in the garden, both drinking nectar from some of our flowering plants, plus seeds we put out.  Here are some photos I took.

Native pigeon (kereru) in a palm tree

A flock of California Quail waiting for a feed


A quiet month apart from it being our 51st wedding anniversary.  Hopped on my MTB for an off-road ride and was no more than 10 minutes from home when I realised the significance of the date.  Jennie hadn't said a word about our anniversary which I took to mean that I was in deep poo.  Turned the bike straight round, rode home and planted a big kiss on Jennie.  "What was that for?", she said.  Both of us had forgotten the date - a lucky escape!  In our defence, we had already organised a trip to Rarotonga to celebrate a couple of months beforehand but that wasn't due to actually happen for another couple of weeks.  We did go out to a local restaurant that evening!

July 1972, Kent, England

There was a bit of domestic activity having commissioned a stained glass window for one of our bedrooms which was based on a photo I took in the garden of a nectar-eating Tui on one of our succulents.  Perched on a ladder whilst lifting the window into position wasn't for the faint-hearted and I was glad to complete the job without incident.

A nice bit of stained glass work

August and September

The long-awaited surgery to replace a knee suddenly got serious with it being scheduled for the last day of August.  We'd already booked a vacation on the Pacific Island of Rarotonga which only left a few days to get organised when we got back.  

The surgery took place at a private hospital in Auckland and the all-female surgical team were outstanding.  I'd elected to just have a spinal block to avoid the downsides of a general anaesthetic and it worked out well.  I was able to have running banter with the team throughout the procedure and also listened to music through my earbuds and phone.  The surgery was completely pain-free but rehabilitation has been hard going.  Jennie enjoyed making me walk up to 1 km a day on crutches as soon as we got home from hospital, the slave driver!

Part of rehab by walking up and down our road!

Four months after surgery and diligently doing flexibility exercises on a daily basis, I've regained about 90% of my original movement and it's wonderful to have a stable and pain-free knee.  The pain comes from doing the exercises but that's only a short term inconvenience.  I'm spending up to an hour a day on my old mountain bike in a resistance frame and I should be good to get out on the off-road trails on my e-MTB in early 2024.  A little way to go yet before being 100% but it's nice to feel reasonably active again.  


Although I could drive our modern automatic cars within 2 weeks of surgery, it was October before I could drive the MGB with its manual shift, but mainly due to it being difficult to get in and out of!  It was also a busy month supporting Jennie.  She's president of our local School of Mines Museum and was project managing the installation of a mid-1800's building on the site - a substantial job. A date was set for the district mayor to formally open the building, along with invited guests.  The pressure was on to complete various renovations so yours truly volunteered for that and it was completed in the nick of time.

The opening was an outstanding success with plenty of great feedback.  I was enormously proud of Jennie's tenacity over the many months of planning and execution.  It involved dealing with government departments controlling heritage building rules, the local council, applying for grants, coordinating tradespeople (shudder) and a zillion other things.  She got plenty of positive coverage in our regional news magazine and even made the cover along with the mayor!

Cover Girl Jennie!

With spring well underway, it was a good time for more bird life photography.  I was particularly pleased with the photo of a Tui in our kowhai tree, which is the national flower of NZ.

Tui getting nectar from a kowhai tree

I also turned 76 but that's irrelevant as I stopped counting years ago.  Jennie maintains that it's like living with a 5 year old which is further proof that chronological age means absolutely nothing!

October also saw a change of government.  The major parties in NZ don't tend to have the huge ideological gap which is often seen overseas and quite a few policies overlap.  I try to avoid politics and concentrate on the things which I can have a degree of control or influence over, apart from voting of course.  However, it's really disappointing to see the shortage of politicians who behave in a statesmanlike manner and with integrity among any of the parties.  Much the same throughout the world, I suspect.  Sigh......


We had another outing with the Whitianga Classic Car Club to sample lunch at a newly-opened cafe on the peninsula.  A great turn-out and we weren't disappointed with the venue and food quality either.

Some of the assembled classic cars

In the photo above, the nearest car is a Triumph TR4A.  The owner and his wife were really nice people and we chatted about cars for some time before going our separate ways.  He wore a club name badge and on the way home, I said to Jennie that his name, Keith Skilling; sounded familiar but I didn't know why.  A few days later, I Googled the name and there it was!  Aviation enthusiasts will know that a NZ company has restored a number of WW2 Mosquito fighter bombers to flying condition. It turns out that Keith was the test pilot for the very first one! 

He's also a senior Warbirds pilot and has flown a Hurricane 

Also a Corsair  

It was a privilege to meet someone so exalted in aviation circles, particularly so humble and ego-free in real life.  

The major blog post in November was to catalogue all the bikes I'd owned since starting motorcycling in 1964, together with the memories which each of them still stir up.  Looking back, it's not hard to figure out that retirement from riding wasn't that hard after the sheer variety of 2-wheeled adventures.  It's simply not possible to find a single photo which sums up motorcycling spanning 58 years but perhaps the following one comes close.

It was taken in late May 2003 in the Central North Island with the active volcanoes of the Tongariro National Park dusted in snow.  I'd got up early for a day ride and there was virtually nothing else on the route I'd chosen.  Solitude, me and my thoughts, the Blackbird and majestic scenery.  Says it all really about why we ride.

Tongariro National Park, NZ


The good weather is here and all the pohutukawa trees in our region have come into bloom. Great weather, Christmas reunions and BBQ's with the extended family and friends are all genuinely good for the soul. Celebrations with our kids and grandkids are only a day away and we'll catch up with our Melbourne-based daughter and husband in January when they return for a flying visit.  We even managed to take the boat out fishing again for the first time in 2023.  Uncharacteristically, I also caught the biggest fish!

Here's wishing all readers of this blog a spectacular 2024, lots of happiness and good health.  May the world be a better place than it has been in 2023.

Wicker picnic hamper and tartan rug - how very British!

All the very best from Coromandel, NZ!


Friday 8 December 2023

Weird and wonderful

 Along with bikes, classic cars and sea fishing, I like gardens; if not the actual act of gardening!  Where we live in NZ, it's a very mild climate and frosts are rare.  Much of the area is bush-covered including a fair bit of our property but there's still space for interesting stuff to be grown which is generally low maintenance.  We're not into formal European-style gardens so in addition to various citrus trees, apples and plums, we like to grow colourful plants and have plants in flower the whole year round.  As we're only a few days into summer and just for a change from things automotive, I thought I'd share some of the plants which are making a great show right now.

We overlook Coromandel Harbour and have tree ferns, succulents and native trees planted in the front garden, with lower colourful plants under and between them. The two spiky plants almost centre are Yucca Rostrata Sapphire Skies.  Wonderful for impaling incautious grandchildren and unwary visitors.

Looking south over the harbour

I'm a big fan of bromeliads as they're relatively low maintenance and a lot of varieties prefer shade or semi-shade.  Perfect  for growing under taller foliage. The one below is about 70 cm across and keeps its colour all year.  Most of them propagate by growing pups so there's not much work involved.
Variegated bromeliad

The bromeliad below has old family friend status.  It was on special in a pot at our local supermarket in Tokoroa about 30 years ago.  It was in a wizened state which reflected the price of under $1.  It remained in the pot on our deck as we got winter frosts in Tokoroa and didn't do much.    We brought it to Coromandel, stuck it in the garden and it took off, producing lots of pups which have been scattered round the garden and also given to neighbours.

Nondescript bromeliad

The following bromeliad is one of the really weird ones in our collection.  The leaves aren't much to look at, just being green and narrow but it throws out flower spikes about 50 cm long which last for about 9 months and look like something out of a sci-fi movie!  I'm terrible at keeping the name tags and can't remember what it's called.  It's a prolific grower and we've divided it up and foisted it on unlucky neighbours up and down the street.

Not a clue what the latin name of this bromeliad is

The Guzmania is another type of bromeliad which produces a scarlet bract about 50 cm tall with yellow flowers at the top.  We call it a Triffid for anyone who is familiar with the original John Wyndham book or the movie.

Guzmania, aka The Triffid

We have many more types of bromeliad in the garden but they don't flower at this time of the year.  One particular type is about 1.5 metres across!

The purple-flowered ground cover is Spanish Shawl from Mexico and Guatemala.  We have a number of tree fern trunks which have remained standing after they have died and provide a nice platform for Spanish Shawl to grow on.  Basically zero maintenance and makes an excellent weed mat.  The orange-coloured plant in the foreground is a climbing orchid.  It used to climb up one of the departed tree ferns but I haven't got round to relocating it.

Spanish Shawl and a climbing orchid

A rather less exotic plant than those above is the Lacecap Hydrangea.  We brought it as a cutting from Tokoroa nearly 20 years ago, much against Jennie's wishes as she doesn't like it.  Consequently, it's in a part of the garden rarely visited by Jennie. Quite slow-growing in dry clay soil but it will eventually grow to a couple of metres.  We have other hydrangea varieties which Madame approves of!

Hydrangea Macrophylla Lacecap

The variegated Canna Lily is mainly grown for its foliage, although the flowers are attractive too.  Like the rest of our plants, they're low maintenance and form dense clumps.

Variegated Canna Lily

The Hibiscus is one of several around the garden.  It's slow-growing in our more temperate climate as it's a fully tropical plant.  Nonetheless, it flowers prolifically and each flower is as big as an adult handspan.

Tropical Hibiscus

We have a couple of Bird of Paradise plants which form dense clumps up to nearly 2 metres tall.  They've just about finished flowering for the year.  Another zero maintenance plant which looks spectacular.

Bird of Paradise

We have a number of different types and colours of Bottlebrush in the garden.  Apart from the long-lasting flowers, the bees and Monarch butterflies love them.  They're reasonably fast growing so pruning is a more or less annual activity.
Australian Bottlebrush

We planted the Jacaranda tree back in the early 2000's not long after we'd bought the place.  It's in an area of the garden with minimal topsoil and is a slow grower.  It was only about 3 years ago that it flowered for the first time.  I suspect that it was my threat of cutting it down which prompted action on its part.  It's only 3 metres high at present but they do eventually grow into large specimens.  More pruning ahead.  

Jacaranda tree flower spike

The photo below shows 2 varieties of Bougainvillea - Scarlet O'Hara and something else.  They have a charmed life.  We must be the only family in Coromandel that has trouble growing them and they have narrowly escaped pruning to ground level on multiple occasions.  Maybe it's the threats or the fact that we had a wet 2023 but they're currently flowering well for the first time.  Must try talking to plants on a regular basis.

Bougainvillea species

The NZ flax leaves (Phormium Tenax) have been traditionally used by Maori for weaving etc as the fibres are long and extremely strong.  However, the flower spikes are extremely decorative as the photo below shows.  They also attract the nectar-eating native Tui bird.

Flax stalk

There are heaps of additional interesting plants in the garden but they'll flower or fruit later in the season.  To finish off, we have quite a bit of garden art and my favourite one of a stylised bird was made by a local German potter, Petra Meyboden.  The pottery pole it sits on is about 1.5 metres tall and the glazes she uses are really bright.  Petra is an interesting character and owns a few hectares of land.  All her pottery is on display around her kilns and if she's not about, there's an honesty box for payment!
Garden art

The photos below show part of Petra's pottery for sale on her property.

Petra's garden art for sale

Petra's domestic pottery for sale

I might add that we get heaps of native and non-native birds in the garden at this time of year.  There are plenty of nectar-producing plants to attract the native Tui.  The following photo was taken about 3 weeks ago when our kowhai tree was still flowering.

Tui drinking nectar from the kowhai tree

We also get flocks of Californian Quail in our area and they become quite tame as most people feed them in the winter when food is less plentiful.  A few days ago, one of the male quail brought its babies to introduce them - awfully cute.  

Pa Quail and chicks visiting for a feed

 I hope that you've enjoyed this diversion from the normal blog subject matter - it's a nice time of the year down south to enjoy nature.