Galapagos Day 6

October 25th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

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Our last day in the Galapagos, and a rainbow as we arrive at San Cristobal Island. We were meant to fly out just after lunch, so were not expecting to see much today.

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However the place we went to was packed full of breeding birds and sea lions. Here you can see a new born booby under their father or mother (they take turns)

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Here you see Mum, Dad and two chicks.

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And a close up of the two chicks.

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Just five metres from the boobies, were scores of sea lions and cubs.

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The cub on the left having a feed.

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And some play fighting.

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We then headed into the main town, which is also the political capital.

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Had to laugh at this. This was designed as a slide for children into the lagoon, but the sea lions colonised it.

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And they have taken over this bus shelter also.

Now we were meant to leave around now, but our flight was delayed by three hours so a guide took us to a local beach.

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There we saw two iguanas having a fight for domination. They butted heads constantly for ten minutes or so.

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A sea lion cub born that day.

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And this cub is just a couple of hours old.

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I love this shot – people sub bathing at the beach, along with a few dozen sea lions.

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You can see how close you get to them.

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They are quite large, as you can see.

After that we headed to the airport which was five minutes away and flew back to Quito.

Was an amazing six days. Photos can’t do it justice. The variety, the quantity and the closeness of the bird, land and sea life was amazing. The Galapagos have a place in our history helping Darwin On The Origin Of Species, which is the cornerstone of evolution today. But even 185 years on, it is still a unique and incredible place to visit.

 

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Falling for Labour spin

October 25th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Hipkins also pointed out the irony of National MPs enjoying a leisurely 90-minute break for dinner during debate on the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, which takes away the statutory entitlement to … a meal break. You can set your clock by the time MPs rise for dinner – every sitting day at 6pm, stretching it out till 7.30pm. National hoped to pass the legislation this week but ran out of time.

Good spin by Labour, but falls short on numerous grounds.

First of all that is only the time during which the House is suspended. That does not mean it is a 90 minute break for MPs who do nothing else during that time. Almost every day of the week there are seminars, speeches, events they get invited to. Also most have a quick dinner in their office and carry on working on their correspondence, reading etc. Being present in the House is a small part of what an MP does.

Secondly I would note that that few jobs have you working from 9 am to 10 pm – a 13 hour day instead of a eight hour day.

Thirdly the law change does not take away an entitlement to a meal break – it merely restores flexibility in what they are. This was the situation up until around ten years ago when Labour decided to pass law mandating inflexible breaks, which caused chaos in industries such as air traffic controllers.

One size fits all statutory requirements tend to be stupid, and Labour’s one was. 99.9% of employees will be unaffected by the law change.

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ISP stats

October 25th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stats NZ has done its annual ISP survey. Some changes over time:

  • Dialup connections have dropped from 13% in 2011 to 3% in 2014
  • Fibre connections up from 13,000 in 2013 to 46,000 in 2014
  • Broadband download speeds of under 8 Mb/s down from 33% in 2011 to 14% in 2014
  • Broadband download speeds of over 24Mb/s up from 2% in 2011 to 16% in 2014
  • Broadband upload speeds of under 1.5 Mb/s down from 80% in 2011 to 38% in 2014
  • Broadband upload speeds of over 10Mb/s up from 0% in 2011 to 16% in 2014
  • Plans with no data caps up 2% to 8%
  • Plans with a data cap of over 50 GB up from 2% to 39%
  • Monthly PBs (million GBs) used up from 13.4 in 2011 to 53.1 in 2014
  • ISPs that are IPv6 capable up from 30% in 2011 to 52% in 2014

Really good to see the growth in plans with no data caps, and also the quite significant speed increases.

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A bad look for Hone

October 25th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

3 News reported:

As Northland faces its latest high-profile sex case, 3 News can reveal the alleged offender had been working for Hone Harawira and paid by the taxpayer.

Leaked Parliamentary documents show he’s one of three men hired by Mr Harawira who have either been convicted of, or ended up accused of sexual offence charges.

Patrick Rivers, who goes by the name Mangu Awarau, is one of Mr Harawira’s closest friends. He was part of the Internet Mana campaign and spoke at Mr Harawira’s election night function, just days after being charged with raping a girl younger than the age of 12.

“There he was on election night standing as the pillar of society giving a mihi, and yet everybody there – the whole community knew – a couple of weeks in advance that he was facing these charges,” says Te Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis.

Neither Mr Harawira nor Awarau would talk to 3 News today – they did not reply to questions via email or phone.

Hone can not be faulted for hiring him before the charges. But to have him speak at your election night function, after he had been charged by Police was a massive error of judgement, and sends an awful message out to the community.

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Galapagos Day 5

October 25th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

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On Day 5 we sailed around Isabela over to Santiago Island where we did our first wet landing from the zodiacs.

Spent around 90 minutes walking around, including through this area which looked like a movie set.

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We then got this view from higher up.

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Back down below, this is a lagoon during the wet season.

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This is where a sea turtle has dug a hole to lay her 100 to 120 eggs. Once she has laid them she takes off, and they are left to the warm sand to hatch them after 90 days.

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Had a nice walk along the beach, and then went swimming for a while. I had a pelican fishing just three metres from me in the sea.

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Lots of Ghost Crabs around. I love how they scuttle sideways.

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A Galapagos Whimbrel enjoying the sea

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This Galapagos Hawk landed in a tree next to us and stayed there for an hour or so, despite us being metres from it.

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After lunch we went to a different bay and this is where we landed. I love the sea lion, iguana and crabs all in the same picture.

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These sea lions are in a pre-mating ritual. He seems keener than her.

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This picture is from just two metres away. This is the amazing thing in the Galapagos – the birds allow you to get so close.

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A Yellow Crowned Heron.

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American Oystercatchers.

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A Plover

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We saw some fur sea lions also but this is a Galapagos Sea Lion cub.

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I wanted to take him home!

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And a newly born cub feeding off Mum.

After this we went snorkelling again. I saw two white tipped sharks, and also got accidentally (well I think it was an accident) rammed by a large marine iguana.

When I got back on shore after seeing the sharks, I noticed my knee was bleeding from where I had been thrown against some rocks. In hindsight following sharks while bleeding may not have been the best idea!

 

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Part 5 GANGNAM Style: Visiting North & South Korea 2014

October 25th, 2014 at 9:00 am by Kokila Patel

by John Sringer

Before we get to the intensity of the Joint Security Zone, some more humourous Engerish.  Off Springs 2 and 3 outside the ‘Sodomy‘ restaurant or is it “Soda Me”? Then there’s Kolon Sport and the Gimpo Bridge.

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North Korea sponsors about 9000 carefully managed tourists a year from the north side through China.  To visit North Korea from the South side, the only way is at Panmunjeom via the Dorasan loop and Imjingak (see Part 3 & 4) facilities “on the road to Panmunjeom.”  But to actually go in to North Korea other than through Tunnel 3 in the DMZ, you have to visit the Joint Security Area and Camp Boniface.

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Here’s a map that helps get your head around the set up.  We are in the DMZ that bisects North & South Korea along the 38th parallel.  We’ve travelled by bus from Seoul to the Dorasan Observatory, Imjingak and through Tunnel 3 inside the DMZ.

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Now we’re off to the Panmungak (complex) at Panmunjeom. There are lots of names, and it’s a bit bewildering how they all inter-relate.

New Zealand was a signatory and founding member of this initiative, so, like the UN, our flag flies onsite and we occassionally have personnel posted here as part of the joint initiative, ie, the West verse North Korea.  NZ was of course active in the Korean war. Camp Boniface is the military base and its slogan is “In Front of them All.”

We pull in to the parking area of the Panmaungak. This is the Joint Duty Office (JDO) of the KPA/CPV in the JSA.  The UN and military obviously love acronyms. We are taken into a briefing auditorium.  There is a clunky propagandist short war movie that explains the essential facts, and then we are told, in no uncertain terms, that as we go into the JSA we must never point at the north side or the soldiers, be respectful, not make sudden movements, and stay strictly within the clearly designated areas.

At one point SkyGoddess is sternly told to stop gregarious gesticulation by HusbandOfAppropriateMoments (akaHeWhoMustBeObeyedThisOnce). A woman who wandered outside these areas was shot and killed by the North Koreans and there have been other incidents involving death. Soberly, we are then given this form to sign.

It’s not every day you waive responsibility for personal “injury or death“…as a result of a “hostile enemy act.” There are one or two spelling mistakes, which I circle before I sign.

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We are escorted the whole time, and our guide is a delightful American Sgt from the midwest.  He is armed, and answers all our appropriate questions. I have a long chat with him afterward about what its like working here. He briefs us that if we run towards North Korea, he will do his best to grab us and pull us back, but if we get across, we are on our own and will have to make the best life we can in North Korea.

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We enter a polished marble hall and there are helmeted UNCSB-ROK soldiers stationed about in a Tae Kwon Do pose, fists clasped.  They stand like this on four hour rosters and are immovable and impervious. They are armed; all we have are special red or blue plastic badges to allow us inside. I surmise blue is for wisdom, red is for ‘Gen Y. can I have some more money.’

Then we’re out onto a dais area where most people view North Korea across a short distance.  Many famous people have some to this point, including the Clintons, Helmet Kohl, Margaret Thatcher, Barack Obama etc.  We are allowed to take photos at certain points. I am on the left, and a bus passenger steps too far to the left and a Tae Kwon Do arm immediately flings out to create a rigid human barrier through which he cannot pass.

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We get a few seconds each to take photos in front of the line.  Its a scary place. You can see this from the expressions of the TwentySomethings who are kinda freaked out by Panmungak.  I tell them their red badges are targets. Panmaungak is like a zoo and we’re looking at the North Koreans.  Except they have guns and can shoot us.  They watch us through binoculars. I wonder if they were befuddled by my Dr Who shirt?

Tomorrow: we cross the line.

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General Debate 25 October 2014

October 25th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel
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Guest Post: Smart green rhetoric but dumb dirty policies

October 25th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

A guest post by a reader:

During the 2014 election campaign both Labour and the Greens told us how they want a ‘smart green’ economy that takes advantage of new technology to produce higher value products and lower carbon emissions. In addition, they want an economy that discourages speculation in housing, reduces inequality and puts more people in work.

These are admirable goals and not new. However, the irony is that the policies put forward by Labour and the Greens (and most of the other parties to be honest) are not smart or particularly green. Rather, their polices are dumb and dirty.

For the most part, both Labour and the Green’s economic policies rely on the assumption that the private sector is dumber than government officials. They assume the private sector is holding off investing in innovative green ventures or productive research until the government assists by giving a grant or tax incentive.

Their economic policies require a bureaucratic money-go-round. Some taxpayers pay more tax in order that other taxpayers pay less tax or receive grants in return for undertaking the deemed beneficial activities. Or it may be the same taxpayer paying less tax on income from favoured activities and more tax on other income! Such schemes are more likely to create a drag on the economy than boost it. That is unless you believe government officials are masterminds! Sam Morgan recently pointed out that if officials really had a superior record in picking winners, he’d hire them.

If one accepts the need for the government to raise more money, substantially raising the top rate of income tax for a small group of higher income taxpayers is not smart. People don’t like paying more tax, particularly a huge 40% of any extra income they earn as the Greens propose, so find ways to lower their taxable income. Raising the top tax rate inevitably raises less revenue than the relatively small amount mathematically possible.

The tax avoidance encouraged by higher rates of income tax also distorts investment. For example, the huge growth in tax loss generating rental properties in the 2000s was driven in part by taxpayers avoiding the fifth Labour government’s increase in the top rate tax to 39% for any income over $60,000.

However, a capital gains tax would do little to discourage the middle class from continuing to invest in rental properties. A capital gains tax is not payable until way into the future, if ever, in their minds so would cause them little immediate concern. Furthermore, with Labour’s version the CGT rate would only be 15%.

A more effective way to make residential property less attractive and raise revenue would be to impose a tax that immediately hits the pocket and is impossible to avoid. A land tax set at a small percentage of the value of land owned, payable annually or maybe quarterly, would do this. A tax free threshold of around $200,000 could exempt the land occupied by the average family home while discouraging the pouring of more money into low yielding property.

A land tax would be better at reducing inequality and do less to discourage productive activity than a CGT or raising income tax. Other taxes on the stock of capital such as inheritance and gift taxes have similar advantages. Such taxes were used in the past to break up big estates and reduce inequality. Any party serious about reducing inequality needs to consider using them.

On the supply side, if we really want innovative businesses and individuals to bring their ‘smart green’ ideas to New Zealand then we should stop trying to tax them on their worldwide earnings. New Zealand has to be more attractive than alternative destinations, and not trying to sweep all residents’ offshore income into New Zealand would be a good start.

The Greens would have us believe that a large increase in public transport spending at the expense of building new roads would also somehow be good for the economy and the environment. The reality is that it would largely be a waste of money and likely increase pollution.

The Greens are keen on ribbons of steel snaking across the land to support massively heavy and expensive rail carriages. Even so called light rail, which they also like, is still heavier, far more expensive and less flexible than buses. Unless there are constant large volumes of freight or passengers, rail never comes anywhere near paying its way.

Even using buses for public transport is efficient only for busy and peak-time routes. Having off-peak buses run around nearly empty (which is very common) is actually worse for the environment than everyone using cars. A bus puts out at least four times the carbon emissions of a car. Given buses follow a less direct route, it is likely that every bus with less than 8 passengers on board is emitting more carbon than if all those passengers were driving one car each! Electrified buses or trains, and all the infrastructure they require to operate, are substantially more expensive so even less viable. Anyway, a material amount of electricity generated in New Zealand comes from the burning of fossil fuels.

Those people who rely on off-peak public transport could easily be transported more efficiently in shuttle vans or cars. There are apps such as Uber that make taxis easier to use and more efficient. Software to efficiently route transport picking up multiple people going to the same location has already been developed. The conditions are therefore ripe for the development of new, innovative, cost effective off-peak public transport solutions that use small vehicles and technology – solutions that really would decrease carbon emissions.

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Galapagos Day 4

October 24th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

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On Day 4 we went to Fernandina Island which is the only major island with no introduced species. This Great Blue Heron greeted us as we came ashore.

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The marine iguanas and sea lions sunbathe next to each other.

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On this island are 250,000 marine iguanas. It is basically their island. They are everywhere  and you have to be careful not to stand on one.

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This is the current alpha male sea lion. He spent quite a bit of time bellowing at us. If you bellowed back he might take it as a challenge and attack.

The alpha male doesn’t eat while he is the alpha, as he spends his time protecting the territory. Hence on average they last only 20 days in the job until they get defeated by someone else.

However not all bad, as once defeated they go to a separate island with all the bachelor males, and single females and enjoy themselves there.

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Cute – a baby iguana looking out on top of an adult.

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The rare Flightless Cormorant. This is their nesting area.

These birds can’t fly but they have adapted as they can dive up to 25 metres under thewater to hunt fish.

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More marine iguanas.

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A lava lizard.

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A baby Flightless Cormorant under his or her mother.

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An Iguana swimming in the water. The next day when I was snorkeling I had one swim into me!

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They look like they are posing for a rugby photo!

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These two baby sea lion cubs playing in a rock pool.

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The Galapagos Hawk, up a tree some distance away.

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We did three water activities today, after the walk. Two lots of snorkeling, and also went kayaking. This is a couple of our shipmates.

The snorkeling was great – in the morning we got to swim with some very playful sea lions. We are told to go no closer than six feet, but no one told the sea lions that. They hovered all around us and followed us for ages.

In the afternoon snorkel, we had some penguins swim past us, barely a metre away. Also a great experience.

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Got this photo of the pelican while out kayaking.

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We then headed up top to go whale watching. No whales, but some rays doing jumps and flips, and lots of sea lions and turtles.

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The sun setting.

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And we crossed the equator from South to North at 7.16 pm, as you can see from this GPS on the Bridge.

 

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Air NZ does it again

October 24th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Another viral smash video from Air New Zealand. Really well done.

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Remember the manufactured manufacturing crisis?

October 24th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

I’m sure readers recall the inquiry by Labour, Greens, NZ First and Mana into what they called the crisis in manufacturing. They traveled up and down the country trying to dredge up stories of doom and gloom.

Well today the Herald reports:

Whatever the attractions of the virtual economy, manufacturing is the star in New Zealand’s high-tech sector this year.

The annual Technology Investment Network TIN100 report was launched on Wednesday, and TIN managing director Greg Shanahan says one of the strongest trends has been the resurgence of the manufacturing sector, with strong growth seen this year as well as a number of manufacturers making it into the two Top 10 lists.

In perhaps the most positive year seen since the TIN100 report began in 2005, manufacturing, ICT and biotech are all on the rise.

The success of manufacturing is a strong indicator that the tech sector in general is recovering from the effects of the global financial crisis, as manufacturing has been an area of concern over the past few years, with the sale or closure of companies such as Navman, Provenco and VTL resulting in significant job losses, and major companies including Fisher & Paykel Appliances moving manufacturing overseas.

This year, however, manufacturing is the success story of the three sectors with revenue of $5.1 billion, helped by larger companies including Fisher & Paykel Healthcare with revenue growth of 12 per cent, BCS Group (revenue up 68 per cent) and NDA Group (32 per cent). The smaller TIN100+ manufacturing companies have also been helping boost this trend, with growth of 7 per cent overall, and companies such as Metalform, RML Engineering and Escea all feature in the Hot Emerging Companies list.

This has all happened, without the Government having to try and waste billions of dollars in forcing the level of the NZ dollar down.

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Interest rates may hold for another year

October 24th, 2014 at 11:02 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Economists now expect the Reserve Bank to keep interest rates on hold until September next year after inflation in the September quarter proved even more benign than it had forecast.

The consumers price index rose 0.3 per cent in the quarter, when the median market forecast had been 0.5 per cent and the Reserve Bank’s 0.7 per cent.

Westpac and ASB have pushed back their forecasts of when the Reserve Bank will next raise the official cash rate to September 2015.

That will be welcome news to everyone with a mortgage.

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As this graph from the Reserve Bank shows, home owners have had the longest period of relatively low interest rates in 25 years.

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The last splurge

October 24th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Departing and defeated MPs went out with a splurge on the taxpayer tab, the latest expense details show.

The latest release of MPs’ and ministers’ expenses covered the entire election campaign period and the 10 days after the election.

It shows that most MPs spent less than usual during the election period.

In all, MPs spent a total of $1.5 million between and July 1 and September 30, compared to $1.7 million in the same period in 2013.

But a few MPs were not as frugal.

Mana leader Hone Harawira was the biggest-spending MP. In the last three months before he lost his Te Tai Tokerau seat he racked up $54,020 in expenses.

This compared to $44,737 in the same period last year.

MPs in Maori seats often had big travel bills because their electorates were larger than the general electorates.

Disgraced National MP Claudette Hauiti was again one of the bigger spenders.

Although she was not running for re-election, she spent more than $23,000 in three months – the second-largest bill for a National MP.

I wonder how much money Mana has left from Kim Dotcom? Will he keep funding them? The coalition agreement between the Internet and Mana parties will end next month. Will it be renewed?

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Galapagos Day 3

October 24th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

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On Day 3 we sailed to the West of Isla Isabela and went ashore at Punta Moreno.

It is lava basically everwhere.

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A cactus in the lava.

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And slowly life is returning, including this flower.

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Some of the lava. This type is almost in sheets.

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While in other areas it is very rocky.

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Growing in the lava is of course a lava cactus.

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And a Galaneau living in a lava tube.

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And who would have thought, but a family of six flamingos have settled in the middle of the lava, in a little lake that has formed there.

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A close up of a pink flamingo.

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A lava lizard.

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Out on the rocks, the penguins and iguanas happily share.

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A blue footed boobie giving us the stare.

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While in the zodiac, we had some bottled nosed dolphins turn up!

It is quite rare to see them, so we were lucky.

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This pelican guarding his rock.

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This time penguins and crabs on the same rock.

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In the afternoon we did a zodiac (they call them pungas) trip through the mangroves.

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Love these trees.

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A Great Blue Heron.

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That is a sea turtle underneath the water.

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A pelican flying alongside us.

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And back to the boat.

We also did snorkeling in the late morning and that was incredible. I shot some underwater video but don’t have the cord with me to transfer the files. But masses of fish, and a couple of dozen giant sea turtles. Getting to swim alongside or above a majestic sea turtle was so cool.

 

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General Debate 24 October 2014

October 24th, 2014 at 8:00 am by Kokila Patel
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The $800,000 man

October 24th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

An unnamed ACC employee – understood to be investment manager Nicholas Bagnall, who oversees almost $27 billion in taxpayer funds – got over $800,000 in pay last year, likely making him our highest paid public servant.

The breakdown of staff pay in ACC’s annual report yesterday reveals its highest paid received between $810,000 and $820,000 in the last year.

Some may be surprised that a manager may get less than a CEO, but I’ve seen this before with IT Managers getting paid more than their bosses.

The Herald understands the ACC employee is not ACC chief executive Scott Pickering but a member of the state-owned injury insurer’s investment team, as was the corporation’s second highest-paid staffer, on just over $700,000.

Mr Bagnall has led ACC’s investment team for the past 15 years. He would not confirm he was the employee referred to in ACC’s report but said he was “very well paid”.

I don’t have a problem with Mr Bagnall being paid that much, if he is performing well enough to justify it.

The ACC Annual Report shows ACC has financial assets of $27.6 billion and they got a 6.3% return on investment which is $1.6 billion of income. Paying someone $800,000 a year to manage $27.6 billion of assets seems reasonable. A 0.1% improved return of investment of those assets is worth $27 million.

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US Mid-Term Elections : Latest Senate Races Polls

October 23rd, 2014 at 11:18 pm by Lindsay Addie

Here is the latest numbers using as before the Real Clear Politics average of polls data and Nate Silver’s numbers. A reminder the current numbers in the Senate are Democrats 55 – Republicans 45.

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In Colorado a state which Obama won in both 2008 and 2012. Nate Silver and the Washington Post think that Democrat Mark Udall is now in real trouble. His campaign based around women’s issues hasn’t hit the right spot with the voters. Iowa remains close with Joni Ernst (R) holding on to a slender lead. Iowa is always a bell weather state on election night.

Georgia has got a lot closer with Democrat Michelle Nunn making David Perdue (GOP) work very hard. Some polls have Nunn ahead. Kansas is still pretty much a dead heat between Orman the independent and Roberts the GOP candidate.

So based on these numbers the Republicans look like they may pick up 8 seats (Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Iowa, Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia). But are not guaranteed to win Georgia and Kansas just yet.

So it’s definitely advantage to the Republicans with less than 2 weeks to go.

[UPDATE] The web link to the Washington Post article cited that discusses the Colorado Senate race was broken and is now working.

[UPDATE 2] The Louisiana and Georgia Senate Races are run under the 50% plus one vote rule. So if no candidate achieves this a run off is held. If required the Louisiana runoff is scheduled for 6th December 2014. The Georgia run off would be held on 6th January 2015. Hat tip to Kiwi in America for reminding me of this.

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Galapagos Day 2

October 23rd, 2014 at 4:30 pm by David Farrar

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We moved overnight to Isla Isabela.

The second day was amazing in terms of what we saw, in just the one day.  It started with a zodiac ride out to the White Tipped Reef Shark Canal. On the way there we saw out first sighting of the Blue Footed Booby.

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Waiting for us on shore was a Sally Lightfoot Crab.

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And also on shore were lots of marine iguanas. This one has a young one on its back.

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Down in the water were the white tipped reef sharks.

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A beautiful brown pelican.

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An American Oyster Catcher.

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You may have to look twice here to see the dozens of iguanas!

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This sea lion gave birth not long ago to her cub.

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As we walked back along the beach, the iguanas were everywhere. You had to literally step to get around them.

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Then after lunch we headed back into the main settlement. This sea lion had decided one of the boats makes a good sleeping spot.

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While this sea lion caught a fish.

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We then did a two hour return trek up the Sierra Negra Volcano. The view at the top was fantastic. We were very lucky to manage to do it on a day with no clouds up there.

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The crater (which is active) is 7 kms long and 11 kms wide.

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A typical landscape on Isabela.

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Back at the waterfront, a pelican at home on a roof.

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Some Galapagos Penguins swimming.

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An Eagle Ray under the water.

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This photo is from an amazing scene which lasted 20 minutes or so. A school of fish came into the waterfront area, and the boobies were dive bombing the area like kamikaze pilots. They fly straight down into the water, and can descend to five metres below, to try and catch a fish, and bring it up. They can even steer and swim under there.

Seeing dozens of boobies dive bombing nearly non-stop was amazing.

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Then we went to the lagoons and saw a pink Greater Flamingo.

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After that we went to the second of the three land tortoise breeding centres where we saw Grant Robertson, Andrew Little and David Parker, with David Cunliffe heading off in the background.

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Some of the smaller tortoises all bunched up together, and even walking over each other.

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A Galapagos Yellow Warbler.

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This is a two month old baby tortoise. You can see how vulnerable they would be in the wild to predators.

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A Great Frigatebird overhead.

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We then had a spare hour in the town, with this lovely beach.

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The iguanas are not just on the isolated islands, but these two were just sunbathing in town.

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This sea lion enjoying the park bench.

We saw an incredible variety of creatures, and all in just one day.  Apart from the density and variety of them, what is perhaps unique is how unafraid of humans they are.  Nothing runs away from you – to the contrary many of them come over to you to show off.

 

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The 51st Parliament Select Committees

October 23rd, 2014 at 3:47 pm by David Farrar

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The composition and chairs of select committees has been decided. Well, almost decided. NZ First seem unable to decide as quickly as other parties which MPs go on which committees. Ironic as they have just 10 MPs.

National has a clear majority on 10 of the 14 select committees.

On Finance and Expenditure the swing vote is ACT’s David Seymour. If Labour are smart (unlikely) they’ll look for issues they could get him on board with such as an inquiry into corporate welfare.

Government Administration is tied between National and Labour/Greens and chaired by Labour MP Ruth Dyson. That is normal for this committee.

Justice and Electoral could be tied with five Nats, two Labour, one Green, one NZ First and one Maori Party. But chaired by National’s Jacqui Dean so unlikely to have issues.

The Maori Affairs Committee has eight MPs on it – three National, two Labour, one Greens, one NZ First and one Maori Party. So National can be outvoted, but if Maori Party vote with them, it is a tie and new National MP Nuk Kurako is its Chair.

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A Little hyperbole

October 23rd, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Former union boss Little’s message seemed to resonate well with the audience, which included a strong union presence.

He also attacked the employment law making its way through the House.

“We have never had a more niggardly, nasty National government than the one we’ve got now.”

I guess he has to try and win over the union vote, but this is a ridiculous statement. The Employment Contracts Act of the early 1990s was a magnitude more radical than anything currently in the law, or proposed.

And is Andrew really saying the John Key led Government is more “nasty” than the Muldoon Government?

Such hyperbole may be good red meat for the unions, but they won’t resonate with the voting public.

He said Labour was the only party that took work seriously and balanced the rights of employers with workers’ rights to be protected.

Actually Labour basically has the unions write their industrial relations policy. I’d assert National is the party that gets the balance right.

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NZ won election on the first round

October 23rd, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Now I’ve had time to check the detailed voting results, impressed that not only did New Zealand beat Turkey to win a spot on the UN Security Council, we also got more votes than Spain, and made the two thirds majority in the first round of voting.

To be elected you need 129 votes out of 193 member states, and NZ got 145 in the first round. Spain was on 121 and Turkey 109.

It then took two further rounds to elect Spain, as the normal pattern followed of states slowing peeling off the lowest polling candidate.

A win on the first round, scoring more votes than Turkey and Spain is truly impressive. Especially when you consider Turkey starts with almost all the Muslim countries on side, and Spain starts with almost all of Europe and the Spanish speaking countries. NZ stars with basically just Australia!

It would be interesting to see how each country voted, but I can’t find this online.

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A terrorist attack in Canada?

October 23rd, 2014 at 11:16 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

At least 30 shots are fired inside the main building of Canada’s Parliament Hill, after a gunman shot and wounded a soldier at the Canadian War Memorial in Ottawa.

Ottawa police are hunting multiple gunmen in the shooting incidents near the Canadian war memorial and nearby Parliament Hill.

A Canadian soldier was shot and killed at the National War Memorial in downtown Ottawa early today (NZ time) and a gunman was shot dead in a nearby parliament building, media and witnesses reported. Buildings remained locked down.

At least 30 shots were fired in dramatic scenes in the heart of the Canadian capital, starting around 10am local time (3am NZT).

Canadian media outlets are reporting the soldier was Nathan Cirillo, a 24-year-old reservist serving in Hamilton from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada regiment.

Officials have named the gunman shot dead as 32-year-old, Canadian-born, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.

Reuters has reported Mr Zehaf-Bibeau was was a Canadian convert to Islam, according to US officials. He is from Quebec and has criminal convictions for drug possession and parole violations.

Ottawa police spokesman Chuck Benoit said two or three gunmen were believed to be involved in the attacks. 

Gilles Michaud, assistant commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, called it a ”dynamic, unfolding situation.”

Ottawa Hospital said it received two patients, both listed in stable condition, in addition to the soldier.

“Condolences to family of the soldier killed, and prayers for the Parliamentary guard wounded. Canada will not be terrorised or intimidated,” cabinet minister Jason Kenney said.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in a caucus meeting in parliament when gunfire erupted in the building, Veterans Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, a former policeman, told the Toronto Sun.

Harper was later safely removed from the building, and parliament was locked down.

Fantino said parliament’s head of security, Sergeant-at-Arms Kevin Vickers, a former member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), had shot a suspect dead.

“All the details are not in, but the sergeant-at-arms, a former Mountie, is the one that engaged the gunman, or one of them at least, and stopped this,” Fantino said. “He did a great job and, from what I know, shot the gunman and he is now deceased.”

The Sergeant-at-Arms should him dead personally! Wow. One always thinks of those roles of nominally being in charge of maintaining order – not active duty. He is being feted justifiably as a hero. Mr Vickers is 58 years old.

It is somewhat sickening that these attacks are spreading to countries like Canada and Australia, and being done by people born in those countries.

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Assistant Speaker Trevor

October 23rd, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

From Hansard:

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House): As I move this next motion I hope the last discordant moment is not some sort of a portent of what is about to happen. I move, That the Hon Trevor Mallard be appointed Assistant Speaker. I did not think that I would ever be in this House moving a motion like this. If it were not for the fact that I have been reminded by the honourable gentleman over there that this is a parliamentary occasion, I may well have quipped that should he be successful, the Hon Trevor Mallard may be the first Speaker in the Chair to remove himself from the House.

But appreciating the comments Mr Peters has made to the House, I will simply say that I have worked with Mr Mallard on the Business Committee and in his role as shadow Leader of the House over a number of years, and I know that he is, at heart, a true parliamentarian. I think—[Interruption] Well, his colleagues opposite, of course, may find it hard to believe that anyone on their side of the House has a heart, but the reality is that Mr Mallard is a gentleman who does appreciate the procedures of Parliament and does respect the procedures of Parliament. But certainly over his political career he has enjoyed the theatre of Parliament as well. I think his broad experience in that regard will equip him very well as an assistant to you in your role, Mr Speaker, and we look forward to supporting him.

For my 2c I think Trevor will be a very good Assistant Speaker. He has an excellent understanding of Standing Orders, and as Gerry said, he has played a very constructive role on the Business Committee and the review of Standing Orders.

But he will have to restrain himself not to interject when he is not in the chair – or even when he is!

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Galapagos Day 1

October 23rd, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

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This is Baltra Airport on Isla Baltra, which is the main airport into the Galapagos. Flew from Santiago to Quito the night before, got into out hotel at Quito around 10 pm and had to be up at 3 am to get back to the airport for an early morning flight to Baltra.

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We then took a bus, ferry and another bus (around an hour all up) to the Charles Darwin Station on Isla Santa Cruz. This is the biggest settlement on the Galapagos. We then went out to our catamaran, the Grand Odyssey. The rooms are huge – 25 square metres, and you get a panoramic view from the windows.

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Up on the top deck are two spa pools, a number of double sun beds and a bar.

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Then after lunch we went to the breeding centre for young land tortoises. Here you can see a baby tortoise, not much bigger than the shoots.

Due to introduced species, only 1% of tortoises in the wild make it to 25 (when they can reproduce). 80% die before they are eight years olds. The breeding centres protect them until they are eight, when their carapaces are hard enough to protect them more.

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They have a few older tortoises here also, including Lonesome George who was the last of his species and died just two years ago in 2012. It wasn’t all bad for George though as he shared his enclosure with two female tortoises from another species. They tried to mate them, but there were no eggs before he died. However the female tortoises can store his sperm for up to three years so if one of them gives birth in the next year, his species may partially live on.

This is a saddleback tortoise above.

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A larger male land dome shape tortoise.

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They also breed land iguanas here, to help boost their population. The marine iguanas are plentiful, but not so much the land ones.

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This fatter one looks very happy and content. However they are kept in separate enclosures as they can get aggressive and fight.

 

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Part 4 GANGNAM Style: Visiting North & South Korea 2014

October 23rd, 2014 at 8:59 am by Kokila Patel

By John Stringer

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This trip we had two opportunities to visit North Korea, once over the border, and once through one of the tunnels (now closed, obviously) dug by NK to invade South Korea. It’s important to understand that North & South Korea are buffered by a DMZ – De-Militarised Zone. It’s a narrow strip of no mans land full of mines and fences. There was no peace treaty signed by the two Koreas so technically they are still ‘at war.’ The North vs South fences do not abutt eachother, there’s a wide fenced off neutral zone inbetween. This helps relieve tensions and fatal incidents (more of which later). This area converges together at the famous Joint Security (JSA) Demilitarised Zone which I’ll post on tomorrow.

It is vital to bring a passport or you cannot visit. It’s an early start for us, and at the Incheon subway station en route to Seoul where we’ll catch a bus, it transpires more than one of our party has forgotten to bring theirs. So Male50Something is dispatched at a trot back to the hotel to open various rooms, and safes, and recover missing passports.

Walking through the bus at Seoul, the passports are assiduously checked by serious-minded soldiers. They pause and check your photo against your mug, peering into your face for inherent terrorism. I pull my best ambivalent pacifist look. Anyone without a passport is taken from the bus. Serious stuff.

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The first view of North Korea is across the Han River where it runs into the Yellow Sea. The shoreline is heavily fenced with watchtowers at regular intervals, which makes you feel you are inside a camp. It runs for miles and miles closing off this watery weak spot along the border. You can see this barrier in the left hand corner of this photo returning from the DMZ, which is an exhausting place, zonking out two of our party.

The first bus stop is Imjingak Tourist Park, at Paju, Gyeonggi-do, which bares several scars from the Korean War. It’s the closest borderland to the DMZ and is the hub from which you get to grips with North Korea at the Dora Observatory, Dora Station and the 3rdTunnel.

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This is Imjingak

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Imjingak Park was built so that refugees from North Korea could face the home of their ancestors and pay homage. There’s a viewing platform offering a glimpse of North Korea and it’s also home to the Freedom Bridge, built in 1953 to bring 12,773 prisoners across. You can also see the bullet-ridden train that once ran the railway between North and South Korea. There’s a huge Tibetan-like Freedom Bell. The S.Koreans are deeply committed to peace and unification and have thoughtful memorials and displays like this “Peace Wall” throughout the Imjingak leisure park.

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This interesting artwork is made of rocks collected from different battlefields in 64 nations. It’s a memorial to the futility of war. That’s actually North Korea DMZ behind the wall memorial.

From Imjingak we take the bus to the Dora Observatory and military base. This features a wide walled balcony from which we can observe North Korea across the DMZ.  There is a yellow line, across which you cannot take photos (so you cannot shoot North Korea, and we are advised to strictly follow this protocol). Looking out through the observation binoculars I can see a North Korean man working some rice fields. It is very quiet, no vehicles moving people or activity.  We are told many of the buildings are actually fake (iemovie props).  They can tell this, as the windows do not match the supposed floor laterals.

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But perhaps the highlight at Dora is one of the many North Korea tunnels discovered at this location. No photos are allowed. Before you go in, there is a small museum and we are briefed on how the tunnels were discovered, and why they were made.  There are several interesting artifacts. The wall plaque below shows the discovery.  They are so deep, almost 80m they are very difficult to locate.  Soldiers go in and listen, just like WWI.

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We don hard hats and are taken in to Tunnel 3.  It is 400m long and 76m deep, one of 4 found so far, dug by the North Koreans to attack Seoul from their side

(see map at top). It’s fascinating and eerie. It slopes down and is a long walk.  Quite hard for tall people, as it is Korean size and at 5 ft10” I have to stoop the whole way while walking which is hard work. Try 400m at a crouch.  You totally need the hard had, as the sound of dozens intermittently bashing against the exposed irregular rock ceiling echoes down the narrow corridor cut through solid rock.

It’s quite claustrophobic, so don’t go in if you are in any way anxious.  The walls and ceiling are a rusty coloured rock.  At the very end, we can see drilled holes where explosives were laid by the North Koreans, but most of the tunnel was hand cut. The termination is now a series of concrete chambers.  These sit three deep as bulwarks and one is filled with water.  Our end has an open window in the casement so you can see in for security purposes.

It is a very interesting experience, and technically, we cross over in to North Korea through this violating tunnel, now sealed with concrete bunker rooms. Maps show us the several tunnels attempted by the North (like Hamas into Palestine) through which North Korea intended to amass thousands of troops for a surprise invasion to take Seoul.

So this is quite serious stuff. The South Koreans are consequently very vigilant and continually listening and probing for tunnels.

Next time: The famous Joint Security (JSA) Demilitarised Zone. A really scary place.

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