Abel Tasman Coastal Track Day 3

February 11th, 2016 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

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Woke up on Saturday and the estuary is at high tide so once again it is the high tide route. However this time that is only an extra 1 km or so.

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So around the coast we go.

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A nice track next to the water.

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Then over the bridge.

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A great view of where we were from above.

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Then further uphill.

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Then a great view of Tonga Bay as we approach it.

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Then some tramping down at sea level.

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And eventually you tramp across the beach itself. This is my least favourite part as you move very slowly on sand, it is very hot, and there is no shade. But the views make up for it.

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At the end of the beach a bridge leads inland.

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A nice view of Tonga Bay as we leave it.

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Then some nice track to go along.

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Then you cross over for your first view of Awaroa, and you can see the (private) Awaroa Lodge in the bush. We were not staying there ($400/night!) but at the $32/night DOC Hut.

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A stunning view of Awaroa from a look out on the track. The green strip is an air strip.

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Then it is head down to the beach and around a 20 minute walk along the beach and estuary.

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After around four hours we hit the Awaroa Hut around 1 pm. A very hot day so glad to be there.

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The lovely view outside the hut.

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The Awaroa Inlet at low tide. Despite the tide, we managed to go swimming for an hour or so, and caught some more pipis for supper!

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The Awaroa Inlet at high tide. You are advised to only try crossing it within two hours of low tide yet a moron couple (who had been at the lodge and lost track of time) tried to cross it at an hour before high tide. The entire hut was having bets on how long until they turned back. Eventually the two of them had their day packs over their heads and the water up to their arm pits before the DOC ranger rescued them in his boat.

There is no low tide track at Awaroa which means on Sunday we had to cross either before 5.15 am or after 2.15 pm.  We decided to go for the early crossing so set the alarms for 4 am and had an early night.

Abel Tasman Coastal Track Day 2

February 10th, 2016 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

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Friday morning starts off with a short trek along the Anchorage beach.

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There is a low tide and high tide track. We had to use the high tide track which is an extra 3 kms and an hour longer. A climb at the beginning.

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You loop around the inlet.

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Some kayakers having a rest.

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Then cross the water on the bridge.

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This is just next to the bridge, and where we had morning tea. A lovely isolated swimming hole.

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The low tide track across the Torrent Bay Estuary.

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There’s a couple of dozen houses at Torrent Bay, and this is the main road through the settlement.

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The beach at Torrent Bay.

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You then climb up steeply after Torrent Bay, giving you this view. The track has no major climbs, but lots of minor ones of 100 metres or so.

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A couple of paddle boarders.

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The track goes inland and gets a bit narrow.

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Over the large swing bridge.

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Falls River.

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As we drop down towards Bark Bay, we see a weka.

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The beach at Bark Bay.

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I went for a swim and discovered lots of pipis in the sea. So threw them in the water to spit out the sand and then boiled them, so we had pipis for afternoon tea.

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The Bark Bay Hut. Two rooms inside the hut that sleep 14 each communally, and another room on the side which we were lucky enough to score that has just six individual bunks.

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The Bark Bay Estuary at low tide. The campsite is in the trees between the estuary and the sea.

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And as the tide comes in.

A fairly gentle four hour day with 13 kms or so.

Abel Tasman Coast Track Day 1

February 9th, 2016 at 11:34 am by David Farrar

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We set off on Thursday, with an early flight to Nelson and then Trek Express to Marahau where the Abel Tasman Coastal track starts.  Happy to find The Park Cafe in Marahau so we had a decent lunch before five days of tramping food!

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You start off crossing the Marahau River in the open.

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Then you hit the bush.

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And then into canopy cover, which in 26 degree heat is very welcome.

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Every so often the canopy clears to give you stunning views of the water and beaches.

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The first day is around four hours tramping.

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The view above Stilwell Bay.

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And off memory this is Cyathea Cove.

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Despite being a coastal track, quite a variety of bush.

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Torrent Bay in the distance.

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Heading down to Anchorage.

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And the final stretch along the beach at The Anchorage. Unlike most tramps where you only see other trampers, the Abel Tasman is like a motorway. There are hundreds of day walkers, kayakers and beach goers who just come in by water taxi. As you lug your 16 kg pack you envy the day walkers with their tiny bags.

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Anchorage Hut which was only built a few years ago. Possibly the best DOC Hut I have stayed in. They have five separate bunkrooms and flush toilets under the same balcony so you don’t have to navigate a field in the dark when you need to go.

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Our bunkroom. Having storage for packs makes a huge difference.

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And the view from the hut with some nice tables on the lawn just in front of the beach.

We got there around 4 pm, so had time to go for a late afternoon swim. Not many tramps in NZ in which I’ve gone swimming. Normally you’re so high up the water is freezing!

DPF away

February 4th, 2016 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

From today until late Monday the 8th I’m going to be tramping the Abel Tasman Track.

This means by coincidence I miss the TPP protests and the Waitangi Day protests. Oh dear, how sad.

This will be the fifth Great Walk in recent years. In March I’m also doing the Kepler Track.

After that need to schedule Whanganui River, Lake Waikaremoana and the Routeburn.

I’ve got a small number of posts pre-set to appear, but generally won’t be up with current events so just use general debate for them.

US and NZ in Antarctica

January 26th, 2016 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The relationship between New Zealand and the United States when it comes to Antarctica is as co-operative and helpful as one can get. While McMurdo and Scott Base are run separately, there is a huge amount of assistance and co-operation between the NZ and US Antarctic teams.

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One major area is transport. We flew on a US Hercules. They provide most of the transport to Antarctica for us. But the RNZAF also flies Hercules down, and sometimes US staff will ride on these.

The US provides overall air traffic control and co-ordination and maintains the three landing fields.

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New Zealand built and constructed three wind turbines a few years ago, to reduce the use of generators. The wind farm now provides 30% of the total energy to both McMurdo and Scott Base.

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McMurdo has the port where once a year an icebreaker will come in, followed by a fuel ship and a cargo ship. It costs around $2.50 a kg to ship gear to Antarctica and $16 a kg to fly it, so the port is a huge cost saving.

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You can see McMurdo here. It has around 1,100 people in summer and 90 in winter. Unlike Scott Base which has all major buildings joined up, McMurdo has no linkages. This means that if the weather hits condition one, staff may be stranded in the building they were  in. It also means you constantly need to change clothing to go to another building.

I much prefer the way Scott Base has been constructed.

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McMurdo looks a lot like an old mining town. There are huge piles of dirt, fuel tanks and timber yards everywhere.

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This is one of the most popular places in McMurdo – the second hand exchange shop. A huge amount of gear here that people donate when leaving for others to use. Some people even get their own gear back a few years later by chance!

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And of course they have lots of communications stations.

New Zealand would not be able to achieve a lot of what it does, without the relationship with the United States. Antarctica NZ works with the National Science Foundation’ US Antarctic Programme and the RNZAF works with US Air Force. But the relationship is deeper than institutional.

You often get staff transfer between different bases in Antarctica – some Scott Base staff have worked at McMurdo, the Australian base and the Italian base (they have the best coffee).

An example of the helpful nature of the US team is from one of the science teams I was at Scott Base with. Their GPS unit (cost around $250) wasn’t working, so McMurdo lent them a $30,000 GPS unit they had for their field work.

Science in Antarctica

January 22nd, 2016 at 3:47 pm by David Farrar

As fascinating as Scott Base is, and the old huts etc, the important stuff in Antarctica is the science. As the Antarctic Treaty basically turns the entire continent over to science, that is not surprising.

The plan was for me to go out into the field with one or two of the sciences teams so I could do first hand reports of what they do scattered around Antarctica. However the weather got in the way of this. This is not uncommon. Antarctica is a dangerous and wild continent, so it is more usual than not to have delays. Scientists may be planning for five weeks in the field, and only end up with three.

So my reporting on the science will be more second hand, than first hand, but I did get to chat to them all first hand.

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This is Gary Wilson out in the field. If Antarctica had a NZ Chief Scientist, Gary would be it. He has been to Antarctica 25 times and his first visit in 1988 was for his thesis mapping the glacial and lake deposits in the Miers Valley.

His current project is working on being able to more specifically define what temperature increases are critical to effecting change in Antarctica, its ice sheets, oceans, biota and links between Antarctic systems, southern ocean systems and further north.

Antarctica is of critical interest to scientists in terms of the climate for two reasons. The first is that it is a frozen time machine into the past. If you want to know what the world was like three million years ago, you drill down a few hundred metres and can establish what the temperature was, was the land under water, what was the level of certain gases in the atmosphere etc.

The second reason is that the extent of sea level rise due to rising temperatures will be massively affected by what is happening in Antarctica, especially the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Now regardless of your views on the causes of climate change, and how to respond to it, you should be very supportive of bettering our understanding of what is happening in Antarctica. If sea level rises are far less than projected then hundreds of billions of dollars may be spent inappropriately, but likewise is the sea level rises match or exceed what is projected, then the economic costs are huge, and more money needs to be spent on mitigation and adaptation.

So regardless of your views on the policy issues, the need for better scientific understanding is paramount.

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This is the AUT Antarctica drones teams. I was lucky enough to share field training with them, so got to hear lots about their project.

They’re going to three different sites (Taylor Valley, Botany Bay and Cape Evans) in the Antarctic (all specially protected areas) to fly drones to photograph the areas using both normal and infrared photography. And in case you think it sounds a fun jaunt, they’ll be camping out for two weeks in sub-zero temperatures not just having to operate their equipment, but also maintaining their camp. And as the areas they are in are protected, they need to have a minimal impact on the area.

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This is one of their drones. They’re not like the ones you can buy as toys, but have serious grunt so they can go up and photograph several square kms at a time.

The main purpose of the research is establish the past and cumulative effects of human impacts on these vulnerable ecosystems so that they can be better safeguarded in future. They’re also working on a crowd sourcing tool where staff and scientists in Antarctica can easily report areas they has seen of environmental concern.

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Photo: Len Gillman

This is a photo of some of them out last year in Antarctica.

Other projects include:

  • Richard Levy and Tim Naish (and team) are uncovering an ancient beach (now 300 metres above sea level) teeming with fossilised remains of sea life that lived when the waters around Antarctica were warmer, to learn more about how our coastal environment may change if temperatures rise.
  • Regina Eisert is studying Ross Sea killer whales to provide the scientific information needed to support the proposal for a Ross Sea Marine Protected Area. This includes information on whale abundance, diet, foraging habitat, and movements. As toothfish predators, killer whales are among the species most likely to be affected by fishing for toothfish, if the fishery reduces the availability of toothfish in areas where the whales feed.
  • Graeme Hill is  imaging the Mt Erebus magmatic system from source to surface to in investigate the role of geofluids in both volcanic and tectonics studies

The full list of the science projects in 2015/16 in Antarctica, supported by Antarctica NZ, is here.

While scientists obviously choose to come to Antarctica, it is worth remembering most of them spend relatively little time at Scott Base. They mainly are camped out around Antarctica in tents, cooking their own meals, running their experiments, and their only contact with the outside world is a radio which can communicate with Scott Base and McMurdo. It is I am sure an amazing experience, but not an easy one.

As I said, the plan was to be able to report first hand on some of the science, but the weather got in the way.

Discovery Hut

January 22nd, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

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This is Discovery Hut, the second oldest building on the continent. It was built by Robert Scott in 1901 and is on Ross Island, near McMurdo Base.

It was pre-fabricated in Sydney.

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The hut wasn’t very well designed. It was colder in the hut than in a tent, and so it got used more for storage than sleeping. Each subsequent hut learnt from the one before and got progressively better.

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The hut is under the care of the NZ Antarctic Heritage Trust who look after five historic huts. Some of their conservators spend all winter in darkness on the continent working at Scott Base, restoring and preserving the artifacts in the huts.

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Cookies!

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This is the view out one of the windows of Discovery Hut.

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As I said, almost as cold inside as out!

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You can see McMurdo from Discovery Hut plus the Polar Star icebreaker in port, having just cleared the way for the supplies and fuel ships to enter later this month.

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A memorial to George Vince who died in 1904. He may be the first person to have died in Antarctica. However there had been earlier deaths in the seas around Antarctica.

The Hillary Field Centre

January 21st, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The largest part of Scott Base is the Hillary Field Centre. It is where people are equipped to go out into the field, and also to be supported when they return if they need to work on their experiments immediately.

It is just over halfway through a major $6 million upgrade.

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This is the general lab area.

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These are the cages. Each group going out into the field gets a cage where all the gear they need to survive and do their science is stored. it can take several days to get everything organised. Some gear may be late getting in from Christchurch, and sometimes McMurdo will lend gear out also.

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They have scores of tents, including these polar tents.

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This is the drying room, where after you return the tents and sleeping bags etc get dried.

 

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One of the other labs.

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A useful guide on penguin behaviour.

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The boiler room.

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The food store is almost like a supermarket. But there is no quartermaster issuing you the food. Each group decides for itself what food they want to take, and take it. The training is for people to make good decisions themselves.

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This is the Scott Base webcam, which you can check out here.

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The important (for me) server room.

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And the computer lab.

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I mentioned that there was a major renovation on. Contractors are working throughout summer and winter to do a major expansion. It will make for far easier loading of gear, departures and logistics.

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More of the expansion work.

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This structure was a long way away from the other buildings. I asked why, and the reasons is it is where the explosives are stored. I then told a Dad joke “Knock knock … Who’s there … Basil …. Basil Who …. Basil Brush, Boom Boom.” – sadly some of the younger staffers did not know who Basil Brush was!

Arrival Heights Laboratory

January 21st, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Arrival Heights is around 2 km from McMurdo and it is an Antarctic Specially Protected Area as its height and horizon make it ideal as an area with minimal electromagnetic interference to do atmospheric studies.

There are no lights up at Arrival Heights. If driving up at night you must have your lights turned off, and use moonlight. If at night you need to go from one building to another, there is rope joining them up so you can navigate in the dark.

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NZ has an atmospheric research laboratory as Arrival Heights. It was built in 2007, but a previous one was there from 1959.

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Most of the experiments and monitoring being done there are for NIWA, and include the upper atmosphere, trace gas monitoring, geomagnetic studies and air quality surveys.

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This is the oldest running monitoring experiment. It has been going since the 1980s. You may note the computer is running DOS and the PC has a floppy disk drive!

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The roof of the labatory has multiple egresses to allow monitoring.

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This equipment was made in 1937 but still performs its function well – to monitor the ozone layer.

In case people wonder the value of such science, well it was the discovery of the hold in the ozone layer around Antarctica that led to the Montreal Protocol which phased out production of many substances that deplete the ozone layer. As a result the hole in the layer around Antarctica is recovering and it is projected to be back to “normal” by around 2050. The Montreal Protocol has been called the most single most successful international agreement to date.

A 2015 report by the U. S. EPA estimated that the protection of the ozone layer under the Montreal Protocol will prevent over 280 million cases of skin cancer and 1.5 million skin cancer deaths.

Many of the experiments are automated and need no human interaction. But some of them, including this one, require a technician to make selections and operate the equipment. Antarctica NZ has two technicians who operate the gear at Arrival Heights, year round.

The NZ Antarctic entities

January 20th, 2016 at 4:30 pm by David Farrar

There are three main organisations involved with Antarctica. They are:

On top of that you have involvement of other organisations such as the NZ Defence Force, MFAT, NIWA, most universities etc.

So what does each organisation do?

Antarctica New Zealand

Antarctica New Zealand is the government agency charged with carrying out New Zealand’s activities in Antarctica. They manage NZ’s presence in Antarctica, run Scott Base, support the world leading science and help protect the environment of Antarctica.

They have a seven member board appointed by the Foreign Affairs Minister.  They have 27 staff based in Christchurch and from 10 to 50 staff at Scott Base.

However many staff work in both Christchurch and Scott Base. You may be an HR manager most of the year in Christchurch but also spend two to three months at Scott Base helping with operations.

The Scott Base staff are in three teams – base services, engineering, and programme support. People can do multiple roles. For example the Winter Base Leader was also the domestic staffer (cleaner/chef’s assistant). She has a PhD but there isn’t much science over winter so she takes up the domestic role.

Their budget is $16 million a year of which most goes on operating costs such as $900,000 on flying within Antarctica, $680,000 on fuel, $435,000 on data/comms link and $202,000 on food.

New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute

NZARI is a charitable trust that partners with research agencies to support science in Antarctica, the Southern Ocean and the Sub-Antarctic.

Funding for NZARI is sought from organisations concerned with global scale connections to Antarctica and consequences of its changing environment.

There are multiple sources of funding for science projects in Antarctica – Marsden Fund, NIWA, universities, overseas Governments. None of them have a dedicated focus though on Antarctica, which is where NZARI comes in. Their aim is to:

  • Bring new money into the Antarctic Research sector
  • Help to grow the linked up research effort so that research teams can address more challenging scientific questions
  • Work in partnership with research organisations to facilitate the development of core scientific questions

Their Director is Gary Wilson who is the sort of head (in an informal sense) of the Antarctica scientific community. He’s been to Antarctica 25 times and a further 12 times to the Sub-antarctic.

They have an international science panel with members from the US, Australia, UK, South Korea, and Norway.

Their budget is $1.5 million a year plus they get support in kind of $1 million a year from Antarctica NZ. Major funders include the Aotearoa Foundation (set up by Julian Robertson) and Air New Zealand.

Antarctic Heritage Trust

The Antarctic Heritage Trust is also a registered charity. The trustees include the Ambassadors or High Commissioners from the US, Ireland and the UK.

They do an amazing job preserving and restoring five historic huts in Antarctica. These huts are not just reminders of the great age of exploration but they are also the first human habitations on the continent. And the only remaining first habitations on any of the continent. Until they were built there was nothing here.

The five huts they preserve and restore are:

  • Carsten Borchgrevink’s Hut, Cape Adare (the first building on Antarctica)
  • Robert Falcon Scott’s Hut, Hut Point
  • Ernest Shackleton’s Hut, Cape Royds
  • Robert Falcon Scott’s Hut, Cape Evans
  • Hillary’s Hut, Scott Base

They get funding from the NZ Government, but also from four museums, the Norwegian Government, Christchurch Airport and the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Their budget is around $3 million a year.

The care and skill that goes into preserving the old artifacts is amazing. Professionals have restored thousands and thousands of artifacts with huge skill.

Hillary’s Hut

January 20th, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Yesterday we got a tour around Hillary’s Hut. Due to asbestos it is closed for general use, but you can be guided through it.

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The hut is being preserved and restored by the NZ Antarctic Heritage Trust. They give the background:

In December 1956 HMNZS Endeavour left New Zealand for Antarctica to support both the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (TAE) 1955–1958 and the International Geophysical Year (IGY) 1957–1958 with a major programme of science.

Fresh from conquering Mount Everest in 1953, Edmund Hillary was enlisted to lead the New Zealand party that would lay supply depots from the Ross Sea towards the South Pole for the first trans-Antarctic crossing. Led by the then Dr Vivian Fuchs, the expedition planned to cross the continent from the Weddell Sea.

Pram Point, on the edge of the McMurdo ice shelf and four kilometres from the United States’ McMurdo Station, was chosen as the site for Scott Base. In January 1957 the team completed the buildings (six interconnecting units and three detached science buildings) that would form the antecedents of the modern-day Scott Base. A party of 23 men wintered over at the newly formed base.

This team basically founded Scott Base. Hillary of course also got fame for making it to the South Pole on a tractor. His job was to lay out depots for the British explorers. But after he had done that, and as he was only 80 miles from the South Pole, he decided to head on down there and beat them to it :-)

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I love the address.

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The main room in the hut.

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A very old beater.

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And even older phone.

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I like how they say “Today’s Guess” instead of “Today’s Forecast”. The weather here can be quite variable.

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This is the emergency exit in case of fire.

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And with the exit open. Would not be great fun crawling out through that!

NZ History has more details of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition.

Hillary was the first person since 1912 to reach the South Pole overland.

Scott Base

January 20th, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

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Scott Base is the home of the New Zealand presence in Antarctica. It is where everyone starts and ends their activities in Antarctica. It is where you get equipped to go into the field, and is home to the base staff who support the scientists.

However it is not where most NZers in Antarctica spend their time. Most science projects are not done from Scott Base. They are done throughout the continent. In fact the scientists get grumpy when they end up at Scott Base for too long, as their purpose in being here is not to live at Scott Base, but to do their work in the field.

So while Scott Base is a critical part of what New Zealand does in Antarctica, it is not an end in itself – more a means to an end.

But without Scott Base, none of the science could be supported.

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The atmosphere is very dry here so you need to drink constantly. Almost everyone walks around with their drink bottle and you are recommended to drink four litres a day of water. The bottle even helpfully tells you how to stay hydrated with sarcastic instructions about how you open the lid, pour water in, close the lid, drink the water and repeat four times :-)

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This is the kitchen and mess. Meal times are easy to remember – 6 am, 12 pm and 6 pm. The food here is great, and done by a very small team.

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This is my favourite place – the lounge. You see right out over the ice sheet from here and a beautifully serene place to just take in the views, chat or read.

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The biggest risk to Scott Base is fire. Most staff are trained firefighters – they spend a week being trained before they get deployed.

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Because of the dry atmosphere there is a lot of static electricity. They have these metal plates everywhere so you can ground yourself. If you touch a phone or computer or camera before grounding, you may break it.

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This has been my temporary office.

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They have a small room for movie watching and a pretty good DVD collection. I’ve not seen it used much in summer (rather go outside) but I imagine in winter gets a lot of use.

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Having a quiet drink in the bar. It’s a good area to socialise and unwind. As Antarctica is not part of any country, the drinks are quite inexpensive due to the lack of tax. However no one I’ve seen has had more than a few social drinks. You get up way too early in the morning for that. Plus there is a huge emphasis on health and safety. Over indulgence would not go down well with others.

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A small gym.

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And you can go mountain biking. There are also running trails and a small ski area. Important to keep fit down here.

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A good sense of humour as seen by various office notices.

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And also by this sign.

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This sign is not a joke. Some staff and scientists work night shifts, and sleep during the day. Being noisy inside the sleeping areas is a cardinal sin. They are for sleeping, not talking, and you even get taught to gently close the doors, rather than let them make noise shutting automatically.

A major part of Scott Base is the Hillary Field Centre which is halfway through a major renovation. I’ll cover that in a separate post.

Setting up our Antarctic Field Kitchen

January 19th, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

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It is a very very very bad idea to cook inside your tent, which means you are cooking outside on the snow.

In case you are rather stupid, the reason you do not cook inside your tent is two-fold. The first is you may burn it down with yourself inside it. The second is carbon monoxide poisoning.

So you need to construct a field kitchen. You use saws to cut out blocks, and then shovel them out.

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There’s three things you are doing. First you cut out one row of blocks to create rows to sit on. Then you cut out two rows of blocks next to that, so you can put your feet down there. and you create a wall with the blocks to help shelter from the wind.

It was snowing the entire time we were out there building the kitchen, and cooking.

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And the kitchen is complete.

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Out comes the cookers and food.

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And dehydrated meals have never tasted so good!

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As I said, it snowed a lot.

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This is the infamous P bottle.

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And the toilet is a bucket with two plastic bags inside it and a very cold lid.

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This is getting ready to boil water the next morning. The mat is to soak up any fuel, and you remove before cooking.

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And then the fun part of demolishing the field kitchen. I took the direct approach of running into the walls several times!

We then headed back to Scott Base around midday Monday.

Setting up our Antarctic Field Camp

January 19th, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Your first two days in Antarctica, if a newbie, are spent doing Antarctic Field Training. Basically you get taught how to operate out in the field. There is a huge emphasis on health and safety, but their approach is not not so much rules based as teaching people how to make good decisions. Once you are out in the field, you need to decide a lot of stuff on the spot.

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After an initial hour inside, you go out for a walk on the sea ice. There are hundreds of sea lions lazing about.

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You really do not want to fall into the water!

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On average we have two metres of ice over the Ross Sea, but less in some areas.

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Then we spend a few more hours inside learning how to use the cookers, selecting tents and gear and then outside into a Haglund.

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We travel around 5 kms away from Scott Base to set up camp.

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The first tent up (and was already there) is the toilet tent. Antarctica NZ is passionate about leaving minimal impact on the environment so all human waste is collected, including urine. You all have a pee bottle to use also.  There is no going behind the rocks.

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Time to start setting up the tents.

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First you smooth out the area you want to pitch the tent. Then you pitch the tent, and finally weigh it down by covering the sides with snow.

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This is the tent I was in. You have to basically crawl into the tent through a small tunnel, so there were lots of jokes about it being a birthing chamber :-)

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One of the other tents our groups had. The three media type people did field training with a group of four from AUT who are down to map sensitive areas of Antarctica using drones. I’ll cover their work in a later post.

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And finally we have the tents all set up.

The entire time it was snowing. Lightly at first, but then more heavily. 99% of the time the snow is dry (Antarctica generally is extremely dry) but that night it was wet snow, so by the end of the night (well it is never night but you know what I mean) we were a bit wet.

After the tents were done, we then had to make our field kitchen which I’ll blog about later also.

Landing in Antarctica

January 17th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

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The last 90 minutes of the flight gives you amazing views of Antarctica and the sheet ice. These photos are through a small window so don’t capture the actual panoramic view, but may give an idea.

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We landed dead on schedule, and the rear door opens up to give us our first view of Antarctica from the ground.

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We landed at Williams Field. It has two snow runways. On average eight metres of snow on top of 80 metres of ice, floating on the water.

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A Hercules on the ice.

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And a close up of the skis they land on.

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We then boarded the Terra Bus for a 20 minute trip to Scott Base.

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The front of Scott Base.

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And my home for the next few days. Not that I’ll be sleeping inside every night. For the next day and a half I’ll be out in the field doing training, so won’t be back on base until late Monday.

Flying to Antarctica

January 17th, 2016 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

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All packed for the flight. The green bag is carry on luggage. The black bag is all the Antarctica NZ gear. The suitcase is all my other clothes, and the boots you put on once ready to board.

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Headed over to the International Antarctic Centre.

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Got checked by the US Centre for Disease Control that I don’t have Ebola and then into the departure terminal.

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It seems Mike Moore actually got to open a building during his six weeks as Prime Minister!

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And got this far and then got told our flight had been cancelled due to very strong winds causing turbulence near the bottom of the South Island.

We had been warned this could happen, but it is unusual that it is bad weather conditions in NZ that stop a flight, as opposed to Antarctica.

So we trekked back to the hotel we had checked out of 30 minutes earlier and managed to get our rooms reissued to us for another night. Spent the day in Christchurch and then we tried again the next morning.

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Yes! Today we got to check in and went to the pre-departure lounge where you spend around 45 minutes watching videos. Very different to commercial flights. For example on a Hercules there are no oxygen masks – instead they have oxygen hats or helmets you put over your head.

There were 32 people flying today and the capacity for a Hercules is 30, so they said two people would be bumped to a later flight on the basis of their priority list. I was convinced a blogger would be bottom of the priority list, but didn’t get bumped so went through security screening and then onto the bus.

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The bus takes you from the terminal out to the tarmac.

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And time to board the Hercules. There are other planes that fly to Antarctica but at present the runway is a little slushy so the only planes that go there are the Hercules as they can land on skis.

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The other planes have actual seats. The Hercules is basically a cargo plane and they just make room for a few humans around the side. So it is an eight hour flight on webbing.

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The cargo is in the main body of the plane with you, at the rear.

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Got allowed up to the cockpit.  Great view from there but the glare means you need sunglasses.

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And this is the toilet. Not quite the same level of privacy as on a commercial plane!

The Hercules is very very noisy. You can’t have a conversation over the noise and you wear headphones or earplugs for the entire flight.

I’ll do a separate blog on the views coming in, and the landing.

Getting kitted out for Antarctica

January 17th, 2016 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

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They day before we fly out to Antarctica, we get kitted out by Antarctica New Zealand in Christchurch. It’s nice and warm in Scott Base (model of which is above) but outside it can range from a relatively pleasant 0°C to a less pleasant -57°C. And further afield it has been known to be as low as -90°C.

So Antarctica NZ make sure everyone travelling down has gear for all conditions.

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Their warehouse has a wide range of styles and colours, so long as they are orange!

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First to go on is the base layer. Thanks Icebreaker!

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Then the mid layer.

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Then the overalls.

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Then you out on the first jacket.

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Then a second jacket

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And finally a third jacket. And as we were in a well heated warehouse, you can imagine how hot I am at this stage!

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You also get two pairs of boots.

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And a headband, hat, balaclava and neck gaiter!

Plus of course three pairs of gloves and mittens.

I am now confident I can spend a long long time outdoors without being cold. If anything the danger is overheating.

Also you need to wear much of the gear for the flight down to Antarctica – you can’t just change into it once you land. This is in case you crash. So I’m expecting (I wrote this before I landed) a warm flight over!

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By chance there were some visiting huskies when I was in at the Antarctica Centre in Christchurch.

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I got to play with all seven of them. Such gorgeous dogs. I want one!

Then headed back to the airport hotel for dinner and the final sleep. Was glad to find the report in time on Friday had changed from 6 am to 8.30 am. Due to leave at 11 am and arrive at 7 pm. Will blog the flight separately.

Kiwiblog in Antarctica

January 16th, 2016 at 8:57 pm by David Farrar

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For the next week I will be blogging from Antarctica, having just arrived at Scott Base on a United States Air Force Hercules.

Technically it is night time here but of course there is no night – the sun doesn’t set for around three months. But we landed early evening.

I’m here, along with the NZ Herald’s Science reporter, to report on this amazing continent, what New Zealand does in Antarctica, the science projects done here and the work of Antarctica New Zealand. We successfully applied to come through their Community Engagement Programme which brings down media, artists and writers.

Words can not convey how excited I am to be here. It’s been a dream of mine for many years to come to Antarctica, and to actually be able to live at Scott Base, interview staff and scientists, and spend a week on this amazing continent is beyond amazing.

I thought I would start with a quote from one of the many books I have read about the continent. This is from Gabrielle Walker’s Antarctica – an intimate portrait of the world’s most mysterious continent.

Antarctica is like nowhere else on Earth. While there are other wild places or ones that seem extreme, this is the only continent in the world where people have never permanently lived. In the interior of the continent there is nothing to make a living from – no food, no shelter, no clothing, no fuel, no liquid water. Nothing but ice. …

There are no trees, or indeed plants of any kind; no land animals; nothing but glaciers, snowfields and sepia-toned rocks.

Expect lots of photos, and lots of stories as I explore Earth’s largest science laboratory.

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Costa Rica – Jaco

January 13th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

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This is the view from our room at the Club del Mar in Jaco.  Right next to the beach. We spent three nights there.

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Our room – very spacious.

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Sunset at Jaco.

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We did a half day trek through the jungle on horseback.

I’d never rode a horse  before, so was quite pleased that the horses were not large – less distance to fall to the ground in case I fell off!

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The trek was initially on road, but then most of the time through the jungle to a waterfall, where we bathed for half an hour (average temperature 30 degrees or so) before heading back.

Can highly recommend Costa Rica as a holiday destination. It’s like a tropical pacific island, but with heaps of activities and great biodiversity (largest per square km in the world) and rainforest. 30% of the country is in the conservation estate.

The company we used to arrange it was Vacations Costa Rica. Our travel consultant was Rachel Peck and she was great. We changed details six or seven times until we finalised it, and was never a problem. They arranged everything including private transfers between hotels, to and from the airport and all the accommodation and activities. Best of all they have a host meet you at the airport, before you clear immigration. Our host managed to get us through the empty diplomatic lane, avoiding a half hour or so queue!

Had been wanting to see Costa Rica for over a decade, and now I’ve been, I can’t wait to go back!

Costa Rica Rainforest

January 12th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Did a half to full day activity where we traveled to Sky Adventures Arenal Park where you can see rain forest, cloud forest and the Arenal volcano (very active up until 2010).

We did a three hour walk followed by a trip on their gondola. Both well worth doing.

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The gondola going up through the canopy.

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This was fascinating. It was a moth which got infected by a fungus. The fungus turns the moth into a zombie under its control and eventually kills it.

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A view from the top of the gondola.

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Going through the canopy.

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One of the many types of butterflies they have.

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This is a very small pit viper.

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One of the two waterfalls we saw. You can see the more adventurous types trying to climb it.

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Lots of these unusual trees around.

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Can’t recall the name of this bird but lovely colouring.

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A somewhat larger pit viper!

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This is a photo of a tarantula in its hole. Quite glad it didn’t come out to complaint about the light.

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Typical part of the path.

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A fairly huge stick insect.

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One of the dozen or so bridges we crossed on the walk. Amazing views from them.

Costa Rica – Arenal

January 11th, 2016 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

After the amusement parks in Los Angeles we headed to Costa Rica for a week. Spent three days in the Arenal region which has a volcano and rainforest. Stayed at the Royal Corin Hotel which was quite amazing, especially for the price.

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My mobile office in Arenal – our balcony.

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A view of the pools from our room.

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And a slightly wider view.
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The restaurant will bring you lunch to you poolside. Great food.

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This is Valentino, an iguana who hangs around the hotel. He’s around 40 cm long.

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They have three large pools, plus four jacuzzis and a couple of private pools for spa clients.

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A view of the gardens.

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Poolside shade.

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This was not at the hotel, but a few kms down the road. Around 20 to 25 crocodiles have set up home by a bridge. You really really do not want to dive off this bridge.

Disneyland

January 9th, 2016 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Spent New Years Eve at Disneyland. The good thing was they stay open until 2 am and have lots of fireworks. The bad thing is it is their busiest day of the year.

As we had to be up at 5 am to catch a flight, the plan was to leave around 9.30 pm after the first fireworks. But we kept wanting to do just one more ride and we finally left very happy but tired at 1.30 am.

Here’s how I rated the attractions we did:

  • Hyperspace Mountain 9.5/10
  • Star Tours 9/10
  • Indiana Jones Adventure 9/10
  • Splash Mountain 9/10 (did twice)
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad 8.5/10 (did twice)
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds 8.5/10 (did twice)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean 8/10
  • Haunted Mansion Holiday 7.5/10
  • Jingle Cruise 7/10
  • Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters 7/10
  • It’s a Small World 6.5/10
  • Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage 6.5/10
  • Disneyland Railroad 6.5/10
  • Casey Jr Circus Train 6/10
  • Peter Pan’s Flight 6/10

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This was the Jungle Cruise renamed the Jingle Cruise for the season.

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Enterting into It’s A Small World.

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Young padawans being trained up during lunch breaks

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This was one of the longer queues, around 30 minutes. Some of the top attraction had two to three hour queues but we used Fastpass for them, and then did less popular ones between. Also after 9 am the queues got a lot shorter and we managed to get on some popular rides such as Matterhorn bobsleds with only five minute queues!

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The enchanted castle.

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A scene from the Finding Nemo submarine.

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Getting ready for Hyperspace Mountain.

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A scene from It’s A Small World.

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And the dolls to represent NZ!

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After the fireworks at 9 pm everyone headed towards the middle of Disneyland – either to exit the park, or join the party there. This caused total gridlock – moving say a metre per second. If you are ever there on NYE, do not go towards the centre in the evening – use the more remote paths.

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Peter Pan’s Flying adventure.

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Some toys we purchased. Sadly not for me, but certain little girls.

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One of the real highlights was Fantasmic. I thought it would be like World of Colour, and all done with fountains and lights. But this one had actors and props galore. It is a battle between good and bad in Mickey’s dreams and was superbly done.

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Captain Hook’s boat turns up.

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As done Mark Twain’s!

Despite the crowds was a great day at Disneyland. We spent almost 18 hours there!

Some general advice for others going:

  • Get there early and stay late
  • Get fast passes as soon as they are available for you again
  • Book your lunch and dinner venues well in advance unless you want to do burgers
  • Make sure you see the shows as well as do the rides

Disney California Adventure Park

January 8th, 2016 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Spent the 30th of December at Disney California Adventure Park, and another fun day.

They don’t have a front of pass ticket, but they do have a system where you can acquire a fast pass ticket for a popular ride every two hours. These are critical to having a good day and so the moment you can get a new fast pass, you should.

Here’s how I rated the attractions we did:

  • Radiator Springs Racers 9.5/10 (the most popular attraction by far)
  • Aladdin – 9.5/10 (hilarious, the genie is a star)
  • California Screaming 9/10 (literally screaming)
  • Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 9/10 (think of an elevator that drops several floors at a time)
  • World of Color – 9/10 (incredible light show)
  • Soaring Over California 8.5/10
  • Grizzly River Run 8/10
  • Monsters Inc 7.5/10
  • Toy Story Midway Mania 7/10
  • Silly Symphony Swings 6.5/10
  • Goofy Sky School 6/10
  • The Little Mermaid – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure 5.5/10

Not a lot of photos here as hard to take then while doing the attraction!

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The big ferris wheel.

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This is the most fun (in a terrifying sense) ride – California Screaming. You do drops, a loop and lots of twists. And people do spend most of the ride screaming!

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The World of Colour show in the evening is quite fantastic. All done with lights and 1,200 fountains.

Universal Studios Hollywood

January 7th, 2016 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

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Spent the 29th of December at Universal Studios Hollywood, and no surprise had a great day. Some great rides, fascinating history and fun shows.

For those who have not been, but may one day, my strong advice is buy a Front of Line pass. For the extra $50 or so you’ll easily get to do every attraction and with five minute queues instead of one hour ones.

Here’s how I rated the attractions:

  • Transformers The Ride 3D – 10/10
  • Studio Tour – 9/10
  • King Kong 360 3D – 9/10
  • Revenge of the Mummy – 9/10
  • Simpsons Ride – 8.5/10
  • Shrek 4D – 8/10
  • Despicable Me Minion Mayhem – 8/10
  • Fast & Furious – 8/10
  • Jurassic Park – 7.5/10
  • Waterworld – 7/10
  • Animal Actors – 6.5/10
  • Special Effects – 5.5/10

The Transformers Ride was amazing. The moment we did it with Front of Pass, we queued up to do it again.

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You can also go down the CityWalk, which is free, next to the park. Lots of great restaurants including Bubba Gump and Hard Rock Cafe.

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Lots of very bad food.

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This was quite cool. Basically you fly with a huge fan propelling you up.

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These signs are up everywhere. Even the toilets warn you they have chemicals that can kill you. Public Health bureaucracy gone crazy,

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This was the set for Animal Actors. The falcons were a highlight. The dogs very cute.

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The star though was an owl from Harry Potter.

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Who remembers Kit?

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And the Flintstones of course. They had several dozen cars on the studio tour.

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They produced their own flash flood for you as you drove by.

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And this is the remains of an actual plane that they have as wreckage. Whenever there is a plane crash, they’ll use this site. The entire studio site was huge – scores and scores of studios ncluding Wysteria Lane.

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In April they open their Harry Potter ride, and you can see Hogwarts already built on the hill.

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A scene from Waterworld.

As I said, it was a really good day. Doesn’t get as crowded as Disney and the rides have cool themes to them – they basically tell a story.  Definitely will visit again the next time I am in LA, or in Orlando.

A year of criticism

December 24th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

As I have done in previous years, I’ve compiled some of my blog posts where I have criticised, attacked or disagreed with the Government. I am a supporter, but not an uncritical one. When I agree with them, I say so. When I don’t, I say so. This seems difficult for some people to comprehend.

  • 24 September 2014 – criticised the hint by the PM David Seymour would be made a Minister immediately.
  • 30 September 2014 – criticised the PM for his comments on the currency
  • 4 October 2014 – agreed with Sam Morgan’s comments criticising the Govt’s R&D policy
  • 10 October 2014 – attack Steven Joyce’s announcement of funding a golf tournament
  • 12 October 2014 – support a NZTU report attacking the Govt’s corporate welfare spending
  • 14 October 2014 – call on Govt not to rush the anti-terror laws
  • 16 October 2014 – critical that the PMO did not communicate with Judith Collins over her title
  • 31 October 2014 – disagree with Govt ruling out congestion charges or tolls for Auckland
  • 4 November 2014 – said Kim Dotcom should not be deported for not declaring his speeding conviction
  • 12 November 2014 – I call allowing Phillip Smith to escape a clusterf**k and criticise Key’s joke
  • 22 November 2014 – I call on the Govt to cease funding Team NZ
  • 24 November 2014 – I say the case has not been made by the Govt for the emergency surveillance provisions of the Govt’s Foreign Fighters Bill
  • 27 November 2014 – I propose Labour MP David Shearer me made MFAT Chief Executive
  • 27 November 2014 – I oppose the surveillance provisions of the Govt’s Foreign Fighters Bill, in a submission
  • 16 December 2014 – I criticise the Govt for not reining in spending more, as a surplus looks unlikely
  • 23 December 2014 – I call on Govt to walk away from Sky City deal, rather than give taxpayer dollars
  • 7 February 2015 – I disagree with the Govt that the EQC model is working, and call for reform
  • 10 February 2015 – I disagree with the PM on Sky City
  • 11 February 2015 – I promote a petition against the Govt giving money to Sky City
  • 17 February 2015 – I support the Greens on banning animal testing for cosmetics
  • 19 February 2015 – I support a Labour call for an inquiry into petrol margins
  • 2 March 2015 -I criticise the PM’s announcement that changes to MPs pay will be made under urgency
  • 3 March 2015 – I highlight a massive blow out in IRD computer costs
  • 6 March 2015 – I slam a Customs proposal for them to have the power to demand passwords
  • 10 March 2015 – I again criticise the PM for commenting on RB interest rate decisions
  • 10 March 2015 – I reveal that the Govt’s law change to reduce MP pay rises, would have in the past seen them get bigger pay rises
  • 10 March 2015 – I call on the Govt to release BCRs for their proposed Northland bridges
  • 11 March 2015 – I dig at the Govt over their $30 million subsidy to Rio Tinto
  • 19 March 2015 – I criticise the Govt’s proposal to not have full Ecan elections in 2016
  • 23 March 2015 – I again attack the proposal for Customs to be able to demand passwords
  • 25 March 2015 – I criticise the HDC Bill
  • 29 March 2015 – I critically analyse why National lost Northland
  • 20 April 2015 – I attack Nathan Guy’s announcement of an industry dominated group to review overseas betting
  • 22 April 2015 – I’m the first commentator to label the PM’s actions with hair pulling inappropriate and he should apologise
  • 24 April 2015 – I again criticise the Govt over their $30 million subsidy to Rio Tinto
  • 6 May 2015 – I criticise the high proportion of Whanau Ora spent on administration
  • 8 May 2015 – I criticise the Government for warning backbench MPs off attending Falun Gong events
  • 21 May 2015 – I say I can’t support the Budget as there is too much extra spending
  • 7 June 2015 – I praise the performance of Lianne Dalziel
  • 8 June 2015 – I call the Saudi farm deal a form of corporate welfare
  • 9 July 2015 – I say the Government should have full elections for ECan in 2016
  • 15 July 2015 – I slam the attempt by Customs to gain powers to require passwords to devices on travellers
  • 17 August 2015 – I criticise the Government’s Chidl Protection Bill for requiring registered offenders to hand over passwords for the Internet accounts
  • 18 September 2015 – I say the Government should not change the law to stop it having repay underpayments to beneficiaries
  • 24 September 2015 – I oppose the Government saying it will contribute towards pandas
  • 13 October 2015 – I call on the Government to support a bill by Green MP Gareth Hughes
  • 15 October 2015 – I support Labour’s bill to include Under-Secretaries in the OIA
  • 9 November 2015 – I support Phil Twyford’s policy on funding new home infrastructure
  • 26 November 2015 – I slam the Government decision on iPredict as “nuts”
  • 16 December 2015 – I criticise the Government’s excessive use of urgency and bypassing select committees this year