All Aboard!!


When I was growing up, we’d look out our dining room window and see the smoke from the steam engine on the railway line out to the Oamaru stone quarry at Weston. Once, earlier, this line ran all the way out to the coal mine at Ngapara. Sadly most of New Zealand secondary railway network is long defunct with the rails ripped up and recycles for their steel. Some of the routes are still accessible as cycle-ways – which is cool – but few of the actual lines still exist.

One exception to the rip it up model is the line that runs from Taumarunui on the Central Plateau to Stratford on the Taranaki Plain. Withdrawn from railway service in the late 90s due to the high number of derailments, it somehow escaped being stripped for its steel. Now, once again, you can ride those rails…


Based in Taumarunui (opposite the New World), Forgotten World Adventures has taken a  30 year lease on the line, and runs daily trips between Okahukura and Stratford and points in between…


The journey starts with a short (10 minute) bus ride from the Forgotten World base to the rail head at Okahukura. It would be nice to be able to start the ride from Taumarunui itself – the rail yard is only a few hundred metres from the office – but in addition to obvious issues sharing the main trunk line with the ‘big kids’ the railway bridge that connected the side line to the main trunk was removed a couple of year ago to make more room for over-height loads on State Highway 4.


Every rail journey starts with tickets…these ones are big and flash and great souvenirs…we only did the first leg to Matiere but the full day “21 tunnel” runs through to (the former Republic of) Whangamomona…and with the ticket cones the safety brief…

The carts operate under the normal Land Transport rules…imagine them as little cars…so…

No alcohol.

Seat belts are mandatory as are car seats for small children.

Don’t dismount the cart unless your guide has OK’d it: there’s not much clearance off the side of the track in many places and there are loads of bridges, drains and trenches alongside the tracks.

Maintain a 3-4 cart space between carts – while steering is not negotiable, you do control the speed and the brakes and it’s uncool to rear-end the cart in front.

Attach bags and cameras and the like to you or the cart: if it goes over the side it’s most likely not going to be recoverable.


The day wasn’t that tidy but this is a great activity for those less than stellar days…the valleys are narrow enough that even quite low cloud doesn’t really obstruct the views. The carts are open but even on a quite wet day like this, we didn’t need to drop down the plastic sides. Each cart has blankets but again, even on this damp day we’d weren’t tempted…the speed of the cart isn’t enough to generate a cold draft…


There are five tunnels on this leg: most short like this one but the longest is a mile-long S under a hill: very dark inside!!! And a testament to the land navigation skills of the builders who had no GPS, lasers or even decent maps _just an excellent sense of where they were and where they were going…


90 minutes brought us to Matiere and lunch…


…in the community hall…


…with strong links to its past…


Couldn’t fault lunch at all!! Hot soup, fresh bread buns, home-baked fruit slice and caramel crunch and juicy fresh mandarins with tea and coffee for those who wish….


Meantime, the the ground crew is busy outside: very ingenious and so well-balanced that one person can turn the carts…


And then we were homeward bound…funny, after lunch we didn’t seem to be going as fast…dscf0572



…the occasional curiosity…dscf0621

…sometimes almost like trundling through someone’s garden…dscf0632

Carts range from two seats to six but next time we’ll be in for a pedal:


Much appreciated to the team at Forgotten World Adventures for hosting us and providing a great day of travel, entertainment and fine food…

Forgotten World Facebook                               Forgotten World TripAdvisor

Mirror | The Daily Post

This week’s challenge is all about reflections. Show us a mirror. You can take this photo challenge literally, and find reflections in mirrors, or in the stillness of a natural body of water. Or, use this challenge to take a photo of yourself in the mirror. Self-documentation is important, especially for those of us who are usually behind the lens.

Source: Mirror | The Daily Post

Purakanui 037

Purakanui Inlet, on the coast (obviously), just north of Dunedin on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island.

dogs 028

Lulu loves the wind in her face…we finally got her to accept that it was a better idea to keep her feet inside the car. She’s an old dog now, but still loves going for a drive..she’s not quite up to getting up on the deck on her own now so we have a little loading ramp in the garden for her to board and debus…


The prototype Fisher XP-75 in the old experimental hangar at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio…a memento of a brief era when a highly-polished surface equalled a few more miles per hour in maximum speed…


I have no idea what this building is but it is opposite the Thon Hotel in Brussels. I always preferred to stay in town when working in Brussels: yes, it was a 30 minute bus ride to work each morning but the evenings, we explored all the eateries, bars and alleyways around the Borse…

If we were having coffee

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you how great it has been having Mum and Dad come to visit for the last week…we even got some halfway decent weather…



Leaving on the Northern Explorer, heading south…


Louie found a new walking buddy


A quiet spot in the sun


Can’t keep some people out of the garden


Dad discovers the media centre remote…

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you how great it has been having people to cook for the last week. Breakfast and lunch are pretty much self-help here but our dinner menu was pretty on to it:

Day One: Roast Baby Armadillo on a potato, kumara, parsnip mash. This is quick and easy. I only made half the recipe but added the full cup of milk to the bread which made it a bit gooey. I fixed this with a half cup of almond coconut meal (left over from almond coconut milk) which a. worked to soak up the extra milk and b. added an interesting flavour and texture twist to the meat loaf.

Day Two: South African Curry with brown rice. This can be made with meat or not but I had 500 grams of mice left over from the baby armadillo and, due to my currently congested fridge space, this was a good way of consuming it.

Day Three: Fruit Salad Curry with brown rice.

Day FourChicken and Potato Chowder. My plan was to have this with homemade bread but I got a bit careless and put into too much water. The result was a bread with a heart so hard it burst out of the when I tipped up the breadmaker bowl.

Day Five: Beets and Goat Feta on Black Rice. This was the first time I’ve made this with raw beets. These worked as well as if not better than the precooked one I snagged form the supermarket last time by accident.I did go over on the olive oil and had to up the honey and balsamic to compensate…it all worke don the day though..

Day Six: Curry Kumara Hash Browns with Salmon and a neat salad. These hash browns are really nice but I’ve never been able to find a decent side to go with them. In the past I have relied on a dodgy rocket salad but I’m not really a big rocket person. Last night I tried a bit of an experimental salad and sauce that worked really – both of them…more to follow on that soon…

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you how impressed I was when the train arrived 15 minutes early on Friday…but then it was almost 15 minutes late this afternoon – life balances out but the lesson is to wait in the cafe with your coffee and the crispy fire until it actually pulls up…

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you I’m humbled to have gained a seat on the National Park Community Board. Elections aren’t until October but the position wasn’t contested so it’s done and dusted. I’ve probably just signed myself for even more work but I’ve got some catching up to do getting into this community. I’ve lived up here since 2004 but it’s only been since I started to work in the Park that I’ve started to get involved…yes, I do miss the Defence travel sometimes but it doesn’t outweigh coming home each night…

If we were having coffee, I’d be telling you how excited I am to be getting into some new ventures in the Park…

Burn | The Daily Post

Write a new post in response to today’s one-word prompt: burn.

Source: Burn | The Daily Post

When they refurbished our woodburner, they took out the damper in the flue and opened up the air vent at the base of the fire box.

The net effect of this was that there was more air coming into the combustion chamber, more than the flue could handle once it was heated, especially a good burn with really dry wood.

So what would happen was that the heated air would go about half way up the flue – it is about 6 metres in length – before it created a vacuum behind it and came rocketing back down the flue. On occasion we would have jets of flame a metre long blasting out the air vent! Not only did we have to put up with a smoky home but the point in the flue where the hot air reversed flow would build up and block with soot…

The solution after trying everything else was to stop the air vent, opening by about a quarter inch so that the air coming in was proportionate to that amount that could go up the flue…

Disaster | The Daily Post

Write a new post in response to today’s one-word prompt.

Source: Disaster | The Daily Post

…sometimes the measure of success is how well you respond…

That was my parting shot in The magnificent seven ride again…, the tale of a 2011 pub crawl against a backdrop of NATO’s Libyan ‘intervention’ and the  lone wolf terrorist attacks by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway in July 2011.

Mt Tongariro Summit Back Route April 2016-013.JPG

Five years later, those are still true words although I see response from a different perspective now…once, response was force projection, rapid deployment, targeting; now response is something we manage every day…

Today’s prompt is disaster…the biggest disaster to hit this region in the last 2000 years was the Taupo eruption around 182-300AD, depending on whose book you read. Of course, if disaster strikes and there is no one there to suffer from it, is it really a disaster or just a large scale natural event..? I mean, we’re talking seriously large scale here: the biggest explosion that the world has experienced in the last two, possibly more, millenia.

When we talk eruptions here, it is always in the context of when, not if: we know that the three volcanoes – Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe and Tongariro – will erupt again. The iffy bits are when exactly and how much…questions that can only be answered after the fact. Predicting eruptions is much like predicting earthquakes: often we can see a shift from what’s considered normal, maybe an increase (or decrease) in gas emissions, a cooling (or warming) of a crater lake, more (or less) volcanic tremors: but what it means is very difficult to determine.

Because prediction is problematic, a lot of resource goes into response. The timelines are pretty tight. A lahar (big volcanic mudslidey thing) coming down the western side of Ruapehu will hit Whakapapa ski field in about 90 seconds…that’s not enough time to check your phone  for directions, call a friend or update your Facebook page about the big black shadow coming down the mountain…part of the disaster response on the ski field is to ensure that people know what to do beforehand…

Further down the the hill, residents of Whakapapa Village have a whole twenty minutes to evacuate everyone from the danger area along the Whakapapanui Stream, essentially the Holiday Park and the housing area across State Highway 48 from the Chateau. Twenty minutes doesn’t sound like much time but after a fortuitous (probably didn’t seem like it at the time) series of false alarms in 2015, Whakapapa residents know they can do this at nine at night, in winter, after dinner and maybe a few beers.


There may be no warning. An eruption may occur on a beautiful blue sky day, or in the middle of a black, freezing, sleeting, icy night. Luck ran twice when the Te Maare craters erupted in August 2012. Lucky once because an eruption at 11-30PM meant there were no walkers on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing as rocks hammered down onto the track. The biggest of these weighed three tonnes, enough to hurt if it landed on your toes. Lucky twice because, even though it was night, the bunk room at Ketetahi Hut was unoccupied as a rock slammed through the roof.

It’s been many years since we have had a disaster in Ruapehu – some tragedies, yes – but the last real disaster in terms of loss of life and damage was probably Tangiwai in 1953. Once of the reasons that we haven’t had any real disasters since then is our ability to respond. The March 2007 lahar had potential – it was certainly much larger – to be as deadly as its 1953 predecessor : that potential was mitigated, some might say neutered, by a effective well-planned, well-practised response. In fact, between exercises and false alarms, the disaster response was so well-practised that when the main event event occurred, it all seemed a bit boring…

So, when  you visit our maunga, take a moment to read the signs and be aware of what’s happening, what might happen around you…if you’re here for your fifteen minutes of fame, don’t let it be in 5000 years when some alien archaeologist chips you out of the remnants of the great Whakapapa Lahar…

Brick | The Daily Post

Write a new post in response to today’s one-word prompt.

Source: Brick | The Daily Post

These one word daily prompts still strike me as quite lazy: possibly that is why I so often have a similarly motivationally deficient response in reverting to imagery for my post…

DSCF0139 Paving bricks that we pulled up from a pathway bordering the house to make way for a deck from the new (in 2007) bifold doors…the deck still isn’t in but the stacking bricks are becoming  a feature in their own right…DSCF0140

A build brick recovered from somewhere – we often still find things that were tossed off the old highway that is now our driveway – now home to a new strawberry plant, under a blanket of maple leaves…DSCF0141 Bricks in the workshop add weight to a laminating sandwich…

Beets, feta and rice

Write a new post in response to today’s one-word prompt.

Source: Dream | The Daily Post

This is one of those kitchen experiences where everything just came together perfectly…a dream to prepare and more so to consume…

The foundation was another of Jen Rice’s cracker recipes, Roasted Beets With Goat Cheese And Honey…if you have any interest at all in spicing up your kitchen and your diet, you really must check out Jen’s site Sugar Soil: it’s chock full of great ideas and cues to try different ingredients. Living in rural New Zealand, our local shops don’t have the same range of more exotic items as larger centres: at the moment, I’m making regular purchases from Happy and Healthy for things like root tumeric, agar, black rice and bulk almonds and chia seeds.

Anyway…as I’ve discussed on a couple of occasions previously, my green journey is driven by a desire to eat and be more healthy and less by any philosophical issues – although the Hot Doc’s insights into what gets pumped into commercial chicken and cattle gives me pause – so I’ve not gone entirely vegetarian or diary-free, just adjusted my habits for more healthy outcomes…which is why I’m quite comfortable with the dairy content of this particular dish…

As you can see, it is quite simple to prepare but I did make some minor changes:

I thought that I was buying baby beets at the supermarket: I was but it was only when I opened the packets to actually use them that I realised that they were precooked. I should have and will in future just buy normal beetroot.

Jen’s cooking time for this is up to four hours in the oven – I don’t get home from work til around 6 and there is no way that I will be waiting til after 10PM for dinner. My cunning plan was to just toss it all in the slow cooker while I was at work. This sounded like a good plan until I found that the beets were precooked.

I wanted a rice base to bulk it out as a meal – as writ in the original recipe it is more a snack or an entree than a meal in its own right – so set up a cup of black rice to pre-soak through the day so that the only cooking and delay in the evening would be cooking the rice.

I couldn’t find any goat feta locally so opted for the stuff from cows…I think I’ll survive.

I used black sea salt instead of normal salt – I bought some of this just to try but then found I had run out of normal salt any way so it is going into anything calling for salt.

I warmed the honey so it would mix better with the balsamic and spread over the beets.

I was worried that the precooked beets would just turn into mush after a day in the slow cooker. I needn’t have worried as they were still nice and firm when I nervously lifted the lid off that evening.

From there it was just a matter of flicking the rice cooker to ‘cook’ and dicing up a third of the feta…and then racing up to the National Park Village just before it closed to get the Greek yogurt that I had forgotten on my way home – they had none so I had to settle for natural yogurt: not a biggie for this non yogurt connoisseur. They only had a mega container though so will be applying yogurt to the next week or so of meals just to burn it up…


Yes, my plating still needs work but OM-bloody-G!!! Did this taste good or what??? The best meal I have eaten in a long time – if I do say so myself – even better than the coriander tacos from Eat in Ohakune or my meal at Kokako the last time I was in Auckland and I COOKED IT!!!!

The challenge now is to be able to recreate this success next time. yes, it is possible that the sugars in the beets and the honey contributed to some extent to my sky-rocket level of satisfaction and enjoyment but then my serving also filled me up…

Whether by accident, chance or skill (most likely one of the first two!), this meal offers a great combination of texture and flavour:

The soft smooth beet, yoghurt and cheese is offset by the texture of the black rice.

The sweetness of the beets and rice is balanced by the more tart cheese and yoghurt.

Even the colours work well with the dark red of the beets and the black of the rice contrasted nicely by the lighter cheese and yoghurt.

There’s not really anything that I would change about my ingredients or preparation of this dish – if it ain’t broke… – other than use raw beets next time and see if I can find some Greek yoghurt…This was the first time that I had used the black sea salt and the black rice but both performed well: many recipes mention the need to soak the black rice overnight but it came out well after soaking through the day and also came out of the rice cooker, even after presoaking, better and cleaner than normal white rice…

15 out of 10 on the yummilicious scale!!!!

My Green Journey so far…the next bit…

I must have made more progress than I thought as I need to flow over into a new post…my previous post talked about the results of reducing caffeine and dairy from my diet…

Smoothing out the rough edges

DSCF9624I usually drink 2-3 smoothies a day now, almost certainly two, and three perhaps if it has been a long day…I’m learning what makes a good smoothie and how to keep it affordable. Part of affordability is keeping on top of what fruit and veges are in season and steering away from more expensive out of season items. Coconut water is less bland than the plain rainwater that comes out of our taps but @$5/litre kinda pricey so it’ll become an occassional. Rather than using storebought juice (if it is really juice!), I’m going back to making my own from whatever fruit and veges are cheap…it’s only a week or so before the ‘Kune Eclair shop re-opens with its cheapest bags of carrots and parsnips, heralding a mega juicing and freezing effort…

kune ecalir shop

Being clever with meat

I’d already been reducing my meat intake over the last couple of years, a step partially driven by simple economics: it doesn’t take too much in the way of smarts to be able to stretch half a kg of mince from 1-2 meals to 4-5 without feeling that something’s missing…

Lighten up

I used to rely heavily on potato in my old diet, mainly mashed or fried, i.e. chips but now that all feels just way too heavy…Living rurally, I tend to buy a lot in bulk and so this year I have slowly consuming those stocks down to zero and either not replacing them or substituting a healthier alternative.

A lot of the time now, rice is the new spud and the Irish in me is comfortable with that. The chips, potato, fried, chunky that used to be a staple of my diet are now an occasional treat, usually with fish…


It does mean, however, that I will need to experiment with some new roles for the air fryer beyond healthy(er) means of making chips…

Turn to the dark side

As much as possible I am moving away from processed food and ingredients, getting as close to the raw material as possible…I’m not sure whether “if it’s white, it’s bad” is a solid rule (maybe just not as good), but white food like bread, sugar, flour, salt has generally been uber-processed….is the white just what’s left after all the good stuff is taken out?

For the most part, a healthier alternative is easily sourced and at not much additional cost, if any…

Yes, I do still mainly buy white flour, but offset this by adding bran flakes when I’m baking…summa-summa for baking bread;

Raw sugar instead of white sugar (+ banana is often a good sub-in),

Sea salt instead of common kitchen salt,

Brown or black rice instead of white rice: if you use white rice, rinse it first: all the sediment that comes off after the first rinse may be a good argument in favour of darker rices…

Spice up your life

A little spice goes a long way…spices and herbs make for tasty meals without the need for sugar to taste…it is now so easy to use spices and herbs to spice up what might otherwise be quite mundane…adding a chunk of ginger totally vitalised my juices last winter…and jalapeño in bread adds a whole new dimension of flavour…




A study in growth…

On Thursday, I conducted an unintentional but educational experiment.


In the interests of science

Mid-afternoon, I decided to drive to Taupo to do some shopping.

Having skipped lunch – not intentionally, I was just doing stuff and not feeling particularly hungry to that point – I stopped at the Turangi BK for a Big Feed; Whopper, fries, nuggets, caramel sundae and big Coke. I must admit I did hesitate slightly when the TV screen asked me “Coke for the drink?” – I would have opted out if I could have remembered what else BK had to offer but went with the flow, which is probably the whole idea of such a leading question. Later thought: I could have asked what other options they had to offer…

For old me, stopping for lunch at the Turangi BK was pretty much a habit on my way to points further…new healthy me had a brief think about the options – there aren’t many in Turangi and less when you’re hungry NOW and in a hurry (to get to Taupo before 5) – but habit won out..

Shopping in Taupo completed, once again habit took the helm and I found myself in the drive-in queue at the Taupo KFC – in the full knowledge that every time I have KFC, it reminds me why I don’t have KFC…a three piece quarter pack and a Big Snack burger…all that grease suppressed healthy conscience’s pricking as I drove back west…

Two things I noticed.

Firstly, how absolutely sweet both the BK and KFC offerings tasted to Way Less Sugar Me…coming up to six months along my green journey and this cynic is pretty much sold on the notion that there is a direct connection between sugar/sweetness in food and food craving…

Secondly, by the time I got home – 90 minutes max and that includes stopping at the Turangi New World and stocking up – on healthy food, I might add: baby beets, pineapples ($2.99 each!!!), pumpkin, kumara, ginger (yes, it’s time for that ripper soup again) and more, more, more bananas…Depending on my smoothie mix for the day and less any consumed in cooking, I’m averaging three bananas downrange each day now…Oh! And, almonds, in quantity as well: after the reading the label on my store-bought almond milk  – all the words to big to pronounce in a hurry  – I am somewhat motivated to try my hand at making my own…


Compensatory healthy stuff

Oh, I distract myself…hey, look, groceries..! do I need to get out more, I wonder..? So anyway, secondly, by the time I got home, my belt was distinctly tight and uncomfortable and I had this craving for sweet, sweet, sweet stuff. Now, when I stick to my healthy options, I can and do consume a lot but never, never, since I started this journey have I felt so bloated, yuk and uncomfortable as then…lesson identified…time will tell about it level of learnedness…

Inspiring Max liked my post Earth  this evening so, as I try to do, I checked out Max’s blog, it’s a tit for tat, you scratch my back bloggie thing for me…in  Coffee Catchup #6, Max asked readersIf we were having coffee I would ask you what you have been up to this last week, let me know in the comments.” Since the question had been posed, I did…and this discovery popped out as I burbled out my week in response…then I thought (it happens sometimes) “…well, if this is profound enough to contribute to someone else’s blog, it’s good enough for me as well…”

So here I am, at 8-30 in the PM, writing a post, after my first day back at work after three weeks off – and it went very well, thank you very much – when I should have dinner well under way…which is how I get to skip meals and then conducting unintentioned experiments like that above…still, dinner tonight will be quite simple: a reheat of the korma I made last night where I learned how much tastier food is when cooked in coconut oil than vegetable oils like Canola…

OK, now it’s time for food and a rewatch of Spectre, surely one of the better Bonds in the last five decades…?

spectre 007

A day in the Desert

DSCF0024-001Zone 1 of the Waiouru Military Training Area is one place that I never thought I would find myself again…

Zone 1 is one of about three dozen zones that the New Zealand Army’s main training area is divided into; it extends from State Highway 1 to the eastern slopes of Mt Ruapehu and provides an open country manoeuvre and live firing area for Army units. It has been used for live firing since the early 20th Century, in the days before unexploded munitions were tracked and recorded and thus remains an area closed to the public – unless escorted by Army staff.


Hazards…if you don’t know, don’t touch it…these are each the size of a can of baked beans…do you know what they are..?


…possibly safe…but what lies beneath…


…shiny…don’t touch…

One of its claims to fame is that it starred as Mordor in many scenes from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, mainly Return of the King, including the physical Black Gates at the entrance to Mordor and the final battles that concluded the saga. Mt Ngauruhoe lies physically in about the same relation to Zone 1 as Mt Doom did in relation to the Gates.

Today I was fortunate to have been invited to attend a seminar to discuss the volcanic dunes in the Rangipo Desert, with a series of research-based presentations followed by a field trip into Zone 1 to view the dune environment directly. Our group was admirably hosted by the Army – very good to renew my acquaintance with Major Pat Hibbs who I’ve known since my days as a very young soldier in 2/1 RNZIR –  firstly at the National Army Museum, and then our escort as we forayed into the desert.

The four presentations at the Museum set the scene for our diverse group and provided a valuable opportunity to either clarify or raise any questions before we set out:

Graeme La Cock – a synthesis of information on the volcanic dunes of the Rangipo Dunefield

Harry Keys – disturbance role of lahars and eruptions, Japanese research interest generally and revegetation issues, including the disturbed area near SH1 and the bund.

Mark Smale – The age, vegetation and formation of the volcanic dunes

Angelina Smith – The impact of vehicles on the Rangipo Desert, and suggestions to mitigate these impacts.

What did I learn…

Lots…first to remember a pen and paper next time to write it all down…I’ve deliberately left out all the scientific terms because my memory just wasn’t up to remembering it all but I may rewrite this if the morning’s presentations are shared and OK’d for release.

Many agencies cooperate and share research on the dune fields. These include the Department of Conservation, NZ Army, Landcare Research, The University of Waikato and Massey University. In addition, overseas researchers also conduct and share studies on the volcanic dune fields.

Volcanic dune fields are very rare, existing only in Iceland, Peru, the coast of California, Indonesia and New Zealand. Although there are other inland dune fields in New Zealand, the only volcanic dune field is at Rangipo.

The Rangipo Desert isn’t really a desert: it has too much rain…the annual rainfall in Waiouru is around 1200mm, and on Mt Ruapehu around 2400mm, actually quite wet by New Zealand standards and certainly well above that for any definition of desert to stand.


If not technically a desert – even though it may appear like one to the untrained eye i.e. lots of sand – it most definitely does qualify as a dune field, basically an area of shifting sands forming terrain features.

It is not considered that the military use of the area over the last 100 years has affected it one way or another. Although Zone 1 has been and still is used as an impact area for artillery, bombs and rockets, and is a manoeuvre area for armoured vehicles ranging from 17 tonnes (NZLAV) to 50 tons (Centurion) it does not appear any different visually from the adjacent section of the dune field that lies within Tongariro National Park. The theory is that the whole area i.e. the surface, is so unstable anyway that the impacts of shells and vehicles is actually negligible compared to the effects of wind and rain, snow and ice.

Because the dunes are constantly changing it is very difficult to measure their age. This is complicated in Zone 1 because the very real risk of buried unexploded munitions prevents digging and core-sampling. One of the recent studies found that the best way to tell the age of a dune is by measuring the age of the vegetation on it…


Some of the more mature trees in the dune field although only 3-4 metres high, and 3-400 years old

The event that has had the most impact on the Rangipo area was the Taupo eruption some time between 182 and 250AD. It is not really known what this area was like before this eruption but it was certainly scoured clear of vegetation as a result. Since that event, man-made fire has probably been the biggest impactor on the state of the dune field, with periodic large lahars, on average about every 500 years or so, having the next most impact.

The dunefield is slowly expanding north and no one is quite sure why …

The dune field is a rugged challenging one for plant life and there is a clear succession that starts with growths like this…


…around which the sand drifts and builds up. simple grasses like bristle tussock may then develop followed slowly, often over years or decades by more complex vegetation.


It is a harsh unforgiving process…as dunes the surface is constantly shifting: the risk to developing vegetation is that it may be simply buried under the shifting sands, or have the sand around it uncut, exposing its roots…


…either way not good for ongoing survival…

Even though there are substantial beech forests only a few kilometres away, the beech forest will probably not regenerate in the dune field because a fungus necessary to its growth is not in the soil there and is very difficult – read, close to impossible – to establish artificially.

The desired future for the Rangipo dune field is for it to regenerate naturally i.e. to its pre-settlement state. Replanting is not considered necessary, more a tool of last resort and it is considered of greater benefit to focus conservation efforts on the control of invasive weeds and pest animals like deer, rabbits, hares and possums.

The Army conducts its own pest control programmes across the Training Area, all 63,000 hectares of it, targeting pests like possums, rabbits and hares, and invasive weeds like the various forms of weed pines. Because the Area has an 85% usage rate – there were only three days this month in which we were able to get into Zone 1 for this study trip – and due to the number of hazards on and under the ground, much of this work is done by helicopter. As a part of this programme, the Army is also investigating source vectors for invasive weeds and sharing the results of this work.


Smoko and networking


The road home…

In another life, I trudged all over the dunes ‘by day and by night, regardless of season, weather or terrain’…environmentally then, my main concern was the fine grit that, when wet, would stick to everything…one particle being all it took to convert rifle into not much more than a blunt instrument…none of us back then had any notion of the rarity, vulnerability or real harshness of this unique environment…I’m glad of this one last wander in my old stamping grounds…