postcard from aotearoa

early morning on Dinsdale road – the orange street lights peer thru the cracks in the venetians and bypass the mustard curtains reaching my eyelids. I wake and it is quiet…. briefly … I cannot see the clock face to know the time but no whistles clicks or gurgles of the starlings – must be pre dawn then.

I have the window open as far as it can go which is about 6 inches -this offers me a little fresh damp Waikato air but also carries the noise of busy road traffic loud and strong.

I don’t know what it is but Mum and Dad have always lived on a main road – so convenient Dad says, handy to everything.

my sister lives around the corner in a quiet cul de sac and I am thinking of going and having a sleep over at her place but just for this moment my waking world is soft and silent .

I am in Hamilton New Zealand’s fourth largest city and one of the fastest growing – something like 150,000 people hereabouts. It is the main city of a region known as the Waikato about half a million people strong  and famous for its prime agricultural land.

Wai – water

kato- the pull of the river current into the sea

or flowing water and that is what New Zealand’s longest river the Waikato does for 425 kms . Along the way it supports 8 hydro dams and 19 native species of fish as well as a few ring ins. At least half of this number is endangered and all species are threatened surviving in small declining breeding populations.

Once there was black flounder ( patiki), mullet,members of the bully family (pako), shrimps ( kouraura) and crayfish( koura) lamprey, torrentfish, mudfish .

the river rises out of Lake Taupo and the quality begins well with clarity and effervescence but as it moves along halting in the hydro dams, picking up farm chemicals and sewage, stormwaters the quality slides downhill dramatically. Here as it passes the main street of Hamilton flowing thru the suburbs and under a multitude of bridges it has become a deep sullen turgid darkness with little vitality left to recommend it to fishes or humans.

despite its dark stolid appearance and questionable additives it holds a majestic energy and is sacred to the Maori culture   –   every bend of the river is guarded by a taniwha ( mythical water spirit )and has been recognised in law as an important taonga (treasure ) to the Tainui tribe. They say the spirits of the ancestors mingle in these waters and that the Waikato is the land is the people is the river – there  is no separation.

I admit to a certain fascination with this treasure and any excuse to get out of Dinsdale and cross the river or amble along its banks is fine with me. Along the way I look for sightings of the kaka (parrot) the kereru (pigeon) the korimako (bellbird) and the tui (parson bird and honeyeater). The council has asked to be notified if we see any of these four – because they are ‘key distributors and pollinators of native plants.’ Some of them have been reintroduced and an effort is being made to rehonour the wetlands of this region. I am hopeful but have nothing to report yet except for blackbirds starlings mynahs and thrushes . I wish my birdy mates were here with their binocs and then we might find a bit of action in the skies.

The bellbird is terrific on the dawn chorus apparently and I am a big fan of early morning chorale singing. The tui is also a sweet singer and as a child I liked to stop at Mrs Wells place next door and watch the tui supping from the yellow kowhai flowers.

Dad has put up a starling nesting box next to his bean fence in the front yard . he is good at building things Dad –so far they haven’t taken up the offer but it is there waiting for them. Originally introduced into NZ for insect control they are a noisy bird appearing black  but  in closer reveals iridescent purple and green feathers tipped with white spots. This songbird is very common and a great imitator of birds police sirens and telephones. Their diet ranges –  caterpillars spiders grains nectar and fruit – a sort of whatever is on offer I’ll grab it diet.

Dad tells me that they love pulling letters out of mailboxes which is why he had a steel one made.

I am also keeping an eagle eye out for any hedgehogs -those tiny little prickly folk that were introduced here from England. I can remember putting out saucers of milk for them when we were kids and them wandering around our garden. Sometimes you could ever so gently pick them up ouchy ouchy pricking yourself along the way -them curled up tight  and hold them in the palm of your hand. a little nose then face would peep out and tiny eyes blinking .

Bumblebees are another treasure here that we don’t see at home in Oz – some 5 or 6 species here – they are bzzzing around my sisters garden but here unfortunately Dad ripped out the garden after Mum died. too much work he said much neater now . Lucky Mum isn’t around to see it we say to Dad.

it is late at night now and traffic still hurries along sometimes rattling the windows , a dog barks and peoples voices drift in as they walk the streets.  no night birds in this suburb just the rumble of the fridge  and the click tock of the clocks.

it seems like a good idea to learn from nature


the time of migrants returning is one of the many joys of spring.

storm birds riding the shirt fronts of the big weather systems rolling down from up north.

screeching and cannonballing thru the forest playing mind games with resident ravens magpies and currawongs  – drawing them from their nests so they can deposit an egg .

the channel billed cuckoo (stormbird) true to the form of all cuckoos does not stay around to bring up their young.

best left to another they think.

it doesn’t look the same, sound the same or act the same, but stoically the raven or magpie or currawong will parent the usurper into adulthood.


the dollar birds have turned up in our forest this year -a little mob of maybe eight or ten.

John reminds  me that they didn’t come last year and so far they haven’t told us where they were instead.

goodness what a cackling buzz over our heads -their silvery blue-white discs on the wings flashing and glinting in captured sunlight.

we had stepped outside into the warm early evening air – they were dipping and diving swooping grabbing insects showing off their considerable acrobatic skills . on the menu was  termites swarming after a long hot  day – often a ‘reliable but not always sign’ of rain pending.

sure enough later in the night a loud definitive clap pierced my dream and I bolted awake.

back to sleep with the light then heavy sustenance falling on our roof.

the dollar bird so named because the disc  resembles an American silver dollar coin. well I will have to take ‘their ‘word for it because I have never seen one.

brown of head green-blue teal wings and belly, a bright orange beak they fly down south from New Guinea find a good cubby in a tree bring up their young and depart when the autumn bell tolls.

both the stormbird and the dollar bird are at their southern most range at our place not that they mention our forest specifically in the bird book but I feel a sort of warm fuzzy special pride that their long journey each year stops here.



turtles bask on logs beside the dams .

if the last couple of years is anything to go by soon they will be digging holes in the sandy sections of our track and laying their eggs.

and then we will be putting logs and rocks around the site in an attempt to avoid driving over them.

seems kinda weird how they have taken to the road to lay down their progeny and I wonder if there is a deeper meaning.

like whoa !!! stop !!! do not pass !!!  your car is enemy no 1 – a dysfunctional piece of apparatus advancing the general dismantling of our earths systems.

then again maybe they like the baked heat and the soft silt that has gathered.


the swallows hatched out their four on the equinox as they do every year and are already preparing their mud nest outside the kitchen door for the second batch.

by Christmas this pair will have raised eight young and they do this every year. puts our parenting into some other perspective.

 once they nested in the house and we cohabited – a sort of new take on a group house I thought at the time . apparently as a child John had always fantasized about living inside an aviary so here we were.

they zoomed around we ducked our heads and wiped their poopy business off the couch . we loved it and not even a poop on the table in the middle of lunch caused much of a stir.

my bedroom has four old nests up near the roof and the mud walls are a delightful splatter of guano art.

the children’s bedroom has two nests as well as the white peppershot artwork and though Kingston will never know this time his mother has the story of it within her. in the lounge room there is one.

they have not been in use now for many a year.

how did they come and go you ask?

well for a time there were sections of wall that we took a sledge-hammer to pushing  mud bricks out of the way. we are guilty of this in all of these rooms and then like the dollarbird we would disappear and head north for the winter avoiding the cold that snuck around whatever heavy drape or tarp I had managed to sling up.

just follow the sun and we did until…  oh dear …. school raised its ugly head and children wanted to go.

can you believe it ?

I still have difficulty.

here we were offering a childhood dream -a grand adventure complete with playground embedded in the natural world and they wanted to go sit in a classroom.

well we forgave them as parents do when their children disappoint and they forgave us as children do when their parents are so out of kilter with ‘normal reality’.

 the open spaces got filled in with  glass – windows and doorways.  no longer did the swallows have  access to the house so they settled for the  verandahs instead.


it seems like a good idea to learn from nature – from plants and birds and animals, from rocks and trees and wind, from rivers and mountains and oceans.

it is no surprise to me that just like the swallow and the chough I too nest in a mud home.

and  still  I wonder  why the Earth is not respected as our school and teacher.

 if we hadn’t turned our backs on the Earth,  if we hadn’t put up walls and sat on chairs ignoring her wisdom, if we hadn’t denied our spiritual interconnection to the fabric of existence then would our planetary systems be in the breakdown they are???

but really I should know better than dabble in the what if game…….

“this is how it is “

or “things are as they are”

known as  the practice of equanimity ( upekkha)

and then there is metta (loving kindness )

“may all beings be safe and protected.

may all beings be free of mental and physical suffering.

may all beings  live in the world at ease and in great joy.

compassion ( karuna)

“may you dear  Earth be free of pain”

and to you all of you whoever wherever you be

sympathetic joy (mudita)

“may your happiness and success never end”


in deep gratitude to Mother Earth