Call of the Weird

Some of New Zealand’s stranger flora and fauna

I was preparing to tramp around Mount Taranaki when I discovered the stinkhorn. One of the guides I read mentioned these strange things, brightly-coloured and foul-smelling fungus. They emit a rotten meat odour to attract flies that might then spread their spores. For me it was a surprise, a reminder that the bush held things I had never heard of, or even considered.

If You Only Learn One

Tying the bowline

We might have said this before, but there’s beauty in knots. Like maths, they blend functionally and the abstract, and to connoisseurs they have a sort of music, with their patterns and seemingly endless possibilities.

The Return of the Kākā - Part 3

Kākā, enriched

Like so much fiction with dystopian elements, the novel I’m writing has bits of utopia in it. It’s via this route that kākā have found a place. Jenny Jones’ Kaka has helped bring the species close. This short book is shelved in the children’s section, and for a non-scientist it makes an appealing first look into the parrot’s gifts and quirks.

The Return of the Kākā - Part 2

Ecospirituality, and why I make religions up

Of course, all those kākā recolonising Thorndon reminds me of our trip to Mt Bruce, and later visits to Zealandia itself. Here’s how a founder of Zealandia describes seeing for the first time the sanctuary’s future site:

The Return of the Kākā - Part 1

Thanks To Us

From the Thorndon street where we’re living for some months, kākā can be seen or heard most days. When it rains they swoop through the pines and regrowth bush behind the house, and at night they circle the Botanic Gardens out the front. Their repertoire of calls come down, sometimes fluting and liquid, sometimes prehistoric squeers and squawks.

Primary Trainer

Early adventures in the P Class yacht

I waited for the coach to finish. He moved magnetic triangular boats around a whiteboard to indicate wind angles, sail trim and the variations of rudder movement. I glanced out to the water. The waves were short and steep, dumping themselves unceremoniously on the boat ramp. My red P Class, freshly rescued from a pile of leaves in my uncle’s backyard, sat on a trolley nearby.

The Materials at Hand

The possibility of a log cabin

I picked up a book from my friend’s coffee table. It was about building styles from around the world and I flicked through it, barely looking at the pages, while I waited for him to come back with our drinks. And then I saw it, a cabin of grey, notched logs sitting in a field somewhere remote. It was the start of what has been a five-year daydream, the possibility of a log cabin.

Foot Trembling Behaviour

In search of the New Zealand robin

It was on an undergraduate ecology field trip in the Nelson Lakes National Park that I first encountered this curious little bird. I found myself assigned to a group of bird-lovers who were convinced we should spend our three days in the field studying the bird’s so called 'foot trembling'. I wasn’t so sure.

Beyond the Granny

Basics in knot tying

Learning to tie knots can be infuriating. Often the best ones are counter-intuitive, requiring you to untangle the wires in your brain before you start on the rope.


The deadly poison of the tutu berries

New Zealanders can be smug about our lack of harmful animals. The bush has no snakes, no wolves or bears, and our only native poisonous spider is a threatened species. But one threat we don’t lack is poisonous plants. There’s a whole smorgasbord of berries, fungi and leaves that will make you crook or even kill you if you make the mistake of eating them.


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