95. More Blenheim Days -2.

Another Blenheim event we attended was a Dog’s Day Out organised by one of the local Vet practices. At least 40 dogs of all shapes, sizes and breeds gathered in a huge dog park which has a river flowing through it, surely the major attraction for at least half the dogs once they had finished their particular type of doggy meet and greet! IMG_3549 IMG_3547 IMG_3546


The water may have been cold but when did that ever deter a determined dog?

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I was struck by the number of small fluffy white dogs and medium sized boxer dogs (plus a few larger ones) but there were also 2 Great Danes, a German Pointer, a Boston Terrier, two elegant Italian Greyhounds, a number of Alsatians (one with the most beguiling blue eyes) and of course any number of Bitzers.


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It was a lovely day for both the dogs and their humans, and especially good to see so many joyous dogs off lead and really enjoying themselves.

A third local event was a small Vintage Air show at the Omaka (Blenheim) airport. It was on a sunny but bitterly cold and windy day so of course many of the aircraft could not be flown or even brought out from their hangars. When we arrived the parking lot attendant seemed to be waving us straight into the hold of a huge Bristol Freighter – huge indeed at just over 68 ft long with wing span 108 ft. A sign showed that it had spent some 27,700 hours in the air and made over 33,330 landings.


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Omaka Aero Club was a training ground for WW2 pilots, and was taken over by the NZ Air Force in 1939. Training was mainly in the Avro Anson Mark 1 maritime patrol and reconnaissance bomber. This plane is now very rare and only is one still flying anywhere in the world – right there at Omaka.


Restoration of other vintage planes is in progress ….. this one has a way to go.IMG_3657

Dave watched while the ground crew did an engine warmup of the Griffon engine in the Mk X!V Spitfire – 3 people were needed to hold down the tail in the strong wind.




Seeking coffee and a bit of warmth we went into the Museum foyer (we have been to the Museum before, definitely worth a prolonged visit) and this time I took photos of an intriguing display, a Russian WW1 plane with a grappling hook (!) The Museum describes it as “one of the most outrageous aerial combat experiments undertaken during the war” by Colonel Aleksandr Kozakov. At that time few aircraft carried any armament. Although the grappling hook method didn’t work, Kozakov did down a German aircraft when his anchor got caught in a German plane’s undercarriage and he decided to strike the upper surface of the enemy plane with his undercarriage, which folded up …. the German plane lost control and fell to earth like a sack but Kozakov’s plane miraculously disentangled and landed safely. IMG_3678


Another foyer sign told of an Imperial Russian Air Force pilot named Vladimir Laskin, who “… flew many different aircraft types including one in which he was required to remove the carburettor in flight, clear the obstruction and then  refit it!”. What fun. The phrase “Those intrepid men in their flying machines” took on a new meaning.

The crafter in me was also attracted by another display, two shadow boxes full of mementoes carefully displayed in little pockets … the photos tell more than I can (unfortunately reflections in the glass made good photos difficult). I have a number of such mementoes belonging to my late father in law Squadron Leader Bill Hoffmann; now at last I have an idea as to what to do with them. But it will have to wait till our caravanning days are if not over at least not continuous and I can access my stored boxes of family history in Christchurch.


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The first buds are finally appearing on the vines.It has been a rather cold Spring so far. This was taken beside the St. Clair restaurant where we had a farewell lunch with Robyn and her friend.


On one last drive before leaving Blenheim we visited the site of the Wairau Affray, just out of Blenheim on the way to Picton. Most people probably miss it. In 1843 there was a confrontation between early settlers and local maori, who objected to their land being surveyed without their permission. According to an official sign, 22 “Nelson men” were buried in a mass grave on the other side of the stream. Intriguingly there is also a small set of graves near the site of the confrontation, obviously tended by local people.

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94. More Blenheim Days -1.

Time flashed by particularly quickly while we homesat in Blenheim. Apart from a couple of ‘events’ we enjoyed a very quiet, almost sluggish existence, ensconced in Robyn’s lovely warm house next to a vineyard and entertained by her garrulous little cat Kassia. Penny and Kassia have met on more than one previous occasion and had a guarded relationship, but this time Penny must have accidentally bowled over Kassia while chasing her ball and since then things have been more hostile but gradually thawing.


I’ve done lots of boring things like washing all the caravan curtains, doing some mending and having fun in the kitchen. In between visiting Robyn in hospital we did some not too serious house-and-land hunting, inspected various show homes and drove through endless kilometres of vineyards. Their geometrical precision never ceases to amaze me.


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Intriguing too to see the number of workers tending the vines even though there are still barely any buds to be seen. Occasionally we spotted a cloudy UFO or two, the Blenheim skies seem particularly prone to producing them.


And we visited a chocolate factory, the smell so overpowering when you walk inside that it is ALMOST all you need to do to be in chocolate heaven – at least until they offer you a sample!


An eagerly awaited local event was the Marlborough Ploughing Championships. Here’s a shortened form of what I’ve written for the RV Lifestyle magazine:

Enormous placid horses with feathery fetlocks always attract me and I suspect many others who would not otherwise consider themselves ‘horsey’. Watching ploughing may not be many people’s idea of fun but there is something satisfying seeing those wonderful straight and occasionally not-so-straight lines of newly-turned sod appearing before one’s eyes. Also watching magnificent Clydesdale horses producing them, a task which they’ve done virtually unchanged for many hundreds of years.


So mine were not the only anxious eyes scanning the rainy Blenheim skies for the week preceding the annual Marlborough Ploughing Championships in early Spring. Thankfully the skies cleared, and while gum boots were the only sensible footwear and the wind blew chillingly straight off the northern mountain range, the sight of 4 teams of horses pulling vintage ploughs, about ten vintage tractors doing their thing in the next paddock, and steaming hotdogs with onion and tomato sauce from a food tent threatening to blow away at any moment were enough to keep me entranced for much of the day.

There were two 4-horse and two pair ploughing teams. Although the basic premise is simple, I was surprised at the range of different ploughs starting with a simple one-disc walk-behind to an elaborate two-disc contraption operated by a system of brakes and levers with the ploughman sitting in a special seat.


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Add to that the need to control the horses, partly by long reins held by either the ploughman or a ‘walker’, and also by voice commands (“Forward one step”, “Whoa”, etc) and the complexity of harness – chains, collars, leading reins – and one begins to realise it’s not just a simple process. How long does it take to harness the horses and hitch up the ploughs I wonder, especially with larger teams of 6 or even more horses.

The object at the Championships of course is to plough the straightest furrows at just the right depth. The first furrow takes the longest time to do, with regular stops for adjustments. The patient gentle Clydesdales seemed unperturbed at the long waits although the leader of one team seemed to be saying “Hurry up, when do we start?”


And how do they ‘turn’ at each end of a furrow? Those huge Clydesdales do some fancy footwork, crossing their front legs in unison to turn effortlessly in what seemed an amazingly small space. The plough they were pulling needed far more work to be hauled around!

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But it wasn’t all horses. There were about 10 vintage tractors, most gleaming with fresh paint. One in particular, a John Deere 40 driven by a woman, has been in the same Blenheim family since the 1950s. The drivers seemed to spend more time looking behind than looking ahead.  And just like with the horses, frequent stops for adjustments were being made in the quest for perfection.


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There was also an exhibition of sheep herding by an amazing dog named Shane, and for children the obligatory pen of new-born sheep, a young friendly sheepdog and a rather fat pig named Carol who we ‘met’ last year when she was a tiny piglet; mostly she seemed intent on copying the tractors and ‘ploughing’ her own special furrows.




The event was hosted by the Marlborough Ploughing Association and Tua Marina Vintage Traction and Machinery Club. Up to 23 qualifying events are hosted by individual Associations throughout NZ. Winners are selected to represent the district in the annual NZ Ploughing Championships held in April or May each year. It goes further – the World Ploughing contest will be in Thisted, Denmark in early October this year with 30 countries competing. Serious stuff.

Tony from Christchurch came up for a few days; we plied him with food and drink and took him to Rarangi Beach and then Port Underwood, where the catches of various seafood is strictly limited.





Everywhere the gorse blazed bright yellow. Back to Picton for lunch and to watch one of the inter- island vehicular ferries arrive. All too short a visit, but it was lovely to see a familiar face.



93. Back in Blenheim

We’ve now been back home in NZ for just over 2 weeks and I am still coughing occasionally. It seems I’m not the only one either, many friends both in Australia and NZ report the same thing. This has been a wonderful winter for Flu bugs!

After trying to exist in misery in an impersonal motel room in northern NSW for a few days we fled to Nic and Mick’s welcoming country property, grateful that we did have family with a place into which we could crawl. It was brave of Nic and Mick to put up with the coughing sneezing pair of us, and we were so remorseful later when it became obvious that we had managed to pass on the bugs despite everyone taking precautions including no close contact and eating in separate parts of the living room! By the last week however I was feeling much better and enjoyed wandering around the property, it is an almost perfect example of the Australian bush, the only things missing were emus, wombats and platypus. I was still voiceless of course so using a write-on pad to communicate with everyone including the neighbours.

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So back to NZ after a looooong boring day. We had to return our hired car by 12 noon and our plane didn’t depart till 6.30 pm. Brisbane International Airport was undergoing a rejuvenation and only a few food shops and one newsagent were open, and we still had to wait till 3 pm when the Air NZ counter opened before we could go through Customs and get to the sole large duty-free shop.

We arrived on the usual Midnight Express and were grateful Ray was there to meet us and drive us to T5 in the chestnut orchard, with a brief stop on the way to buy bread and milk. Although it was cold after Queensland, it was heartening to see pansies at the airport and daffodils and other early Spring flowers in gardens as we drove past, and even some early blossom on a tree or two. Spring in NZ is an absolute delight. There wasn’t much to see in the chestnut orchard though, no buds visible yet, just some interesting patterns made by the catkins of the Alder trees bordering the orchard.

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Although cold, T5 did not smell mouldy or damp at all, a tribute to the three large open humectant containers which we had left behind in strategic places. The gas heater soon had things warmer, but there seemed to be a problem with the refrigerator, it wouldn’t start. We had to take T5 to the Jayco dealer next day and two men worked on it for some time before finally tracing the problem to a little switch which was concealed behind the fascia above the fridge and required the whole fridge to be removed from its mounting.  IMG_3274

A small problem had also developed with the water supply. The pipes gurgled and spitted instead of just delivering smoothly. Dave has almost fixed that but while we are home-sitting he is going to do a thorough purge of the whole system.

After 9 days in Christchurch with visits to the Dr. etc it was time to head north to get a bit warmer and homesit for Robyn while she is in hospital. Her dear little aged Burmese cat Kassia had Penny all sorted out previously, it was like we hadn’t been away.

On the way we  experienced one of those amazing weather changes for which NZ is famous. Driving down towards the coastline south of Kaikoura on a lovely clear sunny day we suddenly hit a huge bank of sea mist which continued all the way along the coast. As we drove up the last hill before Kaikoura suddenly we were in bright sunlight again, the snow-clad mountains to the north looming impossibly close (an optical illusion?), then the mist closed in again apart from the section just north of town where the mountains again put in an appearance. There may have been plenty of seals along the coast but nobody including us was stopping to try to view them.


So here we are in Robyn’s very comfy warm home in Blenheim, with time to explore (when the sun comes out) and catch up on the Blog and numerous other things. There is much activity going on in the surrounding vineyards, even though the vines are still dormant. Most have been pruned down severely but in some places the remains of last year’s long wavy branches are still visible. People are moving up and down the lines checking all sorts of things. The next few weeks are going to be interesting, if the weather starts to warm up as promised.  Currently it’s raining, here’s the view through the living room window at Robyn’s place. IMG_3308IMG_3310

Next day: the rain has stopped – gosh, look at the new blossoms. Plus there’s snow on the distant mountains.




Everywhere in Blenheim there are clumps of daffodils and also acacia (wattle) trees in full bloom with their distinctive scent, and trees everywhere are covered with white or pink blossoms. And the azaleas..!  I do miss my Christchurch garden.

We’ve just discovered that the Marlborough Ploughing championships are on again in Blenheim next weekend. Although watching ploughing is not exactly thrilling, there is something about the plodding horses guided by long leading reins and the sharp hoe slicing through the ground which I find fascinating. This time I also hope to catch a couple of the “farm animal and dog demonstrations” promised by the organisers.