Birds Petone

January 31, 2012 … wet foot wandering

White heron is back” was the brief text message on my mobile phone. No trouble deciphering that. My friend Brent was letting me know that the white heron  had returned to Hikoikoi reserve after a few weeks wandering elsewhere.

With my long (400mm) zoom lens mounted and ready for action, I set out for Petone. Alas! No white heron to be seen by the time I got there.  This was doubly sad because the water had those smooth, barely perceptible oily ripples that make such a wonderful background for images of  shore-birds.  Perfect no-wind conditions, and the main model has done a runner!

No white heron on the upstream side of the bridge either. A black shag perched on an old wooden pile from what I presume to be the remains of an earlier bridge, obligingly hung its wings out to dry. It had the courtesy to do so with the dark glutinous water as a background, so I took a few shots there, but this was not my main target.

Back on the downstream side of the bridge, a white-faced heron (Ardea novaehollandiae)  had arrived and was now stalking aristocratically through the prolific green weed that covers much of that corner of the estuary.  Smaller than the white heron, but no less elegant to watch, these birds are much more common around Wellington than their larger, more glamorous relative.

As I watched, this one would compress its neck, step, pause, step, and then straighten its neck  for a lightning stab with that lethal beak. A quick lift of the head, and a snap of the beak and the prize, whatever it was, was gone. Probably a small fish. Step, pause, step … next course please! With all the stealth I could muster (step, pause, step), I got ever closer, pausing to shoot whenever the view was unobstructed by trees or  shrubs.

Herons are shy creatures, and each time it became aware of me, this one would spread its wings, and with a few languid strokes,  fly to a more distant part of the inlet. It alighted gracefully, to resume its step, pause, step,  stab routine.

I crept around the path behind the flaxes at the water’s edge, trying not to let my shoes crunch on the gravel as I came within range again. Repeating the cycle, twice more, I ended up with a few shots that I may be able to do something with. Losing patience at the repeated intrusions on its privacy, the heron finally flew off round a corner where I was unable to follow. Ah well, I would have to make do with what I had got.  White-faced heron in green reflection at Hikoikoi reserve

At about this stage, I discovered that when I dropped my camera the other day, I did more than the ugly cosmetic damage I first saw. One of the buttons that allows me to zoom in on the live screen for accurate focusing, was solidly jammed by a distortion of the camera body. With heavy heart (this was the first time we would be separated), I took my camera to a local highly regarded repair expert*, and after extracting the memory card with the morning’s shots, came home to sort and edit.

So why this particular shot, of the fifty or so I took? Well, I liked the bright colours in the water, reflecting trees and shrubs behind, and the bright green weed below.  Copper tints in the water behind the bird came from the rocks in the sea wall further back. I liked the bird’s bright yellow legs and it’s apparent narcissistic contemplation of its own reflection.  Of course it was probably just looking through the glassy surface for anything that might be edible.

Single minded pursuit of a goal is admirable, but can be annoying to others.

* I mentioned my problem to my Facebook community, and was overwhelmed to  receive no fewer than five offers of a digital SLR on loan to tide me over while my own camera is in dock. Thanks, good friends.

And that concludes the first month of my 2012 photo a day blog. You are mostly a very quiet audience, but I would really appreciate constructive input from you on how my writing or photography can be improved. Talk to me please!


January 30, 2012 … on the other hand

It’s always good to see things (and places) from another point of view.  But perhaps I test your patience by going to different places to see the same thing.

OK, so after today, I’ll move on from my tour of the city’s high points. For today, at least, I am looking at Wellington from a position where I, and I suspect most others, have not previously been.

How many have bothered to explore Horokiwi? Some may not even know where it is.  If you are travelling North on SH2, you turn off to the left just after the quarry and perhaps a kilometre before you get to Petone.  You just can’t get to it if you are travelling South. The gap in the median barrier has been closed, to the fury of those who live there. If you are coming from the North, you must drive down to Ngauranga and then come back up the Northbound lanes.

Horokiwi is a rural community within the city. Apart from the quarry at its front door, it is a place of what real-estate agents call “lifestyle blocks”. (Those of us who live in ordinary suburbs apparently have no claim to a lifestyle)

At first glance Horokiwi  is not a welcoming place.  If you are brave enough to venture onto the only road in or out, the first thing you encounter is the huge and unattractive quarry. Your first test is negotiating the narrow road around the edge of the pit without being scared off by one of the big quarry trucks, or a large SUV towing a horse float.

Even at second glance, the welcome is no warmer. If you are not deterred by the industrial disguise and the vehicular obstacle course at the front door, the next thing you encounter is a sign that says “Welcome to Horokiwi. Your presence has been observed.” It  has a picture of a CCTV camera to ram the point home.

I interpreted this as “if you don’t live here, we don’t trust you, and you have probably come here to steal things”. All I wanted to take was pictures, honestly!

Horokiwi gives the impression (from the roadway) of being a community of large sections, big houses, thick hedges, imposing drywall gateposts, huge carved nameplates,  ponies, dogs, and SUVs. And to be fair to the good citizens of Horokiwi, if that impression is even half-true, it is likely that they have had their share of unwelcome visitors with nefarious intent, so the CCTV sign may be justified.

Many spectacular views of the harbour and surrounds presented themselves on the way up, but the road is barely wide enough for one car, and in many parts of the climb, great care is needed to pass another vehicle coming down. It would be irresponsible to stop and take pictures anywhere near some of the viewpoints that most appealed, and dangerous to look at the view while driving anyway.

Eventually, a very long way up the hill I found a spot in which I judged it safe to stop and set up to get this unaccustomed image of Wellington. Looking at Wellington from high on Horokiwi Rd. The transmission aerial on Mt Kaukau is prominent near the centre of the picture (you may have to click on the “thumbnail to see the bigger image to see this), with the Tinakori hills behind and to the left. To the left of that again, is the CBD just behind the port. In the left foreground is Newlands, and in the centre is Johnsonville in front of Broadmeadows and Khandallah.  We are probably looking at Churton Park to the right.

You may have gathered by now that I am at heart a Wellingtonian.  This city has been my home, by choice,  since 1980. I think it presents a beautiful face to the world, though sometimes the weather disguises that. Finding a new (to me) viewpoint was quite exciting, despite the somewhat flat light, and the threatening weather front looming up from the South.

But the forecast seems pretty good for the next week or so, so perhaps there will be some different topics to discuss.

Belmont Regional Park

January 29, 2012 … lofty points of view

My home is in Normandale on the Western Hills of the Hutt Valley. We live about 130 metres above the valley floor and enjoy great views of the region.  However, Normandale Road continues past our house, climbing steadily all the while, winding its way to the North through a suburb that gets more spaced out as it climbs. It meanders for another 3.5 km before it peters out at the locked entry gate to the Belmont Regional Park. On paper at least, there is still a road after that, though it is, in practice, just a walking and cycling track crossing farmland, all the way to SH58 at Judgeford. According to the conservative estimates of the Greater Wellington Council, that is a three-hour walk.

In keeping with the “use it or lose it” philosophy,  Mary and I drove to the entrance gate with the intention of walking out and back for an hour’s worth of exercise. For the most part, this track is in the region of 300 to 400 metres above sea level. Altitude brings good views. Good views come at a cost. If you  can see a long distance, you are exposed to the wind and weather. A steady Northerly was a feature of yesterday’s trip, so whenever the track took us into the lee of a hill, or the shelter of some trees, I was grateful.

Plenty to see on the track, but if you are bare sleeved or wearing shorts, it is necessary to avoid contact with the nasty bristles of the native tree nettle (Urtica ferox) which is abundant at the edges of the dry tracks up here. As this plant dries out, its toxins become more potent, and there are recorded cases of death from anaphylactic shock when people have foolishly waded into thickets of the nasty stuff.  Also plentiful is foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) which is also poisonous, if ingested.

After crossing a stile, we came to into the shade and shelter of a forested area, and noticed a newly formed track leading off through the scrub to our right (Eastwards).  This was labelled “bull-a-varde” with further signs pointing to “bull run”. I think it was joke rather than a spelling mistake.

Our zig-zag trail emerged into some comparatively open (and very exposed) land with spectacular views to North and South, as well as across the valley.  I love these high places. The idea that there are whole cities full of unseen people  living, working and playing down there, intrigues me.

Nearby, long golden grass whipped and waved in conformity with the gusting wind.View from Belmont Regional Park looking South through the HeadsTo the South, across the grass and trees of various small farmlets, were views of Pencarrow and Eastbourne, and of the Hutt River estuary at Petone. In the middle of the harbour, just beyond Matiu/Somes Island, the Strait Shipping company’s ferry  “Santa Regina”   was  coming in from Picton.  Down below, the multi-coloured roofs of houses in the Southern parts of the Hutt Valley mingled with the green trees common in most streets of the city.

From a little further over the ridge, across the treetops to the North, we looked down on the nearby suburb of Kelson, and further across,  the houses at the entrance to Stokes Valley and beyond that, through the Taita Gorge to the flat areas of Trentham and Upper Hutt.View to the North towards the Tararuas looking North from Belmont Reional ParkIn the background, to the right, the solid bulk of Mt Climie, and to the left the steadily rising great south wall of the Tararuas.  Nearby, large bumble bees worked industriously on the colourful (but pestilential) flowers of the Scots Thistle.

It’s a very nice area to walk in, and I shall revisit this spot at another time to try to get a more “photographic” and less documentary take on this landscape.

Food Pauatahanui Social

January 28, 2012 … good food, good company and a photo album

Last evening, I was privileged to dine in a lovely setting with some great people who were strangers a year ago, but who I now regard as good friends.  We had nothing in common until, following a Photographic Society of New Zealand regional convention, we accepted an invitation at the end of 2010, to form a group to support each other in taking a photograph every day for the next year.

We maintain our connection via Facebook and our online friendships have been both supportive and often hilarious. Our first year is now ended, and some of us have even embarked on a second. This very blog is the manifestation of my own second year of “A photo a day”.

Yesterday was just our second “in person” gathering. Several of us had used an online discount offer to create a printed book of our efforts from the last year, and we had agreed to bring them to dinner to “show and tell”.  Wow!

Each, in its own way, was a wonderful collection of images documenting an unforgettable journey. But how different they all were, reflecting the personality and interests of their owners. I loved them all, but if there was a prize to be awarded for sheer artistic brilliance, it would for the one that set a superb series of abstract impressionistic images to the Tolkien Poem “The Ent and the Ent-wife”. If the one-off print of that book was on general sale, I would want to buy it.  Pure enchantment.

As to the Dinner itself, we settled on a place called Duck Creek, adjacent to the wonderful wetland wildlife sanctuary in the Pauatahanui village. I went with some mental reservations, because under a different name and in previous ownerships, I had mediocre experiences in this restaurant.

The new owners have transformed it, and I shall be going back there. Not only was the food and ambience excellent, but the owners were extremely tolerant of a gabbling and excited bunch of photographers who were more interested in passing the big books to each other than selecting food or wine from the excellent menu. They told us afterwards that the staff took turns in coming to our table so as to peer over our shoulders at some of the great images on display.  Flattery will get them return business.

We eventually settled down to food, though many of us were occasionally distracted by the antics of the fantails, thrush, tui, and pukeko on the lawn outside the window. When the meal came to its happy (and reasonably priced) conclusion, some of us who had yet to take their photo for the day, went into the reserve to area of the Southernmost bird hide, there to capture the last light of day over the wide wetlands at the head of the Pauatahanui inlet.  And so, here is my shot for the day:The wildlife reserve in the Pauatahanui Inlet

This place moves me. Some people drive past and see it as an undeveloped mud flat. I see it as a small part of paradise. With the rise and fall of each tide, the harbour is renewed. Fish come and go, and birds follow them. It has moods. On a calm day (and we have more of them than you might think), it creates a vast and colourful mirror.  The grasses, reeds and shrubs provide a habitat for an amazing variety of birds from the waders to the fantail. The harbour itself is both a scenic attraction and a recreation area. It provides colour and openness. On an evening such as last night, it is a huge canvas with an infinite colour palette. I love going there.

Uncategorized Wellington

January 27, 2012 … meep meep meep!*

A large flock of white black-fronted terns perfectly aligned into the gale as they huddled on Petone beach, milky white squalls on a pea green harbour, or an unexpected sighting on a city street … which shall I write about, and which picture shall I use?  Though the terns are small, beautiful and dainty, and the turbulent wind-driven harbour impressive, I think I’ll go with the unexpected sighting.

Beside the Wellington Public Library, on Harris Street, there is one of those “nothing” gardens. My guess is that it exists solely because the architect needed to fill a space between the edge of the building, and the legal edge of the property, so we have a boring narrow concrete rectangle of more or less boring empty space surrounded by a small boring boxwood hedge. Wood chip waste provides the boring ground cover, and there,  the only living thing in the midst of all this … well, nothing really …  was a solitary giant thistle plant (Cynara cardunculus, I think) with three flowers.

In most places the giant thistle is regarded as a weed and a pest, though for some, it is a prized garden plant.  I have no idea in which of these capacities it was occupying the space in Harris Street. Was it planted deliberately  or did some rogue seed parachute its way there as a gift of our city’s fabled winds?

Somehow, in the shadow of the library, the Wellington central police station, and other adjacent high-rise buildings, a stray beam of light found a way through to fall perfectly on the flowers.

“Look at me, look at me!” they cried.  So I looked, and decided the picture was worth my time, and the ritual sacrifice of a few electrons. Braving the indignant glare of two Wellington “Parkwise” parking enforcement people, I hopped up over the low hedge into the small wood chip wilderness,  and crouched low to get my shot.

Giant Thistle (Cynara cardunculs) on Harris St.Perhaps I have a weird sense of humour, but the whimsy of the situation made me laugh out loud. The flowers reminded me of Beaker, the hapless white-coated laboratory Muppet, with his hair standing up as if electrified.  There was something appealing to me in that solitary bright thistle plant, not at all over-awed by the austere grey concrete of Ian Athfield’s Library building, and the even more austere bulk of the police building and its downright ugly adjacent parking garage.

Later in the day, I saw other things that were interesting on a grander scale, including the perfectly aligned terns, and the wind-blasted sea, but this image made me smile, just for its element of surprise.  I hope you enjoy it too.

* The title refers to the Muppet show. “Meep! meep! meep!”  was pretty much the only thing that Beaker ever said, and if I recall correctly he even sang a song in which they were the entire lyrics.


January 26, 2012 … promises, promises

Some days give far more than they promise. Yesterday began slowly, cushioned with a fuzzy grey blanket of  damp cool sea mist obscuring the Eastern side of the Valley from the harbour, all the way up to Taita and perhaps beyond. It promised little.

Having some residual academic stuff to deal with, including a Skype conference to a student in Mongolia, I spent the morning at the computer in my office which is on the Western side of the house, and so I lost contact with the day.  When I re-emerged at lunch time, an amazing transformation had occurred, and we now had flawless blue sky, the gentlest of breezes, and a warm afternoon.

Lovely days usually end in photogenic evenings, and true to form I saw it taking on that warm glow.  I really had no choice. Camera and tripod, gathered, and with a wifely blessing, I set forth again. To avoid becoming a permanent captive to the harbour, I decided to go North this time, following the Hutt River upstream towards Upper Hutt.

To the North of the Moonshine bridge,  there is a large, and relatively undeveloped recreational reserve between River Road (SH2) and the river.  It is very popular as a picnic area, and on a really warm day, for the swimming spots it provides. Anglers have been known to take trout from here, too.

Taking one of the rather informal gravelled tracks that lead into the area from the highway, I found myself  in an open space looking at the valley around me.  Though less than 200 metres from the houses of suburban Upper Hutt, this was another planet, lit by a different sun,  and I clearly had a duty to capture something of what I saw and felt. The Hutt River looking towards the Mt Climie Ridge

Bird song and the chattering of the river over its stony bed muffled the swish of passing cars on the nearby road.  I have no idea what birds they were, but a variety of chimes, hoots, and chattering provided a sublime accompaniment to the visual part of the show.

Grey cloud or mist masked out the normally imposing Tararuas to the North, but the Mt Climie ridge sitting  high and solid to the East of Upper Hutt was adorned with a gentle green/gold wash. In front of that, the dry lower ridge that separates the city from the lovely Mangaroa valley was sprinkled with carelessly strewn houses from the suburb of Maoribank.

From beneath the starkly minimalist  Totara Park bridge, the Hutt River  Te Awa Kairangi  emerged, cool and blue, tumbling the countless rocks and pebbles that form the great rock banks that shape its ever-changing path to the sea. On the far side, to the North, willows planted for flood protection, provided a bright green decorative border.  On my side, the summer gold of the long grass provided lovely contrast with the cold clear water.

Imagination, if let loose, could conjure up predators prowling this landscape.  On the other hand, reality can return with a thud if you have memories of this same spot in winter with a wide brown river in full flood.  But that was then, this is now. Rejoice in the moment.


January 25, 2012 … procrastination will stop, starting from tomorrow

Dinner done, dishes dried, Clijsters had just defeated Wozniacki in Melbourne,  but the otherwise pleasant day felt somehow incomplete.

Photography was the problem, I knew. Earlier in the day, I had pressed the shutter a few times, so from a purely technical point of view I had met my self-imposed  “photo-a-day” commitment.  Aesthetically, none of those earlier  images were what I wanted.

Outside, the evening light was casting very long shadows, so I collected my camera and tripod, and jumped in the car to see what was happening down on the harbour.

On reaching the Esplanade at Petone waterfront, a mental coin-toss took me to the East. At the estuary by the Waione Road bridge, the full tide and slightly choppy water provided no space for wading birds, no herons, stilts or oystercatchers in sight.  I followed my nose at the Hutt Park Raceway roundabout and went South past the fuel storage depots towards Point Howard.   I paused on the old wharf there and watched people fishing (a few small kahawai were flapping  fitfully in the plastic bucket).

Unhappily, though the breeze was dying, the water was much choppier than it had appeared from up on the hill.  No great reflection shots to be had, but the sun was dropping nearer to the hills, creating an interesting set of receding grey planes amidst the haze at the back of Karori. Something might come of that.

No! Wrong place, wrong point of view. Frustration. Back in the car, and  still further South along the winding Marine Drive towards Eastbourne. In these conditions the splendour of the harbour is a hazard. It would be all too easy to drop off the edge of the road into the sea as I mentally frame the image that I might make. Focus on the road!

Just short of Eastbourne township, I found a place to park, near a boat ramp. All the while the light was getting more interesting, and some streaky clouds to the West hinted at possibilities as the sun moved towards the darkening hills. A shag on a rock couldn’t get any heat from the low sun to dry its wings. It tried blow drying by flapping them. I think it flew away with wet wings.

Looking back towards Petone, I was intrigued by the long thin line of glints reflecting in a buildings and traffic along the Esplanade, against the dark backdrop of Belmont and the other hills of the regional park. I took a few shots, and they were well enough, but still not what I hoped for.

Following advice received at a recent photographic conference, when I have checked out a possibility, I always look to see what I am missing behind me.  People walk andfish in the last light of a summer day at EastbourneA low menacing line of dark grey cloud in the far South was a minor detraction. The dying day illuminated the ripples on the water and gilded the rocks in the foreground.  Ward Island in the harbour mouth was silhouetted against the Miramar Peninsula. Lights were starting to appear in the nearby houses. Someone was walking his dog along the stony beach, and several optimists were still fishing from the jetty at the end of Rimu Street. The wind had dropped away, and the sky took on that red/gold hue that lasts but a short while before the curtain of night descends.

Here is my harbour, here is my home. And now the day feels complete.


January 24, 2012 … may the wind be always at your back

Some places draw me back again and again. One such is the Korokoro stream.

When my wife, my waist band  and my conscience all gang up to tell me I need a good walk, my first response is usually denial. When I grudgingly concede the point, my next stratagem is to minimise the discomfort.

Though yesterday was, for the most part, sunny, there was a mean-spirited Southerly that added an unwanted edge to the day. Where to go that would minimise the wind? Given the steepness of its sides, its generous bush cover, and its winding course, I guessed that the Korokoro stream walk would be sheltered.

Zero marks out of ten for that guess. For some reason, I had visualised the valley as having an East/West orientation. Alas no! It is aligned almost exactly North/South and seems  perfectly designed to channel a chilly Southerly into every crevice, and to maximise the discomfort of walkers. The only redeeming feature was that, having opted to park one car at the top and then take the other car to the Cornish Street entrance, we had the wind at our back.

Regardless of romantic Irish blessings, the wind always at your back is no great joy if it’s a Wellington Southerly. Better at least, than having it in your face.  But, as my kids would tell me, time for a concrete pill. Harden up!

A feature of New Zealand bush is its almost unrelenting greenness. There are comparatively few deciduous trees here, so green is the norm. There are exceptions. August and September are coloured glorious yellow when the Kowhai blooms, and as I have recently observed, the Pohutukawa adds a crimson splash in December and early January (though there are still a few spectacular late bloomers about, even now).

Unidentified orange flowers near the Korokoro streamYesterday’s walk came as a bit of a surprise, then, as the lower parts of the stream were lined with bright orange flowers (to which I can’t put a name … any help appreciated), and the occasional bright blue of hydrangea. Given the cool green shade that is typical of this walk, small sunlit patches of these flowers seemed to have an inner light source, and they begged to be captured.  The picture is not what I wanted, but I got no better one yesterday, and will have to try again another day.

Bright colours seem out-of-place in our bush, and I would imagine this plant is on somebody’s list of invasive pests to eradicate.  They probably got established in pioneer times when the settlers working in or near the water supply attempted to impose domesticity on a wild and lonely landscape.

Though I (almost) always have my camera with me, and am open to the possibility of serendipitous images, the best shots will be planned. I need to see a place or thing, decide what light and shadows would make the best image and come back there when that light is available, and with no one else to be inconvenienced as I wander about.


January 23, 2012 … fair curves and clean edges

An old but useful joke says that, to carve a statue of an elephant, you start with a rock and then knock off anything that doesn’t look like an elephant. It’s advice that I could profit from, both in my writing and in my photography. Today’s image was made yesterday (with permission from the artist) at the 16th annual Archibald Stone Carving symposium in Upper Hutt. I am trying to show the artist at work, rather than the work itself.

Artist in action at Archibald Stone Carving SymposiumWhat sort of people do stone carving? Probably, any answer I give would be wrong. Using simple tools to make amazing things emerge from a block of soapstone seems to appeal to old and young, the affluent, as well as those who struggle to pay for materials. Mind you, some people produce finished works that closely resemble a very high quality concrete breeze block, while others bring amazing abstract ideas to life.

Given a block of soapstone, some sandpaper, chisels and a mallet, I am sure I could produce a large pile of chips and stone dust and a ragged-edged and thoroughly  unsatisfactory object. A friend who is learning wood-turning tells me that he is likewise adept at turning expensive raw materials into elegant firewood. In similar vein, I recall a comic strip in which Goofy cut down a big tree, and whittled the giant log to produce … a toothpick.

The artists at work in Maidstone Park have obviously produced their share of dust and crumbs, but most of them have become very skilful at coaxing clean and well-proportioned designs from the unpromising chunks of stone. The inevitable stylised koru and fish hooks were over-represented, so mere mechanical competence is obvioously not a sufficient condition for the creation of original art.

This got me thinking about my own pretensions to creativity. I have excellent tools, for my craft. I own an excellent camera, some good lenses, a very powerful laptop, the current version of Photoshop, what more can I need?

Well, as I have often told students, the mere possession of a paint brush, even if you know how to use it,  does not enable you to compete with Monet. Tools alone don’t make an artist. How then does an ex-draughtsman with a reasonable sense of proportion and perspective start producing something like the heart-breakingly beautiful images that I often see in exhibitions?

Many people offer suggestions about this, but I think  G K Chesterton got it right long ago: “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” My belief is that I will get better if I keep making mistakes. But I need to develop the eye for what works, what pleases me, and what aspects of each attempt was a mistake. I need to know how each image or piece of writing might be improved.

A wise friend (the same one as before) takes the position that the artist needs to perform to meet his or her own inner drivers. I contend that a closed system decays and dies. Outputs and inputs are necessary to any living system. So, I put my thoughts and images out there, and hope that your reactions will help me to see how my efforts could be improved.

I don’t promise to take all advice. So hit me!


January 22, 2012 … fabric, string and wood

Yesterday I went to an  Airshow at Hood Airfield in Masterton. This will come as no great surprise to my old friends from WYSIWYG News days.  Titled “Joyeux Noel” the show purported to commemorate the famous 1915 Christmas lull in hostilities  on the Western Front. Any historical link between the aircraft on display, and the show’s title,  was tenuous in the extreme, but the airshow itself was a delight. It was run by The Vintage Aviator Ltd., a company that restores, or makes from new, aircraft from World War I.

The aircraft on display* were an absolute joy to an aerophile such as myself. But they are delicate things, tricky to fly, and I have read that as many airmen from WWI were lost to landing accidents, as to enemy action. For this reason the flying part of the show was scheduled to commence at 4:30 pm by which time the blustery conditions and vigorous turbulence common to a hot summer day in the Wairarapa might be expected to have subsided. In fact the reverse seemed to be happening. After a wonderful calm afternoon, the wind seemed to be getting more forceful as start time approached.  However conditions seem to stabilise right on the edge of what was possible for these fragile craft, and the show went on as scheduled.

Perhaps due to a modest advertising budget, the crowd was small, but the afternoon was warm, and the volunteers directing cars through the long dry grass of the adjacent paddock were kept busy enough. Stalls selling ice cream, hot dogs, chips, coffee and cold drinks  had steady queues, as did the company’s own merchandise tent.

A friend is fond of reminding me that these things I love so much are weapons of war, “killing machines” in fact.  I concede the point. With the exception of three “between wars”  biplanes, and the RNZAF’s CT-4E Airtrainers, all of the aircraft on display had replica machine guns in place.

Any cockpit view reinforces the idea that the sole purpose of these machines is to transport the guns so that they can be used to kill the enemy. I have no intention of debating deep philosophical questions such as the notion of a ‘just war’. I do, however, without reservation, honour the bravery and endurance those who fought for what they believed was right, and acknowledge that they were to be found on both sides of almost all wars.

So where’s the fascination in these aircraft? For me, it is found in the design elegance of the solutions to many problems as they were conceived at the time. How to make a wing that was light, lifted powerfully, and supported rapid changes of direction? How to make undercarriages that cushioned the shock of arrival in a farm field full of rabbit holes or drainage ditches? How to make these delicate wood and wire creations consistent and reliable in their design, before the notion of mass production was understood?

My grandfather, a cabinet-maker, worked in the Royal Aircraft Factory workshops shaping the laminated propellers for such well-known aircraft as the SE5. (He showed me how to carve hardwood propellers for my diesel-powered models when I was a boy, a skill I can still achieve today).  Though there were templates for the shape of various components, injection moulding was unheard of, and each part was hand-made by skilled artisans.

The cockpit pod of a 1915 FE2b fighterI look at an aircraft such as the FE2b the cockpit area of which is pictured today, and am awed by the precision of  what is essentially a hand-crafted machine. Look at the perfect stitching that holds the fabric to the fuselage, the arrow-straight knife-edged trailing edge of the wing, at the slender but sturdy arrangement of struts and wires that hold the wings in place as the pilot manoeuvred the aircraft to those two deadly Lewis guns to a position where they could be pointed at an enemy. Those wire braced struts seem to owe more to the masts and spars of sailing ships than any modern conception of aviation.

Different times brought different solutions as shown by the mighty WWII Corsair fighter that whistled across the flight line at somewhere around 700 km/h  during the display.  Elegance of design is what gets me to these things.

*For the aviation minded, aircraft participating in the show included:


  • Airco DH5
  • FE2b
  • BE2c
  • BE2f
  • Sopwith Triplane
  • SE5a (three aircraft)
  • Bristol F2B fighter (two aircraft)
  • RE8


  • Nieuport 11 Bebe


  • Fokker DVIII
  • Fokker DVII
  • Fokker Triplane (Three aircraft)
  • Pfalz DIII

Between wars

  • De Havilland DH82 Tiger Moth (two aircraft)
  • Stampe SV4B


  • Curtiss P40 Tomahawk
  • FG-1D Corsair

Relatively recent

  • CT-4E Airtrainer (6 aircraft of RNZAF Red Checkers display team)

A small sample of my pictures are accessible here.