A Waikato wonder

The range of bush covered hills behind Ngaruawahia have always looked dark and brooding to me. That is until I walked up them and saw the wonders they contain. Kauri! Some of the most southern in the country and a surprisingly sub-tropical forest full of nikau and rimu as well as the stands of kauri.

This is the Hakirimata range, 10k north of Hamilton and just over the river from Ngaruawahia’s main drag. There’s a well designed network of tracks, carparks at each end, toilets and a tramping track right along the top of the ridge.

This is from the DOC pamphlet about the tracks.

My foray to the Hakirimata Range was just to do the Kauri Loop Track which is just to the north of this map. It was hard enough because to get a view you have to walk from river level to the top of the range but the summit track in the middle of the map is the hardest. There are a few lower level wanders you can do though. I have some pictures of the southern end where the main entrance is complete with carved portal.

Entrance to the southern entrance

The Kauri Loop track is steep – steps – but really good. You can see one giant kauri and a stand of rickers and some other quite big specimens.

Son and granddaughter try to show the width of this tree. Don’t do it justice. It really is an impressive tree.

From the Kauri Loop Track, you can walk up to a lookout with good views of the Waikato River. Didn’t know there were so many real lakes and coal min lakes around Huntly. Once again, Huntly looks miserable when you drive through on Highway 1 but when it is see from above with the river running through it, it takes on a new life.

On a gloomy day the view from the lookout was still spectacular. That is Huntly in the centre.

How photography helped me

After my big tongue op in 2009, I needed months to heal and get my speech back to some sort of normal so I stayed off work and took a photography course online. It was far too hard for me. I don’t have the technical understanding to get to grips with the manual functions of a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera and I just wanted to take pretty landscape pictures. I completed the course with a pass grade  and ever since then have enjoyed the five or six basic skills I took away from it. I’m going to share them with you because going out with camera or phone, taking pics of our world and sharing them is therapeutic.

Here are five skills in brief – for landscapes:

1.Edit. Every phone or computer will have basic editing software. Straighten the horizon! Crop. More later.

2. Hold the camera down low.

3. Obey the rule of thirds which means dividing the screen in 3 vertically and horizontally and placing the object of interest in the intersection of these lines.

4. Frame the object for a special effect with a tree for example.

5. Use the vanishing point sometimes – a road disappearing into the distance. Very emotive. 

Rule of thirds

Why edit? Digital photos often need sharpening. Do “Auto Enhance” or use the sharpen/clarify function. Be subtle. Crop and straighten if need be. A little crop will often bring the subject into better focus. Takes seconds/minutes.

Why a low angle? Makes the pic look more dramatic and adds some foreground like the grass on the foreshore of a beach – leads eye in and frames the pic.

Why the rule of thirds? It’s a art concept where an object not placed in the middle of a pic but to one side is more pleasing to the eye. The horizon in top third or bottom third looks better for example.

Framing? Things look more striking through a natural frame – but only sometimes.

Vanishing point. Eye is drawn into the picture and the point itself is filled with mystery, the unknown. Always makes an impact. Avenues of trees are good. 

Vanishing point

More stuff. The best pictures tell a story. I can’t do that yet. I’m a bit too impatient to wait for objects to be in place to make the pic more than a calendar shot but that would be another point for improvement. There’s also the idea of lines or objects leading the eye into the picture – a log of driftwood on the beach for example. Some of the ideas I’ve stated are cliches but good ones like the lonely tree representing the loneliness of the universe – or again shooting past the driftwood to add some feeling to a beach pic. 

Yep, taking some pics, editing them and then sharing them is a thing I enjoy and feel I can still do even if my health doesn’t persist. Sharing is so easy in today’s world and part of me wants to advocate for the conservation of New Zealand’s natural environment.

Good for the soul. 

And here is a website taking it up a level. Very easy to read. 

Not so magnificent obsessions

I vaguely remember the film Magnificent Obsession, 1954. I would have been 8 so why do I remember it? The title is floating in my memories but I’m writing about little obsessions now – little interests that keep you going. I’m thinking about people who have been limited by their head and neck like me or far worse. I can barely eat in a socially acceptable way, can’t bite or chew, I have an uncomfortable dental plate and mouth-guard and I’m pretty badly scarred.  But you know what keeps me going apart from friends and family? It’s my obsessive personalty.

That sounds like a bad thing and sometimes it has been for me (my obsession with the current world political situation for example) but the little positive obsessions have been really helpful and have brought me joy. There was the decade long obsession with Shakespeare that got me through my latter teaching years. When I had two classes doing Shakespeare in the same term, my imagination and intellect (such as it is) would be aglow. I read a book called “Shakespeare’s Imagery” and wanted to go to Stratford on Avon where a lot of the similes and metaphors he used got their origin. 

Another obsession was with alpacas after seeing a couple of beauties at  a Rotorua agricultural day about 10 years ago. That obsession has faded too but has given me an online identity on some sites. 

I’m obsessed with pohutukawa trees at the moment. Actually, I have been for a long time. I used to have a massive one outside my window during my childhood and those big old trees are wonderlands, covered in crimson flowers at Christmas. 

Secret weapon for moments of fear

When I started this latest head and neck cancer chapter, I was really scared. The cancer had come back which meant more difficult surgery followed by radiotherapy. It meant loss of teeth and later dental decay. It meant endoscopes and drills, needles,  extractions and biopsies and torches shone in my mouth. What horrible news were they going to give me next? How would I keep calm in the face of pain?

At the time, 2014, I was just beginning to live by myself as my husband had gone into care, so I had to find a way to cope with those little moments of fear and panic, let alone the wider fear of death and dying. Somehow I hit upon the idea of memorising an alphabetical list of things and chanting it to myself.

It sounds very strange but I learnt a list of Kiwi icons off by heart. We New Zealanders have gone to town with “kiwiana” in the last couple of decades. Long having struggled to define our identity as an independent,  bicultural country, we have iconised things like our native birds and trees, aspects of Maori culture and brands from the early days.

I had bought a poster from an Orewa tourist shop with a list of such items and put it on the toilet wall. After learning them by heart I had a calming device for every contingency.

Here are the first six items on the list:

  • Aroha = Maori word for love
  • Beehive = our house of parliament
  • Crown Lynn = an iconic crockery firm from the 50s
  • Downunder = slang term for Australasia
  • Eel = we have lots of them
  • Fantail = one of our cutest native birds

The first few were easy to remember but I used to forget some and had to think hard to retrieve the memory. What was U again? (It was “ute”.) This distracted me from the pain and panic. The list was particularly useful when the mask came down during radiotherapy and and the tongue depressor made my jaw ache unbearably.

One thing that made the list more memorable was that it was a pictorial list so each item had a stylised picture associated with it.

I still use it today if I’m having an examination and have to stop my heart beating like crazy. It works and I found out only recently that distraction techniques like this are commonly recommended by health psychologists.

Wish I’d looked after my teeth

So grateful for upper plate.

One of my first memories is of having five teeth out when I was five years old. Might have been because Mum used to put honey on our dummies. I remember coming out into the waiting room and being given a colouring book and pencils. When I opened my mouth to speak, blood poured out.

Here I am 67 years later still irked by my bad teeth. It’s not Mum’s fault but a combination of factors. Both parents had had all their teeth removed in their teens and were probably not great role models for tooth cleaning and avoiding sweet foods. We didn’t have fluoride in the water and there was no such thing as floss, interdental brushes and tooth mousses … Dental nurses had clinics in each school and cheerfully drilled and filled kids’ teeth with a sense of fatalism you wouldn’t see today.

I had multiple fillings each time I went to the dentist in Milford until I was 16 and free dental care ended. No one told me this was a sign that I needed to look after my teeth better. It was free! Having fillings was normal.

I remember the pain. The injections never worked properly in those days. When involuntary tears poured down my cheeks once, I was reprimanded by both the dentist and the assistant. “Oh Maureen! You have to be brave.” My greatest joy was when the dentist hung his drill up for the last time at the end of the session. There was a sort of motion that signaled to me that the agony was at last over.

University and no money to pay for a dentist. Started work and needed a tooth out. Stabilized teeth during 30s and 40s but then more decay again as I grew older. By the time I hit my 60s, I had lost a fair few teeth and had a number of root fillings. 67 and I had a marginal mandibulectomy of my left lower jaw and radiotherapy. Front teeth were broken in surgery. Trismus or limited mouth opening. Very hard to clean my teeth – gums and teeth in poor condition. However, I concentrated on getting through the treatment and getting over it. Getting dentures to fill the front gap. I did try to clean my teeth well, but let’s face it, I should have tried harder.

What am I left with now? A pretty appalling situation. A nice upper denture,  partial metal, gives me an okay smile and you can’t really see my lower teeth which are gradually breaking up. The lower two front teeth are stuck together like two tall trees swaying in the wind roped to each other or two close-knit tombstones. The others are stumps or half teeth. There’s nothing on the left side to hold a denture properly because of the flap over the gum. Strangely I’ve got some strong molars at the back but they are causing me to bite my tongue and cheek because of changes to the architecture of my mouth after a couple of big reconstructive surgeries.

I’m trucking on okay though. As long as I can keep the bottom teeth for a little bit longer my lower lip, palsied on the left by a cut nerve, won’t get sucked in too much more. I mean, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Can’t have the lower teeth removed unnecessarily anyway because of the threat of osteoradionecrosis.

A lot of this sad story is because of the oral cancer and treatment but I do believe I could have lessened the damage if I had looked after my teeth more religiously. That’s what I’d advise other head and neck cancer patients to do. Don’t do a half pie job. You need to go above and beyond to look after your teeth after radiotherapy.

I’m very comfortable sitting here at my computer and I don’t want to get up but heck, I think I’d better go and … clean my teeth.

All new Weiti Bay walk

Real estate company’s photo of the development

I tend to take East Coast Road from Silverdale to Browns Bay to see my family rather than the motorway.  Since moving here in 2012, I’ve noticed a new road being formed to the left towards Okura. Eventually I discovered that it was the route into a new subdivision behind the previously unspoilt Karepiro Bay which is well known for the historic Dacre Cottage and its distinctive red barn.

View of Weiti or Karepiro Bay from southern end

Last week we christened the road, got as far as a security gate and were directed to a small car park up the road where a new graveled path winds its way to the beach. The present subdivision consists of huge houses and lifestyle blocks but apparently two villages of about 200 houses each will be built by the car park. It’s all scrappy, hilly country so far, some paddocks, stands of pines but by the car park a nice area of native bush and gum trees. The path would have taken us about 15 minutes. The rewarewa were in glorious bee-filled flower.

This is what we saw when we got to the beach (had to take shoes off and wade across stream). Godwits! They looked much more interesting in real life. Elegant but soft and quite delicate although not as delicate as the fussy little dotterels who ran in ones or twos in front of us as we walked along. I don’t blame them for being skittish, of course, because they were nesting on the beach and they’re mighty endangered. All the nesting sites on the top of the sand were roped off but they didn’t know that, did they? No pictures of them because they are so well camouflaged and my skills and patience are not good enough for a good shot.


A walk along the beach taking care not to disturb the dotterels, godwits, oystercatchers and terns doesn’t take long and at the end of the beach you can walk out onto some rocks for a better view of the area.

Grannies on rocks

The track to Okura is closed at the moment but after carefully picking our way back along the beach we climbed the track at the other end which goes over the headland to Stillwater. There and back, just to the top and along a bit to enjoy the spectacular puriri and nikau forest. Here is one of the giant, gnarled old puriri.

Classic puriri

I didn’t time the walk but it is a good one for bush, beach and bird lovers.

And just to make this more of a visual record of the walk, here is a video Photo Gallery made for me without my asking.

A 90 minute walk with variety

A walk with long tail but no backtracking.

This Orewa/Eaves Bush/Hatfield’s Beach walk is a classic for walking groups on Hibiscus Coast but this post celebrates the fact that it is exactly 90 minutes if you walk from McDonald’s, halfway down Orewa Beach. You can walk to Eaves Bush on the footpath and come back along the beach so no retracing of steps is needed.

Eaves Bush off Old North Road is a real gem. A local group looks after it and stands of quite mature kauri as well as young rickers line lots of the paths. There is no kauri dieback but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was closed any time soon – to protect the trees – so it’s now time to enjoy this loveliness. There is some delightful undergrowth with many quite rare native plants.

You go in a bit of a loop through the bush and then up to Hillcrest road where a steep walkway takes you down to the old Hatfield’s subdivision which look 60s ish – maybe 70s/80s in parts. Remember when PM Rob Muldoon was interviewed here every Christmas? He had a bach nearby. Anyway, it is a modest suburb with mature trees and gardens. Then it’s down another walkway to a little creek that winds to the other end of the beach. Then over the main road to beach itself.

Hatfield’s beach is great! It’s on a busy road and it’s a boaties’ beach but it’s usually quiet and there’s no housing, just grass and trees and wetland in this particular bay. It’s almost unspoilt with a bit of an estuary on one end and cliffs and rocks leading to Orewa on other, the south end, where a short walk takes you to some steps up the cliff. Great views from these steps and then a walk through a luxuriant, luxurious suburb to the main road again, Hibiscus Coast Highway. You don’t have to walk on the road though because there’s a path through some pines and then beside the road to the Orewa Beach lookout.

Fabulous views from roadside. Orewa and beyond. Sea galore. From the lookout even better. There is a short bit down to the bridge near Old North Road again and then you can walk through the Arundel Reserve to the beach and join the people and their dogs walking along it back to McDonald’s. A good 90 minute walk for average walkers on a Sunday morning.

A small flat white at the McCafe is only $2.50 so it’s a cheap date.

It’s the little things?


The minutiae of life or little things you notice. Life’s trivia or just things like a gerbera in flower or a rose bud. A gadget in the cellphone shop. God, if I hadn’t had an eye for these things in the last ten years or so of head and neck cancer issues, I would have been lost.

It ties in with the fashionable concept of mindfulness too. I was between appointments and feeling restless. Went for a walk ten minutes up the road to patchy patch of pine forest and native bush. I heard a shining cuckoo, a tui and saw a fantail and wax eye.  The aural and visual senses. Little things that calmed me down.

Past the patch of untidy bush was a view of the horizon with one of my favourite sights – all the distant craggy islands and peninsulas written clearly against the sky. You can count clear days like that on the fingers of one hand every couple of months. There was Little Barrier, Great Barrier and Coromandel all blue and mysterious behind the nearer, lower, greener islands.

Then a walk down what was an ugly new subdivision sloping down to Whangaparaoa Road. Now softened with banks of flax and flowering manuka. One particular bank had such a swathe of soft white manuka flowers that it hit my eye with joy. I wondered if anyone else ever noticed things like this. It’s much more of a little thing than the spectacular ocean view.

The Sunday Star Times had a great feature in its recent Sunday mag. “Don’t worry, be happy.” What were the little things people recommended to put you in a good mood? Say thank you, said one journalist. When you’ve been through a tough time write down the things that you are grateful for. Sounds cheesy she said, but it worked for her. Say no to things you don’t want to do said someone else. Rescue a dog, go outside and my particular favourite: clean something meticulously. The other night I cleaned in and around the kitchen sink and polished the stainless steel. Sometimes just one shelf in the fridge or one drawer will do it.

Do a little thing and do it perfectly.


Event walking: 12 KM TRAVERSE


Here it is: the famous 12 K Bridge Traverse, something I’ve done two years running now (wish it was “running”). It’s part of the Auckland Marathon and starts at Smales Farm, Takapuna. You run or walk over the bridge and around Pt Erin, alongside the Westhaven Marina –  then wind through the waterfront area in another loop and down Halsey Street to Victoria Park.

Blitz the Bridge. Beginning of the climb.

For a walking event it is just great. Walking a half marathon on roads is a real slog when you used to run them in your middle age but an interesting 12 K walk is not such a drag. The bridge has meaning. It’s not just the view of our beautiful harbour but all the connotations of the bridge, the way it revolutionized the North Shore when I was a kid. I’m old enough to remember the wild and  woolly NS before the bridge when you had to get the bus to Bayswater and then the ferry to Downtown.

There’s other interest in the walk too. You walk down the busway to the bridge. I often chug along that busway on the Northern Express. Good to walk it – once again, the busway has been transformational for the North Shore. The Pt Erin loop is very pretty and there’s a lot to find interesting on the city’s waterfront. That last bit is a bit agonizing because you can see the trees of Victoria Park but have to wind around the streets when – if you are racing – the feet are beginning to hurt a bit. It’s only a walk but I love that inflated arch finish.

Up Shelley Beach Road. Well thinned out.

There were thousands doing the 12k. I don’t have the figures yet but there was a seething mass of humanity at Smales Farm. A human tide with four waves of starts. I was in the fourth and we started approximately 20 minutes after the official starting time. The clock said 2 hours 20 when I finished but I timed myself on my watch and I’m sure I got in in under two hours. Just.  It was a slow start and didn’t start to thin out until about a kilometer or so.

Waiting to start at the Smales Farm bus station.

Was the bridge steep? No. Definitely not. If you incorporate hills into your weekly walks – which you should do for fitness – you won’t find the bridge hard going. It’s gradual slope is just pleasant.  Going up Shelley Beach Road was a little steeper but that part where you pass the Pt Erin park and go down Curran Road and then under the bridge to Westhaven is the best bit – apart from the bridge.

There were a few glitches but all part of the adventure. We expected the Northern Express to get us to Smales Farm or near enough although some of the busway was closed. What happened is that a Dad’s Army type rounded up anyone who looked like a participant and made us get off at Constellation. Our bus driver couldn’t speak English, and doubting Dad’s Army we waited nervously a few minutes until a Takepuna bus did indeed turn up. After the event we thought we had to walk to Lower Albert Street to get the bus but while we were having coffee at the sadly depleted Victoria Park Market we could see people lining up for a bus. Turned out it was our bus (doh!) and we walked to Lower Albert unnecessarily. It was a good warmdown though.

Big Wheel sculpture (?) at Westhaven.

Why bother to do an event when we have plenty of good places to walk everyday? Well, the bridge is a huge factor. I walked it when it opened in the 60s and hope to walk the Skypath (?) if it’s built in my lifetime. Meanwhile there’s only the 12 KM Traverse. And achieving a physical goal is strangely satisfying. I’ve always found that. It’s more of a buzz than something requiring brainpower even though it is just brute force. There is something elemental about it.

Happy me at top of the bridge.


Once upon a time I thought the small but thick white horizontal scar of the tracheotomy was a blemish. Now I see it as totally insignificant. People who have had head and neck surgery have multiple scars and that little number is nothing to write home about.

I’ve been thinking about scars and thought I would find out more about scar tissue.

From Wikipedia.

scar is an area of fibrous tissue that replaces normal skin after an injury. Scars result from the biological process of wound repair in the skin, as well as in other organs and tissues of the body. (You can have scars inside your body.)

Scar tissue is composed of the same protein (collagen) as the tissue that it replaces, but the fiber composition of the protein is different; instead of a random basket weave formation of the collagen fibers found in normal tissue, in fibrosis the collagen cross-links and forms a pronounced alignment in a single direction.

This collagen scar tissue alignment is usually of inferior functional quality to the normal collagen randomised alignment. For example, scars in the skin are less resistant to ultraviolet radiation, and sweat glands and hair follicles do not grow back within scar tissues.

So scars are a little bit good – they show healed tissue – and a little bit bad – they are of “inferior functional quality”. Scars can also devastate our appearance. While they fade over time, those on the face and neck do detract from our beauty. Neck dissection scars can tuck neatly into the folds of chin and neck but other scars like my chin scar are not a pretty sight. Below is a very flattering photograph of it.

My chin scar and a bit of the neck dissection scar beneath it.

I’m all good with it though because I don’t think scars in themselves are truly disfiguring. No worse than wrinkles for those of us in our twilight years. It’s the drooping of the left side of my lower lip that I find disfiguring and dislike. That’s why I smile a lot. When I smile it is not apparent.

Scars are tight and the surrounding skin is looser so there can be a sagging of one side of the chin and neck which we certainly don’t like.

I think it is the interior scarring that is more frightening.Radiation therapy can also cause prolonged tissue scarring. The muscles attached to your jaw may tighten and make it difficult to open your mouth and chew your food. This is called trismus and can be devastating. People who had radiotherapy before the more targeted IMRT might experience scarring in their throats long after treatment causing swallowing difficulties.

I remember a speaker once saying that the body’s response to poor bloody supply is to scar. We know that radiation can damage fine blood vessels. Once again, I’m at the limit of my knowledge but if scarring is a build up of fibrous tissue to heal a wound, then obviously too much fibrous tissue can causes problems, a state called “fibrosis”, a build up of excess fibrous tissue. (“osis” means an abnormal process or state) Note: only a small number of patients suffer from serious radiation fibrosis.

Back to scars on the skin. Yes, they can be unsightly if they are deep and jagged and push surrounding tissue into unlovely shapes. The fine scars can be tolerable, even a badge of honour though. You can wear them with pride as a sign of ordeals endured, a life lived on the edge. There’s the concept of broken things being beautiful when fixed.

Kintsugi, for example,  is the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold — a metaphor for embracing your flaws and imperfections. Kintsugi can be a way to reframe hardships to remind yourself that you’re not a victim of your circumstances — and to help you come out the other side stronger. It’s a beautiful concept, could be helpful but like “positive thinking”, it needs to be applied with caution, especially for other people. Some breaks are hard to heal, some scars too deep for a glib answer.

A broken bowl stuck together with gold

So when collagen rushes to heal a wound with its mismatched fibres, yes, we can embrace the scars as proof of hardship and survival but only to an extent. There are scars and there are scars.