Monthly Archives: January 2010

The Coromandel Peninsula

The Pinnacles

After a rollercoaster of a bus ride from Auckland to Thames, I managed to settle into the Sunkist hostel near the seashore. The building is the oldest in Thames, and had a lot of charm. It was eco-friendly too with buckets for kitchen scraps to feed to the pigs, recycling bins, electricity and water saving features, and free-range eggs for sale.

Me in an old Kauri tree

Thames is the gateway to the Pinnacles, which is the mountain range that runs along the middle of the Coromandel Peninsula – obviously I was there for the hiking. I met another Canadian girl and I guy from Germany at the hostel, and we all headed up to the Pinnacles together for a day hike.

GAH! That's steep...

There were plenty of swing bridges, ladders, and steep climbs, but the view from the top was quite spectacular.

View from the top of the Pinnacles


While I was wrapping up at Rainbow Valley Farm, I got an email from a couple living in Whitianga that I had contacted about WWOOFing. They needed help in the garden on their organic cattle ranch. Whitianga (Fit-EEE-anga) is on the other side of the peninsula from Thames. The drive around was beautiful, but a little scary at times. Again, the roads were narrow, windy, and right along the seashore.

View of the ranch from the kitchen window - fruit orchard, and pasture. If you look closely, squint your eyes, and shake your head a little you can see some sheep in the shade under the tree in the field. Everything is a bit dry!

I couldn’t have felt more at home at Jaqui & Rod’s place; they were incredible hosts, and I hope that they come visit Vancouver someday. I spent most of my time at their place working in the garden, but I also got a chance to feed the pigs and chooks, and pick plums in the orchard. January here is like July at home in the garden, so the zucchinis were growing like crazy! Jaqui and I made a really delicious courgette chutney that I can’t wait to make again this summer! Yummy!

A garden gnome must have taken this picture when I wasn't looking.

One of the reasons I was so excited to spend some time in Whitianga was because it is quite close to Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach – two places I wanted to visit. I worked ‘double time’ in the garden for a day, so I could have the next day off to explore the area and check out the beach. Luckily they had an extra bicycle that I could use for the day to get around.

I took the Ferry from Whitianga across the harbour ... to get to the other side. A little bit of a short cut on the way to Cathedral Cove.

Emily ❤ Fern Trees! This wa along the path to Cathedral Cove - so lovely and cool to walk in.

The Beach at Cathedral Cove - a bit busy for my taste, but the turquoise water and white sand were spectacular!

The namesake - I think that the Cathedral Cove we visited in the Catlins on the South Island was more spectacular, but this is still a great example of erosion forces at work! Eventually this tunnel will collapse, and turn into a pillar.

Stingray Bay - wordless.

Chaos at Hot Water Beach. These guys must have been at work for a while to build a pool like that!

How is hot water beach hot? There are two springs, Maori and Orua, under the beach heated by hot volcanic intrusions from 5-9million years ago. Release of carbon dioxide causes the springs to bubble up through fractures in the underlying rock. If you dig a hole deep enough at low tide, you can reach this hot water (60-65C), and have a lovely soak.

River swimming hole off HWY 309

After about 60Km of riding, I had to stop at the river for a swim on the way home! Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach were both cool, but I think my favourite swim spot was the river of HWY 309. The water was clear and refreshing, and it was nice to relax in the water without being pushed around in the big surf. People say there are killer eels that lurk in the depths of the swimming hole – I wouldn’t be surprised if there are, but I luckily didn’t have an encounter.


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Rainbow Valley Farm – Cheese, Cheer, & Compost

It’s been a wonderful month here at Rainbow Valley Farm. I’ve learned a lot, and have appreciated seeing an established “permaculture system” at work. We’ve been busy, but I’ll try to catch you up on all of it.

I also thought I would post a few pictures of the farm so you can get a better idea of where I’ve been.

Passive solar design of the main house makes it cool place to escape to in the hot hot heat! I love the turf roof

View of the left side of the garden from the roof of the main house. You can also see the orchard directly behind the garden, and the bush area extending up the other side of the valley.

Right side of the garden - I've spent lots of time weeding, mulching, and planting in here with Fran

Fran collecting sea grass

We spent an afternoon ‘working’ at the beach – collecting sea grass to use as garden mulch. As you can see, the tide was really low and the sun had dried out the sea grass so it was easy to go along and scoop it into our sacks. There were a few muddy patches though…

The Cheese

In the end I made feta using two different methods. The one I mentioned in my last post, which was by fermentation. The second was the more conventional method using starter cultures and rennet. Both turned out tasty despite some minor hiccups along the way! The fermented one had a milder flavour, but better texture, took longer to make, but was less work. I think the cultured one won on flavour, but it was a good chunk of a Sunday spent stirring, measuring, taking temperatures, and draining.

Equipment for the second round of cheese... 5Litres of raw milk ready to go

The final products - cubed fermented version in front, round cultured version at the back

Hot Compost

Fran has been working hard in the garden getting everything in order for the summer growing season, and producing lots of food for the upcoming courses. Every good garden needs good compost, so Tom and I decided to make a Hot Compost pile so Fran would have some extra compost to work with. Hot Compost works the same way a regular compost pile does, but it’s has a finished product in as little as 18 days instead of months.

The right ratio of green (nitrogen) to brown (carbon) is critical for success with Hot Compost - Tom and I collecting brown material in the fern grove

We layered up cow poop, brown material, kitchen scraps, and weeds in a one cubic meter pile. The pile gets so hot from all the bacterial action that most weed seeds are killed and it’s steamy when you turn it over. Every few days we’ve been turning it over and keeping it moist. It’s starting to look pretty good!

Compost now - about 14 days old

Russel and I had the honour of cleaning out the composting toilets. Actually, it wasn’t that bad. Unlike long drops or out houses, compost toilets don’t smell bad and the ‘finished product’ is pretty harmless. The farm uses a vermiculture system that is a lot like home worm farms for composting – each worm eats its own body weight in organic matter a day, and poops it out as a nutrient rich composted material. Obviously what we were digging out was not fresh, it had been sitting long enough for the worms to get their work done – a few months. Most people don’t use this compost directly in their gardens, but it is possible if you’ve let it cure enough to ensure that any pathogenic bacteria has been wiped out. There’s no problem putting it on perennials or in an orchard though.

Joc' shows us how it's done

The finished product. Looks like dirt to me!

The compost was put in the subtropical orchard and covered with saw dust as a mulch to keep the nutrients from getting washed away

The Ducklings

I’ve been looking after the poultry while I’ve been here, and lucky for me it’s been duckling season. The ducklings I told you about last time are doing really well, and have gotten quite big under the protection of Mr Gander.

One of the Muscovie ducks hatched six bright yellow fuzz balls two days ago. They’re so cute!

Mama and her ducklings

Unfortunately they’re also tasty. Stoats, eels, and ferral cats are on the hunt and took out half the pack within 24hrs. Down to three, we moved them into a chicken tractor where we hoped they would be safer.

Their new home in the chicken tractor, complete with pond

And then there were three

The Market

Every Saturday there is a Farmer’s Market in Matakana. The farm has a stall that sells produce, honey, fresh cut flowers, and organic crepes made to order. I’ve been helping out most weekends that I’ve been here, and it’s been sweet as – live music, lots of fresh local organic produce, friendly people, and delicious crepe snacks.

Part of our stall at the Matakana Farmer's Market

Hands down THE BEST oranges I've ever tasted! They're so sweet and juicy... yummy.

The Holiday Season!

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and don’t forget summer solstice! We celebrated Solstice at the farm with a magnificent feast so some people could spend Christmas with their families. Each of us made a special dish of delicious food. I made butter chicken from a recipe that Rob swears is the best…. and I started with the chicken.

Fran and Tom in the kitchen preparing for the feast

The table - we used canna lily leaves for plates so we would hav fewer dishes to wash

Appies! Scallops and Thai fish cakes on lemon grass skewer

Tom's mostly maggot free Camembert cheese, and Russel's gorgeus French loaves

Russel playing his Aussie role of "Baar-bie" Master

The main course- butter chicken, the best steak i've ever eaten, and a tasty stuffed squash

A couple of happy campers!

The final straw... Fran's (she's Italian) Tiramisu and Tom's (he's British) Mince Tart, and Fejio liquer

I slept well that night.

Christmas was a bit quieter, but just as lovely. It was my first Christmas away from home (*tear), but was bearable because the Farm and country weren’t swept away by Holiday Fever. It was also my first Christmas on a warm beach (Tofino doesn’t count). The water was so warm! Even saw Santa (or one of his elves) take a quick break for a surf.

Pikiri Beach - Christmas 2009

Me and my cape. I picked potatoes at noon (bad timing), and forgot to put sunscreen on my back - needless to say I got a bit burnt. The Cape did a good job of protecting my burn for the rest of the day.

Is that Santa!?

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