A rather late Christmas newsletter! 
A belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all. It’s been another year of frantic activity and long lockdowns. Apart from a short lockdown in February and a brief scare in June, all was going well. Until the Delta outbreak in August of course, and we’re still feeling the after effects of that one!

But we did manage a trip back to the camp site at Shelly Beach in the Coromandel. We did quite a bit of travelling around, including a trip up to Colville and a drive over to Whitianga. During the drive back, down a very large and steep hill, the brakes overheated and a very nervous Rachael had to hand back the driving to Mum. This in turn led to a trip south to the only available mechanic, who found nothing wrong apart from topping up the brake fluid. While in Whitianga we had a boat trip down the coast in a glass bottomed boat. Rachael was eagerly taking in all the local geology, but alas, we didn’t strike gold.

Back in Shelly Beach, there was the obligatory trip up the mini railway, and the Water Works. Rach also got a session on the zipline with Dad. We also came across a friend that we weren’t expecting, and who took us out on his Canadian canoe. With a little outboard motor attached. He also gave Tim some lessons in fly fishing, including a nighttime session a kilometre out on the beach. He also gave him some lessons in metal detecting, after Tim lost a few of his fishing weights…

Sarah did well at school, with lots of merit and excellence at English, Maths and Science, and a pass with outstanding effort (I won’t attempt to explain the grading system!) at Hospitality. Next year she’ll take up Chemistry (she has a keen enthusiasm for explosives) and a practical and business course. Rachael also did well, and the Earth Sciences and Marine Studies is feeding her natural curiosity, even if the university system can be frustrating. And she’s now got her restricted license. Despite her car’s gearbox breaking two weeks before! A new gearbox was fitted, and so far it’s been fine. Including the brakes.

Bronwyn had her (much delayed) graduation at Carey College in April (she’s already well into the higher level course), and we also had three big birthdays to celebrate. We collected all the old photos for Sarah’s 16th and Rachael’s 21st, and far too much cake. Bronwyn’s 50th was a little trickier since it was in October, and we were already over a month into a level 4 lockdown. But we did manage to provide a few surprises for her!

Bronwyn, on a Moeraki Boulder.

In between the birthdays, we had our trip to Southland. None of us had ever been to the far south before. We started in Dunedin, about 200 metres from the world’s steepest street. Parking was tricky! We paid a short visit to Baldwin Street but didn’t attempt to drive up it. Especially with black ice at the bottom! We did a short trip up north to Moeraki, where we had an excellent lunch in the Moeraki Tavern and then went out to see the Moeraki Boulders. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take them home. We had another trip out to see New Zealand’s only castle and the albatross colony, and then drove down to the far south.

It’s quite undisturbed down there, and a far cry from Auckland. We came across some seals and a rare penguin and paid a visit to Antarctica View Farms to get to the southernmost point of the South Island. After a visit to Invercargill and Bluff, we made the long journey back to Dunedin. Decided to stop in Gore for lunch. Got in a traffic jam. With tractors and horse drawn carriages. Perhaps there’s a parade? No, looks a bit chaotic to me. Ah! It was the farmers’ protest; about the pile of regulations and the way the city people treat them. So (after finding a parking spot away from the farming trucks and sheepdogs) we had lunch, with Bronwyn furiously phoning her family and giving a running commentary on the vehicles going past!

We’ve got into the mode of lockdowns. Tim tried making a variety of jams, jellies and chutney, and some feijoa wine. The yeast packet said it will “contribute a significant amount of esters”. It did. It tasted OK, but did rather have a lingering aroma of Evo Stik. We now have far too many potatoes and a variety of lettuce and other vegetables (along with the three or four eggs we get each day!) We’re also surrounded by sheep and have water from the sky, so survival shouldn’t be too hard. Just need a way to manufacture chocolate, of course.

In August, someone went touring around Auckland and the Coromandel (the same places we’d been in January) and tested positive for Delta. After a couple of weeks, it seemed like the outbreak was under control, but it had now spread into several communities that didn’t want to have their movements traced, and things got rapidly out of control. So instead of trying to stamp it out, they started a vaccination campaign. Now, with over 90% of over-12s vaccinated, we have freedom again. But only if you’re vaccinated; it’s a two-tier system. Health, dental and education workers are required to be vaccinated, and quite a few have lost their jobs as a result. It’s caused a lot of division, but at 92% of the eligible population (12 and over), it sounds like a safe bet at the ballot box…

Tim missed the brass band contest (it was in the same week as Dunedin) but they had a few sessions playing carols after the lockdown. And he had his first ever attempt at surfing. Very briefly. We’ve done our best to celebrate Christmas (Sarah had the tree up on 1st November and to make the most of what we’ve been able to do this year.

We send out our best regards and hopes that 2022 will go a bit more according to plan!

Tim, Bronwyn, Rachael and Sarah.

Cousin Blake gets a tow

Lockdown hairstyling

Sarah, trying to understand physics

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The longest lockdown 
Level 3 step 2. Now we can have 25 in a gathering outside. Next week we might move to level 3 step 3. Then either Red or Orange. It's all a bit confusing!

The cases have grown in Auckland, and are spilling over into other parts of the North Island. But still very low by world standards. We move to the traffic light system once 90% of people 12 and over are fully vaccinated. At Orange, a business or organisation can require all attendees to be vaccinated, and if so, they can have unlimited events. It's caused quite a bit of upset. Schools and hospitals are required now to have all staff vaccinated (at least one dose), and quite a few staff have been stood down as a result. Maori are well behind in the vaccination figures. Some people are complaining that Maori have not been given enough opportunity. Others are complaining that Maori are being given too much. To be honest, it's impossible to please everybody. I'm also reminded of Captain Mainwaring "Don't you know there's a [deadly disease floating around]?"

But here, it's all been quiet. I'm still on the same tank of petrol from August. Nobody has had a haircut and we're all beginning to look like we're back in the seventies. Most things have been on Zoom until the last couple of weeks, and the brass band still hasn't resumed despite having lots of playouts next month. Crumbs. Next month is December. We've been living a kind of Bohemian semi-retired idyll for two months and haven't quite got the hang of what time of year it is.

Although Sarah did remind us by insisting on putting up the Christmas tree in October. We put her off until November 1st.

All the lambs are out of the garden. The neighbour came round with his ride-on and mowed most of our garden which had turned into a small paddock. We supplied them with eggs and potatoes, they gave us some freshly caught fish. It won't be long before guava and feijoa season comes round again.

As a project, Bronwyn had built up the path at the back with some concrete. She got fed up having to weed all the grass from it every six months. It's been signed by all of us, including the chickens. Meanwhile, the steps at the front have collapsed into a hole. This would have been where the dog had carved out a hiding place years ago where she could sleep out of the sun and keep watch for when the car came home. Ross came round and we pulled out the loose concrete and filled it in with stones. Now we just need a lot more bags of concrete to do that bit as well!

It's getting warm and sunny. Hay fever season is in full swing. We've had plenty of rain, so everything is still growing. Including the blackberry, but now that I've been digging it up for several years there's a lot less. I'm over half way around the farm, but I keep finding new patches to clear. It's therapeutic. Slowly, it feels like I'm achieving something!

Two geese started nesting on the dam. Plus a couple of mallards and two paradise ducks, and there's been a pukeko loitering as well. I think the geese got fed up with me being around and cleared off. I think I also scared off the pukeko. But the mallards and paradise ducks have stayed. Bronwyn'a parents have a tiny dam, and they have several large families of ducklings up to the house. I'm trying to encourage them on our dam by quietly going out at dusk and sprinkling some chicken pellets on the jetty. Something appears to be eating it; I'm not certain what!

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A few more weeks in. 
Still in lockdown, but now in Level 3 Step 1. There's a three step loosening of the restrictions, so now we can meet outside in groups of 10. (Outside. No popping in for the loo.) The cases are not particularly under control, and are spreading outside Auckland. But the focus now is on getting as many as possible vaccinated. There have been some protests, but with a second death this week and no more talk of elimination, the vaccine count has begun to go up again.

Bronwyn had a quiet 50th birthday, apart from when her friends came up the drive tooting Happy Birthday (on one note) and presented her with a basket of treats. Rach and Sarah made a big chocolate cake, but we were a bit short of chocolate letters, so it read "HAPP BIRTDA". But that was plenty. Meanwhile, I found a sheet of corrugated iron and painted Happy Birthday on one side and "Caution Creative Genius Inside" on the other. I put this in front of the bedroom door while she was still asleep. It's very hard placing a 2.6 metre sheet of roofing iron on a bedroom door without waking anyone up but I somehow managed it!

Lilly (sorry, I called her Lulu last month) and Larry have been growing fast. Still on milk, but mostly on grass now. We've also got one of last year's ewes in the back garden after it had a difficult birth. The lamb was stillborn, and the mother had lost use of her back legs through nerve damage. But she's now back on her feet and hobbling reasonably well. The mandarin tree has been nibbled to pieces, but we haven't had any mandarins from it for years anyway!

Someone gave Bronwyn's brother a big sack of potatoes that had started sprouting. He couldn't use them all so we got a large bucketful. We couldn't use them all, so I planted half. Running low on space in the garden with all the potatoes!

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Lambs, lockdown and floods. 
Lulu wasn't looking well. Head down, rocking and shaking. And a swollen belly. Bronwyn had given her some baking soda, but it hadn't made much difference. It was clearly a case of bloat. She'd drunk too much milk, and it had gone straight to the second stomach and had been fermenting. We've lost a few in the past; they look fine in the evening but dead in the morning.

Bronwyn had been googling it. The procedure called for a hollow needle to release the gas. She had a few syringes that we used for penicillin, so she took off the needle, said a quick prayer, and popped it in. It worked. Lulu is still with us along with Larry, and apart from one more occurrence, she's been fine and moving onto solids. Or grass, at least.

One case of delta and we went into national lockdown within hours! But a week later we were getting 80 cases a day, and it could have been a lot worse. The internet hasn't been good though - everyone is trying to work from home and I think they're getting increasingly bored and watching too many movies! And Zoom calls. We seem to have at least four a day in our family.

It's been quiet. Mavis the duck hasn't been seen since lockdown; I'm guessing she's now got plenty of attention (and food) at home now that everyone is forced to stay in! The traffic has been a lot less, although there's one white van that appears to be stuck in first and I can tell it going past without even looking...

Although we did have a bit of chaos this week. On Monday night and Tuesday we had 200mm of rain. A small but slow moving depression managed to keep overhead for about 16 hours. There were reports of a house that had ponies upstairs because the paddock and downstairs were under water. Kumeu was cut off, lots of houses and businesses flooded and there was a car that landed in the ditch near us and was almost out of sight. It's probably the biggest flood since the bridge got washed away in 1971, or possibly the big one in 1928.

We were OK. Most of the farm is on a hill, although we did have an olympic sized swimming pool by the driveway. It's all gone down again, and I hear there's been a lot of cleaning up. Here, it's just soggy and the grass is enjoying it!

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Apparently the container ship we saw in Bluff was stuck there in quarantine, with a number of the crew having Covid. Fortunately it was several kilometres away, on the other side of the harbour, on the end of a very long pier!

My laptop died after Wellington. Had to share Bronwyn's laptop in the South Island. And my mouse died simultaneously. But all working now, and considerably faster. Fortunately the hard disk was still readable. I'm taking several backups as I type...

One lamb is due to be collected by a foster family. We named her Lulu. There's also Larry and Lilly. So far we've had a good season. Usually we lose quite a few, but only two lambs and two sheep so far.

And apparently we are now the proud owners of a duck. Mavis has been hanging out here for months. Her previous owner says she was a rescue duck, and since she's adopted us, we might as well have her. Not that we really own her. She obviously eats very well in our dam, and just hangs out when there's a chance of chicken food!

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