Archive for January, 2006

Earthquakes Near Kermadecs

Friday, January 27th, 2006

A pair of fifth magnitude earthquakes occurred near the Kermadec Islands yesterday.

The two earthquakes, which struck within 5 hours of each other, were centred near an area which experienced a cluster of six earthquakes with magnitudes between 4.8 and 6.4 during December.

The first quake was located 150 km NE of L’Esperance Rock and struck at 2.16 p.m. NZDT on Thursday. It was magnitude 5.2 and 10 km deep according to the US Geological Survey (USGS).

The second earthquake was located 160 km NE of L’Esperance Rock and struck at 7.32 p.m. NZDT. USGS advise that it was magnitude 5.0 and 43 km deep.

The epicentres were about 125 km south of Raoul Island, or about 1000 km north-east of Auckland.

What a Difference a Day Makes

Thursday, January 26th, 2006

A southerly change brought an impressive cloudburst to Tawa, Johnsonville and parts of Karori yesterday afternoon. Between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. the weather change dropped 24mm of rain in Tawa during a sudden downpour. The event seems to have been more sustained at Tawa, with slightly lower rainfall at Johnsonville and 11mm in Wellington.

Summertime debris rapidly collected in kerbside gutters, and some storm drains became temporarily blocked. The temperature plunged 9° C in two hours, settling at just under 16° C at 4 p.m.

Around the Wellington region, State Highways 1 and 2 were blocked by vehicle accidents, and The Terrace motorway tunnel was closed due to a nearby accident. Tailbacks caused delays which affected rush-hour commuters later in the day.

By mid-afternoon, the downpour had doubled the month’s rainfall to 51mm. Total rainfall for Wednesday was 32mm bringing January’s total to date to 58mm.

The rainfall has dropped the fire danger from High to Low in most of the Wellington region, though small areas of high risk remain.

Welcome Rain

Wednesday, January 25th, 2006

While the northern part of the North Island experienced stormy conditions yesterday, Tawa was able to welcome 7mm of gentle rainfall during the 8 hours to 10 p.m. With parched soils and stressed trees and shrubs, the gentle but steady rainfall was a welcome reprieve.

The rain will give plants a much-needed boost, as the last rainfall was 10mm on the 18th followed by mainly still and sunny conditions.

Only 26mm of rain have fallen so far during January, just over a quarter of the 99mm which had fallen during the same period last year. Soil moisture is still low, but yesterday’s gentle rain has softened the surface to allow the ground to take up more of the rain which is forecast for later today.

With our hottest month, February, just around the corner, steady (not torrential) rainfall during January is essential to prevent fire risk indicators climbing to Very High or Extreme in the near future. Yesterday’s Fire Danger for the area was High. As recently as January 20th, Fire Danger was Low, but the dry windy conditions have caused the index to climb rapidly since.

Regional fire risk was last at similar levels in January 2003, and rose to Very High during February that year. Local Councils warned homeowners to clear trees and shrubs away from houses, cut dry grass and be vigilant. We can expect similar warnings this year.

Matata Debris Flow Disaster

Tuesday, January 24th, 2006

The Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (IGNS) has published two reports on the devastating debris flow disaster at Matata in the Bay of Plenty in May last year.

The disaster was caused by an intense rainfall event on the 18th of May 2005, when rainfall rates exceeded 2 mm per minute as a result of a severe thunderstorm. The rain fell in a narrow band only a few kilometres wide in steep catchments above and inland from the coastal settlement. It is suspected that, had the rain fallen closer to Matata, a more devastating outcome might have occurred.

This event appears to be a 500-year recurrence event, and historical records indicate smaller events have occurred since 1860. There is also evidence that equally as large or larger debris flows have occurred in the distant past.

The intense rainfall triggered many landslips in the catchments behind the township, resulting in debris flows in the Awatarariki and Waitepuru Streams. These debris flows are dense mixtures of debris and water which move more rapidly than water and, in this event, moved boulders up to 7 metres in diameter. Up to 10% of the flow at Matata was organic matter stripped from the forest in the catchment area.

Although the disaster occurred during a swarm of more then 55 small earthquakes that occurred within 5 km of the township between February 12th and August 25th 2005, the IGNS team of McSaveney, Beetham and Leonard concluded that the earthquakes were not a contributing factor. The largest quake in the swarm was magnitude 4.2.

The team from IGNS noted that huge boulders from past debris flows had been used as landscape features in the area, and that parts of Matata have always been at risk. One conclusion stated “There are areas around Matata where it is unsafe to live.”

Although many residents have returned to their homes, there are still a number who have not owing to their houses being severely or totally damaged.

With the benefit of improved analysis and modern science, we are now learning that certain areas in New Zealand are not safe places to live. This creates a quandary for residents, insurers and local authorities as they try to find common grounds for protecting life, investment and lifestyle.

Of the two reports (available via the “News” link on the Geonet website which you can access from the link on this site), the smaller, two-page “The 18 May 2005 Debris-flow Disaster at Matata” provides concise, factual reading. It will be a handy fact sheet for many New Zealand residents, and will likely prove to be an excellent classroom resource.

Cold January Nights Not Unusual

Monday, January 23rd, 2006

The cold nights experienced in the past week were not unusual when records for the last 3 years were examined.

The sudden change to cooler temperatures overnight on January 12th made some Tawa residents wonder whether this was unusual for January. The change occurred in a period of still conditions after several days of gusty northerlies. This led to a week during which overnight temperatures bounced about in the low teens before dropping to 8°C on the 20th and 21st.

Weather data for Tawa for the last three years shows that there were six days when January temperatures dropped below 10 °C in 2003, and two days in 2005. 2004 was a milder year.

January temperatures dropped below 14°C on thirteen days in 2003, on eight days in 2004, on eleven days in 2005 and on ten days to date in January 2006.

Average temperatures to date for January 2006 compare favourably with previous years. Average minimums were 13° in 2003, 12° in 2004, 11° in 2005 and 13° this year. Average maximums were 23° in 2003, 19° in 2004, 18° in 2005 and 22° so far this year.

Past experience shows that February is usually our best summer month, with less temperature variation and lower wind speeds.

Quarantined For a Day

Thursday, January 19th, 2006

Not long after I transferred to the Wellington Transmission Centre from Gisborne, I was treated to a visit to the Somes Island quarantine station. No, I didn’t have some dreadful country ailment – I had skills that were scarce in the “big smoke.”

Not long before leaving Gisborne, I’d helped install a rural carrier telephone system at the remote settlement of Motu near Matawai. Outside the bigger centres in the 1970s, the telephone network was carried on these rural or open wire carrier systems, on wires strung from pole to pole on insulators just like power lines. Telephone circuits were multiplexed together (i.e. stacked) and sent on pairs of wires to the far end where they would be demultiplexed into individual trunk circuits for the local exchange.

Generally, each carrier system carried 12 circuits, but some were older technology. From memory (which is now decidedly flaky) the system I helped to install at Motu was a recycled STO-C 3 which carried only three telephone circuits.

On arrival in Wellington, I was looking forward to working on broadband systems of 960 circuits so was somewhat miffed to learn that one of my first trips into the field was to work on a dungery old rural carrier system. On the opposite side of the desk was obvious glee. At last! Someone on the station with recent hands-on experience who could maintain the last rural carrier system in the region.

At the time, Somes Island was still a fully functional quarantine station, used for agricultural and animal work. Its former roles as a prisoner of war camp during World War II and as a human quarantine station from the pioneering days were long past. The island had several permanent staff members, and its own step-by-step PABX system to allow calling between the houses and the mainland.

A new submarine power cable had been laid from the mainland, and the rural carrier system was connected to the old power cable to allow PABX trunks to be connected. An expedient solution, but the characteristics of a cable designed to operate at 230 volts and 50 Hz are far removed from those required for a system operating in the kilohertz range and at a much lower voltage.

For years, the staff at the Transmission Centre had developed bubonic plague, overnight cholera, 24-hour typhoid and many other mysterious illnesses as the maintenance rota brought the Somes Island rural carrier up for its annual maintenance check. Had I been the boss, I would have thought this made them eminently suitable for the job on a quarantine station, but it hadn’t worked that way.

On the appointed day we drove out to Petone wharf in one of the old brown Ford Falcon station wagons. It was raining steadily, cold, and a wind was up. Perfect day to be bobbing about in Wellington harbour in a tub. The gently sloping shore at Petone necessitates a long wharf at the end of which the official island launch was waiting for us. My worst nightmare had centred on a recycled government whale boat, so I was relieved to find a much bigger vessel than I had expected. The cabin was standing room only with all our test instruments, but at least we were out of the weather.

The skipper wasted no time and we set off in a straight line for the island, ploughing through the waves that were breaking over the bow. Fortunately, I’m a good sailor, but I would’ve enjoyed the trip more had I been able to see through the salt and spray on the cabin windows. Even the skipper found this to be an issue, and he frequently resorted to the storm window to see where we were going.

On arrival, I had been warned that we might have to go through quarantine procedures – whatever they were. Strip off and hose down on the beach? Much less, I’m glad to report. Walking through a shallow trough and an inspection of bags and instruments sufficed. They were more concerned about rats getting onto the island and killing off birds in the sanctuary.

The carrier system was in good condition and the maintenance was completed in a jiffy; we had plenty of time to enjoy the guided tour of part of the facilities before the launch came back for us.

But the cable. Oh, the cable. The frequency response of the old power cable was atrocious, and it was clear that it was coming toward the end of its life. Over time, the kinks and bends in the submarine part had allowed the conductors to be compressed and crimped. By the time an electron reached the far end it was so disorientated that it was in no fit state to do its work.

But we managed to bodge it. Rural carrier systems were quite robust and tolerant and, when we left, the terminal on the island was fair shrieking at its counterpart at Petone which in turn was shouting back. Call quality was better than before, and I could now start playing with newer toys like broadband systems.

I’d been quarantined for the day, and made a full recovery.

Of Whales and Quakes

Wednesday, January 18th, 2006

The recent strandings of whales in Golden Bay had me thinking about possible causes.

These seemingly random events mystify humans and, if you’ve ever had the misfortune to witness one, they are a dreadful thing to behold. Down on the beach will be huge creatures thrashing about, sometimes mewling in agony, while DOC staff and volunteers try to ease their discomfort and keep them alive until they can be coaxed out to sea at the next high tide.

The only time I have witnessed a stranding first-hand was when 59 sperm whales beached themselves at Wainui Beach north of Gisborne on the 18th of March 1970. At the time it was something of a spectacle and, as a youngster, I was taken along to have a look. It was a scene of pure horror down amongst the huge creatures, and I was unfortunate enough to witness the attempted removal of a jawbone by someone with a chainsaw. Not something I enjoyed.

Nowadays we take a slightly more humane view of such things, and the people on the beach are more likely to be trying to save the creatures than poke them with sticks and mutilate them as if at a macabre sideshow.

Unfortunately for the sperm whales at Wainui Beach, our skills at coaxing and refloating were not well-developed. They died and had to be hauled away to a huge grave bulldozed into the sandhills. I haven’t been back there for many a year, but we were warned at the time not to cross the barriers and go walking on top of the grave. With such large carcasses, cavities containing noxious remnants would develop over time, and it would be dangerous to come in contact with the material through a cave-in.

Mass strandings of whales are not too uncommon around New Zealand coasts, by which I mean they happen every few years, sometimes in clusters. Speculation as to the cause of such strandings has ranged widely. Some have suggested simple navigational error by the leader, with the rest of the pod loyally following the lead, even to the extent of re-beaching themselves after being coaxed out to sea. Others have suggested that illness or disease causes various members of the pod to accidentally or purposely beach themselves, leaving the healthy members of the pod leaderless and at a loss as to what to do except follow their leaders. Still others have speculated that storms, thunderstorms or other natural phenomena upset the whales’ navigational skills, and that the beaching is simply a result of being off-course.

Today, it is still largely a mystery as to why the initial strandings occur, and much uncertainty surrounds the reason for some or all of the refloated creatures returning to strand themselves again, only to die with their comrades.

It is now well-known that gravitational and magnetic anomalies are associated with the ground deformation that occurs as part of our tectonic processes. As the Earth’s tectonic plates move, strain builds up in various areas as rock is compressed or stretched over time before it eventually ruptures, and we feel an earthquake. During the process land can rise or fall, rock is gradually tilted, and magnetic and gravitational fields are altered slightly.

Nowadays, our seismologists and geologists regularly prepare magnetic and gravitational anomaly maps as they study the changing strain around New Zealand. Prior to the two earthquakes near Farewell Spit on the 16th and 17th of January, I was wondering what the tectonic stress build-up was like in the vicinity. The sites of the three recent strandings are in Golden Bay near the earthquakes’ epicentres.

Linking the strandings with tectonic deformation is drawing a very long bow, but is something that should be considered, nevertheless. It’s not uncommon for strandings to occur near Farewell Spit, but the sandspit has been there for some time. It seems unlikely that creatures with such well-developed migratory habits would have neglected to take the sandbar into account.

However, if whales rely on magnetic fields for their migration (as some birds have been shown to do) then a local anomaly due to tectonic strain in Golden Bay could easily bring their course a few kilometres south along the spit to Puponga where so many of them beached.

I wonder if anyone is studying this possible link. Perhaps they’d like to post some information about their work.

Well, Burger Me

Tuesday, January 17th, 2006

I have a taste for things savoury, so it’s nice to enjoy the occasional burger and chips. I know it’s becoming frowned upon, but the long life that the wowsers would have us benefit from would be dull, boring and moribund if we couldn’t indulge ourselves occasionally. All things in moderation, as the saying goes.

I’m old enough to remember the pre-multi-national days when burgers were made to local designs and were so erratically prepared that the consistent assembly-line product introduced by McDonalds in the 1970s seemed very attractive. In fact, the idea of fast food pioneered by the hamburger chains was a much-needed stage in New Zealand’s gastronomic evolution. It showed how it was possible to achieve a consistent product that was edible, if lacking pizazz. The downside was, of course, the virtual extinction of the local hamburger bar, such a feature of the 1970s and early 80s.

These hamburger bars churned out burgers based around a beef pattie with various trimmings such as lettuce or coleslaw, onion, beetroot, cheese, tomato and so on. The basic beef concept could be altered by the addition of bacon, an egg, pineapple, but they were almost exclusively beef – chicken was less common and hardly ever used. The beef patties varied greatly in quality from minced beef to the dreadful processed meat that was more akin to a fried slice of luncheon sausage.

The arrival of the burger chains brought consistency at the cost of originality in content, and many of us soon bemoaned the absence of beetroot, fried onions and other toothsome contents.

The modern day burger is a completely different product. Whilst adhering loosely to the original concept of a hot filling between thick slabs of bread, they really fall into two categories – the eat on the run burger contained inside a bread bun, and the knife and fork variety with the hot filling served on a slab of bread with another slab providing decoration on top. The latter category are impossible to eat by hand, and would defy even the legendary John Belushi who stunningly managed to “morph” a hamburger into his face before reaching the canteen checkout in “Animal House” back in 1978!

These wonderful modern creations are served in pubs, clubs, cafes and restaurants nation-wide nowadays. The recipes for the filling are often locally prepared, and the flavours will vary according to local produce available at the time. The ratio of meat to vegetable content is now much reduced, with less of the contents fried to achieve the requirement for a hot filling. Indeed if the word burger implies “hot and greasy” to some minds, then these new creations could easily be called hot sandwiches.

Beef is no longer the only meat component, with chicken, pork and lamb now being offered. It has taken years since Mike Moore’s “lamb burgers” were promoted for them to become a reality, but their slow appearance as diced or sliced lamb is probably somewhat different from a ground lamb pattie that was the vogue when he was pushing the idea.

Over the years, I have enjoyed many different burgers – so much so that they have become a bit of a familiar ritual when visiting certain places.

The Park Cafe at Marahau in Tasman Bay began offering home made burgers from a gipsy-style wagon near the entrance to the Abel Tasman National Park many years ago. It rapidly became a ritual for one of the beach walks to be capped off by stopping for a burger and blueberry smoothie at the cafe on the return leg. In the early days, seating was a ramshackle affair beside the caravan and around the heaped up herb garden in the middle. As the burgers were made, the cook would nip out and select various herbs from the garden while we watched. The smell of the burgers being prepared was accompanied by the frozen blueberries being “rrrrred” in the blender before the creamy yoghurt was added for a final spin. The smoothie was a meal in it itself, but guilty consciences over the addition of the savoury burger could be assuaged by the knowledge that we’d already walked off half of it!

It was pleasant to sit in the sun on the edge of the Marahau River estuary, watching the occasional tramper and walker pass by. Extra energy was expended by waving at the wasps who also had a taste for park burger, thereby further easing our consciences. The peace and quiet was a far cry from today’s cacophony of tractors, trucks, buses and jet skis that drown out the sound of cicadas and the hollow clunk of oars against the sides of the kayaks. Even so, the bellbirds still sing out from the bush early in the morning for those awake enough to listen.

At meetings of the Galactic Senate, which convenes irregularly at a bach at Marahau, the price of the Park Cafe’s burger and blueberry smoothie is analysed as solemnly as the price of a pint of milk and a loaf of bread was used as a benchmark for New Zealand’s economy at the end of last century.

Tawa has a chequered history for eateries and take-aways, with the locals often not properly supporting local establishments but buying “out-of-area.” Why this should be so is beyond me. Burger Wisconsin only lasted a year on the Main Road in the 1990s, and it has taken some time for other establishments (apart from the fish and chip bars) to establish themselves. Endzone offer a tasty lunchtime burger and have some nice wines to chase it down with on a summer’s day.

Just recently, I decided to join some friends for a cleansing ale at The Roundabout, our newest local pub. I’ve been there before, but they offered only bar snacks at first, and later visits didn’t coincide with a mealtime so that I could sample their expanded menu.

This visit was the perfect opportunity to sample some of their food. The menu was highly entertaining, being a fine example of the spelling mistooks and grammatical era’s which are becoming more commonplace in New Zealand. But don’t let that put you off the munchables.

The beef burger’s live up to the promise of their possessive name, and will occupy your full attention when they arrive. Slices of marinated beef are served with caramelised capsicum and onion (and a wisp of greenery) on a thick slab of bread. If I was better ejacated I would recognise the type of bread from its plum crust underneath its floury dusting. But I don’t. What I can say is that the melted cheese clung to the top slab tenaciously so that it was able to be enjoyed with alternating heaps of veges or slices of beef. The sauce had a distinctly tart fruity flavour. The accompanying chips were crisp and tasty. It was a satisfying and filling meal at a good price. Well done!

If, like me, you have a hobbit’s disposition and like to indulge in the ancient art of “filling the corners” then you can start chasing the toasted pine nuts which always escape the first attack on the meal. But choose your dining companions carefully. If you attack the toasty ones too aggressively, they tend skitter away, and your mates end up getting sprayed with buckshot!

Now all we need to do is get The Roundabout to stock some decent beer like Mac’s Gold and everyone will be happy. But I’ll avoid that argument as it leads to flame wars and discussion of free and bonded ale houses. Perhaps, like the burger industry which saw market domination by burger chains being slowly eroded by a change in eating habits and burger styles, the domination of breweries and their bonded houses will soon be eroded by a new market trend toward free houses that can address their customers’ preferences. We live in hope.

Tawa Radio Station Changes Frequency

Sunday, January 15th, 2006

Tawa’s local radio station WorldFM has changed frequency from 88.2 to 88.5 MHz. The frequency change was undertaken to accommodate another radio station in the region and reduce interference problems for some listeners.

As a result of the move to 88.5, coverage has increased to include Redwood, Tawa and parts of the Porirua Basin. The signal can be received along much of State Highway 1 from Churton Park to the Mana Esplanade and southward facing parts of Plimmerton may also receive the signal.

WorldFM plays a selection of music from many parts of the world as well as modern, blues and, of course, Kiwi music. The station features extensive news programmes from Australia and Asia, as well as news and documentaries from Deutsche Welle in Germany and Radio Netherlands.

Scotland’s Radio Six International provides several music programmes ranging from traditional (including piping) through to modern easy listening music.

For those with modern FM receivers, WorldFM provides information on the current track or programme and Tawa weather conditions via RDS (Radio Data System) to the receiver’s display panel.

WorldFM provides details of its programme schedule and audio feeds at its website which can be reached via the “Local Radio” link on this blog.

Earthquakes near Upper Hutt

Saturday, January 14th, 2006

For the second time in a week, many residents of the Wellington region were woken early this morning by a local earthquake rattling doors and windows. Whilst last Saturday’s magnitude 4.1 earthquake was centred near Porirua, this morning’s was further east and shallower. The magnitude 4.3 earthquake, which struck at 4:12 a.m., was 25 km deep and had an epicentre within 5km of Upper Hutt.

Geonet report that the earthquake was widely felt in the Wellington region, but no damage reports have been mentioned by local news media.

A magnitude 3.3 earthquake early on January 1st was also located within 5 km of Upper Hutt, but slightly deeper at 30 km. This event may have been a foreshock for today’s earthquake or a member of a swarm, it is too early to tell.

Last year, the Upper Hutt area hosted a series of 5 earthquakes which commenced on January 21st with a magnitude 5.5 event at 7:56 a.m. It was followed 6 minutes later by a magnitude 3.7 and 25 minutes later by a magnitude 3.6 quake. The following evening a magnitude 4.2 quake occurred followed by a magnitude 3.6 quake on the following afternoon. This turned out to be a standard earthquake and aftershock sequence, with minor damage being reported throughout the Wellington region.

The series of quakes near Upper Hutt occurred during a lengthy swarm of 7 offshore quakes near Martinborough which ran between January 18th and February 1st 2005. The largest event, a magnitude 5.4, occurred at the end of the sequence. This swarm of quakes also caused minor damage, and interrupted elevator and electrical services in Lower Hutt.

A year earlier, in 2004, Upper Hutt experienced two swarms of earthquakes in short succession between April 3rd and May 10th. The first swarm of 8 earthquakes occurred within 1 hour and 17 minutes just after midnight on April 3rd. The larger events detailed by Geonet were a magnitude 3.9 at 3 minutes past midnight, 6 minutes later a mag. 4.6, 1 minute later a mag 4.6, 36 minutes later a mag. 3.4, and 34 minutes later a mag 3.8 – all within 5 km of Upper Hutt. Seismologists described the series as a foreshock/aftershock sequence. Activity eased, with a mag 3.5 occurring late on the evening of the 4th.

On April 17th a magnitude 3.7 quake shook Upper Hutt and all was again quiet until April 26th when a magnitude 3.8 earthquake occurred. Another burst of activity occurred within 5 km of Upper Hutt on May 9th with a magnitude 4.1 at 7:31 a.m. followed by another mag. 4.1 39 minutes later. A magnitude 3.4 earthquake was felt 14 minutes after that. The final earthquake in the sequence was magnitude 3.3 on May 10th 2004.

On May 26th 2004, the Institute for Geological and Nuclear Sciences issued a fascinating media release about the Upper Hutt earthquake sequences, and an unusual land surface movement detected by GPS (Global Positioning System) in the hills behind Paekakariki. Analysis of GPS data showed that the steady westward movement of the Kapiti Coast had slowed from 25mm per year to 15 mm per year between May 2003 and May 2004. It was suggested that the interface between the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates had slipped about half a metre underneath the Kapiti Coast, increasing the tectonic stress under Upper Hutt, and thereby triggering the earthquake swarms.

Check That Guttering

Thursday, January 12th, 2006

The arrival of light rain is a timely reminder to check the guttering on the house.

We normally expect gutters to overflow when particularly heavy rain is falling, so it can come as a surprise when they do so during light summer showers.

The recent dry spell and associated strong winds have caused a surprising amount of debris to build up in house guttering this year. Chief amongst this is a staggering amount of silver birch seed. The silver birches have been seeding for several weeks, and the winds have dispersed the very light seeds from burst catkins very widely indeed.

During dry spells the seed collects in small drifts in house guttering. Silver birch seed is so light that it will float under very low water flows, creating dams and blockages in the house gutters. As the water builds up the seed begins floating and clumping together near downpipes causing blockages and overflows.

With light rain forecast for Saturday and Monday, Tawa residents would do well to check their gutters for debris buildup.

Dry, Windy Conditions Prevail in Tawa

Wednesday, January 11th, 2006

Ten days into the new year, and soil moisture levels are extremely low. Shrubs and poorly established trees are showing signs of stress under the onslaught of the dry northerly winds.

Only 5 mm of rain has been recorded so far this month. The strong winds which have blown on most days since the 2nd of January have stripped moisture from the soil causing gardeners to increase irrigation on exposed sites.

After a still New Year’s day, north-westerly gales arose on the 2nd, changing to gusty westerlies early on the 3rd before returning to gale force nor’westers later in the day. The gale continued into the 4th and slowly eased to still conditions late in the day. Northerly winds arose again on the 7th and gusty conditions persisted until calmer conditions set in on the 9th and 10th.

Temperatures have reached the early 20s every day, with maximums of 25C achieved on the 2nd, 9th and 10th. Cool overnight temperatures in the early teens were recorded on the 4th, 5th and 7th.

It looks like a typically boisterous January so far in 2006.

Telex Envy

Tuesday, January 10th, 2006

Not too many years ago, having a cable address made a business easily reachable by public telegram from within New Zealand and overseas. The unique cable name, which was usually a contraction of the company’s name or a word which described their business such as “BASINS” for a company manufacturing handbasins, were tantamount to a trade name and a sign of success and distinction. They were proudly displayed on company letterhead as a status symbol.

This was also the time when companies proudly declared the number of automatic telephone lines their business utilised to show how busy they were. “Phone 6809 (5 lines)” often appeared in different forms on business letterhead.

With the growth of the telex service, a telex number and answerback were as jealously guarded as a website name might be today. Companies with shorter names could get their whole company name into a seven letter telex answerback e.g. DALGETY NZ50505 while other companies developed a whole new persona such as Williams & Kettle with their WILKET answerback.

Time has moved on and the telex service is no longer available in New Zealand.

With the growth in Internet usage, a website name is now a sign of distinction and success. For many businesses, their website is their front door for customers who do not wish to physically visit them. The website is more universally available, offers a method for promoting products and customer contact, and the associated tools let the company know how many people are visiting from “cyberspace.”

Unlike the telex, the company’s identification is not restricted to seven characters dictated by a mechanical device. The company can choose to use its proper name or a pseudonym and utilise search engines to help customers find it.

Gisborne – Motu Railway

Monday, January 9th, 2006

January 14th 1900 was an important day for Gisborne residents, as the Railways Minister, Joseph Ward, turned the first sod on the railway route from Gisborne to Motu.

The railway had been proposed since 1886, but it was only local agitation in 1897 that began to get the project moving. Once started, progress was steady on this railway which was isolated from the rest of the network. With a railway also proposed southward toward Hawkes Bay, it was hoped that an eventual railway route from Napier through Gisborne and on to the Bay of Plenty would be achieved.

The northern route from Gisborne reached Ormond in 1902, Te Karaka in 1907 and Matawai in 1917. The railway gave much-needed access to Gisborne’s northern farming communities at a time when the district’s roads were in an atrocious state. The line began operating at a profit transporting sheep, cattle, timber and road metal. J.A. Mackay in “Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.” tells us that the railway was also popular with passengers, and 4000 people had rides on the train when the section to Ormond opened on the 26th June 1902.

Although the line reached Motuhora in November 1917, a distance of 49 miles, the work was discontinued. In 1938 the route through the Waimana Gorge to Taneatua was discussed, but a lack of plant and materials prevented work starting. The outbreak of World War II led to a postponement, and a cost review in 1946 led to an investigation of alternatives.

Passenger services on the branch line ceased in 1945 as NZR Road Services buses began to offer alternative transport. Competition from road transport, benefiting from war surplus trucks, caused the line to start losing money by 1952. Maintenance was suspended and the line closed on 24th March 1959. Gisborne – Motuhora became another of our “ghost railways.”

“Exploring New Zealand’s Ghost Railways” (Leitch & Scott, 1998) has a detailed description of the railway route, much of which survives.

In my early days, spying out the old track-bed from the car as we drove from Gisborne through to the Bay of Plenty was a favourite past-time. In many places the railway is close to State Highway 2, and the highway runs along the old track-bed in many places. Tunnels, cuttings and bridge approaches can easily be seen.

When I was maintaining telephone exchanges in the area in the late 1970s the concrete platform of the Matawai Station was easy to find, as the turn-off to Motu ran right beside it as the road left the town.

If the railway through to the Bay of Plenty had been completed, I have no doubt that it would be a popular tourist route today. The dramatic and rugged landscape inland near Motu is a sight to be seen, having been shaken, crushed and overthrown during millennia of seismic activity.

Two earthquakes near Wellington

Saturday, January 7th, 2006

Some Wellington residents were woken by the first of two earthquakes which occurred in the Wellington region this morning.

A light magnitude 4.1 earthquake, 30 km deep and centred 10 km West of Porirua occurred at 5:24 a.m. and Geonet reports that it was felt in Porirua, Tawa and elsewhere in the Wellington region. The tremor rattled doors and windows in Tawa, but no damage reports have yet been made.

A smaller event 125 minutes later at 7:31 a.m. was notable for the associated sonic boom which was heard at the southern end of the Tawa Valley. This earthquake has not been detailed on the Geonet website, but clearly shows on the seismometers at Karori and Mangatainoka. It was probably centred somewhere in the Tawa-Porirua basin area, and was probably shallow which allowed some of the released energy to be transferred into the air and heard as a “boom” sound.

Last month, on December 13th, a magnitude 4.5 earthquake, 30 km deep with an epicentre 10 km north-east of Porirua was felt throughout the Wellington region, and caused minor damage.