Saturday, December 18, 2010

Elderflower Fizz

At this time of year our elder trees are awash with soft white blooms.

As our lemon trees are laden all year round, it's a perfect opportunity to make Elderflower Fizz. It's light and refreshing, and a lovely summer drink.

Here's how I make it:

2 litres (8 cups) boiling water
2/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp honey
4-8 heads (depending on size) of elderflower
1 lemon, sliced
1 tbsp white wine vinegar or cider vinegar

Dissolve sugar and honey in water. Allow to cool, then add remaining ingredients. Cover loosely to keep out unwanted visitors, and leave in a cool, dark place for about a day. Strain into sterilised bottles, and leave for two weeks before drinking. Be prepared when opening, as this gets very fizzy.

Note: leave lots of room in the bottles. One memorable summer I had a batch explode, leaving broken glass and a sticky mess over walls and floor.

This keeps quite well - I once found a forgotten bottle the following summer, and it tasted just fine.

If you have some elderberries (I sometimes freeze a batch), steep them with the other ingredients to make Pink Elderflower Fizz.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Celebrating Jane Austen

Today (it's currently the 16th December in England, as well as in New Zealand) marks 235 years since Jane Austen was born. She died tragically young, especially since she came from a generally long-lived family, but what a legacy she left. Her works seem to be more popular than ever, making frequent appearances on lists of favourite books.

They're certainly high on my personal best-loved list. They're among those few books that I never tire of re-reading, often discovering some clever detail that I've never noticed before. Jane may be 235, but for me she never gets old.

Back in the 1980s when we lived in England, a visit to Chawton Cottage was one of our first journeys. To walk among the rooms where Jane composed so much of her work was a real privilege. Our photographs of that visit don't seem to have survived the multiple moves since, but the memories are precious.

A virtual tour can be taken here.

Monday, December 13, 2010


With so many wonderfully ornate Victorian buildings crammed into this small town, it's only natural that steampunk has found a warm welcome in Oamaru. Here's the nicely spooky Steampunk HQ.

Steampunk was even more active than usual during our recent visit, with a special exhibition in the Forrester Gallery.

The building, designed in 1883, was originally a branch of the Bank of New South Wales. It's been an art gallery since 1983.

Note the "Dark Engine from the centre of the Earth" outside.

We returned to see it lit up at night (as shown in the "Dark Engine" link above), when it's quite a sight (and sound).

Inside the gallery were rooms filled with a dizzying variety of steampunk artifacts.

More pictures from the exhibition here.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Clark's Mill

The land near Oamaru was recognised by early European settlers as being well-suited to raising wheat. Flour was an essential crop, and in this North Otago region (these days about an hour's drive from top to bottom) there were by the end of the 19th century thirteen flour mills. Of those thirteen one still operates, and still uses locally-grown wheat: the Ngapara Mill, built in 1898.

Clark's Mill was one of the earliest (1866) of the North Otago mills to be built, and it's the only one where traces of the original water-powered equipment survive. It's an attractive limestone building, built of stone quarried from the cliffs behind it. The mill began operating with a wooden water wheel driving millstones. While the equipment became more sophisticated, with the wheel being replaced by a water-turbine (and eventually electric motors) and the millstones by roller mills in the 1880s, the mill continued operating until 1976. Water came from a river several miles away; digging the mill race in the days of pick and shovel must have been quite a task.

Old photos show lines of horses and carts bringing in their loads of wheat, and bags of flour being carted to the mill's railway siding. It must have been a bustling place, and probably somewhere to catch up on the latest gossip while unloading the grain.

Today Clark's Mill is a peaceful spot a short drive from Oamaru, lovingly restored, and open on Sunday afternoons in the summer months.

More pictures here.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A night at the Oamaru Opera House

We recently spent a week in the pleasant town of Oamaru, in New Zealand's South Island, for their annual Victorian Festival.

Fertile land, the growth of pastoralism, and the development of refrigerated shipping (of which more in later entries) made Oamaru a wealthy town in the Victorian era. The easy-to-work limestone found in the area was made into beautiful buildings, many of which still survive and are well-cared for. The people of Oamaru value their heritage.

The Opera House is more recent than some of the other buildings, dating from 1907:

What a gorgeous confection to find in a town of about 12,000 people! And it's well-used. On Saturday night we went to a fine performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers. Front-row seats in the Circle, inside this gem of a theatre:

(My apologies for the poor lighting in this photo.)

This theatre will make a small appearance in one of my future books. How could I resist?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Readers are such wonderful motivation

I got the most delightful piece of mail yesterday. A lady who's read all my books on her e-reader recommended them to a co-worker who then bought a set for herself. Another co-worker heard them discussing the books, wanted to try them, and got the full set in paperback. She's now lent the set to yet another co-worker...

They sent me this lovely picture, which I'm posting with their permission:

It's readers like these who keep me going when it all becomes a struggle.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Meeting Mark Coker

Mark is the founder and CEO of Smashwords. He's just completed a speaking tour that included Australia and New Zealand. I wasn't in town to attend the New Zealand session (which was sold out—it's great to see such interest in new publishing directions), but on Thursday Roger and I joined Mark and Lesleyann for dinner at one of Auckland's waterfront restaurants. It was a really enjoyable evening, with much swapping of stories and generally enjoying one another's company. Interacting over the 'net is great, but it's wonderful to have the opportunity of meeting in person.

Smashwords have just issued their quarterly payments. Record amounts, and things just seem to keep getting busier and better—including for me.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A New Toy

No, not another set of toy soldiers, but something rather more modern.

Much as I love my laptop, I've found from hard experience that it's just too heavy and bulky to haul about. So when I go to the library to spend some time in the research section, I'm reduced to taking notes with pen and paper, which I then have to transcribe when I get home.

Not any more. Yesterday this arrived:

I've wanted one for a while, but decided to wait until a six-cell battery (and hence much longer usable time away from mains power) was standard.

This isn't only useful for the library, of course. I'll also be able to use it when lurking in my favourite cafés. I see rather more café time in my future.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Today is the anniversary of what was, in terms of lives lost in a single day, the greatest disaster in New Zealand history. On the 12th of October 1917, during the Battle of Passchendale, 2,700 New Zealanders were killed or wounded. More on the battle can be found here.

Last year I went to an exhibition commemorating Passchendaele, sent to New Zealand by the Passchendaele Memorial Museum in Belgium. It was held at Fort Takapuna, from where some of the departing soldiers were deployed. On the grounds of the fort over 5,000 white crosses had been set up, one for every New Zealander killed in Flanders.

My work-in-progress has some of my characters being caught up in this battle. It's not really a spoiler to say that at least one will die there, because I could not claim to be at all realistic without reflecting something of the tragedy surrounding Passchendaele. Oddly enough, I have no sense that I'm "killing off" a character here; the death feels as inevitable as the events that drag these boys to Belgium. Foolish as it may sound, I do sometimes cry over characters who die; all the more so when it's one I've "known" since he was a child.

Friday, October 8, 2010


There are so many lovely sights on and around our property at this time of year. (Click for larger pictures.)

The kowhai is one of New Zealand's few deciduous native trees. It keeps its leaves till just before flowering, so that the mass of yellow flowers first appear on bare branches. This tree is only a few years old; mature ones can reach 12 metres in height. Kowhai is "yellow" in Maori.

A plum tree covered with blossom. I never realised that plum blossom is scented until our own trees began bearing so heavily. By Christmas this tree will be laden with fruit, a variety that's delicious fresh but not worth preserving. The sheep make a fine job of clearing the windfalls.

A new neighbour. This calf is only a day or two old, with a furry coat as soft as a cat's, not the rougher weatherproof coat it'll have later. It's being hand-fed, and rushes up to the fence as soon as it sees us, ready to suck at fingers or clothing, gazing from soft brown eyes under inch-long lashes.

And a sound of spring: the pipiwharauroa, or shining cuckoo. It spends its winters in warmer places like Vanuatu and New Caledonia. When that distinctive call is heard, I know spring is here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Moving the Rob Roy Hotel

Since 1886, the Rob Roy Hotel (more recently known as the Birdcage) has stood in the Auckland suburb of Freemans Bay. While much of the Victorian fabric of the city has been demolished, the Rob Roy has survived. When it was found to be in the path of a planned motorway tunnel, the decision was made to move the building forty metres up the hill out of the way—and then move it back when construction has finished.

This has been quite an undertaking. Old brick buildings don't particularly like being moved. Steel rods were inserted through the bricks, reinforced concrete applied to the rear wall, and carbon fibre strips inserted in the chimney to provide seismic strengthening. A heavily reinforced concrete track with a Teflon surface was built. Then, very slowly and carefully, and watched by thousands of people, the move of this 740-tonne building by two 30-tonne hydraulic rams began.

Before the move (click for larger pictures):

After the first day:

A time-lapse video of the move:

The hotel will stay in its new position for about six months, while the tunnel is finished. In the meantime, those concrete tracks have been broken up—quite an undertaking, as they were full of reinforcing rods.

Freemans Bay was a busy industrial area when the Rob Roy was built, with ship builders, sawmills, glassworks—and a brass foundry. Those of you who have read A Second Chance might remember a character who owned a small brass foundry; this is the area where I've placed his foundry, and the Rob Roy would have been his "local". While he's a fairly abstemious man, I'm sure that on at least one occasion he sat in the bar of the Rob Roy and raised a glass in honour of a certain young lady.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Celebrating Spring

It's springtime in this part of the world. Blossom on the trees, daffodils in the orchard, calves and lambs in the paddocks (although not in ours; our sheep live a celibate lifestyle).

Calving was (and is) an important time of year on a dairy farm. Here's a snippet from my work-in-progress:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Winton Baby-Farmer

On 12 August 1895 Minnie Dean was hanged; the only woman ever executed in New Zealand.

Dean was a "baby-farmer", a role that grew out of Victorian attitudes to illegitimacy. Having a child out of wedlock was seen as ruining the life of a respectable girl, blighting any chance of a good marriage. A baby-farmer could make the problem discreetly disappear, by taking the child off its mother's hands.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Memorial to the Suffragists

In 1993, the centennial of New Zealand women gaining the suffrage, a memorial was set up in central Auckland.

It's a bright and cheerful affair done in coloured tiles, but opinions are widely divided on this memorial. Many in the artistic community would like to see it go, and recently it's become something of an issue in this year's upcoming mayoral election.

I've no wish to engage in political or artistic debate on its merits, but I'll miss this memorial if it does disappear. Perhaps it is more of the craft shop than the art gallery, to paraphrase one commentator, but to me that's part of its charm. It speaks to me of the lesser-known heroines of the suffrage movement, hanging up their aprons, pinning on their hats, and letting the mending wait for an hour or two while they went out to meetings. The women who spent hours collecting signatures for pro-suffrage petitions. Who somehow found the energy, with all the other demands on them, to support the cause that meant so much to them.

This week marks the anniversary of the third and final suffrage petition's being presented to Parliament. It was a massive undertaking, with 32,000 signatures - a substantial proportion of the adult female population of the time. The petition forms were joined into a 300-yard long bundle that was ceremoniously unrolled in the House. Two months later, a new Electoral Act came into law. All adult women now had the right to vote.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

One Hundred Years Ago

One hundred years ago, on 23rd June 1910, a group of thirteen farmers gathered in Palmerston North and formed the New Zealand Holstein Friesian Association. What makes this occasion rather close to my heart is that my husband's great-grandfather was one of the thirteen, and I have his diary recording the event.

Just getting from the farm to Palmerston North was quite an undertaking. On Friday 17th June he went by buggy into Opotiki (the town where I grew up, and which my fictional Ruatane is based on). He caught the coastal steamer Ngatiawa at 1 pm, and arrived in Auckland the following morning at 11 am (in the diary he comments that "We would have been earlier only we had to put off sheep at Orakai"). He stayed two nights with family members in Auckland, then on the evening of Monday 20th June he caught the train to Palmerston North and arrived there about midday on 21st June.

One hundred years ago this circuitous route, first north to Auckland, then south (despite the name) to Palmerston North, was the fastest way of making the journey. Today it's about a seven hour drive, on sealed roads all the way.

Communication could be a trial. Great-grandfather had arranged to stay with a Mr Lovelock of Palmerston North, one of the other founders of the Association, but he found that "Lovelock was not in to meet me so I borrowed a horse from the New Zealand Loan and rode out there. When I got there I found Lovelock had missed me having gone in in his Motor car for me. But he got home about eight o'clock." Next day "I could not ride into P/N with him in his car as I had to take back the horse. But I came home with him this evening, and I rather like riding in the car."

He obviously did "rather like" it, because a little later he became one of the earliest motorists in Opotiki.

Thursday 23rd June's entry includes "We all went into P/N after dinner we went to the Holstein meeting had a good talk there and formed a Holstein Association." Here's the page:

The following day he began his journey home, retracing his route by train, steamer and buggy, and on Thursday 30th June was back on the farm. He'd had quite an eventful two weeks.

The Association still exists, and this week has been celebrating its centenary. I've found on their website a request for any descendants of those thirteen men to contact the association; I'll bundle up some of my information and send it off to them.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

In good company

I was checking the Barnes & Noble e-book listings for historical fiction today, sorted by number of sales, and was pleasantly surprised to find Sentence of Marriage at Number 34 (of 2,019) sandwiched between a Michael Crichton and Hilary Mantel's Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall. Heady company for my little tale.

Of course there's the not-so-small matter of money: Sentence is free. So I was just as pleased to find Mud and Gold, which isn't free, at Number 168, with one of Laurie King's Mary Russell books and Rafael Sabatini's tale of derring-do, Captain Blood, either side of it. It's a good neighbourhood.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


Ma's out, Pa's out, Let's talk rude!
Pee, Po, Belly, Bum, Drawers.

Flanders and Swann's "naughty words" song isn't referring to an innocuous chest of drawers, but to gasp underwear. As if that weren't shocking enough, Victorian ladies often wore split drawers.

As part of my quest for authenticity, and my wish to share from the comfort of today a little of the experience of being a Victorian woman, some years ago I made a pair of 19th century-style drawers.

They're quite full in style, loose around the thighs and trimmed with generous frills. Should the unthinkable happen, and a man get a glimpse of these drawers, they would look like a petticoat, albeit an indecently short one (they barely cover the knees).

But the legs are quite separate, joined only along the waistband.

Split drawers are sometimes assumed to have been the Victorian equivalent of naughty knickers, and to have been worn only by women of ill-repute, but that's not the case at all; they were normal, everyday underwear, worn by respectable women as well as (presumably) their fallen sisters. Their design is based on simple practicality.

A woman's underwear included, in addition to drawers, a chemise, a corset, a camisole, and at least two petticoats, and all this in the days before zippers or lycra. With split drawers, relieving oneself doesn't mean struggling with hooks, buttons, or cotton tape; it's simply a matter of making a minor adjustment. When braving a gloomy outhouse, complete with a population of spiders, anything that makes the task a little easier is to be welcomed.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Crabapple Jelly

Making jams and jellies was a necessity for the women I write about; for me it's an indulgence. There's much satisfaction to be had from a row of gem-bright jars filled with fruit from our own orchard.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A brilliant new review

from an editor who's read all four books. I was gobsmacked in the best way when I read this.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Remembering Waihau Bay

When I was six years old, our small town was flooded. Flood waters went right through houses and shops, and retreated leaving chaos and a stinking layer of mud in their wake.

It must have been a nightmarish experience for the adults, but for a small child the outcome was delightful. The school had been flooded, and schoolchildren were given an unexpected holiday. To keep them out of the way while the massive clean-up was going on, many parents sent their children to friends or relations out of town. And I was lucky enough to be sent to the tiny seaside settlement of Waihau Bay.

Waihau Bay can be found towards the eastern side of the map on this page, a little to the east of Raukokore. You'll need to magnify the map, though—it really is a tiny place. There was a vague connection, involving one or two layers of in-lawness, between my family and the people who owned Waihau Bay's general store, and they good-naturedly took in several children during the clean-up.

Looking back, it feels as if we were there for months, but it can only have been a few weeks at most. It's hard to be sure exactly how long it was—while my visual memories of this time are outlined with startling clarity, that doesn't extend to having any real sense of the passing of time.

Every day seemed to be brilliantly fine, and we spent all day every day out-of-doors, paddling, clambering over the rocks, exploring rock pools, gathering shellfish, and having impromptu barbecues. I've a feeling that some of these images became conflated with my later reading of "Famous Five" books (helped by the fact that I had my dog with me, and he was called Timmy), but those weeks nevertheless remain golden in my memory.

That's no doubt why, when I was choosing a setting for one of my future books, Waihau Bay came to mind. It will be a fictionalised version, given a different name; I don't feel I have the right to send my invented characters to where they'd be usurping the place of real, well-documented people. But it will be informed by that special place with its golden memories.

I haven't been there in years, but I recently saw Taika Waititi's new movie, "Boy", which is set in Waihau Bay. I found the film itself engaging and often moving, and it was a delight to see the Bay again.

I have six or seven books in various stages of planning, including at least two that follow secondary characters. One of these will be set in my fictionalised Waihau Bay. I look forward to finding out just what happens there (although I do have a fair idea, characters have a way of following their own paths, and it's generally best to let them). Now all I have to do is finish my work-in-progress, and the two or three that will come after it in this sequence of stories. And then, I think, I had better plan a visit to the real Waihau Bay.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Anzac Day

The 25th of April is a day when New Zealanders remember the landings at Gallipoli in 1915, and their tragic aftermath. To quote from an official New Zealand Anzac web site,
On this day the people of New Zealand have acknowledged the sacrifice of all those who have died in warfare, and the contribution and suffering of all those who have served.
There are dawn services, often held at war memorials. When I was a child, many veterans of World War 1 marched in the parade (in fact I lived near a veteran of the Boer War, a man who lived to be 100). Now all our WW1 soldiers have passed on, and the survivors of WW2 are elderly. My father-in-law was one of the WW2 veterans; he died late last year, aged 89.

Anzac stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. Anzac Day is formally recognised in Australia, New Zealand, and Tonga. There are also ceremonies to mark the day in many other countries, including Britain, Canada and the United States. And at Gallipoli itself, every year the day is marked by a dawn service attended by thousands.

I've been fortunate enough to visit Gallipoli, though not on Anzac Day. I'm glad to have had the chance to contemplate this place in silence.

Information on Anzac Day in New Zealand.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cover story

When I decided I wanted new covers for the three books that make up the "Promises to Keep" series, I spent quite some time trawling through old photographs, looking for an illustration that felt right for my books' setting. I finally found it much closer to home.

This is a small patch of our own native forest. The fronds on the left are from a nikau, New Zealand's only native palm species. The distinctive, spiky-leaved tree with its head just to the right of "Marriage" is a tī kōuka or "cabbage tree". Despite the name, it's a woody plant rather than a true tree, somewhat related to lilies.

The tallest trees in the photograph are mostly rimu and totara, species that were felled for timber before they became too scarce to harvest.

The forest around Amy's home would have looked quite similar to this.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dueling in downtown Wellington

What's now New Zealand's capital city was a wilder place a century and a half ago. On 25th March 1847, Dr Isaac Featherston and Colonel William Wakefield fought a duel at Te Aro, Wellington.

Dr Featherston was an Edinburgh-educated medical man who became a newspaper editor and later a politician. He arrived in Wellington in May 1841 on a ship owned by the New Zealand Company (a group planning to colonise New Zealand on a so-called systematic basis, creating “a perfect English society”), and was singularly unimpressed by the place, as he expressed in an editorial on 24th March 1847:

“Did those mud hovels scattered along the beach, or those wooden huts which appeared every here and there … represent the City of Wellington? Where were the hundreds of acres of [quoting from the Company's marketing] ‘fine fertile land which shall produce such astounding crops?’ ” His own investment, he said, was no more than “a useless swamp worth nothing”.

Colonel Wakefield, the Company's Principal Agent in New Zealand, took offence at this, seeing it as an implication that he was a thief. The two gentlemen met for honour to be satisfied. Featherston fired first and missed; Wakefield then fired into the air, announcing that he would not shoot a man who had seven daughters. That appears to have been an end to the matter, at least as far as regards pistols.

Dr Featherston lived till 1876, but Colonel Wakefield died the year after the duel, aged only 45, of an apoplexy.

The story of the Wakefields and the New Zealand Company is a complex and contraversial one, but Wakefield's personal history reads like the stuff of melodrama, with an abducted (on behalf of his brother) heiress, a betrothal that ended tragically when his fiancee died while he was in jail (for his role in the abduction), leaving a baby daughter; service as a mercenary in Portugal, and later with the British Auxiliary Legion in Spain (he was knighted by Queen Isabella). With such a history, fighting a duel seems almost inevitable.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Night at the Theatre

On the 8th of March 1929, for the first time a movie with a soundtrack was shown in New Zealand, at the Paramount Theatre in Wellington. The movie, "Street Angel", wasn't a true "talkie", but a silent movie with a recorded musical soundtrack.

Silent movies had been popular in New Zealand for many years, ever since the first film was screened in 1896 (in Christchurch). In the early years, they were short films usually shown as part of a vaudeville-style performance. In A Second Chance, I have two of my characters attend such a presentation in 1906. I've taken the details from newspaper reports of an actual show in Auckland.

(Note: I've changed character names to avoid spoilers.)

... a performance one evening by a Mr R. G. Knowles offered real novelty. Mr Knowles, a music hall artiste, presented a series of comical talks, interspersed with songs and dancing, accompanied on the piano by Mrs Knowles, who also performed several items on the banjo. The items were amusing enough, but what truly caught Anna’s imagination were the moving pictures, projected by a machine called a Bioscope, with which Mr Knowles illustrated his songs. It was Anna’s first experience of moving pictures, and she was fascinated by the images, which included an exciting trip by motorcar and scenes of the King and Queen walking about.

‘There’s talk of making moving pictures of entire plays eventually,’ Sophie remarked when the two of them were discussing the show late that evening. ‘Though not being able to actually hear the actors speak would be rather limiting.’

Interesting as the moving pictures had been, Anna agreed with Sophie that such entertainments seemed unlikely to displace live performances.

My apologies to any banjo fans reading this, but I'm afraid I find something irresistably comical in the image of this redoubtable Edwardian lady wielding her banjo on stage.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Short stories

I've added a new section to my website for short stories and essays. It can be found here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Great-grandfather's Diary

Over the years that I've been researching and writing, I've been fortunate enough to have access to extracts from the diaries of several generations of the men who farmed the valley that my Waituhi Valley is based on; portions that have survived, at least in transcript, within the extended family. But recently I was given a great gift: the 1910 diary of my husband's great-grandfather.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

This week in New Zealand history: first shipment of frozen export produce

Frozen meat had been successfully exported from Australia in 1879, and a few years later New Zealand had its own first shipment.

On the 15th of February 1882, the Dunedin sailed from Port Chalmers for London. The Dunedin was a sailing ship, but a steam-powered freezing plant had been installed on board, and thousands of sheep carcasses frozen for shipping. The exporters must have been delighted with the outcome; a carcass that would have fetched 13 shillings in New Zealand returned over 22 shillings on the London market.

That first shipment carried butter as well as meat, and marked the beginning of a true export market for New Zealand's dairy produce. No longer were farmers limited to selling what butter they could persuade the local storekeeper to take, often in exchange for goods rather than for cash. Herd numbers expanded, more butter factories opened, and the co-operative system of factory ownership blossomed.

In Mud and Gold, Frank first gets the idea of trying to set up one such co-operative in Ruatane, although he will face some scepticism from the older farmers.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Why I Write

The Editor Unleashed site is currently running an essay competition on the topic "Why I Write". This moved me to ponder my own reasons and rewards for spending so much of my time shaping thoughts into words. Here's the result.

(If anyone would like to vote for my entry, it can be found here)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Skiing in a three-piece serge suit

We spent Christmas at Mount Ruapehu, which combines being an active volcano and the home of several ski fields. It was a glorious few days, with hiking every day and delicious meals every evening, staying in the very comfortable Chateau Tongariro.

Some of the pioneers of New Zealand skiing chose Ruapehu as their base. The Visitors' Centre near the Chateau has a small display dedicated to these men and women. In the pursuit of adventure, and very properly dressed (the men in three-piece suits and ties; the women in long woollen skirts and thick jackets), they strapped on heavy wooden skis and flung themselves down the slopes.

The chance to explore the haunts of these early skiers was a bonus of this holiday, because one of my characters has decided to give skiing a try, and will probably make his first attempt during the current work-in-progress. I already knew he was a keen hiker, but skiing took me rather by surprise. But I learned quite some time ago that it's best to give the characters their heads.

Accommodation on the mountain was a good deal more basic than it is today. One of the early shelters, the old Waihohonu Hut, still survives, and now has an Historic Places classification.

We visited it on one of our hikes. The interior could not be described as luxurious.