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Evening at Te Raekaihau Point. Part two - light and colour

Can the sky be bright and leaden at the same time?  That's how it seemed to me, looking westwards from Te Raekaihau point and along the south coast.  There was light cloud over the water but a rather dense carpet of cloud over the land....and, looking the other way, over Lyall Bay.  It began colouring up quickly.It was very golden on the skyline, beyond Lyall Bay and the airport.  A flypast of black-feathered oystercatchers peep peep peeping seemed to emphasise the rich colours of the cloud and sky.To the west there was a little colour developing, but it was subtle.But as the sun sank further, behind those hills, the golden colour warmed up the sky on this side too.I walked along from the Point to Princess Bay, with Taputeranga in the distance in silhoutte against the hills of the south coast.  The wind was making pretty patterns of spray on the cresting waves.  The colours were intensifying.At Princess Bay I loved the burnishing of gold on the wet sand at the water's edge.But the sky kept getting more intensely coloured.  I walked along the beach then up along the road above Princess Bay.  Over Houghton Bay, it was best described as - whew!  A fiery red over the Melrose hills, above Houghton Bay.  Not hyperbole - it really did look as if it was on fire.  But it was a brief flash.

The rich reds began to fade and were reflected in the darkening sea - the view from above Princess Bay looking to the south.Back at Te Raekaihau Point I could see landmarks - the South Island in the distance, Taputeranga, the rocky outcrops by Princess Bay - in silhouette against the fading colours and night-falling sky.A spectacular lightshow from nature - it pays to spend some time and allow things to unfold.


Evening at Te Raekaihau Point. Part one - plants

I was on my way home along the south coast, evening was beginning to fall, and the light and high cloud over Lyall Bay cast a rather eerie atmosphere.  Wanting some quiet, I stopped at Te Raekaihau Point, intending to watch the sky.  Lots of people visit this place, sitting in cars to watch the waves, wandering on the shore, diving, playing, walking dogs, doing photography.  Many "freedom campers" in their vans have visited during summer, but in winter it is much quieter, an attractive bleakness about it. 

It is a great place to view the coast and, after a few years of ecological rehabilitation, to see native plants that cope in tough coastal conditions. 

Looking back to Lyall Bay from the exposed eastern part of the point, where tussock grasses are struggling and only gradually getting established, the cloud seemed to almost fill the sky. Tangles of green on the edge of the stony beach reveal wind-shaped and stunted taupata (Coprosma repens) with dark glossy leaves curling back to reduce moisture loss, and clambering up its raggedy branches the red stems and brighter green triangular leaves of New Zealand spinach, kōkihi. The leaves of the "spinach" (Tetragonia tetragonioides) are fleshy and taste rather bitter but are a source of vitamin C.  It was used as a vegetable by explorer James Cook, hence its other names - Botany Bay spinach, Cook's cabbage, sea spinach.  The leaves are best blanched to reduce the oxalic acid content before cooking and the youngest leaves are the least likely to cause that weird puckery mouth feel.

The white-flowered alyssum is a garden escape - one of many introduced plants that are too successful and have earned weed status in this setting. 

Only a metre or two further away from the water's edge, a green carpet -Wire vine (Muehlenbeckia complexa) with its bright little round leaves scrambling through the darker more complex leaves of sand piripiri (Acaena pallida).  The Muehlenbeckia is a very determined little vine - one should take care if planting it in a garden.Here it is working on smothering a coastal flax plant (Phormium cookianum).  You get an idea of how bleak this area is for plants - restoration plantings are barely holding on, there is a lot of dead vegetation and there are lots of weeds.  Not conventionally pretty. 

Horokaka (Disphyma australe, the native iceplant) growing on shingle and rocks also reminded me of the random messiness of life.  It refused to make a nicely composed image.  But I enjoy the challenge to my eyes - no one place to look.  Ah, nature.All evidence of the amazing tenacity of adapted plants.  Despite iceplant's feat of growing where no soil is to be seen, I think the most impressive here is the taupata - growing in the rocks hit by the waves.As I was admiring plants' crazy survival capacities, a little seal emerged from under a taupata tangle and managed to swim between these rocks out to the open water, surfing and diving.  I have never seen one there before.  Alas, I was unprepared and didn't have a long lens on my camera so I didn't get a decent photo - the little black body and flipper just looked like more rocks. 

My attention up till then had been caught by plants but the sky was doing interesting things too - another post methinks.  Even in pretty unprepossessing places there is an abundance of interest and wonder in the natural world if we just open our senses and give ourselves time to connect with it.


Sustaining memories of spring - winter flowering hoop petticoat daffodils

The weather has been grey and cold outside - very wintry although it is a week or two away from official winter.  On a windowsill, though, little white flowers more reminiscent of spring are emerging.  These wee daffodils are either a white form of Narcissus romieuxii, which flowers in winter and is therefore more likely, or they are a white form of Narcissus bulbocodium.  I have lost track of which of my little hoop petticoat daffodil bulbs are which, and it seems I haven't mastered the art of tending Narcissus bulbocodium - the bright yellow spring flowering ones have never appeared for me.  But whichever one these are, they are happy in a little quite shallow container which fits neatly on a kitchen windowsill and gives me lots of unexpected pleasure.  The flowers are almost white and when you look closely there is a delicate sparkle on the inner surface of the trumpets. 

Long may these little frosty flowers light up the wintry days.


Japanese maples in autumn glory - a Botanic Garden treat

How lucky I was to visit the Wellington Botanic Garden two days ago, for a short time in the afternoon.  It was a bright clear day.  Because it is late autumn the rays of sunlight are at a lower angle, creating contrasty and dramatic effects, intensifying colours and shapes.  So when I walked through the gate my attention was immediately caught by the drama of brilliant orange-red foliage in the rock garden.Japanese maples!  I love seeing these little trees, with their delicate beautifully coloured leaves.  They are precious to me too because in my windy exposed garden the leaves would rapidly become a dessicated crispy brown - alas, there is no point in my trying to grow them.  But what a sight!A combination of the light and lucky timing - peak brilliance. 

Further into the gardens, a collection of mature trees provides shelter and shade.  Some larger Japanese maples were lighting up a path in glorious gold, orange and green.And on a very shady bank beside a little stream, the theme of gold, orange and green was repeated - bright Japanese maple leaves beside the rich green of clivia foliage and ferns. That night and since then - gales blowing, grey grey grey leaden skies (get the picture?) and torrential rain. 

I am so happy that I seized the time and could enjoy the transient glory of this autumn foliage (koyo in Japanese.)


Autumn butterflies - Monarch and Yellow Admiral - on koromiko flowers

We have had cold weather, and the days are definitely getting shorter.  But so far there is little evidence of the rich colours of autumn foliage.  Not to worry - the tiny white flowers of koromiko have been lit up by the rich orange of some autumn butterflies.  A Yellow Admiral -And a rather age-worn Monarch (male, in case you wondered) -The koromiko is a New Zealand native shrub commonly found in the North Island.  These ones are self-sown in my garden, and they are most welcome - their profuse flowering attracts butterflies, bees, and other pollinating good-guys. 

Its botanical name was Hebe stricta, revised to Veronica stricta.  But taxonomists always have a tough time convincing people to accept plant name changes, and since there are about 90 "Hebe" species native to New Zealand I suspect we will be using the old names for quite a while.  Whatever we call them, they are evidence again of nature's bounty.

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