Avocets and snores, and more…

Undeterred we continued our quest for birds, spurred on by the tractor driver from near ‘Riber’ ,as we are now calling it, who gave  detailed instructions to access inland lakes we left home by 7 (ish) the following morning. He regretted the fact we had not been there the week before when the shore was ‘covered’ with ‘thousands’ of birds. ‘They just went’ he said.

Winding routes through wooded sandy lanes, past manicured ‘Husets’, past delapidated farms  and rather frightening institutionalised buildings which unwillingly brought thoughts of concealed abuse with them- who would know? – and of course gorgeous picnic sites and fascinating churches we finally   found an area full of wildlife – hares, kestrels, peregrine falcons, brent geese, tufted ducks,a  black stilt, shelduck, tufted ducks, indeterminate terns, sparrowhawks, curlews, lapwings, swans, oysterctachers – and eight avocets.

Image result for avocets image denmark waddensea

Image result for avocets image denmark waddensea

Never before have I knowingly identified an avocet. Now,  whilst N and R at times    dozed in the sun in the car, at times joined us, we spent a full hour watchiing these elegant, beautiful,  inimitable birds with their pied plumage and upturned beaks doing what avocets do – being, poddling, flying, feeding – and I’ll never, I swear, mistake them again.

SO worth it yet by lunchtime we felt tired and so adjourned for a siesta. Reasonable – we’d walked a bit the day before. It was hot.

Knowing that we’d missed the Sort Sol, ‘Black Sun’*, where thousands of starlings in a murmuration swirl around the sky for around an hour at dusk, we neverthless visited the vantage point for seeing them that evening…. not a starling in site but some wonderful wildlife – and great pics by R.

Home for more well earned rest. But the man in the pizza outlet next door to the  Airbnb, Ahmed,   the man with the beautiful smile and big wave every time we walked past – he walked to  Ribe from Afghanistan two years ago. And we thought we were tired.

  • March/April and August-October

Mando Island by tractor…

So how would you pronouce ‘Ribe’? To rhyme with   that wonderful Southern French town ‘Antibes’ I would have thought. It’s obvious. But KBP our distinguished elder insists on pronouncing it to rhyme with ‘river’ : ‘Riber,’ effectively, and spouted this to anyone who would listen – which was a surprisingly large number of people.

In other news, the unseasonable weather was wonderfully hot, but had sadly led to the sudden onward flight of the many sea birds that frequent the coast, rather thwarting our attempt at some serious ornithology, the raison d’être of the original invitation. But no matter – warned of the damage of floods and rip tides, the mortal risk to life and limb of those who unknowingly cross the causeway to Mando in their own vehicles, we took the tractor…prepared against the elements…

across a causeway that looked as though it hadn’t seen water for weeks! Never mind. The two tractor companies appear to be in some kind of pact which perpetuates the myth of the risks – yet also allowed us to take things slowly and watch the intertidal area from a good height thus allowing observation of many sea bird species, and in particular the oyster catchers sitting on their nests.

Who knew about the interspecies variation of the oystercatcher beaks – be they stabbers or prisers, or indeed worm eaters – which apparently evidences ‘resource polymorphism’, a term better explained by this fascinating link..….

Mando Island has an area of around 7.6 km sq and a population of around 50.  We, Shropshire people, thought Ribe was quiet but this was something else.   And so after the picnic lunch on the sand dunes we  bird and nest spotted, KBP with his eagle eyes pointing out nests I couldn’t see even when he gesticulated wildly towards them, so great is the camouflage.

OK so it looks pretty obvious now but….

This nest had three eggs, most had one. Each time we spotted one we were buzzed by an angry parent. Those bills, whether chisel shaped or otherwise, can look quite alarming….

We watched terns, unable to identify which of the many possible species  were there, as it seems the differences are   very slight, viz:

Common Terns were heavier and had higher values of bill + head length, wing breadth and wing area. Although Arctic Terns were smaller than Common Terns in most measurements, they had significantly longer outer wings (wing length as normally measured by ringers). Differences between the species in total wing length (wing tip to body) and in wing loading (body weight/wing area) were not significant. These differences, especially the longer outer wing and lighter weight of the Arctic Tern, can be related qualitatively to the flight characteristics and habitat preferences of each species.

Thus it seems you have to kill a large number of terns, measure bill size, wingspan, tail length etc and then you can determine whether the beautiful aerobatics emanate from a common, or arctic ( or Roseate or Little or…. or…..)

So we played in the water,  watched seabirds on nests slung on the ropes between groynes, dunlin skittering about the shore and oyster catchers buzzing us – and two huge exuberant hares…..

I must be getting older as I’m definitely getting wiser. That’s not true. N is getting wiser. Leaving K to go directly back to the tractor we went looking for a dog  and came across, at the last minute prior to departure, an ice cream shop. We risked a degree of wrath, selecting not just an ice, but one which required discussion about flavours, toppings etc etc. Far too hot to take one to K    said I – it will be melted.  Not at all, said N. He would rather have  a melted thought of an ice cream than none at all. And they have pistachio. R agreed fervently.

They were right. We were extremely last minute. Storm clouds were gathering. The proferring of a semi-liquid greenish sample in a s mall cardboard pot seemed to disperse all concerns in a flash. Wise old birds…….

And to the Wadden Sea…..

The butt of the trip was to experience the great bird  (and other) life that is the eco system of the Wadden Sea,  ‘an intertidal zone in the southeastern part of the North Sea. It lies between the coast of northwestern continental Europe and the range of low-lying Frisian Islands, forming a shallow body of water with tidal flats and wetlands.’   The area is huge, and flat, and quiet, and windswept, and fertile – and just absolutely gorgeous.  An award winning vistor centre has been reopened recently and is a fascinating introduction to the various plants and animals that live here, much improved for me by the many interactive displays, which appeal to me with my gnat-like attention span.

Thus this aesthetically appealing  introductory display of stylised binoculars and wooden wader models….

is enhanced by the fact that the binoculars really work…

and further enhanced by the fact that the birds then transform into life like appearances with appropriate colours and movement! ( And a label in case you were in any doubt.)

And so around the building, learning of how internal bird organs rearrange themselves in preparation for migration, how many lugworms a curlew has to eat in order to feed for migration ( including another intercative game where I failed the curlew and he died 😦   ),  flatfish in a touching pool, wonderful films of migration and the appearance of the Sea in colder times when the flat are covered by thousands of migrating birds – and a chance to make your own sweet music with birdsong, via a mixer desk, an irresistible challenge to our douty leader….

Something for everyone. Not cheap but we spent several hours there and learnt a huge amount whilst keeping ourselves entertained.

Meanwhile nearby at a picnic area a simple post bears testimony to the serious floods affecting the area over the years:

The top marker registers the flood of 1634 when a storm flood of 13 feet above the normal high tide level breached the dikes already damaged by ice floes and killed tens of thousands of people, many migrant and unrecorded labourers, and over 50000 livestock. Those figures are hard to imagine – and the clean up process with flooded homesteads, no fuel or food, and dikes persistently flooded is unimaginable.

But, of course, we out this to the back of our mind with perfect end to perfect day: a bbq by the river with ne’er a midge in sight.

A tense hour or so with the eternal questions of whether the charcoal would light, whether the food would cook, where the smoke was blowing. It’s a mans world.

The most entertaining part was R bravely asking the supermarket assistant if they sold halloumi. As she didn’t recognise this he went on to explain that the cheese ‘squeaked’ when eaten.

We ended up with paneer and mozzarella.

And did justice to our slowly reducing alcohol stocks.

For the record: tantrums zero.

From Copenhagen to Ribe May 23

Our douty ‘leader’ left early to collect the hired car from the airport leaving us to ensure bikes were safely returned to a hub and we were packed ready to leave the moment he returned.

(Whoops. Not quite kbp but a good approximation.)

We were so prompt we had time to indulge in a little shopping. Ikea Copenhagen style was a labyrinth of must have relatively cheap decorative household items. Such is the faith held in my ability with language that R seemed initially reassured that an unusual exit from the first floor was a disabled exit.

I then noticed the pole. And retranslated the notice which I now thought read ‘for the young and those who feel young’. I felt too terrified of getting stuck and incurring the wrath of our leader, but our young investigated the exit: pole, ladder, slide!

We made it in time.

But allow me to show this intriguing poster too (seen on a theatre boat in Nymand Harbour): Quite a sequence of events there, all compressed into one sweet two hour slot! The jitterbug would, I imagine, be the dance.

Incredible drive over a 14 km bridge to Jutland. Impossible to do it credit by photo: particularly as I am the one non driver and therefore (voluntarily) confined to the back seat. But it is impressive.

And so to our new air bnb in Ribe, oldest town in ScandinaviaA delightful spot, on the Main Street but tucked away with river frontage. Everything supplied.

The main entertainment, for me, other than interacting with the family of course, has been watching a Bot lawn mower sadly working his way around the garden opposite (over the water) repeatedly running up and down one strip, never quite falling into the river. I even found myself waving at it, and rejoiced when today I found a mate for him.

This one appears to be having a dirty protest, sitting in a pool of long grass….

But back to Ribe – an ancient time with Viking origins. Rather like York but clean, not too crowded, lived in by regular citizens, and quiet as free from traffic for the most part.

The cost of alcohol, I suspect, keeps the evenings quiet with most people seeming to get their pleasures from the belgian waffle and ice cream shop –  where they even make and roll their own…… ice cream cones. Friday night saw a queue out of the door.

(This is the shop, still emitting the wonderful Smell of waffles but sadly closed when we arrived there on our last night.)

The town was a major seaport for many years and still has a quay with sea going boats, the sluice protecting the damn also containing locking facilities.  It’s very beautiful, particularly at night.

The prince and the really tiny mermaid

One of the highlights of our whole day in Copenhagen was booking a set of four push bikes, each individually named, and collecting them from a bike rack close to the apartment, all organised and paid for via an app. Each bike was named. Kbp was assigned Slytherin, R a 044, me a 59 whilst N opted for a Willie. The bikes unlocked via a Bluetooth connection on my phone and at the end of the 24 hour hire period (for £12.75) we left them locked but unsecured at a ‘hub’ less than 200m from the apartment.

The vivid orange grated at first, but it also acts as a sort of ‘here be tourists sign’ which gave us a degree of grace as we apparently flouted the danish cycling customs!

Copenhagen is a beautiful accessible city, with its colourful housing on the dockside:wonderful clean and free public toilets throughout. How about this for an old style door catch? And there was an attendant too in this subterranean convenience.

Its extremely tiny mermaid, sitting not in the middle of the harbour as I thought, but right on the edge. I had imagined an enormous statue centre field, something along the lines of the Statue of Liberty ….. but no.

What’s particularly intriguing is that she has legs too. Weird mermaid.

The botanic gardens are huge, free and lovely. The palm house in reps to, and a gallery around, the dome.

Some sample pics:

and attached to the palm house were

‘working green houses’ and cacti and succulent houses. Who knew that bananas grow like this?

Also – ideas for our new rockery – maybe using old grave stones WILL Work?

A perfect afternoon celebrated by kbp managing to keep cool (no worries, man) as two young men peered over at him whilst he ahem used the cubicle, and then, obviously under the influence of something, possibly a blunt (New word to me, look it up) bought on Pusher Street, accused Rob of stealing his cigarettes. It was a tense moment when we ‘engaged’ in convo, possibly exacerbating the situation, and clear imagined images of multiple stab wounds sprang to my over fevered imagination.

No matter. The young man reminded us gravely that we ‘are in Denmark. This is no place to have fun’.

Shame cos we did….. bikes to this bar in the dock:

Then working our way through the alcohol stocks… and playing cards.

Oh and the prince? We came across a small wooden motor yacht in the harbour. It had a red carpet and a police boat circling aimlessly about it, and a handful of people waiting languorously on the docks. It housed the crown prince on his 50th birthday. Can you imagine?

Rome or Moscow?

The fountain was inspiring. The triangular building intriguing: it’s a recycling plant that houses a playground and in winter also functions as a ski slope.

‘Hey man, that’s cool, no worries…..’

Having hit the big birthday (and having had the forethought to have two thoughtful children enough years ago) I find myself the lucky recipient of …. a trip to Denmark! Signalled as it was by these:

– very convincing 70s style flight tickets complete with bar codes etc – I’ve long been looking forward to the week.

The rest of the family shared my excitement:

…..for the most part……

Say no more.

But also notice how snazzy easyJet has gone with its film flam mezze with hummus and olives. Whatever next? Well our great surprise that the UK seems to be the ONLY European country without a sensible siesta period. Copenhagen was as quiet as anything when we arrived. Few cars on streets. Shops closed for the lunch period. How civilised. Almost like a bank holiday. Why can’t we Brits do anything like this?

And in the evening – a long procession of runners,

At times they were 15-20 deep so it was with much amusement we watched kbp sidestepping gaily to reach the other side. We laughed again as others did the same:

No mean feat. Well done!

The run was 10 k repeated in five cities around Denmark in honour of the Crown Prince’s birthday. Bands were out in support:

This one looked like something from Disney or Legoland. Boy were they good!

And so wandering round as you do, admiring the tradition demonstrated by the ads,

Impressed by the ingenuity that allows an ‘air hockey pitch’ like this:

we came across the free town of Christiana….. where, walking along the aptly named Pusherstreet, we saw massive blocks of cannabis on sale. Like huge!!! And ready rolled reefers.

We even found the pushers of the day:

Essentially this is a self supporting bohemian commune with its own rules existing in converted barracks in the centre of Copenhagen. Responses to this are, as you can imagine, varied with some locals outraged and others generally supportive.

We did find a lot of people ‘walking very slowly with vacant eyes’ as kbp put it, in the environs. All tables come with a lighter and large ashtray….

As we left, someone bumped into kbp spilling his drink over him: hey man, no worries, it’s cool responded kbp. Passive smoking at its best!

And so to our lovely apartment (air bnb)…. central, clean,……

and well stocked ….

Well my good friend, excellent running partner and cosmopolitan lady, Jan, warned me of alcohol prices in Copenhagen. £10 for a small beer, her husband, used to London prices, advised. Not far off Brian : £12.35 for this:

by the way: it wasn’t the Latin /Nordic fusion which caused the siesta. It was a bank holiday on the PROPER Whit Sunday, 7 weeks after Easter. Stupid us.

And back to Blighty.

Anticipating further itch and scratchiness following the previous night’s attack by the

Giant mosquito

I thoughtfully prepared my side of the bunk with the hallowed pot of Manuka honey/almond cream so effective on previous occasions, knowing I could apply this in the dark without disturbing my doughty companion. It wasn’t immediately effective so I praised the fact that we hadn’t changed the sheets, and proceeded to sandpaper my ankles lavishly with the remaining grit and sand on the bed. To no avail. I drew blood and continued ‘le frottage’ for some considerable time eventually falling into a fretful sleep, only to awake a very few hours later, before six, to rush to ablute. *

The view from close to the van was worth the early wakening.

And so to Auckland.

We’ve seen a lot of this flag. We don’t know what it is.

We heard there is a rugby competition going on. We looked at the driver.

It’s the Tonga flag.

Farewell van. You’ve been good to us.

Wilderness was expecting us back:

And gave us a lift to the airport. The driver was an Australian who decided two weeks ago to move to NZ, got the job on Monday, started yesterday (Thursday). Got us to the airport by google maps on iPhone. No immigration process for her – she just ticked that she intended to stay permanently on her entrance card. …..I wish….

Good to see one of the shops Keith was discussing earlier in the trip featured on the concourse:

How can we afford this (trip, not purchases from Shop), I ask myself. Partly by using the pension lump sum, and partly through savings. Maybe our general approach to spending has helped. I think we were the only ones with Home made butties in the airport!

So I splashed out on these: will they work? Homeopathic. Hmmmm. The lady in the shop (who knows she’ll never see me again) assures me they will.

And one final take home picture for New Zealand, a country I’ve loved like no other, and in many ways more than my own: the motto seems almost redundant here.

Kindness comes as standard. Will miss this country/these people so much.

*imagine my surprise this morning to discuss I had liberally applied (Keith’s **) hairgel.

** not

Father Christmas and the long goodbye.

There is such sweet tension between the beauty of last night’s sunset and the horror of being eaten alive, again, by mosquitoes.

(Random (but appropriate) photo to improve attractiveness of blog. Not)

Keith showed his true worth (actually worth more than this) by coming to the fore with this, a deceptively tedious booklet with untold qualities of strength and flexibility.

In short this manual helped us massacre scores of mosquitos, clearing the living area. We knew the bedroom was safe as we had thoughtfully closed both the curtain and the door thus making a barrier impenetrable to even the most persistent attacker. A sanctuary.

Not wanting to compromise this oasis of mosquito- free space, I tiptoed in using simply a flash of my iPhone torch to guide the way. I grabbed my night wear and slipped back round the curtains to the main body of the van.

Nothing would persuade us to allow the little £&@££)()& s to attack us in bed.

We crept in and under the covers to be almost deafened:


and so forth. The boudoir was thick with them. More attacks by Keith the Slayer, manfully swashbuckling away with his Wilderness manual in lieu of jewel encrusted sword.

Rather than taking clothes off for bed we put them on. Long sleeved shirt, leggings and socks in my case. A hot and itchy night as we weren’t able to open any windows. Serves us right for ‘freedom camping’ (read being imprisoned within one’s own accommodation) by the sea.

The view this morning was again glorious.

However we were minded to move on ASAP, full bladders and empty stomachs became an irrelevance.

Which was how we met Father Christmas in mufti. In short: we stopped at a cafe. The building was attractive.

The lady in charge offered to show us round upstairs. Then called Gary.

Gary Blick (which we know now is Black with an NZ pronunciation) * is, he says, happily divorced and pleasantly disconnected from his children. He has taken on the challenge of renovating this building, an old saddlers, and the grounds behind, to run as a backpackers’-hostel. A giant of a man he has built some huge bunk beds, and mezzanine double beds. A gentle giant he told us of his mother (94 and has eaten her way through the herd and the implements, now starting to eat the family farm, which father sold for many thousands of dollars, itself: his take on her nursing home fees); a friend who died of throat cancer; his plans for the hostel and the affection he has for his goat, currently eating his way through the scrub.

Asked if we could take a photo he dashed off saying he needed to change his shirt first:

This is with the preferred shirt.

Then he wanted to do his hair.

FC in mufti. He has the twinkly blue eyes too. He runs the Helenback backpackers hostel. Helenback? Yes. Spend a night there and you’ll have been to hell. And back. His opinion.

We spoke a couple of days ago about Hundertwasser, an Austrian artist who spent much of his life in North Island, New Zealand. He designed some toilets (remember he is the enemy of the straight line):

Outside the toilets.

Sign for ‘ladies’.

View from within toilet cubicle.

Changing table.

Commemorative plaque.

Life is different here:

Health and safety. Look at the people standing freely in the truck at the back of this train:

Oooo… they might fall over. Yes. That’s the risk they take. End of.

School children. The three living at tonight’s campsite (children of manager) came home at 2.40 today. All in bare feet. Not ‘carrying shoes’ bare feet, or nervously picking their way along bare feet. Just bare feet on a road with no litter, no dog fouling, and sensible traffic which slows to pass.

And jobs: most people seem to have more than one but this seemed an odd combination:

Cleaner and also qualified for drug screening?

The phone number reminds me – there is a system where numbers and letters are combined for phone calls. Eg: 0305 LAW for the lawyers.

I was tickled by the unambiguity of this septic tank emptier today:


And on that I’ll finish with a picture of our biggest impulse buy mistake this holiday:

Home tomorrow we need to ‘farewell the van’. ….

*wrong again. It actually is ‘Blick’. Will I ever get the hang of this?

Tsunami? What tsunami. And free viagra. The perfect holiday.

The curse/joy of camping, be it canvas or campervan, is that last minute thought as the light is turned off – ‘should I have gone for one last wee?’

I have recently heroically managed to quash this insistent little ear worm by asking myself: ‘can I hear a kiwi?’ And mentally repeating the call, male and female. Each gender calls for 12 calls exactly. The New Zealand way of counting sheep, and up until last night effective in not only supplanting bladder concerns but also promoting sleep.

Last night the tsunami struck. Of course it didn’t but the fear of the tsunami struck, which was, for me, last night, just as destructive. This is how it goes: gerroff gerroff gerroff gerroff gerroff gerroff gerroff gerroff ….. (female kiwi call, in my head). …. wonder if I’ll hear a kiwi, wonder if they’re round here, it’s quite flat and by the sea, wonder if they like it flat and by the sea. OMG! Flat and by the sea. And by New Zealand. We could have a tsunami….(we didn’t, which is why I’ve lived to tell the tale of the three strangers and free viagra).

Today is the tale of signs, mainly. The campsite, whilst lovely, was retro and the showers reminded me of school. I probably weigh two stone less than I did as a teenager, maybe more than that – I was plump – but I still don’t appreciate having a thin, small pvc curtain between me and the rest of the showerees, and particularly dislike having to dive into the central bench to retrieve clothes and modesty as there is no private changing area. So I rose and showered at 06.10. A man was launching a boat.

Along the road, there are high tech road repairs – the road had slipped down the hillside (this happens all the time). They may have been up to date enough to have traffic lights (with a working red/amber combo, not normally seen) but the technique of tamping the road surface down involved the men shuffling along in their boots. The laces weren’t tied.

Round here, public health uses rubbish bins to promote their anti drugs stance – how effective is this?

This sign, at Whangaroa, the infamous harbour where maoris massacred French soldiers (in response to atrocities carried out by them) is more explicit. Seems to involve a required action by the owner of any dog who passes a banana skin.

The harbour is the centre for ‘big game fishing’.

The club house is accordingly macho:

Tries to appeal to the softer side of the machos:

I’m not sure how much response this gets: (same notice board)

But at least they colour code the area where children will be safe with hopefully alcohol free carers:

Further round the Bay:

A plaque to be unveiled? Tempted to take cover off but resisted.

And what’s this? Not able to unwrap it but someone could not resist a sneaky peak (see bottom right)! *

Wild flowers beautiful once more:

The coffee was terrible, made from a packet, like cup-a- soup so a cafe in Manganoui touched the spot:


Manganoui is on the edge of Doubtless Bay so-called as Captain Cook marked that there would ‘doubtless’ be a Bay there (as opposed to Doubtful Sound in Fjordland (quo vadis)). A calm town with much history it still has a real sense of community. These children were having fishing lessons this afternoon.

The harbour lies protected by at least three ‘pas’, ancient Maori homeland /defensive settlement areas:

What a useful thing to learn – to feed yourself! Again some of the children were without shoes.

Watch out on the roads:

One sign advised us to slow down: children/kids. There were indeed children and young goats round the next corner.

And this:

This van collects wrecks:

Well named van : the vulture. Typical wreck?

Plans to find an early campsite and relax were abandoned as we heard tales of green, clear waters, dolphins and other marine marvels on the Karikari peninsula. It threatened rain:

And did rain:

Three heavily tattooed (Maori style) men came ashore with a large hessian sack. Various stories: ‘there’s a good market for these’, ‘we’ve got an event’, ‘it’s FTP (feed the people), man!!!’

In the sack were Kina, a kind of sea urchin, that the three had been diving for.

‘ better than viagra, man’ shouted one as he opened one for my husband. Husband stepped back – ‘each one of these like a whole BOX of viagra, man’ he continues. Husband recoils.

‘I hardly eat these but even so, I got seven children, man,’ the oyster harvester continues. At which point his mate gets out an extremely sharp knife and, pointing it towards his lower abdomen, forces open the spiny shell to reveal a gelatinous black mass with some lurking orange streaks.

‘Eat it, man!’ So inexplicably we did. Two intelligent adults, about to travel across the world and trying to protect their stomachs, knowingly ate they knew not what that had come from they knew not where, supplied by they knew not who. Trust me, I’m a doctor.

We ‘ate’ two and were given six more. We managed to persuade some fellow freedom campers to take these. Although the wife did not look pleased, it seemed to bring a spring to the husband’s demeanour.

Our tea? Clearing out fridge so we had that world famous, non PC dish referred to as ‘one eyed egyptians’.

With creamed corn, frozen spinach and salad. If we have gippy tummies tomorrow I’m sure, absolutely sure, it will be due to the kina!

And so to sunset :

So greatly enjoyed that we did not notice the mosquito invasion. 😦