Tag Archives: Mount Taranaki

A story of the magnolia, the mountain and air freshener

Thursday July 9 at 8.40am

The first photo opportunity of the year to capture our Magnolia campbellii and Mount Taranaki came this week and it reminded me of a funny story. Well, I think it is funny.

It was only last year, I think, that a creative from a Sydney advertising agency contacted me. She had found a photo of mine on the internet of this very scene and she was enquiring whether we would agree to let a film crew visit to film it for a product – unspecified. She wanted permission and to negotiate a fee so she could pitch the concept to the client.

I briefly thought it might be fun. But only briefly, until I worked out the logistics of the exercise. That is a very specific view shaft and a scene that is visible for just a few days each year. I imagined the crew flying in, some from Sydney and maybe the film crew from Auckland and me feeling personally responsible for the weather. That is a mountain. In midwinter, it is  more often shrouded in cloud than in clear view. I can go out at 8am and it may be fine and sunny here but 40km away, on that mountain peak, the cloud is moving in and by 8.03 there is nothing left to see.  We can go a week, maybe ten days, without a clear view of the peak. With a film crew hanging around waiting for the moment? I think not.

Magnolia campbellii var campbellii

Then I shuddered at the thought of the crew capturing that view and then asking me where they could get other angles on the scene. They can’t. There is only one, highly specific view shaft and that image is taken right on the limits of my camera zoom function.

I said no. Undeterred, she asked me if I recommend other locations. I pointed out that they do grow magnolias in Australia, very well in fact in the Dandenong area outside Melbourne. I have seen them there. No, she replied. She wanted a setting that looked like Chinese countryside. Reader, I cringed. Our maunga can, at a pinch, pass for Mount Fuji in Japan – and has done in the movie ‘The Last Samurai’. The magnolia actually comes from Darjeeling, which is in northern India. I have been to China and seen a bit of their countryside. I do not think she had.

I suggested Auckland Regional Botanic Gardens and there our correspondence ended.

I did not think any more of the matter until my Canberra daughter emailed me saying: “Is this the advert you missed out on providing the pics for?”  I am guessing so. It fits the brief. Air freshener? That is not a product I ever buy. We have plenty of the natural product here. Besides, as those blooms on our Magnolia campbellii are about eight to ten metres up in the air, I have no idea at all whether they are even scented.

Postscript: Mark tells me that he is pretty sure M. campbellii has no scent. Perhaps they were thinking of the Yulan magnolia, M. denudata, he hypothesized. We don’t have it in the garden so I looked it up and yes, it is renowned for its lemon fragrance. That is not the magnolia used in the advertisement. It seems botanical accuracy matters more to us than it does to air freshener manufacturers and Sydney creatives.

A perfect, cloudless morning – Friday 10 July at 8.40am

Week six of lockdown already but gardening continues

Te mounga – Mount Taranaki – with its first major snowfall of the year this week

The first wintry blast struck this week and our mounga has put on his winter coat. In our part of NZ, these early cold blasts are generally brief – two days this week – and we are now back to mild, calm and sunny autumnal days. This settled weather can often continue through until the shortest day, which is only six weeks away now, when we settle into proper winter. By mid August we will warm up again and spring will be here so we mustn’t complain about a full-on winter that only lasts about 7 or 8 weeks.

Flooding in the sunken garden soon after the upper garden beds were removed 

Flooding has not been a problem once the grass was well established

Eighteen months ago, I wrote about the unexpected consequence of flooding the sunken garden when we stripped out the surrounding garden borders that had clearly soaked up the rainfall in the past.  Fortunately, we did not rush into major work to rectify the situation because it turned out to be temporary. When the grass was fully established, the flooding issues disappeared. It is an interesting lesson in the importance of vegetation – even just grass – in preventing water run-off. Presumably all the roots create small channels, enabling the water to be soaked up by the ground where it falls. Bare soil is not good. It is a shame that the Council has never learned this. They still send out contractors to spray the roadsides, under the delusion that bare, denuded road verges channel the water away quickly, solving flooding issues. All it does is concentrate the flooding issues at the lowest point and prevent the ground from absorbing and filtering the water long before it gets to that lowest point.

Stipa gigantea – I removed maybe six plants from this section to give the remaining ones room to spread to their natural form

I have also been thinking about the lessons I am learning in the new grass garden. Even with quite a bit of gardening experience, I thought I was planting at final spacings in the new grass garden when in reality, I was planting for immediate effect. I am now going through removing overplanting – just about every second Stipa gigantea at this stage. Many plants, especially grasses, look better to my eyes when they have their own space without competition. It is then possible to enjoy the shape of each plant rather than the massed effect where shapes become enmeshed. Maybe next time, I will have learned enough not to repeat the same mistake of overplanting. It is even more important with trees and shrubs which are not as easy to thin as perennials.

Lloyd is back!

As we dropped down a lockdown level to 3*, Lloyd was able to come back to work. Physical distancing is not a problem here. I was very pleased to see him back. I do not drive the quad bike or the tractor – nor indeed the fancy lawnmower – and cannot manage a trailer so cleaning up after cutting back and clearing areas is much more problematic without him. With both his wife and son-in-law being medical professionals, he is extremely mindful of safe practices and the dangers of getting careless with regard to Covid, so we feel quite safe about him joining our home and workplace bubble.*

(*For overseas readers: we have our own Covid vocabulary in NZ and, thanks to the very clear communication from our prime minister, we all know exactly what bubbles and levels are and we have swapped out ‘social distancing’ for the more accurate ‘physical distancing’. With daily Covid cases down to one or two only, some days none at all, we are on track to eliminate the virus from our shores as long as we maintain border controls and quarantine. What happens longer term is as yet unknown but in the present, we are still alive and well, bar a few unfortunates.)

An autumn morn this week

Can I give a shoutout to our travel agent and the company she works for – Hello World? Against all expectations, she negotiated a full refund of both our long-haul airfares on Qatar Air and the travel insurance we took out for our cancelled trip to Greece and the UK. The money appeared back in our bank account yesterday. This was by no means a sure thing and many others have been left with airline credits, heavy penalty fees and financial loss. I am deeply relieved. None of us know when the world may open up again but in the medium term, we have our fingers crossed that the border with Australia may open soonish so that we can see our three children and grandson again.

A tribute to the mountain – despite its lack of bears

Photographed from the path down to our park – the mountain and the magnolia

It was perhaps the desire to post more photos of our Magnolia campbellii and the mountain that motivated me to write about te mounga.

It remains an active volcano and most of the province is urged to have evacuation plans at the ready. At least we can head north or inland to get away. I am not sure how those around the coast are meant to evacuate should a major eruption occur because either way, their escape routes take them around the base of the mountain – unless they evacuate by sea. In reality, it is more likely to be lahars or ash clouds that are the problem. As you head around the coastal side of the mountain, the remains of lahars are a dominant feature in the landscape.

Photo credit: u/apexcutter on Reddit

Flying in to New Plymouth from the south takes one over the mountain and on a clear day, the sight is breathtaking. It is a near-perfect cone sitting alone, very close to the sea and surrounded by what is called the ring plain – land that is rolling to flat farmland. Lacking my own image, I found this photo on Reddit. That is the Tasman Sea in the upper section. The dark circle around the lower mountain is where the native bush ends – the boundary of the National Park giving way to farm land.

As seen from an Inglewood garden in late spring

It is an extremely accessible mountain which makes it one of the most dangerous in the country because inexperienced people underestimate it and fail to factor in that it has alpine conditions at higher altitudes. The fatality rate is high. In icy conditions, people can slip a long way. Neither Mark nor I have ever climbed it. As Mark says, he loses interest really quickly once above the bush line. Plants, not rocks are his thing. And I am wary of mountains. My brother remains buried in the ice of the Himalayas on the slopes of Mount Makalu.

Whereas Mount Fuji in Japan is widely accepted as being of sacred status, going well beyond just those of the Shinto faith, we are such a secular and residual colonial society that many people struggle with the thought that of course our Mount Taranaki has deep spiritual significance for the original people of the land. When Maori politely requested that people stop standing right on the top point of the pinnacle and, if my memory serves me right, refrain from carrying any bodily functions at the summit, the howls of outrage were loud. For what is the purpose of climbing a mountain if you can not place your footprints on the very highest point? The same people who are appalled at the thought that anybody might vandalise a graveyard and who would never dream of urinating on an altar regard it as a civil liberty that they can do what they wish on the highest point of te mounga.

Mind you, that outrage pales into insignificance compared to the outpouring of anger when the name of the mountain was addressed in 1983. Captain Cook named it Mount Egmont in 1770, after the Earl of Egmont who never came to New Zealand and died before he got to hear of the honour. But of course the mountain had names before that and a long campaign led to the decision that it could be called either Taranaki (the most common of its pre-European names) or Egmont. This might be called hedging bets but to some, this outrage was tantamount to the end of western civilisation. There are even a few older people who insist on continuing to make a stand by calling it Mount Egmont but they are a dying breed. Literally. The name ‘Mount Taranaki’ has taken precedence in official usage and to people beyond the region. To locals, it is simply ‘the mountain’, or ‘te maunga’ (in standardised Maori) or ‘te mounga’ with an o in the local dialect.

While sacred is rarely used as a descriptor and spiritual connection makes some people scoff, there is no doubt in my mind that our mounga is embedded into the very souls of people who are born here or spend time living here. Long before I ever came to Taranaki, I noticed that most people identify where they come from by the nearest town or city. Not Taranaki folks. They commonly declare themselves as coming from Taranaki and that, I think, has more to do with the mountain than the province. It is widely visible throughout the region. In summer, we make small talk about when the very last vestiges of white ice will melt. In autumn, we chart the first snowfalls. Through winter, we note how low the snow is lying and in spring we observe the retreating snow line. If it is blocked from view by cloud (as mountains often are), we can make that the marker of small talk about weather. Every rescue or dramatic event, including avalanches, makes headlines as do the relatively few days that the club skifield is open.

Te mounga just is. It was there before any humans populated this area. It will be there long after we have shuffled off the mortal coils. If that is not a shared spiritual connection that transcends all other social constructs, I am not sure what is.

An image search on line will yield many astounding photographs of our mountain. Some are even untouched by filters and other enhanced editing techniques. There are countless references giving more information but these give a brief, and probably accurate oversight.

The legends: https://taranakimounga.nz/the-project/about-taranaki-mounga/history/

The official history: https://www.linz.govt.nz/regulatory/place-names/tuia-%E2%80%93-encounters-250/mount-taranaki-or-mount-egmont

Climbing advice: https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/taranaki/places/egmont-national-park/things-to-do/tracks/mount-taranaki-summit-track/

Amusingly, I found an article from Wilderness Magazine comparing NZ mountain peaks to more famous international peaks. Of course the comparator for Mount Taranaki is Mount Fuji in Japan.

“Why they’re similar: Are you kidding? Look at them!

Why they’re not: Taranaki seriously lacking bears and a summit post office

This comparison is a no-brainer. The two mountains look almost identical – so much so, that Mt Taranaki was famously used to represent Mt Fuji in the Tom Cruise film The Last Samurai.

They look like cartoon summits – ask a five-year-old to draw a mountain and they will quickly pencil something that looks very much like Fuji or Egmont.

Both have erupted within the last 350 years, both take about four or five hours to climb from where the road ends and both involve steep rocky ascents.

But the fact that they’re relatively straight forward to climb means both are commonly underestimated. The changeable weather makes Taranaki statistically one of the most dangerous mountains in New Zealand. And regular deaths on Mt Fuji have resulted in Japanese authorities urging wannabe peak-baggers to climb only in July and August, when conditions are mildest.”

The Japanese can keep their summit post office but I am now worrying about the distinct lack of bears to spice up a summit attempt on our mounga.

A celebration of bright light and the start of a new year of gardening

Our maunga – Mount Taranaki – on the day before the winter equinox

I have said before that the first flowers on Magnolia campbellii herald the start of a new gardening year for us. But I had not thought before of the bigger picture. On the day before the winter equinox last week, I went out on a clear day to catch the image of our maunga, our mountain, from the path down to our park. It wasn’t until I saw it on my big computer screen that I spotted the bird in the branches. I assumed it was a kereru judging by the size and shape and so did Mark when I showed him. When I zoomed close in on my screen, it is just a thrush.

The first blooms on Magnolia campbellii herald the start of a new garden year – for us, at least.

This week, the first flowers opened. And I made a connection between the first flowers, the winter solstice and Matariki. The last is a traditional Maori celebration now gaining popularity in the wider population. Sometimes referred to as the Maori New Year, its timing is determined by the rise of a cluster of small stars known to Maori as Matariki but commonly called the Pleiades in astronomical circles. The exact date of the appearance of this star cluster varies from year to year, but it is usually soon after the winter solstice. And it occurred to me that the calendar which we all follow where New Year is accepted to be January 1 is, of course, a northern hemisphere creation so everything seasonal is reversed. It makes perfect sense that the first flowers on M. campbellii signal the start of our new year in the garden.

Reaching high into the mid-winter sky, Dahlia imperialis Alba and a bougainvillea shoot

And what a week it has been. Cool nights (which means between about 3° and 8° Celsius where we are), followed by sunny, calm days with a temperature of 14° to 15°. We cannot complain about that in mid-winter, even though we know winter storms will return over the next six weeks before temperatures start rising in August.

The shaggy spires of Jacobinia chrysostephana syn. Justicia aurea in the early morning light

As usual, in this part of the world, we keep that clarity of bright light all year round. Not for us a watery winter sun held low in the sky and lowered light levels of winter gloom. No, we have bright sunshine and clear blue skies on good days where the only difference is the air temperature. And it is not so bad to winter-over in conditions where, even as I type with warm gloves (blood circulation to the arthritic fingers is not what it once was) in my office with the heater on, I know that after my 10am coffee, it will be warm enough outside to head outside and start on today’s project. And still we have a garden full of flowers.

Luculia Fragrant Cloud in full bloom

Luculia Fragrant Cloud with its sweet almond fragrance

Mark’s Daphne Perfume Princess – we have rather a lot of these scattered through the garden

Vireya rhododendrons planted in sheltered positions throughout the top garden flower intermittently through the year but are perhaps most appreciated in mid winter

 

A day in the life of the magnolia and te maunga

I rushed out at 7.40am on Monday because the day had dawned sunny, clear and calm and I thought the mountain should be in view. We only have one really good view from the garden and at this time of the year, Magnolia campbellii is in bloom in our park. It being just past mid winter here and the subject being a mountain, it is more often shrouded in cloud. We are inclined to get apologetic about this in Taranaki but I remember driving round the South Island with our son some years ago. We never once saw the Southern Alps and that was down the east coast and up the west coast in January. Mountains attract cloud which is all the more reason to celebrate the winter view when it is revealed.

This is 15 minutes later at 7.55am when the sun has risen. It is Mount Taranaki, more commonly referred to by locals simply as the mountain, or te maunga in Maori (or indeed, te mounga in the local dialect). Or maybe the brother of the more famous Fuji. (I still have Barbara Trapido’s ‘Brother of the More Famous Jack’ in my bookcase). It is an active volcanic cone standing in splendid isolation surrounded by a ring plain and bounded by the coast for maybe 200°  of its circumference.

Thirty five minutes later at 8.30am and this is as clear as we can ever see it. With bonus bird. Te maunga is somewhere between 35 and 40 km away from us, the magnolia is in our park so these shots are right at the limit of my camera zoom and my ability to get both the tree and the peak in relatively equal focus.

By 10 am, the cloud is starting to roll in on the lower slopes.

At 10.45 am I expected to lose the sight within the next few minutes.

But it was still visible at 11.50 am and looking as beautiful as I have ever seen it. I have not used any filters or enhancements on these photos.

But gone from view by mid afternoon. I liked the Facebook comment that the mountain is always shining; it is just the rain (and cloud) that gets in the way of us seeing it. The magnolia is the unusual pink form of M. campbellii known as the Quaker Mason form. Because this was put into circulation so early in this country, we tend to regard pink as the dominant colour in the campbelliis but white is far more common in the wild and therefore in cultivation internationally. I have written about this M. campbellii in earlier posts. It is always the first magnolia to bloom for us each season and is really only suited to milder climates where those early blooms will not get taken out by frosts.

While we struggle here at times with the unacceptably high impact of the fossil fuel industry (Tikorangi Gaslands, anyone?), it is scenes like the magnolia and te maunga that keep us anchored to this piece of land both physically and spiritually.

Our pink Magnolia campbellii