In the pantheon of ‘big cats’, the cheetah is special.   Recent research suggests that it evolved in Africa during the miocene period ( 7.5 – 26 million years ago) before migrating to Asia,  with the common ancestor of all the current populations of cheetah living in Asia around 11 million years ago.   Originally regarded as one of the oldest of the ‘big cats’,  it is thought to have encountered a genetic bottleneck during the last ice age which led to a long period of inbreeding.   This explains the low genetic variability of the species.   The so called ‘North American Cheetah’ found during the pleistocene period is now thought to be related to the cougar, and the Cheetah is thought to have separated from its closest relatives, the Cougar and the Jaguarundi , about 5 million years ago.   Click on Cheetah for more interesting details.    It is the fastest living creature on the planet and can run at speeds of up to 114 kilometres/hour for short distances.   However, unlike the leopard, it is unable to climb trees because of the design of its foot pad.

These two are enjoying each others company during a mid-morning rest.   The park has designed a large enclosure to enable these beautiful cats to run freely.   When  hunting in the wild,  the cheetah will chase the prey and knock it to the ground before suffocating it with a bite to the neck;   they have only a 50% success rate in the chase.

Orana Park is part of a successful breeding programme for this endangered species.  My   next picture is of one of the cats resting in the open enclosure.  Breathtaking!   No wonder they were raised as pets in ancient times.  

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Orana Park visit

We continue our visit to the Wildlife Park focusing on the tiger enclosure.    By clicking on Panthera tigris you can learn more about the endangered subspecies.   One of these is the ‘Bengal tiger’, which lives mainly in India and Bangladesh, and includes the extraordinary White Bengal which only occurs naturally 1 in 10,000 births.

The  keeper of the tiger enclosure planned a feeding time for one of the Sumatran tigers during our visit, enabling us to see and photograph these magnificent animals at close quarters.

There are thought to be around 400 – 500 Sumatran tigers left in existence, which emphasises the importance of the various breeding programmes around the world.

While we were viewing the tigers the park assistants mentioned the ‘encounter experiences’ that the park arranges for visitors.   One of these is the opportunity to feed giraffes, so after our ‘new friend’ finished his lunch, we made our way across the park to see the Rothschild’s Giraffes.   Other ‘encounter experiences’ involve the white rhinoceros and the cheetah, as well as the farmyard section of the park, where visitors can learn about our more domesticated animals.   On the way we spotted this engaging individual, a black handed spider monkey.   Here we are again,(below) showing off our rope balancing trick;   notice the use of the long prehensile tail, which can be used to wrap around branches when climbing and swinging through the forest canopy.

The Rothschild giraffe is a unique subspecies of giraffe, in that they  have up to five horns ( unicorns) rather than  the usual two.   They are the tallest of the giraffes and can also be differentiated by having no markings below the knees, looking as if they are wearing  ‘cream stockings’.   The first giraffe arrived at Orana Park in 1982 and they have been one of the biggest attractions at the park ever since.    A ramp has been constructed for visitors to walk up to feed the giraffes.   A great experience for all age groups!                                     Giraffes have an amazingly graceful walk for such tall, gangly creatures.    With an ability to run at over 55 kilometres per hour, they can also lope for long distances.   Because only around 650 animals are left in the wild, there is great concern for their survival, leading to active breeding programmes in Perth, Melbourne and Orana Park.

The giraffe feeds by extending its 14 inch tongue and wrapping it around a branch before stripping it of its leaves.  It only has front teeth on the lower jaw which grind the leaves against a hard pad on the upper jaw.   Feeding these exquisite animals was  a very special  encounter!

In our our next post, we will pay a visit to the fastest and most beautiful of the ‘big cats’, the Cheetah.

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Our ‘Wildlife’ Jewel

Just the other day, on a beautiful winter’s morning, I made a visit with my young grand daughter to Orana Park, fulfilling a promise made when we visited her in the United States.

The idea for a Zoo in Christchurch was first suggested around forty years ago by Neville Jemmett, a resident of New Brighton.   The concept was enthusiastically welcomed and  by September 1970 the committee members of a newly formed South Island Zoological Society were inspecting the intended site for an ‘open range wildlife park‘ on McLeans Island, eighteen kilometres north of Christchurch city.    Orana Wildlife Park was opened to the public on the 25th September 1976 amidst great enthusiasm. 

On entering the park one of the first attractions to be seen are the Mererkats, presenting a typical pose!   Click on these pictures for a close up view.

The big cats are a favourite among the many school groups who visit the park, and we encountered a  group of excited children learning about the animals when we arrived at the lion enclosure.  There we viewed a large group of lionesses and I was most impressed with the condition of the animals.   They were being kept in their enclosure at the time of our visit, as one of them had been more aggressive than usual!

This handsome individual certainly made an impression – there was no doubt about ‘who blinked first’!

Some of the earliest arrivals were a group of South American spider monkeys who were brought to the park in 1978 and live on a island in the middle of an artificial lake.   The central water features are a special characteristic of the park and surround these animals with an environment in which they appear to thrive, as they are thought to be the largest group in captivity in the world.  The other animals which live on an island in the park are two groups of African lemurs, the Black and White ruffed lemur, which is endemic to Madagascar,  and the ring tailed species pictured below.    They are endangered because extensive forest clearance is destroying their natural habitat.   A primary focus of Orana Park over the last three decades has been the survival of endangered species.

Another endangered animal is the tiger;  three  species are known to be extinct.   One of the surviving five or six species is the Sumatran tiger, seen  below.  

Surviving numbers of the South China species of tiger are unknown, but it is thought to be on the verge of extinction, down from around 4,000 in the 1970′s.


The keepers and support staff at the park are extremely dedicated and we felt very fortunate to be able to see and photograph these incredible animals.   The Sumatran tiger is slightly smaller that the Bengal species but no less beautiful.   To see more stunning pictures of this ‘big cat’, watch out for my next post as we continue with our visit to Orana.   See you again soon!

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Ancient Ephesus

Looking out the window the following morning, we noticed a cruise liner had moored in the harbour and were advised to delay our trip to Ephesus until later in the morning.   Deciding

to visit a nearby carpet factory, we watched the amazing skills of the young ladies who  weave the carpets by hand using ethnic patterns from various regions of Turkey.  Carpet weaving is an integral part of the rich cultural heritage of Turkey. Silk is also spun on site and interwoven into the fabric of some of the carpet designs, creating beautiful effects.   To view some of their exquisite designs click on Turkish carpets.

Later in the day, after some refreshment, we visited the site of the ancient city of Ephesus.   Thought to be founded in the 10th Century B.C. on a settlement known as Apasa ( a bronze age city from around 14th century; Hittite sources), most of the structures now excavated date from the period of the Roman Empire.   Walking down the main street with  the buildings of the Celsus Library in the distance gives the visitor an amazing sense of history as one imagines chariots clattering up the hill in Roman times.

Beautiful mosaic layed pedestrian walks were constructed to the side of the main thoroughfare.

  The Celsus Library was completed in 117 A.D. as a Heroon or Mausoleum for the Roman Governor of the Asian province.  The Library, together with the Temple of Artemis (Diana) and the Theatre, gave the city of Ephesus its renown during this period.   The Library was made of marble and the figures seen between the doorways are Eros and Nike ( the originals are held in Vienna following the excavations).   The building was built facing east so the readers could make best use of the morning sun.   Leaving the Library and walking along  Marble Street  leads to the great Theatre.   Built in 287 B.C. during the reign of Lysimachos, the Theatre of Ephesus underwent many changes over the centuries.  Large enough to accommodate 25,000 patrons it was initially constructed for dramatic art, but later during the Roman period it staged gladiatorial contests as evidenced by the excavation of a gladiatorial graveyard in recent times.       Ephesus had one of the most developed aqueductal systems in the ancient world.   Supplied by four major aqueducts, a reticulation of smaller ducts supplied different areas of the city with running water including the public toilets.   The latriana, paved in mosaics, was arranged around the sides of a square with  a large pool in the middle.   A major advance in hygiene for the time!

  At its zenith in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., Ephesus had a population of between 400,000-500,000 people.   Sacked by the Goths in 263 A.D. the city was rebuilt by Constantine 1.   After being partially destroyed by an earthquake in 614 A.D. the city continued to decline as a commercial centre of trade.   The major cause was the loss of its harbour due to silting by the neighbouring river.

    Emerging from the Theatre, one is greeted by a marvellous view down Harbour Street. Five hundred metres in length, it was lined on both sides by covered porticos housing shops and protecting the citizens from inclement weather.   The old harbour now lies five kilometres inland from the Aegean Sea.

Altogether, a memorable day!   Click on History for a more detailed account of the history of this amazing city.

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Troy and beyond.

Leaving Canakkale we travel about thirty kilometres south to the historic site of the ancient city of Troy.    The history of this cradle of civilization is thought to stretch back to around 4000 B.C. and the ruins bear evidence of over nine different cities, each one built on the ruins of its predecessor.   The suggestion that the site was that of the ancient city of Troy was made by Charles McLaren in 1822.   Heinrich Schliemann, the German archaeologist, excavated the site from 1870-1890, but Turkish archaeological history also holds him responsible for damaging the site through careless excavation and the removal of precious artifacts.   Level V11a is thought to represent the Troy mentioned in the Iliad.   The site of Ancient Troy enabled the city to control the land and sea routes from Asia to Europe as it sits at the southern edge of the Hellespont (Dardanelles), the narrow stretch of water that connects the Aegean with the Black Sea via the Sea of Marmara.   It is positioned about five kilometres inland from the present coastline, due to alluvial sediment accumulating over thousands of years in the mouth of the river Scamander.

Later in the morning we traveled on to Pergamum, where we visited the famous Asclepion ( Temple of the Healing Arts).   Founded in the 4th century B.C.  it was one of the greatest medical  centres of the age.   The famous Graeco-Roman physician Galen was born in Pergamum and was the Physician/Surgeon to the gladiators in the city, before becoming the personal physician of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.    Pergamum was also famous for its library, second only to the one at Alexandria in Egypt.   Unfortunately the city was destroyed by an earthquake in the third century A.D. 

Our day ended with a pleasant drive down to the coastal city of Kusadasi with its wonderful views over the Aegean.



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Travels through Western Turkey.

Over the last twenty years Turkey has been a favoured destination for New Zealanders.    When planning our trip, previous visitors remarked how friendly thy had found the Turkish people and that possessing a Kiwi passport avoided the need to obtain a visitors visa.  Our trip started with two wonderful days in Istanbul (click on for links), previously named Constantinople, before heading off down the west coast of the country.   Turkey has the youngest population in Western Europe and one of the fastest growing economies.   Mercedes-Benz, for example, has continued to invest in its large coach manufacturing factory in Turkey and is one of many industries establishing new plant in the country. Evidence of the growth in population  was seen in the proliferation of new multi-storey accommodation developments along the highway leading out to the Gallipoli peninsula.

Many New Zealanders,  young and old, have visited the battle fields of the Gallipoli campaign and I was uncertain of my reactions as we approached the area.    The Anzac Lone Pine cemetery stands on high ground overlooking the Sea of Marmara  and is a fitting memorial to the soldiers of both countries.   The various war cemeteries around the peninsula have a large number of visitors, particularly in summer, and are beautifully maintained.    There was a sense of mutual grief and respect for the fallen as one read  the accounts of heroism and sacrifice on both sides of the conflict.    Particularly poignant were the memorials at Chunuk Bair;  at the crest of the hill there stands a statue of the Turkish Commander Mustafa Kemal who was hit in the chest by shrapnel but survived due to his stopwatch cushioning the blow.  The memorial to the heroic Turkish troops stands facing  the  memorial to the many brave New Zealanders who lost their lives capturing, then defending the hill.   Many other troops of the British Empire were also slaughtered in the conflict, yet the Turkish losses were even greater.        The capture of Chunuk Bair was the only Allied success of the whole campaign, but the hill was only held for 48 hours before an overwhelming Turkish counter attack regained the heights.

At the approaches to ‘Anzac cove’ there stands a memorial to those who suffered following the loss of so many young men during the Gallipoli campaign.     Engraved on the memorial are the words spoken in 1934 by the aforementioned Mustafa Kemal (‘Ataturk’) after he became the founder and first President of the Modern Turkish Republic.   Healing sentiments from a remarkable leader.  Click on the image to enlarge and read his words.

We spent some time walking around ‘Anzac cove’ where the Australian and New Zealand troops first landed before attempting  to secure a foothold on the surrounding hills and ravines.

A quiet place to reflect on the momentous events of nearly a century ago, events that helped to shape the identity of Australia and New Zealand as sovereign nations in their own right.

The Turkish people named this  conflict the Battle of Canakkale and we finished this memorable day crossing over the narrow passage known as the Dardanelles (Hellespont) to the port of Canakkale.   Later in the evening,  we watched  a ship moving up this historic stretch of water at sunset.

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Jazz saxophonist – Klaus Doldinger

Wonderful evening last week with Klaus Doldinger’s Jazz fusion band Passport.   First formed in 1970 the ‘Passport’ of today includes two percussionists as well as a drummer, keyboard, lead and bass guitarists with Doldinger on saxophone and flute.   The band generates enormous energy and together with their tremendous stage presence they captivated the audience in Christchurch’s Geodome.   Born in Berlin in 1936, Doldinger became interested in music at an early age and in his teens progressed from piano to  clarinet and soon afterwards to the saxophone.   His music is a captivating mix of jazz/funk with complex African and South American rhythms.    He has also attained prowess as a composer and wrote the soundtrack for the iconic 1981 German film ‘Das Boot’.   As part of his contribution to the festival  Doldinger held a masterclass for local jazz musicians the day after his concert.   Click on the links to discover more about this extraordinary musician, as well as his extensive discography.

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The New Zealand International Jazz and Blues Festival

Woke up this morning to rain and grey skies.   But the weather hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm,  for it is the opening day of the Jazz and Blues Festival in Christchurch.   Over the next five days we are going to have a feast of talented New Zealand and International Stars to entertain us.   Click on the above link to view the events programme, venues and other details of the festival.     As well as the more recognised artistes, senior students and graduates of the CPIT Jazz School are playing on three evenings of the festival, giving us an indication of the burgeoning talent awaiting us in the future.    What a tremendous opportunity to celebrate these artistic forms in our city.   I hope to see you there!

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Whitianga – last post from the Coromandel

During our holiday we stayed just across the harbour inlet from Whitianga.   To access the town we caught the local ferry service – a three minute trip, saving us a one hour drive.     This excellent service brings you into the main jetty of the town and a pleasant walk along the waterfront.    In the summer season the ferry runs continually during the day till late in the evening, even if there is only one citizen waiting to cross.   Some of the ferry pilots have been serving the community for years.

Across the harbour,  just above the ferry landing wharf, which is the oldest stone wharf in Australasia, we came across the local library.    It had just been refurbished and is very popular with the locals!   I have come across some quaint country libraries over the years, but never one quite like ‘Ferry Landing’.   If you click on the library to enlarge, you will see that it is well stocked!

A few days earlier, we had been exploring the township and came across an information board erected by the Heritage Society of the area.   It detailed some of the history of the town, particularly the monthly cattle sale that took place at the end of Albert Street in the centre of town.   Many years ago, after European settlement,  Whitianga must have had something of a ‘frontier spirit’.   If the incident described happened today, one can imagine the number of different regulators seeking to bring charges against those responsible!   The locals of the time took it all in their stride and carried on with life.   Click on the picture to ‘read all about it’.

Towards the end of our holiday we visited the site of the pa built as a stronghold by the Ngati Hei centuries ago.   It is situated on a rocky headland that juts out into the harbour.   In spite of its strategic position, affording sweeping  views of the surrounding area, the tribe was defeated in battle by a warring party from another  tribe, after they were weakend by starvation following a  seige.   Captain James Cook was very impressed by the site when he visited  in the 18th Century.   Read about this fascinating episode of history by clicking on Whitianga Rock


Once you are perched precariously on a huge rock at the top of the narrow incline,  there is a  wonderful view of the Whitianga harbour entrance ( the ferry is crossing the inlet in the bottom right of the photo).   If you then look over your shoulder, you see the panorama of ‘Back Bay’.



It is possible to approach ‘Back Bay’ via a short path which starts at the lower reaches of the pa site;   when you arrive at the small beach, you can appreciate what  wonderful natural shelter the bay provides.

Click on this this picture to enlarge.

I hope you have enjoyed our short visit to this beautiful part of New Zealand.   If you wish to view a selected gallery of photographs taken during our visit  click on Forests and Beaches of Coromandel.


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Westward …across the Coromandel

During our week exploring the area,  we spent a day travelling across the peninsula to  the old town of Coromandel.   Heading north from Whitianga, an attractive forested drive takes you through the picturesque settlement of Kuaotunu.   From here the road turns westward, gradually climbing to pass over a saddle before the steep descent into the Coromandel township.  The history of European settlement in this area and much of the folklore is based around the milling of the great Kauri forests and the Gold rush.  The careless destruction of the majestic forests began around 1795, the timber used for the spars of British naval vessels.   Only around 5000 out of an original 200,00 hectares of forest remained by the time the felling was stopped twenty years later.  

To help redress this destructive period of local history, a very exciting replanting project ‘Kauri 2000′ has been in progress over the last ten years.   During this period over 23,000 young kauri have been replanted in the area; a project with a long term vision that has captured many people’s imagination.

Charles Ring first discovered gold in 1852.  Mining began in the the 1860′s and later developed into a gold rush from around 1880 through to the early 1900′s.  At the height of the rush Coromandel township’s population swelled to over 12,000 with around nineteen hotels. Some of the old buildings are still standing today, giving the town its quaint character.       After stopping for a superb cup of  coffee we turned north once again and headed up the west coast to Colville and on the way spotted a lovely old cottage,  set back from the road.   I  almost felt I was intruding on the old lady, but found her irresistable!   

  The area is very popular with artists and potters;   many colourful personalities to meet along the road.    A very pleasant day trip and plenty more to discover when we revisit the area in the future.



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