Category Archives: South Head

And the Heavens Opened

rain 01
Pools of water collect on the driveway, then run onto the grass by the maize field. Gaining momentum, the water changes direction and flows west into the back paddock.


When I arose this morning, the rain that had been coming down steadily all night was like a bead curtain, each string of droplets falling vertically from the leaden grey sky.

Troubled Sleep

Last night had to have been the worst night I’ve experienced this summer, humidity-wise. As I lay on my bed, the covers pushed off onto the floor, I struggled to find a cool patch in the damp mugginess. My hair clung to my head and a patina of moisture coated every patch of exposed skin (in other words, my whole body was dripping).  Around 3.30 am, a loud crash roused me from a weird dream about insects. I’d been half aware, earlier, of a few flashes of brightness through my tightly-closed eyelids as I’d tossed and turned, but I’d put that down to my Apple Watch’s display turning on when I moved my arm. For the next hour, an impressive thunder storm rattled the windows and cast brilliant white light into the room. At 4.15 am I detached myself from the damp bed to check the data on our newly-acquired weather station. The results were no surprise: Outside: 22.3 C / 100 % humidity; Inside: 27.6 C / 93% humidity.

I switched on RNZ’s All Night Programme, hungry for an update on how Tonga was faring under the onslaught of Cyclone Gita. The broadcast was broken by static and I imagined having to endure the rain without shelter. In the darkness of a stormy night. With young children or elderly parents. With ferocious winds and terrifying noises. How frightening that would be.

grass rain 02
A lake of water on the grass

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

When I looked out from the back porch and saw that glistening curtain of rain, I felt an overwhelming urge to shower outside. So I grabbed soap and shampoo and found a position behind the garage (very private there, especially on such a day) and washed and rinsed myself off out there with only the sparrows and one stray hen for company. A large gush of water was overflowing from the corner of the roof, the guttering unable to cope with the torrent, so I stood directly beneath it to rinse off my hair. It felt good to be out there in the wetness. The water was barely cooler than the air temperature.

Taking Stock

71 mm of rain has fallen in the last 24 hours, and of this, 22.5 mm fell in the hour I chose for my outdoor shower. Now it’s getting on for 8.00 pm and the rain has mostly stopped; water is sinking into the grass and draining away.  Outside, the cicadas and crickets are once again making a racket. Let’s hope it’s sunny tomorrow.

letterboxes 02

Tan water flows by
bearing the earth in its grasp
Cows munch undisturbed

Jane Percival, February 2018


Zingy Spring Dessert

Simple Coconut Lime Panna Cotta


This year has been a great season for citrus, and we currently have more limes than we can eat (or drink, for that matter – thinking of the weekend looming and Margaritas on the horizon). We do grate the zest and freeze the juice in cubes for later, but it’s great to actually use these limes while they’re fresh.

With this in mind, I sourced a Panna Cotta recipe online and have adapted it to incorporate this zingy fruit. And for those who need to know, the dessert is Vegan and Gluten-free and it’s a very acceptable 170 calories per serving. Not bad for a dessert!

What you’ll need…


  • 400 ml can of coconut cream
  • 1 x sachet of Queen Jel-it-in
  • 3 tablespoons of genuine maple syrup (or your sweetener of choice)
  • 2 teaspoons grated lime zest and 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 1 lime’s worth)
  • 1 bay leaf (I love the flavour of bay in a creamy dessert)


  • Heavy-bottom saucepan
  • Rubber or silicone spatula
  • Measuring spoons,
  • Fine grater
  • 4 small ramekins or jelly moulds (if you wish to turn the panna cottas out, grease them lightly with a plain-tasting oil, e.g., sunflower).

How to make them…

Pour the coconut cream into a saucepan and sprinkle the Jel-it-in on top. Stir until the powder is completely dissolved, then add the bay leaf, the maple syrup, and the lime (zest and juice). Gently bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Allow it to boil for a minute or two, then remove from the heat and allow to cool a little.


Remove the bay leaf. Pour into the four ramekins and let them cool a little more, then cover and refrigerate. I tend to leave them out of the fridge until they are quite cold, so that when I cover them, they don’t steam up inside and cause condensation on the top of the desserts, but it’s no biggie, either way.


You can serve the Panna Cotta garnished with a slice of lime – very tangy! or with whatever you like, really – chopped nuts, sliced fruit, whatever is around.

Original recipe sourced from:

Too Many Grapes – Never Enough Tomatoes

Garden Gone Wild

A very special rose. This gift from a friend holds the memory of someone taken much too soon.

Record rainfall followed by hot sun

After a late summer of seemingly endless blue skies, South Head received an unseasonal 124 mls of rain between 08 and 14 March. On the first soggy day we were grateful as the water tank was getting low, but by the end of the second day the novelty had worn off. The rain followed by sun has turned the vegetable garden into a jungle through which I can barely navigate.

A carpet of green

A tangle of kūmara, melon and squash.

In early November, we planted three rows of kūmara tupu. ‘Tupu’ are the rooted shoots that grow on a kūmara tuber. The vines are very vigorous  and are spreading all over the garden. I’m very excited about this. We’ve had mixed success with potatoes and I’d much prefer to grow kūmara if possible. We’ll have to wait until the leaves start to die down before seeing what’s hidden in the soil. This could be any time from the end of March onward and looking at our plants I suspect it’ll be more like April.

After harvest (assuming there is actually something growing underneath all those leaves) we’ll set the best aside to start a new crop next October.

veges 02
Left to right: Basil jostling with carrots; okra; rhubarb; kale and silver beet (chard, to those of you from the northern hemisphere).

Our one surviving rhubarb plant is gigantic. The stalks are fat and juicy and despite baking them into Rhubarb Tarte Tartin and adding them to cereals and desserts, many will go to waste. We also have more than we can eat of basil and silver beet, and I’m curious to see how the okra turns out. Growing okra is another ‘first’ for me, and in my ignorance, I allowed some pods to grow too long, so have cut them all off and am hoping that more will be produced before it gets cooler.

veges 03
Left to right: Limes; habanero peppers; ‘Big Chief Butternut’ squash; bell peppers.

Continuing with the green theme, it looks like we’ll beat our record for limes as both trees are very well-endowed this year and also have a decent crop of new flowers. My favourite chile pepper, Habanero, is looking very fine, with each of the plants laden with flowers and young fruit. I also sowed a handful of seeds for a different squash, ‘Big Chief Butternut’, which apparently grows to 2 – 3 kg. And it is HUGE. And the capsicum (bell pepper) plants have become so large that we’ve had to support them with sturdy wooden stakes.

Zucchinis and tomatoes

This summer we’ve had the heaviest crop of both zucchinis and tomatoes since living at South Head, with green beans, coming a close third.

cleome and worms
Left to right: Pretty Cleome spinosa (Spider flower); a tomato fruitworm tucking into a green tomato; the disturbing sight of a grub inside a tomato; same grub after removal.

Scattered around the vegetable garden are self-sown Cleome. I planted a half dozen a few years back to attract green vegetable bugs and the Tomato Fruitworm, Helicoverpa armigera ssp. conferta. The Cleome attract both insects really well, but there haven’t been so many green vegetable bugs this year, and I’ve been picking off the damaged tomatoes when I come across them. The hens like drawing the fat green caterpillars out. I must admit that when I overlook one, and the tomato goes rotten from the inside, I can’t bear to look at them, let alone touch them. All that ‘goopy’ decay turns my stomach.

I’ve been freezing tomatoes in 400 gram packs for use over winter; the neat thing about outside-grown tomatoes is that they are easy to peel, which saves time later. And I’ve also bottled a batch of tomato sauce. I’ve used the zucchini for pickles and we’re eating them every other day. My favourite recipe is to slice them thickly before sautéing them with mashed garlic in a little olive oil. At the last moment, to throw in a few sage leaves. Because the Costasta romanesco variety of zucchini isn’t at all watery, the sage leaves quickly go crispy and add a delicious flavour.

And still there’s more…

There are some vegetables I haven’t really bothered with… lettuces, for example. We rarely get around to eating them and while I do have a row growing and gradually aging right now, there are several earlier plants that I’ve let go to seed; the fuzzy down drifts around the garden with the slightest breeze. Lettuces are unlikely to become a problem if they sprout everywhere… I allowed a golden turnip plant to go to seed in Spring and we now have them growing in a couple of the pathways. There are only single rows of beetroot, carrots, parsnips, golden turnip and rocket – not that you’d ever need any more than one row of rocket!

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Left to right: Asparagus still sending up shoots; zucchini Costasta romanesco; parsley; bulb fennel.

Grapes and honey bees

grapes 01

Yet another amazingly productive crop we’ve had this season is grapes. The vine stretches along the sun-drenched,  north-facing wall of the barn and I’ve never seen as many. We can’t keep up with eating them, so they are all beginning to split and ferment on the vine.

Honey bees (Apis mellifera) gorging on the over-ripe grapes

Grapes are particularly attractive to honey bees – more so in the morning, and in the evenings I’ve seen the German wasp, Vespula germanica hovering around, so I’m hoping to observe them at dusk at the end of one of the fine Autumn days we have ahead of us, to see if we can ascertain the location of their nest.

grapes 02
The picked grapes are sweet and juicy.

Northern Japan in springtime

In about a week’s time I’m heading to Asahikawa in the north of Hokkaido for about five weeks. The contrast in weather will be a shock, I’m sure – going from the mid 20s to low 30s Celsius to close to 0 degrees (at least, for the first week or so), but I’m very much looking forward to my very first visit to Japan and am planning on writing  about my impressions while I’m there. Because I won’t have the distraction of the garden, I should have much more time to write, which will be something I’m really looking forward to.

DahliaCactus Colour Spectacle‘ growing against the old fence.


February Precipitation


Two days of constant rain after weeks of no rain at all.

Looking out at the dripping garden
reminds me of other rainy days.

Cold, driving, childhood rain…
the water dripping down my bare legs
and into my gumboots.

Rain feeding the Hutt River…
I lean over the edge of Moonshine Bridge,
and watch branches swirling in the swollen waters.

Peering through the greasy window of an airport bus…
the tracks of rain matching the ones on my cheeks.

Today in Christchurch they thirst for rain…
And yesterday, I welcomed it, too.

But not today.

Jane Percival, 16 February 2017

Spring Sunshine and Sad Thoughts

Farewell Molly

Molly, sitting outside on 07 October, 2016

At least the birds are happy now. No longer any risk of being stalked by a furry, grey and white, four‑legged predator. I can hear them chirping away as I type, flitting around in the feijoa  trees outside the window on this first sunny day since (it seems like) forever.

Sixteen years is a big chunk of my life. And it feels like she was always there. Peel Street, Wernham Place, Otitori Bay Road… here. Mornington to Birkenhead to French Bay to South Head. Of course I understand that it’s natural to feel these knives of grief in my chest. And I know she was merely a cat, not a child, or a parent, or a friend, or a lover. But the pain is sharper than I’d expected.

Just now, when I was outside checking the garden, with the bright sunlight and a gentle breeze, and the sweet smell of macadamia flowers in the air, I realised that I’m also going to physically miss her actually ‘being around’, not just miss her as my pet.

I don’t mind being alone here; in fact I like it. But up until now, Molly’s always been nearby. Often following me around. Finding me when I’m hanging out the washing, or jumping over the gate to join me when I’m in the vegetable garden, or setting herself down in a sunny spot not far from where I’m weeding. Because of this, I’ve never felt particularly alone out here, even when it’s been just me. And in the evenings, god knows she’d exasperate me by always trying to jump on my lap if I ever sat still for long enough. I’d be wanting to get up and do something and there she’d be. Purring away. Settled.

For the past week or so, she’d gotten back into the habit of sleeping pressed up against the backs of my legs at night. Being a night owl, I’m always the last to muck around and ready myself for bed. I’d turn off all the lights and see Molly, seemingly sound asleep on a dining chair, or on the sofa, or in front of the wood burner when it was cold. But the minute I’d settle into bed with a book, I’d hear a gruff “miaow”, and again, there she’d be. Ready to sleep on whatever item of clothing I’d left on the floor, or to settle herself down beside me. When I couldn’t sleep at night, I’d hear either her loud purr or the sound of her continually cleaning herself. It didn’t help.

And now she’s gone. She was alive at 7.45 am on Tuesday morning when we bundled her into her cat carrier and drove to the vet in Helensville. By 9.00 am she was dead. I didn’t expect it and I wasn’t prepared for it.

Goodbye Molly. If I’d only known, I’d have made such a fuss of you these past few weeks.


Skeletons in the Closet

Auckland shorefront 1864
Queen Street Wharf, Auckland, by Daniel Manders Beere, 29 February 1864. (Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/2-096102-G)

Newell Gascoyne

One of the family stories I’d heard, was that my great-great-great-grandfather, Newell Gascoyne, had been murdered. This seemed a somewhat significant way to die, so when I first moved to Auckland in 2006, I decided to fill in time by checking out some early newspapers. I took myself off to the Auckland Public Library to peruse their archives. Surely there’d be something written somewhere?

It was remarkably easy, I’m sure helped by the fact that he had an uncommon name.

The report transcribed below was published on page 5 of The New Zealand Herald of Saturday 16th April, 1864. It provides a somewhat different version of events. A less memorable version, but no less devastating for his wife Isabella and their 3 children. My great-great-grandmother, also named Isabella, was 16 and newly-married; her younger brothers, Newell and Daniel, would have been 14 and 11 respectively.

Coroner’s Inquest

An inquest was held yesterday, at the Clanricarde Hotel, on the body of Newell Gascoigne, who died on the 13th inst., through injuries received by falling down a cellar, in Queen-street, on the 7th inst., while in a state of intoxication.

Frederick Sims, stated: I keep the Wheat-sheaf Inn, Queen-street. I knew deceased, who came to my house about 9 o’clock, a.m., on the 7th inst., and asked for some grog, which I refused to give him, and put him outside the door. Some one coming in soon after, I heard there was a man in the cellar, and went to the door. I saw some policemen and others engaged in lifting the deceased out of the cellar of Mr. Kemp’s house, next door to mine. Deceased appeared then only dead drunk, and made no noise.  Deceased was then taken away in a truck.  The depth of the cellar is about four feet, and the floor is covered with bran.  There was nothing in the cellar that deceased could have struck against.

James Jackson, police constable, said, that on Thursday, the 7th inst., he heard there was a man hurt, and went and found deceased lying on his back on the pathway, outside the cellar of Mr. Kemp’s house, in Queen-street.  The man was insensibly drunk.  I got a truck, with two other policemen, and removed him to the lock-up.  He did not appear in any pain, and I did not think there was anything wrong except being drunk.

Francis Jones, stated: I am a carter.  I was employed by Mr. Kemp, carting some bran from his cellar, the day before the accident, and I came early on the morning of the 7th inst., to get another load.  I had put one bag into the cart, and coming back for another, I saw a man in the cellar, who must have fallen in.  He was lying on his back just below the grating.  On getting him out of the cellar, he appeared drunk, but I could not see that he was hurt.  The cellar was between three and four feet deep.

Thomas B. Kenderdine, stated: I am a legally qualified medical practitioner.  I was called in to see the deceased on Friday, the 8th inst.  He was in his own house.  I found him in bed, lying on his back, with the lower half of his body paralysed.  He complained of a great pain in his back.  He was sensible and able to speak and swallow.  He lived until the 13th inst.  I consider the cause of death to have been injury to the spinal marrow, producing paralysis.  I did not make a post mortem examination.

The Sergeant-Major of the Police stated he had given up the deceased to his wife on the night of the 7th inst., about 9 o’clock.  He was then sober, and complained of pain in his back, and being unable to get up.  He was taken to his house on a stretcher.

The jury, having consulted, returned a verdict – That deceased died from the effects of a fall received while in a state of intoxication.

Nothing is as new as something that’s been long forgotten (German Proverb)

Stories from the past are interesting. Especially when they’re about our own families. But the problem is that so little is passed down. You are handed the bare bones without the flesh. Even the Coroner’s Report leaves me with more questions than answers. The records are merely black print on faded paper; they don’t fill in the details I’m curious about.

I have a copy of Newell Gascoyne’s Death Certificate. It succinctly states: Newell Gascoygne, Mariner, Male 35, Paralysis caused by injury of the spine. 13 April 1864, Auckland.

Did he stumble and fall into the cellar? Is that what his family believed? Or did they suspect he’d been the victim of foul play, hence the story about being ‘murdered’? Or was it that they were ashamed that he’d been ‘insensibly drunk’ at 9.00 o’clock in the morning, and subsequently passed on a different version to their children?

The past holds its secrets close to its chest.

Auckland 1864 - Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 5-2608
View of Auckland 1864, ‘Sir George Grey Special Collections’ Auckland Libraries, 5-2624

Family Tree

Newell Gascoyne (c.1829-1864) & Isabella Barr (c.1825-1880)

Isabella Gascoyne (1847-1916) & Antonio Jose de Freitas (1834-c.1898) (Married: 7 January 1864, St Patrick’s Catholic Church, Auckland)

John Antonio de Freitas (1872-1937) & Eliza Jane Manderson (1879-1941)

William Peter Joseph (1900-1969) & Nina Geary (1895-1972)

My Mum


Additional Information

In the old records, Gascoyne is variously spelled Gascon, Gasgoine, Gascoigne, Gascoyne and Gaskong. Newell Gascoyne’s occupation is first noted as mariner, and later as sawyer. They also show that his children Isabella, Newell and Daniel were all born in Auckland, and that when younger Isabella applied to get married in January 1864, she was resident at Mills Lane, Auckland (and had lived there for 4 years).

The Mills Lane address is also supported by a report in The New Zealander, Vol. XIX, Issue 1879, where in a report about ‘A Determined Thief’, Isabella (senior) is referred to as the ‘wife of Newell Gascoigne, Mill’s Lane’. She was giving evidence about the movements of a Thomas Hill, who had been ‘lodging for two weeks at her house’. (27 May 1863)