Hydro-electric power, Sandflies and Sunsets


As a result of being set in the bush, the Old Slaughterhouse is a bit different. For a start, it’s entirely constructed of wood, which was carried up the hill by helicopter. The water comes from the stream behind the hostel, rather than from a water pipe. And there’s no mains electricity, because the cost of running it up to the hostel would have been huge. So instead, David has a small hydro-electric generator on the creek, which generates 24 volt electricity to charge a bank of car batteries under the hostel. This electricity is used to run the lights (using special 24V/60W bulbs – they look just like normal ones, but run on 24V power instead of normal 240V), and powers the only other electrical device in the house – a small hi-fi. Everything else that needs electricity is missing – no washing machine, no television, no dishwasher etc. It meant that when we arrived with a flat laptop battery, two flat camera batteries and a desperate need to charge them, we were stuck. We ended up going into town yesterday for a coffee, and asking if we could plug them in while we sat there and drank our coffee (slowly). The hydro-generator is the size of a fish tank, and inside there’s little flywheel which is spun round by the water flowing through a pipe the size of a drainpipe. Its an amazing bit of technology, and it seems to provide all the power that’s needed to power the lights, at no cost.

When we took a trip out of the hostel today we went 40km up the road, to where it ends and the Heaphy track begins, and went down onto the beach for about 10 minutes. But we’d arrived at peak sandfly time, and they are both annoying and persistent. Although New Zealand doesn’t have any dangerous animals – no snakes, no poisonous spiders, no horrible monsters – but the humble sandfly makes up for it. They gather in clouds early and late in the day, and bite anything in sight. We’d prepared – we all had repellent on – but they attacked in droves, and crawled through our hair to bite our heads. It was nasty, and we were soon itching everywhere. So we beat a retreat to the car, abandoned plans to walk the first hour of the Heaphy Track, and headed back to the hostel. According to the Lonely Planet, “sandflies hunt in pairs – one to lift the sheets while the other one bites you.”


When we got back to the hostel, it was all forgotten. For three days now we’ve been looking at poor sunsets – just as the sun dips the clouds get in the way, and the sky turns black and grey. But tonight was different – the daytime’s clear blue sky stayed clear, and when the sun dropped it turned orange, then red and lit up the coast. We’d even splashed out on a bottle of red wine. Can you imagine how we felt – watching the sun drop over the Tasman Sea, with a glass of wine in our hand, lazing on a wooden bench on the decking? We could almost imagine we didn’t have children!

I don’t want to rub it in, but I had to share this photo too – it was the last gasp of the sun, burning up the clouds as it went.


We took these photos with our new digital camera, a Canon EOS 300D. It’s an SLR camera, and means that we have a bit more control over our shots, and can take some more adventurous pictures (it’ll be especially useful when we start seeing more wildlife, if we get to Africa). Although it is a bit of extra weight to carry, and bulkier than our other camera (a digital Canon Ixus) we don’t think we’d have been able to get a shot like this with the small one. We bought it in Sydney, and now all we have to do is get it through Asia safely!