June 5 is Arbor Day, a world-wide celebration of trees. If you read our About page, you’d know by now that Josie’s favourite outdoor place is “trees”! They are fabulous – I have so many happy memories from my childhood sitting up in the branches reading books (I was tomboy and a bookworm and this was a great way to combine the two!)

Arbor Day coincides quite nicely with the winter planting season in Aotearoa and lots of community groups are busily putting plants in the ground in parks around the city. Stu has been industrious in the wasteland railway reserve out our back fence, replacing the oxalis weed with lovely grasses and flaxes that will hopefully attract lizards.

On Arbor Day itself  I’ll be helping to plant two trees in the grounds of Josie’s preschool; the start of their very own shape forest. It’s never too early to introduce children to the wonder of trees – even an infant can enjoy lying on a rug looking up at the canopy as sun dabbles through the leaves. Perhaps wait til Spring to try that out but in the meantime, creating a shape forest seemed a great preschool concept to try out!

Josie and Rimu tree

Josie and a rimu tree

What grows in a shape forest?

Five-finger / puahou has leaves like my hands


Five finger / puahou has leaves like my ….


… hands!

Putaputaweta has flowers shaped like stars

Putaputaweta; Paul Ashford, www.NZplantpics.com

photo courtesy Paul Ashford, http://www.NZplantpics.com

Broadleaf – kapuka has shiny oval leaves while kowhai has tiny oval leaves

Broadleaf - photo courtesy Paul Ashford, www.NZplantpics.com

Broadleaf – kapuka has shiny oval leaves

Lots of trees have oval-shaped fruits – like miro and tawa

Miro also has leaves like a feather

Miro photo courtesy Paul Ashford, www.NZplantpics.com

Miro has feather-shaped leaves
Paul Ashford, http://www.NZplantpics.com

Lancewood’s leaves are like a spiky sword

Fierce lancewood, Paul Ashford, www.NZplantpics.com.

Fierce lancewood, Paul Ashford, http://www.NZplantpics.com.

Cabbage tree is not shaped like a cabbage!

Nikau trees are like big umbrellas turned inside-out!

Nikau palms.

Nikau palm

Some trees have leaves shaped like hearts…kawakawa-pepper tree and shrubby tororaro

Kawakawa leaf.

Kawakawa has a heart-shaped leaf

Muenlenbeckia astonii.

Shrubby tororaro

We ‘heart’ trees!

Josie hearts trees.

Josie ‘hearts’ trees

Hand tree

Tree art – Josie’s five-finger tree

Six days with three kids and three adults crammed into a campervan might sound a bit like torture. I have to say I was a little apprehensive about the idea, despite being the one who suggested it. But the children’s sheer excitement was contagious and once we were on the open road and with a good weather forecast predicted, the stress levels waned.

Camper van.

William and the van

The goal was to spend time together, travel to amazing places and have fun. We definitely met our goal on this adventure.

Campsite - beachside.

Yes this is how close to the beach we camped – wild places!

I’d never travelled in a campervan, and it felt strange to be a tourist in my own country. And it had been a long time since I’d been to the West Coast. It always seemed too far away when my kids are the kind that says “are we there yet?” every ten minutes. Funnily enough, this time they didn’t – the kids were so thrilled with the van that the journey became more important than the destination. In fact it probably didn’t matter where we went, as long as we were in our van. Unfortunately all this happiness meant lots of singing – repeating the same songs over and over again. Yes it drove us crazy!

top bunk.

We slept the three children cross-wise in the top bunk – it meant the adults could stay up later reading in the rest of the camper.

Having the freedom to stop wherever we wanted was quite powerful. And the West Coast is perfect for this.  There are so many magical places just around the next bend in the road. But some good preparatory planning meant we could take full advantage of this freedom.

West Coast lake.

Many of the camp-sites were beside beautiful lakes like this one

Here are my top tips tried and proven true on this adventure:

1)    Making sure we had plenty of easy food and snacks on-board meant that if the kids were hungry, we could pull in anywhere and have a picnic.

2)    Pre-cooking a couple of meals before we left meant that we could have dinner on the table within 30 minutes even from our tiny kitchen. It’s amazing how hungry you get when you’ve been out in the fresh air all day!

Lake Kaniere.

Exploring the shores at sunset

3)    A bit of reading up beforehand on campground sites proved vital. It meant we could decide, depending on how far we had got, where we were going to pull up for the night. From Kumara Junction south we found amazing basic campsites, most beside gorgeous lakes – thanks to the DOC South Island campsites brochure.

Lake Kaniere

Lake Kaniere camp ground.

4)    Despite being self-contained I didn’t want to bring heaps of toys with us and besides, the holiday was about getting out and about. We kept it simple and it was just the right amount to keep them happy:

  • Some activity books and pens for keeping them occupied while cooking dinner or if the weather turned bad
  • A t-ball set and ball for at the campground when the weather was good
  • A book for each child to read as part of the bedtime settling down routine
  • One important cuddly toy for comfort.
Doing activity books.

Activity books kept them happy inside….

Playing catch.

… while ball games kept them occupied outside at camp!

5)    A good torch was essential for finding the toilet in the dark. It also was useful for a pre-bed game of spotlight tag! Sand-fly repellent was also a must for the Coast is renowned for these bity bugs. And of course a first-aid kit for emergencies.

6)    Jandals for everyone meant less dirt was traipsed into the van when we were camped up. A box near the front door for all the shoes also proved handy for keeping these all in one place.


Cheeky weka at one campsite kept us entertained.

Word of warning – campervanning is not really the budget holiday that it’s sometimes marketed as. We got a good deal but then you add on insurance, gas and diesel. We had to call into the occasional commercial campsite to power up the van’s battery and recharge cameras and this did prove quite expensive. Most places charged per person so we ended up paying $60 – $70 per night – which when you add onto the hire charge for the van was about the same cost as hiring a motel room or entire bach!


Commercial camp-sites were usually a chance to catch up the laundry too.

But you can’t put a price on the experiences we gained on our adventure. And I know the children will always remember their week coasting in the campervan.

Franz Josef Glacier.

Franz Josef Glacier


From left to right Robyn, Josie, Taylor, Stu and William.

Grandma Doreen.

My grandmother Doreen was a seamstress, she kept every scrap of fabric just in case it could be useful later.

This is a shortened version of an article first published in Tots to Teens magazine, April/May issue

Sustainability may be the catchphrase of the 21st century, but it’s actually old school. It was only two generations ago that clothes were worn until they were worn out; mended, patched, darned, passed down then finally torn up and used as cleaning rags. “Waste not, want not” was my Grandmother’s mantra. It was the way they lived.

These days in our commercially-driven society, we are constantly bombarded with messages to buy! Buy! Buy! You need the latest phone, the latest toy, the latest fashions. We are using and throwing away more stuff than ever before.

But the earth is a finite place. And everything we do is connected. Every living thing on this planet relies on the same basic things as we do; clean water, clean air, food and a safe home.

Many people around the world have realised that these basic needs are in jeopardy because of the way we live. Because we are simply using too much stuff.

Sustainability is about changing the way we think and behave. It’s about making good choices. To be aware of how we might impact the environment, our community, and the world.

The sheer enormity of saving the world might seem too big a task for the average person. But if person starts with one small change, it can happen. And that’s exactly what the Earth Day campaign to collect ‘A Billion Acts of Green’ is all about. You can pledge your act online at www.earthday.org/2012.

Children too can be empowered early on to take part. The future world after all, is for them. Here are some pledge suggestions for different ages and stages:

Under five

  • Paint or draw on both sides of the paper. Use your paintings as wrapping paper for truly unique gifts.
  • Set up a box to collect bits and pieces for creating art – like bottle tops, boxes and ribbons.
  • Keep taps off while brushing teeth.
  • Look for the numbers on the bottom of plastic containers so you can help sort the recycling.
  • Find someone to hand your clothes onto when you out grow them.
  • Make your fifth birthday a green party – make invitations and decorations out of recycled stuff, serve fresh food on large plates instead of small disposable ones. Tell your guests to bring gifts they have made themselves or recycled from their own stash. (See seven steps to throwing an Earth Day party!)
Josie picking tomatoes.

Helping in the vegetable garden is a great way to learn about food and where it comes from!

5 – 8 years

  • Make green choices with your school supplies – buy recycled books and corn-starch biodegradable pens.
  • Turn off the light when you leave a room. Unplug your stereo or other electronics when you are not using them.
  • Start a swap club – get together with friends to swap books, CDs or games that you are bored with.
  • Collect paper that’s only been printed on one side (ask your parents first) Cut it up and staple them together to make a message pad for by the phone.
  • Ask your parents and friend’s parents to start a walking bus to get to school – or car-pool on wet days!

9 – 12 years

  • Ask for a solar charger for a present and use re-chargeable batteries in all your battery-powered toys.
  • Go green surfing: make a list of websites with ideas on how to be eco-friendly. Share the list with your friends and school teachers.
  • Write a letter to your favourite celebrity and ask them to support a local environmental trust. E.g. http://www.projectlitefoot.org/ top sportspeople are inspiring kiwis to become environmental champions.
  • Ask for a piece of the garden to grow your own vegetables and fruits. Look at a globe to see how far food has travelled to get to your cupboard!
  • Write a letter to your local council to make the streets safer for cyclists and to invest more in public transport.

But above all else – provide experiences! Love the Earth by getting to know its special qualities….

Josie and William at Peters Pool.

Peters Pool, Franz Josef

William at Lake Kaniere; photo S Mankelow

William at Lake Kaniere 17 April 2012

Okarito Beach; S Mankelow

Okarito beach 18 April 2012

Okarito; photo Robyn Mankelow

Okarito beach 18 April 2012

Rainforest, Franz Josef; photo S Mankelow

Rainforest at Franz Josef 19 April 2012

Step 1 – Decide on your venue. Make it at home or close to home so all your guests can walk, scooter, bike or come by bus! The local park is a great choice! We decided to throw our Earth Day party this year at Josie’s preschool.

Step 2 – Send out your invitations! We illustrated our invitations with Earth mosaics; first grab old magazines, pick pages with lots of green and blue on them, tear them into tiny pieces then glue them onto your globe. We then scanned our art and emailed our invites out!

Earth Day party invite.

Invitation to an Earth Day party

Step 3 – Choose presents! When I asked my two what makes a good party they both said straight away–presents! So we asked everyone to bring a present–to pick a toy out of your own collection that you are bored with and don’t play with anymore. You can either swap gifts amongst the children like we did at preschool, or even better, donate the toys to a charity that helps struggling families.

Step 4 – Wrap your presents! Old paintings and art work make great gift wrap! Or else, you can recycle old newspapers and tie with a bright piece of wool – that looks great too!

Splatter painting.

The backs of used flip-charts from work are perfect for splatter painting...


... and the resulting paintings make awesome gift wrap!

Step 5 – Decorate! Newspaper also comes in really handy to make paper chains for decorations, and the wonderful Earth mosaics that we made in step 1 look great on the wall.

Step 6 – Make the party feast! Source local food, organic fruits and veges for party food and make your own baked treats rather than buying lots of sugar-fuelled convenience food. In fact getting everyone to help prepare the food can be part of the party fun – make pizza dough and put out a choice of toppings! Instead of disposable plates and cups, put all your food on big platters for sharing.

Gingerbread kiwi biscuits.

Gingerbread kiwis - homemade and hand-decorated with icing and jelly crystals

Step 7 – Games and fun at an Earth Day party is about doing something nice for the Earth! If you are at the park why not do rubbish scavengers hunt?  If at home make a poster about Earth Day out of recycled materials to put up at school. At our preschool party we plan to take our wrapping paper, make paper porridge and turn it into completely new paper!

I’d been meaning to check out the Little River mudslide all summer, but when I read this article online I was finally inspired – Girls who play in dirt grow up healthier.

And with Earth Day coming up soon, it seemed appropriate to start celebrating by covering ourselves in it! All you need is a slope, water and dirt and lots of bottoms!


No brakes - gravity has hold of us!

Standing up at the end is not so easy!

Josie and Mum - who says girls don't like dirt!

PS – next post will be top tips for throwing an Earth Day party … mud-pies might have to be on the menu!

Egg-hunts for Easter? That’s so old hat. Instead, Josie (a.k.a Super ladybug) and I have decided to go on a backyard bug-hunt.

Super ladybug.

Super ladybug a.k.a. Josie!

We’ve had some lovely bug close encounters just recently. It’s that wonderful time of year when we are harvesting our autumn crops, cutting back shrubs and trees ready for winter, and as we do so, we are uncovering some cool critters.

Like this amazing praying mantis that we found on the basil! He was pretty feisty, boxing at us with all his might, which just showed off the wonderful blue spots on the insides of his legs that identified him as New Zealand’s native mantis.

NZ praying mantis.

Josie meets a praying mantis

And our swan plants that we planted this summer are still producing crops of Monarch – this one landed on Josie’s knee to dry its wings! I haven’t quite convinced myself to plant onga onga nettle though – I know it’s a favourite of red admirals but it seems slightly bizarre to plant tree nettle in a home garden!

Josie and Monarch.

Josie and Monarch.

That is of course the best way to welcome insects – plant up your garden with plants that insects like.  Butterflies are attracted by lots of nectar and so like plants with flowers to rest and land on. The NZbutterfly website has some detailed fact sheets about each species of butterfly and what plants they like. Bees also like lots of nectar and they are pretty handy for pollinating flowers.  Native shrubs like Olearia, hebes, shrubby tororaro, and pittosporums like kōhūhu and tarata / lemonwood are all favourites of insects.

red admiral.

Red admiral

Of course anyone with a compost heap and vege garden would welcome worms as they help with important jobs like aerating the soil. Areas of long grass or hedges become refuges for insects to over-winter in and a good layer of mulch or leaf litter on the garden will also encourage insects.

So, to find out how insect-friendly our garden really is, we decided to see what else we could find. On the Department of Conservation website we found instructions on how to make two really cool traps to catch insects.

And to keep ourselves busy while waiting for our traps to catch something, we had a go at an inside insect hunt as well.

We made some rainbow rice, thanks to this great recipe from happy hooligans.

Bugs hiding in rainbow rice.

The bugs are hiding in rainbow rice!

I buried the bugs in the rice and then Josie “hunted” them down. Josie was so funny – she carefully uncovered by random scattering of insects, and then carefully placed them in lines – one line per rainbow stripe. Then she covered them back up again! She has a wonderful sense of order.

Happy entomologist.

Josie is a happy entomologist - even if she can't say the word!

I thought William would be too old for this activity but no, he was right into it as well. His approach was to pull all the bugs out, smooth the rice down with the back of a spoon. He then placed the bugs on top of the rice, grouping them by colour – which he then said was camouflage!

William uncovers the bugs.

William on the hunt for bugs

Anyway, we can’t wait ‘til Easter Sunday to check our potato traps – let the bug hunt begin!

Colour-coded camo bugs.

Colour-coded camo bugs as sorted by William.