Save the Little Blue Penguin

Save the Little Blue Penguin

Save the Little Blue Penguin

…the Tiphi commeth…

Now, as you’ll learn in a future blog, New Zealander’s have a very practical and down to earth approach when it comes to naming things. It’s not very imaginative, especially when compared to the Maori approach to name giving, but at least you know where you stand.

So, consider the Little Blue Penguin. Very small, very blue and most definitely a penguin, it is a triumph in the world of practical name assignment. To call it anything else, apart from its Maori name, the Korora, would be doing it a great disservice. It is so clearly, exactly what it is called. But despite having absolute clarity over its identity, the Little Blue Penguin is sadly declining. Official sources say that this is because of predation by household pets, such as cats and dogs, as well as the poor things being squashed by cars or caught in fishing nets, but sources closer to the ground are starting to suspect another even more chilling and sadly literary cause for the bird’s rapidly dwindling numbers.

Enter the Tiphi… The Tiphi (pr. Tee-Fee) is one of New Zealand’s rarest and most cunning predators. Few people have ever been lucky enough to see a Tiphi in the flesh, but those that have lived to tell the tale, speak of an animal about the size of a small Jaguar or mid-sized Mercedes, with banks of razor sharp teeth and eyes like harvest moons. Originally from the majestic Rimu forests that once ranged across the country, the Tiphi has gradually become marginalised to coastal regions, largely because of the effects of deforestation and urban sprawl. Consequently, it has come up with a unique approach to ensuring its survival and ensnaring the Little Blue Penguin, which has become its favoured prey.

These days, all over New Zealand, wherever Little Blue Penguins are to be found, you will see signs like the one above, informing passers-by that the birds in question are crossing the road. These apparently helpful public information signs are really nothing of the sort. They are, in fact, cleverly devised traps crafted out of locally available materials by the perennially sly and scheming Tiphi. You see, very few people realise that Little Blue Penguins can read extremely well and that unfortunately, they have a genetic predisposition to slavishly follow signs. They could no more drop litter, for example, than you or I could dance naked on the moon.

So, consider the situation when a group of Little Blue Penguins arrive on shore only to find a sign telling them to slow down and cross the road! Of course, they immediately form up into an orderly queue, tallest at the front, shortest at the back and proceed to sashay across the road in true penguin style, oblivious to their impending doom. No sooner has the first one made it safely to the other side than the Tiphi attacks and the poor fellow at the tail end vanishes in a blur of snapping teeth and golden eyes. Success for the crafty Tiphi, true, but one less Little Blue Penguin for you and I to enjoy.

Now, I’m not for one moment suggesting that you should go out and pull up any of these signs. That would be interfering with the delicate balance of nature, which is precarious enough at the best of times. But now that you know what manner of beast has put them there, maybe you’ll stop for a moment to see if you can get a glimpse of the elusive Tiphi. And if you’re feeling particularly generous, you might like to leave a packet of chocolate Penguin bars behind to try and tempt the ravenous Tiphi away from the little blue ones!

For more information about the Little Blue Penguin and how you can help, please visit:

Photo credit: Dan Johnson (

For more about my New Zealand exploits, why not try this post:

A Load of Hot Water

A Load of Hot Water

A Load of Hot Water

… an immersive story about poor house design…

So, there I am, happily ensconced in the Waikato, New Zealand, living in a lovely little pre-fabricated cottage with wonderful landlords. What could possibly go wrong, you might ask?

Well, one morning I woke up, as I thankfully often do, and went for my morning shower only to find a complete absence of hot water. A quick inspection of the bathroom revealed no problems with the shower or surrounding plumbing, so clad only in a bath towel, I made my way to the airing cupboard where I discovered that the immersion heater, which lurked troll-like inside, had sadly expired during the night. Slightly put out by the fact that there would be no hot shower for Rob that morning, I called John, my landlord, who informed me that all would be made good by the time I returned from work that evening. Buoyed up by John’s typically swift and positive response, I made my way to work smelling only slightly worse than I normally did.

On the way home from work, a drive which took about twenty minutes in ‘The Beast’ (more about that in a future post), I wasn’t sure what to expect, but lo and behold when I pulled into the driveway, there was the old immersion heater sitting indignantly outside the house and John standing on the veranda (or deck as we call it in NZ) waving at me. As I got closer to the house, I could see that John had a wry smile on his face. While this was not unusual, it was when put into the context of DIY and house maintenance. I was no sooner out of the car when John called out: “All done! You’ve got a nice, new water heater installed in place of the old one.”

Great, I thought. Well, that means I should be able to have a shower and finally start to relax for the evening.

“Come and have a look,” said John, still smiling mysteriously to himself.

Now, I must admit that to me, one immersion heater looks very much like the next, but an expert I am not and I couldn’t be sure if I had inadvertently uncovered one of John’s many secret passions. The genealogy and bloodstock industry I knew about, but precious little else. Anyway, I decided to humour him and made my way into the house, readying myself to be suitably impressed when he showed me the sleek new model sitting inside the airing cupboard.

“Ooh, nice,” I said, as he opened the airing cupboard door.

“Notice anything unusual?” he asked, his wry smile threatening to erupt into laughter at any moment.

Well, I looked at the immersion heater. In fact, I stared at it quite intently for a while, but I couldn’t see anything obviously wrong with it. I mean, it was sitting on the floor with a couple of pipes and an electric cable sticking out of it, but that seemed quite normal to me.

After letting me suffer for a couple of minutes, John said: “Have a look at the doorframe.”

As he closed the door, I turned my attention to the surrounding frame and then I spotted it. “Wasn’t the doorframe in one piece, this morning?” I asked as I noticed two large cuts, one on either side of the airing cupboard door.

“Yes,” said John, finally bursting into laughter. “You wouldn’t believe the fun and games we’ve had today, trying to replace the old immersion heater. The builder came around at half past nine this morning and only left about thirty minutes before you got home. You see, when they built the house, which was pre-fabricated, they put the immersion heater in first and then built the walls and doors around it. I don’t think they ever thought that one day someone would need to replace the thing. There was no way that we could get it out without having to tear down and rebuild the doorframe. I hope you don’t mind?” he continued, tears of mirth literally cascading down his face as he looked at my impression of a stunned mullet.

Eventually, I pulled myself together, amazed at the stupidity of whoever had built the house in such a way as to make the removal of the immersion heater a physical impossibility and said to John: “Well, at least I’ve got hot water again. Now, given that you’ve damaged the property I’m living in, is there any chance of a rent reduction?”

“No,” said John.

If you want to know more about my exploits in New Zealand, then why not check out this related post: