Always Keep your Receipts… Apparently

‘Always keep your receipts’, this was the only advice my mate could give me when I was considering becoming self-employed while living in the UK. He didn’t really know why I had to keep the receipts, but it was vitally important that I kept my receipts.

This was the only bit of prior knowledge I had when I embarked on my new career. Up until about a month ago, I had spent the best part of 10 years working for several engineering consultancies. However, the time had come to hang up my adjustable spanner and dungarees, and try my hand at that classic craft, as old as the spoken word itself, of Story Teller, Imagination Weaver, Fantasy Fulfiller… and seller of dog biscuits on the side to make ends meet.

This blog is an account of this new career direction. Documenting the highs and inevitable lows of a struggling writer’s predictable descent into alcoholism, loneliness and clichés. Hopefully a bit more entertaining that it depressingly sounds, and ideally shorter than 500 words, it may serve as your mid-week escapism for five minutes.

‘And the dog biscuits…?’ I hear your mumble, as you lose interest and close the blog entry.

Well, I’m mindful that even if the writing goes brilliantly well, it still doesn’t pay a great deal more than if I was just working for free, so something was needed to fill the financial gap. Although it could be argued that my original engineering job filled this void nicely, it’s not as interesting as making dog biscuits in my kitchen several times a week. Who wants to hear about spread sheets and engineering projects, when they could be reading about how I spent last weekend standing in the freezing cold, at the entrance to the local dog park trying to sell biscuits to reluctant dog owners.

Whether there is much of a cross over between people who are interested in dogs and struggling writers is yet to be seen, and will most likely be demonstrated via how many people continue to read past the blog title and the number of ‘Likes’ I get.

‘OK, that clears up the dog biscuits. But what was the relevance of the receipts bit at the start? Plus, I’m really not a fan of this assumption that you know what your readers are thinking’.

Well, the receipts bit was meant to be a set up for a story about my first trip as a writer, and how I made a point of keeping my receipts, but then lost them. The anecdote sounded better in my head. Thankfully I was approaching the maximum word count to prevent me dragging it out any further. Maybe the struggling writer status is justified.

(And yes, I am aware that in the past I said that I never liked blogs, but then I also said I’d never get a pet. But 1 cat, 2 dogs and a blog later, here we are)


The Edge – Craigieburn

Snow. I don’t know what it is, what it looks like, or what its relevance to our day is, but Ian seemed very excited about the prospect of seeing it. On our drive towards Craigieburn ski field that’s all he went on about. Snow this and snowboarding that. As I vacantly stared out of the rear window of the truck, my view obscured by his mountain bike slung over the tailgate, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he’d accidentally brought his bike instead of his snowboard. It was going to be an interesting day.

As you may have already worked out, the team were back in Craigieburn. Ian manning the circular thing at the front of the truck, still banging on about snow, and Rusty stretched out on the back seats, once again insisting on using up every available bit of space. And me, wedged into my corner, getting by, one day at a time.

As we turned onto the Craigieburn Ski Field access track, I was mindful that another car was following close behind, with what appeared to be another fellow canine in it. We came to a stop, Ian released us from the confines of the truck and Rusty and I were introduced to Zeus, and his human companion, Scott. Zeus is an affectionate black Labrador Collie cross. Seeing as I was half Collie, and Rusty was half Labrador, we had plenty to talk about. Zeus had been living with Scott for several weeks, and had a lot of experience running in the hills, so was full of enthusiasm for today’s adventure. As for Scott, as far as I could tell, he and Ian were friends, and he definitely didn’t share Zeus’ eagerness for heading up a ski field access track.

Introductions out of the way, the five of us headed off and up. Rusty, Zeus and I led the charge, with Ian and Scott bringing up the rear on their rotating machines.  The rocky access track is cut into the side of the tree covered slope, and gradually ambles its way up to the ski field over several kilometres. Although initially starting quite dull, small glimpses of the mountains ahead kept morale up as we endlessly climbed towards the sky. We remained within the cold shaded confines of the canopy for the majority of the ascent, until finally breaking through the tree line and into the warmth of the morning sun.

Six kilometres and 450 metres climbed, we eventually arrived at the base of the ski field, and Ian’s face turned from excitement to disappointment, as it quickly became apparent that there was none of this mythical snow that I’d heard so much about. An imposing grey scree field extended above us, dotted with small patches of trees or rocks stubbornly clinging to the mountain side. Ian futilely encouraged the group to look harder for any patches of white. Up at the peaks, out of reach, there appeared to be something, but the observation was slightly undermined by the fact that we canines only see in black and white, so not entirely sure how well suited we were for the job. In any case, it was time for lunch.

As the humans tucked into some horrible looking processed food, we canines dined on some Bitchin Beer Treats – available at all good stores – and soon we were fuelled up for the descent… which is where things got interesting.

The trail we embarked on is called The Edge, and for good reason. Although sections on the 3.5km track are reasonable, winding through the moss covered, skinny trees on a solid, well-formed path, there are also sections consisting of large drops, large exposures, a large number of tight corners, lots of large rocks and a complete lack of large margin for error. At times the track reduces to, at best, a thin crease across an otherwise steep and bare scree slope. The four of us looked on unconvinced as Ian disappeared down the track, waving us on and shouting something about ‘it’s fine… whoa! Just mind that rock…’ as he cycled across an entire mountain side covered in rocks. The canine group bounded on after Ian, as Scott set about picking his way down the track.

Several crashes later, things hadn’t got much better for Scott. Zeus had sprinted off ahead to catch Ian, displaying an interesting version of loyalty. Rusty was between me and Zeus, bouncing along the trail in the uncoordinated way that he does. I remained towards the back, constantly running between Rusty and Scott, in a futile attempt to keep the pack together, in spite of its obvious disintegration.

Eventually, after about 15 minutes of every canine for himself, we arrived at a junction where we could either continue to Helicopter Hill, or descend back down to the car. As Scott composed himself, Rusty, Zeus, and I discussed our route options. We turned to get Ian’s input, to find he had already set off, whooping and hollering with joy, down the track. The three of us rolled our eyes, Scott sighed, and we were off again.


In contrast to The Edge, the return trail to the car park was 1km of downward facing awesomeness. With a lack of scary, rocky, exposed sections, and at an angle that was perfect for allowing you to go at whatever speed was comfortable, we chased after an elated Ian. The brown, earthy track curled its way down the mountain side, and too soon it had spat us out onto the ski field access track we had scaled earlier that morning.

A short trot back to the car park provided us with a final chance to stretch our legs and cool down after our sprint session. By now the sun had climbed over the height of the surrounding trees, and we bathed in sunlight as the humans drank some horrible tasting, golden liquid from glass bottles. Scott was starting to smile again. Ian was attempting some sort of half-arsed apology for riding ahead, while at the same time excitedly talking about how great the final trail was; his gestures and facial expressions becoming more exaggerated the more liquid he drank, as the disappointment of not seeing any snow faded into obscurity. Aware that Rusty and I were going to have to listen to this all the way back to Christchurch, we busied ourselves exploring out of ear shot, while Zeus curled up next to Scott and zoned out.

Bidding our farewells, we drove back to Christchurch. As predicted, Ian continued to ramble on, as I fought for seating space with a ‘pretending to be asleep’ Rusty. It was going to be a long drive.

Approximate Track Stats

Distance: 11km

Height Gain: 450m

Time: 1.5hrs (cycling), 2.5hrs (walking)

Comments: There are plenty of streams and water sources along the route

The route is an excellent introduction to going out on an adventure and is just as good walked as it is biked

Note that the Edge is a shared use track with mountain bikers and walkers

The scree slopes will be snow covered during the winter months

Map courtesy of

Sunday Hill – Hakatere Conservation Park

‘Hakatere Conservation Park! Abandoned ski field! Sunny Day! I’m in!’ was the response I excitedly gave Ian when he asked if I was up for another adventure. And so Ian (our chauffeur), Rusty (my adopted canine brother) and me (your plucky young protagonist) piled into the truck to embark upon yet another 2 hour drive. Not that I want to start bitching so early on in a story, but these trips would be made a little more bearable if Rusty didn’t insist on taking up three quarters of the back seat. I’ve literally been forced to sleeping on all fours in the past, as a result of Rusty nonchalantly draping his body across all available space.

Anyway, now that’s off my furry chest, as we drove towards Hakatere, Ian seemed more excited than usual, grinning and yapping away about his love of abandoned places. He was reminiscing about his time in Cyprus, when he discovered a half built hotel which was incredibly eerie and spooky. What didn’t help matters was that when he was exploring the basement he came across an old ice cream van, got scared, and had to leave. To be honest, I had no idea what he was on about and wasn’t really listening. I was more concerned about trying to salvage more than an envelope sized seating area on the back seat from Rusty, as he sprawled himself out, staring forward, pretending not to notice my passive aggressive nudges to reclaim some seating space.

I conceded to standing and staring out the window, attempting to keep my eyes open as the scenery gradually turned from green flatness to grey steepness, as we drove deeper and deeper into mountain country. We were aiming for Mt. Potts, which is home to the now abandoned Erewhon ski field, to do some exploring and take some interesting photos for my Instagram account. Ian explained that the 70 acre ski field was opened in 1964 and used a number of converted farming buildings for accommodation and restaurant lodges. He went on to say that access to the terrain was via snow cats, as opposed to rope tows or chairlifts, making it unique to New Zealand at the time, but had now been shut for a number of years. My interest peaked at the mention of ‘Snow Cats’, which sounded like an interesting challenge, but then quickly dipped again at the following mention of ‘rope tows’ and ‘chair lifts’… which don’t sound particularly feline.

Arriving at the start of the 4×4 access track, the intention was for Ian to travel on his pedal powered, triangle-and-circle shaped machine. Rusty and I would follow close by, providing suitable protection from orcs, goblins and questionable accents, as after all this was King of the Jewellery territory (it’ll probably take a second read to get that joke. Some may argue the reference is too soon, but… meh).

On patrol. Mt. Potts in the background

Just as Ian was opening the truck door to let us loose on patrol, he spotted a nearby beast and quickly slammed it shut. After some fumbling and replacing the triangle-and-circle machine on the back of the truck, Rusty and I were released, but this time on leads. Putting aside the indignity of being on a lead, it also rendered us useless as protectors in this hostile land. We set off, with me and Rusty lurching forward in an attempt to scout out any potential threats. And scout out we did, immediately discovering some wild, presumably threatening beasts that would have made quick work of Ian. We fired off some warning barks and the mastodons casually, although no doubt fearfully, moved away, letting out a wounded ‘moooing’ sound. Evidently this encounter was enough to spook Ian and we returned to the car, less than 4 minutes after leaving it. I was starting to get an idea of Ian’s sensitive disposition, and can only assume that these were the same monsters he encountered in the hotel basement – so they’re called ‘Ice Cream Vans’. I made a mental note for future reference.

Entrance to Sunday Hill

The truck was turned around, and driven back along the rocky road we had come in on. After several minutes we came to an abrupt halt. Ian jumped out and inspected a green rectangle with yellow markings on it, clicked his heels together, like the cheeky Victorian rapscallion that he is, walked back to the car and released us – without leads! We were ushered through a gate and into a huge open expanse. Mountains lined the horizon in all directions, and the flat area contained within was full of tussock and shrub, providing plenty of ambush spots for me and Rusty to investigate. Ian’s eyes were drawn to the large mound at the centre of this expanse, its steep sides lined with fragmented rock. With a distant, faraway look in his eyes, he announced, almost dramatically: ‘So this is Edoras, home… to the RIDERS OF ROHAN!’. He spun round with outstretched arms, wide eyes and an open mouth to face Rusty and I, expecting some sort of acknowledgement. We both just shrugged our shoulders and sprinted off into the tussock to flush out more Ice Cream Vans.

Surveying the territory

With the warmth of the sun beating down on us, we followed the orange tipped trail markers that led us towards the central mound, with a now sulking Ian bringing up the rear. Helpful bridges provided access across the narrow, fast flowing rivers – which I will confirm, flow a lot faster than expected when you are in it – and it wasn’t long before we were at the base of the mound. A short grassy climb to the top put us at possibly the finest uninterrupted 360 degree view I’ve experienced. Don’t get me wrong, Helicopter Hill was good, but at least here I didn’t have to concern myself with unexpected hot air balloon landings (again, slightly random reference unless you just clicked the Helicopter Hill link). Let’s just say it was really, really good. And from a strategic point of view, which I imagine ranks highly on the requirements of most visitors, it was second to none. There was no chance that any ice cream vans would be taking us by surprise up here. Once the perimeter was secure, the three of us settled down upon the warm rocks for lunch. Ian handed out some homemade dog biscuits – known as Bitchin Beer Treats. Rusty joked that they had been named after me and all the bitching I do. I laughed nervously and looked over to Ian, who just silently nodded in agreement, and continued to stare out at the all-encompassing panorama.

The slightly awkward silence was soon broken with people breaching the perimeter, signalling that our solitude on this modest peak was over. Our early start on the day had meant that up to this point, we were the only visitors here; however that was evidently coming to an end. We retreated to the safety of the truck, protecting us from the possibility of attack from orcs, tourists or ice cream vans, allowing us to fight another day.

Approximate Track Stats

Distance: 3km round trip

Height Gain: 100m

Time: 1.5hrs


Map courtesy of