The 1999 Waianakarua Autumnal DXpedition

By Paul Ormandy

Ever since 1982, l have made it a matter of habit to spend around a week DXing at Waianakarua during either the Autumnal (March) or Vernal (September) Equinox, to take advantage of the enhanced and often pleasingly strange conditions that the Equinox can bring. Over the years I have been joined by many DXers, Mark Nicholls, Bryan Clark, Harry Weatherley, and Steven Greenyer to name a few… this year Bryan is back again for more “stress-relief” and a debutante to Waianakarua, though no novice to DXing Chris Martin from Queensland made his debut.

Chris was joined by his Wife Lyn, who added a touch of class to the whole affair and managed to upstage us all on the cooking and cleaning front… we usually only wash the dishes when we run out out them…

First, a bit of scene-setting. Waianakarua is located just 20km South of Oamaru, 7km from the East Coast and in a depression with cliffs and hillocks all around. At first glance, you’d think that the geographical impediments would also degrade signals… and they do… fortunately it seems that local and semi-local groundwave signals are the only ones affected… which is positively great for DX! Wires run across narrow pieces of open paddock, using native trees and bushes to support the wires with the odd manuka pole here and there to prevent the farmer from lynching himself. Most of these are aimed towards the Americas as thats my main sphere of interest though there are o few wires left intentionally
unterminated for back-lobe use.

The accommodation is a 2-bedroom cabin built as a family project in 1982, which has undergone several updates and expansions over the years. There is no mains power which is a minor inconvenience for inhabitants and a bonus for DXing, the only electrical noise experienced are the ticks from nearby (but not too close) electric fences. Electricity for the radios and lighting is provided by 12-volt storage batteries with a solar trickle-charger and petrol-generator set. LPG (liquid petroleum gas) and a wood-burning stove provide for heating and cooking with a refrigerator also running off gas. Water-heating is also solar-powered though due to the inefficiency of the system tor showering during the cooler months, its back to basics with a basin-wash.

The DXpedition commenced on Tuesday the 10th of March, due to work commitments I couldn’t be there any sooner and missed my usual 7 or 8 night stint. I did prepare the site by setting up listening tables, gas bottles, batteries and beds etc on the previous Sunday so all we needed to do when we arrived on Tuesday was to plug our receivers in and make ourselves comfortable. Bryan couldn’t get a leave pass for Tuesday so we collected him from the local township of Herbert late on Wednesday afternoon. Which worked out well for Bryan because reception had been very mediocre on the Tuesday night and he missed nothing.

On to Wednesday, and a day when all the Beverages where fitted with baluns… prior to this occasion I had been experimenting with a unit designed by North American DXers Shawn Axelrod and John Bryant and had installed them on two wires with pleasing results.

That night was the big test… would I be ripping them off in the morning or advocating them to all and sundry? But before this, a bit of aerial maintenance was required. I have two parallel 310 metre wires that point towards Florida and perform very nicely… however, for some months one was producing lower signals than the other. I had checked all the connections near the receiver and found nothing amiss and figured that the problem lay in the last two-thirds of the aerial. I wasn’t too keen on tackling this problem because from past experience I knew it was literally going to be a “thorny” problem!

The wire ran over and under all sorts of nasty scratching plants like gorse, blackberry, bush lawyer and other unidentified prickly problems. So, gorse knife in one hand, Chris and l surveyed the problem and found that several bushes had over-grown the wire, one collapsing from a bank, and some spaghetti-like plant had entwined itself around the wire as well. The solution was a bit of”weeding”, some stubbornness, plenty of scratches and a healthy respect for plants that want to be left alone!

Back to the cabin and early tests on NZ stations produced equal signals off both
wire. .. problem solved… though how would they perform in DX conditions? Bryan arrived at the local township of Herbert, only a 5 minute car-trip away, by shuttle-bus from Dunedin around 4:15 p.m. Bryan’s receiver was quickly set up and early listening on SW commenced. MW signals started fading in around 0630 UTC. .. not too encouraging at first until Argentine R America was identified on 1190. That was very good news as stations from Argentina are only heard when solar activity is very low permitting signals from the ”El Cono Sur” countries to travel on their near polar route. Plenty more Argentine, Chilean and Uruguayan signals were heard with R Nacional, Paraguay appearing at 0900 sign-on.

Conditions “died” after 1100z so it was off to bed for a shot at the eagerly anticipated European, Asian and ME signals the next morning from 1730z on. However, DXing on MW around that time turned out to be a waste of time for the whole trip and we soon gravitated to SW where Africans were exceptionally strong.

Into the third night, more Argentines and Chileans though little trace of Uruguay or Paraguay, a pattern that was to be repeated on the fourth night. Conditions held up a little longer allowing some of the X-banders to be logged (13 for the trip) including WTDY Madison, Wisconsin 1670 – a new US State for Bryan. On the fourth day, it was time for Lyn, Chris and Bryan to depart. .. after a last, lingering tling around SW!

On the fourth night I was joined by three members of the local NZRDXL Branch, Jim Smyth with a Drake R-SA, Alistair Sutherland using a Sony ICF-SW55 and Basil Jamieson and his Kenwood R-5000. We were greeted by the best conditions for the reception of US signals for the whole time with plenty of “W” calls making the trip, with the ICF-SW55 holding up well against its “big cousins” and producing some surprisingly good reception. This night Latins were fairly scarce – until 0900 when there was a burst of activity from Argentina. Another lost shot at the early morning stuff  from 16302 on produced nothing of consequence.

SW was very good… especially from Africa with the tropical bands performing very well. MW reception overall was not what I would have predicted at this stage in the sunspot cycle I wouldn’t have thought we would hear Argentines four nights in a row! Signals from the US were limited to the odd regular, Caribbeans all but non-existent and local sunrise DX was similarly disappointing. Even the X band was not humming until the fourth night when all channels were occupied.

Reception on Long-Wave, which has provided some really good DX over recent times was very poor. Still, it is always good to spend some intensive time at the dials. .. and to renew some acquaintances… the company more than making up for any short-comings in the DX! And no prizes for guessing where I’ll be next Equinox!