Friday, 14 December 2007

Silly Season Road Trip - Day Two

Day Two
Dad's turn to drive. Our first stop is Waipukurau, where Mom wanted to check out an art gallery. My parents bought some ceramic plates with a kiwi design done in blacks and blues, which seemed appropriate because kiwi are nocturnal - a point we had just been reminded of at our visit to Mt. Bruce the day before. I have seen many a kiwi in New Zealand, but always in the hushed artificial night of a kiwi house at a zoo or wildlife park.

We stopped for lunch in Hastings. Now we were in Art Deco country. We spent some time wandering around the town square and photographing things. Suddenly everything was art. The street lights, the bell tower, the movie theatre.
The other notable thing about Hastings is that they built the town square such that the railway runs right through the middle of the water fountain. I was hoping for a train to come by and really make a great photo, but no such luck.
belltower hastings
We mapped a route from Hastings to Napier that would take us past a couple of wineries. We were now in the Hawke's Bay region. Know more for its Chardonnay and big reds like cabernet and merlot, this region has a lot in common with Northern California. Not a fan of big reds, we mostly stuck with Chardonnay.

Napier. This detail from a park bench says it all:
rebuilt with vision
Both Hastings and Napier were devastated by an earth quake in 1931. Art deco was in high fashion at the time, so both cities rebuilt almost exclusively in this style. Only fitting since part of the mythos of art deco has to do with the dawning of a new era, a shinning future of industry and beauty. Napier has a huge advantage over Hastings, as far as I'm concerned, due to it being on the coast. A long, straight stretch of beach runs along Napier, and they have made excellent use of it, building a park along side most of it, with such features as botanic gardens, an aquarium, a skate park, and the "soundshell" - an open air sound stage:
the shell napier
The best feature, however, was Ocean Spa. Loren and I got a private spa bath. Kept at just barely above body temperature, the water seems not quite hot enough at first, but ten minutes in and I'm toasty warm and drowsy, looking up at the darkening sky out the window. At that moment I felt completely relaxed. And that's when I knew I was really on vacation.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Silly Season Road Trip - Day One

Christmas and Summer Break all at once? There's a reason the Kiwis call it the Silly Season. With my parents in town, Loren and I both got a week off work to tour the countryside at the end of November. It was too early for folks to be on X-mas holiday, and it was mid-week as well, so had a laid-back time of it, with very few fellow tourists on the roads.

Day one:

My turn to drive. We stop at a two fruit stands and one winery. Fruit stand number one makes fresh fruit ice cream where they take plain ice cream and whatever kind of fruit you want, and stick them in an ancient-looking device that turns it into something tasty. At fruit stand number two Dad bought perfectly ripe black berries and insisted we eat them immediately. We mentioned we were on the look out for wine, and so the ladies at the fruit stand phoned the winery just down the road to make sure it would be open for tasting. The black berries were gone before we got there. We bought a pinot noir - one of the Wairarapa region's specialities, which is just fine with us since it's one of our favourites.


Next stop was Mt. Bruce - a wildlife reserve that has breeding programs for a native birds. We got up close with the kaka which are loose in the park:
And I got to show my family some hihi (the species I volunteer with here in Wellington). By the time we finished wandering through the park, we were all ready to find a place to spend the night. The next town was Etekahuna - a town too small to rate even one stop sign, but somehow managed to claim the national bird as it's own mascot:
There were exactly two restaurants open in Etekahuna. After a dinner of fish and chips wrapped in news paper, we decided to move along - the next dot on the map looked a little larger and therefore more promising.

At Pahiatua we followed a sign which simply said "quiet motel" and found a very pleasant B&B (acutally it was a 'bed' with an option for 'breakfast' for an additional fee). It was indeed quiet, with a pleasant garden as well:
There is no night life in Pahiatua. But the night was cool and clear, and I showed Mom what the Southern Cross looks like when it's up-side-down (not a sight you can see from the Northern Hemisphere, not even in Hawaii).

And that was just Day One!

More to come!

(photos from today's post were taken by my mother, except for the one of the kaka)

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

long overdue

Wow! I haven't posted since the beginning of November. That's just awful! Well, I will sit down and write a proper post about our road trip to Napier soon. In the mean time, take a look at my photos of the trip on Flickr:

Monday, 5 November 2007

Top Fives

I love to make mixed tapes. No one listens to tapes any more, so I no longer make them, but sometimes I still get an idea for a great mix, and a couple years back I found a new outlet for that special type of mix-tape creativity: Stealing an idea from the book & movie High Fidelity, I make "all-time top five" song lists. Then I subject you, the reader, to them. (what? you haven't seen them here on my blog before? that's because I had another blog before this one, which is where the Top Fives made their first appearances)

And so, a Top Five for Halloween....

Top Five Spooky Songs that Rock:

1)Bloodletting - Concrete Blonde
"There's a crack in the mirror and a blood stain on the bed
You were a vampire and baby I'm the walking dead"

2)Lullaby - The Cure
"be still be calm be quiet now my precious boy
don't struggle like that or i will only love you more"

3)The Dead of Night - Depeche Mode
"We are the Dead of Night
We're in the zombie room"

4) Living Dead Girl - Rob Zombie
"Who is this irresistible creature who has an insatiable love for the dead?"

5) Humming - Portishead
(for use of fantastic spooky-sounding instrument that I don't know the name of)

Friday, 2 November 2007

Halloween vs. Guy Fawkes

Halloween isn't very popular here. However, we were lucky enough to know some American expats who were throwing a Halloween party. We knew a couple back in California who was really into it, we looked foreword to going to their parties every year. So, all dressed up and ready to go to the party the other night, I'm sitting on the couch saying to Loren "It won't be the same. I doubt anyone will end up tied up to anything. And there won't be any live tarantulas."

Well, despite the lack of bondage, it was still a great party. The guy works for Weta Studios (the special effects studio that worked on Lord of the Rings) and he went all out with the decorations. Although, when you convert your entire apartment into a Haunted House complete with sound effects, "decorations" becomes an understatement. We met some new people, and had fun trying to identify the ones we knew what with the spooky lighting and some pretty imaginative costumes. And I got my palm read by a Gypsy.

It struck all us Americans as strange that Wellington isn't into Halloween. Step out onto Courtenay Place on a Friday night and you'll see why. People around here like to dress up. Whether going to a club or a birthday party, they seem to take anything as an excuse to get in costume. In fact, Wellington supports at least four costume rental shops year round. I've gathered a few theories on why Kiwis don't get into Halloween around here, though I don't know how much weight to give any of them:

1) Halloween is seen as a uniquely American holiday, therefore Kiwis don't want anything to do with it.

2) Halloween is NOT Christian, therefore Christian Kiwis don't celebrate it.

3) Trick-or-treating teaches children poor morals (that you can get something for nothing) and that's counter to the Kiwi spirit.

4) It's only five days before Guy Fawkes day, and therefore gets overshadowed by this very British holiday. (this is my theory)

What's that? You've never heard of Guy Fawkes day? Well, basically, there were these guys that plotted to blow up Parliament with large amounts of gun powder. The plot was discovered, and various gruesome things were done to the treasonous perpetrators. This Guy Fawkes character was among them, and so people started making a straw Guy and burning him in effigy. The thing caught on, and is now more likely to be celebrated with fire works. So basically, it's a holiday celebrating the capture and execution of terrorists. Hmmm, why hasn't this one caught on in America? Kiwi expats must be scratching their heads over that one.

And lest you forget:

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

And now, our brilliant low-budget Halloween costumes:

Punks for a day

For more, check our Flickr page:

Friday, 12 October 2007

Some reasons I think New Zealand is a fantastic place

This is an excerpt from a response to someone who took me up on my offer from my last post. I got a little carried away... but, well, this is really how I feel about New Zealand. What, you think I just moved here on a whim or something?


Imagine a country whose citizens do not have the constitutional right to carry a hand gun. I saw an article in the local paper the other day that said "Child terrorizes teachers with stick" Some 9-year-old threw a temper tantrum, somehow got hold of a stick, and started swinging it at teachers and students. And this made the papers. I just thought "Americans have got 9-year-old mass murderers shooting their class mates, and New Zealand's got an angry boy with a stick!"

Imagine a country where midwives are respected healthcare professionals, where pregnancy and birthing care are free, where all children are provided with free healthcare until the age of six, at which point healthcare will be highly subsidized throughout their lives. This is a place where the government has a very real stake in the health and welfare of its citizens. Every package of cigarettes here has a big label across the opening that simply says "Smoking Kills."

Imagine a country where it is expected that young adults will go on their OE (Overseas Experience) sometime after graduating high school, to go out and see what the rest of the world has to offer, and to bring this knowledge back home to enrich New Zealand's culture. Being a small country, and situated at the edge of the world, so to speak, New Zealand can't afford to insulate itself from the rest of the world.

Now think about this. This country holds about 4.4 million people and a quarter of them live in Auckland. In a country the size of Colorado, that leaves a lot of space for the rest of us. Wellington is one of the largest cities in New Zealand, and I live right in the middle of it, in the club/pub/theatre district. On a Saturday night I step outside and the streets are flooded with dressed-to-the-nines kiwis out for a night on the town. But I can walk for five blocks and be in the "town belt" a series of parks in the hills surrounding the city. Or I could walk five blocks another direction and be at the beach. If I had a car, it would take me about fifteen minutes to find a spot so remote I could hike around all day with no sign of civilization to distract me.

Friday, 28 September 2007

classic rock

It seems the radio stations here have a slightly different idea of which classic rock songs have withstood the test of time. I have heard "The Final Countdown" while shopping more times than I can count at this point. It always makes me think of Arrested Development... and a certain cousin of mine, of course. I've also heard an unreasonable number of Poison and Guns & Roses songs.... along with a wide assortment of other songs I used to know well but haven't heard since the 80's. Loren theorized its to be expected in a country that sill thinks Crowded House is pretty fantastic (and totally a Kiwi band despite the Australians trying to claim them).

I can't help thinking that a certain other cousin of mine (who is still in love with Bon Jovi) would feel right at home here. Still, I feel that way about every single person I miss. It seems I can think of some way each of them would fit right in. Perhaps it is wishful thinking, or that I'd like to share what this place has to offer. But it is also that this place has a lot going for it, and being tucked away at the edge of the earth as it were, I feel like no one back in the states really realizes this.

Would you - yes you there, reading this post - would you like to know why you'd feel right at home here? Send me an email or post a reply and I'll be happy to tell you.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

pizza box surprise

I was cleaning up the pizza boxes from Loren's birthday party today, when I noticed something....

Hell pissa box

A cut-out in the pizza box...

hell pizza box cut-out

Which I assembled...

for your remains

To make a left-overs coffin!

If I didn't already think Hell Pizza was fantastic..

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Red Moon

I had a plan. Loren meets me at the cable car station after work. We have dinner at the Hari Krishna buffet-style place a block away. We take the cable car back up to the botanic gardens and wander around watching the eclipse.

Well, I woke up that morning and checked the weather report. Clouds all day, rain in the evening. Well crap. I figured that pretty much ruled out eclipse-watching but we could still have a nice dinner out on the town.

Eight PM is when I get off work, and also the when the eclipse is due to start. It's not raining. It's a bit misty but I can see the full moon just fine. I pause to inspect the moon for signs of the impending eclipse. I can't tell if it's starting yet, or if it's just my imagination. Loren meets me at the cable car station, we head to the restaurant but it's closed. So we wander down Lambton Quay - this is Wellington CBD, the central business district, and most shops are closed at this hour. We make our way toward Cuba Street, and then we spot Hell Pizza: perfect! One double chicken-camenbert-cranberry pizza please, and a Greek salad. It's Tuesday night. The dinning/bar area is nearly empty, we snag a comfy leather couch by the fire no problem. I take a look at the ad campaign posters on the wall. One has an evil-looking red devil with horns and says "better the devil you know...." Another has a picture of a condom wrapper that's ripped open to reveal a pizza inside. The logo on the wrapper says "lust." It's for their meat-lovers pizza. I ask Loren if he thinks this place would work in the states. He thinks not. Even a few New Zealanders thought the Hitler ad was taking things too far.

By the time we finish dinner and get back out onto the street the eclipse is well under way. The shadow has crept more than halfway up the moon, and a red tinge is starting to set in. We wander towards the water and find ourselves in civic square. We weren't the only ones with this idea. Groups of twos and threes and wandering along the Sea to City Bridge, or just finding a nice spot to sit and settle in to watch the show. We can hear drumming coming from somewhere... it's a drum circle that's formed at a grassy spot near the bridge. Its cold and the wind is blowing the chill right through our clothes... we decide to keep walking along the waterfront. We pause outside Mac's Brewery. The place isn't very busy, but there's a decent number of folks hanging out at the tables outside, having a pint and keeping an eye on the moon. Someone's set up a telescope on one of the tables and they're taking turns having a look. That's when I remember I brought my binoculars. The moon is definitely red now, and getting close to fully shadowed. We both take a look and then continue on home: we weren't prepared for a night this cold.

We get back home and quickly bundle up and head back out. There's just a tiny sliver of bright moon left. We make it to the end of the block and then the clouds roll in. Before we know it the moon has vanished and the sky is filling up with dark clouds. It's probably for the best because it's my bed time. I just feel lucky to have seen as much of the the eclipse as I did. And in the way that we did - walking around Wellington, every one we pass sharing in this amazing experience. It is impossible not to feel a sense of wonder on a night like this.

No, I didn't take any pictures.But the folks at Wellington Night Shots on Flickr took some

Thursday, 23 August 2007

the thing about a city

It's funny how you get to know a city like you get to know a good friend or a lover. You walk its streets, inch by inch you get to know its idiosyncrasies, its rhythms, the patterns of its street lights and the best place to go for a coffee after midnight. You learn its secret places and its mysteries. And if you're lucky, you fall in love. You come to love the way the city can still surprise you even after all this time. How you can turn a corner and uncover something new. An ancient and crumbling graveyard hiding between a parking lot and one corner of the university. It wasn't on your map, there is no sign marking its existence, and you must have walked past this place hundreds of times. But you also love the things about the city know you can count on, those unchanging details that make up a city's character. That you can order a mocha anywhere and it will come in an Italian ceramic mug with two marshmallows or a chocolate fish and it shall be three-dollars-fifty-thanks.

People talk about falling in love with a city, but can you really? I wasn't so certain before now. Wellington is special to me because I picked it. Unlike every other place I've ever lived. I never understood when someone would tell me how lucky they felt to live a particular place, like it was the only place they'd ever wanted to be. But walking home yesterday, up through Victoria University, discovering unexpected views of the city and harbour beyond glittering in the afternoon light, I felt very lucky. Very lucky indeed.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

I got glasses!

Yes, I can see better with them on. But I couldn't tell you why. I thought everything looked clear enough before. But now it looks much better.

(low-res. photo from my laptop camera because I am lazy)

Monday, 6 August 2007

Ski Trip to Tongariro

Last weekend Loren's work had a ski trip, and even though neither of us have any interest in skiing, we decided to go along, mostly just to get out and see another part of the country. We didn't really know what to expect, but then we didn't really have any expectations beyond a little adventure.

No, it doesn't snow in Wellington. The North Island is relatively warm, but there are a lot of volcanic mountains, particularly in the middle of the island, which reach high enough altitude to get snow in the winter. The particular ski slope we were headed for was in Tongariro National park, a large forest reserve.

We caught a ride with one of Loren's co-workers and his girlfriend. They are a young British couple who moved here nearly a year ago. In fact, over the course of the trip I met very few native New Zealanders - the IT industry recruits overseas quite a lot. Our accommodation was somewhere between a lodge and a B&B - dorm style bedrooms with a large common room with comfy couches and a warm fireplace, where breakfast was provided and the owners would also cook you dinner for a fee.

We got in late (it was a four-hour drive up after work) but we were woken up rather early by the sound of movements in the halls. I could hear the distinct sound of plastic ski pants rubbing together... no one told me skiing was one of those Early Bird sports. As I dragged myself to breakfast, I was sorely tempted to settle into a couch in the common room and skip the slopes all together. I was one-third through the last Harry Potter book, which made this option all the more appealing.

We barely had time to finish our breakfasts when we realized our ride was in danger of departing without us... we decided to hurry up and get going. On our ride to the lodge the night before, we were wondering where the snow was. The little town we were staying in was snow-free and not even all that cold. As we headed towards the slopes, we still weren't seeing any snow and we were starting to get worried. The snow started at the parking lot at the bottom of the slopes. This was snow by virtue of altitude alone; In an otherwise temperate climate, North Islanders flocked to this oasis of a snowy peak. The maintained ski slopes were quite extensive, and the ski park was totally packed. We knew we should be getting in line to buy some ski lessons, but the long line didn't look very appealing at nine in the morning....

We went inside for a coffee instead, and ended up missing the morning lesson, but we didn't much care. We hiked around, played in the snow, found a beautiful little waterfall down behind the parking lot below the snow line, and eventually bought "sightseers" lift passes to take the lift up without skis and tramp around checking out the scenery:

ski lift 2

The second day the ski conditions were bad, so instead we went for a hike through the national park to a lovely waterfall. We found some smaller falls along the way:

small waterfall

The climate and ecology reminded me a lot of Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii - cold, misty, never raining hard, just very humid. And that combination of plenty of water but nutrient-poor volcanic earth leads to certain kinds of vegetation: lots of bright green moss, and grey lichen, all over everything, and ferns in all shapes and sizes. Some woody shrubs and trees, scrappy-looking things with tiny leaves. We actually came across a sort of wetlands area, seeming out of place high on the mountain slope, complete with emergent vegetation and a long wooden walkway so visitors could cross. We headed back home in the early afternoon. No skiing for the two of us, but we still had fun. For the rest of the ski trip photos:

Friday, 3 August 2007


Most places in the states, your potato options are pretty narrow. You've got the ubiquitous and completely uninspiring russet, and if you're lucky, you can find some red-skinned "new potatoes" as well. And, of course, during the holidays you've got yams. I think its fair to say that New Zealanders have it much better when it comes to potatoes. I count about ten different varieties at my local grocery store, in a range of shapes and colours. So I figured it's time I dive in and give some of them a try. I started with the kumara - a popular New Zealand root vegetable.

They come in three main types: red kumara (red skin, white flesh with red flecks), orange kumara (orange skin, orange flesh), and gold kumara (yellow skin, yellow flesh with apricot-coloured flecks)

raw kumara

While they may look like yams, kumara are not nearly as sweet, though the orange variety is sweeter than the other two. They have a very particular flavour which reminds me of breadfruit. The red kumara has the strongest flavour, in my opinion, followed by the gold, with the orange being the most mild ands also the softest in texture. In order to get a full appreciation of the qualities of each, I prepared them very simply, by pan-frying them with some rice bran oil.

kumara chips

The recipe:

Kumara Chips

kumara sliced 1/4 to 1/8 inch thick
1-2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

Run the kumara slices quickly under cold water to rinse off some of the starch. In a frying pan, heat oil on medium-high heat. Place kumara in pan in a single layer. Pan-fry until chips start to turn golden brown (this takes maybe 3-5 min.) Gently turn chips over and brown the other side as well (this only takes about 2 min). Remove from pan and pat off excess oils with a paper towel. Sprinkle with salt, fresh ground pepper, and a little nutmeg. Serve immediately.

Both Loren and myself enjoyed these immensely and probably ate more than we should have. The red kumara, with the strongest breadfruit-like flavour and the firmest texture, was my favourite.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

On where to - and whether to - begin

It seems that suddenly I know a lot of folks on Blogger. I was already considering checking it out when I realized that via Gmail I already had an account, so I figured I may as well give it a shot. I am hoping this blog might solve a problem. The problem of keeping in touch with a long list of friends and family. I technically have two blogs already. The problem is this:

1) Live Journal, while technically a blog, is something I use as my personal journal, somewhere I can write whatever I feel like, and therefore I'm cautious about who I give the URL to.

2) I joined My Space because everyone and their mother is on it, so its useful for keeping in touch. But it's awful for blogging.

My intent is for this blog to be about me, and Loren, and our adventures in New Zealand. Something the people that know us might find interesting. Something to help answer the impossible question of how to keep in touch with everyone we know who now live so far away.

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