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.