Archive for June, 2008

Buses, Christmas, Birds and Wild, Wild Wind

of the features of Wellington is its excellent bus service. Stand on any street
in the city and you will see swarms of yellow, blue, green or multicoloured
buses heading off to places like Karori, Kilbirnie or Scorching Bay. Our
regular bus down from Vogeltown to the city for work is the no. 21, which has a
stop outside the Short Street dairy (Kiwispeak for corner shop) near our house.
From there it plunges down the steep winding Hutchison Road (more like a
downhill ski run than a proper road) to reach Wallace Road and Taranaki Street,
and then the city centre. It’s always exciting when the bus going down meets
another one coming up on one of the tight corners – somehow we’ve avoided a
collision so far. Our regular driver in the morning sports a white moustache
and a broad bush hat, though he’s recently stopped wearing shorts. On occasions
we have had a female driver we nickname the Valkyrie, because she drives like a
bat out of hell with a death wish.


home on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays we usually get the bus which stops
near Parliament at 5.10. Ian gets on there, and Sandie tends to get on some
stops further on, in Willis Street where she can do some quick shopping at the
New World Metro supermarket. She hasn’t missed the bus yet, though it’s been a
close-run thing on occasions. We usually have a middle-aged female driver, who
gives the impression of being a retired schoolmistress. The other week there
was a new driver one night, who clearly didn’t know the route. Instead of turning
right up Taranaki Street he went straight on, to the consternation of those on
board and those waiting at the stop in Taranaki Street. We remonstrated with
him, and one of the passengers went up to tell him the correct route. The bus
did a U-turn further up, and after some further uncertainties finally returned
to the Taranaki Street stop and managed to find the correct route thereafter.


no. 21 bus stops running after 7.00 and doesn’t do weekends, so on Thursday
(when Ian does life drawing and Sandie does folk dancing) and Friday (when we
stay in town after work for a drink and a meal in some pub or other) we have to
get the no. 7 bus home. This goes through Brooklyn, which is uphill from us,
and then we have a steep 10-minute downhill walk home, with great views of the
lights of Wellington below us on the way. To get a bus into town and beyond at
the weekend, we can walk downhill to Newtown, which is below Vogeltown, and get
a bus from there. The geography of Wellington requires you to pay attention to
elevation as well as map location when planning a route!


buses are extremely good value here, as well as very efficient and environmentally
friendly. To get to work costs us $2 each (80p), and when we’re whizzing around
at weekends we can get over-60s passes for $5 (£2) to go anywhere on the entire
bus network, which extends quite a way out of the city. So we’re big fans of the
Wellington public transport system.


25th June we decided was Christmas in this hemisphere, as you really
need to have it in the middle of winter to break things up a bit. We had mulled
wine that evening and lit the fire, and sat watching DVDs. Sadly we were unable
to get any chestnuts to roast. The Ministry of Education canteen laid on a
Christmas dinner that day, which Ian enjoyed. He even won a free meal voucher
in a draw afterwards! So a belated Merry Christmas to all our dedicated blog


Saturday we took the bus to Karori Wildlife Park, an old water reservoir area
which has been turned into a conservation area, with a predator-proof fence all
round and lots of re-introduced native species. The weather was sunny most of
the day, and we had a good time exploring the many walking trails, walking up
as far as the hill on which the Brooklyn Wind Turbine stands. We also saw lots
of birds, especially around the bird feeders, including bellbirds, tui, hihi
and kakas. That evening we went to the Embassy Cinema in town to see Prince Caspian. The cinema is very
stylish and elegant, with what was once apparently the largest screen in the
southern hemisphere.


Sunday morning we
woke up to wild wind and driving rain. It was the worst we’d seen here so far,
and it screeched round the house like a troupe of hyperactive banshees. We
stayed in all morning and put on all the heating, hoping it would let up a bit.
It didn’t, so after lunch we wrapped up warmly and went to visit the Te Papa
National Museum in town. This is extremely well done, and it was quite full of
people (no surprise on such a day). We watched some senior Maoris (i.e. OAPs) singing
and dancing, and walked round a small selection of the exhibits there, before
doing a bit of shopping and heading home by taxi. Tonight we lit the stove in
the dining room and huddled round it, trying to ignore the weather outside.


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A Brief Trip to the Big City

is only one fairly big city in New Zealand – Auckland, and this weekend was the
one we had booked to go there. A friend of ours, Wally Hobson (cousin of our late
neighbour, that we met when he came to the UK) invited us to stay with them and
offered to show us round, so we accepted with thanks.


the weekend arrived Sandie was put on to a project which is joint with Auckland
University, and was booked on to a flight out on Thursday morning and back
Friday night to attend two days of meetings up there. When she pointed out she
was due to fly from Wellington to Auckland at the same time as flying from
Auckland to Wellington, they changed things so she wasn’t going in two
directions at the same time. Then there were problems with the project, and it
was decided she would only go for the Friday meeting, so the flights were
changed again.


Friday morning Sandie got a taxi to the airport and caught her flight to
Auckland with some colleagues. After her meeting, Wally met her at the airport and they waited for Ian to
arrive on the 6.00 Qantas flight from Wellington. Meanwhile, Ian had arrived at
Wellington airport for the 6.00 flight, to be told the 6.00 was cancelled, and eventually
he was told there were no more flights that night and he was booked in for the
8.30 flight Saturday morning. He got a taxi home and phoned Sandie, and she
went back with Wally to his home. The flight next day was late, and  finally reached Auckland at 11.00, and Wally
and Sandie, who had been waiting all the time, picked him up and set off for a
shortened tour.


After all this, we
had a good weekend, which was partly social and partly sightseeing. The Hobsons
let us stay in their ‘granny flat’, a two-bedroom house the family has built on
a spare piece of land. We met the other two brothers and their wives when we all
went out for a meal in the city, and the whole family was very welcoming and hospitable.
The weather was a bit mixed, but we got some dry spells and sun as well as rain.
On Saturday we visited Orewa and Devonport, with great views over the city from
the latter. On Sunday we went to the west coast, to Muriwai Beach with its black
sand and impressive cliffs and gannet colony. We had a nice lunch at a Croatian
winery, and drove through downtown Auckland on the way back to the airport. The
flight back was only half an hour late, so we got home in reasonable time. Despite
all the alarums and excursions, we enjoyed our weekend – mainly due to the great
way we were looked after.

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Exploring the Great River Anduin

week Sandie learned that NZCER want her to work four days a week for the next
quarter, which is good. She’s already getting plenty of work to do there, so
we’re hoping they will want her at least that amount for the rest of our time.
Ian is still enjoying his work for the Ministry – on Thursday he went to a
Maori ‘hui’ (advisory group meeting) on Maori-medium national monitoring, which
was quite interesting.


on Thursday, Ian went for the first time to a life drawing group which meets at
5.30 quite near his work. This was enjoyable but quite challenging, as he’s
rather rusty after a year away from the charcoal. Sandie is still doing the
folk dancing, and on Saturday evening we both went to a ‘contra dance’ (i.e. barn
dance) at a church hall with many of the people from her group present. This
was quite fun, and even Ian managed to join in as it involved no fancy


weekend the weather has been glorious, with warmth and sunshine, not at all
what we expected in December  June.
We did the Hutt River Trail over two days, starting at Petone on the north
shore of Wellington Bay and walking upriver for about 28 kilometres. We got
there and back by bus, using Senior Bus Passes which cost us $5 a day each (£2).
We used four buses on Saturday and five on Sunday, getting to and from Petone
and back from the far end of the walk, so we got our money’s worth.


Hutt River was used to represent the Great River Anduin in ‘Lord of the Rings’,
though I think it looked more convincing in the film. At the top end Harcourt
Park was used to film scenes in Isengard, so we enjoyed strolling through there
as well. So although we didn’t go too far afield this weekend, you might say we
managed to visit Gondor and Rohan as well.

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The City to the Sea

weekend was one of the few when we stayed in Wellington without a car. However,
we still managed to explore and make the most of our time here. On Saturday
morning the weather was bright, but windy, and we decided to do the City to Sea
walkway. This starts near the Parliament buildings, and goes up through the Bolton
Street memorial cemetery and then through the Botanic Gardens. From there it carries
on through the city and various parks by a circuitous route. On the way it passes
the house where they invented the colour mauve. It comes through Central Park and
Prince of Wales Park to Hutchison Road, which is very close to home, so we detoured
back home for lunch. Wellington is fascinating: we’ve never known a city built on
such steep hills; and you can go from city streets to what seems like virgin bush
in no time at all.


the afternoon the weather got more cloudy, but it didn’t actually rain. We
pressed on southwards, along a series of steep ridges with some great views. Eventually
we descended into Island Bay and reached the sea. We spent the evening in Island
Bay, a little suburb on the south coast. We had drinks in the local bar, sitting
in front of the fire chatting to the locals. We went to the cinema there, which
is small and cosy with double couches to sit on; as in most NZ cinemas, you can
take drinks in with you. Afterwards we went to the local cafe/restaurant which rejoices
in the name of ‘Cheeky Pipi’ for a pleasant meal, followed by a taxi home as it
had started raining.


Sunday it was sunny and clear, though cold. We left home and walked over the
ridge and down to Happy Valley Road, and then down towards Owhiro Bay, which is
next door to Island Bay. On the way we passed some weird junk sculptures by the
roadside, and we detoured in order to see the Buddhist stupa, from which we
also got excellent views over to the snow-capped mountains of the South Island.
We reached Owhiro Bay, and walked along the sea-edge towards Red Rocks and the
seal colony beyond that. On our return we walked round to Island Bay, stopping
at the Bach Cafe for coffee and cheese filo pastries. We walked back up the
main road from Island Bay and then up Liardet Street to home. We now reckon we’ve
had a good weekend exploring the south coast here. It’s also amazing to think that
we can walk from home and go to see fur seals!

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In Hot Water

2nd June was a public holiday in New Zealand, in honour of the
Queen’s birthday (we knew the royal family was good for something). Because of
this we had a long weekend, so of course we flew off to explore another area of
the country – Rotorua. Our flight from Wellington was cancelled, so we were
over two hours late getting there, flying in a sweet little two-engined
propeller plane with absolutely no security nonsense before boarding. We stayed
at the Ibis Hotel, which as well as giving us a good deal had an extremely
cheap happy hour at the bar, of which we took full advantage.


is famed for thermal activities, and we visited two of these: Te Puia and
Hell’s Gate. Between them they boast boiling pools, geysers, mud volcanoes and
all the usual features of a geothermal area – although as connoisseurs of such
things we believe that Yellowstone in the USA is superior. We also had a
session at the Polynesian Spa, booking a private pool for half an hour. The
pool had walls but no roof, so we lay in hot geothermal water (39º C) while
soft drizzle fell on us – but it was very relaxing.


Saturday night we booked a Maori evening, and were ferried out to Tamaki Maori
Village. The first thing was the welcoming ceremony, with a succession of Maori
warriors performing threatening ritual dances. Then we strolled through a
recreated Maori village. It was quite atmospheric in the night, with fires
burning and people demonstrating their traditional way of life, though
obviously created for the tourist trade. Next there was a Maori concert,
followed by a buffet meal.


Sunday we took a water taxi across Lake Tarawera, under the looming bulk of
Mount Tarawera which erupted in 1886 causing massive devastation. We were
dropped at Hotwater Beach on the far side of the lake, and left there while the
boatman went to pick up another family. We paddled on the shore, where the
water was warm – bizarre to be doing this while wearing winter clothes! – and
it got hotter if you went down into the sand. Further along it was hotter
still, as Sandie discovered when she burned her feet. Later we went round the
Buried Village of Te Wairoa, covered by the 1886 eruption. It is billed as “New
Zealand’s Pompeii”, but this is manifest hype. It was interesting to see, and
there is a quite impressive waterfall nearby.


saw more waterfalls and rapids on Monday, when we went to Okere Falls and
watched whitewater rafting lunatics risking their necks shooting down wild
water. In Rotorua, on the lake shore, we visited St Faith’s Anglican Church
which is decorated throughout in the Maori style with elaborate carvings and
local symbols. Sadly, no photography is allowed inside. We also explored the
lakeside and Government Gardens, and noted all the places where steam just
rises from the ground or there are thermal areas right next to the ordinary
business of the town.


Monday evening we ended up sitting in the airport by the lake, watching the
sunset with a drink in hand and waiting for our little plane to take us back to
Wellington. Altogether an interesting long weekend – thanks, Lizzie!


Tuesday evening, however, Ian was back at the airport, flying up to Hamilton – a
town in the North Island not that far from Rotorua. He went up with his boss from
the Ministry so that on Wednesday they could visit a school that was trialling one
of the international studies, and in the afternoon consult with a professor at the
university there. So the last few days have involved him in a fair bit of shuttling
back and forth up the North Island in little aeroplanes.

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