Archive for July, 2008

Wet Windy Wellington and Wanganui

Last
week winter came to New Zealand with a vengeance, and storm conditions battered
the North Island for several days. We thought we understood about ‘Windy
Wellington’, but this exceeded our previous experience. We kept expecting to
see frozen penguins hurtling past, blasted off the Antarctic ice by the
fearsome gusts. Last week was also ‘Maori Language Awareness Week’, and to celebrate
this the Ministry held a ‘hangi’ on Wednesday – on occasion to sit about, eat Maori
food, and watch colleagues performing Maori songs and dances.

The
weekend’s excursion was to Wanganui, about 120 miles up the west coast. We
hired a car and drove up on Saturday morning, arriving in time for a trip on
the Waimarie, which is the only paddle steamer in NZ, and was restored after
being brought up from the bottom of the river. It cruises up the Wanganui River
for an hour to the little village of Upokongaro. It was quite cold, and we
spent most of the trip in the saloon, with a few forays on deck. At the other
end the jetty had to be swept clear of mud before we could go ashore. We
visited St Mary’s Church, with an interesting triangular spire on a square
base, but the highlight of the stay was drinks in the local pub in front of the
roaring fire. At 3.00 we got on the boat and headed back to Wanganui, with
another glass of wine on the way.

On
Sunday we drove up the Wanganui River Road. This is narrow and winding, and
took us steeply uphill to a great viewpoint over the river valley. We went down
the other side, and came to a place where the soft cliff had washed away, almost
blocking the road. We pressed on, and parked at a scenic reserve to do a walk
up the hill there. Not far up the track a tree had fallen over, completely
blocking the path. We had to turn back, and returned to Wanganui. Back in town,
we went through a tunnel to get an elevator up to the top of Durie Hill. On the
top is a tall view tower made of shell-rock, which we climbed to get the view
over the town and surroundings. It was pretty windy up there. On the way home
we stopped at the little town of Bulls, which is the punning centre of NZ.
Every shop has a sign up with a terri-bull pun.

Going
to Wanganui had two advantages – the hotel was nice and warm, and the town
escaped most of that weekend’s storm, which caused some havoc elsewhere in the
North Island. The town and the river valley seem like great places to visit in
the summer, and we fully intend to return then and explore further up the
valley, perhaps going as far as the Bridge to Nowhere and doing some canoeing –
watch this space! However, even in the depths of winter we enjoyed our little
excursion and got to see another part of the country.

A Beginner’s
Guide to Kiwi Culture – Part 1

Part
of an ongoing series of cultural differences between living in New Zealand and
the UK.

5.      5.  ‘Morning
tea’ is a wonderful habit, and seems endemic in the workplace. Everyone downs
tools at least one morning a week and sits and chats over cake, muffins and
other delicacies. A variant is known as ‘afternoon tea’, and can be used to
make meetings more bearable.

6.     
6.  Calling
‘thank you’ to the bus driver when you get off the bus is a Kiwi tradition.

7.     
7.  Obsession
with rugby – every news bulletin contains some reference to the game played by
large men will odd-shaped balls.

8.     
8.  The
use of first names is the norm here – even official phone lists are ordered by
first name.

9.     
9.  Muffins
are big here – in all senses. The variety is amazing, both sweet and savoury.
In Wanganui we had apple and rhubarb, as well as feta and spinach, and later
‘shiraz poached pear’ muffin.

10.  10.  Coffee is very
important, and taken quite seriously. We have been able to get cappuccino
everywhere, and there is something called ‘flat white’ which is a kind of less
frothy cappuccino. There is no equivalent of ‘white coffee’ as served in the
UK.

To
be continued.

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Chatting, Dancing and Tramping

There
were no big excursions this week, just some pleasant mid-winter activities. The
weather has mostly not been that cold, but a bit grey with showers and some
wind. When we went to Karori Sanctuary three weeks ago, Sandie met a woman called
Lisa who haled originally from her old home town of Great Yarmouth, and they
were able to speak fluent Norfolk to each other. On Saturday morning it was
pouring with rain; we travelled by train up the coast to Plimmerton to meet Lisa,
and she took us home and gave us lunch. Our jeans were very wet (we’d got
soaked walking down to the bus stop in Newtown) but we were able to dry out by
her fire. Later the weather improved and Lisa took us for a walk round Porirua
inlet, with very nice views and brightly coloured boat huts, before we got the
train back.

 
That
evening we got the bus up to Kelburn for a ‘contra dance’ (folk dance to you)
which happens monthly at a church hall. We did our ladies’ chains and do-si-dos
with a will, before going back to the city and collapsing in a pub while
waiting for the bus home.

 
On
Sunday we took the bus up to Wadestown, a suburb on the opposite side of
Wellington, to see a house which we’d been offered for three months after we
leave our current home.  The house is
large, with a nice garden and great views, but there are some disadvantages, so
we are still thinking it over.  From
there we went on to Otari-Wilton’s Bush, which is a kind of managed wilderness
area cum botanical garden up in the hills. The sun shone intermittently, and we
walked through the bush, up and down some fairly steep muddy paths. Afterwards
we walked back into the city before getting a bus home again.

 
A Beginner’s
Guide to Kiwi Culture – Part 1

 Part
of an ongoing series of cultural differences between living in New Zealand and
the UK.


1.  Kiwis
don’t have central heating. When you ask them why not, they say things like
“Well, further north it’s a bit warmer than here, so you don’t need it”.

2.   2.   
Kiwis
tend not to use cash – they will use credit/debit cards (‘Eftpos’) for even the
most trivial transactions.

3.      3.  Kiwis
wear shorts all year round, in even the most inclement weather.

4.     
4.  Kiwis
don’t use washing up bowls, but wash up dishes directly in the sink.

 
To
be continued.

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To the Centre of New Zealand

The
good news here is that Woollies delivered the goods, i.e. firewood, on Monday
and we were able to have good roaring fires on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
On Monday and Tuesday we lit the wood burner in the dining room (Monday was extremely
cold – with the stove and electric heaters all going we were still freezing),
and on Wednesday we lit the open fire in the lounge and watched a couple of
videos. Thursdays we’re out doing life drawing (Ian) or folk dancing (Sandie),
and Friday is pub night. The weather got milder during the week, but we still
appreciate being able to have a fire to warm one room at least.

 

Last
weekend we returned to the South Island, to Nelson where we went in April. We
flew this time, on one of the sweet little two-engined propeller planes that
Air New Zealand use for short flights. It holds 50 people, and has one
stewardess who delivers water and sweets during the 30-minute flight.
Unfortunately our early flight on Saturday got cancelled (an Air NZ habit), but
we found out before leaving home by checking the Internet. We finally left just
before 11.00 and had a bumpy flight through clouds until reaching Nelson, when
the clouds parted and the sun came out. We then had 1½ days of really nice weather,
which made it all worthwhile.

 

On
Saturday we explored Nelson and the surrounding hills, walking along the Waitai
River and then up to a hill which claims to be the Centre of New Zealand. A walk
along a ridge path eventually brought us down to the coast with a bit of a scramble,
followed by a stroll back to town while watching the sunset. In the evening we went
to the cinema to see ‘Mamma Mia’, which we thoroughly enjoyed. It showed that Meryl
Streep and the other oldies are really Supertroupers, though Pearce Brosnan met
his Waterloo when it came to singing. We also discovered a nice bar with a good
range of cocktails, which confirmed our impression that Nelson is one of our favourite
Kiwi towns.

 

On Sunday we drove down
to Nelson Lakes National Park, about 55 miles south of Nelson, and spent most of
the day hiking around Lake Rotoiti. The hills all round were covered in snow, but
the sun shone and we had a really good day. We did a variety of walks, along the
lakeshore and through the wooded hillsides, and ended up driving up a rugged and
exciting road to a viewpoint over the surrounding countryside. We returned to Nelson
and got the little plane home to the ‘big city’, and spent the evening watching
blood, guts and bodice-ripping – i.e. ‘The Tudors’ on TV.

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Wood, Wind and Walking

As
you may have noticed, one of the downsides of life in New Zealand is the lack
of central heating. However, as our house has a fireplace and a wood-burning
stove, it is possible to get a fair bit of heat if you have the fuel and the
knack of keeping them going. We did have some fuel at the house, and we had a
bit more delivered with the online grocery order from Woolworths, but we’ve
used it all up now. We rang a firm that delivers firewood, recommended by the
people we’re renting from, and they promised to deliver 4 cubic metres (I kid
you not) on Saturday. To cut a long story short, they messed us about, and it
didn’t help that we know nothing about the different kinds of wood and their
burning properties. They rang us late Friday to say they couldn’t deliver
Saturday, and then they said they’d deliver Sunday but it was going to be the
wrong sort of wood, so in the end we got nothing. We’ve ordered another load
from Woolworths, to play safe. So you see that life here is quite complicated,
and needs a PhD in firewood technology as well as the physique to move and chop
wood. We’ve begun to covet our neighbours’ neat piles of nicely chopped wood,
which is rather sad.

 

When
they said Wellington was windy, we thought we knew what they meant, and last
weekend we thought we’d had a taste of the worst it could do. But Saturday
night the wind surpassed itself, howling round the house and threatening to
pluck it from its foundations (such as they are) and whirl us off over the
rainbow. We finally crawled out of hiding under the bedclothes on Sunday morning
pleased to be still in the same hemisphere.

 

This
weekend we’ve actually had a fair bit of sunshine, though mixed with liberal doses
on wind on Sunday. On Saturday we walked the Southern Walkway, from Oriental Bay
to Island Bay, crossing Mt Victoria and Mt Albert in the process. On Sunday we got
a train to Porirua, a fairly substantial town up the coast a bit, and then a bus
to Titahi Bay, a small suburb with great views and a nice semicircular sandy bay
with fossil tree stumps buried in the sand. We had a good time here, walking the
cliffs and along the beach, and during the day the wind finally dropped.

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