Archive for May, 2010

So Long and Thanks for All the Chocolate Fish

After two years, with some time
off for good behaviour, we will be saying goodbye to New Zealand at the end of
the week. We will be taking back lots of good memories, thousands of photos,
hours of video, and some cash to fund the ongoing travel. We have explored the
country fairly extensively, and seen quite a lot of Australia as well, and now
the rest of the world is beckoning. Living and working in a country is quite
different from visiting it as a tourist, so what can we say are our lasting
impressions of the country, its people and its culture?


On the surface there are many
similarities between New Zealand and Britain, and of course many residents are
of British origin, and have made the move here, some recently, some many years
ago. The language is deceptively similar, but there are pitfalls for the
unwary. Kiwi expressions like “get your ducks in a row” (= “become organised”)
or “it’s all turned to custard” (= “the situation has deteriorated”), as well
as the use of ‘Manchester’ to mean ‘towels and bedding’, are clearly not
British English. As well as these, however, there are differences of usage,
such as the expression ‘awesome’ being used, especially by waiters and shop
assistants, to mean ‘OK’. One of the ways in which the language is used
differently is the turning of nouns into verbs: ‘to farewell’, ‘to flat’, and ‘to
transition’ for example.


Kiwis don’t seem to feel the cold,
at least from the waist down, and will wear shorts in all temperatures. They do
like to keep their heads warm and wear woollen hats or ‘beanies’ whatever the
weather. New Zealand national dress is: beanie, thick jacket, shorts, long
socks and boots. When not wearing boots, they will wear flop-flops (known
locally as ‘jandals’) or nothing on their feet at all. In Wellington it is
common to see folk striding along with bare feet, even in the cold and wet.


There appears to be a legal
requirement that every pub or bar must show televised rugby during opening
hours. Actual opening hours can take a bit of getting used to, as it is often
hard to get a meal after 8.30 or a drink after about 10, especially in smaller
towns. Cafes close at 4, or 4.30 if you’re lucky, so a cup of tea or a snack
can be hard to obtain in the late afternoon. But when you do find somewhere
open, the food can be a delight – especially the muffins and scones. In this country
they make the most fantastic muffins, especially the savoury ones filled with
feta and spinach, for example, or the date scones and fruit muffins crammed
with real fruit. Another local delicacy is chocolate fish – basically fish-shaped
jelly sweets covered with chocolate – which are often given with coffee. The
ready availability of coffee made to your choice is another of the delights of
living in New Zealand.


One of the great experiences here
is going to the cinema. There are big multiplexes, full of popcorn and
teenagers, but these are best avoided. The little cinemas, mainly in the suburbs
or small towns, have a great atmosphere and screens with comfortable chairs
(often double couches) where you can watch a film while sipping a drink from
the bar. We will find it a bit of a come-down going to the cinema in the UK by


The nice thing about living in
Wellington is the constant stream of festivals and celebrations that go on,
especially over the summer. The big one is the Wellington Sevens, where everyone
dresses up in crazy costumes (from spray-on Air New Zealand uniform to 101 Dalmatians)
and roams the towns. But every ethnic group has its day and its festival, from
Chinese New Year to Dutch tulip festival.


All in all it’s been a great
experience, and we shall miss all the friends we’ve made and the colleagues we’ve
worked with. Last Friday we had our farewell party, at St Paul’s Cafe in the
bottom of the Ministry of Education main building. About 40 people turned up
and we ate and drank and chatted, before decamping to the nearby Backbencher
pub with 8 of them for a meal and more chat. The Backbencher, by the way, is
renowned for the caricatures of political and sporting figures that adorn its


On Saturday we did cleaning and started packing, and
in the evening we watched the last episode of ‘Lost’. After watching it for six
years, we were glad we were able to catch the final instalment before heading
off. Next weekend we pack up our life here and take flight to Tahiti on the
next stage of our travels. Watch this space!


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Culture and Viniculture

In our last few weeks in New
Zealand we have suddenly been exposed to a variety of cultural experiences, at
the same time as trying to capture a number of our favourite local localities. During
the weekend of 15th/16th May we mainly spent the days
sorting out various business to do with our imminent departure, apart from a
walk we did on Saturday when the weather got out sunnier than predicted. This
followed the new ‘Sanctuary to Sea’ walkway, going up through Ngaio Gorge and
Otari Wilton’s Bush to reach Karori cemetery and ultimately the wildlife
sanctuary, giving us a last chance to explore some of the walking tracks around
Wellington that we have enjoyed in the last two years.


The evenings were devoted to
Culture, however. On Friday night we ended our usual pub crawl with a
production of ‘MacBeth’ at the little Griffin Theatre. This was good, despite
being minimalist and modern dress. On Saturday there was a much bigger occasion,
when we went to St James Theatre to see the New Zealand Opera production of ‘The
Marriage of Figaro’. The theatre is very large, and was almost full, and we had
seats near the back. We enjoyed it nonetheless – the plot seems to be French
farce, set in Spain, and sung in Italian.


Last weekend also contained a bit
of culture, with our final trip over the Rimutakas to the Wairarapa in between.
On Saturday we picked up a hire car and drove over to Wainuiomata to see a
colleague performing folk music with his wife in the library there. They call
themselves ‘Drammach’ (which apparently means oats in cold water – don’t ask),
and play fiddle, guitar and wooden flute, which is quite fun. Afterwards we did
a walk around the Tunnel Gully Recreation Area, before crossing the hills to


We stayed at the Margrain
Vineyard again, just out of the town, and on Saturday night walked round to
another vineyard, Tirohana, for a meal to celebrate Ian’s birthday. This was
very nice, with three courses and a lot of trimmings, including free bubbly and
a cake with a birthday candle. Walking back there was an amazing display of
stars, as the Wairarapa does not experience much light pollution.


On Sunday we did some more
walking in the Martinborough area, including a walk around another vineyard. We
also stopped at a couple of wineries to taste the produce and replenish our
rapidly falling stocks. Then we detoured for a last look at Greytown before
heading back over the Rimutakas as far as Petone. We visited our favourite pub,
the Fireman’s Arms, and had some of their amazing pizzas – including Sandie’s “design
it yourself” special.


From there we walked round to the
cinema to see one of the ‘NT -Live’ showings of a play performed at the
National Theatre in London. This was ‘The Habit of Art’, by Alan Bennett, and
was really good, as well as rather nostalgic for us when they showed shots of
the Thames and the theatre. Our cultural experiences are not ended yet, however
– on Tuesday we go back to St James to see the Ten Tenors (that’s inflation for
you), and finally next Saturday TVNZ is screening the very final episode of ‘Lost’
over 2½ hours. That is one cultural experience we will be avidly glued to!

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Autumn in Auckland

Last weekend we did our last
internal flight before our final departure, going up to Auckland. We flew up on
Friday night and spent two nights in the Scenic Hotel in the heart of the city,
in a small apartment for a very low price, courtesy of supermarket discount
vouchers. It was nice being in a big city, going out and finding the streets
filled with people, and bars and restaurants open till really late.


On Saturday we took the ferry
over to Waiheke Island, just offshore from the city. We went on a rather
battered car ferry, leaving from the mainland a few miles out of the city. The
weather was dull most of the day, but we were able to explore the island fairly
thoroughly. We went to a WW2 gun emplacement and explored some of the tunnels
by torchlight, as well as doing some other walks along the coastline. We also
visited one of the wineries that dot the island, with amazing views in all
directions. We sampled some of their wine, but decided it was well beyond our
price range.


On Sunday the sun came out for
part of the day as we continued exploring Auckland. Ian took the ferry over to
Devonport to look at bookshops while Sandie continued looking round the big
city. We met up for lunch on the waterfront in the sun – not bad for May (=
November)! Later we visited the Auckland Museum and followed a sculpture trail
there, before ending up at Mission Bay on the coast. This is a kind of seaside
resort and was quite busy, though not as up-market as we had expected. We had a
meal there before driving back to the airport, for our final Air New Zealand
flight, and our last landing into Wellington.

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News from across the world, and Goodbye South Island

Before launching into the usual
account of our weekend travels, we feel we should give an update of news from
back home and here in New Zealand.


The really bad news was that our
friend Barry Brooks died suddenly. He went to infant school with Sandie, and
was best man at our wedding, so we both knew him really well and it was a
dreadful shock. The funeral was on Wednesday, and obviously we couldn’t attend.
But Claire kindly drove there for the day with Charlie, just so the family
could be represented. Apparently the church was packed, and a lot of local
people turned up to pay their last respects.


Continuing with bad news, though
not so tragic, we heard from Claire a few weeks ago that the heavy snow they
had experienced had caused water to leak through the roof of the shed in
Wycombe, bringing down the ceiling and causing a lot of damage and mess. Claire
and Raf had to do a load of clearing out, and called in the insurance company
to assess the damage. Some things were ruined and it’s fortunate that last year
we moved more of our belongings out of the shed and into storage.


Here in Wellington, things are
reasonably calm (apart from the strong winds, which are a permanent feature of
the city). The good news is that Sandie has found plenty of work at the
Ministry of Education – she’s been there essentially full-time for some months
now. The bad news is that she’s had trouble with her teeth, which have been
paining her for several months when she eats (good for the diet!). After several
expensive visits to a dentist and a specialist endodontist, and hours spent in
the chair, the problem is still not fully identified.


After that update, it’s time to
tell you about last weekend. We flew to Nelson, at the top end of the South
Island, early on Saturday morning in one of Air New Zealand’s little propeller planes.
The weather was bright and sunny most of the weekend, and our first trip was
southwards to Nelson Lakes National Park. We first called in at Lake Rotoiti,
which we had visited before, and then drove round to the more isolated Lake
Rotoroa. We hiked up a steep path to get views of the lake, and then returned
to the lakeside for our picnic lunch. This was slightly spoiled by a guy who
decided to start playing the bagpipes right in front of us!


After another walk through the
woods to a waterfall, we drove back to Nelson. Our evening excursion began with
a visit to a pub opposite our motel. We went into the town centre and had some
really great pizzas at a place we discovered two years ago. Afterwards we went
to another bar for cocktails, and sheltered there until a sudden shower passed


The next day we drove along the
coast to Motueka, and then over the steep winding Takaka Hill to the north end
of Abel Tasman National Park. It was quite a mission to get there, and
unfortunately there was an evil cloud that hovered over the area most of the
time we were there. We did a couple of walks and got some views, but then had
to drive back all the way to the airport. We managed to get a quick meal before
getting the last flight out of Nelson, bidding a fond farewell to the South


Farewells are going to be a feature
of the next few weeks, as we leave New Zealand on June 6.  We complete our round the world trip by
visiting Tahiti, Hawaii and the mainland USA, arriving back in the UK on July
28.  Lots of people have asked us what we
are doing next, and the answer is – we don’t know!  We would like another ‘adventure’ – living and
working somewhere different for a short time – but enquiries have not yet
produced any suitable opportunities.  If
anyone has any ideas, let us know!

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