On a Whim Wm's world travels

20 Mar 2005


Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 8:07 pm

We went to Rivendell today. Or rather, the park (Kaitoke) that was used as the setting for filming Rivendell in “The Lord of the Rings”. Kaitoke is a beautiful park situated on the upper Hutt River, with loads of huge old trees covered in epiphytes and vines, a swing bridge, and many walking trails. The actual site where the filming was done is marked with signs, giving quotes from the movie.

To be honest, we didn’t even know we were going to Rivendell today, we were just going to that park. But when we got there, we saw signs written in an elvish font, and following those signs we found small tours (mostly of Japanese tourists) being led around that area. The tour leader had still images from the movie, and was indicating a tree in the still, and then pointing to the actual tree right there in front of you.

You can certainly see why this place was picked to be the site for Rivendell. Even without the movie connection, it is a magical place. The rivers have cut deep canyons and the vegetation is dense and moody. Beautiful.


19 Mar 2005

Porirua Farmer’s Market

Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 2:44 pm

Last Sunday we went to the farmer’s market in Wellington (I talked about it in the blog), and today (Saturday morning) we went to the farmer’s market in Porirua (the town next to ours out here in the ‘burbs). The two markets are as different as night and day. This one not only had all the vegetables and fruit of the Wellington market, but it also had tons of other stuff. Lots of food stalls, people selling music, clothing, and everything else imaginable.

Porirua has a large population of Maori and South Pacific Islanders, so there were all kinds of foods we weren’t familar with. For example, one booth advertised “banana pancakes, 5 for $1” (and that’s a NZ dollar, so less than 75 cents). We got them but they were nothing like any pancakes we knew. They were spherical balls of banana dough about the size of a small fist that were deep fried. They tasted more like doughnuts than pancakes, but were yummy (if a bit greasy). There was also Indian food (roti containing chicken, beef, or a fried egg), Chinese (steamed BBQ pork buns), and kebabs (meat on a stick).

There were buskers everywhere. Especially popular were little kids playing classical music on the violin. There was even a Maori guy on organ with a drum machine, singing EZ listening hits (“I just called, to say, I love you”).

Like last week, we got a ton (or should we say tonne?) of vegetables and fruit, all for very low prices (about half of what you’d expect to pay in a grocery store). What was especially amazing this week were the size of the vegetables. They had daikon raddish that were the size of small children, cucumbers the size of your arm, and cabbages that were not to be triffled with! There were also lots of vegetables that we had never seen before.

Oh, and this market is in the parking lot of the local mall, so everything started closing down before 9am. We don’t know what time it starts in the morning. We heard a rumor that someone went there at 3am and it was already going. Wow.

18 Mar 2005

Daylight Savings Time

Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 7:01 pm

This Sunday morning, New Zealand switches from Daylight Savings Time back to regular New Zealand Standard Time. Remember, it is fall here and the days are getting shorter. This means that instead of being 3 hours behind Portland (3 hours earlier) we will be 4 hours behind (“fall back!”).

Meanwhile, back in Portland it is spring time and in a few weeks they will be going onto daylight savings time. At that time we will be 5 hours behind Portland for the duration of their summer.

And just to complicate things, remember that right now we are not 3 hours behind Portland, we are really 21 hours ahead. It is just easier to think of it as 3 hours behind and one day ahead. Got it? As I type this it is 7pm on a Friday evening here in Wellington, which means it is 10pm (3 hours later) on Thursday (one day earlier) in Portland.

Which means that if you are reading this in Portland, the first 3 words of this blog entry should have been “This Saturday morning”.


16 Mar 2005

Free at last!

Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 11:48 am

Interesting article about an American who has renounced his US citizenship:


As the comment on this blog entry suggests, this guy might not be a shining example to use of someone escaping the US, but it is still an interesting read.

13 Mar 2005

Farmer’s Market

Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 12:51 pm

This morning (Sunday) we went to the Wellington farmer’s market. It was great. Large and bustling, with tons of fruit and vegetables and amazingly cheap prices. Farmer’s markets in the Portland area tend to be more yuppy events, with breads, cheeses, and organic produce at high prices. Typically in Portland you pay more for produce at the farmer’s market than you would in a grocery store — you’re paying extra for the quality. But the produce market here was more a working market, with huge boxes full of produce. Things like parsnips for the equivalent of 50 cents a pound. Really good avocados for around 70 cents each. And lots of oriental vegetables. Bok choy, huge napa cabbages, winter melon, all kinds of squash.

There was one stand selling dim sum on a stick. For NZ$2 (less than US$1.50) you got four pot stickers on a stick, or four shu mai. And they were yummy.

Our housemate says that there is a farmer’s market in Poriura (close to where we live) on Saturday morning. We’ll have to check that out next week.

12 Mar 2005

knit the walk

Filed under: Cindy,General,New Zealand — cindy @ 9:38 am

I love to walk and I am learning to knit. So discovering what NZ has to offer in both has been an adventure. Wellington City Council puts out wonderful material about different walks in and around the city. They spell out how long, how far and points of interest along the way. For the month of March they published all the various walks and walking groups available. Karori Wildlife Sanctuary was one of them. A few days later we walked the Newlands Surprise, a small neighborhood group in a suburb of Wellington. We started from the Newlands Community Centre, a pink/purple house that also has a toy and jigsaw library among other things. We met Margaret who has lived in the area for 40 years and (surprise) organises a knitting group every Thursday at the Centre. After this walk, to get a breath of forest air, we stopped at the Otari Wilton Bush, an arboretum with an ancient Rimu tree. The Rimu lives hundreds of years and hosts many lovely epiphytes. One of these hanger-ons is a Rata which starts in the Rimu’s branches and sends shoots down to the ground. Eventually the Rimu dies and the Rata, having hugged the Rimu for hundreds of years, finally must stand on its own. We were courted by a Fantail and entertained by a Tui (very interesting bird life: http://www.nzbirds.com/Gallery.html). The other regular walking I do is betweeen the University and the Wellington library. Some of it is straight up a hill and I, huffing and puffing, am outwalked my all the uni. students.

On to the other favorite topic… remember “me and sheep”…. well we are not that close yet but I am learning a bit about knitting and its history. There is a great book on the history of knitting in NZ called Loving Stitch by Heather Nicholson. It helps me practice knitting and reading at the same time. I found some beautiful homespun yarn in Dunedin where Ian and Pat Robertson have their own “coloured sheep flock”, producing wonderful natural shades of wool. I bought the wool and now I have to find the right pattern (Pat never uses one). The hunt was on for patterns and knitting clubs (looking for like minded knitters and lots of help).

Thursday I dragged poor Wm to my first knitting group at the Newlands Community Centre. He read papers, I enjoyed the friendly banter of people who have been knitting in this area for a long time. No one used a pattern… most learned to knit in school as a little child. Some of them were working on a project of hats for orphanage children in Peru. Margaret helped me find yarn and needles (everything is donated to them) and someone told me a basic pattern. I chose one that I will have to sew up in the end so I can learn from the experts how to do this step correctly. And now I have homework for next week!

Spinning wool is another subject I look forward to learning. I am working my way backwards to the “me and sheep” part. Shearing will be last on the list, eh!?

8 Mar 2005

Karori Wildlife Sanctuary

Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 2:42 pm

The other day we did a guided walk in the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary. This is an unusual place in that they are attempting to take a sizeable hunk of land and put it back to the way it would have been before any humans arrived in New Zealand. Let me explain.

New Zealand, being as isolated as it is, was one of the last large islands in the world to be populated by humans. The Maori only arrived around 900 years ago, and westerners around 1650. In addition to a lack of humans, there were almost no mammals in New Zealand. Ecological niches that are filled by mammals (like rats, mice, dogs, cats, ferrets, etc.) in the rest of the world were filled by birds, including a number of flightless birds like the Kiwi. When humans arrived, they brought with them a number of plants and animals (both intentionally and unintentionally) that dramatically upset the ecology. For example Australian possums were introduced to New Zealand to provide a fur animal for trappers (possums here have a soft bushy fur, unlike oppossums in the US), but they have gotten totally out of control and have become a real problem. Possums strip the flowers off of trees and other plants, which not only harm the plants, but take food away from the birds, so there is a huge program to try to get rid of possums.

To preserve some of the native vegetation and animals, many smaller islands around New Zealand have been transformed into wildlife sanctuaries. Introduced animals and plants have been removed, as much as possible, so that the endemic species can flourish. In the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, they have done the same thing, but they did it by building a large fence around the entire sanctuary. When you enter, they have you check your bags to make sure you aren’t bringing in any mice or other animals.

But what impressed me most, is that they have a goal to restore the entire sanctuary to its state before humans arrived. To do this will not be easy, of course, so they have drawn up a 500 year plan. Yes, that’s right, they have a 500 year plan for how they will restore everything back to the way it was before humans arrived. Where else in the world would people think that far ahead? 500 years ago, the Europeans hadn’t even been to New Zealand.

For example, a part of the sanctuary is covered with Monterey Pine trees, which were planted by Europeans (strangely enough, there are almost no Monterey Pines left in Monterey, California, where they were originally from!). Instead of cutting them all down, they are felling them a few at a time. Each time they cut some down, they leave them there as “nurse trees” to enrich the soil for other trees. They have found that the seeds of the endemic trees are still there, and grow back naturally when you cut down the introduced trees. So they will be continuing to cut down introduced trees for the next 100 years or more.

Meanwhile, the sanctuary is a lovely place. There are lots of trails of course. Two lakes. And because there are no possums or other mammals, there is lots of food for the birds, which are everywhere. There is also an old gold mine shaft, which you can go into (they even provide hard hats, so you won’t hit your head on the low ceiling). The shaft is full of cave weta, a rather large insect that looks something like a grasshopper (only much bigger). Here’s a photo:

Webpage of the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary.

6 Mar 2005

Hands Four in New Zealand 2006

Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 7:47 am

Ron Arps is organizing another contra dance trip to New Zealand, at the end of January 2006. It sounds great. If you would like more information, contact him at ronarps@jackson.main.nc.us

4 Mar 2005

Why are we here?

Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 6:51 am

A long time ago (or maybe it just seems like a long time ago), when I started this weblog, I said I would answer the question “why are we doing this”. Someone reminded me the other day that I hadn’t yet answered this question. I guess the answer is not all that simple, but I’ll try.

Yes, some of it is because of the current political mess in the USA. I am worried that the US is going downhill. It isn’t just the insane deficit spending. We aren’t spending money on those things that will keep the US strong, like good education and research. Remember the days when lots of big companies had research labs — Xerox PARC being the primary example, but there were many other places (like the Tektronix Research Labs where I worked for a while). Those were the places that came up with the insanely great ideas that led to the computer boom, but most companies have closed down their research labs. And the US has stopped building infrastructure. Remember when the US decided to build a national interstate highway system? Or provide universal telephone service? Other countries have invested in broadband networks to provide cheap Internet access, but not us. I’m not sure what our economy is going to be based on in the future — overpriced medical care for our aging population?

Meanwhile, the economy in places like New Zealand is booming. And Cindy and my trip to China a year ago was eye opening. I give it 10 years max before the economy of China completely overpowers that of the US. Most people in the US still are laboring under the delusion that we are the world’s only superpower — are we blind? It is sobering to realize that there are more English speakers in China than in the rest of the world put together. They are investing in infrastructure like crazy. And unlike Japan, they know how to write software, so there goes that edge. China is a dictatorship with global ambitions. I expect that the Beijing Olympics in 2008 will be pivotal, when China publically flexes their muscle for all to see.

The other advantage of the US is cultural, but countries like New Zealand and China have demonstrated that they know how to make movies. I’m not sure if the US can hold onto their cultural dominance for that much longer.

So, do I want to live in a country whose economy is sinking in a sea of deficits and crumbling infrastructure? Where people are dying because of a lack of public health care and overpriced prescription drugs? Where the major political discourse is about discriminating against gays? Where pollution is on the increase? Where the government purposely distracts the population by starting unnecessary wars? Where people give up their basic freedoms in the name of fighting terrorism and the military tortures innocent people? Not really.

So it seemed like a good time to pop my head up and look around (before the proverbial shit hits the fan). I’ve lived in Canada and England in the past. Living abroad has always been a challenging experience for me, in the good sense of that word. You learn about yourself when you are in a different situation. You can get some of this from travel, but only so much since as a tourist you are isolated from daily life, and your experience is temporary.

So when Cindy and I started talking to people about potential places to live, New Zealand kept popping up. And many of our recent trips have been to Asia, which we have enjoyed, so we thought it would be good to be closer to those places. Originally, we were going to do a visit here first, but most people we talked to who had lived here said to not bother — that we should just move here for a year to try it out. Which is what we did.

The other reason for me is that I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, and time is running out! Living in Canada and England always helped me figure out what I wanted to do next, and I’m hoping the same thing will happen here in New Zealand.

So how is it working out?

I have to say that of course there are good and bad things about any country, and New Zealand is no different. Some things are rediculously expensive here, petrol (gasoline) as expected, but also phone service and broadband internet. Computers and other electronics are overpriced. And even though New Zealand has a deserved reputation for being ecologically sensitive, they have their share of ecological disasters. I’ve also noticed that many Kiwis seem to have something of a national inferiority complex, perhaps from being overshadowed by Australia and other places for so long. They don’t seem to think they can compete in the world, so they often don’t try. Maybe this will change with sucesses like “The Lord of the Rings”.

In general, however, we love it here. The people are very friendly. The country is beautiful. The food is great. There are lots of cultural events, festivals, and other things to do.

The big issue for us is the distance. We have family and friends back in the US whom we miss terribly. If you’ve been reading this blog you know that Cindy’s son was going to move here with us and go to school, but he didn’t. The Vonage internet phone has helped (now that we have a reliable internet connection to use it on) since it allows us to call anyone as if we are in the US. But the distance is still there. So we aren’t sure if we want to live here permanently. We’ll see. And if it doesn’t work out, then at least we will have had a great year in a beautiful and friendly place.

2 Mar 2005

Kapiti Coast

Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 8:02 am

Wellington is on the southern tip of the north island (the ferry leaves from Wellington to go to the south island). We live in a valley north of Wellington, about 20 minutes away. Yesterday, we drove north (for the first time). We actually live about 5 minutes away from the coast, which has beaches and cliffs. The area north of us is called the Kapiti (pronounced CAP-it-tee) and it is nicknamed the “sunshine coast”. Lots of people in Wellington have beach houses (a beach house is called a “bach” — short for bachelor pad I suppose) on the Kapiti coast, and some people even live there and commute into Wellington (there is a train and a motorway).

Kapiti also is famous for cheese and ice cream. So we stopped at several cheese shops, a cheese factory, and a chocolate factory where they were making chocolate eggs for Easter. We also stopped at the ice cream place (where they make Kapiti ice cream), which has really good ice cream with unusual flavors. I had a double scoop: Cardamom / Orange, and Lemongrass / Ginger. Yum yum yum.

We stopped at several beaches, and collected a bunch of “cat eyes”, which are shells that have been worn down so they look like flat white pebbles but with a spiral design in them from the spiral shell. Really beautiful.

On the way back, rather than go back along the coast, we headed inland over a mountain with a great view of the coast. Then we stopped at a park which is kept as a working farm. We got there just in time to see a really good sheep dog rounding up the sheep. They sorted the rams from the ewes. Then we got to see some “sheep dagging” where they shave the discolored wool from the rear end of the sheep, to keep it from lowering the quality of the wool when they shear them. They are going to shear the sheep in a few days, so we will probably go back later this week to see that (the farm is only about a 20 minute drive from where we live). It is interesting how the farm is set up. The buildings are the original farm buildings, but they built a raised walkway over the sheep pens and the shearing area (inside the barn) so visitors (like us) can look down and see what they are doing, without getting in the way. So you get a close-up view of everything.

More images from the Kapiti Coast.

28 Feb 2005

Missing Trader Joe’s

Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 9:28 pm

We had described Trader Joe’s to several people, and they said we should check out Moore Wilson’s. Well, not quite. Sigh, there really isn’t any place like Trader Joes. It is probably the only store I really miss here in NZ.

Moore Wilson does have quite a few interesting things, but they are more like Costco in that they cater to the wholesale trade. They do have many things that Trader Joe’s has, like wine, cheese, dried fruit, nuts, orange juice, etc. But many things you have to buy in huge quantities (like Costco).

I went back to Moore Wilson’s today, after my first visit yesterday, and I found more interesting stuff, so I’m feeling a little better about them. But they still aren’t Trader Joes.

27 Feb 2005

Trash Palace

Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 6:09 pm

We discovered the “Trash Palace” today. We were in a second-hand furniture store, trying to buy a table to use as a desk to put my computer stuff on, and the owner didn’t really have something that would work for us. People are so nice here — first he said he might have some tables that would work for us, and would bring some into the store tomorrow, then he told us we should check out the Trash Palace. We had never heard of this place, even though it is not that far from where we live. It is on the road up to the garbage dump. We drove up to it, and it is a big complex that does recycling/reuse. Yes, we did find a good table, and for only NZ$10. They also recycle computers (including the monitors), furniture, electronics, dishes, you name it. Cindy found some cloth napkins with rings. It is a huge complex, and they also give classes and do other environmental projects. Cindy is in love.

26 Feb 2005

Cuba Street Parade

Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 10:27 pm

Our first weekend after returning to Wellington, and of course there is a festival going on. These people like to party.

There is an area of Wellington centered on Cuba Street. It is sort of like the Haight in SF or SoHo in NYC (but smaller). Several blocks of Cuba Street are closed to traffic and contain a variety of interesting shops and restaurants.

Today was the Cuba street festival, with all sorts of counter-culture booths, three stages of music, lots of food, and good people watching. There was even a kissing booth, which was a hoot. Then, at 8:30pm they had a parade. It was like a smaller version of Carnivale, with samba bands, floats, and lots of dancers. Cindy’s favorite float was the firemen, who went by in an antique fire truck, shooting supersoakers at the crowds and getting everyone wet. I enjoyed the topless dancers on two of the floats — people here seem to be a bit less uptight about public (partial) nudity.


24 Feb 2005

Photos Reorganized

Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 4:20 pm

Well, we are back in Wellington after our trip to the South Island. We were gone over 3 weeks and there are still places we didn’t get to.

I’ve reorganized the photos from that trip, combined them, and added new photos from the last week. You can now see all of them at:


I also added a few new photos to the Mo & Jo series


17 Feb 2005

New Photos

Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 10:21 am

Just uploaded a whole bunch of new photos from our (ongoing) trip to the South Island. Having a great time, as you can probably tell from the photos!


I’ll have to reoranize everything once I get home, and post the photos from the final week or our trip.

[added note — I’ve now reorganized these. See next posting.]


Filed under: Cindy,General,New Zealand — cindy @ 10:07 am

I am sitting in a quiet cabin at 7 am (with my cuppa) overlooking the Taramea Bay in the peaceful community of Riverton. We were on our way to the Catlins Coast, the southern most tip of the South Island, when we discovered this town and a great place to stay. Yesterday, Yvette and I took a long walk along the beach into town. On the way we met a resident artist gardening. Her house is situated on the Jacobs River Estuary overlooking the fishing boats. She says that she knows it will be a good day when the fishing boats go out and bad weather when they stay in. Wm is happy; he found a place that allows him to hook up his laptop and gives him the fastest connection he has had the whole trip. I have decided to stay forever.

Tea Elegance

Filed under: Cindy,General,New Zealand — cindy @ 10:06 am

New Zealanders know the comfort of a lovely cup of tea (or “cuppa”). Even dinner is called “Afternoon Tea” (or just “Tea” as in England)! Tea is served as “Tea for one or two” which brings an appropriate size pot of either EBT (english breakfast), Earl Grey or regular (“Gumboot”), a cup and saucer and a small pitcher of milk (not cream). Almost all restaurants and cafes serve a perfect cuppa with 2 exceptions so far. One was a raging tourist place called Puzzle World (which also had coin-operated coffee machines) and the other was a wonderful cafe that roasted their own coffee. Both places served tea in one cup with hot water and a tea bag plopped in in an unsightly manner.

Campgrounds, motels and backpacker hostels always provide an electric kettle either in the room or in the kitchen or both. (I also admired this in China, where boiling water was readily available everywhere… on the trains, in the airport, hotels…) The key to a civilized and graceful country is the means and access to a good cup of tea. NZ wins big points for their cuppa.


Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 10:04 am

Differences between NZ and the US:

No tipping in restaurants here. Hardly any tipping at all, actually.

They even pay wait-persons overtime for working on holidays, so some restaurants charge a 10-15% surcharge for meals on holidays. At first this seemed weird, but now I think it makes sense. Why shouldn’t wait-persons get paid extra for working on holidays?

Restaurants serve you bottles of water, so you can pour yourself extra water if you want it. In many restaurants, these bottles (and water glasses) are just sitting out, so you can serve yourself water if you want it.

It is fairly common to order your meal at the counter, and then you find a table and sit down and they bring your meal to you. To make this easier, many restaurants give you a number on a stand, which you take to your table.

When you order at a counter, you pay for the meal when you order it. Likewise, you tend to pay for hotels when you check in, not when you check out (although you can do either).

There are more kinds of accommodation here. In addition to normal hotels, motels, and B&Bs, they have hostels (like the rest of the world, except there are far more of them), backpackers (similar to hostels, but used for any place that caters to backpackers), and holiday parks (places that usually have camping spaces, but also have cabins and maybe even motel rooms). Cabins are in general very common, and quite cheap. We’ve been paying between NZ$40 and NZ$120 for cabins for the four of us, ranging from small single rooms with bunk beds and a walk to the toilet, all the way to large two bedroom affairs with bathrooms, kitchens, and a living room (with a TV).

There are signs along the road, pointing out accommodations, and telling you how far they are. So as you are driving down the highway out in the middle of nowhere, you will often see a small sign pointing down a side road, telling you that there is a B&B 2 km down that road.

Most towns have a tourist information office that will book accommodation (and other things) for you. For free. Even accommodation in some other town.

Every town, no matter how small, has public bathrooms. And they are clean.

Skate parks are very common. We’ve seen them even in small towns in the middle of nowhere.

There are walking tracks (trails) everywhere. You can’t drive down any road without there being tracks going off in different directions. At the start of each track, there is always a sign telling you how many minutes it will take you to get to various interesting things. Like 5 minutes to a waterfall, or 30 minutes to a lake, all the way up to 3 to 5 days to some remote place. The trails are extremely well constructed, with drainage ditches to keep them from getting muddy, lots of bridges and boardwalks, even warning signs like on roads.

Businesses are very trusting. Like, when you take a boat somewhere there are no tickets or things like that. They just assume that you remember to pay (either before or after you take the boat). Likewise, when you use the internet, you often tell them how many minutes you’ve been using it, and they just believe you.

I’ve already mentioned the one lane bridges and driving on the left. They also have round-a-bouts (traffic circles). Hardly any traffic lights.

I haven’t seen a parking meter yet, but they do have “pay-and-display” (like in Portland) where you buy a ticket from a machine. Even this is not all that common, except in big cities. When there is a cost for parking, it is usually pretty expensive.

When they repave a road, they pour gravel on top of the tar, and then let cars drive over it to push the gravel into the tar. When they do this, they lower the speed limit to 30 kph, and have warning signs showing a car kicking up gravel and breaking the windows of another car.

Sometimes, when a road is being worked on and only one lane is open, they don’t bother with flaggers. People just take turns and somehow it works out. Other times they do have flaggers. The flaggers often smile.

Car horns aren’t used very much here, and when they are, they are more for greeting than warning. You can stop right on the road (say, to take a photo) and nobody minds. They go around you, or wait.

Groceries are more expensive than in the US. But restaurants are about the same price. The quality of food in restaurants here is very good. We’ve had some awesome meals here.

Mexican food, when you can find it here, is considered fancy, and is expensive. On the other hand, sushi is cheap. Kebab shops are everywhere, and are very cheap. Hamburgers tend to be expensive.

Petrol (gas), of course, is very expensive. We have paid NZ$1.15 to NZ$1.35 per litre. All the gas stations in a town will usually charge the same price for petrol.

In addition to national parks (which they have a good number of), there are lots of scenic areas. Any pretty area, even a small one, can be designated as a “scenic area”.

NZ has possums but unlike opossums in the US they are furry (even their tails). They are doing quite a bit of damage to the forests because they climb trees and eat the blooms (along with bark and leaves), which keeps trees from reproducing. They are not native to NZ, so there are huge campaigns to eradicate them. We’ve even seen poster contests for young children, where the winners were a crayon drawing extolling the virtues of poisoning possums (“so the trees will bloom”) and a drawing of possum road-kill. They also make clothing from possum fur — we’ve seen possum yarn, possum hats, socks, gloves… even possum willy, nipple and belly button warmers.

Despite the sand flies here, people in NZ don’t seem to believe in screens. Even in areas where there are lots of sand flies, we’ve only seen screens on windows once or twice. The norm seems to be to just open the windows and let the flies in.

Despite the fact that it gets rather cold here in the winter, people in NZ don’t seem to believe in central heating. Instead, most homes and other buildings are heated by small portable electric heaters and electric blankets. Even cabins we’ve stayed in seem to have electric blankets on the beds.

Like in England, Kiwis seem to like their hot and cold water separate. Most sinks have separate faucets for hot and cold. And they can’t seem to decide whether the hot water faucet goes on the left or the right. They will always have a stopper so you can get warm water by mixing hot and cold in the sink (then splash around). We’ve seen a few sinks with a single faucet, but they are rare, even in new construction. The only time they mix hot and cold is for showers (which is by necessity, I suppose).

Kiwis also like to keep their toilets separate from their sinks and showers. The toilet is usually in a separate room, all by itself. The cabin where we are staying has a US-style bathroom, which contains everything (toilet, sink, and bathtub) but this seems to have upset someone’s sensibilities so much that they built an elaborate curtain system so you can hide the toilet.

Toilets have two buttons on them, one for a half flush and one for a full flush. This saves water.

NZ apparently never had the fierce range wars that were fought in the US. Sheep and cows are commonly grazed together in the same field. For some reason this looks very strange to us. They also graze deer in fields — venison is much more common here than in the US. We haven’t seen any open range grazing. Animals seem to always be fenced in (although they do get out occasionally and run around on the roads, which causes everyone, even the locals, to take pictures).

Constellations are all different. Orion is upside down.

Not only is the northern side of a house the sunny side, but the Pacific ocean is on the east. Disorientation city!

16 Feb 2005


Filed under: General,New Zealand — wm @ 6:21 pm

We spent the last 3 nights in Te Anu, the heart of “fiord country” in the southwest of the South Island. We definitely did the tourist thing. Drove out the road to Milford Sound (the most well-known tourist place in NZ) and did a cruise out the sound. Then the next day we did an all day trip out to Doubtful Sound, which included a boat trip across a huge lake, then a drive 2 km underground to a power station, then over the top of a pass to the west (coast) side of the mountains down to Doubtful Sound, finishing up with a cruise on the sound itself. Doubtful sound was so named by Captain Cook, because he was ‘doubtful” that he could get out of the sound if he went in because of the winds. Very understandable — the winds were howling! But I couldn’t help but stay up on top of the boat it was so beautiful. We saw more seals and on the way back we ran onto a group of bottlenose dolphins. Finally, yesterday we did a short cruise out to the Te Anu Glow Worm caves. Inside the caves you hike in a bit, then take two different boats back into the cave. They turn out the lights so you can see all the glow worms, looking like galaxies of stars. Wow. Now we have driven out of fiordland down to the southern end of the island. Staying in a lovely little cottage above the beach in Riverton. I’ll try to post more photos soon — we have lots of them so it will be difficult sorting them all out and selecting the best.

10 Feb 2005

Sandflies in Paradise

Filed under: Cindy,General,New Zealand — cindy @ 1:20 pm

I have been bitten so many times in so many places that I am just one big itchy bite. The sandflies are out all day long gorging themselves on me. Then at night their buddies, the mosquitoes, continue the onslaught. “Bugger!” takes on a whole new meaning.

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