Car Shopping

So now that we found a place to live that will require a commute, we need to buy a car. Spent yesterday looking at cars. Toyotas are VERY popular here. Will probably end up buying a small Toyota station wagon, which is a good compromise between good milage and a car that will be good for traveling around.

One thing that is interesting here is that used car salesmen are actually nice here. And helpful. It kind of freaks us out! Like, when they tell us something we automatically don’t believe it because of our experience with used car salesmen in the US. But they seem to be telling the truth. Takes some getting used to!

Gollum Gone!

When we arrived at the Wellington Airport two weeks ago, Gollum was there to greet us. We actually came in to the gate right under Gollum. We have a photo of him on our page of photos, but here’s a better one from the airport site.

Well, yesterday when we picked up our friends from the airport, Gollum was gone! Gone I tell you. I can’t find any mention of it on the web, so we don’t know if he was supposed to be taken down (it has been over a year since the last movie came out), or if he was damaged by the big winds we had a week ago, which closed the airport. Well, I’m glad we got to see him.

Dinner?

I’ve been asked how the dinner party went — well, it was with the friends we decided to share a house with, so I guess you can say it went very well. It must have been the yummy pumpkin cookies that Cindy made for dessert. Jacob is originally Canadian, and one of the things he misses is pumpkin ice cream, and although that was a bit too difficult to bring with us, we brought a can of pumpkin to make cookies for him. The funny thing is that pumpkin is common here, but only eaten as a vegetable (like carrots or beans), not as something sweet. So if we are going to make any more pumpkin cookies, we will either have to make them from fresh pumpkin, or find someone to bring us over more cans of pumpkin. They don’t seem to sell canned pumpkin here.

Today we pick up two friends at the airport who are coming to visit. I hope this is a harbinger of the future, and lots of people will come for visits. Like you! We plan on taking off for the south island with them for some traveling while summer is still going strong here.

Xtreme Sports

This weekend is the Extreme Sports Festival in Wellington. We walked down this afternoon for a couple of hours and watched bicycle riders launching themselves off a ramp like a ski jump and landing in the bay, breakdancing, inline skaters, and other bicycle riders doing flips and twists and other tricks in mid-air. But the most amazing thing was the FMX (which I think stands for Freestyle Motor Cross). These motorcycle riders would ride full-tilt at a ramp that would launch them a couple of stories (30 to 40 feet) in the air, where they would do all sorts of tricks before landing (in one piece) on another ramp. I have no idea how they did the things they did. They would do handstands on the motorcycle handlebars, or completely separate themselves from the motorcycle in mid-air, before miraculously getting back on before they landed. And worse. Cindy was freaking out just watching, thinking every last one of them was going to die in some horrible twisted heap of metal and flesh. I have to say I’m not sure how they did the things they did without killing themselves frequently! Next time I get a chance to upload photos, I’ll have some photos of them doing tricks in midair. What you can’t see from the photos, however, is that they were doing this stuff way (way) up in the air.

There is bad news and good news today. The bad news is that we gave up on looking for a place to live. We’ve been looking at all sorts of places, but couldn’t find any place we liked. Or worse, where the people liked us. We were trying to find a place fairly close to the University, so we were competing with lots of students for housing. The good news is that we decided to move in with our friends Jacob and Robin. The only problem is that they live in the ‘burbs — a good 20 minute drive when there is no traffic (and we’ve heard it can be an hour or more when there is traffic). Since I’m not on any particular schedule at the University, it should be fine, but it does mean that we will be buying a car. So now we need to look for a car. At least living in the burbs is cheaper, and we really like Robin and Jacob. They are musicians and dancers, too!

Grocery experience

Friends are coming for dinner so it was finally time to make a major grocery run without a car. The closest substantial store (New World) is in town. In order to reach this store there is a 20 minute walk to Vic Univ. (up and down a hill) then another 15 min straight down a cliff side where one reaches the central flat downtown for another brisk 10-15 min. For the cliff side walk they have built lots of secret passageways of steep staircases or small winding roads or the gentle slope that puts another 15 minutes to your walk. I opt for a new passageway each time. The weather was beautiful, sunny with the eternal gusts of extreme wind power.

New World is your basic large grocery store. Fruit and vegies are weighed in 100g increments. Bulk items are selected then handed to the clerks in a small stand with several scales. They weigh and tag each item before you go to the registers. Eggs are not refrigerated here. But other than that it is all pretty much the same. The only other thing I notice while struggling with my grocery cart is the amount of “Sorry”s to be heard. Kiwis say Sorry for everything.

Once I checked out with 8 bags of groceries I headed out to the taxi line. My first taxi ride! The very sweet taxidriver told me on our way home that New World was built 11 years ago. It was such a phenomenon that tour buses would stop and let the tourists take photos. He also warned me that my taxi ride would be more expensive during peak hours so get the shopping done by “midday” (12:00). I will probably now shop more often with one or two bags and take a bus.

earthquakes!

Just after Cindy posted her blog entry we both felt an earthquake. It rattled the windows and shook the house but didn’t do any damage that we know of. There were a bunch of smaller earthquakes last Tuesday, 8 over the course of the day, including one that Cindy felt (but I didn’t). We definitely felt the one this morning, even though it was only 5.5 magnitude. Rock & Roll!

Here’s a link to a listing of New Zealand earthquakes.

Petone

My first blog entry! Yesterday I took the train to Petone. It chugs along the edge of the Wellington Harbor and takes only 15 minutes. From Petone you can look directly across the harbor to downtown Wellington and the airport. I left the station without a map, following everyone else. Petone is a quaint beach town with one obvious main street (Jackson). The first thing I found was the infamous Pak N’Save (the cheapest grocery store around) but I decided to save this for last. I found a cafe that had cozy chairs and had tea and a cookie. (It is difficult to find basic cookies here. They carry Afgans (sp?) which are dark chocolate cookie-like things made with corn flakes.) Revived, I made my way down Jackson Street spending time and a little money in both second-hand shops ($2 clothes!). Then I found my saving grace: a real bargain bookstore with an owner who loves to chat. Used books were a more reasonable $5-$7NZ with a wonderful collection of mysteries, sci-fi and NZ stories. Petone is my new love.

Unfortunately I have been beseiged by terrible allergies ever since we landed and yesterday was particularly bad. So I popped into the drug store and spoke with the “chemist” who gave me my new miracle drug. Better than new, I headed back to explore Pak N’Save and take the bus (just to be different) to Wellington. The bus and the train are the same fares and the train is much more fun!

I met up with Wm and Angela and walked down Cuba Street to the Flying Burrito Brothers. Wm was worried he would not like this fake mexican fare. But it proved to be delicious.

stuff

Still looking for a place to live. Better get on the ball, as we have guests arriving on Sunday!

Went back to visit the glow worms last night yet again. Still love looking at them. The trail down to them is very dark, and with all the little spots of light everywhere it is enchanting.

Someone said that NZ has the most expensive cell phone rates in the world. They are very expensive here, but isn’t there some other place that is more expensive?

mobile

Another difference between the US and NZ is that rent is charged by the week here, which if you think about it really makes more sense. Charging rent by the month is a bit silly, since months are different lengths. Weeks are always 7 days long. Also, people usually move in and out of places on the weekend, so when you charge by the month, you’re always needing to calculate partial months. But when you charge by the week, it is much simpler.

Finally broke down today and bought a mobile phone. Kinda scared to use it, since the cheapest rate is 49 cents per minute (interestingly enough, while it costs 49 cents a minute to call another phone here in Wellington, it also costs 49 cents per minute to call the US on the cell phone). Calls to cell phones that are not Vodaphone are $1.39 per minute! Everyone here uses TXT messages, which are 20 cents each no matter where they go to. So I can send a text message to the US for 20 cents, or to a non-Vodaphone cell phone, or anywhere else. I’m beginning to see why text messaging is so popular here.

Now we just have to find a place to live and (maybe) a car. We are thinking we might try to live without a car. But being Americans, that might just be too difficult for us.

Went back down to the botanic garden tonight to see the glow worms again. Simply amazing. It is a warm summer night, and we are receiving emails that Portland had a huge ice storm last weekend, which virtually shut the city down. But here it is warm, sunny, and the days are long. Ahhhhhhhh!

Differences

[as a note on my last blog entry, it turns out that today was particularly windy here — they even had to close down the airport for the day!]

We are noticing some interesting things here in New Zealand that are different from what we are used to. Note that between Cindy and me, we’ve lived in 5 different countries and even more different states, so we are no strangers to different things.]

One thing is that no houses here have central heating. Everyone seems to have those large electric heaters that look like radiators and are filled with oil. They are quite heavy. You roll them around to where you need them and plug them in. No gas heat at all, probably because they don’t produce much here, so it would have to be shipped in somehow.

Another thing is that there are no screens on windows or doors. When it gets hot, you open the doors and windows and all the flies come in. I don’t think I’ve seen a screen yet, and we asked some Kiwi friends and they don’t think they’ve seen them either.

Some things are unusually expensive. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that they are an extremely isolated island country, and many things need to get shipped here. But other things are just expensive. Everyone seems to have a mobile phone, but they are expensive — both the phones themselves, and the per minute charges. Phones are NZ$300 and up, some costing over $1000. The cheapest we’ve seen minutes is around 49 cents per minute, and on some plans minutes can cost as much as $1.39! And calls from your home phone to a mobile phone are toll calls, even if the mobile phone is in your area. Cell phone companies (and there are only two of them, so not much competition) seem to be raking in the dough!

Books are also expensive. A cheap paperback book costs around NZ$25. You can buy the same book used for “only” $18. Food, depending on the item, can also be a bit expensive, although not that much higher than the rest of the world for most items.

On the other hand, most museums are free, and health care is free (only for residents, unfortunately for us). The concerts we keep going to are free. Restaurants are reasonable, and there is no tipping. So I guess it all works out.

Windy

As I mentioned before, in some (but not all) ways, Wellington reminds me of San Francisco. Maybe it is because of the wind. It is rather windy here. This morning in particular, the wind is howling around the house where we are staying up in the hills. It is even more windy down by the waterfront. In between is a bit calmer, but still windy. On Saturday night we went to the Latin Music festival on the waterfront, and as night fell (which happened quite late of course since it is summer here) the temperature dropped quickly. It had been a rather hot day with bright sunshine, but it cools off quickly. Last night (Sunday night, which must seem weird to people in the US who are reading this blog entry on Sunday, but remember that we are in the land of tomorrow on the other side of the date line) we went to a concert in the botanic garden, and as we lay on the grass listening to the music, there were clouds moving by right above us at high speed. It is quite amazing to watch.

Like SF, Wellington is a compact city. We even have a cable car, but only one and it runs up and down the hill in a straight line on tracks (not on the street). There are Victorian houses, although not as many as SF. And like SF, Wellington is built beside a large bay. Last week we drove around the bay to an area that reminded me of Sausalito.

In other ways, Wellington is less like San Francisco. It is far less crowded here of course, and there is way less traffic. And summer days can be quite hot and sunny, unlike SF where there is the famous fog.

Glow Worms

We’ve been busy this weekend — trying to find a place to live, a car, and a mobile phone. Tonight we went back to the botantic gardens near where we are currently staying to see another outdoor concert. Concert was good, with lots of dancing again, on a beautiful night. But on the way back to our house we saw the most amazing sight.

Along both sides of the path back through the botanic gardens there were thousands of spots of slightly greenish light, as if there were fairies out having a great party. They were everywhere — by the stream, along the side of the trail, and especially in banks where they had cut the trail into a slope. They were “glow worms”. We had heard of the famous glow worm cave, but here they were, thousands and thousands of them surrounding us on all sides.

We found a web page about them, for those people who want to know more. Here it is: http://www.angelfire.com/or3/orchidsnz/wbg/wbgglow.htm

Last night we were downtown, and at the waterfront there was yet another free music event — the one day Latin Festival. There seems to be an amazing amount of music going on here, at least during the summer. The events are good, and seem to be popular.

Luggage Allowance

One thing about the trip I didn’t mention was our adventures with the Qantas luggage allowance. Qantas has a more limited luggage allowance than most airlines and since we are planning on being in New Zealand for a while, we maxxed it out! We actually didn’t have much problem with our checked luggage, even though we were over the size restrictions on one bag (because we strapped our sleeping bags to it). Qantas is way more concerned about the weight restrictions. Luckily we were within the weight restrictions on our checked bags (although we were close on one bag, which they labeled with its weight). The problem was our carry-on luggage.

Between our laptops, hard disk drives, cameras, toiletries, reading materials, and food, we had quite a bit of stuff to carry on to the airplane. Qantas, like most airlines, allows you to carry-on one bag (with the standard 45 inch size restriction) plus one “personal item” (purse, laptop, etc.). Where they are more restrictive than most airlines is their weight restriction. They insist that each bag weigh less than 15 pounds (7 kilos). This might not seem like a problem, but 15 pounds is a rediculously light weight for a bag. And they enforce it!

Our flight from Portland to LAX was on Alaska Air, so they merrily let us on with all our carry-on. But when we checked in for our (first Qantas) flight in Los Angeles, they weighed our carry-on bags and they were way over the limit. I’m talking seriously way. Now, our main luggage is already checked through, so we can’t move anything from our carry-on to our checked luggage. What to do? Checking extra bags is an option, but we don’t really want to check things like our computer equipment and cameras, and besides, extra checked bags are $90 each.

To give you an idea of how small a 15 pound allowance is, I have a subcompact laptop, but when you add in the power cord, case, and everything, that’s easily 8 pounds, which is over half the 15 pound limit. Throw in one good sized book and some dried fruit and you’re over the limit.

We finally got around it by taking everything out that had a strap on it. The laptops (we brought two), the cameras (we brought three). Then we took out all the food (dried fruit mainly) and the books, got a duty-free bag and put that stuff in the bag. So now we look totally rediculous. I have my carry-on sized bag, and my daypack (as my “personal item”), plus I have my laptop and cameras dangling around my neck, plus I’m carrying a bag containing food and books. The bag alone weighs over 15 pounds, but they tend to ignore duty-free bags. Cindy is similarly smothered in various carry-on items. But they let us on.

Apparently their main concern is luggage falling out of the overhead bins and seriously injuring people. So they don’t care if you have lots of little things, they just don’t want any single bag to be over 15 pounds.

Then, once in NZ, we had a connector flight from Auckland to Wellington, and sure enough, they weighed everything again. We were still slightly over the weight limit on a few things, but they let us check in. Are we home free yet? No! When we get to the gate, the person checking our tickets won’t let Cindy on with her carry-on bag because it is too heavy. Luckily, they just want to gate check it (at no extra charge). So we get away with 5 checked bags and a motley assortment of carry-on items, but we do make it to Wellington with all our stuff.

Well, almost. NZ Customs did confiscate my turkey jerkey. If it had been beef jerkey they would have allowed it, but because of all the bird flu going around they won’t let in poultry meat, even if dried. They were also very concerned about our hiking boots, but luckily they were easily accessible and checked out as clean.

We have heard that for flights in NZ or Australia, they are even more restrictive. Apparently, the weight limit flying from NZ to Australia is 20 kilos of checked luggage. That is unbelievable. How do people do it?

Maybe we just need to learn how to live without all these material possessions.

Summer is here

Last night we walked the two blocks from the house where we are staying to the botanical gardens. Every night, during the months of January and February they have free concerts there. Last night the BeatGirls played swing music and they were great. The area was packed, but that didn’t stop people from getting up and dancing in front of the stage — similar to the concerts at the Zoo in Portland. The person sitting next to us said this was the most crowded he’d seen it. Not only was it a popular band, but after what people are calling the coldest, wettest summer in 60 years (there were floods, which cut off every road in or out of Wellington just a week ago!) summer has finally hit New Zealand. It was very sunny and beautiful yesterday, although it seems like it is always windy here.

Wellington actually reminds me of San Francisco. The weather has been similar, but we have only been here for a few days. And there are even Victorian buildings around.

Seasonal Jet Lag

Everyone has experienced jet lag — I don’t think that is what we are experiencing right now. After all, New Zealand is only 3 hours different in time than Oregon, no worse than New York to Oregon (actually it is 3 hours difference only October to April — the other six months it is 5 hours difference due to the fact that daylight savings time is in opposite seasons). What is getting to me more than jet lag is a seasonal change due to the length of the days. When we left Oregon it was the middle of winter and was getting dark around 4 or 5 pm. Here, it is mid-summer, and stays light until almost 9pm. So I have no sense of time. Last night a friend called us to invite us to go hear Irish music. He said he’d pick us up at 8:30 (we have no car yet). I’m thinking that’s hours away, and we have plenty of time to eat dinner (or tea, as they call it here). I was shocked to see that it was already after 7:30, but it felt more like 5pm. The sun was out and I just didn’t feel like it was that late. It wasn’t jet lag, since at 7:30 Wellington time, it was already 10:30pm Portland time. So it would have felt later, not earlier. I don’t know what to call it — season lag? antipode lag? daylight savings lag? light lag?

Our first day

We just finished our first full day in Wellington, and I have to say we’re having a pretty good time. So far, the food here has been excellent. Spent the morning opening a bank account and transfering money from the US, and then the afternoon wandering around Wellington. Lunch was at a small place called Lido. Very tasty, one of the best meals I’ve had in a while. Yesterday we had some Malaysian food which also was very good. I think I had this unrealized dread that the food was going to be a bit like British food, but those fears are now gone. Went to hear Irish music last night in a bar, and was very happy that there is no smoking in bars here. Our friend Jacob is friends with one of the members of the band, who came down and sat with us during the break. Such amazingly nice people here.

The house we are staying in is up on a hill above the university. They have a cable car you can take up the hill which gives you nice views of the city and water. A block from the house is a large botanical garden. We walked through a corner of it this afternoon and it is beautiful. Will have to explore more of it soon. They have free concerts in that garden every night. We’ll probably go to hear some swing music tomorrow night.

We’ve been taking lots of photos, but I don’t have a fast internet connection yet, so nothing has been uploaded. Going to the university tomorrow to get the keys to my office (with internet), so hopefully soon…

Safe and Sound

We have arrived in Wellington! I’ll do a longer entry later, after taking a needed nap. The flight from Los Angeles to Auckland was delayed, which caused us to miss our connection to Wellington, but it was all eventually sorted out. Except that I guess they left everyone’s luggage sitting outside in Los Angeles, where it was pouring rain. So some of our luggage got rather wet. Drying it out now.

Wellington is beautiful. We have already gone into town and had a very yummy lunch at a Malaysian restaurant. So I don’t think we will be lacking in good food around here. We also walked from the house where we are staying up into the little commerical area 2 blocks away, where we bought fresh bread at a small bakery, and fruit and cheese at a small shop. Several restaurants up there too. The house we are in is very nice, too. We’ll upload photos later.

We’re off!

Oy! So much luggage! We’re packed and ready to go. Our internet connection is already turned off, so I’m hitching a ride on a neighbor’s wireless connection.

When our internet connection went down it also took our telephone down. Huh? Because we use Vonage, an internet telephone, rather than the local phone company. Why is this related to New Zealand? Because we are taking our Vonage adapter box with us, and when we get there we will plug it in to a broadband internet connection and our Portland telephone number will work there. Yup — people can call our home phone number and it will ring in NZ. And we can call anyone in the US and Canada for free (well, there is the monthly fee, but no long distance charges).

I originally looked into Vonage so we could take our phone with us, but we switched over early because it is such a good deal for anyone who already has a high-speed internet connection. I should mention that a few friends who have Vonage complain that occasionally they get poor connections (mainly from echo), but we have only had that happen a few times. I think it has something to do with the quality of the internet connection. Mostly it works just like a regular telephone, but with way more features and for far less money.

Since I’m plugging Vonage, I should mention that if you sign up, you should get a referral from someone who is already signed up. That gives you a free month (and gives them a free month as well). I’m happy (of course) to give anyone a referral.