Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Leaving NZ

Well, we've been hinting at this in conversations both online and in-person over the past year, so this won't be a surprise to some of you...We will be leaving NZ sometime this fall, probably around September.

Invariably, everyone wants to know "Why?" we would willingly leave 'Paradise in the South Pacific' to return to the 'Land of Mordor'. The truth is that there are a lot of reasons. Some are our fault, many are only specific to me (W) and some are New Zealand's 'fault'(not related to their earthquake tendencies, though!). In the coming months and years, perhaps I'll put it all down in writing. But right now, I need some time to digest the experience so that I can be fair both to myself and to New Zealand.

You'll just have to trust me when I say that New Zealand isn't paradise and we aren't going back to the U.S. without fair warning. We watch the U.S. news every day. We see the problems in terms of the job market, health insurance, social issues. Yes, we are scared. But don't make the mistake of assuming everything is perfect here. Job security is nil here and being a migrant only makes things more complicated. And unlike those who are born here, or who are independently wealthy (yes, it's true that not all Americans are rich!) we have no support network to give us aid when (not if) things fall to pieces. And before anyone points to 'the dole' as a support network, please do your research.

It's important to note this this decision is not 100% mutual. I'm the one who wants to leave. Hence this post often refers to "I" and not "we". I'm concerned about dragging S away from here before she's ready to go. But I simply can't stay any longer.

Some of you may think this is a bad decision, and feel compelled to try and talk us out of it, but I have to ask that you respect our choice and recognize that it's not been an easy one to make. Remember that we've been living in NZ for four years, not four months. I know what I'm leaving and I'm fine with it.

It's also important to note that I don't regret the decision to come here - it's been a valuable life experience and a worthwhile endeavor, even if it didn't turn out as we might have liked. I've learned a lot about myself, my core beliefs, my tolerances and what I'm looking for in what's left of my time in this world. I don't know exactly what life looks like once we get back to the U.S., but I can tell you that it doesn't look like it did when we lived there before - and it doesn't look like it did here in NZ.

I will miss a lot of things about NZ. We've met a lot of very nice people, both Kiwis and those from abroad. I will miss some aspects of the culture, and certainly the interesting and beautiful landscapes, flora and fauna. S will miss Wellington's scene, particularly the many movie theaters and constant flow of events. I suspect we'll both miss the coffee.

So, this story ends largely as it began. We are in the process of deciding what to sell and what to keep, streamlining as much as possible to make it all fit in a shipping box.

One key difference this time is that we aren't going back to the real world immediately. We intend to travel a bit before we do. We can't afford a gap year, but we can barely afford a 4+/- month tour of Southeast Asia. We're buying a one-way ticket and going to take our time to see Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and (time and money permitting) the Malay peninsula. I'll be creating a travel blog and will post a link to it so people can see that we're still alive and well.

Beyond that, we don't have any firm plans. West coast, probably, or possibly the Southwestern U.S. Initially, we expect to be back in Atlanta for a stint to see family and friends, and perhaps live in Mom & Dad's basement for a wee bit if they can put up with us, just until we can get plans sorted. A camper van is also a possibility (though S is not so keen on that idea!). Either way, it will be both exciting and perhaps terrifying (like when we get quotes for health insurance) but it will be OK in the end. We moved 12,000 miles to NZ without jobs and no safety net and we made it work (sorta) for 4 years. I'm confident we can make it work in reverse.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Drop the Rate, Mate

"Kiwis are being ripped off when they use their mobile phones. Everyone knows it."

Finally, there are signs that New Zealanders have had enough of the two big monopoly mobile phone companies that dominate our market. A new campaign "Drop the Rate, Mate" has started to urge Telecom and Vodafone to drop their termination rates, which can be up to 15 cents per minute. In response to this, the mobile phone companies have actually threatened to raise their rates.

Wow. Big kahunas on these guys, eh? They must think they've got a total lock on the market. No fear at all - and no choice for the people to go anywhere else. Historically, these companies reap huge profits out of NZ, completely out of proportion with their other markets in terms of pure profit. The lame excuse for ripping people off is that classic refrain: "New Zealand is a small country." I may be wrong, but I think even Kiwis are finding that statement a bit tiresome these days, particularly when coming from phone companies using it as a convenient slogan.

I say if they choose to give us the middle finger and raise their rates further, New Zealanders should simultaneously stop using their mobile phones.
Gasp! What will be do if we don't have our mobile phones for a little while? Will we survive? Don't worry. It wouldn't be for too long. A month or so of no income from their cash cow, and these companies might stop regarding Kiwis as pushovers. And besides, it might just be a good opportunity to try out one of the fresh, new competitors that the BIG TWO have been trying to keep out of the country....

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Rough winter

I am just getting over a nasty cold, which might have been the flu...and possibly even the swine flu. Who knows? A visit to the Internet to learn about how cold and flu symptoms led to more confusion than clarity. Whatever it was, it knocked me on my ass for about three days.

Unfortunately, it appears that S has now contracted something and she's probably in for it as well...poor thing. She tried so hard not to get it - O.J., vitamins, etc. - but living with a sick person makes it practically impossible to avoid.

It's surprising that sickness was kept at bay as long as it has been, since everyone (and I mean everyone) in my office has had an ailment in the recent weeks. New Zealand proudly raised it's hand early (not one to be left out, you know) to declare it had cases of the pig flu, and it's been spreading pretty handily ever since. Fortunately, for most people the symptoms seem to be relatively mild.

It has been a cold and wet winter here, conducive to sickness. People say it's worse than usual. I find this comment to be laughable, having heard it every year since coming here. Frankly, I've never thought Wellington's winters looked or felt anything other than miserable. Well, we wear shorts and jandals in the winter here (either pretending it's warm or willing winter to go away?) so we may as well have other delusions. Whatever gets us through it, I suppose.

It's kind of funny, actually. I grew up in St. Louis, where at least once or twice a year you could expect a decent snow and temps well below freezing. Yet this is the first place I've ever worn a scarf. I wasn't even sure how to tie it. I was admiring the many scarves around town and emulated their treatments, which are apparently 'European knots". I have to admit that my scarf really is quite nice and warm -- one of those cozy possum-blend ones.

In related news....we also broke down and bought a dehumidifier, because the curtains in our bedroom were literally sopping wet each morning when we woke up due to heating the room and our exhaled moisture. I'm sure all that dampness hasn't been helpful in our efforts to avoid disease. Dehumidifiers are a common household appliance here, but, like hot water bottles and scarves, it's not something I've ever really needed. Always learning something new, eh? Too bad it cost $300.

There is hope however.

This week, we had a couple of days above 10° C (50° F), and it seems to be staying light out just a tiny bit longer now. Of course, now a veteran of Wellington's patterns, I recognize the warmer weather as simply toying with us. The final, crushing winter blow usually doesn't come until as late as October, just when you think you cannot take it anymore. Fortunately, we plan to be in the U.S. during that month so maybe we'll miss it.

Until then, I am keeping that scarf very handy.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

My last couple of posts have been hard on Wellington, so I thought it would be nice to show a bit of it's nicer side.

Slow Boat Records as seen at night, image from Wikipedia.

This post is also for my Dad, who recently asked me whether there are any good record shops here in Wellington. I wasn't surpised he would ask. You see, he's a music fanatic (really) and always has been. I remember his collection of vinyl records was in the thousands and thousands at one point. It's safe to say that his musical tastes solidified in the late 60's and early 70's, with bands like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, the Byrds. Iron Butterfly and of course the Beatles. I can remember going to Peaches record stores with him as a kid...and I seem to recall I hated his music. Not sure why, cuz now I find myself going to the library and checking out these albums. Nostalgia? Maybe.

Of course, vinyl was hit hard with the advent of compact disks, at least in terms of retail sales. It's had a small resurgence in recent years, bolstered by sound purists and DJs. Still, it's a bit rare to see stores that has heaps of vinyl on the shelves. When you do see one, they usually come in two stores that focus on club remixes, and older "institutions" that have been around for ages and continue truckin' along, doing what they have always done without regard for the fact that pop culture has been led astray.

Slow Boat's sidewalk sandwich board...with their curious junk boat logo

Slow Boat Records is such an place. At 17 years old, it's billed as 'New Zealand's longest running independent record store'. Certainly it's got that old school demeanor. Appropriately located amid grungy Cuba Street (#183 to be exact)the shop feels like your classic, quirky treasure trove - crammed to the gills - and not just with vinyl LPs. They stock CDs, DVDs and other formats as well. Like most good stores of this vintage, Slow Boat's staff have earned a reputation for huge "institutional" knowledge, and it has a decent inventory to satisfy discerning music buffs. It's apparently a favourite haunt of not only the fans, but the music-makers: The Beastie Boys, Radiohead, Oasis, Derrick Carter, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Chris Isaak have stopped in for a wee browse, and they offer in-store performances on occasion (though I am not sure where they'd fit the band - it's quite crowded in there!).

So, Dad and all you vinyl fans out there, add this to your places to visit in Wellington. I expect it would be right up your alley. To hold you over til then, check out their website to see the Slow Boat Essential 50 albums, O’Brien’s ‘Platter Chatter’ 45s rundown, and the Slow Boat Inquisition (which asks celebrity customers an array of probing questions).

And next week, we'll shift from vinyl to paper with a look at the Wellington's used book stores...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Hard choices

What your money buys you in Wellington.

A not-so-surprising interview on Breakfast today, linked to an article in the NZ Herald, seems to confirm much of what we have observed since coming to NZ.

Even 'rich Americans' (did you know we're all rich? Yes, it's true!) like us can't afford to buy a house here, and that's with having some capital to invest from the sale of our previous home. Certainly many Kiwis believe that we (immigrants) are the reason house prices are so high, and I do think that's a contributing factor, but it's only a part of the story.

Mr. Hickey's assertion that this is a reciprocating cycle is spot-on. The lack of a Capital Gains tax in NZ means that there are no penalties for owning as many properties as you like. We rent from a landlord who owns four units in this apartment complex. Four! I'd be willing to bet she owns other properties as well. And on each of these, she's getting $500/week on average rent. $500! This is in Wellington, mind you - not New York, London or Paris. I can assure you that the average wage levels are not in proportion with cost of housing, and we're not the only ones feeling anxiety over it.

Another contributing factor is that landlords don't have to do much to their properties in terms of upkeep. They can be a complete hellhole and still be legal. When we were shopping for a place to rent, we saw many that were not fit for human habitation. So other than being able to charge more rent, there's no incentive (or legal requirement) for any further investment. Just buy it, then start raking in the cash. Not surprisingly, landlords react with outrage when the government tries to impose requirements on them that will meet modern housing standards, threatening "...this will just lead to rent increases." Yeah, right mate like we can afford to pay you more.

To be clear - landlords can afford to charge these rates because housing is in such limited supply, particularly in Wellington. One could argue that the market should naturally set rental prices, and I don't begrudge property investors from getting a return on their bets. But this is a case of the rich getting richer, with no checks and balances. It's really no wonder that Kiwis of all kinds are finding it tough to buy their own home.

This all sounds like a load of whinging, doesn't it? Maybe...

As you can tell from the flavor of my last couple posts, I've decided that it's time to stop sugar-coating things on this blog and start looking at Aotearoa with a more critical eye. Why the change? Well, of course it's because I'm feeling a bit disgruntled. But also it was the surprising realisation that this blog has received 16,000 hits. Even if I subtract 10,000 of them, assuming they are friends, family, etc., that leaves 6,000 people who have visited. Some of them probably want to know what life is really like in NZ...and I mean living here, not just being on holiday. Believe me, they are very different things.

I honestly love some things about this country, but there are some things that trouble me. Increasingly, I am having difficult seeing a long-term future in NZ. Our closest friends here know I've been feeling this way for a while, but this may be news to some of you back home. Aotearoa is a beautiful place - some would argue one of the most beautiful places on earth - but pretty views alone can't sustain a person (unfortunately). New Zealand is looking out for itself, and we have to as well. My thinking on life in NZ was that we would 'stay as long as we could' and when that was no longer feasible, well, it would be time to make some hard choices.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Great Eye ...

...turns it's gaze back on the mother country...

The economic stress indicator is a visual guide to the state of the U.S. economy, using major economic indicators. See how your neighborhood is doing here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Not sure if this ad is playing in the States or not:

Mr. Dafoe earned the title 'wanker' years ago already for making the film "Triumph of the Spirit", one of the most God-awful pieces of crap films I have ever been subjected to. Yeah, yeah...I know it was critically acclaimed and all that...and it still sucked. But, anyhow, this confirms Mr. Dafoe's official wanker (my new favorite word) status.

Don't get me wrong. I am opposed to nuclear weapons and the use of nuclear power for military purposes. As a political statement, I am in agreement completely. What bothers me is that this is to sell beer, even more confusing and irksome considering that NZ has for many years been struggling with rampant alcholism. So now beer is the symbol of freedom and all that's good, and America is Goliath to NZ's David. (Literally, the FLV video file for the ad is titled "David and Goliath"). For fun, here's a link to the media release.

It must be nice to hide behind the shield of moral superiority (and beer!), secure in the knowledge that if NZ were invaded unfairly and unable to fend for itself, there would never be any question about Australia (which also gets criticized by NZ for military spending) and the United States of America coming to their aid.

I know it's a tough game to follow New Zealand, but do try to keep your eyes on the ball. Beer is responsible for a lot more of NZ's problems than America is at the moment. And before anyone posts whinging about Cultural Imperialism and how McDonald's are showing up everywhere in NZ, take a good look at who's waiting in line to buy the Happy Meals.

And, to my readers in the U.S., please do let me know if that advertisement is playing there? I'll be very surprised if Steinlager's moral convictions were strong enough to risk endangering their export sales, but will eat my words here if so.

Sorry for the rant. This kinda crap just bugs me.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Valley of the Mist

20 June, 2009 - Photo of the day
Morning fog in the Karori valley

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pumpkin Pie

Knowing that I am feeling a bit homesick, S made me this very tasty pumpkin pie. Notice the crust - also made from scratch - since they don't sell pre-made pie crusts at the supermarket in NZ. It came out perfect! ~W

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Travels in Taranaki

Last week, S and I traveled to the central west coast of the North Island, a region that is called Taranaki. It's named after a great volcano that sits right in the middle.

The mountain dominates the landscape with it's perfect shape and (often) snow-crested peak. This region was where much of the film The Last Samurai was made, with Taranaki serving as a convincing volcanic stand-in for Japan's Mt Fuji. The mountain is notorious for staying shrouded in clouds, a symptom of being so close to the ocean, and fitting for the legends that speak of its isolation.

"Yew, Me and Malone" - the Malone Memorial Gate in Stratford where a geocache eluded discovery much to my consternation.

The drive from Wellington takes about 5 hours, up the Kapiti coast through many small New Zealand towns. S patiently tolerated my request to stop in the town of Stratford so that I could investigate a potential hobby: geocaching. I've never done geocaching, and am curious for both professional and personal reasons. Basically, it's like a treasure hunt where you use GPS coordinates to find a hidden object ("the cache"). From reading about it online, I knew there was one near the Malone Memorial Gate in Stratford, and figured it would be easy to find. Just one problem: My GPS device didn't really work properly (loaner from work) and the key clue was that it was "just hanging around" on a yew tree. What does a yew tree look like? Not a clue. We'll move on now...but rest assured I will return to this issue in the future. ;-)

One of the many finely-crafted dioramas at Tawhiti Museum

A more successful stop was in Hawera for a visit to the Tawhiti Museum. This little gem is, in my opinion, perhaps the best museum in New Zealand that I have seen thus far.

Tawhiti Museum focuses on the history of the Taranaki region and uses an astonishing collection of carefully crafted and historically accurate dioramas to tell the story. The dioramas themselves are rich in detail and great fun to explore, ranging in size from tiny miniature scenes to life-size reconstructions using real objects and machinery. The detail in these scenes is captivating, and really bring the stories to life. Even more amazing is that the displays were largely constructed by one guy, and that it started off as a casual hobby!

I haven't had as much fun (or learned so much, for that matter) in a museum in a long time. As a museum professional myself, it was yet another reminder that exhibits don't have to be modern, cold, technology-laden sparklefests to be engaging. There wasn't a flatscreen in the place. In terms of graphics and design the presentation techniques were simple, even archaic, and I didn't mind at all. Highly recommended.

Wilkes Pools in Egmont National Park

Our first day of outdoor adventures was in Egmont National Park, which surrounds Mt Taranaki in an almost perfect circle. This is New Zealand's second oldest national park, established in 1900 (Tongariro was first). It was cold and there was plenty of snow around. First we tried to reach the ski plateau, but the roads were dubious so we turned around (I think seeing the campervan coming down the road backwards with the flailing woman screaming "We're slipping!" helped change our minds). Ultimately it probably was just was well, since the mountain was completely shrouded in mist and we probably would have seen nothing but white.

Department of Conservation Visitor Centre

Instead, we headed over to the Dawson Falls area on the south side of the mountain. It was freezing and windy, but the sun came out and once we got into the bush it wasn't so bad. It had been raining a lot, though, so the tracks (trails for you Americans) were very, very wet. Sometimes it was more like walking in a stream. There's a DOC visitor centre there, and several short walks around the area.

Me in the Goblin Forest

This region gets a huge amount of rain, especially on the mountain slopes. As a result, everything gets covered in green mosses and lichens, hence the nickname 'goblin forests'.

Wet rats at Dawson Falls

S used our Day Walks of New Zealand book (a gift from friends Anke and Jeroen - thanks again, guys!) to plan a route that linked several of the walks together and ended on the Kapuni Loop Track with a viewing of Dawson Falls. We got a bit wet, but it was worth it.

Fall colour on the trees in Pukekura Park. There are few deciduous trees in NZ, so this was a treat for us North Americans, even if it was in May.

On our second day in the area, we wanted to be outdoors but perhaps a bit less soggy so we decided to visit Pukekura Park in the city of New Plymouth (more on it in a moment). This world-class park covers about 52 hectares, and includes a mixture of botanic gardens, concert venues, small lakes, playgrounds, greenhouses and beautiful architectural landscaping. Among the highlights are Bowl of Brooklands, which is supposed to be a terrific concert venue (attracting such talent as Elton John).

Entrance to one of the greenhouses in Pukekura Park

There are ferneries and palm groves, with native and exotic plant specimen collections. The park also has some very old (and huge) trees in the park, including a 2,000 year old Puriri tree. It was a really nice and relaxing day.

Lunched by this waterfall at Pukekura Park

Tree ferns and a small pool in Pukekura Park

New Plymouth is the largest city in the region and was our base of operations for the weekend. It's one of the fastest-growing and prosperous cities in New Zealand, and it shows in the investment to infrastructure. They have a very nicely done waterfront walk that spans 7 kms of beachfront.

New Plymouth Coastal Walkway

Not surprisingly, I found myself liking NP better than Wellington, but it's easy to do when you are on holiday and don't have any cares. The parklands and other amenities do make for a nice city, but it still has a ways to go in terms of the restaurants, cafes and theatre venue offerings before it can wrest the culture capital title away. Still, they are making a good effort of it.

Puke Ariki museum on the New Plymouth waterfront

There is a top-notch regional museum in the form of Puke Ariki. Superficially this place feels like a variation on Te Papa, but closer examination shows they focus on regional Taranaki stories and topics around geology, flora and fauna, maori culture and colonial heritage/agriculture, etc.

Giant shark welcomes us to Puke Ariki

When you enter the museum, you cannot miss the giant white shark suspended from the ceiling. This is a re-creation of the extinct Carchardon (Carcharocles) megalodon, a prehistoric version of our modern great white shark that grew to over 18 meteres (59 feet) in length. These guys are among my favourite prehistoric beasties. A bit of trivia for you...the teeth of Megalodon are also found in the Southeastern U.S. and in fact it's the official state fossil of Georgia.

Giant moa display in Puke Ariki

Our last night, we enjoyed dinner at the museum restaurant - Arborio - before heading back to Wellington the next day. Our route back took us around the western side of the mountain, termed the 'Surf Coast' because of the big waves and surfing beaches found there. And on that note, I leave you to ponder whether you would continue to surf in water with killer whales.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Taranaki on the Horizon

For my birthday weekend, we're traveling to Taranaki. The mountain has long been on my list of things to see in New Zealand. Inspired already, I offer you this short story...

...which goes that Pihanga, the beauty of the central plateau, set her heart on red-hot Tongariro, spurning the gentle, zen-like Mt Taranaki. Majestic Ruapehu and sultry Ngauruhoe looked on in wonder as the mighty Mt Taranaki fled west, his sheer bulk carving the Whanganui River and his tears filling it into a raging torrent. He found his way to the coast and finally stopped, in a region which embraces him still and has since been known as Taranaki.

Here, the rhythmic pounding of the ocean soothes his shattered ego, the strong westerly winds clear his mind and clouds provide a thick blanket when he's feeling morose. But sometimes, when the day dawns bright and clear, Mt Taranaki tosses aside his woes and holds his head high, parading his magnificent torso and icy crown, perfectly angled to be seen by Pihanga in the East.

But his displays are for naught, as powerful Tongariro shields Pihanga's views, wrapping her in a cloak of cloud and ice. His fiery eruptions are a warning to Taranaki never to return, though legends say that one day he will, promising a clash of devastating proportions.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Stonehenge Aotearoa

Last weekend, Stacey and I took a short day trip up to the Wairarapa to see a sight that you'd hardly expect way down in the South Pacific - a Stonehenge.

Stonehenge Aotearoa consists of 24 upright pillars, connected by lintels to form a circular structure 30 metres in diameter and approximately 4 metres high. Approximately 150 members of the Phoenix Astronomical society were involved at one time or another in the building of Stonehenge Aotearoa.

A stone henge seems like a strange thing to see in New Zealand at first glance, but it's hardly surprising when you consider the origins of the country's European immigrants. Many of them hail from the U.K., and there's of course many cultural links through the Commonwealth. However, Stonehenge Aotearoa is more than just a replica of the original. This stone henge is built to the same scale as the one in Salisbury, and is similar in design, but also incorporates features that tie to Babylonian, Egyptian, Polynesian and Maori starlore. The henge is based on real astronomy and mathematics, and can be used to keep track of dates, seasons, celestial bodies, etc.

Entrance to the stone circle is via a causeway which has a line of standing stones to either side. Two large carved pillars, one to either side of the entrance to the causeway, form the Sun Gate. Seen from the centre of the Henge the Sun rises in this gateway on the morning of the spring equinox.

Near the centre of the Henge is a 5-metre-high obelisk. Half an hour to either side of local noon the obelisk casts a shadow on the analemma, a 10-metre-long stone tiled area that runs along the meridian south of the obelisk, telling you the date a

Why the Wairarapa, one might ask? Well, for one thing, light pollution is much less of a problem there. When you get too close to larger cities, the light actually makes it harder to see the stars. This is why so many of the older observatories in major cities are less effective these days for seeing all but the largest (and brightest) celestial objects. They're still good for education because they are close to the population, but if you really want to see the stars, you have to get far away from towns. I will never forget on our camping trip to the Whanganui River, looking up at the stars and seeing the milky way for the first time. Really seeing it. "Wow, so that's what it looks like!" New Zealand is a great place for stargazing.

The beginnings of a modern astronomical observatory, which would make a fine educational addition. The operators of the henge also have plans to add a roman orrery and other standing stones, as well as landscaping features, to the site.

The Phoenix Astronomical Society, builders of the stone henge, use it as an educational tool to inspire visitors to explore and experience for themselves how technologies of ancient times were used to give practical and detailed information on the seasons, time and navigation. The site owners are also looking at increasing the offerings to include a large-scale, modern observatory. Near the stone henge sits a metal frame and what looks like the beginnings of a building foundation. With any luck (and no doubt some funding from generous sponsors), one day both the ancient and modern versions will stand side-by-side. Until then, the club has plenty of smaller but very powerful telescopes which they bring out for their members and visitors to enjoy. If you are in the area during one of their evening events, you might want to "pop on over for a nosy." (one of New Zealand's least endearing phrases...but it fits.)

I close with this photo of a very spooky abandoned house, just visible from the stone henge site. It reminded me of Illinois and Halloween. But not quite enough to want to jump over the fence and go explore it inside...creepy!

Friday, March 27, 2009


Hi everyone. I've not posted in so long - sorry! A lot has been happening, but really nothing hugely significant. Perhaps most important, we moved house in February. We now live in the neighborhood of Mount Victoria, which is on the edge of the city. As the name implies, it's on a hill (not a mountain, really). We live about midway up the hill, at the top line of where houses stop. It's a bit of a hike to get up the hill each night but supposedly we will have buns of steel once it's done. Whatever. It's only temporary, so I can deal with it.

Speaking of this, we signed a 6-month lease. We didn't want to make too long of a commitment, just because there was still some discussion about possibly buying a house. Assuming the landlord is cool with it, I expect we'll be here at least a year though.

View of our street

The upside to this new place is that it's walking distance to work. Takes about 15 minutes. Morning walk isn't bad (downhill!). We're close to theaters, etc. which is good for S. The place also backs up to parkland, so there's lots of trees and it actually doesn't feel like you're in the city.

Other news...

S has been very active with the Wellington Film Society as of late, and quite enjoying it. They have started their new season, and the committee has been working hard to engage new members. Generally, attendance at their screenings is already pretty strong but this is looking to build the audience with a bit of outreach. Anyone into film in Wellington should check out their online schedule.

I am volunteering at Zealandia: the Karori Sanctuary Experience (formerly the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary) In particular, I am hoping to become a frontline tour guide. Not only is it of personal interest, but it's also good professional development for me working in heritage interpretation. The training is actually pretty intense, at least time-wise, requiring us to be there every Sat and Sun for a month! It's good, though as this sort immersion really helps you get into the subject matter. Although they've never said it, I would guess that this also helps weed out anyone not serious about following through with the commitment. Beyond the training, we agree to volunteer at least 8 hours a month at the sanctuary. Initially, I expect to be just a helper, perhaps in the visitor centre, at the park entrance or perhaps as a roving guide. Once everyone is feeling more confident in our abilities, we 'graduate' to leading an actual tour.

There's heaps of other stuff - work, etc. that's all adding up to keeping us really busy. One thing I'm working on is the organising of a national conference on interpretation: Some Like it Hot - 15-18 Sept 2009. It's been fun and a good excuse to meet so many people from around Wellington and other parts of the country. The conference is the first of it's kind in NZ, and a collaborative effort between the Interpretation Network New Zealand and the Interpretation Australia Association. Anyone, sorry to "talk shop" so much. I know this stuff will bore many of my readers to tears, but a few of you from my Museum years will find it interesting.

Fernbank is reconstructing the past again - go check it out Atlantans!

Speaking of museums, hats-off and congrats go out to Fernbank Museum of Natural History for bringing to fruition the dinosaur exhibit in front of the building! Believe it or not, guys, I do keep up with your activities and was very excited to see this become a reality (it was only an idea when I was there...) The dinosaurs look GREAT from the photos, and I love the fact they are going to be bronzed. They will look spectacular in front of the buildin -- Can't wait to see them in person. BUT I was disappointed to see no Deinosuchus in the scene! I do miss dinosaurs being a prominent part of my life, I must say. I think next time I'll post a bit about dinosaurs in NZ. Yes, we do have them but they are much more obscure...but still some great stories there, especially about the people involved in their discoveries.

On Monday, I intend to book my flights for a trip back to the U.S. which is slated for October. This has been my plan all along, but I needed to confirm it was workable at my job and also figure out how to pay for it. Looks like the ticket is going to be with frequent flyer miles (left over from the last trip, and also some donated by my Mom - thanks Mom!) I am SOOOOO ready to go home. Seriously homesick and very excited that it will be in October (Proper fall weather! A real Halloween!). The plan is to do a week in Atlanta so I can catch up with my Southern peeps then head north to St. Louis to see the Yanks.

It will be really great to see everyone. For one thing, neither S nor I have spent time with our nieces, and my nephew is practically a teenager! How did this happen?? It will also be interesting to see how they regard me -- have I changed? (My cousin says my voice has changed but what else?) How will I see the U.S. now that I will have been away 3 years? And, perhaps more importantly, how will NZ look by comparison? Going to be an interesting trip.

OK kids, gotta run. Just wanted to say hi and hope everyone is doing well.

I'll close with a link to a funny blog -- -- that comes to us from some Australians living in NZ. There's a term here called 'taking the piss' out of something, which is loosely akin to making fun of it, and this forms the core of their blog. It's generated quite a stir lately, especially among Kiwis without any sense of humour, and highlighted the old NZ-Oz rivalries. I suppose it's not very nice of an American to fuel the fire by distributing it, but the spectacle is too fun to keep to myself. Besides, with American bashing being so popular here, I have to admit it's nice to see NZ get a dose of this bitter medicine from someone else once in a while. Don't worry about them, though - they are staunch and can take it.

Oh, one LAST thing, speaking of Australians...our new fav show from Oz which you Yanks can check out on the internet is ROVE. Highly recommended, very funny. Check it out. My favourites are Hamish and Andy.

Friday, February 20, 2009

When you come to Wellington...

...don't forget your stretchy pants!!!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cutting Bait

Today's post title refers partially a phrase that originated in the U.S., which we often referred to when talking about our situation here in New Zealand. It seemed to apply...sort of...

We're now at the 2 1/2 year mark on the NZ adventure. I have promised for a while to do a post on our 'state of affairs' here, but kept procrastinating. I actually had written a very long entry on this subject...but have subsequently deleted it, deciding it was too much information. Instead, thought I'd try a more summarised approach...which is still too long. /sigh

Not much new has happened. Jobs are the same. We're moving again soon (anyone know a good 2-bed, 2-bath rental in Wellington CBD?). We move every year. In related news, we have officially decided not to buy a house here. Houses are too expensive and not worth what you have to pay for them in Wellington. Instead, we are going to rent again - this time most likely back in the CBD (not the suburbs). The downside to this is that we'll be in the concrete jungle again, but the upside is that we'll be in walking distance to work (and just about everything else, including cafes, restaurants, theatres, bookstores and the waterfront). Urban living does have some benefits. In addition to value-for-money being a factor in our decision not to buy a house, the economic downturn is also a factor. Put simply, we don't feel comfortable tying up all our savings in a house at this time.

This decision is a paradigm shift for sure. Up to fairly recently, my strategy and thinking had been to work towards permanent settlement in New Zealand. That is no longer the plan. That's not to say it won't happen, it's just saying that I'm not working towards it (or pining after it) any more. I guess we'll just stay as long as we can -- as long as there's work to pay the bills. Although homesickness is deeply entrenched at this point (for me), the phrase 'you can never go home' also comes to mind. Things are a mess everywhere (economy) so for now it's best to just stay put and enjoy the scenery.

The realisation that things were going nowhere here was more than a little unsettling, but it was also liberating. It feels good to stop wondering if you are supposed to be doing something, to be going somewhere, working towards something. I personally have struggled a lot finding my sense of identity here (S less so) and have spent far too much time and effort in search of some intangible establishing of roots and finding my sense of place.

More of a go-with-the-flow approach will do me some good. I need to take advantage of the benefits of not being tied down to a house with all of the responsibilities that entails. I also need to see more of NZ while I have the opportunity, and not waste too much time sitting in Wellington. We plan to travel more, see more of the country -- and also perhaps Asia and more of Australia. Lastly, I have a trip back to the U.S. planned for October, 2009. I am looking forward to seeing friends and family again.

In two weeks is the Cuba Carnival, which we attended way back in 2007 not long after our arrival. S and I have booked a hotel room on Cuba street for the weekend so we'll be right in the middle of the craziness. Music and mojitos are on the menu and it should be a good kick-off to our 2009.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

What's on his playlist?

We were horrified when Fox News started airing in New Zealand last year. We endure enough punishment from Kiwis about our nationality without Bill O'Reilly and that moron Sean Hannity making things worse. But, one unexpected side benefit is that we occasionally get to see Stacey's friend from college Jonathan Serrie (aka Karim) doing one of his hard-hitting exposés. Jonathan keeps an online blog of his journalistic adventures which some of you might enjoy and find informative.

Jonathan's a very talented and dedicated reporter, despite our feelings about his employer. But he hasn't quite made it big time yet and we know this because he doesn't have his playlist available online. Get with it, Jonathan! Everyone knows the real measure of a journalist these days is what they have on their iPod.

Seriously though - keep up the good work. Next time we're back in Atlanta we look forward to having some margaritas and cheese dip with the old gang. In the meantime, stay clear of those right-wing nutjobs you work with! =)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Bright Ideas from Nelson, New Zealand

Ross Inness-McLeish, Jack Tippler and Ollie Neas of Nelson Boys College produced this short film "Bright Ideas" to showcase the school's campaign to reduce energy use. Not only inspirational but fun, so thought I'd share with you. I also wondered if Ian (Stacey's Dad) would enjoy seeing what his alma mater is up to these days (NBC is where he went to school as a kid!).

Monday, January 05, 2009


This year, S's Christmas work function was a Bollywood theme, and I thought I'd share with you a photo of her looking beautiful in her fab outfit! She opted for this Salwar Kameez rather than a Saree, thinking it would be easier to put on and more comfortable. And, she's not a dress / skirt kinda girl as some of you know. Certainly it was easy to put on, and she described it as 'like wearing pajamas' which sounds pretty comfortable to me! She got very lucky with some borrowed jewelry accessories from a friend that matched the colours perfectly. Incidentally, we can recommend a good store for traditional Indian dress over in Newtown.

Now for some further elaboration on the significance of costumes in Wellington...

Costume parties are hugely popular in this city, so much so that it supports no less than four large costume shops for a population under 500,000. Kiwis call them 'dress up' parties. My understanding is that Wellington is somewhat unique among New Zealand towns in it's enthusiasm for dressing up.

A major dress-up event is Wellington's Rugby Sevens. On the day of this event, the streets are teeming with masquerading fans parading around. The costumes range from very clever, to weird, to borderline obscene. It's even gotten the attention of the comparatively liberal police force who now threaten to punish anyone who goes too far with their costume and dares show it off on the streets of Courteney Place

No time of year or holiday is immune. Christmas parties are very often themed and costume-oriented. S's Xmas party last year was a Love Boat theme. I was skeptical up until the moment we walked in the door. Put simply, the concept of a costume Christmas party was completely alien to me. And, interestingly, Halloween is a muted affair here. This may be because it's an American import, regarded with suspicion as an attempt at commercialisation. To be fair, that is probably justified. It's just surprising considering the Welly infatuation with masquerade.

Stranger still is the assumption that parties will most likely be themed, even when it's not mentioned on the invitation. For instance, we were once invited to 'Party Like a Rock Star' but it was not until speaking with another invitee in advance of the party that I realised it was dress-up. He asked me what I was going reaction was 'huh?". Then he proudly told me he was going as Elton John.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


It's hard to believe that it's 2009 already! Happy New Year!

Those of you in the northern hemisphere are enduring winter now, but for us it's summer holiday here and we've been trying to get outdoors a bit! There have been lots of little trips and happenings over the past few months which I thought would be fun to share with you guys...


Last weekend, we did a day trip to the Wairarapa's eastern coastline. The trip was supposed to be an overnighter, but I forgot the tent so that was called off! Oh well. Truth be told, the campground was so incredibly crowded that I wasn't keen on it anyway. My goal with camping is to get away from people--not closer to them. But for most Kiwis, camping is a social thing involving large groups of family and friends all getting together for BBQ'ing en masse. The campground was covered in huge tents and RVs of every kind. So, it wasn't a huge disappointment to skip it.

Only 250 steps to go...

We didn't waste the trip, however, and did some sightseeing in the area. First we visited Cape Palliser where we climbed some 250 rickety steps to Cape Palliser Lighthouse. Built in 1897, the lighthouse originally ran on oil and required an attendant, until conversion to electricity and automation in 1987. It continues to provide guiding flashes of light every 20 seconds which can be seen up to 48 kilometres away.

Cape Palliser lighthouse

View from the lighthouse platform

S enjoying the view

There are great views of Palliser Bay and the coastline from the platform. This area is also the site of a permanent colony of New Zealand fur seals, which are easily seen (and smelled) from the shoreline.
Putangirua Pinnacles

We also took a walk to see the Putangirua Pinnacles located in Aorangi Forest Park. These strange rock formations are caused by water erosion, creating a 'badlands' appearance that looks like something out of the western United States. This area was one of the filming locations for the 'Paths of the Dead' sequence in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. The eerie, other-worldly feeling that the pinnacles convey was a perfect fit for simulating a haunted passage under Tolkien's ficticious White Mountains.

Hot and sweaty, but we made it to the top

This place reminded me very much of Providence Canyon in Georgia, although the colouration wasn't nearly as striking. Even so, the pinnacles are quite impressive and certainly unexpected, revealing again how diverse New Zealand's landscapes can be.

It's well worth a visit if you are in the area, only taking about an hour to do walk to the pinnancles from the car park. Be warned that it's a fairly steep climb from the riverbed to the viewing platform, but it's a loop track so you have the option to go in the opposite direction for a more gradual climb. Also, Wellingtonians should take note that the wind they are so accustomed to and rely on for cooling does not exist in the Wairarapa interior. I never thought that I'd miss Wellington's wind, but it was definitely needed. There wasn't the slightest breeze!


S at the entrance to Belmont Regional Park outside of Wellington

Puke Ariki Track Marker
(which looks identical to the regular track markers from a distance!)

We've done several minor excursions to Belmont Regional Park recently exploring the Puke Ariki/Haywards Korokoro Traverse. This is part of a conglomeration of different walking tracks in the area that can take you from Petone to Lower Hutt, or over the hills to Porirua. Belmont is the closest major park area to Wellington, and (in my opinion) features some of the nicest walks in the area. The landscape is interesting and includes both historic and natural features, and is easily accessible (even to those utilising public transportation).

Windy hills of Belmont Regional Park

I did the full 22 km Puke Ariki walk a few weekends ago with my friend James. It took us about 6.5 hours, though the information brochures state it takes 7-8. We started the trip at the Dry Creek ‘Haywards’ entrance where the track climbs quickly to Boulder Hill.

Boulder Hill

S and I had recently done the Boulder Hill track that led to this same point, an exposed area on the top of the hill where you can see the entire Wellington region. Just hang on to your hat - it's extremely windy up there! The terrain is mostly farmland for much of the track, climbing up and down exposed hills with names like Round Knob and Cannons Head. To break up the monotony, there are some old historic military buildings (ammunition storehouses), an airstrip, as well as the occasional herd of sheep / cows.

The ammunition buildings as seen from a distance.
For some reason, this reminds me of Hobbits.

Old plaque on one of the buildings.
Until we had seen this, we weren't really sure
what the buildings had been used for.

James completes an inspection of one of the buildings.
He found lots of very dead things in there.

The high point (literally) of the track is Belmont Trig, which is at about 457 metres. Again, there are some great views of the entire area. The track section then descends towards Petone, taking you through a dense area of native regenerating and original bush habitat. This is a really nice stretch. I made a mental note to return and do this walk with S (since I knew she would like it) which we did last week.

Korokoro stream near the Petone end of the track.

Crocosmia in bloom. Like so many of the most beautiful
flowers in New Zealand, this one is an invasive weed.

Korokoro dam had what is known as a “stepped”
spillway where the energy
of the water is partially
dissipated by successive drops at the steps
a waterfall effect

The landscape here is surprisingly dramatic, winding through narrow valleys that follow geologic fault lines. Birds and plant life are abundant, and there are some interesting historic features here as well. Korokoro Dam (built in 1902) is one such feature. Though no longer in use, many of the structures are still evident. In addition to the dam structures, old broken pipeline can be seen all along the way.