In New Zealand, at around Christmas time, the beautiful Pohutukawa tree springs into flower with beautiful red blooms which provide nectar for a number of bird species such as the Tui, and also of course for the local bee population (note the bees photo-bombing the last picture!). The trees reside in coastal areas so NZ is ideal. It is hard to say more about how pretty they are so I’ll just show you some pictures instead. Who needs Christmas decorations?
In New Zealand, there are different public holidays depending on which area you live in to celebrate the anniversary of that area.
This year (this weekend in fact) represents the 175th anniversary of Auckland and there were fireworks (of course!) to commemmorate the occasion which were far better than the ones put on for New Year. I believe that the 3 sets to the left of the Sky Tower are all being launched from boats in the Waitemata Harbour. There is also a regatta and displays around the city centre of various views of days of yore and how the city has changed. It is fair to say that the population has grown at a staggering rate in the last 20 years or so.
Anyway, if you would like to see the fireworks, here are a couple of links to YouTube. Enjoy!
Picture the scene if you will…there I was walking along central Auckland’s main thoroughfare that is Queen Street on a Friday evening and a group of what I assume were female students were stood on the pavement offering hugs to passers-by.
I was accosted by a 20-something who said “Would you like a hug?”…after a (very short) moment of hesitation along the lines of “what’s the worst that can happen?” I said “Yes please!”.
It was a good hug (although not the same as with a loved one). I felt better about the world.
The moral of the story…if ever you need a pick-me-up, just find a random young lady in the street and give her a hug. Use this advice with care however, for down this path of righteousness can be pitfalls relating to assault.
People should give hugs as a job…spreading happiness wherever they go.
You may not be suprised to discover that there is a chain of small grocery stores in New Zealand stocking UK goods…for a premium price of course.
As a rule, we have tried to just go with local foods wherever we can since we arrived in NZ, with the exception of the previously posted lure of gravy granules!
So, what do you think a UK Grocer would stock?
There are no items with a short shelf life…no perishables. So…here we go…
- UK cereals…like Ready Brek or Weetabix
- Yorkshire Tea
- Walkers Crisps
- Atora suet
- Pot Noodle (I kid you not! Why would you miss these so much?)
- Marmite (even though it is in the main supermarkets)
- Henderson’s Relish (all the way from Sheffield)
- Heinz tinned sponge puddings (we bought two!) and Heinz tinned spaghetti
- 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner (not common in NZ for some reason)
- Cadbury’s chocolate (they make Cadbury in NZ…but it is not great)
- Hayward’s pickles (I got a jar of piccalilli)
- Sweets (Bassetts, Haribo etc)
I asked the shop assistant how they know what to stock and she said that they basically can’t buy any new UK releases as people over here wouldn’t want to risk spending more on something they may not like. So they go with tried and tested items which have a longer shelf life and are almost in the treat bracket. We won’t be making a regular trip, but if you ever get a hankering for a Toffee Crisp it is good to know where to go!
About 2 hours away from Te Anau by road lies Milford Sound. Part of Fiordland National Park, it is not actually a Sound at all (which are made by rivers) but a Fiord (or Fjord if you are in Norway) which are made by glaciers.
It is a beautiful drive along which you drive through the mountains before descending via the Homer Tunnel – through the granite landscape at a 1:10 gradient – to come out into the beautiful surroundings of Milford Sound (named after Milford Haven in Wales).
This is one of the wettest places on Earth with over 6m of rain each year. It rains on 2 out of every 3 days. We were therefore fortunate to go on a dry day, albeit a bit cloudy, and for me to be able to give you some decent photos to have a look at.
One thing that struck me about the area (on this, my second visit) is how little wildlife you see. There are New Zealand Fur Seals and the odd bird in the undergrowth but not much else. If you take away the noise of the boats and the strong wind funnelling down the Fiord, the result is somewhere very quiet indeed. I reflected on the man-made disaster that has afflicted the NZ native species over time and the ongoing conservation work to ensure they have a place on pest-free islands in the future. When NZ was cast adrift of other land masses millions of years ago, in a land where ground-based predators were not present (and indeed the only native land-based NZ mammals are bats), birds lost the need to fly and unique species were evolving.
With the arrival of the Maori and later the Europeans, the local species did not really stand a chance. Stoats, rats, dogs, cats and possums are all quite fond of bird eggs or birds and when those birds cannot fly away you have a disaster. You are actively encouraged to buy possum products or indeed kill possums here as there are so many (introduced from Australia due to the fur trade but with nothing to predate on them in the wild!).
It makes you wonder how many species have been obliterated over time without our even being aware of them. I feel sad that human beings are so ignorant and that the solution to the problems of the past are not to live in harmony with nature but to move it somewhere where we can’t damage it any more. At what point will man stop concreting over the world and stamping life out?
NZ is seen as something of a natural paradise from the outside looking in and it is jaw-droppingly beautiful…but it masks a very unpleasant truth about mankind which I can only hope is a precipice from which we can return.
Thanks must go to Mark for the idea behind title of this post.
New Zealand as a nation is obsessed with water sports, be it surfing, rowing, sailing, windsurfing, kite boarding, paddle boarding etc…you get the drift. Auckland is called the “City of Sails”.
We had been looking forward to the better weather to try our hands at some of these…so here is a run down so far…
If you have never tried sailing, you may think it is quite simple to pick up…and in theory it is. Find out which way the wind is coming from and then point your boat in the right direction to get to where you want to be. However, throw in the variables that wind blows in circles and gusts, that you have a tiller which is far too long to handle, that you have a rope in the other hand to hold the sail, very little room to move and a boom that likes to surprise you at full speed and you can start to imagine that all is not simple.
Suffice to say that several lessons in, I don’t think I will be troubling the Americas Cup team…and that I collected a nice gash on the head (and smashed sunglasses) from a tricksy boom and found that Auckland harbour is rather pleasant for a swim at this time of year. I think sailing can be left to the experts, pirates and the foolhardy.
When my good friend Phil visited we decided to have a surfing lesson over on the west coast at Muriwai. The currents in the Tasman Sea here are powerful. After delighting the excellent Muriwai Surf School staff by donning the wetsuit back-to-front (both of us independently!) away we went.
Credit to the coach because he had us all standing on the board and surfing on waves within 10 minutes (albeit briefly) and what great fun it is to do this. It is by far the most physically exhausting thing I have ever done. I managed to cut my toe somehow…but took away only excellent memories (and three days of aches and pains).
If you ever get the chance, you should give surfing a go.
Here is where you can learn to walk on water! If you have ever seen someone paddle boarding on a calm ocean, that is what it looks like. The sport of the Messiah perhaps!
Great exercise for your core (another ache the day after!) it is surprisingly easy to get going at this. Again on calm water, it is quite hard to fall off these boards…if you start to lose your balance, drop to your knees and lower your centre of gravity. Simple. Quite a pleasurable activity albeit without the huge adrenalin rush.
Worth a dabble if you see one on a calm coastal day.