Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hellhole Of The Pacific

On our final full day in the Bay of Islands, we went across to Russell, the oldest European town in New Zealand and former capital. Back in the day, it was known as “the hellhole of the Pacific” as it was full of drunken sailors, whalers, prostitutes, gambling dens and the like. Not much has changed since then…no, wait, nowadays it’s a genteel town with a few houses, some hotels and shops, and a couple of bars. None of which seemed to be called The Hellhole Of The Pacific, which we found a bit disappointing.

We walked around, took pictures of the historic church, historic fig tree, historic policeman’s  house…then had lunch and sat around for a while on the beach, whilst we waited for our final excursion – an evening trip on the sailing ship R. Tucker Thompson. This ship is run by a charitable trust that takes disadvantaged children and, quite literally, shows them the ropes of sailing. In the summer it takes tourists out on cruises to pay for this activity.

Historic police station


The staff were all very cheerful and friendly, drinks were available and food passed around, and we chatted to some of the other passengers. Some bravely ascended the ratlines to help with the rigging, but we kept our feet firmly on deck. Whilst I have been on large yachts before, this one does everything by hand – none of your winches for hauling in the sheets here! I helped out a bit with the steering and tacking, but as we had at best a Force 2 wind, it wasn’t exactly demanding sailing! Eventually, the breeze dropped so far that we had to resort to the diesel engine, otherwise we’d have been out there till midnight.

Me driving the boat


We landed at the yacht’s night mooring and were bussed back to Paihia, where we went for a final dinner at the Café Over The Bay.

So that’s it for our Bay of Islands adventure. We will undoubtedly be back at some time in the future, but for now we’re heading back to Wellington, and a new year in New Zealand.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

True Grit

Back before Christmas, all those years ago, we booked a trip to go to the very North of North Island, Cape Reinga. So in the morning we were up with the lark to make sure we didn’t miss the bus that was going to take us there, and various other places of interest along the way. It’s important to make sure you’re outside your accommodation at the allotted time, and at 7:10 we were standing outside our motel for a 7:15 pick-up. The bus turned up, and on we got.

The bus then toured around various other hotels, motels, Holiday Inns etc around Paihia, picking up couples, families, and other parties. At the final stop, only 3 of the expected 5 people boarded. The driver checked around the place, called in at Reception, hung around for 5 minutes, but no sign of the last pair…so off we went. Half an hour down the road he gets a call on the radio, saying that he’d missed a pick-up. Not so, he countered, and told all. So be outside your accommodation on time, or pay the price!

The first port of call was at Kauri Kingdom, which is basically a shop selling kauri artefacts, with café attached, where we had breakfast. The kauri tree, you’ll remember from a couple of days ago, is a New Zealand native pine that grows upwards and then outwards to prodigious girths. Felling of kauri is now illegal, partly due to the significance of the trees to Maori culture. There are around 1% of the original kauri trees left in New Zealand.

So how can a shop sell kauri artefacts and furniture? They are made from what is known as “swamp kauri”, which is dead trees that have been preserved for over 45,000 years in the salt swamps of Northland. It is believed that the trees died because of nearby volcanic activity, and changes in sea levels have helped with their preservation. They are now recovered and worked into finished goods.

Next, we drove to 90 Mile Beach. This beach is classed as a road, and the rules of the road still apply, so you can be ticketed for speeding and other traffic violations whilst on it! It is only passable at a few hours either side of low tide, so the nature of the tour changes daily – on some days, the bus drives down the beach in the afternoon. The beach derives its name from an original estimate made in the 19th century, when teams of oxen would pull a cart along the beach from one end to the other. It took 3 days, and the rule of thumb was that oxen could cover 30 miles per day. Of course, they hadn’t figured that walking on sand was a bit harder, and when someone finally decided to measure it, it turned out to be only 55 miles long. But as Australia already had an 80 Mile Beach, there was no way that the Kiwis were going to rename it to something less than that, so the name has stayed the same.

We were driving into the teeth of a stiff Northerly, and when we stopped for photos the wind was quite strong – you could see it whipping spray off the breakers crashing on the beach, and sandblasting anyone and anything that stood in its way.

Heavy surf


We hurriedly reboarded the bus, then drove up to the larger dunes, where we had a go at sand surfing. This involves climbing up a dune, then sliding down it on a body-board. Sounds easy, but it’s the climbing up the dune that’s the tricky bit – by the time you arrive at the top you’re knackered! Add to this the continual sand blowing in your face. Once at the top, you catch your breath for a few minutes before launching yourself down the dune on the board, using your toes to steer and brake as needed. Great fun! But one of the side-effects (apart from jelly legs) was that you felt that you were taking half the dune with you as left…and that gritty feeling stayed with us for the rest of the day. One or two people came off their boards, but no-one was hurt…as our driver told us as we drove away, and proceeded to regale us with tales of serious injury sustained whilst sand surfing, most of which appeared to have happened to him.

Faster than a speeding bullet


At this point we left the beach, and rejoined the conventional road to drive up to Cape Reinga. Our guide filled us in on the Maori legends surrounding the cape. As with many similar sites in New Zealand and other parts of the world, the significance to the indigenous people was largely ignored during the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries, and it is only more recently that Cape Reinga has been restored and proper facilities installed. As part of the regeneration of the area, there is a programme to plant indigenous wildlife throughout the cape, and we contributed to that by planting a Hebe diosmifolia, for which we now have a certificate.

Planting our plant


We stopped off for lunch, then hit the road again, heading for the Puketi kauri forest. This doesn’t contain the giant specimens of Waipoua forest that we visited on Sunday, but does have a good concentration of mature trees in sub-tropical rainforest. The thick mist we’d encountered at Cape Reinga had turned into drizzle, and then proper rain by the time we reached the forest walk, so we fairly whistled round. If we hadn’t seen Tane Mahuta a couple of days ago we might have been slightly more impressed by the trees. As it was, we were getting towards the end of a long day, and our minds were slightly more focussed on getting into a shower and washing all the sand off. True grit, indeed.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Diet Of Worms

As the weather guess (formerly known as a “forecast”) was for overcast and drizzle all day, we decided to have another crack at the Kawiti glow-worm cave just south of Paihia. Duly equipped with sufficient cash to effect entry, we turned up shortly before midday. There was a tour due to leave in ten minutes, so we waited around doing the crossword.

Our guide told us all about the history of the cave, how it had been discovered 360 years ago by the wife of a Maori chief who had run away and lived there. The caves themselves are classic limestone, with stalactites and stalagmites, formed around 20 million years ago.

Stalactite at the cave entrance


Once inside the cave, the guide led us up to where the glow-worms lived on the ceiling of the cave. They are different from European glowworms, being the larval form of the Arachnocampa luminosa fly, found only in New Zealand and Australia. The larval stage lasts for nine months, then they pupate and an adult fly emerges, which lives about 3 days. When the guide turned off his light, the ceiling of the cave lit up in a scene eerily similar to the night sky. The lights attract other insects, which then get stuck in a network of silk threads that the worms dangle to use to trap their prey.

We couldn’t take pictures inside the cave, so here’s one taken by someone else.



Afterwards, as the weather hadn’t brightened up much, we decided to drive up to Kerikeri, where we had some lunch. Unfortunately Kerikeri doesn’t have much to recommend it, so we headed back to Paihia. On the way we stopped off at a winery that we'd spotted before, Cottle Hill. We tasted and bought some of their products, including a white port.

The drizzle never materialised. The sun came out for a while.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Far Side

We hadn’t booked any excursions for Boxing Day, so we decided to take the hire car and drive over to the west coast of Northland. There were a few places we wanted to visit, and we thought it would be a good idea to get them all done in one trip.

We started off by going back to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, to finish off the tour that we started on Christmas Eve. We took in the Treaty House, which was originally the first official British building in New Zealand, belonging to the British Resident, James Busby. Most of the building was made in Australia and shipped to New Zealand to be fabricated here. In the garden we found fantails. I had another crack at wildlife photography, but the little blighters move too fast!

A somewhat blurry Fantail


We also caught the end of a tour of Te Whare Runanga, a Maori meeting house or marae, that was built as part of the centenary celebrations in 1940. The carvings inside are from different Maori tribes throughout New Zealand, and we heard explanations of what some of the different symbols meant – why the tongues are out and what it means when they are pointed in different directions.



Next stop was to head south to go and visit the glow-worm caves, but as it turned out, we couldn’t get in because (a first in our experience) they didn’t take card payments, and we didn’t have enough cash on us for the entrance charge! Never mind, we’ll head back down there another time, making sure that we have sufficient change in our pocketses!

We decided to drive straight over to the west coast, get some lunch, and then make our way back stopping off at the various places that we wanted to see. This was easier said than done, as it took us a little effort to find a café that was open. We eventually found one in Waiotemarama.

The scenery along the coast is spectacular, with some enormous sand dunes and great surf waves crashing into the beach. But the main attraction in this part of Northland is the Kauri forest. Kauri trees are native to New Zealand, and some of them grow to be very big indeed. The Waipoua Forest contains the largest and oldest of these. The pictures don’t really give you a true idea of the scale of these trees – the largest one, named Tane Mahuta (Lord of the forest) is 14 metres in circumference. I’m standing quite a way in front of it!

Tane Mahuta 

We also saw some of the "smaller" trees including the Four Sisters.

The Four Sisters


After that we headed to the Wairere Boulders. These are found up a gravel track and are the only basalt boulder valley on a clay base in the world. The boulders have been eroded by the acid content of the Kauri forest that used to surround them, into flutes and folds known as karst.

Look at that fluting!


That was about it for the day’s adventures – it was late afternoon and we headed for home.


Haruru Falls

Christmas day was a day for not doing very much at all. Nothing was open, so we drove up to Haruru Falls just outside Paihia, to look at them. It seems we weren’t the only ones with the same idea as there were a few people around, including one fisherman.



Afterwards we readied ourselves for Christmas lunch, which we had booked at one of the few restaurants that had decided to open. The weather on Christmas day wasn’t brilliant – there was a thin overcast all day –but it was warm, and we were fine sitting outside.

Pulling a cracker


Christmas lunch didn’t involve any prawns or barbies, nor any Brussels sprouts. It was a leisurely affair, after which we came back for a little rest, which lasted the rest of the day. Life in the fast lane!


Friday, December 24, 2010

The Hole In The Rock

After lunch at the Café Over The Bay, we headed down to Paihia Wharf. We’d booked tickets for the afternoon to go on a tour to the Hole In The Rock. The ship was called The Dolphin Seeker, and, er, that’s what we did.

Leaving Paihia behind

We started off heading to Russell, to pick up additional passengers, then headed out to the open area of the Bay Of Islands, where bottlenose dolphins are to be found on a daily basis. Also sometimes present are (the slightly rarer :-/) common dolphins, and also orcas. Today, we only saw bottlenoses. We came across a largish pod of about 15 dolphins, including some juveniles and some very young ones with their mothers. As you can see below, there’s an art to dolphin photography, much like my sports photography!

That was one - right there!

Fortunately there was a professional photographer on board, sanctioned by the tour operator, who had taken pictures of us as we boarded with the express intention of selling these to us as part of the day’s package. Also included in this package was a good picture of a dolphin having fun, and as soon as I figure out how to download it, it will be featured here:



Having spent some time watching the dolphins, at times through a shower of rain that blew across us, we then headed out to the north-eastern tip of the Bay Of Islands, Motu Kokako, otherwise known as the Hole In The Rock. This is, as the name suggests, an arch in Piercy Island off the main promontory, Cape Brett. As we sailed out there the swell got noticeably choppier, as we were now moving out of the  relatively calm and protected waters of the bay and out into the Pacific Ocean. The weather again turned squally, and by the time we reached the hole it was too rough for the captain to attempt to take us through. So we contented ourselves with circling around both entrances to the hole without actually going through it, then headed back into calmer seas.



On the way back we stopped of at Otehei Bay on Urupukapuka, the largest island in the Bay. We spent an hour there, climbing up to the lookout point and taking pictures all around the bay, before heading back down to have a quick refreshment and getting back on board for the remainder of the trip home.

View from the lookout
That was our first full day in the Bay Of Islands. Tomorrow is Christmas, so we shall spend it going for a swim in the sea in the morning, followed by Christmas lunch in one of the restaurants on the main drag in Paihia, Marsden Road. The rest of the day we shall spend lollygagging.



Waitangi

The day dawned bright and blue in the morning. Unfortunately we weren’t up and about in time to appreciate this, and by the time we had arranged ourselves to go out there were a few clouds around. Still, it looked to be a warm and sunny day.

We set off on foot for the Waitangi Treaty Grounds – about a mile outside the centre of Paihia. The Treaty Grounds cover the area where the Treaty of Waitangi, the founding document of the New Zealand Nation, was signed in 1840.

On the way we spotted the usual oystercatchers and red-billed gulls, and also a pied cormorant, which is endemic to Australia and New Zealand.

Pied Cormorant


The estate contains a Visitor Centre; the Treaty House; the Naval Flagstaff, which shows where the Treaty was signed; a Maori meeting house, Te Whare Runanga; and a Maori Waka (canoe).

NZ residents can enter for free, but we didn’t have anything with us to prove that we lived here, so we paid the entrance fee and went in to watch a short film about the signing of the treaty. We then took the elevated walkway through the native trees towards the Waka.

Having lollygagged in the morning we found that we didn’t really have time to do full justice to the tour, so we took a few photos of the Waka and flagstaff.

The Waka Ngatokimatawhaorua

Nicola with historic flagstaff


Fortunately, our tickets are valid for a return visit, so we will go back on Sunday to look around the Treaty House, Te Whare Runanga, and the rest of the grounds. We walked back into Paihia for a spot of lunch at the Café Over The Bay, where we sat at the upstairs balcony looking out into the bay, and anticipated the rest of the day.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It's Grim Up North

Tomorrow we’re heading off to our holiday destination of Paihia, in the Bay of Islands. We’ll be up there for a week, doing holiday stuff, driving around the area, and generally enjoying ourselves.

I’ll be taking the laptop and webcam, so please feel free to Skype us whilst we’re there! I’ll report on grimness, or lack thereof.

Looking at the weather forecast (and how reliable are those?) it looks like the current rainy/cloudy weather that has bedevilled these isles for the past week will finally lift, to give us some nice, warm, sunny weather…so it’s time for the slip-slop-slap again. 

Sadly we're going to miss the fifth home game of the Wellington Firebirds in the HRV Cup. Since we last went to see them, they've lost one, won one, and had one match abandoned; which has picked them up to 3rd in the table, with 3 games still to play, so they could still make it to the final. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Twelve12

It had been a grey, drizzly day all day, so when we turned up at the Basin Reserve for the 5 o’clock match against Auckland Aces, our first question was whether there was going to be any play at all. We were told that the umpires had been out once to inspect the pitch already, and were due back out at 5:20. So we went up into the stands out of the continuing drizzle, and waited.

By 5:20, there were around a dozen people standing around in the middle of the pitch, discussing the weather and the state of the field. The sky was showing a slight sign of brightening, and eventually an announcement was made: there would be play, but it would be delayed until 6:20, and the match would be duly shortened to twelve overs an innings. Presumably they’d received some information from the Wellington weather service, as although it seemed to have stopped drizzling, there wasn’t anything to indicate it wouldn’t start again at a moment’s notice.

By 6:20 we’d had another announcement that play would now start at 6:40. It had brightened up a bit, and the commentator assured us over the PA that a patch of blue could be seen!

The covers come off


Auckland won the toss and decided to bat. They set off in frenetic style, scoring at 11 runs an over and by the end of the eighth had reached 89. Then Wellington had a purple patch of bowling, and in the next two overs took 3 wickets for the loss of only 4 runs. It looked like they might restrict Auckland to a reasonable total, but it wasn’t to be. They put their skates on again and knocked out a score of 125.

Wellington started in their usual style – slowly; they took 4 runs off the first over. This set them at a disadvantage from the start, as they were now trying to chase down 11 runs an over. Despite this, they picked up the speed and started scoring at a rate of around 8 runs – good, but not good enough, and that RRR was getting away from them. Then they hit a series of good overs in the middle of the innings, taking 13, 16 and 14 in overs 6 to 8. This put them back on top of the required rate, and they chugged along to the end. By the penultimate over they needed 17, and with the help of a big 6 and some good running between the wickets, reduced this down to a run a ball with 8 deliveries remaining. A quick single, and they needed 7 from 7. The final delivery of the over, and the ball is lofted into the air…and straight to the fielder. Fifth wicket down, and no run.

So, 7 needed from the final over – eminently gettable in a game of Twenty20, or even Twelve12. But it was half past eight, and in the last few overs the weather had worsened again – it was drizzling, and the light was murkier than a murky thing being murky. The batsman played, and missed; played, and missed; played, and missed; then managed to connect, and Wellington took two singles.

Note the low cloud, lights in tunnel, car headlights - it was a lot darker than it looks


Final ball, and Wellington still needed 5 to win! There’s only one way to hit a six, and as the ball rolled along the outfield we knew that they hadn’t done it. They managed to run 2, but that clearly wasn’t good enough and they ended losing by 2 runs.

Undoubtedly the conditions helped Auckland to victory – seeing the ball in the final overs must have been difficult. Nevertheless, we left with a feeling that Wellington had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. This drops them down to 5th in the table, with only the unfortunate Otago Volts beneath them, who have yet to win a game. It will take an almighty struggle to get back into contention, and 4 of their remaining 5 games now have to be played away from home, so we’re not sanguine about their hopes of reaching the finals. But cricket’s a funny old game, and Twenty20 even more so; we’ll keep an eye on their results, and see what happens.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

MenInPink

Back down to the Basin Reserve again this afternoon for another instalment of the HRV Cup Twenty20 competition. Last weekend, Wellington had won one and lost one match; on Thursday they played away against Central Stags in Nelson, winning by eight wickets, after being set a low-ish score of 128 to chase. So far, so good, and they were riding high near the top of the table.

Today’s match was against the Northern Knights, who play in pink. They had dropped their first match, but won the next two, so were level pegging with Wellington before play began.

Northern Knights in their pink kit


The Knights got off to a blistering start, powering to 50/1 after 5 overs. In the 6th over, Wellington took 2 wickets for only 3 runs, and in the next few overs it looked like they were regaining control. Unfortunately this wasn’t to last, and the Knights soon picked up the scoring rate again; despite the loss of further wickets, they managed to finish on 201/6 – a run rate of more than 10 an over.

This was never an easy ask for Wellington; they scored slowly to begin with, dropping an early wicket. Despite an inspiring attempt in the 6th over when they hit 19 runs, they never got on top of the required run rate, and lost wickets steadily throughout the innings. By the time of the last 6 overs, the RRR had risen to 15 an over, and was looking impossibly out of reach. The last wicket fell with a ball remaining, and a score of 147.

Wellington are now languishing in 4th place in the table. Their next game is against Auckland, at 5pm on Tuesday, which we hope to be able to make. After that they have a string of away games before returning for their penultimate match at the Basin Reserve. Unfortunately we will be away in the Bay of Islands, so we’ll miss that one. If they make the top two of the league, the final will be played on 2nd January.

I have a theory, called “the Boy Named Sue Theory”. You will recall the song, A Boy Named Sue, by Johnny Cash? You can see where I’m going with this – I reckon because the Northern Knights have to wear pink pyjamas, they’re used to being picked on by the other cricket teams with their “sensible” team colours. This has made them stronger and better. Thanks to that high score, they’re currently top of the table. Go figure.


Social Dance

At a quarter to ten this morning we headed down to the Wellington Performing Arts Centre to take our first step on to the ladder of ballroom dancing certification: the Bronze medal 2 dance award, in the social branch. Due to a concatenation of circumstances that Nicola will explain herself, she was unable to do her medal dances, so it was left to me alone to carry the flag. My dancing partner, Shona, led me through the steps beforehand, gave me tips on my “rocking”, and generally put me at ease. I was nervous, but hoped that I acquitted myself well.

Foxtrotting - intense look of concentration!


In the evening, we went to the Masked Ball social dance. We’d been shopping in the afternoon for masks, and had come to the conclusion that masks just don’t work with glasses, so I went unmasked, whilst Nicola chose a peacock feather creation.

Ready to rumba


The format for the social dance is to include dancers of all levels, so there were some basic rock’n’roll numbers that we could do, as well as waltzes and foxtrots. We both felt far more able to participate in these than the last time that we went, when we’d only had four lessons. In the “snowball waltz” I felt confident to pick a partner and lead her around the dance floor, without crashing into other people too many times! Michael, our teacher and organiser of the dance, also led us in some new dances – some of which were beyond us – and also some party games, one of which we almost won! Coming second was as good as coming first, because there wasn’t actually a prize for winning other than the esteem of our fellow dancers.



In amongst the general dances were demonstrations by some of the more advanced dancers, who had been taking medals in levels that we can only dream about! This is what happens when you get into the higher echelons of dancing:

To quick for my camera!


We’ve been dancing now for two terms; within our class group there were only five of us who turned up for the social dance, which was a pity. Still, we will point out the benefits to the rest  of our class when we see them on Thursday, the last lesson in the current term, and we shall be having a “social” of our own afterwards, down the pub. Which pub? Why, the Backbencher, which is where we do our quiz nights! Clearly a popular choice amongst our class – which is not particularly surprising, as the venue where we dance is close to a lot of Government offices; there is a high representation of civil service types amongst our group.



At around 11 o’clock, the lights went up for the awards ceremony: those who had taken tests earlier in the day were awarded their medals, certificates, and also a commentary on their dancing. This is an important part of the process, as you are judged by a senior professional who provides advice and encouragement, pointing out what you’re doing well and what you need to improve on. A while ago, Michael had told us in fairly straightforward terms that he wouldn’t put a person forward to take a medal if there was any possibility of failure – so I was pretty well guaranteed a pass. The only question was what kind of pass would I get?

I can has certickifat!


The lowest medals were awarded first, so those of us from our dance group went up to get our medals and certificates. In our group, we all scored “Highly Commended” (the levels being “Pass”, “Commended”, “Highly Commended”, and “Highly Commended With Honours” – not often awarded to absolute beginners!) so were pretty chuffed with that. We then watched and applauded as everyone else was awarded their medals, and danced a final waltz before heading up the hill to home.

All in all, a great night out. We met some new people from further ahead in the programme, so we have an idea of what we should expect a year down the line as we continue learning. And we had fun! The more we do, the easier it gets, and we have exercises and practice to do before term starts again in January, with new dances to learn.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Taking It Seriously

New Zealanders take their sport seriously. Very seriously. They also take women’s sport seriously – far more so than in the UK.

Prompted by an ad I heard on the radio, I looked up Whitcoull’s (one of the large bookshop chains here) top five books at the moment:

  1. The Free Range Cook – Annabel Longbein: NZ cook publishes cookbook to go with her TV programme in time for Christmas, unsurprisingly popular.
  2. Dead Or Alive – Tom Clancy: international bestseller…er…best-sells.
  3. Coasters – Al Brown: Kiwi chef goes coastal, writes book.
  4. Rescue – Anita Shreve: internationally-renowned author writes another book.
  5. Greatest Moments In NZ Netball History – Michael Binum: does what it says on the tin.

Yes, you read that right.


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cricket Again

In a move totally unanticipated by the New Zealand weather forecasting community, Sunday dawned cooller, cloudy and blustery – a clear contrast from the day before. By the time we set out for the Basin Reserve, however, the sun was beginning to break through the clouds. We weren’t in quite the same t-shirt – and – shorts order we’d been in for the Otago match, though.

A different day, and a very different match. Canterbury elected to bowl first, and Wellington struggled to make much impression in the first half, reaching 55/2 after 10 overs. Indeed, as the innings came to a close they’d only reached 107 with 3 overs remaining. At this point they decided to let rip and scored 11, 16 and 14 off the final 3 overs to finish on 148, so at least they’d posted a reasonably respectable target to beat.

Pollard scrambles to make his ground


At first, it looked like it would all be finished in a handful of overs, as Canterbury charged to 61/1 after 6 overs – a scoring rate of over 10 an over. But over the next 10 overs, Wellington pinned them back, and boundaries were few and far between. Meanwhile, they picked away at their wickets, so by the final 4 overs, Canterbury needed 34 off 24 balls. They kept trailing the required run rate until the penultimate over, when they hit a 6 and a 4, leaving them needing just 5 off the final over – the same situation Wellington had been in yesterday. Needless to say, 5 runs in an over is not a big ask in Twenty20, and they achieved it with 2 balls remaining.

Celebrating as another Canterbury wicket falls


Wellington are playing away in Nelson midweek, then back home next Sunday. Look out for the next exciting match report then!

In other news, England are 551/4 in Adelaide, where it’s now raining. This seems like a totally unfair tactic by Australia, who can normally be relied on to produce hot, dry weather for the Test series. Hopefully it’ll dry up overnight so that England can try to get everyone’s hopes up by scoring a win over Australia.


Twenty 20

A while ago, we bought tickets to see all of Wellington’s home games in the HRV Cup, the Twenty20 cricket tournament here in New Zealand, from one of the discount websites that I use. The tournament kicked off on Thursday, but Wellington’s first match was on Saturday. The competition is between 6 teams playing each other team twice – one home and one away – with a final between the top two teams (duh! who else?) at the beginning of January. We’ll miss Wellington’s final home match as we’ll be up in the Bay of Islands for Christmas, but we will be able to see all the others.

The weather has taken a distinctly summery turn over the last week, so we donned summer clothing, did a spot of slip-slop-slap, and at around 1 o’clock we headed down to the Basin Reserve, Wellington’s cricket ground – about a 20 minute walk from our flat, so a pleasant stroll in the sunshine. We found seats outside on the benches, with a good side-on view of the wicket for our budding sports-photography careers! That's Mount Victoria in the background.

The Basin Reserve


There were a number of people handing out free stuff from the sponsors, HRV, as well as Wellington’s team sponsor, Hell. They make pizzas; we haven’t tried one yet, but now we have a discount voucher…next time we’re in the mood for pizza, we’ll give them a try. They had a mobile pizza wagon at the ground, called "Hell On Wheels". 

We picked up a pair of free sunhats, and also the obligatory 4/6 placard to wave whenever anyone hit a boundary:



So, at 2pm, the game was on, between Hell Wellington Firebirds and Otago Volts. Honestly, who comes up with these names? Wellington won the toss and put Otago in to bat. The game was fast and furious, as anyone who’s seen a Twenty20 match will attest, and despite losing a wicket in the first over, Otago went on to post a respectable total of 153. Their hero was former international Aaron Redmond, scoring 82 off 54 balls, including one six hit out of the ground and down Adelaide Road. So now the chase was on, and Wellington…lost a wicket without scoring a run. After that they perked up, rallied round, uttered some more clichés and stayed ahead of, and even exceeded the required run rate without dropping too many wickets; until the 15th over when disaster struck, and they lost three wickets in two overs – but more importantly, only picked up 6 runs in those two overs. With all the work to do, they managed to get back on top of the scoring rate, and in the final over needed 5 runs. Not too difficult, and with a 2 and a 4 they eventually won by 3 wickets with 2 balls remaining.

Action shot


Wellington are off to a good start, and we’ll be back down to the Basin Reserve tomorrow to watch their next game against the Canterbury Wizards. This is their first match, so hopefully Wellington will be able to use today’s experience to full effect. Anyway, it’s a wonderful way to spend three hours on a Saturday/Sunday afternoon, and Speight’s have the beer franchise inside the ground. What’s not to like?


Monday, November 29, 2010

All Dressed Up

...and some place to go.

On Sunday, Nicola’s choir, the Wellington City Chorus, held their Christmas lunch at Osteria Del Toro, in the Cuba district. This is a Mediterranean restaurant serving Italian, Spanish and Greek food. For Sunday lunch, they do a set menu whereby you help yourself to antipasto/salad etc. first, then they bring platefuls of paella, pasta and pizza to your table, and again you help yourself and dig in. It saves all that bother with everyone ordering different things (there were over 30 people spread out on 3 tables), and makes sorting out the bill a lot easier too.

I was told that everyone would be dressing up to go to this so I duly put on a suit and tie:



When we arrived, it seemed all the ladies had made some sort of effort; but for blokes “dressing up” seemed to mean “put on long trousers” and possibly “tuck your shirt in”. As I was clearly the most overdressed male there, I quickly removed my jacket and undid my tie.

Afterwards, we came home to watch the All Blacks beat the Welsh, then headed out again in the evening to meet up with a friend who was visiting from Brisbane. We went out to Mac’s Brewbar on the waterfront. Unfortunately the sun shines on the wrong side of this building so we were unable to sit in the evening sunlight outside, and we sat indoors in the restaurant, where I enjoyed a couple of Great Whites with dinner. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ossum

Ossum, which rhymes with possum, is a word used in New Zealand to mean any number of things, from “thankyou” to “OK” to “that really is the coolest thing, ever”. We were out shopping today, and in one shop we bought an item that cost $7.50. After paying for it, the sales girl said “ossum”. To my mind, that’s not particularly ossum. Ossum would be to buy stock to the value of several hundred, nay thousand, dollars.

Later, I bought some wine off the internet. On completing this transaction, I was informed that some ossum wine was now winging its way to me. OK, they spelled it correctly on their web page, but even so, it seemed a bit of a strong claim. Whilst I appreciate their efforts to big up all the wine that they sell, not all of it is going to be ossum. To be honest, I bought the stuff because it was cheap (OK, on special offer, but even so) and it’s just an ordinary, weekday glugging wine.

If it turns out to be ossum, I’ll let you know.

In the meanwhile, here’s a picture of the bucket fountain in Wellington:



That’s quite impressive. But is it ossum?


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Another Victory

Tuesday night is our regular quiz night, and we are at last getting some team members to come along and join us. Of course, since we’ve done so, not one round has required specialist local knowledge…c’est la vie! Now, obviously it’s the taking part that counts, but since we’ve had our new enhanced team we came 2nd two weeks ago, and 3rd last week.

This week, with 4 of us, we cracked the top spot again. OK, one of our regular rivals failed to field a team, and there were fewer teams in general than there normally are, but even so, with a good use of the joker and a picture round that was so easy that it was embarrassing for the one team that only scored 9/10, we were firmly in the lead by the time the connections round came. We decided to play it cool and not rush in with our first answer, and eventually got the connection with 4 bonus points, and finally finished well ahead of the competition! So that’s $80 in the kitty for next week’s quiz night.

We were in ecstasy over the results, although the idiosyncrasy of some of our spelling (some minuscule errors crept in) meant we dropped a few points in the spelling round. Now I’m off to write that out 100 times before dawn. And never again shall I doubt Nicola’s spelling skills! 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Exploration

On Sunday, we went to the Museum of Wellington, to look at local history. The museum is housed in the old Bond Store building on Wellington’s docks. There’s a lot to see there, and we didn’t really get much beyond the ground floor, which covers the history of Wellington in the 20th century; so we’ll be back another time to check out the rest of the exhibits. This may take more than one go – there’s quite a lot of it.

After lunch, we decided to take a bus up to Wilton. This is a residential area of Wellington, and possibly a place we might move to, so we thought we’d have a look around. Not having consulted a map or made any kind of plan beforehand, we just hopped off the bus when we thought we were in the middle of the area. There’s not much to see apart from houses – it doesn’t seem to boast any shops – but we did find the Otari-Wilton’s Bush And Botanical Garden, and had a quick look around that. The Botanical Gardens contain many of New Zealand’s native plants, like the Chatham Island Forget-me-not:



unlike the other Botanical Gardens which are mainly populated with European plants and trees. The weather had turned a bit cool and breezy and we weren’t really equipped for long treks through the bush, so we decided to come back again and explore further another time when the sun is out, and bring a picnic.



Apparently the park contains some free barbecues for public use in the picnic area, so we’ll give it a go when we’ve got our walking boots on and the weather’s a bit more clement.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

New Feature

I’ve added a new feature – voting buttons at the bottom of the blog. At the moment they say “funny”, "interesting” and “cool”, although I may change this once I have a better idea.

Please try using them so I can see how they work!


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunny Day

On Thursday and Friday, the sun came out and the temperature in Wellington headed up and started to nudge 20°; whilst the rest of the country basked in the mid-20s, Wellington is always a few degrees cooler – in every way! I decided that the time had come to put modesty and all feelings of decorum to one side, and expose the lower halves of my legs to an unsuspecting Wellingtonian public.

Predictably, come Saturday, the sky clouded over and, whilst it wasn’t cold, it wasn’t as warm as the last couple of days. We had guests over for dinner, so I cooked a Mediterranean-themed selection of tapas and we had a relaxed evening centred on the consumption of wine in industrial quantities.

On Sunday morning, the weather had changed again, back to sunny skies. We decided to take advantage of this and go back to visit the Botanical Gardens, which were in the grip of winter last time we went. Now, the roses are out in the rose garden, and we were able to sit outside the café with carefree abandon. We took lots of picture of the roses…here’s one:

A rose


After that, we headed back home for a spot of lunch, then out again to the bustling metropolis for retail opportunities, to buy appropriate summer footwear for the coming months – you can only walk so far in flip-flops (or “jandals” as they’re known here) without your feet starting to ache. Now we feel as if we’re heading into summer properly…or “Christmas” as they call it. It does seem odd to see all the stuff usually associated with midwinter in the shops as the weather warms up…doubtless we’ll get used to it.

Later in the afternoon the weather turned back to grey overcast, so we stayed in and watched the All Blacks hammer the Scots; then The Return Of The King, followed by Kung Fu Panda. Both very good films, for entirely different reasons.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Voice Of The Beehive

On Sunday, the New Zealand Parliament had its annual open day. This allows the general public to go into areas of the parliamentary buildings that are normally closed to them.

We trotted down via Lambton Quay, and entered the parliamentary buildings via the Bowen House entrance, which is directly under Nicola’s office at No. 1 The Terrace. There were various exhibits about the history of Parliament, and of committee rooms which were not particularly noteworthy. One of the activities was to transcribe a ministerial speech via headphones, where my speed and agility on the keyboard were much admired by other members of the public and the (volunteer) staff. They said I could get a job there, but I think they were joking…!

We then went into the Beehive, as the newer part of the parliamentary building is popularly known:



Inside the Beehive we saw the banqueting hall, where a band was playing, so we took the opportunity to foxtrot and cha-cha-cha to the best of our ability.



The next stage of the tour took us through to Parliament House, which is a more traditionally-styled building. It contains the Debating Chamber and Legislative Council Chamber – the actual parliamentary parts of the building. Each MP is allocated a specific seat – a seating plan was provided – but sadly we weren’t allowed to sit in them. There was also a re-enactment of the opening ceremony of parliament, very much based on the Westminster model, with Black Rod banging his rod on the door three times and demanding entry. Naughty boy Chris Carter has to sit at the back of the class.

The final part of the tour is to the parliamentary Library, which is housed in the oldest part of the buildings. As we got to the end of the tour, there was a quiz on a computer, where I scored 94% (got one question out of 16 wrong), and was rewarded for my efforts with a NZ flag pin! I shall wear it proudly next time I’m in the vicinity of parliamentary folk.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

If I'd Known You Were Coming...

…I’d’ve baked a cake.

Tonight, we went to the Treasury “Crate & Plate” competition – participants are asked to provide either a home-brewed beer (the “crate”) or home-baked food (the “plate”). The set up was for up to 50 people to judge the entries, made up of (i) the 20 participants  in the 3 categories (beer, non-beer drinks, food); (ii) around 30 other judges who bought a judging ticket for $10; and (iii) other folk who could buy home-brewed beer for a nominal $1, and also all the usual refreshments provided by the Kai In The Sky staff canteen on the 14th floor of the Treasury building.

As well as the food provided by the contestants, there were also other nibbles  dips, cheese and nuts provided from the sale of tickets.

We entered one of my cakes, a Yorkshire Parkin from this recipe. As judges, Nicola and I got a free taste of two beers each. Unsurprisingly, Nicola left the majority of the  beer tasting to me (she wrote “tastes ’orrible” in the comments box for all of them). Most of the contestants had opted for a lager-style beer, but one had gone for a wheat beer and another for an oatmeal stout. In the non-beer drink category there were two ginger beers, and one limoncello. In the food category that we entered, there were two chocolate-chip cookie entrants, a lemon meringue pie and a gingerbread man; and some savoury baked dishes – chicken curry vol-au-vents, pastry pies, and marmalade and cheese melba toasts.



We tasted, we drank, we judged. I attempted to sell my cake as an “Olde Family Recipe”, but admitted to anyone who asked that it was, in fact, someone else’s family. We chatted to various folk, about their products, and we talked of cabbages and kings. I seem to recall there was discussion of “dehydrated wine” at one point – handy for taking camping, on picnics etc; just add water!

Finally, the judging papers were handed in, the points totalled, and prizes awarded. I think that there was some Eurovision-style block voting going on between certain rivalrous factions and departments within the Treasury. That’s my reasoning for failing to win anything, at any rate, because clearly my cake was the bestest thing there! Nicola agrees with me so it must be true.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Advanced Beginners

We started a new term tonight at Supreme Dance http://www.supremedance.co.nz/#top and are now considered “advanced beginners”! Woohoo! I think this means that we know the basic steps of the four dances – waltz, foxtrot, rock’n’roll, and cha-cha-cha, and are supposedly able to execute these. Well, it’s coming along, and now that the weather’s getting a bit better, we may actually be able to practice outside on the only part of our flat that is actually amenable to dancing, the patio. We aim to astonish and amaze our neighbours, and the occasional passer-by, with our dancing chops. Repeat after me: side-tap, side-tap, rock rock.

Blogging Again

Following on from my “blog about blogging”, I thought I’d ask you, my readers, about how you use this blog. The questions that spring immediately to mind are:

  • Do you ever click on the weather icon on the right-hand side? Did you know that you can?
  • When I post a link (like the one to http://www.supremedance.co.nz/#top up above), do you click on it to see what it’s about?
Please leave me some comments in the comments!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pukaha Mount Bruce

On Sunday, we decided to head north of Masterton to the Pukaha Mount Bruce Bird Reserve http://www.pukaha.org.nz/ . We set out early-ish (well, it was Sunday) and arrived there before midday. The reserve aims to reproduce the original forest that used to cover a large swathe of the region, but only now remains in small patches, and is New Zealand’s national centre for breeding and researching rare and endangered species. They have had a fair degree of success in clearing the forest of introduced predators (stoats, weasels, possums, cats and rats) which have been responsible for the rarity/extinction of many native bird species, although they do not have a predator-proof fence, like that found at Zealandia (about which more at a later date).

We followed the bush trail through the forest. Some of the rarer birds are in large aviaries, whilst the more common New Zealand species fly freely through the forest. We spotted some whiteheads, which form noisy groups, and the kokako in one of the aviaries. They have a breeding programme for kokako, and have successfully released birds into the wild in order to establish new populations on predator-free islands.

Kokako


Further on we saw the inevitable tuis and New Zealand pigeons. Also in the river is a population of New Zealand long-finned eels, which are fed daily. The eels grow up to 2m in length.

Long-finned eel


After watching the eel feeding, we went back to the visitor centre and Café Takahe to feed ourselves. The café overlooks the enclosure where the reserve’s two takahe live. This bird was thought to be extinct until they were rediscovered in 1948. Since then, with the help of captive breeding and reintroduction on predator-free islands, the population has recovered to some 200 birds. Two of them live at Pukaha.

Takahe


After lunch, we went along to the final feeding event of the day, the kaka. Kaka are parrots and are related to the South Island Kea. Both species have extremely strong beaks, and the aviary in which the kaka were kept is made of a much stronger wire than the chickenwire used for the other birds – kaka can easily cut through chickenwire with their beaks. Fortunately the population at Pukaha has recovered sufficiently for them to be released into the wild, although they are still fed in part by the rangers. Early in the breeding programme each bird had a radio transmitter and was ringed, allowing the rangers to track them, but in recent years birds have been released into the wild to nest, and not all of them are ringed now. Birds are regularly swapped between populations around the country to ensure genetic diversity and prevent inbreeding.

Kaka


Unfortunately the kiwi house was closed when we visited, as it is being extensively rebuilt, so we were unable to see kiwis. Also, the tuatara was hiding somewhere in its box, so that was another no-show. Still, we’ll visit Zealandia in Wellington sometime soon, and hopefully see some there.



Castlepoint - Day 2

We went out for a walk around Castlepoint, to the lighthouse and the surrounding rocks, to see what we could see. Castlepoint was named by Captain Cook in 1770 because of the castle-shaped rock. In 1913 the lighthouse was built, and remained manned until 1988 when it was fully automated. Along the way we saw the ubiquitous red-billed gulls, and also some variable oystercatchers, which stood still long enough for us to photograph them:

Variable oystercatchers - taken by me this time


The weather in the morning was warm and sunny, but after lunch it started to cloud over. We decided to drive into Masterton to see what it had to offer. On the mountain road between Castlepoint and Masterton we spotted a couple of eagles. Well, I say eagles, but a subsequent check found them to be, in all probability, Australasian Harriers. They look like this:

An Australasian Harrier in flight


In Masterton, we walked around the Queen Elizabeth Park, but failed to go on the mini railway as it was closed for its annual engineering inspection. The aviary contained some random birds, for which there were misleading information panels about the contents of the cages. There was also a deer park, but we didn’t locate that until much later, and decided that we’d done enough walking around, and, anyway, we knew what deer looked like.

We returned home over the mountains, then nipped into the pub for a couple of Tuis. It was a full moon that night, so I took some photos of the full moonrise over the Pacific:

Moonrise


Dinner was a Thai green curry, which I had cooked back in Wellington and brought with us. There was a very good reason for this – the accommodation is not particularly modern, and in common with holiday rental properties throughout the world, is not particularly blessed with good cooking equipment. Fortunately it did have a microwave, so all we had to do was cook the rice. Among other features of the bach is the lack of mains water – we brought our own drinking water, and used rainwater caught in the two 3,000l tanks for everything else. It is incumbent upon users of the bach to be frugal with water to prevent it running out. This seems to be the case for many of the properties that we saw around town – I’m not sure if it applies to all of them or whether there is actually no mains water available at all in Castlepoint.