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 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 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 . 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.


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.


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.


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:


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.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Labour Day Weekend

The Labour Day weekend is akin to the Mayday Bank Holiday in the UK – the first warm weekend of spring. Nicola had entered the draw to use the Treasury’s bach in Castlepoint a couple of months ago, and had won, so the place was ours for the using.

We hired a Corolla, and picked it up from the handily-placed Budget rent-a-car place just down Ghuznee Street. Unlike hiring a car in the UK where you’re obliged to find all the damage, and sign a form showing the condition that you take it away in, they just handed over the keys with a cheery “fill ’er up before you bring ’er back in” and waved us off.

I drove it back up the hill, and we loaded up all our stuff to take to Castlepoint – which included bedding and heating as well as clothes etc – it is, apparently, pretty basic. Then we drove to the supermarket to pick up supplies, including water, for the weekend.

Wellington is well served by roads that come all the way into the centre of town, so we were able to hit the road and get onto State Highway 2 pretty quickly, and headed over the Rimutakas to Featherston, Carterton and Masterton, and then on to Castlepoint. SH2 starts out looking like a motorway with several lanes, but quickly reduces down to a single carriageway winding over and through the mountains, so the putative 100kph speed limit is rarely achieved. We reached Masterton after about 2 hours’ drive, and stopped off to look around and have a cup of coffee. Then we continued on to Castlepoint, a further 45 minutes’ drive to the coast.

We found the house after enquiring at the pub, as we had been given misleading directions which labelled it “No. 12” when it was in fact “No. 60”. A small difference! We unloaded and arranged our belongings, then went for a walk along the shore to see what was at the far end. A lagoon, and the place where they store all the boats that go out during the day, we found. The wind was doing interesting things with the sand over the beach, but as we didn’t have our cameras with us I can’t provide documentary evidence of this. We then decided it would be a good idea to spend our first night down at the pub/restaurant, where we had an entirely agreeable fish’n’chips and vegetarian platter, washed down with some Tui beer and white wine.

On the way back to the bach, we noticed that the almost-full moon was rising over the Pacific Ocean:

Moon over the Pacific

That was Day One of our Labour Day weekend.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Lions Roar

The last time we planned to go to watch the Wellington Lions, the weather was pretty horrible so we decided not to go. They lost. We therefore felt it was our duty to support them in their final home game in the round robin stage of the contest, as they squared up to Taranaki, second-placed in the league and four points ahead. Wellington really need to win their two remaining games convincingly to make the play-offs.

As we walked down The Terrace towards the cake tin, we were passed by a large coach with Taranaki written on the side and back. It seemed to be full of men, so we assumed it was in fact the Taranaki team on their way to the stadium, and gave them a friendly wave. One of them waved back!

The game was a bit of a mishmash for the first half hour, with Wellington pinned in their own half for most of it. Taranaki’s passing and back play looked slick, but Wellington’s defence held, and they made the most of their one opportunity, scoring a try but failing to convert. With the score at 5-3 it didn’t look much of a match.

Lions line-out

In the final 10 minutes of the half, all that changed, as the Lions put two tries down, but conceded one.

Lions score a try

At half time it was 17-8. In the second half, and despite the loss of Weepu 5 minutes into the half with a broken leg, Wellington romped home to finish 49-15, as a moment’s lapse in concentration allowed Taranaki to score a late consolation try in the final ten minutes.

Taranaki try

This puts the Lions up to 3rd in the table, although with Auckland still to play tomorrow against the bottom-placed team, Otago, they’ll probably drop down to 4th by the time the round is completed.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Blog About Blogging

We haven’t been up to much that’s new and exciting over the last few days, so I thought I’d write about the somewhat self-referential topic of blogging.

As many of you will know, this blog started out from a desire to keep friends and family informed about our progress in New Zealand when we first moved here. Initially, I sent out an email to a group of people, giving daily updates about our move; the purpose being to inform everyone, in one go, about what we were doing. As people replied individually to the email, I realised its shortcomings as a method of communication, and decided to explore the world of blogging instead. I should at this point acknowledge the example set by Sho on this blog , which set me off in the first place.

The system that I use to write this blog is called Blogger, and is provided by Google. It’s free, and anyone can use it. I find it very easy to set up and use – I don’t think it needs a great deal of computer knowledge to figure it out.

Amongst the features are statistics on which countries people who are reading my blog are from (or at least, which countries their internet servers are located in – not always the same thing). I find it interesting to see where my blog is being read, which includes the usual suspects of UK, Cyprus, New Zealand, Australia  and USA; but also several Nordic countries, lots of other European ones, Russia, North and South America, and (for a specific period) Namibia. Occasionally, countries pop up that I have no idea why people are reading: I guess random Google searches are bringing up my blog, probably helped by my subtly ambiguous headings.

When I write a blog, I send it out to fend for itself into the void of the internet; apart from some reporting statistics, the only way I know that it’s not a futile exercise are  comments from you, my readers, and my usage statistics. Unsurprisingly, most of my readers come via Facebook or h2g2. Some people who are actually looking for Wellington boots for their feet, via Google, may also get sucked in.

Recruitment Drive

So, why am I writing all this? What I’m basically saying is that blogging can be a lonely business. I fire off my posts into the internet, and they’re read by hundreds of people. OK, tens of people. So far, 6 people have decided to “follow” my blog. To do this, click the “Follow Me” label to the right of this post. And please feel free to add comments – you don’t need to be a member or sign up to anything to add a comment. just type it in the box, and click underneath, where it says “Comment As: Select profile”, choose “Name/URL” and type your name. There’s nothing more depressing than seeing “0 comments” when I’ve posted another thrilling instalment of our life here in Wellington Boots!

And finally…

Thank you for reading ;-)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

John, I'm Only Dancing

Tonight’s ballroom dancing concentrated on the cha-cha-cha, where we’d learned the basic move last week. This week we learned how to do a “New Yorker” which is the bit where you turn through 90˚ and step forward together. We also had another go at the waltz, and learned the technique of turning corners – very important when you’re on a dance floor and come to a wall!

On Saturday, we’ll be going to our first social dance, and will be able to talk to all the folk who so far have just been the unwitting recipients of my maladjusted steps. It’s also a chance to see how it should be done proper, like, as there will be demonstrations and other entertainments in the evening.

Monday, October 4, 2010


Our furniture and other stuff arrived from the UK a couple of weeks ago, and has now cleared Customs and was delivered to us this morning. So now the flat looks like a bomb has hit it, as I unpack everything – there’s packing materials and crates everywhere! I’m not sure how we’re going to fit everything into this flat, but we’ll try…a bit of rearrangement of furniture may be required. Fortunately the flat came with an additional storage space downstairs (it was originally intended to be converted to a studio flat, but the owner didn’t get planning permission) so we can put all the packing material down there for when we move again. Also, we are putting all the kitchen equipment supplied with the flat down there, as ours is much better. Gotta change all the plugs on the appliances, though.

When the furniture was being unloaded at the dock, some dumbass decided to stack everything on top of the dining table. The central pillar and legs are broken, so we’re awaiting information on whether we can get those repaired or we need to claim on the insurance.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Red Rocks

Island Bay, not to be confused with the Bay Of Islands, contains only one island:

It was a sunny spring day, with a bit of a breeze (as ever) blowing, so it didn’t feel too warm. We walked along the coastal path, spotting red-billed gulls and variable oystercatchers along the way.

Red-billed Gull

The oystercatcher wouldn’t stand still long enough for me to take a picture of it, so here’s one taken by someone else:
Variable oystercatcher

The waves were crashing onto the beach in a picturesque fashion, and in the distance we could see the snow-covered mountains of South Island.

After a couple of hours of leisurely stroll, we reached the red rocks. There’s a geological reason for the redness of the rocks which has something to do with iron oxide. Anyway, they are distinctively red, possibly more so in real life than is apparent from the photo.

There’s also a seal colony further along the coast, but by that stage we decided that we’d walked quite far enough, and headed back to find the Bach Café and some lunch (that’s a variable oystercatcher on their logo, so clearly they’re a common sight round these parts). Apparently the name of the café has nothing to do with Johann Sebastian.

Dance Hall Daze

Third lesson time, and our usual instructor was not there, so his stand-in took the class. We started off with some rock’n’roll, which we’d done the week before, just to refresh our memories. Then we started on a new step, the waltz. Gah! We didn’t get enough practice before we were off into yet another new one, the cha-cha-cha. I think she tried to cram too much into a one-hour session…still, maybe some of it will sink in enough for next time. Meanwhile, the dance is only a week away.

We had planned to go and watch the rugby afterwards, but as it was still raining hard we gave that one a miss and headed home. Yup, we’re fair-weather rugby fans. As a consequence of their lack of support, the Lions lost 24-31 to Bay Of Plenty, and are now trying desperately to make the cut for the playoffs. They’ll need to win their last three games convincingly to do so…we’ll go along to their last home game, providing it’s not raining!