Sunday, December 29, 2013

Stewart Island

It was the day after Boxing Day in Dunedin, and it was raining. We set off early, as we had to get ourselves down to Bluff, south of Invercargill, in time to catch a ferry to Stewart Island at 11:00. Stewart Island is the third, and smallest, of New Zealand's three main islands (the "triple star" of the national anthem). It has one town of 420 people, Oban. Most of the island is made up of the Rakiura National Park, which is popular with trampers.

The crossing was a bit choppy as there was an unseasonal easterly wind blowing through the Foveaux Strait. We saw several albatross on the way as well as various petrels and shearwaters. The ferry crossing takes about an hour, and I was feeling a bit queasy by the time we made it into Halfmoon Bay. I soon recovered though, and we popped into New Zealand's most southerly pub, the South Sea Hotel, for a bite of lunch.

After that we went on a tour of the island by minibus, which we'd booked earlier. As it turned out, we were the only people to have booked this, so we had a personal guided tour from Kylie, a resident of the island. She gave us a lot of information, some of which was not standard text-book stuff - like how to age a rimu without drilling into it (arms are involved); and some insights into water management (make do with what falls out of the sky, because there is no other source), and the economics of island life.

After another stomach-churning voyage back to Bluff, we made it to Invercargill in late afternoon, in warm, glorious sunshine! You know, that stuff that summers are supposed to contain! In typical fashion, tomorrow will be warm and glorious, but we're flying back up to the rainy North Island for more, er, rain. But not before we drive the scenic route back to Dunedin in hopefully good weather.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Otago Peninsula

Boxing day guessed it, wet and rainy. First stop was a whistlestop tour of the Otago Museum (which is different to the Otago Settlers Museum), which contains scale models of many of the ships which were an important part of the development of the city of Dunedin, as well as the skeleton of a not-quite-full-grown fin whale.

Then we drove out to the Otago Peninsular once again, this time to visit the Royal Albatross Centre. We'd booked a tour at 12:00, which consisted of a bit of talk from the guide to begin with, answering such important questions as "are the albatrosses royal, or is the centre royal?" to which the answer is "the albatrosses, duh!" The centre is there because Southern Royal Albatrosses (see?) have their only mainland nesting colony there. We then watched a short film about albatrosses and other animals before trooping up to the viewing centre. The area where the albatrosses nest is fenced off from the public, and from ground predators. It's currently the nesting season, so one of the pair sits on the nest whilst the other goes off to sea to feed...for up to 10 days at a time. When he or she comes back, they change position, and the starving one disappears off for an extended squid binge.

We were fortunate to also see two albatrosses circling, either attempting to land to swap over, or, more likely, younger birds showing off to try to attract a mate.

After a quick lunch at the centre's cafe, we then drove down to Weller's Rock to take a marine tour with Monarch on the MV Monarch. We had barely left the mooring when we saw a little blue penguin, New Zealand's, and indeed the world's, smallest penguin:

We then headed round the rocks to see New Zealand fur seals lounging on the rocks, a white-fronted tern, and loads of albatrosses of various kinds (there are 11 different species which hunt around here, but only the Southern royal albatrosses breed here).

We also saw spoonbills, godwits, stilts and oystercatchers but at distances too great to photograph successfully. We didn't see any whales or dolphins, but these are less common round here.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Larnach Castle

Christmas day dawned wet and cloudy. After breakfast we drove out to Otago Peninsula, to investigate the wildlife and go to New Zealand's only castle, Larnach Castle. The wildlife was staying resolutely away, so we resolved to go on a boat tour tomorrow instead, and headed to the castle. The rain was lessening by then, which was helpful.

Larnach Castle was built by William Larnach between 1871 and 1876. After much changing of hands in the 20th century, and having fallen into disrepair, it was bought by the current owners in 1967. It has been restored to its former glory by purchasing appropriate, and in some cases the original, furniture, for the public rooms.

We toured the castle from the bottom up, including the turret at the top, where you can see out to the Otago peninsula and beyond. Attached to the castle at the side is a ballroom built as an addition to the castle by William Larnach as a gift for his daughter's 21st birthday. Unfortunately we hadn't brought our dancing shoes, so were unable to take a turn around the dance floor. This was probably just as well, as most of it was taken up by tables for the cafe.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


We set off from Wellington airport for for the southern sun in Dunedin. Wellington airport have recently added to their Gollum sculpture with two giant eagles in the departure lounge:

When we arrived in Dunedin it was chilly and windy. We'd had a bit of a mishap on the car hire front, so spent the next half hour finding a new car, before setting off into the unknown of Dunedin, navigating by nothing more than a vague idea of where we were going, and street signs. Amazingly, we found our destination with very little trouble, settled ourselves in and went out for dinner at our pre-booked choice of restaurant, No. 7 Balmac.

After consulting the map provided at Reception, we decided to walk to the restaurant. Unfortunately, the map seriously foreshortened distances outside the central area, so we ended up walking for about half an hour before we reached it. When we got there, however, all was well, and we had a good dinner there before ordering a taxi to take us home.

The next morning dawned wet and miserable, as predicted by the weather forecasters. The whole of Christmas is being dominated by a low from across the Tasman, and it doesn't look like anywhere is going to enjoy good weather for the next few days. Undeterred, we nipped out for breakfast at the Everyday Gourmet, before heading into the centre of town to the i-site, and there booked ourselves onto the Taieri Gorge railway for the afternoon excursion. We then had a few hours to kill before leaving at 2:30, so we headed into the Otago Settler's Museum, which tells the history of the area. Originally a whaling and sealing town, known derogatorily as Mud-edin, it was transformed by the Central Otago gold rush of 1861, when it became New Zealand's largest city (it's now 5th largest, having recently been overtaken by Hamilton). Amongst many exhibits of New Zealand life, it included a roomful of pictures of old, dead people:

After a spot of lunch at Velvet Burger, we headed to Dunedin station to get on the train. Dunedin station is well-known (in New Zealand) for its architecture.

We boarded the Taieri Gorge train, and headed off uphill through the suburbs of Dunedin before reaching the part of the railway which is privately-owned, which goes up from Wingatui to Pukerangi; stopping along the way to allow us to take pictures of the picturesqueness of the Taieri Gorge. The railway goes over some spectacular viaducts:

Along the way we were provided with commentary about what we were seeing, and general hints and tips like "don't lean outside the viewing platforms when going through tunnels, as the walls are only a couple of inches wider than the trains".

The views on the way are more interesting than what's at the end of the line, so we took some more pictures on the way back down.

It was all very spectacular and full of geology and stuff. You can see more of this on Facebook when I get back to Wellington.

We got back at around 6:30, and then went out to Carey's Bay, to the Carey's Bay Historic Hotel for dinner. This has a reputation as being a great place for seafood, so we ordered...seafood. The view was less than spectacular, as it consisted of the container port opposite - this is strangely absent from their website. The food was good, though. We had a seafood platter, poisson cru, teriyaki gurnard and Thai red curry fish.

On the way back, the skies opened again, and there was a terrific downpour...although the sun was also shining, and a rainbow showing, whilst there was also a rumble or two of thunder. 

Tomorrow's forecast is for more rain.   

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Our House

On Friday 27th September we completed the purchase of our new house. It’s about 2 miles from our previous place on Ira Street, and a bit further away from the shops in Miramar, but still walkable (on a good day).

We had a bit of an overlap, as our lease expires in November, so we decided to get some of the major works done before we moved in: these included the minor points that had been discovered by our builder in his builder’s report, and also getting the place painted entirely indoors. The previous owner had lived with the builders’ undercoat that was applied when he bought the place new, and either never got round to painting, or didn’t have the time, inclination or money to do so. Either way, the place was badly in need of a proper, professional paint job for all the internal walls, ceilings, skirting and doors – a big job, and one that would be best undertaken whilst the house was empty.

The builder also came round to tile the kitchen splashback behind the sink and cooker, and also to install some heated towel rails; and to put in sliding wardrobe doors in bedrooms 2 and 3 (the master bedroom has a walk-in wardrobe).

Once again, we put in the call to Coolmoves and got the men to shift all our stuff. They turned up at 8:15 and after scoping the job, started to move stuff out. We told them that they’d have to take some of it out over the balcony and garage, as that’s how it had got into the house in the first place, and they managed this without too much difficulty. Given the access issues with many houses in Wellington, I guess they’re used to every eventuality when it comes to moving furniture in tight spots, and in and out of steeply built houses.

They got everything moved and into the new place in the morning, which left us the rest of the day to get things straightened out – well, sufficiently to be able to sleep at night, which was our main objective. I’d taken the precaution of booking us a table at The Larder for dinner, as I didn’t think I’d feel like cooking, and it was by no means certain that all the cooking implements would be unpacked.

We were moving over the Labour Day weekend, so had an additional day to unpack and start getting things into order. By Monday, we were unpacked and finding out all the little things that needed to be fixed or changed to make the place more like home. Little things like:
  • the wall bracket kindly bequeathed to us was too small for our tv;
  • a key broken off in the back door lock;
  • a shower door that won’t close because it’s magnetic closure has lost its magneticness;
…and many other similar little things. We’ve been wearing a groove in the road between us and Bunnings Warehouse to get the wherewithal to put these things right, and it’s gradually coming together. Pictures have been hung, a tv aerial installed (we had no tv for two weeks – the previous owner had only had cable), and the internet now works. By the end of the week we hope to have wardrobe doors fully installed – this has been a tale in itself!

Parking seemed to be an issue at first, because the garage has a very narrow entrance. But I’ve now got the hang of reversing out in a three-point turn up a hill to get out. This is normal for Wellington.

The list of what needs to be done has now shrunk to a manageable size, and we continue to make progress with it. In the meanwhile, admire the view:

Nik Kershaw

Good timing eh? (Note kiwi vernacular)…several months ago, I booked tickets to see 80s legend and all round good guy Nik Kershaw, who is doing a solo acoustic tour of New Zealand. It just so happens that we’re moving house the next day. Oh well, we won’t let a little thing like that stop us.

We headed out in the evening for a quick dinner at Heaven Pizza, before heading up to Bodega for the gig. 

First up we had a support act: a young lady called Eden who, we surmised, had recently been on a TV freak show called The X Factor. She didn't win, or come close to winning, but had managed to get this support slot. 

At around 9:15 Nik Kershaw came on with his guitar.

With the occasional help of a repeater, he went through all the classics, and mixed in some new songs from his latest (2012) album, Eight, as well as other songs from those years when he wasn't exactly in the limelight. He also amused us with his self-deprecating wit between songs ("this is the song that catapulted me back into obscurity"), and generally entertained us. He left with a promise not to leave it quite so long next time - it's been 25 years since he last visited Wellington.

After the gig we queued to buy a signed copy of Eight, then took ourselves home. A jolly good time had by all.

Monday, October 14, 2013

White-faced Heron

We had to be out of the house while the estate agent showed some potential tenants around on Sunday. The weather has been quite changeable this spring, but on Sunday it turned out nice again, so we went for a walk along the Eastern walkway, where we’d previously spotted (and been stalked by) a kingfisher. This time, we saw some hardy types braving the beach, and indeed the sea, at Breaker Bay. We also saw a white-faced heron – a small heron that is found widely throughout New Zealand and Australasia. I stalked it as it stalked a lizard – sadly my lizard shots didn’t focus properly so I didn’t manage to capture that behaviour in full.

We walked down to the beach and through the archway in Breaker Bay, then headed into Seatoun to find that all the cafés were closed. So we drove up to Scorching Bay and sat in the Scorch-o-rama for a while, having afternoon tea and doing the crossword.

Saturday, September 21, 2013


We flew to Blenheim airport on Sounds Air, who operate a fleet of Cessna 13-seater aircraft. The flight was therefore a lot more personal than a your usual commercial flight – the pilot checks you’re wearing your seat belt by turning round and asking. We were late away from Wellington because they’d encountered a problem on the way in, so a mechanic with a spanner came and tinkered with it a bit before saying “she’ll be right”.

We picked up our hire car at the airport, and drove into Blenheim to the Chateau Marlborough. Unfortunately the weather forecast for the weekend is not good, and it was raining as we found our way to the i-site in town, so we cut our exploration of the town short – although as the rain slacked off we took a look around Seymour Park.

Weather the next day was also for rain from about midday, so we set out in the morning with a plan to explore some wineries in the morning, followed by the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre in the afternoon. Unfortunately it didn’t quite pan out that way, and in fact it was rainy all morning whilst it cleared up in the afternoon. Oh well.

First port of call was Spy Valley winery. It was closed. Damn. We drove down the road to find the “golf ball” communications installations used by the GCSB which give the winery its name.

Next up we went to Fromm, where we were greeted by a chap who  apologised that the usual cellar door staff weren’t available, but on the plus side, he was the winemaker. He took us through the usual tasting, and then, as he was so enthusiastic about his product (and we were his only customers) kept bringing us other wines to try – a Riesling that he was about to start bottling (very apple-y) and a Malbec, also from the barrel. We left with a couple of bottles, including a dessert wine. We are somewhat hampered in our buying because we’re flying back, so can’t carry very much.

After that we visited a couple of larger vineyards: Brancott Estate, who invented Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, where we were subjected to a film showing the history of the vineyard before tasting their product. The sauvignon blanc tastes exactly as a Marlborough savvy should, and a gewurtztraminer with a powerful hit of Turkish delight. We liked their dessert wine a lot so took a bottle of that as well. (Dessert wines come in 375 ml bottles so are easier to transport!) We followed that with a trip to Villa Maria, which although a large vineyard was a lot friendlier than the corporatism of Brancott Estate, and also provided their tasting for free even though we didn’t buy any wine.

Our final vineyard was Wither Hills, where we’d booked for lunch. We had a chat with the cellar door manager about which wines to taste, as she had some “specials” available for us which they didn’t normally have, so I tried some of those whilst Nicola did a comparative tasting of 3 different sauvignon blancs.   

After lunch, we drove to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, and looked around the exhibits there. These are replicas of First World War aircraft, and a lot of their history and relative performance is expounded in the helpful descriptions. The tableaux are all built by Weta Workshops (Peter Jackson is a benefactor of the museum). There are plans to expand the museum to Second World War aircraft once they’ve raised the funds for more display space.

In the evening we went to dinner at the restaurant at the D’Urville Hotel, which was excellent. We were able to identify a lot more of the wines on the list than previously, although unfortunately they didn’t have any Fromm by the glass. We did alright, though. It’s nice to be able to look through a wine list and say “been there”.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Grey Warbler

The grey warbler, or riroriro, is a typical New Zealand bird. It's small and brownish-grey. They're not even particularly rare.

They're damned hard to photograph, though, as they just won't keep still!




The money shot!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Medal Test

Originally we thought we wouldn’t be able to take a medal test this time round, because they were scheduled for the weekend we’d already booked to go out to Martinborough. Astute followers of this blog, however, will realise that this was also the weekend when a series of severe earthquakes hit the Central New Zealand region, and the medal tests were postponed as the building needed to be inspected for damage.

The medal tests and social dance were rescheduled for this weekend, so we were able to book a place. As I hadn’t taken a medal last time, we are now out of synch on what we’re doing…maybe at a future date I’ll try and get two done so I can catch up. I was doing my Bronze Bar Latin, and Nicola her Bronze Ballroom. As always seems to happen, I didn’t think I did my best dancing for the test, but when the marks came out it appeared that the judges must have been looking away at the time that I mis-stepped.

In the evening we met up with another couple for a dinner at Osterio Del Toro before the dance, before going and strutting our stuff at the Whitirea Performance centre. Amongst the delights on offer this time was a our instructor teaching us how to do a Zorba the Greek-style dance, which ended in mayhem. It was also one of our party’s birthday, so we toasted him with Deutz bubbles.

At the end of the evening the certificates, medals and judges’ comments are awarded – applause all round.  I was quite pleased with my scores and comments – as usual I am my own harshest critic as I know when I’ve gone wrong, even if the judges didn’t spot it. Anyway, onwards and upwards – next time round I’ll be doing ballroom.

My medal collection so far

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Live At Six

Having enjoyed One80° Restaurant’s ostrich burger during Burger Wellington, I was pleased when a voucher for dinner for two popped up on GrabOne, so we went there for a pre-theatre dinner looking out over the harbour, with a spectacular sunset going on in the background. We kicked off with cocktails at the bar (the usual Martini & cosmopolitan), then dined on scallops, ostrich steak and chicken curry, accompanied by a Gisborne Chardonnay.

Afterwards we headed across the road to Downstage Theatre, there to see Live At Six. This follows the behind-the-scenes machinations of rival newsrooms (One News and 3News) following an incident when the newsreader of one of the stations got drunk and fell over after an awards ceremony the night before: the incident being captured on smartphones, security cameras etc., and broadcast over Youtube, Twitter and the blogosphere. The incident took place in the theatre’s bar before the play opened, and members of the audience were encouraged to film it, post it on Facebook, and tweet about it. As a result of this, the colours of Nicola’s Pembroke College scarf are now unconsciously lodged in the audience’s psyches forever.

It was resolved with two different takes by the rival stations when they both broke the story at six. The behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing, personality conflicts and such were well played, and allowed such lines as “this isn’t the news, this is the TRUTH!” and allowing them to work current news stories into the script (in a Drop The Dead Donkey style) The nerds who compiled and edited the footage, recorded telephone conversations and the like were particularly good – playing MMORP games in spare minutes, looking at cute videos of kittens and wearing t-shirts with geeky slogans…just like real life.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Counting Chickens

For the past few months we’ve been spending a substantial amount of our Sundays going to “open homes” – the traditional way of house marketing for most New Zealanders. These are normally held on a Sunday. We started off looking just in Miramar and surrounding areas, as we quite like the area. Having exhausted all the suitable homes in these suburbs, however, we started looking further afield, including the central city and also the Northern suburbs, in search of something that meets our exacting requirements. I say “exacting”, but they’re not all that…but it’s surprising how many homes fail to meet them.  Internal access from the garage and 2 bathrooms means that we’re looking at modern houses; older houses tend to have a separate garage and only one bathroom.  What can I say? We’re a fussy couple.

We came close to finding what we wanted with a house almost on the coast in Strathmore Park, with views out over Point Dorset…but felt it was a bit too far out, with no express bus service (see? Fussy!), and another just up the road from us, which we felt was possibly a “leaky home”, so we walked away from that one.

A couple of weeks ago we went to see another home in Miramar, and decided that this ticked all the boxes. The only drawback was that the sale process was by tender. For those not familiar with this process, sealed bids are deposited with the estate agent by a specified deadline, and the vendor selects from the bids (not always the highest bidder – often there are conditions attached to the bid which may cause him to sell to a lower, less conditional bidder).

The time period for submitting bids was quite tight in this case, so our bid was conditional on a number of things which we weren’t able to complete prior to the closing date;  however, after a bit of toing and froing on the final day, our bid was accepted. We are now in the process of satisfying all the conditions which we set out, and plan to settle at the end of next month.

The house is on a hill in North Miramar, and has views out over the peninsular and to Lyall Bay. There’s a good deck for barbies in the summer, and it’s double-glazed and centrally heated so should be cosy in the winter. There’s an express bus nearby, and our local café will be The Larder, so I look forward to spending more time in there!

I can see your house from here

Sunday, August 25, 2013


On Wednesday evening, we drove up to Zealandia to go on a special tour to see Sirocco, New Zealand’s most famous kakapo.  Kakapo are one of three parrot species in New Zealand (along with kaka and kea), and are the world’s only flightless and nocturnal parrot. They are almost extinct, but with the help of a dedicated conservation effort their numbers have increased to 124. A few years ago it was thought that they were headed for extinction as the only known population was 18, and all male. However, another small population was found, and breeding is actively managed by conservationists.

Kakapo were once common throughout New Zealand, but being flightless, they were easy prey for firstly Maori, and later stoats introduced by Europeans. These had been brought in to control the rabbits, also introduced by Europeans in the 19th century for food, hunting, and “to remind them of home”.  Stoats actually chose kakapo over rabbits as a preferred prey, as rabbits run away when they see a stoat, whereas the kakapo’s reaction was to freeze. This is particularly ineffective as a defence mechanism against carnivorous mammals.

Sirocco travels extensively as a “spokesbird” for New Zealand conservation. Unfortunately he cannot contribute to the survival of his species as, because he was raised by conservationists after almost dying as a chick, he doesn’t recognise other kakapo as potential mates. Added to that, he is sterile. So his job is to be a showcase for kakapo throughout New Zealand.

As kakapo are nocturnal, the tours to see him also start in the late afternoon and run through the evening. The tour gave us a brief history of kakapo and their conservation (some of which has been regurgitated above) as well as some video footage of conservation efforts from the 1950s onwards. Then we walked the short walk up to the enclosure where he is kept. This consists of a glass area for viewing, which backs onto an enclosed area where he lives and sleeps during the day.

One thing to note: he is BIG. I mean, you think you’ve seen a big parrot when you see one of the sort that sits on Long John Silver’s shoulders, or maybe a large cockatoo; he’s bigger than that – about the size of a large chicken, and adults weigh in between 2 and 4 kg. He's somewhat fuller-figured than his flying chums, as a natural consequence of being flightless. Hey, he's (quite literally) just big-boned.

The General Practitioner

Last year, the General Practitioner’s burger was up there amongst my favourites, so a bunch of us from the office decided to go down on a Friday lunchtime to try this year’s version: the Kasbahbaa Burger – as the name suggests, containing lamb, and with a Moroccan flavour.  Garage Project were again providing the beer – this time we all (nearly) went for Angry Peaches.

The burgers arrived and we tucked in. The proportions were conducive to picking up with the hands, although the bun disintegrated a little. The Moroccan flavours were in evidence in the chutney, although the chili seemed to have gone AWOL. Nevertheless, a tasty burger, but not in the same class as some of the other “regular” burger that I’ve had; also, not as good as their last year’s effort.  And if those are “chunky” chips, they’ve been on a diet! I scored it 7.

That’s the last of my burger shenanigans for this year. I’ve eaten 10 burgers in 15 days. The clear winner was The Fast & The Curious  ostrich burger from One80°, but no burger scored 10 this year. Tune in next year for more adventures. (Actually, tune in before then for all the other interesting and awesome things that I get up to, right here on this blog!) 

Thursday, August 22, 2013


I couldn’t persuade any of my colleagues to join me today, so I wandered lonely as a cloud up to The Terrace, there to try Atlanta’s Ring Of Fire Burger. In contrast to yesterday’s deserted restaurant, the place was packed – I’d taken the precaution of calling ahead and booking, and they managed to squeeze me in.

Ring of Fire, as its name suggests, had more than a hint of chili about it: the jalapeños were very much in evidence, and there was chili relish as well. The advertised cheese seemed to have disappeared, though.

This was a good, regular burger. There was a slight danger of bun collapse at one point, as the jalapeños and lettuce made the bottom half of the burger soggy, but I managed to hold it together. Overall, I thought it wasn’t quite as good as the only other “standard” burger I’ve had, from Trade Kitchen, so scored this one a 7.


Andy and I hopped on a bus at lunchtime to go down to Oriental Parade, there to try One80°’s The Fast And The Curious Burger offering. After the disappointment of the meat sandwich at Vivant!, I had specifically checked all my remaining burger choices to ensure they had the word “patty” in them, to make sure we would be served an actual burger. As mentioned before there, are a variety of meats available in this year’s competition, but One80 are the only ones offering an ostrich burger, so I really had to try it.

One80 is on the 7th floor at Oriental Parade, so has great views out over the harbour and city. The restaurant wasn’t busy, so we were able to secure a window seat with no problem. We had once again matched our burgers with Garage Project beers – myself with Pils ’n Thrills, and Andy with Angry Peaches. The burgers arrived open, with a good helping of what appeared to be twice-cooked hand-cut fries.

 I assembled the burger with the intention of eating it with my hands, but when I squashed it down there was some leakage from the aioli and beetroot chutney, so I decided not to risk my shirt and used a knife and fork instead.

What can I say? What a burger! The best that I’ve had so far, even eclipsing the Polo Café’s Oops! This Might Be A Boom burger of last week. I so wanted to score this a 10…but the inability to eat it with the hands, and also a slight mismatch in the amount of beetroot relish (too much, I felt) held it back from perfection. I’m not in the habit of awarding half marks, so this scored a 9. But it was a better 9 than the Polo Café’s burger.

 The chef was clearly proud of it too, and maybe he hasn’t been selling that many (being located slightly away from the traditional lunchtime areas of Wellington), because he came out of the kitchen to ask us how we’d enjoyed them. Anyway, we assured him that it was the best we'd had this year, so he was happy.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

An Unexpected Party

We turned up at The Roxy cinema for An Unexpected Party. This was a hobbit-themed evening, and we were greeted by a hobbit and a dwarf. We knew he was a hobbit because of the feet, the dwarf was a little on the tallish side. But he spoke dwarfish, so that was alright. Also present (in mufti) was Jed Brophy, who plays Nori in The Hobbit. The hobbit actor ran around asking anyone and everyone “who are all these people? Did you invite them? Is there anyone else to come?” and generally expressing concern that we’d eat all his food.

A concerned hobbit
The dwarf fellow tried (unsuccessfully) to convince us that the main character of the film was actually based on himself.
Nicola threatens a dwarf
The dinner was a buffet, with a selection of cold pies, cheeses, and pickles, as well as canapés (of a hobbit variety) being walked around by the regular Roxy staff. We were served mulled cider from a flagon.

Food, glorious food!
 Once we’d sated our appetites, we were invited into the cinema to watch a screening of the vlog compiled by Legolas (aka Orlando Bloom), amongst others, during the filming of the first film; including bits set in the Stone Street Studios in Miramar, on location throughout New Zealand, and back to Miramar for special effects and other stuff. One of the areas they showed was Hobbiton, which has been built as a permanent location this time (for The Lord Of The Rings they took it down and left the location exactly as they found it), to be used as a tourist attraction for the future. You can visit it now – it’s near Hamilton.

After the film we had more mulled cider and some haggis – another hobbit delicacy, apparently – and some pudding. The actors had gone home by this point so we didn’t hang around much longer, except to pose with Gandalf’s staff.

"You shall not pa...oh, it's YOU! OK, then!"

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bad Bambi

We went to Vivant! For lunch, for their Elementary, My Deer Watson venison burger.

Having placed our order, the waiter then told us there was about a 20 minute wait for the burgers. It’s not like the place was crowded, so this struck us as somewhat odd…were they shooting deer to order? Eventually they came, and we discovered that this was, in fact, a meat sandwich, not a burger. Now, with some foods, such as fish, it’s understandable that they don’t necessarily suit a patty-style filling – but venison? That’s not a difficult one to do, is it?

We were somewhat disappointed with our meat sandwiches. Whilst tasty enough (although the meat was well-done almost to the point of over-done), and the chips were OK, we felt that it wasn’t a proper burger. I scored it a mid-table 6.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Stonehenge Aotearoa

The forecast for Saturday was rainy, so we first headed in to the i-site in Martinborough to check which vineyards would be open. We decided to head out in a direction we’d not been before, to the South along the Lake Ferry Road, where there are three wineries: Murdoch James, Hamden Estate and Hudson. Despite saying they were open, however, only Murdoch James actually was, so we spent a bit of time in there chatting to the manager. He told us about the different vineyards caused by the fault line that runs through the estate, which means that the rocks on one side are very different to those on the other side, and also different to most of the other vineyards in the Martinborough region. This leads to some much drier wines, in particular the Riesling. After tasting, we walked away with a couple of bottles of Trafalgar, a Sauvignon Blanc/Riesling blend intended as an aperitif wine. I’m sure it’ll come in handy in the summer.

We then headed north and dropped in to Alana Estate – a vineyard with a unique sales proposition: they do not sell to supermarkets or wine merchants, only direct to the public in New Zealand, either at the cellar door or by email, subscription, and even newspaper advertising. After chatting to the cellar door manager, we left with a special deal (available to everyone, everywhere) of cleanskin Pinot Noir.

As the weather was showing signs of improving, we then headed to Stonehenge Aotearoa. This is a modern, concrete rendering of Stonehenge, built 10 years ago to the same specification as the one in Salisbury, but calibrated for its location and without being collapsed all over the place. It was built to combine modern scientific knowledge with that of the original builders of Stonehenge, and also incorporates Egyptian, Babylonian, Polynesian and Maori star lore. In addition to the 24 standing stones and lintels, there are a number of other features:

The Sun gate: on the Spring equinox, and standing at the centre of the henge, the sun rises in the centre of these stone pillars.

The Heel stones: these mark the position on the horizon of sunrise and sunset at the summer and winter solstices, and at the vernal and autumnal  equinoxes.

The Obelisk: this has a sighting hole that allows the viewer to locate the Southern celestial pole. Unlike the North celestal pole, which is marked by the Pole Star, there is no Southern equivalent – it is a patch of empty (to the naked eye) space.

The Analemma: this marks the precise time of noon, the current date at noon, and also the solstices and equinoxes.

The Seven Sisters: representing the Pleiades, or Matariki in Maori culture.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Earth Moved

A few weeks ago, I’d taken advantage of an deal on GrabOne to spend two nights in the Martinborough Hotel, a boutique hotel in the main square of Martinborough, in the centre of the wine-growing region of Wairarapa.

As we were setting out, we stopped for petrol. Barely had I put the nozzle in the tank when the ground started shaking. The customer at the next pump looked at me and said “that’s not me imagining it, is it?” “No,” I replied, “that’s the ground moving.” I quickly re-holstered the nozzle and crouched down behind the car until the shaking stopped.

Inside the petrol station, one of the staff was picking up crates of water bottles which had been tipped over in the rattling. Nothing else was disturbed, however, so we made our merry way over the Rimutakas to Martinborough. On the way we checked Geonet on my phone, and found out that the quakes (as there had been several) were more severe than we thought, so we checked in with our offices, to find that everyone had been sent home.

Road damage near Seddon

We reached Martinborough with no further incident, and were sitting watching the news (main story: earthquake in Wellington) when a further big one hit. This we felt rather more, as we were on the first floor of the hotel, and the building shook quite considerably.

The aftershocks continued through the night and the next day, although nothing that was of the same magnitude.

As usual, the media tried to big up the story, trying to find people to say they were scared. In this they were hampered by the good people of Wellington, where massive outbreaks of sensibleness took place. The media take on traffic "fleeing" the city is just what happens on a Friday afternoon - i.e. people going home.  It's called "Rush Hour", media people, and it happens every day.

As of today, there is still an 89% chance of a further aftershock of 5.5, and a 40% chance of a magnitude 6.