Sunday, July 26, 2015

5 Years

It was five years ago today that, groggy and stupefied after a 30 hour flight, I first set foot upon New Zealand soil. I almost immediately set about blogging about it, and haven't really stopped since. A lot has happened in those five years, including acquisition of a resident's visa, job, and house. I've also recently started on my course, Winemaking and Grapegrowing, completing the first subject, Microbiology, in June this year.

So if you've forgotten what I've done over the last five years, go back to the beginning and read it all over again! here's a picture from 5 years ago:

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Ugly One

It’s theatre night again, and tonight we’re off to see The Ugly One. OK, get all the jokes about mirrors out of your system now.

First up, a trip to fave restaurant Zibibbo for a pre-theatre bite. Unfortunately we were a bit late getting there so only had time for the shared charcuterie plate and mains, before we hurried across the road to Circa Theatre for the main event.

The Ugly One (originally, Der Häßliche by Marius Von Mayenburg),  satirises the modern obsession with looks and appearance. The protagonist, Lette, has developed a kind of connector plug for his employer, and naturally expects to be given the job of presenting it at an industry conference. The travel documents are sent to his assistant. “Shoorly shome mishtake?” he thinks, and goes to see his boss, Scheffler,  to clear up the misunderstanding. But there is no misunderstanding. It appears that no-one has ever told Lette the terrible truth: he is ugly. No-one will buy the product from an ugly man. The much better-looking assistant is to go in his place.

Lette goes home to confront his beautiful wife, who won’t look him in the eye. Actually, that’s what she does do: she only ever looks fixedly at his left eye, rather than his whole face, which she has always considered “catastrophic”. “But you have a beautiful voice!” she says.

Lette decides to have plastic surgery to get a new face, and, once the bandages come off, is now indescribably beautiful. Naturally, the job of presenting the connector plug is quickly restored to the rightful person, and Lette is further exploited by Scheffler to help his company. He is also, unknowingly, exploited by his plastic surgeon, who decides that he can make more money by giving this perfect face to all and sundry.

To further emphasise the rather blunt instrument of the satire, 8 parts are played by the four actors, who never leave the stage, or change costumes. Indeed, all of them are dressed in grey business suits throughout, and the set is a minimalist two sofas facing each other, an office chair and a wheeled cart for the plastic surgery props.

It’s a short play with no interval, but it packed quite a punch in the space of an hour.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

50 Years

I have now entered the second half of my life. Let me stress that I am not yet middle-aged, as middle age always begins at least 5 years from where you are now.

To mark the occasion, I went and spoke to Jacob Brown of The Larder to arrange a birthday dinner. Actually, I did this months ago, because these things take time and planning. We’d had a discussion about menu options early in June, and finalised wine choices and the menu last Monday. All we had to do from then on was wait for people to turn up. Which they did. (Phew!)

Jason, Elissa and Nellie had come over from Australia as well. They’ve been touring round the South Island, taking in some skiing on the Porters ski area near Christchurch. They had a choppy crossing on the Interislander on Thursday, and since then have seen the sights of Wellington. The weather wasn’t very conducive to outdoor pursuits on Friday, so after a hearty breakfast at Bach Café we headed to the Weta Workshops tour, Te Papa, the Wellington Chocolate Factory and Moore Wilson’s. On Saturday the sun came out so we headed up to Zealandia where we tracked down the ever-elusive saddleback, before returning for an early evening start at The Larder.

First was a pea and pancetta soup amuse-bouche, followed by Nicola’s favourite, goat’s cheese soufflé. We had groper with seared scallops and parsnip puree (yum!), and slow-cooked lamb shoulder. The pudding was a chocolate mousse cake with sour cherry sorbet, candied beetroot and hazelnut meringue. Here it is in full:

Can you read this?

Groper with seared scallops

Lamb shoulder. I'd tucked in before I realised I'd better get a snap!

Chocolate mousse cake

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Around The Island

Before we set off for Tanna, we’d arranged with two other couples to go on a “round the island “ tour. We met up with Aussies Les and Roma, and Kiwis Dave and Renée, in the morning, and set off at 9:30 in a bus driven by Taso, who would be our guide for the day.

Apart from in the capital Port Vila, there’s really only one road in Efate, and that’s the one that goes around the coast. The only choice is whether to go clockwise or anticlockwise. We opted for widdershins, on the basis that we wanted to go swimming. We’d brought snorkels and masks, with the expectation of using them. First stop was at the Blue Lagoon, where Nicola and I went for a quick dip. There were also some other people from our resort who clearly had the same idea and were also doing the same trip as us. The lagoon water was warm, and we splashed about a bit, but the others declined to join us.

Just up the road from the Blue Lagoon was Eton Beach. The winds there were quite strong and there was quite a current outside the reef, so we stuck to the lagoon which was only about a foot or so deep. It would be nice on a less windy day, but we decided not to hang around there for too long as well, and headed to the north of the island, leaving the trade winds behind us and finding the hot springs at Quoin Hill. There we started with a hot spring bath, before moving to the mud pool and covering ourselves in the mud, which “has healing properties” according to the sign. As I climbed out of the mud path I shouted “I can walk! I can walk!” Everyone agreed that this was highly amusing, and advised me to immediately pack in my day job and start a new career as a comedian. We were then hosed down before finishing up in the hottest pool of all.

After drying off, we boarded the bus again and were driven to our lunch destination, Wahoo’s, on Havannah Bay. After placing our lunch order there was time for a quick swim in the bay. Lunch was the local fish, poulet (“chicken fish”) and chips, washed down with the local island brew, Tusker. The service was also at island pace, and we were quite hungry by this stage, so there was a little discernment amongst our fellows when the promised accompaniment of chips failed to arrive. All was resolved In the end.

Unfortunately, due to the length of time we spent at Wahoo’s the final stop of the day was closed by the time we got there. These are the waterfalls at Mele Cascades. We may try to get a trip to them tomorrow, as they are only about 10km from Port Vila.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


At midday we were picked up by one of the ubiquitous minibuses and drove out to the airport, there to check in with Air Taxi Vanuatu, who were going to fly us to Tanna to see the volcano, Mount Yasur. We picked up more passengers on the way – Anne-Marie from France, and Paul and Michelle from Melbourne.  As is normal for small planes, we and our luggage were weighed so that we could be arranged on the plane to maximum advantage. Paul and I were seated in the middle, Nicola took the jump seat next to Lisa, our pilot, and the other ladies sat in the back. Presumably if Paul & I had sat at the back she woudn’t have been able to get the nose down!

Take-off formalities are basic, so after paying our departure tax (200VT each) we walked out onto the tarmac. Before boarding, we were handed a lifejacket each, which was strapped around the waist, and instructed in the use of the emergency exit door (pull the handle up to the position marked “Unlocked”). Tricky stuff. After Lisa had finished her pre-flight checks we were up and away.

We flew past Erromango and then, when we reached Tanna, we flew around the volcano in both directions so everyone could get pictures from the air. Steam and smoke was issuing forth, but in daylight there’s not much to see. You can’t fly directly over the crater as the temperature will probably cook you.

We landed at Tanna airstrip and then took a 4x4 along the bumpy road to Tanna Lodge, about half an hour’s drive away. The roads are not tarmaced, so driving along them is more of a challenge, as the drivers try to find the least bumpy and holey piece of road to drive along. Driving on the right is more of a suggestion than a rule, and only really comes into play when you meet someone coming the other way. We drove through the financial centre and the commercial district – i.e. a few shops in huts, the Post Office and National Bank branch, which also has an ATM.

A quick stop at Tanna Lodge, including a change of clothing to something a bit warmer for night-time on a mountainside, and we were off again. In places the road was being upgraded to concrete, funded by overseas development agencies, but the rest of the way it was rocky road. Frequently the smoothest patch of road was with one wheel in the ditch by the side of the road. However the driver clearly knew what he was doing- presumably he does this trip on a daily basis. As we neared the volcano, the road turned to ash, and was if anything, even bumpier. Finally we reached the volcanic ash plain, which was almost completely smooth, although there was a stream to navigate at one point.

Near the top of the crater, the driver stopped. From here on in, it’s shanks' pony. There was a concrete track to begin with, up tot the rim of the volcano itself. Then you basically just follow the footprints of everyone who’s gone there before you. No safety rope, no signs, no “health’n’safety gone mad” at all. Just try not to fall in.

At first, we could hear the eruptions and see an orange glow. The sun was going down at this point, so it was getting darker. As we walked further round the crater, we could see the eruptions when they happened. Unfortunately the wind was also blowing in that direction, so to get the best photos you had to stand in a cloud of sulphur dioxide gas. Anyone who’s done science will know that when you mix sulphur dioxide with water (such as found in eyes, nose and throat) it becomes sulphuric acid, which is not a nice thing to have in your eyes, nose and throat. Indeed, before we left there was an Australian lady who’d had to seek medical treatment for her eyes on return to Port Vila due to over-exposure to the fumes. We were mindful of the fact that when we went to White Island, we’d been issued with gas masks for this very eventuality.

We weren’t able to stay long in the gas cloud, and our plan to completely circumnavigate the crate looked like a no-no as most of it would have been through the gas. So we retraced our steps. As we were doing so there was an enormous bang and a huge gout of lava was thrown in the air. Did I have my camera ready? I did not.

We met our guide again and he gave us a torch for the descent down the hill. Paul and Michelle had stayed longer at the top, so we waited for them before driving back the way we had come, in the dark and with a bit of rain starting.

We made it back to Tanna Lodge at around 7:30pm. We’d pre-ordered dinner before we left, so that was on its way, and I washed the taste of sulphuric acid from my mouth with a cold Tusker. Followed by another.

We has adventures!