Sunday, February 28, 2021

That was Quick Pt. 2

Over the past fortnight, the Covid authorities have been dealing with a new outbreak based around Papatoetoe High School in Auckland. The source of the original infection hasn’t been positively identified, and there were increasing numbers of cases being found through testing. But it was nothing to really worry about, as the outbreak was contained, all the affected people were self-isolating, and proper protocols were being followed – the school had been closed, deep-cleaned, sites of interest investigated, and casual contacts traced and tested.


At least, that’s what was reported in the news. But, it turns out, people who said they were self-isolating were doing just that: saying they were self-isolating, whilst going about their business as usual. Yep, another case has popped up, related to the high school, and it turns out this individual has been spreading it about the place like nobody’s business. Genius level: Einstein.

Auckland has returned to Level 3 for one week, and the rest of New Zealand will return to Level 2, whilst the consequences of this are traced, tested and isolated.

Once again, events are being cancelled across the country. The international cricket we were hoping to get to this week will still go ahead, but without crowds, so that’s one event crossed off the list already.

Last time this happened, we were able to return to Level 1 quite quickly. Let’s hope this stays true this time. Bill Bailey and Crowded House are both only two weeks away…

Saturday, February 20, 2021

That Was Quick

 ...As the actress said to the bishop.

Yes, our latest change to Covid-19 alert level 2 lasted just three days outside Auckland. Auckland, which was at alert level 3, is still at level 2, with a review on Monday 22nd. Seven cases have been identified to date from the latest outbreak, all connected. 

Now we're back to "normal" again, it looks like those events I was worried about last week are back on. Let's just hope there's not another outbreak before then. Bill Bailey is already in New Zealand for his upcoming tour, so chances of this going ahead are good.

In an act of outrageous optimism, I've bought tickets for next year's Cricket World Cup. Six of the games are to be played in Wellington's Basin Reserve, so there's an earlybird bulk deal to be had. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Super Smash

We’ve been following the two Wellington teams, Blaze (women) and Firebirds (men), throughout New Zealand’s T20 competition, Super Smash. Both teams won last year, and are hoping to do a repeat this year as well. Each team plays the other five twice, once at home and once away. We’d missed a couple of games over Christmas as we were off doing the Milford Track, but were around for the later stages of the tournament, attending four of the matches.

The match format this year has been double-headers throughout, i.e. women’s and men’s matches on the same day. Some fixtures have put the women’s match first, others have put the men on first. This seems to have been dictated by whether the ground has lights to allow play in the evening as well as during the day. At the Basin Reserve, the women’s matches have gone first. The matches have all been at weekends, and attendance has been pretty good, especially for the Wellington Anniversary weekend, when there were matches on both Sunday and Monday. The weather has been reasonable as well – sometimes a bit cloudy, but none of the matches have been shortened due to poor weather conditions.

At the end of the round robin, the Firebirds were top of the table. This means automatic qualification for the final, and also that the final would be held in Wellington. The Blaze weren’t quite as successful, having topped the table throughout most of the competition; a couple of late losses knocked them down to third, and they went into the play-off against the Auckland Hearts to determine who would face the Canterbury Magicians. Fortunately they came through that with relative ease, and we therefore had a double Wellington/Canterbury final at the Basin.

It was a lovely day. Nicola had orchestra in the morning so wasn’t able to make it for the opening of the innings, but arrived shortly after. First up, the Blaze came out to bat. On what proved to be quite a difficult wicket they amassed a total of 125 – not a convincing display, and Sophie Devine in particular was playing far more cautiously than we’re used to seeing; this possibly due to the fact that her previous two innings hadn’t been quite as electric as we’re used to from her. Once she’d gone for 47, most of the remaining batters tumbled in quick succession, and no-one was able to put together a really good partnership. Melie Kerr held on until almost the end, finishing on 31, but lacked any support.

The Blaze started well in bowling to the Magicians, however, and for a while it looked like the game was in their hands. The required run rate was climbing higher and higher, hitting 13 at one point, and wickets tumbled with regularity – including a hat-trick to Melie Kerr in the 10th over – but meanwhile, Kate Ebrahim began quietly building a total, and when she was joined by Lea Tahuhu it seemed the pair were immovable. Still, they weren’t on top of the run rate, until over 17, when Tahuhu started to let rip, with two sixes. Suddenly, the target looked eminently gettable, and Ebrahim helped out in the 18th with successive fours. They needed nine off the last over, and when Tahuhu hit another six off the second ball, it was pretty well all over. A poor decision by the captain kept all the fielders on the boundaries with the score one behind, and four balls to go. They finished easily with a couple of singles, and took the title.

After a short interval, on came the Firebirds. They’d sown up their position at the top of the table weeks earlier, and it was only a matter of who their opposition would be. It turned out to be the Canterbury men’s team, the Kings. The Firebirds won the toss and decided to bowl. They took an early wicket, but then struggled to contain the Kings. Eventually they broke through in the eighth over, and then it was Canterbury’s turn to struggle, as they failed to make much progress in the middle overs. In Over 14 they lost two wickets to successive balls to Michael Bracewell, and managed to pick up the pace a little before stuttering to 175/8.

The Firebirds came in with a required run rate of 8.8, and put down a statement of intent with 14 off the first over. Losing two wickets in the third and fourth overs caused a bit of a stumble, but afterwards Devon Conway steered them along, making notable partnerships with Troy Johnson and Jimmy Neesham. It was my turn to leave early as I had a night tour at Zealandia, and at that point it was anyone’s game. But Conway batted on, almost reaching a century, and brought the total home with two balls, and five wickets, to spare.

So, one apiece. The Firebirds retain their dominance, but the Blaze have been knocked from their perch. 

Next up (hopefully) there’ll be international cricket, Covid this all happened before the latest lockdown was announced. We’re still waiting to hear about a relaxation of the levels, but with two new cases today, any thoughts of moving back to Level 1 have been dampened somewhat.


Monday, February 15, 2021

Here We Go Again

Three new cases of Covid-19 have been discovered in the community, i.e. outside MIQ. They’re the new UK strain. So we’re back to the Covid levels again, and as with last time, there’s a higher level for Auckland (Level 3) than for the rest of the country (Level 2). At the moment this is a 72-hour lockdown, presumably so that they can try and trace the source of transmission and check all other contacts for it. This is different to previous cases where a community case has been found because it is (a) the UK strain, and (b) not linked to MIQ or historic cases.

How does this look to my overseas readers? Are we in a panic over three cases? Last time this happened was in August last year, when the new cases quickly spiralled into New Zealand’s largest cluster of nearly 200 cases. On the other hand, no-one’s died from Covid for ages here, and we’re not reporting daily cases and deaths in the hundreds or thousands.

Again, looking at August 2020 as the most recent comparison, what started out as a 3-day lockdown ended up being 41 days at Level 2, with Auckland spending even longer before they returned to Level 1. So let’s not count our chickens.

What does this mean for us? It’s back to wearing masks on public transport, and hopefully more people will start to re-use the app again – now with new, improved, Bluetooth! Also, the Old Bailey will have to reconfigure their tables for pub quiz and resume table service only. Other events for which we had high hopes are no doubt under review – theatre, international cricket, Bill Bailey and Crowded House are scheduled in the next month. Hopefully we’ll get to at least some of these.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Van Gogh Alive

Van Gogh Alive is an exhibition of Van Gogh’s works, projected and set to music. Some pieces are also animated. It’s been all round the world and is currently in several cities – St Petersburg, Mexico City, Birmingham, Sydney and Zurich, as well as New Zealand. The whole thing tells the story of Van Gogh’s artistic life, from Netherlands to Paris, Arles, Saint Rémy and Auvers-sur-Oise. It also contains biographical details and excerpts from his letters to family and friends. It’s travelled around the world and has been in Wellington before, in 2020, when it was an outdoors exhibition. For its return they’ve moved it indoors to the TSB Arena.

We went on a Monday morning to try to avoid the crowds, and were reasonably successful in that – there were only a few people in the exhibition. Before entering the projection room there’s a display of his art and the various phases of his work, so you can follow his artistic development. There’s also a mock-up of his bedroom at Arles, the subject of one of his paintings, in which you can stand to have your picture taken.

The projection runs on a loop lasting around half an hour or so. We’d joined it near the end, so waited whilst it completed, then took us back to the start. Slightly out of kilter, but it didn’t make much difference to us. We stood, then sat, through the show, as people wandered around and children played on the floor projections. 

At the end there’s a room full of sunflowers and mirrors in which to take your picture as well. Finally, exit through the gift shop, where we bought some fridge magnets.

So, is it any good? Well, the difference between getting up close to the actual pictures in a gallery is obvious. On the other hand, all the pictures are in various galleries around the world, so your chances of seeing them all together depends on there being a major exhibition. And then being able to get to it. It also provides a pretty good potted history of Van Gogh’s paintings, styles and influences. So overall it gets a thumbs up from me, and a thumbs up from her.

Afterwards we went to lunch at a new place we’d spotted when we parked the car: The Lab, which appears to be the bigger brother of the one we visited a few months ago on Victoria Street. Apparently there’s four of them now in Wellington. Anyway, tasty food, but no beverage license so had to have soft drinks or water. It turns out it’s been there a while, actually, but as we don’t visit this part of town with any kind of regularity, we’d missed it.



Sunday, January 3, 2021

Night Fever

Back in October, I regaled you with stories about how I was embarking on training for night tours at Zealandia. Were you not entertained? Since then I’ve been shadowing night tours, co-guiding (meaning me leading the tour, but having an experienced guide along as backup if needed), learning all the night emergency procedures, and taking a first aid course. Shortly before Christmas, I was assessed by the training coordinator, and passed as competent to lead a night tour.

We then promptly buggered off to Queenstown and the Milford Track for a week.

On our return, however, I was back into the thick of it straight away. January is the busiest month despite the lack of cruise ship business, as it’s school summer holidays; and just as everyone in Wellington heads off to other parts of New Zealand for their holidays, many people come to Wellington on theirs. I’m currently scheduled for two day tours and two night tours per week, but may do additional tours as needed to fill in gaps in the schedule. So far I’ve taken two night tours.

The format of the night tour is similar to the day, but the main attraction for most people is seeing a kiwi out in the wild, and this is where we concentrate our effort once night falls. Before then, however, there’s still plenty of other things to see and talk about. When it comes to seeing kiwi, I emphasise that we’re not a zoo and nothing is guaranteed. The species we have in Zealandia is kiwi pukupuku, or little spotted kiwi – the smallest kiwi species. I introduce the “Close Encounter” scale, as in the film Close Encounters Of The Third Kind – a device I shamelessly stole from another guide, who admitted that he’d nicked it off someone else as well!

Kiwi Encounter Of The First Kind: You are in a wildlife sanctuary where kiwi are present.
Kiwi Encounter Of The Second Kind: You hear kiwi calls.
Kiwi Encounter Of The Third Kind: You hear a kiwi rustling1 in the bush, but don’t see it.
Kiwi Encounter Of The Fourth Kind: You see a kiwi.

This is great, because as soon as you step inside the sanctuary, you’re already at First Kind! And hearing kiwi is also pretty much a given too – there’s activity throughout the year. So far, I’ve been lucky, and seen at least one kiwi on every tour I’ve shadowed or led. Overall, around 80% of tours get a sighting of at least one kiwi; the most I’ve seen on one tour is three, but there are stories – stories – from other guides of seeing seven in one night. As I get more experience I’ll learn to hear and pick out the rustling sound, but most of my sightings so far have been because I’ve been alerted by my assistant – when we go out on a night tour there must be at least two Zealandia personnel present. The assistant will go off ahead, particularly towards the end of the tour, and then they are able to listen for kiwi better as they are away from the main group with their footsteps, talking etc.

So that’s my work cut out for the summer. Tell your friends! Heck, tell your enemies too!

1              Kiwi are notorious sheep thieves

Friday, January 1, 2021

Milford Sound

“But wait…wasn’t this supposed to be a five day tour?” 
“By Jove you’re right, Holmes! What happened on the fifth day?”

Day 5

I’m glad you asked! Yes, we’ve finished the Milford Track, but we’re not yet done with Milford. As alluded to previously, Milford also has a Sound. Today’s itinerary consists of a cruise up and down Milford Sound…no walking involved! Huzzah!

Also, we didn’t have to get up bone-crackingly early. We still had to be up early-ish, though, as the cruise left at 8:30am, and we still had to do the lunchmaking routine, as the return journey isn’t catered at Te Anau. So up we were again, and this time we needed to remove our inner linings from our rucksacks (i.e. a strong bin liner provided at the outset, which acts as a further waterproof layer should we be deluged), and return them to Ultimate Hikes. Our bags were then loaded onto the bus, along with our lunches on our seats, and then we walked (gasp!) the 10 minutes down to the dock, and awaited our cruise departure.

We joined the throng on the open top deck once we were away from the dock, and had a coffee and tea in the morning sunshine. Around us were the sheer cliffs of Milford Sound, or, as the captain explained over the PA, the fjord. Back in the 19th century when it was named by Captain Grono, after Milford Haven in Wales, fjord wasn’t in the English lexicon. But it is a fjord, as it was created by glaciation, so it should properly be called Milford Fjord. There were waterfalls, there were blue skies, there were mountains. And then the captain told us there was a pod of dolphins up ahead, and he manoeuvred us into viewing position so that we could take pictures. Further on there was also a seal colony. He took us out almost to the opening of the fjord, with views out over the Tasman Sea – if you keep going you’ll eventually hit West Island – then turned us around, took us in for another close-up view of the seal colony, and also into the spray of one of the waterfalls.

So long...

New Zealand seal prefers kipping on its back

The rest of the day was spent on the bus back to Te Anau, and then Queenstown, where we arrived at around 3:30pm. Knackered as we were, we took a taxi up to the hotel, got ourselves organised, and headed down the hill again for a final swan around Queenstown and dinner at Public Kitchen and Bar, where they serve you a whole pavlova if you order it as dessert.

Day 6

Wait, whut? OK, not part of the tour, but we had a final appointment in Queenstown before we moved on. We (Nicola) had had the foresight to book us a relaxing massage for after the walk, so we checked out of the hotel for the last time, and took a taxi again down to the CBD. It was noticeable how much more traffic there was after Christmas compared to before, and the familiar Queenstown traffic jam up Frankton Road/Stanley Street was in force. We made it with minutes to spare. Our taxi driver, clearly a canny operator, had elicited from us the information that we were leaving today, and arranged to pick us up to take us to the airport later…good fares to the airport and back being meat and drink to her.

After the massage we lollygagged around Queenstown until lunchtime. The queue outside Fergburger was also back in force, although not at pre-covid lengths, so we dived into the bar next door, London Underground, and had a lunch of pasta and burger there instead.

That was about it for our Christmas adventure. Back onto a plane and back home before 5:00pm, and looking in the diary to see what was happening next.


A note on the weather: Milford Track, Milford Sound, and Fiordland generally experience a lot of precipitation. Rainfall averages 7m annually, with over 200 rain days. We were very lucky with the weather, with a shower in the afternoon of Day 2, and some light snow/hail on Day 3. Otherwise we were dry, and sunny most of the time. This is unusual. Many people do the track in pouring rain the whole time, and their enthusiasm for the hike can be somewhat dampened by this. We were prepared for rain, but were lucky not to really experience any significant amounts.