Saturday, July 29, 2006

Stroll to market

We thought we'd take you on a walk with us to the market. Today is Saturday morning . . . well we didn't really get up and out until about 11:30am, but such is life! This is what we see when we leave our house, our little road, Pettit Place. It's about 200 feet to the end of our road, maybe less. Then you turn right and walk another 200 feet and over the bridge.

Right now I am on the bridge taking a picture of our new work-out club, Riverside Pool. It has a pool. And lots of other stuff too. It's about a 3 minute walk from our house. Obviously the trees will have leaves in summer, so you wouldn't otherwise get to see it from the bridge. The other house we looked to rent was just a few feet up the road from Riverside Pool, so it would have been even more convenient. But not by much, we are still very close.

Here are a couple of photos where you are looking back at the bridge, this first one is taken from Riverside Pool and the second one is taken from the opposite way, the road we take toward town.

So on this second photo, we are looking back on the path we take, over the bridge and down. If you were taking this photo, you'd turn around and walk to town.

Now we are at the intersection of Halifax and Collingwood, another 200 feet or so from the bridge. This first photo is what we see when we look right, the bridge over Collingwood. This is how we drive back to our house from town. Looking at this photo it is just a quick drive down to the water/bay that Nelson sits on.

The second one here is what we see when you look left at the same intersection, you see those hills over there. Note that they are not covered in houses, even though the views from them would be spectacular. But this gives you an idea of the boundaries of the city centre, about 5-7 blocks square.

This is the shot you'd see if you looked straight ahead, down Halifax. Toward town. It's a little hard to see in the thumbnail view, but there is another hill ahead a bit, you'll see a few houses on that hill . . . toward the right is water, so these houses do have spectacular views. The roads up to the houses are also very narrow and windy and wouldn't fit our shipping container, so we rented on flat land.

Now we have walked a few blocks down Halifax and turned left. This is Trafalgar and Don and I are crossing the road toward the market. Just across from where Don is is our post office and the Nelson City Council.

Trafalgar is the main street in Nelson city centre that runs north-south (mostly), photo here shows you that at the end of the street is a church spire, famous church I guess. Tough shot, I know, to capture via camera.

We walked aways up Trafalgar, then crossed through a small square to a perpendicular street, Bridge Street. Bridge is the main east-west drag in the city centre. (This is where I get very confused too as to where we are in the city, I am starting to get my bearings, but can't go too many places alone without getting lost still!)

Here is Montgomery Square, the main city square, that is behind 4 city streets and has stores on the inside of the square as well as on the exterior streets. Every Saturday and Sunday during the entire year there are markets here. This is our destination today! The Saturday market is 8-1 and it has fresh fruits and veggies, artisans, and breakfast setups. The Sunday market is the same time and has mostly second-hand items, more a flea market.

More evidence that Don is alive, caught him in another photo! Here we are trolling through the market. Since the market happens every single weekend, we'll pickup our fruits and most veggies here every week rather than at the grocery stores because they are more expensive. Most vendors at the market are selling their own organic produce. It's amazing what actual fruit and vegetables look like when they are not mass-produced or GE'd. Plus the artisans sell their items very reasonably too--I purchased a dozen small hand-made lavender soaps for dirt cheap for our bathrooms and to put in our window sills for a great smell when the winds start up. Plus a few vendors sell splittings from their herb gardens, so in a few weeks we'll pick up some plantings to start our own potted herb garden. We've both wanted to do this for some time, but in Colorado we had such a huge yard to deal with, a small herb garden seemed like an annoyance. Now we can take our time and have one and make good use of the fresh cuttings! I've already found a how-to book at the library!

Pedalling along -- in Nelson

I read this article in the bi-monthly newspaper of the Nelson City Council "Live Nelson" (title as above, yes, they spell pedalling that way, I think we use one "l") and since we have so many cycling friends out there, I thought it would be interesting to share. I cannot wait for our bikes to arrive, Don can hardly think about it or else he will fly into a tantrum. Good to know we've moved to a place that shares our cycling passion; of course we kinda knew this already and that's why we're here!

A cycling strategy for Nelson City 2006 - 2010

Anyone who still thinks bikes are for kids needs to wake up and smell the morning air - and plenty of us are already doing just that. More Nelsonians cycle to work than in any other part of New Zealand - we make over 1,150 trips per day. Nelson is ‘made for cycling’ – much of the city is flat, it’s compact and our sunshine is legendary. (Angela here: there are many hills too, and they are the Le Tour kind of hills, steep, windy, narrow, Don loves this! I prefer the fast flats as I am all power rider baby, love the speed!)

Cycling reduces traffic congestion, saves fuel and it’s healthy. Research shows that two thirds of kiwi car trips are less than 6km - for most people that’s a comfortable bike ride. These are all reasons why central government allocates close to $10m a year to encourage walking and cycling. The new Nelson Cycling Strategy will put us in line to continue to share in this fund.

Background Council already has policies in place to encourage cycling. These aim to:
*Provide a supportive environment for the enhancement of cycling
*Ensure future land use supports cycling
*Encourage people to cycle instead of drive
*Improve road safety for cyclists
*Continue to improve and expand current cycling network and facilities

The new Cycling Strategy sits alongside other Council plans and strategies such as the Long Term Council Community Plan, the Physical Activity Strategy and the Urban Growth Strategy.

The outcome of the Cycling Strategy is to have:
*A culture that acknowledges cycling as a normal part of everyday life, where people support cycling and see it as an attractive and safe transport choice
*A safe, convenient and continuous cycle route network linking all parts of the city, incorporating best practice in design

The new cycling strategy is the Council’s third; it builds on what has been achieved and sets these targets:
*Increased numbers cycling to school
*At least a 10% increase in cycle use levels
*At least a 10% decrease in crashes and incidents
*Public satisfaction with cycling safety, and willingness to cycle in Nelson

Issues and Actions Information: There is very little data on the purpose of cyclists’ journeys. Surveys are done annually and Council is planning to continue this, in order to confirm trends and for future planning.
The Central Business District: Secure bike racks are planned as well as an education campaign with major employers.
More cycleways: The strategy looks at linking up existing routes and adding to them. In this year’s programme Council aims to build a cycleway to the airport and seal the railway reserve at the city end. The Trafalgar cycleway will be extended to Clifton Terrace.
The Maitai path is also in for an upgrade to encourage more commuting as well as recreational use. The full strategy includes other plans for cycleways, links and enhanced safety at intersections.
Sharing Consideration is critical where walker and cyclists share a path. Education and improved signs can help ease shared use. Positive messages and education are also seen as the best way to get motorists and cyclists behaving in ways that don’t annoy or endanger each other.
Off to School You don’t have to be very old to remember the joys of cycling to school with your mates, but a glance at school bike racks shows it’s a dying practice. The strategy aims to encourage more biking to schools, and to educate and encourage bike use through Safe Journeys to School projects.

Feedback We want to hear your views on the Cycling Strategy, whether you are a keen cyclist or a motorist who thinks ‘four wheels good - two wheels bad’.
Tasman District residents who commute to Nelson - by bike, car or bus - are welcome to make a submission.
We want to know what would help you to leave the car in the garage!
If you are a teenager or a parent of teens tell us (if you can) why 14 -17 year olds are making the switch from bikes to cars - we want to know what would stop that happening.
Make a submission to the Cycling Strategy.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Small World

So I went to an employment agency yesterday to start putting the feelers out there for work – Angela is sick of me sitting around all day drinking beer and watching TV. The head, and only, recruiter there just moved from Colorado herself. Superior to be exact. She worked in Westmoor Technology Park, that’s just south of Jeffco airport and just north of our old house. So we spent about 45 minutes chatting about why we each moved and our experiences so far - I listened to her talk and then just gave her our blog address so she could catch up on what we’ve done (I know, not too personable but why should I rehash if it is already typed out). She confirmed that the wages suck in the Nelson area but said she didn’t find the area to cliquey (something else we’ve hear). She originally moved Christchurch with her husband and two children but after finding the city “average” (no offense Steve & Nancy, her words) they packed up and came to Nelson. I’m only looking for temp stuff to start so we can take the summer off and see the country (again). She said I shouldn’t have trouble finding temp work (we’ll see) and saw my skills very marketable – I now wish I had given her my real resume (never really would have thought there would be a need for an astronaut/ neurosurgeon). I will say that I’m certainly getting used to not working.

Also, we’re going to have tea next week with the neighbor who is housing a student from Seattle (heck, we may know him too since we lived up there for a few years) - I’ll bring copies of our blog to that little event too. Well, off to the gym to sign up for our free week and start our work out regime. Until next time.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Angela snippets

We went to the movies on Tuesday and saw Pirates of the Caribbean, very good movie, TERRIBLE movie theatre seats. The largest theatre was boasted about by the attendant, we walked in and it is smaller than the smallest in Westminster--so "large" is relative we know :) BUT, the screen is three times as large, so no matter where you sit, you have to recline in a fixed chair and look up. Can you say pain in the neck? But great movie.

Who would have figured, herbs here cost a freaking fortune. I can only buy like 1 oz at a time and it costs $2, they come in the smallest bottles and if I have to make my Italian sauce, I'm throwing down twenty bucks or something just on spices. Then there's the kitty litter--we've used pine pellets for years (Feline Pine at Petsmart) and spent US $10 per bag and it would last probably a month. HERE, unexpectedly enough, we bought a 25 lb bag at the local wood burning stove place because they use it for fuel here, and it cost $10 NZ, or $6 US. Gonna last 6 months probably. Some things cost so much here, and then the oddest things cost so little. Rose's lime juice, DIRT cheap. Good thing, cuz tequila supplies here suck, so we'll be drinking a lot of that Rose's in our mix!

Biggest bummer: as we expected, tequila availability is awful. There's a choice between two, and you can hardly consider it a choice: Jose Cuervo and Pepe Lopez. PEPE LOPEZ?? WHAA? Plus it's not cheap either (boy, that phrase is getting old I bet!). We are awaiting with bated breath the arrival of our shipping container with some 10 bottles of awesome tequila. We are going to have to pay taxes and fees to bring in those bottles to the country (we are 8 bottles over our allowable max) and it is going to be worth every cent!!!

But, it's the differences that make it the adventure, right? We are having a great time finding new things here, walking 5 minutes to town where you can do everything you need to, and meeting all sorts of people along the way. Walking instead of driving is amazing, we are both loving it--Don especially--just leaving the car in the garage and heading to town over the bridge to bank, shop, go to the movies, pick up our mail, buy a paper, everything! It's all a 5 minute walk away. More on this later, with photos of our trek.

Fearing for my life while in the car

Many of you know me. I’m not a scared driver. In Colorado I pretty much drove wherever I wanted as fast as I wanted no matter who was in front of or behind me. Middle of the day, I’m doing 80 on the highways, 60 on the side roads. I never ever stop at stoplights unless a cop is in sight. I go through red lights all the time, as long as no one is there. I follow close and if you don’t move out of my left lane, I’m passing on the right and cutting you off as I get back into the left. I even passed on I70 going up the hill at Georgetown on the barely-there shoulder thanks to some lame slow driver. None of this is a big deal to me.

Throughout New Zealand and especially now in Nelson, every time I get in the car to drive or as a passenger, I fear for my life. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but regardless of the age of the drivers on the road, they all drive freaking crazy and I can’t be on enough alert, even when walking too, for that matter.

Now I have to tell you that we belonged to a listserv with other expatriates living in New Zealand and about a month before we left, the topic of driving came up for discussion. We read with interest as men and women alike bitched about Kiwi drivers and how awful they are. Laughable. Don even chimed in about drivers in Italy and Europe, how freaking bad can relaxed, laid back, low-stress Kiwis be?

They are f**king awful. The other-side-of-the-road thing is not the issue, nearly all of the rules for driving are the same, just on the opposite side. The one major difference—and for sake of ease I will describe as if I was driving in the States on the right side of the road—is when you are making a right-hand turn, YOU have to give way to all persons turning left. Think about it for a second, normally when you turn right, you don’t stop, you kinda yield. Now imagine while you are doing that someone in the left hand turn lane just speeds up and makes the turn to avoid the oncoming traffic, just as you are trying to turn, nearly hitting you in the process.

You might be saying, well, if you would just STOP like you are supposed to before you make that right-hand turn, Angela, you won’t die, you freak. And I say to you, NO ONE HERE STOPS, there are no stop signs, there are only yield signs. It is not the law to make full, complete stops, the laws are for yields. So someone comes up to the end of the road, or the end of a driveway, and wants to turn right, they don’t stop and then look. They pull halfway out to the road, because for all intents and purposes they know they can just pull out onto the road, and only stop if they see you coming up to them—more like slam on their brakes when they see you coming. So every time you are driving down the road, at every street, people pull out and it feels like they all are driving right into you and you’re constantly hitting the brakes.

The best part about driving is few, if any, stop signs. All roundabouts, how sensible!! Until you realize that everyone is going around the roundabout to the right . . . and so you are back at square one, see previous paragraph.

Needless to say, I have made more hard stops here than I ever did my entire life driving in the US. To what can I attribute this odd difference in driving styles? I’ve thought about this and I think it is that no one is taught to drive defensively here, everyone is taught to drive offensively—basically, taught to drive like Angela. So when everyone in the country is an Angela, and then Angela moves there, Angela becomes Beatrix and ages 50 years behind the wheel. At least Beatrix is still alive, but one never knows what will happen tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Are Kiwis Friendly?

So we keep getting asked if Kiwis are friendly or not and if we are finding people in Nelson friendly or not. We’ll write this one jointly as we are both getting asked this question a lot since we are Americans living abroad.

The easy answer is simple, yes, they are very friendly and nice. Most of them. And, as in the States, it matters where you are because busy Auckland was much less friendly than small town Nelson. City folk. But as it is anywhere, it also depends on the person too. I’ve made a point to smile at everyone I walk by as we trek around the town centre, just to appear friendly and solicit a smile in return. Some people do, some don’t, in Auckland and Nelson alike.

But then you find shopkeepers to be very friendly, the Telecom folks who signed up our phone were extremely helpful, and grocery check out people have been quite cheery. What on earth do Kiwis have to fret about, look around! They know where they live and it’s beautiful and relaxed and very low-pressure.

I’ve not encountered anyone I would consider flat out rude. I would say that Nelson is as we expected and as we were told: residents are friendly as heck to tourists but some residents are less friendly to foreigners who move there until they get to know them. Our neighbors have been very pleasant, but they are also older and more inclined to be relaxed. Then there was the car with two youths (I group together all kids aged 12+ and call them “youths” now, consider them to be a class of animal, a pack that roams looking for no good) driving by as Don was taking a picture of a road in the city centre and they purposely leaned out of both windows and stuck their middle fingers up in the air to get into his picture. They missed. But how f***ing obnoxious! Youths—they are so annoying and they travel in packs, evil packs. The funny part is they have to wear uniforms (unies) to school, so they all look ridiculous when they’re being evil.

Anyway, youths are the rudest and them aside, everyone else has been really nice. If you are nice to them, they’re very nice back. I think they might have expectations of Americans, but if you don’t feed into that, you’re fine.

Don here: I’ll add to this a bit. I’ll say there are a shitload of youths here. The majority of people down here are either under 19 or over 65. Anyway, went over to the neighbor to borrow a step ladder the other day. Lilly is up there is years (mid-60’s I’d say…if elders are reading, I’m sure I’ll get comments on this) and very friendly. Turns out her daughter lives down the street and is hosting a student from Seattle. She invited us for tea with a group of her friends (10 to be exact) but I declined since we were a mess from cleaning. She gave me the scoop on all the neighbors (well all except one): the couple next to us are in their 90’s and moving to a retirement facility in Auckland this week. Lady on the other side will be happy to hear that we aren’t noisy (I guess the last tenant was). Two people across the street are away on holiday but very nice. She did start to say something about another but just stopped and said something under her breath I didn’t catch.

Just got off the phone with a guy about extermination (pests, not people…that was a different call). He was happy to go on and on about cockroaches (reason for my inquiry) and was in no hurry to get off the phone. He wasn’t trying to sell me his services, just trying to help. Same was true of the Telecom people, they wanted to make sure we had our phone connected in 2 hours and our internet up within 24 hours—and it was. Screw Comcast!

Short story long…place we bought our TV – everyone was very nice and helpful. Kier (store manager) looks mean but really opens up when you get to know him. No, I didn’t take him to dinner; we’ve just been in the store a lot asking about our TV. It was to be shipped up from Christchurch and they would give us a call when it arrived. Well I know how that “give you a call” works in the States so we were stopping by frequently to check on the status. It didn’t show up on the truck yesterday so they were going to offer us a loaner in the meantime. Turns out the TV showed today and they did call – unreal. They then offered to deliver it, and did for free. (Of course, we live not 5 minutes from the store/town centre). We now have a TV – I needed one before Project Runway and Rockstar Supernova.

We’re off to get tequila and cointreau for our first margaritas, we’ve had to graduate from wine today, it’s just time. But rest assured, our cabinets are stocked with bottles of wine we’ve collected from the sales!

Our first “Are you American and do you like Bush” questions

So it finally happened, and I’m surprised it took three-and-a-half weeks, but there it was. Our first time being asked about Bush and if we were American. It was completely harmless and it came from a very nice fellow. Our SKY TV installer (blasted Rupert Murdoch, go to hell you jackass!) was named Keith, a mid-50s fellow who actually was a contractor for SKY, not an employee, so I can like him even if I hate who he works for. He was here for about 2 hours and after the 1st hour or so, he said:

“I’m not sure how to ask this, so I’ll go ahead and say it this way: if you were to be visiting Niagara Falls would you arrive from the north or the south?”

We looked at each other: “From the west, actually!” We laughed, Keith was asking if we were Canadian or American, he couldn’t quite tell from the accent. And then the very next question was unexpected and funny: “So do you like your President Bush?” Uh, not at all! “And that’s putting it mildly,” I said. Keith chuckled a bit and then we talked some about Lebanon and the middle east and his recent experience with an American woman living in Nelson. He told us he had to be careful when speaking to Americans now because he wasn’t sure what to expect anymore after this lady. Until then he’d come right out (probably as he did with us) and said some nasty stuff about George because, he said, it seemed the only Americans who travel and live abroad are those that hate George. We all agreed that until George, Americans distinguished between respect for the office of the presidency, and the president himself. Not anymore, thanks to Geroge!

So this lady he installed for recently was a bit more forthright and, luckily, beat Keith to the punch by saying to him, “Gosh, I just don’t know what we’re going to do when he has to leave office!” I KNOW, PAAAARRRRRTTTTYYYY! And all the women will again have control of their own bodies! And maybe some productive stem cell research will occur in the States again instead of every other country in the world. Oh, and maybe God will quit telling him how to run the country so a human can once again take over. And we could bring our troops home from that war of choice . . . hope Fedy’s not reading this. Okay, enough. That was our first encounter with someone bold enough to ask the question.

We have had some interesting interactions with people who seem to be uncomfortable with foreigners. The lady at the library who we asked to sign us up for cards was greatly reticent to do it. Don visited the library first by himself and had asked what was required to sign up. The next day we both went over and brought all the necessary materials. We walked in and met Anna. Anna asked us all the same questions, you need identification . . . we had drivers licenses. You need documentation of residency, we had it. You need to bring a piece of mail that tells us you live in Nelson, we had that too. “Well then come sit down over here and we’ll get the process started,” she reluctantly said to us.

The moment we sat down she asked us how long we’d lived in Nelson. One week. Oh, you have to live here for at least 4 weeks before we’ll sign you up, said Anna. WHAT? No one told Don that. Anna repeated it twice more. But we have mail, we have IDs, we even brought our copy of the rental lease that says we’re committed for 12 months, isn’t that enough? Anna said no. Then she took off her meanie hat and put on her Kiwi hat and said, “but I will go and confirm.” Niceness always wins back the genetically nice Kiwis.

Don pulled out the documentation he had been given the day before—no restrictions of any kind were placed on new residents like that. Anna had said it was to prevent visitors from coming in and renting books they might not return once their holiday in Nelson was over. But Don found on that documentation that the library has a temporary library card for trampers and backpackers who aren’t required to have any firm residency of any timeframe!

Anna came back to the desk and said “We’ll go ahead and do it.” Well good cuz I coulda got my American girl cap out and taken her to town for being so damn rude. Thereafter, she was pleasant as a peach.

On the other side, the lady at the temporary agency we visited today to inquire about employment possibilities was extremely nice, knowing we were new to town and legal to work. (We visited mostly for Don cuz I’ve been supporting his unemployed ass AND making more money than him for the first time ever—told him he had to go out and get his ‘spensive self a damn job! J So I’ll let him write about that experience as he has it.) So more next time on if the Kiwis are friendly or not, since so many of you are asking.

New one: the garbage can is called a wheelie bin. Those damn “ies!” Don’s calling around right now, and I just heard him start using the term himself, hilarious! First call, “how much to rent a garbage can?” Second call, no more garbage cans, “how much to hire a wheelie bin?” It sounds like poetry coming from Don’s lips.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Satellite Image

Click on image below to enlarge. Just when you thought we had taken enough photos, we add one from above. This was a fairly difficult shot - I took it as I was skydiving (disregard the Google map reference, not sure how that got in there). Bottom left also shows a distance key. Anyway, our house is circled in red - town is off to the left of the river. I know, we have too much time on our hands but wasn't that the point? One final note, nelson's town slogan is "Live the Day" - cool. Link to the city website: has some interesting stuff about our town.

Our house

Here you go! Keep in mind it's still empty . . . and we’ve been cleaning for 2 days nonstop—and this after the house supposedly had the carpets cleaned and a professional cleaning as well. Somehow all the cobwebs all over the place escaped someone’s handy dusting rag, but not ours! But the house is shaping up nicely and we’ve unpacked our luggage and cooked a meal! Unlike when we were here 18 months ago, there is a whole section of Mexican food, mostly the Old El Paso line, so we’ve been eating burritos and beans as much as ever. You couldn’t find a single bag of tortilla chips anywhere last time . . . now, several brands, but they call them corn chips. Cornies. I just made that last one up, but you just wait! Marketing idea. But if YOU have had Chipotle lately, write to us and tell us about it from the first bite of that burrito to the very last, including every piece of rice and fajita veggies—we’ll live vicariously through you.

You’ve seen the exterior shot already, it’s a tiny little cottage-like house right next to a dozen other houses that look just like it but are much larger. Having no yard is very appealing and this one has about the least amount of grass that we’ve seen at any house in Nelson. We call this “the courtyard,” as if we were in Italy, and I think I might be doing some oil painting here. Angela Van Gogh. You can see the “front gate” from here, the house has no front door. It’s an odd setup but definitely the former full-time inhabitant was an old lady as the house is designed in Old Lady Deco and it smells like old lady and the furnishings that are here came from the Old Lady Deco furnishings collection. In a very good way I am frequently reminded of Evelyn, Don’s grandma, in this cute house.

The courtyard takes us to the sliding glass door that seems as if it is to serve as the front door because it opens to the “lounge” which is their word for living room. We are using the lounge for a bedroom and an office and for pretty much everything because we can heat one room and keep our electric bill down. Plus we can watch TV from the very relaxed sleeping position. Once our furniture arrives, we’ll spread out around the house, and even into the garage. We figure our huge brown couch, the red loveseat, and the green chair will go into the lounge, plus our new mongo 29” Tellie (much smaller :( but still flat/wide screen) and the TV stand we brought over. There should be some room in the middle for TV trays which is how we usually eat anyway!

From the lounge you see the kitchen to the left. Yes, it’s basically a hallway with some cabinets and appliances in it. It has quite a bit of cabinet space, all things considered, but it’s tight. No dishwasher, plenty of hand lotion. And very nice windows that take in a lot of sun, but see a lot of the neighbors. Don got on his hands and knees to scrub behind that little stove and all over the walls behind to help eliminate the possible cockroach issue. He is a brave man.

Out the lounge the door takes us to the rear of the house with the main bedroom, some 9 feet square, to the left side of this picture and the second bedroom that will serve as our office to the right (you can see the opening a bit here). The landlord left a twin bed in here that we’ll have moved out and we’ll put in the nifty rectangular table we bought at the secondhand shop in town for dirt cheap in this room and create workspace. It was a great secondhand place, great stuff! We also found a dresser at the second secondhand shop in town that is all wood, but smaller than the one we are shipping over so Don will use this new/used one in the second bedroom and he will take this closet too, again, cuz it’s smaller. So I get the larger dresser and the larger closet, but large is truly relative in this situation: I am supposed to find some earthly way to fit my wardrobe into THIS?? You gotta be kidding. And just think that if we lived in this house as one figures it was designed, a couple and one child, I’d have to SHARE that sole closet with Don, fuggedaboudit. I’d be high-tailing it back to the States pronto. (That's my laundry-day-winter-day-it's-still-morning wardrobe.)

Then there’s two rooms for the bathroom, the shitter (we’re crude) and the shower/tub/sink room. We’ve seen lots of bathrooms here use very small spaces for their toilets and sinks, this photo shows a very common toilet/sink setup in a room like this, the sink is tiny and I can hardly fit my hands in this thing. The main part of the bathroom is quite spacious and we are using the tub as a laundry bin holder, as you can see.

This brings us to the top of the annoying things about the differences between New Zealand and the US. See the sinks in both the shitter and the main bathroom? They have two faucets. One for the hot and the other for the cold. Many of you heard us talk about this after our trip here. How is one to wash hands or face in a sink like this? The hot water becomes scalding in seconds and the cold water is too freezing to wash your face. And if you want to actually mix temperatures, you can’t unless you stick your finger into the drain, because the two streams NEVER meet.

I have no idea of the purpose of this, it is totally insane. We’ve been told that the practice is to fill up the sink with both faucets and use that water. To wash my hands, face, or brush my teeth, whaaaa??? I think not. The best “explanation” for this I’ve heard so far (and it applies to other various funky, cute, or irritating Kiwi things) came from an immigrant Brit we met the other day who’s been here for a year. He reckons it is pretty much the Kiwis maintaining their “pioneer spirit” and living as meagerly as possible--as if they have no conceivable way to combine the hot and cold faucet together for comfort’s sake, or put insulation into the damn walls so they keep a bit more of that warmth in the house at night. They can actually conceive of such a thing, mind you, because they managed to create dual faucets for the kitchen AND the shower, so I know damn well it CAN be done, but they choose not to. Crazy bastards. I guess I am to wash my face in freezing cold water and wash my hands in scalding hot. (Don’s take: beyond windows not having screens, this dual faucet is the most ridiculous. If there are any Euros out there that can explain this, please do. I don’t think there is any logical argument for the dual faucets. I’m just going to stop washing my hands - I’ll just stock up on that liquid sanitizer and use that.)

And then there is the hall and the door to the garage. A hall closet is on the right of this photo out of shot. That’s all there bloody is to the house! The one-car garage is handy for storage and we’ll probably park on the street (temp is the same outside as in the garage so no biggie) so we can have stuff from our container stored in here and since there is no front door, we’ll use this back door that leads to an exterior gate to get in and out of the house. And that’s the house. If ya come for a visit, we’re keeping the air mattress and you are welcome to lounge in our lounge, but be prepared to share the shower : ) It’s almost like a hut on a tramping route.


For those of you who want, we have been using Skype to speak to family and friends in the States and it has been amazing, clearer than the telephone and totally FREE. All you need is a headset ($15) and some speakers (we use the speakers in our laptop tho, no problem) if you need them and then download the free software to speak via the internet, and voila. If so, we are registered as Don Bartkowiak & Angela Ricker in Nelson New Zealand, user name don_and_angela. Look for us and give us a ring!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Internet & Cell Phones

So another couple differences between here and the States. Internet usage is billed based on speed and mb usage. For example, we are set up with a DSL line with 3.5mbps in download speed and 512kbps in upload speed and 10 gigs of total data allowance. No set monthly fee for everything. We have a pretty advanced plan since Angela is doing some consulting work for SOS and she needs the 512kbps upload capability. After a few months we’ll drop $20/ mo and cut the 512kbps to 128kbps. I believe internet is quicker and less expensive on the north island although I’m not sure. I do know, when we were in Auckland we got internet for $1 (that’s NZ $ - translates to 60 cents US) for 30 minutes. In Nelson it is $4 per 30 minutes. The other main difference is that in Auckland the “Internet café” we went to was in the basement of a run down building and is filled with gamers or people doing sex chat via IM (we sat down at one machine that had 4 chat windows open). Guess that is ok considering prostitution is legal here (big story the other night focused on the ethics behind a cop also being a prostitute as a second job). Sorry off track a bit. So the internet place in Nelson actually serves coffee and is run by a serial killer (Angela’s words) that probably lives in his mom’s basement (she does work there and nags him constantly). I know the coffee was good and is only $2 if you are online.

Ahhh, “Riding Rirty” just came on the Edge’s top 20 – nice little R&B tune actually called Ridin (Feat Krazie Bone) by Chamillionaire. I just googled this and it here is the definition: ‘Riding dirty means getting caught by the police with contraband, or in urban slang, gettin caught by da po po, wid some of dat dro dro).’ Thank me later for this little bit of extra knowledge – it’s more than just NZ talk on this blog.

Anyway, now that we are on to the 3rd Nelly Furtado song I’ll briefly discuss cell phone (they’re called mobiles here – how funny is that?). Basically they are really expensive to own – main reason we decided against it instantly. First to purchase a phone will set you back $100 minimum. The Razor here is called the Blade and runs you around $700 – crazy but I do think the Blade sounds better, more sinister. Plans have flat rates like in the states but it gets you a lot fewer minutes. Vodaphone example, $30 for 200 night and weekend minutes and this also gets you $.99/ minute during the day. Yikes. You can also add 150 text messages for $25 – we had 400 for $3.99 in Colorado. That said, I think everyone here owns one. As we’ve been setting stuff up here we are constantly asked for our mobile # and when we tell them we don’t have one they say to just call them when we get one – oh, ok.

Coming in future blogs…The Money Man, Heating, Power, Desserts, Neighbors, and Interest Rates.

Just post a comment if you have requests.


Since we’ve been throwing out money left and right in the last three weeks, I thought I’d share how money works here, it’s different and way better. Things are actually changing on 31 July too to make it even cooler.

NZ has $1 and $2 coins, not bills. Their lowest bill is the $5 bill, then they do $10, $20, $50 and up like the US. The coins are $2 and $1 as I’ve said, then 50c, 20c, 10c and 5c. NO PENNIES. (Sorry Alec, no more pennies.) And the coins for $1 and $2 are so handy, albeit very heavy. Apparently NZ has one of the heaviest currencies, so on 31 July the government is changing coin currencies. The bills are staying the same, but the coins are changing weights to be lighter, and they are removing the 5c piece. Wow, imagine no pennies in the States, but then no nickels too! How smart is that.

How do they work it at the stores? If you pay in cash, they round to the nearest 5c right now, but on 31 July it will be rounding to the nearest 10c. They call it Swedish Rounding, which is odd because it originated in Norway. If your bill ends in 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5, they round down to 0. If your bill ends in 6-9, they round up to the next 0. So we will only have to carry around 5 different coins rather than 7 (they had 2 versions of the 20c coin) and they will be much lighter; the 50c coins in particular are extremely heavy.

If you pay by Visa or EFTPOS (electronic funds transfer point of sale, but it’s become its own noun and verb—“paying by EFTPOS today?”), the final price is what it is, the rounding comes into play only with cash. Very cool, we think. I love the idea of $1 and $2 coins, the US could totally follow this method, how many $1 bills do we all accumulate??

Kiwis have only 3 months to do this currency transaction; the stores will stop taking 5c pieces by 31 October as well as all the old versions of the 50c, 20c and 10c coins too. You gotta go trade them all in for the new stuff. So for everyone who’s saved up change for that family trip, better head to the bank. (Good news Alec, you’ll be getting our final roll of useless 5c pieces from New Zealand.)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Pictures of a sunrise in Wellington

As promised, taken by Don. One of our ferry taken to Picton that morning.


Or tellie as the Kiwis call it. While I’m on the subject, let me just rant a moment about the “ie” phenomenon. I think both the Kiwis and the Aussies do it. But EVERYTHING has a nickname—or the actual name—that ends in “ie:” nappies are diapers, there’s the tellie that I just mentioned, and the brellie is short for umbrella. Throaties are a brand of throat lozenges. Teddies are gummi bears. There are Oreo Cookies called Wheelies. I could go on, and I might just do that later!

Now to the tellie.

New Zealand uses SKY TV, owned by Rupert Murdoch—by itself obnoxious of course as he’s a right-wing zillionaire asshole trying to take over the US media and the world. You also know him as the bucks behind FOX. So, as much as I’d like to NOT choose SKY, it’s all we have here.

The major SKY tellie package has like 30 channels, where at home you’d get tons more. You can add on SKY SPORT and get three additional 24-hour sports channels. Of course you’d get rugby and cricket and some crazy bowling on a lawn sport with oval-shaped balls that looks kinda like a form of curling, only weirder, if possible. And you’d get NZ basketball—the NBL is the league in this country and basically they are city teams playing each other. NOT exciting. There’s net ball and hockey, which is really field hockey and a women’s team that uses really oddly-short sticks so they look hunched over all the time . . . well Don’s already mentioned the issues we have with the sports. Okay, enough, SKY SPORT is hardly worth the money. Movie channels? Not sure what movies we’d see, some of the “premiere” movies we’ve seen advertised are Men In Black, 50 First Dates, etc. Not really premieres as they are majorly old.

So, now that we have SKY to “choose” from, what’s actually on TV? Well to start, lots of news. Like for hours all day and early evening. I guess in thinking about it, that’s not so different than the US, but the cool part about it is they report on the entire country and you get to hear what happens everywhere, not just in Denver or the Front Range. Denver TV stations rarely even report on Grand Junction stories, so it’s really a neat way to learn more about the country by watching the news. Again, that being said, the news stories are pretty funny and often sensationalized. We are now going through the “Handless Corpse” case which is a murder in Wellington. Then there’s the Twins Murder and the Brutal School Teacher Slaying, and I could go on. Obviously they are not funny stories, but they reported on in a different way than at home that makes them seem really close.

Political reporting is even more different because the reporters are extremely blunt, ask to-the-point questions—and get answers--and really put people under pressure. Just as in the UK where you’ve seen Parliament members go at each other more than they do in the US, here is the same with Parliamentary debates, they actually DEBATE!! They speak to each other, raise voices, make points, have arguments. They do showboat and they’ve learned a lot about US political tactics of late, you can see that too. But it’s definitely more real. Today was really interesting as the national media (I want to keep saying local media, but it is truly all national, as I was saying earlier) was covering some protesters in Wellington (capital of country) who were against a proposed bill put up by an elected politician. These protesters were very vocal and the politician had been scheduled to speak to the group, but felt intimidated because they were so loud and wouldn’t let him speak. So he stood to the side, and a reporter from one of the news broadcasts interviewed him and asked him why he backed down, why wouldn’t he speak, and pumped him up to go up to the microphone to address the crowd. The politician actually felt the intimidation and went up there! Remarkable, really! The crowd was loud and ultimately wouldn’t let him speak very long, but jeesh you’d never see that in the US.

TV shows: well, what to say other than they import a lot from the US. They have curbed importing UK shows recently because they don’t seem to draw enough of an audience, especially the 18-35 year olds. (Really, that is odd??! But they are so funny J ) So the evenings are loaded with shows like Rock Star Supernova, Project Runway that appears in the US on Bravo, Survivor of course, CSI regular and New York, but curiously no Miami. There’s Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy on Mondays, 24 on Fridays and Scrubs and Will and Grace are on too. Before these shows come on in the 8pm or 9pm slots, we have your basic Euro-type soap opera shows, with the daddy of them all in NZ being Shortland Street, a hospital-based “drama” that is a 30-minute, 5-day/week show watched by most Kiwis. There’s Home and Away, some simple pop-ish show with really beautiful people on it living in Summer Bay (fictional town) and falling in love with other beautiful people. The neat thing is that you can see the difference in the camera shooting technique: no soft lighting and air-brushing camera lenses, you see people way more clearly and last night I actually saw acne scars on a pretty woman that normally would have been lens-ed off in the States. Yes, actual acne.

I’m sure we’ll write more on the tellie in the future as we have it on a LOT. You know us, we are tellie folk.

Moving in and setting up

Here is the outside of our house and you get to see me scrubbing the kitchen. We live in a neighborhood of Nelson called The Wood. The term neighborhood must be used loosely as it is really a collection of about 3 square blocks or something. Nelson is quite small. But you could be thinking that The Wood sounds like a crazy, hip place on many levels just by that cool name. Think again—The Wood is a retirement home in the area and our little place is considered a townhome even though it is detached but there is a teeny yard and we are surrounded on all sides by very old people. We hear they party very hard.

And this is our new house, more like an apartment-sized house, but it’s ours for 12 mos and we figure all our stuff will fit in here until we (hopefully) buy something a tad more spacious. We’ll post pics of the inside once we’ve cleaned it and dispersed the clutter from our luggage and all the new crap we’ve bought. It was so nice to get rid of all that stuff at our house and just leave with a few bags, very freeing. But what do we do once we land in our new town, buy a bunch of new crap. Ah well, I guess we need a mop to clean floors and some rugs for the bathroom and hangers for our clothes. So we’ve been accumulating things over the past week since we arrived in Nelson. What and from where you ask?

Well, at The Warehouse of course. They have everything one would need at a place called The Warehouse. I like to speak of it more affectionately, however, as The China Warehouse. To back up a bit, perhaps the most bothersome thing I found about New Zealand when we vacationed here (the radio was totally stupid and irritating, but this is a more significant thought on bothersome-ness) was the fact that so much of . . . well, pretty much everything you find in stores throughout New Zealand comes from China. It is manufactured so cheaply and you can just tell how crappy everything is. Imagine Walmart but everywhere in every store. Blech. Not every single store, to be fair. But most of the stores most of the Kiwis go to to buy most everything they'd need.

My beloved store The Warehouse is like a cross between Sam’s Club and Walmart—it’s got all the cheap shit you could ever want with the same switch-and-bait advertising you’ve come to love in Walmart but in a warehouse-type setting like Sam’s Club. Of course, then, we had to go here to stock up on some housewares to get us through the next 6 weeks or so until our own housewares arrive. We made out like bandits: 4 dinner plates at $1 each, 4 small plates for 50c each, 4 glasses for $1 each, 4 of each silverware for $4 total, 2 small cups for $1 each, 2 wine glasses ( of course!) 1 mug for Don’s coffee in the morning for something like $1.17. Long story short (when would I do that?), we spent like $100 and got all our necessary plates, cookware, larger bowls, utensils, etc. thanks to China and The China Warehouse.

What about furniture you ask? Where are we sleeping? Well, again, we are so smart in doing this adventure that we planned waaayyyyy ahead on that one. Back in May we prepared two huge boxes containing a good air mattress, one sleeping bag to go on top of the air mattress, (then put on top electric blankets bought here just in case) a set of sheets and pillowcases, a duvet and down comforter, two wool blankets, sweaters, and a handknit shawl just for extra added warmth. We mailed them 6 weeks ahead of us so they would be in Nelson when we arrived--and they were! When we landed in Auckland, we threw in a new Bose clock radio system (much more expensive here but you can’t buy the US kind and bring it over, we did our research on that one!) and we’ve got ourselves a mighty fine setup here until our container arrives with our real bed.

More pics later we promise! Of Nelson too, we’ve just been totally swamped this week finding a place and getting set up and all.

One redeeming quality about radio: they let the songs play as they are, curse words and all! We heard Blink and Green Day and The Offspring in all their swear-word glory tonight.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Radio stations—Angela’s turn for an observation

Radio and television both are pretty different here. More on television later. I think the most annoying thing I’ve found so far—and of course this was the case when we vacationed here—is the crappy music selection on the radio. I don’t recall if CD stores have more variety, but the radio stations throughout New Zealand suck big time. And they suck because they play sucky music.

Each region has its own station so when you drive 50 km you have to constantly search for new radio stations. And there are about 3 per region, each with their own theme.

The “Classic Rock” station plays all the old rock one-hit wonders: Pink Floyd songs I’ve never heard have been big with the recent death of one of their guys, plenty of hair bands, Pearl Jam’s Last Kiss (remake of that oldie-but-goodie even though it’s still not good), and The Final Countdown give you a good idea of what is on these stations. BLECH. You may be saying, those aren’t classic rock songs? Exactly, but they call it so. It is really a selection of crappy one-hit wonders that they have reclassified as rock. I mean, the only Pearl Jam song we’ve heard—twice—is that Last Kiss. HUH?

“New Rock” stations have all your new music and the catchy line: “Today’s hits from the 80s, 90s, and whenever!” Whenever? Exactly again—they play anything they want and call it new rock. Still, Nelly Furtado is big here right now. Then there’s that stupid Gnarlys (sp?) Barkley song which is the most requested song. And that’s about it for anything familiar. Otherwise, it is crappy Euro sappy girl songs and boy bands. Have you heard the new Lily Allen song, “Smile?” Neither have I, it is absolutely dreadful. There’s another sappy pop song Forever Angel or something. One of the songs they are playing a lot is from a band called Evermore, “Running.” Eh. Oh, I can’t forget the Aussie redo of Forever Young, and there’s the redo of Somebody’s Watching Me (yes, Rollo? With Michael Jackson), and you’ll hear about every 2 hours or so the Fine Young Cannibals’ She drives me crazy. I’ll tell you what’s driving me crazy . . . take a listen to some of those on Itunes if you get a chance.

The “Old Timer Favorites” make up the last stereotypical station: one-hit wonders from the “70s 80s and whenever” I guess, but they are all oldies and even though I grew up in a house that played music from the 50s, 60s and 70s, I’ve never heard of most of these songs.

I suppose to only worsen the situation, for some reason this entire country and all three of your stereotypical stations are IN LOVE WITH Nickelback—cuz they are Canadian or something??? I have no idea, but you will hear Nickelback songs that were never even released everywhere, absolutely everywhere. I feel like I’m watching the annual NHL awards all the time.

Even though it may seem like 3 stations is a lot to choose from, remember that I told you that you have to re-scan new stations about every 50 kms? Guess what, you hear ALL THE SAME SONGS every time you get to a new town because you’ve not heard their hour-long set yet, and it is exactly like the one you just heard!!
So, I’m totally giving up on radio and will find a way to use my ipod in the car. And at least I know I can listen to KTCL online.

Renting a house

For those of you unfortunate folks who don’t have time to read long posts, I’ve provided a Cliff Note version here: we rented a small place in Nelson - two bedrooms, 1.5 baths, and a main living area that serves as the family room, living room, and dining room. It’s located close to town (about 500m) and to the river.
For the retirees and unemployed that have the time to fit this into their otherwise hectic day of reading the entire newspaper, eating, using the toilet, watching tv, and breathing (order determined based on reader) I’ll elaborate a bit more below.

As Angela noted in the last post, we had a game plan of the properties to look at prior to arrival. I will say that in a town of 40k, that didn’t translate to many places. We’re also new to this renting thing so aren’t in tune with what to expect. Anyway, we met with the property manager that Angela had been in contact with over the last few days and she added a few to our list. She emphasized numerous times that her company didn’t charge a fee so they only wanted serious renters – she didn’t want to do any work and get nothing in return (she did say this…at least 5 times). She asked that we drive by each of them first, narrow down what we like, then she would show us the inside. She was fairly curt and somewhat condescending – the most unfriendly kiwi I had met to date – plus she is really tall.

We started this process on Monday and we were looking to get into something by weeks end. We found most of the properties on the map and did the drive by – only 2 seemed to be viable options. Side note: Nelson is surrounded by several hills and considering our shipping container would need room and a fairly level space for unloading, we automatically had even fewer options. Both of the options are close to town and in a good neighborhood. Great – we set a time to see the inside of each of them.

First place is by the river (nice little river walk that doubles as a hangout for all 3 of the town’s drunks) and fairly spacious. Carpet is pink but it did have a nice covered patio that was warmer than the rest of the place. This one isn’t available until Aug 9th so we decided against it.

Next place is a block off the river on a nice cul-de-sac. The area is a bit older (people, not houses) – I envision the block parties consisting of an early bird buffet followed by a vicious game of bingo. Maybe I can get a job rubbing bunions for a nickel; I might even set up a few slot machines, we’ll see. The house is small and was pretty dirty when we arrived (it was just placed on the market and yet to be prepped for showings). Biggest shock was when we opened the door two of the inhabitants were dead on the floor (I know, it rhymes – I may add that to the lyrics of the song I’m writing). I busted out my CSI kit and went to work (another job I’m thinking of pursuing here). After 5 minutes of examination, I determined the ‘vics’ (victims in the industry) were just cockroaches. Yes, 2 of them. Poor guys had been locked in the house with no way to get out. Carpets looked pretty dirty as well but beyond that (and that it is really small) it seemed to be ok. It has character. Pictures to follow but to give you an idea of size: Master bedroom is 9.5’ x 10.5’; Spare is 9’ x 9’; Living area is 14.5’x 14’. Garage will be more for storage than for a car. The upside is that there are appliances included that usually don’t come with a rental – fridge, washer, dryer, and microwave. Also, with such a small place we have less to heat (houses here lack furnaces and central heating and as an added bonus the insulation is minimal so everything is heated by stove or electric heater). Almost no yard – I think the grass section is about 4’ x 2’. Nice. Well, since my parents had a gardener, cook, and guard when they lived in their palace in Nepal, I asked if we could get that package as well. Evidently they don’t have that option here.

We move in on Friday after we pick up Livvy.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Arrival in Nelson

Monday 17 July. Yes, we’ve finally arrived. Our trip from Wellington by ferry was surprisingly exhausting. We didn’t do much physically, but driving was stressful. The crossing of Cook Straight was foggy most of the way, so we are sorry to have no photos for you and for ourselves, we had expected it to be beautiful scenery and I’m sure it is on a clear day. Don did, however, get some awesome sunrise photos as we were parked at the ferry terminal in Wellington before we left. We’ll post those separately.

The ferry was absolutely huge, apparently the largest in New Zealand (is that saying much?) and I was sure we would drown from all the huge trucks and campers getting on board. In the end, it wasn’t probably half full, so that is all that saved us from certain death! But the upstairs was very luxurious with bars and family lounges for kids and other television seating areas so you could watch kids shows or Le Tour as Don and I did (that boy can sniff out a cycling show from miles away, I think. I mean, I like cycling, but he is gaga). Then I fell asleep while Don read and toured the boat, and when I woke we were pretty much landed in Picton. And guess what happened then . . . the skies cleared!! Argh.

From Picton we took the back road—there is only one—to save 50 kms and all the ferry traffic, since we left the ship last of everyone, to Nelson and if you think Colorado has mountains and curvy roads, you ain’t seen nothing until you come to New Zealand. These people won’t make a straight road even if it costs less, they wouldn’t know how to drive it! The speed limit on this road was apparently some 50km/hr, or 30mph. I couldn’t get a touch above 30km/hr and I’m a total leadfoot! Needless to say, the back road took awhile, but it was pretty and deserted.

After about 90 mins we drove into Nelson and everything felt familiar. We went right to our motel and checked in. Then we drove directly to the rental place I’d been communicating with and apparently places are going like hot cakes, so we drove around to see what was in our price range, asked a local about the good neighborhoods and the not-so-good ones, and set up time on Tuesday to see what we want: only two bloody places! Guess what, we’ll surely like at least one of them cuz otherwise we’re out on our booties. But even if you’re saying to yourself, jeesh you sure waited to the last minute, think again! We wouldn’t have had our emails or phone calls returned had we started to look prior to arriving here. Things go too quickly that if you’re not around to catch the rental, someone else surely will and the landlords will only pay attention to the folks who are in the city. So bummer for us that we had to wait to arrive, but chances are still good we’ll find something.

We’ve been a bit busy to walk around and take photos of Nelson just yet, but we will. The sun has been shining the past few days, but a cold front is due in on Weds and we’ll have some rain I guess. On Friday we are driving toward Christchurch to pick up our cutie bear Livvy and to take her home. She’s probably been freezing her bum off with the weather down there although I am told she has a heating lamp and heated floors. It actually might be warmer in her cage than in some homes!

Special Note: Thanks to our friends John and Star Kane for sending us our very first piece of friends/family mail here! (Our Kiwi bank also sent mail, but that doesn’t count!) What a great surprise it was to have a personal note (and a very sweet one at that) waiting for us on our first full day in Nelson. Now the rest of you, hop to it! All of 75c and a few keen sentences on a postcard or note card will bring us great joy here in our new corner of the world.


We spent one day driving to Wellington and another day seeing downtown Wellington, probably stayed in the worst motel of our trip (my opinion, Don would probably disagree) although we would have liked to have visited Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand because it talks all about the history of the country. We’ll have to do that one later. But we trekked around the city, found a great sale on some of the kitchen appliances we need so we shopped quite a bit, and we veged out in front of TV for awhile. A day can pass awfully slowly if all you’ve got to watch is some bad Sunday television and the E! channel. I am about chock full of seeing Paris Hilton videos and the premiere interviews with celebrities at the new releases. That station is pretty useless I gotta say, but it filled our Sunday evening.

Have to say Wellington is pretty but we didn’t spend much time there doing too much as our time was spent on more utilitarian things. As the country’s capital and the landing point for the ferry should we need to cross over to the North Island, we figured we’d have ample opportunity to visit and see things later. But it is quite a pretty city as you drive around.

Just a note for yous guys who’ve been hoping for personal emails and the like, we have to pay for internet use per minute here in cafes and shops and it’s awfully expensive, so blogging is about it for awhile until we’re set up on a monthly plan. We’ll be emailing and/or talking to all of you soon, we promise!

Don’s keen observations, part deux

Ok, few more items that I’ve observed over the last week or so.

Sheep – there seem to be a large number of sheep here. I think someone may have mentioned this before we left. When I ask the locals about it I just get an odd look. I’ll keep researching this. Seems there are about 30 different types but they all look the same to me.

Item size – I’ve noticed most things are smaller here. everything from vans to refrigerators to bags of potato chips. Not sure why this is but as I recall this is the same as Europe. I just keep telling people, “well, in the States we have adult sized items. Everything here seems to be built for Hobbits.” Suffice to say that joke doesn’t go over well at all but I laugh every time.

Towns – I’ve noticed that most towns here aren’t really towns but simply a café and a house or two. We’ve driven through so many towns that are nothing more than this so I think if you have a café on the side of the road, the government must require you give it a name and throw it on a map.

News – seems to be the same but less emphasis on the US and more on New Zealand and the newscasters talk with an accent. World is still pretty much messed up in the news here too. Weather report is almost the same – they report but really it’s 50/50 if they get the report right. They use ‘fair’as a weather term, still not sure if this means sunny or partly cloudy or cloudy. Think it is used to cover all basis that don’t include rain.

Driving – everyone wants to drive on the left side of the road here. I don’t particularly like it and after trying to drive on the right I just gave up and let Angela drive everywhere. I do love the round-a-bouts (I’ve decided to call them roundies).

Music – when was the last time you heard Europe’s Final Countdown on a radio in the states? I’d say late 80’s (True, I considered the ringtone but settled on Slaughter’s ‘Up All Night’). Also got some Howard Jones, Suzanne Vega (Luka was it?) and Shaggy. Nickleback is huge here – on all the time. I did hear a song by some band called Nirvana – something about team spirit – they seem to have some potential.

Oil – prices have only seem to go up since we moved here, I hope this isn’t due to us. Good thing our car is getting about 33mpg even fully loaded with about 300lbs of luggage.

Sport – still haven’t figured rugby but I do know that NZ All Blacks have one of the top scrums in the world. I don’t know much about this but I do know good scrums win championships. All the national teams are some variation on the ‘Blacks’ - Tall Blacks is the basketball team (they just hammered Australia the other night 72-52, even though Australia has the #1 pick from last years NBA draft). Black Sticks is the hockey team (here it is women’s field hockey and the NZ team scored once in 5 games). Not sure what the women’s net ball team is called, I’m just trying to figure out why they play it – It’s like basketball but no backboard and no dribbling. Wha? More on this as I figure it out – focusing on the Tour at this point.

That’s it for now.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Napier and Hastings

We stayed in the same hotel for two days so that we could see Napier and Hastings in the region of Hawke’s Bay. It is right on the water in a lovely bay area, but unfortunately today it was socked in with rain all day. Guess it's gonna be that way through the weekend, so we've lost our blue skies. Eh, it’s winter, whaddya expect. We made the very best of it starting the day at 6am with the 2 hour stage of the Tour de France on the telly. Oh, and Angela worked. Yippee, life is back to normal now.

NOT! We headed off to the shops looking for yarn, yarn and more yarn. Nada, and this in a wool producing area such as Hawke’s Bay. So, we window shopped, visited Starbucks, and avoided the rain as much as possible. Our very first shop stop was the Opossum World—totally cool! Apparently some crazy Aussies (this is where the dislike of Aussies by Kiwis must have started) many years ago brought over some cute and fuzzy little creatures called opossums (got them in the states, of course) when they weren’t natural to the habitat. Ever since then they have been breeding like mad and in the process eating the trees and destroying New Zealand forest, no joke it’s an environmental disaster that they are trying to keep in check. There are some 20 or 30 possum PER PERSON in the country. We’re not seeing it now, but when we vacationed here in Jan 05, it was a lot like at home with the prairie dogs, dead possum all over the road. Only they are a lot larger. It must be seasonal, we'll get you a photo when the road slaughter starts.

Of course, the good side is their fur, it is amazingly soft and some of our family members have some very soft scarves, socks and hats made from their fur that they got for Christmas. This is only one of the “uses” of the possum in this country (trap, kill, skin, make soft things out of fur). I think the other is sport and slaughter: hunting and trapping and killing just for that sake. This poster is hilarious, though. And true.

So this Opossum World was really funny because it had all the great possum gear that is wonderfully soft, but it had this “Bush Walk” set up that Don photographed a bit for you here. You’ll see the crazy possums on the car and the trapper in his hut waiting to skin his new kill. Looooveeely.

Okay, back to the motel by 11am, packed a lunch and headed off for the wineries, woo hoo! The important stuff.

While heading off to some dozen wineries (there are about 40 in the area I think), we spotted wildlife here, red deer I believe. Can you see the beauty in these wild, roaming animals? Wait, they have another name: VENISON. Yes, in New Zealand they farm deer like sheep to use for their meat, they are not native to New Zealand unless you like to eat their flesh (a vegetarian’s viewpoint). Sad!

Then of course we found sheep, boy they are hard to find in the countryside—NOT. We just waited to take pictures of sheep until they were cute pictures, and here are some babies, aren’t they adorable! No doubt dumb as a hump just like their parents, but cute nonetheless.

Well by this time we were on our 10th winery and we got really, really lost driving around. BUT, we were lucky enough to find our way with the help of this directional sign. Phew, back on our way home.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Rotorua to Napier

NOTE: You should be able to click on photos to enlarge.

On 13th July we left Rotorua pretty early to head to the Zorbing place. Zorbing is just another one of the Kiwi’s ways to be crazy adventure sport capital of the world—in case you haven’t heard this, New Zealand is just that. Bungee jumping was invented here and the first bridge off which people bungeed is in Queenstown on the South Island.

Don and I saw Zorbing on one of the past years of the Amazing Race tv show. Basically it is a huge plastic ball that looks like a large golf ball, but the middle is hollow and people crawl inside and ride the big ball down a hill in one of two ways: harnessed to the inside so that they roll WITH the ball, or with water on the inside so you can sit and the ball rolls down the hill around you. Don and I had wanted to do the latter—but it was freezing today in Rotorua in the morning, even with the sun out. So we just watched these kids do it and it was kinda gross. In the Amazing Race the contestants had to do it down an open, free hill that was a lot longer and wilder. Here it looks too tame and VERY slow. Bummer. Plus I imagine the insides of those things really smell!

We just took a photo of these girls getting literally birthed out of this thing, the zipper to the inside is opened, the Zorb tilted, the girls slid out and water comes out behind them. BLECH.

We left Rotorua and drove to Taupo to see Lake Taupo, the largest lake in New Zealand. We walked around, Angela used not any old loo, but the SUPER loo! Just in the nick of time too. We visited a sheep shearing place and a wool mart, Don tasted local honeys which are very popular here for all sorts of things, especially hand and body crèmes, soooo nice! Don is proud that these visits were among the top 5 free activities around Taupo—gosh, is he his mother’s son or what!

And just in case you were worried that you wouldn’t be able to get enough American fast food, that there was a single town in this country that didn’t have a McDonalds, fear not. Grand American imports.

We also visited a “waterfall,” the rapids at Aratiatia, at least that is how it was labeled in the guide book. They admitted that it is really a hydro dam over the Waikato River that the government put into a formerly spectacular waterfall for utility purposes, but the tourists complained. So several times a day they open the dam and let the water from the river come through, and it is very cool indeed. So here are some pictures of the process, we are standing over it on a road bridge, so some photos are facing one way, others are down-river facing the other way. You can see a picture of it just after the dam is opened, and then again once tons and tons of water came through it is completely full. They let water out for 30 minutes and I guess kayakers come and try to kayak the river once it’s full, you can see why they would want to because the rocks get completely covered.

When we left Taupo, we apparently neglected to check out the petrol levels in our new car—it had ¼ tank left and we were heading off for 150 kms. Guess what—NOT A SINGLE petrol station on the entire route! About 70 kms into the trip over many “mountain” passes up and down steep hills, the LOW FUEL light came on. KRAIKE! Not sure how you spell it, but it’s very down under to say. So we were freaking out hoping there would be petrol somewhere, but it was totally barren driving. So we drove up the hills at like 40mph and coasted down the hills, drafting any trucks we could draft on. When we went up the hills, low fuel light came on, down the hills, went off. It was like this for the longest time, I hardly remember the drive. For 80 kms we held our breath until the low fuel light was on for good! Finally, a petrol station, we pulled in only to find it was bloody closed and abandoned! Another 15 kms down the road we glided in on wind and finally filled up. Lesson learned! Hellooooooo Napier, good to see ya!

Great photo from Taupo: hard working garbage men are self-proclaimed “Garbologists!” ZOOM IN to sign.

Tomorrow, WINERIES in Napier!! Another day drunk as skunks, that's the way to live!