Holy smokes, I Live in New Zealand.

June 27, 2008, 1:20 pm
Filed under: Actual Travelling | Tags: ,

I heard Rotorua described as “the Niagara Falls of New Zealand” on a few occasions.  I’ll agree with that to a point.  The shopping district is full of souvenir shops and daytime hours only, and it is the forces of nature that draw people to the area.

Rotorua sits on a key geothermal hot spot, so the area is full of hot springs and geysers.  It was in this area that the legendary volcanic eruptions that created many of the North Island’s larger lakes (and saddest stories) occurred.  There is a high sulphur content in the water, and much of the city smells like rotten eggs.  Even the surrounding countryside has the odour, as evidenced in my drive from the airport.

(Edited to add: the sad story referred to above is the Mount Tarawera eruption.)

rotorua 053

Full album here.

European settlement occurred in the late 1800s, drawn to the hot springs as a health care and spa retreat.  The main bath house is now a museum.  In the photo album you will see a picture of the old bath house and adjacent Government Gardens.  This was an old banner photo of mine from back in January and February.

Maori settled in the area several hundred years ago.  The springs made for good cooking; in fact, the surface of the earth is so warm that it flows through your shoes and up into your body in places.  Rotorua is a centre of Maori culture and settlement, and there are several places that offer a Maori village experience.  Any visitor to a Maori marae (sort of like a “village centre” in that village life focusses upon it, it is a very spiritual place) is challenged by the community. This involves facing/manning up to the aggressive moves of the community’s warriors and, after all is said and done and you are not classified as a threat, accepting their peace offering. Hard to describe, and great to experience (way beyond touristy tacky…way beyond…). This is what it looks like. 

Alternate link

(Editor’s note: This is my 150th New Zealand post.  I’ve been in New Zealand for 278 days – in fact, my 400,000th minute in New Zealand was spent in bed this morning – including today.  I’m moving at an every-other-day posting rate.  Awesome.)


Great Barrier Island.
June 18, 2008, 9:51 am
Filed under: Actual Travelling | Tags: ,

The weekend of April 25-28 (ANZAC Day in New Zealand) we spent on the Great Barrie Island, a forty-something square kilometre retreat of heavy forest cover, scattered sheep farming, a few villages and a whole lot of nothing in between all that. Problem is, it rained for the first two days, so the only good photos I have are from the patio of the house we rented.

GBI 001

The island is the sixth largest in New Zealand and was subject to similar settlement pressures (mining, logging, etc) but today is largely preserved and a haven for those with the means to escape Auckland easily.  It’s a five hour ferry ride from the city, or a one hour flight.

Full photo album here.

Cold Houses.
June 9, 2008, 9:30 pm
Filed under: Happenstance, In the News | Tags: , ,

Trip over. I’m back at work now.

I’ve been preoccupied, however, with one very very very VERY significant cultural difference between Canada and New Zealand. People are beginning to fuss (as they do every winter, apparently) over lowering lake levels and the imminent effects those will have on electricity generation. Yeppers, the electricity conservation calls have begun here.

Here, peak electricity consumption occurs in the winter (June through mid-September) between 6 pm and 8 pm at night. Just like home, calendar-wise. The issue is that everyone gets home and turns on their stoves, lights and space heaters all at the same time all over the island.

Space heaters?

I have a brilliant idea to help out with energy conservation in New Zealand. And as always, I have to explain it in a roundabout manner.

See, no houses in New Zealand are really insulated. At all. None of the windows are double glazed. I haven’t seen the Pink Panther anywhere. There are no central heaters/furnaces (but all sorts of mysterious “heat pumps” and “air reticulation systems”). As such, heat leaks out of houses like a sieve…and cold floods in like the tide. Best of all, once the house gets really cold inside, it’s tough to get it warmed up. Think of it like how a Canadian house gets impossibly stuffy during the summer if you don’t have AC.

In a country that barely gets to 35 degrees in the summer, how on earth could nobody have thought to make warm houses a requirement? Even in Queenstown, the ski capital of the South Island where I was last week, nothing is designed with warmth in mind. New Zealanders who have been to Canada or know someone who has lived there ALL say that nobody is ever cold inside a house in Canada.

Naturally, a few more layers in bed cuts most of the problem (except for those three nights back in April when the temperature “fell” to 6 above zero). But the air is so cold that it compromises everything else. I want a longer, hotter shower. I turn lights on to bask in the waste heat. The space heaters keep on churning and churning.

Yet nobody is talking about putting better insulation in houses – although I did catch a news clip tonight where insulating the roof was discussed as an energy saving option (???!!???), which was dismissed by the homeowner being interviewed as “too expensive.”

I get kind of cold at night here. I don’t like this part about New Zealand.

(Edited to add: Mark, I totally get it.)

May 7, 2008, 12:22 pm
Filed under: Happenstance | Tags: , ,

Vinay Menon has been granted a humour column in Toronto Star effective today, which is good news.  He makes an observation that I can regurgitate here because:

  1. It is true.
  2. I don’t have to rewrite it that way.

“Of course, our athletes have to wear this [Olympic] gear; possibly at gunpoint, likely under the threat of forced relocation to Moose Jaw, definitely while sobbing on the inside and sheepishly befriending members of Team New Zealand who, equally inexplicably, will be padding around in those godforsaken Crocs.”

Yes, the NZ Olympic Team will include Crocs as part of their uniform.


March 17, 2008, 8:25 pm
Filed under: Food | Tags: , ,

Sorry it has taken me so long to get around to this.

Celeste asks, “What’s the milk like there? And have you tried Milo?

Milk here is just like home, except I have seen it offered in tetra packs (like a giant juice box). Just like home as well, 1L cartons, 1L jugs (7-11 style) and 2L jugs. The 500mL I usually buy (as in I have bought maybe four of them over six months) costs NZ$1.90, or about Cdn$1.30. Decent enough.

What is different is the range of milk you can buy. We’re used to skim, 1%, 2%, homo, cream, right? You can get cream here, but beyond that things are different:

  • Super trim, which is marketed as “99.9% fat free.” This is equivalent to skim.
  • Trim, which is what I buy, is 99.5% fat free. I like it.
  • Lite or Light is 98.5% fat free.
  • Blue Top, or Family, which is the most popular and where the “fat free” references stop. This hovers at a bit under 97% fat free.
  • And a whole range of fortified and specialty milks, including one company making a very rich “farmhouse” milk.
  • There are also several brands of milk one can buy in one grocery store, unlike the Nielsen’s/Sealtest monopolies in the various grocery stores back home.

I am world famous for my love of chocolate milk. Doing a napkin calculation right now, I estimate that I probably put back 3L of chocolate milk a week. Unfortunately of the two chocolate milks I can normally choose from, both of them are very chalky. So I have consumed maybe 2L of chocolate milk in the last six months, and both of those were on my surprise Christmas vacation. I didn’t notice the withdrawal period. So chocolate milk in New Zealand…big disappointment.

UPDATED: I have taken to drinking chocolate soy milk a lot down here.  It seems to be on sale a lot, which helps.

Alternate link.

As for part two of the question, a little history first. Milo is an ovaltine-esque, malt granule that you add to milk (hot or cold) to get a delicious, hot chocolate kind of drink. It’s fairly popular in New Zealand. Work keeps an open tin of it in the kitchen. They are little granules of malty goodness.

I think what is really neat is that they make a chocolate bar out of Milo. Milk chocolate, the little granules and a strip of nougat. Let’s take a peek, shall we?

Alternate link.

Sorry, I didn’t realize how dark it got in my apartment at night. Here is Milo‘s strangely corporate looking Wikipedia page.

A Very Silent Night.
February 19, 2008, 12:29 pm
Filed under: Music | Tags: , ,

Apparently, there was a single released in New Zealand over Christmas that topped the charts in sales. But nobody could actually hear the song. It is audible only to dogs.

Honest to goodness, I had no idea this even happened.

It is a fundraiser for the New Zealand SPCA and it sounds as though they are working on a licensing agreement to send this non-song worldwide. They even made a music video for it. Those blonde elves are super-hot. And there you have it…

Alternate link.

How I Combat Homesickness.
February 17, 2008, 7:20 pm
Filed under: Establishing | Tags: , , ,

Having just completed another round of successful phone calls home today, I thought I would share a couple of my tips for battling homesickness. It’s surprisingly easy in the Internet age to remain connected. I mean, I have my choice of any Canadian media available to me (including the delightful TV adaptation of Douglas Coupland’s jPod) and even our few food products.

Below is a non-comprehensive list of how I make Canadian magic happen. Feel free to send along your tips as well and I will update the list accordingly:

  • Random $900 flights home.
  • CBC Radio 3.
  • French toast with Steeves’ Maple Syrup from Elgin (pronounced “el-JIN”), New Brunswick.
  • In Flight Safety (also a great cool down band post-run).
  • Putting-hyphens-between-words, which-they-don’t-do-in-New-Zealand.
  • My weekly round of phone calls home to family and friends (called in theme groupings: one week Guelph, one week Barrie, two weeks of planners, …).
  • Downloading TV shows the day after they air back home, including jPod, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Torchwood, Squidbillies, and on occasion Dave Foley’s shows on Super Deluxe.
  • Putting letter zeds into words that have esses in them in New Zealand, such as “memorise” or “realisation.”
  • Teh Facebook.
  • Teh e-mails.
  • My website.

Missing you all…