Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Christmas Break

A belated Happy Christmas to everyone! We have had a very lazy few days; we didn't end up getting to the beach on Christmas Day due to one thing and another (getting up late, opening presents, popping over to the neighbours for a quick chat which lasted an hour and a half), and ended up spending the afternoon over at a friend's house discussing the world and everything in it with him, his daughter and son-in-law. He has the most unusual Christmas tree - his flatmate has a life size Dalek, and they had decorated it with tinsel and bows. Sadly, I didn't have my camera on me, so you will just have to imagine the sight! It was a very gentle and relaxing way of spending Christmas.

Boxing Day included a trip to the Garden Centre (very domesticated!) - I had been given vouchers for Christmas, and, as they had a Boxing Day sale on, I thought I'd take full advantage. So now, in addition to the olive, feijoa and lemon trees, I also have a fig and two kiwis (kiwi fruit are one of those which need a male and female in order to get fruit). I am getting a veritable orchard!

Yesterday we took our first trip to the cinema since we arrived in NZ, to see Tron Legacy. We also saw it in 3D, the first time that I've been to see a mainstream film that way (3D shows at theme parks and specialist ones at the IMax notwithstanding). Overall, it was a fun 'popcorn' film. It wasn't setting out to make any deep and meaningful statements on the meaning of life and the principles of existence. It was a simple 'good vs evil' film, with many overt nods to Star Wars (bearded Jeff Bridges in a robe looked uncannily like Alec Guinness, and one of the weapons near the end had the potential to be a light sabre) as well as the original Tron film (which I haven't yet seen - one to add to the library list). The 3D was beautifully done - nothing hugely flashy, just added depth to the background, and stunning 'up and over' in the chase sequences. The music was fantastic (I'll be getting hold of the soundtrack), and a lovely nod was having the band, Daft Punk, cameo in a scene where they needed DJs. Whilst it may not be a film which changes the world, it was a very pleasant way of spending a few hours.

After the film, we went out to a restaurant which a friend had recommended. Han River is a Korean restaurant in Lower Hutt (no website, otherwise I'd link to it). It's the first time that we've eaten specifically Korean cuisine, so I wasn't sure what to expect. The restaurant was pretty much empty, but we did go to eat at 6 pm, so it wasn't surprising. The food was delicious - we had dumplings and radish rolls to start with, then a shared main course, called a 'Steam Boat'. This was a small wok set over a small gas burner filled with a broth of beef, dumplings, glass noodles and vegetables, which we ladled into our own bowls with rice and a selection of cold side vegetables (I am very intrigued by the pickled Daikon, and will have to attempt to make some of my own!). The flavours mixed together very well; there wasn't a high level of spices (my choice, as I have had a few issues with heartburn over the last couple of weeks and didn't want to aggravate it by choosing something which could have been overly hot), and it was a very tasty meal. We finished up with a dessert of rice-dumpling-cakes stuffed with a nutty ice-cream (the outside of the cakes was a chewy paste rather than being crunchy) and a 'Persimmon ice', which, rather than being the sorbet we had assumed, was actually a whole Persimmon which had been frozen and then stuffed with ice-cream! Overall, it was a superb meal, and, as we took advantage of the BYO status to provide our own wine, cost us only $60 for all three courses. We will definitely be going there again.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas...

No - not gloating (much) that it is currently averaging above 20 degrees whilst friends and family are struggling with being snowed in, having difficulties getting to and from work, and the dreaded spectre of Winter is far away from the Antipodean shores. (Even if it has spent today throwing it down - no need to go out and water the tomatoes at all - just like the British Summer, then!)

This time next week, it will be Boxing Day. Yet, it just doesn't feel like Christmas at all. This is an obvious issue about moving to the other side of the world - it is going to take more than one hot and sunny Christmas to counteract 27 cold and dark ones. Even with all of the Christmas parties (we've now had all of the different society ones, plus our work Christmas bashes), the presents bought (I think this is the first time I've not run around like a headless chicken the week before Christmas still struggling to work out what to buy!), the cards up on the side, and the tinsel out in a bag on the living room carpet (ok, I'm not the best person in the world at putting up decorations!), I am struggling to actually make myself believe that I have 4 1/2 days of work left before 2011 starts. (And about 10 days' worth of work to complete in that time...) I think that part of this is that almost all of the Christmas cards we have been sent, even those from within NZ, show wintry scenes; holly, red-robins, pine trees covered in snow and the like. Which doesn't really equate to blue skies, pohutakawa and roses... Still, I'm sure I'll get there - possibly on Christmas Eve when heading home from work!

One of the nice things about working in the civil service is that there is an enforced shut down between Christmas and New Year. Whilst it isn't 'gifted' holiday (as it was for the company I worked for in the UK), which means that if you don't have the holiday available to take, it is unpaid leave, it is nice to know that everything closes down for 10 days - I am going to need the break!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Zealandia, Take 2...

After a pretty grotty Saturday (the first time that I'd hung out the washing in the hope that the weather would get better before our shopping trip, and then had to bring it all in, almost as wet as when it went out a few hours later when we got back in), Sunday dawned bright and sunny. Various businesses in Wellington have signed up to an online Advent Calendar which gives a different voucher every day during Advent, most of which are valid until Christmas Eve. One of the ones near the beginning was a two for one voucher for Zealandia, and, given that our last trip was a bit of a wash out, we thought that, seeing as the weather was fine, we'd have another go.

There were Tui everywhere hopping around the flax bushes and eating the nectar. Far too busy with what they were doing to bother about the tourists coming to stare at them!

The warm weather and sunshine meant that the Tuatara were all out enjoying themselves (in as much as a reptile can...). Some were a bit easier to spot than others!

(Yes, there is a baby one in that last photo...)

The scenery, as always, was stunning.

The valley along which the Sanctuary runs just seems to go on and on - the second photo is taken about a km into it, and you can just see the houses which are in the Sanctuary road in the far distance.

The Kaka were out in force at the feeding posts

The Sanctuary, as well as being host to endangered (and otherwise) birds, is also preserving plants. There are over 50 different types of fern - though I think I've only caught two - the silver fern (Ponga) (though I didn't see the underside, so I might be wrong)

and the black tree fern (Mamaku), which really does lend itself to being arty!

We finally got to go to the Morning Star Mine (it was too wet last time), which is an old gold mine (or at least the entrance to one - you can't get very far inside). A volunteer is stationed at the entrance and gives you a hard hat (the entrance way is very low!) and a red-light torch. The mine itself is filled with cave weta (and the occasional large spider - I didn't shine the torch on those for very long as I don't think John would have wanted to see what was right by his left shoulder! The reason for the red light (and the lack of photos) is that the cave weta are nocturnal and therefore are very light sensitive. But we have finally gotten to see some weta in their natural environment (and everyone at work was asking what the fuss was about - they all have woodpiles which house hundreds of them!).

The Sanctuary does also have 'Weta Hotels' - hinged logs which have glass plates in the middle, meaning that you can open them up and see the weta snoozing inside. Unfortunately, the glass doesn't then lend itself very well to allowing photos - I'm not sure that this one came out too well...

The middle of the Sanctuary is a large dam and lake created in order to be a major source of water for Wellington.

However, a while back, they worked out that the dam was sitting right on the fault line, and that probably wasn't the best place to be storing a large amount of water, particularly as it is not that far from the Central Business District... So they drained most of the water away, and it is now home to a large number of ducks (none of whom wanted to pose for pictures!)

As well as the Tui, there are a number of other native birds who are nectar feeders, most notably the Stitchbird (with the beautiful Maori name Hihi) and the Bellbird, also called Korimako. Zealandia has set up a number of nectar feeders with mesh which allows the smaller birds to get in and out, but means that the Tui can't squeeze through and steal all the food!

On the left is (I think - I'm not 100% certain) a Hihi, and inside the feeder is a Korimako.

A much clearer shot of the Korimako!

We were able to stand and watch the birds for a good five - ten minutes as they darted in and out of the feeders, and flew from branch to branch waiting their turn.

Given that Spring is definitely over and Summer is just getting its teeth into the season, you wouldn't think that there would be that many birds still nesting. However, this female blackbird was so intent on getting dried grass for her nest that she really wasn't fussed about us being around her (she hopped away when we were too close for comfort, but as soon as we were more than a couple of feet away, she stopped bothering about us)

There was also this gorgeous dragonfly-like insect - bright red and sitting on a leaf enjoying the sun.

The afternoon vanished in a flash - we had barely got a kilometre into the Sanctuary (it is about 3km long) before we realised we had to turn round to head back or risk being locked in. Rather than just head back the way we came, we took a bit of a detour round a slightly longer (and less well travelled) path. We passed a sign warning us that there were falcons nesting, who were very protective of their chicks and inclined to dive bomb visitors. Fortunately, we later learnt from a guide that the chicks had fledged, so they don't dive bomb *quite* as much as they had in the past! I was a little sorry not to see them (I wasn't sure whether I could hear them or whether that was another bird - the whole valley was filled with birdsong the whole time we were there).

But the Sanctuary had saved a final treat for us before we went to find our coffee - as we were walking round a bend in the track, we spotted a sign telling us that there was a little pool in the undergrowth which birds used as a bath, and if we were very quiet and still, we might get to see one. It didn't take too long for the undergrowth to start rustling, and a North Island Robin popped out to have a look at us. It was incredibly inquisitive - getting within a foot of us before it decided that the insects in the leaf litter were far more interesting! And unlike our trip to Matiu/Somes Island, I was actually able to get it in focus!

We also got to see the tail (we think!) of a Wellington Green Gecko as it whisked back into its hole (a bright green flash was about it!) and a couple of Kakariki which have just been introduced to the Sanctuary.

We had barely covered a tenth of the trackways within the Sanctuary, and there are still a number of native birds we haven't seen. So, on the way to get our coffee, we bought year-passes, which mean that we can go back as many times as we like (3 times will cover the cost of the pass), and also get a discount on the night tours, where you get to see the Kiwi (of which there are about 100 in the Sanctuary) and the Morepork (called Ruru in Maori). I'm already really looking forward to going back!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Don't Dream It, Be It...

Yes, yes, I know - I'm now over a week overdue on this... This is last week's post - I will do this week's once I've had a chance to play with photographs :-)

The reason for overdue-ness is a combination of being insanely busy over the last week and also, when we were at home, an almost complete Internet fail - in the end I spent an hour talking to two nice people from Telecom (I got transferred to the 'Complex Internet Problems' department - it's always nice when it isn't just a 'turn it off, turn it on again' issue which makes you feel very silly when it works!), fixed the problem (with the DNS connection) on Windows, and then had to work out how to do it with the two Linux netbooks. I did get some help from a friend - he sent me over how to do it in another version of Linux, which gave me enough pointers to work it out on our versions - slowly but surely I'm getting a little geekier!

So - last weekend, we had our trip to see Richard O'Brien in the Rocky Horror Show. I've been bouncing about this since it was announced in August - Rocky Horror is one of my favourite musicals (and, though I love the film, I much prefer seeing it live), and the chance to see R.O'B. in the Criminologist's role was too good to pass up. We had fantastic seats - right in the middle of the row, without too many tall people in front of us. We went for the 6.30 showing, which may have been a mistake - we had got dressed up, but there weren't that many others! There wasn't any audience participation (again, another symptom of the early showing - hearing from other friends who went to different shows, we were a very quiet night!), but, after the initial disappointment (I do like hearing how the different actors respond to the heckles), it was a great show.

There were some lovely takes on the scenery - my favourite was the mini versions of the castle which were wheeled across the stage during 'There's a Light', progressively getting bigger, until the largest one, which was on a ladder to allow Riff-Raff to sing his solo through the top window. The model also reappeared at the end when the castle takes off...

Juan Jackson as Frank was probably one of the best I have seen - one of the reviews claimed he was "too butch", but I disagreed! He had a great take on the role and a fabulous singing voice - I'd gladly watch him in the role again.

R.O'B. was great as the Criminologist - not quite as slow paced and drawling as I'd hoped (I'd imagined him playing it in the same vein as the 'host' in 'The Crystal Maze'), but still just stunning to see on stage. The audience went wild when he first came out (as they apparently had done in every show). He had an interesting take on some of the part - he sang a number of the lines, which I wasn't expecting. He did stay in his denim suit and tails for the whole show (which I was glad about - I don't think seeing seeing him at 69 in stockings and suspenders would have been the best vision of the evening - memories of Neil and Christina Hamilton come to mind!). However the absolute screaming moment for me was the curtain call, when he came out carrying his guitar and performed the TimeWarp - the whole audience was on its feet, even those who hadn't really worked out what to do!

Overall, it was an amazing evening - I'm looking forward to the next time it comes back to Wellington!

There are photos and videos at this website - none of R.O'B. as he only had one rehearsal with the full cast before the run started in Auckland!

Monday, 29 November 2010

A Plucking Good Evening

Friday was the first of our 'ticket' nights out - we bought tickets way back in August to see the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, who have been doing a New Zealand tour. If you haven't heard of them, this is a troupe of eight ukulele players, who play instruments from 'soprano' (or 'teeny'), right up to 'bass' (or 'guitar'). They have been going for 25 years this year, and they still look like they are having as much fun on stage as the audience are watching them. We were at the Michael Fowler Centre, which is a glorious modern venue - the main auditorium is set out in native wood, looks absolutely beautiful, and whoever designed the seating layout actually thought about knee-space rather than "how many people can we cram into here".

The group were fantastic, as always. They have a great rapport with each other, and just the slightest glance can get the audience howling. Their repertoire stretches all the way from the classical (they played 'Dance Macabre' for us, as well as reprising their Proms 2009 Audience Participation Ode to Joy - unfortunately, because they didn't hand out the music beforehand (just expecting the audience to find it on their website), most of the audience who had brought ukuleles weren't actually able to join in, and it ended up almost being a trio from the audience vs eight of them on stage!), theme music (They did the theme to 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly', and a brilliant version of 'Shaft', though fortunately, they did not add in their usual gag on mining - definitely the wrong week to joke about that...), hard rock (Wheatus's 'I'm just a Teenage Dirtbag') and many more (including a New Zealand song called "Now is the Hour" which had a fantastic audience response).

There are plenty of excellent videos on YouTube featuring them (some from them directly, others bootlegged...) - one of the reasons that I love them, not only because of the humour, is summed up by a quote from Peter Brooke Turner:
"We thought, `Well, why can't we do songs by the Velvet Underground or the Sex Pistols? And what we found was that the ukulele's sort of a musical lie detector ... if you strip everything away, by playing it on a ukulele you can tell if it's a good song or not. Surely the sign of a good song is that it can just be simply strummed through and sung, and the essence is still there."

These were two of my favourites from the evening:

A great take on Life on Mars...

I adored their second medley - it was new to me :-)

Sadly they didn't play another of my favourites, similar in theme and style...

Now go and look at their other stuff on YouTube, and maybe even go get their CDs / DVDs! :-) And I'd definitely recommend that you get tickets to see them live next time they are your way!

We had an absolutely brilliant evening, a great start to a fun weekend; Phoenix group PIG meeting on Saturday, and I got to play with a video recorder on Sunday trying to get a video uploaded for the YouTube Symphony Orchestra competition. I managed it - just - after a number of major hiccups (wrong file types, corruption when I tried to convert them, and then a corrupted source disk made for a bit of a frustrating afternoon, particularly after I'd spent a number of hours recording the videos to start with!) I then went and looked at some of the other auditions that people had put up, and I can safely say that I am not going to get through to the final - they make me look like a beginner! But it was a good learning curve for the next time they do this (this is the second time they have run the competition, so I can be reasonably certain that they will do it again).

I managed to miss another earthquake - one of my friends even texted me to ask if I'd felt it... I don't know - I've been here a year and still not felt one! (though given the mess down in Christchurch - they are over 3,000 now, and the aftershocks are expected to go on for another 2 years... - I think that I can live without it for the moment!)

And it is starting to get immensely surreal - we are really heading into summer now (starting to overheat under the duvet at night; short-sleeve shirts are the order of the day in the office), and I'm seeing so many posts about snow and ice from my friends and family back in the UK. It definitely doesn't feel like we are on the very slippery slope to Christmas!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Pomp and Circumstance

Aaaand whooops! I had intended to get this sorted on Sunday, but procrastination and online gaming got the better of me...

We had our orchestra summer concert this weekend - a fabulous evening devoted to the Last Night of the Proms. The first half was the serious music - the Hornpipe from Handel's Water Music, The Walk to Paradise Garden from A Village Romeo and Juliet by Delius, and Elgar's Enigma Variations (we played twelve out of the fourteen variations).

Then we all donned additional colourful and / or patriotic gear (I don't think my Chinese jacket or John's fez counted as British, but we could probably argue British Empire, just!), including our two lead violins, who dressed up as a King and Queen (and, of course, we all stood when they came in!), and one of the other violins who donned a dressing gown and a deer stalker hat. Plenty of sparkly wigs and tinsel were also in evidence, and a number of the audience had also got dressed up. We opened the second half with Pomp and Circumstance, and the audience got their vocal chords in gear with Land of Hope and Glory.

Then the Sea Shanties, with everyone bobbing up and down for the hornpipe, and the obligatory horns and squeakers (I might have contributed to that a little bit - the oboe doesn't play until 64 bars into it, so I had enough time to blow a party squeaker :-) ). The clarinet cadenza was thoroughly played up, with the orchestra members settling down with books, with knitting, cleaning instruments, etc. The conductor actually got out a vacuum and cleared his podium of the various bits of glitter which had fallen on it through the course of the evening... Rule Britannia at the end went brilliantly - even if most of the brass managed to miss out the late arranged repeat (and were able to cover for it by the conductor turning to the audience and tell them that we were starting again because they weren't singing loud enough!).

Then Jerusalem, God Save the Queen and Auld Lang Syne, and the concert was all over, bar the vacuuming up of the glitter and silly string and generally trying to get the church back into a state in which it could hold a service the next morning!

Overall, it was a fantastic concert - everyone really enjoyed themselves, and we have already asked whether we are going to do it again next year! There may even be photos - there were a few people with cameras out, and if any of them find their way to the orchestra website, I will post a link.

I just wonder whether the organist found the squeaky balloon that went down the back of the organ pipes in the middle of the Sunday service...

Orchestra is therefore over for the summer - we have a long gap until we go back at the beginning of February - I shall have to make sure that I don't let myself get too rusty! And possibly even take the time off to have another go at learning the accordion...

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Summer is on its way

The first cicada of the summer started outside our house today. It wasn't noisy for very long (either it decided that it wanted a lie-in, or one of the blackbirds spotted it as a tasty snack for one of the many fledglings in the trees around us), but it is hopefully a sign that the consistently warmer weather is on its way. At the moment, it is gloriously sunny during the week, and then is horrible and grey over the weekend!

But the signs of summer are starting to come through, particularly in the greenhouse. We have had our first meal of spinach, with a bag full in the fridge waiting for the next stir fry. My tomato plants have now got a couple of flowers on them, as does my lemon tree and my olive tree. How many of these flowers will actually become fruits remains to be seen - I think the lemon may be a bit small for bearing fruit this year, and the olive only gave us five or so fruit last year, so I'm not expecting much more than that this (though at least I know how to prepare them for eating now!). I've also spent a chunk of today outside potting up numerous chilli pepper plants - I've now got about ten pots with multiple chillis in each. I'll be very disappointed if I don't get at least one chilli con carne out of that lot!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

One Year!

Wow. One year ago today, we landed in New Zealand.

A year ago, we completely uprooted ourselves. We had nowhere to live, and our available possessions totalled what we could carry in our suitcases and hand luggage. We had quit our jobs, and therefore had a finite amount of money to survive on (and most of it still in my UK bank account waiting for the exchange rate to pick up). We had left behind all of our friends and family and had moved to a city where we knew no-one, and a country where we knew less than ten people.

Written out like that, it seems completely insane that we even thought about moving halfway round the world.

We have had a very steep learning curve along the way, and things haven't always been as smooth as they could have been. However, things could have been a lot harder and a lot bumpier at a number of different points along the way.

So, a year on, I have absolutely no regrets. We have found ourselves a lovely place to rent, and are able to consider buying a house of our own, probably in another six months. I have got a great job, which, though it may be intensely stressful at times, is also one which I am now able to consider making my career. We have made a huge circle of friends, and, whilst we, of course, miss our friends and family, it is not in the sense of wishing to be back in the UK, but more wishing that they were out here with us, and able to share in the joy of this country.

We celebrated our anniversary in fine style - New Zealand celebrates Bonfire Night as well, so on Friday, we went out for a restaurant meal (we went to one of the Wellington Wagamamas, which overlooks the sea), and then to the Wellington Fireworks Festival. The event raises money for the Wellington Free Ambulance (in most areas, you have to pay if you need an ambulance; here in Wellington, thanks to charity donations, it is free), and included fairground rides and stalls, as well as a crafts fair and a section for the emergency services to provide public service information (the fire brigade did their "why you don't pour hot water onto a chip pan fire" demonstration - they got a very impressive ball of fire coming out of their mock kitchen; the ambulance service were doing a free CPR session - currently Wellington sits at fourth in the 'cities you are most likely to survive a heart attack in' statistics - they want to make it first; the police service had the wreck of a car which had been driven by a drunk driver then came off second best in an argument with a tree - they also had information boards on the accident, which included not only a reasonably graphic description of the injuries that killed the driver, but also then include the detail that the friend who was sat behind the driver was trapped by his mate's body, and had to wait for that to be extracted before they could cut him out of the car!). The whole event was also hooked up to the local radio station, so there was music playing out of the loudspeakers, including a specially composed piece of music, timed to play out with the fireworks exploding. The fireworks themselves were absolutely stunning; probably one of the best events that I've been to in a long time. It was a lovely way to celebrate being in the country for a year :-)

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Braae and Birds

Last Monday was Labour Day here, our first public holiday since the Queen's birthday in June, and a much needed break from the daily grind.

We began the weekend in fine style, with our monthly Phoenix board gaming session. We took along Alhambra, one of the two games which we gave each other for our wedding anniversary, and which looks like it is becoming a favourite, at least amongst the members of the group who have played it. We also played a game which is new to me, and which I didn't do very well at, but in itself is great fun, called Dominion. It's a card based game, where the rules are easy enough that you can understand what you are doing within a round or two, but there are so many different tactics that it will take a few games before I'll really get going! I'm looking forward to next month already!

Sunday, we had planned to spend very quietly, after a reasonably early start Skyping the folks back in the UK. However, as I went out to hang out the washing, our South African next-door neighbours came out and said that they were having a braae (pronounced "bri" in the evening, and did we want to come? They have been talking about holding a get together since we moved in, so of course we said 'yes'. A braae is very much like a British BBQ - cooking over hot coals / wood. But very different from the NZ BBQ, as BBQs here are mainly cooking over gas - to the extent that our neighbours have to call round some of the other folks in the street to let them know that they are holding a braae and not to call the fire brigade! Everyone was bringing something, and we were promised some traditional South African food. The evening started early - we went over at about 5:00, just as Gary was lighting the fire, and we sat outside and enjoyed the sunshine with a glass of wine with them and their other friends and neighbours, both South African and Kiwi. It was a very jolly evening, with plenty of wine being drunk, a great deal of laughter, and a lot of food being eaten - I particularly enjoyed the South African sausage, which one of the other South Africans gets his butcher to make up from a specific recipe, and the Pap, a porridge-like food eaten with a tomato based sauce. We didn't end up leaving too late (about 10.00), but as the party had started at 5, it felt a lot later than it was!

The Monday dawned a typical public/bank holiday gloomy - however, it wasn't actually raining. The sun did make a few attempts to break through the cloud, so we decided to head out to Matiu-Somes Island (it has a dual Maori-Western name), a nature reserve in the middle of Wellington harbour. We had to get a catamaran ferry over from Petone

The island isn't very big

with a small wharf for the boats to moor against:

Small as it is, there is an even smaller one just off the edge. The Maori name for it is Mokopuna Island, which is far nicer than the Western one - Leper Island, due to the exiling (and death) of a Chinese worker there after he was diagnosed as a leper (though that is now believed to have been a misdiagnosis).

Because Matiu-Somes is a nature reserve, we had to go through the same bag checks that we did at Zealandia, making sure that no mice had got into our picnic bag. Then, after a short wildlife lecture with photographs by one of the Department of Conservation workers (most of which seemed to consist of him telling us what we weren't likely to see; "This is a tuatara, but it will be too cold for him to be out," "this is a skink, but it is too windy for it," "this is a North Island Robin - we introduced 35 of these to the island, but unfortunately, due to a lack of insects for them to eat, we only have 7 left..."), we were allowed out to wander round. There was a stern injunction not to miss the direct ferry back, otherwise we'd be charged $80 for the regular ferry to divert to pick us up!

The island was full of bird song, amazingly loud and clear. So many of the birds had absolutely no fear of people at all. This blackbird fledgling was very happy for me to take a picture of it, after it had eaten.

This bird let us get within a foot or so of it before it got up and wandered off. It is also the first bird that I have ever heard sneeze!

The Kakariki were everywhere, and far more interested in food than they were in us.

As a number of the paths were grass based, there were a number of sheep kept on the island as lawnmowers.

The views from the edge of the island were gorgeous - Te Papa o Tara (or, more prosaically, Shag Rock) was covered in seabirds - mostly seagulls, rather than terns or shags.

There were a number of boats out enjoying the day.

Matiu-Somes has a very interesting past; it was used as a quarantine station, both for people and for animals, and was also active during both world wars, both as an internment camp for 'enemy aliens', and also as a degaussing station (the entrance to Wellington harbour was mined during WW2, and not all of the mines have been found!), and an anti-aircraft gun placement:

The island also has an important lighthouse on it - it is ideally placed to guide ships in to the harbour, with a three coloured beam - white if the ship is coming in at the right angle, but set so that there is also a red and green light if the ship is veering off course (to the port and starboard respectively). The lighthouse is no longer manned, apart from by the seagulls, but the tramway which took supplies up to it through the bush is still visible (in the third picture).

The island is also home to a huge number of sea and water birds, most of whom seemed happy to pose for photographs:

But, on our way back down to the ferry, we took a short cut down a track where the DoC had been doing some logging and clearing out of the underbrush. There was a very happy blackbird picking over the turned up soil, who followed us down, presumably to make sure that we weren't going to steal any of his worms. Then, as we got to a bend in the track, this bird appeared in front of us:

I was absolutely delighted to be able to recognise it from the lecture we had had earlier as one of the 7 remaining North Island robins on the Island. It was very friendly (even if it didn't want to sit still long enough to be able to be photographed - that was the best picture we got of it!), and came up incredibly close to see what we were up to. We were able to watch it for about 5 minutes before it got bored and flew away.

We then headed back down to the wharf to wait for the ferry and to sit in the sunshine:

It was a fantastic way of spending a public holiday; incredibly relaxing, and so wonderful to be able to see more of New Zealand's native life.

The rest of the week has been as busy as always; I once more had something on every evening from Monday through to Thursday. This included catching up with an ex-colleague after work on Tuesday, and having a work Halloween event on Thursday evening (it didn't finish too late, and was really nice to be able to catch up with colleagues who I don't normally get to see), as well as the usual orchestra and TKD.

Yesterday we had our Phoenix monthly PIG social, this time with a Halloween flavour - I attempted to make these. The taste was good (as long as you like sweet things!), but I don't think I'm ever going to make icing cakes a career - I've been finding bits of blue food colouring all over the kitchen today! As I also made my coconut and cherry cookies, and some salmon and cream cheese dip (probably one of the easiest 'posh' recipes I have *ever* made!), I have spent most of today washing up - I managed to dirty pretty much every utensil, plate, pot and pan that we own!

And in three hours, it will be November - where on earth has the year gone?

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Why so busy?

I reflected today that tonight (Thursday) is the first night which I don't have anything 'booked' since last Friday evening. I should be feeling more exhausted than I am, but I find that doing so much actually keeps me energised. I've found that being active after work helps me to unwind so much more than just sitting at home - the act of concentrating on something else, rather than letting my brain stew over the events of the day, helps it completely forget. Whilst I should be able to leave work at the door of the office, sadly, that gets harder and harder as things get busier.

So, going to orchestra and playing the Sailors' Hornpipe (it's very fiddly by the time the oboe joins in, because the nice slow interplay between the violin and flute at the start has disappeared when the clarinet begins and speeds things up!), or going to TKD and focusing on getting a flying turning kick right (I can do it when kicking with my left leg, but not at all with my right - the complete opposite of all of my other kicks, where the left is distinctly feebler than the right), or even going out to a sci-fi film evening with friends and watching a silly children's movie (this time it was "Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief", actually a really good fun film - plenty of funny moments, with some great cameo acting, and didn't really feel like it was made for kids at all), really helps to turn off the day in the office and give me something else to think about. And that was all just this week!

We also managed to get out to Zealandia on Sunday. This is a fantastic wildlife reserve, created with the long term view in mind, and with the aim of restoring just a little bit of New Zealand to the way it was before man started destroying things. They may not be able to bring back the extinct species, but they are really doing their bit to keep ones on the endangered list alive. The whole area has been encircled with a predator proof fence, specifically designed to keep out introduced mammals. The plant life is closely monitored for noxious (introduced) weeds, things like brambles, gorse and budlea, which are not native to NZ, and which very quickly spread and took over from the plants already here. It turned 15 this year, and the people who have set it up and who work and volunteer there now know that they are not going to get to see the park in its intended glory. Nor will their children, but maybe their grandchildren will start to experience it as it should have been. That's not to say that they aren't already having successes - the Kaka (parrot) population of the park has grown from 17 to over 100, and they have been reported as far away as New Plymouth. The sharp rise in the number of Tui in the Wellington area has also been credited to the park.

They were holding a free open weekend for all 'locals' (i.e. people living, or saying they were living, in the Greater Wellington region); unfortunately, we weren't able to make the Saturday, as we had shopping to do, and then had friends over for food and board gaming (a great evening had, much wine drunk!). When we woke up on Sunday morning, the weather looked grey and manky, but not being ones to let a little bit of rain spoil our plans, we still headed out on a train and bus trip across Wellington. As we got closer and closer into town, the rain and the wind picked up - definitely not the nicest of weather to be exploring 30km of walking track...

By the time we actually got to Karori, it was lashing it down, and we were very glad that Zealandia has an indoor exhibition as well as the outside tracks. The exhibition itself was very interesting - they could have arranged the speakers for the various video displays more effectively, but overall it was good fun, and highly informative. Then we ventured out into the wet to see what we could see, and whether there were any birds who would be as foolish as the humans in walking around in the driving rain. The answer was a pretty resounding "No" - aside from a few Tui and a number of ducks, we did get to see a Bellbird feeding (the first time I've seen one, though I've heard a few before), and we ended up at the Kaka feeding posts just in time for their lunch. Though, we did very nearly miss them, as there were two sets of feeding posts, and they decided to dine at the other one, whilst we stood in the rain hopefully gazing at empty bird tables! Fortunately, we gave up just in time, and started heading back to the main centre, and caught the last couple eating.

The food is kept underneath a metal lid, and the birds have to stand on a "trigger" shelf in order to get the lid to open - the trigger is weighted for the Kaka, and is far enough away from the food that the smaller birds can't stand on the trigger and reach the food at the same time. This is to ensure that the Kaka get the majority of the food which is intended for them (particularly important at the moment as it is the breeding season). You can see the Kaka on the left in the second photo opening the lid. However, some of the more intelligent blackbirds have learnt that if they work together, they can eat - one stands on the trigger, and is just about heavy enough to open the lid, and the other nips in and gets the treats!

I also got to see a Tuatara, or rather, its tail. It was sheltering under the trees, and the volunteers were pointing it out for visitors - the spiny tail looked very much like a branch, and I'm pleased to have been able to pick it out. Next time I hope to see the whole reptile!

By this point, we were both pretty much soaked through, and so we headed back to the centre for coffee, cake, and a sit in front of the heaters before we ventured back out on the journey home.

Whilst it wasn't the nicest of days to visit, and we couldn't get up and see the weta cave - an old gold mine which apparently has plenty of these creepy crawlies for us to look at - it was an enjoyable experience (well, I enjoyed it - I think John didn't like getting wet as much as I did!), and we definitely want to go back when the weather is a bit warmer and sunnier.