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!