And yet more

Mostly just putting up some more photos. W00t! Many of these were originally taken as a sort of revised “Day in the Life of Me”, now that Stephen is here.

Morning on the balcony:

Brekkie (although this would be more accurate with cats draped on Stephen and the desk):

Some scenes from the walk into work. The wacky new fake palms some workmen were installing in Chaffer’s Park (theoretically renamed “Waitangi Park”, in a sort of ironic reversal of the way Delaware Ave in Philadelphia was renamed “Columbus Ave” — locals refuse to use the new name in both cases). The Wall ‘O Graffiti on the other end of Chaffers, past the skate park. One of the vertical banners outside Te Papa now made horizontal by the wind. A shot of the Pacifica getting ready to back into its slip (which also shows you the sort of weather we’ve been having. Although, not as bad here as it is down South, where late snow and cold is wreaking havoc with the lambing). The litte yellow-and-white twin-hull in the foreground is the East-West ferry that makes the run between Queen’s Wharf in the CBD (Central Business District), Eastbourne on the other side of the harbor, and Soames Island in the middle. And one of the Wellesley charter boat with the boat houses and my office building in the background.

More lunch-time pics: Some of my coworkers (in our open-plan office), and a shot of the work they’re doing putting in a new storm drain outside the library:

And finally, a couple more from the weekend: A shot from the bottom of the dam in Akatarawa Forest Park, and a couple pics of the sweet little Australian native orchid Stephen bought me at the home & garden show. Isn’t it the cutest thing ? The guy said “If you can kill this, give up growing orchids.” I don’t think I’ll kill it, but I took these pics ’cause this is probably the last time it’ll feel like blooming.

Networking

One goal I had upon arrival was to connect with the various gamer, dancer and fighTer sub-populations in order to find people with interests similar to our own. The last few weeks I have been going over to the Games Workshop store, and while going forth to do battle with my miniatures I have been trying to meet and greet the various gamers. Last week one suggested that if I was into gaming that I go to The Ferryman (a local pub down on the waterfront) on Monday night. So last night Tam and I went, and discovered gamers galore (board, card and RP)! We chatted, played a board game, and generally had a good time. This Saturday we plan to go and visit the bi-monthly get together of the Wellington Warlords, a board-and-wargaming group. On Sunday we hope to visit the local fight practice and see if we can hook into the recreation crowd that way (assuming it is not pouring rain). While Wellington is a small city it does seem to have a good-sized and active gaming community. Woo!

Maps!

Tamara has found a nice copyright-free map. The file is a bit large, but this should help you find some of the local place-names we have mentioned in earlier posts. We will make a separate link to this map so it is easy to find in the future.

Weekend Activities

An activity-filled weekend is always fun, but it does leave me feeling rather tired on Monday morning.

On Friday Tamara and I met for lunch at the Library. Meeting in the library is great, as it gives me an opportunity to catch up on some of the science journals, and when Tam has her camera it lets her take some candid photos of me doing so.

On cold or windy days we would just go up to the cafe on the mezanine level to eat (first photo), but it was nice on Friday so we went out to eat in the courtyard of civic square. There are very often lunchtime performances held there, and this day it was a bunch of high-schoolers doing some traditional Maori songs. I really like the juxtaposition of the nylon windbreakers and the traditional skirts. Civic square is also the location of the fern-ball, this nifty piece of art that seems to hang suspended in the air(the cables are thin enough to be lost against the blue sky). In this shot you can see the combination of the fern-ball, pyramid, and two palms. A nice composite of art that can be viewed from a couple of angles. Eating outside does tend to attract local birds, each anxious to get their cut. The red-legged gulls are especially amusing, very fractious birds that will chase off interlopers once they have secured a human that will provide bits of bread. Their agressive stances with cawing and head-dipping is hilarious. The final picture in this set is of the car-stops that block cars from driving up into civic square. The fiddle-head motif is very common here, and its use here converts utilitarian poles into pieces of public art.

On Saturday we started by running some errands. We returned FLCL, a very surreal bit of anime, to the video store. When they get episodes we might have to rent another disk, in the hope that it will make more sense. We can hope. We drove up through Silverstream and collected our mail from Chris and Natahsa, which included a delivery card from NZ post. When we went to the local post shop we found that the Monitor had finally arrived! Today I will set it up and make sure it survived the trip. It should be fine, as being shipped surface is exactly what all our other electronics had to endure. By building a second cardboard box around it orginal water-damaged container, and labeling it “used LCD display” I managed to get it in without paying GST. Woo! Previously any package insured for over $200 got hit with the 12.5% GST, which was annoying. I think this is the last of the “expensive” packages I mailed before departing.

After picking this up, along with other important but boring items (cat food and litter), we made our way up the Hutt Valley to Akatarawa. There we stopped and hiked into the Akatarawa Forest, a large nature preserve. The hike began with a quite-reasonable swing bridge. It had a solid floor and rails even! When people come to visit I think we will use this one as “an intro to swing bridges”, as it is not nearly so fraught as the one we hiked across 2 weeks before. It is also shorter, and the ravine not-so deep. The path up the valley started by paralleling a beautiful babbling brook. We clambered down to snap a few pictures, and in the process I managed to slip on wet-moss-covered rock and soak my left foot. Always the best thing to do before a hike. The next two house involved a great deal of “squelch” noises on my part.

At the end of the stream was a dam. Very lovely. We wonder if it serves any purpose now. The water pipes that once ran down the valley are now all corroded away, as is all the metal-work on the dam. Perhaps they leave it there for flood control, or because it would be too difficult to remove? It is a beautiful spot, surrounded by native bush. From there it was a somewhat more laborious climb to the top of one of the hills, but the view over the top portion of the Hutt Valley was worth it. Of course we only hiked one tiny corner of the forest park. We will have to come back on subsequent weekends and venture deeper.

Being at the top of the Hutt valley, we decided to drive over the Akatarawa road to the Kapiti coast. This is one of the two East-West connector roads at the bottom of the island. The next one north is a 2+ hour drive, all the way up at Palmerston North, on the other side of the Tararua range. Akatarawa road is about 33 km long, and took us about an hour to drive across. The middle third was quite exciting, with the road down to one narrow twisty lane, with sheer drops inviting the car to come and take a plunge. The top was reached about 2/3 of the way across, and did provide a stunning view west. It was, however, quite cold at the top with the wind blowing in from the Tasman Sea. We also discovered that the remote top of the road is also a favorite place to dump cars, we counted 9 in the gulley beside the road. Perhaps they were dumped stolen cars? There were some great views coming down the Kapiti coast side. In fact the whole valley was quite picturesque.

That evening we met with a bunch of Bellydancers to plan for a performance sometime in February/March. Should be interesting, as it is going to be a story-telling piece. I of course get the one male role, the King. Woo!

Sunday we spent a few hours at the Wellington Home and Garden show. We picked up many busines cards and information sheets from vendors we might need eventually (paving stones and solar hot water systems in particular). We also talked to the regional council reps about dealing with invasive species. The council will send someone out for free once we get the place and give us suggestions as to which plants are invasive, and how to best deal with them. We will probably also set up traps and bait-stations to try and fight the possum and mustelid populations. We asked to be sure those systems were cat-friendly. Sunday was a good day to be at an indoor show, as it rained all day. We did not want to do archery in the rain two weeks in a row. The rain was part of a wild-weather system that hit the entire country, with Gale-Force winds in Cantebury, snow in some high-country places, and torrential rains in the middle of the North Island. I am glad we were not going anywhere, as many highways were closed after various nasty accidents.

Other bits

Some other things I forgot to note.

There is a local dog named Rocket that apparently comes to archery with fair regularity — just to say hi to everybody. Rocket is a husky, and he is also HUSKY. Or, rather, large. Huge, even. As in, a husky crossed with, say, a black bear. FREAKIN’ huge.

Random Archer: Oh, that’s Rocket. Don’t worry; he’s real friendly.

Stephen: Of COURSE he’s friendly. Everyone he’s ever met has been like (makes mollifying gestures with both hands) “Niiiiice Doggy…!”

Also, Stephen and I went to a local convention, “Armageddon Pulp Culture Expo”. It was cute and small. They billed it as a “family event” (indeed, it was right at the start of school holidays) and it was heavily geared around the 12-and-under kids’ anime/card-games — Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Dragonball Z. The big name guests were David Prowse (Darth Vader), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), and Garrett Wang (Ensign Harry Kim), in addition to whom they had comic artists Alex Maleev and Mark Bagley, plus a bunch of voice actors from the aforementioned kiddie anime. They had a costume contest, two(!) anime rooms, a Dance Dance Revolution contest, an art contest, and a handful of people selling things, primarily comics or DVDs. No gaming to speak of, though, apart from a whole lot of Yu-Gi-Oh! and one dealer selling board games. There were dozen or so local comic artists, and I resolved to check out some of their stuff in honor of Karl. But the second one I picked up — a stark black and white cute-but-Gothy-looking thing — opened with “My life is an unceasing miasma of pain and ennui” (or something like that, but with shorter words), and I decided I really didn’t need to, after all.

Stephen and I were hoping to find local geeks to be geeky with, but not being into Yu-Gi-Oh!, we didn’t have much luck. The dealers selling the Medievaloid armor and weapons were down from Auckland, and suggested we check the web for local SCAdians and the like. I did get to check out the display Weta put on, though, which included many of the pretty swords from LotR — ten feet away behind velvet ropes, alas.

On a completely different note, the rhododendron I bought for the balcony has burst into bloom (it is very definitely lavender, not blue as advertised), and the mallards in the lagoon behind Te Papa are now trailing fluffy little ducklings. This morning, I watched a flock of what I think are shearwaters fishing in the harbor — so cute ! And Stephen and I had lunch in the sunshine on the City To Sea Bridge, and managed not to get mugged by the gulls and sparrows. Happy Spring !

Arrows and Ice Cream

Yes, the archery was fun, even though we sucked a lot. See, we’re used to shooting on level ground, at more or less 30 yards, because that’s what shooting in the backyard was like. I was taught to keep my stance level, with everything parallel, weight evenly distributed, etc. Now I want to go away and practice shooting fish in a barrel with my right foot propped up on a box.

All the variety was very very fun. Now I’d really like to try it with my own glove and not in the teeth of a Southerly.

In other news, one of the NZ Breweries is Speights, and they make a 5 Malt Ale called “Old Dark” that is quite nice. What’s possibly even nicer — and certainly even worse for you — is that some company out of Nelson is making ice cream out of it. Out of the malt, anyway. Old Dark Ice Cream. Why is it so tasty ? It’s a whopping 28.5% milkfat, that’s why. And the next two ingredients on the list — I should more properly say “the other two”, after the cream and before the malt — are egg yolks and sugar. That’s it. Yum.

Weekend Fun

The weather would not stop us from having fun this weekend.

Saturday we did a bit of scouting up around Tawa and Porirua. We were mainly searching for the various home-improvement stores in the region which we will no doubt be visiting far too often once we get the house. It was pissing-to-pouring rain much of the afternoon, but that did not stop us from scuttling into and out of half a dozen different places.

Sunday the rain continued, but we decided to make our way up the Kapiti coast to visit the archery club that meets just north of Paraparaumu. That was a lot of fun. Even with the cold wind and pouring raing about 15 -20 people showed up for archery. Most of them had modern bows, from fiberglass recurves up to the aluminium cam-driven modern hunting bows. They were very curious about the horse bows Tam and I had. There was a great deal of amazement that such light thin-limbed bows could actually have a 40-50# draw weight! Its very amusing to think that a “primitive” bow made from traditional materials (primarily bamboo) could impress all of these archers with the latest modern equipment.

The archery range consisted of 28 targets, each with the outline of a different animal. You had up to three arrows, though as soon as you got a hit you stopped shooting. The rings corresponded to heart/lung/body, and hitting with the first arrow was worth the most points. It took nearly 2.5 hours to make our way through the course, and some of the shots were quite difficult. Shooting between trees, uphill, downhill, on slopes, across valleys, you name it! Range varied from about 8 meters to about 50-55 meters. It was fun, and I think Tam and I will probably be going back on future Sundays. Normally they would have finished the day with a BBQ, but with the rain that was cancelled. Thankfully the rain stopped about 30 minutes into the shoot. The howling wind made some of the shots extra tricky, but that was all part of the fun.

Now that the work week has resumed we have of course gone back to a pattern of beautiful blue skies. I am sure the next frontal system will be here by the weekend, though, to give us the traditional rain.

Two months until the new house. We continue to plan for the modifications we would like to make. I think all of us, cats included, will be very happy to get into the new house. I am very curious to see how the cats respond to farm animals. They have never seen anything as large as a cow or horse before. I hope we get to witness their first encounter.

Mortgage-foo

So, with an offer on a house accepted we have begun the dance of finding a mortgage. Having done this once before in the states it is not a completely new process, but there are some interesting differences here. First, the term is normally 25 years, not 30. No big deal. But where in the states a fixed term for the full 30 years is the common standard, it is not so here. The longest fixed term you can get is only 5 years, and you get nailed with significantly higher rates the longer your term. (The bank is taking a risk with rates rising.) It is also perfectly fine to split up your loan however you want between the floating portion and various fixed terms (6 months, 1,2,3,4, or 5 years). And the floating portion changes whenever the central bank changes its rates, not once a year with a limit on %change like we are used to). Interest rates (as set by the central bank) are higher here, but at least the bank rates only seem to be 1.5-2 % above the central bank rate, as oppsed to 2-3% above in the states. At least, that is my impression. With the short terms you essentially get to refinance your loan for free every couple of years, which can be good or bad. Bad if rates go up and suddenly you are payng much more. Good as you reduce the principle on the loan with each refinance cycle the debt load (and thus payments given the same interest) should drop.

The other fascinating thing is that there seems to be some actual competition for our business. There are 5 or 6 major lenders (the big banks), and about 15-20 little boutique lenders. They all have little sweeteners from free checking, to a few hundred dollars to pay closing costs, to a fee-free checking account, to no-fee credit cards. Right now we are weighing the various rates and free-bees to see which deal is best for us! If it comes down to a tie between a few lenders, then the one with the easiest application form wins! 🙂

Two months until settlement, the greatest challenge will be not going stir-crazy in the apartment knowing a cool house is awaiting us!

This weekend we plan to do some research on the cost of making modifications/improvements to the house (adding a garbage disposal, replacing the hot-water heater, replacing the planking and railing on the north deck, adding a sliding glass door or two, putting in a brick patio, puting solar hotwater panels on the roof, putting in a little fish pond for Azami’s pleasure). If we can afford it, we would love to make some of these changes before we move in, since it is always easier to get work done when the place is not full of stuff. Working out costs and priorities is key. There is also the simple matter that if we don’t get it done now, a few years may pass before we realize it, like how it took us 2 years to get new windows put into the back porch at 26 Locust.

Waiohine

So Saturday, to kill time waiting to hear about the house, Stephen and I planned to just take a drive up over the Rimutakas toward Masterton (yes, I will eventually draw a map, and label it and stuff. :^P If someone else wants to take the initiative and provide me with a sketch outline of, say, the southern third of the north island, I can tweak and label it in Photoshop. Otherwise it will probably be a while before I get to it myself, as I currently don’t have access to either my Intuous pad or my scanner). Turns out Chris and Natasha had plans to head up that way anyway (for reasons I am not at liberty to disclose). So we teamed up.

The Waiohine River, BTW, was named by a famous Maori tohunga (loosely, “wizard”) named Hua who was mourning his wife, whom he’d recently turned into a stone back on the west coast. At some point, I’ll get the whole story and know why he turned her into a stone in the first place — although I suspect it was because she ran off with some other guy. Isn’t that the way these things usually work ?

Stephen and Chris horsing around:

The Waiohine Gorge is, incidentally, the location of the infamous Swing Bridge, featured so prominently in C&N’s earlier blog posts, and in the nightmares of tourists the world over. I recall seeing photos of this bridge on their blog and thinking “Ehn, that doesn’t look so tough.” You’ll think that, too, because the photos don’t really give you the full perspective, although I’ve done my best. Suffice to say, it is a bridge to respect, and not one that Len would go over no matter how much money you hung in a bag on the other side.

While I would not describe myself as “terrified” or even really “scared”, there was some definite adrenaline action there, I felt no special desire to take my hands off the cable hand-guides (although I had to take one off to get the several pictures I took looking down past my boots), and I’m pretty well convinced that we did *not* evolve from anything that lived in trees, unless they were especially large, thick, sturdy, trees. And short.

Wow, total jungley rain-foresty goodness up there, though, with, just green everywhere. It was one of those places where the trees just become upright ground for other stuff to grown on — vines, ferns, mosses of every shape and description.

Some assorted photos of People in Green:

Hard to tell, but those are cherry blossoms Stephen is standing in in that last one, which transitions to a couple shots of the rivers — I’m guessing that the little one is the Waiohine, and the larger one is the Ruamahanga (Ruamahanga means “Two Forks”, although there is more complicated story involving the tohunga Hua again), but won’t know for sure until I get a better map.

That little spur Stephen is standing on, with the Ruamahanga behind him, is all of about 8 inches wide at the top there. The previous photo shows how the Waiohine laps up against the bottom of it, and is forced to lap around the edge of it before joining up with the Ruamahanga.

Shortly after those pics were taken, the rain started up and we called it a day.