Canoes and Taxidermy

By Sunday the occasional showers of Saturday had passed, and we decided it was a great day for a road trip and a bit of tramping. We decided to drive up over the Rimutaka range and into the big valley of the Wairarapa. All the ridges and mountain ranges do interesting things to the weather (can you say “microclimate”?), so when we got over the range we found showers lingering on the far side. Thankfully it only ever rained while we were driving, not hiking. In Featherston, the town just east of the range, we switched drivers and I took the wheel. This was my first time driving in NZ since we were last here as tourists 4 years ago. We headed south, down towards the coast.

Checking our New Zealand Complete Road Atlas we noticed a “Place of Interest” icon along the way labeled “Canoes and Taxidermy Gallery” near the tiny little town of Tuhitarata. We had to stop. It was exactly as advertized. There was a farmer, he rented canoes. Plus Taxidermy was a big hobby of his, so he had built a little museum for his own collection. Totally worth the $3 admission! He also would provide a little tin of pellets so you could feed the sheep and deer. Mmmmm, deer spit all over my hand! In the deer paddock was the most pugnacious and nasty goose we have ever met. He had the buck cowed! The farmer and his wife both complained about that gooses habit of having load dominance fits in the middle of the night, and how one of these days they were going to just bash it in the head (and maybe have it for dinner).

From there we made it down to the coast and followed along to the Putangirua Pinnacles. These are really neat formations caused by erosion of the soft clay and pebble soil, making fantastic towers and knife-edged forms. We spent about 3 hours tramping up and about the region, following the advice of the farmer we met earlier we took a really great series of trails which led to one fantasic view after another. The Pinnacles are a great place for hunting the ellusive Sumatran Rat-Monkey. If this reference makes no sense to you, go forth and watch Peter Jacksons movie Dead Alive (or Brain Dead as it is known down here). PJ has filmed so much within a 2 hour drive of Wellington, it is amazing, both for the diversity of landscape and his ability to transmute a scene. Like taking the moutain park behind our apartment (and in the middle of the city!) and use it for the roads of the outer shire in LoTR.

Since we were pretty far south, we decided to follow the road along to its end at Cape Palliser, the southernmost point of the North Island. This involved many kilometers of gravel road, often clinging precariously to a cliffside. Quite a fun drive, especially when we reached the “active slump”. When you build a road into the side of a clay hill and it rains buckets what happens? The road slides down into the ocean of course! In this case the slide was slow, and ongoing. So they simply buldozed a new narrow 1-lane gravel track above where the paved road was slipping into the sea. Very dramatic. Unfortunately due to the road conditions there was no way we could stop and snap some pictures.

A few kilometers before the end of the road you pass through the fishing village of Ngawihi. This is a fishing town on the Cook Straight, in the “roaring 40’s” without a harbor. So every night they haul all the boats up out of the sea using large trailers and bulldozers. Dozens of bulldozers. Many with nifty pain jobs and names. The paint had to be thick to hold off the corrosive effect of the constant sea spray. After much driving we finally made it to the lighthouse at the end, but no longer had the energy to climb the hundreds of stairs up. But we were content gazing out at the ocean, and taking a few pictures. I did notice that by this point we were the only non-4WD in on the road. Ah, the Toyota Echo- an intrepid little beast! It was evening by now, so on our way back north and west we stopped in Lake Ferry, which has the southernmost pub in the North Island. They were packed, but we got into the bar and had some fish and chips. Hot food after a long day of tramping was most appreciated. Then it was the drive back north to Featherston and the Rimutaka crossing, and then south back down the Hutt valley to Wellington and a much needed nights sleep!


The Kiwis have the same abbreviation habits the Australians do.

breakfast -> brekkie
present -> prezzie
scrumptious -> scrummie


I’m not a techie, I’m a techo.


conversation -> convo
afternoon -> arvo
musician -> muso

I’ve been trying to work out the rules, but it may just be a question of listening for common usage.

At any rate, we hung out with a lot of musos on Saturday at the Wellington Folk Festival. Ran into a lot of familar faces, including Glen (dumbek), Tim and Liz (oud and fiddle), and several of the other guys I met in my whirlwind first couple of weeks here — Paddy, Andy, and Rory, the latter two wearing their Utilikilts, and Tad, an American friend of Andy’s, from the Mid-West, now living in Johnsonville. Paddy also does a bit of woodworking on the side, and I bought from him two pair of rimu wood “bones” — clackers you play like spoons, that also happen to be near-perfect analogs for period Turkish castanets. Also ran into Richard, whom we’d previously met at the big Monday night gaming session at The Ferryman, and also at the Wellington Warlords miniatures wargaming session (Sunday afternoons in Kandallah). Had a nice conversation — er, “convo” — about potential upcoming games, and the concentrating effect that Wellington’s relatively small size can have on interpersonal relationships within various communities.

The Fest was held in a big Boy Scout camp out in Moore’s Valley, which is just south of Wainuiomata, on the other side of the harbor. (The whole big harbor, not the little Lambton Harbor that the Central Business District is clustered around.) Some nice little bush walks around the camp.

Later that night, we went out to dinner with Stephanie and Patrick, and several of their local friends who’d come out from California to work on LotR at Weta (a couple of whom we’d met earlier on Stephanie’s B-day). The animation work is largely done, so now it’s the turn of the folks who have to put it all together to put in the horrendous overtime. Yummy Italian food, and the Weta folks seem really cool. It’s a pity they’re pretty much gone as of next week. Maybe they’ve caught the NZ bug and we’ll see them again in a couple years.

Actually — we went out for Second Dinner. Or Supper, or something. ‘Cause Stephen had picked up some super-yummy steamed buns from the Asian grocery (“A-Mart”, formerly “Mr. Chan’s”) next to the New World, and we’d already had those. Yum !

17 hours in Sydney

Right, so I’ve been pretty slack with the blog posting lately, but that’s because I was out of town, and then before that, we blew out our monthly bandwidth allotment and had to chill netless for a week. Yuck !

Anyway, I was in Sydney for a little over four days for training, and I figure if you subtract the time I spent in training or at the hotel, that left me about 17 hours to “See Australia”. Right-o.

Day 1

— arrive airport (it’s 3.5 hours from Wellington to Sydney, FYI — not bad ! And there are airline price wars looming courtesy of Virgin, so you can get there and back for NZ$350 or so). Sydney from the air sprawls. Tall buildings; suburbs for miles; could be any big city, really. I try to get excited about being here — it’s my very first time in Australia, after all. But it just feels like I’ve been shipped to some other city for work. Yawn. Could be Baltimore or Philly or anywhere.

— discover the hotel is in “North Sydney”, meaning, on the other side of the famous Sydney Harbor Bridge, meaning the airport hotel shuttles don’t go there. A taxi would be somewhere around AU$40 (the NZ dollar currently buys AU$0.84), which I know Datacom would pay for, but…

— get complicated instructions from the guy at the booth near the shuttle bus stops on how to get a bus to get me somewhere close, maybe.

— fall back on what I know and take the train. It costs AU$11.80 and drops me three or four blocks from the hotel, which I successfully find in the dark. The train, BTW, goes over the bridge (of course), affording a lovely view of the very tall office buildings on both sides of the harbor. North Sydney is the IT district, and all the buildings have big-ass neon signs around their tops: Cisco, Novell, etc.

— check in, to be given note from co-worker (three others were sent a day eariler to go to a different class) informing me he’ll be at a place whose name is not in the phone book and which the woman at the desk has never heard of, and to call him on his cell if I want to join him there.

— discover that because my employer doesn’t always pay its bills on time, Vodaphone has not turned on global roaming as requested, and my cell phone is now just a very bulky digital timepiece. Attempts to dial out from the hotel room phone fail.

— Co-worker returns from pub and tells me when they’ve been meeting for breakfast and catching the train in the morning.

Day 2

— hook up with co-workers for breakfast and work. The PeopleSoft building is two stops north, in Chatswood, a mid-scale shopping and office suburb. There are a half-dozen malls and shopping centers which my (male) coworkers head off to for the second half of the lunch break (yes, I go too — not much else to do, really).

— politely turn down co-workers offers to pick up scalped ticket to Namibia v. Argentina in Gosford (you did know the rugby World Cup is on, right ?) in the evening. Because my attendance wasn’t confirmed until a couple of days prior, they’d already bought tickets & I didn’t want to go and sit by myself on the other side of the stadium, so…

— head into Sydney to see if I can shake this “I’m in Baltimore” feeling. Fetch up in The Rocks, which is one of the older parts of the city, with lots of nifty old warehouses and barracks and the like, mostly converted into upscale restaurants. There are galleries (aside: those opals are expensive.) and stuff, and a gorgeous view of the Opera House on the other side of the inlet. The Opera House is beautiful, and I start to shake Baltimore and start thinking I may be somewhere Nifty. See the Sydney equivalent of Philly’s brownstones or Boston’s brick townhouses — the architecture is… different. Not too different, but definitely noticable.

— get a digeridoo lesson from Dari and Cameron at DigiWorks; also get a case of ferret shock at the pretty pretty artwork. Learn that the digeridoo until 50 or so years ago was only really played in the North, and that they are naturally hollowed out by termites. Learn to recognize the four major regional art styles, and how that whole “circular breathing” thing is really done (talk about patting your head and rubbing your tummy…)

— discover that I’ve gotten used to the scale of Wellington and bite off rather more than I can chew attempting to walk to Darling Harbor the Long Way. It got me a neat view of the underside of the Harbor Bridge, though. There’s a tour you can take where you climb it at night, and I got to see the little group’s ghostly headlamps, as it wound its way along the catwalks high above, all of them roped together. Also got to see some no doubt outrageously expensive apartments along the converted wharves (they each had a slip for a launch).

— relocate the train station and make my footsore way back to the hotel for a truly awful hotel-food dinner, brought up by a nice chick from Chicago who was doing the work-and-travel thing.

— watch Namibia finish getting their butts kicked by Argentina, although it took me nearly to the end of the game to figure out which team was which (silly me wasn’t expecting the Namibian team to be quite so thoroughly white. Shows you what I know about politics and sport in Southern Africa).

Day 3

— Sydney harbor is lovely, by the way. It’s a lot more… inland than Wellington, if that makes any sense. It’s almost like a big river with lots of coves and inlets, with city and parks and stuff on the shores and boats of all sizes in the water.

— WEAR SHORT SLEEVES! AND BE WARM! OUTSIDE! IN THE SUN! For the first time in MONTHS!!! I can’t tell you how giddy I was to feel the start of summer — 75F !

— after class, go into Darling Harbor with the guys. Decide I don’t actually like Darling Harbor, although clearly everyone is supposed to. They took the whole inlet and walled it off with restaurants and malls and hotels. Seriously, as you’re approaching from the city, you just see this big wall. Inside around the water there’s pretty park, and a couple playgrounds, and a nifty swiveling bridge, and the Maritime Museum and water taxis and stuff. Nice, but so very very fake and closed in. The ibis were kinda neat, though. Most parks have pigeons, or maybe gulls. This one was positively lousy with ibis. Not every day you get mooched by ibis.

— pass by and read the menus of several rugby bars, seafood restaurants, Asian grills, and combinations of the above. Pick one that happens to have nachos on the menu and have dinner there, watching the last half of USA v. Figi and the first half of Italy v. Samoa. I have to say it’s a really… odd feeling to have the US be the underdogs in something. In anything. To have people rooting for us and hoping we’d win. To have a crowd cheering us. It’s just… weird. We almost had ’em, too, and it was really way closer than it should have been (yes, the poor underdog US almost won an upset over the powerhouse that is… Figi. The mind boggles.). It came down to one missed kick.

Day 4

— zoom into town after class to try and catch Paddy’s Market (think Reading Terminal, with the same number of grocery stalls, fewer food stalls, and way more crafts/clothes/cheap electronics), which is supposed to stay open later on Thursday, but which is nonetheless in the process of closing down when I arrive. Note to anyone thinking of joining the Chamber of Commerce for a large city that gets a lot of business travelers: Realize that your business travelers are on expense accounts for their room and board, which frees up their own money to be spent on other stuff in your lovely city, but only on stuff that is available after business hours. Cities that close promptly at 5:30 do me no good. PS: Also, when you’re putting together those free booklets they have in racks of thousands in the airport, note the hours things are open. Thank you.

— realize that although the Market is unhelpfully closed, the outlet mall upstairs is open and full of sales. Vent some of my shopping frustration there.

— on the way back to the train station, stuff myself on Japanese food. Note that Sydney has a much larger Asian population than Wellington, but apart from them it is much, much whiter. Stare in fascination at the some two dozen different photo-booth machines upstairs from the restaurant, but don’t actually get photo taken due to a) lack of ten $1 coins, and b) intimidation.

Day 5

— after class, train back to airport. Peruse duty-free. Arrive home. Learn the All Blacks beat Canada while I was in the air. (Quantas food is pretty uninspiring, BTW, although the free wine was a tasty Shiraz. If you have a choice, AirNZ is better.)

So there’s the incredibly long Sydney post. Huzzah !

I *did* make it back in time for Diwali (happy Indian New Year !), but didn’t get to see as much of it as I’d planned, on account of the fact that half of New Zealand was trying to stuff itself into Civic Square and the Town Hall. Oh well ! It was a beautiful beautiful day, and the weather’s gotten warm here, too, though still only in the 60s. Yay ! Spring !

Not Normal

So, I was happy to hear that the weather of the last few weeks has not been exactly normal. This is apparently been a wet and rainy year, the worst since 1968. New Zealand got its yearly allotment of rain by August, and now we are having a moist spring on top of that! Fascinating pictures on the news Tuesday night of farmers fields in the far north under 3 to 4 feet of water. Hope those sheep can swim. But as compensation this week we have had fabulous weather. Most days it has been clear sky and mild winds, a bit cold early on but getting nice and warm as the week progresses.

Tamara of course misses this, as she spends the week in Sydney in Peoplesoft training. But she gets Sydney weather, which is a few degrees warmer so there should not be any complaints. Now I just hope Tam can get an earlier flight back so we can go to the big “Indian Festival of Lights” they are holding in Civic Square on Saturday!

Steel on Steel

Once again we tried to fill our weekend with fun round-the-city adventures. Saturday afternoon we went over to the City Gallery to look at a set of exhibitions by local artists. One (whose name now escapes me of course) had all these wacky paintings done in red, black and white, which are traditional Maori colors for art work, with a fused modern/traditional/christian theme. I would have probably gotten more out of them if I knew Maori, as most of the paintings were covered with words I could not understand. My favorite pieces were highly stylized, where the Maori traditional art looked almost Celtic in its twisty curls and interlocks.

Saturday we were going to do archery, but it was raining again. So we decided to sleep in an go to fight practice that afternoon instead. It was a nice walk up to Mt Cook and the Price of Wales park, a part of the city I had not been up to before. The park is a few hundred meters long, and we were not sure exactly where to go. So we walked along, listening. Then in the distance we heard the crack of a sword on a shield, and knew we were heading in the right direction! Turned out that everyone there was doing steel weapons, so we gave it a try. I found it a bit vexing and counter-intuitive to my normal fighting style, while Tam had a grand old time. Minimum armor requirements is helmet and gauntlets- a bit less than I am used to! All the people were very nice, and one young woman when she heard we were SCA-types pulled out her cell phone and called one of the SCA locals, who promptly came over. The SCA here in Wellington is very active, and very small. They apparently have three (count ’em- three!) regular heavy list fighters. And only about 12 regular members. And yet they manage a weekly fight practice, a weekly dance practice, and a weekly A&S night. That is a devoted dozen! No fighters were there this week because one was sick, and another was moving. When you have only three, the absence of two kind of kills it. Richard who came over was quite excited at having a fourth fighter move into town. Apparently the “big” fighting event every year is held down in Christchurch where they get 20 or 30 fighters! Oooh! It made me think a great deal about the whole pond and fish size ratio, especially after going to Pennsic two months ago. When we told them we were Mongols Richard commented “yeah, we had one down in Christchurch a few years ago… I think his name was Ethan?” Ha! Small world!

Today Tamara is off to the airport to fly to Australia for 4 days of Peoplesoft training. Later this week I go and meet with the people who are giving us our mortgage, and I have to start calling contractors. We want to have a solar hot water system installed in the house, so I have to start exploring my options in terms of price, efficiency, appearance, and how quickly they can get it all installed. Our goal is to have everything dramatic we want done to the house done before we move it. Looks like we will have a magic week when we have both house and apartment, now to get all the work scheduled and done. 5.5 weeks to the new house. Woo!!

"Rain Train"

The weatherman didn’t lie. The Wellington region got hammered on Friday. The Kapiti coast in particular had a rough time. By 8:30 PM on Friday Wellington was cut off. SH1 up the coast was blocked by a big slip in Paekakariki, and SH2 was closed due to winds and flooding. Considering the winds were hitting 130 kph (78 mph) and the 15 cm of rain we got, it is not really a surpirse. The rail lines that parallel the highways were also closed. Quite a mess. People who stayed in Wellington to watch the Rugby suddenly found themselves trapped in the city.

Speaking of Rugby, I now have this strange association in my mind. Rugby on TV is this sport of speed and cunning, with the ball deftly passed about. Rugby live is this muddy grinding match in the driving rain, where ball fumbles are common. Perhaps one day I will see a live Rugby game that is not in the middle of a howling storm. Maybe. One day.

By Sunday beautiful weather had returned, and we walked up to the Zoo. A small zoo, but quite nice. You can get very close to the animals (watch those fingers!), next time we will bring the camera and hope the animals are as close to the edge as they were on Sunday. Most of the displays are of Australian and NZ native critters, which was nice. They had the required “african section”, with the Zebra and lions, and soem really keen african wild dogs. No elephants, and they had a sign explaining that to get elephants they would have a (1) long quarantine for biosecurity, (2) need to get a pair so they would be happy as herd animals, and (3) would a whole new enclosure with at least an acre of land for them. This would cost over NZ$ 2million. They have neither the land nor the money, so no elephants.

Frodo's in my elevator

Wellington, you know, it’s not that big. Stephen and I ran into Kiran Shah, the Actual Size Frodo in LotR, as he was leaving our apartment building last night. Dunno what he was doing there. The woman he was with mentioned that they’d “just moved back in”, but that Kiran was leaving for London tomorrow. So that’s it for our unexpected brush with celebrity. In his exit interview running in the papers this morning, he says he really likes NZ, because everyone’s friendly, but no one mobs him. Except at that Armageddon con Stephen and I went to. Apparently he’d gone to meet his fellow Star Wars alums (he was, naturally, one of the Ewoks) and the fans got a bit overwhelming.

In a different sort of celebrity news, I found out the reason I haven’t been seeing the Blanket Man in Courtenay Place for a while is that he’d been arrested for… well, pretty much for being the Blanket Man: smoking marijuana, loitering, hanging out naked. He says the naked thing is part of his worship of Ra, but since one of the times he was caught doing it was at 2AM, the judge didn’t buy it.

In other news, Stephen and I (and a passle of my coworkers) are going to see Wellington get pasted by Otago tonight. In a gale force Northerly. At least there is some symmetry, since it was a Southerly last time.

Speaking of which, I’m used to seeing little suns and little rainclouds and dark little clounds with lightning coming out of them on my weathermaps, but this was a new one:
gale winds icon
It means, roughly, “For God’s sake ! Strap yourselves down !!” The guy giving the weather report on the news last night described towns “getting hit by the Rain Train”, and as they were panning away from the newsdesk at the end of the show, you could see in the background a blown-out umbrella that some off-camera wit was pulling across the stage by a string. Hee.

As promised

Here’s a map of the middle of central Wellington. Again, mucho props to the NZ Government and for making this available, copyright is owned by the Crown, etc. I added a couple little purple labels, and shifted a couple of the labels that it came with a little closer to the features they are labeling.

If you follow Majoribanks street to the west from Mt Victoria, it becomes Courtenay Place. Courtenay Place forks into Dixon and Manners Streets. Manners Street is a pedestrian mall for the block where it intersects Cuba Street, which is also a pedestrian mall from about two blocks to the south. The City Library is on the inland edge of Civic Square.

Those fine squiggly lines that aren’t streets are contour lines, on account of this technically being a topographical map. This map fits between the upper two of the three little green rectangles on the map below (Mt. Vic in the lower right and Tinakori Hill in the upper left).

Whee !