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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Red Rocks

Yesterday I finally had the chance to get out and take one of the many scenic walks around Wellington. Welly is a harbor city and it sits at the southern end of the harbor, facing north. Steep hills surround it on its southern and western edges, and to the east it is connected to a peninsula known as Miramar (Spanish for "sea view", and incidentally home to most of Peter Jackson's studios). It is also quite windy here, so the combination of that, the average annual temperature and the hilly terrain serve to give Welly one of its nicknames, "Mini-San Francisco".

One of the many cool things about New Zealand (and I really don't mean to gush about it all the time, but it is difficult not to) is that you can be in a large cultural center like Wellington and in five minutes' drive be on a seemingly remote stretch of beautiful coastline. I am reminded of a similar experience in Christchurch, when I drove over some hills leading out of the city and saw Sumner and Brighton nestled on the shore.

I had this sensation again yesterday when I made the drive south out of Welly, along Owhiro Road. An involuntary smile flashed across my lips as I glimpsed the ocean (well, Cook Strait to be specific) for the first time as I got close to the trailhead for the Red Rocks hike. There are several spots to stop and park your car, and I noticed that many people chose to drive out here and have their lunch as I was here on a workday but had the day off.

Before I forget to post it altogether, here is a link to some new pictures from my walk yesterday, along with a couple of other random photos I had on the camera:

Red Rocks

Once again, I've succeeded in posting the photos in reverse order, so just indulge me a little bit and maybe next time I'll master the art of posting of pictures to Photobucket.

The weather was perfect for this walk, as I had planned to take it the day before but in a typical display of Wellington weather, the sky became dark and then rainy in a little less than half an hour. This day, there was hardly a cloud in sight so I decided to go for it.

In one of the pictures I took you can see several 'baches' (pronounced 'baches'). These are the Kiwis' version of summer homes or just getaways in general. They usually belong to those with a little money, or those with a longstanding family tradition. Unfortunately, they are apparently becoming a thing of the past as some bach owners are giving way to - dare I say the 'D' word - developers. Baches are great because they are each so individual and seem to compliment a picturesque location like the Red Rocks trail, rather than to subjugate it and all but obliterate it, as those hulking, excessive hotels are wont to do.

I sincerely hope the Kiwis don't allow too much of this development thing to go on, but I'm trying not to be cynical about it. So far, it seems the baches as well as the undisturbed stretches of natural beauty here in New Zealand are remaining mostly undisturbed.

But enough about that. I wanted to hike as much of the trail as I could, and one pleasant surprise was the presence of a large colony of seals towards the end of my hike. I hadn't expected to see them, partly because I had such bad luck finding them on the Southern Scenic Route. Yet there they were, right at the end of 'haulout' season, wherein they haul themselves out of the water to sunbathe on the rocks. My background in biology fails me at the moment as to why they do this, but I guess all that swimming and catching fish must really take it out of them! Watching them, I was reminded of their equally indolent cousins that I had encountered on my cruise of Doubtful Sound.

I made sure to heed the warnings posted on the sign nearby, telling me not to come between the seals and the water. That would have been rather difficult, even had I wanted to somehow tempt fate like that! At first I didn't even notice the seals, as their near-motionlessness and fur color provided excellent camouflage amongst the rocks. But then I heard a sort of barking cough as I was walking and I turned to see if someone was coming up behind me, and that's when I saw the seals.

At one point, the Bluebridge ferry sailed by, making one of its many trips across Cook Strait between Wellington and Picton. I got an odd sort of satisfaction as I watched the boat cruise past. I realized this was because I wasn't on it for a change. Instead here I was, standing on the rocky shores of my new home, at last settled in to where I wanted to be.

Friday, September 15, 2006

New digs!

Places to live in can be hard to come by in these land-starved small towns surrounding Wellington. Some people have even begun commuting the 90 minutes 'over the hill' on winding, steep roads to come from the Wairarapa Valley to work in Welly. I can't blame them for this as it's really very nice over that way, but nevertheless it's a bit far removed for me at the moment.

With my three cats coming over in two months, and the fact that they all live only indoors, I figured I needed to start looking for a place soon. As an aside, most cats live outdoors all the time over here, something I'm not really comfortable with, so I didn't want to have flatmates who might assume that my cats also can go in and out as they please.

The one thing I was looking forward to about finding somewhere to live was the prospect of having flatmates. Danie has turned out to be a good friend, even though he's now in Australia, and he was a great flatmate to have. It'd be a potentially quick way to not only make a new friend but to then also have a circle of friends, as I'd meet more people through any new flatmates.

But to find the right combination of place to stay that will let me have indoor cats along with agreeable flatmates would take too long, so I moved on the first thing that came up. For better or worse, I'm moving into a small 'townhouse' (what we'd call a duplex) that's only five minutes from work. It's in a small development called Totara Park, and it's across the Hutt River from Upper Hutt itself. By the way, what they refer to as rivers here are really nothing more than very large creeks. That's not meant to be a putdown in any way, it's just that back home when I think of rivers I conjure up images of wide, deep, fast-running water. Here I'd say the rivers are much more 'quaint'.

Anyways, it turns out one of the nurses at work, Claire, lives just a few doors down from me on the same street with her partner. Ironically enough, all of the streets in Totara Park are named after States or cities in the USA, although I'm not exactly sure where my 'Freemont Green' would hail from in America ...

It will be easy to move this time, but soon I'll need to furnish this place - certainly before I have any guests, as my current 'furniture' inventory consists of:

- a folding chair, the kind you'd take to the beach, complete with slots for drinks in the armrests
- an inflatable mattress (it's a deluxe one, natch!)

And there you have it. There is a place down here called "Big Save" and apparently they will furnish your whole flat in a sort of package deal, so I'm headed there as soon as I get moved in.

Just pray that if I find something, it's not tacky or too 'Neo Fraternity' style! Interior decorating is not my strong suit. Pictures to follow.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Cake Tin

Finally caught my first live rugby match the other day. A vet friend from work, Nicky, invited me to go to the game with she and her fiance Richard. He has season tickets and his brother wasn't able to go, so I got to go along for free.

It's pretty obvious why they lovingly call this stadium the 'cake tin' from the outside, yet it really is a nice venue. There's a well-kept large grass playing field, which also doubles as a cricket pitch (cricket is a game akin to American baseball, except that it makes your average baseball game look like an "8-minute Abs" workout). There really isn't a bad seat in the house, and the seats go all the way around the inside of the 'tin'. The proper name for it is Westpac Stadium, by the way.

There's never a line for the bathroom and the crowds are really very well behaved - it's hard to believe you're watching a game in which the guys are tackling each other as hard as they do in the NFL, all without pads. One or two of them will wear these funny-looking bits of headgear that look like old-timey pilot helmets to protect their ears, but that's it for the 'padding'.

The Wellington Lions, my official team now, won the match pretty handily, and this they did without the several All Blacks that play for them. They do have the recently-retired captain of the AB's, one Tana Umaga, an energetic player who came in late in the second half and scored within five minutes.

Nicky and Richard were great hosts, having me over first for coffee before the game, then afterwards inviting me back for a great dinner. They got me hooked on NZ Idol, our version down here of American Idol, and there's even an Upper Hutt girl in the mix. Richard had cooked lasagna, which just so happens to be my favorite dish, and it was a great meal. I hope to one day soon have my new flat properly done up so I can have people over and return the favors!

Sadly, Nicky is leaving next week, off to work a better job wherein she doesn't have to do any large animal call-outs. I'll miss her as she's really great to work with. Nicky works hard and is friendly and intelligent. Hopefully when we find someone to replace her, they'll be just as good.

At the very least, I've got two new friends in her and Richard, as even though she's leaving the practice they're not leaving the area. In fact, you can see the new house they're building... right from the backyard of their current home. They live in Maungaraki, a great suburban retreat set over one of many hills in the region. From several spots you can see Wellington Harbor, and if I do stay in the area long-term, I know I'll be looking for a house up there eventually.

If I do buy a house on a hill, however, I'll be sure it's well away from the edge. I don't need to join the growing list of homeowners whose houses were washed down the hill in a mudslide caused by excessive rain, referred to as a 'slip' around here.

Friday, September 08, 2006


partner [pahrt-ner] -noun

a person who shares or is associated with another in some action or endeavor; sharer; associate.

2. in New Zealand, a term often substituted for 'significant other' or 'boyfriend', to describe another person of romantic interest

3. a unique special stratum in a New Zealand romantic relationship, occupying a slot above boyfriend or girlfriend, but somewhere just below fiance or fiancee

In New Zealand, marriages aren't as common as in other countries, possibly giving rise to this interesting twist on a committed male-female relationship.

Brandon has encountered many fine-looking women so far in New Zealand, yet a disproportionately high number of them seem to have a 'partner', a term he is learning to loathe.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Going native

Starting to settle in to life here in the Wellington region, and I'm quite liking it. Spring is now clearly on its way and plenty of social opportunities abound. Spent the weekend at Andrew and Vicki's house in neighboring Greytown, on the "other side of the hill" as they say around here. Andrew is another vet I work with and Vicki is his wife, whom he met while doing his O/E (overseas experience) in England several years back. Next weekend I'm off to have coffee with Nicky and her fiancee, whom I have not yet met. Nicky is another vet from work but unfortunately she's leaving in a couple of weeks. Still it will be nice to make more friends and she and her husband will be staying in the Welly area when they come back from their honeymoon.

I'm going to see my first opera the weekend after that ("Faust") and I'm soon to join a tramping club (what we call hiking back in the States). I'm also looking into doing some volunteer work, perhaps doing a writer's workshop, and - if I can find it - an acting class! I've also just joined the local gym, so piece by piece my life is starting to resemble what it was before I left the USA, plus a little bit more. I'm 'getting on to it' as the Kiwis say.

Nothing could replace my good friends back home, and I look forward to being back with them someday, but that won't be for another few years yet if I can help it. I've come too far and sacrificed too much to just stay here the one year. Three to five years sounds more like it! I really hope some of you can make it over here at some point, there is so much here. The pictures and my droning on and on in this blog just can't do justice to what it's like Down Under.

Getting back to Andrew and Vicki, it turns out Vicki trained as a nurse but she grew out of it after six years, which is not hard for me to understand because I've seen how difficult the life of a nurse can be. She's turned out to be quite a talented painter, as she and Andrew have turned one room of their house into a gallery and she has paintings up in two different art galleries. She's also part of an exciting new 'art trail', just making its debut in their little corner of New Zealand. Greytown is right in the midst of some of the north island's best wine country, with the de facto wine capital Martinborough just around the corner from it. There are 20 different artists, all from several different disciplines, featured along a lazy crawl through this valley. It's being touted as the Main ARTery, and here's a link to it:

Wairarapa Art Trail

Her full name on the site is Victoria Cassells. When I get more money (and a place to hang up things), I'll certainly be buying some of her art!

In the sporting news, unfortunately the All Blacks lost this weekend, but they did very well against Australia and South Africa overall and still look like one of the teams to beat for next year's rugby world cup. Before long I'll be making my way to the 'cake tin' to see the Wellington Lions play, and several AB's play for them so it'll be a good deal.

Pretty much that's it for now. I can't wait to break out the camera again and go on some of these walks around the harbor, but so far I haven't had good weather or the time and I need both. Stay tuned.
*Image of painting by Victoria Cassells used with her permission!