Archive for October, 2008

New shoes & automobile

October 23, 2008

I’ve recently learnt the appeal of The Warehouse, the large discount store which seems to sell everything.  I popped in looking for some camping gear, and came out with a pair of trainers, a Pingu DVD and the Best of the Cardigans.  All for less than $70.  The trainers, a pair of Airwalks, were less than $40.  Sod paying $200 on the high street!  They also stock Reeboks and Converse at similar prices.  For comparison, NZ$1 is roughly 37p. 

I ended up coming back the next day for the camping gear…

We also bought a car yesterday.  We didn’t want to mess about getting finance, so bangernomics was the order of the day.  Eventually we settled on a 1994 Nissan Maxima, a type of car I hadn’t heard of before arriving in New Zealand.  It’s a saloon car the same sort of size as a Vauxhall Omega or Volvo S70, with a 3 litre engine, something that could be an advantage on the hills round here.  Like most of the cars on the roads down here, it’s an automatic, but our main consideration was to get a smooth runner at a low price, and beggars can’t be choosers.  We paid just over £800, and the car has a new Warrant of Fitness, so all’s dandy.  Our plan is just to run it into the ground or trade it in for a newer car if we decide to stay longer term.  Anyway, it’ll certainly do for now, as it’s comfortable and powerful.



October 20, 2008

Aside from bureaucratic matters and familiarising ourselves with the area, our main concern since we arrived has been finding a house to rent.  Nice as the temporary apartment is, it’s not really suitable for a three year old as it has no garden and high balconies, Diane’s kayak has to be stored outside, and I have no workshop/modelling space.

The letting agents have a simple system.  They give you a list of the available properties with their addresses, and you’re free to drive around and have a look from the roadside.  This lets you quickly rule out places in a poor state of repair, iffy neighbourhoods or places that would be too small.  Returning to the agent’s office you can then take keys for properties you are interested in (if they’re presently unoccupied), and look round unaccompanied.  It’s a lot nicer than having someone making excuses for any issues you spot, and there’s less pressure to make any sudden decisions.  They do make a follow up call on visits, but if you’re as rude as I am you can just hang up on them or reject the call!

For all I liked the system, we have ended up choosing a property by one of Diane’s colleagues.  This cuts out the finder’s fee for the agent (meaning lower upfront cost), it’s furnished, and so if we don’t stay in New Zealand for more than a year it’ll save us money and hassle there.  The rent is more than we were planning to pay, but it’s offset by the value of the furnishings.

The run of good weather has ended for the time being.  After a fortnight of being generally sunny, it’s been raining since I got up this morning, and it’s so gloomy I can’t even see Somes Island.  I’m really hoping that it will clear up by the weekend, as it’s Wellington Folk Festival and the North Island Main Trunk railway centenary celebration.  Both would be spoiled somewhat by rain, although I’m sure they’ll both be fun anyway.

Hot dogs and geocaches

October 13, 2008

I wouldn’t claim to be a connoisseur of fast food.  But still, for as long as I can remember, I’ve regarded a hotdog as being a sausage in a bread bun, with optional onions and sauces.  Yesterday I learned that a hot dog in New Zealand is a sossidge onna stick, battered.  Sauce is still an option though.

Excuse the phone camera picture.  Hardly looks appetising, but actually tastes better than most hot dogs.

Amongst my interests is an activity called geocaching, where GPS is used to find … caches.  These can range in size from the size of a pool cue tip, to an ammo tin of 2 litres or more.  Anyway, I’m using these as a motivation to explore my local area, and through the search for them I’ve found viewpoints, playparks and upteen forest parks.  Possibly the best find was a viewpoint accessed through a winding residential road, which had stunning views of Wellington harbour and the Hutt Valley.  It was late evening, and we watched the sun setting over the western hills.

Other finds have been more immediately local, such as this sculpture which doubles as a spring for untreated water from the Waiwhetu aquifier.  There are drinking fountains and taps for filling bottles- and there is a constant procession of people arriving, and taking litres of the stuff.  So far I’ve only filled a couple of small bottles, but it is nice water- crisp and sweet in taste.  I’d only paid attention to the location by virtue of a geocache hidden by it!

We have found other nice places without searching for caches, but finding walks suitable for a three year old is challenging.

Getting to know you

October 9, 2008

For all I’d read wikipaedia, browsed Google Earth and searched Google Images, I couldn’t have claimed to have any expectations of Petone. So driving down the street that first day, with talk of Maori gangs (almost on cue, a patched member of the Mongrel Mob had walked past), I was a little nervous that we’d pitched up in a ghetto. The slightly ramshackle appearance of the buildings coupled with the general age of the cars driving past reinforced this perception. However, after a couple of decent nights’ sleep, I felt a lot more comfortable. No ghetto could support the café culture so prevalent here, and the number of artisanal shops led me to make mental comparisons to Stroud or Hebden Bridge, although without the prolific inbreeding or lesbians.  Jackson Street, Petone’s main drag, has cafés and restaurants to cater for almost every taste. From the pub grub to curry with pizza, fish and chips or Chinese, the choice is wide. The only two global brands are the omnipresent McDonalds, and Domino’s Pizza. Better quality and more popular are the home brands of Burger Wisconsin and Hell Pizza. Somehow they manage to fit shops in too, and as well as small grocery stores (Dairies), there are banks, bookshops, kitchen utensils, outdoor gear, a toy shop, gifts, and even two sex shops. We can walk out of the front door onto the street, and without having to walk further than a block I can buy meat, books, kitchenware, a PC, toys and porn. And of course useless gifts, an industry which New Zealand seems uncommonly well provided with.

Kiwis seem far less obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses than many other people, and there is much witness to be borne to this. Many people happily drive round in cars 10-15 years old, and there isn’t the fear of the 100,000 mile mark that brits irrationally have. When the seats wear out, they simply put covers on them. The Warrant of Fitness (akin to the MOT in the UK) ensures that they’re by and large roadworthy, though there are almost certainly dodgers like anywhere else. Second hand white goods are easy to come by, and auction site tradme is a religion second only to the All Blacks. Discount store The Warehouse is also popular, and we were recommended to visit for everything from a pushchair to mobile phones. That’s not to say New Zealanders are tight, theirs is simply a culture of practical economy.

As a break from the endless beurocracy that has marked our first few days, we’ve taken a few drives out beyond the local town. Within half an hour’s driving there are wooded mountains, deserted beaches, a cosmopolitan city, museums and enough Lord of the Rings filming locations to excite the most hardened of film buffs. I think that there will be plenty to occupy us in the upcoming months.

Jetlagged shopping

October 9, 2008

I think we started exploring too soon. The day we arrived, we decided to head to the supermarket to grab a few basics. But first, we needed to fortify ourselves. A little Turkish café called Zilli’s grabbed our attention, and we were well catered for. The owner had just baked fresh bread, so anything on the menu served with it was the recommendation. My frazzled mind could get more imaginative than soup, and Diane opted for a Turkish breakfast (which I was convinced was a sex act- turns out I was thinking of a snowcone). Anita had some meatballs and rice prepared, on off-menu option offered as they didn’t have a children’s menu. One kiwi custom which I first encountered in Zilli’s was the automatic serving of water- a happy tendency when you have a thirst like mine.

The local supermarket is an establishment called Pak ‘n Save, a name which causes Diane great amusement. Apparently they are cheap because you have to pack your own bags. That seems like no great hardship for a British ex-pat, as UK supermarkets have only recently begun packing for the customer. Whatever the case, I would not recommend visiting any supermarket the afternoon after disembarking from a long-haul flight. The shelves seemed to tower above me, the labels could have been in a different language, and I felt like I stood out a mile. Somehow we managed to get the basics that we needed (see previous post for a couple of examples), and then I went home for an afternoon nap. 14 hours later, I woke up…

Comfort in familiarity

October 8, 2008

There’s no getting away from the fact I’m in a foreign country.  For all the language is the same, the architecture, mix of cars, landscape, flora and fauna are all very different to the UK.  Faced with such differences, I seek comfort in familiar things.  The easiest place to do this is in the supermarket.  Cheddar cheese, HP sauce, Lea & Perrins… all of these are pretty well identical to the products I’ve long bought.  Others, although the brand is the same, have small differences…


There’s an unmistakable retro feel to the packaging of PG Tips here.  No pyramid bags, good honest rectangular tea bags.  No knitted monkeys, just the Indian lady picking the tea.  And it tastes just as good as I’m used to.  Bloody good job too, as like any true Englishman I’m addicted to tea.  Cups of brown joy!

I think that was my Gran’s tea set.

With other goods, although the name is the same, the brand is different, and the product contained within is definitely not the same.


That is not good shit.  I like Marmite, real Marmite in a rounded glass jar, which takes the roof off your mouth if spread too thick.  This stuff is plain wrong.  Even Lidl’s own brand Yeast Extract tastes better.  This excuse for Marmite tastes like clingfilm melted under the heat of a baboon’s armpit.  Disgusting.  At least Vegemite doesn’t pretend to be the real stuff, unlike these mountebanks.

Happily, I have found real Marmite.  It comes in the right jar and everything.  But because these fraudsters have stolen the name down here, it has to be called “Our Mate”.  Still, my morning toast is saved.  And I can have good tea to go with it.

Hitting the ground running

October 8, 2008

I dreaded the 29 hour journey.  Anita is hard work for an hour on a train, what flying halfway around the world would be like I didn’t dare consider.  As things were, I hadn’t considered the hypnotic effect of in-flight entertainment on a child who doesn’t normally have a television to watch.  She watched every movie, some twice, slept lots and only occassionally was difficult.  Perhaps the best summary was on our landing at Wellington, where I’d let her have the window seat, she laughed and shouted “again!”.

For this hopeless crank, the worst thing about the flight was the fact that we didn’t have a 747, instead having a 777.

We were met at Wellington International by two of Diane’s new colleagues, and we were driven to our apartment.  It is stylish, spacious, and has an amazing view. 

So that’s it.  We’ve arrived, after an uneventful but long journey, and we can’t rest yet!  There’s still a lot to sort out.