Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Quest

Bright and early (6:30am) tomorrow morning we embark on The Quest.

This is what we are calling the road trip, as you guys failed to come up with useful and hilarious-in-a-British-humour-kind-of-way titles. No offence to those who submitted suggestions. So, 'The Quest' is it.

The capitalisation is compulsory.

This means no blogs for 10-12 days, unfortunately. I'm really sorry, please don't get too suicidally upset by the absence of my hysterical writings. I'll be too busy having Fun (also capitalised) to blog.

However, I will leave you with the Doctor Who plot my grandma helpfully compiled from the list of things involved in The Quest:

'In period dress, the Doctor and his companion travelers are captured by sea creatures who live under the polar icecap of a distant planet, where the only light is from the innumerable number of stars that shine constantly with light so powerful that it penetrates through the ice. The Doctor and etc eventually overcome the creatures by using a cunning plot and escape by using a boat made of ice, which eventually reaches the surface of the icecap and they return to the Tardis.'

Yep, Grandma Dragon, that's exactly what it's going to be like.

Freddy's Ice House

Tonight we went to an ice bar.

This is a bar made of ice.

The walls are ice.

The tables are ice.

The chairs are ice.

The glasses are ice.

You get the picture.

Pretty much the only things that aren't ice are the floor and the drinks. We turned into ice after an hour in the bar.

It was quite an odd place. First off, you weren't allowed to take pictures - instead they would take pics with their own cameras and then you had to buy the prints. Second, they gave you latex gloves to put inside the snow gloves. Lastly, it is basically just a walk-in freezer with house music blasting out the speakers.

After two cocktails we were pretty chilly, so we went to another bar to thaw. This was also odd - it was a typical sports cafe, but half the room was set up as a bookies and the other half was showing televised chariot racing.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Easter Film Review

Well, after failing to do sitting down things on Good Friday, I tried harder for the rest of the weekend. This time I succeeded! So here is a run down of the weekends films:

1) Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring : ****
Dumbledore and some fellas of varying heights roam the New Zealand countryside meeting elves, fighting orcs, and generally having a good time. Sure, there is some mean bloke trying to destroy their homes and enslave them, and the vertically challenged ones are permanently on the brink of tears, but overall it's a feel-good romcom. The best bit is when Dumbledore shouts 'YOU SHALL NOT PASS' and then 'dies'.

Morals of the story:

2) Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers : ****
See above.

Morals of the story:
  • Never enrage a giant tree.
  • Tossing a dwarf is acceptable in the midst of battle.

3) I Love You, Man: ***
Man is getting married, but has no friends to be his best man (why he couldn't ask his brother I have not worked out. Probably because then there would be no film). Goes speed-dating and makes a friend, but the friend is a tad childish and causes friction between Man and his fiancée. There's a lot of air guitar, jokes about Lou Ferrigno, and an awful lot of swearing considering it was being broadcast at 2pm. In the end, it all works out fine: he gets the girl, he gets the friend, and even the dramatic gay man is happy.

Morals of the story:
  • It's bad to laugh at people (read: Americans) who spell Zoe 'Zooey'.
  • Don't name your dog after dead Egyptian presidents, as you will get sued.

4) The Matrix: **
Keanu Reeves takes a break from looking sad to discover the world is a computer program. Actually, this was before he was sad, but as this world is not real it doesn't matter what order I say things happen. Anyway, Keanu busts out of the program, where he had a nice cushy life, to the real world, where he is hunted and suffers a fair bit. Silly man.

Morals of the story:
  • There is no spoon.

5) Public Enemies: ****
Man robs bank. Man gets sent to jail. Man escapes. Man robs bank. Man has intimate relations with Woman. Man dies and Woman gets sent to jail. The End.

Morals of the story:
  • Just say no.

6) Shrek: ****
It had been so long since I'd seen the original Shrek that I'd forgotten a lot of the jokes, which was nice. Shrek is an ugly ogre, who goes to save a princess trapped in a castle. But, the princess has a secret *gasp* - she is also an ogre! Well, only at night time. Then she looks like half the drag queens down the gay village on a Friday night. She eventually comes to realise that Shrek is her true love, and they get rid of Lord Shortypants and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, there are no dragon-donkey-babies in this film *sad face*.

Morals of the story:
  • Princesses can explode birds with the power of their voices. Beware.
  • Inside every dragon is a beautiful woman just waiting to be loved.

7) Hot Fuzz: ***
Simon Pegg is a super duper policemanofficer who gets sent to a quiet country village when he gets promoted. He meets Nick Frost, who is another policemanofficer, and they become best buds. But then, Simon Pegg uncovers a dastardly ethnic cleansing programme going on in the village, and disagrees on moral grounds. So he shoots the lot.

Morals of the story:
  • Chunky Monkey is the standard punishment for drink driving.
  • You can take on most organised crime rings if you have aviators, ketchup and a sea mine.

8) Valentines Day: ***
Star-studded romcom (compare and contrast: Lord of the Rings Trilogy) full of heart-warming story arcs that go a bit like this: boy meets girl. Boy finds out girl is an Adult Phone Entertainer. Boy has a bit of a paddy, but the girl has fallen in love with him after like, two dates, so they are fated to be together for all eternity. It's a bit like a bad American version of 'Love Actually', but in this one the cute kid is in love with his teacher, which is a bit creepy.

Morals of the story:
  • In fact, this whole film is one long moral. Think of all the morals you could fit into a film about love, and you've just about got it.

So, there you have what I got up to this Easter weekend.

And now, it's time for me to ask for a little help from you guys back home. On Friday me and three others are going off on a ten day trip. However, we want to call it 'A Quest For...' but have not come up with a good thing to be questing for. Any ideas? The trip will include:
  • Ice.
  • Sea Creatures.
  • Boats.
  • Stars.
  • Period dress.

Answers on a postcard/email please!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Goat Island

As we are embarking on The Mammoth Road Trip of FunTM next weekend I thought it was a sensible idea to have an expense-free weekend doing mainly sitting down things.

Instead, I went snorkeling. Sensible behaviour is for grown-ups.

Myself, the other DrA, and DrC, set off in our rental car (a much much smaller car than the previous one) for Goat Island Marine Reserve.

Goat Island Reserve, or Cape Rodney-Okakari Point Reserve (much less catchy), is New Zealand's first marine reserve, created over 30 years ago. The name Goat Island has a quite interesting origin. Back in't day when there were loads of seafaring type folk, people were quite scared of running aground on some desolate piece of coast with nothing to eat for miles. They introduced livestock everywhere they went, so they would have food. However, there wasn't much point introducing them on the mainland, where they would just disperse, so they introduced them on islands easily accessible from the mainland. If the island had a source of fresh running water they introduced cows and sheep, but if there was no fresh water they introduced goats. This is because goats are so frugal with their water metabolism that they can survive on a diet of just foliage without any water. In fact, there are about five Goat Islands in New Zealand.

Pigs were not used, as they have an inconvenient habit of swimming to the mainland.

Goat Island became a marine reserve because of its clear water and open exposed coast. According to Wikipedia, a marine reserve is just a patch of sea that is protected from fishing or development. I was envisaging underwater fences.

Anyway, we arrived at Goat Island, and rented our snorkeling gear - wetsuit, flippers, mask and snorkel. Here are the two DrA's looking like a very attractive duo:

I was quite offended by the snorkel gear-woman judging me to be a size 16.

We then set off to snorkel. Technically my camera is waterproof to ten metres (which means ten metres below the surface. When I was a kid I thought it meant you could only swim a distance of ten metres before it would be damaged. I was very confused by what would happen if you just stayed still), but I didn't really fancy trying it out when I can't afford to buy a new one.

At first, I kept forgetting to breathe, and just popping my head above the surface and taking big gasping breaths. Then I remembered the purpose of the snorkel, and managed to force myself to breathe through it. I was still breathing like a smoker of 40 years having a panic attack though.

We saw lots of fish. It was great! There was one enormous Snapper that kinda appeared from underneath me and made me scream, but the rest were pretty cool. There were some nice glowing blue ones, and some pretty ugly frilly ones. Nearer to the coast we got caught up in a shoal, and they were so close we could have easily touched them. We kept our arms firmly by our sides, though, as they were pretty scary. They were definitely watching us, and everytime we thought the shoal had gone away, we'd turn round and they'd all be behind us, staring at us. It was an amazing experience.

Here is a picture of the reserve:

You can just see a rock in the middle of the sea, in the far left. This is called Shag Rock, pronounced 'Shay-g'.

After getting changed and trying to tame our hair, we decided to go for lunch. Fish and chips. Yep. It was yummy.

Nearby is Tawharanui Regional Park, so we decided to go there as we'd heard it was very pretty. We went to a part of it called Anchor Bay, and were rewarded by the clouds moving away and the sun coming out for the first time that day. Anchor Bay was very nice, but the best bit was when I rounded a corner and ended up on a massive beach all by myself. It was incredible. The low sun did pretty amazing things with the light:

I also saw these very odd structures made of sand on top of a rock:

After that we decided to go home. However, there was a slight problem:

The sheep did eventually disperse, and we went home to go to a Chinese restaurant. You may have noticed we are trying to eat every Far East cuisine during our time in NZ. So far we have tried:
  • Japanese - £7.50
  • Korean - £6
  • Malaysian - £12.50
  • Chinese - £5.90
Next time: Vietnamese.

After tea we went for a late night drive, as the other DrA had put too much petrol in the rental car. We went to Mount Eden and Mission Bay, but I won't tell you about them as I'm going to go in the day at some point.

EDIT: I forgot to mention The Toll Road Incident.

On the way to Goat Island there is a toll road. The car rental man told us you had to go into a BP garage to pay the $2, but that it was well signposted.

It wasn't.

We ended up on the toll road, driving past loads of signs saying 'NON PAYMENT IS AN OFFENCE' in big letters, but no idea how we were meant to pay. Finally we saw a sign with a phone number. Apparently our car had already been flagged up as not having paid, but they let us pay over the phone. Phew!

Silly JAFA's (Just Another...Friendly...Aucklander - their nickname given to them by the rest of New Zealand)

Monday, 18 April 2011

Waitomo Caves - Road Trip Day 3

After another surprisingly good sleep (and a rather...bracing...shower) we headed off to the Waitomo Caves, travel sickness in full force again.

Waitomo (wai meaning water, tomo meaning sinkhole) is a village with a population of 41, and home to an extensive cave system. The area, made predominately of limestone, lies on a fault line, and you can see the differences in rocks on either side as you survey the scenery.

There are several companies providing tours and sports experiences in the caves, but we went for the less publicised one as it provided smaller group sizes and more time in the glowworm cave.

Our tour started with a nausea-inducing drive to the first cave. Our guide was a very nice man called Norm, and he provided us with lots of information about the surrounding area and the history of the caves. He also named us 'Team Doc', which was nice.

The first cave we went to was called 'Te Ana o te Atua' ('The Cave of the Spirit), and had some pretty spectacular stalactites/mites etc.

Norm was very informed and told us about the different processes that led to the formations. We also saw bones of animals that had died in the cave (when they set up the tours they didn't change anything about the caves, only installed a walkway), including a skeleton of a moa, a giant flightless bird that was hunted to extinction by the Maori people centuries ago.

This is Team Doc in the first cave:

The real excitement, however, was in the next cave. After a cup of coffee and some tasty biscuits, we were given helmets with lights on the front, and led into the next cave. This was a bit scary, as we kept the lights off for most of it to develop our night vision. This was because 10 minutes into the cave was a boat, which took us on a voyage through a passage full of glowworms.

The glowworms, or Arachnocampa, are the larvae of a fungus gnat. After hatching from the egg, a larva spins a nest out of silk. Then it creates up to 70 threads of silk from the nest, each around 30cm long and studded with drops of mucus. A chemical reaction in its abdomen causes the worm to glow, which attracts prey such as flies. The prey then gets caught in the strings of silk, and the worm detects where the fly is by the vibrations of the strings. It then pulls the string up and eats its prey. If food is scarce they sometimes resort to eating each other. Glowworms can only survive in places without wind (or their strings would get tangled), which is why they live in caves.

It is difficult to describe the sight of millions upon millions of little blue-white points of light on the ceiling of a cave. As our eyes adjusted to the dark more and more glow worms became apparent, and it became even more stunning.

It is very difficult to photograph glowworms; we couldn't use the flash as it would disturb our night vision, and you wouldn't have been able to see them anyway. However, the lovely tour company people emailed us some photos:

That was nice of them.

On the way out of the cave we encountered a cave weta. This is a horrific insect that looks like a spider. It was easily bigger than a acromegalic hand. I was traumatised and squealed a bit.

After the tour (which surprisingly took over three hours) we headed back to Auckland. This was the longest journey (at about 2hr 45mins) but was mostly straight roads, so I didn't feel too bad. The rest of the evening was spent moaning about the scent of sulphur and hangi lingering in our clothes.

Rotorua - Road Trip Day 2

After a surprisingly good (if hot and stifling) night's sleep, we set off for Rotorua on Saturday morning.

We had initially been encouraged by the car rental man telling us we couldn't get lost because there aren't many roads. This was partly true - the bit about the not many roads anyways. The problem with not many roads is there aren't many road signs; you can be driving down a state highway for an hour before discovering you're going in the wrong direction.

This happened to us.

And it was windy mountain state highway too, so I was about to throw up on everyone.

After a brief travel sickness-induced stop in somewhere small and unremarkable, we got to Rotorua just after lunchtime.

Rotorua is a city on the banks of a lake of the same name. Rotorua comes from the full Maori name 'Te Rotorua-nui-a-Kahumatamomoe', which translates as 'the second lake of Kahumatamomoe' (roto meaning lake, rua meaning two). It was the second lake discovered by the chief of the Te Awara tribe (mentioned in my previous post - they get around), and he dedicated it to his uncle, Kahumatamomoe. Presumably he was a pretty nice guy.

Rotorua's other, informal name, is Sulphur City. This is because the whole place stinks of sulphur, due to the geothermal activity in the area. There are numerous hot springs, geysers, and bubbling mud pools in the area, so we decided to go see some.

Unfortunately the best geothermal sights are a little way out of the city, so we had to make do with visiting Kuirua Park in the centre as we were pushing for time. This park has bubbling mud pools and steaming hot springs dotted around, and so when the wind is blowing towards you you can get a pretty noxious gas cloud in your face. There are also hot spas for dipping yourselves around the park too.

Here is a bubbling mud pool:

After this we went for a late lunch (Japanese - nom) and then me and DrC headed back to our slightly bigger six person bedroom for a nap, as we were KOed from the travel sickness tablets.

In the evening we went to a Maori village for a cultural evening. We were picked up from our hostel by a driver and taken to the office. We were instructed in how the evening was going to pan out. We were to be members of the 'Huia' waka (canoe). Our waka looked suspiciously like a coach, and handled pretty well on roads. Our driver was named Wati, and he was pretty insane. On route to the village he chose our ariki (chief), who was called Darren, from Australia. We did some grunting to show we were rowing our coach waka, and then arrived at the village.

Before we could enter the marae (sacred place) the Powhiri, the formal welcoming ceremony, had to be performed. A series of intimidating haka (dances) were performed by members of the tribe, and then the chiefs had to accept the teka (peace offering) to signify their peaceful intent. There was then some more singing and dancing, and we were allowed into the village as 'tangata whenau' ('one of our people').

I am glad only men could be the chiefs, as the haka were pretty scary.

In the village, we walked around different huts and learned about different parts of everyday Maori life. For example, before Westerners arrived in Aotearoa they had no written language, so they told stories and recorded information by carvings on doorframes and decorations. They also had no metals, so they did this all using bone chisels.

It was actually their lack of metals that made the Maori people welcome the British with open arms originally, as we gave them muskets so they could fight their rival tribes.

They also didn't have alcohol or drugs. We helpfully gave them those too.

After learning about such things, we went to observe the lifting of the hangi meal. The hangi is a pit in the ground, in which white hot stones are placed. Baskets of food are then placed on the stones, sacking (they used to use leaves and bark) is placed over these, and dirt is piled on top to seal it off. It is then left for several hours. Here is one hangi being opened:

The wellies are not traditional Maori dress.

While the rest of the hangi was being prepared, we went to the Wharenui, which is a sacred meeting house, to experience some Maori song and dance. This was very lively and energetic, and each song seemed to hold some significance in Maori culture. They performed the haka used by the All Blacks at the end, and it was very powerful. There was also one very attractive warrior wearing just a loin cloth and traditional tattoos, which was nice.

After this, it was time for our hangi meal. This means I am going to have to discuss the food in this post, and not in a 'New Zealand Foodstuffs Part ?' post. My inner autistic child is quite disturbed by the break in continuity.

The method of cooking the hangi gave everything a very distinct smoky taste. It was not unpleasant, and I easily put away two plates of grub, but I don't think I'd have another one. They also provided gravy and cranberry sauce with the meat, which I'm not sure is very traditional.

After the hangi it was home time, and Wati drove our coach waka back to our hostel. It was this drive that showed us he was insane - he drove round and round and round and round a roundabout singing the whole of 'She'll be coming round the mountain'.

Overall, the evening was very fun and enjoyable. I did feel a bit uneasy for a lot of it though, as I was very conscious of the fact that it was a 'cultural insight' aimed at Western tourists, and I felt a bit like I was offending the Maori people by reducing their culture to a tourist attraction just by being there. This was probably misplaced guilt over the fact that the British oppressed the Maori and took away their ancestral land, as the workers at the village seemed proud to be sharing parts of their culture with us, and wanted us to learn and appreciate their way of life.

After that, is was another interesting sleep in a six bed room, but this time it smelled of rotten eggs.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Coromandel Peninsula - Road Trip Day 1

This weekend we decided to go on a road trip. The first stage was figuring out the different NZ road rules. Fortunately, it is pretty similar, though there is one big difference that catches a lot of UK drivers out. NZ treats every uncontrolled junction like a roundabout; i.e. you have to give way to the right. So, if you're driving down the road and want to turn left into a side street, but someone on the other side of the road wants to turn right into the same side street, you have to give way to them.

Once we had cleared that up, and after mistakenly indicating with our windscreen wipers a few times, we set off in our enormous 8 seater car to the Coromandel Peninsula.

It was a two and a half drive to where we were staying, and the first half went really well. We stopped off in a town called Thames, as there was a shop selling award winning pies. Thames is an old gold-mining town that nowadays seems to trade predominantly in alcohol and cars. It was a pretty dull place, though it did have New Zealand Skinniest Furniture Store, and a museum devoted entirely to drinks cans.

After lunch, we drove through the Coromandel mountains. The road clung precariously to the sides of the mountains, occasionally going up further or descending down into the valleys, making our ears pop. The scenery was amazing...or so I'm told. It was about this time I discovered I have not got over my childhood travel sickness.

Winding mountain roads at 100kph = very nauseous DrA.

Finally though, we arrived at the turning for our accommodation, and promptly drove right past it by mistake. Instead we went to Cathedral Cove.

The Maori's call Cathedral Cove 'Te Whanganui-A-Hei' (The Great Bay of Hei), after a priest from the Te Arawa tribe who claimed ownership of this area by proclaiming it 'Te Kuraetanga-o-taku-lhu', which translates as 'the outward curve of my nose'. It was used in the latest Narnia film, which is exciting.

It is a very beautiful place, with a massive stone arch formed when two caves on either side of a cliff joined together. There is also a giant rock in the middle of the bay that has been worn away over the years, and a natural waterfall. Here are some pictures, that will look much better once I've touched them up on my home computer:

I didn't manage to convince the others to go swimming (they said they 'hadn't brought their costumes'. Pathetic excuse) so I had to go by myself. It was five minutes of half fun, half fear. They were no where near the biggest waves I've ever swam in, but the unpredictable directions and close proximity to rocks/cliffs made it pretty interesting. Got rid of the travel sickness though.

After Cathedral Cove, we headed back to the accommodation (me sat on a plastic bag in the car, as I had gone swimming in my shorts), then went in search of some dinner. This was the only place nearby:

It was pretty much how you imagined. Local pub for local people. They even had a separate menu board titled 'Deep Fried'. Good burgers though.

After dinner, we headed to the Hot Water Beach. This is a stretch of beach with two geothermal fissures, that cause hot springs to filter up through the sand. You can only go on during the two hours either side of low tide, which on Friday was at 10.04pm, so we arrived there at about half eight.

Being on the beach in pitch black is a novel experience. But the hot springs were even more unusual - in some places the sand was too hot to stand on! After a lot of trial and error we managed to find a spot that didn't produce water too hot to touch, and was far enough inland to avoid most of the waves. We dug a hole and reinforced the sides with a sand wall to keep out the stray waves (fortunately our hostel came with free spade!), and settled down to burn our bums. And when I say burn, I mean it; we had to keep moving because if we sank a bit too far into the sand it got excruciatingly hot. Even the waves of the Pacific were warmer than normal sea.

Due to the complete lack of light, this was the best my camera managed:

Eventually we got tired of digging holes, and went back to our hostel. Six people sleeping in a room smaller than most kitchens. Interesting.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Birthday Funday

Yesterday was my birthday. I am now really old.

The day didn't go entirely to plan. In the morning I was meant to be joining the hot neurosurgeon (on who I have the biggest crush in my life. Turns out my type is paediatric neurosurgeons, which limits my number of potential partners somewhat) for an exciting tumour removal operation. Sadly, I was coughing too much to go into theatre. I didn't bother going in at all as the day before I coughed in PICU and was sent home too.

Instead of going to the hospital, I phoned home, and enjoyed confusing my parents with the time zones. This bit went entirely to plan.

The second not-to-plan bit occurred a couple of hours after, when I locked myself out of my accommodation with no suncream, no lunch, no camera, and no friends. I only had a phone, $10, and three hours to kill until I could meet the others. This did mean I got to have cake in the park for lunch, though.

After wandering aimlessly around Auckland for three hours, the group met up and went to the Sky Tower. That is the pointy thing that dominates the seven million photos of the Auckland skyline I have taken.

Opened in 1997, the Sky Tower stands at 328m tall, making it the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere. During construction three GPS satellites were used to ensure it remained exactly upright, and it can withstand earthquakes measuring over 8 on the Richter scale. It is kitted out with millions of LED's, and often provides different colour schemes for special events, e.g. red and green for Christmas, pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, gold for NZ Olympians.

The ticket for the Tower provided several more facts, the most useful of which are:
  • Sky Tower is as tall as 37 buses laid end-to-end.
  • It weighs the same as 6,000 elephants.

My question is: are they African or Indian elephants?

So, after the rather terrifying lift (there was a window in the floor) to the Main Observation Deck at 186m, we got our first breathtaking views across the whole of Auckland. It was a gorgeous day with barely a cloud in sight, so we were able to see 52 miles in every direction.

We were also able to see zero miles in every direction, thanks to the glass windows helpfully built into the floor. Even the boys had to hold onto the handrails when venturing out onto the glass.

Here is a picture of my feet:

Every 15mins a crazy person jumps off the Tower. It's probably the only time you can stand on a tall building egging some bloke on to jump. Here is one such crazy person:


We also went up to the Sky Deck, which is at 220m. Not a great lot of difference in views, really, so I won't bother showing you anymore pictures of that.

After going back down in the terrifying lift, we headed home for my birthday tea. This involved exciting takeaway that we had heard all about. It was from a place called 'Hell', which produces pizzas called things like 'Mischief', 'Lust', 'Sinister', 'Damned', and 'Mordor'. It also gave the option of having a lamb shank with mash and gravy as a side dish. We did.

The pizzas were very exciting. Mine had onions, spinach, mushrooms, avacado, cashew nuts and camembert. H's had refried beans, and E's was made with seafood sauce instead of tomato! We also got a dessert pizza covered in berries and custard, and were given a free portion of 'Hell Crossed Buns', which have a pentagram on top instead of the traditional cross. They also had the tagline 'For a limited time only. A bit like Jesus.'

Overall, it was a good birthday, and I was in bed by 10:30pm. My bones were a bit creaky by then.

Sunday, 10 April 2011


Today we went to the volcanic island of Rangitoto.

Rangitoto sprung up only 600 years ago, in a series of eruptions lasting around 100 years. During this time it produced more volcanic material than the other 49 Auckland volcanoes did in the preceding 100,000 years. It is not expected to erupt again, but they are due more eruptions in the Auckland volcanic field: any time between tomorrow and the next 5000 years, and there will be no warning that it's about to happen. Scary!

The literal translation of Rangitoto is 'bloody sky', but is actually taken from the phrase 'Ngā Rangi-i-totongia-a Tama-te-kapua' ('the days of the bleeding of Tama-te-kapua'). Tama-te-kapua was the captain of the Arawa waka (canoe), who was badly wounded during a battle with the Tainui iwi (tribe) on the island. Maori tribes will have seen Rangitoto appear from under the sea - footprints have been found preserved between layers of volcanic ash.

Recurring theme: when the British arrived on the island it was stripped of wildlife.

When we arrived at Rangitoto at about 9:45am, there were 500 swimmers getting ready to swim to Mission Bay. This is quite far, and the water is quite cold in this part of the gulf. They were all crazy.

After waving the crazy people off, we began the Summit Walk. Here is us, with the instantly recognisable profile of the volcanic cone in the background:

Not really much to say, except it was hard work. Rangitoto is a real volcano, and it makes One Tree Hill look like a mere bump in the road. However, I only had to stop for three inhaler breaks, which considering my chesty cough is not too bad. On the way to the summit we passed the crater, which was massive, and covered in big trees.

Getting to the top was a great feeling, and the 360 views of the gulf were amazing. I didn't bother taking many pics of the scenery as it was too far away. Here are two videos that are pretty poor quality.

After we had caught our breath, and taken shots of 'us+background' in as many permutations as possible, we did the Crater Rim walk. It was rubbish - couldn't see the crater at all because of the aforementioned trees.

Next we went to the Lava Caves. These were formed when molten lava cooled on the outside because of contact with the ground and air, forming a hard crust, while the still molten lava in the core continued to flow through. Using our phones for torches we managed to navigate through the pitch black. It was very narrow at some points, and we had to crouch really low for a stretch. I didn't have the right setting selected on my camera, so my pics are a bit rubbish, but here's one as we emerged from the first cave:

I shall steal good pictures from the others.

After the Caves, we went on a few more walks around, then got the ferry back. I was exhausted, and the shower upon returning home was most welcome.

Saturday, 9 April 2011


Today we went to the island of Waiheke (Maori: 'cascading waters'). So many people we've met have said we had to go, and my house officer said it's her favourite place in the whole world. In fact she said if she could live anywhere in the world it would be Waiheke, and I can see why:

However, her ST job is in Birmingham, so pretty much anything is an improvement.

Waiheke is about 40mins ferry journey away from the Auckland CBD, and is in such a position that it has it's own subclimate; it is always about 2-3 degrees walmer than central Auckland, and has 30% less rainfall per year. The island itself has it's own microclimates too, when big hills block prevailing winds, resulting in valleys that are up to 10 degrees hotter than at the top. This makes it ideal for grape vines, and Waiheke is full of vineyards. It used to be an unpopular place to live, but now it is so popular that many residents rent out their house for the summer months and go live somewhere else, because they come off better.

We arrived at Waiheke at 9am, and went to a nice little market in Ostend, one of the villages. It was quite small, but Waiheke is a very small community, so it was to be expected. We did meet an 'Iridologist', who proclaims to be able to diagnose diseases by looking at your irises. Based on a poster at his stall, I am genetically mixed, and E has sinus congestion. He also considers himself 'naturopathic', but me thinks he doesn't quite know what that translates to.

After Ostend we tried to go to Onetangi Beach, but due to a slight bus hiccup we ended up at Rocky Bay. It was rubbish. So we left Rocky Bay and went to Stoneridge Vineyard, which is meant to be one of the best.

We got the $10 tour and wine tasting deal, and felt very rebellious sipping a nice Merlot at 11:30am. As I was still bunged up, however, the tasting part was lost on me - I just enjoyed having two glasses of wine before lunch. The scenery was beautiful, but NZ is really one of those places that cannot be captured on camera. Here is a pitiful attempt to convey the beauty of the valley:

After this, we did actually manage to get to Onetangi Beach, which is meant to be one of the best in NZ. It was stunning - the sand was light, the sea was so clear and blue, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. I managed to talk most of the others into going for a swim, so we donned our swimwear (mine exposes parts of my body that I don't think have ever seen the sun) and enjoyed the warm sea.

After messing around on the beach for a while, we headed back to the main village of Oneroa to find some food. We were unsuccessful, but we had a while to wait for the next ferry, and it was a shame to waste an opportunity to sit on a balcony overlooking a bay. So instead we got a bottle of very nice wine (by this point I had partially regained my sense of smell) and scandalised the waitresses by asking for free water.

After this, we were tired and wanted some Korean food, so we went home:

Friday, 8 April 2011

One Tree Hill

This afternoon we went to One Tree Hill.

No, not that One Tree Hill, silly. This One Tree Hill:

This was potentially a mistake, as it is an extinct volcano that I had to walk up, and given my current status as a chesty mouth breather, it was rather difficult. But, after tailing behind the others slightly, I finally scaled the volcano and got to the top.

To find my camera battery had died.

The camera cannot capture the sights of looking over the whole of Auckland, seeing the CBD skyline on one side, Rangitoto silluoetted against the horizon on another, and both of Auckland's harbours.

One Tree Hill, or Maungakiekie, was an old Maori pa (settlement), and the greatest fortress in the country. It used to have a sacred totara tree on top, but we came along in 1852 and chopped it down, replacing it with a Monterey pine from Europe. That stood until 2000, when Maori activists chopped it down (according to my guidebook, they first tried to chop it down in 1994, but only succeeded in 2000. I don't know what they were using that took six years. A spoon maybe?). This means that, at the moment, there is no tree on One Tree Hill.

There is, however, the grave of someone called Cornwall, who in his will decreed an obelisk be built on the top, as a monument to the Maori people. There will not be a tree until after all the current land wars are finally settled, but it will probably be an indigenous tree!

The other DrA (the male one) had a bit of a mishap while climbing over a rather unimpressive wall. His trousers split all the way up from mid thigh to groin, exposing him quite a lot. Cue much laughter.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Sick day

Today me and H had a sick day. Yesterday I woke up with a sore throat, but still decided to go ahead and have my NZ winter flu jab (we went as a Neurology bonding session between ward round and consults - my registrar got his chest out). That afternoon I spiked a fever, and a lovely nurse took my temperature and gave me a lollipop. I <3 paediatrics!

I decided to stay home today as I was poorly and chesty. H probably has the same virus, but it has manifested itself as labyrinthitis. She almost threw up on a scleroderma patient this morning.

This means I have been reading an awful lot of guidebooks. Here are some facts about New Zealand:

Humorous facts:
  • Sunday newspapers were illegal until 1969.
  • The human population of NZ is 4.5 million (1/4 of which live in Auckland) and the sheep population is 40 million.
  • During the week of the release of the first Lord of the Rings film, the NZ government appointed a 'Minister for the LOTR' to parliament, and renamed Wellington Middle Earth.
  • It is considered extremely offensive to sit on a table.

Interesting facts:
  • The disposable needle, childproof pill bottles, Velcro, and the use of a whistle in a football match are Kiwi inventions. Thank you New Zealand :)
  • New Zealand was the first country in the world to give women the right to vote.
  • However it only decriminalised homosexuality in 1986.

Depressing facts:
  • New Zealand has the second highest rate of domestic violence in the world. This was hammered home to me in an incident yesterday in the hospital, but I'm not allowed to talk about it.
  • The inequality between the White Caucasian and the Maori populations is staggering. I am sure I have barely scratched the surface, but there is a huge difference in health and healthcare provision between the two. Also, I have only seen one, maybe two, Maori doctors, a handful of Maori nurses, and predominantly Maori support staff/cleaners/canteen workers. It's how I imagine Britain will have been decades ago, with the added guilt that it's the indigenous population that is in the lower socioeconomic classes.

Monday, 4 April 2011

New Zealand foodstuffs Part II

1) Hokey Pokey ice cream
NZ have the highest rate of ice cream consumption per person in the world. Their own unique flavour is 'hokey pokey', which is basically just caramel ice cream with caramel flavour crunchy bits in. Bit boring really. I wanted pavlova flavoured.

2) Red bananas
Advertised in the shop as having 'a hint of raspberry', red bananas are smaller than normal bananas and have a red skin (duh). The card in the shop told me they were ripe if they showed a hint of yellow, so after careful examination I chose one and paid my 60cents (30p).

The first problem I encountered was the skin - it may be a pretty colour, but it's damned impossible to open in the normal way. I had to get H to do it with her thumbnail, and then the top was all mushy from my attempts.

The second problem was my interpretation of 'a hint of yellow'. Turns out having a slight yellowish tinge to the bottom end is too ripe, so it was a bit soft.

However, despite all this, it was quite edible, and tasted like a sweeter version of a normal banana. Absolutely nothing like raspberry though.

3) NZ version of fast food
They do have the same fast food outlets here in NZ that we do (if I have to walk past another blooming Subway store...), but they also have another fast food option: sushi.

There are hundreds of sushi shops here, offering pre-packaged takeaway boxes full of sushi. You can get 8 large pieces of mixed fresh sushi/sashimi for about $9 (£4.50), or you can go for the 'sushi of the day', which is 8 pieces of the same sushi for $4.90 (£2.95). And it's goooood sushi too - the kind that would cost £10-15 in the UK. Bargain!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Tiritiri Matangi Island

Yesterday (or the UK's today...kinda) we ventured out on the 9am ferry to Tiritiri Matangi Island, a open science reserve about 30km from Central Auckland.

Tiritiri Matangi (Maori: 'tossed by the wind') is an entire island devoted to maintaining populations of endangered bird species. There are several islands like this in NZ, but I think Tiri is the only one open to the public.

When NZ split from the main continent 60 million years ago no land mammals had yet evolved. Only bird and reptile life existed on the islands, and there were no predators. As a consequence the native life did not adapt the neccessary evolutionary mechanisms to protect them from predators, and lost the ability to fly. When Polynesian (and later white Europeans) settled and brought land mammals with them, such as rats, mice and stoats, almost 50% of the species native to the country were wiped out. The rest of the species became severely endangered.

Around 600 years ago the Maori made their way to Tiri, followed by the British in 1840 (the British set it up as a lighthouse station, which they had made in England and then shipped over to NZ). Then followed a period of intense farming, and 94% of the original bush was wiped out.

When the impact of human activities on NZ wildlife was realised, a big drive to restore populations of species began, and in 1970 Tiri became a science reserve. Predators were irradicated, volunteers planted 280,000 native trees, and birds were rounded up and introduced to the island when it was felt the conditions could support them. Tiri was selected for this as it is 3km away from the nearest land, and rats can only swim 2km.

Since then the island and it's wildlife has florished, though there are some difficulties. The Takahe is a flightless bird that resembled a cross between a chicken and a parrot, and was thought to be extinct until a small population of around 250 was found on the South Island. 60 years later there are still only around 300 in the country - inbreeding and the shrinking of the gene pool has led to a high rate of genetic mutations and thus infertility and miscarriage.

Because of the significance of this island biosecurity is very important, and the guidebooks and leaflets forewarn of the impact of bringing pests with you. So, after hastily throwing our pet hamsters and armies of mongooses over the side of the ferry, we set off to Tiri.

We decided to get the guided tour, a bargain of $5 (£2.50) on top of the ferry price of $66 (£33), which is done by a volunteer. Ours was called S, and worked at Starship during the week. She took us on a 2.5hr tour, pointing out all the birds which I completely failed to take pictures of. Turns out I'm not very good at taking pictures of birds - either I've taken too long setting up the shot, or my camera zoom isn't good enough. For example, this picture theoretically contains a bird, but it's like a game of Where's Wally:

Fortunately, one of our party said I could steal some of his pictures, as he was more successful, so here is one of a Takahe:

As well as birds, we also saw some other interesting wildlife. The Kohekohe tree is unusual as it is the only tree outside of the Amazon rainforest to grow it's berries on little shoots directly out of the main trunk. Usually this feature evolves due to the dense canopy in the rainforest, so animals can still get to the berries. Why this feature has evolved in NZ is a mystery.

Also on Tiri is a Tuatara (Maori: 'peaks on the back'), a reptile which is different from all other reptiles in the world: it is the sole remaining member of a family that has been unchanged since dinosaur times 225 million years ago. Sadly we did not see one as they are nocturnal.

The scenery on Tiri was astonishing, and we took loads of photos. Sadly, they don't do them justice. The sight of a palm tree against the blue sea with a volcanic island in the background cannot be captured on a basic camera, but here is an attempt of a beach:

After several hours walking round the (very hilly!) island, we returned to Auckland and decided to have a BBQ. I won't bore you with that, but here is a picture I took on the way to the supermarket. It turns out in NZ they don't cut down trees to make way for telephone wires: