Friday, November 21, 2008

Shiny new things

The observant amongst you will have noticed a little slideshow of photos just to the left. If you click on it, it will take you to R's online album. When I get my photos online, I'll change the slideshow, but until then you'll have to make do.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A brief summary

We've made it to Wellington, where we're staying with R's family. It's been a busy couple of weeks - we've camped on the Coromandel Peninsula and walked up tracks with steps as high as my waist (well, nearly); visited the hot springs in Rotorua and relished in the smell of sulphur; adopted a kiwi at Rainbow Springs (by kiwi I mean the comical flightless bird, not a stray New Zealander); seen the crazy colours of geo-thermal pools and caves at Wai-O-Tapu ("Sacred Springs"); seen what looked like Mordor while on the Tongariro Crossing, apparently the best one-day walk in New Zealand if not the world, and more that I can't think of at the moment.

Tomorrow we take the ferry across to Picton, and our South Island adventure will begin. We've got a hostel booked in the Marlborough Sounds where we'll spend a week about a three hour drive from - well - anything, and then we'll be camping our way down to Christchurch via whatever looks interesting on the way. Oh the life of a carefree traveller!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Aotearoa photos!

Rob put some up here.

We just found out that his sister is in Grant Park at the celebration. I'm so jealous! But there's celebratory salad and big glasses of wine. We know how to live.

(We're also going to be staying in Auckland for a few more days than planned. Daisy needs new brake pads, and given how twisty the roads are here - think rally tracks on gravel roads - we might appreciate her having them.)

Obama did it!

And I dance around awestruck at the amount of people in Grant Park, wishing that I could be there too. Chicago will be having one hell of a party tonight.

This is history. Let's hope it lives up to expectation.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Back in Auckland

As the title says, we're back in Auckland for a few days being fattened up by Stephanie and Yid-Ee, getting a new road user charge (since diesel here doesn't have tax added at the pump, there's a separate charge) and generally working out what to do and where to go next.

Still having massive bank trouble - Natwest blocked my debit card the other day, which was exciting. They did leave four messages for me on my UK number, which was nice, but that also meant that I've just spent lots of money calling voicemail. Oh well. Got to keep Richard Branson happy somehow. After talking to a rather tired-sounding Scottish man, my debit card should now work again. Huzzah, access to money! I hope. The other thing is that the BNZ won't take a Sterling cheque, so my new plan is to take out $600 at a time and pay it into my NZ account in cash. If I'm lucky, I won't get mugged between the cash machine and the bank counter... I'll just have to act nonchalant.

We went up to Waitangi the other day, which is where the treaty between Maori and Pakeha (generally "European", but more specifically the English in this case) was signed. The treaty was the official establishment of New Zealand as a realm of Her Majesty, drawn up with the usual colonial arrogance of the time and then debated and changed by the Maori to better suit them. Good for them, really. There's still an awful lot of debate about it too, especially as it's almost election time here.

It's a very interesting place, especially as there's not a comparable place in the UK. There's a meeting house (marae) which is unusual in that it's for all the people of the country and you don't have to be invited in, unlike a tribal marae. We saw another cultural performance, which was much more powerful than the one in Auckland Museum - the performers seemed to take much more pride in welcoming visitors to the "birthplace of the nation". R and I were the only two there for the first part, so we had the full force of the traditional welcome. R was designated the chief; this meant that he was greeted by a young Maori man doing the threatening posturing thing, tongue out, eyes bulging, lots of yelling and gesticulating with a stick. I'll tell you now, the Pakeha explorers were very brave. If I'd come across this country and been greeted by angry Maori, I'd have said they could keep it. This guy was being welcoming and was still terrifying! Eventually he gave R a fern leaf as a symbol of peace and welcome, and then all was ok. They sang us a song thanking God and the ancestors, theirs and ours, and formally welcoming us into their whare (house); then it was time for hand shaking and the hongi, which is gently pressing noses together. By doing this you share breath with the other person, showing that you've been accepted by them as a brother or sister.

There were a few more songs, talking about Kupe (the first Maori to set foot on New Zealand) and another legend which I can't remember at this point, and then it was audience participation time. Uh-oh. Poi looks simple, but is really not. Luckily another couple had come in, so it wasn't me by myself (poi is a women's game). I think I may need practice; fortunately there are no photos. I'll just have to make a set.

After being shown how to do it properly by the Maori women, it was the men's turn. Haka is also not simple, although good to watch. R and the other man didn't look as fierce as the Maori though - it's hard to stick your tongue out and get the good staring eyes when you're concentrating too hard on what you're supposed to be doing.

Aaaanyway, there's baking happening and that sounds exciting. I'll try to get some photos up soon, and perhaps a more ordered post of what we've been up to. I need to get back in the habit of keeping the blog up to date - it's been a while since Russia.