Wednesday, 12 December 2012


Waitomo is a small village roughly 120 miles south of Auckland.  It has a population of about 50, and a couple of weeks ago its only pub burnt down ("Patrons stopped to pay their respects..."Where am I going to drink now?" one asked").  So there is almost no reason to go there at all; except for the thousands of metres of caves.  Which is why I went there.

I booked myself onto a black water rafting thing, which basically involves spending three hours navigating underground streams and rivers on an inflatable black rubber ring with a bunch of other suckers.  The first challenge was getting into a wetsuit.

This was the most undignified thing I did all day; until about an hour and a half later, when I was floating through a cave sat in my rubber ring and my butt got grounded on a rock.  All attempts to either paddle or stand up just resulted in a lot of desperate splashing and limb flailing.  Ultimately I had to resort to a mixture of butt hopping and butt shuffling.  Smooth.

But the bits where I wasn't flailing about like a moron were awesome.  For a variety of reasons (but mostly just common sense), we weren't permitted to take our own cameras down there; so the following images have been ruthlessly purloined from the internets and cleverly edited so that I am in them.

We eventually emerged blinking into the sunlight, having not succumbed to ravenous glowworms, eels or monsters; then it was back to base for a hot shower, mug of soup and a toasted bagel.

With just the afternoon left to play about with, I decided to whizz around and tick a few other crap tourist boxes.  Just a few miles down the road from Waitomo is Te Kuiti, "the sheep-shearing capital of the world", where every year the main street bears witness to death-defying acts of bravery in the fearsome Running of the Sheep.  At the end of Rora Street is the "Big Shearer", a seven metre high, seven and a half tonne statue celebrating their proud sheepy heritage.


On the way home I stopped briefly in Hamilton to check out another famous statue.  The life-size statue of Richard O'Brien (in the guise of Riff Raff from the Rocky Horror Picture Show) stands over the former site of the Embassy Theatre, allegedly the birthplace of the cult musical and also where he worked as a hairdresser for a number of years in the late 50s/early 60s.

The next day I managed to get back to Christchurch without too much trouble.  My housemate came to collect me from the airport; we also managed to pick up a nice old lady whose lift had fallen through on her.  She didn't live quite as near to our house as she originally suggested... but we gave her a lift anyway, and she repaid our kindness/gullibility with a big jar of runny homemade marmalade, which we have no chance of finishing before we have to head back to the UK.

This all left just enough time to get beer and pizza, and to decorate DeathCar2000 with some totally sickass Hawaiian Air graphics that I had acquired legitimately from the Auckland office.

Sinister foreign confectionery this week: Moro Gold.

It's kind of like a Boost bar, but with less girth.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

i'm taking the avenir to hobbiton

This week I have swapped places with my counterpart in the North Island, so that we can each see what the differences/similarities are between our respective jobs.  This means that I have traded the raw power, explosive acceleration and pop-up headlights of DeathCar2000 for his diesel Nissan Avenir automatic (boo); but it also means that I get the opportunity to do a tiny bit of exploring on a whole other island (huzzah).

Before this could happen, I had to get here; and that meant finding out all about how standby tickets work, because that is what work booked for me.  What happens is you get a ticket for the 1855 flight out of Christchurch; but it's totally sold out, so the only way you're getting on that plane is if you challenge one of the other passengers to MORTAL KOMBAT and totally Liu Kang them to pieces.

Or you could wait until the next flight... except that one's booked up too.

And so is the one after that.  

But the 2130 flight is okay... 

...except that it lands at 2300.  And once you've crammed yourself and your luggage onto a bus and then bimbled aimlessly through the murky streets of an unfamiliar city to a hotel apartment block thing, it's closer to midnight; and you can't help but think that rather than spending two and half hours trapped in an airport departure lounge with no bar, it might have been nice to do something else.  Like stay at home and have some dinner, for example.

Anyway, I'm here now.  First impressions are that the North Island is like the root mean square of the South Island; whilst the latter consists of vast flat planes punctuated by unfathomable verticality, the former is generally lower but lumpier.  The main thing the North Island has that the South doesn't is volcanoes and all sorts of other geothermal nonsense.  Most of the really good stuff is just a bit too far south to make for a convenient weekend trip from Auckland, but I did manage to make it to Rotorua.  Rotorua is home to Lake Rotorua, which translates as "the second lake" - so called because it was the second lake that the intrepid Maori explorer had seen that day.  Apparently it used to be a big-ass volcano; now its just a big-ass lake.

Not much to look at, really.  A little way down the road, however, is Te Whakarewarewa - a "living thermal village".  It is home to what I guess could be referred to as modernised Maori.  They drive cars, wear trousers and no longer eat interlopers (or so our tour guide assured us); but they still observe many traditional customs and practices.  The village itself is situated on a thin crust of earth that struggles to contain the sheer geothermal power of science that bubbles away beneath.  This gives rise to geysers, hot bubbling mud, clouds of sulphurous steam, holes in the ground that are slowly swallowing houses, and thermal pools that reach temperatures of up to 172 degrees (because of science).

The hot pools are used for bathing and cooking (though not generally in that order).  The mud pools used to be used as final resting places for the deceased; the body would be wrapped up in flax and then forced beneath the surface, eventually slipping away to who knows where.  Then whitey turned up and explained that the proper way to bury the dead was to put them in a casket and then put the casket in a hole six feet deep.  They hadn't accounted for the fact that the ground they were digging into was a bit lively, and the caskets would gradually re-surface over a period of time... so they gave up on that idea, and nowadays the dead get entombed in concrete boxes on top of the ground.  A few of them have wee chimneys to help relieve any steam pressure that might build up, thereby minimising the potential for any exploding steam corpse unpleasantness.

The following day the inevitability of me being a nerd in New Zealand was finally realised in full, and I went to Hobbiton.

Okay, so there are probably far nerdier things I could have done; but it still felt like an anorak-clad pilgrimage of sorts.  When the first films were made, the hobbit-holes were all temporary constructions made out of polystyrene and bits of plywood painted up to look like the real thing.  Once filming was complete, the set had to be completely destroyed for environmental and copyright reasons.  The owners of the farm on which the set was built realised that they'd missed a trick, and when the set was rebuilt for filming of The Hobbit they made sure that it would be more of a permanent fixture.

Of course they're all still just façades, the largest hobbit-holes still only extending a few feet beyond the front door.  The one notable exception being the Green Dragon pub, which is fully functional (and presumably available to hire for weddings and bar mitzvahs); and it was here that the tour concluded with a delicious mug of beer.

It didn't come in pints.

A trio of sinister foreign chocolate bars this week...

I remember when KitKats used to be the rubbish chocolate coated wafer biscuit you might get with your packed lunch if you were lucky.  Then along came the KitKat Chunky, which had the same amount of wafer but about a million times more chocolate.  And now we have the KitKat Chunky 3; basically a KitKat Chunky that has been split into three sections, and then had those three sections filled with stuff.  Any traces of wafer you should happen to find probably got there by mistake.

When confronted by three flavours of KitKat Chunky 3, I was overcome with a mixture of indecision and joy at the mathematical symmetry of it all; and so I got one each of Chocolate, Caramel and Cookies & Cream.  They all tasted of toothache.


Tuesday, 27 November 2012

and oh, the sweetness of the air

It would be a shame to travel all the way to a country where they have regular V8 races and to not watch some V8 races; so last weekend I went to watch some V8 races.

On Saturday night I went to Woodford Glen Speedway to watch dirt track death racing with post apocalypse deathtrap cars of death.

It was sort of comparable to UK stock cars and banger racing; louder and faster (some of the modified stocks were pulling wheelies as they accelerated off the back of the final corner), but much less destructive.  Although one chap still managed to flip his Super Saloon on the back straight, messing up his car and bruising his elbow in the process.

The next day I went to Ruapuna Park to watch something slightly more civilised; V8 Supertourers, the Kiwi equivalent of Aussie V8 touring cars.  Support races took the form of Rennsport (a load of German stuff) and classic muscle car racing.

It was a pretty fun waste of a few days, and almost helped to take my mind off the fact that I was completely missing the final race of an enthralling F1 season.  Thanks, NZ telly.

I also finished painting some toys this week; a Big Mek with a kustum force field...

...and a Painboy with his grot minion.

The painboy is great for making Nobz mobz much more expensive and only slightly more survivable.  The Big Mek with his whizzy gubbinz does much the same thing but on a slightly larger scale; thereby having a mediocre effect on a much larger proportion of the army.

Sinister foreign confectionery; Whittaker's.  It's not a single type of chocolate bar - Whittaker's will happily sell you a whole range of yummy things to stuff into your stupid face.

I've chosen the Bittersweet Peanut Slab not because it is especially delicious (they're all delicious) or exotic (none of them are exotic), but because I like the black and gold packaging.  It reminds me of the JPS Lotus cars from the seventies and eighties.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

foonting turling dromes

Two centuries before New Zealand was established as a British colony, a Dutch seafarer by the name of Abel Tasman made the first contact between the outside world and the Maori when he stumbled upon the north coast of New Zealand's South Island.  When the Maori came out in their canoes and made their traditional "friend or foe" challenges, the Dutch responded by noisily blowing trumpets at them.  The Maori were clearly not keen fans of this sort of free-form jazz, as when the Dutch lowered a boat to go and meet with them it was attacked, and four crewman killed.  Abel decided that he didn't need to actually set foot on land to have discovered it, and fucked off with some haste, settling on the name Nieuw Zeeland.

Last weekend we went to have a vague poke at the national park named after Abel Tasman.  It is called Abel Tasman National Park.

We started by driving up to Nelson on Thursday night, then went up the road to Marahau the next morning.  At Marahau we hired a sea kayak; or, as my boss referred to it, divorce boat.  Which suggests that he too may have experienced kayak rage at some point... the problem with two-man kayaks is that the person on the back controls the rudder and therefore determines the direction of travel, regardless of how much the person on the front tries paddling to one side.  Meanwhile the person on the back has to try to keep paddling in time with the person on the front, which is really difficult if the person on the front has no sense of rhythm, or occasionally stops paddling for no reason at all and starts whistling.  Whistling?!  Why the fuck are you whistling?!  Paddle, damn you!  PADDLE!!!

We managed to get to get to Watering Cove without killing each other, took a short walk over to Anchorage Bay or Cove or Something, and found our accommodation for the night - the Aquapackers floating dormitory thing.  We gained entry by standing on the shore and waving until someone noticed us and came over in a wee boat to get us.  

In spite of being trapped on what would be most diplomatically described as a "cosy" boat with a load of other people and a desperately short supply of booze, it was actually quite bearable.

The next day we walked through the forests back to Marahau, with a slight detour to check out Cleopatra's Pool (a rock in a pond).  I went for a bit of a paddle; the water was so cold it made my feet hurt.

Then we drove to Kaiteriteri, and had a look at split apple rock (a rock which looks a bit like a split apple).

There's not much else to do in Kaiteriteri, so we went and had a long look at the inside of a pub.  We stumbled back to our shitbox hostel to discover that we were sharing our room with a girl that snored loudly, and a couple that spent hours - and I mean hours - in the evening noisily moving things from one immense backpack to another immense backpack and then back into the first backpack, seemingly in an effort to fit twelve bags worth of crap into one bag.  They were still vainly attempting to defy the laws of physics the following morning, so we fucked off for a vague bimbly drive along some of the twisty roads in the hills before finally heading for home through the countless vineyards of the north and then down along the west coast.

Sinister foreign confectionery this week took the form of a Chokito.

The Chokito is kind of like a finger of fudge that has been dipped in chocolate, rolled in biscuity bits, and then dipped in more chocolate.  It surpassed all expectations by being not only edible, but also quite delicious.  Blimey.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

the sky resembles a backlit canapé

As you head towards Lake Tekapo you pass a sign that proclaims it to be a "Scientific Reserve".  Or maybe it was "Scenic Reserve"?  That would probably make more sense.  In any case, it summoned up images in my mind of bespectacled men in white coats roaming the planes, solving complex differential equations and growing ears on the backs of small mammals.

Turns out that it just means they have a big field and an observatory.  We've seen fields before, so we went to check out the observatory and watch the skis.  The night sky was obligingly clear, allowing us to see clouds of stars instead of actual clouds; as well as Jupiter and four of its moons and some other twinkly crap.

The next day we stopped in to visit one of the chaps from work.  He and his family own a wee holiday home in Twizel, and they were kind enough to fill us with lunch and then take us out for a blat around Lake Ruataniwha on their boat.  I'm not much of an expert on these things, but I reckon their approach is pretty much spot on; get a small boat because it's cheap, and then slap the biggest engine possible on the back off it.  I can't be sure of how fast it went because none of the dials worked, but it was fast enough to give a chap a whole different kind of haircut and purge my brain of everything but the theme tune to Magnum PI.

After that we headed up the road to Mt Cook.  I had thought that Mt Cook played the part of the angry mountain (Caradhras) in The Fellowship; but apparently that was Mt Earnslaw.  However Mt Cook and the rest of the surrounding Southern Alps did star as The Misty Mountains, and so in theory is still home to Balrogs.  The Southern Alps did a bit of a turn in the lighting-of-the-beacons bit too.  And it also turns out that the Battle of the Pelennor Fields was filmed in the vast rolling brownlands around Twizel, though I don't recall seeing much in the way of rotting Mumakil carcasses.  Perhaps stoats have devoured them.

Stoats are, by the way, New Zealand's deadliest predator.  Fact.  Before humans started stumbling all over it, New Zealand had only three species of native mammal; and they were all types of bat.  Mostly New Zealand was home to insects and a bazillion kinds of retarded bird, until Europeans brought over stuff to eat, shoot and wear.  Stoats were introduced in an attempt to control the rampant rabbit population... this failed horribly for a number of reasons.  First off, stoats are raging psychopaths; secondly, rabbits are wise to their stoaty ways and will peg it at the first sign of any stoaty trouble; and third New Zealand's birds are, as previously stated, retarded.  For example, the Kakapo.

The kakapo is a flightless parrot whose natural defence is to stand very still and pretend to be a bush.  The stoats fucked those chumps up.

Anyway, we rounded the day off by going for a bimble along Hooker Valley, on the west side of Mt Wakefield.  Hooker Valley wasn't entirely what I was expecting, but it still offered some good views and only mildly terrifying swing bridges over raging boulder-strewn rivers.

And at the end of it all, just past a big freezing lake and a lot of signs promising near certain avalanchey death to any traveller foolhardy enough to venture any further, the ominous mass of Hooker Glacier was just visible through the mists.

The next day we went up the other side of Mt Wakefield to bimble along Tasman Valley.  The first thing we found were the Blue Lakes.

The Blue Lakes were less like lakes and more like ponds to my eyes, but for the absence of frogspawn and a half-submerged shopping trolley.  Also not very blue.  If I understand correctly, these are sink holes left behind in the wake of the retreating glacier; and are pretty much the same size as Lake Tasman would have been twenty or so years ago.  Lake Tasman is pretty big nowadays.

We carried on bimbling along the valley track, the lake concealed behind a large and mostly treacherous looking ridge of rocks and boulders.  After a few hours of walking we found a slightly more stable looking pile of rocks and clambered over them to discover that we had gone past the end of the lake and were now alongside Tasman Glacier.

I sort of expected the glacier to either be a huge groaning cliff face of glistening ice or a big mint with a polar bear standing on it.  It is of course neither of these things.  The glacier is a big chunk of ice several hundred metres deep, but is almost entirely concealed beneath a couple of metres of rocks - the remains of the surrounding landscape that has been ground out by the glacier, left behind as the glacier melts away.  The result is a desolate, alien landscape that's kind of cool but not very pretty.

Whilst sat on our teetering pile of avalanche fodder, I experienced the questionable delights of the Mighty Perky Nana.

It is a chocolate covered banana chew thing - basically the same as Pineapple Lumps, except that it tastes of banana.  Apart from the first mouthful, which tasted kind of like cheese.  And the rest of it, which tasted like horror.  Die in a fire, Mighty Perky Nana.