Our Campervan Tour of New Zealand’s South Island

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Originally posted on POMS AWAY!:

When I was twelve years old, my parents decided to take the family on a special holiday: a campervan tour of New Zealand’s South Island. We had been living in New Zealand for over two years, having emigrated from Britain, but in the North Island. The South Island, as we were about to discover, is completely different. It is, in a word, magical.

I must admit, though, that I was not looking forward to sleeping in a campervan for two weeks. I was at that age when one especially prefers the privacy of their own bedroom, and I was bitterly disappointed that we could not afford to stay in a hotel every night, but that disappointment melted when we first climbed into our campervan at the depot in Christchurch. The whole thing suddenly became rather exciting.

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Lake Wanaka

The campervan we had was laid out similar to this one

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What Hobbiton’s Like

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Originally posted on POMS AWAY!:

Last weekend I had a dream come true: I visited Hobbiton. And it was better than I dreamed. I absolutely loved it.

My family had some reservations about going. We’re big Lord of the Rings fans, but the Hobbiton Movie Set, located on a farm in Matamata, has a reputation as a tourist trap. It’s quite expensive and, being the height of summer, we feared it would be heaving with visitors. We didn’t know how much of the set would be left, or if the experience would be worth it. As it turned out, we were blown away.

First Hobbit HoleThe set looks exactly as it does in Peter Jackson’s films.

Still, as we drove towards the site, we couldn’t help but giggle at a sign that read Tourist Farm. Then, when we got there, we were greeted by a curious sheep.

The set is a short bus ride away…

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10 Reasons Living in New Zealand is AWESOME

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Originally posted on POMS AWAY!:

I moved to New Zealand with my family twelve years ago. At first, I hated my parents for wrenching me away from Mother England, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way. New Zealand is a great country to live in and here’s why:

1)      Nice weather

Somewhere Over the RainbowIt is common for New Zealanders to complain about the weather. The phrase ‘four seasons in one day’ is used annoyingly often, yet while it can be gloriously sunny in the morning, fooling you into leaving your jacket at home, and then bucket it down in the afternoon, it is rarely bad for long. Coming from Britain, I can confidently say that New Zealand’s weather is better. It is warmer, drier, sunnier and generally more cheerful. There’s a reason New Zealand’s famous for barbecues and Britain’s not.

2)      Beautiful beaches

Beach 1Nearly three-quarters of all New Zealanders live within five kilometres of a…

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Back to Blighty, or Poms Away Up Top

Big Ben

I’m so excited. I’m about to go to Europe for three months and my first stop is England. My home. I haven’t seen it in six years.

I moved to New Zealand when I was ten. I’m twenty-three now and, in thirteen years, I’ve only been back to England once. I was seventeen then and I loved it. I hadn’t, as my parents said, idealised it in my mind. The good bits were just as good as I remembered. This time, however, will be different.

This time, I will have my boyfriend with me.

Milford Sound

Milford Sound, a place in New Zealand so beautiful that Rudyard Kipling called it the eighth wonder of the world

My boyfriend is a New Zealander. He’s grown up taking it for granted that he lives in the most beautiful country on earth. He, like most New Zealanders, thinks England is a dreary, grotty, rainy place with little or no unspoiled countryside. And to a certain extent he’s right.

I’m determined to show him that England does actually have places of natural beauty. I’m going to take him to the most beautiful place I can think of, a place where I seemed to spend a lot of my childhood: the Lake District.

But I’ve been looking at some old photos of the Lake District and it suddenly struck me as barren. In New Zealand, most places you can go walking are covered in luscious rainforest – the great New Zealand bush. The Lake District is all bare hills and fields (and lakes, of course.) I’m worried Tim will survey it and say, “The Waitakeres are better.”

I don’t know about the Waitakeres, but the southwest of the South Island…

Sherwood Forest

Sherwood Forest

I just want him to like England – to be impressed by it – to appreciate where I come from. I suppose it’s like introducing him to an important relative who I know has flaws.

I know he’s going to be disappointed when I take him to Sherwood Forest. He spent his childhood pretending to be Robin Hood – as did I, actually – but his Sherwood was populated with tree ferns and kauri. My Sherwood, the real Sherwood, is a bit… sparse.

Well, let’s put it this way, you probably wouldn’t want to shoot a Robin Hood film there. Yet I still hold a torch to it.

I love England – that green and pleasant land – and I don’t want my standards to be questioned. At least I’m safe in my certainty that England has better historical buildings that New Zealand.

After three weeks in England, we’re flying to Germany to meet Tim’s extended family. I’ve never been to mainland Europe, so I know I’ll enjoy it. Even if I’ll have to try incredibly hard not to make a Great Escape reference every time we get on a bus.

We’ll be going by train mostly, though, through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic, and maybe Spain if we can squeeze it in. It’s going to be the biggest adventure of our lives, one that most young New Zealanders aspire to, the Big O. E.

O. E. stands for Overseas Experience and it’s a great Kiwi tradition. As beautiful as New Zealand is, it is very small and isolated, and young people can get a bit claustrophobic. Having lived here since I was ten, I completely get why. I’m itching to get away, but definitely not for good. New Zealand is the place I want to grow old in.

Because New Zealand is awesome.

There’s a reason I’m worried my boyfriend won’t be impressed by England. You’d have to have seen New Zealand – especially the southwest of the South Island – to understand why.

The Wizard's Vale

Glenorchy, New Zealand

The Seriously Good Food Show

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The other day I got to sample some of the best food New Zealand has to offer. I spent a good few hours wandering around tasting local wine after local wine and infused olive oil after infused olive oil, in what can only be described as a middle-class Shangri-la.

The 2014 Seriously Good Food Show took place at Tauranga’s ASB Baypark Arena, on June 28th and 29th. It only cost $10 to enter, but my mum and I spent far more once we were in there. Two of my favourite things in the world are cheese and balsamic vinegar, so there was no way I’d be leaving empty-handed. In fact, it seemed that every second stall was balsamic vinegar!

To be fair, there were actually heaps of different stalls, selling all sorts from quality meats to platters and whisks. There was one stall that was frying bacon when we walked by, the clever devils.

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Lovely shot of my knees there…

Another mouth-watering smell came from the cooking demonstrations by top local chefs. We watched the chef from Tauranga’s Elizabeth Café making an orange duck salad with celeriac. Everyone in the audience got to try a mini portion. It was amazingly good, and the most unusual salad I’ve had in my life – it crackled in my mouth. There was ground-up popping candy in it – genius!

The demonstration was presented by Tauranga’s own celebrity chef, fellow Northern English expat Peter Blakeway. He’s been on telly and my mum’s got his book. And his avocado chocolate truffles are to die for! (We tasted them at last year’s show.)

It was quite crowded at the show, but not difficult to get around. It was a great venue for the whole family. There were all ages there, not just middle-aged, middle-class women.

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Some of our purchases…

There were beer stalls and bread stalls; chocolate stalls and chipotle; knives and pans and relishes and nuts; pâté and pasta and dukkah and port. You could try absolutely everything. I lost count of the number of little cubes of bread dripped in something or other I consumed!

I even consumed an unwisely large amount of the hottest chilli sauce at the show. (My mum was too much of a wuss to finish hers, so I stepped in even though I’d already had some.) I was fine until we’d wandered a few stalls away, but then my tongue erupted in pain. I looked frantically around for the nearest wine stall, but my mum was pondering over some cheese. By now in considerable discomfort, I took the sample of goat blue offered to me, not expecting to taste it. It actually tasted wonderful and neutralised the burning completely.

Rustic bread ready to dip in olive oil and balsamic glaze...

Rustic bread ready to dip in olive oil and balsamic glaze…

I think possibly the nicest find of the show was a distinctly nutty-tasting olive oil from Northland. We ended up buying a bottle of that. I also loved a certain lime-infused avocado oil. Ooh, and the chilli-infused avocado oil.

We didn’t actually end up buying any cheese, but we got some truffle balsamic glaze, among other things.

The Seriously Good Food Show really was a fantastic showcase for New Zealand-produced food. If you see it advertised when you’re travelling around New Zealand, I recommend you go. One thing’s for sure: if you visit New Zealand, you won’t eat poorly.

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Auckland Zoo

Lions

Auckland Zoo is one of the best zoos in the world. I first went at the age of ten, when my family had just moved to New Zealand. When we lived in England, we were regular visitors of Chester Zoo, so Auckland Zoo had a tough act to follow. And it performed magnificently.

I remember the joy of standing on a balcony high over the giraffe enclosure to feed them celery. I remember the amazing elephant encounter with their really dedicated keepers. I remember crawling through the tunnels below the meerkat enclosure and peering up at them through the plastic bubbles. I remember the kiwis mating.

It looked like a fluffy football bouncing on top of another fluffy football.

Elephants

Me at the zoo a few years ago

Since I was a kid, Auckland Zoo has just got better and better. The tiger enclosure has improved dramatically. Instead of just staring down into a concrete pit, you now look through a window into a rich environment.

You can get up-close to emus and wallabies in the Aussie Walkabout. You can watch seals showing off underwater. One time, my family was in the aviary and a curious kaka started biting the handle of my dad’s umbrella.

There are lions and cheetahs and orang-utans… You can spend a whole day exploring still not see the entire zoo! And every time we go, there’s something new.

Cute OtterMy favourite animals at the zoo aren’t actually the big, majestic ones. They’re small, cute, funny ones: the meerkats, the otters and the red pandas. The red pandas are just heart-meltingly gorgeous.

Buying food at the zoo is quite expensive, so you’re better off taking a picnic. There are lots of lovely picnic areas. It’s very pretty zoo.

Auckland Zoo is a great place for visitors to New Zealand to learn about native New Zealand species and conservation efforts. It’s also a great day out in general, especially if you have children. I’m not a kid anymore, but I can’t wait to go again.

SealNew Zealand’s Unique Wildlife

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Biting Comedy from New Zealand

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Not an image from the film, just me mucking about with a torch

Sorry – couldn’t resist. No doubt heaps of reviews of What We Do in the Shadows will contain the words ‘biting comedy’ purely because it’s about vampires. And it got me thinking: is the comedy actually biting? I went to see the film yesterday and I have to say… no.

Don’t get me wrong, the film was good. Laugh-out-loud funny in quite a few places. But the humour was more playfully nibbling than biting.

It was just entertaining enough for one-and-a-half hours. I was worried about fifteen minutes in that they’d taken a single idea and flogged it to death, but the film soon picked up and I really enjoyed it. I’d even be keen to watch it again.

There was nothing ingenious, controversial or profound in there. It was just vampires dealing with mundane, everyday problems, and that was the point. It was an understated approach to horror. Kind of like the Shaun of the Dead of vampire movies, but not as hard-hitting. (It almost became hard-hitting at the end then chickened out.) It was simply a laidback comedy that didn’t take itself seriously – the perfect New Zealand comedy, really.

Of course, being from Britain, I’ll always think that British comedy is the best in the world, but New Zealand comedy definitely seems to have gotten funnier lately.

What We Do in the Shadows has the makings of a cult classic and it’s definitely worth watching. Not necessarily at the cinema – in fact its style is more suited to an ordinary telly anyway.

My verdict: 7/10