The Stars Are Upside Down

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When I was a child my dad took me into the backyard one clear night to show me some constellations. He’s a science teacher, my dad, and he really likes astronomy. He pointed out the Big Dipper, Canis Major, Gemini and others that I can’t remember, but my favourite was the Hunter, Orion.

The Orion Nebula

The Orion Nebula

To this day, Orion is the only constellation I can identify with complete confidence. I particularly like the little stars that make up his dagger, hanging from that distinctive belt.

We lived in England when my dad first showed me the stars. (He showed me Halley’s Comet as well, and the rings of Saturn through a telescope.) When we moved to New Zealand, one of the first things the ten-year-old me noticed, gazing up at the night sky, was that Orion was upside down.

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The Orion Constellation (as seen from New Zealand)

This scared me a little. It seemed rather too symbolic of my life, my entire world being turned upside down. I’ve lived in New Zealand for over half my life now and I still can’t get used to the sight of Orion the wrong way up. I just can’t.

Of course, all the other Northern Hemisphere constellations are upside down here as well. The most important constellation in New Zealand is the Southern Cross. It’s featured on our flag, at least for now – see my article on the ridiculous farce that New Zealand’s new flag debate has become – and is perhaps the greatest symbol of New Zealand after the silver fern.

The New Zealand Flag

The New Zealand Flag

You can easily spot the Southern Cross by looking for its ‘Pointers’, the especially bright stars Alpha and Beta Centauri. They always appeared above our neighbour’s house in Waiuku. Once my dad had pointed them out, I searched for them every time I went outside at night. The Maori saw the Southern Cross as an anchor. They were experts at using the stars to navigate and called them Te Whanau o Marama, which means ‘the family of light’.

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The Pleiades, known to Maori as Matariki

New Zealand’s a pretty good country for stargazing. You can see the Magellanic Clouds with the naked eye, a pair of galaxies you can’t see from the Northern Hemisphere. The Milky Way looks especially milky from here as well. If you’re into astronomy and looking to tour New Zealand, you should check out nzastronomy.co.nz.

Another British Immigrant’s View of New Zealand – A Guest Post by Kathryn Hodgson

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My first experience of Kiwi-isms was when I was listening to our sat nav during a cold English winter journey in the pouring rain and we set it to a New Zealand male voice. The sat nav voice piped up enthusiastically with:

‘Grab your jandles!’

‘Turn around and let’s head for a mean steak and cheese pie!’

Both of which had us falling about in fits of laughter as we drove along the M5 motorway and wondered what on earth jandles were and why ur Sat Nav companion was so obsessed with cheese and steak pies –did they eat that in New Zealand and did they wear jandles at the same time? Those questions alone were reason enough to spend six months touring New Zealand to find out the answers. We intended to travel both islands for six months as part of a 12 month world charitable speaking tour, which is ongoing as I type and is in aid of our shark conservation cause Friends for Sharks. The mystery of jandles was what really sold us on this incredible destination though. Honest.

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No sooner had we arrived in Christchurch to a dry and crisp autumn (which is of course hotter than an English summer) than we leapt upon the first Kiwi we could find and asked them about jandles and pies. Both of which are apparently a firm part of Kiwi culture. Many a day has passed since when we have been on the road and spotted a steak and cheese pie sign but we’ve still yet to give it a try. I remain unconvinced that cheese belongs in a pie when it can be layered upon tasty crackers. Talking of cheese, one of our main excitements when we visited our first supermarket in Christchurch had to be that in New Zealand the blocks of standard cheese are HUGE, affordable and much tastier than Tesco’s value cheese blocks – the English equivalent. I say that as someone from England who has a major love affair with cheese and lived in Shropshire….the home of Shropshire Blue. Admittedly I miss Stilton and a good Wensleydale but the Kiwis make mighty fine blocks of cheese that freeze well in a campervan and are very good at propping doors open. The people of New Zealand do dairy and boy do they do it well.

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The variety of fresh fruit and vegetable is also staggering and our time in sunny Nelson and Motueka was spent gorging on pears, apples, grapefruit that tasted of sunshine and a local fruit named feijoas. Feijoas are a small green fruit that are highly perfumed and taste like a cross between rose Turkish delight and parma violet sweets. They are absolutely beautiful and vital for a campervan that smells of fruit and perfume rather than two people that have lived in said campervan for months on end.  We adore touring in our Wendekreisen Travel Ltd campervan, it is incredibly well-stocked and designed and provides a cosy and reliable base for our adventures. The storage space is ideal for our giant blocks of cheese, feijoas, the occasional bottle of sulphur-free wine from Marlborough and, of course, our jandles.

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It still makes me smile that we have come to the other side of the world, immersed ourselves in the local way of life and yet the things that have struck a chord with me are the dairy products and amusing language differences. We have seen the most mind-blowingly spectacular scenery at every bend in the road, shouted ‘view!’ more times than I can remember and it is still the small moments of Kiwi life that have stayed with us on our journey. I have travelled the globe and lived in various countries, including South Africa and Egypt, and yet the people of New Zealand are by far the most open-hearted and friendly people I have ever encountered. We have been invited into numerous homes for dinner and the chance to sleep in a ‘real bed’ for a night after our public speaking events and it is the norm here to put up travellers as they pass through. We have been given gifts of local Southland cheese, Maori artwork, donations for our cause, exquisite teas, local real ales and abundant friendship. We have discovered the laid back nature of New Zealanders throughout both islands and there is a solid sense of community that I have yet to experience anywhere else.

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As for the sense of space, it is truly endless. We have already driven 80% of the roads of the South Island and are making our way through the North Island for the next two months. In all of our travelling, we have barely seen another soul on the roads and have enjoyed the companionship of rolling hills, rainforests, beaches, mountains, gushing rivers and more. The scenery changes constantly. It was quite the shock to the system when we arrived in Wellington and were greeted with three lanes of traffic. Even that was quiet in comparison to England and other countries though. New Zealand has space, wildlife and peace in abundance and the locals are proud of their heritage – quite rightly so. It is magnificent.

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With all of that in mind it didn’t take us long to apply for residency and we hope to make this country our permanent home in 2016. Fingers crossed, as I don’t think I want to give up the giant blocks of cheese.

 

Kathryn HodgsonKathrynHodgson (1979) was born in England and spent her childhood exploring the rugged beauty of Cornwall. Kathryn pursued her love of nature as an adult and created a successful career within environmental enforcement in England and then as a scuba diving instructor in Egypt and Great White Shark wildlife guide in South Africa. She is co-founder of the marine conservation cause Friends for Sharks, author of the inspiring memoir No Damage (December 2014) and lover of life, laughter and adventures. She can currently be found touring the world in aid of shark conservation and raising money for The Shark Trust and Project AWARE.

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New Zealand Citizenship vs. Permanent Residency

Originally posted on POMS AWAY!:

new-zealand-654980_640I’ve lived in New Zealand for over half my life, but I’m not a New Zealand citizen. I’m only a permanent resident.

People are often surprised at this. Why haven’t I gone for citizenship, they ask?

Because I’ve never had to. New Zealand permanent residents have pretty much the same rights as citizens. We can vote, we can come and go as we please, and we have access to free healthcare, education and, should we need it, the benefit.

That, and going for citizenship would be extra hassle and cost a lot. My parents never applied when my sister and I were children because it would have cost thousands to do the whole family at once.

I’ll apply one day, when I can afford it. When I do, I’ll go for dual citizenship. I definitely don’t want to give up my British passport – it gives me the option of…

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Having a (Jane Austen) Ball in Hamilton

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that man dressed in Regency clothing is sure to make a woman swoon.

Well it works for me anyhow.

Jane Austen Regency Costume Ball 2This is one of the reasons I was so excited about attending Dance Folkus’ Jane Austen Ball last weekend, which took place in Matangi Hall in Hamilton. (See – things do happen in Hamilton!) Seeing my boyfriend dressed in the manner of Mr Darcy was, for me, a dream come true. By the end of the evening I was almost literally swooning, though this had more to do with the tightness of my own costume than the effect of his!

Jane Austen Regency Ball Costume 3The ball itself was wonderful. A $30 ticket got you an afternoon of Regency dance lessons, a beautifully decorated hall, a Regency band, a light supper and drinks all evening. Everyone was dressed up and, though many of us often forgot the dance steps, great fun was had by all. I much preferred it to clubbing as a way of meeting people! All the women were given dance cards – men literally had to book dances in advance.

Back in the early nineteenth century, it was considered most unseemly for a woman to dance more than twice with the same man. I’m afraid Tim and I broke this rule.

Matangi Hall Regency Band

Outside the hall, the temperature had dropped to below zero, though this was a welcome relief. It got very hot dancing in the hall and it was nice to be able to cool off between sets. This winter is turning into an especially cold one for the upper North Island of New Zealand. I’m simply not used to sub-zero temperatures, (especially as Tim and I missed out on winter entirely last year, spending the New Zealand winter months in Europe, where it was summer.) I haven’t owned a properly thick coat since I lived in England!

Jane Austen Regency Costume Ball 4But anyway – the swooning. I now have no problem understanding why nineteenth century women were known for fainting. I got my costume from a local hire place that didn’t have a lot of choice in the Regency department, so I had to take whatever fit best. The dress I ended up with was lovely, but it was extremely tight around the chest. When we were dancing the rather energetic final dance, the heat of the room, coupled with the fact that I couldn’t expand my lungs enough to get sufficient oxygen, caused me to become quite dizzy.

I stumbled and just managed to prevent myself from falling over. My world was spinning, and as soon as the dance was over I was on a chair having my face fanned frenetically with a dance card. Far from spoiling the evening, I felt it added an air of authenticity.

This is one of the dances we did: (Any excuse to watch a bit of Pride and Prejudice!)

Dance Folkus has Regency balls every year. If you’ve always dreamed of living out your Jane Austen fantasies, I recommend checking their Facebook page for future events.

Matangi Hall Regency Ball

The Magical Creatures of New Zealand

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Why have we in these isles no fairy dell,

No haunted wood, nor wild enchanted mere?

asked Alexander Bathgate, a nineteenth century Scottish immigrant to New Zealand, in his poem Faerie.

Our woods are dark, our lakelets’ waters clear,

he goes on,

As those of any land where fairies dwell.

In every verdant vale our streamlets tell

Their simple story to the list’ning ear,

Our craggy mountains steep are full of fear –

Even rugged men have felt their awful spell.

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Yet lack they glamour of the fairy tale,

Nor gnome nor goblin do they e’er recall,

Though Nature speaks, e’en in the wind’s sad wail

Who shall give meaning to Her voices all?

The poet’s art, –  as yet without avail, –

Must weave the story of both great and small.*

I must admit, as a fellow British immigrant to New Zealand obsessed with myth and fantasy, I sometimes feel like this. I long for the magical creatures of Europe – from the Fair Folk of the forests to the nymphs of the pools – to become interwoven with the beautiful landscape of New Zealand. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films went some way towards appeasing this desire, but they’re no substitute for a rich folklore that’s been passed down and embroidered for thousands of years.

maoriwoodcarvingOf course, to think like this is to show a high level of ignorance. New Zealand does have a rich folklore that’s been passed down for maybe not thousands, but at least hundreds of years. Maori folklore contains many magical creatures, not just the taniwha – the one that everyone knows about. It has spirits and demons; ogres and wild men. It even has its own version of fairies – and not the cute kind.

Here, I have compiled a list of magical New Zealand creatures. It is by no means comprehensive. Indeed, to my knowledge, no such comprehensive list exists, at least not on the Internet, and I simply don’t have the time to embark upon a serious academic study. Nevertheless, I hope you find it interesting. I’d like to think that Alexander Bathgate would have done at any rate, and perhaps, one day, I myself will write a fantasy story inspired by New Zealand folklore.

(Apologies for coming across all pompous and Victorian there.)

TANIWHA

dragon-311410_640Taniwha are man-eating monsters, usually dwelling in deep water, both salt and fresh. They somewhat resemble dragons, although they have the ability to shape-shift into natural creatures such as whales, or objects such as bits of wood. They sometimes act as guardians, but have also been known to kidnap humans, dragging them down into their lairs to either feast upon or rape. When Hotu-Puku, the great taniwha of Rotorua, was slain, his belly was slit open to reveal several remarkably undigested human bodies, along with their still perfectly usable possessions. These included fine cloaks and weapons – sounds like every RPG I’ve ever played.

POUA-KAI

Poua-kai are huge, black-and-white birds with greenish-yellow wingtips and red crests. They have terrible cries and are known for carrying people off and eating them. Rather scarily, they may have once existed as real creatures in New Zealand: the now-extinct Haast’s eagle was certainly large enough to hunt the now-extinct moa, so it is not unreasonable to suppose that they could have swooped down upon human beings as well. If only Gandalf had been around to communicate with them.

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Gandalf riding upon Gwaihir, Lord of the Eagles, in Wellington Airport

MANAIA

Some believe manaia to be monsters, but they are actually messengers, go-betweens for mortal humans and spirits. They have the bodies of men, but the heads of birds. In highly stylised forms, their image becomes a symbol of protection.

TIPUA

Tipua are shape-shifting demons. They can take the form of anything, be it animal, vegetable or mineral. If something that is ordinary, such as a fish, a tree, or a stone, looks somehow uncanny then it is likely a tipua. If you ever come across a place inhabited by one or more tipua, you should make an offering or face the consequences.

MAERO

Maero are wild men of the forest. They have long, shaggy, black hair and sharp, spindly fingers. They are cannibals, killing with stone clubs and their knife-like fingernails. Large and exceptionally strong, maero display no supernatural powers. Indeed, many have thought them to be entirely natural creatures, and some Maori even claim maero heritage.

angel-151001_640TE-TINI-O-HAKUTURI

Te-tini-o-hakuturi translates into English as ‘the multitude of bow-legged ones’. These are the fairy spirits that live amongst the trees. It is their job to avenge any desecration of the sanctity of the forest. (Before taking something from nature, you must first placate the spirit world.) These fairy spirits often take the form of insects or birds.

POROTAI

Porotai are creatures that are half-flesh; half-stone. They have two faces, but little else is known about them, as they are invisible to humans.

KAHUI-TIPUA

clipart-orc-warrior-256x256-7ae3The Kahui-Tipua were a band of ogres, the first inhabitants of New Zealand’s South Island. They were shape-shifting giants who lived in caves and hunted with two-headed dogs. They could stride from mountain to mountain and drink rivers dry. An ogre once captured a human woman and kept her as his pet, but she escaped, and the retribution sought by her brothers was swift. They blocked up the mouth of the ogre’s cave and set it on fire with the ogre inside. The Kahui-Tipua did not long survive the arrival of humans in New Zealand.

NUKU-MAI-TORE

Nuku-mai-tore are strange, human-like creatures that sit upon the branches of trees like birds. They have short limbs and eat only raw food, as they are terrified of fire. All offspring of the nuku-mai-tore are delivered by Caesarean section, guaranteed to kill the mother. The legendary human adventurer Tura endeavoured to teach the nuku-mai-tore the values of simple home cooking and natural childbirth.

PATUPAIAREHE

Kuirau Park, Rotorua

Patupaiarehe are New Zealand’s Fair Folk, inhabiting forests and mountains. They have pale skin, pale eyes and red hair, and are similar in stature to humans, although tribes of both very tall and very small fairies have been reported. Their pale skin and eyes make them sensitive to sunlight, so they may only be seen moving about at night, or on misty days – if they are seen at all. They are known to lure people astray with their ethereal flute music, sometimes kidnapping them. In the old days, if a Maori child was born an albino, or with reddish hair, it was assumed that their real father was a fairy.

PAKEPAKEHA

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Sophie Anderson’s Fairy Queen – pale skin, pale eyes and red hair

Pakepakeha are little people; pale-skinned fairies like the patupaiarehe. They can sometimes be glimpsed drifting down rivers on bits of wood, singing as they go. Their name, pakepakeha, and their pale-skinned nature is why the white colonisers of New Zealand, with their pale skin, came to be known as pakeha. Some people believe that the old stories of patupaiarehe are evidence that New Zealand was originally inhabited by white people – ‘Celtic’ Europeans – who were assimilated and/or exterminated when the Maori arrived. While an interesting idea, the main proponents of it all seem to be racist conspiracy theorists, convinced that the government is suppressing historical finds.

PONA-TURI

Pona-turi are sea fairies. By day they lurk under the water, for, like the patupaiarehe, they have pale skin and fear both sunlight and fire. Come the night, however, they venture out onto the land. Upon their long, thin fingers are long, sharp claws. They are somewhat goblin-like. It is said that they have a hidden land beneath the sea, but they sleep in huts on the shore. They are right to fear sunlight: it is death to them.

* From The New Place: The Poetry of Settlement in New Zealand 1852 – 1914, by Harvey McQueen

For J. K. Rowling’s version of the magical history of New Zealand, see Harry Potter in New Zealand

Antiques, Collectables and a Giant Bottle of Lemonade

L&P Bottle

Paeroa: a small town famous for being the home of New Zealand’s favourite lemon-based soft drink, L&P or Lemon & Paeroa. Indeed, its main tourist attraction is a seven-metre high L&P bottle, which used to be closer to the road, but was moved further back due to the number of tourists endangering themselves by backing across State Highway 2 in an attempt to get a better photograph.

Why anyone would risk their life for a photo of a giant lemonade bottle is beyond me, but L&P is very nice as far as soft drinks go. If you’re ever in New Zealand and faced with a choice between L&P or some other brand of lemonade, definitely go for L&P.

But Paeroa isn’t just about L&P. It’s also known as the Antique Town of New Zealand. Up until last Saturday, I’d been through Paeroa countless times, but never actually explored it. Each time I stared longingly out of the window at what looked to be a collection of rather charming antique shops and told myself that, one day, I’d visit. I love old things, you see, and who could resist a shop front like this?

Paeroa

You might have noticed that the name of that particular antique shop is Granvilles. Now notice the name of another one of Paeroa’s antique shops:

Arkwrights Antiques

Yes, Arkwrights. This shop claims to be ‘OPEN ALL HOURS’ despite opening at ten and closing at five. I wonder how many people get it. There are a few references to the classic BBC sitcom Open All Hours in Paeroa – see if you can spot them all!

Other shops on Paeroa’s antique and second-hand trail include Yesterday and Today, Pandora’s Closet and Junk and Disorderly, which is situated in an old picture theatre. Despite finding nothing particularly inspiring, I quite enjoyed poking around. My sister found a decent second-hand table for her flat, at least.

Lemon & Paeroa BottlePaeroa has a couple of museums and quite a few cafes – including the big L&P Café that all the coaches stop at – and we noticed a lot of people coming through with their bikes on the Hauraki Rail Trail. There’s not an awful lot to do in the town itself, (unless you love antiquing,) but as paeroa.org.nz says, ‘Positive Paeroa’ is ‘The Little Town in the Middle of Everywhere’. It’s right next to Karangahake Gorge, for example, and Karangahake Gorge is wonderful.

You can read what I wrote about Karangahake Gorge here.

Why You Should Visit the Arataki Visitor Centre

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First time in New Zealand? Time to spare around Auckland? Head west to the Arataki Visitor Centre in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. It provides a fantastic introduction to life in New Zealand. You can learn about Auckland’s history, environment and wildlife in a wonderful setting with magnificent views, before embarking upon one of the many laid-back bushwalks in the area.

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The Arataki Visitor Centre is one of the first places I remember visiting in New Zealand. I was ten years old; the centre was great for kids and still is. In fact it’s got even better in the last decade. You could spend hours in the kids’ corner. I discovered so much and it was fun. I learned, for example, what all the different native birds were and what a weta looked like. (Answer: scary as fuck.)

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Recently, I went back for the first time in years. It still had the giant picture frame at the edge of the car park, overlooking the ‘natural masterpiece’-of-a-view. It still had the towering Maori totem pole that my little sister had climbed on, unaware that she was using the bottom figure’s penis as a handhold. But there was one important addition to the car park: a charming Danish ice-cream hut.

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The ice-cream was very nice, as were the freshly made waffle cones.

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I also found this rather pretty place for chaining up your bike.

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As you ascend the wooden ramp into the centre there are a series of balconies taking advantage of the views. In summer they’d make good picnic spots, but the wind was too cold to stay out long this time. Thankfully there’s a place to eat inside the centre too, not a proper café, but nice tables with snacks and hot drinks available. There’s also this rather lovely window seat.

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The inside of the centre has changed a lot. It looks all fancy now. The gift shop’s still the same, but there are lots of new displays. As well as informational displays about the natural and human history of the area, and about local conservation efforts, there are beautiful examples of Kiwi artwork and even live lizards! This is definitely somewhere international visitors should come.

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If you plan on doing any bushwalking during your New Zealand trip – and New Zealand is pretty much impossible to escape without doing at least one little bushwalk – then the Arataki Visitor Centre is a great place prepare yourself. There are people there who can advise you on where to go and how to stay safe in the bush, and there are heaps of free leaflets available.

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In fact the whole centre is free – did I mention that?

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The Arataki Visitor Centre is known as the gateway to the Waitakere Ranges. I think it’s also a great gateway to New Zealand in general. Make it the beginning of your New Zealand holiday. I know a few people who say it’s the first place the place they take friends and relatives when they arrive.  Other places nearby include: Rose Hellaby House, the Waitakere Dam, Fairy Falls and Bethells Beach.