I Finally Visited a Cat Café!

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista Cats

Can you believe cat cafes have only been a thing in New Zealand since last year? Rather predictably, they’ve become really popular, popping up in more and more places. Not Hamilton, unfortunately, which is why I, self-confessed crazy cat lady, only got around to visiting one this last weekend.

Yes, I took pictures.

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista CatsThe café I visited is called Barista Cats – awesome name, by the way. It was a little difficult to find, being tucked into a lane off Auckland Central’s Queen Street, behind a solid-looking door and up a flight of stairs. There was a sign on Queen Street, but it may as well have said…

“This is the first test: are you worthy enough to discover the portal and gaze upon the treasures within?”

It felt like going up to see a dentist, especially as there was a waiting room. Then there was the airlock-like entry, double doors to prevent cats escaping. Hands sanitized, my companions and I finally stood within the inner sanctum.

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista CatsIt was $15 for an hour with the cats, and that included a drink. I had some very nice coconut cream tea. The drinks came with lids, which we thought was a very sensible idea. Then we discovered that one of the cats – a greedy, short-haired calico called Hamburglar – had worked out how to get the lids off!

Meeting all the cats with their different personalities was fun.

There was a tiny tabby with crossed eyes and a loud meow. Apparently, it and its siblings had been thrown into a river in a plastic bag, but the cross-eyed kitten’s meow had been so loud that it had alerted a passer-by and saved them.

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista CatsThere were two blind cats, one of which was a Manx, and one deaf cat, and one cat with only three legs. A few of the cats had been rescued from the streets, but they were all adorable. They seemed to enjoy staring out of the window, watching the people going about their business in the lane below.

I played with the cats and stroked them and, quite frankly, never wanted to leave. There were other things to keep you occupied in the room – cat-themed reading material and board games – and, of course, there was food. The food was below average for Auckland café food, but the focus is on the cats, so who cares?

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista CatsAs we ate, Hamburglar sat at our feet, periodically reaching up to tap our thighs. You’re not allowed to feed any of the cats, but, evidently, Hamburglar is no quitter.

We were kind of worried about staying too long and having to pay another $15, but it was a quiet afternoon, so they let us off. Maybe it’s for the best that I no longer live in Auckland. I’d keep sneaking off to the cat café like it was some sort of brothel!

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista CatsIf you’re on a long New Zealand tour and you find yourself missing your feline pets, an hour in one of New Zealand’s growing number of cat cafes might be the answer.

Oh, it turned into an absolutely fabulous cat-filled weekend for me. My partner and I stayed the night at his brother’s flat, and his brother’s flatmates had just brought home a kitten. It was so lovely, climbing up me to play with my hair and, later, falling asleep over my arm with an almighty (for such a tiny guy) sigh. My own beloved Crookshanks died earlier this year, so this weekend felt like an early Christmas present. Thank you, Tim, for taking me.

🙂

Auckland Cat Cafe, Barista Cats

New Zealand: A Land Fit for Fantasy

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POMS AWAY!

You know when you were a kid, when you were lonely or sad or scared and you just… imagined you were somewhere else? Where did you imagine? What fantastic landscapes did you get lost in?

Emerald valleys beribboned with sapphire rivers? Mysterious lakes mirroring snow-capped mountains? Ancient forests with hidden waterfalls? Waves crashing upon black rocks beneath stormy skies? How about bubbling, blue-grey pools surrounded by steam vents, lava flows and powdery, yellow rocks?

Fantasy Image from Pixabay.com

You know.

Growing up in England, I thought New Zealand was some sort of fantasyland. But that didn’t mean I wanted to leave my home and my friends and everything behind to go there. When my parents told me we were moving to New Zealand, I’d never been more lonely or sad or scared!

I did feel slightly better, however, when my dad informed me they were filming The Lord of the Rings there. If I…

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That’s It – I’m Moving to New Zealand!

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Three weeks ago, one of my articles started getting a lot more views: The Best Place to Live in New Zealand. Can anyone think what could have happened three weeks ago to warrant a surge of interest in living in New Zealand?

A similar thing happened after the Brexit vote. New Zealand Citizenship vs. Permanent Residency became one of my most-viewed posts.

I wonder how many people will actually end up emigrating as a direct result of either Trump of Brexit. Emigrating takes a lot of courage, even if you have a job waiting for you, like my dad did. I must say, though, I’m glad I already live in New Zealand.

I wasn’t always, but this annus horribilis has made me grateful for what I have.

On a personal level, 2016 has been a pretty good year. It’s the year I snatched my life back from depression’s thieving fingers, finally finishing my novel and finding the courage to get up on stage again. Not to mention the courage to socialise.

space-travel-154020_960_720On a global level, however, not so much. From the Syrian refugee crisis to –

Actually, you know what, I’m not going to list everything. It’s too disheartening and you’ve heard it all before. New Zealand is a very good place to be right now. Even with the earthquakes.

Yes, even with the earthquakes. And I know that’s easy for me to say, living in Hamilton. We felt that one long, scary tremor, but our lives haven’t been disrupted. What I mean is… well, I’m better off paraphrasing the sentiments of a few of my friends on Facebook: At least New Zealanders aren’t battling each other – just Mother Nature.

New Zealand was recently ranked as the 7th safest country in the world by the World Economic Forum. (The UK was 63rd; the US 73rd.) It was ranked as the 4th safest country in the world on the 2016 Global Peace Index. (The UK was 47th; the US 103rd.) And it always appears on lists of the best places you could hope to be in the event of World War III!

Our biggest threats are earthquakes and volcanoes. Sometimes, being tucked far away from everything is good thing.

New Zealand is also arguably one of the best democracies in the world. Having MMP, or Mixed Member Proportional, as a voting system means that everyone’s vote actually counts. Everyone’s vote has equal power, and a vote for a party like the Greens isn’t wasted.

new-zealand-890250_960_720With MMP, it’s rare for a single party to be able to rule without having to form a coalition with a minor party. (Although, of course, that’s exactly what we have now.) It’s a good defence against extremism. Only three other countries have MMP: Romania, Lesotho and Germany. (Germany seems to have learned its lesson regarding extremism, even if the rest of the world hasn’t.)

New Zealand had a referendum over whether to keep MMP in 2011, and voted to keep it by a significant margin. I, myself, have little to no memory of the referendum, which I’ve just realised is strange, seeing as I turned eighteen in 2009, and should therefore have voted in it.

Ah.

I’ve just realised that 2011 was the deepest, blackest year of my depression. I spent a significant portion of that year scared to leave my room, wrapped in a blanket, trying desperately to blot out not only the world, but my own wretched thoughts. That probably explains it.

Where was I?

Oh, yes.

New Zealand good. Kiwi spirit and all that.

No, but seriously. I’m glad to be living here.

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Well That Was Scary

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I’d never felt an earthquake before. We were just about to go to sleep when the bed started juddering. At first I thought Tim was wriggling about, but it didn’t stop. Then the door started swinging back and forth, back and forth, shrieking like a poltergeist. We looked at each other.

It dawned on us.

By now the bed was swaying, but I was almost too freaked out to leave it. We stumbled into the lounge. The floor was dancing about; I was scared the walls would fall in. Tim said he felt like he was nauseous and I agreed. That or very drunk.

We wondered what to do. It wasn’t stopping. Should we get under the table, or into the cupboard, or just leave the flat entirely? By the time we’d decided it would probably be best to get outside and make for the big, open park across the road, the shaking stopped.

Had it stopped? We had trouble telling.

Yes, it had stopped.

new_zealand_topographic_mapWe immediately turned on Tim’s laptop and went to geonet.org: there had been a severe earthquake near Christchurch.

So severe we’d felt it all the way up in Hamilton.

Memories of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake churned in our stomachs. One hundred and eighty-five people had died in that one.

Our next port of call was Facebook. Everyone had felt it. People up in Auckland had felt it. Our friends in Christchurch were okay. Our friends in Wellington were okay, but there was damage. I found myself breathing a little easier, but we knew there’d be aftershocks.

We decided to get dressed and sleep in our clothes, just in case. I made sure my mobile phone and precious notebook were right next to me. We told each other, “I love you,” with even more fervency than usual. In the end, we felt no aftershocks. Still, getting to sleep was hard.

In the morning, the first thing we did was check the news. Two people had died. Quakes had continued up and down the country. High school exams disrupted; houses destroyed; roads blocked. People have been told to stay clear of the Wellington CBD.

Wow. Small-scale earthquakes happen all the time in New Zealand. My mum’s felt a few. Until last night, I was jealous I’d never felt any. Fifteen years living in New Zealand and I’d never felt the slightest tremor. I’d been in a few earthquake simulators at museums – enjoyed going in them in fact… but now…

I hope it’s not a sign of worse to come.

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Christchurch is still recovering from the last one.

The Best Place to Live in New Zealand

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POMS AWAY!

Since moving to New Zealand, I’ve lived in four very different places:

1)Waiuku, a sleepy town south of Auckland,

Waiuku

2)Tauranga, a peaceful city in the Bay of Plenty,

Mount Beach

3)Auckland Central, the busiest part of New Zealand’s busiest city, and

Auckland Rangitoto

4)Hamilton, a city that’s mocked by the rest of the country, but actually has a lot going for it.

HamiltonChristmasTree

I’ve also experienced life out at Bethells Beach, as that’s where my partner’s from. He’d tell you it’s the best place to live in the country hands down, but I’m not so sure. Yes, it’s close to a very beautiful beach and boasts magnificent valley views, but it has its disadvantages too.

The mysterious West Coast (Bethells Beach)

So what is the best place to live in New Zealand? Obviously, I can only speak from my own experience, but someone somewhere might find this useful. I’m going to attempt…

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Honestly, New Zealand DOES Have History

A drawing one of Tasman's crew did of "Murderers' Bay"

“New Zealand doesn’t have any history.”

Do you know how many times I’ve heard that since moving here?

“New Zealand was the last major landmass to be settled; it’s too young for anything interesting to have happened.”

It’s not just immigrants that say it. It’s a sentiment shared by many born-and-bred New Zealanders. It’s repeated so often that people simply believe it.

I did.

1024px-bayeux_tapestry_scene57_harold_deathWhen I moved here, I bemoaned the lack of interesting history and – perhaps as an act of homesickness – began to obsess over British history.

I watched every documentary and read every book I could get my hands on. The Britons, the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons, the Vikings, the Normans, the Plantagenets, the Tudors, the Stuarts, the Georgians, the Victorians… and then, at the twentieth century, I lost interest.

I scoffed at New Zealand’s comparatively pathetic past.

School didn’t help.

Maori Chief with Facial Tattoo from the 18th CenturyThe way New Zealand history is taught in schools seriously needs overhauling. Every year, we got the same old sanitised version of how the Treaty of Waitangi went down, the mythologised version of what happened with the ANZACs at Gallipoli, and… well… not much else. (I remember doing something about Victorian colonists’ journeys to New Zealand at primary school, and something about the Maori migration route through the Pacific in Year Nine Social Studies.) We were practically taught to believe that New Zealand history was boring. Even when I got to Seventh Form, my History teacher said, “Well, we can either do the New Zealand module or the Tudors and Stuarts module, and the New Zealand module is boring as f**k.” (He may not have used those exact words.)

One of the reasons I didn’t do History at university was I didn’t want to have to slog through all the New Zealand stuff before I could get to the interesting stuff. I kind of regret that now. (Except not really, because I did Classical Studies instead, which I absolutely adored.)

Then I started writing this blog.

I was no longer just living in New Zealand – I was analysing it. Really thinking about it. Whenever I visited somewhere, I wasn’t just looking at it and going, “Oh, that’s nice,” I was actually making an effort to learn about it.

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Rotorua Museum

I remember – it was nearly three years ago, before Tim and I went to Europe – I visited Rotorua with my parents. We’d been to Rotorua many times before. We’d even been to Rotorua Museum many times before. But never before I had engaged with Rotorua’s history quite so dramatically. I was fascinated.

It was honestly a turning point in my life. I came back from Rotorua renewed, with a newfound appreciation for New Zealand history. I wanted to find out more.

The Stone Store, Kerikeri

If you’re one of my regular readers, you might have noticed a certain obsession with New Zealand history of late. Now, whenever I hear someone parroting the view that New Zealand doesn’t have any history, I excitedly reel off a list of places they can visit. I even wrote an article about it on my new website, trippla.nz, where I provide holiday inspiration in the form of New Zealand travel itineraries. The article is called A Magical History Tour of the North Island, and you should definitely check out at least some of the places I mention.

Of course New Zealand has history! Maori people have been living here for a thousand years, give or take three hundred. Yes, it’s all oral history (and a bit of archaeology) until the Europeans arrive, but that doesn’t mean it’s non-existent. And the Europeans arriving unleashes a whole host of “interesting” historical events! Perhaps one of the reasons New Zealand history isn’t taught in detail is quite simply white guilt.

Over the years I’ve heard a few people, mostly older white New Zealanders, say things like, “Leave the past where it is. We don’t want to be stirring up old grievances,” and, “We should be promoting unity, not pointing the finger.”

Richmond Cottage, New Plymouth

Richmond Cottage, New Plymouth

Don’t you just hate it when people can’t separate history and politics? What’s wrong with looking at the simple facts, saying, “This is what happened,” and learning from it, instead of getting angry and trying to deny it when, really, it had nothing to do with anyone alive today? I mean come on! Everyone was a dick to each other in the past. Oh, hell, not just in the past – everyone’s a dick to each other today – just look at the world!

And, yes, people use history to suit their own purposes all the time. That’s why you have to look at multiple histories of the same events, told by different people, to get a balanced idea of what really happened.

Temple Cottage, Kihikihi

Temple Cottage. Kihikihi

New Zealand may not have any medieval castles, but it’s got hill forts. Its history includes war, discovery, hardship, bravery, natural disasters, social triumphs, cannibalism, frontier towns, true love, miracles… (Well, okay, the last two are from The Princess Bride, but you get the point.) Plenty of interesting historical events have happened in New Zealand, despite its relative youth as a country. Obviously nowhere near as many as somewhere like England or China, but enough that New Zealand’s history shouldn’t be scoffed at.

Although I may still scoff at it as a joke sometimes. I am English, after all.

Lion vs. Kiwi, the National Animals of England and New Zealand

Springtime for Hamilton Gardens

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There’s always something going on at the Hamilton Gardens. The weekend before last there was a model railway exhibition. I wouldn’t have gone to it myself, but my parents were visiting and my dad’s obsessed with trains. His own model railway takes up nearly half a double garage, and he’s started another one in a shed. (Mum wasn’t keen on him building one around the top of their lounge.)

Model Railway

Some of the layouts were quite interesting. I especially enjoyed seeing the ones set in Germany and Austria. They reminded me of my real train journey through Europe. My dad’s layout is based on our hometown in England. Mostly. He’s added a few quirky touches, such as a 1960s police box (or TARDIS) and zombies emerging from a graveyard. It’s really good, actually. The Victorian terraced houses make me nostalgic.

I didn’t find the model railway exhibition nearly as interesting as the gardens themselves, though. I know I go to the gardens a lot, but seeing them in the springtime is something special. I couldn’t resist taking these photos of the Italian Renaissance Garden

Italian Garden, Hamilton, New Zealand

Italian Garden, Hamilton, New Zealand

Italian Garden, Hamilton, New Zealand

Italian Garden, Hamilton, New Zealand

When my dad finally emerged from the exhibition, he wanted to do some geocaching. It’s another obsession of his, albeit a recent one. There were a few hidden caches around the gardens. In one there was a trackable coin that had been all over the world. I followed him with my mum and partner, catching Pokémon on my phone as I went. I wonder if we’ll ever walk around the gardens normally again!