Where New Zealanders Go On Holiday

View from Highland Paradise

If you’re wondering why I didn’t post anything last week, it’s because I was in paradise. And in paradise, Internet access is eye-wateringly expensive. I was also too busy drinking cocktails on the beach. Poor me.

I was in Rarotonga, one of the Cook Islands, a country in the tropical South Pacific. It’s a very popular winter getaway destination for Kiwis. Indeed, just about every other tourist I met there was from New Zealand.

The reason is more than mere proximity. The Cook Islands are a four-hour flight from Auckland – (New Zealand is so far away from everywhere that your only cheap holiday destinations are Australia and the Pacific Islands) – but they’re also closely tied to New Zealand politically.

The country was a protectorate of New Zealand until the 1960s, and still uses New Zealand currency. Cook Islanders are automatically New Zealand citizens. (The population of the Cook Islands is approximately 20,000, yet over 60,000 Cook Islanders live in New Zealand.)

Rarotongan Resort 01

You don’t need a visa to visit, just proof of accommodation and a return ticket, and at least six months left on your passport. It’s so easy for New Zealanders to visit the Cook Islands. Everywhere you go, you’re blasted with advertisements for holidays there.

In the lead-up to my holiday, every time I saw such an advertisement I had to pinch myself – I was actually going! And it couldn’t have been more welcome. The last few weeks in New Zealand have been freezing.

Our flight to Rarotonga arrived in the early hours of the morning. The Cook Islands are twenty-two hours behind New Zealand, so whilst there wasn’t much jetlag to be had, living through the same day twice (then skipping a day entirely on the way back) was a little confusing.

Crossing the International Date Line involves too much mental exercise when you’ve been up all night! It’s bad enough filling in your arrival card when you’re in that state. I unsurely put down my profession as ‘writer’.

Rarotongan Resort 05(I always get a thrill giving my job as ‘writer’. For so long, being a professional writer was my dream. Even though I’ve been getting paid for it for a while now it still seems unreal. Like I’m a fraud or something. The customs guy at Auckland Airport seemed to treat me with suspicion for it, anyway.)

The thing is, though, is you’re not legally allowed to practise your profession when you’re in the Cook Islands on holiday. This meant that every time I jotted down a story idea or made a note of the things we’d done, I was sort of breaking the law.

My partner pointed this out and named me a pirate writer. (A label I very much liked!) Beginning a new science fiction story whilst sitting in a hut overlooking the clear, turquoise ocean felt quite wonderful.

Landing in Rarotonga and finding it to be cosily warm was one of the best parts of the whole holiday. Several members of our party found the duty free cigarettes and alcohol to be just as exciting! Not so great was arriving at the resort to find that they’d screwed up our booking.

We had to spend the night in prison cell-like ‘emergency’ rooms with only half the number of beds we needed. (Well, apart from my partner’s dad. He was given the honeymoon suite!) But it was all sorted out the next day, so all good.

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We decided to spend our first day in Rarotonga relaxing at the resort. I’d been looking forward to this so much. The last few weeks had been absolutely hectic and I desperately needed to spend a week relaxing.

The thing was, now I was here I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was wasting time. I was reclining beneath a palm tree and I felt like I should be doing something productive! It took a while – and a few cocktails – before I calmed down.

I started reading the first of Steven Erikson’s Malazan books and, I must say, I found the contrast between the resort around me and the gritty, gore-filled world of the book quite comical! The resort felt like it was inside a bubble of unreality.

Due to the expensiveness of Internet access, no news reached our party the entire eight days we were in Rarotonga. (Getting home to find Boris Johnson had been made UK Foreign Secretary and that there’d been another terrorist attack in France was like being hit on the head with a mallet.)

Rarotongan Resort 03

So there we were, festooned with flower garlands and strong, fruity cocktails, nicely sealed into our bubble of unreality, ready to begin our gently-paced adventure. I’ll save that adventure for next week’s post, though – there’s rather a lot to get through! Bye for now. Aere ra!

Next post: What We Did in Rarotonga

New Zealand and Volcanoes

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This was my very first blog post, written over three years ago! Funny how my writing style has changed…

POMS AWAY!

When I was nine years old, my world fell apart.

There I was, living quite happily in a small town in the North of England, when my parents dropped a bombshell: we were moving to New Zealand.

New Zealand – wasn’t that the little triangle at the bottom of Australia? Wasn’t it millions of miles away, filled with bubbling lakes of lava and cannibals and sheep?

Well, I was right about the sheep.

It turned out that New Zealand was quite similar to England, but the differences were truly amazing. This blog is about what makes New Zealand different.

A bit of White Island See how different New Zealand is? This was taken on White Island.

You might be especially interested if you were thinking about moving to New Zealand, or coming here for a holiday. In my experience, the best way to see the country is by campervan. My family and I have driven…

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How Brexit Looks from New Zealand

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Last week, out of the blue, I was asked to “appear” on Radio NZ. They needed a British expat to talk about Brexit, and I can only assume Google led them to this blog.

Okay.

I wasn’t exactly an expert, but I agreed. I figured it would be the most interesting thing to happen to me all week. I did tell them that I was only ten years old when I moved to New Zealand, and had therefore never been registered to vote in Britain in my life, let alone in the last fifteen years. This meant I was unable to actually vote on the EU referendum. (My mum was still eligible – just, but didn’t feel it was her place to.) They still wanted me, so I hurriedly set about doing some research.

British_biometric_passportNot getting a say in Brexit, I hadn’t thought too deeply about it. I was vaguely aware of the disturbingly racist turn things were taking, and of the exaggerated threats of a financial Armageddon turning into the actual Armageddon, but I hadn’t thought far beyond how it would impact upon me directly: I’d rather not give up my EU passport, thank you very much! I like having the option of living and working indefinitely – hassle-free – on “the Continent”. In fact, my New Zealand-born, German-bred boyfriend and I attempted to do just that a couple of years ago. (We only returned to New Zealand because his mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer.)

I realised, of course, that it was selfish to think this way. If I’d believed that it was in Britain’s best interests to leave the EU, (and if, of course, if I’d been able to vote,) I would have voted Leave. After doing some proper research, however, I did not believe that leaving the EU was in Britain’s best interests. When pretty much every expert in the world says it’s a bad idea, and when Nigel Farage and Donald Trump think it’s a good idea… it probably isn’t a good idea.

During the course of my research, I became seriously disheartened. The lies of the politicians, the stupidity of the people, the crass xenophobia suddenly given not just a voice, but a megaphone… I do realise there were perfectly good reasons to leave the EU, and if you’re one of the many perfectly nice, non-racist people who actually thought about their vote with some degree of intelligence, fair enough, and I have no qualms with you. The thing is, the more I researched, the more I came to realise that the worst outcome wasn’t leaving the EU: the worst outcome had already happened.

The atmosphere that this whole Brexit debacle has awoken in Britain is bloody terrifying. Watching from New Zealand, I’m seeing scenes reminiscent of 1930s Germany. Does the human race never learn anything?! The insidious fear-mongering is simply disgusting. Aggressive, pig-headed nationalism isn’t a good look for any country and, surely, we all know where it leads. Human beings should be working together for peace, not demonising anyone with a different accent! As an immigrant myself, I can sympathise and it’s scary.

I always thought my homeland was one of the saner places in the world. Well there goes my innocence.

I watched the votes being counted on the BBC website all throughout last Friday afternoon. (It was the middle of the night in Britain.) I became increasingly nervous, not just because I was waiting to go on the radio and make complete tit of myself, but because Leave was winning. That wasn’t supposed to happen! What about Scotland?

“Don’t worry,” I said half-jokingly to a friend on Facebook. “Scotland will save us!”

internet-42583_960_720The thing is, I have four hundred Facebook friends. (When you move around a lot that tends to happen.) Of those four hundred, only two (that I saw) expressed a desire for Britain to leave the EU. Now, my friends are, naturally, made up of mostly people of a similar age to myself, i.e. young people. They are mostly either:

  • Brits living in Britain
  • Brits living/studying in other European countries
  • Brits living in New Zealand
  • New Zealanders living in New Zealand
  • New Zealanders living in Britain

When the result of the vote was announced, my Facebook wall was flooded with dismay. People weren’t just disappointed, they were angry and scared. Some of them – New Zealanders, obviously – were amused. (You know, watching Britain tear itself apart is funny.) Being mostly young people, it’s not surprising that the vast majority of my friends wanted Britain to remain in EU. The vast majority of young people who voted in the referendum voted Remain. Forgive us for being optimistic.

Young people are often called selfish by the older generation, yet my generation is, so far, the most tolerant, open and accepting of any in history. We celebrate diversity. Most of us have been brought up with the message that love is love. We want to live in peace. We want the world to live as one. (Not in a homogenised way, in an inclusive way.) We want to look outwards, and out for each other.

To me, the entire Brexit thing was deeply demoralising. A sad, ironic version of John Lennon’s Imagine has been looping in my mind since Friday. I’ve seen the young voters criticised as idealists – well, bloody hell! What’s wrong with striving to live in an ideal world? As soon as you give up striving, you slide backwards and history repeats itself!

And I really don’t want history to repeat itself now we’ve got nuclear arsenals.

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You know, I’m not a hippy. I’ve never particularly loved John Lennon. I’ve always enjoyed his music in the background, but, until these last few days, it’s never brought tears to my eyes.

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us

And the world will live as one

Remember, older generation? Remember when you loved that song? You used to be young and hopeful like us. I know your experience of the world since has made you cynical. Made you want to protect your own with no room for anyone else. Back when you had nothing, you were perfectly happy to share. Why aren’t you now?

Of course, I know the answer to that. And it is disheartening.

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But anyway, here’s a link to my radio thing if any of you are interested. I didn’t quite manage to say what I wanted to say. You’ll probably be able to tell by my voice that the phone was shaking in my hand. You’ll definitely be able to tell that the final question threw me – what do you think of the answer I gave? (Also, my mum said I sounded Kiwi! I don’t, do I?)

I want to make it clear that, although I said Brexit was “a bit of a bum result for young people”, I’m not one of those young people railing at old people for forcing us into a future we don’t want. Yes, something like 75% of young people voted to remain in the EU, but less than half of them actually bothered to vote in first place. Which is just another reason to feel disheartened.

New Zealand FlagMeanwhile, the Brexit vote has reignited New Zealand’s flag debate. (If anyone thought that referendum was bad…) It’s also ignited a new republic debate. What’s the point, many Kiwis are asking, of staying in the commonwealth if Britain will no longer be our gateway to Europe? Many British expats in New Zealand are now saying, well, we may as well get New Zealand passports then. (Their British passports won’t be superior for much longer.) Many here are sharing the joke that Brits can no longer call Americans stupid. (But, of course, America has a Trump card.) I’m just sitting here feeling physically sick at the thought of Nigel Farage happy.

Britain doesn’t look like a nice place to be at the moment. I’m glad I’m in New Zealand.

The Alien World of White Island

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POMS AWAY!

Have you ever visited somewhere so unique that you rave about it years later? It’s been six years since my family went to New Zealand’s White Island, and I still find myself thinking about it and talking about how amazing it is. I can’t believe how few of my friends have been!

White Island is an active volcano out in the Bay of Plenty. It’s a small island, but it looms large in my memory. I remember the huge clouds of dense, white steam billowing from it as we approached in the ferry. It was so exciting, like coming upon a lost world. We’d already been treated to the sight of dolphins that day – they’d surrounded our ferry as we left Whakatane and played with us for so long we almost forgot where we were going – so, as you can imagine, things were pretty magical.

The island looked…

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The Otuataua Stonefields

Otuataua Stonefields

When you’re an immigrant, you spend a lot of time at the airport, picking up visiting relatives. I’ve been to Auckland Airport many times, but I never knew about the important archaeological site right next to it! The Otuataua Stonefields are a potential World Heritage Site and they’re woefully underappreciated. I only learned of their existence because I stumbled upon this webpage whilst researching another article. Of course, I had to go.

Otuataua Stonefields

As a Brit living in New Zealand, I miss seeing stone ruins and walls. Even though I left England at the age of ten, the sight of them still makes me sentimental. I went to a fellow British expat’s house a while back, and I found myself almost tearing up at the dry stone wall he’d built in his garden. Silly, I know. The Otuataua Stonefields feature dry stone walls built by nineteenth-century English settlers, but the site goes back much further than that.

Otuataua Stonefields

It’s a little tricky to find, being kind of out of the way. You’d think a site of such significance would have large signs pointing to it. As we drove through Mangere towards Ihumatao Quarry Road, we began to see lots of signs of different sort: handmade signs protesting a new housing development – practically on top of the Otuataua Stonefields. Seriously? I know Auckland’s going through a housing crisis, but to build five hundred new properties in that particular place shows a serious lack of respect.

Otuataua Stonefields

Ihumatao Village is the oldest settlement in Auckland. A twelfth-century shell midden was found on the nearby Puketutu Island, which is amongst the earliest evidence of human occupation New Zealand has. The descendants of those Polynesian pioneers still live in the area. To them, the land is sacred. The area upon which the houses will be built includes lava caves that were used as burial chambers, but those will apparently be protected, along with “many” of the historical stone walls – see this New Zealand Listener article.

Otuataua Stonefields

As well as European dry stone walls, the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve contains, among other features, the remains of kumara pits, sheltered gardens and ancient Maori buildings. It’s very beautiful to walk around, especially with the Manukau Harbour as a backdrop. I’d recommend wearing hiking boots, though. The paths are nothing more than narrow trails in the long grass, and the signposts are old and unclear. There’s a lot of up and down and stumbling.

Otuataua Stonefields

The place could do with a bit of TLC. There was a bag of dog mess at the entrance, underneath an information board that looked a little worse for wear. It seems such a shame, because I really enjoyed walking around the Otuataua Stonefields. There’s even an avocado orchard that you’re allowed take avocadoes from! The reserve could be a wonderful tourist attraction, especially being so close to the airport, and it seems there were once plans to make it so.

Otuataua Stonefields

To find out more about Ihumatao, the Otuataua Stonefields and the opposition to the housing development, see this website. I hope the peninsula isn’t ruined, and that the site eventually gets the respect it deserves. In the mean time, it’s still good to visit. If you’re into history, or just want to take a walk somewhere interesting with beautiful views, it’s a great place to kill an hour or two. It certainly satisfied my craving for dry stone walls!

Otuataua Stonefields

A Stroll through History

Howick Historical Village

I learnt a lot about the history of Auckland last weekend, both Maori and European. I walked across the Otuataua Stonefields, an archaeological site encompassing one of New Zealand’s earliest settlements, and I visited the Howick Historical Village. I greatly enjoyed my time at each of these places and definitely recommend including them on your New Zealand travels. I’ll talk about the historical village this week; the stonefields next week. So come on, grab your pretty, floral bonnets and step with me back in time to the Fencible Period.

Howick Historical Village

You’re probably wondering, as you search for your pretty, floral bonnet, what on earth the Fencible Period is. Well I was just as confused as you are now, but one of the first things you see upon entering Howick Historical Village is a sign providing a helpful explanation. ‘Fencible’ comes from the word ‘defencible’. There were a few ‘Fencible’ settlements around Auckland, made up of retired British Empire soldiers and their families. The soldiers were offered free passage to New Zealand, land and a cottage in return for seven years of military service. If anyone were to attack Auckland, they’d have to come through the ‘Fencibles’ first.

Howick Historical Village

Howick Historical Village comprises over thirty restored buildings from the mid-nineteenth century. The range of buildings is quite impressive, but the first place we headed for was the café at the entrance. (We’d just driven up from Hamilton and we were famished.) It’s a really good café, actually, with a nice verandah. I was with my partner, Tim. He’d already been to the village – on a school trip when he was a kid – and he wasn’t all that keen on going again. In the end, though, he was glad he did. He found it a lot better than he remembered, possibly because he’s able to appreciate the history more now.

Howick Historical Village

There was hardly anyone in the village, as we arrived later in the day, so walking around it was lovely and peaceful. (Despite the rugby match going on next-door!) It cost us $15 each to get in, but it was worth every penny. It’s better, I think, than the Taranaki Pioneer Village, which is very similar. The map we were given at the beginning was clear and contained good information about each of the buildings. We spent about two hours going round, but we did read all the information boards quite thoroughly. Tales about people immigrating to New Zealand always resonate with me – I’m so glad we live in the 21st century!

Howick Historical Village

The village was filled with lots of nice, little touches. In the schoolroom, for example, a somewhat creepy recording of children singing was playing. I didn’t know they used to have to sing their ABCs to the tune of God Save the Queen! While I liked having each building to ourselves, I wish we’d gone on a Live Day. On the third Sunday of every month, excluding December, the village comes to life, populated by costumed villagers. Tim knows a guy that does blacksmithing there. Oh, and you can have photos dressed up as well – how did I miss that? Dressing up in historical costumes is one of my favourite things to do!

Howick Historical Village

Howick Historical Village taught me a few things I wouldn’t otherwise have known. The history there is fantastically presented. It’s a brilliant place to go for locals and tourists alike. Be sure to check out more Places to go around Auckland that are fun and educational and I’ll see you next week.

Battle of the National Symbols – New Zealand vs. England

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

The national animal of New Zealand is the kiwi, a small, flightless bird that thinks it’s a mammal. The national animal of England is a lion, a majestic, sharp-toothed hunter that, really, has nothing whatsoever to do with England. At least the kiwi is native to New Zealand!

What about each nation’s other symbols; how do they compare? Let’s see…

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NATIONAL FLOWER

England: Rose

New Zealand: Silver Fern


NATIONAL ANTHEM

England: God Save the Queen

New Zealand: God Defend New Zealand


NATIONAL SPORT

England: Cricket, (but it’s football really!)

New Zealand: Rugby

PATRON SAINT

England: George

New Zealand: The Virgin Mary


COAT OF ARMS

England: Gules, three lions passant guardant in pale or armed and langued azure, (apparently! Well, you know, it’s basically three golden lions on a red background…)

New Zealand: The Southern Cross, a dead sheep, some immigrant ships, a wheat sheaf and some mining tools, which neatly tells you all you need to know about New Zealand, really. (Basically like this except the lion at the top holding the Union Flag is now just a crown and they’re standing on a fern…)

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