Armageddon: New Zealand’s Comic-Con

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Poor as I am, there’s one annual event I always set money aside for, the nerdgasm-inducing convention that is the Armageddon Expo.

My sister (in a medieval dress) posing with the TARDIS

My sister (in a medieval dress) posing with the TARDIS

The Auckland Armageddon Expo takes place every Labour Weekend at the ASB Showgrounds. It’s a sci-fi/pop culture/comic book/anime/gaming convention that is New Zealand’s equivalent of Comic-Con. Everywhere you look there are people in amazing costumes – you would not believe the number of Daenerys Targaryens there were this year! There are celebrity panels and stalls selling Doctor Who merchandise; a Magic: The Gathering tournament and a laser tag area – you get the idea.

I ended up buying a Pokémon bikini because how could I not? I also got a Yoda backpack and a Firefly T-shirt.

Inevitably, it isn’t as good as Comic-Con. Comic-Con gets Matt Smith; we get Sylvester McCoy – and we only got him because he happened to be in New Zealand filming for The Hobbit. The Auckland Armageddon has yet to attract a celebrity for whom I would pay a lot of money to stand in line and get their autograph.

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EXTERMINATE!

It’s incredibly crowded. You’re lucky to see the stalls unless you spend ages pushing your way to the front. It gets very hot, especially in costume. But I still wouldn’t miss it.

This year, there was a Dalek hovering around. There was also a TARDIS you could get a photo with as well as Han Solo in carbonite.

Basically, if you’re a nerd and you’re travelling in New Zealand, it’d be a good idea to check Armageddon out. At different times of year, there are events in Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin as well as Auckland.

I’m determined to go to Comic-Con one day, but for now Armageddon is a great way to indulge my nerdiness.

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Rainbow’s End: A Somewhat Amusing Park

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When I first arrived in New Zealand, at the age of ten, I noticed that all the other kids in my new class would talk about a certain magical place of fun, a veritable beacon of childhood dreams. If your parents took you there in the holidays, it was a rare and coveted treat, and if your school took you there on a trip, well how lucky were you?

“What is this wondrous destination?” I would ask, and they would answer, in voices breathy with awe, “Rainbow’s End.”

rainbow's end 008It’s an amusement park. They say it’s New Zealand’s best theme park, which isn’t a difficult feat because it’s New Zealand’s only theme park. I couldn’t wait to go.

It’s in Manukau, and as, at the time, we lived in a small town just south of Auckland, it was easy for us to get to. I suppose if you’re in New Zealand for a holiday and you have kids with you, Rainbow’s End would be a great place to while away a few hours, as it’s close to Auckland International Airport and many New Zealand campervan rental depots. It could be a nice treat for the kids on your last day.

It’s definitely improved since my first visit. I can only say that I was disappointed that first time. I mean I’d grown up in England, the land of Alton Towers and Blackpool Pleasure Beach and Legoland. I’d also, at the age of seven, been to all the big theme parks in Florida, so, to me, New Zealand’s Rainbow’s End was laughably tame.

rainbow's end 019Rainbow’s End is a very small theme park, full of happy colours that would be sickeningly bright if it weren’t for the dirt, moss and rust. Its main attraction is the Fearfall, which is actually rather good. You get taken eighteen stories up the side of a tower, your feet dangling in the open air. If you’re scared of height’s, you’ll hate it, but if not you’ll find yourself with a rather pleasant view before being dropped.

When I went that first time, the only other “big” ride was a short and not-very-corkscrewy corkscrew rollercoaster. At least now they’ve got the Power Surge, which I used to love, but these days, at the ripe old age of twenty-two, makes me too sick, and the Invader, which is thrilling without being terrifying or stomach-turned-upside-down nauseating.

There are some quite good “small” rides, rides that you can take little kids on and still enjoy yourself, which seem to be the solid theme park staples: the Pirate Ship, the Log Flume and the Gold Rush. The Log Flume and the Gold Rush were actually my favourite rides the last time I went, which was a few months ago with my boyfriend’s nieces, both of whom were around six years old.

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The Log Flume has an “enchanted forest” theme, with dancing elves and the like, and an almost scary drop at the end. The Gold Rush, fairly obviously, is one of those “old, abandoned mine” rides. It’s good fun, just watch out when you get to the end – the final brake is very sudden and you can hurt yourself, which I did.

rainbow's end 009Always a favourite are the Bumper Boats. I refuse to go on them unless it’s a sunny day, though, because you get a very wet bottom. Last time, I just stood on the bridge that goes over the ride and shouted encouragement to my boyfriend’s niece to ram him with her boat.

For younger children, there’s a section of the park called Kidz Kingdom. It’s really sweet and has in it the sorts of rides that are far too tiny for adults. The good thing is it doesn’t cost as much to enter Rainbow’s End if you’re only going to be staying in that bit, but I’m quite disappointed they got rid of the dragon ride that went around the castle walls.

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So here’s my advice for your New Zealand holiday: if you have children with you, Rainbow’s End would be a good day out, but if you don’t then you’re better off pursuing New Zealand’s many other non-theme park thrill seeking opportunities.

Gandering at the Muriwai Gannet Colony

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One of the first places I remember visiting in New Zealand was Muriwai Beach. It was just over twelve years ago, (although I’ve been back many times since,) and my mum, my little sister and I had just got off the plane, and my dad, (who had already been in New Zealand for six months,) was eager to show us all the wonderful sights our new home had to offer. The ten-year-old me was quite impressed with Muriwai. It had the luxuriously soft black sand that was still a novelty back then, (and still is, frankly,) but what made it special were the breathtaking views of its massive gannet colony.

Muriwai’s only a forty-minute drive from Auckland City, on the wild west coast. It’s a good surfing beach – I’ve done a bit of boogie boarding there myself – and there’s a campground right next to it, complete with powered sites for campervans. It’s also a good fishing beach, which is probably why the gannets like it too.

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The gannets can be seen from viewing platforms on the cliff above them. They really are beautiful birds. They’re streamlined like arrows with golden heads and electric blue eyes. And there are shedloads of them. It’s amazing to watch the couples dancing about their nests, taking it in turns to fly out to sea, dive into the waves and return to feed their chicks. Even if you’re not someone who likes bird watching, you’ll be entranced by this.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the blowhole. It’s rather exciting waiting for the water to spurt geyser-like up from the round hole in the flat platform of rock. I remember begging my mum to stay for “just one more big one” and wanting to get as close as I could to it. My parents were right to be cautious though – I don’t know how many people have fallen down it and died, but the most recent one was last year.

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If you’re travelling around New Zealand, Muriwai Beach is definitely a location for your must-see list. I recommend taking a warm jacket, as it’s really windy on the cliff where you watch the gannets and you’ll want to linger awhile. Writing about it now is making me want go there again. Well… summer is practically here – it was boiling today… and my boyfriend’s parents do live out west…

Interview with the Larper: Having a LARP in New Zealand

Abigail SImpson in a Medieval Costume

A few weeks ago, I attended something quite wonderful called Chimera.

Over the course of a weekend, I was an evil inventor’s leather-clad henchwoman, a mage fighting goblins in a forest, a bee with socialist leanings, an imprisoned rightful heir to the throne of England, a steampunk suffragette and, most memorably, the unfortunate wife of the Robin Hood baddy, Prince John.

Chimera is New Zealand’s largest LARP convention, LARPing being Live Action Role-Playing, (as opposed to table-top role-playing – think Dungeons and Dragons, but with the players hitting each other with foam swords instead of rolling twenty-sided dice.) It’s like being in a play, but with no audience and no script. It’s like the games you acted out as a kid, but with an adult understanding of fairness and story structure.

Larping in New ZealandAt this point, some of you will be thinking ‘that’s awesome’ and some of you, no doubt, will be thinking ‘oh, grow up’ or ‘get a life’ – and to the latter I say that the people who engage in LARPing are both grownup and have lives. They’re just not afraid of having fun.

LARPing is a fantastic way to meet new people that have the potential to be life-long friends. Yes, it’s often hard to remember their real names, but in-between the swordplay and the intrigue and, in my case, the escaping to France, genuine connections are forged. This got me thinking: attending a LARP would be a great idea for someone who was on holiday in New Zealand.

‘But,’ some of you will be thinking, ‘how are you supposed to put together costumes while on holiday?’ Well let me tell you that larpers are kind and generous people – I have yet to meet a single larper who is unkind while out of character – and most of the hardcore larpers would be more than happy to lend out costumes. Or, you know, you could spend a lot of money and hire a costume.

While I was at Chimera, I met someone who was only in New Zealand for a holiday. He was lent items of costume and a sleeping bag by fellow larpers. In fact, he won one of the prizes for costuming! His name is Andreas and – guess what? – he agreed to let me interview him. My first blog interview! So I’ll let Andreas tell you about the awesomeness that is LARPing in New Zealand…

Interview with the Larper

Where are you from?

Germany.

How long have you been travelling?

For one month until I reached New Zealand, but my whole trip is three months.

What made you want to come to New Zealand?

The many stories of my friends about the beautiful nature and landscape.

What do you like about New Zealand?

The people, the nature, the weather, the food, the fact that places are rather close to each other and the welcoming spirit, helpfulness and hospitality of the people.

How did you end up attending Chimera?

I was looking for any LARP events happening during the time frame that I had for coming to New Zealand and found it by searching online. I thought it was a great idea to start my stay in NZ with an event like this, so I could meet nice people, make friends and experience the local LARPing culture.

Did you enjoy the weekend?

Yes, I enjoyed it a lot. People were so welcoming and helpful. Also LARPing culture in NZ is different than in Germany and it was very fascinating to experience that. Especially the fact that now I have so many new friends in NZ is wonderful.

Had you ever done any LARPing before?

I have been LARPing for seventeen years now, doing it since I was sixteen years old. Over the years my motivation to do LARP shifted though. Currently the motivation is to experience different roles and see life from different perspectives and play around with it.

Would you recommend LARPing to others travelling to New Zealand?

Definitely. It doesn’t matter if you’ve done LARPing before or not, it is a good way to meet people – having an intense experience and afterwards having a talk, a laugh and a drink together really creates a bond. It also can help if you are normally a shy person, who is not used to approaching people, to get out of yourself as you are in a ‘safe environment’ to express yourself.

Some people might say you are revealing your weaknesses, but you are not, as you are in your character at that point. It is a unique experience that one will never forget. As people who travel to NZ want to get out of their normal ‘shell’, these unique experiences are what they are seeking and in this case it is a social, theatrical experience.

Do you want to come back to New Zealand?

Definitely, although feeling like a ‘cash cow’ (being milked of my money) at certain tourist attractions, I made so many friends during my stay, especially attending Chimera, I want to meet these lovely people again. If you are a social person like me, it is the people and experiences that make you come back, not just the place itself. It is sad that Chimera does not happen during the loveliest season of NZ weather, but even then I would love to come back.

Anything else?

I believe that having a personal experience bonding you to a place and people is worth a lot more than just seeing a place. Having tourists come once to NZ spending a lot of money in the country might be good short-term-wise, but in the long run you would like to have people coming back again and again spending their money in the country and telling their friends that they should go too.

If there hadn’t been Chimera during my stay in NZ and all the friends I made there, I would not be coming back to NZ as I already ‘have been there, seen it all’. Also making friends there made me not hurry during my stay. I tried to see as much as possible, but in a pace that I could enjoy everything – (I only had two and a half weeks.) Since I knew that I would be coming back eventually to see my friends, I knew that I will have time to see all the other wonders NZ has to offer.

End of Interview with the Larper

Wow – best interviewee I could have hoped for, right? Thank you again so much, Andreas.

So there you go: attending a LARP is something you should consider while you travel around New Zealand. As Andreas said, bonding with the people in a place is worth a lot more than just seeing a place. Plus, LARPing is AWESOME.

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Our Day on the Otago Peninsula

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If you ever find yourself in Dunedin, New Zealand, the absolute best thing you can do is hire a car and spend a day driving around the Otago Peninsula. This is what my boyfriend and I did a couple of weeks ago and we definitely want to go back, maybe stay a night in one of the many B&Bs – it would be so romantic. (As a point of interest, CNN named the Otago Peninsula as one of the ten most romantic places in the world to propose marriage.)

We picked the perfect day for it. There was barely a cloud in the sky, so the sea was a pristine, sparkling blue and the hills were a bright, luscious green. Spring was in the sunlight that removed the bite from the boisterous wind and, in Dunedin, spring means lambing season. All over the peninsula there were newborn lambs bouncing around, kicking up their tiny hooves, counterbalanced by the comical staggering of the still pregnant sheep about to burst. Everything felt fresh – revitalising – and we knew from that very first view across the Otago Harbour that not a thing could spoil it.

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Our first point of call of was Sandfly Bay, named not, as I had feared, for an abundance of sandflies, but because the sand flies over the picturesque dunes. It’s a very pretty beach – we were satisfied by the view alone – but its main attraction is its wildlife: sea lions and yellow-eyed penguins. There are observation hides you can walk to from which, especially during the evening, you can see the penguins waddling up from the sea. There are a number of wildlife tours available on the Otago Peninsula, but they’re quite expensive. The wildlife viewing at Sandfly Bay is free.

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The Otago Peninsula’s main wildlife attraction is the world’s only mainland royal albatross colony at Taiaroa Head, the very tip of the peninsula. This, you most definitely have to pay for, but it is worth it. My boyfriend and I didn’t go because we couldn’t afford it – but then, being poor students, we can barely afford protein – however, I was lucky enough to have been before, with my parents, on an NZ campervan hire tour of the South Island. The best part was seeing the fluffy, white albatross chicks.

Another attraction that we didn’t want to have to pay for was Larnach Castle, New Zealand’s only castle, built towards the end of the nineteenth century by a Scot – well, actually, an Australian. I’m sure the garden is very pretty and the interior very nicely furnished. Similarly, though less spectacularly, you can take a tour of Fletcher House, a restored Edwardian villa, or Glenfalloch Woodland Garden. I suppose these would be good ways of glimpsing the life of the early European settlers, but we found our own window, somewhere not advertised, a little hidden, and free: a graveyard.

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It wasn’t just a graveyard; it was graveyard in a beautiful spot on the edge of a cliff. I spent perhaps a little too much time trying to get artsy pictures of the headstones, some modern and some from the first European families on the peninsula. In the process I found – rather funnily – a grave that had absolutely nothing written on it but ‘RAPER’. No explanation. No dates. Yes, it was obviously someone’s surname, but what an unfortunate surname! And to have a tombstone that doesn’t even bear your first name or the year you died… ‘RAPER’ isn’t even engraved in a particularly interesting font.

After our accidental discovery of the graveyard, we went to find a shop where we could get a bottle of water. We were in Portobello, a charming settlement halfway up the peninsula. To my disappointment, there weren’t any mushrooms, but there were nice-looking restaurants, craft shops, antique shops and second-hand bookshops. The campground looked good too. There was an air of innocence about the place. It was almost twee, but in a good way.

In the shop where we bought the bottle of water, there was a section of what seemed to be local produce – tea or something, I can’t remember – that was ‘organically harvested’. Whatever this ‘organically harvested’ stuff was, it was being sold in brown paper bags that had written on them the following: ‘organ harvest’. I wonder if the person who settled on that unfortunate abbreviation realises why we sniggered so greatly. I’m inclined to think not.

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So we had our water and now we needed somewhere to consume our picnic. (For anyone who remembers our picnic from the previous article, this time we had more with us than a cooking pot filled with peanuts.) It took us ages to find somewhere, simply because we were spoilt for choice, and we are both very indecisive people. We eventually settled on a point that overlooked Mt Charles. The view, naturally, was amazing, but the wind was fierce, and the sun was falling. Yes, it had taken us this long to find a picnic spot. We kept getting sidetracked by various awesome things, including a cup of tea at the Natures Wonders café, which had huge windows and a very friendly owner, proudly proclaiming they had the best view on the peninsula. Seeing as it was at the end of the peninsula, next-door to Taiaroa Head, the view was mostly sea, so I wouldn’t say it was quite the best on the peninsula, but – my goodness – it was still breathtaking.

To be honest, I was at my happiest when we were just driving. Driving over the hills in the centre of the peninsula and driving around the winding bays at the edge. View after view drifted lazily by, each one soul-renewingly stunning. We covered the same ground a few times in our quest to cover as much of the peninsula as possible, but it never got boring. This is why I recommend NZ car hire if you don’t already have your own vehicle. Driving leisurely over the Otago Peninsula was the best day out I’ve had in a long time.

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