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…

flower-156608_960_720 fern-159715_640


England: Rose

New Zealand: Silver Fern


England: God Save the Queen

New Zealand: God Defend New Zealand


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

New Zealand: Rugby


England: George

New Zealand: The Virgin Mary


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…)


The Best Place to Live in New Zealand

Mount Maunganui

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

1) Waiuku, a sleepy town south of Auckland,


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.


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 an analysis of the four places I’ve lived, plus Bethells, beginning with…


Waiuku Weather StoneI was ten years old when we found ourselves in Waiuku, a small town surrounded by farmland. It’s located at the southern tip of the Manukau Harbour and is within easy driving distance of several beaches. The two nicest are Awhitu and Kariotahi, which, despite being quite close to one another, are whole worlds apart. Awhitu has calm waters and golden sand, making it perfect for picnics, whereas Kariotahi has wild waves and velvety, black sand, making it perfect for surfing. It’s also perfect for watching the sun set over the Tasman Sea from the cliff tops.

Waiuku Clock TowerIn Waiuku, we lived within easy walking distance of yet another beach, this one called Sandspit. I was always wandering down there. There was a big slide in the water… It’s still there, actually. I went to Sandspit Road School, a primary school that starts at Year 1 and finishes at Year 8. I remember being quite disappointed that I wouldn’t move up to “big school” in Year 7, as I would have done in England, instead having to wait until Year 9. I was bullied quite badly in the mean time. (I believe this had more to do with New Zealand’s – and especially small-town New Zealand’s – tendencies towards anti-intellectualism and tall poppy syndrome, though, than with me being an immigrant. See The People of New Zealand for an account of my first day of school in New Zealand.)

WaiukuDespite the bullying, Waiuku always felt like a safe town to me. My parents were letting me walk places on my own within days of settling there. The town centre was quiet, but lovely, with a few nice cafes and historic buildings. When my family first moved there, we believed it a wonderfully idyllic place. It was only after a few years that we were itching to get out. My parents both taught at Waiuku College, which had a rather high proportion of newly-emigrated teachers. We soon found out that was because no one who was familiar with Waiuku wanted to teach there. The newly-emigrated teachers were, like us, still seeing things through rose-tinted glasses.

The Kentish Hotel, WaiukuNot that rose-tinted, though. I mean, compared to where we’d just come from, Waiuku really was great. People mock it, and it does have its bad aspects, but it’s not a bad place to live. I recently returned there for a few hours with my partner, only to find that it’s actually improved in the ten years since I lived there. And it’s set to grow even further. With the Auckland housing shortage and rocketing house prices, Waiuku’s becoming a popular place to commute from. It’s only a fifty-minute drive from Auckland City. Well, fifty minutes without traffic, that is. With traffic, I shudder to think.

WaiukuOnce, I would have said don’t live in Waiuku. Run from it. But I’m not going to say that now. If you’re after a peaceful, small-town life that’s not too isolated, you could do a lot worse. Waiuku’s problems are the problems you’d expect of any small town; its rewards are many.


Mount Maunganui BeachWhen my family lived in Waiuku, we once went on holiday to Tauranga. I never dreamed we’d end up living there! It’s somewhere rich people live. We were never rich. We lived in a tiny terrace with a shared garden in England, but, lifestyle-wise, we got very lucky, I guess. When we moved to New Zealand in 2001, the exchange rate was three New Zealand dollars for every one pound, so we ended up with a house far nicer than we ever could have had in England. Then, when we moved to Tauranga, my nana sold her house in England and came to live with us, so we could get an even nicer house… Yeah, we got lucky.

Red Square, TaurangaTauranga is a balmy, coastal city that’s an extremely popular retirement destination. I love the fact that while it has all the amenities of a city, it’s still quite small. It feels so laidback, especially compared to Auckland – even Hamilton. It has lots of flash bars and restaurants, and plenty of awesome places to go shopping, but it’s relaxed. You can stroll along the harbourfront and climb Mount Maunganui, and you can take your pick of beaches.

TaurangaOf course, being a city, Tauranga has a few different schools to choose from. The school I ended up at, Otumoetai College, turned out to be a lot better for me than Waiuku College had been. Waiuku College had been too small to offer subjects such as Classical Studies, which turned out to be my favourite subject! There were simply more opportunities at Otumoetai. I wasn’t bullied there, either, although that might be to do with the fact that I was now in Sixth Form, or Year 12, and bullying tends to drop off at that age.

Mount Bench(My little sister got bullied there, though. One boy in particular wouldn’t leave her alone. Until the day she lost it in front of the whole school and started beating him up. The teachers hated to punish her, really.)

I was only in Tauranga for two years before it was time to leave for university. I chose the University of Auckland partly because it’s the only university in New Zealand to be ranked amongst the top 100 universities in the world, and partly because it’s only a three-hour drive from Tauranga. My parents still live in Tauranga, so I go back a lot and, every time I do, I marvel at how wonderful a place it is to live.

Auckland Central

Sky TowerI lived in Auckland Central from 2009 – 2013. Three of those years I spent on Whitaker Place, the most densely populated street in New Zealand. (Parking was a nightmare.) Whitaker Place is five minute’s walk from the main University of Auckland campus, so, naturally, it’s chock-a-block with student accommodation. When I lived there, a single room cost about $200 per week to rent and, knowing Auckland, it’s probably gone up significantly since. (And the Student Loan still only goes up to $176.86 per week.) Yes, Auckland prices are horrendous, but what’s it like to live in the city?

Auckland Domain Winter GardenActually pretty good. Auckland’s a very walkable city, and while its public transport isn’t the best, its buses are adequate. There are several great areas you can walk to from the centre: the Domain, Albert Park, Mount Eden and the harbourfront all come to mind. Being New Zealand’s biggest city, Auckland has the most jobs and the most things happening. Not being in Auckland, I miss being able to easily get to so many events. Many tourists and immigrants actually find Auckland a peaceful city, because, comparatively, it is. Fewer than two million people live there!

Auckland Book SwapAuckland feels very fresh as a city. Being right on the sea helps, I suppose. There are so many beaches, and nature walks are only half an hour’s drive away. Auckland was recently ranked as the world’s third most liveable city, because it does have a lot going for it. I managed to enjoy living there and, being a student, I really didn’t have any money to spare. If you do live in Auckland, though, be prepared to spend well over half of what you earn on housing, and be prepared to get stuck in traffic.


Garden Place, HamiltonDue to the Auckland housing crisis, more and more jafas are moving down to Hamilton, which is driving up Hamilton house prices, which is p**sing off all the Hamiltonians now having to compete for flats. (Jafa = Just Another F**king Aucklander.) Whenever this fact is mentioned, my partner and I look awkwardly away and begin to innocently whistle. Hamilton is an hour-and-a-half’s drive south of Auckland, and whilst some people are prepared to commute that far, my partner and I came here because it’s where he happened to score an IT job out of uni.

Waikato River, HamiltonWe also chose Hamilton because we wanted to live far enough away from our parents to feel independent, yet close enough to visit easily. Hamilton is an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Tauranga, where my parents live, and two hours from Bethells Beach, which I’ll talk about next.

That’s the thing about Hamilton. People are always talking about how conveniently close it is to other places. Oh, it’s great if you want to visit Raglan, or Waitomo, or Hobbiton… As for Hamilton itself, well…

Casabella Lane, HamiltonWhen we said we were moving here, people laughed at us. Hamilton is a small city, larger than Tauranga, but seen somehow as being comprised of farmers with ideas above their station. People mock it as the STD capital of New Zealand, even though statistics show that it’s not. True, the city centre of Hamilton isn’t particularly nice, except for Garden Place and Casabella Lane (in the picture,) there are a lot of beggars, and there’s not all that much to do, but, in all seriousness, Hamilton doesn’t deserve the reputation it has.

Chinese Garden, Hamilton GardensHamilton has three great things going for it: Firstly, the Hamilton Gardens. They’re officially amongst the best gardens in the world and they’re free to enter. Secondly, the Waikato River. While it’s polluted by farm run-off to the extent that you wouldn’t want to swim in it, (though people still do,) it looks very pretty, running directly through the city with plenty of trees, parks and bicycle paths along its banks. Thirdly, Hamilton Zoo is just as good as good as Auckland Zoo, if not better. Hamilton’s also got a lake that’s pleasant to walk around, walking distance from the city centre. Just don’t go there at night.

Parana Park Childrens Garden, HamiltonMy partner and I actually quite enjoy living here. It’s nice to be able to walk and cycle places. (We only use the car for visiting our parents.) It’s got a few excellent playgrounds, (not that we’re planning on having kids any time soon,) and nice-looking houses. Whenever we go back to Auckland, my partner looks out of the window and goes, “Wow, look at the all the tall buildings and flashy lights! I’m not used to it anymore!”

Bethells Beach

Bethells BeachAlthough we met when we both lived on Whitaker Place, attending uni, my partner is from Bethells Beach, a community out in the wop-wops, on the very west coast of Auckland. It’s a rugged place, full of aging hippies living alternative lifestyles. It’s so peaceful. The only sound you occasionally hear echoing through the valley, my partner once joked, is that of a police helicopter searching for marijuana patches. Also known as Te Henga, Bethells Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in the whole of New Zealand. I’m not biased. Well, I am, but it’s not just me. So many films, television series and music videos use Bethells for a location, especially those in the fantasy genre. It has a magical quality, something that just draws people to it… The community at Bethells is closer than in any place I’ve lived. People don’t just know their neighbours, they invite them to parties. They even have bands down at the beach in summer.

Bethells BeachBethells is surrounded by the emerald bush of the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. Whenever we’re driving there, when we get to the edge of Auckland City and the trees start coming up around us, my partner simply sighs in relief. Of course, its isolation is both a pro and a con. It’s a half-hour drive along narrow, winding and sometimes unsealed roads to the nearest shops, further to a big supermarket. It’s ironic that people trying to lead such environmentally friendly lifestyles are forced to use so much petrol. Until recently, the Internet out at Bethells was almost unusable, but it’s getting better. The biggest drawback for me is all the mosquitoes, but apart from that, life at Bethells is almost perfect.

Bethells BeachIf you love nature, want to know your neighbours, enjoy a quiet life, want beach views, don’t get car sick and don’t mind long drives to buy food or, indeed, go anywhere else at all, Bethells Beach is a great place to live.

Tauranga Rocks 4I honestly think you could be happy living anywhere I’ve mentioned. I think it’s obvious, though, that my favourite is Tauranga. It’s peaceful, with beaches right on your doorstep, not to mention Mount Maunganui, and other nature walks an easy drive away, but with all the convenience that cities bring.

The Archaeology of New Zealand

Thurlby Domain Ruins

I found buried treasure once. Well. Kind of. I was helping Dad dig a new flowerbed and we found a few pieces of nineteenth-century pottery. To my child’s mind, it was akin to uncovering the treasures of Sutton Hoo. I was bitterly disappointed we didn’t find any bones, though.

I was a huge fan of Time Team, you see. Still am. (It’s a British archaeology programme presented by Baldrick from Blackadder.) I remember getting really excited when I found a bone in the tall grass by the school field, only to be told by an adult that it was, in fact, an old chicken drumstick, and could I please throw it away and wash my hands? To me, digging up artefacts buried beneath our own lawn was utterly magical.

But not, however, surprising. Finding broken nineteenth-century pottery in our garden made perfect sense. The street upon which we lived had once been called Pottery Lane, after all. It had been the site of a pottery factory. Also, we lived in England. You can’t dig anywhere in England without hitting archaeology.

Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian’s Wall

New Zealand is different. It has archaeology, of course, but (in comparison to elsewhere) not a lot. This is understandable. New Zealand was the last major landmass to be settled by human beings. We’ve only been here about seven hundred years – compared to millions of years elsewhere! There aren’t nearly so many layers to get through.

Typical examples of New Zealand archaeology include pa sites – the remains of Maori hill forts, lumps and bumps in the grass – and kumara pits – holes in the ground used for storing kumara tubers over winter. You can also find earthworks that are the ghosts of nineteenth-century British forts, such as the remains of Monmouth Redoubt in Tauranga.

Perhaps the most important archaeological site in New Zealand is Wairau Bar in Marlborough. It’s the earliest known settlement in the country. They found human skeletons, tools, cooking pits, jewellery, middens containing mussel shells and moa bones, moa eggs that were used for carrying water and so much more! The human remains were subsequently reburied by local tribal elders. Ancestors are significant in Maori culture.

Edmonds Ruins Kerikeri

Edmonds Ruins

There aren’t that many actual ruins in New Zealand. I found some when I spent a few days in Kerikeri, but they weren’t that interesting. Glad I saw them, though – I kind of miss crumbling stone walls. They’re called Edmonds Ruins, the stone walls and fireplace of a Victorian farmhouse. Kerikeri is a great place for history generally. It’s got the oldest European house in New Zealand, the oldest stone building in New Zealand and a replica Maori village. Plus the Waitangi Treaty Grounds are nearby.

(The ruins in the image at the top of this article are in Thurlby Domain, between Queenstown and Arrowtown in the South Island. We didn’t have time to explore the area properly on our South Island campervan tour. I really want to go back there.)

New Zealand’s only commercial archaeological site is in Rotorua, the Buried Village of Te Wairoa. This missionary-founded village was inhabited by both Maori and European settlers, and was destroyed when the volcano Tarawera erupted in 1886. Excavations began in the 1930s; now there’s a museum housing the wonderfully preserved artefacts.

Edmonds Ruins Kerikeri

Edmonds Ruins

I want to visit more of New Zealand’s interesting historical and archaeological sites when I get the chance. If anyone knows of any good ones please tell me! I understand there are some great ones around Dunedin. I haven’t seen any examples of Maori rock art either; I really should… I suppose my interest in New Zealand history came quite late. Even though I moved to New Zealand at the age of ten, I spent my teenage years reading endless books about English history, partly because I missed England so much; partly because it’s just so epic.

I’ve always said that if I ever go back to live in England, it’ll be so I can visit all its wonderful historical sites every weekend. No other reason. But maybe I should be making more of an effort to visit New Zealand’s historical sites… The Otuataua Stonefields look like they could be interesting…

Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire, England

Road to Perdition

Abigail Simpson as a nun in a LARP

I don’t know where to begin this story. I could begin in media res, with a familiar yet disturbingly alien landscape trundling past a window. I could begin with the provocatively dramatic image of a nun aiming a revolver at a sheriff. I could begin before the beginning, with a little girl arriving in a strange, new place, being comforted with the promise of a kitten. Or with me being told that my beloved childhood pet must now be killed to protect my parents’ carpets.

I won’t begin with my boyfriend finding a lump on my breast.

This is a lot, so I’ll begin with what happened on Sunday, 1st May, 2016. My parents were visiting my boyfriend and I in Hamilton. It was a lovely day, so we all went for a walk around Hamilton Lake. Tim and I were very excited about a larp we’d be attending the next weekend, a western played over eight hours. We were each in the process of putting together a costume: he a sheriff; me a nun. (Explaining to non-larpers why we needed a cowboy hat and a wimple proved rather amusing.)

Abigail Simpson as a nun in a LARP


During the walk, I asked my mum, just casually, how the cats were. Her refusal to answer was enough. Fighting back tears, I demanded to know. Crookshanks, the kitten I’d got soon after immigrating to New Zealand nearly fifteen years previously, had started pissing on the carpet. You know it’s the end when cats start doing that. So I hastily packed a bag and returned to my parents’ house to say goodbye.

My parents live in Tauranga, but that’s not where we lived when we first arrived in New Zealand. Back then, we lived in a town called Waiuku. Coincidentally, Waiuku was where the larp would be taking place. (Well, at a place just up the peninsula from Waiuku, somewhere my family always went for picnics: Awhitu.) I hadn’t been back to Waiuku in ten years.



But I’m getting ahead of myself. Tim couldn’t come with me to parents’ house, as he had to work and was in the process of fixing a beat-up, old car he’d just purchased. We needed the car to get to the larp. So I had to face saying goodbye to Crookshanks without him. It was quite an upsetting few days. I returned to Hamilton the night before the larp. That was when Tim found the lump.

You know what it’s like. Googling the symptoms. Most breast lumps aren’t deadly. That doesn’t stop me shaking and crying. I’m so scared. Tim’s mum died of cancer last year.

I’ve got a doctor’s appointment tomorrow morning.

So the night before the larp I barely slept. I was too anxious. I’m the sort of person who gets anxious very easily. I have, in the past, literally cried over spilt milk.

Not just cried. Had a full-on panic attack.

I wrote quite a therapeutic article about my experiences with anxiety and depression a while ago, and a piece about how it relates to the existential crisis of the immigrant child, so I won’t go on about it here. But if that’s what I’m like with things that I have no real reason to get anxious over, imagine what I’m like now.

Which is why the timing of the larp couldn’t have been better.

The thing about larping is you’re spending a few hours pretending to be someone else. You get all caught up in their story and immersed in the drama going on around you. There really is no better way of distracting yourself from anxiety.

So the larp. It’s called The Train Will Whistle One Last Time. It begins with all the characters – cowboys, Mexicans, Indians and various other western types – boarding a train to a town called Perdition. For some, it’s returning to a place they’d rather not go back to.

Waiuku Train Mural

From a mural in Waiuku

In real life, I was returning to Waiuku – a place I never thought I’d go back to. It was nice enough when my family first moved there, but by the end I was fairly glad to escape. I was bullied rather badly there. I had some great friends too, but it was a small town in which one could easily feel trapped. It’s one of those towns outsiders make fun of.

As Tim and I approached the town in the newly-repaired car, the sight of the fields and trees trundling past the window made me feel odd. I kind of remembered them. I had this uncomfortable feeling that we shouldn’t be driving this way. No good would come of it.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Waiuku… has changed.


Was this always there?

It’s gotten a lot prettier in the last ten years. Seriously. It looks like it might actually be worth visiting now. (And if you do, you can camp overnight in the library car park for free with a self-contained campervan rental.)

One of the oldest pubs in New Zealand, The Kentish Hotel, was a dingy, seedy-seeming establishment with sticky carpets and no real character when we lived there. Now it’s dead nice. This is the ceiling in the dining room.

Waiuku The Kentish

(It’s an old map of New Zealand!)

History is apparently Waiuku’s main focus now. It has some old (for New Zealand) buildings, including a colonial jail and schoolroom. They’re down by the water, where there’s a new walkway. Of course, the buildings were there when I was, but there weren’t quite so many signs proudly proclaiming Waiuku to be this wonderful, historical town.



The depressing, gravel-and-broken-glass-strewn car park where I once tripped and split my lip now has plant life and a boardwalk around it. Small improvements like that make a lot of difference to a place.

But I was happy to find the weather stone unchanged.

Waiuku Weather Stone

(Read the sign!)

So it turned out that returning to Waiuku was not at all like returning to Perdition. I won’t go into details about the larp to avoid spoilers, but I will say that it was possibly the best larp I’ve ever played. And I got to point a revolver at Tim! I didn’t end up “killing” anyone in the game, but at one point one of the other players ran back to the train shouting, “The mad Mexican’s shot the sheriff and the deputy!”

All in all, a great weekend.

Except I just thought about the lump again.

UPDATE: It’s just a cyst! A stupid, harmless cyst. I don’t even have to do anything about it!


Thank you to all the people who messaged me/commented with kind thoughts. Hearing about all the women (and men) who’d been through the same thing was greatly comforting, especially hearing that the vast majority of those lumps and bumps were benign!


The Ultimate New Zealand Comedy

I went to see Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople the other day.

I won’t beat around the bush.

It was bloody brilliant.

I haven’t laughed so hard at the cinema since… well, since Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows, probably. But Hunt for the Wilderpeople is better than What We Do in the Shadows. There’s some pretty serious shit lurking behind the laughs.

The film couldn’t be any more New Zealand if it tried. You’d definitely have to have lived here a while to get the most out of it, but anyone with a heart will find it both hilarious and moving.

The story’s fairly simple: grumpy old loner goes on journey with kid. Nothing ground-breaking there. It’s the way the story’s told that makes it so wonderful. The way it stays down-to-earth despite becoming steadily more ridiculous and fantastical.

Sam Neill’s performance helps with that. I’ve loved Sam Neill – well, Dr Alan Grant from Jurassic Park – since I was a little kid. I didn’t even know he was a New Zealander until a few years ago. Watching Wilderpeople, though, I completely forgot about his other roles. He was just Hec.

koruEveryone in it was great. Julian Dennison was so real as Ricky Baker – the troubled teen doomed to bounce around in “the system” until he ends up in juvenile prison or dead – in great contrast to most of the other characters. The supporting cast definitely weren’t “real” – they were cartoons.

But not in a bad way. I mean Rhys Darby’s mad bushman character was almost too much. It almost… didn’t quite fit. But it was very funny, so I think this can be forgiven. The same goes for Taika Waititi’s wild-eyed priest.

Of course, the New Zealand bush itself has a starring role in the film and it is beautiful. One of the first things my partner said upon leaving the cinema was, “We need to go on more bush walks.” I agreed. The film made me feel lucky to have such beauty on my doorstep. It didn’t go out of its way to make New Zealand glossy, though. It showed New Zealand as it is. The good and the grotty.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a feel-good film that relies a lot on nostalgia, but never overly sentimentalises anything. Hints of tragedy are quickly followed by comedy. It’s a film that’ll touch your heart and make you want to show it to all your relatives as quickly as possible.

From swannies to scroggin; from The Lord of the Rings to dead possums, this is the ultimate New Zealand comedy.

«∼♥∼» 9/10 «∼♥∼»