My First Christmas in New Zealand

Christmas in New Zealand on a Beach

When you’re an immigrant, that first Christmas hits you hard. The rest of the year, you’re distracted by work and house hunting and getting on with life. Then Christmas arrives and everything stops. You realise what’s missing: family.

My first Christmas in New Zealand, the house felt empty. There was tinsel everywhere, draped over everything except my mum, dad and little sister, but it couldn’t fill the hole. There were presents – I remember getting a Harry Potter wand, but opening them felt weird. There was a turkey, but I could barely eat any of it.

The absence of Grandma, Nana, Grandpa and Uncle Damon had drained all the Christmas spirit from the air. It didn’t help that the air itself was warm and humid. Our windows were thrown open to catch the non-existent summer breeze. They should have been closed, with the curtains drawn, keeping out the winter gloom. Maybe curtains were responsible for keeping the Christmas spirit in.

christmas-1904536_960_720Years later, my mum admitted that she cried, that first Christmas in New Zealand. I didn’t cry – I’d already cried enough that year. I simply felt numb.

Someone suggested that we go to the beach. That was what New Zealanders did at Christmas, right? But we couldn’t bring ourselves to. We sat around our dining table, forcing ourselves to eat a heavy mid-winter meal in the sweltering heat. Stubborn Brits if ever there were some.

Just as I’d resigned myself to a Christmas of misery – well, not even misery, just… nothing – the day was saved. By Super Soakers.

Santa had brought them. (My little sister still believed in Santa.) We filled them up and went out into the garden, into the scorching sunlight. We were wearing T-shirts and shorts and no shoes, and soon we were wet through. On Christmas Day.

I began to have fun. Perhaps Christmas in New Zealand wouldn’t be so bad after all. Perhaps we were lucky. I mean my friends back in England certainly wouldn’t be able to have a water fight on Christmas Day! They wouldn’t be able to sunbath on the trampoline, or drink a cool Buck’s Fizz on the deck.

christmas-village-1088143_960_720As the years went by, I got used to Christmas with just my mum, dad and sister. Our other relatives rang, of course. It still doesn’t feel right, though. Things improved when my nana emigrated from England to live with us. Now, every Christmas, she turns her lounge – and our garden – into a perfect winter wonderland. Even though it’s summer.

I wrote about my nana’s winter wonderland – and the mind-boggling paradox that is the New Zealand Christmas – in my Christmas in New Zealand article. I quite like the Christmas we have now; the traditions we’ve created over last fifteen years. One day, though, I’d love to spend Christmas in Europe again.

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A Trip to the Coromandel

A ferry operator with a sense of humour, a tiny community library, and a view to renew the soul…

Last weekend, Tim and I embarked upon a road trip familiar to many Kiwis. Countless tourists – New Zealanders and foreign holidaymakers alike – have endured the narrow, winding coastal roads of the Coromandel. They’ve endured the heat and the travel sickness. They’ve endured the frustration of being stuck behind someone towing a boat. They’ve endured the children in the backseat crying out for a toilet – and they keep going back again and again.

There must be something pretty special about the Coromandel Peninsula, right? Well, for starters, it’s got what I believe to be the best beach in New Zealand – not that we went there this time. This time, we were headed for a little place called Ferry Landing. We joined the steady procession of rental campervans, pulling over every now and then to admire the view. Usually, driving up the Coromandel makes me feel sick, but I was okay this time.

Ferry Landing, Whitianga, Coromandel, New Zealand

The sea sparkled in the sunlight. The weather forecast for the weekend had been miserable, but you can’t rely on weather forecasts, especially in New Zealand. The place we were staying was right by the sea. There was only a thin strip of grass between us and the sand. When we got there, I looked out over the beach and, for a while, simply breathed. It was like inhaling pure peacefulness, listening to the waves rolling in.

One of the best things about the trip was being lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves. I almost missed that when we got back to Hamilton. Other highlights came when we went to Whitianga, a short ferry crossing from Ferry Landing. On the way, we passed a tiny box-of-a-building that turned out to be the local library! The entire building was one small room full of books. I wish it had been open, but then I’d never have made it to Whitianga.

Ferry Landing Library, Whitianga, Coromandel, New Zealand

The ferry from Ferry Landing to Whitianga leaves every ten minutes. When we got on the ferry, we were confronted with a lovely example of Kiwi humour:

Whitianga Ferry Landing Ferry Prices

(In case you can’t see the above picture, it’s a sign listing the ticket prices for various passengers. According to this, adults pay $4, children pay $2, sheep pay $1, and Trump supporters pay $5000!)

I noticed a few of the other passengers chuckling.

We didn’t actually do much in Whitianga. The weekend was more about spending time with family and friends than doing things. We walked along the shore and through the town, and sat for a while in a pub. It started chucking it down with rain, but it didn’t matter. There were a few interesting shops and a museum, which we didn’t go in. Some of the others went to a hot pool complex called The Lost Spring and, by all accounts, loved it.

Ferry Landing, Whitianga, Coromandel, New Zealand

I’d definitely like to visit Whitianga again and explore more of it, and the surrounding area. There are plenty of free overnight parking spots for self-contained campervans around – and in truly beautiful locations too. If you hire a campervan in New Zealand, the Coromandel is a great place to take it. Just watch out on the narrow, winding roads!

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