The Top 10 Places to See at Our House

It’s day eighteen of lockdown and, in the words of Freddie Mercury, it finally happened. I’ve run out of locations to blog about. As a New Zealand travel blogger, I find this state of affairs unacceptable. Normally, I would venture out into the world in search of new material, but… you see my predicament. May I present, therefore, my prison?

I mean my house. It’s a pretty weird house, actually. It has all sorts of unusual nooks and crannies. It’s a rental, of course. As a millennial, I’m forbidden from owning my own house by our avocado overlords. (Praise be Their Emerald Scrotalness.) I live with two friends and my should-have-been-by-now husband. (Our wedding was supposed to have happened two days ago. Seriously, f**k this.)

Anyway, should you ever want to visit us, (which, you know, don’t,) here’s a handy travel guide of the top ten places to see at our house:

1) The Cell

Honestly, we’ve never fully figured out what to call this place, so “the Cell” is what I’m going with. It’s attached to our dining room, slightly too large to be a cupboard; much too small to be a room. It’s triangular. One of the walls is mostly frosted glass, to make up for the lack of windows. There’s an in-built desk, with an in-built hinge-lidded box on top of it, which puts forward an argument for it being intended as an office, but surely, you’d go insane if you were shut up in there! My should-have-been-by-now husband says you could lock a child in there until they finish their homework.

2) The Scary Downstairs Toilet

We’ve lived in this house for well over a year, and I have yet to use this toilet. It’s a wooden-walled box in the corner of the basement/garage. I once popped my head through the door, saw the cobweb-crossed dinginess and thought, “Nope.”

We have two toilets upstairs, so why put yourself through the trauma?

3) The Mouldy Room of Unrequirement

This place is also in the basement/garage. It’s a useful dumping ground for random clutter, (such as swords, Buddhist prayer wheels and Chinese Baoding balls,) but if you spend more than a few minutes in there, your lungs begin to atrophy. Understandably, the property manager has forbidden anyone from using it as a bedroom. You’d think this wouldn’t be necessary, but before we moved in, the house had, according to a neighbour, at least ten students living in it. (There are four bedrooms. Five, if you use the lounge as a bedroom. Six, if you use the Cell as a Harry Potter-style bedroom.)

4) The Dungeon

This is the area under the house, which takes a fair bit of courage to explore. I mean there’s probably a murderous hobo living in there. (Sometimes, we hear him scratching the at the floorboards from beneath… Kidding.) Below the balcony, behind a vegetable bed, there’s a small door. We call the area beyond it “the dungeon” partly because we’re like that; partly because some of it really looks like the ruins of a dungeon, complete with cell walls. In it, we’ve found such historic artefacts as a boombox.

You know what? I’m so tempted to hide a fake body in there for the next tenants to find.

5) The Narnia of Costumes

Yeah, I have a wardrobe just for my costumes. ’Tis a wonderous place you can get lost in. I’ve got relatively wide range of historical costumes, from Medieval to Victorian, and boxes of accumulated accessories.

6) The Narnia of Toilet Paper

There’s an oddly tall cupboard in the main toilet. ’Tis a wonderous place you can get lost in. One of our cats likes to jump up into it and nuzzle against the heavenly, three-ply clouds. Kidding. Our overlords wouldn’t allow such an extravagance as three-ply toilet paper. (Praise be Their Emerald Scrotalness.)

By the way, I’d like it on record that none of that toilet paper was panic-bought.

7) The Feijoa Tree

This can be found in quite a pretty corner of the garden. (Our garden is massive, for which we are eternally grateful at the moment.) Another of our cats likes to climb it and pretend she can’t get down for attention. Around the time lockdown started, the tree began dropping approximately ten metric tonnes of feijoas a day. My should-have-been-by-now husband responded by making it his mission to eat every single one. He’s made feijoa crumble and feijoa biscuits. He’s ruined one of our pots making feijoa jam. He puts stewed feijoa on everything he eats. And guess what? I HATE FEIJOAS.

I’d never even heard of feijoas until my family moved to New Zealand, and suddenly everyone we knew was pushing buckets of the f**kers on us. You can’t sell them, because everyone has a tree. I have yet to find a single fellow immigrant who doesn’t think they’re disgusting. I reckon Kiwis evolved to eat them out of necessity. If they didn’t, they’d be crushed under an avalanche of them every autumn.

8) The Jungle

This can be found in another corner of the garden. The cats love it. Like a proper jungle, there’s lots of archaeology in there too. You can’t even lightly brush the leaf litter without hitting a beer bottle. Just the other day, we were playing with the cats and a loud thunk led us to uncover a pink coffee mug. Every time we go out into the garden, (and I really wish I was kidding,) we find another bottle cap or piece of broken glass. As I said before, we’ve lived here for well over a year. It’s ridiculous!

We also keep, to this day, finding broken glass on our balcony. When we first moved in, we went around sweeping it all up, but it kept coming back. How? How?! After a while, we developed a theory: the infamous students that lived here before us must have routinely thrown their empty beer bottles onto the roof, and every time it rains more shards get washed down.

9) The Library

This place is mine. A paradise built from years of scouring secondhand bookshops. As of time of writing, I have 941 books, but, in the words of the Little Mermaid, I want more. This library is also my office, and that of my should-have-been-by-now husband. Incidentally, here’s a photo of him in the middle of a meeting.

The room it’s in is the nicest in the house. It was obviously meant to be the lounge, as there’s a gas fire embedded in a marble-veneered mantelpiece, and a fancy-as-f**k liquor cabinet that we use for board games. One section of the liquor cabinet is mirrored, and one full-on swivels, thereby enabling your common or garden boomer to pass off their alcohol problem as middleclass sophistication. Incidentally, one of the cats enjoys riding the swivel cabinet like a merry-go-round.

10) The Gift Shop

What’s a tourist attraction without a gift shop? Our flatmate makes macramé necklaces out of crystals. With f**k all else to do during the lockdown, her bedroom is now overflowing with them. Care to buy one as a commemoration of your visit? No, really, would you? Here’s a link to her Facebook page: Ems Macramé. (Obviously, she won’t be able to mail any out until after the lockdown is lifted.)

So, I hope you enjoyed your tour of our house. Well, maybe “enjoyed” is a little too optimistic. Endured? Hmm. Too much the other way. Presumably, if you made it to the end, you found it at least more amusing than sitting there doing nothing. Thanks.

This will be the last new Poms Away article for a while. I suggest you check out our massive back catalogue. I’ll keep posting the most interesting ones to our Facebook page: facebook.com/pomsawayblog

Books, Cheese and Victorian Costumes

steampunk hq oamaru

Oamaru is a coastal town between Christchurch and Dunedin. It’s known for two things: little blue penguins and steampunk. I went penguin watching there when I was a kid, so this visit, I headed straight for Steampunk HQ.

Steampunk HQ is an art gallery, but no ordinary one. It has an immersive atmosphere that’s almost spooky, showcasing Victorian inventions from the realm of fantasy. It can be found on the fringe of Oamaru’s Victorian Precinct, an area of preserved and restored buildings from the town’s 1800s heyday. The buildings are all made out of stone, more specifically a hard kind of limestone called whitestone. This is what gives Oamaru its distinctive look.

oamaru criterion hotel victorian precinct

I was excited to explore the Victorian Precinct. Walking down Harbour Street felt like stepping back in time. As well as museums, galleries and giftshops, there was an old-fashioned bakery, a bookbinder’s, vintage clothes boutiques, a whisky tasting place and not one, but two second-hand bookshops.

penny-farthingBoth bookshops were interestingly decorated. The first I visited, Adventure Books, was exploration-themed. There were old globes and maps, and – just casually – an entire, full-sized sailing boat sitting in the shop. The second, Slightly Foxed, had a more general selection of literature. Alice in Wonderland art and quotes adorned the walls, and the cupboard under the stairs was a children’s playroom. It even had a mezzanine, from which you could look out over the whole shop. I made a few too many purchases, all of which were entered in a Victorian-style ledger, wrapped in brown paper packages and tied up with string!

victorian costumeThe Victorian Precinct is right by the harbour, where you’ll find a large, steampunk-themed playground and a rather good pub called Scotts Brewing Co. – it’s a microbrewery that does tastings as well as great pizza. It was recommended to me by one of the wonderful guides at Whitestone City, a small but brilliant museum on Harbour Street. Not only are you encouraged to interact with the artefacts, you can dress up in Victorian clothing to do so! My fiancé and I had a whale of a time there, especially riding on the penny-farthing carousel.

But Oamaru has delights beyond the Victorian Precinct. The Public Gardens are well worth a walk through. In fact, our accommodation was directly adjacent to the Oamaru Public Gardens, perfectly situated for an evening stroll. I especially enjoyed the Wonderland Garden, a space inspired by children’s fantasy literature, featuring a fairy statue gifted to Oamaru in 1926. I would have loved to have had a picnic there; alas there was no time.

oamaru public gardens

There was time, however, to visit one of the best cheesemakers in New Zealand. The Whitestone Cheese factory has a shop and café, and you can take a tour to see how the cheese is made. We didn’t do the tour, but we did indulge in a tasting platter. I, a cheese snob, was impressed. We ended up buying a few blocks for the road. Their blue cheese is particularly good.

fairy statue

All in all, Oamaru felt like a holiday destination tailor-made for the likes of me: lovers of books, cheese, history, gardens and dressing up! And don’t forget the penguins.

Omaka Aviation Heritage Museum

omaka aviation heritage museum

Peter Jackson’s old war planes displayed in sets built by Weta Workshop is exactly as awesome as it sounds. I’m not even interested in aviation history and I absolutely love this museum! It’s on the outskirts of Blenheim, near Brayshaw Heritage Park. There are two parts, one dedicated to the First World War and one to the Second, which you pay for separately. If you only have time for one section, make it the Second World War, as it’s the newest and most exciting, but, of course, both are worth seeing.

omaka aviation heritage museum

So, how did a museum in Blenheim come to be in possession of such awesome displays? Well, at some point in the ’90s, the people storing their planes at Omaka decided it would be cool to turn the place into a museum, so they started fundraising, holding airshows and such like. In the early 2000s, this caught the attention of Peter Jackson, a long-time war plane enthusiast. He joined the club, needing somewhere to store his collection of WWI fighter planes, which, presumably, he’d recently purchased with the profits of his phenomenally successful Lord of the Rings films. He, too, thought a museum would be cool, so he called upon the set and prop artists of The Lord of the Rings and bid them do their thing.

omaka aviation heritage museum

The result is magical. It’s hard not to get sucked into the atmosphere. The experiences of the war pilots are brought to life in harrowing detail. I especially enjoyed – well, maybe “enjoyed” isn’t the right word – the scene of the Red Baron’s demise. The churned-up dirt and the expressions on the mannequins’ faces are worryingly realistic. The scene with the plane crashed into the tree, surrounded by snow, is also highly evocative.

omaka aviation heritage museumMy favourite part of the museum is the one dedicated to WWII planes, perhaps because it has even more focus on raw human experience than the WWI part. You enter the exhibition through a recreated air raid shelter, a gloomy tunnel adorned with wartime posters. The muffled sounds of planes and bombs, accompanied by the eerie whine of an air raid siren, make it wonderfully spooky. You emerge from the tunnel to be faced with a life-sized diorama of a lovely moment involving a Kiwi pilot who’s just crash-landed onto some toff’s country estate in the middle of a garden party. He’s being offered a glass of champagne.

lydia litvyakI suppose I shouldn’t give the whole thing away, but I will say there’s a quite amazingly immersive cinematic experience pertaining to the Battle of Stalingrad. You actually feel like you’re there, which is incredible, but I imagine it would give some children nightmares, and trigger distressing flashbacks for certain soldiers and refugees. It left me weirdly winded. There’s also a bit about the Nazis that has a giant swastika flag hanging above it. This, according to the old veteran guide I got chatting to, has proven a tad controversial.

The guide was lovely, but, having mistaken me for the mother of the children in another part of the exhibition with their father, went to great lengths to emphasize a part of the exhibition that might be of more interest to “womenfolk”, and seemed surprised that I was relatively knowledgeably about certain things already. (I took great relish in flaunting my knowledge after this realisation, never revealing, of course, that aviation history isn’t really my cup of tea, my knowledge having been transferred by osmosis from a lifetime of proximity to my father.) Almost annoyingly, I did find the part of the exhibition about the Russian female fighter pilots – the Night Witches – especially interesting.

The two most impressive displays, I thought, were the one focusing on the ace fighter Lydia Litvyak, known as the White Rose of Stalingrad, and the one focusing on the bomber crashed into a patch of Pacific jungle. I made sure my fiancé experienced the Stalingrad section, because his grandfather, a German soldier, was actually stationed at Stalingrad, but was recalled to Germany for officer training just days before the battle began. It wasn’t until after the war that he discovered every single one of his friends who’d been at Stalingrad had died.

omaka aviation heritage museumNow Omaka is quite an expensive museum to visit – $40 if you want to go ’round all of it. The money does go towards improving the museum, however. They want to build an Art Deco bit to go in-between the First and Second World War bits, for example. You can also go for a plane ride if you want. Oh, and there are some amusing T-shirts in the gift shop that say “Old Fokker”!

omaka aviation heritage museumSo, if you love planes, or military history, or Peter Jackson, you’ll be in heaven in the Omaka Aviation Heritage Museum. If you don’t, you’ll still enjoy it. Like I said before, aviation history isn’t my thing, but I’m dead keen to go back once they’ve finished the Art Deco exhibition. It’s because Peter Jackson’s displays have allowed the exhibitions to highlight the human experience surrounding the planes, not merely the technical aspects of the planes themselves. Human stories are what make history so powerful.

Come to Crystal Mountain, Charlie!

Way back in the mid-noughties, my generation became suddenly and inexplicably obsessed with a certain unicorn named Charlie. Charlie was a cynical soul who just wanted to sleep, but two younger unicorns badgered him into accompanying them to the mythical Candy Mountain.

“Candy Mountain, Charlie!” came their simpering, sing-song cry. “Candy Mountain!”

It turned out it was all a ploy to steal Charlie’s kidney.

The irreverent fairy tale resonated with Millennials everywhere. Some of us quote it to this day, to the confusion of our elders.

Why?

Umm… we just do. It’s kind of funny. Thus, every time my fiancé and I drive past the sign for Crystal Mountain in West Auckland, it’s hard for us not to cry, “Chaaar-lieee!”

crystal mountain

At the gates of Crystal Mountain

“We’ll have to actually go there one day,” I added, a few years ago.

“I went when I was a kid,” Tim replied, focussed on the road.

“What was it like?” I asked.

“There were crystals.”

“Oh, really?” I joked. “Were there crystals at Crystal Mountain, Charlie? Did a magical liopleurodon tell you the way, Charlie? Chaaar-lieee!”

Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago. Once again, we were driving past the Crystal Mountain sign, but this time, we had our flatmate, Ems, with us. Now Ems is… how to put this delicately? Her bedroom is so full of crystal energy you have to beat it back with a stick. An incense stick. We couldn’t not go now!

So, we went. Most of these photos are Ems’s.

Now, understandably, I was expecting Crystal Mountain to be a glorified crystal shop, and it did indeed have one – an enormous one – but it also had a rollercoaster – a small, lonely rollercoaster that looked more than a little old and dodgy – and dinosaurs. In fact, there was a whole animal park with things for children to ride on, but we didn’t experience any of that. We headed straight for the main building, which housed the shop, café and an underground crystal museum.

The entrance was flanked by real crystal monoliths. Ems made me take a photo of her hugging one.

“I want to get married here,” she said.

“Does Grant know you two are getting married?” Tim asked, jokingly, as I quipped, “Who to? Grant or the crystal?”

The crystal museum was quite cool. We took an almost eerie elevator ride down into what was basically a crystal-encrusted bunker. There were some epic specimens, including a fossilised T. rex head. Ems could identify most of the crystals without reading the signs. She was in heaven. If you’re not into crystals, $8 might seem a bit over-priced to visit the small museum, but if you are – or if you have children that are into dinosaurs and fossils – I recommend going.

As for the animal park bit… well, I only saw it from the outside, but it looked, frankly, lame – especially at $88 for family pass! (Oh, and you have to pay for rides individually on top of that.) As well as the aforementioned rollercoaster, the rides include a tractor and a train that isn’t on a track. Let’s just say I’m sceptical.

Ems said the crystals in the shop were very reasonably priced, though.

cm08

New Zealand Has Its Own Stonehenge!

stonehenge aotearoa new zealand

I love stone circles. I’m not a ‘spiritual’ person, but such ancient monuments fill me with awe. My favourite is the Ring of Brodgar in Orkney, which I visited last year. My sense of awe was only slightly dampened by the various tourists trying to ‘fall through’ the stones. (The Outlander TV series was at its most popular and the lure of dashing, eighteenth century highlanders waiting to be the tamed by modern, sexually enlightened time travellers was potent.)

Of course, there were nowhere near as many tourists at Brodgar as there were when I visited Stonehenge – the Stonehenge. I often joke that the thick ring of tourists revolving around the circle made it look like it had an extra layer of megaliths, each wearing a different, brightly coloured anorak and speaking in a loud, American accent. Nevertheless, it was awesome to behold. I lingered so long the bus almost left without me. I can still see my teachers rolling their eyes.

So, when I heard New Zealand had its own Stonehenge, I had to see it. I was apprehensive, though. I mean, how could it possibly live up the original? Well, it couldn’t. I knew that. What I didn’t know was that it wasn’t trying to.

stonehenge aotearoa new zealand

Stonehenge Aotearoa is located between Masterton and Martinborough, near the bottom of the North Island. Most people who haven’t been think it’s a replica of England’s Stonehenge, and are worried, therefore, about it being tacky. I was in the ‘I want it to be awesome, but will be probably be disappointed’ camp. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect. I mean, wrongly assumed it would be the sort of tourist attraction with a café.

stonehenge aotearoa new zealand

The thing is, it wasn’t built as a tourist attraction. It’s a passion project, built on the farm of a couple of retired astronomers by members of the Phoenix Astronomical Society. It was never meant to be a replica of the original Stonehenge, but an accurate calendar for its specific place in the world. Yes, it was built on a similar scale to the original, but it combines modern scientific thinking with the starlore of many cultures, including Māori. The small gift shop is more focussed on educational gifts than spiritual.

stonehenge aotearoa new zealand

There’s an explanatory video to watch to before you make your way out to the circle, through a modest but lovely garden. Though the site promotes science and education, it still attracts the druidic crowd. It holds equinox celebrations, which include storytelling and music. Apparently, the acoustics are something else! Beside the entrance, there’s an old school building set up with a cinema screen, which will hopefully see more use in the future.

stonehenge aotearoa new zealand

As for the circle itself, it’s underwhelming, but still pretty damn cool. There’s no getting around the fact that it’s concrete. The lines are disconcertingly clean, but of course they are – the pillars and lintels are brand new! They haven’t been subjected to thousands of years of weather, or Victorian souvenir hunters with chisels. You have to appreciate Stonehenge Aotearoa for what it is, not what it isn’t.

stonehenge aotearoa new zealand

There are a few interesting touches, such as an analemma, an obelisk and a statue of Artemis. There’s also a star sign tracker – an accurate one. Apparently, people are always disappointed to learn that their star signs are wrong! I’m really glad I visited Stonehenge Aotearoa. I’d recommend it to anyone travelling down to, or up from Wellington.

stonehenge aotearoa new zealand

So What’s New Zealand’s Best University?

People keep asking me what the best university in New Zealand is. Of course, I have to be loyal to my alma mater and say Auckland. The University of Auckland is New Zealand’s only university in the top 100 of the QS World University Rankings – 85th as of time of writing. This was a factor in my deciding to attend Auckland in first place. Does this mean, however, that it’s actually the best place at which to study?

The Auckland Uni Clock Tower

There are two other universities in Auckland: Massey and AUT, which stands for Auckland University of Technology. (It often calls itself AUT University, which would make it the Auckland University of Technology University, which is silly and should disqualify it from the best university race under the rule of snobbery, if nothing else.) Both AUT University and Massey University are good for practical, as opposed to purely academic, degrees. AUT’s supposed to be good for hospitality and sports; Massey for agriculture. The problem with studying in Auckland is the eye-watering cost of rent.

An hour-and-a-half south of Auckland, we come to the University of Waikato in Hamilton. Accommodation costs are far friendlier here. I never even considered Waikato when I was choosing which university to attend, because it’s a lot less “prestigious” than Auckland. (And Hamilton is seen as a hole by the rest of New Zealand. I’ve lived in Hamilton for four years now and it’s definitely not a hole.) Looking back, I regret not considering Waikato, because its campus is actually a lot nicer than Auckland’s. It’s currently ranked 274th in the world.

Eight hours south of Auckland, we come to the Victoria University of Wellington. The is one of the universities I considered, but was put off by how far away from home it was. (And by how windy Wellington had been the only other time I’d visited – so windy my jaw had been in constant pain!) Maybe if I’d wanted to study Law, I would have gone. Being right next to Parliament, Victoria is great for that. It’s currently ranked 221st in the world.

The Otago Uni Clock Tower

Next, we’re leaving the North Island of New Zealand entirely and heading into the wild south. The most prestigious university in the South Island is the University of Otago. My little sister’s there at the moment. It’s in Dunedin, an inexpensive student Mecca surrounded by stunning scenery. If you want to study Science, or anything to with wildlife and the great outdoors, Otago would be an amazing experience. It’s ranked 175th in the world.

Our final two universities are also in the South Island, in its main city, Christchurch. The first, Lincoln University, is the second-lowest ranked on this list, after AUT University, (356th and 442nd in the world respectively.) It’s a small university that specialises in agriculture. The second, the University of Canterbury, is 227th in the world, making it the fourth-highest ranked university in New Zealand. It’s supposed to be especially good for engineering, but one of its most notable alumni was Ernest Rutherford – yes, as in the father of nuclear physics, Ernest Rutherford!

Ernest Rutherford

Obviously, the best university for you depends on what you want out of studying. I can’t really answer, because I’ve only been to one. My personal preference for top three would probably be:

1) Auckland, because Auckland’s a great city to live in and explore, despite the cost of rent, and it’s a good all-round university with a vibrant student culture.

2) Otago, because it’s cheap to live in Dunedin, the student experience there is legendary, the university clocktower is picturesque and the South Island is gorgeous.

3) Victoria, because the quality of education there is good and Wellington is New Zealand’s capital city AND/OR Waikato, because the campus is awesome and it’s becoming a well-respected university.

A drawing of Otago Uni’s Clock Tower Building from 1879

The Ethics of Owning a Cat in New Zealand

A few years ago, a certain would-be politician became New Zealand Cat Enemy Number One. He denounced cats as sadistic serial killers and called for their eradication. Not only did he want every stray cat to be killed, he wanted people to stop owning cats altogether. Of course, the national outrage was great and ensured many ailurophiles would never vote for him, regardless of what his party’s cat policies actually were. The thing is, though, he wasn’t wrong.

I love cats. I’m known as a crazy cat lady. I’ve just spent the better part of five months fostering seven kittens and their mother. I’ve watched them grow from this…

weekoldkittens

… to this…

kittens

… to this…

kittens

… and now my fiancé and our flatmate have adopted three of them between us, Lennon, Loki and Circe. In fact, this whole article is nothing more than an excuse to show you our most adorable cat pictures!

Why, then, do I agree with New Zealand Cat Enemy Number One?

Well… I do and I don’t.

kittenThe thing you have to remember about New Zealand is, before humans colonised it, there were no cats. In fact, there were no land mammals at all. (Well, there were bats, but they only ate insects.) In a world without mammalian predators, New Zealand’s native birds, such as the flightless kiwi and kakapo, thrived. Then humans came, bringing with them rats and dogs and possums and cats, and bird numbers plummeted – the flightless birds didn’t stand a chance! Now, many of New Zealand’s native birds are endangered and cats certainly don’t help.

It’s not just that cats – yes, even pet cats – hunt the native birds. They also contribute to the spread of toxoplasmosis, a parasite that can harm other animals. My little sister studies wildlife conservation, and she goes on whole rants about why we shouldn’t have cats, or should at least limit ourselves to one cat per household. When I told her about our fostering plans, she got annoyed that we were rescuing unwanted cats rather than putting them down. It’s not that she doesn’t like cats either – we grew up with them in our home.

kittenswithswordsThat’s where I draw the line, though. I see nothing wrong with getting cats off the streets, desexing them and giving them a good home. I agree that you should have to desex your cats by law, unless you have a breeder’s licence, and that you should take steps to protect the native wildlife around your home. Obviously, the easiest way to do this is to have an indoor-only cat, but I also feel like it’s kind of cruel to keep cats inside their whole lives. For me, the best solution seems to be building a cat run in the garden, especially if you live in the country.

If you live in an apartment, I suggest taking your cats for walks on leads. Yeah, it’s a little weird, but it’s becoming more and more common. Maybe it’ll be the norm soon. We’re going to try it with ours… Wish us luck.

I guess I feel a bit guilty. Owning a cat in New Zealand is a bit dodgy, ethically speaking. But I’m not going to not have cats because cats are gorgeous and funny and cuddly and enrich our lives infinitely. If New Zealand ever decided to ban cats, (which it won’t,) I would seriously consider emigrating. I have a purring kitten on my lap as I write this and it just feels right.

gingerkittens

Bulls: A Town Like No Udder

bulls sign

Yes, that was really what was written on the sign: A Town Like No Udder. We were unable to suppress our groans as we drove past it. We knew Bulls was famous for bad puns – that was why we were stopping here on our way back from Wellington – but the small town had already exceeded our expectations.

We parked on the road outside a café with the following sign in the window:

Sighing, we proceeded to explore.

New Zealand is teeming with small, boring towns that have chosen a single quirk to double down on, thus turning themselves into tourist destinations. Or, at least, towns you’d get out and look around in, as opposed to just driving through. Katikati, for example, is full of murals, whereas Tirau is full of giant, corrugated iron things.

tirau sheep

Bulls, of course, is full of… well, actually, quite nice boutique shops. We were pleasantly surprised by that. The antiques shops were especially cool, although I failed to spot a sign that said COLLECT-A-BULL, which – come on – surely, I must have missed, because if there isn’t one, that’s a serious oversight.

First, though, I needed to relive myself. Thankfully, I found some public toilets labelled RELIEVE-A-BULL at the information centre, which was labelled…

bulls sign

INFORM-A-BULL. Nearby stood an outlet of the fast-food chain Subway that had declared itself SUBMERGE-A-BULL, and the local police station: CONST-A-BULL. It had a cute – if PREDICT-A-BULL – mural on its side.

bulls police

But that wasn’t the only mural in Bulls. This one looked oddly familiar:

bulls american gothic

I found it opposite the local Plunket building. (Plunket is a New Zealand charity that provides free health services to children under five.) Incidentally, the sign on the side of that building said NON RETURN-A-BULL.

As I made my way towards the centre of town, I appreciated the milk churn-shaped rubbish bins encouraging people to be RESPONSE-A-BULL.

bulls bin

The hub of the town, opposite some FASHION-A-BULL shops, is the old town hall:

bulls town hall

Very SOCI-A-BULL. Though one mustn’t forget the MEMOR-A-BULL museum or the CURE-A-BULL medical centre, which, for some reason, has a Trojan bull outside of it.

trojan bull

We had a late lunch at a posh café – DELECT-A-BULL – and squeed at a collection of BLING-A-BULL wedding tiaras. (Though I think I’ll keep it simple with a flower garland for my wedding at Hobbiton.) I liked that the library was READ-A-BULL, and guessed that the church would be BELIEVE-A-BULL, but I was wrong. As we drove out of Bulls, I leaned into the window to check. It was FORGIVE-A-BULL.

bulls

The National Harry Potter Quiz Championship

Harry Potter quiz

It was amazing, really: New Zealand’s hundred nerdiest Harry Potter fans gathered in one room. We were in a pub in Wellington, magically decorated with Hogwarts flags and fairy lights. Each table had been given a pack of Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans. Most people were in costume. We were there because we were the best, the winning teams of our respective regional Harry Potter quizzes. Tonight’s quiz would crown the best of the best. Tonight, one team would claim the coveted title of New Zealand’s Biggest Insufferable Know-It-Alls.

My team, the DA, was representing Hamilton. (It’s quite a journey from Hamilton to Wellington, so kudos to the teams who came all the way from Dunedin!) We were dressed as the Hogwarts Founders – Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin – with the Sorting Hat and some cuddly animal mascots. We ended up getting second prize for costumes, actually! None of us expected to do that well with the actual questions, but we were in for a nice surprise. In the meantime, we ordered some Harry Potter-themed bar snacks and cocktails.

Hogwarts HousesThe pub was called Leroy’s Bar in the centre of Wellington. The quiz was being run by Gee Quiz. The quizmaster was wearing an impeccable Mad-Eye Moody costume. Other great costumes included a fantastically detailed Luna wearing her lion headdress and carrying a light-up balloon that had been fashioned into a hare, (her Patronus,) and a whole team dressed as wizards trying to dress like muggles. I’ll be tempted to go back to Leroy’s Bar when I’m in Wellington again, as it seemed like it would have a decent atmosphere even without all the Harry Potter accoutrements.

The questions were surprising. We’d done some revising in the weeks leading up to the quiz, making mental notes of things that were likely to be in it, but there were many things we’d never have thought of. I must say, it was fun digging around in my brain, excavating things I didn’t realise were there. I suppose I read (and listened to Stephen Fry reading) Harry Potter so many times as a child that those things are there to stay. It was the same for the others in my team. The same for the whole room, no doubt.

Hogwarts Founders costumes

Being in a room filled with people united by a singular passion was a special experience. The excitement was contagious. I thought I wouldn’t care too much about the final scores, but by the time they were being read out, I was on tenterhooks. Sixteen teams. We were in the top fifty percent… then the top twenty-five percent… and we came third, only two points behind the winners! We got a bar tab and some keyrings and posters, but, most importantly, bragging rights. I am now officially one of the biggest Harry Potter nerds in New Zealand!

Harry Potter in New Zealand

All the Colours of the Waikato Show

waikato show

One of the most important events of the Hamiltonian year is the Waikato Show. It’s been held every year since 1908, which means this year’s show was the 111th in a row! I’d never been before, but one of my jobs involves wandering around events in outrageous costumes, so…

waikato show

Yup, that’s me. I was asked if I was feeling blue by no less than nine people.

Now, I’d expected the Waikato Show to be boring, which is why I’d never been before. I thought it would be all tractors and livestock and lame fairground rides. I was wrong. I’d have been happy wandering around the place even I wasn’t being paid to.

waikato show

There was so much to see. Yes, there was the expected sheep shearing and competitive wood chopping, but there were also local products to sample like cheese and honey, jewellery stalls, animal rescue shelters and a guide dog organisation that’d brought friendly dogs along for people to pat, a good variety of food stalls, electric cars and, amongst many other things, the Imperial Fifth Waikato Dragoons Regiment led by Major Blunder.

waikato show

The Waikato Show began as a way to connect the townsfolk of Hamilton to the agricultural workers of the surrounding region. It still is, but now it’s less livestock and more lifestyle expo. There were rather a lot of alpacas, though. They didn’t like my costume.

Being on duty, I couldn’t give into my urge to collect a free sample from every single stall that offered one, but I did get some locally made goat cheese. I will never not get goat cheese. At some point, someone gave me a blue lollipop because it matched my costume. It was fun telling children not to eat too many blue lollipops, because look what happens!

waikato show

I wasn’t the only performer from the Free Lunch Street Theatre Company wandering around the show. I was the Blue Lady; we also had the Silver Lady, the Golden Girl, the Red Queen and a pair of Red Footmen. Against the backdrop of the sun-brightened fairground rides, we all looked wonderfully garish! So many people asked for photos. Humans like us even if alpacas don’t.

waikato show

So, that was the Waikato Show. In other news, guess who’ll be representing Hamilton at the National Harry Potter Quiz Championship in Wellington – this nerd!

Abigail Simpson

My team, the DA, came second in the Hamilton Harry Potter Quiz, and I got the prize for third-best costume: the Golden Snitch. (A very short and very fabulous dress covered entirely in gold sequins, plus a pair of angel wings!) It seems, then, that a campervan trip to Wellington is in order…

waikato show