Hamilton’s Historic Estate

POMS AWAY!

Need help finding things to do in Hamilton, New Zealand? Probably. At first glance, it can seem like the only place worth visiting in Hamilton is the Gardens. At second glance, you have to concede that the zoo is a great place to go in Hamilton as well. Then you’ve got the museum, Taitua Arboretum, Memorial Park and the lake. Admittedly, after that you’re beginning to scrape the bottom of the barrel. We’ve lived in Hamilton for two years and we’re rapidly running out of new things to see. We have to keep visiting relatives entertained somehow!

Last weekend, however, we visited somewhere we’d never been before, Woodlands Historic Homestead and Gardens. It’s about fifteen minutes by car from the centre of Hamilton, in a village called Gordonton. (By the looks of things, it won’t be a village much longer. In a few years, it’ll be…

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From Land’s End to John O’Groats to… Bluff?

New Zealand keeps cropping up in the most unexpected of places. A few weeks ago, I embarked upon a road trip around Scotland with my Kiwi fiancé and our Kiwi friend. We drove from Edinburgh, up through the Cairngorms National Park (not without incident,) and on through Inverness. I wanted to visit Orkney, having been desperate to see Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar since I was a kid, but to do that we needed to catch the ferry from the northernmost tip of mainland Britain, John O’Groats.

Ring of Brodgar Abigail Simpson

The Ring of Brodgar

You may have heard the phrase “from Land’s End to John O’Groats”, Land’s End being the southernmost tip of mainland Britain, in Cornwall. In New Zealand, we have an equivalent phrase: “from Cape Reinga from Bluff”. Cape Reinga is famous for its lighthouse and Bluff is famous for its oysters. Many New Zealand motorhome holidays are based around the idea of seeing the country from Cape Reinga to Bluff.

So we arrived at John O’Groats and made our way down to the pier. It was a fine summer day, so we “only” needed jumpers, scarves and anoraks. It was colder than a fine winter day in the North Island of New Zealand, a fact that we found quite amusing. We passed the expected Land’s End/John O’Groats sign, but then I noticed something unexpected. The sign had a picture of New Zealand on it, along with a downwards arrow pointing towards Bluff.

The sign

Of course, we all got unduly excited at this random international mention of New Zealand, and asked a confused fellow tourist to take a picture of us next to it. (Getting unduly excited when New Zealand is noticed by the world at large is a very Kiwi thing, and perhaps shows that I’ve become more of a Kiwi than I thought.) There weren’t any other mentions of New Zealand around, and a Google search didn’t give any clues as to a special connection between John O’Groats and Bluff, so…

We shrugged and got on the ferry.

In some respects, driving around Scotland did feel a lot like driving around New Zealand – especially the South Island. A lot of New Zealand’s nineteenth century colonists came from Scotland. Alice, the Kiwi friend we were travelling with, remarked that it was no wonder they’d felt so at home in New Zealand – all that dramatic, mountainous scenery! There was also the fact that Scotland has rather a lot of fields of sheep, which, if you’ve ever done a New Zealand road trip, you’ll know is kind of New Zealand’s thing.

Sheep with Stone Circle Abigail Simpson

Except there are fewer stone circles in the fields of New Zealand…

In fact, seeing all the Scottish sheep souvenirs reminded me fondly of my adopted home – not to mention the New Zealand wines on every restaurant menu!

New Zealand’s Most Enchanting Museum

POMS AWAY!

You know sometimes you go somewhere not expecting much, but end up utterly enchanted? That’s what happened when I went to Nigel Ogle’s Tawhiti Museum in Taranaki. I can’t recommend it highly enough! Just go there, and make sure you give yourself plenty of time to see everything – a few hours at least. And visit the café. It’s just… well… let me explain…

Tawhiti Museum 01Tawhiti is the largest private museum in New Zealand. Housed in a former cheese factory, it was developed by an artist called Nigel Ogle, who spends his time creating life-sized models of people, using moulds cast from co-opted locals. These models, along with many scale dioramas, tell the story of Taranaki, from the early interactions of the European sailors and Maori tribesmen, to the tragic life of mid-twentieth century local author, Ronald Hugh Morrieson.

The entrance of Tawhiti has the look of one of those historic…

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7 Things You Need To Know Before Moving To New Zealand

Each and every year, thousands of people from all over the world relocate to New Zealand, and it’s easy to see why. With a relaxed, laid-back lifestyle and outstanding quality of life, there’s really no questioning why New Zealand has such a big appeal to those hoping to uproot their life somewhere new. Whether you’re relocating for work, with your family, or simply want to spend some time travelling and working in the country, Kiwis are likely to welcome you with open arms, and you’ll soon find NZ to be your home away from home.

Regardless of your reasoning, if you’re thinking of uprooting your life and moving to New Zealand to begin a fresh new chapter, there are a few things you should know. There is a plethora of information to be found online about the entire relocation process, however, to shed some light and to make it seem a little less daunting, we’ve selected some of the most important things worth making yourself aware of before getting stuck in with your planning.

1. First thing’s first – choosing the right visa.

Perhaps the most crucial thing to clue up on before planning your big move to NZ is the visa application process. If you hope to enter New Zealand, even just for a holiday, you must have a visa. The visa that you apply for will depend on what you actually want to do in New Zealand (holiday, work, study, live?) and how long you will want to stay (temporarily or permanently?) That said, you will still need to take some time to do your research and find out what kind of visa you will be eligible for based on your circumstances, as well as the entitlements it will give you during your time in NZ. There will be different requirements and guidelines depending on many different factors, including the country that you hail from, however, you can find all of the relevant information on New Zealand’s immigration website.

2. There’s a difference between North and South.

Although many countries around the world have notable distinctions between their North and South, this is especially the case in New Zealand, and the two islands couldn’t be more different. One of the biggest differences between the islands is their climates. Although generally void of any real extreme weather, New Zealand does tend to have pretty unpredictable weather at the best of times (it’s often said you can experience all four seasons in just one day), however, there is a notable difference between North and South. In the North, temperatures remain mild throughout the year. On the other hand, winter in the South comes with a bit more of a bite. This is perhaps one of the biggest things to consider when it comes to choosing where to relocate yourself. However, in terms of seeing as much of the country as possible, your travel options in New Zealand are pretty much endless.

3. You’ll need to understand the cost of living.

Due to the fact that New Zealand is an island nation far away from everywhere else, it can be a rather expensive place to live, albeit slightly cheaper than its Aussie neighbour. The cost of living, as well as properties, in major cities such as Auckland and Wellington are generally at the higher end of the scale. Take some time to do research and to get a good idea of what you can expect to earn in your industry in various cities, as well as to get an idea of what your everyday expenses will be. That way, it’ll be less of a shock to the system.

4. The seasons are reversed.

It’s certainly no secret, but in New Zealand the seasons are the exact opposite, and it takes some getting used to. If you celebrate Christmas, you could be celebrating it in the height of summer, and the academic year runs from February to November. Albeit not huge changes to adapt to, but for some, they could be deciding factors when it comes to moving to NZ.

5. You may want to consider renting before committing to buying a home.

When relocating anywhere in the world, finding a place to live before you arrive will make the entire process so much easier. House prices in New Zealand tend to be high, so it may be in your best interest to rent a property before committing to buying a home. This may also be the best option if you’re indecisive about the area you want to settle in. Do keep in mind that rent payments in New Zealand tend to be paid weekly, where utilities are paid monthly.

6. It’s much further away than you might think.

If you’re relocating to New Zealand, one thing that you have to contend with is the fact that it is a long way from virtually everywhere. If you’re moving away from loved ones, you’ll have consider the fact that going home for visits or flying them out to you is going to cost a pretty penny. If you’re travelling to New Zealand as a student to study for a year, you’ll need to factor the cost of travel into your budget, if your expenses aren’t already covered for you. As well, due to its remoteness, it makes travelling to other countries difficult. That said, there are travel opportunities aplenty to be had throughout New Zealand, which makes up for it.

7. New Zealanders are very friendly.

Generally speaking, New Zealanders are very friendly people. Kiwi culture has a fiery passion for rugby and boasts honesty, integrity and trust. As with travelling to any country that is new to you, some research about the culture to gain the respect of the locals really goes go a long way. A few basic Kiwi manners to get you started are the following: take your shoes off before entering someone’s home, and if someone invites you to dinner ask them if they’d like you to bring a plate of food to share. Common courtesy really does go a long way!


This was a guest post written by Stuart Cooke, blog editor at UniBaggage.com.

If you would like to submit a guest post for consideration, please use the form on my Contact Me page.

10 Cool Places to Get Married in New Zealand

Cathedral Cove

I’ve been thinking about this non-stop since Tim proposed.

Oh yeah, Tim asked me to marry him last week! He got down on one knee during a zeppelin flight over Lake Constance, between Switzerland and Germany. I genuinely had no idea it was coming. (We’re in Europe for a few months visiting various family members, mine in England; his in Germany. That’s why I haven’t been posting as consistently as usual, but there should be at least one new article every few weeks.)

So, anyway, I think I’ve mentioned before that I’d quite like to get married in Hobbiton, but that’s not the only option. Here’s a list of ten places in New Zealand that I think would make pretty cool wedding venues:

1) Hobbiton

The Hobbiton Movie Set near Matamata is truly gorgeous. It captures all the beauty of Tolkien’s medieval fantasy world without being tacky. The gardens around the hobbit holes are perfectly tended and the views are wonderful. There are two possible reception areas: The Party Marquee – reminiscent of the setup of Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday party at beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring – and The Green Dragon Inn, which is like all the very best historical pubs in Europe combined. I think I’d prefer the inn; I remember it being very cosy.

Read my blog about visiting Hobbiton

The Tree Church

2) The Tree Church

The Tree Church is exactly what it sounds like: a church made out of trees. Some guy in Ohaupo, just south of Hamilton, did it as a hobby project, and was later convinced to open it up to the public. It’s not just a church, it’s a whole beautiful garden with a labyrinth and a pond. There’s also a ginger cat that’s always demanding attention from visitors. The atmosphere inside the church is tangibly magical. I imagine it would be perfect for any wedding, Christian or pagan.

Read my blog about visiting the Tree Church

3) Hamilton Gardens

What makes Hamilton Gardens so exciting as a venue for your wedding ceremony is all its differently themed gardens. I’d probably pick the Italian Renaissance Garden, but what about the English Flower Garden, the Japanese Garden with its tranquil pond, the Tudor Garden, or the gloriously colourful Indian Garden? Not to mention all the others. It’s pretty cheap to get married there, too. And Tim’s just reminded me of the new fantasy garden with the model steampunk zeppelin in it – that would be appropriate for us, considering his proposal!

Read my blog about the Hamilton Gardens

4) Larnach Castle

Larnach Castle is the closest thing New Zealand has to an actual castle. It was built in 1871 by a guy called William Larnach. It has a ballroom, lavish furnishings and award-winning gardens. You can have high tea there and, of course, weddings. Perhaps the best thing about it is the location: it sits halfwayup the incredible Otago Peninsula, surrounded by natural beauty and wildlife such as penguins, seals and albatrosses. Tim and I loved exploring the Otago Peninsula; it was very romantic.

Read my blog about the Otago Peninsula

5) Howick Historical Village

Howick Historical Village is in Auckland. It’s a complex of buildings from the nineteenth century arranged into an ersatz colonial village, including a church, a grand villa and an old school hall. If you’re after a Victorian-flavoured wedding, this place is as charming as any.

Read my blog about Howick Historical Village

Cathedral Cove

6) Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove is possibly the most beautiful beach in New Zealand. Featuring golden sand, crystal-blue water and epic rock formations, a wedding here would be breathtaking even without the natural cathedral. You can say your “I do’s” in a large cave on the sand that looks for all the world like it has a vaulted ceiling. Cathdral Cove isn’t easy to get to by foot, so wedding parties arrive by boat. It’s on the Coronomandel Peninsula, which produces lovely wine and seafood, so no doubt the catering at the reception would be excellent.

Read my blog about Cathedral Cove

Chateau Tongariro

7) The Chateau Tongariro

The Chateau Tongariro is a grand, old hotel in Tongariro National Park, nestled in the midst of three stunning volcanoes. It was built in the 1920s and retains something of the era’s oppulence – all chandeliers and red velvet furnishings; even a billiards table. It does a scrumptious high tea and has a very posh restaurant, and outside there’s a ski field and an abundance of fantastic hiking trails. If you want snow-capped mountains in the background of your wedding photos, or a Great Gatsby-themed day, this is the venue for you.

Read my blog about the Chateau Tongariro

8) Waikeke Island

Waiheke is a pretty island off the coast of Auckland. It’s absolutely teeming with wineries, so there are plenty of wedding venues to choose from. The ferry journey to Waiheke is enjoyable, taking in all the different islands of the Hauraki Gulf – sometimes you even see dolphins. The island itself is home to quite a few artists, so there are galleries and sculpture parks to explore. It has become a very popular wedding destination, with spectacular sea views, but I don’t think it’s quite right for me and Tim.

9) Lake Tekapo

On the shore the South Island’s Lake Tekapo sits the most picturesque church in the whole of New Zealand. They only allow Christian weddings to be conducted there, but I reckon pretending to be Christian for the day would be worth it for this sight!

10) The Blue Baths

You can have your wedding reception in a gorgeous Art Deco bathhouse in Rotorua’s Government Gardens. There are still pools, but this Spanish Mission-style building has been hosting wedding parties since it was built in the 1930s. I’ve relaxed in the wonderfully-situated geothermal pools a few times over the years, and I’ve always thought it would be cool to get married there. There are old-fashioned rooms and romantic balconies for photographs, as well, of course, as the lovely gardens around it.

Healthcare in New Zealand

POMS AWAY!

New Zealand has always been an attractive destination, but now it seems more so than ever. My Best Place to Live in New Zealand article suddenly became popular at the end of last year – no prizes for guessing why – and continues to be one of Poms Away’s most-viewed. So, with no sign of global interest in moving to New Zealand slowing down, I thought I’d write an article of use to both potential immigrants and tourists. (Also, I registered at a new medical centre just this morning, so the topic happens to be on my mind. I moved house last week, you see.)

Socialised Healthcare

In New Zealand, the medical system is socialised. This means that hospital visits are free for citizens and permanent residents. Even tourists can get help with accidental injury treatment costs through ACC, the Accident Compensation Corporation. Yes, it means you pay…

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The Laid-back Attitude of New Zealanders

In two weeks, I’m leaving New Zealand for six months. I’m flying with Tim to Switzerland via Singapore, before visiting his family in Germany; then flying to Ireland and visiting my family in England. We’re going to explore Scotland and Sweden; Spain and Italy. We’re going to spend a fairytale Christmas in Germany, before returning to New Zealand via Malaysia.

Will I miss New Zealand? I’m not sure. I feel like I’ll miss the attitude of its people more than the country itself, but time will tell. I’ve been craving a “proper” European Christmas for eighteen years. The sort of Christmas with snow flurrying through medieval villages, leaded windows glowing with amber light, markets infused with the aroma of roasted chestnuts, and church bells ringing with melancholy joy.

Maybe I’ve idealised it. There are some things New Zealand just can’t compete with. I’m looking forward to being surrounded by historical buildings once more. I’m looking forward to savouring the food of my childhood. I am, however, almost dreading returning to Edinburgh, the place in which my parents told me we were moving to New Zealand, and I threw the largest tantrum of my life.

I can still picture it, the Italian restaurant with the bright windows; the dark street gleaming with recent rain; the red-and-white-checked table cloths. My dad complaining that his pasta was “pap” whilst my sister fed hers to her imaginary dinosaur. The big reveal followed by me dashing into the ladies’ room and punching the hand dryer. I put the hand dryer on thinking no one would hear my sobs.

But anyway. I think I will miss New Zealand. I’ve lived here nearly two-thirds of my life and I love how laid-back the people are. It’s difficult to imagine the sorts of political scenes we’ve seen coming out of Europe happening here, purely because New Zealanders are less prone to being whipped into extreme states. New Zealand crowds are sometimes awkwardly apathetic.

They’re notoriously difficult to get a cheer out of. I’ve witnessed British and American entertainers trying and managing to elicit only a half-hearted “yay”. One American celebrity cried, “I love you guys!” in that fake way that American celebrities do, and you could almost hear the crowd thinking, “Bullshit. Now do what you’re here to do and you’ll deserve some applause, but don’t go thinking you’re better than us.”

The laid-back attitude of New Zealanders is no better exemplified than by a recent address by our prime minister. It was made from her couch, a few days after she’d given birth, holding her baby. Her voice was croaky and she wore no makeup. When she goes back to work – running the country – her partner will be a stay-at-home father.

Even if you didn’t vote for Labour, you have to agree that it’s a cool image for New Zealand, and I’ll miss being a part of it. I mean don’t get me wrong, New Zealand has its problems. There are still those that believe that our prime minister, as an unmarried mother, should not be celebrated. Just the other day, a friend of mine with a foreign accent was the victim of a shocking xenophobic attack.

On the whole, however, the voices of hatred seem quieter in New Zealand. How much of that is due to manipulation by the media, I don’t know. It will be interesting to compare for myself the general atmosphere in Britain, in Germany and in other European countries to the general atmosphere in New Zealand.

But now I must go. I must get back to working, packing up the house, cleaning, preparing for the trip AND being involved in my theatre troop’s latest show. We open in three days. Yes, life is hectic. Yes, I shall be very relieved to get to Europe and relax. We’ll be taking our trip a lot slower than we did last time!

To read more about our previous Euro trip, see A New Zealander’s View of Britain and European Stereotypes: Confirmed or Busted?

To read more about my infamous tantrum in Edinburgh, see Last Night of the Poms: The Story of Our Move to New Zealand.

To find out more about the show I’m involved in, see The Meteor Theatre.