What Connects a Train Station in Germany to a Toilet in New Zealand?

It was New Year’s Eve and we were on our way to Berlin. As we’d purchased the cheapest train tickets possible, we weren’t speeding between cities, but meandering from small station to small station. Standing, freezing, on dilapidated platforms, we gazed across the tracks towards a succession of depressed and depressing buildings. One such station boasted a vainly optimistic advertisement inviting the traveller to actually stop there for a change, instead of merely passing through. ‘Passing-through towns’ seems an apt name for these places.

There was, however, one town we passed through whose station was surprisingly intriguing. Even beautiful. I was so tired – all the shabby stations we’d passed through already had so blurred before my eyes – that at first I didn’t notice this one was any different. Then strange shapes started to loom out of the mass: wavy lines, bulging columns clad in garish mosaics, and golden spheres that could have been from an old, tacky sci-fi. It reminded me of the various bits of Gaudí architecture we’d recently seen in Barcelona, but it also reminded me of a public toilet.

hundertwasser uelzen bahnhof

Not just any public toilet, you understand: a specific public toilet in New Zealand, designed by an Austrian immigrant called Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser. The Hundertwasser Toilets are a major tourist attraction in Kawakawa, a small town in the Northland Region of New Zealand. If you’re ever on a road trip between Auckland and the Bay of Islands, you’ll probably pass through/water in it. The toilets are worth seeing, with an architectural style that can, at worst, be described as quirky. Built in 1999, just before Hundertwasser’s death, they’ve transformed Kawakawa from merely a ‘passing-through town’ to a destination in its own right.

hundertwasser toilets kawakawa

The longer I scrutinised that German train station, the more convinced I became that it had been designed by the same person. We googled it. Sure enough, we found the Uelzen station was indeed a Hundertwasser and, like the toilets in Kawakawa, it had transformed its hometown into a tourist destination. I wish we’d had time to explore it properly, but we were already on our next train, sauntering towards the next small station.

hundertwasser kuchlbauer tower

Another Hundertwasser, the Kuchlbauer Tower in Abensberg

Throughout our European adventure, I’ve found myself revelling in the discovery of even the slightest New Zealand connection. Despite a certain stand-up comedian in London telling me (and an amused audience) no-one gives a f**k about New Zealand, people we meet won’t stop proclaiming their love for it. On a train in Barcelona, I saw a woman with a New Zealand-themed tote bag and said, in my half-remembered high school Spanish, “Vivo en Nueva Zelanda.” Her face lit up and we talked, in a broken mix of Spanish and English, about all the places she’d visited. In London’s Natural History Museum, I pointed out a stuffed kiwi with perhaps a little too much excitement.

I think it’s fair to say that, after five-and-a-half months of globetrotting, I’m ready to return to my adopted home. First, though, we have a couple of weeks in Malaysia!

My First Christmas in New Zealand

This year, I’m celebrating Christmas with my fiancé’s family in Germany. Just a few days ago, I walked through a Christmas Market whilst snow fell like wisps of candy floss. Here’s what I wrote two years ago, when I was dreaming of this in New Zealand…

POMS AWAY!

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…

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Cold?

I’ve been in Europe four months. Two left. People back in New Zealand keep asking how I’m coping with the cold. They’re experiencing a warm, humid spring whilst I’m experiencing a cold, rainy autumn. My answer surprises them. I’m not finding the cold difficult to cope with at all – it’s the warmth.

The cold – easy. I bought myself a pair of fleece-lined boots and some fleece-lined leggings and they work perfectly. I can walk around all the German Christmas markets I like in comfort.

But then you go inside, into a shop or café, and no matter how many layers you shed, it’s too bloody warm. Like almost-passing-out warm. I’m always having to go and stand outside!

In New Zealand, the temperature change when you enter or exit a building is never so drastic. This is partly to do with the fact that New Zealand rarely gets that cold, (at least the North Island doesn’t,) but also New Zealand’s buildings are, in general, poorly insulated.

It’s not the cold, but the constant and extreme changing of temperature that’s getting to me.

Also, the darkness.

In New Zealand, when the sun rises and sets doesn’t vary all that much between winter and summer – not compared to where I am now, in any case. Here, I feel like the day’s barely gotten started before it’s getting dark. It makes me feel unproductive and sleepy!

But I don’t want to complain. This is exactly what I wanted. I wanted to experience a European Christmas – I haven’t experienced one for seventeen years! I wanted the cold and the darkness. They make the Christmas lights seem cosy.

So far, I’ve been to three different Christmas markets, in Luxembourg, Aachen and Bremen. (The one in Bruges was still being set up when I was there.) You can imagine a typical Christmas market: fairy lights twinkling amidst a labyrinth of wooden stalls, surrounded by old, stone buildings… people sipping mulled wine, swaddled in warm clothing… various smells drawing you this way and that, roasting chestnuts and sausages and sweet things… And don’t forget to add a cathedral looming over the scene like an indulgent grandfather.

Yes, I’ve dreamed of this for a long time. When Christmas Day comes, though, I bet I’ll be missing New Zealand.

(All the photos in this post are from my recent trip to Bruges, by the way.)

Here are some things I’ve written about Christmas in New Zealand:

Christmas in New Zealand

The Immigrant’s Christmas

My First Christmas in New Zealand

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.