Vikings, Trolls and a Magical Gateway

Streets in Norsewood

There’s something strange going on in Norsewood. A small, sad town on the way up to Napier, its main tourist attraction is a shop selling woollen socks. Most people don’t bother looking further than that, but I’m glad I did. Like I wasn’t going to explore a town whose street names include Odin, Thor, Hengist and Horsa!

Campervan in Tongariro National Park

My partner Tim and I were on a New Zealand campervan hire tour of the central North Island. (That’s why I didn’t post anything last week.) After a couple of days around Tongariro National Park, we were driving towards Napier and decided to spend the night at Dannevirke Holiday Park, because it had received excellent reviews on the Rankers Camping NZ app.

Dannevirke Playground Viking Longship

The first thing you notice upon entering Dannevirke is a giant Viking. That’s because Dannevirke, like the nearby town of Norsewood, was settled by Scandinavians. Dannevirke literally means Danes’ work. The roadside barriers in the town centre are decorated with shields, there’s a miniature windmill in the town square, and the children’s playground features a Viking longship!

Fantasy Cave, Dannevirke

Unfortunately, there wasn’t all that much for us to do there, and the Fantasy Cave, which looks delightful, albeit tacky, was closed. We decided to continue on to Norsewood. It was a little eerie when we arrived. No one was about, although, to be fair, it was raining. We popped into the information centre: a tiny room devoid of human life.

At least there were people in the café, which was actually quite nice. Outside, three ugly trolls were waiting for us. They led us into the Pioneer Cottage Museum. I’ve explored many such cottages throughout New Zealand and this was definitely one of the best, although the cardboard cut-outs of the early settlers were very creepy – especially when the lights suddenly went off!

Norsewood Trolls

You turn on the lights yourself when you go in, and they only stay on for a few minutes at a time, you see. I was in the barn at the back of the cottage when it went dark, surrounded by scary farming implements and sour-faced settlers, including an old woman who looked like a cross between Peter Cushing and blue vein cheese. It was like I’d suddenly entered a horror movie. I was half-convinced the figures would come to life and converge on me!

Stavkirke in New Zealand

Across the street from the Pioneer Village is a place called Johanna’s World. It’s advertised as having a traditional Norwegian log cabin, a troll cave and the southern hemisphere’s only stavkirke, or stave church. (If you don’t know what they are, google it – they look really cool!) When we stood at the wooden gate, looking in, there was no one there. It kind of seemed like someone’s garden, but there was no sign telling us not to go in, so we opened the gate.

CatImmediately, a cat came running up to us. It was super friendly, but still managed to be regal and authoritative, demanding much attention. When we started to explore the attractions, it followed us.

“Are you our tour guide?” I asked it.

It meowed affirmatively.

The cat accompanied us around the log cabin and the stavkirke. There was still no sign of human life. I began to suspect that our feline tour guide was Johanna’s World’s actual tour guide, turned into a cat by some malign magic.

“It must be the trolls’ doing,” Tim agreed.

Norsewood Troll CaveThe troll cave was actually quite disappointing. It’s not a real cave, but a children’s playroom inside a storehouse. Of course, there were no children there.

“Are we even allowed to be here?” Tim asked.

I had no idea, but the cat was delighted with our presence, and that was good enough for me. I was sorry to leave it.

We had a last look around the village before heading off, checking out an old, wooden gaol and meeting a pair of affectionate horses that stared mournfully after us as we walked away. Had all the humans in Norsewood been turned into animals? No, of course not – what about the people in the café? It was then that we discovered the Gateway.

Gateway Garden, Norsewood

We almost missed it: a tiny garden tucked away in a corner. At the back, partially obscured by foliage, was a gateway – but a gateway to what? Feeling rather like Lucy stepping through the wardrobe, I stepped through the gate and found… nothing. Just the back of the garden, a narrow strip of earth and a high fence.

“Maybe the portal only appears if you believe hard enough,” said Tim.

So I took a deep breath, pictured Bifrost, the rainbow bridge that connects our world to Asgard, and jumped through the Gateway.

Norsewood Crest

I landed on the earth in front of the fence.

I must not have believed hard enough.

Norsewood PostSo that was Dannevirke and Norsewood. If you’re into history, fantasy or Norse mythology, I recommend having a look around both, if you happen to be in the vicinity of Napier. Otherwise don’t bother. The one person we did meet seemed thoroughly confused as to why we’d want to be there. It was an old, scruffy-bearded guy in a battered pickup truck.

“Are you lost?” he asked.

“No, we’re just looking around,” Tim replied.

He gave a sceptical shrug and drove off, leaving us to wonder whether we’d just escaped the local serial killer. Either way, it was time for us to be moving on.

Norwegian Log Cabin

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Kiwis Keep Dialling 911 Instead of 111 and Here’s Why

You know something? I’ve lived in New Zealand for sixteen years and I still think the emergency number is 999.

“I mean I know it’s 911…” I said to my partner the other day, to which he replied:

“No, Abby, it’s 111. 911 is America.”

Oh. I mean I knew it was 111, but… come on! I’ve lived in New Zealand since I was ten years old – how can I still be making this mistake?!

Well, maybe it’s because 999 was the number I had drilled into me as a child. As for 911, well, we get a lot of American TV shows in New Zealand.

So, I’m screwed, right? If I’m ever in an emergency where I have to dial 999 – I mean 911 – I mean 111 – oh, f**k it! See what I mean?

Or am I screwed? You know what? I’m going to google what happens when you dial 999 in New Zealand.

*A short time later…*

Well, I googled what happens when you dial 999 in New Zealand. Apparently, it goes straight to a recorded message telling you to dial 111. There must be a lot of British immigrants in New Zealand who are just as useless as I am!

According to this article from 2013, however, if you dial 911 in New Zealand, it goes straight through to the 111 emergency line. But, wait, I thought there were significantly more British immigrants than American immigrants in New Zealand? To Google!

*Another short time later…*

Yes, I was right. (Although US immigration enquiries increased significantly after the 2016 presidential election. LOL.) So, the question is why does the US emergency number work in New Zealand? Why doesn’t it just go to the same recorded message as when you dial 999?

The answer seems to be simply the influence of the US media on New Zealanders. Too many Kiwis have been corrupted by American movies and TV shows. We hear 911 quoted way more than we hear 111 and, well, in an emergency our brains go to custard. Oops.

Of course, I’m including myself as a Kiwi in this, given what I said to my partner the other day.

So, folks, remember that the New Zealand emergency number is 999 – oh, f**king hell! I swear that was accidental and not a feeble attempt at making this article funny. 111. F**king 111. The New Zealand emergency number is 111.

Healthcare in New Zealand

“The New Zealand of New Zealand”: Theatrical Life in Hamilton

Like, Shakespeare? at the Meteor Theatre, Hamilton 3 - 5 August 2017

Many New Zealanders think Hamilton is a cultural (and actual) wasteland, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Since moving here, I’ve infiltrated the local theatre scene and, believe it or not, found it to be thriving. Here to talk about it is prolific writer, actor and director Ross MacLeod.

Like, Shakespeare? at the Meteor Theatre, Hamilton 3 - 5 August 2017

The Macbeths

Ross is currently working on an original comedy sketch show called Like, Shakespeare?, a hilarious pop culture car crash between classical theatre and the Information Age. If you’d like to see how the Macbeths fair in marriage counselling, how Iago does in daytime television, or what the Merry Wives of Tinder get up to, get yourself down to Hamilton’s Meteor Theatre from August 3rd – 5th, 2017!

So, Ross, how long have you lived in Hamilton?

Twenty years. I moved here for university in 1998.

And what’s it like to live in?

I like it. Obviously, no place is perfect, but for me it has the right balance of not-too-big and not-too-small. The only thing I miss is the beach in summer.

How long have you been… well… theatrical?

Like, Shakespeare? at the Meteor Theatre, Hamilton 3 - 5 August 2017

Bottom from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

I think I had my first lead role, the Pied Piper, in Standard 3, (or Year 5 in the current system.) I think I did quite a bit of performing and creating before then. I was in various school shows over the years, and since moving to Hamilton I’ve been pretty steadily involved.

How has the theatre scene in Hamilton changed since then, or in the last decade or so?

Like, Shakespeare? at the Meteor Theatre, Hamilton 3 - 5 August 2017

Shakespeare at the Hamilton Gardens

I think different art forms go through ebbs and flows. I arrived here not long after the Elektra theatre company had stopped operating and the Hamilton Community Arts Council had passed The Meteor over to the City Council. But drama on campus was pretty active, with Upstage, the uni drama group, producing quite a bit. That tailed off in the early 2000s, with a few independent groups working and even Hamilton Operatic having trouble, having to pass Clarence Street Theatre back to the council too. But then the pendulum started swinging back. More theatre groups started popping up and now both The Meteor and Clarence Street are back in community hands with a vibrant theatre scene. And then there are other things that have continued and evolved over time, like the Summer Shakespeare, which has been going on longer than I’ve been here.

What do you think of the New Zealand attitude to theatre in general?

Like, Shakespeare? at the Meteor Theatre, Hamilton 3 - 5 August 2017

Kryztal Kapulet, (because she thinks it’s cooler if it’s spelt with a K)

In some ways, I see Hamilton as a microcosm of the country. We’re the New Zealand of New Zealand. We produce a lot of good writers and performers, but only ever consider them as successes once they make it elsewhere. We’re a net exporter of talent.

And while we actually innovate and create challenging art, it takes time before it’s “safe” for the general population to absorb it as part of the NZ identity. Most famous NZ plays are pretty iconoclastic works. But in a lot of ways we’re quite conservative as an art consuming culture. Our tastes, in general, are for safe and comfortable things.

Like, Shakespeare? at the Meteor Theatre, Hamilton 3 - 5 August 2017

Diamantay Montague

Roger Hall is probably New Zealand’s most successful playwright and he’s perfected the niche of his work growing older with the baby boomer generation. But new works have a much tougher time. And while we seem to love musicals, getting an audience for an original one is a real uphill battle.

I think the biggest change it’s no longer taken as a given that we’re a monolithic culture. As we become more accepting of the variety in what it means to be a New Zealander, I think the attitudes to theatre will start to change, sections at a time.

That’s a really cool answer… So, will you tell us more about what you’re working on at the moment?

I’m currently working on an original comedy sketch show called Like, Shakespeare?. It’s about putting classical characters into modern settings and finding the comedy in both. It’s been great to get some of the people I work with writing for the first time in an encouraging setting. After that I have an improvised horror play in the Hamilton Fringe Festival in October, and am hopefully getting an original musical of mine on stage in 2018.

Like, Shakespeare? at the Meteor Theatre, Hamilton 3 - 5 August 2017

Two households, both as undignified as each other…

Thanks, Ross! So Like, Shakespeare? starts at 7.30pm on the 3rd, 4th and 5th of August (2017,) with a matinee performance at 2pm on the 5th, at the Meteor Theatre. If you’re anywhere near Hamilton, come and check it out because – guess what? – I’m in it! I wrote a whole bit where the Capulets and the Montagues are CHAVs on a Jeremy Kyle-like show… it’s going to be awesome. See you there!

Like, Shakespeare? at the Meteor Theatre, Hamilton 3 - 5 August 2017

… that is the Millenial Question

Oh, and check out our promotional video to see what I look like as the girl from The Ring

10 Reasons New Zealand Is Better Than England

“Better” is a subjective term, but we’re doing this anyway, so hold onto your monocles, Brits!

1) New Zealand is less crowded than England

The population of England is approximately 55 million; the population of New Zealand is approximately 5 million, and New Zealand is significantly larger than England in land area! Last time I returned to New Zealand after visiting family in England, the relief I felt was palpable. I like not having to push through crowds or queue for ages everywhere I go. I like having room to breathe.

2) New Zealand actually sees the sun sometimes

It’s hard to dispute that New Zealand has better weather than England. My mum, after sixteen years living in New Zealand, still can’t get over the fact that she can, at times, sunbathe in the middle of winter. (Then again, she does live in the Bay of Plenty. Dunedin, for example, might be different.)

3) New Zealand offers a more outdoorsy lifestyle

The aforementioned good weather, combined with an abundance of nature, makes New Zealand an absolute paradise for outdoor pursuits. As a kid, I experienced far more family picnics in New Zealand than we ever had in England.

4) New Zealand’s got way more unspoilt countryside

There are very few places you can go in England that don’t bear the mark of man. New Zealand has a greater range of natural scenery that simply takes your breath away.

5) BEACHES!

They say nearly three quarters of the population of New Zealand lives within 5 km of a beach. Going to the beach in New Zealand is an activity so common that it’s taken for granted. When I lived in England, it was a rare, long-prepared-for daytrip, and the beaches in question were cold, crowded and lined with tacky shops. New Zealand’s beaches are beautiful, clean and unspoilt by manmade structures.

Cathedral Cove

6) VOLCANOES!

When you’re a kid from England, the first time you see a steaming volcano is something special! Sights such as geysers, sulphurous lakes and mud pools that bubble like gloopy hot chocolate still seem utterly magical to me. Many people object to the eggy smell of certain places like Rotorua, but I love it. To me, it smells of excitement and wonder; of a place very different from home that fires the imagination. England, of course, hasn’t had any active volcanoes for many millions of years.

Ngauruhoe

7) New Zealand sport teams actually win occasionally

I mean I don’t give a f**k, personally, but still…

8) New Zealanders give less of a f**k about things

Sport aside, New Zealanders are way more relaxed about things than Brits are. This is probably where the “Kiwis are so nice” stereotype comes from. Brits are generally harsher towards each other, and care more about keeping up appearances and keeping up with the Joneses. I once had to explain to my Kiwi boyfriend that the way my family interacts with other is actually very warm and loving. Taking the p**s out of each other is how Brits show affection.

Mount Maunganui

9) New Zealand’s political system is arguably better than England’s

New Zealand is one of only four countries in the world that has MMP, or the Mixed Member Proportional way of voting, as opposed to FPP, or First Past the Post. MMP means that everyone’s vote has equal power, and minor political parties hold more sway. This means New Zealand is less likely to be governed by extremism, although the Kiwi attitude to life itself is a good defence against extremism. (Kiwis are relatively apathetic in general.)

I wouldn’t say New Zealand’s parliament buildings are better than England’s, though…

10) New Zealand has a more peaceful pace of life

In New Zealand, people expect less of you. You could say this discourages the populace from being the best they can be, but, at the end of the day, I think it’s a good thing. People are under far less pressure and have a much better work-life balance. They’re free to hang out at the beach and take advantage of all the natural beauty New Zealand has to offer.

Now read: 10 Reasons England Is Better Than New Zealand

10 Reasons England Is Better Than New Zealand

That’s right – we’re doing this. Suck it, Kiwis!

1) England has better pubs

The oldest pub in England dates back to 1189 and is built into the sandstone beneath Nottingham Castle. There, you can drink your warm, flat beer in a cave containing a tunnel up into the castle. And if you just scoffed at the words “warm, flat beer”: it’s warm and flat so you can actually taste it. This means English beer has to be good beer, unlike the fizzy, frozen sheep’s p**s that Kiwis call Lion Red.

2) England has cheaper groceries

This one isn’t at all subjective. The weekly food shop in England is easier on your wallet than the weekly food shop in New Zealand. England has many competing supermarket companies, whereas New Zealand has only two. New Zealand needs an Aldi!

3) England has more artistic opportunities

Artists are often made to feel undervalued in New Zealand. Many leave to find success in countries like Australia, the US and, of course, the UK. England has a greater appreciation of art in general and, due to its population, far more of it. Kiwis are generally less willing to “waste” their hard-earned cash on the arts.

4) England isn’t in the middle of f**king nowhere

From New Zealand, it takes a lot of time, preparation and money to visit practically any other country. You can’t just pop to Europe on a whim. (Yeah, yeah, Brexit. Grr.) Sometimes, New Zealand feels depressingly isolated. Of course, being in the middle of f**king nowhere has its advantages, but cheap luxury items isn’t one of them.

5) England has better history

You might think I’m a hypocrite for saying this, as I wrote this rather impassioned defence of New Zealand history, but – face it – at the end of the day, England’s history is more exciting. (If only because there’s more of it.) Viking raids, murderous kings and castles under siege is the stuff Western fantasy’s built on!

Stonehenge

6) England has better buildings

I mean it’s not New Zealand’s fault it doesn’t have grand, medieval cathedrals, Tudor pubs or Georgian palaces, but…

Lincoln Information Centre

7) English houses have central heating

It is New Zealand’s fault that most of its houses were built without central heating. New Zealand might have a generally warmer climate than England, but it’s not exactly tropical. Whose bright idea was it that Kiwis didn’t need central heating?!

“Ah, she’ll be right – just throw another sheep on the fire!”

“Nah, mate, we’re not wasting any sheep. We’re hardy frontier folk. Anyone says they’re cold, they’re a bloody wuss. Stop coughing, Jono – harden the f**k up. We’ve got a tractor to mend with number eight wire.”

8) England doesn’t tax books

Or essential food items, but it’s the books I care about. (Because my priorities are on point.) Books are expensive as in New Zealand. It sucks.

9) English. Comedy.

Need I say more?

10) Umm… to be honest, I’m struggling at this point… uh… SQUIRRELS!

Yeah, squirrels. When I visited England with a group of Kiwis, they were immediately taken with the squirrels. Watching the cute, furry things scampering about under trees and snatching your offerings of food with their little hands is simply delightful. One even climbed up my grandpa’s trouser leg once, and I’ve seen a couple playing on a fallen branch like it was a seesaw! I don’t know if this necessarily makes England better than New Zealand, though, because New Zealand has its own delightfully amusing wildlife in the form of the kea

Next time: 10 Reasons New Zealand Is Better Than England

Proof That New Zealanders Really Are Hobbits

POMS AWAY!

On my first day of school in New Zealand, I was shocked to discover that no one was wearing shoes. I was ten years old, a recent immigrant, and my classmates were actually laughing at me for wearing shoes.

I found it strange to say the least. Where I’d just come from, England, the opposite would’ve happened: you’d get laughed at for not wearing shoes.

I remember asking a girl why she and the other kids weren’t wearing shoes.

“Dunno,” she replied in her upwardly inflecting Kiwi accent. “It’s more comfy wearing bare feet, I s’pose.”

shoes-for-kids-930176_960_720As she turned away, I struggled to undo the confused knot my face had become. How was it more comfortable to not wear shoes outside, walking over concrete, gravel and bark chippings? (I was also laughed at for saying ‘bark chippings’ instead of simply ‘bark’.) I could understand not wearing shoes on the school…

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Battle of the National Symbols – New Zealand vs. England

POMS AWAY!

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

NATIONAL FLOWER

England: Rose

New Zealand:Silver Fern


NATIONAL ANTHEM

England: God Save the Queen

New Zealand:God Defend New Zealand


NATIONAL SPORT

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

New Zealand:Rugby

PATRON SAINT

England:George

New Zealand: The Virgin Mary


COAT OF ARMS

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…

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