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.

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Winter Sunshine on Bethells Beach

Sea Foam

The world had been grey for so long that the blue sky above Bethells Beach was a beacon. We were drawn to it, as were many others. The air was frigid, but the sand was sparkling, silver and black. Each footprint pressed into it seemed an act of liberation.

Bethells Beach

Excited dogs splashed through the stream; babbling tourists took kooky selfies. The stream had changed its course, forcing people to forge a new path to the sea – the result, perhaps, of those epic storms a while back. (Bethells residents had ended up without power for a worryingly long time.)

Bethells Beach

Aside from that, the beach was the same as it always had been: the bushy cliffs; the grassy dunes; the rocks jutting into the waves. We made our way to the cave at the southern end of the beach, always a deceptively long walk.

Bethells Beach

No one was surfing – not even Westies* being that insane. As we walked back up the beach, I appreciated, as always, a particular chunk of bushy cliff that resembled a giant, sunbathing woman. Its curves undulated against the sky… face, neck, breasts, belly and thighs…

Bethells Beach

Mother Nature enjoying (or guarding) one of her better creations.

Sea

*West Aucklandlanders

Now here’s what I think are The Best Beaches in New Zealand

Twilight Over McLaren Falls

McLaren Falls by Abigail Simpson

I’m always surprised by how quickly darkness falls in winter. We were driving home from my parents’ the other day – not that late in the afternoon – when I realised the world was draped in an indigo veil. A thought struck me.

“Can we stop at McLaren Falls?” I asked Tim.

We were about to drive past McLaren Falls anyway. They’re not hard to get to; you can park right next to the lookout. Dusk is a good time for taking long-exposure shots of waterfalls, you see.

McLaren Falls by Abigail Simpson

There were more cars than I’d expected, but a spot soon opened up. I prepped my camera and crossed to the lookout.

I hadn’t been to the falls in a long time. I was fairly certain I hadn’t seen a footbridge over them before. It was one of those slightly shaky suspension bridges, which unfortunately meant I couldn’t get any decent long-exposure shots from it. (These ones I’m showing you are the least blurry ones I got.)

The falls weren’t at their best anyway. That only happens on certain dates when the water is released from the McLaren Falls Dam. Still, they were quite lovely in the winter twilight. The water seemed almost luminous.

mclaren falls

When they release the water from the dam, you can go whitewater kayaking for free!

mclaren falls

I’ve already written an article about how awesome McLaren Falls Park is. Here’s a photo I took a few years ago whilst kayaking on Lake McLaren:

Lake McLaren by Abigail Simpson

Crossing the Ditch

koala at dreamworld

Much as New Zealanders claim to hate Australia, they seem to love going on holiday there. Of course, this is partly to do with Australia’s relative proximity to New Zealand. The rest of the world is so bloody far away, that visiting Australia is often referred to as “crossing the ditch” – aka the Tasman Sea.

I crossed the ditch when I was fifteen. I went to the Gold Coast for a couple of weeks with a friend and her family. It was the middle of winter, but the pavements were quite literally hot enough to fry an egg on. I sat on a grass verge and my armpit got bitten by an ant half the size of my finger. Yup, we were definitely in Australia.

sleeping koala

The main attractions of Australia’s Gold Coast are the theme parks, (Dreamworld, Movie World and Water World,) Australia Zoo and Surfer’s Paradise. Back then, I absolutely adored theme parks and, living in New Zealand, I missed them. (New Zealand’s only theme park, Rainbow’s End, seems really lame when you’ve been to the likes of Alton Towers and Disney World.)

Dreamworld was great. As well as the rides, there were tigers to marvel at and koalas to hold. You can’t go to Australia without holding a koala!

I forgot what an awkward smile those braces gave me…

Australia Zoo was great too. It’s certainly the most… umm… epic zoo I’ve ever been to. I even got to see Steve Irwin doing his whole “look at this croc – isn’t she a beauty?” thing. (He was still alive then.)

Surfer’s Paradise was exactly as you’d expect, all manicured palm trees and sunshine gleaming off of tanned abs. I much preferred the more peaceful beaches of New Zealand.

baby koala

See the baby koala face?

In fact, much as I enjoyed the holiday, I came away thinking that I most definitely preferred New Zealand to Australia. I could never live in Australia with its oppressive heat and homicidal wildlife. I prefer the singing of tui to the laughing of kookaburras. I’ve never felt any desire to go back to Australia. Instead, I can’t wait to see more of New Zealand.

Last of the Summer Flowers

hamilton gardens

It’s a frightful day. The rain’s so loud I can barely hear myself think. I look outside and see a slush of autumn leaves. The last surviving flower in our front garden, a perfect pocket of beauty in a stack of ragged stems, is finally defeated. Winter is coming.

I miss the beautiful flowers of summer. I miss them more than I ever have, because this year I’ve taken more notice of them than I ever have. I got my first DSLR camera for Christmas, you see, and flowers make great subjects for practise.

Consequently, I’ve got lots of photographs of flowers that I’ve been looking for an excuse to share. Well, this is it. I hope, therefore, that if you’re sitting somewhere murky and rain-lashed, they help to brighten your day.

And… I guess I shouldn’t go crazy. Here’s hoping the weather clears up so I can explore somewhere new…

The Artistic Quirks of Katikati

Cherry Tree, Katikati, New Zealand

Katikati is a small town on State Highway 2. Like many small New Zealand towns, it has attempted to make itself more interesting by adopting a quirk. Paeroa has a giant L&P bottle; Bulls has bad puns; Katikati has murals. But I didn’t take any pictures of those. Instead, I was drawn to this courtyard.

Katikati

It’s in the middle of the town, surrounded by shops and cafés, and it’s quite a lovely place to sit.

Katikati

Speaking of lovely places to sit, here’s Katikati’s best sculpture, which doubles as a bench.

Katikati

The live one on the right is my partner, and I wasn’t the only one taking photos of him. In the time it took for me to get those pictures of the colourful courtyard above, he became quite the tourist attraction.

Katikati

He told me later that he noticed the shoes the statue wore were real. The paint was peeling off of one. He had the irresistibly creepy thought of what if he were to peel the paint off the statue’s hands or face… would he find real skin underneath? But let’s turn away from that potential horror movie, towards a haiku.

Katikati Haiku Pathway

That’s one of the haiku stones from Katikati’s Haiku Pathway. Nice idea, isn’t it? You follow the path through a riverside park, reading the poetry carved into the boulders along the way. If you need a break whilst driving from Auckland or the Coromandel to Tauranga, you could do a lot worse than Katikati. It even has a museum.

Katikati Museum

More Photos from the Goblin Forest

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

The Goblin Forest of Taranaki really does have to be seen to be believed. It’s like stepping into a fairy tale.

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

But I’ve already waxed lyrical about it in a previous post, called The Goblin Forest, so I’ll leave the talking now to the photographs. (Even though I know I’ll probably never again get a photo as good as the one from that first post!)

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

I thought this branch kind of looked like the head of a dog, or a dragon. You know, in that stylised Celtic sort of way…

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

And see how this tree has grown over its own sign?

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

But now we must leave this enchanted forest. Pass through the archway and return to the real world… I hope not too much time has passed and your loved ones are still alive.

Goblin Forest, Taranaki