Our First Year in New Zealand

I’ve been going through Dad’s old photographs, watching my sister and I grow up. The photos from 2001, our first year in New Zealand, brought back so many memories: places I’d forgotten we’d visited. I thought I’d share them with you now.

I was ten years old when we moved to New Zealand; my sister was seven. Dad emigrated six months before us, so when we finally arrived with Mum, he was bursting to show us the places he’d discovered. He couldn’t even wait for us to get over our jetlag!

It was the middle of winter, but the weather was still nice. Dad immediately took us to buy wetsuits and surfboards. I’d never been surfing before, as we’d lived nowhere near a beach in England, but I took to it at once. It was like riding a rollercoaster!

My sister enjoyed it too, at least until we realised her lips had gone blue! Maybe surfing in winter hadn’t been such a good idea after all. My sister had already thrown up in the local newsagent’s after OD’ing on kiwifruit, the first time we walked into town. She can’t stand kiwifruit to this day.

Despite the rocky start, and the frankly comical number of accidental injuries she gave herself that first year, my sister thrived in New Zealand. She’s a true nature-lover, so New Zealand is the perfect place for her. She’s currently down in the South Island studying wildlife conservation.

I, on the other hand, didn’t thrive. I missed England too much. I still managed to have fun, though, whether playing at Kariotahi Beach,

Kariotahi Beach

crawling through lava caves on the island volcano of Rangitoto,

Rangitoto

or pretending to be Merlin at the Waikato Museum.

Waikato Museum

We visited Auckland Zoo a lot,

Feeding Giraffe at Auckland Zoo

saw many of New Zealand’s North Island waterfalls,

Hunua Falls

had a ride on the Glenbrook Vintage Railway,

Glenbrook Vintage Railway

and found this old plane that someone had converted into a garage somewhere out in the wop-wops.

We went to Cathedral Cove,

Cathedral Cove

the Auckland Domain,

Auckland Domain

the Hamilton Gardens,

Hamilton Gardens

and so many other places – I’m not going to list them all. But I will mention Muriwai Beach so I can show you this picture Dad took.

Muriwai Gannet

It sure was an action-packed first year in New Zealand!

Finally, here’s a picture I found of our first Christmas in New Zealand.

It’s me and my sister jumping on our new trampoline. You couldn’t do that on Christmas Day in England!

How Many Trees Does One Tree Hill Have?

One Tree Hill

It’s not a trick question, but I bet you’d have a hard time telling me the answer…

One Tree Hill Auckland View

My little sister, me, my mum and my grandpa at the summit of One Tree Hill

Cornwall Park is a great place to go if you’re in Auckland: marvellous views, large playing fields, nice cafés, historic buildings, surprisingly stunning tree-lined avenues, an observatory and planetarium, and a lot more farm animals than I was expecting from a park in the middle of a city. At its centre lies a volcanic cone topped by a distinctive obelisk. It’s called One Tree Hill – the very One Tree Hill that U2 wrote a song about – but look at this photograph from last year:

Why is it called One Tree Hill? There isn’t a single tree on it. (And if you’re counting the trees on the slopes, well, there’s a lot more than one.) You see, way back before the British came to New Zealand, One Tree Hill was the site of a Māori pā, or hill fort. Then, in 1845, the British acquired the hill and named it after the single, striking tree that stood near its summit. That tree was cut down by a British settler in 1852, either to make some sort of point, or because he needed firewood.

Either way: dick move.

In 1853, the land surrounding the hill was purchased by Sir John Logan Campbell, who repeatedly attempted to grow trees on the summit, but it was like the place was cursed. Only two trees survived. (Two Tree Hill?) One was chopped down in 1960 in another dick move, and so for over thirty years the hill once again lived up to its name. Then the remaining tree was attacked by Māori activists with a chainsaw. Twice.

One Tree Hill

Me and Grandpa at One Tree Hill in 2005

Despite a valiant effort, the tree could not be saved and, in the year 2000, it finally came down. One Tree Hill was now, yet again, None Tree Hill.

But that’s not the end of the story. Last year, after that photograph was taken, not one, but nine new trees were planted on the summit of One Tree Hill. Apparently, the plan is to get rid of the weaker trees until a single strong tree remains, and One Tree Hill has one tree once more. I wonder how long that tree will survive…

So, you see, “How many trees does One Tree Hill have?” has no simple answer. However many it has – one, none, two, nine, or however many the future may hold – it’s a place worth visiting.

Cornwall Park

Cornwall Park

“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

10 Reasons to Visit New Zealand

Ngauruhoe

For many, New Zealand is the ultimate holiday destination. It’s a small country, far away in the South Pacific, but it’s well worth visiting. Here are ten reasons you should put New Zealand on your vacation bucket list:

1) It’s beautiful

I know what you’re thinking. Lots of countries are beautiful. The thing about New Zealand is its astonishing RANGE of beautiful landscapes. It’s practically overflowing with different examples of natural beauty. Imposing volcanoes, bubbling mud pools, dramatic beaches, rainforest waterfalls, mysterious badlands, breathtaking fjords, accessible glaciers, turquoise lakes, snowcapped mountains and more – all within an area smaller than Colorado. Don’t think you can see everything in two weeks, though – that’s barely enough for half of one island!

Fox Glacier

2) It’s full of adventure

New Zealand is THE place to come if you’re a thrill-seeker. Bungy jumping, jet boating and zorbing were all invented here, and you won’t find more epic scenery over which to skydive. There are plenty of places to go skiing and plenty to go caving; white water rafting, horse riding, quad biking and kayaking can be found practically anywhere. The Kiwi sense of adventure is unparalleled. If you get the chance, I highly recommend you go luging in either Queenstown or Rotorua. (Not down an icy chute – it’s more like go-karting. So much fun!)

Skippers Canyon

3) It’s also full of hot pools

If you’d prefer a more relaxing holiday, New Zealand’s got that covered too. There’s an abundance of geothermal spas – even some that overlook lakes and mountains! Vineyards are everywhere, as are opportunities for scenic flights, train rides and cruises. Furthermore, New Zealand is one of the best countries in the world for botanical gardens. For a relaxing activity second to none, try punting on the Avon River, at the edge of the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. Of course, you could always spend a day at the beach…

Avon River, Christchurch

4) Its beaches are unspoilt

It’s true what they say: in New Zealand, you’re never far from a beach. And practically every beach is gorgeous, uncrowded and unspoilt by human development. From the rugged beaches of the West Coast to the golden beaches of the Coromandel, you’re sure to find your own special spot. My favourite beach is Cathedral Cove, but Bethells Beach comes in a close second. I absolutely adore black sand beaches – it feels like walking on velvet. New Zealand has many good surfing beaches, with perhaps the most famous being Raglan.

Cathedral Cove

5) Its people are friendly

You might be sick of hearing how friendly Kiwis are, but it’s true. After touring Europe, I realised how nice it was to live in a country where you can approach people in the street. Kiwis are more laidback in formal situations too. They won’t act snobbishly towards you in a restaurant and they won’t charge you for a glass of water. They don’t care what you wear; only that you’re a pleasant person. (Also, you never have to worry about tipping in New Zealand. It’s not expected, as waitstaff are, you know, paid properly.)

Hamurana Springs, Rotorua, New Zealand

6) It’s got lots of great cafés

Until I visited Europe, I never realised how blessed New Zealand is with cafés. Europe has fantastic bars, restaurants and bakeries, but New Zealand, amazingly enough, has it beat for lunchtime food. Almost everywhere you go, you’ll see exciting menus and charming décor, and there are just so many! Tourists often say New Zealand has the best coffee in the world – the flat white was invented here, after all – but I’d go so far as to say New Zealand has the best cafés in the world, and its restaurants aren’t bad either. New Zealand isn’t famous as a foodie destination, but it should be.

7) It’s English-speaking

I’m not saying you shouldn’t make an effort to learn other languages, but at least it’s not something you have to worry about in New Zealand. (I assume you speak English well, as you’re reading this in the first place.) You might find it a bit difficult to understand the Kiwi accent at first – I did. You should look up a list of New Zealand slang words before you come too. New Zealand English is also peppered with Māori terms. No doubt, you’ll pick up a few words of Te Reo Māori during your travels.

8) It isn’t overcrowded

One thing I love about New Zealand is that queues are never very long and, with the exception of Auckland, there’s never very much traffic. In Europe, people are always elbowing each other out of the way to get where they need to be. It can be hard to simply stand and appreciate the beautiful vistas, as you’re inevitably battling the other tourists clamouring for selfies. In New Zealand, there’s plenty of space to breathe. Indeed, if you’re not a people person, during winter you can hire a campervan in New Zealand and have entire campgrounds to yourself!

Mount Maunganui

9) Tourists automatically get accidental injury cover

ACC, New Zealand’s Accidental Injury Corporation, will actually compensate foreigners who get accidentally injured whilst on holiday here. Of course, you should probably still get travel insurance, as it doesn’t cover illness or anything else that travel insurance usually covers, but it’s nice to know you’ll be looked after well should an unfortunate accident happen. (The reason ACC covers tourists in this way is to prevent people suing companies for injuries.) You might want to read up about healthcare in New Zealand before you come.

Kea

10) You can interact with unique wildlife

New Zealand is home to many unique species of animals. During any bush walk, you’ll encounter a delightful variety of birdlife, but you’ll probably need to visit a wildlife sanctuary to see that famous symbol of New Zealand, the kiwi. In Akaroa, you can swim with the world’s tiniest dolphins, and in any mountainous region of the South Island, you can be awed (and amused) by the cheeky intelligence of the world’s only alpine parrot. Keep an eye on your valuables, though – kea have been known to steal tourists’ keys, cameras and even a passport!

A Look Inside the Oldest Library in New Zealand

The Oldest Library in New Zealand

You wouldn’t expect to find New Zealand’s first library down an unassuming street in Tauranga. Nor would you expect it to contain a secret trapdoor, under which treasures (and people) could be hidden in the event of attack. Imagine yourself crammed into the 1.8-metre-deep oubliette, trying not to make a sound as invading enemies stomp across the floorboards inches above your head, tearing your precious books from their shelves.

A Beautiful Book at the Elms Mission Station

Thankfully, the library was never actually attacked. It’s a tiny, wooden building on the edge of the Elms Mission Station, completed in 1839. The Elms, then known as Te Papa Mission Station, was established by the Reverend Alfred Brown, who was sent from England to educate the children of other New Zealand missionaries. Living at Te Papa was risky: the spot chosen for the mission station was prone to bouts of intertribal warfare.

Reverend Brown was keen to spread Christianity to the native tribesmen. He taught as many Māori as he could how to read and write, and about Western agriculture. (Or, as the European immigrants of the time no doubt saw it, how to be civilised and farm properly.) Our tour guide at the Elms was, however, proud to point out that Reverend Brown supposedly treated his Māori pupils as friends and fellow human beings, rather than as savages to be tamed.

The First Library in New ZealandIt was Reverend Brown who built the library. He needed to keep his extensive book collection safe and dry. William Gisborne, a nineteenth century New Zealand politician and fellow English immigrant, described it in the following words:

“The room was surrounded with shelves, on which large volumes, heavy to carry, and I daresay, heavy to read, gloomily reposed, while, from among, above and below them long rows of tempting, rosy-cheeked apples, brightly reflecting the ruddy fire, shone in delightful contrast with their more sedate brethren.”

Chapel Bell, The Elms, Tauranga(This quote comes from the Elms Mission Station’s website.) As for the rest of the mission station, you can explore the garden by yourself for free, but if you want to enter any of the buildings, including the library, you’ll need to pay $5 for a tour. I found the tour a little awkward, as it was just me and my parents being talked at by an old lady who was obviously used to addressing tourists and children who have no knowledge of either English or New Zealand history.

The other buildings include an almost puritanically bare chapel, an old workshop, a fencible cottage – if you want to know what the hell fencible means, read my blog about Howick Historical Village – and, of course, the main house. I was delighted to discover that it had a games table, though it’s nowhere near as big as mine and Tim’s monstrosity. (Risk is one of our smallest, least complicated board games. We need a big table.)

The Elms Mission House Games Table

Is it worth visiting? Yes, if you’re interested in the history of Tauranga. There aren’t any proper museums in Tauranga, (except Classic Flyers,) which is surprising. I mean my family moved to Tauranga when I was fifteen and it’s only just occurred to me that it doesn’t have a museum like most places… How odd. So, for now, the Elms Mission Station is the best we’ve got. Apparently, they’re planning to build a proper museum, to go with the city centre and harbourfront upgrade, so hopefully, in a few years…

The Elms Mission House, Tauranga

Of course, if you’re a bibliophile you’ll no doubt already be planning a trip to the Elms Mission Station. While you’re there, check out my list of free things to do in Tauranga.

The Elms Mission House, Tauranga, New Zealand