Saturday, July 30, 2011

Road trip!

Early tomorrow morning, Garrett and I embark on a five-day adventure. We're taking the scenic train to Wellington and spending a day there. After that, we're renting a car and driving up the west coast of the North Island. We plan on seeing Egmont National Park and Tongariro National Park before driving back to Auckland on Thursday night. I probably won't post more pictures until next weekend, or possibly until I return to Houston on August 7th! We shall see. Have a great week!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Tiritiri Matangi Island



Tweet tweet! Hope you enjoy these bird pictures.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Heaters of New Zealand

Very rarely does one encounter central heating of the conventional kind here in New Zealand. Here are some of the heating gadgets we've experienced so far.

This is the wall unit in our apartment (with a remote control for distance heating). It's effective at heating the room in which it is located (kitchen/living room), but the heat does not cross the threshold into the bedrooms.


This was at a hostel in Taupo. You pull the cord hanging at right, and heat comes shooting out the bottom black edge. We had to turn it off in the middle of the night because we were sweating!


Heat came up through these floor vents at another Taupo hostel. When we first arrived, sitting on the floor next to the heater was the best option. Over the course of several hours, the room warmed up to a comfortable temperature. However, around midnight, the heat stopped coming! It was quite cold after that... and that was the morning we woke up to frost on the car!


I've seen this type of indoor heating lamp at several restaurants and cafes. As soon as the person sitting directly beneath this heater left, the waitress turned it off!


How about an indoor wood-burning stove to warm your toes? This was at our hostel in Waitomo.


And this one was at our fancy restaurant in Waitomo! We were seated right next to it.


And of course, if all else fails, there are a variety of possum fur products to meet your heating needs!


Seriously, possum products can be just as expensive as -- if not more than -- wool products here. Who knew?

Waiheke Island

All I can say is, "WOW!" Along with Piha Beach, this is the most beautiful place I've seen in New Zealand. Hope these photos convey that!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Wintergarden



To paraphrase "Alice in Wonderland" -- You can learn a lot things from the flowers, especially in the month of July...

Harry Potter and the Theater of Confusion

Yesterday afternoon while out on a walk, Garrett and I decided to see the latest "Harry Potter" movie. We were going to purchase tickets for a show later in the day. The nearest theater is located inside a mall with a very confusing layout. There are escalators wherever you turn, and the circular floor plan makes it hard to tell how to get from one place to another. We were able to find the theater lobby on the third floor, where the concessions stand is, as well as Fandango-like kiosks.

"But where's the box office?" I asked. "I think I remember seeing it outside." However, after navigating our way out of the building, we discovered I was wrong, and there was no box office on the sidewalk. We agreed to just return later and figure it out then.

Several hours later, we were back on the third floor by the concessions stand. We then spotted a sign that said, "Tickets and Concessions." It turns out that you pay for your tickets and your popcorn in the same place! Of course this means it takes nearly as long to get your movie ticket as it does to go through customs at the airport (i.e., "some time"). Nevertheless, we were able to purchase student tickets (sweet as!*) and made it just in time for our show.

As the woman tore our ticket stubs, she said, "Cinema 6... J-8... and J-9." Juggling those numbers in my head, I looked at my ticket and realized we had assigned seats! Amazing! The aisles and seats are labeled. There weren't ushers to make sure people were sitting where they had been assigned, but it seemed to work out well. The computer program must scatter everyone throughout the theater, because no one was really in anyone else's way.

The movie was excellent and made for an exciting yet relaxing afternoon. Well done, New Zealand.

*"Sweet as!" is a New Zealand exclamation that translates as, "Awesome!" Perhaps they need some tutoring in how to complete similes.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Waitomo

"Waitomo" literally means "water hole" in Maori... Enjoy this tour of Waitomo's caves and streams!

Friday, July 22, 2011

One cool thing about Auckland


All of its quirks, one of Auckland's most novel and convenient features is the diagonal crosswalk. On the main shopping thoroughfare in downtown Auckland, Queen Street, the traffic light will turn red for all four directions of traffic, and pedestrians will flood the intersection. Our roommate Yousef, who has traveled the world quite a bit, agrees that this is something only seen in Auckland.

Another plus that you can make out in this photo is that most of the sidewalk space on Queen Street is covered by overhangs. Wonderful on rainy days!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bay of Islands

Welcome to the Northland! I apologize in advance for the quality of these pictures, as 1) it was overcast all day, and 2) I took most of them from a moving vehicle. Still, enjoy!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

One Tree Hill, or "The Sheep Album"



Ewe can see this baaa-tch of photos here and watch U2 perform "One Tree Hill" here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Wai-O-Tapu, the Thermal Wonderland



Photos erupt here!

Taupo



Get all the goodness here -- but be careful! You may get wet, or get burned!

Experience nature!

Feel the spray of Huka Falls...

video

Hear the earth steaming at Craters of the Moon...

video

Watch the mud dance at the pools of Waiotapu...

video

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rangitoto Island



Get all the volcanic goodness here!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Monday, July 11, 2011

Auckland street art

I walked with Garrett to the university this morning, and afterwards paused in Albert Park to drink my coffee. I noticed something had changed at the fountain (besides the weather!)... Can you spot it?

Last Monday:


Today:


A street artist has left some stencil art along the base of the fountain, alternating cupids and capitals!



I also found this in a car park -- Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring."


Pictures of our weekend getaway to the Coromandel Peninsula coming soon!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Mt. Eden



You can also link to the photo album here.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Trivia, toilets, and Thai -- oh my!

Yesterday we went to a trivia night at a local bar with some of the other American students here. It has become a weekly tradition for the group. They're determined to beat the New Zealanders at their own game! It was certainly unlike any other trivia night I've attended, with questions such as the following:
  • Name the famous New Zealand cricketer pictured here!
  • These three rugby players retired in which year?
  • Who trained the horse that won this race?
  • Which netball team merged with this other netball team in 1996?
  • Name one of the three singers in New Zealand's hottest band, Atomic Kitten!
  • Which female duo sang back-up for Wham?
Nevertheless, Team FREEDOM! was in the lead for several rounds... but we came in third at the end. We'll try again next week!

***

Look what we found in the camping section of a local store. It comes with a snap-on toilet seat!


***

We had dinner tonight at Food Alley, one of the many fine "food courts" of Auckland. This particular food court boasts 10-15 different stands -- Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Turkish, Malaysian, and Indonesian. There is one stand ("Alley Cats") that sells only drinks (including beers and cocktails). Each place has a menu featuring 15 or 20 pictured meals, for easy ordering. Most meals cost about $10. My pineapple fried rice was cooked to order and was delicious! The crowd was varied, from long-haired hipsters to a gentleman sipping wine with his meal. We'll have to return and eat our way around the world (or at least East Asia!).

Check out my slideshow



You can also link to the photo album here, if you'd like a larger picture!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Musings on a cold, cold, wet day


Here are my accumulated New Zealand observations to tide you over until the next photo album:
  • It's a small world after all: The Casey Anthony trial has been covered in the newspaper and on television here.
  • I have to remember to walk on the left side when using sidewalks, stairs, and building entrances... not to mention thinking extra hard at intersections when looking for oncoming traffic.
  • My coffee beverage of choice this week has been the "flat white," rather similar to a latte.
  • Placing an order to-go is called "take away."
  • It's "tyres" and not "tires."
  • College kids are referred to as "tertiary students," ostensibly because university comes after secondary school.
  • And, as I'm sure you've been dying to know, the water in a flushed toilet goes straight down, and not counterclockwise. It's just the way toilets here are designed, I suppose! Most toilets have two flush buttons -- I think so you can choose the "intensity" of your flush. :) I considered uploading a video of this, but decided it would take too long and be in poor taste.
  • New Zealanders are generally not a people who believe in heating during the winter. It seems to be the fashion to wear your coat always. Buildings are not really insulated or heated centrally, and Garrett's fancy apartment building has single-pane glass. This means that his bedroom, in which a window makes up one entire wall, is quite chilly (even with a curtain)! There is one small heater for the whole apartment, in the main room. However, the hotel allots residents a certain amount of energy they can use per month... so we use the heater sporadically. The New Zealanders with whom Garrett has spoken have told him that they use HOT WATER BOTTLES to keep warm at night! We haven't tried this yet because Garrett has purchased several blankets made of wool and fleece that, when piled on top of each other, make a cozy cocoon. Also, because this is 2011.
  • Similar to Europe, New Zealand boasts bills for $5, $10, $20, et cetera. (And they all have a small "hole" on one side, with a thin transparent sheet and hologram. It seems that the front always features a famous person, and the back a New Zealand animal.) They have coins for $2, $1, 50 cents, 20 cents, and 10 cents (with Queen Elizabeth II on one side and Maori designs on the other). Because there are no "nickels" or "pennies," businesses engage in "rounding." This can work in your favor, or against you. For example, if the total price comes to $3.98, you are expected to pay $4 and will not receive change. New Zealand taxes 15% on goods and services, but this is included in the cost. Also, tipping is not a custom. This makes mental math somewhat easier.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Auckland, City Center


Yesterday morning I walked to the City Campus of University of Auckland with Garrett. Because Auckland is incredibly hilly, we took the shortcut: You enter the Lumley Centre skyscraper near the water, take the public elevator to the ninth floor, and exit the back of the building, popping out further up the hill! Even then, it's still a bit of a climb.

While Garrett was working, I explored Albert Park, across the street from the university.

The Clock Tower is the Student Information building. I went inside, but could only go as high as the third floor (that's the fourth floor in the States!).

I wandered back down the hill, towards the "harbour." I explored the wharves and took plenty of pictures.

I met Garrett and his roommate, Yousef, for lunch at the university food court. It seems that the majority of the food options in Auckland are Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Korean. (Garrett made the mistake a few weeks ago of trying a "Mexican" place.)

After lunch I visited the Auckland Art Gallery (Toi O Tamaki). The gallery is undergoing extensive renovations and will reopen in September (in time for the Rugby World Cup!), so they are temporarily operating out of a smaller space across the street. I took a gallery tour with a docent originally from Scotland. At first I was the only one on the tour! Then three other women (mostly South African) joined in. I learned about two painters from the late 19th century who specialized in portraits of Maoris in native dress. Europeans here in and in Europe were enthralled with the "exotic" at the time, and also it was believed that the Maoris were dying off. Often times the painters worked from photographs (cartes de visite) and not sitters.

I met Garrett after work and we visited a couple bookstores in search of particular items. We decided to make nachos for dinner (Happy Fourth of July!) and went to the local grocery store in search of ingredients and basic necessities. Upon entering the store, I had PTSD flashbacks to my first days in Belgium, when it took twice as long and twice as much brain power to shop. At least in Auckland, everything is in English! However, the prices seem so high, and everything is measured in metrics. It made my head hurt! Surprise, surprise, there were only a few options for chips and salsa. I guess we're not in Texas!

The most surprising thing was that the eggs are on a regular shelf -- not refrigerated! Whoa!

The meal was a success (though we decided creme fraiche is not an adequate substitute for sour cream!). We retired to bed with full bellies (and tired legs!).

I'll send a Picasa photo album soon!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Aotearoa

Welcome to the Land of the Long White Cloud!

After a long day (or was it two?) of traveling, I arrived at 5:30am in Auckland.

Some highlights from my time in airports:
*Weirdest sight: A vending machine at the Houston airport that dispensed only Proactiv products.
*How I knew I was flying to Los Angeles: By eavesdropping on the conversation between the two men sitting next to me, a 40-year-old guitarist and a 27-year-old dancer/choreographer.
*Best sensory experience: The several minutes spent outside one terminal in L.A., waiting for a shuttle to another terminal. The temperature was PER-fect - somewhere in the 70s, with a cool breeze blowing. Refreshing, even with the car exhaust.
*Worst sensory experience: Laying eyes upon a naked Natalie Portman, advertising perfume on a giant poster outside the Duty Free shop. Stop haunting me!

The Air New Zealand flight from L.A. to Auckland was somewhere between 12-13 hours -- and it wasn't so bad! The plane was huge, with more than 60 rows (9 people per row in the economy section). I think because the plane was so large, it was hard for me to feel claustrophobic or anxious about being on a plane for such a long time. There were two young women sitting next to me, so unfortunately I couldn't spread out... but they were polite and they didn't smell.

Every seat had its own built-in TV entertainment system, with hundreds of movies, TV shows, music videos, and albums to keep us amused. I knew it was going to be a wonderful trip when the safety video came on... and Richard Simmons appeared! Watch it for yourself here.

I perused some of the entertainment options but spent most of the flight trying to sleep. I also watched the flight tracker on my screen to see what kind of progress we were making. There aren't many geographical reference points when you're flying over the Pacific Ocean. "Wow, we're flying past Nuku'alofa!" (That's the capital of Tonga, if you're playing along at home.)

Garrett was at the airport to pick me up in his rental car, a "Nissan Sunny." Then, and several times since, I went to get in the car on the wrong side! It was somewhat strange to be driving on the "wrong" side of the road. The signage in most places is absent or incomprehensible, so we did get lost driving into the city. Additionally, most intersections are rotaries, which are even more incomprehensible. But in the end we made it to the Waldorf (yes, owned by the same company!), hotel apartments. It's very close to the harbor, and the neighborhood reminds me somewhat of downtown Seattle.

We went back to sleep for a few hours, had breakfast (or "elevensies," the good Hobbits we are), and then went out exploring. Garrett drove us an hour west, to the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. He had been there the previous day with his group of American students and wanted to share it with me. Once we exited the suburbs and passed my first sheep-seen-from-the-road, we entered the Waitakere. The roads were narrow, winding, and generally ridiculous. I'm surprised my stomach survived it! The area is heavily forested and resembled a jungle; I imagine it's similar to Hawaii. There were crazy signs, such as frequent squiggly arrows to indicate the hairpin curves and, my favorite, a large exclamation point. This indicated that there were hidden driveways along the route. Even though it's technically a park, many people make their homes there.

We descended the road and arrived at Piha Beach, at the Tasman Sea. The scenery was, to say the least, jaw-dropping. Unfortunately, Garrett has not charged my camera's battery since arriving a month ago in New Zealand... so I took only a handful of photos before the battery went dead. :) It was a good excuse to stay focused in the present moment! We climbed to the almost-top of Lion Rock, a giant mass of a rock that resembles a reclining lion from the south when the sun begins to set. (There's a good picture here.) We watched surfers wrestle with the enormous waves crashing on shore, and we watched small children and dogs run wild on the sands. We rock-hopped over boulders covered with hundreds of glistening black clams to explore more remote coves. Garrett pointed out a sleeping seal hidden in the rocks. At "The Gap," we watched enormous waves gather in the ocean and then crash and spill between two rock faces. The water was an incredible shade of blue-green in most places.

I was sad to leave, but we had to return the rental car. It cost 52 New Zealand dollars (about $43 U.S.) to fill the gas tank. Yikes!

Garrett showed me around his neighborhood, City Center. It seems to be a mix of tall office buildings, upscale retail shops, karaoke bars, coffee shops, Internet cafes, and stores selling outdoor gear. I will do some more exploring on my own this week. We finished the evening with an amazingly delicious Indian dinner at the restaurant next door to Garrett's building. Phew!

Photos to come soon!

Friday, July 1, 2011

The adventure begins


Welcome back to our blog!

I have dusted off the keyboard and resurrected this website so that I can chronicle herein our experiences in New Zealand! Thanks to the National Science Foundation and some hard work, Garrett is doing research this summer (or winter) at the University of Auckland. He has been there since the beginning of June, and I leave tomorrow, July 1st, to join him. I'll be there for five weeks, and I plan on posting comments and photos as often as possible. Garrett has my camera, so you'll have to wait a few days for pictures... but you're probably not interested in photos of airports!

As of this afternoon, I am mostly packed. Despite my interest in minimalism (documented elsewhere on this blog), I plan on taking more than just a backpack and deodorant. I think I am adequately supplied to face the New Zealand winter.

I am somewhat nervous about the 13-hour flight from Los Angeles to Auckland. However, I hope that my books, iPod, and some melatonin will see me through to the other side.

Stay tuned!