Friday, May 30, 2008

Hello, Winter? Is That You?

It’s almost winter here in the southern hemisphere. The leaves have changed colour and, alas, so have I- my marvelous tan from a summer spent (strategically) lazing around on New Zealand’s sandy beaches has faded away to almost the same pale, pasty grey as the sky was when I was walking home from work today. The days are getting colder and shorter and so am I (well, my hair got shorter last week), but through the cold and gloom I often catch myself smiling thinking about all of the exciting things that I associate with the colder seasons. And there I was this morning donning my scarf and gloves for the frigid three-minute commute to the office, grinning away for no outwardly apparent reason, when it suddenly dawned on me- this is not the winter that I know and love! :o I mean, it’s the end of fall (autumn for you non-Americans), so didn’t we miss my birthday? And what about Thanksgiving?! By my confused brain’s calculations Thanksgiving should have been last Thursday! Where’s my green bean casserole?! It feels like winter, but it’s all backwards! :o The thing is, I really love this time of year! I love the crispness of a clear fall day when all the leaves have just changed colour- the streets are beautiful, like rusted rainbows, with all of the reds and yellows and browns… Fall gives me such a cuddly feeling! I love the smell of the fallen leaves- it makes me feel all autumnal… Christchurch has been beautiful the last few weeks! But then comes winter which usually means sleigh bells and icicles and snow and Christmas with my family and hot chocolate… Now, don’t get me wrong- I don’t want to disparage a kiwi winter- I haven’t even experienced one yet! But I’ve started to wonder just what there is to look forward to in winter in New Zealand! =/ Once I got my head on a straight enough to realize that it’s actually May and that there’s no pumpkin pie or Silent Night looming close on the horizon, I started to wonder how all of these kiwis make it through such a dreary time of year without all of the good stuff! In our immediate family the birthdays start with my mom’s in late August and roll steadily by until November, so every month there’s something to celebrate. Then comes Thanksgiving- my favourite holiday (not so much for the massacring of native peoples as for the broccoli and mashed potatoes). And then it’s time to get in the holiday spirit, which means an endless rotation of my 100+ CD’s of Christmas music for a month! Everywhere you go there are decorations and twinkling lights, and there’s that special wintery Christmas tingle in the air… But not in New Zealand! Christmas is in the summer and they don't have Thanksgiving at all! I have conducted a little research, and though skiing and the Queen's birthday were mentioned, it seems like the main attraction here in winter is rugby. They're rugby mad down here! So, though I’m not entirely convinced it will be as magical as Christmas lights and candy canes, I’m going to the rugby next month- the All Blacks against England here in Christchurch. I’m sure it will be wonderful, and I may even love it more than I expect to, but I have to say- it’s just not pumpkin pie, is it?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


It’s cold in here! There must be some Toros in the atmosphere! (It’s okay if you have no idea what that means. If you knew instantly what I was talking about, it’s okay if you pretend you didn’t. Personally, I love Bring It On! I am not ashamed. I’ve got spirit- yes I do.) Anywho, it is chilly in Christchurch! Winter is upon us! (I don’t care about equinoxes and dates! If it’s this cold, it must be winter!) I suppose it’s not really any colder than other places I’ve lived, it just feels like it. There are two main reasons for this. First, a lot of the buildings here just aren’t as well sealed or insulated as they could be. (We live in an older building and I swear there are Antarctic winds coming from the edges of the bathroom window. The floor in there feels like a polar ice sheet. Penguins help me get dressed in the morning.) Secondly, there’s a definite lack of central heating. Some fancy folks have heat pumps, but a lot of people just use oil heaters (like the one next to which I’m huddling in the photo) and little fan heaters. (A rare photo, by the way, as shortly after it was taken I invested a giant, pink terrycloth bathrobe- like this- which I only take off when I’m in the shower or at work. It makes me look about 100 lbs. heavier than I actually am, and I bear a very close resemblance to that fuzzy guy from the Pink Batts insulation commercials. Surely Gordon has never found me so attractive. Whatever- I’m warm!) So I hope you northern hemispherians are enjoying the warmth of summer! And if it gets too hot, remember you can always come visit us (and the bathroom penguins) in icy Christchurch! (FYI: BYO bathrobe.)

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Oops! It occurs to me that whilst prattling on about all of our road trip adventures, I may have neglected to mention that we found an apartment and we’re living in Christchurch! We’ve been here for two months already! :o Time flies when you’re having yummy vegan pies at the Gravity Café! =) Christchurch is a lovely, gardeny city of roughly 400,000 people- it’s the largest city on the South Island and the second largest in the country (after Auckland). There’s a beautiful cathedral in the square (Christ Church Cathedral) which is especially striking at night when the stained glass is all lit up. The river Avon runs right through the centre of town, and there are all kinds of beautiful places around which to meander like the banks of the river and the botanical gardens. It’s all nice and flat here, too, so all that meandering doesn’t completely tucker you out. =) The city is up to its ears in used book stores- soooo tempting, but not so good for the weight of my luggage! Otherwise I could seriously spend days browsing in Smith’s Bookshop- a three-story book lover’s Mecca… Quite possibly the best bookstore I have been to in any country (though it must be said that the old Book Nook in Atlanta served me very well in days gone by). There are tons of great cafés and bars and movie theatres around, and they’re all very easy to get to from our prime central city location. =) Everyone should visit. =) So far we’ve had two houseguests. First was Keri, who only had two days with us due to our opposite travel schedules, and very unluckily for her those days happened to be the ones when we were moving into our new apartment! :o I wish we’d had a little more time together, but it was fun to catch up and make stir-fry together in our new place! (Here’s a picture of the three of us- Keri is showing her excitement about the variety of ice cream flavours NZ has to offer.) Then came Gretchen, with whom we had a great time wandering around the city, going out for coffee (see photo), and watching terrible movies on TV late into the night while gorging ourselves on “blobs,” our new favourite chocolatey addiction. (E-mail me if you want the recipe- they’re YUM!) It’s been great fun having visitors- next in line is our friend Jo from Nottingham! Can’t wait to see her in July! =) We love our cute little (coldish) flat in the Garden City, but miss all of our peeps abroad- hope to see some of you soon when you come for ski holidays in August! =)

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Best Hostel EVER?

Back to the East Cape… Maraehako Bay Retreat really shouldn’t be called a hostel- the more correct term in New Zealand is “backpackers’ accommodation.” Besides, that word “hostel” sounds so… hostile. I never did like it much. So, best backpackers’ EVER? Well, if it’s not, it’s gotta be pretty high on the list! =) This place was awesome! We stopped there on the recommendation of a guy we met at Brian’s Place in Tokomaru Bay. We meant to just drive up and see if we liked it, but it was wayyy down a really steep, narrow driveway, and by the time we had navigated that and found a place into which to wedge our car, Pihi, our gregarious host, was right there with a warm and friendly greeting, and offered us the last double room he had left- a cosy caravan right by the water. =) How could we refuse? =) The Lonely Planet called Maraehako a “paradisaical hostel [that] owes more than just a little to Robinson Crusoe.” Now, admittedly, I'm not really up on my Defoe, but I couldn’t agree more with that paradise part! It’s a big, multi-level house with all kinds of steps and ladders and trees growing out of lots of decks and balconies, all of which look out onto the sea. There are nets and ropes and plants everywhere, and it’s literally right on the beach. This is actually the view from the window of our caravan. Beautiful! We spent our afternoon there paddling around the bay in the kayaks that are free for guests to use and climbing on the rocky shore looking at limpets and snails and such… After dinner we sat around the big driftwood fire and chatted with other travellers, and there was even a little singing. =) It was lovely. =) Though we awoke to crummy weather, we slept quite well in our cosy little room. =) I totally recommend this place to anyone traveling the Cape, but bring your sleeping bag if you’re staying in the bunks, because they don’t provide linen in the dorm-style rooms, and stock up on supplies before you get there, because you’re totally not going to want to leave to find a grocery store once you get sucked into this amazing place. =) I hope you get to go there sometime, and if you do, please say hello to Tiger the kitty from us. Prrrrrrr... =)