Saturday, 30 January 2016

Tamaki Herenga Waka Festival

Today we went to the opening day of the Tamaki Herenga Waka festival on Auckland's Queen Wharf.  This weekend is a 3 day one for us, as Monday is the bank holiday of Auckland Day and this festival is a celebration of Maori culture. We witnessed some whakairo (carving) and spoke to a guy who told us that he has made pieces for Auckland council and Devonport library. He showed us a head piece which would be situated at the top of a marae (sacred meeting place, kind of triangular in shape) with the two slopes coming down acting as the arms, the line at the top the spine and the legs at the back. The eyes of the head can be big and round like an owl or smaller and more narrow like a hawk. The carver said that traditionally this was a way to preserve Maori stories and legends. 

We had a quick look round the stalls, no purchasing unfortunately as we are saving for a little trip coming up - but more on that soon! There were tempting looking food vans displaying wares of sea food fritters and hangi platters, tables of greenstone jewellery and Maori patterned wall hangings. We saw small children and adults alike walking around with temporary moko (tattoos) on both sides of their faces (men) and their chin (women). Inside was a stall selling Maori medicine and natural remedies and a few beds where tired visitors were indulging in a relaxing massage. 

Outside of 'The Cloud' building we were welcomed by the display of a large waka (canoe) at the entrance. Both Will and I remembered our visit to Mitai Maori village and cultural show and the facts told to us about the boats; how they were made, how many men could fit inside etc - look back to the Campervan Adventures post! We noticed the large male genitalia(!) displayed on the wooden figures at the front and back of the waka to signify male strength.

There was a stage and band and we caught a couple of songs by Bob Marley that they had re-imagined, slightly changing the words to fit the Maori's particular struggle with colonisation and how they are overcoming it. Everyone was sitting on beanbags and the atmosphere was so laid back.

Outside there were buskers' 'stations' with a few crazy acts like Celtic Colin who dressed in a kilt, played the bagpipes then got on a 3m high unicycle and juggled knives. And we watched whilst some spray painting artists created some great patterned images.

Venturing over to The Maritime museum we caught the semi final of the waka race. I took some photos...

But the only way to show you what it was really like was to film a little video! My first on this blog which I've uploaded on to my very own YouTube channel -

We were about to leave when we heard an announcement for a free ferry ride around the port so tagged along - can't turn down something for nothing! It was lovely to float about in the turquoise waters, sea spray in our faces and thinking of our friends back in the UK braving the freezing wind and rain, sorry!

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Christmas approached like the speed of light and the fact that this time of year was so light and bright was very strange! The days have steadily become longer and warmer and for those reasons we weren’t feeling Christmassy at all. The staff at our accommodation made the common places nice and festive but the only decorations we had were the two little ornaments my friend Steph had given me before our travels.

In Newmarket we passed a statue of Santa perched next to a sun hat stand. There was an annual Santa parade that went through the city’s main road Queen Street, which we planned to see but after waiting in the crowds for 20 minutes we decided to appease our hunger instead and had a lovely meal at The Med Kitchen in the Wynyard Quarter by the harbour. 

Biggest and best Christmas decorations of the city
We did our shopping like the rest of you and like always I left things to the last minute. Over here in NZ the post office informed us that if we wanted gifts to arrive in the UK before Christmas we should post them before December 1st. Well, that didn’t happen, obviously. I think around 14th I sent a couple of packages to a select few family members and friends and was horrified to learn that I had to label my package with a description of what was inside and how much I spent! I did have a lovely chat with a woman at the counter who was posting a photo of her dog with balloons tied around its collar to some Japanese friends who used to live with her.

The next big dilemma was Will’s present, what to get?! I thought about a Go-Pro camera as I remember last year saying he wanted to get one to document our travels through NZ but not being a very technical person myself, (what’s a smart phone?!) I didn’t want to get a model that wasn’t very good. I researched some reviews online and people seemed to be pretty happy with the most basic camera so I went with what felt comfortable. He tried it out in our local coffee shop but we didn’t realise how wide the captured images would be and so I am the protagonist of this particular time-lapse video!

Will made me feel very pampered with his gifts of Marc Jacob’s perfume Daisy Dream and a luxury Molton Brown hand cream.

For our first hot Christmas we thought it would be fitting to have a BBQ on the beach but when we enquired at the council they said we would have to use a gas powered one as if we used coal it would pose an open fire risk. Even when we searched for disposable BBQs we couldn’t seem to find many anywhere; it seems the Kiwi’s are serious about this type of cuisine and the only way to go is heavy duty! We compromised with a fancy picnic and stocked up with as much alcohol and snacks as we could carry in our new chilly bin or cool bag. I did miss our usual roast dinner and all the trimmings but this Christmas would always be memorable for being different.

However, I did make a catastrophic and rather painful mistake in forgetting the sun cream. We went to the beach and I forgot the most important thing. I peeled. Badly. We’ll move on.

We travelled by ferry to Waiheke Island, an hours journey past a few other islands including Rangitoto and found a quiet spot on Oneroa beach. We had a beautiful day enjoying the sun, relaxing, eating and soaking up the view and said to each other we’d have to come back again soon.

Had to include these exotic looking plants; really made us feel like we were on a tropical island

Love the pattern of this bark

Bright and beautiful

Although the sky looks pretty grey, it was warm, honest!

A lovely woman from work gave me some Scorched Almonds for Xmas, a Kiwi favourite and they went down a treat!
Such clear water
Palm tree!

The time between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve is always a strange one with everyone not knowing what to do with themselves. Will had a couple of days back at work and I tried looking for babysitting roles to fill in the time. Then the night was upon us, quicker that expected, as always. Again we stocked up on the booze, grabbed some snacks and headed to Mount Eden to watch the fireworks explode over the city.

Just a little tipsy...

We had to sit in the tall grass somewhat as everywhere on the volcano top was busy

Doesn't truly capture the atmosphere created by the lit city

I have to say the display wasn’t as dazzling as I had expected but it made it special knowing we were starting a new year in a foreign place together. And when Will had to go to the toilet (nature's toilet, aka behind a tree) I saw a real actual live shooting star! It was pretty amazing but over in a flash and I wish Will had seen it but a very positive start to the new year; a good omen for things to come I think.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

A job.... Anyone... please?!

Upon getting back to Auckland we embarked on the next part of our journey  - trying to acquire jobs, a more time consuming task than we predicted! As this was (and still is to some degree) the time of year that many working holiday tourists turn up in search of warmer weather, we moved from hostel to hostel fairly frequently. Our favourites by far were Haka and Oaklands Lodge. Haka is a newly decorated building and looked more like a hotel, with lovely spacious and brightly painted rooms, including a tv! The only downside was the location; situated on K-Road meant coping with the noise of neighbouring karaoke bars at 2am on a Monday morning and the heavy drills working on rebuilding the road next door. And we were most put out when another patron stole some food left in the communal fridge, even if it was only celery! We met a lot more lovely people at Oaklands and it was nice having travel chats whilst making dinner or watching a movie. The other hostels may have offered us free pancakes on Fridays and a separate shed like building all to ourselves in their garden but they were also filled with pretentious no t-shirt-wearing-even-in-the-kitchen-idiots and the rooms and bathrooms weren’t as clean or as spacious. Next door to Oaklands we spotted a cat which we nicknamed after we noticed a strong resemblance to a certain someone with a notorious past – can you guess who?!

'Hitler' cat!

Haka room
Our door keys for Haka Lodge came complete with a keyring for a one dollar off drinks voucher at the local and so we paid a couple of visits to the Thirsty Dog pub, good for people watching in a slightly unsavoury area! On a Tuesday they have a poetry night, which, if I can use the word the hostess kept repeating all night, was ‘choice’! A couple of older men at the beginning of the night were good, including a guy called Michael Morrissey (who has a book published, 'Memory Gene Pool') but we were all shaken awake towards the end by a semi drunk middle aged guy who started his poem off by shouting ‘UNHOLY! UNHOLY!’ And then proceeded to rant about the dismal state of the world… The hostess seemed a bit lost for words when she came back on to the set but said that she still likes to think there’s some hope left for humanity! I really enjoyed how down to earth Sophie Proctor's poems were and she was the guest poet for the night. Will and I particularly enjoyed her rapping Salt-N-Pepa and when she talked about how she loved that more women are getting into this male dominated part of the music industry now. One of the audience members suggested Roger McGough to a younger performer as a good poet to research, so I'm going to too!

We took full advantage of the free wi-fi at Haka, (yes free!) searching for ads and agencies and applying for jobs directly but otherwise we trekked down to the local libraries. Our weekdays comprised of looking for employment whilst our weekends were filled with long walks up hills and over beaches, exploring more of Auckland. I looked like I was going to secure some sort of job when an email I sent spontaneously to a shop/cafĂ©/party venue was successful and I was invited to have a casual chat with the owner and then a trial day and oh what a trial it was! I spent the day before practicing my face painting skills or rather remembering how to face paint and roped in Will to practice on. Being quite a girly shop I mostly practised girly designs like princesses with stars, flowers and swirls, a mistake I was all too soon to realise. 

It was close to Halloween and two boys had come in asking for ghost designs. Ghosts. The professional face painter girl said she would do one and I could do the other, which I thought was the best idea so that I could just copy hers… But - the owner was watching me. And the boy kept moving his face. And I hadn’t practised any boyish designs. And my hand was shaking. A ghost, he wanted a ghost- the pressure oh the pressure! Did I mention I hadn’t practised any boyish designs?! Let’s just say the result was horrendous, the owner told the dad he didn’t have to pay (even though he praised the attempt in a falsely optimistic voice) and the experience will haunt me forever, literally, no pun intended! I was a little surprised when the owner wanted me to stay for the afternoon and take part in a pirate themed party but the arts and crafts swayed me as something I knew I could do so on went the stripy leggings and hat. After much ‘Yo Ho-ing’ I was asked again to do some face painting –but this time for girls, hooray!! And where was the owner – oh she’d gone out! And the designs were actually good and the children were pleased, why couldn’t she have seen this part of the day?! So I had mixed emotions of the day as I left but felt tired after doing rather a few rounds of washing up and floor sweeping. And to top it all off the owner didn’t call me back, not even to say ‘you were rubbish; we don’t want you any more’! I emailed her and got a big fat nothing back - what a bint!!

So rather disappointedly I went back to the internet search.

Auckland hosted an Art Week at the end of October, which I tried to incorporate into my explorations of the city, whilst Will was off having interviews at various employment agencies. I had a chat with the artist of these paintings, Brad Williams, at the Exhibitions Gallery in Newmarket. His paintings were created in layers, made from found images of women, which later evolved into their own individual characters, with very striking features and eyes that grab your attention.

I was interested in the way Ben Pearce made his small sculptures, which made me think of film sets or tiny planets or asteroids, definitely organic and growing. I just missed his talk about his practice but gathered the main gist that he was working from his own drawings and trying to make them 3 dimensional.

I really liked this huge piece of collaged work by James Robinson which covered nearly an entire wall, probably because it reminded me of work I used to do during a-level (obviously this was a bit more refined though!)I love the colours and patterns that come through. Makes me think of all those posters that get partly ripped and re-pasted over each other on billboards.

I stepped outside and saw these two women from FLOX re-painting a mural outside the Gordon Harris art shop. Then when I got home, I even saw them on the news! I liked the jungle designs and the many layers of different line thicknesses. 

I didn’t realise this piece on Iggy Pop by PJ Patterson was made entirely of dots until I got up close.

Brendan Gorky’s red colouring in this painting held my attention, as well as the staring eyes and the river seemingly flowing right through them and was a bit disappointed that I missed his solo exhibition.

These prints by Michele Bryant were at The Poi Room shop and gallery. The have a retro vibe and I like that the images are paired with text too.

I found this huge street art piece on my walk along Upper Queen Street back from work one day, after seeing the photographs in the OD gallery on K-Road.The work was painted by Owen Dippie.

I’m not really a sporty person, not even to watch it and Will is mad about football rather than anything else but we both felt we should make the effort to get up at 4am to watch the Rugby World Cup between Australia and New Zealand. We had decided to support NZ not only because it’s where we are currently living but because after England suffered such an embarrassing defeat we bumped into some Aussies who rather rudely pointed out how rubbish we were and when Will mentioned our much better cricket scores they got even ruder and quite personal with their sun burn insults! Well, I only wished we had bumped into them after this game!! It was a great atmosphere and a special occasion, especially because this was the second time in a row NZ had won. We even saw a middle-aged man next to us shed a few tears! If all the games were like this one I could easily watch them all but I highly doubt they could all provide such tension and elation…

I felt sorry for the Chef who was slaving away in the kitchen making everyone breakfast!

We’ve been trying to visit as many different places as possible, on those days we’ve allowed ourselves free from having to look for work. We thought we’d walk to Mission Bay along Tamaki Drive as it’s supposed to be one of the best beaches in Auckland. There were many headlands that we kept thinking, ‘it’ll be around the next one, the next’ and we just kept on going, slowly moving past all the shops and pubs where we thought we might be able to sit down and get a drink from. Around 2 hours (!) later we arrived and we had a great view so well worth it!

We ventured further up to Achilles Hill for another great view of the sea (look at that beautiful tropical colour!) and then continued down a path that led down to the sea. Will was just taking a paddle and I looked round to see a couple of men sunbathing. I had to take a double look to make sure I was correct the first time - and yes, they were naked!! I let Will know and we hurried away! My first Nudist Beach!

We are staying very close to Mount Eden so have walked up it a couple of times now. It’s not a very long walk but it is very steep and at one embarrassing point I had to crawl up, fearing I would lose my balance and fall backwards! We were greeted at the top by many selfie-stick waving tourists and a small sun-dial looking sculpture which informed us we were 11395 miles away from London

Huge crater in the middle and probably my favourite view of the city

One Tree Hill has a great view too but took much longer to get up as the path is curved around the whole hill and only gradually increases going up. We passed lots of sheep and cows grazing as Cornwall Park, where One Tree Hill sits is still a working farm, and also some rather enormous trees with roots almost bigger than me! There was a tree at the top of the hill (hence it’s name) which had been planted by a Pakeha (non-Maori) leader John Campbell but Maori activits cut it down and it’s predecessor so the remains were completely removed. However, there have been recent talks to plant another again in the Winter of 2016, with plans to have a ring of protective trees surrounding the main one so that eventually it can flourish on it’s own.

Devonport was described to us in both our guidebooks as a charming town with lots of old fashioned buildings and a great big hill overlooking the ocean and some islands. Well the latter part was true. But the town walk was rather a disappointment, mostly just passing ‘houses of interest’ because some famous families used to live there. I tried fish and chips or ‘fush n chups’ here for the first time and again I have to say I was disappointed! The fish was tasty but not that large, it didn’t come open wrapped so we had to make sure we were sitting down somewhere before we unwrapped it all properly. The chippy didn’t have vinegar or ketchup on the counter for you to add yourself, they were only selling large bottles of ketchup but who wants to pay $6 for a whole tub when you only want a few squeezes?! And they even made you pay for a fork!! I was outraged! When we visited Mission Bay another time we encountered the same dissatisfaction :( The ferry was a fun way to get there but not sure we’ll be back any time soon!

On the subject of food a small note about the chocolate here – it’s amazing! The bars come in huge sizes Whittaker's have a whole 50g more than Dairy Milk, so a little dangerous! But it’s so creamy and they are lots of exciting flavours like Hokey Pokey. They do have different Dairy Milk flavours though, such as Jaffa which have orange flavoured smarties inside the chocolate. Will introduced me to the Australian biscuits Tim Tams which have a thick layer of chocolate coating the crunch; the white choc are my fav!

In order to get a job as a Nanny I knew I needed to get a First Aid certificate as mine from the UK had run out so booked in a course with St John’s. The woman was really good and made up funny scenarios (but also rather scary if they came true!) about having a ‘pooey baby’ in one arm whilst chasing after a toddler when your other 5 year old breaks their leg – WHAT DO YOU DO?!!!! I also didn’t like performing CPR on the tiny baby mannequin; it felt too real but then I had to get properly stuck in when another participant noticed my pained expression and starting laughing and pointing!

Our work search was beginning to tire us out, especially Will who had received good feedback from the agencies but no suitable jobs had become available as of yet. I emailed an educational agency and within a week got my first placement as a relief pre-school worker. They tend to call you up either the night before or on the morning and ask whether you want to work at such and such a place and off you go for a 4 or 8 hour shift to the given address. So lots of Google searching and drawing maps…

Don't they look oh so happy?!

The bus system in Auckland can be quite confusing so I repeatedly went into the Britomart Transport Centre asking for help!

(Oh yeah, not sure if I mentioned but I have reverted back to my old medieval ways and have been forced to use this small un-smart phone, which has no camera and certainly no Internet. Stupidly I didn’t unblock my iPhone before I came out and there has been a ‘No Network’ message ever since. It’s only been good for taking photos as of late.)

Anyway, back to work, I started off with only a few 4 hour shifts at various centres but have recently been put to work at one place for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week – feels like having a full time job again! 

This website is good for last minute babysitting jobs when you need some extra cash - but you've got to be quick! The jobs can be listed and accepted in seconds!

I have had a few wobbly moments where I start to doubt myself and why I in particular have decided to fly all this way to work more hours and for less money than in London, minus all my friends and family too. By the time I had finished work all the shops were closed, (no Bluewater or Stratford on the doorstep here! Even the Westfield centre closes at 6pm!) And because I have less wages we were doing less at the weekends as things tend to be quite expensive, especially food and wine! Although the pre-schools could be fun, I was getting no special responsibilities –just playing, or supervising I should say for 8 hours a day, every day; boring was an understatement! Also dreading going into work I tended to buy a huge chocolate twist pastry and eat that just before going in, as if the doughy sweetness was comforting me in some way…

But Will has been such a great support and told me that everyone has dips when they move abroad and things would get better. I’ve seen how much the move has meant to him and how much more relaxed and care-free he is now and I know we have made the right decision and that all this hard work will pay off in the end.

Have I mentioned that Will found work!! Yay! He is currently working on a contract project with a Trust firm inside the Ferry Building and really loves it. The people are so friendly and chilled out, even the bosses and his work Christmas party was on a boat! His invite said ‘remember to bring sunblock and a hat’ - so strange for this time of year. He really deserves to enjoy this after all the stress and silly pressures that the corporate life of London used to bring him.

Will gave up his secret santa present of Magic Mike for this...

18th November came around super quickly and that meant time for a certain someone to turn the grand old age of 28! I had remembered Will saying he might get himself an All Blacks’ rugby shirt after watching the final but I also remember that he was quite drunk when he said it – I’m glad I made the choice to buy it for him, it looks good and he seems to like it! 

We kept it quite casual, as we both had work and he said it didn’t really feel like his birthday because he hadn’t received any messages or cards (apart from mine obvs!) as to everyone else it was the day after and also because the weather was so mild and light, even warm some would say! We had burgers at Slim and Lucky’s in Mount Eden village and drinks in Molten bar :)

The weather is really starting to warm up here nicely! Sorry to all back in the UK! We’ve had to think about putting suncream on everyday and can plan to do more outdoorsy activities as it’s less likely to be raining or cloudy. One of our favourite places to drink in the sun is The Lumsden pub in Newmarket, with nice wine and good tables outside with tasty potato wedges! 

Last weekend after saving for a few weeks we went to Rangitoto Island and I felt like we were back to donning our explorers’ hats! The ferry took half an hour and gave us a great view of the conical shape of the volcano that is so familiar to all Aucklanders. We came to small bach (or beach hut style holiday home for those from the UK) which had been decked out with old fashioned furniture from the time when people actually lived on the island. They aren’t allowed to any more as it has been made into a pest-free scenic reserve so it’s great there’s this one left intact. 

The water around Auckland is so clear and differs between such a beautiful tropical turquoise colour and a darker blue. We noticed some black rocks at the foot of the volcano where the lava must have cooled where it met the sea. 

The plants were really interesting to look at, like we were out in the bush somewhere exotic and we even caught sight of this little insect shell husk – I researched it when I got home and I think it must be the cicada. There were patches of vegetation and then spaces that reminded us of Mount Doom from LOTR, which were called ‘Lava Fields’ with broken up pieces of fragile looking but very hard volcanic rock. There were information signs that told us how life had started forming on the island, with algae being the first to creep in the cracks and gaps of the rocks. Then came bigger plants from the algae and birds who dropped seeds of trees and also those that got washed ashore from the mainland or neighbouring Motupitu.It was so interesting to think that although the place could look bare and barren, life was actually growing all around. The 360 degree view from the top was simply spectacular.