Monday, May 11, 2009 Comment0 Comments

4th April to 6th April

Can't believe I forgot to post this! Nob...*sigh*

Anyway, while still in Feilding, we went back down to Otaki for (cue music) Gregg's annual apple-picking party! During these two days, the orchard is denuded of both Braeburn and Pacific Rose, in the service of juice and cider. And socialising. And drinkg (once again) too much...

So ya! The saturday was spent, by Si and I, that is, doing 'quality control'. The apples, once picked, had to be gone over again looking for various forms of ickies, before they could be washed, pulped and juiced. We also drank a lot of cider, went to go say goodbye to Jenny and Wayne (who were leaving for Oz), and then moved to another locale in Otaki Beach to continue drinking.

Note: mixing cider, red wine and whisky is, of course, a recipe for disaster. Astounding, I know.

So yes. Sunday dawned bright on the beach, where Si and I had spent the night (we had managed to navigate the 50m from drinking locale to beach, where I proceeded to sit in front seat of car, half-passed out with cold and liquor, being unhelpful, while Si set up the back for us to sleep in. In the dark. I'm amazed he didn't divorce me that night.) I had one of the worst hangovers of my life - so bad I couldn't stomache breakfast, which is a new one for me...

Anyway, we made it to Gregg's for round two of the apple-picking. I attempted to remain upright, and got laughed at. A lot. That day we focused on the Braeburns, which are what go into the cider (the Pacific Rose are too sweet) - the previous day not enough had been picked, and, of course, the Braebrun trees were not bearing nearly as heavily as the others.

Nonetheless, success!

Sunday night rocked. We had been offered the use of the awesome, 5m diameter teepee in friends' backyard. This we took advantage off, and got to fall asleep in a real teepee, next to a fire, under the cold night stars. Awesome. We also got to experience the unalloyed joy of being jumped on at about 7am by a large puppy and a 6 year old girl. For 20 minutes. (Actually, it was really cute).

Oh yeah, and we got to see the coolest tree ever, in the local pine forest - it's like the Faraway Tree!

We left that day for Feilding again, to both our protests and those of our friends. While we really didn't want to, we had to, and so that was it - at least for then...

Oh yeah. And this weekend was the reason for our mad dash up the north-east coast. We met, on the Saturday, a charming man called Jeremy, who mentioned that his mom, up in the Coromandel, needed WWOOFers for help with the chestnut harvest. Awesome! His mum, as it turns out, is Jeanette Fitzsimons, co-leader of the Green Party (and not actually a feral hippy! Well, not toally). Jeremy and his partner were getting married shortly, and Jeanette and partner Harry were looking for someone to house sit for the weekend so that Harry could attend the wedding for more than a day - and really, who wouldn't help someone out with something like that?
So we made the decision, after Feilding, to start heading up that way... (more on that later)

Monday, May 11, 2009 Comment0 Comments

April 12th - April 13th

Not much to tell here - only took one pikkie! (Note, we were on the far right, as you look at the photo above)

We spent the afternoon and night at the bach of a wonderful woman, Rachel, whom I had met on Saturday at Tim's. Anyway, she had taken a liking to me (rare, I know), and invited us to stay the night at hers after leaving Tim's. This we did.

Ocean Beach is gorgeous - very much old-school Kiwiana with its run-down old baches and buggerall else other than some more gorgeous coastline. Rachel, who is Maori, and her family own a bunch of the land tehre, and have been fighting off developers tooth and nail for years, who would love nothing more than to turn this slightly pre-loved, and incredibly characterful, area into, no doubt, some lovely but soulless beach baches for executives. No thanks.

Interestingly, many of the baches are quite old, and can never be significantly fixed up as they break about a million building codes, meaning that whatever people have now, they're stuck with (apart form the occasional repair). Brillliant!

Monday, May 11, 2009 Comment0 Comments

11th April - 12th April

This was awesome. We went to lunch at Time's place, outside of Waipukurau. To fill y'all in, Tim is the ex-mayor of central Hastings, and great fun. We found his obsession with building dams on his 1200-odd acres particularly amusing - then again, since the area's experiencing the worst drought in 20/30 years, it remains to be seen whether the dams will actually work.

Coolly, he's hooked them up to be able to generate hydroelectric power, and is also using a very simple paddle-wheel in the river on the bottom of his property to pump water up into a higher dam (it's incredible - he has river, valley floor, and mountains!)

So yeah - we went for lunch, having happily accepted the invitation to stay and the night, and proceeded to get rat-arsed. Again. Although we did have great fun, including a late-night drive to the local pub, some 200m away, for tobacco and to meet some of the locals. All of whom were also rat-arsed. Most amusing. I dimly remember claiming that I didn't think there were any Maori in SA, only to be corrected and told the were lots, and they were using the Cape Coloured population as camouflage :)

The next day we felt awful, but had great fun - we were treated to a tour of the place in Tim's ancient short-wheel base Landie, which was covered in cobwebs, and had to be jump-started using his tractor and the country road bisecting his place (see the picasa pics for the tour). Beautiful, beautiful place, so but so shockingly bone dry...

And then came time to move on to the next place, a bach on Ocean Beach, on the Eastern Coast, Hawkes Bay region.

Monday, May 11, 2009 Comment0 Comments

8th April - 11th April

Madness. So much madness. Particularly with Ben the ancient Jack Russel, who hunts possums and loves to sing along to 'happy birthday'...

But absolutely lovely, too. We spent a few days with Rose at her beautiful place in the hills just outside Norsewood, which was settled by a bunch of Scandinavians who, to put it bluntly, had been conned into coming in the first place. Funny now, not so much then. Anyway, weird, kinda quaint little town...

So yeah - we didn't do very much while there, as there wasn't much that Rose had for us to do, really. Her dad, who's quite ill, lives with her, and I think she was happy to have us around in the house so that she could go outside and potter every now and then during the day. Hilariously, she also had the best internet we'd seen thus far, despite being the most remote, and least techie (which is saying a lot), person we'd met!

We met some fun Checks (three girls running the neighbouring dairy farm, and the s/o of the girl in charge), charged up a hill (well, Si did - I charged up most of it), and talked a lot.

Our stay was also very brief, as Rose passed us on to a friend of hers, Tim, to spend some time with him...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 Comment0 Comments

well, exciting news! si and i finally got fed up with doing other people's gardens (we wanna start doing our own, as it were), and so have returned! to otaki!

we plan to spend some time here, assuming we can make it work in terms of finding work etc... (it's lovely here, great people, awesome spot, but no real work locally).. but yes!

however, i realised i still haven't posted the last couple of weeks of our adventures - they'll be up soon!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009 Comment0 Comments

March 26th - April 8th

Well, it came time to leave Otaki. Sniff. Primarily because a) we still wanted to see some more of the North Island, and b) because we had booked, several weeks earlier, with the host we were to be visiting.

So, off to Feilding! We had been warned, but had laughed off, its oddness. Not the best of places - it's quite pretty, however, and we're not sure why, 'Friendly Feilding' made Si and I quite aggro within our first coupla days, and also, every single dog we came across was a slathering, homicidal maniac - even the Labradors!

Anyway, we were there to spend time with John and Allison, an interesting couple. John works from home and is an 'art specialist' - he's also got NZ's best collection of original printing presses and type, and a business called Homeprint. We got to use a press that's 180 years old! We also got to make some cool prints using various types, as well as some lino cuts too.

This was the first time during our trip that Si and I spent time apart. I had decided it would be fun to go woth John to teach bookbinding to kids at the local country school - only 30 in total, in 2 classes, so very different to what I'd seen before. And I've generally eschewed kids, and have never bound books before, but still, it was great fun, and the kids were lovely!

Simon, however, was not too interested, and so stayed at the house assembling small yellow presses, doing garden work, sorting type (soul destroying), and whatever other odds and ends were around.

During the weekend, we were to help Allison with her organic garden, but since she'd been away the first weekend Sat, and we were away the second weekend...well, yes :)

We also got to meet 2 of their 3 sons, who're based in Palmerston North (also yuck). However, fascinating people - the boys have a company, Unlimited Realities, which does bleeding edge software stuff - in fact, they're responsible for the coding behind Dell's about-to-be-released touchscreen desktop! Very, very, very cool...

Happily, however, our time in Feilding soon came to an end (we just don't like the area), and we left having met some interesting peeps, and having had quite a lot of fun being creative (see the picasa album for our prints)

Wednesday, April 08, 2009 Comment0 Comments

March 20th - March 23rd

Our final weekend with Gregg was actually spent in Wellington (as previously mentioned). We were given the keys to the Wellington flat, situated on Cuba Street (Wellington's coolest street) for the whole weekend, and had the run of the place, and hence the city. SO cool.

It meant we finally got to go see Te Papa, the national museum (and, and this was cool, some work Gregg had done for it). Stunning place - definitely one of the cooler museums I've ever seen.

We also spent a fair amount of time in the flat itself, catching up on work (I had, by this time, found part time virtual work I could do, editing for a local NGO, which is awesome. See Inspiring Communities (I've been working on the new website, which isn't up yet, but this should give you an idea)), and also just taking some time out - WWOOFing is fun, but exhausting, and it was nice to have to make no conversation for a few days.

We also had Lucy and Sam over, which was cool - it was nice, for a change, to have them over to ours and cook for them!

So yeah, cool weekend :)

Wednesday, April 08, 2009 Comment0 Comments

This also took place at Gregg's, but is worth its own post.

Gregg has piggies - 6, to be precise, who live in the orchard and are about 3/4 months old. The deal is this - Gregg owns 3, his neighbor owns three, and they're fed (beautiful) until about 6 months, at which point it's out with the gun, and hello to the most beautiful pork (we had some of the previous batch, as it were). The piggies are sold (very quickly due to high demand) to friends and family when they're initially bought, so it's quite cool all round.

Last year's batch were boys - no personalities, apparently, unlike this year, which are all girls (and coloured, at that, which we all agreed were cuter and less sun-stricken than the more popular white piggies). A particular favourite was 'black leg' - coloured, with a black hind leg, this has to be the most loved-up pig ever. They all love rubbing up against something, but black leg would chase one around the orchard every chance she got, and was generally first to come say hello (see top pikkie)...

Also, Hettie, the HUGE kunekune (they have face toggles, go wiki it and see) had some little ones while we were there too. The dad was one of the previous batch (most embarassing, and quite interesting mechanically - the size differential must have been substantial!). Anyway, the bebbies are too cute as well :)

p.s. piggies on the charge is one of the funniest things i've ever seen - in addition to occasionally, and for no apparent reason, skipping around in tiny little circles, piggies like to charge, ears flapping in the breeze. Si's vid is quite good...

Wednesday, April 08, 2009 Comment0 Comments

March 12th - March 26th

After 3 weeks, however, it was time to move on, and so we did. About 5km down the road. When talking about where to go next, Wayne had said we should think about a friend, Gregg, who lived just down the road (in retrospect, we had contacted Gregg, but received no reply). Gregg was happy to have us (he only realised later that we had contacted him), and so we landed at the orchard.

Words fail at this point.

The orchard has some 900+ apple trees – braeburn and pacific rose. Every year, family and friends descend on the place to pick the fruit, and then, a couple of months later, to juice it. This juice is then stored and kept as is (it’s incredible – concentrated as hell, and beautiful as heaven) or, and this is where it got fun, it’s converted into cider, using Gregg’s apples as well as other cider apple varieties from other farmers in the area, who appear to simply swap. Nothing is bought or sold – the juice and cider are for family and friends’ consumption.

The cider’s done a la Normandie, as it were, and is simply delicious – we have sampled several varieties (hell, we drank a few litres of the stuff every day!), and all are mmmmmmmm.
But what a beautiful place in general – we really enjoyed Gregg’s company, the orchard, the piggies (more on that shortly) and meeting his partner, Carla, who travels extensively for work.
We slept in the house, and what a cool house – made of two converted schoolhouses, we had one half of it to ourselves, with our bed next to a garage door which, when pulled up, revealed the setting sun and Kapiti Island. Gobsmacking. In addition, it had the coolest idea: Gregg, a gifted carpenter, had made wonderful rolling walls, meaning that a wholly open-plan space could be split up easily, and at will. And what wonderful things in the house – prolific travelers, and great followers of culture, the house has been filled with a wonderfully eclectic collection of seventies furniture, books, and, well, interesting ‘things’ – not bric-a-brac, certainly, but more ‘objets’, as it were.

Pipis picked at Otaki beach - awesome!

These were also the people responsible for a wonderful weekend in Wellington (we had been down several times in the meantime), but THIS time, we got to stay in an apartment we had all to ourselves, right in the centre of Wellington, on its coolest street. More on that later as well.

Anyway, we had, once more, to move on, but are going back for the apple picking party – yay! I love Otaki, and the people we’ve met so far have been pretty special, too…

Note: it is important to remember, when living in small countries, that one should attempt not to piss off anyone within 200km – word spreads.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009 Comment0 Comments

Feb 21st - March 12th (or so)

After our couple of days, we moved on. To Waihoanga Retreat, in the hills of Otaki. What a truly wonderful spot – or rather, it would be if it weren’t for the hills themselves – they’re terribly pretty, but mean that those living in them get to experience about half as much sunlight as those living nearer the coast, in aptly-named ‘sunny Otaki’.

Wayne and Jenny, our wonderful hosts, had bought the retreat some 18 months earlier and fixed it up (see it here). It is able to sleep, at full capacity, some 40 people, and has brilliant stuff like the river and local hills for walkies. There’re also high and low ropes courses on the property, which are frequented by local schools – to our everlasting regret, Simon and I were unable to waylay a teenager in order to pose as them and take their places in the class. I blame Simon, of course.

We were priviledged to be at the retreat when the Maori Language Commision came for their Strategy Planning sessions. A (small) governmental body, they are tasked with seeing to it that To Reo Maori, NZ’s offical language (Te Reo means ‘language’) continues not only to survive, but to flourish. Lovely people, and on their final night, they invited Simon and I to attend that evening’s festivities. They had got to know us, as we had been doing their meals etc, and are, to begin with, a very hospitable and sharing people. Anyway, along we went, and spent almost 3 hours listening to Maori spoken! Apparently, we have heard more, now, than most white Kiwis will in their entire lives, and we got to hear some of the most beautifully-spoken Maori out there.

Note: until relatively recently, Maori was very much the language of the oppressed – children were discouraged, strongly, from speaking it at school or anywhere else. Since then, however, things have definitely changed – we know people who are sending their little girl to a full immersion school – one where the language (and culture) of instruction are Maori! It’s heartwarming to see a country which celebrates its diversity, rather than denying or suffocating it.

There were also other adventures – eating the beautiful food made by Erin, an American WWOOFer who cooks like the devil, learning to make Wayne’s dal (and other marvels, including a raw foods dessert using freshly-picked fruit, nuts and coconut), and, most notably, helping Wayne and Jenny and their kids get ready to leave. Jenny, like me, is a sun child, and the climate in the valley was driving her mad. As a result, they were moving to Australia, where sun is not a problem!

It is worth mentioning here how much we loved meeting and getting to know Jenny and Wayne and the boys – both very warm people, they treated us with great hospitality. In fact, Jenny is the person responsible for introducing me to the people who hired me for some freelance editing work – thanks again! Simon also had fun, doing a lot of work both on the retreat (which needed some heavy work done as terms of sale), and also on the website – done in his spare time, Simon did a brilliant job of adding some great moving pictures to the site…

Wednesday, April 08, 2009 Comment0 Comments

Feb 17th - Feb 21st

The Celtic Organic Winery. How evocative. This was the name of the next place we went to, amusingly situated just outside of…Levin. Oh yeah. In fact, it sits on the edges of Lake Horowhenua, which is quite pretty, and just outside of Levin itself

Note: In Maori, ‘wh’ is pronounced ‘f’. Learn before visiting, lest you embarrass yourself the way I did…

So yes! My predilection for wine being what it is, I was most excited by all this. We were only going to be able to stay a few days (3 or 4), as Malcolm, its owner, had another WWOOFer coming. Ah well, we thought, why not?

Malcolm makes fruit wines – wines made from Feijoa, Black Dorris Plums and Green Ginger. Originally an orchardist (apples), Malcolm slipped into fermentation when an apple crop, for various reasons, was turned into cider. From there, Malcolm has pretty much dropped cider, but does the other wines. They’re good, man, really good. Almost too good, in fact – we’re not sure we believe the ‘no preservatives’ thing :)

Anyway, we got to taste a small amount of wine, and ended up buying a case (at $18+ a bottle, it’s not cheap, but hey, it was a treat).

We also got to meet Warren, a truly fascinating character, if somewhat, um, well exhausting. Warren’s lovely, let’s be clear, but his personality is such that the terms ‘chill’ do not apply – he’s also somewhat eccentric, being the first gypsy I’ve ever met. We decided not to accept his invitation to spend a night with him on the side of the road, drinking and hanging out, but meeting him was educational :)

Wednesday, April 08, 2009 Comment0 Comments

Feb 11th - Feb 17th

Following the realisation that we had to remove Kilou from the cats sooner than we had anticipated, the rush was on to find a host who could take us asap. We sent out many, many emails, and got very, very few responses, but then, when panic had begun, enter John.

Now, what to say about John: eccentric, ascetic, idealistic. Quaker, too. To fill it out slightly more: John is a psychiatrist (he doesn’t practise here anymore, being, well, older), who has a rather remarkable case of what I can only call colonial white guilt. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind – it can, however, lead to quite extreme behaviour. In this case, John has in the last few years started spending increasingly large (very large) amounts of time in the West Bank (yes, that West Bank), volunteering at a mental health clinic. His views on the Israelis are, unsurprisingly considered what he’s doing, vitriolic.

He’s an idealistic man in general, though – he and I got into a few arguments about various subjects, me generally advocating at least the acknowledgement of some pragmatism, and his not. Ah well – he’s doing more for world peace than I am…

The reason this post is called ‘straw’, however, is because of the house. My god. A huge, half-completed straw bale house, with curved walls, a grass roof and (revoltingly), a poorly-installed composting toilet (or long drop although, in this case, and without details, this was a short drop). I have discovered my limits, ladies and gentlemen – I can put up with dirt, mud, insects, and living rough in all manners, but this! This tore the ring out of it. Really.

We weren’t there, effectively, for very long (hairy trips over the Rimutaka mountains back to Wellington for the weekend and back), but were able to help with some sarking (ceiling boards). When I say ‘we’, I mean Simon, really. After getting up on the rickety scaffolding, then raising an obscenely heavy nail gun with no safety, to a height that had me stretching to my full extent (or, even worse, having to use a stepladder), I discovered that I get stupid-height-induced vertigo. So I stained boards and cut them into the rights lengths using, charmingly, a rickety mitre saw which had a safety permanently tied up by affixing it, via cord, to a door handle. Yes, dear reader, yes. Words fail.

We got to meet some cool people, though – one of John’s (seven) children, Ben, and his girlfriend, both of whom work quite high in government on aid and environmental stuff. And Warrick and his wife, the neighbouring cattle farmer and teacher, respectively. In fact, John’s couple of acres is on Warrick’s farm. A lovely, if God-fearing, couple, Warrick made sure to check on John every day to ensure he was ok (and have a cup of tea).

And we got to see a Manuka honey factory! Yay! Although the freebies we were promised were not forthcoming (we are still bitter, hurhur), it was fascinating… For anyone not familiar with this brilliant stuff, wiki it, foo…

However, we made it out alive, feeling bemused, as well as grateful all extremities (and some intremities) were still attached. Huzzah!

The house itself is exquisite, though – rather than trying to explain it fully, though, I invite you to see the pictures of it in my Picasa gallery, and Simon’s gorgeous video of it, to be found on his vlog.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009 Comment0 Comments

Feb 5th - Feb 11th

This is a short one, promise…

In essence, we got to meet Lucy, her lovely husband Sam, and their hilarious cats, Bob (the largest cat EVER), and Oyster. Kilou’s encounters with them were a learning experience for all involved.

We ate like kings (Sam, a New Zealand Beef and Lamb ambassador, is a gifted chef who actually, incredibly, enjoys cooking at home), met some cool peeps, and just generally had fun relaxing. And falling in love with Wellington – well, with everything other than its weather, which is relatively ghastly. On a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is tropical perfection, and 8 is the UK’s depressing greyness, Wellington rates a good 7 on bad days, but 2 on beautiful ones…

Wednesday, April 08, 2009 Comment0 Comments

Feb 2nd - Feb 5th

Well, after depositing the majority of our worldlies in storage in Auckland (password and key NOT supplied to anyone, so don’t bother asking), we trundled on to our next adventure.

We had decided to head on to Wellington to visit Simon’s dear friend, and ex-housemate Lucy, in Wellington. Since we had four days to travel the rather short distance between Auckland and Wellington, we well and truly took our time on the trip down…

Night 1: I had insisted on staying in a campsite on the first night, incorrectly assuming they might be a good option. The problem is that Kilou is somewhat of a limiting factor… However, we did manage to find such a place (in Otorohanga) that promised a host of wonderful facilities, and turned out to be distinctly weird – a tiny site, perched between a railroad and a road used by freight trucks (their warehouses were right next to us), with a gym larger than most I’ve seen, and frequented by burly locals. Horrors…

After this, Simon got his way and we camped rough for the next few nights, as follows:
We drove for a while, taking in the sights and sounds of the scenery, and got to see Lake Taupo, the consquence of a truly awe-inspiring volcanic eruption in (…can’t be bothered - wiki it, you lazy ****ers!)

Night 2: was spent pulled over on the side of the road near Lake Tongariro. Perdy, most perdy.

An interesting note for South Africans and other wild creatures: NZ’s government encourages people to camp wild, if possible, and as long as they clean up after themselves. And it is, generally, pretty damn safe! I know! Hardly got a wink the first night, and was fine thereafter…

Night 3: After travelling happily, and rather hilariously, through such landscape as the North Island’s very own desert (now, don’t laugh – the natives take offence when people who have proper deserts are disparaging about the Rangipo). We also got to see Mount Doom – not actually, officially named as such, and the only reference I will make to LOTR scenery etc we’ve seen here (there have been others, but I sincerely doubt you give a damn, dear readers). After more travels, including seeing (but me chickening out on) NZ’s most extreme flying fox (or foofy slide), eating beautifully coloured heritage veggies, and more general scenery admiring, we reached our final campsite, just outside Levin.

Note to foreigners: Levin is, um, how to put this politely…not the world’s most wonderful town. * Ahem*

After driving around for ages trying to find somewhere we could camp, and in the process almost getting the van, and us, either crushed by logging trucks careening around bends, or falling off roads in the hills above Palmerston North, we eventually found the Gladstone Reserve. We pulled in, failing, as a function of our advanced years, to notice the suspiciously well-used 8 the road into the reserve made. A quiet supper accompanied by the burbling of the stream we were next was suddenly, and repeatedly, interrupted by the local yoof doing donuts. Joy. Anyway, they eventually pissed off, thankfully, and we got some sleep, ready for the final couple of hours the next day, down to Wellington.
(Note, from Taupo, we had been following highway 1, down the coast)

Finally, Wellington!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009 Comment0 Comments

We’d had a look at a number of old, cheap vans during our hunt. Most of them had been used by backpackers etc, and so already had frames, mattresses, and all the gear one might need. They also tended to have hippy backpacker paint jobs, both inside and out… (yerck).

We decided, however, that we’d rather try and find one that hadn’t been modded so we could do it ourselves. Also, we felt that some back seats would be useful for when the various hordes and crowds of our family and friend types arrive, so the car can safely fit more than 2 people in it. This we found!

She’s a Toyota Hiace 1988 GL (diesel), silver, with blue and red stripes along the sides. I’ve taken to calling her Old Bess (god knows why, it just popped into my head), although Simon, who’s car she actually is, says he’s waiting until he knows her personality better before he names her. I reckon he’ll always call her ‘the van’, though. She hits a good 100km/hr tops on straights, although I have, briefly, gotten her up to 110 on a downhill, but she only does 50 (max) on uphills, generally billowing smoke. We’re thinking of putting something pithy in the back window to alert other drivers to her slowness on uphills (note: early April, and we still haven’t), although one would think the smoke is a clue to her doing her level best. She has no working radio (we do intend at some point to have the dashboard off so we can have a look at the radio and see if it’s fixable), but in the meantime, we’ve hooked my old computer speakers up to an extra leisure battery, (connected via a voltage sense relay to the starter batter), and are using an inverter (my my, but I am learning things), and we just use our various mp3 players. It’s also come in handy for doing things like charging mobile phones, etc.

More about the base…
The second row of seats, happily, fold forward, meaning there is enough leg room in the back for Simon, plus a little extra – w00h00! Before leaving Auckland, however, we realized we would have to build a base for our inflatable mattress, as it fits the width of the car, but the wheel arches were getting in the way. Enter Cedric and Maria, neighbours of James who’ve been living in the area before almost anyone else was. Their generosity was, well, very usual amongst New Zealanders, but quite a surprise for us! We (well, mostly Simon) then built a base which, in a wonderful case of serendipity, is even cooler than we had thought it would be! The design’s simple, but allows us to use the base as two benches, a base for a bed, and still have the movable middle pieces to serve as a table, extra space to put things on, etc. It also, in conjunction with a mattress which can be stored away, means the van looks less like a camper van, and more like a normal/work van, which we think is probably a good thing.

Design of the base
We keep the two side pieces where they are (although they can be taken out), and the three middle pieces are removable. Most useful!

(Note: we’ve since painted it a fetching white, which is very cool…thanks Gregg!)

We’re still very much in the process of optimizing how and where things are stored – but we’re definitely getting better!

On a happy note: Kilou’s stopped throwing up in cars, which is awesome J Actually, she never has in the van – something about the fact that she can see through the windows, perhaps? She’s taken to lying like a sphinx on the back seat, which is quite cute.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009 Comment0 Comments

Jan 11th to Feb 2nd

James’ place is some 8 ha in the Waitakere Ranges, 15 minutes drive from Piha and Karekare beaches.

Note for those interested: Karekare’s the more beautiful, but has nothing, whereas Piha has a bar of sorts. Important considerations for more lubricatory types…

We then spent a very pleasant 3 weeks at James’, during which the following occurred (although not necessarily in this order):
· Weeding, shredding, compost heap building and subsequent flipping
· We got a van (yay!)
· Garden (re)landscaping
(This sounds a lot less impressive than it actually was – we must have moved several tons of soil, dug out some very large
roots/trees/bushes, put in retaining walls, weed matted, grass seeded, bird netted, watered and so forth

· Sheep shearing
(Well, I watched while Simon and James flipped the sheep, to be passed onto the shearer, an external guy who had come for the
day. Some 18 sheep were sheared completely, and the lambs had their backsides sheared (there’s a name for this, but I forget
what it is).
The shearer, who spoke uninterruptedly for the 2 or so hours he was there, was full of such gems of knowledge as sheep nuggets
– the poop which gets stuck to the fleece near their backsides, and forms pellets/nuggets – being great for growing marijuana
(sic), as it fertilizes them and also keeps the possums off. He also waxed lyrical for some time about wonderful a delicacy sheep
balls are – how large they are (larger in ratio than any other animal’s), how many he has in his freezer, and how much he
enjoys eating them. Marvellous
On a side, somewhat testicular note; they really are huge, and the boys display an amazing ability to hoist them when
walking or otherwise necessary, and then to drop them again, normally one at a time, when clearance is correct. The mind
boggles before such visual treats.
· More garden stuff
· We met some lovely people, including neighbours of James, who were kind enough to give us some extra timber they had lying
around, as well as lend us the tools, to build the base for our mattress in the back of the van, talking of which (more on that later)

We also ate an awful lot of sheep (some male lambs from his flock). On average, once or twice a day for 3 weeks (well, there was the occasional bit of cow). It was great, though – I’d always thought of lamb and mutton as being very fatty, but turns out, it doesn’t have to be – just depends on how it’s processed. We had sausages, mince, and chops (although I’m never going to be a fan of those) – the sausages were the best – pure meat! What a thing!

West Auckland (in the city itself), is also the place where we saw our first ever, real life car chase. We were on the corner of a major intersection (Rata and Great North, for anyone interested) looking at some shops, and had noticed a helicopter flying around in the area, when suddenly the police had arrived, stopped traffic, set up their cars, and were doing the whole running-bent-double-with-guns thing. Mad. Next thing we knew, an old black car, bumper scraping on the ground (it had evidently already met spikes) came flying down the hill at at least 150km/hr, and just kept going. The police, thankfully, didn’t try and shoot the wheels, as the potential collateral damage of the car losing control could have been huge (indeed, the police have been getting flak recently for just such cowboy behavior, and so are behaving in a suitably chastised way). Anyway, that was it, apart from our mild disappointment that it hadn’t all happened in that intersection. Sadly, it did culminate in a death, and we figure it was P-related (P, like tik tik, is cheap, horrible crystal meth, and has the usual horrible effects), especially as we saw, a little way up the road, a police van with dogs parked outside a house…
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Wednesday, April 01, 2009 Comment0 Comments

What amazed us most on our arrival here was how pleasant and friendly everyone was – we weren’t asked for any supporting documentation when entering on our work visas, and were witness to a customs (well, MAF) official actually smiling and talking with children! Truly! Wonders will never cease.

Once we had our baggage, we went to go get Kilou, who was unsurprisingly ecstatic to see us (mostly Si). Our other stuff (370kg of air freight, most for which is Si’s tech, sigh) was something we were going to have to get sorted during the week, as customs wasn’t open on a Sunday afternoon…

Actually, we had decided to get an agent to clear it for us, one the basis that it would cost a little more, but save us in hassle. In the end, it cost us a lot more and saved us very little hassle. Upsetting, but not surprising. No need to mention it ever again, now, y’hear? Simon’s blood pressure audibly climbs…

James, our first host, came to fetch us, and we hied ourselves to his place in the Waitakere Ranges, west Auckland.
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Wednesday, April 01, 2009 Comment0 Comments

The long awaited writings… (please note: the next 9 or so entries are briefer, and less amusing, than they could be, as I’m trying to play catchup)

Hi everyone! Apologies of a sort for the delay in writing this – I’ve been putting it off but have, in my defense, been remarkably busy (it seems like there are never enough hours in the day these days)…

So, to begin, then. Our great adventure started with a 15 hour stopover in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Not much to be said, other than that it is green, muggy, and brilliantly cool. It really does feel like a city just barely managing to keep the jungle at bay. We walked for about 12 hours solidly, in footwear not designed for the purpose, and as a result injured ourselves quite badly. I’d also had no sleep, so was somewhat the worse for wear…
We got a couple of extra hours out of our poor damaged selves by going for reflexology foot rubs, with Simon’s guy telling him that he ate his food too quickly and drank too much :P
Anyway, we survived our walkabout, and got back on the plane, headed for Auckland, New Zealand.

[intermission during which I failed to sleep at all, meaning that by the end of it all, she had endured 50-some hours with one hour of broken snoozing. Quite cool, actually.]
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