Saturday, November 27, 2010

The first sign of a Kiwi Summer

Whilst everyone in the UK is doing there best to keep warm and coping with some heavy snow falls, we have been enjoying some great early summer weather. I love Kiwi summers and have really been looking forward to the first summer sun. This weekend we enjoyed some typical Kiwi pastimes.

Messing about in the river.

A picnic and nap in the sun.

We had our first barbecue of the season.

Waikani swimming pool is great. You can bring a picnic and spend the day eating and skipping between the three pools.

All the swimming lessons are paying off!

Paraparaumu is always great on a sunny day.

Its not even December but the sea is already really warm.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Gunpowder, treats and pop!

I have always loved Bonfire night in the UK. As a child we used to go to the big Bonfire that would take place on the village green where my grandparents lived. It was an exciting, dramatic and almost mystical event which I used to look forward to for weeks in advance.

We all got wrapped up in as many layers of clothing that would still allow us to move freely but would keep us warm. It was often a fine balance. Then you would gather to join the procession which was by far my favourite bit. We would parade around the village holding burning lanterns which would then be used to light the bonfire. This was before the days of over bearing health and safety concerns so no one used to bat an eyelid at a handing someone who is only just over three foot tall a huge stick with a burning oil soaked rag on the end. You had to be really careful who you stood in front of during the procession or you could end up loosing some hair.

I used to love every minute of it. There was a pig roast, hot soup being served and then the finale when the fireworks would be let off. So it is always at this time of year that I tend to get a bit homesick for the bonfire and fireworks festivals that the south east of England seem to be able to do so well.

This year we thought we would give the Kiwi version of Bonfire Night a try. We headed to Trentham Park in Upper Hutt to see the fireworks. It is spring in New Zealand at the moment so there is not exactly an abundance of leaves to make Bonfires with so the evening promised some Fairground rides, a large screen playing music, hot dogs and fireworks at 9.15.

We took a picnic, our camping chairs and torches. I didn't think it would be cold as, after all, we are in Spring not Autumn as in the UK. I began to think I might have miscalculated when I spotted people walking towards the park with sleeping bags and woolly hats on. It was fine for the first hour but then it became rather chilly. We survived by all huddling under our picnic blanket.

Fairground rides and woolly hats.

The glow sticks and lights looked great after dark.

Spectacular fireworks as good as any display in the UK. A fun night was had by all.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fishing for Sun.

Its Labour Day weekend and we have been looking forward to some long awaited sunny spring weather. The forecast promised us good weather for the whole weekend but this Sunday morning we awoke to sheets of depressing grey cloud once again.

We have found that the weather in Wellington can be very fickle. If you travel as little as 10km north or south you can find that you can move from rain and drizzle to bright sunshine just by turning a corner. So with this in mind we decided to explore the Rimutaka Rail Trail. This was a railway line opened in 1878, running from the Hutt Valley north across the steep Rimutaka Mountain Range to Featherstone. It apparently used the same type of Steam Engine that is still used to climb up Snowdon in the UK so must have been an amazing rail trip. The track was closed in 1955 when the Rimutaka Rail Tunnel was opened.

There are stunning views around every corner.

It was a beautiful walk but next time we will be taking our mountain bikes and we will see if we can make it to the tunnel.

It was the other half's birthday earlier in the week and we decided to buy him a fishing rod. So this weekend we have been attempting to learn how to fish. Both of us are complete novices and so on Saturday we rather optimistically headed out to the Hutt River in an attempt to catch some fish. This led to about an hour of tangled lines, lost hooks and wading out into the river to collect stuck lines (and not a small amount of swearing) before we gave up and headed home. We then consulted some instructional videos on You Tube and the next day managed to cast off without getting completely tangled lines. We felt very proud! Give us a year or two of practice and we might actually manage to catch something.
The girls were more interested in paddling and throwing stones into the river than helping Dad fish. Their combined efforts are probably partly responsible for the fact that we failed to catch anything!

Messing about on the river!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Holiday Up North - Part 2. Bay of Islands

We only spent one day exploring Auckland and then we decided to explore further north and headed for the Bay of Islands. This area has been described as the birth place of New Zealand as we know it today. It was once a bustling seafaring and political base and is now a very popular tourist destination.
I can thoroughly recommend Beachside camp site. It is located in it own private cove with its own beach and amazing walks directly from the camp site.

We took the ferry in the rain across to the historic town of Russel. It was the first European settlement in New Zealand and the first seaport. The local Maori population were keen to encourage ships to anchor in this area as they were able to trade food and timber. The town soon developed a very bad reputation as there were no laws or any form of real government. So prostitution and liqueur was widely available and the town became known as the "Hell hole of the pacific".

Russel now only has a population of about 820 so is not exactly a large settlement. It is a great place to spend an afternoon wondering round and looking at what remains of the "Hell hole" it once was. The local museum is really interesting and you can look at photos of the first European settlers in this country. Reading some of their dramatic and often tragic stories you have to wonder what prompted them to take the risk and leave their homes to travel to the other side of the world never to return again.

Russel's defences. I am not sure if they are still in working order!

Walking through the swamps looking out for the trolls.

Mangrove swamps only occur in the tropics and sub-tropics so growing up on the south coast of England I have surprisingly never come across them before. They were amazing to walk through and quite beautiful when the tide comes in and submerges them up to halfway.

We took a boat trip around the Bay of Islands which is really the only way to see the area fully. The trip promised to see some wildlife as well as to take us through the famous "Hole in the Rock".

Passing through the Hole in the Rock.

Dolphins are not easy to photograph but they are mesmerising to see in real life.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Holiday Up North - Part 1

We never went camping as kids so I think my parents are somewhat puzzled by our sudden enthusiasm for sleeping under canvas or in a metal box on wheels with a built in toilet. They are not into the outdoor life after the sun goes down or sleeping a good 500 yard dash in the cold from the nearest shared toilet facilities. To be honest I can understand where they are coming from but here in New Zealand camping seems to be an annual event for most families I have met. K-Mart becomes full of sleeping bags and collapsible picnic tables at this time of year and Warehouse is now full of camping stoves and those totally useless half an inch thick sleeping mats.

So this year we decided to go camping in the half term and explore some of this small but vastly varied country. We initially wanted to head down south and explore Queenstown but luckily (as it had heavy snow just before we were due to leave) we thought we would head up north were we hoped it would be a lot warmer at this time of year.

We flew from Wellington to Auckland and picked up our camper van from there. After a rather terrifying few minutes on State Highway 1 we managed to find our first camp site in Takapuna.

This was the amazing view from our camper van in the morning. The sun rising over Rangitoto volcano.

Our fantastic camper van parked right next to the beach.

We took the ferry from Devonport to the centre of town which is a great way to see the city and harbour.

We met the penguins at Kelly Tarltons which is this amazing underground sealife centre. You really get to see the penguins close up but I can't help feeling sorry for the animals themselves who don't appear to get to see daylight at all.

Walking underneath the sharks.

These fish appeared to really like A and swarmed around her.

J at the top of the Sky Tower and looking towards Rangitoto Volcano in the distance. Auckland is an amazingly beautiful and potentially very dangerous city.

As we were sitting having a coffee near the top of the Tower a woman suddenly dropped down and was hanging outside the window waving at us. A few seconds later she had dropped again and disappeared. Some strange people like to jump of the top of the tower attached to ropes. They seemed to be doing it every few minutes so clearly there are a lot of mad people out there. As you can tell this doesn't appeal to me at all.

A view towards one tree hill from the Sky Tower.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Brunts are finally given Residency!

We have just returned from a two week holiday which I will post about later and explains the lack of updates on this blog. I apologise to anyone who may have been wondering why it hasn't been updated recently but I do have some big news!. We were greeted on our return from our much needed break by a letter from immigration stating that we have been granted residency in this wonderful country!

All we have to do now is send our passports off and pay the migrant levy. I am honestly very happy and incredibly relieved that this is now over with. It feels like we have had to jump through numerous hoops and that our identities, qualifications and health has been scrutinised to such a degree that our immigration officer must now know all our inner most thoughts! Okay a slight exaggeration, but not much.

I thought it might be helpful to post a time line to give everyone an idea of exactly how long it has taken us to gain residency.

27th February 2009 - Arrived in New Zealand on a Work to Residency Visa.

March 2010 - Put in Expression of Interest (initial request for residency).

May 2010 - Invited to put in an Application for Residency.

June 2010 - Residency application submitted.

October 2010 - Residency granted in principle.

Written down like this it doesn't seem to have taken that long at all. It has however been quite a stressful process. The medicals were very thorough and lengthy with mountains of paperwork to complete. The forms required paperwork from decades ago to prove qualifications and work experience. I would like to thank the kind Welsh ladies at our University who having informed us that most of our degree records were not on computer then presumably trawled through all the paper records to produce our Transcripts. I would also like to thank my husbands old colleagues who gently pushed along his old Human Resources department from 10 years ago to get a statement of employment from them which was apparently impossible for them to initially produce.

All in all it feels like it has taken a mountain of paperwork and a lot of stress to get permission to stay in the country. However I have no regrets it is definitely worth it. To think that we now know that the kids can stay in their schools and with the friends that they have and we can offer them the kind of childhood that I don't believe we would have been able to give them in the UK. As I sit and write this I have a view across the valley to the sea and we can watch the weather coming towards us across the water. My husband no longer has a 4 hour commute into London every day and can be a part of his kids lives rather than just an occassional visitor. I am able to return to work without horrendous childcare costs and we are working to live rather than living to work.

So I am now off to pack yet another picnic lunch and we are off to have a mini trek through the forest at Katoke again. This is why we moved here and why I am now delighted that we can stay.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Impact of the Christchurch Earthquake in Wellington

The first we heard of this big earthquake was when we woke up and looked at the flood of enquiries awaiting us on facebook. "Are you alright?", "Can you let us know if you're alive?", "Can you take some pictures", "Is your house still standing?". These were just some of the messages we received. It was a bit embarrassing when I had to inform all these kind people that yes we were all fine, in fact we had actually slept through the whole thing.

It has been quite a wake up call for us here in Wellington. Watching the news footage has been quite unsettling. I have found myself glued to the multitude of real life lucky escapes and heart rending stories of homes and livelihoods that will be lost forever. The boy that had he not jumped out of bed would have been trapped under the falling wall and the woman dragged from her bed just in time as her floor collapsed beneath her. It is miraculous that there was no loss of life and had it happened at a different time of day it would have been very different.

I find myself continually wondering whilst driving to work or washing up, what would happen now if Wellington suffered an earthquake at this moment. Where are my kids, what would they do. Would P be okay in the centre of Wellington. How would I get to them if roads were blocked or there was a Tsunami? It has certainly brought home the reality of living in a Quake zone.

Strangely all this worrying has not made me want to return back to the UK. Despite the horrendous news footage and constant reminders of the ever present risk I still don't want to live anywhere else. I am not sure whether its the subconscious belief that "It will never happen here" which is obviously ridiculous as it will one day. Or perhaps its the belief that we will get through it. After all no one died in Christchurch?

I am obviously not the only person that has been re-alerted to the risks of living on an active fault line. Local newspapers in Wellington reported that during the first few days following the earthquake in Christchurch the supermarkets here sold out of all their emergency kits. Clearly other Wellingtonians felt that they had better stock up in case this meant the big one was on the way.

They Mayor of Wellington is also clearly concerned as he states that 600 Wellington buildings may need strengthening in order to withstand an earthquake of the same magnitude that hit Christchurch.

Apparently the council has recieved hundreds of calls from people concerned about the buildings they work in and wanting to know what to do should the big one hit. Its rather worrying that it has taken an earthquake close to home to make people wake up to the fact that at some point in the near future Wellington will be hit by a large quake. Its not a question of If but When!

Birthdays and Mindless Violence.

We awoke late today as we always tend to do on a Sunday. Well my husband and I do. J and A tend to awake as soon as the first rays of sun peak over the hills. They spent the first hours playing in their bedrooms. This enables us to gradually come too against the background noise of various stuffed animals talking in high pitch voices. Its a perfect and leisurely start to a Sunday morning.

Unfortunately this Sunday morning was spoilt when we opened the curtains in my daughters bedroom and glanced across the road to our neighbours house and saw that their post box had been smashed off the stand and was now lying on its side in the middle of the pavement. We then rushed down to check our post box was still there. But no, ours had also been knocked off its post and was now smashed up and lying forlornly on its side.

A friend of mine volunteers for the local community watch and I have sat and listened with great amusement to her various tales about what bored local youth will get up to. She has told me several times about how they like to drive around the estate at night hanging out of the window with a baseball bat to see how many post boxes they can knock down. Well I imagine this is what they got up to last night as a quick trip to the shops revealed that quite a few houses in our street were obviously visited by these deranged moonlight vandals with a fetish for knocking down post boxes.

I suppose I shouldn't really complain as this is the only crime we have come across in our 18 months in New Zealand and its not exactly a major crime. In the UK I had to make sure all the doors of my car where locked as I drove home. Two men had opened the back door of my car as I stopped at a junction and grabbed my laptop bag from the back seat. That was very frightening and resulted in a tug of war between me and one of the men as I vainly tried to cling onto the bag. The police didn't even bother turning up for a statement.

It has been J's 6th Birthday this weekend and I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone who sent presents and good wishes. We brought her a camera and she has spent most of the weekend taking pictures so here are a selection of her photos.

Her little sister.

Some fruit and veg.

Our local cafe in the rain.

The meat counter in our local supermarket.