Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas in NZ - A list of the best and worst of Christmas down under

This year will be our 6th Christmas in New Zealand and I thought it was about time I write a list of the best and worst things about spending Christmas in a country where it occurs during the summer months and Christmas dinner tends to be cooked on the barbecue!

Good Stuff

1. Christmas is in the Summer!

This means when you are on holiday you get to spend time outside enjoying the weather. (Although good weather is never guaranteed). You don't have to spend Christmas day indoors and organise the
serving of Christmas dinner around the TV schedule.

2. Fun Christmas pressies.

My girls get presents that I would never have received growing up in the UK. Annually we buy them beach towels and new wetsuits to be used over the summer holiday. This seems to be the traditional stocking fillers over here, along with snorkels and the obligatory summer hats.

I would occasionally get bikes as a child which would be ridden up and down the road on Christmas day as I shivered in my new woolly hat and gloves. It would then be put away again until spring arrived and the weather improved. My girls have received inflatable boats, kayaks and snorkels which are used throughout the summer and again the following year.

Board games and the traditionally stocking fillers are still bought but are taken camping or to the bach and used during the summer get away.

3. Pavlovas and strawberries.

I still insist on having the traditional Christmas pud over here. And since it's sold everywhere I assume I am not the only one willing to eat this heavy dessert during the height of summer. Pavlovas have also appeared in abundance in the supermarkets. This is a definite Kiwi tradition and they are eaten on Christmas day smothered in cream and topped with your choice of berry or fruit. It is a really indulgent but lighter dessert and a tradition that we have taken on board here in the Brunt household.

4. You don't have to stay home at Christmas.

I realise that this is the case in the UK as well but normally going away at Christmas would mean going to stay with relatives and just sitting in someone else's living room stuffing yourself on Christmas day. Here it means either camping or staying in a bach somewhere over Christmas.

We were lucky enough one year to camp in Taupo over Christmas and this was an eye opening experience for me. People take all there Christmas decorations with them and make their tents and caravans look beautiful. The girls and I took a walk around the campsite after dark to gaze at all the lights and Christmas trees adorning the canvas and lighting up the night sky. Waking up Christmas day under canvas is something everyone should do and of course, rest assured Santa is still able to fill your stockings no matter where you end up!

5. Less stress and panic at the shops.

There are far less people over here. It's really as simple as that. Shopping is still busy and I wouldn't recommend leaving everything to the last minute to buy, but parking is easier and their are far less crowds in the mall (particularly if the weather is good as everyone makes the most of it and avoids the shops).Of course there is also less choice in the shops and occasionally the more sought after items will sell out, but if like us, this is unlikely to bother you then why worry!

The worst stuff!

1. Christmas is in the summer.

This just feels plain wrong. I am getting used to it after six years but somehow the lack of frosts, snow and the generally snuggly feeling when curling up next to a roaring fire and gazing at the lights on the tree, reduces the festive feel for me. I believe that true Kiwis, who have grown up used to the warm Christmases spent by the beach, would probably feel just as unfestive spending Christmas in the damp streets of wintery England. For my girls Christmas will probably be a time of sun, sand and barbecues.

2. It's too hot to eat!

Well it just is. When I was growing up one of the great treats at Christmas was the annual purchase of a large tin of Quality Streets or Roses. These would then be gradually eaten over the space of Christmas day and Boxing day in front of the Christmas movies. In fact even though we would barely burn any energy (as we rarely moved from in front of the TV) we were still able to demolish an entire tin of sweets in 24 hours!
In New Zealand is just too hot. It's impossible to sit down and eat and entire Turkey, roast potatoes and all the trimmings in temperatures of over 25 degrees (although I know people who do). Chocolates are great, and still purchased every year, but they tend to melt when exposed to the bright sunshine over here, and they are not the kind of thing you take to the beach to eat.

3.No family.

Unless you are one of the lucky expats that has persuaded their extended family to join them on an adventure to the other side of the world, you are likely to be a bit short on family visits over Christmas. (However it has been pointed out to me that this could in fact be a bonus if you don't want to be visited by family members!)
I grew up enjoying big family gatherings as a child and I loved every minute of them. The games, sing alongs and subsequent arguments where something I looked forward to every year. Although I am very lucky and my parents have made the journey over three times in the last six years. Apart from those times we have had Christmas on our own and have been creating Christmas traditions that I hope my girls will then carry on.
The good friends I have been lucky enough to make over here have also helped me to cope with missing my family at this time of year. Other expats understand what you are going through and become surrogate families. New Zealanders themselves are also so friendly and open they tend to take you into their families anyway and so big get togethers still happen anyway but just with people who you aren't necessarily connected to genetically. (Again it has been pointed out to me that this can be a good thing!)

This is just my personal summary of Christmas in NZ. Other people may have very different experiences. I am aware that I am living in an outlying suburb of a small city. People living in Auckland and rural areas may have very different experiences. I am slowly growing to love the Kiwi Christmas but my longing for snow and carols sung in the cold and woolly hats is not helped by the fact that the majority of Christmas cards, advent calenders and wrapping paper sold over here have snowmen, robins and wintery scenes all over them!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A brief taste of summer!

The kids have stopped sleeping. We have intermittent and frequent tears over nothing. They are unable to concentrate on anything for longer than ten minutes. Therefore it must be nearly Christmas!

I am sure I was not like this as a kid. Although my parents assure me I was. My girls have dark circles under their eyes and have this vacant look about them. They are so excited about Christmas and our subsequent holiday on the South Island they are barely holding it together. I must say I am also pretty excited myself!

Thankfully we have lots to distract us at this time of year. We had a brief taste of summer with two days where the sun came out uninterrupted and the temperatures reached the mid twenties. It was gorgeous! The girls finished school at mid day on Tuesday and a group of us headed down to the beach and spent the afternoon soaking up the sun, sea and a lot of sand.

This gorgeous beach is unbelievably at the bottom of our road. We can walk there. Yes, I do know just how lucky we are!

A friend of mine has returned to the UK for Christmas and I just received an email describing how shocked he was to have to compete with the crowds in the local Waitrose just to buy a loaf of bread. He assumed it was just due to the nearness of Christmas but was told that this was just normal. Shops over here do get crowded at Christmas and I was shocked to actually have to hunt for a parking space this weekend at the local mall. But it is nothing like the manic rush and crowds I used to have to deal with in the shopping malls of the south east of England.

Christmas over here is still about the presents (don't want to give anyone an idealist view of Christmas in NZ - it is still the consumerist celebration it is elsewhere) but it is also about beaches, camping, road trips, tramping and being out enjoying the sun. Christmas dinners are planned but are lighter and less important that making sure you have packed the snorkel and  boogie board in the back of the car for the afternoon trip to the beach.

Unfortunately the last couple of days have seen a return to the drab rainy weather you often get at this time of year. The air is warm and muggy but the clouds are dark and grey and emit the drizzly misty rain that can inexplicably make you really wet in a very short period of time.

The sea is also not looking very inviting.

However I am optimistic that the good summer weather will return for Christmas and we will get to enjoy the beach on Christmas day. We are so lucky to live in the beautiful Porirua.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Some early Christmas pressies!

My girls have a day and a half left of school this year!

The kiwi academic year is a long slog to Christmas. The school year in the UK is split fairly equally between Christmas and the summer holidays, plus Easter and half terms thrown in as well. The new Zealand school year is split into 4 terms. So it runs from the end of January to Easter and then Easter to the mid winter break. There is then another break around October and then it's the long run until Christmas.

With Christmas and the summer holidays occurring at the same time it feels like you wait all year for the celebrations to begin. Although we have a similar holiday structure to the UK, without the mid winter Christmas cheer, you don't feel like you have had a real break from the day to day drudgery.

With the holidays so close now we have indulged ourselves and bought some early Christmas presents!

The best day ever according to Ally :)

Kayaks are awesome! We are so lucky to live near a large inlet so although we are on the sea it's nice and safe even in the choppy water we found ourselves on today. The girls were able to manoeuvre these little kayaks easily and the water was surprisingly warm so when they did jump in it wasn't too shocking.

I can't wait until the real summer weather hopefully arrives in the next few weeks!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Seasonal Pukana

Pukana = (verb) to stare wildly, dilate the eyes - done by both genders when performing haka and waiata to emphasise particular words.  

Kapa Haka = (noun) concert party, haka group, Māori cultural group, Māori performing group.                                                                   

Nativities and traditional Christmas plays don't seem to be the done thing over here, unless you attend a religious school. As we are committed atheist/jedi/wika/agnostic (depending on what side of the bed I get out of) our kids attend the local non committed primary.

It has been a bit of a revelation to see what local schools get up to a Christmas and this year ours decided to produce an end of term Pukana Kapa Haka. This involved the whole school performing in the evening on the playing field. The lucky parents had picnics and strawberries and cream whilst cheering them on. It was rather awesome and the kids were so enthusiastic you could hear their voices echo off the surrounding hills.

My girls could sing all of the songs in Maori and have even got the hang of using the poi (the ball on the end of a string which is swung about rhythmically during the dance). Unfortunately they don't know the meaning of everything they sing but I'm impressed that they have learnt the words in such a relatively short period of time.

So my two girls born in the middle of the traditional English counties of Buckinghamshire and Wiltshire are now performing Haka's at Christmas on the other side of the world. Rather cool really :)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Warming up to Christmas

This will be our sixth Christmas in New Zealand and still the lead up to the festive season feels a bit odd. Christmas cards in shops still have snow scenes on them and robins and snowmen still feature heavily in the decorations. However my kids are now in shorts on a daily basis and I have had to dig out my posh sandals for work and discard my winter tights. It all still feels decidedly unseasonal.

I am feeling a bit more festive since this afternoon as we decided to put up the outside lights. This is fun as you obviously get to use the outdoors far more than you ever would in the UK at Christmas time. Trouble is you have to stay up fairly late to get to appreciate the lights as it takes so long to get dark!

I am particularly pleased with these cheery little guys!

And since we live in a wood we had to include the trees in the Christmas spirit.

I do love Kiwi summers and as ours gradually approaches everything in the garden is beginning to bloom. I am willing to put up with feeling a little bit odd about a warm Christmas when everything is so vibrantly coming to life at this time of year.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

City Scapes and history trails.

World War one has weirdly been on my mind recently. I have taken a trip to see a rather brilliant play about New Zealand's role in WWI (An Awfully Big Adventure) with the year 10s at school and have found myself having to teach a brief section on the topic.

My Great Grandfather's fought in WWI and having lived in Belgium for a brief period I have visited some of the haunting historical sites involved. However my knowledge on New Zealand's involvement was limited. My adopted country suffered significant losses as many countries did. However it's remoteness and willingness to get involved and support the mother country makes the sacrifices of the families involved even more poignant.

At the time the population of New Zealand was around 1 million. One hundred and twenty thousand New Zealanders enlisted and 18'500 were killed. Over 2700 died in the tragic and ill-fated fight at Gallipoli.

I discovered this weekend that New Zealand actually made preparations and plans in case the country was ever invaded. Walking in Mirimar we came across gun posts and monitoring stations set up during the first and second world wars to protect and monitor Wellington Harbour.

The remains of these gun emplacements still stand on the headland and stare out across the Cook Strait keeping a watchful eye out for enemy boats and submarines. We found them a particularly good spot for a picnic.

The site also contains the remains of an important Maori Pa. It was used (in a similar fashion to the World War buildings) as a way to guard the entrance to the harbour from enemies.

You can see why the location has been repeatedly used as an observation and defensive post. It has unbeaten views across the harbour entrance and out to the Cook Strait.

We were also rather impressed with the outline of the Waka built into a memorial at the site.

I can see why Peter Jackson (of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit fame) chooses to live in this area. It is stunningly beautiful and only a few minutes drive from the centre of Wellington.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Weekend Coffee Culture

Weekends are precious when you have kids. Weekdays disappear in a blur of quick conversations, periods of rushed work deadlines, speedy car journeys from school to sports clubs and frantic searches for vital school equipment two minutes before your due to walk out the door.

So Saturday and Sunday have become vital havens for doing stuff you actually want to do. We tend to spend ours dog walking, playing soccer and messing around in the garden. With the occasional visits to browse round shops and picking up the occasional food shop (but only when there really is no alternative!).

Most weekends involve eating out at least once. I hate cooking, or rather I do not have the patience to spend more than half an hour constructing anything in the kitchen and so if the opportunity arises I will get someone else to feed the family. So most of the time this involves visiting one of the many great little cafe's in the local area.

We only ate out occasionally in the UK but over here there is an abundance of great little independent cafés and restaurants and all of them tend to be family friendly. Café culture is big in Wellington and you will always find a choice of great little coffee places on any shopping street of a reasonable size.

We were lucky enough this weekend to visit Petone and went to a great little café on Jackson Street. Like most of the little independent cafes it did a great selection of pies, slices, open sarnies and soup. All of the food tends to be made in house and is healthy and fresh. My girls had tomato and basil soup and a salmon bagel. And of course the obligatory hot chocolate and marshmallows.

It's still winter and the weather is unpredictable and unreliable. However since it's New Zealand it is not long before we get a beautiful sunny day to break up the spells of wintery downpours.

Sunday afternoon was cold but bright and sunny. So we headed down to the seafront for a late afternoon stroll. Along with lots of other people who had the same great idea.

The air was so crisp and clear you could easily see the South Island and as the sun began to set the sky became quite spectacular.

I think even the dog appreciated this view.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Sunny Spells and Wet Weekends

This Saturday it is wet and blustery. I bravely ventured out this afternoon and was caught in a downpour with the dog. He was not impressed with my timing. The sea was a dark greeny grey and looked rather ominous and threatening. I tried to get some good pictures but my camera (or rather my skill as a photographer) was not up to really capturing the mood.

Thankfully last weekend was much more cheerful. We actually managed to get some work done in the garden. Or rather my other half did. I spent the afternoon messing around with my new camera lense.

This little guy sat and posed for a good twenty minutes. Very obliging of him.

Think we might be fighting rather a loosing battle with the undergrowth.

And this is how sunny it was in Wellington last weekend when we were lucky enough to go and watch a couple of soccer matches at Westpac Stadium. Worryingly my other half and the girls enjoyed it so much he is now considering buying season ticket to the Phoenix games.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Photography and a holiday in Lake Ferry

During the last school holidays we decided to cross over the Rimutakas and spend a few days exploring the Wairarapa. In particular the area around Lake Ferry (Lake Onoke).

This is a strangely isolated and beautiful spot which is probably a lot busier during summer. But when we went it was still absolutely breath taking. The lake is formed by a large sandy spit which has cut off the freshwater lake from the Tasman Sea. It appears to be a popular area for fishing and camping and is apparently a very good area for surfing as well. However the blustery, cold wintery weather made visiting the one and only restaurant/pub in the area more appealing.

The Lake Ferry Hotel is perched on the edge of the coastline and is the only facility of any kind in the area. Thankfully it is warm and welcoming and the food is likewise. We spent two evenings there eating and enjoying the cheery warmth surrounded by the few other hardy holiday makers in the area.

Martinborough is about a forty minute drive from Lake Ferry and we spent an enjoyable morning nosing around the shops and cafes there. We also took the kids to the Pinnacles which is one of the locations from Lord of the Rings. The scene when Aragon visits the underworld to get the army of the dead.

This is a spectacular walk but not as creepy or scary as the film made it appear. As a geographer I find it a fascinating example of the power of water to create and change landscapes.

As it was my birthday whilst we were there I took the opportunity to mess around with my new tripod and lenses and I am quite happy with the results!

A winter sunset over the Rimutakas.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Happy Birthday Your Majesty

I can't say I really paid attention to when Her Maj actually had her birthday before we moved over here. But now, as we have a long weekend every year on the Queens official birthday, it has become a date that is always highlighted on our calendar.

The long weekend tends to be really needed at this time of year. The days are shorter and the nights are colder. Most nights our little wood burning stove is lit and the kids have to wear their slippers and dressing gowns in the morning to keep out the chill.

Although it never really gets as cold as it does in the UK, the clear nights can be surprisingly chilly and frosty. The wind chill factor in Wellington should also never be underestimated. Our house has double glazing and insulation but occasionally we do miss central heating as the wood burning stove has to be fairly constantly maintained once it is lit.

Luckily this year the long weekend has been bright sunny and warm and I actually ended up in a t-shirt on our wintry walk this morning.

I thought it was quite appropriate that since it was the Queens birthday we ended up at Queens Elizabeth Park.

It's a great place to walk the dog. Ted always meets lot of other friendly dogs to run manically about with.

There was literally not a cloud in the sky.

The model airplane club was enjoying the good weather today. I got told off for stopping between the signs and gawping at the planes. Apparently this is very dangerous as the planes fly low in this area. You have been warned!

This is the tree that, according to my kids, I always stop and take a pictures of. Well in my opinion its a beautiful tree. So here is another picture of it to add to my collection.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Ermmm...... it has been a while.....

Life....its that little thing that gets in the way of blogging every now and then!

We bought a house and then spent a great summer doing it up whilst my parents came over to visit and then work, school and the general routine of family life got in the way.

Well I love writing and taking photos and I have missed being able to record life on here. So my other half has just been kind enough to buy me a new laptop. My intention is to use it to start updating the blog again.

A lot has happened since I last logged on here. We are still in New Zealand and unless I am forced by a super human and very brave assailant, we are unlikely to move anywhere in the foreseeable future. I have fallen in love with our Tree House and it really feels like it has welcomed us into its branches and accepted us a it's new permanent residents (along with the dog, the cat, the rabbit and very fat guinea pig).

We are beginning to feel like we belong in this little village and when taking the dog for a walk will almost always meet someone we know to have a quick chat with. I do find it an advantage some mornings to take the dog out before the sun comes up just so the walk is over and done with quickly. Otherwise I am almost guaranteed to meet someone I know. This can be very embarrassing as I often can't be bothered to get properly dressed that early in the morning and will have wondered down the road in jeans and coat hurriedly pulled over the top of pirate pyjamas.

So in summary, life is good.