Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christmas and family

Christmas is always exhausting!

I think its something do with the fact that Christmas in New Zealand is during the summer and is also the time when everyone has their summer holiday. So there is no respite in the middle of winter, you pin all of your hopes for a decent holiday and celebration on the summer months. At least in the UK you have Christmas and summer holidays six months apart. So holidays and celebrations are spread more evenly throughout the year.

I'm not complaining really. I think we are just really tired this year. Or at least I am trying to make excuses for the fact I fell asleep for two hours after Christmas dinner this year! It clearly has nothing to do with age :)

We are all really excited as my sister is coming over to visit from the UK. She has never been to New Zealand before and I have not seen her for over four years. The girls have reached a fever pitch of excitement. My sister is their very cool Aunty, so much cooler than their Mum could ever be!

One of the things I have noticed about being an expat is that visits from family are really important. I find myself driving around our local town planning the sights I want to take her to visit and things I want to show her while she's over here. I have been doing that ever since we moved here eight years ago.  Silly things like wanting to sit in the corner cafe drinking coffee after the dog walk so that she can experience the atmosphere. Or taking her to the supermarket so that she can see that the assistants actually pack our shopping away here and there are no queues for checkouts! I'm not sure these are the things she'll want to see, but these are some of the things I guess I weirdly value. 

I find you just want to almost justify why you have moved so far away and desperately need your visitors to appreciate why you decided to move to the otherside of the world. 

Its probably partly guilt. I often feel guilty for being able to live in such a beautiful part of the world and so when people come and visit I need them to appreciate why we made the  decision to abandon our family and and relocate such a long distance away.

Also probably part of me is hoping that they may decide to join us!

After all who wouldn't want to spend Christmas eve paddling on the beach!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


About a month ago now the Brunt family officially became citizens of New Zealand.

This was a very big deal for me and I just felt that I should make a record of it on here. We have always intended on staying in New Zealand permanently (a decision made about a month after we first arrived sitting on a bench in Butterfly Creek in Eastbourne looking over Wellington harbour) and eventually becoming citizens.

We were prompted into it by the Brexit vote in the UK earlier this year. As a family we had lived in Brussels for just under two years and we had always felt like Europeans, embracing the many benefits that being part of Europe brought with it. However after the shock result and all the vitriol and lies that the Government and a large percentage of the British press seemed to be spreading we began to feel more and more remote from our British heritage. I was ashamed to be British!

So the day after the Brexit vote we filled in all the papers, paid the fees and put in our application to become proper Kiwis. As we already had permanent residency this was not really a difficult task and the Department of Internal Affairs are very helpful. You can make an appointment to go there for an interview and they process and check all the paperwork in front of you.

About 6 months later we were invited to attend the citizenship ceremony. You have to declare your loyalty to the Queen and receive your certificates from the Mayor before you are officially declared citizens.

The ceremony itself was lovely and a very uplifting and positive experience. The city we live in is very multicultural and there were people from all around the world getting their citizenship at the same time as us. Some of the accents we spotted whilst they read the oath were American, Spanish, Malaysian, British, Samoan and Scandinavian. The section that almost moved me to tears (I am a bit of a soppy old thing at times) was when the Mayor declared that his city was proud of its multicultural heritage and that we should not forget our original culture or traditions but they should be blended and shared with the rest of the population. If only every country was as accepting as this.

I really wanted to know what everyones story was and how and why the ended up moving to New Zealand and settling in our little city. I was particularly interested to find out why the chap who appeared to be a Tibetan Monk has decided to move to New Zealand but his grasp of English was faltering so I was not brave enough to approach him.

The ceremony ends with everyone singing the national anthem and you are presented with a native tree to plant. Since we live in the middle of a native forest we were obviously grateful, but did wonder where we would find the space to plant it. In the end we invited some friends round for a celebration of our citizenship and a ceremonial planting in the back garden.

I did ask the kids to do a haka as we planted it, however they ended up doing the macarana instead!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Rumblings, rocking's and risk assessments.

The picture above was taken on our road a few weeks ago just after the big earthquake and the flooding. We have always known that Wellington was at risk from earthquakes but we have had some strong reminders of the potential for natural disasters recently.

On November the 14th the top of the South Island and the southern section of the North Island was hit by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake. It certainly woke us up with a jolt when it hit at 12.02am. I woke up when I felt our bed shake which I thought was my other half fidgeting. It then began to shake quite violently and we both jumped out of bed, stood staring at each other for a good 10 seconds trying to figure out if the shaking was going to stop.  It didn't, so we stumbled at high speed down two flights of stairs to check on the kids.

By the time we got down to their bedrooms the house had stopped moving but the lamp shades where still swinging back and forth fiercely. The kids where both quite shaken but I managed to convince them to go back to sleep as surprisingly nothing had fallen off the shelves and a quick glance around the interior of the house showed no obvious damage.

We returned to bed, shaken, but not overly concerned. It was by far the biggest earthquake we had ever experienced but the house seemed to have coped with it well. I had already checked Facebook (font of all knowledge) and lots of people had commented on the earth moving and it appeared that those in central Wellington had been hit worse in this area. GeoNet (best source of info on all things earthquake or volcanic) said that the quake was centred on the South Island 15km north of Culverden and that their was a tsunami risk.

Thankfully we are at the top of a big hill, so even though we are only a few minutes walk from the beach we do not have to evacuate in the event of earthquakes. Unfortunately others in our little village are not so lucky. A few of the people living on the waterfront got in their cars and drove up our hill, spending the rest of the night sleeping in their cars. Had I known this I would have offered them a bed for the night.

In the end I got very little sleep the rest of the night. When you feel the ground beneath your feet shift and your entire surroundings wobble and shake its very difficult to lie down and switch your brain off again.  I spent my time messing around on Facebook reading the updates from around NZ. It was not really until the morning that the country realised the extent of the damage in Kaikoura.  A lot of the hotels and tall buildings in Wellington were evacuated straight after the earthquake and the images of the dazed and half dressed people wondering around the familiar city in the dark were quite stark and disturbing. My other half went straight back to sleep and snored away until sunrise. Most unfair.

When we woke it was to news that no trains where running into the city and people were being advised not to travel in until engineers had been able to assess the damage. Quite a few schools were shut and helicopters where already in the air assessing the damage near the epicentre on the South Island.

In the end my other half, along with many others, had to work from home for a week as his building was deemed unsafe. Quite a few buildings in the city have been cordoned off and are either being strengthened or in extreme cases demolished.

Overall I think these events have made a lot of people re-assess their emergency plans and double check their emergency kits. It has heightened the general publics awareness of the risk we all live with daily.

We worked in London during the 7/11 London bombings. That was scary. I guess this risk is too, although somehow more acceptable. It's a natural risk, something we can do nothing about. We can prepare for it but if and when it happens there is no-one we can blame as its an act of nature. I find that more acceptable than an act of hatred that all acts of terrorism are.

We have updated our emergency kit and discussed emergency plans as a family. I love where we live and I am willing to accept that we live with the knowledge that at some point in the future there will be another big earthquake in this region. All we can do is prepare as best as possible for this unpredictable, and rather amazing, natural event.

Then just a day later we had the flooding!

A huge amount of rain fell in a very short stretch of time. Roads in our town became impassable and it took us three hours to do a journey that normally takes 10 minutes.

Hopefully we have had our share of extreme events for this year!

Time waits for no woman

Yes it has been a long time. Yes a lot of things have changed. Yes we are still in New Zealand :)

In February it will have been eight years since we landed here and in November we became citizens. My girls are proper kiwis now and having spent the majority of their lives in the "land of the long cloud" they really consider themselves New Zealanders and not British.

We will keep dual citizenship (although Brexit and other events make me wonder why we bother) so that should the kids wish to spend time in the land of their birth they can.

I am still in love with this country and still carry my camera to all of the interesting places we visit. I will be returning to work full time next year but due to my rather nice new iMac I hope to start updating this blog again regularly.

It may turn into a photo blog with less writing involved but having looked back at this record recently it seems a shame to just abandon all these memories.

Below are some photos from the various fun locations we have explored over the last year.

The Chateau Tongariro in mid winter. Fantastic hotel and spectacular scenery. Always reminds me of the hotel in "The Shining". Thankfully not quite as spooky.

We completed the Tongariro crossing with the kids this year. One of the most amazing and scenic walks I have ever been on. Well worth doing if you get the chance.

We were also lucky enough to visit Castle Point on the east coast of the North Island. For any geographer or geologist this area is a must see location. The coastline in this area was uplifted around 2.4 million years ago and the rocks contain many fragments of fossilised sea life. It is believed this area was once a massive reef at the base of a large underwater canyon.

It is also a very good location for spotting these chaps. Although you can smell them way before you actually spot the. I never knew seals could be so smelly!

Anyway my aim to keep updating this blog from now on regularly. At least with photos if not a proper article. Hopefully there are some people out there who may still be interested!