forging north

in new zealand good friday and easter monday are state holidays so that means a 4 day weekend for everyone. trying to learn from our christmas mistake of not booking early the jboss had planned and booked a trip for us to the tongariro region and a relaxing spa visit for gromit.

tongariro trip.tiff

on our trip up we went the western route through wanganui. since it was good friday the town was locked up tight, but looked like a great place to visit and we’ll put it on the list to return to soon. we did find one cafe that was open and given the holiday we set our expectations low. i was expecting mediocre fish & chips. turns out it was very good. great english beer selection and i had a venison burger with mango chutney. hard to beat.

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another great tree lined main street with cafes, shops and a majestic old theatre. almost all of the banks in new zealand are australian owned (like the one above) including unbelievably the bank of new new zealand and new zealand bank.

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right past the cbd was a huge park along the river. the children’s area was themed around nursery rhymes with the 3 bears, humptey dumptey, etc. inside the big pumpkin was a prep area, huge grill and picnic tables. most of the public parks here have public grills that gas fueled and free to use. they have a flat metal cooking surface like at mcdonalds and are started just by pushing a button. a lot easier (and safer) than everyone bringing charcoal and dousing it with lighter fluid. at one end of the park was the ultimate tree house.

after we passed through wanganui we decided to take the scenic backroads up to our destination. the guidebook described it as a can’t miss vistas – so how could we pass?

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i’m not keen on living out of the city, but if i were the homestead in first photo would be ideal.

two stories behind the second picture. firstly the sign on the cliff. you are entering a single crewed ambulance zone. that means when the ambulance arrives the paramedic can either treat you – or drive – but not both at the same time, so try not to be an idiot and need any urgent medical care. keep that in mind for the photos below. and why is jackie laughing? she is wearing sandals and has just stepped in a pile of poo. guess who’s riding on the roof rack for a while?

the last photo could easily be from vermont, and was a brief glimpse of fall. we had great tall, slender birches lining the road for the early part of the drive.

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the drive started out on a nice winding paved road, but the pace quickly slowed as the road turned to gravel and was frequently shared with local livestock.

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the first shot is great on several levels. firstly the bulls lining the road. “sure – come on down. we’re nice and friendly. ignore the horns. and forget about the sign reminding you that this is a single crewed ambulance zone. what are you waiting for?” nextly is the 100 kph speed limit sign. 100 kph is about 60 mph and is very fast for a paved country road. much less a gravel road with a steep drop off on one side. or more so for a single lane, gravel road with a steep drop off lined by bulls.

at one point we let a local farmer pass and the visibility dropped to zero. we assumed we’d know when we hit the livestock.

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as we emerged from the country road our final destination – mt tongariro – came into view.

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the last town before we arrived at tonariro was raetihi. more than a bit depressing since it was clearly struggling and a shadow of its former prime.
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yet another former bank of new zealand building shamefully degraded to office for a local radio station.

so when the town elders were sitting around the table in the late 1930’s trying to decide how to celebrate the town’s upcoming centennial, how did the conversation turn to a rest room?


mt ngauruhoe at sunset in another this-is-why-we-moved-here images.

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our home for the holidays is the wilderness lodge in national park. yes – the name of the town is “national park”. the first several conversations about where we were staying had a who’s on first quality.

a: “so, where are we going to be staying on our holiday?”
j: “we’re booked at the wilderness lodge in national park”
a: “great – what town is that in?”
j: “national park”
a: “right – but what town are we nearest to?”
j: “the lodge is in in national park”

at this point i give up and don’t see the light until we pass the state highway sign that welcomes us to national park.

after we unpack the car we head up to the lodge for dinner only to find out that they are booked up for the night. this was a bit surprising since the small dining room never seemed more than half full. feeling bad they offered us a bowl of fries. so our good friday dinner was fries & beers on the couch watching willy wonka on the telly.

we were off to bed early after setting the alarm for 0530 so we could catch the 0630 shuttle bus for our big tramp tomorrow.

closed for the holidays

ok – so i guess the whole thing about a better work life balance in new zealand was not just marketing hype.

new zealand has nearly shut down for the next 2 weeks.

i was looking forward to my time off, but was not prepared for everyone else to take time off also.

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2 footnotes to the last image.

it’s from my favourite lunch place – the higher taste restaurant. i went in the first time out of curiosity and have been going back 2 or 3 times a week since. if they would cook all my meals i could become a vegetarian (vegan actually) tomorrow and miss nothing – well except the all-you-can-eat tony roma’s baby back ribs dinner.

the second is the irony of the hare krishna restaurant being closed for christmas

news flash – i like it here

another great day.

some highlights

  • fine weather with plenty of sunshine and warming temperatures. my foot is feeling better each day and the walk to work was easy. living and working in wellington (the humble 617 of new zealand) is great. my car moves out of its spot maybe one a week.
  • today was curry club. every two weeks a group of eds employees and alumni get together for lunch. they always go to “roti” – a great family run malaysian & indian cafe (that happens to almost straight across the street from my apartment). the owners know all of the regulars and have their drinks waiting for them by the time their coats are off.

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  • on the walk home i stopped for a few staples at the grocery. “new world” is one of the national chains here (the only kiwi owned chain they will point out). until last week i had done all my shopping at a large (kiwi large) store of theirs down near the museum hotel – about a mile from my apartment. with my foot on the injured list i had to find something else. almost every block in the cbd has one or two small dairys/groceries/superettes but that didn’t seem like a good plan. i had noticed that new world had a tiny storefront just 2 blocks from my apartment but had always dismissed based on it’s size, assuming it must be more of a quickie mart. but since i wasn’t in a position to be choosy i stopped in. holy molly – behind the tiny storefront they have hidden a full sized grocery story. it had everything the bigger store had (although in smaller quantities) and no surprise it is bustling with the after work crowd. a great find.
  • the line must have been nearly 50 long when i joined but they have 10 checkouts and a dispatcher at the head of the line insuring that folks are quickly shuffled to the next available cashier. a small thing but the dispatcher has a bucket of candy (“sweets”) that she offers to you when while you wait for your turn. a nice touch that can’t cost the company even a penny but makes you feel like your business is appreciated and they care for their customers.

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  • after droping off the groceries i decided i was feeling good enough to walk around a bit. returned to a fantastic place i found several weeks ago called “vintage”. it’s hidden a bit down an alley near te papa. great atmosphere and decor. friendly staff and good music. when i sat down one of the bartenders says “budvar?” (that’s what i had when i was there last).

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i’m enjoying my budvar, reading the day’s paper, and having a good chat with the 2 barkeeps. one of them is getting out some fresh mint. it smells so strong that i look up from my paper. “smells great, huh?” says the bartender? i mention that the mint reminded me how much i i like mojitos – but only if there made properly by a good bartender with great ingredients. it is one of the drinks – like margaritas – that can either be fantastic or horrible depending on how it is made. he asks if i have ever had a calpirinha – similar to a mojito but one that his likes much better. i admit that i’ve never heard of it, but that i trust his recommendation and it will give me something to look forward to for my next time back. he says he’s confident that if i try one i’ll come back for more, so he makes one and serves it up on the house. it was great and he’s right that i’ll ask for one next time i’m back.

How to Make the Perfect Caipirinha

  • after vintage i stopped at one of the many turkish kebab joints for some dinner. most of similar with a middle eastern decorated interior and bad turkish music videos playing. i got a lamb kebab and turkish bread to go (gigantic portions, NZ$7) and headed back to the apartment.
  • the streets on the way home are bustling with the full friday night crowd. goth kids. office workers out after work. two sets of street performers out on manners street. a punker with a pink mohawk twirling flaming batons while his friend plays speed metal on a guitar and amp. further on down the street a guy in his 40’s wearing muck books, retro pants, turtleneck and scarf playing on a tiny electronic keyboard while his mate was on a full set of drums. actually they were quite good. i stayed for a bit before heading home to eat my kebab.

“bonjour”, “ciao”, “HOWDY!”

three immigrant encounters today.

first was a snack at a tiny french run crêperie on manners street – crêpes a go-go. french music playing, the family running the stand babbling en francais, and a tip jar that says “pretend you are in france and leave a tip” (tipping is very uncommon in nz). all very nice.

later in the day i stopped for a real italian pizza for dinner. plenty of good pizza in wellington, but some days i have exhausted my ability for new and welcome something well known and comfortable – like an italian pizza. pizza pomodoro is a tiny place that i had walked by almost every day and finally decided it was time to give it a try. the pizza, the owner (massimo) and his brother did not disappoint. a great italian oven fired with local nz wood. the highlight was just listening to the two guys chatting in italian and laughing as i waited for my pizza – they were having a great time. no idea the context but at one point i hear “mama mia!” i almost laughed out loud.

but all good things had to come to an end. walking home with my pizza i’m waiting at the light to cross when two guys walk up and join the wait. both in their late 20’s. one a kiwi in typical nz business attire – black shoes and pants, blue dress shirt. the other is an american dressed in a us financial analyst power suit and, drum roll…. cowboy hat. it probably is just what grabs your ear but it seemed like he was shouting. ugh.

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(with apologies to the probably nice dude in the random picture that i selected)

blackish tan

after work i had a hankering for a black & tan so i stopped at molly’s, an irish pub on cuba street. similar to many of the irish pubs in the states they have packed up a pub in ireland and used them for interior and furnishings. so it seemed a smart place to go for a black & tan.

my first hint of trouble was when i asked the bartender for a black & tan and he looked like he didn’t hear what i said:
“hey mate, what can i get you?”
“a black & tan please”
“what’s that mate?”
“a black & tan” (i assumed he hadn’t heard me)
“what’s a black & tan?”
another bartender chimes in “it’s half dark, half red”
“so what do you want – dark or red?”
“it’s half of each, you fill the glass half full with bass or harp, and then gently fill it to the top with guinness”
“never heard of that – so why do you mix them?”
“you actually don’t mix them, the guinness will float on top”
other bartender – “you use a spoon when you add the guinness”
“oh – ok”
he then fils the glass half full with something like bass (“red” i guess), pours the guinness in and then *uses the spoon to mix them*.
ahhhh! oh, please stop.


a proper black & tan

ok – i guess some folks feel a bit stronger

the biggest homegrown pizza chain is called “hell pizza.” everything about them is quite irreverent – their signature pizzas are names after the 7 deadly sins and their advertising is always pushing the envelope a bit.

this one got some notice.


they’re referring to their pizza of course. oh – you thought they were referring to the spiritual realm of evil and suffering?…

ultimately it has been found to be offensive by New Zealand’s Advertising Standards Complaints Board and has to come down.

pizza’s quite good.