Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Election season

New Zealand has national elections in just two weeks' time.  Unlike in America where people are campaigning more than a year before the election, things here didn't really get into full swing until a couple weeks ago when the Rugby World Cup ended.  Naturally.

So we've been soaking up a lot of political news lately and trying to educate ourselves about the candidates and the issues.  As the Flight of the Conchords said, "We're talkin about the issues, but we're keepin it funky ...."

Basically, there are two main parties: National (right-leaning) and Labour (left-leaning).  John Key is the head of the National party and, as his party has the most seats in parliament, he's the current prime minister. 

Incidentally, how's this for the "Only in New Zealand" file?  I met the prime minister a few weeks ago at an outdoor mall.  Thank goodness we had our camera with us! 

me and John
I've never met a prime minister before so I was a little flustered and couldn't manage anything clever to say.  So all I said was, "I'm a new kiwi" and "this is Quinn" (he was on my back).  John replied, "that's nice."  I didn't tell him that I don't plan to vote for him.

The other major party, Labour, is led by Phil Goff, who we both find pretty irritating.  He lost my vote when he appeared on a current affairs/comedy show called "7 Days".  Although dressed casually in jeans and meant to be joking around with the panelists, he seemed totally stiff and insincere and not funny.  Our local MP is a member of the Labour party, but we've not heard anything from her or seen any sign that she's done anything for us in the nearly two years we've lived in her electorate.  So while I'm definitely a left-leaning person, Labour leaves me with an empty, unsatisfied feeling.

The third most popular party is the Green party, who are currently polling at about 10% of the vote.  This seems amazing to me.  Compare the American Green Party, whose candidate for the 2008 presidential election didn't even get to be on half the states' ballots, and who managed to win only about 160,000 votes (according to her Wikipedia page, anyway.  Honestly I'd never heard of the woman until I just Googled this).

I'm leaning Green this election.  Apart from their policies, of course, I like that a Green party representative handed out packets of organic lettuce seeds at our local farmers' market instead of pamphlets. 

I like that the Greens call their website "the frog blog".

Although not an official act of the party, I also like this billboard stunt one of their members pulled.  This was all over the news just today.  Someone (or, more likely, many someones) defaced hundreds of National party election posters by putting stickers on them.  The stickers said "The Rich Deserve More" or "Drill it, Mine it, Sell it."  It was done to look like part of the poster.  Of course I don't condone vandalism, but I thought this was cleverly done.

Then there is a buffet of other, smaller parties.  None are polling at more than 5% of the vote right now.  That means the only way a smaller party can be represented in Parliament is if one of their members wins an electorate seat. 
One of those little parties is New Zealand First.  I understand they're pretty far-right-leaning.  They've got a guy running in our electorate.  His name is Dennis O'Rourke.  He recently parked a van outside our house and started talking through a a megaphone.  Two of our neighbours stood nearby, listening politely.

Lonely campaigner
We were out back doing some gardening when suddenly we heard a loud voice delaring, "I'm for educating our children!"  But who isn't for that, really? 

Monday, November 14, 2011


Friday was Canterbury Anniversary Day, a public holiday for those of us living in Canterbury.  (All the provinces have their own anniversary day, which is their special day off work and no one else's.)  Since it was a 3-day weekend, we decided to get away.  We had not gotten away for some time, and considered we were well overdue.

Deciding where to go was a challenge in itself.  We wanted to take both the boy and the pup - this would be a holiday for the whole pack.  This means we (1) need a bach/holiday home that allows pets, and (2) need it to be within a reasonable driving distance.  We wanted to go far enough away that we felt "away", but not so far that Quinn had a meltdown in the car.

The west coast is perfect for us.  It's about 3 hours by car, with a perfectly placed tea/lunch/potty break halfway there in Arthur's Pass.  And I was able to find a cheap 3-bedroom holiday home in Hokitika, about a block from the beach.  All good.

So you expect a bach to be "rustic" and this one certainly met expectations.  I think the house was quite possibly made of cardboard.  Not that it blew over or leaked or anything, but you could see seams in the walls and it just didn't feel altogether solid.  But that's ok; it was shelter.  And it had a mighty heating device:
Provider of heat
This monster is a "multi-fuel burner" - it burns wood and coal.  Even though it's late spring here, we fired this baby up our first night in the bach.  There was some smoke.  The smoke alarm sounded.  We had to open all the windows, and the back door.  It was good fun.

Incidentally, I never saw such a thing before moving to New Zealand, but wood burners are quite common for heating houses here.  Lucky for me, Gareth comes from a country that is also into archaic forms of heating and was able to work the thing. 

So we've never heard anyone rave about Hokitika or anything, and the west coast in general is kind of the butt of a joke most of the time.  I guess that's because there aren't many people who live there.  It's kind of the wild west of New Zealand.   But despite this (or maybe because of it?) Gareth and I are really drawn to the place. 

We were a bit slack with the camera during this holiday and didn't take any pictures of the town itself.  Imagine a small, tidy town, situated alongside a beach, with a cute clock tower in the middle.  That's Hokitika.  No McDonald's or KFC to be found here, but it does have a Millie's Cafe (good homemade almond slice!).

On Saturday, we took a drive to see some of the sights.  There was a helpful map in our bach that highlighted all the local attractions.  One of them was called the "Kowhitirangi Incident Memorial".  This piqued my interest.  A memorial for an "incident"?  Tell me more.  We included this on our brief itinerary.

Gareth had heard that the Hokitika Gorge was also worth a look, so we planned to stop there as well. 

Off we went.

Driving around westland is awesome because there is almost no one else on the roads, and when you do see someone, they usually wave hello.  We got waves from other drivers and from one cyclist.  Usually they wave as you pass each other coming out of a one-lane bridge, as if to say "Thank you for yielding and saving us both from a head-on collision while crossing this crazy narrow bridge, mate!"

These are the kinds of things you see while driving around westland:


rural rugby pitch
We got to the Incident Memorial and accidently drove right past it.  One quick 3-point turn and we were there, ready to learn about this Incident. 

Turns out the Kowhitirangi Incident involved a mass murder in 1941.  A guy named Stanley Graham went nuts and shot 7 people.  There was a huge manhunt for him which lasted 12 days.  There's a plaque at the memorial that tells the whole story, which we read with interest.  If you want to learn more, you don't have to travel to the west coast of New Zealand; you can just read about it here on Wikipedia.

Having had our fill of information about the Incident, we carried on to the Hokitika Gorge.  It was quite nice.  Here are some photos:

"maximum capacity 6 persons"

Isn't it pretty?  It's that same impossibly aqua-coloured water we saw at Lake Tekapo.  Something to do with glacial run-off.  The result: Hokitika Gorge puts the gorge in gorgeous :-)

Saturday, October 29, 2011


This week I had to fly to Auckland for work.  The first time we undertook air travel in New Zealand, we could not believe how pain free it was.  Years later the amazement is barely diminished.  So I tell you again: flying in New Zealand is a pleasure.  An absolute pleasure. 

This is especially true if you fly with Air New Zealand.  Here are the Top 5 reasons you should always fly with Air New Zealand (this is an unpaid advertisement!).

1.  Hassle-free check-in. 

It's all automated.  You walk up to a kiosk, you check in.  There are people there to help if you need it, but you don't need it.  Because it's easy.

2. The Koru Lounge. 

After you've checked in, mosey on over to the Koru lounge to wait for your flight to board.  Ok, you have to be (or be with) a Koru Club member to hang in the Koru lounge, and I understand it costs $800 the first year and $400 every year thereafter if you want to join.  So it's not cheap.   I'm not actually a member myself, but my Wellington-based colleague is a member, and she brought me in as her guest.

I had always wondered what wonderous things went on behind the Koru Club doors.  Now I know.  A buffet that stretches as far as the eye can see.  A well-stocked bar.  An automated espresso machine.  Workstations where you can plug in your laptop.  Couches/lounge chairs.  Television.  And lots of people wearing pinstripe suits.

All the food and drink is free, so I ate a lot.  I had: penne pasta, a sausage roll, a ciabatta roll, a lamington (cake coated in coconut - yum), a chocolate chip cookie, cheese and crackers, some olives.  And a glass of pinot noir.

I could have eaten more, but I didn't want to seem greedy...

3. Clever safety videos. 

 All airlines will ask you to put your magazine down for a moment and pay attention to the important safety instructions.  But only Air New Zealand makes their safety videos interesting so you don't really mind watching.

Here's the one they did for the Rugby World Cup (that's All Black coach Graham Henry and captain Richie McCaw in the cockpit, for the uninitiated):

And here's the one they were running for the last couple years. It looks like they're wearing clothes, but they're not.

4.  More food and drinks!

In case you didn't get enough to eat in the Koru Lounge (or weren't able to sneak in), don't worry! They will feed and water you on the plane.

It always seemed on American airlines that every time you flew, you got fewer goodies. They'd bring the drink cart around, but you had to pay for most of the stuff on offer. And forget about getting anything more than a bag of peanuts.

On my flight from Auckland to Christchurch, coffee, tea, wine, and beer were all on offer for no charge. No charge! And there were snacks too! A choice of snacks: bagel chips with hummus, cheese and crackers, or chocolate biscuits (cookies). As I had already gorged myself in Koru, I was prepared to say no thank you when the hostess asked which snack I'd like. I did in fact say "no thank you." But then I caught a glimpse of the cheese and cracker plates. There was brie. I got the hostess' attention before she wheeled the cart away and told her I'd changed my mind.

Sitting in my aisle seat happily munching my brie and crackers (and there were grapes too!), I was pretty content. I thought nothing could make this flight nicer.

5. They watch your kids for you.

There was a very small baby on the plane a couple rows behind me. In a past life, listening to a baby cry on the plane might have made me grumpy. But on this particular day, I had just spent the night away from my own baby - my first and only night away from him in his whole 17 months of life. And I was on my way home to see him again. So hearing that baby cry only brought the mama in me to the fore. I wanted to hold that crying baby and comfort him.

But I didn't have to, because the Air New Zealand staff did it first! As the drink cart was going past, I heard the two hostesses saying something like, "are you getting him or should I?" The one who was closer said, "I will!" and then suddenly the hostess had swiped the crying baby from his mother's arms and was walking up and down the aisle with him, shushing and rocking him. I thought a couple of things. First, what a relief and a welcome break for that mother! Before I was a mother, I might have thought, "that poor woman, they took her baby!" But as a mother I now know that if someone wants to give you a break from your crying kid, even if it's a stranger, it's a gift. Take it.

I also thought, again, how wonderful Air New Zealand is.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Happiness is

the seaside + coffee

Monday, October 10, 2011

Some answers

A few weeks ago I did a post about things we still don't know. I talked about some questions we still have about life in New Zealand, two-plus years in.

Would you believe that in the last week, two answers to my questions have arrived in the post??  It's as if the post office is reading this blog.  Creepy.

I talked about New Zealand's confusing parliamentary system, and specifically how I had no idea what MMP stands for. Then this arrived in the mail:

This helpful pamphlet explains that there is a referendum coming up on November 26th (election day) and that voters will be asked if they want to keep MMP or change to a new system.  On the back, in an apparent admission that many people will have no idea what the orange man is talking about, it explains what MMP is.  It stands for "mixed member proportional".  The orange man explains:

This is the system we currently use to elect our Parliament.

There are 120 Members of Parliament (MPs).  There are 70 electorates, including the Maori electorates.  Each elects one MP, called an Electorate MP.  The other 50 MPs are elected from political party lists and are called List MPs.

Each voter gets two votes.  The first vote is for the political party the voter chooses.  This is called the party vote and largely decides the total number of seats each political party gets in Parliament.  The second vote is to choose the MP the voter wants to represent the electorate they live in.  This is called the electorate vote.  The candidate who gets the most votes wins.  They do not have to get more than half the votes.

Under current MMP rules, a political party that wins at least one electorate seat OR 5% of the party vote gets a share of the seats in Parliament that is about the same as its share of the party vote.  For example, if a party gets 30% of the party vote it will get roughly 36 MPs in Parliament (being 30% of 120 seats).  So if that party wins 20 electorate seats it will have 16 List MPs in addition to its 20 Electorate MPs.

Coalitions or agreements between political parties are usually needed before governments can be formed.

Finally, a succinct explanation.  This fills in so many gaps in my understanding.  Thank you, Electoral Commission.

I also asked, "How much will I be charged for this ambulance ride?"  This, too, has been answered via letter in our postbox:

I love the apologetic tone of the letter, where it says, "Unfortunately, because the Government only partly funds us to attend medical emergencies, we have to charge you ..."  I'm pretty sure this is the most sheepishly written bill we've ever received.  And we are only too happy to pay it.  Sixty seven dollars!!!  I doubt that will even cover their gas (it's more than $2 a litre here now... that's about NZ$7.50 per gallon.  So quit your whining about gas prices, fellow Americans!  Ya hear?  $7.50!!)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Go the All Blacks

The Rugby World Cup is happening in New Zealand right now.  I'm not a huge rugby fan but I don't mind watching.  And I will tune in every time the All Blacks are playing just to see the haka.  I can't get enough of it.

p.s. I love Piri Weepu (he's the guy doing all the shouting).
p.p.s. This haka is from tonight's match against France. As this blog post goes to press, the AB's are winning 19 to 0. Go the All Blacks!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


It's going to be a long time before the cracks in our house are fixed.  We've already been looking at them for over a year, and it's likely we'll be looking at them for at least another year. 

A lot of houses have had all of their broken cladding taken off and replaced with plywood.  While plywood isn't attractive, it at least has the advantage of being uniform.  And of course it eliminates the danger of loose bricks falling on the heads of your child/dog/meter reader.  We've considered getting someone in to pull off our broken stones and plywood the house, but just haven't gotten around to it. 

So we have Oamaru stone in some places and tarps in other places.  And where there is stone, there are usually cracks.  It's not pretty.

But this weekend I did my best to make it pretty, at least at the front entrance.  We bought a bulk lot of used pots from a guy off of Trade Me.  Then we got some colourful flowers from Orderings Nursery.  And away we went.

There.  That's better.  Now rather than the house saying, "Please knock me down and put me out of my misery," it says something more like, "I'm down but not out.  See my pretty flowers?"