Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Though this just came to my attention today (in multiple forms), I think it's important.

Such laws would make embedding videos like that one illegal. Can you imagine? We would be deprived of amazingly cute British girls singing "Super Bass," ostensibly because it takes money from the entertainment industry. But Nicki Minaj doesn't care- she loved that little girl (thank you Ellen).

Protect your first amendment rights! Here's a nice article from the ALA (American Library Association).

Concerned Citizen of the Internet

Friday, May 13, 2011

to the North

I am spending a lazy Saturday morning in my pj's at the nicest backpackers I've stayed in so far.  I am currently in Tauranga, until I meet up with dad in Hamilton on Tuesday.  I feel a bit awkward here because most of the residents are long-term stayers, working in and around Tauranga, and they all know each other well.  But everybody is really nice- offering me rides and giving me some bread when mine was eaten by mice (ew).

Darryl, me, crayfish and Lisa
Lisa and I in the whale station
Anyway, I'm going to start where I left off.  It was sad to leave Nelson for the last time, and to say goodbye to the people there.  I drove with Darryl Marshall (his wife, Wendy, was too sick to make it) and his friends Don and Diane to Picton (it is Don and Diane's daughter Lisa who lives on Arapawa).  We got lunch at the Picton Village Bakery, and I had what I think was the most delicious pie in New Zealand. Then we rode on the mail boat through the Marlborough Sounds to get to Arapawa Island, between the main North and South Islands.  It was absolutely gorgeous.  Lisa and her husband James are fabulous.  They live, along with James's father, mother, brother and sister-in-law at the base of a huge merino sheep farm on the island (each family has their own house).  James and his brother are fishermen, catching mostly crayfish.  James's father Joe used to be a whaler, but now he sponsors a yearly DOC (Department of Conservation) whale study on the whale-watching station he built on his property.   The Heberleys can trace their family history in New Zealand back pretty far, and I enjoyed learning about their ancestors (one was a very famous carver).  Heather Heberley, James's mom, writes books about the family and about living on Arapawa.  I particularly want to read the one called Weather Permitting, especially since the second day of my stay it poured and poured, the wind was like a train, and we were stuck inside.  It was still a fabulous day, with great company and good food.  Lisa and Heather both have huge collections of Maori artifacts that they have found around the island, and I had a wonderful time seeing them and learning more about the early New Zealanders.

early Maori tools
looking back at Arapawa
Even though the Interislander ferries pass right by the Heberley's property, I had to go back to Picton via water taxi with Darryl, Don and Diane  and get on the ferry there. 

Then it was goodbye to the South Island and on the North. 

to the North Island I go

inside Te Papa
I spent a couple days in Wellington, which I really enjoyed.  It reminded me of Seattle- a big cultural hub with a huge seaport.  I loved walking along the harbor.  There are huge slabs of stone with poetry written on them scattered along the walk from where I stayed to Te Papa, and I had fun spotting them and reading them as I went along.  Speaking of Te Papa, I spent a day and a half there wandering through the exhibits, learning about New Zealand wildlife, early Maori and European settlers, the NZ photographer Brian Brakes (a new favorite of mine) and much more.  I saw a play at the Circa Theater, which is just on the waterfront beside Te Papa.  I'm sorry to say it was an American play, but I am happy to say that it was a great American play (August: Osage County) and marvelously well-acted (though their affected American accents were at times quite amusing).
I also enjoyed a night of laughs with Kiwi comedian Joseph Campbell, in Wellington for the NZ International Comedy Festival.  It was a great show about love, life and bicycles.  In the Te Papa theater, I caught a concert put on by percussion group Strike and their proteges in Batterie 100, made up of elementary students from the Wellington area.  Wonderful show. I also gave in and went on a LOTR movie tour. It was fun to see where many of the scenes had been filmed around Wellington, often in places you would never guess.  We recreated several scenes on location, drove by the studios (that's all you're allowed) and spent some time in the WETA cave. Fun day.
toppled Hobbits (I am Merry) 
Then I was off to the sulfur-soaked town of Rotorua.  There is Yellowstone-like geothermal activity in the middle of the city!  And many people's yards were steaming.
park near Lake Rotorua
Lake Rotorua at sundown
My backpackers had a free geothermal spa, so I enjoyed soaking one night.  I booked a tour for the White Island Volcano, which I was really stoked about.  But... I got up early and was driven all the way to Whakatane.  We were told to wait while the skipper decided if conditions were okay for taking the boat out.  I had coffee with a nice Ozzie couple who had come from Rotorua with me.  Then we were told that there was an unexpected swell and we wouldn't be going. Sad! I booked again for two days later with my fingers crossed.  After the LOTR tour in Wellington, I knew I had to get to Hobbiton.  The sets are all finished for the upcoming Hobbit movies, and they were SO. COOL.  I felt like I was really in the Shire.  Unfortunately, I cannot share pictures online until after the second movie is released.  The tour also included a sheep-shearing demonstration (the land that the set is on is still a functioning sheep farm).  And we got to bottle-feed some baby lambs.
yum tasty leaf!
I made friends with a Dutch guy named Maurice and a Spanish girl named Patty who were sharing my room, and we went to a Maori dinner "experience."  It was a really cool night- cultural performances, delicious food, and glowworms to finish.  The dinner was cooked in the traditional Hangi style, buried underground.
our host says the food looks good

The next day I woke up and got ready, only to find that the volcano people had called and had already decided not to do the trip that day.  I was pretty bummed, but it turned out to be a pretty great day anyway.  I walked with Patty around Rotorua, following the route that the guy who owns the backpacker suggested.  It was really fun hanging out with her, and nice to have another person around. We had lunch at a nice place called Lime Cafe.  Then she was off to Taupo, and after some shopping around Rotorua the next day I was off to Taraunga.  It rained last night after I arrived, but today fortunately looks pretty nice! So I will have lunch and get going.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Southern Endeavors

I had a wonderful time down South and on the West coast.  Lots to see and do.  I was warned before I left that it would be quite cold (and was graciously loaned some woolens and coats).  I saw many people still wearing their stubbies* (short-shorts) though it was often cold cold cold.  The weather was perfect- sunshine every day, which is unusual (especially for the West Coast). Lucky me!
Taieri Gorge sky

My journey began with a day-long bus ride from Nelson to Dunedin.  Parts were really beautiful, especially the Lewis Pass.

I loved Dunedin.  Highlights: On the Taieri Gorge Train, I enjoyed standing outside the cars and watching the scenery flash by (though my fingers were numb by the end).  The Elm wildlife tour was a fantastic opportunity to see the Otago Peninsula and its animal residents. The University of Otago is the oldest Uni in New Zealand. 
yellow-eyed penguins

sea lion

fur seal

sheep and penguins sharing a hillside

 I loved walking around the campus and seeing Castle Street, which is like all of the seedy bits of West Campus (Austin) thrown onto one main drag.  Other great walks included going through the Botanic Garden, and my trek up the steepest street in the world (Baldwin Street).  The Otago Farmer's Market was heaps of fun.  I bought some fresh fruits and veggies and listened to a great band from Fiji play for about an hour.

market band

fall in Arrowtown
Mirror Lakes in Fiordland National Park
I was sad to leave Dunedin, but I headed as per schedule to Queenstown, which was absolutely beautiful with all of its fall colors.  I didn't like the character of the city as much as I liked Dunners, but I still had a great time.  I rode the gondola up to Bob's Peak, where I had a spectacular view of the mountains as the sun went down.  My afternoon in nearby Arrowtown was a pleasant day of walking amid fall splendor. A day trip to Milford Sound was an incredible excursion, as it is really beautiful, we saw bottlenose dolphins, and drove through Fiordland National Park, which I'd love to come back to someday.
Milford waterfall

mountains along the sound
  I splurged at the very popular and always crowded Fergburger (delicious).  I had some fun Dutch roommates, Rens & Nick, who were headed to California soon and so bombarded me with questions about America.  The Kawaru Jet Boat was excellent (I was skeptical because it was pricey, but it was definitely worth it).  My jet boat had an extra adventure when a rock got caught in the intake, the steering froze, and we were beached in the middle of the Shotover River.  It was fun, and we got free picture packages out of it.  At the Kiwi Wildlife Park, I saw lots of New Zealand natives, including (yes) a kiwi!  It was bigger than I expected it to be, but still very cute.

adult Tuatara- they are AWESOME

Next I headed to Franz Josef, a tiny town near the Franz Josef glacier.  Basically what you do in Franz is climb the glacier; there's not much else.  But the glacier was FANTASTIC.  I did a full-day tour with the glacier guides, and it was awesome.  I wore crampons for the first time, and surprisingly did not injure myself.  The ice was so beautiful, and as a geological formation I find it quite fascinating.
Also, Franz Josef is one of only 3 temperate glaciers in the world (one other is just down the road and the third is in Argentina).  I saw some magnificent Kea fly overhead.  They are some crazy cheeky parrots, but very pretty.  The glacier included entrance to the hot pools (basically big hot tubs. my goal is to go to some actual geothermal pools while I'm here), so I went with some girls I met on the tour.

Conveniently, my friend Holly was staying with some friends outside of Greymouth for the weekend, so I met her there and got to hang out on a huge farm with some cool Kiwis.  The next day I rode back to Nelson with Holly and her boyfriend Scottie, and now here I am!

Today I had a wonderful day.  I babysat Leo for a bit (he's now blowing kisses!), walked into town and learned how to cook risotto from Emma and Tim.  Tomorrow I am headed to Arapawa Island with the Marshalls (some friends of Laurie's - Holly is their daughter).  Then on to the North Island for the remainder of my trip!
NZ flax, Otago Peninsula

*A Smattering of Kiwi Slang:
  • "sweet as"- "I confirm that what you are proposing is good by me" (from a Global Culture t-shirt).  Actually, this unfinished simile is common. Things can be "cheap as," "kiwi as," "dirty as" etc.
  • "knackered"- tired out
  • "tucker"- food
  • "cuppa"- a cup of tea (or coffee)
  • "tea"- could be tea that you drink, or could refer to dinner (or occasionally to other meals). For instance, someone could say, "Do you want to come over for tea? We could do a bbq!" 
  • "jandals"- flip-flops 
  • "lollies"- candy or something sweet
  • "OE"- Overseas Experience, often taken the year after college (American equivalent-high school) 
  • "Uni"- university
  • "Pommie"- a British person, from Prisoner Of Mother England
  • "Sunnies"- sunglasses
  • "eh"- similar to the Canadian eh. Except I think Kiwis say it more than Canadians.  
p.s. formatting blogspot is ruining my life. any ideas?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bay Subtropicals

It is a rainy day here in Golden Bay as I type out this entry by the fire (that I built) with a cup of hot coffee nearby.  I say "type out" because the house doesn't have wireless yet, so I'll post this probably tomorrow.  It is hard to work on the farm when it's rainy, but I've been helping out as much as I can indoors, and fetching firewood (in my new red raincoat from a Motueka thrift shop!) to keep the fire going. 
Koru, NZ symbol for new life- at Abel Tasman
A couple days before I left Motueka, Krys and I spent an 
afternoon walking at Abel Tasman National Park, which is a wonderful place with beautiful beaches and forest trails. 
A little overview for the following: WOOF stands for Workers On Organic Farms, and the basic deal is that you get accommodation and food in return for 4 1/2 hours of work per day.  Laurie's friend Debbie (she's Canadian) has lived in New Zealand for about 30 years and owned Bay Subtropicals, an organic citrus farm, for the past 6.  Her main crops are mandarins and avocados, but she also sells oranges, limes and lemonades (a delightful sweet lemon). 
At the beginning, I was worried I would need time to settle in to the routine here in order to be helpful, which is why I was planning on 2 weeks here.  After a few days, this was a running joke, as it was pretty easy for even inexperienced me to get heaps done. 
willow critter

I came in on the bus from Motueka Friday night, and Saturday I tagged along with Helena (another WOOFer) and Debbie to a willow sculpting class.  I was a bit daunted by this new medium, but I managed to make a critter that everyone found funny and some other bits that I could take home (I laid the critter to rest in the woods as he was structurally challenged and way too big to pack).  But some people there made some really beautiful stuff.

Sunday I mainly worked in the garden, weeding and pulling up the bean plants.  Deb's daughter Amy came over with her kids, Oscar (7) and Poppy (5), who are just the cutest.  They were fascinated by my Kindle, and Poppy convinced me to give her a piggy back ride around the house.
Then Monday was probably my hardest job.  Deb had felled a tree, and rented a wood chopper to make it into firewood.  I had the daunting task of stacking all of the wood as Amy's partner Bruce chopped it up.  But I did it!  Another WOOFer came that day, a Dutch girl called Gee.  She is only 18 but traveling New Zealand by herself!  At first I was a little skeptical of her, but we had a lot of fun hanging out and I grew quite fond of her.
my giant firewood stack!

On Tuesday, Gee and I helped Deb's greenhouse tenant (coincidentally,  a Dutch guy called Gee!) move out his strawberries.  It was a long and dirty day, but it was nice to have company.  Tenant Gee also had a WOOFer, a girl named Natalie from Belgium, who was fun to work with.
Gee, Helena and I spent Wednesday morning grading mandarins, picking out the "seconds" (ones that are too small, too green or too abused to be sold) and packing 72 crates of 25kg each for two orders being picked up midday. 
I felt the grading to be too much responsibility, so I mostly stuck to packing the crates.
Helena and Gee grading mandarins

Helena is quite good at it.  She owned a feminist bookstore in the 80s and worked in the computer industry in Australia, but has more recently taken some permaculture classes, worked in nurseries and other farms, and has become quite the horticulturalist.  She is hoping to settle down soon so that she can start her own garden.  Fun fact about Helena: she is a fruitarian!  Well, mostly.  She only eats raw foods, and so much of her diet is citrus that her dentist told her she needs to cut down for her enamel's sake.

Anyway, that afternoon Gee and I cycled down to the beach and then into Takaka.  It was a fun trip to break up the week, and I really enjoyed sitting on the beach and taking photographs of Takaka.  Then for dinner, Deb fired up her pizza oven and we had delicious fresh pizza.  It was (shockingly) Gee's first attempt at pizza making.  She was astounded that Deb and I had never heard of putting tuna on pizza, as that is her favorite in Holland.
Thursday Gee left for Motueka to try and get a paid job picking apples.  I trimmed the strawberry plants, which Deb will plant in the Greenhouse, shoveled cow poop (I felt like the poopsmith) for the strawberry bed, and clipped blight from a block of citrus trees.  Then I went with Helena to the famous Mussel Inn for the Golden Bay Live Poet's Society reading.  It's a really great venue with really good beer (I had the Dark Horse), and I loved one of the poets, who looked a bit like an older, goofier Alan Rickman (and had a similarly magnificent voice). 
The rain began on Friday, so I brought firewood in and started the fire.  My other job was to count and sort the money from Deb's farm stall (people can buy fruit in small quantities from a stall at the end of her drive, and put their money into what Steve Upstill calls an "honesty box").  It had more than $700!  So that was exciting.
This morning I woke up to rain again.  I brought in more wood and helped clean the house, but now it's pretty quiet.  I'll probably pull out my Kindle once I'm done with this.  I'm currently reading Infinite Jest, which is tough at times (I wish I had a hard copy along with my digital one, as the notes within notes can be tricky, and sometimes I'd like to flip back and check something.  But the nice thing about the digital copy is that I can just follow links to the notes and back, and I can search the book when something rings a bell), but for the most part quite enjoyable.
I've had a lot of fun on the farm.  Deb is like a cool aunt, and I've enjoyed meeting the other WOOFers.  Deb's dog Robbie really likes to be petted, and it's quite cozy to have a big dog snuggled up next to you.  The fantails on the farm are just amazing.  They follow you quite closely as you walk across the grass, hoping to snatch up any bugs you bestir.
I have taken probably too many photos of fantails.  Some of the chooks here have free roam, and there is one rooster that especially likes to crow outside my window in the morning.  And whoever invented the myth that roosters only crow when the sun comes up was whack- they crow ALL the time.
Tomorrow I am heading back over the hill to Nelson with Helena.  She is going to pick up a friend from the airport, and I figured it would be easier to get to my next destination (down South?) from Nelson than from Takaka. 
More to come!

*added Sunday afternoon:  Yesterday I babysat Poppy for a bit while Debbie and Amy worked.  We had a hilariously raucous time.  Then I had a big night out on the town with Debbie.  We went to see The King's Speech at the tiny theatre in Takaka.  So cool! We sat on a couch in the front row.  The theatre was pretty packed (for Takaka).  The movie stopped in the middle and I got worried, but they have an intermission!  We got a cup of tea and an ice cream and settled in for the second half.  Afterward, we walked down the street to a bar and listened to a live Reggae band for a bit.
This morning, Helena and I headed over the hill and now I'm in Nelson! 
Golden Bay

Thursday, April 7, 2011


~the Maori word for New Zealand, meaning something like "land of the long white cloud"~

So, it is day 17 of my time in New Zealand and I know what you're all wondering: yes, there are a lot of sheep.

fabulous outfit at the Saturday market
I spent a week in Nelson, which is at the top of the South Island. The wonderful thing about the top of the South is that there is ocean EVERYWHERE.  And apparently from coast to coast the widest point in New Zealand is only 250 miles across.  I stayed with Laurie, who went to med school with my parents.  She is a radiologist, and she has (not one but two!!) houses in New Zealand.  She spends about half the year here.  She has a young couple staying in her Nelson home. Their baby Leo is 9 1/2 months, very sweet, and loved to stare at me; Emma said I can tell people I have an admirer in New Zealand.   Laurie has a friend who is a dairy farmer, so I got to visit his farm (which I think I will see more of in the future). We went to her beach house on Golden Bay for a night, then to an amazingly beautiful beach called Wharariki.  Her friend Deb has an organic citrus farm called Bay Subtropicals, which we visited, and which I am headed to on Friday.  I had lots of fun exploring Nelson.  There's a wonderful stretch of beach, the fabulous World of Wearable Arts museum (check it out!), an old Cathedral, shops... lots to do.  To end my visit, Laurie and I went on a private winery tour in Blenheim which was extravagantly amazing. 
Laurie and I on our wine tour
On our way to Motueka, we stopped at Lake Rotoiti, which is really beautiful, and had a lovely walk among Tuis and bellbirds.  They both make a lot of noise!
Lake Rotoiki

I am now staying with Ania's parents on their farm outside of Motueka.  I am loving the country experience.  The community is pretty tight knit.  I've gotten to meet several of the neighbors, which has been wonderful.  My favorite neighbor experience was feeding alpacas with an adorably precocious 8-year old while the adults had tea.  The Upstills are really into food, which was great news for me.  Their garden is huge, and I've picked tomatoes, dug for potatoes and carrots, and picked stink bugs off of lots of plants to feed to the chickens.  They also get fresh milk from a dairy farm nearby.  I've become a diligent bread and cheese student, following Krys around the kitchen.  I've also been introduced to the mysterious fruit that is quince.  It is ostensibly the "golden apple" of legend, though I don't know who would want to eat one as they are bitter and quite sour.  BUT when you cook them, they turn pink and add a great tartness to sweet cakes, such as the quince-almond cake I made a couple nights ago.  It has been getting pretty cold at night, but still gorgeous during the day.  And it's not hard to sleep when you pre-heat your bed and pajamas with an electric bed warmer!  Yesterday we went to Abel Tasman National Park, which is beautiful.

I am learning a lot about New Zealand (lingo, wildlife, culture, food, etc).  For instance, I know to avoid sultanas (raisins) and white bait (a tasteless fish that is considered a delicacy), ask "How are you going?", and laugh at pukekos.
pukeko or "swamp hen." they are hilariously cheeky
The whole country is shoe-optional, which I find fascinating.  Kiwis are much nicer to the environment, and I've been pegging clothing on the line* when I do laundry. Also, they are really nice to their animals, so they say the meat tastes better because the animals are so happy (it is delicious, but I can't say that I can taste the "happiness").
  Soon I'll be off to Bay Subtropicals in Takaka, where I will WOOF for maybe 2 weeks.

*yes, that was a Decemberists reference.