A love affair

Many will know, and a lot more won’t that I love the idea of traveling around in a VW camper. So when I finally grew a pair and booked my holiday or as the locals call it ‘an over sea’s experience’ the idea of seeing the islands from a camper van was an opportunity not to be missed.

So came the day when I had to pick the van up and being that I was going to spend two months with it most of the time it being my only companion the nice people at the depot let me choose which van I wanted. My eyes fell on Ricky Marlin, a bright orange and yellow beast, with a giant Marlin leaping from the water. I said ‘Awesome’ like the locals. I looked around to make sure there were no others, the old crone looked cool but Ricky was at the front bathing in the Auckland sunshine raring to go where as the old crone hid in the deep depth of the depot. And so the sweet love affair began.

At first I didn’t get on with him. My left foot was constantly trying to find the non existent clutch and my left hand kept on reaching for the gear lever to change the gears. But Ricky had all of this under control and all I had to do was control the ‘gas’ and the brakes. Ricky was an automatic and theres an art to driving them, esp when you need it to be a low gear. Ricky also kept it secret on how to change radio stations, until the 3rd week which was a pain, as once out of Auckland it was the sound of static or rumble of Ricky’s stomach. But once he revealed the button to search the local stations I was singing along to Bruno Mars, Queen, Black Eyed Peas, Katie Perry and Moorehouse (NZ pop band). I quickly fell in love with ‘Classic Hits – the best of the 80s 90s and now’ the only issue was the frequency would change from area to area often having their own news and presenters but still the same top class tunes.

Sure it was cold in the evening, but Ricky had a little gap for my power adapter to connect my heater and during the day in the baking heat of Northland Ricky pumped the air conditioning on. The only downside was Ricky was a drinker, a terrible drinker. He would demand fuel every couple of days and occasional would hit the hard black stuff. But he never complained and got tired as we drove 400km in one go. Sure he slowed down on the hills and I had to will him up, then encourage him to take it easy on the other side as we basically free rolled down the snaking road to level ground.

After two months I’ve become quite attached to Ricky, Ive learnt to handle his poor steering, and got use to getting him going in the morning. I’ve learnt to run him in gently to ease him into top speed, I’ve got use to the time it takes for the condensation to go and the way the wipers work. In return he has got me from A to B and now back to A. His kept me dry, warm and entertained. We’ve had adventures on some of the toughest and highest roads in NZ and not once has he let me down.

After 8298km or 5156 miles. (Thats the equivalent to driving the length of Britain 8 times or driving two thirds of the coast line or exploring NZ)it’s time to give him up and make my own way in the world.

Goodbye Ricky. I hope your new companions treat you with respect. Beep your horn when your passing through my neighbourhood.


The Silent Majority

This has come about due to a comment left on my wall and may sound a little bitter towards the end that but rest assured thats not the case. Now as many of you know I am away seeing the wonderful delights of New Zealand and being the avid facebook and twitter user I have been posting away.

At first my updates were getting a lot of attention, I think the update ‘that’s my plane see you in a year UK’ had almost my entire friends list clicking the like button with many also choosing to add a comment, the ‘Likes’ may have just been a way to show they were celebrating me leaving the country and getting out of there lives but I’d like to think many of them are saddened by my lost and a tiny bit of their lives are that little bit more empty because due to my absence.

But as my time has gone on the comments or likes have dwindled. Maybe people are getting sick of looking at mountains dominating the the clear blue sky, or they don’t like pictures of seals or dolphins in crystal clear waters. Maybe they don’t enjoy forests that fade into the horizon or charming little settlements built on hill sides. At first I thought it was time difference. I’d tweet or update and post pictures during the day which meant that many in the UK were fast asleep and by the time they had woken my updates informing the world Im having a swell time would be buried under more recent statuses about the Burnage train being late or sign this petition to stop the Olympics in Russia ( the fact no one tried to stop the world championships, it’s always the Olympics, people did it with China and Tibet as that story had been dragging on for years and then along come the Beijing Olympics and everyone’s like Chinas policy stinks but this is another post. I’d like to add that I don’t approve of Russia stance but there was another big world event taking place that everyone seemed happy to take place).

I would off course receive one or two likes or maybe a comment, but nothing like the start of the trip where comments and tweets were in there abundance. It’s true that only a small handful of friends have kept in regular contact either through messenger, Skype, or tweet conversations and I often wonder whom Im tweeting for. Is it myself, after all who is reading or checking twitter at 3 a.m UK time. Who bothers to scroll back through there twitter feed to see12 tweets from me, and who actually takes an interest that I think NZ is a top place has after all I already tweeted that back in July.

To tell the truth I was thinking of chucking it in. Those who want to know will ask, or get in contact like the ones who already do, and maybe I’m just boring people now with constant updates of trains and wooden bridges or comments about supermarkets or images of sunsets, and white beaches or earthquake updates.

But it was down to one comment on Facebook that shows there’s a silent majority who do follow with interest (I hope). A friend left a comment “I know I don’t comment a lot but rest assured I’m following your every step. We’re very jealous mate., enjoy every second and enjoy the hill…” So maybe not everyone needs to comment, and it’s a stark reminder that people follow your updates and the silent majority will always win out, but a like or two every so often shows that your not wasting your Internet time uploading photos where you could in fact be watching cat videos.


The North South divide and Auckland

Now as the title suggests this not the growing divide we have in the UK, but it’s pretty close. As I return back to the north island and get ever closer to the ferry the atmosphere is changing. There is a real love hate relationship between the two islands and not just with the residents. I’ve met some fellow travellers who for reasons unknown to me preferred the north.

It’s hard for me to say as I am a northerner thick and thin back in the green green lands of England but being upside down with the southern cross illuminating the night sky’s I have to say I’m a southerner and deep south as well, and a little to the west. I thought I would never say those words.

Talking to kiwis who were born in the south but now live on the north, can’t stop singing the souths praises, and those born on the north have just not bothered to travel to the south and see it as a cold hostile mountainous land. thats not true as I’m sure many have visited the better island. The thing is, like the north south divide in the UK, the way of life and people are different, the social demographic, average wage, job opportunities, employment, trade, is all the reverse of our divide. It’s like England flipped even with the hatred of on city.

The south is he better island as it has everything the north as plus a lot more. It also has some of the best weather as well as the worse but at least they have a winter and summer you can separate not like the north where the temperatures don’t really get below 10. Now I realise for some, that may be a dream, but how dull would it be. I like seeing the strong contrast between seasons and not just have them all merge into on messy northern pulp.

Yes if the divide between the two islands and the disagreements with who gets more money spent on them, then there is an even uglier divide. Auckland seems to be hated by everyone. But unlike London, those people who have left the city can see how repulsive it is. Like the hatred with London and the belief that it sucks up every bit of spare money the UK has, Auckland s the same. Both islands hate the way Auckland has money thrown at it.

There was even a show called “is Auckland sucking the life out of NZ” off course Aucklanders don’t see it, like Londoners they just think the rest of the country are jealous and think that there dirty over crowded, expensive, over populated, filthy streets is god gift and the best place in the world where every thing works like it should.

So it seems no matter where you are there were always be hatred for the big city, and a divide between the north and south.

The after shock

My first encounter to Christchurch was fellow kiwis telling me it was a building site and that they had cafes and shops in shipping containers. I thought this was New Zealand laughing at the second biggest city for not getting themselves back on track as after all it has been three years.

I was always looking forward to ChCh, the English city as it was known. Streets named after towns and counties in the UK. As I arrived along state highway one, pass the airport I encountered roadworks which at the time I thought was normal for a large city. I would later find out that they were having to rebuild the roads with large foundations due to liquefaction. If you don’t know what I’m talking about look it up, or remember back to your earthquake lesson in geography.

As I approached the city the true state of devastation grew. Roads closed, which again I would find out would change daily. It was like a bomb had gone off, large areas of ground with moulds of rumble, diggers, cranes, hi-viz jackets everywhere. Why had it taken so long, surly they could have rebuilt by now.

The following day with my camera in hand I set about ready to become a post quake tourist. Snapping waste ground, after waste ground. Looking at buildings that only have there front being propped up with shipping containers. Streets fenced off, roads only suitable for walkers. Buildings that had laid vacant for 3 years which nature had started to reclaim with bushes and trees where windows and chimneys use to be, every so often would be a functioning building.

It had only been a couple of weeks before that they had reopened the red zone, the main area which suffered the worse damage. I find out that the reason the rebuild is taking so long is paperwork. Insurance not want to pay, landlords wanting to sell, people not wanting to buy the land. Half the buildings still standing need to be demolished, even those that survived the quake like the town hall and art gallery will need to go due to the fact the ground underneath is not safe. Some buildings like the world famous cathedral could be saved, but the city and residents have decided against due to the reconstruction cost over €150,000,000 and taking up to 30 years to bring it back to its picturesque wonder.

So the building site was correct, but what about the shipping containers. Sure as I have said I have seen the containers stacked 5 stories high against buildings to stop them falling, but as I wandered off Manchester street onto Cashell street I was confronted with container city. Shipping containers, with glass sides, stacked in zigzag formations housing shops, bistros, coffee houses. Smaller ones being used to hold toilets, or cash machines and temporary art displays that has used the quake and post quake as stimulus, including an exhibition of the quake and aftermath.

I decided to have a look around the quake experience to fully understand the days events and the weeks after the 6.5 quake. Videos of people reliving the nightmare. Those stuck in rumble, or running into the city to find there kids school only to fear the worse. Stories of being reunited, people walking through dust clouds as their city collapsed around them. This was evoked by a piece of public art I saw on the way into the city. 185 white chairs opposite the once CTV building that tumbled during the quake and aftershocks. Each chair representing a life that was lost on that day.

As I stood looking, reading the description inviting me to sit in a chair I was was surrounded by empty plots of land some that had been cleared others that still had concrete blocks with steel poles that were twisted and doubled back on themselves. As I sat watching the Christchurch traffic flow by on Hereford street the thought that this city looked like the quake had only happened last week, but the reality that the strong will of the citizens to get themselves back up and carry on as normal is a true sign to the determination and shows the love that these people hold for there city. Business, culture, shopping, entertainment and day to day living is happening as if nothing happened.

You wouldn’t think that people had to dig holes in the garden for toilets, and had to rebuild there homes, burial there loved ones and rebuild there business’s and lives.

The idea for the rebirth is too have several areas, and to open the city up. Some of the old buildings will remain but the majority will be a new Christchurch for a new start. As I walked around and talked to people, the true horror of being in a quake with the stunned aftermath of surviving when you thought the world was coming to the end came through, but even stronger was survival and can do attitude. The state of emergency in the ten weeks following the quake helped to kick start the inspiration and adrenalin of this city into the re-start that is continuing and will carry on even when the last cranes have been removed.

The rebuild has consulted everyone on what the new Christchurch should look like and contain. After 3 years they have a long way to go, but they are on the path to recovery and I look forward to seeing it when complete.

By the end of my time, I had stopped taking photos and the backdrop of building sites, of a desolate barren post apocalypse landscape had transformed into just a very unique town getting on with it life.










The only true democracy

So while in Wellington the capital of the fine nation I was informed I could scoot along to the Houses of Parliament and receive a free tour. For some one who is like me, I could not let this pass and so headed fourth to the rather grand Victorian modelled building. Now I have been luckily enough to tour our wonderful Palace of Westminster which you can only normally do with prearranged visits through your MP or as a school or some other organised body.

Anyway after passing through a rather relaxed security, and I can tell you that the Scottish parliament was more of rigorous procedure, I was through to the house. To the left was the debating chamber, to the right a stair case leading to the beehive, the seat of politics. Think of it as Whitehall. In this building the cabinet would meet, the PM has his office and the head of departments have there, well departments. The striking impact of this building is the design. It was built in the 60s to finish the original building off and even to this date, they don’t know the true cost as no paperwork or accounts were recorded. But it’s 7 storeys of marble and granite so I’m guessing it was cheap.

The parliament sits right on the main fault line of Wellington and because of this has in recent years its undergone work to make it with stand an earthquake of 7.8.

Now the NZ political system works much the same as ours, after all we started it and gave them the rules. There are some differences. There is no upper house, well there is but it is empty as 3 years in they voted themselves out and said the lower house should hold meetings among themselves to discuss laws and the like. Think of these like select committees. The parliament has been opened by the Queen, but rather than every year it’s every three years which coincides with the result of the general election.

Many years ago the government sat in the then capital of Auckland until the southern island MPs refused to travel and it was moved to the centre of the country. Can you imagine that, a government in the centre of the country it governs.

The main camber is the same size as the House of Commons, and every member as there own seat and like in the UK the government are on the right. (No pun intended)

While looking around this building with the pictures of the PMs on the wall all in date order apart from Helen Key. I think they’ll run out of room soon. There was a section where every 183 cultures were represented that lived in NZ, showing that it is a house for everyone in the land. But that is not what makes it a true democracy, oh no.

Anyone in NZ, be it a three year old to someone who is on holiday can write to the government and ask to have an audience with them to discuss a new bill, or law. That could be free ice cream to the under 5s or anyone who’s English can live and work here without a permit. And so what I hear you say! Well they have to listen and they have to debate it.

The only place in the world that allows the people who they represent a true voice, hence a true democracy.

They drive on the left

Right, I’m here and let’s be honest I wish I had started to blog about my adventures earlier in this wonderful place we call New Zealand. I know that you probably think otherwise but at the end of the day you have chosen to read or follow this attempt at literature so I can only conclude it must be entertaining in the smallest degree.

Anyway I’ve been in kiwi zone now for 6 weeks and while there seem to be many parallels with us Brits the kiwis seem to do other things different and in most cases they make sense. Lets start with the banks.

I set up my account in England, so when I arrived all I needed to do was activate it. I popped into the local ASB bank showed them the letter they opened a drawer and took out a card, placed it in the machine and asked me to type a pin in. After I’d typed the four digits, the card was removed and handed to me. Simple as that, no waiting for a card in the post. I asked what would happen if I lost or had it stolen how I’d get it replaced. Same procedure I was told, so no waiting for a new card in the post either. We then set up Internet banking in a similar fashion. There was no waiting for a username, then a pass code in another letter, it was just like registering for amazon or any other kind of online account. No sign of that stupid law of data protection, as was seen when the man in the vodafone shop phoned up on my behalf and quoted a shop reference number to the call centre staff before he began talking about my account.

It gets better.

Let’s turn our attention to driving. It’s on the left, and has two speed limits. 50 k.p.h for towns and built up areas or 100 k.p.h for open roads. Travelling at 100 makes it a lot easier to wrk out travel times as well. Also the roads, are simple. Everyone lives by the coast, and the state highways just run from town to town, so as long as you know north and south, and where your destination is then you can’t get lost. The downside to this is lack of road signs. Travelling from Picton to Nelson, I would have one road sign just outside Picton showing me I was heading to Nelson and it was 200 odd kilometres, and that would be it until I got to Nelson. Sure there would be a sign further on informing me I was heading to Nelson, but it wouldn’t give me a distance. They also seem to be very late in appearing. If for example I did need to turn off, the sign instructing me would do so on the junction, no warning to say Queenstown next left, or anything like that.

Another thing about their road signs is that there funny and shocking. Some of the highlights have been a sign filled with crosses, with the slogan, ‘you’ll be dead for a long time, so what’s the rush’ and another one that was DRINK DrIvE, with the DIE in drive in red. Others with coffins driving a car with a slogan ‘Tired drivers die’ and a picture of a zip to show how to merge onto a road.

The speeding limit is enforced heavily with only a tolerance of 5 over, and other road signs indicate this with the fines you could get. I saw one with a speedo that had 0 to 105 k.p.h then it went $150, 200, 250, and so on for each 5 k.p.h over. You also have no warning where the cameras are.

As many of the towns are far apart, you could be driving for 300km at a time, which takes around 4 to 5 hours. The roads may look straight on the map, but they are in Fact hilly, rising sometimes as high as 900 meters above sea level, with every twist and turn turn possible. You will see signs to tell lorries to test there brakes before a 6K down hill twisty section and every corner will have a suggested speed limit, which is in fact extremely accurate. But the roads help you as many of the bend will widen. Another neat idea is when turning right onto a main road you have a little slip road, to park yourself in, until there s space to join the flow of traffic.

The final thing to say about NZ roads are as there are not many motorways and the roads are like our country ones in the UK then you will find plenty of passing places that are signed as far back as 5km, which is just as well as tailgating and not rugby seem to be the national sport. The one major rule on the road and car parks is give way to the left, this applies on the passing places, if the car passing on the right has not managed to overtake those on the left he has to give way to them. The only thing I found really odd but it makes sense now is that the writing on the road is backwards. NZ has a lot of one road bridges, and I’ve often thought why they didn’t build them as two lanes. Whilst in the UK you would see ONE LANE BRIDGE written top to bottom, in NZ is from bottom up.

Bridge UK WAY

One. NZ WAY as you read the words as you cross over them

Finally supermarkets and gas stations. People are employed to fill your car up, leaving you to go inside and wait and pay. These folk will also clean your windscreen. There does not seem to be a difference in price between the brands, even BP is the same price as the budget supermarket stations. What’s also great is at every pump they have a keypad where you can select the amount of petrol you want in dollars or litres so never again do you have to slowly squeeze the pump to get that last drop to round it up to 10.

Supermarkets are pretty much the same, except that some fruit goes by different names, it took me a good couple of minutes to find peppers on The self service. They have there versions of Tescos, Sainsburys and Spar. The big thing would be the prices for items are on the shelf above and you always have to look out for specials as food is expensive unless it broccoli as that’s like 30p, but bread is like 2.50 and cheese works out to be a rip off. Brands that were use to exist but seem to be shadowed by there NZ own. The only brand tat has prime shelf space is Cadburys and that’s expensive, in fact all chocolate is. Dairy milk is $2.50 which is £1.75 and its not that they import it, as they make it in Dunedin

Anyway hope you have enjoyed reading the differences. Ill be back soon to talk about some of my adventures.