Monthly Archives: August 2013

Earthquakes!

Earthquakes, they said. I’m from Seattle, I said.

Well, it’s obviously been some years since I lived in earthquake country, as today’s shakers got my heart racing a bit and must have whitened my face amidst my co-workers.

The last week and a half in New Zealand have been crazy busy (more on that soon), and Monday I start my training at MetService. This afternoon I went to MetService to see a bit of the building before work.

Just after 2:30 pm local, a 6.6 magnitude earthquake shook the building pretty hard and caused part of the panelled ceiling in the training room to collapse, leaving the new projector barely hanging on. We dove under desks, as it was a pretty strong tremor and fairly shallow, centred some 50 miles south of Wellington. Fortunately only minor damage was sustained in most locations.

There have been countless aftershocks, some of them decently sized (just in the last half hour or so a couple about 6.0). I’m now back in my temporary lodgings, 8 floors up in the apartment building, so it makes me feel a little more uneasy about the shaking ground.

Hopefully I’ll soon be moving into a rental house this coming week. I’ve spent a good portion of the last week visiting suburbs and houses, and found one I think will do me well. I also bought a car in the last week! It’s a 2006 Subaru Legacy sedan.

Starting over in a new country is really the scariest thing I think I’ve ever done. However, I’m confident once I get settled into my new house and get into the work training and meet more people, I’ll start to feel more relaxed. I can’t wait to get out and see some countryside, but that’s having to wait a bit longer. Even just around Wellington there are many beautiful parks and views, and I’ll have to share more photos soon.

Until then, I’ll keep close to my desk.

Categories: New Zealand, North Island, Wellington | 1 Comment

Wandering Around Wintry Welly

Upper terminus of the historic Wellington Cable Car, looking down towards the harbour

Upper terminus of the historic Wellington Cable Car, looking down towards the harbour

Sometimes getting lost or taking the wrong road is the best way to discover new places and things you might otherwise have missed or passed over. Somehow even with Google maps I seem to discover such things all the time.

This morning I walked partway up the nearest hill to the suburb of Kelburn, to pick something up from MetService. There’s a cable car, or rather funicular, that runs up the hill, but I decided to stretch my legs and find my way up on my own at least for the first time.

It was a nice hike up, but I thought it interesting I seemed to be often crossing the streets as the sidewalks kept suddenly ending and then starting up again on the other side of the road.

MetService, where I'll be working

MetService, where I’ll be working

The MetService building is located on the edge of the Wellington Botanic Garden, with some nice views over downtown to the harbour. The gardens are large and beautiful, and I spent a good couple of hours or so wandering around on some of the many paths. There were a lot of flowers blooming even in the middle of winter, further testament to how mild it’s been.

MetService, from the Australia Garden in the Wellington Botanic Garden

MetService, from the Australia Garden in the Wellington Botanic Garden

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There are several other points of interest in the gardens, including a cable car museum just off the upper terminus of the track. Part of the museum was closed for maintenance, but the part that was open was very interesting, with photos and histories of the old cable car / funicular hybrid that was opened in 1902, to the more updated funicular that replaced the cable car in 1979.

Wellington Cable Car Museum

Wellington Cable Car Museum

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Just outside the museum and upper terminus of the cable car

I intended to leave the gardens sooner than I did, to go eat lunch, but I got confused as to which direction was which; though at least this led to seeing more beauties. I may have a geography degree but I never did have an internal compass.

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Coral trees on the left, The Treehouse on the right (didn't take the time to explore it this time)

Coral trees on the left, The Treehouse on the right (didn’t take the time to explore it this time)

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This caught my attention, a tornado-shaped structure! It was designed so the sounds of Wellington could be concentrated and heard if you stand in the funnel. I tried, but didn't hear much. Maybe would have helped if it had been windier. It was surrounded by some of the oldest trees (pines) planted in Wellington, in 1871.

This caught my attention, a tornado-shaped structure! It was designed so the sounds of Wellington could be concentrated and heard if you stand in the funnel. I tried, but didn’t hear much. Maybe would have helped if it had been windier. It was surrounded by some of the oldest trees (pines, Pinus radiata) planted in Wellington, in 1871.

Once I headed back down the hill, I walked east to Oriental Bay, where I had a bowl of the most delicious chili cheese nachos at a little café. Another good accidental discovery.

I came back to the CBD via Cuba Street, a more active part of Wellington with shops and food. My favorite stop was a quaint old bookstore. It was fun to see so many books about New Zealand that would be hard to find anywhere else.

Cuba Street

Cuba Street

A cool bucket fountain on Cuba Street; the buckets fill with water and somewhat randomly tip over.

A cool bucket fountain on Cuba Street; the buckets fill with water and somewhat randomly tip over.

Late in the afternoon I went to my first New Zealand grocery store. The closest one to me is called New World, with a store just a few blocks away.

Talk about overwhelming.

Everyone was just getting off work, and the little store was very busy and had very skinny aisles. Trying to figure out what was called what was sometimes amusing (e.g., ketchup = tomato sauce, where in the States that is something else), and it was cool to see so much produce advertised as from New Zealand and Australia (though the grapes I got were all the way from the USA!).

Weet-Bix, apparently a popular Australian and Kiwi breakfast cereal. It's related to Weetabix, what I've heard a British friend talk about. I think it's also somewhat similar to US Shredded Wheat.

Weet-Bix, apparently a popular Australian and Kiwi breakfast cereal. It’s related to Weetabix, what I’ve heard a British friend talk about. I think it’s also somewhat similar to US Shredded Wheat.

I've heard the British talk about 100's and 1000's like the US cake sprinkles, but what is chocolate hail?! Not sure, but it sounded cool.

I’ve heard the British talk about 100’s and 1000’s like the US cake sprinkles, but what is chocolate hail?! Not sure, but it sounded cool.

Also buying meat and other food in units of kilograms instead of pounds, and milk in liters instead of gallons, was to be expected but still reminded me that I’m not in Kansas anymore. It was a fun experience, but I look forward to going back or going to another store when it’s not so busy I feel I have to be in a rush and pretend I know just what I’m doing!

I've heard Aussies and Kiwis mention TimTams, but I wasn't quite sure what they were until today. I had to try some, and I found them quite a delicious dark chocolate cookie, or biscuit as they're called.

I’ve heard Aussies and Kiwis mention TimTams, but I wasn’t quite sure what they were until today. I had to try some, and I found them quite a delicious dark chocolate cookie, or biscuit as they’re called.

Have I mentioned how I like the different colors of New Zealand money? And I like how they commemorate people who they think have contributed something important to the country (e.g., Sir Edmund Hillary and Ernest Rutherford) other than just presidents or politicians. Though the queen on the $20 note and the coins would be about the equivalent. Not that America’s weren’t great, it’s just different. The 10 cent coins do confuse me a bit though, as they’re about the same size and color as a US penny, so I always have to double check which coins are which.

Alright, tomorrow’s another day, with more wanderings to come. 🙂

For more photos, see my growing Wellington Flickr set.

PS It’s howling like a banshee outside tonight; must be those Wellington winds everyone talks about!

Categories: New Zealand, North Island, Wellington | 3 Comments

Here At Last!!

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Today is the day I got a new stamp in my passport. Today is the day I entered the Southern Hemisphere for the first time. Today is the day I moved to New Zealand!

San Fran to The New Country

After boarding the Boeing 747 in San Francisco, we were told there would be a slight delay due to some sort of mechanical problem with a fuel line leak. Not only did this sound a bit disconcerting, but the plane had been sitting at the gate for hours and I would have thought the problem would have been discovered and corrected before we were allowed to board. Hmmm…. Nevertheless, we were soon on our way and left to enjoy a long 13 hours.

The safety video on the Air New Zealand flight was amusing at least to me, as I had never seen it before. Bear Grylls (of Man v Wild) and scenic New Zealand! YouTube. What more is there to say, other than why don’t United and some of the other US airlines make their videos interesting enough to make people want to watch? I had heard Air New Zealand had some interesting safety briefings, and now I’m curious enough to check a couple of the others out.

My neighbors in the seats next to me introduced themselves, and by the time the flight was over, this friendly couple had given me their card and invited me to their home in Tauranga (“any excuse to fire up the barbie,” said the wife!). The invitation even went so far as to have me stay in their spare bed and show me some good trout fishing if I get up there at some point.

The flight to Auckland was indeed a long one, but I was able to sleep for a good portion of it off and on, so didn’t wind up too badly jet lagged. Whenever I awoke, I looked outside my window and periodically saw the stars change, which was pretty amazing! One of my early glimpses was of the Big Dipper setting, which I thought weird to see happen for the first time on Kwajalein. Later I didn’t recognize any of the stars or constellations that I could see.

At 5:40 am local time, minutes before landing, the cabin lights were all turned off and I saw the dramatic and sudden appearance of Auckland’s night lights. It was rather magical, as my first view of the country I will grow to call home. I looked around a few times feeling I wanted to tell everyone “look at that! Look at that!”

Just as we had mechanical problems at the beginning of the flight, we were delayed a few minutes in pulling up to the gate as there was a problem with the automated tunnel system, or some such issue, so the pilot didn’t have the guidance he needed to get us to our gate. Oh Air New Zealand…some good first impressions I’m getting of their planes and services, but not so great impressions of sufficient maintenance. 😛

In Auckland

There was almost no one at customs, so I breezed through that desk so fast I barely glanced at my new passport stamp (then later drunk it in). After waiting what felt like a very long time, all four of my checked bags appeared and I made it through biosecurity with just a brief check of my hiking boots.

After getting my bags dropped off again to go the rest of the way to Wellington, I *almost* had to wind up paying full baggage fees again ($350+ instead of the much more reasonable $40 Alaska Airlines charged me in Yakima). Apparently the three bags were not entered into the system properly, likely at the San Francisco counter. I was so grateful to her for making the system work to finally accept them.

With less than an hour to go until my final flight, I asked a shuttle driver for help to the free bus transfer to the domestic terminal…and as is often the case when I ask for something, it was almost right in front of me.

I had to go through security once more, but it was much less of an ordeal than in America. In fact, it was almost more of an ordeal to me as I was so thrown off.

I saw someone ahead of me taking his laptop out, so I asked “laptop and liquids out?” And the security officer said “laptop yes, liquids no.” I then threw my hooded sweatshirt in a bin and started to take off my vest. The officer stopped me and said, “did you just come from the States?”

Really, what gave me away?!

I came back saying something to the effect of yeah, I’m used to stripping down to go through security. I don’t think he stopped laughing at me for a while.

Oh, and after visiting an ATM in the airport to get some NZ cash, I realized I like the look of my money better listed in NZ Dollars, as it makes it appear that there is more there than it’s worth.

Auckland to Wellington

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The takeoff from Auckland seemed to remind me of a Kwaj view, with seeing ocean just off the runway to my left. The most obvious difference was being able to make out some land across that stretch of sea.

As soon as we took off we had a brief look at the countryside (before we flew over the ocean a little ways anyway). It was SO GREEEEEN!!! Okay, so maybe not quite the green of the UK in the summer, but this was pretty remarkable.

We saw the Bear Grylls safety video at the beginning as with the longer Air New Zealand flight. However, the TVs were then tuned to a quiz game. Many were about New Zealand, some were international, some were random. One of my favorite questions was “what pie do Americans eat traditionally at Thanksgiving?” Only my favorite, pumpkin! I also learned that Game of Thrones was the most illegally downloaded TV show in the world in 2012, and Subway overtook McDonalds in 2011 as the largest fast food chain in the world, with over 40,000 stores in 102 countries. Now you know.

Flying back over the countryside again, I saw more green. I thought if this is winter, it’s paradise! It’s as if the best winter weather was on display, and I even thought it quite balmy and refreshing when I finally got off the plane. I think I can handle this kind of winter. 😉 Still, the forecast is calling for a need of a rain coat by the end of the week….

Anyway, approaching Wellington I was struck by how prettily situated the capital is. Then I saw some of the snow-covered mountains of the South Island across the Cook Strait.

Wow.

That sight literally took my breath away, and then brought tears to my eyes.

What a privilege and an honor, I thought, to be allowed to come live, work, and play in such a beautiful and friendly country.

Landing at Wellington; the snow-covered South Island peaks would be just about behind the green hill in the center. There was also a wind farm (!) just over these green hills, on the coast.

Landing at Wellington; the snow-covered South Island peaks would be just about behind the green hill in the center. There was also a wind farm (!) just over these green hills, on the coast.

Wellington

A former co-worker from Kwajalein, who I replaced at the end of his contract and who has worked at MetService since, was there at the airport to pick me up and get me to my temporary abode. He kindly gave me some information that I think was mostly given to a mind glazed over.

I’m staying in a fully furnished apartment in downtown, and it’s pretty nice! This is just until I find a more permanent place to live in the next few weeks.

One of my views from my apartment

One of my views from my apartment

In the afternoon I did manage to get a few errands run as I wandered about, including buying a new phone (my old smart phone was dead after non-use for 2 years, and new batteries couldn’t even rejuvenate the poor thing). My New Zealand phone number makes me already start to feel some sense of settlement.

I even found a lovely little coffee and pastry stand in my wanderings, not far from my apartment building. Starbucks is just downstairs, but I held off on that and am glad I did. The little stand was run by a young French couple, and I thought it quite excellent. A few hours later, I found they were gone. They must have been quite efficient at moving the stand, as well as the several sets of tables and chairs that were outside the stand earlier. I’ll have to look for them another time.

Tonight I had an amazing dinner of New Zealand lamb rump (oh yum!) and hash browns and the only cole slaw I have ever actually liked (it wasn’t doused with vinegar and mayonnaise, barely a taste of vinegar, so I could better taste what I was eating and enjoyed it).

And the accents. Love the accents. I must stick out like a sore thumb when I open my mouth.

Enjoying news, documentaries and exploring shows, and greyhound racing (Rickshaw Rosie and Hot Muffin came in first and second) after settling in, and now I’ve got to finally get some good sleep as I’m quickly and finally hitting the wall.

More exploring and errands tomorrow.

Such a blessing to be here safely at last, with all my bags. Thank you for having me, New Zealand!

Down at the harbour from near my apartment

Down at the harbour from near my apartment

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Looking back

Looking back

A bit covered up by a white building in front, there is an enormous and beautifully structured library in there. Also in the paved courtyard area there was a bird woman just like from Mary Poppins. The pigeons were all over/around her, while another woman sat nearby knitting. I would have taken a photo but was afraid of looking like too much of a tourist just yet. Will have to get over that soon and get some more photos once I have more time to just explore!

A bit covered up by a white building in front, there is an enormous and beautifully structured library in there. Also in the paved courtyard area there was a bird woman just like from Mary Poppins. The pigeons were all over/around her, while another woman sat nearby knitting. I would have taken a photo but was afraid of looking like too much of a tourist just yet. Will have to get over that soon and get some more photos once I have more time to just explore!

Categories: Auckland, New Zealand, North Island, Wellington | 1 Comment

Goodbye America, Hello New Zealand!

My ride!

My ride!

Without too much trouble, I managed to get my Air New Zealand boarding passes and make it through security again here at San Francisco, after waiting a while for the counter to open and then checking my carry-on roller as it was too heavy (first airline I’ve flown with a carry-on weight limit, whoops…least it was free!).

Now waiting at the gate, to board in less than 2 hours. WOW what a big plane, and how thrilling to see it sitting here!

Anticipation is growing, but I think I’ll be tired enough to get some sleep on the 13 hour flight to Auckland. It helps that in Seattle I finally got a neck pillow. After the flight here I wonder how I ever did without one!

Once in Auckland, I’ll go through customs (and get my first NZ stamp in my passport!), possibly pick up my now 4 checked bags to drop off again at the domestic terminal (though the airline says they should be checked through to Wellington, but I’m not certain as sometimes they have to be picked up at customs and I’m not sure how they’ll do it), and make it to my final 1 hour flight to Wellington, my new home. My layover in Auckland is 2 hours, so it’ll go pretty quickly…it’ll be interesting to see how busy customs will be at 6 am local.

It’s starting to sink in…oh what a dream.

Goodbye for now America! Goodbye summer! Goodbye Northern Hemisphere! Goodbye Western Hemisphere! Goodbye US Dollar!

Hello new adventures! New Zealand, HERE I COME!!!!! 😀

Categories: New Zealand, United States | 4 Comments

On My Way!

I just can’t go to Seattle without going to Starbucks, in the city where it all began 🙂

After a long wait at the counter to get my bags checked (and a huge blessing via the young man helping me and ultimately getting me Alaska Airline’s $40 fee for my three bags instead of the $350 fee the system wanted to charge me due to connecting with Air New Zealand), I made it quickly and smoothly through security and on to Yakima’s sole gate this morning.

It was only a 25 minute flight to SeaTac (Seattle Tacoma International), so of course it was over before it had barely begun. I was happy to find my gate for my next flight to San Francisco was only a couple of gates down from where I walked across the tarmac and up the steps to my arrival gate.

It seemed pretty busy when I first got here, but things have calmed down a bit since then, allowing me to get my Starbucks hot chocolate and snacks.

Alright, about time to get settled and ready to board flight #2 in about 30 minutes. That’s a short 2-hr flight and then I have a longer layover.

Goodbye Washington!

Categories: New Zealand, United States, Washington | Leave a comment

Last Day in America Until…?

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Today was my last (full) day in America for a while. My family and I (including my sister, who drove up last night), went up to Reecer Creek Canyon area in the mountains to see the wildflowers and butterflies.

It was beautiful up there, and I’ll let some of the photos speak more than my descriptions.

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This friendly German Pointer, Lexi, found us, and was pointing at every chipmunk and bird she heard! We didn’t see her owners anywhere, and after waiting a while we tried calling the number on her tag. No answer, and finally we had to go, thinking there was a GPS tag on her second collar. Not long after we got a call back saying they found her, which we were very happy about, especially as we were told it wasn’t a GPS tracker but a shock collar. 😛

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There was a fire in the area last year, and we saw vast stretches of charred trees. However, the grasses and wildflowers were cheerily poking up amidst the devastation, happy for the rejuvenated soil.

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This is Table Mountain (aptly named!), where there is usually a regional star party every August, about the time of the Perseid meteor shower. This year they decided not to have it though, due to some concerns about fire damage in the area and not wanting to disturb the fresh growth.

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Mountain Arnica, bright cheery yellow flowers defying a black and white world.

For the complete album from the day, check out my Flickr Reecer Creek set.

These last few days have been about as busy as the first few, finishing packing and repacking, getting all my affairs in order, and visiting. Last night we had some family friends (including former college mentors) over for a wonderful dinner, and I’m so glad they were able to come as it was great to spend some time with them again.

In the morning I’ll be off to New Zealand. My family will take me to the Yakima airport, where I’ll be glad to drop off my THREE checked bags, and ’twill be a very bittersweet parting.

But after the tears dry, the excitement of travel will kick in again, and I’ll hope to temper my excitement long enough to get some sleep on the long journey. Hopefully I’ll be able to update from the airports.

So long for now, the much anticipated adventure to the Southern Hemisphere is about to begin!!

Categories: New Zealand, United States, Washington | Leave a comment

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