North Island

Little Blue Penguins

Did you know that New Zealand has penguins? There are actually three types of penguins here, mostly about the South Island: Little Blue Penguins, Yellow-Eyed Penguins, and Fiordland Crested Penguins.

Little Blue Penguins (more commonly known as Little Penguins) are the smallest species of penguin, smaller even than a small chicken. They are common around New Zealand and southern Australia, but New Zealand’s Department of Conservation wants to make sure they continue to thrive even as they are threatened by cars, pets, reduced habitat for nesting, etc.

Last winter (mid-2014) I volunteered to help monitor Little Blue Penguin nesting sites around the south coast of Wellington. The volunteers went to a training session where we learned more about the penguins and what data to record. We formed groups of three and were assigned a bay to monitor every fortnight with alternating partners. For each nest box we had to measure the internal and external temperature, check to see if there were any occupants, and record any other relevant information.

Three of the five boxes at my bay eventually had chicks hatch, two in two boxes and one lone chick in another. The penguin adults take turns sitting on the eggs and keeping the chicks warm early on, until they eventually both bring back food and finally leave the fledged chicks to force them to venture out to sea on their own.

See Wikipedia for a photo and more about the penguins. I don’t have any good photos of the penguins yet as I wasn’t allowed to photograph the ones in the boxes, as I shouldn’t disturb them any longer than is absolutely necessary.

Now that all of our chicks have fledged, we switch to monitoring the boxes just once a month as they will still occasionally be occupied by moulting penguins.

Wednesday afternoon I flew down to Dunedin to meet up with some friends traveling the South Island. I spent two days traveling around with them and seeing more great country, but more on that another time. Wednesday night we went to the Royal Albatross Centre on Otago Peninsula to watch the Little Blue Penguins come ashore.

The penguins spend all day fishing at sea, and then come back in the hour after sunset, looking quite exhausted. While I had seen Little Blues up close and personal before, it was pretty cool to see an estimated 150 or so emerge from the water and run up the hill.

They mostly came in groups of 10 to 20, and at first we would just see a dark wave headed towards the shore. Then the water started to look like it was bubbling and churning as if a strange creature were about to surface, only to just make out the shapes of tiny paddling penguins awkwardly splash out on land.

Most of the penguins then started to run up the bank towards their nests and shelters under the large wooden platform we stood on, while some just looked around as if they were thoroughly confused as to where they were and what they were supposed to be doing.

It was a cold and windy night and I only had a light jacket and didn’t know if I would last the hour while we waited for the penguins to start their run, but as soon as they began to appear I forgot the cold.

The Royal Albatross Centre had lights set up around the platform so we could pretty easily see the penguins after dark, but we were not allowed any flash photography. I only took a few blurry shots with my camera phone but you can get a bit of an impression of what the penguins looked like from this video clip I took as well (it’s a little better if you watch in HD). Note the bird sounds are not those of the penguins but of the many seagulls still settling down for the night.

It was a great experience and I would recommend it to anyone who wants a guaranteed sighting of the Little Blues!

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Categories: New Zealand, South Island, Wellington, Wildlife | 5 Comments

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

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