Archives for the month of: October, 2012

Melbourne! A city of colours, wacky weather, arts, and shopping. And coffee. Obviously, coffee.

“I’ve been making coffee for seven years,” gloated a random guy on a tram, butting into my conversation with a random lady from Oklahoma. He wasn’t trying to impress me (it don’t impress me much anyway), but rather reminding me that if I wanted a coffee shop job (sorry, if I wanted to work as a barista), then I’d have to undergo extensive training.

I eavesdropped on a guy on yet another tram who was telling his friend that he makes $22 per hour and time and a half on Saturdays. This is for making coffee on a university campus.

They take their coffee seriously in Melbourne. And usually it’s pretty good.

I was too busy taking pictures of birds take any of my various coffees at various cafes. Even though New Zealand had some amazing birds that I’d never even heard of before (for instance), there’s something about seeing little green parrots walking around on the grass like sparrows and cockatoos hanging around on wires like pigeons.

Melbourne’s laneways=canvasses for its artists

Muck up day in Melbourne! That means celebrating finishing year 12 by dressing up as fruit and sitting in Fed Square.

Flowers (that are different from Canadian flowers) at the South Melbourne Market.

Kangaroo (and other) meat for sale. Hysterical sheep, morose cow.

Pretty houses in Albert Park (the neighbourhood, not the park) on the beach.

Luna Park, St Kilda.

Luna Park from closer.

Melbourne has loads of outdoor art (and “architectural features” along the highway)

Just a bird hanging out in the grass.

Just a bird hanging out in a flower.

It’s 4 in the morning, the middle of October, I’m writing this now just to underline the weirdness of getting up and out of the hostel when others are still coming back from a night out (on a Tuesday? Don’t these people have jobs? No, no they don’t).

I was mad at myself for booking such an early flight out of Auckland when I realised I’d have to get the 3:30 airbus, which meant having to wait on a corner at 3:30 am. I’d also just been told this ‘hood is not the greatest (I wouldn’t have noticed, though).  I decided only to mention to my mother that I waited on the corner in the middle of the night if I survived the journey.

About 2 minutes after arriving at the stop, I saw the airport bus going the opposite way into town. The driver obviously has never worked for the TTC, so he was really nice and stopped to pick me up so I wouldn’t have to wait for him to go back to the depot and come back again. So I got a little middle-of-the-night tour of Auckland downtown. There was a couple in the McDonald’s, but not much other than that was going on.

Here I am with a couple of hours to kill in Auckland airport. So I thought I’d share these exceptional travel tips:

Money-saving tip #1: book a ridiculously early flight because it’s a bit cheaper and because, bonus!, you think you’ll save a night at the hostel by sleeping at the airport, but then actually you end up changing your mind, thinking a shower and a couple of hours of sleep would be better than the allegedly bed-bug infested lounge in the airport where your wallet would probably be stolen and where you’d sleep through your boarding call (if you sleep at all).

Space-saving tip #1: forget things around the world.
For example, British Columbia is the perfect place to leave a package of face-cleansing cloth thingies (practical when camping or spending days on end in a train, but relatively heavy and not essential) where it can be used as a toddler’s toy. You might also want to leave your fleece (which you bought in Germany and is therefore slightly sentimental, if only because it was expensive and is pretty much your only jacket-type thing) in a café in Lake Tekapo Springs because it happened to be sunny that day and you just may as well take it as a sign that you won’t need it for the rest of your trip because all this rain and wind is just a fluke that you’ll avoid for months to come and screw it, there’s good shopping in Melbourne.

Money-saving tip #2: Forget your fleece in Lake Tekapo Springs so you can go shopping in Melbourne.

Space-saving tip #2: Bring only small, refillable toiletry bottles.

Money-saving tip #3: When your shower gel bottle is nearly finished, conveniently find that someone forgot hers in the hostel shower. Make sure the person has checked out and then proceed to re-fill your bottle with glee.

Money-saving tip #4: Buy Adidas running shoes and watch them desintegrate before your eyes after only 3 months. Consider writing a strongly-worded letter that may result in substantial gain. But probably it wouldn’t.

Please remember I’m writing this at 4am. Thank you. Good morning and good luck!

And just like that, I am back in Auckland. Six weeks have flown by, and yet when I think back at the things I’ve done, it feels like I’ve been here for months and months.

Time is elastic. 3-hour bus rides can feel like 10 hours. Saying goodbye to people you met two days ago feels like saying goodbye to a long-lost friend.

Things that struck me about New Zealand:

1- The water is crystal clear. Even puddles are clear. And the sea.

Clear water in Queenstown.

2- The public toilets are everywhere. And they are weirdly clean, have toilet paper, and soap (except for in that town that one time). And sometimes funny signs.

Hostel toilets are sometimes as funny as public toilets. This one had amazing 1970s lino and a bottle opener between the toilet and shower.

3- Activities are extremely expensive (as is almost everything here- it’s not uncommon to see tomatoes for $12.99 a kilo). But sometimes you splurge on something really worthwhile (kayaking, freaking yourself out on a swing) and sometimes they’re not (going on a boat to see whales, but mostly just feeling seasick, though the sperm whale was pretty cool, if a bit sleepy).

Kayaking in Abel Tasman.

4- The best things are often free.

Making art in Punakaiki.

Walking on the windiest beach in the history of the universe. Reward: sea lion!

Seeing my first icebergs after a gorgeous walk near Mount Cook.

Being surprised by the local wildlife (and thinking you might become a bird-watcher after all).

Just looking at things.

5- It’s all about the weather and the people. And the mountains and the birds and water and happy hours and so many lambs.

And sunsets on the beach with local wine and good company.

Next stop: Australia!


I am in Mount Cook right now, with gale winds threatening to blow out the windows. It’s making me a little nervous.

Yesterday was a gorgeous, blue-skied day, perfect for a quiet 4-hour walk through mountains and rivers (ie the path in some places) to a lake filled with baby icebergs.

The weather changes very quickly in New Zealand. So today I did laundry (wearing my bikini under a weather-inappropriate summer dress- my only clean clothes) and bought a day’s worth of internet time.

I am currently catching up on Parks and Recreation and thought I’d share with you my favourite picture I’ve taken in New Zealand so far.

This is a kea bird, hiding under a bush from the falling snow, taken near Milford Sound. Just look at those eyes.

Kea in the snow.

So remember how I said I would never ever jump off anything high? Extreme activities for me here in New Zealand end up being something like tackling a 1,000-piece Van Gogh puzzle with a deadline of 10pm (the generator at Gunn’s Camp near Milford Sound cuts off then).

But then I meet Yvonne, sky-diving Yvonne from Holland who manages to convince people that a swing is just a swing and just pure fun and they should do it.

So when we got to adventure-filled Queenstown (a city known for extreme activities- bungy jumping, sky-diving, drinking insane amounts… and looks like a ski village in the Alps), I signed up for a tandem ride on the biggest swing in the world.

We knew it was a 300 meter arc in the mountains. We didn’t quite realise that included a 70 meter free-fall at the start of it.

Yeah, I am totally comfortable with this. It’s going to be awesome.

Being really really prone to vertigo, I shut my mind off, looked straight ahead and tried not to flip out. Denial is a powerful tool and I was relatively ok until we were hanging off the ledge, sitting on a “seat” that was really just a harness, little feet dangling.

“Do you want me to count down, or do you want a surprise?” the guy who straps you in and hopefully knows all about safetly and physics asked. Surprise us! And then bam- drop- just a little yelp and then no sound. We wooshed down towards the ground. I couldn’t even scream. It was scary and exhilerating.

Gulp. Calmly being brought back up to incredible heights.

When we reached the bottom, we swung like a swing should swing. We tried to catch our breath while laughter seized us. Wheeze-giggle-giggle-wheeze.

And then they slowly (really slowly and scarily) pulled us back up, letting us dangle for longer than strictly necessary.

We were shaking for hours. My legs were like Jello and the walk back to solid ground on a little bridge with a few screws loose was even more terrifying. Something to do with adrenaline?

It was something I never thought I’d do, am glad I did, but will probably never do it again. I’d recommend it, though.

I got a hat and a certificate for my bravery.

And in case you were wondering, we never finished the Van Gogh puzzle, no thanks to an early-rising two-year-old who got his little destructive hands on it.

When I got to Wellington, I hadn’t seen a play in over a month (and a month in traveller-time is a long long time), so I was psyched that I was within walking distance of at least three theatres. If that (plus the fact that I refuse to even think about any of the extreme activities that people do when they come to New Zealand and go to bed at 8pm every night) makes me a nerd, well then.

After checking into the YHA, I booked a ticket to Music and Me, a new play by young Kiwi performer (Victoria Schmidt), playing at Bats Theatre (across the street!) about all sorts of disenfranchised people in South Auckland (which, I learned from two different plays, is a tough part of town- theatre can be educational and edgy).  It was a good for a first full-length play and I forgave the ungrounded stage presence of some of the actors because of Schmidt’s skills as a writer, performer and (mostly) spoken word artist. There were only about six people in the audience (including a texting-girl in the front row and a pen-clicking girl behind me), but it was really cool to feel like I discovered a bit of young artists doing their thing.

Bats Theatre, across from the hostel

The next day, I walked to the Downstage Theatre (three doors up the street!) to see Flowers from My Mother’s Garden. Not having done my research and my cultural reference points for New Zealand culture ending at Heavenly Creatures and Katherine Mansfield, I didn’t know that I was about to experience a unique piece of theatre by the legendary theatrical family of Harcourt (the poor man’s Richardson-Redgraves?). It was apparently a first in the autobiographical theatre genre when it was staged 14 years ago, but to me it was quite a lovely, straight-forward, funny, touching piece of not-too-avant-garde theatre. A look at a mother-daughter relationship that subtly teaches you a thing or two about New Zealand’s history and culture.

There was a talk-back afterwards and the lighting/projection designer was really good-looking (and his work was too).

After having written off Circa Theatre because of ticket prices (student tickets are $38), I realised that Manawa was opening the next day which meant they had a more affordable preview, which I booked straight away. And maybe I should stop with my unacknowledged and hypocritical rule that I don’t pay more than $25 for a ticket. Because then maybe I’d see gems like this one a bit more often.  A fascinating story (that was so precise and convincing that I wasn’t sure was based on real events or not. It’s not.) about two prisoners negotiating the New Zealand justice system, media, and obsession with the protection of native birds. The music, writing, performances, seamless transitions (and this was a preview) and challenging topic made this play one of the best I’ve seen in the past few years.

Other performances I attended that week include:

Quirky-cool with warm vocals and a good sense of humour. This colourful band played a cute bar. Don’t remember either the name of the band or the name of the bar.

My first time watching a rugby match. Very violent, but also very theatrical (starting with the players doing the Haka and foregoing soccer’s crocodile tears).

Sadly, my week did not include attending Bret Mackenzie’s Q&A session (I missed him by 8 hours- damn non-changeable ferry-tickets!). I still cry myself to sleep 2 weeks later.

Had I seen this notice 3 days earlier and been able to schedule my ferry crossing accordingly, I’d have a much cooler story to tell.