It’s New Zealand music month and to celebrate I am encouraging people out there in other countries to enjoy some fine NZ music.
I will admit that upon first moving here, I wasn’t much impressed by anything I heard from local acts. But as time has gone on, my opinions have changed as I have discovered some sweet jams.
One of my very favourites is Fraser Ross. Not only is his music amazingly awesome, but he is my former neighbour. Fraser has recently departed the fair heights of Coromandel Street for the Scottish Highlands in pursuit of love, and I wish him all the best. I first met Frase at our yearly Christmas neighborhood bbq this past year, and when he told me he had a special lady friend in Scotland I asked him how they met. With a completely straight face, he told me they met online. I very innocently believed him. About 30 seconds later he told me he was just kidding and they met here in Wellington, and 6 months later when I heard he was moving overseas to be with her I was really glad, though of course I’m sad to lose such a wonderfully musical pal & neighbour. As I know well, long distance relationships aren’t easy, so I’m really happy for him as he makes a go of his musical career closer to his sweetheart!
His new EP is called “To Places” and features some really sweet melodies.
I recommend a listen.
Another local act I adore is called Glass Vaults. It helps of course that the band is comprised of a trio of handsome gentlemen. Their musical style is a big hard to describe, though according to their bandcamp site it’s been called “post-ambient” and “glacial pop”. Whatever name you give it, it’s lovely.
They also make some awesome music videos and are clearly just really talented boys.
They wear amazing costumes, sound like they’re from outer space, ride bikes, and are awesomely dedicated to supporting experimental music around town. Also they have really mastered the art of having on-stage personas. By day they are book editors and music teachers, by night, Orchestra of Spheres turns into:
Baba Rossa – biscuit tin guitar, sexomouse marimba
EtonalE – electric carillon
Jemi Hemi Mandala – drumkit
Mos Iocos – keyboard, gamelan
Another former neighbour of mine plays in the band Phoenix Foundation. They’re quite popular here in NZ and were even musical guests on a BBC programme. I think that means they’re famous? After hearing he was in a “famous” band, I actually tried to ask my neighbour if he was considered “famous” and if people recognised him in public, and he reluctantly admitted it. I don’t know why NZers would feel uncomfortable about admitting fame… isn’t being famous the whole point of being a rock star?!?! I guess it’s just a testament to the very humble down-to-earth nature of most people in the country.
My pal Matt the music librarian at the National Library of New Zealand is in Golden Awesome, a band definitely worth checking out.
Matt, being an excellent librarian, also compiled and posted an album of NZ music on the National Library website, all songs freely available under the creative commons licence.
It’s called the Turnbull Mixtape, after the Turnbull Library, a national institution dedicated to preserving NZ culture.
Aren’t librarians awesome?
There are literally dozens of other bands I would love to describe in this post, but unfortunately due to time constraints only my top 5 have made it. Others worth checking out in Wellington include:
The main thing I took away form the walk was how difficult it can be to identify different mushroom species. The other thing I took away from the walk was how little research has been done on NZ mushrooms. There is simply so much they haven’t studied.
The guide described these as “little brown mushrooms”, probably
Panaeolus sp. [a roundhead] – on wood chip. These mushrooms are ‘hygrophanous’ that is they change colour as they age.
According to the guide these mushrooms are in the same genus as those with psychoactive properties. Unfortunately on our walk the guide didn’t point out any psychedelic mushies, though they certainly do grow in the wild here. I was also informed that collecting or possessing those types of mushrooms is illegal in New Zealand.
We also spotted a few other varieties, but due to the drier-than-normal conditions this autumn, the mushies just haven’t been growing in abundance.
One we did see, that is edible, is called the “New Zealand Shitake”.
I haven’t had time to post much lately for the following reasons:
I am trying to make some progress on data analysis and my PhD
I have been working a lot at Te Papa. If you weren’t aware, I since October I have been employed as a research assistant at the Museum of New Zealand. It’s not a glamorous job, and pays next to nothing, but is flexible and gets me out of my office and interacting with people, which I enjoy.
I have also been doing some work for the Open Polytechnic of NZ’s undergraduate programme in Library & Information Studies. Thus far it has mostly been marking assignments for the Information Literacy course and the Children’s Literature course, both of which are quite interesting.
The dean of the Faculty of Commerce & Administration asked me to get involved with her and a co-researcher form the School of Government on a Marsden grant application for a project looking into e-governance in the Pacific. It’s quite an interesting project and actually peripherally related to my own research interests, and pays very well. We’ll find out in a few weeks if our application made it to round 2 of the application process, and if we are eventually awarded a Marsden grant, it would look amazingly awesome on my CV! The Marsden grant is the most prestigious in NZ.
I had an awesome visitor come to see me from Chicago, and we went down to the South Island to hang out with sperm whales.
I had surgery for endometriosis, and have had to take it easy the past few weeks. It’s a pretty common surgery and wasn’t critical, however because of the timing of the diagnosis it was better that I have it treated now, when it would be covered by my current insurance policy, rather than leave it to a latter date if it did become a serious issue, and risk having to pay for it out of pocket as it would then be considered a pre-existing condition. During the laproscopy they also found polyps, fibroids, and cysts in my uterus, which explains why I would have to overdose on codeine every month around my period. Hopefully this means a less pain-filled existence for me in the future. Apparently endometriosis, cysts, polyps, and fibroids are all quite common and occur for no particular reason in more than 10% of women if child bearing age. I’m just hoping now that they have been removed, they won’t come back! Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much you can do to prevent it from coming back, other than eating well and leading a healthy lifestyle, which I strive to do anyway. Completely cutting out sugar and gluten would probably be beneficial as well, but is a life without cake really worth living? That is the question I am now forced to contemplate… as I peruse recipes for cranberry-chocolate marscapone tarts.
One horrifying aspect of the surgery was getting to see photos of my insides… and not being allowed to ride my bike for 4 weeks! However, getting to stay home for a week and milk my lovely friends for all their sympathy, chocolate, and other kindnesses made the whole ordeal more bearable. I feel very lucky to have met such great people in Wellington who made me feel very well looked after.
If you want more information about endometriosis here is an article that meets the criteria I suggest students in the information literacy class I am tutoring use to evaluate the reliability, authority, and relevance of internet resources.
We were very lucky to get to see tons of wildlife in Kaikoura, including 2 sperm whales, tons of dolphins and seals, spotted shags and a penguin! It was an amazing trip and a lot of fun. She went back to Chicago on Sunday.
I’ve actually just come home from hospital where I had surgery on Wednesday. I’ll try to write more about it when I have more energy. Don’t worry, everything is fine.
There was absolutely nothing Christmassy about December 25th this year. It was a beautiful day in Wellington, hot and sunny, and amazingly wind-free. I spent it at the beach, with friends, but it felt nothing like Christmas.
I tried playing my Reggae Christmas album on my iPod but then I was asked to play something different. There was no gift exchanging, no snow, no Santa, no family dinner, no carols, no chestnuts roasting on an open fire, no jack frost nipping at my nose.
In one article they describe the “blitzkrieg” winds… at 75 miles an hour! Roughly 120 kms per hour, less than what we get around here on a regular day! While lots of people in Chicago are still without power.. ours never went out. I don’t know how Wellington manages to keep all the services running and power flowing despite the wild weather!
As a follow up form my previous post… check out the windiest cities in New Zealand yesterday:
If you look closely, you will see that we had 126 km per hour gusts of wind here in Wellington. And that is normal. Or at least, nothing so abnormal as to have caused any damage or been newsworthy in anyway.
I was sitting in my office on the 5th floor of 23 Lambton Quay and I suddenly felt the building begin to sway… At first I thought it was me feeling faint or dizzy but then I realised the plants in the window sill were also swaying, and the bookshelves made a creaking noise. Then, after about 5 seconds, it stopped, as if nothing had even happened.
I ran next door to ask my neighbour if she had felt it, or if I was hallucinating. According to her, a native-Wellingtonian, it was “a very tiny earthquake”, nothing to worry about it.
However, it was definitely unsettling and my heart is still racing a bit.
After living in Wellington for over a year, I had left this town exactly 3 times – once to go back to North America, once to go to Auckland for 2 days, and once to go to Paraparaumu for an afternoon (a town about 1 hour away by train). I also went to my supervisor’s house in the Hutt valley once or twice, but I wouldn’t exactly say that’s getting out of town (though the Hutt river and views of Wellington Harbour from Petone are quite lovely).
So, when my mom decided to come visit, and I decided to officially take a post-proposal holiday, I didn’t actually consult her before planning our foray into New Zealand’s South Island. I spoke to a number of kiwis for advice on where to travel in New Zealand, and independently they all unanimously suggested 3 places – the South Island’s West Coast, Central Otago/Arrowtown, and Fjordland. Such consensus would be unlikely if asking an American “What are the best places to visit in the USA?”. So, I planned a week of ferries, buses, boats and planes, and we did a full-circle tour of the lovely and wild South Island the 2nd week in May.
May is the perfect time to visit the South Island of New Zealand. The majestic and magnificent Southern Alps boasted a fresh sprinkling of the season’s first snow. The tourist hoards of high season (December – April) had vanished, and the weather was mild and surprisingly dry. This is New Zealand, not new England, and the native flora is generally evergreen, so don’t expect fulgent autumnal colours. In fact, if you do see yellow and red leaves falling from a tree (like the poplars lining the hills around Arrowtown), you can bet they are an introduced species. However, the South Pacific climate has produced some extremely unique ecosystems and stunning scenery. This country is the size of the UK, but has 1/10th the population. That means there are lots of wide open, rugged, wild places. And lots of sheep.
The first day we left Wellington at some ungodly hour and were waiting for the number 11 bus in Newtown before the sun was even properly up. We got off the bus at the railway station, and walked over to the BlueBridge ferry terminal, where we boarded a gigantic vessel that had formerly carried passengers around the islands of Denmark or Finland. The boat still bore signs in a language that used the “Ø” character.
The ferry that crosses the Cook Strait from Wellington to Picton takes about 3 hours. The Cook Strait is known for its rough seas and wild weather. On the day we took it, it was cold, and raining, but according to a fellow passenger who regularly took the ferry, it was “a very calm crossing”. We encountered 3 meter swells which made me and mum a little queasy, but no seasickness! However, the BlueBridge staff do provide seasickness bags in case you make the crossing on a particularly rough day. Warning – never ever go out drinking the night before you are going to take the ferry. This is not the kind of trip you want to make hungover.
Here are some pictures mom & I took on the ferry:
The trip takes so long, even though the distance is not great, because the ferry has to navigate the Marlborough Sounds on the North end of the South Island.
This is a beautiful area, parts of which make up the Abel Tasman national park, and from what I hear, also very well worth visiting.
After arriving in Picton, we hopped on a bus to Nelson, about 2 hours away.
Nelson is a cute town and we would have liked to have stayed longer than one night, but unfortunately the bus schedules were against us, so after one evening in Nelson, we boarded a bus to Franz Josef Glacier.
This bus took us all along the West Coast of the South Island, and it is truly wild and beautiful. The waves from the Southern Ocean pound against the rocky beaches and miles go by without a sign of civilization. Rainforest covered mountains on one side meet the wild ocean on the other side, in one of the rainiest places in the world. The area around Franz Josef gets 5 meters or rain a year, as clouds collect moisture over the ocean, are blown East, and hit the Southern Alps, releasing their rain on the coastal forests.
Our bus stopped at Pancake Rocks and gave us some time to take pictures in the rain.
After the stop we continued on to Franz Josef village, arriving just before sunset, and checked into the YHA before heading out for a romantic Mother’s day dinner. The food was unimpressive and overpriced, but the company was excellent.
The following morning was rainy and wet, but the sun came out for a brief second and we decided to take the next shuttle to the face of the glacier while the weather looked promising. Upon arriving at the glacier car park, it started pouring rain again, but, about 100 meters into our walk, the sun actually came out, and a sparkling blue sky appeared over the glacier.
I could write an entire post about glacier moraines and how the nevé forms blue ice… but I won’t. I’ll just say the Franz Josef glacier is pretty spectacular, and one of the few places in the world you can get up close to a glacier and even go tramping around on it (if you can afford it!).
About 1 hour later, it promptly started raining again.
We spent another night in Franz Josef, and visited the glacier hot pools, which were very nice, though pretty expensive. I splurged for it as I felt the lady who gave birth to me 31 years ago deserved a Mother’s day treat.
We headed to Queenstown from Franz Josef the following day.
This route took us through the Haast pass, which was also lovely. There were beautiful mountains on every side, pristine kettle lakes (formed by glaciers) every few miles, and lots of cute little lambs and cows frolicking around. The road into Queenstown is winding and slow, but presents spectacular views.
We arrived just in time to stop at the Salvation Army and do a bit of browsing before we headed to our hostel by the lake to relax and prepare some kind of meal. The following morning we were up at 6 to meet the bus that would take us to Milford Sound, leaving town at 6:45 am in complete darkness.
We pulled out of the Queenstown just as the sun was rising over the Remarkables, turning the clouds into golden strawberry cotton candy!
The bus passed through Te Anau and stopped at Mirror Lake, before arriving at Milford Sound. We had a 90 minute cruise on the sound, before heading back to Queenstown and finally arriving at around 7 pm, a very long day.
However, well worth it, as the sound was lovely, and we got to see some cute little seals!
So, after an exhausting 13 hour day trip to Milford Sound, we arrived back in Queenstown under the cover of darkness, and promptly went to sleep. We may have eaten something beforehand but I can’t remember where or what.
The following day was literally our first “take it easy” day since the start of the trip – no early morning start, no buses to catch. But, I didn’t get much of a lie-in as mom woke me up at 7 am demanding coffee and breakfast. I tried to make some oatmeal, but due to the ambiguity of the dials on the stove, ended up burning it so badly I think I ruined the backpacker’s pot (Sorry!) I did try to clean it, but it was no use. I left it on the bench to “soak”, but when I came back a few hours later it had mysteriously disappeared. Anyway, my second batch of oatmeal with dried apricots and a bit of milk & sugar turned out lovely and we relaxed in front of the backpacker’s giant window looking out over Lake Wakatipu. Then we headed out to visit the Queenstown Salvation Army, in the midst of a 1/2 off sale. I thought I took a long time in 2nd hand shops, judging by Ticker’s complaints, but whoa, my mom really takes the cake. Approximately 4 hours after entering the tiny shop we finally left, mom having scored a number of really fantastic Merino jerseys, and me with a nice black Merino turtle-neck that only strangles me slightly.
After our shopping trip we rode the gondola up to the top of a mountain beside Queenstown. It was spectacularly sunny and beautiful.
By then, we had had enough of Queenstown’s “party!” atmosphere and the onslaught of bungie jumping/hang gliding/jet boating/other extreme sport advertising, as I think most of the blog audience knows how I feel about extreme sports. We decided, upon excellent advice, to head to Arrowtown for the remainer or our trip.
Arrowtown is only a 30 minute bus ride from Queenstown but feels like a million miles away. It’s quiet and cute, in a middle of lovely hills planted with poplars turning yellow and gold in the autumnal air, with the Arrow River running alongside the 2 street downtown.
It’s full of amazing restaurants & bars, an awesome movie theatre, and a wonderful museum of the Lakes district. I highly recommend skipping Queenstown entirely and spending your holiday in Arrowton. There is a very reasonable priced backpackers right in the centre of town with a great kitchen and homey atmosphere. This was by far my mom’s favourite place we visited and stayed; possibly mine as well.
During those 2 days we panned for gold in the Arrow River (but didn’t strike it rich unfortunately), went on a few lovely walks, visiting the museum, and discovered Provisions – the most delicious sticky buns I have ever tasted, mushrooms on toast, and eggs benedict. DAMN! Their food is good.
After our delightful two days in Arrowtown we got on a bus to the Queenstown airport, and in a plane that took us to Christchurch and then Wellington, and safely home. Mom had 2 more days in Wellington and then flew back to Chicago and the springtime. I miss her already, but know she’ll be back soon…