The “Kiwi” – Some History and A Mystery

What do these three things have in common?

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Is it:

A) Brown fur-like hair

B) Referred to as a “Kiwi”

C) Avoids being seen in public

All of the above! When’s the last time you asked a kiwi fruit if its cool being publically investigated all day by hungry shoppers? I’ve made a point to check-in with them lately, and the general consensus seems to be, “We’re green! We’re Mean! Privacy – We’re Keen!”

It should be clear that this post focuses on the “kiwi” – mostly the bird, although I’m also going to talk a bit about the kiwi people. ~Foreshadowing~ there was a mystery on my hands for quite some time, and finally, after months of wondering and waiting….the mystery has been solved. But first, please sit back, relax and enjoy as I attempt to toss a heap of information in your direction as gracefully and coherently as possible.

I also should be transparent here: I have an agenda, and that agenda is to get you to appreciate the kiwi bird as much as I do. If you are not comfortable with manipulation via exciting ancestry, personified continents and adorable pictures, do refrain from continuing.

It all started with Gondwana. 160 million years ago, the earth looked like this:

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Below, you will find a close-up of the Australian and New Zealand parts of Gondwana. Now, if you have never before seen a present-day map, you better buckle your seat belt, because you are in for one big surprise.

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The continents started to break apart. Only 1/3 of the New Zealand we know today was above water.

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SURPRISE look it is the Earth today

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Okay, what does this have to do with the kiwi bird? I will be honest, attempting to put together an accurate timeline of the kiwi’s evolution proved to be a difficult task; internet posts and tours and information plaques have a quite a bit of conflicting information. I’m going to word vomit the timeline that I hear the most:

New Zealand’s now extinct giant Moa bird (my favorite animal of all time, besides dogs, meerkats and elephants) is related to Australian’s emu and cassowarie. When Gondwana split into pieces, separating the countries we now know as Australia and New Zealand, New Zealand’s only animal inhabitants for quite some time were birds. Birds birds birds lotta biiiiirds. And also there was the giant Moa, which probably evolved from Aussie’s emu and cassowarie.

The Giant Moa is, unfortunately, now extinct and has been since 1440 due to over-hunting by Maori people, as well the giant scary Haast Eagle.

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Because there were no land predators (this was well before the Europeans came and messed it all up with their rabbits and possums), birds began to evolve to be ground dwellers, which is how the flightless little kiwi bird came to evolve.

Pictures of Kiwi Birds (one is fake, can you guess?):

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Very Interesting Facts About the Kiwi Bird (none of these are fake):

  1. They are nocturnal.
  2. Kiwi are the only bird to have nostrils at the end of their very long bill. Because beak length is measured from nostril to beak tip, this means they have one of the smallest beaks of all birds, despite the fact that their nose appears so long!
  3. They have one of the largest egg-to-body weight ratios of any bird. After the female kiwi gives birth, she BOLTS and the male takes over, presumably because the labor process for a bird whose egg takes up 15% of their body must be downright miserable.

Shifting gears a bit. You may remember that in the beginning of this post, I hinted towards a “mystery that was on my hands”. That mystery is about to unfold. Dim the lights, draw your red curtains and light up the candles.

The Pressing Question: Why do New Zealander’s refer to themselves as Kiwis?

“Why…why? Whyyyyy?” I wondered as I strolled through the Kiwi Birdlife Sanctuary in Queenstown, South Island, New Zealand. It was April 2015 at this point, and the question had been on my mind since the beginning of my travels in November 2014.

Folks get about as far as, “Well, we’re named after the bird…” at which point, confused looks take over when they realize that they aren’t sure about why “kiwi” – of all the unique animals, people and customs to inspire a nickname – was ultimately the one that stuck.

Ray – the walking encyclopedia who I met during my time in the Coromandel Peninsula – did not have my answer. And neither did Carol – the retired woman who split up her time volunteering at TWO museums.

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Ray and I at a coffee shop.

How is it that the origin of such an iconic, internationally recognized nickname remains a mystery to so, so many New Zealanders?

Finishing up my stroll at the Kiwi Birdlife Sanctuary, the question was on my mind. I had almost mentally confirmed my decision to stay quiet and leave without asking anyone when SUDDENLY … The Kiwi God of Curiosity and Perseverance pulled beside me on a gentle, poofy cloud and guided me towards the information desk in the gift shop.

“Um…hey. I’ve got a question…What’s the origin of the “kiwi” nickname? I mean, I know it’s after the bird, but like, why?”

The woman behind the desk tilted her head back and sideways, beckoning a man organizing something on a clipboard. “Nathan! This person has a question for you, and I think you’ve got the answer.”

Nathan had the answer.

It all started with the Maori legend about how the kiwi lost his wings. The story goes like this: Tāne Mahuta – the legendary giant kuari tree that still stands today (1,250-2,500 years) was walking through the forest when he noticed that his tree children were dying. He called his brother, Tanehokahoka, who gathered up all the birds in the forest. Tāne Mahuta asked,

“Something is eating the trees. Tui bird, will you come from the trees to protect the forest floor, thus protecting my children (the trees) and your home?”

Tui bird said no.

“Pukeko bird, will you come from the trees to protect the forest floor?”

Pukeko bird said no.

“Kiwi bird, will you come down from the trees to protect the forest floor?”

The kiwi bird agreed.

Tāne Mahuta was joyous, but felt he needed to warn the kiwi of what would happen.

“Kiwi, do you realise that if you do this, you will have to grow thick, strong legs so that you can rip apart the logs on the ground and you will loose your beautiful coloured feathers and wings so that you will never be able to return to the forest roof. You will never see the light on day again.”

The kiwi still agreed. Of course, no legend is complete without a little retribution.

Tui, because you were too scared to come down from the forest roof, from now on you will wear the two white feathers at your throat as the mark of a coward.

Pukeko, because you did not want to get your feet wet, you will live forever in the swamp.

But you kiwi, because of your great sacrifice, you will become the most well known and most loved bird of them all.”

This legend cemented the kiwi as the beloved, national icon of Aotearoa (New Zealand).

So…fast forward to 1906. William Ramsay invented some mighty fine shoe polish which he called “Kiwi” as a tribute to his NZ wife. The kiwi bird, being such a beloved bird, was the go-to way to pay homage to a New Zealander. Also #marketing – the sleek plump little bird looked dang good on the shoe-shine tins, according to Ramsay.

During World War I, HEAPS of the “Kiwi” shoe-shine was sent to soldiers (plus, New Zealand troops all featured Regimental Signs with the kiwi bird emblazoned), and the nickname for New Zealand soldiers started to take off from there.

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There you have it! The “kiwi” nickname for New Zealanders began in the military, and it was through Maori legend that the bird gained its significance.

This is my last post that I’ll be publishing from my year in New Zealand. I spent a total of 363 days in the country (minus a couple weeks in Oz), and I’m now settled in my home in Ellicott City, Maryland. I apologize for the 6 month hiatus! I fell in love with a Kiwi human as I was halfway done with this post in May 2015, and her lovely accent distracted me from writing ever again for 6 months. Alas, when I got home, my parents said, “Hillary – why have you never published the kiwi post you kept telling us was “almost finished”?” ❤ ❤ This one’s for you mom&dad ❤ ❤

 

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Uluru – To Connect with or to Conquer?

This is a good place to listen to country. Take a minute to sit down, close your eyes and breathe deeply. Enjoy this moment. Listen to the birds. Can you hear the water trickling? Concentrate on the wind. Can you hear it? Feel it? Kuniya is a strong woman, this place has a strong feeling.

These are words that greet visitors at the base of Uluru’s main waterhole. Uluru – also known as Ayers Rock – is a rock formation cemented in the Southwest corner of Australia’s Northern Territory. As you make the 25 minute drive from the town center, Uluru and its sister rock Kata Tjuta are the only pieces of earth that disrupt the unfathomably flat, arid landscape.

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Uluru in the distance.

It is, honestly, awe-inspiring. Approaching the rock reveals its complexity – blackened vertical streaks where water flows during rain storms, narrow gorges and pockets of vegetation.

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Kata Tjuta, meaning “many heads”

The beauty of these rocks is not their only point of interest. Uluru and Kata Tjuta have been home to an Aboriginal tribe called the Anangu for tens of thousands of years. In Australia, there are about 400 Aboriginal tribes, each with their own distinct set of customs and languages. Up until the 1960s when the last of the nomadic groups were moved to European settlements, there were actually Aboriginal people living in places so remote that they remained completely separate from European influence. For the Anangu, the rocks carry very special significance – significance that extends beyond the aesthetic. For it is Uluru and Kata Tjuta that have been both the inspiration, foundation and backdrop for Anangu culture, history and legal matters.

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The sign above relays the significance of the Kapi watering hole at the base of Uluru.

In traditional times, Anangu would sing out ‘kuka kuka’ and Wanampi (water snake) would release kapi (water) into the waterhole. As with all water sources in the desert, this waterhole is a place of great respect and treated as sacred. Today, wildlife still depend on it for survival.

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Aboriginal rock etchings at Uluru. Not my image.

Uluru is also a place for Anangu ceremonies and rituals that are still performed today. Boys become men during initiation ceremonies in the caves at Uluru’s base. The caves’ stone walls, such as the one pictured above, are canvasses for Aboriginal stories.

These examples are meant to convey Uluru’s sacredness to the Anangu people. Because of this, visitors are encouraged not to climb the rock. But the issue of climbing the rock extends beyond just a matter of respect. Should a climber need assistance while on top, you might have to spend the night up there, because the park staff are not equipped to do mountain rescue, and the nearest helicopter is 440km (~270 miles) away in Alice Springs. Additionally, human urine and old battery acid has been detected in the watering holes at the base. Anything left at the top of the rock eventually makes it way to the watering holes during rainfall. With the story of the Kapi Mutitjulu waterhole in mind, it is clear why this would be upsetting for the Anangu and Park Service on both a cultural and environmental level.

It is not illegal to climb the rock. As it stands, approximately 30% of visitors each year arrive with the priority to climb the rock. According to our tour guide, until that number drops below 20%, climbing the rock will not be made illegal, as the Anangu tribe and park service rely heavily on the funds raised via tourism.

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To understand the complexity of this issue, which is wrapped up in the larger history of Australia’s European and Aboriginal relationship, it is necessary to go back in time…very, very far back in time. Aboriginal people have been in Australia for so long that it has been impossible for archaeologists to pinpoint an exact arrival date. It is estimated that the first people arrived anywhere between 40,000 – 80,000 years ago. Tribes had to adapt accordingly depending on where they were settled. The history of the Anangu provides an example of just how good Aboriginal tribes were at doing this. Uluru is a semi-arid desert, and yet, the Anangu survived – and thrived – through their knowledge of local food sources and their ability to apply incredible skill to simple tools.

When the British began colonization of Australia in 1788, there were two initial impacts that effected the Aborigine population in a detrimental way:

1) Spread of disease. European settlers brought with them diseases like smallpox and measles, wiping out large groups of Aboriginal people.

2) Displacement from land and resources. Many British assumed that the Aboriginal peoples’ nomadic lifestyles would leave them well equipped to survive anywhere. Yet, the their incredible survival skills were specific to familiar land. These deep, careless errors in judgement moved them onto terrain that they were unequipped to navigate.

Shifting focus back to Uluru, the area has been home to indigenous Australians for tens of thousands of year; it was not until 1872 when the first non-native person laid eyes on the rock. Despite the approximately 10,000 year old history between the rock and Native people, the Anangu did not regain official ownership of the rock until 1985, and they jointly manage the park with National Parks and Wildlife; a condition of their ownership was that Uluru would be leased back to National Parks and Wildlife for 99 years. In 1993, another significant shift was marked. Up until then, Uluru was most commonly referred to as its European name – Ayers Rock – until ’93 when it was renamed, “Ayers Rock/Uluru”. The names were reversed to “Uluru/Ayers Rock” in 2002.

The Anangu tribe and Park Service is attempting to help visitors, both Australia locals and international travelers, re-think the ways they’ve weaved (or have not weaved) histories and understandings of Aboriginal people into their minds. If you visit the park, you’ll be greeted on many occasions by messages, like this one below, that encourage you to “challenge your perception” of Uluru’s significance.

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Is this a place to conquer – or a place to connect with?

After reading the signs, signs that are informational, honest and thought-provoking, why would you still choose climb the rock? A Sydney local joined my brother and me for a drink at a town pub one evening, and upon hearing our opinions of rock-climbing, said, “I climbed the rock today.” I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. Sitting with conflicting ideologies is not my strong suit, even when I believe I am standing for the right thing. “Why?” I asked. His response was simple, “Well, because I’m here. Why not?” I pondered our conversation later that night, and I could not help but hypothesize that his opinion may very well shift over the course of another decade of respect & rights building for Aboriginal people. After all, the Australian government did not publicly apologize for the ill treatment of Aboriginal people until 2008.

Still, the 3 out of 10 visitors who climb the rock are not only Australians; in fact, the majority of people who choose to disregard the wishes of the Anangu tribe by pursuing the climb are international visitors. The ways that Native people are perceived and treated on a global scale is revealed. Globally, reckoning with the brutal realities of Western colonialism and displacement of Native people is far from a trend. The Anangu are left in an uncomfortable dilemma: in order to support themselves financially, they must leave open the opportunity for people to climb the rock – disrupting a cultural and natural icon, jeopardizing the safety of ill-prepared climbers and compromising the surrounding ecosystems.

The Anangu and Park Service have compromised in order to provide tourists the opportunity to explore Uluru and Kata Tjuta. In exchange for tourists’ continued access to the rocks, the Anangu have articulated boundaries that they request of the space. Most of these boundaries (i.e., “Don’t climb after dark) are enforced by local Park Service, although their request for tourists to not climb Uluru at all is one that carries no legal repercussions for the reason I mentioned earlier.

Centuries of displacement and destruction to Australia’s indigenous people have left scars. Places like Uluru where Aboriginal people can showcase their history and continue to practice their customs and rituals still today are special, as they are a living reminder of a history and culture distinctly different from today’s dominant, Western culture that has survived centuries of forced assimilation, spread of disease and violent attack. Carving out spaces for Aboriginal people to thrive again is a group effort – the Australian government and people both play roles, although in tourist heavy places like Uluru, tourists’ support for the Aboriginal people is also imperative. When we allow ourselves to stay open to the questions and requests put forth by the Anangu, we make way for the maintenance of Uluru’s natural well-being, the safety of visitors and a thriving space for Aboriginal life and preservation. To bring this post to a close, I’d like to end with words that are not my own. While doing research for this, I came across an article in Australian Geographic written in 2005 to commemorate the anniversary of Uluru’s handback to the Anangu. The writer concludes the piece with the following:

“While we struggle to understand the lives, and will never know the languages of those who painted extinct animals on the walls of European caves some 10,000 years ago, Australia has living ceremonies and songs as ancient as those and older still, with verses that tell of our history, of morality, of law, of creation, and which are literally set in stone. Etched into the very surface of our national icon are features that tell not just of the tortured geology that has created this unique sculpture and of the unfathomable time since the Rock’s origins, but also preserve some of the world’s oldest memories. Those stories and songs are ours. If we want them to be.”

*Note: I am no expert! My research was compiled during my time at Uluru and through the internet. I tried my best to get facts correct, although please let me know if you have read an error, and I shall adjust accordingly. 

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“The coolest town in NZ”

Recently, I left the strangest town I’ve encountered yet, and I’m unconvinced that I’ll come across a town stranger. Lonely Planet calls this place, “The coolest town in New Zealand”, and it’s not uncommon to see people who look like this being followed in the streets by these. What is this place, Hillary?!  I won’t keep you waiting any longer…

Oamaru. *blank stares*

On with it! Oamaru is home to two types of penguins, a Victorian precinct, and a thriving Steampunk culture. Although, rumbling under the surface is an eerie, surreal sense that I can’t quite place – like, a wrong turn down an abandoned alleyway might send me flying to a new dimension, never to return to the present. During my stay, the majority of locals were down south in Dunedin watching the cricket world cup, and this emptiness undoubtedly contributed to the eeriness slithering its way through the alleyways and down the streets.

I want to provide a map, because 1) geographical context is cool, and 2) even those I talk to on a regular basis still have to ask, “So… where exactly are you now?”. Particularly in my first couple months here, I traveled a lot, moving from place to place every week or two.

The green star is Oamaru, whereas the blue stars are the other places I’ve visited throughout my travels. The red lines represent the routes I’ve traveled, and the reason they look zig-zaggy at times is because I travel by broomstick, so sometimes the wind sets me off course a bit.

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My first night in Oamaru, I stayed in a little hostel that’s managed by an insane woman, and there were long blonde hairs hanging from the wires underneath the bunk-bed above me, presumably because tall blonde people are constantly hitting their heads as they rise to greet the morning, take a midnight bathroom run, or grab a post-nap snack. There is an eclectic mix of reviews on the BBH Hostel website:

“Uninviting.. unfriendly, and abusive language. watches you like a hawk. Really regret staying here.”

“Awful! Wouldn’t stay there again: dirty bathroom, ripped sheets and curtains, filthy kitchen – general impression was bad/not well maintained. The host is a “character”, but it is personal if you like her or not.”

“The warmest hostel, and the most caring host!”

When the manager, Agra asked me if I had ever “done anything of importance” in my life, and suddenly, all of the cool things I’ve ever done seemed utterly meaningless, all I could do was say “uhhhhh”, prompting her to ask what I studied in school. Upon hearing me say, “Women’s Studies and Communication”, her direct quote was, “Why the FUCK would you do that?! Study something of importance, like Comparative Cognitive Behaviors. Do you know Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest and natural selection? We must adapt! Sink or swim.”

Cue my, “Confused/slightly frightened/Did she just imply I’m going to die because of my choice in majors?” face. After I cried myself to sleep for a few nights, applied to 6 Biology-related grad programs, and then photo-shopped my diplomas to read “Computer Science” and “Nursing”, I decided it was time to lace up my learning boots and hit the town.

Interesting Exhibit A: the Victorian Precinct looks like a movie set; the street is lined with antique shops, a bookbinder store, and quirky galleries. Thanks to a lack of money in the 1970s, Oamaru decided it couldn’t afford to knock down the historic, 19th century buildings. Although the suggestion to destroy the buildings was never carried out, a couple (very wealthy) locals were inspired to buy up and preserve the buildings, just in case anybody got any ideas again. Yay! Myself, countless locals & tourists are glad they were saved, because these buildings are really neat!

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It was precisely this well preserved Victorian precinct that originally attracted Interesting Exhibit B: the steampunk culture. Steampunk is a mystery to me, and from what I’m discovering, I think that may actually be the point. After I finished touring the Steampunk HQ – a museum in Oamaru dedicated to, you guessed it, Steampunk! – I had many questions for the person behind the information desk. What’s the origin? Are there different branches? Is it an aesthetic or a lifestyle? She had a few answers for me, but by the end, encouraged me to let my questions rest: “Try not to figure it out too much. You’d be thinking a very long time.”

A plaque in front of the museum attempts a definition of Steampunk:

Steampunk is a quirky and fun genre of science fiction that features steam-powered technology. It is often set in an alternate, futuristic version of 19th century Victorian England. The Steampunk future is driven by unusual steam powered devices; examples are machines like those in the writing of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, and in TV shows such as Dr. Who. These stone walls (of Steampunk HQ) preserve many curious contraptions and secrets; trinkets and curios, artefacts, fantastic engines, creatures and visual transmissions from other realms. Is it merely the imaginings of artists, or something more? Was it once a time traveller’s vessel, now stranded in the heart of Oamaru’s Victorian Precinct?

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The plaque reads: “A curious ship unearthed in the Cerberus quadrant of Ursa Major. Supposedly used to transport the dead to their new home in the Underworld, but actually a front for smuggling fine Colonial Tea and Biscuits. The fearsome chap at the helm hides the vessel’s true purpose.”

My first night out in Oamaru was spent locating the little blue penguins with some hostel friends, followed by a spooky midnight walk through the deserted center of town. Lonely Planet describes Oamaru on a foggy night as, “downright Dickensian”.

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As for Interesting Exhibit C: the penguins, Oamaru is home to two types: the yellow eyed penguin (it’s not as little!!!) and the little blue penguin (it’s so little!!!). I don’t have pictures of either, but I shall tell you about them!

The yellow eyed penguin is native to New Zealand, so carving out the time to see them was a no-brainer. It is one of the rarest penguin species in the world, with an endangered population of about 4,000. They are very shy and won’t come back to their homes if they see people, so in order to view them, tourists must “hide out” in walkways that are hundreds of meters off of the ground. At sunset, myself and a few handfuls of tourists (plus the 1 or 2 dedicated locals), “hid out” along the walkway, watching a few of the little penguins surface from the ocean – bellies full of fish – and then slowly waddle their way to their bush-enclosed nesting boxes. I couldn’t get any decent pictures, so here are some taken by professionals:

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Feeding little chicks

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Beach beauty making the trek home

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I may look scary, but I am actually very shy

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I’m a very cranky penguin because I am molting, which means I can’t return to sea for food for 28 days

The little blue penguin is found mostly in Australia and New Zealand, and they are less shy than the yellow-eyed penguin, although also a threatened species. We saw them around 11PM after they had returned from the sea to their nesting boxes.

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Little cutie

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Best buddies

If you park yourself at one of the lakefront bars, you may just be lucky enough to have a little penguin crawl under your legs…*

*Ambiguous “…” that leaves readers wondering, “Oh my god! Did this happen to you?!” This….did not happen to me, although I heard many-a-stories of the occurrence! 🙂

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A Tale of Two Spreads

Today’s post begins with a story that I originally featured on my blog a couple months ago, although I’ve since decided to further unpack the story. Here it is again, for those who missed it:

If you’ve traveled to the UK, New Zealand or Australia — or you’ve seen the Rocket Power movie where the gang heads to New Zealand — then you are probably aware of Marmite and/or Vegemite’s existence. The battle between New Zealand Marmite and Australian Vegemite is intense, it is divided, and it inspires locals to take sides and stay put….or so it seems, based on this story I was told during my first week in the country.

What happened was this: When a 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch, NZ in 2011, the country’s only Marmite factory was damaged and forced to close for 6 months. Supply was supposed to be fine, assuming that Kiwis consumed it at their regular rate. Well, when the news got out about the closed factory, folks hit the ground running to scoop up handfuls of Marmite jars before supply ran dry, sparking what Kiwis referred to as “Marmageddon”.

The general manager of Marmite’s producer, Sanitarium, was quick to offer tips, “With toast, it’s a little bit warmer so it spreads easier and it goes a little bit further. So what we’re asking consumers is maybe if they could have their Marmite on toast, ration it a little bit, maybe have it only once a day or every second day until such time as we can have full Marmite stocks back out in the marketplace again.” Acutely aware of the burgeoning unrest, he urged New Zealanders to not, “freak out about it”. (“Marmite shortage spurs Marmageddon fears”, New Zealand Herald).

“Was this a publicity stunt to boost Marmite sales?” Conspiracy theorists wondered via Twitter. Meanwhile, folks looking to make a quick buck turned to Trade Me – New Zealand’s Craiglist equivalent – to sell jars at inflated prices; one of the higher bids making its way up to $60 for a 1.2kg jar (“Marmageddon sends NZ into a spin”, NZ Herald).

Even Prime Minister John Key weighed in, echoing Sanitarium’s advice to ration their portions by spreading the substance thinner. As for Vegemite sales? While Vegemite sales allegedly remained the same, new markets were born, for example, these t-shirts:

You may be wondering, “Hillary…where do you stand?” Well, I was put to a blind taste test, and I’ll just come out with it – I thought they both tasted like poo. For me, Marmite was ultimately the lesser of the two evils.

Since hearing the story, it has not left my mind, and a series of additional questions about this saga have since surfaced. I could not bear to leave them unexplored.

Graph Depiction of this Process:

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So far, I haven’t picked up the taste for either. Although, I my attempts at developing a taste have been, well, non-existent, and I recognize that puts the spreads at an unfair disadvantage. As for the exploration of stages 3 and 4, I consulted folks on 3 parts of the spectrum: The Radical Marmite, The Radical Vegemite, and the IDRCATM-ers (I Don’t Really Care All That Much).

From The Radical Marmite, Mikey and Romelli of Auckland weigh in with their thoughts:

Mikey: Real talk, marmite is my choice for the following reasons: tastes better, looks better/darker/less pooh like, it is fortified with Vit B12 while Vegemite isn’t, Marmite in NZ is made by Sanitarium, which is a non-profit religiously affiliated vegetarian company, which has better business ethics than Kraft which makes Vegemite, BUT is linked with the Seventh Day Adventists, which I think are likely homophobic.

Me: Is the divide as big as the Marmegeddon story suggests?

Mikey: Yes because Vegemite is yuck and if you eat it you are yuck. It has a yellow lid. Yellow is a yuck colour. Red is way better. I would eat toe jam before I eat Vegemite. Although, toe jam might have B12.
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Romelli: To be honest, I think that people don’t really choose to like Vegemite or Marmite . It’s an innate orientation. But people who orient to Vegemite are wrong.
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Mikey: People who eat both are just being greedy and need to pick one side and stick with it.
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Romelli: Once upon a time I would take to school everyday with me a sandwhich, a sandwhich that had a black spread on it. I did not think much of my sandwiches but accepted them as a part of school life. Then! One day! I bit into my sandwhich and was amazed! Deliciousness! Yum Vegemite! There was now such a thing! After school I excitedly asked my dad what was it that he had done to the Vegemite to make it delicious!? He laughed and showed me the holy red lidded jar and told me…its marmite! The end
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From The Radical Vegemite, Clare gives her defense of Vegemite:
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Clare: Vegemite tastes like a bitter honey that leaks from the strongest, most beautiful trees of Olympia, whilst Marmite tastes like that rancid mixture that builds up on your shoes made up of dog shit, dirt, and blue pk.
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Me: Blue Pk? Like “blue puke”?
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Clare: Yes, but they put it in tablet form and sell it as gum. Blue P.K. its black inside. It’s made by wiggles. Its the foulest of all the gums.
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Me: Wiggles? Like the singing group?
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Clare: Oh whoops. No, “Wrigleys” the gum company. They may do more than gum, I’m not sure, judging by the blue p.k. they could have a good tar business.
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Bringing you the IDRCATM is Robbie:

MeHow come you have the taste for both? It seems like most people LOVE one or the other. Do you meet many people who are neutral? 

Robbie:  I would say I prefer marmite but will eat vegemite if there is no marmite around! I don’t know many people who are neutral, mainly because it’s not something I talk about with people. I’ll just ask my brother… My brother prefers marmite but he’s learned to eat vegemite because he’s lived with people who have refused to eat marmite.

Me: Why do you prefer Marmite?
—-BREAK—
Robbie: I prefer marmite because it’s what I grew up on. Probably a bit of kiwi pride as well!

A Venn Diagram for Visual Learners

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Does America have a “Vegemite and Marmite”?

Finally, I provided all of this research to my good friends Erin Longbottom and Charlie Girard, who agreed to attempt to answer my stage 5 question: Does America have a “Vegemite vs Marmite”?

Erin took the lead on this prompt, offering a deeply personal analysis of what she believes to be the American equivalent: “shave ice” versus “snow cones”. Here’s what she wrote:

Growing up in Hawaii, I ate a lot of shave ice. True shave ice is made from a finely shaved ice block, flavored with your choice of sugary syrups ranging from boring flavors like cherry and vanilla to superior flavors such as coconut (clear version only, I do not trust any blue colored coconut flavor), lilikoi (passion fruit), and li hing mui (pickled bitter plum). It’s best served with ice cream and azuki bean on the bottom. Obviously these flavors were specially made in places because who is going to mass manufacture a flavor that tastes like a pickled plum? And so, imagine my horror when I left Hawaii to visit the mainland and was offered a “snow cone.” On the outside it looked promising, but it was like eating mouthfuls of disappointment and ruined childhoods. I feel bad for every kid who has eaten a snow cone and never known it could get better. Snow cones are made of crushed ice and only come in cherry, grape and blue raspberry generally. The foremost tragedy here (lack of flavors is almost equally terrible) is crushed ice – unlike ice shaved from a block, crushed ice can’t actually hold in the syrup, it just lets it all dribble down to the bottom of your paper cone where you have to quickly suck it out before it gets all over your hands. Shave ice is generally served in plastic containers so that nothing goes to waste and you can drink your syrup flavored ice cream and azuki bean as your chaser. Flash forward to my adult life, where since moving away from HI, I can count on one hand the number of times I have experienced shave ice on the mainland that even came close to what I used to eat nearly every week (another important fact – shave ice vendors are everywhere in HI, they even have their own shave ice trucks). When people ask me what I miss about living in HI, shave ice is always at the top of my list. In conclusion, people in the mainland should just stop putting syrup on ice and pretending like they know how to make “Hawaiian shave ice” (what I often see advertised) because YOU DON’T. Stop breaking my heart and stop acting like you’re not just drinking iced high fructose corn syrup!
—-BREAK—-
There you have it.
—-BREAK—-
Bringing this back to the Tale of Two Spreads one final time, I recently asked Clare what she thought about people who don’t have a preference. What’s the deal with that? I’ll leave her response right here for you to unpack at your leisure:
BREAK

If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.

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7 ((Observations?))

What exactly constitutes a generalization? Is generalizing “bad”? When does a generalization cross the threshold into “sweeping”? Because isn’t it just “sweeping generalizations” that we are all trying so hard to avoid? How many anecdotes must one collect before one can claim that they’ve seen enough in order to make a generalization about something happening in society?

To avoid this debate and all possibility of needing to grapple with “you’re generalizing!” accusations, I decided to title my list in today’s post using a word that inspires less charge, less debate: observation. For many nights, I rested undisturbed; for days, I relaxed in peaceful tranquility with Citrus flavored booze in one hand, while the other hand clicked “next” on my Kindle. Still, there was an itch – an itch that no matter how hard I tried to ignore, continued to itch. The itch was the fear that maybe, just maybe, a visit to http://www.dictionary.com would prove that I’m doing exactly the thing that I attempted to fool myself and readers into believing I was not.

I took a deep gulp.

And I did it.

I Googled each word.

And here’s what I found:

Observation: a statement based on something one has seen, heard, or noticed.

Generalization: a general statement or concept obtained by inference from specific cases.

Well, shit! With the exception of my bits about the Tongariro Crossing and Maori people, here is a list of general statements that I undoubtedly obtained by inference from specific cases. Behold, a handful of generalizations that I am making after only 2 months of being in a country. I’ll do my civic duty by urging everyone reading to take each and every one of these statements with a grain of salt, as they were inferred via anecdotes processed through the biased and singular lens of Hillary’s mind.

1) New Zealanders don’t go celebrity crazy. Lorde singing…

“And we’ll never be royals (royals).
It don’t run in our blood,
That kind of luxe just ain’t for us.
We crave a different kind of buzz.”

…makes more sense now that I’m witnessing the cultural context that I suspect inspired Lorde to critique the luxurious celebrity lifestyle. In fact, the only people who New Zealanders treat as celebrities are their rugby players.

I…cannot relate, and it’s with great reservation and context when I share my own story of Taylor Swift mayhem with local friends.

Tswift

Tay and Hillary circa 2009

2) Wellington is wonderful.

At the exact same moment, San Francisco and Washington, DC walk into a bar that is on a hill, but the door is only big enough for one of them. This sends them crashing to the floor where they find themselves becoming tangled in one another because each decided it was a scarf kind-of night. THEN the floor gives out, sending the two snowballing out the door and down the hill, and by the time they hit the bottom, they are officially one! And it is called Wellington.

Okay, this is not quite accurate; Wellington is its own distinct place on the other side of the world, and I can’t in good conscious attempt to compare it to cities far away. What I’m trying to say is that Wellington is easy going, creative, intellectual, artsy, a political center, and to top it all off, it’s surrounded by water, plus hills so steep that even the best of manual drivers probably get woozy about start-and-stops. It is a wonderful, wonderful place, despite the weather that inspires its nickname – “Windy Wellington”.

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3) “The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is the one of top 10 one day treks in the world,”

is claimed by many sources. The 19.4 km trek passes along an active volcano – Mt. Tongariro, and it winds along Mt. Ngauruhoe (the stand-in for Mt. Doom in Lord of the Rings – pictured in 3rd row, left). In 2007, the name was changed from the Tongariro Crossing to the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in order to better reflect the alpine terrain. With little vegetation and no enclosures, rapid changes in weather are freaky and dangerous for the unprepared tramper. Pictured in the 3rd row middle is the emergency helicopter, which gets sent off a few times per week to rescue someone on the trek.

Volcanic minerals are what give the Emerald Lakes their turquoise color. The active Red Crater (second row, right) gets its red color from high temperature oxidation of iron in the rock. This is the highest point of the walk, with spectacular views of Mt. Ngauruhoe on one side and the Emerald Lakes and Blue Lake on the other side. (Facts from Wikipedia and my Tongariro Crossing pamphlet).

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IMG_1797 IMG_1819 IMG_1796

IMG_1770 IMG_1824 IMG_1763

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4) Speedway is to Nascar as Rugby is to American Football.

Speedway is like Nascar in the sense that fast cars speed around a track, you can buy hotdogs, and there are people with mullets in the audience. But…it’s grittier and dirtier; certain types of cars are encouraged to smash each other in order to wind their way to the front. I heard stories of drivers forming alliances and working together to create crash-inducing barriers to stop opposing drivers. Unfortunately, I did not get to witness this. And there is mud! Mud is everywhere. In the picture below, you can see that the seats packed along the bend are empty. Why? Because it’s a mud zone.

The day I attended a race was International Speedway night, and guess who decided to show up? Amurica. Before entering the gates, I was verbally debating myself about which country I’d pledge my allegiance. Well, as soon as the America car rolled onto the track, it was as if a patriotic virus had been resting dormant inside of me, only to be awoken by the energetic rumbling of a crowd in a turf far from home. The National Anthem played, and I sang! I sang my heart out! I was proud that night.

Speedway

5) Pit Bulls are very cute.

I’ve never really had the opportunity to give them a chance, and here in New Zealand, Roxy helped me to quickly discover why folks go so crazy over them. Here are 3 photos of Roxy:

Roxy3 Roxy2 roxy1

6) Māori people – New Zealand’s indigenous people – are well represented in New Zealand culture and law.

The United States could learn many things from New Zealand with regards to treatment of indigenous people. The Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document (kind of like USA’s Constitution), was created in 1840 by both British migrants and Māori chiefs. It was written in both Māori and English. The English version outlines:

  • Māori cede the sovereignty of New Zealand to Britain;
  • Māori give the Crown an exclusive right to buy lands they wish to sell, and, in return, are guaranteed full rights of ownership of their lands, forests, fisheries and other possessions;
  • Māori are given the rights and privileges of British subjects.

Sounds good, although history reveals its imperfections. For one, translation between the Māori and English version gets muddled at times. For example, the English version recognizes Māori rights to “properties”, while the Māori version says “taonga”, meaning “treasured thing” (tangible or intangible); this has led to debate. At the time of the signing, Māori relied more heavily on spoken word than written, so it’s likely that explanations delivered out loud were taken with as much value as the written print.

In the 60s and 70s, Māori protesters rallied, demanding that the government redress treaty grievances and continue to honor the treaty; for years leading up to this time, the government wasn’t doing the greatest job of honoring the treaty. To help remedy this problem, the Waitangi Tribunal was established in 1975 to hear claims from the Māori people against the Crown (the reigning British monarch), and as of 2010, about $950 million in settlements had been made. These settlements generally relate to land, water and resources that had been improperly taken from Māori.

Learned these specifics here.

Maori Boat

7) Meerkats are confusing.

When I’m traveling between locations, my stuffed meerkat – Mike – is clipped to the outside of my backpack. I have received many inquiries about Mike, most common being:

“What a beautiful creature! What is it?”

And my two favorite guesses being:

“Did you know you have a ferret on your back?” & “Oh my gosh – I love your opossum.”

I find this really entertaining. I love Mike so much, and he is a great bus cuddler, and his face fur is stitched in such a way that makes him look very stern and intimidating, and it feels as if he’s looking out for me. Anyhow, I am taking the time to show pictures of what a meerkat, opossum and ferret look like so that the species confusion can end right here, right now. Here are meerkats, opossums and ferrets – in both their real and cotton stuffed form:

Meerkat

Meerkat Manor by Chad Henning/Animal Planet Mikeondabus

Opossum

opposumreal stuffedopossum

Ferret

ferretrealstuffedferret

Holy cow! Ferrets standing up look a lot like Mike!

Ferret (Mustela putorius furo) on white backgroundMikeondabus

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Shrek the Sheep: The Story of New Zealand’s Fluffiest Rebel

Before I start things off, I want to say that my thoughts are with the Brown family and all of those back home fighting the good fight. I can’t be present to participate in Ferguson protests or direct action, so I made a donation to BYP100, whose about me reads, “activist member-based organization of Black 18-35 year olds, dedicated to creating justice and freedom for all Black people. We do this through building a collective focused on transformative leadership development, non-violent direct action organizing, advocacy and education.” Upset by the Ferguson ruling and want somewhere to donate? Click this here link.

Before re-engaging with news coverage, read this important article that points out the narratives that tend to get the most circulation by major news outlets when black people are killed.

And if you are only watching major news outlets cover the protests, please check in with outlets that provide news coverage from coalitions and activists on the ground in Ferguson:

https://twitter.com/byp_100

http://www.handsupunited.org/blog/

http://fergusonaction.com/latest-updates/


 I heard a wonderful story.

The kind of story that immediately makes me think, “Holy crap, I can’t wait to research this and then dedicate a blog post to this single, magnificent, one-of-a-kind story.” I won’t keep you on your toes any longer! Here goes:

As most know, New Zealand is home to many sheep. And by “many sheep”, I mean 40 million sheep. Which means that in this country of only 4 million people, there are 10 sheep for every 1 person.

That’s a lot of bahbahs.

So, I was on the bus from Auckland to Stratford to see my pal Clare, my Dixie Chicks thumping through my earphones as I stared out the window at the endless up and down of green, grassy hills peppered, of course, with sheep. I began to notice that some of the hills were insanely steep and situated on immense expanses of land, and I wondered, “How do the heck do the farmers get their sheep to come back to the barn? These hills are so steep! This land is so expansive! Can sheep dogs even make their way out here?”

When I arrived in Stratford a few hours later, I asked Clare about what I had seen. She has many animals and lots of land and is a born and bred Kiwi, so I figured she’d have the answer. To no one’s surprise, she did have the answer! Except all I can remember from her answer is, well, not much, because the only bit I could focus on was the final, tangential component of her response:

….and that’s how you get your sheep back to the farm! Except for Shrek. Shrek didn’t come back because he hid in caves to avoid capture, and then 6 years later his farmer found him, and he was the wooliest sheep ever seen because sheep are supposed to be sheared once per year.

The story goes like this: Shrek the sheep bolted from his enclosure in 1998, dodging capture by hiding in local caves for 6 years until his owner, John Perriam, re-discovered his long lost sheep. After 6 years away from home, which means 6 missed haircuts, Shrek’s hair was LONG. Upon their reunion, John commented, “He looked like some biblical creature.” The sheep was quickly deemed “Shrek”, in homage to the grandiose size of Shrek the ogre.

This is Shrek upon discovery (pictured with John, 2004):

shrekandjohn

This is Shrek after he was sheared:

1024px-Shrek_the_Sheep,_Tarras

Shrek become a national icon and even got to go to Parliament to meet the Prime Minister at the time, Helen Clark.

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I hope that he doesn’t mind this

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“Challenge me to be woollier. I dare you.”

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While New Zealand is busy forgetting that sheep exist, the United States is all, “Clone ’em.”

NZvsUSsheep

Some fun facts about Shrek:

1) His fleece contained 60lbs (27kg) of wool. That’s enough wool to make over-sized winter wool sweaters for 30 hip twenty-somethings, or wool suits for 15 business folks in Alaska, or one pair of Smart Wool Socks per day for one year, plus 10 extra pairs for the extra mucky days. His wool was auctioned off to support medical charities for children.

2) Shrek is a Merino sheep, and it’s very important that they are sheared once per year. Otherwise, the fur can build up and cause heat-stress. Luckily, Shrek was okay.

3) He lived at Bendigo Station, a sheep station in Tarras, Otago, New Zealand.

MapOtago

Now I will answer the pressing question that I think is on all of your minds: Is this what undomesticated sheep used to look like?

I referenced many upstanding academic sources to compile an answer to this question. Sheep were domesticated and bred to have the type of wool that they do these days. Before humans bred and domesticated them to produce the wool they have now, their wool automatically fell out during warmer months, so they didn’t need to be sheared. Sheep were the first animals to be domesticated by humans. (YahooAnswers, 2008. Take This Paragraph with a Grain of Salt)

Shrek lived to be 17. He was euthanised in 2011 at the advice of a veterinarian.

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Life’s a Beach

For the past week, I was WWOOFing (work in exchange for food and accommodation) at the Fern Lodge in The Coromandel. Unfortunately, I had to cut my time short in The Coromandel due to a sinus infection that left me with one terrible tooth infection, so I made my way back to Auckland to see a dentist. Although I had been cursing the pain in my mouth for days, it was the encouragement of my WWOOF hosts that finally convinced me to take an early departure. No less then 1 minute after I agreed, Gen was on the phone with her mom asking if I could stay with her for a couple nights in Auckland. I find myself encountering this sort of generosity and openness quite frequently….people are so darn friendly! I’ll be paying this generosity forward for a heck of a long time. Anyhow, back to my time WWOOFing in The Coromandel. Contrary to what the name suggests, I’m actually not doing any farm work here. The Fern Lodge is – you guessed it – a lodge, and wow, what a lodge it is! It’s gorgeous. I’ve included some pictures below of some of their units.

studio thecabin thestudio

The Lodge is currently run by Gen and James, and they have a 19 month old named Ophelia. Ophelia primarily spends her time giggling, crying or playing with her dollhouse – oh, and she dropped my Kindle in the dog bowl. The Kindle survived! …And now I lock my suitcase when I leave the house. The Fern Lodge was originally built and managed by Gen’s dad, Ray – he’s 78 and actually still lives on the property, although he’s retired now. Let me tell you, Ray is a character! I have never met someone who knows so much about so many things; he’s a walking encyclopedia! Well, probably more like a walking Wikipedia, as I’m sure his ramblings are generally true with a few “hmmm…” spots around the edges. Ray uses phrases like “Oh, how wonderful!” or “It was magnificent!” and referred to the Gore family (Tipper Gore, her two children, and their handful of body guards visited once, which apparently was really strange before he understood who they were because every time Ms Gore and her kids would leave, 3 bulky quiet men would follow suit 2 minutes later) as “just delightful”. He’s lived in many places (including Minnesowtah) and has taught Native Americans, Native Canadians, and Maori, and he has a much knowledge of and respect for native populations. It was through him I learned that the Maori people (New Zealand’s indigenous people) were the first to settle in the Coromandel around 1250-1300, because this place was no doubt a gold mine [[foreshadowing]] for them – waterways in every direction and plenty of natural resources to sustain life.

On my second day here, I had the opportunity to do one of the coastal walks with Ray. My favorite anecdote goes as follows: About 30 minutes into our walk, there it stood – a kauri tree; one of the world’s mightiest and oldest tree species. What a sight! I was expecting something grand – after all, Ray had already prepped me quite a bit about it’s history and grandeur – and seeing the 800 year old tree before my eyes was even more spectacular than I imagined. Anyhow, as I began snapping pictures, he insisted upon taking a photo of me in front of the trees. “For your parents!” he said. This was Ray’s first time using an iPhone, and truly, my instruction to “click the round button a few times” he took more than just a little to heart:

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“It doesn’t make the ‘click’ sound like my Nikon does when you snap a photo!” he explained after I showed him the 47 photos he took of me. Below is the top pic + some factoids from all three moments:

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A kauri tree (800 years old, 1,000 more to go). For Maori people, the trees had high status because of their height. In the 1820s, European settlers began logging the trees for ships, houses, etc; when logging slowed in the early 1900s, only 10% of the original trees remained. Factoid for the Americans: after the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, kauri was shipped overseas for use in rebuilding. Today, logging the kauri is no longer allowed.

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The Pohutukawa trees have started to bloom (see the red). These are known as the New Zealand’s Christmas tree.

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The beach at Long Bay, which is the closest beach to where I’m staying in the town of Coromandel.

As I foreshadowed earlier, this place was a literal gold mine. In the 1820s, a couple folks were all, “Did you hear about all the gold in the Coromandel?!!?” And most people were all, “Pshh, I’m tired of rumors starting.” And then these folks in Auckland announced, “Reward if you find gold”. And then there were cricket chirps. And then they announced again: “REWARD – Bigger this time. Find gold!” So then Charles Ring found some gold and claimed the reward in 1852. STILL…This town was the anti-bustle until finally in 1867 there was a huge gold rush in Thames (super close to Coromandel), and now there are many museums and exhibitions dedicated to this history.

I did get a little lonely WWOOFing. It was hard because there weren’t really other young people working with me. Although, that experience had me tapping into traits that I didn’t find myself exercising all that often in DC – such as courageous extroversion (for example, walking through the door at the closest hostel, and with all the confidence I can muster, announcing, “Hello…I am a WWOOFer down the road…and I am looking for friends.”) Additionally, I’ve been trying my darndest to embrace, explore and excavate my immense amount of solitude. After an, “Oh no…I feel lonely.” text to a friend, she said, “Embrace the solitude. I think you are going to find, amidst all this free time, exactly what makes you perfectly, sublimely happy. Something creative, maybe, or another sort of project, and you will use your time and the blessing of solitude to make it happen.” I’ve been allowing that advice to guide me…can you tell my the length of this post? Lolzzz.

A few more photos from the Coromandel:

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Ray and I at the Chai Tea House. Here, we met Saul, who gave me cloves to help numb my toothache.

Ray and me at the Chai Tea House. “Can I put on my Clooney mask?”

Gen and James collect art. I really like this one!

Gen and James collect art. I really like this one.

So what’s in store next?  Currently, I’m in New Plymouth visiting Clare with the funny goats; she lived in the house where I was being hosted by the friend of a friend. Except now Robbie is my friend. And Clare isn’t my friend of a friend of a friend because she’s just my friend now, too.

Look ma', I have friends. This is Clare and me in front of Mt. Taranaki. You can see it from her backyard!

Look ma’, it’s picture proof that I have friends. This is Clare and me in front of Mt. Taranaki. You can see it from her backyard!

Gertie is sunbathing

Gertie is sunbathing

Next, I’ll be heading to Rotorua for my first attempt at mountain biking. After that, I’m taking off at the first sign of all-day sunshine to hike the Tongariro Crossing. For the Lord of the Rings fans out there – this is Mordor!

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Slug Life

Today I settled into my first destination outside of Auckland – the Coromandel. Here was tonight’s view of the sunset from the lodge where I am WWOOFing:

sunsetfromfernlodge

Before I jump into initial observations of this lovely little beach town, I’d first like to reflect on my time in Auckland. I stayed in Auckland (New Zealand’s most populous city, housing around 1/3 of the population) my first 5 days in New Zealand. I did fun things, like climbed to the top of Mt. Eden, spent hours in cafes like Frasers, and shared “take-away” (take-out, as we know it in the states) with the folks who were hosting me.

That said, one of the more uncomfortable things I noticed during my first week was that I moved at the pace of a slug. Honestly though, I don’t think I ever understood (or thought about, for that matter) what life would be like as a slippery slimy slug until my days unfolded in Auckland.

Allow me to explain….After about 2 hours of sleeping in past the time I always set the previous night so I’d have time to carpe diem seize the day, I would finally emerge from the couch to prepare myself for the day.

Shmoo the cat and me in the morning:

shmooandmeinthemorning (1)

In DC, my morning routine was down to a tee. 13 minutes of snoozing, 40 seconds for teeth brushing, 3 minutes to pick out an outfit and dress myself, etc etc until 20-25 minutes later I was out the door. In Auckland, it was taking me around 2 hours to finally depart the house. The reasons for this I can boil down to the following:

  • Life in a Suitcase
  • Adjustment Period
  • New Kitchen

Life in a suitcase is pretty self-explanatory – crashing in the living room meant that all my stuff remained tucked away into unique compartments and then shoved into airtight bags, so it often took awhile to locate my things. As for the adjustment period, part of this was probably due to residual jet lag. Another part of it, I think, was (and still is) getting used to days that look so different compared to my days in DC. Everything from my to-do lists,  to when I wake up and go to sleep, to the mannerisms of the people around me has shifted. It’s weird! In a good way. 🙂

As for “new kitchen”, I’ve opted to animate this slug-inducing dilemma:

Slug Life- New Kitchen

If I were an actual slug, then navigating the new kitchen, the contents of my life being packed into a suitcase, and my mind attempting to make sense of these new days would result in a silvery slimy path that looks a lot like this:

SLugPath

Finally! Victory! Off to explore ze big bad world.

With that, I’ll end this post with some highlights from my time in Auckland. I’ve got a post in the works about The Coromandel, which is where I am now, although there isn’t enough material yet to warrant a whole post. Here is one more teaser picture:

In front of the Thames-Coromandel coast

In front of the Thames-Coromandel coast

Anyway, back to Auckland!

Seashepard

The Sea Sheperd fleet protects ocean wildlife through direct action, aiming to “expose and confront illegal activities on the high seas”. See: Whale Wars

Fireworks

Kiwis love fireworks

Exhibit at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki featuring Legos! From the interwebz: "The cubic structural evolution project is a hands-on installation by Danish-Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson. Comprising thousands of pieces of white Lego bricks scattered on a 12-metre-long table, the work invites Gallery visitors to become 'architects' by using the Lego to create endlessly re-forming structures limited only by imagination".

Exhibit at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki featuring Legos! From the interwebz: “The cubic structural evolution project is a hands-on installation by Danish-Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson. Comprising thousands of pieces of white Lego bricks scattered on a 12-metre-long table, the work invites Gallery visitors to become ‘architects’ by using the Lego to create endlessly re-forming structures limited only by imagination”.

View from the top of Mount Eden with the city suburbs of Auckland in the background. This crater is huge! See the tree in left hand corner for size reference.

View from the top of Mount Eden with the city suburbs of Auckland in the background. This crater is huge! See the tree in left hand corner for size reference.

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My new friend. After some getting used to, I was eventually thrilled to let this little guy play on my limbs.

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34 hours later, i made it.

At 2PM on October 28th, I reluctantly and nervously (the thought of two layovers and thirty hours of travel time will do that to you) handed off my bright orange suitcase to the attendant behind the Virgin Airlines booth at Dulles Airport. Eyeing the lock one more time as I watched my bag slip through the black plastic curtain behind the desk, I then shoved my boarding passes into my front pocket – which I promptly removed and instead zipped into my dorky dweeby money belt.

Feeling a bit discombobulated, my parents, Erin and I headed over to a waiting area to play a few rousing word games before I headed off to security at 4PM – teary goodbyes included.

One layover at LAX, a layover in Fiji, wading through customs, the wrong bus from the Auckland international terminal to my destination, and then finally the correct bus from downtown Auckland to my destination, I was finally knocking on the door of the home where I’ve been staying for the past few nights. It was 5 PM on October 30th, New Zealand time. Accounting for time zone differences, this meant that from the time I checked my suticase at Dulles to the time I was knocking at the door in Mount Eden, New Zealand, it had been 34 hours.

PS – New Zealand is 17 hours ahead of the East Coast. So 4PM on November 1st in NZ = 11PM on October 31st on the East Coast.

The most miraculous bit of all is that I am only moderately jet-lagged. Shout out to Sarah Brown’s parents for sending me off with a bag of Melatonin – sleeping through my 11 hour overnight flight was undoubtedly the ticket to avoiding intense jet-lag.

A bit of context for those who don’t know what I’m doing – I have what’s called a “Working Holiday Scheme” visa. The visa, which is offered to folks who are between 18 and 30 years of age, allows me to live, travel and work in New Zealand for up to a year.

As for the URL – “What’s in New Zealand” – well, I decided upon that title because I kept getting the question, “So, what’s in New Zealand?” While I do have a vague idea of what’s here (I chose to come here for specific reasons), such as “mountains”, “beaches” and “friendly people”, most of what the country has to offer is unknown to me. This blog is a way for me to communicate “What’s in New Zealand” to others, and also for myself when I want to reflect on my time here.

Anyhow, here’s where I am staying!

Mount Eden

Mount Eden

The folks I’m staying with are super friendly and also hilarious. I was connected with one of the housemates through a friend at work; I’m so grateful for this – it’s been nice to chat with folks who know the area and who have traveled a lot; they often know what’s going to make me feel comfortable before I even know! Anyhow, did I mention that they are hilarious? Like, seriously seriously – they are so funny. Earlier today one housemate was talking about how one of her goats has horns that point outwards and sometimes the goat forgets that she and her siblings don’t also have horns, so they have to always be on their guard, or else they’ll get swiped by goat horns, but the goat just thinks it’s play time. Anyhow, this probably reads as a little strange and scary, but I assure you, I was cackling away at the quick, deadpan way this housemate was delivering the story.

When I first arrived, I was definitely overwhelmed because I was so sleepy and cold and hungry, and then….I looked at their book shelf….and my eyes feasted upon this.

Yes! It’s true! They play Settlers of Catan in New Zealand! We are going to play tonight. How many times do you think I can get away with sheep jokes, such as:

“Oh, you want to trade me one grain for two sheep? I’ve only got one in my hand, so could you wait 5 minutes while I find another outside?”

Read about New Zealand’s history of sheep.

For the past few days, I’ve focused on getting done logistical tasks – this meant finalizing my New Zealand bank account, sending away for my tax ID number, and getting a Vodafone sim card so I can have a NZ phone number. The feeling I had when all this was done – oh my god, it was SO GOOD. And I was thanking myself over and over again for getting a head start on most of this before I left the US. It made my first couple days exponentially less stressful. To be honest, I’ve felt pretty calm since I boarded the plane. Perhaps it’s due to all the planning I did in advance or maybe it’s the atmosphere; regardless, I’m happy to report that I feel very calm!

Because I’ve spent the last two days getting chores done and adjusting, today is the first day I’ve gone out exploring the city. I’m in a little town across the water called Devonport – lots of cafes, winding sidewalks and a park with walking trails that border the harbor.

Tree friends, behold this very old tree in Devonport.  I've never seen a tree like this.

Tree friends, behold this very old tree in Devonport. I’ve never seen a tree like this.

Tomorrow, I plan to strap on my hiking boots and do a trek on another nearby island – Waihekei Island. Pictures to come!

As for the next few weeks, I think I’ll be headed east to the beach town Coromandel to WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) with a family who owns a small lodge. For about 4 hours of work per day, I get food and lodging in exchange. I also have a week of WWOOFing scheduled in mid December with a woman in Nelson; Nelson is a town in the northwest tip of the South Island. As for how I fill my time between now and then – I’ll be traveling throughout the North Island. Details to come as I carry out my travels!

PS – Below is a map of NZ. I’m currently in the North Island in Auckland – approximately 1/3 of the population lives here. By mid-December, I’ll be in the northwest tip of the South Island.

Map

Map

That’s it for now. On an unrelated note, I was turned on to “Dad Magazine” by The Toast via a friend’s Facebook wall. I’m in absolute hysterics over this. Highly recommend.

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