Hokitika, the home of greenstone and treetops

Hokitika - Driftwood sign on the beach

Know what amused me most about Hokitika? Tourists picking up handfuls of sand off the beach and placing it safely into a plastic ziplock bag, presumably to take home. Cute.

Hokitika - Driftwood sign on the beach - plus couch

Okay, and maybe the armchair sitting in a puddle.

So, what’s Hokitika all about?

It’s a small seaside town on the West Coast, between Greymouth (north) and glacier country (south) – Franz Josef and Fox Glacier – the kind of place that’s a lunch stop or overnight stop for most visitors. (It’s also known for its end-of-summer Wildfoods Festival.) And lately, it’s been enjoying a burst of attention thanks to its inclusion in Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker-winning novel, The Luminaries.

Here’s what we got up to in Hokitika.

Getting to grips with greenstone

I learned some fun new facts while in Hokitika, touring one of the local greenstone shops. Greenstone (or pounamu in Maori) is nephrite jade and it’s highly prized, yet if you do happen to find any on the west coast beaches of the South Island (only in these areas, though!) you can collect it and bring it home with you. There is a 5kg limit in place when it comes to taking greenstone out of New Zealand.

And did you know that we actually import a lot of greenstone – from Canada, Asia, and other regions? If buying a local greenstone product – a carving, a necklace, etc – is important to you, look closely to see if it’s genuine New Zealand pounamu. Or, if in doubt, ask.

So, head to one of the many, MANY greenstone shops in Hokitika. See if you can take a tour and see the master carvers at work.

Walking through the treetops

The  west coast is  the wettest region in New Zealand, so it stands to reason that the greenery here is particularly lush. At Treetops  just south of Hokitika, one of the newer attractions around, we went for an amble through the forest – 40 metres in the air.

Treetops walk near Hokitika

Treetops walk near HokitikaTreetops walk near HokitikaTreetops walk near HokitikaTreetops walk near Hokitika

I always seem to forget/underestimate just how afraid of heights I am. These bridges are engineered so that they do sway and flex under pressure, which was mildly terrifying even on a calm sunny day with nobody else around. That aside, it was a nifty thing to have experienced. If that’s your kinda jam, remember: Treetop Walk!

Alas, I’ve still yet to visit the Hokitika Gorge, which is a total stunner in photos. Next time?

Link love (Powered by ups and downs)

nzmuse link love roundup

  • I am sad and angry. For women everywhere, who are victims of assault and harassment. For people of colour everywhere. For my fellow citizens, and the politicians we’re stuck with. Is there anywhere in the world where things are headed in the right direction? (It doesn’t seem that way)
  • Now I’m in more of a traditional workplace, I find myself reading Ask a Manager religiously – it’s really valuable to me. Recent posts got me thinking about the value of face time, and the practicalities of the fabled ‘results only work environment’. How many actually have finite, quantifiable workloads? And how do you ensure fair workloads when individuals within a team have quite different roles and types of work?
  • People always say that short hair takes more work, but for me it’s so much more low maintenance. Half the time I don’t even brush it – I’m good to go in the morning. Is it just my hair type?

I really need to put the Toast on my daily reading list, otherwise I miss gems like fictional characters who would have benefited from abortions

Montana, you are beautiful, even if you look damn cold (via Sarah Somewhere)

An amazing pilgrimage through the Italian countryside, at Fearful Adventurer

I am still loving and mulling over Mutant Supermodel’s take on positive psychology

A little love letter from afar, by The Asian Pear

From A Practical Wedding: Sometimes work is just… work.

“And while that sounds terrible, in reality, it’s a good thing. It takes a lot of emotional energy to do the kind of work that feeds your soul, 365 days a year. And sometimes you just want to do a little data entry while listening to Serial, and maybe have time to debate it afterward with your co-workers.”

Livin’ the luxury life on the wild West Coast

Te Waonui degustation dinner

Having been on one road trip around the South Island, I thought I’d seen it all, really. More fool me.

Last time around on the West Coast, I was a little on edge. We narrowly escaped getting our campervan stuck in sand, with the help of two gruff but kindly local blokes. And of course, the weather was crap.

This time around I was even more on edge in general (as I have been for a couple of months) and the weather was similarly awful – this is, after all, one of the wettest parts of the country. But despite all that, this was exactly what I needed. A work trip with a healthy dose of leisure slotted in, with luxury and pampering making up for the typically wild weather.

Franz Josef is a tiny little tourist town (population approximately 400) that revolves around tourism – glacier walks, kayaks and scenic flights; horse treks; 4WD adventures; skydiving. Luckily, there are other activities you can do in wet weather!

As the rain intensified overhead, we sought refuge at the Glacier Hot Pools in Franz Josef. The public pools are incredibly nice, with 36, 38 and 40-degree pools, all nice and large so you aren’t squeezed up against half naked strangers. They’re under cover, so if it’s raining as it so often does, you can still enjoy the water. There’s also private pools out a little way into the forest, surrounded by trees and paired with their own changing rooms – these have heated floors and deluxe showers. Little covered alcoves at the end of each pool offer shelter from the elements; it was surprisingly cosy in there despite being restricted to maybe 35% of the pool area since we wanted to avoid the icy rain.

Best of all, the pools backed onto Te Waonui, the five-star resort we were booked into. This is quite possibly the fanciest place this pleb has ever stayed at. Glasses of kiwifruit juice and fresh hand towels were brought to us at reception as we checked in. Branded umbrellas at the entrance were a nice practical touch. Service was outstanding, as you’d expect.

Amazing fluffy cloudlike beds at Te Waonui
Huge, fluffy and a welcoming sight for sore eyes.

It may not look like anything particularly special, but this is the most wonderful bed I have ever laid in. It was like sleeping in a cloud. 8 hours was not enough. (A lifetime would probably not have been enough.)

Heated bathroom floors (I need these in my life). A heated mirror to clear steam. A speaker in the bathroom that amplifies whatever is playing on the TV. An adorable little deck opening out onto the forest. I could so get used to this.

While I’m not normally one for fine dining, I really don’t have any other words to describe the five-course degustation aside from exquisite (and not overwhelmingly fussy). Each course had approximately 5 options, and between the two of us, we sampled 10.

Highlights: I found the ostrich carpaccio, seafood (hapuka, clam, octopus and squid ink) risotto, and L&P ice cream with fondant particularly innovative. The kumara croquette and spinach/potato gnocchi were both divine (though the accompanying venison and cheese, respectively, not as impressive – I’d expected the cheese to be melty, or at the most, a little bit stringy, but instead it sat solidly in gobs around the pasta). I even mustered up the courage to down some beef cheek – I think it was actually rather good; I just couldn’t get past the mental ick factor. Current menu in full here.

And, importantly, the portions are good-sized. We both went to bed well satiated.

Sadly, our glacier flight and heli hike were canned due to the weather, so instead we popped into the West Coast Wildlife Centre for a bit. I’ve seen kiwi before and I’m not sure I’d personally pay full price $35 to go through the centre, but perhaps the guided tour ($55) may be better value.

I also got to do a couple of things I missed the first time around through the West Coast.

With brief snatches of almost decent (or at least less wet) weather, my colleague and I managed a quick walk to a lookout over Lake Matheson (the postcard-famous mirror lake – on a fine day, that is).

Swing bridge at Lake Matheson, Franz Josef Glacier, West Coast NZ


Swing bridge at Lake Matheson, Franz Josef Glacier, West Coast NZ

We also paused at Lake Ianthe between Franz Josef and Hokitika to stretch our legs.

Lake Ianthe, West Coast NZ

Stay tuned for more South Island posts!

 

Our experiment with produce delivery boxes

 

Veggie box (not an actual example of mine)
Veggie box (stock photo – not an actual example from me, because I’m lazy). Photo by Nick Saltmarsh

Ever find yourself doing the weekly grocery shop on autopilot, stuck in a rut?

It’s very much a first world problem, but one we’re particularly prone to.

Food delivery services are starting to take off here, and there’s now a number of different companies doing produce delivery boxes.

Probably the biggest one, in Auckland anyway, is Ooooby. So we figured we’d start our experiment there.

Ooooby has a range of different box options, with varying prices based on amounts and whether the contents are wholly organic or not. Bonus: they also sell a bunch of other yummy goodies that you can add to your order, from breads to spreads and cordials to coffee (the ciabatta is delicious!).

All went well. Although broccoli was included in that first week’s contents, I was able to email the team to get it blacklisted for our account and swapped out for something else. And when I realised I had put in the wrong address (the house behind us), I emailed them to change that and they were super responsive. The box turned up, on schedule, packed with goodies.

And I mean PACKED. I’ll be honest – we eat a lot healthier than we used to but probably still nowhere near 5+ a day. And the small, couples-sized Lil Mix box was still too much for us. So we changed to fortnightly instead of weekly delivery.

A couple of other things became apparent:

1) The only delivery day to our area (mid week) was just not meshing well with our food routine, which includes main grocery shopping at the weekend

2) The lack of customisation was actually a bit much for us. We thought we wanted to totally be surprised every week, but in truth we want a bit of control

I figured we’d try out a different company; Foodbox was another I’d had my eye on.

Nothing against Ooooby at all – zero complaints! – but for us, Foodbox turned out to be a better fit in this instance. They deliver to our area on Mondays, which goes well with our weekend grocery shop, and they allow personalisation of your delivery, with easy online account management on the website.

An email goes out on Friday summarising what’s in the next box. I log in, and from there I can change the quantities of each to suit (and set rules like ‘never include this’ or ‘always include this’), as well as add on other extra produce items that happen to be available but not part of that week’s bundle.

They’ve also just teamed up with Neat Meat to offer meat packs, so we may be giving that a whirl soon too.

What do I like about produce delivery boxes? Obviously, convenience is the number one factor. You don’t have to think too much about it, and it comes to your doorstep – generally for about the same cost as buying from a normal shop (Examples: $2.79 for a bunch of asparagus or $1.99 for a kilo of potatoes; however spring onions and cucumbers tend to be on the expensive end). You’re supporting local business (though we mostly get produce from FruitWorld, which as far as I know is local). Everything is fresh – occasionally too fresh? Hah.

Speaking of freshness, one downside is that you obviously don’t get to handpick items (and this has always been my reservation about online food shopping). For example, once we got a few avocadoes, none of which were ready to eat yet. We’d planned to use them that day or next but had to wait until later in the week. Also, I had expected to receive, say, one exotic item a week, but that hasn’t really happened. The most exciting thing to date we’ve received is some sort of kale.

Related: Here’s Bunny Eats Design’s review of Ooooby with a detailed breakdown from 2012, and Diana Clement in the Herald with a general overview from last year.

Do you use any food delivery services?



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Link love (Powered by bus rides and the Far North)

nzmuse link love roundup

Not that I needed proof that I am becoming even more introverted every year, but coming off a three day conference confirms it. It was FULL ON – being around people every waking hour, and these were LONG days starting early and finishing late. When I found myself alone in the bathroom – a rarity – I took the chance to hide out and linger in a toilet stall (there were usually always long queues for the bathroom). And, now, I would quite like to retreat to a deserted island for the rest of the year.

This week’s links

Remember that you always have a choice, via Tiny Apartment

Obsessions of a Workaholic on crying in public

Landing Standing and the life lessons every long term traveler learns

Life as an undocumented immigrant, via Yes and Yes

Her Evey Cent Counts on the thing about growing up

Alps and gorges, oh my! From Christchurch to Greymouth on the TranzAlpine

Scenery from the TranzAlpine train

I do love a good train ride.

I’ve got fond memories of rail journeys through Europe (plus a few nightmarish ones) but I’d never done a long distance trip by train in New Zealand until this year.

Stupendously scenic, the TranzAlpine is one of the world’s most famous rail journeys. It travels between Christchurch and Greymouth through Arthur’s Pass, a national park nestled in the mountains.

I had a much needed doze in the beginning, as we rolled through the outskirts of Christchurch and the beginning of the Canterbury plains, peeking out every so often to catch glimpses of lush green fields and the darling spring lambs and calves.

Scenery from the TranzAlpine train

When things really get exciting is the point where we reach the ice-fed Waimakariri Gorge. It is jaw-dropping – pure aquamarine waters carving through the steep ravine. Take my advice and get your ass up to the observation carriage before then. It’s open air, no glass windows between you and the scenery – all the better for snapping pictures. (Be warned: it’s a little smoky up here near the engine, and if you don’t tie up your hair it WILL whip you painfully in the wind.)

Waimakariri Gorge seen from the TranzAlpine train

Waimakariri Gorge seen from the TranzAlpine train

From here the train approaches the Southern Alps and the weather gets wilder – foggier, windier, rainier. Enroute to Arthur’s Pass we snaked our way past rocky river beds and tussock, over bridges, and through tunnels and viaducts.

Scenery from the TranzAlpine train
Scenery from the TranzAlpine train
Scenery from the TranzAlpine train
Scenery from the TranzAlpine trainScenery from the TranzAlpine train

Past the misty mountains, there’s a beautifully still lake and couple of cute little settlements before the last stop in Greymouth, a historic mining town.

Lake seen from the TranzAlpine train

If you’re taking it back the other way, it departs Greymouth in the afternoon and returns to Christchurch just in time for dinner.

Here’s what you need to know about taking the TranzAlpine train:

TranzAlpine train journey: 4.5 hours one way. Departs Christchurch at 8.15am and departs Greymouth at 1.45pm

TranzAlpine train tickets: Start at $89 one way

Getting to the train stations: The shuttle from our central Christchurch hotel took about 10 minutes to reach the train station in Addington; in Greymouth, the train station is fairly central – it’s a small town – right by the big Warehouse and the i-Site and rental car depots.

Part of #SundayTraveler!

For the sins of our ancestors

All parents damage their children.

One of my earliest memories is being a helpless bystander to an argument between my parents. In particular, at the end of it, being told to choose which of them I wanted to live with.

It didn’t happen. For better or worse, they’re still together, decades on.

In some ways I’m not very good at being in a relationship. I guess I just am not all that good at partnerly communication. In my very first relationship, I became acutely aware of some of the ways in which I behaved and how those habits echoed those of my parents. Years on, I still struggle with those same issues.

Like it or not, I inherited that emotional tempestuousness. It’s probably a blessing in disguise that I struggle to get words out, because honestly, some of the ugly thoughts in my head in my worst moments should never be uttered. I know, even as they occur to me, how hurtful they are, and that they’re not necessarily fair. Succumbing to the heat of the moment would be awful. I don’t want to play that game.

Do you struggle with any particular traits you’ve inherited from your parents?

Street art in colourful Christchurch

Giraffe in Christchurch squareChristchurch is going crazy for giraffes.

There’s a wee cluster of them in the airport by the baggage pickup. And once you get into the city centre, they are the first thing you’ll notice in the central square.

Apparently it’s all part of a big public art project. They’re on display over the summer; there is, of course, a smartphone app and a trail to follow.

Christchurch colourful giraffe artChristchurch colourful giraffe art

Christchurch colourful giraffe art

There’s no shortage of colour around. Re:Start mall is looking vibrant, with tons of cool boutiques and souvenir shops housed in containers. And as we passed charming New Regent St I did a double take. Plus, there are countless cool murals on walls around the city centre.

Christchurch-colour

Christchurch mural on building wall

Colourful Christchurch muralColourful Christchurch mural on building wall

But it is still very quiet in the city centre – almost deathly still in the off hours we were there (Saturday evening). It was probably 90 percent tourists, and a couple of rough looking characters (the Christchurch housing market is squeezed, although for different reasons than Auckland).

Christchurch city square in 2014Christchurch in 2014

Abandoned buildings are scattered throughout. The iconic cathedral now houses pigeons, lined up on a perch under its roof, open and yawning onto the square.

Christchurch cathedral after the earthquake 2014

On the upside, the few eateries near our hotel that were open were humming. We had dinner at The Himalayas, a pulsing Indian restaurant. I wasn’t in love with my butter scallops, but I think it was more a personal issue with the texture of seafood in curry than a reflection of the food quality; the curry part was definitely fantastic. Chicken tikka masala = unreserved thumbs up.

The plight of the ‘banana’ (Yellow on the outside. White on the inside)

The plight of the banana
By: Steve Hopson

When you go to a Chinese restaurant, the staff speak to you in their language and look disappointed when you can only offer a small shrug and a ‘sorry’. They may offer you forks, and no doubt take note of the fact your white partner uses chopsticks a million times more deftly than you do.

When an elderly Asian person tries to communicate with the bus driver, and fails, the driver casts a meaningful look back at you over his shoulder, and all you can do is offer a small shrug and a ‘sorry’.

When an Asian person comes up to you on the street and (presumably) tries to ask you for directions in their language, and all you can do is offer a small shrug and a ‘sorry’.

When people at work ask if you speak any other languages, clearly hoping that you do, and all you can do is offer a small shrug and a ‘sorry’.

When a white security guard says ‘ni hao’ to you as you walk past, and you don’t know how best to respond.

When people learn your Chinese/legal name and gush about how beautiful it is, and you don’t know how best to respond.

When you open your mouth and someone hearing you for the first time expresses surprise at your total lack of an accent, and you don’t know how best to respond.

I’ve had too many of these incidents happen too close together of late, and I’m tired of feeling apologetic all the damn time. It’s my own problem to deal with, I know; it’s not about malice, it’s about what’s going on inside me and my own identity issues.

I am Chinese by heritage, born in Malaysia, raised in New Zealand. I know more Malay words than I do Chinese, and I am pretty sure I know even more Maori words in total. English is the language we spoke at home – my parents grew up speaking different dialects – and while my dad briefly tried to teach me Mandarin once, I had neither the desire nor inclination to succeed. If it weren’t for, I suppose, external forces, I wouldn’t even care. Maybe in my dotage, like my mother, I’ll feel the urge to reconnect with my birthright and start taking Mandarin classes – but for now, it’s just not on my radar. But being non white in an overwhelmingly white industry makes me feel like I need to be some sort of ambassador or representative at times. But I’m not. I’m an impostor.

I am surrounded by white people for the vast majority of my waking hours. At work. At home. In the media I consume. Sometimes, despite the fact I see myself every day in the mirror, I think I actually forget I’m not white too.