Thursday, 27 December 2007

Season's Greetings

I hope you all had a jolly Christmas and Santa brought everything you wanted. We spent Christmas morning having a champagne breakfast with my boss and her family, which was very pleasant and tonight we're off out to friends for a meal. Other than that, we've been taking it easy - although Helen is having to work on a new contract, which sucks a bit.

We've got a rental place sorted for the 11th January. It's a small 2 bed unit in town. It's tidy, but small and very sixties. The landlady is a friend of our estate agent and lives next door. (Always handy having the landlord on hand!), it's not great but it'll tide us over until the house is finished.

On the house front, we've had meetings with 2 building companies so far, who've both gone away to produce concept plans and quotes and we've got a third builder to talk to in the new year. The title to the land isn't sorted yet, and realistically it'll be late Jan or Feb before we expect any news on that. By the time it comes through, I'm hoping we'll have chosen the builder and got the final plans ready for building consent approval.

Being a rural build, things won't be as straightforward as a normal town build. The section has power & phone to the boundary and that's pretty much it. We've got to take the power line from the boundary to the build site (which is 200m +), build an access road of 350m (some of which is steep incline), put in water storage tanks (the house is going to have a roof collection & purification system) and a waste treatment system (can't get away with a simple septic system, it has to be a fancy thing according to the local authority). We're also going for solar water heating - we did think about going completely off-grid, but unless we win Lotto, that's not happening.

By the time we've done all that lot, we'll be skint and living in a shed. However, it'll be a very nice shed, with an amazing toilet and lots of pure hot water!

One unfortunate effect of moving to a tiddly rental (and subsequently moving to our eco-shed) will be the loss of my "man cave".

I'm deeply upset.

Here's a couple of photos of the current (somewhat untidy) version:

On a positive note, I'm trying to wangle a major upgrade to the sound system into the budget, so not only will our 6x4 foot shed have hot pure water and a deluxe bog, it will also have a kick ass home theatre with a high end surround sound system.
It'll probably get axed in favour of having posher door handles and double glazing, but I can always dream.....

Tuesday, 11 December 2007


We finally went unconditional on our house yesterday. Thank goodness for that! It's been a bit stressful because we can't start to do anything to the land until after we've sold - and it would appear that property markets everywhere, including NZ, have taken a serious turn for the worse. We move out on January 11th, so the next step is to get a rental and wait for the land subdivision to be approved by council. Hopefully that will all happen by Jan/Feb next year at which point we can then begin the whole planning & building process.

In other news, our gorgeous little kitty - Smudge - was run over on Friday. We were absolutely gutted. We both thought she was the best pet we've ever had. Such a lovely, bouncy and affectionate thing.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Cracking weather, Grommit

We've had a glorious few weeks weather-wise across the whole of NZ. Blue skies, heaps of sunshine and toasty temperatures. We've been doing a fair bit of sneaking off to the beach and chilling out in garden - but we're also working on grabbing a few piccies for a video blog. Last year was a bit naff weather wise, while you lot in the UK had a scorcher, it was pretty mediocre here - summer was very late in coming. No such problems this year!

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

A change in direction?

I'm currently mulling over a change in the blog (while sitting on the porch, soaking up the sun - I'm off work with a lergie, so mulling is all I feel like doing at the moment!). Keeping momentum on a blog is pretty difficult, our entries have tailed off to one or two a month and I suspect people don't visit as much without the regular updates.

A change is as good as a rest, so one way of getting a bit of enthusiasm back would be to switch to doing a monthly video diary or podcast, backed up with a photo gallery and website. We'd set it up so that you could subscribe via a newsfeed or iTunes and have a set date each month when we published. Whaddya think?

Sunday, 28 October 2007

A new video

Finally, after a lot of faffing about, I've uploaded a video of our new section at Turakina. It's a bit hefty at 152mb and so it's probably best to download it before watching. Not of interest to the casual viewer - just those interested in seeing a drive along a kiwi road and a tour of a muddy field.

The link is

Friday, 28 September 2007

A quick update

We finally went unconditional on the land today - the geotech surveyor gave everything the thumbs up. The only thing we need to do is plant some erosion control trees on the slope above the access road, when we put the road in. It'll cost us $3-4k extra, but nothing show stopping. The house site itself (i.e. the hill) is basically on solid rock, so isn't going anywhere in a hurry. Always good to know!

Other NZ news of note is Ruapehu erupted last week. Completely without warning, it just went bang and shot a load of boulders, lava, ash & mud out of the top. Not so great for the people in the climbers hut near the summit, or the skiers enjoying a holiday break!

More info and cool pics here

Friday, 7 September 2007

Cool School

Ngamatapouri School

As part of my job, I have to travel to schools around the region to observe and assess teacher aides in the classroom. The other day I visited Ngamatapouri school to carry out an assessment. Wow, what an amazing place.

It's about 80kms from Wanganui, 50kms down a single track, no exit road. The school has a grand total of 6 students, ranging from 5-12 years old. 1 teaching principal and 1 TA.

Inside the one and only classroom

What a gig! Great staff & great kids. Beats the crap out of town schools. Fair old commute though. On my trip out there, I didn't see a single other vehicle on the track - and the round trip took 1 1/2 hours!!

The Playground

The Playing Fields

Saturday, 18 August 2007

A new toy

Yesterday we splashed out on a video camera! We've never had one before, and we've managed to justify the expense because of two events coming up in 2008 - Jane and Pete's visit and our house build. The idea is that if we get one now and practise a lot, we stand a chance of being half competent in using it by next year.

This morning we were keen to try it out and put together our first film, but the day dawned wet and blustery - hardly the best weather for an outdoor shoot.

We looked around inside the house for something interesting, and the only thing moving was our cat, Smudge, so we shot her. It's hardly an arthouse movie, but it is one minute twenty seconds of madcap (or madcat) action - check it out here.

Next time we go on a day trip we'll take the video camera with us and have a go at capturing some views of beautiful NZ.


Friday, 17 August 2007

Famous Kitties

If you're not into cats, you'll probably want to go and do something else now, like cutting your toenails.

If you are into cats, then a website you really ought to check out if you haven't already is Kittenwar. The general public send in photos of their kittens, which are then pitted head to head in photo duels. Two adorable kitties flash up on the screen and you click on whichever one you think is cuter. Then another two kitties flash up, and so on, until your tea break is over or you reach cat-induced catatonia, whichever is the sooner. Cats' scores are converted into percentages and you can view the rankings from 'winningest' to 'losingest'. Cuter than a cute thing.

Anyway, about eighteen months ago we uploaded photos of our then kittens Pookie and Mo and some time ago I received an e-mail asking my permission to use the photos in a Kittenwar book they were planning on putting together.

Well, 'Kittenwar: the book' has now been released. Here's the page featuring Mo. I shall definitely be buying a copy. :-)

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

A bit more progress

The council have approved the sub-division, subject to a few standard conditions. Horay! The contract has also now been signed by all the appropriate peeps involved, so it's all systems go. The last piece of the jigsaw for us is getting a geo-tech survey done to make sure the land isn't likely to slip or otherwise fall apart during an earthquake or flood event. This can take a while to sort out, so it'll be the end of September before we're completely sorted. After that it's just the time it takes to sort the final conditions and for the consent and title to be issued. Looking good for the end of December then!

Now we just have to decorate our house and sell it. :(

That's proving to be a bit of a pain in the bum. Having gone through that particular painful process just before we emigrated, it's a bit difficult to get motivated again. We'll get there by mid-September I hope - it'll be good to get the house on the market in early Spring.

The next big decision to be made is the house. Do we go for the bigger house/fat mortgage option, or opt for the simple rural 'cabin' style thing, with a tiddly mortgage and more scope to go down the self sufficiency route?

This week the latter option is favourite, as the other option entails selling my soul to the bank for the next 10 years and is bit too mainstream for my liking! However every time I look at a house magazine or brochure I get tempted by all the posh kitchens, designer tapware and the latest in Italian marble toilet seats. I must be brave and resist. All that designer stuff is soooo last year, I reckon the next big thing will be long drop toilets & en-suite goat sheds. In which case I shall be at the cutting edge of architectural thinking.

An early concept model of the new Whittaker residence

Sunday, 8 July 2007

Happy People

A quick update - the vendor of the land has agreed in principle to our offer!!

Obviously the blood sucking lawyers have to review the fine print, but it's looking good. As the land still has to go through the various council subdivision consultation processes, it'll be a while before we get our hands on it - I'm guessing around December if we're lucky, more likely early next year.

Now we have to tart our current place up a bit and sell it, so we can afford to build something other than a yurt to live in :)

For us, this represents a big step closer towards 'living the dream' and we're more than a bit chuffed. It's been a stressful few days waiting to see if we'd bagged our own personal corner of paradise. Still a long way to go, but we've started the wagon rolling now, no going back!

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Dusting off the cobwebs

We thought it was about time to dust off the cobwebs on the blog, because we have some exciting news to share. We've made the decision to buy a plot of land and build a house, and we've found a plot (or a 'section' as they call them here) which we really, really like.

It's about half an hour out of Wanganui, in a lovely area called the Turakina Valley. The section is roughly 8 and a half acres. There is an elevated, flat building site of between two and three acres, and the rest is a mixture of flat pasture and hillside suitable for grazing sheep (someone else's!) and/or for growing trees for firewood.

The potential building site gives 360-degree views, with the best view being to the north, which is the favoured orientation for houses in the southern hemisphere (like facing south in the northern hemisphere, because you get all day sun).

We've already got loan approval from the bank, so we're going to go ahead and put in an offer this week (subject to all the usual inspections, of course) and see what happens.

This first photo shows a view of the section from the boundary at the road. The track going upwards from left to right is the probable line of the driveway. The ridge line is where the house will go.

The rest of the photos show the views from the flat building site on top of the ridge; two views from the front of the house...

...and two views out the back.

These snaps really don't do the place justice. The camera can't convey what a special spot it is. Even on a grey winter's afternoon, it blew us away. Huge vistas and not another house in sight!

There's going to be an enormous amount of time, effort, stress and money expended before we move into our new home, and that's if everything goes smoothly - there are an awful lot of things that can go wrong. However, it's very exciting, as well as being more than a little scary. We're keeping our fingers crossed! Wish us luck.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Only in New Zealand!

Possum knocks out entire region's power

7:55AM Friday May 25, 2007

A possum on a Wairarapa powerline knocked out electricity to Masterton, Carterton, Greytown and Featherston last night, police said.

The possum exploded after touching powerlines on Masterton's Ngaumutawa Road, causing electricity to arc metres through the air to blow up a nearby water main.

Police said technicians were rushing to return power to the region, and hoped to have it on by midnight.

A police spokeswoman was unsure how many people were affected, or how widespread the blackout was.


Thursday, 24 May 2007

We're still here!

It's been a while since our last post, but we haven't disappeared off the face of the planet just yet. We've both been fairly busy of late - Helen with her writing work and me with lecturing and such like. We've not been up to anything especially exciting, just the usual day to day stuff. I'm plugging away at an adult ed. qualification in my spare time and Helen is still hammering away at her novel.

Two events of note:

1) Jane (my sister) & Pete are coming for an extended trip early next year - they're doing a 7 week tour of NZ and we're going to hook up for a week or so while they are on North Island. I'm really looking forward to that - it's cool showing people around this place and it'll be great to catch up with the old foggies! :P

2) We got up and running on a web cam. Had a nice chat to Jane & Pete using Skype, which worked really well - even with our temperamental net connection. If anyone else fancies hooking up via Skype, my user name is fnarrfnarr.

I'm off to watch Liverpool loose the Champions League now, with the next door neighbour. He's been avoiding the result all day, so I've got to pretend I don't know either. I lasted about 30 seconds at work before someone blabbed the result! Odd that 12,000 miles away from the UK I work in an office with 2 other Liverpool supporters (in fact we're the only blokes in the office and the only footy fans - all the women prefer rugby!) The replay starts at 10pm tonight, we've got a case of beer to get through and I've got to give a 3 hour lecture on the NZ Curriculum Framework at 9am tomorrow morning. I'm glad I'm not one of my students!!

Monday, 9 April 2007

Mo' Piccies

This week: More pixelated goodness, less waffle. I will say one thing, though. Iain is very handy for shoving in a photo when you want to get an idea of scale.

our enormous log pile

Bason Botanic Reserve

Iain and an avenue of palms

I never get tired of views like this!

me in the orchid house

the toilets (???!!!)

a hole on the frisbee golfcourse - we'll have to take a frisbee next time

one of the lakes

Iain and storybook toadstool

beautiful autumn colours

Iain and triffid (or maybe it's just a giant aloe-type thing)


Sunday, 1 April 2007

Seizing the day

Both of us have been incredibly busy with work over the last two or three weeks, so when we drew the curtains this morning and saw blue sky, we decided to escape to the beach for a couple of hours.

We went to Waiinu Beach, (pronounced 'why EE noo') whose name means 'drinking water' in Maori, referring to the dozens of fresh-water streams that trickle down to the surf.

one of the fresh water streams on Waiinu Beach

It's a typical west coast beach - big breakers, black volcanic sand,huge piles of driftwood left by the high tide, and an expanse of sand dunes. There's a small settlement there consisting mainly of ramshackle 'baches' or holiday homes, and there's also a rough and ready camp ground frequented by travellers. There's a sign welcoming travelling visitors, pointing out that regulations only allow stays of up to two months at a time. Many of the caravans and build-it-yourself-from-a-truck campervans looked as though they'd been there much longer than that! One of the things we love about New Zealand, (and one of the things many other ex-pat Brits find very difficult to stomach), is this laid back attitude to rules and regulations.

nature's sculpture

I wandered off to take some photos and to do a bit of beach combing (you never know what treasures you might find on a beach) while Iain sat and soaked up the sunshine.

Iain, chillin'

An hour or so and several finds later (including a pebble that has the same markings as Smudge) we set off back home, lungs and minds blown clean. Within sixty seconds of starting the car it started raining. We were very pleased to have made the most of the fine weather.

Our old PC, which was a cannibalisation of the still-functioning bits of the two machines we bought when we first arrived in New Zealand, finally packed up last week. Iain has a theory to explain this alarmingly high attrition rate. He thinks it might be due to electricity spikes causing damage to the hardware. Apparently the NZ power supply is very variable, with huge peaks and troughs in voltage. We've had everything connected to a surge protector, but Iain's beginning to think that that may not have been enough protection, and we should have invested in a UPS (uninterruptable power supply).

The upshot of all this is that we've bought ourselves a new computer - a 24" iMac. It arrived on Friday and most of Iain's time this weekend has been spent in setting it up. He did let me have a go on it yesterday, though, and in just two and a half hours I managed to put together a swish new website, using 'iWeb', the Mac's 'instant website for idiots' program, which wipes the floor with the Microsoft equivalent, Front Page. Check out my website here.

Iain and our new iMac

Well, it's the first of April, the equivalent of the first of October in the Northern Hemisphere, and the weather is still warm enough to sit on the beach in a t-shirt. In two years we've got used to an awful lot about our new home, but I hope I never stop appreciating the mildness of the weather here. A stroll on a UK beach on October 1st would only ever be described as 'brisk and bracing!'

Must sign off now and write a post for the other blog.
Catch you later.


Sunday, 18 March 2007

Mount Ruapehu Lahar

The crater lake on Mount Ruapehu, one of the nearby volcanoes (the mountain we went skiing on in July) broke its sides today, releasing a lahar.

You can read the full story and see some cool photos here.


Monday, 12 March 2007

New blog

We've got a new blog, Technohippies.

We're not abandoning this blog, because the new blog has a very specific remit, but from now on our inane wibbling will be spread between the two blogs. There's only so much inane wibbling one couple can do, even us, so we'll probably be making fewer posts on here. However, next Saturday we're off to Wellington (the country's capital and the home of Peter Jackson for those of you not au fait with NZ geography), so that'll probably get a write-up on here.


Saturday, 3 March 2007

Ten Reasons

Ten Reasons why New Zealand is better than Australia

1. There are no snakes.
None at all. Not even small, shy, vegetarian ones. St. Patrick must have gone the long way round on his way to Ireland.

2. There are no poisonous spiders.
Apart from one, which isn't very poisonous, and is only found in the sand dunes on one particular beach near New Plymouth. It's so rare that there might actually only be one individual spider left.

3. It doesn't get too hot in the summer.
In many parts of Oz summer highs are in the mid 40s for months on end. It's exceptional here if the temperature hits 30 degrees. The average maximum daytime temperature in summer is 23 degrees - just about perfick!

4. We don't have droughts.
It rains a lot. Another thing we have in common with Ireland.

5. The indigenous people are treated much better.
While the relationship between the white European settlers and the Maori has had its fair share of problems over the years, the Maori have fared way, way better than the Aboriginal peoples of Australia.

6. NZ is a nuclear-free zone.
This means no US nuclear submarines in our waters, and no nuclear reactors just itching to go into meltdown.

7. New Zealand is not involved in the conflict in Iraq.
Nuff said.

8. You can see the whole country in a four-week road trip.
It would probably take four years of driving around Australia to see it all. Who could be arsed?

9. The All Blacks have a much cooler strip than the Wallabies.
No contest.

10. There are almost no Australians in New Zealand.


Friday, 2 March 2007

Square Foot Gardening

Having noticed that everything in our garden grows like stink for most of the year, we've decided to try growing some herbs and vegetables.

Iain did some online research, and discovered a method called Square Foot Gardening (SFG), invented by American gardener Mel Bartholomew in the late 1970s. We'd never heard of it before, but his original book was the best-selling gardening book ever in the USA. He brought out a new, improved edition last year. We've bought a copy, and it's very informative.

The principles of the square foot gardening method are pretty simple. Here's a rundown, taken from the official SFG website:

The Ten Basics Of
Square Foot Gardening

Arrange you garden in squares, not rows.
Lay it out in 4’ by 4’ areas.

Build boxes to hold a new soil mix above ground.

Space boxes 3’ apart to form walking aisles.

4 - SOIL
Fill boxes with Mel’s special soil mix:
1/3 compost. 1/3 peat moss,
and 1/3 coarse vermiculite.

5 - GRID
Make a square foot grid for the top of each box.

6 - CARE
Tend your garden from the aisles.

Plant a different flower, vegetable, or herb crop in each square foot, using 1, 4, 9, or 16 plants per square foot.

Conserve seeds. Plant only a pinch (2 or 3 seeds) per hole.

Water by hand from a bucket of sun-warmed water.

When you finish harvesting a square foot, add compost and replant it with a new and different crop.
Last weekend we constructed a couple of bottomless 4' by 2' boxes from rough, untreated wood planks, screwed together with decking screws.

We rubbed the finished boxes inside and out with linseed oil to give them some protection from the rain.

We lined the boxes with weed matting to stop weeds coming up from below, and to help prevent the soil creeping out from the gaps underneath the boxes caused by the wonkiness of our patio.

We made 300 litres of 'Mel's Mix' by mixing 1 part peat moss with 1 part vermiculite and 1 part mixed organic compost, and plenty of water to damp down the dust.

We put the 'Mel's Mix' in the boxes and added a square foot grid by threading plastic washing line through eye screws.

Finally, we planted our seeds, a different type in each square foot.
We've got 1 square foot each of broccoli, leeks, chives, basil, beetroot, sage, parsley and spinach, and 2 square feet (one in each container) of peas, carrots, lettuce and marigold (which is supposed to repel insect pests).

Yesterday, just four days after planting, the broccoli and marigold shoots were showing, and this morning they were joined by the peas and lettuce.

It's exciting to think that in a couple of months' time we should be sitting down to eat what we've grown (unless the slugs, caterpillars and birds get to it first of course!)


Saturday, 10 February 2007

A feline interlude

If you're not cat-mad, don't bother reading this post!

Smudge has been with us a month now, and has settled down really well. The relationship between her and Pookie is gradually becoming less strained, and Pookie is even starting to 'play' with Smudge, by chasing her about and when she catches up with her, giving her a swift bat around the ears.

Smudge dares to jump up on the bed when Pookie's already there...

...she gradually inches her way towards Pookie... her! A split second after I took this shot Pookie got her own back.

Smudge in hunting mode


Monday, 29 January 2007

Home on the Range

Howdy, folks.

After our mighty excitin' travels, we bin done settled back into the old routine here at Whittaker Ranch. Both of us are fair run off our feet with mighty big amounts of work right now, so we ain't got much time for gallivantin'. Consequently, I ain't got nothin' to write about. Be that as it may, that's never stopped me before, and I sure ain't gonna let it stop me now.

Now that I think on it, there was somethin' pretty durn exciting that happened today. Iain moseyed on into town and found out the local stationer's store is selling its merchandise at a discount, what with the schoolhouse opening its doors again real soon - most everythin' is goin' for a song. When he got back home he was staggerin' under the weight of three dozen lever arch files and several hundredweight of poly pockets - that's them thar A4 poly-something-lene filin' pockets, not them pocket-size dressin' up dollies little girls are so fond of. Obviously.

There goes another big ball of tumbleweed, blowin' down Mainstreet.
I like to sit here on the porch, rockin' back and forth in the rockin' chair, twiddlin' my thumbs and watchin' it tumble.

Cousin Helen

Saturday, 20 January 2007

South Island Trip - The final chapter

Here, at last, is the final instalment of our trip account. I'm relieved about that, because writing in a time warp like this does my head in.

some of the Moeraki boulders

Day 11 – Dunedin to Christchurch
On day eleven we drove from Dunedin to Christchurch. En route we went to see the ‘world-famous-in-New Zealand’ Moeraki boulders on the Pacific coast, because everyone we know who’s been to South Island said they were worth a look. However, when I first caught sight of the boulders from the other end of the beach, looking like … well, any old ordinary boulders, and besieged by dozens of clambering tourists, my initial impulse was to turn around and get back in the car. I’m glad I didn’t, because when you get up close, the boulders are fascinating. Click here for information about the boulders and the story of their formation.

coastal erosion is revealing still more boulders

a close-up of a couple of the boulders - the one at the back resembles a turtle shell

the action of the sea is slowly breaking the boulders open... reveal their inner structure

We arrived in Christchurch late in the afternoon and spent the evening chilling out. Really decent curry houses aren’t that easy to find in New Zealand, so we were delighted to find one with an excellent menu at a very reasonable price just two minutes’ walk from the motel.

Day 12 Christchurch to Nelson via the Lewis Pass and Murchison
Another day spent driving. Neither of us took a single shot with the camera. Photographic lethargy was beginning to set in.

Days 13, 14 & 15 – in Nelson and home again
Almost as soon as we arrived in Nelson I was struck down with a mystery bug, and spent most of the time sleeping. Because I felt so ill, we ended up doing very little in Nelson, although we did manage to get in a visit to the WOW museum. WOW stands for World Of Wearable Art, which is an annual event which now takes place in Wellington, but which originated in Nelson in the late 80s. To keep the blokes happy, the WOW complex also comprises a vintage car museum.

The WOW collections are well worth a look. Unfortunately, photography is not permitted in the wearable art gallery, so I couldn't take any piccies. Here’s a link to their website.

We had hoped to get some better shots of the Marlborough Sounds on the return ferry journey, but the weather was even greyer and murkier than the first time round, so we didn’t take any photos at all. We were more than ready to get home; in fact, the holiday could have done with being three or four days shorter. Our stamina level where travel is concerned is pretty pathetic. It does make me wonder how we're going to manage on the epic, several-months-long adventure trip Iain wants us to take in the next couple of years.


A new concept in male grooming

personal hygiene services from 'La Maison du Chat'

Saturday, 13 January 2007

South Island Trip - Days 9 & 10 - around Dunedin

spotted in Dunedin - a jolly student wheeze, or the world's most expensive can of Pepsi?

Day 9 - Te Anau to Dunedin

We spent a very long day driving, and I'm ashamed to say we took no photos at all. I think our trip to Fiordland spoilt us, as far as appreciating attractive scenery's concerned. Our favourite part was the Clutha district of southern Otago between the towns of Gore and Clinton. The road is called 'The Presidential Highway', presumably a tongue-in-cheek reference to Bill Clinton and Al Gore. It was pleasant, rolling farmland - mainly given over to sheep of course, but there was also some cattle and arable farming. It reminded us of the Derbyshire Dales, although without the dry stone walls. One reason the landscape looked so familiar was because the first European settlers replaced the native trees with oaks, willows, ashes, poplars and even some hawthorn hedges – the first hedges we’ve seen in New Zealand.

Day 10 - Dunedin

Dunedin was planned by Scottish settlers, with the express intention of becoming 'the Edinburgh of the South'. The name of the city is an anglicisation of Dùn Èideann, the Gaelic name for Edinburgh. Not surprisingly, given its origins, the city's laid out on a rather grand street plan, and there are a lot of ornate late Victorian and Edwardian public buildings – although most of them are built in brick rather than in the granite of its namesake. Being a major student town, it manages to be both bustling and laid back, which is a pretty neat trick if you can pull it off.

In the morning we visited the Otago Settlers Museum, and saw some fascinating displays about the impact the European settlement had on the local Maori tribes, the sea voyages taken by the European migrants in the nineteenth century, and the history of Chinese migration to the area.

a mock-up of a typical cabin on a vessel that transported immigrants

A box this size was all a migrating British family was allowed to take with them to New Zealand in the 19th century. It makes our 14 teachests seem highly extravagant.

Hands up if you thought the world’s steepest street was in California. Me too, but all the guidebooks maintain that Baldwin Street in Dunedin is the record breaker, so we went to have a look. The road is so steep there are steps where the pavement would normally be, and on the way up we had to keep on stopping to take a breather.

Baldwin Street, Dunedin, the world's steepest street (allegedly)

Whenever I stopped I would hear faint rolling noises getting gradually louder and then fading away again. On closer inspection of the tarmac, I found the culprits hop-skip-jumping along in the gutter - dozens of jaffas, (little balls of orange flavoured chocolate covered in an orange sugar shell), which someone presumably had let go at the top of the street.

Look, no ropes!

One of the annual events held in Baldwin Street involves Jaffas. It's a Jaffa race, where competitors pay a couple of dollars to sponsor a jaffa. The winner gets a cash prize and the rest of the money raised goes to chairty. The event regularly attracts up to 10,000 entrants. Another yearly event is the Baldwin Street Gustbuster, in which athletes test their stamina and balance by racing up the street and back down again.

In the evening we went to visit a colony of yellow eyed penguins on the Otago Peninsula, at a privately-owned conservation project called Penguin Place. A series of tunnels and hides allowed us to view the penguins at close quarters, and our guide was very knowledgable.

an adult yellow-eyed penguin, showing the first signs of moulting

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, taking about a hundred photos (although only two or three were any good). Even though the visit lasted an hour and a half, I could happily have stayed twice as long. Here's a link to the website of the NZ Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust.