Inside the Long White Cloud

New Zealand's flag
Oceania » New Zealand
September 8th 2008
Published: September 9th 2008
Edit Blog Post

Reflecting on our time in New ZealandReflecting on our time in New ZealandReflecting on our time in New Zealand

This was one of our top three places in New Zealand. Wharariki Beach. We liked it so much we went back. Its just a beach with some caves and some funny rock formations - but it kept us entertained for hours. Incredibly dramatic at sunset.
Occasionally known for our naturally gloomy outlook, Scots find winter is a time of darkness and cold; of biting winds and seasonal depression relieved/forgotten in those sacred days around the end of December and beginning of January when it’s socially acceptable to pack tightly into 70’s décor clad, sticky carpeted pubs and drink until thoughts of the cold are replaced by a cheer that is communally found at the bottom of every glass and bottle.

It’s a time to be indoors and curl up beside an open fire with a good book/copy of FHM and a healthy slug of your favourite single malt, whilst wearing a knitted sweater so thick and itchy you can’t honestly be sure if they detached the sheep before they began knitting.

What we lack in natural optimism, we like to think we make up for in natural hospitality. Grim weather for at least forty-eight weeks out of fifty-two means our national devotion to making sure everyone’s cosy, has an alcoholic beverage in hand and owns at least one piece of truly awful knitwear should come as no surprise to anybody. We’ve made “putting up” with winter into an art form.

I thought winter
The Pier - St Arnaud, Nelson LakesThe Pier - St Arnaud, Nelson LakesThe Pier - St Arnaud, Nelson Lakes

Not quite Brighton Pier (that's near Christchurch!) but it had a good selection of eels and ducks. This photograph was taken at high speed to increase my chances of getting away from the lake in one piece as the sandflies here are enormous and take whole chunks when they bite.
in Wellington would be easy. How bad can it get when Kiwi’s surf in crystal blue coastal waters all year round, their houses are made of wood, palm trees grow by the side of the road and central heating is almost unheard of? Surely all indicators that it would be like a summer in Edinburgh but with a little more surfing and a little less comedy.

But seasons are only as good or bad as the person experiencing them and the experiences they’ve been… experiencing (you know what I mean…). It turned out that winter in Wellington wouldn’t just be about a few weeks of darkness and some icy winds. Our natural Scottish pessimism would have to face a much colder and far more depressing woe - the morale slaying, monotony inducing world of employment.

The Cloud

Our monetary situation had reached the stage where we were stock piling condiment sachets not just as accompaniments to meals but as potential meals in themselves. It was time to prepare for some honest graft and try to save up enough money to make it home.
Besides, if you’ve ever tried to get into a Burger King ketchup sachet you’ll
Last Glimpses of AotearoaLast Glimpses of AotearoaLast Glimpses of Aotearoa

It looks as good from the air as it does from the ground. Are we really leaving this? Has it really been a year? Will they ever let me back in?
know that you need a full meal inside you just to work up the energy required to get through that damn sachets elaborate and stubborn entry system. “Tear Here” may seem like a simple enough clue on the face of it, but those bugger’s at Burger King have a warped sense of humour and I’ll be damned if I can ever accurately locate the point the “Tear Here” refers too.

Reality is a horrible thing and we were faced with a stark realisation: if we were going to extend our voyage home beyond flying directly to Edinburgh in the cargo hold of a dilapidated Boeing 747 with crates of pineapple chunks and bottles of L&P, we had to get the sort of work that paid more than the average backpacker was going to earn picking apples, scrubbing Cod and giving up body parts for medical science.

As I had been working in Auckland in the not so distant past, the transition to working life wasn’t going to be to much of a killer, but for Vik, used to a life of leisure and luxury over the past twenty-odd months, this was always going to be painful.

Civic Square, WellingtonCivic Square, WellingtonCivic Square, Wellington

A great luchtime people watching spot this one. The library is the illuminated building just to the right of centre. It is here they serve the best Date and Apple scone known to man. You didn't think I went there to read books did you?
the next four months we were going to have to make the iron and the dry cleaners our allies in the war against creasing, dress (relatively) smartly in the morning and come the evening, traipse home stinking of coffee and equipped with tedious stories about faulty photocopiers, frustrating filing and foul-ups in finance.

A cold, wet winter wasn’t going to be the only thing delivering dark, dingy skies. The real cloud was the hideous, scary, nimbostratus that squatted big, dark and heavy on our horizon. Our cloud was born from the very thing travel had taught us to detest. Our cloud was office work.

Finding The Silver Lining

When I was about 6 years old I had an experience that put me off dentists for life.
Looking back I don’t really remember the circumstances that brought me to the dentists chair in the first place, but what I do recall is waking in a groggy gas induced fug to find that somewhere along the line two of my teeth had been extracted by a grinning, beardy-weirdy dentist who had odd cartoon pictures of Paris on his ceiling. It wasn’t exactly what I would describe as fun -
Akaroa Pier in the Mist/RainAkaroa Pier in the Mist/RainAkaroa Pier in the Mist/Rain

I can imagine that it would be a very beautiful place to be in good weather. Unfortuately we got it in the drizzle and the mist. Still, it was a nice place to be and the town looked appropriately dramatic in its grey coat.
it was bleedin’ traumatic in every sense of the phrase - and I swore I’d never go to a dentists again (just like I swore I was running away from home forever but ended up just sitting under the hedge at the bottom of the garden until my need for a jam sandwich got the better of me an hour later).

Of course, the whole process had been done out of complete necessity: some defective genes seemed to have assumed I was a type of shark and were working on packing my jawline with an excessive number of teeth. Aesthetically this was always going to make me look like an orthodontists dream and severely mar my attempts to master the “trumpet” (special thanks to Mr “break it to them gently” White who turned me away from the school brass band telling me my “teeth weren’t right” to form the mouth shapes a trumpeter requires. If it wasn’t for that old bugger, I’d have been a white Charlie Parker; I’m sure of it).

Still, the benefit of having a face packed with mis-directional pearly whites is that you’re fairly much assured of stretching the tooth fairy’s finance department to the limits: and it is here that we find the silver lining to my cloudy tale.

Office work may have been our cloud, but with my prayers for some old sod to collapse in the street and bequeath to me in his dying breath his entire estate of fine Pinot Noir vines and olive groves falling on deaf ears, our silver lining was only ever going to come from one source: the very cloud that allowed us to get to Wellington in the first place.

Inside the Cloud

There’s nothing quite as amusing as a temp agency packed with young, fresh-faced go-getter types feeling the pinch of a candidate famine. There’s an almost sleazy desperation in their eagerness to seduce office savvy victims with possibilities, filling their heads with stories of how great they are and how much they could be earning. ‘You’ve worked in an office before Mr Crockatt? Oh! You’re so well qualified! My, what a big CV you have! Your work experience is soooo extensive!’

It’s the kind of sales pitch I love and one can’t help but be caught up in the assurances that you’ll be ‘touching base’ with them soon. Occasionally when I’m feeling down I like to phone a few of the agencies I’m registered with and asking them what they think of me. Who needs Samaritans when you’ve got a good recruitment contact?

We were both in jobs within a few days and everyone kept telling us we’d been lucky with the winter weather so far. Things were looking good. But like most cities in the world, residents’ views of their surroundings change with every passing day. This winter, Wellington was having its best weather ever or its worst depending on who you talked to.

Either way, the crappy winter weather really did close in and most of our weekends involved bucket loads of rain, young-child-toppling-winds and the kind of bitter coldness that leaves your fingertips too numb to get your bus fare out of your pocket (or play the trumpet I should imagine). This meant that our good intentions to explore what Wellington had to offer was limited to indoor activities such as making the most of Wellington’s ample café and restaurant scene. Like I said - every cloud… although in this case the lining was less silvery and more cakey in it’s final polished appearance.
Men with odd shaped ballsMen with odd shaped ballsMen with odd shaped balls

What trip to NZ would be complete without a trip to watch the All Blacks. I don't have any passion for rugby and I can't remember the score, but despite that and putting up with a soggy, cold bum, we really enjoyed the experience. I particularly enjoyed pretending I had the first clue what was going on as I explained to the American sat next to me what was going on. My version of offside involved one player being designated the goal keeper. Poor bugger - he'll never know...

Now, I know I tend to talk about food and in particular muffins quite a lot in these blogs, but the good thing about eating a muffin (or other assorted baked goods - let’s not exclude Chocolate Mud cake, Carrot cake, millionaire caramel shortbread, apple strudel… hmmmmmmm, dribble, dribble) a day for four months is that one builds up a natural defence against the aforementioned inclement conditions that were fast becoming a feature of our Wellington winter. The trouble comes when you want to get back into the clothes you wore four months previously and realise that muffins ain’t just a food stuff - they’s also a condition. Who dat fat boy in da mirror?

Fortunately for me, my work was so menial that I spent very little of it with my bakery enhanced buttocks actually on my chair. It is true that I abandoned my chair in favour of a Swiss ball - but this was not for posture enhancing reasons and it had nothing to do with a history of back pain - I just enjoyed bouncing. As a baby I wasn’t given enough bouncing time and my adult life has been filled with a love
The Lure of WaterThe Lure of WaterThe Lure of Water

Is it a mermaid? Well, of sorts, yes. It is that rarely sighted Bob-in-his-pants. I had one of those "must get into that crystal blue water" moments at Totaranui on the Abel Tasman coast. Fortunately the beach was reasonably quiet so my strip down to undies went largely un-noticed. What I didn't consider was how long it would take my freshy shrunken merino wool pants to dry. Soggy crotch ahoy.
of all things bouncy - trampolines, inflatable castles and Swiss balls included.

My four and a bit months in Wellington bounced past in a blur of pushing trolley loads of sandwiches and making undrinkable teas and coffees in a local government office. It was a bit of an odd job that allowed me to develop a legendary hatred of all things catering, but as one of my colleagues loved to say: “it is what it is” and I soon found that there is a weird sort of power contained in subservient roles that oddly suits me.

When all the other kids were taking up the tuba or joining gangs as drug runners, I was being rejected from school clubs for having a cup of teeth like a piranha and gluing myself to mildly posh goggle-box hilarity like Hugh Lawrie and Stephen Fry in “Jeeves and Wooster”. This programme gave my impressionable mind the idea that growing up being the intellectual mans-man (in a totally non-gay way, though I accept the irony now that Mr Fry is out of the closet) to some thick as two short planks toff would be a life well spent.

Whilst being the office whipping boy/monkey/shoe shiner let me fulfil that childhood dream for the most part, working for a highly intelligent, likeable, female boss somewhat ruined the whole thick toff/mans-man thing for me. Still, it is what it is (this phrase cannot be used too much) and one must see each new role as an opportunity for new experience and learning, and in this particular role, other than discovering my ability to actually burn (not just stew) tea, I’ve been overwhelmed by opportunities to apply my talent for amateur psychology.

Did you know, for example, that some women use lipstick as a means of marking their crockery so they can easily locate it on a crowded table? This is just one of the conclusions I’ve drawn from the unnaturally numerous occurrences of excessive lippie smearing I’ve had the pleasure of washing off, not just from cups but, rather oddly, from saucers as well. My conclusions on saucer smearers are to be the subject of my next Psychology paper entitled “A Comparitive Study of Red-arsed Baboon Communication Methods and Lipstick Territory Marking”. I’ve formulated the following possible scenario’s for lipstick on saucers:

1. Subject was slurping spilt hot beverage from the
The Best Pies in New ZealandThe Best Pies in New ZealandThe Best Pies in New Zealand

Sheffield pies was firmly pinned on our map. We went 80km out of our way to visit it for a second time. Mmmm, pies.
saucer in an attempt to be clean and tidy - a perfectly reasonable explanation for those who have all the etiquette and social grace of a chimpanzee OR
2. Subject mistook saucer for large posh biscuit - given the range of biscuitory delights that are laid on at meetings, it is feasible that the subject believed that I’d taken biscuit provision to the next level and order dinner plate sized, porcelain-iced mega biccies OR
3. During the meeting they took time out to see who could hold the most saucers in their mouth - a popular past-time especially in areas where project management skills have yet to develop beyond team-building exercises that involve playing games like “pin the budget on the objective” OR
4. During the meeting, rather than putting her coffee on the table like everyone else the subject held hers in her mouth - which requires great jaw strength and a largely non-speaking role at the meeting OR
5. During the meeting her colleague bet her she couldn’t catch a saucer in her mouth.

The Silver Lining:

“Boodle”, “booty”, “bread”, “capital”, “cash”, “clink”, “coinage”, “dinero”, “dough”, “greenbacks”, “loot”, “moolah”, “spondulics” or just plain old “hard cash”;
View from the OfficeView from the OfficeView from the Office

Look - evidence that I got into work before the sun even came up. There aren't too many offices get such a cool view. Actually, this is the view from the bosses office - I had a view of the door to the ladies toilet. With great power comes nicer views.
whatever you call it, our months of servitude have been all about it. With every undrinkable pot of tea I made and for every yard that I pushed that catering trolley, I thought of the extra days in some crazily cheap Asian country my time in Wellington was buying me.

I’m not sure why, but every time I’ve been temping, immediately after my boss has signed off my timesheet, I’ve always had to resist the compulsion to shout “sucker!” and run out of the room whooping and waving the signed sheet in the air. No explanation for that - may add it too my own psychological evaluation.

But despite the heavy clouds that hung over our winter in Wellington, we gained much more from our stay than just a respectable looking travel fund.

It turns out that Wellington is a actually a pretty damn fine city.

It’s got a great museum, it’s got a cosmopolitan café scene (allegedly more cafes per head of population than New York) and it’s an interesting city in terms of its layout. I particularly love that Wellingtonians stick two fingers up to the fault lines that run right under the city
Tahi the One-legged KiwiTahi the One-legged KiwiTahi the One-legged Kiwi

We did finally get to see a Kiwi. Having spent many a camping trip peering into the darkness listening for their ridiculous calls without any joy, we finally saw one. Unfortunately it was in the zoo and unfortunately he wasn't a complete Kiwi as a trap had claimed one of his legs - but he's still a real live Kiwi so I think it counts.
and insist on building their homes on the most precarious hillsides imaginable.

I like that the only street crime we witnessed was a rebel trombonist (yup - straight teeth and all) who’d had more drink than he could handle and had taken to falling in behind unawares passers-by and playing sudden, screaming, random jazz rifts. Even the bums here have a sense of culture it would seem.

I also like that we lived in a place where Vikki woke me on the first night to tell me she couldn’t sleep because the neighbours were having extremely loud (and too be honest - quite ferociously animalistic) sex. Clearly in her sleepy state she’d forgotten our proximity to the zoo and our flatmate Gina’s warning that the lions could be noisy at night. Getting woken by lions is cool. If it were dogs you’d be angry. If it were neighbours shagging you’d be worried. But lions (shagging or otherwise)? That’s just cool.

Most of all though I like that we met some ‘choice’ people. I may have moaned about work, but I couldn’t fault the team I worked in. Great people who were driven and passionate about what they
Pancake Rocks, PunakaikiPancake Rocks, PunakaikiPancake Rocks, Punakaiki

Some joker had actually put a pancake on these rocks to demonstrate how they got their name. It kept me amused for hours. So literal!
were doing, were welcoming and friendly with newcomers and who had an insatiable appetite for sausage rolls at 10am on a Friday morning.

And finally, I love that we lived with Gina and Jed who made our return to Melrose after work each evening feel like coming home. Jed is a two year old who, called trucks “fucks”, DVD’s “CCD’s” and is one of the few people I’ve ever met who appreciated the smell of my feet. It was great to finally meet someone I could communicate and play with at a similar intellectual level to me. Jed truly is a kindred spirit.

Additional photos below
Photos: 37, Displayed: 33


Caves in the Oparara Basin, KarameaCaves in the Oparara Basin, Karamea
Caves in the Oparara Basin, Karamea

Some of the caves in the Oparara Basin are home to NZ's largest spiders. The egg sacks hanging like large balls of spit at the entrance to the caves gave away their prescence. Suffice to say, Vik was not keen to venture too far into the darkness. Hand-span size spiders, the pitch black and Vik do not wok well together. Me though, I'm dead tough.
More from Wharariki...More from Wharariki...
More from Wharariki...

... you should by now get the idea that we loved this place.
Seal Cruising Upside-downSeal Cruising Upside-down
Seal Cruising Upside-down

Everything's great at Wharariki, the sea, the caves, the sand and the seals. This pup and his bro's put on a show of jumping, flipping and splashing that would put many a Florida theme park to shame. Isn't nature great?
Welcome to Top GunWelcome to Top Gun
Welcome to Top Gun

$20 for a 10 minute flight over the Abel Tasman Park? Count me in! What the advert didn't mention was that the pilot looked like he might drop dead at any minute or that he liked telling his passengers how difficult landing this particular antique plane was. With Vik too scared to get onboard it was left to me and three young ladies (one of whom was Kelly McGillis) from a local hostel to make up the passenger list. Sat in the co-pilot position with my knees at my chin desperately trying not to press the big red button with my knee and wondering what the shoe laces fixed under the "dashboard" were holding together I was thankful that it was just 10 minutes.

9th September 2008

Hi Robbie, Thanks for another entertaining snippet of home. Glad you got to see the ABs live ;-) Hope you guys make it home safe and well - see you back over there again one day!
1st April 2009

Great write up. That was a pleasure to read.
3rd March 2012

Fantastic! :)
I sent extracts of this blog to my boyfriend, while he was at work, and now he is in the process of reading all Bobs blogs. :) He says, it would be criminal if Bob does not become a famous writer.

Tot: 2.423s; Tpl: 0.07s; cc: 29; qc: 109; dbt: 0.0939s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.7mb