Santa’s last stand

This giant Santa has been threatened with retirement for over 20 years, but they say this is really positively his last season.

It has been voted “creepiest Christmas decoration ” in numerous polls.

All fawked up

New Zealanders love their fireworks, and there are lots of big civic displays. But private fireworks is a different story. You can only buy them one week a year, leading up to Guy Fawkes Day on the 5th of November. You can set them off anytime, but most people go big on Bonfire Night, as it’s often called.

While Australia and California and the Amazon burn, Auckland’s wet climate means that this is about as bad as it gets… reason #423 to live here.

Diwali lunch

It was a treat to join a bunch of my team for Diwali celebration the other day. Lots of people dressed up, as you can see. We ate at the same restaurant I ate at my very first day of work here.

On top of Mt. Eden

We got out on the tandem on Anzac Day and rode up to the top of Mt. Eden. Actually we had to walk up the last part.

It was a gorgeous day, perfect for Prince William’s appearance at the big ceremony later. We rode by the venue, which was heavily guarded, at least by NZ standards, in the wake of the Christchurch attacks. Weird to see the relatively scruffy and usually friendly NZ police with rifles in a ready position. Probably even weirder for the cops.

Happy New Year

Happy Year of the Earth-Pig!

(In an early recognition of the impending Chinese global takeover, I’m just calling it “New Year” instead of “Chinese New Year”)

Happy New Year

We set an alarm so we wouldn’t miss fireworks from the Sky Tower. Luckily all we had to do was go across the street!

Looked way better in person, especially through the binoculars.

From one of the first places to arrive in 2019 comes one of the last greetings you’re likely to receive: Happy New Year 🎊🎆!!!

Christmas dinner

We had a sumptuous Christmas buffet dinner with Alicia and Nat at the Stamford Plaza hotel. It cost a ton, but not actually compared to cooking. These cute gingerbread houses were out in the lobby.

Among several helpings of everything else, I did a thing I’ve only done once or twice before: truly ate all the oysters I wanted to.

The true meaning of the season

Boxing Day sales means no more huddling over the laptop.

The last TV we bought ourselves was in 2007. It cost three times as much, used more electricity, had a much lower resolution, no internet connection, etc. Moore’s Law is still in full effect, I’d say.

Poor Knights Dive

Merry post-Christmas! My present this year was a weekend of diving…

The first day’s dive was scuttled due to weather, more on the rescheduled trip in another post. So we drove at a leisurely pace up to Tutukaka for Sunday diving. We had a nice dinner and went to bed early. It’s just as well that’s what we wanted to do… there ain’t a lot of choices in Tutukaka once the sun goes down.

Tutukaka and the Poor Knights rose to prominence after Jacques Cousteau called it one of the best dive sites in the world. That must be 50 years ago, and as far as I can tell it was the last big thing to happen there. Other travel writers have generally agreed, but they all quote M. Cousteau.

The dive shop (Dive Tutukaka, highly recommend) was already in full swing when we got there: paperwork done, get your suit and fins, grab a muffin, see you on the boat in 10.

It’s about 45 minutes (22 km) out to the islands. We took a small detour to check out a large school of fish that had come up the surface. More fun to watch than the photo suggests… That rock in the distance is one of the Poor Squires, which sit close to the Knights. And where we did our first dive.

The weather was rainy on shore, but it lightened up as we got away from the coast. We did not need our emergency beacon, I’m glad to say, but our skipper told us about it in the safety briefing he delivered with the str-r-r-r-ongest Welsh accent I’ve ever heard.

The whole area is preserved, above and below the water. That whitish stripe between the cliffs and the green part is a colony of Australasian gannets, who enjoy the solitude and freedom from mammalian predators.

7mm suit plus a 3mm hooded vest… more Neoprene than I’ve ever needed before. Water temp about 16C, about 61F, and I was still chilly down there. All that wetsuit meant a lot of weight was necessary to sink below the surface, but then once you get down there the air bubbles compress and you can drop quite quickly. So overall I felt quite awkward in my gear.

Due to technical difficulties, I didn’t have the GoPro, so no underwater shots. Lots of fish, some bright things on rocks, a couple of rays and morays. Kelp.

We dove two different sites, both featuring an underwater arch to swim through. I struggled a bit… my first dive in two years, cold, quite a bit of swell, not used to the gear, fairly challenging terrain (diving on a wall with no visible bottom so constantly monitoring depth), cloudy day so dim underwater, etc. On each dive I was the first in the group to run out of air. There was lots of marine life, no complaints in that department, but overall I was glad enough to head back in afterwards. It felt a lot more like a technical exercise than a fun outing.

Now that I’ve got my first taste of cold (er than the Caribbean) water diving, I look forward to going back. Preferably on a sunnier day, maybe to an easier site, with my camera working, so I can commune with Cousteau about what a fabulous spot this is.

Christmas in the park

For the second year in a row we walked over to the Auckland Domain for the Christmas in the Park concert.

Sponsored by Coke, by the way.

Again a showcase for people who want to be on the Voice, and again with the horrifyingly bad announcers. But not quite as horrible as last year.

And then the fireworks, our real reason for going, were choreographed to Bohemian Rhapsody, and that part was AWESOME!

Sing we now

Coming home the other night we happened across a carol sing in the Cathedral courtyard. Fun! But warm weather Christmas still feels funny.

It’s beginning to look a lot like summer

We wonder how native Australasian people feel about the changing seasons … for us, when the days get short and cold, the leaves fall, the snow flies, we think of Christmas. But Christmas here is when you can finally swim in the ocean without a wetsuit, when it’s light till almost 10, and so on. Does the thrill translate, or does the magic of Christmas rely somehow on the whole winter solstice idea?

Dawn Parade 2018

We celebrated Anzac Day last week by getting up early to walk over the the War Memorial for the annual Dawn Parade. We didn’t know exactly what to expect, but when we walked out at ten after 5 in the morning, our street was full of people who had to park further away than our house.

We arrived to the sound of bagpipes, and the crowd was so large that we ended up watching the whole thing on the big screen. It was a very moving ceremony, about an hour long.

After the main event was over we went to the field of crosses marking all New Zealand’s WW 1 dead. On a per capita basis, the impact was enormous here… the total population was only about a million people at the time. Our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was laying some additional wreaths, and we were able to essentially walk right up to her.

This was the big one, televised, etc., but these happen all over the country, with quite a lot of participation from young and old.

Many people pull out their old uniforms or even make historically accurate costumes. These nurses, both military veterans AND served in humanitarian efforts overseas, were 100% legit. And both still practicing.

And then the entire country goes out to brunch. This over-the-top French toast was the best ever.

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