Christmas Musings

My present from my father, brother, sister, and my sister’s family

I didn’t get any Steampunk-inspired presents for Christmas – I’m guessing my family thinks I have enough clothing, hats, and gadgets. I did get a lovely, lovely bag, some books, and some shinies. I’m a magpie and I like shiny things.

The seal and the butterfly, from my husband and youngest daughter. Shiny!

My most interesting book is a collection of Christmas stories. Most of them are sad or morose. And here I was thinking that the book would be uplifting and full of Christmas cheer.

This will be my last post for this year. See you all in 2023. Have a safe and joyous holiday period.

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A Hundred Shades of Green

One of my first pictures of the new Zealand countryside outside of Auckland – so GREEN.

I live in South East Queensland and it can get very green here in the Spring, particularly after rain. However, I didn’t really know what green was until the visit to New Zealand. Aussie trees – particularly gums – have a grey tinge. It’s not unpleasant, but the greens are subdued when compared to other tree species. Our grass tends to be bleached by the sun into a grey-gold; again, not unpleasant. In winter, the frost turns the long grass grey-brown. But I tend to get excited when we’ve had proper rain and everything looks lushly green.

Since the New Zealand trip, to my eyes, our local landscapes just look drab and undramatic. My late mother came back from Ireland raving about a hundred shades of green. New Zealand give Ireland a run for its money.

Green to the tops of the hills!
The green of Zealandia
Even the river water looks green.
The green of the mountains

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New Zealand Scrapbook

The Hobbiton page in my scrapbook

As I mentioned in my last post, I made a scrapbook for our New Zealand trip. My arts & crafts projects tend to lean more into making Steampunk accessories and jewellery, so this was a new experience for me. I didn’t want to throw away all the mementoes I had collected, and this seemed to be the perfect way to preserve them. It would be a way to relive the trip, I thought – and even putting it together gave me a great deal of satisfaction.

I had some problems getting an actual scrapbook. Spotlight had all the gear for scrapbooking except for the actual books! I thought about ordering online, but ended up popping into Target on the off chance they would have any. They did! Just ONE! But one was all I needed.

Double-sided tape is the scrapbooker’s friend. So are really sharp scissors. I had bought these in preparation. I decided the sensible thing would to be set out the scrapbook to follow our day to day adventures. And off I went.

We went to Zealandia and the Cable Car Museum on the same day.
The Larnach Castle Page

Items too bulky for the scrapbook were put through the photocopier, such as the Larnach Castle Christmas ornament and my patches from Lumsden and the Steampunk Headquarters. I included several coins in New Zealand currency for a bit of bling; they were thin enough not to cause any issues. I also photocopied a few photos to add colour and backgrounds to some pages. As I haven’t taken any scrapbooking classes, I have no idea if I was doing anything the right way. I just arranged things to my liking.

The Steampunk Headquarters, Oamaru, page in the scrapbook.

It took me a week to complete the scrapbook, working about an hour a day after dinner. When it was finished, I gave it to my husband to flick through. his comment: ‘I wouldn’t have thought this would have turned out so well. I didn’t think we kept so many souvenirs. How did we get all of this home?’ ‘The magic of saving mainly flat items like brochures and maps,’ I replied.

My next goal is convert my handwritten diary into a computer file. That way, I can add in details that I may have skipped while travelling.

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More Thoughts About New Zealand

The view out to sea from Larnach Castle, Dunedin

I’ve made a scrapbook from the paperwork, brochures, pamphlets, and other bits-and-pieces I collected while in New Zealand. It was a rather pleasant experience, being both a creative endeavour and another way to relive our travels. It’s not something I’ve ever done before, but if we ever get to travel overseas again, I plan on doing it again. I kept a travel diary as well. You think you will never, ever forget such wonders, but human beings are forgetful beasts. Memories fade, particularly when piled up on top of each other.

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Leaving New Zealand

Artwork at The George, Christchurch.

Our last day in New Zealand was spent running errands and packing. We wanted to mail my snow gear home since it took up so much room in my suitcase. This way, I had room for the souvenirs and presents I had bought, and I wasn’t lugging around the extra weight. Our concierge found us a box to pack everything in, and then wrapped it in tape for us. If you are ever looking for a nice place to stay in Christchurch, I can’t recommend The George highly enough. The staff are the best, the art is inspiring, and they even gave us George, a sweet little bear to take with us on our travels.

The courtyard on the way to the Library at The George. This display is made of plates that survived the earthquake, out of sets that were destroyed.

We popped out to the post office. and had an early lunch at a café – you know the food is good when a place is packed even though there are plenty of eateries close by. Then we went back to the George for a nap. We had to get up at 3AM.

Dinner was at The George’s restaurant. I had the duck and I still have daydreams about that duck.

George – now in Australia – sitting with Esme, the Fashionista bear.

In the wee hours of the morning, we set off to the airport. We were so early, the QANTAS lounge wasn’t yet open. So we set up on the seat next to the door. There were robots in a glass room! Alas, it was closed and wouldn’t be open until well after we had flown out. (And it was for children, but that’s never stopped me before.) When the lounge did open, we had breakfast. (Then we were given meals on both flights back to Brisbane, New Zealand-to-Sydney, and Sydney-to-Brisbane.)

Every minute or so, it would shift into a new pose. Those anime eyes!
The second robot, ready to play soccer.

We left just as the sky was brightening. My last glimpse of New Zealand were snow-topped mountains just starting to glow in the pre-dawn light. I found the trip home tiresome, as I was both tired and still feeling ill. And I was already missing New Zealand.

Once home, I went straight to bed. And I spent nearly two weeks there, with antibiotics. I had developed secondary infections in my ears and throat. So it was my throat that was causing all the coughing, not my lungs, which was a surprise. During my convalescence, both mail parcels got home safely.

Over the next few posts, I’ll add in details about the trip and what I’ve done with some of our souvenirs.

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The Antarctic Experience, Christchurch

Getting close to penguins

The Antarctic Experience is run by the Australian Antarctic Science team – and it is right next to the airport, so we were able to see how long it would take us to get the airport on the day we were due to fly out AT 6AM and we needed to be at the international airport three hours early. Driving through Christchurch, you can see where it gets its name, with so many pretty churches. All the blossom trees were flowering and the daffodils blooming, the city was wearing her best clothes for us.

First experience was the 4D theatre. You got to feel icy waves slapping your face!

Then we went and investigated the storm room, mimicking the arctic temperature and full of ice. We did not go in; I thought that I would die from asthma and my cold combined with frigid conditions. One bloke went in wearing shorts – they supplied coats and boots but not leggings. I thought that bloke would end up as a block … an iceblock. They also had the huskies in there playing for a bit – one adult female and two not-quite-adult male pups. Later on, we ran into the handler and the pups outside and I got to cuddle all three. The handler showed me how they were shedding, and gave me a handful of one of the pup’s fur. He took it off me, bit by bit, with a cheeky grin, until we were in a cloud of his fur. Such lovely animals!

The dignity of the adult female husky.
Feeding time at the penguin enclosure.

We watched the penguin feeding and then we went for the penguin experience. Which meant we were first allowed into the enclosure, and then taken downstairs (backstage) to the penguin research centre. So, we sat in the compound and watched the penguins go through their post-prandial grooming and general gossip session.

In the research centre, we were introduced to the star of the day, a little female penguin called Suki. The animals look bluish, but under that top layer of feathers they have dense white down. Most of their penguins are too old or disabled to breed and their eggs are infertile. However, because of the limited space in the centre, they removed all eggs and replace them fakes. A penguin bred in captivity can’t be returned to the wild by New Zealand law; it’s too cruel as they will most likely starve to death. They also need the spare spaces in the centre for any ill or injured penguins that require vet care.

The Nice/Naughty board kept by the research centre.

They had many stories about how they had received their birds. My favourite story is about the little female found in a cow paddock quite a distance from the sea. They discovered she didn’t know how to swim! Nor did she groom herself enough to remain buoyant. another female penguin took her under her wing (yes, a pun!) and taught the poor sweetie how to be a penguin. The little one still needs swimming therapy, provided by the keepers and scientists.

The disabled birds have had toes bitten off by sharks, legs lost to fishing wire, dog attack, wing paralysis from unknown causes, being underweight, blindness, and just suffering from extended old age. Their oldest inmate – now passed – was a lassie called Toto, who lived to be 25 years old, which is twice the age of a wild penguin would achieve ordinarily. Penguins lose fertility at eight to ten years of age, so this makes sense ecologically – Mother nature isn’t always kind.

My favourite part of the display is the Nice/Naughty board, that keeps track of the behaviour of the flock. This isn’t as silly as it sounds, as penguins are social creatures and the scientists want to keep track of the social dynamics. Science doesn’t have to be stuffy all the time.

Suki

This was our last planned outing of the trip. The next day, we were getting ready to fly out to Sydney, and then back to Brisbane. I found it hard to believe the trip was nearly over…

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Steampunk Headquarters, Oamaru

The pinnacle of Steampunk artistry.

I was sorry to leave Larnach Castle and Dunedin; there was so much more we could have seen and done. Visiting New Zealand was beginning to feel like a European tour; the fjords of Scandinavia, the snowy peaks of Switzerland, Scottish moors, English farmlands, with the extra excitement of its unique wildlife. Our next stop was going to be another highpoint of the trip: Steampunk Headquarters in Oamaru. The drive was as scenic as anything we’d experienced previously, with rocky tors looming along the ridgelines.

On the trip between Dunedin and Oamaru, I expected to see the Orcs or the Rohirrim, when I caught sight of these rocky tors.

I was still burdened with my cold, but the excitement of seeing Steampunk Headquarters burnt a lot of my discomfort away. Adrenaline is great stuff! When I caught sight of iconic train outside the Headquarters, I squealed with delight. My husband rolled his eyes, he isn’t a Steampunk Enthusiast. This outing was for my benefit only.

The Airship

When I walked into the entry, I immediately started blabbing about being Steampunk Sunday, Queensland, Australia on Facebook. The lass had heard of me! She was going to wave the entry fee for both me and my hubby, but my hubby insisted on paying. Then it was a walk into Steampunk heaven.

The Mega-Galactic Pipe Organ
One of the numerous Steampunk vehicles on display.
When you need to cross a lava-hot terrain.
Another vehicle in the process of being constructed.

I could easily share the dozens of photos I took, but my drooling over everything would get boring. Then again, this IS originally a Steampunk blog. We also spent some time in the gift shop.

The Tank
One of the cosplay outfits on display.

We spent a couple of hours in the Headquarters, then we headed off to Christchurch, our last stop in New Zealand.

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Albatross and Taking Tea, Dunedin

A Juvenile Royal Albatross, Dunedin. Note the downy feathers still visible.

For our second day in Dunedin, we had a full itinerary. The morning was going to be spent at the Royal Albatross Centre at Harington Point (I keep wanting to spell that as ‘Harrington’). My hubby trusted our car’s Navman, and took our Navman’s route suggestion. This turned out to a scenic drive over some the narrowest, twisty roads we’d experienced in New Zealand, along the ridge of the point. As I was still suffering from my heavy cold, feeling lightheaded, I found the experience rather unpleasant. I was scared we would meet another car coming the other way and there was no where for us to pass. We didn’t meet any cars in the narrow spots … because it turned out the Navman had taken us ‘the long way’, and the actual route was the coastal road.

The Royal Albatross Centre was situated on the very tip of Harington Point, and is home to the albatross, a shag colony, and a colony of red-billed gulls. Red-billed gulls are also in decline throughout most of New Zealand.

Red-billed Gulls
The Shag Colony

I felt breathless on walk up to the lookout from the centre, but once I caught sight of the birds I forgot all about needing oxygen. The juvenile albatross were nearly fully fledged – if we had visited a few weeks later we might have missed seeing them. There parents visit them daily, until one day the young birds lift their wings and they are gone. They were sitting in the grass, sunning themselves, and I was enchanted.

Grooming those enormous wings.

The point had been a fort in its day. There were still ruins and tunnels.

A remnant of the fort – the jail rooms. You’d freeze in these most of the year.

I skipped the second part of the tour, as I was just not up to climbing any more. Instead, I sat on a sunny bench and watched the gulls. The gulls watched me back, hoping for a feed. By taking this quiet time, I was able to start understanding some of the gull’s language. They had the usual gull skrees and squawks, but they also had a three-note call, and a grumbling-under-the-breath noise.

High Tea

In the afternoon, we went to High Tea at the castle, in the ballroom that had been converted to a café. It was where we had our breakfast. It is a warm, caramel-toned room with fireplaces and Baronial décor. The edibles were dainty and delectable. There was a tea menu, and I had the Christmas Special Blend; very fruity.

Do you have the feeling you’re being watched?

That afternoon, a stampede of Ferraris turned up. As it turns out, Dunedin was having festival that weekend, and they had come to attend a car show. I spoke with the organiser, and he told me that New Zealand had the greatest density of Ferrari cars per capita in the world. I am not a car person, but even I can appreciated a nice Ferrari.

As the sun fell, neither Hubby nor I felt like dinner. So we spent a quiet evening in our room. Well, as quiet as I could manage. I was coughing during the night, so I didn’t get a proper night’s sleep.

The painting decorating our bedroom in the Lodge of Larnach Castle.

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Darling Dunedin

Larnach Castle, Dunedin

From Lumdsen, Dunedin was a pleasant three hour drive. The scenery – like all of New Zealand – was dramatically pretty. I was beginning to feel weary as we finally reached the outskirts of Dunedin, but it turned out that Larnach Castle was another half hour drive from the city centre. It was worth the extra drive: dry stone walls, witchy marcrocarpa trees, glorious views of the Otago Harbour, and Pukehiki itself was quite lovely. And then – THE CASTLE! Oh, it was lovely, just like a Scottish Manor mixed in with a Queenslander’s verandas. We were staying in the Lodge, as the castle is basically a museum.

The view from our window in The Lodge, looking over Otago harbour towards the sea. There is supposed to be the Dunedin Volcano in that view.

That night, we attended a banquet in the Music Room of the castle. It was an imposing room, and the food was perfection. As it was decorated in the style of the Victorian era, it felt quite Steampunk to me.

On of the chandeliers in the Music Room of Larnach Castle.
The Music Room during the day. The banquet’s tables and chairs have been cleared away.
The view from the fountain to Dunedin. The fountain sits in the circular driveway in front of the castle.
The Alice Garden of Larnach Castle.

After the banquet, I had another rough night, coughing frequently. I felt sorry for my husband, because I thought I was keeping him awake after he spent the day driving. But he was so tired, he was able to ignore most of my coughing. I managed to get enough sleep to make up excited for our plans for the day – The Royal Albatross Centre in the morning, and afternoon tea at the castle in the afternoon. Stay tuned for that update, where I get to meet a stampede of Ferraris.

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A Town Called Lumsden

When I was in my early twenties, my great grandmother and my great aunt went on a bus tour of New Zealand. When they came back, great grandma said she regretted that they never stopped in the town of Lumsden, the tour bus just drove through it. The bus driver did announce that Mrs Lumsden (great grandma) was in Lumsden. For some reason, this story always made me want very much to visit Lumsden.

They named a whole town after me…

I still wasn’t well, but the day of rest in Te Anu had knocked the worst of the cold on the head. Part of my improved outlook was knowing I was finally going to see Lumsden. I was prepared to be disappointed, but at the same time I was rather hopeful that Lumsden was something special. Whenever we mentioned the town, people had heard of it, and the café in particular. It was famous for its cheese rolls.

The welcoming committee: the Llamas of Lumsden. When we stopped to take the photo of the sign, they came over to see what I was doing. (They are alpacas, not llamas, but I wanted the alliteration.)
The Steampunk toilets of Lumsden
Inside Café Route 6

Lumsden embraced its name. There were Lumsden-named parks and buildings. It felt surreal, seeing my maiden name sprinkled everywhere, with such exuberance. There was no problem in finding Café Route 6 – it was across the road from the public toilets. even the toilets proudly proclaimed they were ‘Lumsden Toilets’ from a sign shaped like the front of a steam train (Steampunk!).

In the café was a whole red Chevy. This turned out to be the post office! We sent a parcel home from there. By now, I seriously was in love with the town. It was so much more magical than I could ever have hoped. There were Lumsden souvenirs on sale, and I bought my father a coffee mug and bought a t-shirt for myself.

The Lumsden Post Office

We had lunch at the café, but we didn’t have one of the famous cheese rolls. I was feeling better, but the thought of a cheese roll made me squeamish. My husband went with sweet rolls and coffee for both of us. They were delicious.

We wanted to get on Dunedin before sunset, so we couldn’t spend more than a couple of hours in Lumsden. But I’d love to go back, and maybe spend days there.

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Sick Day

If you read the comic Calvin & Hobbes, you might remember that he believes if you’re sick on your holidays, you should get those days back. Don’t I wish. I didn’t manage to sleep the night we rolled into Te Anu, as I kept waking up to cough. My ears hurt. My nose was clogged. Even my eyes were gummy, particularly the left eye. The day was overcast and drizzly, and this was the day we were supposed to spend the entire day on a boat on Doubtful Sound. Common sense said that I would most probably expire if I spent the day out in the cold and rain; so I made the decision to stay and get bedrest. I asked my husband to take lots of photos for me. We asked permission for me to remain housebound from the owner of the Bed and Breakfast, and she said ‘yes.’

The view from our suite in Te Anu.

I spent most of the day sleeping, with a break to soak in a hot tub with bath salts – bless the manager/owner of the Bed and Breakfast. She also supplied me with fruit and muffins for a light lunch. As you can see, the view from our suite was divine. I enjoyed being out of the cold, with some regret at missing out on an adventure. At least my hubby wasn’t missing out – he had threatened to stay with me to make sure I was okay. But what could he do but watch me sleep?

He took some magnificent photos.

Doubtful Sound. Sister to Milford Sound, but less frequented by tourist boats.
One of the dozens of waterfall that encircle the sound.
Even the waterfalls have waterfalls.
The Land Before Time
Cloud scraping.

As you can see from the photos, even on a wet day, Doubtful Sound is very beautiful. My husband came back and was pleased to find I was still alive.

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On Becoming An Ice Queen

Our helicopter, and your noble narrator in her pink snow gear.
The view from the ground

Up until our trip to New Zealand, I had never seen snow. We came close during one trip to Tasmania – many years ago – but it didn’t start snowing until we were boarding our plane to return to Queensland. I nearly yeeted myself off the plane when I heard the news. So, I was very excited for the day we were taking a helicopter ride to see both the Fox Glacier and the Franz Josef Glacier. This was two firsts for me … helicopters and snow!

Alas, I was also starting to come down with a cold. What was I expecting? Even though I was wearing a mask and constantly washing my hands, I had been travelling in a new country with a whole range of unfamiliar germs. I just put it down to sinus and ignored the symptoms. We were among the first tourists to fly that morning, and my breakfast coffee was helping me feel fine and dandy.

A Winter Wonderland in the Spring.

The flight up to the glaciers was utterly magical. I never realised how sparkly snow was; my family well tell you of my love of all things shiny. As soon as we were able to get onto the glacier, I took off my gloves and felt the snow. Then I tasted some, because that’s how I roll (SCIENCE!). It did taste different to chipped ice, for those interested (The snow was pure white, not yellow). We were given ten minutes to take photos, but I was discouraged from trying making snow angels. I’d get the helicopter all soggy, and it had a full day ahead.

Cloudland

We had saved up for two years to afford the helicopter flight, and it was worth every penny. It was even worth the pain in my ears as we swooped back to the helipad. I thought the pain was normal, but later I came to realise it was a sign of swelling and mucus stuffed into every crevice in my head.

The Ice Queen

Since we had taken such an early flight, it gave us the rest of the day to drive to Te Anu, our next stop. The drive over the mountains and down into south Fjordland. As the day passed, I began to feel very unwell. I was pleased to get to Te Anu and crawl into bed. My husband went out and found a pharmacy, and came back with various cold and flu medications, and Chinese takeaway. He bought me chicken and corn soup! The man is an angel.

The runoff from the glaciers into the plains.

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The Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki

We had chosen Punakaiki the break our journey on a whim. I had come across references to the Pancake Rocks and thought they sounded rather interesting. As it turned out, they were more than just interesting – they were spectacular.

We rolled into Punakaiki at dusk, due to a detour we had to make due to flood damage on Highway 63. We had planned on getting there mid-afternoon, to do sightseeing around the town, but we rolled with the circumstances. We were staying at the Paparoa Park Motel, and ended up in the unit closest to the sea. So, we could hear the sound of waves breaking, something I have adored from my childhood.

The view from our balcony.

We woke up to a cool, cloudy day. I thought this was a less than promising start to the day, but it turned out to work in our favour. There weren’t a lot of people out to see the Pancake Rocks that day. We parked at the tourist stop across the road from the rocks, and we hiked through ferns and trees to the rocks. It wasn’t a long walk, just enough to warm me up.

It’s a no brainer to see why they got their name. All they need is syrup!
Here be dragons … can’t you just see them lurking in those little caverns?
The Surge Pool

We still had a way to goes that day, so we couldn’t spend the entire day exploring Punakaiki. I hope we can visit there again, for a couple of days, to see it properly. I recommend seeing them if you get the chance. We wanted to get to Fox Glacier that day. The drive into Fjord Country was dicey, with lots of stops at roadworks, and narrow, twisty roads … but the scenery made up for it!

Making our way to the glaciers.

Where we stopped for lunch had the most adorable cat. She walked in after we sat down, and immediately came up to me and demanded affection. As I was missing my own cats, I appreciated the attention. She was quite the personality. She had survived being hit by a car, and now spent much of her time asking people for adoration. And adore her I did.

The Café Cat
Heading towards Fox Glacier township.

We managed to get to Fox Glacier township before sunset. So we went out for dinner at the local Tavern.

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Picton

The view from our AirBnB in Picton.

It was a beautiful morning when we woke up in Picton. The aspect out of the windows at our digs was divine, with wooded hills, serene water, and picturesque boats. My husband had outdone himself with picking our lodgings during the trip. The plan was to do some light sightseeing and then check out EcoWorld and Aquarium.

The ANZAC Memorial at Picton.
Getting our ducks in a row.

Picton is a pleasant town, with a lovely waterfront. The park has quite the collection of wildlife: seagulls and ducks. Ducks are charming creatures, because they are always hopeful of a free meal. They ask, politely. Seagulls demand!

One of the Tuatara at EcoWorld and Aquarium.

I was delighted to discover that EcoWorld had several tuataras on display. My cup runneth over, seeing more of these delightful animals.

The May/December romance.

In one of the aviaries there were a couple of the biggest, fattest rabbit brothers I’d ever seen, but – as a Queenslander – I have to admit to seeing very few pet rabbits. Rabbits are banned in Queensland, as pets, and we have a rabbit-proof fence to keep them out of the state. In the same aviary was a couple of indigenous small parrots. One was an elderly male, and he had been provided with a much younger mate. She flew around the cage with gusto, managing to scare the bunnies. He never moved the entire time we watched him; staring into the abyss (their food bowl). Outside the building were more aviaries containing more of the same species of parrot. They had no penguins – they only have those when they are ill or injured.

The most friendly inhabitant of the aquarium.

The aquarium was tiny, particularly compared to the Seaworld or the SEA LIFE Sunshine Coast aquariums. However, it did have several rockpool exhibits and a two larger tanks. The tragedy here is that all the inhabitants of the aquarium are under threat. The Picton council wants to take over the building containing EcoWorld and the Aquarium (it’s also the local cinema). If that happens, the land animals can be rehoused, but the water life cannot. They will have to be put down. They have a petition to try and save the business, and the owners of the business is running for council.

Lower Buller Gorge

The plan had been to avoid the upper reached of the Northwest of the South Island, but the highway we had planned to take was no longer viable due to flood damage. This meant a longer drive as we detoured through Nelson and took the coastal road to our next destination – Punakaiki and the Pancake Rocks. We saw some lovely scenery on the way, but the detour meant we drove into town in the dusk, not late afternoon as planned. This meant we had less opportunity for sightseeing. We were both tired after the drive, and we were pleased that our lodgings were excellent, right near the beach. We could hear the waves breaking as we drifted off to dreamland.

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Weta Workshop Wellington

The Hobbit Hole Door at the Weta Workshops, Wellington.

For our last day in Wellington, we went for the tour of the Weta Workshops. These are completely different to the exhibit in Auckland, being less ‘theatrical’. You can’t take photos of everything, because much of it is still under copyright. You get a much better understanding of how wide-ranging are the efforts and output of the workshops. Because it was the weekend, the workshops were mostly deserted. Mostly – we did get to meet their aluminium foil sculptor, Warren Beaton. He did a skull in under a minute.

We were shown how they constructed the helmets for the Lord of the Ring movies, from sketches to the final product. It was explained that the helmets had a specially weighted ruff or spine so that they would move like an actual helmet. When you consider how many different styles of helmets were in the movies, it was eye-opening how hard they worked to get the details right.

I love pointy things. One of the exhibits we were allowed to photograph.

We were shown the mirror sword used in the live-action version of ‘Mulan’. It was much too long for the actor to fight with, but it needed to be large enough to reflect her face. Most swords and weapons are plastic, with a metal core to give them a realistic heft. There must be warehouse full of the armour and weapons from LOTR.

As mentioned, the workshop had supplied the gigantic sculptures of the people in the ANZAC exhibit in the museum. They use yak hair to recreate hair, beards, eyelashes, eyebrows, and even hair on your arms and knuckles. They thread each hair individually. So you need an artist who is also a hairdresser.

The second part of the tour was inspecting the models used in the Thunderbirds reboot.

Thunderbirds are go!

I was – and still am – a fan of the original Thunderbirds series. The creativity used in creating these sets – often using junk – was phenomenal. They had a lovely story about the sets from the original series. Some man complained about the use of a plastic juicer as part of the set in one episode, so they then used as many juicers as they could. They kept the tradition going when making the new sets. They also used washing machine bits, vacuum cleaner parts, computer boards, the caps from bottles and tubes, just about anything could be adapted for the futuristic settings.

The human-sized set of Thunderbird Two, complete with Scott.

They replaced Lady Penelope’s martini glass and cigarette with a pug. In keeping with that theme, pugs decorate her mansion inside and out. So cute! I remember wanting to be Lady Penelope when I grew up … but never managed to smoking part.

Late in the afternoon, we caught the ferry to Picton. I was excited to discover that you can see both the North and South Islands at the same time when crossing the strait. It was a smooth, uneventful trip, much to my relief. It was dark when we got into Picton, so didn’t get to see much until the next day.

Goodbye to the North Island.

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Filed under Lord of the Rings, New Zealand, Personal experience, Wellington, Weta Workshop

Wedding Anniversary in New Zealand

Exhibit at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. And a wonderful view of my rotundity.

This was the day of our 27th wedding anniversary – and my husband’s birthday. So, we did out favourite thing and visited the museum across the road from where were staying: The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. We ended up spending six hours there, including meal breaks. We didn’t take many photos; most exhibits requested no photography.

The museum is also an art gallery. We started in the portrait gallery, which has a computer set up to explain who the people were in all the portraits. It also gave random facts about the restoration of the paintings, some of the meanings and symbology within the paintings, and historical context. Brilliant stuff. There was also a gallery showing by Robyn White.

The more traditional exhibits were about indigenous animals, the Maori way of life, the tectonics of New Zealand, and a tribute to the ANZACs with large human sculptures done by Weta Workshop.

We also visited the Wellington Museum, about four blocks away on the same street. It is a much smaller museum, set into an old wool storehouse. My favourite piece there was the memento mori wreath made from the hair of scores of people – very Victorian era; my Steampunk persona was fascinated by its complexity. Most hair used in this manner was preserved in lockets, brooches, and rings. There was a clever use of the hair colours to pick out the details in the wreath.

Human hair woven into a floral wreath.

There was an exhibit about the wreck of the ferry, Wahini, which made me cry due to so many little bodies lined up on the beach afterwards. Later on, I remembered we were taking a ferry to Picton and had anxiety over that. I kept checking the weather apps on my phone.

They also had an exhibit about the UFO panic of the late 1950s. Wellington has been paranormal for decades, it appears.

Victorian era baby carriage at the Wellington Museum.

After being on our feet for hours and hours, we headed back to the hotel for a nap. There was sparkling white wine on ice and little cakes waiting for us … the staff knew it was our anniversary. That night, we had a romantic dinner at the hotel’s restaurant. I love my husband more every day, and was pleased he had a fun day for his birthday.

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Filed under Adventures, Art, New Zealand, Personal experience, Steampunk, Steampunk Art, The Museums of Wellington, Victorian Era, Victorian-era Fashion, Wellington

Wellington Zoo

A Kea at the Wellington Zoo

As some of the readers of this blog might know, I trained as a zoologist and have a Bachelor’s Degree in Science. I love animals. I’m not the biggest fan of zoos, because many zoos are poorly run and detrimental to the health of their inmates. However, I do love a well-run zoo. Wellington Zoo isn’t the biggest or flashiest zoo but it was still worth the visit. I got to see Keas close up for starters!

Otterly adorable.

I have to admit, I did enjoy our day at the zoo. We saw lions and tigers and bears – oh my. My favourite nonindigenous animals were the giraffes, the tiger, and the otters. I could spend hours watching otters. The one species of animal I would have loved to have seen was the snow leopards, but their enclosure is still under construction. I did get to see the Keas, the real reason for coming to the zoo.

Those eyelashes!
Pretending they can’t see the crowd admiring them.

Zoos exist to educate and preserve, as well as entertain. I consider their entertainment value well down the list of what a zoo should be achieving. For me, being able to go into the aviary with the Keas and see them up close was not just entertainment. In Australia, our local parrots are very colourful: lorikeets, cockatoos, corellas and so forth. Seeing an alpine species of parrot showed the differences between tropical Queensland parrots and Alpine parrots like the Keas. Their beaks are much longer, they are a heftier bird than a lorikeet, and their colouring is subdued (their predators are also on the wing). Fascinating differences. They are still raucous like my local parrots, so some things are the same.

Handsome and LOUD.
A glimpse of the bright feathers under their wings.

We were feeling adventurous after visiting the zoo, and took a bus back to the city centre. This might not sound adventurous, but we were able to sight-see better from a bus (we took a taxi to the zoo). There are so many beautiful old buildings on the way from the zoo to the city centre. The city centre is quite modern by contrast.

The view from the restaurant at the hotel, where we breakfasted every morning.

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Wellington Street Art

Even the manhole covers are art in Wellington.

The road trip from Rotorua to Wellington was the most interesting, scenery wise. We went from hot springs, through a rural paradise, through the ‘desert’ (it was very well covered in vegetation for a desert), into a modern city. The highpoint for me was seeing a snowy mountain. As a Queenslander born and bred, I’ve managed to miss seeing snow for sixty years.

Geothermal chimneys look remarkably like nuclear power plants.
My very first glimpse of snow.

We arrived in Wellington at night, so we didn’t get a good view of the city until the next morning. My word, the city is gorgeous. It has so much street art, it deserves a post all of its own.

The cat lady in the alley behind our hotel.
The bollards made to look like uncurling fern fronds.
A bridge just down from our hotel.

We spent four days in Wellington and I will share those adventures over the next few days.

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Filed under Art, New Zealand, Personal experience, Wellington

Tall Trees and Kiwis – Rotorua

The Redwood Walk in Rotorua

I am a tree-hugger, so we had to visit the 55,000ha Whakarewarewa Forest next to the town of Rotorua. This is a forest of American Redwoods and native plants, and it is simply magical. There is a sky walk among the trees – which you can do at night – so that you can get up close to the trees. But you can’t get personal – touching the barks leaves the trees open to attack by insects and fungi.

The lanterns for the night walk through the redwoods.
Scraping the sky.
A slice of the trunk of a 150 year old tree.

While in Rotorua, we also went to the Kiwi Sanctuary. Alas, as the little birds are nocturnal, everything is kept dark and so photographs aren’t so good. However, we got to see an adult female, adult male, and juvenile male birds. This was a highpoint for me, as I had studied kiwis at university; they are stars due to their unique nature (Do your research). Alas, all the man-introduced animals seems to target the kiwis, either preying on the birds or eating their eggs.

The giant egg – with me lurking inside.
Kiwi feathers adorn a tradition Maori cloak.

We did a few drives around Lake Rotorua and its hinterlands. It truly is the most photogenic place, a glorious lake surrounded by lushly forested mountains. We stayed two night; we could have stayed a week.

One of the numerous streams and rivers in the mountains around Rotorua.

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Boiling Mud

Boiling Mud at Rotorua

Before we headed to Rotorua, everyone was warning us about how it was a smelly place. We lucked out and it wasn’t so bad while we were staying there. I have a poor sense of smell, but my husband’s sense of smell is just fine, and he didn’t find it unpleasant. Friends have since advised me that they found the fart smell unbearable. What creates the smell? The volcanic hot water vents that saturate the area (pun intended).

The yellow streak in the waters of Lake Rotorua is due to vents in the lake bed. The rest of the lake remains crystal clear.
One of the hot water springs in the Rotorua Botanical Gardens.

We went to a guided night tour of geysers. We were informed that the waters and mud can cook you in minutes, and that the indigenous people had specific precautions to prevent scalds. They cooked us – the tour group – a butterscotch pudding in seven minutes. The pools are that hot; you can’t bathe in them, you would be broiled to death.

The geyser pouring hot water into the chilly night air. Very dramatic.

This blog is a second go at recounting our adventures in Rotorua. I had written a much longer post – and a finger fumbled wiped it away. So, I’m breaking up the Rotorua adventure into three posts.

I will add that I had a friend from New Zealand in Grade One, and she was from Rotorua. She made the boiling mud sound magical, and I wasn’t disappointed.

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Concerning Hobbiton

Our next adventure was Hobbiton.

The drive from Auckland to Hobbiton it just over two hours (nothing to a Queenslander) and it was my first introduction to just how GREEN it is in New Zealand. After rain, it can get lushly green where I live, but it has nothing on the greenness of New Zealand.

Ireland may be second in the world greenest country award.
It’s very green in Middle Earth as well.

Hobbiton exists on an enormous family sheep farm. It’s upkeep takes twenty fulltime employees: gardeners, people to change the tiny laundry on the clotheslines, keeping the smokers going so the chimneys smoke authentically. The party tree is real, but the tree above Bad End is not. They did one day of shooting, and there was a storm that night. When they came back the next day, the tree looked different – so Peter Jackson had it replaced with an artificial tree that needs lots of care and attention. There is so much attention to detail!

Take the Hobbit holes. There are three different sized holes. There a tiny ones to give the landscape depth in wide shots. There are ‘realistic’ sized holes for working shots. And then there are huge ones to make normal humans look hobbit-sized. My family jokes that I am half hobbit, as I am short and round (but I have tiny feet). I felt very at home in this landscape, so maybe they aren’t wrong.

A hobbit in her natural habitat.

We stayed for the evening banquet at The Green Dragon – the only set that has a proper internal rooms and décor. I got to meet pretty Pickle, the Hobbiton cat. The bar supplies four sorts of drinks: a non-alcoholic ginger beer, an apple cider, a lager, and a dark stout. I tried the cider and it was delicious. I was also lucky enough to get a photo taken of my playing barhobbit. The banquet was suitably gorgeously gluttonous. We walked back through Hobbiton in the dark, with lanterns.
Our tour guides were locals, and had lots of gossip about the actual filming at the set. Many locals were hired to play hobbits in crowd scenes. And now locals are hired to tend to the set. Sounds like a dream job, gardening at Hobbiton!

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Filed under Hobbiton, Lord of the Rings, New Zealand, Personal experience, Pop Culture

Weta Workshop, Auckland – Weta Unleashed

One of the suits of armour on display at Weta Unleashed.

The Weta Unleashed tour is in the building across the road from the Sky Tower. This was convenient, as we went straight from the Sky Tower to our tour, across a sky bridge. We looked around the shopping cave first, and took photos of the statues of trolls and orcs lurking in the corridor outside.

Once inside the touring area, our first stop was a ‘reception’ area with animatronic Kevin, an orc. Kevin was the result of Disney wanting a fortune – AND YEARS – to create this sort of robot. Weta decided to do it themselves. And they managed to be quicker and cheaper. I prophesise that Disney will be trying to buy Weta in the near future. My favourite room was the Pinnie Gigs room, where Guinea Pigs were the overarching theme. They were part of the stained class, and there was a board that had sketches of LOTR characters as guinea pigs. My next favourite room was the miniatures room. The details were amazing. If I could work for Weta, this would be my jam.

Of course, I got to play with a sword and helmet and a throne.

This kingdom is MINE.

If you get a chance to go to Auckland, don’t pass up the opportunity to see the Weta Workshop. It is inspiring for writers and Steampunk enthusiasts.

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Filed under Auckland, New Zealand, Personal experience, Steampunk Art, Steampunk Technology, Weta Unleashed Auckland

Our First Night In New Zealand

Auckland by night, from the Sky Tower

It seemed to take all day to get from Brisbane to Auckland, since we lost two hours in the trip over. But my husband, Brian, didn’t want to waste time in seeing the sights. So, that night, we had dinner at the Sky Tower.

I wasn’t expecting to see much, with the sky overcast and no moon, but was presently surprised to be wrong. The restaurant revolves slowly, so that you get a view of the entire 360 degrees while dining. The highlights were a lime green crane, the dancing lights on the main bridge, the port with its red eyes all over, and the general fairy lights of the city. And the food was great.

View from the Sky Tower by day.

The next day. we went back to the Sky Tower. Auckland is a beautiful city, with it’s water views. I also did a virtual ride with a roller coaster set on top of the Sky Tower. That was delightful, because it gives you several ‘free fall’ moments while experiencing the ride.

The view through the glass floor of the Sky Tower.

I watched as a toddler wandered over the glass floor with no fear, until he looked down. Then he plopped onto his bottom and wailed. However, his mother was suffering from vertigo (I used to get it when my own children looked to be doing something dangerous) and couldn’t bear to step onto the see-through flooring. She tried to call her little one over to her, and was getting quite distraught. I was about to help when he was rescued by his sister, a girl about four, who had no qualms about bouncing on those see-through panels.

After the Sky Tower, we went to the Weta Workshop! I’ll save that for tomorrow’s blog.

Where we were staying was a place called the Fable, which felt rather posh.

The tea set in our room at the Fable.

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Filed under Art, Auckland, New Zealand, Personal experience

Updates!

New Zealand – it was everything promised and more.

So much has happened since I last updated this blog. My husband and I went to New Zealand for a holiday, where we tried to fit in a month’s worth of adventure into two weeks. Over the next few weeks, I will do a proper breakdown of the trip. I have so much to share. However, I was sick with a heavy cold when we got back, and it’s taken me a while to recover.

In other news, I’ve discovered I have a congenital heart deformity. I was sent for a stress test by my GP, just before the trip. They didn’t like my results and sent me to a heart specialist. They did a CAT scan, and it turns out I have a weird, twisty heart. So the heart specialist sent me to a Congenital Heart Specialist, who has informed me I have two holes in my heart and an extra blood vessel. What this boils down to is that my heart doesn’t pump properly oxygenated blood but a mixture of deoxygenated blood with oxygenated blood; the harder I exercise, the less oxygen in my blood. Why this wasn’t picked up sooner is due to my adaptation to the issue, as I feel no pain and have been fairly fit. As my GHS said, if another person was gifted with my heart for a day, they would be unable to function. Now that I am aging, this needs to be addressed, so I am grateful to my GP for starting the process of discovery.

It’s a nuisance, as I now have lots more tests to undergo and most likely will have to have an operation to correct the deformities. It sounds all so dramatic, but it isn’t. I feel no different to normal.

Weta Workshop, Wellington
Steampunk Headquarters, Omaru – I wasn’t going to go to New Zealand and skip this!

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Filed under New Zealand, Personal experience, Steampunk Sunday

The Power of Three for Characterisation

Recently, the number three has been haunting my writing and reading: tripartite goddesses, ‘Love, Death and Robots’, Kathleen Jennings musing on story structure, three act plays, and so forth. I have been reading ‘How to write’ books by Diana Wynne Jones, Angela Slatter (rereading), Kate Wilhelm, among others, and I’ve come across a clever way to define a character, using the power of three – Three different viewpoints.

When you are first coming to grips with a character, have three different people describe them. The first one loves them, be they a lover, a child, a parent, a sibling, or a close friend of the character. Let this love influence their description. The second one loathes or hates them, and so they see this character from a different perspective, with their hatred colouring their description. Lastly, have someone meet the character for the first time character , and so they have little urge to have emotions tinge their opinions.

This contrasts to my usual technique, which is to ‘interview’ the character for their personality traits, like and dislikes, and personal history. This isn’t defining the character by their own traits so much as how others perceive them. So, you get less of their internal life and more of how they interact with other people. It makes my story telling flow better when I know how my characters interact. Feel free to try this out for yourself.

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Filed under Characterization, The Writing Life, writing, Writing Experiment, Writing Style