Musings of a morbid mind

The general ravings of Scott Baldwin

Wednesday, July 03, 2013


Once I finally got out of Wellington, I decided that for completeness sake, I had to at least set foot on the South Island. The easiest (cheapest) way to do this is by ferry. So I went down to the port and waited at the terminal for 3 and a half hours (the ferry was delayed, and there was no easy way back into the city). I really love being on the water, and the gentle rocking of the ferry as we crossed cook straight was very relaxing. The scenery both leaving Wellington, and going through the Queen Charlotte Sounds was spectacular. I arrived into Picton just as it got dark.

Family dogs help collect the mail
The next day I decided to make the most of the last day of my trip by going on some kind of tour. Either a winery tour or a boat cruise. The guy at "The Villa" hostel was very helpful, and rang around a number of different tourist places he knew that ran these kinds of tours, but alas couldn't find a single one for me. In the end I managed to find a tour called "The magic mail run". Basically, every permanent resident living on The Sound is entitled to a free mail service twice weekly. Because of their remoteness, the best (and in most cases only) way to get to them is by water. Having said that, these remote places still have all of the mod-cons like power, running water, telephone and interweb. 

To make this endeavour worthwhile, the New Zealand postal service has farmed out the responsibilities to a tourist company, and as well as being a mail service, it is also a tourist cruise around the Queen Charlotte Sounds. The scenery was truly breath-taking. 
Ship Cove
The guide/postman was quite entertaining, and even let us off for a 15 minute explore around Ship Cove (made famous by Captain Cook's love of parking their while on his voyages).

As delightful as the scenery was on the way, The Queen Charlotte Sounds had one last trick up her sleeve. 

Sunset over the Queen Charlotte Sounds

As we dropped off the last of the mail, and headed for home, the Sound turned on the most magnificent of sunsets. Colours so bright and vibrant, that at point, it almost looked like giant orange, yellow and red flames coming out of the mountains.

Sunset over the Queen Charlotte Sounds

That night, I went out and had a really nice meal at a local pub, which included some refreshing glasses of wine… and then some pirates drinks (port mixed with brandy), and then a few Talisker Scotch's. I stumbled home reasonably early, and got a good night's sleep before getting up incredibly early to catch the 6:25am ferry home. Due to the beverages the night before I wasn't feeling at the top of my game when the alarm went off, but I walked down to the terminal anyhow, and found out that the ferry had been delayed by almost 3 hours due to rough seas. No problem, I went and had breakfast in town while I waited. When the ferry eventually came, once we got past the sounds and into the Cook Straight, the seas were indeed rough. 

Rough ferry ride home
At a guess, I would say 4-5 meter swells in places. Normally I enjoy the rocking of the boat, even in high seas. For instance I slept like a child rocked in his mother's arms when I crossed Bass Straight in seas every bit as rough if not more so, as the ones in Cook Straight this day. In the beginning I was really enjoying it, but as the voyage continued, I slowly began to feel more and more ill. Moral of the story is, if you plan to have a big night out, fly across cook straight the next day, don't risk the seas.

Friday, June 28, 2013


The main purpose for my trip to New Zealand was to attend the 12th Annual New Zealand Tango Festival. So on Tuesday night I arrived in Wellington. After checking into the hotel, I wandered down the infamous Cuba Street. I felt very much at home. Cuba street was alive with restaurants, cafes and bars. I felt very much at home there as I walked down Cuba street trying to find somewhere to have dinner. Sure it was a little cold, but I've seen worse in Melbourne. With the warnings about windy Wellington ringing in my ears, I kind of laughed to myself and as it started to drizzle I muttered to the sky, "c'mon Wellington, is that the best you can do"?

It seems as though Wellington heard me. Thursday after the workshop had finished, I went and had a coffee in a nearby café, about 15 minutes walk from the hotel. As I sat and sipped my coffee, I noticed the wind picking up. By the time I started to make my way back to the hotel, the wind was howling, and it had begun to pour with rain. It totally destroyed my $10 umbrella I had purchased the day before, and by the time I eventually got back to the hotel, I was totally drenched. Winds got up to 200km/hr, and even the locals were surprised at just how bad the storm was.

The miserable weather lasted for a few days, but it didn't stop me, and the people who had already made it into Wellington from doing what we'd come to do; dance tango. Others weren't so lucky as Wellington airport was closed for some of the first day of the tango festival.

After the festival was over (for me at least, others were still doing post-festival immersion courses), I decided to linger in Wellington for a couple of days, partly to see a bit more of the city, but also because there was some more social tango to be had in Wellington with some of the new friends I had made during the festival (I know, what can I say, I'm an addict).

The first day post-festival I decided to check out the "Te Papa" Museum. It was a really great experience, and had some very interesting exhibitions detailing New Zealand's volcanic history. It kind of makes you realize when faced with all of the amazing natural beauty that New Zealand has, that it's origins are due mainly to plate tectonics resulting in devastating earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

The second day post-festival I decided to go to take the cable car up to the Carter Observatory and planetarium. Again another really enjoyable day as I pondered the stars and the plugged in my estimations into the simulated Drake Equation to determine the probability of their being life on other planets in the universe (by the way I got a score of 6 planets, now all we have to do is find them).

My final night in Wellington was spent (you guessed it) dancing tango. It was a lovely night, although when it ended at 11:00pm a small group of us decided to descend on a café on Cuba Street called "Midnight Espresso", and beg them to let us put some tango music on, and we danced til after 1am.

I really liked Wellington (otherwise known as Wellywood). I had an awesome time dancing at the festival and the post festival events, and met some new friends, and had some very deep and beautiful connections on the dance floor.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Kiwi's Love their Sports

As soon as I tell people from here that I'm from Australia, they want to know if I watched "the game". I assume they are referring to the latest rugby match, apparently that's on at the moment. I have to confess that I often have trouble convincing people I'm an Australian male after I tell them that I'm really not into sport. It's not that I hate it, it's just that I really can't get that excited about watching it, or keeping track of the fortunes of a team or individual that I have no personal connection to. Kiwi's like Australians, on the whole, love their sport. In Auckland I accidentally wondered into the only bar in the city that doesn't have a big screen television playing the latest rugby match. The bar tender told me that's why it was a quiet bar (he also confided to me in hushed tones that he didn't actually like rugby himself, and preferred ice hockey).

Pretty much every bar and takeaway food outlet I've been too since has had at least 2 big screen TV's playing some game or other. Often rugby, but also netball seems to be very popular as well. For my last meal in Rotorua, I headed to a pub I'd been told about at the hotel called "The Shed". It was supposed to be the happening place, and given the national love of sport, I can see why. They had at least 4 big screen televisions placed strategically around the room so that no matter where you were in the bar there was no possibility of respite… whoops, I mean, missing any of the nail biting action. Not only that but they also had a projector screen set up showing the game against a prominent wall. To cap it all off, I noticed at the bar that there were even small screens mounted on the beer taps so that if you were shouting your bro's a beer, you wouldn't miss the thrill of a home side come-back.

Worlds Newest Geo-Thermal Formation

Like Aussies, the Kiwi's are a very proud people, and also, very much like Aussies, have to keep bragging about their country in terms that demonstrate how desperate they are to feel like they actually have some relevance on the international stage. The amount of times I've seen "World's largest/biggest/deepest/newest/oldest/best/only", written on a plaque or on an information sheet in the last 2 days is phenomenal, and every time I see it, I can't help picturing Crocodile Dundee saying "That's not a knife… this is a knife".

Frying pan lake
So today I got up  at the ridiculous hour of 6:45am (which due to the time difference still feels a bit like 4:45am to me), and drove out to Waimangu. This is the site of the "world's newest" thermal activity. It was created by an eruption in 1886 that ripped open many kilometres of the surrounding landscape, and created 21 craters. One of which forms the "world's largest" hot spring, "Frying pan lake", although we were discouraged from bathing in it, partly because it had an average temperature of 55 degrees Celsius, but mainly because it had a Ph of about 3.

Because I had stopped regularly along the walk I almost missed the highlight of the tour and had to run (something someone of my age shouldn't be forced to do) the last kilometer of the walking trail to catch my cruise inside an active volcano. It sounds very "Journey to the centre of the earth", but the cruise was on the lake that formed inside the largest of the craters created by the 1886 eruption. The lake is called Lake Rotomahana, which in Mouldy means "warm lake". The Mouldies have an astonishing sense of the literal. The crater is considered still active, and there is plenty of geo-thermal activity on the islands and surrounding shores, including some fairly regular geysers (although one of the other passengers seemed to think he had a magic button that caused the geyser to go off so that tourists wouldn't go home disappointed). Waimangu is also a demonstration of how fast nature can recover. The 1886 eruption desolated the surrounding land for many years, but now a luscious primary forest has been re-established without almost no human intervention, along with the accompanying animal life. Absolutely mind blowing.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Hidden Valley

I Arrived in Rotorua at 5pm after a 4 hour coach ride, and I have to say, I'm finding some of my stereotypes of New Zealand being challenged to the very core. For example, I have seen far more cattle than sheep on my journey through the New Zealand country side, but maybe that's just a North Island thing. I'm also finding that the country side is so luscious and green that it actually hurts my Aussie eyes that have been trained more for browns and reds. Getting off the coach, the first thing to hit me about Rotorua was… the smell. As I stepped off the coach I felt like I had gone down the trap door into the land of eternal stench (those familiar with the movie "The Labyrinth" will know what I'm referring to). Hydrogen Sulfide (rotten egg gas to anyone who's done high school chemistry) being the main distinguishable offender. According to the locals, it's not usually quite as bad as this, but whenever there is significant cloud cover, it traps in what can only be described as an odour straight from the pit of hell.

I decided to walk the 8 or so blocks to my hotel, which (thanks to a sense of direction inherited from my mother… thanks mum), ended up being closer to 15. Of course, it decided to pour down rain during this time, and I arrived at the very prestigious Rydges hotel looking like a drowned rat. The next day I picked up a hire car and headed off in search of "The Hidden Valley", or Orekei Korako as they say in Mouldy… I mean Maori.

Geo-Thermal Activity at "The Hidden Valley"
Just a tip for my Kiwi bro's here… seriously, if you want something to remain hidden, stop posting signs to it all over the freacking place. Worst game of hide and seek ever. I didn't even need to resort to the GPS. Anyhow, as I was warned by a friend of mine, the price of admittance to "The Hidden Valley" made one feel like the sheep weren't the only ones being fleeced around here. However, the thermal walk did offer some amazing sites, even though the rain kept interrupting my perambulation around the park. The park was rife with geo-thermal activity. There were Silica Terraces, fault scarps, Mud Pools, one of only 2 geo-thermal caves in the world, geysers galore, and of course pools of boiling hot water everywhere. It was a very interesting walk, and although I think they could make the price a bit cheaper, I'm glad I did it.

lake Rotaroua

I ended the day by taking long moonlit dip at the mineral pools at the Polynesian Spa overlooking Lake Rorotua, then I tried a delicious New Zealand Rump Steak accompanied by an Otago Pinot Noir at The "Kurious Kiwi". The dip in the spa was amazing, and the meal was delightful.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Kiwi Accent

I arrived late Saturday night in Auckland. It was almost midnight by the time I got to the hotel and had a shower, but of course because of the time difference, to me it only felt as though it was about 10pm. So I decided to hit the town, and see what was happening in Auckland on a Saturday night. The main street was alive with activity, and I felt very much at home in this city. I also believed that I had total command of the subtle phonetic differences that the kiwi's attach to the Kings English, and although I am far beyond sniggering every time I hear a kiwi count to "sex", I was about to be proven wrong.

Employing what I call the "Swantston street Principle" which basically translates that if you're traveling and want to experience any half decent food/drink/culture, get off the main drag (Those familiar with Melbourne's Swantston Street will know what I mean), I spied a tiny little bar down a dark alley way called "My Bar", and decided to see what the locals were drinking.

The bar was almost empty. There was me two guys and two young girls. I sat at the bar and waited as the bar tender fixed the cocktails he was making for the four other patrons. One of the two girls turned to me and asked me out of the blue "what brings you here tonight?" This started a conversation between us, and they seemed very friendly, and I'm sure their (more than) slightly inebriated state had nothing whatsoever to do with this.

A former kiwi friend once told me that "New Zealanders were just Tasmanians… with a speech impediment". So what happened next didn't come as a huge shock. One of the girls informed me proudly that her friend (who was sitting next to me at the time) was a "Mouldy Activist". I resisted the temptation to take two steps backwards and say the first thing that crossed my mind which was "OK… well, I'm can't say I'm exactly pro-mould myself, but it's good that you're passionate about something". Instead I sought clarification.

"Sorry a what…"?

Eventually it became clear that my phonetic boundaries between the words "Mouldy" and "Maori" was to blame for the misunderstanding. I must admit though I had to supress a laugh every time they talked about "Mouldy culture", but the "mouldy activist" was kind enough to serenade me with some delightful "mouldy" traditional folk songs. She had a beautiful voice, and the depth of connection to her mouldy ancestry was evident in her passion to sing her tribal songs.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Main Reason For Rise of Atheism

I found this little gem as I was going through my Google+ feed today. The Christians For a Moral America (CFAMA) website has a really “quaint” little pole on their website asking what their loyal readers think is the main reason for the rise of Atheism in America. and the options are as follows.



* Propaganda by Hollywood.

* Flaws in the education system.

* Broken families, divorce.

* Rise in homosexuality

Wow…  where do I begin… OK well lets tackle them in order.

1. Propaganda by Hollywood. Hrmmm… that is curious. I personally have not seen any significant shift in the amount of Atheist oriented films recently. Having said that, it’s not surprising that a Christian organisation picks on another for using propaganda. After all, the Christian faith is one of the biggest propaganda machines we have ever seen. Repeating the same messed up dogma until people are so saturated with it, they can’t think for themselves is exactly how fundamentalist faiths pass on their viral memes.

2. Flaws in the education system. Well, I really probably shouldn’t say too much about the American education system as I am an Australian. I’m guessing that the CFAMA’s chief criticism would probably be based around most schools refusing to teach non-science such as “intelligent design theory” along side of science like Evolution. At the end of the day, the true marker of a good education system is that the students learn to think critically, and more importantly think for themselves. Christians like to say that you should always be searching for the “truth”, but it is curious how they react when their children actually seriously seek out truth and start asking first order questions like “What are the true origins of the scriptures”, “How exactly did we arrive at the dogmas we now hold as undeniable truth” and “why do all other fundamentalist religions/ideologies look and smell so similar to ours, just with different names and places”, or God forbid “Does God really exist", or “did we merely create God in our image”? It seems to me that the Christian search for “truth” has to be conducted within the narrow bandwidth of what the church hierarchy deem “safe”. I remember back at high school (when I was a fundamentalist Christian), friends of mine who were also fundamentalists were pulled out of science class when the teacher was scheduled to teach evolution. They obviously did not trust their child (16 years old) would be able to develop the cognitive skills to appropriately discern “truth”, and that the only way to ensure they found truth was to cripple their education. Fortunately my parents were not so blind as to do this, and I spent the year giving my poor science teacher hell and challenging everything about the theory of evolution. It wasn’t ‘til much later that I was able to unravel all of the pre-conditioning that my fundamentalist upbringing gifted me with, and be able to look at the facts with a critical mind. This I feel shows that the Australian education system worked.

3. Broken families and divorce. Ok this is a curious one. Not only because of the fact that the divorce statistics within the Christian church are pretty much the same as outside it, but also because there is NO logical correlation between “Broken families and divorce” and Atheism. Incidentally, it is also a known fact that arranged marriages in cultures like India are far more likely statistically to succeed than marriages in the US. Maybe the Hindus have the “truth”.

and finally saving the best for last.

4. Rise in Homosexuality. This again simply shows a distinct lack of correlation. Homosexuality is simply about being attracted to the same sex. It has no logical connection to choosing to believe in a god or not, and there are plenty of homosexuals who do. Perhaps the rampant victimisation and outright hatred shown towards homosexuals from within the church has given many little choice but to seek other avenues to find a spiritual path, but really the two are mutually exclusive. The CFAMA’s suggestion that this could be linked to the dreaded and feared “rise of Atheism” is just mindless fear mongering designed to keep their adherents from potentially having an open mind.

Of course the CFAMA forgot probably the most important reason that there may be a rise in Atheism, so I’m going to put it here, and hopefully it will get more votes than any of the others (btw vote by leaving a comment or by +1 on Google+), and that is…

* With unprecedented access to information and the free exchange of ideas that the internet provides us with, coupled with many countries focus on providing better education systems, more and more people are being able to employ critical thinking to challenge ancient dogmas that fundamentalist faith based organisations have for centuries dictated to their adherents, and are seeing how flawed some of the thinking really is.