Musings of a morbid mind

The general ravings of Scott Baldwin

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.