Story of some Brits living in New Zealand for the Southern Hemisphere Winter in 2004
(Recent Entries Here)

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

APCHI2004 Conference & the Susan Dray Tutorial

The first Human-Computer Interaction Conference I've attended for 10 years! The last was HCI'94 in Glasgow.

First day was a full day tutorial from one of the conference keynote speakers, Susan Dray, entitled, "Understanding Users' work in context: Practical Observation Skills". Lots of practical stuff on ethnography and how to do it. Lots to write up for work here!

Other folks at the conference itself were very interesting indeed with research areas involving eye tracking, augmented reality, collaborative working, multi-layer displays, game research. All good stuff.

Had a curry with some folks from Auckland - Blake, Tracey, Miriam, etc. And then went back to the conference for a practitioner discussion on the newly formed NZ UPA Chapter. Very interesting, followed with some drinks and pool!

Slipped away early in the evening to do some work and prepare my presentation material!

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Too windy to ski but weather fine in ChCh

No wind to speak of in ChCh so as planned we spent Sunday on our mountain bikes. Headed into Sumner, climbed onto the Summit Rd up Evan's Pass (avoiding the treacherous Captain Thomas "mountain bike track"). Once on the Summit Rd, we were greeted with the usual fantastic views of Sumner, Redcliffs, the sea and eventually, all of ChCh. We were also greeted with a bit more climbing on the Road - I guess we probably climbed around 500m in all, up the Port Hills, down a bit, up a bit more. Very nice though!

Odd sky!

We eventually descended on Rapaki Track, which is a really nice way up or down the Port Hills. AM is a bit new to mountain biking and Rapaki is quite a nice introduction to riding down quite a tricky surface.

We were tempted to cut off early down the deceptively easy sounding "bridle way" but Kiwi mates and guidebooks advise that it is steep, and rutted ("you could disappear up to your shoulders in those ruts"). Given the Kiwi propensity for understatement we left that alone this time!

Overall around a 22km rideout, 500m climb, with a great descent!

Cabbage Tree

On the way back from Mt Hutt we came upon a particularly nice example of a cabbage tree - a native NZ plant! The Maori used to eat the fleshy inner root of the cabbage tree and the young leafy bud (as with ferns).

Saturday, June 26, 2004

Skiing! (at Mount Hutt)

Drove up to Mount Hutt this weekend to try our hand at some skiing. AM had never skied before and I'd only done about 5 days around 6 years ago.

The drive up to Mt Hutt from Chch is a little under 2 hours and is oddly flat most of the way. This is adequately compensated for by the last 14km up a typically surfaced Kiwi backroad. The road surface was mainly compacted scree and the drive up to the top of the mountain stayed on compacted scree all the way up. Sheer drops either side and impatient Kiwi skiers overtaking on what is only a 2 way road in name. Quite a horrendous drive. Mt Hutt has not had it's first big dump of snow yet this year but when it does we'll need to learn how to put our snow chains on before slip slidding our way up this scree road with vertical drop-offs down thousands of feet, sometimes on either side at once. Not the best start to the day.

Preparations for skiing soon dulled the driving experience as we were fitted with all the gear and much shorter skis than I expected - new technology with different shape skis I'm told. Seemed to work ok!

Mt Hutt is the most consistent area for skiing in NZ, and apart from the road, is very well set up, very well organised, reasonably priced, good cafe, friendly - generally excellent. A one day starter pak cost NZ$80 (£27) including skis, boots, lift pass and 2 classes.

We both had excellent instruction in the classes. AM learned loads and seems to have taken to skiing very quickly. My refresher classes helped a bit to get me going again. Ultimately though, getting a bit fed up with the intensive queueing on the lowest learner slopes persuaded me to go up to the next slope. Things got a bit steeper up there which I think helped me remember how to turn a bit more clearly. When faced with a steep slope I couldnt afford to keep "having a bit of trouble with my left turns" and had to make the turn or fall off.

Overall we had a great day and a great introduction/re-introduction to skiing. We stayed the night in Methven at a great place called Alpenhorn Chalet (kind of a privately run hostel/b&b) and nursed our aching limbs in The Lodge in town whilst watching Oz beat the Pomms in the Rugby test.

At the moment Mt Hutt is quite quiet because they are still awaiting their first big dump, and I guess things are a little icy on the slopes. Good snow reports and snow cams are available on their website though.

We hauled ourselves out of bed early for our planned next day of skiing only to see a weather report at the hostel telling us the road up to Mt Hutt and the ski runs were closed due to high North Westerlies (they once lost a camper van over the side of the "road" in high winds). So, we just headed back to ChCh for some mountain biking.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Cycling around New Zealand

New Zealand seems like an excellent place to cycle around, Just found an amazing website about a couple who did a World Tour on bicycles and covered New Zealand extensively.

Very tempting.

Mid-winter christmas

There's something funny about Christmas here. Kiwi's don't seem to get a proper feel for a normal christmas in December because it's the middle of summer. So, whilst they still celebrate in December they don't normally have a full Christmas dinner. Instead, around this time in June they have what's called 'mid-winter Christmas'. Mainly I think this is used as an excuse for a work meal out but as you might guess, the whole thing is spreading and now some people seem to buy presents - there was even a Santa at our local supermarket yesterday but when we turned up for a photo he'd fled. Or perhaps, when we turned up for a photo he fled!

Oh well, I'm now on a quest for a christmas dinner and santa claus sighting!

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Hailstones and solid fuel delivery

All the severe weather warnings and locals telling us it was warmer last week, which means the temperature will soon plummet, persuaded us to get our next wood delivery sorted out and the chimney swept (wood stove is our only form of heat - luckily the ceiling fan makes this quite effective despite the hopeless insulation).

Anyhow, as the wood is delivered (the day after the shortest day!), we end up with a hailstorm!

The day of the wood delivery - a mixture of bluegum (1m^3), oregon(2m^3), pine offcuts(1m^3), hail(1ltr) and rain(10ltrs)!

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Bottle Lake (Burwood Forest) Mountain Biking

Did a gentle 17km around the mountain biking tracks in the Bottle Lake Forest Park. Our guidebook graded this 2, on its 6 level scale.

A very nice purpose built mountain biking track in a working forest (which had just got FSC accreditation). Quite easy cycling through the woods but pretty nice. Done at speed the circuit would be challenging enough. It's recently become a very popular spot for night riding - I can see why, nice tracks and no big drop-offs to worry about. Perhaps need to think about getting some lights!

Taking a quick break and enjoying the view!

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Rapaki Track - Mountain Biking

Bianca and Miles took me up Rapaki Track, as a nice way up to the Port Hills summit. From there, we rode from Rapaki Rock Car Park to Mount Vernon Car Park on some nice singletrack. This was technical enough with lots of pedal scraping on rocks and quite a muddy path. In general not too bad for drop-offs but I couldnt help feeling that you would easily fall 20 feet if you fell off the wrong side. Bianca reckons I just need to do the route another 10 times then I'll be alright (I wonder).

Finally, headed down the fast stoney Huntsbury Track, which now has around 4 gates across it at intervals. Glad I did this track with locals as I'm not sure I would've stopped on sight of the first gate even with disk brakes!

Excellent trip out, with about 330m of fairly gradual ascent!

Reckon I need to head further west along the summit road next - perhaps to The Sign of The Kiwi (Teashop).

Rugby - Working Men's Club

Watched the latest leg of the test in the Lyttleton Working Men's Club. Quite different from similar clubs in the UK - it had windows!

Anyhow, great choice of venue because it was fairly quiet and had a couple of pool tables. Our Kiwi friends politely pointed out to us during the game about the English's reputation for playing dirty, which, as the game unfolded became fairly apparent with quite a bit of stamping early on.

Still, overall a much better game than the last one (to an untrained eye). Shame about so much dirty play.

Maori New Year - Matariki

We went along to the Maori New Year celebrations in the middle of Christchurch this weekend but were a little surprised by the lack of people there.

Ann-Marie struggles through the crowd!

The NZ Herald reports,
Just a few years ago Matariki was an event that most New Zealanders and even Maori had never heard of. NZ Herald Article - 17th June 2004

Well in Christchurch it seems this is still quite an unheard of celebration! Very little going on. Some poor guy on stage had to just wing it, making up the words as he went, because the Maori cultural band were off playing sport somewhere. "That is good", he graciously said, "as Maori like playing sport".

Still not sure of the state of Maori/European integration here. When we arrived in New Zealand we expected to see a model integration, full of mutual respect and understanding. The reality is respectful of culture but not without certain undercurrents, which would be nice to understand a bit better.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Shag Flight

I can't remember where we heard it said that the Shag (Cormorant) is a quite easily identifiable in flight because it has all the grace of a flying brick. It may have been at the Albatross Centre on the Otago Peninsula where we first heard the Shag's flying abilities denounced.

I watched one take off from a rock at the water's edge tonight and couldn't help but smile at its launch into the air, first belly floppying twice into the sea. Perhaps the Shag's flying ability and resemblance to a penguin spell a flightless future in evolutionary terms!

The Redcliffs Estuary is home to loads of other birds too, some of which you can see on the website. We also saw a white faced heron tonight.

Ann-Marie also told me about the Godwit. This is a migratory bird which the Kiwi's (people!) make a big fuss about. Their migratory journey is so rough and involves 7 days without food, that the Kiwi's are careful to leave them alone at their feeding grounds so they can fatten up for the trip. Kiwi's apparently have Godwit welcome parties and Godwit leaving parties!

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Disoriented in New Zealand - perhaps another reason - magnetism

We just found out that our compass from the UK doesn't work here. It seems that due to magnetic variations, the earth is divided up into 5 magnetic zones and most compasses are only designed to work in particular zones.

Perhaps these magnetic variations also cause people to feel a bit disoriented. After all, lots of animals are thought to migrate using the earth's magnetic field for guidance.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

More understatement! - in mountain bike guide to Port Hills

How naive of me to expect that the following passage described a nice bit of singletrack for a first ride on my new bike.

"The Captain Thomas Multi-use trail on an easy gradient from Sumner to Evans pass."
(The Port Hills by Mark Pickering, ISBN 958328919 and available from East Books)

Somehow this did not conjure up an exposed (20-50ft drop off the side of the trail) and technically difficult descent into Sumner. Not quite what I had in mind as a nice gentle ride out on my new bike; nor indeed, a first experience of mountain biking for Ann-Marie. Am glad I took Max's advice and scouted ahead!

One great feature of the ride though was discovering how great it is to have wind down forks! On a steep ascent on a mountain bike it's often hard to stop the front wheel from coming up all the time and trying to pop a wheelie! With the hydraulic wind down forks on the Marin Nail Trail you can effectively reduce the travel on the forks from 100mm to 70mm. This lowers the front of the bike and makes going up steep hills very easy. Nice design feature!

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Falling Rocks

An interesting thing to learn about the kiwi culture is their capacity for understatement.

In the UK, if you go for a tourist walk the timings given in the guidebook always seem to allow for enough time to walk backwards the whole way and spend an hour for lunch. Guidebook time on Kiwi walks seem to assume you will sprint most of the way, eating as you go.

Learning this cultural attitude for understatement seems quite important. I told a Kiwi friend about the difference between a 'Falling Rocks' roadsign in the UK and in NZ. In the UK, the sign is akin to a superstition. One day in a hundred years a pebble might come tumbling down. In NZ it seems more typical for a stack of rocks in the road to lend credibility to their 'Falling Rocks' signs. My Kiwi friend asked me why you'd put a 'Falling Rocks' sign somewhere that rarely had falling rocks. Hmmm, understatement meets nanny state perhaps.

On the rocks front though, I guess things are quite different here in general as this place is geologically much more dynamic than the UK. The mountains gain height during earthquakes and even Mount Cook lost 20m off the top a few years ago.

Eruption of Mount Ruapehu, 1995 (an area now known as Mordor)

In Wellington's Te Papa museum is an excellent exhibiton where you can find out a bit about NZ geology and loads of other stuff. Great day out there!

Sunday, June 13, 2004


Not really a sports fan but went to town to watch the NZ vs England match at The Holy Grail (a sports bar in a converted cinema). Fortunately it was too crowded to get too far into the bar from the door which was just as well because the Kiwi's turned out to be quite aggressive about their rugby (and certain people's English accent's stand out more than certain other people's).

In the event, the All Blacks slaughtered the English (at least this is what it looked like for an uneducated sports person).

New Bikes - Marin Nail Trail's from Penny Sports Cycles in Christchurch

Having spent a week looking around for second hand bikes, my friend Bianca suggested trying Penny Sports Cycles who have some amazing deals. Well, I called them and Hamish told me they had a brilliant deal on a Kona Cinder Cone ($1000 reduced from $1700) - this is like my bike in the UK so I was very keen on that idea. When we arrived at the shop, Hamish had an even better deal for us - Marin Nail Trails with Hydraulic Disk Brakes, Forks and a lightweight Aluminium Frame. On offer for $1000, reduced from $2000. This worked out less than £350 and they retail in the UK for £775. Not only a bargain but a fantastic bike! Hamish is really helpful too - cant recommend Penny Sports Cycles highly enough.

Unbelievable that I was checking out the various mountainbike websites here (, and trading website (, for bikes up to around $1500. These new ones are cheaper and higher spec than a lot of the second hand stuff I looked at ("second hand" is sometimes rebadged "pre-loved" here, though thankfully not in biking circles).

Next up - exploring the Port Hills and trails around Canterbury.

Very warm day for a winter's day!

It is lovely and warm here when the sun shines, even though this is the middle of Winter. In the UK I am always aware of the time of year when you first feel heat from the sun on your skin again - it seems you feel no heat from the sun whatever for months. Here, if it's a clear day you usually feel the heat - people are often out and about in shorts, even in the snow in Mount Cook.

So, we went for a great walk yesterday, from Taylor's Mistake to Godley Head. Great walking and some excellent mountain biking tracks out that way!

Friday, June 11, 2004

Kiwi's don't go in for insulation, double glazing or central heating! (and have power shortages)

It seems a bit surprising that so many kiwi homes have such poor insulation and double glazing is like the latest new thing, and many people still dont seem to bother with it. Yet at the same time, the demand for power is going up all the time New Zealand risks power shortage by 2008 with regular warnings of blackouts when demand exceeds supply.

Odd, I thought NZ had very green credentials, they dont seem to apply them much to energy efficient heating!

Perhaps people would do well to look at some of the CAT information - CAT Publications

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

QE2 Master's Swimming Club

Went to the QE2 pool tonight in New Brighton to try out their QE2 Masters Club. What a fantastic pool, it's 50m, and there are several other pools around the facility. Diving pools and spare pools for kayaking polo, wave pools and all sorts of things. To top it all it seems that the pool doesnt have chlorine in it, so I'm guessing it must be ozone treated - mind you, had a sneezing fit later so perhaps it's not totally chlorine free.

The only downside of the pool is that bike shops have warned us that lots of bikes are stolen from there.

The master's club is great. Not too serious and very friendly folks of all ages. Not entirely unlike my favourite swimming club at home - Impington Swimming Club in Cambridge. Though I'm missing my friends from there and our after swim drinks in the various Histon pubs :-(.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Mount Cook - excellent

Had an excellent weekend at mount cook - it even snowed at the village the day before we arrived and overnight, as you can see in the photos !

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Disoriented in New Zealand - just realised why

New to the southern hemisphere I've been a bit perplexed as to why my sense of direction seems so off - I just cant seem to feel where North is.

My first thought was that the sun must be rising in a different place (my girlfriend was quick to point out how stupid that idea was).

Then I figured we must have some inbuilt magnetic mechanism sense of direction which is upset by changing hemispheres.

I was happy with that explanation until another Brit explained the problem to me - it's that the sun rises in the Northen sky here (because we are south of the equator) as opposed to the Sorthern sky from the UK. So, for someone who rarely wears a watch and probably uses the sun as one of my clues to time of day and direction, this misplacement of the sun is quite difficult to accomodate!