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

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Transfer money to New Zealand - easily and cheaply

Just wanted to write this somewhere since it's such a good thing. If you ask a UK bank to send money to a NZ bank account you will be looking at around £70 charge for that. All avenues seemed expensive until I discovered who can transfer your money for you for just £7.

How it works:
1. sign up for an account with
2. set up a transfer with tranzfers, detail what bank you want the money to go in to, the amount, and where you want the money to come from
3. tranzfers send you a confirmation email telling you they are ready to go with the transfer but you must send them the money first
4. using a UK internet bank 'bill payment' (I use Smile), which is free, you transfer the funds to the tranzfers UK bank account.
5. money appears in NZ account a few days later

When i first tried this I was a little worried about the whole thing but it works really well - I've done it 3 times now. Tranzfers always keep you in the loop about what is going on with emails.

An extra neat feature you elect to use, if you transfer more than £5000, is to hold the money on suspense, and pick the day you want the transfer to go through - this allows you to wait until the exchange rate is optimal before shifting the cash.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Big run, little bike

Mary and her local friend Jo, are in training for the Coast to Coast Multisport Race in February (Mary is doing the bike and kayak, and Jo is doing the running). This weekend they wanted a run so we suggested Captain Thomas, out to Godley Head, down into Taylor's Mistake and then up and over again into Sumner.

It took them about 1:45 and they looked pretty fresh at the end of it. We intended to stay ahead of them on the bikes but what with steep climbs and thick mud and our lack of fitness they pretty much stayed ahead of us most of the way!

I reckon that is a pretty awesome run so I'm keen to have a crack at it one day soon.

Visiting Dentist

Mary's a friend of AM's who's been visiting for a few days as she attends the dental conference in Christchurch.

We went to meet Mary from the conference today. Quite spooky to walk around the conference exhibition stands as they were packing up all kinds of dodgey looking dental apparatus. Surprising to see how much cake and chocolate was around the place though!

After the conference we had a nice cuppa in Strawberry Fair before heading to town to play 3-person rules Pool* and silly games like air hockey, basketball and Southpark Pinball at the local amusements. Finally came home and got loads of food from Indian Sumner (fantastic) and drank lots of the wine Mary showed up with.

*3-person Pool rules are great. Cheryl Sherwood from our Canadian office showed me how to play this. Each player has 5 balls and the object of the game is for them to keep their balls on the table and pot everyone else's balls. After the first person pots their first ball, they nominate which set of 5 balls they want. So, if someone pots ball number 13, they would choose either balls 1-5 or 6-10 as theirs. When the second person pots something, they choose their set of 5. Other pool rules pretty much as normal.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Ironside House Cafe - Tai

Had some nice Tai food at the Ironside House Cafe on the corner of Montreal and Salisbury with Mary's friends Jane and Dean. Nice grub!

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Auckland: Smallworld NZ User Group

Great to be invited to Auckland to talk at the Smallworld NZ User Group meeting about Goal-Directed Design. Exceptionally good to find so many of our customers interested in design and usability and the process we adopt to achieve it.

Great to catch up with Suzanne and Greg too.

Auckland was nice and warm too - a nice change!

Monday, August 23, 2004

Japanese festival: Sushi Demo

We thought we were going to be able to try our hand at making Sushi in a posh Japanese restaurant but alas it was just a demo, but we got a piece to eat in the end.

Am thinking I quite like Sushi! Healthy too!

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Too many lemons

What are we going to do with all these lemons? Our lemon tree is going bananas despite the snow!

Ann-Marie idea #2 - pancakes

Japanese festival: ikebana

Went to see an ikebana display. Quite interesting but at the end of the day, flower arranging is not really my bag!

This is the kind of thing we saw!

Saturday, August 21, 2004


Did a proper Yoga session this morning to start the weekend. 1.5 hours of pain. Amazing workout, we are learning not to underestimate yoga sessions! Mind you, found chanting the mantra a bit much so stuck with the 'Uuummmmmmmm'!

Film: Plots with a View

Finally got to see a good film! We went out to see I Robot but it was on at stupid times so we saw Plots with a View instead. Very funny and original plot! We had a nice feed of sushi just before the film too, very nice.

We saw 'Mrs Caldicot's cabbage war' on DVD recently too, and it was quite good. And 'The Whale Rider', a Maori story was very good. Actually, American Splendor, about a real life comic book hero called Harvey Pekar was very good too.

However, we've mostly seen lots of unoriginal or just rubbish films or DVDs recently including:
- Rats (rubbish)
- 28 Days Later (unoriginal - like the 1971 Charlton Heston film 'the omega man')
- The Navigators (dull film about workers affected by British Rail privatisation)

Friday, August 20, 2004

Intellectual pursuits

Not having a TV leads us to not only miss the Olypics but also develop more intellectual pursuits, like playing board games.

Mancala is also a big favourite!

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Princess Margaret Norovirus

The Press - Norovirus closes Christchurch hospital wards - Ann-Marie's job has changed a bit recently with a norovirus hitting the hospital where she works. Pretty nasty stuff requiring staff and visitors to wear gloves, gowns and masks for a lot of the day, and undertake pretty intensive cleaning duties, and handle infection security issues to isolate infected wards.

As the newspaper article explains, one ward was intensively cleaned only to be reinfected shortly afterwards.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Japanese Festival in Christchurch: Taiko Drum and Choir Performance

Fantastic performance from both choir and drummers - many members of the group in both the choir and drum section.

Excellent show. Great piano, especially the way the grand piano was adapted to sound like a Japanese instrument by placing a magazine on the strings! Quite amusing that during a later piece the pianist forgot it was there!

Sunday, August 15, 2004

More Antics at Mt Hutt

After staying the night in Methven, albeit without toothbrushes or spares of any description, we decided we may as well head back up Mount Hutt today for some more skiing. The snow report suggested that hats and googles would be essential today - we later realised this was probably a disguised warning to stay away.

As we hit the road it quickly became apparent that we would need chains on our car right from the start of the 14km ride up the main part of the track. Duely fitted we cruised over snow and ice, dodging recent rock falls, right to the top. Pretty soon we couldn't help noticing the whiteout conditions caused by a combination of low cloud and wind distribution of recent snow. Not knowing much about skiing we didnt know what the ski fields would be like to ski on, so we carried on.

On arrival we paid up and had a go at skiing. Quite tricky! The heavy overnight snow had changed the slopes considerably and combined with the whiteout conditions made things quite tricky. Well, that's to say the least of it - a couple of times I shot over shelves which had not been there yesterday to discover what ski jumping is all about, at least in concept.

Towards the afternoon we both played around on the novice slopes a lot though I later found that because these are right next to a steep bank of snow, the whiteout conditions were worse there and you really couldnt see much.

By about 3pm the tow lifts shut, an hour early! The lifties explained that the road was once again shut and they needed to get people down. With the recent memory of being stuck up the mountain we got our act together to line up for our descent. In the event things were not too bad. The road crew ensured chains were on all vehicles, that everyone stayed spaced out a lot, and we started out 16km back to the main road (in first gear - the poor car!).

Things seemed in control until we passed the first 4x4 in the ditch at the side of the road (you really dont want to fall off the other side of the road!!). Soon after we were further delayed, which at first was helpful as it gave use chance to try and do something with our frozen wipers (unhelpful in snowing & whiteout conditions when descending on ice and snow with a sheer drop to one side).

It turned out that another 4x4 had turned sideways around the corner and the next car had run into it. At this point we started to doubt our little 2 wheeled drive toyota. Nearer the bottom of the mountain the ice got worse - a fact which became clear as we saw our 4th crashed car.

Eventually making it back to the tarmac road we had to continue for a while with the chains on so deep was the snow.

Getting the chains off was not the ordeal it has been, since we're getting quite practiced now but it still involves laying in the road under the car, so it's quite messy.

Driving back we were keen to get a cup of tea or something as the driving, with deep snow all around and the roads only gritted, not salted, was quite tough. We had previously written off Darfield as a tea stop opportunity but this time we came up trumps. As we headed out of town, disappointment already setting in, we came upon a 'pub and cafe' sign, for a place which I think is the Terrace Pub & Cafe. We were very surprised to get a really very good homemade pizza there and to sit on the sofas by the fire to eat it. Really nice spot which we will revisit I'm sure.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Stranded at Mount Hutt with 500 others

Awoke early to check the snow report. Slopes were reportedly windy but open so we headed up there. We didnt pass all that much ski traffic on the way up there so we expected it to be quiet - in the event it was busy enough but not overly so. Nice that we didnt need chains for the 14km drive up the side of the mountain.

Early on the wind wasnt too much of a problem but by lunchtime the chairlift was staying shut and by early afternoon the T-bar finally gave up. The skiing wasnt too bad but the wind was blowing the snow around a lot making it a bit hard to see. In fact the North Easterly wind has blown a lot of snow right off the mountain with many more exposed rocks than last weekend.

I had another lesson with Squatty, a senior instructor from Colorado. I think I've reached the stage with my skiing where further improvement is elusive. Trying to switch from turning too sharply and braking on every turn to making smoother carving turns is very hard. I'm falling over much more now than I ever have!

We headed off the slopes around 3.30 to get home early for Miranda's 30th birthday party. We were taken aback to find out the road down the mountain was closed due to the high winds. Everyone was hurried to their cars to try and get them off the mountain.

Sitting in the carpark was pretty unpleasant with the wind rocking the car strongly. Although the carpark is big, it ends in a sheer drop (which they bungee jump off, of course). So being the nearest car to the edge, although 30ft away, wasnt a whole lot of fun. After a while the road crews decided all cars needed chains on and set about helping everyone sort themselves out. The girl who helped us was as surprised as we were when the car blew 8 inches sideways as she was trying to fit the chains. We finally got it done but by then the wind was even stronger and the road crews started organising the cars to be, once again, parked up in an organised fashion. So, after an hour we headed back to the cafe with everyone else.

The staff, about 40 in all, were trapped at Hutt with around 500 people. No whinging though - they soon got teas and coffee on the go and got some chips cooking. About an hour in and the main man gave us a briefing which explained we probably wouldn't get off the mountain until 2am (by now it was around 6pm). Apparently, getting trapped at Mt Hutt is something that happens every couple of years and we were just lucky!

It was nice to see people staying in very good spirits throughout the confinement. AM and I played Mancala (Ethiopian rules) on an improvised set. Quite good fun.

Around 8pm we get another briefing which told us the wind had dropped but the road now had more snow on it. They told us they were going to try and get the first line of cars down in convoy. By this time people were excited about leaving but had to hold off their celebrations a bit as we were told, with these convoys it would probably take 3 or 4 more hours to get us all down.

In the event the first convoy went very smoothly, so the next convoy was essentially just everyone else. Road crews were position to take chains off vehicles 4km down the road, and were parked up on the most dangerous corners. Road crews did a tremendous job remaining cheery after having been out in the blizzard, laying on the road under cars and buses to fit and remove chains for hours.

We were a little daunted in our 2 wheeled drive Toyota compared with most others in their big 4x4s but it seemed safer driving down the mountain than it usually did, because everyone was driving slowly (1st gear for 14km). Normally most of the danger on the road comes from impatient lunatics attempting to overtake so they can get on or off the ski field 5 minutes faster than everyone else.

Finally back to the road we made our way to Methven for the night. Phoning hostels at 10.30pm we were surprised to get such a friendly welcome from Francis at the Mount Hutt Bunkhouse, who found us a couple of beds. Francis offered to cook us dinner, since we'd been stuck up the mountain, and was generally very nice indeed. She made us cups of tea and got us some breakfast the next day - very good service considering we paid $20 each for the beds and you normally self cater in such situations. The only downside were the largey noisey young kiwis who were staying in the same building as us, boozing and making a huge rack late into the night and early morning. Luckily we shared with three young Americans from Maine who were very nice indeed. The bunkhouse is also a favourite with Asians who return year after year and whose generally good and considerate behaviour has made them popular with the hosts.

We even made the papers - see this Star Times article for example.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Christchurch Usability Professionals Association Chapter

Met with the new CHCH UPA Chapter tonight. Interesting bunch of people. It seems usability is in its early stages of being recognised around here, and perhaps in NZ as a whole.

Someone pointed out that one aspect of Kiwi attitudes is set against usability work. Kiwis have a very much do-it-yourself, and fix-it-yourself attitude. So, why would they pay someone to design a user interface when they can just do it themselves cheaper? I think there is perhaps something in this observation. It seems that similar attitudes dominate certain aspects of advertising - why pay someone to produce a radio advert when you can do it yourself. I may be reading this wrong though, many radio ads are so bad it's quite funny - perhaps it's the humour that is the intention!

Interesting night, meeting up in Mainstreet Cafe and eating there later. Food is all veggie though it is not quite perfect - can't quite put my finger on it.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Skiing at Mt Hutt

Awoke early today to get the snow report for Mt Hutt (known localled as Mt Shut due to poor conditions shutting the resort one day in five). Had been snowing for 2 days up there and they'd had a 42cm dump saturday. Cool!

Got in the car and got up there for just after 9am, after some faffing with snow chains and getting very muddy just trying to get started putting them off before finally realising the fitting service was a good idea for $5. The "nice route" recommended by a mate from swimming club was indeed a nice drive, through Hororata (which means 'drooping rata' in Maori - I think rata is a plant!). Well, it would have been an easy, fearless drive, in a V6 4x4 but confronted with a Kiwi style "ford" we nearly turned back. It was quite a torent gushing over the road of uncertain depth. Fortunately we were able to watch an old jaguar make its way across before judging whether our little toyota would make it.

Skiing was pretty good and lessons of usual high standard, though our progress seems to be more gradual now. I always seem to goof up the first run, where the instructors assess your skill and put you in an appropriate group. This time I overshot the destination and after what was anyway a considerably wobbly and unstable decent, I had to take the skis off and hike in knee deep snow to the right point. Needless to say I was graded low again but by the end of the day did this slope with relative ease.

After a quick lunch we got out on the slopes again but this time the snow was blowing about, a Southerly coming in, and visibility poor. Add to that the moguls started getting bad. So, often you would hit a bump you didnt see and get thrown off balance. I managed a couple of falls, only one felt spectacular but I was ok. AM had no falls to report this time.

Given the conditions we decided to stay on the lower beginner slopes but after what seemed like hours of jostling and queuing I gave up with that and went up the quad lift to the top again. I was rewarded with clearing weather and few people. A fantastic end to the day skiing on my own straight back to the bottom and getting on the lift for one last ride (twice) before going home. Though my legs probably only had enough left for one last run, I couldn't let the opportunity of a people-free slope pass me by.

We're tempted to try the Porter Heights club field next - slightly closer.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

South Island Masters Long Course Championships 2004

Swam 50m freestyle and 100m freestyle at the Long Course Championships organised by the QEII Masters club I train with. Conditions were just about perfect - I was swimming in a pool I train at twice a week, my diving seems ok, my start was actually not as slow as usual and there was no turn to do on the 50m. These were ideal conditions to beat 30 seconds but I failed fairly dismally with a 31.77 for the 50m and 1:16.19 for the 100m. I must conclude I'm a bit unfit at the moment!

Oh well, the dinner was nice afterwards! Actually as the only competitor from the UK I got a special prize of a QE2 t-shirt for taking part. Needless to say the masters swimming scene out here is just as friendly as the scene in the UK! Mind you, they were amused at my use of the word 'Gala' to describe the event - they told me a gala is a fair! NZ swim meets are called "carnivals" (no hint of 'fair' there then).

The competition overall was very well run with typical kiwi style pitching in to sort out food for the judges and all that stuff. Excellent fun, which we agreed was the main thing.

Friday, August 06, 2004

NZ Film festival - Citizen King & Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion

Watched a couple of excellent films this week at the NZ Film Festival.

The first, entitled Citizen King was about the life of Dr Martin Luther King from 1963 up until his murder in 1968. An amazing story on a number of levels. Amazing that one man can do so much and make so much change. Amazing that, once again, a total devotion to the idea of non-violent protest can achieve this much, and that a majority of wronged and angry people can largely be persuaded to adopt peaceful means under strong leadership like this. Amazing that I was born the same year he was killed and yet learned nothing about any of this in school.

The second film we saw was entitled Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion about Tibet and what has happened there since China invaded and destroyed most of it. The Tibetan people are incredible and the Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso's leadership in peaceful protest is again astounding. Though, the many years of non-violent protest seem to have achieved little to date, the Tibetan Government in Exile's policy of peaceful protest seems resolute. Although much world opinion is on the side of Tibet, trade with China is such a potential money spinner that the governments of countries like the US focus more on that than on China's human rights abuses in Tibet - described in the film as genocide.

Various websites about Tibet include: Free Tibet Campaign; Tibet Online; International Campaign for Tibet

Monday, August 02, 2004

Ann-Marie wins prize at work - most caring person

This is really a post for the parents and since AM never looks at this secret diary I'm sure she wont be embarassed.

Yes, AM was voted by her colleagues at the Princes Margaret Hospital as the most caring person for the month and walked home with a big bunch of flowers. She's keeping it quiet, so it's a good job nobody looks at the internet.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Kaiapoi Masters Meet

As a warm up to the South Island Masters meet next weekend, the 4 Christchurch swimming clubs had a little meet at Kaiapoi. Not able to find my goggles (hopeless!) I had to buy some new ones at the event. My first event, 50m freestyle, showed how effective the goggles were - they made a good necklace!

Second event for me was 50m backstroke. I was only a bit put off by the 6ft 5 bloke swimming for Jelly who used to be number 3 in NZ and top backstroker in the south island! We were both swimming down an agegroup too, 20-29, because we were a bit short of people in some agegroups. Attempting an open turn I fumbled badly with the slippery wall and resolved to attempt proper backstroke turns for the 100m. I don't know how badly I did but I was clearly very last.

The 100m back was better. In my own agegroup this time, I kept on terms with the guy next to me until the 3rd turn, at which i missed the wall (a common occurence for me!) but finished a slightly more respectable last place. I was actually quite pleased to have done 2 good backstroke turns - they're quite tricky!

Finally I got to lead off the relay with 50 freestyle. Once again the goggles came off and I clouted the wall quite badly through not seeing it properly. Not a great swim! We were winning the relay in the middle of the race but the other clubs had some pretty quick swimmers on the last legs so they pulled back :-(

After returning my new goggles for a refund we had a bit of a do. Typical Masters style, down the pub with food laid on.

Fortunately I found my lucky goggles when I got home!