Monday, March 31, 2008

Earth Hour or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Candle

On Saturday evening, Christchurch joined other cities around the globe in turning off its lights for 60 minutes in what was called 'Earth Hour'. The idea being that everyone should turn off any non-essential lights in their house for an hour to make a stand against global warming. Despite an online survey indicating that most people didn't bother, the cause seemed to have worked as power consumption fell 12.8% across the city. Of course, this being a one-off event, it's difficult to foresee any long term impact this idea will generate.

Personally, I'm all for switching off any non-essential lights and other equipment because of three reasons completely superfluous to combating global warming:

1. It cuts down on your electric cost. A 60W left on all year will cost you $45. Granted, no-one leaves their lights on ALL the time but you could guestimate that you could save this amount by making sure you use it and other electric equipment less. For example, many people re-charge equipment. Instead of leaving it on X hours and checking at a later time that it's charged, take the time to read the manual or self-time so you don't overcharge it.

2. Candles add atmosphere to the room. They come in all shapes and sizes and especially now it's coming into winter and the days are getting colder there's something to be said for the 'burning effect' - be it a log/coal/gas fire or a simple candle. The scent of a candle also evokes a warm feeling so these are two things which the average bulb doesn't do.

3. Light pollution. More than any other country I've been to, New Zealand has, probably because of the size of the cities and the space between them, fantastic opportunities for star-gazing. Even on a cloudless night in our back yard there is more on offer than what could be seen back in Belfast so turning off non-essentials can only improve on this.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Beer Tasting

On Monday, Keith and I sampled our latest beer which is a European style Munich beer. This time around we chose to use the finest ingredients we could find in order to make the best possible beer.

The ingredients cost $70 (£28) and we ended up with 21 litres (37 pints) so that works out at $1.89 (76p) a pint. Not bad at all.

I'm happy to announce that the beer tasted pretty good and was a huge improvement over our last effort teaching us that you really do get back what you put in and from now on, we're only going to use the best ingredients.

On Tuesday evening we took a walk up the road to our favourite bar, Pomeroy's, for a beer tasting session. It cost us $25 and all the beers were exclusively New Zealand and nearly all from the south island.

It took place in the restaurant section of the bar which is separated by glass doors and exudes a nice relaxed family-country dining experience and I have decided to have my birthday meal there too as the menu looks inviting - right now I'd opt for the Trio of Pork on roast kumara with Christmas mince so watch this space and see if it still tickles my fancy in 4 weeks time!

We were all handed a sheet with the list of beers we would be sampling and a description of where it's from and the taste we should expect from it. There was a wide range on offer and we would be starting with light beers and working our way to the darker beers at the end which arguably have more flavour and alcoholic content.

There were two guys leading the evening and they were very informative about each beer but also about how beers differ, especially in New Zealand because of the water from the well it is taken from and the process it goes through.

We were given a special treat at the end as one of the guys gave us a taste of his own porter style beer with elements of peat and bourbon giving it a great smell and taste. They were all on sale afterwards but unfortunately the best which was saved until last was the last of his batch.

In general, I am not a fan of New Zealand beer and by that I mean the majority of what is on offer in the majority of bars. I find them bland and watery - think Miller and you're on the right track. However, there are a few exeptions and what makes a place like Pomeroy's special is that all the beers are non-big brands and brewed for a small market of beer lovers. I'm just glad it's within walking distance of the house!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Governor's Bay

Governor's Bay is part of the Lyttelton Harbour region which stretches 15km around the small town of Lyttelton and it's appearance is formed due to a collapsed volcanic crater. The great thing is that it's only 12km from Christchurch but you feel in a completely different part of the country.

Lyttelton is connected to Christchurch through the 2km Lyttelton Tunnel which runs through the Port Hills and is New Zealand's longest and oldest.

A cliff road snakes around the hills to give fantastic views over the inlet and runs around several bays towards Diamond Harbour situated opposite Lyttelton [If anyone is interested, Lyttelton is where Peter Jackson shot the exterior to The Frightners].

It's a great place to go to escape the city life and take a picnic and enjoy the peace and tranquility!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Hanmer Spings & Lewis Pass

Having spent the last few months in Christchurch earning a wage and paying the rent, by the time Easter came around Lou and I were itching to get back on the road and tick some more places off our list. Hanmer Springs seemed a good place to spend a night with good forest walks and, of course, its thermal springs.

A few days before we headed off we kept an eye on the weather and typically the day we were due to spend in Hanmer was the one day of the Easter weekend that was due to rain all day.

Needless to say as soon as we had our bags packed in the car and set off down the road the first signs of rain made an appearance on our front windscreen. Undeterred, we made our way north and it took us almost 2 hours driving but 135km later we drove past Hanmer Springs and had to take a u-turn to go back around. However, we saw a sign for Lewis Pass and it stuck in our minds.

Knowing it would be a busy weekend, we booked ourselves into Kakapo Hostel and splashed out on a room with en-suite. It's a clean little place on the edge of town and our room came with a microwave and fridge which was an added bonus as we were able to keep our milk cold for morning coffee and heat up our apple pastries for added scrumminess.

Our first task was a walk around town to find somewhere for lunch as it was 1.30pm and we were hungry and needed something substantial to fuel us for our walk in the rain. We decided on Jollie Jack's bar more as a last resort than anything else as none of the other pubs had any

charm or more importantly a decent menu to choose from. Lou had the BLT and I had the chicken and mushroom hot pot. Her baguette turned out to be heavily covered in garlic and I'm sure my ingredients used the contents of a soup can. Both meals were washed down with beer that tasted decidely dodgy. In short, not a great dining experience. My advice is to bring a packed lunch.

With food in our bellies, we set off up the main street which is very steep and leads to the enterance of Conical Hill which is supposed to give great views over Hanmer and the signpost informed us it would take 30 minutes to reach the top. I wasn't sure if we'd see much from the top due to the clouds but we set off along the path which gave excellent shelter from the rain which thankfully wasn't much more than a light drizzle. I'm a fast walker when it comes to flat ground and thankfully Christchurch is firmly on low ground due it being on the Canterbury plains but this was hard going until about half way up when our bodies adjusted and it wasn't so much of a chore anymore.

Along the way, there isn't much to see except for huge red mushrooms that stand alone and in groves and trees ripe with berries. Where the bend in the path turns for another uphill straight you can glimpse the town below where it slowly becomes smaller and you can see the valley below and mountains in the distance half covered in clouds.

Despite the light rain and grey day, the views are still worth the half hour it takes to enjoy them and the lookout provides 360 degrees over the forest park and as far as the eye can see and the clouds allow. Making it all the way to the top also provides the opportunity to make the infinetly easier decline to the bottom back into Hanmer.

The Hanmer Springs were discovered in 1859 and fed by rainwater that seeps down through the ground and accumulates in an underground reservoir 2km beneath the surface where it absorbs minerals and is warmed by the earth's natural heat and rises again via fissures.

It was one of the main attractions of our journey but we were put off by the hordes of tourists and the rain - even though one obviously gets wet in a thermal pool. It just seemed that neither of us would enjoy ourselves. However, we remembered Lewis Pass and knew that there was another thermal spring there. As the weather was to be much better we decided to travel there the next day and check it out.

We returned to our room where we relaxed and got ready for dinner before once again throwing ourselves to the wolves that is Hanmer eateries. We decided on Nos 47 along the main street and despite all the tables having a reserved sign, we were led to a table by the window and given a table number. Result.

As with most places to dine in Hanmer, Nos 47 doubles is a bistro bar and after deciding on our food, it was up to us to place our order at a hatch window and then buy our wine at the bar. We both settled on the fillet steak and after waiting nearly half an hour we were presented with two rib-eye steaks.

Neither of us could be bothered alerting the staff to their error as we were both rather hungry by this stage and it's not like we would be back. Both of our meals were underwhelming and we were both still slightly peckish afterwards so we decided to split the cheeseboard. While we were waiting for this, the table beside us recieved their order of rib-eye steaks which were, you've guessed it, fillet steaks. Clearly no-one in the restaurant understood a bloody thing about steaks. When the waiter returned with the other tables food, they complained that it wasn't what they ordered but they would eat it regardless so everyone could eat at once.

Our cheeseboard arrived with all but 3 cheeses, an assortment of blue and two mostly tasteless cheddar types and slices of cucumber, strawberries and baby tomatoes. Clearly the concept of CHEESEboard is lost in these neck of the woods along with what meat constitutes what.

The next day the weather was what we would have liked for the previous day and after packing the car, we set off for Lewis Pass and Maruia Springs. The views along the way afforded fantastic views of mountains and the Waiau River and through tree lined roads and cliffs that dropped hundreds of feet to the valley belows.

After an hour we arrived at the thermal spa resort and paid $15 for use of the springs and Japanese bath house where there was an onsen. The water in the main pools was quite black with little flecks indicating more minerals and the water itself was wonderfully warm and inviting.

A smaller pool was milky white and much cooler. Despite our enjoyment, the sandflies buzzing around our heads were a real annoyance and are something you have to get used to in New Zealand.

The Japanese Onsens are traditional which means both are segregated and clothing is optional. Before getting into the pool, you must first give yourself a good scrubdown using one of the side showers where a row of basins are provided with soap and a stool to sit on. Besides myself there was only one other guy in there and we ended up chatting the whole time about where we were from and nuisance development blighting the landscape. We decided after fifteen minutes it would be a good time to leave before we turned into prunes. The hilarious thing was afterwards talking to Lou and that she was only with another woman in there that turned out to be his wife.

The thermal pools were very refreshing despite your body smelling like sulpher afterwards but it's a very small price to pay for such a relaxing time.

In all, I feel we made the most of Hanmer Springs and if you're making your way towards the west coast through Lewis Pass, stop off at Maruia Springs instead of the thermal pools at Hamner or make the extra journey if you're on either a day trip or staying a night.

All the photos can be found here.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

St Patricks Day

According to an online NZ poll, Kiwi's obviously don't celebrate St Patrick's Day - but then I suppose it isn't a public holiday like it is back home. Still, I was surprised at the huge majority as it's a fun participation themed day and I would imagine a lot of New Zealanders have Irish roots.

I didn't hear about any parades which was a shame so the only celebrations were taking place in the pubs and clubs with lots of live bands and a hell of a lot of Guinness being drunk.

We kicked things off in Bailies, an Irish bar in the centre of town which was packed before beginning a pub crawl that took us to the Yellow Cross, Mickey Finns, O'Sullivans and The Bog before finishing up in The Stock 6am.

Needless to say I didn't get much sleep and I was no more than a zombie all day going through the motions but we had a great night and hopefully I'll have some photos linked in due course.

I hope you had a great day whatever and wherever you were.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Once stars Glen Hasard of The Frames which suits him perfectly to play lead role in what is tantamount to a musical where he plays a busker who falls in love with a an immigrant who sells roses on the streets of Dublin.

It is a low key film that only cost $160,000 to make which suits the earthy urban atmosphere the films creates. Indeed there are no special effects and the direction is simply shot, focusing on the music that unfolds as the relationship develops.

Interestingly the lead role was earmarked for Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later, Batman Begins) who turned it down because he did not want to act opposite his love interest Marketa Irglova who had no previous acting experience nor sing Hansard's high octave vocals. He pulled out and this caused other financial backers to follow suit.

Nevertheless, Hansard ultimately proved to be a sure bet as his song won an Oscar for best original song and the movie won The Independent Spirit Award 2008 for best foreign film.

Unfortunately for me, the movie was too much musical and not enough drama with many times feeling like you are watching a fly on the wall 'making of' documentary for an album with a story thrown in for good measure, which is a shame because it's a good story worth exploring.

If you are a fan of The Frames or musicals then this film will appeal to you. For me, I needed more of a story than lyrics.

I would give this film 5.6 octaves out of 10.


Monday, March 10, 2008

In The Valley Of Elah

In The Valley of Elah is Paul Haggis' follow-up as a director after his Oscar winning film Crash. He has kept busy in between writing, producing and directing The Black Donnelly's, a great drama about four Irish brothers and their involvement in organised crime in New York, which was unfortunately cancelled as it was highly watchable.

His latest movie features a strong cast led magnificently by Tommy Lee Jones as a retired army officer who turns detective after his son goes AWOL after returning back to the US from Iraq and his body is shortly found charred and dismembered causing Jones to attempt to uncover the reasons behind it.

He finds help in Charlize Theron who is an oppressed female detective in a chauvinistic department trying to do the best she can despite the misgivings of her colleagues and with added pressure of raising a child as a single mother.

The film focuses on the inability and unwillingness of the police and army police in trying to catch the person or people responsible and also how the death of their second and last son leaves a huge impact on Jones and his wife, played briefly but wonderfully by Susan Sarandon.

In The Valley of Elah weaves a simple story into a fascinating social drama with a conspiracy twist which keeps up the suspense until the credits roll. The acting from Jones can be considered one of his best performances and he isn't let down by the compelling supporting acting of Theron and the rest of the ensemble cast.

Despite the 2 hour runtime of the film, I didn't catch myself clock watching and was pulled into the gripping unfolding drama. There are some poignant scenes designed to provoke a reaction in the same way that Crash was criticised for and seems to be a trademark of Haggis but it is a small oversight in what is another high water mark in his career.

I would give this film 7.2 Tommy Lee Jones facial looks out of 10.


Saturday, March 08, 2008

Shipping News

So we have finally got the internet in the house and it's been a real pleasure to be able to check your mail and surf without being in a cafe and watching the minutes although I do miss being given a milk chew by the Japanese owner after spending $5 every Saturday afternoon.

We have gone for the BT of New Zealand that is Telecom and the connection was quick and easy and surprised me how fast businesses can move here compared to others. They even sent us a modem without us paying a single cent - so trusting of them!

The only downside with internet in this country is that no matter how much you pay, you always have a capped download limit and that really stinks. We're paying just shy of $100 (£40) a month for a 4725kb/s download rate and 129kb/s upload rate but we can't download more than 10GB a month without having to pay for it.

The other news is that Keith and Jenny's shipping crate arrived and my computer has arrived. The good news is that I can play games again as this laptop can't handle anything more than a few web browsers and Word being opened but that's what we bought it for. The bad news is that Pickfords totally screwed up the packing and not only have they repacked things but they have done so using their clothes and damaged some of their stuff.

So far they have only opened some of their boxes and have found a broken back panel to two bookcases and other items wrapped up in their clothes instead of proper wrapping. In lesser bad news regarding the boxes, no-one has a clue where my computer box full of things are so although I have my monitor and case, I can't plug it in and don't have essentials such as a mouse and keyboard to use it.

Besides all things computer related, the weekend has arrived with a NW wind and outside is mid-20's and gloriously sunny so I'm off to relax in the heat and see if I can't get my hands on some cold beer to pass the afternoon. Have a great time whatever you're up to and see you soon.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


Judd Apatow seems to be producing every comedy of the last 12 months and this is his second film starring Seth Rogen who wrote the movie alongside Evan Goldberg in this teenage comedy starring Jonah Hill (Knocked Up), Michael Cera (Juno) and Christopher Mintz-Plasse who will surely be in many films to come or have his career ruined by being the inimitable McLovin.

The film revolves around 24 hours in the life of 3 teenage boys in their last throes of high school before college and their desire to be involved in social circles that they want to be a part of but simply don't have the credibility to get invited to as they spend all their free time hanging out with each other.

The answer to their prayers comes when they are invited to a party on the pretext of them being able to buy booze and it is here that their problems and the hilarity begins.

Each character has his strengths but it is ultimately their weaknesses which provide the comedy and seemingly gets them into more trouble than they can cope with.

The film succeeds by circumnavigating the usual trappings of teen comedies on the power of the writing in terms of dialogue and the performances of the aforementioned actors. That's not to say it doesn't do silly, gross-out and the downright bizarre but luckily it's handled in such a way that it can be forgiven and almost embraced instead of mentally deleted after watching.

One hopes that this is not a diamond in the rough of recent output of these genre films and that it resets the bar that seemingly disappeared over the last few years. If you need a night in with guaranteed laughs, rent this and give your ribs a workout.

I would give this film 7.2 fake ID's out of 10


Sunday, March 02, 2008

Keith's 29th Birthday

Keith's 29th birthday is his first away from home and in New Zealand. Although he's lucky enough to have a role reversal over me here in that, being in the southern hemisphere, his birthday lands in the summer there was nothing but pouring rain yesterday and nothing but blue skies as I write this the morning after.

Nevertheless, it didn't dampen our spirits to head out and have a good time and we donned wet proofs and umbrella's and headed out to our first stop of the night at Pomeroy's. It's a gem of a bar I found a few weeks ago on my way to the city hall and is a 19th century brewery and now heritage site. Needless to say, it has a lot of charm and more importantly, it brews it's own beers which are delicious.

We left after a couple of pints and headed into Cathedral Square for dinner which we had booked in the newly located Lotus Heart, a vegetarian restaurant ran by students of a "spiritual teacher" called Sri Chinmoy. While the restaurant itself has, for me at least, several drawbacks such as that it feels like you're sitting in a gift-shop, they do not serve alcohol and your food comes on metal plates, the cuisine is actually very good and one supposes very good for you too as it's all organic.

I ordered the wholewheat cheese-filled quesadilla served with refried beans and house salsa for starters which I have to admit, didn't do much for me and as a two-course person would have opted for the dessert menu which looked a lot more apetising (banana-nut pie!). However, my main course of a pizza topped with small leaf spinach, oven roasted pumpkin, olives, feta cheese, red capsicums & sprinkled with toasted almonds was fantastic and I couldn't even finish it because it was so filling - a large could easily serve two.

Although we all claimed to be stuffed, on our way to The Twisted Hop, Don managed to squeeze in a cheeky cup-cake which would have looked tempting but for my eyes finally matching the size of my stomach!

It is here we finished the night off sitting on the balcony overlooking the plaza and listening to the performers in the bar across the way and slowly making our way through the beers.

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