Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Auckland conference

I'm loving my penthouse. Because I'm higher than anything else, I don't need to pull down the blinds ever, so if I wake during the night I look out on a brilliant display of lights. My favorite view is of the docks just below me, where they work all night. It's an almost surreal scene of movement and light.
The conference is very good - beautifully organised and with some excellent international speakers. There is a strong emphasis on literature, which is unusual these days. Most of the Australians are academics or consultants, but there are quite a lot of South Australian teachers for some reason. They are supposed to be implementing the Australian curriculum next year but there has been no professional development and clearly they haven't even read the documents closely. They have been implementing new state senior courses and are suffering from too much change, to the extent that they don't want to know about the Australian curriculum.
I give my presentation tomorrow morning. I finally worked out to put my notes up on the conference wiki yesterday. It's the only time the iPad has let me down. I can read the wiki on the iPad but it wouldn't let me upload my files, so I had to use one of the university computers - which we share with students - and upload the files from a USB stick.
I am increasingly addicted to the iPad. I have been taking notes directly into the Notebook during sessions, and I love the fact that I can instantly google anything interesting that is referred to or that I can bookmark on the spot recommended websites. And of course when a session is boring I have a wonderful range of reading material to choose from.
The quality of the videos on screen is amazing.
With the wireless keyboard paired to the iPad and Pages, I can do almost anything I would normally be doing in Word on a computer. The days of dragging a laptop through airports are gone.
I'm flying out of Auckland tomorrow night, so I'll be home for Easter.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:The penthouse at The Quadrant Hotel Auckland

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

New Zealand update

I've just arrived at Rotorua YHA, which is a splendid, newish purpose-built hostel. I have a small bedroom with ensuite, bigger than most of my hotel rooms in France last year. It's in the middle of a very busy little town, and I have already decided to leave my breakfast provisions in the car and to choose one of the many trendy cafes for breakfast in the morning instead.

The hostel is built of bluish-grey timber with panels of rusty-red corrugated iron. The photos don't give an idea of it's size: it's a big hostel and seems to be well patronized.
I am about to drive back to the outskirts of town to visit Te Puia, advertised as New Zealand's premier Maori cultural centre and the site of a world-famous geyser. I found the experience this morning of driving past huge plumes of steam coming out of the ground rather disconcerting, especially as it is so clear that all the surrounding hills have been created by massive eruptions. I hope that the escaping steam acts as a safety valve and that the earth will remain quiet.
Tonight I have booked a visit to a Maori village, including traditional Maori celebrations and a hangi dinner. They will pick me up and drop me back to the hostel, which is much better than having to drive.
I spent last night at Taupo, with a lovely view of the lake from my balcony. I drove into town for supplies, as I was too tired to consider a restaurant meal, but I was even too tired to heat up a ready-to-go meal and ended up having the risotto I had purchased for breakfast. I slept for 11 hours, which may indicate that I was indeed in need of a holiday.
I deliberately hired an automatic car to see if it was less painful to drive than my manual, but after a three-hour drive my left shoulder was worse than usual, which suggests that my little Yaris is not the problem.
I am still loving my iPad, although I find that it takes me a while to get the hang of typing on it each time I have a go. I was not much impressed a while ago when I hit "undo", expecting to delete the last word, and lost several paragraphs. The Pages program automatically saves every few seconds, but that is obviously not the case in other programs. I am still getting the hang of predictive text, too, which I don't like much at this stage - especially when I saw it had converted my "cafes" into "cages".
Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Saturday, 9 April 2011

Experienced blogger

The Maori Village experience last night was a joy. It was a very professional operation, but what was most delightful was to see the pride and enthusiasm with which the Maori people were promoting their culture. There was none of that sense of staleness that is common at tourist venues, where the workers go through the same motions day after day. Ours was one of about eight buses that arrived at the village, which includes a recreation of a pre-European-settlement village set in a most impressive forest of giant trees. We were greeted at the entrance to the village by a fiercesome "welcome" ceremony, which is taken very seriously. I couldn't help wondering how the original Europeans had the courage to persist, but I suppose guns were more persuasive than bulging eyeballs and protruding tongues.
The fact that all of this took place in the dark, lit only by spotlights pointing up into the heights of those magnificent trees, made it even more spectacular. There was a big secondary school group among the spectators and they were as awed as the adults. It was powerful theatre.
We were free to wander the village where each little house was occupied by one or two members of the tribe demonstrating some aspect of traditional culture, such as the tattooing and the weaving. They were in full ceremonial dress.

As you can see, I didn't know how to take photographs in the dark and all my photos are hopeless. Positioning the camera here to take in the arm of the bloke next to me was not a great idea - and I don't think I can crop photos on the iPad. But this Maori warrior, if you can make him out at all, was truly scary.
One of the tourist attractions is to watch the cooks uncover the hangi, which has been buried with hot volcanic rocks for at least three hours. The dinner was melt-in-the-mouth lamb and chicken with lots of perfectly baked root vegetables. The entertainment was first-class - lots of dances and singing, plenty of poy twirling and stick throwing, and of course the haka.
Andrew and David, do you remember performing the haka so convincingly in the hall at Windsor when you were at Kurrajong North?
As always when I've been in New Zealand, I can't help but notice how different is the participation of Maoris in New Zealand society compared to the situation with indigenous people in Australia.
The weather today and yesterday has been glorious - cool mornings and evenings but warm, bright days. It has been perfect weather for driving through such spectacular scenery.

I had a great meal last night at an award-winning restaurant at Mount Managanui. The highlight of their menu is a seafood stack. The mixed seafood is marinated in lime juice, which virtually cooks it, and then threaded on a giant skewer which is presented vertically on the plate - very dramatic. But it becomes even more dramatic when the chef brings it out, dowses it in vodka and flambees it. I didn't order that dish myself but I enjoyed the theatre; each time the dish was served the lights were dimmed to maximise the effect of the flames. One woman wanted to photograph the procedure but she was so slow taking the shot that the flames went out and the chef had to throw on a whole lot more vodka.
This afternoon I arrived in Whitianga where I am staying in an apartment that looks like something out of Vogue Living. The ornaments aren't quite to my taste, but it's very comfortable, with a particularly well-equipped kitchen. It's in a gated community and I have three separate electronic buzzers as well as the front door key - one for the main gate of the complex, one for the pedestrian entrance and one for my garage. Each apartment looks over the canal with its marina; the aspirational classes can park their boats at the door. The two immediately in front of my apartment are very large indeed. Here is the view from my bedroom:

And here are two views of the living area:

I have bought groceries to last for three days and intend to do nothing but read, watch the new series of Outnumbered on the iPad, and sleep.

I've just arrived at my hotel in Auckland. I had booked a superior apartment because I liked the idea of harbour views, but when I checked in I was informed that I had been upgraded to the penthouse on the 23rd floor - so I have two whole walls of glass looking down on the harbour. There is a balcony running around the two sides, but I appreciate the view more from inside - the balcony is quite scary. My poor little unit in Lemongrove is going to be looking even more scruffy than usual after this experience.
There has just been a brief rainstorm and then a huge rainbow, which filled the entire side window.
Here's an idea of the view:

Beautiful though this is, it's not very well-equipped. I have a full hotplate, oven and microwave, but cooking equipment consists of two small saucepans. As I've brought food supplies with me for tonight, and I want to cook meals most nights that I'm here, I'm off to find Housekeeping and see if I can persuade them to give me a frying pan and some kind of microwave container. Cutlery and dishes are limited to two of everything: they obviously discourage entertaining.

Location:Mount Manganui