Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Neil and Natalie in the church Christmas Pagaent - comments were made about what Joseph was getting up to with an angel!

Christmas 2004

Well, 3 days to go until Christmas - it's bound to be the most unusual one to date! We put our tree up at least a couple of weeks ago because we thought that would help get us in the mood! I even made mince pies which I've not got round to making in previous years. The strangest thing is that it doesn't get dark until 10pm so the Christmas lights & decorations don't really have their full impact. Still, one of the local estate agents organises a competition and even publishes a list of the entrants & a street map so people can visit each house & cast their votes! We've done much less shopping this year but it's nowhere near as hectic as the UK, especially Meadowhell (sorry, Meadowhall), which I wouldn't even attempt to visit in December. Apparantly they closed one of the shopping mall car parks last Saturday because it was so full but that's because there seems an unrealistically small number of car parking spaces - even if the population of New Zealand is not expected to reach 5 million until the year 2041!
They have lots of pre-Christmas sales too & stores staying open until midnight. One store, Briscoes ( a bit like Littlewoods), has these amazing sales of up to 30% off certain items (e.g. bed linen) for just one day, which you think is a huge bargain but a couple of days later they'll have a '50% off everything' sale! Today is the 'last' sale before Christmas but I'm sure they'll manage to squeeze another one in!

Anyway, what else have we been doing? The youth decided they wanted a fancy dress Christmas party - everyone had to come as something beginning with the letter 'c'. Some made more of an effort than others but the best had to be Kirsten as a chicken - including yellow fish net tights (that she just happened to have in her drawer because her house colour is yellow?!) and fairy wings covered in feathers! We had a barbecue and played games, including a scavenger hunt which involved collecting some manure! Lots of the kids live on 'Lifestyle blocks' which vary in size from 5 - 30 acres and they keep various animals so the pigs, alpacas and sheep at Jess & Emily's house made the manure not quite as random. What was funny was watching Neil chase sheep around the paddock trying to collect some of their wool!
Neil has also enjoyed near-superstar status as 'Joseph' in the church Christmas pageant. Christine, our vicar's wife, enjoys the dramatic and wrote a nativity set inside church and outside in church grounds. Acting is not Neil's favourite pastime but he did get to hold a real baby Jesus which made up for it. Natalie was an angel and had the challenging task of keeping 20 smaller angels occupied until the heavenly host appeared - watching 'Finding Nemo' worked a treat! Several newspapers were interested in the story so photos have appeared in several publications.

We've had numerous invitations to share the Christmas festivities with new friends which is lovely. The jury is still out as to whether it will be barbecue & beach weather or not. The last couple of weeks have been incredibly wet & cold; some snow fields, even on the North Island, were still open last week! People keep apologising to us saying they've never had a December like this but assuring us that January and February will be better - watch this space... Still, at least that aspect of New Zealand life is similar to England.

Anyway, we hope you have a Christmas full of peace and that your New Year overflows with blessing.
Lots and lots of love...

The stunning cinema in Rangiora - it used to be the town hall!

Mountains and sea at Kaikoura

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Another month has passed, and we are still here....

It has been a while since our last post (speaking of post, sorry if you recieved a christmas card at the beginning of November but we were told by NZ post that we had to send them by the end of October!) so we have a bit of catching up to do.
We visited the Christchurch Agricultural and Pastoral Show - similar to the Great Yorkshire Show. Each region of NZ has an anniversary day which is like another bank holiday and in Canterbury it is known as 'Show Weekend'. There were lots of stalls and displays; tractors, animals and rides. Natalie was impressed by the size of some of the animals, particularly the bull that only just fit into its stall. The prize winning rams looked like mutants and were the size of small cows. Another amusing sight were people smelling and stroking the sheared wool in order to determine the best one - they get rosettes and everything!
For lunch, we walked around the food tent, it had a variety of foods on offer from venison baguettes to mushroom sandwiches or whitebait pattties. In the afternoon, we watched a performance by five woodcutters demonstrating the many skills needed to cut and chop a tree. The show made use of old and new techniques, from handsaw, axes and chainsaws. The most impressive bit was a small chair - only 1 foot high - that was created from a log using only a chainsaw.

We though it was about time we checked out our local cinema here in Rangiora. There are multiplexes in Christchurch but the double screen cinema in the old Rangiora town hall is something rather special! Photograph to follow. The films showing that day are displayed on a chalkboard outside and when we went to see 'Wimbledon', we were the only people in there. The cinema has 80 red plastic foam covered seats which looks more like a big room in a house than the local cinema. We are not sure what would have happened if we had not gone, would the film have still been shown?

The biggest event of the last month is that Paddy Mallon came to stay! Paddy was our Baptist minister in Sheffield and he came to visit us as missionaries from 'the Order of Mission'. It was great to spend so much time with him and for us to be able to share some of NZ life with a friend. Paddy was here for a week. At the beginning of the week we visited Arthur's Pass and looked out over the valley where they are filming ' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'. We also visited Christchurch and looked at some of the history and settling of this country. We were all amazed that when the first settlers arrived there was no mammals on the islands, only birds!
Over the weekend, Paddy did some teaching on Lifeshapes and preached at the Sunday services. For his last few days, we travelled north and visited Kaikoura and Hamner Springs.
The weather was changed from glorious sunshine to freezing, hailing wet weather on the day Paddy arrived, it did improve towards the end of the trip but it meant that an opportunity to go whale-watching off Kaikoura was cancelled.
In Hamner, we went mountain-biking for a couple of hours, although Natalie decided to try bungee-jumping with out a rope. I heard the fall and returned to find Natalie at the bottom of a 25 foot drop - the front tyre slipped of the narrow track and Natalie fell over the handlebars. Nothing broken, just a few scratches and bruises! She did get back on and carry on, which was very impressive! (Neil is writing this). The best remedy for this experience is a long bath, so we spent the evening soaking in the thermal pools!

Saturday, November 06, 2004

What a glorious week!

Another week has passed and it has been glorious! The most consistent weather we have had since we've been here and the bonus is that it's warm and sunny! On Tuesday, we took a picnic to Mount Thomas Forest. It's great having days off in the week because places that are rammed at the weekend are deserted on week days. We were enjoying our food until we realised that we were food for sandflies - the blaggards! They draw blood and the bites itch for days. Now we know, we can go armed with repellent! However, we did have a lovely walk, more honeydew (by the way, that was what the obscure sideways picture was...), better views and found a great stream to paddle in.
On Wednesday, we were supposed to meet someone for lunch but somehow we seemed to miss each other. Conveniently we had arranged to meet at Northlands Mall, the largest shopping centre in NZ. So not one to waste a shopping opportunity (this is Natalie talking) we checked it out. The food court was great and we had the best curry, in fact only curry place we have seen, to date. We also made a couple of purchases including jeans for Natalie, which is a miracle!
Last night was our youth 'Firework Frenzy', although it was slightly hi-jacked by some parents who staged a mutiny because they didn't want to miss out! Our first BBQ, very easy - they all have gas! (don't quote us on that as we might be libel!) Rockets are banned here, so it was quite tame but very pretty and we managed to shower youth with flaming falling debris! They loved it and are fine.

Monday, November 01, 2004

New Things!

This week has seen several new things, probably the most exciting being our new car! On Tuesday , we had a picnic in the Botanical Gardens before going car shopping and Neil 'bounced' around the idea of a people carrier - inspired by our trip to South Carolina - that didn't cost very much money. Car are much cheaper here than in the UK, but a people carrier is still out of our range. Anyway, the first place we went to was a car rental company that sell their old vehicles. We talked with the manager about what we were looking for but nothing was available. She then disappeared into her office, made a phone call and returned with the offer of a van to look at, within our price range. We were hopeful, but sceptical! We saw the car on the Friday and decided to get it inspected by an independant mechanic, he said it was in an amazing condition and the engine was in strong shape. It was exactly what we had wanted, and then the added surprise/bonus was that the car was diesel! Much cheaper to run! So we are throughly enjoying the new drive.
Just a word about the Botanical Gardens which are far more amazing than any pictures could convey. Lots of different 'gardens' within the whole park and the most vibrant colours and incredible trees. It looked awesome in winter but it seems each season leaves its own distinct impression.
Saturday night was the first of our events for children - The Light Night! We've been collecting jam jars for the last month, cutting up tissue paper and cellophane, enlisting helpers (three lovely girls got so excited about it that they asked if they could dress up as fairies to welcome the children as they arrived!), giving out flyers, teaching the youth band songs etc. all to be ready for the halloween alternative. We had fantastic time! Lots of children from church came and brought their friends (between 50 and 60 kids altogether), parents stayed to help, we jumped around like lunatics getting the kids into the songs and the games and then Neil talked to them about Jesus being the light of the world. Everyone seemed to have lots of fun and went home swinging the lanterns they had made!
Yesterday saw a return of the glorious weather so we headed off for a picnic with some friends. Benn took us to a man-made lake on a reclaimed swamp! We went for a walk around the swamp hoping that the reclamation would have included a picnic site but after walking for about 15 minutes and just getting further and further from the cars and more deeply into the swamp, we decided to turn round and have our lunch with the ducks on the banks of the lake. We then went bowling (a trip that, like skiing, has been thwarted on 2 other occasions!) which was a good laugh; Neil won but Natalie lost, unable to remember a time when she played so badly! There will be a rematch...

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Our new car/people carrier! We have already had 8 in it!

The beautiful botanical gardens in Christchurch.

Look at this one sideways and have a guess what it is! We will give you the answer soon.

The arrival of our boxes, hoorah!

Tuesday, October 26, 2004


I wrote a new entry for our blog on Saturday, went to post it to the site and then was told I had to reconnect. Needless to say, by the time I logged on again the post had been lost and I was so fed up I couldn't be bothered to write it all again.
Anyway, the major exciting event of last week was the arrival of our nine, slightly rounded boxes which have been on the road/ocean for ten weeks. They have faithfully protected our stuff all the way from the Sheffield and not a single item was damaged. We did wonder what the thought was behind packing some items which we seem to have little use for here but generally it's great to have our 'things'. Photos of family and friends cover nearly every available surface which is lovely and it makes you all seem slightly nearer!
Last weekend was Labour Weekend - a little like a Bank Holiday. Lots of people take the opportunity to go away for a few days but those who don't seem to spend their time doing the same as people in England - DIY and gardening! Rangiora has an annual A & P show (agricultural and pastoral!) and the carnival opens on the Friday evening. Lots of the youth were talking about going so we decided to go together. It wasn't very thrilling and they seemed disappointed though I'm not sure why as the standard comment was "It wasn't very good last year either!" We'll have to wait and see what their memory is like in 2005.

On Monday we went 'tramping', the NZ term for hiking. We tramped up Mount Richardson (1043m) with some people from church. Most of the walk is through 'bush' and it took us a couple of hours to reach the top. We had hoped the early morning cloud and mist would clear by lunchtime but it didn't so the view from the top was rather opaque as we actually couldn't see anything at all! Oh well, always another day! It was amazing to sense the different sights, sounds, smells, textures and tastes. We tried 'honey dew' which is produced by an insect that lives in fungus on the bark of a tree. The honey drops out from little white strings that protrude from the fungus and it gives the most distinctive, sweet smell. It tastes lovely too! You're advised not to climb the mountain in the summer because the wasps are unbearable. The fungus is bizaare because it's black and appears like soot but when you touch it it's fluffy and it doesn't brush off the bark. If you do tear a section off it acts like a sponge - it doesn't feel wet at first but if you squeeze it has stored so much moisture you almost wring it out! Anyway, I was fascinated! We ate the leaves of a pepper plant to and I won't insult your intelligence by telling you what that tasted like! By the way, the people we went tramping with did know exactly what we were trying and they tried it too so we knew it was safe! There are definitely some interesting botanical photos from our expedition and they will be posted shortly - bet you can't wait!
The most unusual aspect of the day was the number of trampers we passed who were carrying large shot guns - slightly disconcerting. Apparently could have been shooting wild pigs but we didn't see any evidence...

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Down to Work!

Although we've been employed since we arrived much of the 'work' of the first couple of weeks was finding out what was going on in the way of youth and children's work as well as meeting the people who were running it and lots of other members of the church. On October 3rd. we were officially commissioned as youth and children's licensed lay ministers within the Parish. A couple of the other churches in the parish had their service at St. John's that day so there were lots of people to welcome us, including lots of children who made us cards and signed a large balloon!
Since then we've began planning a 'Light Night' (a halloween alternative) which will involve making lanterns, food, games, songs etc. - a bit like the children's club we helped lead in Sheffield. We've put out a general plea for glass jars for the lanterns and it's great because there are lots of jam makers in the congregations who have, literally, cupboards full of jars - hallelujah!
We had breakfast with other youth workers in the area so got to find out some of the things other youth groups are doing as well as making connections with people in a similar boat! Our first youth gathering was last night and it was a positive experience! We'll continue to meet on Fridays and we'll be around in the week after school too. We're looking forward to getting to know them better and it will take some getting used to for them as they haven't had youth stuff for a while.
We also went to Christchurch prison. The lady who leads the work in the prisons is 93 years old and reminds us of Mother Theresa. She is absolutely amazing! She is so full of love that the men in the prison can't help but warm to her. She has been visiting the prisons for 25 years and she's seen God transform the hardest hearts and messiest lives - it was very humbling and inspiring and a real privilege to visit with her.
The parish secretary is on holiday for 2 weeks so Natalie has been covering in the office - mostly routine telephone enquires and emails though somebody did want to know whether there would be any room for her in her parent's burial plot so that took some interesting research!

As well as the hard work we did manage to squeeze in a rugby match at the Jade stadium in Christchurch; Canterbury (we even had to go in their colours of black and red!) beat Northland 68:17 so that was good though not a thrilling match as you can imagine with a score like that!
And summer looked like it had arrived earlier in the week so a trip to the beach was in order. It seems it was only teasing, however, as snow is forecast tomorrow...

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Settling In

We've been here three weeks now and everyday there seems to be something else that becomes more familiar and helps us feel more 'settled'. We've got used to the fact that a newsagents/corner shop is called a 'dairy', that street names are on poles on the opposite side of the road pointing to the street and that when turning left you have to give way to oncoming traffic wishing to turn right (we can use our UK driving license for a year but then we'll have to take a theory test to get an NZ license)! Stopped using the term 'switch' to pay for things using a debit card - it's EFTPOS here! Washing machines only take 20 minutes to do a cycle which is a bonus but founding out about international news is nearly impossible - BBC website seems to be the way forward.
Found a hairdresser, checked out the local gym & aerobics classes and we were even able to give directions to somebody the other day so we must be settling in! Still making loads of comparisons with the UK especially about central heating but don't get me started on that one - I'm just nesh!

Skiing at last!

After being postponed 3 times - for a funeral, snow fall (can you believe it?!) and gale force winds - we finally made it skiing last Saturday. We went with Andrew, Christine, Joshua and Simeon (the vicar's family) and Melissa, one of our 'youth'. When we got to the foot of Mount Hutt we discovered they had run out of snow chains for our sized tyres so we had to get a bus up to the ski fields. As we travelled up the mountain we were surrounded by tree branches weighed down so heavy with snow they looked like they were about to break. But behind us was the Canterbury Plain (no rolling foothills in between) with absolutely no snow at all and as we looked to the horizon it was such a clear day we could see the sea! It really was awesome!
We bought our ski passes and hired our boots, skis and poles and then set off for the nursery slope. We weren't really sure what to expect of ourselves. Natalie had been skiing as a teenager and Neil had been on a dry ski slope a few times but we didn't know how much we would remember! We moved up to the next slope quite quickly as we needed to pick up a bit more speed to figure out if we still knew how to turn!
Once we got going it was great! We had felt quite cold when we first arrived but the sun was warm and we soon found we had too many layers on - always the best way round! Neil stayed on the lower slope and got lots more confidence as the afternoon progressed - though it was difficult at times with faster, more experienced skiers flying down the bottom end of the course and unsettling those who were just trying to stay up! Natalie stayed on the lower slopes most of the time but then ventured up the chair lift to the intermediate slopes which were slightly steeper but much longer so you really had the opportunity to have a good downhill run.
We didn't fall over too many times considering we hadn't been for years and we didn't ache much the next day either - Natalie thinks this is a sign we should make it a regular outing, Neil is not so sure...but give him a canoe any day.
Photo to follow (hopefully).

Health Warning! Prolonged looking at this photo will result in a bad neck, sorry!

Friday, October 08, 2004

South Carolina - Us with Chriscelle and the Calladine kids in their favourite place to eat, Moe's!

First night in Time square, our hotel was just off to the left.

Fifth Wedding Anniversary at the top of the Empire State Building

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Spring Snow

Well, we've been here over a week now! We've had the most glorious spring weather, really warm and sunny, been to the beach and nice things like that and then today it snowed! We don't really mind because the conditions should be great for a ski trip planned for Thursday! Natalie hasn't been skiing for years and Neil has never been so it could be interesting. And now we've worked out how to post photos to our blog you may get to view some funny moments!
Met loads of new people who have all been very friendly and welcoming. We were involved in our first church service last Sunday morning and we woke the congregation up with some balloon races and Neil talked about what we were looking to do with the youth and children.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Our home in Rangiora

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

New Home

Andrew (our new vicar) picked us up from the airport and took us to our new house. We were so amazed when we walked in; it has 2 bedrooms, bathroom, garage with a study area and a kitchen/dining/living area and it was completely furnished! The cupboards were stocked with food, people had made cakes and brought flowers and we felt so welcome.
When we'd unpacked our stuff it began to feel like 'home' very quickly.

We've spent the last few days since arriving settling in. We've met lots of people (not sure how many names we'll remember) and have done practical things like get a bank account and buy a map!

The weather has been glorious - crisp mornings but the sun is really warm. We went to the beach yesterday (Neil was excited about the prospect of surfing, Natalie collected interesting shells & driftwood!)and to the cinema. Next week looks like a trip to a nearby ski field is planned...

We have got photos from all the places we've been but as yet have not mastered the technology - watch this space!

New Zealand Bound!

Flights from Charleston to Christchurch varied. We nearly ended up in Dallas beacsue nobody wanted to check our tickets at Charleston airport, even when we told the stewardess there were people sitting in the same seats as printed on our boarding passes!

There were five people on the flight to JFK, 8 hours watching CNN loops in New York, bizarre placed seats on flight to LA between business class & economy (so we got forgotten for dinner but then remembered for the very posh ice-cream), an amazing terminal in LA (where we wished we could have spent 8 hours!), fantastic flight to Auckland and then, before we knew it, flying over the South Island mountains and plains into Christchurch.

Charleston with the Calladines

We arrived in Charleston at midnight and Mal met us at the airport. Neil had an interesting time getting used to driving our automatic hire car on the other side of the road! During our journey to 'Calladine Castle' in Mount Pleasant there was much evidence of the damage caused by the recent tropical storm Gaston - there had been lots of flooding and one house had a fallen tree right through the middle! The other annoying aspect of hurricane season is the warm & wet weather which is mosquito heaven - 14 million females in one acre! Our legs are still recovering!

Monday was a great day! We sat around the kitchen table and ate breakfast, chatted, the Kelly's arrived so we ate lunch and chatted some more. Then we went swimming and surfing in some incredibly rough yet warm waves just off the Isle of Palms beaches, then we went home, ate some more and sat and watched videos!

The next week was just as chilled and relaxing! We did a few tourist things which included a carriage tour of downtown Charleston (found out lots of interesting facts about rich people and their houses, including internal stained glass windows from Tiffany's worth millions of pounds), a boat trip to Fort Sumter, where the American Civil War began, and a trip to the South Carolina Aquarium. We ate dinner at a Moe's, a Joe's and a Poe's and had one of the best milkshakes ever from a coffee shop in the centre of Charleston. We also visited a few shopping malls but unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your opinion) our luggage from England was already over the weight allowance so purchases were severly limited.

The best part of our holiday in South Carolina was simply spending time with the Calladine Family. We had such fun catching up with them, meeting their friends (and their new cat!), reading Captain Underpants with Jaedan, going to the cinema with the girls, trying to understand the rules of American football (Neil got it, Natalie really didn't!) and eating ice-cream and chocolate sauce.

But all too soon it was time to leave (at some rather ridiculous hour of the morning)on the final leg of our journey...

The BIG Apple!

We arrived in New York City at lunch time on Friday 3rd. September and got a yellow taxi from JFK airport to our hotel, the Millenium Broadway, which was on West 44th. Street, just off Time Square. Our room was on the 37th floor so had an interesting view - we could see the people working in their offices in the TV Channel 4 building directly opposite!
We decided we'd go for a walk to get a feel for the place - BIG is really the only words we had to describe it! We couldn't get over how tall the buildings were (though by the next day it did seem quite normal) and just how generally large everything is.
The first shop we went into was Toys R Us, pretty similar to England but this one had a big wheel in the middle of the store! And we also recognised a man discussing a bike with his son, did a double take and realsied we knew who he was because he was Boris Becker! Very bizarre!
We spent the rest of the day walking around the Rockefeller Centre and Fifth Avenue and tried to stay awake as late as possible! One thing that helped was spotting the 'big apples' that were dotted around, decorated in all sorts of designs - my favourite was the one that looked like a strawberry dipped in chocolate!

On Saturday we walked down Broadway through Greenwich Village and Soho to the World Trade Centre site. On our way we visited the Union Square farmer's market and went for a very nice lunch in the Union Square cafe - the number one place to eat according to our Top Ten guide book to New York! We ate at the bar, which is apparently a popular thing to do and it allows a fantastic opportunity to 'people watch'! A very friendly lady, called Claire, chatted to us and was delighted by Natalie's accent - she wondered if we were in the US to pursue careers in broadcasting!

Having visited the World Trade Centre site (just can't imagine what it was like when the towers were still standing)we walked to the Hudson River and, from a distance, saw the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We then began the long walk back up Manhattan as we wanted to ascend the Empire State Building at just the right time so we could see it in the daylight, as the sun went down and as night fell. A bit of a tricky thing to plan because we had no idea how long the queue would be nor were we entirely sure of what time the sun set! We did intend to catch a bus but the traffic was stationary and it was a one-way street which confused us further!
Anyway, we reached the Empire State building at 5:15, queued until 6.30 and the sun set at about 7pm so it all worked splendidly! The views were just amazing, impossible to describe but we might try and get a picture up. We had an audio tour which pointed out sites and told little stories about New York and it's people from different positions of the viewing platform. It was our fifth wedding anniversary and it was rumoured to be a very romantic venue but to be honest it was so crowded that, amazing as it was, romantic is not a word we would use to describe it! There were a couple up there having their wedding photos taken and I'm sure they thought it was lovely!

We spent most of Sunday in Central Park - people were having picnics, sailing mini motorised boats on the lake, jogging round the reservoir, rowing boats, fishing, cycling, having wedding photos taken - all the usual stuff! More opportunites to watch the world go by!
Then we had to make our way to the airport for our flight to Charleston. We were slightly concerned because the streets were completely jammed due to it being Labour Day weekend, theatre goers and the Brazil Day street festival which had completely closed a large section of road with stalls and a stage! Our driver told us they have different festivals for different countries on most Sundays. Anyway, we got to JFK in plenty of time, ready for the next part of our holiday!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004


Welcome to Neil and Natalie's blog! We are going to try and keep you up to date with all our news through this. We will try to keep it regularly posted, but not promising anything! Photos may appear now and then, miracles do happen!