Monday, 22 January 2007

Weekend at the Otaki Forks

This weekend is the Wellington Anniversary and a 3 day weekend. We thought of going camping but then the weather was not all that great for camping. So we thought of going for a day trip to a nice spot.

We have passed the Otaki Forks turn off several times going up north but never knew what the actual place was like until a friend said it had a good campsite and a picnic spot. The Otaki Forks, obviously in Otaki (90 minute drive from Wellington), is the main western entrance to the Tararua Forest Park. Two tributaries, the Waiotauru River and Waitatapia Stream, meet the Otaki River here, and hence the name.

The forks is about 20km from SH1 and the journey is half the fun or shall I say half the adventure. The Department of Conservation officer I met told me that it was perfectly alright for a car to get there and I had confirmation of this from a work colleague who has been there. So off we went. After about 15km in the Otaki Gorge Road, we had to do a "river crossing" which we thought was so weird. The river actually flowed over a sealed road into the other side falling straight down a ravine.

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Okay, that was adventerous, but not that bad we thought. Then immediately after that thought crossed our minds, we came across a sign that said "gravel road ahead". Now that got me worried as there were no indication as to how long the gravel road was and whether cars could use it. We waited for a few minutes, not a soul in sight. We whipped out our cell phone, just in case we needed to call AA. No signal bars on the cell! Since we had two confirmation that it was okay, we went aead.

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The gravel road was actually not too bad. It was pretty much like this all the way with a small kilometre or so stretch of sealed road in between. After driving like we thought we were almost lost, we saw a sign "Picnic Area" and a DOC sign board. We took the turn off and came to the most beautiful picnic area I have seen.

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The grass was green and the river just next to the grass area was so inviting. The water was crystal clear and they even has a toilet that flushed. It did not have hot water though but that wasn't too bad. There were about 4 other families there but the place was really big.

We later went into the river for a dip only to find out the water temperature was 15.1 deg C, or at least that's what my trusted Casio said. We braved the cold and went in. It was so refreshing. There were seveal deep pools suitable for kids as well as adults.

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There are several bush walks from here from 20 minutes to several days cutting across the ranges. All the walks start from across the river on this bridge.

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We did not attempt any on this trip as we were not geared for any sort of walking. With the wild weather last few months, some of the walks aren't actually that safe for now.

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However, this picnic spot is very safe and we will be back when the weather is better. Afterall it is only an hour's drive from home to the picnic spot and is really great!

Sunday, 14 January 2007

Craving for that authentic Asian food?

Malaysia is a melting pot of three very distinct ethic groups; the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians. Vera and I belong to two of them. As people who have been to Malaysia would know, the food you get there is probably second to none. Food from Malaysia is quite different as the Indian food is not exactly what you will get in India and likewise, the Chinese dishes in Malaysia do not taste anything like what you might get in China. And don't event try to categorise the Malay food and everything else in between like the Nyonya and Mamak varieties.

We have patronised so many Malaysian food outlets here in New Zealand (some operated by people who have never been to Malaysia), but found the ones prepared in our own kitchen on a small scale is still the best. I am sure other migrants from other parts of the world feel the same.

We then thought of this concept of providing a "home chef" service in the form of a business, called Hire a Chef. We just started the website and are in the process of getting everything organised to get the ball rolling. It is still in its infancy stage and the website is pretty static at the moment. We will be filling in the "blanks" as we move along the process of setting up the business including some recipes that you could have only found in your mom's kitchen.

Click on the link above or the logo to take you to the website. Let us know what you think of the idea. Both the concept as well as the website itself. Any comments is appreciated. Thanks.

Monday, 8 January 2007

The world traveller

I discovered this website on S & J's Blog about a tool that graphically illustrates the countries one has visited. I entered mine and here is a graphical representation of the countries I have visited in this world.

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It is only 12% of all the countries on earth! That is only a fraction of what some others have been to.

I would be happy to have touched 25% before I leave this world!

Here is the link to this project. Click here to take you there. (I know, it sounds weird!).

Thursday, 4 January 2007

Mid summer or mid winter

Well, that is the million dollar question. Is it now mid summer or mid winter. We just sailed through the longest day of the year a few weeks back and technically we are in summer. However, if you had seen the temperature gauge lately, you would think we are still in winter.

We have this temperature gauge gadget that records the indoor and outdoor temperature and this morning when I woke up, I thought it felt more cold than it should. I looked at it and could not believe what I saw. The outside temperature read 1.5 degrees Celsius!

It is January and I can still see a lot of people with winter jackets and coats. There are the odd ones that brave walking around in shorts and tee shirts but the vast majority still wrap themselves up. Same time last year there were lots of flesh exposed! This year it is all under wraps!

The newspaper this morning had a report that said this summer is one of the coldest in New Zealand in 60 years. In fact the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research said it was the coldest since records began more than 70 years ago.

We have not been in New Zealand long enough to see the trend but people who have been here longer tell us that last winter was also colder than usual and it is still lingering on longer than it should. We had so much rain and snow last year, a lot of people were affected either by their crop destroyed, farm animals trapped in snow, houses washed down cliffs and even the odd earthquake. While we were having more than our fair share of the rain, our neighbours in Australia is having the worst draught in history!

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

The way we camp

We have been camping even before we came to New Zealand. I was just amazed at how different the camping experiences are between what we experienced in Malaysia and how it is here in New Zealand.

This was our tent and how we camped in Malaysia. This was taken about 5 years ago and has not changed much.

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This is our tent in New Zealand and the scene of the campsite here.

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Note the differences in the access roads to the campsites.

The real difference the way I see it is back in Malaysia, campsites are not designated and you need to go and look for them yourself. In order to find one we joined a club. I belonged to the "Lanun Darat" or "Land Pirates" directly translated to English. Once found, most of us 4WD owners keep it a big secret so that no one else knows about it and it will remain clean and pristine for our exclusive use. Facilities are not even basic - it is pretty much non existent and you need to be completely self sufficient for the number of days you intend to camp. The only power source will be the odd car or truck battery used for lighting purposes. And due to its location and access you never went alone! We put up with wild animals and learn to live with them to some extent.

Here in New Zealand, campsites are well established. Most are privately owned and some by the Department of Conservation. A vast majority are located in cities or near cities where you do not need an all terrain vehicle to access. While we keep campsites a secret in Malaysia, campsites are widely publicised here in New Zealand. You can get brochures and maps and all are adequately sign posted. The phrase "self sufficient" here takes on a different meaning. You bring your own barbeque, fridge and stove so that you can cook yourself a meal without having to leave your tent.

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If you are not inclines to be completely "self sufficient", the camp kitchen usually has multiple, refrigerators, freezers, stoves, ovens, microwaves, toasters and some even barbeques. The laundry has washing machines, dryers and ironing boards. The showers have running hot water. Where do you get food? Some campsites sell food and others have huge 24 hour supermarkets at their doorstep.

We went to a shop selling camp gear in Wellington the other day to look for accessories to "upgrade" our camping experience and was surprised to find that you can buy a solar powered hot shower, complete with a shower tent if you wanted. You can get a chemically treated portable toilet to take with you. This really got me - a three power sourced, portable 1.5kg washing machine and dryer. The three power sources used are gas, battery and AC power!

When you pick a campsite, you get to choose between a powered and a non powered site. If you walked by a powered campsite, you will no doubt notice the array of electrical appliances I described above. We have even seen a satellite dish outside a tent. Since the weather here can get pretty "chilly" especially at night even in summer (depending on where you camp), you can even bring your portable heater.

And how do you bring all this stuff? A trailer, of course, which is going to be our next investment!

In short camping in New Zealand is like going on a holiday at a resort. Actually, some of the campgrounds actually call themselves a "holiday resort". The only difference between a real resort and a campsite is that you bring everything yourself and the "resort" merely provides you with a spot and facilities for a small fee. Which is actually not too bad. We had a real good holiday by the sea at a fraction of the cost we would have paid to stay at a "real" beach front holiday resort. Of course our son wanted to bring his TV and Playstation with him but we only had a non powered site and besides, we did not have room even for the fishing rod which I wanted to bring with me. But that is going to change when we have our own trailer!

Would this concept work in Malaysia? A business proposition maybe for someone with a large piece of land and don't know what to do with it!