It is full on winter in NZ and here are some of the clues. My flatmate, Tallulah, has purchased a propane heater that we crank in the lounge every night while we have tea and watch Sky. I have an electric blanket, two hot water bottles and a pile of blankets with me for keeping warm while sleeping. Sometimes I wake up to see my breath in the morning – in my bedroom! The walls are not insulated, the windows are not double glazed, and people heat up their cars for 10 minutes before they can drive them because windshield scrapers don’t exist here and it's ineffective to clean frost off with a credit card. My clothes don’t dry and no one seems to have a dryer, though most bathrooms are equipped with useless heated towel racks and overhead heat lamps. It rains about half of the time and there have been quite a few strong storms, landslides (called slips), and tornadoes.

On the bright side, I still wear capris, skirts without tights, and jandals to work. There is no danger of hypothermia, ice storms, or sand/salt from the road damaging my car (though who knows what the sea salt is doing). Mostly to keep warm and dry in Kiwi winter, I’ve been doing lots of hot yoga, indoor climbing, and triathlon training. Running by the beach never gets old or too cold.

In Auckland, the Canadian and Kiwis got together for a Canada Day bash on July 1st. Kiwis have a tradition of ‘fancy dress’ parties. A fancy dress party is a themed dress-up party, akin to Halloween. But Halloween isn’t celebrated in New Zealand, so the Kiwis think up all sorts of other reasons to create a costume, no matter what time of year it is. Heaps of red and white was donned for the Canada Day party and we celebrated the day by singing the national anthem and Bryan Adams classics.

Back in Tauranga, I threw a Canadian breakfast, which was inspired by the Canadian ex-pats living in NZ who suggested food items that would be new to Kiwis (though they might not necessarily be Canadian). The feast included: Tim Horton’s coffee, Red Rose tea, Lucky Charms, Pop Tarts, Kraft Dinner, peanut butter banana sandwiches, iced tea, Doritos, Reese Peanut Butter Cups, Skor bars and maple syrup. The PB-banana sandwiches have really caught on!

The following weekend, Leanna and I went up Auckland’s sky tower. This is a mini version of CN Tour with spectacular ocean and harbour views. On our chosen day, it was particularly rainy and foggy. At one point, the view from the revolving restaurant was completely obscured by the heavy cloud, but not too obscured to see bodies hurling by the window as we ate our pancakes (no golden syrup!!)  Yes, people bungy (not spelled bungee in NZ) off sky scrapers all over the world. Not helpful for digestion.  

As always, I’ve learned lots of new words.

Pash = (verb or noun) French kiss. i.e., pash, pashed, pashing

Scrogs = kids

DIY = Do It Yourself

Binzes twinzes = Said when you say experience something eerily similar to the way another person experienced it. As you might say ‘jinx’ when you say the same thing as another person at the same time.

Bring a plate = Potluck, make sure to bring something on the plate

Doona = comforter

I have been spoiled by the produce in NZ, particularly the fruit. Many people have trees and plants in their yards and are happy to share. I love the feijoas, tamarillos, mandarins, kiwifruit, lemons, and avos (short for avocados). Some new favourites other foods are caramel slices, afghan cookies, ANZAC cookies, and hokey pokey ice cream.

The hospital sent me to a workshop on NZ culture. The take home message was that Kiwis truly value hard work and earned respect. This has been illustrated to me in many ways since moving here. Everyone calls everyone else by their first names, without predetermined hierarchy. For example, doctors are not called Dr. X by their patients or collegues. Like the Prime Minister, they are called by their first names. Everything is do it yourself and there seems to be a general sense that you can indeed do it yourself. A feeling a genuine helpfulness exudes from Kiwis. Whenever I have been uncertain or in need of help in any type of situation, I have been met with volunteers of people offering various forms of solutions.

One fine Saturday night, I was faced with a difficult NZ cultural decision; the NZ royal ballet or World Cup Rugby. NZ’s national team, The All Blacks, was taking on Team Canada. The game was sold out, so I headed to the ballet. Apparently, Kiwis love rugby even when the results are a sure thing. I enjoyed a night of Tchakovski’s Swan Lake while Team Canada got their butt kicked, 64-13. To further highlight the difference in caliber of the teams, Team Canada played NZ’s U21 team the following weekend.

The highlight of the month? Skydiving @ Taupō!

Leanna, Dee, and I geared up in our red jumpsuits, caps, goggles, gloves and harnesses in true Top Gun style. After pairing up with our respective tandem masters, we filed into the plane and straddled the benches, reverse congo style. It probably looked quite funny; a line of yellow tandem masters, alternating with red novice jumpers all cuddled up, peering out the airplane windows. As we climbed to 12000 feet, we made final checks, took in last minute instructions and identified all the pertinent landmarks. The door opened, we smiled at the camera and toppled out of the plane. The 45 seconds of free fall were exhilarating and quite insane as we dropped at over 200 km/hour. My cold face warmed up once my rainbow parachute opened and slowed the drop.

It turned out to be a perfect day for skydiving with low winds and a perfectly clear sky. We were directly over Taupō with views from the east to the west coast. Lake Taupō is the largest fresh water lake in Australasia facing snow-capped mountains Ruapehu, Ngauruhoe, and Tongariro. To the West, we could see Mount Taranaki, Mount Fuji's twin, over 250km away. And to the east, Lake Rotorua and Mount Maunganui (home!) Eleanor was our indispensable camera woman, who captured our feet first or bum first landings!

Last but not least, Leanna and I headed to Eleanor’s family’s home in Ngarawahia for the typical Pākehā Kiwi experience. Eleanor grew up in a house on the side of a hill surrounded by Kauri forest, a glow-worm inhabited brook, and grazing pastures. Her father works for the Department of Conservation and raises sheep in his spare time. Eleanor and her siblings went to a Māori school as children.

NZ fun fact: Sheep skin doubles in thickness within 24 hours of being sheared.