31 May 2011

Auckland Town Hall

The Auckland Town Hall is not the current town hall. Rather, it has been converted into an events centre. I came here to watch a comedy show during the recently-concluded NZ Comedy Festival 2011.

I'll be sharing more of these photosynths in the future - they were taken using my >iPod Touch 4 with the excellent free Microsoft Photosynth app. I'm still blown away by how well it makes use of the iPod's hardware to stitch together such awesome panoramas.

(You'll need to install Microsoft Silverlight, a small free plugin)

14 May 2011

Whitianga, Coromandel

Whitianga was my next stop after sleepy Thames, and it was the most enjoyable leg of that trip. Fronted by the beautiful Mercury Bay, Whitianga and its neighbour Hahei is a popular base to explore the highlights of the Coromandel - Cathedral Cove and Hot Water Beach.

Whitianga itself has plenty of holiday homes ('bachs' in Kiwi slang - short for bachelor home) and a marina for boaties to park their sails:

It doesn't have much in the way of natural attractions besides Mercury Bay itself. However, all it takes is a 5 minute ferry ride across the mouth of the harbour to get easy walking access to some stunning scenery of the region.

Map of area across Whitianga

Ferry services: $2 adult each way

Photos of the ferry and some of the places mentioned in the map is after the jump.

06 May 2011

Driving License

Note: This is in the series of blog posts I wrote about my preparation to move to New Zealand. Although I've been in Auckland for 4 months, I wish to complete the series in the next post. The original date stamps will give you an idea of how time-consuming migration takes. The 'New Zealand' tag will bring up all related posts.

[Originally written 23/12/2010]
You don't actually need an International Driving Permit to drive in New Zealand. Your current driving license is valid for up to 1 year as long as it has not expired. The other condition is that it must be in English, failing which, you need to provide an acceptable English translation.

For Malaysians, the easiest and cheapest way to do so is to get an official translation from JPJ. Firstly, prepare a photocopy of your IC and driving license, both front and back. Then, at any JPJ branch, ask for the translation application form from the enquiry counter (it's where you get a queue number).

Inform the officer at the enquiry counter once you've filled in the single page form and he/she will direct you to a staff member who will check your forms and take your payment of RM10. That's it! It will be ready for you in half a working day.

[End of original post]

Since I came here and started driving, I've mulled the idea of getting a NZ driving license. The benefits: lower car insurance excess ($400 less!) and it's a valid proof of age ID (as opposed to using your passport).

Unfortunately, I'm not from one of the "lucky" countries who can convert their driving license to a full NZ license. Oh no, Malaysians have to retake the full exam - both road code and practical driving test. This will cost about $200 in fees alone, and I'm not willing to spend that time and effort!

In my original post I mentioned that foreign driving licenses are valid for 12 months in New Zealand. I found a loophole, as explained by the NZ Transport Agency agent - the 12 months validity resets itself every time I enter NZ. So as long as I leave NZ and reenter it every 12 months, my license is good to go again!

05 May 2011

Review: Gateway Backpackers, Thames

I stayed 2 nights at Gateway Backpackers when I was in Thames, and I found this to be a cozy homely place with one pitfall.


  • Situated right next to the Information Centre and the bus stop for InterCity and NakedBus coaches.
  • Free use of washing machine
  • Nice sun deck for those lazy summer days
  • Very reasonable rates

  • No locks on dorm rooms. As the reception is located in a separate building, thieves could easily slip in unnoticed, not that you'd expect many offenders in a place like Thames. Still.

More photos after the break:

04 May 2011

Costs of Moving to NZ

This is in the final post in the series I wrote about my preparation to move to New Zealand. The 'New Zealand' tag will bring up all related posts.

Since Day 1 I've kept a running total of how much it cost me to fulfill my dream of moving here. Of course I've spent much more the moment I touched Auckland soil, but this was the bare minimum to get me here in the first place. This post is really only useful for Malaysians.

Note: I omitted airfare, but in case you're interested I paid RM3035 for a one-way MAS ticket (it was the peak post-Christmas period). You'll fare better with budget airlines and off-peak journeys.

Certificate of Good Conduct
Commissioner of Oath to verify application form (RM4/page) x 4 = RM16
Postal Order to "Akauntan Negara Malaysia" = RM20.50
Pos Express A4 envelope as return envelope = RM4.50
Pos Daftar mail to the Foreign Ministry = RM2.50

NZQA Qualifications Assessment*
Apply course structure from INTI = RM24
NZQA International Qualification Assessment (NZ$770) = RM1750.00
UPS Express Saver delivery = RM89

Silver Fern Job Search Visa
Online application fee (NZ$200) = RM460.00
UPS Express Saver passport delivery to receiving office = RM50
Return courier fee = SGD20 = RM50

Medical Checkup = RM260.00

Passport photos = RM17
Passport renewal = RM300
English translation of driver's license = RM10
Parcel shipment by sea (15kg) = RM81.10

* Depending on the visa you are applying and where your tertiary qualifications are obtained from, you may not need to incur this cost.

03 May 2011

80% Winter Mode

While the northern hemisphere celebrates spring and all things life-giving, we on the other side of the world are bucking up for winter.

Here are 3 ways my habits have changed:
  1. I'm using a Thermos flask to keep hot drinking water. I avoid keeping water in plastic drinking bottles as it gets cold too fast. And I've been drinking more tea than usual - my preference is green tea or rooibos tea.
  2. I bought a hot water bottle (a.k.a. hot water bags)! They're now selling it for about $6 and I'm actually impressed it keeps the heat well through the night. Starts off being too hot to touch, but by 4am (early chill) it's perfect to place on the chest. My electric blanket has also been switched to Level 2 (out of 3 possible heat levels).
  3. I'm skipping morning showers. Instead I fill a small plastic tub with warm water and use a face towel to wipe up. Only thing missing is a white "Good Morning" towel to give me a nostalgic tingle! (My fingers and toes are still tingling, but from the cold and not nostalgia)
  4. Credit: Little Thoughts