Auckland Geology

Thanksgiving in Mordor

This Thursday is Thanksgiving in America.

I know what some of you in the US are wondering and the answer is ‘no’.  Thanksgiving is not celebrated in New Zealand.

This is for a very obvious reason that shouldn’t need mentioning: New Zealand isn’t thankful for anything.

The mindset here diverges from the Americans’, formed in parallel, colonial histories that intersect from time to time.

Mt. Tongariro erupted this afternoon at about 1:30, sending a plume of ash three or four kilometers into the troposphere. It was a brief and less dramatic explosion than one that occurred in August. There were 100 or so school kids hiking nearby, but I don’t think anyone was hurt. Mt. Tongariro served as the template for Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies. This image was lifted from Dan News (

The Europeans that settled New Zealand were just as unpleasant as those that settled the US. They were both kicked out of some of the same countries, even. And not without good reason. They were all ugly and they smelled like cow manure. But that’s where the similarities end.

Today, not only do Americans smell much better than New Zealanders, but they also come from a much different experience with indigenous people. The English in colonial Massachusetts were treated by the Native Americans to a huge Thanksgiving feast with all the trimmin’s (whatever the fuck that means). Then they all said a prayer, and lived happily ever after together in peace and harmony. Apart from that little misunderstanding over land and small pox-laden blankets. All water under the bridge. Your modern Indian today happily occupies crucial niches in American society, not just as the sporting team logos that grace our helmets, but as the custodians of our favorite vices tax-free.

Of course, the Maori-European experience was not so fortunate. Instead of James Cook and his crew being feted by the Maori in their first encounter, a handful of those European sailors were actually eaten instead. By the handful. (With the leftovers put away in the ice box and used for sandwiches for the kids to take to school).

You’d have to be a saint to show gratitude after traveling seven miles through someone’s intestines, only to be shat in a ditch (on Thanksgiving Day no less.) How is it even possible to turn the other cheek, after it has been braised, and dressed in a delicious mint sauce? Lick the other cheek, is more like it. So, I give Kiwis a pass for not celebrating Thanksgiving.

And I give the Maori a pass, too. I don’t blame them for eating a few poms now and then, back in the day. I do blame them for having eaten the wrong people.

You can’t go back in time and change history. But wouldn’t it be great if Peter Jackson’s ancestors had been eaten?

Better yet, could someone eat Peter Jackson now, tonight, while the authorities, I don’t know, looked the other way?

Peter Jackson and his movies have done great things for New Zealand. I guess. In essence, he accomplished what the US compulsory education system could never achieve. He has alerted Americans to the concept that there is some place that isn’t the United States. That is no minor feat.

But it only goes so far. Before I moved to New Zealand in 2009, there was a bit of a disagreement among my friends and family over where I was actually going, if it did indeed exist. Some said the east coast of Australia. Others said, “that island where they filmed Lost.” An old friend from college asked me if New Zealand was one of the flyover states.

At the airport, there was a suggestion to hold that year’s family Christmas celebration in a place equidistant from New York and New Zealand.

“Like, maybe somewhere on the New Jersey Turnpike,” they said.

Clearly, Peter Jackson has a job to finish. And he’s more than willing to take on the task, without complaint. And with the helpful hand of the New Zealand government, which has slavishly tailored tourism promotions into little more than Hobbit-abilia. This essentially makes Peter Jackson the biggest welfare queen in the country. There are also in-flight promotions on Air New Zealand. For at least a year, probably longer, Air New Zealand used a video featuring Richard Simmons in its pre-flight instructions videos. Now, of course, it’s hobbits and dwarves and other Irish folk.

After Peter Jackson decided to milk The Hobbit into a trilogy, after he blackmailed the government into changing labor laws or lose the production to Romania, after the allegations of animals dying by the dozen in hazardous pens, and after the “mysterious cover ups on autopsy reports”, I just think Peter Jackson needs to be eaten. Full stop.

So have yourself some Bath Salts, and sharpen your forks and knives. It’s Thanksgiving.

Editor’s Note: I can’t wait to see The Hobbit.

Distance-Learning: Empathy

Early this month, there was a serious earthquake on Te Waka-a-Maui, the South Island of New Zealand. One person died from cardiac arrest in the 7.1 magnitude tremor. Damage to the city of Christchurch and the region was extensive.

Though Auckland is 650 miles away on the North Island (Te Ika-a-Maui) I knew exactly what those people were going through and my heart went out to them.

It was a terrible day. I found out my supermarket no longer sold Wattie’s reduced-fat, low-salt Vienna sausages at two cans for the price of one. “Why god?” I screamed. “Why do you let such terrible things happen?”

The manager came over to see what the fuss was about. Of course, this forced me to exchange a few unpleasant words with her. The whole experience was so distasteful that I now suffer PTSD because of it.

Anywhoodles, the Canterbury Earthquake, as the tremor has been dubbed, was the eighth most powerful to hit New Zealand in modern history. I’m not likely to forget it any time soon because my brother-in-law told me a funny Holocaust joke that day.

He’d heard it from a German comedian whose name I can’t remember. Probably not Adolph, times being as they are.

I remember feeling bad about us being too flippant in light of tragedy. Sure, the Holocaust was a long time ago, but some people haven’t gotten over it yet.

Just then, the TV flashed a telephone number for us to call if we wanted to help out with the earthquake relief effort.

I wanted to help, nay I was compelled to help.

Operator: Relief hotline.

Me: I want to help, nay I’m compelled to help. You’re not getting my money. And I hate needles so if it’s blood you’re after, you’d better find yourself another stooge.

Operator: Do you have any clothes?

Me: You can have my old pleated khakis. But only as an anonymous gift. I won’t be known as the guy who gave pleated pants. Just because I’m generous doesn’t mean I have to come out looking like a chump, you know what I’m saying?

Operator: Um–

Me: What I really want to donate is a special gift: the gift of laughter.

Operator: Uh–

Me: You know, the gift of humor. You like Holocaust jokes, right?

Operator: I’m not sure–

Me: Sure you do. I’ll tell you one and then you can spread it. Share it with as many earthquake survivors you want. Or Holocaust survivors for that matter. But really, if there’s some guy trapped under some rubble and they’re not going to be able to dig him out for a few days, what better way to cheer him up? Only, he probably shouldn’t laugh too much because of the oxygen situation but you’ll figure it out.

Operator: Sir–

Me: Come on. Laughter is the best medicine. So here goes. My grandfather died in the Holocaust…yeah, he fell from a guard-tower at Auschwitz.

I’ll never know where my gift of humor ended up because somehow the telephone line was cut off, probably due to one of the Canterbury Quake’s hundreds of aftershocks.

But from that day on, I was filled with love for all living creatures. Sheep, specifically. September is lambing season so the sheep get all up in your face and the fields are dewey and red with discarded placentas and the hills and paddocks are alive with the sound of little hooves squishing said placentas.

A (an?) ewe and her newborn lamb at One Tree Hill in the city of Auckland. The sheep-birthing process is quick and painless, as this photograph clearly illustrates. One minute, you're in the fetal position, the next--boing, boing, boing--you're hoovering grass like you were in some kind of friggin' bucolic idyl and shit. (Photo by Harold "Doc" Edgerton).

There’s been trouble, though. The news has reported that this has been such a cloudy, rainy spring (which in NZ officially begins Sept. 1, three weeks before the equinox). Consequently, the lambs aren’t getting enough sunshine and many are dying, ostensibly from being wet and cold. (Welcome to New Zealand).

So, Jacquie and I went to One Tree Hill last week to see the poor creatures. I mean, what a tragedy, lambs dying before anyone got a chance to eat them.

And now for a random selection of recent photographs. (Note to Matt E…I will post a couple pictures you took soon. Your work was not in vain!)

Kauri grove in Cornwall Park/One Tree Hill

Drinking at The Patriot in Devonport.

Devonport is a waterside enclave on Auckland's North Shore. The small, rather posh community is home to at least five book stores, including this one in the ferry terminal.

Sunny, the pet that currently flops in our flat.

It’s a Small World After All

New Zealand is a tiny place, if you ask me. I’ve only been here for six weeks now and I’m pretty sure I’ve met everyone. They all ask me the same question: just what is it about New Zealand that makes it seem so different from what you’re used to back home?

Well, if I could gather the entire New Zealand population in one room so I wouldn’t have to repeat myself eight times, I’d give them my answer. I’d say to them that between the United States, a Nation of 300 million citizens, and New Zealand, a pair of inflatable life rafts adrift near Antarctica, the single most blaring difference is almost too obvious to mention. It’s the volcanoes. They’re everywhere!

Auckland, the city where I live, sprawls over 49 volcanoes, like a picnic blanket spread out over 49 volcanoes of much smaller dimension. As I’ve written in this blog before, Mt. Eden, like all the other volcanoes, isn’t dangerous anymore. They all pretty much blew their wads. They’re finished in this town. Washed up.  Harmless. If you ever come to Auckland, feel free to visit them with impunity and a naive feeling of security, in flagrant obliviousness to the infernal powers of creation that would make your heart quail to countenance. And don’t forget to stop by our refreshment stand.

But know this, and be warned, and lo, while the 49 volcanoes that have blown up around Auckland in the last 140,000 years may be extinct, the Auckland Volcanic Field that fed them is still quite active and will remain so for the next 900,000 years. The existing volcanoes are unlikely to erupt ever again but new ones are guaranteed to form. What’s more, the Volcanic Field has seen an increase in both the volume and frequency of eruptions over the last 20,000 years, with the biggest one, Rangitoto, being the most recent. Rangitoto emerged 600 years ago out of the depths of Auckland Harbor, forming the largest real estate bubble ever. Scientists say there’s a five percent chance the area will see another eruption within fifty years. But what do scientists know?

Actually, I believe them for once, and I’ll tell you why. The other day, Jacquie and I decided to clear our heads after a very stimulating and dramatic Christmas celebration with her family. After about three martinis, we thought it would be a good idea to take a walk up our favorite (wink, wink) “extinct” volcano, Mount Eden, upon whose western slope we reside. Mount Eden (Maungawhau, the ‘Mountain of the Whau tree in Māori) rises 643 feet above sea level, making it the highest point known to man. The view was so nice, we decided to take some photographs of the Central Business District, a few kilometers to the north.

As any fool can see from the three above photographs taken moments apart, Auckland’s Central Business District is moving away from Mount Eden at an alarming rate. It was a good thing Jacquie and I spotted the danger and an even better thing that we were drunk at the time otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to find the courage to warn everyone of the calamity New Zealand faced. We had to get the word out to the public. Luckily, and by coincidence, everyone in New Zealand happened to be there already, gathered at the top of the mountain for the country’s annual group photo.

We were on the opposite side of the cone, so we had to shout at the top of our lungs. “Hey, over here,” Jacquie screamed.

“Hey,” someone screeched in return. “How are you going?”

“Oh, not so good, eh,” Jacquie bellowed. “And it’s probably going to get worse.”

“You reckon?” the stranger stammered.

“I do reckon,” Jacquie said.

“Is that Jacquie, by the way?” the stranger said. “Jacquie, is that you mate?”

The stranger, funnily enough, turned out to be an old friend of Jacquie’s from “uni”  (short for “University”). They screamed pleasantly across the volcanic cone for about eight minutes before they realized that though they were pleased to see each other after so many years, they just didn’t have much in common any more, and so the conversation came to an abrupt and awkward halt.

“Anyway, it was good to see you,” Jacquie said.

Just then, somebody else screamed in terror, for he too realized that he had gone to Uni with Jacquie, and what at first seemed to be the End of the World eventually turned into an impromptu Uni reunion; indeed, a veritable re-uni-union, which dragged on and on into hours of awkward silence. Similarly, the danger of death by violent tectonic upheaval turned into an almost certain death by boredom.

The whole experience made me wonder. What could we who live in the Auckland Volcanic Field do to save ourselves in the event that a new volcano exploded and so many people had to get out of the area in a hurry? How would we save ourselves? Luckily, the Auckland City Council has developed an evacuation plan.