MP’s, PM’s, and Party Votes: Elections Kiwi Style

MP: (n.) Member of Parliament

PM: (n.) Prime Minister
With Obama-McCain fever in full swing in America, those of you back home may have missed out on the fact that New Zealand (along with Canada (Oct), Great Britain, and Australia) is about to hold its own national elections. Don’t feel too bad though. A news report we saw last night claimed that even a majority of Kiwis are more interested in the US elections than the on-going race in the EnZed. We also saw a report the other day featuring a Kiwi woman who was volunteering for Obama’s campaign, despite the fact that she is unable to vote in the US election. This brings new meaning to my “work exchange” visa, since I have been spending my time volunteering for the Green Party here.
At first the NZ election is frighteningly similar to it US counterpart. There are two major parties, a blue and red. Although here red stands for the Labour Party (Democrats) and blue for National (Republicans). The incumbant, Labour’s Helen Clark, an older white established politician, is fighting to stay in power against a younger, vibrant John Key. Same old story.
But, although this is the major story of the elections, the New Zealand political system offers more to its voters. There are about 6 minor parties that play a significant role in the election. Voters get to vote for individuals for their local MP’s, which makes up about half of the parliament. But, instead of voting for an individual for prime minister, voters cast their ballot for a party in the national election. The party with the largest percentage of party votes gets their leader as Prime Minister, and each party gets a number of MP’s proportional to the percentage of votes they draw. The minor parties range from Christian, to libertarian, to the greens, to the Maori party.
It feels good to support the Green Party here. Aside from their eye-catching ads they are contributing a strong positive voice to this campaign. The Greens are only hoping to draw a max of 10% of the votes this election. But, compared to the combined .5% that Nader (dem.) and Cobb (green) earned in the 2004 US election, 10% sounds pretty impressive. It will put them, along with other minor party MP’s, in a powerful position in the new parliament, and through coalition-building they are seen as a deciding factor in many key issues. No matter who you are Multi-party = More voices & More power in your vote. Come on America get with it.

Into the Bush

Bush: (n.) forest

This week Nelson took an alternative energy workshop at Eco Innovation, a hostel/engineering workshop on the edge of the Mt. Taranaki national park. Michael and Linda Lawley have created a beautiful home there, that through hydro, solar, and wind power, is totally energy independent. And it’s not some hippy-dippy cottage either. They run a dishwasher, five refrigerators, and host groups of up to 30 people at a time. While Nelson was busy with the 17 other guys on the course (not one woman!), I explored some of the local parks with Sandra, whose husband James was also on the course. Nelson and I also took some time to enjoy the floating hottub before we left for a 3-day hike up the volcano.

Our heads weren’t quite in the right place when we were packing for this trip, and we were a bit underprepared. We had no cooking gear or stoves, a 20 year-old map, and had brought both of our laptops with us. But, Michael and Linda said that the trail was pretty easy to follow, so we decided to go for it, our small-packs stuffed to the gills. Our hike began in a cow paddock. To cows, people=food, and they followed us, closely, for the first kilometer of our hike. Once we navigated over the cow fences, which would’ve been a lot trickier with full-sized packs, we headed into the forest. It’s clear why they call it the “bush” here. The growth on the lower elevations of the park was thick and wet.
We wandered under huge trees that must have been hundreds of years old and past a pile of round stones that were labled “Maori Ovens”. Then the trail took a sharp turn to the left and started heading down a steep gorge towards a water fall with the longest name I think I’ve ever seen. Hmmm… this doesn’t seem quite right. We didn’t think we would head down-hill so far. Hmmm… a giant waterfall. Here are our faces when we found the waterfall. Wait a minute, our trail wasn’t supposed to cross a river here. I didn’t take a picture of our faces when we realized we had made a wrong turn and had to head back up the steep ravine. Oh well, scenic detours are fun too.
The trail we were meant to follow was a much smaller trail, marked not with blazes, but with a sign that read “Danger! Trail not maintained from this point”. Hmmm… Onward! Other signs along the way warned us that “POISON!” had been spread in the area to kill possums and “DANGER!” stoat traps. What exactly is a stoat anyway? (Ummm. Yikes!) Hmmm… Onward!
After a few hours of following a severely rutted trail through bush that was so thick that you couldn’t see where you were putting your feet, we came to the top of a ridge that looked down into a high-eleveation wet-land called the Ahukawakawa swamp. Were were standing on top of the Pouakai Range, a mountain range formed by a 250,000 year-old volcano, a predecessor of Mt. Taranaki. Our resting place for the night, Holly Hut, was nestled on the far side of the crater next to a river. If you look carefully in this picture you can see the cabin on the right side.
Day two was wet and foggy. We created a make-shift rain cover out of an abandoned 10 kilo rice bag that we found at the shelter in hopes of keeping our computers and camera dry. We followed the Holly Hut trail as it climbed up Mt. Taranaki clinging to the edge of the mountain as it wound through steep gorges. I’m sure there were  amazing views to be seen during this leg of the trip, but all we saw was white. Occasionally we found ourselves at the bottom of a cliff or waterfall, or overlooking a steep ravine, but we never saw these things until we got right up to them. 
At about the midpoint of our trip we came to yet another warning sign and about the sketchiest piece of trail I may have ever been on. Since it was wet (and a bit slippery), I don’t have any pictures of us crossing the Boomerang Slip, so I borrowed these from a google image search. I can’t imagine that anyone would actually want to loiter here. The entire way across I was waiting for a giant boulder to come crashing down on top of us or for the rocks to slide out from below. I calculated over and over again how long it would take for Nelson to run and get help if I fell down the slip, and then thought about how he is a much faster runner than I am and we would definitely be screwed if he was the one who fell.
Although we had planned on hiking all the way through to Stratford Rd., when the trail junction came up for the much closer North Egmont Visitors Center, we gladly took that option. By 1pm we were drying out our rain-soaked bodies and drinking hot chocolate by the fire. Our non-CAR-ma keeps shining down, and the smiling goddess who offered us the hot chocolate also offered us a ride into town. Emboldened by this stroke of good luck, the high prices of bus fares, and the recommendation of the hostel keeper, we decided to try our longest hitch yet. Sure enough the next day we easily caught a ride back to Wanganui.

Tramping about

Tramp: (v.) hike

Upon hearing that the “tramping” industry in New Zealand is one of the main draws for tourism you could easily get the wrong idea. And, given that Nelson did not get the scholarship that we were hoping would provides us with travel and living expenses during his PhD, the title of this post may cause some alarm. Don’t worry mom, tramping hasn’t become our source of income, it’s just a hobby for now.

While being at “home” in Wanganui was nice, it didn’t last long. We are off to Taranaki for a few days. Nelson will take a course on small-scale energy production and Dani will (hopefully) finish a paper or two. Then we will take a “tramp” on Mount Taranaki, a dormant volcano. There is still snow on the mountain this time of year, but the weather looks like it will cooperate and give us a few nice days.

Before we head out let me give you a glimpse of the explosion of flora that occurred in our back yard while we were away at the Ecoshow. Everything is in full-bloom here. It reminds me of Pedal Power Farm in late June, just gorgeous. The borage and brocolli must have grown 300 mil since we left (about a foot for you non-metric folks).

A Quiz: Can you name this flower?

EcoShow Full On

Full On: (expression) Intense

We are back in Wanganui after a full-on week at the Eco Show in Taupo. We are more than a little exhausted after long work days and minimal sleep. The EcoShow is a national event that pulls together eco-conscious vendors, speakers, exhibitors, and the occasional by-stander. One such by-stander was our fellow volunteer, Jess, who is now my best New Zealand friend. I’ve heard that times of crisis bring people together. Although I could write pages about the events leading up to and during the show, Jess may be one of the few people on the planet who can understand what I mean when I say that this year’s EcoShow was a bit of a free-for-all. But, despite our many moments spent flabergasted, annoyed, or in all-out despair, I think I walk away from the week with more good memories than bad. I’ll share those ones with you.

First, off was the many cool exhibits and speakers that we got to see. It is really powerful to be surrounded by so many people doing really amazing things. I went to talks about alternative economic systems, food consumption and the environment, and using permaculture as a model for community development. Here are our (new) friends Neil and James building a shelter out of sandbags. Once done and sealed with plaster these homes are strong timber-free economical housing options. (Does James remind anyone of a certain Lord of The Rings Character?).Some of the workshops were held inside yurts, built in just a few hours on-site. They were beautiful spaces to learn in. Almost as beautiful as the pizza oven built in the shape as a dragon. I’m always food-biased.

We also got to see pretty much all of our New Zealand friends together in one place. New Zealand really is a small country and it turns out that most of our friends already knew one another. Weird.

Our new friend Jess, however didn’t know anyone, being new to the eco scene. Don’t worry, we quickly indoctrinated her into the perma-CULT and by the end of the weekend she was a full-fledged eco-princess/warrior/goddess. There aren’t too many people who you can spend 5-days with and not dislike at some point, but Jess is one of those people who makes everyone around her happier. Must be her fab British sense of humor, although sometimes it was hard to translate what she was saying. (Why can’t everyone just speak American?). So many opportunities for humor were just thrown in our lap this weekend… Like a past-his-prime lounge singer and way-too-into her prime hippy interpretive dancer. There are a short list of people who would’ve so thoroughly enjoyed these moments as much as Jess and I did, and to you: Ian Hamlet, Megan Hardie, Tom Morgan, Joe Poulan, and Steven P. Gallo (Nick Jr.), I dedicate the final two pictures from Eco Show.

As seen on the tele

Tele: (n.) T.V.

We are heading to Taupo for a week, beginning tomorrow, to help out with the EcoShow. But, before we head off, we wanted to share some pics of the newest members of our household. We started noticing these baby pukekos a few days ago. The big ones have been hanging around since we arrived, doing plenty of damage in our garden. Then we saw a commercial for some energy company on tv that featured a little family of pukekos. We laughed and laughed at how rediculously big their feet are in the commercial. Then our little fledglings arrived, and although we have been struggling to get evidence of them, we finally got a few shots (I maxed out the zoom on my camera trying not to scare the little buggers off). You might be able to see their gi-normous feet in picture number two. Each foot is truly about the size of their whole body.

I’m not sure how internet will be in Taupo, and we may just be too excited doing new things and meeting new people to post, but we will try to keep you updated.