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How a Poem I Wrote In NZ Ended Up In An Opera

I don’t often write poetry. Sometimes I get the odd one, but I almost never share my poems.

But when I do, they become opera arias…

Story time! New Zealand and I adopted each other long ago. I love the landscape, the people, the culture, the history…but when I backpacked around the country by myself, I got a little homesick. To be clear: I had an amazing time, with once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and I do not regret a single second.

And I also missed home.


Of course, lately I've been pining for New Zealand...I think I left my heart there.

Of course, lately I’ve been pining for New Zealand…




So, one day while riding the InterCity bus between towns, I stared out the window at the impossibly green, mist-shrouded hills, and I composed some verse in my head. When I got to the backpackers’ that night, I tapped it out on my phone. Several weeks later, when I came home, I transferred it to my computer.


I liked it. Nothing super fancy or experimental; I wanted something simple. It had an interesting meter, though. The pattern of stressed syllables reminded me of someone running. Which was exactly what I wanted. It captured those nights in hostel bunk beds, staring at the bunk above me and trying to work out which direction home lay. I figured the poem might be interesting set to music (again, that very bare, understated pub song feel), but I don’t compose. Heck, I barely write poetry.



I came home. I forgot about it.

Fast forward to January 2013. I was rewriting the libretto for East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon. Since I was eighteen the first go-round and the performance requirements had changed in the interim, I was mostly rewriting from scratch.

Rose (our plucky young heroine) had an aria. There were some duets and trios, several chorus numbers for the kids. But the White Bear/Prince didn’t really have an aria of his own. I started thinking about how the enchanted Prince would feel: roaming through the northlands, lonely and just wanting to be warm again, waiting to come home…

And a spark of emotion and memory flared.

I dug into my files. I found the poem. It already had a strong meter; I’d already wondered if it would work with music.

Time to find out.

I slipped that poem into the opera almost unchanged (I think I altered the tense of one verb, maybe?). And there it’s stayed. My partner in this—composer Norbert Palej—did a beautiful job with the aria. I didn’t tell him what it was really about, and yet he crafted a lovely piece. The music aches.

Nothing you write is ever wasted. You never know when thoughts, emotions, and memories will reappear to inform your creative work. Save it—because someday, it may find its home.



Cool Thing of The Week

You didn’t think I’d go through all that without showing you the poem, right? I mean, it’s part of an opera now: I think I’ve lost any rights to qualms over sharing it!

I was waiting for the passing

Of the bleak and bitter night,

For the fleeing of the shadows

And the coming of the light.

I was waiting for the dawning

Of the absent summer sun,

And the waiting warmth that spurs me

On the distant roads I run.

I was waiting for the tasting

Of the season on the air,

For the old familiar fires

Breathing smoke upon my hair.

I was waiting for the greeting

And the chorus from the hearth,

For the end to all my calling

From the very end of Earth.

I was waiting for the sighing

When I stood before your door.

I am waiting, and so dying –

Waiting just a little more.


Ka hoki atu ahau ki a koe, Aotearoa; kei te aroha ahau ki a koe.  I'll come back, NZ. I do love you. :)

Ka hoki atu ahau ki Aotearoa; kei te aroha ahau ki a koe.
I’ll return to NZ. I do love you. 🙂





10 Things No One Told Me About Backpacking

Hey pals,

Sorry it’s been a while. While I have been lucky with internet lately, it’s been the “check email, check facebook, oops, out of time” kind of internet.

Luckily, there is free internet here in Kerikeri (which is the northernmost town I could get to on the intercity bus system), hence this post.

Without further ado…

10 Things No One Told Me About Backpacking

10. You actually do sleep a lot.

I’d been preparing myself for six weeks of poor sleep, anticipating drunkenly stumbling roommates, roommates that wanted to read at 2 am, and hard beds.

Actually, in many smaller towns, there’s not much to do when the sun goes down, and most people have been out sightseeing all day, so many people turn in early. Add sleeping on long bus rides, and I’m clocking more hours than I have in years.

9. Hostel parties don’t always happen at hostels.

Some of this may be due to my selection process: I was careful to pick “quiet” hostels. Still, most of the time, people who want to go drink don’t stay in the hostel. They go to bars, leaving things relatively quiet.

8. “Clean” and “dirty” are not absolute states, but a spectrum.

Clothing is never just “clean” or “dirty” (nor are you, for that matter). There is a spectrum ranging from “washing-machine clean,” to “I washed it in the sink clean,” to “it still smells ok clean.”

You don’t want to know about the gradations of “dirty.”

7. Internet is everywhere, if you know where to find it.

I thought I’d be mostly disconnected while travelling, but I’ve been able to check things pretty consistently. Most hostels have internet for a price, some have it for free, and you can find it free around cities: in libraries, cafes, and the random “hotspots” in Auckland.

6. You read a lot.

I love the book exchange system in hostels. I love it so much, I may do a separate post on it. For now, suffice it to say that I’ve plowed through several novels already.

5. Kid rules still work.

Remember when you were a kid at a function with lots of adults, and a few other kids? Typically, the kids get sequestered in a basement or rec room and a movie is thrown on. How do these kids, who have never met each other, coexist peacefully?

Don’t be a jerk. Don’t be loud. Play nice.

People slip into movie lounges, watch, and then slip out again. As long as they follow the above rules, no one ever minds.

4. Backpacking is like a constant frosh week.

Ah, frosh week, that magical time when people are so desperate for friends, they’ll talk to anyone. Solo backpackers are the same way. Eye contact made? Instant conversation!

3. Fight Club was right. They are “single serving friends.”

Nonetheless, you know you’ll probably never see them again. While random conversation provides enough social contact to keep you on this side of sanity, it doesn’t last long.

2. Always, always ask for student rates.

This is less in regards to hostels, and more for general travelling. An adult ticket to the top of Auckland’s Sky Tower is $28, which feels like a lot. A student’s is $18, which feels much better. A student ticket on Wellington’s cable car is $1. The only catch is that you do need an ID. I have two, from Toronto and Otago. Since the latter is a New Zealand university, I’ve been using it to avoid hassles. Thus far, I’ve been so glad to have it.

1. You develop a rhythm.

A new city every few days, no longer than three nights in a bed, constantly changing people? How do you develop a rhythm?

Get into town; find the hostel; drop your stuff; locate the supermarket, i-Site, and library; sightsee; write; sleep; wake up early; sightsee; write; sleep (repeat until departure); get on the bus…

And do it all over.

And there you have it: 10 Things No One Told Me About Backpacking, or, 10TNOTMAB. 😛

Dunedin by the Numbers

After four months, it’s time to say goodbye to Dunedin, and explore the rest of New Zealand and the wider South Pacific. My term at Otago has been unlike anything I could have imagined. I’m highly impressed that all of my profs learned my name (it was also slightly unsettling… I hadn’t realized how accustomed I’d grown to the anonymity of U of T). I’m far more grateful for U of T’s resources. I like that Otago gives exam topics/questions in advance. I learned that I really, really like the bike lanes and public transit around the St. George campus in Toronto.

But I think I’ll present an overview of the past four months in the form of a list. Here is… Dunedin by the numbers.

1.70 – Price of a Learner’s Cone at the Rob Roy Dairy

60 –Estimated average age of the jazz quartet that plays the Robbie Burns pub

4 – Ascents up Baldwin St (incidentally, the steepest street in the world)

3 – Expeditions out to the peninsula

240 – Minutes of walking before we gave up and accepted that we were stranded on the peninsula

2 – Shots of espresso in a Long Black

3 – Sandman books in the Dunedin Public Library’s collection (that I found and borrowed, anyway)

0 – Times I got bored of seeing the Southern Cross

5 – Classes this term

4 – Bank branches guaranteed not to eat my card

90-120 – Minutes spent in the Good Earth Café every Café Sunday

3 –Photo requests from friends back home

2- Photo requests accomplished thus far.

(Lost Count) – Times I’ve nearly been run over

5:30 – Awakening for the ANZAC Day Dawn Service

3 –Nationalities living under one roof

1 – Ring to Rule Them All

1000 – Highest I can count in Māori

18 – Recommended inside temperature in degrees Celsius, according to NZ Health

6 – The actual temperature in our kitchen

9000 – Words written for essays

1 – Wild penguin sighting

16 – Most books I ever had out from the library at one time

251 – Pokémon officially recognized in this flat (sorry, but if it came after GSC, it doesn’t exist to me)

182 – Approximate age of a wonderfully massive and craggy tree in the Botanic Gardens

(Too high to count)  – Times the creepy robotic self-checkout kiosk voice has chirpily reminded me to “Please place item in the bagging area!”

15 + – Weeks to switch my instinctive “default” from right to left

4 – Amazing, challenging, wonderful months

Thanks, Dunedin. Let me summon my very best Māori and say “Ka roto koe i taku ngākau, e noho ana.”

You’ll always have a place in my heart.

Olveston and Au Revoirs

Last term, I met a Dunedinite who was on exchange to U of T. Our meeting wasn’t arranged or anything: we just happened to be in the same history class, and we just happened to be sitting near each other when the prof said, “Discuss amongst yourselves.” From her accent, I was 99% sure she was from New Zealand, but the remaining 1% of doubt made me keep my mouth shut – mistaking New Zealanders and Australians is not entirely unlike mixing up Canadians and Americans. No one really minds, but you’re better off not doing it.

Luckily, she mentioned Otago, and the rest is history.

Literally. We hung out a few times over the course of the term, including an expedition to Black Creek for a dose of Canadian history. When the term ended, it wasn’t sad, because we would both be in Dunedin in two months or so. In fact, I had one of her suitcases to take down with me, and she promised to pick me up from the airport.

I mentioned in one of the early posts how nice it was to have a friendly face waiting at the airport. Again, then: SO NICE. Much the same pattern continued this term: we bumped into each other every so often, had coffee a few times, and then, for some New Zealand history, went to Olveston House.

Except it was pouring rain when we went…

Olveston is a large, early-twentieth century house that’s been preserved as a historic site. It’s essentially Downton Abbey’s baby brother. We were the only ones on our tour, which was awesome, because we could ask all sorts of questions throughout. The turn-of-the-century is a really cool period, because there’s still a strong Victorian undercurrent running through everything, yet it also seems so modern.

I mean, Olveston House was equipped with all the latest technology when it was built, but still. The kitchen had a “Frigidaire,” custom-made in Ohio so that it could handle the funny NZ plugs. There was an in-house telephone system. A gramophone.  A car in the garage outside.

The kitchen

And yet – the bread board in the kitchen was identical to the one in Second House at BCPV. The library and dining room were undeniably Victorian: darkly wallpapered, and bedecked with little ornaments. Gas lamps coexisted peaceably with electric lighting (the guide assured us that the fixtures were the originals).

“The lamps look just like ours!” I hissed to Sarah as we followed the guide into the butler’s pantry.

She hesitated. “The ones at Black Creek, you mean?”

I had to laugh. “Yeah.”

How I wish I had my own gas lamps…

All too soon, it was over. Knowing that this was the last time made it very, very hard to close the car door, wave goodbye, and step into my flat. Skype, Facebook, and email are great ways to stay in touch, I don’t deny that, but…

But it’s sad. Unlike last time, there is no, “Ok, meet you on the other side.” I’ve been lucky with the people I’ve met down here. Yes, I am “the most nostalgic person ever.” And yes, I’m well aware of the irony here, considering how homesick I got in April.

So, I’ve decided not to say goodbye. Instead, my New Zealand friends (and my American friends), get a “see you later.”

Hey, you never know.

Favourite Māori Words

One of my favourite classes this term was Introduction to Conversational Māori. And yes, please note the use of the past tense — I’m done, but for exams. I’d wanted to take at least one class in New Zealand that I couldn’t take anywhere else, Māori seemed to fit the bill, and I’ve always loved languages, so I was a keener from the first lecture.

Māori is completely different from any other language I’ve studied (read: French and Old English). It’s from the Polynesian group of languages, which may or may not be derived from a distant branch of the Indo-European “family tree” that encompasses a huge number of languages. Grammatically, it’s both relatively simple and surprisingly complex. Whereas in English and French, verbs are conjugated to show tense, number, and mood (I run/he runs/we ran; je vais/je suis allée/vous iriez), Māori uses particles:

I am running: Kei te oma ahau.

I ran: I oma ahau.

I will run: Ka oma ahau.

Easy, right? Sure, except that Māori compresses an awful lot into each word. Consider the difference between “tēnei ngeru” (this cat here by me), “tēnā ngeru” (that cat over there by you), and “ērā ngeru” (those cats over there, away from both of us).

Or, “Ka hoki mai ahau ki te awa” (I will return (as in “come back here”) to the river) versus “Ka hoki atu ahau ki te awa” (I will return (“go back there”) to the river).  

So, obviously, I love it. But that’s enough of a grammar lesson: Māori has some great words, and I wanted to share some of my favourites.


More coolness. The taniwha: a water spirit, typically a guardian.

KāingaPlace where the home fires are kept burning

The āi diphthong makes kāinga a fun word to say, but I love the literal translation. In Māori, there’s a sharp distinction between where you are from, and where you currently live. Kāinga refers to the latter; I’m from Toronto, but right now at this moment, my kāinga is in Dunedin. That being said, it’s one of those words that can be interpreted metaphorically, so I could technically say that my kāinga is in Toronto, which would tell you a lot about my feelings, ties to home, and so forth.

WhakapapaFamily tree/genealogy

Whakapapa is another important concept. Where you come from and who you come from greatly influences who you are. It’s also the name of a town on the North Island. Fun fact about  Māori: wh- is pronounced like the English f. “Hang on,” you say. “Doesn’t that mean that whakapapa would be pronounced like…”

Yes. Yes, it is, which is why I was greatly amused when my flatmate, while booking her post-exam travels, exclaimed, “Sweet as! I’m taking the Naked Bus to Whakapapa!”

Tamariki Children

Many words in Māori sound like what they mean. Maybe it’s just me, but I think “tamariki” sounds like a perfect word for children. Same thing for puku (stomach) and waiata (to sing/song).


However, many words are loan words from English. Not sure if anyone’s noticed this, but New Zealand is kind of isolated. When the Europeans arrived, they brought a lot of things for which no words existed in the Māori language, so extensive borrowing of words occurred.   Māori also has about half the consonant sounds that English does, which leads to some really cool patterns in transliteration.

Beef is a perfect example. There’s no B in Māori; it tends to become P (as with Britain – Piritene, bread – parāoa, and bus – pahi). The long ī is the same sound as “ee.” Wh, as we’ve discussed, sounds the same as f. Thus, “pīwh,” but since you can’t have a word of one stressed syllable ending in a consonant, the unstressed i gets tacked on the end to create pīwhi.

Cool, eh?

KanikaniTo dance/a dance

Following those sound laws, we take the unstressed i’s out of kanikani, change the k back to a c, and get “cancan.” Considering the abundance of gold prospecting and settler towns that sprang up in New Zealand through the latter half of the nineteenth century, I can only imagine what the Māori were thinking.

TumuA safe place to dock one’s canoe

My favourite word in the whole language. The Māori/Pacific/Indigenous Studies Building is called “te Tumu.” Finding “safe places” seems to have been a predominant theme over the last year or so. Maybe that’s why the concept resonates with me so much. Certainly, it seems to be cropping up in my fiction more and more.

Keeping a Cool Head

I know I typically post towards the end of the week, but I did have a few things I wanted to discuss.

I now have all four of my essays back. Three of the four went as expected, and I was happy. Perhaps I got complacent. Actually, I did get complacent, because the last one absolutely blindsided me.

I passed, but it’s a great deal lower than the marks I usually get, and I’m not pleased. For those who know me well, this is (for once) not a case of my having ridiculously high standards. Trust me, you would not be pleased either.

So: shock, and if I’m being honest, some anger. And as long as I am being completely honest, my first instinct was to snap, to rave, and vent.

But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m taking a second, sober look, and I think that, in this case, the principle of “Pick Your Battles” applies.

This was not the most amazing piece of academic writing I have ever produced. The others weren’t my best either, but they were still better. However… I’m on exchange. Yes, it is called Study Abroad for a reason, but realistically, I’m here just as much for the learning outside the classroom. I can learn history anywhere. There are some things about myself, and about life, that I can only learn in New Zealand. Presumably for this reason, every class I take here is judged at home on a pass/fail basis. As long as I pass, I get the credit, but the mark will never, ever show up on my University of Toronto transcript, and does not factor into my GPA.

So really, it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter. I’m not saying that in a nihilistic way, but rather in a “it is not particularly relevant to my ultimate goals” kind of way. When I’ve cooled off, I’ll see if there’s anything I can learn from the comments, but otherwise, getting upset over a paper that will not affect my GPA or my grad school prospects seems like a waste of energy.

Moreover, it reminds me that the time is coming when I’ll be looking at reviews, which is the other reason why I am choosing to let this go. When I get my first negative review, am I going to rant? No, of course not. I don’t want to be That Person. Again, this is training to Pick Your Battles.

The “good” thing about rejection, bad reviews, and bad essays is that you can usually learn something from them. But if not… then perhaps a bit of perspective helps. One bad review in a heap of good ones loses some of its bite. One bad essay in three years of university looks less like an indictment of my academic skills and more like a bump in the road. And when I think about all the things I’ve done and seen in New Zealand… I know that those experiences are far more valuable to me as a person than one more A would be.

As I mentioned earlier, I do set high standards for myself. I want to do well. I want to write well, and tell good stories, and perform good history. But when things don’t go as I’d hoped… well, then I simply ask for the ability to handle them with grace and dignity.

K.T. Goes to the Beer Factory


After moving into the historic brewery at Black Creek Pioneer Village, I’m pleased to say that I’ve started developing a taste for beer. At least, I like OUR beer. 😀

There is a great irony in my life. I find beer absolutely fascinating. Honestly, my interest in it started by accident. I have my Smart Serve and an extra person was needed in Black Creek’s brewery, one of my roommates back home is a would-be brewmaster who has several books about beer… Regardless of how the interest started, I’ve been hooked ever since. The history behind beer, brewing methods, tasting notes, alcohol volumes, and International Bitterness Units (IBUs, of course)… it’s all so cool.

But I don’t like beer.

Not one bit. I have never been able to handle more than a few mouthfuls of any variety. Friends mock my grimace when I choke it down. I have grown fond of white wines, but almost every other type of alcohol just makes me gag.

So it was really interesting to go on a tour of the Speight’s Brewery with two friends of mine. The tour was as follows: you get to learn about the history of beer, walk through the brewery and learn how they make beer, and then finish in the brewery bar for twenty minutes of unlimited access to the taps. One friend was quite clear that he was only interested in those last twenty minutes. I was equally clear that I only cared about the first two parts of the tour. The third member of our little band was somewhere in the middle.

Oh my God, it was awesome!

The guide was a wizened, perky guy who spiced his history with asides on current Dunedinites’ drinking habits. We learned about how the Ancient Egyptians first started brewing beer, and then how Europeans made “ale,” but then added hops to make it real “beer,” and how when Captain Cook arrived in NZ, he brewed beer to ward off scurvy. We learned how the barley is malted, and how the room corners are rounded to prevent accumulation of dust, bugs, and contamination. We learned how unfiltered, uncarbonated beer (i.e. Black Creek’s historic beer) is called “green beer,” and how the University of Otago devised the method of condensing hop powder into convenient pellets.

Then the guide asked, “So who here likes beer?”

Every hand but mine went up.

Nonetheless, I did try everything. As expected, I ended up giving most of it to a grateful (and increasingly chatty) Friend No. 1, though there was a cider that was palatable. Still, it was good to be able to actually taste the porter’s “hints of coffee,” as opposed to just learning by rote that they’re there.

But the true measure of my interest?

The appearance of beer-appreciation podcasts on my iPod. 😀

I am such a geek.

Halfway Home

Today officially marks the halfway point of my time in the Southern Hemisphere. That seems like a momentous occasion, so because I’m spending a grand total of 6 months abroad, I thought I’d mark it by sharing a few lists of “six things.”

Six Things I’ve Learned While Abroad

  1. How to go from pyjamas to fully dressed without ever leaving the safety of my warm bed.
  2. If tired enough, one can sleep through almost anything. Even couches burning on the street, and the fire truck’s arrival and subsequent entanglement in hordes of drunken students.
  3. My USB key has become my most important possession.
  4. Despite what I had been led to believe, there are no rainbow factories in New Zealand, nor does it rain candy. There may, however, be unicorns.
  5. How to tackle a sheep, put it in a headlock, and drag it out to be shorn.
  6. Being away from home makes you realize exactly what home is to you.

Six Things I Haven’t Done Yet, but that are on my List

  1. Visit Hobbiton.
  2. Visit Shantytown.
  3. See Ayer’s Rock.
  4. Wander Wellington, finding all the places mentioned in “Weather Child” (the book that made me choose NZ over Australia).
  5. Winery tour. Also touring the Speights Brewery.
  6. Snorkel in the South Seas.

Six Things I Miss from Home

For all Torontonians like to complain about the TTC, we have no idea how good we have it.

  1. My friends.
  2. My family.
  3. My apartment.
  4. My pioneer dress (never thought I’d say it, but…)
  5. My choir.
  6. The TTC (again, never thought I’d say it…)

Six Things I’ll Miss from New Zealand

  1. My friends.
  2. Rob Roy ice cream
  3. The Botanic Gardens.
  4. The land’s sheer, aggressive greenness.
  5. Seeing the Southern Cross overhead.
  6. Café Sunday.

    It almost feels unfair, how beautiful it is….


Top Six Moments Thus Far

  1. Consuming delicious coffee, scones, and cream beside a toasty fire at Annie’s Victorian Tearoom.
  2. Walking the sea cliffs outside Oamaru.
  3. Shearing a sheep (well, only part of the sheep, but still).
  4. Finding the Peter Pan statue in the Botanic Gardens/Finding the Alice in Wonderland statue at Larnach Castle.
  5. Climbing up, and down (but mostly down) Signal Hill.
  6. My very first Tim Tam Slam, an experience for which I have only a single word: NOM.

You know it’s essay season when…

It is 8:00, and I have coffee.

That wouldn’t be a terribly surprising statement… except that it’s 8:00 pm. I’m one of those people who can’t handle caffeine after 4:30, not if I plan on sleeping that night.

I don’t really plan on sleeping tonight.

I have two essays, a debate, and a short(er) assignment all due within the next week, then a test and another assignment at the beginning of the week after. So naturally, I’m here writing a blog post about my work, instead of actually doing it, but… I digress.

I have coffee.

I was in the library, working on one of these essays(EVERYTHINGYOUKNOWABOUTDARWINANDTHEVICTORIANCHURCHGO!), when exhaustion hit me like a truck. I’m not sure if it was crashing blood sugar, or the consumption of a single glass of wine earlier in the evening, but I was a zombie. Reluctantly (but really too stupid in the head to do anything else), I packed up my computer and returned home, where I had some cereal.

And I made coffee.

Now I can feel it kicking in. I’m still really, really tired, the “I-wonder-if-vampires-attacked-me-in-the-night” kind of tired, but the cogs of my brain are turning again. With any luck, both essays can be finished over the weekend. Schoolwork has been Priority No. 1 for me for almost as long as I can remember… but that seems to possibly be shifting oh-so-slightly (agh! I feel squirmy inside just typing that). I feel bad laying my fiction-type writing aside, even if it’s only for a few days. Inertia can be a powerful and terrible thing, and I’m not letting this story stall and die on me.

Now my coffee is gone….


Oamaru Recap

I’ve returned a wee bit early from Oamaru. Frankly, it reminded me of the Distillery District more than Black Creek – lots of galleries in a small, twisty section of town. Not quite what I expected, but very nice nonetheless. My early return doesn’t mean I wasn’t having a good time. It just means that I misjudged how long it would take me to do everything.

Yesterday, I had a very long, but very, very good day.

It started with what I intend to make a routine while travelling: a trip to the café for my daily caffeine fix and word count. The owner brought my Long Black just as my netbook flared to life.

“Doing a bit of catch-up, are we?” he asked, nodding at the screen.

“Um, no, actually. I’m writing.”


“I’m a writer.”

“A writer!” He beamed. “We had a writer used to come round. Turned out three books sitting here.” He broke off suddenly, and gave me a stern look. “Well,” he said. “Get at it!”

So I did.

My next stop was the Steampunk HQ, located in a former grain storage building on the edge of the Victorian Precinct. Like most of Oamaru, it was smaller than I expected, and the steampunk a shade darker than I’m used to, but certainly worth the look.  Even better, I made friends with the curator, who told me that if I came to the North Otago Museum after lunch, she’d unearth some photos of nineteenth-century Oamaru, along with some more recent photos of its past steampunk exhibits.

I hit the public gardens next, but a sudden downpour hit me, so it was a rather bedraggled Canadian that darkened the doorstep of Annie’s Victorian Tearoom. A woman in period maid’s costume met me with a smile, and an eye on my soaked hair and jacket. “Would you be wanting a hot drink then, dear?”

“Yes, please.”

“Go on and sit anywhere you like…” She paused, and looked me over again. “But may I suggest by the fire?”

Yes, they had a real, wood fire. In a real fireplace. A Victorian tea set and gas-lamp graced the shelf behind my head, and a little old man played piano in the corner. My server had muttonchops. I sighed. I was home.

Now, I eat very quickly. It’s embarrassing, but I can’t help it. Turns out that fancy china is an excellent cure. And believe me, the food was delicious: flaky scones with dollops of cream perfect for cooling the mouth after a sip of hot coffee. As I paid, the server asked, “Was everything to your liking?”

“Oh, yes, you have no idea how much I needed this.”

He nodded. “You looked a bit rain-soaked, I’m glad you were able to warm up.”

“It’s not just that…”

We then got into a conversation about history and historical sites – apparently, he worked at a heritage site in Christchurch until the earthquake, and then moved down here to keep some of his period lifestyle. “I’m kind of a history geek,” he confided. (Males – there is no faster way to make me fall in love a little bit.)

Later, I went to the museum, where the steampunk curator works afternoons. As promised, she had a collection of photos to show me, and we talked for a while about Oamaru’s history, steampunk, and speculative fiction in general. The longer I stay here, the more I realize how rich New Zealand’s tradition of spec-fic is – and it’s not just Lord of the Rings. There’s something about the people, and the country, that works very well with this kind of literature.

And to finish the day, I went for a wander in the reserve just outside of town. Lots of huge, creaking trees, a few sheep, and a seacoast trail with breathtaking, ruggedly beautiful cliffs.

All in all, a thoroughly excellent experience… though I’m quite content to have left it at just the one day.