Thursday, November 4, 2010

What's not to love about New Zealand?

*As always, click on the pictures for bigger versions and to go to the flickr page with lots more photos.

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Welcome to the land of the long white cloud, Aotearoa (in Maori), EnZed in local slang or just New Zealand, as we commonly know it. After 2 months in Australia, we headed for greener pastures! Admittedly, having 2 months off to travel and relax in Australia was great, but our savings were taking a beating. Evan's licensure for Australia was “still in progress”, so we grabbed an opportunity for him to work in New Zealand, where licensing moved at a much quicker pace.

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On October 16 we arrived in Auckland. It was a drizzly day when we arrived, but even then, the mountains were a lush, glowing green. We grabbed our hospital arranged rental car and headed to Hamilton, which is about 2 hours south of Auckland and checked into the Camelot Motor Inn, our “home away from home” in New Zealand.

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The drive down was quite beautiful with volcanic peaks covered in tree ferns and verdant pastures with sheep everywhere. NZ is the peculiar mixture of Scotland (crags), Hawaii (waterfalls, volcanoes), British influence, and Maori culture. As odd as a blend as that sounds, it all works.

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Arriving over the weekend gave us a chance to meet an online Prius friend of Evan's, Sam. Sam is an ex-pat from New Mexico who has lived in NZ for 16 years. A psychology professor officially, he and his family live on a traditional NZ farm with sheep, horses, and chickens. The kids loved the opportunity to feed the orphan lambs and cuddle “Bear”, the miniature pony.

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We spent the rest of the day in Cambridge, a very English town with an Equestrian bent, visiting the tiny museum, buying local produce, and having a lovely lunch at a Thai/NZ fusion restaurant. (Our orders ranged from battered mussels and chips to a mussel frittata to green chicken curry!) It was a wonderful,eclectic day, and after that, we were hooked on New Zealand!

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Tuesday was a bit of 'back to reality'. Evan met his contact at the hospital and began getting oriented for work. (Yeah, finally a job!) At that point, it had been two and a half months since his last patient contact. Actual work started on Friday just a few hours after final approval of his credentials and indemnity insurance. The hospital has the busiest emergency department in all of New Zealand, being the only major hospital in the area. Also, being that they have a public health care system here, things operate quite differently from the US--some for the better, some for the worse. The quality of care delivered and the expertise of the physicians is quite excellent. Every patient has a general practitioner whom they can see for a minor copay. Specialist care is a tougher task, though, sometimes with very long waits. A lot of unnecessary tests are not done because they work on a system of protocols and guidelines. (Ah, the joys of not having to practice defensive medicine since there is essentially no malpractice suits.) That said, there's no room for a physician's 'gut feeling' about things and obtaining advanced tests in marginal cases is almost impossible in the ED.

The work in the ED is chaotic, disorganized, and inefficient by US standards. Lots of minor tasks are done by the physicians. However, there are a lot of physicians because almost every hospital serves as a training facility. Evan's roll is equivalent to an attending for the residents and interns in a US training hospital. Thus, he only sees a handful or two of patients per shift, but there are other responsibilities for supervision, problem solving, etc. that take a lot of time. There is a, essentially, “mandatory” lunch break for all staff, and the nurses take two 15 minute 'tea breaks' per shift. The patients are very appreciative, even when they wait. And, as everywhere in Australia and New Zealand, almost everyone we meet is extremely nice, helpful and happy.

Waitomo Caves & Glow Worms

Now, back to the fun part...on Evan's first day off, we drove south an hour or so to Waitomo caves. These caves are river caves and have beautiful white calcite formations, but are more well known for their glow worms. These larvae of the fungus gnat make long strands of mucus (looks like strings of pearls) and have a continuous glowing posterior to attract insects. As gross as this sounds, it's really quite lovely. We had a small boat ride through the cave looking at the roof of the cave with thousands of small glowing blue lights. This is somewhat similar to a cross between a lightning bug and a spider.

Waitomo Caves & Glow Worms

[blue dots are the glow worms]

Waitomo Caves & Glow Worms

For Evan's first weekend off, we headed over to Rotorua. This area is known for its geothermal activity---geysers, mud pots, thermal pools, and the dreaded pervasive sulfur smell. Rotorua is also known as a center for Maori culture. We were lucky enough to experience both! Our hotel overlooked Te Puia, the geothermal park.

[that's our hotel in the background]

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Besides Te Puia, we visited Te Wairoa, an excavated Maori village that had been buried in a volcanic eruption in 1886.

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We also went to the Tamaki Brothers' Maori village and hangi (meal). This was really great. The evening started off with the traditional Maori warrior challenge and greeting.

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Then, village had interactive displays with personnel to explain and demonstrate aspects of Maori life---tattooing, Warrior training, use of the club, food preservation, etc. (It was kind of like a Maori Silver Dollar City without the rides.)

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The hangi is where food is cooked in a pit in the ground with hot rocks. They served lamb, chicken, mussels, fish, and root vegetables like kumara and carrots. Yum!

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To top off our visit to Rotorua, we decided to do the luge. It was a gondola ride up the mountain then 2 quick trips down the mountain on an asphalt path riding a specially designed “luge” with wheels. The team of Dad and Amarra were first every time! Next time perhaps we'll try the Zorb---the human hamster ball!

Tamara's Rotorua

Overall, we love New Zealand. It's everything you imagine and more. The kids and I will continue to explore Hamilton while Evan is working and try to see more sites around the North Island when he's off. We've already realized that we can't even begin to see everything we want, so we'll have to plan another trip here!

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More on our further New Zealand experiences later!



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