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Mar 15

Weekend in Tongariro

Megan and I had a great weekend a few days ago. I wanted to capture the experience in a more permanent way than a Facebook status, and given we ditched our kids and left Auckland for the first time in 6 years, why not dig out this blog for a post!

We left Auckland at 3:30 (I took a half day and picked up my new bicycle, but that’s another story) and promptly got stuck in traffic for 3 hours. We gave up in Manukau at 6:30 and went and grabbed dinner. Eventually, we made it to our accommodation at National Park at about 10:30pm.

The plan was to do the Tongariro Crossing the next day, but the weather was looking bad. We got up anyway the next day at about 6am, had breakfast and were ready to go, only to be told the weather made it unsafe. Off to plan B. We decided to head off to Lake Rotopounamu for a 2 hour walk and lunch. It was quite beautiful, and like every time I get into the bush, I was gushing about the majestic and beautiful trees. SAM_4208 SAM_4209 SAM_4215_t We then headed into Tauranga and had a very competitive game of mini-golf (Pete won) and had a soak at the Tokaanu Hot Pools.

We finished the day with dinner at a lovely restaurant at the train station in National Park where Megan and I had eaten about 8 years ago.

In the end we had an early night, hoping that the weather would let us do the crossing the next day. Some of those who would have done the crossing on the Saturday were clearly not going to try the next day, most notably the drunk middle-aged group of women who had been discussing what to do with an engagement ring after divorce over breakfast that morning.

The next day dawned marginally better than Saturday, with the forecast predicting 70kph winds at the red crater instead of 95kph the day prior with minimal rainfall. They gave us the ‘go ahead’ but delayed us an hour or so to let the winds die and the temperature increase.

SAM_4224Eventually we bussed to the start of the crossing and started ascending, surrounded by cloud. We got a quick ahead of the ‘crowds’ and got along well.

In some ways the cloud probably helped us as we were not overawed at all by the task ahead of us (given we couldn’t see anything). We climbed higher and it got colder and windier. Fortunately at this stage, the wind was at our backs, so it certainly helped us.

The photo below is probably a significant way up, but certainly not near the top (as we’re still smiling and not looking overly cold). For the record, we’re wearing our full ‘mountain’ gear with thermals top and bottom, polar fleeces, gloves, hats, scarves etc.

As we walked up we passed the turn-off the summits of the mountains, but considering the weather, it didn’t make any sense to make those attempts, but something for another trip.   SAM_4226 (2)The higher we went, the colder and windier it got, but we were not prepared for what hit us as we got to the ‘ridge’. The ridge was about 4-5m wide (we couldn’t see anything down either side because of the cloud so were imagining huge drop-offs) and the wind was unbelievably strong, blowing from one side to the other (another walker suggested the wind was about 100kph. We were actually afraid we were literally going to be ‘blown off the mountain’. As we first got to the top Megan grabbed me and I told her I had to keep going because of how ‘vulnerable’ I felt while standing still in the wind.

We climbed mostly in silence for the next half an hour or so as we struggled up the ridge. As we got to the penultimate point of the climb (before we headed back down to the lakes) the wind was at it’s strongest and I felt I couldn’t even stand up. I ended up essentially crawling the last couple of metres, a strategy the guy behind me also followed when I chatted to him a bit later. But it was all worth it when we got over the top and the cloud cleared a bit, giving us something to look at finally! SAM_4239 SAM_4240_tSAM_4250_t SAM_4256 SAM_4257_t We had an extensive and delicious lunch by this beautiful lake a couple of minutes walk off the main track. The only thing missing was a thermos of coffee (there’s always next time). Then we began the long walk over the plateau and back down the mountain. SAM_4262 By the time we got to the bottom we were pretty sore, a feeling that was to become familiar over the coming days. Our bus arrived a little early and since everyone had arrived, we were able to head off about 45 minutes ahead of schedule, a fact all of us with a long drive home (most of us) were very appreciative of. After a five hour drive home, most of which was done by Megan because of my painful back (the only time it really inconvenienced me) we got home, picked up the girls and concluded a full, but fun and successful weekend.  

Mar 26

Colton Dixon – Love Has Come for Me

Colton Dixon’s debut album, ‘Messenger’ won’t be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ (it’s pretty “upbeat” (read: rocky)) but you have to love the depth of the lyrics of his songs. I really hope this is having a major impact on the millions of people around the world who saw him on American idol.

I particularly love the lyrics in ‘Love Has Come for Me‘ (oh yeah and his final performance on idol, ‘everything‘ by lifehouse):

I tell myself that I can do better
Someday I’m gonna get it all together
Who am I fooling?
I am weak and prone to be The me that I will always be
So what’s left to do but surrender?

This is where I end And this is where You start
And everything I needed Is everything You are
Love has come for me
Oh, love has come for me

I’ve never understood but it’s amazing
The way you never let the past enslave me How do you do it?
Love the heart, the part of me
That desperately needs a remedy
I wanna be a life You keep changing

This is where I end And this is where You start
And everything I needed Is everything You are
Love has come for me
Oh, love has come for me

And I’ll go where You want me to be
And even though I may be broken
I can see Your love has come for me

I’m never gonna get it all together
So, what’s left to do but surrender?

Cause this is where I end And this is where You start
And everything I needed Is everything You are Love has come for me
Love has come for me Yeah, love has come for me
Love has come for me

Mar 17

Will the Next Generation of Kiwis Opt Out of Home Ownership?

I’ve been on a bit of financial planning binge over the last several months. This was prompted by a bunch of books I’ve been reading including the books from the ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad‘ series and a bunch of investment books (including shares, bonds and property).

Meanwhile there has been a house price spike in Auckland, New Zealand as can be seen from the tail end of the graph below (data from Barfoot & Thompson).

Interestingly, during this period, total returns are 21% or 4.2% per annum. Adjust that for inflation and you got a 1.8% return on your investment, hardly amazing. But that’s a subject for another post.

Auckland Housing Prices (Average Selling Price)

Average Selling Prices for Houses in Auckland sold by Barfoot & Thompson

Back in 2005 when we bought our current house (a 3 bedroom house on a small section on Auckland’s North Shore) we were able to get it with a mortgage of about 3.5 times our combined income. We then went overseas for a couple of years and came back ready to have our first child. Fortunately, my income had increased, so we could still afford our mortgage (3.7 times income).

These days, with two growing pre-schoolers, a wife who’s just finished studying and is returning to work our mortgage is a very healthy 2.3 times income.

Here’s the issue, like many of our peers (and generations before us) we’re now growing out of our 3 bedroom house on a cross leased section.

In previous generations they may have just added an extension (not possible with so little land) or simply moved to another house with only a marginal increase in their mortgage.

Even though our house price has to some extent kept up with house price increases, acquiring a four bedroom house on a full section in our neighbourhood would require us to increase our mortgage by 82%.

This would mean our mortgage was now 4.3 times earnings, without the likelihood of the dramatic salary increases possible in the earlier years of your career. [Note, this site suggests 2 – 2.5 times gross earnings].

Hillcrest Weatherboard House

This is actually the house we’ve most liked in our area. Well above the 4.3 ratio though!

So what am I saying?

There’s a lot written about housing affordability and the fact that people can’t afford a first home. I’m looking on one step further, even if you can afford a small first home, based on two incomes, what future can you look forward to when kids come along and you eventually need a bigger place?

The answer is pretty clear to me, either:

  • A lot more middle class New Zealand families will be renting their homes in the future (maybe from overseas residents (again a topic for another post))
  • A lot more middle class families will be forced to live outside Auckland
  • There will be a major correction in house prices as people refuse to pay the unaffordable prices
  • Many families will undertake a massive (possibly unsustainable) debt burden that will negatively influence their entire life.

The last point is the one I worry about. What does a society look like where families are toiling under the pressure of their massive mortgages? Unable to take holidays, struggling to put food on the table, unable to even think about supporting their community (either financially or in time)?

That’s why, I would encourage my peers and those just starting out their adult life to seriously think whether the traditional aspiration of house ownership is still relevant.

Oct 07

Virtual Savings Accounts by Kaha.biz

For a long time now I have been frustrated by the financial situation of wanting to have savings accounts so that I can keep my savings separate from my mortgage (e.g. saving for a holiday or a new gadget) but knowing that it’s a stupid thing to do financially since the interest rates are lower and you have to pay tax on the interest.

So…one day I was lying on the couch reading the Steve Jobs biography and I had a eureka moment.

“Why not design a website which replicates the savings accounts I have in the bank ‘virtually'”.

The idea is that the “real” money goes into my mortgage but an equal amount is put in a Virtual Savings account.

A few months of development later… Kaha.biz is born.

I’m super excited about the opportunity to share this site with the world, while also a bit nervous about whether people will understand it, enjoy it or just find a million bugs!

I guess only time will tell…

Aug 01

Windows Phone Calendar Items Disappearing

There seems to seems to be a fault with the windows phone platform affecting a wide group of it’s users wherein in the last couple of days (most users report on 31st July) their calendars are not syncing between windows live and WP7.

The primary thread on the microsoft site seems to be this one:

http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/winphone/forum/wp7-sync/all-calendar-entries-have-disappeared-from-windows/9b827bb7-6760-4fa7-ae7b-903e26211814?page=1

If you’re being impacted, hit that page an press the “me too” button on the top right.

That thread also highlights some suspicious product launches that may have caused the issue, but it’s all speculation at the moment.

Apparently the only fix at the moment is to hard reset. When I better solution is found, I’ll post it here.

Jan 16

Sony Music Unlimited Review

I’m about 1/3rd through a two month trial of Music Unlimited but like many trials, I’ve already made a decision about what I’ll be doing at the end of the trial.

Music Unlimited LogoPro’s:
– Affordable (NZ$15/month), essentially the cost of one digital album if bought on itunes.
– Great audio quality
– Songs are quick to load (i.e. not much delay between tracks or when selecting a new song)
– Huge catalogue
– Nice web interface

Con’s:
– Not available for Windows Phone
– Very slow to load on PS3
– Clunky interface on PS3
– Seemingly a resource hog on PS3, since you can’t do anything (e.g. look at pictures or surf internet) when Music Unlimited is running.

So I guess the good news for Sony is that the fundamental elements of Music Unlimited are solid.  But it’s all the usability aspects that are not up to spec.  So I won’t be using it.  However there are just two things which would make me change my mind.

(1) Improve the software performance on PS3 to load faster, have better UI and operate in the background while viewing photos (as normal music does on the platform)
(2) Develop a Windows Phone App which allows songs to be stored on the device (i.e. so that they’re not downloaded over the data network)

So Sony, great job on this product, complete the items above and offer me another trial.  In the meantime I’m going to check out the Zune Pass.

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