Saturday, April 21, 2007

Wanganui New Zealand (Part 2)

Wanganui New Zealand (Part 2)

Another update on what I've been up to in NZ.

MT. TARANAKI this is shown in the photo attached and as you can see is one impressive Mountain/Old Volcano. We took everyone's advice and left at approx 2am to make sure we got to the top by sunset and found ourselves at the top by 4:30am. It was good conditioning for the south island as it was bloody cold sitting waiting huddled behind rocks. The view was awesome looking over other mountains in the distance but most spectacular of all was the shadow of the mountain as it was a perfectly shaped pyramid. We found several other walks in the national park to amuse us for another day along with a brewery lighthouse and surf beach where the waves broke over rocks submerged (only if the wave was big enough…did get cut up to bad).

A must do tourist activity in NZ is caving. We went to cave central in the WAITOMO district and completed the Haggis Honking Hole cave tour. This involved abseiling down waterfalls (underground) and squeezing through tight passages of the cave network. Heaps of fun and very memorable but rated a distant second the spot of caving we did weeks prior to it. On that occasion we spotted a cave off the beaten track and self guided ourselves through a cave and even managed to get lost for some time. In Waitomo we also went through the glow worm cavern and the most commercial but well worth it Ruakuri cave that has had millions spent opening the largest cave in the country to allow you to see the cave formations. After our caving experience we saw our first kiwi (endangered so I can't even let you know if they taste like chicken). The weekend was well planned considering the lack of planning as it rained all weekend and we spent most of it underground. The rain also triggered the front page news story for the next week. The mountain we first climbed (Mt. Ruapehu) had a crater lake that has been filling for the last decade or so. The dam at the weakest end was only formed out of volcanic ash. Hence with the rain over that weekend it burst sending million of litres of sulphuric acid and volcanic mud down the mountain in what is known as a LAHAR. With a fluke of fortunate timing managed to be driving along side the river when the Lahar came roaring down. Boulders and entire trees were caught in the torrent, the noise was awesome. I didn't know which way to point the camera or just stop in awe. The next week people marvelled at the pictures in the news papers whilst we had been right there amongst the vulcanologists and TV reporters.

Canoeing the WANGANUI RIVER is classified as one of the Great NZ walks (it gets into all the tramping guide books anyway even if it is actually a paddle). We spent a leisurely 3 days floating, paddling and grinning from ear to ear through many sets of rapids over the 80+km trip. We passed another NZ icon, "the Bridge to Nowhere" which is a magnificent old bridge that the NZ pioneers built in 1935 in attempt to open up a farming community in terrain that most people would look at and never consider growing a crop or grazing sheep. The farming venture failed and now this bridge stands in the middle of a national park of forest…"no-where".

We couldn't help but to visit the premier wine region in NZ to see how the kiwi's wine stacks up against the Australian drop. HAWKES BAY has at least 25-30 wineries so we tried a handful and were probably more impressed with the brewery most of all (18 different glasses of beer and cider to taste for $18 bucks…we went back the next week when passing through just to make sure the initial tasting was correct!). Around the drinking we walked out to a Ganet (seabird) colony on a cliff lined headland and then walked into a hot spring for a fantastic soak.

Over the Easter long weekend we travelled around the EAST CAPE of the North Island. This is about as rural as it gets in NZ and will be remember for the views as well as the change in social demographics/economics. Every second building was a Marae (Maori gathering house) that are covered in wood carvings and always busy. The secluded little beaches just around each headland were quite pretty but most memorable would be MT. HIKURUNGI that is the first part of NZ (therefore the world) to see the start of the new day. Yet another early morning head torch walk put us on top for Easter Sunday sunrise after a climb that is much more strenuous/dangerous than Mt. Warning. We also completed a boat cruise/tour to WHITE ISLAND which is the only active volcanic vent in NZ and saw the sulphur deposits and steam being released.

These past 2 weekends have been spent in Wanganui as we unfortunately made it into the on call roster. We occupied time by going a maze cut into corn ( Corn Evil) with actors in it that do their best to scare you. I let my guard down just before the end and was the talk of the pharmacy over the next week as the re-called me sprinting the opposite way, screaming and stumbling through the corn as an actor suddenly appeared beside me. That night I also ran into a friend from the time I spent in Murwillumbah…still freaky that turned around in a pub in a town of maybe 250ppl and Andrea was standing ready to order. We also experimented with some Maori cooking during the on-call weekends. The lack of large mammals meat that the Maori's diet was largely based around aquatic animals and waterbirds. A delicacy is Mutton Bird…yes the same birds as found in Coffs Harbour on Mutton Bird Island, what it tastes like…I'll let you find out for yourself.

Other notable Kiwi nonsense has been their roads. We came up with a theory that the make them windy to slow people down and reduce accidents…does this work? They don't believe in giving you much notice before changes in the road i.e. a road work sign will be next to the pot hole rather than before it or a speed change will occur on bend rather than before it. If you are going to build a bridge then it seems compulsory to have it on a corner or even better is to make the bridge the corner! Witches Hats (orange cones) can not be more than 2 meters apart and there must be never fewer than 50 or so around a road work area . Best still is to put the witches hats in the centre of the road so trucks blow them over and provide additional obstacles. Road work signs means you drop your speed to 30km/hr even if it is a minor pot hole or unsealed gravel section that we'd drive on in Australia at 80+km/hr. Never ending amusement to pass the kilometres along with my singing, poor Brad!

PHARMACY in New Zealand is much like Australia…has its good points and its bad. It takes an Australian registered pharmacist 4 weeks of "supervised" training and a casual interview to determine that you can actually speak English to become registered. Wages aren't as flash as Australia but then cost of living is slightly less and I am not over here to make my millions. The NZ govt has cracked down on the pharmaceutical industry and has been operating a system similar to that for NSW hospitals where by they put up for tender a particular drug e.g. diclofenac. This mean the companies then bid to supply that drug and whoever can supply it the cheapest gets exclusive rights for that drug in NZ. This means the brand name drug "voltaren" has to be competitive with the generic "APO Diclofenac" to be used anywhere within the country. The govt enforces this by only paying the pharmacies when that brand name of the drug is given. This means that there is only a single brand of a particular drug allowed to be used. The NZ also avoids costly brand name medicines by restricting the use to those in the same therapeutic group that have already gone off patient…no "Coversyl" dispensed since leaving Australia. Sadly this comes with the cost that I no longer get free drug company stuff and lunches…bummer! The other big difference is the pack sizes…most tablets and caps come in massive 500 bottle tablets and the pharmacists-techs have to count out the required number into a pill bottle. Meaning not only do I have to stick my label straight I have to count out the correct number of tablets! The pharmacies have also been hit by the NZ govt cost cutting measures by reducing the number of dispensing payments. They do this by having most medicines on a "stat list". The patient will hence present with a 3 month script for Diltiazem and will be given 90 capsules rather than 30 and 2 repeats ( i.e. 1 dispensing fee V's 3 dispensing fees) this also explains the large pack sizes to some degree.

Good points of the industry are that you can find out through a national number what a patients discount card (concession/pension) number is and immediately if the card has been renewed even if the patient only has the expired one on them. More good points: The industry is full of females. Contraception is much cheaper and easier for people to get, $3 for 144 condoms or $3 for 6 months supply of the oral contraceptive. MSRA is almost non-existent and all staff require testing before they are allowed to work, ongoing swabs are taken during each year of employment. The use of community nurses to give stable patients the remainder of their IV antibiotic course at home rather than wasting time and money in a hospital bed. Massive co-ordinated approach to tackling TB in the Maori communities when an outbreak occurs.

Memorable moments have been:
- Dispensing quinine tablets out of a massive 500tab packet at least 1-2 per day.
- Sticking that bloody grapefruit label on med's for in-patients…have you ever seen grapefruit given out in hospital…or been sold in NZ for that matter.
- Methadone pt. returning with leaked takeaways…methadone is not coloured/flavoured/scented in NZ so it might as well have been water on the paper bag.
- Asking the same methadone patient about the fist tattooed on his forehead…"Black Power" gang insignia apparently…oopps.
- Nurse trying to give an incorrectly charted 10mg of Metoprolol out of a 100mg tablet!

We have 14 working days left in Wanganui and then taking some time to see the remainder of the North Island and get across to the south island. The weather has become somewhat colder in the last 2 weeks, particularly that Antarctic wind. Looking forward to see decent snow and the time off from counting pills.

Take care where ever you are and send me an email some time.