Most of the time, New Zealand and Scotland feel very very similar. Not the cities admittedly, where the two styles of architecture are as diverse as can be, but life outside definitely so. There are the same mountains, lakes, vegetation; the Kiwi version just being on a larger scale than the highlands. In fact, the two countries have so much in common that my sister, coming to visit NZ last year, got a little angry: ‘I can’t believe I’ve spent over a thousand pounds to come to Aviemore!’ But everyone now and again I realise with a jolt, that the two countries are not as similar as they first appear.
On 26th September this year, New Zealand had a nationwide earthquake drill. As I taught my class of migrants students – Koreans, Chinese, Russians and a few other miscellaneous nationalities - how to ‘drop’, ‘cover’, ‘hold’, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I wasn’t in Scotland. Earthquakes have been a fact of life for New Zealand for a long time now, but since the big shakes in Christchurch last year, they’re more talked about and people, even all the way up here in Auckland, have to be more prepared than ever before.
Volcanoes are another thing that Scots just don’t think about very much. In Auckland they’re everywhere. I live in Mount Albert, a suburb named after the volcano it sits under, and many other suburbs have got their names the same way. Across the bay there is Rangitoto, dormant but alive and a few weekends ago, I went with my Fijian and a friend from home, down to Whakatane and across to White Island, New Zealand’s most active volcano. We wore gas masks to protect our throats from Sulphur, we saw mud bubble and boil and it felt like it was further from Scotland that merely the other side of the world. It felt like we were on the moon.