Thursday, July 17, 2008

Auckland winter

There’s one simple fact about Auckland winters: For me, they practically don’t exist.

I should back up a little. I spent 36 years living in a land that froze over for several months each year. While I have many happy childhood winter memories of playing in the snow, my later memories are of icy piles of snow turned gray-brown by the road grime, or yellow by countless dogs. I remember watching the snow melt each year, revealing a hidden brown layer left by the dogs.

And as if that wasn’t enough, there was also the biting cold—including the inevitable periods with “dangerously low wind chill”. Several layers of shirts, sweaters, coats and mittens on top of gloves still couldn’t keep that kind of cold away, especially in those draughty old Chicago apartments that never seemed to warm up enough to avoid me seeing my breath inside. All of this is why I hate cold and snowy winters.

So I moved to New Zealand, a place where “cold” means maybe low teens in the day (50s in US temperature), and a really cold night might reach about 4 (around 40 in US temperature). To me, this was positively balmy.

Except for New Zealand houses.

Until relatively recently, New Zealand houses didn’t have to be insulated, and many older houses still aren’t. Also, most NZ houses have no central heating, like I was used to. As a result, my first winter in Auckland I was the coldest I’ve ever been in my life (a common complaint among American expats in New Zealand, it seems).

Fortunately for me, the house we live in now was built relatively recently and has more insulation than is required (or even normal). We also have central heating/cooling—a ducted inverter heat pump system. So, we have it better than many people, and once again I can think of Auckland winters as being mild.

I took the photo at the top of this post last week, on the coldest morning of the winter so far. There was a frost on the park near our house, which was unusual, especially because it was heavy enough to kill tender plants in some places. None of which you can tell from this photo—I just liked the light and shade and misty mysteriousness of it.

Sometimes a nice photo is enough.

Update: Apparently, New Zealand winters really are cold: A column in the July 12-18 issue of the New Zealand Listener magazine (available online after August 2) said "Winter mortality rates were about 18% higher than expected in other seasons," and that the seasonal variance in mortality (aka, "death") is higher than in other developed countries. The blame is placed on cold houses and poor heating, but the column points out little research has been done on what really is a proper interior temperature. Maybe those cold expats aren't crazy after all.

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