I've lost count of the number of times people have asked me "So what made you choose New Zealand?" and invariably the answer is a variation of the theme "It's a nice place to bring up kids and it's one of the few countries that would have me"
Aside from that fundamental issue of getting through Immigration, one of the other reasons is that New Zealand is generally a pretty safe place when it comes to wildlife. This is particularly true when compared to, say, Australia, where just about everything is evolutionarily designed to kill you by either sting, bite or swallowing you whole in one bloody mouthful. However, what they don't tell you is that New Zealand is FULL of things that want to share your bed, eat your meal, or just generally take over your house.
For the first couple of weeks we were in an apartment in downtown Auckland, in the middle of summer. It's hot, it's near the sea, it's humid at times, so generally, you are pretty geared up to dealing with tenacious mosquitos and the occasional housefly. Being used to Mediterranean holidays, this isn't a problem - you shut the blinds, you plug in the mossie repellents and you cover yourself in mossie spray.
However, nothing prepared me for moving to a house 40kms out of town in sleepy suburbia. For a start, the house had been empty for a few months before we moved in, so quite obviously various bits of wildlife were a bit upset at the intrusion. You kind of expect that and, whilst I'm not a big fan of spiders, I can usually get along with them. I do, however, take exception to opening the kitchen cupboard to be confronted by a behemoth in serious need of a shave, with more knees than an Oxford Boat Race crew. Being a rufty tufty bloke, I did the only thing possible. I took a deep breath, composed myself, then screamed and swore like buggery! Having got that out of my system, I calmed down somewhat and, after a moments logical thought, realised all was well because we had some fly spray.....in the kitchen cupboard!! Opening the door again, I soon realised it was going to be a battle of wills because our friend Harry the Spider wasn't going anywhere. Grabbing the fly spray, I whipped off the top and gave him a shot in the eyes. Not feeling very gruntled at my lack of hospitality, he buggered off down the back of the cupboard to tell his mates and form a posse!
Just about every time I went in any of the cupboards, one of Harry's mates would be thee, grinning and staring at you with more eyes than an old potato. Even worse, you settle down for a night in front of the telly and all of a sudden you get the arachnid equivalent of the incontinent old lady at the cinema wandering past your telly!! Somewhat disturbed by procession of arachnid antagonists, I thought it would be useful to check a few wildlife facts on the internet. Basically, the advice seems to be that none of the spiders are truly poisonous but some may bite. Now I'm sorry, but that's splitting hairs in my book and there is no place in my house for anything that can get up the stairs quicker than I can! I was also in no way reassured by the little snippet of interesting information proudly advising me that all of the spiders used in the film Arachnophobia where rounded up in New Zealand!
And as if the spiders aren't bad enough, there's the crickets. These buggers are the catburglers of the insect world. No matter how securely the house is locked, they can find their way in, and once they have, they tell all their mates. They are sneaky buggers too! You can search the house and there are none in sight anywhere, but you nip off for a quick pee and by the time you get back, there will be one of the buggers sat in your chair, drinking your tea and flicking through the channels with the remote.
Being somewhat naive, It's only now I have realised why the spiders are as big as they are - it's because there is an endless supply of crickets to munch your way through when there is bugger all worth watching on my TV. Not only that, but having now eradicated most of the spiders - certainly the very big ones anyway - the crickets are having a field day! I spent one of our first evenings in the new house with all the windows open, letting the tropical breeze caress my heat-weary bones, listening to the hypnotic and haunting chirruping of all the nocturnal critters. Little did I realise that all the noise was a thousand little crickets passing on the message "Hey lads, the daft bugger has left all the windows open, let's go!" Jesus, turn on the light in any one room and there were dozens of them! The house was a seething mass of brown shiny bodies, and the crunching sound as I went into the kitchen to make a brew was like a troop of Morris dancers tap-dancing on rice crispies!
As you might imagine, I'm not an insect person and our house is now well stocked with insect spray. Mrs C thinks its highly amusing that I shake my clothes out and turn my shoes upside down and give them a few hard taps before putting my toes anywhere near. But she'll be laughing on the other side of her face when some cricket-gorged spider has her foot off!
Mind you, one or two people I've met can't quite understand my sensitivities. Most people can't see what the fuss is all about. "Oh don't get worked up over the crickets" they tell me, "It's the wetas you need to worry about."
Wetas, people take great delight in telling you, are like crickets on steroids. Having seen a specimen at the museum last weekend, I can't see me and wetas hitting it off somehow. Even the dead ones look menacing - about the size of your hand with the crazed and spiky look of a thrash metal junkie.