Roadtripping Part 1 – North Island

Life moves pretty fast when you are on the road. You have all of the regular life stuff (except for jobs, I guess) but with a logistical layer of accommodations, route-planning, activity-research and Tetris-esque vehicle packing, layered on top. Clearly blogging has fallen to the wayside along with exercising and vegetables. Here I will try to summarize a bit of the adventure without putting too much pressure on myself to completely relay all the details. I make no apologies for the delayed nature of this post – we had stuff going on!

Leaving the South Island was hard. We packed our car the night before because we had to hit the road before sun-up. In our bleary, early morning haze we saw this crossroads and realized we were really leaving.

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It was a sad irony that one of our most beautiful drives on the South Island was our last – from the Moutere to the Picton ferry. We watched the sun rise as we wound our way through the slowly evaporating mists of the morning. We boarded the Interislander ferry and crossed the Cook Strait to New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington, in the south of the North Island.

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Being in a real city (pop. 200,000!) after so long was a bit shocking. Tall buildings! Crowds! Cable cars with LED-lit tunnels – madness! We were invigorated by tripping again.

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We stayed at Airbnbs, while also Airbnbing our house back home. Love/hate relationship (mostly love). Here I get a nice surprise in the boudoir. I miss my brother-in-law but not that much.

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Te Papa is The Museum of New Zealand and one of the best I’ve ever been to. We started with the Gallipoli exhibit (New Zealand’s first engagement in WWI and a major nation-building event). They personalized it with a series of massive photo-realistic sculptures. Each one filled a room and we learned these real people’s real stories.

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Then a trip to the legendary Weta Studios – the go-to place for practical effects for films. It was an inspiring creative space and now we have a couple modelling projects on our to-do list.

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Lyla shows no mercy while defiling Azog the Defiler

It’s fun (for me, anyway) to see how different places and people do things differently. Check out this garbage can. It uses solar energy to compact itself so it doesn’t need to be collected nearly as often. Cool tech.

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While Julie and Lyla spent the day nursing colds in front of the fire, and biking around Turangi, Camille and I had the chance to do one of of NZ’s ‘great walks’ the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

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We walked up a volcano (past Lord of the Rings’ Mount Doom) and down the other side. These other-worldly bodies of water are called the Emerald Lakes.

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Afterwards, we all met up and braved the hordes rewarding our efforts at the local hot springs pools. Seriously, where are the people?

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In Rotorua we went on an elevated 1km hike that was entirely in a redwood tree canopy. We went at night to see the amazing wooden lanterns (of designer David Trubridge) light up the forest in a way that was novel and unforgettable.

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We also visited a centuries-old Maori village in a geothermal area. I did the haka but we won’t be showing pictures.

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I was a doubter but our friends the Bisbys insisted that visiting Hobbiton was worth the detour and money. This place could use a dedicated post – it was fascinating but I’ll just leave you with a round door photo. (fun fact: Peter Jackson couldn’t find the perfect oak tree to transplant above Bibo’s house so he had one made out of steel with 200,000 handmade leaves sewn on. Standing in front of it, I couldn’t see it was a fake. Considering the budget to make this place made my head spin.

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Like so many other things, L&P is world-famous in New Zealand. We had to visit the birthplace of the kid’s favourite decadence. (We tried sending a couple cans via mail back home to the girls’ friends but they exploded en route).

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There is a place called Hot Water Beach where volcanic activity below the surface heats the ground to spa-like temperatures. Due to the tides this part of the beach lies mostly underwater but reveals itself everyday. Holes must be dug anew and they fill with heated sea-water for the ultimate chilly beach day hack. We always knew that we had to go there and so by 10am the beach engineering project had begun.

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The Coromandel Peninsula. Making picnics 3000% more picturesque since forever.

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Cathedral rock.

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Our ‘off the grid’ airbnb. Solar powered with rain tank water and a composting toilet. Also, a 2 hour super windy road to the closest town.

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In Kawakawa we visited public toilets (on Lyla’s request) designed by the architect/artist Hundertwasser. As a rule one of the things New Zealand excels at it public toilets. Generally public space is respected and maintained. It is a physical manifestation of a ‘we are all in this together’ attitude and it’s refreshing. Yes, I just wrote that toilets are refreshing.

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Whangarei Heads. We hiked to the top and I rediscovered just how nervous Julie is of heights without restraints.

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As a natural spendthrift I would not have been attracted to an extravagance such as a family parasail in the Bay of Islands (the first European settlement in NZ but now just a collection of villages and multi-millionaire vacation homes). Julie on the other hand isn’t handicapped by mere pricetags. She is much more interested in experiences…thankfully. Fun fact#2: 1,300 feet is a long way up.

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We did a boat tour of the islands including this remote one. Maori boys would come of age by venturing out solo to this rock in the sea (multi-day journey), scale it’s cliffs and pluck a feather from a flightless bird unique to the island. Our captain decided to show off by taking the boat through the hole in the rock to our delight.

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Russell, was once considered the ‘Hell Hole of the Pacific’ due to the whorehouses and taverns rather than the nearby scenery.

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Next up the Adventure Forest outside of Whangarei. This was a park that consisted of several obstacle courses of various difficulties and heights that are completely off the ground. There is a 5 minute instruction that shows you how to use your gear and then they leave you alone. This independence is what truly sets it apart from other similar experiences.

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A couple videos that fully illustrate the experience:

View from mid-obstacle

Flying fox selfie

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And then, at last back to Auckland, where we landed in September. 1.5 million people – a metropolis! We bought a luggage scale, ate good Indian food and watched Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs. We also had to close our bank accounts and sell our car on the Kiwi Craigslist.

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Bye, bye, Little Birdie. You served us well. Good luck with your new owners.

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The big repack.

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Our final day. We took a ferry out to Waiheke Island which is only a 30 minute ride from the bustling Auckland but feels a million miles away. We did cartwheels on the beach, drank native wine, chatted to locals about the Royal Wedding, hiked through jungle-forest and generally just took one last gasp of New Zealand.

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Later that day with one year’s worth of possessions.

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Next up…Los Angeles!

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Unfinished Business

Outside our window in New Zealand lay the Kahurangi Mountain Range. In addition to providing a view it also created a geographic barrier that mostly shielded us from inclement weather. We hiked up to a public hut halfway up the mountain a couple times but never managed the time to summit. The hut was just above the treeline and provided a stunning vista of Tasman Bay and it’s surrounding area. The places we frequented and all the people we knew were somewhere in that view. But when you turned around there was another view – the top of Mount Arthur. I knew we would get there eventually and it felt great to keep that day in my back pocket for later.

Almost every day I would drift from my laptop, look out at my mountain and imagine standing on that speck at the top. But as the months drained away I started to get nervous that the stars might not align (weather, time, family motivation). In our final days we joined forces with some of our friends and made the journey. We had some business with a mountain that required finishing.

The summit didn’t disappoint. For the first time we we’re finally able to see over the range as the clouds rolled by below us. The best part was sharing the trip with our friends. Shared experience bonds you with people but a shared challenge is even more powerful.

Breaking Up.

It’s been over a month since we left our wild and perfect little piece of the world in Upper Moutere. I could say that we’ve been busy, or that the transition took up all my writing juice, but really, I’ve been avoiding writing this post because it makes it all too real that we have left. I feel like my teenage self, rebelling against the inevitable: I’m not ready to say goodbye and you can’t make me.

But it’s real, my lovely folks. Sigh. I’m an adult, and we are officially back in North America. We have even left the wacky wonder of L.A. behind us. But I’m not saying goodbye. New Zealand got its big old Maori fish hook in my heart and it is lodged for good. Could I try to explain what I loved about it so much? It might just cheapen the whole thing, but I’ll try. Where to start?

Our home.

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Our backyard.

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Those birds are called Kereru. They would come and eat the almonds while Joel and I worked.

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Complete with old, beautiful gum stump. And kids.
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So many sunsets.

Rajah the cat.

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Snaggle-toothed scamp.

Gandalf the Chicken.

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You guys having eggs for dinner?

The neighbourhood.

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Our mountain, Mount Arthur. We got to the top!
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Our river, The Motueka. (Not our cow).
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Our favourite beach, Kaiteriteri.
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Our school. (Do not feed the animals).
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Our favourite jumping pier.
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My favourite writing haunt.

But of course, it is the people, it is the people, it is the people*.

I have had so many ideas for a post about New Zealand’s people, but have been hesitant to write anything down, as I understand that I can’t come to know a whole country’s people in less than a year. So here is my experience of the people we met, and the community we lived in.

The Kiwis I met are keen-eyed and sharp-witted. They are polite, but warm and sincere. They are very willing to help out and so capable when they do. They are motivated in a deep way to do their best, rather than make a buck. They are up for an informed conversation about the world, but also up for a laugh and a glass of wine. They make good coffee, always. They are adventurers, and lovers of nature. They dance at concerts, with abandon and joy. They are sensible, silly, and poetic, all at the same time. I fell for them hook, line and sinker.

*He aha te mea nui o te ao
What is the most important thing in the world?
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people
Maori proverb

Here are some of our people.

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Luke and Anna. Aren’t they gorgeous?
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Lyla and Lillian.
Cam and Lara
Cam and Lara
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Runar. The only Icelandic Kiwi we met.
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Sue. Maker of the best road treats ever.
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Maryann, Margaret, Kaia and Finn. Our neighbours!
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Mount Arthur with Lara and Peter.
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Emma and Bree. (Blind dinner!)
Bree and Emma’s Mom, Rebekah. We’re talking about apples.

There are so many others! We were so busy hanging out with them that we didn’t take their photos. But we love them all.

To say good bye, we gathered at the Tasman store, a local after-school haunt, two nights before we left.

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Kiwi kids.

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And then a perfect sunset, up the road from our house.

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And the final day at 488 Harley Rd.

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I actually miss our driveway.
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Empty kitchen kiss.

Oh, we had so many other adventures after that day, but I’ll have to leave that for another post. I need to go stare at my pictures longingly and listen to some sad songs on repeat.

Here’s to you, my gorgeous New Zealand!

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See you soon.

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Cape Farewell

Farewell Spit

Late breaking news…on Easter weekend, knowing our time in the Top of the South was nearing it’s end we decided to go on a weekend trip to the very tip of the Island – the place that looks the most interesting when looking at a map and also where the land formation looks most like a kiwi…the Farewell Spit.

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The Farewell Spit was named by Captain Cook as he bade farewell to New Zealand.

The spit separates the Tasman Sea (named after the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, the first European to set eyes on NZ) and Golden Bay. Golden Bay was originally named Murderer’s Bay by Abel Tasman after he watched members of his crew get killed by the locals who didn’t take kindly to visitors. He left the area and didn’t go ashore again. It was 127 years before another European returned…Captain Cook (that guy really gets around!)

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We started by picking up this lovely hitchhiker named Maria from Poland. She was unfazed when Lyla started puking after making the hundreds of turns climbing up and over Takaka Mountain. (Locals refer to it as ‘going over the hill’.  In the town of Takaka we stopped for a bite at the legendary “Wholemeal Cafe”. The food was so delicious that we decided to buy the Wholemeal Cafe cookbook to attempt to bring home some of these kiwi yummies. Personally I think cookbooks make great souvenirs.

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Near the playground in Takaka was a war memorial that had a little monument dedicated to each war New Zealand had fought in. At the end they had one final monument dedicated their enemies. A deft and thoughtful touch and very typically kiwi.

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Next stop: Waikoropupu (Pupu for short) Springs.

IMG_20180331_153731The natural spring is a sacred spot for the Maori. It takes rainfall 10 years to filter through Takaka hill and down the valley until it passes underground and bubbles up into a little lake at the rate of 14,000 litres a second. It contains some of the clearest natural water in the world with a visibility of 63 metres!

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You can see the water gurgling up from underneath by the disturbance in the centre of the water.

On to the sleepy little village of Collingwood (which comically was a contender to be the nation’s capital in the 19th century) where we had rented an Airbnb.

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There was an article about the house’s original owner/builder which I found fascinating. He climbed the world’s tallest mountains, sailed the biggest ocean’s, built a NZ Department of Conservation hut at high altitude on Mt. Cook, and found a patch of moss while, you know, hanging out out at the South Pole, which ended up being the world’s southernmost flora ever discovered. He then ‘settled down’ in Collingwood to build an off the grid ecohouse while dying from cancer.

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He had since died and the vegetable gardens and fruit trees surrounding the property were sadly neglected but happily full of free groceries for us. We got to eat apples right off the tree – they don’t get any fresher than that. How you like them apples?

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Julie enjoys an espresso with milk foamed using the french press plunger trick. (new to me)

His woodworking friend down the street made this extremely funky and meaningful kitchen table using various pieces of wood from different parts of his old sailboat.

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Cape Farewell (above) sits at the base of the spit. From here the sandy spit stretches about 30km. There are no roads and there is only one way to see it: on the Farewell Spit Ecotour 4WD bus at low tide.

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Lyla snags the choice seat.
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On my way back after the wind grabbed my hat. It comically rolled on the brim along the spit at exactly the speed that I managed to run as the tour watched in amusement. I got a round of applause after finally snatching it. Camille provide moral support.

The lighthouse at the end of the spit provided some protection for sailors as the winds can be strong and the water extremely shallow (sadly many whale stranding here). Three (8 hour shift) lighthouse keepers (and their families) lived on the barren end of the spit permanently to maintain an oil lamp. Once a week they would make the daylong journey to the closest settlement for provisions. Now a cable supplying data and power run under the sand to automatically control a simple 50 watt halogen lamp bulb. Progress.IMG_20180401_161222

Here we are beyond the end of the spit at low tide. When the tide comes in it does so quicker than a person can run. Not a place you want to be caught out. Godwits that nest nearby take flight for their migratory trek to Siberia!

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On our way back the girls get a chance to play on the dunes. In parts the width of the spit shrinks by 10 kms (!) when the tide come in.

IMG_20180401_172635There are several bird species that call the spit home. There are no trees though so the Pied Shag isn’t one of them because they like to sit on branches to dry their wings. After a large storm, this dead tree showed up on the spit after floating for miles in the Tasman Sea. And suddenly the Pied Shag decided to make an appearance!

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Fully relaxed.

The next day we headed out on a tramp (hike) to the picturesque Wharariki Beach. Microsoft Windows features it in not one but two of its desktop wallpaper options.

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The kids just couldn’t get enough of running down the dunes. Good with me.  Go ahead, expend every last bit of energy.

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Oh, and obviously because the beach was so packed it was difficult to secure a lounger.

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This shot is comedy to me:desktop pic

You can check out my 360 panoramic of Wharariki Beach: Go here and click on the photo.

After the long drive back home we arrived to a smouldering bonfire and easter egg hunt in the neighbouring paddock. Sue and Runar, our loveable landlords hosted a dinner (cooked in foil in the ashes of the fire). It was a beautiful evening with their family, friends and the occasional sheep. Chocolate stuffed roast bananas, who would have thought?

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By the way if any of you are looking for the perfect spot to experience this area of the planet it would be difficult to find a better spot to base your operations than Sue and Runar’s holiday home named Ribbonwood. Kiwi hospitality is on full display here.

A Second a Day

Two years ago my friend Eddy told me about an app he’d heard about.  He then pointed his phone at the room and captured first “second”. The idea is that you record one second of video every single day to create a frenetic video of memories that showcase your life’s awe-inspiring moments as well as the mundane. Recording the moment in a single second relieves you of the pressure to fully paparazzize (new verb) every event. The app’s motto is “record less, live more”. Eddy tried to convince me to try it with him but it seemed like an awful lot of work for what would essentially be a year-long project to create an unwatchable mashup of random second long ‘scenes’.

A year later he showed me the result and it blew me away. There was a thread you could follow in the staccato moments and the smuggled-in emotional weight of witnessing time passing was huge. Think of what Boyhood did for cinema. There were tears in my eyes and it wasn’t even my life (although I made the odd appearance). I immediately pointed my phone at him and recorded my first ‘second’.

Now a year later I have finally finished my year of seconds. The app was a pleasure to use as it doesn’t require you to actually use it daily as long as you remember to take a video every day (which it can remind you to do). The snippets are saved in the cloud so all is not lost if your phone dies (which mine did during the project…see below). Each and every second (actually I chose to do 1.5 seconds) of this video builds a vibrant memory around it in a way that is materially different from a photograph. This year was a year worth documenting and I think that my experiment with 1 Second Everyday was successful in making a compelling, digestible and thought-provoking chronicle.

Without further ado I present my last year in 365 extremely short scenes:

Navigué L’ocean Bleu.

La fin de semaine dernière on a fait quelque chose à Nouvelle Zélande qu’on n’aura pas la chance a faire si on a resté pour moins qu’une année ici. On a navigué par voilier dans le parc national le plus populaire à  Nouvelle Zélande: Abel Tasman, et pas avec un guide! C’était très, très, amusant! On est allé avec une amie de Lyla et ses parents. Le bateau  à voile s’appelle “Bloody Mary”, et notre aventure sur le “ Bloody Mary” était magnifique.

Le premier jour on a quitté le port et voyageait pendant cinq heures. C’était le seule fois qu’on pouvait élever les voiles pendant toute la voyage. On a arrêté à une, plage très belle.  Quand on a baisser l’ancre moi, ma soeur, l’amie de ma soeur (qui s’appelle Lillian), et ma maman avons sauté du bateau et nous avons nagés dans l’océan.

 

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C’était tellement froid!

 

 

Après notre nage on est allé au lit . C’était un petit peu serré parce que moi et mes parents devaient partager un lit. Mais avec le mouvement des vagues on a dormi très bien.

Le prochain jour moi et ma mere sommes allés à la proue du bateau pour lire notre livres et voire le lever du soleil.

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(Après le soleil a lever)

Après tous les autres se sont réveillés on a parti sur l’autre petit bateau pour explorer la plage. A la plage j’ai trouvé une petite coquille que j’ai appelé “Harold”. 

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Que je t’aime!

Moi, ma soeur et mon père avons trouvé un petit chemin qui est allée vers une petite cascade que nous avons grimpé et on a trouvé une petite piscine. C’était trop belle! Après ca, on a retourner au bateau et je suis allée sur la planche à rame.

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Une planche à rame dans l’océan bleu!

 Puis, on est allé dans le bateau pour manger notre déjeuner ensemble. Après le déjeuner on est allé à une autre petite plage pour nous ancrer pour le nuit. Encore, on a nagé et exploré la plage, mais cette fois on a fait une sculpture avec tout le bois flotté sur la plage.

 

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La sculpture

Aussi, sur cette plage on a découvert que la machine pour le petit  bateau était mort! Alors pour la reste de la voyage on a utilisé des rames aulieu de la machine.  

Cette nuit on a resté en haut pour un petit peu plus longue pour qu’on pouvait voir les étoiles. J’ai appris deux nouvelles formations d’étoiles. Puis on est allé au lit pour la dernière fois sur le bateau. Dans le matin on etait tout triste que c’était notre dernier jour sur le voyage . Après qu’on a fini le petit déjeuner, on a commencé notre voyage au maison. Après presque pas de temps on est arrivé au port et notre voyage était fini. Mais les souvenirs resteront pour toujours!

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Coucou!

That was holidays

Here is a poem I wrote at school. Every day feels like holidays here!

Remember the nights eating pizza and drinking L&P, hanging out with family and friends?

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Remember the sunny days camping out, sleeping in a tent? Waking up and having ice cream?

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That was holidays.

Remember the morning eating yummy pancakes and talking happily?

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Do you remember making pavlova and then eating it?

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That was holidays.

Remember the fun times staying home, reading books, and watching movies?

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Remember the weeks going to play dates, and getting super wet? It was so fun.

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That was holidays.😊

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The Mums

golden bay.jpgI remember the seemingly endless drives to Florida in our white 1974 Chevy Impala. Seat belts were really more of a suggestion back then as I recall spending lots of time curled up on the floor behind the driver’s seat or in the back window ledge with the kleenex box that lived there my entire childhood. A kid today will never know such boredom as being an only child on a roadtrip in the pre-internet age. Occasionally mom my would take pity on me and promise me a round of mini-golf for my troubles. I’m guessing mini-golf was my first experience in beating my parents at something and it was glorious.  So most people have had some version of this experience: being a kid on a family vacation and bobbing to and fro, powerless as flotsam and jetsam on the oceanic predetermined plans of your parents.  Now, decades later Julie and I felt lucky to be able to return the favour.  They came to visit us and we delighted in playing cruise directors.

Our two moms are already travel buddies and amazingly, the two of them had already done a lap around NZ together a decade ago and had been to the Nelson area in a bit of whirlwind tour. They were eager to buy their plane tickets and they bought them months before we did.  We also were excited to host them.  This time we were in charge of the family vacation. We wanted to show them where and how we live, at a slower pace and from an insider’s perspective, but also to share with them our unique life here, and to prove that despite very little planning our year away was actually working out reasonably well.

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Arriving at the Nelson “Airport”. (Really just an airstrip and a room with chairs)

They were great guests and didn’t complain as we whisked them from festival to festival and up and down the spectacularly tropical summer coastline of the Top of the South. I was able to take some time off work and we shared a special 3 weeks together without the distraction of jobs for the adults or school for the kids, a bitterly cold winter or the infamous traffic jams on the Allen “Express”way.

riversideOn their first full day, we took them to an all day music festival that was fortuitously only a few minutes down the road.  It was unique from festivals back home in that it was alcohol-free and didn’t have any sponsors or advertising. Food was seemingly at cost ($1 for a salad, $2 for a sausage). Kids free-ranged all day (their entrance was free) and played on the giant hillside slip & slide, slack-line, silks hanging from trees and various other juggling/circus equipment available for parent-free fun. Not a single waiver was signed. It was all very ‘cruisy’ as kiwis like to say.

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Next up: Golf. And not the mini variety. There is a course 10 minutes away on top of cliffs over looking the ocean. I hadn’t played a round yet and figured it was super expensive. I was wrong. Except for another foursome we were the only ones on the links that we could see. Very different from home.

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Not only did my mom brave the 30 degree heat and soundly beat me but she insisted on searching for and finding any of the balls that I had accidentally sliced deep into the woods.

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The first week was all about showing them around our hood before we headed off on our big tramp.

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Another festival. This one, 10 minutes in the other direction.
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Beach days. (Note that this solid concrete table was lifted and moved by the raging sea into a nearby parking lot when a cyclone hit the area the following week…more on that later)
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Day hikes

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River swimming on the Motueka
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Even salmon fishing. BTW, this sign is so idiosyncratically NZ.

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New Zealand has 9 “great walks” and the Abel Tasman is the most famous of them due to it’s golden sand beaches on one side of the coastal track and lush tropical jungle on the other. There are also huts along the way which you can book a bed in (think hostel in the bush) if you don’t want to carry a tent (or force your septuagenarian mums to sleep on the ground). We booked our spaces in the huts and permits months out but just as we were heading out, New Zealand was preparing for Cyclone Fehi.  We mulled over cancelling but in the end decided that we would never get another chance to hike in a cyclone so decided to give it a go. map

Our plan was to begin in Marahau and spend the day hiking to Anchorage where we booked a spot on a floating hut called the Aquapackers. Then we would set out early the next morning and hike all day again to spend the night in the Bark Bay hut. Finally, on the third day we would hike up to Awaroa where we had pre-arranged a water taxi to take us back to Marahau.

IMG_20180131_113104.jpgEverything started out fantastic. True, instead of glorious blue skies as advertised in all the promotional materials we had the foreboding clouds of an incoming cyclone but hey – at least it wasn’t raining.

Eventually the weather started to clear and we figured all this cyclone talk was overblown.

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We made it to the boat in Anchorage Bay, jumped off the roof and had a delightful meal with other guests while we all shared plans of the following day.

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In the morning, despite being in a completely protected anchorage, the 40 ton houseboat heaved up and down with the relentless waves. The crew seemed to nervously run around checking ropes and re-anchoring and running the engine while telling us everything was ok. The sea was too rough to navigate the dinghy to the shore to let us off, in fact there was no shore! Cyclone Fehi wreaked unprecedented havoc on New Zealand because a bunch of factors aligned that raised the sea to levels nobody had seen before. 1) The extremely hot summer had created unseasonable temperatures that created the swirling storm in the first place creating huge waves. 2) It hit the shore, not only at high tide but during a king tide. King tides are rare and occur when the earth is closest to the moon and both are closest to the sun. They really only last a few hours a year. Bad timing. 3) The winds had pushed the sea to shore in a giant surge raising the water level even higher. 4) Surprisingly, the air pressure has an effect on sea level and the lower pressure system relaxing it’s downward push on the water. All over NZ homes and streets were flooded, slips closed highways and any infrastructure around the shorelines were pummeled. We watched as a deck and staircase on the shore was swallowed up by the sea and smashed to bits.

Eventually by 2pm, after many hours of nausea, things calmed down enough to make an attempt at heading for the shore and begin our long hike to the Bark Bay hut.

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All along the coast was evidence of where the sea had been. Either by debris left or infrastructure ripped away.
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We crossed this “bridge” the previous day. It was 15 feet over a river. Now it was completely filled up with sand.
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Even sections of the track had been washed away.

Since we left later in the day we were able to take the “low tide” shortcut.

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But even as we walked we could see the track slowly get swallowed up.

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Eventually we made it to our hut where we found out how lucky we were to have a bed. The entire campground was destroyed and ended up underwater and all around the higher ground of the hut were campers drying out. The water was still too rough for water taxis so everyone who had arranged to leave was stuck for another day.

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We spent a dry night in the toasty hut swapping stories with other hikers of everyone’s experiences of the storm amid damp clothes drying from every rafter.

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The next day was a slow start. I tried to get the crew going but mountains may have been easier to budge.  I mock-threatened Jenny that she would be up to her neck in water if we didn’t make our tidal crossing at Onetahuti. We didn’t make it.  The water was up to our waists when we arrived. I quickly changed into my bathing suit and started ferrying bags over my head. Soon the water was at my chest. It was a mad panic, there just wasn’t time for photos. The girls and Jenny swam across and by the time I brought the final bag the water was at my neck. We had just barely made it! We all took a deep breath, got dressed and posed for a group shot as the day because magnifique!

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We caught our water-taxi home from Awaroa and spent the rest of our visit hike-free until we said good-bye for another 6 months.

Julie and I can only hope that when we’re our Mums’ age we’re equally as keen and able to be dragged on an adventure halfway around the world. At least we have some pretty good role models as a guide.

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Love these guys! See you soon Mums.

The Kaiteriteri Sea Swimmers

When I was a teenager, for a few years, I spent twenty four hours a week in a pool in Etobicoke. Every morning, at 5:30am, even in the deep, dark cold of February, my father would warm up our big burgundy van and drive me to the pool where I would practice with the Etobicoke Olympium Synchronized Swimming Club. After three hours of training, I would hop on the subway and go to school. On the weekends, I would leave my sleepover buddies curled up in duvet nests on the living room floor and go to the pool, returning to them as they woke up for lunch. For those of you who are not acquainted with it, synchro is a slightly strange sport in which you have to perform incredible acts of flexibility, strength, endurance, (and synchronicity!) all while holding your breath, or displaying a big, fake smile.

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This is Carolyn Waldo. She was the Canadian champ when I was a kid. If her smile looks slightly pained, that’s because synchro is hard.
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See? Still smiling, but her eyes are saying: I can’t feel my legs and my lungs are burning.

Like most things, synchro was bad and good.

The bad:  There was a lot of focus on appearance, especially at competitions. I had to wear lipstick, which I never wear, even on dry land. I had to paint my too tight bun with a gelatin-coated pastry brush so that my hair would not come out and obscure my big fake smile while I was performing. There were complicated sequin patterns that needed to be sewn onto bathing suits (okay, my mum did that) and lots of painful bobby pins to hold shiny headpieces in place (this, I guess, was to distract from the alluring noseplug that all synchro swimmers have to wear). Behind the polished appearance, the judging was fierce, and sometimes corrupt, which made the competition ugly and mean. The coaching at the time often focused more on winning than all the other amazing things that come from participating in sport, which has skewed my attitude towards competition as an adult (much to Joel’s dismay, I am always going for the co-operative family board games). I missed so many teenagery things: parties, music lessons, math class, all so I could make it to practice. And now, whenever I explain my slightly embarrassing brush with competitive sport to someone new, they say: “Oh hey, have you seen that SNL skit? It’s hilarious. Hey you, I know you…” Yup. I’ve seen it. But for those of you who have led a sad, Martin Short-less existence, here it is.

The good: Team sports are awesome. Being part of a group of people, trying hard to be excellent together, is uniquely satisfying. In synchro, you literally have to hold your teammates up, so that they can explode out of the water doing backflips. Post-practice shower chats with friends were a joyful relief after the pain of a workout, and a much-needed place to share teenage angst. I loved the team swag: bag, jacket, leggings, swim cap…all emblazoned with my team name. teamswag

I loved the training and the performing. Synchro is hard, (you don’t actually get to touch the bottom. Ever.) and that suited me. I learned that it feels good to win, and that sometimes, you give everything you have, and you still fail. But most importantly, I learned to love exercise. As a kid who hated gym class and straggled in last or next to last in the Terry Fox run every year, this was a big deal. While I was swimming, the neural pathway between physical effort and intense happiness became well-worn and permanent. Since then, I have learned to love yoga, and running, and a good tough hike, but nothing makes me feel quite as awesome as a long swim. The pull of muscles against the water, the repetitive, meditative movement, rhythmic breath, the muted sounds of underwater…it’s a perfect combination for bliss.

So imagine my delight when I found the Kaiteriteri Sea Swimmers advertised in our local paper, inviting new people to join. Kaiteriteri is a beautiful beach near us that has quickly become our fave. I didn’t even know ocean swimming was a thing, except for playing in the waves, then floating around and listening to the fish. But it is! The club was free, and open to anyone who was a confident swimmer.

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So I went! In typical Kiwi fashion, the group welcomed me and had a very laid-back attitude. Very little ego, lots of heart, and a toughness that made me feel at home.

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Lookin’ friendly and tough!

Now every Monday evening, I drive to the beach, wrestle my way into my wetsuit, and go swimming in the beautiful Tasman Bay.

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The swim is always different, and always challenging, as the ocean has a few more moving parts than a pool. There have been growing pains. I learned quickly that I need special “goo” to stop my neck from chafing on my wetsuit if the swim is longer than a kilometre.

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Ouch.

Sometimes we swim out and around to one of the neighbouring bays. When the tide is low, this includes a little barefoot rock climbing. If the waves are too exciting, we keep it short and sweet. Some swimmers wear big orange buoys to make sure the boats don’t run us over, but we don’t have a boat chaperone, and everyone swims at their own risk. Every now and again we stop and regroup, and make sure noone has swum out into the sea (one older man always drifts off at an inappropriate angle). A couple of Mondays ago, on one of these breaks, a guy told me funny stories from when he hitchhiked all the way across Canada. Another day, we swam to a secret stretch of sand and rolled around in the huge waves, making jokes. A friendly swimmer drove me to the beach one week because our car had a flat. On the ride there, we talked about our kids’ education, and on the ride back, we talked through her unexpected and thorny divorce. Right before Christmas another club member invited me for a dawn swim to celebrate her birthday. We swam and ate breakfast on the sand and chatted about our lives, watching the beach wake up.

Ocean swimming is the perfect mix of meditation, exercise, nature, and friendship. All the good stuff. And there is even some team swag!

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Thank you, New Zealand! I love my Kaiteriteri Sea Swimming. No lipstick required.

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Post swim bliss.

 

 

New Zealand Day

The NZ Prime Minister performs the hongi.

Today we celebrated New Zealand Day. It was a wholly different experience for us than Canada Day. Firstly it isn’t even called New Zealand Day, September 6th is Waitangi Day and it celebrates, or perhaps more accurately commemorates, the signing of the Waitangi Treaty in 1840. This document is generally regarded as the founding document of the nation, the moment when the Maori and the Pakeha (non-maori kiwi, aka the White Man) joined together as partners. The Maori became full British subjects and received the rights and protections that afforded as well as the right to maintain ownership of their land. In return they would cede their sovereignty and only sell land to the English Crown. Of course it hasn’t been exactly smooth sailing since. There were problems with the translation. How do you translate ‘sovereignty’ into Maori anyway. This all resulted in the ‘New Zealand Wars’ which I think is quaint since only about 3,000 people died. Regardless, relations have come a long way. It is a national holiday but not one of fireworks and parades but rather reflection of the past. Some politicians tried changing the name to New Zealand Day in the 1970s but it only lasted a couple years and it was changed back.

Today we experienced a very different sort of national holiday. Maori meeting places known as Marae celebrate by inviting anyone and everyone for a ceremony and some food. We didn’t know much more than what the ad in the local paper told us but we decided to go as a family. Lots of ‘as a family’ this year.

Incidentally the Maori must have some awesome designers on staff as evidenced by some pretty amazing tattoo work but I guess their A-team wasn’t enlisted for the newspaper listing below.

We listened to 3 speeches in Maori (oddly, to my eyes anyway, one of the speakers and many of the listeners nodding in agreement were Pakeha). Then, finally, the keynote, and thankfully it was in English. He gave us a history lesson and I was rapt as he spoke about Maori ideals, concerns and his feelings about how to pave the way forward. He was an inspiring speaker and a true leader complete with strong opinions defended with context and a strong sense of morality. He was bold but not confrontational. As he spoke he guided the attendees along a journey of his way of thinking instead of taking the aggressive ‘with us or against us’ approach. He was learned, gentle, open and spoke without notes. I haven’t seen a Western leader like that, maybe ever. He talked of hospitality as being an important Maori value. He also criticized our governing system which only looks 3 or 4 years into the future when we need to look generations (both forward and back). I reflected on our big city life and our lack of respect for the land that we live on. How our busy lives have truly fragmented our attention in dangerous ways. And with the decline of religion in the West there are very few formalized traditions around respecting the elderly, mentoring youth, building community and encouraging spiritual wellness. These are things which don’t naturally fit into our fairly recent culture and if we are going to survive I’m pretty sure we are going to have to make some adjustments.

Afterwards the guests all lined up in post hockey game formation but instead of shaking hands and grunting ‘good game’ with the local iwi (tribe) we performed the hongi where we pressed noses and foreheads and shared breath with each person. It was a very intimate experience and a powerful symbol of welcoming. Afterwards one is no longer considered Manuhiri, a visitor, but rather Tangata whenua, one of the people of the land. I loved watching my children press noses with widows (who press twice, a second time for the dead) as well as the aforementioned speakers and leaders and even massive football player sized men. I wish I had pictures but I also really like that you aren’t allowed to photograph in the Morae.

Later, our ever generous landlord Sue treated us to four hangi which are a traditional meal that is buried underground with hot rocks. It consisted of pork with a huge cap of fat, chicken, squash, silverbeet, potato, sweet potato, some sort of mystery stuffing and garlic.

It was a fantastic afternoon, for me anyway. I think the kids were a bit shell-shocked by having to sit still for so long but I’m hoping they got some intangible benefit out of it. A dogma-free, traditional ceremony with unique cultural customs, an educational and moral lecture outside of a school environment topped off with good food…it was right up our alley. And yet, I can’t help feel conflicted about the fact that I haven’t experienced Canada’s own aboriginal culture so intimately.