One to Grow On

December 19, 2009

Over the Hills

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 5:57 pm

We got off the boat not sure where we were going. I had planned to drive up to Milford Sound, in part to see it but mostly to camp along the way. I’d heard such amazing things about the drive, but with rain forecasted for days in the Fjordlands and the cold and two kids grumpy about being in the car, I decided against any long drives, no matter how beautiful.

We headed straght into the sun, into the mountains to Queenstown, where we watched people jump off a bridge 43 meters above a white water river at the original commercial bungee site. We got to see lots of jumpers but also someone who refused to jump and had to hop back onto the main bridge, her legs tied together in a massive bulky knot. Apparently that’s pretty rare. The whole bumgy-extreme sport scene is baffling to me. I guess I take enough chances that an adreneline rush seems like a bad thing to me. We spent a long time debating whether we would or would not jump. I decided I would do it, but wouldn’t want to. Nora wouldn’t do it, but Rory was pretty fired up to try it. I was thrilled to learn that the youngest jumper ever was ten and weighed almost 20 pounds more than Rory. I was spared being the mean parent twice in two days. More than anything the signs around the Bungy Center cracked me up. Favorites were the family package (2 adults and up to 2 kids), the bunging restroom lady, and a sign I couldn’t get a great photo of in the bathroom assuring users in many languages that it was perfectly acceptable to put toilet paper into the toilet and to flush it, that, in fact, the system was designed to handle the paper, and that the sanitary bin was only for sanitary products, not toilet paper. I remember so clearly coming back to the US after living in Ecuador and all my reverse culture shock came to a head one day when I sat crying on a toilet because I had no idea what to do with the paper. Ah, happy memories…

We camped in Wanaka at a totally unremarkable campground (except that it was cold). The town was beautiful and totally set up to delight and amuse its visitors, with a charming town clustered by a bright blue lake at the foot of the snow-covered southern Alps (did I mention it’s adjacent to a national park, too?) However, after a great hour on a super lake-side playground all I wanted was to make tracks, but kept having to come back to town for one thing after another- grocery store, gas, another go at a thrift shop for more blankets (it was a really cold night). We were headed to the Wild and Wonderful West Coast, and I wanted to be prepared. What I forgot to prepare was my way out of town, and I literally drove around for 50 minutes trying to get on the right road. See, it’s harder when there’s only one…

Louisa and Sean had recommended another DOC campground on the West Coast, on the coast at the foot of Fox Glacier. They were right. It was a stunning location. A row of trees and dunes separated the campground from the beach, and to the east Mount Cook dominated the sky. At 3755 meters it’s the tallest mountain in “Australasia,” a word I confess I don’t understand. It implies to me “Australia and Asia,” but that can’t be right since the HImalayas are in Asia. It must mean, “Australia and New Zealand.” Clearly I’m missing something. Anyway, the scenery was amazing, but the wind… We got there at dusk, which is the windiest time of day here (is that true everywhere? I’m going to pay more attention from now on). The wind on the beach almost went beyond wind. Nora could have blown away, but the sunset kept luring me out there. Every time I looked up the light was just a little different, and I’d run over to take yet another picture. I ended up with a slew of photos, and I can’t bring myself to delete any of them. Even though I know that they’re just cheesy sunset shots, they’re my cheesy sunset shots. I love them.

The next day Rory experienced another embittering blow. I won’t name names, but not all members of our party met the minimum age of 7 to join a guided tour going out onto Fox Glacier. I drug them very much against their wills, Rory because he wanted to be going with the group onto the ice and Nora because she didn’t want to go to see cold, windy ice at all, kicking and screaming to see the glacier. From the parking lot it’s a 2 minute walk to get a look at the glacier, then another 30-40 minutes to get pretty close to the beginning o the glacier, which technically is the end of the glacier and calle the terminal. They were pretty down about the walk, too, until we started out and found it was a terrible walk over piles of rock (technically called the moraine, or the debris-mostly rocks- pushed by the ice and then left behind when the glacier recedes) and the results of ravalanches and rockfalls. We had to cross creeks and jump over gaps. Well, the enthusiasm grew, and then they didn’t want to get in the car. The terminal (what I would casually and incorrectly call the face of the glacier) was treacherous. A huge cave showed ice of every shade of blue, and huge peaks jutted up where whole sections of ice had broken away. Leading up to the terminal we could see ice chunks that looked like bean bags sitting in the river, too big yet to float. I was thrilled that we weren’t going out on the ice for the rest of the day made myself unpopular with the kids by telling them I’d become a big believer in age limits. And I have.

Back at the campsite the sun was out. We found a sheltered spot on the beach and played for most of the afternoon. I even took off three of my four layers and soaked up some of the warmth of the black sand. When we headed back to to camp Rory and Nora played on two driftwood tree stumps for hours while I made dinner and cleaned up. One of the stumps was maybe 7 feet tall and hollow, and they loved it.

 My dream of getting up to date is, alas, unfulfilled, but I’m within 5 days!  Wa-hoo.  Stay tuned…


December 18, 2009

Penguins and Krill and the Rest of the Otago Pennisula

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 5:13 pm

Krill or tiny lobsters, you decide.

the harbor floor at low tide

the world through my polarized sunglasses

penguin family in their nest

If only all siblings were this close...

Let’s Try Smaller Batches, shall we?

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 4:46 pm

Nora collecting tiny shells in her sock, of course

Fleur's Place

Rory using the cool ninja trick to get up on the boulder
huge kelp

These are from our stop at Moeraki.

Stories of the Southland, photos to follow

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 4:32 pm
Tough as it was to leave Rachel and to say goodbye to Dylan and Bodie we knew we’d be seeming them again in a few weeks. That, and they were flying the next day to Australia for their vacation, so we really had no choice! We headed south, which at home means into warmer climes. Here it’s the other way around. Our first night in the tent was cold. The wind blew icy cold and I wondered what on earth possessed me to bring my lightweight sleeping bag. The kids, said, Wow, it’s really cold, then went straight to sleep. I spent most of the night adding dirty laundry to the bottom of my sleeping bag to insulate my feet and adjusting hats on heads. I’ll skip ahead two weeks, and, boy, have I improved our cold-weather tenting life. We’ve picked up three warm wool blankets at thrift shops (all queen sized, all less than $5 US, for anyone taking thrift shop comparison notes- ha), and I put one down on the bottom of the tent, like a rug, and that works wonders. The other two go on top of us, over our bags. We each get one of the silk sleep sacks to use. I use it like a bag liner; Rory and Nora shove it down in their bags as a cuddly insulator. I sleep in three layers of wool, and put my socked feet inside a fleece so that the waistband comes almost to my knees. Add a hat, and that’s been good enough even when it got down to 44 degrees F inside the tent. Twice I’ve woken up hot, and was that ever a good feeling.

Okay, back to our trip south. We stopped by the Moeraki boulders, described in our guidebook as giants’ toy marbles left lying around on the beach. Walking up to them, we jaded three asked what was so special. They’re just big rocks, right? Well, we could have stayed all day. They were captivating. The tide was out, but in the declivities around the bases of the rocks little tidal pools held tiny creatures and sea kelp. Nora was in her element. Rory used a trick he learned at the ninja house to climb onto the rocks. He braced a stick against the side of the rock then used the end of the stick as a step onto the rock. It took a few tries, but he got it in the end. He leapt from rock to rock to rock. I couldn’t watch, some were so far apart, but one guy, maybe in is 30’s or 40’s, was goaded by his wife to follow suit. He got onto a rock but never got up his nerve to jump. Rory made it look effortless. Scattered among the round boulders were ones that had cracked open and broken into pieces. Inside they looked like huge Gobstoppers, layered by time and pressure into different colors and textures. Some, made of softer rock, had eroded in patches, and looked like globes or terraced land. Most had fault lines, like God’s studio wen he was working out tectonic plates. And the not-whole ones- some where like a bowl, full of water and plants and creatures too small to see. Some looked like luscious caramels. I think that was my favorite part, the broken pieces.

We tore ourselves away from the boulders (okay, I tore the kids away from the boulders), lured by the charms of the Moeraki village and the promises of Fleur’s Place, an unassuming restaurant by the harbour that was reputed to be the best on the South Island if not all of New Zealand. Walking up to it I was reminded of the Sunbury Crab Company back in Georgia. Fleur’s had that same feeling, come as you are, enjoying our amazing view, except with a fabulous wine list. We were early, before noon, and got a great table by the window. Our waiter helped us find “our kind” of food and was delighted to see Rory demolish a steak two inches thick and bigger than his bread plate. I found myself not only eating but enjoying a whole fish, a local specialty called a brill. It was huge, and I ate every bite, except the head and some internal organs. Had to draw a line. Nora liked my brill better than her blue cod, but she was so taken with the salad and pototoes and veggies that I found myself thinking she may turn out to be a vegetarian after all. Fleur’s was great, the service was perfect, and if we ever head back this way with Brandon we’ll park ourselves on a patio table and settle in for the afternoon. I hate to go on, but I loved it.

Okay, going on, we made it to our destination for the night, a camping ground on the Otago Pennisula. Never heard of it? Well, you should have. Yellow-eyed penguins (maybe the rarest in the world), sea lions, seals and albatrosses all call it home. It’s both pastoral and wild, with a tall ridge running down the center of the pennisula, sloping down on each side to the water. Tiny harbors dot both shorelines, and we saw a viking ship afloat in one. In low tide you can almost walk across Portobello Harbour, where we stayed. The harbour floor was covered in low tide with what a local told us were krill. We could walk to a great playground and pick up wild things on the walk back. We met great folks in the shared kitchen at the campsite, and all in all had a fantastic couple of days.

Our first afternoon there we threw the tent up and headed on over to the local agricultural show a couple of fields away. We got there just in time for Rory and Nora to have a go on the inflatable climbing wall, then participate in a Gumshoe Toss, which turned out to be standing in line to see which kid could throw a rainboot the farthest. Turns out to take practice. Then they joined the local kids in a tug of war, boys vs. girls. Well, most of the girls were a good bit bigger, and they won two out of three, but the boys showed their true mettle in the “lolly scramble.” Now, this I love. Kids run behind a vehicle that is a cross between a golf cart and a four-wheeler, and a guy in the back of the thing throws out candy every once in a while. I bet those kids made five laps around the field. They were worn out, but each one came back with a couple handfuls of hard-won candy. Naturally, it wasn’t our kind, but they doled it out piece by piece in the kitchen that night and bought us loads of friends. Well done, Rory and Nora.

From a few of the beaches, in the right season, it’s possible to wait in D.O.C. (Department of Conservation) blinds as sunset comes on and see penguins come up on the beach. I talked with a couple who had done it, but they had gone two nights in a row and waited for 2 hours in silence in the biting wind. Silence? Wind? No thanks. We paid up and took a tour of a conservation area, and it was worth every cent. We saw so many penguins doing so many cool penguin tasks that the kids almost (only almost) got bored. Penguins chicks in the nest wiating for their parents; penguin parents walking back to the nest from the beach; penguin dad grooming penguin chick; two penguin parents grooming a chick; parents and chicks hanging out together; four penguins hanging out on the beach, then three heading home while one headed back out to sea (had he forgotten something? Who knows). We were there to see the Yellow-eyed Penguins, who share dubious distinction with the Fiordland Crested Penguin of being the rarest penguin in the world. They count these guys individually, that’s how few there are. Where we were, they’re numbers have dropped from eighty penguins ten years ago to twenty four now. That’s it. 24. Now, there are other nesting grounds, but not that many. There are so few adults in the area that two male penguins found themselves without a female. These penguns are fairly manogamous, but one had had his partner die and the other’s, well, they’re only fairly manogamous. So, here are these two guys, no extra chicks around, so they partner up. The humans who maintain the conservation site found themselves with an egg no one wanted (that old story of two teenage penguins in love, but not ready for the consequences… sigh…). The humans placed the egg in the Two Daddies nest, and, voila, magic. Now, keep in mind the two dads have both raised chicks before (“fledged” in penguin speak), so they’re old hats, and penguins are pretty egalitarian when it comes to raising their young, but I thought that was pretty darn interesting anyway.

Our guide took us all over the hills, showing us blue penguins (they are blue, and little, and cute) and seals. He told stories of the young males seals returning from battle, bloodied and defeated. Some die in their quest to establish a harem, and others take such a butt-kicking that they never try again. Others go out there, day after day, fight over and over, until they finally get themselves established as a Big Daddy Seal. I tell you, there’s way more to the social life of marine animals than I ever imagined.

One bad thing did happen on our two hour tour. My camera battery died. No problem, thought I, that’s why I have a spare. And even a spare for my spare. And, wouldn’t you know? All three dead. SInce then (and since missing a call from Brandon on the cell phone due to a dead battery) I am much more careful to keep the batteries charged, especially when we’re camping and access to plugs is limited. So, photos are limited but hopefully memories will not be.

One of the cool couples we met at the campsite, Nils and Michaela, arranged to meet us in a couple of days in the Catlins, on the southeast coast, at a DOC campground. We hung out a day in Dunedin, eating Thai food and trolling thrift shops for the afore-mentioned wool blankets and some replacement clothes for the kids (to come: article on clothes and packing- ugh!). We found a cafe that served a gluten free vegan buffet of yummy Indian food. AND they had three gluten free vegan desserts to choose from. Rory had a chocolate chip cookie; Nora went for something called an Afghan, which seemed to be a chocolate cookie iced in chocolate. Both were enormous, and the kids are happy to go back to Dunedin anytime in the future, ever, as am I. Who would have guessed? I couldn’t even pronounce it. Dunedin?

We met Nils and Michaela at the campsite the next day, and it was true love. With the campsite, of course. The fields leading to it were full of sheep and lambs, roaming free. The green hills opened onto a wide sandy bay, with steep white-streaked cliffs on one side. On the other side low rocks formed tidal pools, some deep enough to swim in. Sea lions came up onto the beach in the afternoon. It was delightful. And it cost $6 NZ a night. It’s a miracle we’re not stilll there. We stayed three nights in all, and each day brought new cool people to meet, and no one left, until in the end it was like a small neighborhood of friends from all over who thought that camping on an idyllic bay on the south coast of New Zealand seemed like a good idea. Two families showed up, and Rory played all day, really, the whole day, without once coming over to our tent, so that I had to carry his food and changes of clothes over to him. We met Louisa and Sean, a couple in their 20’s from Arizona who are living and working there way around NZ for year. I love them. Along with them and NIls and Michaela we shared meals, clean up, and even childcare! Nils and Sean did themselves proud wrestling and exploring and in general serving as a climbing structure for a few days. Rory and Nora had a blast.

Two events stand out. First, we all went for a 3 hour walk one afternoon. It wound through native bush (forest in the US), onto an empty beach, and back. The path devolved first into narrow logs over muddy, boggy stretches, then just into swamp. Rory and Nora led the way, seeming to float on the surface of the mud, while the grown-ups mostly sank down into it. It was like the opening scene of The Piano, only no hoop skirts, thank goodness.

Second, our last night there the families with kids ended up on the beach after dinner. The kids were running around, chasing each otehr and trying to get the dads to play rough. We had been watching four or five sea lions play, and one by one they headed off into the ocean for a bedtime snack. The kids dropped into the sand, flopping from side to side, imitating the awkward lumbering of the sea lions. Next thing we know they kids were splashing in the water, laughing and playing. They danced in the sand, full of innocence and wonder and pure joy.

By the time we got back to the tent my two were also full of sand. Now, one of the major drawbacks of the $6 a night campground is that the water comes striaght out of the river, untreated and certainly unheated. And did I mention that it was cold? Not just chilly, but cold? The wind that blew on that beach came straight from the Antarctic, with no land in between to slow it down or warm it up. The cold water bath Rory and Nora had that night made them slightly more ready to say good-bye to friends the next morning. We were all moving on, pushed out by increasing clouds and wind from the south (again, so warm and friendly at home, so cold and threatening here), lured out by the promise of a hot shower and a chance at a washing machine. We all made plans to see each other again, if not here in NZ then at home. Those few days were the trip that I think I came to New Zealand to have.

I had planned to spend a couple more nights in the Catlins, but what else was I hoping for? We headed on towards our eventual destination of Manapouri, from where we would catch a boat for an overnight tour of Doubtful Sound. En route the storm that threatened us in the Catlins caught us in Invercargill. We spent a night holed up in a Deluxe Standard Cabin at a campground (think 5 star KOA), and we soaked up every bit of luxury we could. Hot showers, washing machine and a dryer (first of the trip!), television and internet connections from the cabin. How could we move on so quickly? We stayed two nights.

In patchy rain we drove on to Manapouri, and true to my New Zealand average I got, well, turned around, and we ended up halfway to Gore before I found us on the map and got us straightened out. So, even though I packed the car the night before and the kids were great helpers and did everyhing right, we still were in mad dash to get to the boat before it left at 12:30pm. Phew. Made it, apologized to the kids for being nuts, then realized I had no idea what we were in for. We took one smaller boat across a lake, then a bus across a moutnain pass, then we boarded our boat for the night. We were in Fjordland National Park, a part of one the biggest national parks in New Zealand, a huge chunk of the South Island and not one road touches it. That’s nuts. I kept looking on the map and seeing little squiggles that I took to be rough roads, maybe, or gravel roads. Nope. They’re walking trails. A few of New Zealands Great Walks are in this park. Some are as long as nine to ten days. That’s one heck of a great long walk. I have dreams now to come back and walk them, maybe with the kids, maybe in twenty years just Brandon and me.

I don’t know what to say about the cruise. When I booked it with a company called Real Journeys I had Real Doubts. It was the cheapest tour with the largest number of passengers on the biggest boat that runs tours of Doubtful Sound. It was still a splurge for us, but I wanted it t e a good splurge. It was totally Splurge-Worthy. First of all we got bumped up from a four-berth share with a curtain for a door and shared toilets to the family room. We had four bunks in a cabin big enough for a portacrib, complete with our own bathroom and shower. That’s a big deal. I showered just because I could. It was lovely. Second of all the food turned out to b good and really, truly gluten and diary free. On the phone they had assured me they could feel us, no problem, but I never believe people when they say that and I brought a whole sack of food in case. We didn’t touch a thing. They had bread, rice milk, a huge buffet of which we could eat 75% (good for us). Even pavlova for dessert. Last but not least we met more amazingly cool people. Elaine was a great stand in for a grandmother for a couple of days. She and her husband were visiting there daughter Michelle who lives in Auckland from Wisconsin. Now I have even more wonderful folks to go see up there! Right off the bat we made friends with Melissa and Kevin, a couple from Oakland on their honeymoon- five weeks in New Zealand. Not too shabby.

The one thing I was lookig forward to the most ended up being stinky. Isn’t that just how it goes sometimes? The boat has kayaks on board, and two tenders, and at some point when they stop the boat and everyone can go out onto the sound in a smaller boat. The minimum age for the kayaks was ten, so I thought that was out for us. But Rory developed a fever to kayak, and Kevin very gamely offered to be his Big Buddy, but when I found out it was 2-3 kilometers of kayaking, and that most kids under 15 end up getting towed most of the way, I had to say no. SO, our trip in the tender started on a bad note anyway, with Rory hissing to me that he hated me and threatening to jump out of the boat and swim to the kayaks. A freak wave came up over the side and landed as squarely as it is possible for wave to land right on Nora. She didn’t complain, but within the first four minutes of an hour-long boat ride she was so wet water was running down her braids. Elaine helped me dry her off some, but we needn’t have bothered. While all of us (excpet Rory, who was muttering about celery and C-5 cargo planes and lousy mothers) were listening attentively and nodding politely to everything our guide said the clouds moved in and the rain poured down. At one point I almost went into hysterical giggles. Everyone was being so polite, so attentive, while sitting in an open boat in a steady downpour that made it hard to even hear. A few people without raincoats were huddled under towels they had brought from their cabins. And no one even piped up to suggest that maybe, since we couldn’t see anything or take out our cameras to take a photo (unless we’d had an underwater camera) and since it was maybe forty degrees, that just maybe we should call it a day and head back to the mothership. As the hour passed, to be fair, the sun did come back out for few minutes, but only a few, then the rain came back. My raincoat gave up the ghost and quit working, as did Rory’s. Nora’s no-frills hand-me-down did the job, although after the wave it hardly mattered. I could tell it was all in a day’s work for the crew; when we got back on board they had drying racks set up in the common areas between the cabins for wet things. Clearly, not the first wet day on the water.

The wildlife viewing from the boat was great. In the evening, after everyone had dried out, we braved the rough seas where the sound dumps into the Tasman Sea. This was when I was thrilled to be on the biggest boat on the sound. The scenery at the rugged spot was phenomenal and I wouldn’t have missed it. Even so, a good numbers of passengers had to go to their cabins due to sea sickness. Rory and Nora felt queasy, in part because they insisted on staying the the main salon and not out on deck, and also because they wanted to continue playing a board game (it was cool) that involved a lot of reading. I had Sea Bands along, which use accupressure to alleviate motion sickness, with Dramamine in my backpack as a last resort. They did fine, though,  and the seas crashing over the rocks were worth every minute. The rocks were covered in seals. The stench was incredible, even over the water. We were hoping to see a few of the Fiordlad Cested Penguin, that Other rarest penguin in the world, even though their nesting season ended a week or two ago. The naturalist on board said that each year on December 7 with few exceptions they leave their nests and head back out to sea. Every year on the same day. Amazing. So, we were really hoping for a straggler, and we did see one. It popped up out of the water and shook itself dry.

We thought we were lucky with the one little guy, but in the morning we saw a whole group of them. Six penguins were having a conference on a rock, and we didn’t have to brave the Tasman Sea to see them. I knew it was a special sighting when the crew left their jobs to go get there cameras and stand around on deck with us oohhing and ahhing. Even the nature guide was taking pictures. Pretty neat.

I just looked back and realized I haven’t said one word about the scenery (see, Jill, I do try to edit!).  Doubtful Sound isn’t as well known as Milford Sound, to the north, and that’s great by me, because we had it to ourselves. Hanging valleys feed into the fjords all around, while forest covers the sheer faces formed eons ago by glaciers. Between six and eight meters of rain falls a year (18 meters is the record), and when it’s raining they say the mountains are crying. Waterfalls pour down everywhere you look. Some fall thousands of feet into the sound, but few are permanent. We were fortunate to have rain broken up with sunshine. It was cold enough that it snowed the night we were on the boat, not all the way down to the water but not far from it. We got to see the mountains cry, then snowy, and we were graced with a rainbow that made a full arc over the water. It was that kind of magical day.  It’s that kind of magical place.

December 12, 2009

The Road to Rachel’s

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 5:04 am

8 years old class- one year makes a huge difference

Check out the fur on the fur seal

Crossing Cook Strait,  which separates the North and South Islands, can be rough but very scenic. Our crossing was smooth but so rainy we couldn’t see much! We met a fun family to play with on the multistory playground in the bowels of the ship, and the three hours flew by.

7 year olds being 7

A paua shell at home

Once on the South Island we made a beeline to Christchurch, although I couldn’t help stopping every so often to gawk. The highway (and, again, I use that term loosely) hugged the coast, squeezed between crashing waves and verdant, sheep-dotted hills. I have yet to take a photo of the grazing sheep that captures their wooliness and the greenness and the pitch of the hillside; stay tuned. 



We came to a screeching halt just north of Kaikoura. We had spotted seals. And, bonus, it was Nora’s half-birthday (a big deal in our house, where it’s just too much to wait a whole year to celebrate), and she was thrilled. We watched four or five seals lying around, maybe doing a little barking at each other. The huge male kept his eyes on us, and I watched out for him, too. The rule of thumb around here is not to crowd them and never to get between them and the sea. We were heading back to the car when we realized that we’d been looking at a tiny part of the seal colony; the big crowd was on the other side of the rocks. Holy cow. There were so many of them that they paid us no notice (well, not much). They played, called back and forth, barked. They did everything but hop up on their tails and balance a ball, and the best part was that it wasn’t for us. Regular seal life. So fun to watch.   

We were so glad to pull up at Rachel’s in Christchurch a couple of hours later. It’s all a big happy blur of four kids trying to talk first and Rachel and me trying to catch up on almost two years of news. We made ourselves right at home, walking the boys to school in the mornings and sharing meals. The boys’ school is pretty cool. They both went to public school in Virginia when they lived there, so they’ve had both experiences. Here are some differences that struck me:   

No buses. Kids get to school under their own steam (walking, biking, scootering. We saw one kid on a skateboard).   

No kid-containment measures before school. Before school starts, the classes are open. Kids can play on the playground, go to the library, hang out with their friends in their rooms blowing off steam. Then, the teachers walk in and the bell rings and things settle down.   

No cafeteria. This blew me away. The kids have a long period, an hour or more, free in the middle of the day. They play with friends, visit under the porch in the rain, wear themselves out on the playground…   

Very different approach than I saw as a teacher. Very interesting.   

We are heading back to Rachel’s for Christmas, so we didn’t have to say goodbye just yet. Between Rachel and her cousin Tina we got some great tips for the south of New Zealand. Off to see what we can see in 21 days!   

December 11, 2009

Words to go with the pictures

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 6:40 am

I thought I’d try loading the photos, then filling in with the writing.  Total disaster.  I couldn’t even make the captions stay put.  How do others do it?   And, the photos got way out-of-order when I loaded them.  Anyway, here’s the story for the pics, but in order.

We left Rotorua and the camp on the Blue Lake (sounds like a Little House installment) heading down to our friends’ house by Tongariro National Park.   We knew nothing about the area, except that Esther said we would love it, and that was good enough.

On the way we stopped at Wai-O-Tapu (“sacred waters”) to check out some of the geothermal activity.  Well, it was fire, brimstone, and boiled eggs all the way.  The kids loved it, then hated it, then walked for another 30 minutes.   Everything was named things like “Devil’s Paintbox” or “Devil’s Bath”,  in case you hadn’t noticed that you’d wandered into the latter parts of Revelations.   And the smell…  lots of green and yellow sulphur crystals clinging to everything.  Rory definitely got his Homeschool Chemistry out of the way for the week.  As dorky as it sounds I was really excited to see the Lady Knox Geyser go off.  Okay, I have never, ever, ever seen a geyser, and I think the idea of hot water shooting up from under the earth’s crust is cool.  So, at this place they coax it along with dish soap, and it shoots off every day at 10:15am.  Man, I packed that campsite like a fiend (Hummm).  We arrived at 10:31.  Missed the start, but it was still going when we got there.  I have high hopes for Old Faithful now.

Heading south we came eventually to Taupo.  Steve, Esther’s husband and a former NZ guide, had recommended Huka Falls.  Man, they were huge.  THe river comes into this narrow gorge, which by itself is stunning, then plummets over a good size drop into a rushing crystal clear river.  The color of the water glows- such a clear blue, but it doesn’t photograph well, unfortunately.  I could have stood there all day, and could have, since Rory and Nora found an impossibly steep dirt path that led to nothing.  They loved it, and climbed it from every direction, over and over, then Nora got the idea to slide down it.  Rory found one ascent (we’ll call it the Northwest Face) that was so steep with so few footholds that he improvised a forked stick he used to hook tree roots higher up and haul himself to the top.  Pretty fun to watch; not so fun to wash up (especially in a sink, by hand!).

Driving into Taupo I saw a sign, “Bicyclists ahead- Road Race.”  Okay, I thought.  Now, this is the main North-South artery in New Zealand, a country that larger runs north to south.   Still, it’s one lane in each direction, with the speed often dropping to 55 Km/hour (maybe 30 miles?) on the steep mountain curves.  When I saw the signs I thought, Well, this will be fun.  Closer to town a sign reads, “Thousands of Cyclists ahead.”  Yep, thousands. Right after that the highway was closed.  The whole thing, in both directions.  For a bike race.   I can’t decide how I feel about that.   Then I hit the Detour, the one from underneath the earth’s bubbling crust, the place of fire and brimstone.   The detour that was missing the last signpost.  Twenty five kilometers later we pull into Reporoa, a town with two shops and a defunct gas station.  Turns out we were halfway back to Rotorua.  They did have public toilets, which both the kids used.  I had to wait in line at one of the shops behind 6 other lost drivers to be told that we had missed the detour by 24 kilometers.   And the closest gas station was back in Taupo.  Ugh.  So, back in the car, back toward Taupo, and we realized the reuseable metal water bottle that Brandon gave me for this trip is back in the public toilet.  Weighing sentiment against the thought of running out of gas, I turned the car around.  Water bottle in hand (yea!) we were on the road agin for maybe 4 minutes when the gas light came on.  So much for sentiment.  I drove maybe 25 miles an hour, coasting down every hill, cursing the bottle and praying we’d make Taupo.  We coasted into town to find the closest gas station shutting down for the night (I mean, it was almost 6pm, after all).  They let me in, gassed me up, and gave me a good map to finish out the detour.  Turns out we had stumbled upon probably the biggest bike race in New Zealand.  They ride around lake Taupo, the lake that looks like a huge fish eye in the center of the island.  That’s one long ride. 

We pulled into the house in Raurimu in pouring rain.  In fact, it rained the last two hours of the drive, with clouds and mist almost touching the road.  We couldn’t see a thing.  But we found the house okay, and we were thrilled to be inside.  We woke up to a drizzle, with low clouds wrapped around the house.   The rain started to dry up, and Rory and Nora went outside to find a kid wonderland.  In one back corner was a creek, in the other a swing set and the coolest hidden tree fort.  They had a blast while I cooked and cleaned and did laundry.  Then, lo and behold, I paused in my labors over the kitchen sink to look up.  I gasped.  I cooed.  I was speechless.  A series of massive snow-covered volcanos loomed right outside the window.  Within minutes (maybe 59 minutes, but still…) we were dressed for anything, toting sandwiches and beverages and headed for the hills.  We checked out the Tongariro National Park visitor’s center, learned some cool stuff about volcanos, and hit the trails.  It was, all in all, a glorious afternoon.  Rory and Nora hiked for 2 1/2 hours with almost no whining (popsicle bribes are very effective).  We laughed and played and got enough sun to last a few more weeks of rain.  It was just what we needed.

So, on to Wellington.  We were catching the ferry in 2 days, so we stayed at a huge, brilliantly run hostel right at the harbour.  In our one day there, our one rainy day, we did the two best, most important things in Wellington:  we went to Te Papa, the national museum, and we drank great coffee in a beautiful coffee shop.  It even had gluten and dairy free cake- what a town. 

Te Papa gets a lot of hype, but I think it is even better than it sounds.  For starters, it’s free.  That’s cool.  And, then, they have the only colossal squid on exhibit in the world, although it’s decomposing in front of everyone’s eyes and will only be on exhibit for maybe 6 more months.  Phew- glad we saw it while we could.  The story behind the squid is pretty good.  Commercial fishermen were, well, fishing, off the coast of Antarctica, when they caught a huge fish who was in the process of being eaten by this colossal squid.  As they reeled the fish in, the squid DID NOT LET GO.   Stubborn.  So, they haul in this creature from the dark depths of the antarctic waters, who can never survive on the surface.  They chuck it in the deep freeze and donate it to the museum.  It’s huge, but they know there are bigger ones out there.  How do they know?  Because they have found larger squid beaks in the bellies of whales.  Ooooohhhh.  I love this stuff.  And, one more squid fact before we go, a squid’s beak is the sharpest thing in the world.  Wow.

Okay, more cool stuff about Te Papa.  They have a house rigged up so you can experience an earthquake.   There I stood, inside a museum, totally safe, a little blase but still interested.  Then the quake started.  Nora tried to bolt for the door, but could not put one foot in front of the other.  It was terrifying.  When it was over I asked the kids if they wanted to do it again.  They looked at me sadly and walked off.

I could go on and on about the museum, but I’ll limit myself to mentioning the Maori carvings (very cool) and the 4 (count ’em,  four) kids’ discovery rooms to complement the regular exhibits.  Each one was like a kid’s museum in its own right, fully staffed, with reading corners and crafts and dress-up.  And so we passed 5 happy hours inside on a rainy day in Wellington.

And so concludes the North Island Adventures.  Stay tuned for the South.  Yee-haw!

A North Island Jumble in Pictures, text to follow

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 5:20 am


Nora tries out a faux-bird feather cape


Carving on the pataka (storage building)


Traditional Maori carving in the Wharenui (meeting house)


Coolest mountain house ever


The long walk back, especially if you’re only 39″ tall.

quick rinse under Taranaki Falls

super cool tree fort

Hold on over Huka Falls

Brimstone, anyone?


see, I really was there!


heading out for a three hour tour a three hour tour…)


Is that a volcano, or what?



It took two washes to get those pants clean.


happy to be climbing


Something they really love…



It’s some kind of bubbling, mud-monster. Yikes.



steaming lake at Wai-O-Tapu


Lady Knox Geyser



December 7, 2009

Not a Historical Document

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 6:29 pm

Ummm, that's okay, we'll go somewhere else

Post-flight recovery

Learning about centrifugal force, homeschool style

one of the banked curves on the luge track

our guide and story teller welcome us to the Tamiki village

a warrior challenging us on arrival to the village

Rory flies!

Rory takes his place on Mario Race Cart
Truckin’ Mam with Nora steering, too

This is just going to be a short, well, rant about a few things.  Let’s start with this blog.  I have very mixed feelings about doing a blog at all.  It takes lots of time to write an entry, and I have to find a way to keep the kids happy while I work on it.  That usually means tv or Nintendo DS, and we didn’t come on this trip to stay plugged into electronic devices.  On the other hand,  I really enjoy the writing, and I love the feedback from you all an the idea that the kids and I can go back through this after we’re home.   AND, I can’t make the photos go where I want them to be.  The captions get lost all the time, too.  Basically, it’s not nearly as polished looking as I would like, and despite my desir to update nightly, the planets and stars only come into alignment (internet plus good kid activities) maybe once a week. 

Second point:  rearing kids on the road is a lot like rearing kids at home.  Good days, hard days.  Luckily the kids take in turn to be, um, challenging, but it is a real bummer to be in a part of the world with some of the best trails. long and short,  and have a grumpy kid who refuses to get out of the car. 

Okay, that’s enough writing without photos.  I would like to catch up, if I can, so this may be long…

After Auckland we went to Rotorua, a town in the mountains by a lake, historically famous for hot springs and thermal pools and more recently for insane “adventure” opportunities, like bungee jumping, abseiling (still don’t know what that one is), canyoning (basically white water rafting without the raft)…  the list  goes on and on.  It gets rave reviews, but I thought it was like a commercial Yellowstone crossed with Gaitlinburg, Tennessee.  Now, some people may love that.  Me, not so much.   We did stay at a great campsite, on the shores of Blue Lake, with tons of kids and a couple great playgrounds.  We met a wonderful American family who are in the process of moving  from Australia to Singapore.  Rory and Nora really enjoyed playing with their girls, and they were kind enough to offer to have us visit when we wash up in Singapore.  Very kind folks.  

Our first day of adventure saw us screaming down a huge hill on luges.  It was great.  Rory and Nora had a blast.  We flew, I mean really hauled down the hill, and not one waiver did we sign.  If Nora had been 6 months older she could have driven herself.  Nuts, ut really fun.  At the top there was a lady who was a little nervous.  She kept asking, “But it can’t wreck or flip or anything?  I mean, I can’t get hurt?”  Well… yes, and yes.  But it was fun.  Let’s see if I can get the photos to load:

Hmmm.  Well, look around for them.  Not only did we get to ride the luge we got to take a gondolaup the mountain, and a chairlit after each luge ride.  Lots of up in the air excitement. 

The next day we passed time in town.  One hitch in our geddy-up here in NZ is that most coffeeshops use a soymilk that contains gluten.  That puts a serious cramp in our steamed soymilk habit.  Well, we found a cafe that was glad to use the soymilk I happened to have in my backpack to make “fluffies” for the kids.  Complete with cocoa powder sprinkles and marshmellows these have become the hallmark of a good time for the kids.  Whoo-hoo, get your fluffies!

Rory and Nora had their hearts set on Zorbing, being strapped inside a clear ball suspended within another clear ball and rolled down a hill.  But, shucks, Nora was 6 months to young…  so Rory used his birthday money from Aunt Paige to fly.  Yep.  Amazing for him.  The post-flight adrenaline rush was over-shadowed only by the adrenaline crash.  Poor guy couldn’t decide if he wanted to throw-up or go to sleep. 

 He made do with some cuddling on the ride up to the Tamaki village, a Maori show followed by a hangi, a traditional feast cooked buried oin the ground with heated rocks.  Now, usually,  I tend to turn my nose up at these “traditional culture” on display.  I mean, if it were such authentic culture then I should be able to spot it on the street corner, right?  Isn’t it really just Imaginary Noble Savage trotted out to keep the tourists happy?  But, the other part of my mind says, maybe it’s more of a living history exhibit?  Maybe it’s a way to document and preserve dances and song, if not in the most authentic way, at least in a pubic one.  In the end, the best show in town was offering a “recession Beater” special.  My ticket was outrageously expensive, but the kids just cost $1 per year of age.  And they were able to cater to our food allergies.  Well, raise the Lord and pass the kumara!  (That’s the locversion of sweet potato).  I don’t think they anticipated our 8 year old eating his body weight in chicken, lamb and potoatoes.  You would have thought he hadn’t seen meat in years.  Bless his heart.  Nora did herself proud with the pavlova, a NZ specialtywhich takes soft merangue to new sugary heights.  I will say that for what it was they did a great job of making it totally interactive.  Each of the 4 buses made up its own tribe, and we had to elect our own chief.  THen of the four chiefs of the visiting villages one was chosen to represent all the visitng tribes.  We were the Weka Waka, the canoe tribe.  I represented our tribe in a game of coordination.  Unfortunately it hinged on the ability to tell right from left in a hurry, so I was the 3rd of 7 to be eliminated.  It was worth it, though, to hear Rory holler out into the quiet, “Allright, Mom!  You rock!”  Thanks, honey.  You rock, too.  THe games and challenges were fun, and the haka, the traditional challenge dance, was so cool I wanted them to do it again.  All in all, better than I expected and Rory didn’t have to be fed for days after.

Rory really took to the tongue-thrusting thing

okay, we all like the tongue-thrusting

As usual, my dreams of getting up to date are dashed on the rocks of reality.  The kids can’t take anymore!  SO, tune in later for lots of geothermal activity, faulty detours and amazing waterfalls.

City of Sails, not on sale

Filed under: Uncategorized — midway2go @ 1:59 pm

 We spent a few days in Auckland, mostly getting outfitted to head out and see the rest of the country.  It was an electrifying change.  The ferry from Waiheke took us from a subtropical island haven to the largest, most bustling city in New Zealand. We checked into a hostel and set out to explore the town. We pretty much made a bee line straight back to the wharf, to the Ferry Building. Rumor had it the best ice cream in New Zealand was here, at Valentino’s. Fully half their daily offering of gelato was dairy-free (whoo-hoo!), and for the first time ever we had EIGHT choices of sorbet.  Not too shabby.  They have 240 flavors to chose from, and the selection changes daily.  Collectively we had the lemon, peach (wow),  banana, orange, lime, fruits of the forest, passionfruit, melon, and mango.  It took a few days of tasting to be sure, but in the end we voted it the best ice cream we’ve had, ever.  So far, at least!  We have high hopes for Italy.   


Rory can’t decide between lemon, lime, or orange- definately citrus.



not just for ice cream... Sandy, also known as Dola, Esther's mom, recommended the Voyager Museum. It's the maritime museum of New Zealand with hundreds of models of ships and boats, both small and lifesize. They even do harbour tours on a old sailing ship, but we missed that, unfortunately. We did get to climb all over a 150 year old sailing ship set up inside. I was pretty interested in the various examples of Polynesian canoes and outriggers. I had no idea you could do so much with such a simple idea. Incredible to think of the journeys undertaken on 30 feet of wood and only the stars to guide you. The museum shows a short film told from the perspective of a young boy that dramatizes the arrival of Polynesians in New Zealand who became the Maori. Great introduction to this island country. I'm not sure I'd want to cross the Pacific on this.




No, not another night in an airport!  Just trying out the bearths on a sailing ship.   


Blog at