Thursday, January 31, 2008

New Plymouth! =)

Gordon and I spent the 21st-24th of January with Gordon’s brother Kelvin, his wife Lisa, and their three adorable kiddos- Isabel (6), Rebecca (6), and Ella (3) in New Plymouth. NP is a town of about 49,000 on the west coast of the North Island in the Taranaki (“peaks without vegetation”) region. Not to be missed is Mount Taranaki, the gigantic volcano of which you get lovely views from Kelv and Lisa’s kitchen. =) Not only is Mt. T quite tall (2518m), but it’s also a famous movie star, having played the role of Mt. Fuji alongside Tom Cruise The Last Samurai. I wanted to get its autograph, but it doesn’t have any arms, so I just took a photo. Here it is. Anyhow, we spent our days doing puzzles and playing with blocks and the like with the kidlets (definitely some of the cutest, smartest, and heaviest kidlets I have had the pleasure of piggybacking around everywhere) and enjoying the natural wonders of the area. We traipsed down the seaside walkway at Puke Ariki on an absurdly windy afternoon (I think I saw Elmira Gulch fly by on her bicycle), and by the time we made it back to the car my hair looked a lot like cotton candy and I tasted like a salt lick. It was rad. =) We also went to the free children’s zoo at Brooklands park, where we saw cute guinea pigs (ee-ee-ee), bunnies, an emu, some monkeys, and a kune kune pig, among other fuzzy things. Awesome! =) A definite highlight was Pukekura Park- by far the best city park I have seen! It’s a 10-minute walk from downtown (the CBD, as they say in NZ) and is 49 hectares of gardens, bush walks, steams, waterfalls, and ponds. (I got that straight out of the Lonely Planet. Please don’t ask me what a hectare is. Please.) There’s an awesome cricket ground where the terraced seating is cut into the hillsides, a boat rental so you can row all around the lake (and try to crash into the sides because you’re not a very good rower even though Jess Wetter taught you how to row once, didn’t she?), and a nice little pavilion where you can get chips so delicious that you don’t even need ketchup! Mmmm… We went back again at night to see the awesome light show they put on in the summer- lots of trees, water features, et cetera are illuminated with pretty-coloured lights, bands play, they show outdoor movies- it’s lovely. =) (They were showing The Princess Bride the night we went. Inconceivable!) We also had a fantastic day at Back Beach, where we got partially buried in the black sand, were coerced into running up and down a huge sand dune a zillion times (that was more Gordon getting coerced, really- even the cutest of children couldn’t convince me to run up and down things), and saw two seals frolicking in the surf really close to us! Besides all of that, staying at their house was so much fun! Kelv and Lisa were wonderful hosts and fed us delicious, healthful, homemade meals and stayed up late at night watching terrible tv shows and answering about seven gazillion Trivial Pursuit questions into the wee hours, despite having three cuties to look after early in the morning. They were fabulous! =) They don’t read this, but just in case, THANK YOU!!!! We had a wonderful time, and we can’t wait to see everyone again next month in Dunedin!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


16th-21st January were spent in Kinloch, a village at the north end of Lake Taupo. Gordon’s parents have an awesome bach there. The gigantic lake (606 square kilometres) actually lies in the caldera formed by one of the biggest volcanic eruptions ever. It happened over 26,500 years ago and the volcano spewed 800 cubic kilometers of ash and pumice all over the place. (Can you tell I’ve been reading my guide book?) It’s cool because you can pick up hunks of pumice in varying sizes and degrees of roughness on the beach there for free and give yourself a nice pedicure. =) Hard to believe we actually pay for pumice in Walgreens at home! Anyhow, I am so glad to have arrived here in the height of summer! It's wonderful and warm... We slip-slop-slapped on our SPF 30 (not much ozone over here- maybe if you guys could lay off the Aqua Net over there a bit?) and went swimming in the crystal-clear lake... It was pretty windy that day, so there were big waves- it really felt like the ocean, but it was fresh water and there were ducks swimming by! Totally confusing… It’s absolutely beautiful there- from Kinloch you look over the lake toward Mt. Ruapehu, and the sunsets are stunning! While there we did not do any trout fishing or skydiving, though Taupo is the world capital of both of those things. More people jump out planes there than anywhere else in the world, apparently. But not us. =) We stuck to the simpler, more land-based pleasures. =) We took a little walk around Huka Falls (gorgeous- NZ’s Niagara, though quite a bit smaller! The water was an amazing bright turquoise colour!), visited Craters of the Moon- a geothermal area where mud boils and steam comes out of the ground (that happens a lot here, I’m told), did a little bit of yard work (and fed the clippings to the cute goats down the street), golfed (kinda), ate grits and ice blocks (a.k.a. popsicles) and corn on the cob (among other things, but those were highlights!), and watched the entire first series of Flight of the Conchords on DVD (because we really couldn’t stop ourselves- it's really one of the funniest shows I've ever seen, and it's kiwis)! Taupo was awesome and relaxing. And hot. =) Loved it! We plan to get back there soon for a little more R&R. We’ll definitely need it after our impending camping adventure! =)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The sheep here are HUGE!

Stardate: Wednesday, 16th January. Location: Tirau, NZ. Bizarre sighting: enormous sheep. =) On the road between Auckland and Taupo is Cambridge, where you can get a delicious scoop of chips at Eric's Genuine Fresh Fish & Chips shop and park your trundler at the Countdown to stock up on groceries. But never mind the chips and trundlers! Just a hop, skip, and a jump down the road is Tirau, population 720. The name Tirau translates as "many cabbages," but we didn't see any of those. What we did see was evidence of the town's love of corrugated iron structures in several different forms, most famously in the form of a giant dog and a giant sheep, pictured here. =) We didn't go inside them, but sources indicate that the dog is actually the visitor information centre and the sheep has a gift shop inside. Instead we just munched our Whittaker's Peanut Slabs outside and then got back on the road to Taupo. Oh, wacky New Zealand! =)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Kia ora, Aotearoa!

That's Maori for "Hello, Land of the Long White Cloud!" Yes, I am in New Zealand! =) I can hardly believe it! So far I totally love it! =) By the time I was off the flight, had collected my bags, declared my chocolate, pretzels, and two boxes of grits (very important to declare all food- if you're carrying grits it's also important to explain the food), and had gone out to meet Gordon, I was roasting! It's been HOT here! =) I love it! =) (I have been here two weeks now, and am working on quite the impressive tan, I must say.) I love summer. =) Sooo... Auckland was lovely, actually. It's NZ's biggest city (1.2 million people- roughly a quarter of the population of NZ), but seems fairly small as big cities go. Gordon had arranged a hotel room right near the city centre, and we spent two days there before heading off to Taupo. We wandered around town and the harbour, where the water is an amazing turquoise colour, much like the water in Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon. Beautiful. We saw a couple of the Team New Zealand boats that they use in the America's Cup race. I took tons of photos because I couldn't really believe how everything said "New Zealand" on it! :o (Two weeks in and I'm getting used to being in NZ a bit, but I haven't slowed down much on the photos!) I got slightly disoriented when came across a cafe called Seattle Espresso... We met up with some friends of Gordon's for dinner and drinks and had a great time! I also had my IEP (visa people) orientation, where they tell you all about NZ and travelling, give you access to free internet, talk about where you should go to get jobs picking apples and kiwis and that kind of thing, and give you free samples of NZ soda and chocolate- gateway chocolate. You know how the crafty drug dealers give the kids samples of stuff for free so they get addicted and then have to come to them for more? I'm thinking that's the kind of scheme these people are running. Perhaps trying to boost the NZ economy or something. Luckily I was not a big fan of L&P (a kiwi soda, though now made by Coca-Cola), but I have developed a serious addiction to Whittaker's Peanut Slabs. Mmmm... Most of them you get are made with milk chocolate (boo), which makes the bittersweet variety in the dark brown wrapper that much better! Things taste better when you have to hunt them down! (Though the hunt is far less challenging now that I have discoved they're sold widely at BP stations...) On the way out of town we drove up to the summit of Mt. Eden, the highest of Auckland's 48 volcanoes, for amazing views of the city. Fantastic. =) I wouldn't mind if we settled in Auckland for my time here- it's not stiflingly huge or overpopulated or anything, but I am a little tired of city life at the moment... That, and it's expensive! (Think $8 US for a teensy travel-size bottle of contact solution! Ouch!) So, there's no telling where we'll be living and working just yet, but I'm greatly looking forward to exploring all of the possibilities!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Australia! =)

Well, I'm in Australia! I can't believe it! A little stress at the beginning of my journey, but none of it of my own creation! :o My first flight had a little bit of a mechanical problem which resulted in a chemical smell and the teensiest bit of smoke in the cabin, an immediate landing, and the fire department coming to the rescue. This left me with a pretty hairy connection in San Fran! Luckily I am quite experienced in the ancient art of High-Heeled Airport Running, as well as being adept at the lightening-quick removal of shoes, belts, laptops, jewelry, coins, and toiletries at security, and I got to the gate just in time! I even had time to buy a book, but it's probably going to put my carry-on luggage over the 7-kilo limit! :o (AND I paid full price for it! What?!?!) Oh well... I got to see the Sydney harbour and Opera House on the way in- worth every second of airport turmoil! I have a 7+ hour layover here and have just spent $18 on noodles and a Coke. My observations so far are few, as I am not allowed to leave the departure lounge, but I have noticed a few very Aussie things. =) First, Coke tastes funny here and everyone sounds just like Kath & Kim. Also, there are LOTS of things you can buy with koalas and boomerangs on them... Also, there are Jumpy's (crisps shaped like kangaroos), Vegemite, various unusual animal jerky snacks (ick!), and every other song that comes on is by Kylie. =) I like it here in the land down under, though I feel like the wombat gets a bum deal- just as cute as a koala (see photo), but you just don't see them on as many tins and tea towels... Anyhow, no souvenirs for met yet, especially considering the trouble I may already be in with this hefty hand baggage- I plan to make it back here for a proper look around sometime during the year and hope to fulfill my lifelong dream of hugging a koala (and a wombat). More as it happens...