Wednesday, July 27, 2011

We're On A Road To Nowhere

Curse you google maps!!  
This past week I had a few days off and with the kids on break we figured we would get out of town for a couple of days and check out the Kiwi skifields.  We planned a trip to Ruapehu which we heard from the locals was no more than 3 hours drive.  Of course, me being the human GPS that I think I am, it never occurred to me to actually ask someone the best way to get there.  Enter Google maps.  I entered in our departure and destination points and out spat googles recommended route, highway 43 which we later learned has become known as the World's Forgotten Highway.  Google insisted it would take 3 hours and it looked to be the straightest route as the crow flies to me. So off we went and roughly 5 hours later over the curviest, hilliest, 160 km of road anywhere on the planet we arrived, all of us a slight shade of green.  Honest to god we saw about 5 other cars the entire length of the highway (about a million sheep though).  

The only sign of life on the forgotten highway 
 At one point we passed a little settlement which I figured must be the outskirts of the town Taumarunui, at the eastern end of the highway.  I then saw the sign of Whangamomona, looked at the map and realized we were less than a quarter of the way there.  Jenny asked me how much farther, I gulped and said we are nearly there.   At one point we saw a mileage marker indicating 67 km to the end of the highway, 15 minutes later we passed another that said 74 km and I am not joking.
My family did not buy my explanation that this was a good family bonding experience.

Excellent view from Tahora saddle including the Ellington family truckster
the 2002 Mitsubishi Dion

Tangarakau Gorge
This is a highway!
 All in all it was quite a beautiful, scenic route but one we will not be taking in the future.  I am proud to say that any kiwi that I have told we took the forgotten highway has said "Good on ya Mate, thats a treacherous bugger"  (translation "you rule, that road sucks")

Mount Ruapehu at 9,176 ft
the tallest mountain on the north island

In the end we did make it to our destination.  We spent 2 nights at a great little ski lodge called Piper's in the town of National Park at the base of Mt Ruapehu.  Great little place with a big living room and fire place.  They fed us a delicious breakfast and dinner each day.
3 Goofball Americans

Skiing an active volcano

At the top of one of the T-Bars

Mount Ngauruhoe in the background

Mount Ruapehu is situated in the center of the north island in an area where there is more volcanic activity than anywhere else on the planet.  Ruapehu last erupted in 1994 and I believe that it served as the backdrop of mount doom in the Lord of the Rings movies.  The skiing was not great, very icy and windblown,  but the views and scenery were fantastic and we had a blast.  The sun was shining, we were skiing in July, and the kids had fun.

Stop in Mokau for the worlds famous Whitebait fritters

The next day we woke up and decided that one trip on the forgotten highway was enough.  We took route 4 which heads straight north (we ultimately are headed due west) until we came to route 3 which heads southwest to New Plymouth.  This too was a beautiful route as it takes us for several miles down the coast.  We were told to stop for the whitebait fritters in Mokau.  Now whitebait are little translucent eels that they catch in the rivers during certain seasons.  They are quite a delicacy and go for around $100 per kg.  Ours were served like an omelet, not bad but next time I'll get the fish and chips like Lindsey did.
Whitebait fritter, note all the little eyes looking at you

Fish and chips, delicious
 Time for one last stop on the way home.  Where the Tongaporutu river runs in to the Tasman there is some pretty interesting rock formations known as the Three Sisters.  We had to be quick though because with the tide coming in we stood the chance of being stranded on the beach as the water comes up.  The river apparently gets pushed right up to the walls effectively blocking any return if one is not careful.
Walking to the mouth of the river

2 of the three sisters in the background

"boom, boom, fire power"
Living large in NZ.  We hope all is well with everyone back home.


Friday, July 22, 2011


The kids are on Holiday this week and next and luckily we had a 3 day break in the weather to get out and do some exploring.


   This is Pukeiti Rhododendron Trust which spreads out over 900 acres of lush, native rain Forrest, surrounded by rich Taranaki farmland. It has 2,500 varieties of Rhododendrons, the largest in NZ. It was amazing and the Rhododendrons were not even in bloom!!! We spent a few hours walking along the trails and and inhaling the beautiful scenery. I am looking forward to taking my Mom and Mother-in-law here for some afternoon tea. 

Oakura Beach
Little boys and sticks, they go hand in hand!!

Oakura Beach
Oakura Beach

Some kind of bone Owen found at the beach, maybe Whale?? 
Oakura Beach
Oakura Beach
Oakura Beach
      The next day we went to Pukekura Park which is located in heart of New Plymouth. This Park is made up of valley lawns, freshwater lakes, waterfalls, and dense native bushland.  Pukekura  Park is known for it's Festival of Lights. In the summer months special lightening transforms the gardens and giant trees into a Fairyland. The kids found some great trees to climb and there is also a small children's Zoo. We look forward to exploring this all year long.
   When we moved here the locals told us about a shipwreck that was right around the corner from our house so off we went to find the treasure. It is about 2 miles south of our house (a great morning run). The kids were a little disappointed with the shipwreck!! Owen was envisioning something more like a  Pirates of the Caribbean scene and Skyler was hoping to find some gold!! We spent the rest of the afternoon eating our snacks and watching surfers catch some waves. Brad and I have to keep pinching ourselves to realize that we get to live here for a year. We feel so very blessed that we get to live in a place that has good food and wine, a range of landscapes including ski and beach, a warm welcoming community and a culture rich in history. We have much to do and see in this country and we have barely gotten our feet wet!!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


  Why is it that you always want what you can't have?? Believe it or not, but that is how I am feeling right now about Target of all things!!! I miss their prices, quality (most things) and familiarity. Even though I would usually go in for 1 item and come out $100 later, I still miss it. I am trying to turn this unfurnished rental house into our home for the next year and enjoying the challenge but am missing the stores back home. There are some great second hand stores here in New Plymouth but the prices are taking some time getting use to. Remember, that not much is manufactured here in NZ mostly agriculture products. So whatever I am buying had to transported here from somewhere very far away.Queen Mattresses for example sell for $2,000-4,000 and then the box springs sell for about $1,500. A little less for twin beds but still you get the picture. So the Ellington's are sleeping on used beds this year. Creepy, gross, nasty-yep I thought the same thing but I quickly got over it when I figured what 3 twin beds and 2 queen beds ( need one for my guests) would cost us. I justified it by thinking that every time we go to a hotel or condo we sleep on used beds and I never thought twice about it, and I also went out and bought us all brand new bedding with down comforters to help ease the creepiness. I got us a refrigerator, nice oak table and chairs, and an outdoor patio set off of Trade me. Clothes are still on floors until I find some dressers and the kitchen is almost stocked. Our big purchase this week was a large lounge. Brad nor I were crazy about the kids or us romping around on a used sofa, so we bought a brand new L shaped sofa, which Brad is happily sleeping on as I type.
  This is GiGi, our first Kiwi pet. We found her (or him) on a walk over the weekend. The kids were very excited about finding a seahorse. Lindsey immediately researched Seahorse on the Internet and was determined to keep it alive. Sadly, GiGi only lived a few days but made for some excitement around here. Owen still thinks GiGi is sleeping :)
 The School had their Disco last night at the Oakura Hall. All 3 kids went happily and excitedly. One would think that Skyler has lived here her whole life. She already knows most of the kids her age and her social calendar is filling up quickly. Lindsey comes home from school barefoot and happy each day with a new friends phone # written on her hand. She was comfortable enough to stay at the Disco by herself and let me go across the street to the Pub for a few beers with the other Moms. I couldn't of been prouder of her or the other 2. Today was Owens first day of not crying @ drop-off. I think we will have to have a bowl of Fruit Loops tonight to celebrate. So far, so good!!!!

Sunday, July 10, 2011


   We had a busy and exciting week here in Oakura. The week started with the kids starting school and Brad going to his first day of work. The kids and I all walked into school nervous and anxious with tummies full of butterflies. I told the kids that "this was going to be the hardest day and that it would just get easier from here." Since this is such a small town of 3,000 or less, newcomers are very exciting and especially newcomers that talk funny!! Both of the girls have fit right in and came home that same day with smiles on their faces. Owen has and will require some extra TLC since he is still quite young. He has had tears every morning, but has still perservered and made it the whole week w/o Mom having to pick him up early. Believe it or not but Mom has NOT cried at his teary drop offs, but I am really hoping that he is happier this next week. Skyler has already made a plethora of friends and her teacher told me that she has to remind herself that Skyler is new because she already fits right in. Lindsey is loving school because things tend to be a little more liberal here in the NZ school system. The third day of school they watched Avatar ( PG 13) during recess and on the fourth day most of the older students were @ a Bowling tournament so the students left behind did Art all day . And on the 5th day they went into town to do wood working. There is  no school cafeteria so all the kids bring lunch and get to eat outside.  Most of the students (common for all of NZ) take off their shoes when they get to school, if they EVEN wear shoes to school and do not put them back on until they go home. Each classroom has a shoe bucket. This was one of the first things I noticed and asked about when we went to visit schools that first week. The kids are loving it and Mom still thinks its odd!!! 
  There were two reasons that we picked this school. One being that all three of our kids would go to the same school. They can walk/ride bikes to and from school together. If we would of lived in New Plymouth, Lindsey would of gone to one of the two Intermediate schools and the younger two would of been at a Primary school. After meeting with the Principal at the Intermediate School we felt that having all 3 kids stay together would be a less stressful situation for all of us. Secondly we felt that the Oakura School had a Montessouri feel about it,which we loved and it just felt right. Also Oakura being 1 of 2 schools in the area that is a decile 10 rating also helped make our decision. Whoops, that made it 3 reasons, but anyway we are enjoying the new school and looking forward to getting involved with some of the sports teams. The NewsLetter this week said it is starting a ski team and looking for kids. I think I might know of 3 kids that might be interested :)


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Oakura, New Zealand

Well we have had a pretty busy week down here.  The kids started school, I started working at the hospital and Jenny, having opted for the challenge of renting a completely unfurnished house,  has been running all over the place trying to secure the things we need.  She has been to new and used furniture places, been on Trademe (the NZ equivalent of eBay), and been scouring the classifieds for stuff.   She got beds for the kids for $50 each, a refrigerator for $100, a dining room table and chairs for about $100, and a nice queen bed for $125.  She just recently outbid someone on trademe for an outdoor furniture set.  Jenny can wheel and deal with the best of them.  We have also benefitted greatly from other expatriate ED physicians who come and go.  We have gotten many of the essentials from them and will buy one of our cars and probably a TV set from Tony and Kelly Defelice who plan on returning to Minnesota later this month.  It is really amazing how many little things you need to run a functional household.  
      We have settled in to our place in Oakura nicely.  The hospital was great in providing us a very acceptable flat for the first two weeks down here but it is nice to finally really unpack and get organized.  

Downtown Oakura
Oakura is a great little town on a beautiful stretch of Taranaki coastline about 9 miles west of New Plymouth.  There is a short main street with a few shops, a convenience store, gas station, coffee shop and of course a pub.  It is typical of the many small, scenic, rural towns dotting the landscape of New Zealand.  Oakura means the place of the flashing redness in Maori, and is supposedly named for it's beautiful sunsets.  We have experienced several days of overcast skies and pretty impressive rain showers so have yet to enjoy the sunset but are looking forward to many as the sun sets right in front of us over the Tasman Sea.  

88 Messenger terrace from the street
Our home for the next year
Four to possibly five bedrooms so room for guests if anyone can make it down here

Our view from the living room looking west
The windows slide all the way open 
I have been told that the prevailing winds on the North Island come directly from the south, and with the massive Mt Taranaki due south of us we are supposed to have pretty mild windless days.  This past week though the winds have been ripping off the Tasman sea to the west of us and we have had some horizontal rain showers and some major surf on the beach.  

First day at new school
We wanted to get the kids in school pretty quickly as there is a two week break coming at the end of next week and we wanted to give them a chance to meet some friends.  I know it must have been difficult for them coming to a new school in a new country in the middle of the school year but they have really done excellent.  Really much better than I could have ever expected.  The principal is a wonderful lady and the kids were paired up with a student or two to show them the ropes and they have all thrived, no resistance about having to go all week.  It has been hardest on Owen who is used to half day of kindergarden and none of the other kids seem to pay him any attention for the first week.  He is a trooper  and I am proud to say that he would wipe off a few tears in the morning and then march right into his classroom and now seems more adjusted and even went over to another boys house to play this weekend.
I think the kids will really enjoy this school.  There is so much focus on the outdoors and the ocean,  they take their shoes off as soon as they get to school in the morning, they can have their morning tea (snack) indoors or out.  They have beach clean up days, monitor and help protect migrating animals including one species of penguin and spend some time in the national park that encompasses Mt Taranaki.  The teachers are all very nice.  Owen commented that it "would not be too bad to be sent to the principal because she is so nice".  The Oakura school is a decile 10 school which is the top ranking for schools in New Zealand.  I think they really make an effort to view each child individually and help them develop,and challenge them at a pace that is appropriate for each child.  Overall a very nurchuring and supportive environment.

Courtyard which all the classrooms open to 
I have worked my first week at Taranaki Base Hospital and have to say that it is a bit of an adjustment.  The organization and flow of patients through the department here is a bit confusing at times and surprisingly far less efficient than what I am accustomed to at Research.  We see between 80 and 100 patients per day here.  I have not been spit at, swore at, physically assaulted or told by a patient that they were going to call their lawyer yet which is nice.  There was an ambulance report the other day of a gunshot wound which got people relatively excited since I was told that it has been at least 5 years since the last GSW here. In the end it turned out to be a dog bite.  Most medicines go by different names and many of the antibiotics I am used to are not available.   I will write more on my hospital experiences at a later date.  In the end it is still medicine and taking care of patients but some of the challenges faced in the ED will be different.

Hard to believe we have been here two weeks already.  We have seen and done so much.
We all really miss our friends, family and KD stateside but are so far really enjoying the experience.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

First Week in NZ

                    "It is true, you can't live here by chance.  You have to do and be, not simply watch or even                           
                              describe.  This is the city of action, the world headquarters of the verb"
                                                                                                  anonymous quote from a park
                                                                                                  bench in Wellington

This seems to be the underlying theme of New Zealand.   We can't drive anywhere here without feeling like we have to get out of the car and check something out or climb on something every 15 minutes.  We drove about 200 miles to Wellington, the capital city, so I could finalize my credentials with MCNZ (medical council).  It took us 6 hours on the way down and a day and a half to get back.  Driving here I would imagine would be like driving the old route 66 in the US in the 50s where a trip is more about the voyage than the destination.  We drove through dozens of small quaint towns and being that there are no interstates so you actually have do go through the downtown.  They all had an incredible amount of character as well as a playground that would rival many American theme parks.  

There are ziplines, trampolines, slacklines, incredible climbing and sliding structures and torture devices like these.  It is obvious that they don't seek consult with American risk management.
You are really free to hurt yourself any number of ways over here and you can't blame anyone for it.  Then of course there is the beautiful countryside and coastline.  One minute it is if you are traveling the pacific coast highway in CA, then you are in a tropical rainforest, then you are in a redwood forest, then past an alpine lake, then through the English countryside, then through what could pass for an old west mining town all in the space of half an hour.  Truly stunning scenery and the South Island is considered the more scenic one.   

Wellington is a great city, right on the harbor at the southern tip of the North Island.  It is a vibrant city with so many people out riding bikes or running along the harbor, little coffee shops and cafes everywhere and very clean.  New Zealanders obviously have great respect for their country and each other.  There is literally no litter anywhere here.  You could travel hours on the roads here and not come across a single soda can.  The kids here are outside "The Beehive" or the New Zealand Capital building.  
The government in New Zealand is a parliamentary representative democratic monarchy and like England its head of state is Queen Elizabeth II.  The head of government is the prime minister, currently John Key of the National Party.  Here he is described as politically a centrist but would likely be viewed in the US as a tree hugging liberal

Ouside Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand.  Quite informative and really an excellent place if you are ever in Wellington.  The New Zealand people and government also seem to have great respect for and make an effort to acknowledge the history of the Maori people who likely arrived in New Zealand by wooden canoe from other distant Pacific islands maybe as far as from Hawaii in the 1300s.   In many places the Maori language is written along with English and they teach some Maori to all the school children.   It is really a second national language.
You First!

We stopped at the town of Wanganui on the way back to New Plymouth and spent the night at a Holiday Park, essentially a campground with some motel style accomodations.   Very clean, warm showers,  kitchen in our unit and exceedingly acceptable for us as well as affordable.  We were lucky to be in town for the weekly farmers market which was a lot of fun.  Many delicious little Kiwi treats, and great produce.  We have been very pleased with the food here.  Incredibly fresh everything with little preservatives or additives.  They do not refrigerate eggs in the large grocery stores as they are literally right from the hen.  Jenny with her culinary bravery picked up some meat pies which were very delicious.  

As we drove back from Wellington the magnificent Mt Taranaki arose in the distance.  We will be living at the base of this volcano in a little town of Oakura which happens to be right on the beach about 15 minutes from New Plymouth.  We will be moving there in the next day or two and the kids are heading to school tomorrow.  They seem excited and not concerned though I am sure they are a little nervous.  I start work this week and confess to being a little nervous myself.
The summit of Mt Paritutu, a 700 ft nob of lava right on the coast overlooking New Plymouth
Running down to Back Beach with the Sugar Loaf nature preserve in the background.  All the sand on the west coast of the North Island is black as it originates from volcanic rock.  I am sure it will be a bit hot in the summer months.

Life is great down under.  We are happy and healthy and hope you all are as well.
Love to all