Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Grandma and PaPa

   2 years ago I remember telling my Mom about our hopes and dreams of moving to New Zealand. She was then, as she always is, very supportive about our family plans. And as the time moved on she and Dad helped us make this ambitious dream a reality. They helped me with everything from packing up the house, deciding which clothes to bring, staging  my house before it went on the market, and just basic moral support. They did not even hesitate when we ask them to watch KD girl for us, or when we asked them to look out for our stuff in storage, and to periodically drive both cars throughout the year.  Mom has always been my best friend, I know I can count on her for anything. And so as happy as Mom was for our family, and as happy I was to start our new life abroad, there was a looming sense of sadness because  I was moving so very for away. Knowing that they were coming to visit during the month of Feb. helped with the goodbye's, but they were still much harder than I could of imagined. So when February arrived the kids and I were ecstatic about spending the month with Grandma and Papa, and showing them our new home. After their plane landed, we went to pick up the kids from school. And the faces on my kids as they went running into Grandma and Grandpa's arms was priceless, and brought tears to my eyes as well as my girlfriends that happen to be standing nearby. And I knew right then that it was going to be a great month, and that lots of happy memories were about to be made.

All SLC Carnival's start with a procession of the kids marching in a big square holding their club flag.

The first weekend they were here started off with a bang as the kids had their first SLC Carnival. It was held at Fitzroy Beach, which is a popular surf beach in New Plymouth. The weather was not what we were hoping for but we all put on an extra layer and off we went. I was very proud of my kids as we had never participated in the competitions before, and were not sure what to expect. They all did their best, and had fun at the same time. Lindsey made a name for herself as she came in first in the running races. Sprinting in sand is NOT easy, but she does it with ease. She was recruited by our club to be a member of Oceans 13, which means she will have extra training next summer, and learn how to use the knee boards. 

We wanted to take Mom and Dad on a road trip in NZ. There is no better way to experience the kiwi culture and see the country side than by car. We took them to Lake Taupo, which is a North Island city famous for it's adventure sports and stinky geothermal activity. Lake Taupo is the country's largest lake and probably most know for it's rainbow trout fishing. They say it is the rainbow trout capital of the universe. Dad was quite disappointed when we learned that trout is not served at any restaurants, nor can it be bought at any fish market. The region is a true wild fishery, and trout is not farmed or harvested. In order to eat some trout, we would have to go fishing ourselves, and then take it to a restaurant where they would of cooked it up for us. Sounded like a lot of work for us so we decided to go check out some adventure activities instead.

These next two pictures are of the Aratiatia Dam. The river below the dam is virtually dry most of the time, but 3 times a day the dam gates are opened and the gorge is dramatically changed into a raging torrent. They are the same picture, just one shows the river bed dry and the other is a raging class 5 rapid. The whole process took about 15 minutes for the water to be released from the dam, the river to fill up, and then for the river bed to be dry again. It was fascinating to watch the transformation of the river.

We then headed off to Orakei Korako, which is a thermal valley of bubbling pools, fuming craters, and hissing Geyser-fed streams.                                       

This is was once used by Maori women as  their beauty parlor, which is where the name Orakei Korako  (a place of adorning) got it's name. 

The next started off with a bang, especially if your an energetic 6 year old who enjoys high speed  thrills!! Huka Falls is a amazing display of Mother nature. The Waikato river thunders through a narrow chasm and over a 35ft. rock ledge. The falls then drop into seething milky-white  pool 200 ft across. This fast-flowing river produces almost %50 of North Island's required power. But just viewing the falls from above was not enough excitement for us, we decided to do the Huka Falls jet boat ride and get closer to the action. The jet boat ride spins and skips it's way between the Aratiatia Dam and Huka Falls. It was an exhilarating 30 minutes of high speed twists and turns. A Jet Boat Ride was on my husband's long list of things to do in New Zealand. So we were happy to be able to check it off our list, and the best part was sharing the experience with Grandpa and Grandma. I think Owen thought he had died and gone to heaven, he had so much fun on the ride. I think he and Skyler were either giggling or screaming the whole time. 

The Book a Bach we rented had great views of the River, as well as the lake. And the night we arrived we were looking out the window admiring the view, and noticed some kids swinging on a rope swing. Well, those kids were having so much fun, that the next day we decided to go have some fun of our own. Of course, it was blast as we all acted like Tarzan swinging on the rope and flinging ourselves into the cold river. My Dad could not resist the temptation and went off a few times as well, which Owen thought was way cool that his PaPa did the rope swing!
Our Bach is in the background, the 3rd one from the right.



The next day we climbed aboard the Sailboat "Fearless", to sail around the lake and go view the famous Maori rock carvings. It was a picture perfect, warm blue sky day. Owen quickly became buddies with the captain, and declared himself the first mate. Luckily the captain, had plenty of patience as Owen asked him 173 questions about the Lake, what lived in the lake, are pirates nearby, and what does he have for snacks??? Owen was also busy helping hoist the sails, and manning the helm.  The Rock carving were fun to look at but not exactly what we were expecting. They were made 30 years ago by some local artist using power tools. Hence the name "Famous', and not "Ancient". The 10 metre-high carvings are intended to protect Lake Taupo from Volcanic activities underneath. Lake Taupo lies in a Caldera created by a super volcanic eruption which occurred 26,500 years ago.

Owen doing a cannonball off the boat. 

Because it was such a warm day the water felt good even though it was a chilly 58 degrees. 

First Mate Owen
Helping Hoist the Sails

3 Sisters
On the way back home we wanted to stop and show Mom and Dad Mt. Ruapehu, which is where the ski resort Whakapapa is and where we went skiing last winter. It is also a Volcano, and looked quite erie and desolate during the summer month without any white snow to brighten up the place. And then we also stopped at the 3 sisters, to show them the beautiful rock formations.  
Sugar Loaf Islands
Back home in Oakura we still had 10 days to spend together, and show them a few more sights. 

Mom enjoyed going up and watching Lindsey do her riding lessons, and Lindsey enjoyed having Grandma there to watch her ride her horse "Buddy"

Mom loves to go walking on the beach and collect seashells or whatever other treasures she might find. Skyler and I took her one day to a beach down the coast known for it's Paua Shells. We did not find very many but we had fun looking.
This is the Chicken coop

Mom and I discovered this house just up the road from us that sells fresh eggs. I had noticed her sign before on my runs, but had always forgot about it by the time I got home. Mom and I drove by and we noticed the sign and went to check out the fresh eggs. We loved it and went there once a week for our fresh eggs!! I have yet to go back though as it reminds me of Mom too much.....

The eggs come in this brown bag tied up with colored string. How cute is this???

The kids playing with the chicks!!

The month went by too quickly and we found ourselves having to say goodbye sooner than we wanted. Mom had to get back to her booming Jewelry  Business, and get their dog out of the doggie hotel, and pick up KD girl from my girlfriend's house. I was going to miss them but I also knew that we would get to see them again in July, as we plan on coming back to the states for a few weeks. As sad as I  was having to say our goodbye's, I also felt  lucky that I have such amazing parents that love me and my family and will travel to the other side of the world to come and see us. And so I am thankful to love and to be loved like we do even if it makes the goodbye's harder.  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mount Taranaki

This a view from our backyard of Mount Taranaki, taken about 2 weeks ago during a summer cold spell that coated it in snow.  Everywhere you go in Taranaki this mountain looms over you, it dominates the entire region, at least when the weather allows.  It really is an imposing site and no photo I have seen of it really portrays its majesty. It gives the region and the people an identity as being a bit more hardy and extreme than the rest of the North Island if not all of New Zealand.  They have a term, Taranaki Hardcore, which is reflective not only of this mighty mountain, but of the unpredictable sometimes extreme weather we get being right on the coast as well.   It is also descriptive for the hardy souls who call Taranaki home, the farmers and ranchers whose predecessors cleared vast swaths of impenetrable rain forest mostly by hand, the workers on the oil platforms distantly off shore, and the longshoreman working in New Zealand's only deep water port on the west coast. (certainly not for the soft handed ED physicians).   Whenever we are on a road trip it beckons us home from 2-3 hours away in whichever direction we are coming.  When we are out surfing it is right over us, when I drive to and from work it is constantly there and I can't stop glancing at it.  It is an almost perfect cylindrical volcano and its image from every aspect is incredible.

Ever since we had made plans to live in this area I have looked forward to a time when I could enjoy the view from the top and this past weekend everything came together for what became a perfect, well almost perfect day.  Jenny, Lindsey and I were joined by our new friends Paul and his son Gavin for a summit attempt.  Paul, originally from Taranaki, has been living abroad for the past 17 years with his American wife Mary.  Gavin, their 11 year old son is in Lindsey's class in Oakura.  It was a fairly ambitious goal for two young kids but we felt that the competition between the two of them would prevent either from whimping out halfway up.

6:20 am start

 We started in perfect conditions on a clear cloudless morning under a full moon.  From the car park to the summit at 8261 feet we had 5138 vertical feet to climb and we wanted to give ourselves every chance to succeed by getting an early start.  We did, however, encounter folks who had left the car park at midnight and we even ran into a German medical student who I work with and his girlfriend who had actually climbed up the night before and slept at the summit.
Sun rise in the east, Mt Ruapehu in the central North Island visible right of center.
It served as Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings and is the tallest on the North Island.

 It is interesting to note that the climb up Taranaki took us through a whole range of vegetation types.  We started in what they call lowland forest with tall trees as well as smaller ones which make up a sub canopy.  Lots of shade as the trails wander through very dense rainforest like foliage. As the landscape becomes more exposed to the elements there is the montane forest with a lower more uniform canopy and scattered taller trees that are disfigured and battered from near constant winds. It is here that you get your first unimpeded views of the mountain.  As we leave the forest we are in the grasslands or scrub as pictured above.  Next is the tussockland which I think is just more sparse grassland which gives way to the herbs and mosses of alpine herb fields.  As we ascended through the scree slopes of loose rock the patches of growth become more sparse giving way finally to the hardy lichens which cling to rocks.

Wooden steps to preserve areas of vegetation from foot traffic and erosion

Approaching the scree (loose rock)

 The picture above is looking north west out towards the Tasman Sea.  You can just make out our little town of Oakura on the coast just left of center.  The two groups of hills between here and the coast represent the Kaitakes and the Poukais, two ancient volcanos that preceded Taranaki and have since either exploded or just eroded away.  Most sources seem to indicate that Taranaki is a dormant volcano but I am sure that someday it will roar back to life.
As blue a sky as I have ever seen

Approaching the rim of the crater

final push to the summit

Lots of smiles today, very proud of my girls
After six hours of climbing up we made the summit.  It was a nice accomplishment for all of us but particularly for Lindsey and Gavin.
Successful summit team
 Though Dutch explorer Abel Tasman passed by this coast of New Zealand in 1642 it was Captain Cook and his crew aboard their ship the Endeavour in 1770 who were the first Europeans to lay eyes on Mt Taranaki.  He named it Mt Egmont after John Percival, second Earl of Egmont who was First Lord of the Admiralty at the time, and referred to it in his log as "certainly the noblest hill I have ever seen".  It was referred to as Mt Egmont in the early days of New Zealand but out of  respect to Maori sentiment it has since been officially changed back to the Maori name, Taranaki which means barren mountain.

On top of  Taranaki, way to go Linds

On the descent nearing the scree field which was much easier to descend than climb.  Notice that the end of the forest in the picture is in an arc that goes completely around the mountain at a distance of precisely 6 miles from the summit.  It represents the boundaries of Egmont National Park established in 1900.

Not far from here on the descent Gavin took a tumble and sustained, among several abrasions, a very nasty laceration to his knee.  As you can imagine rescue from here would be quite an undertaking and carrying him was too dangerous as it was difficult for one person to maintain their balance the whole way down.  He bravely descended on his own, every step obviously quite painful, and the day ended with a brief visit to the ER.  Though he will have a forever reminder of the day in the form of a scar, I think all of us will have lifelong memories of an all in all great day.
And of course every day here ends with a beer and a fantastic sunset over the Tasman.
Cheers everyone.