Saturday, October 27, 2012

When it or buy some candy corn

    Like in a marathon, as a favorite piece of advice I once heard goes, "There will be highs and there will be lows, but neither will last very long."The same is true of living abroad. Appreciate the highs and ride out the lows. Look around and think We're really doing this, and experiencing life together as a family in another part of the world!! I have had to resort to this advice a few times this past month. The weather here has been nasty, rain, wind and more rain. I believe that Oakura is one of the most beautiful places in the world when the sun is shinning. However those days have been very limited. I am missing the change of seasons and all the holiday traditions that accompany each season. My Mom broke her leg, and the feeling of helplessness I felt as I heard the news. And not knowing where we are going to be a year from now is a little unsettling. Last week it was Hawaii, this week it is somewhere in the western states, and next week it might be Australia. The world is ours for the picking which makes for tough choices. Imagine having to  go into your favorite candy store and being able to pick only 1 piece of candy when you like all the choices. Owen ask me in the car the other day, "Will we ever live in a house again like we did in KC?" And before I could respond he said "because I really do like traveling around the world." Sometimes it takes the wise words of a 7 year old to reaffirm that living abroad and traveling as much as we do is what we are meant to be doing. We love it that our kids are developing a genuine curiosity about the world, and becoming independent learners, and since we have lived here they are all willing to take more risks. However there are days that we miss the familiar feeling of a home, and feeling more grounded. We left a home that we were happy in, packed up a bag each and traveled to a country that we knew nothing about to start a new life. But, we knew from the start that doubt might haunt us at times, and that this journey might require an occasional pep talk to help booster confidence and commitment.
   I apologize if this is more sappy than usual, but I want this  blog to paint the real picture, not always just the beautiful trips we are fortunate enough to take  My intent with this blog is to document the good times with the the bad so we do not forget them when we wax nostalgic a year from now. And anyone contemplating a similar  journey gets a more complete picture. So when I get sad or overwhelmed or wish I could spend some time with my Mom, I go for a run, which always seems to bring me back to middle ground (or Middle Earth as Peter Jackson would say). I can be a blubbering mess when I go out for my run, but then return feeling as if I could conquer the world. And to help with the missing of the familiar holiday, Halloween, we are attempting to throw our own party. I realize that this party might be more for me than my kids, just the planning itself is giving me some happy reminders of back home. I was more excited than I should admit to when I found a little bag of candy corn for sale at the movie rental store. I happily bought every bag they had and didn't balk at the $6.50 price tag. The funny thing is, I do not even like the damn stuff, but I also couldn't imagine a Halloween party without them. My friends from Ireland, Holland, and New Zealand are helping out with the planning. I have enjoyed explaining to them what a jack-o-lantern is, how to make caramel apples, and what American pudding taste like. International disco might be a better name for the party!!
    Since we can't seem to make the sunshine here in Taranaki we are going to go and chase it down in Fiji in a few weeks. It is only a 2 1/2 hour flight from Auckland and it has been on our list of places to visit since we have arrived. So happy voting to all our friends back home. I wish I could say that we sent in our absentee ballots and voted for our candidate but I was too late with our request. And of course Happy Halloween to all of my friends back home. Eat, Drink, and Be Scary!! Cheerio Jenny

Sometimes in life, it's the little things that matter.......

Monday, October 8, 2012

Journey to Middle Earth (via the Coromandel and The Bay of Plenty)

Kids are on break for two weeks so we have taken the opportunity to explore a bit more of this beautiful country.  The diversity of scenery and adventures one can experience here is simply amazing. In the past 7 days we have floated through pitch black subterranean caverns where the only source of light comes from worms that cling to the ceilings, driven stunning coastal roads, been over mountain passes, soaked in natural hot spring pools on the beach, hiked and climbed our way to desolate stretches of beach, explored a river canyon with the best preserved relics from a bygone mining era that I have ever seen, visited the place the Hobbits call home, and best of all have dined at half a dozen of the finest cafes you will find anywhere.  Many of the things we found appear in no guide books.  Mostly how you experience things in New Zealand is by stumbling upon them on your own or by word of mouth.
Well here we go, again sorry for the volume of pictures but they can tell a story far more eloquently than I can.

                                                                                           View Larger Map
B. Coromandel
C. Matarangi
D. Mount Maunganui
E. Matamata
F. Home

About halfway from New Plymouth to Hamilton on the map above is Waitomo (wai= water, tomo=caves).  Here an ancient limestone seabed was pushed up and then quite spectacularly eroded away leaving behind deep, extensive, caverns with flowing creeks and a surreal landscape of limestone formations.  What makes this place truly unique is that much of it is illuminated by the larval stage of arachnocampa luminosa, or the glowworm.  They use the light to attract insects into sticky filaments that dangle from the ceiling.  While each worm does not emit that much light, less than a firefly they say, the effect of tens of thousands of them overhead gives you the feeling of being under the most star filled sky you could imagine.  

Camera flash

No camera flash
A bit difficult to full appreciate by this picture

It was a pretty neat tour but not being overly happy in dark, enclosed spaces, I was happy to see the sky again.

The next day we headed northeast across the North Island to the Coromandel Peninsula.  The road up the west side of the peninsula hugs the cliffs and the rocky coast, at times only a few feet above the crashing surf. It is a pretty drive, but since it narrows to a single lane in many places, and there are no guard rails it pays to keep your eyes on the road.  The Coromandel in the past was reportedly ravaged by the logging (valuable tall ancient Kauri trees), and the mining (gold and silver) industries.  It has been relatively left alone since the 1930s so it has reclaimed much of it's former beauty.  Now it seems to attract an interesting mix of artists, commune type people and a fair number of wealthy Aucklanders who have second homes there. A spine of mountains up to 3,000 feet are surrounded by the sea, the Firth of Thames to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east.  We drove over a pass on the 309 road (so named because it took horse drawn wagons 3 hours and 9 minutes to traverse back in the day) to our bach in Matarangi on the east coast.
The 309 road was filled with interesting things particularly a peculiar little place called Waterworks.  Somebody has proclaimed it the best theme park in all of NZ which if true does not say much for theme parks here.  It was quite an interesting collection of homemade geysers, water shooters, playground implements, and farm animals.  They also had little posters of wisdom, history or life observations displayed throughout the park.  That is about all I have to say about Waterworks but if you are ever on the 309 road I would recommend stopping there though I am not really sure why.

Self propelled by pedaling.  Surely uninsurable in the US, or any other country for that matter

The west coast of the Coromandel has several wonderful little towns.  Places like Whangapoua, Matarangi, Kuaotunu, Opito, Hahei, and Tairua to name a few.  From Hahei, above, it was a short hike to a Cathedral cove which is pretty spectacular.  White sandy beaches, interesting rock formations and crystal clear South Pacific Ocean waters.  This would be a great place for sea kayaking and snorkeling.

Oh what a feeling.....

So much of New Zealand Geology is based on geothermal activity.  At Hot Water Beach, boiling water bubbles up through the sand near where the waves are crashing and by mixing it with cool ocean water you can have a nice hot tub experience right on the beach.  This place is in all the guide books and I believe when the tides are right this place is always crowded.  It was still quite fun and social, hanging with an interesting mix of tourists from all over the world while trying not to get scalded on the boiling water.
Those people are digging in the sand to make hot tubs.

Hard Boiled eggs in 7 minutes

Making our hot tub.

Organic farm stand on the Coromandel

Our bach in Matarangi, extremely nice, walking distance to the beach

Interesting mix in Matarangi.  Pretty high end real estate out on the tip of this small peninsula with an incredible golf course surrounded by the sea on 3 sides.  Though it looked the envy of any course, the greens fees were only $25 for 18 holes.  Houses below have this green open public space between them and the beach.

The following pictures are from the 30 minute hike to New Chums Beach.  It was a bit rocky and a bit muddy going over a small saddle but when we got there we had the beach to ourselves, just as the sun was coming out.  Though it doesn't get mentioned in many guidebooks, I was told it made some list of top 10 beaches in the world. It was pretty special as are any number of other beaches here.


Owen kicking Mom and Dads you know what in a sprint.  

One thing I have learned from navigating around NZ is that you need to pay attention to road signs as if you miss a turn you could go a long ways before you realize you are going the wrong way.  Also the route you are on may take a 90 degree turn from the road you are on as you blissfully blow by it while admiring the scenery, a bunch of newborn lambs, or while clutching the steering wheel in terror as an approaching semi truck hurtles towards you at 100 kph on a narrow two lane road.  In any case this can work in your favor as any direction you are going in this country, there is sure to be something worth checking out.  We ended up missing a turn as the road we were on stopped being the road we needed to be on while driving to the Bay of Plenty.  It wasn't too big of a deal as there were other ways to go, but in the end we stumbled upon the Karangahake gorge which is an area that I have heard described as the best mix of natural beauty and historical significance in all of NZ.  There was a very active gold and silver mining operation here from around 1880 to 1930.  The Department of Conservation has done a fantastic job of maintaining this area as a tourist friendly venue.  Great hikes though the gorge by way of old railways, suspension bridges and tunnels carved out of the rock.  You needed a flashlight for this hike as many of the tunnels were long enough that they became pitch black in the middle.

Captain Cook gave the Bay of Plenty it's name.  He was referring to the abundant sources of food he found here, though today it is known more for it's abundance of beaches and sunny weather.  We stayed in Mount Maunganui or the Mount as the locals know it.  It is on the ocean side of the port of Tauranga, and is a vibrant coastal surfing tourist destination.  It is a low key Gold Coast or very low key Miami beach with great restaurants and shopping.  The 342 meter Mount Maunganui arising right out of the ocean and right next to the town dominates the scenery here.  It offers incredible views, has great hiking trails and a jogging path that goes around the base.
The Mount from a distance
Top of the Mount looking to the east

Looking to the Northwest

Heading down the stairs from the top of the Mount

Giant Kiwifruit 
Following signs to the next destination

Lindsey picking out Lunch
On the way back home we took a family vote about stopping in Hobbiton and everyone wanted to do it.  They filmed the scenes of the Shire from the Lord of the Rings trilogy and also for the upcoming Hobbit trilogy.  The directors for the movies were flying around NZ in a helicopter looking for filming locations and decided that this little patch of sheep farm near the little town of Matamata appeared just as Tolkien had described it in his books.  Beautiful rolling green hillside, a pond and most importantly a grand old gnarled pine tree to serve as the party tree for the movie. All of the outdoor scenes were shot here but when the action went inside one of the little houses the filming was done 6 hours south in Wellington.  Out of some 150 filming locations in all of NZ this is the only one where they left part of the set. This sheep farm is set on 1,250 acres and there are 14,000 sheep that roam the property. However the sheep on the farm did not look like Middle Earth sheep to Peter Jackson so he brought in another bred of sheep for the filming.

This is one of only 2 of the houses which actually has an indoors. The space was used only for getting shots looking out through the door over the shire. 

This was the closing scene for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. 

The party tree
The Tree at the top of Bilbo Baggin's house is fake. It was assembled in Wellington, the leaves were imported from Taiwan and individually wired onto the tree. When filming began for the Hobbit movie Peter Jackson thought that the leaves had faded too much so the crew had to climb the tree and paint each leaf a darker shade of green. 

All in all another great family road trip.  I know I use the word beautiful a lot to describe things here, but I struggle to come up with enough superlative adjectives for NZ.  It really is all beautiful.