New Zealand Updates

Well, it’s about time I got round to catching everyone up on what we did for the last couple of weeks in New Zealand.

Grant managed to get his awful haircut fixed somewhat the next day, and we spent a few more days just hanging out around Kati Kati. The local trade show was scheduled for the weekend that we were there so we checked that out for a lazy Sunday afternoon. Jessica loved the horses, the motorcycle jumping, and, of course, the carousel.

Jessica loves helping Mommy do the laundry now. The clips fascinate her and she spends hours playing with them and making them into “dinosaur bones.” Who needs toys? I have some classic pics of her out on the porch of our secluded little cabin stark naked hanging up all her clothes along the railing! Very cute.

Potty training is complete. However, we still have to prompt her occasionally to poop on the potty. Generally this is heralded by MUCH smelliness and we ask her if she needs to use the washroom. Often, she’ll tell us: “no, my bum is just thinking!”

We left Kati Kati headed to Dargaville. What a happening town! It was absolutely pouring with rain and nothing to do. We had planned to spend the day out at some nearby lakes, but the weather wasn’t cooperating. So we ended up on a holiday Tuesday with nothing to do in an extremely small town without any decent restaurants. One place we went, we actually left our meals on the table, paid, and walked out. The funniest part of it was that each of us though the other wanted to go there and when we got inside we both simultaneously realized that we’d both been overly polite and neither of us really wanted anything on the menu! The soup we’d both ordered tasted something like I’d imagine library paste would taste like. When our friend Jeremy heard we spent two nights in Dargaville he was appalled!!

The only saving grace in Dargaville was the lovely people we stayed with. We stayed at a local B&B with John and Mary Mclean. It was our first B&B ever and it was just like staying over at your Grandparents’ place. A wonderful, big old house, and everything that could have a doily, DID have a doily!! I spent ten minutes moving flowers and decorative soap around so I could breathe in the bedroom. They let me use their computer in the kitchen for ages, while Jessica destroyed their kitchen and living room. Mary hauled out old toys out from the garage, and played with Jessica. John reminded me a bit of my own grandfather who is also John, and spent the evening drinking beer with Grant. All in all, they made the experience of being rained out in Dargaville a much more pleasant prospect than it would otherwise have been.

There was an amazing woodwork shop in Dargaville that teaches wood turning. Unfortunately, I found this out too late, or I would have spent my lazy rainy day learning how to turn wood. The gentleman who owns the shop is truly a master artist. The bowls and vases there were SO beautiful and made of the most amazing swamp kauri. Unfortunately, I couldn’t begin to afford the $1200 price tag affixed to most of the items I was interested in.

The following day was still raining, so we decided to hit the Laundromat before heading out to our farm stay. We ran into two couples that had been staying out at the lakes in tents and were SOAKED. They both had babies and older children and all their bedding, towels, etc were just dripping. The women were actively petitioning for hotels for the evening, or an abrupt end to the trip, while the men were stoically buying extra tarps from the hardware store across the road. We felt a lot better about our boring, but comparatively dry, Dargaville experience!

Meanwhile, we were also trying to fax some more information to Vietnam in order to book our Ha Long Bay tour with Handspan. What a pain in the ass that was. I tried – literally – ten different times to fax the thing, and to two different numbers. This was over a space of a few weeks in NZ. Eventually, just after the wedding we drove to a nearby town that had a scanner and emailed a scanned copy of my credit card and passport information to them. Not exactly the most secure practice, but at least it’s done and out of the way!

After what seemed like forever at the Laundromat, and a quick trip to the grocery store, we headed north to Broadwood in the pouring rain. This was the drive up the Kauri coast that I had been so looking forward to. It was still beautiful, but there was no point stopping in the rain to do any of the short hikes I had planned. Jessica was really sick from the twisting road and making gagging noises in the backseat, so all in all a lovely drive. We stopped once or twice for her stomach to settle, and we arrived at the farm in the early evening after JUST making the ferry. The ferry ride was ten minutes long and Grant asks the guy if there’s a restaurant on board!

The scenery on the way to the farm was breathtaking. The rain had stopped just as we arrived and mist covered half the valley.

The farm stay itself was a bit of an awkward experience for us. The house was fairly grungy, although the bathroom and the room was clean, and we felt a bit left out of things because there was lots of work going on but nothing for us to really do. The rain had flooded out a lot of gates, etc and there were extra things that needed doing around the place. We would have helped out but they didn’t want some city slickers out there. So, other than a walk around the fields or patting the animals, there wasn’t much to do. Grant was really bored, Jessica was tormenting the poor house cat, and we kind of felt like having a child there was a bit of an intrusion for them.

Robb & Heather were both really nice, though. I went for a ride with Heather, so I wasn’t as bored as Grant. We rode for a couple of hours and the land they own is spectacularly beautiful. It made me really miss the riding I used to do as a kid. The horse I had was a bit of a pain in the butt, though. She had one foot that was turned inwards and had an awkward gait going uphill. Cantering made her try to buck me off – I think because the saddle was too long for her back and cantering made it rub. Still, nice to get on a horse again – even if it did mean a sore bum for a day or so!

Jessica tormented the cats, and is still a bit afraid of big dogs, and, apparently, sheep. I think it’s just animals that are just the right size to come directly at her face that freak her out a bit. She had her first horse ride, too; just a short walk on one of their tamer horses with me behind her. But, she liked it and I think she’ll do more. The “pet” farm animals pretty much wandered at will. There were a bunch of retired dogs, Timmy the sheep, Snowball the lamb, and Norris and Freddy the pigs. Heather was teaching Freddy the pig to sit. Go figure.

We’re still trying to get Jessica to put some sort of filter on her mouth, as she’s still telling people they’re fat, or whatever other lovely thought pops into her head. She told Heather she had a fat tummy and I was so embarrassed. (Heather is a very average built woman – not fat at all) I told Jessica that it’s impolite to say thing like that. Now she just thinks it’s funny and instead of pointing it out loudly, she snickers behind her hand at fat bums or fat tummies…just like the rest of us, I guess. Not sure how I’ll break that habit. I’ll definitely have to watch my own attitudes about weight in the future, as well.

After the farm stay, we headed on to the Bay of Islands. We had spent a week there previously and it is a very touristy, but extremely beautiful location. The week we were there was about half nice weather and half cloudy with showers. We booked into a small apartment with a pool and really bad wireless. Grant had hurt his back and I had lots of catching up to do in terms of booking the rest of our trip so we didn’t do a lot for the whole week. Grant visited the chiropractor and had a massage. We did a day trip out to Russell and another to a local waterfall and a nearby town to do some more shopping. I bought a really lovely kauri bowl, and we drooled over some of the amazing furniture that some of the shops had on display.

We also spent the week trying to break the peanut butter habit, with mixed success. She has decided to accept jam into her limited repertoire. It’s a start, I suppose.

Grant now looks like some sort of revolutionary; he’s growing a beard, got a big tattoo that he can show off now, and he’s bought a goofy new army cap. I seriously don’t recognize him on the street! Jessica doesn’t like the hat either or the “hairy lips.” She keeps telling him to shave his lips when he kisses her.

Jessica is becoming quite the avid shopper, as we seem to spend a large portion of our time either souvenir or grocery shopping. She says things like: “ooohhh isn’t THIS lovely mommy.” Then she makes up reasons why she should be allowed to touch something and defends her position defiantly. The shopkeepers all think she’s adorable.

After a fairly uneventful week in the Bay of Islands, we headed onwards for the main event of our trip; Jeremy’s wedding. En route, we stopped in Whangeri and lucked into a sale on icebreaker clothing. Wow, what great stuff!! Grant bought a new dive mask, after MUCH deliberation over the previous several weeks.

The wedding was held in a small town called Leigh, so we stayed in the Leigh Motel for two nights; a bit of a dive, but it was clean enough. There were notices warning us of various bad behavior posted all over the walls, so not a very welcoming place to be! Jessica was up until 1am the night before the wedding, and we couldn’t get her to nap, so we headed into the big event with a very grumpy child!

The place that Jeremy and Ellen chose for their outdoor ceremony was breathtaking! The weather cooperated nicely, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. We all stood on a hill overlooking a beautiful bay and beach while Jeremy and Ellen took their vows. Ellen was lovely in an emerald green dress, and they’d written their own vows with trademark sense of humor. Jeremy’s vows included things like: “I will always keep telling you you’re gorgeous,” and “I promise to turn the stereo down when you ask, and to share the remote.” Ellen’s vow to bring beer to the couch had the crowd laughing, too.

Jeremy’s mom read a sweet and funny poem written by his grandmother, and one of the groomsmen read a poem about Winnie the Poo. All in all, a very unorthodox ceremony, but completely in character with the couple, and perfect for the occasion!

After the ceremony we headed back to the room for yet another unsuccessful nap attempt. Grant and I were both tired and grouchy by this point as Jessica was getting a bit testy and we were both dreading trying to keep her occupied and reasonably quiet during a long round of speeches.

The reception was held in the Leigh Sawmill. What a perfect reception! The location and the food were lovely, and the speeches were actually given by people who could speak and had something (namely Jeremy) funny to speak ABOUT! We heard all about some of his more interesting youthful escapades, and were treated to a naked photo from some ill-fated game of strip poker. Jessica was pretty good throughout the speeches and she had lots of room outside in the garden to run and play after dinner. The waitress hauled out a chalkboard for her to draw on, too.

After dinner, three of Jeremy’s friends had bought music to DJ. Unfortunately, we only got to see the first act as Jessica was starting to fade at about 11:30. The music was fantastic, though and Jess and Mommy were dancing up a storm! Too bad we didn’t stay for the final act of “DJ Darthie-V” when one of Jeremy’s friends dressed up as Darth Vader for his set. But, tired munchkin, so we headed home back to our lovely motel.

The day after the wedding, we headed to a nearby beach where a bunch of Jeremy and Ellen’s friends and family were hanging out for a few days. We had reserved a beachfront cabin because that’s all that was available. Great location! The cabin was huge and very comfortable. The beach was literally right out the front door and there was an estuary where some endangered NZ birds were nesting making up part of our view. Bunnies and ducks wandered everywhere through the campground, much to Jessica’s delight.

The day after the wedding, Grant decided that he wanted to trade his new dive mask in for one of a different color. So, we drove all the way BACK to Whangeri – about an hour and a half drive to exchange his mask. The black one he wanted was the last one in the store and he was worried that it would be sold before he got back there to exchange it. Well, we’ve been traveling so long, we’ve both completely lost track of the day of the week. So, we get ALL the way back there and realize it’s Sunday and the shop is closed. DOH! So, Grant made the drive yet AGAIN the following day – while we stayed at the beach!

We had a great five days on the beach hanging out with everyone from the wedding. Met a bunch of really nice people and it was nice to have a group to hang out with in the evenings. Jessica cracked everyone up on a fairly regular basis. We headed out to Goat Island to do some snorkeling (Grant got to try out the new mask) and Jessica and I took a glass bottomed boat ride. We saw a stingray which was pretty exciting for her. She is starting to recognize a lot of different marine creatures now. The ducks at Goat Island were so tame they’d eat right out of your hand. One of them bit Grant’s toe when he wasn’t looking!

Jessica is making up a new language called “Spanish” I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned it before. But, everything different is Spanish food or Spanish language. She makes up words and then says they’re Spanish for whatever. I think she gets the idea of Spanish from Dora. She’s also getting a bit confused about race and culture. She loved Fiji and the people there and learned to greet people with a cheery “Bula!” Now that we’re in New Zealand, she thinks the Maori people are Fijian. Honest mistake, but fairly embarrassing for Mommy when she greets the locals with “Bula!” She calls them Bula people and we’re trying desperately to explain that not everyone brown comes from Fiji!

Jessica loved the beach at Pakiri and all the attention from everyone. She kept asking: “Is that the lady that married Jeremy?” She was sad to leave Jeremy and Ellen, as were we. Hopefully we’ll manage another trip to New Zealand for a visit someday. All of us love it and we’re definitely planning to go back.

It seemed like I spent at least half my time in New Zealand making plans for the Asian portion of our trip. (which I certainly appreciate now that I’m in Vietnam!!) I finally managed to get the different tours for Thailand, Malaysia, China, and Vietnam sorted out. All of which involved a crazy amount of paperwork!

Based on several different people’s recommendation, we decided to change the last three days of our plans for New Zealand so that we could dive the famous “Poor Knights,” reputed to be one of the top ten places in the world to dive. Of course, when the day finally rolls around, I’m too sick to dive. Thankfully, they refunded my money without hesitation as I was able to give a fair amount of notice this time around.

I had hurriedly made reservations for a small cabin at the Tutukaka caravan park when we realized that we wanted to change our plans. Being high season and fairly last minute, we ended up in an onsite caravan instead for the first night. Yikes. We rolled up to this dilapidated old caravan, which was actually a lot nicer inside than it was out. The fridge was all smelly and yucky, though – and, just as we pull up to the place I realize that – uh, oh…we don’t have any bedding and we most certainly will need some! Ooops…slight oversight! So, tired and grumpy, we leave and resign ourselves to losing at least $60 and to trying to find another place to stay in a very small town at the very last minute. Luck was with us, though, and we found a really good place with a beautiful view just down the road. AND Grant managed to sweet talk the woman into charging us only $100 a night for a two bedroom apartment!

Jessica certainly has an eye for Grandmas, I tell you. No sooner are we in the door when she starts quizzing the landlady about where she might find some toys. Once again, she has every toy in the place ferreted out from wherever it was stored in the attic! She hid the key to the front door in her stroller and we tore the place apart trying to find it. After assuring the people that it never made it outside and paying for a replacement one, we find it the following day. Of course, I can’t find their phone number as we just drove up their driveway in response to their B&B sign…so no way to get the key back to them.

Grant dove on the Saturday and it wasn’t really anything spectacular, but he had decent weather. We left the following day and I was thankful I wasn’t still scheduled to dive as the weather was bad again and I still felt awful. We drove up the coast a ways to check out Jeremy’s professed: “favorite place in the world.” But, I was sick and it was raining, so I’m afraid it won’t go on the list of my favorite places just yet!

We drove back to Auckland where we’d booked two different Best Western motels. (two because one is by the airport and the other is because we’d changed our plans last-minute) I had traded a bunch of Airmiles for Best Western gift cards and we were finally going to be able to use some of them up. What a disappointment. The place was a total dive and was in a terrible part of the city – the first room didn’t even have a phone so we moved rooms. The lady didn’t know what to do with the cards so we didn’t get the room free. Plus, I’d asked for a quiet room and we ended up lugging all our baggage all over hell’s half acre and up two flights of stairs!

The one good thing was that the guy at the front desk nicely agreed to deal with all the food and stuff that we wanted to donate to charity. Once again, we left a whole bunch of stuff behind as we frantically tried to lighten our luggage in preparation for the smaller luggage allowances in Asia.

I was still feeling awful, so we ended up not doing any sightseeing in Auckland as I had planned and instead went out to eat at a local Wendy’s – totally inedible and disgusting. Not a very good night, I’m afraid.

Our last day in NZ we spent mailing stuff home and returning the car. Neither of us felt much like playing tourist – especially as I was still sick. So, we spent much of the evening watching TV in a second crappy Best Western with the world’s most annoying toilet – who yet again doesn’t accept our free cards!!!

Jessica was wired for sound and completely bouncing off the walls. I think she might be reacting to the anti-malarial meds that we took for the first time that day. I will watch it for the next few weeks and then change the medication if it’s still making her this crazy.

I must say, NZ was a bit of a disappointment this time around. With the so-so weather, Grant’s sore back, and me getting sick near the end, we didn’t do as much as we had planned. Also, we were trying to watch the budget a bit and we’d been here before. So, we didn’t do as much of the activities that we’d normally have liked to. Had I known I wasn’t going to be able to dive, I’d have gone swimming with dolphins again. But c’est la vie. It was still a nice mellow month before heading off in to a fast-paced tour of Southeast Asia, and we’re really happy we managed to make it to Jeremy’s wedding

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