Archive for the ‘New Zealand’ Category

New Zealand Updates

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

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

Tattoo photos are up!!

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

Finally – got some pics of the new tattoo online.

A few new pics….

Monday, February 19th, 2007

I’ve posted some New Zealand pics and a few more Fiji ones….I’ll get caught up on the blog & get some photos of Grant’s tattoo up soon!!

Hello from New Zealand!

Monday, February 12th, 2007

I completely forgot to mention Grant’s deep sea fishing triumph during my last entry. While at the Octopus Resort, Grant went out with a few others and caught his very first really big fish! It was a 10kg yellow fin tuna and it was served up the next day for lunch. AND, we got a picture of it this time…not like a certain memorable incident in NZ a few years back….

They served up the tuna for lunch the following day and it was beautiful. Interestingly enough, however, the resort served it as the lunch special at $12 a plate. We thought that if they were going to SELL the tuna, Grant should have at least gotten a bar tab or something out of the deal. The group quite happily agreed to donate the other fish caught to the village, but to have someone make money off your catch – that you paid lots of money to catch – didn’t really sit very well. I’ll post some pics as soon as I get a decent connection to do so.

Now we’re in New Zealand, and I’ll try and catch up on what’s been going on the past few weeks:

The flight from Nadi to Auckland went really smoothly, but we sure missed the in-seat TVs. When we arrived in Auckland, they actually had a faster line to process handicapped passengers and those with small children – same thing, I guess! We zipped through customs, and waited about five minutes for the shuttle from the rental company to show up. We rented our car with Ace rentals and talk about good service. Fast and efficient – nothing like Britz!

We managed to jam all of our luggage into the trunk of the car and headed off to the Warehouse to buy even more stuff. Once we’re fully stocked with groceries, Jessica is kind of perched in the middle of bags of bread and stuff and we have to turn her sideways to get her out of the vehicle without squashing the bread! Ah well, the car is really good on gas, and Grant is having fun driving it compared to the campervan we had in Australia.

Speaking of the campervan, Britz finally refunded some of our money for all the hassles we had with it. I doubt we’ll deal with them again, but it certainly makes me feel better about putting up with all the crap we dealt with while we were living in the stupid thing. The guy we complained to actually took the time to write us a two page letter addressing each issue we came across. Good customer service in the end!

Once we’d stocked up on groceries and stuff we headed off to Jeremy’s place and were pleasantly surprised to find him at home. He and his fiancée Ellen had planned to be out of town and were nice enough to let us crash at their place while they were out. But, with crappy weather and work stuff, they decided to stay home and head out the next day. It was great to meet Ellen and catch up with Jeremy. Jeremy taught Grant some of the finer points of NZ beer drinking and I turned the place into a Laundromat as we’d arrived from Fiji with pretty much all our clothes dirty. (at $5 per pair of underwear we weren’t about to use the laundry service at the Westin!)

From Auckland we headed out to Waitomo to check out the glow worms. The drive was gorgeous, and it is SO nice to be able to sit up front and watch the scenery again! We’d forgotten about how lovely the New Zealand countryside is. It seems like the top of every hill brings yet another amazing view of gently rolling green hills covered in summer flowers, trees, lush ferns, and dotted about with sheep and cows.

Once we arrived in Waitomo, we checked into our motel room at Woodlyn Park. The room we stayed in was actually built inside the cockpit of a plane that saw active duty in Vietnam. It wasn’t the most luxurious of accommodations, but it was pretty cool to sleep in the cockpit. They have two units built into the plane and you could feel the other people walking around in the tail section. I’m sure they were less than amused with Jessica running up and down the cockpit until after midnight! She’s had a big nap in the car and just wouldn’t go to sleep. The birds got their own back in the morning, though. We had a bunch of them nesting in one of the engines and they were loud in the morning – along with a bunch of turkeys gobbling along on the second morning.

The day of our arrival, we took Jessica on a tour of the glowworm caves. We walked through a dry cave and into a cavern called the cathedral. The acoustics were amazing and the guide even sang a bit for us to show them off. Turns out that they hold concerts in there and several famous groups like the Vienna Boy’s Choir and even Rod Stewart have held concerts there.  Of course, while we’re learning all this, I’m trying to stop my darling daughter from kicking the roped-off thousands of years old cave formations! After the cathedral, we walked on a bit until we hit an underground river. We boarded a boat and the guide cut the lights completely. Everyone – including Jessica – was quiet and awestruck as we glided down the river and gazed at the glowworm constellations on the ceiling of the cave.
The following day, Grant hung out with Jessica while I went on the Lost World Epic Adventure – 8/10 Rambo rating. When I asked the guide if they had any 10/10 trips he told me I could do this one with no wetsuit. I politely declined the offer. The trip started the way these trips generally do – with “The Stupid Outfit.” In this case, the stupid outfit was a wetsuit, helmet with a lamp, a climbing harness that greatly accentuates your bum, and very spiffy white rubber boots. 

Once we had geared ourselves up, we hiked through the forest to the cave entrance. Given the recent rain, the path was slippery and we got a good opportunity to try out our new ropes. We all knew that we were headed for a 100m abseil to get into the cave system, and had seen the stunning photos in the brochure, but it still didn’t prepare us for the reality that is the Lost World.

We walked onto a metal catwalk – roped in, of course – and peered between our feet at the 100 meter drop into what really did look like the Lost World. The walls of the sink hole were carpeted with ferns and lush greenery and everything was wet from humidity and recent rain. A lovely little stream ran through the bottom, and shafts of sunlight cut through the mist into the darkness below. I expected a T-Rex to push it’s head through the forest at any moment! The view was spectacular, awe-inspiring, and, frankly, a wee bit on the holy-shit-is-that-a-big-drop-what-the-hell-am-I-doing-up-here side!

We all shuffled out onto the catwalk which was barely wide enough for two people to pass each other. We were roped to a guide rope that was fastened to the wall, so and our feet were still on solid ground, so I still felt pretty good about the whole thing. Running parallel to the catwalk was a fat metal bar about three feet out. Above this bar was some sort of metal framework and the ropes we were about to descend on hung from the framework and between the bar and the catwalk.

The guide looks at me and says: “grab the rope and swing your bum onto that bar.” At this point none of us had any idea how we were going to manage all our gear & ropes, etc during the descent. We knew how to clip onto the guide rope and that was about it. I was feeling pretty uncomfortable out there without knowing exactly what was going to come next! Once I got my bum securely on the bar, though, it made a bit more sense. The guide needed to show me how the ropes were going to work – and it was easier to do while I was actually in position.

He got me all roped up and moved onto the next person in line. My butt was on the metal bar, and my feet were propped on the edge of the catwalk and that’s all that was holding me up (besides the ropes, which I still didn’t really believe would actually work!) I could look between my legs and see a very very long way down. But, I was feeling pretty cocky about how well I was handling the whole situation until I felt a sharp pain in the hand holding the rope. I looked down and saw the marks my nails were making in the palm of my hand and some very white knuckles and forced myself to relax. I’d like to think I looked better than the guy next to me, though, I swear he turned green with fright. Enough to make me relax my death grip on the rope to pat him on the shoulder, anyway!

Getting my bum out onto that bar was the hardest part, and the second hardest was kicking my legs free and letting the ropes do their job. Once we’d descended a few feet, though, I got the hang of it (and figured out that – hey – these ropes really do work) and started having fun with it and enjoying the spectacular scenery. What a rush! I LOVE abseiling!!!!!

Upon reaching the bottom, and unhooking from the lines, we started climbing. It was a hot climb in our wetsuits as it was all uphill and we hadn’t entered the cave yet. We still had our harnesses on as there were places inside the cave where we’d need to rope in. The caving itself was a blast. We climbed over slippery rocks, squeezed through tight places, scaled waterfalls, waded through a river, and even had to swim in places. Lunch was eaten perched precariously on some rocks above the river. There were several places where we got to jump off cliffs into the dark water below. The tallest of these was about 30feet and I got water up my damn nose every single time I jumped! Jumping with the lights off was really trippy, too.

We spent several hours making our way through the cave and near the end we took a break for a hot drink and everyone turned off their lights again. On the roof of the cave was a stunning display of glow worms. We relaxed and gawked at the ceiling for a while and then headed out of the cave for – surprise – a two kilometer walk over the hills! Blah – that was the only really bad part of the trip; slogging our way uphill in the blazing sun wearing a wetsuit, climbing harness and rubber boots that stayed filled with water no matter how many times we tried to empty them. A hot shower and nice BBQ dinner awaited us, though, so the guides were forgiven the forced march.

The following day, we drove to Tauranga to check out the tattoo parlor – Bohemian Arts – that Grant had an appointment with the following day. The artist wasn’t in so we looked over some pictures of his work, did a little shopping, and headed out to Katikati to find the little cottage I’d booked for the week. Talk about secluded – Pinehaven cottage is about a ten minute drive outside of the small town of Katikati then about another five minutes down a steep two lane track into the forest.

The cottage had two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a combined kitchen/living area. It also had satellite TV, so Grant and Jessica were both happy! We couldn’t see another house or even a road – just the surrounding forest, a lovely little babbling river, masses of wildflowers, and a distant green hill dotted with, of course, more sheep. The woods resounded with the cricket-like sound of bugs whose name I keep forgetting. To Jessica’s delight there was a trampoline on the lawn as well. The only major drawback was no phone in the cottage and the nearest one was quite a walk if one of us was left there without the car.

The other thing I really don’t understand is why New Zealanders don’t believe in window screens! There are tons of mosquitoes, moths, and any number of creepy crawlies that come in uninvited. Instead of a screen they have an insect repellent dispenser in the room that blasts poison into the air. We’d wake up in the morning to dead flies on the counters. Every place we’ve stayed before or since seemed to have the same set-up; I have yet to see a place with window screens installed.  But, it was a good place to relax in for a week and let Daddy recover from his tattoo session!

Grant left early the next morning for his tattoo appointment. At that point, all he knew is that he was going to get something that resembled a Maori ‘Ta Moko’ tattoo – but that wouldn’t be considered culturally insensitive, and that he wanted it to cover his shoulder and upper arm. Pepa, the Czechoslovakian tattoo artist, told him to write down a few things about himself and his family that he’d like to have represented in the design. When he arrived with his list of stuff to include, Pepa looked through the sample book with Grant to see what sort of thing appealed to him, and told him to come back in half an hour and he’d have something worked out.

When he returned, Pepa drew two large circles on Grant’s arm and shoulder to remind him where the edges of the tattoo would be. He then reassured Grant that there would be a bit more to the design than that, but this was just “the frame of the house,” so to speak. At this point Grant had no idea what the tattoo was actually going to look like and Pepa was all ready with the needles and ink. Talk about nervous!

Grant was quite relieved to see that the studio was as sterile as an operating room and, aside from the constant heavy-metal background music, no creepy biker-influence anywhere! We’d read horror stories on the web about stoned or drunk tattoo artists, and he was initially concerned that we didn’t know very much about this studio. Pepa made him feel very comfortable, though, and was the consummate professional.

Pepa started tattooing and what started out as a vibration quickly turned into a burning sensation as Grant tried to block out the increasing level of pain. Once the outline of the design was complete, Grant was better able to see what the finished product was going to look like and relaxed quite a bit about the whole process. After completing the outline, Pepa began to fill it in with various forms of shading that involved various levels of pain. Apparently, the shoulder bits are quite tender! He kept at it for about 7 hours with nothing more than a few pee breaks and some design consultation.

The final product is a genuinely beautiful piece of body art. Pepa is a first rate tattoo artist and Grant is glad he decided to get such a large piece of work done for his first tattoo. Apparently, Pepa was a bit jealous as his first tattoos are all small and now he can’t work them into anything. Frankly, I’m just pleased Grant didn’t walk into some random market stall, and he’s really happy that he has a totally unique tattoo that has deep personal meaning for him. We’ll put some pics up on the web when it’s fully healed and picture worthy. The only drawback (besides the price and the pain!) is the two weeks without swimming, diving, or even sunbathing.  

The day after Grant got his tattoo, we went into Katikati to buy him a couple of used t-shirts and find him somewhere to get his hair cut. Amazingly, there’s about five hair salons in the booming metropolis of Katikati and all but one were booked solid. Against the warning of the salon across the street, Grant jumped into a chair at the one place that had some free time.

As soon as the stylist discovered he wanted a fairly simple cut, she called her boss over and turned Grant over to her. It all started out not too badly, with the woman chatting away and the stylist hovering and giving helpful pointers. Then things started to go a bit awry when the lady almost stalled the clippers out in Grant’s hair and he could start to see bits of his scalp poking out. This is when she reveals that she’s only just bought the salon and, in fact, she used to be ‘in bugs.’ Apparently she used to be some sort of expert in fruit pests. At this point, Grant was sweating it and trying to make polite conversation while watching this woman completely decimate his hair. It was also the point where the other stylist stepped in and attempted to save the day. All she managed, however, was to trim one of Grant’s sideburns about an inch shorter than the other one, and left both sideburns – somehow – two different lengths each. Completely shell shocked, Grant paid the woman and stumbled out the door.

The end result was completely laughable. Seriously a contender for the worst haircut of the trip so far; worse even than the one on the Gold Coast. The top was all fluffy like chicken feathers, there were patches of scalp showing through on the sides, and the sideburns were amazingly uneven and weird. Grant was LIVID and too angry to go back. I went back in and asked for a refund and the girl said: “He isn’t happy with it?” Got the money back, though, and an apology. Grant sulked in the car and wouldn’t come out to go into the grocery store. I tried to cheer him up by reminding him that it could have been good haircut – bad tattoo, which would have been infinitely worse! But, he didn’t feel better about it until he had it re-cut and somewhat salvaged the following day.

Unfortunately for our loyal viewers, I was a nice enough wife not to take a photo. But Jessica was not so kind, and refused to speak to Grant the following day saying that she “wanted a new Daddy” and that he “had a fat head.” She wouldn’t speak to him for hours and screamed when he sat next to her!