A mum and a wife and sometimes just me

Thursday 24 June 2010

Reminiscing New Zealand

I have been working for a few days on this post and it will probably be a long one. It is time to say goodbye, even though secretly I hope it is see you later, to New Zealand and there is so much to reflect on as it has been a most amazing experience.

My very first impression about New Zealand was how friendly people where! How easy it was to get settled into life here. We have really experienced the most welcoming and amazing service.

The country is beautiful with the most amazing places to see. They really know how to take care of their country. I love their brand of tourism and being able to access all areas. Even with mass tourism there is no sign of these grand hotels impinging on the landscape. The beaches instead are long and dramatic, and beach day in New Zealand is the bestest. You could literally spend a whole day at the beach without having to share it with anyone else. Buy a big umbrella, pack a cooler with some drinks (and no they don't have to be alcoholic), pack some food and off you go. We had no families or friends around us for Christmas this year but we still had the most amazing day at the beach. Possibly the only time the beach was "crowded". They are all so amazing I find it hard to choose my all time favourites (and I have not visted them all, like I saw a few good ones on Waiheke Island but never had time to stop and really enjoy them and well it really depends what you want from a beach like just beauty or do you want to swim?), but here is a shortlist (or maybe longlist!):

  1.  Karekare, Waitekere Ranges
  2. Piha, Waitekere Ranges
  3. Baylys Beach, Dargaville, West Coast, Northland
  4. 90 Mile Beach
  5. New Chums Beach, Coromandel
  6. Otama Beach, Coromandel
  7. Cathedral Cove, Coromandel
  8. Oneill's Bay and Bethells beach
    I have to admit if you do visit don't spend too much time in the cities but get out into the nature. I have seen some amazing places during my visit (and I still have not seen it all, I want to come back for Mt Taranaki and to walk the Abel Tasman)

    • I guess my top stop would be Milford Sound and yes it was raining but it just added to the majic.
    • The Otago Peninsula was amazing as we got to see the wildlife, seeing the mighty Royal Albatross and walking up to the sea lions resting on the beach and seeing the yellowed eyed peguins as they came up onto the beach after a hard day on the water. Elm Wildlife Tours
    • I loved getting out on the water in the Bay of Islands, watching the dolphins chasing the boat. 
    • We took the most amazing helicopter ride to see the Fox and Frans Joseph Glaciers. Seeing them from the sky is something else. It was really worth it even if I was honestly scared senseless through it all as the helicopter does a few lurches when it gets close to the rocks and I sometimes had to resist the urge to close my eyes. Yet when it lands on the snow and you have these amazing views....priceless.
    • A visit to the Coromandel is like the Lake district on steroids.
    • Watching the geothermal activity in Rotorua was pretty cool as it was my first time for such experiences.

    There have also been the simple things like enjoying Auckland's green spaces. I have lost count of the amount of times I have been to the Park to relax and read my book or even enjoying a cup of coffee outside the cafe in the sun! Then we go to go and enjoy Parnell's Festival of Roses.  Auckland truly is the city of sails and we had the pleasure of seeing the Louis Viutton Cup. It is a shame though that I never actually made it onto a sailboat myself.

      Then it's not just about nature it's also about the culture as well. I really enjoyed learning about the Maori culture and getting to go and watch the rugby! I highly recommend a visit to Auckland War Memorial Museum and the one in Dunedin was pretty good as well. If you get a chance you really must experience a Maori cultural performance. What a treat seeing the All Blacks do the haka. I loved celebrating New Years and Valentines Day here in Auckland.

      Eating out has been extremely pleasurable and I find it hard to think of a restaurant we ate at and did not enjoy the food. Actually I learnt pretty quickly that I enjoy "doing lunch". I will never forget the glorious fresh seafood and the seafood festival they have here in Auckland was another great treat! I especially enjoyed the time I spent at the Vaiduct, Auckland. Great for lunch, a drink or dinner. My top favourites have to be the Karmadec and my favourite pub is the Four Nations who do the best bowl of potato wedges with sour cream (we only belated decided to head one day to the Fox and it is actually pretty cool as well). Best fish and chips was Oppies in Rotorua or Mangonui Fish Shop in Mangonui.

      This country is as beautiful as they say it is! This post certainly does not do it all justice! So I hope that this is not goodbye but see you later New Zealand.

      Wednesday 16 June 2010

      Egg and Bacon Pie or a Donut?

      That my dear friends is the difficult question I always get to ask myself when I visit a local bakery in New Zealand. Sometimes I don't even bother to choose and just get both! Hubby and I discovered that this is one of the greatest things that you can do on your visits to this country...seriously! It started from our visit to the Coromandel and now it's like 'we can always just stop at a bakery for breakfast' when we are travelling. Whatever you do don't expect any granduer from the exterior or necessarily a comfy seat, it's what they serve that matters. Sweet or savoury, local bakeries tend to have them all and whenever, wherever we have stopped it has always tasted good. I mean who can resist a donut overloaded with cream or a bacon and egg pie heavy on the bacon. Whatever I choose I am never willing to share either...so hubby had to get one of his own.

      My bakery of note is Munchie's Deli Bakehouse in Coromandel town...for breakfast, lunch or dinner! We were based in Coromandel Town and pretty much made it there every day for our visit.

      My favourite activity early in the morning when travelling in New Zealand....stopping at a local bakery!

      How can it smell bad but still be good?

      Go to Rotorua, the 'Sulphur City' for a break! It was amazing that when I was planning our visit by reading all the different reviews about attractions, accomodation ect. that everyone just had to mention the smell. The smell of rotten eggs no less. Yet Rotorua is one of New Zealand's more popular destinations, definitely if you are visiting the North Island. The lines of motel after hotel after B&B on the main road kind of gives it away, and I believe for some reason hubby compared it to Las Vegas. As we drove closer I admitedly prepared myself for the worst....maybe that was how I survived it all....or maybe it was going in Winter when there is a bit of a breeze and the smell is not too invasive....or maybe I just fell into the tourist trap and found myself having a nice time.

      The geothermal activity did not fail to impress. Everywhere you look there are pillars of steam rising from the ground all naturally occuring in the parks, by the roadside, in your back garden maybe. At night it is especially fascinting, smoke mixing with stars in the night sky with Lake Rotorua as a beautiful backdrop. We took the opportunity to enjoy this majic by relaxing at the Polynesian Spas with it's lake side setting. It maybe does not have the largest geysers in the world but they still spurt out enough water to leave me impressed and the mud pools were busy bubbling and splurting.

      With it's high percentage of Maori population you need a very good excuse not to take time out as well to experience and learn about their culture. Everyone has their own opinion of there worth and how good the cultural performances are, as with everything you have to pay to see, but I just took the opportunity to observe and learn. What is nice is that when they share their traditions with you it is not just for show as they make you a part of it and there is the expectation of you to follow showing a certain degree of respect. Don't be scared though they go easy on you and help you along!

      So Rotorua is commercial but it's also interesting and beautiful in it's own little way. That is how I guess it can smell bad but still be good.

      Tuesday 15 June 2010

      Take a chance on Chris Cleave

      I picked up this book from the library purely because it was recommended to me by amazon! Actually part of me does not want to give anything away except to say that for me, as I have read many bad reviews of this book, Cleave is a great story teller and well this was a good book. Yet all I  had to go on when I picked it up was what it said on the cover:
      "We don't want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this: It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific. The story starts there, but the book doesn't. And it's what happens afterwards that is most important. Once you have read it, you'll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds."
      Reading this did not so much build up my expectations so much as my intrigue. So now I myself don't want to give anything away. I thought the story line itself was deep and meaningful which is maybe what kept me hooked and might keep you hooked too.

      Transportation, transportation, transportation

      So I had to take the bus to work as I sold my car....hmph...it meant waking up early (no I admit it I am not a morning person). The only thing you get to do on a bus at that time of the morning is think and well I guess I ended up thinking about transportation and how it makes a difference when you go travelling around the world. The easier it is to use public transportation the better the holiday to put it simply. Especially for the likes of us who like to do it 'our way'. Well that is my own personal opinion anyway and that is after serious 6am meditation on the topic!

      Recently in Roratonga everything seemed to be connected somehow, you never had to go anywhere else to rent a car or a scooter or a bicycle, they were pretty much on your doorstep. Nice and easy is what I call it. Then if you don't fancy driving yourself there is the hourly local bus. Granted the island is small which does give it a bit of an advantage! My own island of Jamaica is a bit more harder to get around and I think this makes a real difference to how the country is experienced. In some ways that is probably how the government likes it, a way of protecting it's biggest earner. Keep the tourists locked 'safe' in their hotels. I personally have never taken public transport in Jamaica. Jamaica isn't exactly access all areas anyway.

      Now as for Europe well it is renowned for how easy it is to get around and in many ways the Europeans take it for granted. You have got planes, trains, buses and automobiles all on your doorstep. In some places you have the tube and in others you also have a tram. Sometimes it's actually easier to take a plane than a train or bus! Admittedly their can be language barriers and it's not until you are on the train that you realise you needed to actually validate the ticket (it only happended to me once a long time ago). Then don't you just love the open double decker buses in the major cities that take you rather conveniently to all the major sights. I personally actually enjoy the excuse to take these sometimes. In Glasgow you get to hear some really good stories from the guides...I'm being serious. Scotland in some places makes it a bit complicated by asking for exact fares on the bus! Trust me infuriating even if you are not a tourist!

      As for the US of A well I guess if you don't rent a car you are not going anywhere far unless you are in one of these cities you can manouvre yourself around. Probably an easier and more popular option to get around New Zealand as well but there are several options of big buses to get you around as well. The local buses in Auckland can be a bit of pain but only if you are like us staying here for an extended period as they have about 100 different independant buses doing their own thing! Thankfully though they have a really good website to explain it all to you MAXX !!

      Personally we prefer to have a car to get around and we drive and we drive and we drive.....

      Thursday 10 June 2010

      Have you ever loved a tree?

      Well I have now fallen in love with many...

      New Zealand is a great place to discover their beauty and grandeur.
      The beautiful Kauri is particularly impressive. Meet Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest, the largest living kauri tree in New Zealand.

      They demand my respect as whatever season they have something to offer. 


      It can take my breath away to simply look up to their branches as they not so much sway but have a rather slow awkward dance in the wind. Often they seem to be singing me a song as the branches creek and the leaves rustle. 


      Often you get to meet a tree over a hundred years old and can only imagine what they have seen and heard through each generation.


      Dont lie awake in the forest in fear but sleep and dream the stories that the trees have to tell.

      Monday 7 June 2010

      Shanghai Baby by Wei Hui

      This is going to be admittedly rather short and sweet...

      So I admittedly borrowed this book only because it had a shroud of controversy by being publicly banned in China. I mean I like to think I believe in breaking barriers so want to show my support for something that does. If you were to borrow a book only on it's advertisements this would be the one. It does have a heavy sexual content, which accounts for it being publicly burned, but nothing that would shock dare I say a 'Westerner'. The story line itself I felt had potential but it all felt rather shallow, like a trashy novel, leaving no real impression. I really wanted it tell me something but in the end maybe I was asking too much of it. So no it won't make it on the book list.

      Controversial but rather disappointing.

      A review

      In transition

      One thing they always talk about in my line of work is managing change. I guess when you are supporting/helping/giving advice to another person, it's usually in a time of change. This can be an uncomfortable and difficult time for the young people I support. I think though it is something everyone can identify with:  trying to stay in control in a time of change.

      So I was not surprised when hubby brought up recently how he did not like this phase we were entering in, he called it being in transition. After being away for a long time it's not so simple to just pack the suitcase and leave. Even packing is not so easy as we have been away for so long. I have already started thinking about what I can get rid of so our load will be a little lighter. Then there are those things which some people I guess refer to as lose ends which need tying up. Our being forced to move for the last two months into a long stay hotel which we can simply walk away from does not seem so bad any more.

      This is only part of the transition though. The other part is the reminiscing about what we have experienced here during our stay. In many ways we don't really want to leave. In social work I guess they call this experiencing loss. We have attempted to dampen this by stopping in Italy for two months for our second summer experience.

      Finally there is what's ahead....one transition at a time I think.

      Tuesday 1 June 2010

      We made it to a year in Rarotonga, Cook Islands

      No I did not get to live a whole year in Rarotonga (oh how I am dreaming now) we celebrated one whole year of marriage there. We have just got back from a beautiful extra long weekend, an extra long weekend that just was not long enough. Kia Orana. It started with a warm welcome:

       We stayed at the Muri Beach Club Hotel which some might say is too modern for their liking. Yet it was a small hotel not exactly hard on the landscape, the service was efficient and friendly and the food was amazing (and yes we ate other places to compare)

      And I would argue that it is probably situated on the best beach in Rarotonga. Muri beach with the crystal clear waters of the lagoon is breathtaking. It offers great opportunity's for kayaking and snorkelling. It has 'easy' access to two of the motu's (uninhabited small islands off the coast) and by easy access I mean you can walk there in low tide.

      We also took an afternoon to discover Black Rock.

      We ate the most amazing food. Obviously this involved eating lots of fish, but they do amazing chicken and pork dishes as well and we certainly were not limiting our options. I won't get into portion sizes as I am trying not to feel guilty about the quantities that I ate! One my favourite dishes is the Ika Mata. It is raw fish (mine was tuna) marinated in lime juice served with coconut cream. Never mind the taro, kumara and breadfruit. Then there is the Rukau, the cooked taro leaves, Rarotonga's version of spinach. You know what though writing a list just does not do it justice!

      Rarotonga's beauty is not just about heading to the beach and eating good food. It's about meeting the people and experiencing their rich culture. One of the best ways is attending an island night, a must in Rarotonga. Actually our day started at the Highland Paradise, high in the mountains, in the morning where we were given a very interesting tour by Danny learning about the history of the Tinomana tribe.

      After being treated to lunch we had some time to relax in the afternoon before heading out again in the evening to experience the food, the dancing, singing and drumming, as they tell the story of their forefathers. It is a fun way to learn their history and the performances are stunning. My plate was piled so high with food and I got to sample about 8 different types of dessert.

      There is also plenty of opportunity to do some shopping. The best option is to head to Punanga Nui Market on a Saturday morning. We hired a scooter for the day and it's the best way to get around the island. It had hubby reminiscing about his youth and me enjoying the breeze as we sped along the road. Buy yourself a pareu/sarong...I did...or one of their beautiful wooden carvings...hubby did. Of course there was also more good food. You never feel guilty about eating in Rarotonga. There was also more dancing, drumming and singing.

      You can't leave Rarotonga without a flower in your hair, a smile on your face and a hope that you will be able to make it back some day.

      Aera ra.
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