Monday 23 February 2009

The Windy City

From Palmerston North we headed south to Wellington. We passed through here on our way north in early January, but did not have time to do any sightseeing. We had been told Wellington was known as the windy city and it certainly was living up to its name when we arrived on Sunday afternoon.

Our first stop was in the westerly suburb of Karori, where we went to visit an old friend of David's from his days at Standard Life. We again experienced the excellent kiwi hospitality, as we spent the afternoon relaxing in the garden and catching up with Joe and Sacha while the kids ran around (while their son Charlie who is one looked on cautiously at this invasion of his space!) then had a lovely meal, before having a night in a real bed again (such a luxury!).
Today the wind had dropped to a breeze and we headed into the city and went to Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand. The museum was huge and there was loads to occupy the kids and they made a beeline to the Colossal Squid exhibit. Meanwhile I spent an hour gazing at impressionist masterpieces at the Monet exhibition, a very rare opportunity to see some of my favourite paintings in a world class exhibition.

After a morning in the museum we took a wander round the main part of the city. We both took an instant liking to the city as it seemed a compact but lively place. The business district and shops were intermingled, with the PwC offices above a huge Borders bookshop...perfect I thought! There was a lot of open space at the waterfront and there was a chilled out atmosphere as the city types ate sandwiches while proof reading reports while the teenagers tried to outperform each other jumping off a plank into the sea.

After a relaxing stroll along the waterfront (well as relaxing as you get with three kids asking to go to McDonalds/Burger King constantly...despite having just had lunch) we spent another hour in the museum before heading out of Wellington to find a campsite for the night.


Photos here.

Saturday 21 February 2009

The unmissable attractions of Palmerston North

We have been navigating the attractions of New Zealand using our Lonely Planet New Zealand and on the journey to Palmerston North I flicked to the relevant pages to read up on the main attractions of the city.

The top attractions were:

1. A rugby museum where the main attraction is the exhibition of the actual whistle used to start the first game of every rugby world cup. Not really my cup of tea, but I am glad that they are not exhibiting imitation whistles, that would be outrageous.

2. A Rose Garden which (and I quote) "was voted among the world's top five prettiest gardens in 2003". A lot can change in a garden in 6 years, so might give that one a miss.

3. The next attraction is actually a 40 minute drive away, but Palmerston North is obviously keen to claim it as its own. It is the Tararua Wind Farm which is (again I quote) "allegedly the largest wind farm in the Southern Hemisphere". I would need definite confirmation before I would visit...don't want to subsequently find there is a larger wind farm in Brazil.

4. Last, but not least, and again a 40 minute drive away is Owlcatraz, where the discerning tourist can view feathered friends with endearing names such as Owlvis Presley and Owl McPherson.

I hate to think what attractions were not good enough to make it into the book.



We've not really done a lot of great interest since Hot Water Beach. We've mainly just been chilling out (except the kids who have continued to run riot and Nicola who has been shouting at the kids to get them to stop running riot and also me because I have been worrying about the kids running riot, worrying about the kids being shouted at too much and worrying about the scarlet colour that Nicola is turning; I also occasionally think about the vast cost of the trip, the shortcomings of not earning for a year, the fate of three children with two unemployed parents and rising unemployment) and relaxing.

From Coromandel we headed back to Mt Maunganui for a couple of days then down to Rotorua and Taupo again. We thought again about delaying our ferry back to the South Island (from 27th Feb) and staying longer in the North, allowing us to spectate at Ironman New Zealand, but ultimately continued south. We made an initially unplanned detour East to visit the Tongariro National Park where we hoped to spend a couple of days getting in some decent walking. On our second day in Tongariro the heavens opened and we decided to carry on south rather than sitting it out in the van (kids bouncing off walls etc). It rained for the whole day and the mercury dropped to levels we hadn't seen since leaving the South Island: we rescheduled our sailing south for 10th March.

We have just spent a couple of days in Palmerston North. Peter is planning to do a triathlon here in a couple of weeks so we have been in the pool (which is next door to the campsite) getting some swim practise in. The "Lido" is an amazing recreation centre with ten pools (a conventional big and small pool for lessons/training, two leisure pools, a circular rapids pool, a shallow warm kids pool, a large spa pool, an outdoor leisure pool, an outdoor 50m pool and a diving pool) and it costs only $9 (approx GBP3.50) for a family ticket which gives unlimited access for the whole day. Highlights for the kids were the rapids pool (Luke and Joe) and jumping from the 10m diving board (Peter). Perfect for a wet day in Palmerston North. We will be back again before the day of the triathlon.

Next stop is down in Wellington for a few days including a visit to an ex Colleague of mine from Standard Life who now lives over here - hopefully our days will be filled with humour fit for a blog.


Photos here

Wednesday 11 February 2009

Hot Water Beach

Today we headed across from Auckland to Hot Water Beach, which we missed on our last trip round Coromandel. Hot Water Beach is another of New Zealand's geothermal attractions. There are underground springs which flow into the sea near the shore and these springs are heated by the earth's magma, so that when you are on the beach and you dig down there is hot water beneath the sand.

To experience Hot Water Beach you have to be there two hours either side of low tide, as this is when the beach is exposed and you can dig your own spa pool! We arrived about an hour before low tide and there was already quite a crowd on the beach, people digging pools, people in the sea and people sitting enjoying the heat of the water. It was quite a bizzare sight to see steam rising from the beach.

We were scouting round for the best spot to dig when someone who was leaving offered us their pools...we quickly accepted and stuck our hands and feet in the water to see how hot it was burning! We got our swimming costumes on and more tenatively poked our toes into the water...still pretty warm, but as the hot water was coming in at the top of the pool it was fairly easy to make sure the kids didn't get scalded.

David and I took turns in sitting in the pools, but I have to say that although it was a really cool phenomenon I broke out in a cold sweat and felt sick after about two minutes immersed in hot water, so instead I sat with my feet in the pools sticking my toes down into the hot sand. David found it more bearable and could lie back and relax...well as much as you can relax when your kids keep dropping sand on your head!

Peter, Joseph and Luke though it was great, the main attraction for them was that water rose out the ground when you dug down, so they had a network of “rivers and islands” going from our pool down to the sea.

This was one of the best attractions we have visited in New Zealand so far, a definite one not to miss if you are ever in the area!!

Couple of photos here.


Waitangi weekend

From the Cormomandel Peninsula we headed back over to Waiuku (south of Auckland) to visit Andrew, Sam, Edward and Spencer again. We had already been for two short visits, but we had such a good time with them that we changed our ferry back to the South Island so that we could spend the Waitangi weekend with them.

Our visit got off to a memorable start when Andy and Sam received a letter confirming that their New Zealand residency application had been accepted. They were absolutely delighted and we all headed out to Pukekohe for a celebratory dinner!

Once the kids were in bed Andy took me for a spin on his new motorbike. What an experience, I loved it...although not sure I would like to be the driver, but riding pillion was cycling really fast without the effort! After taking me out Andy took David for a ride...he was less impressed, but I think he was just a bit scared!!

On Waitangi Day we continued on a motorsport theme and headed to a nearby beach with the kids quad bike. Edward, Spencer and Peter all got a couple of turns of getting all the gear on and driving around the beach on their own (which was keeping the dads fit as they chased around after them). Joseph and Luke also got to have a go, but obviously they were too small to do it on their own, so David went on the quad with them. They had a great time and photos are here.

In the afternoon we had been invited to a BBQ by friends of Andy and Sam's. We headed over to their house and went for a quick dip in the sea, before heading back for food. It was lovely to meet Bronwyn and Jonathon (aka Bronny and Jonny) and their kids and we again experienced excellent Kiwi hospitality...a great way to spend Waitangi Day.

On Saturday David and Andy stayed at home and cleaned our campervan with the kids. while Sam and I headed into Botany to do some shopping. The boys did an excellent job and the van was sparkling when we got back, but I think that it was pretty hard work as David and Andy were sitting exhausted on the couch watching a film.

On Sunday we had planned an early start...but eventually got out the house around 10.30...I blame the kids!! First stop was Cromwell Park where we all scrambled up to the top of One Tree Hill to see the amazing 360 degree views over Auckland. A quick refueling/playing stop at the Golden Arches of McDonald's kept everyone happy before we headed to Mission Beach for the afternoon. It was a scorching hot day and we sat in the shade until late afternoon when we headed into the sea for a cool down. We all had a great day and Luke was so exhausted by all the excitement that he fell asleep on the way home and didn't wake up till Monday morning!!

Andy and Sam were back to work on Monday so we spent the day in Pukekohe browsing the shops. On Tuesday we got a train into Auckland and spent the day in the city, David and I liked the city, but for the kids the train was the highlight of the day!!

We had a fantastic time with Andy and Sam, they made us feel very welcome and we had a really fun weekend...much helped by Andy and David sharing the same ridiculous sense of humor! Peter, Joseph and Luke absolutely loved spending time with Edward and Spencer and the similarities between Peter and Edward and Joe and Spencer were uncanny. We were very sad to leave them today and we will definitely be back to visit again...even if it is not for a few years!!


Tuesday 3 February 2009

End of January - update

January has been and gone so quickly. We have been up in the North Island for almost a whole month now and having decided that our original one month window was too short we have pushed back our return ferry date to the end of February....that still might be a bit short though.

Dan, Fiona, Aaron and Maria headed back to Auckland to fly on to Melbourne - where I hear they are having temperatures slightly above what the UK is experiencing at the moment! We went back down to Taupo for a second stay - so that I could go to the A1 Grand Prix there on the Sunday and to give Nicola a chance to wander round the shops (Joe also learned to ride his bike on our first day there).

The A1GP was good, the cars were pretty much like Formula 1 cars about five years ago, but a lot less loud. In between the sprint and main races there was a great support programme including NZ's answer to the Red Arrows which, as part of their show, landed on the main straight of the circuit, did a few donuts and took off together. They also raced one of the planes against a drag car, but the plane won too easily. The teams I turned up to support (GB and Lebanon) did rubbish, but the racing was all good.

Next we headed down to Napier on the East coast - from what we had heard it didn't sound like there was much to miss and we almost didn't bother, but it turned out to be one of the nicest places we've stayed in NZ. The town centre was unremarkable except for the unusual Art Deco architecture which dominated, but the sea-front was a great place for entertaining the kids (swimming pools and spas, fountains, parks, skate-park etc). We stayed at a campsite slightly west of the city where Peter and Joe made some friends and rode stunts on their bikes with them.

Next we had a long drive North to Gisborne which was another pleasant surprise. There wasn't a whole lot to do, but the kids had a great time on the beach at the campsite and also just riding their bikes around the campsite's road network.

After Gisborne we had another long drive to get back towards civilisation. We stayed in a small council campsite on the beach at a place called Pikowai on the Bay of Plenty and enjoyed a great walk along the beach. The campsite was just west of where the river joined the sea and the effect of the river winding through the beach was amazing - there were cliffs of pure sand which fell away into the river with minimal prodding. We had to wade through the river several times to go West on the beach. Joseph had a close encounter on the way back when he failed to take the agreed safe route at the point where the river and the waves met and was knocked clean off of his feet!

Over the next few days we headed West along the bay, not covering a lot of miles, but seeing lots of nice places. Mount Maunganui was meant to be tackled on Sunday, but the motorhome broke down (fortunately this happened just after we arrived at the campsite). The AA was called but couldn't do the repair so we had to stay an extra night at the campsite until a friendly local mechanic could come out and replace the rather complex drive belt. Friendly Victor also showed me how to remove the pollen filter so that we could finally get some cool air into the cab when we are driving so he was more than worth the $260 (including parts). We made it up the mountain the following day before it got too hot (it probably made it close to 30 degrees by 10am when we reached the summit). Most of the walkers looked quite surprised to see Peter and Joe tackling the steep climb, but it was just like a Guernsey cliff-walk without the downhills in between the up. (Photos of the climb up Mount Maunganui are here.)

We have now made it up to the Coromandel peninsula where there are no end of scenic views and beaches. Last night we headed out into the wilderness to camp which helps the budget and makes a nice change - less than 5km of "unpaved" road which wasn't too bad. The biggest issue with the unpaved tracks is the state of the bikes afterwords, but the boys enjoy getting the buckets and sponges out so it's not too bad. We had hoped to visit Hot Water Beach on this visit, but the tides didn't work out well, so we might have to squeeze in another drive-past before we head South again.

Good to see lots of photos of the snow on Facebook, we'll be thinking of you when we're on the beach tomorrow.


Sunday 1 February 2009

Joe on two wheels

Saturday 24th January (Taupo).

After being told for the umpteenth time to stop riding Luke's bike (Luke has a little lightweight two wheeler without brakes, pedals or training wheels) Joseph asked if we could take the training wheels off of his bike. I quickly looked out the right spanner before he changed his mind and whipped off the wheels. After a couple of wobbly shots he soon discovered that he could ride it without much difficulty, and not just in a straight line as he proceeded to ride to the far end of the campsite, navigate between a bench and a tent, squeeze between a couple of trees and ride back to the van just a few minutes after his first attempt. After a few practise runs he managed a run of ten laps without coming to a stop (a distance of about a quarter of a mile).

By the time we got to Gisborne, a few days ago, he was riding almost two miles in a run and covered about 5 miles on the bike in one day! He still needs some help to get going again, we visited a bike shop today to see if he would be better with a slightly smaller frame/wheel size, but everything seemed to be either too small or two big, I think he'll get the hang of it pretty soon though.

(Note that in the photos Joseph is wearing only his pants and I'm wearing a silly hat because it was an exceptionally hot day!)