Farewell to 'Pleasantville'

Trip Start Oct 13, 2004
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12
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Trip End Jun 21, 2005


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Saturday, January 8, 2005

He Said:
Highlights:
1. Christmas with our friends in Wellington - no turkey this year, it was all BBQ
2. The Country Patch where we spent Christmas. I can't imagine how it could have been better.
3. Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with the kids. It was really special!!!
4. Skyline Luging with Shannon and the Kids in Rotorua - we had a total blast
5. Watching Kayla come down on the Luge by herself the first time.
6. New Years with some friends from San Francisco in the Bay of Islands. We can't say enough about what a great time we had New Years Eve. The Food, the Fellowship, the Fun!!!
7. Hooking up with friends from Calgary after New Years. It was great to see them and the fact that their daughter is best friends with Kayla made it even sweeter for everyone.
8. A couples night out - no kids - with our friends in Tutukaka!!!! It was very nice and we really appreciated them arranging for the kids to be taken care of.
9. A birthday party for Shannon's friend on the Beach at Tutukaka. It was the only time in our whole stay in NZ that the kids got to put on their 'togs' and swim in the ocean. Shannon and I never did get to - it was just too cold.
10. New Zealand Wines
11. New Zealand Hospitality (it was a highlight in our last post but is worth mentioning again)
Lowlights:
1. Tyler puking on me on the Ferry ride from Picton to Wellington
2. The ongoing cool, wet weather. Does it really get hot in New Zealand in the summer?
3. Running out of time and as such not getting to do a couple things I wanted to:
a. 90 Mile Beach
b. Dive Poor Knights Island
c. Surfing in Tutakaka (I'll have to make up for it in Bali)
d. Not getting to Hawkes Bay and Cormandel
4. Not actually getting to swim with the dolphins we saw in Bay of Islands.


It is now January 10, 2005. We are in Sydney, Australia and New Zealand a.k.a. Pleasantville is now behind us. Just to be upfront, Pleasantville is in no may meant to be derogatory. New Zealand is just so "pleasant". The country, the people, the animals, heck even the bugs were pleasant to us - NZ has nasty Sand Flies and we never even had to deal with them, how pleasant. It's how we'll forever refer to our time in KiwiLand.

The North Island segment was an interesting contrast to the South Island Segment. While the South Island was all about Raw Beauty, Nature, LOTR-like Scenery, Adrenaline-Laced activities and Wine, the North Island was more about people. Not that the North Island does not have amazing scenery, coastline, mountains, bubbling mud etc. - it does. But for us, meeting 3 different sets of friends at 3 different times moved to focus from seeing to just being. It was awesome to hook up with Calvin and Leanne in Wellington at Cal's sister's place and have an amazing Christmas day BBQ. It was just so great to see people you know, to spread out a bit and for everyone to have some space. The kids quickly engaged the new adults in their world and Shannon and I took full advantage of the opportunity to engage in some adult conversation.

After Christmas we boogied up to Rotorua and took in Tongariro and Lake Taupo along the way. The Volcanic peaks were completely covered in snow and completely stunning. Apparently the slopes were still open, had I known that I would have totally have been into renting a snowboard for the day and getting in a good ride. Ah to be whistling down the mountain at Whitefish on my board, sun beating down on a warm winter day... no wait it is -20 C or something obscene like that back home - there goes that fantasy :-).

Rotorua was fun, we took in the Sky Line Luge which was a total blast with tracks ranging from Beginner to Expert. Of course we forgot the video camera, as we always seem to, and I totally regretted that. It would have been priceless to capture Kayla's first solo run down the beginner track, swerving from side to side, taking out other sleds and then running right off the track at the first hair pin turn. It was hilarious!!! Michael Schumacher is safe, at least for now. She did master it though and cruised right down on her second run. Tyler took turns tag-teaming with Shannon and I and had a blast as well, he has turned into a real speed freak on this trip. If it goes fast, Tyler wants to be on it - especially fast boats (just not rocky boats...see lowlights).

We also took in one of the Maori cultural shows which was totally awesome complete with a traditional meal cooked in a hangi(underground oven). They do a great job and put a lot of intensity into it. It is great to see the cultural pride being kept alive amongst these people. Their spirit, at least the one's who are engaged in preserving their traditions, language and lands is very strong. Something that our Native Americans would be well served to rediscover I think. A sense of who they are by getting in and staying in touch with their past and bringing that forward with them into the future. Not as anchor but as an inspiration. When the energy is real and the passion genuine it shows through and even though these shows are staged, the sense of who these people are and their pride in their history and their culture shines brightly through making it a great experience. Something worthwhile.

The whole thermal thing that is going on around Rotorua is very cool. You can't really go too far without running into a steaming hole, warm mineral water or bubbling mud. The smell of sulfur is heavy in the air but you quickly stop noticing. And on a cool, overcast, drizzly day it creates an almost mystical effect in and amongst the bushes and the trees. It is very cool. That said, after swimming in the Natural Hot Spring Rivers and Water Falls at Tabacon, Costa Rica and having happy hour at a swim up bar at the base of the active volcano there, we were not overly inspired to head to one of the big mineral pool spas (fancy name for concrete swimming pool). We figured after Tabacon it would only be a let down - much like Radium or Fairmont was our speculation, so we passed on that activity. We are indeed becoming discerning travelers or is that just a lot more aware of the outflow of cash now that there has not been any regular in flow for a while. I'll leave that for you to decide :-).

The last week of our New Zealand leg was spent in the NorthLand. We spent New Year's at the Bay of Islands and had an awesome time with our friends from San Francisco. They had an awesome place rented in Opua with an amazing view of the Bay. They had arranged for their hosts to cook an awesome New Year's Eve meal which was the best meal we've had on this trip. It was absolutely amazing. It was again great to spend some time with people we knew and just kind of hang out. They have kids pretty much the same age as ours, so the kids also had a great time making new friends and hanging out.

The rest of the time in the Northland was spent hiking, sightseeing, and hanging with our friends. We had a family night out in Whangarei and took in 'The Incredibles' which has led to us scouring the McDonalds locations in two countries searching for the entire Incredibles toy set. It has also led to some good laughs relating to the various characters and our family.

It was great to see Sharron and Dave and Kayla was thrilled to see Meagan. We had an awesome couple days with them and even got a dinner out with our friends at this great seafood restaurant in Tutukaka. That gave Shannon and I a much appreciated night off which we took full advantage of. (wink, wink) The next night there was a birthday for Sharron on the beach and the kids finally got to swim in the ocean in New Zealand. It was our only beach day in 37 days of New Zealand summer and even then it was not exactly a hot.

She Said:

I write this surrounded at every turn by headlines of the worst earthquake/tsunami of the century. The images are absolutely haunting and the stories so heart wrenching. Every day the death toll rises - absolute devastation. I'm experiencing such a myriad of emotions - so much sadness & compassion for the people affected and at the same time so much gratitude that our trip has been blessed by the gifts of health and safety. We don't know what this means to our itinerary - we'll just play it by ear as we go. Part of us would like to just go volunteer & help, but we know it's important to balance our altruism with the needs/sensitivities of our children. We've currently dropped Penang and will go straight to Bali from Australia. Maybe we're nuts, but our desire to be on the road is not diminished in the least.

Christmas could not have been better, we arrived Dec 23 at "The Country Patch" (a B&B on the Kapiti Coast www.countrypatch.co.nz) and it honestly felt like we'd met up with long lost family - they treated us beyond belief. A seemingly innocuous discussion about family traditions ended up with surprises of a decorated Christmas tree, full stockings hung by the fireplace and yummy treats. I cannot say enough about what generous hosts Brian and Sue were to us and certainly made our Christmas celebrations special. Combine that with a fireplace (YES - I can live without the snow, but couldn't imagine no fire on Christmas Eve), the most cozy beautiful home to stay in and packages sent from home - we were all like a bunch of kids. We even found time to put together the traditional Christmas puzzle, though it was Tyler's first experience and about way thru he decided it was more fun turning the pieces over and proceeded to tear the thing to pieces. Obviously needed to spend a little more time explaining the 'completion goal'! Christmas Day in Wellington with Erin & Scott, Calvin & Leanne was AWESOME with lots of eating, drinking & being merry. (thx Scott & Erin!!!)

Rotorua is a very cool place - the spiritual home of the Maori people and an amazing geo-thermal wonderland of geysers, bubbling mudpools, volcanic craters and steam vents everywhere. Apart from the sulphur smell in the air (which you do get used to) we found it to be an amazing place to explore. Time for a little adventure, so decided to take in some road luging - see 'He Said' for the full 'blow by blow' action'.

We also had a lot of fun attending a Maori Cultural Night & Feast. The Maori people are definitely the most colorful of the Polynesian people and it was wonderful to observe their traditions and dance. After being in Kapawi, it felt obviously contrived and commercial but was extremely entertaining none the less. Their Haka War Dance is wild to watch and apparently is something that the "All Blacks" (NZ's National Rugby Team) does before a match to intimidate the other team & get hyped up. That would definitely be cool to see but alas their was no Rugby being played during our time in NZ. Of note is their symbolic tattooing, often covering much of their bodies including their faces. The more senior ranks even have tattoos covering their legs and butt - very 'interesting' to see :-) Mark is now considering getting a tattoo - I think more conventional locations are in the plans, but you never know. Stay tuned.

Bay of Islands is gorgeous, but we were now experiencing a true 'busy season'. Paihia in particular was too touristy for our liking - too many people, tours & commercialism. The best thing was meeting up with some friends for New Years - had a 'brilliant' dinner and then brought in the New Year in style! It was fun to catch up and party with another family so the kids had their activities while we could just be adults.....a rarity on trip with kids 24X7. Did some exploring, some hiking, beachcombing for shells, mussels & crabs, and just checking out a really beautiful area. We were finally able to take in the Swim with the Dolphins voyage on an absolutely gorgeous day with calm seas - a very good omen for the non-seafaring-pukey-boy-Tyler. We were really pumped when not even 20 minutes into a day trip, we ran into a pod of about 30-40 Bottlenose Dolphins. They were a gorgeous nursing pod consisting of mothers with their babies of various ages - the youngest being only about 1 month old. He was so cute especially when his attempts to breach consistently ended in a belly flop. Very entertaining. NZ law does not permit swimming with babies so after spending about 45 minutes watching them, we moved on to find a pod to swim with. Let's just say, it was good that the scenery was so beautiful cuz we were skunked yet again.

We finalized our trip with a meet with more friends. Kayla's had been counting sleeps for weeks to meet up with her best friend from Calgary, Meagan. The best news is we're great friends with the whole family so everyone got caught up - Mark went golfing with Dave, I went spaing with Sharron, we had sleepovers and a 'surprise' birthday party for Sharron and just caught up. We even had a double date nite out and Mark had our first night alone since we left last Oct - WooHoo!!! We spent time at Tutukaka - equal to the beauty of the Bay of Islands but so much quieter. Mark is planning how to own a little piece of that coastline. Absolutely gorgeous. And so far, MSFT Auckland is the front-runner for #1 Transfer Location :-)

********** Kiwi Translator Update (with assistance from Scott who was given a 'dictionary' when he moved from Canada) - Panel Basher (autobody dude), togs (bathing suit), knickers (underwear), heaps (lots!), Torch(flashlight), biscuit(cookie), car park pronounced cah pahk (parking lot), chemist(pharmacy), bottle shop (liquor store), chilly bin (cooler), chook (chicken), fringe (bangs), ice block (popsicle), jumper jumpah (sweater)**********

Highlights:
1. Meeting up with 3 different sets of friends on the North Island - it was so great to catch up with friends!!
2. Christmas at the Country Patch- the most beautiful friendly place to spend a holiday abroad - amazing!
3. Christmas Eve service - a very contemporary service with a modern dance number, a Nativity Scene play complete with rap number and a solo by the 14 year old lead in Cirque de Soleil, Quidam . She's been touring around the world (including Calgary where we actually saw her months ago) and was home to spend Christmas with her family. Very cool.
4. Packages and phone calls from home for Christmas - it really made for a special Christmas morning. It really felt like a visit from Santa Claus :-).
5. Date nite with Sharron & Dave - our first completely adult nite since October.
6. Road Luging with the kids...particularly Kayla, with The-Little-Old-Lady-from-Pasadena driving skills the first run!

Lowlights:
1. The horrendous tsunami disaster in SE Asia.
2. The coldest December in New Zealand in 60 years.
3. Too much driving - ARG!

Kid's Said:
Highlights:
Tyler -
Santa found me at the Country Patch
Speeding down the Luge Track
Kayla
Meeting Meagan!
Seeing the dolphins
Christmas at the Country Patch with all their surprises like stockings and stuff!
Christmas Day BBQ - yummy food & fun playing and seeing 'Finding Nemo'
The Te PaPa Museum in Wellington
Playing in the Plunge Pool in our room in Rotarua
Going fast down the Luge run!
Seeing the eels in the magical pool at the Maori Village
The New Year's Eve party at Cali's
Seashell hunting and finding mussels
Hiking to the falls (2 different times Hanoura & Whangarei)
Playing on the beach and climbing the 'mountain' with Meagan
Sleepovers and playtime!
Seeing "The Incredibles" & collecting some of the toys
Lowlights:
Tyler -
no swimming with the dolphins
Puking on the ferry (3rd time this trip)
Kayla -
Didn't get to see a Kiwi
no swimming with the dolphins
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