31 March, 2013

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Today we drove about ten minutes from our camp site to enter the Waitangi Treaty Grounds considered the birthplace of New Zealand.

What was interesting to learn was that the Maori people had already drafted a constitution and been declared a nation by King George (III or VI can't remember). And the Maori Tribes had already created an official flag - the first New Zealand flag that is still recognized by Maritime Law to this day. This was all with the help of the "British Resident" John Busby. So how is it that after being declared a nation, the British Government was able to come in and basically take over? And how is it that the Maori words of this treaty talk about a "you govern your people and we'll govern our people"; but the British version says "it's all mine"? We're the translators that dense? Or we're they really that bad of translators?

Anyways, this lead to a very interesting four hours. We had a great tour that spoke of the country's history, the British influence, and we got to see a really cool waka (war canoe) that could hold 150 people and was commissioned for the centennial celebrations of the Treaty at Waitangi. Plus, we were welcomed into a traditional Maori Meeting House and invited to watch an amazing Maori Cultural Performance.

After all that we spent time with the kids completing a Treaty Grounds activity/scavenger/fact sheet and drawing four images of what they had seen.

All in all, a pretty cool day!

Whengarei (26 March-28 March)

We picked up the RV today! After getting exceptional customer service in a very timely manner for everything else that we've done in New Zealand so far, we were surprised at how inefficient this process was. It took forever. But the weather was beautiful, so sitting outside while waiting wasn't too bad. The kids were so excited - running back and forth between sitting with the luggage and checking on Courtney in line.

After getting the rundown on the RV (I swear I was listening and it all made sense when she said it ... it just seems so different when trying to do it by myself), we slowly drove out of the depot and headed over to the nearest grocery to pick up lunch and dinner.

Courtney gets major huge points on this trip - not only is he driving a 6-passenger RV - it is a manual transmission AND the shifter is on the left-side (since this is like Australia and you drive on the left-side of the road). Everything is backwards - the wipers are where the turn signal usually is and vice versa.

Next up was making it to Whengarei (the "wh" is pronounced like an "f" sound). This took us about 4 hours - we ended up on the coastal highway for most of the time - which was beautiful, but it had more round-a-bouts and stops than the main highway does.

In Whengarei we went full grocery shopping at the Pak N Sav. Which looks like a small Costco on the inside, but you buy in grocery store sizes. I love going into all the different grocery stores! After picking up supplies we were off to find a campsite. Lucky for us the first one that we picked had space - Top Ten Campground Whengarei. It was beautiful. Clean bathrooms and kitchen, a trampoline right next to our site and a two minute walk to a playground. Plus, surrounded by beautiful scenery.

The next day Courtney and I relaxed while planning out our adventures through out first through Rotorua (which took longer than we thought)while the kids jumped on the trampoline and ran around. Chayton made friends with two boys from Switzerland and spent the rest of the day playing with them.

Kaija found information on an interesting place called The Kiwi Center, so we headed over to take a look on Wednesday. It's a nice little complex not far out of town: bird rehab center, an animal display area that you can view their two Kiwis and other lizards, museum, planetarium (which was closed), gift shop and bathrooms (which we visited about a million times).

The Kiwis were so cute! I was hoping that we'd get the chance to touch them. But they are actually really fragile, so no touchy. Their ribcage is not quite fully formed, as in doesn't cover their internal organs all the way and the bones are not that strong. This means that pretty much any touch to their chest will cause internal damage that will lead to death. Ouch. Hard way to live. But, if you think about it, there aren't any natural predators on New Zealand. So up until the time of the Europeans arriving, there wasn't an animal that would bother the Kiwi. But with the Europeans came rats, ferrets and dogs. And their went the Kiwi population.

The female Kiwi is the bigger of the two, with a VERY long, skinny beak. The males beak is also long - but not as long as the females. The beak is actually an extension of their skull! They have great smell and can also sense vibrations to help them find food. We were able to see a feeding, so got some great views of the birds.

We also had a Tui talk to us. In the rehab center there is an adult Tui we likes to whistle "Pop Goes The Weasel," ask for a kiss along with a couple of smoochy sounds, and say "come closer, quick, hurry." We were all quite entertained and had him going for about 20 minutes or so.

Next up was a quick walk around the CBD (Central Business District). First up was a stop at a DVD rental store. It was having s going out of business sale, and since we have a TV and DVD player in the RV, we picked up a couple of movies for the kids to watch while driving. Next it was onto Whitcauls book store and then a nice turn at the Hospice Charity (Thrift) Store. I could have outfitted a new wardrobe! But with our luggage space begin so tight, all I did was look.

There is a whole host of things to do in Whenagei, we could have stayed a lot longer. But we needed to head to our next stop - Paiahia.

Being a kiwi at the kiwi house

Maori performance at the Meeting Housr
Meeting House
Standing on the site the treaty was signed
Ceremonial Waka (War Conoe) that was built for the centenial celebration. It fits 150 warriors (and it is actually used).

Auckland, New Zealand (22 March-25 March)

Friday we leave Cairns at a time too early to mention and arrived at the Auckland airport in time for dinner. On the map it seems so close to Australia ...

Our friend Andrew was waiting for us outside of customs with a ballon and flowers - I had forgotten how much I enjoy arriving to a friendly face! Andrew was such a nice host - he devoted his whole weekend to squiring around the Allen family. We were direct beneficiaries of his past employment with the New Zealand Tourism Association.

After taking us to our YHA hostel so we could check in and drop off our luggage, he then gave a quick driving tour that ended up at the Fish Pot - one of the best places for locals to get fish and chips and L&P to drink. Nazeriah was in heaven. She's wanted fish and chips since we got to Australia. And they were delectable (in Nazeriah's words). It was take-out, so we took it and sat next to the water. Almost everywhere you go in Aukland it seems that you are only a hop, skip or jump away from the water. As if dinner wasn't enough, we than stopped by this amazing ice cream shop for ... You guessed it ... Ice cream.

Andrew explained to us that New Zealand is a huge exporter of dairy products and how they are able to do it is that the milk is dehydrated and packaged for shipping. The reason I'm going into this is because this is why Andrew claims the ice cream (and all dairy products) taste better in New Zealand. The once re-hydrated, the milk is so much more creamer than regular milk - it makes everything that much yummier. Plus the cows are grass-fed.

After a little more conversation it was time to take the Allen Clan back to their beds - we were getting a little fried.

On Saturday Andrew picked us up again and took us to the Auckland War Museum - which is a museum of much more than just war.Amazing exhibits on Polynesian and Maori culture - plus an completely awe-inspiring exhibit on Wonders of Wearable Art (WOW); I want to see the next presentation of all the costumes in competition for WOW).

Next was grabbing lunch from a corner bakery (Courtney had a steak and cheese pie; I had steak and mushroom). Then we stopped to eat our lunch at a park next to One Tree Hill. The kids played on the playground with Chayton doing the very fast zip line. What was interesting was how they let the cows and sheep out loose on the grassy areas around the park - lots of poop in the yard!

Next up was The Aquaducts. A neat shopping and restaurant area near the port. There was a small street market going on and we tried to climb the outside stairs of a really tall silo - but the kids were all too young. It was a Mexican restaurant in the city for dinner - a crowd pleaser.

Sunday was a volcanic island - Rangitoto. Formed only 600 hundred years ago - it was the last and largest volcano to be formed in the Auckland volcanic field. Supposedly the Maori from the neighboring island came onto Rangitoto while it was cooling off - their is supposed to be a human footprint forever left in the black lava rocks. You can still see the black volcanic rock all over the place. Some areas it will be overgrown with grass and trees, then all of a sudden it is just black volcanic rock. We walked all the way to the crater where we had our sandwiches for lunch.

After hitching a ride with a harbour cruise ship (we came over on a normal ferry boat) we headed back to mainland Auckland; complete with commentary from the harbour cruise. Andrew dropped us off on Queen Street so we could check out the Outside Art Fair and Exhibition - we just made it before it closed down. But the kids were still able to paint flags for one of the live art exhibits. All the painted flags were strung and hung up around the grounds like Tibetan Prayer Flags. It really looked cool.

Next up was a quick visit to the Whitcauls book store where we found level appropriate workbooks for the kids. We are unsure of the amount of Internet connection we will have while we RV the North and South Island. No Internet means no "school" - but now we have workbooks!

Dinner was at an AMAZING authentic Thai restaurant. It was so tasty! The kids were so excited - we ate out more this weekend than we have the past three months! what a treat.

The sad part was saying goodbye to Andrew as he had to work on Monday and we were heading to Whangarei in our RV.

Fish and chips dinner

One Tree Hill
The Viaducts
Ice Cream at Mexican Restaurant
Ferry ride
View from Rangitoto
At a cave on Rangitoto

29 March, 2013

Cairns, Australia

After a short flight we were at Cairns (pronounced Cans, but why or how I do not understand). It is a beautiful tropical looking land - I didn't think it would look like this. Very different from the Sydney and Blue Mountain area in Australia.

Courtney did great with the rent-a-car and driving on the left-hand side of the street. It was great practice to help get ready for driving the RV in New Zealand. I loved all the round-a-bouts. They use them instead of traffic lights - I think outside of cairns we passed through a total of three lights in all of our travels. There is a whole thought behind how round-a-bouts and curved roads make people drive safer than straight roads, stop lights, stop signs and speed bumps that they speed pass.

Our living arrangements were a nice three bedroom house in Kewerra Beach a sub-division outside of Cairns. It so reminded me of the sub-division in St. Petersburg where my grandparents lived. Same style to the outside of the houses and same perfectness of the green lawns, tropical plants and palm trees. But inside, it was much more our style of design than my grandparents! The kids loved it - there was a trampoline and a swimming pool. The first few days they almost lived in the pool.

Our adventures ... Can you believe that we held a koala and feed kangaroos and wallabies in Kuranda? Then hiked through a rainforest and learned from the aboriginals how they lived on the land at Mossman Gorge. Then went and snorkeled at the Great Barrier Reef?

Plus got an amazing aboriginal piece of artwork from a gallery in Port Douglas - of the Seven Sisters constellation. Only one tribe of aboriginals are allowed to paint the Seven Sisters. I'd love to tell you more about the artist, but the gallery owner packaged up our art so well (got it ready to ship back to the states for us) that I dare not open it! We have to mail it in New Zealand - if you take your purchase out of Australia and mail it back home from another country you get back the tax that you paid on it. So in return for a nice piece of change back we are carrying it to New Zealand ...

The Barrier Reef - how to explain that? it was amazing, awe-inspiring, quiet, contemplative, beautiful.

We splurged on the tour and had a very nice catamaran that we rode (with a host of others). First stop was Green Island for a quick snorkel off the beach there - a little warm-up. We had to get "stinger suits" because the jelly fish (marine stingers) are in season. The added benefit was that it protected against the sun and provided a little extra warmth. And we got to look like Inspector Clouseau from the Steve Martin remake of the Pink Panther (when he is "blending into" the drapes). The Pink Panther movie was a hit with the kids at the Cairns house. I think they watched that DVD a million times.

Next up, we boarded the catamaran again and headed out to the pontoon. It was a pretty big landing strip for us to wander on, eat lunch and catch the sun. We got on the first submersible tour (a boat that had a submarine bottom, so we could sit and see underwater all around us) to get a tour of what we were going to see. Then it was back up - and on to Nazeriah's favorite - LUNCH! After lunch it was another stinger suit and snorkel gear and we were off! It was so incredible. Kaija discovered a humongous living clam; plus she and Courtney got to hug Wally, this fish about the size of Chayton. We all got to go out two times before the whistle sounded for us to board back onto the catamaran. Once on board it was time to head back home and for tea and cake - yum!

Kaija still talks about holding the koala.

23 March, 2013

Sydney (and Blue Mountains) in Review

I can't believe that I have a whole continent to catch-up on! But before I can tell you about Auckland ....

We arrived in Sydney early in the morning on Thu, Mar 22. Chayton and I made it until 2pm before we passed out and pretty much slept through until Friday morning. The girls and Courtney tried to stay up - but it only seemed to catch up with them later.

Sydney is an amazing city. We stayed at the Central Sydney YHA that is right next to the Central Sydney Train Station. It was comfy, clean and everyone was very friendly. That also sums up the city, too. It's busy, but still clean and friendly feeling.

Our hostel was within walking distance of Darling Harbour and a great playground/watermark. This is where Chayton decided to go take a swim in one of the fountains. He recovered pretty quickly - and dried pretty fast, too.

The next day we headed over to Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and Royal Botanic Gardens; where we had a lovely tour of the New South Wales Governor's House.

Our next stop was heading to the Blue Mountains and we stayed a a cute little YHA - super friendly people.

At the Blue Mountains we took in the sights around the Three Sisters and the Rainforest - we hiked, climbed stairs, rode a sky tram and a sky trolley, as well as saw Katoomba Falls and an old coal mine in the rainforest.

16 March, 2013

The Leprechaun Found Us!

It seems we had a special visitor last night ... our Leprechaun. (For those of you who are new to the story read this first: History of Our Leprechaun.

And of Course Green Eggs and Ham!

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Left-overs from the green water.